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At Last by Charles Kingsley

Part 4 out of 8

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flash of golden green, which dashed at the moth, and back to yonder
branch not ten feet off? A Jacamar {138d}--kingfisher, as they
miscall her here, sitting fearless of man, with the moth in her long
beak. Her throat is snowy white, her under-parts rich red brown.
Her breast, and all her upper plumage and long tail, glitter with
golden green. There is light enough in this darkness, it seems.
But now a look again at the plants. Among the white-flowered Arums
are other Arums, stalked and spotted, of which beware; for they are
the poisonous Seguine-diable, {139a} the dumb-cane, of which evil
tales were told in the days of slavery. A few drops of its milk,
put into the mouth of a refractory slave, or again into the food of
a cruel master, could cause swelling, choking, and burning agony for
many hours.

Over our heads bend the great arrow leaves and purple leafstalks of
the Tanias; {139b} and mingled with them, leaves often larger still:
oval, glossy, bright, ribbed, reflecting from their underside a
silver light. They belong to Arumas; {139c} and from their ribs are
woven the Indian baskets and packs. Above these, again, the
Balisiers bend their long leaves, eight or ten feet long apiece; and
under the shade of the leaves their gay flower-spikes, like double
rows of orange and black birds' beaks upside down. Above them, and
among them, rise stiff upright shrubs, with pairs of pointed leaves,
a foot long some of them, pale green above, and yellow or fawn-
coloured beneath. You may see, by the three longitudinal nerves in
each leaf, that they are Melastomas of different kinds--a sure token
they that you are in the Tropics--a probable token that you are in
Tropical America.

And over them, and among them, what a strange variety of foliage:
look at the contrast between the Balisiers and that branch which has
thrust itself among them, which you take for a dark copper-coloured
fern, so finely divided are its glossy leaves. It is really a
Mimosa--Bois Mulatre, {139d} as they call it here. What a contrast
again, the huge feathery fronds of the Cocorite palms which stretch
right away hither over our heads, twenty and thirty feet in length.
And what is that spot of crimson flame hanging in the darkest spot
of all from an under-bough of that low weeping tree? A flower-head
of the Rosa del Monte. {139e} And what is that bright straw-
coloured fox's brush above it, with a brown hood like that of an
Arum, brush and hood nigh three feet long each? Look--for you
require to look more than once, sometimes more than twice--here, up
the stem of that Cocorite, or as much of it as you can see in the
thicket. It is all jagged with the brown butts of its old fallen
leaves; and among the butts perch broad-leaved ferns, and fleshy
Orchids, and above them, just below the plume of mighty fronds, the
yellow fox's brush, which is its spathe of flower.

What next? Above the Cocorites dangle, amid a dozen different kinds
of leaves, festoons of a liane, or of two, for one has purple
flowers, the other yellow--Bignonias, Bauhinias--what not? And
through them a Carat {140a} palm has thrust its thin bending stem,
and spread out its flat head of fan-shaped leaves twenty feet long
each: while over it, I verily believe, hangs eighty feet aloft the
head of the very tree upon whose roots we are sitting. For amid the
green cloud you may see sprigs of leaf somewhat like that of a
weeping willow; {140b} and there, probably, is the trunk to which
they belong, or rather what will be a trunk at last. At present it
is like a number of round-edged boards of every size, set on end,
and slowly coalescing at their edges. There is a slit down the
middle of the trunk, twenty or thirty feet long. You may see the
green light of the forest shining through it. Yes. That is
probably the fig; or, if not, then something else. For who am I,
that I should know the hundredth part of the forms on which we
look?--And above all you catch a glimpse of that crimson mass of
Norantea which we admired just now; and, black as yew against the
blue sky and white cloud, the plumes of one Palmiste, who has
climbed toward the light, it may be for centuries, through the green
cloud; and now, weary and yet triumphant, rests her dark head among
the bright foliage of a Ceiba, and feeds unhindered on the sun.

There, take your tired eyes down again; and turn them right, or
left, or where you will, to see the same scene, and yet never the
same. New forms, new combinations; a wealth of creative Genius--let
us use the wise old word in its true sense--incomprehensible by the
human intellect or the human eye, even as He is who makes it all,
Whose garment, or rather Whose speech, it is. The eye is not filled
with seeing, or the ear with hearing; and never would be, did you
roam these forests for a hundred years. How many years would you
need merely to examine and discriminate the different species? And
when you had done that, how many more to learn their action and
reaction on each other? How many more to learn their virtues,
properties, uses? How many more to answer the perhaps ever
unanswerable question--How they exist and grow at all? By what
miracle they are compacted out of light, air, and water, each after
its kind? How, again, those kinds began to be, and what they were
like at first? Whether those crowded, struggling, competing shapes
are stable or variable? Whether or not they are varying still?
Whether even now, as we sit here, the great God may not be creating,
slowly but surely, new forms of beauty round us? Why not? If He
chose to do it, could He not do it? And even had you answered that
question, which would require whole centuries of observation as
patient and accurate as that which Mr. Darwin employed on Orchids
and climbing plants, how much nearer would you be to the deepest
question of all--Do these things exist, or only appear? Are they
solid realities, or a mere phantasmagoria, orderly indeed, and law-
ruled, but a phantasmagoria still; a picture-book by which God
speaks to rational essences, created in His own likeness? And even
had you solved that old problem, and decided for Berkeley or against
him, you would still have to learn from these forests a knowledge
which enters into man, not through the head, but through the heart;
which (let some modern philosophers say what they will) defies all
analysis, and can be no more defined or explained by words than a
mother's love. I mean, the causes and the effects of their beauty;
that 'AEsthetic of plants,' of which Schleiden has spoken so well in
that charming book of his, The Plant, which all should read who wish
to know somewhat of 'The Open Secret.'

But when they read it, let them read with open hearts. For that
same 'Open Secret' is, I suspect, one of those which God may hide
from the wise and prudent, and yet reveal to babes.

At least, so it seemed to me, the first day that I went, awe struck,
into the High Woods; and so it seemed to me, the last day that I
came, even more awe-struck, out of them.

CHAPTER VIII: LA BREA

We were, of course, desirous to visit that famous Lake of Pitch,
which our old nursery literature described as one of the 'Wonders of
the World.' It is not that; it is merely a very odd, quaint,
unexpected, and only half-explained phenomenon: but no wonder.
That epithet should be kept for such matters as the growth of a
crystal, the formation of a cell, the germination of a seed, the
coming true of a plant, whether from a fruit or from a cutting: in
a word, for any and all those hourly and momentary miracles which
were attributed of old to some Vis Formatrix of nature; and are now
attributed to some other abstract formula, as they will be to some
fresh one, and to a dozen more, before the century is out; because
the more accurately and deeply they are investigated, the more
inexplicable they will be found.

So it is; but the 'public' are not inclined to believe that so it
is, and will not see, till their minds get somewhat of a truly
scientific training.

If any average educated person were asked--Which seemed to him more
wonderful, that a hen's egg should always produce a chicken, or that
it should now and then produce a sparrow or a duckling?--can it be
doubted what answer he would give? or that it would be the wrong
answer? What answer, again, would he make to the question--Which is
more wonderful, that dwarfs and giants (i.e. people under four feet
six or over six feet six) should be exceedingly rare, or that the
human race is not of all possible heights from three inches to
thirty feet? Can it be doubted that in this case, as in the last,
the wrong answer would be given? He would defend himself, probably,
if he had a smattering of science, by saying that experience teaches
us that Nature works by 'invariable laws'; by which he would mean,
usually unbroken customs; and that he has, therefore, a right to be
astonished if they are broken. But he would be wrong. The just
cause of astonishment is, that the laws are, on the whole,
invariable; that the customs are so seldom broken; that sun and
moon, plants and animals, grains of dust and vesicles of vapour, are
not perpetually committing some vagary or other, and making as great
fools of themselves as human beings are wont to do. Happily for the
existence of the universe, they do not. But how, and still more
why, things in general behave so respectably and loyally, is a
wonder which is either utterly inexplicable, or explicable, I hold,
only on the old theory that they obey Some One--whom we obey to a
very limited extent indeed. Not that this latter theory gets rid of
the perpetual and omnipresent element of wondrousness. If matter
alone exists, it is a wonder and a mystery how it obeys itself. If
A Spirit exists, it is a wonder and a mystery how He makes matter
obey Him. All that the scientific man can do is, to confess the
presence of mystery all day long; and to live in that wholesome and
calm attitude of wonder which we call awe and reverence; that so he
may be delivered from the unwholesome and passionate fits of wonder
which we call astonishment, the child of ignorance and fear, and the
parent of rashness and superstition. So will he keep his mind in
the attitude most fit for seizing new facts, whenever they are
presented to him. So he will be able, when he doubts of a new fact,
to examine himself whether he doubts it on just grounds; whether his
doubt may not proceed from mere self-conceit, because the fact does
not suit his preconceived theories; whether it may not proceed from
an even lower passion, which he shares (being human) with the most
uneducated; namely, from dread of the two great bogies, Novelty and
Size--novelty, which makes it hard to convince the country fellow
that in the Tropics great flowers grow on tall trees, as they do
here on herbs; size, which makes it hard to convince him that in far
lands trees are often two and three hundred feet high, simply
because he has never seen one here a hundred feet high. It is not
surprising, but saddening, to watch what power these two phantoms
have over the minds of those who would be angry if they were
supposed to be uneducated. How often has one heard the existence of
the sea-serpent declared impossible and absurd, on these very
grounds, by people who thought they were arguing scientifically:
the sea-serpent could not exist, firstly because--because it was so
odd, strange, new, in a word, and unlike anything that they had ever
seen or fancied; and, secondly, because it was so big. The first
argument would apply to a thousand new facts, which physical science
is daily proving to be true; and the second, when the reputed size
of the sea-serpent is compared with the known size of the ocean,
rather more silly than the assertion that a ten-pound pike could not
live in a half-acre pond, because it was too small to hold him. The
true arguments against the existence of a sea-serpent, namely, that
no Ophidian could live long under water, and that therefore the sea-
serpent, if he existed, would be seen continually at the surface;
and again, that the appearance taken for a sea-serpent has been
proved, again and again, to be merely a long line of rolling
porpoises--these really sound arguments would be nothing to such
people, or only be accepted as supplementing and corroborating their
dislike to believe in anything new, or anything a little bigger than
usual.

But so works the average, i.e. the uneducated and barbaric
intellect, afraid of the New and the Big, whether in space or in
time. How the fear of those two phantoms has hindered our knowledge
of this planet, the geologist knows only too well.

It was excusable, therefore, that this Pitch Lake should be counted
among the wonders of the world; for it is, certainly, tolerably big.
It covers ninety-nine acres, and contains millions of tons of so-
called pitch.

Its first discoverers, of course, were not bound to see that a pitch
lake of ninety-nine acres was no more wonderful than any of the
little pitch wells--'spues' or 'galls,' as we should call them in
Hampshire--a yard across; or any one of the tiny veins and lumps of
pitch which abound in the surrounding forests; and no less wonderful
than if it had covered ninety-nine thousand acres instead of ninety-
nine. Moreover, it was a novelty. People were not aware of the
vast quantity of similar deposits which exist up and down the hotter
regions of the globe. And being new and big too, its genesis
demanded, for the comfort of the barbaric intellect, a cataclysm,
and a convulsion, and some sort of prodigious birth, which was till
lately referred, like many another strange object, to volcanic
action. The explanation savoured somewhat of a 'bull'; for what a
volcano could do to pitch, save to burn it up into coke and gases,
it is difficult to see.

It now turns out that the Pitch Lake, like most other things, owes
its appearance on the surface to no convulsion or vagary at all, but
to a most slow, orderly, and respectable process of nature, by which
buried vegetable matter, which would have become peat, and finally
brown coal, in a temperate climate, becomes, under the hot tropic
soil, asphalt and oil, continually oozing up beneath the pressure of
the strata above it. Such, at least, is the opinion of Messrs. Wall
and Sawkins, the geological surveyors of Trinidad, and of several
chemists whom they quote; and I am bound to say, that all I saw at
the lake and elsewhere, during two separate visits, can be easily
explained on their hypothesis, and that no other possible cause
suggests itself as yet. The same cause, it may be, has produced the
submarine spring of petroleum, off the shore near Point Rouge, where
men can at times skim the floating oil off the surface of the sea;
the petroleum and asphalt of the Windward Islands and of Cuba,
especially the well-known Barbadoes tar; and the petroleum springs
of the mainland, described by Humboldt, at Truxillo, in the Gulf of
Cumana; and 'the inexhaustible deposits of mineral pitch in the
provinces of Merida and Coro, and, above all, in that of Maracaybo.
In the latter it is employed for caulking the ships which navigate
the lake.' {145} But the reader shall hear what the famous lake is
like, and judge for himself. Why not? He may not be 'scientific,'
but, as Professor Huxley well says, what is scientific thought but
common sense well regulated?

