Andrew Lang.

The red book of animal stories online

. (page 6 of 22)
Online LibraryAndrew LangThe red book of animal stories → online text (page 6 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and the soldiers called in. They led Maldonada three miles
into the heart of the forest, and there tying her tight to
a tree, according to their orders, left her to her death.

For two nights and a day no one troubled their heads
about her ; either she had no friends, or they were poor
people who were powerless against the governor ; but on
the third day, soldiers were again sent out, to collect her
bones. To their immense surprise, they found Maldonada
quite unhurt, but very hungry, and awaiting, as bravely
as she could, the death that could not be far off, whether
it came to her by starvation, or by the jaws of wild beasts.
During the terrible hours she had spent there savage



creatures of all sorts had tried to get at her, but had
been driven off by a puma, which had stood by her side,
and defended her from every enemy, and, according
to one writer, dead and dying jaguars were scattered

When the soldiers came up, the puma retreated to a
little distance, fearing two or three men more than
any number of wild beasts. But when, moved to pity by
Maldonada's wonderful deliverance, they unbound the
ropes that fastened her, the puma drew near again, and
jumped about her, and rubbed its head on her shoulder,
and showed how pleased it felt that all its battles had not
been fought in vain. ' And in this way,' ends up the old
chronicler, ' she who had been offered up to wild beasts
became free. I knew her well, and think that, instead of
being named " Unlucky," she should rather have been
called " Lucky," and the things that happened to her show
plainly that the punishment meted out to her had in no
manner been deserved.'

A jaguar is a very near relation to a puma, though
they are deadly foes ; and it is the biggest of all the cat
tribe throughout the continent of America, measuring
over six feet from nose to tail. Its skin is yellow, spotted
with black, and, like the puma, it is a very clever climber,
and can manage quite well to dine off the monkeys that
live up on the trees, if the solid ground is flooded. It is,
perhaps, the fiercest of all the wild animals of South
America, and it is certainly one of the noisiest. The
puma goes silently about its business, but the jaguar is
always shrieking and screaming, so its prey has plenty of
warning, and can often get safe out of the way.

The jaguar is found all through America, from Texas
to Patagonia an immense tract of country, that of course
contains a great many different climates, to which it has
to adapt its food and habits. In the forests which border
'the Amazon, and some of the huge rivers of Brazil, they
make their lairs along the banks, or in the reedy shores


of the lakes. Here they feast for a change, or when
nothing else is to be had on fish, eggs, and even turtles,
which they scoop neatly out of their shells with a paw.
Sometimes they inhabit the islands scattered about the
great streams ; but when the rivers suddenly rise, and their
homes are flooded, and no food is to be had, they swim
on shore in search of it, and it is at these times the jaguar
becomes unusually dangerous, for, as a rule, it never
attacks man first. On one occasion, a half-starved jaguar
hid itself in a church at Santa Fe, and as the priest
entered to celebrate mass, it sprang out and gnawed
the poor man, till there was hardly a scrap of him left to
tell the tale. Then the murderer stole stealthily back to
its hiding-place, with its appetite still keen, waiting till
the second priest should come in and fall a victim, exactly
as the first had done. And even two priests would not
have made a meal for this hungry creature, but that
fortunately the third priest, whose ears were quick, heard
the sound of crunching through the open door, and
stopped outside in time.

He rushed back and collected some men, but no one
could be found rash or daring enough to advance into
the church in order to shoot the monster. It was found
that the only safe way to get at it was to go up on the
roof of the church, and to lift off a part, so as to take aim
from a safe distance.

When goaded by hunger, jaguars will eat tame
cattle and horses ; but they much prefer wild game,
which they kill in the same way as the puma, by dis-
locating the neck. If they are disturbed during a meal
they will hardly ever return to the half-eaten body, but
begin a fresh hunt and in the level pampas of Argentina
and Patagonia, game is very plentiful and easily seen.
In the southern parts of Brazil man-eating jaguars are not
at all uncommon, and one will be heard (or seen) tracking
a party during a whole day, stopping when they stop, .
and moving when they move.



