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Waterton's Wanderings.
The Wanderings - The Third Journey, 1820.
Chapter 1
Chapter 1 Pages

• 1  • 2  • 3  • 4  • 5 • 6 • 7 • 8

⮞⯈ Chapter 2 ⮞⯈ Chapter 3 ⮞⯈ Chapter 4

Click to enlargeOn his third journey in 1820, Waterton once more set sail for Demerara.
It was on the Third Wandering that he had his famous caiman encounter (see Chapter 4) when he captured the beast, with a little help from his friends, in the Essequibo River.

Photographed in the Guyana Zoological Park, Georgetown, 3rd March 2012.

THIRD JOURNEY in Waterton's own words ......

▼ Chapter 1, p.1.

Desertosque videre locos, littusque relictum.

Gentle reader, after staying a few months in England, I strayed across the Alps and the Apennines, and returned home, but could not tarry. Guiana still whispered in my ear, and seemed to invite me once more to wander through her distant forests.

Shouldst thou have a leisure hour to read what follows, I pray thee pardon the frequent use of that unwelcome monosyllable I. It could not well be avoided, as will be seen in the sequel. In February 1820 I sailed from the Clyde, on board the Glenbervie, a fine West-Indiaman. She was driven to the north-west of Ireland, and had to contend with a foul and wintry wind for above a fortnight. At last it changed, and we had a pleasant passage across the Atlantic.

Sad and mournful was the story we heard on entering the River Demerara. The yellow fever had swept off numbers of the old inhabitants, and the mortal remains of many a new-comer were daily passing down the streets in slow and mute procession to their last resting-place.

After staying a few days in the town, I went up the Demerara to the former habitation of my worthy friend Mr. Edmonstone, in Mibiri Creek.

The house had been abandoned for some years. On arriving at the hill, the remembrance of scenes long past and gone naturally broke in upon the mind. All was changed: the house was in ruins and gradually sinking under the influence of the sun and rain; the roof had nearly fallen in; and the room, where once governors and generals had caroused, was now dismantled and tenanted by the vampire. You would have said:

'Tis now the vampire's bleak abode,
'Tis now the apartment of the toad:
'Tis here the painful chegoe feeds,
'Tis here the dire labarri breeds
Conceal'd in ruins, moss, and weeds.

On the outside of the house Nature had nearly reassumed her ancient right: a few straggling fruit-trees were still discernible amid the varied hue of the near-approaching forest; they seemed like strangers lost and bewildered and unpitied in a foreign land, destined to linger a little longer, and then sink down for ever.

I hired some negroes from a woodcutter in another creek to repair the roof; and then the house, or at least what remained of it, became headquarters for natural history. The frogs, and here and there a snake, received that attention which the weak in this world generally experience from the strong, and which the law commonly denominates an ejectment. But here neither the frogs nor serpents were ill-treated: they sallied forth, without buffet or rebuke, to choose their place of residence--the world was all before them. The owls went away of their own accord, preferring to retire to a hollow tree rather than to associate with their new landlord. The bats and vampires stayed with me, and went in and out as usual.

[John Edmonstone]
It was upon this hill in former days that I first tried to teach John, the black slave of my friend Mr. Edmonstone, the proper way to do birds. But John had poor abilities, and it required much time and patience to drive anything into him. Some years after this his master took him to Scotland, where, becoming free, John left him, and got employed in the Glasgow, and then the Edinburgh, Museum.

Mr. Robert Edmonstone, nephew to the above gentleman, had a fine mulatto capable of learning anything. He requested me to teach him the art. I did so. He was docile and active, and was with me all the time in the forest. I left him there to keep up this new art of preserving birds and to communicate it to others. (James, who helped capture the cayman, Third Wandering, Chapter 4.)

Here, then, I fixed my headquarters, in the ruins of this once gay and hospitable house. Close by, in a little hut which, in times long past, had served for a store to keep provisions in, there lived a coloured man and his wife, by name Backer. Many a kind turn they did to me; and I was more than once a service to them and their children, by bringing to their relief in time of sickness what little knowledge I had acquired of medicine.

