The Beginning of the Armadillos by Rudyard Kipling
THIS, O Best Beloved, is another story of the High and Far-Off
Times. In the very middle of those times was a Stickly- Prickly
Hedgehog, and he lived on the banks of the turbid Amazon, eating
shelly snails and things. And he had a friend, a Slow- Solid Tortoise,
who lived on the banks of the turbid Amazon, eating green lettuces and
things. And so that was all right, Best Beloved. Do you see?
But also, and at the same time, in those High and Far-Off Times,
there was a Painted Jaguar, and he lived on the banks of the turbid
Amazon too; and he ate everything that he could catch. When he could
not catch deer or monkeys he would eat frogs and beetles; and when he
could not catch frogs and beetles he went to his Mother Jaguar, and
she told him how to eat hedgehogs and tortoises.
She said to him ever so many times, graciously waving her tail,
'My son, when you find a Hedgehog you must drop him into the water
and then he will uncoil, and when you catch a Tortoise you must scoop
him out of his shell with your paw.' And so that was all right, Best
One beautiful night on the banks of the turbid Amazon, Painted
Jaguar found Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog and Slow-Solid Tortoise sitting
under the trunk of a fallen tree. They could not run away, and so
Stickly-Prickly curled himself up into a ball, because he was a
Hedgehog, and Slow-Solid Tortoise drew in his head and feet into his
shell as far as they would go, because he was a Tortoise; and so that
was all right, Best Beloved. Do you see?
'Now attend to me,' said Painted Jaguar, 'because this is very
important. My mother said that when I meet a Hedgehog I am to drop
him into the water and then he will uncoil, and when I meet a Tortoise
I am to scoop him out of his shell with my paw. Now which of you is
Hedgehog and which is Tortoise? because, to save my spots, I can't
'Are you sure of what your Mummy told you?' said Stickly-Prickly
Hedgehog. 'Are you quite sure? Perhaps she said that when you uncoil
a Tortoise you must shell him out the water with a scoop, and when you
paw a Hedgehog you must drop him on the shell.'
'Are you sure of what your Mummy told you?' said Slow-and-Solid
Tortoise. 'Are you quite sure? Perhaps she said that when you water a
Hedgehog you must drop him into your paw, and when you meet a Tortoise
you must shell him till he uncoils.'
'I don't think it was at all like that,' said Painted Jaguar, but
he felt a little puzzled; 'but, please, say it again more
'When you scoop water with your paw you uncoil it with a
Hedgehog,' said Stickly-Prickly. 'Remember that, because it's
'But,' said the Tortoise, 'when you paw your meat you drop it into
a Tortoise with a scoop. Why can't you understand?'
'You are making my spots ache,' said Painted Jaguar; 'and besides,
I didn't want your advice at all. I only wanted to know which of you
is Hedgehog and which is Tortoise.'
'I shan't tell you,' said Stickly-Prickly. 'but you can scoop me
out of my shell if you like.'
'Aha!' said Painted Jaguar. 'Now I know you're Tortoise. You
thought I wouldn't! Now I will.' Painted Jaguar darted out his
paddy-paw just as Stickly-Prickly curled himself up, and of course
Jaguar's paddy-paw was just filled with prickles. Worse than that, he
knocked Stickly-Prickly away and away into the woods and the bushes,
where it was too dark to find him. Then he put his paddy-paw into his
mouth, and of course the prickles hurt him worse than ever. As soon as
he could speak he said, 'Now I know he isn't Tortoise at all.
But'--and then he scratched his head with his un-prickly paw--'how do
I know that this other is Tortoise?'
'But I am Tortoise,' said Slow-and-Solid. Your mother was quite
right. She said that you were to scoop me out of my shell with your
'You didn't say she said that a minute ago, said Painted Jaguar,
sucking the prickles out of his paddy-paw. 'You said she said
something quite different.'
'Well, suppose you say that I said that she said something quite
different, I don't see that it makes any difference; because if she
said what you said I said she said, it's just the same as if I said
what she said she said. On the other hand, if you think she said that
you were to uncoil me with a scoop, instead of pawing me into drops
with a shell, I can't help that, can I?'
'But you said you wanted to be scooped out of your shell with my
paw,' said Painted Jaguar.
'If you'll think again you'll find that I didn't say anything of
the kind. I said that your mother said that you were to scoop me out
of my shell,' said Slow-and-Solid.
'What will happen if I do?' said the Jaguar most sniffily and most
'I don't know, because I've never been scooped out of my shell
before; but I tell you truly, if you want to see me swim away you've
only got to drop me into the water.