In his ' Pioneering in South Brazil,' Mr. Bigg- Wither
tells a curious story of a fight between a jaguar and a
herd of wild pigs, witnessed by some friends of his who
were exploring the country. One evening the two men
had come in very tired after a long day's work, during
which they had eaten nothing but fruit and honey, and
set up their camp in a belt of forest between two rivers.
They were sitting round their fire feeling very hungry and
longing for a good meal, when suddenly a great noise of
grunting and squeaking close by betrayed the presence
of pigs, and the men seized their guns and pricked up
their ears, thinking that here at last \vas their chance of
a dinner.

Going cautiously in the direction of the sound, they
came upon a clearing. In the midst of the clearing was an
anthill, about five feet high, and on the top of the anthill
stood a lai'ge jaguar. Eound the foot of the anthill were
a herd of fifty or sixty wild pigs, grunting, squeaking, and
bustling noisily about, but not knowing how to get at the
jaguar, who stood balancing himself uneasily on the crest
of the anthill, with his four feet well together, and his
tail high in the air, out of harm's way.

But it was plain to the two men who were watching
that this state of things could not last long, and, indeed,
very soon, either from forgetfulness or from laziness, the
jaguar allowed his tail to drop a little. In an instant it
was seized by a smart young pig, and the jaguar dragged
right down among his enemies, who closed in a dense
mass round him. In spite of the immense odds
against him, the animal fought well and pluckily.
Two or three times he actually struggled to his feet, and
struck out fiercely with his paws ; but the battle was
against him, and little by little the noise began to cease.

Then the pigs slowly dispersed, and sauntered off by
ones and twos and threes, some in this direction and some
in that. When they were all out of sight the men came out
from behind their tree, and walked quickly to the battle-


field, where fourteen pigs lay dead or dying, but nothing
was to be seen of the jaguar. Where could he be? was
the question they asked each other, and the riddle was
only guessed when one of the men, who was a Portuguese,
picked up a bit of his skin. Whether he had been torn
and eaten on the spot, or whether he had been carried off
piecemeal to be enjoyed at home, was never known.
Anyhow the men took one of the dead pigs back to the
camp, and cooked it for supper.

Belt, the Naturalist, when travelling in Nicaragua,
had some interesting encounters with jaguars, which
might have ended badly for him. One day he had gone
in search of some small birds that feed on foraging ants,
and hearing their notes, he tied his mule to a tree, and
went in search of them, as he was very anxious to obtain
a specimen. He had only with him a gun loaded with
very small shot, and holding this he pushed through the
bushes to the thicket from which the birds' song came.

But birds are restless creatures, and these must have
fluttered from tree to tree, so that Belt had wandered a
good way from the path, and had reached a space where
the brushwood was thin, and the trees large and tall,
when he heard a sound between a cough and a growl
from the bushes on his left. He thought it was a tapir,
and ran quickly towards it, as he knew that, with such
small shot, he would have to be very close before he
fired. Then, just in front of him, the bushes swayed,
and out came a huge jaguar, lashing its tail and roaring
with anger.

It was not easy to tell what had excited it so, for it
had not seen Belt, and there was no animal in sight ; but
it crossed the clearing twenty yards in front of Belt and
dashed on. The Naturalist was quite unarmed, except for
his one little gun, and knelt down to steady his aim, in
case he might have to fire at close quarters. The slight
rustling attracted the attention of the jaguar, who paused
for a moment, and then turned round. It lowered its


head and stretched itself out, and Belt made ready to
receive its spring, but the jaguar altered its mind at the
last, and bounded off into the forest. It was much the
best thing for everybody ; but Belt never ceased being
sorry that he had not fired, although, if he had, he would
most likely never have come home to tell the tale.

In this part of the world, too, jaguars have a peculiar
way of killing their prey, which certainly spares the
victim any pangs of terror. A jaguar will sit quietly on a
tree till a herd of wild pigs come by, and then, choosing
out a nice fat one, drops straight on its back as it passes
underneath, dislocates its neck with a jerk of its paw,
and is up the tree again before the rest of the herd know
what has happened. When they have disappeared,
leaving their dead comrade behind them, the jaguar
jumps down and eats him for dinner.



