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SermonIndex - Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival : Christian Books : CHAPTER XI: THE NORTHERN MOUNTAINS

At Last by Charles Kingsley


I had heard and read much of the beauty of mountain scenery in the Tropics. What I had heard and read is not exaggerated. I saw, it is true, in this little island no Andes, with such a scenery among them and below them as Humboldt alone can describe -- a type of the great and varied tropical world as utterly different from that of Trinidad as it is from that of Kent -- or Siberia. I had not even the chance of such a view as that from the Silla of Caraccas described by Humboldt, from which you look down at a height of nearly six thousand feet, through layer after layer of floating cloud, which increases the seeming distance to an awful depth, upon the blazing shores of the Northern Sea.

That view our host and his suite had seen themselves the year before; and they assured me that Humboldt had not overstated its grandeur. The mountains of Trinidad do not much exceed three thousand feet in height, and I could hope at most to see among them what my fancy had pictured among the serrated chines and green gorges of St. Vincent, Guadaloupe, and St. Lucia, hanging gardens compared with which those of Babylon of old must have been Cockney mounds. The rock among these mountains, as I have said already, is very seldom laid bare. Decomposed rapidly by the tropic rain and heat, it forms, even on the steepest slopes, a mass of soil many feet in depth, ever increasing, and ever sliding into the valleys, mingled with blocks and slabs of rock still undecomposed. The waste must be enormous now. Were the forests cleared, and the soil no longer protected by the leaves and bound together by the roots, it would increase at a pace of which we in this temperate zone can form no notion, and the whole mountain-range slide down in deluges of mud, as, even in the temperate zone, the Mont Ventoux and other hills in Provence are sliding now, since they have been rashly cleared of their primeval coat of woodland.

To this degrading influence of mere rain and air must be attributed, I think, those vast deposits of boulder which encumber the mouths of all the southern glens, sometimes to a height of several hundred feet. Did one meet them in Scotland, one would pronounce them at once to be old glacier-moraines. But Messrs. Wall and Sawkins, in their geological survey of this island, have abstained from expressing any such opinion; and I think wisely. They are more simply explained as the mere leavings of the old sea-worn mountain wall, at a time when the Orinoco, or the sea, lay along their southern, as it now does along their northern, side. The terraces in which they rise mark successive periods of upheaval; and how long these periods were, no reasonable man dare guess. But as for traces of ice-action, none, as far as I can ascertain, have yet been met with. He would be a bold man who should deny that, during the abyss of ages, a cold epoch may have spread ice over part of that wide land which certainly once existed to the north of Trinidad and the Spanish Main: but if so, its traces are utterly obliterated. The commencement of the glacial epoch, as far as Trinidad is concerned, may be safely referred to the discovery of Wenham Lake ice, and the effects thereof sought solely in the human stomach and the increase of Messrs. Haley's well-earned profits. Is it owing to this absence of any ice-action that there are no lakes, not even a tarn, in the northern mountains? Far be it from me to thrust my somewhat empty head into the battle which has raged for some time past between those who attribute all lakes to the scooping action of glaciers and those who attribute them to original depressions in the earth's surface: but it was impossible not to contrast the lakeless mountains of Trinidad with the mountains of Kerry, resembling them so nearly in shape and size, but swarming with lakes and tarns. There are no lakes throughout the West Indies, save such as are extinct craters, or otherwise plainly attributable to volcanic action, as I presume are the lakes of tropical Mexico and Peru. Be that as it may, the want of water, or rather of visible water, takes away much from the beauty of these mountains, in which the eye grows tired toward the end of a day's journey with the monotonous surges of green woodland; and hails with relief, in going northward, the first glimpse of the sea horizon; in going south, the first glimpse of the hazy lowland, in which the very roofs and chimney-stalks of the sugar-estates are pleasant to the eye from the repose of their perpendicular and horizontal lines after the perpetual unrest of rolling hills and tangled vegetation.

We started, then (to begin my story), a little after five one morning, from a solid old mansion in the cane-fields, which bears the name of Paradise, and which has all the right to the name which beauty of situation and goodness of inhabitants can bestow.

As we got into our saddles the humming-birds were whirring round the tree-tops; the Qu'est-ce qu'il dits inquiring the subject of our talk. The black vultures sat about looking on in silence, hoping that something to their advantage might be dropped or left behind -- possibly that one of our horses might die.

Ere the last farewell was given, one of our party pointed to a sight which I never saw before, and perhaps shall never see again. It was the Southern Cross. Just visible in that winter season on the extreme southern horizon in early morning, it hung upright amid the dim haze of the lowland and the smoke of the sugar-works. Impressive as was, and always must be, the first sight of that famous constellation, I could not but agree with those who say that they are disappointed by its inequality, both in shape and in the size of its stars. However, I had but little time to make up my mind about it; for in five minutes more it had melted away into a blaze of sunlight, which reminded us that we ought to have been on foot half an hour before.

So away we went over the dewy paddocks, through broad-leaved grasses, and the pink balls of the sensitive-plants and blue Commelyna, and the upright negro Ipecacuanha, {216} with its scarlet and yellow flowers, gayest and commonest of weeds; then down into a bamboo copse, and across a pebbly brook, and away toward the mountains.

Our party consisted of a bat-mule, with food and clothes, two or three Negroes, a horse for me, another for general use in case of break-down; and four gentlemen who preferred walking to riding. It seemed at first a serious undertaking on their part; but one had only to see them begin to move, long, lithe, and light as deer- hounds, in their flannel shirts and trousers, with cutlass and pouch at their waists, to be sure that they could both go and stay, and were as well able to get to Blanchisseuse as the horses beside which they walked.

The ward of Blanchisseuse, on the north coast, whither we were bound, was of old, I understand, called Blanchi Sali, or something to that effect, signifying the white cliffs. The French settlers degraded the name to its present form, and that so hopelessly, that the other day an old Negress in Port of Spain puzzled the officer of Crown property by informing him that she wanted to buy 'a carre in what you call de washerwoman's.' It had been described to me as possibly the remotest, loneliest, and unhealthiest spot in Her Majesty's tropical dominions. No white man can live there for more than two or three years without ruin to his health. In spite of the perpetual trade-wind, and the steepness of the hillsides, malaria hangs for ever at the mouth of each little mountain torrent, and crawls up inland to leeward to a considerable height above the sea.

But we did not intend to stay there long enough to catch fever and ague. We had plenty of quinine with us; and cheerily we went up the valley of Caura, first over the great boulder and pebble ridges, not bare like those of the Moor of Dinnet, or other Deeside stone heap, but clothed with cane-pieces and richest rastrajo copses; and then entered the narrow gorge, which we had to follow into the heart of the hills, as our leader, taking one parting look at the broad green lowland behind us, reminded us of Shelley's lines about the plains of Lombardy seen from the Euganean hills: --

'Beneath me lies like a green sea
The waveless plain of Lombardy,
. . . . .
Where a soft and purple mist,
Like a vaporous amethyst,
Or an air-dissolved stone,
Mingling light and fragrance, far
From the curved horizon's bound
To the point of heaven's profound,
Fills the overflowing sky;
And the plains that silent lie
Underneath, the leaves unsodden
Where the infant frost has trodden
With his morning-winged feet,
Whose bright fruit is gleaming yet;
And the red and golden vines
Piercing with their trellised lines
The rough dark-skirted wilderness.'

But there the analogy stopped. It hardly applied even so far. Between us and the rough dark-skirted wilderness of the high forests on Montserrat the infant frost had never trodden; all basked in the equal heat of the perpetual summer; awaiting, it may be, in ages to come, a civilisation higher even than that whose decay Shelley deplored as he looked down on fallen Italy. No clumsy words of mine can give an adequate picture of the beauty of the streams and glens which run down from either slope of the Northern Mountain. The reader must fancy for himself the loveliest brook which he ever saw in Devonshire or Yorkshire, Ireland or Scotland; crystal-clear, bedded with gray pebbles, broken into rapids by rock-ledges or great white quartz boulders, swirling under steep cliffs, winding through flats of natural meadow and copse. Then let him transport his stream into the great Palm-house at Kew, stretch out the house up hill and down dale, five miles in length and two thousand feet in height; pour down on it from above a blaze which lights up every leaf into a gem, and deepens every shadow into blackness, and yet that very blackness full of inner light -- and if his fancy can do as much as that, he can imagine to himself the stream up which we rode or walked, now winding along the narrow track a hundred feet or two above, looking down on the upper surface of the forest, on the crests of palms, and the broad sheets of the balisier copse, and often on the statelier fronds of true bananas, which had run wild along the stream-side, flowering and fruiting in the wilderness for the benefit of the parrots and agoutis; or on huge dark clumps of bamboo, which (probably not indigenous to the island) have in like manner spread themselves along all the streams in the lapse of ages.

Now we scrambled down into the brook, and waded our horses through, amid shoals of the little spotted sardine, {218a} who are too fearless, or too unaccustomed to man, to get out of the way more than a foot or two. But near akin as they are to the trout, they are still nearer to the terrible Pirai, {218b} of the Orinocquan waters, the larger of which snap off the legs of swimming ducks and the fingers of unwary boatmen, while the smaller surround the rash bather, and devour him piecemeal till he drowns, torn by a thousand tiny wounds, in water purpled with his own blood. These little fellows prove their kindred with the Pirai by merely nibbling at the bather's skin, making him tingle from head to foot, while he thanks Heaven that his visitors are but two inches, and not a foot in length.

At last we stopped for breakfast. The horses were tethered to a tree, the food got out, and we sat down on a pebbly beach after a bathe in a deep pool, so clear that it looked but four feet deep, though the bathers soon found it to be eight and more. A few dark logs, as usual, were lodged at the bottom, looking suspiciously like alligators or boa-constrictors. The alligator, however, does not come up the mountain streams; and the boa-constrictors are rare, save on the east coast: but it is as well, ere you jump into a pool, to look whether there be not a snake in it, of any length from three to twenty feet.

