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At Last by Charles Kingsley

Part 5 out of 8

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We had a charming Sunday there, amid charming society, down even to
the dogs and cats; and not the least charming object among many was
little Franky, the Coolie butler's child, who ran in and out with
the dogs, gay in his little cotton shirt, and melon-shaped cap, and
silver bracelets, and climbed on the Squire's knee, and nestled in
his bosom, and played with his seals; and looked up trustingly into
our faces with great soft eyes, like a little brown guazu-pita fawn
out of the forest. A happy child, and in a happy place.

Then to church at Savanna Grande, riding of course; for the mud was
abysmal, and it was often safer to ride in the ditch than on the
road. The village, with a tramway through it, stood high and
healthy. The best houses were those of the Chinese. The poorer
Chinese find peddling employments and trade about the villages,
rather than hard work on the estates; while they cultivate on
ridges, with minute care, their favourite sweet potato. Round San
Fernando, a Chinese will rent from a sugar-planter a bit of land
which seems hopelessly infested with weeds, even of the worst of all
sorts--the creeping Para grass {186}--which was introduced a
generation since, with some trouble, as food for cattle, and was
supposed at first to be so great a boon that the gentleman who
brought it in received public thanks and a valuable testimonial.
The Chinaman will take the land for a single year, at a rent, I
believe, as high as a pound an acre, grow on it his sweet potato
crop, and return it to the owner, cleared, for the time being, of
every weed. The richer shopkeepers have each a store: but they
disdain to live at it. Near by each you see a comfortable low
house, with verandahs, green jalousies, and often pretty flowers in
pots; and catch glimpses inside of papered walls, prints, and smart
moderator-lamps, which seem to be fashionable among the Celestials.
But for one fashion of theirs, I confess, I was not prepared.

We went to church--a large, airy, clean, wooden one--which ought to
have had a verandah round to keep off the intolerable sunlight, and
which might, too, have had another pulpit. For in getting up to
preach in a sort of pill-box on a long stalk, I found the said stalk
surging and nodding so under my weight, that I had to assume an
attitude of most dignified repose, and to beware of 'beating the
drum ecclesiastic,' or 'clanging the Bible to shreds,' for fear of
toppling into the pews of the very smart, and really very attentive,
brown ladies below. A crowded congregation it was, clean, gay,
respectable and respectful, and spoke well both for the people and
for their clergyman. But--happily not till the end of the sermon--I
became aware, just in front of me, of a row of smartest Paris
bonnets, net-lace shawls, brocades, and satins, fit for duchesses;
and as the centre of each blaze of finery--'offam non faciem,' as
old Ammianus Marcellinus has it--the unmistakable visage of a
Chinese woman. Whether they understood one word; what they thought
of it all; whether they were there for any purpose save to see and
be seen, were questions to which I tried in vain, after service, to
get an answer. All that could be told was, that the richer Chinese
take delight in thus bedizening their wives on high days and
holidays; not with tawdry cheap finery, but with things really
expensive, and worth what they cost, especially the silks and
brocades; and then in sending them, whether for fashion or for
loyalty's sake, to an English church. Be that as it may, there they
were, ladies from the ancient and incomprehensible Mowery Land, like
fossil bones of an old world sticking out amid the vegetation of the
new; and we will charitably hope that they were the better for being
there.

After church we wandered about the estate to see huge trees. One
Ceiba, left standing in a cane-piece, was very grand, from the
multitude and mass of its parasites and its huge tresses of lianes;
and grand also from its form. The prickly board-wall spurs were at
least fifteen feet high, some of them, where they entered the trunk;
and at the summit of the trunk, which could not have been less than
seventy or eighty feet, one enormous limb (itself a tree) stuck out
quite horizontally, and gave a marvellous notion of strength. It
seemed as if its length must have snapped it off, years since, where
it joined the trunk; or as if the leverage of its weight must have
toppled the whole tree over. But the great vegetable had known its
own business best, and had built itself up right cannily; and stood,
and will stand for many a year, perhaps for many a century, if the
Matapalos do not squeeze out its life. I found, by the by, in
groping my way to that tree through canes twelve feet high, that one
must be careful, at least with some varieties of cane, not to get
cut. The leaf-edges are finely serrated; and more, the sheaths of
the leaves are covered with prickly hairs, which give the Coolies
sore shins if they work bare-legged. The soil here, as everywhere,
was exceedingly rich, and sawn out into rolling mounds and steep
gullies--sometimes almost too steep for cane-cultivation--by the
tropic rains. If, as cannot be doubted, denudation by rain has gone
on here, for thousands of years, at the same pace at which it goes
on now, the amount of soil removed must be very great; so great,
that the Naparimas may have been, when they were first uplifted out
of the Gulf, hundreds of feet higher than they are now.

Another tree we went to see in the home park, of which I would have
gladly obtained a photograph. A Poix doux, {187a} some said it was;
others that it was a Figuier. {187b} I incline to the former
belief, as the leaves seemed to me pinnated: but the doubt was
pardonable enough. There was not a leaf on the tree which was not
nigh one hundred feet over our heads. For size of spurs and wealth
of parasites the tree was almost as remarkable as the Ceiba I
mentioned just now. But the curiosity of the tree was a Carat-palm
which had started between its very roots; had run its straight and
slender stem up parallel with the bole of its companion, and had
then pierced through the head of the tree, and all its wilderness of
lianes, till it spread its huge flat crown of fans among the highest
branches, more than a hundred feet aloft. The contrast between the
two forms of vegetation, each so grand, but as utterly different in
every line as they are in botanical affinities, and yet both living
together in such close embrace, was very noteworthy; a good example
of the rule, that while competition is most severe between forms
most closely allied, forms extremely wide apart may not compete at
all, because each needs something which the other does not.

On our return I was introduced to the 'Uncle Tom' of the
neighbourhood, who had come down to spend Sunday at the Squire's
house. He was a middle-sized Negro, in cast of features not above
the average, and Isaac by name. He told me how he had been born in
Baltimore, a slave to a Quaker master; how he and his wife Mary,
during the second American war, ran away, and after hiding three
days in the bush, got on board a British ship of war, and so became
free. He then enlisted into one of the East Indian regiments, and
served some years; as a reward for which he had given him his five
acres of land in Trinidad, like others of his corps. These Negro
yeomen-veterans, let it be said in passing, are among the ablest and
steadiest of the coloured population. Military service has given
them just enough of those habits of obedience of which slavery gives
too much--if the obedience of a mere slave, depending not on the
independent will, but on brute fear, is to be called obedience at
all.

Would that in this respect, as in some others, the white subject of
the British crown were as well off as the black one. Would that
during the last fifty years we had followed the wise policy of the
Romans, and by settling our soldiers on our colonial frontiers,
established there communities of loyal, able, and valiant citizens.
Is it too late to begin now? Is there no colony left as yet not
delivered over to a self-government which actually means, more and
more--according to the statements of those who visit the colonies--
government by an Irish faction; and which will offer a field for
settling our soldiers when they have served their appointed time; so
strengthening ourselves, while we reward a class of men who are far
more respectable, and far more deserving, than most of those on whom
we lavish our philanthropy?

Surely such men would prove as good subjects as old Isaac and his
comrades. For fifty-three years, I was told, he had lived and
worked in Trinidad, always independent; so independent, indeed, that
the very last year, when all but starving, like many of the coloured
people, from the long drought which lasted nearly eighteen months,
he refused all charity, and came down to this very estate to work
for three months in the stifling cane-fields, earning--or fancying
that he earned--his own livelihood. A simple, kindly, brave
Christian man he seemed, and all who knew him spoke of him as such.
The most curious fact, however, which I gleaned from him was his
recollection of his own 'conversion.' His Mary, of whom all spoke
as a woman of a higher intellect than he, had 'been in the Gospel'
several years before him, and used to read and talk to him; but, he
said, without effect. At last he had a severe fever; and when he
fancied himself dying, had a vision. He saw a grating in the floor,
close by his bed, and through it the torments of the lost. Two
souls he remembered specially; one 'like a singed hog,' the other
'all over black like a charcoal spade.' He looked in fear, and
heard a voice cry, 'Behold your sins.' He prayed; promised, if he
recovered, to try and do better: and felt himself forgiven at once.

This was his story, which I have set down word for word; and of
which I can only say, that its imagery is no more gross, its
confusion between the objective and subjective no more
unphilosophical, than the speech on similar matters of many whom we
are taught to call divines, theologians, and saints.

At all events, this crisis in his life produced, according to his
own statement, not merely a religious, but a moral change. He
became a better man henceforth. He had the reputation, among those
who knew him well, of being altogether a good man. If so, it
matters little what cause he assigned for the improvement. Wisdom
is justified of all her children; and, I doubt not, of old black
Isaac among the rest.

In 1864 he had a great sorrow. Old Mary, trying to smoke the
mosquitoes out of her house with a charcoal-pan, set fire, in her
shortsightedness, to the place; and everything was burned--the
savings of years, the precious Bible among the rest. The Squire
took her down to his house, and nursed her: but she died in two
days of cold and fright; and Isaac had to begin life again alone.
Kind folks built up his ajoupa, and started him afresh; and, to
their astonishment, Isaac grew young again, and set to work for
himself. He had depended too much for many years on his wife's
superior intellect: now he had to act for himself; and he acted.
But he spoke of her, like any knight of old, as of a guardian
goddess--his guardian still in the other world, as she had been in
this.

He was happy enough, he said: but I was told that he had to endure
much vexation from the neighbouring Negroes, who were Baptists,
narrow and conceited; and who--just as the Baptists of the lower
class in England would be but too apt to do--tormented him by
telling him that he was not sure of heaven, because he went to
church instead of joining their body. But he, though he went to
chapel in wet weather, clung to his own creed like an old soldier;
and came down to Massa's house to spend the Sunday whenever there
was a Communion, walking some five miles thither, and as much back
again.

So much I learnt concerning old Isaac. And when in the afternoon he
toddled away, and back into the forest, what wonder if I felt like
Wordsworth after his talk with the old leech-gatherer?--

'And when he ended,
I could have laughed myself to scorn to find
In that decrepit man so firm a mind;
God, said I, be my help and stay secure,
I'll think of thee, leech-gatherer, on the lonely moor.'

On the Monday morning there was a great parade. All the Coolies
were to come up to see the Governor; and after breakfast a long line
of dark people arrived up the lawn, the women in their gaudiest
muslins, and some of them in cotton velvet jackets of the richest
colours. The Oriental instinct for harmonious hues, and those at
once rich and sober, such as may be seen in Indian shawls, is very
observable even in these Coolies, low-caste as most of them are.
There were bangles and jewels among them in plenty; and as it was a
high day and a holiday, the women had taken out the little gold or
silver stoppers in their pierced nostrils, and put in their place
the great gold ring which hangs down over the mouth, and is
considered by them, as learned men tell us it was by Rebekah at the
well, a special ornament. The men stood by themselves; the women by
themselves; the children grouped in front; and a merrier, healthier,
shrewder looking party I have seldom seen. Complaints there were
none. All seemed to look on the Squire as a father, and each face
brightened when he spoke to them by name. But the great ceremony
was the distributing by the Governor of red and yellow sweetmeats to
the children out of a huge dish held up by the Hindoo butler, while
Franky, in a long night-shirt of crimson cotton velvet, acted as
aide-de-camp, and took his perquisites freely. Each of the little
brown darlings got its share, the boys putting them into the flap of
their waistcloths, the girls into the front of their veils; and some
of the married women seemed ready enough to follow the children's
example; some of them, indeed, were little more than children
themselves. The pleasure of the men at the whole ceremony was very
noticeable, and very pleasant. Well fed, well cared for, well
taught (when they will allow themselves to be so), and with a local
medical man appointed for their special benefit, Coolies under such
a master ought to be, and are, prosperous and happy. Exceptions
there are, and must be. Are there none among the workmen of English
manufacturers and farmers? Abuses may spring up, and do. Do none
spring up in London and elsewhere? But the Government has the power
to interfere, and uses that power. These poor people are
sufficiently protected by law from their white employers; what they
need most is protection for the newcomers against the usury, or
swindling, by people of their own race, especially Hindoos of the
middle class, who are covetous and ill-disposed, and who use their
experience of the island for their own selfish advantage. But that
evil also Government is doing its best to put down. Already the
Coolies have a far larger amount of money in the savings' banks of
the island than the Negroes; and their prosperity can be safely
trusted to wise and benevolent laws, enforced by men who can afford
to stand above public opinion, as well as above private interest. I
speak, of course, only of Trinidad, because only Trinidad I have
seen. But what I say I know intimately to be true.

