His first feeling was one of horror. His next was a resolve to spring to his feet and rouse the camp, but this impulse was checked by one of greater prudence. Whatever enemy had done it, thought he, must still be about the hammock; to make a noise would, perhaps, only irritate it, and cause it to inflict some still more terrible wound. He would remain quiet, until he had got his eyes upon the creature, when he could spring upon it, or fire his pistol before it could do further harm.
With these ideas, quickly conceived, he rose silently to his feet, and standing, or rather crouching forward, bent his eyes over the hammock.
Leon's head was close to that of the sleeper, whose sweet breath he felt, and whose little bosom rose and fell in gentle undulation. He scanned the inside of the hammock from head to foot. He gazed anxiously into every fold of the cover. Not an object could he see that should not have been there—no terrible creature—no serpent—for it was this last that was in his mind. But something must have been there. What could have caused the stream of blood, that now being closer he could more plainly see trickling over the soft blue veins? Some creature must have done it!
"Oh! if it be the small viper," thought he, "or the coral snake, or the deadly macaurel! If these——".
His thoughts at this moment were interrupted. A light flapping of wings sounded in his ear—so light, that it appeared to be made by the soft pinions of the owl, or some nocturnal bird. It was not by the wings of a bird that that sound was produced, but by the wings of a hideous creature. Leon was conscious, from the continued flapping, that something was playing through the air, and that it occasionally approached close to his head. He gazed upward and around him, and at length he could distinguish a dark form passing between him and the light; but it glided into the darkness again, and he could see it no more.
Was it a bird? It looked like one—it might have been an owl—it was full as large as one; but yet, from the glance he had had of it, it appeared to be black or very dark, and he had never heard of owls of that colour. Moreover, it had not the look nor flight of an owl. Was it a bird at all? or whatever it was, was it the cause of the blood? This did not appear likely to Leon, who still had his thoughts bent upon the snakes.
While he was revolving these questions in his mind, he again turned and looked toward the foot of the hammock. The sight caused him a thrill of horror. There was the hideous creature, which, he had just seen, right over the bleeding foot. It was not perched, but suspended in the air on its moving wings, with its long snout protruded forward and pressed against the toe of the sleeper! Its sharp white teeth were visible in both jaws, and its small vicious eyes glistened under the light of the fires. The red hair covering its body and large membranous wings added to the hideousness of its aspect, and a more hideous creature could not have been conceived. It was the vampire,—the blood-sucking phyllostoma!
A short cry escaped from the lips of Leon. It was not a cry of pain, but the contrary. The sight of the great bat, hideous as the creature was, relieved him. He had all along been under the painful impression that some venomous serpent had caused the blood to flow, and now he had no further fear on that score. He knew that there was no poison in the wound inflicted by the phyllostoma—only the loss of a little blood; and this quieted his anxieties at once. He resolved, however, to punish the intruder; and not caring to rouse the camp by firing, he stole a little closer, and aimed a blow with the butt of his pistol.
The blow was well aimed, and brought the bat to the ground, but its shrill screeching awoke everybody, and in a few moments the camp was in complete confusion. The sight of the blood on the foot of the little Leona quite terrified Dona Isidora and the rest; but when the cause was explained, all felt reassured and thankful that the thing was no worse. The little foot was bound up in a rag; and although, for two or three days after, it was not without pain, yet no bad effects came of it.
The "blood-sucking" bats do not cause death either to man, or any other animal, by a single attack. All the blood they can draw out amounts to only a few ounces, although after their departure, the blood continues to run from the open wound. It is by repeating their attacks night after night that the strength of an animal becomes exhausted, and it dies from sheer loss of blood and consequent faintness. With animals this is far from being a rare occurrence. Hundreds of horses and cattle are killed every year in the South American pastures. These creatures suffer, perhaps, without knowing from what cause, for the phyllostoma performs its cupping operation without causing the least pain—at all events the sleeper is very rarely awakened by it.
It is easy to understand how it sucks the blood of its victim, for its snout and the leafy appendage around its mouth—from whence it derives the name "phyllostoma"—are admirably adapted to that end. But how does it make the puncture to "let" the blood? That is as yet a mystery among naturalists, as it also is among the people who are habitually its victims. Even Guapo could not explain the process. The large teeth—of which it has got quite a mouthful—seem altogether unfitted to make a hole such as is found where the "phyllostoma" has been at work. Their bite, moreover, would awake the soundest sleeper.
Besides these, it has neither fangs, nor stings, nor proboscis, that would serve the purpose. How then does its reach the blood? Many theories have been offered; some assert that it rubs the skin with its snout until its brings it to bleeding: others say that it sets the sharp point of one of its large tusks against the part, and then by plying its wings wheels round and round, as upon a pivot, until the point has penetrated—that during this operation the motion of the wings fans and cools the sleeping victim, so that no pain is felt. It may be a long while before this curious question is solved, on account of the difficulty of observing a creature whose habits are nocturnal, and most of whose deeds are "done in the dark."
People have denied the existence of such a creature as the blood-sucking bat—even naturalists have gone so far. They can allege no better grounds for their incredulity than that the thing has an air of the fabulous and horrible about it. But this is not philosophy. Incredulity is the characteristic of the half-educated. It may be carried too far, and the fables of the vulgar have often a stratum of truth at the bottom. There is one thing that is almost intolerable, and that is the conceit of the "closet-naturalist," who sneers at everything as untrue that seems to show the least design on the part of the brute creation—who denies everything that appears at all singular or fanciful, and simply because it appears so. With the truthful observations that have been made upon the curious domestic economy of such little creatures as bees, and wasps, and ants, we ought to be cautious how we reject statements about the habits of other animals, however strange they may appear.
Who doubts that a mosquito will perch itself upon the skin of a human being, pierce it with its proboscis, and suck away until it is gorged with blood! Why does it appear strange that a bat should do the same?
Now your closet-naturalist will believe that the bat does suck the blood of cattle and horses, but denies that it will attack man! This is sheer nonsense. What difference to the vampire, whether its victim be a biped or quadruped? Is it fear of the former that would prevent it from attacking him? Perhaps it may never have seen a human being before: besides, it attacks its victim while asleep, and is rarely ever caught or punished in the act. Where these creatures are much hunted or persecuted by man, they may learn to fear him, and their original habits may become changed, but that is quite another thing.
As nature has formed them, the blood-sucking bats will make their attack indifferently, either upon man or large quadrupeds. There are a thousand proofs to be had in all the tropical regions of America. Every year animals are killed by the phyllostoma hastatum, not in hundreds, but in thousands. It is recorded that on one extensive cattle-farm several hundred head were killed in the short period of six months by the bats; and the vaqueros, who received a bounty upon every bat they should capture, in one year succeeded in destroying the enormous number of seven thousand! Indeed, "bat-hunting" is followed by some as a profession, so eager are the owners of the cattle-farms to get rid of these pests.
Many tribes of Indians and travellers suffer great annoyance from the vampire-bats. Some persons never go to sleep without covering themselves with blankets, although the heat be ever so oppressive. Any part left naked will be attacked by the "phyllostoma", but they seem to have a preference for the tip of the great toe—perhaps because they have found that part more habitually exposed. Sometimes one sleeper is "cupped" by them, while another will not be molested; and this, I may observe, is true also of the mosquitoes. There may be some difference as to the state of the blood of two individuals, that leads to this fastidious preference. Some are far more subject to their attack than others—so much so that they require to adopt every precaution to save themselves from being bled to death. Cayenne pepper rubbed over the skin is used to keep them off, and also to cure the wound they have made; but even this sometimes proves ineffective.
Of course there are many species of bats in South America besides the vampire; in fact, there is no class of mammalia more numerous in genera and species, and no part of the world where greater numbers are found than in the tropical regions of America. Some are insect-eaters, while others live entirely on vegetable substances; but all have the same unsightly and repulsive appearance. The odour of some kinds is extremely fetid and disagreeable.
Notwithstanding this, they are eaten by many tribes of Indians, and even the French Creoles of Guiana have their "bat-soup," which they relish highly. The proverb "De gustibus non disputandum est," seems to be true for all time. The Spanish Americans have it in the phrase "Cada uno a su gusto;" "Chacun a son gout," say the French; and on hearing these tales about "ant-paste," and "roast monkey," and "armidillo done in the shell," and "bat-soup," you, boy reader, will not fail to exclaim "Every one to his liking."
The vampire appeared to be to Guapo's liking. It was now his turn to keep watch, and as the rest of them got into their hammocks, and lay awake for a while, they saw him take up the bat, spit it upon a forked stick, and commence broiling it over the fire. Of course he ate it!
When morning came, and they had got up, what was their astonishment to see no less than fourteen bats lying side by side! They were dead, of course: Guapo had killed them all during his watch. They had appeared at one period of the night in alarming numbers, and Guapo had done battle manfully without awaking anybody.
Another curious tableau came under their notice shortly after. Just as they were about to embark, a singular looking tree was observed growing near the bank of the river. At first they thought the tree was covered with birds'-nests, or pieces of some kind of moss. Indeed, it looked more like a tree hung over with rags than anything else. Curiosity led them to approach it. What was their astonishment to find that the nests, moss, or rags, were neither more or less than a vast assemblage of bats suspended, and asleep! They were hanging in all possible positions; some with their heads down, some by the claws upon either wing, and some by both, while a great many had merely hooked over the branch the little horny curvature of their tails. Some hung down along the trunk, suspended by a crack in the bark, while others were far out upon the branches.
It was certainly the oddest "roost" that any of the party (Guapo, perhaps, excepted) had ever witnessed; and, after gazing at it for some time, they turned away without disturbing the sleepers, and getting on board once more, floated adown the stream swiftly and silently.
