Written by Richard Barnum.
You may well believe that Toto and Sniffy did not lose any time diving down under water as soon as they heard their father tell them to do so. Many times before, when they were first learning to swim, they had to dive down quickly like this just after they had poked up their noses to get a breath of air. And always their father or mother had swam with them out of danger.
“What was that whacking noise, Dad?” asked Sniffy, when they were once more safely back in their stick and mud house.
“That was Mr. Cuppy banging his flat tail on the water to let us know there was some danger,” answered Mr. Beaver. “Cuppy, or some of the older beavers, are always on guard at or near the dam. If they hear, see, or smell danger they whack with their tails. And whenever you hear that whacking sound you little fellows must dive into the water and swim away just as fast as you can.”
“Oh, now I remember about Mr. Cuppy whacking with his tail!” exclaimed Toto. “You told us that last summer, didn’t you, Dad?”
“Yes. But the winter has been long, and all that time you have had no chance to hear Mr. Cuppy bang his tail on the water, so I was afraid you had forgotten,” said Mr. Beaver.
“I did forget,” answered Sniffy.
“And I did, too,” said Toto. “But now I’m always going to listen for Mr. Cuppy’s tail.”
“And run and dive into the water as fast as you can when you hear him whacking and banging,” advised Mr. Beaver. “Now we’ll wait a little while and then we’ll swim up again. The danger may have passed.”
Toto and his brother waited with their father for perhaps five minutes in the beaver house. Then, once more, they dove down, out of the front door, and up into the river, a little farther away. Mr. Beaver went ahead, and poked up his nose first to look about. He saw a number of beavers working on the dam, among them Mr. Cuppy.
“Is it all right?” called Mr. Beaver to the old gentleman.
“Yes, come along. We need lots of help to make the dam bigger and stronger,” answered Mr. Cuppy. “Where are your two boys?”
“Right here,” answered their father. “It’s alright! Bob up your heads!” he called.
Up they swam, and soon they were among their friends on the dam, which was made of a number of trees laid crosswise over the narrow part of the river. Sticks had been piled back of the trees, and mud, grass-hummocks, and leaves were piled back of the sticks, so that very little water could run through. Back of the dam the water was quite deep, but in front it was very shallow. The beavers all had their houses back of the dam.
“What was the danger?” asked Mr. Beaver of Mr. Cuppy, as the two animal gentlemen walked along the top of the dam. “Did you see a bear or some other big animal?”
“No,” answered Mr. Cuppy. “The reason I whacked my tail was because I saw five or six men over in the woods where the trees are that we are going to cut down for our dam.”
“Were they hunters?” asked Mr. Beaver.
“No, they didn’t seem to be hunters,” answered Mr. Cuppy. “They were rough-looking men, and not dressed as nicely as most hunters are. These men had old rusty cans in their hands—cans like those we sometimes find in our river. I thought they were coming over to our dam to catch us, but they didn’t. However I gave the danger signal.”
“Yes, it’s best to be on the safe side,” returned Mr. Beaver. “Well, now we are here—my two boys and myself—and we are ready to help gnaw down trees for you. My wife will be here in a little while. She has gone to see if she can find some aspen bark for our dinner.”
“My wife has gone to look for some, too,” said Mr. Cuppy. “Well, now, let’s see! Have Toto and Sniffy ever cut down any trees?”
“No, this will be the first time for them,” said their father.
“Well, take them over to the grove and show them how to work,” advised Mr. Cuppy. “We shall need many trees this spring. How are you, boys? Ready to gnaw with your red teeth?”
“Yes, sir,” answered Toto and Sniffy.
“Come along!” called their father, and into the water they jumped from the top of the dam, to swim to where the trees grew beside the river.
Beavers always swim, if they can, to wherever they want to go. They would much rather swim than walk, as they can swim so much better and faster. So, in a little while, Toto and Sniffy stood with their father beside a tree which, near where the tree trunk went into the ground, was as large around as your head.
“We will cut down this tree,” said Mr. Beaver.
“What! That big tree?” cried Toto. “We can never gnaw that down, Dad! It will take a year!”
“Nonsense!” laughed Mr. Beaver. “We can gnaw down larger trees than this. Before you boys are much older you’ll do it yourselves. But now come on, let’s start. I’ll watch you and tell you when you do things the wrong way. That’s the way to learn.”
“I guess I know how to gnaw a tree down!” boasted Sniffy. “I’ve often watched Mr. Cuppy do it.” This little beaver boy stood up on his hind legs, using his tail as a sort of stool to sit on, and he began cutting through the bark of the tree, using his four, strong orange-colored front teeth to gnaw with.