'I don't believe it,' said Painted Jaguar. 'You've mixed up all
the things my mother told me to do with the things that you asked me
whether I was sure that she didn't say, till I don't know whether I'm
on my head or my painted tail; and now you come and tell me something
I can understand, and it makes me more mixy than before. My mother
told me that I was to drop one of you two into the water, and as you
seem so anxious to be dropped I think you don't want to be dropped. So
jump into the turbid Amazon and be quick about it.'
'I warn you that your Mummy won't be pleased. Don't tell her I
didn't tell you,' said Slow-Solid.
'If you say another word about what my mother said--' the Jaguar
answered, but he had not finished the sentence before Slow-and-Solid
quietly dived into the turbid Amazon, swam under water for a long way,
and came out on the bank where Stickly-Prickly was waiting for him.
'That was a very narrow escape,' said Stickly-Prickly. 'I don't
rib Painted Jaguar. What did you tell him that you were?'
'I told him truthfully that I was a truthful Tortoise, but he
wouldn't believe it, and he made me jump into the river to see if I
was, and I was, and he is surprised. Now he's gone to tell his Mummy.
Listen to him!'
They could hear Painted Jaguar roaring up and down among the trees
and the bushes by the side of the turbid Amazon, till his Mummy came.
'Son, son!' said his mother ever so many times, graciously waving
her tail, 'what have you been doing that you shouldn't have done?'
'I tried to scoop something that said it wanted to be scooped out
of its shell with my paw, and my paw is full of per-ickles,' said
'Son, son!' said his mother ever so many times, graciously waving
her tail, 'by the prickles in your paddy-paw I see that that must
have been a Hedgehog. You should have dropped him into the water.
'I did that to the other thing; and he said he was a Tortoise, and
I didn't believe him, and it was quite true, and he has dived under
the turbid Amazon, and he won't come up again, and I haven't anything
at all to eat, and I think we had better find lodgings somewhere else.
They are too clever on the turbid Amazon for poor me!'
'Son, son!' said his mother ever so many times, graciously waving
her tail, 'now attend to me and remember what I say. A Hedgehog curls
himself up into a ball and his prickles stick out every which way at
once. By this you may know the Hedgehog.'
'I don't like this old lady one little bit,' said Stickly-Prickly,
under the shadow of a large leaf. 'I wonder what else she knows?'
'A Tortoise can't curl himself up,' Mother Jaguar went on, ever so
many times, graciously waving her tail. 'He only draws his head and
legs into his shell. By this you may know the tortoise.'
'I don't like this old lady at all--at all,' said Slow-and-Solid
Tortoise. 'Even Painted Jaguar can't forget those directions. It's a
great pity that you can't swim, Stickly-Prickly.'
'Don't talk to me,' said Stickly-Prickly. 'Just think how much
better it would be if you could curl up. This is a mess! Listen to
Painted Jaguar was sitting on the banks of the turbid Amazon
sucking prickles out of his Paws and saying to himself--
'Can't curl, but can swim-- Slow-Solid, that's him! Curls up, but
can't swim-- Stickly-Prickly, that's him!'
'He'll never forget that this month of Sundays,' said
Stickly-Prickly. 'Hold up my chin, Slow-and-Solid. I'm going to try
to learn to swim. It may be useful.'
'Excellent!' said Slow-and-Solid; and he held up Stickly-Prickly's
chin, while Stickly-Prickly kicked in the waters of the turbid Amazon.
'You'll make a fine swimmer yet,' said Slow-and-Solid. 'Now, if
you can unlace my back-plates a little, I'll see what I can do
towards curling up. It may be useful.'
Stickly-Prickly helped to unlace Tortoise's back-plates, so that
by twisting and straining Slow-and-Solid actually managed to curl up
a tiddy wee bit.
'Excellent!' said Stickly-Prickly; 'but I shouldn't do any more
just now. It's making you black in the face. Kindly lead me into the
water once again and I'll practice that side-stroke which you say is
so easy.' And so Stickly-Prickly practiced, and Slow-Solid swam
'Excellent!' said Slow-and-Solid. 'A little more practice will
make you a regular whale. Now, if I may trouble you to unlace my back
and front plates two holes more, I'll try that fascinating bend that
you say is so easy. Won't Painted Jaguar be surprised!'
'Excellent!' said Stickly-Prickly, all wet from the turbid Amazon.
'I declare, I shouldn't know you from one of my own family. Two holes,
I think, you said? A little more expression, please, and don't grunt
quite so much, or Painted Jaguar may hear us. When you've finished, I
want to try that long dive which you say is so easy. Won't Painted
Jaguar be surprised!'