Over the pool rose a rock, carrying a mass of vegetation, to be seen, doubtless, in every such spot in the island, but of a richness and variety beyond description. Nearest to the water the primeval garden began with ferns and creeping Selaginella. Next, of course, the common Arum, {218c} with snow-white spathe and spadix, mingled with the larger leaves of Balisier, wild Tania, and Seguine, some of the latter upborne on crooked fleshy stalks as thick as a man's leg, and six feet high. Above them was a tangle of twenty different bushes, with leaves of every shape; above them again, the arching shoots of a bamboo clump, forty feet high, threw a deep shade over pool and rock and herbage; while above it again enormous timber trees were packed, one behind the other, up the steep mountain-side. On the more level ground were the usual weeds; Ipomoeas with white and purple flowers, Bignonias, Echites, and Allamandas, with yellow ones, scrambled and tumbled everywhere; and, if not just there, then often enough elsewhere, might be seen a single Aristolochia scrambling up a low tree, from which hung, amid round leaves, huge flowers shaped like a great helmet with a ladle at the lower lip, a foot or more across, of purplish colour, spotted like a toad, and about as fragrant as a dead dog.

But the plants which would strike a botanist most, I think, the first time he found himself on a tropic burn-side, are the peppers, groves of tall herbs some ten feet high or more, utterly unlike any European plants I have ever seen. Some {219a} have round leaves, peltate, that is, with the footstalk springing from inside the circumference, like a one-sided umbrella. They catch the eye at once, from the great size of their leaves, each a full foot across; but they are hardly as odd and foreign-looking as the more abundant forms of peppers, {219b} usually so soft and green that they look as if you might make them into salad, stalks and all, yet with a quaint stiffness and primness, given by the regular jointing of their knotted stalks, and the regular tiling of their pointed, drooping, strong-nerved leaves, which are usually, to add to the odd look of the plant, all crooked, one side of the base (and that in each species always the same side) being much larger than the other, so that the whole head of the bush seems to have got a twist from right to left, or left to right. Nothing can look more unlike than they to the climbing true peppers, or even to the creeping pepper-weeds, which abound in all waste land. But their rat-tails of small green flowers prove them to be peppers nevertheless.

On we went, upward ever, past Cacao and Bois Immortelle orchards, and comfortable settlers' hamlets; and now and then through a strip of virgin forest, in which we began to see, for the first time, though not for the last, that 'resplendent Calycophyllum' as Dr. Krueger calls it, Chaconia as it is commonly called here, after poor Alonzo de Chacon, the last Spanish governor of this island. It is indeed the jewel of these woods. A low straggling tree carries, on long pendent branches, leaves like a Spanish chestnut, a foot and more in length; and at the ends of the branches, long corymbs of yellow flowers. But it is not the flowers themselves which make the glory of the tree. As the flower opens, one calyx-lobe, by a rich vagary of nature, grows into a leaf three inches long, of a splendid scarlet; and the whole end of each branch, for two feet or more in length, blazes among the green foliage till you can see it and wonder at it a quarter of a mile away. This is 'the resplendent Calycophyllum,' elaborated, most probably, by long physical processes of variation and natural selection into a form equally monstrous and beautiful. There are those who will smile at my superstition, if I state my belief that He who makes all things make themselves may have used those very processes of variation and natural selection for a final cause; and that the final cause was, that He might delight Himself in the beauty of one more strange and new creation. Be it so. I can only assume that their minds are, for the present at least, differently constituted from mine.

We reached the head of the glen at last, and outlet from the amphitheatre of wood there seemed none. But now I began to find out what a tropic mountain-path can be, and what a West Indian horse can do. We arrived at the lower end of a narrow ditch full of rocks and mud, which wandered up the face of a hill as steep as the roofs of the Louvre or Chateau Chambord. Accustomed only to English horses, I confess I paused in dismay: but as men and horses seemed to take the hill as a matter of course, the only thing to be done was to give the stout little cob his head, and not to slip over his tail. So up we went, splashing, clawing, slipping, stumbling, but never falling down; pausing every now and then to get breath for a fresh rush, and then on again, up a place as steep as a Devonshire furze- bank for twenty or thirty feet, till we had risen a thousand feet, as I suppose, and were on a long and more level chine, in the midst of ghastly dead forests, the remains of last year's fires. Much was burnt to tinder and ash; much more was simply killed and scorched, and stood or hung in an infinite tangle of lianes and boughs, all gray and bare. Here and there some huge tree had burnt as it stood, and rose like a soot-grimed tower; here another had fallen right across the path, and we had to cut our way round it step by step, amid a mass of fallen branches sometimes much higher than our heads, or to lead the horses underneath boughs which were too large to cut through, and just high enough to let them pass. An English horse would have lost his nerve, and become restive from confusion and terror; but these wise brutes, like the pack-mule, seemed to understand the matter as well as we; waited patiently till a passage was cut; and then struggled gallantly through, often among logs, where I expected to see their leg-bones snapped in two. But my fears were needless; the deft gallant animals got safe through without a scratch. However, for them, as for us, the work was very warm. The burnt forest was utterly without shade; and wood-cutting under a perpendicular noonday sun would have been trying enough had not our spirits been kept up by the excitement, the sense of freedom and of power, and also by the magnificent scenery which began to break upon us. From one cliff, off which the whole forest had been burnt away, we caught at last a sight westward of Tocuche, from summit to base, rising out of a green sea of wood -- for the fire, coming from the eastward, had stopped half-way down the cliff; and to the right of the picture the blue Northern Sea shone through a gap in the hills. What a view that was! To conceive it, the reader must fancy himself at Clovelly, on the north coast of Devon, if he ever has had the good fortune to see that most beautiful of English cliff-woodlands; he must magnify the whole scene four or five times; and then pour down on it a tropic sunshine and a tropic haze.

Soon we felt, and thankful we were to feel it, a rush of air, soft and yet bracing, cool, yet not chilly; the 'champagne atmosphere,' as some one called it, of the trade-wind: and all, even the very horses, plucked up heart; for that told us that we were at the summit of the pass, and that the worst of our day's work was over. In five minutes more we were aware, between the tree-stems, of a green misty gulf beneath our very feet, which seemed at the first glance boundless, but which gradually resolved itself into mile after mile of forest, rushing down into the sea. The hues of the distant woodlands, twenty miles away, seen through a veil of ultramarine, mingled with the pale greens and blues of the water: and they again with the pale sky, till the eye could hardly discern where land and sea and air parted from each other.

We stopped to gaze, and breathe; and then downward again for nigh two thousand feet toward Blanchisseuse. And so, leading our tired horses, we went cheerily down the mountain side in Indian file, hopping and slipping from ledge to mud and mud to ledge, and calling a halt every five minutes to look at some fresh curiosity: now a tree-fern, now a climbing fern; now some huge tree-trunk, whose name was only to be guessed at; now a fresh armadillo-burrow; now a parasol-ants' warren, which had to be avoided lest horse and man should sink in it knee-deep, and come out sorely bitten; now some glimpse of sea and forest far below; now we cut a water-vine, and had a long cool drink; now a great moth had to be hunted, if not caught; or a toucan or some other strange bird listened to; or an eagle watched as he soared high over the green gulf. Now all stopped together; for the ground was sprinkled thick with great beads, scarlet, with a black eye, which had fallen from some tree high overhead; and we all set to work like schoolboys, filling our pockets with them for the ladies at home. Now the path was lost, having vanished in the six months' growth of weeds; and we had to beat about for it over fallen logs, through tangles of liane and thickets of the tall Arouma, {221} a cane with a flat tuft of leaves atop, which is plentiful in these dark, damp, northern slopes. Now we struggled and hopped, horse and man, down and round a corner, at the head of a glen, where a few flagstones fallen across a gully gave an uncertain foothold, and paused, under damp rocks covered with white and pink Begonias and ferns of innumerable forms, to drink the clear mountain water out of cups extemporised from a Calathea leaf; and then struggled up again over roots and ledges, and round the next spur, in cool green darkness on which it seemed the sun had never shone, and in a silence which when our own voices ceased, was saddening, all but appalling.

At last, striking into a broader trace which came from the westward, we found ourselves some six or eight hundred feet above the sea, in scenery still like a magnified Clovelly, but amid a vegetation which -- how can I describe? Suffice it to say, that right and left of the path, and arching together over head, rose a natural avenue of Cocorite palms, beneath whose shade I rode for miles, enjoying the fresh trade wind, the perfume of the Vanilla flowers, and last, but not least, the conversation of one who used his high post to acquaint himself thoroughly with the beauties, the productions, the capabilities of the island which he governed, and his high culture to make such journeys as this a continuous stream of instruction and pleasure to those who accompanied him. Under his guidance we stopped at one point, silent with delight and awe.

Through an arch of Cocorite boughs -- ah that English painters would go to paint such pictures, set in such natural frames -- we saw, nearly a thousand feet below us, the little bay of Fillette. The height of the horizon line told us how high we were ourselves, for the blue of the Caribbean Sea rose far above a point which stretched out on our right, covered with noble wood, while the dark olive cliffs along its base were gnawed by snowy surf. On our left, the nearer mountain woods rushed into the sea, cutting off the view, and under our very feet, in the centre of an amphitheatre of wood, as the eye of the whole picture, was a group -- such as I cannot hope to see again. Out of a group of scarlet Bois Immortelles rose three Palmistes, and close to them a single Balata, whose height I hardly dare to estimate. So tall they were, that though they were perhaps a thousand feet below us, they stood out against the blue sea, far up toward the horizon line, the central palm a hundred and fifty feet at least, the two others, as we guessed, a hundred and twenty feet or more. Their stems were perfectly straight and motionless, while their dark crowns, even at that distance, could be seen to toss and rage impatiently before the rush of the strong trade wind. The black glossy head of the Balata, almost as high aloft as they, threw off sheets of spangled light, which mingled with the spangles of the waves, and, above the tree tops, as if poised in a blue hazy sky, one tiny white sail danced before the breeze. The whole scene swam in soft sea air, and such combined grandeur and delicacy of form and of colour I never beheld before.

We rode on and downward, toward a spot where we expected to find water. Our Negroes had lagged behind with the provisions; and, hungry and thirsty, we tethered our horses to the trees at the bottom of a gully, and went down through the bush toward a low cliff. As we went, if I recollect, we found on the ground many curious pods, {224} curled two or three times round, something like those of a Medic, and when they split, bright red inside, setting off prettily enough the bright blue seeds. Some animal or other, however, admired these seeds as much as we; for they had been stripped as soon as they opened, and out of hundreds of pods we only secured one or two beads.

