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At Last by Charles Kingsley

Part 3 out of 8

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not be able yet to allow our imaginations so daringly hopeful a
range: but the world travels fast, and seems travelling on into
some such theory just now; leaving behind, as antiquated bigots,
those who dare still to believe in the eternal and immutable essence
of Goodness, and in the divine origin of man, created in the
likeness of God, that he might be perfect even as his Father in
heaven is perfect.

But to return to the animals. The cage next to the monkeys holds a
more pleasant beast; a Toucan out of the primeval forest, as
gorgeous in colour as he is ridiculous in shape. His general
plumage is black, set off by a snow-white gorget fringed with
crimson; crimson and green tail coverts, and a crimson and green
beak, with blue cere about his face and throat. His enormous and
weak bill seems made for the purpose of swallowing bananas whole;
how he feeds himself with it in the forest it is difficult to guess:
and when he hops up and down on his great clattering feet--two toes
turned forward, and two back--twisting head and beak right and left
(for he cannot see well straight before him) to see whence the
bananas are coming; or when again, after gorging a couple, he sits
gulping and winking, digesting them in serene satisfaction, he is as
good a specimen as can be seen of the ludicrous--dare I say the
intentionally ludicrous?--element in nature.

Next to him is a Kinkajou; {91a} a beautiful little furry bear--or
racoon--who has found it necessary for his welfare in this world of
trees to grow a long prehensile tail, as the monkeys of the New
World have done. He sleeps by day; save when woke up to eat a
banana, or to scoop the inside out of an egg with his long lithe
tongue: but by night he remembers his forest-life, and performs
strange dances by the hour together, availing himself not only of
his tail, which he uses just as the spider monkey does, but of his
hind feet, which he can turn completely round at will, till the
claws point forward like those of a bat. But with him, too, the
tail is the sheet-anchor, by which he can hold on, and bring all his
four feet to bear on his food. So it is with the little Ant-eater,
{91b} who must needs climb here to feed on the tree ants. So it is,
too, with the Tree Porcupine, {91c} or Coendou, who (in strange
contrast to the well-known classic Porcupine of the rocks of
Southern Europe) climbs trees after leaves, and swings about like
the monkeys. For the life of animals in the primeval forest is, as
one glance would show you, principally arboreal. The flowers, the
birds, the insects, are all a hundred feet over your head as you
walk along in the all but lifeless shade; and half an hour therein
would make you feel how true was Mr. Wallace's simile--that a walk
in the tropic forest was like one in an empty cathedral while the
service was being celebrated upon the roof.

In the next two cages, however, are animals who need no prehensile
tails; for they are cats, furnished with those far more useful and
potent engines, retractile claws; a form of beast at which the
thoughtful man will never look without wonder; so unique, so
strange, and yet as perfect, that it suits every circumstance of
every clime; as does that equally unique form the dragon-fly. We
found the dragon-flies here, to our surprise, exactly similar to,
and as abundant as, the dragon-flies at home, and remembering that
there were dragon-flies of exactly the same type ages and ages ago,
in the days of the OEningen and Solenhofen slates, said--Here is
indeed a perfect work of God, which, as far as man can see, has
needed no improvement (if such an expression be allowable)
throughout epochs in which the whole shape of continents and seas,
and the whole climate of the planet, has changed again and again.
The cats are: an ocelot, a beautiful spotted and striped fiend, who
hisses like a snake; a young jaguar, a clumsy, happy kitten, about
as big as a pug dog, with a puny kitten's tail, who plays with the
spider monkey, and only shows by the fast-increasing bulk of his
square lumbering head, that in six months he will be ready to eat
the monkey, and in twelve to eat the keeper.

There are strange birds, too. One, whom you may see in the
Zoological Gardens, like a plover with a straight beak and bittern's
plumage, from 'The Main,' whose business is to walk about the table
at meals uttering sad metallic noises and catching flies. His name
is Sun-bird, {93a} 'Sun-fowlo' of the Surinam Negroes, according to
dear old Stedman, 'because, when it extends its wings, which it
often does, there appears on the interior part of each wing a most
beautiful representation of the sun. This bird,' he continues very
truly, 'might be styled the perpetual motion, its body making a
continual movement, and its tail keeping time like the pendulum of a
clock.' {93b} A game-bird, olive, with a bare red throat, also from
The Main, called a Chacaracha, {93c} who is impudently brave, and
considers the house his own; and a great black Curassow, {93d} also
from The Main, who patronises the turkeys and guinea-fowl; stalks in
dignity before them; and when they do not obey, enforces his
authority by pecking them to death. There is thus plenty of
amusement here, and instruction too, for those to whom the ways of
dumb animals during life are more interesting than their stuffed
skins after death.

But there is the signal-gun, announcing the arrival of the Mail from
home. And till it departs again there will be no time to add to
this hasty, but not unfaithful, sketch of first impressions in a
tropic island.

CHAPTER VI: MONOS

Early in January, I started with my host and his little suite on an
expedition to the islands of the Bocas. Our object was twofold: to
see tropical coast scenery, and to get, if possible, some Guacharo
birds (pronounced Huacharo), of whom more hereafter. Our chance of
getting them depended on the sea being calm outside the Bocas, as
well as inside. The calm inside was no proof of the calm out. Port
of Spain is under the lee of the mountains; and the surf might be
thundering along the northern shore, tearing out stone after stone
from the soft cliffs, and shrouding all the distant points in salt
haze, though the gulf along which we were rowing was perfectly
smooth, and the shipping and the mangrove scrub and the coco-palms
hung double, reflected as in a mirror, not of glass but of mud; and
on the swamps of the Caroni the malarious fog hung motionless in
long straight lines, waiting for the first blaze of sunrise to
sublime it and its invisible poisons into the upper air, where it
would be swept off, harmless, by the trade-wind which rushed along
half a mile above our heads.

So away we rowed, or rather were rowed by four stalwart Negroes,
along the northern shore of the gulf, while the sun leapt up
straight astern, and made the awning, or rather the curtains of the
awning, needful enough. For the perpendicular rays of the sun in
the Tropics are not so much dreaded as the horizontal ones, which
strike on the forehead, or, still more dangerous, on the back of the
head; and in the West Indies, as in the United States, the early
morning and the latter part of the afternoon are the times for
sunstrokes. Some sort of shade for the back of the head is
necessary for an European, unless (which is not altogether to be
recommended) he adopts the La Platan fashion of wearing the natural,
and therefore surest, sunshade of his own hair hanging down to his
shoulders after the manner of our old cavaliers.

The first islands which we made--The Five Islands, as they are
called--are curious enough. Isolated remnants of limestone, the
biggest perhaps one hundred yards long by one hundred feet high,
channelled and honeycombed into strange shapes by rain and waves
they are covered--that at least on which we landed--almost
exclusively by Matapalos, which seem to have stranded the original
trees and established themselves in every cranny of the rocks,
sending out arms, legs, fingers, ropes, pillars, and what not, of
live holdfasts over every rock and over each other till little but
the ubiquitous Seguine {95a} and Pinguins {95b} find room or
sustenance among them. The island on which we landed is used, from
time to time, as a depot for coolie immigrants when first landed.
There they remain to rest after the voyage till they can be
apportioned by the Government officers to the estates which need
them. Of this admirable system of satisfying the great need of the
West Indies, free labourers, I may be allowed to say a little here.

'Immigrants' are brought over from Hindostan at the expense of the
colony. The Indian Government jealously watches the emigration, and
through agents of its own rigidly tests the bona-fide 'voluntary'
character of the engagement. That they are well treated on the
voyage is sufficiently proved, that on 2264 souls imported last year
the death-rate during the voyage was only 2.7 per cent, although
cholera attacked the crew of one of the ships before it left the
Hooghly. During the last three years ships with over 300 emigrants
have arrived several times in Trinidad without a single death. On
their arrival in Trinidad, those who are sick are sent at once to
the hospital; those unfit for immediate labour are sent to the
depot. The healthy are 'indentured'--in plain English, apprenticed-
-for five years, and distributed among the estates which have
applied for them. Husbands and wives are not allowed to be
separated, nor are children under fifteen parted from their parents
or natural protectors. They are expected by the law to work for 280
days in the year, nine hours a day; and receive the same wages as
the free labourers: but for this system task-work is by consent
universally substituted; and (as in the case of an English
apprentice) the law, by various provisions, at once punishes them
for wilful idleness, and protects them from tyranny or fraud on the
part of their employers. Till the last two years the newcomers
received their wages entirely in money. But it was found better to
give them for the first year (and now for the two first years) part
payment in daily rations: a pound of rice, four ounces of dholl (a
kind of pea), an ounce of coconut oil or ghee, and two ounces of
sugar to each adult; and half the same to each child between five
and ten years old.

This plan has been found necessary, in order to protect the Coolies
both from themselves and from each other. They themselves prefer
receiving the whole of their wages in cash. With that fondness for
mere hard money which marks a half-educated Oriental, they will, as
a rule, hoard their wages; and stint themselves of food, injuring
their powers of work, and even endangering their own lives; as is
proved by the broad fact that the death-rate among them has much
decreased, especially during the first year of residence, since the
plan of giving them rations has been at work. The newcomers need,
too, protection from their own countrymen. Old Coolies who have
served their time and saved money find it convenient to turn rice-
sellers or money-lenders. They have powerful connections on many
estates; they first advance money or luxuries to a newcomer, and
when he is once entrapped, they sell him the necessaries of life at
famine prices. Thus the practical effect of rations has been to
lessen the number of those little roadside shops, which were a curse
to Trinidad, and are still a curse to the English workman.
Moreover--for all men are not perfect, even in Trinidad--the Coolie
required protection, in certain cases, against a covetous and short-
sighted employer, who might fancy it to be his interest to let the
man idle during his first year, while weak, and so save up an arrear
of 'lost days' to be added at the end of the five years, when he was
a strong skilled labourer. An employer will have, of course, far
less temptation to do this, while, as now, he is bound to feed the
Coolie for the first two years. Meanwhile, be it remembered, the
very fact that such a policy was tempting, goes to prove that the
average Coolie grew, during his five years' apprenticeship, a
stronger, and not a weaker, man.

There is thorough provision--as far as the law can provide--for the
Coolies in case of sickness. No estate is allowed to employ
indentured Coolies, which has not a duly 'certified' hospital,
capable of holding one-tenth at least of the Coolies on the estate,
with an allowance of 800 cubic feet to each person; and these
hospitals are under the care of district medical visitors, appointed
by the Governor, and under the inspection (as are the labour-books,
indeed every document and arrangement connected with the Coolies) of
the Agent-General of Immigrants or his deputies. One of these
officers, the Inspector, is always on the move, and daily visits,
without warning, one or more estates, reporting every week to the
Agent-General. The Governor may at any time, without assigning any
cause, cancel the indenture of any immigrant, or remove any part or
the whole of the indentured immigrant labourers from any estate; and
this has been done ere now.

I know but too well that, whether in Europe or in the Indies, no
mere laws, however wisely devised, will fully protect the employed
from the employer; or, again, the employer from the employed. What
is needed is a moral bond between them; a bond above, or rather
beneath, that of mere wages, however fairly paid, for work, however
fairly done. The patriarchal system had such a bond; so had the
feudal: but they are both dead and gone, having done, I presume,
all that it was in them to do, and done it, like all human
institutions, not over well. And meanwhile, that nobler bond, after
which Socialists so-called have sought, and after which I trust they
will go on seeking still--a bond which shall combine all that was
best in patriarchism and feudalism, with that freedom of the
employed which those forms of society failed to give--has not been
found is yet; and, for a generation or two to come, 'cash-payment
seems likely to be the only nexus between man and man.' Because
that is the meanest and weakest of all bonds, it must be watched
jealously and severely by any Government worthy of the name; for to
leave it to be taken care of by the mere brute tendencies of supply
and demand, and the so-called necessities of the labour market, is
simply to leave the poor man who cannot wait to be blockaded and
starved out by the rich who can. Therefore all Colonial Governments
are but doing their plain duty in keeping a clear eye and a strong
hand on this whole immigration movement; and in fencing it round, as
in Trinidad, with such regulations as shall make it most difficult
for a Coolie to be seriously or permanently wronged without direct
infraction of the law, and connivance of Government officers; which
last supposition is, in the case of Trinidad, absurd, as long as Dr.
Mitchell, whom I am proud to call my friend, holds a post for which
he is equally fitted by his talents and his virtues.

I am well aware that some benevolent persons, to whom humanity owes
much, regard Coolie immigration to the West Indies with some
jealousy, fearing, and not unnaturally, that it may degenerate into
a sort of slave-trade. I think that if they will study the last
immigration ordinance enacted by the Governor of Trinidad, June 24,
1870, and the report of the Agent-General of Immigrants for the year
ending September 30, 1869, their fears will be set at rest as far as
this colony is concerned. Of other colonies I say nothing, simply
because I know nothing: save that, if there are defects and abuses
elsewhere, the remedy is simple: namely, to adopt the system of
Trinidad, and work it as it is worked there.

