THIRD JOURNEY

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.

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.