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Title:      Idle Days in Patagonia
Author:     W.H. (William Henry) Hudson
eBook No.:  0500641.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
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Date first posted:          June 2005
Date most recently updated: June 2005

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Title:      Idle Days in Patagonia
Author:     W.H. (William Henry) Hudson





CONTENTS


I.        AT LAST, PATAGONIA!
II.       HOW I BECAME AN IDLER
III.      VALLEY OF THE BLACK RIVER
IV.       ASPECTS OF THE VALLEY
V.        A DOG IN EXILE
VI.       THE WAR WITH NATURE
VII.      LIFE IN PATAGONIA
VIII.     SNOW, AND THE QUALITY OF WHITENESS
IX.       IDLE DAYS
X.        BIRD MUSIC IN SOUTH AMERICA
XI.       SIGHT IN SAVAGES
XII.      CONCERNING EYES
XIII.     THE PLAINS OF PATAGONIA
XIV.      THE PERFUME OF AN EVENING PRIMROSE
APPENDIX: ON THE BIRDS OF THE RIO NEGRO OF PATAGONIA
INDEX


{p 1}

IDLE DAYS IN PATAGONIA



CHAPTER I


AT LAST, PATAGONIA!

The wind had blown a gale all night, and I had been hourly expecting that
the tumbling, storm-vexed old steamer, in which I had taken passage to the
Rio Negro, would turn over once for all and settle down beneath that
tremendous tumult of waters.  For the groaning sound of its straining
timbers, and the engine throbbing like an overtasked human heart, had made
the ship seem a living thing to me; and it was tired of the struggle, and
under the tumult was peace. But at about three o'clock in the morning the
wind began to moderate, and, taking off coat and boots, I threw myself into
my bunk for a little sleep.

Ours, it must be said, was a very curious boat, reported ancient and much
damaged; long and narrow in shape, like a Viking's ship, with the
passengers' cabins ranged like a row of small wooden cottages on the deck:
it was as ugly to look at as it was said to be unsafe to voyage in.  To make
matters worse our captain, a man over eighty years old, was lying in his
cabin sick unto death, for, as {p 2} a fact, he died not many days after our
mishap; our one mate was asleep, leaving only the men to navigate the
steamer on that perilous coast, and in the darkest hour of a tempestuous
night.

I was just dropping into a doze when a succession of bumps, accompanied by
strange grating and grinding noises, and shuddering motions of the ship,
caused me to start up again and rush to the cabin door.  The night was still
black and starless, with wind and rain, but for acres round us the sea was
whiter than milk.  I did not step out; close to me, half-way between my
cabin door and the bulwarks, where our only boat was fastened, three of the
sailors were standing together talking in low tones.  "We are lost," I heard
one say; and another answer, "Ay, lost for ever!"  Just then the mate,
roused from sleep, came running to them.  "Good God, what have you done with
the steamer!" he exclaimed sharply; then, dropping his voice, he added,
"Lower the boat -- quick!"

I crept out and stood, unseen by them in the obscurity, within five feet of
the group.  Not a thought of the dastardly character of the act they were
about to engage in -- for it was their intention to save themselves and
leave us to our fate -- entered my mind at the time.  My only thought was
that at the last moment, when they would be unable to prevent it except by
knocking me senseless, I would spring with them into the boat and save
myself, or else perish with them in that awful white surf.  But one other
person, more experienced than myself, and whose {p 3} courage took another
and better form, was also near and listening. He was the first engineer -- a
young Englishman from Newcastle-on-Tyne.  Seeing the men making for the
boat, he slipped out of the engine-room, revolver in hand, and secretly
followed them; and when the mate gave that order, he stepped forward with
the weapon raised, and said in a quiet but determined voice that he would
shoot the first man who should attempt to obey it.  The men slunk away and
disappeared in the gloom.  In a few moments more the passengers began
streaming out on to the deck in a great state of alarm; last of all the old
captain, white and hollow-eyed from his death-bed, appeared like a ghost
among us.  He had not been long standing there, with arms folded on his
chest, issuing no word of command, and paying no attention to the agitated
questions addressed to him by the passengers, when, by some lucky chance,
the steamer got off the rocks and plunged on for a space through the
seething, milky surf; then, very suddenly, passed out of it into black and
comparatively calm water.  For ten or twelve minutes she sped rapidly and
smoothly on; then it was said that she had ceased to move, that we were
stuck fast in the sand of the shore, although no shore was visible in the
intense darkness, and to me it seemed that we were still moving swiftly on.

There was no longer any wind, and through the now fast-breaking clouds ahead
of us appeared the first welcome signs of dawn.  By degrees the darkness
grew less intense; only just ahead of us there {p 4} still remained
something black and unchangeable -- a portion, as it were, of that pitchy
gloom that a short time before had made sea and air appear one and
indistinguishable; but as the light increased it changed not, and at last it
was seen to be a range of low hills or dunes of sand scarcely a stone's
throw from the ship's bows.  It was true enough that we were stuck fast in
the sand; and although this was a safer bed for the steamer than the jagged
rocks, the position was still a perilous one, and I at once determined to
land.  Three other passengers resolved to bear me company; and as the tide
had now gone out, and the water at the bows was barely waist deep, we were
lowered by means of ropes into the sea, and quickly waded to the shore.

We were not long in scrambling up the dunes to get a sight of the country
beyond.  At last, Patagonia!  How often had I pictured in imagination,
wishing with an intense longing to visit this solitary wilderness, resting
far off in its primitive and desolate peace, untouched by man, remote from
civilisation!  There it lay full in sight before me -- the unmarred desert
that wakes strange feelings in us; the ancient habitation of giants, whose
foot-prints seen on the sea-shore amazed Magellan and his men, and won for
it the name of Patagonia. There too, far away in the interior, was the place
called Trapalanda, and the spirit-guarded lake, on whose margin rose the
battlements of that mysterious city, which many have sought and none have
found.

It was not, however, the fascination of old legends {p 5} that drew me, nor
the desire of the desert, for not until I had seen it, and had tasted its
flavour, then, and on many subsequent occasions, did I know how much its
solitude and desolation would be to me, what strange knowledge it would
teach, and how enduring its effect would be on my spirit.  Not these things,
but the passion of the ornithologist took me.  Many of the winged wanderers
with which I had been familiar from childhood in La Plata were visitors,
occasional or regular, from this grey wilderness of thorns.  In some cases
they were passengers, seen only when they stopped to rest their wings, or
heard far off "wailing their way from cloud to cloud," impelled by that
mysterious thought-baffling faculty, so unlike all other phenomena in its
manifestations as to give it among natural things something of the
supernatural.  Some of these wanderers, more especially such as possess only
a partial or limited migration, I hoped to meet again in Patagonia, singing
their summer songs, and breeding in their summer haunts.  It was also my
hope to find some new species, some bird as beautiful, let us say, as the
wryneck or wheatear, and as old on the earth, but which had never been named
and never ever seen by any appreciative human eye.  I do not know how it is
with other ornithologists at the time when their enthusiasm is greatest; of
myself I can say that my dreams by night were often of some new bird,
vividly seen; and such dreams were always beautiful to me, and a grief to
wake from; yet the dream-bird often as not appeared {p 6} in a modest grey
colouring, or plain brown, or some other equally sober tint.

From the summit of the sandy ridge we saw before us an undulating plain,
bounded only by the horizon, carpeted with short grass, seared by the summer
suns, and sparsely dotted over with a few sombre-leafed bushes.  It was a
desert that had been a desert always, and for that very reason sweet beyond
all scenes to look upon, its ancient quiet broken only by the occasional
call or twitter of some small bird, while the morning air I inhaled was made
delicious with a faint familiar perfume.  Casting my eyes down I perceived,
growing in the sand at my feet, an evening primrose plant, with at least a
score of open blossoms on its low wide-spreading branches; and this, my
favourite flower, both in gardens and growing wild, was the sweet perfumer
of all the wilderness!  Its subtle fragrance, first and last, has been much
to me, and has followed me from the New World to the Old, to serve sometimes
as a kind of second more faithful memory, and to set my brains working on a
pretty problem, to which I shall devote a chapter at the end of this book.

Our survey concluded, we set out in the direction of the Rio Negro. Before
quitting the steamer the captain had spoken a few words to us. Looking at us
as though he saw us not, he said that the ship had gone ashore somewhere
north of the Rio Negro, about thirty miles he thought, and that we should
doubtless find some herdsmen's huts on our way thither.  No need then to
burden ourselves with {p 7} food and drink!  At first we kept close to the
dunes that bordered the seashore, wading through a luxuriant growth of wild
liquorice -- a pretty plant about eighteen inches high, with deep green
feathery foliage crowned with spikes of pale blue flowers.  Some of the
roots which we pulled up from the loose sandy soil were over nine feet in
length. All the apothecaries in the world might have laid in a few years'
supply of the drug from the plants we saw on that morning.

To my mind there is nothing in life so delightful as that feeling of relief,
of escape, and absolute freedom which one experiences in a vast solitude,
where man has perhaps never been, and has, at any rate, left no trace of his
existence.  It was strong and exhilarating in me on that morning; and I was
therefore by no means elated when we descried, some distance ahead, the low
walls of half a dozen mud cabins.  My fellow-travellers were, however,
delighted at the discovery, and we hastened on, thinking that we were nearer
to the settlement than we had supposed.  But we found the huts uninhabited,
the doors broken down, the wells choked up and overgrown with wild liquorice
plants.

We learnt subsequently that a few venturesome herdsmen had made their home
in this remote spot with their families, and that about a year before our
visit the Indians had swept down on them and destroyed the young settlement.
 Very soon we turned our backs on the ruined hovels, my companions loudly
expressing their disappointment, while {p 8} I felt secretly glad that we
were yet to drink a little more deeply of the cup of wild nature.

After walking on some distance we found a narrow path leading away southward
from the ruined village, and, believing that it led direct to the Carmen,
the old settlement on the Rio Negro, which is over twenty miles from the
sea, we at once resolved to follow it.  This path led us wide of the ocean.
 Before noon we lost sight of the low sand-hills on our right hand, and as
we penetrated further into the interior the dark-leafed bushes I have
mentioned were more abundant. The dense, stiff, dark-coloured foliage of
these bushes give them a strange appearance on the pale sun-dried plains, as
of black rocks of numberless fantastic forms scattered over the
greyish-yellow ground. No large fowls were seen; small birds were, however,
very abundant, gladdening the parched wilderness with their minstrelsy.
Most noteworthy among the true songsters were the Patagonian mocking-bird
and four or five finches, two of them new to me.  Here I first made the
acquaintance of a singular and very pretty bird -- the red-breasted
plant-cutter, a finch too, but only in appearance.  It is a sedentary bird
and sits conspicuously on the topmost twig, displaying its ruddy under
plumage; occasionally emitting, by way of song, notes that resemble the
faint bleatings of a kid, and, when disturbed, passing from bush to bush by
a series of jerks, the wings producing a loud humming sound.  Most numerous,
and surpassing all others in interest, were the omnipresent dendrocolaptine
{p 9} birds, or wood-hewers, or tree-creepers as they are sometimes called
-- feeble flyers, in uniform sober brown plumage; restless in their habits
and loquacious, with shrill and piercing, or clear resonant voices.  One
terrestrial species, with a sandy-brown plumage, 'Upucerthia dumetoria',
raced along before us on the ground, in appearance a stout miniature ibis
with very short legs and exaggerated beak.  Every bush had its little colony
of brown gleaners, small birds of the genus 'Synallaxis', moving restlessly
about among the leaves, occasionally suspending themselves from the twigs
head downwards, after the manner of tits.  From the distance at intervals
came the piercing cries of the cachalote ('Homorus gutturalis'), a much
larger bird, sounding like bursts of hysterical laughter.  All these
dendrocolaptine birds have an inordinate passion for building, and their
nests are very much larger than small birds usually make.  Where they are
abundant the trees and bushes are sometimes laden with their enormous
fabrics, so that the thought is forced on one that these busy little
architects do assuredly occupy themselves with a vain unprofitable labour.
It is not only the case that many a small bird builds a nest as big as a
buzzard's, only to contain half a dozen eggs the size of peas, which might
very comfortably be hatched in a pill-box; but frequently, when the nest has
been finished, the builder sets about demolishing it to get the materials
for constructing a second nest.  One very common species, 'Anumbius
acuticaudatus', variously called in the {p 10} vernacular the thorn-bird,
the woodman, and the firewood-gatherer, sometimes makes three nests in the
course of a year, each composed of a good armful of sticks.  The woodman's
nest is, however, an insignificant structure compared with that of the
obstreperous cachalote mentioned a moment ago.  This bird, which is about as
large as a missel thrush, selects a low thorny bush with stout
wide-spreading branches, and in the centre of it builds a domed nest of
sticks, perfectly spherical and four or five feet deep.  The opening is at
the side near the top, and leading to it there is a narrow arched gallery
resting on a horizontal branch, and about fourteen inches long.  So
compactly made is this enormous nest that I have found it hard to break one
up.  I have also stood upright on the dome and stamped on it with my boots
without injuring it at all. During my stay in Patagonia I found about a
dozen of these palatial nests; and my opinion is that like our own houses,
or, rather, our public buildings, and some ant-hills, and the vizcacha's
village burrows, and the beaver's dam, it is made to last for ever.

The only mammal we saw was a small armadillo, 'Dasypus minutus'; it was
quite common, and early in the day, when we were still fresh and full of
spirits, we amused ourselves by chasing them.  We captured several, and one
of my companions, an Italian, killed two and slung them over his shoulder,
remarking that we could cook and eat them if we grew hungry before reaching
our destination.  We were not much troubled with hunger, but towards {p 11}
noon we began to suffer somewhat from thirst.  At midday we saw before us a
low level plain, covered with long coarse grass of a dull yellowish-green
colour.  Here we hoped to find water, and before long we descried the white
gleam of a lagoon, as we imagined, but on a nearer inspection the whiteness
or appearance of water turned out to be only a salt efflorescence on a
barren patch of ground.  On this low plain it was excessively sultry; not a
bush could be found to shelter us from the sun:  all was a monotonous desert
of coarse yellowish grass, out of which rose, as we advanced, multitudes of
mosquitoes, trumpeting a shrill derisive welcome.  The glory of the morning
that had so enchanted us at the outset had died out of nature, and the scene
was almost hateful to look on.  We were getting tired, too, but the heat and
our thirst, and the intolerable 'fi fo fum' of the ravenous mosquitoes would
not suffer us to rest.

In this desolate spot I discovered one object of interest in a singular
little bird, of slender form and pale yellowish-brown colour.  Perched on a
stem above the grass it gave utterance at regular intervals to a clear,
long, plaintive whistle, audible nearly a quarter of a mile away; and this
one unmodulated note was its only song or call.  When any attempt to
approach it was made it would drop down into the grass, and conceal itself
with a shyness very unusual in a desert place where small birds have never
been persecuted by man.  It might have been a wren, or tree-creeper, or
reed-finch, or pipit; I {p 12} could not tell, so jealously did it hide all
its pretty secrets from me.

The sight of a group of sand-hills, some two or three miles to our right,
tempted us to turn aside from the narrow path we had followed for upwards of
six hours:  from the summit of these hills we hoped to be able to discover
the end of our journey.  On approaching the group we found that it formed
part of a range stretching south and north as far as the eye could see.
Concluding that we were now close to the sea once more, we agreed that our
best plan would be, after taking a refreshing bath, to follow the beach on
to the mouth of the Rio Negro, where there was a pilot's house.  An hour's
walk brought us to the hill.  Climbing to the top, what was our dismay at
beholding not the open blue Atlantic we had so confidently expected to see,
but an ocean of barren yellow sand-hills, extending away before us to where
earth and heaven mingled in azure mist!  I, however, had no right to repine
now, as I had set out that morning desirous only of drinking from that wild
cup, which is both bitter and sweet to the taste.  But I was certainly the
greatest sufferer that day, as I had insisted on taking my large cloth
poncho, and it proved a great burden to carry; then my feet had become so
swollen and painful, through wearing heavy riding boots, that I was at last
compelled to pull off these impediments, and to travel barefooted on the hot
sand and gravel.

Turning our backs on the hills, we started, wearily enough, to seek the
trail we had abandoned, directing {p 13} our course so as to strike it three
or four miles in advance of the point where we had turned aside.  Escaping
from the long grass we again found gravelly, undulating plains, with
scattered dark-leafed bushes, and troops of little singing and trilling
birds.  Armadillos were also seen, but now they scuttled across our path
with impunity, for we had no inclination to chase them. It was near sunset
when we struck the path again; but although we had now been over twelve
hours walking in the heat, without tasting food or water, we still struggled
on.  Only when it grew dark, and a sudden cold wind sprang up from the sea,
making us feel stiff and sore, did we finally come to a halt.  Wood was
abundant, and we made a large fire, and the Italian roasted the two
armadillos he had patiently been carrying all day.  They smelt very tempting
when done; but I feared that the fat luscious meat would only increase the
torturing thirst I suffered, and so while the others picked the bones I
solaced myself with a pipe, sitting in pensive silence by the fire.  Supper
done, we stretched ourselves out by the fire, with nothing but my large
poncho over us, and despite the hardness of our bed and the cold wind
blowing over us, we succeeded in getting some refreshing sleep.

At three o'clock in the morning we were up and on our way again, drowsy and
footsore, but fortunately feeling less thirsty than on the previous day.
When we had been walking half an hour there was a welcome indication of the
approach of day -- not in the sky, where the stars were still sparkling with
{p 14} midnight brilliancy, but far in advance of us a little bird broke out
into a song marvellously sweet and clear.  The song was repeated at short
intervals, and by-and-by it was taken up by other voices, until from every
bush came such soft delicious strains that I was glad of all I had gone
through in my long walk, since it had enabled me to hear this exquisite
melody of the desert.  This early morning singer is a charming grey and
white finch, the 'Diuca minor', very common in Patagonia, and the finest
voiced of all the fringilline birds found there; and that is saying a great
deal.  The 'Diucas' were sure prophets:  before long the first pale streaks
of light appeared in the east, but when the light grew we looked in vain for
the long-wished river.  The sun rose on the same great undulating plain,
with its scattered sombre bushes and carpet of sere grass -- that ragged
carpet showing beneath it the barren sand and gravelly soil from which it
draws its scanty subsistence.

For upwards of six hours we trudged doggedly on over this desert plain,
suffering much from thirst and fatigue, but not daring to give ourselves
rest.  At length the aspect of the country began to change: we were
approaching the river settlement.  The scanty grass grew scantier, and the
scrubby bushes looked as if they had been browsed on; our narrow path was
also crossed at all angles by cattle tracts, and grew fainter as we
proceeded, and finally disappeared altogether. A herd of cattle, slowly
winding their way in long trains towards the open country, was then seen.
Here, too, a pretty little tree called {p 15} chanar ('Gurliaca
decorticans') began to get common, growing singly or in small groups.  It
was about ten to sixteen feet high, very graceful, with smooth polished
green bole, and pale grey-green mimosa foliage.  It bears a golden fruit as
big as a cherry, with a peculiar delightful flavour, but it was not yet the
season for ripe fruits, and its branches were laden only with the great
nests of the industrious woodman.  Though it was now the end of December and
past the egg season, in my craving for a drop of moisture I began to pull
down and demolish the nests -- no light task, considering how large and
compactly made they were.  I was rewarded for my pains by finding three
little pearly-white eggs, and, feeling grateful for small mercies, I quickly
broke them on my parched tongue.

Half an hour later, about eleven o'clock, as we slowly dragged on, a mounted
man appeared driving a small troop of horses towards the river.  We hailed
him, and he rode up to us, and informed us that we were only about a mile
from the river, and after hearing our story he proceeded to catch horses for
us to ride.  Springing on to their bare backs we followed him at a swinging
gallop over that last happy mile of our long journey.

We came very suddenly to the end, for on emerging from the thickets of dwarf
thorn trees through which we had ridden in single file the magnificent Rio
Negro lay before us.  Never river seemed fairer to look upon:  broader than
the Thames at Westminster, and extending away on either hand until it melted
{p 16} and was lost in the blue horizon, its low shores clothed in all the
glory of groves and fruit orchards and vineyards and fields of ripening
maize.  Far out in the middle of the swift blue current floated flocks of
black-necked swans, their white plumage shining like foam in the sunlight;
while just beneath us, scarcely a stone's throw off, stood the thatched
farmhouse of our conductor, the smoke curling up peacefully from the kitchen
chimney.  A grove of large old cherry trees, in which the house was
embowered, added to the charm of the picture; and as we rode down to the
gate we noticed the fully ripe cherries glowing like live coals amid the
deep green foliage.



{p 17} CHAPTER II


HOW I BECAME AN IDLER

If things had gone well with me, if I had spent my twelve months on the Rio
Negro, as I had meant to do, watching and listening to the birds of that
district, these desultory chapters, which might be described as a record of
what I did not do, would never have been written.  For I should have been
wholly occupied with my special task, moving in a groove too full of
delights to allow of its being left, even for an occasional run and taste of
liberty; and seeing one class of objects too well would have made all others
look distant, obscure, and of little interest.  But it was not to be as I
had planned it.  An accident, to be described by-and-by, disabled me for a
period, and the winged people could no longer be followed with secret steps
to their haunts, and their actions watched through a leafy screen.  Lying
helpless on my back through the long sultry mid-summer days, with the
white-washed walls of my room for landscape and horizon, and a score or two
of buzzing house-flies, perpetually engaged in their intricate airy dance,
for only company, I was forced to think on a great variety of subjects, and
to occupy my mind with other problems than that of migration.  These other
problems, too, were in many ways like {p 18} the flies that shared my
apartment, and yet always remained strangers to me, as I to them, since
between their minds and mine a great gulf was fixed.  Small unpainful
riddles of the earth; flitting, sylph-like things, that began life as
abstractions, and developed, like imago from maggot, into entities:  I
always flitted among them, as they performed their mazy dance, whirling in
circles, falling and rising, poised motionless, then suddenly cannoning
against me for an instant, mocking my power to grasp them, and darting off
again at a tangent.  Baffled I would drop out of the game, like a tired fly
that goes back to his perch, but like the resting, restive fly I would soon
turn towards them again; perhaps to see them all wheeling in a closer order,
describing new fantastic figures, with swifter motions, their forms turned
to thin black lines, crossing and recrossing in every direction, as if they
had all combined to write a series of strange characters in the air, all
forming a strange sentence -- the secret of secrets!  Happily for the
progress of knowledge only a very few of these fascinating elusive insects
of the brain can appear before us at the same time:  as a rule we fix our
attention on a single individual, like a falcon amid a flight of pigeons or
a countless army of small field finches; of a dragon-fly in the thick of a
cloud of mosquitoes, or infinitesimal sand-flies.  Hawk and dragon-fly would
starve if they tried to capture, or even regarded, more than one at a time.

I caught nothing, and found out nothing; nevertheless, these days of
enforced idleness were not {p 19} unhappy.  And after leaving my room,
hobbling round with the aid of a stout stick, and sitting in houses, I
consorted with men and women, and listened day by day to the story of their
small un-avian affairs, until it began to interest me.  But not too keenly.
 I could always quit them without regret to lie on the green sward, to gaze
up into the trees or the blue sky, and speculate on all imaginable things.
The result was that when no longer any excuse for inaction existed, use had
bred a habit in me -- the habit of indolence, which was quite common among
the people of Patagonia, and appeared to suit the genial climate; and this
habit and temper of mind I retained, with occasional slight relapses, during
the whole period of my stay.

Our waking life is sometimes like a dream, which proceeds logically enough
until the stimulus of some new sensation, from without or within, throws it
into temporary confusion, or suspends its action; after which it goes on
again, but with fresh characters, passions, and motives, and a changed
argument.

After feasting on cherries, and resting at the estancia, or farm, where we
first touched the shore, we went on to the small town of El Carmen, which
has existed since the last century, and is built on the side of a hill, or
bluff, facing the river.  On the opposite shore, where there is no cliff nor
high bank, and the low level green valley extends back four or five miles to
the grey barren uplands, there is another small town called La Merced.  In
these two settlements {p 20} I spent about a fortnight, and then, in company
with a young Englishman, who had been one or two years in the colony, I
started for an eighty miles' ride up the river.  Half-way to our destination
we put up at a small log hut, which my companion had himself built a year
before; but finding, too late, that the ground would produce nothing, he had
lately abandoned it, leaving his tools and other belongings locked up in the
place.

A curious home and repository was this same little rude cabin.  The interior
was just roomy enough to enable a man of my height (six feet) to stand
upright and swing a cat in without knocking out its brains against the
upright rough-barked willow-posts that made the walls.  Yet within this
limited space was gathered a store of weapons, tackle, and tools, sufficient
to have enabled a small colony of men to fight the wilderness and found a
city of the future.  My friend had an ingenious mind and an amateur's
knowledge of a variety of handicrafts.  The way to make him happy was to
tell him that you had injured something made of iron or brass -- a gun-lock,
watch, or anything complicated.  His eyes would shine, he would rub his
hands and be all eagerness to get at the new patient to try his surgical
skill on him.  Now he had to give two or three days to all these wood and
metal friends of his, to give a fresh edge to his chisels, and play the
dentist to his saws; to spread them all out and count and stroke them
lovingly, as a breeder pats his beasties, and feed and anoint them with oil
to make them shine and {p 21} look glad.  This was preliminary to the
packing for transportation, which was also a rather slow process.

Leaving my friend at his delightful task I rambled about the neighbourhood
taking stock of the birds.  It was a dreary and desolate spot, with a few
old gaunt and half-dead red willows for only trees.  The reeds and rushes
standing in the black stagnant pools were yellow and dead; and dead also
were the tussocks of coarse tow-coloured grass, while the soil beneath was
white as ashes and cracked everywhere with the hot suns and long drought.
Only the river close by was always cool and green and beautiful.

At length, one hot afternoon, we were sitting on our rugs on the clay floor
of the hut, talking of our journey on the morrow, and of the better fare and
other delights we should find at the end of the day at the house of an
English settler we were going to visit.  While talking I took up his
revolver to examine it for the first time, and he had just begun to tell me
that it was a revolver with a peculiar character of its own, and with
idiosyncrasies, one of which was that the slightest touch, or even vibration
of the air, would cause it to go off when on the cock -- he was just telling
me this, when off it went with a terrible bang and sent a conical bullet
into my left knee, an inch or so beneath the knee-cap.  The pain was not
much, the sensation resembling that caused by a smart blow on the knee; but
on attempting to get up I fell back.  I could not stand.  Then the blood
began to flow in a thin but continuous stream from the round symmetrical
bore which seemed to go {p 22} straight into the bone of the joint, and
nothing that we could do would serve to stop it.  Here we were in a pretty
fix!  Thirty-six miles from the settlement, and with no conveyance that my
friend could think of except a cart at a house several miles up the river,
but on the wrong side!  He, however, in his anxiety to do something,
imagined, or hoped, that by some means the cart might be got over the river,
and so, after thoughtfully putting a can of water by my side, he left me
lying on my saddle-rugs, and, after fastening the door on the outside to
prevent the intrusion of unwelcome prowlers, he mounted his horse and rode
away.  He had promised that, with or without some wheeled thing, he would be
back not long after dark. But he did not return all night; he had found a
boat and boatman to transport him to the other side only to learn that his
plan was impracticable, and then returning with the disappointing tidings,
found no boat to recross, and so in the end was obliged to tie his horse to
a bush and lie down to wait for morning.

For me night came only too soon.  I had no candle, and the closed,
windowless cabin was intensely dark.  My wounded leg had become inflamed and
pained a great deal, but the bleeding continued until the handkerchiefs we
had bound round it were saturated.  I was fully dressed, and as the night
grew chilly I pulled my big cloth poncho, that had a soft fluffy lining,
over me for warmth.  I soon gave up expecting my friend, and knew that there
would be no relief until morning.  But I could neither doze nor think, {p
23} and could only listen.  From my experience during those black anxious
hours I can imagine how much the sense of hearing must be to the blind and
to animals that exist in dark caves.  At length, about midnight, I was
startled by a slight curious sound in the intense silence and darkness.  It
was in the cabin and close to me.  I thought at first it was like the sound
made by a rope drawn slowly over the clay floor.  I lighted a wax match, but
the sound had ceased, and I saw nothing.  After a while I heard it again,
but it now seemed to be out of doors and going round the hut, and I paid
little attention to it.  It soon ceased, and I heard it no more.  So silent
and dark was it thereafter that the hut I reposed in might have been a roomy
coffin in which I had been buried a hundred feet beneath the surface of the
earth.  Yet I was no longer alone, if I had only known it, but had now a
messmate and bedfellow who had subtly crept in to share the warmth of the
cloak and of my person -- one with a broad arrow-shaped head, set with round
lidless eyes like polished yellow pebbles, and a long smooth limbless body,
strangely segmented and vaguely written all over with mystic characters in
some dusky tint on an indeterminate greyish-tawny ground.

