The bird spent many wayward hours endeavouring to sing. No cultured relative was present to teach the notes of its kind, so that in default it learned the complete vocabulary of the domestic poultry, besides the more familiar calls and exclamations of its mistress, the varied barks of two dogs, the shrieks of many cockatoos, the gabble of scrub fowls.
The bird also began to play in semi-human style, performing marvellous acrobatic feats on the clothes-line, and lying on its back juggling with a twig as some "artists" do with a barrel in the circus. A white-eared flycatcher took up its abode near the house, and the magpie, after a decent lapse of time, admitted the stranger to its companionship. The wild, larderless bird, however, had little time to play. All its wit and energies were devoted to the serious business of life. It knew none of the games that the magpie invented save one, and that was a kind of aerial "peep-bo" to which the brainier bird lured it by means of a prize.
The magpie found a moth, big of abdomen, fat, and brown, a tempting morsel to any insectivorous bird. Envious of the dainty, the wagtail fluttered and skipped about the magpie with cheerful chatter; but the fluttering moth, daintily held by the extremity of its body, was alternately presented and denied. They danced about a bush, the magpie tantalisingly holding the moth for acceptance and hopping off as the wagtail was about to snatch it. To the tame bird, fortified by knowledge that its meals were provided, it was all fun. To the hungry wild one the moth dangled temptingly before it and whipped disappointingly away was a meal almost to be fought for. It was a game equally sincere but of varied interest. The one assumed a whimsical air, chuckling in encouraging tones; the other took it all in earnest.
At last, unable to restrain an exclamation of delight, the magpie unwarily slackened its hold, and the moth fluttered off to be snapped up on the instant by the wild bird and gulped without ceremony. After this the game was frequently played, but the magpie had invariably to make it worth the while of the wagtail by offering a prize in the shape of some tit-bit.
Do not these cases support the theories that birds sharpen their faculties by the exercise of defensive and offensive tactics, and also that they do indulge in irresponsible play?
III. BIRDS WHICH HAVE REASONED
If one begins to reflect upon the mental attributes of inferior animals, how aptly is evidence in support of a favourite theory presented? Are the actions of birds due to automatic impulses or hereditary traits? Is instinct merely "lapsed intelligence," or do birds actually reflect? Are they capable of applying the results of habit and observations in respect of one set of circumstances to other and different conditions? John Burroughs expresses the opinion that birds have perceptions, but not conceptions; that they recognise a certain fact, but are incapable of applying the fact to another case. I am almost convinced that some birds are capable of logical actions under circumstances absolutely new to them, and as a bright and shining affirmation quote "Baal Burra."
Beautiful in appearance, for it was what is generally known as a blue mountain parrot (red-collared lorikeet), its cleverness and affectionate nature were far more engaging than all the gay feathers. It came as the gift of a human derelict, who knew how to gain the confidence of dumb creatures, though society made of him an Ishmaelite. Vivacious, noisy, loving the nectar of flowers and the juices of fruits, Baal Burra was phenomenal in many winsome ways, but in a spirit of rare self denial I refrain from the pleasure of chronicling some of them in order to give place to instance and proof of the reasoning powers of an astonishingly high order.
Are apologies to be offered, too, for the homeliness of the example—its unrelieved domesticity? I must begin at the very beginning lest some necessary point be lost, and the beginning is porridge! A small portion was invariably left for Baal Burra. On the morning of this strange history a miniature lagoon, irregular in shape, of porridge and milk had settled in the very centre of the dry desert of plate. In response to customary summons to breakfast, Baal Burra skipped along the veranda. It was a daily incident, and no one took particular notice until unusual exclamations on the part of the bird denoted something extraordinary. By circumnavigating the plate and at the same time stretching its neck to the utmost it had contrived to convert the shapeless lagoon into a perfectly symmetrical pond just out of the reach of the stubby tongue. Hence the scolding. Three witnesses—each ardently on the side of the bird—watched intently. Decently mannered, it refused to clamber on to the edge of the plate, for it was ever averse from defilement of food. The tit-bit was just beyond avaricious exertions—just at that tantalising distance and just so irresistibly desirable as might be directly stimulative of original enterprise towards acquirement.
The chatter and abuse continued for a couple of minutes. Then the bird stood still while seeming to reflect, with wise head askew after the manner of other thinkers. Hurrying, to its playthings—which happened to be at the far end of the veranda—it selected a matchbox, dragged it clatteringly along, ranged it precisely close to the plate, mounted it, and from the extra elevation sipped the last drop with a chuckle of content. That the bird on deliberation conceived the scheme for over-reaching the coveted food I have not the slightest doubt.
Baal Burra bestowed frank friendship on a fat, good-humoured, yellow cat, fond of luxury and ease during the day, a "rake-helly" prowler at night. Into Sultan's fur Baal Burra would burrow, not without occasional result, if the upbraiding tongue was to be believed. Baal Burra would fill its lower mandible with water from a drinking dish and tip it neatly into the cat's ear, and scream with delight as Sultan shook his sleepy head. To dip the tip of the cat's tail into the water and mimic the scrubbing of the floor was an everyday pastime. In addition to being an engineer and a comedian the bird was also a high tragedian. In the cool of the evening upon the going down of the sun the cat and the bird would set out together to the accustomed stage. Baal Burra burrowing through the long grass, painfully slow and cheeping plaintively, while Sultan stalked ahead mewing encouragingly. The tragedy, which was in one act, was repeated so often that each became confidently proficient, while the setting—free from the constraints of space—helped towards that degree of deception which is the highest form of art. Often we feared lest Sultan, carried away by enrapt enthusiasm, would unwittingly sustain his part even to the lamentable though natural DNOUEMENT. Baal Burra was, of' course, the engaging and guileless victim, while Sultan, with triumphant realism, rehearsed a scene ruthlessly materialised elsewhere.
Climbing into a low-growing bush, Baal Burra would become preoccupied, innocently absorbed in an inspection of the young shoots and tender leaves which it seemed to caress. Assuming a ferocious mien, Sultan approached soliloquising, no doubt, "Ah, here is another silly wild-fowl! Come, let me indulge my bloodthirstiness!" His eyes glittered as he crouched, his tail thickened and swayed, his ears were depressed, his whiskers and nose twitched, his jaws worked, his claws were unsheathed and sheathed spasmodically as he crept stealthily towards the apparently unconscious bird. After two or three preliminary feints for the perfect adjustment of his faculties and pose, he bounded into the air with distended talons well over his screeching playmate. The scene would be rehearsed several times before Sultan, tired of mummery and eager for actualities, slunk yawling into the bush, while Baal Burra, whimpering in the dusk, waddled home to be caged.
Towards the further justification of the argument two cases in which scrub fowl (MEGAPODIUS DUPERREYI TUMULUS) are concerned may be cited. Being a previously recorded fact, the first is excusable only on the grounds of its applicability to a debatable point.
1. On a remote spot in a very rough and rugged locality, hemmed in by immense blocks of granite, is a large incubating mound. Save at one point it is encompassed by rocks, but the opening does not grant facilities for the accumulation of vegetable debris, yet the mound continually increases in dimensions. At first glance there seems no means by which such a large heap could have been accumulated for the birds do not carry their materials, but kick and scratch them to the site. A hasty survey shows that the birds have taken advantage of the junction of two impending rocks which form a fortuitous shoot down which to send the rubbish with the least possible exertion on their part. The shoot is always in use, for the efficacy of the mound depends upon the heat generated by actually decaying vegetation. Did the birds think out this simple labour-saving method before deciding on the site for the mound, or was it a gracious afterthought—one of those automatic impulses by which Nature confronts difficulties?
2. As I wandered on the hilltops far from home I was astonished when Tom, the cutest of black boys, dropped on his knees to investigate a crevice between two horizontal slabs of granite filled with dead leaves and loam. The spot, bare of grass, was about twenty yards from the edge of a fairly thick, low-growing scrub where scrub fowls are plentiful. I was inclined to smile when he said, "Might be hegg belonga scrub hen sit down!" He scooped out some of the rubbish—the crevice was so narrow that it barely admitted his arm—and finally dug a hole with his fingers fully fourteen inches deep, revealing an egg, pink with freshness.
A more unlikely spot for a scrub fowl to lay, could hardly be imagined. There was no mound, the crevice being merely filled flush, and the vegetable rubbish packed between the flat rocks did not appear to be sufficient in quantity to generate in its decay the temperature necessary to bring about incubation. Yet the egg was warm, and upon reflecting that the sun's rays keep the granite slabs in the locality hot during the day, so hot, indeed, that there is no sitting down on them with comfort, I perceived that here was evidence on which to maintain an argument of rare sagacity on the part of the bird, and that the hypothesis might be thus stated: This cool-footed cultivator of the jungle floor had during the casual rambling on sunlit spaces become conscious of the heat of the rocks. Being impressed, she surveyed the locality, and of her deliberate purpose selected a spot for the completion of her next ensuing maternal duties which, while it scandalised the traditions of her tribe, presented unrealised facilities.
This was a natural incubator, certainly, but superior to those in common use in that the solar heat stored by the stone during the day rendered superfluous any large accumulation of vegetable matter. Surely it is but a short and easy step from the perception of solar heat to the conception that such heat would assist in the incubation of eggs. None but a mound-builder who, of course, must have general knowledge on the subject of temperatures and the maintenance thereof, could conceive that these heated rocks would obviate the labour of raking together a mass of rubbish. Further, her inherent perception that moist heat due to the fermentation was vital towards the fulfilment of her hopes of posterity would avert the blunder of trusting to the dry rocks alone. The hot rocks and a small quantity of decaying leaves stood in her case for a huge mound, innocent of extraneous heat. Having, therefore more time to scratch for her living, she would naturally become a more robust bird, more attractive to the males, and the better qualified to transmit her exceptional mental qualities to her more numerous offspring.