I would here, gentle reader, wish to draw thy attention, for a few minutes, to physic, raiment and diet. Shouldst thou ever wander through these remote and dreary wilds, forget not to carry with thee bark, laudanum, calomel and jalap, and the lancet. There are no druggist-shops here, nor sons of Galen to apply to in time of need. I never go encumbered with many clothes. A thin flannel waistcoat under a check shirt, a pair of trousers and a hat were all my wardrobe: shoes and stockings I seldom had on. In dry weather they would have irritated the feet and retarded me in the chase of wild beasts; and in the rainy season they would have kept me in a perpetual state of damp and moisture. I eat moderately, and never drink wine, spirits or fermented liquors in any climate. This abstemiousness has ever proved a faithful friend; it carried me triumphant through the epidemia at Malaga, where death made such havoc about the beginning of the present century; and it has since befriended me in many a fit of sickness brought on by exposure to the noon-day sun, to the dews of night, to the pelting shower and unwholesome food.

Perhaps it will be as well here to mention a fever which came on, and the treatment of it: it may possibly be of use to thee, shouldst thou turn wanderer in the tropics; a word or two also of a wound I got in the forest, and then we will say no more of the little accidents which sometimes occur, and attend solely to natural history. We shall have an opportunity of seeing the wild animals in their native haunts, undisturbed and unbroken in upon by man. We shall have time and leisure to look more closely at them, and probably rectify some errors which, for want of proper information or a near observance, have crept into their several histories.

▲ Chapter 1, p.1.

▼ Chapter 1, p.2.

It was in the month of June, when the sun was within a few days of Cancer, that I had a severe attack of fever. There had been a deluge of rain, accompanied with tremendous thunder and lightning, and very little sun. Nothing could exceed the dampness of the atmosphere. For two or three days I had been in a kind of twilight state of health, neither ill nor what you may call well: I yawned and felt weary without exercise, and my sleep was merely slumber. This was the time to have taken medicine, but I neglected to do so, though I had just been reading: "O navis, referent in mare te novi fluctus, O quid agis? fortiter occupa portum." I awoke at midnight: a cruel headache, thirst and pain in the small of the back informed me what the case was. Had Chiron himself been present he could not have told me more distinctly that I was going to have a tight brush of it, and that I ought to meet it with becoming fortitude. I dozed and woke and startled, and then dozed again, and suddenly awoke thinking I was falling down a precipice.

The return of the bats to their diurnal retreat, which was in the thatch above my hammock, informed me that the sun was now fast approaching to the eastern horizon. I arose in languor and in pain, the pulse at one hundred and twenty. I took ten grains of calomel and a scruple of jalap, and drank during the day large draughts of tea, weak and warm. The physic did its duty, but there was no remission of fever or headache, though the pain of the back was less acute. I was saved the trouble of keeping the room cool, as the wind beat in at every quarter.

At five in the evening the pulse had risen to one hundred and thirty, and the headache almost insupportable, especially on looking to the right or left. I now opened a vein, and made a large orifice, to allow the blood to rush out rapidly; I closed it after losing sixteen ounces. I then steeped my feet in warm water and got into the hammock. After bleeding the pulse fell to ninety, and the head was much relieved, but during the night, which was very restless, the pulse rose again to one hundred and twenty, and at times the headache was distressing. I relieved the headache from time to time by applying cold water to the temples and holding a wet handkerchief there. The next morning the fever ran very high, and I took five more grains of calomel and ten of jalap, determined, whatever might be the case, this should be the last dose of calomel. About two o'clock in the afternoon the fever remitted, and a copious perspiration came on: there was no more headache nor thirst nor pain in the back, and the following night was comparatively a good one. The next morning I swallowed a large dose of castor-oil: it was genuine, for Louisa Backer had made it from the seeds of the trees which grew near the door. I was now entirely free from all symptoms of fever, or apprehensions of a return; and the morning after I began to take bark, and continued it for a fortnight. This put all to rights.

The story of the wound I got in the forest and the mode of cure are very short. I had pursued a redheaded woodpecker for above a mile in the forest without being able to get a shot at it. Thinking more of the woodpecker, as I ran along, than of the way before me, I trod upon a little hardwood stump which was just about an inch or so above the ground; it entered the hollow part of my foot, making a deep and lacerated wound there. It had brought me to the ground, and there I lay till a transitory fit of sickness went off. I allowed it to bleed freely, and on reaching headquarters washed it well and probed it, to feel if any foreign body was left within it. Being satisfied that there was none, I brought the edges of the wound together and then put a piece of lint on it, and over that a very large poultice, which was changed morning, noon and night. Luckily Backer had a cow or two upon the hill; now as heat and moisture are the two principal virtues of a poultice, nothing could produce those two qualities better than fresh cow- dung boiled: had there been no cows there I could have made out with boiled grass and leaves. I now took entirely to the hammock, placing the foot higher than the knee: this prevented it from throbbing, and was, indeed, the only position in which I could be at ease. When the inflammation was completely subdued I applied a wet cloth to the wound, and every now and then steeped the foot in cold water during the day, and at night again applied a poultice. The wound was now healing fast, and in three weeks from the time of the accident nothing but a scar remained: so that I again sallied forth sound and joyful, and said to myself:

I, pedes quo te rapiunt et aurae
Dum favet sol, et locus, i secundo
Omine, et conto latebras, ut olim,
          Rumpe ferarum.