At length, about half-past three to four o'clock, a most welcome sound was
heard -- the familiar twittering of a pair of scissor-tail tyrant birds from
a neighbouring willow-tree; and after an interval, the dreamy, softly rising
and falling, throaty warblings of the white-rumped swallow.  A loved and {p
24} beautiful bird is this, that utters his early song circling round and
round in the dusky air, when the stars begin to pale; and his song, perhaps,
seems sweeter than all others, because it corresponds in time to that rise
in the temperature and swifter flow of the blood -- the inward resurrection
experienced on each morning of our individual life.  Next in order the
red-billed finches begin to sing -- a curious, gobbling, impetuous
performance, more like a cry than a song.  These are pretty reed birds,
olive-green, buff-breasted, with long tails and bright red beaks.  The
intervals between their spasmodic bursts of sound were filled up with the
fine frail melody of the small brown and grey crested song-sparrows.  Last
of all was heard the long, leisurely-uttered chanting cry of the brown
carrion-hawk, as he flew past, and I knew that the morning was beautiful in
the east.  Little by little the light began to appear through the crevices,
faint at first, like faintly-traced pallid lines on a black ground, then
brighter and broader until I, too, had a dim twilight in the cabin.

Not until the sun was an hour up did my friend return to me to find me
hopeful still, and with all my faculties about me, but unable to move
without assistance.  Putting his arms around me he helped me up, and just as
I had got erect on my sound leg, leaning heavily on him, out from beneath
the poncho lying at my feet glided a large serpent of a venomous kind, the
'Craspedocephalus alternatus', called in the vernacular the 'serpent with a
cross'.  Had my friend's arms not been occupied with sustaining me he, no {p
25} doubt, would have attacked it with the first weapon that offered, and in
all probability killed it, with the result that I should have suffered from
a kind of vicarious remorse ever after.  Fortunately it was not long in
drawing its coils out of sight and danger into a hole in the wall.  My
hospitality had been unconscious, nor, until that moment, had I known that
something had touched me, and that virtue had gone out from me; but I
rejoice to think that the secret deadly creature, after lying all night with
me, warming its chilly blood with my warmth, went back unbruised to its den.

Speaking of this serpent with a strange name, I recall the fact that Darwin
made its acquaintance during his Patagonian rambles about sixty years ago;
and in describing its fierce and hideous aspect, remarks, "I do not think I
ever saw anything more ugly, excepting, perhaps, some of the vampire bats."
 He speaks of the great breadth of the jaws at the base, the triangular
snout, and the linear pupil in the midst of the mottled coppery iris, and
suggests that its ugly and horrible appearance is due to the resemblance of
its face, in its shape, to the human countenance.

This idea of the ugliness or repulsiveness of an inferior animal, due to its
resemblance to man in face, is not, I believe, uncommon; and I suppose that
the reason that would be given for the feeling is that an animal of that
kind looks like a vile copy of ourselves, or like a parody maliciously
designed to mock us.  It is an erroneous idea, or, at all events, {p 26} is
only a half-truth, as we recognise at once when we look at animals that are
more or less human-like in countenance, and yet cause no repulsion.  Seals
may be mentioned -- the mermaids and mermen of the old mariners; also the
sloth with its round simple face, to which its human shape imparts a
somewhat comical and pathetic look.  Many monkeys seem ugly to us, but we
think the lemurs beautiful, and greatly admire the marmosets, those hairy
manikins with sprightly, bird-like eyes.  And yet it is true that there is
something human in the faces of this and perhaps of other pit-vipers, and of
some vampire bats, as Darwin remarks; and that the horror they excite in us
is due to this resemblance; what he failed to see was that it is the
expression rather than the shape that horrifies.  For in these creatures it
simulates such expressions as excite fear and abhorrence in our own species,
or pity so intense as to be painful -- ferocity, stealthy, watchful
malignity, a set look of anguish or despair, or some dreadful form of
insanity.  Someone has well and wisely said that there is no ugliness in us
except the expression of evil thoughts and passions; for these do most
assuredly write themselves on the countenance.  Looking at a serpent of this
kind, and I have looked at many a one, the fancy is born in me that I am
regarding what was once a fellow-being, perhaps one of those cruel desperate
wretches I have encountered on the outskirts of civilisation, who for his
crimes has been changed into the serpent form, and cursed with immortality.

{p 27} As a rule the deceptive resemblances and self-plagiarisms of nature,
when we light by chance on them, give us only pleasure, heightened by wonder
or a sense of mystery; but the case of this serpent forms an exception:  in
spite of the tenderness I cherish towards the entire ophidian race, the
sensation is not agreeable.

To return.  My friend made a fire to boil water, and after we had had some
breakfast, he galloped off once more in a new direction; he had at last
remembered that on our side of the river there lived a settler who owned a
bullock-cart, and to him he went.  About ten o'clock he returned, and was
shortly followed by the man with his lumbering cart drawn by a couple of
bullocks.  In this conveyance, suffering much from the heat and dust and
joltings on the rough hard road, I was carried back to the settlement.  Oxen
travel slowly, and we were on the road all day and all night, and only
reached our destination when the eastern sky had begun to grow bright, and
the swallows from a thousand roosting-places were rising in wide circles
into the still, dusky air, making it vocal with their warblings.

My miserable journey ended at the Mission House of the South American
Missionary Society, in the village on the south bank of the river, facing
the old town; and the change from the jolting cart to a comfortable bed was
an unspeakable relief, and soon induced refreshing sleep.  Later in the day,
on awakening, I found myself in the hands of a {p 28} gentleman who was a
skilful surgeon as well as a divine, one who had extracted more bullets and
mended more broken bones than most surgeons who do not practise on
battle-fields.  My bullet, however, refused to be extracted, or even found
in its hiding-place, and every morning for a fortnight I had a bad quarter
of an hour, when my host would present himself in my room with a quiet smile
on his lips and holding in his hands a bundle of probes -- oh, those probes!
-- of all forms, sizes, and materials -- wood, ivory, steel, and
gutta-percha.  These painful moments over, with no result except the
re-opening of a wound that wished to heal, there would be nothing more for
me to do but to lie watching the flies, as I have said, and dreaming.

To conclude this vari-coloured chapter, I may here remark that some of the
happiest moments of my life have been occasioned by those very circumstances
which one would imagine would have made me most unhappy -- by grave
accidents, and sickness, which have disabled and cast me a burden upon
strangers; and by adversity --

Which, like a toad, ugly and venomous, Yet wears a precious jewel in its
head.

Familiar words, but here newly interpreted; for this jewel which I have
found -- man's love for man, and the law of helpful kindness written in the
heart -- is worthy to be prized above all our possessions, and is most
beautiful, outshining the lapidary's gems, and of so sovereign a virtue that
cynicism itself grows mute and ashamed in its light. {p 29}



CHAPTER III


VALLEY OF THE BLACK RIVER

Still a lingerer in the hospitable shade of the Mission House, my chief
pleasure during the early days of February was in observing the autumnal
muster of the purple swallows -- 'Progne furcata' --  a species which was
abundant at this point, breeding in the cliffs overhanging the river; also,
like so many other swallows in all places, under the eaves of houses.  It is
a large, beautiful bird, its whole upper plumage of a rich, glossy, deep
purple hue, its under surface black.  No such large swallows as this, with
other members of its genus, are known in the Old World; and a visitor from
Europe would probably, on first seeing one of these birds, mistake it for a
swift; but it has not got the narrow, scythe-shaped wings of the swift, nor
does it rush through the air in the swift's mad way; on the contrary, its
flight is much calmer, with fewer quick doublings, than that of other
swallows.  It also differs from most members of its family in possessing a
set song of several modulated notes, which are occasionally warbled in a
leisurely manner as the bird soars high in the air:  as a melodist it should
rank high among the hirundines.

The trees of the Mission House proved very {p 30} attractive to these birds;
the tall Lombardy poplars were specially favoured, which seems strange, for
in a high wind (and it was very windy just then) the slim unresting tree
forms as bad a perching-place as a bird could well settle on.  Nevertheless,
to the poplars they would come when the wind was most violent; first
hovering or wheeling about in an immense flock, then, as occasion offered,
dropping down, a few at a time, to cling, like roosting locusts, to the thin
vertical branches, clustering thicker and thicker until the high trees
looked black with them; then a mightier gust would smite and sway the tall
tops down, and the swallows, blown from their insecure perch, would rise in
a purple cloud to scatter chattering all over the windy heavens, only to
return and congregate, hovering and clinging as before.

Lying on the grass, close to the river bank, I would watch them by the hour,
noting their unrest and indecision, the strangeness and wild spirit that
made the wind and vexed poplars congenial to them; for something new and
strange had come to trouble them -- the subtle breath

That in a powerful language, felt, not heard, Instructs the fowls of heaven.

But as to the character of that breath I vainly questioned Nature -- she
being the only woman who can keep a secret, even from a lover.

Rain came at last, and fell continuously during an entire night.  Next
morning (February 14th) when I went out and looked up at the sky, covered
with {p 31} grey hurrying clouds, I saw a flock of forty or fifty large
swallows speeding north; and after these I saw no more; for on that first
wet morning, before I had risen, the purple cloud had forsaken the valley.

I missed them greatly, and wished that they had delayed their going, since
it was easier and more hopeful to ponder on the mystery of their instinct
when they were with me.  That break in the tenor of their lives; the
enforced change of habits; the conflict between two opposite emotions -- the
ties of place that held them back, seen and guessed in their actions, and
the voice that called them away, speaking ever more imperatively, which so
wrought in them that at moments they were beside themselves -- noting all
this, hearing and seeing it at all hours of the day, I seemed to be nearer
to the discovery of some hidden truth than when they were no longer in
sight.  But now they were gone, and with their departure had vanished my
last excuse for resting longer inactive -- at that spot, at all events.

I started afresh on my up-river journey, and paid a long visit to an English
estancia about sixty miles from the town.  I spent much of my time there in
solitary rambles, tasting once more of the "sweet and bitter cup of wild
Nature."  Her colour was grey, her mood pensive as winter deepened, and
there was nothing in the cup to inflame the fancy.  But it was tonic.  My
rides were often to the hills, or terraced uplands, outside of the level
valley; but my description of that grey desolate solitude and its effects on
me must be reserved for a later chapter, {p 32} when I shall have dropped
once for all this thread of narrative, slight and loosely held as it is.  In
the present chapter and the succeeding one I shall treat of the aspects of
nature in the valley itself.  For I did not remain too long at any one
point, but during the autumn, winter, and spring months I resided at various
points, and visited the mouth of the river and adjacent plains on both
sides, then went up river again to a distance of something over a hundred
miles.

The valley, in this space, does not vary much in appearance; it may be
described as the level bed of an ancient river, five or six miles wide, cut
out in the plateau, with the existing river -- a swift, deep stream, two
hundred to three hundred yards broad -- serpentining along its middle. But
it does not keep to the middle; in its windings it approaches now the north,
now the south, plateau, and at some points touches the extreme limits of the
valley, and even cuts into the bank-like front of the high land, which forms
a sheer cliff above the current, in some spots a hundred feet high.

The river was certainly miscalled Cusar-leofu, or Black River, by the
aborigines, unless the epithet referred only to its swiftness and dangerous
character; for it is not black at all in appearance, like its Amazonian
namesake.  The water, which flows from the Andes across a continent of stone
and gravel, is wonderfully pure, in colour a clear sea-green.  So green does
it look to the eye in some lights that when dipped up in a glass vessel one
marvels to see it changed, no longer green, but crystal as dew- or {p 33}
rain-drop.  Doubtless man is naturally scientific, and finds out why things
are not what they seem, and gets to the bottom of all mysteries; but his
older, deeper, primitive, still persistent nature is non-scientific and
mythical, and, in spite of reason, he wonders at the change; -- it is a
miracle, a manifestation of the intelligent life and power that is in all
things.

The river has its turbid days, although few and far between.  One morning,
on going down to the water, I was astonished to find it no longer the lovely
hue of the previous evening, but dull red -- red with the red earth that
some swollen tributary hundreds of miles to the west had poured into its
current.  This change lasts only a day or two, after which the river runs
green and pure again.

The valley at the end of a long hot windy summer had an excessively dry and
barren appearance. The country, I was told, had suffered from scarcity of
rain for three years:  at some points even the roots of the dry dead grass
had been blown away, and when the wind was strong a cloud of yellow dust
hung all day over the valley.  In such places sheep were dying of
starvation: cattle and horses fared better, as they went out into the
uplands to browse on the bushes.  The valley soil is thin, being principally
sand and gravel, with a slight admixture of vegetable mould; and its
original vegetation was made up of coarse perennial grasses, herbaceous
shrubs and rushes:  the domestic cattle introduced by the white settlers
destroyed these slow-growing grasses and plants, {p 34} and, as has happened
in most temperate regions of the globe colonised by Europeans, the sweet,
quick-growing, short-lived grasses and clovers of the Old World sprang up
and occupied the soil. Here, however, owing to its poverty, the excessive
dryness of the climate, and the violence of the winds that prevail in
summer, the new imported vegetation has proved but a sorry substitute for
the old and vanished.  It does not grow large enough to retain the scanty
moisture, it is too short-lived, and the frail quickly-perishing rootlets do
not bind the earth together, like the tough fibrous blanket formed by the
old grasses.  The heat burns it to dust and ashes, the wind blows it away,
blade and root, and the surface soil with it, in many places disclosing the
yellow underlying sand with all that was buried in it of old.  For the
result of this stripping of the surface has been that the sites of
numberless villages of the former inhabitants of the valley have been
brought to light.  I have visited a dozen such village sites in the course
of one hour's walk, so numerous were they.  Where the village had been a
populous one, or inhabited for a long period, the ground was a perfect bed
of chipped stones, and among these fragments were found arrow-heads, flint
knives and scrapers, mortars and pestles, large round stones with a groove
in the middle, pieces of hard polished stone used as anvils, perforated
shells, fragments of pottery, and bones of animals.  My host remarked one
day that the valley that year had produced nothing but a plentiful crop of
arrow-heads. The anthropologist {p 35} could not have wished for a more
favourable year or for a better crop.  I collected a large number of these
objects; and some three or four hundred arrow-heads which I picked up are at
present, I believe, in the famous Pitt-Rivers collection. But I was
over-careful.  The finest of my treasures, the most curious and beautiful
objects I could select, packed apart for greater safety, were unfortunately
lost in transit -- a severe blow, which hurt me more than the wound I had
received on the knee.

At some of the villages I examined, within a few yards of the ground where
the huts had stood, I found deposits of bones of animals that had been used
as food.  These were of the rhea, huanaco, deer, peccary, 'Dolichotis' or
Patagonian hare, armadillo, coypú, vizcacha, with others of smaller mammals
and birds.  Most numerous among them were the bones of the small cavy
('Cavia australis'), a form of the guinea-pig; and of the tuco-tuco
('Ctenomys magellanica'), a small rodent with the habits of the mole.

A most interesting fact was that the arrow-heads I picked up in different
villages were of two widely different kinds -- the large and rudely
fashioned, resembling the Palaeolithic arrow-heads of Europe, and the
highly-finished, or Neolithic, arrow-heads of various forms and sizes, but
in most specimens an inch and a half to two inches long.  Here there were
the remains of the two great periods of the Stone Age, the last of which
continued down till the discovery and colonisation of the country by {p 36}
Europeans.  The weapons and other objects of the latter period were the most
abundant, and occurred in the valley:  the ruder more ancient weapons were
found on the hill-sides, in places where the river cuts into the plateau.
The site where I picked up the largest number had been buried to a depth of
seven or eight feet; only where the water after heavy rains had washed great
masses of sand and gravel away, the arrow-heads, with other weapons and
implements, had been exposed.  These deeply-buried settlements were
doubtless very ancient.

Coming back to the more modern work, I was delighted to find traces of a
something like division of labour in different villages; of the
individuality of the worker, and a distinct artistic or aesthetic taste.  I
was led to this conclusion by the discovery of a village site where no large
round stones, knives and scrapers were found, and no large arrow-heads of
the usual type.  The only arrow-heads at this spot were about half an inch
long, and were probably used only to shoot small birds and mammals.  Not
only were they minute but most exquisitely finished, with a fine serration,
and, without an exception, made of some beautiful stone -- crystal, agate,
and green, yellow, and horn-coloured flint.  It was impossible to take
half-a-dozen of these gems of colour and workmanship in the hand and not be
impressed at once with the idea that beauty had been as much an aim to the
worker as utility. Along with these fine arrow-heads I found nothing except
one small well-pointed dagger of red stone, its handle a cross, about {p 37}
four inches long, and as slender and almost as well rounded as an ordinary
lead pencil.

When on this quest I sometimes attempted to picture to myself something of
the outer and inner life of the long-vanished inhabitants.  The red men of
to-day may be of the same race and blood, the lineal descendants of the
workers in stone in Patagonia; but they are without doubt so changed, and
have lost so much, that their progenitors would not know them, nor
acknowledge them as relations.  Here, as in North America, contact with a
superior race has debased them and ensured their destruction.  Some of their
wild blood will continue to flow in the veins of those who have taken their
place; but as a race they will be blotted out from earth, as utterly extinct
in a few decades as the mound-makers of the Mississippi valley, and the
races that built the forest-grown cities of Yucutan and Central America.
The men of the past in the Patagonian valley were alone with nature, makers
of their own weapons and self-sustaining, untouched by any outside
influence, and with no knowledge of any world beyond their valley and the
adjacent uninhabited uplands. And yet, judging even from that dim partial
glimpse I had had of their vanished life, in the weapons and fragments I had
picked up, it seemed evident that the mind was not wholly dormant in them,
and that they were slowly progressing to a higher condition.

Beyond that fact I could not go:  all efforts to know more, or to imagine
more, ended in failure, as all such efforts must end.  On another occasion,
{p 38} as I propose to show in a later chapter, the wished vision of the
past came unsought and unexpectedly to me, and for a while I saw nature as
the savage sees it, and as he saw it in that stone age I pondered over, only
without the supernaturalism that has so large a place in his mind.  By
taking thought I am convinced that we can make no progress in this
direction, simply because we cannot voluntarily escape from our own
personality, our environment, our outlook on nature.

Not only were my efforts idle, but merely to think on the subject sometimes
had the effect of bringing a shadow, a something of melancholy, over my
mind, the temper which is fatal to investigation, causing "all things to
droop and languish."  In such a mood I would make my way to one of the
half-a-dozen ancient burial-places existing in the neighbourhood of the
house I was staying at.  As a preference I would go to the largest and most
populous, where half an acre of earth was strewn thick with crumbling
skeletons. Here by searching closely a few arrow-heads and ornaments, that
had been interred with the dead, could also be found.  And here I would sit
and walk about on the hot barren yellow sand -- the faithless sand to which
the bitter secret had so long ago been vainly entrusted; careful in walking
not to touch an exposed skull with my foot, although the hoof of the next
wild thing that passed would shatter it to pieces like a vessel of fragile
glass.  The polished intensely white surfaces of such skulls as had been
longest exposed to the sun reflected the {p 39} noonday light so powerfully
that it almost pained the eyes to look at them.  In places where they were
thickly crowded together, I would stop to take them up and examine them, one
by one, only to put them carefully down again; and sometimes, holding one in
my hand, I would pour out the yellow sand that filled its cavity; and
watching the shining stream as it fell, only the vainest of vain thoughts
and conjectures were mine.



{p 40} CHAPTER IV


ASPECTS OF THE VALLEY

To go back for a brief space to those Golgothas that I frequently visited in
the valley, not as collector nor archaeologist, and in no scientific spirit,
but only, as it seemed, to indulge in mournful thoughts.  If by looking into
the empty cavity of one of those broken unburied skulls I had been able to
see, as in a magic glass, an image of the world as it once existed in the
living brain, what should I have seen?  Such a question would not and could
not, I imagine, be suggested by the sight of a bleached broken human skull
in any other region; but in Patagonia it does not seem grotesque, nor merely
idle, nor quite fanciful, like Buffon's notion of a geometric figure
impressed on the hive-bee's brain.  On the contrary, it strikes one there as
natural; and the answer to it is easy, and only one answer is possible.

In the cavity, extending from side to side, there would have appeared a band
of colour; its margins grey, growing fainter and bluer outwardly, and
finally fading into nothing; between the grey edges the band would be green;
and along this green middle band, not always keeping to the centre, there
would appear a sinuous shiny line, like a serpent with {p 41} glittering
skin lying at rest on the grass.  For the river must have been to the
aboriginal inhabitants of the valley the one great central unforgettable
fact in nature and man's life.  If as nomads or colonists from some cis- or
trans-Andean country they had originally brought hither traditions, and some
supernatural system that took its form and colour from a different nature,
these had been modified, if not wholly dissolved and washed away in that
swift eternal green current, by the side of which they continued to dwell
from generation to generation, forgetting all ancient things.  The shining
stream was always in sight, and when, turning their backs on it, they
climbed out of the valley, they saw only grey desolation -- a desert where
life was impossible to man -- fading into the blue haze of the horizon; and
there was nothing beyond it.  On that grey strip, on the borders of the
unknown beyond, they could search for tortoises, and hunt a few wild
animals, and gather a few wild fruits, and hard woods and spines for
weapons; and then return to the river, as children go back to their mother.
 All things were reflected in its waters, the infinite blue sky, the clouds
and heavenly bodies; the trees and tall herbage on its banks, and their dark
faces; and just as they were mirrored in it, so its current was mirrored in
their minds.  The old man, grown blind with age, from constantly seeing its
image so bright and persistent, would be unconscious of his blindness.  It
was thus more to him than all other objects and forces in nature; the Inca
might worship sun and {p 42} lightning and rainbow; to the inhabitant of the
valley the river was more than these, the most powerful thing in nature, the
most beneficent, and his chief god.

I do not know, nor can anyone know, whether the former dwellers in the
valley left any descendants, any survivors of that age that left some traces
of a brightening intellect on its stone work.  Probably not; the few Indians
now inhabiting the valley are most probably modern colonists of another
family or nation; yet it did not surprise me to hear that some of these
half-tame, half-christianised savages had, not long before my visit,
sacrificed a white bull to the river, slaying it on the bank and casting its
warm, bleeding body into the current.

Even the European colonists have not been unaffected psychologically by the
peculiar conditions they live in, and by the river, on which they are
dependent.  When first I became cognisant of this feeling, which was very
soon, I was disposed to laugh a little at the very large place THE RIVER
occupied in all men's minds; but after a few months of life on its banks it
was hardly less to me than to others, and I experienced a kind of shame when
I recalled my former want of reverence, as if I had made a jest of something
sacred.  Nor to this day can I think of the Patagonian river merely as one
of the rivers I know.  Other streams, by comparison, seem vulgar, with no
higher purpose than to water man and beast, and to serve, like canals, as a
means of transport.

One day, to the house where I was staying near the town there came a native
lady on a visit, bringing {p 43} with her six bright blue-eyed children.  As
we, the elders, sat in the living-room, sipping mate and talking, one of the
youngsters, an intelligent-looking boy of nine, came in from play, and
getting him by me I amused him for a while with some yarns and with talk
about beasts and birds.  He asked me where I lived.  My home, I said, was in
the Buenos Ayrean pampas, far north of Patagonia.

"Is it near the river," he asked, "right on the bank, like this house?"

I explained that it was on a great, grassy, level plain, that there was no
river there, and that when I went out on horseback I did not have to ride up
and down a valley, but galloped away in any direction -- north, south, east,
or west.  He listened with a twinkle in his eyes, then with a merry laugh
ran out again to join the others at their game.  It was as if I had told him
that I lived up in a tree that grew to the clouds, or under the sea, or some
such impossible thing; it was nothing but a joke to him.  His mother,
sitting near, had been listening to us, and when the boy laughed and ran
out, I remarked to her that to a child born and living always in that
valley, shut in by the thorny, waterless uplands, it was, perhaps,
inconceivable that in other places people could exist out of a valley and
away from a river.  She looked at me with a puzzled expression in her eyes,
as if trying to see something mentally which her eyes had never seen --
trying, in fact, to create something out of nothing.  She agreed with me in
some hesitating words, and I felt that I had {p 44} put my foot in it; for
only then I recalled the fact that she also had been born in the valley --
the great-grand-daughter of one of the original founders of the colony --
and was probably as incapable as the child of imagining any other conditions
than those she had always been accustomed to.

It struck me that the children here have a very healthy, happy life,
especially those whose homes are in the narrow parts of the valley, who are
able to ramble every day into the thorny uplands in search of birds' eggs
and other pretty things, and the wild flavours and little adventures that
count for so much with the very young.  In birds' eggs, the greatest prizes
are those of the partridge-like tinamous, the beautifully mottled and
crested martineta ('Calodromas elegans'), that lays a dozen eggs as large as
those of a fowl, with deep-green polished shells; and the smaller Nothura
darwini, whose eggs vary in tint from wine-purple to a reddish-purple or
liver colour. In summer and autumn fruits and sweet gums are not scarce.
One grey-leafed herbaceous shrub is much sought after for its sap, that
oozes from the stem and hardens in small globes and lumps that look and
taste like white sugar.  There is a small disc-shaped cactus, growing close
to the surface, and well defended with sharp spines, which bears a
pinkish-yellow fruit with a pleasant taste.  There is also a large cactus,
four or five feet high, so dark-green as to appear almost black among the
pale-grey bushes. It bears a splendid crimson flower, and a crimson fruit
that is insipid and not considered {p 45} worth eating; but being of so
beautiful a colour, to see it is sufficient pleasure.  The plant is not very
common, and one does not see too many of the fruits even in a long day's
ramble:

Like stones of worth, they thinly placèd are.

The chanar bears a fruit like a cherry in size, and, like a cherry, with a
stone inside; it has a white pulp and a golden skin; the flavour is peculiar
and delicious, and seemed to be greatly appreciated by the birds, so that
the children get little.  Another wild fruit is that of the 'piquellin'
('Condalia spinosa'), the dark-leafed bush which was mentioned in the first
chapter. Its oval-shaped berries are less than currants in size, but are in
such profusion that the broad tops of the bushes become masses of deep
colour in autumn.  There are two varieties, one crimson, the other
purple-black, like sloes and blackberries. They have a strong but not
unpleasant flavour, and the children are so fond of them that, like the
babes in the wood, their little lips are all bestained and red with the
beautiful juice.

The magnetism of the river (to go back to that subject) is probably
intensified by the prevailing monotonous greys, greens, and browns of nature
on either side of it.  It has the powerful effect of brightness, which
fascinates us, as it does the moth, and the eye is drawn to it as to a path
of shining silver -- that is, of silver in some conditions of the
atmosphere, and of polished steel in others.  At ordinary times {p 46} there
is no  other brightness in nature to draw the sight away and divide the
attention.  Only twice in the year, for a brief season in spring and again
in autumn, there is anything like large masses of bright colour in the
vegetation to delight the eyes.  The commonest of the grey-foliaged plants
that grow on the high grounds along the borders of the valley is the chanar
('Gurliaca decorticans'), a tree in form, but scarcely more than a bush in
size.  In late October it bears a profusion of flowers in clusters, in
shape, size, and brilliant yellow colour resembling the flower of the broom.
 At this season the uplands along the valley have a strangely gay
appearance.  Again, there is yellow in the autumn -- the deeper yellow of
xanthophyll -- when the leaves of the red willows growing on the banks of
the river change their colour before falling.  This willow ('Salix
humboldtiana') is the only large wild tree in the country; but whether it
grew here prior to the advent of the Spanish or not, I do not know.  But its
existence is now doomed as a large tree of a century's majestic growth,
forming a suitable perch and look-out for the harpy and grey eagles, common
in the valley, and the still more common vultures and 'Polybori', and of the
high-roosting, noble black-faced ibis; a home and house, too, of the
Magellanic eagle-owl and the spotted wild cat ('Felis geoffroyi'); and where
even the puma could lie at ease on a horizontal branch thirty or forty feet
above the earth.  Being of soft wood, it can be cut down very easily; and
when felled and lashed in rafts on the river, it is floated down-stream to
supply {p 47} the inhabitants with a cheap wood for fuel, building, and
other purposes.

