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Gean, the Giraffe by Ellen Velvin

A tall, stately, gentle creature, standing about eighteen feet high.

A pretty, graceful head; large, tender, dark eyes; a beautiful, tawny coat, covered with rich, dark spots; a long neck; a rather short body, measuring about seven feet in length; slender, shapely legs, terminating in feet with divided hoofs; and a long tail, ending in a wisp of dark-colored hair, which was a splendid thing with which to whisk off the flies.

This was Gean, the Giraffe, and she belonged to a tribe which boasted of the fact that they were the tallest of all animals. But they were not aggressive about it at all, for giraffes are the most modest and gentle creatures to be found anywhere. They are quiet and inoffensive in all their ways and movements, shy and timid to a degree, and so cautious and wary that it is extremely difficult to get near them in their wild state.

Gean was just as timid and wary as the rest of her tribe; indeed, she was peculiarly so, for she had been unfortunate enough to lose her mother when quite young, and, deprived of that mother's care and protection, she had experienced some very narrow escapes from many kinds of dangers and difficulties, and these had made her suspicious of every fresh object she came across. There were times when she was really too cautious, and would not accept friendly overtures from strangers of her own kind.

There was another young giraffe about the same age as herself, who had come to see her several times lately, and, although he was a fine, handsome animal and stood nearly two feet taller than Gean herself, she would have nothing to do with him. Not even when he took the trouble to reach up his long neck[Footnote: although a giraffe's neck is so long, it has exactly the same number of vertebrae as all other mammals—seven—but each vertebra is exceptionally long.—Author.] and, stretching his tongue out to its full length—about eighteen or twenty inches—break off a tender, young branch of the "camel-thorn," which is a sort of acacia tree and considered a great dainty by giraffes, and offer it to her. Gean was very independent, as well as shy, and much preferred to pick leaves and blades of grass for herself.

Groar took it all very well; he was disappointed, of course, but he preferred a young giraffe that was shy, and knew he should value her all the more if he had a little trouble and difficulty in winning her. So he waited patiently, hoping that some day he would have an opportunity of distinguishing himself, and the day arrived much sooner than he expected.

Gean was pacing slowly up and down the open plain one day, but keeping pretty close to the low woods—for she avoided the high forest, not being able to keep as good a lookout there for her two greatest enemies, men and lions—when she suddenly scented danger. It was a long way off, it is true, but Gean had a very keen sense of smell. Not being with any herd at present, Gean was accustomed to look after herself, and generally managed to keep clear of enemies, although, as I told you just now, she knew what it was to have very narrow escapes.

She was cautious enough not to stop walking, but kept slowly on, putting each foot down in a careful, dainty manner, and so softly that only the very faintest rustle could be heard, this being caused by the whisking to and fro of her tail, which made a curious little swish- swish as she moved. She took care, however, to look round in all directions, and, as her beautiful, round eyes projected in a peculiar manner, she was able to do this without moving her head at all. The only direction in which she could not look without turning her head was directly behind her, but this little difficulty was overcome by walking in a semi-circle for a few minutes.

Suddenly Gean saw the enemy. It was a full-grown lion, and he was creeping cautiously out of the underbrush in the wood close by. It was not often that lions came out by day, but Gean had passed close to this lion's lair, and the odor of such a dainty morsel as a giraffe was too much for the lion, who decided to make the most of his opportunity.

The moment Gean saw him, without moving her graceful, pretty head, she started off at full speed, and, although such a beautiful, graceful animal when still, or walking slowly, she certainly was awkward and ungainly when running. Her gait was clumsy and shambling, and, with her tail whisking to and fro all the time, she made an odd and undignified appearance. Her speed, however, made up for her ungainly movements, and for some time she outdistanced the lion by a long way. The lion was lazy, as usual, and, thinking he could easily overtake a giraffe, did not put forth his best speed. Consequently, he made the fatal mistake of allowing the giraffe a good start, and to his great surprise found he was losing ground.

But, lazy and indolent as the lion is, he can be energetic enough when he chooses, and so the King of Beasts gathered himself together, put forth his great strength and best speed, and very soon it was Gean who was losing ground, while the lion was gaining steadily.

Quivering with terror, and with her strength failing her, poor Gean began to feel hopeless. She could see the lion getting closer and closer, but not a sound did she make, for the giraffe is absolutely dumb, and makes no noise even when dying. On and on she went, trusting to her strong limbs, making curious, frog-like leaps and awkward, jumpy movements, her long neck rocking swiftly up and down as though pulled by some mechanical contrivance, and her tail swishing faster than ever.

She knew now she could not keep up much longer, and at last, realizing she must give up the race, turned suddenly round and faced her enemy, sending forth such a shower of strong, vigorous kicks that the lion was not only surprised, but completely bewildered. He hesitated but a moment, however, and then prepared to spring. Crouching down, with his huge head close to the ground, he watched his opportunity, for he had no relish for springing straight at those flourishing heels, and Gean took very good care to keep her head carefully out of his way, although she was quite prepared to give him a good blow with a sidelong swing of her-muscular neck. But she knew perfectly well that she could not keep this up more than another minute or two, and her beautiful, brown eyes were distended with fear, and her breath came thick and fast.

It would indeed have gone hard with her, but at that very moment Groar appeared on the scene, and, taking in what was happening at a single glance, he promptly went to the rescue. A shambling and clumsy object he looked, moving the fore and hind legs of the same side simultaneously, but in Gean's eyes at that moment he was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She kept up her kicking until Groar came up to her, and then he joined in with might and main, nourishing his four feet in the very face of the lion and daring him to do his worst.