These are the bare facts. Let those who believe that birds are capable of taking the step from the fact to the principle continue the trains of thought into which they inevitably lead. Will this particular scrub fowl by force of her accidental discovery start a revolutionary change in the life-history of mound-builders generally? Or will the bird——? But there are the facts to conjure or to play with.
SWIFTS AND EAGLES
I. A RARE NEST
Among the resident birds one of the most interesting from an ornithological standpoint is that known as the grey-rumped swiftlet (COLLOCALIA FRANCICA), referred to by Macgillivray as "a swallow which Mr. Gould informs me is also an Indian species." That ardent naturalist is, therefore, entitled to the credit of discovery. Sixty-one years had passed since Macgillivray's visit, during which no knowledge of the life-history of the bird which spends most of its time hawking for insects in sunshine and shower had been revealed, when a fragment of a nest adhering to the roof of a cave on one of the highest points of the Island attracted attention. Submitted to an expert (Mr. A. J. Campbell, of Melbourne, Victoria), the identity of the builder was guessed. Subsequently I had the satisfaction of finding a colony close to the water's edge, on the weather side, where the birds had frequently been seen darting among blocks of granite almost obscured by jungle.
No nests were found in crevices deemed to be favourable spots, though the predilection of the genus for gloom was appreciated, but upon the exploration of a confined cave the excited flutterings of invisible birds betrayed a hitherto well-kept secret. When my eyes became accustomed to the dimness I saw that the roof of the cave (which is fairly smooth and regular with an inclination of about thirty degrees) was studded with nests. Fifty-three were placed irregularly about the middle of the roof, some in pairs, none on the walls. Some were not quite finished; twenty contained a single white egg each; none contained young. All were adherent to the stone by a semi-transparent white substance resembling isinglass, with which also the fine grass, moss, and fibre composing the nests were consolidated. The vegetable material of the first fragmentary nest (found September 17, 1908) was quite green and the gluten moist and sticky. Those now described (two months later) were dry and tough, the dimensions being 2 to 2 inches across and about inch deep. The cave is only about 30 feet above high-water mark and the entrance the birds favour is, strange to say, averse from the sea and much obscured by leafage.
After the first fright the birds became quiet and confident. A young one flew into my half-closed hand, and I detained it for a while and it never struggled. Another tried to snoodle into the shirt-pocket of the black boy who accompanied me. Several brushed against our faces. Clouds partially obscured the sun and what with the screen of foliage and the prevailing gloom of the cave we could not always distinguish the nests. When the sun shone brightly all were plainly discernible, those with the single pearly egg being quaintly pretty. As they flitted in and out of the cave, the birds were as noiseless as butterflies save when they wheeled to avoid each other. Those which were brooding, as they flitted over the nests or clung to the edges, uttering a peculiar note hard to vocalise. To my cars it sounded as a blending of cheeping, clinking, and chattering, yet metallic, and not very unlike the hasty winding up of a clock.
One bird flew to her nest a foot or so from my face and clung to it. To test its timidity or otherwise I approached my face to within two inches, but she continued to scrutinise me even at such close quarters with charming assurance. Then I gently placed my hand over her. She struggled. but not wildly, for a few seconds and then remained passive with bright eyes glinting in the gloom. She was a dusky little creature, the primaries, the back of the head, neck, the shoulders, and tail being black, but when the wings were extended the grey fluff of the base of the tail was conspicuous. After a few minutes I put her back on the nest, and she clung, to it having no shyness or fear. I noticed that the beak was very short, the gape very large, the legs dwarfed, and the toes slender.
We remained in the cave for about half an hour, during which time the birds came and went indifferent to our presence. As far as I am aware members of the species never rest save in their headquarters, clinging to the roof or the nests and never utter a sound except the reassuring, prattle upon alighting on the edge of the nest. It was interesting to note that while many young birds were fluttering about in the cave none occupied a nest, and eggs were in successive stages of incubation, as proved by appearance and test.
The fact that the nests of these swifts are cemented with coagulated saliva establishes analogy with that other member of the family which builds in the caves of frowning precipices near the sea, making edible nests greatly appreciated by Chinese gourmands, some of whom maintain the fantastic theory that the swift catches quantities of a small, delicately flavoured fish which it exposes on rocks until desiccated, to be afterwards compounded into nests. The ancients were wont to believe in the existence of hostile mutuality between the swifts and the bche-de-mer, though they have little in common in respect of appearance, attributes, and habits. If memory serves, one of the genera had the specific title of HIRUNDO, founded on the faith that the swift, by flying over the sea-slug exposed by receding tide, and vexing it by jeers, caused it to exude glutinous threads which the swift seized and bore away to its cave to be consolidated and moulded into a nest. To the fable was appended a retributive moral, viz., that the bche-de-mer occasionally revenged itself by expelling such a complicated mass of gluten that it became a net for the capture of the swift, which was slowly assimilated by its enemy. The Chinese, it may be said, with but slight perversion of fact, show equal partiality for the respective emblems of speed and sloth.
Since the dates mentioned it has been ascertained by personal observation that the breeding season of the swiftlet extends over four months, during which probably four young are reared, each clutch being single. The nests do not provide accommodation for more than one chick, which before flight is obviously top large for its birthplace. Looking down into the cave, the eggs well advanced towards incubation seem to have a slight phosphorescent glow. The earliest date so far recorded of the discovery of a newly laid egg is October 14th, but there is reason to believe that the breeding season begins at least a month earlier. On January 10th this year (1910) half the nests in the cave originally described contained eggs, in most of which (judging by opacity) incubation was far advanced, while in several were young birds, some newly hatched, others apparently ready to depart from their gloomy, foul-smelling quarters. These latter clung so determinedly to their nests with needle-like toes that the force necessary to remove them would certainly have caused injury.
It may be remarked that the breeding season of the nutmeg pigeon is also protracted over a third of the year—from September to the end of January, two or three single successive clutches being reared. The pigeon is a visitor, the swift a resident.
II. THREE FISHERS
At the outset it is almost incumbent to announce that this is not a fish story. It is not even a story, though fish play a secondary part in it. Therefore it should not make shipwreck of the faith of those who smile and sniff whensoever a fish or a snake is informally introduced in print. The imagination of some observers of the wonders of natural history paints incidents so extravagantly that their illustrative value is depreciated if not entirely distorted.
As I would wish to establish a sort of general confidence with any chance reader of these lines who, like myself, finds no need for exaggeration in the chronicling of observations, being well aware that Nature with the ease of consummate art outwits the wisest and laughs at the blotches of the boldest impressionist, it seems but common politeness to explain that though the Island may be romantic, the art of romancing is alien from its shores, albeit (as some one has hinted) that in imagination reverently applied lies the higher truth.
The distance from the mainland is not so great as to deprive the Island of generally distinctly Australian characteristics. It was, no doubt, in the remote past, merely a steep and high range of hills separated from other hills and mountains by plains and lagoons. Delicate land shells, salt-hating frogs, and subtle snakes are among the living testifiers to past connection with Australia, but while all the animals and nearly all the birds native to the island are common on the mainland, several mainland types are conspicuously absent.
If, therefore, the birds and mammals seem in these literal chronicles to have little ways of their own, may they not owe obedience to true and abiding circumstances—a kind of unavoidable fate—due to isolation? It would indeed be singular if an island so long separated from Australia as to possess no marsupial did not impress certain idiosyncrasies upon its fauna and flora. It would be absurd to contend that as a rule, the untamed creatures carry any marks of distinction, but I have had the opportunity of studying facts of which I have never been fortunate to have confirmation either by reading or by "swapping lies" with other students of Nature.
Occasionally when bewilderment has come I call to mind what Mrs. Jarley said of her waxwork, and let the case pass: "I won't go so far as to say that, as it is, I've seen waxwork quite like life but I've certainly seen some life that was exactly like waxwork." When I see a crab not easily distinguishable from a piece of sponge and a piece of sponge far more like a crab generally than the crab, that unconsciously mimics it, and possessing just as much apparent animation, I am content to be tricked in many other ways by the good mother of us all.
Having ventured so far by way of preface, it is quite possible that the reader may have concluded that something exceptionally marvellous is to follow. Disappointment was inevitable from the first. The relation of some of the quaint distinguishing traits of the Island fauna must be left until the historian imagines that he has established a reputation for subduing, rather than heightening, the tone of his facts. This introduction has not a particular but a wide bearing.
Chief among the birds of prey are the osprey, the white-headed sea-eagle, and the white-bellied sea-eagle. The great wedge-tailed eagle (eagle-hawk) is a rare visitor, and is not a fisher. The others are resident and are industrious practisers of the art which, according to their interpretation, is anything but gentle. As they indulge in it, the sport is so rough and boisterous and clumsy that one wonders that so many fish should be caught. Each soars over the sea in circles at a height of about 60 feet or 80 feet, and when fish are seen flies down and, plunging into the water, seizes its prey with its talons. Unless the bird is watched closely its attitudes while preparing for the downward cast and during the descent are misunderstood. "And like a thunderbolt he falls" is quite, according to local observations, an erroneous description of the feat performed by the fishing eagle. Take as an example of the others the actions of the noble bird the white-headed sea-eagle. As it circles over the blue water its gaze is fixed and intent. Flight seems automatic—steady, fairly swift, rippleless. Immediately a fish is sighted, attitudes and poses become comparatively strained and awkward. Flight is checked by the enormous brake-power of outspread tail, and backward beating wing. The eagle poises over the spot, stretches out its legs, and extends its talons to the utmost; flies down in a series of zig-zags, and with the facial expression of the dirty boy undergoing the torture of face-washing, plunges breast first with outstretched wings with a mighty splash into the water. Disappearing for four or five seconds, it finds it no easy task to rise with a two-pound mullet.
