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At Last by Charles Kingsley

CHAPTER VI: MONOS

Early in January, I started with my host and his little suite on an expedition to the islands of the Bocas. Our object was twofold: to see tropical coast scenery, and to get, if possible, some Guacharo birds (pronounced Huacharo), of whom more hereafter. Our chance of getting them depended on the sea being calm outside the Bocas, as well as inside. The calm inside was no proof of the calm out. Port of Spain is under the lee of the mountains; and the surf might be thundering along the northern shore, tearing out stone after stone from the soft cliffs, and shrouding all the distant points in salt haze, though the gulf along which we were rowing was perfectly smooth, and the shipping and the mangrove scrub and the coco-palms hung double, reflected as in a mirror, not of glass but of mud; and on the swamps of the Caroni the malarious fog hung motionless in long straight lines, waiting for the first blaze of sunrise to sublime it and its invisible poisons into the upper air, where it would be swept off, harmless, by the trade-wind which rushed along half a mile above our heads.

So away we rowed, or rather were rowed by four stalwart Negroes, along the northern shore of the gulf, while the sun leapt up straight astern, and made the awning, or rather the curtains of the awning, needful enough. For the perpendicular rays of the sun in the Tropics are not so much dreaded as the horizontal ones, which strike on the forehead, or, still more dangerous, on the back of the head; and in the West Indies, as in the United States, the early morning and the latter part of the afternoon are the times for sunstrokes. Some sort of shade for the back of the head is necessary for an European, unless (which is not altogether to be recommended) he adopts the La Platan fashion of wearing the natural, and therefore surest, sunshade of his own hair hanging down to his shoulders after the manner of our old cavaliers.

The first islands which we made -- The Five Islands, as they are called -- are curious enough. Isolated remnants of limestone, the biggest perhaps one hundred yards long by one hundred feet high, channelled and honeycombed into strange shapes by rain and waves they are covered -- that at least on which we landed -- almost exclusively by Matapalos, which seem to have stranded the original trees and established themselves in every cranny of the rocks, sending out arms, legs, fingers, ropes, pillars, and what not, of live holdfasts over every rock and over each other till little but the ubiquitous Seguine {95a} and Pinguins {95b} find room or sustenance among them. The island on which we landed is used, from time to time, as a depot for coolie immigrants when first landed. There they remain to rest after the voyage till they can be apportioned by the Government officers to the estates which need them. Of this admirable system of satisfying the great need of the West Indies, free labourers, I may be allowed to say a little here.

'Immigrants' are brought over from Hindostan at the expense of the colony. The Indian Government jealously watches the emigration, and through agents of its own rigidly tests the bona-fide 'voluntary' character of the engagement. That they are well treated on the voyage is sufficiently proved, that on 2264 souls imported last year the death-rate during the voyage was only 2.7 per cent, although cholera attacked the crew of one of the ships before it left the Hooghly. During the last three years ships with over 300 emigrants have arrived several times in Trinidad without a single death. On their arrival in Trinidad, those who are sick are sent at once to the hospital; those unfit for immediate labour are sent to the depot. The healthy are 'indentured' -- in plain English, apprenticed- -for five years, and distributed among the estates which have applied for them. Husbands and wives are not allowed to be separated, nor are children under fifteen parted from their parents or natural protectors. They are expected by the law to work for 280 days in the year, nine hours a day; and receive the same wages as the free labourers: but for this system task-work is by consent universally substituted; and (as in the case of an English apprentice) the law, by various provisions, at once punishes them for wilful idleness, and protects them from tyranny or fraud on the part of their employers. Till the last two years the newcomers received their wages entirely in money. But it was found better to give them for the first year (and now for the two first years) part payment in daily rations: a pound of rice, four ounces of dholl (a kind of pea), an ounce of coconut oil or ghee, and two ounces of sugar to each adult; and half the same to each child between five and ten years old.

This plan has been found necessary, in order to protect the Coolies both from themselves and from each other. They themselves prefer receiving the whole of their wages in cash. With that fondness for mere hard money which marks a half-educated Oriental, they will, as a rule, hoard their wages; and stint themselves of food, injuring their powers of work, and even endangering their own lives; as is proved by the broad fact that the death-rate among them has much decreased, especially during the first year of residence, since the plan of giving them rations has been at work. The newcomers need, too, protection from their own countrymen. Old Coolies who have served their time and saved money find it convenient to turn rice- sellers or money-lenders. They have powerful connections on many estates; they first advance money or luxuries to a newcomer, and when he is once entrapped, they sell him the necessaries of life at famine prices. Thus the practical effect of rations has been to lessen the number of those little roadside shops, which were a curse to Trinidad, and are still a curse to the English workman. Moreover -- for all men are not perfect, even in Trinidad -- the Coolie required protection, in certain cases, against a covetous and short- sighted employer, who might fancy it to be his interest to let the man idle during his first year, while weak, and so save up an arrear of 'lost days' to be added at the end of the five years, when he was a strong skilled labourer. An employer will have, of course, far less temptation to do this, while, as now, he is bound to feed the Coolie for the first two years. Meanwhile, be it remembered, the very fact that such a policy was tempting, goes to prove that the average Coolie grew, during his five years' apprenticeship, a stronger, and not a weaker, man.

There is thorough provision -- as far as the law can provide -- for the Coolies in case of sickness. No estate is allowed to employ indentured Coolies, which has not a duly 'certified' hospital, capable of holding one-tenth at least of the Coolies on the estate, with an allowance of 800 cubic feet to each person; and these hospitals are under the care of district medical visitors, appointed by the Governor, and under the inspection (as are the labour-books, indeed every document and arrangement connected with the Coolies) of the Agent-General of Immigrants or his deputies. One of these officers, the Inspector, is always on the move, and daily visits, without warning, one or more estates, reporting every week to the Agent-General. The Governor may at any time, without assigning any cause, cancel the indenture of any immigrant, or remove any part or the whole of the indentured immigrant labourers from any estate; and this has been done ere now.

I know but too well that, whether in Europe or in the Indies, no mere laws, however wisely devised, will fully protect the employed from the employer; or, again, the employer from the employed. What is needed is a moral bond between them; a bond above, or rather beneath, that of mere wages, however fairly paid, for work, however fairly done. The patriarchal system had such a bond; so had the feudal: but they are both dead and gone, having done, I presume, all that it was in them to do, and done it, like all human institutions, not over well. And meanwhile, that nobler bond, after which Socialists so-called have sought, and after which I trust they will go on seeking still -- a bond which shall combine all that was best in patriarchism and feudalism, with that freedom of the employed which those forms of society failed to give -- has not been found is yet; and, for a generation or two to come, 'cash-payment seems likely to be the only nexus between man and man.' Because that is the meanest and weakest of all bonds, it must be watched jealously and severely by any Government worthy of the name; for to leave it to be taken care of by the mere brute tendencies of supply and demand, and the so-called necessities of the labour market, is simply to leave the poor man who cannot wait to be blockaded and starved out by the rich who can. Therefore all Colonial Governments are but doing their plain duty in keeping a clear eye and a strong hand on this whole immigration movement; and in fencing it round, as in Trinidad, with such regulations as shall make it most difficult for a Coolie to be seriously or permanently wronged without direct infraction of the law, and connivance of Government officers; which last supposition is, in the case of Trinidad, absurd, as long as Dr. Mitchell, whom I am proud to call my friend, holds a post for which he is equally fitted by his talents and his virtues.

