Written by Richard Barnum.
“Toto! Toto! Where are you?”
There was no answer to this call, which Mrs. Beaver, the mother of Toto, sounded as she climbed up on the ice and looked around for her little boy. Mrs. Beaver sat on her broad, flat tail, which really made quite a good seat, and with her sharp eyes she looked up and down Winding River for a sight of Toto. Then she called again, in beaver animal language of course:
“Toto! Toto! Come home this minute! You’ve been out on the ice long enough! And goodness knows we’ve had plenty of ice and snow this winter,” went on Mrs. Beaver, and she kept on looking up and down the frozen river. “I’ll be glad when spring comes so we beavers can gnaw down trees, eat the soft bark, and make dams for our houses,” she added.
But though she called as loudly as she could, and looked sharply up and down the river, which was covered with a sheet of smooth ice, Mrs. Beaver could see nothing of her little boy, Toto.
“What’s the matter?” asked an old gentleman beaver, who had come along just then. “Has Toto run away?”
“I don’t know that I’d call it exactly running away, Mr. Cuppy,” answered Mrs. Beaver. “I said he could go out of the house and play on the ice for a little while, but I told him to come back and get his willow bark lunch. But he hasn’t come, so I walked out to call him.”
“And he doesn’t answer,” said Mr. Cuppy, the old beaver gentleman, with a laugh—of course he laughed animal fashion, and not as you do. “I guess Toto is off playing tag, or something like that, on the ice with the other beaver boys,” added Mr. Cuppy. “I’m going down the river to call on some friends of mine. If I see Toto I’ll tell him you want him.”
“I wish you would,” said Mrs. Beaver. “Please tell him to come straight home.”
“I will,” answered Mr. Cuppy, and then he got up from the ice, where he had sat down on his broad, flat tail to talk to Toto’s mother, and walked slowly down the ice-covered river which ran into Clearwater Lake.
That is, the river ran in summer time. In winter it was frozen over, though of course the water ran under the ice, where boys and girls could not see it. But Toto, Mr. Cuppy, and the other beavers could see it, for they could dive under the ice and swim in the water that flowed beneath it. In fact, they would rather swim in the water, cold as it was, than walk on the ice.
For a beaver can not very well walk on the ice—it is too slippery. Nor can a beaver walk very fast even on dry ground. But, my! how fast they can swim in water. So, though beavers very often come out on the land, or shore, they always run for the water, dive down, and swim away as soon as there is the least sign of danger.
Mrs. Beaver walked back toward the hole in the ice through which she intended to get into her house, where she lived with her husband, Mr. Beaver, Toto, and another little beaver boy named Sniffy.
Mrs. Beaver’s home looked just like a bundle of sticks from the woodpile, laid together criss-cross fashion. In fact, if you had seen it from the outside you would have said it was only a heap of rubbish.
This heap of sticks was built out near the middle of Winding River, which was not a very large stream. And now that the river was frozen, the pile of sticks, which made the beaver house, was heaped up above the frozen ice.
The front door to the beaver home was under water—so far under that it did not freeze—and when Toto or any of the family wanted to come out, they had to dive down, swim under water, and come out on top some distance away. When the river was not frozen they could come out of the water wherever they pleased. But when Jack Frost had made the river a solid, hard sheet of ice, the beavers had to come out of it just where a hole had been made for them. Sometimes they made the hole themselves by blowing their warm breath on the underside of the ice, and sometimes they used an airhole such as you often see when you are skating.
Mrs. Beaver found the hole through the ice, dove down into the water, swam along a short distance until she reached the front door of her house of sticks and frozen mud, and then she went up inside.
The house was nicely lined inside with soft grass, and there were a number of short pieces of sticks scattered about. It was the bark from these sticks that the beavers lived on in winter.
“Did you find Toto?” asked Mr. Beaver, who was taking a little nap in the house.
“No, I didn’t,” answered Mrs. Beaver. “But I met Mr. Cuppy, the old grandfather beaver, you know, and he said if he saw Toto he’d send our little boy home.”
“That is very kind of Mr. Cuppy.” Mr. Beaver stretched himself. “Well, I think I’ll gnaw a little more bark.”
“I want some, too!” called Sniffy, the other little beaver boy.
“Here you are!” said his mother, and she took some of the bark-covered sticks from a pile at one side of the house.
Of course it was dark inside the house, for mud was plastered thickly over the crossed sticks to keep out the cold and snow. But beavers can see well enough in the dark, just as owls can, or cats.
After Mr. Cuppy had watched Mrs. Beaver dive down through the ice and swim away, he walked on down the frozen river. He looked from side to side as he waddled slowly along, hoping to see Toto. But the beaver boy was not in sight.
And now, so that you may no longer wonder what had become of the little beaver boy, I’ll tell you where he was and some of the wonderful adventures that happened to him.
