Littell's Living Age/Volume 133/Issue 1722/Kidnapping a Sloth

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From The Leisure Hour.


When I first went to live at Larangeiras, which is a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, one of my especial pets was a young sloth. Rather a curious favorite, you may say; but the fact was, that I had heard several travellers deny the possibility of rearing a sloth to recognize and become familiar with you, and I had a fancy to try the experiment for myself.

At first (as might be expected) my native friends made great fun of the idea, and were always asking how my pupil was getting on, and whether I had not better send him to school, now that he was getting too big for a private tutor. However, I stuck to my own way, like a true Englishman, and in course of time the beast got to know me quite well. Many a time, when I was sitting reading in the garden, under the shade of my favorite palm-tree, I would be startled by feeling a huge hairy paw passed inquiringly along the back of my neck, and, turning round, find myself face to face with Senhor Melhado, as I had named him, in compliment to a very take-it-easy neighbor of mine.

These reminders, I must confess, generally meant getting a bit of sugarcane or a sup of molasses, for he was a shocking "sweet-tooth." When we sat eating our sugarcane on the verandah, in the cool of the evening, he used to come for his piece as regularly as the clock struck; and whenever he had misbehaved himself, I used to punish him by giving him none. Having got his education to this point, I began to think whether I could not carry it further still, when lo! one fine morning my pet was nowhere to be found.

This discovery was not made till after I had started for the city as usual; but my black retainers were naturally dismayed at a catastrophe the whole blame of which would evidently fall upon them. Moreover, the garden being entirely surrounded by a high wall, and all the trees standing well back from it, it was difficult to imagine how he could have got out. The whole affair had quite an air of witchcraft; and (as is wont to be the case in a public crisis) a great deal was said, and nothing done.

Now, it happened that this same difficulty of getting out was Mr. Sloth's special grievance; for, although one might have thought that long walks were not much his line, he had a great hankering to know what lay on the other side of that wall. And so, one morning, as if on purpose to gratify him, while he was sitting disconsolate upon a projecting bough, there came sliding up over the top of the wall, right towards him, the end of a pole, long, strong, and well-smoothed as heart of sloth could wish.

Slowly and heavily, one after another, the huge clumsy paws fastened upon this unexpected windfall. But, alas! for the poor beast, he had no sooner trusted himself to his new perch than he discovered that there was a black man in ambush underneath it; and before he could collect his scattered ideas, he found himself whisked up and marched away down the street, to the cry of "Preguiça! boa perguiça! Quem quer comprar!" (Sloth! good sloth! Who'll buy?)

Meanwhile, I, little dreaming of what had befallen my poor favorite, was riding leisurely along the great road leading from the suburb of Larangeiras to the city, when I suddenly discovered that I had forgotten some papers which I wanted. To save time, I went back by a short cut through some of the by-streets, and it was just as well that I did, for I suddenly encountered a sloth tied by his claws to a pole, and looking very much ashamed of himself; and in this disconsolate captive I recognized, to my no small amazement, my own cherished pupil, Senhor Melhado!

In an instant I was off my horse, and pounced upon the thief, who loudly protested his innocence. A crowd gathered, and there was a great hue-and-cry; but my recognition of the sloth—and, better still, his recognition of me—carried the day, and my black friend, seeing the case going against him, abandoned the booty and took to his heels. The delight of my household at the prodigal's return may be imagined; and I think the lesson must have done him good, for he never broke bounds again. D. Ker.