The parade over--and a pleasant sight it was, and one not easily to
be forgotten--we were away to see the Salse, or 'mud-volcano,' near
Monkey Town, in the forest to the south-east. The cross-roads were
deep in mud, all the worse because it was beginning to dry on the
surface, forming a tough crust above the hasty-pudding which, if
broken through, held the horse's leg suspended as in a vice, and
would have thrown him down, if it were possible to throw down a
West-Indian horse. We passed in one place a quaint little relic of
the older world; a small sugar-press, rather than mill, under a roof
of palm-leaf, which was worked by hand, or a donkey, just as a
Spanish settler would have worked it three hundred years ago. Then
on through plenty of garden cultivation, with all the people at
their doors as we passed, fat and grinning: then up to a good high-
road, and a school for Coolies, kept by a Presbyterian clergyman,
Mr. Morton--I must be allowed to mention his name--who, like a
sensible man, wore a white coat instead of the absurd regulation
black one, too much affected by all well-to-do folk, lay as well as
clerical, in the West Indies. The school seemed good enough in all
ways. A senior class of young men--including one who had had his
head nearly cut off last year by misapplication of that formidable
weapon the cutlass, which every coloured man and woman carries in
the West Indies--could read pretty well; and the smaller children--
with as much clothing on as they could be persuaded to wear--were a
sight pleasant to see. Among them, by the by, was a little lady who
excited my astonishment. She was, I was told, twelve years old.
She sat summing away on her slate, bedizened out in gauze petticoat,
velvet jacket--between which and the petticoat, of course, the waist
showed just as nature had made it--gauze veil, bangles, necklace,
nose-jewel; for she was a married woman, and her Papa (Anglice,
husband) wished her to look her best on so important an occasion.

This over-early marriage among the Coolies is a very serious evil,
but one which they have brought with them from their own land. The
girls are practically sold by their fathers while yet children,
often to wealthy men much older than they. Love is out of the
question. But what if the poor child, as she grows up, sees some
one, among that overplus of men, to whom she, for the first time in
her life, takes a fancy? Then comes a scandal; and one which is
often ended swiftly enough by the cutlass. Wife-murder is but too
common among these Hindoos, and they cannot be made to see that it
is wrong. 'I kill my own wife. Why not? I kill no other man's
wife,' was said by as pretty, gentle, graceful a lad of two-and-
twenty as one need see; a convict performing, and perfectly, the
office of housemaid in a friend's house. There is murder of wives,
or quasi-wives now and then, among the baser sort of Coolies--murder
because a poor girl will not give her ill-earned gains to the
ruffian who considers her as his property. But there is also law in
Trinidad, and such offences do not go unpunished.

Then on through Savanna Grande and village again, and past more
sugar estates, and past beautiful bits of forest, left, like English
woods, standing in the cultivated fields. One batch of a few acres
on the side of a dell was very lovely. Huge Figuiers and Huras were
mingled with palms and rich undergrowth, and lighted up here and
there with purple creepers.

So we went on, and on, and into the thick forest, and what was, till
Sir Ralph Woodford taught the islanders what an European road was
like, one of the pattern royal roads of the island. Originally an
Indian trace, it had been widened by the Spaniards, and transformed
from a line of mud six feet broad to one of thirty. The only
pleasant reminiscence which I have about it was the finding in
flower a beautiful parasite, undescribed by Griesbach; {192} a 'wild
pine' with a branching spike of crimson flowers, purple tipped,
which shone in the darkness of the bush like a great bunch of
rosebuds growing among lily-leaves.

The present Governor, like Sir Ralph Woodford before him, has been
fully aware of the old saying--which the Romans knew well, and which
the English did not know, and only rediscovered some century since--
that the 'first step in civilisation is to make roads; the second,
to make more roads; and the third, to make more roads still.'

Through this very district (aided by men whose talents he had the
talent to discover and employ) he has run wide, level, and sound
roads, either already completed or in progress, through all parts of
the island which I visited, save the precipitous glens of the
northern shore.

Of such roads we saw more than one in the next few days. That day
we had to commit ourselves, when we turned off the royal road, to
one of the old Spanish-Indian jungle tracks. And here is a recipe
for making one:--Take a railway embankment of average steepness,
strew it freely with wreck, rigging and all, to imitate the fallen
timber, roots, and lianes--a few flagstones and boulders here and
there will be quite in place; plant the whole with the thickest
pheasant-cover; set a field of huntsmen to find their way through it
at the points of least resistance three times a week during a wet
winter; and if you dare follow their footsteps, you will find a very
accurate imitation of a forest-track in the wet season.

At one place we seemed to be fairly stopped. We plunged and slid
down into a muddy brook, luckily with a gravel bar on which the
horses could stand, at least one by one; and found opposite us a
bank of smooth clay, bound with slippery roots, some ten feet high.
We stood and looked at it, and the longer we looked--in hunting
phrase--the less we liked it. But there was no alternative. Some
one jumped off, and scrambled up on his hands and knees; his horse
was driven up the bank to him--on its knees, likewise, more than
once--and caught staggering among boughs and mud; and by the time
the whole cavalcade was over, horses and men looked as if they had
been brickmaking for a week.

But here again the cunning of these horses surprised me. On one
very steep pitch, for instance, I saw before me two logs across the
path, two feet and more in diameter, and what was worse, not two
feet apart. How the brown cob meant to get over I could not guess;
but as he seemed not to falter or turn tail, as an English horse
would have done, I laid the reins on his neck and watched his legs.
To my astonishment, he lifted a fore-leg out of the abyss of mud,
put it between the logs, where I expected to hear it snap; clawed in
front, and shuffled behind; put the other over the second log, the
mud and water splashing into my face, and then brought the first
freely out from between the logs, and--horrible to see--put a hind
one in. Thus did he fairly walk through the whole; stopped a moment
to get his breath; and then staggered and scrambled upward again, as
if he had done nothing remarkable. Coming back, by the by, those
two logs lay heavy on my heart for a mile ere I neared them. He
might get up over them; but how would he get down again? And I was
not surprised to hear more than one behind me say, 'I think I shall
lead over.' But being in front, if I fell, I could only fall into
the mud, and not on the top of a friend. So I let the brown cob do
what he would, determined to see how far a tropic horse's legs could
keep him up; and, to my great amusement, he quietly leapt the whole,
descending five or six feet into a pool of mud, which shot out over
him and me, half blinding us for the moment; then slid away on his
haunches downward; picked himself up; and went on as usual, solemn,
patient, and seemingly stupid as any donkey.

We had some difficulty in finding our quest, the Salse, or mud-
volcano. But at last, out of a hut half buried in verdure on the
edge of a little clearing, there tumbled the quaintest little old
black man, cutlass in hand, and, without being asked, went on ahead
as our guide. Crook-backed, round-shouldered, his only dress a
ragged shirt and ragged pair of drawers, he had evidently thriven
upon the forest life for many a year. He did not walk nor run, but
tumbled along in front of us, his bare feet plashing from log to log
and mud-heap to mud-heap, his gray woolly head wagging right and
left, and his cutlass brushing almost instinctively at every bough
he passed, while he turned round every moment to jabber something,
usually in Creole French, which, of course, I could not understand.

He led us well, up and down, and at last over a flat of rich muddy
ground, full of huge trees, and of their roots likewise, where there
was no path at all. The solitude was awful; so was the darkness of
the shade; so was the stifling heat; and right glad we were when we
saw an opening in the trees, and the little man quickened his pace,
and stopped with an air of triumph not unmixed with awe on the edge
of a circular pool of mud and water some two or three acres in
extent.

'Dere de debbil's woodyard,' said he, with somewhat bated breath.
And no wonder; for a more doleful, uncanny, half-made spot I never
saw. The sad forest ringed it round with a green wall, feathered
down to the ugly mud, on which, partly perhaps from its saltness,
partly from the changeableness of the surface, no plant would grow,
save a few herbs and creepers which love the brackish water. Only
here and there an Echites had crawled out of the wood and lay along
the ground, its long shoots gay with large cream-coloured flowers
and pairs of glossy leaves; and on it, and on some dead brushwood,
grew a lovely little parasitic Orchis, an Oncidium, with tiny fans
of leaves, and flowers like swarms of yellow butterflies.

There was no track of man, not even a hunter's footprint; but
instead, tracks of beasts in plenty. Deer, quenco, {194a} and lapo,
{194b} with smaller animals, had been treading up and down, probably
attracted by the salt water. They were safe enough, the old man
said. No hunter dare approach the spot. There were 'too much
jumbies' here; and when one of the party expressed a wish to lie out
there some night, in the hope of good shooting, the Negro shook his
head. He would 'not do that for all the world. De debbil come out
here at night, and walk about;' and he was much scandalised when the
young gentleman rejoined that the chance of such a sight would be an
additional reason for bivouacking there.

So we walked out upon the mud, which was mostly hard enough, past
shallow pools of brackish water, smelling of asphalt, toward a group
of little mud-volcanoes on the farther side. These curious openings
into the nether-world are not permanent. They choke up after a
while, and fresh ones appear in another part of the area, thus
keeping the whole clear of plants.

They are each some two or three feet high, of the very finest mud,
which leaves no feeling of grit on the fingers or tongue, and dries,
of course, rapidly in the sun. On the top, or near the top, of each
is a round hole, a finger's breadth, polished to exceeding
smoothness, and running down through the cone as far as we could
dig. From each oozes perpetually, with a clicking noise of gas-
bubbles, water and mud; and now and then, losing their temper, they
spirt out their dirt to a considerable height; a feat which we did
not see performed, but which is so common that we were in something
like fear and trembling while we opened a cone with our cutlasses.
For though we could hardly have been made dirtier than we were, an
explosion in our faces of mud with 'a faint bituminous smell,' and
impregnated with 'common salt, a notable proportion of iodine, and a
trace of carbonate of soda and carbonate of lime,' {195} would have
been both unpleasant and humiliating. But the most puzzling thing
about the place is, that out of the mud comes up--not jumbies, but--
a multitude of small stones, like no stones in the neighbourhood; we
found concretions of iron sand, and scales which seemed to have
peeled off them; and pebbles, quartzose, or jasper, or like in
appearance to flint; but all evidently long rolled on a sea-beach.
Messrs. Wall and Sawkins mention pyrites and gypsum as being found:
but we saw none, as far as I recollect. All these must have been
carried up from a considerable depth by the force of the same gases
which make the little mud-volcanoes.

Now and then this 'Salse,' so quiet when we saw it, is said to be
seized with a violent paroxysm. Explosions are heard, and large
discharges of mud, and even flame, are said to appear. Some
seventeen years ago (according to Messrs. Wall and Sawkins) such an
explosion was heard six miles off; and next morning the surface was
found quite altered, and trees had disappeared, or been thrown down.
But--as they wisely say--the reports of the inhabitants must be
received with extreme caution. In the autumn of last year, some
such explosion is said to have taken place at the Cedros Salse, a
place so remote, unfortunately, that I could not visit it. The
Negroes and Coolies, the story goes, came running to the overseer at
the noise, assuring him that something terrible had happened; and
when he, in defiance of their fears, went off to the Salse, he found
that many tons of mud--I was told thousands--had been thrown out.
How true this may be, I cannot say. But Messrs. Wall and Sawkins
saw with their own eyes, in 1856, about two miles from this Cedros
Salse, the results of an explosion which had happened only two
months before, and of which they give a drawing. A surface two
hundred feet round had been upheaved fifteen feet, throwing the
trees in every direction; and the sham earthquake had shaken the
ground for two hundred or three hundred yards round, till the
natives fancied that their huts were going to fall.