Now this contus was a tough, light pole eight feet long, on the end of which was fixed an old bayonet. I never went into the canoe without it: it was of great use in starting the beasts and snakes out of the hollow trees, and in case of need was an excellent defence.

Sir Joseph Banks.In 1819 I had the last conversation with Sir Joseph Banks. I saw with sorrow that death was going to rob us of him. We talked much of the present mode adopted by all museums in stuffing quadrupeds, and condemned it as being very imperfect: still we could not find out a better way, and at last concluded that the lips and nose ought to be cut off and replaced with wax, it being impossible to make those parts appear like life, as they shrink to nothing and render the stuffed specimens in the different museums horrible to look at. The defects in the legs and feet would not be quite so glaring, being covered with hair.

I had paid great attention to this subject for above fourteen years; still it would not do. However, one night, while I was lying in the hammock and harping on the string on which hung all my solicitude, I hit upon the proper mode by inference: it appeared clear to me that it was the only true way of going to work, and ere I closed my eyes in sleep I was able to prove to myself that there could not be any other way that would answer. I tried it the next day, and succeeded according to expectation.

By means of this process, which is very simple, we can now give every feature back again to the animal's face after it has been skinned; and when necessary stamp grief or pain, or pleasure, or rage, or mildness upon it. But more of this hereafter.

▲ Chapter 1, p.2.

▼ Chapter 1, p.3.

Click to enlarge.Let us now turn our attention to the sloth, whose native haunts have hitherto been so little known and probably little looked into. Those who have written on this singular animal have remarked that he is in a perpetual state of pain, that he is proverbially slow in his movements, that he is a prisoner in space, and that, as soon as he has consumed all the leaves of the tree upon which he had mounted, he rolls himself up in the form of a ball and then falls to the ground. This is not the case.

If the naturalists who have written the history of the sloth had gone into the wilds in order to examine his haunts and economy, they would not have drawn the foregoing conclusions. They would have learned that, though all other quadrupeds may be described while resting upon the ground, the sloth is an exception to this rule, and that his history must be written while he is in the tree.
(See Gerald Durrell on the subject of the sloth.)

This singular animal is destined by Nature to be produced, to live and to die in the trees; and to do justice to him naturalists must examine him in this his upper element. He is a scarce and solitary animal, and being good food he is never allowed to escape. He inhabits remote and gloomy forests where snakes take up their abode, and where cruelly-stinging ants and scorpions and swamps and innumerable thorny shrubs and bushes obstruct the steps of civilised man. Were you to draw your own conclusions from the descriptions which have been given of the sloth, you would probably suspect that no naturalist has actually gone into the wilds with the fixed determination to find him out and examine his haunts, and see whether Nature has committed any blunder in the formation of this extraordinary creature, which appears to us so forlorn and miserable, so ill put together, and so totally unfit to enjoy the blessings which have been so bountifully given to the rest of animated nature; for, as it has formerly been remarked, he has no soles to his feet, and he is evidently ill at ease when he tries to move on the ground, and it is then that he looks up in your face with a countenance that says: "Have pity on me, for I am in pain and sorrow."

It mostly happens that Indians and negroes are the people who catch the sloth and bring it to the white man: hence it may be conjectured that the erroneous accounts we have hitherto had of the sloth have not been penned down with the slightest intention to mislead the reader or give him an exaggerated history, but that these errors have naturally arisen by examining the sloth in those places where Nature never intended that he should be exhibited.

