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Green Mansions A Romance of the Tropical Forest by W. H. Hudson

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Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest by W. H. Hudson


I take up pen for this foreword with the fear of one who knows
that he cannot do justice to his subject, and the trembling of
one who would not, for a good deal, set down words unpleasing to
the eye of him who wrote Green Mansions, The Purple Land, and all
those other books which have meant so much to me. For of all
living authors--now that Tolstoi has gone I could least dispense
with W. H. Hudson. Why do I love his writing so? I think
because he is, of living writers that I read, the rarest spirit,
and has the clearest gift of conveying to me the nature of that
spirit. Writers are to their readers little new worlds to be
explored; and each traveller in the realms of literature must
needs have a favourite hunting-ground, which, in his good
will--or perhaps merely in his egoism--he would wish others to
share with him.

The great and abiding misfortunes of most of us writers are
twofold: We are, as worlds, rather common tramping-ground for our
readers, rather tame territory; and as guides and dragomans
thereto we are too superficial, lacking clear intimacy of
expression; in fact--like guide or dragoman--we cannot let folk
into the real secrets, or show them the spirit, of the land.

Now, Hudson, whether in a pure romance like this Green Mansions,
or in that romantic piece of realism The Purple Land, or in books
like Idle Days in Patagonia, Afoot in England, The Land's End,
Adventures among Birds, A Shepherd's Life, and all his other
nomadic records of communings with men, birds, beasts, and
Nature, has a supreme gift of disclosing not only the thing he
sees but the spirit of his vision. Without apparent effort he
takes you with him into a rare, free, natural world, and always
you are refreshed, stimulated, enlarged, by going there.

He is of course a distinguished naturalist, probably the most
acute, broad-minded, and understanding observer of Nature living.
And this, in an age of specialism, which loves to put men into
pigeonholes and label them, has been a misfortune to the reading
public, who seeing the label Naturalist, pass on, and take down
the nearest novel. Hudson has indeed the gifts and knowledge of
a Naturalist, but that is a mere fraction of his value and
interest. A really great writer such as this is no more to be
circumscribed by a single word than America by the part of it
called New York. The expert knowledge which Hudson has of Nature
gives to all his work backbone and surety of fibre, and to his
sense of beauty an intimate actuality. But his real eminence and
extraordinary attraction lie in his spirit and philosophy. We
feel from his writings that he is nearer to Nature than other
men, and yet more truly civilized. The competitive, towny
culture, the queer up-to-date commercial knowingness with which
we are so busy coating ourselves simply will not stick to him. A
passage in his Hampshire Days describes him better than I can:
"The blue sky, the brown soil beneath, the grass, the trees, the
animals, the wind, and rain, and stars are never strange to me;
for I am in and of and am one with them; and my flesh and the
soil are one, and the heat in my blood and in the sunshine are
one, and the winds and the tempests and my passions are one. I
feel the 'strangeness' only with regard to my fellow men,
especially in towns, where they exist in conditions unnatural to
me, but congenial to them.... In such moments we sometimes feel
a kinship with, and are strangely drawn to, the dead, who were
not as these; the long, long dead, the men who knew not life in
towns, and felt no strangeness in sun and wind and rain." This
unspoiled unity with Nature pervades all his writings; they are
remote from the fret and dust and pettiness of town life; they
are large, direct, free. It is not quite simplicity, for the
mind of this writer is subtle and fastidious, sensitive to each
motion of natural and human life; but his sensitiveness is
somehow different from, almost inimical to, that of us others,
who sit indoors and dip our pens in shades of feeling. Hudson's
fancy is akin to the flight of the birds that are his special
loves--it never seems to have entered a house, but since birth to
have been roaming the air, in rain and sun, or visiting the trees
and the grass. I not only disbelieve utterly, but intensely
dislike, the doctrine of metempsychosis, which, if I understand
it aright, seems the negation of the creative impulse, an
apotheosis of staleness--nothing quite new in the world, never
anything quite new--not even the soul of a baby; and so I am not
prepared to entertain the whim that a bird was one of his remote
incarnations; still, in sweep of wing, quickness of eye, and
natural sweet strength of song he is not unlike a
super-bird--which is a horrid image. And that reminds me: This,
after all, is a foreword to Greer: Mansions --the romance of the
bird-girl Rima--a story actual yet fantastic, which immortalizes,
I think, as passionate a love of all beautiful things as ever was
in the heart of man. Somewhere Hudson says: "The sense of the
beautiful is God's best gift to the human soul." So it is: and
to pass that gift on to others, in such measure as herein is
expressed, must surely have been happiness to him who wrote Green
Mansions. In form and spirit the book is unique, a simple
romantic narrative transmuted by sheer glow of beauty into a
prose poem. Without ever departing from its quality of a tale,
it symbolizes-the yearning of the human soul for the attainment
of perfect love and beauty in this life--that impossible
perfection which we must all learn to see fall from its high tree
and be consumed in the flames, as was Rima the bird-girl, but
whose fine white ashes we gather that they may be mingled at last
with our own, when we too have been refined by the fire of
death's resignation. The book is soaked through and through with
a strange beauty. I will not go on singing its praises, or
trying to make it understood, because I have other words to say
of its author.

Do we realize how far our town life and culture have got away
from things that really matter; how instead of making
civilization our handmaid to freedom we have set her heel on our
necks, and under it bite dust all the time? Hudson, whether he
knows it or not, is now the chief standard-bearer of another
faith. Thus he spake in The Purple Land: "Ah, yes, we are all
vainly seeking after happiness in the wrong way. It was with us
once and ours, but we despised it, for it was only the old common
happiness which Nature gives to all her children, and we went
away from it in search of another grander kind of happiness which
some dreamer--Bacon or another--assured us we should find. We
had only to conquer Nature, find out her secrets, make her our
obedient slave, then the Earth would be Eden, and every man Adam
and every woman Eve. We are still marching bravely on,
conquering Nature, but how weary and sad we are getting! The old
joy in life and gaiety of heart have vanished, though we do
sometimes pause for a few moments in our long forced march to
watch the labours of some pale mechanician, seeking after
perpetual motion, and indulge in a little, dry, cackling laugh at
his expense." And again: "For here the religion that languishes
in crowded cities or steals shamefaced to hide itself in dim
churches flourishes greatly, filling the soul with a solemn joy.
Face to face with Nature on the vast hills at eventide, who does
not feel himself near to the Unseen?

"Out of his heart God shall not pass

His image stamped is on every grass."

All Hudson's books breathe this spirit of revolt against our new
enslavement by towns and machinery, and are true oases in an age
so dreadfully resigned to the "pale mechanician."

But Hudson is not, as Tolstoi was, a conscious prophet; his
spirit is freer, more willful, whimsical--almost perverse--and
far more steeped in love of beauty. If you called him a prophet
he would stamp his foot at you--as he will at me if he reads
these words; but his voice is prophetic, for all that, crying in
a wilderness, out of which, at the call, will spring up roses
here and there, and the sweet-smelling grass. I would that every
man, woman, and child in England were made to read him; and I
would that you in America would take him to heart. He is a
tonic, a deep refreshing drink, with a strange and wonderful
flavour; he is a mine of new interests, and ways of thought
instinctively right. As a simple narrator he is well-nigh
unsurpassed; as a stylist he has few, if any, living equals. And
in all his work there is an indefinable freedom from any thought
of after- benefit- -even from the desire that we should read him.
He puts down what he sees and feels, out of sheer love of the
thing seen, and the emotion felt; the smell of the lamp has not
touched a single page that he ever wrote. That alone is a marvel
to us who know that to write well, even to write clearly, is a
wound business, long to learn, hard to learn, and no gift of the
angels. Style should not obtrude between a writer and his
reader; it should be servant, not master. To use words so true
and simple that they oppose no obstacle to the flow of thought
and feeling from mind to mind, and yet by juxtaposition of
word-sounds set up in the recipient continuing emotion or
gratification--this is the essence of style; and Hudson's writing
has pre-eminently this double quality. From almost any page of
his books an example might be taken. Here is one no better than
a thousand others, a description of two little girls on a beach:
"They were dressed in black frocks and scarlet blouses, which set
off their beautiful small dark faces; their eyes sparkled like
black diamonds, and their loose hair was a wonder to see, a black
mist or cloud about their heads and necks composed of threads
fine as gossamer, blacker than jet and shining like spun
glass--hair that looked as if no comb or brush could ever tame
its beautiful wildness. And in spirit they were what they
seemed: such a wild, joyous, frolicsome spirit, with such grace
and fleetness, one does not look for in human beings, but only in
birds or in some small bird-like volatile mammal--a squirrel or a
spider-monkey of the tropical forest, or the chinchilla of the
desolate mountain slopes; the swiftest, wildest, loveliest, most
airy, and most vocal of small beauties." Or this, as the
quintessence of a sly remark: "After that Mantel got on to his
horse and rode away. It was black and rainy, but he had never
needed moon or lantern to find what he sought by night, whether
his own house, or a fat cow--also his own, perhaps." So one
might go on quoting felicity for ever from this writer. He seems
to touch every string with fresh and uninked fingers; and the
secret of his power lies, I suspect, in the fact that his words:
"Life being more than all else to me . . ." are so utterly

I do not descant on his love for simple folk and simple things,
his championship of the weak, and the revolt against the cagings
and cruelties of life, whether to men or birds or beasts, that
springs out of him as if against his will; because, having spoken
of him as one with a vital philosophy or faith, I don't wish to
draw red herrings across the main trail of his worth to the
world. His work is a vision of natural beauty and of human life
as it might be, quickened and sweetened by the sun and the wind
and the rain, and by fellowship with all the other forms of life-
-the truest vision now being given to us, who are more in want of
it than any generation has ever been. A very great writer;
and--to my thinking--the most valuable our age possesses.


September 1915 Manaton: Devon

Green Mansions by W. H. Hudson


It is a cause of very great regret to me that this task has taken
so much longer a time than I had expected for its completion. It
is now many months--over a year, in fact--since I wrote to
Georgetown announcing my intention of publishing, IN A VERY FEW
MONTHS, the whole truth about Mr. Abel. Hardly less could have
been looked for from his nearest friend, and I had hoped that the
discussion in the newspapers would have ceased, at all events,
until the appearance of the promised book. It has not been so;
and at this distance from Guiana I was not aware of how much
conjectural matter was being printed week by week in the local
press, some of which must have been painful reading to Mr. Abel's
friends. A darkened chamber, the existence of which had never
been suspected in that familiar house in Main Street, furnished
only with an ebony stand on which stood a cinerary urn, its
surface ornamented with flower and leaf and thorn, and winding
through it all the figure of a serpent; an inscription, too, of
seven short words which no one could understand or rightly
interpret; and finally the disposal of the mysterious ashes--that
was all there was relating to an untold chapter in a man's life
for imagination to work on. Let us hope that now, at last, the
romance-weaving will come to an end. It was, however, but
natural that the keenest curiosity should have been excited; not
only because of that peculiar and indescribable charm of the man,
which all recognized and which won all hearts, but also because
of that hidden chapter--that sojourn in the desert, about which
he preserved silence. It was felt in a vague way by his
intimates that he had met with unusual experiences which had
profoundly affected him and changed the course of his life. To
me alone was the truth known, and I must now tell, briefly as
possible, how my great friendship and close intimacy with him
came about.