We got to the cliff -- a smugglers' crack in the rock, and peered down, with some disgust. There should have been a pole or two there, to get down by: but they were washed away; a canoe also: but it had been carried off, probably out of the way of the surf. To get down the crack, for active men, was easy enough: but to get up again seemed, the longer we looked at it, the more impossible, at least for me. So after scrambling down, holding on by wild pines, as far as we dare -- during which process one of us was stung (not bitten) by a great hunting-ant, causing much pain and swelling -- we turned away; for the heat of the little corner was intolerable. But wistful eyes did we cast back at the next point of rock, behind which broke out the tantalising spring, which we could just not reach.

We rode on, sick and sorry, to find unexpected relief. We entered a clearing, with Bananas and Tanias, Cacao and Bois Immortelle, and better still, Avocado pears and orange-tree, with fruit. A tall and stately dame was there; her only garment a long cotton-print gown, which covered her tall figure from throat to ankle and wrist, showing brown feet and hands which had once been delicate, and a brown face, half Spanish, half Indian, modest and serious enough. We pointed to a tall orange-tree overhead, laden with fruit of every hue from bright green to gold. She, on being appealed to in Spanish, answered with a courteous smile, and then a piercing scream of -- 'Candelaria, come hither, and get oranges for the Governor and other senors!' Candelaria, who might have been eighteen or twenty, came sliding down under the Banana-leaves, all modest smiles, and blushes through her whity-brown skin. But having no more clothes on than her mother, she naturally hesitated at climbing the tree; and after ineffectual attempts to knock down oranges with a bamboo, screamed in her turn for some Jose or Juan. Jose or Juan made his appearance, in a ragged shirt. A lanky lad, about seventeen years old, he was evidently the oaf or hobbedehoy of the family, just as he would have been on this side of the sea; was treated as such; and was accustomed to be so treated. In a tone of angry contempt (the poor boy had done and said nothing) the two women hounded him up the tree. He obeyed in meek resignation, and in a couple of minutes we had more oranges than we could eat. And such oranges: golden- green, but rather more green than gold, which cannot be (as at home) bitten or sucked; for so strong is the fragrant essential oil in the skin, that it would blister the lips and disorder the stomach; and the orange must be carefully stripped of the outer coat before you attack a pulp compared with which, for flavour, the orange of our shops is but bad sugar and water.

As I tethered my horse to a cacao-stem, and sat on a log among hothouse ferns, peeling oranges with a bowie-knife beneath the burning mid-day sun, the quaintest fancy came over me that it was all a dream, a phantasmagoria, a Christmas pantomime got up by my host for my special amusement; and that if I only winked my eyes hard enough, when I opened them again it would be all gone, and I should find myself walking with him on Ascot Heath, while the snow whirled over the heather, and the black fir-trees groaned in the north-east wind.

We soon rode on, with blessings on fair Candelaria and her stately mother, while the noise of the surf grew louder and louder in front of us. We took (if I remember right) a sudden turn to the left, to get our horses to the shore. Our pedestrians held straight on; there was a Mangrove swamp and a lagoon in front, for which they, bold lads, cared nothing.

We passed over a sort of open down, from which all vegetation had been cleared, save the Palmistes -- such a wood of them as I had never seen before. A hundred or more, averaging at least a hundred feet in height, stood motionless in the full cut of the strong trade- wind. One would have expected them, when the wood round was felled, to feel the sudden nakedness. One would have expected the inrush of salt air and foam to have injured their foliage. But, seemingly, it was not so. They stood utterly unharmed; save some half-dozen who had had their tops snapped off by a gale -- there are no hurricanes in Trinidad -- and remained as enormous unmeaning pikes, or posts, fifty to eighty feet high, transformed, by that one blast, from one of the loveliest to one of the ugliest natural objects.

Through the Palmiste pillars; through the usual black Roseau scrub; then under tangled boughs down a steep stony bank; and we were on a long beach of deep sand and quartz gravel. On our right the Shore- grapes with their green bunches of fruit, the Mahauts {226} with their poplar-like leaves and great yellow flowers, and the ubiquitous Matapalos, fringed the shore. On our left weltered a broad waste of plunging foam; in front green mountains were piled on mountains, blazing in sunlight, yet softened and shrouded by an air saturated with steam and salt. We waded our horses over the mouth of the little Yarra, which hurried down through the sand, brown and foul from the lagoon above. We sat down on bare polished logs, which floods had carried from the hills above, and ate and drank -- for our Negroes had by now rejoined us; and then scrambled up the shore back again, and into a trace running along the low cliff, even more beautiful, if possible, than that which we had followed in the morning. Along the cliff tall Balatas and Palmistes, with here and there an equally tall Cedar, and on the inside bank a green wall of Balisiers, with leaves full fifteen feet long and heads of scarlet flowers, marked the richness of the soil. Here and there, too, a Cannon-ball tree rose, grand and strange, among the Balatas; and in one place the ground was strewn with large white flowers, whose peculiar shape told us at once of some other Lecythid tree high overhead. These Lecythids are peculiar to the hottest parts of South America; to the valleys of the Orinoco and Amazon; to Trinidad, as a fragment of the old Orinocquan land, and possibly to some of the southern Antilles. So now, as we are in their home, it may be worth our while to pause a little round these strange and noble forms.

Botanists tell us that they are, or rather may have been in old times, akin to myrtles. If so, they have taken a grand and original line of their own, and persevered in it for ages, till they have specialised themselves to a condition far in advance of most myrtles, in size, beauty, and use. They may be known from all other trees by one mark -- their large handsome flowers. A group of the innumerable stamens have grown together on one side of the flower into a hood, which bends over the stigma and the other stamens. Tall trees they are, and glorious to behold, when in full flower; but they are notorious mostly for their huge fruits and delicious nuts. One of their finest forms, and the only one which the traveller is likely to see often in Trinidad, is the Cannon-ball tree. {227} There is a grand specimen in the Botanic Garden; and several may be met with in any day's ride through the high woods, and distinguished at once from any other tree. The stem rises, without a fork, for sixty feet or more, and rolls out at the top into a head very like that of an elm trimmed up, and like an elm too in its lateral water-boughs. For the whole of the stem, from the very ground to the forks, and the larger fork-branches likewise, are feathered all over with numberless short prickly pendent branchlets, which roll outward, and then down, and then up again in graceful curves, and carry large pale crimson flowers, each with a pink hood in the middle, looking like a new-born baby's fist. Those flowers, when torn, turn blue on exposure to the light; and when they fall, leave behind them the cannon-ball, a rough brown globe, as big as a thirty two pound shot, which you must get down with a certain caution, lest that befall you which befell a certain gallant officer on the mainland of America. For, fired with a post-prandial ambition to obtain a cannon ball, he took to himself a long bamboo, and poked at the tree. He succeeded: but not altogether as he had hoped. For the cannon ball, in coming down, avenged itself by dropping exactly on the bridge of his nose, felling him to the ground, and giving him such a pair of black eyes that he was not seen on parade for a fortnight.

The pulp of this cannon-ball is, they say, 'vinous and pleasant' when fresh; but those who are mindful of what befell our forefather Adam from eating strange fruits, will avoid it, as they will many more fruits eaten in the Tropics, but digestible only by the dura ilia of Indians and Negroes. Whatever virtue it may have when fresh, it begins, as soon as stale, to give out an odour too abominable to be even recollected with comfort.

More useful, and the fruit of an even grander tree, are those 'Brazil nuts' which are sold in every sweet-shop at home. They belong to Bertholletia excelsa, a tree which grows sparingly -- I have never seen it wild -- in the southern part of the island, but plentifully in the forests of Guiana, and which is said to be one of the tallest of all the forest giants. The fruit, round like the cannon-ball, and about the size of a twenty-four pounder, is harder than the hardest wood, and has to be battered to pieces with the back of a hatchet to disclose the nuts, which lie packed close inside. Any one who has hammered at a Bertholletia fruit will be ready to believe the story that the Indians, fond as they are of the nuts, avoid the 'totocke' trees till the fruit has all fallen, for fear of fractured skulls; and the older story which Humboldt gives out of old Laet, {228} that the Indians dared not enter the forests, when the trees were fruiting, without having their heads and shoulders covered with bucklers of hard wood. These 'Almendras de Peru' (Peru almonds), as they were called, were known in Europe as early as the sixteenth century, the seeds being carried up the Maragnon, and by the Cordilleras to Peru, men knew not from whence. To Humboldt himself, I believe, is due the re-discovery of the tree itself and its enormous fruit; and the name of Bertholletia excelsa was given by him. The tree, he says, 'is not more than two or three feet in diameter, but attains one hundred or one hundred and twenty feet in height. It does not resemble the Mammee, the star-apple, and several other trees of the Tropics, of which the branches, as in the laurels of the temperate zone, rise straight toward the sky. The branches of the Bertholletia are open, very long, almost entirely bare toward the base, and loaded at their summits with tufts of very close foliage. This disposition of the semi- coriaceous leaves, a little silvery beneath and more than two feet long, makes the branches bend down toward the ground, like the fronds of the palm-trees.'

'The Capuchin monkeys,' he continues, 'are singularly fond of these |chestnuts of Brazil,| and the noise made by the seeds, when the fruit is shaken as it fell from the tree, excites their appetency in the highest degree.' He does not, however, believe the 'tale, very current on the lower Oroonoco, that the monkeys place themselves in a circle, and by striking the shell with a stone succeed in opening it.' That they may try is possible enough; for there is no doubt, I believe, that monkeys -- at least the South American -- do use stones to crack nuts; and I have seen myself a monkey, untaught, use a stick to rake his food up to him when put beyond the reach of his chain. The impossibility in this case would lie, not in want of wits, but want of strength; and the monkeys must have too often to wait for these feasts till the rainy season, when the woody shell rots of itself, and amuse themselves meanwhile, as Humboldt describes them, in rolling the fruit about, vainly longing to get their paws in through the one little hole at its base. The Agoutis, however, and Pacas, and other rodents, says Humboldt, have teeth and perseverance to gnaw through the shell; and when the seeds are once out, 'all the animals of the forest, the monkeys, the manaviris, the squirrels, the agoutis, the parrots, the macaws, hasten thither to dispute the prey. They have all strength enough to break the woody covering of the seeds; they get out the kernel and carry it to the tops of the trees. |It is their festival also,| said the Indians who had returned from the nut-harvest; and on hearing their complaints of the animals you perceive that they think themselves alone the legitimate masters of the forest.'

