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At Last by Charles Kingsley

CHAPTER VIII: LA BREA

We were, of course, desirous to visit that famous Lake of Pitch, which our old nursery literature described as one of the 'Wonders of the World.' It is not that; it is merely a very odd, quaint, unexpected, and only half-explained phenomenon: but no wonder. That epithet should be kept for such matters as the growth of a crystal, the formation of a cell, the germination of a seed, the coming true of a plant, whether from a fruit or from a cutting: in a word, for any and all those hourly and momentary miracles which were attributed of old to some Vis Formatrix of nature; and are now attributed to some other abstract formula, as they will be to some fresh one, and to a dozen more, before the century is out; because the more accurately and deeply they are investigated, the more inexplicable they will be found.

So it is; but the 'public' are not inclined to believe that so it is, and will not see, till their minds get somewhat of a truly scientific training.

If any average educated person were asked -- Which seemed to him more wonderful, that a hen's egg should always produce a chicken, or that it should now and then produce a sparrow or a duckling? -- can it be doubted what answer he would give? or that it would be the wrong answer? What answer, again, would he make to the question -- Which is more wonderful, that dwarfs and giants (i.e. people under four feet six or over six feet six) should be exceedingly rare, or that the human race is not of all possible heights from three inches to thirty feet? Can it be doubted that in this case, as in the last, the wrong answer would be given? He would defend himself, probably, if he had a smattering of science, by saying that experience teaches us that Nature works by 'invariable laws'; by which he would mean, usually unbroken customs; and that he has, therefore, a right to be astonished if they are broken. But he would be wrong. The just cause of astonishment is, that the laws are, on the whole, invariable; that the customs are so seldom broken; that sun and moon, plants and animals, grains of dust and vesicles of vapour, are not perpetually committing some vagary or other, and making as great fools of themselves as human beings are wont to do. Happily for the existence of the universe, they do not. But how, and still more why, things in general behave so respectably and loyally, is a wonder which is either utterly inexplicable, or explicable, I hold, only on the old theory that they obey Some One -- whom we obey to a very limited extent indeed. Not that this latter theory gets rid of the perpetual and omnipresent element of wondrousness. If matter alone exists, it is a wonder and a mystery how it obeys itself. If A Spirit exists, it is a wonder and a mystery how He makes matter obey Him. All that the scientific man can do is, to confess the presence of mystery all day long; and to live in that wholesome and calm attitude of wonder which we call awe and reverence; that so he may be delivered from the unwholesome and passionate fits of wonder which we call astonishment, the child of ignorance and fear, and the parent of rashness and superstition. So will he keep his mind in the attitude most fit for seizing new facts, whenever they are presented to him. So he will be able, when he doubts of a new fact, to examine himself whether he doubts it on just grounds; whether his doubt may not proceed from mere self-conceit, because the fact does not suit his preconceived theories; whether it may not proceed from an even lower passion, which he shares (being human) with the most uneducated; namely, from dread of the two great bogies, Novelty and Size -- novelty, which makes it hard to convince the country fellow that in the Tropics great flowers grow on tall trees, as they do here on herbs; size, which makes it hard to convince him that in far lands trees are often two and three hundred feet high, simply because he has never seen one here a hundred feet high. It is not surprising, but saddening, to watch what power these two phantoms have over the minds of those who would be angry if they were supposed to be uneducated. How often has one heard the existence of the sea-serpent declared impossible and absurd, on these very grounds, by people who thought they were arguing scientifically: the sea-serpent could not exist, firstly because -- because it was so odd, strange, new, in a word, and unlike anything that they had ever seen or fancied; and, secondly, because it was so big. The first argument would apply to a thousand new facts, which physical science is daily proving to be true; and the second, when the reputed size of the sea-serpent is compared with the known size of the ocean, rather more silly than the assertion that a ten-pound pike could not live in a half-acre pond, because it was too small to hold him. The true arguments against the existence of a sea-serpent, namely, that no Ophidian could live long under water, and that therefore the sea- serpent, if he existed, would be seen continually at the surface; and again, that the appearance taken for a sea-serpent has been proved, again and again, to be merely a long line of rolling porpoises -- these really sound arguments would be nothing to such people, or only be accepted as supplementing and corroborating their dislike to believe in anything new, or anything a little bigger than usual.

But so works the average, i.e. the uneducated and barbaric intellect, afraid of the New and the Big, whether in space or in time. How the fear of those two phantoms has hindered our knowledge of this planet, the geologist knows only too well.

It was excusable, therefore, that this Pitch Lake should be counted among the wonders of the world; for it is, certainly, tolerably big. It covers ninety-nine acres, and contains millions of tons of so- called pitch.

Its first discoverers, of course, were not bound to see that a pitch lake of ninety-nine acres was no more wonderful than any of the little pitch wells -- 'spues' or 'galls,' as we should call them in Hampshire -- a yard across; or any one of the tiny veins and lumps of pitch which abound in the surrounding forests; and no less wonderful than if it had covered ninety-nine thousand acres instead of ninety- nine. Moreover, it was a novelty. People were not aware of the vast quantity of similar deposits which exist up and down the hotter regions of the globe. And being new and big too, its genesis demanded, for the comfort of the barbaric intellect, a cataclysm, and a convulsion, and some sort of prodigious birth, which was till lately referred, like many another strange object, to volcanic action. The explanation savoured somewhat of a 'bull'; for what a volcano could do to pitch, save to burn it up into coke and gases, it is difficult to see.

It now turns out that the Pitch Lake, like most other things, owes its appearance on the surface to no convulsion or vagary at all, but to a most slow, orderly, and respectable process of nature, by which buried vegetable matter, which would have become peat, and finally brown coal, in a temperate climate, becomes, under the hot tropic soil, asphalt and oil, continually oozing up beneath the pressure of the strata above it. Such, at least, is the opinion of Messrs. Wall and Sawkins, the geological surveyors of Trinidad, and of several chemists whom they quote; and I am bound to say, that all I saw at the lake and elsewhere, during two separate visits, can be easily explained on their hypothesis, and that no other possible cause suggests itself as yet. The same cause, it may be, has produced the submarine spring of petroleum, off the shore near Point Rouge, where men can at times skim the floating oil off the surface of the sea; the petroleum and asphalt of the Windward Islands and of Cuba, especially the well-known Barbadoes tar; and the petroleum springs of the mainland, described by Humboldt, at Truxillo, in the Gulf of Cumana; and 'the inexhaustible deposits of mineral pitch in the provinces of Merida and Coro, and, above all, in that of Maracaybo. In the latter it is employed for caulking the ships which navigate the lake.' {145} But the reader shall hear what the famous lake is like, and judge for himself. Why not? He may not be 'scientific,' but, as Professor Huxley well says, what is scientific thought but common sense well regulated?