After he has served his five years' apprenticeship, the Coolie has
two courses before him. Either he can re-indenture himself to an
employer, for not more than twelve months, which as a rule he does;
or he can seek employment where he likes. At the end of a
continuous residence of ten years in all, and at any period after
that, he is entitled to a free passage back to Hindostan; or he may
exchange his right to a free passage for a Government grant of ten
acres of land. He has meanwhile, if he has been thrifty, grown
rich. His wife walks about, at least on high-days, bedizened with
jewels: nay, you may see her, even on work-days, hoeing in the
cane-piece with heavy silver bangles hanging down over her little
brown feet: and what wealth she does not carry on her arms, ankles,
neck, and nostril, her husband has in the savings' bank. The ship
Arima, as an instance,: took back 320 Coolies last year, of whom
seven died on the voyage. These people carried with them 65,585
dollars; and one man, Heerah, handed over 6000 dollars for
transmission through the Treasury, and was known to have about him
4000 more. This man, originally allotted to an estate, had, after
serving out his industrial contract, resided in the neighbouring
village of Savannah Grande as a shopkeeper and money-lender for the
last ten years. Most of this money, doubtless, had been squeezed
out of other Coolies by means not unknown to Europeans, as well as
to Hindoos: but it must have been there to be squeezed out. And
the new 'feeding ordinance' will, it is to be hoped, pare the claws
of Hindoo and Chinese usurers.

The newly offered grant of Government land has, as yet, been
accepted only in a few cases. 'It was not to be expected,' says the
report, 'that the Indian, whose habits have been fixed in special
grooves for tens of centuries, should hurriedly embrace an offer
which must strike at all his prejudices of country, and creed, and
kin.' Still, about sixty had settled in 1869 near the estates in
Savonetta, where I saw them, and at Point a Pierre; other
settlements have been made since, of which more hereafter. And, as
a significant fact, many Coolies who have returned to India are now
coming back a second time to Trinidad, bringing their kinsfolk and
fellow-villagers with them, to a land where violence is unknown, and
famine impossible. Moreover, numerous Coolies from the French
Islands are now immigrating, and buying land. These are chiefly
Madrassees, who are, it is said, stronger and healthier than the
Calcutta Coolies. In any case, there seems good hope that a race of
Hindoo peasant-proprietors will spring up in the colony, whose
voluntary labour will be available at crop-time; and who will teach
the Negro thrift and industry, not only by their example, but by
competing against him in the till lately understocked labour-market.

Very interesting was the first glimpse of Hindoos; and still more of
Hindoos in the West Indies--the surplus of one of the oldest
civilisations of the old world, come hither to replenish the new;
novel was the sight of the dusky limbs swarming up and down among
the rocks beneath the Matapalo shade; the group in the water as we
landed, bathing and dressing themselves at the same time, after the
modest and graceful Hindoo fashion; the visit to the wooden
barracks, where a row of men was ranged on one side of the room,
with their women and children on the other, having their name,
caste, native village, and so forth, taken down before they were
sent off to the estates to which they were indentured. Three things
were noteworthy; first, the healthy cheerful look of all, speaking
well for the care and good feeding which they had had on board ship;
next, the great variety in their faces and complexions. Almost all
of them were low-caste people. Indeed few high-caste Hindoos,
except some Sepoys who found it prudent to emigrate after the
rebellion, have condescended, or dared, to cross the 'dark water';
and only a very few of those who come west are Mussulmans. But
among the multitude of inferior castes who do come there is a
greater variety of feature and shape of skull than in an average
multitude, as far as I have seen, of any European nation. Caste,
the physiognomist soon sees, began in a natural fact. It meant
difference, not of rank, but of tribe and language; and India is
not, as we are apt to fancy, a nation: it is a world. One must
therefore regard this emigration of the Coolies, like anything else
which tends to break down caste, as a probable step forward in their
civilisation. For it must tend to undermine in them, and still more
in their children, the petty superstitions of old tribal
distinctions; and must force them to take their stand on wider and
sounder ground, and see that 'a man's a man for a' that.'

The third thing noteworthy in the crowd which cooked, chatted,
lounged, sauntered idly to and fro under the Matapalos--the pillared
air-roots of which must have put them in mind of their own Banyans
at home--was their good manners. One saw in a moment that one was
among gentlemen and ladies. The dress of many of the men was nought
but a scarf wrapped round the loins; that of most of the women
nought but the longer scarf which the Hindoo woman contrives to
arrange in a most graceful, as well as a perfectly modest covering,
even for her feet and head. These garments, and perhaps a brass
pot, were probably all the worldly goods of most of them just then.
But every attitude, gesture, tone, was full of grace; of ease,
courtesy, self-restraint, dignity--of that 'sweetness and light,' at
least in externals, which Mr. Matthew Arnold desiderates. I am well
aware that these people are not perfect; that, like most heathen
folk and some Christian, their morals are by no means spotless,
their passions by no means trampled out. But they have acquired--
let Hindoo scholars tell how and where--a civilisation which shows
in them all day long; which draws the European to them and them to
the European, whenever the latter is worthy of the name of a
civilised man, instinctively, and by the mere interchange of
glances; a civilisation which must make it easy for the Englishman,
if he will but do his duty, not only to make use of these people,
but to purify and ennoble them.

Another thing was noteworthy about the Coolies, at the very first
glance, and all we saw afterwards proved that that first glance was
correct; I mean their fondness for children. If you took notice of
a child, not only the mother smiled thanks and delight, but the men
around likewise, as if a compliment had been paid to their whole
company. We saw afterwards almost daily proofs of the Coolie men's
fondness for their children; of their fondness also--an excellent
sign that the morale is not destroyed at the root--for dumb animals.
A Coolie cow or donkey is petted, led about tenderly, tempted with
tit-bits. Pet animals, where they can be got, are the Coolie's
delight, as they are the delight of the wild Indian. I wish I could
say the same of the Negro. His treatment of his children and of his
beasts of burden is, but too often, as exactly opposed to that of
the Coolie as are his manners. No wonder that the two races do not,
and it is to be feared never will, amalgamate; that the Coolie,
shocked by the unfortunate awkwardness of gesture and vulgarity of
manners of the average Negro, and still more of the Negress, looks
on them as savages; while the Negro, in his turn hates the Coolie as
a hard-working interloper, and despises him as a heathen; or that
heavy fights between the two races arise now and then, in which the
Coolie, in spite of his slender limbs, has generally the advantage
over the burly Negro, by dint of his greater courage, and the
terrible quickness with which he wields his beloved weapon, the long
hardwood quarterstaff.

But to return: we rowed away with a hundred confused, but most
pleasant new impressions, amid innumerable salaams to the Governor
by these kindly courteous people, and then passed between the larger
limestone islands into the roadstead of Chaguaramas, which ought to
be, and some day may be, the harbour for the British West India
fleet; and for the shipping, too, of that commerce which, as
Humboldt prophesied, must some day spring up between Europe and the
boundless wealth of the Upper Orinoco, as yet lying waste. Already
gold discoveries in the Sierra de Parima (of which more hereafter)
are indicating the honesty of poor murdered Raleigh. Already the
good President of Ciudad Bolivar (Angostura) has disbanded the
ruffian army, which is the usual curse of a Spanish American
republic, and has inaugurated, it is to be hoped, a reign of peace
and commerce. Already an American line of steamers runs as far as
Nutrias, some eight hundred miles up the Orinoco and Apure; while a
second will soon run up the Meta, almost to Santa Fe de Bogota, and
bring down the Orinoco the wealth, not only of Southern Venezuela,
but of central New Grenada; and then a day may come when the
admirable harbour of Chaguaramas may be one of the entrepots of the
world; if a certain swamp to windward, which now makes the place
pestilential, could but be drained. The usual method of so doing
now is to lay the swamp as dry as possible by open ditches, and then
plant it, with coconuts, whose roots have some mysterious power both
of drying and purifying the soil; but were Chaguaramas ever needed
as an entrepot, it would not be worth while to wait for coconuts to
grow. A dyke across the mouth, and a steam-pump on it, as in the
fens of Norfolk and of Guiana, to throw the land-water over into the
sea, would probably expel the evil spirit of malaria at once and for
ever.

We rowed on past the Boca de Monos, by which we had entered the gulf
at first, and looked out eagerly enough for sharks, which are said
to swarm at Chaguaramas. But no warning fin appeared above the
ripple; only, more than once, close to the stern of the boat, a
heavy fish broke water with a sharp splash and swirl, which was said
to be a Barracouta, following us up in mere bold curiosity, but
perfectly ready to have attacked any one who fell overboard. These
Barracoutas--Sphyraenas as the learned, or 'pike' as the sailors
call them, though they are no kin to our pike at home--are, when
large, nearly as dangerous as a shark. In some parts of the West
Indies folk dare not bathe for fear of them; for they lie close
inshore, amid the heaviest surf; and woe to any living thing which
they come across. Moreover, they have this somewhat mean advantage
over you, that while, if they eat you, you will agree with them
perfectly, you cannot eat them, at least at certain or uncertain
seasons of the year, without their disagreeing with you, without
sickness, trembling pains in all joints, falling off of nails and
hair for years to come, and possible death. Those who may wish to
know more of the poisonous fishes of the West Indies may profitably
consult a paper in the Proceedings of the Scientific Association of
Trinidad by that admirable naturalist, and--let me say of him
(though I have not the honour of knowing him) what has long been
said by all who have that honour--admirable man, the Hon. Richard
Hill of Jamaica. He mentions some thirteen species which are more
or less poisonous, at all events at times: but on the cause of
their unwholesomeness he throws little light; and still less on the
extraordinary but undoubted fact that the same species may be
poisonous in one island and harmless in another; and that of two
species so close as to be often considered as the same, one may be
poisonous, the other harmless. The yellow-billed sprat, {102} for
instance, is usually so poisonous that 'death has occurred from
eating it in many cases immediately, and in some recorded instances
even before the fish was swallowed.' Yet a species caught with
this, and only differing from it (if indeed it be distinct) by
having a yellow spot instead of a black one on the gill-cover, is
harmless. Mr. Hill attributes the poisonous quality, in many cases,
to the foul food which the fish get from coral reefs, such as the
Formigas bank, midway between Cuba, Hayti, and Jamaica, where, as
you 'approach it from the east, you find the cheering blandness of
the sea-breeze suddenly changing to the nauseating smell of a fish-
market.' There, as off similar reefs in the Bahamas and round
Anegada, as we'll as at one end of St. Kitts, the fish are said to
be all poisonous. If this theory be correct, the absence of coral
reefs round Trinidad may help to account for the fact stated by Mr.
Joseph, that poisonous fish are unknown in that island. The
statement, however, is somewhat too broadly made; for the Chouf-
chouf, {103a} a prickly fish which blows itself out like a bladder,
and which may be seen hanging in many a sailor's cottage in England,
is as evil-disposed in Trinidad as elsewhere. The very vultures
will not eat it; and while I was in the island a family of Coolies,
in spite of warning, contrived to kill themselves with the nasty
vermin: the only one who had wit enough to refuse it being an idiot
boy.

These islands of the Bocas, three in number, are some two miles long
each, and some eight hundred to one thousand feet in height; at
least, so say the surveyors. To the eye, as is usual in the
Tropics, they look much lower. One is inclined here to estimate
hills at half, or less than half, their actual height; and that from
causes simple enough. Not only does the intense clearness of the
atmosphere make the summits appear much nearer than in England; but
the trees on the summit increase the deception. The mind, from home
association, supposes them to be of the same height as average
English trees on a hill-top--say fifty feet--and estimates, rapidly
and unconsciously, the height of the mountain by that standard. The
trees are actually nearer a hundred and fifty than fifty feet high;
and the mountain is two or three times as big as it looks.

But it is not their height, nor the beauty of their outline, nor the
size of the trunks which still linger on them here and there, which
gives these islands their special charm. It is their exquisite
little land-locked southern coves--places to live and die in--

'The world forgetting, by the world forgot.'