Splendid as the feat undoubtedly is, it does not coincide with the description usually given. Have we not often been told of the headlong, lightning like drop that almost baffles eyesight? The circumstance that baffles is that fish are so unobservant or so slow that they do not always, in place of sometimes, escape. For the excuse of the fish it must be acknowledged that very few members of the tribe are fitted with eyes for star-gazing. The eagle captures a dinner, not by the exercise of any very remarkable fleetness or adaptiveness or passion for fishing, but because of certain physical limitations on the part of the fish.
"As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it By sovereignty of nature."
The subserviency of fish to the osprey was noted by the ancients, who attributed a fabulous power of fascination to the bird so that as it flew over the ponds the fish "turned their glistering bellies up" that it might take liberal choice. Certainly some limitation on the part of the fish seems to operate in favour of the osprey, otherwise the clumsy fisher would oft go hungry.
It goes against the grain to speak slightingly of the knightly, white-headed sea-eagle—a friend and almost a companion; but as any one may see that it fishes not for the sport but for the pot, and that the plunge into the water is a shock that is dreaded, no injustice is done. Some birds—and they the most graceful—seem to fish for sport alone. These three fishers fish because, like Kipling's kangaroo, they have to—only the kangaroo hopped.
Now, the white-headed sea-eagle, which seems, and with good reason, to be proud of its ruddy back, appears to have no enemy of its kind. While the osprey and the white-bellied sea-eagle fall out and chide and fight, it looks down from some superior height and placidly watches the fish trap, for though knightly it is not above accepting tribute, for it likes fish though it hates fishing.
The great osprey seldom crosses the bay without a challenge from its stealthy foe, the white-belly. The voices of both are alike in their dissonance though different in quality and tone, and the smaller bird is invariably the aggressor. This is how they fight, or rather engage in a vulgar brawl which has in it a smack of tragedy. The osprey, with steady beat of outstretched wing, flies "squaking" from its agile enemy, who endeavours to alight on the osprey's back. Just as white-belly stretches its talons for a grip among the osprey's feathers, the osprey turns—and turns without a tremor in its long, sweeping wings—to shake hands with white-belly. For a moment the huge bird rests on its back, silhouetted against the luminous sky, to interlock talons with its nimble foe. But white-belly is fully alive to the risk of getting "into hoults" with so heavy a weight, for on the instant it swoops up with a harsh cry of rage or disappointment. With but a single flap and no quiver of wing the osprey rights itself and sails away (a methodic, unflurried flight) with fleeter white-belly in pursuit, which when within striking distance swoops again, to be faced by the grim, outstretched talons of the osprey, who has turned in flight with machine-like precision. So swift and sudden is the discreet upward swoop of the white-belly that it almost appears to be a rebound after contact with the bigger bird. So the scrimmage, or, to be exact, screamage, proceeds, for each party to it tells the whole Island of its valour, and business stands still as the series of most graceful, yet savage, aerial evolutions is repeated until the rivals are blotted out by distance.
Once I saw a bunch of feathers fly from the osprey's back. The aerial capsize had not been timed with accustomed accuracy. Weight told, and it speedily shook itself free; but I am waiting for the day when, in mid-air, the osprey and the white-bellied sea-eagle shall clasp hands. It will be an exciting moment for the sea-eagle. The osprey is a cuter as well as a heavier bird, and, in the phrase of the blacks, "That fella carn let go!"
When the osprey comes skirting the hollows of the hills for cockatoos, its hunger will be unsatisfied until, by elaborate and disdainful manoeuvres, the cockatoos are induced to take flight. Perched on the top of a tree, they may jeer in safety as long as they like; but let the flock fly into the open and the osprey will be surprised if it does not get one, and that which is singled out it follows "like a grim murderer still steady to his purpose." Now is the time for this, greatest of the three fishers, to, wax fat and become pompous, for its diet is to be varied with nutmeg pigeons, and the pigeons have come in their thousands and tens of thousands, and if the eaglets do lack and suffer hunger, it will be on account of the laziness of their parents.
For all its laborious fishing, the red-backed sea-eagle is sometimes deprived of its spoil by a bird much inferior in size and weight and which has not the slightest pretensions to the art. An eagle had captured a "mainsail" fish (banded dory) which loomed black against its snowy breast as in strenuous spirals it sought to gain sufficient height whence to soar over the spur of the hill to its eyrie. The fish, though not weighty, was awkward to carry, and the presence of the boat rather baffled the bird, which was shadowed in envious though discreet flight by a white-bellied eagle. Low over the water, close to the fringe of jungle the eagle flew, when a grey falcon dashed out, snatched from its talons the wriggling fish, and with one swoop disappeared under a yellow-flowered hibiscus bush overhanging the tideway. The falcon is no match for the eagle; but, most subtle of birds of prey, it had watched the perplexity of its lord and master, and with audacious courage taken advantage of a moment's embarrassment.
Repeated observations and diary records have established August 12th as the beginning of the local "bird season." About that date two of the most notable birds arrive from the North—the nutmeg pigeon (MYRISTICIVORA SPILORRHOA) and the metallic starling (CALORNIS METALLICA). Having spent five months in Papua, Java, Borneo, and the Malay Peninsula, the former revisit the islands for incubating purposes.
Where the metallic starlings spend their retreat I know not; but they return with impetuous haste, as if absence had been disciplinary and not for pleasure. They assemble in glittering throngs, shrilly discussing their plans for the season, without reserve debating important concerns of house and home. Shall the tall Moreton Bay ash in the forest be again occupied and the shabby remnants of old nests designedly destroyed before departure last season be renovated, or shall a new settlement be established and the massive milkwood-tree overtopping the jungle be selected as a capital site? Discussion is acidulous and constant. For days the majority of the burnished citizens do little else but talk, while the industrious few begin, some to build nests on the sites of the old, others to lay hasty foundations among the leaves of the milkwood. Each faction wishes to carry its point, for ever and anon both rejoin the main body and proclaim and testify. Then all adjourn to the disputed sites successively and join in frantic commotion until some sage makes an entirely original proposition, and off they all go on a flight of inspection and abruptly end all differences of opinion by favouring a tree which appears to have no distinctive merits.
These delightfully engaging birds have been known to nest in a particular tree for a quarter of a century, and again they may select a different site every year. Though I have no evidence in confirmation of the theory, I am inclined to think that arboreal snakes are influential in causing changes. Although the domed nests must be difficult for even a snake to enter so large a congregation of noisy birds would inevitably attract these slim nocturnal marauders.
Moreover, a case may be cited in support of the theory. In a Moreton Bay ash (EUCALYPTUS TESSELARIS), not far from this spot, there nested a pair of white-headed sea eagles, a pair of cockatoos, and a colony of metallic starlings, four or five hundred strong. The memory of man knows not the first settlement of this amicable community, which remained until during temporary absence the blacks were suborned to climb the tree to secure the eggs of the eagle. They also helped themselves to a few of the callow starlings. The sea eagles and cockatoos discarded the tree forthwith, and the starlings in a couple of years. And why? Because, in my opinion at least, the eagles had policed the tree, killing offhand any green or grey snake which had the stupidity to sneak among the nests. When the policemen went to another beat the snakes took to frightening the unprotected birds and to the burgling of their nest. This incident caused a revision of the protective laws. They are much more explicit, and the pains and penalties for the violation of them are now absolutely unholy in their truculence.
During the 1909 season a serious diminution was noted in the number of metallic starlings and nutmeg pigeons. In the case of the former I am at a loss to account for the cause of the comparatively few visitors—always highly esteemed and admired and preserved from interference—except on the theory of the outbreak of an epidemic or in the possible fact that they are falling victims to the feminine passion for fine feathers.
The Grouse Disease Commission has found a recognised period in the fluctuations of the number of those game birds. During a cycle of sixty years there recur the good year, the very good year, the record year, the bad disease year, the recovery, the average, and the good average. The round is said to be almost invariable. So may it be with the metallic starling.
With the nutmeg pigeons the case is different. Here we have direct evidence of the desolating effects of the interference of man. Congregating in large numbers on the islands to nest, and only to nest, these birds offer quite charming sport to men with guns. They are the easiest of all shooting. Big and white, and given to grouping themselves in cloudy patches on favourable trees, I have heard of a black boy, with a rusty gun, powder, and small stones for shot, filling a flour-sack full during an afternoon. It is, therefore, not strange that men shoot 250 in an hour or so. The strange thing is that "men" boast of such butchery. On the very island where this bag Of 250 was obtained a little black boy, twelve years old, killed four pigeons with a single sweep of a long stick. He did not boast—to his father and mother and himself the four birds represented supper; but in the case of the sportsman it might be asked, how many of the butchered doves went into the all-redeeming pot?
These pigeons are one of the natural features of the coast of North Queensland, in the conservation of which the State and the Commonwealth are concerned. It may be contended that the extermination of a species represented by such multitudes is impossible. But while the history of the passenger pigeon of North America is extant such argument carries no weight.