But if Nature has played the poor monkeys a somewhat tantalising trick about Brazil nuts, she has been more generous to them in the case of some other Lecythids, {229} which go by the name of monkey- pots. Huge trees like their kinsfolk, they are clothed in bark layers so delicate that the Indians beat them out till they are as thin as satin-paper, and use them as cigarette-wrappers. They carry great urn-shaped fruits, big enough to serve for drinking-vessels, each kindly provided with a round wooden cover, which becomes loose and lets out the savoury sapucaya nuts inside, to the comfort of all our 'poor relations.' Ah, when will there arise a tropic Landseer to draw for us some of the strange fashions of the strange birds and beasts of these lands? -- to draw, for instance, the cunning, selfish, greedy grin of delight on the face of some burly, hairy, goitred old red Howler, as he lifts off a 'tapa del cacao de monos' (a monkey- cacao cover), and looks defiance out of the corners of his winking eyes at his wives and children, cousins and grandchildren, who sit round jabbering and screeching, and, monkey fashion, twisting their heads upside down, as they put their arms round each other's waists to peer over each other's shoulders at the great bully, who must feed himself first as his fee for having roared to them for an hour at sunrise on a tree-top, while they sat on the lower branches and looked up, trembling and delighted at the sound and fury of the idiot sermon.

What an untried world is here for the artist of every kind, not merely for the animal painter, for the landscape painter, for the student of human form and attitude, if he chose to live awhile among the still untrained Indians of the Main, or among the graceful Coolies of Trinidad and Demerara, but also for the botanical artist, for the man who should study long and carefully the more striking and beautiful of these wonderful leaves and stems, flowers and fruits, and introduce them into ornamentation, architectural or other.

And so I end my little episode about these Lecythids, only adding that the reader must not confound with their nuts the butter-nuts, Caryocar, or Souari, which may be bought, I believe, at Fortnum and Mason's, and which are of all nuts the largest and the most delicious. They have not been found as yet in Trinidad, though they abound in Guiana. They are the fruit also of an enormous tree {230} -- there is a young one fruiting finely in the Botanic Garden at Port of Spain -- of a quite different order; a cousin of the Matapalos and of the Soap-berries. It carries large threefold leaves on pointed stalks; spikes of flowers with innumerable stamens; and here and there a fruit something like the cannon-ball, though not quite as large. On breaking the soft rind you find it full of white meal, probably eatable, and in the meal three or four great hard wrinkled nuts, rounded on one side, wedge-shaped on the other, which, cracked, are found full of almond-like white jelly, so delicious that one can well believe travellers when they tell us that the Indian tribes wage war against each other for the possession of the trees which bear these precious vagaries of bounteous nature.

And now we began to near the village, two scattered rows of clay and timber bowers right and left of the trace, each half buried in fruit-trees and vegetables, and fenced in with hedges of scarlet Hibiscus; the wooded mountains shading them to the south, the sea thundering behind them to the north. As we came up we heard a bell, and soon were aware of a brown mob running, with somewhat mysterious in the midst. Was it the Host? or a funeral? or a fight? Soon the mob came up with profound salutations, and smiles of self- satisfaction, evidently thinking that they had done a fine thing; and disclosed, hanging on a long bamboo, their one church-bell. Their old church (a clay and timber thing of their own handiwork) had become ruinous; and they dared not leave their bell aloft in it. But now they were going to build themselves a new and larger church, Government giving them the site; and the bell, being on furlough, was put into requisition to ring in His Excellency the Governor and his muddy and quaintly attired -- or unattired -- suite.

Ah, that I could have given a detailed picture of the scene before the police court-house -- the coloured folk, of all hues of skin, all types of feature, and all gay colours of dress, crowding round, the tall stately brown policeman, Thompson, called forward and receiving with a military salute the Governor's commendations for having saved, at the risk of his life, some shipwrecked folk out of the surf close by; and the flash of his eye when he heard that he was to receive the Humane Society's medal from England, and to have his name mentioned, probably to the Queen herself; the greetings, too, of almost filial respect which were bestowed by the coloured people on one who, though still young, had been to them a father; who, indeed, had set the policeman the example of gallantry by saving, in another cove near by, other shipwrecked folk out of a still worse surf, by swimming out beyond a ledge of rock swarming with sharks, at the risk every moment of a hideous death. There, as in other places since, he had worked, like his elder brother at Montserrat, as a true civiliser in every sense of the word; and, when his health broke down from the noxious climate, had moved elsewhere to still harder and more extensive work, belying, like his father and his brothers, the common story that the climate forbids exertion, and that the Creole gentleman cannot or will not, when he has a chance, do as good work as the English gentleman at home. I do not mention these men's names. In England it matters little; in Trinidad there is no need to mention those whom all know; all I shall say is, Heaven send the Queen many more such public servants, and me many more such friends.

Then up hurried the good little priest, and set forth in French -- he was very indignant, by the by, at being taken for a Frenchman, and begged it to be understood that he was Belgian born and bred -- setting forth how His Excellency had not been expected till next day, or he would have had ready an address from the loyal inhabitants of Blanchisseuse testifying their delight at the honour of, etc. etc.; which he begged leave to present in due form next day; and all the while the brown crowd surged round and in and out, and the naked brown children got between every one's legs, and every one was in a fume of curiosity and delight -- anything being an event in Blanchisseuse -- save the one Chinaman, if I recollect right, who stood in his blue jacket and trousers, his hands behind his back, with visage unimpassioned, dolorous, seemingly stolid, a creature of the earth, earthy, -- say rather of the dirt, dirty, -- but doubtless by no means as stolid as he looked. And all the while the palms and bananas rustled above, and the surf thundered, and long streams of light poured down through the glens in the black northern wall, and flooded the glossy foliage of the mangoes and sapodillas, and rose fast up the palm-stems, and to their very heads, and then vanished; for the sun was sinking, and in half an hour more, darkness would have fallen on the most remote little paradise in Her Majesty's dominions.

But where was the warden, who was by office, as well as by courtesy, to have received us? He too had not expected us, and was gone home after his day's work to his new clearing inland: but a man had been sent on to him over the mountain; and over the mountain we must go, and on foot too, for the horses could do no more, and there was no stabling for them farther on. How far was the new clearing? Oh, perhaps a couple of miles -- perhaps a league. And how high up? Oh, nothing -- only a hundred feet or two. One knew what that meant; and, with a sigh, resigned oneself to a four or five miles' mountain walk at the end of a long day, and started up the steep zigzag, through cacao groves, past the loveliest gardens -- I recollect in one an agave in flower, nigh thirty feet high, its spike all primrose and golden yellow in the fading sunlight -- then up into rastrajo; and then into high wood, and a world of ferns -- tree ferns, climbing ferns, and all other ferns which ever delighted the eye in an English hothouse. For along these northern slopes, sheltered from the sun for the greater part of the year, and for ever watered by the steam of the trade-wind, ferns are far more luxuriant and varied than in any other part of the island.

Soon it grew dark, and we strode on up hill and down dale, at one time for a mile or more through burnt forest, with its ghastly spider-work of leafless decaying branches and creepers against the moonlit sky -- a sad sight: but music enough we had to cheer us on our way. We did not hear the howl of a monkey, nor the yell of a tiger-cat, common enough on the mountains which lay in front of us; but of harping, fiddling, humming, drumming, croaking, clacking, snoring, screaming, hooting, from cicadas, toads, birds, and what not, there was a concert at every step, which made the glens ring again, as the Brocken might ring on a Walpurgis-night.

At last, pausing on the top of a hill, we could hear voices on the opposite side of the glen. Shouts and 'cooeys' soon brought us to the party which were awaiting us. We hurried joyfully down a steep hillside, across a shallow ford, and then up another hillside -- this time with care, for the felled logs and brushwood lay all about a path full of stumps, and we needed a guide to show us our way in the moonlight up to the hospitable house above. And a right hospitable house it was. Its owner, a French gentleman of ancient Irish family -- whose ancestors probably had gone to France as one of the valiant 'Irish Brigade'; whose children may have emigrated thence to St. Domingo, and their children or grandchildren again to Trinidad -- had prepared for us in the wilderness a right sumptuous feast: 'nor did any soul lack aught of the equal banquet.'

We went to bed; or, rather, I did. For here, as elsewhere before and after, I was compelled, by the courtesy of the Governor, to occupy the one bed of the house, as being the oldest, least acclimatised, and alas! weakliest of the party; while he, his little suite, and the owner of the house slept anywhere upon the floor; on which, between fatigue and enjoyment of the wild life, I would have gladly slept myself.

When we turned out before sunrise next morning, I found myself in perhaps the most charming of all the charming 'camps' of these forests. Its owner, the warden, fearing the unhealthy air of the sea-coast, had bought some hundreds of acres up here in the hills, cleared them, and built, or rather was building, in the midst. As yet the house was rudimentary. A cottage of precious woods cut off the clearing, standing, of course, on stilts, contained two rooms, an inner and an outer. There was no glass in the windows, which occupied half the walls. Door or shutters, to be closed if the wind and rain were too violent, are all that is needed in a climate where the temperature changes but little, day or night, throughout the year. A table, unpolished, like the wooden walls, but, like them, of some precious wood; a few chairs or benches, not forgetting, of course, an American rocking-chair; a shelf or two, with books of law and medicine, and beside them a few good books of devotion: a press; a 'perch' for hanging clothes -- for they mildew when kept in drawers -- just such as would have been seen in a mediaeval house in England; a covered four-post bed, with gauze curtains, indispensable for fear of vampires, mosquitoes, and other forest plagues; these make up the furniture of such a bachelor's camp as, to the man who lives doing good work all day out of doors, leaves nothing to be desired. Where is the kitchen? It consists of half a dozen great stones under yonder shed, where as good meals are cooked as in any London kitchen. Other sheds hold the servants and hangers-on, the horses and mules; and as the establishment grows, more will be added, and the house itself will probably expand laterally, like a peripheral Greek temple, by rows of posts, probably of palm-stems thatched over with wooden shingle or with the leaves of the Timit {233} palm. If ladies come to inhabit the camp, fresh rooms will be partitioned off by boardings as high as the eaves, leaving the roof within open and common, for the sake of air. Soon, no regular garden, but beautiful flowering shrubs -- Crotons, Dracaenas, and Cereuses, will be planted; great bushes of Bauhinia and blue Petraea will roll their long curved shoots over and over each other; Gardenias fill the air with fragrance; and the Bougain-villia or the Clerodendron cover some arbour with lilac or white racemes.