At the highest point I reached in my rambles along the valley, about a
hundred and twenty miles from the coast, there was a very extensive grove or
wood of this willow, many of the trees very large, and some dead from age.
I visited this spot with an English friend, who resided some twenty miles
lower down, and spent a day and a half wading about waist-deep through the
tall, coarse grasses and rushes under the gaunt, leafless trees, for the
season was midwinter. The weather was the worst I had experienced in the
country, being piercingly cold, with a violent wind and frequent storms of
rain and sleet.  The rough, wet boles of the trees rose up tall and straight
like black pillars from the rank herbage beneath, and on the higher branches
innumerable black vultures ('Cathartes atratus') were perched, waiting all
the dreary day long for fair weather to fly abroad in search of food.

On the ground this vulture does not appear to advantage, especially when
bobbing and jumping about, performing the "buzzard lope," when quarrelling
with his fellows over a carcase:  but when perched aloft, his small naked
rugous head and neck and horny curved beak seen well defined above the broad
black surface of the folded wing, he does not show badly.  As I had no wish
to make a bag of vultures and saw nothing else, I shot nothing.

A little past noon on the second day we saddled our horses and started on
our homeward ride; and {p 48} although the wind still blew a gale, lashing
the river into a long line of foam on the opposite shore, and bringing
storms of rain and sleet at intervals, this proved a very delightful ride,
one that shines in memory above all other rides I have taken.  We went at a
swift gallop along the north bank, and never had grey Patagonia looked more
soberly and sadly grey than on this afternoon.  The soil, except in places
where the winter grass had spread over it, had taken a darker brown colour
from the rain it had imbibed, and the bosky uplands a deeper grey than ever,
while the whole vast sky was stormy and dark. But after a time the westering
sun began to shine through the rifts behind us, while before us on the wild
flying clouds appeared a rainbow with hues so vivid that we shouted aloud
with joy at the sight of such loveliness.  For nearly an hour we rode with
this vision of glory always before us; grove after grove of leafless
black-barked willow-trees on our right hand, and grey thorny hill after hill
on our left, did we pass in our swift ride, while great flocks of upland
geese continually rose up before us, with shrill whistlings mingled with
solemn deep droning cries; and the arch of watery fire still lived, now
fading as the flying wrack grew thinner and thinner, then, just when it
seemed about to vanish, brightening once more to a new and more wonderful
splendour, its arch ever widening to greater proportions as the sun sunk
lower in the sky.

I do not suppose that the colours were really more vivid than in numberless
other rainbows I have {p 49} seen; it was, I think, the universal greyness
of earth and heaven in that grey winter season, in a region where colour is
so sparsely used by Nature, that made it seem so supremely beautiful, so
that the sight of it affected us like wine.

The eyes, says Bacon, are ever most pleased with a lively embroidery on a
sad and sombre ground. This was taught to us by the green and violet arch on
the slaty-grey vapour.  But Nature is too wise

To blunt the fine point of seldom pleasure.

The day of supernatural splendour and glory comes only after many days that
are only natural, and of a neutral colour.  It is watched and waited for,
and when it comes is like a day of some great festival and rejoicing -- the
day when peace was made, when our love was returned, when a child was born
to us.  Such sights are like certain sounds, that not only delight us with
their pure and beautiful quality, but wake in us feelings that we cannot
fathom nor analyse.  They are familiar, yet stranger than the strangest
things, with a beauty that is not of the earth, as if a loved friend, long
dead, had unexpectedly looked back to us from heaven, transfigured.  It
strikes me as strange that, so far as we know, the Incas were the only
worshippers of the rainbow.

One evening in the autumn of the year, near the town, I was witness of an
extraordinary and very magnificent sunset effect.  The sky was clear except
for a few masses of cloud low down in the west; and these, some time after
the sun had disappeared, {p 50} assumed more vivid and glowing colours,
while the pale yellow sky beyond became more luminous and flame-like.  All
at once, as I stood not far from the bank, looking westward across the
river, the water changed from green to an intense crimson hue, this
extending on both hands as far as I could see.  The tide was running out,
and in the middle of the river, where the surface was roughened into waves
by the current, it quivered and sparkled like crimson flame, while near the
opposite shore, where rows of tall Lombardy poplars threw their shadow on
the surface, it was violet-coloured.  This appearance lasted for five or six
minutes, then the crimson colour grew darker by degrees until it
disappeared.  I have frequently read and heard of such a phenomenon, and
many persons have assured me that they have witnessed it "with their own
eyes."  But what they have witnessed one does not know.  I have often seen
the surface of water, of the ocean, or a lake, or river, flushed with a rosy
colour at sunset; but to see, some time after sunset, the waters of a river
changed to blood and crimson fire, this appearance lasting until the
twilight drew on, and the earth and trees looked black by contrast, has been
my lot once only on this occasion; and I imagine that if any river on the
globe was known to take such an appearance frequently, it would become as
celebrated, and draw pilgrims as far to see it, as Chimborazo and the Falls
of Niagara.

Between the town and the sea, a distance of about twenty miles, the valley
is mostly on the south side {p 51} of the river; on the north side the
current comes very near, and in many places washes the upland. I visited the
sea by both ways, and rode for some distance along the coast on both sides
of the river. North of the river the beach was shingle and sand, backed by
low sand dunes extending away into infinitude; but on the south side,
outside the valley, a sheer stupendous precipice faced the ocean.  A slight
adventure I had with a condor, the only bird of that species I met with in
Patagonia, will give some idea of the height of this sheer wall of rock.  I
was riding with a friend along the cliff when the majestic bird appeared,
and swooping downwards hovered at a height of forty feet above our heads.
My companion raised his gun and fired, and we heard the shot rattle loudly
on the stiff quills of the broad motionless wings.  There is no doubt that
some of the shot entered its flesh, as it quickly swept down over the edge
of the cliff and disappeared from our sight.  We got off our horses, and
crawling to the edge of the dreadful cliff looked down, but could see
nothing of the bird.  Remounting we rode on for a little over a mile, until
coming to the end of the cliff we went down under it and galloped back over
the narrow strip of beach which appears at low tide. Arrived at the spot
where the bird had been lost we caught sight of it once more, perched at the
mouth of a small cavity in the face of the rocky wall near the summit, and
looking at that height no bigger than a buzzard.  He was far beyond the
reach of shot, and safe, and if not fatally wounded, may soar above that {p
52} desolate coast, and fight with vultures and grey eagles over the
carcases of stranded fishes and seals for half a century to come.

Close to the mouth of the river there is a low flat island, about half a
mile in length, covered in most part by a dense growth of coarse grass and
rushes.  It is inhabited by a herd of swine; and although these animals do
not increase, they have been able to maintain their existence for a long
period without diminishing in number, in spite of the occasional great tides
that flood the whole island, and of multitudes of hungry eagles and
caranchos always on the look-out for stray sucklings.  Many years ago, while
some gauchos were driving a troop of half-wild cows near the shore on the
neighbouring mainland, a heifer took to the water and succeeded in swimming
to the island, where she was lost to her owner.  About a year later this
animal was seen by a man who had gone to the island to cut rushes for
thatching purposes.  The cow and the pigs, to the number of about
twenty-five or twenty-six, were lying fast asleep in a small grassy hollow
where he found them, the cow stretched out at full length on the ground, and
the pigs grouped or rather heaped around her; for they were all apparently
ambitious to rest with their heads pillowed on her, so that she was almost
concealed under them.  Presently one of the drove, more wakeful than his
fellows, became aware of his presence and gave the alarm, whereupon they
started up like one animal and vanished into a rush-bed. The cow, thus
doomed to live "alone, yet not alone," {p 53} was subsequently seen on
several occasions by the rush-cutters, always with her fierce followers
grouped round her like a bodyguard.  This continued for some years, and the
fame of the cow that had become the leader and queen of the wild island pigs
was spread abroad in the valley; then a human being, who was not a
"sentimentalist," betook himself to her little kingdom with a musket loaded
with ball, and succeeded in finding and shooting her.

In spite of what we have been taught, it is sometimes borne in on us that
man is a little lower than the brutes.

After hearing this incident one does not at once sit down with a good
appetite to roast beef or swine's flesh.



{p 54} CHAPTER V


A DOG IN EXILE

At the English estate up the river, where I made so long a stay, there were
several dogs, some of them of the common dog of no breed found throughout
Argentina, a smooth-haired animal, varying greatly in colour, but oftenest
red or black; also differing much in size, but in a majority of cases about
as big as a Scotch collie.  There were also a few others, dogs of good
breeds, and these were specially interesting to me, because they were not
restrained nor directed in any way, nor any use made of them in their
special lines.  Left to their own devices, and to rough it with the others,
the result was rather curious.  The only one among them that had proved
capable of accommodating himself to the new circumstances was a Scotch
collie -- a fine animal of pure blood.

The common dog of the country is a jack-of-all-trades; a great lover of the
chase, but a bad hunter, a splendid scavenger, a good watch-dog and
vermin-killer; an indifferent sheep-dog, but invaluable in gathering up and
driving cattle.  Beyond these things which he picks up, you can really teach
him nothing useful, although with considerable trouble you might be able to
add a few ornamental subjects, {p 55} such as giving his paw, and keeping
guard over a coat or stick left in his charge.  He is a generalised beast,
grandson to the jackal, and first cousin to the cur of Europe and the
Eastern pariah.  To this primitive, or only slightly-improved type of dog,
the collie perhaps comes nearest of all the breeds we value; and when he is
thrown back on nature he is "all there," and not hindered as the pointer and
other varieties are by more deeply-rooted special instincts.  At all events,
this individual took very kindly to the rude life and work of his new
companions, and by means of his hardihood and inexhaustible energy became
their leader and superior, especially in hunting.  Above anything he loved
to chase a fox; and when in the course of a ride in the valley one was
started, he invariably threw all the native dogs out and caught and killed
it himself.  If these dogs had all together taken to a feral life, I do not
think the collie would have been worse off than the others.

It was very different with the greyhounds.  There were four, all of pure
breed; and as they were never taken out to hunt, and could not, like the
collie, take their share in the ordinary work of the establishment, they
were absolutely useless, and certainly not ornamental.  When I first noticed
them they were pitiable objects, thin as skeletons, so lame that they could
scarcely walk, and wounded and scratched all over with thorns.  I was told
that they had been out hunting on their own account in the thorny upland,
and that this was the result.  For three {p 56} or four days they remained
inactive, sleeping the whole time, except when they limped to the kitchen to
be fed.  But day by day they improved in condition; their scratches healed,
their ribbed sides grew smooth and sleek, and they recovered from their
lameness; but scarcely had they got well before it was discovered one
morning that they had vanished.  They had gone off during the night to hunt
again on the uplands.  They were absent two nights and a day, then returned,
looking even more reduced and miserable than when I first saw them, to
recover slowly from their hurts and fatigue; and when well again they were
off once more; and so it continued during the whole time of my visit.  These
hounds, if left to themselves, would have soon perished.

Another member of this somewhat heterogeneous canine community was a
retriever, one of the handsomest I have ever seen, rather small, and with a
most perfect head.  The extreme curliness of his coat made him look at a
little distance like a dog cut out of a block of ebony, with the surface
carved to almost symmetrical knobbiness.  Major -- that was his name --
would have lent himself well to sculpture.  He was old, but not too fat, nor
inactive; sometimes he would go out with the other dogs, but apparently he
could not keep up the pace, as after a few hours he would return always
alone, looking rather disconsolate.

I have always been partial to dogs of this breed; not on account of the
assistance they have been to {p 57} me, but because when I have wished to
have a dog at my side I have found them more suitable than other kinds for
companions.  They are not stupid nor restless, but ready to fall in with a
quiet mood, and never irritate by a perpetual impatient craving for notice.
 A fussy, demonstrative dog, that can never efface himself, I object to:  he
compels your attention, and puts you in a subordinate place:  you are his
attendant, not he yours.

Major's appearance attracted me from the first, and he, on his side,
joyfully responded to my advances, and at once attached himself to me,
following me about the place as if he feared to lose sight of me even for a
minute.  My host, however, hastened to warn me not to take him with me when
I went out shooting, as he was old and blind, and subject, moreover, to
strange freaks, which made him worse than useless.  He had formerly been an
excellent retriever, he informed me, but even in his best days not wholly to
be trusted, and now he was nothing but bad.

I could scarcely credit the blindness, as he did not show it in his brown
intelligent and wistful eyes, and always appeared keenly alive and
interested in everything going on about him; but by experimenting I found
that he could scarcely see further than about six inches from his nose; but
his hearing and scent were so good, and guided him so well, that no person
on a slight acquaintance would have made the discovery of his defective
sight.

Of course, after this, I could have nothing more {p 58} to do with the
retriever, further than patting him on the head and speaking a kind word to
him whenever he chanced to be in my way.  But this was not enough for old
Major.  He was a sporting dog, full of energy, and with undiminished faith
in his own powers, in spite of his years, and when a sportsman had come to
the house, and had deliberately singled him out for friendly notice, he
could not and would not believe that it was to go no further.  Day after day
he clung to the delusion that he was to accompany me in my walks and little
shooting excursions in the neighbourhood; and every time I took down a gun
he would rush forward from his post by the door with so many demonstrations
of joy, and with such imploring looks and gestures, that I found it very
hard to rebuke him.  It was sad to have him standing there, first cocking up
one ear, then the other, striving to pierce the baffling mists that
intervened between his poor purblind eyes and my face, to find some sign of
relenting in it.

It was evident that old Major was not happy, in spite of all he had to make
him so:  although he was well fed and fat, and treated with the greatest
kindness by everyone on the place, and although all the other dogs about the
house looked up to him with that instinctive respect they always accord to
the oldest, or strongest, or most domineering member, his heart was restless
and dissatisfied.  He could not endure an inactive life.  There was, in
fact, only one way in which he could or was allowed to work off his
superabundant energy.  This was when we {p 59} went down to the river to
bathe in the afternoon, and when we would amuse ourselves, some of us, by
throwing enormous logs and dead branches into the current.  They were large
and heavy, and thrown well out into one of the most rapid rivers in the
world, but Major would have perished forty times over, if he had had forty
lives to throw away, before he would have allowed one of those useless logs
to be lost.  But this was wasted energy, and Major could not have known it
better if he had graduated with honours at the Royal School of Mines,
consequently his exertions in the river did not make him happy.  His
unhappiness began to prey on my mind, and I never left the house but that
mute imploring face haunted me for an hour after, until I could bear it no
longer.  Major conquered, and to witness his boundless delight and gratitude
when I shouldered my gun and called him to me, was a pleasure worth many
dead birds.

Nothing important happened during our first few expeditions.  Major behaved
rather wildly, I thought, but he was obedient and anxious to please, and my
impression was that he had been too long neglected, and would soon settle
down to do his share of the work in a sober, business-like manner.

Then a day came when Major covered himself with glory.  I came one morning
on a small flock of flamingos in a lagoon; they were standing in the water,
about seventy-five or eighty yards from the shore, quietly dozing.
Fortunately the lagoon was bordered by a dense bed of tall rushes, about {p
60} fifteen yards in breadth, so that I was able to approach the birds
unseen by them.  I crept up to the rushes in a fever of delighted
excitement; not that flamingos are not common in that district, but because
I had noticed that one of the birds before me was the largest and loveliest
flamingo I had ever set eyes on, and I had long been anxious to secure one
very perfect specimen.  I think my hand trembled a great deal; nevertheless,
the bird dropped when I fired; and then how quickly the joy I experienced
was changed to despair when I looked on the wide expanse of mud, reeds and
water that separated him from me!  How was I ever to get him?  for it is as
much as a man's life is worth to venture into one of these long river-like
lagoons in the valley, as under the quiet water there is a bed of mire, soft
as clotted cream, and deep enough for a giant's grave.  I thought of Major,
but not for a moment did I believe that he, poor dog! was equal to the task.
 When I fired he dashed hurriedly forward, and came against the wall of
close rushes, where he struggled hopelessly for a little while, and then
floundered back to me.  There was, however, nothing else to be done.
"Major, come here," I called, and taking a lump of clay I threw it as far as
I could towards the floating bird.  He raised his ears, and listened to get
the right direction, and when the splash of the stone reached us he dashed
in and against the rushes once more.  After a violent struggle he succeeded
in getting through them, and, finding himself in deep water, struck straight
out, and then began {p 61} swimming about in all directions, until, getting
to windward of the bird, he followed up the scent and found it.  This was
the easiest part of the task, as the bird was very large, and when Major got
back to the rushes with it, and I heard him crashing and floundering
through, snorting and coughing as if half-suffocated, I was sure that if I
ever got my flamingo at all it must be hopelessly damaged.  At length he
appeared, so exhausted with his exertions that he could hardly stand, and
deposited the bird at my feet.  Never had I seen such a splendid specimen!
It was an old cock bird, excessively fat, weighing sixteen pounds, yet Major
had brought it out through this slough of despond without breaking its skin,
or soiling its exquisitely beautiful crimson, rose-coloured, and
faintly-blushing white plumage!  Had he not himself been so plastered with
mud and slime I should, in gratitude, have taken him into my arms; but he
appeared very well satisfied with the words of approval I bestowed on him,
and we started homeward in a happy frame of mind, each feeling well pleased
with the other -- and himself.

That evening as I sat by the fire greatly enjoying my after-dinner coffee,
and a pipe of the strongest cavendish, I related the day's adventures, and
then for the first time heard from my host something of Major's antecedents
and remarkable history.

He was a Scotch dog by birth, and had formerly belonged to the Earl of
Zetland, and as he proved to be an exceptionally clever and good-looking
young dog, he was for a time thought much of; but there {p 62} was a drop of
black blood in Major's heart, and in a moment of temptation it led him into
courses for which he was finally condemned to an ignominious death; he
escaped to become a pioneer of civilisation in the wilderness, and to show,
even in old age and when his sight had failed him, of what stuff he was
made.  Killing sheep was his crime; he had hunted the swift-footed cheviots
and black-faces on the hills and moors; he had tasted their blood and had
made the discovery that it was sweet, and the ancient wild-dog instinct was
hot in his heart.  The new joy possessed his whole being, and in a moment
swept away every restraint.  The savage life was the only real life after
all, and what cared Major about the greatest happiness for the greatest
number, and new-fangled notions about the division of labour, in which so
mean a part was assigned him!  Was he to spend a paltry puppy existence
retrieving birds, first flushed by a stupid pointer or setter, and shot by a
man with a gun -- the bird, after all, to be eaten by none of them; and he,
in return for his share in the work, to be fed on mild messes and biscuits,
and beef, killed somewhere out of sight by a butcher?  Away with such a
complex state of things!  He would not be stifled by such an artificial
system; he would kill his own mutton on the moors, and eat it raw and warm
in the good old fashion, and enjoy life, as, doubtless, every dog of spirit
had enjoyed it a thousand years ago.

This was not to be permitted on a well-conducted estate; and as it was
thought that chains and slavery {p 63} would be less endurable than death to
a dog of Major's spirit, to death he was forthwith condemned.

Now it happened that a gentleman, hearing all this from the earl's
gamekeeper, before the dread sentence had been executed, all at once
remembered that one of his friends, who was preparing to emigrate to
Patagonia, purposed taking out some good dogs with him, and thinking that
this retriever would form an acceptable gift, he begged for it. The
game-keeper gave it to him, and he in turn gave it to his friend, and in
this way Major escaped the penalty, and in due time, after seeing and
doubtless reflecting much by the way, arrived at his destination.  I say
advisedly that Major probably reflected a great deal, for in his new home he
never once gave way to his criminal appetite for sheep's blood; but whenever
the flock came in his way, which was often enough, he turned resolutely
aside and skulked off out of the sound of their bleating as quickly as
possible.

All I heard from my host only served to raise my opinion of Major, and,
remembering what he had accomplished that day, I formed the idea that the
most glorious period of his life had just dawned, that he had now begun a
series of exploits, compared with which the greatest deeds of all retrievers
in other lands would sink into insignificance.

I have now to relate Major's second important exploit, and on this occasion
the birds were geese.

The upland geese are excellent eating, and it was our custom to make an
early breakfast off a cold goose, or of any remnants left in the larder.
Cold {p 64} boiled goose and coffee, often with no bread -- it sounds
strange, but never shall I forget those delicious early Patagonian
breakfasts.

Now the geese, although abundant at that season, were excessively wary, and
hard to kill; and as no other person went after them, although all grumbled
loudly when there was no goose for breakfast, I was always very glad to get
a shot at them when out with the gun.

One day I saw a great flock congregated on a low mud-bank in one of the
lagoons, and immediately began to manoeuvre to get within shooting distance
without disturbing them.  Fortunately they were in a great state of
excitement, keeping up a loud incessant clamour, as if something very
important to the upland geese was being discussed, and in the general
agitation they neglected their safety.  More geese in small flocks were
continually arriving from various directions, increasing the noise and
excitement; and by dint of much going on hands and knees and crawling over
rough ground, I managed to get within seventy yards of them and fired into
the middle of the flock. The birds rose up with a great rush of wings and
noise of screams, leaving five of their number floundering about in the
shallow water. Major was quickly after them, but two of the five were not
badly wounded, and soon swam away beyond his reach; to the others he was
guided by the tremendous flapping they made in the water in their death
struggles; and one by one he conveyed them, not to his expectant master, but
to a small {p 65} island about a hundred and twenty yards from the shore.
No sooner had he got them all together than, to my unspeakable astonishment
and dismay, he began worrying them, growling all the time with a playful
affectation of anger, and pulling out mouthfuls of feathers which he
scattered in clouds over his head.  To my shouts he responded by wagging his
tail, and barking a merry crisp little bark, then flying at the dead birds
again.  He seemed to be telling me, plainly as if he had used words, that he
heard me well enough, but was not disposed to obey, that he found it very
amusing playing with the geese and intended to enjoy himself to his heart's
content.

"Major!  Major!" I cried, "you base ungrateful dog!  Is this the way you
repay me for all my kindness, for befriending you when others spoke evil of
you, and made you keep at home, and treated you with contemptuous neglect!
Oh, you wretched brute, how many glorious breakfasts are you spoiling with
those villainous teeth!"

In vain I stormed and threatened, and told him that I would never speak to
him again, that I would thrash him, that I had seen dogs shot for less than
what he was doing.  I screamed his name until I was hoarse, but it was all
useless.  Major cared nothing for my shouts, and went on worrying the geese.
At length, when he grew tired of his play, he coolly jumped into the water
and swam back to me, leaving the geese behind.  I waited for him, a stick in
my hand, burning for vengeance, and fully intending to collar and thrash him
well the moment he reached {p 66} me.  Fortunately he had a long distance to
swim, and before he reached land I began to reflect that if I received him
roughly, with blows, I would never get the geese -- those three magnificent
white-and-maroon-coloured geese that had cost me so much labour to kill.
Yes, I thought, it will be better to dissemble and be diplomatic and receive
him graciously, and then perhaps he will be persuaded to go again and fetch
the geese.  In the midst of these plans Major arrived, and sat down facing
me without shaking himself, evidently beginning to experience some qualms of
conscience.

"Major," said I, addressing him in a mild gentle voice, and patting his wet
black head, "you have treated me very badly, but I am not going to punish
you -- I am going to give you another chance, old dog.  Now, Major, good and
obedient dog, go and fetch me the geese." With that I pushed him gently
towards the water.  Major understood me, and went in, although in a somewhat
perfunctory manner, and swam back to the island.  On reaching it he went up
to the geese, examined them briefly with his nose and sat down to
deliberate.  I called him, but he paid no attention.  With what intense
anxiety I waited his decision!

At last he appeared to have made up his mind; he stood up, shook himself
briskly and -- will it be believed? -- began to worry the geese again!  He
was not merely playing with them now, and did not scatter the feathers about
and bark, but bit and tore them in a truculent mood.  When he had torn them
{p 67} pretty well to pieces he swam back once more, but this time he came
to land at a long distance from me, knowing, I suppose, that I was now past
speaking mildly to him; and, skulking through the reeds, he sneaked home by
himself.  Later, when I arrived at the house, he carefully kept out of my
way.

I believe that when he went after the geese the second time he really did
mean to bring them out, but finding them so much mutilated he thought that
he had already hopelessly offended me, and so concluded to save himself the
labour of carrying them.  He did not know, poor brute, that his fetching
them would have been taken as a token of repentance, and that he would have
been forgiven.  But it was impossible to forgive him now.  All faith in him
was utterly and for ever gone, and from that day I looked on him as a poor
degraded creature; and if I ever bestowed a caress on his upturned face, I
did it in the spirit of a man who flings a copper to an unfortunate beggar
in the street; and it was a satisfaction to me that Major appeared to know
what I thought of him.

But all this happened years ago, and now I can but look with kindly feelings
for the old blind retriever who retrieved my geese so badly. I can even
laugh at myself for having allowed an ineradicable anthropomorphism to carry
me so far in recalling and describing our joint adventures.  But such a
fault is almost excusable in this instance, for he was really a remarkable
dog among other dogs, like a talented man among his fellow-men.  I doubt if
any {p 68} other retriever, in such circumstances and handicapped by such an
infirmity, could have retrieved that splendid flamingo; but with this
excellence there was the innate capacity to go wrong, a sudden reversion to
the irresponsible wild dog -- the devilry, to keep to human terms, that sent
him into exile and made him at the last so interesting and pathetic a
figure.



{p 69} CHAPTER VI


THE WAR WITH NATURE

During my sojourn on the Rio Negro letters and papers reached me only at
rare intervals.  On one occasion I passed very nearly two months without
seeing a newspaper.  I remember, when at the end of that time one was put
before me, I snatched it up eagerly, and began hastily scanning the columns,
or column-headings rather, in search of startling items from abroad, and
that after a couple of minutes I laid it down again to listen to someone
talking in the room, and that I eventually left the place without reading
the paper at all.  I suppose I snatched it up at first mechanically, just as
a cat, even when not hungry, pounces on a mouse it sees scuttling across its
path.  It was simply the survival of an old habit -- a trick played by
unconscious memory on the intellect, like the action of the person who has
resided all his life in a hovel, and who, on entering a cathedral door or
passing under a lofty archway, unwittingly stoops to avoid bumping his
forehead against an imaginary lintel.  I was conscious on quitting the room,
where I had cast aside the unread newspaper, that the old interest in the
affairs of the world at large had in a great measure forsaken me; yet the
thought did not seem {p 70) a degrading one, nor was I at all startled at
this newly-discovered indifference, though up till then I had always been
profoundly interested in the moves on the great political chessboard of the
world.  How had I spent those fifty or sixty days, I asked myself, and from
what enchanted cup had I drunk the oblivious draught which had wrought so
great a change in me?  The answer was that I had drunk from the cup of
Nature, that my days had been spent with peace.  It then also seemed to me
that the passion for politics, the perpetual craving of the mind for some
new thing, is after all only a feverish artificial feeling, a necessary
accompaniment of the conditions we live in, perhaps, but from which one
rapidly recovers when it can no longer be pandered to, just as a toper, when
removed from temptation, recovers a healthy tone of body, and finds to his
surprise that he is able to exist without the aid of stimulants.  It is easy
enough to relapse from this free and pleasant condition; in the latter case
the emancipated man goes back to the bottle, in the former to the perusal of
leading articles and of the fiery utterances of those who make politics
their trade.  That I have never been guilty of backsliding I cannot boast;
nevertheless the lesson Nature taught me in that lonely country was not
wholly wasted, and while I was in that condition of mind I found it very
agreeable.  I was delighted to discover that the stimulus derived from many
daily telegrams and much discussion of remote probabilities were not
necessary to keep my mind from lethargy. Things {p 71} about which I had
hitherto cared little now occupied my thoughts and supplied me with
pleasurable excitement.  How fresh and how human it seemed to feel a keen
interest in the village annals, the domestic life, the simple pleasures,
cares, and struggles of the people I lived with!  This is a feeling only to
be experienced in any great degree by the soul that has ceased to vex itself
with the ambitious schemes of Russia, the attitude of the Sublime Porte, and
the meeting or breaking up of parliaments.  When the Eastern Question had
lost its ancient fascination for me I found a world large enough for my
sympathies in the little community of men and women on the Rio Negro. Here
for upwards of a century the colony has existed, cut off, as it were, by
hundreds of desert leagues from all communion with fellow-christians,
surrounded by a great wilderness, waterless and overgrown with thorns,
peopled only by pumas, ostriches, and wandering tribes of savage men.  In
this romantic isolation the colonists spend their whole lives, roaming in
childhood over the wooded uplands; in after life with one cloud always on
their otherwise sunlit horizon -- the fear of the red man, and always ready
to fly to arms and mount their horses when the cannon booms forth its loud
alarm from the fort.