Take as an example that into which we rowed that day in Monos, as
the old Spaniards named it, from monkeys long since extinct; a
curved shingle beach some fifty yards across, shut in right and left
by steep rocks wooded down almost to the sea, and worn into black
caves and crannies, festooned with the night-blowing Cereus, which
crawls about with hairy green legs, like a tangle of giant spiders.
Among it, in the cracks, upright Cerei, like candelabra twenty and
thirty feet high, thrust themselves aloft into the brushwood. An
Aroid {103b} rides parasitic on roots and stems, sending downward
long air-roots, and upward brown rat-tails of flower, and broad
leaves, four feet by two, which wither into whity-brown paper, and
are used, being tough and fibrous, to wrap round the rowlocks of the
oars. Tufts of Karatas, top, spread their long prickly leaves among
the bush of 'rastrajo,' or second growth after the primeval forest
has been cleared, which dips suddenly right and left to the beach.
It, and the little strip of flat ground behind it, hold a three-
roomed cottage--of course on stilts; a shed which serves as a
kitchen; a third ruined building, which is tenanted mostly by
lizards and creeping flowers; some twenty or thirty coconut trees;
and on the very edge of the sea an almond-tree, its roots built up
to seaward with great stones, its trunk hung with fishing lines; and
around it, scattered on the shingle, strange shells, bits of coral,
coconuts and their fragments; almonds from the tree; the round scaly
fruit of the Mauritia palm, which has probably floated across the
gulf from the forests of the Orinoco or the Caroni; and the long
seeds of the mangrove, in shape like a roach-fisher's float, and
already germinating, their leaves showing at the upper end, a tiny
root at the lower. In that shingle they will not take root: but
they are quite ready to go to sea again next tide, and wander on for
weeks, and for hundreds of miles, till they run ashore at last on a
congenial bed of mud, throw out spider legs right and left, and hide
the foul mire with their gay green leaves.

The almond-tree, {104} with its flat stages of large smooth leaves,
and oily eatable seeds in an almond-like husk, is not an almond at
all, or any kin thereto. It has been named, as so many West Indian
plants have, after some known plant to which it bore a likeness, and
introduced hither, and indeed to all shores from Cuba to Guiana,
from the East Indies, through Arabia and tropical Africa, having
begun its westward journey, probably, in the pocket of some
Portuguese follower of Vasco de Gama.

We beached the boat close to the almond-tree, and were welcomed on
shore by the lord of the cove, a gallant red-bearded Scotsman, with
a head and a heart; a handsome Creole wife, and lovely brownish
children, with no more clothes on than they could help. An old
sailor, and much-wandering Ulysses, he is now coastguardman, water-
bailiff, policeman, practical warden, and indeed practical viceroy
of the island, and an easy life of it he must have.

The sea gives him fish enough for his family, and for a brawny brown
servant. His coconut palms yield him a little revenue; he has
poultry, kids, and goats' milk more than he needs; his patch of
provision-ground in the place gives him corn and roots, sweet
potatoes, yam, tania, cassava, and fruit too, all the year round.
He needs nothing, owes nothing, fears nothing. News and politics
are to him like the distant murmur of the surf at the back of the
island; a noise which is nought to him. His Bible, his almanac, and
three or four old books on a shelf are his whole library. He has
all that man needs, more than man deserves, and is far too wise to
wish to better himself.

I sat down on the beach beneath the amber shade of the palms; and
watched my white friends rushing into the clear sea and disporting
themselves there like so many otters, while the policeman's little
boy launched a log canoe, not much longer than himself, and paddled
out into the midst of them, and then jumped upright in it, a little
naked brown Cupidon; whereon he and his canoe were of course upset,
and pushed under water, and scrambled over, and the whole cove rang
with shouts and splashing, enough to scare away the boldest shark,
had one been on watch off the point. I looked at the natural beauty
and repose; at the human vigour and happiness: and I said to
myself, and said it often afterwards in the West Indies: Why do not
other people copy this wise Scot? Why should not many a young
couple, who have education, refinement, resources in themselves, but
are, happily or unhappily for them, unable to keep a brougham and go
to London balls, retreat to some such paradise as this (and there
are hundreds like it to be found in the West Indies), leaving behind
them false civilisation, and vain desires, and useless show; and
there live in simplicity and content 'The Gentle Life'? It is not
true that the climate is too enervating. It is not true that nature
is here too strong for man. I have seen enough in Trinidad, I saw
enough even in little Monos, to be able to deny that; and to say
that in the West Indies, as elsewhere, a young man can be pure,
able, high-minded, industrious, athletic: and I see no reason why a
woman should not be likewise all that she need be.

A cultivated man and wife, with a few hundreds a year--just enough,
in fact, to enable them to keep a Coolie servant or two, might be
really wealthy in all which constitutes true wealth; and might be
useful also in their place; for each such couple would be a little
centre of civilisation for the Negro, the Coolie; and it may be for
certain young adventurers who, coming out merely to make money and
return as soon as possible, are but too apt to lose, under the
double temptations of gain and of drink, what elements of the
'Gentle Life' they have gained from their mothers at home.

The following morning early we rowed away again, full of longing,
but not of hope, of reaching one or other of the Guacharo caves.
Keeping along under the lee of the island, we crossed the 'Umbrella
Mouth,' between it and Huevos, or Egg Island. On our right were the
islands; on our left the shoreless gulf; and ahead, the great
mountain of the mainland, with a wreath of white fleece near its
summit, and the shadows of clouds moving in dark patches up its
sides. As we crossed, the tumbling swell which came in from the
outer sea, and the columns of white spray which rose right and left
against the two door-posts of that mighty gateway, augured ill for
our chances of entering a cave. But on we went, with a warning not
to be upset if we could avoid it, in the shape of a shark's back fin
above the oily swell; and under Huevos, and round into a lonely
cove, with high crumbling cliffs bedecked with Cereus and Aloes in
flower, their tall spikes of green flowers standing out against the
sky, twenty or thirty feet in height, and beds of short wild pine-
apples, {106} like amber-yellow fur, and here and there hanging
leaves trailing down to the water; and on into a nook, the sight of
which made us give up all hopes of the cave, but which in itself was
worth coming from Europe to see. The work of ages of trade-surf had
cut the island clean through, with a rocky gully between soft rocks
some hundred feet in width. It was just passable at high tide; and
through it we were to have rowed, and turned to the left to the cave
in the windward cliffs. But ere we reached it the war outside said
'No' in a voice which would take no denial, and when we beached the
boat behind a high rock, and scrambled up to look out, we saw a
sight, one half of which was not unworthy of the cliffs of Hartland
or Bude. On the farther side of the knife edge of rock, crumbling
fast into the sea, a waste of breakers rolled through the chasm,
though there was scarcely any wind to drive them, leaping, spouting,
crashing, hammering down the soft cliffs, which seemed to crumble,
and did doubtless crumble, at every blow; and beyond that the open
blue sea, without a rock or a sail, hazy, in spite of the blazing
sunlight, beneath the clouds of spray. But there ceased the
likeness to a rock scene on the Cornish coast; for at the other foot
of the rock, not twenty yards from that wild uproar, the land-locked
cove up which we had come lay still as glass, and the rocks were
richer with foliage than an English orchard. Everywhere down into
the very sea, the Matapalos held and hung; their air-roots dangled
into the very water; many of them had fallen into it, but grew on
still, and blossomed with great white fragrant flowers, somewhat
like those of a Magnolia, each with a shining cake of amber wax as
big as a shilling in the centre; and over the Matapalos, tree on
tree, liane on liane, up to a negro garden, with its strange huge-
leaved vegetables and glossy fruit-trees, and its black owner
standing on the cliff, and peering down out of his little nest with
grinning teeth and white wondering eyes, at the white men who were
gathering, off a few yards of beach, among the great fallen leaves
of the Matapalos, such shells as delighted our childhood in the West
India cabinet at home.

We lingered long, filling our eyes with beauty: and then rowed
away. What more was to be done? Through that very chasm we were to
have passed out to the cave. And yet the sight of this delicious
nook repaid us--so more than one of the party thought--for our
disappointment. There was another Guacharo cave in the Monos
channel, more under the lee. We would try that to-morrow.

As the sun sank that evening, we sat ourselves upon the eastern
rocks, and gazed away into the pale, sad, boundless west; while
Venus hung high, not a point, as here, but a broad disc of light,
throwing a long gleam over the sea. Fish skipped over the clear
calm water; and above, pelicans--the younger brown, the older gray--
wheeled round and round in lordly flight, paused, gave a sudden
half-turn, then fell into the water with widespread wings, and after
a splash, rose with another skipjack in their pouch. As it grew
dark, dark things came trooping over the sea, by twos and threes,
then twenty at a time, all past us toward a cave near by. Birds we
fancied them at first, of the colour and size of starlings; but they
proved to be bats, and bats, too, which have the reputation of
catching fish. So goes the tale, believed by some who see them
continually, and have a keen eye for nature; and who say that the
bat sweeps the fish up off the top of the water with the scoop-like
membrane of his hind-legs and tail. For this last fact I will not
vouch. But I am assured that fish scales were found, after I left
the island, in the stomachs of these bats; and that of the fact of
their picking up small fish there can be no doubt. 'You could not,'
says a friend, 'be out at night in a boat, and hear their continual
swish, swish, in the water, without believing it.' If so, the habit
is a quaint change of nature in them; for they belong, I am assured
by my friend Professor Newton, not to the insect-eating, but to the
fruit-eating family of bats, who, in the West as in the East Indies,
may be seen at night hovering round the Mango-trees, and destroying
much more fruit than they eat.

So we sat watching the little dark things flit by, like the
gibbering ghosts of the suitors in the Odyssey, into the darkness of
the cave; and then turned to long talk of things concerning which it
is best nowadays not to write; till it was time to feel our way
indoors, by such light as Venus gave, over the slippery rocks, and
then, cautiously enough, past the Manchineel {107} bush, a broken
sprig of which would have raised an instant blister on the face or
hand.

Our night, as often happens in the Tropics, was not altogether
undisturbed; for, shortly after I had become unconscious of the
chorus of toads and cicadas, my hammock came down by the head. Then
I was woke by a sudden bark close outside, exactly like that of a
clicketting fox; but as the dogs did not reply or give chase, I
presumed it to be the cry of a bird, possibly a little owl. Next
there rushed down the mountain a storm of wind and rain, which made
the coco-leaves flap and creak, and rattle against the gable of the
house; and set every door and window banging, till they were caught
and brought to reason. And between the howls of the wind I became
aware of a strange noise from seaward--a booming, or rather humming
most like that which a locomotive sometimes makes when blowing off
steam. It was faint and distant, but deep and strong enough to set
one guessing its cause. The sea beating into caves seemed, at
first, the simplest answer. But the water was so still on our side
of the island, that I could barely hear the lap of the ripple on the
shingle twenty yards off; and the nearest surf was a mile or two
away, over a mountain a thousand feet high. So puzzling vainly, I
fell asleep, to awake, in the gray dawn, to the prettiest idyllic
picture, through the half-open door, of two kids dancing on a stone
at the foot of a coconut tree, with a background of sea and dark
rocks.

As we went to bathe we heard again, in perfect calm, the same
mysterious booming sound, and were assured by those who ought to
have known, that it came from under the water, and was most probably
made by none other than the famous musical or drum fish; of whom one
had heard, and hardly believed, much in past years.

Mr. Joseph, author of the History of Trinidad from which I have so
often quoted, reports that the first time he heard this singular
fish was on board a schooner, at anchor off Chaguaramas.

'Immediately under the vessel I heard a deep and not unpleasant
sound, similar to those one might imagine to proceed from a thousand
AEolian harps; this ceased, and deep twanging notes succeeded; these
gradually swelled into an uninterrupted stream of singular sounds
like the booming of a number of Chinese gongs under the water; to
these succeeded notes that had a faint resemblance to a wild chorus
of a hundred human voices singing out of tune in deep bass.'

'In White's Voyage to Cochin China,' adds Mr. Joseph, 'there is as
good a description of this, or a similar submarine concert, as mere
words can convey: this the voyager heard in the Eastern seas. He
was told the singers were a flat kind of fish; he, however, did not
see them.'

'Might not this fish,' he asks, 'or one resembling it in vocal
qualities, have given rise to the fable of the Sirens?'

It might, certainly, if the fact be true. Moreover, Mr. Joseph does
not seem to be aware that the old Spanish Conquistadores had a myth
that music was to be heard in this very Gulf of Paria, and that at
certain seasons the Nymphs and Tritons assembled therein, and with
ravishing strains sang their watery loves. The story of the music
has been usually treated as a sailor's fable, and the Sirens and
Tritons supposed to be mere stupid manatis, or sea-cows, coming in
as they do still now and then to browse on mangrove shoots and
turtle-grass: {110} but if the story of the music be true, the myth
may have had a double root.