There is a third Salse near Poole River, on the Upper Ortoire, which
is extinct, or at least quiescent; but this, also, I could not
visit. It is about seventeen miles from the sea, and about two
hundred feet above it. As for the causes of these Salses, I fear
the reader must be content, for the present, with a somewhat muddy
explanation of the muddy mystery. Messrs. Wall and Sawkins are
inclined to connect it with asphalt springs and pitch lakes. 'There
is,' they say, 'easy gradation from the smaller Salses to the
ordinary naphtha or petroleum springs.' It is certain that in the
production of asphalt, carbonic acid, carburetted hydrogen, and
water are given off. 'May not,' they ask, 'these orifices be the
vents by which such gases escape? And in forcing their way to the
surface, is it not natural that the liquid asphalt and slimy water
should be drawn up and expelled?' They point out the fact, that
wherever such volcanoes exist, asphalt or petroleum is found hard
by. The mud volcanoes of Turbaco, in New Granada, famous from
Humboldt's description of them, lie in an asphaltic country. They
are much larger than those of Trinidad, the cones being, some of
them, twenty feet high. When Humboldt visited them in 1801, they
gave off hardly anything save nitrogen gas. But in the year 1850, a
'bituminous odour' had begun to be diffused; asphaltic oil swam on
the surface of the small openings; and the gas issuing from any of
the cones could be ignited. Dr. Daubeny found the mud-volcanoes of
Macaluba giving out bitumen, and bubbles of carbonic acid and
carburetted hydrogen. The mud-volcano of Saman, in the Western
Caucasus, gives off, with a continual stream of thick mud, ignited
gases, accompanied with mimic earthquakes like those of the Trinidad
Salses; and this out of a soil said to be full of bituminous
springs, and where (as in Trinidad) the tertiary strata carry veins
of asphalt, or are saturated with naphtha. At the famous sacred
Fire wells of Baku, in the Eastern Caucasus, the ejections of mud
and inflammable gas are so mixed with asphaltic products that
Eichwald says 'they should be rather called naphtha volcanoes than
mud-volcanoes, as the eruptions always terminate in a large emission
of naphtha.'

It is reasonable enough, then, to suppose a similar connection in
Trinidad. But whence come, either in Trinidad or at Turbaco, the
sea-salts and the iodine? Certainly not from the sea itself, which
is distant, in the case of the Trinidad Salses, from two to
seventeen miles. It must exist already in the strata below. And
the ejected pebbles, which are evidently sea-worn, must form part of
a tertiary sea-beach, covered by sands, and covering, perhaps, in
its turn, vegetable debris which, as it is converted into asphalt,
thrusts the pebbles up to the surface.

We had to hurry away from the strange place; for night was falling
fast, or rather ready to fall, as always here, in a moment, without
twilight, and we were scarce out of the forest before it was dark.
The wild game were already moving, and a deer crossed our line of
march, close before one of the horses. However, we were not
benighted; for the sun was hardly down ere the moon rose, bright and
full; and we floundered home through the mud, to start again next
morning into mud again. Through rich rolling land covered with
cane; past large sugar-works, where crop-time and all its bustle was
just beginning; along a tramway, which made an excellent horse-road,
and then along one of the new roads, which are opening up the yet
untouched riches of this island. In this district alone, thirty-six
miles of good road and thirty bridges have been made, where formerly
there were only two abominable bridle-paths. It was a solid
pleasure to see good engineering round the hillsides; gullies, which
but a year or two before were break-neck scrambles into fords often
impassable after all, bridged with baulks of incorruptible timber,
on piers sunk, to give a hold in that sea of hasty pudding, sixteen
feet below the river-bed; and side supports sunk as far into the
banks; a solid pleasure to congratulate the warden (who had joined
us) on his triumphs, and to hear how he had sought for miles around
in the hasty-pudding sea, ere he could find either gravel or stone
for road metal, and had found it after all; or how in places,
finding no stone at all, he had been forced to metal the way with
burnt clay, which, as I can testify, is an excellent substitute; or
how again he had coaxed and patted the too-comfortable natives into
being well paid for doing the very road-making which, if they had
any notion of their own interests, they would combine to do for
themselves. And so we rode on chatting,

'While all the land,
Beneath a broad and equal-blowing breeze,
Smelt of the coming summer;'

for it was winter then, and only 80 degrees in the shade, till the
road entered the virgin forest, through which it has been driven, on
the American principle of making land valuable by beginning with a
road, and expecting settlers to follow it. Some such settlers we
found, clearing right and left; among them a most satisfactory
sight; namely, more than one Coolie family, who had served their
apprenticeship, saved money, bought Government land, and set up as
yeomen; the foundation, it is to be hoped, of a class of intelligent
and civilised peasant proprietors. These men, as soon as they have
cleared as much land as their wives and children, with their help,
can keep in order, go off, usually, in gangs of ten to fifteen, to
work, in many instances, on the estates from which they originally
came. This fact practically refutes the opinion which was at first
held by some attorneys and managers of sugar-estates, that the
settling of free Indian immigrants would materially affect the
labour supply of the colony. I must express an earnest hope that
neither will any planters be short-sighted enough to urge such a
theory on the present Governor, nor will the present Governor give
ear to it. The colony at large must gain by the settlement of Crown
lands by civilised people like the Hindoos, if it be only through
the increased exports and imports; while the sugar-estates will
become more and more sure of a constant supply of labour, without
the heavy expense of importing fresh immigrants. I am assured that
the only expense to the colony is the fee for survey, amounting to
eighteen dollars for a ten-acre allotment, as the Coolie prefers the
thinly-wooded and comparatively poor lands, from the greater
facility of clearing them; and these lands are quite unsaleable to
other customers. Therefore, for less than 4 pounds, an acclimatised
Indian labourer with his family (and it must be remembered that,
while the Negro families increase very slowly, the Coolies increase
very rapidly, being more kind and careful parents) are permanently
settled in the colony, the man to work five days a week on sugar-
estates, the family to grow provisions for the market, instead of
being shipped back to India at a cost, including gratuities and
etceteras, of not less than 50 pounds.

One clearing we reached--were I five-and-twenty I should like to
make just such another next to it--of a higher class still. A
cultivated Scotchman, now no longer young, but hale and mighty, had
taken up three hundred acres, and already cleared a hundred and
fifty; and there he intended to pass the rest of a busy life, not
under his own vine and fig-tree, but under his own castor-oil and
cacao-tree. We were welcomed by as noble a Scot's face as I ever
saw, and as keen a Scot's eye; and taken in and fed, horses and men,
even too sumptuously, in a palm and timber house. Then we wandered
out to see the site of his intended mansion, with the rich wooded
hills of the Latagual to the north, and all around the unbroken
forest, where, he told us, the howling monkeys shouted defiance
morning and evening at him who did

'Invade their ancient solitary reign.'

Then we went down to see the Coolie barracks, where the folk seemed
as happy and well cared for as they were certain to be under such a
master; then down a rocky pool in the river, jammed with bare white
logs (as in some North American forest), which had been stopped in
flood by one enormous trunk across the stream; then back past the
site of the ajoupa which had been our host's first shelter, and
which had disappeared by a cause strange enough to English ears. An
enormous silk-cotton near by was felled, in spite of the Negroes'
fears. Its boughs, when it fell, did not reach the ajoupa by twenty
feet or more; but the wind of its fall did, and blew the hut clean
away. This may sound like a story out of Munchausen: but there was
no doubt of the fact; and to us who saw the size of the tree which
did the deed it seemed probable enough.

We rode away again, and into the 'Morichal,' the hills where Moriche
palms are found; to see certain springs and a certain tree; and well
worth seeing they were. Out of the base of a limestone hill, amid
delicate ferns, under the shade of enormous trees, a clear pool
bubbled up and ran away, a stream from its very birth, as is the
wont of limestone springs. It was a spot fit for a Greek nymph; at
least for an Indian damsel: but the nymph who came to draw water in
a tin bucket, and stared stupidly and saucily at us, was anything
but Greek, or even Indian, either in costume or manners. Be it so.
White men are responsible for her being there; so white men must not
complain. Then we went in search of the tree. We had passed, as we
rode up, some Huras (Sandbox-trees) which would have been considered
giants in England; and I had been laughed at more than once for
asking, 'Is that the tree, or that?' I soon knew why. We scrambled
up a steep bank of broken limestone, through ferns and Balisiers,
for perhaps a hundred feet; and then were suddenly aware of a bole
which justified the saying of one of our party--that, when surveying
for a road he had come suddenly on it, he 'felt as if he had run
against a church tower.' It was a Hura, seemingly healthy,
undecayed, and growing vigorously. Its girth--we measured it
carefully--was forty-four feet, six feet from the ground, and as I
laid my face against it and looked up, I seemed to be looking up a
ship's side. It was perfectly cylindrical, branchless, and smooth,
save, of course, the tiny prickles which beset the bark, for a
height at which we could not guess, but which we luckily had an
opportunity of measuring. A wild pine grew in the lowest fork, and
had kindly let down an air-root into the soil. We tightened the
root, set it perpendicular, cut it off exactly where it touched the
ground, and then pulled carefully till we brought the plant and half
a dozen more strange vegetables down on our heads. The length of
the air-root was just seventy-five feet. Some twenty feet or more
above that first fork was a second fork; and then the tree began.
Where its head was we could not see. We could only, by laying our
faces against the bole and looking up, discern a wilderness of
boughs carrying a green cloud of leaves, most of them too high for
us to discern their shape without the glasses. We walked up the
slope, and round about, in hopes of seeing the head of the tree
clear enough to guess at its total height: but in vain. It was
only when we had ridden some half mile up the hill that we could
discern its masses rising, a bright green mound, above the darker
foliage of the forest. It looked of any height, from one hundred
and fifty to two hundred feet; less it could hardly be. 'It made,'
says a note by one of our party, 'other huge trees look like
shrubs.' I am not surprised that my friend Mr. St. Luce D'Abadie,
who measured the tree since my departure, found it to be one hundred
and ninety-two feet in height.

I was assured that there were still larger trees in the island. A
certain Locust-tree and a Ceiba were mentioned. The Moras, too, of
the southern hills, were said to be far taller. And I can well
believe it; for if huge trees were as shrubs beside that Sandbox, it
would be a shrub by the side of those Locusts figured by Spix and
Martius, which fifteen Indians with outstretched arms could just
embrace. At the bottom they were eighty-four feet round, and sixty
where the boles became cylindrical. By counting the rings of such
parts as could be reached, they arrived at the conclusion that they
were of the age of Homer, and 332 years old in the days of
Pythagoras. One estimate, indeed, reduced their antiquity to 2052
years old; while another (counting, I presume, two rings of fresh
wood for every year) carried it up to 4104.

So we rode on and up the hills, by green and flowery paths, with
here and there a cottage and a garden, and groups of enormous
Palmistes towering over the tree-tops in every glen, talking over
that wondrous weed, whose head we saw still far below. For weed it
is, and nothing more. The wood is soft and almost useless, save for
firing; and the tree itself, botanists tell us, is neither more nor
less than a gigantic Spurge, the cousin-german of the milky garden
weeds with which boys burn away their warts. But if the modern
theory be true, that when we speak (as we are forced to speak) of
the relationships of plants, we use no metaphor, but state an actual
fact; that the groups into which we are forced to arrange them
indicate not merely similarity of type, but community of descent--
then how wonderful is the kindred between the Spurge and the Hura--
indeed, between all the members of the Euphorbiaceous group, so
fantastically various in outward form; so abundant, often huge, in
the Tropics, while in our remote northern island their only
representatives are a few weedy Spurges, two Dog's Mercuries--weeds
likewise--and the Box. Wonderful it is if only these last have had
the same parentage--still more if they have had the same parentage,
too, with forms so utterly different from them as the prickly-
stemmed scarlet-flowered Euphorbia common in our hothouses; as the
huge succulent cactus-like Euphorbia of the Canary Islands; as the
gale-like Phyllanthus; the many-formed Crotons, which in the West
Indies alone comprise, according to Griesbach, at least twelve
genera and thirty species; the hemp-like Maniocs, Physic-nuts,
Castor-oils; the scarlet Poinsettia which adorns dinner-tables in
winter; the pretty little pink and yellow Dalechampia, now common in
hothouses; the Manchineel, with its glossy poplar-like leaves; and
this very Hura, with leaves still more like a poplar, and a fruit
which differs from most of its family in having not three but many
divisions, usually a multiple of three up to fifteen; a fruit which
it is difficult to obtain, even where the tree is plentiful: for
hanging at the end of long branches, it bursts when ripe with a
crack like a pistol, scattering its seeds far and wide: from whence
its name of Hura crepitans.