That day they made good progress, having dropped down the river a distance of fifty miles at least. They might even have gone farther, but a good camping-place offered, and they did not like to pass it, as they might not find another so convenient. It was a muddy bank, or rather a promontory that ran out into the river, and was entirely without trees, or any other vegetation, as it was annually overflowed, and formed, in fact, part of the bed of the river. At this time the mud was quite dry and smooth, and appeared as if it had been paddled and beaten down by the feet of animals and birds. This was, in fact, the case, for the point was a favourite resting-place for the "chiguires," or "capivaras," on their passage to and from the water. There were tracks of tapirs, too, and peccaries, and many sorts of wading birds, that had been there while the mud was still soft.
There were no trees to which to hang their hammocks, but the ground was smooth and dry, and they could sleep well enough upon it. They would not be troubled with the bats, as these creatures keep mostly in the dark shadowy places of the forest; and snakes would not likely be found out on the bare ground. They thought they would there be safer from jaguars, too. In fact, it was from these considerations that they had chosen the place for their camp. They could go to the woods for an armful or two of sticks to cook supper with, and that would suffice.
The balza was brought close in on the upper side of the promontory, so as to be out of the current; and then all landed and made their preparations for passing the night. Guapo marched off with his axe to get some firewood, and Leon accompanied him to assist in carrying it. They had not far to go—only a hundred yards or so, for up at the end of the promontory the forest began, and there were both large trees and underwood.
As they walked forward one species of trees caught their attention. They were palm-trees, but of a sort they had not yet met with. They were very tall, with a thick, globe-shaped head of pinnate, plume-like leaves. But what rendered these trees peculiar was the stem. It was slender in proportion to the height of the tree, and was thickly covered with long needle-shaped spines, not growing irregularly, but set in bands, or rings, around the tree. This new palm was the "pupunha," or "peach-palm," as it is called, from the resemblance which its fruits bear to peaches. It is also named "pirijao" in other parts of South America, and it belongs to the genus "Gullielma."
At the tops of these trees, under the great globe of leaves, Guapo and Leon perceived the nuts. They were hanging in clusters, as grapes grow; but the fruits were as large as apricots, of an oval, triangular shape, and of a beautiful reddish yellow colour. That they were delicious eating, either roasted or boiled, Guapo well knew; and he was determined that some of them should be served at supper. But how were they to be reached? No man could climb such a tree as they grew upon! The needles would have torn the flesh from any one who should have attempted it.
Guapo knew this. He knew, moreover, that the Indians, who are very fond of the fruit of this tree,—so much so that they plant large palmares of it around their villages—have a way of climbing it to get at the ripe clusters. They tie cross pieces of wood from one tree to the other, and thus make a sort of step-ladder, by which they ascend to the fruit. It is true, they might easily cut down the trees, as the trunks are not very thick; but that would be killing the goose that gave the golden eggs.
Guapo, however, had no farther interest in this wild orchard than to make it serve his turn for that one night; so, laying his axe to one of the "pupunhas," he soon levelled its majestic stem to the ground. Nothing more remained than to lop off the clusters, any one of which was as much as Leon could lift from the ground. Guapo found the wood hard enough even in its green state, but when old it becomes black, and is then so hard that it will turn the edge of an axe. There is, perhaps, no wood in all South America harder than that of the pirijao palm.
It is with the needle-like spines of this species that many tribes of Indians puncture their skins in tattooing themselves, and other uses are made by them of different parts of this noble tree. The macaws, parrots, and other fruit-eating birds, are fonder of the nuts of the pupunha than perhaps any other species; and so, too, would be the fruit-eating quadrupeds if they could get at them. But the thorny trunk renders them quite inaccessible to all creatures without wings, excepting man himself. No; there is one other exception, and that is a creature closely allied to man, I mean the monkey.
Notwithstanding the thorny stem, which even man cannot scale without a contrivance; notwithstanding the apparently inaccessible clusters—inaccessible from their great height—there is a species of monkey that manages now and then to get a meal of them. How do these monkeys manage it? Not by climbing the stem, for the thorns are too sharp even for them. How then? Do the nuts fall to the ground and allow the monkeys to gather them? No. This is not the case. How then? We shall see!
Guapo and Leon had returned to the camp, taking with them the pupunha fruit and the firewood. A fire was kindled, the cooking-pot hung over it on a tripod, and they all sat around to wait for its boiling.
While thus seated, an unusual noise reached their ears coming from the woods. There were parrots and macaws among the palms making noise enough, and fluttering about, but it was not these. The noise that had arrested the attention of our travellers was a mixture of screaming, and chattering, and howling, and barking, as if there were fifty sorts of creatures at the making of it. The bushes, too, were heard "switching about," and now and then a dead branch would crack, as if snapped suddenly. To a stranger in these woods such a blending of sounds would have appeared very mysterious and inexplicable. Not so to our party. They knew it was only a troop of monkeys passing along upon one of their journeys. From their peculiar cries, Guapo knew what kind of monkeys they were.
"Marimondas," he said.
The marimondas are not true "howlers," although they are of the same tribe as the "howling monkeys." They belong to the genus Ateles, so called because they want the thumb, and are therefore imperfect or unfinished as regards the hands. But what the ateles want in hands is supplied by another member—the tail, and this they have to all perfection. It is to them a fifth hand, and apparently more useful than the other four. It assists them very materially in travelling through the tree-tops. They use it to bring objects nearer them. They use it to suspend themselves in a state of repose, and thus suspended, they sleep—nay more, thus suspended they often die! Of all the monkey tribe the ateles are those that have most prehensile power in their tails.
There are several species of them known—the coaita, the white-faced, the black cayou, the beelzebub, the chamek, the black-handed, and the marimonda. The habits of all are very similar, though the species differ in size and colour.
The marimonda is one of the largest of South American monkeys, being about three feet standing upon its hind-legs, with a tail of immense length, thick and strong near the root, and tapering to a point. On its under side, for the last foot or so from the end, there is no hair, but a callous skin, and this is the part used for holding on to the branches. The marimonda is far from being a handsome monkey. Its long, thin arms and thumbless hands give it an attenuated appearance, which is not relieved by the immense disproportioned tail. It is reddish, or of a parched coffee colour, on the upper part of the body, which becomes blanched on the throat, belly, and insides of the thighs. Its colour, in fact, is somewhat of the hue of the half-blood Indian and Negro,—hence the marimonda is known in some parts of Spanish America by the name of "mono zambo," or "zambo" monkey—a "zambo" being the descendant of Indian and Negro parents.
The noise made by the marimondas which had been heard by our party seemed to proceed from the bank of the river, some distance above the promontory; but it was evidently growing louder every minute, and they judged that the monkeys were approaching.
In a few minutes they appeared in sight, passing along the upper part of a grove of trees that stood close to the water. Our travellers had now an excellent view of them, and they sat watching them with interest. Their mode of progression was extremely curious. They never came to the ground, but where the branches interlocked they ran from one to the other with the lightning speed of squirrels, or, indeed, like birds upon the wing.
Sometimes, however, the boughs stood far apart. Then the marimonda, running out as far as the branch would bear him, would wrap a few inches of his tail around it and spring off into the air. In the spring he would give himself such an impetus as would cause the branch to revolve, and his body following this circular motion, with the long thin arms thrown out in front, he would grasp the first branch that he could reach. This, of course, would land him on a new tree, and over that he would soon spring to the next.
Among the troop several females were perceived with their young. The latter were carried on the backs of the mothers, where they held on by means of their own little tails, feeling perfectly secure. Sometimes the mothers would dismount them, and cause them to swing themselves from branch to branch, going before to show them the way. This was witnessed repeatedly. In other places, where the intervening space was too wide for the females with their young to pass over, the males could be seen bending down a branch of the opposite tree, so as to bring it nearer, and assist them in crossing. All these movements were performed amidst a constant gabble of conversation, and shouting, and chattering, and the noise of branches springing back to their places.
The grove through which the troop was passing ended just by the edge of the promontory. The palm-trees succeeded, with some trees of large size that grew over them.
The marimondas at length reached the margin of the grove, and then they were all seen to stop, most of them throwing themselves, heads down, and hanging only by their tails. This is the position in which they find themselves best prepared for any immediate action; and it is into this attitude they throw themselves when suddenly alarmed. They remained so for some minutes; and from the chattering carried on among them, it was evident that they were engaged in deliberation. A loud and general scream proclaimed the result; and all of them, at one and the same instant, dropped down to the ground, and were seen crossing over among the palm-trees.
They had to pass over a piece of open ground with only some weeds upon it; but their helplessness on the ground was at once apparent. They could not place their palms on the surface, but doubled them up and walked, as it were, on the backs of their hands in the most awkward manner. Every now and again, they flung out their great tails, in hopes of grasping something that would help them along; and even a large weed was a welcome support to them. On the ground they were evidently "out of their element." In fact, the ateles rarely descend from the trees, which are their natural habitat.
At length they reached the palms; and, seated in various attitudes, looked up at the tempting fruit, all the while chattering away. How were they to reach it? Not a tree that was not covered with long needles—not a bunch of the luscious fruit that was not far above the height of the tallest marimonda! How were they to get at it?—that was the question. It might have been a puzzling question to so many boys—to the monkeys it was not; for in less than a score of seconds they had settled it in their minds how the pupunhas were to be plucked.