However, we are now in his own domain. Man but little frequents these thick and noble forests, which extend far and wide on every side of us. This, then, is the proper place to go in quest of the sloth. We will first take a near view of him. By obtaining a knowledge of his anatomy we shall be enabled to account for his movements hereafter, when we see him in his proper haunts. His fore-legs, or, more correctly speaking, his arms, are apparently much too long, while his hind-legs are very short, and look as if they could be bent almost to the shape of a corkscrew. Both the fore- and hind-legs, by their form and by the manner in which they are joined to the body, are quite incapacitated from acting in a perpendicular direction, or in supporting it on the earth, as the bodies of other quadrupeds are supported by their legs. Hence, when you place him on the floor, his belly touches the ground. Now, granted that he supported himself on his legs like other animals, nevertheless he would be in pain, for he has no soles to his feet, and his claws are very sharp and long and curved; so that were his body supported by his feet, it would be by their extremities, just as your body would be were you to throw yourself on all-fours and try to support it on the ends of your toes and fingers--a trying position. Were the floor of glass, or of a polished surface, the sloth would actually be quite stationary; but as the ground is generally rough, with little protuberances upon it, such as stones, or roots of grass, etc., this just suits the sloth, and he moves his fore-legs in all directions, in order to find something to lay hold of; and when he has succeeded he pulls himself forward, and is thus enabled to travel onwards, but at the same time in so tardy and awkward a manner as to acquire him the name of sloth.

Indeed his looks and his gestures evidently betray his uncomfortable situation: and as a sigh every now and then escapes him, we may be entitled to conclude that he is actually in pain.

Some years ago I kept a sloth in my room for several months. I often took him out of the house and placed him upon the ground, in order to have an opportunity of observing his motions. If the ground were rough, he would pull himself forwards by means of his fore-legs at a pretty good pace, and he invariably immediately shaped his course towards the nearest tree. But if I put him upon a smooth and well-trodden part of the road, he appeared to be in trouble and distress. His favourite abode was the back of a chair and, after getting all his legs in a line upon the topmost part of it, he would hang there for hours together, and often with a low and inward cry would seem to invite me to take notice of him.

▲Chapter 1, p.3.


▼ Chapter 1, p.4.

The sloth, in its wild state, spends its whole life in trees, and never leaves them but through force or by accident. An all-ruling Providence has ordered man to tread on the surface of the earth, the eagle to soar in the expanse of the skies, and the monkey and squirrel to inhabit the trees: still these may change their relative situations without feeling much inconvenience; but the sloth is doomed to spend his whole life in the trees, and, what is more extraordinary, not upon the branches, like the squirrel and the monkey, but under them. He moves suspended from the branch, he rests suspended from it, and he sleeps suspended from it. To enable him to do this he must have a very different formation from that of any other known quadruped.

Hence his seemingly bungled conformation is at once accounted for; and in lieu of the sloth leading a painful life, and entailing a melancholy and miserable existence on its progeny, it is but fair to surmise that it just enjoys life as much as any other animal, and that its extraordinary formation and singular habits are but further proofs to engage us to admire the wonderful works of Omnipotence.

It must be observed that the sloth does not hang head-downwards like the vampire. When asleep he supports himself from a branch parallel to the earth. He first seizes the branch with one arm, and then with the other; and after that brings up both his legs, one by one, to the same branch; so that all four are in a line: he seems perfectly at rest in this position. Now had he a tail, he would be at a loss to know what to do with it in this position: were he to draw it up within his legs it would interfere with them, and were he to let it hang down it would become the sport of the winds. Thus his deficiency of tail is a benefit to him; it is merely an apology for a tail, scarcely exceeding an inch and a half in length.

I observed, when he was climbing, he never used his arms both together, but first one and then the other, and so on alternately. There is a singularity in his hair, different from that of all other animals, and, I believe, hitherto unnoticed by naturalists. His hair is thick and coarse at the extremity, and gradually tapers to the root, where it becomes fine as a spider's web. His fur has so much the hue of the moss which grows on the branches of the trees that it is very difficult to make him out when he is at rest.

The male of the three-toed sloth has a longitudinal bar of very fine black hair on his back, rather lower than the shoulder-blades; on each side of this black bar there is a space of yellow hair, equally fine; it has the appearance of being pressed into the body, and looks exactly as if it had been singed. If we examine the anatomy of his fore-legs, we shall immediately perceive by their firm and muscular texture how very capable they are of supporting the pendent weight of his body, both in climbing and at rest; and, instead of pronouncing them a bungled composition, as a celebrated naturalist has done, we shall consider them as remarkably well calculated to perform their extraordinary functions.

As the sloth is an inhabitant of forests within the tropics, where the trees touch each other in the greatest profusion, there seems to be no reason why he should confine himself to one tree alone for food, and entirely strip it of its leaves. During the many years I have ranged the forests I have never seen a tree in such a state of nudity; indeed, I would hazard a conjecture that, by the time the animal had finished the last of the old leaves, there would be a new crop on the part of the tree he had stripped first, ready for him to begin again, so quick is the process of vegetation in these countries.

