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Little tales of the desert.

by Ethel Twycross Foster
Part 4 Rabbits and cactus burrs.

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MARY and Bepo, the burro, soon became fast friends. Few burros lead as happy a life as being the constant playmate of a merry child. Bepo seemed to appreciate this fact and loved Mary accordingly. Many a prospecting trip did they take on their own account over the network of trails leading from camp to the numerous shafts and tunnels of the mine. You city children and even you country boys and girls would never dream of all the delightful and interesting things they found. I suppose you think of the desert as being a flat stretch of sand with nothing on it, like the maps of the desert of Sahara, in Africa? I know I used to. But indeed it is not so. Many strange forms of life exist, both plant and animal, as we shall soon learn. This particular morning as they started out, Mary noticed that the ground was covered with cactus burrs. Did you ever see a cactus burr? They are similar to those you find in the country, but larger, with pointed daggers sticking out in all directions, and they grow on a crooked, prickly stalk or spine in the most comical way imaginable. As they ambled along they discovered more and yet more of them. Mary, being an inquisitive child, jumped down from Bepo's back for a closer inspection of the strange things. Then she discovered a queer thing. She had seen lots of burrs before but these were different. All the sharp daggers had been removed, the burrs had been split open and the soft centers taken out.

Mary looked all around, who could have done it? No man could have opened all those burrs, it would have taken him weeks. He would have pricked his fingers many times and often besides. Then she heard a faint rustling in the bushes near by. Softly she tiptoed behind a clump of sagebrush and peeked over. There was a little rabbit nibbling away at a cactus burr. He handled it very carefully to guard against pricks and very daintily nibbled off, one by one, the tiny daggers. When all were gone he split open the burr, sucked out the juice, then nibbled up the soft center. So you see, even on this sandy desert, Nature cares for all her children. Mary was so pleased at the sight that she clapped her little hands in glee and cried, "You dear, cute little thing!" But Mr. Rabbit was not used to little girls. He looked up suddenly with fright in his tiny pink eyes, then sprang away into the bushes. Mary led Bepo around to a rock and clambered onto his back. As they slowly stubbed along over the rough trail they surprised many a family of rabbits and not a few were nibbling away at the prickly cactus burrs. You can ride for miles over the desert without finding water, no lakes, no rivers, no little stream even; and if it were not for the sweet juices in the center of these burrs many small animals would die of thirst.


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