TWO ENEMIES OF THE BEAVERS
By Lillian M. Gask
Father Beaver had left his family to its own devices for some time;
he had been exploring the winding river, and diving under
waterfalls in sheer delight at his own strength. He was full grown
now, and fond as he was of his little wife and children, the
roaming instinct was strong. The morning he rejoined them he was in
"What have you been doing with yourself?" inquired Mother Beaver,
eyeing him suspiciously, when she had told him all her news. The
glossy fur at the back of his neck bore marks of recent bites, and
there was an ugly tear in one of his ears.
Father Beaver looked at the sky.
"There is a lovely maple tree not far from here," he said, as if he
had not heard her question. "I girdled it on my way back just now,
and you'll find plenty of syrup oozing from it if you go there
The young Beavers sniffed eagerly, but Mother Beaver was not to be
"You have met the Otter," she cried, her eyes growing very big,
"and you've been fighting."
Father Beaver chuckled. "Last summer," he said, turning to Phil, "I
was only two years old, and that Otter punished me so severely that
but for Mother Beaver there, who came to my rescue in the nick of
time, I should have been done for. But now—well, he will never
trouble me again!"
Phil looked at him with a new reverence. The Otter, he knew, was a
fierce foe to Beavers, with whom he disputed the lordship of the
river; that Father Beaver should have conquered him single handed
filled him with awe.
"Let us hear all about it!" cried Mother Beaver, coming quite close
to him. But he brushed her aside good-humouredly, and spoke of
"The Night Wind says that the frosts will come early this fall," he
remarked, "and we are well into the summer now. There is a fine
plantation of willows on the river-bank, only waiting for us to
fell them. We will get to work at once. I shall be downright glad
"So shall we all," said Mother Beaver heartily. "Holiday-making is
well enough for a while, but if we did not use our teeth on
something harder than soft bark and lily roots, they would soon
"Yours are as bright as the gleam of the moon on the water, my
love," said Father Beaver with a glance of admiration; and Mother
Beaver gave him an affectionate push, which was as near to a hug as
she could go.
When they reached the group of trees that Father Beaver had planned
to attack first, other Beavers belonging to the colony were already
at work. These nodded kindly to Phil, but were too much absorbed in
what they were at to take much notice of him. Mother Beaver was
deputed to see what he could do, while the young Beavers were given
a first lesson by their proud father.
Choosing a stout young sapling very close to the bank, Mother
Beaver gnawed round it with her sharp, chisel-like teeth, taking
care to bite most deeply on the side nearest the water, so that it
might fall towards the stream and be quickly floated. In a very few
moments it toppled over, cut clean through, and Mother Beaver
looked round for another.
"We'll try that big one over there," she cried, with an approving
glance at her young ones, who were hard at work on some slender
willows. Phil hesitated and flushed, for he did not know how to
begin. Mother Beaver touched him pityingly with her small forepaw.
"I forgot your teeth were so small and weak, my dear. It's not your
fault, so you need not be ashamed. When I have felled the tree, you
shall drag it down to the bank. That will be a great help, and
leave us free for felling."
The tree took much longer to fell than the sapling had done, for
the trunk was nearly as thick as a man's body. Phil was immensely
interested to see how Mother Beaver set about her task; he had
guessed from the first that she was remarkably clever, but now he
was quite sure of it.
First of all she made a deep cut through the bark which circled the
trunk as far from the ground as she could conveniently reach. Some
three or four inches lower she cut a second ring, and then, slowly
and surely, dug out the wood from between, splinter by splinter,
with those sharp teeth of hers.
The day wore on, and still she worked. Father Beaver offered to
help her; each time he came she sent him back. It was growing dusk;
Phil saw that now the trunk of the tree between the cuts went in
like a lady's waist. Each time that Mother Beaver drew out a
splinter this "waist" became more slender still; a very little
further, and the tree would have been cut right through, but Mother
Beaver knew when to stop.