But this camp had not yet arrived at so high a state of civilisation. All round it, almost up to the very doors, a tangle of logs, stumps, branches, dead ropes and nets of liane lay still in the process of clearing; and the ground was seemingly as waste, as it was difficult -- often impossible -- to cross. A second glance, however, showed that, amongst the stumps and logs, Indian corn was planted everywhere; and that a few months would give a crop which would richly repay the clearing, over and above the fact that the whole materials of the house had been cut on the spot, and cost nothing.

As for the situation of the little oasis in the wilderness, it bespoke good sense and good taste. The owner had stumbled, in his forest wanderings, on a spot where two mountain streams, after nearly meeting, parted again, and enclosed in a ring a hill some hundred feet high, before they finally joined each other below. That ring was his estate; which was formally christened on the occasion of our visit, Avoca -- the meeting of the waters; a name, as all agreed, full of remembrances of the Old World and the land of his remote ancestors; and yet like enough to one of the graceful and sonorous Indian names of the island not to seem barbarous and out of place. Round the clearing the mountain woods surged up a thousand feet aloft; but so gradually, and so far off, as to allow free circulation of air and a broad sheet of sky overhead; and as the camp stood on the highest point of the rise, it did not give that choking and crushing sensation of being in a ditch, which makes houses in most mountain valleys -- to me at least -- intolerable. Up one glen, toward the south, we had a full view of the green Cerro of Arima, three thousand feet in height; and down another, to the north-east, was a great gate in the mountains, through which we could hear -- though not see -- the surf rolling upon the rocks three miles away.

I was woke that morning, as often before and afterwards, by a clacking of stones; and, looking out, saw in the dusk a Negro squatting, and hammering, with a round stone on a flat one, the coffee which we were to drink in a quarter of an hour. It was turned into a tin saucepan; put to boil over a firestick between two more great stones; clarified, by some cunning island trick, with a few drops of cold water; and then served up, bearing, in fragrance and taste, the same relation to average English coffee as fresh things usually do to stale ones, or live to dead. After which 'manana,' and a little quinine for fear of fever, we lounged about waiting for breakfast, and for the arrival of the horses from the village.

Then we inspected a Coolie's great toe, which had been severely bitten by a vampire in the night. And here let me say, that the popular disbelief of vampire stories is only owing to English ignorance, and disinclination to believe any of the many quaint things which John Bull has not seen, because he does not care to see them. If he comes to those parts, he must be careful not to leave his feet or hands out of bed without mosquito curtains; if he has good horses, he ought not to leave them exposed at night without wire-gauze round the stable-shed -- a plan which, to my surprise, I never saw used in the West Indies. Otherwise, he will be but too likely to find in the morning a triangular bit cut out of his own flesh, or even worse, out of his horse's withers or throat, where twisting and lashing cannot shake the tormentor off; and must be content to have himself lamed, or his horses weakened to staggering and thrown out of collar-work for a week, as I have seen happen more than once or twice. The only method of keeping off the vampire yet employed in stables is light; and a lamp is usually kept burning there. But the Negro -- not the most careful of men -- is apt not to fill and trim it; and if it goes out in the small hours, the horses are pretty sure to be sucked, if there is a forest near. So numerous and troublesome, indeed, are the vampires, that there are pastures in Trinidad in which, at least till the adjoining woods were cleared, the cattle would not fatten, or even thrive; being found, morning after morning, weak and sick from the bleedings which they had endured at night.

After looking at the Coolie's toe, of which he made light, though the bleeding from the triangular hole would not stop, any more than that from the bite of a horse-leech, we feasted our ears on the notes of delicate songsters, and our eyes on the colours and shapes of the forest, which, rising on the opposite side of the streams right and left, could be seen here more thoroughly than at any spot I yet visited. Again and again were the opera-glasses in requisition, to make out, or try to make out, what this or that tree might be. Here and there a Norantea, a mile or two miles off, showed like a whole crimson flower-bed in the tree-tops; or a Poui, just coming into flower, made a spot of golden yellow -- 'a guinea stuck against the mountain-side,' as some one said; or the head of a palm broke the monotony of the broad-leaved foliage with its huge star of green.

Near us we descried several trees covered with pale yellow flowers, conspicuous enough on the hillside. No one knew what they were; and a couple of Negroes (who are admirable woodmen) were sent off to cut one down and see. What mattered a tree or two less amid a world of trees? It was a quaint sight, -- the two stalwart black figures struggling down over the fallen logs, and with them an Englishman, who thought he discerned which tree the flowers belonged to; while we at the house guided them by our shouts, and scanned the trunks through the glasses to make out in our turn which tree should be felled, from the moment that they entered under the green cloud, they of course could see little or nothing over their heads. Animated were the arguments -- almost the bets -- as to which tree-top belonged to which tree-trunk. Many were the mistakes made; and had it not been for the head of a certain palm, which served as a fixed point which there was no mistaking, three or four trees would have been cut before the right one was hit upon. At last the right tree came crashing down, and a branch of the flowers was brought up, to be carried home, and verified at Port of Spain; and meanwhile, disturbed by the axe-strokes, pair after pair of birds flew screaming over the tree-tops, which looked like rooks, till, as they turned in the sun, their colour -- brilliant even at that distance -- showed them to be great green parrots.

After breakfast -- which among French and Spanish West Indians means a solid and elaborate luncheon -- our party broke up. . . . I must be excused if I am almost prolix over the events of a day memorable to me.

The majority went down, on horse and foot, to Blanchisseuse again on official business. The site of the new church, an address from the inhabitants to the Governor, inspection of roads, examination of disputed claims, squatter questions, enclosure questions, and so forth, would occupy some hours in hard work. But the piece de resistance of the day was to be the examination and probable committal of the Obeah-man of those parts. That worthy, not being satisfied with the official conduct of our host the warden, had advised himself to bribe, with certain dollars, a Coolie servant of his to 'put Obeah upon him'; and had, with that intent, entrusted to him a charm to be buried at his door, consisting, as usual, of a bottle containing toad, spider, rusty nails, dirty water, and other terrible jumbiferous articles. In addition to which attempt on the life and fortunes of the warden, he was said to have promised the Coolie forty dollars if he would do the business thoroughly for him. Now the Coolie well understood what doing the business thoroughly for an Obeah-man involved; namely, the putting Brinvilliers or other bush-poison into his food; or at least administering to him sundry dozes of ground glass, in hopes of producing that 'dysentery of the country' which proceeds in the West Indies, I am sorry to say, now and then, from other causes than that of climate. But having an affection for his master, and a conscience likewise, though he was but a heathen, he brought the bottle straight to the intended victim; and the Obeah-man was now in durance vile, awaiting further examination, and probably on his way to a felon's cell.

A sort of petition, or testimonial, had been sent up to the Governor, composed apparently by the hapless wizard himself, who seemed to be no mean penman, and signed by a dozen or more of the coloured inhabitants: setting forth how he was known by all to be far too virtuous a personage to dabble in that unlawful practice of Obeah, of which both he and his friends testified the deepest abhorrence. But there was the bottle, safe under lock and key; and as for the testimonial, those who read it said that it was not worth the paper it was written on. Most probably every one of these poor follows had either employed the Obeah-man themselves to avert thieves or evil eye from a particularly fine fruit-tree, by hanging up thereon a somewhat similar bottle -- such as may be seen, and more than one of them, in any long day's march. It was said again, that if asked by an Obeah-man to swear to his good character, they could not well refuse, under penalty of finding some fine morning a white cock's head -- sign of all supernatural plagues -- in their garden path, the beak pointing to their door; or an Obeah bottle under their doorstep; and either Brinvilliers in their pottage, or such an expectation of it, and of plague and ruin to them and all their worldly belongings, in their foolish souls, as would be likely enough to kill them, in a few months, of simple mortal fear.

Here perhaps I may be allowed to tell what I know about this curious custom of Obeah, or Fetish-worship. It appears to me, on closer examination, that it is not a worship of natural objects; not a primeval worship; scarcely a worship at all: but simply a system of incantation, carried on by a priesthood, or rather a sorcerer class; and this being the case, it seems to me unfortunate that the term Fetish-worship should have been adopted by so many learned men as the general name for the supposed primeval Nature-worship. The Negro does not, as the primeval man is supposed to have done, regard as divine (and therefore as Fetish, or Obeah) any object which excites his imagination; anything peculiarly beautiful, noble, or powerful; anything even which causes curiosity or fear. In fact, a Fetish is no natural object at all; it is a spirit, an Obeah, Jumby, Duppy, like the 'Duvvels' or spirits of the air, which are the only deities of which our Gipsies have a conception left. That spirit belongs to the Obeah, or Fetish-man; and he puts it, by magic ceremonies, into any object which he chooses. Thus anything may become Obeah, as far as I have ascertained. In a case which happened very lately, an Obeah-man came into the country, put the Obeah into a fresh monkey's jaw-bone, and made the people offer to it fowls and plantains, which of course he himself ate. Such is Obeah now; and such it was, as may be seen by De Bry's plates, when the Portuguese first met with it on the African coast four hundred years ago.

But surely it is an idolatry, and not a nature-worship. Just so does the priest of Southern India, after having made his idol, enchant his god into it by due ceremonial. It may be a very ancient system: but as for its being a primeval one, as neither I, nor any one else, ever had the pleasure of meeting a primeval man, it seems to me somewhat rash to imagine what primeval man's creeds and worships must have been like; more rash still to conclude that they must have been like those of the modern Negro. For if, as is probable, the Negro is one of the most ancient varieties of the human race; if, as is probable, he has remained -- to his great misfortune -- till the last three hundred years isolated on that vast island of Central Africa, which has probably continued as dry land during ages which have seen the whole of Europe, and Eastern and Southern Asia, sink more than once beneath the sea: then it is possible, and even probable, that during these long ages of the Negro's history, creed after creed, ceremonial after ceremonial, may have grown up and died out among the different tribes; and that any worship, or quasi-worship, which may linger among the Negroes now, are likely to be the mere dregs and fragments of those older superstitions.