Running down, then, by steamer, some thirty-six miles south from Port of Spain, along a flat mangrove shore, broken only at one spot by the conical hill of San Fernando, we arrived off a peninsula, whose flat top is somewhat higher than the lowland right and left. The uplands are rich with primeval forest, and perhaps always have been. The lower land, right and left, was, I believe, cultivated for sugar, till the disastrous epoch of 1846: but it is now furred over with rastrajo woods.

We ran, on our first visit, past the pitch point of La Brea, south- westward to Trois, where an industrial farm for convicts had been established by my host the Governor. We were lifted on shore through a tumbling surf; and welcomed by an intelligent and courteous German gentleman, who showed us all that was to be seen; and what we saw was satisfactory enough. The estate was paying, though this was only its third year. An average number of 77 convicts had already cleared 195 acres, of which 182 were under cultivation. Part of this had just been reclaimed from pestilential swamp: a permanent benefit to the health of the island. In spite of the exceptional drought of the year before, and the subsequent plague of caterpillars, 83,000 pounds of rice had been grown; and the success of the rice crop, it must be remembered, will become more and more important to the island, as the increase of Coolie labourers increases the demand for the grain. More than half the plantains put in (22,000) were growing, and other vegetables in abundance. But, above all, there were more than 7000 young coco- palms doing well, and promising a perpetual source of wealth for the future. For as the trees grow, and the crops raised between them diminish, the coco-palms will require little or no care, but yield fruit the whole year round without further expense; and the establishment can then be removed elsewhere, to reclaim a fresh sheet of land.

Altogether, the place was a satisfactory specimen of what can be effected in a tropical country by a Government which will govern. Since then, another source of profitable employment for West Indian convicts has been suggested to me. Bamboo, it is now found, will supply an admirable material for paper; and I have been assured by paper-makers that those who will plant the West Indian wet lands with bamboo for their use, may realise enormous profits.

We scrambled back into the boat -- had, of course, a heap of fruit, bananas, oranges, pine-apples, tossed in after us -- and ran back again in the steamer to the famous La Brea.

As we neared the shore, we perceived that the beach was black as pitch; and the breeze being off the land, the asphalt smell (not unpleasant) came off to welcome us. We rowed in, and saw in front of a little row of wooden houses a tall mulatto, in blue policeman's dress, gesticulating and shouting to us. He was the ward-policeman, and I found him (as I did all the coloured police) able and courteous, shrewd and trusty. These police are excellent specimens of what can be made of the Negro, or half-Negro, if he be but first drilled, and then given a responsibility which calls out his self- respect. He was warning our crew not to run aground on one or other of the pitch reefs, which here take the place of rocks. A large one, a hundred yards off on the left, has been almost all dug away, and carried to New York or to Paris to make asphalt pavement. The boat was run ashore, under his directions, on a spit of sand between the pitch; and when she ceased bumping up and down in the muddy surf, we scrambled out into a world exactly the hue of its inhabitants -- of every shade, from jet-black to copper-brown. The pebbles on the shore were pitch. A tide-pool close by was enclosed in pitch: a four-eyes was swimming about in it, staring up at us; and when we hunted him, tried to escape, not by diving, but by jumping on shore on the pitch, and scrambling off between our legs. While the policeman, after profoundest courtesies, was gone to get a mule cart to take us up to the lake, and planks to bridge its water- channels, we took a look round at this oddest of corners of the earth.

In front of us was the unit of civilisation -- the police-station, wooden, on wooden stilts (as all well-built houses are here), to ensure a draught of air beneath them. We were, of course, asked to come in and sit down, but preferred looking about, under our umbrellas; for the heat was intense. The soil is half pitch, half brown earth, among which the pitch sweals in and out, as tallow sweals from a candle. It is always in slow motion under the heat of the tropic sun: and no wonder if some of the cottages have sunk right and left in such a treacherous foundation. A stone or brick house could not stand here: but wood and palm-thatch are both light and tough enough to be safe, let the ground give way as it will.

The soil, however, is very rich. The pitch certainly does not injure vegetation, though plants will not grow actually in it. The first plants which caught our eyes were pine-apples; for which La Brea is famous. The heat of the soil, as well as of the air, brings them to special perfection. They grow about anywhere, unprotected by hedge or fence; for the Negroes here seem honest enough, at least towards each other. And at the corner of the house was a bush worth looking at, for we had heard of it for many a year. It bore prickly, heart-shaped pods an inch long, filled with seeds coated with a red waxy pulp.

This was a famous plant -- Bixa Orellana, Roucou; and that pulp was the well-known Arnotta dye of commerce. In England and Holland it is used merely, I believe, to colour cheeses; but in the Spanish Main, to colour human beings. The Indian of the Orinoco prefers paint to clothes; and when he has 'roucoued' himself from head to foot, considers himself in full dress, whether for war or dancing. Doubtless he knows his own business best from long experience. Indeed, as we stood broiling on the shore, we began somewhat to regret that European manners and customs prevented our adopting the Guaraon and Arawak fashion.

The mule-cart arrived; the lady of the party was put into it on a chair, and slowly bumped and rattled past the corner of Dundonald Street -- so named after the old sea-hero, who was, in his lifetime, full of projects for utilising this same pitch -- and up a pitch road, with a pitch gutter on each side.

The pitch in the road has been, most of it, laid down by hand, and is slowly working down the slight incline, leaving pools and ruts full of water, often invisible, because covered with a film of brown pitch-dust, and so letting in the unwary walker over his shoes. The pitch in the gutter-bank is in its native place, and as it spues slowly out of the soil into the ditch in odd wreaths and lumps, we could watch, in little, the process which has produced the whole deposit -- probably the whole lake itself.

A bullock-cart, laden with pitch, came jolting down past us; and we observed that the lumps, when the fracture is fresh, have all a drawn-out look; that the very air-bubbles in them, which are often very numerous, are all drawn out likewise, long and oval, like the air-bubbles in some ductile lavas.