When the birds are, so to speak, shot on their nests or sitting in their crowded dormitories a whole season's natural increase may be discounted by an afternoon's wretched "sport." If nutmeg pigeons are to be preserved as one of the attractions and natural features of the coast of North Queensland, extensive sanctuaries must be established. Strict prohibition might be enforced for a period of, say, five years to enable the colonies to regain their population, and thenceforward they might—if the shooting of sitting birds is still deemed to be "sport"—be allowed a "jubilee" every second year.
If the unrestricted molestation is permitted, the day is not far distant when indignation will arise and lovers of Nature will ask passionately why a unique feature of the coast was allowed to be obliterated in blood. True sportsmen would unanimously rejoice in the permanent preservation of birds elegant and swift of flight, not very good to eat, and which visit us at a time when inhospitality is a wanton crime.
For this indulgence of my feelings I have, I am aware, laid myself open to censure. It is foreign to, indeed, quite out of place in, a book which professes neither message nor mission. Yet, mayhap, some kindred spirit having influence and judicious eloquence at command may read these lines. Then the birds need not much longer fear the naughty local man. Long may the dulcet islands within the Barrier Reef burst morn and eve into snowy bloom as the pigeons go and come!
So having soothed my fretfulness by irresponsible scolding, consigned countless white pigeons to inviolable sanctuary and thereby confirmed to perpetuity the charter under which a bustling interchange of seeds and the kernels of fruit-trees between isle and mainland is maintained, I am at liberty to chronicle certain every-day incidents in the establishment of a colony by those other companionable birds, metallic starlings, also under engagement to Nature as distributing agents.
Whereas the bulk of the traffic of the pigeons is with the mainland, that of the metallic starlings is purely local, though, perhaps, just as important. The insular communities do not venture for their merchandise across the water, and those of the mainland have no dealings with the isles.
Reference has been made to the disappointment occasioned by the violation of a colony at the instance of a semi-professional egg-snatcher, and of the subsequent abandonment of the tree which had been used as a building site by the birds as far back as the memory of the blacks went.
The tree was in the midst of the forest, and season after season upon the return of the members of the colony they assembled in the vicinity, but never again built in the neighbourhood. Last season, however, the pent-up exasperation of years found a certain sort of relief, for a new colony was started in a Moreton Bay ash-tree not a hundred yards away and in full view from my veranda. There are five other colonies of these socialistic, disputative birds on this Island; but they happen to be in out-of-the-way spots, where continuous detailed observation of their habits and customs would be impossible. Hence, when I saw the noisy throng gather together discussing the imperious business of nesting, I watched with eager and hopeful anticipation. About the third day from the first demonstration in favour of the particular tree building operations began, and thenceforward daily notes were taken of the doings of the colony. Great pleasure was found in being the spectator of the establishment of a new colony.
In 1908 the earliest arrivals appeared, on August 2nd—eight days before the herald of the nutmeg pigeons. The colony the history of which it is proposed to relate was no doubt an offshoot of the first brood of those which had arrived on that date. Circumstances exist which persuade me that the shining Calornis rear two broods during the season. Nutmeg pigeons rear as many as three young successively.
Just about the time the site of the new colony was selected young birds were fairly numerous, so that it seems safe to assume that, expelled from parental nests, they determined to set up an establishment on their own account forthwith. In their industry they seemed to display the defects and advantages of the quality of youth—enthusiasm, impulsiveness and vigour, inexperience, haste, and irrelevance.
Let the diary notes tell of the enterprise as scrutinised through the telescope:
Nov. 15. Shining Calornis (all young birds, mottled grey and black with green sheen on back) busy surveying tree (Moreton Bay ash) on plateau to the north.
16. Birds seem inclined to build.
17. Notice that the birds are in pairs; no old, full-plumaged among them.
18. First beginning of nests. About thirty birds. All seem very excited and full of business.
20. Several nests well forward. Other parts of the tree now being occupied.
22. Seventeen nests; some nearly complete
23. Eighteen nests; several apparently complete, save for the overhanging entrance. Many quarrels and squabbles in the family, for the nests are in groups and in close quarters.
27. Three new nests, or rather foundations thereof.
Dec. 1. Now 25 nests. Those which appeared to be near completion are still being added to. Many have entrances, so that one of the pair works from inside, placing and threading the materials. Sometimes one sits for a long time with the head protruding, as if testing the comfort of the nest. Squabbles are frequent. The backs of some betray a lovely green sheen in the sunshine, with rich purple at the base of the neck.
4. After two days' heavy rain the birds are as busy as ever. Many flirtations. The great want of the colony seems to be insect powder.
5. The tree now is in full flower. I watch the birds making feints at bees and butterflies visiting the blooms but they do not seem to catch insects. Fruit, seeds, and nuts form their diet. The nests, which are composed of tendrils and pliant twigs elaborately intertwined, are domed, and in size somewhat less than a football.
6. Birds very busy. Most of the nests appear to be fit for habitation. Work is suspended at sundown. They do not roost in the tree. Have not detected their resting-place; but it seems to be some distance in the jungle.
7. Sunset (6.45). The birds disappeared from vicinity of the tree almost immediately, though twilight lasted half an hour.
8. Three minutes before sunrise (5.48) birds' voices heard as they approached trees. They were in three or four companies in a bloodwood-tree, where they flirted and fussed and made violent love; then in a trailing mob flew noisily and began work in haste and excitement, one eager bird manipulating a long, slender, partly dry leaf, industriously trying to fit it in various spots. Finding its due place, the limp leaf was thrust in among the compact twigs and tendrils. The leaf was seized close to the stalk, which was deftly inserted, then it was gripped a trifle farther back and pushed and re-gripped, the process being repeated rapidly until nothing but the tip remained visible.
9. Most of the exterior of the nests is now finished. Work continues briskly on the lining, though the material used therefor does not seem to be different from the bulk. When one of a pair has disappeared inside of the tunnel-like entrance, if the other arrives it clings to the threshold until its mate emerges, and then briskly enters. This evening work was suspended at 6.40—cloudy. A few butterflies still flitting about the flowers.
10. Another new nest. As with the others, a few tendrils are laid across dependent sprays of leaves, engaging and intertwining them. These represent the foundations upon which the superstructure is partly built, but both sides and dome are made to entangle other frail branches and leaves, so that the nest is supported throughout its various parts. A considerable quantity of material is lost from each nest, owing to the difficulty of contriving to make initial tendrils engage the leaves and pedicels. The space for the circular entrance is sketched out at quite an early stage. In this colony with few exceptions it faces the south, and is so overhung by a veranda as to be undiscernible except from immediately below.
The situation of the nests on the extremities of the outermost branches, parts of some being lower than the leaves to which they are attached, is no doubt an illustration of acquired sagacity. Such impetuous birds living in large communities, and thus compounding a savour calculated to attract arboreal snakes, would in the course of nature take precautions. The nests in position and design represent the crystallisation of the wit of the bird in antagonism to the wile of the snake.
In the morning, fuss, fierce purpose, and hurry are shown. As the afternoon wears on, less and less industry prevails. Work is suspended at 6.45 p.m. when the last of the crowd hastily departed. Before sundown all are spent and weary. Some of the birds begin to darken on the sides of the upper part of the breasts. The purple sheen on the back of the neck is more brilliant. There is a glowing patch, too, at the base of the tail, though the other parts of the back are dingy with a green tinge in reflected light. The nuptial costume is fast becoming, more attractive.
14. Nests were not deserted until 7.30 p.m. The last half-dozen birds, alert and anxious, dashed off upon a common impulse noisily. They roost in the jungle adjoining.
15. A more sedate condition prevails in the demeanour of the birds, due peradventure to domestic responsibilities. Fewer are about, and they spend leisure moments on the top of or near the nests, while others pop in and out. Are these signs of the beginning of egg-laying?
17. Egg-laying undoubtedly begins, though improvements to nests, which seemed to be finished over a week ago, occupy odd moments.
20. Two past days have been dull and showery. Quietude reigns; a tendril or twig is occasionally threaded or poked into the nests. The male muses on the top of the nest, or closely adjacent thereto. The female pops in and out of apparently cosy quarters. Circumstances point to the conclusion that most of the nests contain eggs.
21. Good deal of rain, which bothers the birds. They play about excitedly in one company. Towards evening very few are about. The nests are deserted, though five or six birds in one mob are in a neighbouring tree.
22. Heavy rain and never-ceasing squalls. No sign of the birds, though a few notes of passers-by were heard. Finer evening.
23. Fine and calm. Nests deserted all morning. Late afternoon many returned, though not, I think, the full company. They seem to be inspecting and repairing the nests.
24. Did not see any of the birds.
25. At 3 p.m. several appeared—some entering the nests two at a time, though without customary fuss and excitement.
26. Full company in possession throughout the day. Several (which are assumed to be males) are better plumaged, the breasts being streaked with black, and the backs much more lustrous.
27. Serious business of incubation deprives the colony of customary gaiety and impulsiveness. While the female sits close, the male perches on top of the nest, occasionally beguiling the time by inconsequent repairs and petty squabbles with next door neighbours. How brilliant are their eyes, especially when they sparkle with spite—flame red and flashing.
28. I am astonished at the sobering effect of pending domestic troubles. Is it that the sitting hen is responsible for the great part of the gaiety and impulsiveness, as well as for the quibbles and brawls that often disturb the happy family? Whatever the cause, whoever responsible, order and tranquillity reign, each expectant father spending hours demurely on his respective nest, a model of staid deportment, though ever ready to resent intrusion on the part of a friend. Portending cares sit heavily on the young and inexperienced colonists.