But what if all these forms are the descendants of one original
form? Would that be one whit more wonderful, more inexplicable,
than the theory that they were each and all, with their minute and
often imaginary shades of difference, created separately and at
once? But if it be--which I cannot allow--what can the theologian
say, save that God's works are even more wonderful than we always
believed them to be? As for the theory being impossible: who are
we, that we should limit the power of God? 'Is anything too hard
for the Lord?' asked the prophet of old; and we have a right to ask
it as long as time shall last. If it be said that natural selection
is too simple a cause to produce such fantastic variety: we always
knew that God works by very simple, or seemingly simple, means; that
the universe, as far as we could discern it, was one organisation of
the most simple means; it was wonderful (or ought to have been) in
our eyes, that a shower of rain should make the grass grow, and that
the grass should become flesh, and the flesh food for the thinking
brain of man; it was (or ought to have been) yet more wonderful in
our eyes, that a child should resemble its parents, or even a
butterfly resemble--if not always, still usually--its parents
likewise. Ought God to appear less or more august in our eyes if we
discover that His means are even simpler than we supposed? We hold
Him to be almighty and allwise. Are we to reverence Him less or
more if we find that His might is greater, His wisdom deeper, than
we had ever dreamed? We believed that His care was over all His
works; that His providence watched perpetually over the universe.
We were taught, some of us at least, by Holy Scripture, to believe
that the whole history of the universe was made up of special
providences: if, then, that should be true which Mr. Darwin says--
'It may be metaphorically said that natural selection is daily and
hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, every variation, even the
slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all
that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever
opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in
relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life,'--if this,
I say, were proved to be true, ought God's care, God's providence,
to seem less or more magnificent in our eyes? Of old it was said by
Him without whom nothing is made--'My Father worketh hitherto, and I
work.' Shall we quarrel with physical science, if she gives us
evidence that these words are true? And if it should be proven that
the gigantic Hura and the lowly Spurge sprang from one common
ancestor, what would the orthodox theologian have to say to it,
saving--'I always knew that God was great: and I am not surprised
to find Him greater than I thought Him'?

So much for the giant weed of the Morichal, from which we rode on
and up through rolling country growing lovelier at every step, and
turned out of our way to see wild pine-apples in a sandy spot, or
'Arenal' in a valley beneath. The meeting of the stiff marl and the
fine sand was abrupt, and well marked by the vegetation. On one
side of the ravine the tall fan-leaved Carats marked the rich soil;
on the other, the sand and gravel loving Cocorites appeared at once,
crowding their ostrich plumes together. Most of them were the
common species of the island {202a} in which the pinnae of the
leaves grow in fours and fives, and at different angles from the
leaf-stalk, giving the whole a brushy appearance, which takes off
somewhat from the perfectness of its beauty. But among them we saw-
-for the first and last time in the forest--a few of a far more
beautiful species, {202b} common on the mainland. In it, the pinnae
are set on all at the same distance apart, and all in the same
plane, in opposite sides of the stalk, giving to the whole foliage a
grand simplicity; and producing, when the curving leaf-points toss
in the breeze, that curious appearance, which I mentioned in an
earlier chapter, of green glass wheels with rapidly revolving
spokes. At their feet grew the pine-apples, only in flower or
unripe fruit, so that we could not quench our thirst with them, and
only looked with curiosity at the small wild type of so famous a
plant. But close by, and happily nearly ripe, we found a fair
substitute for pine-apples in the fruit of the Karatas. This form
of Bromelia, closely allied to the Pinguin of which hedges are made,
bears a straggling plume of prickly leaves, six or eight feet long
each, close to the ground. The forester looks for a plant in which
the leaves droop outwards--a sign that the fruit is ripe. After
beating it cautiously (for snakes are very fond of coiling under its
shade) he opens the centre, and finds, close to the ground, a group
of whitish fruits, nearly two inches long; peels carefully off the
skin, which is beset with innumerable sharp hairs, and eats the
sour-sweet refreshing pulp: but not too often, for there are always
hairs enough left to make the tongue bleed if more than one or two
are eaten.

With lips somewhat less parched, we rode away again to see the sight
of the day; and a right pleasant sight it was. These Montserrat
hills had been, within the last three years, almost the most lawless
and neglected part of the island. Principally by the energy and
tact of one man, the wild inhabitants had been conciliated, brought
under law, and made to pay their light taxes, in return for a safety
and comfort enjoyed perhaps by no other peasants on earth.

A few words on the excellent system, which bids fair to establish in
this colony a thriving and loyal peasant proprietary. Up to 1847
Crown lands were seldom alienated. In that year a price was set
upon them, and persons in illegal occupation ordered to petition for
their holdings. Unfortunately, though a time was fixed for
petitioning, no time was fixed for paying; and consequently the vast
majority of petitioners never took any further steps in the matter.
Unfortunately, too, the price fixed--2 pounds per acre--was too
high; and squatting went on much as before.

It appeared to the late Governor that this evil would best be dealt
with experimentally and locally; and he accordingly erected the
chief squatting district, Montserrat, into a ward, giving the warden
large discretionary powers as Commissioner of Crown lands. The
price of Crown lands was reduced, in 1869, to 1 pounds per acre; and
the Montserrat system extended, as far as possible, to other wards;
a movement which the results fully justified.

In 1867 there were in Montserrat 400 squatters, holding lands of
from 3 to 120 acres, planted with cacao, coffee, or provisions.
Some of the cacao plantations were valued at 1000 pounds. These
people lived without paying taxes, and almost without law or
religion. The Crown woods had been, of course, sadly plundered by
squatters, and by others who should have known better. At every
turn magnificent cedars might have been seen levelled by the axe,
only a few feet of the trunk being used to make boards and shingles,
while the greater part was left to rot or burn. These
irregularities have been now almost stopped; and 266 persons, in
Montserrat alone, have taken out grants of land, some of 400 acres.
But this by no means represents the number of purchasers, as nearly
an equal number have paid for their estates, though they have not
yet received their grants, and nearly 500 more have made
application. Two villages have been formed; one of which is that
where we rested, containing the church. The other contains the
warden's residence and office, the police-station, and a numerously
attended school.

The squatters are of many races, and of many hues of black and
brown. The half-breeds from the neighbouring coast of Venezuela, a
mixture, probably, of Spanish, Negro, and Indian, are among the most
industrious; and their cacao plantations, in some cases, hold 8000
to 10,000 trees. The south-west corner of Montserrat {204} is
almost entirely settled by Africans of various tribes--Mandingos,
Foulahs, Homas, Yarribas, Ashantees, and Congos. The last occupy
the lowest position in the social scale. They lead, for the most
part, a semi-barbarous life, dwelling in miserable huts, and
subsisting on the produce of an acre or two of badly cultivated
land, eked out with the pay of an occasional day's labour on some
neighbouring estate. The social position of some of the Yarribas
forms a marked contrast to that of the Congos. They inhabit houses
of cedar, or other substantial materials. Their gardens are, for
the most part, well stocked and kept. They raise crops of yam,
cassava, Indian corn, etc.; and some of them subscribe to a fund on
which they may draw in case of illness or misfortune. They are,
however (as is to be expected from superior intellect while still
uncivilised), more difficult to manage than the Congos, and highly
impatient of control.

These Africans, Mr. Mitchell says, all belong nominally to some
denomination of Christianity; but their lives are more influenced by
their belief in Obeah. While the precepts of religion are little
regarded, they stand in mortal dread of those who practise this
mischievous imposture. Well might the Commissioner say, in 1867,
that several years must elapse before the chaos which reigned could
be reduced to order. The wonder is, that in three years so much has
been done. It was very difficult, at first, even to find the
whereabouts of many of the squatters. The Commissioner had to work
by compass through the pathless forest. Getting little or no food
but cassava cakes and 'guango' of maize, and now and then a little
coffee and salt fish, without time to hunt the game which passed
him, and continually wet through, he stumbled in suddenly on one
squatting after another, to the astonishment of its owner, who could
not conceive how he had been found out, and had never before seen a
white man alone in the forest. Sometimes he was in considerable
danger of a rough reception from people who could not at first
understand what they had to gain by getting legal titles, and buying
the lands the fruit of which they had enjoyed either for nothing, or
for payment of a small annual assessment for the cultivated portion.
In another quarter--Toco--a notoriously lawless squatter had
expressed his intention of shooting the Government official. The
white gentleman walked straight up to the little forest fortress
hidden in bush, and confronted the Negro, who had gun in hand.

'I could have shot you if I had liked, buccra.'

'No, you could not. I should have cut you down first: so don't
play the fool,' answered the official quietly, hand on cutlass.

The wild man gave in; paid his rates; received the Crown title for
his land; and became (as have all these sons of the forest) fast
friends with one whom they have learnt at once to love and fear.

But among the Montserrat hills, the Governor had struck on a spot so
fit for a new settlement, that he determined to found one forthwith.
The quick-eyed Jesuits had founded a mission on the same spot many
years before. But all had lapsed again into forest. A group of
enormous Palmistes stands on a plateau, flat, and yet lofty and
healthy. The soil is exceeding fertile. There are wells and brooks
of pure water all around. The land slopes down for hundreds of feet
in wooded gorges, full of cedar and other admirable timber, with
Palmistes towering over them everywhere. Far away lies the lowland;
and every breeze of heaven sweeps over the crests of the hills. So
one peculiarly tall palm was chosen for a central landmark, an
ornament to the town square such as no capital in Europe can boast.
Traces were cut, streets laid out, lots of Crown lands put up for
sale, and settlers invited in the name of the Government.

Scarcely eighteen months had passed since then, and already there
Mitchell Street, Violin Street, Duboulay Street, Farfan Street, had
each its new houses built of cedar and thatched with palm. Two
Chinese shops had Celestials with pigtails and thick-soled shoes
grinning behind cedar counters, among stores of Bryant's safety
matches, Huntley and Palmers' biscuits, and Allsopp's pale ale. A
church had been built, the shell at least, and partly floored, with
a very simple, but not tasteless, altar; the Abbe had a good house,
with a gallery, jalousies, and white china handles to the doors.
The mighty palm in the centre of Gordon Square had a neat railing
round it, as befitted the Palladium of the village. Behind the
houses, among the stumps of huge trees, maize and cassava, pigeon-
peas and sweet potatoes, fattened in the sun, on ground which till
then had been shrouded by vegetation a hundred feet thick; and as we
sat at the head man's house, with French and English prints upon the
walls, and drank beer from a Chinese shop, and looked out upon the
loyal, thriving little settlement, I envied the two young men who
could say, 'At least, we have not lived in vain; for we have made
this out of the primeval forest.' Then on again. 'We mounted' (I
quote now from the notes of one to whom the existence of the
settlement was due) 'to the crest of the hills, and had a noble view
southwards, looking over the rich mass of dark wood, flecked here
and there with a scarlet stain of Bois Immortelle, to the great sea
of bright green sugar cultivation in the Naparimas, studded by white
works and villages, and backed far off by a hazy line of forest, out
of which rose the peaks of the Moruga Mountains. More to the west
lay San Fernando hill, the calm gulf, and the coast toward La Brea
and Cedros melting into mist. M--- thought we should get a better
view of the northern mountains by riding up to old Nicano's house;
so we went thither, under the cacao rich with yellow and purple
pods. The view was fine: but the northern range, though visible,
was rather too indistinct, and the mainland was not to be seen at
all.'

Nevertheless, the panorama from the top of Montserrat is at once the
most vast, and the most lovely, which I have ever seen. And
whosoever chooses to go and live there may buy any reasonable
quantity of the richest soil at 1 pounds per acre.

Then down off the ridge, toward the northern lowland, lay a headlong
old Indian path, by which we travelled, at last, across a rocky
brook, and into a fresh paradise.

I must be excused for using this word so often: but I use it in the
original Persian sense, as a place in which natural beauty has been
helped by art. An English park or garden would have been called of
old a paradise; and the enceinte of a West Indian house, even in its
present half-wild condition, well deserves the same title. That Art
can help Nature there can be no doubt. 'The perfection of Nature'
exists only in the minds of sentimentalists, and of certain well-
meaning persons, who assert the perfection of Nature when they wish
to controvert science, and deny it when they wish to prove this
earth fallen and accursed. Mr. Nesfield can make landscapes, by
obedience to certain laws which Nature is apt to disregard in the
struggle for existence, more beautiful than they are already by
Nature; and that without introducing foreign forms of vegetation.
But if foreign forms, wisely chosen for their shapes and colours, be
added, the beauty may be indefinitely increased. For the plants
most capable of beautifying any given spot do not always grow
therein, simply because they have not yet arrived there; as may be
seen by comparing any wood planted with Rhododendrons and Azaleas
with the neighbouring wood in its native state. Thus may be
obtained somewhat of that variety and richness which is wanting
everywhere, more or less, in the vegetation of our northern zone,
only just recovering slowly from the destructive catastrophe of the
glacial epoch; a richness which, small as it is, vanishes as we
travel northward, till the drear landscape is sheeted more and more
with monotonous multitudes of heather, grass, fir, or other social
plants.