Rising high over the palms grew a large tree, with long out-reaching branches. It was the "zamang" tree—a species of mimosa, and one of the most beautiful trees of South America. Its trunk rose full seventy feet without a branch; and then it spread out in every direction in numerous horizontal limbs, that forked and forked again until they became slender boughs. These branches were clad with the delicate pinnate leaves that characterise the family of the mimosas.
Many of the pupunha palms grew under the shadow of this zamang, but not the tallest ones. These were farther out. There were some, however, whose tufted crowns reached within a few yards of the lower limbs of the mimosa.
The monkeys, after a short consultation, were seen scampering up the zamang. Only some of the old and strong ones went—the rest remained watching below.
From the earnestness of their looks it was evident they felt a lively interest in the result. So, too, did the party of travellers; for these watched so closely, that the pot was in danger of boiling over.
The marimondas, having climbed the trunk, ran out upon the lowermost limbs, until they were directly above the palms. Then one or two were seen to drop off, and hang down by their tails. But, although, with their fore-arms at full stretch, they hung nearly five feet from the branch, they could not even touch the highest fronds of the palms, much less the fruit-clusters that were ten or twelve feet farther down. They made repeated attempts; suspending themselves over the very tallest palms, but all to no purpose.
One would have supposed they would have given it up as a bad job. So thought Dona Isidora, Leon, and the little Leona. Don Pablo knew better by his reading, and Guapo by his experience. When they saw that no one of them could reach the nuts, several were seen to get together on one of the branches. After a moment one dropped down head-foremost as before, and hung at his full length. Another ran down the body of this one, and taking a turn of his tail round his neck and fore-arm, skipped off and also hung head downwards. A third joined himself on to the second in a similar manner, and then a fourth. The fore-arms of the fourth rested upon the fruit-cluster of the pupunha!
The chain was now long enough for the purpose. In a few minutes the last monkey on the chain, with his teeth and hands, had separated the footstalk of the spathes, and the great clusters—two of them there were—fell heavily to the bottom of the tree. The marimondas on the ground ran forward; and, in the midst of loud rejoicings began to pull off the "peaches" and devour them.
But the monkeys above did not cease their labours. There were many mouths to feed, and they wanted more nuts. Without changing their position, they, by means of their arms and legs, threw themselves into a vibrating motion, and by this means the last on the string soon seized upon another pupunha, and also detached its fruit. In this way they continued, until they had stripped every tree within their reach; when, judging they had got enough, the lowermost monkey climbed back upon himself, then up his companions to the branch, and in the same style was followed by the other three in succession. As soon as they were clear of one another, the whole party came down by the trunk to the ground, and joined their comrades below in the luxurious repast.
THE MONKEY MOTHER.
Now you will, perhaps, imagine that Guapo, having sat so quiet during all this scene, had no desire for a bit of roast-monkey to supper. In that fancy, then, you would be quite astray from the truth. Guapo had a strong desire to eat roast marimonda that very night; and, had he not been held back by Don Pablo, he would never have allowed the monkeys to get quietly out of the zamang—for it being an isolated tree, it would have afforded him a capital opportunity of "treeing" them. His blow-gun had been causing his fingers to itch all the time; and as soon as Don Pablo and the rest were satisfied with observing the monkeys, Guapo set out, blow-gun, in hand, followed by Leon.
There was no cover by which he might approach the group; and, therefore, no course was left for him but to run up as quickly forward as possible, and take his chance of getting a shot as they made off.
This course he pursued; but, before he was within anything like fair range, the monkeys, uttering their shrill screams, scampered over the open ground, much faster than before, and took to the grove, from which they had approached the spot.
Guapo followed at a slashing pace, and was soon under the trees, Leon at his heels. Here they were met by a shower of sticks, pieces of bark, half-eaten "peaches," and something that was far less pleasant to their olfactory nerves! All these came from the tops of the trees—the very tallest ones—to which the monkeys had retreated, and where they were now hidden among the llianas and leaves.
You may fancy that it is easy to pursue a troop of monkeys in a forest. But it is not easy—in most cases it is not possible. The tangled underwood below puts a stop to the chase at once, as the monkeys can make their way through the branches above much quicker than the hunter can through the creeping plants below.
The pursuit would have been all up with Guapo, for the marimondas had soon got some way beyond the edge of the grove; but just as he was turning to sulk back, his keen Indian eye caught sight of one that was far behind the rest—so far, indeed, that it seemed determined to seek its safety rather by hiding than by flight. It had got under cover of a bunch of leaves, and there it lay quiet, uttering neither sound nor syllable. Guapo could just see a little bit of its side, and at this in an instant the gravatana was pointed. Guapo's chest and cheeks were seen to swell out to their fullest extent, and off went the arrow. A shriek followed—the monkey was hit—beyond a doubt. Guapo coolly waited the result.
A movement was visible among the leaves; the marimonda was seen to turn and double about, and pluck something from its side; and then the broken arrow came glancing among the twigs, and fell to the ground. The monkey was now perceived to be twisting and writhing upon the branches, and its wild death-screams was answered by the voices of the others farther off.
At length its body was seen more distinctly; it no longer thought of concealment; but lay out along the limb; and the next moment it dropped off. It did not fall to the ground, though. It had no design of gratifying its cruel destroyer to that extent. No; it merely dropped to the end of its tail, which, lapped over the branch, held it suspended. A few convulsive vibrations followed, and it hung down dead!
Guapo was thinking in what way he might get it down, for he knew that unless he could reach it by some means, it would hang there until the weather rotted it off, or until some preying bird or the tree-ants had eaten it. He thought of his axe—the tree was not a very thick one, and it was a soft-wood tree. It would be worth the labour of cutting it down.
He was about turning away to get the axe, when his eye was attracted by the motion of some object near the monkey.
"Another!" he muttered, and sure enough, another,—a little tiny-creature,—ran out from among the leaves, and climbed down the tail and body of the one already shot, threw it arms around her neck and whined piteously. It was the young one—Guapo had shot the mother!
The sight filled Leon with pity and grief; but Guapo knew nothing of these sentiments. He had already inserted another arrow into his gravatana, and was raising his tube to bend it, when, all at once, there was a loud rustling among the leaves above—a large marimonda that had returned from the band was seen springing out upon the branch—he was the husband and father!
He did not pause a moment. Instinct or quick perception taught him that the female was dead: his object was to save the young one.
He threw his long tail down, and grasped the little creature in its firm hold, jerked it upward; and then mounting it on his back, bore it off among the branches!
All this passed so quickly, that Guapo had not time to deliver his second arrow. Guapo saw them no more.
The Indian, however, was not to be cheated out of his supper of roasted-monkey. He walked quietly back for his axe; and bringing it up, soon felled the tree, and took the marimond mother with him to the camp.
His next affair was to skin it, which he did by stripping the pelt from the head, arms, legs, and all; so that after being skinned, the creature bore a most hideous resemblance to a child!
The process of cooking came next, and this Guapo made more tedious than it might have been, as he was resolved to dress the marimonda after the manner practised by the Indians, and which by them is esteemed the best. He first built a little stage out of split laths of the pupunha palm. For this a hard wood that will resist fire a long time is necessary, and the pupunha was just the thing.
Under this stage Guapo kindled a fire of dry wood, and upon the laths he placed his monkey in a sitting posture, with its arms crossed in front, and its head resting upon them. The fire was then blown upon, until it became a bright blaze, which completely enveloped the half-upright form of the monkey. There was plenty of smoke; but this is nothing in the eyes of a South American Indian, many of whom prefer the "smoky flavour" in a roast monkey.
Guapo had now no more to do, but wait patiently until the body should be reduced to a black and charred mass, for this is the condition in which it is eaten by these strange people. When thus cooked, the flesh becomes so dry that it will keep for months without spoiling.
The white people who live in the monkey countries eat roast monkey as well as the Indians. Many of them, in fact, grow very fond of it. They usually dress it, however, in a different manner. They take off the head and hands before bringing it to the table; so that the "child-like" appearance is less perceptible.
Some species of monkeys are more delicate food than others, and there are some kinds that white monkey-eaters will not touch.
As for the Indians, it seems with them to be "all fish," &c.; and they devour all kinds indifferently, whether they be "howlers," or "ateles," or "capuchins," or "ouistitis," or "sajous," or "sakis," or whatever sort. In fact, among many Indian tribes, monkey stands in the same place that mutton does in England; and they consider it their staple article of flesh meat. Indeed, in these parts, no other animal is so common as the monkey; and, with the exception of birds and fish, they have little chance of getting any other species of animal food. The best "Southdown" would, perhaps, be as distasteful to them as monkey meat would be to you; so here again we are met by that same eternal proverb,—Chacun a son gout.
AN UNEXPECTED GUEST.
Guapo sat by the fire patiently awaiting the "doing" of the marimonda. The rest had eaten their supper, and were seated some distance apart. They were looking out upon the broad river, and watching the movements of the various birds. They could see tall scarlet flamingoes on the farther shore, and smaller birds of the ibis kind. They could see the "tiger crane," so called from its colour and spots resembling the markings of the jaguar. Among some tall canes on the banks the "ciganos," or gipsy birds, fluttered about with their great crest, looking like so many pheasants, but far inferior to these creatures in their flesh. In fact, the flesh of the "cigano" is so bitter and disagreeable that even Indians will not eat it.
Sitting upon a naked branch that projected over the water they noticed the solitary sky-blue king-fisher. Over the water swept the great harpy eagle—also a fisher like his white-headed cousin of the North; and now and then flocks of muscovy ducks made the air resound with their strong broad wings. They saw also the "boat-bill," or "crab-eater," a curious wading bird of the heron kind, with a large bill shaped like two boats laid with their concave sides against each other. This, like the king-fisher, sat solitarily upon a projecting stump, now and then dashing into the shallow water, and scooping up the small fishes, frogs, and crustacea with its huge mandibles.
