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At Last by Charles Kingsley

Part 6 out of 8

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ferns, and all other ferns which ever delighted the eye in an
English hothouse. For along these northern slopes, sheltered from
the sun for the greater part of the year, and for ever watered by
the steam of the trade-wind, ferns are far more luxuriant and varied
than in any other part of the island.

Soon it grew dark, and we strode on up hill and down dale, at one
time for a mile or more through burnt forest, with its ghastly
spider-work of leafless decaying branches and creepers against the
moonlit sky--a sad sight: but music enough we had to cheer us on
our way. We did not hear the howl of a monkey, nor the yell of a
tiger-cat, common enough on the mountains which lay in front of us;
but of harping, fiddling, humming, drumming, croaking, clacking,
snoring, screaming, hooting, from cicadas, toads, birds, and what
not, there was a concert at every step, which made the glens ring
again, as the Brocken might ring on a Walpurgis-night.

At last, pausing on the top of a hill, we could hear voices on the
opposite side of the glen. Shouts and 'cooeys' soon brought us to
the party which were awaiting us. We hurried joyfully down a steep
hillside, across a shallow ford, and then up another hillside--this
time with care, for the felled logs and brushwood lay all about a
path full of stumps, and we needed a guide to show us our way in the
moonlight up to the hospitable house above. And a right hospitable
house it was. Its owner, a French gentleman of ancient Irish
family--whose ancestors probably had gone to France as one of the
valiant 'Irish Brigade'; whose children may have emigrated thence to
St. Domingo, and their children or grandchildren again to Trinidad--
had prepared for us in the wilderness a right sumptuous feast: 'nor
did any soul lack aught of the equal banquet.'

We went to bed; or, rather, I did. For here, as elsewhere before
and after, I was compelled, by the courtesy of the Governor, to
occupy the one bed of the house, as being the oldest, least
acclimatised, and alas! weakliest of the party; while he, his little
suite, and the owner of the house slept anywhere upon the floor; on
which, between fatigue and enjoyment of the wild life, I would have
gladly slept myself.

When we turned out before sunrise next morning, I found myself in
perhaps the most charming of all the charming 'camps' of these
forests. Its owner, the warden, fearing the unhealthy air of the
sea-coast, had bought some hundreds of acres up here in the hills,
cleared them, and built, or rather was building, in the midst. As
yet the house was rudimentary. A cottage of precious woods cut off
the clearing, standing, of course, on stilts, contained two rooms,
an inner and an outer. There was no glass in the windows, which
occupied half the walls. Door or shutters, to be closed if the wind
and rain were too violent, are all that is needed in a climate where
the temperature changes but little, day or night, throughout the
year. A table, unpolished, like the wooden walls, but, like them,
of some precious wood; a few chairs or benches, not forgetting, of
course, an American rocking-chair; a shelf or two, with books of law
and medicine, and beside them a few good books of devotion: a
press; a 'perch' for hanging clothes--for they mildew when kept in
drawers--just such as would have been seen in a mediaeval house in
England; a covered four-post bed, with gauze curtains, indispensable
for fear of vampires, mosquitoes, and other forest plagues; these
make up the furniture of such a bachelor's camp as, to the man who
lives doing good work all day out of doors, leaves nothing to be
desired. Where is the kitchen? It consists of half a dozen great
stones under yonder shed, where as good meals are cooked as in any
London kitchen. Other sheds hold the servants and hangers-on, the
horses and mules; and as the establishment grows, more will be
added, and the house itself will probably expand laterally, like a
peripheral Greek temple, by rows of posts, probably of palm-stems
thatched over with wooden shingle or with the leaves of the Timit
{233} palm. If ladies come to inhabit the camp, fresh rooms will be
partitioned off by boardings as high as the eaves, leaving the roof
within open and common, for the sake of air. Soon, no regular
garden, but beautiful flowering shrubs--Crotons, Dracaenas, and
Cereuses, will be planted; great bushes of Bauhinia and blue Petraea
will roll their long curved shoots over and over each other;
Gardenias fill the air with fragrance; and the Bougain-villia or the
Clerodendron cover some arbour with lilac or white racemes.

But this camp had not yet arrived at so high a state of
civilisation. All round it, almost up to the very doors, a tangle
of logs, stumps, branches, dead ropes and nets of liane lay still in
the process of clearing; and the ground was seemingly as waste, as
it was difficult--often impossible--to cross. A second glance,
however, showed that, amongst the stumps and logs, Indian corn was
planted everywhere; and that a few months would give a crop which
would richly repay the clearing, over and above the fact that the
whole materials of the house had been cut on the spot, and cost
nothing.

As for the situation of the little oasis in the wilderness, it
bespoke good sense and good taste. The owner had stumbled, in his
forest wanderings, on a spot where two mountain streams, after
nearly meeting, parted again, and enclosed in a ring a hill some
hundred feet high, before they finally joined each other below.
That ring was his estate; which was formally christened on the
occasion of our visit, Avoca--the meeting of the waters; a name, as
all agreed, full of remembrances of the Old World and the land of
his remote ancestors; and yet like enough to one of the graceful and
sonorous Indian names of the island not to seem barbarous and out of
place. Round the clearing the mountain woods surged up a thousand
feet aloft; but so gradually, and so far off, as to allow free
circulation of air and a broad sheet of sky overhead; and as the
camp stood on the highest point of the rise, it did not give that
choking and crushing sensation of being in a ditch, which makes
houses in most mountain valleys--to me at least--intolerable. Up
one glen, toward the south, we had a full view of the green Cerro of
Arima, three thousand feet in height; and down another, to the
north-east, was a great gate in the mountains, through which we
could hear--though not see--the surf rolling upon the rocks three
miles away.

I was woke that morning, as often before and afterwards, by a
clacking of stones; and, looking out, saw in the dusk a Negro
squatting, and hammering, with a round stone on a flat one, the
coffee which we were to drink in a quarter of an hour. It was
turned into a tin saucepan; put to boil over a firestick between two
more great stones; clarified, by some cunning island trick, with a
few drops of cold water; and then served up, bearing, in fragrance
and taste, the same relation to average English coffee as fresh
things usually do to stale ones, or live to dead. After which
'manana,' and a little quinine for fear of fever, we lounged about
waiting for breakfast, and for the arrival of the horses from the
village.

Then we inspected a Coolie's great toe, which had been severely
bitten by a vampire in the night. And here let me say, that the
popular disbelief of vampire stories is only owing to English
ignorance, and disinclination to believe any of the many quaint
things which John Bull has not seen, because he does not care to see
them. If he comes to those parts, he must be careful not to leave
his feet or hands out of bed without mosquito curtains; if he has
good horses, he ought not to leave them exposed at night without
wire-gauze round the stable-shed--a plan which, to my surprise, I
never saw used in the West Indies. Otherwise, he will be but too
likely to find in the morning a triangular bit cut out of his own
flesh, or even worse, out of his horse's withers or throat, where
twisting and lashing cannot shake the tormentor off; and must be
content to have himself lamed, or his horses weakened to staggering
and thrown out of collar-work for a week, as I have seen happen more
than once or twice. The only method of keeping off the vampire yet
employed in stables is light; and a lamp is usually kept burning
there. But the Negro--not the most careful of men--is apt not to
fill and trim it; and if it goes out in the small hours, the horses
are pretty sure to be sucked, if there is a forest near. So
numerous and troublesome, indeed, are the vampires, that there are
pastures in Trinidad in which, at least till the adjoining woods
were cleared, the cattle would not fatten, or even thrive; being
found, morning after morning, weak and sick from the bleedings which
they had endured at night.

After looking at the Coolie's toe, of which he made light, though
the bleeding from the triangular hole would not stop, any more than
that from the bite of a horse-leech, we feasted our ears on the
notes of delicate songsters, and our eyes on the colours and shapes
of the forest, which, rising on the opposite side of the streams
right and left, could be seen here more thoroughly than at any spot
I yet visited. Again and again were the opera-glasses in
requisition, to make out, or try to make out, what this or that tree
might be. Here and there a Norantea, a mile or two miles off,
showed like a whole crimson flower-bed in the tree-tops; or a Poui,
just coming into flower, made a spot of golden yellow--'a guinea
stuck against the mountain-side,' as some one said; or the head of a
palm broke the monotony of the broad-leaved foliage with its huge
star of green.

Near us we descried several trees covered with pale yellow flowers,
conspicuous enough on the hillside. No one knew what they were; and
a couple of Negroes (who are admirable woodmen) were sent off to cut
one down and see. What mattered a tree or two less amid a world of
trees? It was a quaint sight,--the two stalwart black figures
struggling down over the fallen logs, and with them an Englishman,
who thought he discerned which tree the flowers belonged to; while
we at the house guided them by our shouts, and scanned the trunks
through the glasses to make out in our turn which tree should be
felled, from the moment that they entered under the green cloud,
they of course could see little or nothing over their heads.
Animated were the arguments--almost the bets--as to which tree-top
belonged to which tree-trunk. Many were the mistakes made; and had
it not been for the head of a certain palm, which served as a fixed
point which there was no mistaking, three or four trees would have
been cut before the right one was hit upon. At last the right tree
came crashing down, and a branch of the flowers was brought up, to
be carried home, and verified at Port of Spain; and meanwhile,
disturbed by the axe-strokes, pair after pair of birds flew
screaming over the tree-tops, which looked like rooks, till, as they
turned in the sun, their colour--brilliant even at that distance--
showed them to be great green parrots.

After breakfast--which among French and Spanish West Indians means a
solid and elaborate luncheon--our party broke up. . . . I must be
excused if I am almost prolix over the events of a day memorable to
me.

The majority went down, on horse and foot, to Blanchisseuse again on
official business. The site of the new church, an address from the
inhabitants to the Governor, inspection of roads, examination of
disputed claims, squatter questions, enclosure questions, and so
forth, would occupy some hours in hard work. But the piece de
resistance of the day was to be the examination and probable
committal of the Obeah-man of those parts. That worthy, not being
satisfied with the official conduct of our host the warden, had
advised himself to bribe, with certain dollars, a Coolie servant of
his to 'put Obeah upon him'; and had, with that intent, entrusted to
him a charm to be buried at his door, consisting, as usual, of a
bottle containing toad, spider, rusty nails, dirty water, and other
terrible jumbiferous articles. In addition to which attempt on the
life and fortunes of the warden, he was said to have promised the
Coolie forty dollars if he would do the business thoroughly for him.
Now the Coolie well understood what doing the business thoroughly
for an Obeah-man involved; namely, the putting Brinvilliers or other
bush-poison into his food; or at least administering to him sundry
dozes of ground glass, in hopes of producing that 'dysentery of the
country' which proceeds in the West Indies, I am sorry to say, now
and then, from other causes than that of climate. But having an
affection for his master, and a conscience likewise, though he was
but a heathen, he brought the bottle straight to the intended
victim; and the Obeah-man was now in durance vile, awaiting further
examination, and probably on his way to a felon's cell.

A sort of petition, or testimonial, had been sent up to the
Governor, composed apparently by the hapless wizard himself, who
seemed to be no mean penman, and signed by a dozen or more of the
coloured inhabitants: setting forth how he was known by all to be
far too virtuous a personage to dabble in that unlawful practice of
Obeah, of which both he and his friends testified the deepest
abhorrence. But there was the bottle, safe under lock and key; and
as for the testimonial, those who read it said that it was not worth
the paper it was written on. Most probably every one of these poor
follows had either employed the Obeah-man themselves to avert
thieves or evil eye from a particularly fine fruit-tree, by hanging
up thereon a somewhat similar bottle--such as may be seen, and more
than one of them, in any long day's march. It was said again, that
if asked by an Obeah-man to swear to his good character, they could
not well refuse, under penalty of finding some fine morning a white
cock's head--sign of all supernatural plagues--in their garden path,
the beak pointing to their door; or an Obeah bottle under their
doorstep; and either Brinvilliers in their pottage, or such an
expectation of it, and of plague and ruin to them and all their
worldly belongings, in their foolish souls, as would be likely
enough to kill them, in a few months, of simple mortal fear.