When, in 1887, I arrived in Georgetown to take up an appointment
in a public office, I found Mr. Abel an old resident there, a man
of means and a favourite in society. Yet he was an alien, a
Venezuelan, one of that turbulent people on our border whom the
colonists have always looked on as their natural enemies. The
story told to me was that about twelve years before that time he
had arrived at Georgetown from some remote district in the
interior; that he had journeyed alone on foot across half the
continent to the coast, and had first appeared among them, a
young stranger, penniless, in rags, wasted almost to a skeleton
by fever and misery of all kinds, his face blackened by long
exposure to sun and wind. Friendless, with but little English,
it was a hard struggle for him to live; but he managed somehow,
and eventually letters from Caracas informed him that a
considerable property of which he had been deprived was once more
his own, and he was also invited to return to his country to take
his part in the government of the Republic. But Mr. Abel, though
young, had already outlived political passions and aspirations,
and, apparently, even the love of his country; at all events, he
elected to stay where he was--his enemies, he would say
smilingly, were his best friends--and one of the first uses he
made of his fortune was to buy that house in Main Street which
was afterwards like a home to me.

I must state here that my friend's full name was Abel Guevez de
Argensola, but in his early days in Georgetown he was called by
his Christian name only, and later he wished to be known simply
as "Mr. Abel."

I had no sooner made his acquaintance than I ceased to wonder at
the esteem and even affection with which he, a Venezuelan, was
regarded in this British colony. All knew and liked him, and the
reason of it was the personal charm of the man, his kindly
disposition, his manner with women, which pleased them and
excited no man's jealousy--not even the old hot-tempered
planter's, with a very young and pretty and light-headed
wife--his love of little children, of all wild creatures, of
nature, and of whatsoever was furthest removed from the common
material interests and concerns of a purely commercial community.
The things which excited other men--politics, sport, and the
price of crystals--were outside of his thoughts; and when men had
done with them for a season, when like the tempest they had
"blown their fill" in office and club-room and house and wanted a
change, it was a relief to turn to Mr. Abel and get him to
discourse of his world--the world of nature and of the spirit.

It was, all felt, a good thing to have a Mr. Abel in Georgetown.
That it was indeed good for me I quickly discovered. I had
certainly not expected to meet in such a place with any person to
share my tastes--that love of poetry which has been the chief
passion and delight of my life; but such a one I had found in Mr.
Abel. It surprised me that he, suckled on the literature of
Spain, and a reader of only ten or twelve years of English
literature, possessed a knowledge of our modern poetry as
intimate as my own, and a love of it equally great. This feeling
brought us together and made us two--the nervous olive-skinned
Hispano-American of the tropics and the phlegmatic blue-eyed
Saxon of the cold north--one in spirit and more than brothers.
Many were the daylight hours we spent together and "tired the sun
with talking"; many, past counting, the precious evenings in that
restful house of his where I was an almost daily guest. I had
not looked for such happiness; nor, he often said, had he. A
result of this intimacy was that the vague idea concerning his
hidden past, that some unusual experience had profoundly affected
him and perhaps changed the whole course of his life, did not
diminish, but, on the contrary, became accentuated, and was often
in my mind. The change in him was almost painful to witness
whenever our wandering talk touched on the subject of the
aborigines, and of the knowledge he had acquired of their
character and languages when living or travelling among them; all
that made his conversation most engaging--the lively, curious
mind, the wit, the gaiety of spirit tinged with a tender
melancholy--appeared to fade out of it; even the expression of
his face would change, becoming hard and set, and he would deal
you out facts in a dry mechanical way as if reading them in a
book. It grieved me to note this, but I dropped no hint of such
a feeling, and would never have spoken about it but for a quarrel
which came at last to make the one brief solitary break in that
close friendship of years. I got into a bad state of health, and
Abel was not only much concerned about it, but annoyed, as if I
had not treated him well by being ill, and he would even say that
I could get well if I wished to. I did not take this seriously,
but one morning, when calling to see me at the office, he
attacked me in a way that made me downright angry with him. He
told me that indolence and the use of stimulants was the cause of
my bad health. He spoke in a mocking way, with a presence of not
quite meaning it, but the feeling could not be wholly disguised.
Stung by his reproaches, I blurted out that he had no right to
talk to me, even in fun, in such a way. Yes, he said, getting
serious, he had the best right--that of our friendship. He would
be no true friend if he kept his peace about such a matter.
Then, in my haste, I retorted that to me the friendship between
us did not seem so perfect and complete as it did to him. One
condition of friendship is that the partners in it should be
known to each other. He had had my whole life and mind open to
him, to read it as in a book. HIS life was a closed and clasped
volume to me.

His face darkened, and after a few moments' silent reflection he
got up and left me with a cold good-bye, and without that
hand-grasp which had been customary between us.

After his departure I had the feeling that a great loss, a great
calamity, had befallen me, but I was still smarting at his too
candid criticism, all the more because in my heart I acknowledged
its truth. And that night, lying awake, I repented of the cruel
retort I had made, and resolved to ask his forgiveness and leave
it to him to determine the question of our future relations. But
he was beforehand with me, and with the morning came a letter
begging my forgiveness and asking me to go that evening to dine
with him.

We were alone, and during dinner and afterwards, when we sat
smoking and sipping black coffee in the veranda, we were
unusually quiet, even to gravity, which caused the two white-clad
servants that waited on us--the brown-faced subtle-eyed old Hindu
butler and an almost blue-black young Guiana Negro--to direct
many furtive glances at their master's face. They were
accustomed to see him in a more genial mood when he had a friend
to dine. To me the change in his manner was not surprising: from
the moment of seeing him I had divined that he had determined to
open the shut and clasped volume of which I had spoken--that the
time had now come for him to speak.


Now that we are cool, he said, and regret that we hurt each
other, I am not sorry that it happened. I deserved your
reproach: a hundred times I have wished to tell you the whole
story of my travels and adventures among the savages, and one of
the reasons which prevented me was the fear that it would have an
unfortunate effect on our friendship. That was precious, and I
desired above everything to keep it. But I must think no more
about that now. I must think only of how I am to tell you my
story. I will begin at a time when I was twenty-three. It was
early in life to be in the thick of politics, and in trouble to
the extent of having to fly my country to save my liberty,
perhaps my life.

Every nation, someone remarks, has the government it deserves,
and Venezuela certainly has the one it deserves and that suits it
best. We call it a republic, not only because it is not one, but
also because a thing must have a name; and to have a good name,
or a fine name, is very convenient--especially when you want to
borrow money. If the Venezuelans, thinly distributed over an
area of half a million square miles, mostly illiterate peasants,
half-breeds, and indigenes, were educated, intelligent men,
zealous only for the public weal, it would be possible for them
to have a real republic. They have instead a government by
cliques, tempered by revolution; and a very good government it
is, in harmony with the physical conditions of the country and
the national temperament. Now, it happens that the educated men,
representing your higher classes, are so few that there are not
many persons unconnected by ties of blood or marriage with
prominent members of the political groups to which they belong.
By this you will see how easy and almost inevitable it is that we
should become accustomed to look on conspiracy and revolt against
the regnant party--the men of another clique--as only in the
natural order of things. In the event of failure such outbreaks
are punished, but they are not regarded as immoral. On the
contrary, men of the highest intelligence and virtue among us are
seen taking a leading part in these adventures. Whether such a
condition of things is intrinsically wrong or not, or would be
wrong in some circumstances and is not wrong, because inevitable,
in others, I cannot pretend to decide; and all this tiresome
profusion is only to enable you to understand how I--a young man
of unblemished character, not a soldier by profession, not
ambitious of political distinction, wealthy for that country,
popular in society, a lover of social pleasures, of books, of
nature actuated, as I believed, by the highest motives, allowed
myself to be drawn very readily by friends and relations into a
conspiracy to overthrow the government of the moment, with the
object of replacing it by more worthy men ourselves, to wit.

Our adventure failed because the authorities got wind of the
affair and matters were precipitated. Our leaders at the moment
happened to be scattered over the country--some were abroad; and
a few hotheaded men of the party, who were in Caracas just then
and probably feared arrest, struck a rash blow: the President was
attacked in the street and wounded. But the attackers were
seized, and some of them shot on the following day. When the
news reached me I was at a distance from the capital, staying
with a friend on an estate he owned on the River Quebrada Honda,
in the State of Guarico, some fifteen to twenty miles from the
town of Zaraza. My friend, an officer in the army, was a leader
in the conspiracy; and as I was the only son of a man who had
been greatly hated by the Minister of War, it became necessary
for us both to fly for our lives. In the circumstances we could
not look to be pardoned, even on the score of youth.

Our first decision was to escape to the sea-coast; but as the
risk of a journey to La Guayra, or any other port of embarkation
on the north side of the country, seemed too great, we made our
way in a contrary direction to the Orinoco, and downstream to
Angostura. Now, when we had reached this comparatively safe
breathing-place--safe, at all events, for the moment--I changed
my mind about leaving or attempting to leave the country. Since
boyhood I had taken a very peculiar interest in that vast and
almost unexplored territory we possess south of the Orinoco, with
its countless unmapped rivers and trackless forests; and in its
savage inhabitants, with their ancient customs and character,
unadulterated by contact with Europeans. To visit this primitive
wilderness had been a cherished dream; and I had to some extent
even prepared myself for such an adventure by mastering more than
one of the Indian dialects of the northern states of Venezuela.
And now, finding myself on the south side of our great river,
with unlimited time at my disposal, I determined to gratify this
wish. My companion took his departure towards the coast, while I
set about making preparations and hunting up information from
those who had travelled in the interior to trade with the
savages. I decided eventually to go back upstream and penetrate
to the interior in the western part of Guayana, and the Amazonian
territory bordering on Colombia and Brazil, and to return to
Angostura in about six months' time. I had no fear of being
arrested in the semi-independent and in most part savage region,
as the Guayana authorities concerned themselves little enough
about the political upheavals at Caracas.

The first five or six months I spent in Guayana, after leaving
the city of refuge, were eventful enough to satisfy a moderately
adventurous spirit. A complaisant government employee at
Angostura had provided me with a passport, in which it was set
down (for few to read) that my object in visiting the interior
was to collect information concerning the native tribes, the
vegetable products of the country, and other knowledge which
would be of advantage to the Republic; and the authorities were
requested to afford me protection and assist me in my pursuits.
I ascended the Orinoco, making occasional expeditions to the
small Christian settlements in the neighbourhood of the right
bank, also to the Indian villages; and travelling in this way,
seeing and learning much, in about three months I reached the
River Metal During this period I amused myself by keeping a
journal, a record of personal adventures, impressions of the
country and people, both semi-civilized and savage; and as my
journal grew, I began to think that on my return at some future
time to Caracas, it might prove useful and interesting to the
public, and also procure me fame; which thought proved
pleasurable and a great incentive, so that I began to observe
things more narrowly and to study expression. But the book was
not to be.

From the mouth of the Meta I journeyed on, intending to visit the
settlement of Atahapo, where the great River Guaviare, with other
rivers, empties itself into the Orinoco. But I was not destined
to reach it, for at the small settlement of Manapuri I fell ill
of a low fever; and here ended the first half-year of my
wanderings, about which no more need be told.