It must of necessity have been a case of war to the knife with these white
aliens -- war not only with the wild tribes that cherish an undying feud
against the robbers of their inheritance, but also with Nature.  For when
man begins to cultivate the soil, {p 72} to introduce domestic cattle, and
to slay a larger number of wild animals than he requires for food -- and
civilised man must do all that to create the conditions he imagines
necessary to his existence -- from that moment does he place himself in
antagonism with Nature, and has thereafter to suffer countless persecutions
at her hands. After a century of residence in the valley the colonist has
established his position so that he cannot be driven out. Twenty-five years
ago it was still possible for a great cacique to gallop into the town,
clattering his silver harness and flourishing his spear, to demand with loud
threats of vengeance his unpaid annual tribute of cattle, knife-blades,
indigo, and cochineal.  Now the red man's spirit is broken; in numbers and
in courage he is declining. during the last decade the desert places have
been abundantly watered with his blood, and, before many years are over, the
old vendetta will be forgotten, for he will have ceased to exist.

Nature, albeit now without his aid, still maintains the conflict, enlisting
the elements, with bird, beast, and insect, against the hated white
disturber, whose way of life is not in harmony with her way.

There are the animal foes.  Pumas infest the settlement.  At all seasons a
few of these sly but withal audacious robbers haunt the riverside; but in
winter a great many lean and hungry individuals come down from the uplands
to slay the sheep and horses, and it is extremely difficult to track them to
their hiding-places in the thorny thickets overhanging {p 73} the valley.  I
was told that not less than a hundred pumas were killed annually by the
shepherds and herdsmen.  The depredations of the locusts are on a much
larger scale.  In summer I frequently rode over miles of ground where they
literally carpeted the earth with their numbers, rising in clouds before me,
causing a sound as of a loud wind with their wings.  It was always the same,
I was told; every year they appeared at some point in the valley to destroy
the crops and pasturage.  Then there were birds of many species and in
incalculable numbers.  To an idle sportsman without a stake in the country
it was paradise.  At one spot I noticed all the wheat ruined, most of the
stalks being stripped and broken, presenting a very curious appearance; I
was surprised to hear from the owner of the desolate fields that in this
instance the coots had been the culprits.  Thousands of these birds came up
from the river every night, and in spite of all he could do to frighten them
away they had succeeded in wasting his corn.

On either side of the long straggling settlement spreads the uninhabited
desert -- uninhabitable, in fact, for it is waterless, with a sterile
gravelly soil that only produces a thorny vegetation of dwarf trees.  It
serves, however, as a breeding-place for myriads of winged creatures; and
never a season passes but it sends down its hungry legions of one kind or
another into the valley.  During my stay pigeons, ducks, and geese were the
greatest foes of the farmer. When the sowing season commenced {p 74} the
pigeons ('Columba maculosa') came in myriads to devour the grain, which is
here sown broadcast.  Shooting and poisoning them was practised on some
farms, while on others dogs were trained to hunt the birds from the ground;
but notwithstanding all these measures, half the seed committed to the earth
was devoured.  When the corn was fully ripe and ready to be harvested, then
came the brown duck ('Dafila spinacauda') in millions to feast on the grain.
 Early in the winter the arrival of the migratory upland geese ('Chloephaga
magellanica') was dreaded.  It is scarcely possible to keep them from the
fields when the wheat is young or just beginning to sprout; and I have
frequently seen flocks of these birds quietly feeding under the very shadow
of the fluttering scarecrows set up to frighten them. They do even greater
injury to the pasture-lands, where they are often so numerous as to denude
the earth of the tender young clover, thus depriving the sheep of their only
food.  On some estates mounted boys were kept scouring the plains, and
driving up the flocks with loud shouts; but their labours were quite
profitless; fresh armies of geese on their way north were continually
pouring in, making a vast camping ground of the valley, till scarcely a
blade of grass remained for the perishing cattle.

Viewed from a distance, in comfortable homes, this contest of man with the
numberless destructive forces of Nature is always looked on as the great
drawback in the free life of the settler -- the drop of bitter in the cup
which spoils its taste.  It is a false {p 75} notion, although it would no
doubt be upheld as true by most of those who are actually engaged in the
contest, and should know.  This is strange, but not unaccountable.  Our
feelings become modified and changed altogether with regard to many things
as we progress in life, and experience widens, but in most cases the old
expressions are still used.  We continue to call black black, because we
were taught so, and have always called it black, although it may now seem
purple or blue or some other colour.  We learn a kind of emasculated
language in the nursery, from schoolmasters, and books written indoors, and
it has to serve us.  It proves false, but its falsity is perhaps never
clearly recognised; Nature emancipates us and the feeling changes, but there
has been no conscious reasoning on the matter, and thought is vague.  One
hears a person relating the struggles and storms of his early or past life,
and receiving without protest expressions of sympathy and pity from his
listeners; but he knows in his heart, albeit his brain may be and generally
is in a mist, that these were the very things that exhilarated him, that if
he had missed them his life would have been savourless.  For the healthy
man, or for the man whose virile instincts have not become atrophied in the
artificial conditions we exist in, strife of some kind, if not physical then
mental, is essential to happiness.  It is a principle of Nature that only by
means of strife can strength be maintained.  No sooner is any species placed
above it, or over-protected, than degeneration begins.  But about the {p 76}
condition of the inferior animals, with regard to the comparative dulness or
brightness of their lives, we do not concern ourselves. It is pleasant to be
able to believe that they are all in a sense happy, although hard to believe
that they are happy in the same degree.  The sloth, for instance, that most
over-protected mammalian, fast asleep as he hugs his branch, and the wild
cat that has to save himself, and must for ever and always keep all his
faculties keen and brightly polished.  With regard to man, who has the power
of self-analysis and of seeing in his own mind all minds, the case is very
different, and it does concern us to know the truth.  A great deal -- very
many pages, chapters, and even books -- might be written on this subject,
but to write them is happily unnecessary, since everyone can easily find out
the truth from his own experience.  This will tell him which satisfied him
most in the end -- the rough days or the smooth in his life; and which was
most highly valued -- the good he struggled for or that which came to him in
some other way. Even as a child, or as a small boy, assuming that his early
years were passed in fairly natural conditions, the knocks and bruises and
scratches and stings of infuriated humble-bees he suffered served only to
excite a spirit that had something of conscious power and gladness in it;
and in this the child was father to the man.  But the subject which
specially concerns me just now is the settler's life in some new and rough
district; and as it appears that the greatest, the most real, and in many
cases the only {p 77} pleasures of such an existence are habitually spoken
of as pains, the subject is one on which I may be pardoned for dwelling at
some length.

If Mill's doctrine be true, that all our happiness results from delusion,
that to one capable of seeing things as they are life must be an intolerable
burden, then it may seem only a cruel kindness to whisper into the ear of
the emigrant the warning:  "That which thou goeth forth to seek thou shalt
not find."

It is not said, be it remembered, that he will not find happiness, which,
like the rain and sunshine, although in more moderate measure, comes alike
to all men; it is only said that the particular form of happiness to which
he looks forward will never be his.  But one need not fear to whisper the
warning, nor even to shout it from the house-tops, for, to begin with, he
will not believe nor listen to it. His mind is fixed on the three glorious
prizes that lure him away -- Adventure, Distinction, Gold.  These bright and
shining apples are perhaps just as common at home as abroad, and as easily
gathered; but the young enthusiast, surveying coasts five or ten thousand
miles away through his mental telescope, sees them apparently hanging on
very much lower branches, and imagines that to pluck them he has only to
transport himself beyond the ocean.  To drop this metaphor, adventure in
that distant place will be as common as the air he breathes, giving him much
invigorating pleasure by the way, while he advances to possess himself of
other more satisfying things.  With the nimble brains, brave spirit, and {p
78} willing hands characteristic of the inhabitants of the British Islands,
he will assuredly be able to achieve distinction -- that pretty bit of
ribbon which most men are willing enough to wear.

This, however, is only a matter of secondary importance; the chief prize
will always be the yellow metal.  Knowing how much can be done with it at
home where it is held in great esteem, he will take care to provide himself
with an abundant supply against his return.  The precise way in which it is
to be acquired he will not trouble himself about until he reaches his
destination.  It will perhaps flow in upon him through business channels; in
most cases it will be thought more agreeable to pick it up in its native
state during his walks abroad in the forest.  The simple-minded aborigines,
always ready to humour an eccentric taste, will assist him in collecting it;
and, finally, for a small consideration in the form of coloured beads and
pocket-mirrors, convey it in large sacks and hampers to the place of
embarkation.  It is not meant that the immigrant in all cases paints his
particular delusion in colours bright as these; let him shade the picture
until it corresponds in tone with his individual creation -- a dream and a
delusion it will nevertheless remain.  Not in these things which will never
be his, nor in still cherishing the dream, will he find his pleasure, but in
something very different.

I speak not of that large percentage of immigrants who are doomed to find no
pleasure at all, and no good.  To the youth of ardent generous {p 79}
temperament, arrived in some far-off city where all men are free and equal,
and the starched conventionalities of the Old World are unknown, it is
perhaps the hardest thing to believe that when he slips down not a hand will
be put forth to raise him; that when he pronounces these common words, "I
have come to the end of my tether," instantly all the smiling faces
surrounding him will vanish as if by magic; that the few sovereigns
remaining in his pocket at any time are as a chain, shortened each day by a
link, holding him back from some terrible destiny . . . .  Let us delay no
longer in this moral place of skulls, but follow that wise and sturdy youth
who, wrapping his cloak about his face, passes unharmed through the
poisonous atmosphere of the landing-place, and hurries a thousand miles
away, while ever

Before him, like a blood-red flag,

flutters and shines the dream that lures him on.  And now at his journey's
end comes reality to lay rude hands on him with rough shaking.  Meanwhile,
before he has quite recovered from the shock, that red flag on which his
dreamy eyes have been so long fixed stays not, but travels on and on to
disappear at last like a sunset cloud in the distant horizon.  He does not
miss it greatly after all.  The actual is much in his thoughts.  When a man
is buffeting the waves he does not curiously examine the landscape before
him and complain that there are no bright flowers on the trees.  New
experience takes the place of {p 80} vanished dreams, which, like
water-lilies, blossom only on stagnant pools.  Here are none of the
innumerable appliances to secure comfort he has been used to from infancy,
regarding them almost as spontaneous productions of the earth; no hand to
perform a hundred necessary offices, so that this dainty gentleman is
obliged to blacken his own boots, tame and harness to the plough his own
bullocks or horses, kill and cook his own mutton.  Nothing is here, in fact,
but harsh Nature reluctant to be subdued; while he, to subdue her and make
his own conditions, has only a pair of soft weak hands.

To one fresh from the softness and smoothness of civilisation, unaccustomed
to manual labour, how hard then is the lot of the settler!  Behind him
physical comfort and beautiful dreams; before him the prospect of long years
of unremitting toil, every day of which will unfit him more and more for a
return to the gentle life of the past; while, for only result, he will have
food enough to satisfy hunger, and a rude shelter from extremes of heat and
cold, from torrents of winter rain and blinding clouds of summer dust.  Yet
is he happy.  For the vanished substantial comforts and airy splendours
there is a compensation gilding his rough existence with a better brightness
than that of any hope of future prosperity which may yet linger in his mind.
 It is the feeling the settler experiences from the moment of his induction
into the desert that he is engaged in a conflict, and there is no feeling
comparable with it to put a man on his mettle and inspire him {p 81} with a
healthy and enduring interest in life.  To this feeling is added the charm
of novelty caused by that endless procession of surprises which Nature
prepares for the pioneer -- an experience unknown to the rural life of
countries that have long been under cultivation.  The greatest drawbacks and
difficulties encountered have this charm strongest in them, and are robbed
by it of half their power to discourage the mind.

The young enthusiast, hurrying about London to speak his farewells and look
after his outfit, will perhaps laugh at this, for his delusion is still dear
to him.  But I am not discouraging him; I am, on the contrary, telling him
of a rill of pure water out there where he is going, where, for many years
to come, he will refresh himself every day, and learn to feel (if not to
think and to say) that it is the sweetest rill in existence.

It is rough living with unsubdued, or only partially subdued, Nature, but
there is a wonderful fascination in it.  The patient, leaden-footed, but
always obedient drudge, who goes forth uncomplainingly, albeit often with a
sullen face, about her work, day after day, year after year; who never
rebels, never murmurs against her bad task-master Man, although sometimes
the strength fails her so that she cannot complete the appointed task --
this is Nature at home in England.  How strange to see this stolid,
immutable creature transformed beyond the seas into a flighty, capricious
thing, that will not be wholly ruled by you, a beautiful wayward Undine, {p
82} delighting you with her originality, and most lovable when she teases
most; a being of extremes, always either in laughter or tears, a tyrant and
a slave alternately; to-day shattering to pieces the work of yesterday; now
cheerfully doing more than is required of her; anon the frantic vixen that
buries her malignant teeth into the hand that strikes or caresses her.  All
these rapid incomprehensible changes, even when most vexing and destructive
to your plans, interest your mind, and call up a hundred latent energies it
is a joy to discover. But you have not yet sounded all her depths; nor can
you imagine, seeing her frequent gay smiles, to what length her fierce
resentment may carry her.  sometimes, as if roused to sudden frenzy at the
indignities you are subjecting her to -- hacking at her trees, turning up
her cushioned soil, and trampling down her grass and flowers -- she arrays
herself in her blackest, most terrible aspect, and like a beautiful woman
who in her fury has no regard for her beauty, she plucks up her noblest
trees by the roots, and scooping up the very soil from the earth, whirls it
aloft to give a more horrible gloom to the heavens.  And darkness not being
terrifying enough, she kindles up the mighty chaos she has created into a
blaze of intolerable light, while the solid world is shaken to its
foundations with her wrathful thunders.  When destruction seems about to
fall on man and all his works, when you are prostrate and ready to perish
with excessive fear, lo, the mood changes, the furious passion has spent
itself, and there is no trace left of {p 83} it when you look up only to
encounter her peaceful reassuring smile. These sublime moods are, however,
infrequent and soon forgotten; man learns to despise the threats of a
cataclysm that never comes, and goes forth once more to level the ancient
trees, to invert the soil, and pasture his herds on her grasses and flowers.
 He will subdue the wild thing at last, but not yet; many years will she
struggle to retain her ancient sweet supremacy; he cannot alter all at once
the old order to which she clings tenaciously, as the red man to his savage
life.  Her attempt to frighten him away has failed.  He laughs at her mask
of terrors -- he knows that it is only a mask; and it suffocates her and
cannot be long endured.  She will cast it aside and fight him another way.
She will stoop to his yoke and be docile only to betray and defeat him at
the last.  A thousand strange tricks and surprises will she invent to molest
him.  In a hundred forms she will buzz in his ears and prick his flesh with
stings; she will sicken him with the perfume of flowers, and poison him with
sweet honey; and when he lies down to rest, she will startle him with the
sudden apparition of a pair of lidless eyes and a flickering forked tongue.
 He scatters the seed, and when he looks for the green heads to appear, the
earth opens, and lo, an army of long-faced, yellow grasshoppers come forth!
 She, too, walking invisible at his side, had scattered her miraculous seed
along with his.  He will not be beaten by her:  he slays her striped and
spotted creatures; he dries up her marshes; he consumes her forests and
prairies {p 84} with fire, and her wild things perish in myriads; he covers
her plains with herds of cattle, and waving fields of corn, and orchards of
fruit-bearing trees.  She hides her bitter wrath in her heart, secretly she
goes out at dawn of day and blows her trumpet on the hills, summoning her
innumerable children to her aid.  She is hard-pressed and cries to her
children that love her to come and deliver her.  Nor are they slow to hear.
 From north and south, from east and west, they come in armies of creeping
things and in clouds that darken the air.  Mice and crickets swarm in the
fields; a thousand insolent birds pull his scarecrows to pieces, and carry
off the straw stuffing to build their nests; every green thing is devoured;
the trees, stripped of their bark, stand like great white skeletons in the
bare desolate fields, cracked and scorched by the pitiless sun.  When he is
in despair deliverance comes; famine falls on the mighty host of his
enemies; they devour each other and perish utterly.  Still he lives to
lament his loss; to strive still, unsubdued and resolute.  She, too, laments
her lost children, which now, being dead, serve only to fertilise the soil
and give fresh strength to her implacable enemy.  And she, too, is
unsubdued; she dries her tears and laughs again; she has found out a new
weapon it will take him long to wrest from her hands.  Out of many little
humble plants she fashions the mighty noxious weeds; they spring up in his
footsteps, following him everywhere, and possess his fields like parasites,
sucking up their moisture and killing their fertility.  Everywhere, as {p
85} if by a miracle, is spread the mantle of rich, green, noisome leaves,
and the corn is smothered in beautiful flowers that yield only bitter seed
and poison fruit.  He may cut them down in the morning, in the night time
they will grow again.  With her beloved weeds she will wear out his spirit
and break his heart; she will sit still at a distance and laugh while he
grows weary of the hopeless struggle; and, at last, when he is ready to
faint, she will go forth once more and blow her trumpet on the hills and
call her innumerable children to come and fall on and destroy him utterly.

This is no mere fancy portrait, for Nature herself sat for it in the desert,
and it is painted in true colours.  Such is the contest the settler embarks
in -- so various in its fortunes, so full of great and sudden vicissitudes,
calling for so much vigilance and strategy on his part.  If the dreams he
sets out with are never realised, he is no worse off in this respect than
others.  To one, born and bred on the plains, the distant mountain range is
ever a region of enchantment; when he reaches it the glory is no more; the
opalescent tints and blue ethereal shadows of noon, the violet hues of the
sunset have vanished.  There is nothing after all but a rude confusion of
piled rocks; but although this is not what he expected, he ends by
preferring the mountain's roughness to the monotony of the plain.  The man
who finishes his course by a fall from his horse, or is swept away and
drowned when fording a swollen stream, has, in most cases, spent a happier
life than {p 86} he who dies of apoplexy in a counting-house or dining-room;
or who, finding that end which seemed so infinitely beautiful to Leigh Hunt
(which to me seems so unutterably hateful), drops his white face on the open
book before him.  Certainly he has been less world-weary, and has never been
heard to whine and snivel about the vanity of all things.



{p 87} CHAPTER VII


LIFE IN PATAGONIA

From the dribbling warfare described in the last chapter, with clouds of
winged things for principal enemy, let us go back once more to that sterner
conflict with hostile men, in which the isolated little colony has so often
been involved during its century of existence. One episode from its eventful
history I wish to relate, for in this instance the Patagonians had, for
once, to oppose a foreign and civilised foe.  The story is so strange, even
in the romantic annals of South America, as to seem almost incredible.  The
main facts are, however, to be found in historical documents.  The details
given here were taken from the lips of persons living on the spot, and who
had been familiar with the story from childhood.

Very early in this century the Brazilians became convinced that in the
Argentine nation they had a determined foe to their aggressive and
plundering policy, and for many years they waged war against Buenos Ayres,
putting forth all their feeble energies in operations by land and sea to
crush their troublesome neighbour, until 1828, when they finally abandoned
the contest.  During this war the Imperialists conceived the idea of
capturing the Patagonian {p 88} settlement of El Carmen, which they knew to
be quite unprotected. Three ships of war, with a large number of soldiers,
were sent out to effect this insignificant conquest, and in due time reached
the Rio Negro.  One of the ships came to grief on the bar, which is very
difficult; and there it eventually became a total wreck.  The other two
succeeded in getting safely into the river. The troops, to the number of
five hundred men, were disembarked and sent on to capture the town, which is
twenty miles distant from the sea.  The ships at the same time proceeded up
the river, though it was scarcely thought that their co-operation would be
required to take so weak a place as the Carmen.  Happily for the colonists,
the Imperial armada found the navigation difficult, and one of the ships ran
on to a sandbank about half-way to the town; the other proceeded alone, only
to arrive when it was all over with the land force.  This force, finding it
impossible to continue its march near the river, owing to the steep hills
intersected by valleys and ravines and covered with a dense forest of
thorns, was compelled to take a circuitous route leading it several miles
away from the water.  Tidings of the approaching army soon reached the
Carmen, and all able-bodied men within call were quickly mustered in the
fort.  They numbered only seventy, but the Patagonians were determined to
defend themselves.  Women and children were brought into the fort; guns were
loaded and placed in position; then the commander had a happy inspiration,
and all the strong women were made to {p 89} display themselves on the walls
in male attire.  Dummy soldiers, hastily improvised from blocks of wood,
bolsters, and other materials, were also placed at intervals; so that when
the Brazilians arrived in sight they were surprised to see four or five
hundred men, as they thought, on the ramparts before them.  From the high
ground behind the town where they had halted they commanded a view of the
river for several miles, but the expected ships were not yet in sight.  The
day had been oppressively hot, without a cloud, and that march of about
thirty miles over the waterless desert had exhausted the men.  Probably they
had been suffering from sea-sickness during the voyage; at any rate, they
were now mad with thirst, worn out, and not in a fit state to attack a
position seemingly so strongly defended.  They determined to retire, and
wait for a day or two, and then attack the place in concert with the ships.
 To the joy and amazement of the Patagonians, their formidable enemy left
without firing a shot.  Another happy inspiration came to the aid of the
commander, and as soon as the Brazilians had disappeared behind the rising
ground, his seventy men were hastily dispatched to collect and bring in all
the horses pasturing in the valley. When the invaders had been about three
or four hours on their spiritless return march, the thunder of innumerable
hoofs was heard behind them, and looking back, they beheld a great army, as
they imagined in their terror, charging down upon them.  These were their
seventy foes spread in an immense half-moon, in the hollow of {p 90} which
over a thousand horses were being driven along at frantic speed.  The
Brazilians received their equine enemy with a discharge of musketry; but
though many horses were slain or wounded, the frantic yells of the drivers
behind still urged them on, and in a few moments, blind with panic, they
were trampling down the invaders.  In the meantime the Patagonians were
firing into the confused mass of horses and men; and by a singular chance --
a miracle it was held to be at the time -- the officer commanding the
Imperial troops was shot dead by a stray bullet; then the men threw down
their arms and surrendered at discretion -- five hundred disciplined
soldiers of the Empire to seventy poor Patagonians, mostly farmers,
tradesmen, and artisans.  The honour of the Empire was very little to those
famishing wretches crying out with frothing mouths for water instead of
quarter.  Leaving their muskets scattered about the plain, they were marched
by their captors down to the river, which was about four miles off, and
reached it at a point just where the bank slopes down between the Parrots'
Cliff on one side, and the house I resided in on the other.  Like a herd of
cattle maddened with thirst, they rushed into the water, trampling each
other down in their haste, so that many were smothered, while others, pushed
too far out by the surging mass behind, were swept from their feet by the
swift current and drowned.  When they had drunk their fill, they were driven
like cattle to the Carmen and shut up within the fort.  In the evening the
ship arrived before the town, and, going a little too {p 91} near the shore
on the opposite side, ran aground.  The men in her were quickly apprised of
the disaster which had overtaken the land force; meanwhile the resolute
Patagonians, concealed amongst the trees on the shore, began to pepper the
deck with musket-balls; the Brazilians, in terror for their lives, leaped
into the water and swam to land; and when darkness fell the colonists had
crowned their brave day's work by the capture of the Imperial war-vessel
'Itaparica'.  No doubt it was soon pulled to pieces, good building material
being rather expensive on the Rio Negro; a portion of the wreck, however,
still lies in the river, and often, when the tide was low, and those old
brown timbers came up above the surface, like the gaunt fossil ribs of some
gigantic Pliocene monster, I have got out of my boat and stood upon them
experiencing a feeling of great satisfaction.  Thus the awful war-cloud
burst, and the little colony, by pluck and cunning and readiness to strike
at the proper moment, saved itself from the disgrace of being conquered by
the infamous Empire of the tropics.

During my residence at the house alongside the Parrots' Cliff, one of our
neighbours I was very much interested in was a man named Sosa. He was famed
for an almost preternatural keenness of sight, had great experience of the
wild life of the frontier, and was always employed as a scout in times of
Indian warfare.  He was also a celebrated horse-thief.  His horse-stealing
propensities were ineradicable, and had to be winked at on account {p 92} of
his usefulness; so that he was left in a great measure to his own devices.
He was, in fact, a fox hired to act as watch-dog to the colony in times of
danger; and though the victims of his numberless thefts had always been
anxious to wreak personal vengeance on him, his vulpine sagacity had so far
enabled him to escape them all.  My interest in him arose from the fact that
he was the son of a man whose name figures in Argentine history.  Sosa's
father was an illiterate gaucho -- a man of the plains -- possessing
faculties so keen that to ordinary beings his feats of vision and hearing,
and his sense of direction on the monotonous pampas, seemed almost
miraculous.  As he also possessed other qualities suitable to a leader of
men in a semi-savage region, he rose in time to the command of the
south-western frontier, where his numerous victories over the Indians gave
him so great a prestige that the jealousy of the Dictator Rosas -- the Nero
of South America, as he was called by his enemies -- was roused, and at his
instigation Sosa was removed by means of a cup of poison.  The son, though
in all other respects a degenerate being, inherited his father's wonderful
senses.  One instance of his keen-sightedness which I heard struck me as
very curious.  In 1861 Sosa had found it prudent to disappear for a season
from the colony, and in the company of five or six more gauchos -- also
offenders against the law, who had flown to the refuge of the desert -- he
amused himself by hunting ostriches along the Rio Colorado.  On the 12th of
March the hunters were camping beside a {p 93} grove of willows in the
valley, and about nine o'clock that evening, while seated round the fire
roasting their ostrich meat, Sosa suddenly sprang to his feet and held his
open hand high above his head for some moments.  "There is not a breath of
wind blowing," he exclaimed, "yet the leaves of the trees are trembling.
What can this portend?"  The others stared at the trees, but could see no
motion, and began to laugh and jeer at him.  Presently he sat down again,
remarking that the trembling had ceased; but during the rest of the evening
he seemed very much disturbed in his mind.  He remarked repeatedly that such
a thing had never happened in his experience before, for, he said, he could
feel a breath of wind before the leaves felt it, and there had been no wind;
he feared that it was a warning of some disaster about to overtake their
party.  The disaster was not for them.  On that evening, when Sosa sprang up
terrified and pointed to the leaves which to the others appeared motionless,
occurred the earthquake which destroyed the distant city of Mendoza,
crushing twelve thousand people to death in its fall.  That the subterranean
wave extended east to the Plata, and southwards into Patagonia, was
afterwards known, for in the cities of Rosario and Buenos Ayres clocks
stopped, and a slight shock was also experienced in the Carmen on the Rio
Negro.

My host, whose Christian name was Ventura, being a Patagonian by birth, and
not far off fifty years old, must, I imagined, have seen a thousand things
worth relating, and I frequently importuned {p 94} him to tell some of his
early experiences in the settlement.  But somehow he invariably drifted into
amorous and gambling reminiscences, interesting in their way, some of them,
but they were not the kind of recollections I wished to hear.  The empire of
his affections had been divided between Cupid and cards; and apparently
everything he had seen or experienced in fifty eventful years, unless it had
some relation to one of these two divinities, was clean forgotten -- cast
away from him like the ends of the innumerable cigarettes he had been
smoking all his life.  Once, however, a really interesting adventure of his
boyhood was recalled accidentally to his mind.  He came home one evening
from the Carmen, where he had been spending the day, and during supper told
me the following story.