There is a saying amongst the Indians that, when the wind blows, the sloth begins to travel. In calm weather he remains tranquil, probably not liking to cling to the brittle extremity of the branches, lest they should break with him in passing from one tree to another; but as soon as the wind rises the branches of the neighbouring trees become interwoven, and then the sloth seizes hold of them and pursues his journey in safety. There is seldom an entire day of calm in these forests. The tradewind generally sets in about ten o'clock in the morning, and thus the sloth may set off after breakfast, and get a considerable way before dinner. He travels at a good round pace; and were you to see him pass from tree to tree, as I have done, you would never think of calling him a sloth.

Thus it would appear that the different histories we have of this quadruped are erroneous on two accounts: first, that the writers of them, deterred by difficulties and local annoyances, have not paid sufficient attention to him in his native haunts; and secondly, they have described him in a situation in which he was never intended by Nature to cut a figure: I mean on the ground. The sloth is as much at a loss to proceed on his journey upon a smooth and level floor as a man would be who had to walk a mile in stilts upon a line of feather-beds.

▲ Chapter 1, p.4.

▼ Chapter 1, p.5.

One day, as we were crossing the Essequibo, I saw a large two-toed sloth on the ground upon the bank. How he had got there nobody could tell: the Indian said he had never surprised a sloth in such a situation before. He would hardly have come there to drink, for both above and below the place the branches of the trees touched the water, and afforded him an easy and safe access to it. Be this as it may, though the trees were not above twenty yards from him, he could not make his way through the sand time enough to escape before we landed. As soon as we got up to him he threw himself upon his back, and defended himself in gallant style with his fore-legs. "Come, poor fellow," said I to him, "if thou hast got into a hobble to-day, thou shalt not suffer for it. I'll take no advantage of thee in misfortune; the forest is large enough both for thee and me to rove in: go thy ways up above, and enjoy thyself in these endless wilds; it is more than probable thou wilt never have another interview with man. So fare thee well." On saying this, I took a long stick which was lying there, held it for him to hook on, and then conveyed him to a high and stately mora. He ascended with wonderful rapidity, and in about a minute he was almost at the top of the tree. He now went off in a side direction, and caught hold of the branch of a neighbouring tree; he then proceeded towards the heart of the forest. I stood looking on, lost in amazement at his singular mode of progress. I followed him with my eye till the intervening branches closed in betwixt us; and then I lost sight for ever of the two-toed sloth. I was going to add that I never saw a sloth take to his heels in such earnest: but the expression will not do, for the sloth has no heels.

That which naturalists have advanced of his being so tenacious of life is perfectly true. I saw the heart of one beat for half an hour after it was taken out of the body. The wourali poison seems to be the only thing that will kill it quickly. On reference to a former part of these wanderings, it will be seen that a poisoned arrow killed the sloth in about ten minutes.

So much for this harmless, unoffending animal. He holds a conspicuous place in the catalogue of the animals of the new world. Though naturalists have made no mention of what follows, still it is not less true on that account. The sloth is the only quadruped known which spends its whole life from the branch of a tree, suspended by his feet. I have paid uncommon attention to him in his native haunts. The monkey and squirrel will seize a branch with their fore-feet, and pull themselves up, and rest or run upon it; but the sloth, after seizing it, still remains suspended, and suspended moves along under the branch, till he can lay hold of another. Whenever I have seen him in his native woods, whether at rest or asleep or on his travels, I have always observed that he was suspended from the branch of a tree. When his form and anatomy are attentively considered, it will appear evident that the sloth cannot be at ease in any situation where his body is higher, or above, his feet. We will now take our leave of him.

In the far-extending wilds of Guiana the traveller will be astonished at the immense quantity of ants which he perceives on the ground and in the trees. They have nests in the branches four or five times as large as that of the rook; and they have a covered way from them to the ground. In this covered way thousands are perpetually passing and repassing; and if you destroy part of it, they turn to and immediately repair it.

Other species of ants again have no covered way, but travel exposed to view upon the surface of the earth. You will sometimes see a string of these ants a mile long, each carrying in its mouth, to its nest, a green leaf the size of a sixpence. It is wonderful to observe the order in which they move, and with what pains and labour they surmount the obstructions of the path.