A more miserable place than Manapuri for a man to be ill of a low
fever in could not well be imagined. The settlement, composed of
mean hovels, with a few large structures of mud, or plastered
wattle, thatched with palm leaves, was surrounded by water,
marsh, and forest, the breeding-place of myriads of croaking
frogs and of clouds of mosquitoes; even to one in perfect health
existence in such a place would have been a burden. The
inhabitants mustered about eighty or ninety, mostly Indians of
that degenerate class frequently to be met with in small trading
outposts. The savages of Guayana are great drinkers, but not
drunkards in our sense, since their fermented liquors contain so
little alcohol that inordinate quantities must be swallowed to
produce intoxication; in the settlements they prefer the white
man's more potent poisons, with the result that in a small place
like Manapuri one can see enacted, as on a stage, the last act in
the great American tragedy. To be succeeded, doubtless, by other
and possibly greater tragedies. My thoughts at that period of
suffering were pessimistic in the extreme. Sometimes, when the
almost continuous rain held up for half a day, I would manage to
creep out a short distance; but I was almost past making any
exertion, scarcely caring to live, and taking absolutely no
interest in the news from Caracas, which reached me at long
intervals. At the end of two months, feeling a slight
improvement in my health, and with it a returning interest in
life and its affairs, it occurred to me to get out my diary and
write a brief account of my sojourn at Manapuri. I had placed it
for safety in a small deal box, lent to me for the purpose by a
Venezuelan trader, an old resident at the settlement, by name
Pantaleon--called by all Don Panta--one who openly kept half a
dozen Indian wives in his house, and was noted for his dishonesty
and greed, but who had proved himself a good friend to me. The
box was in a corner of the wretched palm-thatched hovel I
inhabited; but on taking it out I discovered that for several
weeks the rain had been dripping on it, and that the manuscript
was reduced to a sodden pulp. I flung it upon the floor with a
curse and threw myself back on my bed with a groan.

In that desponding state I was found by my friend Panta, who was
constant in his visits at all hours; and when in answer to his
anxious inquiries I pointed to the pulpy mass on the mud floor,
he turned it over with his foot, and then, bursting into a loud
laugh, kicked it out, remarking that he had mistaken the object
for some unknown reptile that had crawled in out of the rain. He
affected to be astonished that I should regret its loss. It was
all a true narrative, he exclaimed; if I wished to write a book
for the stay-at-homes to read, I could easily invent a thousand
lies far more entertaining than any real experiences. He had
come to me, he said, to propose something. He had lived twenty
years at that place, and had got accustomed to the climate, but
it would not do for me to remain any longer if I wished to live.
I must go away at once to a different country--to the mountains,
where it was open and dry. "And if you want quinine when you are
there," he concluded, "smell the wind when it blows from the
south-west, and you will inhale it into your system, fresh from
the forest." When I remarked despondingly that in my condition
it would be impossible to quit Manapuri, he went on to say that a
small party of Indians was now in the settlement; that they had
come, not only to trade, but to visit one of their own tribe, who
was his wife, purchased some years ago from her father. "And the
money she cost me I have never regretted to this day," said he,
"for she is a good wife not jealous," he added, with a curse on
all the others. These Indians came all the way from the
Queneveta mountains, and were of the Maquiritari tribe. He,
Panta, and, better still, his good wife would interest them on my
behalf, and for a suitable reward they would take me by slow,
easy stages to their own country, where I would be treated well
and recover my health.

This proposal, after I had considered it well, produced so good
an effect on me that I not only gave a glad consent, but, on the
following day, I was able to get about and begin the preparations
for my journey with some spirit.

In about eight days I bade good-bye to my generous friend Panta,
whom I regarded, after having seen much of him, as a kind of
savage beast that had sprung on me, not to rend, but to rescue
from death; for we know that even cruel savage brutes and evil
men have at times sweet, beneficent impulses, during which they
act in a way contrary to their natures, like passive agents of
some higher power. It was a continual pain to travel in my weak
condition, and the patience of my Indians was severely taxed; but
they did not forsake me; and at last the entire distance, which I
conjectured to be about sixty-five leagues, was accomplished; and
at the end I was actually stronger and better in every way than
at the start. From this time my progress towards complete
recovery was rapid. The air, with or without any medicinal
virtue blown from the cinchona trees in the far-off Andean
forest, was tonic; and when I took my walks on the hillside above
the Indian village, or later when able to climb to the summits,
the world as seen from those wild Queneveta mountains had a
largeness and varied glory of scenery peculiarly refreshing and
delightful to the soul.

With the Maquiritari tribe I passed some weeks, and the sweet
sensations of returning health made me happy for a time; but such
sensations seldom outlast convalescence. I was no sooner well
again than I began to feel a restless spirit stirring in me. The
monotony of savage life in this place became intolerable. After
my long listless period the reaction had come, and I wished only
for action, adventure--no matter how dangerous; and for new
scenes, new faces, new dialects. In the end I conceived the idea
of going on to the Casiquiare river, where I would find a few
small settlements, and perhaps obtain help from the authorities
there which would enable me to reach the Rio Negro. For it was
now in my mind to follow that river to the Amazons, and so down
to Para and the Atlantic coast.

Leaving the Queneveta range, I started with two of the Indians as
guides and travelling companions; but their journey ended only
half-way to the river I wished to reach; and they left me with
some friendly savages living on the Chunapay, a tributary of the
Cunucumana, which flows to the Orinoco. Here I had no choice but
to wait until an opportunity of attaching myself to some party of
travelling Indians going south-west should arrive; for by this
time I had expended the whole of my small capital in ornaments
and calico brought from Manapuri, so that I could no longer
purchase any man's service. And perhaps it will be as well to
state at this point just what I possessed. For some time I had
worn nothing but sandals to protect my feet; my garments
consisted of a single suit, and one flannel shirt, which I washed
frequently, going shirtless while it was drying. Fortunately I
had an excellent blue cloth cloak, durable and handsome, given to
me by a friend at Angostura, whose prophecy on presenting it,
that it would outlast ME, very nearly came true. It served as a
covering by night, and to keep a man warm and comfortable when
travelling in cold and wet weather no better garment was ever
made. I had a revolver and metal cartridge-box in my broad
leather belt, also a good hunting-knife with strong buckhorn
handle and a heavy blade about nine inches long. In the pocket
of my cloak I had a pretty silver tinder-box, and a match-box--to
be mentioned again in this narrative

and one or two other trifling objects; these I was determined to
keep until they could be kept no longer.

During the tedious interval of waiting on the Chunapay I was told
a flattering tale by the village Indians, which eventually caused
me to abandon the proposed journey to the Rio Negro. These
Indians wore necklets, like nearly all the Guayana savages; but
one, I observed, possessed a necklet unlike that of the others,
which greatly aroused my curiosity. It was made of thirteen gold
plates, irregular in form, about as broad as a man's thumb-nail,
and linked together with fibres. I was allowed to examine it,
and had no doubt that the pieces were of pure gold, beaten flat
by the savages. When questioned about it, they said it was
originally obtained from the Indians of Parahuari, and Parahuari,
they further said, was a mountainous country west of the Orinoco.
Every man and woman in that place, they assured me, had such a
necklet. This report inflamed my mind to such a degree that I
could not rest by night or day for dreaming golden dreams, and
considering how to get to that rich district, unknown to
civilized men. The Indians gravely shook their heads when I
tried to persuade them to take me. They were far enough from the
Orinoco, and Parahuari was ten, perhaps fifteen, days' journey
further on--a country unknown to them, where they had no

In spite of difficulties and delays, however, and not without
pain and some perilous adventures, I succeeded at last in
reaching the upper Orinoco, and, eventually, in crossing to the
other side. With my life in my hand I struggled on westward
through an unknown difficult country, from Indian village to
village, where at any moment I might have been murdered with
impunity for the sake of my few belongings. It is hard for me to
speak a good word for the Guayana savages; but I must now say
this of them, that they not only did me no harm when I was at
their mercy during this long journey, but they gave me shelter in
their villages, and fed me when I was hungry, and helped me on my
way when I could make no return. You must not, however, run away
with the idea that there is any sweetness in their disposition,
any humane or benevolent instincts such as are found among the
civilized nations: far from it. I regard them now, and,
fortunately for me, I regarded them then, when, as I have said, I
was at their mercy, as beasts of prey, plus a cunning or low kind
of intelligence vastly greater than that of the brute; and, for
only morality, that respect for the rights of other members of
the same family, or tribe, without which even the rudest
communities cannot hold together. How, then, could I do this
thing, and dwell and travel freely, without receiving harm, among
tribes that have no peace with and no kindly feelings towards the
stranger, in a district where the white man is rarely or never
seen? Because I knew them so well. Without that knowledge,
always available, and an extreme facility in acquiring new
dialects, which had increased by practice until it was almost
like intuition, I should have fared badly after leaving the
Maquiritari tribe. As it was, I had two or three very narrow

To return from this digression. I looked at last on the famous
Parahuari mountains, which, I was greatly surprised to find, were
after all nothing but hills, and not very high ones. This,
however, did not impress me. The very fact that Parahuari
possessed no imposing feature in its scenery seemed rather to
prove that it must be rich in gold: how else could its name and
the fame of its treasures be familiar to people dwelling so far
away as the Cunucumana?

But there was no gold. I searched through the whole range, which
was about seven leagues long, and visited the villages, where I
talked much with the Indians, interrogating them, and they had no
necklets of gold, nor gold in any form; nor had they ever heard
of its presence in Parahuari or in any other place known to them.

The very last village where I spoke on the subject of my quest,
albeit now without hope, was about a league from the western
extremity of the range, in the midst of a high broken country of
forest and savannah and many swift streams; near one of these,
called the Curicay, the village stood, among low scattered trees-
-a large building, in which all the people, numbering eighteen,
passed most of their time when not hunting, with two smaller
buildings attached to it. The head, or chief, Runi by name, was
about fifty years old, a taciturn, finely formed, and somewhat
dignified savage, who was either of a sullen disposition or not
well pleased at the intrusion of a white man. And for a time I
made no attempt to conciliate him. What profit was there in it
at all? Even that light mask, which I had worn so long and with
such good effect, incommoded me now: I would cast it aside and be
myself--silent and sullen as my barbarous host. If any malignant
purpose was taking form in his mind, let it, and let him do his
worst; for when failure first stares a man in the face, it has so
dark and repellent a look that not anything that can be added can
make him more miserable; nor has he any apprehension. For weeks
I had been searching with eager, feverish eyes in every village,
in every rocky crevice, in every noisy mountain streamlet, for
the glittering yellow dust I had travelled so far to find. And
now all my beautiful dreams--all the pleasure and power to
be--had vanished like a mere mirage on the savannah at noon.

It was a day of despair which I spent in this place, sitting all
day indoors, for it was raining hard, immersed in my own gloomy
thoughts, pretending to doze in my seat, and out of the narrow
slits of my half-closed eyes seeing the others, also sitting or
moving about, like shadows or people in a dream; and I cared
nothing about them, and wished not to seem friendly, even for the
sake of the food they might offer me by and by.

Towards evening the rain ceased; and rising up I went out a short
distance to the neighbouring stream, where I sat on a stone and,
casting off my sandals, raved my bruised feet in the cool running
water. The western half of the sky was blue again with that
tender lucid blue seen after rain, but the leaves still glittered
with water, and the wet trunks looked almost black under the
green foliage. The rare loveliness of the scene touched and
lightened my heart. Away back in the east the hills of
Parahuari, with the level sun full on them, loomed with a strange
glory against the grey rainy clouds drawing off on that side, and
their new mystic beauty almost made me forget how these same
hills had wearied, and hurt, and mocked me. On that side, also
to the north and south, there was open forest, but to the west a
different prospect met the eye. Beyond the stream and the strip
of verdure that fringed it, and the few scattered dwarf trees
growing near its banks, spread a brown savannah sloping upwards
to a long, low, rocky ridge, beyond which rose a great solitary
hill, or rather mountain, conical in form, and clothed in forest
almost to the summit. This was the mountain Ytaioa, the chief
landmark in that district. As the sun went down over the ridge,
beyond the savannah, the whole western sky changed to a delicate
rose colour that had the appearance of rose-coloured smoke blown
there by some far off-wind, and left suspended--a thin, brilliant
veil showing through it the distant sky beyond, blue and
ethereal. Flocks of birds, a kind of troupial, were flying past
me overhead, flock succeeding flock, on their way to their
roosting-place, uttering as they flew a clear, bell-like chirp;
and there was something ethereal too in those drops of melodious
sound, which fell into my heart like raindrops falling into a
pool to mix their fresh heavenly water with the water of earth.