Another curious bird was observed, which had something of the appearance of the water-hen—to which kind it is also assimilated in its habits. It was the "faithful jacana" or "chuza," as it is called in some places. There are several species of "jacana" in South America, and also some species in the tropical countries of the East. That known as the "faithful jacana" has a body about the size of a common fowl; but its legs and neck are longer, so that when standing it is a foot and a half in height. The body is of a brownish colour; and there is a crest of twelve black feathers on the nape of the neck, three inches in length. At the bend of the wings there are horny spurs, half an inch long, with which the bird can defend itself when attacked. It is, however, a pacific bird, and only uses them in defence.
The most singular character of the jacana is its long toes and claws. There are four upon each foot: three in front, and one directed backwards, and when standing these cover a base nearly as large as the body of the bird; and, indeed, upon ordinary ground they interfere with the freedom of its walking. But these spreading feet were not designed for ordinary ground. They were given it to enable it to pass lightly over the leaves of water-lilies, and other yielding surfaces, through which a narrow-footed bird would at once sink. Of course, as nature designed them for this purpose, they answer admirably, and the jacana skims along the surface of lily-covered ponds or streams without sinking. From the leaves it picks up such insects and larvae as lodge there, and which form its principal food.
The jacana utters a singular cry when alarmed. It remains silent during the whole day, and also at night, unless disturbed by the approach of some danger, when it utters its "alarm cry." So quick is its ear, that it can detect the least noise or rustling caused by any one approaching. For this reason some tribes of Indians have tamed the jacana, and use it as a sentinel or "watch-dog," to apprise them of the approach of their enemies during the darkness of the night. Another use is also made of it by the Spanish-Americans. It is tamed and allowed to go about along with the domestic poultry. When these are attacked by hawks or other birds of prey, the jacana defends them with its sharp wing-spurs, and generally succeeds in beating off the enemy. It never deserts the flock, but accompanies it in all its movements, and will defend its charge with great fury and courage.
Besides the water-birds which were noticed by our travellers, many kinds were seen by them upon the shore and fluttering among the trees. There were parrots in flocks, and macaws in pairs—for these birds usually go in twos—there were trogons, and great billed toucans, and their kindred the aracaris; and there, too, were "umbrella-chatterers," of which there is a species quite white; and upon a fruit-covered tree, not far off, they saw a flock of the snow-white "bell-birds" (Casmarhynchos). These are about as large as blackbirds, with broad bills, from the base of which grows a fleshy tubercle that hangs down to the length of nearly three inches, like that of the turkey-cock. The name of "bell-birds" is given to them on account of the clear, bell-like ring of their note, which they utter about the middle of the day, when most other creatures of the tropical world are in silence or asleep.
Of course Don Pablo as a naturalist was interested in all those birds, and observed their habits and movements with attention. There was none of them about which he had not some strange story to tell, and in this way he was beguiling the after-supper hour. It was too early for them to go to rest—indeed it was not quite sunset; and Guapo for one had not yet had his supper, although that meal was now very near at hand. The marimonda was becoming charred and black, and would soon be ready for mastication.
Guapo sat by the fire, now and again raking up the cinders with a long pole which he held in his hand, while his eyes from time to time rested on the marimonda that was directly in front of him, vis-a-vis.
At length the monkey appeared to him to be "done to a turn," and with his machete in one hand, and a forked stick in the other, he was just bending forward to lift it off the fire, when, to his horror, the ground was felt to move beneath him, causing him to stagger, and almost throwing him from his feet! Before he could recover himself, the surface again heaved up, and a loud report was heard, like the explosion of some terrible engine. Then another upheaval—another report—the ground opened into a long fissure—the staging of palms, and the half-burned cinders, and the charred monkey, were flung in all directions, and Guapo himself went sprawling upon his back!
Was it an earthquake? So thought the others, who were now on their feet running about in great consternation—the females screaming loudly. So, too, thought Guapo for the moment.
Their belief in its being an earthquake, however, was of short duration. The shocks continued; the dried mud flew about in large pieces, and the burnt wood and splinters were showered in the air. The smoke of these covered the spot, and prevented a clear view; but through the smoke the terrified spectators could perceive that some large body was in motion—apparently struggling for life! In another moment it broke through the bending stratum of mud, causing a long rift, and there was displayed before their eyes the hideous form of a gigantic crocodile!
Though not quite so terrible as an earthquake, it was a fearful monster to behold. It was one of the largest, being nearly twenty feet in length, with a body thicker than that of a man. Its immense jaws were of themselves several feet long, and its huge tusks, plainly seen, gave it a most frightful appearance. Its mouth was thrown open, as though it gasped for air, and a loud bellowing proceeded from its throat that sounded like a cross between the grunting of a hog and the lowing of a bull.
The air was filled with a strong musky odour, which emanated from the body of the animal; and, what with the noise made by the crocodile itself, the screams and shouts of the party, the yelling of the various birds—for they, too, had taken up the cue—there was for some moments an utter impossibility of any voice being heard above the rest. It was, indeed, a scene of confusion. Don Pablo and his companions were running to and fro—Guapo was tumbling about where he had fallen—and the great lizard was writhing and flapping his tail, so that pots, pans, half-burnt faggots, and even Guapo's monkey, were being knocked about in every direction.
Of course such a violent scene could not be of long duration. It must end one way or the other. Guapo, who soon came to himself, now that he saw what it was that had pitched him over, had already conceived a plan for terminating it. He ran for his axe, which fortunately lay out of the range of the crocodile's tail, and having laid his hands upon it, he approached in a stealthy manner with the intention of striking a blow.
He directed himself towards the root of the reptile's tail, for he knew that that was the only place where a blow of the axe would cripple it; but, just as he was getting within reach, the crocodile suddenly shifted himself round, making his tail fly like a piece of sprung whalebone. Guapo leaped hastily back—as hastily, I will make bold to say, as any Indian of his years could have done, but not quick enough to clear himself quite. He wanted about eight inches; but in this case inches were as good as miles for the crocodile's purpose, for about eight inches of the tip of his tail came "smack" across Guapo's naked shins, and sent the old Indian head over heels.
It was just an accident that Guapo's shanks were not broken like sticks of sealing-wax; and had the blow been directed with the crocodile's full force, such would have been the unhappy result. As it was they were only "scratched," and Guapo, leaping to his feet, ran to recover his axe, for that weapon had flown several yards out of his hands at the blow.
By the time he laid hold of it, however, the saurian, was no longer on dry ground. His newly-opened eyes—opened, perhaps, for the first time for months—caught sight of the water close by, and crawling forward a step or two, he launched his ugly, mud-bedaubed carcass into the welcome element. The next moment he had dived, and was out of sight.
THE CROCODILE AND CAPIVARAS.
Guapo was in no humour for enjoying the conversation of that evening. The crocodile had "choused" him out of his favourite supper. The monkey was literally knocked to "smithereens," and the pieces that still adhered together were daubed all over with mud. It wasn't fit meat—even for an Indian—and Guapo had to content himself with a dried plantain and a stew of jerked horse-flesh.
Of course Don Pablo and the rest examined with curiosity the great hole in the mud that had contained the crocodile. There it had lain during months of the dry season in a state of torpidity, and would, no doubt, have remained still longer, but that it was aroused by the big fire that Guapo had built over it. The irritation produced by this had been the cause of its sudden resurrection, for the crocodiles that thus bury themselves usually come out after the beginning of the heavy rains.
It was a true long-snouted crocodile, as Don Pablo had observed in the short opportunity he had had; and not an alligator—for it must be here remarked, that the true crocodile is found in many parts of Spanish America, and also in many of the West Indian Islands. For a long time it was believed that only alligators existed in America, and that the crocodiles were confined to the Eastern Continent. It is now known that at least one species of crocodile is an American animal, and several distinct species of alligators are inhabitants of the New World.
There is the alligator of the Mississippi—which is the "caiman" or "cayman" of the Spanish Americans; there is the spectacled alligator, a southern species, so called from a pair of rings around its eyes having a resemblance to spectacles; and there is a still smaller species called the "bava," which is found in Lake Valencia, and in many South American rivers. The last kind is much hunted by the Indians, who, although they eat parts of all these creatures, are fonder of the flesh of the bava than of any of the others.
They had not intended to keep watch this night, as the naked promontory seemed to be a safe place to sleep upon; but now, after their adventure with the crocodile, they changed their minds, and they resolved to mount guard as before. The monster might easily crawl out of the water again, and, judging from the size of his mouth, it is not improbable to suppose that he might have swallowed one of the smaller individuals of the party at a single effort. Lest he might return to use either his teeth or his tail, the watch was set as on other nights—Leon taking the first turn, Guapo the second, and Don Pablo sitting it out till daybreak. The night passed through, however, without any unusual disturbance; and although an occasional plunge was heard in the water close by, no more was seen of the crocodile until morning.
I have said until morning—for he was seen then. Yes! indeed. That beauty was not going to let them off without giving them another peep at him—not he.
They were awake and up before day; and as the fire had been kept burning all night, they had now nothing more to do than rake up the embers, and hang on the coffee-kettle. It was not yet bright day when breakfast was already cooked, and they sat down to eat it.