I am well aware that some benevolent persons, to whom humanity owes much, regard Coolie immigration to the West Indies with some jealousy, fearing, and not unnaturally, that it may degenerate into a sort of slave-trade. I think that if they will study the last immigration ordinance enacted by the Governor of Trinidad, June 24, 1870, and the report of the Agent-General of Immigrants for the year ending September 30, 1869, their fears will be set at rest as far as this colony is concerned. Of other colonies I say nothing, simply because I know nothing: save that, if there are defects and abuses elsewhere, the remedy is simple: namely, to adopt the system of Trinidad, and work it as it is worked there.

After he has served his five years' apprenticeship, the Coolie has two courses before him. Either he can re-indenture himself to an employer, for not more than twelve months, which as a rule he does; or he can seek employment where he likes. At the end of a continuous residence of ten years in all, and at any period after that, he is entitled to a free passage back to Hindostan; or he may exchange his right to a free passage for a Government grant of ten acres of land. He has meanwhile, if he has been thrifty, grown rich. His wife walks about, at least on high-days, bedizened with jewels: nay, you may see her, even on work-days, hoeing in the cane-piece with heavy silver bangles hanging down over her little brown feet: and what wealth she does not carry on her arms, ankles, neck, and nostril, her husband has in the savings' bank. The ship Arima, as an instance,: took back 320 Coolies last year, of whom seven died on the voyage. These people carried with them 65,585 dollars; and one man, Heerah, handed over 6000 dollars for transmission through the Treasury, and was known to have about him 4000 more. This man, originally allotted to an estate, had, after serving out his industrial contract, resided in the neighbouring village of Savannah Grande as a shopkeeper and money-lender for the last ten years. Most of this money, doubtless, had been squeezed out of other Coolies by means not unknown to Europeans, as well as to Hindoos: but it must have been there to be squeezed out. And the new 'feeding ordinance' will, it is to be hoped, pare the claws of Hindoo and Chinese usurers.

The newly offered grant of Government land has, as yet, been accepted only in a few cases. 'It was not to be expected,' says the report, 'that the Indian, whose habits have been fixed in special grooves for tens of centuries, should hurriedly embrace an offer which must strike at all his prejudices of country, and creed, and kin.' Still, about sixty had settled in 1869 near the estates in Savonetta, where I saw them, and at Point a Pierre; other settlements have been made since, of which more hereafter. And, as a significant fact, many Coolies who have returned to India are now coming back a second time to Trinidad, bringing their kinsfolk and fellow-villagers with them, to a land where violence is unknown, and famine impossible. Moreover, numerous Coolies from the French Islands are now immigrating, and buying land. These are chiefly Madrassees, who are, it is said, stronger and healthier than the Calcutta Coolies. In any case, there seems good hope that a race of Hindoo peasant-proprietors will spring up in the colony, whose voluntary labour will be available at crop-time; and who will teach the Negro thrift and industry, not only by their example, but by competing against him in the till lately understocked labour-market.

Very interesting was the first glimpse of Hindoos; and still more of Hindoos in the West Indies -- the surplus of one of the oldest civilisations of the old world, come hither to replenish the new; novel was the sight of the dusky limbs swarming up and down among the rocks beneath the Matapalo shade; the group in the water as we landed, bathing and dressing themselves at the same time, after the modest and graceful Hindoo fashion; the visit to the wooden barracks, where a row of men was ranged on one side of the room, with their women and children on the other, having their name, caste, native village, and so forth, taken down before they were sent off to the estates to which they were indentured. Three things were noteworthy; first, the healthy cheerful look of all, speaking well for the care and good feeding which they had had on board ship; next, the great variety in their faces and complexions. Almost all of them were low-caste people. Indeed few high-caste Hindoos, except some Sepoys who found it prudent to emigrate after the rebellion, have condescended, or dared, to cross the 'dark water'; and only a very few of those who come west are Mussulmans. But among the multitude of inferior castes who do come there is a greater variety of feature and shape of skull than in an average multitude, as far as I have seen, of any European nation. Caste, the physiognomist soon sees, began in a natural fact. It meant difference, not of rank, but of tribe and language; and India is not, as we are apt to fancy, a nation: it is a world. One must therefore regard this emigration of the Coolies, like anything else which tends to break down caste, as a probable step forward in their civilisation. For it must tend to undermine in them, and still more in their children, the petty superstitions of old tribal distinctions; and must force them to take their stand on wider and sounder ground, and see that 'a man's a man for a' that.'

The third thing noteworthy in the crowd which cooked, chatted, lounged, sauntered idly to and fro under the Matapalos -- the pillared air-roots of which must have put them in mind of their own Banyans at home -- was their good manners. One saw in a moment that one was among gentlemen and ladies. The dress of many of the men was nought but a scarf wrapped round the loins; that of most of the women nought but the longer scarf which the Hindoo woman contrives to arrange in a most graceful, as well as a perfectly modest covering, even for her feet and head. These garments, and perhaps a brass pot, were probably all the worldly goods of most of them just then. But every attitude, gesture, tone, was full of grace; of ease, courtesy, self-restraint, dignity -- of that 'sweetness and light,' at least in externals, which Mr. Matthew Arnold desiderates. I am well aware that these people are not perfect; that, like most heathen folk and some Christian, their morals are by no means spotless, their passions by no means trampled out. But they have acquired -- let Hindoo scholars tell how and where -- a civilisation which shows in them all day long; which draws the European to them and them to the European, whenever the latter is worthy of the name of a civilised man, instinctively, and by the mere interchange of glances; a civilisation which must make it easy for the Englishman, if he will but do his duty, not only to make use of these people, but to purify and ennoble them.