29. All quiet and industrious. Fancy that the chicks are well forward—rather to my surprise.
Jan. 2. Very rainy all morning. Did not see any of the birds until the weather cleared. Though the nests looked sodden, the owners were cheerful and noisy—a tone of pleasure because of the return of the sunshine being, as I fancied, noticeable.
3. Busy all day. At 6.45 a.m. all gathered in a company on the topmost branches, and after two or three preliminary flights to the accompaniment of much commotion and chattering, dashed into the jungle with a unanimous and most acidulous shriek. One of the nests is hanging in shreds.
4. This morning the birds were engaged for some little time pulling their nests to pieces, strands of tendrils being jerked out and cast away with a contemptuous fling. Most are still fairly rotund and compact, and appear to be weather-proof, while others are already loopholed and ragged. The duty was performed in a most haphazard, halfhearted way. Beneath the tree are many varieties of seeds and nuts, and portions of fruits, but no egg-shells. After the members of the colony had swooped and swept about as if practising military manoeuvres, sometimes silently but generally to the accompaniment of much shrieking in unison, the tree was entirely deserted for the rest of the afternoon.
5. Before 7 a.m. dismantlement of nests was resumed with enthusiasm and deliberate purpose, shreds being twitched out and cast down. A good deal of chatter. There are a few completely feathered youngsters, the breasts being almost pure white, but not more than one to each nest. Most of the nests have no output, in which case the responsible birds have no assistance in the work of destruction. Late in the afternoon all were very busy again, repairs to nests engaging attention. The birds are so unsettled that I am puzzled. Occasionally one would sit in a semi-dismantled nest snoodling down cosily and peering out with shining eyes, the glow and glitter of which from the darksome entrance have a jewel-like effect. While the one sat close and still the mate would repair the exterior, and in a flash of electric suddenness all would dart out of the tree to swoop about as if to perfect themselves in an exercise designed towards the evasion of the dash of a hawk.
6. Early again the wrecking of the nests began; but was soon abandoned, the colony being deserted for the last part of the day.
7. Demolition very casual. The birds are averse from working in the rain, and, to-day several showers have occurred.
8. Notwithstanding light rain the duty of demolition began at 6.30 a.m. As much energy and purpose are expended withdrawing the strands by a series of tugs as were displayed in the building. Occasionally the whole branch from which the nest is pendant sways with the work of a single bird, the eyes of which glitter the more fiercely as it pulls and jerks at an obstinate strand. Twenty-five birds are counted, so it would seem that the enterprise has failed in respect of increase. No doubt some are absent. Both young and old birds take part in the work of destruction. One, I notice, has a black blotch on his otherwise mottled breast, while his back shines with the polished radiance of a soap-bubble.
9. Tree visited at odd intervals—not at all during early morning. Dismantlement proceeds half-heartedly.
10. Very early, the morning being fine and clear, the birds resumed in a playful, lackadaisical way the demolition of the nests; without apparent cause, save the shriek of a passing cockatoo, they fled into the jungle. Did not see them again until late in the afternoon.
11. Again the birds visited the reserve early. Shortly before sundown I counted sixteen. They were resting silently on the sodden remains of the nests, for there have been heavy showers; some were picking idly at loosened strands as if merely to beguile time. Now and again they fly briskly and noisily in close company—always "diagonalising." Failure to add largely to the population of birds does not seem to have damped the gaiety and impulsiveness of the erratic flights. They are as sprightly in their confabulations and as spiteful in their squabbles. The founders of the colony were, I am convinced, this season's birds. If so they could not have been more than two months old when they began to build. The young brood from old-established colonies hatched out just about two months before these appeared.
12. Yesterday's occupations and recreations repeated. The inheritance of parasitic intruders, to cut off which the nests are torn to pieces, now depends on unsubstantialities.
13. This morning, the flock assembled at break of day, and began, some to extricate tendrils from, others to repair woebegone nests. When the sun shone on the tree the plumage of the birds gleamed with almost dazzling iridescence, the shoulders green, the back of the neck purple and lake of the richest hue.
14. One casual visit to the tree was observed.
15. No visit.
16. No appearance until late in the afternoon, when four, wildly flying, settled for a few minutes and departed shrieking. The tree is not now a home, merely a rendezvous.
And so the history ends. Next August, no doubt, the surviving members of the colony will return, all fully feathered in glossy black, and with eyes aflame, to complete the destruction of the nests—according to habit—and build afresh.
Dec. 10 (1910). True to attributes, the bird's returned yesterday. To-day the one nest which had withstood a year's buffeting was demolished offhand, and twenty-two are now being built with frantic haste.
Dec. 12. To the solidification of the joy of the Isle no less than four new colonies are being established close at hand, the very tree which was raided years ago being again occupied by a jubilant and clamorous crowd. One of the new colonies is over one hundred nests strong. Does this regeneration signify the beginning of a favourable phase analogous to that discovered by the commission previously referred to in respect of grouse?
SHARKS AND RAYS
Among the commonest of fish in the shallow waters of the coast are the rays, of which there are many species—eighteen, according to the list prepared by Mr. J. Douglas Ogilby. Some attain enormous size, some display remarkable variations from the accepted type, and at least two are edible though not generally appreciated, for the hunger of the littoral Australian is not as a rule sufficiently speculative to prompt to gastronomic experiment, else food that other nations cherish would not be deemed unclean. Between sharks and rays relationship exists, for a certain ray has been sneered at as only a flattened-out shark. There are five species of shark-like rays, which have all the outward form and appearance and vagrant mode of life of their prototype, and four species of sharks that might pass as rays. One of them, with a big head, tadpole-like tail and generally frayed and sea-tattered appearance, is, in fact, accepted in some quarters as a ray, while the shovel-like skate is commonly regarded as a shark.
The most delicately flavoured of the rays is known as the "blue-spotted" (DASYBATUS KUHLI). It does not appear to attain a large size, but it is fairly common, and is one of the most comely of the creatures of the coral reefs, the bright blue decorative blotches on a ground of old gold being most effective. It is often found in a few inches of water perfectly motionless, and on being disturbed flutters and glides away swiftly and with little apparent effort. Roasted on an open fire, when a large proportion of the pungent oil escapes, the flesh is pleasant, though possessing the distinctive flavour of the order, which is, however, acceptable at all times to the palate of the black.
One of the formidable sting rays—dark brown in colour (probably DASYBATUS THETIDES, Ogilby), which revels on oysters—has the habit of burying itself in the mud, leaving an angular depression, corresponding to the size of the body, from which the pedestal eyes alone obtrude. In such position it is difficult for the inexperienced to detect the fish until by misadventure it is trodden on, in which circumstance one of two manoeuvres is adopted. Either it flaps and flounders in the slush so that the intruder is startled and jumps clear, or else it lashes out with its whip-like tail in the endeavour to bring into play its serrated weapon, charged with pain, and fearsome on account of the blood-poisoning effect of the mucus with which it is coated.
Ox-rays (UROGYMNUS ASPERRIMUS) grow to a great size, their backs being so armoured with thick-set stellate bucklers on a horn-like skin, that to secure them a heavy-hefted weapon and a strong right arm are necessary. But among the largest of the family is that known as the devil fish (MOBULA sp.), which, upon being harpooned, sinks placidly to the bottom, and adhering thereto by suction, defies all ordinary attempts to raise it. This often basks in calm water or swims slowly close to the surface, when the pliant tips of its "wings," appearing at regular intervals above the surface, create the illusion of a couple of large sharks moving along in rhythmic regularity as to speed and muscular movement. Rarely, and apparently only by mischance, does a ray take bait; but when hooked it affords good sport, for its impassive resistance is incomprehensibly great in comparison with its size, and comparable to the pull of a green turtle which in its wanderings has become foul-hooked.
An exciting coursing match entertained me not long since, not only as an exhibition of wonderful speed and agility, but because of the wit with which the weaker creature eluded pursuit. Three hundred yards from the beach the dorsal fin of a huge hammer-head shark obtruded about two feet as it leisurely quartered a favourite hunting-ground. A sudden swirl and splash indicated that game had been sighted, and the next instant an eagle or flying ray (STOASODON NARINARI) leaped out of the sea with prodigious eagerness to reach the beach. In a series of abrupt curves the shark endeavoured to head off the ray, which, as its pursuer gained on it, shot out of the water over the shoulders of the shark, each leap being at least ten feet high. In rising it seemed to switch the shark with its thong-like tail, although apparently in almost despairing fright. After at least a dozen agile and desperate efforts, each timed to just elude the rush of the shark, both came into shallow water in which the quick and regular contours of the shark stirred the mud in a wavy pattern; it became baffled, and in a few seconds the ray slowly, and with infinite caution, "flew" (and that is the correct term to apply to a fish the movements of which in the water are analogous to the flight of a bird) into such meagre depths that the shark would have been stranded had it followed. No ripple indicated its discreet course within a few feet of the water line and it maintained its way for about two hundred yards parallel with the beach, while the shark furiously quartered the sea off shore.
On the occasion of a similar hunt a ray blundered fatally because of the steeper incline of the beach. When about ten feet off the shore instead of a lateral it took a directly forward "flight," landing six feet up on the dry sand, where it fell an easy victim to a black boy, perhaps not as hungry or as ferocious as the shark, but equally partial to rays as food and incapable of any self-denying act.