On our left, as we went on, the bush was low, all of yellow Cassia and white Hibiscus, and tangled with lovely convolvulus-like creepers, Ipomoea and Echites, with white, purple, or yellow flowers. On the right were negro huts and gardens, fewer and fewer as we went on -- all rich with fruit-trees, especially with oranges, hung with fruit of every hue; and beneath them, of course, the pine- apples of La Brea. Everywhere along the road grew, seemingly wild here, that pretty low tree, the Cashew, with rounded yellow-veined leaves and little green flowers, followed by a quaint pink and red- striped pear, from which hangs, at the larger and lower end, a kidney-shaped bean, which bold folk eat when roasted: but woe to those who try it when raw, for the acrid oil blisters the lips; and even while the beans are roasting, the fumes of the oil will blister the cook's face if she holds it too near the fire.

As we went onward up the gentle slope (the rise is one hundred and thirty-eight feet in rather more than a mile), the ground became more and more full of pitch, and the vegetation poorer and more rushy, till it resembled, on the whole, that of an English fen. An Ipomoea or two, and a scarlet-flowered dwarf Heliconia, kept up the tropic type, as does a stiff brittle fern about two feet high. {148a} We picked the weeds, which looked like English mint or basil, and found that most of them had three longitudinal nerves in each leaf, and were really Melastomas, though dwarfed into a far meaner habit than that of the noble forms we saw at Chaguanas, and again on the other side of the lake. On the right, too, in a hollow, was a whole wood of Groo-groo palms, gray stemmed, gray leaved; and here and there a patch of white or black Roseau rose gracefully eight or ten feet high among the reeds.

The plateau of pitch now widened out, and the whole ground looked like an asphalt pavement, half overgrown with marsh-loving weeds, whose roots feed in the sloppy water which overlies the pitch. But, as yet, there was no sign of the lake. The incline, though gentle, shuts off the view of what is beyond. This last lip of the lake has surely overflowed, and is overflowing still, though very slowly. Its furrows all curve downward; and it is, in fact, as one of our party said, 'a black glacier.' The pitch, expanding under the burning sun of day, must needs expand most towards the line of least resistance, that is, downhill; and when it contracts again under the coolness of night, it contracts, surely from the same cause, more downhill than it does uphill; and so each particle never returns to the spot whence it started, but rather drags the particles above it downward toward itself. At least, so it seemed to us. Thus may be explained the common mistake which is noticed by Messrs. Wall and Sawkins {148b} in their admirable description of the lake.

'All previous descriptions refer the bituminous matter scattered over the La Brea district, and especially that between the village and the lake, to streams which have issued at some former epoch from the lake, and extended into the sea. This supposition is totally incorrect, as solidification would have probably ensued before it had proceeded one-tenth of the distance; and such of the asphalt as has undoubtedly escaped from the lake has not advanced more than a few yards, and always presents the curved surfaces already described, and never appears as an extended sheet.'

Agreeing with this statement as a whole, I nevertheless cannot but think it probable that a great deal of the asphalt, whether it be in large masses or in scattered veins, may be moving very slowly downhill, from the lake to the sea, by the process of expansion by day, and contraction by night; and may be likened to a caterpillar, or rather caterpillars innumerable, progressing by expanding and contracting their rings, having strength enough to crawl downhill, but not strength enough to back uphill again.

At last we surmounted the last rise, and before us lay the famous lake -- not at the bottom of a depression, as we expected, but at the top of a rise, whence the ground slopes away from it on two sides, and rises from it very slightly on the two others. The black pool glared and glittered in the sun. A group of islands, some twenty yards wide, were scattered about the middle of it. Beyond it rose a noble forest of Moriche fan-palms; {149} and to the right of them high wood with giant Mombins and undergrowth of Cocorite -- a paradise on the other side of the Stygian pool.

We walked, with some misgivings, on to the asphalt, and found it perfectly hard. In a few yards we were stopped by a channel of clear water, with tiny fish and water-beetles in it; and, looking round, saw that the whole lake was intersected with channels, so unlike anything which can be seen elsewhere, that it is not easy to describe them.

Conceive a crowd of mushrooms, of all shapes, from ten to fifty feet across, close together side by side, their tops being kept at exactly the same level, their rounded rims squeezed tight against each other; then conceive water poured on them so as to fill the parting seams, and in the wet season, during which we visited it, to overflow the tops somewhat. Thus would each mushroom represent, tolerably well, one of the innumerable flat asphalt bosses, which seem to have sprung up each from a separate centre, while the parting seams would be of much the same shape as those in the asphalt, broad and shallow atop, and rolling downward in a smooth curve, till they are at bottom mere cracks, from two to ten feet deep. Whether these cracks actually close up below, and the two contiguous masses of pitch become one, cannot be seen. As far as the eye goes down, they are two, though pressed close to each other. Messrs. Wall and Sawkins explain the odd fact clearly and simply. The oil, they say, which the asphalt contains when it rises first, evaporates in the sun, of course most on the outside of the heap, leaving a tough coat of asphalt, which has, generally, no power to unite with the corresponding coat of the next mass. Meanwhile, Mr. Manross, an American gentleman, who has written a very clever and interesting account of the lake, {150} seems to have been so far deceived by the curved and squeezed edges of these masses, that he attributes to each of them a revolving motion, and supposes that the material is continually passing from the centre to the edges, when it 'rolls under,' and rises again in the middle. Certainly the strange stuff looks, at the first glance, as if it were behaving in this way; and certainly, also, his theory would explain the appearance of sticks and logs in the pitch. But Messrs. Wall and Sawkins say that they observed no such motion; nor did we: and I agree with them, that it is not very obvious to what force, or what influence, it could be attributable. We must, therefore, seek for some other way of accounting for the sticks -- which utterly puzzled us, and which Mr. Manross well describes as 'numerous pieces of wood which, being involved in the pitch, are constantly coming to the surface. They are often several feet in length, and five or six inches in diameter. On caching the surface they generally assume an upright position, one end being detained in the pitch, while the other is elevated by the lifting of the middle. They may be seen at frequent intervals over the lake, standing up to the height of two or even three feet. They look like stumps of trees protruding through the pitch; but their parvenu character is curiously betrayed by a ragged cap of pitch which invariably covers the top, and hangs down like hounds' ears on either side.'

Whence do they come? Have they been blown on to the lake, or left behind by man? or are they fossil trees, integral parts of the vegetable stratum below which is continually rolling upward? or are they of both kinds? I do not know. Only this is certain, as Messrs. Wall and Sawkins have pointed out, that not only 'the purer varieties of asphalt, such as approach or are identical with asphalt glance, have been observed' (though not, I think, in the lake itself) 'in isolated masses, where there was little doubt of their proceeding from ligneous substances of larger dimensions, such as roots and pieces of trunks and branches;' but moreover, that 'it is also necessary to admit a species of conversion by contact; since pieces of wood included accidentally in the asphalt, for example, by dropping from overhanging vegetation, are often found partially transformed into the material.' This is a statement which we verified again and again; as we did the one which follows, namely, that the hollow bubbles which abound on the surface of the pitch 'generally contain traces of the lighter portions of vegetation,' and 'are manifestly derived from leaves, etc., which are blown about the lake by the wind, and are covered with asphalt, and as they become asphalt themselves, give off gases, which form bubbles round them.'