Here perhaps I may be allowed to tell what I know about this curious
custom of Obeah, or Fetish-worship. It appears to me, on closer
examination, that it is not a worship of natural objects; not a
primeval worship; scarcely a worship at all: but simply a system of
incantation, carried on by a priesthood, or rather a sorcerer class;
and this being the case, it seems to me unfortunate that the term
Fetish-worship should have been adopted by so many learned men as
the general name for the supposed primeval Nature-worship. The
Negro does not, as the primeval man is supposed to have done, regard
as divine (and therefore as Fetish, or Obeah) any object which
excites his imagination; anything peculiarly beautiful, noble, or
powerful; anything even which causes curiosity or fear. In fact, a
Fetish is no natural object at all; it is a spirit, an Obeah, Jumby,
Duppy, like the 'Duvvels' or spirits of the air, which are the only
deities of which our Gipsies have a conception left. That spirit
belongs to the Obeah, or Fetish-man; and he puts it, by magic
ceremonies, into any object which he chooses. Thus anything may
become Obeah, as far as I have ascertained. In a case which
happened very lately, an Obeah-man came into the country, put the
Obeah into a fresh monkey's jaw-bone, and made the people offer to
it fowls and plantains, which of course he himself ate. Such is
Obeah now; and such it was, as may be seen by De Bry's plates, when
the Portuguese first met with it on the African coast four hundred
years ago.

But surely it is an idolatry, and not a nature-worship. Just so
does the priest of Southern India, after having made his idol,
enchant his god into it by due ceremonial. It may be a very ancient
system: but as for its being a primeval one, as neither I, nor any
one else, ever had the pleasure of meeting a primeval man, it seems
to me somewhat rash to imagine what primeval man's creeds and
worships must have been like; more rash still to conclude that they
must have been like those of the modern Negro. For if, as is
probable, the Negro is one of the most ancient varieties of the
human race; if, as is probable, he has remained--to his great
misfortune--till the last three hundred years isolated on that vast
island of Central Africa, which has probably continued as dry land
during ages which have seen the whole of Europe, and Eastern and
Southern Asia, sink more than once beneath the sea: then it is
possible, and even probable, that during these long ages of the
Negro's history, creed after creed, ceremonial after ceremonial, may
have grown up and died out among the different tribes; and that any
worship, or quasi-worship, which may linger among the Negroes now,
are likely to be the mere dregs and fragments of those older
superstitions.

As a fact, Obeah is rather to be ranked, it seems to me, with those
ancient Eastern mysteries, at once magical and profligate, which
troubled society and morals in later Rome, when

'In Tiberim defluxit Orontes.'

If so, we shall not be surprised to find that a very important,
indeed the most practically important element of Obeah, is
poisoning. This habit of poisoning has not (as one might well
suppose) sprung up among the slaves desirous of revenge against
their white masters. It has been imported, like the rest of the
system, from Africa. Travellers of late have told us enough--and
too much for our comfort of mind--of that prevailing dread of poison
as well as of magic which urges the African Negroes to deeds of
horrible cruelty; and the fact that these African Negroes, up to the
very latest importations, are the special practisers of Obeah, is
notorious through the West Indies. The existence of this trick of
poisoning is denied, often enough. Sometimes Europeans, willing to
believe the best of their fellow-men--and who shall blame them?--
simply disbelieve it because it is unpleasant to believe.
Sometimes, again, white West Indians will deny it, and the existence
of Obeah beside, simply because they believe in it a little too
much, and are afraid of the Negroes knowing that they believe in it.
Not two generations ago there might be found, up and down the
islands, respectable white men and women who had the same half-
belief in the powers of an Obeah-man as our own ancestors,
especially in the Highlands and in Devonshire, had in those of
witches: while as to poisoning, it was, in some islands, a matter
on which the less said the safer. It was but a few years ago that
in a West Indian city an old and faithful free servant, in a family
well known to me, astonished her master, on her death-bed, by a
voluntary confession of more than a dozen murders.

'You remember such and such a party, when every one was ill? Well,
I put something in the soup.'

As another instance; a woman who died respectable, a Christian and a
communicant, told this to her clergyman:--She had lived from youth,
for many years, happily and faithfully with a white gentleman who
considered her as his wife. She saw him pine away and die from slow
poison, administered, she knew, by another woman whom he had
wronged. But she dared not speak. She had not courage enough to be
poisoned herself likewise.

It is easy to conceive the terrorism, and the exactions in the shape
of fowls, plantains, rum, and so forth, which are at the command of
an Obeah practitioner, who is believed by the Negro to be
invulnerable himself, while he is both able and willing to destroy
them. Nothing but the strong arm of English law can put down the
sorcerer; and that seldom enough, owing to the poor folks' dread of
giving evidence. Thus a woman, Madame Phyllis by name, ruled in a
certain forest-hamlet of Trinidad. Like Deborah of old, she sat
under her own palm-tree, and judged her little Israel--by the
Devil's law instead of God's. Her murders (or supposed murders)
were notorious: but no evidence could be obtained; Madame Phyllis
dealt in poisons, charms, and philtres; and waxed fat on her trade
for many a year. The first shock her reputation received was from a
friend of mine, who, in his Government duty, planned out a road
which ran somewhat nearer her dwelling than was pleasant or safe for
her privacy. She came out denouncing, threatening. The coloured
workmen dared not proceed. My friend persevered coolly; and Madame,
finding that the Government official considered himself Obeah-proof,
tried to bribe him off, with the foolish cunning of a savage, with a
present of--bottled beer. To the horror of his workmen, he
accepted--for the day was hot, as usual--a single bottle; and drank
it there and then. The Negroes looked--like the honest Maltese at
St. Paul--'when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead
suddenly': but nothing happened; and they went on with their work,
secure under a leader whom even Madame Phyllis dared not poison.
But he ran a great risk; and knew it.

'I took care,' said he, 'to see that the cork had not been drawn and
put back again; and then, to draw it myself.'

At last Madame Phyllis's cup was full, and she fell into the snare
which she had set for others. For a certain coloured policeman went
off to her one night; and having poured out his love-lorn heart, and
the agonies which he endured from the cruelty of a neighbouring
fair, he begged for, got, and paid for a philtre to win her
affections. On which, saying with Danton--'Que mon nom soit fletri,
mais que la patrie soit libre,' he carried the philtre to the
magistrate; laid his information; and Madame Phyllis and her male
accomplice were sent to gaol as rogues and impostors.

Her coloured victims looked on aghast at the audacity of English
lawyers. But when they found that Madame was actually going to
prison, they rose--just as if they had been French Republicans--
deposed their despot after she had been taken prisoner, sacked her
magic castle, and levelled it with the ground. Whether they did, or
did not, find skeletons of children buried under the floor, or what
they found at all, I could not discover; and should be very careful
how I believed any statement about the matter. But what they wanted
specially to find was the skeleton of a certain rival Obeah-man, who
having, some years before, rashly challenged Madame to a trial of
skill, had gone to visit her one night, and never left her cottage
again.

The chief centre of this detestable system is St. Vincent, where--so
I was told by one who knows that island well--some sort of secret
College, or School of the Prophets Diabolic, exists. Its emissaries
spread over the islands, fattening themselves at the expense of
their dupes, and exercising no small political authority, which has
been ere now, and may be again, dangerous to society. In Jamaica, I
was assured by a Nonconformist missionary who had long lived there,
Obeah is by no means on the decrease; and in Hayti it is probably on
the increase, and taking--at least until the fall and death of
Salnave--shapes which, when made public in the civilised world, will
excite more than mere disgust. But of Hayti I shall be silent;
having heard more of the state of society in that unhappy place than
it is prudent, for the sake of the few white residents, to tell at
present.

The same missionary told me that in Sierra Leone, also, Obeah and
poisoning go hand in hand. Arriving home one night, he said, with
two friends, he heard hideous screams from the house of a Portuguese
Negro, a known Obeah-man. Fearing that murder was being done, they
burst open his door, and found that he had tied up his wife hand and
foot, and was flogging her horribly. They cut the poor creature
down, and placed her in safety.

A day or two after, the missionary's servant came in at sunrise with
a mysterious air.

'You no go out just now, massa.'

There was something in the road: but what, he would not tell. My
friend went out, of course, in spite of the faithful fellow's
entreaties; and found, as he expected, a bottle containing the usual
charms, and round it--sight of horror to all Negroes of the old
school--three white cocks' heads--an old remnant, it is said, of a
worship 'de quo sileat musa'--pointing their beaks, one to his door,
one to the door of each of his friends. He picked them up,
laughing, and threw them away, to the horror of his servant.

But the Obeah-man was not so easily beaten. In a few days the
servant came in again with a wise visage.

'You no drink a milk to-day, massa.'

'Why not?'

'Oh, perhaps something bad in it. You give it a cat.'

'But I don't want to poison the cat!'

'Oh, dere a strange cat in a stable; me give it her.'

He did so; and the cat was dead in half an hour.

Again the fellow tried, watching when the three white men, as was
their custom, should dine together, that he might poison them all.
And again the black servant foiled him, though afraid to accuse him
openly. This time it was--'You no drink a water in a filter.' And
when the filter was searched, it was full of poison-leaves.

A third attempt the rascal made with no more success; and then
vanished from Sierra Leone; considering--as the Obeah-men in the
West Indies are said to hold of the Catholic priests--that 'Buccra
Padre's Obeah was too strong for his Obeah.'

I know not how true the prevailing belief is, that some of these
Obeah-men carry a drop of snake's poison under a sharpened finger-
nail, a scratch from which is death. A similar story was told to
Humboldt of a tribe of Indians on the Orinoco; and the thing is
possible enough. One story, which seemingly corroborates it, I
heard, so curiously illustrative of Negro manners in Trinidad during
the last generation, that I shall give it at length. I owe it--as I
do many curious facts--to the kindness of Mr. Lionel Fraser, chief
of police of the Port of Spain, to whom it was told, as it here
stands, by the late Mr. R---, stipendiary magistrate; himself a
Creole and a man of colour:--

'When I was a lad of about seventeen years of age, I was very
frequently on a sugar-estate belonging to a relation of mine; and
during crop-time particularly I took good care to be there.

'Owing to my connection with the owner of the estate, I naturally
had some authority with the people; and I did my best to preserve
order amongst them, particularly in the boiling-house, where there
used to be a good deal of petty theft, especially at night; for we
had not then the powerful machinery which enables the planter to
commence his grinding late and finish it early.

'There was one African on the estate who was the terror of the
Negroes, owing to his reputed supernatural powers as an Obeah-man.

'This man, whom I will call Martin, was a tall, powerful Negro, who,
even apart from the mysterious powers with which he was supposed to
be invested, was a formidable opponent from his mere size and
strength.

'I very soon found that Martin was determined to try his authority
and influence against mine; and I resolved to give him the earliest
possible opportunity for doing so.

'I remember the occasion when we first came into contact perfectly
well. It was a Saturday night, and we were boiling off. The
boiling-house was but very dimly lighted by two murky oil-lamps, the
rays from which could scarcely penetrate through the dense
atmosphere of steam which rose from the seething coppers.
Occasionally a bright glow from the furnace-mouths lighted up the
scene for a single instant, only to leave it the next moment darker
than ever.

'It was during one of these flashes of light that I distinctly saw
Martin deliberately filling a large tin pan with sugar from one of
the coolers.

'I called out to him to desist; but he never deigned to take the
slightest notice of me. I repeated my order in a louder and more
angry tone; whereupon he turned his eyes upon me, and said, in a
most contemptuous tone, "Chut, ti beque: quitte moue tranquille, ou
tende sinon malheur ka rive ou." (Pshaw, little white boy: leave
me alone, or worse will happen to you.)

'It was the tone more than the words themselves that enraged me; and
without for one moment reflecting on the great disparity between us,
I made a spring from the sort of raised platform on which I stood,
and snatching the panful of sugar from his hand, I flung it, sugar
and all, into the tache, from which I knew nothing short of a
miracle could recover it.

'For a moment only did Martin hesitate; and then, after fumbling for
one instant with his right hand in his girdle, he made a rush at me.
Fortunately for me, I was prepared; and springing back to the spot
where I had before been standing, I took up a light cutlass, which I
always carried about with me, and stood on the defensive.

'I had, however, no occasion to use the weapon; for, in running
towards me, Martin's foot slipped in some molasses which had been
spilt on the ground, and he fell heavily to the floor, striking his
head against the corner of one of the large wooden sugar-coolers.