Though the relationship is well defined, the shark makes no distinction in favour of the ray when in pursuit of food. Indeed, certain members of the predatory family seem to delight chiefly in a diet of rays, and perhaps as a result of this persistent pursuit has the shape of the latter been evolved, since it enables them to take refuge in water so shallow that even a small shark would inevitably be stranded. Timorous by nature, the smaller rays parade the beach-line, while the larger are better able to hold their own in deep water. Although as a rule solitary of habit, there seem to be occasions on which rays become gregarious, when a considerable extent of sandy shallow has been observed to be actually paved with motionless but vigilant individuals, the edge of the "wing" of one overlapping that of the next with almost perfect regularity.
The monstrous grey-striped tiger shark (GALEOCERDO TIGRINUS) in my experience generally keeps to deep water and hunts singly; but a recent event sets at naught other local observations and at the same time provides graphic proof of the rapacity and hardihood of the species. About a hundred yards out from the beach, as we started on a strictly sordid beachcombing expedition to the scene of the squashed wreck of a Chinese sampan, a shark betrayed itself by the dorsal fin quartering the glassy surface of the sea. Equipment for sport consisted of an axe, a crowbar, a trivial fish spear, and a high-velocity rifle. Pulling out noiselessly, a trail of oily blood was intersected and the next moment a huge shark appeared, carrying in its jaws a black ray, which it mouthed unceasingly.
Intent upon its meal, the shark ranged parallel to the boat so that its length could be accurately gauged. It was nearly sixteen feet long, while the ray was almost as large in proportion. The relative sizes may be estimated by the standard of a man bearing between his teeth a tea-tray, Not the least anxiety or apprehension was manifested by the shark at the presence of the boat. It rose frequently to the surface, and all its movements being discernible as it swam close to the bottom in a preoccupied manner, the boat was easily manoeuvred to be within almost touching distance whensoever the head emerged. In quick succession three out of the four bullets the magazine contained penetrated its body just abaft the pectoral fins. A brief flurry followed each shot, and then the shark, with passive fixity of purpose, resumed the mangling of the ray, which with extended, backward strained eyes, seemed to implore rescue from its fate. Were any other means of response to so tragic an appeal available? The crowbar! Hastily made fast to the stern line, it was hurled harpoon-like with energy sufficient to batter in the forehead of a bullock. But the listless implement bounced off the head of the shark as a stick from a drum, provoking merely a contemptuous wave of the tail which seemed to signify a sneer. The axe was also employed with negative results, for the difficulty of delivering an effective blow from the boat could not be overcome.
All the sea about became ruddy, and the lust for still more of the shark's blood being imperative, we returned to the beach, obtained a fresh supply of ammunition, and a whale harpoon. In the meantime the blood previously shed had spread far and wide, and instead of a solitary gormandising shark a full half-dozen rollicked and revelled in the stained area, all alike in size and alike, too, in absolute indifference to the boat. Owing to the featherweight heft the harpoon failed in penetrative force, and with the first tug invariably withdrew.
Frequently the sharks came within arm's length of the boat, and though neither ammunition nor the bumps of the homely crowbar nor the pin-pricks of the harpoon were spared, nor shouts of exultation when an individual lashed out under the sting of a bullet, not a shark was in the least perturbed. They romped about the boat, if not defiant at least heedless of all the clamour and puny assaults, appearing to challenge to combat in their natural element. The temper of the school was such that, no doubt, all the occupants of the boat would have been accounted for had they by some foolish miracle squandered themselves in the blood-stained sea. By this time the shark which had first attracted attention had disappeared with its prey, distressed and unseaworthy on account of several leaks; and the others followed one by one, and not altogether in the best condition imaginable, judging by the oily bubbles and tinges beyond the limits of the bay.
On a quieter day I swam off to the anchored boat for some forgotten purpose, which accomplished I prepared to slip off the stern when a dark-coloured shark intervened, moving steadily along parallel to the beach. Giving it precedence, I swam ashore without resting and watched the big fish slide like a shadow up into the corner of the bay, where it rested. Tom, the sport-loving black boy, being on the scene, his flattie was soon afloat, and with a disdainful thrust of the harpoon he impaled the creature, which did not exhibit the least sign of life. Hauled to the surface, Tom declared it to be dead—that it had died from natural causes ere the harpoon had touched it. Had ever shark taken quieter exit from this hustling world! It was about six feet long and fairly robust, and while being towed ashore wallowed helplessly, floating belly up and submitting without a spasm of protest to nudges and slaps of the oars and prods with the heft of the harpoon, but no sooner did it touch the sand and its snout shoot into the foreign element than a furious fight for life began. Did ever shark display such agility! Wriggling and lashing with its tail, almost had it swept me off my feet and dragged me into the sea; but Tom came to my aid, with a sudden and judiciously timed tug as it swerved, the game was landed, to continue extraordinary antics on the sand, though Tom was armed with a tomahawk.
When the struggles had ceased post-mortem examination was made. The stomach was empty, but the liver promised so much oil that Tom extirpated it and all other internal organs, and not until mutilation was complete was any peculiarity about the jaws and teeth noticed. These subsequently, proved that we had captured, not a shark but a ray—Forskal's shovel-nosed ray (RHYNCHOBATUS DJIDDENSIS), which Tom, for all his knowledge of sea things, had never before seen. Curiously examining the jaws, he laid a rude forefinger on the tesselated plate which stands in the species for teeth, and the disorganised remains, true to the ruling passion, crunched, and Tom ruefully consoled the finger for a fortnight. Hitherto his opinion, founded on contemporary experience and the traditions of his race, had been that a shark would never fight a live man. Was it not the refinement of irony that he should well nigh be deprived of the best part of a finger by a dead ray masquerading as a shark!
Many blacks refuse to eat shark because of totemic restrictions; but where no tribal contrary law prevails, several of the species are cooked and eaten without ceremony, but with most objectionable after effects to those who are not partial to such fare. The specific odour of the shark seems to be intensified and to be made almost as clinging as that of musk, being far more expressive than the exhalation of a camp gorged with green turtle. Discreet persons encounter such a scene as the do the jade Care—by passing on the windy side.
THE RECLUSE OF RATTLESNAKE
"Live forgotten and die forlorn."
Am I, living in or rather off the land of magnificent distances, entitled to claim as a neighbour a friend one hundred miles away? Sentiments obliterate space. With the lonesome individual who dwelt in an oven-like hut of corrugated iron on rocky, sunburnt Rattlesnake Island, and who lost the habit of living a few years ago, I was on social terms—terms of vague but cosy intimacy. On occasions of our rare meetings we found ideas in common. Peradventure similarities of environment focussed similar thoughts. Perhaps abnormal temperaments gave rise to becoming tenderness and sympathy. Whatsoever and howsoever the mutual sentiment, it is of the past.
The history of the Recluse of that undesirable island, a mass of granite and thin, unkindly soil is far removed from the prosaic. His was the third life sacrificed because of the lust of man to own the unromantic spot. He came to be known as "The Recluse of Rattlesnake," but the pain of his life lies in the fact that his seclusion was not voluntary.
The earlier history of the "Recluse" embodies nothing very extraordinary. Men have fallen in love as impetuously as he. The prologue of the little drama in which he played the leading part was neither new nor strange. The originality came after, and then only was it understood how completely the divine passion had shattered his soul.
This, then, is the record of a part of his life—its dominating theme—its dramatic and pathetic ending.
A fine young fellow they were wont to call him—blue-eyed, fair-haired, sharp and shrewd and up to all the moves as becomes a man alert and successful in business. Truly a universal favourite, for he was good-humoured and amiable, full of wit and smart sayings. They say, too, that she who had pledged her troth to him was just as fine a girl as he was man. There came news to him of the death of a relative in Old England, with a summons thither to take his share of a fortune. He tarried no long time, for had he not left his heart behind him? But—and so the story goes, whether true to the letter I do not vouch—when he landed in Australia once again it was to learn that he had been slighted. His love affair hopelessly damned, he at once began to drift. The drift ended pitiably after half a lifetime—to him a lifetime and a half.
"God! we living ones—what of our tears When a single day seems as a thousand years?"
For a decade or more he lived on the Island, his resources slender and uncertain. Often he was on the verge of starvation. Once he told me that, driven by the pangs of hunger, he had trapped quail, which he had trained to come to his whistle to eat the crumbs which fell from his table during those rare times when he fared sumptuously. Then his tender-heartedness forbade him to kill them. But hunger is crueller than either jealousy or the grave, and one by one his plump pets were sacrificed. He had two faithful companions—mongrel dogs, "Billy" and "Clara"—and the wistful, beseeching inquiry in the gaze of those two dogs when he talked at them before strangers significantly showed how frequently and earnestly he talked to them when there was none else to share his confidences.
Now Rattlesnake Island, though close to a populous port, is one of the more remote parts of the State of Queensland. News travels to and from it at uncertain, fitful, and infrequent intervals. The Boer War had progressed beyond the relief of Ladysmith stage ere the Recluse of Rattlesnake knew that the Old England he loved so well and proudly was up and asserting herself. At odd times a sailing boat would call, but the Recluse was beginning to be what the polite folks benevolently term "strange," and he would not always appear unless he knew his visitors. Then he was among the most agreeable and entertaining of men, full of anecdote and episode and quiet but true humour. A shrewd observer of natural science, he availed himself of unique opportunities for practical study. He conned first-hand the book of Nature, written large and fair, and illuminated with living designs. My one memento of him is the stiletto of a prodigious sting-ray. He had never seen a larger, nor have I nor any one to whom I have shown it. The weapon measures 9 inches by an average width of half an inch. The birds that came to his island, the reptiles, the frogs, and the fish of the sea—he knew them all—and could tell quaint, fairy-like stories of his association with the creatures that had become too familiar to be the least afraid of him.
