Toto Learns to Gnaw 🦫

Written by Richard Barnum

Toto, the little beaver boy, was a bright, bustling chap. He was what is called a “bustler”—that is, someone always ready for work or play. But just now, as Toto saw the little girl coming toward the bush where he was hidden, he did not know what to do.
“But I’m going to do something!” thought the beaver boy. “I’m not going to let her catch me! Maybe that’s a trap she tried to get me in—maybe that shiny thing is a trap!”
Toto knew what traps were, for his father and mother had told him about them, and how to keep away from their teeth that caught beavers and muskrats.

Millie came closer and closer. With bright, eager eyes, almost as bright and eager as those of Toto himself, she looked at the bush.
Toto was all ready to run, and he wished, more than ever, that the river was not frozen, since he would not have been a bit afraid if he could have jumped in the flowing stream to swim away.
He was not afraid of any creature in the water, and the fish were friends of his.
Then, all at once, just as Toto was going to start to run and do his best on the slippery ice, he felt himself falling. He had been standing on the edge of the frozen river, where the ice was very thin, and it had given away, letting him down through a hole into the water.
“Oh, now I am all right!” said Toto to himself when he felt the water wetting his thick fur, though it could not wet his skin beneath.

And so he was. He was in water now, where he felt much more at home than on the ice. And as he slipped down, tail first through the hole that had broken, he had a glimpse of the little girl.
The little girl saw Toto, too, and as soon as she had seen him she clapped her red-mittened hands again and cried:
“Oh, it’s a little beaver! He knocked my skate out to me! Oh, don’t go away, little beaver!” cried Millie. “I won’t hurt you!”

But of course Toto did not know that, and he did not know what the little girl was saying. He just wanted to get away from her, and back to his own stick house. So he dove down under the water, his fur being thick and warm so that he was not a bit cold. And away he swam beneath the ice that covered Winding River.
“Oh, he’s gone!” cried Millie, when she saw the beaver disappear. “I wish I could have taken him home! Maybe I’ll see him again! Anyhow, he was nice to shove my skate out to me!”
Millie sat down on the bank and began putting on the skate that had slipped off, causing her to fall. And, though she never guessed it, she was to see Toto again, and the beaver was to see how Millie and her grandmother were made happy.

“Well, Toto, where have you been?” asked his mother, when, some little time later, the beaver boy swam up to the front door of the stick house. “I’ve been looking all over for you!”
“I didn’t mean to stay away so long, Mother,” answered Toto, in beaver talk, of course. “But it was so slippery on the ice that, when I got going, it was hard to stop. I tried to eat some bark, but it was full of thorns, and then I had an adventure.”
“What’s an adventure?” asked Sniffy, who was not quite so bold and daring as was Toto.
“It’s something that happens to you,” Toto answered.
“And what happened to you?” asked Mr. Beaver.
Toto told them about Millie’s skate coming off, though of course he did not call it a skate. He said it was a “trap.”

“You did well to hurry away,” said his father. “It’s lucky for you that you fell through the hole in the ice and could swim. Always, when you are in danger, get in the water if you can. Very few animals can swim as fast as we beavers swim. The water is the place for us, even though we have to go on land to gnaw down the trees for the dams we make.”
“Why do we have to make dams?” asked Sniffy.
“To make the water deep enough for our houses in places where it is otherwise too shallow,” answered Mr. Beaver. “By putting a lot of trees, sticks, clumps of grass, and mud across a stream the water backs up, and gets deep behind the dam, over which it flows, making a waterfall. We need to build our houses behind the dam, so as to have our doors under water. If we didn’t, other animals from the land would come in and get us. But land animals can not get into our houses as long as the front doors are under water, though it is easy for us to dive down and come up inside where the water does not reach. Did anything else happen to you, Toto?” asked his father.
“Well, I swam home under the ice as fast as I could,” answered the little beaver boy.
“Did you see anything of Mr. Cuppy?” asked Mrs. Beaver.
“No, I didn’t,” Toto answered. “Did someone try to catch him in a trap, too?”
“No. But he said he’d send you home if he met you,” replied Mrs. Beaver. “Of course he didn’t meet you. I’ll go out and tell him he needn’t look for you any more, as you are now at home.”

“Yes, and I’m hungry, too,” said Toto. “The bark on the bush under which I hid was full of thorns. I couldn’t eat it.”
“Here is some nice aspen bark,” said Mr. Beaver. “Let me see your teeth, Toto?”
“What for?” The little beaver boy wanted to know.
“To see if they are going to be strong enough to help us gnaw down trees this summer,” went on Mr. Beaver.
Toto opened his mouth. His teeth were strong and white, that is all except the four front, or gnawing teeth. Two of these in his upper jaw and two in his lower jaw were a sort of red, or orange, color. All beavers have orange-colored gnawing teeth, and the rest are white, like yours.
“Humph! Yes, I think you’ll be big enough to help us gnaw down trees this summer,” said Daddy Beaver, as he looked at Toto’s orange teeth, which were almost as sharp and strong as the chisels the carpenter uses to smooth wood with which to build a house.
“Is it very hard to gnaw trees down?” Toto wanted to know.
“It must be easy,” said Sniffy, who was eating some aspen bark in the stick house. “See how easy I can strip this bark off this piece of log.”
“Gnawing bark is much easier than gnawing through the wood of a big, hard tree,” said Mr. Beaver. “You boys will learn that soon enough. But here, Toto, try some of this bark.”
So Toto and Sniffy gnawed the bark, and Toto told his brother more about the little girl he had seen. He thought she had tried to trap him, but we know Millie had done nothing of the sort. Only her skate had come off.

“And what do you think?” the little girl said, after she had reached home and was telling her mother about it that night at supper. “My skate slid right over the ice, under a bush, and a little beaver that was there pushed it out to me.”
“So the beavers are around here, are they?” asked Millie’s father. “I wondered what made a part of Winding River flow so slowly this fall. The beavers must have dammed it up. Well, the beavers are hard-working animals and do little harm. We won’t disturb them.”

The rest of that winter Toto lived in the stick house with the other beavers. He did not go out very often, for there is not much beavers can do until the ice and snow are gone. Toto went out on the frozen river a few times, however, but he did not again see the little girl on skates. And though Millie went out skating, she did not see Toto until later in the season.

Meanwhile the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky. It warmed the earth, the snow and ice melted, the banks of Winding River became green, as the leaves came out on the trees and bushes, and one day Mr. Beaver said:
“Come with me, Toto and Sniffy. You are going to learn how to gnaw down trees.”
“Are we going to help build the dam bigger?” asked Toto.
“Yes, that’s what you are going to do,” his father said.
He dove down in the water, to slip out of the front door, and the two beaver boys followed him. Their noses closed, and they kept their mouths tightly shut while under water. But they had their eyes open to see where to swim. They came out on top of the water not far from their own house. But almost as soon as they had poked up their noses to take long breaths, Toto and Sniffy heard a booming, whacking noise, and their father cried:
“Back! Back, boys! Dive down! There’s danger around here!”

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