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At Last by Charles Kingsley


I had a few days of pleasant wandering in the centre of the island, about the districts which bear the names of Naparima and Montserrat; a country of such extraordinary fertility, as well as beauty, that it must surely hereafter become the seat of a high civilisation. The soil seems inexhaustibly rich. I say inexhaustibly; for as fast as the upper layer is impoverished, it will be swept over by the tropic rains, to mingle with the vegas, or alluvial flats below, and thus enriched again, while a fresh layer of virgin soil is exposed above. I have seen, cresting the highest ridges of Montserrat, ten feet at least of fat earth, falling clod by clod right and left upon the gardens below. There are, doubtless, comparatively barren tracts of gravel toward the northern mountains; there are poor sandy lands, likewise, at the southern part of the island, which are said, nevertheless, to be specially fitted for the growth of cotton: but from San Fernando on the west coast to Manzanilla on the east, stretches a band of soil which seems to be capable of yielding any conceivable return to labour and capital, not omitting common sense.

How long it has taken to prepare this natural garden for man is one of those questions of geological time which have been well called of late 'appalling.' How long was it since the 'older Parian' rocks (said to belong to the Neocomian, or green-sand, era) of Point a Pierre were laid down at the bottom of the sea? How long since a still unknown thickness of tertiary strata in the Nariva district laid down on them? How long since not less than six thousand feet of still later tertiary strata laid down on them again? What vast, though probably slow, processes changed that sea-bottom from one salt enough to carry corals and limestones, to one brackish enough to carry abundant remains of plants, deposited probably by the Orinoco, or by some river which then did duty for it? Three such periods of disturbance have been distinguished, the net result of which is, that the strata (comparatively recent in geological time) have been fractured, tilted, even set upright on end, over the whole lowland. Trinidad seems to have had its full share of those later disturbances of the earth-crust, which carried tertiary strata up along the shoulders of the Alps; which upheaved the chalk of the Isle of Wight, setting the tertiary beds of Alum Bay upright against it; which even, after the Age of Ice, thrust up the Isle of Moen in Denmark and the Isle of Ely in Cambridgeshire, entangling the boulder clay among the chalk -- how long ago? Long enough ago, in Trinidad at least, to allow water -- probably the estuary waters of the Orinoco -- to saw all the upheaved layers off at the top into one flat sea-bottom once more, leaving as projections certain harder knots of rock, such as the limestones of Mount Tamana; and, it may be, the curious knoll of hard clay rock under which nestles the town of San Fernando. Long enough ago, also, to allow that whole sea- bottom to be lifted up once more, to the height, in one spot, of a thousand feet, as the lowland which occupies six-sevenths of the Isle of Trinidad. Long enough ago, again, to allow that lowland to be sawn out into hills and valleys, ridges and gulleys, which are due to the action of Colonel George Greenwood's geologic panacea, 'Rain and Rivers,' and to nothing else. Long enough ago, once more, for a period of subsidence, as I suspect, to follow the period of upheaval; a period at the commencement of which Trinidad was perhaps several times as large as it is now, and has gradually been eaten away by the surf, as fresh pieces of the soft cliffs have been brought, by the sinking of the land, face to face with its slow but sure destroyer.

And how long ago began the epoch -- the very latest which this globe has seen, which has been long enough for all this? The human imagination can no more grasp that time than it can grasp the space between us and the nearest star.

Such thoughts were forced upon me as the steamer stopped off San Fernando; and I saw, some quarter of a mile out at sea, a single stack of rock, which is said to have been joined to the mainland in the memory of the fathers of this generation; and on shore, composed, I am told, of the same rock, that hill of San Fernando which forms a beacon by sea and land for many a mile around. An isolated boss of the older Parian, composed of hardened clay which has escaped destruction, it rises, though not a mile long and a third of a mile broad, steeply to a height of nearly six hundred feet, carrying on its cliffs the remains of a once magnificent vegetation. Now its sides are quarried for the only road-stone met with for miles around; cultivated for pasture, in which the round- headed mango-trees grow about like oaks at home; or terraced for villas and gardens, the charm of which cannot be told in words. All round it, rich sugar estates spread out, with the noble Palmistes left standing here and there along the roads and terraces; and everywhere is activity and high cultivation, under the superintendence of gentlemen who are prospering, because they deserve to prosper.

Between the cliff and the shore nestles the gay and growing little town, which was, when we took the island in 1795, only a group of huts. In it I noted only one thing which looked unpleasant. The negro houses, however roomy and comfortable, and however rich the gardens which surrounded them, were mostly patched together out of the most heterogeneous and wretched scraps of wood; and on inquiry I found that the materials were, in most cases, stolen; that when a Negro wanted to build a house, instead of buying the materials, he pilfered a board here, a stick there, a nail somewhere else, a lock or a clamp in a fourth place, about the sugar-estates, regardless of the serious injury which he caused to working buildings; and when he had gathered a sufficient pile, hidden safely away behind his neighbour's house, the new hut rose as if by magic. This continual pilfering, I was assured, was a serious tax on the cultivation of the estates around. But I was told, too, frankly enough, by the very gentleman who complained, that this habit was simply an heirloom from the bad days of slavery, when the pilfering of the slaves from other estates was connived at by their own masters, on the ground that if A's Negroes robbed B, B's Negroes robbed C, and so all round the alphabet; one more evil instance of the demoralising effect of a state of things which, wrong in itself, was sure to be the parent of a hundred other wrongs.

Being, happily for me, in the Governor's suite, I had opportunities of seeing the interior of the island which an average traveller could not have; and I looked forward with interest to visiting new settlements in the forests of the interior, which very few inhabitants of the island, and certainly no strangers, had as yet seen. Our journey began by landing on a good new jetty, and being transferred at once to the tramway which adjoined it. A truck, with chairs on it, as usual here, carried us off at a good mule-trot; and we ran in the fast-fading light through a rolling hummocky country, very like the lowlands of Aberdeenshire, or the neighbourhood of Waterloo, save that, as night came on, the fireflies flickered everywhere among the canes, and here and there the palms and Ceibas stood up, black and gaunt, against the sky. At last we escaped from our truck, and found horses waiting, on which we floundered, through mud and moonlight, to a certain hospitable house, and found a hungry party, who had been long waiting for a dinner worth the waiting.

It was not till next morning that I found into what a charming place I had entered overnight. Around were books, pictures, china, vases of flowers, works of art, and all appliances of European taste, even luxury; but in a house utterly un-European. The living rooms, all on the first floor, opened into each other by doorless doorways, and the walls were of cedar and other valuable woods, which good taste had left still unpapered. Windowless bay windows, like great port- holes, opened from each of them into a gallery which ran round the house, sheltered by broad sloping eaves. The deep shade of the eaves contrasted brilliantly with the bright light outside; and contrasted too with the wooden pillars which held up the roof, and which seemed on their southern sides white-hot in the blazing sunshine.

What a field was there for native art; for richest ornamentation of these pillars and those beams. Surely Trinidad, and the whole of northern South America, ought to become some day the paradise of wood carvers, who, copying even a few of the numberless vegetable and animal forms around, may far surpass the old wood-carving schools of Burmah and Hindostan. And I sat dreaming of the lianes which might be made to wreathe the pillars; the flowers, fruits, birds, butterflies, monkeys, kinkajous, and what not, which might cluster about the capitals, or swing along the beams. Let men who have such materials, and such models, proscribe all tawdry and poor European art -- most of it a bad imitation of bad Greek, or worse Renaissance -- and trust to Nature and the facts which lie nearest them. But when will a time come for the West Indies when there will be wealth and civilisation enough to make such an art possible? Soon, if all the employers of labour were like the gentleman at whose house we were that day, and like some others in the same island.

And through the windows and between the pillars of the gallery, what a blaze of colour and light. The ground-floor was hedged in, a few feet from the walls, with high shrubs, which would have caused unwholesome damp in England, but were needed here for shade. Foreign Crotons, Dracaenas, Cereuses, and a dozen more curious shapes -- among them a 'cup-tree,' with concave leaves, each of which would hold water. It was said to come from the East, and was unknown to me. Among them, and over the door, flowering creepers tangled and tossed, rich with flowers; and beyond them a circular- lawn (rare in the West Indies), just like an English one, save that the shrubs and trees which bounded it were hothouse plants. A few Carat-palms {184} spread their huge fan-leaves among the curious flowering trees; other foreign palms, some of them very rare, beside them; and on the lawn opposite my bedroom window stood a young Palmiste, which had been planted barely eight years, and was now thirty-eight feet in height, and more than six feet in girth at the butt. Over the roofs of the outhouses rose scarlet Bois immortelles, and tall clumps of Bamboo reflecting blue light from their leaves even under a cloud; and beyond them and below them to the right, a park just like an English one carried stately trees scattered on the turf, and a sheet of artificial water. Coolies, in red or yellow waistcloths, and Coolie children, too, with nothing save a string round their stomachs (the smaller ones at least), were fishing in the shade. To the left, again, began at once the rich cultivation of the rolling cane-fields, among which the Squire had left standing, somewhat against the public opinion of his less tasteful neighbours, tall Carats, carrying their heads of fan-leaves on smooth stalks from fifty to eighty feet high, and Ceibas -- some of them the hugest I had ever seen. Below in the valley were the sugar-works; and beyond this half-natural, half-artificial scene rose, some mile off, the lowering wall of the yet untouched forest.