Running down, then, by steamer, some thirty-six miles south from
Port of Spain, along a flat mangrove shore, broken only at one spot
by the conical hill of San Fernando, we arrived off a peninsula,
whose flat top is somewhat higher than the lowland right and left.
The uplands are rich with primeval forest, and perhaps always have
been. The lower land, right and left, was, I believe, cultivated
for sugar, till the disastrous epoch of 1846: but it is now furred
over with rastrajo woods.

We ran, on our first visit, past the pitch point of La Brea, south-
westward to Trois, where an industrial farm for convicts had been
established by my host the Governor. We were lifted on shore
through a tumbling surf; and welcomed by an intelligent and
courteous German gentleman, who showed us all that was to be seen;
and what we saw was satisfactory enough. The estate was paying,
though this was only its third year. An average number of 77
convicts had already cleared 195 acres, of which 182 were under
cultivation. Part of this had just been reclaimed from pestilential
swamp: a permanent benefit to the health of the island. In spite
of the exceptional drought of the year before, and the subsequent
plague of caterpillars, 83,000 pounds of rice had been grown; and
the success of the rice crop, it must be remembered, will become
more and more important to the island, as the increase of Coolie
labourers increases the demand for the grain. More than half the
plantains put in (22,000) were growing, and other vegetables in
abundance. But, above all, there were more than 7000 young coco-
palms doing well, and promising a perpetual source of wealth for the
future. For as the trees grow, and the crops raised between them
diminish, the coco-palms will require little or no care, but yield
fruit the whole year round without further expense; and the
establishment can then be removed elsewhere, to reclaim a fresh
sheet of land.

Altogether, the place was a satisfactory specimen of what can be
effected in a tropical country by a Government which will govern.
Since then, another source of profitable employment for West Indian
convicts has been suggested to me. Bamboo, it is now found, will
supply an admirable material for paper; and I have been assured by
paper-makers that those who will plant the West Indian wet lands
with bamboo for their use, may realise enormous profits.

We scrambled back into the boat--had, of course, a heap of fruit,
bananas, oranges, pine-apples, tossed in after us--and ran back
again in the steamer to the famous La Brea.

As we neared the shore, we perceived that the beach was black as
pitch; and the breeze being off the land, the asphalt smell (not
unpleasant) came off to welcome us. We rowed in, and saw in front
of a little row of wooden houses a tall mulatto, in blue policeman's
dress, gesticulating and shouting to us. He was the ward-policeman,
and I found him (as I did all the coloured police) able and
courteous, shrewd and trusty. These police are excellent specimens
of what can be made of the Negro, or half-Negro, if he be but first
drilled, and then given a responsibility which calls out his self-
respect. He was warning our crew not to run aground on one or other
of the pitch reefs, which here take the place of rocks. A large
one, a hundred yards off on the left, has been almost all dug away,
and carried to New York or to Paris to make asphalt pavement. The
boat was run ashore, under his directions, on a spit of sand between
the pitch; and when she ceased bumping up and down in the muddy
surf, we scrambled out into a world exactly the hue of its
inhabitants--of every shade, from jet-black to copper-brown. The
pebbles on the shore were pitch. A tide-pool close by was enclosed
in pitch: a four-eyes was swimming about in it, staring up at us;
and when we hunted him, tried to escape, not by diving, but by
jumping on shore on the pitch, and scrambling off between our legs.
While the policeman, after profoundest courtesies, was gone to get a
mule cart to take us up to the lake, and planks to bridge its water-
channels, we took a look round at this oddest of corners of the
earth.

In front of us was the unit of civilisation--the police-station,
wooden, on wooden stilts (as all well-built houses are here), to
ensure a draught of air beneath them. We were, of course, asked to
come in and sit down, but preferred looking about, under our
umbrellas; for the heat was intense. The soil is half pitch, half
brown earth, among which the pitch sweals in and out, as tallow
sweals from a candle. It is always in slow motion under the heat of
the tropic sun: and no wonder if some of the cottages have sunk
right and left in such a treacherous foundation. A stone or brick
house could not stand here: but wood and palm-thatch are both light
and tough enough to be safe, let the ground give way as it will.

The soil, however, is very rich. The pitch certainly does not
injure vegetation, though plants will not grow actually in it. The
first plants which caught our eyes were pine-apples; for which La
Brea is famous. The heat of the soil, as well as of the air, brings
them to special perfection. They grow about anywhere, unprotected
by hedge or fence; for the Negroes here seem honest enough, at least
towards each other. And at the corner of the house was a bush worth
looking at, for we had heard of it for many a year. It bore
prickly, heart-shaped pods an inch long, filled with seeds coated
with a red waxy pulp.

This was a famous plant--Bixa Orellana, Roucou; and that pulp was
the well-known Arnotta dye of commerce. In England and Holland it
is used merely, I believe, to colour cheeses; but in the Spanish
Main, to colour human beings. The Indian of the Orinoco prefers
paint to clothes; and when he has 'roucoued' himself from head to
foot, considers himself in full dress, whether for war or dancing.
Doubtless he knows his own business best from long experience.
Indeed, as we stood broiling on the shore, we began somewhat to
regret that European manners and customs prevented our adopting the
Guaraon and Arawak fashion.

The mule-cart arrived; the lady of the party was put into it on a
chair, and slowly bumped and rattled past the corner of Dundonald
Street--so named after the old sea-hero, who was, in his lifetime,
full of projects for utilising this same pitch--and up a pitch road,
with a pitch gutter on each side.

The pitch in the road has been, most of it, laid down by hand, and
is slowly working down the slight incline, leaving pools and ruts
full of water, often invisible, because covered with a film of brown
pitch-dust, and so letting in the unwary walker over his shoes. The
pitch in the gutter-bank is in its native place, and as it spues
slowly out of the soil into the ditch in odd wreaths and lumps, we
could watch, in little, the process which has produced the whole
deposit--probably the whole lake itself.

A bullock-cart, laden with pitch, came jolting down past us; and we
observed that the lumps, when the fracture is fresh, have all a
drawn-out look; that the very air-bubbles in them, which are often
very numerous, are all drawn out likewise, long and oval, like the
air-bubbles in some ductile lavas.

On our left, as we went on, the bush was low, all of yellow Cassia
and white Hibiscus, and tangled with lovely convolvulus-like
creepers, Ipomoea and Echites, with white, purple, or yellow
flowers. On the right were negro huts and gardens, fewer and fewer
as we went on--all rich with fruit-trees, especially with oranges,
hung with fruit of every hue; and beneath them, of course, the pine-
apples of La Brea. Everywhere along the road grew, seemingly wild
here, that pretty low tree, the Cashew, with rounded yellow-veined
leaves and little green flowers, followed by a quaint pink and red-
striped pear, from which hangs, at the larger and lower end, a
kidney-shaped bean, which bold folk eat when roasted: but woe to
those who try it when raw, for the acrid oil blisters the lips; and
even while the beans are roasting, the fumes of the oil will blister
the cook's face if she holds it too near the fire.

As we went onward up the gentle slope (the rise is one hundred and
thirty-eight feet in rather more than a mile), the ground became
more and more full of pitch, and the vegetation poorer and more
rushy, till it resembled, on the whole, that of an English fen. An
Ipomoea or two, and a scarlet-flowered dwarf Heliconia, kept up the
tropic type, as does a stiff brittle fern about two feet high.
{148a} We picked the weeds, which looked like English mint or
basil, and found that most of them had three longitudinal nerves in
each leaf, and were really Melastomas, though dwarfed into a far
meaner habit than that of the noble forms we saw at Chaguanas, and
again on the other side of the lake. On the right, too, in a
hollow, was a whole wood of Groo-groo palms, gray stemmed, gray
leaved; and here and there a patch of white or black Roseau rose
gracefully eight or ten feet high among the reeds.

The plateau of pitch now widened out, and the whole ground looked
like an asphalt pavement, half overgrown with marsh-loving weeds,
whose roots feed in the sloppy water which overlies the pitch. But,
as yet, there was no sign of the lake. The incline, though gentle,
shuts off the view of what is beyond. This last lip of the lake has
surely overflowed, and is overflowing still, though very slowly.
Its furrows all curve downward; and it is, in fact, as one of our
party said, 'a black glacier.' The pitch, expanding under the
burning sun of day, must needs expand most towards the line of least
resistance, that is, downhill; and when it contracts again under the
coolness of night, it contracts, surely from the same cause, more
downhill than it does uphill; and so each particle never returns to
the spot whence it started, but rather drags the particles above it
downward toward itself. At least, so it seemed to us. Thus may be
explained the common mistake which is noticed by Messrs. Wall and
Sawkins {148b} in their admirable description of the lake.

'All previous descriptions refer the bituminous matter scattered
over the La Brea district, and especially that between the village
and the lake, to streams which have issued at some former epoch from
the lake, and extended into the sea. This supposition is totally
incorrect, as solidification would have probably ensued before it
had proceeded one-tenth of the distance; and such of the asphalt as
has undoubtedly escaped from the lake has not advanced more than a
few yards, and always presents the curved surfaces already
described, and never appears as an extended sheet.'

Agreeing with this statement as a whole, I nevertheless cannot but
think it probable that a great deal of the asphalt, whether it be in
large masses or in scattered veins, may be moving very slowly
downhill, from the lake to the sea, by the process of expansion by
day, and contraction by night; and may be likened to a caterpillar,
or rather caterpillars innumerable, progressing by expanding and
contracting their rings, having strength enough to crawl downhill,
but not strength enough to back uphill again.

At last we surmounted the last rise, and before us lay the famous
lake--not at the bottom of a depression, as we expected, but at the
top of a rise, whence the ground slopes away from it on two sides,
and rises from it very slightly on the two others. The black pool
glared and glittered in the sun. A group of islands, some twenty
yards wide, were scattered about the middle of it. Beyond it rose a
noble forest of Moriche fan-palms; {149} and to the right of them
high wood with giant Mombins and undergrowth of Cocorite--a paradise
on the other side of the Stygian pool.

We walked, with some misgivings, on to the asphalt, and found it
perfectly hard. In a few yards we were stopped by a channel of
clear water, with tiny fish and water-beetles in it; and, looking
round, saw that the whole lake was intersected with channels, so
unlike anything which can be seen elsewhere, that it is not easy to
describe them.

Conceive a crowd of mushrooms, of all shapes, from ten to fifty feet
across, close together side by side, their tops being kept at
exactly the same level, their rounded rims squeezed tight against
each other; then conceive water poured on them so as to fill the
parting seams, and in the wet season, during which we visited it, to
overflow the tops somewhat. Thus would each mushroom represent,
tolerably well, one of the innumerable flat asphalt bosses, which
seem to have sprung up each from a separate centre, while the
parting seams would be of much the same shape as those in the
asphalt, broad and shallow atop, and rolling downward in a smooth
curve, till they are at bottom mere cracks, from two to ten feet
deep. Whether these cracks actually close up below, and the two
contiguous masses of pitch become one, cannot be seen. As far as
the eye goes down, they are two, though pressed close to each other.
Messrs. Wall and Sawkins explain the odd fact clearly and simply.
The oil, they say, which the asphalt contains when it rises first,
evaporates in the sun, of course most on the outside of the heap,
leaving a tough coat of asphalt, which has, generally, no power to
unite with the corresponding coat of the next mass. Meanwhile, Mr.
Manross, an American gentleman, who has written a very clever and
interesting account of the lake, {150} seems to have been so far
deceived by the curved and squeezed edges of these masses, that he
attributes to each of them a revolving motion, and supposes that the
material is continually passing from the centre to the edges, when
it 'rolls under,' and rises again in the middle. Certainly the
strange stuff looks, at the first glance, as if it were behaving in
this way; and certainly, also, his theory would explain the
appearance of sticks and logs in the pitch. But Messrs. Wall and
Sawkins say that they observed no such motion; nor did we: and I
agree with them, that it is not very obvious to what force, or what
influence, it could be attributable. We must, therefore, seek for
some other way of accounting for the sticks--which utterly puzzled
us, and which Mr. Manross well describes as 'numerous pieces of wood
which, being involved in the pitch, are constantly coming to the
surface. They are often several feet in length, and five or six
inches in diameter. On caching the surface they generally assume an
upright position, one end being detained in the pitch, while the
other is elevated by the lifting of the middle. They may be seen at
frequent intervals over the lake, standing up to the height of two
or even three feet. They look like stumps of trees protruding
through the pitch; but their parvenu character is curiously betrayed
by a ragged cap of pitch which invariably covers the top, and hangs
down like hounds' ears on either side.'

