IN THE AMERICAN DESERT 119
They all sat with their eyes fixed on the hole, out of which a little head came peeping. It did not see the snake, but it did see the settlers, and did not seem to like the look of them, for there it was, and there it clearly meant to stay. Suddenly the dead leaves of the wood began to rustle violently, and out dashed another squirrel at its topmost speed, making for its home in the tree. Twenty feet behind a long yellow pine-weasel was in full chase.
The squirrel could think of nothing but the enemy behind, and never heeded any possible danger in front, yet, if it had only looked that way, it would have seen something more dreadful even than a pine-weasel. The rattlesnake had suddenly swelled to twice its natural size ; his mouth was opened so wide that the lower jaw touched his throat, and his poisoned fangs were bare. As the squirrel flashed past him up the stem, the snake appeared to move his head slightly, but so little that it did not seem even to have touched the squirrel. Yet somehow, before the squirrel had reached the first branch, it began to climb more slowly, and in another moment stopped altogether. It swayed from side to side as if it had been seized with giddiness, then its claws gave way, and it fell dead into the jaws of the serpent.
The weasel, who in its headlong chase had very nearly rushed upon the same fate, stopped at a little distance, hissing and growling, and evidently half inclined to fight the snake, but at length it decided that this would be very unwise, so, with a final snarl, it marched off into the woods.
When the last hair of the weasel's tail had vanished round a tree, the snake uncoiled himself, and licked the body of the squirrel well over, before swallowing it head foremost.
He was still engaged in this operation when a great creeper with scarlet flowers, hanging about twenty feet above the head of the rattle-snake, began to move in a