It had taken only fifteen years, but fifteen years of hard work, to create this paradise. And only the summer before, all had been well-nigh swept away again. During the great drought the fire had raged about the woods. Estate after estate around had been reduced to ashes. And one day our host's turn came. The fire burst out of the woods at three different points. All worked with a will to stop it by cutting traces. But the wind was wild; burning masses from the tree-tops were hurled far among the canes, and all was lost. The canes burnt like shavings, exploding with a perpetual crackle at each joint. In a few hours the whole estate -- works, coolie barracks, negro huts -- was black ash; and the house only, by extreme exertion, saved. But the ground had scarcely cooled when replanting and rebuilding commenced; and now the canes were from ten to twelve feet high, the works nearly ready for the coming crop-time, and no sign of the fire was left, save a few leafless trees, which we found, on riding up to them, to be charred at the base.

And yet men say that the Englishman loses his energy in a tropic climate.

We had a charming Sunday there, amid charming society, down even to the dogs and cats; and not the least charming object among many was little Franky, the Coolie butler's child, who ran in and out with the dogs, gay in his little cotton shirt, and melon-shaped cap, and silver bracelets, and climbed on the Squire's knee, and nestled in his bosom, and played with his seals; and looked up trustingly into our faces with great soft eyes, like a little brown guazu-pita fawn out of the forest. A happy child, and in a happy place.

Then to church at Savanna Grande, riding of course; for the mud was abysmal, and it was often safer to ride in the ditch than on the road. The village, with a tramway through it, stood high and healthy. The best houses were those of the Chinese. The poorer Chinese find peddling employments and trade about the villages, rather than hard work on the estates; while they cultivate on ridges, with minute care, their favourite sweet potato. Round San Fernando, a Chinese will rent from a sugar-planter a bit of land which seems hopelessly infested with weeds, even of the worst of all sorts -- the creeping Para grass {186} -- which was introduced a generation since, with some trouble, as food for cattle, and was supposed at first to be so great a boon that the gentleman who brought it in received public thanks and a valuable testimonial. The Chinaman will take the land for a single year, at a rent, I believe, as high as a pound an acre, grow on it his sweet potato crop, and return it to the owner, cleared, for the time being, of every weed. The richer shopkeepers have each a store: but they disdain to live at it. Near by each you see a comfortable low house, with verandahs, green jalousies, and often pretty flowers in pots; and catch glimpses inside of papered walls, prints, and smart moderator-lamps, which seem to be fashionable among the Celestials. But for one fashion of theirs, I confess, I was not prepared.

We went to church -- a large, airy, clean, wooden one -- which ought to have had a verandah round to keep off the intolerable sunlight, and which might, too, have had another pulpit. For in getting up to preach in a sort of pill-box on a long stalk, I found the said stalk surging and nodding so under my weight, that I had to assume an attitude of most dignified repose, and to beware of 'beating the drum ecclesiastic,' or 'clanging the Bible to shreds,' for fear of toppling into the pews of the very smart, and really very attentive, brown ladies below. A crowded congregation it was, clean, gay, respectable and respectful, and spoke well both for the people and for their clergyman. But -- happily not till the end of the sermon -- I became aware, just in front of me, of a row of smartest Paris bonnets, net-lace shawls, brocades, and satins, fit for duchesses; and as the centre of each blaze of finery -- 'offam non faciem,' as old Ammianus Marcellinus has it -- the unmistakable visage of a Chinese woman. Whether they understood one word; what they thought of it all; whether they were there for any purpose save to see and be seen, were questions to which I tried in vain, after service, to get an answer. All that could be told was, that the richer Chinese take delight in thus bedizening their wives on high days and holidays; not with tawdry cheap finery, but with things really expensive, and worth what they cost, especially the silks and brocades; and then in sending them, whether for fashion or for loyalty's sake, to an English church. Be that as it may, there they were, ladies from the ancient and incomprehensible Mowery Land, like fossil bones of an old world sticking out amid the vegetation of the new; and we will charitably hope that they were the better for being there.

After church we wandered about the estate to see huge trees. One Ceiba, left standing in a cane-piece, was very grand, from the multitude and mass of its parasites and its huge tresses of lianes; and grand also from its form. The prickly board-wall spurs were at least fifteen feet high, some of them, where they entered the trunk; and at the summit of the trunk, which could not have been less than seventy or eighty feet, one enormous limb (itself a tree) stuck out quite horizontally, and gave a marvellous notion of strength. It seemed as if its length must have snapped it off, years since, where it joined the trunk; or as if the leverage of its weight must have toppled the whole tree over. But the great vegetable had known its own business best, and had built itself up right cannily; and stood, and will stand for many a year, perhaps for many a century, if the Matapalos do not squeeze out its life. I found, by the by, in groping my way to that tree through canes twelve feet high, that one must be careful, at least with some varieties of cane, not to get cut. The leaf-edges are finely serrated; and more, the sheaths of the leaves are covered with prickly hairs, which give the Coolies sore shins if they work bare-legged. The soil here, as everywhere, was exceedingly rich, and sawn out into rolling mounds and steep gullies -- sometimes almost too steep for cane-cultivation -- by the tropic rains. If, as cannot be doubted, denudation by rain has gone on here, for thousands of years, at the same pace at which it goes on now, the amount of soil removed must be very great; so great, that the Naparimas may have been, when they were first uplifted out of the Gulf, hundreds of feet higher than they are now.

Another tree we went to see in the home park, of which I would have gladly obtained a photograph. A Poix doux, {187a} some said it was; others that it was a Figuier. {187b} I incline to the former belief, as the leaves seemed to me pinnated: but the doubt was pardonable enough. There was not a leaf on the tree which was not nigh one hundred feet over our heads. For size of spurs and wealth of parasites the tree was almost as remarkable as the Ceiba I mentioned just now. But the curiosity of the tree was a Carat-palm which had started between its very roots; had run its straight and slender stem up parallel with the bole of its companion, and had then pierced through the head of the tree, and all its wilderness of lianes, till it spread its huge flat crown of fans among the highest branches, more than a hundred feet aloft. The contrast between the two forms of vegetation, each so grand, but as utterly different in every line as they are in botanical affinities, and yet both living together in such close embrace, was very noteworthy; a good example of the rule, that while competition is most severe between forms most closely allied, forms extremely wide apart may not compete at all, because each needs something which the other does not.

On our return I was introduced to the 'Uncle Tom' of the neighbourhood, who had come down to spend Sunday at the Squire's house. He was a middle-sized Negro, in cast of features not above the average, and Isaac by name. He told me how he had been born in Baltimore, a slave to a Quaker master; how he and his wife Mary, during the second American war, ran away, and after hiding three days in the bush, got on board a British ship of war, and so became free. He then enlisted into one of the East Indian regiments, and served some years; as a reward for which he had given him his five acres of land in Trinidad, like others of his corps. These Negro yeomen-veterans, let it be said in passing, are among the ablest and steadiest of the coloured population. Military service has given them just enough of those habits of obedience of which slavery gives too much -- if the obedience of a mere slave, depending not on the independent will, but on brute fear, is to be called obedience at all.

Would that in this respect, as in some others, the white subject of the British crown were as well off as the black one. Would that during the last fifty years we had followed the wise policy of the Romans, and by settling our soldiers on our colonial frontiers, established there communities of loyal, able, and valiant citizens. Is it too late to begin now? Is there no colony left as yet not delivered over to a self-government which actually means, more and more -- according to the statements of those who visit the colonies -- government by an Irish faction; and which will offer a field for settling our soldiers when they have served their appointed time; so strengthening ourselves, while we reward a class of men who are far more respectable, and far more deserving, than most of those on whom we lavish our philanthropy?