IN the small village of Saint Jean, near Carcassonne,
there dwelt a young man named Mathurin, who made his
living by selling milk. This he always carried on his
shoulder when he went his rounds, in a large earthen jar,
but one unlucky day when he was going over a piece of
rough rocky ground, overgrown with gorse and heather,
his foot slipped, and his jar fell on a stone, and was broken
to atoms.

Close to where the accident happened the rocks formed
a little hollow, into which the milk flowed, and soon
formed a small white lake. There was no use trying to
pour it back again, for the jar was too badly broken for
that, so the young man returned as fast as he could to
Saint Jean to get some more milk for his customers.

This time he took care to get a stronger pot, and to
hold it more firmly on his shoulder ; and then he made
haste back along the path he had come, for it was getting
late, and everybody would be thinking about breakfast.

On reaching the place where he had slipped and
fallen, he found that a splendid adder had taken advan-
tage of his misfortunes and was lapping up the pool of
milk with the utmost enjoyment. As he came near, the
adder turned and hissed, and showed quite plainly that she
did not intend to allow anybody to interfere with the piece
of good luck which had fallen in her way. The young
milkman understood the hint, and was, besides, in a
hurry, so he passed on quickly, and left the adder to
finish her breakfast.



Still, he felt rather curious to know if she could pos-
sibly drink up so much milk, and when he had served
all his customers he took the trouble to come back the same
way to see what had become of the adder. He found her
stretched out on the rock, quite drunk with milk, and
being a young man of kind heart, he left her to have her
sleep out, instead of killing her, as most people would
have done in his place.


The next morning, when he passed by the dry little
hollow which, the day before, had been a milky lake,
he thought of the adder, and how dull it must feel after
its delightful meal of yesterday. So he looked at his
jar and then at the hollow, and then at the jar again.
Finally he stooped down, and poured out a little milk,
and walked quickly away. When he had gone a few
steps, he glanced round cautiously, and saw the adder in
the act of gliding out from under a bush and making
straight for the milk.

H 2


This time there was not enough to make it drunk,
for when Mathurin came back, an hour or two later, the
adder had disappeared.

The following day he looked about to see if the
adder was anywhere in the neighbourhood, and detected
two bright eyes and a small flat head, watching him
from under a bush. He called it by the first name that
occurred to him, which was ' Mathurine,' the feminine
of his own ; the adder seemed to listen. Then he poured
out some milk, and called it again. The adder seemed to
understand, and came about a yard nearer, then stopped

The young man did not want to frighten her, so he
moved to a little distance, but not without seeing his
new friend busy over the milk he had poured out. He did
not go near her again, but called gently, ' Mathurine !
Mathurine ! Mathurine ! ' and each time the adder lifted
her head and looked at him.

From that day he never passed the place without
calling ' Mathurine ! ' and at every call the adder hastened
more quickly to answer it, till she soon became quite tame,
and recognised not only the young man's voice but the
sound of his footsteps.

The friendship between this odd pair lasted for a year.
Every day during that year Mathurin poured out a glass
of milk for Mathurine, and every day Mathurine was on
the look out for him, standing on her tail when he
appeared, and licking his hand affectionately with her
forky tongue.

But at last there came a day when the young man
drew the lot of conscription, and had to leave the village
where he was born, and join the regiment to which he was

He bade an affectionate farewell to his little friend,
who had grown quite a foot during the last few months,
and was now as tall as Mathurin himself when she reared
herself to her full height. She quite understood that


she was not going to see him for a long time, and
overwhelmed Mathurin with caresses; curling about his
legs and arms, and rubbing her head against him.
Then she glided by his side for part of the way, and only
vanished among the bushes at the sound of the bells of
the stage coach.

Mathurin was away seven years, from 1793 to 1800
a rather lively time he had and it was only after the
peace of Luneville that he was set free to return home,
with the uniform of a corporal.

His first visit was of course to his mother ; then to
his sisters, his cousins, and his friends. After that, he
thought about the adder. Would she remember him, he
wondered, after seven years' absence ? He was curious to

He put on his old milkman's clothes, so that Mathurine
might the more easily recognise him, and went straight
to their old meeting-place in the rocks. ' Mathurine !
Mathurine ! ' cried he.