Whence do they come? Have they been blown on to the lake, or left
behind by man? or are they fossil trees, integral parts of the
vegetable stratum below which is continually rolling upward? or are
they of both kinds? I do not know. Only this is certain, as
Messrs. Wall and Sawkins have pointed out, that not only 'the purer
varieties of asphalt, such as approach or are identical with asphalt
glance, have been observed' (though not, I think, in the lake
itself) 'in isolated masses, where there was little doubt of their
proceeding from ligneous substances of larger dimensions, such as
roots and pieces of trunks and branches;' but moreover, that 'it is
also necessary to admit a species of conversion by contact; since
pieces of wood included accidentally in the asphalt, for example, by
dropping from overhanging vegetation, are often found partially
transformed into the material.' This is a statement which we
verified again and again; as we did the one which follows, namely,
that the hollow bubbles which abound on the surface of the pitch
'generally contain traces of the lighter portions of vegetation,'
and 'are manifestly derived from leaves, etc., which are blown about
the lake by the wind, and are covered with asphalt, and as they
become asphalt themselves, give off gases, which form bubbles round
them.'

But how is it that those logs stand up out of the asphalt, with
asphalt caps and hounds' ears (as Mr. Manross well phrases it) on
the tops of them?

We pushed on across the lake, over the planks which the Negroes laid
down from island to island. Some, meanwhile, preferred a steeple-
chase with water-jumps, after the fashion of the midshipmen on a
certain second visit to the lake. How the Negroes grinned delight
and surprise at the vagaries of English lads--a species of animal
altogether new to them. And how they grinned still more when
certain staid and portly dignitaries caught the infection, and
proved, by more than one good leap, that they too had been English
schoolboys--alas! long, long ago.

So, whether by bridging, leaping, or wading, we arrived at last at
the little islands, and found them covered with a thick, low scrub;
deep sedge, and among them Pinguins, like huge pine-apples without
the apple; gray wild Pines--parasites on Matapalos, which of course
have established themselves, like robbers and vagrants as they are,
everywhere; a true Holly, with box-like leaves; and a rare Cocoa-
plum, {152} very like the holly in habit, which seems to be all but
confined to these little patches of red earth, afloat on the pitch.
Out of the scrub, when we were there, flew off two or three night-
jars, very like our English species, save that they had white in the
wings; and on the second visit, one of the midshipmen, true to the
English boy's birds'-nesting instinct, found one of their eggs,
white-spotted, in a grass nest.

Passing these little islands, which are said (I know not how truly)
to change their places and number, we came to the very fountains of
Styx, to that part of the lake where the asphalt is still oozing up.

As the wind set toward us, we soon became aware of an evil smell--
petroleum and sulphuretted hydrogen at once--which gave some of us a
headache. The pitch here is yellow and white with sulphur foam; so
are the water-channels; and out of both water and pitch innumerable
bubbles of gas arise, loathsome to the smell. We became aware also
that the pitch was soft under our feet. We left the impression of
our boots; and if we had stood still awhile, we should soon have
been ankle-deep. No doubt there are spots where, if a man stayed
long enough, he would be slowly and horribly engulfed. 'But,' as
Mr. Manross says truly, 'in no place is it possible to form those
bowl-like depressions round the observer described by former
travellers.' What we did see is, that the fresh pitch oozes out at
the lines of least resistance, namely, in the channels between the
older and more hardened masses, usually at the upper ends of them;
so that one may stand on pitch comparatively hard, and put one's
hand into pitch quite liquid, which is flowing softly out, like some
ugly fungoid growth, such as may be seen in old wine-cellars, into
the water. One such pitch-fungus had grown several yards in length
in the three weeks between our first and second visit; and on
another, some of our party performed exactly the same feat as Mr.
Manross--

'In one of the star-shaped pools of water, some five feet deep, a
column of pitch had been forced perpendicularly up from the bottom.
On reaching the surface of the water it had formed a sort of centre
table, about four feet in diameter, but without touching the sides
of the pool. The stem was about a foot in diameter. I leaped out
on this table, and found that it not only sustained my weight, but
that the elasticity of the stem enabled me to rock it from side to
side. Pieces torn from the edges of this table sank readily,
showing that it had been raised by pressure, and not by its
buoyancy.'

True, though strange: but stranger still did it seem to us, when we
did at last what the Negroes asked us, and dipped our hands into the
liquid pitch, to find that it did not soil the fingers. The old
proverb, that one cannot touch pitch without being defiled, happily
does not stand true here, or the place would be intolerably
loathsome. It can be scraped up, moulded into any shape you will;
wound in a string (as was done by one of the midshipmen) round a
stick, and carried off: but nothing is left on the hand save clean
gray mud and water. It may be kneaded for an hour before the mud be
sufficiently driven out of it to make it sticky. This very
abundance of earthy matter it is which, while it keeps the pitch
from soiling, makes it far less valuable than it would be were it
pure.

It is easy to understand whence this earthy matter (twenty or thirty
per cent) comes. Throughout the neighbourhood the ground is full,
to the depth of hundreds of feet, of coaly and asphaltic matter.
Layers of sandstone or of shale containing this decayed vegetable,
alternate with layers which contain none. And if, as seems
probable, the coaly matter is continually changing into asphalt and
oil, and then working its way upward through every crack and pore,
to escape from the enormous pressure of the superincumbent soil, it
must needs carry up with it innumerable particles of the soils
through which it passes.

In five minutes we had seen, handled, and smelt enough to satisfy us
with this very odd and very nasty vagary of tropic nature; and as we
did not wish to become faint and ill, between the sulphuretted
hydrogen and the blaze of the sun reflected off the hot black pitch,
we hurried on over the water-furrows, and through the sedge-beds to
the farther shore--to find ourselves in a single step out of an
Inferno into a Paradiso.

We looked back at the foul place, and agreed that it is well for the
human mind that the Pitch Lake was still unknown when Dante wrote
that hideous poem of his--the opprobrium (as I hold) of the Middle
Age. For if such were the dreams of its noblest and purest genius,
what must have been the dreams of the ignoble and impure multitude?
But had he seen this lake, how easy, how tempting too, it would have
been to him to embody in imagery the surmise of a certain 'Father,'
and heighten the torments of the lost beings, sinking slowly into
that black Bolge beneath the baking rays of the tropic sun, by the
sight of the saved, walking where we walked, beneath cool fragrant
shade, among the pillars of a temple to which the Parthenon is mean
and small.

Sixty feet and more aloft, the short smooth columns of the Moriches
{154} towered around us, till, as we looked through the 'pillared
shade,' the eye was lost in the green abysses of the forest.
Overhead, their great fan leaves form a groined roof, compared with
which that of St. Mary Redcliff, or even of King's College, is as
clumsy as all man's works are beside the works of God; and beyond
the Moriche wood, ostrich plumes packed close round madder-brown
stems, formed a wall to our temple, which bore such tracery,
carving, painting, as would have stricken dumb with awe and delight
him who ornamented the Loggie of the Vatican. True, all is 'still-
life' here: no human forms, hardly even that of a bird, is mixed
with the vegetable arabesques. A higher state of civilisation, ages
after we are dead, may introduce them, and complete the scene by
peopling it with a race worthy of it. But the Creator, at least,
has done His part toward producing perfect beauty, all the more
beautiful from its contrast with the ugliness outside. For the want
of human beings fit for all that beauty, man is alone to blame; and
when we saw approach us, as the only priest of such a temple, a wild
brown man, who feeds his hogs on Moriche fruit and Mombin plums, and
whose only object was to sell us an ant-eater's skin, we thought to
ourselves--knowing the sad history of the West Indies--what might
this place have become, during the three hundred and fifty years
which have elapsed since Columbus first sailed round it, had men--
calling themselves Christian, calling themselves civilised--
possessed any tincture of real Christianity, of real civilisation?
What a race, of mingled Spaniard and Indian, might have grown up
throughout the West Indies. What a life, what a society, what an
art, what a science it might have developed ere now, equalling, even
surpassing, that of Ionia, Athens, and Sicily, till the famed isles
and coasts of Greece should have been almost forgotten in the new
fame of the isles and coasts of the Caribbean Sea.

What might not have happened, had men but tried to copy their Father
in heaven? What has happened is but too well known, since, in July
1498, Columbus, coming hither, fancied (and not so wrongly) that he
had come to the 'base of the Earthly Paradise.'

What might not have been made, with something of justice and mercy,
common sense and humanity, of these gentle Arawaks and Guaraons.
What was made of them, almost ere Columbus was dead, may be judged
from this one story, taken from Las Casas:--{155}

'There was a certain man named Juan Bono, who was employed by the
members of the Audiencia of St. Domingo to go and obtain Indians.
He and his men, to the number of fifty or sixty, landed on the
Island of Trinidad. Now the Indians of Trinidad were a mild,
loving, credulous race, the enemies of the Caribs, who ate human
flesh. On Juan Bono's landing, the Indians, armed with bows and
arrows, went to meet the Spaniards, and to ask them who they were,
and what they wanted. Juan Bono replied, that his crew were good
and peaceful people, who had come to live with the Indians; upon
which, as the commencement of good fellowship, the natives offered
to build houses for the Spaniards. The Spanish captain expressed a
wish to have one large house built. The accommodating Indians set
about building it. It was to be in the form of a bell, and to be
large enough for a hundred persons to live in. On any great
occasion it would hold many more. Every day, while this house was
being built, the Spaniards were fed with fish, bread, and fruit by
their good-natured hosts. Juan Bono was very anxious to see the
roof on, and the Indians continued to work at the building with
alacrity. At last it was completed, being two storeys high, and so
constructed that those within could not see those without. Upon a
certain day, Juan Bono collected the Indians together--men, women,
and children--in the building, "to see," as he told them, "what was
to be done."

'Whether they thought they were coming to some festival, or that
they were to do something more for the great house, does not appear.
However, there they all were, four hundred of them, looking with
much delight at their own handiwork. Meanwhile, Juan Bono brought
his men round the building, with drawn swords in their hands; then,
having thoroughly entrapped his Indian friends, he entered with a
party of armed men and bade the Indians keep still, or he would kill
them. They did not listen to him, but rushed to the door. A
horrible massacre ensued. Some of the Indians forced their way out;
but many of them, stupefied at what they saw, and losing heart, were
captured and bound. A hundred, however, escaped, and snatching up
their arms, assembled in one of their own houses, and prepared to
defend themselves. Juan Bono summoned them to surrender: they
would not hear of it; and then, as Las Casas says, "he resolved to
pay them completely for the hospitality and kind treatment he had
received," and so, setting fire to the house, the whole hundred men,
together with some women and children, were burnt alive. The
Spanish captain and his men retired to the ships with their
captives; and his vessel happening to touch at Porto Rico, when the
Jeronimite Fathers were there, gave occasion to Las Casas to
complain of this proceeding to the Fathers, who, however, did
nothing in the way of remedy or punishment. The reader will be
surprised to hear the Clerigo's authority for this deplorable
narrative. It is Juan Bono himself. "From his own mouth I heard
that which I write." Juan Bono acknowledged that never in his life
had he met with the kindness of father or mother but in the island
of Trinidad. "Well, then, man of perdition, why did you reward them
with such ungrateful wickedness and cruelty?"--"On my faith, padre,
because they (he meant the Auditors) gave me for destruction (he
meant instruction) to take them in peace, if I could not by war."'