Surely such men would prove as good subjects as old Isaac and his comrades. For fifty-three years, I was told, he had lived and worked in Trinidad, always independent; so independent, indeed, that the very last year, when all but starving, like many of the coloured people, from the long drought which lasted nearly eighteen months, he refused all charity, and came down to this very estate to work for three months in the stifling cane-fields, earning -- or fancying that he earned -- his own livelihood. A simple, kindly, brave Christian man he seemed, and all who knew him spoke of him as such. The most curious fact, however, which I gleaned from him was his recollection of his own 'conversion.' His Mary, of whom all spoke as a woman of a higher intellect than he, had 'been in the Gospel' several years before him, and used to read and talk to him; but, he said, without effect. At last he had a severe fever; and when he fancied himself dying, had a vision. He saw a grating in the floor, close by his bed, and through it the torments of the lost. Two souls he remembered specially; one 'like a singed hog,' the other 'all over black like a charcoal spade.' He looked in fear, and heard a voice cry, 'Behold your sins.' He prayed; promised, if he recovered, to try and do better: and felt himself forgiven at once.

This was his story, which I have set down word for word; and of which I can only say, that its imagery is no more gross, its confusion between the objective and subjective no more unphilosophical, than the speech on similar matters of many whom we are taught to call divines, theologians, and saints.

At all events, this crisis in his life produced, according to his own statement, not merely a religious, but a moral change. He became a better man henceforth. He had the reputation, among those who knew him well, of being altogether a good man. If so, it matters little what cause he assigned for the improvement. Wisdom is justified of all her children; and, I doubt not, of old black Isaac among the rest.

In 1864 he had a great sorrow. Old Mary, trying to smoke the mosquitoes out of her house with a charcoal-pan, set fire, in her shortsightedness, to the place; and everything was burned -- the savings of years, the precious Bible among the rest. The Squire took her down to his house, and nursed her: but she died in two days of cold and fright; and Isaac had to begin life again alone. Kind folks built up his ajoupa, and started him afresh; and, to their astonishment, Isaac grew young again, and set to work for himself. He had depended too much for many years on his wife's superior intellect: now he had to act for himself; and he acted. But he spoke of her, like any knight of old, as of a guardian goddess -- his guardian still in the other world, as she had been in this.

He was happy enough, he said: but I was told that he had to endure much vexation from the neighbouring Negroes, who were Baptists, narrow and conceited; and who -- just as the Baptists of the lower class in England would be but too apt to do -- tormented him by telling him that he was not sure of heaven, because he went to church instead of joining their body. But he, though he went to chapel in wet weather, clung to his own creed like an old soldier; and came down to Massa's house to spend the Sunday whenever there was a Communion, walking some five miles thither, and as much back again.

So much I learnt concerning old Isaac. And when in the afternoon he toddled away, and back into the forest, what wonder if I felt like Wordsworth after his talk with the old leech-gatherer? --

'And when he ended,
I could have laughed myself to scorn to find
In that decrepit man so firm a mind;
God, said I, be my help and stay secure,
I'll think of thee, leech-gatherer, on the lonely moor.'

On the Monday morning there was a great parade. All the Coolies were to come up to see the Governor; and after breakfast a long line of dark people arrived up the lawn, the women in their gaudiest muslins, and some of them in cotton velvet jackets of the richest colours. The Oriental instinct for harmonious hues, and those at once rich and sober, such as may be seen in Indian shawls, is very observable even in these Coolies, low-caste as most of them are. There were bangles and jewels among them in plenty; and as it was a high day and a holiday, the women had taken out the little gold or silver stoppers in their pierced nostrils, and put in their place the great gold ring which hangs down over the mouth, and is considered by them, as learned men tell us it was by Rebekah at the well, a special ornament. The men stood by themselves; the women by themselves; the children grouped in front; and a merrier, healthier, shrewder looking party I have seldom seen. Complaints there were none. All seemed to look on the Squire as a father, and each face brightened when he spoke to them by name. But the great ceremony was the distributing by the Governor of red and yellow sweetmeats to the children out of a huge dish held up by the Hindoo butler, while Franky, in a long night-shirt of crimson cotton velvet, acted as aide-de-camp, and took his perquisites freely. Each of the little brown darlings got its share, the boys putting them into the flap of their waistcloths, the girls into the front of their veils; and some of the married women seemed ready enough to follow the children's example; some of them, indeed, were little more than children themselves. The pleasure of the men at the whole ceremony was very noticeable, and very pleasant. Well fed, well cared for, well taught (when they will allow themselves to be so), and with a local medical man appointed for their special benefit, Coolies under such a master ought to be, and are, prosperous and happy. Exceptions there are, and must be. Are there none among the workmen of English manufacturers and farmers? Abuses may spring up, and do. Do none spring up in London and elsewhere? But the Government has the power to interfere, and uses that power. These poor people are sufficiently protected by law from their white employers; what they need most is protection for the newcomers against the usury, or swindling, by people of their own race, especially Hindoos of the middle class, who are covetous and ill-disposed, and who use their experience of the island for their own selfish advantage. But that evil also Government is doing its best to put down. Already the Coolies have a far larger amount of money in the savings' banks of the island than the Negroes; and their prosperity can be safely trusted to wise and benevolent laws, enforced by men who can afford to stand above public opinion, as well as above private interest. I speak, of course, only of Trinidad, because only Trinidad I have seen. But what I say I know intimately to be true.

The parade over -- and a pleasant sight it was, and one not easily to be forgotten -- we were away to see the Salse, or 'mud-volcano,' near Monkey Town, in the forest to the south-east. The cross-roads were deep in mud, all the worse because it was beginning to dry on the surface, forming a tough crust above the hasty-pudding which, if broken through, held the horse's leg suspended as in a vice, and would have thrown him down, if it were possible to throw down a West-Indian horse. We passed in one place a quaint little relic of the older world; a small sugar-press, rather than mill, under a roof of palm-leaf, which was worked by hand, or a donkey, just as a Spanish settler would have worked it three hundred years ago. Then on through plenty of garden cultivation, with all the people at their doors as we passed, fat and grinning: then up to a good high- road, and a school for Coolies, kept by a Presbyterian clergyman, Mr. Morton -- I must be allowed to mention his name -- who, like a sensible man, wore a white coat instead of the absurd regulation black one, too much affected by all well-to-do folk, lay as well as clerical, in the West Indies. The school seemed good enough in all ways. A senior class of young men -- including one who had had his head nearly cut off last year by misapplication of that formidable weapon the cutlass, which every coloured man and woman carries in the West Indies -- could read pretty well; and the smaller children -- with as much clothing on as they could be persuaded to wear -- were a sight pleasant to see. Among them, by the by, was a little lady who excited my astonishment. She was, I was told, twelve years old. She sat summing away on her slate, bedizened out in gauze petticoat, velvet jacket -- between which and the petticoat, of course, the waist showed just as nature had made it -- gauze veil, bangles, necklace, nose-jewel; for she was a married woman, and her Papa (Anglice, husband) wished her to look her best on so important an occasion.

This over-early marriage among the Coolies is a very serious evil, but one which they have brought with them from their own land. The girls are practically sold by their fathers while yet children, often to wealthy men much older than they. Love is out of the question. But what if the poor child, as she grows up, sees some one, among that overplus of men, to whom she, for the first time in her life, takes a fancy? Then comes a scandal; and one which is often ended swiftly enough by the cutlass. Wife-murder is but too common among these Hindoos, and they cannot be made to see that it is wrong. 'I kill my own wife. Why not? I kill no other man's wife,' was said by as pretty, gentle, graceful a lad of two-and- twenty as one need see; a convict performing, and perfectly, the office of housemaid in a friend's house. There is murder of wives, or quasi-wives now and then, among the baser sort of Coolies -- murder because a poor girl will not give her ill-earned gains to the ruffian who considers her as his property. But there is also law in Trinidad, and such offences do not go unpunished.

Then on through Savanna Grande and village again, and past more sugar estates, and past beautiful bits of forest, left, like English woods, standing in the cultivated fields. One batch of a few acres on the side of a dell was very lovely. Huge Figuiers and Huras were mingled with palms and rich undergrowth, and lighted up here and there with purple creepers.

So we went on, and on, and into the thick forest, and what was, till Sir Ralph Woodford taught the islanders what an European road was like, one of the pattern royal roads of the island. Originally an Indian trace, it had been widened by the Spaniards, and transformed from a line of mud six feet broad to one of thirty. The only pleasant reminiscence which I have about it was the finding in flower a beautiful parasite, undescribed by Griesbach; {192} a 'wild pine' with a branching spike of crimson flowers, purple tipped, which shone in the darkness of the bush like a great bunch of rosebuds growing among lily-leaves.

The present Governor, like Sir Ralph Woodford before him, has been fully aware of the old saying -- which the Romans knew well, and which the English did not know, and only rediscovered some century since -- that the 'first step in civilisation is to make roads; the second, to make more roads; and the third, to make more roads still.'