But how is it that those logs stand up out of the asphalt, with asphalt caps and hounds' ears (as Mr. Manross well phrases it) on the tops of them?

We pushed on across the lake, over the planks which the Negroes laid down from island to island. Some, meanwhile, preferred a steeple- chase with water-jumps, after the fashion of the midshipmen on a certain second visit to the lake. How the Negroes grinned delight and surprise at the vagaries of English lads -- a species of animal altogether new to them. And how they grinned still more when certain staid and portly dignitaries caught the infection, and proved, by more than one good leap, that they too had been English schoolboys -- alas! long, long ago.

So, whether by bridging, leaping, or wading, we arrived at last at the little islands, and found them covered with a thick, low scrub; deep sedge, and among them Pinguins, like huge pine-apples without the apple; gray wild Pines -- parasites on Matapalos, which of course have established themselves, like robbers and vagrants as they are, everywhere; a true Holly, with box-like leaves; and a rare Cocoa- plum, {152} very like the holly in habit, which seems to be all but confined to these little patches of red earth, afloat on the pitch. Out of the scrub, when we were there, flew off two or three night- jars, very like our English species, save that they had white in the wings; and on the second visit, one of the midshipmen, true to the English boy's birds'-nesting instinct, found one of their eggs, white-spotted, in a grass nest.

Passing these little islands, which are said (I know not how truly) to change their places and number, we came to the very fountains of Styx, to that part of the lake where the asphalt is still oozing up.

As the wind set toward us, we soon became aware of an evil smell -- petroleum and sulphuretted hydrogen at once -- which gave some of us a headache. The pitch here is yellow and white with sulphur foam; so are the water-channels; and out of both water and pitch innumerable bubbles of gas arise, loathsome to the smell. We became aware also that the pitch was soft under our feet. We left the impression of our boots; and if we had stood still awhile, we should soon have been ankle-deep. No doubt there are spots where, if a man stayed long enough, he would be slowly and horribly engulfed. 'But,' as Mr. Manross says truly, 'in no place is it possible to form those bowl-like depressions round the observer described by former travellers.' What we did see is, that the fresh pitch oozes out at the lines of least resistance, namely, in the channels between the older and more hardened masses, usually at the upper ends of them; so that one may stand on pitch comparatively hard, and put one's hand into pitch quite liquid, which is flowing softly out, like some ugly fungoid growth, such as may be seen in old wine-cellars, into the water. One such pitch-fungus had grown several yards in length in the three weeks between our first and second visit; and on another, some of our party performed exactly the same feat as Mr. Manross --

'In one of the star-shaped pools of water, some five feet deep, a column of pitch had been forced perpendicularly up from the bottom. On reaching the surface of the water it had formed a sort of centre table, about four feet in diameter, but without touching the sides of the pool. The stem was about a foot in diameter. I leaped out on this table, and found that it not only sustained my weight, but that the elasticity of the stem enabled me to rock it from side to side. Pieces torn from the edges of this table sank readily, showing that it had been raised by pressure, and not by its buoyancy.'

True, though strange: but stranger still did it seem to us, when we did at last what the Negroes asked us, and dipped our hands into the liquid pitch, to find that it did not soil the fingers. The old proverb, that one cannot touch pitch without being defiled, happily does not stand true here, or the place would be intolerably loathsome. It can be scraped up, moulded into any shape you will; wound in a string (as was done by one of the midshipmen) round a stick, and carried off: but nothing is left on the hand save clean gray mud and water. It may be kneaded for an hour before the mud be sufficiently driven out of it to make it sticky. This very abundance of earthy matter it is which, while it keeps the pitch from soiling, makes it far less valuable than it would be were it pure.

It is easy to understand whence this earthy matter (twenty or thirty per cent) comes. Throughout the neighbourhood the ground is full, to the depth of hundreds of feet, of coaly and asphaltic matter. Layers of sandstone or of shale containing this decayed vegetable, alternate with layers which contain none. And if, as seems probable, the coaly matter is continually changing into asphalt and oil, and then working its way upward through every crack and pore, to escape from the enormous pressure of the superincumbent soil, it must needs carry up with it innumerable particles of the soils through which it passes.

In five minutes we had seen, handled, and smelt enough to satisfy us with this very odd and very nasty vagary of tropic nature; and as we did not wish to become faint and ill, between the sulphuretted hydrogen and the blaze of the sun reflected off the hot black pitch, we hurried on over the water-furrows, and through the sedge-beds to the farther shore -- to find ourselves in a single step out of an Inferno into a Paradiso.

We looked back at the foul place, and agreed that it is well for the human mind that the Pitch Lake was still unknown when Dante wrote that hideous poem of his -- the opprobrium (as I hold) of the Middle Age. For if such were the dreams of its noblest and purest genius, what must have been the dreams of the ignoble and impure multitude? But had he seen this lake, how easy, how tempting too, it would have been to him to embody in imagery the surmise of a certain 'Father,' and heighten the torments of the lost beings, sinking slowly into that black Bolge beneath the baking rays of the tropic sun, by the sight of the saved, walking where we walked, beneath cool fragrant shade, among the pillars of a temple to which the Parthenon is mean and small.

Sixty feet and more aloft, the short smooth columns of the Moriches {154} towered around us, till, as we looked through the 'pillared shade,' the eye was lost in the green abysses of the forest. Overhead, their great fan leaves form a groined roof, compared with which that of St. Mary Redcliff, or even of King's College, is as clumsy as all man's works are beside the works of God; and beyond the Moriche wood, ostrich plumes packed close round madder-brown stems, formed a wall to our temple, which bore such tracery, carving, painting, as would have stricken dumb with awe and delight him who ornamented the Loggie of the Vatican. True, all is 'still- life' here: no human forms, hardly even that of a bird, is mixed with the vegetable arabesques. A higher state of civilisation, ages after we are dead, may introduce them, and complete the scene by peopling it with a race worthy of it. But the Creator, at least, has done His part toward producing perfect beauty, all the more beautiful from its contrast with the ugliness outside. For the want of human beings fit for all that beauty, man is alone to blame; and when we saw approach us, as the only priest of such a temple, a wild brown man, who feeds his hogs on Moriche fruit and Mombin plums, and whose only object was to sell us an ant-eater's skin, we thought to ourselves -- knowing the sad history of the West Indies -- what might this place have become, during the three hundred and fifty years which have elapsed since Columbus first sailed round it, had men -- calling themselves Christian, calling themselves civilised -- possessed any tincture of real Christianity, of real civilisation? What a race, of mingled Spaniard and Indian, might have grown up throughout the West Indies. What a life, what a society, what an art, what a science it might have developed ere now, equalling, even surpassing, that of Ionia, Athens, and Sicily, till the famed isles and coasts of Greece should have been almost forgotten in the new fame of the isles and coasts of the Caribbean Sea.