But even in the Tropics the virgin forest, beautiful as it is, is
without doubt much less beautiful, both in form and colours, than it
might be made. Without doubt, also, a mere clearing, after a few
years, is a more beautiful place than the forest; because by it
distance is given, and you are enabled to see the sky, and the
forest itself beside; because new plants, and some of them very
handsome ones, are introduced by cultivation, or spring up in the
rastrajo; and lastly, but not least, because the forest on the edge
of the clearing is able to feather down to the ground, and change
what is at first a bare tangle of stems and boughs into a softly
rounded bank of verdure and flowers. When, in some future
civilisation, the art which has produced, not merely a Chatsworth or
a Dropmore, but an average English shrubbery or park, is brought to
bear on tropic vegetation, then Nature, always willing to obey when
conquered by fair means, will produce such effects of form and
colour around tropic estates and cities as we cannot fancy for
ourselves.

Mr. Wallace laments (and rightly) the absence in the tropic forests
of such grand masses of colour as are supplied by a heather moor, a
furze or broom-croft, a field of yellow charlock, blue bugloss, or
scarlet poppy. Tropic landscape gardening will supply that defect;
and a hundred plants of yellow Allamanda, or purple Dolichos, or
blue Clitoria, or crimson Norantea, set side by side, as we might
use a hundred Calceolarias or Geraniums, will carry up the forest
walls, and over the tree-tops, not square yards, but I had almost
said square acres of richest positive colour. I can conceive no
limit to the effects--always heightened by the intense sunlight and
the peculiar tenderness of the distances--which landscape gardening
will produce when once it is brought to bear on such material as it
has never yet attempted to touch, at least in the West Indies, save
in the Botanic Garden at Port of Spain.

And thus the little paradise at Tortuga to which we descended to
sleep, though cleared out without any regard to art, was far more
beautiful than the forest out of which it had been hewn three years
before. The two first settlers regretted the days when the house
was a mere palm-thatched hut, where they sat on stumps which would
not balance, and ate potted meat with their pocket knives. But it
had grown now into a grand place, fit to receive ladies: such a
house, or rather shed, as those South Sea Island ones which may be
seen in Hodges' illustrations to Cook's Voyages, save that a couple
of bedrooms have been boarded off at the back, a little office on
one side, and a bulwark, like that of a ship, put round the gallery.
And as we looked down through the purple gorges, and up at the
mountain woods, over which the stars were flashing out blight and
fast, and listened to the soft strange notes of the forest birds
going to roost, again the thought came over me--Why should not
gentlemen and ladies come to such spots as these to live 'the Gentle
Life'?

We slept that night, some in beds, some in hammocks, some on the
floor, with the rich warm night wind rushing down through all the
house; and then were up once more in the darkness of the dawn, to go
down and bathe at a little cascade, where a feeble stream dribbled
under ferns and balisiers over soft square limestone rocks like the
artificial rocks of the Serpentine, and those--copied probably from
the rocks of Fontainebleau--which one sees in old French landscapes.
But a bathe was hardly necessary. So drenched was the vegetation
with night dew, that if one had taken off one's clothes at the
house, and simply walked under the bananas, and through the tanias
and maize which grew among them, one would have been well washed ere
one reached the stream. As it was, the bathers came back with their
clothes wet through. No matter. The sun was up, and half an hour
would dry all again.

One object, on the edge of the forest, was worth noticing, and was
watched long through the glasses; namely, two or three large trees,
from which dangled a multitude of the pendant nests of the Merles:
{209} birds of the size of a jackdaw, brown and yellow, and mocking-
birds, too, of no small ability. The pouches, two feet long and
more, swayed in the breeze, fastened to the end of the boughs with a
few threads. Each had, about half-way down, an opening into the
round sac below, in and out of which the Merles crept and fluttered,
talking all the while in twenty different notes. Most tropic birds
hide their nests carefully in the bush: the Merles hang theirs
fearlessly in the most exposed situations. They find, I presume,
that they are protected enough from monkeys, wild cats, and gato-
melaos (a sort of ferret) by being hung at the extremity of the
bough. So thinks M. Leotaud, the accomplished describer of the
birds of Trinidad. But he adds with good reason: 'I do not,
however, understand how birds can protect their nestlings against
ants; for so large is the number of these insects in our climes,
that it would seem as if everything would become their prey.'

And so everything will, unless the bird murder be stopped. Already
the parasol-ants have formed a warren close to Port of Spain, in
what was forty years ago highly cultivated ground, from which they
devastate at night the northern gardens. The forests seem as empty
of birds as the neighbourhood of the city; and a sad answer will
soon have to be given to M. Leotaud's question:--

'The insectivorous tribes are the true representatives of our
ornithology. There are so many which feed on insects and their
larvae, that it may be asked with much reason, What would become of
our vegetation, of ourselves, should these insect destroyers
disappear? Everywhere may be seen' (M. L. speaks, I presume, of
five-and-twenty years ago: my experience would make me substitute
for his words, 'Hardly anywhere can be seen') 'one of these
insectivora in pursuit or seizure of its prey, either on the wing or
on the trunks of trees, in the coverts of thickets or in the calices
of flowers. Whenever called to witness one of those frequent
migrations from one point to another, so often practised by ants,
not only can the Dendrocolaptes (connected with our Creepers) be
seen following the moving trail, and preying on the ants and the
eggs themselves, but even the black Tanager abandons his usual
fruits for this more tempting delicacy. Our frugivorous and
baccivorous genera are also pretty numerous, and most of them are so
fond of insect food that they unite, as occasion offers, with the
insectivorous tribes.'

So it was once. Now a traveller, accustomed to the swarms of birds
which, not counting the game, inhabit an average English cover,
would be surprised and pained by the scarcity of birds in the
forests of this island.

We rode down toward the northern lowland, along a broad new road of
last year's making, terraced, with great labour, along the hill, and
stopped to visit one of those excellent Government schools which do
honour, first to that wise legislator, Lord Harris, and next to the
late Governor. Here, in the depths of the forest, where never
policeman or schoolmaster had been before, was a house of satin-wood
and cedar not two years old, used at once as police-station and
school, with a shrewd Spanish-speaking schoolmaster, and fifty-two
decent little brown children on the school-books, and getting, when
their lazy parents will send them, as good an education as they
would get in England. I shall have more to say on the education
system of Trinidad. All it seems to me to want, with its late
modifications, is compulsory attendance.

Soon turning down an old Indian path, we saw the Gulf once more, and
between us and it the sheet of cane cultivation, of which one estate
ran up to our feet, 'like a bright green bay entered by a narrow
strait among the dark forest.' Just before we came to it we passed
another pleasant sight: more Coolie settlers, who had had lands
granted them in lieu of the return passage to which they were
entitled, were all busily felling wood, putting up bamboo and palm-
leaf cabins, and settling themselves down, each one his own master,
yet near enough to the sugar-estates below to get remunerative work
whenever needful.

Then on, over slow miles (you must not trot beneath the burning mid-
day sun) of sandy stifling flat, between high canes, till we saw
with joy, through long vistas of straight traces, the mangrove
shrubbery which marked the sea. We turned into large sugar-works,
to be cooled with sherry and ice by a hospitable manager, whose
rooms were hung with good prints, and stored with good books and
knick-knacks from Europe, showing the signs of a lady's hand. And
here our party broke up. The rest carried their mud back to Port of
Spain; I in the opposite direction back to San Fernando, down a
little creek which served as a port to the estate.

Plastered up to the middle like the rest of the party, besides
splashes over face and hat, I could get no dirtier than I was
already. I got without compunction into a canoe some three feet
wide; and was shoved by three Negroes down a long winding ditch of
mingled mud, water, and mangrove-roots. To keep one's self and
one's luggage from falling out during the journey was no easy
matter; at one moment, indeed, it threatened to become impossible.
For where the mangroves opened on the sea, the creek itself turned
sharply northward along shore, leaving (as usual) a bed of mud
between it and the sea some quarter of a mile broad; across which we
had to pass as a short cut to the boat, which lay far out. The
difficulty was, of course, to get the canoe out of the creek up the
steep mud-bank. To that end she was turned on her side, with me on
board. I could just manage, by jamming my luggage under my knees,
and myself against the two gunwales, to keep in, holding on chiefly
by my heels and the back of my neck. But it befell, that in the
very agony of the steepest slope, when the Negroes (who worked like
really good fellows) were nigh waist-deep in mud, my eye fell, for
the first time in my life, on a party of Calling Crabs, who had been
down to the water to fish, and were now scuttling up to their
burrows among the mangrove-roots; and at the sight of the pairs of
long-stalked eyes, standing upright like a pair of opera-glasses,
and the long single arms which each brandished, with frightful
menaces, as of infuriated Nelsons, I burst into such a fit of
laughter that I nearly fell out into the mud. The Negroes thought
for the instant that the 'buccra parson' had gone mad: but when I
pointed with my head (I dare not move a finger) to the crabs, off
they went in a true Negro guffaw, which, when once begun, goes on
and on, like thunder echoing round the mountains, and can no more
stop itself than a Blackcap's song. So all the way across the mud
the jolly fellows, working meanwhile like horses, laughed for the
mere pleasure of laughing; and when we got to the boat the Negro in
charge of her saw us laughing, and laughed too for company, without
waiting to hear the joke; and as two of them took the canoe home, we
could hear them laughing still in the distance, till the lonely
loathsome place rang again. I plead guilty to having given the men,
as payment, not only for their work but for their jollity, just
twice what they asked, which, after all, was very little.

But what are Calling Crabs? I must ask the reader to conceive a
moderate-sized crab, the front of whose carapace is very broad and
almost straight, with a channel along it, in which lie, right and
left, his two eyes, each on a footstalk half as long as the breadth
of his body; so that the crab, when at rest, carries his eyes as
epaulettes, and peeps out at the joint of each shoulder. But when
business is to be done, the eye-stalks jump bolt upright side by
side, like a pair of little lighthouses, and survey the field of
battle in a fashion utterly ludicrous. Moreover, as if he were not
ridiculous enough even thus, he is (as Mr. Wood well puts it) like a
small man gifted with one arm of Hercules, and another of Tom Thumb.
One of his claw arms, generally the left, has dwindled to a mere
nothing, and is not seen; while along the whole front of his shell
lies folded one mighty right arm, on which he trusts; and with that
arm, when danger appears, he beckons the enemy to come on, with such
wild defiance, that he has gained therefrom the name of Gelasimus
Vocans ('The Calling Laughable'); and it were well if all scientific
names were as well fitted. He is, as might be guessed, a shrewd
fighter, and uses the true old 'Bristol guard' in boxing, holding
his long arm across his body, and fencing and biting therewith
swiftly and sharply enough. Moreover, he is a respectable animal,
and has a wife, and takes care of her; and to see him in his glory,
it is said, he should be watched sitting in the mouth of his
'burrow, his spouse packed safe behind him inside, while he beckons
and brandishes, proclaiming to all passers-by the treasure which he
protects, while he defies them to touch it.

Such is the 'Calling Crab,' of whom I must say, that if he was not
made on purpose to be laughed at, then I should be induced to
suspect that nothing was made for any purpose whatsoever.

After which sight, and weary of waiting, not without some fear that-
-as the Negroes would have put it--'If I tap da wan momant ma, I
catch da confection,' while, of course, a bucket or two of hot water
was emptied on us out of a passing cloud, I got on board the
steamer, and away to San Fernando, to wash away dirt and forget
fatigue, amid the hospitality of educated and high-minded men, and
of even more charming women.

CHAPTER XI: THE NORTHERN MOUNTAINS

I had heard and read much of the beauty of mountain scenery in the
Tropics. What I had heard and read is not exaggerated. I saw, it
is true, in this little island no Andes, with such a scenery among
them and below them as Humboldt alone can describe--a type of the
great and varied tropical world as utterly different from that of
Trinidad as it is from that of Kent--or Siberia. I had not even the
chance of such a view as that from the Silla of Caraccas described
by Humboldt, from which you look down at a height of nearly six
thousand feet, through layer after layer of floating cloud, which
increases the seeming distance to an awful depth, upon the blazing
shores of the Northern Sea.

That view our host and his suite had seen themselves the year
before; and they assured me that Humboldt had not overstated its
grandeur. The mountains of Trinidad do not much exceed three
thousand feet in height, and I could hope at most to see among them
what my fancy had pictured among the serrated chines and green
gorges of St. Vincent, Guadaloupe, and St. Lucia, hanging gardens
compared with which those of Babylon of old must have been Cockney
mounds. The rock among these mountains, as I have said already, is
very seldom laid bare. Decomposed rapidly by the tropic rain and
heat, it forms, even on the steepest slopes, a mass of soil many
feet in depth, ever increasing, and ever sliding into the valleys,
mingled with blocks and slabs of rock still undecomposed. The waste
must be enormous now. Were the forests cleared, and the soil no
longer protected by the leaves and bound together by the roots, it
would increase at a pace of which we in this temperate zone can form
no notion, and the whole mountain-range slide down in deluges of
mud, as, even in the temperate zone, the Mont Ventoux and other
hills in Provence are sliding now, since they have been rashly
cleared of their primeval coat of woodland.