Through this very district (aided by men whose talents he had the talent to discover and employ) he has run wide, level, and sound roads, either already completed or in progress, through all parts of the island which I visited, save the precipitous glens of the northern shore.

Of such roads we saw more than one in the next few days. That day we had to commit ourselves, when we turned off the royal road, to one of the old Spanish-Indian jungle tracks. And here is a recipe for making one: -- Take a railway embankment of average steepness, strew it freely with wreck, rigging and all, to imitate the fallen timber, roots, and lianes -- a few flagstones and boulders here and there will be quite in place; plant the whole with the thickest pheasant-cover; set a field of huntsmen to find their way through it at the points of least resistance three times a week during a wet winter; and if you dare follow their footsteps, you will find a very accurate imitation of a forest-track in the wet season.

At one place we seemed to be fairly stopped. We plunged and slid down into a muddy brook, luckily with a gravel bar on which the horses could stand, at least one by one; and found opposite us a bank of smooth clay, bound with slippery roots, some ten feet high. We stood and looked at it, and the longer we looked -- in hunting phrase -- the less we liked it. But there was no alternative. Some one jumped off, and scrambled up on his hands and knees; his horse was driven up the bank to him -- on its knees, likewise, more than once -- and caught staggering among boughs and mud; and by the time the whole cavalcade was over, horses and men looked as if they had been brickmaking for a week.

But here again the cunning of these horses surprised me. On one very steep pitch, for instance, I saw before me two logs across the path, two feet and more in diameter, and what was worse, not two feet apart. How the brown cob meant to get over I could not guess; but as he seemed not to falter or turn tail, as an English horse would have done, I laid the reins on his neck and watched his legs. To my astonishment, he lifted a fore-leg out of the abyss of mud, put it between the logs, where I expected to hear it snap; clawed in front, and shuffled behind; put the other over the second log, the mud and water splashing into my face, and then brought the first freely out from between the logs, and -- horrible to see -- put a hind one in. Thus did he fairly walk through the whole; stopped a moment to get his breath; and then staggered and scrambled upward again, as if he had done nothing remarkable. Coming back, by the by, those two logs lay heavy on my heart for a mile ere I neared them. He might get up over them; but how would he get down again? And I was not surprised to hear more than one behind me say, 'I think I shall lead over.' But being in front, if I fell, I could only fall into the mud, and not on the top of a friend. So I let the brown cob do what he would, determined to see how far a tropic horse's legs could keep him up; and, to my great amusement, he quietly leapt the whole, descending five or six feet into a pool of mud, which shot out over him and me, half blinding us for the moment; then slid away on his haunches downward; picked himself up; and went on as usual, solemn, patient, and seemingly stupid as any donkey.

We had some difficulty in finding our quest, the Salse, or mud- volcano. But at last, out of a hut half buried in verdure on the edge of a little clearing, there tumbled the quaintest little old black man, cutlass in hand, and, without being asked, went on ahead as our guide. Crook-backed, round-shouldered, his only dress a ragged shirt and ragged pair of drawers, he had evidently thriven upon the forest life for many a year. He did not walk nor run, but tumbled along in front of us, his bare feet plashing from log to log and mud-heap to mud-heap, his gray woolly head wagging right and left, and his cutlass brushing almost instinctively at every bough he passed, while he turned round every moment to jabber something, usually in Creole French, which, of course, I could not understand.

He led us well, up and down, and at last over a flat of rich muddy ground, full of huge trees, and of their roots likewise, where there was no path at all. The solitude was awful; so was the darkness of the shade; so was the stifling heat; and right glad we were when we saw an opening in the trees, and the little man quickened his pace, and stopped with an air of triumph not unmixed with awe on the edge of a circular pool of mud and water some two or three acres in extent.

'Dere de debbil's woodyard,' said he, with somewhat bated breath. And no wonder; for a more doleful, uncanny, half-made spot I never saw. The sad forest ringed it round with a green wall, feathered down to the ugly mud, on which, partly perhaps from its saltness, partly from the changeableness of the surface, no plant would grow, save a few herbs and creepers which love the brackish water. Only here and there an Echites had crawled out of the wood and lay along the ground, its long shoots gay with large cream-coloured flowers and pairs of glossy leaves; and on it, and on some dead brushwood, grew a lovely little parasitic Orchis, an Oncidium, with tiny fans of leaves, and flowers like swarms of yellow butterflies.

There was no track of man, not even a hunter's footprint; but instead, tracks of beasts in plenty. Deer, quenco, {194a} and lapo, {194b} with smaller animals, had been treading up and down, probably attracted by the salt water. They were safe enough, the old man said. No hunter dare approach the spot. There were 'too much jumbies' here; and when one of the party expressed a wish to lie out there some night, in the hope of good shooting, the Negro shook his head. He would 'not do that for all the world. De debbil come out here at night, and walk about;' and he was much scandalised when the young gentleman rejoined that the chance of such a sight would be an additional reason for bivouacking there.

So we walked out upon the mud, which was mostly hard enough, past shallow pools of brackish water, smelling of asphalt, toward a group of little mud-volcanoes on the farther side. These curious openings into the nether-world are not permanent. They choke up after a while, and fresh ones appear in another part of the area, thus keeping the whole clear of plants.

They are each some two or three feet high, of the very finest mud, which leaves no feeling of grit on the fingers or tongue, and dries, of course, rapidly in the sun. On the top, or near the top, of each is a round hole, a finger's breadth, polished to exceeding smoothness, and running down through the cone as far as we could dig. From each oozes perpetually, with a clicking noise of gas- bubbles, water and mud; and now and then, losing their temper, they spirt out their dirt to a considerable height; a feat which we did not see performed, but which is so common that we were in something like fear and trembling while we opened a cone with our cutlasses. For though we could hardly have been made dirtier than we were, an explosion in our faces of mud with 'a faint bituminous smell,' and impregnated with 'common salt, a notable proportion of iodine, and a trace of carbonate of soda and carbonate of lime,' {195} would have been both unpleasant and humiliating. But the most puzzling thing about the place is, that out of the mud comes up -- not jumbies, but -- a multitude of small stones, like no stones in the neighbourhood; we found concretions of iron sand, and scales which seemed to have peeled off them; and pebbles, quartzose, or jasper, or like in appearance to flint; but all evidently long rolled on a sea-beach. Messrs. Wall and Sawkins mention pyrites and gypsum as being found: but we saw none, as far as I recollect. All these must have been carried up from a considerable depth by the force of the same gases which make the little mud-volcanoes.

Now and then this 'Salse,' so quiet when we saw it, is said to be seized with a violent paroxysm. Explosions are heard, and large discharges of mud, and even flame, are said to appear. Some seventeen years ago (according to Messrs. Wall and Sawkins) such an explosion was heard six miles off; and next morning the surface was found quite altered, and trees had disappeared, or been thrown down. But -- as they wisely say -- the reports of the inhabitants must be received with extreme caution. In the autumn of last year, some such explosion is said to have taken place at the Cedros Salse, a place so remote, unfortunately, that I could not visit it. The Negroes and Coolies, the story goes, came running to the overseer at the noise, assuring him that something terrible had happened; and when he, in defiance of their fears, went off to the Salse, he found that many tons of mud -- I was told thousands -- had been thrown out. How true this may be, I cannot say. But Messrs. Wall and Sawkins saw with their own eyes, in 1856, about two miles from this Cedros Salse, the results of an explosion which had happened only two months before, and of which they give a drawing. A surface two hundred feet round had been upheaved fifteen feet, throwing the trees in every direction; and the sham earthquake had shaken the ground for two hundred or three hundred yards round, till the natives fancied that their huts were going to fall.

There is a third Salse near Poole River, on the Upper Ortoire, which is extinct, or at least quiescent; but this, also, I could not visit. It is about seventeen miles from the sea, and about two hundred feet above it. As for the causes of these Salses, I fear the reader must be content, for the present, with a somewhat muddy explanation of the muddy mystery. Messrs. Wall and Sawkins are inclined to connect it with asphalt springs and pitch lakes. 'There is,' they say, 'easy gradation from the smaller Salses to the ordinary naphtha or petroleum springs.' It is certain that in the production of asphalt, carbonic acid, carburetted hydrogen, and water are given off. 'May not,' they ask, 'these orifices be the vents by which such gases escape? And in forcing their way to the surface, is it not natural that the liquid asphalt and slimy water should be drawn up and expelled?' They point out the fact, that wherever such volcanoes exist, asphalt or petroleum is found hard by. The mud volcanoes of Turbaco, in New Granada, famous from Humboldt's description of them, lie in an asphaltic country. They are much larger than those of Trinidad, the cones being, some of them, twenty feet high. When Humboldt visited them in 1801, they gave off hardly anything save nitrogen gas. But in the year 1850, a 'bituminous odour' had begun to be diffused; asphaltic oil swam on the surface of the small openings; and the gas issuing from any of the cones could be ignited. Dr. Daubeny found the mud-volcanoes of Macaluba giving out bitumen, and bubbles of carbonic acid and carburetted hydrogen. The mud-volcano of Saman, in the Western Caucasus, gives off, with a continual stream of thick mud, ignited gases, accompanied with mimic earthquakes like those of the Trinidad Salses; and this out of a soil said to be full of bituminous springs, and where (as in Trinidad) the tertiary strata carry veins of asphalt, or are saturated with naphtha. At the famous sacred Fire wells of Baku, in the Eastern Caucasus, the ejections of mud and inflammable gas are so mixed with asphaltic products that Eichwald says 'they should be rather called naphtha volcanoes than mud-volcanoes, as the eruptions always terminate in a large emission of naphtha.'