Meanwhile I see Hardwicke's Science Gossip for March gives an
extract from a letter of M. O. de Thoron, communicated by him to the
Academie des Sciences, December 1861, which confirms Mr. Joseph's
story. He asserts that in the Bay of Pailon, in Esmeraldos,
Ecuador, i.e. on the Pacific Coast, and also up more than one of the
rivers, he has heard a similar sound, attributed by the natives to a
fish which they call 'The Siren,' or 'Musico.' At first, he says,
he thought it was produced by a fly, or hornet of extraordinary
size; but afterwards, having advanced a little farther, he heard a
multitude of different voices, which harmonised together, imitating
a church organ to great perfection. The good people of Trinidad
believe that the fish which makes this noise is the trumpet-fish, or
Fistularia--a beast strange enough in shape to be credited with
strange actions: but ichthyologists say positively no: that the
noise (at least along the coast of the United States) is made by a
Pogonias, a fish somewhat like a great bearded perch, and cousin of
the Maigre of the Mediterranean, which is accused of making a
similar purring or grunting noise, which can be heard from a depth
of one hundred and twenty feet, and guides the fishermen to their
whereabouts.

How the noise is made is a question. Cuvier was of opinion that it
was made by the air-bladder, though he could not explain how: but
the truth, if truth it be, seems stranger still. These fish, it
seems, have strong bony palates and throat-teeth for crushing shells
and crabs, and make this wonderful noise simply by grinding their
teeth together.

I vouch for nothing, save that I heard this strange humming more
than once. As for the cause of it, I can only say, as was said of
yore, that 'I hold it for rashness to determine aught amid such
fertility of Nature's wonders.'

One afternoon we made an attempt on the other Guacharo cave, which
lies in the cliff on the landward side of the Monos Boca. But,
alas! the wind had chopped a little to the northward; a swell was
rolling in through the Boca; and when we got within twenty yards of
the low-browed arch our crew lay on their oars and held a
consultation, of which there could but be one result. They being
white gentlemen, and not Negroes, could trust themselves and each
other, and were ready, as I know well, to 'dare all that became a
man.' But every now and then a swell rolled in high enough to have
cracked our sculls against the top, and out again deep enough to
have staved the boat against the rocks. If we went to wreck, the
current was setting strongly out to sea; and the Boca was haunted by
sharks, and (according to the late Colonel Hamilton Smith) by a
worse monster still, namely, the giant ray, {111a} which goes by the
name of devil-fish on the Carolina shores. He saw, he says, one of
these monsters rise in this very Boca, at a sailor who had fallen
overboard, cover him with one of his broad wings, and sweep him down
into the depths. And, on the whole, if Guacharos are precious, so
is life. So, like Gyges of old, we 'elected to survive,' and rowed
away with wistful eyes, determining to get Guacharos--a
determination which was never carried out--from one of the limestone
caverns of the northern mountains.

And now it may be asked, and reasonably enough, what Guacharos
{111b} are; and why five English gentlemen and a canny Scots
coastguardman should think it worth while to imperil their lives to
obtain them.

I cannot answer better than by giving Humboldt's account of the Cave
of Caripe, on the Spanish main hard by, where he discovered them, or
rather described them to civilised Europe, for the first time:--

'The Cueva del Guacharo is pierced in the vertical profile of a
rock. The entrance is towards the south, and forms a vault eighty
feet broad and seventy-two feet high. This elevation is but a fifth
less than the colonnade of the Louvre. The rock that surmounts the
grotto is covered with trees of gigantic height. The Mammee-tree
and the Genipa, with large and shining leaves, raise their branches
vertically towards the sky; while those of the Courbaril and the
Erythrina form, as they extend themselves, a thick vault of verdure.
Plants of the family of Pothos with succulent stems, Oxalises, and
Orchideae of a singular construction, rise in the driest clefts of
the rocks; while creeping plants waving in the winds are interwoven
in festoons before the opening of the cavern. We distinguished in
these festoons a Bignonia of a violet blue, the purple Dolichos,
and, for the first time, that magnificent Solandra, the orange
flower of which has a fleshy tube more than four inches long. The
entrances of grottoes, like the view of cascades, derive their
principal charm from the situation, more or less majestic, in which
they are placed, and which in some sort determines the character of
the landscape. What a contrast between the Cueva of Caripe and
those caverns of the north crowned with oaks and gloomy larch-trees!

'But this luxury of vegetation embellishes not only the outside of
the vault, it appears even in the vestibule of the grotto. We saw
with astonishment plantain-leaved Heliconias, eighteen feet high,
the Praga palm-trees, and arborescent Arums follow the banks of the
river, even to those subterranean places. The vegetation continues
in the Cave of Caripe, as in the deep crevices of the Andes, half
excluded from the light of day; and does not disappear till,
advancing in the interior, we reach thirty or forty paces from the
entrance. . . .

'The Guacharo quits the cavern at nightfall, especially when the
moon shines. It is almost the only frugivorous nocturnal bird that
is yet known; the conformation of its feet sufficiently shows that
it does not hunt like our owls. It feeds on very hard fruits, as
the Nutcracker and the Pyrrhocorax. The latter nestles also in
clefts of rocks, and is known under the name of night-crow. The
Indians assured us that the Guacharo does not pursue either the
lamellicorn insects, or those phalaenae which serve as food to the
goat-suckers. It is sufficient to compare the beaks of the Guacharo
and goat-sucker to conjecture how much their manners must differ.
It is difficult to form an idea of the horrible noise occasioned by
thousands of these birds in the dark part of the cavern, and which
can only be compared to the croaking of our crows, which in the pine
forests of the north live in society, and construct their nests upon
trees the tops of which touch each other. The shrill and piercing
cries of the Guacharos strike upon the vaults of the rocks, and are
repeated by the echo in the depth of the cavern. The Indians showed
us the nests of these birds by fixing torches to the end of a long
pole. These nests were fifty or sixty feet high above our heads, in
holes in the shape of funnels, with which the roof of the grotto is
pierced like a sieve. The noise increased as we advanced, and the
birds were affrighted by the light of the torches of copal. When
this noise ceased a few minutes around us we heard at a distance the
plaintive cries of the birds roosting in other ramifications of the
cavern. It seemed as if these bands answered each other
alternately.

'The Indians enter into the Cueva del Guacharo once a year, near
midsummer, armed with poles, by means of which they destroy the
greater part of the nests. At this season several thousands of
birds are killed; and the old ones, as if to defend their brood,
hover over the heads of the Indians, uttering terrible cries. The
young, which fall to the ground, are opened on the spot. Their
peritoneum is extremely loaded with fat, and a layer of fat reaches
from the abdomen to the anus, forming a kind of cushion between the
legs of the bird. This quantity of fat in frugivorous animals, not
exposed to the light, and exerting very little muscular motion,
reminds us of what has been long since observed in the fattening of
geese and oxen. It is well known how favourable darkness and repose
are to this process. The nocturnal birds of Europe are lean,
because, instead of feeding on fruits, like the Guacharo, they live
on the scanty produce of their prey. At the period which is
commonly called at Caripe the "oil harvest," the Indians build huts
with palm-leaves near the entrance, and even in the porch of the
cavern. Of these we still saw some remains. There, with a fire of
brushwood, they melt in pots of clay the fat of the young birds just
killed. This fat is known by the name of butter or oil (manteca or
aceite) of the Guacharo. It is half liquid, transparent without
smell, and so pure that it may be kept above a year without becoming
rancid. At the convent of Caripe no other oil is used in the
kitchen of the monks but that of the cavern; and we never observed
that it gave the aliments a disagreeable taste or smell.

'Young Guacharos have been sent to the port or Cumana, and lived
there several days without taking any nourishment, the seeds offered
to them not suiting their taste. When the crops and gizzards of the
young birds are opened in the cavern, they are found to contain all
sorts of hard and dry fruits, which furnish, under the singular name
of Guacharo seed (semilla del Guacharo), a very celebrated remedy
against intermittent fevers. The old birds carry these seeds to
their young. They are carefully collected and sent to the sick at
Cariaco, and other places of the low regions, where fevers are
prevalent. . . .

'The natives connect mystic ideas with this cave, inhabited by
nocturnal birds; they believe that the souls of their ancestors
sojourn in the deep recesses of the cavern. "Man," say they,
"should avoid places which are enlightened neither by the sun" (Zis)
"nor by the moon" (Nuna). To go and join the Guacharos is to rejoin
their fathers, is to die. The magicians (piaches) and the poisoners
(imorons) perform their nocturnal tricks at the entrance of the
cavern, to conjure the chief of the evil spirits (ivorokiamo). Thus
in every climate the first fictions of nations resemble each other,
those especially which relate to two principles governing the world,
the abode of souls after death, the happiness of the virtuous, and
the punishment of the guilty. The most different and barbarous
languages present a certain number of images which are the same,
because they have their source in the nature of our intellect and
our sensations. Darkness is everywhere connected with the idea of
death. The Grotto of Caripe is the Tartarus of the Greeks; and the
Guacharos, which hover over the rivulet, uttering plaintive cries,
remind us of the Stygian birds. . . .

'The missionaries, with all their authority, could not prevail on
the Indians to penetrate farther into the cavern. As the vault grew
lower, the cries of the Guacharos became more shrill. We were
obliged to yield to the pusillanimity of our guides, and trace back
our steps. The appearance of the cavern was indeed very uniform.
We find that a bishop of St. Thomas of Guiana had gone farther than
ourselves. He had measured nearly two thousand five hundred feet
from the mouth to the spot where he stopped, though the cavern
reached farther. The remembrance or this fact was preserved in the
convent of Caripe, without the exact period being noted. The bishop
had provided himself with great torches of white wax of Castille.
We had torches composed only of the bark of trees and native resin.
The thick smoke which issues from these torches, in a narrow
subterranean passage, hurts the eyes and obstructs the respiration.

'We followed the course of the torrent to go out of the cavern.
Before our eyes were dazzled by the light of day, we saw, without
the grotto, the water of the river sparkling amid the foliage of the
trees that concealed it. It was like a picture placed in the
distance, and to which the mouth of the cavern served as a frame.
Having at length reached the entrance, and seated ourselves on the
banks of the rivulet, we rested after our fatigue. We were glad to
be beyond the hoarse cries of the birds, and to leave a place where
darkness does not offer even the charm of silence and tranquillity.
We could scarcely persuade ourselves that the name of the Grotto of
Caripe had hitherto remained unknown in Europe. The Guacharos alone
would have been sufficient to render it celebrated. These nocturnal
birds have been nowhere yet discovered except in the mountains of
Caripe and Cumanacoa.'

So much from the great master, who was not aware (never having
visited Trinidad) that the Guacharo was well known there under the
name of Diablotin. But his account of Caripe was fully corroborated
by my host, who had gone there last year, and, by the help of the
magnesium light, had penetrated farther into the cave than either
the bishop or Humboldt. He had brought home also several Guacharos
from the Trinidad caves, all of which died on the passage, for want,
seemingly, of the oily nuts on which they feed. A live Guacharo
has, as yet, never been seen in Europe; and to get one safe to the
Zoological Gardens, as well as to get one or two corpses for the
Cambridge Museum, was our hope--a hope still, alas! unfulfilled. A
nest, however, of the Guacharo has been brought to England by my
host since my departure; a round lump of mud, of the size and shape
of a large cheese, with a shallow depression on the top, in which
the eggs are laid. A list of the seeds found in the stomachs of
Guacharos by my friend Mr. Prestoe of the Botanical Gardens, Port of
Spain, will be found in an Appendix.

We rowed away, toward our island paradise. But instead of going
straight home, we turned into a deep cove called Ance Maurice--all
coves in the French islands are called Ances--where was something to
be seen, and not to be forgotten again. We grated in, over a
shallow bottom of pebbles interspersed with gray lumps of coral
pulp, and of Botrylli, azure, crimson, and all the hues of the
flower-garden; and landed on the bank of a mangrove swamp, bored
everywhere with the holes of land-crabs. One glance showed how
these swamps are formed: by that want of tide which is the curse of
the West Indies.

At every valley mouth the beating of the waves tends all the year
round to throw up a bank of sand and shingle, damming the land-water
back to form a lagoon. This might indeed empty itself during the
floods of the rainy season; but during the dry season it must remain
a stagnant pond, filling gradually with festering vegetable matter
from the hills, beer-coloured, and as hideous to look at as it is to
smell. Were there a tide, as in England, of from ten to twenty
feet, that swamp would be drained twice a day to nearly that depth;
and healthy vegetation, as in England, establish itself down to the
very beach. A tide of a foot or eighteen inches only, as is too
common in the West Indies, will only drain the swamp to that depth;
and probably, if there be any strong pebble-bearing surf outside,
not at all. So there it all lies, festering in the sun, and cooking
poison day and night; while the mangroves and graceful white roseaux
{115a} (tall canes) kindly do their best to lessen the mischief, by
rooting in the slush, and absorbing the poison with their leaves. A
white man, sleeping one night on the edge of that pestilential
little triangle, half an acre in size, would be in danger of
catching a fever and ague, which would make a weaker man of him for
the rest of his life. And yet so thoroughly fitted for the climate
is the Negro, that not ten yards from the edge of the mud stood a
comfortable negro-house, with stout healthy folk therein, evidently
well to do in the world, to judge from the poultry, and the fruit-
trees and provision-ground which stretched up the glen.