“Here! Hold on! Wait a minute!” cried Mr. Beaver to his son, while Toto, who was just going to help his brother, wondered what was the matter.
“Isn’t this the tree you want gnawed down, Dad?” asked Sniffy.
“Yes, that’s the one,” his father answered. “But if you start to gnaw on that side first the tree will fall right on top of those others, instead of falling flat on the ground as we want it to. You must begin to gnaw on the other side, Sniffy. Then, as soon as you have nearly cut it through, the tree will fall in this open place.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” said Sniffy.
“Nor I,” added his brother.
“Always look to see which way a tree is going to fall,” advised Daddy Beaver, “and be careful you are not under it when it falls. If you do as I tell you then you will always be able to tell just which way a tree will fall to make it easier to get it to the dam.”
Then Mr. Beaver told the boys how to do this—how to start gnawing on the side of the tree so that it would fall away from them.
How they do it I can’t tell you, but it is true that beavers can make a tree fall almost in the exact spot they want it. Of course accidents will happen now and then, and some beavers have been caught under the trees they were gnawing down. But generally they make no mistakes.
“How are we going to get the tree to the dam after we gnaw through the trunk?” asked Toto, as he and Sniffy began cutting through the outer bark with their strong, red teeth. “We can’t carry it there.”
“We could if we could bite it into short pieces, as we bite and gnaw into short pieces the logs we gnaw bark from in our house all winter,” said Sniffy.
“We don’t want this tree cut up into little pieces,” said Daddy Beaver. “It must be in one, long length, to go on top of the dam.”
“We never can drag this tree to the dam after we have gnawed it down!” sighed Toto. “It will be too hard work!”
“You won’t have to do that,” said his father with a laugh. “We will make the water float the tree to the dam for us.”
“But there isn’t any water near here,” said Sniffy.
“No, but we can bring the water right here,” went on Mr. Beaver.
“How?” Toto wanted to know, for he and his brother were young beavers.
“We can dig a canal through the ground, and in that the water will come right up to where we want it,” said Mr. Beaver. “We’ll dig out the dirt right from under the tree, after we have cut it down, and bring the canal to it. The canal will fill with water. The tree, being wood, will float in the water, and a lot of us beavers, getting together, can swim along and push and pull the tree through the canal right to the place where we need it for the dam.”
“Are we going to learn how to dig canals, too?”
“Yes, building dams and canals and cutting down trees are the three main things for a beaver to know,” said his father. “But learn one thing at a time. Just now you are to learn how to cut down this tree. Now gnaw your best—each of you!”
So Toto and Sniffy gnawed, taking turns, and their father helped them when they were tired. Soon a deep, white ridge was cut in the side of the tree.
“The tree is almost ready to fall now,” said Mr. Beaver. “You boys may take a little rest, and I’ll finish the gnawing. But I want you to watch and see how I do it. Then you will learn.”
“May I go over there by the spring of water and get some sweet bark?” asked Toto.
“Yes, I’ll wait for you,” answered his father. “I won’t finish cutting the tree down until you come back.”
“Bring me some bark,” begged Sniffy, as he sat down on his broad, flat tail.
“I will,” promised Toto.
The little beaver boy waddled away, and soon he was near an aspen tree. Beavers like the bark from this tree better than almost any other. Toto was gnawing away, stripping off some bark for his brother, when, all at once, he heard a rustling sound in the bushes, and a big animal sprang out and stood in front of Toto.
“Oh, dear me! It’s a bear!” cried Toto.
“No, I am not a bear,” answered the other animal. “Don’t be afraid of me, little muskrat boy. I won’t hurt you.”
“I’m not a muskrat! I’m a beaver!” said Toto. “But who are you?”
“I am Don,” was the answer. “And I am a dog. Once I was a runaway dog, but I am not a runaway any longer. But what are you doing here, beaver boy?”
“Helping my father cut down a tree for the dam,” Toto answered. “What are you doing, Don?”
“I am looking for a camp,” was the answer, the dog and beaver speaking animal talk, of course. “A dog friend of mine said there was a camp in these woods, and I want to see if I can find them,” went on Don.
“Who is at the camp?” asked Toto.
“Ragged men with tin cans that they cook soup in,” answered Don. “Have you seen any around here?”
“No, but Cuppy, the oldest beaver here, saw some ragged men over in the woods,” began Toto. “Maybe they are—”
But before he could say any more he heard a loud thumping sound, and Toto knew what that meant.
“Look out! There’s danger!” cried Toto.