It is reasonable enough, then, to suppose a similar connection in Trinidad. But whence come, either in Trinidad or at Turbaco, the sea-salts and the iodine? Certainly not from the sea itself, which is distant, in the case of the Trinidad Salses, from two to seventeen miles. It must exist already in the strata below. And the ejected pebbles, which are evidently sea-worn, must form part of a tertiary sea-beach, covered by sands, and covering, perhaps, in its turn, vegetable debris which, as it is converted into asphalt, thrusts the pebbles up to the surface.

We had to hurry away from the strange place; for night was falling fast, or rather ready to fall, as always here, in a moment, without twilight, and we were scarce out of the forest before it was dark. The wild game were already moving, and a deer crossed our line of march, close before one of the horses. However, we were not benighted; for the sun was hardly down ere the moon rose, bright and full; and we floundered home through the mud, to start again next morning into mud again. Through rich rolling land covered with cane; past large sugar-works, where crop-time and all its bustle was just beginning; along a tramway, which made an excellent horse-road, and then along one of the new roads, which are opening up the yet untouched riches of this island. In this district alone, thirty-six miles of good road and thirty bridges have been made, where formerly there were only two abominable bridle-paths. It was a solid pleasure to see good engineering round the hillsides; gullies, which but a year or two before were break-neck scrambles into fords often impassable after all, bridged with baulks of incorruptible timber, on piers sunk, to give a hold in that sea of hasty pudding, sixteen feet below the river-bed; and side supports sunk as far into the banks; a solid pleasure to congratulate the warden (who had joined us) on his triumphs, and to hear how he had sought for miles around in the hasty-pudding sea, ere he could find either gravel or stone for road metal, and had found it after all; or how in places, finding no stone at all, he had been forced to metal the way with burnt clay, which, as I can testify, is an excellent substitute; or how again he had coaxed and patted the too-comfortable natives into being well paid for doing the very road-making which, if they had any notion of their own interests, they would combine to do for themselves. And so we rode on chatting,

'While all the land,
Beneath a broad and equal-blowing breeze,
Smelt of the coming summer;'

for it was winter then, and only 80 degrees in the shade, till the road entered the virgin forest, through which it has been driven, on the American principle of making land valuable by beginning with a road, and expecting settlers to follow it. Some such settlers we found, clearing right and left; among them a most satisfactory sight; namely, more than one Coolie family, who had served their apprenticeship, saved money, bought Government land, and set up as yeomen; the foundation, it is to be hoped, of a class of intelligent and civilised peasant proprietors. These men, as soon as they have cleared as much land as their wives and children, with their help, can keep in order, go off, usually, in gangs of ten to fifteen, to work, in many instances, on the estates from which they originally came. This fact practically refutes the opinion which was at first held by some attorneys and managers of sugar-estates, that the settling of free Indian immigrants would materially affect the labour supply of the colony. I must express an earnest hope that neither will any planters be short-sighted enough to urge such a theory on the present Governor, nor will the present Governor give ear to it. The colony at large must gain by the settlement of Crown lands by civilised people like the Hindoos, if it be only through the increased exports and imports; while the sugar-estates will become more and more sure of a constant supply of labour, without the heavy expense of importing fresh immigrants. I am assured that the only expense to the colony is the fee for survey, amounting to eighteen dollars for a ten-acre allotment, as the Coolie prefers the thinly-wooded and comparatively poor lands, from the greater facility of clearing them; and these lands are quite unsaleable to other customers. Therefore, for less than 4 pounds, an acclimatised Indian labourer with his family (and it must be remembered that, while the Negro families increase very slowly, the Coolies increase very rapidly, being more kind and careful parents) are permanently settled in the colony, the man to work five days a week on sugar- estates, the family to grow provisions for the market, instead of being shipped back to India at a cost, including gratuities and etceteras, of not less than 50 pounds.

One clearing we reached -- were I five-and-twenty I should like to make just such another next to it -- of a higher class still. A cultivated Scotchman, now no longer young, but hale and mighty, had taken up three hundred acres, and already cleared a hundred and fifty; and there he intended to pass the rest of a busy life, not under his own vine and fig-tree, but under his own castor-oil and cacao-tree. We were welcomed by as noble a Scot's face as I ever saw, and as keen a Scot's eye; and taken in and fed, horses and men, even too sumptuously, in a palm and timber house. Then we wandered out to see the site of his intended mansion, with the rich wooded hills of the Latagual to the north, and all around the unbroken forest, where, he told us, the howling monkeys shouted defiance morning and evening at him who did

'Invade their ancient solitary reign.'

Then we went down to see the Coolie barracks, where the folk seemed as happy and well cared for as they were certain to be under such a master; then down a rocky pool in the river, jammed with bare white logs (as in some North American forest), which had been stopped in flood by one enormous trunk across the stream; then back past the site of the ajoupa which had been our host's first shelter, and which had disappeared by a cause strange enough to English ears. An enormous silk-cotton near by was felled, in spite of the Negroes' fears. Its boughs, when it fell, did not reach the ajoupa by twenty feet or more; but the wind of its fall did, and blew the hut clean away. This may sound like a story out of Munchausen: but there was no doubt of the fact; and to us who saw the size of the tree which did the deed it seemed probable enough.

We rode away again, and into the 'Morichal,' the hills where Moriche palms are found; to see certain springs and a certain tree; and well worth seeing they were. Out of the base of a limestone hill, amid delicate ferns, under the shade of enormous trees, a clear pool bubbled up and ran away, a stream from its very birth, as is the wont of limestone springs. It was a spot fit for a Greek nymph; at least for an Indian damsel: but the nymph who came to draw water in a tin bucket, and stared stupidly and saucily at us, was anything but Greek, or even Indian, either in costume or manners. Be it so. White men are responsible for her being there; so white men must not complain. Then we went in search of the tree. We had passed, as we rode up, some Huras (Sandbox-trees) which would have been considered giants in England; and I had been laughed at more than once for asking, 'Is that the tree, or that?' I soon knew why. We scrambled up a steep bank of broken limestone, through ferns and Balisiers, for perhaps a hundred feet; and then were suddenly aware of a bole which justified the saying of one of our party -- that, when surveying for a road he had come suddenly on it, he 'felt as if he had run against a church tower.' It was a Hura, seemingly healthy, undecayed, and growing vigorously. Its girth -- we measured it carefully -- was forty-four feet, six feet from the ground, and as I laid my face against it and looked up, I seemed to be looking up a ship's side. It was perfectly cylindrical, branchless, and smooth, save, of course, the tiny prickles which beset the bark, for a height at which we could not guess, but which we luckily had an opportunity of measuring. A wild pine grew in the lowest fork, and had kindly let down an air-root into the soil. We tightened the root, set it perpendicular, cut it off exactly where it touched the ground, and then pulled carefully till we brought the plant and half a dozen more strange vegetables down on our heads. The length of the air-root was just seventy-five feet. Some twenty feet or more above that first fork was a second fork; and then the tree began. Where its head was we could not see. We could only, by laying our faces against the bole and looking up, discern a wilderness of boughs carrying a green cloud of leaves, most of them too high for us to discern their shape without the glasses. We walked up the slope, and round about, in hopes of seeing the head of the tree clear enough to guess at its total height: but in vain. It was only when we had ridden some half mile up the hill that we could discern its masses rising, a bright green mound, above the darker foliage of the forest. It looked of any height, from one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet; less it could hardly be. 'It made,' says a note by one of our party, 'other huge trees look like shrubs.' I am not surprised that my friend Mr. St. Luce D'Abadie, who measured the tree since my departure, found it to be one hundred and ninety-two feet in height.