And so Stickly-Prickly dived, and Slow-and-Solid dived alongside.
'Excellent!' said Slow-and-Solid. 'A leetle more attention to
holding your breath and you will be able to keep house at the bottom
of the turbid Amazon. Now I'll try that exercise of putting my hind
legs round my ears which you say is so peculiarly comfortable. Won't
Painted Jaguar be surprised!'
'Excellent!' said Stickly-Prickly. 'But it's straining your
back-plates a little. They are all overlapping now, instead of lying
side by side.'
'Oh, that's the result of exercise,' said Slow-and-Solid. 'I've
noticed that your prickles seem to be melting into one another, and
that you're growing to look rather more like a pinecone, and less like
a chestnut-burr, than you used to.'
'Am I?' said Stickly-Prickly. 'That comes from my soaking in the
water. Oh, won't Painted Jaguar be surprised!'
They went on with their exercises, each helping the other, till
morning came; and when the sun was high they rested and dried
themselves. Then they saw that they were both of them quite different
from what they had been.
'Stickly-Prickly,' said Tortoise after breakfast, 'I am not what I
was yesterday; but I think that I may yet amuse Painted Jaguar.
'That was the very thing I was thinking just now,' said Stickly-
Prickly. 'I think scales are a tremendous improvement on prickles--to
say nothing of being able to swim. Oh, won't Painted Jaguar be
surprised! Let's go and find him.'
By and by they found Painted Jaguar, still nursing his paddy-paw
that had been hurt the night before. He was so astonished that he
fell three times backward over his own painted tail without stopping.
'Good morning!' said Stickly-Prickly. 'And how is your dear
gracious Mummy this morning?'
'She is quite well, thank you,' said Painted Jaguar; 'but you must
forgive me if I do not at this precise moment recall your name.'
'That's unkind of you,' said Stickly-Prickly, 'seeing that this
time yesterday you tried to scoop me out of my shell with your paw.'
'But you hadn't any shell. It was all prickles,' said Painted
Jaguar. 'I know it was. Just look at my paw!'
'You told me to drop into the turbid Amazon and be drowned,' said
Slow-Solid. 'Why are you so rude and forgetful to-day?'
'Don't you remember what your mother told you?' said Stickly-
'Can't curl, but can swim-- Stickly-Prickly, that's him! Curls
up, but can't swim-- Slow-Solid, that's him!'
Then they both curled themselves up and rolled round and round
Painted Jaguar till his eyes turned truly cart-wheels in his head.
Then he went to fetch his mother.
'Mother,' he said, 'there are two new animals in the woods to-
day, and the one that you said couldn't swim, swims, and the one that
you said couldn't curl up, curls; and they've gone shares in their
prickles, I think, because both of them are scaly all over, instead of
one being smooth and the other very prickly; and, besides that, they
are rolling round and round in circles, and I don't feel comfy.'
'Son, son!' said Mother Jaguar ever so many times, graciously
waving her tail, 'a Hedgehog is a Hedgehog, and can't be anything but
a Hedgehog; and a Tortoise is a Tortoise, and can never be anything
'But it isn't a Hedgehog, and it isn't a Tortoise. It's a little
bit of both, and I don't know its proper name.'
'Nonsense!' said Mother Jaguar. 'Everything has its proper name. I
should call it "Armadillo" till I found out the real one. And I should
leave it alone.'
So Painted Jaguar did as he was told, especially about leaving
them alone; but the curious thing is that from that day to this, O
Best Beloved, no one on the banks of the turbid Amazon has ever called
Stickly-Prickly and Slow-Solid anything except Armadillo. There are
Hedgehogs and Tortoises in other places, of course (there are some in
my garden); but the real old and clever kind, with their scales lying
lippety-lappety one over the other, like pine-cone scales, that lived
on the banks of the turbid Amazon in the High and Far-Off Days, are
always called Armadillos, because they were so clever.
So that; all right, Best Beloved. Do you see?
I'VE never sailed the Amazon, I've never reached Brazil; But the
Don and Magdelana, They can go there when they will!
Yes, weekly from Southampton, Great steamers, white and gold, Go
rolling down to Rio (Roll down--roll down to Rio!) And I'd like to
roll to Rio Some day before I'm old!
I've never seen a Jaguar, Nor yet an Armadill O dilloing in his
armour, And I s'pose I never will,
Unless I go to Rio These wonders to behold-- Roll down--roll down
to Rio-- Roll really down to Rio! Oh, I'd love to roll to Rio Some
day before I'm old!