Such was the fate of the poor gentle folk who for unknown ages had
swung their hammocks to the stems of these Moriches, spinning the
skin of the young leaves into twine, and making sago from the pith,
and thin wine from the sap and fruit, while they warned their
children not to touch the nests of the humming-birds, which even
till lately swarmed around the lake. For--so the Indian story ran--
once on a time a tribe of Chaymas built their palm-leaf ajoupas upon
the very spot where the lake now lies, and lived a merry life. The
sea swarmed with shellfish and turtle, and the land with pine-
apples; the springs were haunted by countless flocks of flamingoes
and horned screamers, pajuis and blue ramiers; and, above all, by
humming-birds. But the foolish Chaymas were blind to the mystery
and the beauty of the humming-birds, and would not understand how
they were no other than the souls of dead Indians, translated into
living jewels; and so they killed them in wantonness, and angered
'The Good Spirit.' But one morning, when the Guaraons came by, the
Chayma village had sunk deep into the earth, and in its place had
risen this lake of pitch. So runs the tale, told some forty years
since to M. Joseph, author of a clever little history of Trinidad,
by an old half-caste Indian, Senor Trinidada by name, who was said
then to be nigh one hundred years of age.

Surely the people among whom such a myth could spring up, were
worthy of a nobler fate. Surely there were in them elements of
'sweetness and light,' which might have been cultivated to some fine
fruit, had there been anything like sweetness and light in their
first conquerors--the offscourings, not of Spain and Portugal only,
but of Germany, Italy, and, indeed, almost every country in Europe.
The present Spanish landowners of Trinidad, be it remembered always,
do not derive from those old ruffians, but from noble and ancient
families, who settled in the island during the seventeenth century,
bringing with them a Spanish grace, Spanish simplicity, and Spanish
hospitality, which their descendants have certainly not lost. Were
it my habit to 'put people into books,' I would gladly tell in these
pages of charming days spent in the company of Spanish ladies and
gentlemen. But I shall only hint here at the special affection and
respect with which they--and, indeed, the French Creoles likewise--
are regarded by Negro and by Indian.

For there are a few Indians remaining in the northern mountains, and
specially at Arima--simple hamlet-folk, whom you can distinguish, at
a glance, from mulattoes or quadroons, by the tawny complexion, and
by a shape of eye, and length between the eye and the mouth,
difficult to draw, impossible to describe, but discerned instantly
by any one accustomed to observe human features. Many of them,
doubtless, have some touch of Negro blood, and are the offspring of
'Cimarons'--'Maroons,' as they are still called in Jamaica. These
Cimarons were Negroes who, even in the latter half of the sixteenth
century (as may be read in the tragical tale of John Oxenham, given
in Hakluyt's Voyages), had begun to flee from their cruel masters
into the forests, both in the Islands and in the Main. There they
took to themselves Indian wives, who preferred them, it is said, to
men of their own race, and lived a jolly hunter's life, slaying with
tortures every Spaniard who fell into their hands. Such, doubtless,
haunted the northern Cerros of Tocuche, Aripo, and Oropuche, and
left some trace of themselves among the Guaraons. Spanish blood,
too, runs notoriously in the veins of some of the Indians of the
island; and the pure race here is all but vanished. But out of
these three elements has arisen a race of cacao-growing mountaineers
as simple and gentle, as loyal and peaceable, as any in Her
Majesty's dominions. Dignified, courteous, hospitable, according to
their little means, they salute the white Senor without defiance and
without servility, and are delighted if he will sit in their clay
and palm ajoupas, and eat oranges and Malacca apples {157} from
their own trees, on their own freehold land.

They preserve, too, the old Guaraon arts of weaving baskets and
other utensils, pretty enough, from the strips of the Aruma leaves.
From them the Negro, who will not, or cannot, equal them in
handicraft, buys the pack in which wares are carried on the back,
and the curious strainer in which the Cassava is deprived of its
poisonous juice. So cleverly are the fibres twisted, that when the
strainer is hung up, with a stone weight at the lower end, the
diameter of the strainer decreases as its length increases, and the
juice is squeezed out through the pores to drip into a calabash,
and, nowadays, to be thrown carefully away, lest children or goats
should drink it. Of old, it was kept with care and dried down to a
gum, and used to poison arrows, as it is still used, I believe, on
the Orinoco; now, its poisonous properties are expelled by boiling
it down into Cassaripe, which has a singular power of preserving
meat, and is the foundation of the 'pepperpot' of the colonists.

And this is all that remains of the once beautiful, deft, and happy
Indians of Trinidad, unless, indeed, some of them, warned by the
fate of the Indians of San Josef and the Northern Mountains, fled
from such tyrants as Juan Bono and Berreo across the Gulf of Paria,
and, rejoining their kinsmen on the mainland, gladly forgot the
sight of that Cross which was to them the emblem, not of salvation,
but of destruction.

For once a year till of late--I know not whether the thing may be
seen still--a strange phantom used to appear at San Fernando, twenty
miles to the north. Canoes of Indians came mysteriously across the
Gulf of Paria from the vast swamps of the Orinoco; and the naked
folk landed, and went up through the town, after the Naparima ladies
(so runs the tale) had sent down to the shore garments for the
women, which were worn only through the streets, and laid by again
as soon as they entered the forest. Silent, modest, dejected, the
gentle savages used to vanish into the woods by paths known to their
kinsfolk centuries ago--paths which run, wherever possible, along
the vantage-ground of the topmost chines and ridges of the hills.
The smoke of their fires rose out of lonely glens, as they collected
the fruit of trees known only to themselves. In a few weeks their
wild harvest was over; they came back through San Fernando; made,
almost in silence, their little purchases in the town, and paddled
away across the gulf towards the unknown wildernesses from whence
they came.

And now--as if sent to drive away sad thoughts and vain regrets--
before our feet lay a jest of Nature's, almost as absurd as a 'four-
eyed fish,' or 'calling-crab.' A rough stick, of the size of your
little finger, lay on the pitch. We watched it a moment, and saw
that it was crawling--that it was a huge Caddis, like those in
English ponds and streams, though of a very different family. They
are the larvae of Phryganeas--this of a true moth. {158} The male
of this moth will come out, as a moth should, and fly about on four
handsome wings. The female will never develop her wings, but remain
to her life's end a crawling grub, like the female of our own
Vapourer moth, and that of our English Glow-worm. But more, she
will never (at least, in some species of this family) leave her silk
and bark case, but live and die, an anchoritess in narrow cell,
leaving behind her more than one puzzle for physiologists. The case
is fitted close to the body of the caterpillar, save at the mouth,
where it hangs loose in two ragged silken curtains. We all looked
at the creature, and it looked at us, with its last two or three
joints and its head thrust out of its house. Suddenly, disgusted at
our importunity, it laid hold of its curtains with two hands, right
and left, like a human being, folded them modestly over its head,
held them tight together, and so retired to bed, amid the
inextinguishable laughter of the whole party.

The noble Moriche palm delights in wet, at least in Trinidad and on
the lower Orinoco: but Schomburgk describes forests of them--if,
indeed, it be the same species--as growing in the mountains of
Guiana up to an altitude of four thousand feet. The soil in which
they grow here is half pitch pavement, half loose brown earth, and
over both, shallow pools of water, which will become much deeper in
the wet season; and all about float or lie their pretty fruit, the
size of an apple, and scaled like a fir-cone. They are last year's,
empty and decayed. The ripe fruit contains first a rich pulpy nut,
and at last a hard cone, something like that of the vegetable ivory
palm, {159} which grows in the mainland, but not here. Delicious
they are, and precious, to monkeys and parrots, as well as to the
Orinoco Indians, among whom the Tamanacs, according to Humboldt,
say, that when a man and woman survived that great deluge, which the
Mexicans call the age of water, they cast behind them, over their
heads, the fruits of the Moriche palm, as Deucalion and Pyrrha cast
stones, and saw the seeds in them produce men and women, who
repeopled the earth. No wonder, indeed, that certain tribes look on
this tree as sacred, or that the missionaries should have named it
the tree of life.

'In the season of inundations these clumps of Mauritia, with their
leaves in the form of a fan, have the appearance of a forest rising
from the bosom of the waters. The navigator in proceeding along the
channels of the delta of the Oroonoco at night, sees with surprise
the summit of the palm-trees illumined by large fires. These are
the habitations of the Guaraons (Tivitivas and Waraweties of
Raleigh), which are suspended from the trunks of the trees. These
tribes hang up mats in the air, which they fill with earth, and
kindle on a layer of moist clay the fire necessary for their
household wants. They have owed their liberty and their political
independence for ages to the quaking and swampy soil, which they
pass over in the time of drought, and on which they alone know how
to walk in security to their solitude in the delta of the Oroonoco,
to their abode on the trees, where religious enthusiasm will
probably never lead any American Stylites. . . . The Mauritia palm-
tree, the _tree of life_ of the missionaries, not only affords the
Guaraons a safe dwelling during the risings of the Oroonoco, but its
shelly fruit, its farinaceous pith, its juice, abounding in
saccharine matter, and the fibres of its petioles, furnish them with
food, wine, and thread proper for making cords and weaving hammocks.
These customs of the Indians of the delta of the Oroonoco were found
formerly in the Gulf of Darien (Uraba), and in the greater part of
the inundated lands between the Guerapiche and the mouths of the
Amazon. It is curious to observe in the lowest degree of human
civilisation the existence of a whole tribe depending on one single
species of palm-tree, similar to those insects which feed on one and
the same flower, or on one and the same part of a plant.' {160}

In a hundred yards more we were on dry ground, and the vegetation
changed at once. The Mauritias stopped short at the edge of the
swamp; and around us towered the smooth stems of giant Mombins,
which the English West Indians call hog-plums, according to the
unfortunate habit of the early settlers of discarding the sonorous
and graceful Indian and Spanish names of plants, and replacing them
by names English, or corruptions of the original, always ugly, and
often silly and vulgar. So the English call yon noble tree a hog-
plum; the botanist (who must, of course, use his world-wide Latin
designation), Spondias lutea; I shall, with the reader's leave, call
it a Mombin, by which name it is, happily, known here, as it was in
the French West Indies in the days of good Pere Labat. Under the
Mombins the undergrowth is, for the most part, huge fans of Cocorite
palm, thirty or forty feet high, their short rugged trunks, as
usual, loaded with creepers, orchids, birds'-nests, and huge round
black lumps, which are the nests of ants; all lodged among the butts
of old leaves and the spathes of old flowers. Here, as at
Chaguanas, grand Cerimans and Seguines scrambled twenty feet up the
Cocorite trunks, delighting us by the luscious life in the fat stem
and fat leaves, and the brilliant, yet tender green, which literally
shone in the darkness of the Cocorite bower; and all, it may be, the
growth of the last six months; for, as was plain from the charred
stems of many Cocorites and Moriches, the fire had swept through the
wood last summer, destroying all that would burn. And at the foot
of the Cocorites, weltering up among and over their roots, was pitch
again; and here and there along the side of the path were pitch
springs, round bosses a yard or two across and a foot or two high,
each with a crater atop a few inches across, filled either with
water or with liquid and oozing pitch; and yet not interfering, as
far as could be seen, with the health of the vegetation which
springs out of it.