Doubtless into the turbid tarn of my heart some sacred drops had
fallen--from the passing birds, from that crimson disk which had
now dropped below the horizon, the darkening hills, the rose and
blue of infinite heaven, from the whole visible circle; and I
felt purified and had a strange sense and apprehension of a
secret innocence and spirituality in nature--a prescience of some
bourn, incalculably distant perhaps, to which we are all moving;
of a time when the heavenly rain shall have washed us clean from
all spot and blemish. This unexpected peace which I had found
now seemed to me of infinitely greater value than that yellow
metal I had missed finding, with all its possibilities. My wish
now was to rest for a season at this spot, so remote and lovely
and peaceful, where I had experienced such unusual feelings and
such a blessed disillusionment.

This was the end of my second period in Guayana: the first had
been filled with that dream of a book to win me fame in my
country, perhaps even in Europe; the second, from the time of
leaving the Queneveta mountains, with the dream of boundless
wealth--the old dream of gold in this region that has drawn so
many minds since the days of Francisco Pizarro. But to remain I
must propitiate Runi, sitting silent with gloomy brows over there
indoors; and he did not appear to me like one that might be won
with words, however flattering. It was clear to me that the time
had come to part with my one remaining valuable trinket--the
tinder-box of chased silver.

I returned to the house and, going in, seated myself on a log by
the fire, just opposite to my grim host, who was smoking and
appeared not to have moved since I left him. I made myself a
cigarette, then drew out the tinder-box, with its flint and steel
attached to it by means of two small silver chains. His eyes
brightened a little as they curiously watched my movements, and
he pointed without speaking to the glowing coals of fire at my
feet. I shook my head, and striking the steel, sent out a
brilliant spray of sparks, then blew on the tinder and lit my

This done, instead of returning the box to my pocket I passed the
chain through the buttonhole of my cloak and let it dangle on my
breast as an ornament. When the cigarette was smoked, I cleared
my throat in the orthodox manner and fixed my eyes on Runi, who,
on his part, made a slight movement to indicate that he was ready
to listen to what I had to say.

My speech was long, lasting at least half an hour, delivered in a
profound silence; it was chiefly occupied with an account of my
wanderings in Guayana; and being little more than a catalogue of
names of all the places I had visited, and the tribes and chief
or head men with whom I had come in contact, I was able to speak
continuously, and so to hide my ignorance of a dialect which was
still new to me. The Guayana savage judges a man for his staying
powers. To stand as motionless as a bronze statue for one or two
hours watching for a bird; to sit or lie still for half a day; to
endure pain, not seldom self-inflicted, without wincing; and when
delivering a speech to pour it out in a copious stream, without
pausing to take breath or hesitating over a word--to be able to
do all this is to prove yourself a man, an equal, one to be
respected and even made a friend of. What I really wished to say
to him was put in a few words at the conclusion of my well-nigh
meaningless oration. Everywhere, I said, I had been the Indian's
friend, and I wished to be his friend, to live with him at
Parahuari, even as I had lived with other chiefs and heads of
villages and families; to be looked on by him, as these others
had looked on me, not as a stranger or a white man, but as a
friend, a brother, an Indian.

I ceased speaking, and there was a slight murmurous sound in the
room, as of wind long pent up in many lungs suddenly exhaled;
while Runi, still unmoved, emitted a low grunt. Then I rose, and
detaching the silver ornament from my cloak, presented it to him.
He accepted it; not very graciously, as a stranger to these
people might have imagined; but I was satisfied, feeling sure
that I had made a favourable impression. After a little he
handed the box to the person sitting next to him, who examined it
and passed it on to a third, and in this way it went round and
came back once more to Runi. Then he called for a drink. There
happened to be a store of casserie in the house; probably the
women had been busy for some days past in making it, little
thinking that it was destined to be prematurely consumed. A
large jarful was produced; Runi politely quaffed the first cup; I
followed; then the others; and the women drank also, a woman
taking about one cupful to a man's three. Runi and I, however,
drank the most, for we had our positions as the two principal
personages there to maintain. Tongues were loosened now; for the
alcohol, small as the quantity contained in this mild liquor is,
had begun to tell on our brains. I had not their pottle-shaped
stomach, made to hold unlimited quantities of meat and drink; but
I was determined on this most important occasion not to deserve
my host's contempt--to be compared, perhaps, to the small bird
that delicately picks up six drops of water in its bill and is
satisfied. I would measure my strength against his, and if
necessary drink myself into a state of insensibility.

At last I was scarcely able to stand on my legs. But even the
seasoned old savage was affected by this time. In vino veritas,
said the ancients; and the principle holds good where there is no
vinum, but only mild casserie. Runi now informed me that he had
once known a white man, that he was a bad man, which had caused
him to say that all white men were bad; even as David, still more
sweepingly, had proclaimed that all men were liars. Now he found
that it was not so, that I was a good man. His friendliness
increased with intoxication. He presented me with a curious
little tinder-box, made from the conical tail of an armadillo,
hollowed out, and provided with a wooden stopper--this to be used
in place of the box I had deprived myself of. He also furnished
me with a grass hammock, and had it hung up there and then, so
that I could lie down when inclined. There was nothing he would
not do for me. And at last, when many more cups had been
emptied, and a third or fourth jar brought out, he began to
unburthen his heart of its dark and dangerous secrets. He shed
tears--for the "man without at ear" dwells not in the woods of
Guayana: tears for those who had been treacherously slain long
years ago; for his father, who had been killed by Tripica, the
father of Managa, who was still above ground. But let him and
all his people beware of Runi. He had spilt their blood before,
he had fed the fox and vulture with their flesh, and would never
rest while Managa lived with his people at Uritay--the five hills
of Uritay, which were two days' journey from Parahuari. While
thus talking of his old enemy he lashed himself into a kind of
frenzy, smiting his chest and gnashing his teeth; and finally
seizing a spear, he buried its point deep into the clay floor,
only to wrench it out and strike it into the earth again and
again, to show how he would serve Managa, and any one of Managa's
people he might meet with--man, woman, or child. Then he
staggered out from the door to flourish his spear; and looking to
the north-west, he shouted aloud to Managa to come and slay his
people and burn down his house, as he had so often threatened to

"Let him come! Let Managa come!" I cried, staggering out after
him. "I am your friend, your brother; I have no spear and no
arrows, but I have this--this!" And here I drew out and
flourished my revolver. "Where is Managa?" I continued. "Where
are the hills of Uritay?" He pointed to a star low down in the
south-west. "Then," I shouted, "let this bullet find Managa,
sitting by the fire among his people, and let him fall and pour
out his blood on the ground!" And with that I discharged my
pistol in the direction he had pointed to. A scream of terror
burst out from the women and children, while Runi at my side, in
an access of fierce delight and admiration, turned and embraced
me. It was the first and last embrace I ever suffered from a
naked male savage, and although this did not seem a time for
fastidious feelings, to be hugged to his sweltering body was an
unpleasant experience.

More cups of casserie followed this outburst; and at last, unable
to keep it up any longer, I staggered to my hammock; but being
unable to get into it, Runi, overflowing with kindness, came to
my assistance, whereupon we fell and rolled together on the
floor. Finally I was raised by the others and tumbled into my
swinging bed, and fell at once into a deep, dreamless sleep, from
which I did not awake until after sunrise on the following


It is fortunate that casserie is manufactured by an extremely
slow, laborious process, since the women, who are the
drink-makers, in the first place have to reduce the material
(cassava bread) to a pulp by means of their own molars, after
which it is watered down and put away in troughs to ferment.
Great is the diligence of these willing slaves; but, work how
they will, they can only satisfy their lords' love of a big drink
at long intervals. Such a function as that at which I had
assisted is therefore the result of much patient mastication and
silent fermentation--the delicate flower of a plant that has been
a long time growing.

Having now established myself as one of the family, at the cost
of some disagreeable sensations and a pang or two of
self-disgust, I resolved to let nothing further trouble me at
Parahuari, but to live the easy, careless life of the idle man,
joining in hunting and fishing expeditions when in the mood; at
other times enjoying existence in my own way, apart from my
fellows, conversing with wild nature in that solitary place.
Besides Runi, there were, in our little community, two oldish
men, his cousins I believe, who had wives and grown-up children.
Another family consisted of Piake, Runi's nephew, his brother
Kua-ko--about whom there will be much to say--and a sister
Oalava. Piake had a wife and two children; Kua-ko was unmarried
and about nineteen or twenty years old; Oalava was the youngest
of the three. Last of all, who should perhaps have been first,
was Runi's mother, called Cla-cla, probably in imitation of the
cry of some bird, for in these latitudes a person is rarely,
perhaps never, called by his or her real name, which is a secret
jealously preserved, even from near relations. I believe that
Cla-cla herself was the only living being who knew the name her
parents had bestowed on her at birth. She was a very old woman,
spare in figure, brown as old sun-baked leather, her face written
over with innumerable wrinkles, and her long coarse hair
perfectly white; yet she was exceedingly active, and seemed to do
more work than any other woman in the community; more than that,
when the day's toil was over and nothing remained for the others
to do, then Cla-cla's night work would begin; and this was to
talk all the others, or at all events all the men, to sleep. She
was like a self-regulating machine, and punctually every evening,
when the door was closed, and the night fire made up, and every
man in his hammock, she would set herself going, telling the most
interminable stories, until the last listener was fast asleep;
later in the night, if any man woke with a snort or grunt, off
she would go again, taking up the thread of the tale where she
had dropped it.

Old Cla-cla amused me very much, by night and day, and I seldom
tired of watching her owlish countenance as she sat by the fire,
never allowing it to sink low for want of fuel; always studying
he pot when it was on to simmer, and at the same time attending
to the movements of the others about her, ready at a moment's
notice to give assistance or to dart out on a stray chicken or
refractory child.

So much did she amuse me, although without intending it, that I
thought it would be only fair, in my turn, to do something for
her entertainment. I was engaged one day in shaping a wooden
foil with my knife, whistling and singing snatches of old
melodies at my work, when all at once I caught sight of the
ancient dame looking greatly delighted, chuckling internally,
nodding her head, and keeping time with her hands. Evidently she
was able to appreciate a style of music superior to that of the
aboriginals, and forthwith I abandoned my foils for the time and
set about the manufacture of a guitar, which cost me much labour
and brought out more ingenuity than I had ever thought myself
capable of. To reduce the wood to the right thinness, then to
bend and fasten it with wooden pegs and with gums, to add the
arm, frets, keys, and finally the catgut strings--those of
another kind being out of the question--kept me busy for some
days. When completed it was a rude instrument, scarcely tunable;
nevertheless when I smote the strings, playing lively music, or
accompanied myself in singing, I found that it was a great
success, and so was as much pleased with my own performance as if
I had had the most perfect guitar ever made in old Spain. I also
skipped about the floor, strum-strumming at the same time,
instructing them in the most lively dances of the whites, in
which the feet must be as nimble as the player's fingers. It is
true that these exhibitions were always witnessed by the adults
with a profound gravity, which would have disheartened a stranger
to their ways. They were a set of hollow bronze statues that
looked at me, but I knew that the living animals inside of them
were tickled at my singing, strumming, and pirouetting. Cla-cla
was, however, an exception, and encouraged me not infrequently by
emitting a sound, half cackle and half screech, by way of
laughter; for she had come to her second childhood, or, at all
events, had dropped the stolid mask which the young Guayana
savage, in imitation of his elders, adjusts to his face at about
the age of twelve, to wear it thereafter all his life long, or
only to drop it occasionally when very drunk. The youngsters also
openly manifested their pleasure, although, as a rule, they try
to restrain their feelings in the presence of grown-up people,
and with them I became a greet favourite.