What might not have happened, had men but tried to copy their Father in heaven? What has happened is but too well known, since, in July 1498, Columbus, coming hither, fancied (and not so wrongly) that he had come to the 'base of the Earthly Paradise.'

What might not have been made, with something of justice and mercy, common sense and humanity, of these gentle Arawaks and Guaraons. What was made of them, almost ere Columbus was dead, may be judged from this one story, taken from Las Casas: -- {155}

'There was a certain man named Juan Bono, who was employed by the members of the Audiencia of St. Domingo to go and obtain Indians. He and his men, to the number of fifty or sixty, landed on the Island of Trinidad. Now the Indians of Trinidad were a mild, loving, credulous race, the enemies of the Caribs, who ate human flesh. On Juan Bono's landing, the Indians, armed with bows and arrows, went to meet the Spaniards, and to ask them who they were, and what they wanted. Juan Bono replied, that his crew were good and peaceful people, who had come to live with the Indians; upon which, as the commencement of good fellowship, the natives offered to build houses for the Spaniards. The Spanish captain expressed a wish to have one large house built. The accommodating Indians set about building it. It was to be in the form of a bell, and to be large enough for a hundred persons to live in. On any great occasion it would hold many more. Every day, while this house was being built, the Spaniards were fed with fish, bread, and fruit by their good-natured hosts. Juan Bono was very anxious to see the roof on, and the Indians continued to work at the building with alacrity. At last it was completed, being two storeys high, and so constructed that those within could not see those without. Upon a certain day, Juan Bono collected the Indians together -- men, women, and children -- in the building, |to see,| as he told them, |what was to be done.|

'Whether they thought they were coming to some festival, or that they were to do something more for the great house, does not appear. However, there they all were, four hundred of them, looking with much delight at their own handiwork. Meanwhile, Juan Bono brought his men round the building, with drawn swords in their hands; then, having thoroughly entrapped his Indian friends, he entered with a party of armed men and bade the Indians keep still, or he would kill them. They did not listen to him, but rushed to the door. A horrible massacre ensued. Some of the Indians forced their way out; but many of them, stupefied at what they saw, and losing heart, were captured and bound. A hundred, however, escaped, and snatching up their arms, assembled in one of their own houses, and prepared to defend themselves. Juan Bono summoned them to surrender: they would not hear of it; and then, as Las Casas says, |he resolved to pay them completely for the hospitality and kind treatment he had received,| and so, setting fire to the house, the whole hundred men, together with some women and children, were burnt alive. The Spanish captain and his men retired to the ships with their captives; and his vessel happening to touch at Porto Rico, when the Jeronimite Fathers were there, gave occasion to Las Casas to complain of this proceeding to the Fathers, who, however, did nothing in the way of remedy or punishment. The reader will be surprised to hear the Clerigo's authority for this deplorable narrative. It is Juan Bono himself. |From his own mouth I heard that which I write.| Juan Bono acknowledged that never in his life had he met with the kindness of father or mother but in the island of Trinidad. |Well, then, man of perdition, why did you reward them with such ungrateful wickedness and cruelty?| -- |On my faith, padre, because they (he meant the Auditors) gave me for destruction (he meant instruction) to take them in peace, if I could not by war.|'

Such was the fate of the poor gentle folk who for unknown ages had swung their hammocks to the stems of these Moriches, spinning the skin of the young leaves into twine, and making sago from the pith, and thin wine from the sap and fruit, while they warned their children not to touch the nests of the humming-birds, which even till lately swarmed around the lake. For -- so the Indian story ran -- once on a time a tribe of Chaymas built their palm-leaf ajoupas upon the very spot where the lake now lies, and lived a merry life. The sea swarmed with shellfish and turtle, and the land with pine- apples; the springs were haunted by countless flocks of flamingoes and horned screamers, pajuis and blue ramiers; and, above all, by humming-birds. But the foolish Chaymas were blind to the mystery and the beauty of the humming-birds, and would not understand how they were no other than the souls of dead Indians, translated into living jewels; and so they killed them in wantonness, and angered 'The Good Spirit.' But one morning, when the Guaraons came by, the Chayma village had sunk deep into the earth, and in its place had risen this lake of pitch. So runs the tale, told some forty years since to M. Joseph, author of a clever little history of Trinidad, by an old half-caste Indian, Senor Trinidada by name, who was said then to be nigh one hundred years of age.

Surely the people among whom such a myth could spring up, were worthy of a nobler fate. Surely there were in them elements of 'sweetness and light,' which might have been cultivated to some fine fruit, had there been anything like sweetness and light in their first conquerors -- the offscourings, not of Spain and Portugal only, but of Germany, Italy, and, indeed, almost every country in Europe. The present Spanish landowners of Trinidad, be it remembered always, do not derive from those old ruffians, but from noble and ancient families, who settled in the island during the seventeenth century, bringing with them a Spanish grace, Spanish simplicity, and Spanish hospitality, which their descendants have certainly not lost. Were it my habit to 'put people into books,' I would gladly tell in these pages of charming days spent in the company of Spanish ladies and gentlemen. But I shall only hint here at the special affection and respect with which they -- and, indeed, the French Creoles likewise -- are regarded by Negro and by Indian.

