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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/386

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and took the frost out of the air and the rocks, then he crawled out to lie until he got warm. The stream was clear and swift in the cañon, the waterfalls sang in the side gulch of Roaring River, the wind rustled in the long needles of the yellow pines, and the birds called to their mates in the branches. But Old Rattler did not care for such things. He was just a snake, you know, and his neighbors did not think him a good snake at that, for he was surly and silent, and his big, three-cornered, "coffin-shaped" head, set on a slim, flat neck, was very ugly to see. But when he opened his mouth he was uglier still, for in his upper jaw he had two long fangs, and each one was filled with deadly poison. His vicious old head was covered with gray and wrinkled scales, and his black, beadlike eyes snapped when he opened his mouth to find out whether his fangs were both in working order.

Old Rattler was pretty stiff when he first came from his hole on the morning of this story. He had lain all night coiled up like a rope among the rocks, and his tail felt very cold. But the glad sun warmed the cockles of his heart, and in an hour or two he became limber, and this made him happy in his snaky fashion. But, being warm, he began to be hungry, for it had been a whole month since he had eaten anything. When the first new moon of August came, his skin loosened everywhere and slipped down over his eyes like a veil, so that he could see nothing about him, and could not hunt for frogs by the river nor for chipmunks among the trees. But with the new moon of September all this was over. The rusty brown old coat was changed for a new suit of gray and black, and the diamond-shaped checkers all over it were clean and shiny as a set of new clothes ought to be.

There was a little striped chipmunk running up and down the sugar-pine tree over his head, pursing his little mouth and throwing himself into pretty attitudes, as though he were the center of an admiring audience, and Old Rattler kept a steady eye on him. But he was in no hurry about it all. He must first get the kinks out of his neck, and the cold cramps from his tail. There was an old curse on his family, so the other beasts had heard, that kept him always cold, and his tail was the coldest part of all. So he shook it a little, just to show that it was growing limber, and the bone clappers on the end rustled with a sharp, angry noise. Fifteen rattles he had in all—fifteen and a button—and to have so many showed that he was no common member of his hated family. Then he shook his tail again, and more sharply. This was to show all the world that he, Old Rattler, was wide awake, and whoever stepped on him would better look out. Then all the big beasts and little beasts who heard the noise fled away just as