When he was about sixteen years old he was sent one day with four others --
three lads like himself, and a middle-aged man named Marcos in charge of
them -- with a herd of horses required for military service at a place
twenty-five leagues up the river.  For, at that period, every person was at
the beck and call of the commander of the colony.  Half-way to their
destination there was a corral, or cattle-enclosure, standing two or three
hundred yards from the river, but miles away from any habitation.  They
drove their animals into the corral, and, after unsaddling and turning loose
the beasts they had ridden, were about to catch fresh horses, when a troop
of Indians was spied charging down upon them.  "Follow me, boys!" shouted
Marcos, for there was no time {p 95} to lose, and away they rushed to the
river, throwing off their clothes as they ran.  In a few moments they were
in the water swimming for life, the shouts of the savages ringing in their
ears. The river at this point was about eight hundred feet broad, with a
strong current, and two of the lads dared not venture across, but escaped,
diving and swimming along under the shadow of the bank like a couple of
water-rats or wounded ducks, and finally concealed themselves in a reed bed
at some distance.  The others, led by Marcos, being good swimmers like most
of the Patagonians, struck boldly out for the opposite shore.  But when they
approached it and were beginning to congratulate themselves on their escape,
they were suddenly confronted with another party of mounted Indians,
standing a few yards back from the margin and quietly waiting their arrival.
They turned and swam away to the middle of the stream once more: here one of
them, a youth named Damian, began to exclaim that he was getting tired, and
would sink unless Marcos would save him.  Marcos told him to save himself if
he could; then Damian, bitterly reproaching him for his selfishness,
declared that he would swim back to the side they had started from and give
himself up to the Indians. Naturally they made no objection, being unable to
help him; and so Damian left them, and when the Indians saw him approaching
they got off their horses and came down to the margin, their lances in their
hands.  Of course Damian knew right well that savages seldom burden
themselves with a male captive when they happen {p 96} to be out on the
war-path; but he was a clever boy, and though death by steel was more
painful than death by drowning, there was still a faint chance that his
captors might have compassion on him.  He began, in fact, to appeal to their
mercy from the moment he abandoned his companion.  "Indians! friends!
brothers!" he shouted aloud from the water.  "Do not kill me:  in heart I am
an Indian like one of yourselves, and no Christian.  My skin is white, I
know; but I hate my own race, to escape from them has always been my one
desire.  To live with the Indians I love, in the desert, that is the only
wish of my heart.  Spare me, brothers, take me with you, and I will serve
you all my life.  Let me live with you, hunt with you, fight with you --
especially against the hated Christians."

In the middle of the river Marcos lifted up his face and laughed hoarsely to
hear this eloquent address; though they expected to see poor Damian thrust
through with spears the very next moment, he could not help laughing.  They
watched him arrive, still loudly crying out for mercy, astonishing them very
much with his oratorical powers, for Damian had not hitherto made any
display of this kind of talent.  The Indians took him by the hands and drew
him out of the water, then, surrounding him, walked him away to the corral,
and from that moment Damian disappeared from the valley; for on a search
being made afterwards, not even his bones, picked clean by vultures and
foxes, could be found.

{p 97} After seeing the last of their comrade, and keeping themselves afloat
with the least possible exertion, Marcos and Ventura were carried down the
stream by the swift current till they gained a small island in the middle of
the river.  With the drift-wood found on it they constructed a raft, binding
the sticks together with long grass and rushes, and on it they floated
down-stream to the inhabited portion of the valley, and so eventually made
their escape.

The reason why my host told me this story instead of one of his usual love
intrigues or gambling adventures was because that very day he had seen
Damian once more, just returned to the settlement where he had so long been
forgotten by everyone.  Thirty years of exposure to the sun and wind of the
desert had made him so brown, while in manner and speech he had grown so
like an Indian, that the poor amateur savage found it hard at first to
establish his identity.  His relations had, however, been poor, and had long
passed away, leaving nothing for him to inherit, so that there was no reason
to discredit his strange story.  He related that when the Indians drew him
from the water and carried him back to the corral they disagreed among
themselves as to what they should do to him.  Luckily one of them understood
Spanish, and translated to the others the substance of Damian's speech
delivered from the water.  When they questioned their captive he invented
many other ingenious lies, saying that he was a poor orphan boy, and that
the cruel {p 98} treatment his master subjected him to had made him resolve
to escape to the Indians.  The only feeling he had towards his own race, he
assured them, was one of undying animosity; and he was ready to vow that if
they would only let him join their tribe he would always be ready for a raid
on the Christian settlement.  To see the entire white race swept away with
fire and steel was, in fact, the cherished hope of his heart.  Their savage
breasts were touched with his piteous tale of sufferings; his revengeful
feelings were believed to be genuine, and they took him to their own home,
where he was permitted to share in the simple delights of the aborigines.
They belonged to a tribe very powerful at that time, inhabiting a district
called Las Manzanas -- that is, the Apple Country -- situated at the sources
of the Rio Negro in the vicinity of the Andes.

There is a tradition that shortly after the conquest of South America a few
courageous Jesuit priests crossed over from Chili to the eastern slopes of
the Andes to preach Christianity to the tribes there, and that they took
with them implements of husbandry, grain, and seeds of European fruits.  The
missionaries soon met their death, and all that remained of their labours
among the heathen were a few apple-trees they had planted.  These trees
found a soil and climate so favourable, that they soon began to propagate
spontaneously, becoming exceedingly abundant.  Certain it is that now, after
two or three centuries of neglect by man, these wild apple-trees still yield
excellent fruit, which the {p 99} Indians eat, and from which they also make
a fermented liquor they call 'chi-chi'.

To this far-off fertile region Damian was taken to lead the kind of life he
professed to love.  Here were hill, forest, and clear swift river, great
undulating plains, the pleasant pasture-lands of the huanaco, ostrich, and
wild horse; and beyond all in the west the stupendous mountain range of the
Cordilleras -- a realm of enchantment and ever-changing beauty.  Very soon,
however, when the novelty of the new life had worn off, together with the
exultation he had experienced at his escape from cruel death, his heart
began to be eaten up with secret grief, and he pined for his own people
again. Escape was impossible:  to have revealed his true feelings would have
exposed him to instant cruel death.  To take kindly to the savage way of
life, outwardly at least, was now his only course.  With cheerful
countenance he went forth on long hunting expeditions in the depth of
winter, exposed all day to bitter cold and furious storms of wind and sleet,
cursed and beaten for his awkwardness by his fellow-huntsmen; at night
stretching his aching limbs on the wet stony ground, with the rug they
permitted him to wear for only covering.  When the hunters were unlucky it
was customary to slaughter a horse for food. The wretched animal would be
first drawn up by its hind legs and suspended from the branches of a great
tree, so that all the blood might be caught, for this is the chief delicacy
of the Patagonian savage.  An artery would {p 100} be exposed in the neck
and the spouting blood caught in large earthen vessels; then, when  the
savages gathered round to the feast, poor Damian would be with them to drink
his share of the abhorred liquid, hot from the heart of the still living
brute.  In autumn, when the apples were fermented in pits dug in the earth
and lined with horse hides to prevent the juice from escaping, he would take
part, as became a true savage, in the grand annual drinking bouts.  The
women would first go round carefully gathering up all knives, spears, bolas,
or other weapons dangerous in the hands of drunken men, to carry them away
into the forest, where they would conceal themselves with the children.
Then for days the warriors would give themselves up to the joys of
intoxication; and at such times unhappy Damian would come in for a large
share of ridicule, blows, and execrations; the Indians being full of
boisterous fun or else truculent in their cups, and loving above all things
to have a 'Koko-huinche', or "white fool," for a butt.

At length, when he came to man's estate, was fluent in their language, and
outwardly in all things like a savage, a wife was bestowed on him, and she
bore him several children.  Those he had first known as grown up or old men
gradually died off, were killed, or drifted away; children who had always
known Damian as one of the tribe grew to manhood, and it was forgotten that
he had ever been a Christian and a captive.  Yet still, with his helpmate by
his side, weaving rugs and raiment for him or ministering to his wants --
for the Indian wife is always industrious {p 101} and the patient, willing,
affectionate slave of her lord -- and with all his young barbarians at play
on the grass before his hut, he would sit in the waning sunlight oppressed
with sorrow, dreaming the old dreams he could not banish from his heart.
And at last, when his wife began to grow wrinkled and dark-skinned, as a
middle-aged Indian mother invariably does, and when his children were
becoming men, the gnawing discontent at his breast made him resolve to leave
the tribe and the life he secretly hated.  He joined a hunting-party going
towards the Atlantic coast, and after travelling for some days with them his
opportunity came, when he secretly left them and made his way alone to the
Carmen.

"And there he is," concluded Ventura, when he had told the story, with
undisguised contempt for Damian in his tone, "an Indian and nothing less!
Does he imagine he can ever be like one of us after living that life for
thirty years?  If Marcos were alive, how he would laugh to see Damian back
again, sitting cross-legged on the floor, solemn as a cacique, brown as old
leather, and calling himself a white man!  Yet here he says he will remain,
and here amongst Christians he will die.  Fool, why did he not escape twenty
years ago, or, having remained so long in the desert, why has he now come
back where he is not wanted!"

Ventura was very unsympathetic, and appeared to have no kindly feelings left
for his old companion-in-arms, but I was touched with the story I had heard.
 There was something pathetic in the life of {p 102} that poor returned
wanderer, an alien now to his own fellow-townsmen, homeless amidst the
pleasant vineyards, poplar groves, and old stone houses where he had first
seen the light; listening to the bells from the church tower as he had
listened to them in childhood, and perhaps for the first time realising in a
dull vague kind of way that it might never more be with him as it had been
in the vanished past. Possibly also, the memory of his savage spouse who had
loved him many years would add some bitterness to his strange isolated life.
 For, far away in their old home, she would still wait for him, vainly
hoping, fearing much, dim-eyed with sorrow and long watching, yet never
seeing his form returning to her out of the mysterious haze of the desert!

Poor Damian, and poor wife!



{p 103} CHAPTER VIII


SNOW, AND THE QUALITY OF WHITENESS

In August, the April of the Argentine poets, we had some piercingly cold
weather, followed by a fall of snow.  Heaven be praised for it! for never
again, perhaps, shall I see earth transfigured by the breath of antarctic
winter.  I had spent the night in the village, and it was a strange and
weirdly beautiful sight when, on rising next morning, I beheld roads,
housetops, trees, and the adjacent hills white with a surpassing unfamiliar
whiteness.  The morning was mild, with a dull leaden sky; and suddenly, as I
stood in the street, the snow began to fall again, and continued for about
an hour.  Most of that time I spent standing motionless, gazing up into the
air, peopled with innumerable large slow-descending flakes:  only those of
my English readers who, like Kingsley, have longed for a sight of tropical
vegetation and scenery, and have AT LAST had their longing gratified, can
appreciate my sensations on first beholding snow.

My visit to Patagonia so far had been rich in experiences.  One of the
first, just before touching its shores, but after the ship had struck on the
hidden rocks, was the effect of whiteness as seen in a tumultuous milky sea;
and now, after several months there {p 104} came this snow-fall, and a
vaster and stranger whiteness.  My uppermost feeling at the time was one of
delight at seeing what I had been hoping for months to see, but had now,
when winter was so nearly over, ceased to hope for.  This pleasure was
purely intellectual; but when I ask myself if there was anything besides, a
deeper, undefinable feeling, I can only answer, I think not:  my first
experience of snow does not lead me to believe that there is any instinctive
feeling in us related to it; that the feeling which so many, perhaps a
majority of persons, experience on seeing the earth whitened by the breath
of winter, must be accounted for in some other way.

In Herman Melville's romance of 'Moby Dick, or the White Whale', there is a
long dissertation, perhaps the finest thing in the book, on whiteness in
nature, and its effect on the mind.  It is an interesting and somewhat
obscure subject; and, as Melville is the only writer I know who has dealt
with it, and something remains to be said, I may look to be pardoned for
dwelling on it at some length in this place.

Melville recalls the fact that in numberless natural objects whiteness
enhances beauty, as if it imparted some special virtue of its own, as in
marbles, japonicas, pearls; that the quality of whiteness is emblematic of
whatever we regard as high and most worthy of reverence; that it has for us
innumerable beautiful and kindly associations.  "Yet," he goes on to say,
"for all these accumulated associations with whatever is sweet, and
honourable, and sublime, {p 105} there lurks an illusive something in the
innermost idea of this hue which strikes more of panic to the soul than the
redness which affrights in blood."  He is no doubt right that there is a
mysterious illusive SOMETHING affecting us in the thought of whiteness; but,
then, so illusive is it, and in most cases so transient in its effect, that
only when we are told of it do we look for and recognise its existence in
us.  And this only with regard to certain things, a distinction which
Melville failed to see, this being his first mistake in his attempt to
"solve the incantation of whiteness."  His second and greatest error is in
the assumption that the quality of whiteness, apart from the object it is
associated with, has anything extranatural or supernatural to the mind.
There is no "supernaturalism in the hue," no "spectralness over the fancy,"
in the thought of the whiteness of white clouds; of the white horses of the
sea; of white sea-birds, and white water-fowl, such as swans, storks,
egrets, ibises, and many others; nor in white beasts, not dangerous to us,
wild or domestic, nor in white flowers.  These may bloom in such profusion
as to whiten whole fields, as with snow, and their whiteness yet be no more
to the fancy than the yellows, purples, and reds of other kinds.  In the
same way the whiteness of the largest masses of white clouds has no more of
supernaturalness to the mind than the blueness of the sky and the greenness
of vegetation.  Again, on still hot days on the pampas the level earth is
often seen glittering with the silver whiteness of the mirage; and this is
also a common {p 106} natural appearance to the mind, like the whiteness of
summer clouds, of sea foam, and of flowers.

From all these examples, and many others might be added, it seems evident
that the "illusive something" which Melville found in the innermost idea of
this hue -- a something that strikes more of panic to the soul than the
redness which affrights in blood -- does not reside in the quality of
whiteness itself.

After making this initial mistake, he proceeds to name all those natural
objects which, being white, produce in us the various sensations he
mentions, mysterious and ghostly, and in various ways unpleasant and
painful.  What is it, he asks, that in the albino so peculiarly repels and
shocks the eye, as that sometimes he is loathed by his own kith and kin?  He
has a great deal to say of the polar bear, and the white shark of the
tropical seas, and concludes that it is their whiteness that makes them so
much more terrible to us than other savage rapacious creatures that are
dangerous to man.  He speaks of the muffled rolling of a milky sea; the
rustlings of the festooned frost of mountains; the desolate shiftings of the
windrowed snows of prairies.  Finally, he asks, whence, in peculiar moods,
comes that gigantic phantom over the soul at the bare mention of a White
Sea, a White Squall, White Mountains, etc., etc.?

He assumes all along that the cause of the feeling, however it may differ in
degree and otherwise, according to the nature and magnitude of the subject,
is one and the same in all cases, that the cause {p 107} is in the
whiteness, and not in the object with which that quality is associated.

The albino case need not detain us long;  and here Melville's seafaring
experiences might have suggested a better explanation. Sailors, I am
convinced from observation, are very primitive in their impulses, and hate,
and often unite in persecuting, a companion who, owing to failing strength
or some physical defect, is not able to do his share of the work.  Savages
and semi-barbarous people often cherish a strong animosity against a
constantly ailing, crippled, or otherwise defective member of the community:
 and albinism is associated with weakness of vision, and other defects,
which might be a sufficient cause of the aversion.  Even among the highly
civilised and humane, the sight of sickness is probably always, in some
measure, repulsive and shocking, especially in cases in which the skin loses
its natural colour, such as anaemia, consumption, chlorosis, and jaundice.
This natural and universal cause of dislike of the albino would be
strengthened among pure savages by the superstitious element -- the belief
that the abnormal paleness of the individual was supernatural, that want of
colour signified absence of soul.

As to the white shark of the tropics, the simplest explanation of the
greater terror inspired by this creature would be that, being white, and
therefore conspicuous above all other dangerous creatures, the sight would
be more attracted to it, its image would become more fixed, and look larger
and more {p 108} formidable in the mind, and it would be more often thought
about apprehensively, with the result that there would be a predisposition
to regard it with a fear exceeding that inspired by other creatures equally
or even more dangerous to human life, but inconspicuously coloured, hence
not so vividly seen, and creating no such distinct and persistent mental
image.  Let us consider what would be the effect of the appearance of a
warrior, habited in snowy white, or shining gold, or vivid scarlet, or
flame-colour, among a host of contending men, fighting in the old fashion
with sword and spear and battle-axe, all clothed and armoured in dull
neutral or sombre colours.  Wherever he appeared every eye would be
attracted to him; his movements and actions would be followed with intense
interest by all, and by his antagonists with keen apprehension; every time
he parried a blow aimed at his life he would appear invulnerable to the
lookers-on, and whenever an enemy went down before him it would seem that a
supernatural energy nerved his arm, that the gods were fighting on his side.
 So great is the effect of mere conspicuousness! Any white savage beast
would, because of its whiteness, or conspicuousness, seem more dangerous
than another; and a Chillingham bull, no doubt, inspires more fear in a
person exposed to attack than a red or black bull.  On the other hand, sheep
and lambs, although their washed fleeces look whiter than snow, are regarded
as indifferently as rabbits and fawns, and their whiteness is nothing to us.

{p 109} Something more remains to be said about whiteness in animals, which
must come later.  It will be more in order to speak first of the whiteness
of snow, and the whiteness of a seething ocean.  We are all capable of
experiencing something of that feeling, so powerfully described by Melville,
at the sight of the muffled rollings of a milky sea, and white mountains,
and the desolate shiftings of windrowed snows on vast stretches of level
earth.  But doubtless in many the feeling would be slight; there is an
"illusive something" in us when we behold the earth suddenly whitened with
snow; but the feeling does not last, and is speedily forgotten, or else set
down as an effect of mere novelty. In Melville it was very strong; it
stirred him deeply, and caused him to ponder with awe on its meaning; and
the conclusion he came to was that it is an instinct in us -- an instinct
similar to that of the horse with regard to the smell of some animal which
has the effect of violently agitating it.  He calls it an inherited
experience.  "Nor, in some things," he says, "does the common hereditary
experience of all mankind fail to bear witness to the supernaturalism of
this hue."  Finally, the feeling speaks to us of appalling things in a
remote past, of unimaginable desolations, and stupendous calamities
overwhelming the race of man.

It is a sublime conception, adequately expressed; and as we read the
imagination pictures to us the terrible struggle of our hardy barbarous
progenitors against the bitter killing cold of the last glacial period; but
the picture is vague, like striving human {p 110} figures in a landscape
half obliterated by wind-driven snow.  It was a struggle that endured for
long ages, until the gigantic white phantom, from which men sought
everywhere to fly, came to be a phantom of the mind, a spectralness over the
fancy, and instinctive horror, which the surviving remnant transmitted by
inheritance down to our own distant times.

It is more than likely that cold has been one of the oldest and deadliest
enemies to our race; nevertheless, I reject Melville's explanation in favour
of another, which seems more simple and satisfactory -- to its author, at
all events:  which is, that that mysterious something that moves us at the
sight of snow springs from the animism that exists in us, and our animistic
way of regarding all exceptional phenomena.  The mysterious feelings
produced in us by the sight of a snow-whitened earth are not singular, but
are similar in character to the feelings caused by many other phenomena, and
they may be experienced, although in a very slight degree, almost any day of
our lives, if we live with nature.

It must be explained that 'animism' is not used here in the sense that Tylor
gives it in his 'Primitive Culture':  in that work it signifies a theory of
life, a philosophy of primitive man, which has been supplanted among
civilised people by a more advanced philosophy. Animism here means not a
doctrine of souls that survive the bodies and objects they inhabit, but the
mind's projection of itself into nature, its attribution of its own sentient
life and {p 111} intelligence to all things -- that primitive universal
faculty on which the animistic philosophy of the savage is founded.  When
our philosophers tell us that this faculty is obsolete in us, that it is
effectually killed by ratiocination, or that it only survives for a period
in our children, I believe they are wrong, a fact which they could find out
for themselves if, leaving their books and theories, they would take a
solitary walk on a moonlit night in the "Woods of Westermain," or any other
woods, since all are enchanted.

Let us remember that our poets, who speak not scientifically but in the
language of passion, when they say that the sun rejoices in the sky and
laughs at the storm; that the earth is glad with flowers in spring, and the
autumn fields happy; that the clouds frown and weep, and the wind sighs and
"utters something mournful on its way" -- that in all this they speak not in
metaphor, as we are taught to say, but that in moments of excitement, when
we revert to primitive conditions of mind, the earth and all nature is alive
and intelligent, and feels as we feel.  When, after a spell of dull weather,
the sun unexpectedly shines out warm and brilliant, who has not felt in that
first glad instant that all nature shared his conscious gladness? Or, in the
first hours of a great bereavement, who has not experienced a feeling of
wonder and even resentment at the sight of blue smiling skies and a
sun-flushed earth?

"We have all," says Vignoli, "however unaccustomed to give an account of our
acts and functions, found ourselves in circumstances which produced {p 112}
the momentary personification of natural objects.  The sight of some
extraordinary phenomenon produces a vague sense of someone acting with a
given purpose."  Not assuredly of "someone" outside of and above the natural
phenomenon, but in and one with it, just as the act of a man proceeds from
him, and is the man.

It is doubtless true that we are animistic to this extent only at rare
moments, and in exceptional circumstances, and during certain aspects of
nature that recur only at long intervals.  And of all such aspects of nature
and extraordinary phenomena, snow is perhaps the most impressive, and is
certainly one of the most widely known on the earth, and most intimately
associated in the mind with the yearly suspension of nature's beneficent
activity, and all that this means to the human family -- the failure of food
and consequent want, and the suffering and danger from intense cold.  This
traditional knowledge of an inclement period in nature only serves to
intensify the animism that finds a given purpose in all natural phenomena,
and sees in the whiteness of earth the sign of a great unwelcome change.
Change, not death, since nature's life is eternal; but its sweet friendly
warmth and softness have died out of it; there is no longer any recognition,
any bond; and if we were to fall down and perish by the wayside, there would
be no compassion:  it is sitting apart and solitary, cold and repelling, its
breath suspended, in a trance of grief or passion; and although it sees us
it is as though it saw us not, {p 113} even as we see pebbles and withered
leaves on the ground, when some great sorrow has dazed us, or when some
deadly purpose is in our heart.

Just as with regard to snow the animistic feeling is strongest in those who
inhabit regions where winter is severe, and who annually see this change in
nature, so the "muffled rollings of a milky sea" will strike more of panic
to the sailor's soul than to that of the landsman.  Melville relates an
anecdote of an old sailor who swooned from terror at the sight of an ocean
white with the foam of breakers among which the ship was driven.  He
afterwards declared that it was not the thought of the danger, for to danger
he was accustomed, but the whiteness of the sea that overcame him.  And to
his animistic mind that whiteness was nothing but the sign of ocean's wrath
-- the sight of its tremendous passion and deadly purpose proved too
appalling.

There is no doubt that the conditions of the sailor's life tend to bring out
and strengthen the latent animism that is in all of us; the very ship he
navigates is to his mind alive and intelligent, how much more the ocean,
which, even to landsmen on each return to it after an interval, seems no
mere expanse of water, but a living conscious thing.  It was only my
strangeness to the sea which prevented the sight of its whiteness from
affecting me profoundly:  animism in me is strongest with regard to
terrestrial phenomena, with which I am more familiar.

To return, before concluding this chapter, to the subject of white animals.
 And first a word or two {P 114} concerning the great polar bear:  is it not
probable that the extreme fear it inspires, which is said by those who have
encountered this animal to exceed greatly that which is experienced at the
sight of other savage beasts that are dangerous to man, is due to its
association with the death-like repellent whiteness and desolation of polar
scenery?

With regard to abnormal whiteness in animals that are familiar to us, the
sight always affects us strangely, even in so innocent and insignificant a
creature as a starling, or blackbird, or lapwing. The rarity,
conspicuousness, and abnormality in colour of the object are scarcely enough
to account for the intensity of the interest excited.  Among savages the
distinguishing whiteness is sometimes regarded as supernatural:  and this
fact inclines me to believe that, just as any extraordinary phenomenon
produces a vague idea of someone acting with a given purpose, so in the case
of the white animal, its whiteness has not come by accident and chance, but
is the result of the creature's volition and the outward sign of some
excellence of the intelligent soul distinguishing it from its fellows.  In
Patagonia I heard of a case bearing on this point.  On the plain some thirty
miles east of Salinas Grandes, in a small band of ostriches there appeared
one pure white individual.  Some of the Indians, when out hunting, attempted
its capture, but they soon ceased to chase it, and it was called thereafter
the god of the ostriches, and it was said among them that some great
disaster, perhaps death, would overtake any person who should do it harm.



{p 115} CHAPTER IX


IDLE DAYS

Before the snow, which has given rise to so long a digression, had quite
ceased falling the blue sky was smiling again, and I set forth on my muddy
walk home.  Under the brilliant sun the white mantle very soon began to
exhibit broad black lines and rents, and in a brief space of time the earth
had recovered its wonted appearance -- the cheerful greenish-bluish-grey,
which is Nature's livery at all times in this part of Patagonia; while from
the dripping thorn bushes the birds resumed their singing.

If the birds of this region do not excel those of other lands in sweetness,
compass, and variety (and I am not sure that they do not), for constancy in
singing they indubitably carry the palm.  In spring and early summer their
notes are incessant; and the choir is then led by that incomparable
melodist, the white-banded mocking-bird, a summer visitor.  Even in the
coldest months of winter, June and July, when the sun shines, the hoarse
crooning of the spotted 'Columba', resembling that of the wood-pigeon of
Europe, and the softer, more sigh-like lamentations of the 'Zenaida
maculata', so replete with wild pathos, are heard from the leafless willows
fringing the river. Meanwhile, in the bosky uplands, {p 116} one hears the
songs of many passerine species; and always amongst them, with lively
hurried notes, the black-headed Magellanic siskin. The scarlet-breasted or
military starling sings on the coldest days and during the most boisterous
weather:  nor can the rainiest sky cheat the grey finches, 'Diuca minor', of
their morning and evening hymns, sung by many individuals in joyous concert.
 The common mocking-bird is still more indefatigable, and sheltering himself
from the cold blast continues till after dark warbling out snatches of song
from his inexhaustible repertory; his own music being apparently necessary
as food and air to his existence.

Warm lovely days succeeded the snowfall.  Rising each morning I could
reverently exclaim with the human singer,

O gift of God!  O perfect Day! Whereon should no man work but play.

Days windless and serene to their very end, bright with a cloudless sky, and
sunshine sweet and pleasant to behold, making the grey solitudes smile as if
conscious of the heavenly influence.  It is a common saying in this country
that "once in a hundred years, a man dies in Patagonia."  I do not think any
other region of the globe can boast of a saying to equal that; though it has
been ill-naturedly suggested that the proverb might owe its origin to the
fact that most people in Patagonia meet with some violent end.  I do not
myself believe there is any climate in the world to compare with the winter
of the east {p 117} coast of Patagonia; and although its summer might seem
disagreeable to some persons on account of the violent winds that prevail at
that season, the atmosphere at all times is so dry and pure as to make
pulmonary complaints unknown.  A wealthy tradesman of the town told me that
from boyhood he suffered from weak lungs and asthma; in search of health he
left his country, Spain, and settled in Buenos Ayres, where he formed ties
and entered into business.  But his old enemy found him there; his asthma
became worse and worse, and at last, on his doctor's recommendation, he went
on a visit to Patagonia, where in a short time he was restored to complete
health -- such health as he had never previously known.  He went back
rejoicing to Buenos Ayres, only to fall ill again and to find his life
growing a burden to him.  Finally, in desperation, he sold his business and
went back to the only country where existence was possible; and when I knew
him he had been permanently settled there for about fourteen years, during
which time he had enjoyed the most perfect health.

But he was not happy.  He confided to me that he had purchased health at a
very heavy cost, since he found it impossible ever to accommodate himself to
such a rude existence; that he was essentially a child of civilisation, a
man of the pavement, whose pleasure was in society, in newspapers, the play,
and in the café where one meets one's friends of an evening and has a
pleasant game of dominoes.  As these things which he valued were merely dust
and ashes {p 118} to me, I did not sympathise deeply with his discontent,
nor consider that it mattered much which portion of the globe he made choice
of for a residence.  But the facts of his case interested me; and if I
should have a reader who has other ideals, who has felt the mystery and
glory of life overcoming his soul with wonder and desire, and who bears in
his system the canker of consumption which threatens to darken the vision
prematurely -- to such a one I would say, TRY PATAGONIA.  It is far to
travel, and in place of the smoothness of Madeira there would be roughness;
but how far men go, into what rough places, in search of rubies and ingots
of gold; and life is more than these.