Toto had asked his mother if he might go out on the ice and play, and she had said he might. Toto was about a year old, having been born the previous spring, and he knew that in winter there was not much to eat outside the beaver house. But he had gnawed a number of sticks of poplar, and of willow, with the sweet, juicy bark on, and now he was not hungry. He was tired of being cooped up in the dark house, frozen fast in the river. So Toto had gone out, and had walked along the ice until he was quite a long way from home.
“But I guess I can easily find my way back,” thought Toto to himself. “It’s pretty slippery walking, and I’d a good deal rather swim, but if I walk slowly I won’t slip.”
So he had walked along the ice until he was out of sight of his home, around one of the many curves in Winding River. That was the reason Mrs. Beaver could not see her little boy, and also why Toto could not hear his mother calling to him. He did not really mean to stay out when his mother did not want him to.
“Ah, that looks like something good to eat!” said Toto to himself, as he saw some scraggly bushes growing on the bank of the river. The bushes had no leaves on, of course, for this was March, and winter was still the king of the land. But Toto thought there might be bark on some of the twigs of the bushes, and bark was what the beavers mostly ate in winter. He was not hungry, but Toto, like other boys, was always ready to eat.
Toto walked slowly over the ice, and, standing up on his hind legs and partly sitting on his broad, flat tail, which was almost like the mortar trowel a mason uses, the little beaver boy began to gnaw the bark.
But he had not taken more than a bite or two before he stopped suddenly.
“Ouch!” cried Toto. “Something bit me!”
He looked about—there were no bees or wasps flying, which might have stung him. Still something had pricked him on his tongue. Then he looked more closely at the twig he had been gnawing.
“Oh, ho!” exclaimed Toto. “No wonder! This is a blackberry bush, and the thorns pricked me. I won’t gnaw any more of this bark.”
Toto backed away and started over the ice again, but he had not moved more than a few feet from the thick clump of blackberry bushes, growing on the edge of the river, when, all of a sudden, the little beaver boy heard a strange noise—several noises, in fact.
One was a tinkly sound, a sound Toto remembered to have heard when in summer a farmer was hoeing corn in a field near the river, and his hoe struck on a stone in the dirt. Then came the noise of a thud, as if something heavy had fallen on the ice. And after that sounded the voice of a little girl saying:
“Oh dear! There goes my skate!”
Of course Toto did not understand man, girl, or boy talk. But he knew what it was, for in the summer, as he played around his stick-home in the river, he had often heard the farmer and his hired men talking in the fields not far away. So, though Toto did not know what the little girl said, he knew it was the same sound the farmer and his men had made when they talked to one another. And Toto was afraid of men, and boys and girls, too, though I don’t believe any girl would have tried to hurt or catch the beaver.
But this particular little girl, whose name was Millie Watson, did not even know Toto was near her. She had been skating on the ice when one of her skates suddenly came off, and she fell down.
The tinkly sound the beaver heard was the loose steel skate sliding over the ice and striking a stone near the bush under which Toto was hidden. The thudding sound was that made by Millie when she fell. But she was not hurt.
“Oh, dear!” she said again. “I wonder where my skate slid to. I can’t get along on only one skate, and it’s slow walking on the ice. Where is it?”
She slowly arose to her feet. One skate was still on her foot, but on the other shoe was only a loose strap. Millie, who had skated from her home to take a little pail of soup to her grandmother, who lived farther down the river, was on her way back when she lost her skate.
“I don’t see where it can be,” mused the little girl, looking here and there on the ice. The reason she could not see the skate was because it had slid under the edge of the overhanging berry bush.
“I hope she doesn’t see me!” thought Toto, as he crouched down under the twigs. “I wish it were summer, and there were leaves on this bush. I could hide better then, and the river wouldn’t be frozen, so I could swim away very fast if this girl comes after me. Dear me! I wonder what she is doing here, anyhow.”
Toto did not know much about skating. But as he peered out at the little girl he saw her pushing herself along on one foot, and on that foot was something long, thin and shiny. It sparkled in the sun, just as the blade of the farmer’s hoe sometimes sparkled.
Toto looked on either side of him, and there, close to him, was another shiny thing, just like the one the girl had on one foot. Toto could see the girl moving slowly along, and looking from side to side.
“She must be looking for me!” thought Toto, and his heart began to beat very fast, for his father and mother had told him always to keep away from little boys; and this girl was probably just like a little boy, the beaver thought. He had seen boys along the river bank in summer trying to catch muskrats, and sometimes trying to catch beavers, too. Toto did not want to be caught.
So he crouched lower and lower under the bush, and then, all of a sudden, his feet slipped on the ice and they struck the long, shiny thing that was like the object the girl had on one foot.
Instantly there was another tinkly sound, and the shiny thing slid across the ice, out from under the overhanging bush and straight toward the little girl.
“Oh! Oh!” cried Millie, clapping her mittened hands. “Here is my lost skate! It was under the bush, but I wonder what pushed it out! There must be something there! I’m going to look!”
Toto heard this talk, but did not know what it was. However, he could see the little girl stoop down and pick up the skate he had accidentally knocked over the ice to her. Then he saw Millie come straight toward the bush under which he was hiding!