By and by I returned to my foil-making, and gave them fencing
lessons, and sometimes invited two or three of the biggest boys
to attack me simultaneously, just to show how easily I could
disarm and kill them. This practice excited some interest in
Kua-ko, who had a little more of curiosity and geniality and less
of the put-on dignity of the others, and with him I became most
intimate. Fencing with Kua-ko was highly amusing: no sooner was
he in position, foil in hand, than all my instructions were
thrown to the winds, and he would charge and attack me in his own
barbarous manner, with the result that I would send his foil
spinning a dozen yards away, while he, struck motionless, would
gaze after it in open-mouthed astonishment.

Three weeks had passed by not unpleasantly when, one morning, I
took it into my head to walk by myself across that somewhat
sterile savannah west of the village and stream, which ended, as
I have said, in a long, low, stony ridge. From the village there
was nothing to attract the eye in that direction; but I wished to
get a better view of that great solitary hill or mountain of
Ytaioa, and of the cloud-like summits beyond it in the distance.
From the stream the ground rose in a gradual slope, and the
highest part of the ridge for which I made was about two miles
from the starting-point--a parched brown plain, with nothing
growing on it but scattered tussocks of sere hair-like grass.

When I reached the top and could see the country beyond, I was
agreeably disappointed at the discovery that the sterile ground
extended only about a mile and a quarter on the further side, and
was succeeded by a forest--a very inviting patch of woodland
covering five or six square miles, occupying a kind of oblong
basin, extending from the foot of Ytaioa on the north to a low
range of rocky hills on the south. From the wooded basin long
narrow strips of forest ran out in various directions like the
arms of an octopus, one pair embracing the slopes of Ytaioa,
another much broader belt extending along a valley which cut
through the ridge of hills on the south side at right angles and
was lost to sight beyond; far away in the west and south and
north distant mountains appeared, not in regular ranges, but in
groups or singly, or looking like blue banked-up clouds on the

Glad at having discovered the existence of this forest so near
home, and wondering why my Indian friends had never taken me to
it nor ever went out on that side, I set forth with a light heart
to explore it for myself, regretting only that I was without a
proper weapon for procuring game. The walk from the ridge over
the savannah was easy, as the barren, stony ground sloped
downwards the whole way. The outer part of the wood on my side
was very open, composed in most part of dwarf trees that grow on
stony soil, and scattered thorny bushes bearing a yellow
pea-shaped blossom. Presently I came to thicker wood, where the
trees were much taller and in greater variety; and after this
came another sterile strip, like that on the edge of the wood
where stone cropped out from the ground and nothing grew except
the yellow-flowered thorn bushes. Passing this sterile ribbon,
which seemed to extend to a considerable distance north and
south, and was fifty to a hundred yards wide, the forest again
became dense and the trees large, with much undergrowth in places
obstructing the view and making progress difficult.

I spent several hours in this wild paradise, which was so much
more delightful than the extensive gloomier forests I had so
often penetrated in Guayana; for here, if the trees did not
attain to such majestic proportions, the variety of vegetable
forms was even greater; as far as I went it was nowhere dark
under the trees, and the number of lovely parasites everywhere
illustrated the kindly influence of light and air. Even where
the trees were largest the sunshine penetrated, subdued by the
foliage to exquisite greenish-golden tints, filling the wide
lower spaces with tender half-lights, and faint blue-and-gray
shadows. Lying on my back and gazing up, I felt reluctant to
rise and renew my ramble. For what a roof was that above my
head! Roof I call it, just as the poets in their poverty
sometimes describe the infinite ethereal sky by that word; but it
was no more roof-like and hindering to the soaring spirit than
the higher clouds that float in changing forms and tints, and
like the foliage chasten the intolerable noonday beams. How far
above me seemed that leafy cloudland into which I gazed! Nature,
we know, first taught the architect to produce by long colonnades
the illusion of distance; but the light-excluding roof prevents
him from getting the same effect above. Here Nature is
unapproachable with her green, airy canopy, a sun-impregnated
cloud--cloud above cloud; and though the highest may be unreached
by the eye, the beams yet filter through, illuming the wide
spaces beneath--chamber succeeded by chamber, each with its own
special lights and shadows. Far above me, but not nearly so far
as it seemed, the tender gloom of one such chamber or space is
traversed now by a golden shaft of light falling through some
break in the upper foliage, giving a strange glory to everything
it touches--projecting leaves, and beard-like tuft of moss, and
snaky bush-rope. And in the most open part of that most open
space, suspended on nothing to the eye, the shaft reveals a
tangle of shining silver threads--the web of some large
tree-spider. These seemingly distant yet distinctly visible
threads serve to remind me that the human artist is only able to
get his horizontal distance by a monotonous reduplication of
pillar and arch, placed at regular intervals, and that the least
departure from this order would destroy the effect. But Nature
produces her effects at random, and seems only to increase the
beautiful illusion by that infinite variety of decoration in
which she revels, binding tree to tree in a tangle of
anaconda-like lianas, and dwindling down from these huge cables
to airy webs and hair-like fibres that vibrate to the wind of the
passing insect's wing.

Thus in idleness, with such thoughts for company, I spent my
time, glad that no human being, savage or civilized, was with me.
It was better to be alone to listen to the monkeys that chattered
without offending; to watch them occupied with the unserious
business of their lives. With that luxuriant tropical nature,
its green clouds and illusive aerial spaces, full of mystery,
they harmonized well in language, appearance, and
motions--mountebank angels, living their fantastic lives far
above earth in a half-way heaven of their own.

I saw more monkeys on that morning than I usually saw in the
course of a week's rambling. And other animals were seen; I
particularly remember two accouries I startled, that after
rushing away a few yards stopped and stood peering back at me as
if not knowing whether to regard me as friend or enemy. Birds,
too, were strangely abundant; and altogether this struck me as
being the richest hunting-ground I had seen, and it astonished me
to think that the Indians of the village did not appear to visit

On my return in the afternoon I gave an enthusiastic account of
my day's ramble, speaking not of the things that had moved my
soul, but only of those which move the Guayana Indian's soul--the
animal food he craves, and which, one would imagine, Nature would
prefer him to do without, so hard he finds it to wrest a
sufficiency from her. To my surprise they shook their heads and
looked troubled at what I said; and finally my host informed me
that the wood I had been in was a dangerous place; that if they
went there to hunt, a great injury would be done to them; and he
finished by advising me not to visit it again.

I began to understand from their looks and the old man's vague
words that their fear of the wood was superstitious. If
dangerous creatures had existed there tigers, or camoodis, or
solitary murderous savages--they would have said so; but when I
pressed them with questions they could only repeat that
"something bad" existed in the place, that animals were abundant
there because no Indian who valued his life dared venture into
it. I replied that unless they gave me some more definite
information I should certainly go again and put myself in the way
of the danger they feared.

My reckless courage, as they considered it, surprised them; but
they had already begun to find out that their superstitions had
no effect on me, that I listened to them as to stories invented
to amuse a child, and for the moment they made no further attempt
to dissuade me.

Next day I returned to the forest of evil report, which had now a
new and even greater charm--the fascination of the unknown and
the mysterious; still, the warning I had received made me
distrustful and cautious at first, for I could not help thinking
about it. When we consider how much of their life is passed in
the woods, which become as familiar to them as the streets of our
native town to us, it seems almost incredible that these savages
have a superstitious fear of all forests, fearing them as much,
even in the bright light of day, as a nervous child with memory
filled with ghost-stories fears a dark room. But, like the child
in the dark room, they fear the forest only when alone in it, and
for this reason always hunt in couples or parties. What, then,
prevented them from visiting this particular wood, which offered
so tempting a harvest? The question troubled me not a little; at
the same time I was ashamed of the feeling, and fought against
it; and in the end I made my way to the same sequestered spot
where I had rested so long on my previous visit.

In this place I witnessed a new thing and had a strange
experience. Sitting on the ground in the shade of a large tree,
I began to hear a confused noise as of a coming tempest of wind
mixed with shrill calls and cries. Nearer and nearer it came,
and at last a multitude of birds of many kinds, but mostly small,
appeared in sight swarming through the trees, some running on the
trunks and larger branches, others flitting through the foliage,
and many keeping on the wing, now hovering and now darting this
way or that. They were all busily searching for and pursuing the
insects, moving on at the same time, and in a very few minutes
they had finished examining the trees near me and were gone; but
not satisfied with what I had witnessed, I jumped up and rushed
after the flock to keep it in sight. All my caution and all
recollection of what the Indians had said was now forgot, so
great was my interest in this bird-army; but as they moved on
without pause, they quickly left me behind, and presently my
career was stopped by an impenetrable tangle of bushes, vines,
and roots of large trees extending like huge cables along the
ground. In the midst of this leafy labyrinth I sat down on a
projecting root to cool my blood before attempting to make my way
back to my former position. After that tempest of motion and
confused noises the silence of the forest seemed very profound;
but before I had been resting many moments it was broken by a low
strain of exquisite bird-melody, wonderfully pure and expressive,
unlike any musical sound I had ever heard before. It seemed to
issue from a thick cluster of broad leaves of a creeper only a
few yards from where I sat. With my eyes fixed on this green
hiding-place I waited with suspended breath for its repetition,
wondering whether any civilized being had ever listened to such a
strain before. Surely not, I thought, else the fame of so divine
a melody would long ago have been noised abroad. I thought of
the rialejo, the celebrated organbird or flute-bird, and of the
various ways in which hearers are affected by it. To some its
warbling is like the sound of a beautiful mysterious instrument,
while to others it seems like the singing of a blithe-hearted
child with a highly melodious voice. I had often heard and
listened with delight to the singing of the rialejo in the
Guayana forests, but this song, or musical phrase, was utterly
unlike it in character. It was pure, more expressive, softer--so
low that at a distance of forty yards I could hardly have heard
it. But its greatest charm was its resemblance to the human
voice--a voice purified and brightened to something almost
angelic.ne, then, my impatience as I sat there straining my
sense, my deep disappointment when it was not repeated! I rose
at length very reluctantly and slowly began making my way back;
but when I had progressed about thirty yards, again the sweet
voice sounded just behind me, and turning quickly, I stood still
and waited. The same voice, but not the same song--not the same
phrase; the notes were different, more varied and rapidly
enunciated, as if the singer had been more excited. The blood
rushed to my heart as I listened; my nerves tingled with a
strange new delight, the rapture produced by such music
heightened by a sense of mystery. Before many moments I heard it
again, not rapid now, but a soft warbling, lower than at first,
infinitely sweet and tender, sinking to lisping sounds that soon
ceased to be audible; the whole having lasted as long as it would
take me to repeat a sentence of a dozen words. This seemed the
singer's farewell to me, for I waited and listened in vain to
hear it repeated; and after getting back to the starting-point I
sat for upwards of an hour, still hoping to hear it once more!

