but what was this?
" A set of Chinchilla "-" cost twenty-five pounds "-" and nearly as good as new And" wanted a Spaniel with very long ears,' and '-" jewellery and especially gold filigree!"
“CHIN” The story of a tame chinchilla
But who does think or such things? Who ever remembers that cuffs and muffs, and jacket-trimmings at so much per yard, have been living things ? happy little things nestling in rocky holes with their young in the short northern summers, hunger-driven little creatures, hunting the snows under the starlit sky of the long night of a northern winter, then trapped when their coats were at their best and winter-warm, to re-appear as muffs, and cuffs, and furbelows
Such is the story of most of our furs; but not of the Chinchilla, whose name tells where he came from; for he belongs to another sphere, to the New World, as the old discoverers called it, and to the grandest region of that world, the great mountain-chain which Is north and south through Chili and Peru.
In those heights the magical clearness of the atmosphere seemed to annihilate distance, and the Condor ranging, poised, with huge white wings above a chasm a mile away, seemed as if a stone thrown by a child's hand might reach him, no sound broke the silence and the hushed mystery of that upland world, unless the great storm-winds awoke, or the thunder crashed in the fury of a tropical storm. Down below all was light and splendor, and bird and insect were as gorgeous as the flowers which opened their rare hues in the burning sunshine. Up above it was silent with the silence of the frozen North. The heights were swept by winds chilled from the sea, or iced by the snows of the higher peaks, and the little Chinchillas in their mountain home, although creatures of the tropics, needed all their depths of velvet-like fur to keep them from the cold. :
Their village was an old world settlement under the crags, burrowed out by Chinchilla-hands hundreds of years gone by; they were there, probably long before the Incas ruled in the land; they were there certainly while the Spaniards swept the country with fire and blood; and up the rocky ledges past their burrows, the gangs of miserable slaves, Inca princes and their people, must
constantly have passed on their way to slavery and death in the mines above.
This Padre, who writes the natural history of his native country in the year 1782, seems to have had tame Chinchillas, and to have petted them, for he describes them very lovingly, and says they are so clean and scentless that they can be kept in houses without inconvenience, and adds that “they are naturally so gentle that they may be taken in the hand without attempting to bite or
even trying to escape." He thinks they take pleasure in being “caressed, and when taken up"; and put upon any part of a person, he says with evident surprise, “They remain as quiet and unconcerned as if they were upon the ground”
Then came the new light upon remote affinities of race, thrown by the study of comparative anatomy, when the Chinchilla, having been taken in hand by Cuvier, was declared to be neither rat nor squirrel, but a porcupine.
Two such intended victims I know of, bought for killing and dissection by a great (perhaps the greatest) authority upon their species, who escaped their fate so far as to be allowed to live out their little lives in peace; and when their turn came to be made into skeletons, they were probably far more interesting to their preserver than when they were alive, for
they do not seem to have repaid him by making themselves at all attractive.
It was a chilly July evening, when a small packing-cage arrived in a Welsh home, and through bars wide enough apart to let a pretty little nose pns11 through, a soft grey creature was looking eagerly with its beautiful black eyes.
He was a little creature, about the size of a small hand" with wonderful eyes, eyes larger in proportion to his size than I ever saw in any animal. "So his mistress says in her account of him. It was difficult to tell exactly how large he was in describing him, fur he had a power of elongating and making himself curiously tall when he stood up for dainties held almost out of his reach; but when he sat musing, as he often did, hunched almost into a ball, with his tail curled close to his side, be looked a mere mite. His pretty ears were large, rounded, and full of expression, semi- transparent, and something like those of a bat. But next to his wonderus eyes his whiskers were his greatest beauty; they were alternately white and black, spreading out like a fan, which graduated from tiny white down on his little nose, to the immense length of four and a half inches. These splendid whiskers quivered and trembled, and were as full of expression as the mobile ears and the pathetic black eyes; and the eyes, generally so superb and brilliant, had in them a strange mournful pathos, whenever the musing fit overcame little Chin.
