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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER V: A LETTER FROM A WEST INDIAN COTTAGE ORNEE

At Last by Charles Kingsley

CHAPTER V: A LETTER FROM A WEST INDIAN COTTAGE ORNEE

30th December 1869.

My Dear -- -- -, We are actually settled in a West Indian country- house, amid a multitude of sights and sounds so utterly new and strange, that the mind is stupefied by the continual effort to take in, or (to confess the truth) to gorge without hope of digestion, food of every conceivable variety. The whole day long new objects and their new names have jostled each other in the brain, in dreams as well as in waking thoughts. Amid such a confusion, to describe this place as a whole is as yet impossible. It must suffice if you find in this letter a sketch or two -- not worthy to be called a study -- of particular spots which seem typical, beginning with my bathroom window, as the scene which first proved to me, at least, that we were verily in the Tropics.

You look out -- would that you did look in fact! -- over the low sill. The gravel outside, at least, is an old friend; it consists of broken bits of gray Silurian rock, and white quartz among it; and one touch of Siluria makes the whole world kin. But there the kindred ends. A few green weeds, looking just like English ones, peep up through the gravel. Weeds, all over the world, are mostly like each other; poor, thin, pale in leaf, small and meagre in stem and flower: meaner forms which fill up for good, and sometimes, too, for harm, the gaps left by Nature's aristocracy of grander and, in these Tropics, more tyrannous and destroying forms. So like home weeds they look: but pick one, and you find it unlike anything at home. That one happens to be, as you may see by its little green mouse-tails, a pepper-weed, {77} first cousin to the great black pepper-bush in the gardens near by, with the berries of which you may burn your mouth gratis.

So it is, you would find, with every weed in the little cleared dell, some fifteen feet deep, beyond the gravel. You could not -- I certainly cannot -- guess at the name, seldom at the family, of a single plant. But I am going on too fast. What are those sticks of wood which keep the gravel bank up? Veritable bamboos; and a bamboo-pipe, too, is carrying the trickling cool water into the bath close by. Surely we are in the Tropics. You hear a sudden rattle, as of boards and brown paper, overhead, and find that it is the clashing of the huge leaves of a young fan palm, {78a} growing not ten feet from the window. It has no stem as yet; and the lower leaves have to be trimmed off or they would close up the path, so that only the great forked green butts of them are left, bound to each other by natural matting: but overhead they range out nobly in leafstalks ten feet long, and fans full twelve feet broad; and this is but a baby, a three years' old thing. Surely, again, we are in the Tropics. Ten feet farther, thrust all awry by the huge palm leaves, grows a young tree, unknown to me, looking like a walnut. Next to it an orange, covered with long prickles and small green fruit, its roots propped up by a semi-cylindrical balk of timber, furry inside, which would puzzle a Hampshire woodsman; for it is, plainly, a groo-groo or a coco-palm, split down the middle. Surely, again, we are in the Tropics. Beyond it, again, blaze great orange and yellow flowers, with long stamens, and pistil curving upwards out of them. They belong to a twining, scrambling bush, with finely-pinnated mimosa leaves. That is the 'Flower-fence,' {78b} so often heard of in past years; and round it hurries to and fro a great orange butterfly, larger seemingly than any English kind. Next to it is a row of Hibiscus shrubs, with broad crimson flowers; then a row of young Screw-pines, {78c} from the East Indian Islands, like spiral pine-apple plants twenty feet high standing on stilts. Yes: surely we are in the Tropics. Over the low roof (for the cottage is all of one storey) of purple and brown and white shingles, baking in the sun, rises a tall tree, which looks (as so many do here) like a walnut, but is not one. It is the 'Poui' of the Indians, {78d} and will be covered shortly with brilliant saffron flowers.