During this beautiful weather merely to exist has seemed to me a sufficient
pleasure:  sometimes rowing on the river, which is here about nine hundred
feet wide -- going up to the town with the tide and returning with the
current when only a slight exertion suffices to keep the boat swiftly
gliding over the pure green water.  At other times I amuse myself by seeking
for the resinous gum, known here by its Indian name 'maken'.  The scraggy
wide-spreading bush, a kind of juniper, it is found on, repays me with many
a scratch and rent for all the amber tears I steal.  The gum is found in
little lumps on the underside of the lower branches, and is, when fresh,
semi-transparent and sticky as bird-lime.  To fit it for use the natives
make it into pellets, and hold it on the point of a stick over a basin of
cold water; a {p 119} coal of fire is then approached to it, causing it to
melt and trickle down by drops into the basin.  The drops, hardened by the
process, are then kneaded with the fingers, cold water being added
occasionally, till the gum becomes thick and opaque like putty.  To chew it
properly requires a great deal of practice, and when this indigenous art has
been acquired a small ball of maken may be kept in the mouth two or three
hours every day, and used for a week or longer without losing its agreeable
resinous flavour or diminishing in bulk, so firmly does it hold together.
The maken-chewer, on taking the ball or quid from his mouth, washes it and
puts it by for future use, just as one does with a tooth-brush.  Chewing gum
is not merely an idle habit, and the least that can be said in its favour is
that it allays the desire for excessive smoking -- no small advantage to the
idle dwellers, white or red, in this desert land; it also preserves the
teeth by keeping them free from extraneous matter, and gives them such a
pearly lustre as I have never seen outside of this region.

My own attempts at chewing maken have, so far, proved signal failures.
Somehow the gum invariably spreads itself in a thin coat over the interior
of my mouth, covering the palate like a sticking-plaster and enclosing the
teeth in a stubborn rubber case. Nothing will serve to remove it when it
comes to this pass but raw suet, vigorously chewed for half an hour, with
occasional sips of cold water to harden the delightful mixture and induce it
to come away.  The culmination of the mess is when the gum spreads {p 120}
over the lips and becomes entangled in the hairs that overshadow them; and
when the closed mouth has to be carefully opened with the fingers, until
these also become sticky and hold together firmly as if united by a
membrane.  All this comes about through the neglect of a simple precaution,
and never happens to the accomplished masticator, who is to the manner born.
 When the gum is still fresh occasionally it loses the quality of stiffness
artificially imparted to it, and suddenly, without rhyme or reason,
retransforms itself into the raw material as it came from the tree.  The
adept, knowing by certain indications when this is about to happen, takes a
mouthful of cold water at the critical moment, and so averts a result so
discouraging to the novice.  Maken-chewing is a habit common to everybody
throughout the entire territory of Patagonia, and for this reason I have
described the delightful practice at some length.

When disinclined for gum-chewing I ramble for hours through the bushes to
listen to the birds, learning their language and making myself familiar with
their habits.  How coy are some species whose instincts ever impel them to
concealment!  What vigilance, keen and never relaxed, is theirs!  Difficult
even to catch a passing glimpse of them as they skulk from notice, how much
more so to observe them disporting themselves without fear or restraint,
unconscious of any intrusive presence!  Yet such observation only satisfies
the naturalist, and when obtained it amply repays the silence, the watching,
and the waiting it costs.  In some cases the opportunities {p 121} are so
rare that whilst they are being sought, and without ever actually occurring,
the observer day by day grows more familiar with the manners of the wild
creatures that still succeed in eluding his sight.

Now the little cock ('Rhinocrypta lanceolata'), an amusing bird that lives
on the ground, carries its tail erect and looks wonderfully like a very
small bantam, has spied me, and full of alarm, utters his loud chirrup from
an adjacent bush.  Gently I steal towards him, careful to tread on the sand,
then peer cautiously into the foliage. For a few moments he scolds me with
loud, emphatic tones, and then is silent.  Fancying him still in the same
place, I walk about the bush many times, striving to catch sight of him.
Suddenly the loud chirrup is resumed in a bush a stone's-throw away; and
soon, getting tired of this game of hide-and-seek, in which the bird has all
the fun and I all the seeking, I give it up and ramble on.

Then, perhaps, the measured, deep, percussive tones of the subterranean
'Ctenomys', well named 'oculto' in the vernacular, resound within a dozen
yards of my feet.  So near and loud do they sound, I am convinced the shy
little rodent has ventured for a moment to visit the sunshine.  I might
possibly even catch a momentary glimpse of him, sitting, trembling at the
slightest sound, turning his restless bright black eyes this way and that to
make sure that no insidious foe is lurking near.  For while the mole's eyes
have dwindled to mere specks, a dark subterranean life has had a contrary
effect on the {p 122} 'oculto's' orbs, and made them large, although not so
large as in some cave-rodents.  On tiptoe, scarcely breathing, I approach
the intervening bush and peep round it, only to find that he has already
vanished!  A hillock of damp, fresh sand, bearing the impress of a tail and
a pair of little feet, show that he has been busy there, and had sat only a
moment ago swelling the silky fur of his bosom with those deep, mysterious
sounds.  Cautiously, silently, I had approached him, but the subtle fox and
the velvet-footed cat would have drawn near with still greater silence and
caution, yet he would have baffled them both.  Of all shy mammals he is the
shyest; in him fear is never overcome by curiosity, and days, even weeks,
may now elapse before I come so near seeing the 'Ctenomys magellanica'
again.

It is near sunset, and, hark! as I ramble on I hear in the low scrub before
me the crested tinamous ('Calodromus elegans'), the wild fowl of this
region, and in size like the English pheasant, just beginning their evening
call.  It is a long, sweetly-modulated note, somewhat flute-like, and
sounding clear and far in the quiet evening air.  The covey is a large one,
I conjecture, for many voices are joined in the concert.  I mark the spot
and walk on; but at my approach, however quiet and masked with bushes it may
be, one by one the shy vocalists drop their parts.  The last to cease
repeats his note half a dozen times, then the contagion reaches him and he
too becomes silent.  I whistle and he answers; for a few minutes we keep up
the duet, then, aware of {p 123} the deception, he is silent again.  I
resume my walk and pass and repass fifty times through the scattered scrub,
knowing all the time that I am walking about amongst the birds, as they sit
turning their furtive eyes to watch my movements, yet concealed from me by
that wonderful adaptive resemblance in the colour of their plumage to the
sere grass and foliage around them, and by that correlated instinct which
bids them sit still in their places.  I find many evidences of their
presence -- prettily-mottled feathers dropped when they preened their wings,
also a dozen or twenty neat circular hollows scooped in the sand in which
they recently dusted themselves. There are also little chains of footprints
running from one hollow to the other; for these pulverising pits serve the
same birds every day, and, there being more birds in the covey than there
are pits, the bird that does not quickly secure a place doubtless runs from
pit to pit in search of one unoccupied.  Doubtless there are many pretty
quarrels too; and the older, stronger bird, regular in the observance of
this cleanly luxurious habit, must, 'per fas et nefas', find accommodation
somewhere.

I leave the favoured haunt, but when hardly a hundred yards away the birds
resume their call in the precise spot I have just quitted; first one and
then two are heard, then twenty voices join in the pleasing concert.
Already fear, an emotion strong but transitory in all wild creatures, has
passed from them, and they are free and happy as if my wandering shadow had
never fallen across them.

{p 124} Twilight comes and brings an end to these useless researches;
useless, I say, and take great delight in saying it, for if there is
anything one feels inclined to abhor in this placid land, it is the doctrine
that all our investigations into nature are for some benefit, present or
future, to the human race.

Night also brings supper, welcome to the hungry man, and hours of basking in
the genial light and warmth of a wood fire, I on one side, and my bachelor
host on the other.  The smoke curls up from our silent lips whilst idle
reveries possess our minds -- fit termination of a day spent as we have
spent it:  for my host is also an idler, only a more accomplished one than I
can ever hope to be.

We read little; my companion has never learnt letters, and I, less fortunate
in that respect, having only been able to discover one book in the house, a
Spanish 'Libro de Misa', beautifully printed in red and black letters, and
bound in scarlet morocco, I take this book and read, until he, tired of
listening to prayers, however beautiful, challenges me to a game of cards.
For some time we could not hit on anything to play for, cigarettes being
common property, but at length we thought of stories, the loser of most
games during the evening to tell the other a story, as a mild soporific,
after retiring.  My host invariably won, which was not very strange, for he
had been a professional gambler most of his days, and could deal himself the
killing cards every time he shuffled.  More than once I caught him in the
very act, for he despised his antagonist and {P 125} was careless, and
lectured  him on the immorality of cheating at cards, even when we were only
playing for love, or for something next door to it.  My strictures amused
his Patagonian mind very much; he explained that what I called cheating was
only a superior kind of skill acquired by much study and long practice; so
it happened that every night I was compelled to draw on my memory or
invention for stories to pay my losses.

Only at night one feels the winter here, but in September one knows that it
has gone, though summer birds have not yet returned, nor the forest of dwarf
mimosas burst into brilliant yellow bloom.  Through all seasons the general
aspect of nature remains the same, owing to the grey undeciduous foliage of
the tree and shrub vegetation covering the country.

As spring advances each day dawns apparently more brilliantly beautiful than
the preceding one, and after breakfast I roam forth, unencumbered with gun,
in search of recreation.

Hard by my residence there is a hill called the "Parrots' Cliff," where the
swift current of the river, altering its course, has eaten into the shore
till a sheer smooth precipice over a hundred feet high has been formed.  In
ancient times the summit must have been the site of an Indian village, for I
am continually picking up arrow-heads here; at present the face of the cliff
is inhabited by a flock of screaming Patagonian parrots, that have their
ancestral breeding-holes in the soft rock.  It is also {p 126} haunted by a
flock of pigeons that have taken to a feral life, by one pair of little
hawks ('Falco sparverius'), and a colony of purple martins; only these last
have not yet returned from their equatorial wanderings.  Quiet reigns along
the precipice when I reach it, for the vociferous parrots are away feeding.
 I lie down on my breast and peer over the edge; far, far beneath me a
number of coots are peacefully disporting themselves in the water.  I take a
stone the bigness of my hand, and, poising it over the perilous rim, drop it
upon them:  down, down, down it drops; oh, simple, unsuspecting coots,
beware!  Splash it falls in the middle of the flock, sending up a column of
water ten feet high, and then what a panic seizes on the birds!  They tumble
over as if shot, dive down incontinently, then reappearing, pause not to
look about them, but spring away with all that marvellous flutter and
splutter of which coots alone are capable; the wings beating rapidly, the
long legs and lobed feet sprawling behind or striking the surface, away they
scud, flying and tumbling over the water, spreading needless alarm through
flocks of pin-tails, shrill-voiced widgeons, and stately black-necked swans,
but never pausing until the opposite shore of the river is reached.

Pleased with the success of my experiment, I quit the precipice, to the
great relief of the blue pigeons and of the little hawks; these last having
viewed my proceedings with great jealousy, for they have already taken
possession of a hole in the rock with a view to nidification.

{p 127} Further on in my rambles I discover a nest of the large black
leaf-cutting ant ('Oecodoma') found over the entire South American continent
-- and a leading member of that social tribe of insects of which it has been
said that they rank intellectually next to ourselves.  Certainly this ant,
in its actions, simulates man's intellect very closely, and not in the
unpleasant manner of species having warrior castes and slaves.  The
leaf-cutter is exclusively agricultural in its habits, and constructs
subterranean galleries, in which it stores fresh leaves in amazing
quantities.  The leaves are not eaten, but are cut up into small pieces and
arranged in beds: these beds quickly become frosted over with a growth of
minute fungus; this the ant industriously gathers and stores for use, and
when the artificial bed is exhausted the withered leaves are carried out to
make room for a layer of fresh ones.  Thus the 'Oecodoma' literally grows
its own food, and in this respect appears to have reached a stage beyond the
most highly developed ant communities hitherto described.  Another
interesting fact is that, although the leaf-cutters have a peaceful
disposition, never showing resentment except when gratuitously interfered
with, they are just as courageous as any purely predatory species, only
their angry emotions and warlike qualities always appear to be dominated by
reason and the public good.  Occasionally a community of leaf-cutters goes
to war with a neighbouring colony of ants of some other species; in this, as
in everything else, they seem to act with a definite purpose and great
deliberation. {p 128} Wars are infrequent but in all those I have witnessed
-- and I have known this species from childhood -- the fate of the nation is
decided in one great pitched battle.  A spacious bare level spot of ground
is chosen, where the contending armies meet, the fight raging for several
hours at a stretch, to be renewed on several consecutive days.  The
combatants, equally sprinkled over a wide area, are seen engaged in single
combat or in small groups, while others, non-fighters, run briskly about
removing the dead and disabled warriors from the field of battle.

Perhaps some reader, who has made the acquaintance of nature in a London
square, will smile at my wonderful ant story.  Well, I have smiled too, and
cried a little, perhaps, when, witnessing one of these "decisive battles of
the world," I have thought that the stable civilisation of the 'Oecodoma'
ants will probably continue to flourish on the earth when our feverish dream
of progress has ceased to vex it.  Does that notion seem very fantastical?
Might not such a thought have crossed the mind of some priestly Peruvian,
idly watching the labours of a colony of leaf-cutters -- a thousand years
ago, let us say, before the canker had entered into his system to make it,
long ere the Spaniard came, ripe for death?  History preserves one brief
fragment which goes to show that the Incas themselves were not altogether
enslaved by the sublime traditions they taught the vulgar; that they also
possessed, like philosophic moderns, some conception of that implacable
power of nature which orders all things, {p 129} and is above Viracocha and
Pachacamac and the majestic gods that rode the whirlwind and tempest, and
had their thrones on the everlasting peaks of the Andes.  Five or six
centuries have probably made little change in the economy of the 'Oecodoma',
but the splendid civilisation of the children of the sun, albeit it bore on
the face of it the impress of unchangeableness and endless duration, has
vanished utterly from the earth.

To return from this digression.  The nest I have discovered is more populous
than London, and there are several roads diverging from it, each one four or
five inches wide, and winding away hundreds of yards through the bushes.
Never was any thoroughfare in a great city fuller of busy hurrying people
than one of these roads.  Sitting beside one, just where it wound over the
soft yellow sand, I grew tired of watching the endless procession of little
toilers, each one carrying a leaf in his jaws; and very soon there came into
my ear a whisper from somebody:

Who finds some mischief still For idle hands to do.

It is always pleasant to have even a hypothetical somebody on whom to
shuffle the responsibility of our evil actions.  Warning my conscience that
I am only going to try a scientific experiment, one not nearly so cruel as
many in which the pious Spallanzani took great delight, I scoop a deep pit
in the sand; and the ants, keeping on their way with their {p 130} usual
blind, stupid sagacity, tumble pell-mell over each other into it.  On, on
they come, in scores and in hundreds, like an endless flock of sheep jumping
down a pit into which the crazy bell-wether has led the way:  soon the
hundreds have swelled to thousands, and the yawning gulf begins to fill with
an inky mass of wriggling, biting, struggling ants.  Every falling
leaf-cutter carries down a few grains of treacherous sand with it, making
the descent easier, and soon the pit is full to overflowing.  In five
minutes more they will all be out again at their accustomed labours, just a
little sore about the legs, perhaps, where they have bitten one another, but
no worse for their tumble, and all that will remain of the dreadful cavern
will be a slight depression in the soil.

Satisfied with the result, I resume my solitary ramble, and by-and-by coming
upon a fine Escandalosa bush I resolve to add incendiarism to my list of
misdeeds.  It might appear strange that a bush should be called Escandalosa,
which means simply Scandalous, or, to prevent mistakes, which simply means
Scandalous; but this is one of those quaint names the Argentine peasants
have bestowed on some of their curious plants -- dry love, the devil's
snuff-box, bashful weed, and many others.  The Escandalosa is a
wide-spreading shrub, three to five feet high, thickly clothed with prickly
leaves, and covered all the year round with large pale-yellow immortal
flowers; and the curious thing about the plant is that when touched with
fire it blazes up like {p 131} a pile of wood shavings, and is immediately
consumed to ashes with a marvellous noise of hissing and crackling.  And
thus the bush I have found burns itself up on my placing a lighted match at
its roots.

I enjoy the spectacle amazingly while it lasts, the brilliant tongues of
white flame darting and leaping through the dark foliage making a very
pretty show; but presently, contemplating the heap of white ashes at my feet
where the green miracle, covered with its everlasting flowers, flourished a
moment ago, I begin to feel heartily ashamed of myself.  For how have I
spent my day?  I remember with remorse the practical joke perpetrated on the
simple-minded coots, also the consternation caused to a whole colony of
industrious ants; for the idler looks impatiently on the occupations of
others, and is always glad of an opportunity of showing up the futility of
their labours.  But what motive had I in burning this flowering bush that
neither toiled nor spun, this slow-growing plant, useless amongst plants as
I amongst my fellow-men?  Is it not the fact that something of the spirit of
our simian progenitors survives in us still?  Who that has noticed monkeys
in captivity --  their profound inconsequent gravity and insane delight in
their own unreasonableness -- has not envied them their immunity from cold
criticism?  That intense relief which all men, whether grave or gay,
experience in escaping from conventional trammels into the solitude, what is
it, after all, but the delight of going back to nature, {p 132} to be for a
time, what we are always pining to be, wild animals, unconfined monkeys,
with nothing to restrain us in our gambols, and with only a keener sense of
the ridiculous to distinguish us from other creatures?

But what, I suddenly think, if some person in search of roots and gums, or
only curious to know how a field naturalist spends his days, gunless in the
woods, should be secretly following and watching me all the time?

I spring up alarmed, and cast my eyes rapidly around me.  Merciful heavens!
 what is that suspiciously human-looking object seventy yards away amongst
the bushes?  Ah, relief inexpressible, it is only the pretty hare-like
'Dolichotis patagonica' sitting up on his haunches, gazing at me with a meek
wonder in his large round timid eyes.

The little birds are bolder and come in crowds, peering curiously from every
twig, chirping and twittering with occasional explosions of shrill derisive
laughter.  I feel myself blushing all over my face; their jeering remarks
become intolerable, and, owl-like, I fly from their persecutions to hide
myself in a close thicket.  There, with grey-green curtains about and around
me, I lie on a floor of soft yellow sand, silent and motionless as my
neighbour the little spider seated on his geometric web, till the waning
light and the flute of the tinamou send me home to supper.



{p 133} CHAPTER X


BIRD MUSIC IN SOUTH AMERICA

Summer, winter and spring, it was an unfailing pleasure in Patagonia to
listen to the singing of the birds.  They were most abundant where the
cultivated valley with its groves and orchards was narrowest, and the thorny
wilderness of the upland close at hand; just as in England small birds
abound most where plantations of fruit trees exist side by side with or near
to extensive woods and commons.  In the first there is an unfailing supply
of insect food, the second affords them the wild cover they prefer, and they
pass frequently from one to the other.  At a distance from the river birds
were not nearly so abundant, and in the higher uplands a hundred miles from
the coast they were very scarce.

When the idle fit was on me it was my custom to ramble in the bushy lands
away from the river, especially during the warm spring weather, when there
were some fresh voices to be heard of migrants newly arrived from the
tropics, and the songs of the resident species had acquired a greater vigour
and beauty.  It was a pleasure simply to wander on and on for hours, moving
cautiously among the bushes, pausing at intervals to listen to some new
note; or {p 134} to hide myself and sit or lie motionless in the middle of a
thicket, until the birds forgot or ceased to be troubled at my presence.
The common resident mocking-bird was always present, each bird sitting
motionless on the topmost spray of his favourite thorn, at intervals
emitting a few notes, a phrase, then listening to the others.

But there was one bitter drop in my sweet cup. It vexed my mind and made me
almost unhappy to think that travellers and naturalists from Europe, whose
works were known to me, were either silent or else said very little (and
that mostly depreciatory) of the bird music that was so much to me.
Darwin's few words were especially remembered and rankled most in my mind,
because he was the greatest and had given a good deal of attention to bird
life in southern South America. The highest praise that he gave to a
Patagonian songster was that it had "two or three pleasant notes"; and of
the Calandria mocking-bird, one of the finest melodists in La Plata, he
wrote that it was nearly the only bird he had seen in South America that
regularly took its stand for the purpose of singing; that it was remarkable
for possessing a song superior to that of any other kind, and THAT ITS SONG
RESEMBLED THAT OF THE SEDGE WARBLER!

Speaking of British species, I do not think it could be rightly said that
the song of the sedge warbler resembles that of the song-thrush.  I do think
that the thrush's song often resembles that of the mocking-bird referred to,
also that it would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that all the music {p
135} of the song-thrush might be taken out of the Calandria mocking-bird's
performance and not be very greatly missed.

The desire to say something on this subject was strong in me at that time,
for, leaving aside the larger question of the bird music of South America, I
could not help thinking that these observers had missed the chief excellence
of the songsters known to me.  But I had no title to speak; I had not heard
the nightingale, song-thrush, blackbird, skylark, and all the other members
of that famous choir whose melody has been a delight to our race for so many
ages; I was without the standard which others had, and being without it,
could not be absolutely sure that a mistake had been made, and that the
opinion I had formed of the melodists of my own district was not too high.
Now that I am familiar with the music of British song-birds in a state of
nature the case is different, and I can express myself on the subject
without fear and without doubt.  But I have no intention of speaking in this
place of the South American bird music I know, comparing it with that of
England. And this for two reasons.  One is that I have already written on
this subject in 'Argentine Ornithology' and 'The Naturalist in La Plata'.
The second reason is because bird music, and, indeed, bird sounds generally,
are seldom describable.  We have no symbols to represent such sounds on
paper, hence we are as powerless to convey to another the impression they
make on us as we are to describe the odours of flowers. It is {p 136} hard,
perhaps, to convince ourselves of this powerlessness; in my case the
saddening knowledge was forced on me in such a way that escape was
impossible.  No person at a distance from England could have striven harder
than I did, by inquiring of those who knew and by reading ornithological
works, to get a just idea of the songs of British birds.  Yet all my pains
were wasted, as I found out afterwards when I heard them, and when almost
every song came to me as a surprise.  It could not have been otherwise.  To
name only half a dozen of the lesser British melodists:  the little jets of
brilliant melody spurted out by the robin; the more sustained lyric of the
wren, sharp, yet delicate:  the careless half-song, half-recitative of the
common warbler; the small fragments of dreamy aerial music emitted by the
wood wren amidst the high translucent foliage; the hurried, fantastic medley
of liquid and grating sounds of the reed warbler; the song, called by some a
twitter, of the swallow, in which the quick, upleaping notes seem to dance
in the air, to fall more than one at a time on the sense, as if more than
one bird sang, spontaneous and glad as the laughter of some fairy-like,
unimaginable child -- who can give any idea of such sounds as these with
such symbols as words!  It is easy to say that a song is long or short,
varied or monotonous, that a note is sweet, clear, mellow, strong, weak,
loud, shrill, sharp, and so on; but from all this we get no idea of the
distinctive character of the sound, since these words describe only class,
or generic qualities, not {p 137} the specific and individual.  It sometimes
seems to help us, in describing a song, to give its feeling, when it strikes
us as possessing some human feeling, and call it joyous, glad, plaintive,
tender, and so on; but this is, after all, a rough expedient, and, often as
not misleads.  Thus, in the case of the nightingale, I had been led by
reading to expect to hear a distinctly plaintive song, and found it so far
from plaintive that I was swayed to the opposite extreme, and pronounced it
(with Coleridge) a glad song.  But by-and-by I dismissed this notion as
equally false with the other; the more I listened the more I admired the
purity of sound in some notes, the exquisite phrasing, the beautiful
contrasts; the art was perfect, but there was no passion in it all -- no
HUMAN feeling.  Feeling of some un-human kind there perhaps was, but not
gladness, such as we imagine in the skylark's song, and certainly not
sorrow, nor anything sad.  Again, when we listen to a song that all have
agreed to call "tender," we perhaps recognise some quality that faintly
resembles, or affects us like, the quality of tenderness in human speech or
vocal music; but if we think for a moment, we are convinced that it is not
tenderness, that the effect is not quite the same; that we have so described
it only because we have no suitable word; that there is really no suggestion
of human feeling in it.

The old method of SPELLING bird notes and sounds still finds favour with
some easy-going naturalists, and it is possible that those who use it do
actually believe that the printed word represents some avian {p 138} sound
to the reader, and that those who have never heard the sound can by this
simple means get an idea of it; just as certain arbitrary marks or signs on
a sheet of written music represent human sounds.  It is fancy and a
delusion.  We have not yet invented any system of arbitrary signs to
represent bird sounds, nor are we likely to invent such a system, because,
in the first place, we do not properly know the sounds, and, owing to their
number and character, cannot properly know more than a very few of them;
and, in the second place, because they are different in each species:  and
just as our human notation represents solely our human specific sounds, so a
notation of one bird's language, that of the skylark, let us say, would not
apply to the language of another species, the nightingale, say, on account
of the difference in quality and timbre of the two.

One cause of the extreme difficulty of describing bird sounds so as to give
anything approaching to a correct idea of them, lies in the fact that in
most of them, from the loudest -- the clanging scream or call that may be
heard a distance of two or three miles -- to the faintest tinkling or
lisping note that might be emitted by a creature no bigger than a fly, there
is a certain aerial quality which makes them differ from all other sounds.
Doubtless several causes contribute to give them this character.  There is
the great development of the vocal organ, which makes the voice, albeit
finer, more far-reaching than that of other creatures of equal size or
larger.  The body in birds is less solid; it is filled with air in the {p
139} bones and feathers, and acts differently as a sounding board;
furthermore, the extremely distensible esophagus, although it has no
connection with the trachea, is puffed out with swallowed air when the bird
emits its notes, and this air, both when retained and when released, in some
way affects the voice.  Then, again, the bird sings or calls, as a rule,
from a greater elevation, and does not sit squat, like a toad, on his perch,
but being lifted above it on his slender legs, the sounds he emits acquire a
greater resonance.

There are bird sounds which may be, and often are, likened to other sounds;
to bells, to the clanging produced by blows on an anvil, and to various
other metallic noises; and to strokes on tightly-drawn metal strings; also
to the more or less musical sounds we are able to draw from wood and bone,
and from vessels of glass by striking them or drawing the moistened
finger-tips along their rims.  There are also sounds resembling those that
are uttered by mammalians, as bellowings, lowings, bleatings, neighings,
barkings, and yelpings.  Others simulate the sounds of various musical
instruments, and human vocal sounds, as of talking, humming a tune,
whistling, laughing, moaning, sneezing, coughing, and so on.  But in all
these, or in a very large majority, there is an airy resonant quality which
tells you, even in a deep wood, in the midst of an unfamiliar fauna, that
the new and strange sound is uttered by a bird.  The clanging anvil is in
the clouds; the tinkling bell is somewhere in the air, suspended on nothing;
the {p 140} invisible human creatures that whistle, and hum airs, and
whisper to one another, and clap their hands and laugh, are not bound, like
ourselves, to earth, but float hither and thither as they list.

Something of this serial character is acquired by other sounds, even by the
most terrestrial, when heard at a distance in a quiet atmosphere.  And some
of our finer sounds, as those of the flute and bugle and flageolet, and some
others, when heard faintly in the open air, have the airy character of bird
notes; with this difference, that they are dim and indistinct to the sense,
while the bird's note, although so airy, is of all sounds the most distinct.