Instantly there was a loud rustling among the
leaves, and a snake ten feet long, with gleaming eyes, came
wriggling along with amazing quickness and flung herself
with a bound upon Mathurin, twining herself tightly
round his neck. He tried to free himself from the
pressure which threatened to choke him, but could not
unloose the closely curled rings ; then he attempted to
call for help, but his voice died in his throat, and,
throwing his hands despairingly in the air, he rolled
dead upon the rocks, strangled by the embraces of his
friend. 1

1 The young reader is requested to correct the mistakes in this
exercise of French fancy. A. L.



MONSIEUR ALEXANDRE DUMAS, who was so fond of
animals, and has given us such a delightful account of
Pritchard and his ways, was once passing a few months
in a palace at Naples.

It was a beautiful palace, with a garden that had
been made long ago by a rich Roman noble, and terraces
that sloped down to the sea itself. These terraces and
gardens were filled with fine trees and covered with
flowers, and on their walls and stones there basked in the
sunshine, thousands of grey and golden lizards.

Now anyone that has ever watched the behaviour
of lizards for long together, knows what strange little
creatures they are. How quick, and yet how still ; how
shy, and yet how readily tamed ; how unnoticeable amidst
the grey rocks and stones, yet how easily detected by their
bright glittering eyes.

Amongst all the lizards that made their homes in
the gardens of M. Dumas' palace, there w r as one which
seemed as if it had been charged by all its relations to
prove to M. Dumas and his guest, M. Goujon, the
truth of the proverb, 'the lizard is the friend of man.'
This particular lizard was a very bold little person, and
very fond of flies, which it would even come to seek
by the windows of M. Goujon's room, opening on to the


Like M. Dumas, M. Goujon loved beasts, and he
thought he would try to tame his visitor, and at the end
of three days he had succeeded so well, that the lizard
was not afraid to come near him. A week later he tried
the experiment of offering the lizard, to whom he had
given the name of Joseph, a spoonful of tea from his
cup, and, rather to his surprise, Joseph seemed quite to
enjoy it !

The two always met in the very early mornings before
anyone else was up, but at whatever hour M. Goujon
might choose to come out on the terrace, Joseph was sure
to be there before him, stretched comfortably out in a
warm sunny place, with her eyes fixed on the door where
M. Goujon would presently appear.

Ten minutes after this event, a page boy brought
Goujon his morning tea, and Joseph, who knew the boy
quite well by sight, raised her head and flicked the end
of her tail with joy at the sight of the tray. She never
moved her gaze from Goujon, who poured himself slowly
out a cup, and put in plenty of sugar. Then he took a
spoonful of the tea, tasted it, as a careful nurse tastes a
baby's milk to make sure it is not too hot, and held out
the spoon to Joseph, who lapped it delicately with her
thin black tongue till she had finished every drop. She
never allowed anything to disturb her during this occu-
pation, except a sudden noise, or a face she did not

Little by little Joseph soon grew accustomed to the
people of the house, and paid no heed to them. She
would even take sugar from our hands, though seldom
without hesitation, as she always remained constant to

One day Joseph was missing from her usual place on
the terrace, and M. Goujon had to drink his tea alone.
The whole house grieved over her loss, for ' the palace
was dull,' observes M. Dumas, ' and we had made no
friends except herself. But there is no sorrow so great


that time cannot heal it ; and, as Claudius King of Denmark
said to Hamlet on a similar occasion :

.... Your father lost a father ;

That father lost, lost his ; and the survivor bound,

In filial obligation, for some term

To do obsequious sorrow : but to persever

In obstinate condolement, is a course

Of impious stubbornness ; 'tis unmanly grief.

Hamlet refused to listen to this advice ; but, as M.
Dumas afterwards said, in telling the story, ' We were
wiser than Hamlet. Besides, after all, Joseph was not
the father of any of us. If she was anything, she was
Goujon's adopted child.'