I was assured that there were still larger trees in the island. A certain Locust-tree and a Ceiba were mentioned. The Moras, too, of the southern hills, were said to be far taller. And I can well believe it; for if huge trees were as shrubs beside that Sandbox, it would be a shrub by the side of those Locusts figured by Spix and Martius, which fifteen Indians with outstretched arms could just embrace. At the bottom they were eighty-four feet round, and sixty where the boles became cylindrical. By counting the rings of such parts as could be reached, they arrived at the conclusion that they were of the age of Homer, and 332 years old in the days of Pythagoras. One estimate, indeed, reduced their antiquity to 2052 years old; while another (counting, I presume, two rings of fresh wood for every year) carried it up to 4104.

So we rode on and up the hills, by green and flowery paths, with here and there a cottage and a garden, and groups of enormous Palmistes towering over the tree-tops in every glen, talking over that wondrous weed, whose head we saw still far below. For weed it is, and nothing more. The wood is soft and almost useless, save for firing; and the tree itself, botanists tell us, is neither more nor less than a gigantic Spurge, the cousin-german of the milky garden weeds with which boys burn away their warts. But if the modern theory be true, that when we speak (as we are forced to speak) of the relationships of plants, we use no metaphor, but state an actual fact; that the groups into which we are forced to arrange them indicate not merely similarity of type, but community of descent -- then how wonderful is the kindred between the Spurge and the Hura -- indeed, between all the members of the Euphorbiaceous group, so fantastically various in outward form; so abundant, often huge, in the Tropics, while in our remote northern island their only representatives are a few weedy Spurges, two Dog's Mercuries -- weeds likewise -- and the Box. Wonderful it is if only these last have had the same parentage -- still more if they have had the same parentage, too, with forms so utterly different from them as the prickly- stemmed scarlet-flowered Euphorbia common in our hothouses; as the huge succulent cactus-like Euphorbia of the Canary Islands; as the gale-like Phyllanthus; the many-formed Crotons, which in the West Indies alone comprise, according to Griesbach, at least twelve genera and thirty species; the hemp-like Maniocs, Physic-nuts, Castor-oils; the scarlet Poinsettia which adorns dinner-tables in winter; the pretty little pink and yellow Dalechampia, now common in hothouses; the Manchineel, with its glossy poplar-like leaves; and this very Hura, with leaves still more like a poplar, and a fruit which differs from most of its family in having not three but many divisions, usually a multiple of three up to fifteen; a fruit which it is difficult to obtain, even where the tree is plentiful: for hanging at the end of long branches, it bursts when ripe with a crack like a pistol, scattering its seeds far and wide: from whence its name of Hura crepitans.

But what if all these forms are the descendants of one original form? Would that be one whit more wonderful, more inexplicable, than the theory that they were each and all, with their minute and often imaginary shades of difference, created separately and at once? But if it be -- which I cannot allow -- what can the theologian say, save that God's works are even more wonderful than we always believed them to be? As for the theory being impossible: who are we, that we should limit the power of God? 'Is anything too hard for the Lord?' asked the prophet of old; and we have a right to ask it as long as time shall last. If it be said that natural selection is too simple a cause to produce such fantastic variety: we always knew that God works by very simple, or seemingly simple, means; that the universe, as far as we could discern it, was one organisation of the most simple means; it was wonderful (or ought to have been) in our eyes, that a shower of rain should make the grass grow, and that the grass should become flesh, and the flesh food for the thinking brain of man; it was (or ought to have been) yet more wonderful in our eyes, that a child should resemble its parents, or even a butterfly resemble -- if not always, still usually -- its parents likewise. Ought God to appear less or more august in our eyes if we discover that His means are even simpler than we supposed? We hold Him to be almighty and allwise. Are we to reverence Him less or more if we find that His might is greater, His wisdom deeper, than we had ever dreamed? We believed that His care was over all His works; that His providence watched perpetually over the universe. We were taught, some of us at least, by Holy Scripture, to believe that the whole history of the universe was made up of special providences: if, then, that should be true which Mr. Darwin says -- 'It may be metaphorically said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life,' -- if this, I say, were proved to be true, ought God's care, God's providence, to seem less or more magnificent in our eyes? Of old it was said by Him without whom nothing is made -- 'My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.' Shall we quarrel with physical science, if she gives us evidence that these words are true? And if it should be proven that the gigantic Hura and the lowly Spurge sprang from one common ancestor, what would the orthodox theologian have to say to it, saving -- 'I always knew that God was great: and I am not surprised to find Him greater than I thought Him'?

So much for the giant weed of the Morichal, from which we rode on and up through rolling country growing lovelier at every step, and turned out of our way to see wild pine-apples in a sandy spot, or 'Arenal' in a valley beneath. The meeting of the stiff marl and the fine sand was abrupt, and well marked by the vegetation. On one side of the ravine the tall fan-leaved Carats marked the rich soil; on the other, the sand and gravel loving Cocorites appeared at once, crowding their ostrich plumes together. Most of them were the common species of the island {202a} in which the pinnae of the leaves grow in fours and fives, and at different angles from the leaf-stalk, giving the whole a brushy appearance, which takes off somewhat from the perfectness of its beauty. But among them we saw- -for the first and last time in the forest -- a few of a far more beautiful species, {202b} common on the mainland. In it, the pinnae are set on all at the same distance apart, and all in the same plane, in opposite sides of the stalk, giving to the whole foliage a grand simplicity; and producing, when the curving leaf-points toss in the breeze, that curious appearance, which I mentioned in an earlier chapter, of green glass wheels with rapidly revolving spokes. At their feet grew the pine-apples, only in flower or unripe fruit, so that we could not quench our thirst with them, and only looked with curiosity at the small wild type of so famous a plant. But close by, and happily nearly ripe, we found a fair substitute for pine-apples in the fruit of the Karatas. This form of Bromelia, closely allied to the Pinguin of which hedges are made, bears a straggling plume of prickly leaves, six or eight feet long each, close to the ground. The forester looks for a plant in which the leaves droop outwards -- a sign that the fruit is ripe. After beating it cautiously (for snakes are very fond of coiling under its shade) he opens the centre, and finds, close to the ground, a group of whitish fruits, nearly two inches long; peels carefully off the skin, which is beset with innumerable sharp hairs, and eats the sour-sweet refreshing pulp: but not too often, for there are always hairs enough left to make the tongue bleed if more than one or two are eaten.

With lips somewhat less parched, we rode away again to see the sight of the day; and a right pleasant sight it was. These Montserrat hills had been, within the last three years, almost the most lawless and neglected part of the island. Principally by the energy and tact of one man, the wild inhabitants had been conciliated, brought under law, and made to pay their light taxes, in return for a safety and comfort enjoyed perhaps by no other peasants on earth.

A few words on the excellent system, which bids fair to establish in this colony a thriving and loyal peasant proprietary. Up to 1847 Crown lands were seldom alienated. In that year a price was set upon them, and persons in illegal occupation ordered to petition for their holdings. Unfortunately, though a time was fixed for petitioning, no time was fixed for paying; and consequently the vast majority of petitioners never took any further steps in the matter. Unfortunately, too, the price fixed -- 2 pounds per acre -- was too high; and squatting went on much as before.

It appeared to the late Governor that this evil would best be dealt with experimentally and locally; and he accordingly erected the chief squatting district, Montserrat, into a ward, giving the warden large discretionary powers as Commissioner of Crown lands. The price of Crown lands was reduced, in 1869, to 1 pounds per acre; and the Montserrat system extended, as far as possible, to other wards; a movement which the results fully justified.

In 1867 there were in Montserrat 400 squatters, holding lands of from 3 to 120 acres, planted with cacao, coffee, or provisions. Some of the cacao plantations were valued at 1000 pounds. These people lived without paying taxes, and almost without law or religion. The Crown woods had been, of course, sadly plundered by squatters, and by others who should have known better. At every turn magnificent cedars might have been seen levelled by the axe, only a few feet of the trunk being used to make boards and shingles, while the greater part was left to rot or burn. These irregularities have been now almost stopped; and 266 persons, in Montserrat alone, have taken out grants of land, some of 400 acres. But this by no means represents the number of purchasers, as nearly an equal number have paid for their estates, though they have not yet received their grants, and nearly 500 more have made application. Two villages have been formed; one of which is that where we rested, containing the church. The other contains the warden's residence and office, the police-station, and a numerously attended school.