Another thing was noteworthy about the Coolies, at the very first glance, and all we saw afterwards proved that that first glance was correct; I mean their fondness for children. If you took notice of a child, not only the mother smiled thanks and delight, but the men around likewise, as if a compliment had been paid to their whole company. We saw afterwards almost daily proofs of the Coolie men's fondness for their children; of their fondness also -- an excellent sign that the morale is not destroyed at the root -- for dumb animals. A Coolie cow or donkey is petted, led about tenderly, tempted with tit-bits. Pet animals, where they can be got, are the Coolie's delight, as they are the delight of the wild Indian. I wish I could say the same of the Negro. His treatment of his children and of his beasts of burden is, but too often, as exactly opposed to that of the Coolie as are his manners. No wonder that the two races do not, and it is to be feared never will, amalgamate; that the Coolie, shocked by the unfortunate awkwardness of gesture and vulgarity of manners of the average Negro, and still more of the Negress, looks on them as savages; while the Negro, in his turn hates the Coolie as a hard-working interloper, and despises him as a heathen; or that heavy fights between the two races arise now and then, in which the Coolie, in spite of his slender limbs, has generally the advantage over the burly Negro, by dint of his greater courage, and the terrible quickness with which he wields his beloved weapon, the long hardwood quarterstaff.

But to return: we rowed away with a hundred confused, but most pleasant new impressions, amid innumerable salaams to the Governor by these kindly courteous people, and then passed between the larger limestone islands into the roadstead of Chaguaramas, which ought to be, and some day may be, the harbour for the British West India fleet; and for the shipping, too, of that commerce which, as Humboldt prophesied, must some day spring up between Europe and the boundless wealth of the Upper Orinoco, as yet lying waste. Already gold discoveries in the Sierra de Parima (of which more hereafter) are indicating the honesty of poor murdered Raleigh. Already the good President of Ciudad Bolivar (Angostura) has disbanded the ruffian army, which is the usual curse of a Spanish American republic, and has inaugurated, it is to be hoped, a reign of peace and commerce. Already an American line of steamers runs as far as Nutrias, some eight hundred miles up the Orinoco and Apure; while a second will soon run up the Meta, almost to Santa Fe de Bogota, and bring down the Orinoco the wealth, not only of Southern Venezuela, but of central New Grenada; and then a day may come when the admirable harbour of Chaguaramas may be one of the entrepots of the world; if a certain swamp to windward, which now makes the place pestilential, could but be drained. The usual method of so doing now is to lay the swamp as dry as possible by open ditches, and then plant it, with coconuts, whose roots have some mysterious power both of drying and purifying the soil; but were Chaguaramas ever needed as an entrepot, it would not be worth while to wait for coconuts to grow. A dyke across the mouth, and a steam-pump on it, as in the fens of Norfolk and of Guiana, to throw the land-water over into the sea, would probably expel the evil spirit of malaria at once and for ever.

We rowed on past the Boca de Monos, by which we had entered the gulf at first, and looked out eagerly enough for sharks, which are said to swarm at Chaguaramas. But no warning fin appeared above the ripple; only, more than once, close to the stern of the boat, a heavy fish broke water with a sharp splash and swirl, which was said to be a Barracouta, following us up in mere bold curiosity, but perfectly ready to have attacked any one who fell overboard. These Barracoutas -- Sphyraenas as the learned, or 'pike' as the sailors call them, though they are no kin to our pike at home -- are, when large, nearly as dangerous as a shark. In some parts of the West Indies folk dare not bathe for fear of them; for they lie close inshore, amid the heaviest surf; and woe to any living thing which they come across. Moreover, they have this somewhat mean advantage over you, that while, if they eat you, you will agree with them perfectly, you cannot eat them, at least at certain or uncertain seasons of the year, without their disagreeing with you, without sickness, trembling pains in all joints, falling off of nails and hair for years to come, and possible death. Those who may wish to know more of the poisonous fishes of the West Indies may profitably consult a paper in the Proceedings of the Scientific Association of Trinidad by that admirable naturalist, and -- let me say of him (though I have not the honour of knowing him) what has long been said by all who have that honour -- admirable man, the Hon. Richard Hill of Jamaica. He mentions some thirteen species which are more or less poisonous, at all events at times: but on the cause of their unwholesomeness he throws little light; and still less on the extraordinary but undoubted fact that the same species may be poisonous in one island and harmless in another; and that of two species so close as to be often considered as the same, one may be poisonous, the other harmless. The yellow-billed sprat, {102} for instance, is usually so poisonous that 'death has occurred from eating it in many cases immediately, and in some recorded instances even before the fish was swallowed.' Yet a species caught with this, and only differing from it (if indeed it be distinct) by having a yellow spot instead of a black one on the gill-cover, is harmless. Mr. Hill attributes the poisonous quality, in many cases, to the foul food which the fish get from coral reefs, such as the Formigas bank, midway between Cuba, Hayti, and Jamaica, where, as you 'approach it from the east, you find the cheering blandness of the sea-breeze suddenly changing to the nauseating smell of a fish- market.' There, as off similar reefs in the Bahamas and round Anegada, as we'll as at one end of St. Kitts, the fish are said to be all poisonous. If this theory be correct, the absence of coral reefs round Trinidad may help to account for the fact stated by Mr. Joseph, that poisonous fish are unknown in that island. The statement, however, is somewhat too broadly made; for the Chouf- chouf, {103a} a prickly fish which blows itself out like a bladder, and which may be seen hanging in many a sailor's cottage in England, is as evil-disposed in Trinidad as elsewhere. The very vultures will not eat it; and while I was in the island a family of Coolies, in spite of warning, contrived to kill themselves with the nasty vermin: the only one who had wit enough to refuse it being an idiot boy.

These islands of the Bocas, three in number, are some two miles long each, and some eight hundred to one thousand feet in height; at least, so say the surveyors. To the eye, as is usual in the Tropics, they look much lower. One is inclined here to estimate hills at half, or less than half, their actual height; and that from causes simple enough. Not only does the intense clearness of the atmosphere make the summits appear much nearer than in England; but the trees on the summit increase the deception. The mind, from home association, supposes them to be of the same height as average English trees on a hill-top -- say fifty feet -- and estimates, rapidly and unconsciously, the height of the mountain by that standard. The trees are actually nearer a hundred and fifty than fifty feet high; and the mountain is two or three times as big as it looks.

But it is not their height, nor the beauty of their outline, nor the size of the trunks which still linger on them here and there, which gives these islands their special charm. It is their exquisite little land-locked southern coves -- places to live and die in --

'The world forgetting, by the world forgot.'