To this degrading influence of mere rain and air must be attributed,
I think, those vast deposits of boulder which encumber the mouths of
all the southern glens, sometimes to a height of several hundred
feet. Did one meet them in Scotland, one would pronounce them at
once to be old glacier-moraines. But Messrs. Wall and Sawkins, in
their geological survey of this island, have abstained from
expressing any such opinion; and I think wisely. They are more
simply explained as the mere leavings of the old sea-worn mountain
wall, at a time when the Orinoco, or the sea, lay along their
southern, as it now does along their northern, side. The terraces
in which they rise mark successive periods of upheaval; and how long
these periods were, no reasonable man dare guess. But as for traces
of ice-action, none, as far as I can ascertain, have yet been met
with. He would be a bold man who should deny that, during the abyss
of ages, a cold epoch may have spread ice over part of that wide
land which certainly once existed to the north of Trinidad and the
Spanish Main: but if so, its traces are utterly obliterated. The
commencement of the glacial epoch, as far as Trinidad is concerned,
may be safely referred to the discovery of Wenham Lake ice, and the
effects thereof sought solely in the human stomach and the increase
of Messrs. Haley's well-earned profits. Is it owing to this absence
of any ice-action that there are no lakes, not even a tarn, in the
northern mountains? Far be it from me to thrust my somewhat empty
head into the battle which has raged for some time past between
those who attribute all lakes to the scooping action of glaciers and
those who attribute them to original depressions in the earth's
surface: but it was impossible not to contrast the lakeless
mountains of Trinidad with the mountains of Kerry, resembling them
so nearly in shape and size, but swarming with lakes and tarns.
There are no lakes throughout the West Indies, save such as are
extinct craters, or otherwise plainly attributable to volcanic
action, as I presume are the lakes of tropical Mexico and Peru. Be
that as it may, the want of water, or rather of visible water, takes
away much from the beauty of these mountains, in which the eye grows
tired toward the end of a day's journey with the monotonous surges
of green woodland; and hails with relief, in going northward, the
first glimpse of the sea horizon; in going south, the first glimpse
of the hazy lowland, in which the very roofs and chimney-stalks of
the sugar-estates are pleasant to the eye from the repose of their
perpendicular and horizontal lines after the perpetual unrest of
rolling hills and tangled vegetation.

We started, then (to begin my story), a little after five one
morning, from a solid old mansion in the cane-fields, which bears
the name of Paradise, and which has all the right to the name which
beauty of situation and goodness of inhabitants can bestow.

As we got into our saddles the humming-birds were whirring round the
tree-tops; the Qu'est-ce qu'il dits inquiring the subject of our
talk. The black vultures sat about looking on in silence, hoping
that something to their advantage might be dropped or left behind--
possibly that one of our horses might die.

Ere the last farewell was given, one of our party pointed to a sight
which I never saw before, and perhaps shall never see again. It was
the Southern Cross. Just visible in that winter season on the
extreme southern horizon in early morning, it hung upright amid the
dim haze of the lowland and the smoke of the sugar-works.
Impressive as was, and always must be, the first sight of that
famous constellation, I could not but agree with those who say that
they are disappointed by its inequality, both in shape and in the
size of its stars. However, I had but little time to make up my
mind about it; for in five minutes more it had melted away into a
blaze of sunlight, which reminded us that we ought to have been on
foot half an hour before.

So away we went over the dewy paddocks, through broad-leaved
grasses, and the pink balls of the sensitive-plants and blue
Commelyna, and the upright negro Ipecacuanha, {216} with its scarlet
and yellow flowers, gayest and commonest of weeds; then down into a
bamboo copse, and across a pebbly brook, and away toward the
mountains.

Our party consisted of a bat-mule, with food and clothes, two or
three Negroes, a horse for me, another for general use in case of
break-down; and four gentlemen who preferred walking to riding. It
seemed at first a serious undertaking on their part; but one had
only to see them begin to move, long, lithe, and light as deer-
hounds, in their flannel shirts and trousers, with cutlass and pouch
at their waists, to be sure that they could both go and stay, and
were as well able to get to Blanchisseuse as the horses beside which
they walked.

The ward of Blanchisseuse, on the north coast, whither we were
bound, was of old, I understand, called Blanchi Sali, or something
to that effect, signifying the white cliffs. The French settlers
degraded the name to its present form, and that so hopelessly, that
the other day an old Negress in Port of Spain puzzled the officer of
Crown property by informing him that she wanted to buy 'a carre in
what you call de washerwoman's.' It had been described to me as
possibly the remotest, loneliest, and unhealthiest spot in Her
Majesty's tropical dominions. No white man can live there for more
than two or three years without ruin to his health. In spite of the
perpetual trade-wind, and the steepness of the hillsides, malaria
hangs for ever at the mouth of each little mountain torrent, and
crawls up inland to leeward to a considerable height above the sea.

But we did not intend to stay there long enough to catch fever and
ague. We had plenty of quinine with us; and cheerily we went up the
valley of Caura, first over the great boulder and pebble ridges, not
bare like those of the Moor of Dinnet, or other Deeside stone heap,
but clothed with cane-pieces and richest rastrajo copses; and then
entered the narrow gorge, which we had to follow into the heart of
the hills, as our leader, taking one parting look at the broad green
lowland behind us, reminded us of Shelley's lines about the plains
of Lombardy seen from the Euganean hills:--

'Beneath me lies like a green sea
The waveless plain of Lombardy,
. . . . .
Where a soft and purple mist,
Like a vaporous amethyst,
Or an air-dissolved stone,
Mingling light and fragrance, far
From the curved horizon's bound
To the point of heaven's profound,
Fills the overflowing sky;
And the plains that silent lie
Underneath, the leaves unsodden
Where the infant frost has trodden
With his morning-winged feet,
Whose bright fruit is gleaming yet;
And the red and golden vines
Piercing with their trellised lines
The rough dark-skirted wilderness.'

But there the analogy stopped. It hardly applied even so far.
Between us and the rough dark-skirted wilderness of the high forests
on Montserrat the infant frost had never trodden; all basked in the
equal heat of the perpetual summer; awaiting, it may be, in ages to
come, a civilisation higher even than that whose decay Shelley
deplored as he looked down on fallen Italy. No clumsy words of mine
can give an adequate picture of the beauty of the streams and glens
which run down from either slope of the Northern Mountain. The
reader must fancy for himself the loveliest brook which he ever saw
in Devonshire or Yorkshire, Ireland or Scotland; crystal-clear,
bedded with gray pebbles, broken into rapids by rock-ledges or great
white quartz boulders, swirling under steep cliffs, winding through
flats of natural meadow and copse. Then let him transport his
stream into the great Palm-house at Kew, stretch out the house up
hill and down dale, five miles in length and two thousand feet in
height; pour down on it from above a blaze which lights up every
leaf into a gem, and deepens every shadow into blackness, and yet
that very blackness full of inner light--and if his fancy can do as
much as that, he can imagine to himself the stream up which we rode
or walked, now winding along the narrow track a hundred feet or two
above, looking down on the upper surface of the forest, on the
crests of palms, and the broad sheets of the balisier copse, and
often on the statelier fronds of true bananas, which had run wild
along the stream-side, flowering and fruiting in the wilderness for
the benefit of the parrots and agoutis; or on huge dark clumps of
bamboo, which (probably not indigenous to the island) have in like
manner spread themselves along all the streams in the lapse of ages.

Now we scrambled down into the brook, and waded our horses through,
amid shoals of the little spotted sardine, {218a} who are too
fearless, or too unaccustomed to man, to get out of the way more
than a foot or two. But near akin as they are to the trout, they
are still nearer to the terrible Pirai, {218b} of the Orinocquan
waters, the larger of which snap off the legs of swimming ducks and
the fingers of unwary boatmen, while the smaller surround the rash
bather, and devour him piecemeal till he drowns, torn by a thousand
tiny wounds, in water purpled with his own blood. These little
fellows prove their kindred with the Pirai by merely nibbling at the
bather's skin, making him tingle from head to foot, while he thanks
Heaven that his visitors are but two inches, and not a foot in
length.

At last we stopped for breakfast. The horses were tethered to a
tree, the food got out, and we sat down on a pebbly beach after a
bathe in a deep pool, so clear that it looked but four feet deep,
though the bathers soon found it to be eight and more. A few dark
logs, as usual, were lodged at the bottom, looking suspiciously like
alligators or boa-constrictors. The alligator, however, does not
come up the mountain streams; and the boa-constrictors are rare,
save on the east coast: but it is as well, ere you jump into a
pool, to look whether there be not a snake in it, of any length from
three to twenty feet.

Over the pool rose a rock, carrying a mass of vegetation, to be
seen, doubtless, in every such spot in the island, but of a richness
and variety beyond description. Nearest to the water the primeval
garden began with ferns and creeping Selaginella. Next, of course,
the common Arum, {218c} with snow-white spathe and spadix, mingled
with the larger leaves of Balisier, wild Tania, and Seguine, some of
the latter upborne on crooked fleshy stalks as thick as a man's leg,
and six feet high. Above them was a tangle of twenty different
bushes, with leaves of every shape; above them again, the arching
shoots of a bamboo clump, forty feet high, threw a deep shade over
pool and rock and herbage; while above it again enormous timber
trees were packed, one behind the other, up the steep mountain-side.
On the more level ground were the usual weeds; Ipomoeas with white
and purple flowers, Bignonias, Echites, and Allamandas, with yellow
ones, scrambled and tumbled everywhere; and, if not just there, then
often enough elsewhere, might be seen a single Aristolochia
scrambling up a low tree, from which hung, amid round leaves, huge
flowers shaped like a great helmet with a ladle at the lower lip, a
foot or more across, of purplish colour, spotted like a toad, and
about as fragrant as a dead dog.

But the plants which would strike a botanist most, I think, the
first time he found himself on a tropic burn-side, are the peppers,
groves of tall herbs some ten feet high or more, utterly unlike any
European plants I have ever seen. Some {219a} have round leaves,
peltate, that is, with the footstalk springing from inside the
circumference, like a one-sided umbrella. They catch the eye at
once, from the great size of their leaves, each a full foot across;
but they are hardly as odd and foreign-looking as the more abundant
forms of peppers, {219b} usually so soft and green that they look as
if you might make them into salad, stalks and all, yet with a quaint
stiffness and primness, given by the regular jointing of their
knotted stalks, and the regular tiling of their pointed, drooping,
strong-nerved leaves, which are usually, to add to the odd look of
the plant, all crooked, one side of the base (and that in each
species always the same side) being much larger than the other, so
that the whole head of the bush seems to have got a twist from right
to left, or left to right. Nothing can look more unlike than they
to the climbing true peppers, or even to the creeping pepper-weeds,
which abound in all waste land. But their rat-tails of small green
flowers prove them to be peppers nevertheless.

On we went, upward ever, past Cacao and Bois Immortelle orchards,
and comfortable settlers' hamlets; and now and then through a strip
of virgin forest, in which we began to see, for the first time,
though not for the last, that 'resplendent Calycophyllum' as Dr.
Krueger calls it, Chaconia as it is commonly called here, after poor
Alonzo de Chacon, the last Spanish governor of this island. It is
indeed the jewel of these woods. A low straggling tree carries, on
long pendent branches, leaves like a Spanish chestnut, a foot and
more in length; and at the ends of the branches, long corymbs of
yellow flowers. But it is not the flowers themselves which make the
glory of the tree. As the flower opens, one calyx-lobe, by a rich
vagary of nature, grows into a leaf three inches long, of a splendid
scarlet; and the whole end of each branch, for two feet or more in
length, blazes among the green foliage till you can see it and
wonder at it a quarter of a mile away. This is 'the resplendent
Calycophyllum,' elaborated, most probably, by long physical
processes of variation and natural selection into a form equally
monstrous and beautiful. There are those who will smile at my
superstition, if I state my belief that He who makes all things make
themselves may have used those very processes of variation and
natural selection for a final cause; and that the final cause was,
that He might delight Himself in the beauty of one more strange and
new creation. Be it so. I can only assume that their minds are,
for the present at least, differently constituted from mine.