Mr. John Burroughs, in his excellent 'Impressions of some British Song
Birds', has said, that many of the American songsters are shy wood-birds,
seldom seen or heard near the habitations of man, while nearly all the
British birds are semi-domesticated, and sing in gardens and orchards; that
this fact, in connection with their more soft and plaintive voices, made
American song birds seem less to the European traveller than his own.  This
statement would hold good, and even gain in force, if for North America we
should substitute the hot or larger part of South America, or of the
Neotropical region, which comprises the whole of America sounth of the
Isthmus of Tehuantepec.  Throughout the tropical and sub-tropical portions
of this region, which is vastly richer inspecies than the northern half of
the continent, the songsters certainly do not, {p 141} like those of Europe,
mass themselves about the habitations of men, as if sweet voices were given
to them solely for the delectation of human listeners:  they are
pre-eminently birds of the wild forest, marsh, and savannah, and if one of
their chief merits has been overlooked, it is because the European
naturalist and collector, whose object is to obtain many specimens, and some
new forms, has no time to make himself acquainted with the life habits and
faculties of the species he meets with.  Again, bird life is extremely
scarce in some places within the tropics, and in the deep forest it is often
wholly absent.  Of British Guiana, Mr. im Thurn writes:  "The almost entire
absence of sweet bird-notes at once strikes the traveller who comes from
thrush-  and warbler-haunted temperate lands."  And Bates says of the
Amazonian forests: "The few sounds of birds are of that pensive and
mysterious character which intensifies the feeling of solitude rather than
imparts a sense of life and cheerfulness."

It is not only this paucity of bird life in large tracts of country which
has made the tropics seem to the European imagination a region "where birds
forget to sing," and has caused many travellers and naturalists to express
so poor an opinion of South American bird music.  There remains in most
minds something of that ancient notion that brilliant-plumaged birds emit
only harsh disagreeable sounds -- the macaw and peacock are examples; while
the sober-coloured birds of temperate regions, especially of Europe, have
the gift of melody; that sweet {p 142} notes are heard in England, and
piercing cries and grating screams within the tropics.  As a fact the
dull-plumaged species in the hot regions greatly outnumber those that are
gaily-coloured. To mention only two South American passerine families, the
woodhewers and ant-birds, numbering together nearly five hundred species, or
as many as all the species of birds in Europe, are with scarcely an
exception sober-coloured.  The melodious goldfinch, yellow bunting, linnet,
blue tit, chaffinch, and yellow wagtail would look very gay and conspicuous
among them.  Yet these sober-coloured tropical birds I have mentioned are
not singers.

It must also be borne in mind that South America embraces a great variety of
climates; that all the vast region, which comprises Chili, the southern half
of Argentina, and Patagonia, is in the temperate zone.  Also, that a large
proportion of the South American songsters belong to families that are
universal, in which all the finest voices of Europe are included --
thrushes, warblers, wrens, larks, finches.  The true thrushes are well
represented, and some differ but slightly from European forms -- the whistle
of the Argentine blackbird is sometimes mistaken by Englishmen for that of
the smaller home bird. The mocking-birds form a group of the same family
(Turdidae), but with more highly-developed vocal powers.  It is true that
the tanagers, numbering about four hundred species, mostly
brilliantly-coloured, some rivalling the humming-birds in the vivid tints
and metallic lustre of their plumage, {p 143} form an exclusively
Neotropical family; but they are closely related to the finches, and in the
genera in which these two great and melodious families touch and mingle, it
is impossible to say of many species which are finches and which tanagers.
Another purely American family, with a hundred and thirty known species, a
large majority adorned with rich or brilliant or gay and strongly-contrasted
colours, are the troupials -- Icteridae; and these are closely related to
the starlings of the Old World.

Finally, it may be added that the true melodists of the Neotropical region
-- the passerine birds of the sub-order Oscines, which have the developed
vocal organ -- number about twelve hundred species:  -- a big fact when it
is remembered that of the five hundred species of birds in Europe, only two
hundred and five at the most are classed as songsters, inclusive of
fly-catchers, corvine birds and many others which have no melody.

It is clear then, from these facts and figures, that South America is not
wanting in songsters, that, on the contrary, it surpasses all other regions
of the globe of equal extent in number of species.

It only remains to say something on another matter -- namely, the character
and value of the music.  And here the reader might think that I have got
myself into a quandary, since I began by complaining of the unworthy opinion
expressed by European writers of the melodists of my country, and at the
same time disclaimed any intention of attempting to describe their melody
myself, {p 144} comparing it with that of England.  Fortunately for my
purpose, not all the travellers in South America, whose words carry weight,
have turned a deaf or unappreciative ear to the bird music of the great bird
continent:  there are notable exceptions; from these I shall proceed to
quote a few passages in support of my contention, beginning with Felix de
Azara, a contemporary of Buffon, and concluding with the two most
illustrious travellers of our own day who have visited South America --
Wallace and Bates.

Of Darwin it need only be added that his words on the subject of the songs
of birds are so few and of so little value that it is probable that this
kind of natural melody gave him little or no pleasure.  It is not unusual to
meet with those who are absolutely indifferent to it, just as there are
others who are not pleasurably moved by human music, vocal or instrumental.

In Spain Azara had been familiar from childhood with the songsters of
Europe, and in Paraguay and La Plata he paid great attention to the language
of the species he describes.  In his ever fresh 'Apuntamientos' he says:
"They are mistaken who think there are not as many and as good songsters
here as in Europe"; and in the Introduction to the same work, referring to
Buffon's opinion concerning the inferiority of the American songsters, he
writes:  "But if a choir of singers were selected in the Old World, and
compared with one of equal number gathered in Paraguay, I am not sure which
would {p 145} win the victory."  Of the house-wren of La Plata ('Troglodytes
furvus') Azara says that its song is "in style comparable to that of the
nightingale, although its phrases are not so delicate and expressive;
nevertheless I count it among the first singers."  This opinion (with Daines
Barrington's misleading table in my mind) made me doubt the correctness of
his judgment, or memory, the wren in question being an exceedingly cheerful
singer; but when I came to hear the nightingale, about whose song I had
formed so false an idea, it seemed to me that Azara was not far out.
Nothing here surprised me more than the song of the British wren -- a
current of sharp high unshaded notes, so utterly different to the brilliant,
joyous and varied lyric of his near relation in that distant land.

The melodious wren family counts many genera, rich in species, throughout
the Neotropical region:  and just as in that continent the thrushes have
developed a more varied and beautiful music in the mocking-birds, so it has
been with the family in such genera as 'Thyothorus' and 'Cyphorhinus', which
include the celebrated flute-birds and organ-birds of tropical South
America.  D'Orbigny, in the 'Voyage dans l'Amerique Meridionale', speaks
rapturously of one of these wrens, perched on a bough overhanging the
torrent, where its rich melodious voice seemed in strange contrast to the
melancholy aspect of its surroundings.  Its voice, he says, which is not
comparable to anything we have in Europe, exceeds that of the nightingale in
volume and expression. {p 146} Frequently it sounds like a melody rendered
by a flute at a great distance; at other times its sweet and varied cadences
are mingled with clear piercing tones and deep throat-notes.  We have really
no words, he concludes, adequate to express the effects of this song, heard
in the midst of a nature so redundant, and of mountain scenery so wild and
savage.

Mr. Simson, in his 'Travels in the Wilds of Ecuador', writes quite as
enthusiastically of a species of 'Cyphorhinus' common in that country. It
was the mellowest, most beautiful bird music he had ever heard; the song was
not quite the same in all individuals, and in tone resembled the most
sweet-sounding flute; the musical correctness of the notes was astonishing,
and made one imagine the sounds to be produced by human agency.

Even more valuable is the testimony of Bates, one of the least impressible
of the savants who have resided in tropical South America; yet his account
of the bird is not less fascinating that that of D'Orbigny.  "I frequently
heard," he writes, "in the neighbourhood of these huts the realejo, or
organ-bird (Cyphorhinus cantans), the most remarkable songster by far of the
Amazonian forest.  When its singular notes strike the ear for the first
time, the impression cannot be resisted that they are produced by a human
voice. Some musical boy must be gathering fruits in the thicket, and is
singing a few notes to cheer himself.  The tones become more fluty and
plaintive; they are now those of a flageolet, and notwithstanding the utter
impossibility of the {p 147} thing, one is for a moment convinced that
someone is playing that instrument . . . .  It is the only songster which
makes an impression on the natives, who sometimes rest their paddles whilst
travelling in their small canoes, along the shady by-paths, as if struck by
the mysterious sound." The sound must be wonderful indeed to produce such an
effect!

To finish with quotations, the following sensible passage from Wallace's
'Amazon and Rio Negro' should help us greatly in getting rid of an ancient
error:  "We are inclined to think that the general statement, that the birds
of the tropics have a deficiency of song proportionate to their brilliancy
of plumage, requires to be modified.  Many of the brilliant birds of the
tropics belong to families or groups which have no song; but our most
brilliantly-coloured birds, as the goldfinch and canary, are not less
musical, and there are many beautiful little birds here which are equally
so.  We heard notes resembling those of the blackbird and robin, and one
bird gave forth three or four sweet plaintive notes that particularly
attracted our attention; while many have peculiar cries, in which words may
be traced by the fanciful, and which in the stillness of the forest have a
very pleasing effect."

To return, before concluding, to Azara's remark about a choir of birds
selected in Paraguay.  It seems to me that when the best singers of any two
districts have been compared and a verdict arrived at, something more
remains to be said. The dulcet strains of a few of the most highly-esteemed
songsters {p 148} contribute only a part, by no means the largest part, of
the pleasure we receive from the bird sounds of any district.  All natural
sounds produce agreeable sensations in the healthy:  the patter of rain on
the forest leaves, the murmur of the wind, the lowing of kine, the dash of
waves on the beach: and so, coming to birds, the piercing tones of the
sandpiper, and wail of the curlew; the cries of passing migrants; the cawing
of rooks in the elms, and hooting of owls, and the startling scream of the
jay in the wood, give us pleasure, scarcely less than that produced by the
set song of any melodist.  There is a charm in the infinite variety of bird
sounds heard in the forests and marshes of southern South America, where
birds are perhaps most abundant, exceeding that of many monotonously
melodious voices; the listener would not willingly lose any of the
indescribable sounds emitted by the smaller species, nor the screams and
human-like calls, or solemn deep boomings and drummings of the larger kinds,
or even the piercing shrieks which may be heard miles away. Those tremendous
voices, that never break the quiet and almost silence of an English
woodland, affect us like the sight of mountains, and torrents, and the sound
of thunder and of billows breaking on the shore; we are amazed at the
boundless energy and overflowing joy of wild bird life.  The bird-language
of an English wood or orchard, made up in most part of melodious tones, may
be compared to a band composed entirely of small wind instruments with a
limited range of sound, and which produces no storms {p 149} of noise,
eccentric flights, and violent contrasts, nor anything to startle the
listener -- a sweet but somewhat tame performance.  the South American
forest has more the character of an orchestra, in which a countless number
of varied instruments take part in a performance in which there are many
noisy discords, while the tender spiritual tones heard at intervals seem, by
contrast, infinitely sweet and precious.



{p 150} CHAPTER XI


SIGHT IN SAVAGES

In Patagonia I added something to my small stock of private facts concerning
eyes -- their appearance, colour, and expression -- and vision, subjects
which have had a mild attraction for me as long as I can remember.  When, as
a boy, I mixed with the gauchos of the pampas, there was one among them who
greatly awed me by his appearance and character.  He was distinguished among
his fellows by his tallness, the thickness of his eyebrows and the great
length of his crow-black beard, the form and length of his 'facon', or
knife, which was nothing but a sword worn knife-wise, and the ballads he
composed, in which were recounted, in a harsh tuneless voice to the
strum-strum of a guitar, the hand-to-hand combats he had had with others of
his class -- fighters and desperadoes -- and in which he had always been the
victor, for his adversaries had all been slain to a man.  But his eyes, his
most wonderful feature, impressed me more than anything else; for one was
black and the other dark blue.  All other strange and extranatural things in
nature, of which I had personal knowledge, as, for instance, mushrooms
growing in rings, and the shrinking of the {p 151} sensitive plant when
touched, and will-o'-the-wisps, and crowing hens, and the murderous attack
of social birds and beasts on one of their fellows, seemed less strange and
wonderful than the fact that this man's eyes did not correspond, but were
the eyes of two men, as if there had been two natures and souls in one body.
 My astonishment was, perhaps, not unaccountable, when we reflect that the
eye is to us the window of the mind or soul, that it expresses the soul, and
is, as it were, the soul itself materialised.  Some person lately published
in England a book entitled 'Soul-Shapes', treating not only of the shapes of
souls but also of their colour. The letterpress of this work interests me
less than the coloured plates adorning it.  Passing over the mixed and
vari-coloured souls, which resemble, in the illustrations, coloured maps in
an atlas, we come to the blue soul, for which the author has a very special
regard.  Its blue is like that of the commonest type of blue eye.  This
curious fancy of a blue soul probably originated in the close association of
eye and soul in the mind.  It is worthy of note that while the mixed and
other coloured souls seem very much out of shape, like an old felt hat or a
stranded jelly-fish, the pure-coloured blue soul is round, like an iris, and
only wanted a pupil to be made an eye.

But the subject of the colour and expression of eyes in man and animals must
be reserved for the next chapter; in the present chapter I shall confine
myself to the subject of vision in savage and semi-barbarous men as compared
with ours.

{p 152} Here again I recall an incident of my boyhood, and am not sure that
it was not this that first gave me an interest in the subject.

One summer day at home, I was attentively listening, out of doors, to a
conversation between two men, both past middle life and about the same age,
one an educated Englishman, wearing spectacles, the other a native, who was
very impressive in his manner, and was holding forth in a loud authoritative
voice on a variety of subjects.  All at once he fixed his eyes on the
spectacles worn by the other, and, bursting into a laugh, cried out, "Why do
you always wear those eye-hiding glasses straddled across your nose? Are
they supposed to make a man look handsomer or wiser than his fellows, or do
you, a sensible person, really believe that you can see better than another
man because of them?  If so, then all I can say is that it is a fable, a
delusion; no man can believe such a thing."

He was only expressing the feeling that all persons of his class, whose
lives are passed in the semi-barbarous conditions of the gauchos on the
pampas, experience at the sight of such artificial helps to vision as
spectacles.  They look through a pane of common glass, and it makes the view
no clearer, but rather dimmer -- how can the two diminutive circular panes
carried before the eyes produce any other effect?  Besides, their sight as a
rule is good when they are young, and as they progress in life they are not
conscious of decadence in it; from infancy to old age the world looks, they
imagine, {p 153} the same, the grass as green, the sky as blue as ever, and
the scarlet verbenas in the grass just as scarlet.  The man lives in his
sight; it is his life; he speaks of the loss of it as a calamity great as
loss of reason.  To see spectacles amuses and irritates him at the same
time; he has the monkey's impulse to snatch the idle things from his
fellow's nose; for not only is it useless to the wearer, and a sham, but it
is annoying to others, who do not like to look at a man and not properly see
his eyes, and the thought that is in them.

To the mocking speech he had made the other good-humouredly replied that he
had worn glasses for twenty years, that not only did they enable him to see
much better than he could without them, but they had preserved his sight
from further decadence.  Not satisfied with defending himself against the
charge of being a fantastical person for wearing glasses, he in his turn
attacked the mocker.  "How do you know," he said, "that your own eyesight
has not degenerated with time?  You can only ascertain that by trying on a
number of glasses suited to a variety of sights, all in some degree
defective.  A score of men with decaying sight may be together, and in no
two will the sight be the same.  You must try on spectacles, as you try on
boots, until you find a pair to fit you.  You may try mine if you like; our
years are the same, and it is just possible that our eyes may be in the same
condition."

The gaucho laughed a loud and scornful laugh, and exclaimed that the idea
was too ridiculous. {p 154} "What, see better with this thing!" and he took
them gingerly in his hand, and held them up to examine them, and finally put
them on his nose -- something in the spirit of the person who takes a
newspaper twisted into the shape of an extinguisher, and puts it on his
head.  He looked at the other, then at me, then stared all round him, with
an expression of utter astonishment, and in the end burst out in loud
exclamations of delight.  For, strange to say, the glasses exactly suited
his vision, which, unknown to him, had probably been decaying for years.
"Angels of heaven, what is this I see!" he shouted.  "What makes the trees
look so green -- they were never so green before!  And so distinct -- I can
count their leaves!  And the cart over there -- why, it is red as blood!"
And to satisfy himself that it had not just been freshly painted he ran over
to it and placed his hand on the wood.  It proved hard to convince him that
objects had once looked as distinct, and leaves as green, and the sky as
blue, and red paint as red, to his natural sight, as they now did through
those magical glasses. The distinctness and brightness seemed artificial and
uncanny.  But in the end he was convinced, and then he wanted to keep the
spectacles, and pulled out his money to pay for them there and then, and was
very much put out when their owner insisted on having them back.  However,
shortly afterwards a pair was got for him; and with these on his nose he
galloped about the country, exhibiting them to all his neighbours, and
boasting of the miraculous {p 155} power they imparted to his eyes of seeing
the world as no one else could see it.

My Patagonian host and friend, whose intimate knowledge of cards I have
mentioned in a former chapter, once informed me that always after the first
few rounds of a game he knew some of the cards, and could recognise them as
they were being dealt out, by means of certain slight shades of difference
in the colouring of the backs.  He had turned his attention to this business
when very young, and as he was close upon fifty when he imparted this
interesting piece of information, and had always existed comfortably on his
winnings, I saw no reason to disbelieve what he told me.  Yet this very man,
whose vision was keen enough to detect differences in cards so slight that
another could not see them, even when pointed out -- this preternaturally
sharp-eyed individual was greatly surprised when I explained to him that
half a dozen birds of the sparrow kind, that fed in his courtyard, and sang
and built their nests in his garden and vineyard and fields, were not one
but six distinct species.  He had never seen any difference in them:  they
all had the same customs, the same motions; in size, colour, and shape they
were all one; to his hearing they all chirped and twittered alike, and
warbled the same song.

And as it was with this man, so, to some extent, it is with all of us.  that
special thing which interests us, and in which we find our profit or
pleasure, we see very distinctly, and our memories are singularly {p 156}
tenacious of its image; while other things, in which we take only a general
interest, or which are nothing to us, are not seen so sharply, and soon
become blurred in memory; and if there happens to be a pretty close
resemblance in several of them, as in the case of my gambling friend's
half-a-dozen sparrows, which, like snowflakes, were "seen rather than
distinguished," this indistinctness of their images on the eye and the mind
causes them all to appear alike.  We have, as it were, two visions -- one to
which all objects appear vividly and close to us, and are permanently
photographed on the mind; the other which sees things at a distance, and
with that indistinctness of outline and uniformity of colour which distance
gives.

In this place I had proposed to draw on my La Plata note-books for some
amusing illustrations of this fact of our two sights; but it is not
necessary to go so far afield for illustrations, or to insist on a thing so
familiar.  "The shepherd knows his sheep," is a saying just as true of this
country -- of Scotland, at all events -- as of the far East.  Detectives,
also military men who take an interest in their profession, see faces more
sharply than most people, and remember them as distinctly as others remember
the faces of a very limited number of individuals -- of those they love or
fear or constantly associate with.  Sailors see atmospheric changes which
are not apparent to others; and, in the like manner, the physician detects
the signs of malady in faces which to the uninstructed vision seem healthy
enough.  And so {p 157} on through the whole range of professions and
pursuits which men have; each person inhabits a little world of his own, as
it were, which to others is only part of the distant general blueness
obscuring all things, but in which, to him, every object stands out with
wonderful clearness, and plainly tells its story.

All this may sound very trite, very trivial, and matter of common knowledge
-- so common as to be known to every schoolboy, and to the boy that goeth
not to school; yet it is because this simple familiar fact has been ignored,
or has not always been borne in mind by our masters, that they have taught
us an error, namely, that savages are our superiors in visual power, and
that the difference is so great that ours is a dim decaying sense compared
with their brilliant faculty, and that only when we survey the prospect
through powerful field-glasses do we rise to their level, and see the world
as they see it.  The truth is that the savage sight is no better than ours,
although it might seem natural enough to think the contrary, on account of
their simple natural life in the desert, which is always green and restful
to the eye, or supposed to be so; and because they have no gas nor even
candlelight to irritate the visual nerve, and do themselves no injury by
poring over miserable books.

Possibly, then, the beginning of the error was in this preconceived notion,
that greenness and the absence of artificial light, with other conditions of
a primitive life, keep the sight from deteriorating. {p 158} The eye's
adaptiveness did not get sufficient credit.  We know how the muscles may be
developed by training, that the blacksmith and the prizefighter have
mightier arms than others; but it was perhaps assumed that the complex
structure and extreme delicacy of the eye would make it less adaptive than
other and coarser organs. Whatever the origin of the error may have been, it
is certain that it has received the approval of scientists, and that they
never open their lips on the subject except to give it fresh confirmation.
Their researches have brought to light a great variety of eye-troubles,
which, in many cases, are not troublesome at all, until they are discovered,
named with a startling name, and described in terms very alarming to persons
of timid character.  Frequently they are not maladies, but inherited
defects, like bandy legs, prominent teeth, crushed toes, tender skin, and
numberless other malformations.  That such eye-defects are as common among
savages as among ourselves, I do not say, and to this matter I shall return
later on; but until the eyes of savages are scientifically examined, it
seems a very bold thing to say that defective colour-sense is due to the
inimical conditions of our civilisation; for we know as little about the
colour-sense of savages as we do about the colour-sense of the old Greeks.
That the savage sight is vastly more powerful than ours was perhaps not so
bold a thing to say, seeing that in this matter our teachers were misled by
travellers' tales, and perhaps by other considerations, as, for instance,
the absence of artificial aids to {p 159} sight among the children of
nature.  The redskin may be very old, but as he sits sunning himself before
his wigwam in the early morning he is never observed to trombone his
newspaper.

The reader may spare himself the trouble of smiling, for this is not mere
supposition; in this case observation came first and reflection afterwards,
for I happen to know something of savages from experience, and when they
were using their eyes in their way, and for their purposes, I used mine for
my purpose, which was different. It is true that the redskin will point you
out an object in the distance and tell its character, and it will be to your
sight only a dark-coloured object, which might be a bush, or stone, or
animal of some large kind, or even a house.  The secret of the difference is
that his eye is trained and accustomed to see certain things, which he looks
for and expects to find.  Put him where the conditions are new to him and he
will be at fault; or, even on his native heath, set him before an unfamiliar
or unexpected object, and he will show no superiority over his civilised
brother.  I have witnessed one instance in which not one but five men were
all in fault, and made a wrong guess; while the one person of our party who
guessed correctly, or saw better perhaps, was a child of civilisation and a
reader of books, and, what is perhaps even more, the descendant of a long
line of bookish men.  This amazed me at the moment, for until then my
childlike faith in the belief of Humboldt, and of the world generally, on
the subject had {p 160} never been disturbed.  Now I see how this curious
thing happened.  The object was at such a distance that to all of us alike
it presented no definite form, but was merely something dark, standing
against a hoary background of tall grass-plumes.  Our guides, principally
regarding its size, at once guessed it to be an animal which they no doubt
expected to find in that place -- namely, a wild horse.  The other, who did
not have that training of the eye and mind for distant objects in the desert
which is like an instinct, and, like instinct, is liable to mistakes, and
who carefully studied its appearance for himself, pronounced it to be a dark
bush.  When we got near it turned out to be a clump of tall bulrushes,
growing in a place where they had no business to grow, and burnt by drought
and frosts to so dark a brown that at a distance they seemed quite black.

In the following case the savage was right.  I pointed out an object, dark,
far off, so low down as to be just visible above the tall grasses, passing
with a falling and rising motion like that of a horseman going at a swinging
gallop. "There goes a mounted man," I remarked.  "No -- a traru," returned
my companion, after one swift glance; the traru being a large, black,
eagle-like bird of the plains, the carancho of the whites -- 'Polyborus
tharus'.  But the object was not necessarily more distinct to him than to
me; he could not see wings and beak at that distance; but the trarú was a
familiar object, which he was accustomed to see at all distances -- a figure
in the landscape which he looked for and expected {p 161} to find.  It was
only a dark blot on the horizon; but he knew the animal's habits and
appearance, and that when seen far off, in its low down, dilatory, rising
and falling flight, it simulates the appearance of a horseman in full
gallop.  To know this and a few other things was his vocation.  If one had
set him to find a reversed little "s" in the middle of a closely-printed
page the tears would have run down his brown cheeks, and he would have
abandoned the vain quest with aching eyeballs.  Yet the proof-reader can
find the reversed little "s" in a few moments, without straining his sight.
 But it is infinitely more important to the savage of the plains than to us
to see distant moving objects quickly and guess their nature correctly.  His
daily food, the recovery of his lost animals, and his personal safety depend
on it; and it is not, therefore, strange that every blot of dark colour,
every moving and motionless object on the horizon, tells its story better to
him than to a stranger; especially when we consider how small a variety of
objects he is called on to see and judge of in the level monotonous region
he inhabits.

This quick judging of dimly-seen distant things, the eye- and
mind-achievement of the mounted barbarian on the unobstructed plains, is not
nearly so admirable as that of his fellow-savage in sub-tropical regions
overspread with dense vegetation, with animal life in great abundance and
variety, and where half the attention must be given to species dangerous to
man, often very small in size.  In some hot humid forest districts, the
European who should {p 162} attempt to hunt or explore with bare feet and
legs would be pricked and lacerated at almost every step of his progress,
and probably get bitten by a serpent before the day's end.  Yet the Indian
passes his life there, and, naked or half naked, explores the unknown
wilderness of thorns, and has only his arrows to provide food for himself
and his wife and children.  He does not get pierced with thorns and bitten
by serpents, because his eye is nicely trained to pick them out in time to
save himself.  He walks rapidly, but he knows every shade of green, every
smooth and crinkled leaf, in that dense tangle, full of snares and
deceptions, through which he is obliged to walk; and much as leaf resembles
leaf, he sets his foot where he can safely set it, or, quickly choosing
between two evils, where the prickles and thorns are softest, or, for some
reason known to him, hurt least.  In like manner he distinguishes the
coiled-up venomous snake, although it lies so motionless -- a habit common
to the most deadly kinds -- and in its dull imitative colouring is so
difficult to be distinguished on the brown earth, and among grey sticks and
sere and variegated leaves.

A friend of mine, Fontana of Buenos Ayres, who has a life-long acquaintance
with the Argentine Indians, expresses the opinion that at the age of twelve
years the savage of the pampas has completed his education, and is
thereafter able to take care of himself; but that the savage of the Gran
Chaco -- the sub-tropical Argentine territory bordering on Paraguay and
Bolivia -- if left to shift for {p 163} himself at that age would speedily
perish, since he is then only in the middle of his long, difficult, and
painful apprenticeship.  It was curious and pitiful, he says, to see the
little Indian children in the Chaco, when their skins were yet tender,
stealing away from their mother, and trying to follow the larger ones
playing at a distance.  At every step they would fall, and get pricked with
thorns or cut with sharp-edged rushes, and tangled in the creepers, and hurt
and crying they would struggle on, and in this painful manner learn at last
where to set their feet.

The snake on the ground, coloured like the ground, and shaped like the dead
curved sticks or vines seen everywhere on the ground, and motionless like
the vine, does not more closely assimilate to its surroundings than birds in
trees often do -- the birds which the Indian must also see.  A stranger in
these regions, even the naturalist with a sight quickened by enthusiasm,
finds it hard to detect a parrot in a lofty tree, even when he knows that
parrots are there; for their greenness in the green foliage, and the
correlated habit they possess of remaining silent and motionless in the
presence of an intruder, make them invisible to him, and he is astonished
that the Indian should be able to detect them. The Indian knows how to look
for them; it is his trade, which is long to learn; but he is obliged to
learn it, for his success in life, and even life itself, depends on it,
since in the savage state Nature kills those who fail in her competitive
examinations.

The reader has doubtless often seen those little {p 164} picture-puzzles,
variously labelled "Where's the Cat?" or "Mad Bull," or "Burglar," or
"Policeman," or "Snake in the Grass," etc., in which the thing named and to
be discovered is formed by branches and foliage, and by running water, and
drapery, and lights and shadows in the sketch.  At first one finds it
extremely difficult to detect this picture within a picture; and at last --
with the suddenness with which one invariably detects a dull-coloured snake,
seen previously but not distinguished -- the object sought for appears, and
is thereafter so plain to the eye that one cannot look at the sketch, even
held at a distance, without seeing the cat, or policeman, or whatever it
happens to be.  And after patiently studying some scores or hundreds of
these puzzles one gets to know just how to find the thing concealed, and
finds it quickly -- almost at a glance at last.  Now the ingenious person
that first invented this pretty puzzle probably had no thought of Nature,
with her curious imitative and protective resemblances, in his mind; yet he
might very well have taken the hint from Nature, for this is what she does.
 The animal that must be seen to be avoided, and the animal that must be
seen to be taken, are there in her picture, sketched in with such cunning
art that to the uninstructed eye they form only portions of branch and
foliage and shadow and sunlight above, and dull-hued or variegated earth and
stones and dead and withering herbage underneath.