Take as an example that into which we rowed that day in Monos, as the old Spaniards named it, from monkeys long since extinct; a curved shingle beach some fifty yards across, shut in right and left by steep rocks wooded down almost to the sea, and worn into black caves and crannies, festooned with the night-blowing Cereus, which crawls about with hairy green legs, like a tangle of giant spiders. Among it, in the cracks, upright Cerei, like candelabra twenty and thirty feet high, thrust themselves aloft into the brushwood. An Aroid {103b} rides parasitic on roots and stems, sending downward long air-roots, and upward brown rat-tails of flower, and broad leaves, four feet by two, which wither into whity-brown paper, and are used, being tough and fibrous, to wrap round the rowlocks of the oars. Tufts of Karatas, top, spread their long prickly leaves among the bush of 'rastrajo,' or second growth after the primeval forest has been cleared, which dips suddenly right and left to the beach. It, and the little strip of flat ground behind it, hold a three- roomed cottage -- of course on stilts; a shed which serves as a kitchen; a third ruined building, which is tenanted mostly by lizards and creeping flowers; some twenty or thirty coconut trees; and on the very edge of the sea an almond-tree, its roots built up to seaward with great stones, its trunk hung with fishing lines; and around it, scattered on the shingle, strange shells, bits of coral, coconuts and their fragments; almonds from the tree; the round scaly fruit of the Mauritia palm, which has probably floated across the gulf from the forests of the Orinoco or the Caroni; and the long seeds of the mangrove, in shape like a roach-fisher's float, and already germinating, their leaves showing at the upper end, a tiny root at the lower. In that shingle they will not take root: but they are quite ready to go to sea again next tide, and wander on for weeks, and for hundreds of miles, till they run ashore at last on a congenial bed of mud, throw out spider legs right and left, and hide the foul mire with their gay green leaves.

The almond-tree, {104} with its flat stages of large smooth leaves, and oily eatable seeds in an almond-like husk, is not an almond at all, or any kin thereto. It has been named, as so many West Indian plants have, after some known plant to which it bore a likeness, and introduced hither, and indeed to all shores from Cuba to Guiana, from the East Indies, through Arabia and tropical Africa, having begun its westward journey, probably, in the pocket of some Portuguese follower of Vasco de Gama.

We beached the boat close to the almond-tree, and were welcomed on shore by the lord of the cove, a gallant red-bearded Scotsman, with a head and a heart; a handsome Creole wife, and lovely brownish children, with no more clothes on than they could help. An old sailor, and much-wandering Ulysses, he is now coastguardman, water- bailiff, policeman, practical warden, and indeed practical viceroy of the island, and an easy life of it he must have.

The sea gives him fish enough for his family, and for a brawny brown servant. His coconut palms yield him a little revenue; he has poultry, kids, and goats' milk more than he needs; his patch of provision-ground in the place gives him corn and roots, sweet potatoes, yam, tania, cassava, and fruit too, all the year round. He needs nothing, owes nothing, fears nothing. News and politics are to him like the distant murmur of the surf at the back of the island; a noise which is nought to him. His Bible, his almanac, and three or four old books on a shelf are his whole library. He has all that man needs, more than man deserves, and is far too wise to wish to better himself.

I sat down on the beach beneath the amber shade of the palms; and watched my white friends rushing into the clear sea and disporting themselves there like so many otters, while the policeman's little boy launched a log canoe, not much longer than himself, and paddled out into the midst of them, and then jumped upright in it, a little naked brown Cupidon; whereon he and his canoe were of course upset, and pushed under water, and scrambled over, and the whole cove rang with shouts and splashing, enough to scare away the boldest shark, had one been on watch off the point. I looked at the natural beauty and repose; at the human vigour and happiness: and I said to myself, and said it often afterwards in the West Indies: Why do not other people copy this wise Scot? Why should not many a young couple, who have education, refinement, resources in themselves, but are, happily or unhappily for them, unable to keep a brougham and go to London balls, retreat to some such paradise as this (and there are hundreds like it to be found in the West Indies), leaving behind them false civilisation, and vain desires, and useless show; and there live in simplicity and content 'The Gentle Life'? It is not true that the climate is too enervating. It is not true that nature is here too strong for man. I have seen enough in Trinidad, I saw enough even in little Monos, to be able to deny that; and to say that in the West Indies, as elsewhere, a young man can be pure, able, high-minded, industrious, athletic: and I see no reason why a woman should not be likewise all that she need be.

A cultivated man and wife, with a few hundreds a year -- just enough, in fact, to enable them to keep a Coolie servant or two, might be really wealthy in all which constitutes true wealth; and might be useful also in their place; for each such couple would be a little centre of civilisation for the Negro, the Coolie; and it may be for certain young adventurers who, coming out merely to make money and return as soon as possible, are but too apt to lose, under the double temptations of gain and of drink, what elements of the 'Gentle Life' they have gained from their mothers at home.

The following morning early we rowed away again, full of longing, but not of hope, of reaching one or other of the Guacharo caves. Keeping along under the lee of the island, we crossed the 'Umbrella Mouth,' between it and Huevos, or Egg Island. On our right were the islands; on our left the shoreless gulf; and ahead, the great mountain of the mainland, with a wreath of white fleece near its summit, and the shadows of clouds moving in dark patches up its sides. As we crossed, the tumbling swell which came in from the outer sea, and the columns of white spray which rose right and left against the two door-posts of that mighty gateway, augured ill for our chances of entering a cave. But on we went, with a warning not to be upset if we could avoid it, in the shape of a shark's back fin above the oily swell; and under Huevos, and round into a lonely cove, with high crumbling cliffs bedecked with Cereus and Aloes in flower, their tall spikes of green flowers standing out against the sky, twenty or thirty feet in height, and beds of short wild pine- apples, {106} like amber-yellow fur, and here and there hanging leaves trailing down to the water; and on into a nook, the sight of which made us give up all hopes of the cave, but which in itself was worth coming from Europe to see. The work of ages of trade-surf had cut the island clean through, with a rocky gully between soft rocks some hundred feet in width. It was just passable at high tide; and through it we were to have rowed, and turned to the left to the cave in the windward cliffs. But ere we reached it the war outside said 'No' in a voice which would take no denial, and when we beached the boat behind a high rock, and scrambled up to look out, we saw a sight, one half of which was not unworthy of the cliffs of Hartland or Bude. On the farther side of the knife edge of rock, crumbling fast into the sea, a waste of breakers rolled through the chasm, though there was scarcely any wind to drive them, leaping, spouting, crashing, hammering down the soft cliffs, which seemed to crumble, and did doubtless crumble, at every blow; and beyond that the open blue sea, without a rock or a sail, hazy, in spite of the blazing sunlight, beneath the clouds of spray. But there ceased the likeness to a rock scene on the Cornish coast; for at the other foot of the rock, not twenty yards from that wild uproar, the land-locked cove up which we had come lay still as glass, and the rocks were richer with foliage than an English orchard. Everywhere down into the very sea, the Matapalos held and hung; their air-roots dangled into the very water; many of them had fallen into it, but grew on still, and blossomed with great white fragrant flowers, somewhat like those of a Magnolia, each with a shining cake of amber wax as big as a shilling in the centre; and over the Matapalos, tree on tree, liane on liane, up to a negro garden, with its strange huge- leaved vegetables and glossy fruit-trees, and its black owner standing on the cliff, and peering down out of his little nest with grinning teeth and white wondering eyes, at the white men who were gathering, off a few yards of beach, among the great fallen leaves of the Matapalos, such shells as delighted our childhood in the West India cabinet at home.