'The blow stunned him for the time, and before he recovered I had
left the boiling-house.

'The next day, to my surprise, I found him excessively civil, and
almost obsequious: but I noticed that he had taken a violent
dislike to our head overseer, whom I shall call Jean Marie, and whom
he seemed to suspect as the person who had betrayed him to me when
stealing the sugar.

'Things went on pretty quietly for some weeks, till the crop was
nearly over.

'One afternoon Jean Marie told me there was to be a Jumby-dance
amongst the Africans on the estate that very night. Now Jumby-
dances were even then becoming less frequent, and I was extremely
anxious to see one; and after a good deal of difficulty, I succeeded
in persuading Jean Marie to accompany me to the hut wherein it was
to be held.

'It was a miserable kind of an ajoupa near the river-side; and we
had some difficulty in making our way to it through the tangled dank
grass and brushwood which surrounded it. Nor was the journey
rendered more pleasant by the constant rustling among this
undergrowth, that reminded us that there were such things as snakes
and other ugly creatures to be met with on our road.

'Curiosity, however, urged us on; and at length we reached the
ajoupa, which was built on a small open space near the river,
beneath a gigantic silk-cotton tree.

'Here we found assembled some thirty Africans, men and women, very
scantily dressed, and with necklaces of beads, sharks' teeth, dried
frogs, etc., hung round their necks. They were all squatted on
their haunches outside the hut, apparently waiting for a signal to
go in.

'They did not seem particularly pleased at seeing us; and one of the
men said something in African, apparently addressed to some one
inside the house; for an instant after the door was flung open, and
Martin, almost naked, and with his body painted to represent a
skeleton, stalked forth to meet us.

'He asked us very angrily what we wanted there, and seemed
particularly annoyed at seeing Jean Marie. However, on my repeated
assurances that we only came to see what was going on, he at last
consented to our remaining to see the dance; only cautioning us that
we must keep perfect silence, and that a word, much more a laugh,
would entail most serious consequences.

'As long as I live I shall never forget that scene. The hut was
lighted by some eight or ten candles or lamps; and in the centre,
dimly visible, was a Fetish, somewhat of the appearance of a man,
but with the head of a cock. Everything that the coarsest fancy
could invent had been done to make this image horrible; and yet it
appeared to be the object of special adoration to the devotees
assembled.

'Jean Marie, to be out of the way, clambered on to one of the cross-
beams that supported the roof, whilst I leaned against the side
wall, as near as I could get to the aperture that served for a
window, to avoid the smells, which were overpowering.

'Martin took his seat astride of an African tom-tom or drum; and I
noticed at the time that Jean Marie's naked foot hung down from the
cross-beam almost directly over Martin's head.

'Martin now began to chant a monotonous African song, accompanying
with the tom-tom.

'Gradually he began to quicken the measure; quicker went the words;
quicker beat the drum; and suddenly one of the women sprang into the
open space in front of the Fetish. Round and round she went,
keeping admirable time with the music.

'Quicker still went the drum. And now the whole of the woman's body
seemed electrified by it; and, as if catching the infection, a man
now joined her in the mad dance. Couple after couple entered the
arena, and a true sorcerers' sabbath began; while light after light
was extinguished, till at last but one remained; by whose dim ray I
could just perceive the faint outlines of the remaining persons.

'At this moment, from some cause or other, Jean Marie burst into a
loud laugh.

'Instantly the drum stopped; and I distinctly saw Martin raise his
right hand, and, as it appeared to me, seize Jean Marie's naked foot
between his finger and thumb.

'As he did so, Jean Marie, with a terrible scream, which I shall
never forget, fell to the ground in strong convulsions.

'We succeeded in getting him outside. But he never spoke again; and
died two hours afterwards, his body having swollen up like that of a
drowned man.

'In those days there were no inquests; and but little interest was
created by the affair. Martin himself soon after died.'

But enough of these abominations, of which I am forced to omit the
worst.

That day--to go on with my own story--I left the rest of the party
to go down to the court-house, while I stayed at the camp, sorry to
lose so curious a scene, but too tired to face a crowded tropic
court, and an atmosphere of perspiration and perjury.

Moreover, that had befallen me which might never befall me again--I
had a chance of being alone in the forests; and into them I would
wander, and meditate on them in silence.

So, when all had departed, I lounged awhile in the rocking-chair,
watching two Negroes astride on the roof of a shed, on which they
were nailing shingles. Their heads were bare; the sun was intense;
the roof on which they sat must have been of the temperature of an
average frying-pan on an English fire: but the good fellows worked
on, steadily and carefully, though not fast, chattering and singing,
evidently enjoying the very act of living, and fattening in the
genial heat. Lucky dogs: who had probably never known hunger,
certainly never known cold; never known, possibly, a single animal
want which they could not satisfy. I could not but compare their
lot with that of an average English artisan. Ah, well: there is no
use in fruitless comparisons; and it is no reason that one should
grudge the Negro what he has, because others, who deserve it
certainly as much as he, have it not. After all, the ancestors of
these Negroes have been, for centuries past, so hard-worked, ill-
fed, ill-used too--sometimes worse than ill-used--that it is hard if
the descendants may not have a holiday, and take the world easy for
a generation or two.

The perpetual Saturnalia in which the Negro, in Trinidad at least,
lives, will surely give physical strength and health to the body,
and something of cheerfulness, self-help, independence to the
spirit. If the Saturnalia be prolonged too far, and run, as they
seem inclined to run, into brutality and licence, those stern laws
of Nature which men call political economy will pull the Negro up
short, and waken him out of his dream, soon enough and sharply
enough--a 'judgment' by which the wise will profit and be preserved,
while the fools only will be destroyed. And meanwhile, what if in
these Saturnalia (as in Rome of old) the new sense of independence
manifests itself in somewhat of self-assertion and rudeness, often
in insolence, especially disagreeable, because deliberate? What if
'You call me black fellow? I mash you white face in,' were the
first words one heard at St. Thomas's from a Negro, on being asked,
civilly enough, by a sailor to cast off from a boat to which he had
no right to be holding on? What if a Negro now and then addresses
you as simple 'Buccra,' while he expects you to call him 'Sir'; or
if a Negro woman, on being begged by an English lady to call to
another Negro woman, answers at last, after long pretences not to
hear, 'You coloured lady! you hear dis white woman a wanting of
you'? Let it be. We white people bullied these black people quite
enough for three hundred years, to be able to allow them to play
(for it is no more) at bullying us. As long as the Negroes are
decently loyal and peaceable, and do not murder their magistrates
and drink their brains mixed with rum, nor send delegates to the
President of Hayti to ask if he will assist them, in case of a
general rising, to exterminate the whites--tricks which the harmless
Negroes of Trinidad, to do them justice, never have played, or had a
thought of playing--we must remember that we are very seriously in
debt to the Negro, and must allow him to take out instalments of his
debt, now and then, in his own fashion. After all, we brought him
here, and we have no right to complain of our own work. If, like
Frankenstein, we have tried to make a man, and made him badly; we
must, like Frankenstein, pay the penalty.

So much for the Negro. As for the coloured population--especially
the educated and civilised coloured population of the towns--they
stand to us in an altogether different relation. They claim to be,
and are, our kinsfolk, on another ground than that of common
humanity. We are bound to them by a tie more sacred, I had almost
said more stern, than we are to the mere Negro. They claim, and
justly, to be considered as our kinsfolk and equals; and I believe,
from what I have seen of them, that they will prove themselves such,
whenever they are treated as they are in Trinidad. What faults some
of them have, proceed mainly from a not dishonourable ambition,
mixed with uncertainty of their own position. Let them be made to
feel that they are now not a class; to forget, if possible, that
they ever were one. Let any allusion to the painful past be
treated, not merely as an offence against good manners, but as what
it practically is, an offence against the British Government; and
that Government will find in them, I believe, loyal citizens and
able servants.

But to go back to the forest. I sauntered forth with cutlass and
collecting-box, careless whither I went, and careless of what I saw;
for everything that I could see would be worth seeing. I know not
that I found many rare or new things that day. I recollect, amid
the endless variety of objects, Film-ferns of various delicate
species, some growing in the moss tree-trunks, some clasping the
trunk itself by horizontal lateral fronds, while the main rachis
climbed straight up many feet, thus embracing the stem in a network
of semi-transparent green Guipure lace. I recollect, too, a coarse
low fern {245} on stream-gravel which was remarkable, because its
stem was set with thick green prickles. I recollect, too, a dead
giant tree, the ruins of which struck me with awe. The stump stood
some thirty feet high, crumbling into tinder and dust, though its
death was so recent that the creepers and parasites had not yet had
time to lay hold of it, and around its great spur-roots lay what had
been its trunk and head, piled in stacks of rotten wood, over which
I scrambled with some caution, for fear my leg, on breaking through,
might be saluted from the inside by some deadly snake. The only
sign of animal life, however, I found about the tree, save a few
millipedes and land snails, were some lizard-eggs in a crack, about
the size of those of a humming-bird.

I scrambled down on gravelly beaches, and gazed up the green avenues
of the brooks. I sat amid the Balisiers and Aroumas, above still
blue pools, bridged by huge fallen trunks, or with wild Pines of
half a dozen kinds set in rows: I watched the shoals of fish play
in and out of the black logs at the bottom: I gave myself up to the
simple enjoyment of looking, careless of what I looked at, or what I
thought about it all. There are times when the mind, like the body,
had best feed, gorge if you will, and leave the digestion of its
food to the unconscious alchemy of nature. It is as unwise to be
always saying to oneself, 'Into what pigeon-hole of my brain ought I
to put this fact, and what conclusion ought I to draw from it?' as
to ask your teeth how they intend to chew, and your gastric juice
how it intends to convert your three courses and a dessert into
chyle. Whether on a Scotch moor or in a tropic forest, it is well
at times to have full faith in Nature; to resign yourself to her, as
a child upon a holiday; to be still and let her speak. She knows
best what to say.

And yet I could not altogether do it that day. There was one class
of objects in the forest which I had set my heart on examining, with
all my eyes and soul; and after a while, I scrambled and hewed my
way to them, and was well repaid for a quarter of an hour's very
hard work.

I had remarked, from the camp, palms unlike any I had seen before,
starring the opposite forest with pale gray-green leaves. Long and
earnestly I had scanned them through the glasses. Now was the time
to see them close, and from beneath. I soon guessed (and rightly)
that I was looking at that Palma de Jagua, {246} which excited--and
no wonder--the enthusiasm of the usually unimpassioned Humboldt.
Magnificent as the tree is when its radiating leaves are viewed from
above, it is even more magnificent when you stand beneath it. The
stem, like that of the Coconut, usually curves the height of a man
ere it rises in a shaft for fifty or sixty feet more. From the
summit of that shaft springs a crown--I had rather say, a fountain--
of pinnated leaves; only eight or ten of them; but five-and-twenty
feet long each. For three-fourths of their length they rise at an
angle of 45 degrees or more; for the last fourth they fall over,
till the point hangs straight down; and each leaflet, which is about
two feet and a half long, falls over in a similar curve, completing
the likeness of the whole to a fountain of water, or a gush of
rockets. I stood and looked up, watching the innumerable curled
leaflets, pale green above and silver-gray below, shiver and rattle
amid the denser foliage of the broad-leaved trees; and then went on
to another and to another, to stare up again, and enjoy the mere
shape of the most beautiful plant I had ever beheld, excepting
always the Musa Ensete, from Abyssinia, in the Palm-house at Kew.
Truly spoke Humboldt, of this or a closely allied species, 'Nature
has lavished every beauty of form on the Jagua Palm.'