As a fact, Obeah is rather to be ranked, it seems to me, with those ancient Eastern mysteries, at once magical and profligate, which troubled society and morals in later Rome, when

'In Tiberim defluxit Orontes.'

If so, we shall not be surprised to find that a very important, indeed the most practically important element of Obeah, is poisoning. This habit of poisoning has not (as one might well suppose) sprung up among the slaves desirous of revenge against their white masters. It has been imported, like the rest of the system, from Africa. Travellers of late have told us enough -- and too much for our comfort of mind -- of that prevailing dread of poison as well as of magic which urges the African Negroes to deeds of horrible cruelty; and the fact that these African Negroes, up to the very latest importations, are the special practisers of Obeah, is notorious through the West Indies. The existence of this trick of poisoning is denied, often enough. Sometimes Europeans, willing to believe the best of their fellow-men -- and who shall blame them? -- simply disbelieve it because it is unpleasant to believe. Sometimes, again, white West Indians will deny it, and the existence of Obeah beside, simply because they believe in it a little too much, and are afraid of the Negroes knowing that they believe in it. Not two generations ago there might be found, up and down the islands, respectable white men and women who had the same half- belief in the powers of an Obeah-man as our own ancestors, especially in the Highlands and in Devonshire, had in those of witches: while as to poisoning, it was, in some islands, a matter on which the less said the safer. It was but a few years ago that in a West Indian city an old and faithful free servant, in a family well known to me, astonished her master, on her death-bed, by a voluntary confession of more than a dozen murders.

'You remember such and such a party, when every one was ill? Well, I put something in the soup.'

As another instance; a woman who died respectable, a Christian and a communicant, told this to her clergyman: -- She had lived from youth, for many years, happily and faithfully with a white gentleman who considered her as his wife. She saw him pine away and die from slow poison, administered, she knew, by another woman whom he had wronged. But she dared not speak. She had not courage enough to be poisoned herself likewise.

It is easy to conceive the terrorism, and the exactions in the shape of fowls, plantains, rum, and so forth, which are at the command of an Obeah practitioner, who is believed by the Negro to be invulnerable himself, while he is both able and willing to destroy them. Nothing but the strong arm of English law can put down the sorcerer; and that seldom enough, owing to the poor folks' dread of giving evidence. Thus a woman, Madame Phyllis by name, ruled in a certain forest-hamlet of Trinidad. Like Deborah of old, she sat under her own palm-tree, and judged her little Israel -- by the Devil's law instead of God's. Her murders (or supposed murders) were notorious: but no evidence could be obtained; Madame Phyllis dealt in poisons, charms, and philtres; and waxed fat on her trade for many a year. The first shock her reputation received was from a friend of mine, who, in his Government duty, planned out a road which ran somewhat nearer her dwelling than was pleasant or safe for her privacy. She came out denouncing, threatening. The coloured workmen dared not proceed. My friend persevered coolly; and Madame, finding that the Government official considered himself Obeah-proof, tried to bribe him off, with the foolish cunning of a savage, with a present of -- bottled beer. To the horror of his workmen, he accepted -- for the day was hot, as usual -- a single bottle; and drank it there and then. The Negroes looked -- like the honest Maltese at St. Paul -- 'when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly': but nothing happened; and they went on with their work, secure under a leader whom even Madame Phyllis dared not poison. But he ran a great risk; and knew it.

'I took care,' said he, 'to see that the cork had not been drawn and put back again; and then, to draw it myself.'

At last Madame Phyllis's cup was full, and she fell into the snare which she had set for others. For a certain coloured policeman went off to her one night; and having poured out his love-lorn heart, and the agonies which he endured from the cruelty of a neighbouring fair, he begged for, got, and paid for a philtre to win her affections. On which, saying with Danton -- 'Que mon nom soit fletri, mais que la patrie soit libre,' he carried the philtre to the magistrate; laid his information; and Madame Phyllis and her male accomplice were sent to gaol as rogues and impostors.

Her coloured victims looked on aghast at the audacity of English lawyers. But when they found that Madame was actually going to prison, they rose -- just as if they had been French Republicans -- deposed their despot after she had been taken prisoner, sacked her magic castle, and levelled it with the ground. Whether they did, or did not, find skeletons of children buried under the floor, or what they found at all, I could not discover; and should be very careful how I believed any statement about the matter. But what they wanted specially to find was the skeleton of a certain rival Obeah-man, who having, some years before, rashly challenged Madame to a trial of skill, had gone to visit her one night, and never left her cottage again.

The chief centre of this detestable system is St. Vincent, where -- so I was told by one who knows that island well -- some sort of secret College, or School of the Prophets Diabolic, exists. Its emissaries spread over the islands, fattening themselves at the expense of their dupes, and exercising no small political authority, which has been ere now, and may be again, dangerous to society. In Jamaica, I was assured by a Nonconformist missionary who had long lived there, Obeah is by no means on the decrease; and in Hayti it is probably on the increase, and taking -- at least until the fall and death of Salnave -- shapes which, when made public in the civilised world, will excite more than mere disgust. But of Hayti I shall be silent; having heard more of the state of society in that unhappy place than it is prudent, for the sake of the few white residents, to tell at present.

The same missionary told me that in Sierra Leone, also, Obeah and poisoning go hand in hand. Arriving home one night, he said, with two friends, he heard hideous screams from the house of a Portuguese Negro, a known Obeah-man. Fearing that murder was being done, they burst open his door, and found that he had tied up his wife hand and foot, and was flogging her horribly. They cut the poor creature down, and placed her in safety.

A day or two after, the missionary's servant came in at sunrise with a mysterious air.

'You no go out just now, massa.'

There was something in the road: but what, he would not tell. My friend went out, of course, in spite of the faithful fellow's entreaties; and found, as he expected, a bottle containing the usual charms, and round it -- sight of horror to all Negroes of the old school -- three white cocks' heads -- an old remnant, it is said, of a worship 'de quo sileat musa' -- pointing their beaks, one to his door, one to the door of each of his friends. He picked them up, laughing, and threw them away, to the horror of his servant.

But the Obeah-man was not so easily beaten. In a few days the servant came in again with a wise visage.

'You no drink a milk to-day, massa.'

'Why not?'

'Oh, perhaps something bad in it. You give it a cat.'

'But I don't want to poison the cat!'

'Oh, dere a strange cat in a stable; me give it her.'

He did so; and the cat was dead in half an hour.

Again the fellow tried, watching when the three white men, as was their custom, should dine together, that he might poison them all. And again the black servant foiled him, though afraid to accuse him openly. This time it was -- 'You no drink a water in a filter.' And when the filter was searched, it was full of poison-leaves.

A third attempt the rascal made with no more success; and then vanished from Sierra Leone; considering -- as the Obeah-men in the West Indies are said to hold of the Catholic priests -- that 'Buccra Padre's Obeah was too strong for his Obeah.'

I know not how true the prevailing belief is, that some of these Obeah-men carry a drop of snake's poison under a sharpened finger- nail, a scratch from which is death. A similar story was told to Humboldt of a tribe of Indians on the Orinoco; and the thing is possible enough. One story, which seemingly corroborates it, I heard, so curiously illustrative of Negro manners in Trinidad during the last generation, that I shall give it at length. I owe it -- as I do many curious facts -- to the kindness of Mr. Lionel Fraser, chief of police of the Port of Spain, to whom it was told, as it here stands, by the late Mr. R -- -, stipendiary magistrate; himself a Creole and a man of colour: --

'When I was a lad of about seventeen years of age, I was very frequently on a sugar-estate belonging to a relation of mine; and during crop-time particularly I took good care to be there.

'Owing to my connection with the owner of the estate, I naturally had some authority with the people; and I did my best to preserve order amongst them, particularly in the boiling-house, where there used to be a good deal of petty theft, especially at night; for we had not then the powerful machinery which enables the planter to commence his grinding late and finish it early.

'There was one African on the estate who was the terror of the Negroes, owing to his reputed supernatural powers as an Obeah-man.

'This man, whom I will call Martin, was a tall, powerful Negro, who, even apart from the mysterious powers with which he was supposed to be invested, was a formidable opponent from his mere size and strength.

'I very soon found that Martin was determined to try his authority and influence against mine; and I resolved to give him the earliest possible opportunity for doing so.

'I remember the occasion when we first came into contact perfectly well. It was a Saturday night, and we were boiling off. The boiling-house was but very dimly lighted by two murky oil-lamps, the rays from which could scarcely penetrate through the dense atmosphere of steam which rose from the seething coppers. Occasionally a bright glow from the furnace-mouths lighted up the scene for a single instant, only to leave it the next moment darker than ever.

'It was during one of these flashes of light that I distinctly saw Martin deliberately filling a large tin pan with sugar from one of the coolers.

'I called out to him to desist; but he never deigned to take the slightest notice of me. I repeated my order in a louder and more angry tone; whereupon he turned his eyes upon me, and said, in a most contemptuous tone, |Chut, ti beque: quitte moue tranquille, ou tende sinon malheur ka rive ou.| (Pshaw, little white boy: leave me alone, or worse will happen to you.)

'It was the tone more than the words themselves that enraged me; and without for one moment reflecting on the great disparity between us, I made a spring from the sort of raised platform on which I stood, and snatching the panful of sugar from his hand, I flung it, sugar and all, into the tache, from which I knew nothing short of a miracle could recover it.

'For a moment only did Martin hesitate; and then, after fumbling for one instant with his right hand in his girdle, he made a rush at me. Fortunately for me, I was prepared; and springing back to the spot where I had before been standing, I took up a light cutlass, which I always carried about with me, and stood on the defensive.

'I had, however, no occasion to use the weapon; for, in running towards me, Martin's foot slipped in some molasses which had been spilt on the ground, and he fell heavily to the floor, striking his head against the corner of one of the large wooden sugar-coolers.

'The blow stunned him for the time, and before he recovered I had left the boiling-house.

'The next day, to my surprise, I found him excessively civil, and almost obsequious: but I noticed that he had taken a violent dislike to our head overseer, whom I shall call Jean Marie, and whom he seemed to suspect as the person who had betrayed him to me when stealing the sugar.

'Things went on pretty quietly for some weeks, till the crop was nearly over.