"Come away," she cried quickly to Phil; "at the next gust of wind
that tree will fall, and only foolish creatures run knowingly into
danger. I should be crushed beneath it if I drew out another
splinter. Some of our family have already met their deaths that
way; they were too impulsive, and did not stop to think."
The Night Wind came singing through the forest, and the branches of
the big tree quivered; with a low groan it crashed to earth, and
Phil found that it took all his new strength to drag the heavy mass
down to the bank.
"I s'pose you'll all take a rest now," he said persuasively, for he
was longing to hear about Father Beaver's encounter with the Otter,
and thought that he would not mind trying some of that maple syrup
himself. But the Beavers were only just getting into their work, as
they told him gaily, though he, of course, might take a nap.
They were still at it when he awoke next morning.
"We shall go on until not a tree on this spot is left standing,"
Mother Beaver declared, cheerfully; and he quite believed her.
By the afternoon his arms began to ache, and the Beavers had found
him so useful that one of the elders of the colony had remarked
that he should have nothing to say against it if he wished to stay
with them altogether. Phil thought this very kind of him; but, much
as he liked the Beavers, there were many other animals that he
wanted to meet. Perhaps Mother Beaver guessed something of this,
for she told him pleasantly to go off to the woods.
"You'll work all the better to-morrow," she said; and Father Beaver
flapped his tail by way of dismissal.
As neither she nor their father would hear of the young Beavers
taking a holiday too, Phil wandered off by himself into the depths
of the forest, where the beautiful golden sunlight, which had much
ado to force its way through the thick leaves, was making long
ladders on the moss. Some small red berries, quite sweet and
tasting like strawberry cream, drew him further and further in; a
Squirrel threw him a nut and turned aside, as if too lazy to play,
and a drowsy Bee mistook his yellow head for honey, much to her own
dismay. Phil felt uncommonly drowsy himself, in spite of his long
night's rest, and was thinking of taking forty winks when a gentle
rustle in the branches made him look up quickly. It was the
For a moment Phil thought that he must be mistaken; surely that
benign looking animal, so very like his own brown bear, could not
be the Beaver's voracious enemy? He was patting the boughs as a
playful kitten might have done, and rolling himself over with
surprising ease. His small brown eyes gazed at Phil good-naturedly,
as if to read his thoughts.
"I don't look such a desperate character, do I?" he asked
complacently. "My wife—I must really introduce you to her—thinks
I am quite a fine fellow, and my two young sons adore me. I'll take
you home to supper, and you shall see them. They are barely ten
Phil was very curious to see the young Wolverenes, but somehow he
did not think it would be fair to the Beavers to be on such
friendly terms with an animal that ate them. So he thanked him most
politely and said he must be going on.
The Wolverene left off his playful patting of the branches and
showed his teeth in an ugly smile.
"All right," he said resentfully. "I know what that means, of
course. The Beavers have been setting you against me, just as I
thought. They had better look out, for I have only been waiting
until they grew a bit fatter. That 'Father Beaver' of yours will
make me a remarkably good supper. Give him my love if you happen to
He leapt as he spoke from the upper branch of one tree to the lower
branch of another, a distance of some twenty feet, and disappeared.
A low chuckle came from the ground close by, and Phil was delighted
to see a small brown Rabbit, exactly like those that had played in
the woods at home, sitting up on his hind legs. He was shaking with
laughter, and his comical little nose was wrinkled up until it
nearly met his eyes.
"Good for you!" he cried. "That Wolverene is a terror—I know him
well. He would question and cross-question you about the Beavers
until you were nearly addled, and then he would persuade them that
you had been telling tales. Mischievous creatures such as he are
best left alone, even if you are sure they cannot harm you. He is
as much hated by Sable and Marten hunters as he is by all of us,
for he has such a wonderful sense of smell that he scents out the
stores of provisions they hide in case of need, and wastes all that
he does not eat. He makes their traps useless, too—but that isn't
to save the Sables, but because he wants the bait. The only
creatures that can get the better of him are the Grizzlies; when
they come down from the mountains they make a meal of him."