But here, as elsewhere to my great regret, I looked in vain for that
famous and beautiful tree, the Piriajo, {247} or 'Peach Palm,' which
is described in Mr. Bates's book, vol ii. p. 218, under the name of
Pupunha. It grows here and there in the island, and always marks
the site of an ancient Indian settlement. This is probable enough,
for 'it grows,' says Mr. Bates, 'wild nowhere on the Amazons. It is
one of those few vegetable productions (including three kinds of
Manioc and the American species of Banana) which the Indians have
cultivated from time immemorial, and brought with them in their
original migration to Brazil.' From whence? It has never yet been
found wild; 'its native home may possibly,' Mr. Bates thinks, 'be in
some still unexplored tract on the eastern slopes of the AEquatorial
Andes.' Possibly so: and possibly, again, on tracts long sunk
beneath the sea. He describes the tree as 'a noble ornament, from
fifty to sixty feet in height, and often as straight as a scaffold-
pole. The taste of the fruit may be compared to a mixture of
chestnuts and cheese. Vultures devour it greedily, and come in
quarrelsome flocks to the trees when it is ripe. Dogs will also eat
it. I do not recollect seeing cats do the same, though they will go
into the woods to eat Tucuma, another kind of palm fruit.'

'It is only the more advanced tribes,' says Mr. Bates, 'who have
kept up the cultivation. . . . Bunches of sterile or seedless
fruits'--a mark of very long cultivation, as in the case of the
Plantain--'occur. . . . It is one of the principal articles of food
at Ega when in season, and is boiled and eaten with treacle or salt.
A dozen of the seedless fruits make a good nourishing meal for a
full-grown person. It is the general belief that there is more
nutriment in Pupunha than in fish, or Vacca Marina (Manati).'

My friend Mr. Bates will, I am sure, excuse my borrowing so much
from him about a tree which must be as significant in his eyes as it
is in mine.

So passed many hours, till I began to be tired of--I may almost say,
pained by--the appalling silence and loneliness; and I was glad to
get back to a point where I could hear the click of the axes in the
clearing. I welcomed it just as, after a long night on a calm sea,
when one nears the harbour again, one welcomes the sound of the
children's voices and the stir of life about the quay, as a relief
from the utter blank, and feels oneself no longer a bubble afloat on
an infinity which knows one not, and cares nothing for one's
existence. For in the dead stillness of mid-day, when not only the
deer, and the agoutis, and the armadillos, but the birds and insects
likewise, are all asleep, the crack of a falling branch was all that
struck my ear, as I tried in vain to verify the truth of that
beautiful passage of Humboldt's--true, doubtless, in other forests,
or for ears more acute than mine. 'In the mid-day,' he says, {248a}
'the larger animals seek shelter in the recesses of the forest, and
the birds hide themselves under the thick foliage of the trees, or
in the clefts of the rocks: but if, in this apparent entire
stillness of nature, one listens for the faintest tones which an
attentive ear can seize, there is perceived an all-pervading
rustling sound, a humming and fluttering of insects close to the
ground, and in the lower strata of the atmosphere. Everything
announces a world of organic activity and life. In every bush, in
the cracked bark of the trees, in the earth undermined by
hymenopterous insects, life stirs audibly. It is, as it were, one
of the many voices of Nature, and can only be heard by the sensitive
and reverent ear of her true votaries.'

Be not too severe, great master. A man's ear may be reverent
enough: but you must forgive its not being sensitive while it is
recovering from that most deafening of plagues, a tropic cold in the
head.

Would that I had space to tell at length of our long and delightful
journey back the next day, which lay for several miles along the
path by which we came, and then, after we had looked down once more
on the exquisite bay of Fillette, kept along the northern wall of
the mountains, instead of turning up to the slope which we came over
out of Caura. For miles we paced a mule-path, narrow, but well
kept--as it had need to be; for a fall would have involved a roll
into green abysses, from which we should probably not have
reascended. Again the surf rolled softly far below; and here and
there a vista through the trees showed us some view of the sea and
woodlands almost as beautiful as that at Fillette. Ever and anon
some fresh valuable tree or plant, wasting in the wilderness, was
pointed out. More than once we became aware of a keen and dreadful
scent, as of a concentrated essence of unwashed tropic humanity,
which proceeded from that strange animal, the porcupine with a
prehensile tail, {248b} who prowls in the tree-tops all night, and
sleeps in them all day, spending his idle hours in making this
hideous smell. Probably he or his ancestors have found it pay as a
protection; for no jaguar or tiger-cat, it is to be presumed, would
care to meddle with anything so exquisitely nasty, especially when
it is all over sharp prickles.

Once--I should know the spot again among a thousand--where we
scrambled over a stony brook just like one in a Devonshire wood, the
boulders and the little pools between them swarmed with things like
scarlet and orange fingers, or sticks of sealing-wax, which we
recognised, and, looking up, saw a magnificent Bois Chataigne,
{249a}--Pachira, as the Indians call it,--like a great horse-
chestnut, spreading its heavy boughs overhead. And these were the
fallen petals of its last-night's crop of flowers, which had opened
there, under the moonlight, unseen and alone. Unseen and alone?
How do we know that?

Then we emerged upon a beach, the very perfection of typical tropic
shore, with little rocky coves, from one to another of which we had
to ride through rolling surf, beneath the welcome shade of low
shrub-fringed cliffs; while over the little mangrove-swamp at the
mouth of the glen, Tocuche rose sheer, like M'Gillicuddy's Reeks
transfigured into one huge emerald.

We turned inland again, and stopped for luncheon at a clear brook,
running through a grove of Cacao and Bois Immortelles. We sat
beneath the shade of a huge Bamboo clump; cut ourselves pint-stoups
out of the joints; and then, like great boys, got, some of us at
least, very wet in fruitless attempts to catch a huge cray-fish nigh
eighteen inches long, blue and gray, and of a shape something
between a gnat and a spider, who, with a wife and child, had taken
up his abode in a pool among the spurs of a great Bois Immortelle.
However, he was too nimble for us; and we went on, and inland once
more, luckily not leaving our bamboo stoups behind.

We descended, I remember, to the sea-shore again, at a certain
Maraccas Bay, and had a long ride along bright sands, between surf
and scrub; in which ride, by the by, the civiliser of Montserrat and
I, to avoid the blinding glare of the sand, rode along the firm sand
between the sea and the lagoon, through the low wood of Shore Grape
and Mahaut, Pinguin and Swamp Seguine {249b}--which last is an Arum
with a knotted stem, from three to twelve feet high. We brushed our
way along with our cutlasses, as we sat on our saddles, enjoying the
cool shade; till my companion's mule found herself jammed tight in
scrub, and unable to forge either ahead or astern. Her rider was
jammed too, and unable to get off; and the two had to be cut out of
the bush by fair hewing, amid much laughter, while the wise old
mule, as the cutlasses flashed close to her nose, never moved a
muscle, perfectly well aware of what had happened, and how she was
to be got out of the scrape, as she had been probably fifty times
before.

We stopped at the end of the long beach, thoroughly tired and
hungry, for we had been on the march many hours; and discovered for
the first time that we had nothing left to eat. Luckily, a certain
little pot of 'Ramornie' essence of soup was recollected and brought
out. The kettle was boiling in five minutes, and half a teaspoonful
per man of the essence put on a knife's point, and stirred with a
cutlass, to the astonishment of the grinning and unbelieving
Negroes, who were told that we were going to make Obeah soup, and
were more than half of that opinion themselves. Meanwhile, I saw
the wise mule led up into the bush; and, on asking its owner why,
was told that she was to be fed--on what, I could not see. But,
much to my amusement, he cut down a quantity of the young leaves of
the Cocorite palm; and she began to eat them greedily, as did my
police-horse. And, when the bamboo stoups were brought out, and
three-quarters of a pint of good soup was served round--not
forgetting the Negroes, one of whom, after sucking it down, rubbed
his stomach, and declared, with a grin, that it was very good Obeah-
-the oddness of the scene came over me. The blazing beach, the
misty mountains, the hot trade-wind, the fantastic leaves overhead,
the black limbs and faces, the horses eating palm-leaves, and we
sitting on logs among the strange ungainly Montrichardias, drinking
'Ramornie' out of bamboo, washing it down with milk from green
coconuts--was this, too, a scene in a pantomime? Would it, too,
vanish if one only shut one's eyes and shook one's head?

We turned up into the loveliest green trace, where, I know not how,
the mountain vegetation had, some of it, come down to the sea-level.
Nowhere did I see the Melastomas more luxuriant; and among them,
arching over our heads like parasols of green lace, between us and
the sky, were tall tree-ferns, as fine as those on the mountain
slopes.

In front of us opened a flat meadow of a few acres; and beyond it,
spur upon spur, rose a noble mountain, in so steep a wall that it
was difficult to see how we were to ascend.

Ere we got to the mountain foot, some of our party had nigh come to
grief. For across the Savanna wandered a deep lagoon brook. The
only bridge had been washed away by rains; and we had to get the
horses through as we could, all but swimming them, two men on each
horse; and then to drive the poor creatures back for a fresh double
load, with fallings, splashings, much laughter, and a qualm or two
at the recollection that there might be unpleasant animals in the
water. Electric eels, happily, were not invented at the time when
Trinidad parted from the Main, or at least had not spread so far
east: but alligators had been by that time fully developed, and had
arrived here in plenty; and to be laid hold of by one, would have
been undesirable; though our party was strong enough to have made
very short work with the monster.

So over we got, and through much mud, and up mountains some fifteen
hundred feet high, on which the vegetation was even richer than any
we had seen before; and down the other side, with the great lowland
and the Gulf of Paria opening before us. We rested at a police-
station--always a pleasant sight in Trinidad, for the sake of the
stalwart soldier-like brown policemen and their buxom wives, and
neat houses and gardens a focus of discipline and civilisation amid
what would otherwise relapse too soon into anarchy and barbarism; we
whiled away the time by inspecting the ward police reports, which
were kept as neatly, and worded as well, as they would have been in
England; and then rolled comfortably in the carriage down to Port of
Spain, tired and happy, after three such days as had made old blood
and old brains young again.

CHAPTER XII: THE SAVANNA OF ARIPO

The last of my pleasant rides, and one which would have been perhaps
the pleasantest of all, had I had (as on other occasions) the
company of my host, was to the Cocal, or Coco-palm grove, of the
east coast, taking on my way the Savanna of Aripo. It had been our
wish to go up the Orinoco, as far as Ciudad Bolivar (the Angostura
of Humboldt's travels), to see the new capital of Southern
Venezuela, fast rising into wealth and importance under the wise and
pacific policy of its president, Senor Dalla Costa, a man said to
possess a genius and an integrity far superior to the average of
South American Republicans--of which latter the less said the
better; to push back, if possible, across those Llanos which
Humboldt describes in his Personal Narrative, vol. iv. p. 295; it
may be to visit the Falls of the Caroni. But that had to be done by
others, after we were gone. My days in the island were growing
short; and the most I could do was to see at Aripo a small specimen
of that peculiar Savanna vegetation, which occupies thousands of
square miles on the mainland.

If, therefore, the reader cares nothing for botanical and geological
speculations, he will be wise to skip this chapter. But those who
are interested in the vast changes of level and distribution of land
which have taken place all over the world since the present forms of
animals and vegetables were established on it, may possibly find a
valuable fact or two in what I thought I saw at the Savanna of
Aripo.

My first point was, of course, the little city of San Josef. To an
Englishman, the place will be always interesting as the scene of
Raleigh's exploit, and the capture of Berreos; and, to one who has
received the kindness which I have received from the Spanish
gentlemen of the neighbourhood, a spot full of most grateful
memories. It lies pleasantly enough, on a rise at the southern foot
of the mountains, and at the mouth of a torrent which comes down
from the famous 'Chorro,' or waterfall, of Maraccas. In going up to
that waterfall, just at the back of the town, I found buried, in
several feet of earth, a great number of seemingly recent but very
ancient shells. Whether they be remnants of an elevated sea-beach,
or of some Indian 'kitchen-midden,' I dare not decide. But the
question is well worth the attention of any geologist who may go
that way. The waterfall, and the road up to it, are best described
by one who, after fourteen years of hard scientific work in the
island, now lies lonely in San Fernando churchyard, far from his
beloved Fatherland--he, or at least all of him that could die. I
wonder whether that of him which can never die, knows what his
Fatherland is doing now? But to the waterfall of Maraccas, or
rather to poor Dr. Krueger's description of it:--

'The northern chain of mountains, covered nearly everywhere with
dense forests, is intersected at various angles by numbers of
valleys presenting the most lovely character. Generally each valley
is watered by a silvery stream, tumbling here and there over rocks
and natural dams, ministering in a continuous rain to the strange-
looking river-canes, dumb-canes, and balisiers that voluptuously
bend their heads to the drizzly shower which plays incessantly on
their glistening leaves, off which the globules roll in a thousand
pearls, as from the glossy plumage of a stately swan.

