At Last
by Charles Kingsley
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When you have ceased looking—even staring—at the black women and their ways, you become aware of the strange variety of races which people the city. Here passes an old Coolie Hindoo, with nothing on but his lungee round his loins, and a scarf over his head; a white- bearded, delicate-featured old gentleman, with probably some caste- mark of red paint on his forehead; his thin limbs, and small hands and feet, contrasting strangely with the brawny Negroes round. There comes a bright-eyed young lady, probably his daughter-in-law, hung all over with bangles, in a white muslin petticoat, crimson cotton-velvet jacket, and green gauze veil, with her naked brown baby astride on her hip: a clever, smiling, delicate little woman, who is quite aware of the brightness of her own eyes. And who are these three boys in dark blue coatees and trousers, one of whom carries, hanging at one end of a long bamboo, a couple of sweet potatoes; at the other, possibly, a pebble to balance them? As they approach, their doleful visage betrays them. Chinese they are, without a doubt: but whether old or young, men or women, you cannot tell, till the initiated point out that the women have chignons and no hats, the men hats with their pigtails coiled up under them. Beyond this distinction, I know none visible. Certainly none in those sad visages—'Offas, non facies,' as old Ammianus Marcellinus has it.

But why do Chinese never smile? Why do they look as if some one had sat upon their noses as soon as they were born, and they had been weeping bitterly over the calamity ever since? They, too, must have their moments of relaxation: but when? Once, and once only, in Port of Spain, we saw a Chinese woman, nursing her baby, burst into an audible laugh: and we looked at each other, as much astonished as if our horses had begun to talk.

There again is a group of coloured men of all ranks, talking eagerly, business, or even politics; some of them as well dressed as if they were fresh from Europe; some of them, too, six feet high, and broad in proportion; as fine a race, physically, as one would wish to look upon; and with no want of shrewdness either, or determination, in their faces: a race who ought, if they will be wise and virtuous, to have before them a great future. Here come home from the convent school two coloured young ladies, probably pretty, possibly lovely, certainly gentle, modest, and well-dressed according to the fashions of Paris or New York; and here comes the unmistakable Englishman, tall, fair, close-shaven, arm-in-arm with another man, whose more delicate features, more sallow complexion, and little moustache mark him as some Frenchman or Spaniard of old family. Both are dressed as if they were going to walk up Pall Mall or the Rue de Rivoli; for 'go-to-meeting clothes' are somewhat too much de rigueur here; a shooting-jacket and wide-awake betrays the newly-landed Englishman. Both take off their hats with a grand air to a lady in a carriage; for they are very fine gentlemen indeed, and intend to remain such: and well that is for the civilisation of the island; for it is from such men as these, and from their families, that the good manners for which West Indians are, or ought to be, famous, have permeated down, slowly but surely, through all classes of society save the very lowest.

The straight and level street, swarming with dogs, vultures, chickens, and goats, passes now out of the old into the newer part of the city; and the type of the houses changes at once. Some are mere wooden sheds of one or two rooms, comfortable enough in that climate, where a sleeping-place is all that is needed—if the occupiers would but keep them clean. Other houses, wooden too, belong to well-to-do folk. Over high walls you catch sight of jalousies and verandahs, inside which must be most delightful darkness and coolness. Indeed, one cannot fancy more pleasant nests than some of the little gaily-painted wooden houses, standing on stilts to let the air under the floors, and all embowered in trees and flowers, which line the roads in the suburbs; and which are inhabited, we are told, by people engaged in business.

But what would—or at least ought to—strike the newcomer's eye with most pleasurable surprise, and make him realise into what a new world he has been suddenly translated—even more than the Negroes, and the black vultures sitting on roof-ridges, or stalking about in mid-street—are the flowers which show over the walls on each side of the street. In that little garden, not thirty feet broad, what treasures there are! A tall palm—whether Palmiste or Oil-palm—has its smooth trunk hung all over with orchids, tied on with wire. Close to it stands a purple Dracaena, such as are put on English dinner-tables in pots: but this one is twenty feet high; and next to it is that strange tree the Clavija, of which the Creoles are justly fond. A single straight stem, fifteen feet high, carries huge oblong-leaves atop, and beneath them, growing out of the stem itself, delicate panicles of little white flowers, fragrant exceedingly. A double blue pea {74} and a purple Bignonia are scrambling over shrubs and walls. And what is this which hangs over into the road, some fifteen feet in height—long, bare, curving sticks, carrying each at its end a flat blaze of scarlet? What but the Poinsettia, paltry scions of which, like the Dracaena, adorn our hothouses and dinner-tables. The street is on fire with it all the way up, now in mid-winter; while at the street end opens out a green park, fringed with noble trees all in full leaf; underneath them more pleasant little suburban villas; and behind all, again, a background of steep wooded mountain a thousand feet in height. That is the Savannah, the public park and race-ground; such as neither London nor Paris can boast.