While engaged in this operation, they noticed a string of flamingoes on the muddy promontory, at the end where it joined the land. They were ranged in line, like soldiers, some of them balanced on one long thin leg, as these birds do. They appeared in the grey light to be unusually tall; but when it became a little clearer, our travellers could perceive that they were not upon the ground, but standing upon an old log. This, of course, made them look taller. They were just in the very track by which Guapo and Leon had passed to get the wood the evening before. Now, neither Guapo nor Leon remembered any log. They were certain there was none there, else they would have cut it up for firewood, that was a sure thing; and it was very mysterious who could have rolled a log there during the night!
While discussing this point it became clearer; and, to the astonishment of all, what they had taken to be an old log turned out to be nothing else than their old friend the crocodile! I have said to the astonishment of all—that is not strictly correct. Guapo saw nothing to astonish him in that sight. He had witnessed a similar one many a time, and so does every one who travels either on the Amazon or the Orinoco.
These flamingoes were perfectly safe, so far as the crocodile was concerned, and they knew it. As long as they kept out of the reach of his jaws and tail, he could not hurt them. Although he could bend himself to either side, so as to "kiss" the tip of his own tail, he could not reach any part of his back, exert himself as he might. This the flamingoes and other birds well know, and these creatures being fond of a place to perch upon, often avail themselves of the long serrated back of the crocodile, or the caiman.
As the day became brighter the flamingoes sat still—not appearing to be alarmed by the movements at the camp, which was about an hundred yards distant from their perch. It was likely they had never been frightened by the hunter, for these birds in districts where they are hunted are exceedingly shy. All at once, however, as if by a given signal, the whole flock rose together, and flew off with loud screams. The crocodile, too, was seen to move, but it was not this which had scared them off. It was after they had gone that he had stirred himself; and even, had it not been so, they would not have regarded his movements, as these birds are often seen perched upon a crawling crocodile!
No. Something else had affrighted them, and that was a noise in the bushes beyond, which was now distinctly heard at the camp. There was a rustling of leaves and a crackling of branches, as if more than one creature made the noise. So it appeared, for the next moment nearly a score of animals dashed out of the bushes, and ran on towards the water.
These creatures were odd enough to fix the attention of the party at the camp. They were about the size of small hogs—very much of the same build—and covered with a thin sandy bristly hair, just like some hogs are. They were not "pig-headed," however. Their heads were exactly like those of the grey rabbit, and instead of hoofs they were toed and clawed. This gave them altogether a lighter appearance than hogs, and yet they did not run as fast, although when first noticed they appeared to be doing their best.
Our travellers knew them at once, for they were animals that are common upon the rivers in all the warm parts of South America. They were "capivaras," or "chiguires," as they are also called. These creatures are peculiar to the American continent. They are, in fact, "guinea-pigs" on a large scale, and bear the greatest resemblance to those well-known animals, except in size and colour; for the capivaras are of uniform sandy brown.
They are of the same genus as the guinea-pigs, though the systematizers have put them into a separate one, and have also made a third genus to suit another animal of very similar shape and habits. This is the "moco," which is between the guinea-pig and capivara in size, and of a greyish olive colour. All three are natives of South America, and in their wild state are found only there, though from the absurd name "guinea-pig," you may be led to think that this little creature came originally from Africa.
The three are all "rodent" animals, and the capivara is the largest "rodent" that is known. It, moreover, is amphibious, quite as much so as the tapir, and is found only near the banks of rivers. It is more at home in the water than on dry land, or perhaps it has more numerous enemies on land; though, poor, persecuted creature! it is not without some in either element, as will be seen by what follows.
The drove of the capivaras counted nearly a score, and they were making for the water as fast as their legs could carry them. The crocodile lay directly across their path, but their black eyes, large and prominent, seemed to be occupied with something behind; and they had run up almost against the body of the reptile before they saw it. Uttering a sort of squeak they made a half-pause. Some sprang up and leaped over—others attempted to go round. All succeeded except one; but the crocodile, on seeing their approach—no doubt it was for this he had been in wait all the morning—had thrown himself into the form of a half-moon; and as they passed he let fly at them. His powerful tail came "flap" against the nearest, and it was pitched several yards, where, after a kick or two, it lay upon its side as dead as a herring, a door-nail, or even Julius Caesar—take your choice.
FIGHT OF THE JAGUAR AND CROCODILE.
The chiguires that escaped past the crocodile, the next instant plunged into the river, and disappeared under the water. They would come to the surface for breath in ten or twelve minutes, but at such a distance off that they needed no longer fear pursuit from the same enemy.
Our travellers took no notice of them from the moment they were fairly out of the bushes. They saw that the crocodile had knocked one of them over; but the eyes of Guapo and Don Pablo were directed upon a different place—the point at which the chiguires had sallied out of the underwood. These knew that the animals had not issued forth in their natural way, as if they were going to the stream to drink, or in search of food. No—quite different. Their bristles were erect—they were excited—they were terrified—beyond a doubt they were pursued!
Who or what was their pursuer? It might be an ocelot, or the yaguarundi, or some one of the smaller cats; for many of these prey on the defenceless capivara. It might be one of these, thought Don Pablo and Guapo; but what if it was not? What else could it be? What else? The jaguar!
It was the jaguar? As they stood gazing with looks full of apprehension, the leaves of the underwood were seen to move, and then a beautiful but terrible object, the spotted head of a jaguar, was thrust forth. It remained a moment as if reconnoitring, and then the whole body, bright and glistening, glided clear of the leaves, and stood boldly out in front of the underwood. Here it halted another moment—only a moment. The crocodile had turned itself, and was about closing its jaws upon the body of the chiguire, when the jaguar seeing this, uttered a loud scream, and making one bound forward, seized the dead animal almost at the same instant.
They were now face to face,—the great lizard and the great cat; and their common prey was between them. Each had a firm hold with his powerful jaws, and each appeared determined to keep what he had got. The yellow eyes of the jaguar seemed to flash fire, and the black sunken orbs of the saurian glared with a lurid and deadly light. It was a terrible picture to look upon.
For some seconds both remained apparently gazing into each other's eyes, and firmly holding the prey between them. The tail of the jaguar vibrated in sudden angry jerks, while that of the crocodile lay bent into a semicircle, as if ready to be sprung at a moment's notice.
This inaction did not last long. The fury of the jaguar was evidently on the increase. He was indignant that he, the king of the American forest, should thus meet with opposition to his will; and, indeed, the crocodile was about the only creature in all the wide Montana that dare oppose him in open fight. But he was determined to conquer even this enemy, and for that purpose he prepared himself.
Still holding on to the capivara, and watching his opportunity, he sprang suddenly forward, throwing one of his great paws far in advance. His object was to claw the eye of his adversary; for he well knew that the latter was vulnerable neither upon its long snout, nor its gaunt jaws, nor even upon the tough scaly skin of its throat. Its eyes alone could be injured, and these were the objects of the jaguar's attack.
The thrust was a failure. The crocodile had anticipated such a manoeuvre, and suddenly raising himself on his fore-legs, threw up one of his great scaly hands and warded off the blow. The jaguar fearing to be clutched between the strong fore-arms of the saurian, drew back to his former position.
This manoeuvre, and its counter-manoeuvre, were repeated several times, and although each time the struggle lasted a little longer than before, and there was a good deal of lashing of tails and tearing of teeth, and scratching of claws, still neither of the combatants seemed to gain any great advantage. Both were now at the height of their fury, and a third enemy approaching the spot would not have been heeded by either.
From the first the head of the crocodile had been turned to the water, from which he was not distant over ten feet. He had, in fact, been carrying his prey towards it when he was interrupted by the attack of the jaguar; and now at every fresh opportunity he was pushing on, bit by bit, in that direction. He knew that in his own proper element he would be more than a match for his spotted assailant, and no doubt he might have escaped from the contest by surrendering his prey. Had he been a smaller crocodile he would have been only too glad to have done so; but trusting to his size and strength, and perhaps not a little to the justice of his cause, he was determined not to go without taking the capivara along with him.
The jaguar, on the other hand, was just as determined he should not. He, too, had some rights. The capivara would not have been killed so easily, had he not frightened it from behind; besides, the crocodile was out of his element. He was poaching on the domain of the forest monarch.
Bit by bit, the crocodile was gaining ground—at each fresh pause in the struggle he was forging forward, pushing the chiguire before him, and of course causing his antagonist to make ground backwards.
The jaguar at length felt his hind-feet in the water; and this seemed to act upon him like a shock of electricity. All at once he let go his hold of the capivara, ran a few feet forward, and then flattening his body along the ground, prepared himself for a mighty spring. Before a second had passed, he launched his body high into the air, and descended upon the back of the crocodile just over his fore-shoulders! He did not settle there, but ran nimbly down the back of the saurian towards its hinder part, and its claws could be heard rattling against its scaly skin.
In a moment more he was seen close-squatted along the crocodile's body, and with his teeth tearing fiercely at the root of its tail. He knew that after the eyes this was the most vulnerable part of his antagonist, and if he had been allowed but a few minutes' time, he would soon have disabled the crocodile; for to have seriously wounded the root of his tail, would have been to have destroyed his essential weapon of offence.
The jaguar would have succeeded had the encounter occurred only a dozen yards farther from the water. But the crocodile was close to the river's edge, and perceiving the advantage against him, and that there was no hope of dismounting his adversary, he dropped the capivara, and crawling forward, plunged into the water. When fairly launched, he shot out from the shore like an arrow, carrying the jaguar along, and the next moment he had dived to the depth of the stream. The water was lashed into foam by the blows of his feet and tail; but in the midst of the froth, the yellow body of the jaguar was seen rising to the surface, and after turning once or twice, as if searching for his hated enemy, the creature headed for the bank and climbed out. He stood for a moment looking back into the stream. He appeared less cowed than angry and disappointed. He seemed to vow a future revenge; and then seizing the half-torn carcass of the capivara, he threw it lightly over his shoulder and trotted off into the thicket.