Not until the Rabbit had talked himself out of breath had Phil a
chance of asking him the shortest way back to the river.
"Won't you let us give you a shake-down for the night?" he said by
way of answer. "Our burrow is large enough to take you in, and I
could tell you many stories of these woods."
"I'll come some other time, if you don't mind," said Phil. "I
should like to find the Beavers now, and put them on their guard."
"Quite so!" agreed the Rabbit. "I shouldn't be surprised if that
old rascal paid them a visit to-night. He'll guess their
whereabouts from the trees they have cut down, and will try to
punish you through them."
Phil hurried back as quickly as his legs could carry him, not even
stopping to look at the splendid Birds that fluttered amongst the
vines. A gorgeous Butterfly, spotted with crimson and purple,
offered his services as a guide, but it was almost dusk before Phil
reached the little colony of Beavers.
They were still working away, as busily as ever. Although he had
only been gone a few hours, they had done wonders; more than half
of the group of trees they had chosen were already down, for they
had "worked together, and worked with a will," as Mother Beaver had
Phil's news was received with much concern, and Father Beaver
hastily summoned a conference. All Beavers under a year old were at
once dismissed from work, and commanded to wait by the entrances to
the tunnels beneath the banks, so that in case of surprise they
might be under cover, and Phil was posted as sentinel while the
elder Beavers finished felling the trees they had already begun.
This done, they decided to leave them where they were for the
present, and to make for the other side of the river.
Father Beaver was the last to cross; as he dived from the bank
there was a stealthy tread among the rushes, and the gleaming eyes
of the Wolverene followed him through the water. But for Phil's
warning there would have been at least one Beaver less that night.
It was some days before the busy little animals began their work
again, for they knew that the Wolverene might still be on the watch
for them, and have crossed the river himself. So they "lay very
low," as Father Beaver put it, keeping to the thick undergrowth of
the brushwood, or playing hide-and-seek with their young ones in
the deeply tunnelled banks. Phil soon found that though each tunnel
had a separate entrance, they all led to the same spot, within easy
reach of the winter houses. He was never tired of admiring these,
but Father Beaver brushed his praise aside, so far as they were
"Come and look at our dam," he said. "It's a very fine one, though
perhaps I ought not to say so." The dam stretched quite two-thirds
across the river, and was curved, somewhat in the shape of a half
"That is because the current here is very rapid," explained the
Beaver, "and an arch is stronger than a straight line, as your own
bridge builders know. If the current were gentle, our dam would be
straight, and this would give us much less trouble. But a rapid
current is very useful, for if we have to go any distance for our
building materials, it brings them quickly down to us, without any
special effort on our part."
"So that was why we carried all the trees that you had felled quite
close to the river bank?"
"Exactly. When we are ready to build we shall push all those into
the current, and some of us will be waiting by our dam to stop them
as they float past. See how the branches of the willow are
They had reached the dam by this time; it seemed to Phil like a
thick hedgerow on a solid bank, for not only were the willow
branches in full leaf, but the poplars and birches, used to repair
it from time to time, had taken root also.
"If the snow on the mountains melts too rapidly, and flows down to
the river in torrents, the water behind our dam is still quite
calm, and our houses, built in its shelter, are undisturbed. We
must always have a deep body of water in which to build our lodges;
so when we take a fancy to some small river or creek in which the
water is likely to be drained off at any time, Nature teaches us to
build our dam right across the river, in order that we may prevent
"How do you start building the dam?" asked Phil.
"If we are going to build a straight one, we guide two of the
largest trees that we have felled to the spot we have chosen,
placing them side by side, and leaving a space between. If some of
their branches make them lie too high for our purpose, we nibble
these off, working under water quite easily, and coming up every
few minutes to breathe. (No—not more often than that, I assure
you. Nature has arranged this for us, so that we can more easily
escape our enemies.) These branches we place vertically in front of
the big logs, adding other branches and small trees in the same
way. Most of our wood, however, we lay crosswise, and almost
horizontally. The spaces in between are filled with mud and stones,
which we mix together to form a kind of cement. We bring the mud in
tiny handfuls, holding it under our throats by means of our
forepaws, and often making as many as a thousand journeys backward
and forward from the bank before we have enough. We always build by
night, you know, and for a long time no man could say just how we
worked. Perhaps the Night Wind told in the end."