The ants have their enemies as well as the rest of animated nature. Amongst the foremost of these stand the three species of ant-bears. The smallest is not much larger than a rat; the next is nearly the size of a fox; and the third a stout and powerful animal, measuring about six feet from the snout to the end of the tail. He is the most inoffensive of all animals, and never injures the property of man. He is chiefly found in the inmost recesses of the forest, and seems partial to the low and swampy parts near creeks, where the troely-tree grows. There he goes up and down in quest of ants, of which there is never the least scarcity; so that he soon obtains a sufficient supply of food with very little trouble. He cannot travel fast; man is superior to him in speed. Without swiftness to enable him to escape from his enemies, without teeth, the possession of which would assist him in self-defence, and without the power of burrowing in the ground, by which he might conceal himself from his pursuers, he still is capable of ranging through these wilds in perfect safety; nor does he fear the fatal pressure of the serpent's fold or the teeth of the famished jaguar. Nature has formed his fore-legs wonderfully thick and strong and muscular, and armed his feet with three tremendous sharp and crooked claws. Whenever he seizes an animal with these formidable weapons he hugs it close to his body, and keeps it there till it dies through pressure or through want of food. Nor does the ant-bear, in the meantime, suffer much from loss of aliment, as it is a well-known fact that he can go longer without food than, perhaps, any other animal, except the land-tortoise. His skin is of a texture that perfectly resists the bite of a dog; his hinder-parts are protected by thick and shaggy hair, while his immense tail is large enough to cover his whole body.

▲Chapter 1, p.5.


▼ Chapter 1, p.6.

The Indians have a great dread of coming in contact with the ant-bear and, after disabling him in the chase, never think of approaching him till he be quite dead. It is perhaps on account of this caution that naturalists have never yet given to the world a true and correct drawing of this singular animal, or described the peculiar position of his fore-feet when he walks or stands. If, in taking a drawing from a dead ant-bear, you judge of the position in which he stands from that of all other terrestrial animals, the sloth excepted, you will be in error. Examine only a figure of this animal in books of natural history, or inspect a stuffed specimen in the best museums, and you will see that the fore-claws are just in the same forward attitude as those of a dog, or a common bear when he walks or stands. But this is a distorted and unnatural position, and in life would be a painful and intolerable attitude for the ant-bear. The length and curve of his claws cannot admit of such a position. When he walks or stands his feet have somewhat the appearance of a club-hand. He goes entirely on the outer side of his fore-feet, which are quite bent inwards, the claws collected into a point, and going under the foot. In this position he is quite at ease, while his long claws are disposed of in a manner to render them harmless to him and are prevented from becoming dull and worn, like those of the dog, which would inevitably be the case did their points come in actual contact with the ground; for his claws have not that retractile power which is given to animals of the feline species, by which they are enabled to preserve the sharpness of their claws on the most flinty path. A slight inspection of the fore-feet of the ant-bear will immediately convince you of the mistake artists and naturalists have fallen into by putting his fore-feet in the same position as those of other quadrupeds, for you will perceive that the whole outer side of his foot is not only deprived of hair, but is hard and callous: proof positive of its being in perpetual contact with the ground. Now, on the contrary, the inner side of the bottom of his foot is soft and rather hairy.

There is another singularity in the anatomy of the ant-bear, I believe as yet unnoticed in the page of natural history. He has two very large glands situated below the root of the tongue. From these is emitted a glutinous liquid, with which his long tongue is lubricated when he puts it into the ants' nests. These glands are of the same substance as those found in the lower jaw of the woodpecker. The secretion from them, when wet, is very clammy and adhesive, but on being dried it loses these qualities, and you can pulverise it betwixt your finger and thumb; so that in dissection, if any of it has got upon the fur of the animal or the feathers of the bird, allow it to dry there, and then it may be removed without leaving the least stain behind.

The ant-bear is a pacific animal. He is never the first to begin the attack. His motto may be "Noli me tangere." As his habits and his haunts differ materially from those of every other animal in the forest, their interests never clash, and thus he might live to a good old age, and die at last in peace, were it not that his flesh is good food. On this account the Indian wages perpetual war against him and, as he cannot escape by flight, he falls an easy prey to the poisoned arrow shot from the Indian's bow at a distance. If ever he be closely attacked by dogs, he immediately throws himself on his back, and if he be fortunate enough to catch hold of his enemy with his tremendous claws, the invader is sure to pay for his rashness with the loss of life.