Through the provision-ground we struggled up, among weeds as high as
our shoulders; so that it was difficult, as usual, to distinguish
garden from forest. But no matter to the black owner. The weeds
were probably of only six weeks' growth; and when they got so high
that he actually could not find his tanias {115b} among them, he
would take cutlass and hoe, and make a lazy raid upon them, or
rather upon a quarter of them, certain of two facts; that in six
weeks more they would be all as high as ever; and that if they were,
it did not matter; for so fertile is the soil, so genial the
climate, that he would get in spite of them more crop off the ground
than he needed. 'Pity the poor weeds. Is there not room enough in
the world for them and for us?' seems the Negro's motto. But he
knows his own business well enough, and can exert himself when he
really needs to do so; and if the weeds harmed him seriously he
would make short work with them. Still this soil, and this climate,
put a premium on bad farming, as they do on much else that is bad.

Up we pushed along the narrow path, past curious spiral flags {115c}
just throwing out their heads of delicate white or purple flower,
and under the shade of great Balisiers or wild plantains, {115d}
with leaves six or eight feet long; and many another curious plant
unknown to me; and then through a little copse, of which we had to
beware, for it was all black Roseau {115e}--a sort of dwarf palm
some fifteen feet high, whose stems are covered with black steel
needles, which, on being touched, run right through your finger, or
your hand, if you press hard enough, and then break off; on which
you cut them out if you can. If you cannot, they are apt, like
needles, to make voyages about among the muscles, and reappear at
some unexpected spot, causing serious harm. Of all the vegetable
pests of the forest, none, not even the croc-chien, is so ugly a
neighbour as certain varieties of black Roseau.

All this while--I fear I may be prolix: but one must write as one
walked, stopping every moment to seize something new, and longing
for as many pairs of eyes as a spider--all this while, I say, we
heard the roar of the trade-surf growing louder and louder in front;
and pushing cautiously through the Roseau, found ourselves on a
cliff thirty feet high, and on the other side of the island.

Now it was plain how the Bocas had been made; for here was one
making.

Before us seethed a shallow horse-shoe bay, almost a lake, some two
hundred yards across inside, but far narrower at the mouth. Into
it, between two lofty points of hard rock, worn into caves and
pillars and natural arches, the trade-surf came raging in from the
north, hurling columns of foam right and left, and then whirling
round and round beneath us upon a narrow shore of black sand with
such fury that one seemed to see the land torn away by each wave.
The cliffs, some thirty feet high where we stood, rose to some
hundred at the mouth, in intense black and copper and olive shadows,
with one bright green tree in front of a cave's mouth, on which, it
seemed, the sun had never shone; while a thousand feet overhead were
glimpses of the wooded mountain-tops, with tender slanting lights,
for the sun was growing low, through blue-gray mist on copse and
lawn high above. A huge dark-headed Balata, {116a} like a storm-
torn Scotch pine, crowned the left-hand cliff; two or three young
Fan-palms, {116b} just ready to topple headlong, the right-hand one;
and beyond all, through the great gateway gleamed, as elsewhere, the
foam-flecked hazy blue of the Caribbean Sea.

We stood spellbound for a minute at the sudden change of scene and
of feeling. From the still choking blazing steam of the leeward
glen, we had stepped in a moment into coolness and darkness,
pervaded by the delicious rush of the north-eastern wind; into a
hidden sanctuary of Nature where one would have liked to build, and
live and die: had not a second glance warned us that to die was the
easiest of the three. For the whole cliff was falling daily into
the sea, and it was hardly safe to venture to the beach for fear of
falling stones and earth.

Down, however, we went, by a natural ladder of Matapalo roots, and
saw at once how the cove was being formed. The rocks are probably
Silurian; and if so, of quite immeasurable antiquity. But instead
of being hard, as Silurian rocks are wont to be, they are mere loose
beds of dark sand and shale, yellow with sulphur, or black with
carbonaceous matter, amid which strange flakes and nodules of white
quartz lie loose, ready to drop out at the blow of every wave. The
strata, too, sloped upward and outward toward the sea, which is
therefore able to undermine them perpetually; and thus the searching
surge, having once formed an entrance in the cliff face, between
what are now the two outer points, has had nought to do but to gnaw
inward; and will gnaw, till the Isle of Monos is cut sheer in two,
and the 'Ance Biscayen,' as the wonderful little bay is called, will
join itself to the Ance Maurice and the Gulf of Paria. In two or
three generations hence the little palm-wood will have fallen into
the sea. In two or three more the negro house and garden and the
mangrove swamp will be gone likewise: and in their place the trade-
surf will be battering into the Gulf of Paria from the Northern Sea,
through just such a mountain chasm as we saw at Huevos; and a new
Boca will have been opened.

But not, understand, a deep and navigable one, as long as the land
retains its present level. To make that, there must be a general
subsidence of the land and sea bottom around. For surf, when eating
into land, gnaws to little deeper than low-water mark: no deeper,
probably, than the bottoms of the troughs between the waves. Its
tendency is--as one may see along the Ramsgate cliffs--to pare the
land away into a flat plain, just covered by a shallow sea. No surf
or currents could nave carved out the smaller Bocas to a depth of
between twenty and eighty fathoms; much less the great Boca of the
Dragon's Mouth, between Chacachacarra and the Spanish Main, to a
depth of more than seventy fathoms. They are sunken mountain
passes, whose sides have been since carved into upright cliffs by
the gnawing of the sea; and, as Mr. Wall well observes, {117} 'the
situation of the Bocas is in a depression of the range, perhaps of
the highest antiquity.'

We wandered along the beach, looking up at a cliff clothed, wherever
it was not actually falling away, with richest verdure down to the
water's edge; but in general utterly bare, falling away too fast to
give root-hold to any plant. We lay down on the black sand, and
gazed, and gazed, and picked up quartz crystals fallen from above,
and wondered how the cove had got its name. Had some old Biscayan
whaler, from Biarritz or St. Jean de Luz, wandered into these seas
in search of fish, when, in the beginning of the seventeenth
century, he and his fellows had killed out all the Right Whales of
the Bay of Biscay? And had he, missing the Bocas, been wrecked and
perished, as he may well have done, against those awful walls? At
last we turned to re-ascend--for the tide was rising--after our
leader had congratulated us on being, perhaps, the only white men
who had ever seen Ance Biscayen--a congratulation which was
premature; for, as we went to climb up the Matapalo-root ladder, we
were stopped by several pairs of legs coming down it, which
belonged, it seemed, to a bathing party of pleasant French people,
'marooning' (as picnicking is called here) on the island; and after
them descended the yellow frock of a Dominican monk, who, when
landed, was discovered to be an old friend, now working hard among
the Roman Catholic Negroes of Port of Spain.

On the way back to our island paradise we found along the shore two
plants worth notice--one, a low tree, with leaves somewhat like box,
but obovate (larger at the tip than at the stalk), and racemes of
little white flowers of a delicious honey-scent. {118a} It ought to
be, if it be not yet, introduced into England, as a charming
addition to the winter hothouse. As for the other plant, would that
it could be introduced likewise, or rather that, if introduced, it
would flower in a house; for it is a glorious climber, second only
to that which poor Dr. Krueger calls 'the wonderful Norantea,' which
shall be described in its place. You see a tree blazing with dark
gold, passing into orange, and that to red; and on nearing it find
it tiled all over with the flowers of a creeper, {118b} arranged in
flat rows of spreading brushes, some foot or two long, and holding
each hundreds of flowers, growing on one side only of the twig, and
turning their multitudinous golden and orange stamens upright to the
sun. There--I cannot describe it. It must be seen first afar off,
and then close, to understand the vagaries of splendour in which
Nature indulges here. And yet the Norantea, common in the high
woods, is even more splendid, and, in a botanist's eyes, a stranger
vagary still.

On past the whaling quay. It was deserted; for the whales had not
yet come in, and there was no chance of seeing a night scene which
is described as horribly beautiful--the sharks around a whale while
flensing is going on, each monster bathed in phosphorescent light,
which makes his whole outline, and every fin, even his evil eyes and
teeth, visible far under water, as the glittering fiend comes up
from below, snaps his lump out of the whale's side, and is
shouldered out of the way by his fellows. We were unlucky indeed,
in the matter of sharks; for, with the exception of a problematical
back-fin or two, we saw none in the West Indies, though they were
swarming round us.

The next day the boat's head was turned homewards. And what had
been learnt at the little bay of Alice Biscayen suggested, as we
went on, a fresh geological question. How the outer islands of the
Bocas had been formed, or were being formed, was clear enough. But
what about the inner islands? Gaspar Grande, and Diego, and the
Five Islands, and the peninsula--or island--of Punta Grande? How
were these isolated lumps of limestone hewn out into high points,
with steep cliffs, not to the windward, but to the leeward? What
made the steep cliff at the south end of Punta Grande, on which a
mangrove swamp now abuts? No trade-surf, no current capable of
doing that work, has disturbed the dull waters of the 'Golfo
Triste,' as the Spaniards named the Gulf of Paria, since the land
was of anything like its present shape. And gradually we began to
dream of a time when the Bocas did not exist; when the Spanish Main
was joined to the northern mountains of the island by dry land, now
submerged or eaten away by the trade-surf; when the northern
currents of the Orinoco, instead of escaping through the Bocas as
now, were turned eastward, past these very islands, and along the
foot of the northern mountains, over what is now the great lowland
of Trinidad, depositing those rich semi alluvial strata which have
been since upheaved, and sawing down along the southern slope of the
mountains those vast beds of shingle and quartz boulders which now
form as it were a gigantic ancient sea-beach right across the
island. A dream it may be: but one which seemed reasonable enough
to more than one in the boat, and which subsequent observations
tended to verify.

CHAPTER VII: THE HIGH WOODS

I have seen them at last. I have been at last in the High Woods, as
the primeval forest is called here; and they are not less, but more,
wonderful than I had imagined them. But they must wait awhile; for
in reaching them, though they were only ten miles off, I passed
through scenes so various, and so characteristic of the Tropics,
that I cannot do better than sketch them one by one.

I drove out in the darkness of the dawn, under the bamboos, and
Bauhinias, and palms which shade the road between the Botanic
Gardens and the savannah, toward Port of Spain. The frogs and
cicalas had nearly finished their nightly music. The fireflies had
been in bed since midnight. The air was heavy with the fragrance of
the Bauhinias, and after I passed the great Australian Blue-gum
which overhangs the road, and the Wallaba-tree, {120a} with its thin
curved pods dangling from innumerable bootlaces six feet long,
almost too heavy with the fragrance of the 'white Ixora.' {120b} A
flush of rose was rising above the eastern mountains, and it was
just light enough to see overhead the great flowers of the 'Bois
chataigne,' {120c} among its horse-chestnut-like leaves; red flowers
as big as a child's two hands, with petals as long as its fingers.
Children of Mylitta the moon goddess, they cannot abide the day; and
will fall, brown and shrivelled, before the sun grows high, after
one night of beauty and life, and probably of enjoyment. Even more
swiftly fades an even more delicate child of the moon, the Ipomoea,
Bona-nox, whose snow-white patines, as broad as the hand, open at
nightfall on every hedge, and shrivel up with the first rays of
dawn.

On through the long silent street of Port of Spain, where the air
was heavy with everything but the fragrance of Ixoras, and the dogs
and vultures sat about the streets, and were all but driven over
every few yards, till I picked up a guide--will he let me say a
friend?--an Aberdeenshire Scot, who hurried out fresh from his bath,
his trusty cutlass on his hip, and in heavy shooting-boots and
gaiters; for no clothing, be it remembered, is too strong for the
bush; and those who enter it in the white calico garments in which
West-India planters figure on the stage, are like to leave in it,
not only their clothes, but their skin besides.

In five minutes more we were on board the gig, and rowing away south
over the muddy mirror; and in ten minutes more the sun was up, and
blazing so fiercely that we were glad to cool ourselves in fancy, by
talking over salmon-fishings in Scotland and New Brunswick, and
wadings in icy streams beneath the black pine-woods.

Behind us were the blue mountains, streaked with broad lights and
shades by the level sun. On our left the interminable low line of
bright green mangrove danced and quivered in the mirage, and loomed
up in front, miles away, till single trees seemed to hang in air far
out at sea. On our right, hot mists wandered over the water,
blotting out the horizon, till the coasting craft, with distorted
sails and masts, seemed afloat in smoke. One might have fancied
oneself in the Wash off Sandringham on a burning summer's noon.

Soon logs and stumps, standing out of the water, marked the mouth of
the Caroni; and we had to take a sweep out seaward to avoid its mud-
banks. Over that very spot, now unnavigable, Raleigh and his men
sailed in to conquer Trinidad.

