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Keesa, the Kangaroo by Ellen Velvin

The first thing that Keesa remembered was waking up in a dark, warm place, and feeling very hungry and a bit chilly.

With a little shiver he feebly gathered himself together and crept closer to the warm side of his small prison.

There was a curious something inside this warm part of his prison, which kept up a continuous, methodical beating, sometimes faster and sometimes slower, but never stopping.

Keesa did not think much about it then. His tiny, flexible, little mouth was seeking instinctively for something to satisfy his hunger, and, having found it, he troubled himself no further about the little, throbbing sound that never stopped. He was too young then to know that it was the beating of his mother's heart; but as he grew older he learned to regard it as a very barometer for danger signals. He knew that whenever it began to beat quicker than usual his mother was scenting danger; and that when it throbbed very, very quickly the danger had come, and was causing his mother great anxiety on his account.

All this he learned as he grew larger, but at this time he was only a few days' old; a tiny, soft, helpless thing, only about an inch and a half in length; and all he could do was just stay quietly in his mother's pouch—where she had carefully put him as soon as he was born—rest against her heart, and drink as much as he could.

He stayed in this nice, warm place for several months, and his weight increased so gradually that his mother did not notice it.

After a time, however, he began to find pouch-life rather monotonous, and so, one day, he poked his funny, little head out of the pouch and had his first peep at the world.

It seemed to be a very pleasant world, but he had no idea before that his mother was so big, or that she could hop such tremendous distances.

When he looked up at her he saw two little paws above him hanging down in just the position that a dog puts his paws when begging. Above these little paws he saw a small, graceful head, long and somewhat oval, with outstanding ears, soft, gentle eyes, and a flexible mouth, with cleft lips which opened every now and then and showed white but savage teeth which looked as though they could bite very sharply when their owner liked.

Having scrutinized his mother from below, Keesa turned his attention downwards, and then noticed what extremely long hind legs she had, and that she was sitting on them and her tail in a very comfortable manner.

Glancing instinctively round, Keesa saw that it was a very pleasant country, and that there were a good many others like his mother, sitting or moving softly about with long leaps, one and all keeping a sharp lookout for danger while munching the tender leaves and grass.

Once having had this peep at the world, Keesa became very interested in it, and every day poked his little head out of the pouch and watched his mother's proceedings.

One day, when she let herself drop on her forepaws to nibble the nice, green grass, Keesa, on peeping out, found his own mouth close to the ground. Out of mere curiosity he tasted a little bit of the herbage, sniffing it very carefully, first of all, with his funny little nose, and behaving, unknown to himself, in the way that all kangaroos behave when they first begin to eat green food.

Having tasted the grass, Keesa found it extremely good, and the very next day, when his mother dropped on her forefeet to feed, his head came out of the pouch and down went his little mouth too.

But this time out went one of his little, short, front paws and rested on the earth. One quick movement, and, to his astonishment, he found himself really in the world. Just for a moment he felt so terribly frightened that he leaped straight back into the pouch again, and his little heart beat as fast as ever his mother's did in time of danger.

But the next moment curiosity got the better of him, and he was so proud of himself in being able to move about so nimbly that he was out of the pouch again, and this time, not feeling half so frightened, hopped and skipped about until even his mother looked at him with surprise.

From that time Keesa always jumped out of his mother's pouch and ran about while she was feeding. He felt perfectly safe now, because at the least sign of danger all he had to do was to hop back again, pull down his small head and hide it, and everything was all right.

But as time went on Keesa began to realize that although. Australia is such a beautiful country the life of a kangaroo is full of danger.

Some peculiar beings called men had found out, it seemed, that the flesh of the kangaroo was very good eating; and once having realized this, they had no pity, but, whenever they wanted kangaroo flesh, hunted the animals and killed as many as they possibly could.

Once Keesa's mother, and a number of other kangaroos, were having a comfortable feed on the plain, when suddenly numbers of men called hunters came from all parts and attacked the poor kangaroos with spears, clubs and horrible fire things.

The poor animals looked wildly around with their pathetic eyes, and then swiftly and silently—for, like the giraffe, the kangaroo never makes a sound—tore backwards and forwards, wild and bewildered with fear, assailed on all sides by sharp arrows and spears, and by heavy things which struck terrible blows.

[Illustration: "EVEN HIS MOTHER LOOKED AT HIM WITH SURPRISE"]

Only two kangaroos escaped at this dreadful time; they were Keesa's mother and another kangaroo mother, both of whom had fought fiercely and desperately for the sake of their little ones.

Away went the two kangaroos at breakneck speed, leaping from twelve to fifteen feet at a time. But the hunters were prepared for this, and in a few minutes the kangaroo dogs were after them.

This was a terrible time. The terror and agony of Keesa's mother communicated itself in some way to him, and he shivered inside his pouch half dead with fear.

On and on went the kangaroos, and close behind came the dogs. But the mother kangaroos, when too exhausted to run further, turned, only too ready to die, if need be, for their young ones.