'One of these falls deserves particular notice--the Cascade of
Maraccas--in the valley of that name. The high road leads up the
valley a few miles, over hills, and along the windings of the river,
exhibiting the varying scenery of our mountain district in the
fairest style. There, on the river-side, you may admire the
gigantic pepper-trees, or the silvery leaves of the Calathea, the
lofty bamboo, or the fragrant Pothos, the curious Cyclanthus, or
frowning nettles, some of the latter from ten to twelve feet high.
But how to describe the numberless treasures which everywhere strike
the eye of the wandering naturalist?

'To reach the Chorro, or Cascade, you strike to the right into a
"path" that brings you first to a cacao plantation, through a few
rice or maize fields, and then you enter the shade of the virgin
forest. Thousands of interesting objects now attract your
attention: here, the wonderful Norantea or the resplendent
Calycophyllum, a Tabernaemontana or a Faramea filling the air afar
off with the fragrance of their blossoms; there, a graceful
Heliconia winking at you from out some dark ravine. That shrubbery
above is composed of a species of Boehmeria or Ardisia, and that
scarlet flower belongs to our native Aphelandra. In the rear are
one or two Philodendrons--disagreeable guests, for their smell is
bad enough, and they blister when imprudently touched. There also
you may see a tree-fern, though a small one. Nearer to us, and low
down beneath our feet, that rich panicle of flowers belongs to a
Begonia; and here also is an assemblage of ferns of the genera
Asplenium, Hymenophyllum, and Trichomanes, as well as of Hepaticae
and Mosses. But what are those yellow and purple flowers hanging
above our heads? They are Bignonias and Mucunas--creepers straying
from afar which have selected this spot, where they may, under the
influence of the sun's beams, propagate their race. Those chain-
like, fantastic, strange-looking lianes, resembling a family of
boas, are Bauhinias; and beyond, through the opening you see, in the
abandoned ground of some squatter's garden, the trumpet-tree
(Cecropia) and the groo-groo, the characteristic plants of the
rastrajo.

'Now, let us proceed on our walk; we mean the cascade:--Here it is,
opposite to you, a grand spectacle indeed! From a perpendicular
wall of solid rock, of more than three hundred feet, down rushes a
stream of water, splitting in the air, and producing a constant
shower, which renders this lovely spot singularly and deliciously
cool. Nearly the whole extent of this natural wall is covered with
plants, among which you can easily discern numbers of ferns and
mosses, two species of Pitcairnia with beautiful red flowers, some
Aroids, various nettles, and here and there a Begonia. How
different such a spot would look in cold Europe! Below, in the
midst of a never-failing drizzle, grow luxuriant Ardisias, Aroids,
Ferns, Costas, Heliconias, Centropogons, Hydrocotyles, Cyperoids,
and Grasses of various genera, Tradescantias and Commelynas,
Billbergias, and, occasionally, a few small Rubiaceae and
Melastomaceae.'

The cascade, when I saw it, was somewhat disfigured above and below.
Above, the forest-fires of last year had swept the edge of the
cliff, and had even crawled half-way down, leaving blackened rocks
and gray stems; and below, loyal zeal had cut away only too much of
the rich vegetation, to make a shed or stable, in anticipation of a
visit from the Duke of Edinburgh, who did not come. A year or two,
however, in this climate will heal these temporary scars, and all
will be as luxuriant as ever. Indeed such scars heal only too fast
here. For the paths become impassable from brush and weeds every
six months, and have to be cutlassed out afresh; and when it was
known that we were going up to the waterfall, a gang had to be set
to work to save the lady of the party being wetted through by leaf-
dew up to her shoulders, as she sat upon her horse. Pretty it was--
a bit out of an older and more simple world--to see the yeoman-
gentleman who had contracted for the mending of the road, and who
counts among his ancestors the famous Ponce de Leon, meeting us
half-way on our return; dressed more simply, and probably much
poorer, than an average English yeoman: but keeping untainted the
stately Castilian courtesy, as with hat in hand--I hope I need not
say that my hat was at my saddle-bow all the while--he inquired
whether La Senorita had found the path free from all obstructions,
and so forth.

'The old order changes, giving place to the new:
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.'

But when, two hundred years hence, there are no more such gentlemen
of the old school left in the world, what higher form of true
civilisation shall we have invented to put in its place? None as
yet. All our best civilisation, in every class, is derived from
that; from the true self respect which is founded on respect for
others.

From San Josef, I was taken on in the carriage of a Spanish
gentleman through Arima, a large village where an Indian colony
makes those baskets and other wares from the Arouma-leaf for which
Trinidad is noted; and on to his estate at Guanapo, a pleasant
lowland place, with wide plantations of Cacao, only fourteen years
old, but in full and most profitable bearing; rich meadows with huge
clumps of bamboo; and a roomy timber-house, beautifully thatched
with palm, which serves as a retreat, in the dry season, for him and
his ladies, when baked out of dusty San Josef. On my way there, by
the by, I espied, and gathered for the first and last time, a flower
very dear to me--a crimson Passion flower, rambling wild over the
bush.

When we arrived, the sun was still so high in heaven that the kind
owner offered to push on that very afternoon to the Savanna of
Aripo, some five miles off. Police-horses had arrived from Arima,
in one of which I recognised my trusty old brown cob of the Northern
Mountains, and laid hands on him at once; and away three or four of
us went, the squire leading the way on his mule, with cutlass and
umbrella, both needful enough.

We went along a sandy high road, bordered by a vegetation new to me.
Low trees, with wiry branches and shining evergreen leaves, which
belonged, I was told, principally to the myrtle tribe, were
overtopped by Jagua palms, and packed below with Pinguins; with wild
pine-apples, whose rose and purple flower-heads were very beautiful;
and with a species of palm of which I had often heard, but which I
had never seen before, at least in any abundance, namely, the Timit,
{256a} the leaves of which are used as thatch. A low tree, seldom
rising more than twenty or thirty feet, it throws out wedge shaped
leaves some ten or twelve feet long, sometimes all but entire,
sometimes irregularly pinnate, because the space between the
straight and parallel side nerves has not been filled up. These
flat wedge-shaped sheets, often six feet across, and the oblong
pinnae, some three feet long by six inches to a foot in breadth,
make admirable thatch; and on emergency, as we often saw that day,
good umbrellas. Bundles of them lay along the roadside, tied up,
ready for carrying away, and each Negro or Negress whom we passed
carried a Timit-leaf, and hooked it on to his head when a gush of
rain came down.

After a while we turned off the high road into a forest path, which
was sound enough, the soil being one sheet of poor sand and white
quartz gravel, which would in Scotland, or even Devonshire, have
carried nothing taller than heath, but was here covered with
impenetrable jungle. The luxuriance of this jungle, be it
remembered, must not delude a stranger, as it has too many ere now,
into fancying that the land would be profitable under cultivation.
As long as the soil is shaded and kept damp, it will bear an
abundant crop of woody fibre, which, composed almost entirely of
carbon and water, drains hardly any mineral constituents from the
soil. But if that jungle be once cleared off, the slow and careful
work of ages has been undone in a moment. The burning sun bakers up
everything; and the soil, having no mineral staple wherewith to
support a fresh crop if planted, is reduced to aridity and sterility
for years to come. Timber, therefore, I believe, and timber only,
is the proper crop for these poor soils, unless medicinal or
otherwise useful trees should be discovered hereafter worth the
planting. To thin out the useless timbers--but cautiously, for fear
of letting in the sun's rays--and to replace them by young plants of
useful timbers, is all that Government can do with the poorer bits
of these Crown lands, beyond protecting (as it does now to the best
of its power) the natural crop of Timit-leaves from waste and
destruction. So much it ought to do; and so much it can and will do
in Trinidad, which--happily for it--possesses a Government which
governs, instead of leaving every man, as in the Irishman's
paradise, to 'do what is right in the sight of his own eyes, and
what is wrong too, av he likes.' Without such wise regulation, and
even restraint, of the ignorant greediness of human toil, intent
only (as in the too exclusive cultivation of the sugar-cane and of
the cotton-plant) on present profits, without foresight or care for
the future, the lands of warmer climates will surely fall under that
curse, so well described by the venerable Elias Fries, of Lund.
{257a}

'A broad belt of waste land follows gradually in the steps of
cultivation. If it expands, its centre and its cradle dies, and on
the outer borders only do we find green shoots. But it is not
impossible, only difficult, for man, without renouncing the
advantage of culture itself, one day to make reparation for the
injury which he has inflicted; he is the appointed lord of creation.
True it is that thorns and thistles, ill-favoured and poisonous
plants, well named by botanists "rubbish-plants," mark the track
which man has proudly traversed through the earth. Before him lay
original Nature in her wild but sublime beauty. Behind him he
leaves the desert, a deformed and ruined land; for childish desire
of destruction or thoughtless squandering of vegetable treasures has
destroyed the character of Nature; and, terrified, man himself flies
from the arena of his actions, leaving the impoverished earth to
barbarous races or to animals, so long as yet another spot in virgin
beauty smiles before him. Here, again, in selfish pursuit of
profit, and, consciously or unconsciously, following the abominable
principle of the great moral vileness which one man has expressed--
"Apres nous le deluge"--he begins anew the work of destruction.
Thus did cultivation, driven out, leave the East, and perhaps the
Deserts formerly robbed of their coverings: like the wild hordes of
old over beautiful Greece, thus rolls the conquest with fearful
rapidity from east to west through America; and the planter now
often leaves the already exhausted land, the eastern climate becomes
infertile through the demolition of the forests, to introduce a
similar revolution into the far West.'

For a couple of miles or more we trotted on through this jungle,
till suddenly we saw light ahead; and in five minutes the forest
ended, and a scene opened before us which made me understand the
admiration which Humboldt and other travellers have expressed at the
far vaster Savannas of the Orinoco.

A large sheet of gray-green grass, bordered by the forest wall, as
far as the eye could see, and dotted with low bushes, weltered in
mirage; while stretching out into it, some half a mile off, a gray
promontory into a green sea, was an object which filled me with more
awe and admiration than anything which I had seen in the island.

It was a wood of Moriche palms; like a Greek temple, many hundred
yards in length, and, as I guessed, nearly a hundred feet in height;
and, like a Greek temple, ending abruptly at its full height. The
gray columns, perfectly straight and parallel, supported a dark roof
of leaves, gray underneath, and reflecting above, from their broad
fans, sheets of pale glittering-light. Such serenity of grandeur I
never saw in any group of trees; and when we rode up to it, and
tethered our horses in its shade, it seemed to me almost irreverent
not to kneel and worship in that temple not made with hands.

When we had gazed our fill, we set hastily to work to collect
plants, as many as the lateness of the hour and the scalding heat
would allow. A glance showed the truth of Dr. Krueger's words:--

'It is impossible to describe the feelings of the botanist when
arriving at a field like this, so much unlike anything he has seen
before. Here are full-blowing large Orchids, with red, white, and
yellow flowers; and among the grasses, smaller ones of great
variety, and as great scientific interest--Melastomaceous plants of
various genera; Utricularias, Droseras, rare and various grasses,
and Cyperoids of small sizes and fine kinds, with a species of
Cassytha; in the water, Ceratophyllum (the well-known hornwort of
the English ponds) and bog-mosses. Such a variety of forms and
colours is nowhere else to be met with in the island.'

Of the Orchids, we only found one in flower; and of the rest, of
course, we had time only to gather a very few of the more
remarkable, among which was that lovely cousin of the Clerodendrons,
the crimson Amasonia, which ought to be in all hothouses. The low
bushes, I found, were that curious tree the Chaparro, {259a} but not
the Chaparro {259b} so often mentioned by Humboldt as abounding on
the Llanos. This Chaparro is remarkable, first, for the queer
little Natural Order to which it belongs; secondly, for its tanning
properties; thirdly, for the very nasty smell of its flowers;
fourthly, for the roughness of its leaves, which make one's flesh
creep, and are used, I believe, for polishing steel; and lastly, for
its wide geographical range, from Isla de Pinos, near Cuba--where
Columbus, to his surprise, saw true pines growing in the Tropics--
all over the Llanos, and down to Brazil; an ancient, ugly, sturdy
form of vegetation, able to get a scanty living out of the poorest
soils, and consequently triumphant, as yet, in the battle of life.