We followed the trace which led downhill, to the shore of the
peninsula farthest from the village. As we proceeded we entered
forest still unburnt, and a tangle of beauty such as we saw at
Chaguanas. There rose, once more, the tall cane-like Manacque
palms, which we christened the forest nymphs. The path was lined,
as there, with the great leaves of the Melastomas, throwing russet
and golden light down from their undersides. Here, as there, Mimosa
leaflets, as fine as fern or sea-weed, shiver in the breeze. A
species of Balisier, which we did not see there, carried crimson and
black parrot beaks with blue seed-vessels; a Canne de Riviere,
{161a} with a stem eight feet high, wreathed round with pale green
leaves in spiral twists, unfolded hooded flowers of thinnest
transparent white wax, with each a blush of pink inside. Bunches of
bright yellow Cassia blossoms dangled close to our heads; white
Ipomoeas scrambled over them again; and broad-leaved sedges, five
feet high, carrying on bright brown flower-heads, like those of our
Wood-rush, blue, black, and white shot for seeds. {161b} Overhead,
sprawled and dangled the common Vine-bamboo, {161c} ugly and
unsatisfactory in form, because it has not yet, seemingly, made up
its mind whether it will become an arborescent or a climbing grass;
and, meanwhile, tries to stand upright on stems quite unable to
support it, and tumbles helplessly into the neighbouring copsewood,
taking every one's arm without asking leave. A few ages hence, its
ablest descendants will probably have made their choice, if they
have constitution enough to survive in the battle of life--which,
from the commonness of the plant, they seem likely to have. And
what their choice will be, there is little doubt. There are trees
here of a truly noble nature, whose ancestors have conquered ages
since; it may be by selfish and questionable means. But their
descendants, secure in their own power, can afford to be generous,
and allow a whole world of lesser plants to nestle in their
branches, another world to fatten round their feet. There are
humble and modest plants, too, here--and those some of the
loveliest--which have long since cast away all ambition, and are
content to crouch or perch anywhere, if only they may be allowed a
chance ray of light, and a chance drop of water wherewith to perfect
their flowers and seed. But, throughout the great republic of the
forest, the motto of the majority is--as it is, and always has been,
with human beings--'Every one for himself, and the devil take the
hindmost.' Selfish competition, overreaching tyranny, the temper
which fawns and clings as long as it is down, and when it has risen,
kicks over the stool by which it climbed--these and the other 'works
of the flesh' are the works of the average plant, as far as it can
practise them. So by the time the Bamboo-vine makes up its mind, it
will have discovered, by the experience of many generations, the
value of the proverb, 'Never do for yourself what you can get
another to do for you,' and will have developed into a true high
climber, selfish and insolent, choking and strangling, like yonder
beautiful green pest, of which beware; namely, a tangle of Razor-
grass. {162a} The brother, in old times, of that broad-leaved sedge
which carries the shot-seeds, it has long since found it more
profitable to lean on others than to stand on its own legs, and has
developed itself accordingly. It has climbed up the shrubs some
fifteen feet, and is now tumbling down again in masses of the purest
deep green, which are always softly rounded, because each slender
leaf is sabre-shaped, and always curves inward and downward into the
mass, presenting to the paper thousands of minute saw-edges, hard
enough and sharp enough to cut clothes, skin, and flesh to ribands,
if it is brushed in the direction of the leaves. For shape and
colour, few plants would look more lovely in a hothouse; but it
would soon need to be confined in a den by itself, like a jaguar or
an alligator.

Here, too, we saw a beautiful object, which was seen again more than
once about the high woods; a large flower, {162b} spreading its five
flat orange-scarlet lobes round yellow bells. It grows in little
bunches, in the axils of pairs of fleshy leaves, on a climbing vine.
When plucked, a milky sap exudes from it. It is a cousin of our
periwinkles, and cousin, too, of the Thevetia, which we saw at St.
Thomas's, and of the yellow Allamandas which ornament hothouses at
home, as this, and others of its family, especially the yellow
Odontadenia, surely ought to do. There are many species of the
family about, and all beautiful.

We passed too, in the path, an object curious enough, if not
beautiful. Up a smooth stem ran a little rib, seemingly of earth
and dead wood, almost straight, and about half an inch across,
leading to a great brown lump among the branches, as big as a bushel
basket. We broke it open, and found it a covered gallery, swarming
with life. Brown ant-like creatures, white maggot-like creatures,
of several shapes and sizes, were hurrying up and down, as busy as
human beings in Cheapside. They were Termites, 'white ants'--of
which of the many species I know not--and the lump above was their
nest. But why they should find it wisest to perch their nest aloft
is as difficult to guess, as to guess why they take the trouble to
build this gallery up to it, instead of walking up the stem in the
open air. It may be that they are afraid of birds. It may be, too,
that they actually dislike the light. At all events, the majority
of them--the workers and soldiers, I believe, without exception--are
blind, and do all their work by an intensely developed sense of
touch, and it may be of smell and hearing also. Be that as it may,
we should have seen them, had we had time to wait, repair the breach
in their gallery, with as much discipline and division of labour as
average human workers in a manufactory, before the business of food-
getting was resumed.

We hurried on along the trace, which now sloped rapidly downhill.
Suddenly, a loathsome smell defiled the air. Was there a gas-house
in the wilderness? Or had the pales of Paradise been just smeared
with bad coal-tar? Not exactly: but across the path crept,
festering in the sun, a black runnel of petroleum and water; and
twenty yards to our left stood, under a fast-crumbling trunk, what
was a year or two ago a little engine-house. Now roof, beams,
machinery, were all tumbled and tangled in hideous and somewhat
dangerous ruin, over a shaft, in the midst of which a rusty pump-
cylinder gurgled, and clicked, and bubbled, and spued, with black
oil and nasty gas; a foul ulcer in Dame Nature's side, which happily
was healing fast beneath the tropic rain and sun. The creepers were
climbing over it, the earth crumbling into it, and in a few years
more the whole would be engulfed in forest, and the oil-spring, it
is to be hoped, choked up with mud.

This is the remnant of one of the many rash speculations connected
with the Pitch Lake. At a depth of some two hundred and fifty feet
'oil was struck,' as the American saying is. But (so we were told)
it would not rise in the boring, and had to be pumped up. It could
not, therefore, compete in price with the Pennsylvanian oil, which,
when tapped, springs out of the ground of itself, to a height
sometimes of many feet, under the pressure of the superincumbent
rocks, yielding enormous profits, and turning needy adventurers into
millionaires, though full half of the oil is sometimes wasted for
the want of means to secure it.

We passed the doleful spot with a double regret--for the nook of
Paradise which had been defiled, and for the good money which had
been wasted: but with a hearty hope, too, that, whatever natural
beauty may be spoilt thereby, the wealth of these asphalt deposits
may at last be utilised. Whether it be good that a few dozen men
should 'make their fortunes' thereby, depends on what use the said
men make of the said 'fortunes'; and certainly it will not be good
for them if they believe, as too many do, that their dollars, and
not their characters, constitute their fortunes. But it is good,
and must be, that these treasures of heat and light should not
remain for ever locked up and idle in the wilderness; and we wished
all success to the enterprising American who had just completed a
bargain with the Government for a large supply of asphalt, which he
hoped by his chemical knowledge to turn to some profitable use.

Another turn brought us into a fresh nook of Paradise; and this time
to one still undefiled. We hurried down a narrow grass path, the
Cannes de Riviere and the Balisiers brushing our heads as we passed;
while round us danced brilliant butterflies, bright orange, sulphur-
yellow, black and crimson, black and lilac, and half a dozen hues
more, till we stopped, surprised and delighted. For beneath us lay
the sea, seen through a narrow gap of richest verdure.

On the left, low palms feathered over the path, and over the cliff.
On the right--when shall we see it again?--rose a young 'Bois flot,'
{164} of which boys make their fishing floats, with long, straight,
upright shoots, and huge crumpled, rounded leaves, pale rusty
underneath--a noble rastrajo plant, already, in its six months'
growth, some twenty feet high. Its broad pale sulphur flowers were
yet unopened; but, instead, an ivy-leaved Ipomoea had climbed up it,
and shrouded it from head to foot with hundreds of white
convolvulus-flowers; while underneath it grew a tuft of that
delicate silver-backed fern, which is admired so much in hothouses
at home. Between it and the palms we saw the still, shining sea;
muddy inshore, and a few hundred yards out changing suddenly to
bright green; and the point of the cove, which seemed built up of
bright red brick, fast crumbling into the sea, with all its palms
and cactuses, lianes and trees. Red stacks and skerries stood
isolated and ready to fall at the end of the point, showing that the
land has, even lately, extended far out to sea; and that Point
Rouge, like Point Courbaril and Point Galba--so named, one from some
great Locust-tree, the other from some great Galba--must have once
stood there as landmarks. Indeed all the points of the peninsula
are but remnants of a far larger sheet of land, which has been
slowly eaten up by the surges of the gulf; which has perhaps
actually sunk bodily beneath them, even as the remnant, I suspect,
is sinking now. We scrambled twenty feet down to the beach, and lay
down, tired, under a low cliff, feathered with richest vegetation.
The pebbles on which we sat were some of pitch, some of hard
sandstone, but most of them of brick; pale, dark, yellow, lavender,
spotted, clouded, and half a dozen more delicate hues; some coarse,
some fine as Samian ware; the rocks themselves were composed of an
almost glassy substance, strangely jumbled, even intercalated now
and then with soft sand. This, we were told, is a bit of the
porcellanite formation of Trinidad, curious to geologists, which
reappears at several points in Erin, Trois, and Cedros, in the
extreme south-western horn of the island.

How was it formed, and when? That it was formed by the action of
fire, any child would agree who had ever seen a brick-kiln. It is
simply clay and sand baked, and often almost vitrified into
porcelain-jasper. The stratification is gone; the porcellanite has
run together into irregular masses, or fallen into them by the
burning away of strata beneath; and the cracks in it are often lined
with bubbled slag.

But whence carne the fire? We must be wary about calling in the
Deus e machina of a volcano. There is no volcanic rock in the
neighbourhood, nor anywhere in the island; and the porcellanite,
says Mr. Wall, 'is identically the same with the substances produced
immediately above or below seams of coal, which have taken fire, and
burnt for a length of time.' There is lignite and other coaly
matter enough in the rocks to have burnt like coal, if it had once
been ignited; and the cause of ignition may be, as Mr. Wall
suggests, the decomposition of pyrites, of which also there is
enough around. That the heat did not come from below, as volcanic
heat would have done, is proved by the fact that the lignite beds
underneath the porcellanite are unburnt. We found asphalt under the
porcellanite. We found even one bit of red porcellanite with
unburnt asphalt included in it.

May not this strange formation of natural brick and china-ware be of
immense age--humanly, not geologically, speaking? May it not be far
older than the Pitch Lake above--older, possibly, than the formation
of any asphalt at all? And may not the asphalt mingled with it have
been squeezed into it and round it, as it is being squeezed into and
through the unburnt strata at so many points in Guapo, La Brea,
Oropuche, and San Fernando? At least, so it seemed to us, as we sat
on the shore, waiting for the boat to take us round to La Brea, and
drank in dreamily with our eyes the beauty of that strange lonely
place. The only living things, save ourselves, which were visible
were a few pelicans sleeping on a skerry, and a shoal of dolphins
rolling silently in threes--husband, wife, and little child--as they
fished their way along the tide mark between the yellow water and
the green. The sky blazed overhead, the sea below; the red rocks
and green forests blazed around; and we sat enjoying the genial
silence, not of darkness, but of light, not of death, but of life,
as the noble heat permeated every nerve, and made us feel young, and
strong, and blithe once more.

CHAPTER IX: SAN JOSEF

The road to the ancient capital of the island is pleasant enough,
and characteristic of the West Indies. Not, indeed, as to its
breadth, make, and material, for they, contrary to the wont of West
India roads, are as good as they would be in England, but on account
of the quaint travellers along it, and the quaint sights which are
to be seen over every hedge. You pass all the races of the island
going to and from town or field-work, or washing clothes in some
clear brook, beside which a solemn Chinaman sits catching for his
dinner strange fishes, known to my learned friend, Dr. Gunther, and
perhaps to one or two other men in Europe; but certainly not to me.
Always somebody or something new and strange is to be seen, for
eight most pleasant miles.

The road runs at first along a low cliff foot, with an ugly Mangrove
swamp, looking just like an alder-bed at home, between you and the
sea; a swamp which it would be worth while to drain by a steam-pump,
and then plant with coconuts or bamboos; for its miasma makes the
southern corner of Port of Spain utterly pestilential. You cross a
railroad, the only one in the island, which goes to a limestone
quarry, and so out along a wide straight road, with negro cottages
right and left, embowered in fruit and flowers. They grow fewer and
finer as you ride on; and soon you are in open country, principally
of large paddocks. These paddocks, like all West Indian ones, are
apt to be ragged with weeds and scrub. But the coarse broad-leaved
grasses seem to keep the mules in good condition enough, at least in
the rainy season. Most of these paddocks have, I believe, been
under cane cultivation at some time or other; and have been thrown
into grass during the period of depression dating from 1845. It has
not been worth while, as yet, to break them up again, though the
profits of sugar-farming are now, or at least ought to be, very
large. But the soil along this line is originally poor and sandy;
and it is far more profitable to break up the rich vegas, or low
alluvial lands, even at the trouble of clearing them of forest. So
these paddocks are left, often with noble trees standing about in
them, putting one in mind--if it were not for the Palmistes and
Bamboos and the crowd of black vultures over an occasional dead
animal--of English parks.

