The Red Book Of Animal Stories - online children's book

Stories of Animals, Fantastic and Mundane, Edited By Andrew Lang

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It was really quite dangerous to go near the river at all, for you never knew when a crocodile might be lurking near. One day several sailors went down to the bank to gather the leaves of a pretty, pink, floating convolvulus, which, when chopped up, made a very good imitation of spinach, and was much relished for dinner. The roots were fast in the mud, but the leaves spread about like water-lilies, and had to be drawn in by their stems. One of the sailors was reaching out as far as he could stretch after a particularly fine young leaf, when a crocodile darted out and seized him by the elbow. The pain was frightful, and the man would at once have fallen help­lessly into the river had not his comrades instantly flung their arms round his waist and held him back. Then began a fearful tug-of-war. Neither party would let go, till at last the elbow joint itself gave way. The crocodile went off triumphantly with the hand and forearm, and the sailor was carried off to be doctored in the camp.
This was bad enough, but sometimes worse happened. It was no uncommon thing, if one person was out alone on any errand that took him near the river, for nothing more ever to be heard of him. If a woman was washing at the bank in the shallow water, her legs might be seized, and she would be dragged underneath before anyone in the boat moored close by knew what had occurred. This once actually happened to a negro girl; and how she had met her end was afterwards proved in a ghastly manner.
Life was made such a terror by the constant and often unseen presence of these crocodiles, that Baker lost no opportunity of killing all he could with a small rifle, called ' the Dutchman,' kept solely for this purpose. It was so very accurate in its aim, that at a hundred yards it was possible to hit a crocodile which was lying on a sandbank in the two places where death was immediate, behind the eye, or through the shoulder ; often the creature never even stirred, but lay dead in its place.
Baker had one day been out on some business, and
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