The weltering sun at length compelled me to quit the wood, but
not before I had resolved to return the next morning and seek for
the spot where I had met with so enchanting an experience. After
crossing the sterile belt I have mentioned within the wood, and
just before I came to the open outer edge where the stunted trees
and bushes die away on the border of the savannah, what was my
delight and astonishment at hearing the mysterious melody once
more! It seemed to issue from a clump of bushes close by; but by
this time I had come to the conclusion that there was a
ventriloquism in this woodland voice which made it impossible for
me to determine its exact direction. Of one thing I was,
however, now quite convinced, and that was that the singer had
been following me all the time. Again and again as I stood there
listening it sounded, now so faint and apparently far off as to
be scarcely audible; then all at once it would ring out bright
and clear within a few yards of me, as if the shy little thing
had suddenly grown bold; but, far or near, the vocalist remained
invisible, and at length the tantalizing melody ceased


I was not disappointed on my next visit to the forest, nor on
several succeeding visits; and this seemed to show that if I was
right in believing that these strange, melodious utterances
proceeded from one individual, then the bird or being, although
still refusing to show itself, was always on the watch for my
appearance and followed me wherever I went. This thought only
served to increase my curiosity; I was constantly pondering over
the subject, and at last concluded that it would be best to
induce one of the Indians to go with me to the wood on the chance
of his being able to explain the mystery.

One of the treasures I had managed to preserve in my sojourn with
these children of nature, who were always anxious to become
possessors of my belongings, was a small prettily fashioned metal
match-box, opening with a spring. Remembering that Kua-ko, among
others, had looked at this trifle with covetous eyes--the
covetous way in which they all looked at it had given it a
fictitious value in my own--I tried to bribe him with the offer
of it to accompany me to my favourite haunt. The brave young
hunter refused again and again; but on each occasion he offered
to perform some other service or to give me something in exchange
for the box. At last I told him that I would give it to the
first person who should accompany me, and fearing that someone
would be found valiant enough to win the prize, he at length
plucked up a spirit, and on the next day, seeing me going out for
a walk, he all at once offered to go with me. He cunningly tried
to get the box before starting--his cunning, poor youth, was not
very deep! I told him that the forest we were about to visit
abounded with plants and birds unlike any I had seen elsewhere,
that I wished to learn their names and everything about them, and
that when I had got the required information the box would be
his--not sooner. Finally we started, he, as usual, armed with
his zabatana, with which, I imagined, he would procure more game
than usually fell to his little poisoned arrows. When we reached
the wood I could see that he was ill at ease: nothing would
persuade him to go into the deeper parts; and even where it was
very open and light he was constantly gazing into bushes and
shadowy places, as if expecting to see some frightful creature
lying in wait for him. This behaviour might have had a
disquieting effect on me had I not been thoroughly convinced that
his fears were purely superstitious and that there could be no
dangerous animal in a spot I was accustomed to walk in every day.
My plan was to ramble about with an unconcerned air, occasionally
pointing out an uncommon tree or shrub or vine, or calling his
attention to a distant bird-cry and asking the bird's name, in
the hope that the mysterious voice would make itself heard and
that he would be able to give me some explanation of it. But for
upwards of two hours we moved about, hearing nothing except the
usual bird voices, and during all that time he never stirred a
yard from my side nor made an attempt to capture anything. At
length we sat down under a tree, in an open spot close to the
border of the wood. He sat down very reluctantly, and seemed
more troubled in his mind than ever, keeping his eyes continually
roving about, while he listened intently to every sound. The
sounds were not few, owing to the abundance of animal and
especially of bird life in this favoured spot. I began to
question my companion as to some of the cries we heard. There
were notes and cries familiar to me as the crowing of the
cock--parrot screams and yelping of toucans, the distant wailing
calls of maam and duraquara; and shrill laughter-like notes of
the large tree-climber as it passed from tree to tree; the quick
whistle of cotingas; and strange throbbing and thrilling sounds,
as of pygmies beating on metallic drums, of the skulking
pitta-thrushes; and with these mingled other notes less well
known. One came from the treetops, where it was perpetually
wandering amid the foliage a low note, repeated at intervals of a
few seconds, so thin and mournful and full of mystery that I half
expected to hear that it proceeded from the restless ghost of
some dead bird. But no; he only said it was uttered by a "little
bird"--too little presumably to have a name. From the foliage of
a neighbouring tree came a few tinkling chirps, as of a small
mandolin, two or three strings of which had been carelessly
struck by the player. He said that it came from a small green
frog that lived in trees; and in this way my rude Indian--vexed
perhaps at being asked such trivial questions--brushed away the
pretty fantasies my mind had woven in the woodland solitude. For
I often listened to this tinkling music, and it had suggested the
idea that the place was frequented by a tribe of fairy-like
troubadour monkeys, and that if I could only be quick-sighted
enough I might one day be able to detect the minstrel sitting, in
a green tunic perhaps, cross-legged on some high, swaying bough,
carelessly touching his mandolin, suspended from his neck by a
yellow ribbon.

By and by a bird came with low, swift flight, its great tail
spread open fan-wise, and perched itself on an exposed bough not
thirty yards from us. It was all of a chestnut-red colour,
long-bodied, in size like a big pigeon. Its actions showed that
its curiosity had been greatly excited, for it jerked from side
to side, eyeing us first with one eye, then the other, while its
long tail rose and fell in a measured way.

"Look, Kua-ko," I said in a whisper, "there is a bird for you to

But he only shook his head, still watchful.

"Give me the blow-pipe, then," I said, with a laugh, putting out
my hand to take it. But he refused to let me take it, knowing
that it would only be an arrow wasted if I attempted to shoot

As I persisted in telling him to kill the bird, he at last bent
his lips near me and said in a half-whisper, as if fearful of
being overheard: "I can kill nothing here. If I shot at the
bird, the daughter of the Didi would catch the dart in her hand
and throw it back and hit me here," touching his breast just over
his heart.

I laughed again, saying to myself, with some amusement, that
Kua-ko was not such a bad companion after all--that he was not
without imagination. But in spite of my laughter his words
roused my interest and suggested the idea that the voice I was
curious about had been heard by the Indians and was as great a
mystery to them as to me; since, not being like that of any
creature known to them, it would be attributed by their
superstitious minds to one of the numerous demons or semi-human
monsters inhabiting every forest, stream, and mountain; and fear
of it would drive them from the wood. In this case, judging from
my companion's words, they had varied the form of the
superstition somewhat, inventing a daughter of a water-spirit to
be afraid of. My thought was that if their keen, practiced eyes
had never been able to see this flitting woodland creature with a
musical soul, it was not likely that I would succeed in my quest.

I began to question him, but he now appeared less inclined to
talk and more frightened than ever, and each time I attempted to
speak he imposed silence, with a quick gesture of alarm, while he
continued to stare about him with dilated eyes. All at once he
sprang to his feet as if overcome with terror and started running
at full speed. His fear infected me, and, springing up, I
followed as fast as I could, but he was far ahead of me, running
for dear life; and before I had gone forty yards my feet were
caught in a creeper trailing along the surface, and I measured my
length on the ground. The sudden, violent shock almost took away
my senses for a moment, but when I jumped up and stared round to
see no unspeakable monster--Curupita or other--rushing on to slay
and devour me there and then, I began to feel ashamed of my
cowardice; and in the end I turned and walked back to the spot I
had just quitted and sat down once more. I even tried to hum a
tune, just to prove to myself that I had completely recovered
from the panic caught from the miserable Indian; but it is never
possible in such cases to get back one's serenity immediately,
and a vague suspicion continued to trouble me for a time. After
sitting there for half an hour or so, listening to distant
bird-sounds, I began to recover my old confidence, and even to
feel inclined to penetrate further into the wood. All at once,
making me almost jump, so sudden it was, so much nearer and
louder than I had ever heard it before, the mysterious melody
began. Unmistakably it was uttered by the same being heard on
former occasions; but today it was different in character. The
utterance was far more rapid, with fewer silent intervals, and it
had none of the usual tenderness in it, nor ever once sunk to
that low, whisper-like talking which had seemed to me as if the
spirit of the wind had breathed its low sighs in syllables and
speech. Now it was not only loud, rapid, and continuous, but,
while still musical, there was an incisiveness in it, a sharp
ring as of resentment, which made it strike painfully on the

The impression of an intelligent unhuman being addressing me in
anger took so firm a hold on my mind that the old fear returned,
and, rising, I began to walk rapidly away, intending to escape
from the wood. The voice continued violently rating me, as it
seemed to my mind, moving with me, which caused me to accelerate
my steps; and very soon I would have broken into a run, when its
character began to change again. There were pauses now,
intervals of silence, long or short, and after each one the voice
came to my ear with a more subdued and dulcet sound--more of that
melting, flute-like quality it had possessed at other times; and
this softness of tone, coupled with the talking-like form of
utterance, gave me the idea of a being no longer incensed,
addressing me now in a peaceable spirit, reasoning away my
unworthy tremors, and imploring me to remain with it in the wood.
Strange as this voice without a body was, and always productive
of a slightly uncomfortable feeling on account of its mystery, it
seemed impossible to doubt that it came to me now in a spirit of
pure friendliness; and when I had recovered my composure I found
a new delight in listening to it--all the greater because of the
fear so lately experienced, and of its seeming intelligence. For
the third time I reseated myself on the same spot, and at
intervals the voice talked to me there for some time and, to my
fancy, expressed satisfaction and pleasure at my presence. But
later, without losing its friendly tone, it changed again. It
seemed to move away and to be thrown back from a considerable
distance; and, at long intervals, it would approach me again with
a new sound, which I began to interpret as of command, or
entreaty. Was it, I asked myself, inviting me to follow? And if
I obeyed, to what delightful discoveries or frightful dangers
might it lead? My curiosity together with the belief that the
being--I called it being, not bird, now--was friendly to me,
overcame all timidity, and I rose and walked at random towards
the interior of the wood. Very soon I had no doubt left that the
being had desired me to follow; for there was now a new note of
gladness in its voice, and it continued near me as I walked, at
intervals approaching me so closely as to set me staring into the
surrounding shadowy places like poor scared Kua-ko.

On this occasion, too, I began to have a new fancy, for fancy or
illusion I was determined to regard it, that some swift-footed
being was treading the ground near me; that I occasionally caught
the faint rustle of a light footstep, and detected a motion in
leaves and fronds and thread-like stems of creepers hanging near
the surface, as if some passing body had touched and made them
tremble; and once or twice that I even had a glimpse of a grey,
misty object moving at no great distance in the deeper shadows.

Led by this wandering tricksy being, I came to a spot where the
trees were very large and the damp dark ground almost free from
undergrowth; and here the voice ceased to be heard. After
patiently waiting and listening for some time, I began to look
about me with a slight feeling of apprehension. It was still
about two hours before sunset; only in this place the shade of
the vast trees made a perpetual twilight: moreover, it was
strangely silent here, the few bird-cries that reached me coming
from a long distance. I had flattered myself that the voice had
become to some extent intelligible to me: its outburst of anger
caused no doubt by my cowardly flight after the Indian; then its
recovered friendliness, which had induced me to return; and
finally its desire to be followed. Now that it had led me to
this place of shadow and profound silence and had ceased to speak
and to lead, I could not help thinking that this was my goal,
that I had been brought to this spot with a purpose, that in this
wild and solitary retreat some tremendous adventure was about to
befall me.