One day a boat anchored off his bay, but the Recluse was not to be seen, nor was the punt that he used found, nor were there any recent signs of occupation about the exterior of the hut. In due course official search was instituted. We may neglect or be indifferent to a man while he is known to be in the land of the living; when he is not and until the mystery of his fate is cleared up he becomes the object of earnest solicitude.
In the comfortless dwelling was found a diary which told its own tale of lonesomeness and starvation. Is there real pathos in the last writings of this once vigorous and independent man?
May 19. Waded with spear all over flats for rays. Did not get a shot at any. Very short commons.
May 23. I miss the tea and tobacco. Dug last row of sweet spuds. Very patchy in size, but a perfect God-send just now.
May 26. Last kerosene. No reading at nights now.
He records catching a sting-ray and getting oysters.
June 2. Not a sign of a ray. Have to live off potatoes a bit. They, too, will soon be done.
June 4. Added a P.S. to letters. A month gone and no chance to send them. Hard cheese!
June 6. Another week will see me in extremis. Wish I had a fishing-line.
June 7. Got some oysters. Oh for a good beefsteak or a chop! No sign of any boat. Lord help me!
June 9. Nearly skinned the oysters. What will I do when they are finished?
June 10. Dull; cold. Thank God for the sweet potatoes! They are my only food now. No rays about; no fish in the trap, and the whole coast of the island almost stripped of oysters. Only one candle left to cheer the night.
June 11. Miserable and hungry.
June 17. Cold and clear. Did not sleep well. The hunger woke me often. This is fearful work.
On the 19th he got some coco-nuts, which were first-rate. With coco-nuts and an occasional ray, he ekes out an existence, hungry, cheerless, without light, without tobacco. A copy of "Barnaby Rudge" and a few old papers represent his reading matter. He is glad when daylight comes.
July 3. Craft lay-to off Lorne Reef. Signalled by flag and fire from hill. They took no notice. Strange! Government cutter, I think.
So his life drags on. He tries to re-read by firelight "Barnaby Rudge," which he must almost know by heart, but it is of no use. In the taming of a monitor lizard he finds much amusement, recording his satisfaction—"Goanna quite friendly."
July 6. Caught a small rock-cod; roasted it for supper.
His satisfaction after a good meal is evident from the entry—
"Quite happy and contented."
His hopes rise and fall on a diet of oysters and coco-nuts.
On July 22nd he hails with delight "a tin box of pears and condensed milk" which drift on to the reef. These have been in the water for weeks "but some are good." He writes thankfully "the milk is grand."
The diary described his life during the next few months "in a sort of way." He builds a punt which he christens the GREAT EASTERN, the launching of which is briefly chronicled: "Launched the GREAT EASTERN. Sank below Plimsoll mark—like a sieve." He returns disheartened from one or two trial trips, having to "man the pump." 'He complains of having to dig up and eat little miniature sweet potatoes and asks piteously: "What am I to do? I'm hungry and have nothing else!" His feet become cut and sore, and in every day's entry is a plaintive wail at the pain.
Sept. 9. Treasure—a stranded coco-nut, quite good. A rare treat. My teeth are sore through not being used.
Sept. 26. This continuous hunger begins to tell. My blood's poor and sores won't heal. Can't help it! I can't better my lot in any way so must just endure it.
Octr. 31. Surely to goodness something will happen to put an end to my long drawn out misery. No sleep last night.
A "Goanna" that he killed and ate was a God-send.
Now. 6. Disappointed! Made sure of truffles after rain. None. No grub. I get weaker and weaker. Can hardly crawl.
Now. 11. Done up! Lay down and went to sleep. No sign from shore. The good Lord pity me in my weakness!
Novr. 12. Never thought I could get so weak and live. No sign anywhere. Must try to catch some big green frogs—good food.
Novr. 13. So awfully weak.
Novr. 14. Too weak to look out for . . . (the writing becomes unintelligible). Wrote my old friend . . . making over all property here to him absolutely. Blowing too hard for punt. I dare not try to walk I'd never get back.
The final entry is dated Nov. 15th:
"Caught three big frogs, cleaned and stewed them—delicious—like chicken! What fools we are with our likes and dislikes!"
They searched the adjacent island and the coastline, and finally concluded that the Recluse, having made a desperate attempt to reach the mainland in his wretched punt, had become overcome with exhaustion, and had drifted away to drown when the boat swamped in the breakers.
Six weeks or so after the date of the final entry in the diary a Chinese fisherman found a punt near the mouth of a mangrove creek on the mainland. In it was a skeleton, a fish spear, some empty oyster shells. A few fair hairs adhered to patches of dried skin on the skull.
So the tale is told—a brief, passionate love idyll a strange, tedious, and tragic epilogue.
Were ever the days and dreams of a strong man more completely dismantled and dismembered by a passing flick of Cupid's wing!
HAMED OF JEDDAH
"Caravans that from Bassora's gate With Westward steps depart; Or Mecca's pilgrims, confident of fate And resolute of heart."
More of a Dutchman in build than Arab—broad-based, bandy-legged, stubby, stolid, and slow; spare of his speech, but nimble with his fingers in all that appertains to the rigging and working of small boats, as much at ease in the water as a rollicking porpoise—such is Hamed of Jeddah.
His favourite garment is a light green woollen sweater. He wears other, but less obvious things. His green sweater sets all else at naught. If it be a fact that one of the pleasures to which the true Mohammedan looks forward in the region of the blest is to recline in company with the Houris on green sofas while contemplating the torments of the damned, Hamed was merely foretasting that which is to come. The everlasting green sweater became a torture—at least to me. Perhaps he was aware of the fact, and because he knew that my damnation is inevitable his unsoothing preliminary was merely human. For Hamed is amicable in all respects.
Though his sentiments may be truly Arabian, his figure, as I have remarked, is a travesty on that of the typical Arabian—the Arab of the boundless and comfortless desert. I have tried to picture him as a lean and haughty mameluke in loose, white robes, mounted on a dust-distributing camel, and, lance in hand, peering ferociously across the desert
"The desert with its shifting sand And unimpeded sky."
But the tubby form in the green sweater and those bleached dungarees shortened in defiance of all the prescriptions of fashion, positively refuses to be glorified. Except for his swarthiness Hamed is unreconcilable to the ideals of an Arab, and he has a most heretical dislike to the desert. All his best qualities are under suppression on dry land. He is the Arab of the dhow. His eyes are muddy. The pupils begin to show opacity. He follows slowly and with stumbling steps through the bush and often misses his way, for he cannot see far ahead and you cannot always be looking backward and hailing him. Still, he is never lost. When he fails to recognise landmarks and his guide is out of sight, his cup-shaped ears detect the faintest call of the sea. Then he works in a direct course to the beach, where everything is writ large and plain to his understanding. Of his own motive he never ventures inland without a compass, and with that in his hand he is safe, even in a strange place and out of sound of the sea.
Hamed tells a wonderful story of a ride that befell him in his early youth. By the way, there is something to be said of his age which, according to his own account, varies. Sometimes he is 72, then 48, and again 64 and 35. Like the present-day almanacs of his race, his age is shifty and uncertain. Hamed's ride occurred "a long time ago"—that hazy, half-obliterated mark on life's calendar. Pious Mohammedan that he is, he undertook a pilgrimage to Medina. To that holy orgy he rode on a donkey. So miraculous was the chief event of the journey that it is due to Hamed that his own uncoloured version should be given.
"So hot the sun of my country you carn ride about alonga a day. Every time you trabel alonga night—sit down daytime. We start. We ride all night. I ride alonga dunkee. Sit down one day, ride night time. Dunkee he no go quick—very slow. I am tired. That dunkee tired. B'mbi that dunkee he talk. He say—'Hamed, you good man, you kind man. Subpose you no hammer me too much I take you up, alonga Medina one time quick.' I say, 'I no want hammer you.' My word, that dunkee change!—dunkee before, horse now—Arab horse. Puff! We along Medina! Wind bin take 'em!" With the wind in his favour Hamed does wonders even now—at sea. It was not seemly to suggest to him that cynical memory dulled the polish of his story; but if there really are chinks in the world above at which they listen to words from below, did the Prophet smile to hear the parable by which his devout and faithful follower brought his own ride on the flying mare up to date?
Having the unwonted privilege of cross-examining a man who had ridden or rather been wafted to Medina specially that he might do homage at the Tomb of the Prophet, I asked a few questions respecting the famous coffin. Was it a fact that the coffin hung in the air on a wire so fine that no one could see it? Was it, in fact, without lawful visible means of support?
Hamed would neither deny nor confirm the legend. "I dunno what people you! I bin tell-straight my yarn go one time like wind to Medina. What more you want? I dunno what kind people you!" One mystery at a time is enough for Hamed.
Hamed now deals in oysters. In the trade he had a partner—a fair lad of Scandinavian origin named Adolphus. All these orientals have extraordinary faith in the medicinal properties of the gall of out-of-the-way creatures. That of a wallaby is prized; of a "goanna" absolutely precious; while in respect of a crocodile, only a man who has leisure to be ill and is determined to doctor himself on the reckless principle of "blow the expense," could afford any such luxurious physic. It is reckoned next in virtue to a text from the Koran written on board: "Wash off the ink, drink the decoction, and lo! the cure is complete." So, too, if the Lama doctor has no herbal medicines he prescribes something symbolic. He writes the names of the remedies on scraps of paper, moistens the paper with saliva, and rolls them into pills, which the patient tosses down with the same perfect confidence as though they were genuine medicaments, his faith leading him to believe that swallowing a remedy or its name is equally efficacious.