I turn my chair and look into the weedy dell. The ground on the opposite slope (slopes are, you must remember, here as steep as house-roofs, the last spurs of true mountains) is covered with a grass like tall rye-grass, but growing in tufts. That is the famous Guinea-grass {78e} which, introduced from Africa, has spread over the whole West Indies. Dark lithe coolie prisoners, one a gentle young fellow, with soft beseeching eyes, and 'Felon' printed on the back of his shirt, are cutting it for the horses, under the guard of a mulatto turnkey, a tall, steadfast, dignified man; and between us and them are growing along the edge of the gutter, veritable pine- apples in the open air, and a low green tree just like an apple, which is a Guava; and a tall stick, thirty feet high, with a flat top of gigantic curly horse-chestnut leaves, which is a Trumpet- tree. {79a} There are hundreds of them in the mountains round: but most of them dead, from the intense drought and fires of last year. Beyond it, again, is a round-headed tree, looking like a huge Portugal laurel, covered with racemes of purple buds. That is an 'Angelim'; {79b} when full-grown, one of the finest timbers in the world. And what are those at the top of the brow, rising out of the rich green scrub? Verily, again, we are in the Tropics. They are palms, doubtless, some thirty feet high each, with here and there a young one springing up like a gigantic crown of male-fern. The old ones have straight gray stems, often prickly enough, and thickened in the middle; gray last year's leaves hanging down; and feathering round the top, a circular plume of pale green leaves, like those of a coconut. But these are not cocos. The last year's leaves of the coco are rich yellow, and its stem is curved. These are groo-groos; {79c} they stand as fresh proofs that we are indeed in the Tropics, and as 'a thing of beauty and a joy for ever.'

For it is a joy for ever, a sight never to be forgotten, to have once seen palms, breaking through and, as it were, defying the soft rounded forms of the broad-leaved vegetation by the stern grace of their simple lines; the immovable pillar-stem looking the more immovable beneath the toss and lash and flicker of the long leaves, as they awake out of their sunlit sleep, and rage impatiently for a while before the mountain gusts, and fall asleep again. Like a Greek statue in a luxurious drawing-room, sharp cut, cold, virginal; shaming, by the grandeur of mere form, the voluptuousness of mere colour, however rich and harmonious; so stands the palm in the forest; to be worshipped rather than to be loved. Look at the drawings of the Oreodoxa-avenue at Rio, in M. Agassiz's charming book. Would that you could see actually such avenues, even from the sea, as we have seen them in St. Vincent and Guadaloupe: but look at the mere pictures of them in that book, and you will sympathise, surely, with our new palm-worship.

And lastly, what is that giant tree which almost fills the centre of the glen, towering with upright but branching limbs, and huge crown, thinly leaved, double the height of all the trees around? An ash? Something like an ash in growth; but when you look at it through the glasses (indispensable in the tropic forest), you see that the foliage is more like that of the yellow horse-chestnut. And no British ash, not even the Altyre giants, ever reached to half that bulk. It is a Silk-cotton tree; a Ceiba {79d} -- say, rather, the Ceiba of the glen; for these glens have a habit of holding each one great Ceiba, which has taken its stand at the upper end, just where the mountain-spurs run together in an amphitheatre; and being favoured (it may be supposed) by the special richness of the down- washed soil at that spot, grows to one of those vast air-gardens of creepers and parasites of which we have so often read and dreamed. Such a one is this: but we will not go up to it now. This sketch shall be completed by the background of green and gray, fading aloft into tender cobalt: the background of mountain, ribbed and gullied into sharpest slopes by the tropic rains, yet showing, even where steepest, never a face of rock, or a crag peeping through the trees. Up to the sky-line, a thousand feet aloft, all is green; and that, instead of being, as in Europe, stone or moor, is jagged and feathered with gigantic trees. How rich! you would say. Yet these West Indians only mourn over its desolation and disfigurement; and point to the sheets of gray stems, which hang like mist along the upper slopes. They look to us, on this 30th of December, only as April signs that the woodlands have not quite burst into full leaf. But to the inhabitants they are tokens of those fearful fires which raged over the island during the long drought of this summer; when the forests were burning for a whole month, and this house scarcely saved; when whole cane-fields, mills, dwelling-houses, went up as tinder and flame in a moment, and the smoky haze from the burning island spread far out to sea. And yet where the fire passed six months ago, all is now a fresh impenetrable undergrowth of green; creepers covering the land, climbing up and shrouding the charred stumps; young palms, like Prince of Wales's feathers, breaking up, six or eight feet high, among a wilderness of sensitive plants, scarlet-flowered dwarf Balisiers, {81a} climbing fern, {81b} convolvuluses of every hue, and an endless variety of outlandish leaves, over which flutter troops of butterflies. How the seeds of the plants and the eggs of the insects have been preserved, who can tell? But there their children are, in myriads; and ere a generation has passed, every dead gray stem will have disappeared before the ants and beetles and great wood-boring bees who rumble round in blue-black armour; the young plants will have grown into great trees beneath the immeasurable vital force which pours all the year round from the blazing sun above, and all be as it was once more. In verity we are in the Tropics, where the so-called 'powers of nature' are in perpetual health and strength, and as much stronger and swifter, for good and evil, than in our chilly clime, as is the young man in the heat of youth compared with the old man shivering to his grave. Think over that last simile. If you think of it in the light which physiology gives, you will find that it is not merely a simile, but a true analogy; another manifestation of a great physical law.