But few English parks have such backgrounds. To the right, the vast
southern flat, with its smoking engine-house chimneys and bright
green cane-pieces, and, beyond all, the black wall of the primeval
forest; and to the left, some half mile off, the steep slopes of the
green northern mountains blazing in the sun, and sending down, every
two or three miles, out of some charming glen, a clear pebbly brook,
each winding through its narrow strip of vega. The vega is usually
a highly cultivated cane-piece, where great lizards sit in the
mouths of their burrows, and watch the passer by with intense
interest. Coolies and Negroes are at work in it: but only a few;
for the strength of the hands is away at the engine-house, making
sugar day and night. There is a piece of cane in act of being cut.
The men are hewing down the giant grass with cutlasses; the women
stripping off the leaves, and then piling the cane in carts drawn by
mules, the leaders of which draw by rope traces two or three times
as long as themselves. You wonder why such a seeming waste of power
is allowed, till you see one of the carts stick fast in a mud-hole,
and discover that even in the West Indies there is a good reason for
everything, and that the Creoles know their own business best. For
the wheelers, being in the slough with the cart, are powerless; but
the leaders, who have scrambled through, are safe on dry land at the
end of their long traces, and haul out their brethren, cart and all,
amid the yells, and I am sorry to say blows, of the black gentlemen
in attendance. But cane cutting is altogether a busy, happy scene.
The heat is awful, and all limbs rain perspiration: yet no one
seems to mind the heat; all look fat and jolly; and they have cause
to do so, for all, at every spare moment, are sucking sugar-cane.

You pull up, and take off your hat to the party. The Negroes shout,
'Marnin', sa!' The Coolies salaam gracefully, hand to forehead.
You return the salaam, hand to heart, which is considered the
correct thing on the part of a superior in rank; whereat the Coolies
look exceedingly pleased; and then the whole party, without visible
reason, burst into shouts of laughter.

The manager rides up, probably under an umbrella, as you are, and a
pleasant and instructive chat follows, wound up, usually, if the
house be not far off, by an invitation to come in and have a light
drink; an invitation which, considering the state of the
thermometer, you will be tempted to accept, especially as you know
that the claret and water will be excellent. And so you dawdle on,
looking at this and that new and odd sight, but most of all feasting
your eyes on the beauty of the northern mountains, till you reach
the gentle rise on which stands, eight miles from Port of Spain, the
little city of San Josef. We should call it, here in England, a
village: still, it is not every village in England which has fought
the Dutch, and earned its right to be called a city by beating some
of the bravest sailors of the seventeenth century. True, there is
not a single shop in it with plate-glass windows: but what matters
that, if its citizens have all that civilised people need, and more,
and will heap what they have on the stranger so hospitably that they
almost pain him by the trouble which they take? True, no carriages
and pairs, with powdered footmen, roll about the streets; and the
most splendid vehicles you are likely to meet are American buggies--
four-wheeled gigs with heads, and aprons through which the reins can
be passed in wet weather. But what matters that, as long as the
buggies keep out sun and rain effectually, and as long as those who
sit in them be real gentlemen, and those who wait for them at home,
whether in the city, or the estates around, be real ladies? As for
the rest--peace, plenty, perpetual summer, time to think and read--
(for there are no daily papers in San Josef)--and what can man want
more on earth? So I thought more than once, as I looked at San
Josef nestling at the mouth of its noble glen, and said to myself,--
If the telegraph cable were but laid down the islands, as it will be
in another year or two, and one could hear a little more swiftly and
loudly the beating of the Great Mother's heart at home, then would
San Josef be about the most delectable spot which I have ever seen
for a cultivated and civilised man to live, and work, and think, and
die in.

San Josef has had, nevertheless, its troubles and excitements more
than once since it defeated the Dutch. Even as late as 1837, it
was, for a few hours, in utter terror and danger from a mutiny of
free black recruits. No one in the island, civil or military, seems
to have been to blame for the mishap. It was altogether owing to
the unwisdom of military authorities at home, who seem to have
fancied that they could transform, by a magical spurt of the pen,
heathen savages into British soldiers.

The whole tragedy--for tragedy it was--is so curious, and so
illustrative of the negro character, and of the effects of the slave
trade, that I shall give it at length, as it stands in that clever
little History of Trinidad, by M. Thomas, which I have quoted more
than once:--

'Donald Stewart, or rather Daaga, {170} was the adopted son of
Madershee, the old and childless king of the tribe called Paupaus, a
race that inhabit a tract of country bordering on that of the
Yarrabas. These races are constantly at war with each other.

'Daaga was just the man whom a savage, warlike, and depredatory
tribe would select for their chieftain, as the African Negroes
choose their leaders with reference to their personal prowess.
Daaga stood six feet six inches without shoes. Although scarcely
muscular in proportion, yet his frame indicated in a singular degree
the union of irresistible strength and activity. His head was
large; his features had all the peculiar traits which distinguish
the Negro in a remarkable degree; his jaw was long, eyes large and
protruded, high cheek-bones, and flat nose; his teeth were large and
regular. He had a singular cast in his eyes, not quite amounting to
that obliquity of the visual organs denominated a squint, but
sufficient to give his features a peculiarly forbidding appearance;-
-his forehead, however, although small in proportion to his enormous
head, was remarkably compact and well formed. The whole head was
disproportioned, having the greater part of the brain behind the
ears; but the greatest peculiarity of this singular being was his
voice. In the course of my life I never heard such sounds uttered
by human organs as those formed by Daaga. In ordinary conversation
he appeared to me to endeavour to soften his voice--it was a deep
tenor; but when a little excited by any passion (and this savage was
the child of passion) his voice sounded like the low growl of a
lion, but when much excited it could be compared to nothing so aptly
as the notes of a gigantic brazen trumpet.

'I repeatedly questioned this man respecting the religion of his
tribe. The result of his answers led me to infer that the Paupaus
believed in the existence of a future state; that they have a
confused notion of several powers, good and evil, but these are
ruled by one supreme being called Holloloo. This account of the
religion of Daaga was confirmed by the military chaplain who
attended him in his last moments. He also informed me that he
believed in predestination;--at least he said that Holloloo, he
knew, had ordained that he should come to white man's country and be
shot.

'Daaga, having made a successful predatory expedition into the
country of the Yarrabas, returned with a number of prisoners of that
nation. These he, as usual, took, bound and guarded, towards the
coast to sell to the Portuguese. The interpreter, his countryman,
called these Portuguese white gentlemen. The white gentlemen proved
themselves more than a match for the black gentlemen; and the whole
transaction between the Portuguese and Paupaus does credit to all
concerned in this gentlemanly traffic in human flesh.

'Daaga sold his prisoners; and under pretence of paying him, he and
his Paupau guards were enticed on board a Portuguese vessel;--they
were treacherously overpowered by the Christians, who bound them
beside their late prisoners, and the vessel sailed over "the great
salt water."

'This transaction caused in the breast of the savage a deep hatred
against all white men--a hatred so intense that he frequently,
during and subsequent to the mutiny, declared he would eat the first
white man he killed; yet this cannibal was made to swear allegiance
to our Sovereign on the Holy Evangelists, and was then called a
British soldier.

'On the voyage the vessel on board which Daaga had been entrapped
was captured by the British. He could not comprehend that his new
captors liberated him: he had been over reached and trepanned by
one set of white men, and he naturally looked on his second captors
as more successful rivals in the human, or rather inhuman, Guinea
trade; therefore this event lessened not his hatred for white men in
the abstract.

'I was informed by several of the Africans who came with him that
when, during the voyage, they upbraided Daaga with being the cause
of their capture, he pacified them by promising that when they
should arrive in white man's country, he would repay their perfidy
by attacking them in the night. He further promised that if the
Paupaus and the Yarrabas would follow him, he would fight his way
back to Guinea. This account was fully corroborated by many of the
mutineers, especially those who were shot with Daaga: they all said
the revolt never would have happened but for Donald Stewart, as he
was called by the officers; but Africans who were not of his tribe
called him Longa-longa, on account of his height.

'Such was this extraordinary man, who led the mutiny I am about to
relate.

'A quantity of captured Africans having been brought hither from the
islands of Grenada and Dominica, they were most imprudently induced
to enlist as recruits in the 1st West India Regiment. True it is,
we have been told they did this voluntarily: but, it may be asked,
if they had any will in the matter, how could they understand the
duties to be imposed on them by becoming soldiers, or how comprehend
the nature of an oath of allegiance? without which they could not,
legally speaking, be considered as soldiers. I attended the whole
of the trials of these men, and well know how difficult it was to
make them comprehend any idea which was at all new to them by means
of the best interpreters procurable.

'It has been said that by making those captured Negroes soldiers, a
service was rendered them: this I doubt. Formerly it was most true
that a soldier in a black regiment was better off than a slave; but
certainly a free African in the West Indies now is infinitely in a
better situation than a soldier, not only in a pecuniary point of
view, but in almost every other respect.

'To the African savage, while being drilled into the duties of a
soldier, many things seem absolute tyranny which would appear to a
civilised man a mere necessary restraint. To keep the restless body
of an African Negro in a position to which he has not been
accustomed--to cramp his splay-feet, with his great toes standing
out, into European shoes made for feet of a different form--to place
a collar round his neck, which is called a stock, and which to him
is cruel torture--above all, to confine him every night to his
barracks--are almost insupportable. One unacquainted with the
habits of the Negro cannot conceive with what abhorrence he looks on
having his disposition to nocturnal rambles checked by barrack
regulations. {172}

'Formerly the "King's man," as the black soldier loved to call
himself, looked (not without reason) contemptuously on the planter's
slave, although he himself was after all but a slave to the State:
but these recruits were enlisted shortly after a number of their
recently imported countrymen were wandering freely over the country,
working either as free labourers, or settling, to use an apt
American phrase, as squatters; and to assert that the recruit, while
under military probation, is better off than the free Trinidad
labourer, who goes where he lists and earns as much in one day as
will keep him for three days, is an absurdity. Accordingly we find
that Lieutenant-Colonel Bush, who commanded the 1st West India
Regiment, thought that the mutiny was mainly owing to the ill advice
of their civil, or, we should rather say, unmilitary countrymen.
This, to a certain degree, was the fact: but, by the declaration of
Daaga and many of his countrymen, it is evident the seeds of mutiny
were sown on the passage from Africa.

'It has been asserted that the recruits were driven to mutiny by
hard treatment of their commanding officers. There seems not the
slightest truth in this assertion; they were treated with fully as
much kindness as their situation would admit of, and their chief was
peculiarly a favourite of Colonel Bush and the officers,
notwithstanding Daaga's violent and ferocious temper often caused
complaints to be brought against him.

'A correspondent of the Naval and Military Gazette was under an
apprehension that the mutineers would be joined by the praedial
apprentices of the circumjacent estates: not the slightest
foundation existed for this apprehension. Some months previous to
this Daaga had planned a mutiny, but this was interrupted by sending
a part of the Paupau and Yarraba recruits to St. Lucia. The object
of all those conspiracies was to get back to Guinea, which they
thought they could accomplish by marching to eastward.

'On the night of the 17th of June 1837, the people of San Josef were
kept awake by the recruits, about 280 in number, singing the war-
song of the Paupaus. This wild song consisted of a short air and
chorus. The tone was, although wild, not inharmonious, and the
words rather euphonious. As near as our alphabet can convey them,
they ran thus:--

"Dangkarree
Au fey,
Oluu werrei,
Au lay,"

which may be rendered almost literally by the following couplet:--

Air by the chief: "Come to plunder, come to slay;"
Chorus of followers: "We are ready to obey."

'About three o'clock in the morning their war-song (highly
characteristic of a predatory tribe) became very loud, and they
commenced uttering their war-cry. This is different from what we
conceive the Indian war-whoop to be: it seems to be a kind of
imitation of the growl of wild beasts, and has a most thrilling
effect.