We will now take a view of the vampire. As there was a free entrance and exit to the vampire in the loft where I slept, I had many a fine opportunity of paying attention to this nocturnal surgeon. He does not always live on blood. When the moon shone bright, and the fruit of the banana-tree was ripe, I could see him approach and eat it. He would also bring into the loft, from the forest, a green round fruit something like the wild guava and about the size of a nutmeg. There was something also in the blossom of the sawarri nut-tree which was grateful to him, for on coming up Waratilla Creek, in a moonlight night, I saw several vampires fluttering round the top of the sawarri-tree, and every now and then the blossoms, which they had broken off, fell into the water. They certainly did not drop off naturally, for on examining several of them they appeared quite fresh and blooming. So I concluded the vampires pulled them from the tree either to get at the incipient fruit or to catch the insects which often take up their abode in flowers.

The vampire, in general, measures about twenty-six inches from wing to wing extended, though I once killed one which measured thirty-two inches. He frequents old abandoned houses and hollow trees; and sometimes a cluster of them may be seen in the forest hanging head downwards from the branch of a tree.

Goldsmith seems to have been aware that the vampire hangs in clusters; for in the Deserted Village, speaking of America, he says:

And matted woods, where birds forget to sing,
But silent bats in drowsy clusters cling.

The vampire has a curious membrane which rises from the nose, and gives it a very singular appearance. It has been remarked before that there are two species of vampire in Guiana, a larger and a smaller. The larger sucks men and other animals; the smaller seems to confine himself chiefly to birds. I learnt from a gentleman high up in the River Demerara that he was completely unsuccessful with his fowls on account of the small vampire. He showed me some that had been sucked the night before, and they were scarcely able to walk.

▲Chapter 1, p.6.


▼ Chapter 1, p.7.

Some years ago I went to the River Paumaron with a Scotch gentleman, by name Tarbet. We hung our hammocks in the thatched loft of a planter's house. Next morning I heard this gentleman muttering in his hammock, and now and then letting fall an imprecation or two just about the time he ought to have been saying his morning prayers. "What is the matter, sir?" said I softly. "Is anything amiss?" "What's the matter?" answered he surlily; "why, the vampires have been sucking me to death." As soon as there was light enough I went to his hammock and saw it much stained with blood. "There," said he, thrusting his foot out of the hammock, "see how these infernal imps have been drawing my life's blood." On examining his foot I found the vampire had tapped his great toe: there was a wound somewhat less than that made by a leech; the blood was still oozing from it; I conjectured he might have lost from ten to twelve ounces of blood. Whilst examining it, I think I put him into a worse humour by remarking that a European surgeon would not have been so generous as to have blooded him without making a charge. He looked up in my face, but did not say a word: I saw he was of opinion that I had better have spared this piece of ill-timed levity.

It was not the last punishment of this good gentleman in the River Paumaron. The next night he was doomed to undergo a kind of ordeal unknown in Europe. There is a species of large red ant in Guiana sometimes called ranger, sometimes coushie. These ants march in millions through the country in compact order, like a regiment of soldiers: they eat up every insect in their march; and if a house obstruct their route, they do not turn out of the way, but go quite through it. Though they sting cruelly when molested, the planter is not sorry to see them in his house, for it is but a passing visit, and they destroy every kind of insect-vermin that has taken shelter under his roof.

Now in the British plantations of Guiana, as well as in Europe, there is always a little temple dedicated to the goddess Cloacina. Our dinner had chiefly consisted of crabs dressed in rich and different ways. Paumaron is famous for crabs, and strangers who go thither consider them the greatest luxury. The Scotch gentleman made a very capital dinner on crabs; but this change of diet was productive of unpleasant circumstances: he awoke in the night in that state in which Virgil describes Caeleno to have been, viz. "faedissima ventris proluvies." Up he got to verify the remark:

Serius aut citius, sedem properamus ad unam.

Now, unluckily for himself and the nocturnal tranquillity of the planter's house, just at that unfortunate hour the coushie-ants were passing across the seat of Cloacina's temple. He had never dreamed of this; and so, turning his face to the door, he placed himself in the usual situation which the votaries of the goddess generally take. Had a lighted match dropped upon a pound of gunpowder, as he afterwards remarked, it could not have caused a greater recoil. Up he jumped and forced his way out, roaring for help and for a light, for he was worried alive by ten thousand devils. The fact is he had sat down upon an intervening body of coushie-ants. Many of those which escaped being crushed to death turned again, and in revenge stung the unintentional intruder most severely. The watchman had fallen asleep, and it was some time before a light could be procured, the fire having gone out; in the meantime the poor gentleman was suffering an indescribable martyrdom, and would have found himself more at home in the Augean stable than in the planter's house.