Thus much for the view at the back -- a chance scene, without the least pretensions to what average people would call beauty of landscape. But oh that we could show you the view in front! The lawn with its flowering shrubs, tiny specimens of which we admire in hothouses at home; the grass as green (for it is now the end of the rainy season) as that of England in May, winding away into the cool shade of strange evergreens; the yellow coconut palms on the nearest spur of hill throwing back the tender-blue of the higher mountains; the huge central group of trees -- Saman, {81c} Sandbox, {81d} and Fig, with the bright ostrich plumes of a climbing palm towering through the mimosa-like foliage of the Saman; and Erythrinas {81e} (Bois immortelles, as they call them here), their all but leafless boughs now blazing against the blue sky with vermilion flowers, trees of red coral sixty feet in height. Ah that we could show you the avenue on the right, composed of palms from every quarter of the Tropics -- palms with smooth stems, or with prickly ones, with fan leaves, feather leaves, leaves (as in the wine-palm {82a}) like Venus's hair fern; some, again, like the Cocorite, {82b} almost stemless, rising in a huge ostrich plume which tosses in the land breeze, till the long stiff leaflets seem to whirl like the spokes of a green glass wheel. Ah that we could wander with you through the Botanic Garden beyond, amid fruits and flowers brought together from all the lands of the perpetual summer; or even give you, through the great arches of the bamboo clumps, as they creak and rattle sadly in the wind, and the Bauhinias, like tall and ancient whitethorns, which shade the road, one glance of the flat green Savannah, with its herds of kine, beyond which lies, buried in flowering trees, and backed by mountain woods, the city of Port of Spain. One glance, too, under the boughs of the great Cotton-tree at the gate, at the still sleeping sea, with one tall coolie ship at anchor, seen above green cane-fields and coolie gardens, gay with yellow Croton and purple Dracaena, and crimson Poinsettia, and the grand leaves of the grandest of all plants, the Banana, food of paradise. Or, again, far away to the extreme right, between the flat tops of the great Saman-avenue at the barracks and the wooded mountain-spurs which rush down into the sea, the islands of the Bocas floating in the shining water, and beyond them, a cloud among the clouds, the peak of a mighty mountain, with one white tuft of mist upon its top. Ah that we could show you but that, and tell you that you were looking at the 'Spanish Main'; at South America itself, at the last point of the Venezuelan Cordillera, and the hills where jaguars lie. If you could but see what we see daily; if you could see with us the strange combination of rich and luscious beauty, with vastness and repose, you would understand, and excuse, the tendency to somewhat grandiose language which tempts perpetually those who try to describe the Tropics, and know well that they can only fail.

In presence of such forms and such colouring as this, one becomes painfully sensible of the poverty of words, and the futility, therefore, of all word-painting; of the inability, too, of the senses to discern and define objects of such vast variety; of our aesthetic barbarism, in fact, which has no choice of epithets save between such as 'great,' and 'vast,' and 'gigantic'; between such as 'beautiful,' and 'lovely,' and 'exquisite,' and so forth; which are, after all, intellectually only one stage higher than the half-brute Wah! wah! with which the savage grunts his astonishment -- call it not admiration; epithets which are not, perhaps, intellectually as high as the 'God is great' of the Mussulman, who is wise enough not to attempt any analysis either of Nature or of his feelings about her; and wise enough also (not having the fear of Spinoza before his eyes) to 'in omni ignoto confugere ad Deum' -- in presence of the unknown to take refuge in God.