However, all missed her, and for two or three days
she was the subject of all our conversations. Then
her name w r as heard more seldom, and at last it dropped
out of our talk altogether. Only Goujon would every
now and then lean over the parapet, and call softly
for ' Joseph,' and even he seemed to do this now more
as a matter of duty, than from the idea that it was of any

Things went on in this way for about three weeks,
when, early one morning, at the hour when Goujon w T as
in the habit of drinking his cup of tea, I heard cries of
joy proceeding from the terrace. I ran to see what had
happened, and found Goujon wild with delight at the re-
appearance of Joseph (or Josephine as she ought properly
to have been called), who was basking in the sun w r ith
two tiny little lizards about as long as needles and as
thick as quill pens, lying beside her.

She stayed with us till the middle of November, and
then vanished as suddenly as before. Nothing was seen
of her during the cold days of the winter, but at the
beginning of March, when the sun was growing strong
again, we noticed one morning a lizard lying on the wall
of the balcony, staring hard at us.



' Look there,' I remarked to Goujon. ' One would
almost say that was Joseph/ for we never could remember
to call her ' Josephine,' and, if we did, she paid no sort of

Goujon's eyes followed mine. ' Joseph, Joseph ! '
cried he, and Joseph came running without a moment's
hesitation, to the astonishment of the two small lizards,
who stayed behind and watched, with a shudder of
horror, their mother crawl up Goujon's shoulder.

From this day the friendship between Goujon and
Joseph became as strong as ever, and when we left our
palace the only person w r e were sorry to leave was the
amiable Joseph.

Does she ever think of us now, I wonder, even of
Goujon ?



ONE of the most curious and interesting of all the dwellers
in the pampas of South America is a little fat creature,
rather like a large guinea-pig, found from the Eio Negro
to the Uruguay, and called the Vizcacha. It is nearly
related to the Chinchilla, but does not enjoy mountain
life or solitude, and, indeed, prefers to live in a settlement
with twenty or thirty companions.

Like the beaver, the vizcacha is a great builder, and
his houses are always made on the same plan. He first
of all chooses a level spot, where the soil is neither sand
nor gravel, and then digs deep trenches or passages which
lead into the inner apai'tments, the front doors being
very large and handsome, often as much as four or five
feet wide. At the end is a large round room, and the
whole dwelling is in the form of a Y.

Of course, during the process of building, a great deal
of soil has to be thrown out, and the vizcacha, who is
very neat and thorough about all he does, erects this
into a mound, which serves as a protection to the burrow
and prevents it being trampled under foot by the pass-
ing cattle, or being washed away by the heavy rains, as
often happens to the homes of armadillos and other
animals. On the sides of this mound burrowing owls
make their nests, and various small birds are to be
found that exist (as far as is known) in no other place,
while foxes and weasels find it quite a pleasant resi-
dence. These vizcacha burrows, or vizcacheras, as they
are called, often cover as much as two hundred square


feet- of ground, and are so numerous in Patagonia that
you can hardly ride half a mile without coming on one
at any rate. The villages go on in the same place for
generations, except that every now and then, when the
dwelling is getting uncomfortably crowded, a vizcacha of
unusual energy will look out for a suitable spot fifty or
sixty yards from his old home, and form a new burrow ;
his lazy companions, however, taking care not to join him
till all is ready, when they drop in by accident one by

When once the vizcachera is built, in nice soft ground,
and its park (about half an acre in extent) of smoothly
cropped grass is properly laid out, the vizcachas show
themselves to be people of regular habits.

In winter it is their custom to stay in their burrows
till dark, but in summer they come out before sunset, to
take advantage of the evening air. First one of the
elders will appear and sit quietly on the mound, and then,
gradually, the doorways are filled with loungers, the
males standing upright, and the females, smaller and
livelier and lighter than their masters, sitting on their
haunches. Like their two-legged sisters, they become
eagerly curious at the sight of any passer-by, and
make strange noises. If he approaches, they dash
quickly into their burrows ; but often their sharp eyes
and little noses may be seen peering round the corner,
longing for another look.

All vizcachas are very careful about their fur, and
spend much time combing it out smooth with their
paws. They are very sociable, but do not consider it
good manners to enter each other's houses ; visits
are paid at the entrance, and even when pursued, a
vizcacha will hardly ever seek refuge across his neigh-

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryAndrew LangThe red book of animal stories → online text (page 6 of 22)