Our travellers had not watched this scene either closely or continuously. They had been too busy all the time. From its commencement they had been doing all in their power to get away from the spot; for they dreaded lest the jaguar might either first overpower the crocodile and then attack them, or being beaten off by the latter, might take it into his head to revenge himself by killing whatever he could. With these apprehensions, therefore, they had hastily carried everything aboard, and drawing in their cable, pushed the balza from the shore. When the fight came to an end, they had got fairly into the current, and just as the jaguar disappeared, the raft was gliding swiftly down the broad and rippling stream.
ADVENTURE WITH AN ANACONDA.
For several days they voyaged down-stream, without any occurrence of particular interest. Once or twice they saw Indians upon the shore; but these, instead of putting off in their canoes, seemed frightened at so large a craft, and remained by their "maloccas," or great village-houses, in each of which several families live together. Not caring to have any dealings with them, our travellers were only too glad to get past without molestation; and, therefore, when they passed any place where they thought they observed the signs of Indians on the bank, they kept on for hours after, without stopping.
A curious incident occurred one evening as they were bringing the balza to her moorings, which compelled them to drop a little farther down-stream, and, in fact, almost obliged them to float all night, which would have been a dangerous matter, as the current at the place happened to be sharp and rapid.
They had been on the look-out for some time for a good camping-place, as it was their usual hour to stop. No opening, however, appeared for several miles. The banks on both sides were thickly-wooded to the river's edge, and the branches of the trees even drooped into the water. At length they came in sight of a natural raft that had been formed by driftwood in a bend of the stream; and as the logs lay thickly together, and even piled upon each other, it appeared an excellent place to encamp on. It was, at all events, better than to attempt to penetrate the thick jungles which met them everywhere else; and so the balza was directed towards the raft, and soon floated alongside it.
They had already got ashore on the raft, which was dry and firm, and would have served their purpose well enough; when, all at once, Guapo was heard uttering one of those exclamations, which showed that all was not right. The rest looked towards him for an explanation. He was standing by the edge of the floating timber, just where the balza touched it, with his arms stretched out in an attitude that betokened trouble. They all ran up. They saw what was the matter at a glance. Thousands of red ants were climbing from the raft to the balza! Thousands,—nay, it would be nearer the truth to say millions!
At one glance Don Pablo saw that it would be a terrible calamity, should these creatures gain a lodgment on the balza. Not only were they the dreaded stinging ants, but in a short time nothing on board would be left. In a few hours they would have eaten all his stores,—his bark, his vanilla, and his roots. Already quite a number had got upon the canoe, and were crossing it toward the body of the balza.
Without saying another word, he ordered all to get on board as quickly as possible, each taking some utensil that had already been carried on shore. He and Guapo flew to the poles; and, having hastily unfastened and drawn in the cable, they pushed the balza out into the stream. Then while Guapo managed the great oar, Don Pablo, assisted by Leon and by Dona Isidora, went to work with scoops and pails, dashing water upon the ants; until every one of them had disappeared, drowned in the canoe or washed off into the river. Fortunate for them, they had observed this strange enemy in time. Had they not done so—in other words, had they gone to sleep, leaving the balza where it was during the night—they would have awakened in the morning to find their stores completely destroyed, their labour of a year brought to nothing in the space of a single night. This is no uncommon occurrence to the merchant or the colonist of tropical America.
They had made a narrow escape, but a fortunate one. They were not without their troubles, however. No open ground could be found for miles below; and, as it was growing dark, they approached the thickly-wooded bank; and, after a good deal of scratching among the branches, at length succeeded in making the cable fast to a tree. The balza then swung round, and floated at the end of the cable, half of it being buried under the long hanging branches.
They spent their night on board, for it was no use attempting to get on shore through the underwood; and even if they had, they could not have encamped very comfortably in a thicket. On the other hand, the balza did not afford the best accommodation for sleeping. The little "toldo," or cabin, was not large enough to swing a hammock in. It would only contain a few persons seated close together; and it had been built more for the purpose of keeping the sun off during the hot hours of the day than for sleeping in. The rest of the balza was occupied with the freight; and this was so arranged with sloping sides, thatched with the bussu-leaves, that there was no level place where one could repose upon it. The night, therefore, was passed without very much sleep having been obtained by any one of the party. Of course, the moment the first streaks of day began to appear along the Eastern sky, they were all awake and ready to leave their disagreeable anchorage.
As they were making preparations to untie the cable, they noticed that just below where the balza lay, a horizontal limb stretched far out over the river. It was the lowermost limb of a large zamang-tree, that stood on the bank close to the edge of the water. It was not near the surface, but a good many feet above. Still it was not certain that it was high enough for the roof of the toldo to clear it. That was an important question; for although the current was not very rapid just there, it was sufficiently so to carry the balza under this branch before they could push it out into the stream. Once the cable was let go, they must inevitably pass under the limb of the zamang; and if that caught the toldo, it would sweep off the frail roof like so much spider's-web. This would be a serious damage; and one to be avoided, if possible.
Don Pablo and Guapo went to the end of the balza nearest the branch, and stood for some time surveying it. It was about eight or ten yards distant; but in the gray dawn they could not judge correctly of its height, and they waited till it grew a little clearer. At length they came to the conclusion that the branch was high enough. The long pendulous leaves—characteristic of this great mimosa and the drooping branchlets hung down much below the main shaft; but these, even if they touched the roof, would do no injury. It was, therefore, determined to let go the cable.
It was now clear day, for they had been delayed a good while; but at length all was ready, and Guapo untied the cable, and drew the end on board. The balza began to move; slowly at first, for the current under the bushes was very slight.
All at once the attention of the voyagers was called to the strange conduct of the pet monkey. That little creature was running to and fro, first upon the roof of the toldo, then down again, all the while uttering the most piercing shrieks as if something was biting off its tail! It was observed to look forward and upward toward the branch of the zamang, as if the object it dreaded was in that quarter. The eyes of all were suddenly bent in the same direction. What was their horror on beholding, stretched along the branch, the hideous body of an enormous serpent! Only part of it could be seen; the hinder half and the tail were hidden among the bromelias and vines that in huge masses clustered around the trunk of the zamang, and the head was among the leaflets of the mimosa; but what they saw was enough to convince them that it was a snake of the largest size—the great "water boa"—the anaconda!
That part of the body in sight was full as thick as a man's thigh, and covered with black spots or blotches upon a ground of dingy yellow. It was seen to glisten as the animal moved, for the latter was in motion, crawling along the branch outward! The next moment its head appeared under the pendulous leaves; and its long forking tongue, protruding several inches from its mouth, seemed to feel the air in front of it. This tongue kept playing backwards and forwards, and its viscid covering glittered under the sunbeam, adding to the hideous appearance of the monster.
To escape from passing within its reach would be impossible. The balza was gliding directly under it! It could launch itself aboard at will. It could seize upon any one of the party without coming from the branch. It could coil its body around them, and crush them with the constricting power of its muscles. It could do all this; for it had crushed before now the tapir, the roebuck, perhaps even the jaguar himself.
All on board the boat knew its dangerous power too well; and, of course, terror was visible in every countenance.
Don Pablo seized the axe, and Guapo laid hold of his machete. Dona Isidora, Leon, and the little Leona, were standing—fortunately they were—by the door of the toldo; and, in obedience to the cries and hurried gestures of Don Pablo and the Indian, they rushed in and flung themselves down. They had scarcely disappeared inside, when the forward part of the balza upon which stood Don Pablo and Guapo, came close to the branch, and the head of the serpent was on a level with their own. Both aimed their blows almost at the same instant; but their footing was unsteady, the boa drew back at the moment, and both missed their aim. The next moment the current had carried them out of reach, and they had no opportunity of striking a second blow.
The moment they had passed the hideous head again dropped down, and hung directly over, as if waiting. It was a moment of intense anxiety to Don Pablo. His wife and children! Would it select one as its victim, and leave the others? or——
He had but little time for reflection. Already the head of the snake was within three feet of the toldo door. Its eyes were glaring—it was about to dart down.
"Oh, God, have mercy!" exclaimed Don Pablo, falling upon his knees. "Oh, God!"
At that moment a loud scream was heard. It came from the toldo; and, at the same instant, the saimiri was seen leaping out from the door. Along with the rest, it had taken shelter within; but just as the head of the snake came in sight, a fresh panic seemed to seize upon it; and, as if under the influence of fascination, it leaped screaming in the direction of the terrible object. It was met half way. The wide jaws closed upon it, its shrieks were stifled, and the next moment its silken body, along with the head of the anaconda, disappeared among the leaves of the mimosa. Another moment passed, and the balza swept clear of the branch, and floated triumphantly into the open water.
Don Pablo sprang to his feet, ran into the toldo, and, after embracing his wife and children, knelt down and offered thanks to God for their almost miraculous deliverance.
A BATCH OF CURIOUS TREES.
Of course the escape from danger so imminent, after the first moments were over, produced a sort of reaction in the feelings of all and they were now rather joyous than otherwise. But with all there was a mixture of regret when they thought of the fate of little "titi." It had been their only pet, and had grown to be such a favourite that its loss was now mourned by every one, and its absence caused them to feel as though one of the company had been left behind. Several times during that day poor "titi" was the subject of conversation; indeed, they could hardly talk about anything else. Little Leona was quite inconsolable; for the pretty creature had loved Leona, and used to perch on her shoulder by the hour, and draw her silken ringlets through its tiny hand, and place its dainty little nose against the rich velvet of her cheek, and play off all sorts of antics with her ears. Many an hour did "titi" and Leona spend together. No wonder that the creature was missed.