I had often wished to have been once sucked by the vampire in order that I might have it in my power to say it had really happened to me. There can be no pain in the operation, for the patient is always asleep when the vampire is sucking him; and as for the loss of a few ounces of blood, that would be a trifle in the long run. Many a night have I slept with my foot out of the hammock to tempt this winged surgeon, expecting that he would be there, but it was all in vain; the vampire never sucked me, and I could never account for his not doing so, for we were inhabitants of the same loft for months together.

▲Chapter 1, p.7.


▼ Chapter 1, p.8.

The armadillo is very common in these forests; he burrows in the sandhills like a rabbit. As it often takes a considerable time to dig him out of his hole, it would be a long and laborious business to attack each hole indiscriminately without knowing whether the animal were there or not. To prevent disappointment the Indians carefully examine the mouth of the hole, and put a short stick down it. Now if, on introducing the stick, a number of mosquitos come out, the Indians know to a certainty that the armadillo is in it: whenever there are no mosquitos in the hole there is no armadillo. The Indian having satisfied himself that the armadillo is there by the mosquitos which come out, he immediately cuts a long and slender stick and introduces it into the hole. He carefully observes the line the stick takes, and then sinks a pit in the sand to catch the end of it: this done, he puts it farther into the hole, and digs another pit, and so on, till at last he comes up with the armadillo, which had been making itself a passage in the sand till it had exhausted all its strength through pure exertion. I have been sometimes three-quarters of a day in digging out one armadillo, and obliged to sink half a dozen pits seven feet deep before I got up to it. The Indians and negroes are very fond of the flesh, but I considered it strong and rank.

On laying hold of the armadillo you must be cautious not to come in contact with his feet: they are armed with sharp claws, and with them he will inflict a severe wound in self-defence. When not molested he is very harmless and innocent: he would put you in mind of the hare in Gay's fables:

Whose care was never to offend,
And every creature was her friend.

The armadillo swims well in time of need, but does not go into the water by choice. He is very seldom seen abroad during the day; and when surprised, he is sure to be near the mouth of his hole. Every part of the armadillo is well protected by his shell, except his ears. In life this shell is very limber, so that the animal is enabled to go at full stretch or roll himself up into a ball, as occasion may require.

On inspecting the arrangement of the shell, it puts you very much in mind of a coat of armour; indeed, it is a natural coat of armour to the armadillo, and being composed both of scale and bone it affords ample security, and has a pleasing effect.

Often, when roving in the wilds, I would fall in with the land-tortoise; he too adds another to the list of unoffending animals. He subsists on the fallen fruits of the forest. When an enemy approaches he never thinks of moving, but quietly draws himself under his shell and there awaits his doom in patience. He only seems to have two enemies who can do him any damage: one of these is the boa-constrictor--this snake swallows the tortoise alive, shell and all. But a boa large enough to do this is very scarce, and thus there is not much to apprehend from that quarter. The other enemy is man, who takes up the tortoise and carries him away. Man also is scarce in these never-ending wilds, and the little depredations he may commit upon the tortoise will be nothing, or a mere trifle. The tiger's teeth cannot penetrate its shell, nor can a stroke of his paws do it any damage. It is of so compact and strong a nature that there is a common saying, a London waggon might roll over it and not break it.

Ere we proceed, let us take a retrospective view of the five animals just enumerated: they are all quadrupeds, and have some very particular mark or mode of existence different from all other animals. The sloth has four feet, but never can use them to support his body on the earth: they want soles, which are a marked feature in the feet of other animals. The ant- bear has not a tooth in his head, still he roves fearless on in the same forests with the jaguar and boa-constrictor. The vampire does not make use of his feet to walk, but to stretch a membrane which enables him to go up into an element where no other quadruped is seen. The armadillo has only here and there a straggling hair, and has neither fur nor wool nor bristles, but in lieu of them has received a movable shell on which are scales very much like those of fishes. The tortoise is oviparous, entirely without any appearance of hair, and is obliged to accommodate itself to a shell which is quite hard and inflexible, and in no point of view whatever obedient to the will or pleasure of the bearer. The egg of the tortoise has a very hard shell, while that of the turtle is quite soft.

▲Chapter 1, p.8.


Chapter 1 Pages

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