'Fire now was set to a quantity of huts built for the accommodation
of African soldiers to the northward of the barracks, as well as to
the house of a poor black woman called Dalrymple. These burnt
briskly, throwing a dismal glare over the barracks and picturesque
town of San Josef, and overpowering the light of the full moon,
which illumined a cloudless sky. The mutineers made a rush at the
barrack-room, and seized on the muskets and fusees in the racks.
Their leader, Daaga, and a daring Yarraba named Ogston instantly
charged their pieces; the former of these had a quantity of ball-
cartridges, loose powder, and ounce and pistol-balls, in a kind of
gray worsted cap. He must have provided himself with these before
the mutiny. How he became possessed of them, especially the pistol-
balls, I never could learn; probably he was supplied by his
unmilitary countrymen: pistol-balls are never given to infantry.
Previous to this Daaga and three others made a rush at the
regimental store-room, in which was deposited a quantity of powder.
An old African soldier, named Charles Dickson, interfered to stop
them, on which Maurice Ogston, the Yarraba chief, who had armed
himself with a sergeant's sword, cut down the faithful African.
When down Daaga said, in English, "Ah, you old soldier, you knock
down." Dixon was not Daaga's countryman, hence he could not speak
to him in his own language. The Paupau then levelled his musket and
shot the fallen soldier, who groaned and died. The war-yells, or
rather growls, of the Paupaus and Yarrabas now became awfully
thrilling, as they helped themselves to cartridges: most of them
were fortunately blank, or without ball. Never was a premeditated
mutiny so wild and ill planned. Their chief, Daaga, and Ogston
seemed to have had little command of the subordinates, and the whole
acted more like a set of wild beasts who had broken their cages than
men resolved on war.

'At this period, had a rush been made at the officers' quarters by
one half (they were more than 200 in number), and the other half
surrounded the building, not one could have escaped. Instead of
this they continued to shout their war-song, and howl their war-
notes; they loaded their pieces with ball-cartridge, or blank
cartridge and small stones, and commenced firing at the long range
of white buildings in which Colonel Bush and his officers slept.
They wasted so much ammunition on this useless display of fury that
the buildings were completely riddled. A few of the old soldiers
opposed them, and were wounded; but it fortunately happened that
they were, to an inconceivable degree, ignorant of the right use of
firearms--holding their muskets in their hands when they discharged
them, without allowing the butt-end to rest against their shoulders
or any part of their bodies. This fact accounts for the
comparatively little mischief they did in proportion to the quantity
of ammunition thrown away.

'The officers and sergeant-major escaped at the back of the
building, while Colonel Bush and Adjutant Bentley came down a little
hill. The colonel commanded the mutineers to lay down their arms,
and was answered by an irregular discharge of balls, which rattled
amongst the leaves of a tree under which he and the adjutant were
standing. On this Colonel Bush desired Mr. Bentley to make the best
of his way to St. James's Barracks for all the disposable force of
the 89th Regiment. The officers made good their retreat, and the
adjutant got into the stable where his horse was. He saddled and
bridled the animal while the shots were coming into the stable,
without either man or beast getting injured. The officer mounted,
but had to make his way through the mutineers before he could get
into San Josef, the barracks standing on an eminence above the
little town. On seeing the adjutant mounted, the mutineers set up a
thrilling howl, and commenced firing at him. He discerned the
gigantic figure of Daaga (alias Donald Stewart), with his musket at
the trail: he spurred his horse through the midst of them; they
were grouped, but not in line. On looking back he saw Daaga aiming
at him; he stooped his head beside his horse's neck, and effectually
sheltered himself from about fifty shots aimed at him. In this
position he rode furiously down a steep hill leading from the
barracks to the church, and was out of danger. His escape appears
extraordinary: but he got safe to town, and thence to St. James's,
and in a short time, considering it is eleven miles distant, brought
out a strong detachment of European troops; these, however, did not
arrive until the affair was over.

'In the meantime a part of the officers' quarters was bravely
defended by two old African soldiers, Sergeant Merry and Corporal
Plague. The latter stood in the gallery, near the room in which
were the colours; he was ineffectually fired at by some hundreds,
yet he kept his post, shot two of the mutineers, and, it is said,
wounded a third. Such is the difference between a man acquainted
with the use of firearms and those who handle them as mops are held.

'In the meantime Colonel Bush got to a police-station above the
barracks, and got muskets and a few cartridges from a discharged
African soldier who was in the police establishment. Being joined
by the policemen, Corporal Craven {175} and Ensign Pogson, they
concealed themselves on an eminence above, and as the mutineers
(about 100 in number) approached, the fire of muskets opened on them
from the little ambush. The little party fired separately, loading
as fast as they discharged their pieces; they succeeded in making
the mutineers change their route.

'It is wonderful what little courage the savages in general showed
against the colonel and his little party; who absolutely beat them,
although but a twenty-fifth of their number, and at their own
tactics, i.e. bush fighting.

'A body of the mutineers now made towards the road to Maraccas, when
the colonel and his three assistants contrived to get behind a silk-
cotton tree, and recommenced firing on them. The Africans hesitated
and set forward, when the little party continued to fire on them;
they set up a yell, and retreated down the hill.

'A part of the mutineers now concealed themselves in the bushes
about San Josef barracks. These men, after the affair was over,
joined Colonel Bush, and with a mixture of cunning and effrontery
smiled as though nothing had happened, and as though they were glad
to see him; although, in general, they each had several shirts and
pairs of trousers on preparatory for a start to Guinea, by way of
Band de l'Est. {176a}

'In the meantime the San Josef militia were assembled, to the number
of forty. Major Giuseppi, and Captain and Adjutant Rousseau, of the
second division of militia forces, took command of them. They were
in want of flints, powder, and balls--to obtain these they were
obliged to break open a merchant's store; however, the adjutant so
judiciously distributed his little force as to hinder the mutineers
from entering the town, or obtaining access to the militia arsenal,
wherein there was a quantity of arms. Major Chadds and several old
African soldiers joined the militia, and were by them supplied with
arms.

'A good deal of skirmishing occurred between the militia and
detached parties of the mutineers, which uniformly ended in the
defeat of the latter. At length Daaga appeared to the right of a
party of six, at the entrance of the town; they were challenged by
the militia, and the mutineers fired on them, but without effect.
Only two of the militia returned the fire, when all but Daaga fled.
He was deliberately reloading his piece, when a militiaman, named
Edmond Luce, leaped on the gigantic chief, who would have easily
beat him off, although the former was a strong young man of colour:
but Daaga would not let go his gun; and, in common with all the
mutineers, he seemed to have no idea of the use of the bayonet.
Daaga was dragging the militiaman away, when Adjutant Rousseau came
to his assistance, and placed a sword to Daaga's breast. Doctor
Tardy and several others rushed on the tall Negro, who was soon, by
the united efforts of several, thrown down and secured. It was at
this period that he repeatedly exclaimed, while he bit his own
shoulder, "The first white man I catch after this I will eat him."
{176b}

'Meanwhile about sixteen of the mutineers, led by the daring Ogston,
took the road to Arima; in order, as they said, to commence their
march to Guinea: but fortunately the militia of that village,
composed principally of Spaniards, Indians, and Sambos, assembled.
A few of these met them and stopped their march. A kind of parley
(if intercourse carried on by signs could be so called) was carried
on between the parties. The mutineers made signs that they wished
to go forward, while the few militiamen endeavoured to detain them,
expecting a reinforcement momently. After a time the militia agreed
to allow them to approach the town; as they were advancing they were
met by the commandant, Martin Sorzano, Esq., with sixteen more
militiamen. The commandant judged it imprudent to allow the
Africans to enter the town with their muskets full cocked and poised
ready to fire. An interpreter was now procured, and the mutineers
were told that if they would retire to their barracks the gentlemen
present would intercede for their pardon. The Negroes refused to
accede to these terms, and while the interpreter was addressing
some, the rest tried to push forward. Some of the militia opposed
them by holding their muskets in a horizontal position, on which one
of the mutineers fired, and the militia returned the fire. A melee
commenced, in which fourteen mutineers were killed and wounded. The
fire of the Africans produced little effect: they soon took to
flight amid the woods which flanked the road. Twenty-eight of them
were taken, amongst whom was the Yarraba chief, Ogston. Six had
been killed, and six committed suicide by strangling and hanging
themselves in the woods. Only one man was wounded amongst the
militia, and he but slightly, from a small stone fired from a musket
of one of the Yarrabas.

'The quantity of ammunition expended by the mutineers, and the
comparatively little mischief done by them, was truly astonishing.
It shows how little they understood the use of firearms. Dixon was
killed, and several of the old African soldiers were wounded, but
not one of the officers was in the slightest degree hurt.

'I have never been able to get a correct account of the number of
lives this wild mutiny cost, but believe it was not less than forty,
including those slain by the militia at Arima; those shot at San
Josef; those who died of their wounds (and most of the wounded men
died); the six who committed suicide; the three that were shot by
sentence of the court-martial, and one who was shot while
endeavouring to escape (Satchell).

'A good-looking young man, named Torrens, was brought as prisoner to
the presence of Colonel Bush. The colonel wished to speak to him,
and desired his guards to liberate him; on which the young savage
shook his sleeve, in which was concealed a razor, made a rush at the
colonel, and nearly succeeded in cutting his throat. He slashed the
razor in all directions until he made an opening: he rushed through
this; and, notwithstanding he was fired at, and I believe wounded,
he effected his escape, was subsequently retaken, and again made his
escape with Satchell, who after this was shot by a policeman.

'Torrens was retaken, tried, and recommended to mercy. Of this
man's fate I am unable to speak, not knowing how far the
recommendation to mercy was attended to. In appearance he seemed
the mildest and best-looking of the mutineers, but his conduct was
the most ferocious of any. The whole of the mutineers were captured
within one week of the mutiny, save this man, who was taken a month
after.

'On the 19th of July, Donald Stewart, otherwise Daaga, was brought
to a court-martial. On the 21st William Satchell was tried. On the
22d a court-martial was held on Edward Coffin; and on the 24th one
was held on the Yarraba chief, Maurice Ogston, whose country name
was, I believe, Mawee. Torrens was tried on the 29th.

'The sentences of these courts-martial were unknown until the 14th
of August, having been sent to Barbadoes in order to be submitted to
the Commander-in-Chief, Lieutenant-General Whittingham, who approved
of the decision of the courts, which was that Donald Stewart
(Daaga), Maurice Ogston, and Edward Coffin should suffer death by
being shot, and that William Satchell should be transported beyond
seas during the term of his natural life. I am unacquainted with
the sentence of Torrens.

'Donald Stewart, Maurice Ogston, and Edward Coffin were executed on
the 16th of August 1837, at San Josef Barracks. Nothing seemed to
have been neglected which could render the execution solemn and
impressive; the scenery and the weather gave additional awe to the
melancholy proceedings. Fronting the little eminence where the
prisoners were shot was the scene where their ill-concerted mutiny
commenced. To the right stood the long range of building on which
they had expended much of their ammunition for the purpose of
destroying their officers. The rest of the panorama was made up of
an immense view of forest below them, and upright masses of
mountains above them. Over those, heavy bodies of mist were slowly
sailing, giving a sombre appearance to the primeval woods which, in
general, covered both mountains and plains. The atmosphere
indicated an inter-tropical morning during the rainy season, and the
sun shone resplendently between dense columns of clouds.

'At half-past seven o'clock the condemned men asked to be allowed to
eat a hearty meal, as they said persons about to be executed in
Guinea were always indulged with a good repast. It is remarkable
that these unhappy creatures ate most voraciously, even while they
were being brought out of their cell for execution.

'A little before the mournful procession commenced, the condemned
men were dressed from head to foot in white habiliments trimmed with
black; their arms were bound with cords. This is not usual in
military executions, but was deemed necessary on the present
occasion. An attempt to escape, on the part of the condemned, would
have been productive of much confusion, and was properly guarded
against.

'The condemned men displayed no unmanly fear. On the contrary, they
steadily kept step to the Dead March which the band played; yet the
certainty of death threw a cadaverous and ghastly hue over their
black features, while their singular and appropriate costume, and
the three coffins being borne before them, altogether rendered it a
frightful picture: hence it was not to be wondered at that two of
the European soldiers fainted.

'The mutineers marched abreast. The tall form and horrid looks of
Daaga were almost appalling. The looks of Ogston were sullen, calm,
and determined; those of Coffin seemed to indicate resignation.

'At eight o'clock they arrived at the spot where three graves were
dug; here their coffins were deposited. The condemned men were made
to face to westward; three sides of a hollow square were formed,
flanked on one side by a detachment of the 89th Regiment and a party
of artillery, while the recruits, many of whom shared the guilt of
the culprits, were appropriately placed in the line opposite them.
The firing-party were a little in advance of the recruits.