The soil of the Savanna was a poor sandy clay, treacherous, and
often impassable for horses, being half dried above and wet beneath.
The vegetation grew, not over the whole, but in innumerable
tussocks, which made walking very difficult. The type of the rushes
and grasses was very English; but among them grew, here and there,
plants which excited my astonishment; above all, certain Bladder-
worts, {259c} which I had expected to find, but which, when found,
were so utterly unlike any English ones, that I did not recognise at
first what they were. Our English Bladder-worts, as everybody
knows, float in stagnant water on tangles of hair-like leaves,
something like those of the Water-Ranunculus, but furnished with
innumerable tiny bladders; and this raft supports the little scape
of yellow snapdragon-like flowers. There are in Trinidad and other
parts of South America Bladder-worts of this type. But those which
we found to-day, growing out of the damp clay, were more like in
habit to a delicate stalk of flax, or even a bent of grass, upright,
leafless or all but leafless, with heads of small blue or yellow
flowers, and carrying, in one species, a few very minute bladders
about the roots, in another none at all. A strange variation from
the normal type of the family; yet not so strange, after all, as
that of another variety in the high mountain woods, which, finding
neither ponds to float in nor swamp to root in, has taken to lodging
as a parasite among the wet moss on tree-trunks; not so strange,
either, as that of yet another, which floats, but in the most
unexpected spots, namely, in the water which lodges between the
leaf-sheaths of the wild pines, perched on the tree-boughs, a
parasite on parasites; and sends out long runners, as it grows,
along the bough, in search of the next wild pine and its tiny
reservoirs.

In the face of such strange facts, is it very absurd to guess that
these Utricularias, so like each other in their singular and highly
specialised flowers, so unlike each other in the habit of the rest
of the plant, have started from some one original type perhaps long
since extinct; and that, carried by birds into quite new situations,
they have adapted themselves, by natural selection, to new
circumstances, changing the parts which required change--the leaves
and stalks; but keeping comparatively unchanged those which needed
no change--the flowers?

But I was not prepared, as I should have been had I studied my
Griesbach's West Indian Flora carefully enough beforehand, for the
next proof of the wide distribution of water-plants. For as I
scratched and stumbled among the tussocks, 'larding the lean earth
as I stalked along,' my kind guide put into my hand, with something
of an air of triumph, a little plant, which was--there was no
denying it--none other than the long-leaved Sundew, {260a} with its
clammy-haired paws full of dead flies, just as they would have been
in any bog in Devonshire or in Hampshire, in Wales or in Scotland.
But how came it here? And more, how has it spread, not only over
the whole of Northern Europe, Canada, and the United States, but
even as far south as Brazil? Its being common to North America and
Europe is not surprising. It may belong to that comparatively
ancient Flora which existed when there was land way between the two
continents by way of Greenland, and the bison ranged from Russia to
the Rocky Mountains. But its presence within the Tropics is more
probably explained by supposing that it, like the Bladder-worts, has
been carried on the feet or in the crop of birds.

The Savanna itself, like those of Caroni and Piarco, offers, I
suspect, a fresh proof that a branch of the Orinoco once ran along
the foot of the northern mountains of Trinidad.

'It is impossible,' says Humboldt, {260b} 'to cross the burning
plains' (of the Orinocquan Savannas) 'without inquiring whether they
have always been in the same state; or whether they have been
stripped of their vegetation by some revolution of nature. The
stratum of mould now found on them is very thin. . . . The plains
were, doubtless, less bare in the fifteenth century than they are
now; yet the first Conquistadores, who came from Coro, described
them then as Savannas, where nothing could be perceived save the sky
and the turf; which were generally destitute of trees, and difficult
to traverse on account of the reverberation of heat from the soil.
Why does not the great forest of the Oroonoco extend to the north,
or the left bank of that river? Why does it not fill that vast
space that reaches as far as the Cordillera of the coast, and which
is fertilised by various rivers? This question is connected with
all that relates to the history of our planet. If, indulging in
geological reveries, we suppose that the Steppes of America and the
desert of Sahara have been stripped of their vegetation by an
irruption of the ocean, or that they formed the bottom of an inland
lake'--(the Sahara, as is now well known, is the quite recently
elevated bed of a great sea continuous with the Atlantic)--'we may
conceive that thousands of years have not sufficed for the trees and
shrubs to advance toward the centre from the borders of the forests,
from the skirts of the plains either naked or covered with turf, and
darken so vast a space with their shade. It is more difficult to
explain the origin of bare savannas enclosed in forests, than to
recognise the causes which maintain forests and savannas within
their ancient limits like continents and seas.'

With these words in my mind, I could not but look on the Savanna of
Aripo as one of the last-made bits of dry land in Trinidad, still
unfurnished with the common vegetation of the island. The two
invading armies of tropical plants--one advancing from the north,
off the now almost destroyed land which connected Trinidad and the
Cordillera with the Antilles; the other from the south-west, off the
utterly destroyed land which connected Trinidad with Guiana--met, as
I fancy, ages since, on the opposite banks of a mighty river, or
estuary, by which the Orinoco entered the ocean along the foot of
the northern mountains. As that river-bed rose and became dry land,
the two Floras crossed and intermingled. Only here and there, as at
Aripo, are left patches, as it were, of a third Flora, which once
spread uninterruptedly along the southern base of the Cordillera and
over the lowland which is now the Gulf of Paria, along the alluvial
flats of the mighty stream; and the Moriche palms of Aripo may be
the lineal descendants of those which now inhabit the Llanos of the
main; as those again may be the lineal descendants of the Moriches
which Schomburgk found forming forests among the mountains of
Guiana, up to four thousand feet above the sea. Age after age the
Moriche apples floated down the stream, settling themselves on every
damp spot not yet occupied by the richer vegetation of the forests,
and ennobled, with their solitary grandeur, what without them would
have been a dreary waste of mud and sand.

These Savannas of Trinidad stand, it must be remembered, in the very
line where, on such a theory, they might be expected to stand, along
the newest deposit; the great band of sand, gravel, and clay rubbish
which stretches across the island at the mountain-foot, its highest
point in thirty-six miles being only two hundred and twenty feet--an
elevation far less than the corresponding depression of the Bocas,
which has parted Trinidad from the main Cordillera. That the
rubbish on this line was deposited by a river or estuary is as clear
to me as that the river was either a very rapid one, or subject to
violent and lofty floods, as the Orinoco is now. For so are best
explained, not merely the sheets of gravel, but the huge piles of
boulder which have accumulated at the mouth of the mountain gorges
on the northern side.

As for the southern shore of this supposed channel of the Orinoco,
it at once catches the eye of any one standing on the northern
range. He must see that he is on one shore of a vast channel, the
other shore of which is formed by the Montserrat, Tamana, and
Manzanilla hills; far lower now than the northern range, Tamana only
being over a thousand feet, but doubtless, in past ages, far higher
than now. No one can doubt this who has seen the extraordinary
degradation going on still about the summits, or who remembers that
the strata, whether tertiary or lower chalk, have been, over the
greater part of the island, upheaved, faulted, set on end, by the
convulsions seemingly so common during the Miocene epoch, and since
then sawn away by water and air into one rolling outline, quite
independent of the dip of the strata. The whole southern two thirds
of Trinidad represent a wear and tear which is not to be counted by
thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of years; and yet which, I
verily believe, has taken place since the average plants, trees, and
animals of the island dwelt therein.

This elevation may have well coincided with the depression of the
neighbouring Gulf of Paria. That the southern portion of that gulf
was once dry land; that the Serpent's Mouth did not exist when the
present varieties of plants and animals were created, is matter of
fact, proven by the identity of the majority of plants and animals
on both shores. How else--to give a few instances out of hundreds--
did the Mora, the Brazil-nut, the Cannon-ball tree: how else did
the Ant-eater, the Coendou, the two Cuencos, the Guazupita deer,
enter Trinidad? Humboldt--though, unfortunately, he never visited
the island--saw this at a glance. While he perceived that the
Indian story, how the Boca Drago to the north had been only lately
broken through, had a foundation of truth, 'It cannot be doubted,'
he says, 'that the Gulf of Paria was once an inland basin, and the
Punta Icacque (its south-western extremity) united to the Punta
Toleto, east of the Boca de Pedernales.' {262} In which case there
may well have been--one may almost say there must have been--an
outlet for that vast body of water which pours, often in tremendous
floods, from the Pedernales' mouth of the Orinoco, as well as from
those of the Tigre, Guanipa, Caroli, and other streams between it
and the Cordillera on the north; and this outlet probably lay along
the line now occupied by the northern Savannas of Trinidad.

So much this little natural park of Aripo taught, or seemed to teach
me. But I did not learn the whole of the lesson that afternoon, or
indeed till long after. There was no time then to work out such
theories. The sun was getting low, and more intolerable as he sank;
and to escape a sunstroke on the spot, or at least a dark ride home,
we hurried off into the forest shade, after one last look at the
never-to-be-forgotten Morichal, and trotted home to luxury and
sleep.

CHAPTER XIII: THE COCAL

Next day, like the 'Young Muleteers of Grenada,' a good song which
often haunted me in those days,

'With morning's earliest twinkle
Again we are up and gone,'

with two horses, two mules, and a Negro and a Coolie carrying our
scanty luggage in Arima baskets: but not without an expression of
pity from the Negro who cleaned my boots. 'Where were we going?'
To the east coast. Cuffy turned up what little nose he had. He
plainly considered the east coast, and indeed Trinidad itself, as
not worth looking at. 'Ah! you should go Barbadoes, sa. Dat de
country to see. I Barbadian, sa.' No doubt. It is very quaint,
this self-satisfaction of the Barbadian Negro. Whether or not he
belonged originally to some higher race--for there are as great
differences of race among Negroes as among any white men--he looks
down on the Negroes, and indeed on the white men, of other islands,
as beings of an inferior grade; and takes care to inform you in the
first five minutes that he is 'neider C'rab nor Creole, but true
Barbadian barn.' This self-conceit of his, meanwhile, is apt to
make him unruly, and the cause of unruliness in others when he
emigrates. The Barbadian Negroes are, I believe, the only ones who
give, or ever have given, any trouble in Trinidad; and in Barbadoes
itself, though the agricultural Negroes work hard and well, who that
knows the West Indies knows not the insubordination of the
Bridgetown boatmen, among whose hands a traveller and his luggage
are, it is said, likely enough to be pulled in pieces? However,
they are rather more quiet just now; for not a thousand years ago a
certain steamer's captain, utterly unable to clear his quarter of
the fleet of fighting, jabbering brown people, turned the steam pipe
on them. At which quite unexpected artillery they fled
precipitately; and have had some rational respect for a steamer's
quarter ever since. After all, I do not deny that this man's being
a Barbadian opened my heart to him at once, for old sakes' sake.

Another specimen of Negro character I was to have analysed, or tried
to analyse, at the estate where I had slept. M. F--- had lately
caught a black servant at the brook-side busily washing something in
a calabash, and asked him what was he doing there? The conversation
would have been held, of course, in French-Spanish-African--Creole
patois, a language which is becoming fixed, with its own grammar and
declensions, etc. A curious book on it has lately been published in
Trinidad by Mr. Thomas, a coloured gentleman, who seems to be at
once no mean philologer and no mean humorist. The substance of the
Negro's answer was, 'Why, sir, you sent me to the town to buy a
packet of sugar and a packet of salt; and coming back it rained so
hard, the packets burst, and the salt was all washed into the sugar.
And so--I am washing it out again.' . . .