'One afternoon Jean Marie told me there was to be a Jumby-dance amongst the Africans on the estate that very night. Now Jumby- dances were even then becoming less frequent, and I was extremely anxious to see one; and after a good deal of difficulty, I succeeded in persuading Jean Marie to accompany me to the hut wherein it was to be held.

'It was a miserable kind of an ajoupa near the river-side; and we had some difficulty in making our way to it through the tangled dank grass and brushwood which surrounded it. Nor was the journey rendered more pleasant by the constant rustling among this undergrowth, that reminded us that there were such things as snakes and other ugly creatures to be met with on our road.

'Curiosity, however, urged us on; and at length we reached the ajoupa, which was built on a small open space near the river, beneath a gigantic silk-cotton tree.

'Here we found assembled some thirty Africans, men and women, very scantily dressed, and with necklaces of beads, sharks' teeth, dried frogs, etc., hung round their necks. They were all squatted on their haunches outside the hut, apparently waiting for a signal to go in.

'They did not seem particularly pleased at seeing us; and one of the men said something in African, apparently addressed to some one inside the house; for an instant after the door was flung open, and Martin, almost naked, and with his body painted to represent a skeleton, stalked forth to meet us.

'He asked us very angrily what we wanted there, and seemed particularly annoyed at seeing Jean Marie. However, on my repeated assurances that we only came to see what was going on, he at last consented to our remaining to see the dance; only cautioning us that we must keep perfect silence, and that a word, much more a laugh, would entail most serious consequences.

'As long as I live I shall never forget that scene. The hut was lighted by some eight or ten candles or lamps; and in the centre, dimly visible, was a Fetish, somewhat of the appearance of a man, but with the head of a cock. Everything that the coarsest fancy could invent had been done to make this image horrible; and yet it appeared to be the object of special adoration to the devotees assembled.

'Jean Marie, to be out of the way, clambered on to one of the cross- beams that supported the roof, whilst I leaned against the side wall, as near as I could get to the aperture that served for a window, to avoid the smells, which were overpowering.

'Martin took his seat astride of an African tom-tom or drum; and I noticed at the time that Jean Marie's naked foot hung down from the cross-beam almost directly over Martin's head.

'Martin now began to chant a monotonous African song, accompanying with the tom-tom.

'Gradually he began to quicken the measure; quicker went the words; quicker beat the drum; and suddenly one of the women sprang into the open space in front of the Fetish. Round and round she went, keeping admirable time with the music.

'Quicker still went the drum. And now the whole of the woman's body seemed electrified by it; and, as if catching the infection, a man now joined her in the mad dance. Couple after couple entered the arena, and a true sorcerers' sabbath began; while light after light was extinguished, till at last but one remained; by whose dim ray I could just perceive the faint outlines of the remaining persons.

'At this moment, from some cause or other, Jean Marie burst into a loud laugh.

'Instantly the drum stopped; and I distinctly saw Martin raise his right hand, and, as it appeared to me, seize Jean Marie's naked foot between his finger and thumb.

'As he did so, Jean Marie, with a terrible scream, which I shall never forget, fell to the ground in strong convulsions.

'We succeeded in getting him outside. But he never spoke again; and died two hours afterwards, his body having swollen up like that of a drowned man.

'In those days there were no inquests; and but little interest was created by the affair. Martin himself soon after died.'

But enough of these abominations, of which I am forced to omit the worst.

That day -- to go on with my own story -- I left the rest of the party to go down to the court-house, while I stayed at the camp, sorry to lose so curious a scene, but too tired to face a crowded tropic court, and an atmosphere of perspiration and perjury.

Moreover, that had befallen me which might never befall me again -- I had a chance of being alone in the forests; and into them I would wander, and meditate on them in silence.

So, when all had departed, I lounged awhile in the rocking-chair, watching two Negroes astride on the roof of a shed, on which they were nailing shingles. Their heads were bare; the sun was intense; the roof on which they sat must have been of the temperature of an average frying-pan on an English fire: but the good fellows worked on, steadily and carefully, though not fast, chattering and singing, evidently enjoying the very act of living, and fattening in the genial heat. Lucky dogs: who had probably never known hunger, certainly never known cold; never known, possibly, a single animal want which they could not satisfy. I could not but compare their lot with that of an average English artisan. Ah, well: there is no use in fruitless comparisons; and it is no reason that one should grudge the Negro what he has, because others, who deserve it certainly as much as he, have it not. After all, the ancestors of these Negroes have been, for centuries past, so hard-worked, ill- fed, ill-used too -- sometimes worse than ill-used -- that it is hard if the descendants may not have a holiday, and take the world easy for a generation or two.

The perpetual Saturnalia in which the Negro, in Trinidad at least, lives, will surely give physical strength and health to the body, and something of cheerfulness, self-help, independence to the spirit. If the Saturnalia be prolonged too far, and run, as they seem inclined to run, into brutality and licence, those stern laws of Nature which men call political economy will pull the Negro up short, and waken him out of his dream, soon enough and sharply enough -- a 'judgment' by which the wise will profit and be preserved, while the fools only will be destroyed. And meanwhile, what if in these Saturnalia (as in Rome of old) the new sense of independence manifests itself in somewhat of self-assertion and rudeness, often in insolence, especially disagreeable, because deliberate? What if 'You call me black fellow? I mash you white face in,' were the first words one heard at St. Thomas's from a Negro, on being asked, civilly enough, by a sailor to cast off from a boat to which he had no right to be holding on? What if a Negro now and then addresses you as simple 'Buccra,' while he expects you to call him 'Sir'; or if a Negro woman, on being begged by an English lady to call to another Negro woman, answers at last, after long pretences not to hear, 'You coloured lady! you hear dis white woman a wanting of you'? Let it be. We white people bullied these black people quite enough for three hundred years, to be able to allow them to play (for it is no more) at bullying us. As long as the Negroes are decently loyal and peaceable, and do not murder their magistrates and drink their brains mixed with rum, nor send delegates to the President of Hayti to ask if he will assist them, in case of a general rising, to exterminate the whites -- tricks which the harmless Negroes of Trinidad, to do them justice, never have played, or had a thought of playing -- we must remember that we are very seriously in debt to the Negro, and must allow him to take out instalments of his debt, now and then, in his own fashion. After all, we brought him here, and we have no right to complain of our own work. If, like Frankenstein, we have tried to make a man, and made him badly; we must, like Frankenstein, pay the penalty.

So much for the Negro. As for the coloured population -- especially the educated and civilised coloured population of the towns -- they stand to us in an altogether different relation. They claim to be, and are, our kinsfolk, on another ground than that of common humanity. We are bound to them by a tie more sacred, I had almost said more stern, than we are to the mere Negro. They claim, and justly, to be considered as our kinsfolk and equals; and I believe, from what I have seen of them, that they will prove themselves such, whenever they are treated as they are in Trinidad. What faults some of them have, proceed mainly from a not dishonourable ambition, mixed with uncertainty of their own position. Let them be made to feel that they are now not a class; to forget, if possible, that they ever were one. Let any allusion to the painful past be treated, not merely as an offence against good manners, but as what it practically is, an offence against the British Government; and that Government will find in them, I believe, loyal citizens and able servants.

But to go back to the forest. I sauntered forth with cutlass and collecting-box, careless whither I went, and careless of what I saw; for everything that I could see would be worth seeing. I know not that I found many rare or new things that day. I recollect, amid the endless variety of objects, Film-ferns of various delicate species, some growing in the moss tree-trunks, some clasping the trunk itself by horizontal lateral fronds, while the main rachis climbed straight up many feet, thus embracing the stem in a network of semi-transparent green Guipure lace. I recollect, too, a coarse low fern {245} on stream-gravel which was remarkable, because its stem was set with thick green prickles. I recollect, too, a dead giant tree, the ruins of which struck me with awe. The stump stood some thirty feet high, crumbling into tinder and dust, though its death was so recent that the creepers and parasites had not yet had time to lay hold of it, and around its great spur-roots lay what had been its trunk and head, piled in stacks of rotten wood, over which I scrambled with some caution, for fear my leg, on breaking through, might be saluted from the inside by some deadly snake. The only sign of animal life, however, I found about the tree, save a few millipedes and land snails, were some lizard-eggs in a crack, about the size of those of a humming-bird.

I scrambled down on gravelly beaches, and gazed up the green avenues of the brooks. I sat amid the Balisiers and Aroumas, above still blue pools, bridged by huge fallen trunks, or with wild Pines of half a dozen kinds set in rows: I watched the shoals of fish play in and out of the black logs at the bottom: I gave myself up to the simple enjoyment of looking, careless of what I looked at, or what I thought about it all. There are times when the mind, like the body, had best feed, gorge if you will, and leave the digestion of its food to the unconscious alchemy of nature. It is as unwise to be always saying to oneself, 'Into what pigeon-hole of my brain ought I to put this fact, and what conclusion ought I to draw from it?' as to ask your teeth how they intend to chew, and your gastric juice how it intends to convert your three courses and a dessert into chyle. Whether on a Scotch moor or in a tropic forest, it is well at times to have full faith in Nature; to resign yourself to her, as a child upon a holiday; to be still and let her speak. She knows best what to say.

And yet I could not altogether do it that day. There was one class of objects in the forest which I had set my heart on examining, with all my eyes and soul; and after a while, I scrambled and hewed my way to them, and was well repaid for a quarter of an hour's very hard work.

I had remarked, from the camp, palms unlike any I had seen before, starring the opposite forest with pale gray-green leaves. Long and earnestly I had scanned them through the glasses. Now was the time to see them close, and from beneath. I soon guessed (and rightly) that I was looking at that Palma de Jagua, {246} which excited -- and no wonder -- the enthusiasm of the usually unimpassioned Humboldt. Magnificent as the tree is when its radiating leaves are viewed from above, it is even more magnificent when you stand beneath it. The stem, like that of the Coconut, usually curves the height of a man ere it rises in a shaft for fifty or sixty feet more. From the summit of that shaft springs a crown -- I had rather say, a fountain -- of pinnated leaves; only eight or ten of them; but five-and-twenty feet long each. For three-fourths of their length they rise at an angle of 45 degrees or more; for the last fourth they fall over, till the point hangs straight down; and each leaflet, which is about two feet and a half long, falls over in a similar curve, completing the likeness of the whole to a fountain of water, or a gush of rockets. I stood and looked up, watching the innumerable curled leaflets, pale green above and silver-gray below, shiver and rattle amid the denser foliage of the broad-leaved trees; and then went on to another and to another, to stare up again, and enjoy the mere shape of the most beautiful plant I had ever beheld, excepting always the Musa Ensete, from Abyssinia, in the Palm-house at Kew. Truly spoke Humboldt, of this or a closely allied species, 'Nature has lavished every beauty of form on the Jagua Palm.'

