114 GUANACOS: LIVING AND DYING
valued as that of the smaller variety of the breed, called the vicuna, whose hair was woven into the finest material, reserved especially for the Peruvian nobles. The vicuiias are little beasts, with soft feet and excellent appetites, and when the grass on the higher mountains withers in the summer heat, they come down in search of the pasture on the moist plains. In every herd there are generally fifteen or sixteen females to one male, but he is very careful of his charges, and when they are on the march always brings up the rear. The little ones are strong and swift, even from the moment of their birth; but when the males are quite grown up the mothers all join together to expel them from the flock, and the young creatures then form a club of their own, from which, in their turn, the females are excluded.
The laws of hunting in Peru were very strict, and the peasants were strictly forbidden to break them. Once a year the Government arranged a chase on a large scale, which lasted a whole week, and was shared in by all the men of the district; but great care was taken that the hunt should only be held in the same place every fourth year. Each man had his appointed place and brought with him a pole and spear, and a weapon called a bolas, made of two balls joined by a string. This was whirled round the head and let fly at the animal, and so skilful were the Peruvians in its use, that the creature was generally killed at the first blow.
As the hunt went on, the circle of men was drawn closer and closer, till at the end, nothing was left alive but the valuable vicunas and their cousins the guanacos, who were always held sacred. Then a great shearing took place—sometimes as many as forty thousand of these llamas remained to be sheared—and the wool was stored in the royal magazine till the different kinds could be sorted and separated. When this was done, the finer sorts were reserved for the nobles, and the rest given to the common people, who had a right to