As he got used to his new home, he became less vigilant and distrustful, and often lapsed into this pensive mood. A trance seemed to come over him suddenly, and then you might stoop over and kiss him without in the least disturbing him. His dream-land was confidently believed to be somewhere in the heights of Chimborazo, and that he was just then lost in a vision of himself happy in
a burrow with all the other Chins, and far beyond the power of ever so kind a kiss to wake him.
He was not wild, from the very first, but he disliked being caught; and if a hand was put into the cage to take hold of him, he always pushed it away with the most fascinating petulance. He never had any fear of the face, and did not mind how much he was kissed, but always seemed to have some misgiving about being caught, so he was not often held; but when he was in anyone's hand, he deemed to be nothing but a ball of fur, for his bones could hardly be felt through the depth of fur-coat, the silken softness of which in his ancestors had so astonished the Spanish Padre two hundred years ago'. But Chin's coat was not by any means in perfect order when he arrived, for having sat much either for warmth or for company on the top of the stove in his master's cabin, he had scorched some of his fur off. He sat in that hot corner side by side with another poor captive and companion in trouble, a paraquet, who, pour passer le temps, had amused herself by constantly nibbling one of Chin’s bat's ears, and he must have approved of it and liked it upon the whole, for he sat quietly day after day to be nibbled and scratched, until his friend forgot herself, and with one hard bite took a piece out of his ear, and left poor Chin disfigured for life.
In Edinburgh he puzzled everyone who saw him as much as his Forbearers had done the Spanish Padre. Again he was likened to a rat, a rabbit, or a squirrel, but none seem to have divined the hedgehog under that silken skin and delicate form.
It was long after he Came before it was found out that a sand-bath was essential to his welfare, but some one having heard that the Chinchillas were supplied with them at the zoological Gardens, a bath improvised out of a soup-plate, and filled with the finest and driest sand that could be procured, was placed in front his cage.His mistress says, “I shall not easily forget his first sight of the sand plate. He stood at his door, whiskers trembling for a moment with anticipation, then he jumped up to the plate, and then on to the sand, scratching it away with his little hands, throwing it over his head, and then lying on his side and rolling over and over so rapidly that we saw only the flash of his white waistcoat and the straighten of his short tail” - "From that time the daily bath was a great delight to him, and he seemed to enjoy it more and more “After a more than usually successful and exhilarating roll, he always sat up, and passed his little hand over his face, which always brought the house down”
Chin's bath became a popular performance, and a circle of his devoted adherents often sat round a table to see it come off. Sometimes the tickling of the san or perhaps the tickling with the sand was intended to allay, led, after that indescribable dainty passing of the hand over the face, to a prolonged scrubbing of it, not only with both hands but with both the little arms which were furred with those curious cuffs of his quite up to the elbow. “The quaintness and deliciousness of that performance, the energy with which the head was turned from side to side, and the conceit of the hop into the cage when it was all over, cannot be imagined by anybody who did not know this Chin."
Another favorite exhibition was to see Chin make his bed. Whenever he had fresh bay or straw given him, be set to work with feverish haste, in an earnest and rather agitated way, to cut every bit of it into regulation length. This done, the making of the bed began with a great routing, and burrowing, and picking out of superfluous quantities, and a nibbling and arranging of the remainder.
At his dullest (for even Chin had his ups and downs) one had only to hold a straw near his cage, and out he came to bite at it with a kind of savage energy, always nibbling it off in short lengths nearly up to the holders fingers, and when it got too small to repay further effort, "flinging it far away with that wonderful little hand"
Chin bad no doubt instincts of his own, besides family tradition, all on the side of a well-chopped bed, but probably his eagerness in biting up his straw was as much on account of his teeth as for the comfort of his pillows, for if his bedding had to be of regulation length, so, above all things, had his teeth.They had to be kept ground by hard work, and like those of all gnawing animals they would have gone on growing upwards and
downwards, until having lost the chisel-like fit one upon the other of the upper and lower teeth, they would have been useless, and Chin upon his own finding must inevitably have been starved.The head of a poor rat whose teeth had grown and curved round into circles in this way, is somewhere preserved in London. Chin practiced his teeth from time to time upon anything that came in his way, and on board ship kept them in order upon his master's boots. When be first came, no one about him knew what all
this gnawing meant, or understood that the long needle-like teeth required careful adjustment to prevent their becoming unmanageable.