During the whole of that day they travelled through a country covered with dense forest. The river was a full half-mile wide, but sometimes there were islands, and then the current became narrowed on each side, so that in passing, the balza almost touched the trees on one side or the other. They saw many kinds of trees growing together, and rarely a large tract covered with any one species of timber, for this, as already remarked, is a peculiarity of the Amazon forest.
Many new and curious trees were noticed, of which Don Pablo gave short botanical descriptions to the others, partly to instruct them, and partly to while away the hours. Guapo, at the rudder, listened to these learned lectures, and sometimes added some information of his own about the properties of the trees, and the uses to which they were put by the Indians. This is what is termed the popular part of the science of botany, and, perhaps, it is more important than the mere classification of genera and species, which is usually all the information that you get from the learned and systematic botanists.
Among the trees passed to-day was one called the "volador." This is a large forest tree, with lobed leaves, of a heart-shape. But it is the seeds which are curious, and which give to the tree the odd name of "volador," or "flier." These seeds have each a pair of membranaceous and striated wings, which, when the seeds fall, are turned to meet the air at an angle of 45 deg.; and thus a rotatory motion is produced, and the falling seeds turn round and round like little fly-wheels. It is altogether a curious sight when a large volador is shaken in calm weather, to see the hundreds of seeds whirling and wheeling towards the ground, which they take a considerable time in reaching. The volador is not confined to South America, I have seen it in Mexico, and other parts of North America.
Another singular tree noticed was a tree of the barberry family known among the Spanish-Americans as barba de tigre, or "tiger's beard." This name it derives from the fact of its trunk—which is very large and high—being thickly set all over with sharp, branching thorns, that are fancied to resemble the whiskers of the jaguar, or South American "tiger."
A third remarkable tree (or bush) observed was the Bixa orellana, which yields the well-known arnatto dye. This bush is ten or twelve feet in height, and its seeds grow in a burr-like pericarp. These seeds are covered with a reddish pulp, which produces the dye. The mode of making it is simple. The Indian women throw the seeds into a vessel of hot water, and stir them violently for about an hour, until they have taken off the pulp. The water is then poured off, and the deposit, separated from the seeds, is mixed with oil of turtle-eggs, or crocodile fat, and kneaded into cakes of three or four ounces weight.
It is then "anoto," sometimes written "arnatto," sometimes "arnotto," sometimes "onoto," and sometimes "anato." The first is the proper spelling. In Brazil it is called "urucu," whence the French name "rocou;" and the Peruvians have still another designation for it, "achote." Of course each tribe of Indians calls it by a separate name. The botanic name, Bixa, is the ancient name by which it was known to the Indians of Hayti, for it is found in most parts of tropical America growing wild, although it is also cultivated. It is an article in great demand among all the Indians of South America, who use it for painting their bodies, and dyeing the cotton cloth of which they make their garments.
But these people are very skilful in drawing pigments from plants and trees of many kinds; in fact, their practical chemistry, so far as it relates to dyes and poisons, is quite surprising, and from time to time Guapo pointed out trees that were used by them, for such purposes.
One was a climbing plant, whose tendrils reached to the tops of the highest trees. It had beautiful violet-coloured flowers, an inch long, and Don Pablo saw that it was a species of bignonia. Guapo called it "chica." When in fruit it carries a pod two feet in length, full of winged seeds. But Guapo said it was not from the seeds that the dye was obtained, but from the leaves, which turn red when macerated in water. The colouring matter comes out of the leaves in the form of a light powder, and is then shaped into cakes, which sell among the Indians for the value of a dollar each. This colour has a tinge of lake in it, and is prized even more highly than the anoto. Indeed, red dyes among all savage nations seem to hold a higher value than those of any other colour.
Another dye-tree was the "huitoc." This one is a slender tree, about twenty feet high, with broad leaves shooting out from the stem, and nuts growing at their bases, after the manner of the bread-fruit. These nuts resemble black walnuts, and are of a russet colour outside; but the pulp inside, which produces the huitoc, is of a dark blue, or purple tint.
The "wild indigo tree," was also seen growing in the woods, with a leaf narrow at the base, and broad at the extremity. With these and many other dyes the Indians of the Montana paint their bodies in fantastic modes. So much are they addicted to these customs, that, among the Indians who labour at the missions, some have been known to work nearly a month to procure paint enough to give their body a single coat, and the missionaries have made a merchandise of this gigantic folly. But the paint is not always to be looked upon in the light of a mere folly, or vanity. Sometimes it is used to keep off the "zancudos," or mosquitoes, so numerous and annoying in these regions.
Another singular tree was observed, which Guapo called the "marima," or "shirt-tree." The use of this he explained. The tree stands fifty or sixty feet high, with a diameter of from two to three. When they find them of this size, the Indians cut them down, and then separate the trunk into pieces of about three feet long. From these pieces they strip the bark, but without making any longitudinal incision, so that the piece of bark when taken off is a hollow cylinder. It is thin and fibrous, of a red colour, and looks like a piece of coarsely-woven sack-cloth. With this the shirt is made, simply by cutting two holes in the sides to admit the arms, and the body being passed into it, it is worn in time of rain. Hence the saying of the old missionaries, that in the "forests of America garments were found ready-made on the trees."
Many other trees were noticed valuable for their fruits, or leaves, or bark, or roots, or their wood. There was the well-known "seringa," or India-rubber tree; the great courbaril, the "dragon's-blood" tree, not that celebrated tree of the East but one of a different genus from whose white bark flows a red blood-like juice.
They saw, also, a species of cinnamon-tree though not the cinnamon of commerce; the large tree that bears the Brazilian nut-meg (the Puxiri); and that one, also, a large forest tree, that bears the nuts known as "Tonka beans," and which are used in the flavouring of snuff.
But of all the trees which our travellers saw on that day, none made such a impression upon them as the "juvia," or Brazil-nut tree. This tree is not one with a thick trunk; in fact, the largest ones are not three feet in diameter, but it rises to a height of 120 feet. Its trunk is branchless for more than half that height, and the branches then spread out and droop, like the fronds of the palm. They are naked near their bases, but loaded towards the top with tufts of silvery green leaves, each two feet in length. The tree does not blossom until its fifteenth year, and then it bears violet-coloured flowers; although there is another species, the "sapucaya," which has yellow ones. But it is neither the trunk, nor the branches, nor the leaves, nor yet the flowers of this tree, that render it such an object of curiosity. It is the great woody and spherical pericarps that contain the nuts or fruits that are wonderful. These are often as large as the head of a child, and as hard as the shell of the cocoa-nut! Inside is found a large number—twenty or more—of those triangular-shaped nuts which you may buy at any Italian warehouse under the name of "Brazil-nuts."
THE FOREST FESTIVAL.
In consequence of their having rested but poorly on the preceding night, it was determined that they should land at an early hour; and this they did, choosing an open place on the shore. It was a very pretty spot, and they could see that the woods in the background were comparatively open, as though there were some meadows or prairies between.
These openings, however, had been caused by fire. There had been a growth of cane. It had been burned off and as yet was not grown up again, though the young reeds were making their appearance like a field of green wheat. Some places, and especially near the river, the ground was still bare. This change in the landscape was quite agreeable to our travellers; so much so, that they resolved to exercise their limbs by taking a short stroll; and, having finished their late dinner they set out. They all went together, leaving the balza and camp to take care of themselves.
After walking a few hundred yards their ears were assailed by a confused noise, as if all the animals in the forest had met and were holding a conversazione. Some low bushes prevented them from seeing what it meant, but on pushing their way through, they saw whence and from what sort of creatures the noise proceeded.
Standing out in the open ground was a large and tall juvia-tree. Its spreading branches were loaded with great globes as big as human heads—each one, of course, full of delicious nuts. These were now ripe, and some of them had already fallen to the ground.
Upon the ground an odd scene presented itself to the eyes of our travellers. Between birds and animals assembled there, there were not less than a dozen kinds, all as busy as they could be.
First, then, there were animals of the rodent kind. These were pacas, agoutis and capivaras. The pacas were creatures a little larger than hares, and not unlike them, except that their ears were shorter. They were whitish on the under parts, but above were of a dark brown colour, with rows of white spots along each side. They had whiskers like the cat, consisting of long white bristles; and their tails, like those of hares, were scarcely visible. The agoutis bore a considerable resemblance to the pacas. Like these, they are also rodent animals, but less in size; and instead of being spotted, they are of a nearly uniform dark colour mixed with reddish brown.
Both pacas and agoutis are found in most parts of tropical America. There are several species of each, and with the chinchillas and viscachas already described, they occupy the place in those regions that the hares and rabbits do in northern climates. Indeed, European settlers usually know them by the names of hare or rabbit, and hunt them in the same way. The flesh of most species is very good eating, and they are therefore much sought after both by the natives and colonists.
Along with these, near the juvia-tree, were several capivaras, already noticed. But still more singular creatures on the ground were the monkeys. Of these there were different kinds; but that which first drew the attention of our party was the great Capuchin monkey. This creature is not less than three feet in height and of a reddish maroon colour. Its body is entirely different from the "ateles" monkeys, being stouter and covered with a fuller coat of hair; and its tail is large and bushy, without any prehensile power. It is, in fact, less of a tree monkey than the ateles, although it also lives among the branches. The most striking peculiarities of the Capuchin are its head and face. In these it bears a stronger resemblance to the human being than any other monkey in America.