To describe to you, therefore, the Botanic Garden (in which the cottage stands) would take a week's work of words, which would convey no images to your mind. Let it be enough to say, that our favourite haunt in all the gardens is a little dry valley, beneath the loftiest group of trees. At its entrance rises a great Tamarind, and a still greater Saman; both have leaves like a Mimosa- -as the engraving shows. Up its trunk a Cereus has reared itself, for some thirty feet at least; a climbing Seguine {83a} twines up it with leaves like 'lords and ladies'; but the glory of the tree is that climbing palm, the feathers of which we saw crowning it from a distance. Up into the highest branches and down again, and up again into the lower branches, and rolling along the ground in curves as that of a Boa bedecked with huge ferns and prickly spikes, six feet and more long each, the Rattan {83b} hangs in mid-air, one hardly sees how, beautiful and wonderful, beyond what clumsy words can tell. Beneath the great trees (for here great trees grow freely beneath greater trees, and beneath greater trees again, delighting in the shade) is a group of young Mangosteens, {83c} looking, to describe the unknown by the known, like walnuts with leaflets eight inches long, their boughs clustered with yellow and green sour fruit; and beyond them stretches up the lawn a dense grove of nutmegs, like Portugal laurels, hung about with olive-yellow apples. Here and there a nutmeg-apple has split, and shows within the delicate crimson caul of mace; or the nutmegs, the mace still clinging round them, lie scattered on the grass. Under the perpetual shade of the evergreens haunt Heliconias and other delicate butterflies, who seem to dread the blaze outside, and flutter gently from leaf to leaf, their colouring -- which is usually black with markings of orange, crimson, or blue -- coming into strongest contrast with the uniform green of leaf and grass. This is our favourite spot for entomologising, when the sun outside altogether forbids the least exertion. Turn, with us -- alas! only in fancy -- out of the grove into a neighbouring path, between tea- shrubs, looking like privets with large myrtle flowers, and young clove-trees, covered with the groups of green buds which are the cloves of commerce; and among fruit-trees from every part of the Tropics, with the names of which I will not burden you. Glance at that beautiful and most poisonous shrub, which we found wild at St. Thomas's. {84} Glance, too -- but, again why burden you with names which you will not recollect, much more with descriptions which do not describe? Look, though, down that Allspice avenue, at the clear warm light which is reflected off the smooth yellow ever-peeling stems; and then, if you can fix your eye steadily on any object, where all are equally new and strange, look at this stately tree. A bough has been broken off high up, and from the wounded spot two plants are already contending. One is a parasitic Orchis; the other a parasite of a more dangerous family. It looks like a straggling Magnolia, some two feet high. In fifty years it will be a stately tree. Look at the single long straight air-root which it is letting down by the side of the tree bole. That root, if left, will be the destroyer of the whole tree. It will touch the earth, take root below, send out side-fibres above, call down younger roots to help it, till the whole bole, clasped and stifled in their embraces, dies and rots out, and the Matapalo (or Scotch attorney, {85a} as it is rudely called here) stands alone on stilted roots, and board walls of young wood, slowly coalescing into one great trunk; master of the soil once owned by the patron on whose vitals he has fed: a treacherous tyrant; and yet, like many another treacherous tyrant, beautiful to see, with his shining evergreen foliage, and grand labyrinth of smooth roots, standing high in air, or dangling from the boughs in search of soil below; and last, but not least, his Magnolia-like flowers, rosy or snowy-white, and green egg-shaped fruits.

Now turn homewards, past the Rosa del monte {85b} bush (bushes, you must recollect, are twenty feet high here), covered with crimson roses, full of long silky crimson stamens: and then try -- as we do daily in vain -- to recollect and arrange one-tenth of the things which you have seen.