One may be allowed to regret that the exuberant loyalty of the citizens of Port of Spain has somewhat defaced one end at least of their Savannah; for in expectation of a visit from the Duke of Edinburgh, they erected for his reception a pile of brick, of which the best that can be said is that it holds a really large and stately ballroom, and the best that can be hoped is that the authorities will hide it as quickly as possible with a ring of Palmistes, Casuarinas, Sandboxes, and every quick-growing tree. Meanwhile, as His Royal Highness did not come the citizens wisely thought that they might as well enjoy their new building themselves. So there, on set high days, the Governor and the Lady of the Governor hold their court. There, when the squadron comes in, officers in uniform dance at desperate sailors' pace with delicate Creoles; some of them, coloured as well as white, so beautiful in face and figure that one could almost pardon the jolly tars if they enacted a second Mutiny of the Bounty, and refused one and all to leave the island and the fair dames thereof. And all the while the warm night wind rushes in through the high open windows; and the fireflies flicker up and down, in and out, and you slip away on to the balcony to enjoy—for after all it is very hot—the purple star- spangled night; and see aloft the saw of the mountain ridges against the black-blue sky; and below—what a contrast!—the crowd of white eyeballs and white teeth—Negroes, Coolies, Chinese—all grinning and peeping upward against the railing, in the hope of seeing— through the walls—the 'buccra quality' enjoy themselves.

An even pleasanter sight we saw once in that large room, a sort of agricultural and horticultural show, which augured well for the future of the colony. The flowers were not remarkable, save for the taste shown in their arrangement, till one recollected that they were not brought from hothouses, but grown in mid-winter in the open air. The roses, of which West Indians are very fond, as they are of all 'home,' i.e. European, flowers, were not as good as those of Europe. The rose in Trinidad, though it flowers three times a year, yet, from the great heat and moisture, runs too much to wood. But the roots, especially the different varieties of yam, were very curious; and their size proved the wonderful food-producing powers of the land when properly cultivated. The poultry, too, were worthy of an English show. Indeed, the fowl seems to take to tropical America as the horse has to Australia, as to a second native-land; and Trinidad alone might send an endless supply to the fowl-market of the Northern States, even if that should not be quite true which some one said, that you might turn an old cock loose in the bush, and he, without further help, would lay more eggs, and bring up more chickens, than you could either eat or sell.

But the most interesting element of that exhibition was the coconut fibre products of Messrs. Uhrich and Gerold, of which more in another place. In them lies a source of further wealth to the colony, which may stand her in good stead when Port of Spain becomes, as it must become, one of the great emporiums of the West.

Since our visit the great ballroom has seen—even now is seeing— strange vicissitudes. For the new Royal College, having as yet no buildings of its own, now keeps school, it is said, therein—alas for the inkstains on that beautiful floor! And by last advices, a 'troupe of artistes' from Martinique, there being no theatre in Port of Spain, have been doing their play-acting in it; and Terpsichore and Thalia (Melpomene, I fear, haunts not the stage of Martinique) have been hustling all the other Muses downstairs at sunset, and joining their jinglings to the chorus of tom-toms and chac-chacs which resounds across the Savannah, at least till 10 p.m., from all the suburbs.

The road—and all the roads round Port of Spain, thanks to Sir Ralph Woodford, are as good as English roads—runs between the Savannah and the mountain spurs, and past the Botanic Gardens, which are a credit, in more senses than one, to the Governors of the island. For in them, amid trees from every quarter of the globe, and gardens kept up in the English fashion, with fountains, too, so necessary in this tropical clime, stood a large 'Government House.' This house was some years ago destroyed; and the then Governor took refuge in a cottage just outside the garden. A sum of money was voted to rebuild the big house: but the Governors, to their honour, have preferred living in the cottage, adding to it from time to time what was necessary for mere comfort; and have given the old gardens to the city, as a public pleasure-ground, kept up at Government expense.

This Paradise—for such it is—is somewhat too far from the city; and one passes in it few people, save an occasional brown nurse. But when Port of Spain becomes, as it surely will, a great commercial city, and the slopes of Laventille, Belmont, and St. Ann's, just above the gardens, are studded, as they surely will be, with the villas of rich merchants, then will the generous gift of English Governors be appreciated and used; and the Botanic Gardens will become a Tropic Garden of the Tuileries, alive, at five o'clock every evening, with human flowers of every hue with human


30th December 1869.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'The world forgetting, by the world forgot.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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