THE FAITHFUL LITTLE LIZARD

By Lieutenant-Colonel W. Hill James

On the diggings near the Avoca River the lizard's future master had, as was the digger's custom, come out of his hole, or shaft, at eleven o'clock for a short half-hour's rest between breakfast and the midday meal. He threw himself down in a half-sitting posture, and was dreamily smoking his pipe when from beneath a neighboring rock, popped out a little lizard who eyed the stranger with inquisitive interest, as quickly retiring, to return again in a few minutes.

This was repeated several times, the lizard's keen eyes always fixed on the face of the intruder.

Presently the digger's foot was approached, and evidently approved of for its warmth. After a retreat to the rock a farther advance was made, this time to the knee of the stranger, to whose face the two brilliant little eyes were still enquiringly directed. Before the half-hour's rest was over the left arm of the smoker had been mounted, his neck rounded, and the right arm descended, the venturesome journey ended by the lizard squatting contentedly on the back of his new-found friend's right hand. Confidence had thus been established between the two, but not to the extent of capture, for on the gold-seeker attempting to place his left hand over his new acquaintance, he scuttled away to his rock with almost inconceivable quickness. The digger's smoke over, he returned to his work in the hole, leaving his blouse where he had sat.

When the work of the day was finished the tired gold-seeker mounted to the surface and, taking up his blouse, was about to march to his camp, three miles away, when, to his great surprise, he discovered his little four-footed friend lying hidden in the fold of the garment. He carried him gently in the blouse to the camp, and there, with the usual courage and confidence of his race, the little reptile quickly adapted himself to his new surroundings in the digger's tent. He was carefully fed, kept warm at night, and soon began to like his new quarters with the gold-seekers. In return for much affectionate attention he was, in a few days, quite at home with all the party.

On the walk to camp he had made his home in his master's serge blouse, running up the arm of the loose garment or round the full front above the tight waistband, as fancy took him, and enjoying the warmth of his master's body. It was very interesting and amusing to see him poke his little head out between the buttons, or through a buttonhole of the blouse at intervals to ask, with glittering eye and jerky movement, for an occasional fly from his master's hand caught on the shafts or cover of the cart.

When the camp was pitched for the night, Master Lizard would employ himself by making the most inquisitive scrutiny and inspection of the immediate surroundings within and without the tent. He made himself acquainted with every stone, tuft, stump, or hole, within what he considered his domain, eventually retiring with the sun to the blanket on his master's bed, where he invariably slept.

On one occasion, during the darkness of the night, he became extremely restless, and ran about on the bed, evidently with a view to awakening his protector, who, being a sound sleeper, was not easily disturbed. Failing to attract attention, he proceeded to run rapidly backwards and forwards over the sleeper's face, making at the same time a low spitting noise, like an angry cat. By this means he at length roused his friend, who gently pushed him away several times, speaking soothingly to him in the hope of quieting the excited little animal.

But the lizard would not be soothed. Having attracted attention, he continued his inexplicable movements with redoubled energy, until at length his master, convinced that something must be amiss, got up, struck a light, and looked round the tent, the sharp eyes of the lizard following every movement with intense interest. As nothing unusual could be seen, the gold-hunter retired once more, after pooh-poohing the lizard for his fears.

Scarcely had he dropped off to sleep, when he was again disturbed, and, losing patience at these repeated interruptions to his slumbers, he seized the lizard and threw him lightly across the tent. In this involuntary flight the little creature unfortunately struck the tent-pole with considerable force, and half of his tail was broken off—a matter of no very great importance to a lizard, perhaps, but still a discouraging reward for a well-meant warning. Notwithstanding this the little reptile returned to the bed, keeping close to his master, but he continued to be very restless and excited for the remainder of the night.

When day dawned, preparations were begun for the day's march. The tents were struck and the bedding was rolled up, ready to be placed on the rough digger's cart. Then the mystery was explained. In the twigs and ferns thrown underneath the scanty bedding, to keep it from the bare ground, a huge tiger snake with several young ones was discovered. This snake is of a deadly description and is much feared by the colonists. Like all snakes, it gives forth a strong odor, which, no doubt, made the lizard aware of his enemy's presence, unless, perhaps, he saw it creep under the curtain of the tent. Of course, the snakes were killed at once.

After this our little friend with half a tail became a greater favorite than ever, because we recognized that he was protector as well as friend.