On one log a huge black and white heron moped all alone, looking in
the mist as tall as a man; and would not move for all our shouts.
Schools of fish dimpled the water; and brown pelicans fell upon
them, dashing up fountains of silver. The trade-breeze, as it rose,
brought off the swamps a sickly smell, suggestive of the need of
coffee, quinine, Angostura bitters, or some other febrifuge. In
spite of the glorious sunshine, the whole scene was sad, desolate,
almost depressing, from its monotony, vastness, silence; and we were
glad, when we neared the high tree which marks the entrance of the
Chaguanas Creek, and turned at last into a recess in the mangrove
bushes; a desolate pool, round which the mangrove roots formed an
impenetrable net. As far as the eye could pierce into the tangled
thicket, the roots interlaced with each other, and arched down into
the water in innumerable curves, by no means devoid of grace, but
hideous just because they were impenetrable. Who could get over
those roots, or through the scrub which stood stilted on them,
letting down at every yard or two fresh air-roots from off its
boughs, to add fresh tangle, as they struck into the mud, to the
horrible imbroglio? If one had got in among them, I fancied, one
would never have got out again. Struggling over and under endless
trap-work, without footing on it or on the mud below, one must have
sunk exhausted in an hour or two, to die of fatigue and heat, or
chill and fever.

Let the mangrove foliage be as gay and green as it may--and it is
gay and green--a mangrove swamp is a sad, ugly, evil place; and so I
felt that one to be that day.

The only moving things were some large fish, who were leaping high
out of water close to the bushes, glittering in the sun. They
stopped as we came up: and then all was still, till a slate-blue
heron {122a} rose lazily off a dead bough, flapped fifty yards up
the creek, and then sat down again. The only sound beside the
rattle of our oars was the metallic note of a pigeon in the high
tree, which I mistook then and afterwards for the sound of a horn.

On we rowed, looking out sharply right and left for an alligator
basking on the mud among the mangrove roots. But none appeared,
though more than one, probably, was watching us, with nothing of him
above water but his horny eyes. The heron flapped on ahead, and
settled once more, as if leading us on up the ugly creek, which grew
narrower and fouler, till the oars touched the bank on each side,
and drove out of the water shoals of four-eyed fish, ridiculous
little things about as long as your hand, who, instead of diving to
the bottom like reasonable fish, seemed possessed with the fancy
that they could succeed better in the air, or on land; and
accordingly jumped over each other's backs, scrambled out upon the
mud, swam about with their goggle-eyes projecting above the surface
of the water, and, in fact, did anything but behave like fish.

This little creature (Star-gazer, {122b} as some call him) is, you
must understand, one of the curiosities of Trinidad and of the
Guiana Coast. He looks, on the whole, like a gray mullet, with a
large blunt head, out of which stand, almost like horns, the eyes,
from which he takes his name. You may see, in Wood's Illustrated
Natural History, a drawing of him, which is--I am sorry to say--one
of the very few bad ones in the book; and read how, 'at a first
glance, the fish appears to possess four distinct eyes, each of
these organs being divided across the middle, and apparently
separated into two distinct portions. In fact an opaque band runs
transversely across the corner of the eye, and the iris, or coloured
portion, sends out two processes, which meet each other under the
transverse band of the cornea, so that the fish appears to possess
even a double pupil. Still, on closer investigation, the
connection, between the divisions of the pupil are apparent, and can
readily be seen in the young fish. The lens is shaped something
like a jargonelle pear, and so arranged that its broad extremity is
placed under the large segment of the cornea.'

These strangely specialised eyes--so folks believe here--the fish
uses by halves. With the lower halves he sees through the water,
with the upper halves through the air; and, elevated by this quaint
privilege, he aspires to be a terrestrial animal, emulating, I
presume, the alligators around, and tries to take his walks upon the
mud. You may see, as you go down to bathe on the east coast, a
group of black dots, in pairs, peering up out of the sand, at the
very highest verge of the surf-line. As you approach them, they
leap up, and prove themselves to belong to a party of four-eyes, who
run--there is no other word--down the beach, dash into the roaring
surf, and the moment they see you safe in the sea run back again on
the next wave, and begin staring at the sky once more. He who sees
four-eyes for the first time without laughing must be much wiser, or
much stupider, than any man has a right to be.

Suddenly the mangroves opened, and the creek ended in a wharf, with
barges alongside. Baulks of strange timbers lay on shore. Sheds
were full of empty sugar-casks, ready for the approaching crop-time.
A truck was waiting for us on a tramway; and we scrambled on shore
on a bed of rich black mud, to be received, of course, in true West
Indian fashion, with all sorts of courtesies and kindnesses.

And here let me say, that those travellers who complain of
discourtesy in the West Indies can have only themselves to thank for
it. The West Indian has self-respect, and will not endure people
who give themselves airs. He has prudence too, and will not endure
people whom he expects to betray his hospitality by insulting him
afterwards in print. But he delights in pleasing, in giving, in
showing his lovely islands to all who will come and see them;
Creole, immigrant, coloured or white man, Spaniard, Frenchman,
Englishman, or Scotchman, each and all, will prove themselves
thoughtful hosts and agreeable companions, if they be only treated
as gentlemen usually expect to be treated elsewhere. On board a
certain steamer, it was once proposed that the Royal Mail Steam
Packet Company should issue cheap six-month season tickets to the
West Indies, available for those who wished to spend the winter in
wandering from island to island. The want of hotels was objected,
naturally enough, by an Englishman present. But he was answered at
once, that one or two good introductions to a single island would
ensure hospitality throughout the whole archipelago.

A long-legged mule, after gibbing enough to satisfy his own self-
respect, condescended to trot off with us up the tramway, which lay
along a green drove strangely like one in the Cambridgeshire fens.
But in the ditches grew a pea with large yellow flower-spikes, which
reminded us that we were not in England; and beyond the ditches rose
on either side, not wheat and beans, but sugar-cane ten and twelve
feet high. And a noble grass it is, with its stems as thick as
one's wrist, tillering out below in bold curves over the well-hoed
dark soil, and its broad bright leaves falling and folding above in
curves as bold as those of the stems: handsome enough thus, but
more handsome still, I am told, when the 'arrow,' as the flower is
called, spreads over the cane-piece a purple haze, which flickers in
long shining waves before the breeze. One only fault it has; that,
from the luxuriance of its growth, no wind can pass through it; and
that therefore the heat of a cane-field trace is utterly stifling.
Here and there we passed a still uncultivated spot; a desolate reedy
swamp, with pools, and stunted alder-like trees, reminding us again
of the Deep Fens, while the tall chimneys of the sugar-works, and
the high woods beyond, completed the illusion. One might have been
looking over Holm Fen toward Caistor Hanglands; or over Deeping
toward the remnants of the ancient Bruneswald.

Soon, however, we had a broad hint that we were not in the Fens, but
in a Tropic island. A window in heaven above was suddenly opened;
out of it, without the warning cry of Gardyloo--well known in
Edinburgh of old--a bucket of warm water, happily clean, was emptied
on each of our heads; and the next moment all was bright again. A
thunder-shower, without a warning thunder-clap, was to me a new
phenomenon, which was repeated several times that day. The
suddenness and the heaviness of the tropic showers at this season is
as amusing as it is trying. The umbrella or the waterproof must be
always ready, or you will get wet through. And getting wet here is
a much more serious matter than in a temperate climate, where you
may ride or walk all day in wet clothes and take no harm; for the
rapid radiation, produced by the intense sunshine, causes a chill
which may beget, only too easily, fever and ague not to be as easily
shaken off.

The cause of these rapid and heavy showers is simple enough. The
trade-wind, at this season of the year, is saturated with steam from
the ocean which it has crossed; and the least disturbance in its
temperature, from ascending hot air or descending cold, precipitates
the steam in a sudden splash of water, out of a cloud, if there
happens to be one near; if not, out of the clear air. Therefore it
is that these showers, when they occur in the daytime, are most
common about noon; simply because then the streams of hot air rise
most frequently and rapidly, to struggle with the cooler layers
aloft. There is thunder, of course, in the West Indies, continuous
and terrible. But it occurs after midsummer, at the breaking up of
the dry season and coming on of the wet.

At last the truck stopped at a manager's house with a Palmiste,
{124} or cabbage-palm, on each side of the garden gate, a pair of
columns which any prince would have longed for as ornaments for his
lawn. It is the fashion here, and a good fashion it is, to leave
the Palmistes, a few at least, when the land is cleared; or to plant
them near the house, merely on account of their wonderful beauty.
One Palmiste was pointed out to me, in a field near the road, which
had been measured by its shadow at noon, and found to be one hundred
and fifty-three feet in height. For more than a hundred feet the
stem rose straight, smooth, and gray. Then three or four spathes of
flowers, four or five feet long each, jutted out and upward like;
while from below them, as usual, one dead leaf, twenty feet long or
more, dangled head downwards in the breeze. Above them rose, as
always, the green portion of the stem for some twenty feet; and then
the flat crown of feathers, as dark as yew, spread out against the
blue sky, looking small enough up there, though forty feet at least
in breadth. No wonder if the man who possessed such a glorious
object dared not destroy it, though he spared it for a different
reason from that for which the Negroes spare, whenever they can, the
gigantic Ceibas, or silk cotton trees. These latter are useless as
timber; and their roots are, of course, hurtful to the canes. But
the Negro is shy of felling the Ceiba. It is a magic tree, haunted
by spirits. There are 'too much jumbies in him,' the Negro says;
and of those who dare to cut him down some one will die, or come to
harm, within the year. In Jamaica, says my friend Mr. Gosse, 'they
believe that if a person throws a stone at the trunk, he will be
visited with sickness, or other misfortune. When they intend to cut
one down, they first pour rum at the root as a propitiatory
offering.' The Jamaica Negro, however, fells them for canoes, the
wood being soft, and easily hollowed. But here, as in Demerara, the
trees are left standing about in cane-pieces and pastures to decay
into awful and fantastic shapes, with prickly spurs and board-walls
of roots, high enough to make a house among them simply by roofing
them in; and a flat crown of boughs, some seventy or eighty feet
above the ground, each bough as big as an average English tree, from
which dangles a whole world, of lianes, matapalos, orchids, wild
pines with long air-roots or gray beards; and last, but not least,
that strange and lovely parasite, the Rhipsalis cassytha, which you
mistake first for a plume of green sea-weed, or a tress of Mermaid's
hair which has got up there by mischance, and then for some delicate
kind of pendent mistletoe; till you are told, to your astonishment,
that it is an abnormal form of Cactus--a family which it resembles,
save in its tiny flowers and fruit, no more than it resembles the
Ceiba-tree on which it grows; and told, too, that, strangely enough,
it has been discovered in Angola--the only species of the Cactus
tribe in the Old World.

And now we set ourselves to walk up to the Depot, where the
Government timber was being felled, and the real 'High Woods' to be
seen at last. Our path lay, along the half-finished tramway,
through the first Cacao plantation I had ever seen, though, I am
happy to say, not the last by many a one.

Imagine an orchard of nut-trees, with very large long leaves. Each
tree is trained to a single stem. Among them, especially near the
path, grow plants of the common hothouse Datura, its long white
flowers perfuming all the air. They have been planted as landmarks,
to prevent the young Cacao-trees being cut over when the weeds are
cleared. Among them, too, at some twenty yards apart, are the stems
of a tree looking much like an ash, save that it is inclined to
throw out broad spurs, like a Ceiba. You look up, and see that they
are Bois immortelles, {126} fifty or sixty feet high, one blaze of
vermilion against the blue sky. Those who have stood under a
Lombardy poplar in early spring, and looked up at its buds and
twigs, showing like pink coral against the blue sky, and have felt
the beauty of the sight, can imagine faintly--but only faintly--the
beauty of these Madres de Cacao (Cacao-mothers), as they call them
here, because their shade is supposed to shelter the Cacao-trees,
while the dew collected by their leaves keeps the ground below
always damp.

I turned my dazzled eyes down again, and looked into the delicious
darkness under the bushes. The ground was brown with fallen leaves,
or green with ferns; and here and there a slant ray of sunlight
pierced through the shade, and flashed on the brown leaves, and on a
gray stem, and on a crimson jewel which hung on the stem--and there,
again, on a bright orange one; and as my eye became accustomed to
the darkness, I saw that the stems and larger boughs, far away into
the wood, were dotted with pods, crimson or yellow or green, of the
size and shape of a small hand closed with the fingers straight out.
They were the Cacao-pods, full of what are called at home coco-nibs.
And there lay a heap of them, looking like a heap of gay flowers;
and by them sat their brown owner, picking them to pieces and laying
the seeds to dry on a cloth. I went up and told him that I came
from England, and never saw Cacao before, though I had been eating
and drinking it all my life; at which news he grinned amusement till
his white teeth and eyeballs made a light in that dark place, and
offered me a fresh broken pod, that I might taste the pink sour-
sweet pulp in which the rows of nibs lie packed, a pulp which I
found very pleasant and refreshing.