"How do you manage when you want your dam to be curved, as this one
is?" asked Phil.
"Then we use smaller logs in the same way, shaping the dam as we
work. You would not believe the strength of ours, unless you saw
how it stood the shock of the floating ice as it came pounding
against it at the end of the winter. Our houses we build in much
the same way, but more roughly."
"I think they're wonderful," said Phil respectfully, and Father
Beaver, trying not to look too pleased, moved his flat tail and
cried "Tut, tut!"
"The Night Wind told me a wonderful story the other day—that some
eight or nine years ago an Englishman took some Social Beavers to a
beautiful valley in his park in England, setting them free by the
banks of a stream, where the trees grew thickly down to the very
edge of the water, just as they do here. These Beavers, she says,
set to work at once to build a dam across the stream, making a deep
wide pool six times as large as the original brook, and six times
as deep at the lower end."
"I wonder if it is true?" mused Phil
"I believe anything that the Night Wind tells me," said Father
Beaver, thoughtfully. "She talks to us often when the sun goes
down; sometimes she is merry, and sometimes sad, but always what
she says is true. She brings the scent of the hunters in time to
warn us that they are on our track; she knows when the frosts are
coming, and when it is safe for us to leave our winter houses and
take to the woods. For Nature often sends us messages through her.
Of what are you thinking? Eh?"
Phil's thoughts had been wandering, and the Beaver's sharp eyes had
found him out.
"I was thinking about that Otter," he said, truthfully. "I want to
know how an Otter looks."
"Oh! That just depends where you happen to be when you see him. If
you are on land, he seems to be a slender animal some three feet or
so in length, covered with close brown fur, and with a broad and
flattened head, and a thick, tapering tail; if you see him in the
water, diving after the fish on which he feeds, he looks like a
flash of lightning! For the water clings to the long shining hairs
which lie over his close coat, and he glides through the stream so
quickly that your eye can scarcely follow him. He is a brave
creature; he will fight to the death when he is attacked—and a
brave enemy should be honoured, even in death."
"How did you kill him, Father Beaver? Do tell me—I have been
wanting to know all day."
"I didn't kill him at all, my son," Father Beaver replied
serenely. "He had fastened on me with his sharp teeth before I knew
that he was near, and I was doing my best to get free of him when
another Otter, a rival of his, seized him from behind and dragged
him off to fight him on his own account. I retired to a safe
distance and watched the battle. It lasted until one was killed
outright and the other mortally wounded. They will never trouble
our waters more."
"Oh," said Phil. He was rather disappointed that the Beaver had not
killed his enemy in single combat; Father Beaver seemed quite
"There are so many of her creatures that Nature wishes you to make
friends with," he went on as he took another admiring look at his
dam, "that I don't suppose you will be allowed to stay with us much
longer. But before you leave this part of the country, you must
certainly pay a visit to the Ondatras, or Musk Rats. We don't care
for them as neighbours, for they are apt to make holes in our dams,
but they are quite well-meaning and intelligent. They build much as
we do, though their work is not so lasting. And because they are
gentle and very timid, Nature made them, you'll see, the colour of
mud, so that when they are curled up and at rest on the bank of a
stream, they are often mistaken for; small mounds of earth. There
is a colony of Ondatras in a shallow creek some miles away. You
will see them at their best at night, for they are sleepy during
the day time."
All the time he had been speaking, Father Beaver had been looking
up and down the banks for traces of the Wolverene. The Birds called
"Good-night" to each other from the glowing maples; the crimson
lights of the sunset fell over the river, and the new moon hung her
shining crescent on the top of a giant fir.
"I think all's safe," said Father Beaver; and the work of
tree-felling began again.