For there are a few Indians remaining in the northern mountains, and specially at Arima -- simple hamlet-folk, whom you can distinguish, at a glance, from mulattoes or quadroons, by the tawny complexion, and by a shape of eye, and length between the eye and the mouth, difficult to draw, impossible to describe, but discerned instantly by any one accustomed to observe human features. Many of them, doubtless, have some touch of Negro blood, and are the offspring of 'Cimarons' -- 'Maroons,' as they are still called in Jamaica. These Cimarons were Negroes who, even in the latter half of the sixteenth century (as may be read in the tragical tale of John Oxenham, given in Hakluyt's Voyages), had begun to flee from their cruel masters into the forests, both in the Islands and in the Main. There they took to themselves Indian wives, who preferred them, it is said, to men of their own race, and lived a jolly hunter's life, slaying with tortures every Spaniard who fell into their hands. Such, doubtless, haunted the northern Cerros of Tocuche, Aripo, and Oropuche, and left some trace of themselves among the Guaraons. Spanish blood, too, runs notoriously in the veins of some of the Indians of the island; and the pure race here is all but vanished. But out of these three elements has arisen a race of cacao-growing mountaineers as simple and gentle, as loyal and peaceable, as any in Her Majesty's dominions. Dignified, courteous, hospitable, according to their little means, they salute the white Senor without defiance and without servility, and are delighted if he will sit in their clay and palm ajoupas, and eat oranges and Malacca apples {157} from their own trees, on their own freehold land.

They preserve, too, the old Guaraon arts of weaving baskets and other utensils, pretty enough, from the strips of the Aruma leaves. From them the Negro, who will not, or cannot, equal them in handicraft, buys the pack in which wares are carried on the back, and the curious strainer in which the Cassava is deprived of its poisonous juice. So cleverly are the fibres twisted, that when the strainer is hung up, with a stone weight at the lower end, the diameter of the strainer decreases as its length increases, and the juice is squeezed out through the pores to drip into a calabash, and, nowadays, to be thrown carefully away, lest children or goats should drink it. Of old, it was kept with care and dried down to a gum, and used to poison arrows, as it is still used, I believe, on the Orinoco; now, its poisonous properties are expelled by boiling it down into Cassaripe, which has a singular power of preserving meat, and is the foundation of the 'pepperpot' of the colonists.

And this is all that remains of the once beautiful, deft, and happy Indians of Trinidad, unless, indeed, some of them, warned by the fate of the Indians of San Josef and the Northern Mountains, fled from such tyrants as Juan Bono and Berreo across the Gulf of Paria, and, rejoining their kinsmen on the mainland, gladly forgot the sight of that Cross which was to them the emblem, not of salvation, but of destruction.

For once a year till of late -- I know not whether the thing may be seen still -- a strange phantom used to appear at San Fernando, twenty miles to the north. Canoes of Indians came mysteriously across the Gulf of Paria from the vast swamps of the Orinoco; and the naked folk landed, and went up through the town, after the Naparima ladies (so runs the tale) had sent down to the shore garments for the women, which were worn only through the streets, and laid by again as soon as they entered the forest. Silent, modest, dejected, the gentle savages used to vanish into the woods by paths known to their kinsfolk centuries ago -- paths which run, wherever possible, along the vantage-ground of the topmost chines and ridges of the hills. The smoke of their fires rose out of lonely glens, as they collected the fruit of trees known only to themselves. In a few weeks their wild harvest was over; they came back through San Fernando; made, almost in silence, their little purchases in the town, and paddled away across the gulf towards the unknown wildernesses from whence they came.

And now -- as if sent to drive away sad thoughts and vain regrets -- before our feet lay a jest of Nature's, almost as absurd as a 'four- eyed fish,' or 'calling-crab.' A rough stick, of the size of your little finger, lay on the pitch. We watched it a moment, and saw that it was crawling -- that it was a huge Caddis, like those in English ponds and streams, though of a very different family. They are the larvae of Phryganeas -- this of a true moth. {158} The male of this moth will come out, as a moth should, and fly about on four handsome wings. The female will never develop her wings, but remain to her life's end a crawling grub, like the female of our own Vapourer moth, and that of our English Glow-worm. But more, she will never (at least, in some species of this family) leave her silk and bark case, but live and die, an anchoritess in narrow cell, leaving behind her more than one puzzle for physiologists. The case is fitted close to the body of the caterpillar, save at the mouth, where it hangs loose in two ragged silken curtains. We all looked at the creature, and it looked at us, with its last two or three joints and its head thrust out of its house. Suddenly, disgusted at our importunity, it laid hold of its curtains with two hands, right and left, like a human being, folded them modestly over its head, held them tight together, and so retired to bed, amid the inextinguishable laughter of the whole party.

The noble Moriche palm delights in wet, at least in Trinidad and on the lower Orinoco: but Schomburgk describes forests of them -- if, indeed, it be the same species -- as growing in the mountains of Guiana up to an altitude of four thousand feet. The soil in which they grow here is half pitch pavement, half loose brown earth, and over both, shallow pools of water, which will become much deeper in the wet season; and all about float or lie their pretty fruit, the size of an apple, and scaled like a fir-cone. They are last year's, empty and decayed. The ripe fruit contains first a rich pulpy nut, and at last a hard cone, something like that of the vegetable ivory palm, {159} which grows in the mainland, but not here. Delicious they are, and precious, to monkeys and parrots, as well as to the Orinoco Indians, among whom the Tamanacs, according to Humboldt, say, that when a man and woman survived that great deluge, which the Mexicans call the age of water, they cast behind them, over their heads, the fruits of the Moriche palm, as Deucalion and Pyrrha cast stones, and saw the seeds in them produce men and women, who repeopled the earth. No wonder, indeed, that certain tribes look on this tree as sacred, or that the missionaries should have named it the tree of life.

'In the season of inundations these clumps of Mauritia, with their leaves in the form of a fan, have the appearance of a forest rising from the bosom of the waters. The navigator in proceeding along the channels of the delta of the Oroonoco at night, sees with surprise the summit of the palm-trees illumined by large fires. These are the habitations of the Guaraons (Tivitivas and Waraweties of Raleigh), which are suspended from the trunks of the trees. These tribes hang up mats in the air, which they fill with earth, and kindle on a layer of moist clay the fire necessary for their household wants. They have owed their liberty and their political independence for ages to the quaking and swampy soil, which they pass over in the time of drought, and on which they alone know how to walk in security to their solitude in the delta of the Oroonoco, to their abode on the trees, where religious enthusiasm will probably never lead any American Stylites. . . . The Mauritia palm- tree, the tree of life of the missionaries, not only affords the Guaraons a safe dwelling during the risings of the Oroonoco, but its shelly fruit, its farinaceous pith, its juice, abounding in saccharine matter, and the fibres of its petioles, furnish them with food, wine, and thread proper for making cords and weaving hammocks. These customs of the Indians of the delta of the Oroonoco were found formerly in the Gulf of Darien (Uraba), and in the greater part of the inundated lands between the Guerapiche and the mouths of the Amazon. It is curious to observe in the lowest degree of human civilisation the existence of a whole tribe depending on one single species of palm-tree, similar to those insects which feed on one and the same flower, or on one and the same part of a plant.' {160}