But here, as elsewhere to my great regret, I looked in vain for that famous and beautiful tree, the Piriajo, {247} or 'Peach Palm,' which is described in Mr. Bates's book, vol ii. p.218, under the name of Pupunha. It grows here and there in the island, and always marks the site of an ancient Indian settlement. This is probable enough, for 'it grows,' says Mr. Bates, 'wild nowhere on the Amazons. It is one of those few vegetable productions (including three kinds of Manioc and the American species of Banana) which the Indians have cultivated from time immemorial, and brought with them in their original migration to Brazil.' From whence? It has never yet been found wild; 'its native home may possibly,' Mr. Bates thinks, 'be in some still unexplored tract on the eastern slopes of the AEquatorial Andes.' Possibly so: and possibly, again, on tracts long sunk beneath the sea. He describes the tree as 'a noble ornament, from fifty to sixty feet in height, and often as straight as a scaffold- pole. The taste of the fruit may be compared to a mixture of chestnuts and cheese. Vultures devour it greedily, and come in quarrelsome flocks to the trees when it is ripe. Dogs will also eat it. I do not recollect seeing cats do the same, though they will go into the woods to eat Tucuma, another kind of palm fruit.'

'It is only the more advanced tribes,' says Mr. Bates, 'who have kept up the cultivation. . . . Bunches of sterile or seedless fruits' -- a mark of very long cultivation, as in the case of the Plantain -- 'occur. . . . It is one of the principal articles of food at Ega when in season, and is boiled and eaten with treacle or salt. A dozen of the seedless fruits make a good nourishing meal for a full-grown person. It is the general belief that there is more nutriment in Pupunha than in fish, or Vacca Marina (Manati).'

My friend Mr. Bates will, I am sure, excuse my borrowing so much from him about a tree which must be as significant in his eyes as it is in mine.

So passed many hours, till I began to be tired of -- I may almost say, pained by -- the appalling silence and loneliness; and I was glad to get back to a point where I could hear the click of the axes in the clearing. I welcomed it just as, after a long night on a calm sea, when one nears the harbour again, one welcomes the sound of the children's voices and the stir of life about the quay, as a relief from the utter blank, and feels oneself no longer a bubble afloat on an infinity which knows one not, and cares nothing for one's existence. For in the dead stillness of mid-day, when not only the deer, and the agoutis, and the armadillos, but the birds and insects likewise, are all asleep, the crack of a falling branch was all that struck my ear, as I tried in vain to verify the truth of that beautiful passage of Humboldt's -- true, doubtless, in other forests, or for ears more acute than mine. 'In the mid-day,' he says, {248a} 'the larger animals seek shelter in the recesses of the forest, and the birds hide themselves under the thick foliage of the trees, or in the clefts of the rocks: but if, in this apparent entire stillness of nature, one listens for the faintest tones which an attentive ear can seize, there is perceived an all-pervading rustling sound, a humming and fluttering of insects close to the ground, and in the lower strata of the atmosphere. Everything announces a world of organic activity and life. In every bush, in the cracked bark of the trees, in the earth undermined by hymenopterous insects, life stirs audibly. It is, as it were, one of the many voices of Nature, and can only be heard by the sensitive and reverent ear of her true votaries.'

Be not too severe, great master. A man's ear may be reverent enough: but you must forgive its not being sensitive while it is recovering from that most deafening of plagues, a tropic cold in the head.

Would that I had space to tell at length of our long and delightful journey back the next day, which lay for several miles along the path by which we came, and then, after we had looked down once more on the exquisite bay of Fillette, kept along the northern wall of the mountains, instead of turning up to the slope which we came over out of Caura. For miles we paced a mule-path, narrow, but well kept -- as it had need to be; for a fall would have involved a roll into green abysses, from which we should probably not have reascended. Again the surf rolled softly far below; and here and there a vista through the trees showed us some view of the sea and woodlands almost as beautiful as that at Fillette. Ever and anon some fresh valuable tree or plant, wasting in the wilderness, was pointed out. More than once we became aware of a keen and dreadful scent, as of a concentrated essence of unwashed tropic humanity, which proceeded from that strange animal, the porcupine with a prehensile tail, {248b} who prowls in the tree-tops all night, and sleeps in them all day, spending his idle hours in making this hideous smell. Probably he or his ancestors have found it pay as a protection; for no jaguar or tiger-cat, it is to be presumed, would care to meddle with anything so exquisitely nasty, especially when it is all over sharp prickles.

Once -- I should know the spot again among a thousand -- where we scrambled over a stony brook just like one in a Devonshire wood, the boulders and the little pools between them swarmed with things like scarlet and orange fingers, or sticks of sealing-wax, which we recognised, and, looking up, saw a magnificent Bois Chataigne, {249a} -- Pachira, as the Indians call it, -- like a great horse- chestnut, spreading its heavy boughs overhead. And these were the fallen petals of its last-night's crop of flowers, which had opened there, under the moonlight, unseen and alone. Unseen and alone? How do we know that?

Then we emerged upon a beach, the very perfection of typical tropic shore, with little rocky coves, from one to another of which we had to ride through rolling surf, beneath the welcome shade of low shrub-fringed cliffs; while over the little mangrove-swamp at the mouth of the glen, Tocuche rose sheer, like M'Gillicuddy's Reeks transfigured into one huge emerald.

We turned inland again, and stopped for luncheon at a clear brook, running through a grove of Cacao and Bois Immortelles. We sat beneath the shade of a huge Bamboo clump; cut ourselves pint-stoups out of the joints; and then, like great boys, got, some of us at least, very wet in fruitless attempts to catch a huge cray-fish nigh eighteen inches long, blue and gray, and of a shape something between a gnat and a spider, who, with a wife and child, had taken up his abode in a pool among the spurs of a great Bois Immortelle. However, he was too nimble for us; and we went on, and inland once more, luckily not leaving our bamboo stoups behind.

We descended, I remember, to the sea-shore again, at a certain Maraccas Bay, and had a long ride along bright sands, between surf and scrub; in which ride, by the by, the civiliser of Montserrat and I, to avoid the blinding glare of the sand, rode along the firm sand between the sea and the lagoon, through the low wood of Shore Grape and Mahaut, Pinguin and Swamp Seguine {249b} -- which last is an Arum with a knotted stem, from three to twelve feet high. We brushed our way along with our cutlasses, as we sat on our saddles, enjoying the cool shade; till my companion's mule found herself jammed tight in scrub, and unable to forge either ahead or astern. Her rider was jammed too, and unable to get off; and the two had to be cut out of the bush by fair hewing, amid much laughter, while the wise old mule, as the cutlasses flashed close to her nose, never moved a muscle, perfectly well aware of what had happened, and how she was to be got out of the scrape, as she had been probably fifty times before.

We stopped at the end of the long beach, thoroughly tired and hungry, for we had been on the march many hours; and discovered for the first time that we had nothing left to eat. Luckily, a certain little pot of 'Ramornie' essence of soup was recollected and brought out. The kettle was boiling in five minutes, and half a teaspoonful per man of the essence put on a knife's point, and stirred with a cutlass, to the astonishment of the grinning and unbelieving Negroes, who were told that we were going to make Obeah soup, and were more than half of that opinion themselves. Meanwhile, I saw the wise mule led up into the bush; and, on asking its owner why, was told that she was to be fed -- on what, I could not see. But, much to my amusement, he cut down a quantity of the young leaves of the Cocorite palm; and she began to eat them greedily, as did my police-horse. And, when the bamboo stoups were brought out, and three-quarters of a pint of good soup was served round -- not forgetting the Negroes, one of whom, after sucking it down, rubbed his stomach, and declared, with a grin, that it was very good Obeah- -the oddness of the scene came over me. The blazing beach, the misty mountains, the hot trade-wind, the fantastic leaves overhead, the black limbs and faces, the horses eating palm-leaves, and we sitting on logs among the strange ungainly Montrichardias, drinking 'Ramornie' out of bamboo, washing it down with milk from green coconuts -- was this, too, a scene in a pantomime? Would it, too, vanish if one only shut one's eyes and shook one's head?

We turned up into the loveliest green trace, where, I know not how, the mountain vegetation had, some of it, come down to the sea-level. Nowhere did I see the Melastomas more luxuriant; and among them, arching over our heads like parasols of green lace, between us and the sky, were tall tree-ferns, as fine as those on the mountain slopes.

In front of us opened a flat meadow of a few acres; and beyond it, spur upon spur, rose a noble mountain, in so steep a wall that it was difficult to see how we were to ascend.

Ere we got to the mountain foot, some of our party had nigh come to grief. For across the Savanna wandered a deep lagoon brook. The only bridge had been washed away by rains; and we had to get the horses through as we could, all but swimming them, two men on each horse; and then to drive the poor creatures back for a fresh double load, with fallings, splashings, much laughter, and a qualm or two at the recollection that there might be unpleasant animals in the water. Electric eels, happily, were not invented at the time when Trinidad parted from the Main, or at least had not spread so far east: but alligators had been by that time fully developed, and had arrived here in plenty; and to be laid hold of by one, would have been undesirable; though our party was strong enough to have made very short work with the monster.

So over we got, and through much mud, and up mountains some fifteen hundred feet high, on which the vegetation was even richer than any we had seen before; and down the other side, with the great lowland and the Gulf of Paria opening before us. We rested at a police- station -- always a pleasant sight in Trinidad, for the sake of the stalwart soldier-like brown policemen and their buxom wives, and neat houses and gardens a focus of discipline and civilisation amid what would otherwise relapse too soon into anarchy and barbarism; we whiled away the time by inspecting the ward police reports, which were kept as neatly, and worded as well, as they would have been in England; and then rolled comfortably in the carriage down to Port of Spain, tired and happy, after three such days as had made old blood and old brains young again.

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