A "goanna" scrambled for safety up a small tree. Adolphus undertook to kill it. Hamed insisted on preemption of the gall, while yet the quaking reptile certainly had the best title to it; but Hamed stood below and some distance off, for he was nervous. Adolphus climbed the tree, killed the "goanna" offhand, and threw it so that it fell close to Hamed, and Hamed fell in a spasm of fright, upon recovering from which he chased fair, fleet-footed, laughing Adolphus for half an hour—murder in his pearly eyes, a mangrove waddy in his hand, frothy denunciations on his lips, and nothing on his body but the green sweater. Peace was restored on the presentation to him of the all-healing gall; and then Hamed apologised, almost tearfully, explaining, "That goanna, when you chuck heem, close broke heart of me!"
A dissolution of partnership was then and there decided on, and Hamed thus detailed his sentiments to me:—
"That boy, I like heem too much. Good-for-working boy. Me and heem make 'em three-four beg oyster every day. He bin say: 'You carn be mate for me!' He go along two Mulai boy. Dorphy [Adolphus] carn mek too much now—one sheer belonga him, Mulai boy two sheers. Carn beat me—one sheer one man." Hamed has clean-cut notions on the disadvantages of multiplicity of partners.
Hamed has been to Europe, and there—he does not mention the country—he was initiated into the mysteries of making Irish stew. In an outburst of thankful confidence for some little entertainment at the table he let out the secret in these terms: "Eerish sdoo you make 'em. Four potats, two ungin, hav-dozen garleek, one hav-bucket water." At first it appeared that he had obtained his knowledge from a passionate vegetarian, but upon reflection we concluded that in his opinion meat was so essential an item that it was to be taken for granted. Any one wishing to try the recipe would be safe in adding "meat to taste."
Hamed revels in chillies, fiery, red, vitriolitic little things that would bring tears to the eyes of a molten image. Even his recipe for porridge (likewise obtained during his ever-memorable European travels) is not complete without them: "Alonga one hand oot-meal, pannikan water, one hav-handful chillies. My word, good fellow; eatem up quick; want 'em more."
Possibly Hamed might be considered by some folks a "common" man. He is far from that, and the very opposite from commonplace, for some of the magic of the coral seas has tinctured his blood. His career as a pearl-shell diver has been illuminated by the discovery of pearls—big and precious. In his youth and buoyancy he gambled them away. Now that his heart is subdued and slow he still looks for pearls, and tempts coy Fortune with dramatic sincerity and most untempting things. He wants one pearl more, that he may acquire the means of travelling to his native land. Hamed of Jeddah would die there.
So strenuous is his desire for one smile on the part of Fortune that Hamed's favourite topic is pearls, and of the good old days when, if a man found a patch where the grass was not too thick, he might pick up as many as a hundred shells in a day. Under conditions and circumstances all in favour, the diver relies upon an inevitable infirmity on the part of the oyster for the revelation of its whereabouts.
"When man he dibe," says Hamed, "that go'lip quick he shut 'em mout. Carn see 'em. Subpose open mout, man quick he see 'em—shove-em alonga beg."
At the peril of its life the oyster gapes.
Hamed cherishes thoroughly Oriental theories, too, for the wooing of Chance, who (for Chance is very real and personal to him), he declares, presides over the fortune and the fate of divers.
"Last night I bin drim. My word—good drim. Subpose you gibe one fowl he make lucky—we get good pearl. Must be white fowl. Black fow!"—(and here he lowered his voice to a mysteriously confidential whisper) "no good; spoil 'em lucky!"
Months have elapsed since the sacrifice of the white fowl and the pouring of its blood to the accompaniment of droning supplications on the face of the contemptuous sea, and albeit the divination was cheerfully suspicious, the sulky jade still look askance, and Hamed is still far from Jeddah.
When Hamed of Jeddah left just before Christmas with four "begs" of over-mature oysters, intended for the tickling of European palates, he was not elated by the nearness of the hallowed time. Indeed, his state of mind was quite contrary. He had none of that peace and goodwill towards men with which those of us who are not Mohammedans adulate the approach of the season.
His one-time partner, the fair and fleet-footed "Dorphy," had deserted him for good and sufficient cause, and his hard old heart rebelled against priggish Christians and their superior ways. Some of the tardiness of age has come upon him. Though he had "worked" the oysters with all the resourcefulness of the lone hand, the marketable results were less in bulk than formerly. "Dorphy" had been wont to re-sort and classify Hamed's gleanings, for Hamed's eyes are misty; also his desire to emulate "Dorphy's" quickness was so ingenuous that in lieu of oysters he would frequently stow away flat stones and pieces of coral. Such things may be abomination in the eyes of the conscientious oyster-getter, but with Hamed they helped to fill the "beg." Vain old Arab! He deceived no one—in the end not even himself, for none of his fakes passed the final inspection of clear-sighted "Dorphy," with whom the moralities of the firm rested, but who in Hamed's eyes was a finicking precisian.
For weeks after his partner's withdrawal from the business Hamed was perplexed. The swing of the seasons set the tides adversely. Hence his complaint—"Water no much dry. Carn dry long. No good one man work himself. Subpose have mate he give hand along nother man. One man messin' abeaut. One small beg oyster one day. My word, 'Dorphy' smart boy—good-for-working boy!"
As a lone hand—his honour thrown upon himself—Hamed was so precise and methodic that by the time the second "beg," had been painfully chipped off semi-submerged rocks, the first was past its prime. When the third was full, the first was good merely in parts. On the completion of the fourth "beg" one passed the neighbourhood of the first on the other side with a precautionary sniff. It contained self-assertive relics.
But Hamed took all four "begs" with him in his little cutter, and "Billy," the toothless black boy, who lisped not in affectation but in broad and conscious profusion, for a blow from a nulla-nulla years ago deprived him for ever of the grace of distinct articulation, sailed with him. No sensation of sorrow fretted me when on that lovely Monday morn I saw the sail of the odoriferous cutter a mere fleck of saintly white on the sky-line among the islands to the north. Can so lovely a thing be burdened with so ponderous a smell? Will it not—if two more days of windless weather prevail—ascend to the seventh heaven and tarnish the glitter of the Pleiades? I mused as I strolled on the tide-smoothed beach of my own scented isle.
Before his departure, Hamed had realised that his oysters had passed the phase which Christians in their absurd queasiness prefer. Perhaps he designed to trade them off on coloured folks with less sensitive organs and no dainty prejudices. But his temper was consonant with, at least, my perception of the condition of his oysters. It was bad; and he spoke harsh things of white men, and of Christmas and of the doings of Christians during the celebration of the birthday of the Founder of their faith. Perhaps he was paying off in advance for the scorn with which his fragrant oysters were sure to be received.
When a man who is with us, but not of us, deliberately expresses his opinions about our faulty ways and contradictory customs, and when the critic is disinterested, in matters of religion at any rate, however humble he may, be, it is instructive to treat him as a philosopher. The art of learning is to accept the teachings of everything, from a blade of grass to an epic poem. Hamed moralised in angry mood. All the better. Neither flattery nor fear was in his words.
The impatient oysters fuming in the tiny hold of his cutter merely gave to his tongue a defiant stimulus. To me they were pathetically pleading for a belated watery grave. A quaint sort of eloquence took command of Hamed's tongue, and I suffered the oysters gladly as I listened.
"Ramadan! Ah! One month!" There were worlds of meaning and longing in those few words. The pious Mohammedan, the exile, the patriot spoke, uttering a prayer, a sigh, and a glorious hope in one breath. "Ramadan! In my country one month holiday—quiet, clean, no row. First time burn old clothes."
"Come fill the cup, and in the fire of spring, The winter garment of repentance fling."
"Wash everything. Clean out house. Put clothes clean—white like anything. Sit down. One day eat nothing. Then feast plenty. Good goat of my country—more fatter." (It was a graceless cut, for the previous day I had given him a well-grown kid). "No messin' abeaut. Plenty talk with friend. Walk about bazaar. Full up people—clean, nice. No row—nothing. Subpose I make lucky. I find one pearl, I go along my own country for Ramadan!"
With half-shut eyes Hamed dwelt silently on the bliss of his faraway home, and woke snappily to the crude realities of his Christian environment.
"Chrissmiss!" he sneered—" nothing. Messin' abeaut! You want to see drunk man—Chrissmiss, plenty! You want to see row, plenty—Chrissmiss! You want lissen bad language, plenty Chrissmiss! Subpose I am at that place Cairnsee, Chrissmiss, I take my flattie anchor out along inlet—keep quiet. My heart broke altogether from that drink. Chrissmiss—mix 'em up plenty with drink and messin abeaut! Good job you keep out of the way when Chrissmiss he come!"
YOUNG BARBARIANS AT PLAY
"Behold the child by Nature's kindly law, Pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw."
Not all the energies of the blacks of North Queensland in their natural state are absorbed in the search for and pursuit and capture of food; nor are all their toys imitative of weapons of offence or the chase. They have their idle and softer hours when the instincts of the young men and maidens turn towards recreations and pastimes, in some of which considerable ingenuity and skill are exhibited, whilst their elders amuse themselves by the practise of more or less useful domestic arts. Children in their play are just as enthusiastic, preoccupied, and noisy as white children, and the popularity of a game is subject, likewise, to spasmodic exclusiveness. While the particular inclination lasts no other game is held to be worth a rap for rational black boys to play, but the relish the more speedily degenerates. In the ordinary concerns of life a black boy is incapable of self-denial. His intensity for the time is almost pathetic; his revulsion comic. Hence the cycle of the games is brief. There are wide and dreary intervals.