We lingered long, filling our eyes with beauty: and then rowed away. What more was to be done? Through that very chasm we were to have passed out to the cave. And yet the sight of this delicious nook repaid us -- so more than one of the party thought -- for our disappointment. There was another Guacharo cave in the Monos channel, more under the lee. We would try that to-morrow.

As the sun sank that evening, we sat ourselves upon the eastern rocks, and gazed away into the pale, sad, boundless west; while Venus hung high, not a point, as here, but a broad disc of light, throwing a long gleam over the sea. Fish skipped over the clear calm water; and above, pelicans -- the younger brown, the older gray -- wheeled round and round in lordly flight, paused, gave a sudden half-turn, then fell into the water with widespread wings, and after a splash, rose with another skipjack in their pouch. As it grew dark, dark things came trooping over the sea, by twos and threes, then twenty at a time, all past us toward a cave near by. Birds we fancied them at first, of the colour and size of starlings; but they proved to be bats, and bats, too, which have the reputation of catching fish. So goes the tale, believed by some who see them continually, and have a keen eye for nature; and who say that the bat sweeps the fish up off the top of the water with the scoop-like membrane of his hind-legs and tail. For this last fact I will not vouch. But I am assured that fish scales were found, after I left the island, in the stomachs of these bats; and that of the fact of their picking up small fish there can be no doubt. 'You could not,' says a friend, 'be out at night in a boat, and hear their continual swish, swish, in the water, without believing it.' If so, the habit is a quaint change of nature in them; for they belong, I am assured by my friend Professor Newton, not to the insect-eating, but to the fruit-eating family of bats, who, in the West as in the East Indies, may be seen at night hovering round the Mango-trees, and destroying much more fruit than they eat.

So we sat watching the little dark things flit by, like the gibbering ghosts of the suitors in the Odyssey, into the darkness of the cave; and then turned to long talk of things concerning which it is best nowadays not to write; till it was time to feel our way indoors, by such light as Venus gave, over the slippery rocks, and then, cautiously enough, past the Manchineel {107} bush, a broken sprig of which would have raised an instant blister on the face or hand.

Our night, as often happens in the Tropics, was not altogether undisturbed; for, shortly after I had become unconscious of the chorus of toads and cicadas, my hammock came down by the head. Then I was woke by a sudden bark close outside, exactly like that of a clicketting fox; but as the dogs did not reply or give chase, I presumed it to be the cry of a bird, possibly a little owl. Next there rushed down the mountain a storm of wind and rain, which made the coco-leaves flap and creak, and rattle against the gable of the house; and set every door and window banging, till they were caught and brought to reason. And between the howls of the wind I became aware of a strange noise from seaward -- a booming, or rather humming most like that which a locomotive sometimes makes when blowing off steam. It was faint and distant, but deep and strong enough to set one guessing its cause. The sea beating into caves seemed, at first, the simplest answer. But the water was so still on our side of the island, that I could barely hear the lap of the ripple on the shingle twenty yards off; and the nearest surf was a mile or two away, over a mountain a thousand feet high. So puzzling vainly, I fell asleep, to awake, in the gray dawn, to the prettiest idyllic picture, through the half-open door, of two kids dancing on a stone at the foot of a coconut tree, with a background of sea and dark rocks.

As we went to bathe we heard again, in perfect calm, the same mysterious booming sound, and were assured by those who ought to have known, that it came from under the water, and was most probably made by none other than the famous musical or drum fish; of whom one had heard, and hardly believed, much in past years.

Mr. Joseph, author of the History of Trinidad from which I have so often quoted, reports that the first time he heard this singular fish was on board a schooner, at anchor off Chaguaramas.

'Immediately under the vessel I heard a deep and not unpleasant sound, similar to those one might imagine to proceed from a thousand AEolian harps; this ceased, and deep twanging notes succeeded; these gradually swelled into an uninterrupted stream of singular sounds like the booming of a number of Chinese gongs under the water; to these succeeded notes that had a faint resemblance to a wild chorus of a hundred human voices singing out of tune in deep bass.'

'In White's Voyage to Cochin China,' adds Mr. Joseph, 'there is as good a description of this, or a similar submarine concert, as mere words can convey: this the voyager heard in the Eastern seas. He was told the singers were a flat kind of fish; he, however, did not see them.'

'Might not this fish,' he asks, 'or one resembling it in vocal qualities, have given rise to the fable of the Sirens?'

It might, certainly, if the fact be true. Moreover, Mr. Joseph does not seem to be aware that the old Spanish Conquistadores had a myth that music was to be heard in this very Gulf of Paria, and that at certain seasons the Nymphs and Tritons assembled therein, and with ravishing strains sang their watery loves. The story of the music has been usually treated as a sailor's fable, and the Sirens and Tritons supposed to be mere stupid manatis, or sea-cows, coming in as they do still now and then to browse on mangrove shoots and turtle-grass: {110} but if the story of the music be true, the myth may have had a double root.

Meanwhile I see Hardwicke's Science Gossip for March gives an extract from a letter of M. O. de Thoron, communicated by him to the Academie des Sciences, December 1861, which confirms Mr. Joseph's story. He asserts that in the Bay of Pailon, in Esmeraldos, Ecuador, i.e. on the Pacific Coast, and also up more than one of the rivers, he has heard a similar sound, attributed by the natives to a fish which they call 'The Siren,' or 'Musico.' At first, he says, he thought it was produced by a fly, or hornet of extraordinary size; but afterwards, having advanced a little farther, he heard a multitude of different voices, which harmonised together, imitating a church organ to great perfection. The good people of Trinidad believe that the fish which makes this noise is the trumpet-fish, or Fistularia -- a beast strange enough in shape to be credited with strange actions: but ichthyologists say positively no: that the noise (at least along the coast of the United States) is made by a Pogonias, a fish somewhat like a great bearded perch, and cousin of the Maigre of the Mediterranean, which is accused of making a similar purring or grunting noise, which can be heard from a depth of one hundred and twenty feet, and guides the fishermen to their whereabouts.

How the noise is made is a question. Cuvier was of opinion that it was made by the air-bladder, though he could not explain how: but the truth, if truth it be, seems stranger still. These fish, it seems, have strong bony palates and throat-teeth for crushing shells and crabs, and make this wonderful noise simply by grinding their teeth together.

I vouch for nothing, save that I heard this strange humming more than once. As for the cause of it, I can only say, as was said of yore, that 'I hold it for rashness to determine aught amid such fertility of Nature's wonders.'