The squatters are of many races, and of many hues of black and brown. The half-breeds from the neighbouring coast of Venezuela, a mixture, probably, of Spanish, Negro, and Indian, are among the most industrious; and their cacao plantations, in some cases, hold 8000 to 10,000 trees. The south-west corner of Montserrat {204} is almost entirely settled by Africans of various tribes -- Mandingos, Foulahs, Homas, Yarribas, Ashantees, and Congos. The last occupy the lowest position in the social scale. They lead, for the most part, a semi-barbarous life, dwelling in miserable huts, and subsisting on the produce of an acre or two of badly cultivated land, eked out with the pay of an occasional day's labour on some neighbouring estate. The social position of some of the Yarribas forms a marked contrast to that of the Congos. They inhabit houses of cedar, or other substantial materials. Their gardens are, for the most part, well stocked and kept. They raise crops of yam, cassava, Indian corn, etc.; and some of them subscribe to a fund on which they may draw in case of illness or misfortune. They are, however (as is to be expected from superior intellect while still uncivilised), more difficult to manage than the Congos, and highly impatient of control.

These Africans, Mr. Mitchell says, all belong nominally to some denomination of Christianity; but their lives are more influenced by their belief in Obeah. While the precepts of religion are little regarded, they stand in mortal dread of those who practise this mischievous imposture. Well might the Commissioner say, in 1867, that several years must elapse before the chaos which reigned could be reduced to order. The wonder is, that in three years so much has been done. It was very difficult, at first, even to find the whereabouts of many of the squatters. The Commissioner had to work by compass through the pathless forest. Getting little or no food but cassava cakes and 'guango' of maize, and now and then a little coffee and salt fish, without time to hunt the game which passed him, and continually wet through, he stumbled in suddenly on one squatting after another, to the astonishment of its owner, who could not conceive how he had been found out, and had never before seen a white man alone in the forest. Sometimes he was in considerable danger of a rough reception from people who could not at first understand what they had to gain by getting legal titles, and buying the lands the fruit of which they had enjoyed either for nothing, or for payment of a small annual assessment for the cultivated portion. In another quarter -- Toco -- a notoriously lawless squatter had expressed his intention of shooting the Government official. The white gentleman walked straight up to the little forest fortress hidden in bush, and confronted the Negro, who had gun in hand.

'I could have shot you if I had liked, buccra.'

'No, you could not. I should have cut you down first: so don't play the fool,' answered the official quietly, hand on cutlass.

The wild man gave in; paid his rates; received the Crown title for his land; and became (as have all these sons of the forest) fast friends with one whom they have learnt at once to love and fear.

But among the Montserrat hills, the Governor had struck on a spot so fit for a new settlement, that he determined to found one forthwith. The quick-eyed Jesuits had founded a mission on the same spot many years before. But all had lapsed again into forest. A group of enormous Palmistes stands on a plateau, flat, and yet lofty and healthy. The soil is exceeding fertile. There are wells and brooks of pure water all around. The land slopes down for hundreds of feet in wooded gorges, full of cedar and other admirable timber, with Palmistes towering over them everywhere. Far away lies the lowland; and every breeze of heaven sweeps over the crests of the hills. So one peculiarly tall palm was chosen for a central landmark, an ornament to the town square such as no capital in Europe can boast. Traces were cut, streets laid out, lots of Crown lands put up for sale, and settlers invited in the name of the Government.

Scarcely eighteen months had passed since then, and already there Mitchell Street, Violin Street, Duboulay Street, Farfan Street, had each its new houses built of cedar and thatched with palm. Two Chinese shops had Celestials with pigtails and thick-soled shoes grinning behind cedar counters, among stores of Bryant's safety matches, Huntley and Palmers' biscuits, and Allsopp's pale ale. A church had been built, the shell at least, and partly floored, with a very simple, but not tasteless, altar; the Abbe had a good house, with a gallery, jalousies, and white china handles to the doors. The mighty palm in the centre of Gordon Square had a neat railing round it, as befitted the Palladium of the village. Behind the houses, among the stumps of huge trees, maize and cassava, pigeon- peas and sweet potatoes, fattened in the sun, on ground which till then had been shrouded by vegetation a hundred feet thick; and as we sat at the head man's house, with French and English prints upon the walls, and drank beer from a Chinese shop, and looked out upon the loyal, thriving little settlement, I envied the two young men who could say, 'At least, we have not lived in vain; for we have made this out of the primeval forest.' Then on again. 'We mounted' (I quote now from the notes of one to whom the existence of the settlement was due) 'to the crest of the hills, and had a noble view southwards, looking over the rich mass of dark wood, flecked here and there with a scarlet stain of Bois Immortelle, to the great sea of bright green sugar cultivation in the Naparimas, studded by white works and villages, and backed far off by a hazy line of forest, out of which rose the peaks of the Moruga Mountains. More to the west lay San Fernando hill, the calm gulf, and the coast toward La Brea and Cedros melting into mist. M -- - thought we should get a better view of the northern mountains by riding up to old Nicano's house; so we went thither, under the cacao rich with yellow and purple pods. The view was fine: but the northern range, though visible, was rather too indistinct, and the mainland was not to be seen at all.'

Nevertheless, the panorama from the top of Montserrat is at once the most vast, and the most lovely, which I have ever seen. And whosoever chooses to go and live there may buy any reasonable quantity of the richest soil at 1 pounds per acre.

Then down off the ridge, toward the northern lowland, lay a headlong old Indian path, by which we travelled, at last, across a rocky brook, and into a fresh paradise.

I must be excused for using this word so often: but I use it in the original Persian sense, as a place in which natural beauty has been helped by art. An English park or garden would have been called of old a paradise; and the enceinte of a West Indian house, even in its present half-wild condition, well deserves the same title. That Art can help Nature there can be no doubt. 'The perfection of Nature' exists only in the minds of sentimentalists, and of certain well- meaning persons, who assert the perfection of Nature when they wish to controvert science, and deny it when they wish to prove this earth fallen and accursed. Mr. Nesfield can make landscapes, by obedience to certain laws which Nature is apt to disregard in the struggle for existence, more beautiful than they are already by Nature; and that without introducing foreign forms of vegetation. But if foreign forms, wisely chosen for their shapes and colours, be added, the beauty may be indefinitely increased. For the plants most capable of beautifying any given spot do not always grow therein, simply because they have not yet arrived there; as may be seen by comparing any wood planted with Rhododendrons and Azaleas with the neighbouring wood in its native state. Thus may be obtained somewhat of that variety and richness which is wanting everywhere, more or less, in the vegetation of our northern zone, only just recovering slowly from the destructive catastrophe of the glacial epoch; a richness which, small as it is, vanishes as we travel northward, till the drear landscape is sheeted more and more with monotonous multitudes of heather, grass, fir, or other social plants.

But even in the Tropics the virgin forest, beautiful as it is, is without doubt much less beautiful, both in form and colours, than it might be made. Without doubt, also, a mere clearing, after a few years, is a more beautiful place than the forest; because by it distance is given, and you are enabled to see the sky, and the forest itself beside; because new plants, and some of them very handsome ones, are introduced by cultivation, or spring up in the rastrajo; and lastly, but not least, because the forest on the edge of the clearing is able to feather down to the ground, and change what is at first a bare tangle of stems and boughs into a softly rounded bank of verdure and flowers. When, in some future civilisation, the art which has produced, not merely a Chatsworth or a Dropmore, but an average English shrubbery or park, is brought to bear on tropic vegetation, then Nature, always willing to obey when conquered by fair means, will produce such effects of form and colour around tropic estates and cities as we cannot fancy for ourselves.

Mr. Wallace laments (and rightly) the absence in the tropic forests of such grand masses of colour as are supplied by a heather moor, a furze or broom-croft, a field of yellow charlock, blue bugloss, or scarlet poppy. Tropic landscape gardening will supply that defect; and a hundred plants of yellow Allamanda, or purple Dolichos, or blue Clitoria, or crimson Norantea, set side by side, as we might use a hundred Calceolarias or Geraniums, will carry up the forest walls, and over the tree-tops, not square yards, but I had almost said square acres of richest positive colour. I can conceive no limit to the effects -- always heightened by the intense sunlight and the peculiar tenderness of the distances -- which landscape gardening will produce when once it is brought to bear on such material as it has never yet attempted to touch, at least in the West Indies, save in the Botanic Garden at Port of Spain.

And thus the little paradise at Tortuga to which we descended to sleep, though cleared out without any regard to art, was far more beautiful than the forest out of which it had been hewn three years before. The two first settlers regretted the days when the house was a mere palm-thatched hut, where they sat on stumps which would not balance, and ate potted meat with their pocket knives. But it had grown now into a grand place, fit to receive ladies: such a house, or rather shed, as those South Sea Island ones which may be seen in Hodges' illustrations to Cook's Voyages, save that a couple of bedrooms have been boarded off at the back, a little office on one side, and a bulwark, like that of a ship, put round the gallery. And as we looked down through the purple gorges, and up at the mountain woods, over which the stars were flashing out blight and fast, and listened to the soft strange notes of the forest birds going to roost, again the thought came over me -- Why should not gentlemen and ladies come to such spots as these to live 'the Gentle Life'?