This worthy was to have been brought to me, that I might discover,
if possible, by what processes of 'that which he was pleased to call
his mind' he had arrived at the conclusion that such a thing could
be done. Clearly, he could not plead unavoidable ignorance of the
subject-matter, as might the old cook at San Josef, who, the first
time her master brought home Wenham Lake ice from Port of Spain, was
scandalised at the dirtiness of the 'American water,' washed off the
sawdust, and dried the ice in the sun. His was a case of Handy-
Andyism, as that intellectual disease may be named, after Mr.
Lover's hero; like that of the Obeah-woman, when she tried to bribe
the white gentleman with half a dozen of bottled beer; a case of
muddle-headed craft and elaborate silliness, which keeps no
proportion between the means and the end; so common in insane
persons; frequent, too, among the lower Irish, such as Handy Andy;
and very frequent, I am afraid, among the Negroes. But--as might
have been expected--the poor boy's moral sense had proved as shaky
as his intellectual powers. He had just taken a fancy to some goods
of his master's; and had retreated, to enjoy them the more securely,
into the southern forests, with a couple of brown policemen on his
track. So he was likely to undergo a more simple investigation than
that which was submitted to my analysis, viz. how he proposed to
wash the salt out of the sugar.

We arrived after a while at Valencia, a scattered hamlet in the
woods, with a good shop or 'store' upon a village green, under the
verandah whereof lay, side by side with bottled ale and biscuit
tins, bags of Carapo {265} nuts; trapezoidal brown nuts--enclosed
originally in a round fruit--which ought some day to form a valuable
article of export. Their bitter anthelminthic oil is said to have
medicinal uses; but it will be still more useful for machinery, as
it has--like that curious flat gourd the Sequa {266a}--the property
of keeping iron from rust. The tree itself, common here and in
Guiana, is one of the true Forest Giants; we saw many a noble
specimen of it in our rides. Its timber is tough, not over heavy,
and extensively used already in the island; while its bark is a
febrifuge and tonic. In fact it possesses all those qualities which
make its brethren, the Meliaceae, valuable throughout the Tropics.
But it is not the only tree of South America whose bark may be used
as a substitute for quinine. They may be counted possibly by
dozens. A glance at the excellent enumerations of the uses of
vegetable products to be found in Lindley's Vegetable Kingdom (a
monument of learning) will show how God provides, how man neglects
and wastes. As a single instance, the Laurels alone are known
already to contain several valuable febrifuges, among which the
Demerara Greenheart, or Bibiri, {266b} claims perhaps the highest
rank. 'Dr. Maclagan has shown,' says Dr. Lindley, 'that sulphate of
Bibiri acts with rapid and complete success in arresting ague.'
This tree spreads from Jamaica to the Spanish Main. It is plentiful
in Trinidad; still more plentiful in Guiana; and yet all of it which
reaches Europe is a little of its hard beautiful wood for the use of
cabinetmakers; while in Demerara, I am assured by an eye-witness,
many tons of this precious Greenheart bark are thrown away year by
year. So goes the world; and man meanwhile at once boasts of his
civilisation, and complains of the niggardliness of Nature.

But if I once begin on this subject I shall not know where to end.

Our way lay now for miles along a path which justified all that I
had fancied about the magnificent possibilities of landscape
gardening in the Tropics. A grass drive, as we should call it in
England--a 'trace,' as it is called in the West Indies--some sixty
feet in width, and generally carpeted with short turf, led up hill
and down dale; for the land, though low, is much ridged and gullied,
and there has been as yet no time to cut down the hills, or to metal
the centre of the road. It led, as the land became richer, through
a natural avenue even grander than those which I had already seen.
The light and air, entering the trace, had called into life the
undergrowth and lower boughs, till from the very turf to a hundred
and fifty feet in height rose one solid green wall, spangled here
and there with flowers. Below was Mamure, Roseau, Timit, Aroumas,
and Tulumas, {266c} mixed with Myrtles and Melastomas; then the
copper Bois Mulatres among the Cocorite and Jagua palms; above them
the heads of enormous broad-leaved trees of I know not how many
species; and the lianes festooning all from cope to base. The
crimson masses of Norantea on the highest tree-tops were here most
gorgeous; but we had to beware of staring aloft too long, for fear
of riding into mud-holes--for the wet season would not end as yet,
though dry weather was due--or, even worse, into the great Parasol-
ant warrens, which threatened, besides a heavy fall, stings
innumerable. At one point, I recollect, a gold-green Jacamar sat on
a log and looked at me till I was within five yards of her. At
another we heard the screams of Parrots; at another, the double note
of the Toucan; at another, the metallic clank of the Bell-bird, or
what was said to be the Bell-bird. But this note was not that
solemn and sonorous toll of the Campanese of the mainland which is
described by Waterton and others. It resembled rather the less
poetical sound of a woman beating a saucepan to make a swarm of bees
settle.

At one point we met a gang of Negroes felling timber to widen the
road. Fresh fallen trees, tied together with lianes, lay
everywhere. What a harvest for the botanist was among them! I
longed to stay there a week to examine and collect. But time
pressed; and, indeed, collecting plants in the wet season is a
difficult and disappointing work. In an air saturated with moisture
specimens turn black and mouldy, and drop to pieces; and unless
turned over and exposed to every chance burst of sunshine, the
labour of weeks is lost, if indeed meanwhile the ants, and other
creeping things, have not eaten the whole into rags.

Among these Negroes was one who excited my astonishment; not merely
for his size, though he was perhaps the tallest man whom I saw among
the usually tall Negroes of Trinidad; but for his features, which
were altogether European of the highest type; the forehead high and
broad, the cheek-bones flat, the masque long and oval, and the nose
aquiline and thin enough for any prince. Conscious of his own
beauty and strength, he stood up among the rest as an old Macedonian
might have stood up among the Egyptians he had conquered. We tried
to find out his parentage. My companions presumed he was an
'African,' i.e. imported during the times of slavery. He said No:
that he was a Creole, island born; but his father, it appeared, had
been in one of our Negro regiments, and had been settled afterwards
on a Government grant of land. Whether his beauty was the result of
'atavism'--of the reappearance, under the black skin and woolly
hair, of some old stain of white blood; or whether, which is more
probable, he came of some higher African race; one could not look at
him without hopeful surmises as to the possible rise of the Negro,
and as to the way in which it will come about--the only way in which
any race has permanently risen, as far as I can ascertain; namely,
by the appearance among them of sudden sports of nature; individuals
of an altogether higher type; such a man as that terrible Daaga,
whose story has been told. If I am any judge of physiognomy, such a
man as that, having--what the Negro has not yet had--'la carriere
ouverte aux talents,' might raise, not himself merely, but a whole
tribe, to an altogether new level in culture and ability.

Just after passing this gang we found, lying by the road, two large
snakes, just killed, which I would gladly have preserved had it been
possible. They were, the Negroes told us, 'Dormillons,' or
'Mangrove Cascabel,' a species as yet, I believe, undescribed; and,
of course, here considered as very poisonous, owing to their
likeness to the true Cascabel, {268} whose deadly fangs are justly
dreaded by the Lapo hunter. For the Cascabel has a fancy for living
in the Lapo's burrow, as does the rattlesnake in that of the prairie
dog in the Western United States, and in the same friendly and
harmless fashion; and is apt, when dug out, to avenge himself and
his host by a bite which is fatal in a few hours. But these did not
seem to me to have the heads of poisonous snakes; and, in spite of
the entreaties of the terrified Negroes, I opened their mouths to
judge for myself, and found them, as I expected, utterly fangless
and harmless. I was not aware then that Dr. De Verteuil had stated
the same fact in print; but I am glad to corroborate it, for the
benefit of at least the rational people in Trinidad: for snakes,
even poisonous ones, should be killed as seldom as possible. They
feed on rats and vermin, and are the farmer's good friend, whether
in the Tropics or in England; and to kill a snake, or even an adder-
-who never bites any one if he is allowed to run away--is, in
nineteen cases out of twenty, mere wanton mischief.

The way was beguiled, if I recollect rightly, for some miles on, by
stories about Cuba and Cuban slavery from one of our party. He
described the political morality of Cuba as utterly dissolute; told
stories of great sums of money voted for roads which are not made to
this day, while the money had found its way into the pockets of
Government officials; and, on the whole, said enough to explain the
determination of the Cubans to shake off Spanish misrule, and try
what they could do for themselves on this earth. He described Cuban
slavery as, on the whole, mild; corporal punishment being restricted
by law to a few blows, and very seldom employed: but the mildness
seemed dictated rather by self-interest than by humanity. 'Ill-use
our slaves?' said a Cuban to him. 'We cannot afford it. You take
good care of your four-legged mules: we of our two-legged ones.'
The children, it seems, are taken away from the mothers, not merely
because the mothers are needed for work, but because they neglect
their offspring so much that the children have more chance of
living--and therefore of paying--if brought up by hand. So each
estate has, or had, its creche, as the French would call it--a great
nursery, in which the little black things are reared, kindly enough,
by the elder ladies of the estate. To one old lady, who wearied
herself all day long in washing, doctoring, and cramming the babies,
my friend expressed pity for all the trouble she took about her
human brood. 'Oh dear no,' answered she; 'they are a great deal
easier to rear than chickens.' The system, however, is nearly at an
end. Already the Cuban Revolution has produced measures of half-
emancipation; and in seven years' time probably there will not be a
slave in Cuba.

We waded stream after stream under the bamboo clumps, and in one of
them we saw swimming a green rigoise, or whip-snake, which must have
been nearly ten feet long. It swam with its head and the first two
feet of its body curved aloft like a swan, while the rest of the
body lay along the surface of the water in many curves--a most
graceful object as it glided away into dark shadow along an oily
pool. At last we reached an outlying camp, belonging to one of our
party who was superintending the making of new roads in that
quarter, and there rested our weary limbs, some in hammock, some on
the tables, some, again, on the clay floor. Here I saw, as I saw
every ten minutes, something new--that quaint vegetable plaything
described by Humboldt and others; namely, the spathe of the Timit
palm. It encloses, as in most palms, a branched spadix covered with
innumerable round buds, most like a head of millet, two feet and a
half long: but the spathe, instead of splitting and forming a hood
over the flowers, as in the Cocorite and most palms, remains entire,
and slips off like the finger of a glove. When slipped off, it is
found to be made of two transverse layers of fibre--a bit of
veritable natural lace, similar to, though far less delicate than,
the famous lace-bark of the Lagetta-tree, peculiar, I believe, to
one district in the Jamaica mountains. And as it is elastic and
easily stretched, what hinders the brown child from pulling it out
till it makes an admirable fool's cap, some two feet high, and
exactly the colour of his own skin, and dancing about therein, the
fat oily little Cupidon, without a particle of clothing beside? And
what wonder if we grown-up whites made fools' caps too, for children
on the other side of the Atlantic? During which process we found--
what all said they had never seen before--that one of the spadices
carried two caps, one inside the other, and one exactly like the
other; a wanton superfluity of Nature, which I should like to hear
explained by some morphologist.

We rode away from that hospitable group of huts, whither we were to
return in two or three days; and along the green trace once more.
As we rode, M--- the civiliser of Montserrat and I side by side,
talking of Cuba, and staring at the Noranteas overhead, a dull sound
was heard, as if the earth had opened; as indeed it had, engulfing
in the mud the whole forehand of M---'s mule; and there he knelt,
his beard outspread upon the clay, while the mule's visage looked
patiently out from under his left arm. However, it was soft falling
there. The mule was hauled out by main force. As for cleaning
either her or the rider, that was not thought of in a country where
they were sure to be as dirty as ever in an hour; and so we rode on,
after taking a note of the spot, and, as it happened, forgetting it
again--one of us at least.

On again, along the green trace, which rose now to a ridge, with
charming glimpses of wooded hills and glens to right and left; past
comfortable squatters' cottages, with cacao drying on sheets at the
doors or under sheds; with hedges of dwarf Erythrina, dotted with
red jumby beads, and here and there that pretty climbing vetch, the
Overlook. {270} I forgot, by the by, to ask whether it is planted
here, as in Jamaica, to keep off the evil eye, or 'overlook'; whence
its name. Nor can I guess what peculiarity about the plant can have
first made the Negro fix on it as a fetish. The genesis of folly is
as difficult to analyse as the genesis of most other things.

All this while the dull thunder of the surf was growing louder and
louder; till, not as in England over a bare down, but through
thickest foliage down to the high tide mark, we rode out upon the
shore, and saw before us a right noble sight; a flat, sandy, surf
beaten shore, along which stretched, in one grand curve, lost at
last in the haze of spray, fourteen miles of Coco palms.