As the silence continued unbroken, there was time to dwell on
this thought. I gazed before me and listened intently, scarcely
breathing, until the suspense became painful--too painful at
last, and I turned and took a step with the idea of going back to
the border of the wood, when close by, clear as a silver bell,
sounded the voice once more, but only for a moment--two or three
syllables in response to my movement, then it was silent again.

Once more I was standing still, as if in obedience to a command,
in the same state of suspense; and whether the change was real or
only imagined I know not, but the silence every minute grew more
profound and the gloom deeper. Imaginary terrors began to assail
me. Ancient fables of men allured by beautiful forms and
melodious voices to destruction all at once acquired a fearful
significance. I recalled some of the Indian beliefs, especially
that of the mis-shapen, man-devouring monster who is said to
beguile his victims into the dark forest by mimicking the human
voice--the voice sometimes of a woman in distress--or by singing
some strange and beautiful melody. I grew almost afraid to look
round lest I should catch sight of him stealing towards me on his
huge feet with toes pointing backwards, his mouth snarling
horribly to display his great green fangs. It was distressing to
have such fancies in this wild, solitary spot--hateful to feel
their power over me when I knew that they were nothing but
fancies and creations of the savage mind. But if these
supernatural beings had no existence, there were other monsters,
only too real, in these woods which it would be dreadful to
encounter alone and unarmed, since against such adversaries a
revolver would be as ineffectual as a popgun. Some huge camoodi,
able to crush my bones like brittle twigs in its constricting
coils, might lurk in these shadows, and approach me stealthily,
unseen in its dark colour on the dark ground. Or some jaguar or
black tiger might steal towards me. masked by a bush or
tree-trunk, to spring upon me unawares. Or, worse still, this
way might suddenly come a pack of those swift-footed, unspeakably
terrible hunting-leopards, from which every living thing in the
forest flies with shrieks of consternation or else falls
paralysed in their path to be instantly torn to pieces and

A slight rustling sound in the foliage above me made me start and
cast up my eyes. High up, where a pale gleam of tempered
sunlight fell through the leaves, a grotesque human-like face,
black as ebony and adorned with a great red beard, appeared
staring down upon me. In another moment it was gone. It was
only a large araguato, or howling monkey, but I was so unnerved
that I could not get rid of the idea that it was something more
than a monkey. Once more I moved, and again) the instant I moved
my foot, clear, and keen, and imperative, sounded the voice! It
was no longer possible to doubt its meaning. It commanded me to
stand still--to wait--to watch--to listen! Had it cried "Listen!
Do not move!" I could not have understood it better. Trying as
the suspense was, I now felt powerless to escape. Something very
terrible, I felt convinced, was about to happen, either to
destroy or to release me from the spell that held me.

And while I stood thus rooted to the ground, the sweat standing
in large drops on my forehead, all at once close to me sounded a
cry, fine and clear at first, and rising at the end to a shriek
so loud, piercing, and unearthly in character that the blood
seemed to freeze in my veins, and a despairing cry to heaven
escaped my lips; then, before that long shriek expired, a mighty
chorus of thunderous voices burst forth around me; and in this
awful tempest of sound I trembled like a leaf; and the leaves on
the trees were agitated as if by a high wind, and the earth
itself seemed to shake beneath my feet. Indescribably horrible
were my sensations at that moment; I was deafened, and would
possibly have been maddened had I not, as by a miracle, chanced
to see a large araguato on a branch overhead, roaring with open
mouth and inflated throat and chest.

It was simply a concert of howling monkeys that had so terrified
me! But my extreme fear was not strange in the circumstances;
since everything that had led up to the display--the gloom and
silence, the period of suspense, and my heated imagination--had
raised my mind to the highest degree of excitement and
expectancy. I had rightly conjectured, no doubt, that my unseen
guide had led me to that spot for a purpose; and the purpose had
been to set me in the midst of a congregation of araguatos to
enable me for the first time fully to appreciate their
unparalleled vocal powers. I had always heard them at a
distance; here they were gathered in scores, possibly
hundreds--the whole araguato population of the forest, I should
think--close to me; and it may give some faint conception of the
tremendous power and awful character of the sound thus produced
by their combined voices when I say that this animal--miscalled
"howler" in English--would outroar the mightiest lion that ever
woke the echoes of an African wilderness.

This roaring concert, which lasted three or four minutes, having
ended, I lingered a few minutes longer on the spot, and not
hearing the voice again, went back to the edge of the wood, and
then started on my way back to the village.


Perhaps I was not capable of thinking quite coherently on what
had just happened until I was once more fairly outside of the
forest shadows--out in that clear open daylight, where things
seem what they are, and imagination, like a juggler detected and
laughed at, hastily takes itself out of the way. As I walked
homewards I paused midway on the barren ridge to gaze back on the
scene I had left, and then the recent adventure began to take a
semi-ludicrous aspect in my mind. All that circumstance of
preparation, that mysterious prelude to something unheard of,
unimaginable, surpassing all fables ancient and modern, and all
tragedies--to end at last in a concert of howling monkeys!
Certainly the concert was very grand--indeed, one of the most
astounding in nature---but still--I sat down on a stone and
laughed freely.

The sun was sinking behind the forest, its broad red disk still
showing through the topmost leaves, and the higher part of the
foliage was of a luminous green, like green flame, throwing off
flakes of quivering, fiery light, but lower down the trees were
in profound shadow.

I felt very light-hearted while I gazed on this scene, for how
pleasant it was just now to think of the strange experience I had
passed through--to think that I had come safely out of it, that
no human eye had witnessed my weakness, and that the mystery
existed still to fascinate me! For, ludicrous as the denouement
now looked, the cause of all, the voice itself, was a thing to
marvel at more than ever. That it proceeded from an intelligent
being I was firmly convinced; and although too materialistic in
my way of thinking to admit for a moment that it was a
supernatural being, I still felt that there was something more
than I had at first imagined in Kua-ko's speech about a daughter
of the Didi. That the Indians knew a great deal about the
mysterious voice, and had held it in great fear, seemed evident.
But they were savages, with ways that were not mine; and however
friendly they might be towards one of a superior race, there was
always in their relations with him a low cunning, prompted partly
by suspicion, underlying their words and actions. For the white
man to put himself mentally on their level is not more impossible
than for these aborigines to be perfectly open, as children are,
towards the white. Whatever subject the stranger within their
gates exhibits an interest in, that they will be reticent about;
and their reticence, which conceals itself under easily invented
lies or an affected stupidity, invariably increases with his
desire for information. It was plain to them that some very
unusual interest took me to the wood; consequently I could not
expect that they would tell me anything they might know to
enlighten me about the matter; and I concluded that Kua-ko's
words about the daughter of the Didi, and what she would do if he
blew an arrow at a bird, had accidentally escaped him in a moment
of excitement. Nothing, therefore, was to be gained by
questioning them, or, at all events, by telling them how much the
subject attracted me. And I had nothing to fear; my independent
investigations had made this much clear to me; the voice might
proceed from a very frolicsome and tricksy creature, full of wild
fantastic humours, but nothing worse. It was friendly to me, I
felt sure; at the same time it might not be friendly towards the
Indians; for, on that day, it had made itself heard only after my
companion had taken flight; and it had then seemed incensed
against me, possibly because the savage had been in my company.

That was the result of my reflections on the day's events when I
returned to my entertainer's roof and sat down among my friends
to refresh myself with stewed fowl and fish from the household
pot, into which a hospitable woman invited me with a gesture to
dip my fingers.

Kua-ko was lying in his hammock, smoking, I think--certainly not
reading. When I entered he lifted his head and stared at me,
probably surprised to see me alive, unharmed, and in a placid
temper. I laughed at the look, and, somewhat disconcerted, he
dropped his head down again. After a minute or two I took the
metal match-box and tossed it on to his breast. He clutched it
and, starting up, stared at me in the utmost astonishment. He
could scarcely believe his good fortune; for he had failed to
carry out his part of the compact and had resigned himself to the
loss of the coveted prize. Jumping down to the floor, he held up
the box triumphantly, his joy overcoming the habitual stolid
look; while all the others gathered about him, each trying to get
the box into his own hands to admire it again, notwithstanding
that they had all seen it a dozen times before. But it was
Kua-ko's now and not the stranger's, and therefore more nearly
their own than formerly, and must look different, more beautiful,
with a brighter polish on the metal. And that wonderful
enamelled cock on the lid--figured in Paris probably, but just
like a cock in Guayana, the pet bird which they no more think of
killing and eating than we do our purring pussies and
lemon-coloured canaries--must now look more strikingly valiant
and cock-like than ever, with its crimson comb and wattles,
burnished red hackles, and dark green arching tail-plumes. But
Kua-ko, while willing enough to have it admired and praised,
would not let it out of his hands, and told them pompously that
it was not theirs for them to handle, but his--Kua-ko's--for all
time; that he had won it by accompanying me--valorous man that he
was!--to that evil wood into which they--timid, inferior
creatures that they were!--would never have ventured to set foot.
I am not translating his words, but that was what he gave them to
understand pretty plainly, to my great amusement.

After the excitement was over, Runi, who had maintained a
dignified calm, made some roundabout remarks, apparently with the
object of eliciting an account of what I had seen and heard in
the forest of evil fame. I replied carelessly that I had seen a
great many birds and monkeys--monkeys so tame that I might have
procured one if I had had a blow-pipe, in spite of my never
having practiced shooting with that weapon.

It interested them to hear about the abundance and tameness of
the monkeys, although it was scarcely news; but how tame they
must have been when I, the stranger not to the manner born--not
naked, brown-skinned, lynx-eyed, and noiseless as an owl in his
movements--had yet been able to look closely at them! Runi only
remarked, apropos of what I had told him, that they could not go
there to hunt; then he asked me if I feared nothing.

"Nothing," I replied carelessly. "The things you fear hurt not
the white man and are no more than this to me," saying which I
took up a little white wood-ash in my hand and blew it away with
my breath. "And against other enemies I have this," I added,
touching my revolver. A brave speech, just after that araguato
episode; but I did not make it without blushing--mentally.

- He shook his head, and said it was a poor weapon against some
enemies; also--truly enough--that it would procure no birds and
monkeys for the stew-pot.

Next morning my friend Kua-ko, taking his zabatana, invited me to
go out with him, and I consented with some misgivings, thinking
he had overcome his superstitious fears and, inflamed by my
account of the abundance of game in the forest, intended going
there with me. The previous day's experience had made me think
that it would be better in the future to go there alone. But I
was giving the poor youth more credit than he deserved: it was
far from his intention to face the terrible unknown again. We
went in a different direction, and tramped for hours through
woods where birds were scarce and only of the smaller kinds.
Then my guide surprised me a second time by offering to teach me
to use the zabatana. This, then, was to be my reward for giving
him the box! I readily consented, and with the long weapon,
awkward to carry, in my hand, and imitating the noiseless
movements and cautious, watchful manner of my companion, I tried
to imagine myself a simple Guayana savage, with no knowledge of
that artificial social state to which I had been born, dependent
on my skill and little roll of poison-darts for a livelihood. By
an effort of the will I emptied myself of my life experience and
knowledge--or as much of it as possible--and thought only of the
generations of my dead imaginary progenitors, who had ranged
these woods back to the dim forgotten years before Columbus; and
if the pleasure I had in the fancy was childish, it made the day
pass quickly enough. Kua-ko was constantly at my elbow to assist
and give advice; and many an arrow I blew from the long tube, and
hit no bird. Heaven knows what I hit, for the arrows flew away
on their wide and wild career to be seen no more, except a few
which my keen-eyed comrade marked to their destination and
managed to recover. The result of our day's hunting was a couple
of birds, which Kua-ko, not I, shot, and a small opossum his
sharp eyes detected high up a tree lying coiled up on an old
nest, over the side of which the animal had incautiously allowed
his snaky tail to dangle. The number of darts I wasted must have
been a rather serious loss to him, but he did not seem troubled
at it, and made no remark.