It was night and he was free.
He was a nocturnal creature, all his instincts were alive, and the poor little captive in the triumph of that great success, his new back door, may have been thinking himself far on his way to the Cordilleras. Nobody knows or ever thinks how the miseries of captivity are enhanced in the case of all nocturnal creatures, by the complete upsetting of their habits. Chin's low spirits and day-dreams were probably partly from the distress caused by having to be awake and watchful when he ought to have been asleep, for as evening came on, he generally became fully alive and lost all symptoms of depression. His evenings were his happiest time; and although he had to take his gambols in a lamp and fire lit room, and would have much preferred being in the dark, he managed to make himself very happy and most amusing by his frolics, which evidently were meant for a painstaking rehearsal of Chinchilla life in the Cordillera. Chairs and tables, and people's shoulders, answered his purpose for a scampering ground, but it was found that he never in his most confident moods felt himself at ease unless he had places of shelter to run to, it was, of course, the instinct of a barrowing creature feeling shelter less above ground, and liking to be sure he had his holes within reach. So Chin was re-assured upon this head by always having his arbor a waste-paper basket poised in the edge of a china plate, as well as his house close at hand, to either of which he escaped at intervals in his wild frolics about the rooms, He would run at full speed across the arm-chair drawn to the fire- side, and along the shoulders of the occupants, sometimes burrowing down behind them, making imaginary holes and houses in the stuffing of the chair with great expenditure of muscular strength in kicking and scratchingHe often insisted upon burrowing between the buttons of a gown, and after great efforts would manage to push himself through an opening, and when he had nearly succeeded, al ways gave a final kick before going out of sight. The fierceness of his demonstration against the obstructive buttons was a most amusing thing to see.Now and then in one of his runs, when he came to the top of an arm-chair he would go off suddenly into a gentle doze for half an-hour or more, or upon a safe arrival upon somebody's shoulders, would often remain there, very still, as if he was quite contented and happy, just as the Chinchillas described a hundred years ago by the Abbe Molina, who, he says, always remained upon a person wherever they were placed. Little Chin, when in an unusually gentle mood, would nestle himself close to the face and nibble the ear of a friend; It was simply a caress, but with his peculiarly-shaped and carefully-sharpened teeth, it was fortunate that he never forgot himself as his friend on board the steamer - the parquet - had done.
There were times when he was made supremely happy by permission to sit up longer and continue his
His memory was excellent: if a bonne-bourne had once been put in any very unusual place (on the top of
When be was excited once by a game of straw-biting, be bit until the blood came, but there was neither a
His food was an ever-recurring difficulty, and a perplexity which was never cleared up.All the directions be
He made one day a fortunate discovery for himself, His cage having been placed upon a table where there
He was fond, too, of plantain, and it was “the most charming thing" to see him with one of the long stalks, managing it prettily and daintily in both little hands. If the plantain was held horizontally before his cage, be would come out, and putting one little paw upon the holder's hand, be would eat all the seeds close down to the thumb and finger that held it for him, and then take the stalk in his own hands and fling it far away. Carrot, dandelion-leaves, and ground-nuts, be also liked; and once, when he was at the Lakes, it was found be would eat groundsel eagerly. His China-roses were getting scarce, but be seemed just then quite satisfied 'With groundsel and a little carrot. However, upon his return to Edinburgh he bad decided to eat no more groundsel. His mistress's first walk had been to a nursery-garden in search of it, and whether Chin discovered a subtle difference between Scotch and English weeds, no one could possibly tell, but he would have none of it. It had been for some time his chief support, so his friends were thrown into fresh perplexity. However, his decisions were irrevocable; for, as his mistress says: “He had the fascinating quality of knowing his own mind " and she adds most truly and feelingly, “We have no right to keep, as pets, creatures whose ways and habits we do not understand."
In early spring, the first green hawthorn-leaves been one experiment which he had seemed to like, but in
an alarm to his devoted friends. They would then take him out of his cage, and nurse him upon their laps by
One summer evening he had been in an attack of this kind, and his mistress, feeling anxious about him, went
A partial dissection in order to preserve the skin, showed how sadly the poor little thing must have suffered,