This was the Cocal; and it was worth coming all the way from England
to see it alone. I at once felt the truth of my host's saying, that
if I went to the Cocal I should find myself transported suddenly
from the West Indies to the East. Just such must be the shore of a
Coral island in the Pacific.

These Cocos, be it understood, are probably not indigenous. They
spread, it is said, from an East Indian vessel which was wrecked
here. Be that as it may, they have thoroughly naturalised
themselves. Every nut which falls and lies, throws out, during the
wet season, its roots into the sand; and is ready to take the place
of its parent when the old tree dies down.

About thirty to fifty feet is the average height of these Coco
palms, which have all, without exception, a peculiarity which I have
noticed to a less degree in another sand- and shore-growing tree,
the Pinaster of the French Landes. They never spring-upright from
the ground. The butt curves, indeed lies almost horizontal in some
cases, for the lowest two or three yards; and the whole stem, up to
the top, is inclined to lean; it matters not toward which quarter,
for they lean as often toward the wind as from it, crossing each
other very gracefully. I am not mechanician enough to say how this
curve of the stem increases their security amid loose sands and
furious winds. But that it does so I can hardly doubt, when I see a
similar habit in the Pinaster. Another peculiarity was noteworthy:
their innumerable roots, long, fleshy, about the thickness of a
large string, piercing the sand in every direction, and running down
to high-tide mark, apparently enjoying the salt water, and often
piercing through bivalve shells, which remained strung upon the
roots. Have they a fondness for carbonate of lime, as well as for
salt?

The most remarkable, and to me unexpected, peculiarity of a Cocal is
one which I am not aware whether any writer has mentioned; namely,
the prevalence of that amber hue which we remarked in the very first
specimens seen at St. Thomas's. But this is, certainly, the mark
which distinguishes the Coco palm, not merely from the cold dark
green of the Palmiste, or the silvery gray of the Jagua, but from
any other tree which I have ever seen.

When inside the Cocal, the air is full of this amber light.
Gradually the eye analyses the cause of it, and finds it to be the
resultant of many other hues, from bright vermilion to bright green.
Above, the latticed light which breaks between and over the
innumerable leaflets of the fruit fronds comes down in warmest
green. It passes not over merely, but through, the semi-transparent
straw and amber of the older leaves. It falls on yellow spadices
and flowers, and rich brown spathes, and on great bunches of green
nuts, to acquire from them more yellow yet; for each fruit-stalk and
each flower-scale at the base of the nut is veined and tipped with
bright orange. It pours down the stems, semi-gray on one side, then
yellow, and then, on the opposite side, covered with a powdery
lichen varying in colour from orange up to clear vermilion, and
spreads itself over a floor of yellow sand and brown fallen nuts,
and the only vegetation of which, in general, is a long crawling
Echites, with pairs of large cream-white flowers. Thus the
transparent shade is flooded with gold. One looks out through it at
the chequer-work of blue sky, all the more intense from its
contrast; or at a long whirl of white surf and gray spray; or,
turning the eyes inland toward the lagoon, at dark masses of
mangrove, above which rise, black and awful, the dying balatas,
stag-headed, blasted, tottering to their fall; and all as through an
atmosphere of Rhine wine, or from the inside of a topaz.

We rode along, mile after mile, wondering at many things. First,
the innumerable dry fruits of Timit palm, which lay everywhere;
mostly single, some double, a few treble, from coalition, I suppose,
of the three carpels which every female palm flower ought to have,
but of which it usually develops only one. They may have been
brought down the lagoon from inland by floods; but the common belief
is, that most of them come from the Orinoco itself, as do also the
mighty logs which lie about the beach in every stage of wear and
tear; and which, as fast as they are cut up and carried away, are
replaced by fresh ones. Some of these trees may actually come from
the mainland, and, drifting into this curving bay, be driven on
shore by the incessant trade wind. But I suspect that many of them
are the produce of the island itself; and more, that they have
grown, some of them, on the very spot where they now lie. For there
are, I think, evidences of subsidence going on along this coast.
Inside the Cocal, two hundred yards to the westward, stretches
inland a labyrinth of lagoons and mangrove swamps, impassable to
most creatures save alligators and boa-constrictors. But amid this
labyrinth grow everywhere mighty trees--balatas in plenty among
them, in every stage of decay; dying, seemingly, by gradual
submergence of their roots, and giving a ghastly and ragged
appearance to the forest. At the mouth of the little river Nariva,
a few miles down, is proof positive, unless I am much mistaken, of
similar subsidence. For there I found trees of all sizes--roseau
scrub among them--standing rooted below high-tide mark; and killed
where they grew.

So we rode on, stopping now and then to pick up shells; chip-chips,
{274a} which are said to be excellent eating; a beautiful purple
bivalve, {274b} to which, in almost every case, a coralline {274c}
had attached itself, of a form quite new to me. A lash some
eighteen inches long, single or forked; purplish as long as its coat
of lime--holding the polypes--still remained, but when that was
rubbed off a mere round strip of dark horn; and in both cases
flexible and elastic, so that it can be coiled up and tied in knots;
a very curious and graceful piece of Nature's workmanship. Among
them were curious flat cake-urchins, with oval holes punched in
them, so brittle that, in spite of all our care, they resolved
themselves into the loose sand of which they had been originally
compact; and I could therefore verify neither their genus nor their
species.

These were all, if I recollect, that we found that day. The next
day we came on hundreds of a most beautiful bivalve, {274d} their
purple colour quite fresh, their long spines often quite uninjured.
Some change of the sandy bottom had unearthed a whole warren of the
lovely things; and mixed with chip-chips innumerable, and with a
great bivalve {274e} with a thin wing along the anterior line of the
shell, they strewed the shore for a quarter of a mile and more.

We came at last to a little river, or rather tideway, leading from
the lagoon to the sea, which goes by the name of Doubloon River.
Some adventurous Spaniard, the story goes, contracted to make a
cutting which would let off the lagoon water in time of flood for
the sum of one doubloon--some three pound five; spent six times the
money on it; and found his cutting, when once the sea had entered,
enlarge into a roaring tideway, dangerous, often impassable, and
eating away the Cocal rapidly toward the south; Mother Earth, in
this case at least, having known her own business better than the
Spaniard.

How we took off our saddles, sat down on the sand, hallooed, waited;
how a black policeman--whose house was just being carried away by
the sea--appeared at last with a canoe; how we and our baggage got
over one by one in the hollow log without--by seeming miracle--being
swept out to sea or upset: how some horses would swim, and others
would not; how the Negroes held on by the horses till they all went
head over ears under the surf; and how, at last, breathless with
laughter and anxiety for our scanty wardrobes, we scrambled ashore
one by one into prickly roseau, re-saddled our horses in an
atmosphere of long thorns, and then cut our way and theirs out
through scrub into the Cocal;--all this should not be written in
these pages, but drawn for the benefit of Punch, by him who drew the
egg-stealing frog--whose pencil I longed for again and again amid
the delightful mishaps of those forest rambles, in all of which I
never heard a single grumble, or saw temper lost for a moment. We
should have been rather more serious, though, than we were, had we
been aware that the river-god, or presiding Jumby, of the Doubloon
was probably watching us the whole time, with the intention of
eating any one whom he could catch, and only kept in wholesome awe
by our noise and splashing.

At last, after the sun had gone down, and it was ill picking our way
among logs and ground-creepers, we were aware of lights; and soon
found ourselves again in civilisation, and that of no mean kind. A
large and comfortable house, only just rebuilt after a fire, stood
among the palm-trees, between the sea and the lagoon; and behind it
the barns, sheds, and engine-houses of the coco-works; and inside it
a hearty welcome from a most agreeable German gentleman and his
German engineer. A lady's hand--I am sorry to say the lady was not
at home--was evident enough in the arrangements of the central room.
Pretty things, a piano, and good books, especially Longfellow and
Tennyson, told of cultivation and taste in that remotest wilderness.
The material hospitality was what it always is in the West Indies;
and we sat up long into the night around the open door, while the
surf roared, and the palm trees sighed, and the fireflies twinkled,
talking of dear old Germany, and German unity, and the possibility
of many things which have since proved themselves unexpectedly most
possible. I went to bed, and to somewhat intermittent sleep.
First, my comrades, going to bed romping, like English schoolboys,
and not in the least like the effeminate and luxurious Creoles who
figure in the English imagination, broke a four-post bedstead down
among them with hideous roar and ruin; and had to be picked up and
called to order by their elders. Next, the wind, which ranged
freely through the open roof, blew my bedclothes off. Then the dogs
exploded outside, probably at some henroost-robbing opossum, and had
a chevy through the cocos till they tree'd their game, and bayed it
to their hearts' content. Then something else exploded--and I do
not deny it set me more aghast than I had been for many a day--
exploded, I say, under the window, with a shriek of Hut-hut-tut-tut,
hut-tut, such as I hope never to hear again. After which, dead
silence; save of the surf to the east and the toads to the west. I
fell asleep, wondering what animal could own so detestable a voice;
and in half an hour was awoke again by another explosion; after
which, happily, the thing, I suppose, went its wicked way, for I
heard it no more.

I found out the next morning that the obnoxious bird was not an owl,
but a large goat-sucker, a Nycteribius, I believe, who goes by the
name of jumby-bird among the English Negroes: and no wonder; for
most ghostly and horrible is his cry. But worse: he has but one
eye, and a glance from that glaring eye, as from the basilisk of
old, is certain death: and worse still, he can turn off its light
as a policeman does his lantern, and become instantly invisible:
opinions which, if verified by experiment, are not always found to
be in accordance with facts. But that is no reason why they should
not be believed.

In St. Vincent, for instance, the Negroes one evening rushed
shrieking out of a boiling-house, 'Oh! Massa Robert, we all killed.
Dar one great jumby-bird come in a hole a-top a roof. Oh! Massa
Robert, you no go in; you killed, we killed,' etc. etc. Massa
Robert went in, and could see no bird. 'Ah, Massa Robert, him darky
him eye, but him see you all da same. You killed, we killed,' etc.
Da capo.

Massa Robert was not killed: but lives still, to the great benefit
of his fellow-creatures, Negroes especially. Nevertheless, the
Negroes held to their opinion. He might, could, would, or should
have been killed; and was not that clear proof that they were right?

After this, who can deny that the Negro is a man and a brother,
possessing the same reasoning faculties, and exercising them in
exactly the same way, as three out of four white persons?

But if the night was disturbed, pleasant was the waking next
morning; pleasant the surprise at finding that the whistling and
howling air-bath of the night had not given one a severe cold, or
any cold at all; pleasant to slip on flannel shut and trousers--
shoes and stockings were needless--and hurry down through a stampede
of kicking, squealing mules, who were being watered ere their day's
work began, under the palms to the sea; pleasant to bathe in warm
surf, into which the four-eyes squattered in shoals as one ran down,
and the moment they saw one safe in the water, ran up with the next
wave to lie staring at the sky; pleasant to sit and read one's book
upon a log, and listen to the soft rush of the breeze in the palm-
leaves, and look at a sunrise of green and gold, pink and orange,
and away over the great ocean, and to recollect, with a feeling of
mingled nearness and loneliness, that there was nothing save that
watery void between oneself and England, and all that England held;
and then, when driven in to breakfast by the morning shower, to
begin a new day of seeing, and seeing, and seeing, certain that one
would learn more in it than in a whole week of book-reading at home.

We spent the next morning in inspecting the works. We watched the
Negroes splitting the coconuts with a single blow of that all-useful
cutlass, which they handle with surprising dexterity and force,
throwing the thick husk on one side, the fruit on the other. We saw
the husk carded out by machinery into its component fibres, for
coco-rope matting, coir-rope, saddle-stuffing, brushes, and a dozen
other uses; while the fruit was crushed down for the sake of its
oil; and could but wish all success to an industry which would be
most profitable, both to the projectors and to the island itself,
were it not for the uncertainty, rather than the scarcity, of
labour. Almost everything is done, of course, by piecework. The
Negro has the price of his labour almost at his own command; and
when, by working really hard and well for a while, he has earned a
little money, he throws up his job and goes off, careless whether
the whole works stand still or not. However, all prosperity to the
coco-works of Messrs. Uhrich and Gerold; and may the day soon come
when the English of Trinidad, like the Ceylonese and the Dutch of

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