The top of its head is covered with a crop of coarse hair, that lies somewhat after the fashion of human hair; but, what most contributes to the human expression is a large full beard and whiskers reaching down to the breast, and arranged exactly after the fashion of the huge beards worn by Orientals and some Frenchmen. There were only two of these Capuchins on the ground—a male and female, for this species does not associate in bands. The female one was easily distinguished by her smaller size, and her beard was considerably less than that of the male. The beards seemed to be objects of special attention with both—especially the male, as every now and then he was observed to stroke it down with his hand, just as a dandy may be seen doing with his moustache or his well-brushed whiskers.
Another peculiar habit of the Capuchins was noticed. There was a little pool of water close by. Every now and then they ran to this pool and took a drink from it. But in drinking they did not apply their lips to the pool or lap like a dog. No; they lifted the water in the hollow of their hands—hence their specific name of chiropotes, or "hand-drinking monkeys." They raised the water to their lips with great care, taking pains not to let a drop of it fall on their precious beards. From this habit of going so often to quench their thirst, the Capuchin monkeys have in some parts got the name of "hard-drinking monkeys."
Apart from these was a troop of monkeys of a very different species. They were nearly of the same size, but more of the shape of the "ateles;" and their long tails, naked underneath and curling downward near the points, showed that, like them too, they possessed prehensile power in that member. Such was the fact, for they were "howling monkeys;" and some species of these can use the tail almost as adroitly as the "ateles" themselves. Those that our travellers saw were the "guaribas," nearly black in colour, but with their hands covered with yellow hair, whence their name among the naturalists of "yellow-handed howler."
They were seated in a ring when first observed, and one—apparently the chief of the band—was haranguing the rest; but so rapid were his articulations, and so changeable the tones of his voice, that any one would have thought the whole party were chattering together. This, in effect, did occur at intervals, and then you might have heard them to the distance of more than a mile. These creatures are enabled to produce this vast volume of voice in consequence of a hollow bony structure at the root of the tongue, which acts as a drum, and which gives them the appearance of a swelling, or goitre, in the throat. This is common to all the howling monkeys as well as the guaribas.
Besides the howlers there were other species—there were tamarins, and ouistitis, and the black coaitas of the genus "ateles," all assembled around the juvia-tree. There were parrots, and macaws, and other nut-eating birds. High above in the air soared the great eagle watching his opportunity to swoop down on the pacas or agoutis, his natural prey. It was altogether a singular assemblage of wild animals—a zoological garden of the wilderness.
Our party, concealed by bushes, looked on for some time. They noticed that not one of all the living things was under the tree. On the contrary, they formed—monkeys, cavies, parrots, and all—a sort of ring around it, but at such a distance that none of the branches were above them! Why was this? Guapo knew the reason well, and before leaving their place of observation the others had an explanation of it.
While they stood gazing, one of the great globes was seen to fall from the tree above. The loud report as it struck the earth could have been heard a long way off. It caused the whole assemblage of living creatures to start. The macaws flapped their wings, the monkeys ran outward and then stopped, and a simultaneous cry from the voices of both birds and beasts echoed on all sides; and then there was a general chattering and screaming, as though the fall of the great pericarp had given pleasure to all parties.
It was very evident from this circumstance why both beasts and birds kept so far out from the tree. One of these fruits coming down like a nine-pound shot would have crushed any of them to atoms. Indeed, so heavy are they, that one of them falling from a height of fifty or sixty feet will dash out the brains of a man; and the Indians who gather them go under the trees with great wooden helmets that cover both the head and shoulders! It would be no boy's play to "go a nutting" in a wood of juvia-trees.
But how did the monkeys and birds get at the nuts? Neither of these could break open the outer shell. This is full half an inch thick, and so hard that it can scarcely be cut with a saw. How could either monkeys or birds open it?—that was the question put to Guapo.
"Watch them," said Guapo.
All kept their eyes bent attentively on what was going on; and to their astonishment they observed that neither the monkeys nor the birds had anything to do with the opening of the shells. That was entirely the work of the rodent animals, the pacas, cavies, and agoutis. These with their fine cutting teeth laid open the thick pericarps, and whenever one was seen to have succeeded, and the triangular nuts were scattered upon the ground, then there was a general rush, and macaws, parrots, and monkeys scrambled for a share.
The monkeys, however, did their part of the work. Whenever a fruit fell from the tree, one or two of them, deputed by the others, were seen to run in and roll it out, all the while exhibiting symptoms of great terror. They would then lift it in their hands, several of them together, and dash it repeatedly upon a stone. Sometimes, when the shell was not a strong one, they succeeded in breaking it in this way; but oftener they were not able, and then it was left to the rodent animals, who were watched at their operations, and usually robbed of the fruits of their labour. Such were the singular incidents witnessed at this festival of juvia-nuts.
But the scene was brought to a sudden termination. A cry was heard that rose far above all the other noises—a cry more terrible than the screams of the parrots, or the shrieks of the howling monkeys—it was the cry of the jaguar! It came from a piece of wood close to the juvia-trees, and the branches were heard to crackle as the dreaded utterer advanced.
In a moment the ground was cleared of every creature. Even the winged birds had flew up from the spot, and perched upon the branches; the cavies took to the water; the pacas and agouties to their burrows; and the monkeys to the tops of the adjacent trees; and nothing remained on the ground but the empty shells of the juvias.
Our party did not stay to notice the change. They, too, had been warned by the roar of the tiger, and hastily leaving the spot, returned to their place of encampment. On reaching it, they kindled a large circle of fire to keep them in safety during the night. They saw no more of the jaguar, although at intervals through the midnight hours, they were awakened by his loud and savage cry, resounding through the openings of the forest.
ACRES OF EGGS.
The next evening our travellers encamped on a sand-bar, or rather a great bank of sand, that ran for miles along one side of the river. Of course they had nothing to hang their hammocks to, but that was a matter of no importance, for the sand was dry and soft, and of itself would make a comfortable bed, as pleasant to sleep on as a hair-mattress. They only wanted wood enough to cook with, and to keep up their fire during the night—so as to frighten off the wild beasts.
This night they kept watch as usual, Leon taking the first turn. In fact, they found that they must do so every night—as in each of the camps where they had slept some danger had threatened; and they thought it would be imprudent for all to go to sleep at the same time. The heaviest part of the sentinel's duty fell to Guapo's share; but Guapo had long accustomed himself to go without sleep, and did not mind it; moreover Don Pablo took longer spells at the stern-oar during the day, and allowed Guapo many a "cat-nap."
Leon seated himself upon a pile of sand that he had gathered up, and did his best to keep awake, but in about an hour after the rest were asleep he felt very drowsy—in fact, quite as much so as on the night of the adventure with the vampire. He used pretty much the same means to keep himself awake, but not with so good success, for on this occasion he fell into a nap that lasted nearly half-an-hour, and might have continued still longer, had he not slid down the sand-hill and tumbled over on his side. This awoke him; and feeling vexed with himself, he rubbed his eyes as if he was going to push them deeper into their sockets.
When this operation was finished, he looked about to see if any creature had ventured near. He first looked towards the woods—for of course that was the direction from which the tigers would come, and these were the only creatures he feared; but he had scarcely turned himself when he perceived a pair of eyes glancing at him from the other side of the fire. Close to them another pair, then another and another, until having looked on every side, he saw himself surrounded by a complete circle of glancing eyes! It is true they were small ones, and some of the heads which he could see by the blaze, were small—they were not jaguars, but they had an ugly look—they looked like the heads of serpents! Was it possible that an hundred serpents could have surrounded the camp?
Brought suddenly to his feet, Leon stood for some moments uncertain how to act. He fully believed they were snakes—anacondas, or water-snakes no doubt—that had just crept out of the river; and he felt that a movement on his part would bring on their united and simultaneous attack upon the sleeping party. Partly influenced by this fear, and again exhibiting that coolness and prudence which we have already noticed as a trait of his character, he remained for some moments silent and motionless.
Having already risen to his feet, his eyes were now above the level of the blaze, and, as they got the sleep well scared out of them, he could see things more distinctly. He now saw that the snake-like heads were attached to large oval-shaped bodies, and that, besides the half hundred or so that had gathered around the fires, there were whole droves of the same upon the sandy beach beyond. The white surface was literally covered as far as he could see on all sides of him with black moving masses; and where the rays of the moon fell upon the beach, there was a broad belt that glistened and sparkled as though she shone upon pieces of glass kept constantly in motion!
A singular sight it was; and to Leon, who had never heard of such before, a most fearful one. For the life of him he could not make out what it all meant, or by what sort of odd creatures they were surrounded. He had but an indistinct view of them, but he could see that their bodies were not larger than those of a small sheep, and from the way in which they glistened under the moon he was sure they were water-animals, and had come out of the river!
He did not stay to speculate any longer upon them. He resolved to wake Guapo; but in doing so the whole party were aroused, and started to their feet in some alarm and confusion. The noise and movement had its effect on the nocturnal visitors; for before Leon could explain himself, those immediately around the fires and for some distance beyond rushed to the edge, and were heard plunging by hundreds into the water.
Guapo's ear caught the sounds, and his eye now ranging along the sandy shore, took in at a glance the whole thing.
"Carapas," he said laconically.
"Carapas?" inquired Leon.
"Oh!" said Don Pablo, who understood him. "Turtles is it?"
"Yes, master," replied Guapo. "This is, I suppose, one of their great hatching-places. They are going to lay their eggs somewhere in the sand above. They do so every year."
There was no danger from the turtles, as Guapo assured everybody, but the fright had chased away sleep, and they all lay awake for some time listening to Guapo's account of these singular creatures, which we shall translate into our own phraseology.