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

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

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There is no time to tell of all the strange monsters that men used to invent just to frighten themselves with ! There was a creature called the Odenthos, which had three horns instead of one, and felt a special hatred of elephants. There was the little Amphisbsena, which was something between a lizard and a snake, and had a head at each end of its body, so that it never needed to turn round. This must have made it very creepy to meet, but besides being horrid to look at it was very dangerous, as both of its heads were equally poisonous. Then there were yellow mice as large as ravens, and another kind as big as dogs, that must have looked rather like kangaroos, and a great many others, of which pictures may be found in old books. But none, not even the griffin or the unicorn, was as fierce as the small black basilisk, which was only a foot long. It got its name from a white mark on its forehead the shape of a crown, so they called it ' the king,' from the Greek word ' basileus.'' It seems odd that such a tiny little animal could have caused such dread in men as well as beasts, but it really was a terrible little creature. It was enough for it to hiss for every living thing that heard it to scamper away to its den. If it spat, its venom was so deadly that rocks were rent by it, any bird that flew over it fell down dead into its jaws, and by merely looking at a man it killed the life within him. If he happened to come across a basilisk for the first time, and tried to cut off its head instead of running away, he fared no better, for the poison from its mouth would fly along the blade and cause his instant death.
We may wonder how, after a few years, there was anything but basilisks left on the earth, and perhaps there would not have been, but for the presence of weasels and of crystals. Weasels and basilisks had a natural hatred of each other, and rushed at each other's throats at every opportunity. The battle always ended in the same way, by the death of both combatants, for though ' the weasel overcomes the basilisk with its strong smell, yet it dies
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