Keesa's mother was fortunate enough to find a fairly large tree, and against this she put her back, her little nose and mouth working wildly and agonizingly, her sharp, little teeth showing fiercely, and her usually gentle eyes looking fierce and desperate.

Only two dogs had been sent after them: one faced Keesa's mother somewhat uneasily; the other followed the second kangaroo to the water's edge, only to be taken in her front paws and held under the water until he was drowned.[Footnote: A fact, and a common thing among kangaroos.—Author.]

Keesa's mother, meanwhile, faced her enemy bravely, and for a few moments the dog could not make up his mind to attack her or not. But as he wavered the hunters' voices were heard urging him on, and, with a fierce yelp and a quick leap, he flew at the kangaroo.

But Keesa's mother was prepared, and with a well directed blow from one of her hind feet her sharp, knife-like claws ripped him up, and the next moment he was lying on the ground panting his life away. The mother kangaroo waited no longer. She had done for her enemy, she must now look out for herself. A few long, swift strides and she caught up with the other kangaroo, and, having been told that the other dog was drowned, the two mothers went swiftly on, and on, and on, getting more and more weary with the weight of their little ones, for they were now growing very heavy, but never stopping until they reached a place where they knew they would be safe.

This was only one of the many adventures that Keesa, as a baby, went through, and he no longer wondered that his mother was always looking about with frightened eyes, as though dreading some new danger.

Keesa spent very little time in the pouch now, for he was nearly eight months old. After a while he did not care to stay in it at all, but he often went to it for a little drink. He was very much surprised one day, when he went to get that drink, to find another little head in the pouch, and another tiny, soft body nestled in the very place where he had so often nestled himself.

Keesa was a handsome kangaroo, somewhat lighter in color than his mother, swift and agile, healthy and strong, with long, well marked hind legs, a straight, strong tail, that acted as a sort of stool whenever he wanted to sit down, and nimble little forepaws on which he rested occasionally when he wanted to feed; at other times they hung down as his mother's had done the first time he had made her acquaintance.

There was one sad day when Keesa and his mother, with some kangaroo friends with whom they had become acquainted, were chased by men on horses. But the horses were not particularly good ones, and with their long, swift leaps the kangaroos got safely away.

All, alas! but Keesa's mother. She, like all of her tribe, was addicted to a habit of looking backward, still, she would have got safely away now, if, while running at her swiftest speed, she had not looked behind her to see how close the hunters were. As it was she leaped violently against a tree stump and killed herself.

Keesa had been very fond of his mother, and her death was a great grief to him, but he dared not stay, and so leaped on and on. Remembering her experience, he never once looked back or stopped until he had reached a place of safety.

After this Keesa had to shift for himself, but he was now a hardy animal and got on remarkably well.

His beautiful, light, tawny coat changed, as the cold weather came on, to a thick and woolly fur, which was very comfortable during the damp, cold weather. But, when the summer came again, the thick, woolly fur began to drop off and he resumed his summer coat once more.

By this time Keesa was a fully grown kangaroo, and very handsome. His coat was a beautiful, tawny brown mingled with grey; the tawny part predominating on the upper portions of his body, and the grey on the under part; his clean, well shaped, little forefeet were quite black, as also was the tip of his tail; and his small, well shaped head, with its bright eyes and quick, sensitive ears, not to speak of the mobile little mouth showing its occasional glimpses of white teeth, and his newly sprouted little whiskers, made him a typical specimen of a well- grown, well-built, male kangaroo.

He was a regular Boomer[Footnote: A Boomer is the only kangaroo which provides really good sport, and is much sought after and hunted for this reason. He is a dangerous foe to man and dog, and generally proves more than a match for them both. A boomer at bay is one of the most dangerous of animals, for he will not only attack the dogs, but the very hunter himself; oftentimes nearly cutting him to pieces with the terrible claws in his hind feet.—Author.] now, and prided himself on it. He had no fear of man or beast, and, although he had already afforded good sport in one or two hunts, he always had the best of it.

At one time he ran for fourteen miles at one stretch, and, although he hated swimming, on coming to a little stretch of sea, and being pressed by the hunters, in went Keesa, and, notwithstanding a fresh breeze, he got safely over, shook himself, and then fell into his long leaps again as though nothing had happened.

Altogether he covered nearly twenty miles that day, and, as he still seemed as fresh as ever and the land began to slope down, the hunters gave up the chase.

Had they been going up hill they might have caught him, for in going up hill dogs always gain on a kangaroo, and no one knew this better than Keesa; therefore it was only to be expected that he should deliberately lead the way to where the land was in his favor.

His leaps down hill were terrific, and the dogs, however much they tried, could not overtake him; and so Keesa always gained the day, and although he had many exciting hunts he was never caught.

Strong and healthy and hardy, he lived on, and lived up to his name of Boomer, and is still living in New South Wales to this day, with a gentle, brown-eyed wife and a little baby kangaroo, who peeps out of his mother's pouch just as Keesa himself used to do when he was a baby.