One afternoon we made an attempt on the other Guacharo cave, which lies in the cliff on the landward side of the Monos Boca. But, alas! the wind had chopped a little to the northward; a swell was rolling in through the Boca; and when we got within twenty yards of the low-browed arch our crew lay on their oars and held a consultation, of which there could but be one result. They being white gentlemen, and not Negroes, could trust themselves and each other, and were ready, as I know well, to 'dare all that became a man.' But every now and then a swell rolled in high enough to have cracked our sculls against the top, and out again deep enough to have staved the boat against the rocks. If we went to wreck, the current was setting strongly out to sea; and the Boca was haunted by sharks, and (according to the late Colonel Hamilton Smith) by a worse monster still, namely, the giant ray, {111a} which goes by the name of devil-fish on the Carolina shores. He saw, he says, one of these monsters rise in this very Boca, at a sailor who had fallen overboard, cover him with one of his broad wings, and sweep him down into the depths. And, on the whole, if Guacharos are precious, so is life. So, like Gyges of old, we 'elected to survive,' and rowed away with wistful eyes, determining to get Guacharos -- a determination which was never carried out -- from one of the limestone caverns of the northern mountains.

And now it may be asked, and reasonably enough, what Guacharos {111b} are; and why five English gentlemen and a canny Scots coastguardman should think it worth while to imperil their lives to obtain them.

I cannot answer better than by giving Humboldt's account of the Cave of Caripe, on the Spanish main hard by, where he discovered them, or rather described them to civilised Europe, for the first time: --

'The Cueva del Guacharo is pierced in the vertical profile of a rock. The entrance is towards the south, and forms a vault eighty feet broad and seventy-two feet high. This elevation is but a fifth less than the colonnade of the Louvre. The rock that surmounts the grotto is covered with trees of gigantic height. The Mammee-tree and the Genipa, with large and shining leaves, raise their branches vertically towards the sky; while those of the Courbaril and the Erythrina form, as they extend themselves, a thick vault of verdure. Plants of the family of Pothos with succulent stems, Oxalises, and Orchideae of a singular construction, rise in the driest clefts of the rocks; while creeping plants waving in the winds are interwoven in festoons before the opening of the cavern. We distinguished in these festoons a Bignonia of a violet blue, the purple Dolichos, and, for the first time, that magnificent Solandra, the orange flower of which has a fleshy tube more than four inches long. The entrances of grottoes, like the view of cascades, derive their principal charm from the situation, more or less majestic, in which they are placed, and which in some sort determines the character of the landscape. What a contrast between the Cueva of Caripe and those caverns of the north crowned with oaks and gloomy larch-trees!

'But this luxury of vegetation embellishes not only the outside of the vault, it appears even in the vestibule of the grotto. We saw with astonishment plantain-leaved Heliconias, eighteen feet high, the Praga palm-trees, and arborescent Arums follow the banks of the river, even to those subterranean places. The vegetation continues in the Cave of Caripe, as in the deep crevices of the Andes, half excluded from the light of day; and does not disappear till, advancing in the interior, we reach thirty or forty paces from the entrance. . . .

'The Guacharo quits the cavern at nightfall, especially when the moon shines. It is almost the only frugivorous nocturnal bird that is yet known; the conformation of its feet sufficiently shows that it does not hunt like our owls. It feeds on very hard fruits, as the Nutcracker and the Pyrrhocorax. The latter nestles also in clefts of rocks, and is known under the name of night-crow. The Indians assured us that the Guacharo does not pursue either the lamellicorn insects, or those phalaenae which serve as food to the goat-suckers. It is sufficient to compare the beaks of the Guacharo and goat-sucker to conjecture how much their manners must differ. It is difficult to form an idea of the horrible noise occasioned by thousands of these birds in the dark part of the cavern, and which can only be compared to the croaking of our crows, which in the pine forests of the north live in society, and construct their nests upon trees the tops of which touch each other. The shrill and piercing cries of the Guacharos strike upon the vaults of the rocks, and are repeated by the echo in the depth of the cavern. The Indians showed us the nests of these birds by fixing torches to the end of a long pole. These nests were fifty or sixty feet high above our heads, in holes in the shape of funnels, with which the roof of the grotto is pierced like a sieve. The noise increased as we advanced, and the birds were affrighted by the light of the torches of copal. When this noise ceased a few minutes around us we heard at a distance the plaintive cries of the birds roosting in other ramifications of the cavern. It seemed as if these bands answered each other alternately.

'The Indians enter into the Cueva del Guacharo once a year, near midsummer, armed with poles, by means of which they destroy the greater part of the nests. At this season several thousands of birds are killed; and the old ones, as if to defend their brood, hover over the heads of the Indians, uttering terrible cries. The young, which fall to the ground, are opened on the spot. Their peritoneum is extremely loaded with fat, and a layer of fat reaches from the abdomen to the anus, forming a kind of cushion between the legs of the bird. This quantity of fat in frugivorous animals, not exposed to the light, and exerting very little muscular motion, reminds us of what has been long since observed in the fattening of geese and oxen. It is well known how favourable darkness and repose are to this process. The nocturnal birds of Europe are lean, because, instead of feeding on fruits, like the Guacharo, they live on the scanty produce of their prey. At the period which is commonly called at Caripe the |oil harvest,| the Indians build huts with palm-leaves near the entrance, and even in the porch of the cavern. Of these we still saw some remains. There, with a fire of brushwood, they melt in pots of clay the fat of the young birds just killed. This fat is known by the name of butter or oil (manteca or aceite) of the Guacharo. It is half liquid, transparent without smell, and so pure that it may be kept above a year without becoming rancid. At the convent of Caripe no other oil is used in the kitchen of the monks but that of the cavern; and we never observed that it gave the aliments a disagreeable taste or smell.

'Young Guacharos have been sent to the port or Cumana, and lived there several days without taking any nourishment, the seeds offered to them not suiting their taste. When the crops and gizzards of the young birds are opened in the cavern, they are found to contain all sorts of hard and dry fruits, which furnish, under the singular name of Guacharo seed (semilla del Guacharo), a very celebrated remedy against intermittent fevers. The old birds carry these seeds to their young. They are carefully collected and sent to the sick at Cariaco, and other places of the low regions, where fevers are prevalent. . . .

'The natives connect mystic ideas with this cave, inhabited by nocturnal birds; they believe that the souls of their ancestors sojourn in the deep recesses of the cavern. |Man,| say they, |should avoid places which are enlightened neither by the sun| (Zis) |nor by the moon| (Nuna). To go and join the Guacharos is to rejoin their fathers, is to die. The magicians (piaches) and the poisoners (imorons) perform their nocturnal tricks at the entrance of the cavern, to conjure the chief of the evil spirits (ivorokiamo). Thus in every climate the first fictions of nations resemble each other, those especially which relate to two principles governing the world, the abode of souls after death, the happiness of the virtuous, and the punishment of the guilty. The most different and barbarous languages present a certain number of images which are the same, because they have their source in the nature of our intellect and our sensations. Darkness is everywhere connected with the idea of death. The Grotto of Caripe is the Tartarus of the Greeks; and the Guacharos, which hover over the rivulet, uttering plaintive cries, remind us of the Stygian birds. . . .