He dries his Cacao-nibs in the sun, and, if he be a well-to-do and
careful man, on a stage with wheels, which can be run into a little
shed on the slightest shower of rain; picks them over and over,
separating the better quality from the worse; and at last sends them
down on mule-back to the sea, to be sold in London as Trinidad
cocoa, or perhaps sold in Paris to the chocolate makers, who convert
them into chocolate, Menier or other, by mixing them with sugar and
vanilla, both, possibly, from this very island. This latter fact
once inspired an adventurous German with the thought that he could
make chocolate in Trinidad just as well as in Paris. And (so goes
the story) he succeeded. But the fair Creoles would not buy it. It
could not be good; it could not be the real article, unless it had
crossed the Atlantic twice to and from that centre of fashion,
Paris. So the manufacture, which might have added greatly to the
wealth of Trinidad, was given up, and the ladies of the island eat
nought but French chocolate, costing, it is said, nearly four times
as much as home made chocolate need cost.

As we walked on through the trace (for the tramway here was still
unfinished) one of my kind companions pointed out a little plant,
which bears in the island the ominous name of the Brinvilliers.
{127} It is one of those deadly poisons too common in the bush, and
too well known to the negro Obi men and Obi-women. And as I looked
at the insignificant weed I wondered how the name of that wretched
woman should have spread to this remote island, and have become
famous enough to be applied to a plant. French Negroes may have
brought the name with them: but then arose another wonder. How
were the terrible properties of the plant discovered? How eager and
ingenious must the human mind be about the devil's work, and what
long practice--considering its visual slowness and dulness--must it
have had at the said work, ever to have picked out this paltry thing
among the thousand weeds of the forest as a tool for its jealousy
and revenge. It may have taken ages to discover the Brinvilliers,
and ages more to make its poison generally known. Why not? As the
Spaniards say, 'The devil knows many things, because he is old.'
Surely this is one of the many facts which point toward some
immensely ancient civilisation in the Tropics, and a civilisation
which may have had its ugly vices, and have been destroyed thereby.

Now we left the Cacao grove: and I was aware, on each side of the
trace, of a wall of green, such as I had never seen before on earth,
not even in my dreams; strange colossal shapes towering up, a
hundred feet and more in height, which, alas! it was impossible to
reach; for on either side of the trace were fifty yards of half-
cleared ground, fallen logs, withes, huge stumps ten feet high,
charred and crumbling; and among them and over them a wilderness of
creepers and shrubs, and all the luxuriant young growth of the
'rastrajo,' which springs up at once whenever the primeval forest is
cleared--all utterly impassable. These rastrajo forms, of course,
were all new to me. I might have spent weeks in botanising merely
at them: but all I could remark, or cared to remark, there as in
other places, was the tendency in the rastrajo toward growing
enormous rounded leaves. How to get at the giants behind was the
only question to one who for forty years had been longing for one
peep at Flora's fairy palace, and saw its portals open at last.
There was a deep gully before us, where a gang of convicts was
working at a wooden bridge for the tramway, amid the usual abysmal
mud of the tropic wet season. And on the other side of it there was
no rastrajo right and left of the trace. I hurried down it like any
schoolboy, dashing through mud and water, hopping from log to log,
regardless of warnings and offers of help from good-natured Negroes,
who expected the respectable elderly 'buccra' to come to grief;
struggled perspiring up the other side of the gully; and then dashed
away to the left, and stopped short, breathless with awe, in the
primeval forest at last.

In the primeval forest; looking upon that upon which my teachers and
masters, Humboldt, Spix, Martius, Schomburgk, Waterton, Bates,
Wallace, Gosse, and the rest, had looked already, with far wiser
eyes than mine, comprehending somewhat at least of its wonders,
while I could only stare in ignorance. There was actually, then,
such a sight to be seen on earth; and it was not less, but far more
wonderful than they had said.

My first feeling on entering the high woods was helplessness,
confusion, awe, all but terror. One is afraid at first to venture
in fifty yards. Without a compass or the landmark of some opening
to or from which he can look, a man must be lost in the first ten
minutes, such a sameness is there in the infinite variety. That
sameness and variety make it impossible to give any general sketch
of a forest. Once inside, 'you cannot see the wood for the trees.'
You can only wander on as far as you dare, letting each object
impress itself on your mind as it may, and carrying away a confused
recollection of innumerable perpendicular lines, all straining
upwards, in fierce competition, towards the light-food far above;
and next of a green cloud, or rather mist, which hovers round your
head, and rises, thickening and thickening to an unknown height.
The upward lines are of every possible thickness, and of almost
every possible hue; what leaves they bear, being for the most part
on the tips of the twigs, give a scattered, mist-like appearance to
the under-foliage. For the first moment, therefore, the forest
seems more open than an English wood. But try to walk through it,
and ten steps undeceive you. Around your knees are probably
Mamures, {129a} with creeping stems and fan-shaped leaves, something
like those of a young coconut palm. You try to brush through them,
and are caught up instantly by a string or wire belonging to some
other plant. You look up and round: and then you find that the air
is full of wires--that you are hung up in a network of fine branches
belonging to half a dozen different sorts of young trees, and
intertwined with as many different species of slender creepers. You
thought at your first glance among the tree-stems that you were
looking through open air; you find that you are looking through a
labyrinth of wire-rigging, and must use the cutlass right and left
at every five steps. You push on into a bed of strong sedge-like
Sclerias, with cutting edges to their leaves. It is well for you if
they are only three, and not six feet high. In the midst of them
you run against a horizontal stick, triangular, rounded, smooth,
green. You take a glance along it right and left, and see no end to
it either way, but gradually discover that it is the leaf-stalk of a
young Cocorite palm. {129b} The leaf is five-and-twenty feet long,
and springs from a huge ostrich plume, which is sprawling out of the
ground and up above your head a few yards off. You cut the leaf-
stalk through right and left, and walk on, to be stopped suddenly
(for you get so confused by the multitude of objects that you never
see anything till you run against it) by a gray lichen-covered bar,
as thick as your ankle. You follow it up with your eye, and find it
entwine itself with three or four other bars, and roll over with
them in great knots and festoons and loops twenty feet high, and
then go up with them into the green cloud over your head, and
vanish, as if a giant had thrown a ship's cables into the tree-tops.
One of them, so grand that its form strikes even the Negro and the
Indian, is a Liantasse. {129c} You see that at once by the form of
its cable--six or eight inches across in one direction, and three or
four in another, furbelowed all down the middle into regular knots,
and looking like a chain cable between two flexible iron bars. At
another of the loops, about as thick as your arm, your companion, if
you have a forester with you, will spring joyfully. With a few
blows of his cutlass he will sever it as high up as he can reach,
and again below, some three feet down, and, while you are wondering
at this seemingly wanton destruction, he lifts the bar on high,
throws his head back, and pours down his thirsty throat a pint or
more of pure cold water. This hidden treasure is, strange as it may
seem, the ascending sap, or rather the ascending pure rain-water
which has been taken up by the roots, and is hurrying aloft, to be
elaborated into sap, and leaf, and flower, and fruit, and fresh
tissue for the very stem up which it originally climbed, and
therefore it is that the woodman cuts the Water-vine through first
at the top of the piece which he wants, and not at the bottom, for
so rapid is the ascent of the sap that if he cut the stem below, the
water would have all fled upwards before he could cut it off above.
Meanwhile, the old story of Jack and the Bean-stalk comes into your
mind. In such a forest was the old dame's hut, and up such a bean
stalk Jack climbed, to find a giant and a castle high above. Why
not? What may not be up there? You look up into the green cloud,
and long for a moment to be a monkey. There may be monkeys up there
over your head, burly red Howler, {131a} or tiny peevish Sapajou,
{131b} peering down at you, but you cannot peer up at them. The
monkeys, and the parrots, and the humming birds, and the flowers,
and all the beauty, are upstairs--up above the green cloud. You are
in 'the empty nave of the cathedral,' and 'the service is being
celebrated aloft in the blazing roof.'

We will hope that, as you look up, you have not been careless enough
to walk on, for if you have you will be tripped up at once: nor to
put your hand out incautiously to rest it against a tree, or what
not, for fear of sharp thorns, ants, and wasps' nests. If you are
all safe, your next steps, probably, as you struggle through the
bush between tree trunks of every possible size, will bring you face
to face with huge upright walls of seeming boards, whose rounded
edges slope upward till, as your eye follows them, you find them
enter an enormous stem, perhaps round, like one of the Norman
pillars of Durham nave, and just as huge, perhaps fluted, like one
of William of Wykeham's columns at Winchester. There is the stem:
but where is the tree? Above the green cloud. You struggle up to
it, between two of the board walls, but find it not so easy to
reach. Between you and it are half a dozen tough strings which you
had not noticed at first--the eye cannot focus itself rapidly enough
in this confusion of distances--which have to be cut through ere you
can pass. Some of them are rooted in the ground, straight and
tense, some of them dangle and wave in the wind at every height.
What are they? Air roots of wild Pines, {131c} or of Matapalos, or
of Figs, or of Seguines, {131d} or of some other parasite?
Probably: but you cannot see. All you can see is, as you put your
chin close against the trunk of the tree and look up, as if you were
looking up against the side of a great ship set on end, that some
sixty or eighty feet up in the green cloud, arms as big as English
forest trees branch off; and that out of their forks a whole green
garden of vegetation has tumbled down twenty or thirty feet, and
half climbed up again. You scramble round the tree to find whence
this aerial garden has sprung: you cannot tell. The tree-trunk is
smooth and free from climbers; and that mass of verdure may belong
possibly to the very cables which you met ascending into the green
cloud twenty or thirty yards back, or to that impenetrable tangle, a
dozen yards on, which has climbed a small tree, and then a taller
one again, and then a taller still, till it has climbed out of sight
and possibly into the lower branches of the big tree. And what are
their species? what are their families? Who knows? Not even the
most experienced woodman or botanist can tell you the names of
plants of which he only sees the stems. The leaves, the flowers,
the fruit, can only be examined by felling the tree; and not even
always then, for sometimes the tree when cut refuses to fall, linked
as it is by chains of liane to all the trees around. Even that
wonderful water-vine which we cut through just now may be one of
three or even four different plants. {132}