One look round at the smaller wild animals and flowers. Butterflies swarm round us, of every hue. Beetles, you may remark, are few; they do not run in swarms about these arid paths as they do at home. But the wasps and bees, black and brown, are innumerable. That huge bee in steel-blue armour, booming straight at you -- whom some one compared to the Lord Mayor's man in armour turned into a cherub, and broken loose -- (get out of his way, for he is absorbed in business) -- is probably a wood-borer, {85c} of whose work you may read in Mr. Wood's Homes without Hands. That long black wasp, commonly called a Jack Spaniard, builds pensile paper nests under every roof and shed. Watch, now, this more delicate brown wasp, probably one of the Pelopoei of whom we have read in Mr. Gosse's Naturalist in Jamaica and Mr. Bates's Travels on the Amazons. She has made under a shelf a mud nest of three long cells, and filled them one by one with small spiders, and the precious egg which, when hatched, is to feed on them. One hundred and eight spiders we have counted in a single nest like this; and the wasp, much of the same shape as the Jack Spaniard, but smaller, works, unlike him, alone, or at least only with her husband's help. The long mud nest is built upright, often in the angle of a doorpost or panel; and always added to, and entered from, below. With a joyful hum she flies back to it all day long with her pellets of mud, and spreads them out with her mouth into pointed arches, one laid on the other, making one side of the arch out of each pellet, and singing low but cheerily over her work. As she works downward, she parts off the tube of the nest with horizontal floors of a finer and harder mud, and inside each storey places some five spiders, and among them the precious egg, or eggs, which is to feed on them when hatched. If we open the uppermost chamber, we shall find every vestige of the spiders gone, and the cavity filled (and, strange to say, exactly filled) by a brown- coated wasp-pupa, enveloped in a fine silken shroud. In the chamber below, perhaps, we shall find the grub full-grown, and finishing his last spicier; and so on, down six or eight storeys, till the lowest holds nothing but spiders, packed close, but not yet sealed up. These spiders, be it remembered, are not dead. By some strange craft, the wasp knows exactly where to pierce them with her sting, so as to stupefy, but not to kill, just as the sand-wasps of our banks at home stupefy the large weevils which they store in their burrows as food for their grubs.

There are wasps too, here, who make pretty little jar-shaped nests, round, with a neatly lined round lip. Paper-nests, too, more like those of our tree-wasps at home, hang from the trees in the woods. Ants' nests, too, hang sometimes from the stronger boughs, looking like huge hard lumps of clay. And, once at least, we have found silken nests of butterflies or moths, containing many chrysalids each. Meanwhile, dismiss from your mind the stories of insect plagues. If good care is taken to close the mosquito curtains at night, the flies about the house are not nearly as troublesome as we have often found the midges in Scotland. As for snakes, we have seen none; centipedes are, certainly, apt to get into the bath, but can be fished out dead, and thrown to the chickens. The wasps and bees do not sting, or in any wise interfere with our comfort, save by building on the books. The only ants who come into the house are the minute, harmless, and most useful 'crazy ants,' who run up and down wildly all day, till they find some eatable thing, an atom of bread or a disabled cockroach, of which last, by the by, we have seen hardly any here. They then prove themselves in their sound senses by uniting to carry off their prey, some pulling, some pushing, with a steady combination of effort which puts to shame an average negro crew. And these are all we have to fear, unless it be now and then a huge spider, which it is not the fashion here to kill, as they feed on flies. So comfort yourself with the thought that, as regards insect pests, we are quite as comfortable as in an country-house, and infinitely more comfortable than in English country-house, and infinitely more comfortable than in a Scotch shooting lodge, let alone an Alpine chalet.

Lizards run about the walks in plenty, about the same size is the green lizard of the South of Europe, but of more sober colours. The parasol ants -- of whom I could tell you much, save that you will read far more than I can tell you in half a dozen books at home -- walk in triumphal processions, each with a bit of green leaf borne over its head, and probably, when you look closely, with a little ant or two riding on it, and getting a lift home after work on their stronger sister's back -- and these are all the monsters which you are likely to meet.