'The missionaries, with all their authority, could not prevail on the Indians to penetrate farther into the cavern. As the vault grew lower, the cries of the Guacharos became more shrill. We were obliged to yield to the pusillanimity of our guides, and trace back our steps. The appearance of the cavern was indeed very uniform. We find that a bishop of St. Thomas of Guiana had gone farther than ourselves. He had measured nearly two thousand five hundred feet from the mouth to the spot where he stopped, though the cavern reached farther. The remembrance or this fact was preserved in the convent of Caripe, without the exact period being noted. The bishop had provided himself with great torches of white wax of Castille. We had torches composed only of the bark of trees and native resin. The thick smoke which issues from these torches, in a narrow subterranean passage, hurts the eyes and obstructs the respiration.

'We followed the course of the torrent to go out of the cavern. Before our eyes were dazzled by the light of day, we saw, without the grotto, the water of the river sparkling amid the foliage of the trees that concealed it. It was like a picture placed in the distance, and to which the mouth of the cavern served as a frame. Having at length reached the entrance, and seated ourselves on the banks of the rivulet, we rested after our fatigue. We were glad to be beyond the hoarse cries of the birds, and to leave a place where darkness does not offer even the charm of silence and tranquillity. We could scarcely persuade ourselves that the name of the Grotto of Caripe had hitherto remained unknown in Europe. The Guacharos alone would have been sufficient to render it celebrated. These nocturnal birds have been nowhere yet discovered except in the mountains of Caripe and Cumanacoa.'

So much from the great master, who was not aware (never having visited Trinidad) that the Guacharo was well known there under the name of Diablotin. But his account of Caripe was fully corroborated by my host, who had gone there last year, and, by the help of the magnesium light, had penetrated farther into the cave than either the bishop or Humboldt. He had brought home also several Guacharos from the Trinidad caves, all of which died on the passage, for want, seemingly, of the oily nuts on which they feed. A live Guacharo has, as yet, never been seen in Europe; and to get one safe to the Zoological Gardens, as well as to get one or two corpses for the Cambridge Museum, was our hope -- a hope still, alas! unfulfilled. A nest, however, of the Guacharo has been brought to England by my host since my departure; a round lump of mud, of the size and shape of a large cheese, with a shallow depression on the top, in which the eggs are laid. A list of the seeds found in the stomachs of Guacharos by my friend Mr. Prestoe of the Botanical Gardens, Port of Spain, will be found in an Appendix.

We rowed away, toward our island paradise. But instead of going straight home, we turned into a deep cove called Ance Maurice -- all coves in the French islands are called Ances -- where was something to be seen, and not to be forgotten again. We grated in, over a shallow bottom of pebbles interspersed with gray lumps of coral pulp, and of Botrylli, azure, crimson, and all the hues of the flower-garden; and landed on the bank of a mangrove swamp, bored everywhere with the holes of land-crabs. One glance showed how these swamps are formed: by that want of tide which is the curse of the West Indies.

At every valley mouth the beating of the waves tends all the year round to throw up a bank of sand and shingle, damming the land-water back to form a lagoon. This might indeed empty itself during the floods of the rainy season; but during the dry season it must remain a stagnant pond, filling gradually with festering vegetable matter from the hills, beer-coloured, and as hideous to look at as it is to smell. Were there a tide, as in England, of from ten to twenty feet, that swamp would be drained twice a day to nearly that depth; and healthy vegetation, as in England, establish itself down to the very beach. A tide of a foot or eighteen inches only, as is too common in the West Indies, will only drain the swamp to that depth; and probably, if there be any strong pebble-bearing surf outside, not at all. So there it all lies, festering in the sun, and cooking poison day and night; while the mangroves and graceful white roseaux {115a} (tall canes) kindly do their best to lessen the mischief, by rooting in the slush, and absorbing the poison with their leaves. A white man, sleeping one night on the edge of that pestilential little triangle, half an acre in size, would be in danger of catching a fever and ague, which would make a weaker man of him for the rest of his life. And yet so thoroughly fitted for the climate is the Negro, that not ten yards from the edge of the mud stood a comfortable negro-house, with stout healthy folk therein, evidently well to do in the world, to judge from the poultry, and the fruit- trees and provision-ground which stretched up the glen.

Through the provision-ground we struggled up, among weeds as high as our shoulders; so that it was difficult, as usual, to distinguish garden from forest. But no matter to the black owner. The weeds were probably of only six weeks' growth; and when they got so high that he actually could not find his tanias {115b} among them, he would take cutlass and hoe, and make a lazy raid upon them, or rather upon a quarter of them, certain of two facts; that in six weeks more they would be all as high as ever; and that if they were, it did not matter; for so fertile is the soil, so genial the climate, that he would get in spite of them more crop off the ground than he needed. 'Pity the poor weeds. Is there not room enough in the world for them and for us?' seems the Negro's motto. But he knows his own business well enough, and can exert himself when he really needs to do so; and if the weeds harmed him seriously he would make short work with them. Still this soil, and this climate, put a premium on bad farming, as they do on much else that is bad.

Up we pushed along the narrow path, past curious spiral flags {115c} just throwing out their heads of delicate white or purple flower, and under the shade of great Balisiers or wild plantains, {115d} with leaves six or eight feet long; and many another curious plant unknown to me; and then through a little copse, of which we had to beware, for it was all black Roseau {115e} -- a sort of dwarf palm some fifteen feet high, whose stems are covered with black steel needles, which, on being touched, run right through your finger, or your hand, if you press hard enough, and then break off; on which you cut them out if you can. If you cannot, they are apt, like needles, to make voyages about among the muscles, and reappear at some unexpected spot, causing serious harm. Of all the vegetable pests of the forest, none, not even the croc-chien, is so ugly a neighbour as certain varieties of black Roseau.

All this while -- I fear I may be prolix: but one must write as one walked, stopping every moment to seize something new, and longing for as many pairs of eyes as a spider -- all this while, I say, we heard the roar of the trade-surf growing louder and louder in front; and pushing cautiously through the Roseau, found ourselves on a cliff thirty feet high, and on the other side of the island.

Now it was plain how the Bocas had been made; for here was one making.

Before us seethed a shallow horse-shoe bay, almost a lake, some two hundred yards across inside, but far narrower at the mouth. Into it, between two lofty points of hard rock, worn into caves and pillars and natural arches, the trade-surf came raging in from the north, hurling columns of foam right and left, and then whirling round and round beneath us upon a narrow shore of black sand with such fury that one seemed to see the land torn away by each wave. The cliffs, some thirty feet high where we stood, rose to some hundred at the mouth, in intense black and copper and olive shadows, with one bright green tree in front of a cave's mouth, on which, it seemed, the sun had never shone; while a thousand feet overhead were glimpses of the wooded mountain-tops, with tender slanting lights, for the sun was growing low, through blue-gray mist on copse and lawn high above. A huge dark-headed Balata, {116a} like a storm- torn Scotch pine, crowned the left-hand cliff; two or three young Fan-palms, {116b} just ready to topple headlong, the right-hand one; and beyond all, through the great gateway gleamed, as elsewhere, the foam-flecked hazy blue of the Caribbean Sea.

