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Pero, the Porcupine by Ellen Velvin

Not far away was a funny, bristly-looking ball, which moved and rustled and squirmed about, and yet for the life of him the little dog, Jock, could not make out what it was.

There seemed to be no head nor tail, nor beginning nor end. But it was not still for a single moment, and the long, sharp things that rustled so much, and made such a curious sound, were from ten to fifteen inches long.

These things, which looked like quills, were thick in the middle, tapering to each end, and had little black and white rings all the way round them.

Jock could not imagine what it could be, but at this moment the round, prickly ball began to move towards him, and Jock backed away, sniffing and snarling, and keeping at a safe distance from those sharp-pointed things which looked like big, thick needles.

When the prickly ball was quite close to him, it moved round, and then, to his surprise, Jock saw a peculiar head with small ears, tiny eyes—very like a pig's—and a thick, heavy nose or muzzle.

It was evidently an animal, but Jock had never seen anything like it before. The front part of its body was covered with hair, and upon the head and neck there were some very long, stiff hairs, which formed a curious sort of crest, and this crest the animal moved up and down in the fiercest manner imaginable. All the rest of its body was covered with long, sharp quills or spines, which looked like hundreds of small, prickly spears sticking out all over it. Its legs were short, and on its feet were sharp and strong claws.

Suddenly Jock knew what it was. It was a porcupine.

Now Jock had not been out in West Africa very long, and, though he had been told by his dog friends of the porcupine, this was the first time he had really seen one, and he did not care for the experience at all.

However, he was not going to be afraid of a porcupine, and, as it did not look particularly fierce, but rather stupid, and moved in a very slow and clumsy manner—the curious rustling appearing to be the only noise it could make—Jock stuck up his tail, drew himself up and barked. Barked loudly and angrily, and tauntingly, and the porcupine, instead of going away or running at him, or doing any of those things Jock expected it would do, simply turned its back and rustled its quills more fiercely than before.

This made Jock angrier than ever, and he barked and growled and snapped, his teeth, and, had it not been for the prickly spines, would have given the porcupine a good bite. As it was, he felt nothing but contempt for it, but his contempt was short-lived.

Before he realized what was going to happen, Pero, the porcupine, came at him backwards, and suddenly Jock was pierced in over a dozen places by those sharp, cruel quills.

In an instant his barking and snarls were changed to dismal howls of pain. In vain he tried to turn and run away. He was fastened to the porcupine as though with so many nails, and his agony was almost unbearable.

Pero suddenly walked away from him, and, without once looking back, shambled in her clumsy, plantigrade[Footnote: A plantigrade is an animal which walks on the soles of its feet.-Author.] fashion back to the mound of earth, where she had been carefully burrowing a hole for her winter home. It would have been finished by this time if Jock had not disturbed her, and she was naturally angry.

[Illustration: "JOCK HAD NEVER SEEN ANYIHING LIKE IT BEFORE"]

She cared nothing whatever for the dog's howls or moans of pain. She had done with him now and had left him several of her quills as mementoes of the occasion.

In vain Jock tried to get rid of them, but Pero had driven them well in, and was wise enough to know that where she once drove her quills there they stayed, until, perhaps, they worked themselves out in the opposite direction.

For the quills of a porcupine are so peculiarly made that when once they are driven into the flesh, instead of working their way out, they go deeper and deeper, often boring right into the vital parts of an animal, and so killing it.

In days gone by some people believed that the porcupine was a most dangerous animal, and that whenever it saw an enemy approaching it just threw some of its little, pointed spears at him and so killed him. But this belief came from an old fable, for the porcupine cannot throw its quills, but he can push them in, in the same way that Pero pushed her's into the terrier, and then leave them to work their mischief.

Had Jock been a wiser dog, he would have known better than to have had anything to do with the porcupine. But he was only an ordinary English terrier, and, as I told you, had not been long in West Africa.

A horse would have known better, for all horses are afraid of porcupines, and will never face an irritated one if they can possibly get away. As a rule, the very rustle of a porcupine's quills will make a horse take to his highest speed in terror.

Neither leopards or tigers care to face this animal, for they seem to know instinctively how dangerous its quills are.

Once having inserted her quills, Pero paid no further attention to Jock, but went on burrowing and burrowing with her curious, snout-like nose, and never rested until she had made a nice little cave in the earth, where she could be warm and comfortable all through the winter.

She was in a great hurry, for it would soon be time to go to sleep, and before going to sleep she had some important duties to perform and would be very busy.

Meanwhile, poor little Jock limped off painfully. He had eight or nine quills sticking into his shoulders and one had gone into his sensitive nostrils.

In vain he tried to get rid of them. The longer they were in his flesh the deeper they went. If he had gone home his human friends might have taken them out for him, and so saved his life; but he was frightened and bewildered, and, like all animals when in pain or trouble, his first thought was to go away to some quiet place and hide himself in his misery. Having found such a place, there he stayed, poor little dog, in terrible pain, until one of the quills, which was nearly twelve inches long, went so deep as to touch his heart.

So Jock stayed in the hiding-place he had chosen for himself, and no one ever found out what had become of him.

Pero went on placidly with her work in her clumsy manner, and never stopped until she had finished her winter home. Then she knew she must go out and collect some food.

Her food consisted of plants, the bark of trees, and fruits of different kinds; and then there were succulent roots and plants to be found and dug out of the ground, and these provided both food and drink, for the moisture was quite enough to quench the porcupine's thirst.