'The sentence of the courts-martial, and other necessary documents,
having been read by the fort adjutant, Mr. Meehan, the chaplain of
the forces, read some prayers appropriated for these melancholy
occasions. The clergyman then shook hands with the three men about
to be sent into another state of existence. Daaga and Ogston coolly
gave their hands: Coffin wrung the chaplain's hand affectionately,
saying, in tolerable English, "I am now done with the world."

'The arms of the condemned men, as has been before stated, were
bound, but in such a manner as to allow them to bring their hands to
their heads. Their night-caps were drawn over their eyes. Coffin
allowed his to remain, but Ogston and Daaga pushed theirs up again.
The former did this calmly; the latter showed great wrath, seeming
to think himself insulted; and his deep metallic voice sounded in
anger above that of the provost-marshal, {179} as the latter gave
the words "Ready! present!" But at this instant his vociferous
daring forsook him. As the men levelled their muskets at him, with
inconceivable rapidity he sprang bodily round, still preserving his
squatting posture, and received the fire from behind; while the less
noisy, but more brave, Ogston looked the firing-party full in the
face as they discharged their fatal volley.

'In one instant all three fell dead, almost all the balls of the
firing-party having taken effect. The savage appearance and manner
of Daaga excited awe. Admiration was felt for the calm bravery of
Ogston, while Edward Coffin's fate excited commiseration.

'There were many spectators of this dreadful scene, and amongst
others a great concourse of Negroes. Most of these expressed their
hopes that after this terrible example the recruits would make good
soldiers.'

Ah, stupid savages. Yes: but also--ah, stupid civilised people.

CHAPTER X: NAPARIMA AND MONTSERRAT

I had a few days of pleasant wandering in the centre of the island,
about the districts which bear the names of Naparima and Montserrat;
a country of such extraordinary fertility, as well as beauty, that
it must surely hereafter become the seat of a high civilisation.
The soil seems inexhaustibly rich. I say inexhaustibly; for as fast
as the upper layer is impoverished, it will be swept over by the
tropic rains, to mingle with the vegas, or alluvial flats below, and
thus enriched again, while a fresh layer of virgin soil is exposed
above. I have seen, cresting the highest ridges of Montserrat, ten
feet at least of fat earth, falling clod by clod right and left upon
the gardens below. There are, doubtless, comparatively barren
tracts of gravel toward the northern mountains; there are poor sandy
lands, likewise, at the southern part of the island, which are said,
nevertheless, to be specially fitted for the growth of cotton: but
from San Fernando on the west coast to Manzanilla on the east,
stretches a band of soil which seems to be capable of yielding any
conceivable return to labour and capital, not omitting common sense.

How long it has taken to prepare this natural garden for man is one
of those questions of geological time which have been well called of
late 'appalling.' How long was it since the 'older Parian' rocks
(said to belong to the Neocomian, or green-sand, era) of Point a
Pierre were laid down at the bottom of the sea? How long since a
still unknown thickness of tertiary strata in the Nariva district
laid down on them? How long since not less than six thousand feet
of still later tertiary strata laid down on them again? What vast,
though probably slow, processes changed that sea-bottom from one
salt enough to carry corals and limestones, to one brackish enough
to carry abundant remains of plants, deposited probably by the
Orinoco, or by some river which then did duty for it? Three such
periods of disturbance have been distinguished, the net result of
which is, that the strata (comparatively recent in geological time)
have been fractured, tilted, even set upright on end, over the whole
lowland. Trinidad seems to have had its full share of those later
disturbances of the earth-crust, which carried tertiary strata up
along the shoulders of the Alps; which upheaved the chalk of the
Isle of Wight, setting the tertiary beds of Alum Bay upright against
it; which even, after the Age of Ice, thrust up the Isle of Moen in
Denmark and the Isle of Ely in Cambridgeshire, entangling the
boulder clay among the chalk--how long ago? Long enough ago, in
Trinidad at least, to allow water--probably the estuary waters of
the Orinoco--to saw all the upheaved layers off at the top into one
flat sea-bottom once more, leaving as projections certain harder
knots of rock, such as the limestones of Mount Tamana; and, it may
be, the curious knoll of hard clay rock under which nestles the town
of San Fernando. Long enough ago, also, to allow that whole sea-
bottom to be lifted up once more, to the height, in one spot, of a
thousand feet, as the lowland which occupies six-sevenths of the
Isle of Trinidad. Long enough ago, again, to allow that lowland to
be sawn out into hills and valleys, ridges and gulleys, which are
due to the action of Colonel George Greenwood's geologic panacea,
'Rain and Rivers,' and to nothing else. Long enough ago, once more,
for a period of subsidence, as I suspect, to follow the period of
upheaval; a period at the commencement of which Trinidad was perhaps
several times as large as it is now, and has gradually been eaten
away by the surf, as fresh pieces of the soft cliffs have been
brought, by the sinking of the land, face to face with its slow but
sure destroyer.

And how long ago began the epoch--the very latest which this globe
has seen, which has been long enough for all this? The human
imagination can no more grasp that time than it can grasp the space
between us and the nearest star.

Such thoughts were forced upon me as the steamer stopped off San
Fernando; and I saw, some quarter of a mile out at sea, a single
stack of rock, which is said to have been joined to the mainland in
the memory of the fathers of this generation; and on shore,
composed, I am told, of the same rock, that hill of San Fernando
which forms a beacon by sea and land for many a mile around. An
isolated boss of the older Parian, composed of hardened clay which
has escaped destruction, it rises, though not a mile long and a
third of a mile broad, steeply to a height of nearly six hundred
feet, carrying on its cliffs the remains of a once magnificent
vegetation. Now its sides are quarried for the only road-stone met
with for miles around; cultivated for pasture, in which the round-
headed mango-trees grow about like oaks at home; or terraced for
villas and gardens, the charm of which cannot be told in words. All
round it, rich sugar estates spread out, with the noble Palmistes
left standing here and there along the roads and terraces; and
everywhere is activity and high cultivation, under the
superintendence of gentlemen who are prospering, because they
deserve to prosper.

Between the cliff and the shore nestles the gay and growing little
town, which was, when we took the island in 1795, only a group of
huts. In it I noted only one thing which looked unpleasant. The
negro houses, however roomy and comfortable, and however rich the
gardens which surrounded them, were mostly patched together out of
the most heterogeneous and wretched scraps of wood; and on inquiry I
found that the materials were, in most cases, stolen; that when a
Negro wanted to build a house, instead of buying the materials, he
pilfered a board here, a stick there, a nail somewhere else, a lock
or a clamp in a fourth place, about the sugar-estates, regardless of
the serious injury which he caused to working buildings; and when he
had gathered a sufficient pile, hidden safely away behind his
neighbour's house, the new hut rose as if by magic. This continual
pilfering, I was assured, was a serious tax on the cultivation of
the estates around. But I was told, too, frankly enough, by the
very gentleman who complained, that this habit was simply an
heirloom from the bad days of slavery, when the pilfering of the
slaves from other estates was connived at by their own masters, on
the ground that if A's Negroes robbed B, B's Negroes robbed C, and
so all round the alphabet; one more evil instance of the
demoralising effect of a state of things which, wrong in itself, was
sure to be the parent of a hundred other wrongs.

Being, happily for me, in the Governor's suite, I had opportunities
of seeing the interior of the island which an average traveller
could not have; and I looked forward with interest to visiting new
settlements in the forests of the interior, which very few
inhabitants of the island, and certainly no strangers, had as yet
seen. Our journey began by landing on a good new jetty, and being
transferred at once to the tramway which adjoined it. A truck, with
chairs on it, as usual here, carried us off at a good mule-trot; and
we ran in the fast-fading light through a rolling hummocky country,
very like the lowlands of Aberdeenshire, or the neighbourhood of
Waterloo, save that, as night came on, the fireflies flickered
everywhere among the canes, and here and there the palms and Ceibas
stood up, black and gaunt, against the sky. At last we escaped from
our truck, and found horses waiting, on which we floundered, through
mud and moonlight, to a certain hospitable house, and found a hungry
party, who had been long waiting for a dinner worth the waiting.

It was not till next morning that I found into what a charming place
I had entered overnight. Around were books, pictures, china, vases
of flowers, works of art, and all appliances of European taste, even
luxury; but in a house utterly un-European. The living rooms, all
on the first floor, opened into each other by doorless doorways, and
the walls were of cedar and other valuable woods, which good taste
had left still unpapered. Windowless bay windows, like great port-
holes, opened from each of them into a gallery which ran round the
house, sheltered by broad sloping eaves. The deep shade of the
eaves contrasted brilliantly with the bright light outside; and
contrasted too with the wooden pillars which held up the roof, and
which seemed on their southern sides white-hot in the blazing
sunshine.

What a field was there for native art; for richest ornamentation of
these pillars and those beams. Surely Trinidad, and the whole of
northern South America, ought to become some day the paradise of
wood carvers, who, copying even a few of the numberless vegetable
and animal forms around, may far surpass the old wood-carving
schools of Burmah and Hindostan. And I sat dreaming of the lianes
which might be made to wreathe the pillars; the flowers, fruits,
birds, butterflies, monkeys, kinkajous, and what not, which might
cluster about the capitals, or swing along the beams. Let men who
have such materials, and such models, proscribe all tawdry and poor
European art--most of it a bad imitation of bad Greek, or worse
Renaissance--and trust to Nature and the facts which lie nearest
them. But when will a time come for the West Indies when there will
be wealth and civilisation enough to make such an art possible?
Soon, if all the employers of labour were like the gentleman at
whose house we were that day, and like some others in the same
island.

And through the windows and between the pillars of the gallery, what
a blaze of colour and light. The ground-floor was hedged in, a few
feet from the walls, with high shrubs, which would have caused
unwholesome damp in England, but were needed here for shade.
Foreign Crotons, Dracaenas, Cereuses, and a dozen more curious
shapes--among them a 'cup-tree,' with concave leaves, each of which
would hold water. It was said to come from the East, and was
unknown to me. Among them, and over the door, flowering creepers
tangled and tossed, rich with flowers; and beyond them a circular-
lawn (rare in the West Indies), just like an English one, save that
the shrubs and trees which bounded it were hothouse plants. A few
Carat-palms {184} spread their huge fan-leaves among the curious
flowering trees; other foreign palms, some of them very rare, beside
them; and on the lawn opposite my bedroom window stood a young
Palmiste, which had been planted barely eight years, and was now
thirty-eight feet in height, and more than six feet in girth at the
butt. Over the roofs of the outhouses rose scarlet Bois
immortelles, and tall clumps of Bamboo reflecting blue light from
their leaves even under a cloud; and beyond them and below them to
the right, a park just like an English one carried stately trees
scattered on the turf, and a sheet of artificial water. Coolies, in
red or yellow waistcloths, and Coolie children, too, with nothing
save a string round their stomachs (the smaller ones at least), were
fishing in the shade. To the left, again, began at once the rich
cultivation of the rolling cane-fields, among which the Squire had
left standing, somewhat against the public opinion of his less
tasteful neighbours, tall Carats, carrying their heads of fan-leaves
on smooth stalks from fifty to eighty feet high, and Ceibas--some of
them the hugest I had ever seen. Below in the valley were the
sugar-works; and beyond this half-natural, half-artificial scene
rose, some mile off, the lowering wall of the yet untouched forest.

It had taken only fifteen years, but fifteen years of hard work, to
create this paradise. And only the summer before, all had been
well-nigh swept away again. During the great drought the fire had
raged about the woods. Estate after estate around had been reduced
to ashes. And one day our host's turn came. The fire burst out of
the woods at three different points. All worked with a will to stop
it by cutting traces. But the wind was wild; burning masses from
the tree-tops were hurled far among the canes, and all was lost.
The canes burnt like shavings, exploding with a perpetual crackle at
each joint. In a few hours the whole estate--works, coolie
barracks, negro huts--was black ash; and the house only, by extreme
exertion, saved. But the ground had scarcely cooled when replanting
and rebuilding commenced; and now the canes were from ten to twelve
feet high, the works nearly ready for the coming crop-time, and no
sign of the fire was left, save a few leafless trees, which we
found, on riding up to them, to be charred at the base.

And yet men say that the Englishman loses his energy in a tropic
climate.

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