Would that there were more birds to be seen and heard! But of late years the free Negro, like the French peasant during the first half of this century, has held it to be one of the indefeasible rights of a free man to carry a rusty gun, and to shoot every winged thing. He has been tempted, too, by orders from London shops for gaudy birds -- humming-birds especially. And when a single house, it is said, advertises for 20,000 bird-skins at a time, no wonder if birds grow scarce; and no wonder, too, if the wholesale destruction of these insect-killers should avenge itself by a plague of vermin, caterpillars, and grubs innumerable. Already the turf of the Savannah or public park, close by, is being destroyed by hordes of mole-crickets, strange to say, almost exactly like those of our old English meadows; and unless something is done to save the birds, the cane and other crops will surely suffer in their turn. A gun- licence would be, it seems, both unpopular and easily evaded in a wild forest country. A heavy export tax on bird-skins has been proposed. May it soon be laid on, and the vegetable wealth of the island saved, at the expense of a little less useless finery in young ladies' hats.

So we shall see and hear but few birds round Port of Spain, save the black vultures {87a} -- Corbeaux, as they call them here; and the black 'tick birds,' {87b} a little larger than our English blackbird, with a long tail and a thick-hooked bill, who perform for the cattle here the same friendly office as is performed by starlings at home. Privileged creatures, they cluster about on rails and shrubs within ten feet of the passer, while overhead in the tree-tops the 'Qu'est ce qu'il dit,' {87c} a brown and yellow bird, who seems almost equally privileged and insolent, inquires perpetually what you say. Besides these, swallows of various kinds, little wrens, {87d} almost exactly like our English ones, and night- hawking goat-suckers, few birds are seen. But, unseen, in the depths of every wood, a songster breaks out ever and anon in notes equal for purity and liveliness to those of our English thrush, and belies the vulgar calumny that tropic birds, lest they should grow too proud of their gay feathers, are denied the gift of song.

One look, lastly, at the animals which live, either in cages or at liberty, about the house. The queen of all the pets is a black and gray spider monkey {88} from Guiana -- consisting of a tail which has developed, at one end, a body about twice as big as a hare's; four arms (call them not legs), of which the front ones have no thumbs, nor rudiments of thumbs; and a head of black hair, brushed forward over the foolish, kindly, greedy, sad face, with its wide, suspicious, beseeching eyes, and mouth which, as in all these American monkeys, as far as we have seen, can have no expression, not even that of sensuality, because it has no lips. Others have described the spider monkey as four legs and a tail, tied in a knot in the middle: but the tail is, without doubt, the most important of the five limbs. Wherever the monkey goes, whatever she does, the tail is the standing-point, or rather hanging-point. It takes one turn at least round something or other, provisionally, and in case it should be wanted; often, as she swings, every other limb hangs in the most ridiculous repose, and the tail alone supports. Sometimes it carries, by way of ornament, a bunch of flowers or a live kitten. Sometimes it is curled round the neck, or carried over the head in the hands, out of harm's way; or when she comes silently up behind you, puts her cold hand in yours, and walks by your side like a child, she steadies herself by taking a half-turn of her tail round your wrist. Her relative Jack, of whom hereafter, walks about carrying his chain, to ease his neck, in a loop of his tail. The spider monkey's easiest attitude in walking, and in running also, is, strangely, upright, like a human being: but as for her antics, nothing could represent them to you, save a series of photographs, and those instantaneous ones; for they change, every moment, not by starts, but with a deliberate ease which would be grace in anything less horribly ugly, into postures such as Callot or Breughel never fancied for the ugliest imps who ever tormented St. Anthony. All absurd efforts of agility which you ever saw at a seance of the Hylobates Lar Club at Cambridge are quiet and clumsy compared to the rope-dancing which goes on in the boughs of the Poui tree, or, to their great detriment, of the Bougainvillea and the Gardenia on the lawn. But with all this, Spider is the gentlest, most obedient, and most domestic of beasts. Her creed is, that yellow bananas are the summum bonum; and that she must not come into the dining-room, or even into the verandah; whither, nevertheless, she slips, in fear and trembling, every morning, to steal the little green parrot's breakfast out of his cage, or the baby's milk, or fruit off the side-board; in which case she makes her appearance suddenly and silently, sitting on the threshold like a distorted fiend; and begins scratching herself, looking at everything except the fruit, and pretending total absence of mind, till the proper moment comes for unwinding her lengthy ugliness, and making a snatch at the table. Poor weak-headed thing, full of foolish cunning; always doing wrong, and knowing that it is wrong, but quite unable to resist temptation; and then profuse in futile explanations, gesticulations, mouthings of an 'Oh! -- oh! -- oh!' so pitiably human, that you can only punish her by laughing at her, which she does not at all like. One cannot resist the fancy, while watching her, either that she was once a human being, or that she is trying to become one. But, at present, she has more than one habit to learn, or to recollect, ere she become as fit for human society as the dog or the cat. {89} Her friends are, every human being who will take notice of her, and a beautiful little Guazupita, or native deer, a little larger than a roe, with great black melting eyes, and a heart as soft as its eyes, who comes to lick one's hand; believes in bananas as firmly as the monkey; and when she can get no hand to lick, licks the hairy monkey for mere love's sake, and lets it ride on her back, and kicks it off, and lets it get on again and take a half-turn of its tail round her neck, and throttle her with its arms, and pull her nose out of the way when a banana is coming: and all out of pure love; for the two have never been introduced to each other by man; and the intimacy between them, like that famous one between the horse and the hen, is of Nature's own making up.