Soon you will be struck by the variety of the vegetation, and will
recollect what you have often heard, that social plants are rare in
the tropic forests. Certainly they are rare in Trinidad; where the
only instances of social trees are the Moras (which I have never
seen growing wild) and the Moriche palms. In Europe, a forest is
usually made up of one dominant plant--of firs or of pines, of oaks
or of beeches, of birch or of heather. Here no two plants seem
alike. There are more species on an acre here than in all the New
Forest, Savernake, or Sherwood. Stems rough, smooth, prickly,
round, fluted, stilted, upright, sloping, branched, arched, jointed,
opposite-leaved, alternate-leaved, leaflets, or covered with leaves
of every conceivable pattern, are jumbled together, till the eye and
brain are tired of continually asking 'What next?' The stems are of
every colour--copper, pink, gray, green, brown, black as if burnt,
marbled with lichens, many of them silvery white, gleaming afar in
the bush, furred with mosses and delicate creeping film-ferns, or
laced with the air-roots of some parasite aloft. Up this stem
scrambles a climbing Seguine {133a} with entire leaves; up the next
another quite different, with deeply-cut leaves; {133b} up the next
the Ceriman {133c} spreads its huge leaves, latticed and forked
again and again. So fast do they grow, that they have not time to
fill up the spaces between their nerves, and are, consequently full
of oval holes; and so fast does its spadix of flowers expand, that
(as indeed do some other Aroids) an actual genial heat and fire of
passion, which may be tested by the thermometer, or even by the
hand, is given off during fructification. Beware of breaking it, or
the Seguines. They will probably give off an evil smell, and as
probably a blistering milk. Look on at the next stem. Up it, and
down again, a climbing fern {133d} which is often seen in hothouses
has tangled its finely-cut fronds. Up the next, a quite different
fern is crawling, by pressing tightly to the rough bark its creeping
root-stalks, furred like a hare's leg. Up the next, the prim little
Griffe-chatte {133e} plant has walked, by numberless clusters of
small cats'-claws, which lay hold of the bark. And what is this
delicious scent about the air? Vanille? Of course it is; and up
that stem zigzags the green fleshy chain of the Vanille Orchis. The
scented pod is far above, out of your reach; but not out of the
reach of the next parrot, or monkey, or negro hunter, who winds the
treasure. And the stems themselves: to what trees do they belong?
It would be absurd for one to try to tell you who cannot tell one-
twentieth of them himself. {133f} Suffice it to say, that over your
head are perhaps a dozen kinds of admirable timber, which might be
turned to a hundred uses in Europe, were it possible to get them
thither: your guide (who here will be a second hospitable and
cultivated Scot) will point with pride to one column after another,
straight as those of a cathedral, and sixty to eighty feet without
branch or knob. That, he will say, is Fiddlewood; {133g} that a
Carapo, {133h} that a Cedar, {133i} that a Roble {133j} (oak); that,
larger than all you have seen yet, a Locust; {133k} that a Poui;
{133l} that a Guatecare, {133m} that an Olivier, {133n} woods which,
he will tell you, are all but incorruptible, defying weather and
insects. He will show you, as curiosities, the smaller but
intensely hard Letter wood, {133o} Lignum vitae, {133p} and Purple
heart. {134a} He will pass by as useless weeds, Ceibas {134b} and
Sandbox-trees, {134c} whose bulk appals you. He will look up, with
something like a malediction, at the Matapalos, which, every fifty
yards, have seized on mighty trees, and are enjoying, I presume,
every different stage of the strangling art, from the baby Matapalo,
who, like the one which you saw in the Botanic Garden, has let down
his first air-root along his victim's stem, to the old sinner whose
dark crown of leaves is supported, eighty feet in air, on
innumerable branching columns of every size, cross-clasped to each
other by transverse bars. The giant tree on which his seed first
fell has rotted away utterly, and he stands in its place, prospering
in his wickedness, like certain folk whom David knew too well. Your
guide walks on with a sneer. But he stops with a smile of
satisfaction as he sees lying on the ground dark green glossy
leaves, which are fading into a bright crimson; for overhead
somewhere there must be a Balata, {134d} the king of the forest; and
there, close by, is his stem--a madder-brown column, whose head may
be a hundred and fifty feet or more aloft. The forester pats the
sides of his favourite tree, as a breeder might that of his
favourite racehorse. He goes on to evince his affection, in the
fashion of West Indians, by giving it a chop with his cutlass; but
not in wantonness. He wishes to show you the hidden virtues of this
(in his eyes) noblest of trees--how there issues out swiftly from
the wound a flow of thick white milk, which will congeal, in an
hour's time, into a gum intermediate in its properties between
caoutchouc and gutta-percha. He talks of a time when the English
gutta-percha market shall be supplied from the Balatas of the
northern hills, which cannot be shipped away as timber. He tells
you how the tree is a tree of a generous, virtuous, and elaborate
race--'a tree of God, which is full of sap,' as one said of old of
such--and what could he say better, less or more? For it is a
Sapota, cousin to the Sapodilla, and other excellent fruit-trees,
itself most excellent even in its fruit-bearing power; for every
five years it is covered with such a crop of delicious plums, that
the lazy Negro thinks it worth his while to spend days of hard work,
besides incurring the penalty of the law (for the trees are
Government property), in cutting it down for the sake of its fruit.
But this tree your guide will cut himself. There is no gully
between it and the Government station; and he can carry it away; and
it is worth his while to do so; for it will square, he thinks, into
a log more than three feet in diameter, and eighty, ninety--he hopes
almost a hundred--feet in length of hard, heavy wood, incorruptible,
save in salt water; better than oak, as good as teak, and only
surpassed in this island by the Poui. He will make a stage round
it, some eight feet high, and cut it above the spurs. It will take
his convict gang (for convicts are turned to some real use in
Trinidad) several days to get it down, and many more days to square
it with the axe. A trace must be made to it through the wood,
clearing away vegetation for which an European millionaire, could he
keep it in his park, would gladly pay a hundred pounds a yard. The
cleared stems, especially those of the palms, must be cut into
rollers; and the dragging of the huge log over them will be a work
of weeks, especially in the wet season. But it can be done, and it
shall be; so he leaves a significant mark on his new-found treasure,
and leads you on through the bush, hewing his way with light strokes
right and left, so carelessly that you are inclined to beg him to
hold his hand, and not destroy in a moment things so beautiful, so
curious, things which would be invaluable in an English hothouse.

And where are the famous Orchids? They perch on every bough and
stem: but they are not, with three or four exceptions, in flower in
the winter; and if they were, I know nothing about them--at least, I
know enough to know how little I know. Whosoever has read Darwin's
Fertilisation of Orchids, and finds in his own reason that the book
is true, had best say nothing about the beautiful monsters till he
has seen with his own eyes more than his master.

And yet even the three or four that are in flower are worth going
many a mile to see. In the hothouse they seem almost artificial
from their strangeness: but to see them 'natural,' on natural
boughs, gives a sense of their reality, which no unnatural situation
can give. Even to look up at them perched on bough and stem, as one
rides by; and to guess what exquisite and fantastic form may issue,
in a few months or weeks, out of those fleshy, often unsightly,
leaves, is a strange pleasure; a spur to the fancy which is surely
wholesome, if we will but believe that all these things were
invented by A Fancy, which desires to call out in us, by
contemplating them, such small fancy as we possess; and to make us
poets, each according to his power, by showing a world in which, if
rightly looked at, all is poetry.

Another fact will soon force itself on your attention, unless you
wish to tumble down and get wet up to your knees. The soil is
furrowed everywhere by holes; by graves, some two or three feet wide
and deep, and of uncertain length and shape, often wandering about
for thirty or forty feet, and running confusedly into each other.
They are not the work of man, nor of an animal; for no earth seems
to have been thrown out of them. In the bottom of the dry graves
you sometimes see a decaying root: but most of them just now are
full of water, and of tiny fish also, who burrow in the mud and
sleep during the dry season, to come out and swim during the wet.
These graves are, some of them, plainly quite new. Some, again, are
very old; for trees of all sizes are growing in them and over them.

What makes them? A question not easily answered. But the shrewdest
foresters say that they have held the roots of trees now dead.
Either the tree has fallen and torn its roots out of the ground, or
the roots and stumps have rotted in their place, and the soil above
them has fallen in.

But they must decay very quickly, these roots, to leave their quite
fresh graves thus empty: and--now one thinks of it--how few fallen
trees, or even dead sticks, there are about. An English wood, if
left to itself, would be cumbered with fallen timber; and one has
heard of forests in North America, through which it is all but
impossible to make way, so high are piled up, among the still-
growing trees, dead logs in every stage of decay. Such a sight may
be seen in Europe, among the high Silver-fir forests of the
Pyrenees. How is it not so here? How indeed? And how comes it--if
you will look again--that there are few or no fallen leaves, and
actually no leaf-mould? In an English wood there would be a foot--
perhaps two feet--of black soil, renewed by every autumn leaf fall.
Two feet? One has heard often enough of bison-hunting in Himalayan
forests among Deodaras one hundred and fifty feet high, and scarlet
Rhododendrons thirty feet high, growing in fifteen or twenty feet of
leaf-and-timber mould. And here, in a forest equally ancient, every
plant is growing out of the bare yellow loam, as it might in a well-
hoed garden bed. Is it not strange?

Most strange; till you remember where you are--in one of Nature's
hottest and dampest laboratories. Nearly eighty inches of yearly
rain and more than eighty degrees of perpetual heat make swift work
with vegetable fibre, which, in our cold and sluggard clime, would
curdle into leaf-mould, perhaps into peat. Far to the north, in
poor old Ireland, and far to the south, in Patagonia, begin the
zones of peat, where dead vegetable fibre, its treasures of light
and heat locked up, lies all but useless age after age. But this is
the zone of illimitable sun-force, which destroys as swiftly as it
generates, and generates again as swiftly as it destroys. Here,
when the forest giant falls, as some tell me that they have heard
him fall, on silent nights, when the cracking of the roots below and
the lianes aloft rattles like musketry through the woods, till the
great trunk comes down, with a boom as of a heavy gun, re-echoing on
from mountain-side to mountain-side; then--

'Nothing in him that doth fade,
But doth suffer an _air_-change
Into something rich and strange.'

Under the genial rain and genial heat the timber tree itself, all
its tangled ruin of lianes and parasites, and the boughs and leaves
snapped off not only by the blow, but by the very wind, of the
falling tree--all melt away swiftly and peacefully in a few months--
say almost a few days--into the water, and carbonic acid, and
sunlight, out of which they were created at first, to be absorbed
instantly by the green leaves around, and, transmuted into fresh
forms of beauty, leave not a wrack behind. Explained thus--and this
I believe to be the true explanation--the absence of leaf-mould is
one of the grandest, as it is one of the most startling, phenomena
of the forest.

Look here at a fresh wonder. Away in front of us a smooth gray
pillar glistens on high. You can see neither the top nor the bottom
of it. But its colour, and its perfectly cylindrical shape, tell
you what it is--a glorious Palmiste; one of those queens of the
forest which you saw standing in the fields; with its capital buried
in the green cloud and its base buried in that bank of green velvet
plumes, which you must skirt carefully round, for they are a prickly
dwarf palm, called here black Roseau. {137a} Close to it rises
another pillar, as straight and smooth, but one-fourth of the
diameter--a giant's walking-cane. Its head, too, is in the green
cloud. But near are two or three younger ones only forty or fifty
feet high, and you see their delicate feather heads, and are told
that they are Manacques; {137b} the slender nymphs which attend upon
the forest queen, as beautiful, though not as grand, as she.

The land slopes down fast now. You are tramping through stiff mud,
and those Roseaux are a sign of water. There is a stream or gully
near: and now for the first time you can see clear sunshine through
the stems; and see, too, something of the bank of foliage on the
other side of the brook. You catch sight, it may be, of the head of
a tree aloft, blazing with golden trumpet flowers, which is a Poui;
and of another lower one covered with hoar-frost, perhaps a Croton;
{137c} and of another, a giant covered with purple tassels. That is
an Angelim. Another giant overtops even him. His dark glossy
leaves toss off sheets of silver light as they flicker in the
breeze; for it blows hard aloft outside while you are in stifling
calm. That is a Balata. And what is that on high?--Twenty or
thirty square yards of rich crimson a hundred feet above the ground.
The flowers may belong to the tree itself. It may be a Mountain-
mangrove, {137d} which I have never seen, in flower: but take the
glasses and decide. No. The flowers belong to a liane. The
'wonderful' Prince of Wales's Feather {137e} has taken possession of
the head of a huge Mombin, {137f} and tiled it all over with crimson
combs which crawl out to the ends of the branches, and dangle twenty
or thirty feet down, waving and leaping in the breeze. And over all
blazes the cloudless blue.

You gaze astounded. Ten steps downward, and the vision is gone.
The green cloud has closed again over your head, and you are
stumbling in the darkness of the bush, half blinded by the sudden
change from the blaze to the shade. Beware. 'Take care of the
Croc-chien!' shouts your companion: and you are aware of, not a
foot from your face, a long, green, curved whip, armed with pairs of
barbs some four inches apart; and are aware also, at the same
moment, that another has seized you by the arm, another by the
knees, and that you must back out, unless you are willing to part
with your clothes first, and your flesh afterwards. You back out,
and find that you have walked into the tips--luckily only into the
tips--of the fern-like fronds of a trailing and climbing palm such
as you see in the Botanic Gardens. That came from the East, and
furnishes the rattan-canes. This {138a} furnishes the gri-gri-
canes, and is rather worse to meet, if possible, than the rattan.
Your companion, while he helps you to pick the barbs out, calls the
palm laughingly by another name, 'Suelta-mi-Ingles'; and tells you
the old story of the Spanish soldier at San Josef. You are near the
water now; for here is a thicket of Balisiers. {138b} Push through,
under their great plantain-like leaves. Slip down the muddy bank to
that patch of gravel. See first, though, that it is not tenanted
already by a deadly Mapepire, or rattlesnake, which has not the
grace, as his cousin in North America has, to use his rattle.

The brooklet, muddy with last night's rain, is dammed and bridged by
winding roots, in shape like the jointed wooden snakes which we used
to play with as children. They belong probably to a fig, whose
trunk is somewhere up in the green cloud. Sit down on one, and
look, around and aloft. From the soil to the sky, which peeps
through here and there, the air is packed with green leaves of every
imaginable hue and shape. Round our feet are Arums, {138c} with
snow-white spadixes and hoods, one instance among many here of
brilliant colour developing itself in deep shade. But is the
darkness of the forest actually as great as it seems? Or are our
eyes, accustomed to the blaze outside, unable to expand rapidly
enough, and so liable to mistake for darkness air really full of
light reflected downward, again and again, at every angle, from the
glossy surfaces of a million leaves? At least we may be excused;
for a bat has made the same mistake, and flits past us at noonday.
And there is another--No; as it turns, a blaze of metallic azure off
the upper side of the wings proves this one to be no bat, but a
Morpho--a moth as big as a bat. And what was that second larger

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