Next day, to my surprise, he volunteered to give me a second
lesson, and we went out again. On this occasion he had provided
himself with a large bundle of darts, but--wise man!--they were
not poisoned, and it therefore mattered little whether they were
wasted or not. I believe that on this day I made some little
progress; at all events, my teacher remarked that before long I
would be able to hit a bird. This made me smile and answer that
if he could place me within twenty yards of a bird not smaller
than a small man I might manage to touch it with an arrow.

This speech had a very unexpected and remarkable effect. He
stopped short in his walk, stared at me wildly, then grinned, and
finally burst into a roar of laughter, which was no bad imitation
of the howling monkey's performance, and smote his naked thighs
with tremendous energy. At length recovering himself, he asked
whether a small woman was not the same as a small man, and being
answered in the affirmative, went off into a second extravagant
roar of laughter.

Thinking it was easy to tickle him while he continued in this
mood, I began making any number of feeble jokes--feeble, but
quite as good as the one which had provoked such outrageous
merriment--for it amused me to see him acting in this unusual
way. But they all failed of their effect--there was no hitting
the bull's-eye a second time; he would only stare vacantly at me,
then grunt like a peccary--not appreciatively--and walk on.
Still, at intervals he would go back to what I had said about
hitting a very big bird, and roar again, as if this wonderful
joke was not easily exhausted.

Again on the third day we were out together practicing at the
birds--frightening if not killing them; but before noon, finding
that it was his intention to go to a distant spot where he
expected to meet with larger game, I left him and returned to the
village. The blow-pipe practice had lost its novelty, and I did
not care to go on all day and every day with it; more than that,
I was anxious after so long an interval to pay a visit to my
wood, as I began to call it, in the hope of hearing that
mysterious melody which I had grown to love and to miss when even
a single day passed without it.


After making a hasty meal at the house, I started, full of
pleasing anticipations, for the wood; for how pleasant a place it
was to be in! What a wild beauty and fragrance and melodiousness
it possessed above all forests, because of that mystery that drew
me to it! And it was mine, truly and absolutely--as much mine as
any portion of earth's surface could belong to any man--mine with
all its products: the precious woods and fruits and fragrant gums
that would never be trafficked away; its wild animals that man
would never persecute; nor would any jealous savage dispute my
ownership or pretend that it was part of his hunting-ground. As
I crossed the savannah I played with this fancy; but when I
reached the ridgy eminence, to look down once more on my new
domain, the fancy changed to a feeling so keen that it pierced to
my heart and was like pain in its intensity, causing tears to
rush to my eyes. And caring not in that solitude to disguise my
feelings from myself, and from the wide heaven that looked down
and saw me--for this is the sweetest thing that solitude has for
us, that we are free in it, and no convention holds us--I dropped
on my knees and kissed the stony ground, then casting up my eyes,
thanked the Author of my being for the gift of that wild forest,
those green mansions where I had found so great a happiness!

Elated with this strain of feeling, I reached the wood not long
after noon; but no melodious voice gave me familiar and expected
welcome; nor did my invisible companion make itself heard at all
on that day, or, at all events, not in its usual bird-like
warbling language. But on this day I met with a curious little
adventure and heard something very extraordinary, very
mysterious, which I could not avoid connecting in my mind with
the unseen warbler that so often followed me in my rambles.

It was an exceedingly bright day, without cloud, but windy, and
finding myself in a rather open part of the wood, near its
border, where the breeze could be felt, I sat down to rest on the
lower part of a large branch, which was half broken, but still
remained attached to the trunk of the tree, while resting its
terminal twigs on the ground. Just before me, where I sat, grew
a low, wide-spreading plant, covered with broad, round, polished
leaves; and the roundness, stiffness, and perfectly horizontal
position of the upper leaves made them look like a collection of
small platforms or round table-tops placed nearly on a level.
Through the leaves, to the height of a foot or more above them, a
slender dead stem protruded, and from a twig at its summit
depended a broken spider's web. A minute dead leaf had become
attached to one of the loose threads and threw its small but
distinct shadow on the platform leaves below; and as it trembled
and swayed in the current of air, the black spot trembled with it
or flew swiftly over the bright green surfaces, and was seldom at
rest. Now, as I sat looking down on the leaves and the small
dancing shadow, scarcely thinking of what I was looking at, I
noticed a small spider, with a flat body and short legs, creep
cautiously out on to the upper surface of a leaf. Its pale red
colour barred with velvet black first drew my attention to it,
for it was beautiful to the eye; and presently I discovered that
this was no web-spinning, sedentary spider, but a wandering
hunter, that captured its prey, like a cat, by stealing on it
concealed and making a rush or spring at the last. The moving
shadow had attracted it and, as the sequel showed, was mistaken
for a fly running about over the leaves and flitting from leaf to
leaf. Now began a series of wonderful manoeuvres on the spider's
part, with the object of circumventing the imaginary fly, which
seemed specially designed to meet this special case; for
certainly no insect had ever before behaved in quite so erratic a
manner. Each time the shadow flew past, the spider ran swiftly
in the same direction, hiding itself under the leaves, always
trying to get near without alarming its prey; and then the shadow
would go round and round in a small circle, and some new
strategic move on the part of the hunter would be called forth.
I became deeply interested in this curious scene; I began to wish
that the shadow would remain quiet for a moment or two, so as to
give the hunter a chance. And at last I had my wish: the shadow
was almost motionless, and the spider moving towards it, yet
seeming not to move, and as it crept closer I fancied that I
could almost see the little striped body quivering with
excitement. Then came the final scene: swift and straight as an
arrow the hunter shot himself on to the fly-like shadow, then
wiggled round and round, evidently trying to take hold of his
prey with fangs and claws; and finding nothing under him, he
raised the fore part of his body vertically, as if to stare about
him in search of the delusive fly; but the action may have simply
expressed astonishment. At this moment I was just on the point
of giving free and loud vent to the laughter which I had been
holding in when, just behind me, as if from some person who had
been watching the scene over my shoulder and was as much amused
as myself at its termination, sounded a clear trill of merry
laughter. I started up and looked hastily around, but no living
creature was there. The mass of loose foliage I stared into was
agitated, as if from a body having just pushed through it. In a
moment the leaves and fronds were motionless again; still, I
could not be sure that a slight gust of wind had not shaken them.
But I was so convinced that I had heard close to me a real human
laugh, or sound of some living creature that exactly simulated a
laugh, that I carefully searched the ground about me, expecting
to find a being of some kind. But I found nothing, and going
back to my seat on the hanging branch, I remained seated for a
considerable time, at first only listening, then pondering on the
mystery of that sweet trill of laughter; and finally I began to
wonder whether I, like the spider that chased the shadow, had
been deluded, and had seemed to hear a sound that was not a

On the following day I was in the wood again, and after a two or
three hours' ramble, during which I heard nothing, thinking it
useless to haunt the known spots any longer, I turned southwards
and penetrated into a denser part of the forest, where the
undergrowth made progress difficult. I was not afraid of losing
myself; the sun above and my sense of direction, which was always
good, would enable me to return to the starting-point.

In this direction I had been pushing resolutely on for over half
an hour, finding it no easy matter to make my way without
constantly deviating to this side or that from the course I
wished to keep, when I came to a much more open spot. The trees
were smaller and scantier here, owing to the rocky nature of the
ground, which sloped rather rapidly down; but it was moist and
overgrown with mosses, ferns, creepers, and low shrubs, all of
the liveliest green. I could not see many yards ahead owing to
the bushes and tall fern fronds; but presently I began to hear a
low, continuous sound, which, when I had advanced twenty or
thirty yards further, I made out to be the gurgling of running
water; and at the same moment I made the discovery that my throat
was parched and my palms tingling with heat. I hurried on,
promising myself a cool draught, when all at once, above the soft
dashing and gurgling of the water, I caught yet another sound--a
low, warbling note, or succession of notes, which might have been
emitted by a bird. But it startled me nevertheless--bird-like
warbling sounds had come to mean so much to me--and pausing, I
listened intently. It was not repeated, and finally, treading
with the utmost caution so as not to alarm the mysterious
vocalist, I crept on until, coming to a greenheart with a
quantity of feathery foliage of a shrub growing about its roots,
I saw that just beyond the tree the ground was more open still,
letting in the sunlight from above, and that the channel of the
stream I sought was in this open space, about twenty yards from
me, although the water was still hidden from sight. Something
else was there, which I did see; instantly my cautious advance
was arrested. I stood gazing with concentrated vision, scarcely
daring to breathe lest I should scare it away.

It was a human being--a girl form, reclining on the moss among
the ferns and herbage, near the roots of a small tree. One arm
was doubled behind her neck for her head to rest upon, while the
other arm was held extended before her, the hand raised towards a
small brown bird perched on a pendulous twig just beyond its
reach. She appeared to be playing with the bird, possibly
amusing herself by trying to entice it on to her hand; and the
hand appeared to tempt it greatly, for it persistently hopped up
and down, turning rapidly about this way and that, flirting its
wings and tail, and always appearing just on the point of
dropping on to her finger. From my position it was impossible to
see her distinctly, yet I dared not move. I could make out that
she was small, not above four feet six or seven inches in height,
in figure slim, with delicately shaped little hands and feet.
Her feet were bare, and her only garment was a slight
chemise-shaped dress reaching below her knees, of a whitish-gray
colour, with a faint lustre as of a silky material. Her hair was
very wonderful; it was loose and abundant, and seemed wavy or
curly, falling in a cloud on her shoulders and arms. Dark it
appeared, but the precise tint was indeterminable, as was that of
her skin, which looked neither brown nor white. All together,
near to me as she actually was, there was a kind of mistiness in
the figure which made it appear somewhat vague and distant, and a
greenish grey seemed the prevailing colour. This tint I
presently attributed to the effect of the sunlight falling on her
through the green foliage; for once, for a moment, she raised
herself to reach her finger nearer to the bird, and then a gleam
of unsubdued sunlight fell on her hair and arm, and the arm at
that moment appeared of a pearly whiteness, and the hair, just
where the light touched it, had a strange lustre and play of
iridescent colour.

I had not been watching her more than three seconds before the
bird, with a sharp, creaking little chirp, flew up and away in
sudden alarm; at the same moment she turned and saw me through
the light leafy screen. But although catching sight of me thus
suddenly, she did not exhibit alarm like the bird; only her eyes,
wide open, with a surprised look in them, remained immovably
fixed on my face. And then slowly, imperceptibly--for I did not
notice the actual movement, so gradual and smooth it was, like
the motion of a cloud of mist which changes its form and place,
yet to the eye seems not to have moved--she rose to her knees, to
her feet, retired, and with face still towards me, and eyes fixed
on mine, finally disappeared, going as if she had melted away
into the verdure. The leafage was there occupying the precise
spot where she had been a moment before--the feathery foliage of

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