But the lion thought better of it. It was all very well tackling one giraffe, but to face four such pairs of heels was more than he cared about, and when Groar took him unawares in the midst of all the kicking by suddenly striking him a heavy blow with his neck, the King of Beasts concluded it was not a good time to prove his sovereignty, and, with a sulky growl, slunk off to his lair.

As soon as the lion turned his back, poor Gean sank down utterly exhausted, her small head waving wearily to and fro, her long, black tongue hanging out of her mouth, and her breath coming in short, painful gasps. Groar comforted her as well as he could, caressing her tenderly, and every now and then drawing himself up to his full height on the lookout for danger. He never left her until she was able to move slowly back to the low woods, and then only to gather for her some tender shoots of camel-thorn and mimosa, and any young, tender leaves he could find.

Gean took them all very gently, and seemed humbled and grateful, and when, a little later on, he suggested that she should let him always take care of her, she thought it over and finally concluded it would be a very nice arrangement. And so Groar took her home to his herd and introduced her to the leader—an old giraffe with a dark chestnut hide and a longer neck than any of the others—as his wife.

And Gean was very happy, for Groar was a good and kind husband, and very devoted to her, and she no longer had to be always looking out for danger, for Groar was always watching, and guarded her with the greatest care. He took her for long walks through the woods, where they found nice, fresh food, and saw that she had her share of it, but they picked and ate only a few leaves or blades of grass at a time, for it is a provision of Nature that giraffes shall feed in this way, as their digestion is extremely delicate.

In times of danger they would get close to a tree, lean their bodies against it, and then, putting their heads and necks under the branches, would be so completely hidden that sometimes the natives would mistake the giraffes for trees, and the trees for giraffes. Gean and Groar were more easily hidden than some of their cousins who lived in Northern Africa, for, being South Africans themselves, they were of a much darker color, and therefore not so noticeable.

[Illustration: "GROAR JOINED IN WITH MIGHT AND MAIN."]

It was in this way that they saved themselves one day, when, followed by hunters. These hunters were mounted on good, fleet horses, and had traced the pair of giraffes by their spoor, or footmarks. These footmarks were ten or eleven inches in length, pointed at the toe, and rounded at the heel, so that it was quite easy to find which way the giraffes had gone.

Accordingly, the hunters followed the spoor, which went across miles of rough, uneven ground—for giraffes know perfectly well that they always have the advantage on rough ground, being able to leap over obstacles without diminishing their speed—and finally led them to a wood.

Here the hunters paused, and, finding it impossible to ride through the thick growth, tethered their horses and left them in charge of some natives, while they, creeping cautiously forward, with guns in hand, tried to find out in which direction the animals had gone.

But this was a very difficult matter, for there were no footmarks now, owing to the thick undergrowth, and, moreover, the giraffes were on guard. For this was their great object in living in low woods; it was quite easy to see an enemy approaching.

Groar's long neck and small head had appeared at the top of some of the bushes just before the hunters entered the wood, and he knew perfectly well what it all meant. With a swift movement he withdrew his head, and, telling Gean to follow him, he led her to a nice, tall tree, and when she had settled herself comfortably, with her head under the branches, betook himself to another tree near by, and hid his own head in the same manner.

So wonderfully did the giraffes blend with the bark and foliage of the trees, that, although the hunters passed close by, they were unable to find them. Little did they think while moving cautiously along that the very animals they were looking for were silently watching them, with gentle eyes, from between the branches of trees quite close to them.

Not a muscle did either Groar or Gean move until they made quite sure the hunters had gone, and then, Groar declaring it to be quite safe, they withdrew their heads and necks from the branches, relaxed their stiffened limbs, and, moving their sloping[Footnote: The slope in a giraffe's back is caused by its elongated shoulder-blades. The fore and hind legs are exactly the same length.—Author.] backs from the trees, walked softly and quietly in another direction.

They were both so stiff from standing in the same position for so long a time that they were obliged to go slowly at first, and it was a very good thing they did so; for suddenly they came to a deep pit, so cunningly and cleverly hidden, that it was a great wonder Gean had not walked straight into it. The pit was nearly ten feet deep, and a hard bank of earth had been built from one side to the other, about six or seven feet high. Had Gean fallen into it, her forelegs would have been on one side of the wall and her hind legs on the other, and she would have been balanced in such a manner that, in spite of any amount of kicking and struggling, it would have been quite impossible for her to obtain a foothold, and she would have been obliged to stay there until the natives came and killed her.

As it was, she stopped just in time; but two such frights, in one day, were enough to make any giraffe nervous, and so they both rejoined the herd, and let the old leader keep guard while they had their evening meal in peace.

Gean wandered off a little way by herself that night, and, as she seemed to wish to be alone, Groar did not bother her, but kept a strict lookout all the time. And in the morning she called him to look at something, and this something was a soft, helpless, little, baby giraffe, with delicate limbs and small body, a funny, scraggy, long neck and small head, with the very same sort of gentle, pathetic eyes that Gean herself had.

And Groar thought it was the very finest baby he had ever seen, and was fonder and prouder of Gean than ever. As for Gean, she was sublimely happy, and was never tired of fondling and caressing her little one and attending to its many wants.

For it was a delicate baby, and for some time after its birth it seemed very doubtful whether it would live or not. But Gean tended and nourished it, kept it nice and warm, and in due course of time it grew strong and healthy.

And here we must leave Gean. She had a good home, plenty to eat, a kind husband and pretty little baby, and what more could any giraffe want?