Very different from the spider monkey in temper is her cousin Jack, who sits, sullen and unrepentant, at the end of a long chain, having an ugly liking for the calves of passers-by, and ugly teeth to employ on them. Sad at heart he is, and testifies his sadness sometimes by standing bolt upright, with his long arms in postures oratorio, almost prophetic, or, when duly pitied and moaned to, lying down on his side, covering his hairy eyes with one hairy arm, and weeping and sobbing bitterly. He seems, speaking scientifically, to be some sort of Mycetes or Howler, from the flat globular throat, which indicates the great development of the hyoid bone; but, happily for the sleep of the neighbourhood, he never utters in captivity any sound beyond a chuckle; and he is supposed, by some here, from his burly thick-set figure, vast breadth between the ears, short neck, and general cast of countenance, to have been, in a prior state of existence, a man and a brother -- and that by no means of negro blood -- who has gained, in this his purgatorial stage of existence, nothing save a well-earned tail. At all events, more than one of us was impressed, at the first sight, with the conviction that we had seen him before.

Poor Jack! and it is come to this: and all from the indulgence of his five senses, plus 'the sixth sense of vanity.' His only recreation save eating is being led about by the mulatto turnkey, the one human being with whom he, dimly understanding what is fit for him, will at all consort; and having wild pines thrown down to him from the Poui tree above by the spider monkey, whose gambols he watches with pardonable envy. Like the great Mr. Barry Lyndon (the acutest sketch of human nature dear Thackeray ever made), he cannot understand why the world is so unjust and foolish as to have taken a prejudice against him. After all, he is nothing but a strong nasty brute; and his only reason for being here is that he is a new and undescribed species, never seen before, and, it is to be hoped, never to be seen again.

In a cage near by (for there is quite a little menagerie here) are three small Sapajous, {90} two of which belong to the island; as abject and selfish as monkeys usually are, and as uninteresting; save for the plain signs which they give of being actuated by more than instinct, -- by a 'reasoning' power exactly like in kind, though not equal in degree, to that of man. If, as people are now too much induced to believe, the brain makes the man, and not some higher Reason connected intimately with the Moral Sense, which will endure after the brain has turned to dust; if to foresee consequences from experience, and to adapt means to ends, be the highest efforts of the intellect: then who can deny that the Sapajou proves himself a man and a brother, plus a tail, when he puts out a lighted cigar-end before he chews it, by dipping it into the water-pan; and that he may, therefore, by long and steady calculations about the conveniences of virtue and inconveniences of vice, gradually cure himself and his children of those evil passions which are defined as 'the works of the flesh,' and rise to the supremest heights of justice, benevolence, and purity? We, who have been brought up in an older, and as we were taught to think, a more rational creed, may not be able yet to allow our imaginations so daringly hopeful a range: but the world travels fast, and seems travelling on into some such theory just now; leaving behind, as antiquated bigots, those who dare still to believe in the eternal and immutable essence of Goodness, and in the divine origin of man, created in the likeness of God, that he might be perfect even as his Father in heaven is perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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