After this Pero rested a little, for she was very, very tired.

It was September now, and by the end of the month or the beginning of
October she would be busy again.

So she made the most of her time, eating and taking things easy. Having finished her work, she felt entitled to do this, and one morning, when the bright, clear daylight penetrated the mouth of her winter home, it fell on two funny little objects, and these funny little objects were baby porcupines.

[Illustration: "BUT OH! WHAT HAVOC HE MADE!"]

They were not prickly like their mother, but just soft, helpless mites with curiously-shaped bodies, and funny little heads and snouts, which made them look very much like pigs.

An animal covered with hundreds of sharp quills, from ten to twelve inches in length, each of which can pierce like a little stiletto, does not sound like a particularly comfortable thing to have for a mother. But the baby porcupines were quite happy, and their mother, clumsy as she was, was clever enough never to let any of the quills touch her little ones. She was warm and soft enough underneath, and her babies were just as comfortable as any other animals' babies are.

Although Pero had laid in her stock for the winter, she went out every night to get food. By doing this she achieved two things: she kept her winter stock, and she got fresh food for the time being.

Everything went on very well, and Pero and her babies were perfectly happy in their little home, when one night Pero had a startling adventure.

She was going along doing her best to walk quietly, although this was next to impossible, for the quills in her tail would rustle, no matter how carefully she walked, when she suddenly became conscious of a tall, dark form coming towards her. She knew well enough what that was. It was a man, and anything in the shape of a man had to be most carefully guarded against.

Without an instant's hesitation, Pero suddenly doubled her nose between her forelegs, and rolled herself into a tight ball, leaving all her long, prickly spikes outside. This was a very convenient way of avoiding danger, but the only drawback to it was that, while she was coiled up, she could see nothing and hear very little.

However, she knew that the wisest thing was to keep perfectly still. And when she did this she was seldom touched. This time, however, something turned her over, and over, and over, till she felt sick and faint and dizzy; so dizzy at last that she suddenly unrolled herself a little bit in order to see where she was. To her great joy, she saw that she was near her burrow, and, with a wonderfully quick movement for so clumsy a creature, and with a peculiar rustling of all her quills, Pero crept quickly into her hole, leaving the man perfectly astonished.

For some time she lay there with her babies, quivering and shaking with fright—for the man was trying to get in. The light was getting broader and brighter, and at last, in sheer terror, Pero began to burrow further into the mound.

She went at it with nose and head and paws, as hard as she could go, scraping quickly with her sharp-clawed little feet, throwing the earth behind till she nearly smothered her babies, and pushing her snout- like nose into the earth as hard and fast as she could.

How long she would have gone on with this can never be known, but one of the babies, nearly suffocated with the earth, set up a little, whimpering cry, and Pero's motherly heart responded at once.

She knew it was a cry of pain—of distress—and so she suddenly gave up the burrowing and turned back to her little one.

It was a good thing she did so, for she had to do some more burrowing work in order to get the babies out of the earth which she had thrown over them. But by the time she had done this she realized that the man had stopped trying to get in, and so she was able to lie down.

Her tired little body was quivering with excitement; her nostrils opening and shutting convulsively, and her little heart beating like a trip-hammer. She gathered her babies to her and gave them their evening meal, but all the time she was listening for the enemy.

He was indeed an enemy, and was deeply disappointed at not being able to get Pero, for there were so many burrows about there, and the porcupines had done so much mischief to his various crops—potatoes, carrots, rice and roots of many kinds—that he was determined to destroy them.

So determined was he to kill them, that he was already having dogs trained to take up the scent of the porcupine—dogs who would not be quite so stupid as Jock, although in many cases they would probably get a few quills.

There were two reasons for killing the porcupines. One was to get rid of them and their destructive propensities; the other was that they provided an article of food, their flesh being very white and palatable, resembling pork or veal.

But the man had failed this time, and Pero was determined that she would not risk that danger again. So, the next day, she made a little tunnel from her present home into another hole that she had carefully burrowed out.

Then for some days and weeks she was again busy collecting food. And this was hard work, as roots and plants were getting scarce. Meanwhile, the babies were growing strong and sturdy, and their tiny quills were just beginning to peep out.

Pero finished her work at last, and her second winter home was as carefully and well stocked as her first one.

She decided that she would only go out once more in order to get just two roots which she wanted, and then she would settle down for the winter. But this once more was just once too often, for, unfortunately, the man was on the watch, and, just as Pero was coming slowly out of her burrow, she received a stinging blow on the nose, which completely stunned her.

This is why the porcupine always takes special care to protect its head by rolling itself into a ball. Any blow or wound on the nose is capable of completely stunning it, and for the time being it can be handled and carried away.

Pero was a fine specimen of a porcupine. She was about three feet and a half in length, and stood about a foot and a half high. Therefore she was well worth having, and, owing to her size, she was kept alive.

When she recovered her senses, she found herself in an iron cage, with a cold, stone floor, and she realized, after many futile efforts to get out, that she was a prisoner.

Here she stayed, for the man kept her as a curiosity, and, although she fretted and grieved for a time at the loss of her babies, as the winter grew on she began to get very, very sleepy, and by the time she woke up had forgotten all about her burrow—all about her winter home, and all about her little ones.

But, as she had comfortable quarters, good food and an easy life, she grew, in time, accustomed to her prison. She made the best of it, and soon became not only quite tame, but even fond of the man who had made her a prisoner.