We stood spellbound for a minute at the sudden change of scene and of feeling. From the still choking blazing steam of the leeward glen, we had stepped in a moment into coolness and darkness, pervaded by the delicious rush of the north-eastern wind; into a hidden sanctuary of Nature where one would have liked to build, and live and die: had not a second glance warned us that to die was the easiest of the three. For the whole cliff was falling daily into the sea, and it was hardly safe to venture to the beach for fear of falling stones and earth.

Down, however, we went, by a natural ladder of Matapalo roots, and saw at once how the cove was being formed. The rocks are probably Silurian; and if so, of quite immeasurable antiquity. But instead of being hard, as Silurian rocks are wont to be, they are mere loose beds of dark sand and shale, yellow with sulphur, or black with carbonaceous matter, amid which strange flakes and nodules of white quartz lie loose, ready to drop out at the blow of every wave. The strata, too, sloped upward and outward toward the sea, which is therefore able to undermine them perpetually; and thus the searching surge, having once formed an entrance in the cliff face, between what are now the two outer points, has had nought to do but to gnaw inward; and will gnaw, till the Isle of Monos is cut sheer in two, and the 'Ance Biscayen,' as the wonderful little bay is called, will join itself to the Ance Maurice and the Gulf of Paria. In two or three generations hence the little palm-wood will have fallen into the sea. In two or three more the negro house and garden and the mangrove swamp will be gone likewise: and in their place the trade- surf will be battering into the Gulf of Paria from the Northern Sea, through just such a mountain chasm as we saw at Huevos; and a new Boca will have been opened.

But not, understand, a deep and navigable one, as long as the land retains its present level. To make that, there must be a general subsidence of the land and sea bottom around. For surf, when eating into land, gnaws to little deeper than low-water mark: no deeper, probably, than the bottoms of the troughs between the waves. Its tendency is -- as one may see along the Ramsgate cliffs -- to pare the land away into a flat plain, just covered by a shallow sea. No surf or currents could nave carved out the smaller Bocas to a depth of between twenty and eighty fathoms; much less the great Boca of the Dragon's Mouth, between Chacachacarra and the Spanish Main, to a depth of more than seventy fathoms. They are sunken mountain passes, whose sides have been since carved into upright cliffs by the gnawing of the sea; and, as Mr. Wall well observes, {117} 'the situation of the Bocas is in a depression of the range, perhaps of the highest antiquity.'

We wandered along the beach, looking up at a cliff clothed, wherever it was not actually falling away, with richest verdure down to the water's edge; but in general utterly bare, falling away too fast to give root-hold to any plant. We lay down on the black sand, and gazed, and gazed, and picked up quartz crystals fallen from above, and wondered how the cove had got its name. Had some old Biscayan whaler, from Biarritz or St. Jean de Luz, wandered into these seas in search of fish, when, in the beginning of the seventeenth century, he and his fellows had killed out all the Right Whales of the Bay of Biscay? And had he, missing the Bocas, been wrecked and perished, as he may well have done, against those awful walls? At last we turned to re-ascend -- for the tide was rising -- after our leader had congratulated us on being, perhaps, the only white men who had ever seen Ance Biscayen -- a congratulation which was premature; for, as we went to climb up the Matapalo-root ladder, we were stopped by several pairs of legs coming down it, which belonged, it seemed, to a bathing party of pleasant French people, 'marooning' (as picnicking is called here) on the island; and after them descended the yellow frock of a Dominican monk, who, when landed, was discovered to be an old friend, now working hard among the Roman Catholic Negroes of Port of Spain.

On the way back to our island paradise we found along the shore two plants worth notice -- one, a low tree, with leaves somewhat like box, but obovate (larger at the tip than at the stalk), and racemes of little white flowers of a delicious honey-scent. {118a} It ought to be, if it be not yet, introduced into England, as a charming addition to the winter hothouse. As for the other plant, would that it could be introduced likewise, or rather that, if introduced, it would flower in a house; for it is a glorious climber, second only to that which poor Dr. Krueger calls 'the wonderful Norantea,' which shall be described in its place. You see a tree blazing with dark gold, passing into orange, and that to red; and on nearing it find it tiled all over with the flowers of a creeper, {118b} arranged in flat rows of spreading brushes, some foot or two long, and holding each hundreds of flowers, growing on one side only of the twig, and turning their multitudinous golden and orange stamens upright to the sun. There -- I cannot describe it. It must be seen first afar off, and then close, to understand the vagaries of splendour in which Nature indulges here. And yet the Norantea, common in the high woods, is even more splendid, and, in a botanist's eyes, a stranger vagary still.

On past the whaling quay. It was deserted; for the whales had not yet come in, and there was no chance of seeing a night scene which is described as horribly beautiful -- the sharks around a whale while flensing is going on, each monster bathed in phosphorescent light, which makes his whole outline, and every fin, even his evil eyes and teeth, visible far under water, as the glittering fiend comes up from below, snaps his lump out of the whale's side, and is shouldered out of the way by his fellows. We were unlucky indeed, in the matter of sharks; for, with the exception of a problematical back-fin or two, we saw none in the West Indies, though they were swarming round us.

The next day the boat's head was turned homewards. And what had been learnt at the little bay of Alice Biscayen suggested, as we went on, a fresh geological question. How the outer islands of the Bocas had been formed, or were being formed, was clear enough. But what about the inner islands? Gaspar Grande, and Diego, and the Five Islands, and the peninsula -- or island -- of Punta Grande? How were these isolated lumps of limestone hewn out into high points, with steep cliffs, not to the windward, but to the leeward? What made the steep cliff at the south end of Punta Grande, on which a mangrove swamp now abuts? No trade-surf, no current capable of doing that work, has disturbed the dull waters of the 'Golfo Triste,' as the Spaniards named the Gulf of Paria, since the land was of anything like its present shape. And gradually we began to dream of a time when the Bocas did not exist; when the Spanish Main was joined to the northern mountains of the island by dry land, now submerged or eaten away by the trade-surf; when the northern currents of the Orinoco, instead of escaping through the Bocas as now, were turned eastward, past these very islands, and along the foot of the northern mountains, over what is now the great lowland of Trinidad, depositing those rich semi alluvial strata which have been since upheaved, and sawing down along the southern slope of the mountains those vast beds of shingle and quartz boulders which now form as it were a gigantic ancient sea-beach right across the island. A dream it may be: but one which seemed reasonable enough to more than one in the boat, and which subsequent observations tended to verify.

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