We reached the head of the glen at last, and outlet from the
amphitheatre of wood there seemed none. But now I began to find out
what a tropic mountain-path can be, and what a West Indian horse can
do. We arrived at the lower end of a narrow ditch full of rocks and
mud, which wandered up the face of a hill as steep as the roofs of
the Louvre or Chateau Chambord. Accustomed only to English horses,
I confess I paused in dismay: but as men and horses seemed to take
the hill as a matter of course, the only thing to be done was to
give the stout little cob his head, and not to slip over his tail.
So up we went, splashing, clawing, slipping, stumbling, but never
falling down; pausing every now and then to get breath for a fresh
rush, and then on again, up a place as steep as a Devonshire furze-
bank for twenty or thirty feet, till we had risen a thousand feet,
as I suppose, and were on a long and more level chine, in the midst
of ghastly dead forests, the remains of last year's fires. Much was
burnt to tinder and ash; much more was simply killed and scorched,
and stood or hung in an infinite tangle of lianes and boughs, all
gray and bare. Here and there some huge tree had burnt as it stood,
and rose like a soot-grimed tower; here another had fallen right
across the path, and we had to cut our way round it step by step,
amid a mass of fallen branches sometimes much higher than our heads,
or to lead the horses underneath boughs which were too large to cut
through, and just high enough to let them pass. An English horse
would have lost his nerve, and become restive from confusion and
terror; but these wise brutes, like the pack-mule, seemed to
understand the matter as well as we; waited patiently till a passage
was cut; and then struggled gallantly through, often among logs,
where I expected to see their leg-bones snapped in two. But my
fears were needless; the deft gallant animals got safe through
without a scratch. However, for them, as for us, the work was very
warm. The burnt forest was utterly without shade; and wood-cutting
under a perpendicular noonday sun would have been trying enough had
not our spirits been kept up by the excitement, the sense of freedom
and of power, and also by the magnificent scenery which began to
break upon us. From one cliff, off which the whole forest had been
burnt away, we caught at last a sight westward of Tocuche, from
summit to base, rising out of a green sea of wood--for the fire,
coming from the eastward, had stopped half-way down the cliff; and
to the right of the picture the blue Northern Sea shone through a
gap in the hills. What a view that was! To conceive it, the reader
must fancy himself at Clovelly, on the north coast of Devon, if he
ever has had the good fortune to see that most beautiful of English
cliff-woodlands; he must magnify the whole scene four or five times;
and then pour down on it a tropic sunshine and a tropic haze.

Soon we felt, and thankful we were to feel it, a rush of air, soft
and yet bracing, cool, yet not chilly; the 'champagne atmosphere,'
as some one called it, of the trade-wind: and all, even the very
horses, plucked up heart; for that told us that we were at the
summit of the pass, and that the worst of our day's work was over.
In five minutes more we were aware, between the tree-stems, of a
green misty gulf beneath our very feet, which seemed at the first
glance boundless, but which gradually resolved itself into mile
after mile of forest, rushing down into the sea. The hues of the
distant woodlands, twenty miles away, seen through a veil of
ultramarine, mingled with the pale greens and blues of the water:
and they again with the pale sky, till the eye could hardly discern
where land and sea and air parted from each other.

We stopped to gaze, and breathe; and then downward again for nigh
two thousand feet toward Blanchisseuse. And so, leading our tired
horses, we went cheerily down the mountain side in Indian file,
hopping and slipping from ledge to mud and mud to ledge, and calling
a halt every five minutes to look at some fresh curiosity: now a
tree-fern, now a climbing fern; now some huge tree-trunk, whose name
was only to be guessed at; now a fresh armadillo-burrow; now a
parasol-ants' warren, which had to be avoided lest horse and man
should sink in it knee-deep, and come out sorely bitten; now some
glimpse of sea and forest far below; now we cut a water-vine, and
had a long cool drink; now a great moth had to be hunted, if not
caught; or a toucan or some other strange bird listened to; or an
eagle watched as he soared high over the green gulf. Now all
stopped together; for the ground was sprinkled thick with great
beads, scarlet, with a black eye, which had fallen from some tree
high overhead; and we all set to work like schoolboys, filling our
pockets with them for the ladies at home. Now the path was lost,
having vanished in the six months' growth of weeds; and we had to
beat about for it over fallen logs, through tangles of liane and
thickets of the tall Arouma, {221} a cane with a flat tuft of leaves
atop, which is plentiful in these dark, damp, northern slopes. Now
we struggled and hopped, horse and man, down and round a corner, at
the head of a glen, where a few flagstones fallen across a gully
gave an uncertain foothold, and paused, under damp rocks covered
with white and pink Begonias and ferns of innumerable forms, to
drink the clear mountain water out of cups extemporised from a
Calathea leaf; and then struggled up again over roots and ledges,
and round the next spur, in cool green darkness on which it seemed
the sun had never shone, and in a silence which when our own voices
ceased, was saddening, all but appalling.

At last, striking into a broader trace which came from the westward,
we found ourselves some six or eight hundred feet above the sea, in
scenery still like a magnified Clovelly, but amid a vegetation
which--how can I describe? Suffice it to say, that right and left
of the path, and arching together over head, rose a natural avenue
of Cocorite palms, beneath whose shade I rode for miles, enjoying
the fresh trade wind, the perfume of the Vanilla flowers, and last,
but not least, the conversation of one who used his high post to
acquaint himself thoroughly with the beauties, the productions, the
capabilities of the island which he governed, and his high culture
to make such journeys as this a continuous stream of instruction and
pleasure to those who accompanied him. Under his guidance we
stopped at one point, silent with delight and awe.

Through an arch of Cocorite boughs--ah that English painters would
go to paint such pictures, set in such natural frames--we saw,
nearly a thousand feet below us, the little bay of Fillette. The
height of the horizon line told us how high we were ourselves, for
the blue of the Caribbean Sea rose far above a point which stretched
out on our right, covered with noble wood, while the dark olive
cliffs along its base were gnawed by snowy surf. On our left, the
nearer mountain woods rushed into the sea, cutting off the view, and
under our very feet, in the centre of an amphitheatre of wood, as
the eye of the whole picture, was a group--such as I cannot hope to
see again. Out of a group of scarlet Bois Immortelles rose three
Palmistes, and close to them a single Balata, whose height I hardly
dare to estimate. So tall they were, that though they were perhaps
a thousand feet below us, they stood out against the blue sea, far
up toward the horizon line, the central palm a hundred and fifty
feet at least, the two others, as we guessed, a hundred and twenty
feet or more. Their stems were perfectly straight and motionless,
while their dark crowns, even at that distance, could be seen to
toss and rage impatiently before the rush of the strong trade wind.
The black glossy head of the Balata, almost as high aloft as they,
threw off sheets of spangled light, which mingled with the spangles
of the waves, and, above the tree tops, as if poised in a blue hazy
sky, one tiny white sail danced before the breeze. The whole scene
swam in soft sea air, and such combined grandeur and delicacy of
form and of colour I never beheld before.

We rode on and downward, toward a spot where we expected to find
water. Our Negroes had lagged behind with the provisions; and,
hungry and thirsty, we tethered our horses to the trees at the
bottom of a gully, and went down through the bush toward a low
cliff. As we went, if I recollect, we found on the ground many
curious pods, {224} curled two or three times round, something like
those of a Medic, and when they split, bright red inside, setting
off prettily enough the bright blue seeds. Some animal or other,
however, admired these seeds as much as we; for they had been
stripped as soon as they opened, and out of hundreds of pods we only
secured one or two beads.

We got to the cliff--a smugglers' crack in the rock, and peered
down, with some disgust. There should have been a pole or two
there, to get down by: but they were washed away; a canoe also:
but it had been carried off, probably out of the way of the surf.
To get down the crack, for active men, was easy enough: but to get
up again seemed, the longer we looked at it, the more impossible, at
least for me. So after scrambling down, holding on by wild pines,
as far as we dare--during which process one of us was stung (not
bitten) by a great hunting-ant, causing much pain and swelling--we
turned away; for the heat of the little corner was intolerable. But
wistful eyes did we cast back at the next point of rock, behind
which broke out the tantalising spring, which we could just not
reach.

We rode on, sick and sorry, to find unexpected relief. We entered a
clearing, with Bananas and Tanias, Cacao and Bois Immortelle, and
better still, Avocado pears and orange-tree, with fruit. A tall and
stately dame was there; her only garment a long cotton-print gown,
which covered her tall figure from throat to ankle and wrist,
showing brown feet and hands which had once been delicate, and a
brown face, half Spanish, half Indian, modest and serious enough.
We pointed to a tall orange-tree overhead, laden with fruit of every
hue from bright green to gold. She, on being appealed to in
Spanish, answered with a courteous smile, and then a piercing scream
of--'Candelaria, come hither, and get oranges for the Governor and
other senors!' Candelaria, who might have been eighteen or twenty,
came sliding down under the Banana-leaves, all modest smiles, and
blushes through her whity-brown skin. But having no more clothes on
than her mother, she naturally hesitated at climbing the tree; and
after ineffectual attempts to knock down oranges with a bamboo,
screamed in her turn for some Jose or Juan. Jose or Juan made his
appearance, in a ragged shirt. A lanky lad, about seventeen years
old, he was evidently the oaf or hobbedehoy of the family, just as
he would have been on this side of the sea; was treated as such; and
was accustomed to be so treated. In a tone of angry contempt (the
poor boy had done and said nothing) the two women hounded him up the
tree. He obeyed in meek resignation, and in a couple of minutes we
had more oranges than we could eat. And such oranges: golden-
green, but rather more green than gold, which cannot be (as at home)
bitten or sucked; for so strong is the fragrant essential oil in the
skin, that it would blister the lips and disorder the stomach; and
the orange must be carefully stripped of the outer coat before you
attack a pulp compared with which, for flavour, the orange of our
shops is but bad sugar and water.

As I tethered my horse to a cacao-stem, and sat on a log among
hothouse ferns, peeling oranges with a bowie-knife beneath the
burning mid-day sun, the quaintest fancy came over me that it was
all a dream, a phantasmagoria, a Christmas pantomime got up by my
host for my special amusement; and that if I only winked my eyes
hard enough, when I opened them again it would be all gone, and I
should find myself walking with him on Ascot Heath, while the snow
whirled over the heather, and the black fir-trees groaned in the
north-east wind.

We soon rode on, with blessings on fair Candelaria and her stately
mother, while the noise of the surf grew louder and louder in front
of us. We took (if I remember right) a sudden turn to the left, to
get our horses to the shore. Our pedestrians held straight on;
there was a Mangrove swamp and a lagoon in front, for which they,
bold lads, cared nothing.

We passed over a sort of open down, from which all vegetation had
been cleared, save the Palmistes--such a wood of them as I had never
seen before. A hundred or more, averaging at least a hundred feet
in height, stood motionless in the full cut of the strong trade-
wind. One would have expected them, when the wood round was felled,
to feel the sudden nakedness. One would have expected the inrush of
salt air and foam to have injured their foliage. But, seemingly, it
was not so. They stood utterly unharmed; save some half-dozen who
had had their tops snapped off by a gale--there are no hurricanes in
Trinidad--and remained as enormous unmeaning pikes, or posts, fifty
to eighty feet high, transformed, by that one blast, from one of the
loveliest to one of the ugliest natural objects.

Through the Palmiste pillars; through the usual black Roseau scrub;
then under tangled boughs down a steep stony bank; and we were on a
long beach of deep sand and quartz gravel. On our right the Shore-
grapes with their green bunches of fruit, the Mahauts {226} with
their poplar-like leaves and great yellow flowers, and the
ubiquitous Matapalos, fringed the shore. On our left weltered a
broad waste of plunging foam; in front green mountains were piled on
mountains, blazing in sunlight, yet softened and shrouded by an air
saturated with steam and salt. We waded our horses over the mouth
of the little Yarra, which hurried down through the sand, brown and
foul from the lagoon above. We sat down on bare polished logs,
which floods had carried from the hills above, and ate and drank--
for our Negroes had by now rejoined us; and then scrambled up the
shore back again, and into a trace running along the low cliff, even
more beautiful, if possible, than that which we had followed in the
morning. Along the cliff tall Balatas and Palmistes, with here and
there an equally tall Cedar, and on the inside bank a green wall of
Balisiers, with leaves full fifteen feet long and heads of scarlet
flowers, marked the richness of the soil. Here and there, too, a
Cannon-ball tree rose, grand and strange, among the Balatas; and in
one place the ground was strewn with large white flowers, whose
peculiar shape told us at once of some other Lecythid tree high
overhead. These Lecythids are peculiar to the hottest parts of
South America; to the valleys of the Orinoco and Amazon; to
Trinidad, as a fragment of the old Orinocquan land, and possibly to
some of the southern Antilles. So now, as we are in their home, it
may be worth our while to pause a little round these strange and
noble forms.