In a hundred yards more we were on dry ground, and the vegetation changed at once. The Mauritias stopped short at the edge of the swamp; and around us towered the smooth stems of giant Mombins, which the English West Indians call hog-plums, according to the unfortunate habit of the early settlers of discarding the sonorous and graceful Indian and Spanish names of plants, and replacing them by names English, or corruptions of the original, always ugly, and often silly and vulgar. So the English call yon noble tree a hog- plum; the botanist (who must, of course, use his world-wide Latin designation), Spondias lutea; I shall, with the reader's leave, call it a Mombin, by which name it is, happily, known here, as it was in the French West Indies in the days of good Pere Labat. Under the Mombins the undergrowth is, for the most part, huge fans of Cocorite palm, thirty or forty feet high, their short rugged trunks, as usual, loaded with creepers, orchids, birds'-nests, and huge round black lumps, which are the nests of ants; all lodged among the butts of old leaves and the spathes of old flowers. Here, as at Chaguanas, grand Cerimans and Seguines scrambled twenty feet up the Cocorite trunks, delighting us by the luscious life in the fat stem and fat leaves, and the brilliant, yet tender green, which literally shone in the darkness of the Cocorite bower; and all, it may be, the growth of the last six months; for, as was plain from the charred stems of many Cocorites and Moriches, the fire had swept through the wood last summer, destroying all that would burn. And at the foot of the Cocorites, weltering up among and over their roots, was pitch again; and here and there along the side of the path were pitch springs, round bosses a yard or two across and a foot or two high, each with a crater atop a few inches across, filled either with water or with liquid and oozing pitch; and yet not interfering, as far as could be seen, with the health of the vegetation which springs out of it.

We followed the trace which led downhill, to the shore of the peninsula farthest from the village. As we proceeded we entered forest still unburnt, and a tangle of beauty such as we saw at Chaguanas. There rose, once more, the tall cane-like Manacque palms, which we christened the forest nymphs. The path was lined, as there, with the great leaves of the Melastomas, throwing russet and golden light down from their undersides. Here, as there, Mimosa leaflets, as fine as fern or sea-weed, shiver in the breeze. A species of Balisier, which we did not see there, carried crimson and black parrot beaks with blue seed-vessels; a Canne de Riviere, {161a} with a stem eight feet high, wreathed round with pale green leaves in spiral twists, unfolded hooded flowers of thinnest transparent white wax, with each a blush of pink inside. Bunches of bright yellow Cassia blossoms dangled close to our heads; white Ipomoeas scrambled over them again; and broad-leaved sedges, five feet high, carrying on bright brown flower-heads, like those of our Wood-rush, blue, black, and white shot for seeds. {161b} Overhead, sprawled and dangled the common Vine-bamboo, {161c} ugly and unsatisfactory in form, because it has not yet, seemingly, made up its mind whether it will become an arborescent or a climbing grass; and, meanwhile, tries to stand upright on stems quite unable to support it, and tumbles helplessly into the neighbouring copsewood, taking every one's arm without asking leave. A few ages hence, its ablest descendants will probably have made their choice, if they have constitution enough to survive in the battle of life -- which, from the commonness of the plant, they seem likely to have. And what their choice will be, there is little doubt. There are trees here of a truly noble nature, whose ancestors have conquered ages since; it may be by selfish and questionable means. But their descendants, secure in their own power, can afford to be generous, and allow a whole world of lesser plants to nestle in their branches, another world to fatten round their feet. There are humble and modest plants, too, here -- and those some of the loveliest -- which have long since cast away all ambition, and are content to crouch or perch anywhere, if only they may be allowed a chance ray of light, and a chance drop of water wherewith to perfect their flowers and seed. But, throughout the great republic of the forest, the motto of the majority is -- as it is, and always has been, with human beings -- 'Every one for himself, and the devil take the hindmost.' Selfish competition, overreaching tyranny, the temper which fawns and clings as long as it is down, and when it has risen, kicks over the stool by which it climbed -- these and the other 'works of the flesh' are the works of the average plant, as far as it can practise them. So by the time the Bamboo-vine makes up its mind, it will have discovered, by the experience of many generations, the value of the proverb, 'Never do for yourself what you can get another to do for you,' and will have developed into a true high climber, selfish and insolent, choking and strangling, like yonder beautiful green pest, of which beware; namely, a tangle of Razor- grass. {162a} The brother, in old times, of that broad-leaved sedge which carries the shot-seeds, it has long since found it more profitable to lean on others than to stand on its own legs, and has developed itself accordingly. It has climbed up the shrubs some fifteen feet, and is now tumbling down again in masses of the purest deep green, which are always softly rounded, because each slender leaf is sabre-shaped, and always curves inward and downward into the mass, presenting to the paper thousands of minute saw-edges, hard enough and sharp enough to cut clothes, skin, and flesh to ribands, if it is brushed in the direction of the leaves. For shape and colour, few plants would look more lovely in a hothouse; but it would soon need to be confined in a den by itself, like a jaguar or an alligator.

Here, too, we saw a beautiful object, which was seen again more than once about the high woods; a large flower, {162b} spreading its five flat orange-scarlet lobes round yellow bells. It grows in little bunches, in the axils of pairs of fleshy leaves, on a climbing vine. When plucked, a milky sap exudes from it. It is a cousin of our periwinkles, and cousin, too, of the Thevetia, which we saw at St. Thomas's, and of the yellow Allamandas which ornament hothouses at home, as this, and others of its family, especially the yellow Odontadenia, surely ought to do. There are many species of the family about, and all beautiful.

We passed too, in the path, an object curious enough, if not beautiful. Up a smooth stem ran a little rib, seemingly of earth and dead wood, almost straight, and about half an inch across, leading to a great brown lump among the branches, as big as a bushel basket. We broke it open, and found it a covered gallery, swarming with life. Brown ant-like creatures, white maggot-like creatures, of several shapes and sizes, were hurrying up and down, as busy as human beings in Cheapside. They were Termites, 'white ants' -- of which of the many species I know not -- and the lump above was their nest. But why they should find it wisest to perch their nest aloft is as difficult to guess, as to guess why they take the trouble to build this gallery up to it, instead of walking up the stem in the open air. It may be that they are afraid of birds. It may be, too, that they actually dislike the light. At all events, the majority of them -- the workers and soldiers, I believe, without exception -- are blind, and do all their work by an intensely developed sense of touch, and it may be of smell and hearing also. Be that as it may, we should have seen them, had we had time to wait, repair the breach in their gallery, with as much discipline and division of labour as average human workers in a manufactory, before the business of food- getting was resumed.