We slept that night, some in beds, some in hammocks, some on the floor, with the rich warm night wind rushing down through all the house; and then were up once more in the darkness of the dawn, to go down and bathe at a little cascade, where a feeble stream dribbled under ferns and balisiers over soft square limestone rocks like the artificial rocks of the Serpentine, and those -- copied probably from the rocks of Fontainebleau -- which one sees in old French landscapes. But a bathe was hardly necessary. So drenched was the vegetation with night dew, that if one had taken off one's clothes at the house, and simply walked under the bananas, and through the tanias and maize which grew among them, one would have been well washed ere one reached the stream. As it was, the bathers came back with their clothes wet through. No matter. The sun was up, and half an hour would dry all again.

One object, on the edge of the forest, was worth noticing, and was watched long through the glasses; namely, two or three large trees, from which dangled a multitude of the pendant nests of the Merles: {209} birds of the size of a jackdaw, brown and yellow, and mocking- birds, too, of no small ability. The pouches, two feet long and more, swayed in the breeze, fastened to the end of the boughs with a few threads. Each had, about half-way down, an opening into the round sac below, in and out of which the Merles crept and fluttered, talking all the while in twenty different notes. Most tropic birds hide their nests carefully in the bush: the Merles hang theirs fearlessly in the most exposed situations. They find, I presume, that they are protected enough from monkeys, wild cats, and gato- melaos (a sort of ferret) by being hung at the extremity of the bough. So thinks M. Leotaud, the accomplished describer of the birds of Trinidad. But he adds with good reason: 'I do not, however, understand how birds can protect their nestlings against ants; for so large is the number of these insects in our climes, that it would seem as if everything would become their prey.'

And so everything will, unless the bird murder be stopped. Already the parasol-ants have formed a warren close to Port of Spain, in what was forty years ago highly cultivated ground, from which they devastate at night the northern gardens. The forests seem as empty of birds as the neighbourhood of the city; and a sad answer will soon have to be given to M. Leotaud's question: --

'The insectivorous tribes are the true representatives of our ornithology. There are so many which feed on insects and their larvae, that it may be asked with much reason, What would become of our vegetation, of ourselves, should these insect destroyers disappear? Everywhere may be seen' (M. L. speaks, I presume, of five-and-twenty years ago: my experience would make me substitute for his words, 'Hardly anywhere can be seen') 'one of these insectivora in pursuit or seizure of its prey, either on the wing or on the trunks of trees, in the coverts of thickets or in the calices of flowers. Whenever called to witness one of those frequent migrations from one point to another, so often practised by ants, not only can the Dendrocolaptes (connected with our Creepers) be seen following the moving trail, and preying on the ants and the eggs themselves, but even the black Tanager abandons his usual fruits for this more tempting delicacy. Our frugivorous and baccivorous genera are also pretty numerous, and most of them are so fond of insect food that they unite, as occasion offers, with the insectivorous tribes.'

So it was once. Now a traveller, accustomed to the swarms of birds which, not counting the game, inhabit an average English cover, would be surprised and pained by the scarcity of birds in the forests of this island.

We rode down toward the northern lowland, along a broad new road of last year's making, terraced, with great labour, along the hill, and stopped to visit one of those excellent Government schools which do honour, first to that wise legislator, Lord Harris, and next to the late Governor. Here, in the depths of the forest, where never policeman or schoolmaster had been before, was a house of satin-wood and cedar not two years old, used at once as police-station and school, with a shrewd Spanish-speaking schoolmaster, and fifty-two decent little brown children on the school-books, and getting, when their lazy parents will send them, as good an education as they would get in England. I shall have more to say on the education system of Trinidad. All it seems to me to want, with its late modifications, is compulsory attendance.

Soon turning down an old Indian path, we saw the Gulf once more, and between us and it the sheet of cane cultivation, of which one estate ran up to our feet, 'like a bright green bay entered by a narrow strait among the dark forest.' Just before we came to it we passed another pleasant sight: more Coolie settlers, who had had lands granted them in lieu of the return passage to which they were entitled, were all busily felling wood, putting up bamboo and palm- leaf cabins, and settling themselves down, each one his own master, yet near enough to the sugar-estates below to get remunerative work whenever needful.

Then on, over slow miles (you must not trot beneath the burning mid- day sun) of sandy stifling flat, between high canes, till we saw with joy, through long vistas of straight traces, the mangrove shrubbery which marked the sea. We turned into large sugar-works, to be cooled with sherry and ice by a hospitable manager, whose rooms were hung with good prints, and stored with good books and knick-knacks from Europe, showing the signs of a lady's hand. And here our party broke up. The rest carried their mud back to Port of Spain; I in the opposite direction back to San Fernando, down a little creek which served as a port to the estate.

Plastered up to the middle like the rest of the party, besides splashes over face and hat, I could get no dirtier than I was already. I got without compunction into a canoe some three feet wide; and was shoved by three Negroes down a long winding ditch of mingled mud, water, and mangrove-roots. To keep one's self and one's luggage from falling out during the journey was no easy matter; at one moment, indeed, it threatened to become impossible. For where the mangroves opened on the sea, the creek itself turned sharply northward along shore, leaving (as usual) a bed of mud between it and the sea some quarter of a mile broad; across which we had to pass as a short cut to the boat, which lay far out. The difficulty was, of course, to get the canoe out of the creek up the steep mud-bank. To that end she was turned on her side, with me on board. I could just manage, by jamming my luggage under my knees, and myself against the two gunwales, to keep in, holding on chiefly by my heels and the back of my neck. But it befell, that in the very agony of the steepest slope, when the Negroes (who worked like really good fellows) were nigh waist-deep in mud, my eye fell, for the first time in my life, on a party of Calling Crabs, who had been down to the water to fish, and were now scuttling up to their burrows among the mangrove-roots; and at the sight of the pairs of long-stalked eyes, standing upright like a pair of opera-glasses, and the long single arms which each brandished, with frightful menaces, as of infuriated Nelsons, I burst into such a fit of laughter that I nearly fell out into the mud. The Negroes thought for the instant that the 'buccra parson' had gone mad: but when I pointed with my head (I dare not move a finger) to the crabs, off they went in a true Negro guffaw, which, when once begun, goes on and on, like thunder echoing round the mountains, and can no more stop itself than a Blackcap's song. So all the way across the mud the jolly fellows, working meanwhile like horses, laughed for the mere pleasure of laughing; and when we got to the boat the Negro in charge of her saw us laughing, and laughed too for company, without waiting to hear the joke; and as two of them took the canoe home, we could hear them laughing still in the distance, till the lonely loathsome place rang again. I plead guilty to having given the men, as payment, not only for their work but for their jollity, just twice what they asked, which, after all, was very little.

But what are Calling Crabs? I must ask the reader to conceive a moderate-sized crab, the front of whose carapace is very broad and almost straight, with a channel along it, in which lie, right and left, his two eyes, each on a footstalk half as long as the breadth of his body; so that the crab, when at rest, carries his eyes as epaulettes, and peeps out at the joint of each shoulder. But when business is to be done, the eye-stalks jump bolt upright side by side, like a pair of little lighthouses, and survey the field of battle in a fashion utterly ludicrous. Moreover, as if he were not ridiculous enough even thus, he is (as Mr. Wood well puts it) like a small man gifted with one arm of Hercules, and another of Tom Thumb. One of his claw arms, generally the left, has dwindled to a mere nothing, and is not seen; while along the whole front of his shell lies folded one mighty right arm, on which he trusts; and with that arm, when danger appears, he beckons the enemy to come on, with such wild defiance, that he has gained therefrom the name of Gelasimus Vocans ('The Calling Laughable'); and it were well if all scientific names were as well fitted. He is, as might be guessed, a shrewd fighter, and uses the true old 'Bristol guard' in boxing, holding his long arm across his body, and fencing and biting therewith swiftly and sharply enough. Moreover, he is a respectable animal, and has a wife, and takes care of her; and to see him in his glory, it is said, he should be watched sitting in the mouth of his 'burrow, his spouse packed safe behind him inside, while he beckons and brandishes, proclaiming to all passers-by the treasure which he protects, while he defies them to touch it.

Such is the 'Calling Crab,' of whom I must say, that if he was not made on purpose to be laughed at, then I should be induced to suspect that nothing was made for any purpose whatsoever.

After which sight, and weary of waiting, not without some fear that- -as the Negroes would have put it -- 'If I tap da wan momant ma, I catch da confection,' while, of course, a bucket or two of hot water was emptied on us out of a passing cloud, I got on board the steamer, and away to San Fernando, to wash away dirt and forget fatigue, amid the hospitality of educated and high-minded men, and of even more charming women.

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