Botanists tell us that they are, or rather may have been in old
times, akin to myrtles. If so, they have taken a grand and original
line of their own, and persevered in it for ages, till they have
specialised themselves to a condition far in advance of most
myrtles, in size, beauty, and use. They may be known from all other
trees by one mark--their large handsome flowers. A group of the
innumerable stamens have grown together on one side of the flower
into a hood, which bends over the stigma and the other stamens.
Tall trees they are, and glorious to behold, when in full flower;
but they are notorious mostly for their huge fruits and delicious
nuts. One of their finest forms, and the only one which the
traveller is likely to see often in Trinidad, is the Cannon-ball
tree. {227} There is a grand specimen in the Botanic Garden; and
several may be met with in any day's ride through the high woods,
and distinguished at once from any other tree. The stem rises,
without a fork, for sixty feet or more, and rolls out at the top
into a head very like that of an elm trimmed up, and like an elm too
in its lateral water-boughs. For the whole of the stem, from the
very ground to the forks, and the larger fork-branches likewise, are
feathered all over with numberless short prickly pendent branchlets,
which roll outward, and then down, and then up again in graceful
curves, and carry large pale crimson flowers, each with a pink hood
in the middle, looking like a new-born baby's fist. Those flowers,
when torn, turn blue on exposure to the light; and when they fall,
leave behind them the cannon-ball, a rough brown globe, as big as a
thirty two pound shot, which you must get down with a certain
caution, lest that befall you which befell a certain gallant officer
on the mainland of America. For, fired with a post-prandial
ambition to obtain a cannon ball, he took to himself a long bamboo,
and poked at the tree. He succeeded: but not altogether as he had
hoped. For the cannon ball, in coming down, avenged itself by
dropping exactly on the bridge of his nose, felling him to the
ground, and giving him such a pair of black eyes that he was not
seen on parade for a fortnight.

The pulp of this cannon-ball is, they say, 'vinous and pleasant'
when fresh; but those who are mindful of what befell our forefather
Adam from eating strange fruits, will avoid it, as they will many
more fruits eaten in the Tropics, but digestible only by the dura
ilia of Indians and Negroes. Whatever virtue it may have when
fresh, it begins, as soon as stale, to give out an odour too
abominable to be even recollected with comfort.

More useful, and the fruit of an even grander tree, are those
'Brazil nuts' which are sold in every sweet-shop at home. They
belong to Bertholletia excelsa, a tree which grows sparingly--I have
never seen it wild--in the southern part of the island, but
plentifully in the forests of Guiana, and which is said to be one of
the tallest of all the forest giants. The fruit, round like the
cannon-ball, and about the size of a twenty-four pounder, is harder
than the hardest wood, and has to be battered to pieces with the
back of a hatchet to disclose the nuts, which lie packed close
inside. Any one who has hammered at a Bertholletia fruit will be
ready to believe the story that the Indians, fond as they are of the
nuts, avoid the 'totocke' trees till the fruit has all fallen, for
fear of fractured skulls; and the older story which Humboldt gives
out of old Laet, {228} that the Indians dared not enter the forests,
when the trees were fruiting, without having their heads and
shoulders covered with bucklers of hard wood. These 'Almendras de
Peru' (Peru almonds), as they were called, were known in Europe as
early as the sixteenth century, the seeds being carried up the
Maragnon, and by the Cordilleras to Peru, men knew not from whence.
To Humboldt himself, I believe, is due the re-discovery of the tree
itself and its enormous fruit; and the name of Bertholletia excelsa
was given by him. The tree, he says, 'is not more than two or three
feet in diameter, but attains one hundred or one hundred and twenty
feet in height. It does not resemble the Mammee, the star-apple,
and several other trees of the Tropics, of which the branches, as in
the laurels of the temperate zone, rise straight toward the sky.
The branches of the Bertholletia are open, very long, almost
entirely bare toward the base, and loaded at their summits with
tufts of very close foliage. This disposition of the semi-
coriaceous leaves, a little silvery beneath and more than two feet
long, makes the branches bend down toward the ground, like the
fronds of the palm-trees.'

'The Capuchin monkeys,' he continues, 'are singularly fond of these
"chestnuts of Brazil," and the noise made by the seeds, when the
fruit is shaken as it fell from the tree, excites their appetency in
the highest degree.' He does not, however, believe the 'tale, very
current on the lower Oroonoco, that the monkeys place themselves in
a circle, and by striking the shell with a stone succeed in opening
it.' That they may try is possible enough; for there is no doubt, I
believe, that monkeys--at least the South American--do use stones to
crack nuts; and I have seen myself a monkey, untaught, use a stick
to rake his food up to him when put beyond the reach of his chain.
The impossibility in this case would lie, not in want of wits, but
want of strength; and the monkeys must have too often to wait for
these feasts till the rainy season, when the woody shell rots of
itself, and amuse themselves meanwhile, as Humboldt describes them,
in rolling the fruit about, vainly longing to get their paws in
through the one little hole at its base. The Agoutis, however, and
Pacas, and other rodents, says Humboldt, have teeth and perseverance
to gnaw through the shell; and when the seeds are once out, 'all the
animals of the forest, the monkeys, the manaviris, the squirrels,
the agoutis, the parrots, the macaws, hasten thither to dispute the
prey. They have all strength enough to break the woody covering of
the seeds; they get out the kernel and carry it to the tops of the
trees. "It is their festival also," said the Indians who had
returned from the nut-harvest; and on hearing their complaints of
the animals you perceive that they think themselves alone the
legitimate masters of the forest.'

But if Nature has played the poor monkeys a somewhat tantalising
trick about Brazil nuts, she has been more generous to them in the
case of some other Lecythids, {229} which go by the name of monkey-
pots. Huge trees like their kinsfolk, they are clothed in bark
layers so delicate that the Indians beat them out till they are as
thin as satin-paper, and use them as cigarette-wrappers. They carry
great urn-shaped fruits, big enough to serve for drinking-vessels,
each kindly provided with a round wooden cover, which becomes loose
and lets out the savoury sapucaya nuts inside, to the comfort of all
our 'poor relations.' Ah, when will there arise a tropic Landseer
to draw for us some of the strange fashions of the strange birds and
beasts of these lands?--to draw, for instance, the cunning, selfish,
greedy grin of delight on the face of some burly, hairy, goitred old
red Howler, as he lifts off a 'tapa del cacao de monos' (a monkey-
cacao cover), and looks defiance out of the corners of his winking
eyes at his wives and children, cousins and grandchildren, who sit
round jabbering and screeching, and, monkey fashion, twisting their
heads upside down, as they put their arms round each other's waists
to peer over each other's shoulders at the great bully, who must
feed himself first as his fee for having roared to them for an hour
at sunrise on a tree-top, while they sat on the lower branches and
looked up, trembling and delighted at the sound and fury of the
idiot sermon.

What an untried world is here for the artist of every kind, not
merely for the animal painter, for the landscape painter, for the
student of human form and attitude, if he chose to live awhile among
the still untrained Indians of the Main, or among the graceful
Coolies of Trinidad and Demerara, but also for the botanical artist,
for the man who should study long and carefully the more striking
and beautiful of these wonderful leaves and stems, flowers and
fruits, and introduce them into ornamentation, architectural or
other.

And so I end my little episode about these Lecythids, only adding
that the reader must not confound with their nuts the butter-nuts,
Caryocar, or Souari, which may be bought, I believe, at Fortnum and
Mason's, and which are of all nuts the largest and the most
delicious. They have not been found as yet in Trinidad, though they
abound in Guiana. They are the fruit also of an enormous tree
{230}--there is a young one fruiting finely in the Botanic Garden at
Port of Spain--of a quite different order; a cousin of the Matapalos
and of the Soap-berries. It carries large threefold leaves on
pointed stalks; spikes of flowers with innumerable stamens; and here
and there a fruit something like the cannon-ball, though not quite
as large. On breaking the soft rind you find it full of white meal,
probably eatable, and in the meal three or four great hard wrinkled
nuts, rounded on one side, wedge-shaped on the other, which,
cracked, are found full of almond-like white jelly, so delicious
that one can well believe travellers when they tell us that the
Indian tribes wage war against each other for the possession of the
trees which bear these precious vagaries of bounteous nature.

And now we began to near the village, two scattered rows of clay and
timber bowers right and left of the trace, each half buried in
fruit-trees and vegetables, and fenced in with hedges of scarlet
Hibiscus; the wooded mountains shading them to the south, the sea
thundering behind them to the north. As we came up we heard a bell,
and soon were aware of a brown mob running, with somewhat mysterious
in the midst. Was it the Host? or a funeral? or a fight? Soon the
mob came up with profound salutations, and smiles of self-
satisfaction, evidently thinking that they had done a fine thing;
and disclosed, hanging on a long bamboo, their one church-bell.
Their old church (a clay and timber thing of their own handiwork)
had become ruinous; and they dared not leave their bell aloft in it.
But now they were going to build themselves a new and larger church,
Government giving them the site; and the bell, being on furlough,
was put into requisition to ring in His Excellency the Governor and
his muddy and quaintly attired--or unattired--suite.

Ah, that I could have given a detailed picture of the scene before
the police court-house--the coloured folk, of all hues of skin, all
types of feature, and all gay colours of dress, crowding round, the
tall stately brown policeman, Thompson, called forward and receiving
with a military salute the Governor's commendations for having
saved, at the risk of his life, some shipwrecked folk out of the
surf close by; and the flash of his eye when he heard that he was to
receive the Humane Society's medal from England, and to have his
name mentioned, probably to the Queen herself; the greetings, too,
of almost filial respect which were bestowed by the coloured people
on one who, though still young, had been to them a father; who,
indeed, had set the policeman the example of gallantry by saving, in
another cove near by, other shipwrecked folk out of a still worse
surf, by swimming out beyond a ledge of rock swarming with sharks,
at the risk every moment of a hideous death. There, as in other
places since, he had worked, like his elder brother at Montserrat,
as a true civiliser in every sense of the word; and, when his health
broke down from the noxious climate, had moved elsewhere to still
harder and more extensive work, belying, like his father and his
brothers, the common story that the climate forbids exertion, and
that the Creole gentleman cannot or will not, when he has a chance,
do as good work as the English gentleman at home. I do not mention
these men's names. In England it matters little; in Trinidad there
is no need to mention those whom all know; all I shall say is,
Heaven send the Queen many more such public servants, and me many
more such friends.

Then up hurried the good little priest, and set forth in French--he
was very indignant, by the by, at being taken for a Frenchman, and
begged it to be understood that he was Belgian born and bred--
setting forth how His Excellency had not been expected till next
day, or he would have had ready an address from the loyal
inhabitants of Blanchisseuse testifying their delight at the honour
of, etc. etc.; which he begged leave to present in due form next
day; and all the while the brown crowd surged round and in and out,
and the naked brown children got between every one's legs, and every
one was in a fume of curiosity and delight--anything being an event
in Blanchisseuse--save the one Chinaman, if I recollect right, who
stood in his blue jacket and trousers, his hands behind his back,
with visage unimpassioned, dolorous, seemingly stolid, a creature of
the earth, earthy,--say rather of the dirt, dirty,--but doubtless by
no means as stolid as he looked. And all the while the palms and
bananas rustled above, and the surf thundered, and long streams of
light poured down through the glens in the black northern wall, and
flooded the glossy foliage of the mangoes and sapodillas, and rose
fast up the palm-stems, and to their very heads, and then vanished;
for the sun was sinking, and in half an hour more, darkness would
have fallen on the most remote little paradise in Her Majesty's
dominions.

But where was the warden, who was by office, as well as by courtesy,
to have received us? He too had not expected us, and was gone home
after his day's work to his new clearing inland: but a man had been
sent on to him over the mountain; and over the mountain we must go,
and on foot too, for the horses could do no more, and there was no
stabling for them farther on. How far was the new clearing? Oh,
perhaps a couple of miles--perhaps a league. And how high up? Oh,
nothing--only a hundred feet or two. One knew what that meant; and,
with a sigh, resigned oneself to a four or five miles' mountain walk
at the end of a long day, and started up the steep zigzag, through
cacao groves, past the loveliest gardens--I recollect in one an
agave in flower, nigh thirty feet high, its spike all primrose and
golden yellow in the fading sunlight--then up into rastrajo; and
then into high wood, and a world of ferns--tree ferns, climbing

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