We hurried on along the trace, which now sloped rapidly downhill. Suddenly, a loathsome smell defiled the air. Was there a gas-house in the wilderness? Or had the pales of Paradise been just smeared with bad coal-tar? Not exactly: but across the path crept, festering in the sun, a black runnel of petroleum and water; and twenty yards to our left stood, under a fast-crumbling trunk, what was a year or two ago a little engine-house. Now roof, beams, machinery, were all tumbled and tangled in hideous and somewhat dangerous ruin, over a shaft, in the midst of which a rusty pump- cylinder gurgled, and clicked, and bubbled, and spued, with black oil and nasty gas; a foul ulcer in Dame Nature's side, which happily was healing fast beneath the tropic rain and sun. The creepers were climbing over it, the earth crumbling into it, and in a few years more the whole would be engulfed in forest, and the oil-spring, it is to be hoped, choked up with mud.

This is the remnant of one of the many rash speculations connected with the Pitch Lake. At a depth of some two hundred and fifty feet 'oil was struck,' as the American saying is. But (so we were told) it would not rise in the boring, and had to be pumped up. It could not, therefore, compete in price with the Pennsylvanian oil, which, when tapped, springs out of the ground of itself, to a height sometimes of many feet, under the pressure of the superincumbent rocks, yielding enormous profits, and turning needy adventurers into millionaires, though full half of the oil is sometimes wasted for the want of means to secure it.

We passed the doleful spot with a double regret -- for the nook of Paradise which had been defiled, and for the good money which had been wasted: but with a hearty hope, too, that, whatever natural beauty may be spoilt thereby, the wealth of these asphalt deposits may at last be utilised. Whether it be good that a few dozen men should 'make their fortunes' thereby, depends on what use the said men make of the said 'fortunes'; and certainly it will not be good for them if they believe, as too many do, that their dollars, and not their characters, constitute their fortunes. But it is good, and must be, that these treasures of heat and light should not remain for ever locked up and idle in the wilderness; and we wished all success to the enterprising American who had just completed a bargain with the Government for a large supply of asphalt, which he hoped by his chemical knowledge to turn to some profitable use.

Another turn brought us into a fresh nook of Paradise; and this time to one still undefiled. We hurried down a narrow grass path, the Cannes de Riviere and the Balisiers brushing our heads as we passed; while round us danced brilliant butterflies, bright orange, sulphur- yellow, black and crimson, black and lilac, and half a dozen hues more, till we stopped, surprised and delighted. For beneath us lay the sea, seen through a narrow gap of richest verdure.

On the left, low palms feathered over the path, and over the cliff. On the right -- when shall we see it again? -- rose a young 'Bois flot,' {164} of which boys make their fishing floats, with long, straight, upright shoots, and huge crumpled, rounded leaves, pale rusty underneath -- a noble rastrajo plant, already, in its six months' growth, some twenty feet high. Its broad pale sulphur flowers were yet unopened; but, instead, an ivy-leaved Ipomoea had climbed up it, and shrouded it from head to foot with hundreds of white convolvulus-flowers; while underneath it grew a tuft of that delicate silver-backed fern, which is admired so much in hothouses at home. Between it and the palms we saw the still, shining sea; muddy inshore, and a few hundred yards out changing suddenly to bright green; and the point of the cove, which seemed built up of bright red brick, fast crumbling into the sea, with all its palms and cactuses, lianes and trees. Red stacks and skerries stood isolated and ready to fall at the end of the point, showing that the land has, even lately, extended far out to sea; and that Point Rouge, like Point Courbaril and Point Galba -- so named, one from some great Locust-tree, the other from some great Galba -- must have once stood there as landmarks. Indeed all the points of the peninsula are but remnants of a far larger sheet of land, which has been slowly eaten up by the surges of the gulf; which has perhaps actually sunk bodily beneath them, even as the remnant, I suspect, is sinking now. We scrambled twenty feet down to the beach, and lay down, tired, under a low cliff, feathered with richest vegetation. The pebbles on which we sat were some of pitch, some of hard sandstone, but most of them of brick; pale, dark, yellow, lavender, spotted, clouded, and half a dozen more delicate hues; some coarse, some fine as Samian ware; the rocks themselves were composed of an almost glassy substance, strangely jumbled, even intercalated now and then with soft sand. This, we were told, is a bit of the porcellanite formation of Trinidad, curious to geologists, which reappears at several points in Erin, Trois, and Cedros, in the extreme south-western horn of the island.

How was it formed, and when? That it was formed by the action of fire, any child would agree who had ever seen a brick-kiln. It is simply clay and sand baked, and often almost vitrified into porcelain-jasper. The stratification is gone; the porcellanite has run together into irregular masses, or fallen into them by the burning away of strata beneath; and the cracks in it are often lined with bubbled slag.

But whence carne the fire? We must be wary about calling in the Deus e machina of a volcano. There is no volcanic rock in the neighbourhood, nor anywhere in the island; and the porcellanite, says Mr. Wall, 'is identically the same with the substances produced immediately above or below seams of coal, which have taken fire, and burnt for a length of time.' There is lignite and other coaly matter enough in the rocks to have burnt like coal, if it had once been ignited; and the cause of ignition may be, as Mr. Wall suggests, the decomposition of pyrites, of which also there is enough around. That the heat did not come from below, as volcanic heat would have done, is proved by the fact that the lignite beds underneath the porcellanite are unburnt. We found asphalt under the porcellanite. We found even one bit of red porcellanite with unburnt asphalt included in it.

May not this strange formation of natural brick and china-ware be of immense age -- humanly, not geologically, speaking? May it not be far older than the Pitch Lake above -- older, possibly, than the formation of any asphalt at all? And may not the asphalt mingled with it have been squeezed into it and round it, as it is being squeezed into and through the unburnt strata at so many points in Guapo, La Brea, Oropuche, and San Fernando? At least, so it seemed to us, as we sat on the shore, waiting for the boat to take us round to La Brea, and drank in dreamily with our eyes the beauty of that strange lonely place. The only living things, save ourselves, which were visible were a few pelicans sleeping on a skerry, and a shoal of dolphins rolling silently in threes -- husband, wife, and little child -- as they fished their way along the tide mark between the yellow water and the green. The sky blazed overhead, the sea below; the red rocks and green forests blazed around; and we sat enjoying the genial silence, not of darkness, but of light, not of death, but of life, as the noble heat permeated every nerve, and made us feel young, and strong, and blithe once more.

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