It is possible that slight differences may exist in the seeing powers of
different nations, due to the {P 165} effect of physical conditions:  thus,
the inhabitants of mountainous districts and of dry elevated table-lands may
have a better sight than dwellers in low, humid, and level regions, although
just the reverse may be the case.  Among European nations the Germans are
generally supposed to have weak eyes, owing, some imagine, to their
excessive indulgence in tobacco; while others attribute the supposed decay
to the form of type used in their books, which requires closer looking at
than ours in reading.  That they will deteriorate still further in this
direction, and from being a spectacled people become a blind one, to the joy
of their enemies, is not likely to happen, and probably the decadence has
been a great deal exaggerated. Animals living in darkness become
near-sighted, and then nearer-sighted still, and so on progressively until
the vanishing point is reached.  In a community or nation a similar decline
might begin from much reading of German books, or perpetual smoking of pipes
with big china bowls, or from some other unknown cause; but the decay could
not progress far, because there is nothing in man to take the place of
sight, as there is in the blind cave rats and fishes and insects.  And if we
could survey mankind from China to Peru with all the scientific appliances
which are brought to bear on the Board-school children in London, and on the
nation generally, the differences in the powers of vision in the various
races, nations, and tribes would probably appear very insignificant.  The
mistake which eye specialists and writers on the eye {p 166} make is that
they think too much about the eye. When they affirm that the conditions of
our civilisation are highly injurious to the sight, do they mean all the
million conditions, or sets of conditions, embraced by our system, with the
infinite variety of occupations and modes of living which men have, from the
lighthouse-keeper to the worker underground, whose day is the dim glimmer of
a miner's lamp?  "An organ exercised beyond its wont will grow, and thus
meet increase of demand by increase of supply," Herbert Spencer says; but,
he adds, there is a limit soon reached, beyond which it is impossible to go.
This increase of demand with us is everywhere -- now on this organ and now
on that, according to our work and way of life, and the eye is in no worse
case than the other organs.  There are among us many cases of heart
complaint; civilisation, in such cases, has put too great a strain on that
organ, and it has reached the limit beyond which it cannot go.  And so with
the eye.  The total number of the defective among us is no doubt very large,
for we know that our system of life retards -- it cannot effectually prevent
-- the healthy action of natural selection.  Nature pulls one way and we
pull the other, compassionately trying to save the unfit from the
consequences of their unfitness.  The humane instinct compels us; but the
cruel instinct of the savage is less painful to contemplate than that
mistaken or perverted compassion which seeks to perpetuate unfitness, and in
the interest of suffering individuals inflicts a lasting injury on the race.
 It {p 167} is a beautiful and sacred thing to minister to the blind, and to
lead them, but a horrible thing to encourage them to marry and transmit the
miserable defective condition to their posterity. Yet this is very common;
and not long ago a leader-writer in one of the principal London journals
spoke of this very thing in terms of rapturous approval, and looked forward
to the growth of a totally blind race of men among us, as though it were
something to be proud of -- a triumph of our civilisation!

Pelleschi, in his admirable book on the Chaco Indians, says that
malformations are never seen in these savages, that physically they are all
perfect men; and he remarks that in their exceedingly hard struggle for
existence in a thorny wilderness, beset with perils, any bodily defect or
ailment would be fatal.  And as the eye in their life is the most important
organ, it must be an eye without flaw.  In this circumstance only do savages
differ from us -- namely, in the absence or rarity of defective eyes among
them; and when those who, like Dr. Brudenell Carter, believe in the
decadence of the eye in civilised man quote Humboldt's words about the
miraculous sight of South American savages, they quote an error.  It is not
strange that Humboldt should have fallen into it, for after all, he had only
the means which we all possess of finding out things -- a limited sight and
a fallible mind.  Like the savage, he had trained his faculties to observe
and infer, and his inferences, like those of the savage, were sometimes
wrong.

{p 168} The savage sight is no better than ours for the simple reason that a
better is not required.  Nature has given to him, as to all her creatures,
only what was necessary, and nothing for ostentation.  Standing on the
ground, his horizon is a limited one; and the animals he preys on, if often
sharper-eyed and swifter than he, are without intelligence, and thus things
are made equal.  He can see the rhea as far as the rhea can see him; and if
he possessed the eagle's far-seeing faculty it would be of no advantage to
him.  The high-soaring eagle requires to see very far, but the low-flying
owl is near-sighted.  And so on through the whole animal world:  each kind
has sight sufficient to find its food and escape from its enemies, and
nothing beyond.  Animals that live close to the surface have a very limited
sight.  Moreover, other faculties may usurp the eye's place, or develop so
greatly as to make the eye of only secondary importance as an organ of
intelligence.  The snake offers a curious case. No other sense seems to have
developed in it, yet I take the snake to be one of the nearest-sighted
creatures in existence.  From long observation of them I am convinced that
small snakes of very sluggish habits do not see distinctly farther than from
one to three yards.  But the sluggish snake is the champion faster in the
animal world, and can afford to lie quiescent until the wind of chance blows
something eatable in its way; hence it does not require to see an object
distinctly until almost within striking distance.  Another remarkable case
is that of the armadillo. {p 169} Of two species I can confidently say that,
if they are not blind, they are next door to blindness; yet they are diurnal
animals that go abroad in the full glare of noon and wander far in search of
food. But their sense of smell is marvellously acute, and, as in the case of
the mole, it has made sight superfluous.  To come back to man:  if, in a
state of nature, he is able to guess the character of objects nine times in
ten, or nineteen in twenty, seen as far as he requires to see anything, his
intellectual faculties make a better sight unnecessary.  If the armadillo's
scent had not been so keen, and man had not been gifted with nimble brains,
the sight in both cases would have been vastly stronger; but the sharpening
of its sense of smell has dimmed the armadillo's eyes and made him blinder
than a snake; while man (from no fault of his own) is unable to see farther
than the wolf and the ostrich and the wild ass.



{p 170} CHAPTER XII


CONCERNING EYES

White, crimson, emerald green, shining golden yellow, are amongst the
colours seen in the eyes of birds.  In owls, herons, cormorants, and many
other tribes, the brightly-tinted eye is incomparably the finest feature and
chief glory. It fixes the attention at once, appearing like a splendid gem,
for which the airy bird-body, with its graceful curves and soft tints, forms
an appropriate setting.  When the eye closes in death, the bird, except to
the naturalist, becomes a mere bundle of dead feathers; crystal globes may
be put into the empty sockets, and a bold life-imitating attitude given to
the stuffed specimen; but the vitreous orbs shoot forth no life-like flames,
the "passion and the fire whose fountains are within" have vanished, and the
best work of the taxidermist, who has given a life to his bastard art,
produces in the mind only sensations of irritation and disgust.  In museums,
where limited space stands in the way of any abortive attempts at copying
nature too closely, the stuffer's work is endurable because useful; but in a
drawing-room, who does not close his eyes or turn aside to avoid seeing a
case of stuffed birds -- those unlovely mementoes of death in their {p 171}
gay plumes?  Who does not shudder, albeit not with fear, to see the wild
cat, filled with straw, yawning horribly, and trying to frighten the
spectator with its crockery glare?  I shall never forget the first sight I
had of the late Mr. Gould's collection of humming-birds (now in the National
Museum), shown to me by the naturalist himself, who evidently took
considerable pride in the work of his hands.  I had just left tropical
nature behind me across the Atlantic, and the unexpected meeting with a
transcript of it in a dusty room in Bedford Square gave me a distinct shock.
 Those pellets of dead feathers, which had long ceased to sparkle and shine,
stuck with wires -- not invisible -- over blossoming cloth and tinsel
bushes, how melancholy they made me feel!

Considering the bright colour and great splendour of some eyes, particularly
in birds, it seems probable that in these cases the organ has a twofold use:
 first and chiefly, to see; secondly, to intimidate an adversary with those
luminous mirrors, in which all the dangerous fury of a creature brought to
bay is seen depicted. Throughout nature the dark eye predominates; and there
is certainly a great depth of fierceness in the dark eye of a bird of prey;
but its effect is less than that produced by the vividly-coloured eye, or
even of the white eye of some raptorial species, as, for instance, of the
common South American hawk, 'Asturina pucherani'.  Violent emotions are
associated in our minds -- possibly, also, in the minds of other species --
with certain colours.  Bright red seems the appropriate hue of anger -- the
poet Herbert {p 172} even calls the rose "angrie and brave" on account of
its hue -- and the red or orange certainly expresses resentment better than
the dark eye. Even a very slight spontaneous variation in the colouring of
the irides might give an advantage to an individual for natural selection to
act on; for we can see in almost any living creature that not only in its
perpetual metaphorical struggle for existence is its life safe-guarded in
many ways; but when protective resemblances, flight, and instincts of
concealment all fail, and it is compelled to engage in a real struggle with
a living adversary, it is provided for such occasions with another set of
defences.  Language and attitudes of defiance come into play; feathers or
hairs are erected; beaks snap and strike, or teeth are gnashed, and the
mouth foams or spits; the body puffs out; wings are waved or feet stamped on
the ground, and many other intimidating gestures of rage are practised.  It
is not possible to believe that the colouring of the crystal globes, towards
which an opponent's sight is first directed, and which most vividly exhibit
the raging emotions within, can have been entirely neglected as a means of
defence by the principle of selection in nature.  For all these reasons I
believe the bright-coloured eye is an improvement on the dark eye.

Man has been very little improved in this direction, the dark eye, except in
the north of Europe, having been, until recent times, almost or quite
universal.  The blue eye does not seem to have any advantage for man in a
state of nature, being mild where fierceness {p 173} of expression is
required; it is almost unknown amongst the inferior creatures; and only on
the supposition that the appearance of the eye is less important to man's
welfare than it is to that of other species, can we account for its survival
in a branch of the human race.

Cerulean eyes; locks comparable in hue to the "yellow hair that floats on
the eastern clouds," and a white body, like snow with a blush on it -- what
could Nature have been dreaming of when she gave such things to her rudest,
most savage humans!  That they should have overcome dark-eyed races, and
trod on their necks and ruined their works, strikes one as unnatural, and
reads like a fable.

Little, however, as the human eye has changed, assuming it to have been dark
originally, there is a great deal of spontaneous variation in individuals,
light hazel and blue-grey being apparently the most variable.  I have found
curiously marked and spotted eyes not uncommon; in some instances the spots
being so black, round, and large as to produce the appearance of eyes with
clusters of pupils on them.  I have known one person with large brown spots
on light blue-grey eyes whose children all inherited the peculiarity; also
another with reddish hazel irides thickly marked with fine characters
resembling Greek letters.  This person was an Argentine of Spanish blood,
and was called by his neighbours 'ojos escritos', or written eyes.  It
struck me as a very curious circumstance that these eyes, both in their
ground colour and the form and disposition of the {p 174} markings traced on
them, were precisely like the eyes of a species of grebe common in La Plata.
Browning had perhaps observed eyes of this kind in some person he had met,
when he makes his magician say to Pietro de Abano:

Mark within my eye its iris mystic-lettered -- That's my name!

But we look in vain amongst men for the splendid crimson, flaming yellow, or
startling white orbs which would have made the dark-skinned brave, inspired
by violent emotions, a being terrible to see.  Nature has neglected man in
this respect, and it is to remedy the omission that he stains his face with
bright pigments and crowns his head with eagles' barred plumes.

The quality of shining in the dark, seen in the eyes of many nocturnal and
semi-nocturnal species, has always, I believe, a hostile purpose.  When
found in inoffensive species, as, for instance, in the lemurs, it can only
be attributed to mimicry, and this would be a parallel case with butterflies
mimicking the brilliant "warning colours" of other species on which birds do
not prey.  Cats amongst mammals, and owls amongst birds, have been most
highly favoured; but to the owls the palm must be given. The feline eyes, as
of a puma or wild cat, blazing with wrath, are wonderful to see; sometimes
the sight of them affects one like an electric shock; but for intense
brilliance and quick changes, the dark orbs kindling with the startling
suddenness of a cloud illumined {p 175} by flashes of lightning, the yellow
globes of the owl are unparalleled.  Some readers might think my language
exaggerated.  Descriptions of bright sunsets and of storms with thunder and
lightning would, no doubt, sound extravagant to one who had never witnessed
these phenomena.  Those only who spend years "conversing with wild animals
in desert places," to quote Azara's words, know that, as with the
atmosphere, so with animal life, there are special moments; and that a
creature presenting a very sorry appearance dead in a museum, or living in
captivity, may, when hard pressed and fighting for life in its own fastness,
be sublimed by its fury into a weird and terrible object.

Nature has many surprises for those who wait on her; one of the greatest she
ever favoured me with was the sight of a wounded Magellanic eagle-owl I shot
in Patagonia.  The haunt of this bird was an island in the river, overgrown
with giant grasses and tall willows, leafless now, for it was in the middle
of winter.  Here I sought for and found him waiting on his perch for the sun
to set.  He eyed me so calmly when I aimed my gun, I scarcely had the heart
to pull the trigger.  He had reigned there so long, the feudal tyrant of
that remote wilderness!  Many a water-rat, stealing like a shadow along the
margin between the deep stream and the giant rushes, he had snatched away to
death; many a spotted wild pigeon had woke on its perch at night with his
cruel crooked talons piercing its flesh; and beyond the valley on the bush
uplands many a {p 176} crested tinamou had been slain on her nest and her
beautiful glossy dark-green eggs left to grow pale in the sun and wind, the
little lives that were in them dead because of their mother's death.  But I
wanted that bird badly, and hardened my heart; the "demoniacal laughter"
with which he had so often answered the rushing sound of the swift black
river at eventide would be heard no more.  I fired; he swerved on his perch,
remained suspended for a few moments, then slowly fluttered down.  Behind
the spot where he had fallen was a great mass of tangled dark-green grass,
out of which rose the tall, slender boles of the trees; overhead through the
fretwork of leafless twigs the sky was flushed with tender roseate tints,
for the sun had now gone down and the surface of the earth was in shadow.
There, in such a scene, and with the wintry quiet of the desert over it all,
I found my victim stung by his wounds to fury and prepared for the last
supreme effort.  Even in repose he is a big eagle-like bird; now his
appearance was quite altered, and in the dim, uncertain light he looked
gigantic in size -- a monster of strange form and terrible aspect.  Each
particular feather stood out on end, the tawny barred tail spread out like a
fan, the immense tiger-coloured wings wide open and rigid, so that as the
bird, that had clutched the grass with his great feathered claws, swayed his
body slowly from side to side -- just as a snake about to strike sways his
head, or as an angry watchful cat moves its tail -- first the tip of one,
then of the other wing touched the ground. {p 177} The black horns stood
erect, while in the centre of the wheel-shaped head the beak snapped
incessantly, producing a sound resembling the clicking of a sewing-machine.
 This was a suitable setting for the pair of magnificent furious eyes, on
which I gazed with a kind of fascination, not unmixed with fear when I
remembered the agony of pain suffered on former occasions from sharp,
crooked talons driven into me to the bone.  The irides were of a bright
orange colour, but every time I attempted to approach the bird they kindled
into great globes of quivering yellow flame, the black pupils being
surrounded by a scintillating crimson light which threw out minute yellow
sparks into the air. When I retired from the bird this preternatural fiery
aspect would instantly vanish.

The dragon eyes of that Magellanic owl haunt me still, and when I remember
them, the bird's death still weighs on my conscience, albeit by killing it I
bestowed on it that dusty immortality which is the portion of stuffed
specimens in a museum.

The question as to the cause of this fiery appearance is one hard to answer.
 We know that the source of the luminosity in owls' and cats' eyes is the
'tapetum lucidum' -- the light-reflecting membrane between the retina and
the sclerotic coat of the eyeball; but the mystery remains.  When with the
bird, I particularly noticed that every time I retired the nictitating
membrane would immediately cover the eyes and obscure them for some time, as
they will when an owl is confronted with strong sunlight; {p 178} and this
gave me the impression that the fiery flashing appearance was accompanied
with, or followed by, a burning or smarting sensation.  I will here quote a
very suggestive passage from a letter on this subject written to me by a
gentleman of great attainments in science:  "Eyes certainly do shine in the
dark -- some eyes, e.g. those of cats and owls; and the scintillation you
speak of is probably another form of the phenomenon.  It probably depends
upon some extra-sensibility of the retina analogous to what exists in the
molecular constitution of sulphide of calcium and other phosphorescent
substances. The difficulty is in the 'scintillation'.  We know that light of
this character has its source in the heat vibrations of molecules at the
temperature of incandescence, and the electric light is no exception to the
rule.  A possible explanation is that supra-sensitive retinae in times of
excitement become increasedly phosphorescent, and the same excitement causes
a change in the curvature of the lens, so that the light is focussed, and
'pro tanto' brightened into sparks.  Seeing how little we know of natural
forces, it may be that what we call light in such a case is eye speaking to
eye -- an emanation from the window of one brain into the window of
another."

Probably all those cases one hears and reads about -- some historical -- of
human eyes flashing fire and blazing with wrath, are mere poetic
exaggerations.  One would not look for these fiery eyes amongst the peaceful
children of civilisation, who, when they make war, do so without anger, and
kill their enemies {p 179} by machinery, without even seeing them; but
amongst savage or semi-savage men, carnivorous in their diet, fierce in
disposition, and extremely violent in their passions.  It is precisely
amongst people of this description that I have lived a great deal.  I have
often seen them frenzied with excitement, their faces white as ashes, hair
erect, and eyes dropping great tears of rage, but I have never seen anything
in them even approaching to that fiery appearance described in the owl.

Nature has done comparatively little for the human eye, not only in denying
it the terrifying splendours found in some other species, but also in the
minor merit of beauty.  When going about the world one cannot help thinking
that the various races and tribes of men, differing in the colour of their
skins and in the climates and conditions they live in, ought to have
differently-coloured eyes.  In Brazil, I was greatly struck with the
magnificent appearance of many of the negro women I saw there; well-formed,
tall, majestic creatures, often appropriately clothed in loose white gowns
and white turban-like head-dresses; while on their round polished blue-black
arms they wore silver armlets.  It seemed to me that pale golden irides, as
in the intensely black tyrant-bird 'Lichenops perspicillata', would have
given a finishing glory to these sable beauties, completing their strange
unique loveliness. Again in that exquisite type of female beauty which we
see in the white girl with a slight infusion of negro blood, giving the
graceful frizzle to the hair, the purple-red hue to {p 180} the lips, and
the delicate dusky terra-cotta tinge to the skin, an eye more suitable than
the dark dull brown would have been the intense orange-brown seen in some
lemurs' eyes.  For many very dark-skinned tribes nothing more beautiful than
the ruby-red iris could be imagined; while sea-green eyes would have best
suited dusky-pale Polynesians and languid peaceful tribes like the one
described in Tennyson's poem:

And round about the keel with faces pale, Dark faces pale against that rosy
flame, The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came.

Since we cannot have the eyes we should like best to have, let us consider
those that Nature has given us.  The incomparable beauty of the "emerald
eye" has been greatly praised by the poets, particularly by those of Spain.
 Emerald eyes, if they only existed, would certainly be beautiful beyond all
others, especially if set off with dark or black hair and that dim pensive
creamy pallor of the skin frequently seen in warm climates, and which is
more beautiful than the rosy complexion prevalent in northern regions,
though not so lasting.  But either they do not exist or else I have been
very unfortunate, for after long seeking I am compelled to confess that
never yet have I been gratified by the sight of emerald eyes.  I have seen
eyes CALLED green, that is, eyes with a greenish tinge or light in them, but
they were not the eyes I sought.  One can easily forgive the poets their
misleading descriptions, since they are not trustworthy guides, and very
often, {p 181} like Humpty Dumpty in 'Through the Looking Glass', make words
do "extra work."  For sober fact one is accustomed to look to men of
science; yet, strange to say, while these complain that we -- the
unscientific ones -- are without any settled and correct ideas about the
colour of our own eyes, they have endorsed the poet's fable, and have even
taken considerable pains to persuade the world of its truth.  Dr. Paul Broca
is their greatest authority.  In his 'Manual for Anthropologists' he divides
human eyes into four distinct types -- orange, green, blue, grey; and these
four again into five varieties each.  The symmetry of such a classification
suggests at once that it is an arbitrary one.  Why orange, for instance?
Light hazel, clay colour, red, dull brown, cannot properly be called orange;
but the division requires the five supposed varieties of the dark-pigmented
eye to be grouped under one name, and because there is yellow pigment in
some dark eyes they are all called orange.  Again, to make the five grey
varieties the lightest grey is made so very light that only when placed on a
sheet of white paper does it show grey at all; but there is always some
colour in the human skin, so that Broca's eye would appear absolutely white
by contrast -- a thing unheard of in nature.  Then we have the green,
beginning with the palest sage green, and up through grass green and emerald
green, to the deepest sea green and the green of the holly leaf.  Do such
eyes exist in nature?  In theory they do.  The blue eye is blue, and the
grey grey, because in such eyes there is no yellow or brown pigment on {p
182} the outer surface of the iris to prevent the dark-purple pigment -- the
'uvea' -- on the inner surface from being seen through the membrane, which
has different degrees of opacity, making the eyes appear grey, light or dark
blue, or purple, as the case may be.  When yellow pigment is deposited in
small quantity on the outer membrane, then it should, according to the
theory, blend with the inner blue and make green. Unfortunately for the
anthropologists, it doesn't.  It only gives in some cases the greenish
variable tinge I have mentioned, but nothing approaching to the decided
greens of Broca's tables.  Given an eye with the right degree of
translucency in the membrane and a very thin deposit of yellow pigment
spread equally over the surface, the result would be a perfectly green iris.
 Nature, however, does not proceed quite in this way.  The yellow pigment
varies greatly in hue; it is muddy yellow, brown, or earthy colour, and it
never spreads itself uniformly over the surface, but occurs in patches
grouped about the pupil and spreads in dull rays or lines and spots, so that
the eye which science says "ought to be called green" is usually a very dull
blue-grey, or brownish-blue, or clay colour, and in some rare instances
shows a changeable greenish hue.

In the remarks accompanying the Report of the Anthropometric Committee of
the British Association for 1881 and 1883, it is said that green eyes are
more common than the tables indicate, and that eyes that should properly be
called green, owing to {p 183} the popular prejudice against that term, have
been recorded as grey or some other colour.

Does any such prejudice exist?  or is it necessary to go about with the open
manual in our hands to know a green eye when we see one?  No doubt the
"popular prejudice" is supposed to have its origin in Shakespeare's
description of jealousy as a green-eyed monster; but if Shakespeare has any
great weight with the popular mind, the prejudice ought to be the other way,
since he is one of those who sing the splendours of the green eye.

Thus in 'Romeo and Juliet':

The eagle, madam, Hath not so green, so quick, so fair an eye As Paris hath.

The lines are, however, nonsense, as green-eyed eagles have no existence;
and perhaps the question of the popular prejudice is not worth arguing
about.

Once only in my long years' quest after green eyes, during which I have
sometimes walked miles along a crowded thoroughfare seeing the orbs of every
person that passed me, was I led to think that my reward had come at last.
On taking my seat in a public conveyance I noticed a fashionably-dressed
lady, of a singularly attractive appearance, on the opposite seat, but a
little higher up.  Her skin was somewhat pale, her hair dark, and her eyes
green!  "At last!" I exclaimed, mentally, glad as if I had found a priceless
gem.  It was misery to me to have to observe her furtively, to think that I
should so soon lose sight of her!  Several minutes {p 184} passed, during
which she did not move her head, and still the eyes were green -- not one of
the dull and dark hues that Broca imagined and painted, but a clear,
exquisitely beautiful sea-green, as sea-water looks with a strong sunlight
in it, where it is deep and pure, in the harbour of some rocky island under
the tropics. At length, not yet convinced, I moved a little higher up on my
seat, so that when I should next look at her her eyes would meet mine full
and straight.  The wished (and feared) moment came: alas!  the eyes were no
longer green, but grey, and not very pure in colour.  Having looked green
when viewed obliquely, they could not be a very pure grey: they were simply
grey eyes with an exceedingly thin pigment, so thin as not to appear as
pigment, equally spread over the surface of the irides.  This made the eyes
in some lights appear green, just as a dog's eyes, when the animal sits in
shadow and the upturned balls catch the light, sometimes look pure green. I
know a dog, now living, whose eyes in such circumstances always appear of
that colour.  But as a rule the dog's eyes take a hyaline blue.

If we could leave out the mixed or neutral eyes, which are in a transitional
state -- blue eyes with some pigment obscuring their blueness, and making
them quite unclassifiable, as no two pairs of eyes are found alike -- then
all eyes might be divided into two great natural orders, those with and
those without pigment on the outer surface of the membrane.  They could not
well be called light and dark eyes, since many hazel eyes are really lighter
than purple and {p 185} dark-grey eyes.  They might, however, be simply
called brown and blue, for in all eyes with the outer pigment there is
brown, or something scarcely distinguishable from brown; and all eyes
without pigment, even the purest greys, have some blueness.

Brown eyes express animal passions rather than intellect and higher moral
feelings.  They are frequently equalled in their own peculiar kind of
eloquence by the brown or dark eyes in the domestic dog.  In animals there
is, in fact, often an exaggerated eloquence of expression.  To judge from
their eyes, caged cats and eagles in the Zoological Gardens are all furred
and feathered Bonnivards.  Even in the most intellectual of men the brown
eye speaks more of the heart than of the head.  In the inferior creatures
the black eye is always keen and cunning or else soft and mild, as in fawns,
doves, aquatic birds, etc.; and it is remarkable that in man also the black
eye -- dark-brown iris with large pupil -- generally has one or the other of
these predominant expressions.  Of course, in highly civilised communities,
individual exceptions are extremely numerous. Spanish and negro women have
wonderfully soft and loving eyes, while the cunning weasel-like eye is
common everywhere, especially amongst Asiatics. In high-caste Orientals the
keen, cunning look has been refined and exalted to an appearance of
marvellous subtlety -- the finest expression of which the black eye is
capable.

The blue eye -- all blues and greys being here included -- is 'par
excellence' the eye of intellectual man: {p 186} that outer warm-coloured
pigment hanging like a cloud, as it were, over the brain absorbs its most
spiritual emanations, so that only when it is quite blown away are we able
to look into the soul, forgetting man's kinship with the brutes. When one is
unaccustomed to it from always living with dark-eyed races, the blue eye
seems like an anomaly in nature, if not a positive blunder; for its power of
expressing the lower and commonest instincts and passions of our race is
comparatively limited; and in cases where the higher faculties are
undeveloped it seems vacant and meaningless.  Add to this that the ethereal
blue colour is associated in the mind with atmospheric phenomena rather than
with solid matter, inorganic or animal.  It is the hue of the void,
expressionless sky; of shadows on far-off hill and cloud; of water under
certain conditions of the atmosphere, and of the unsubstantial summer haze,

whose margin faces For ever and for ever as I move.

In organic nature we only find the hue sparsely used in the
quickly-perishing flowers of some frail plants; while a few living things of
free and buoyant motions, like birds and butterflies, have been touched on
the wings with the celestial tint only to make them more aerial in
appearance. Only in man, removed from the gross materialism of nature, and
in whom has been developed the highest faculties of the mind, do we see the
full beauty and significance of the blue eye -- the eye, that is, without
the {p 187} interposing cloud of dark pigment covering it. In the biography
of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author says of him:  "His eyes were large,
dark-blue, brilliant, and full of varied expression.  Bayard Taylor used to
say that they were the only eyes he ever knew to flash fire . . . . While he
was yet at college, an old gipsy woman, meeting him suddenly in a woodland
path, gazed at him and asked:

'Are you a man or an angel?'"

I may say here that gipsies are so accustomed to concentrate their sight on
the eyes of the people they meet that they acquire a marvellous proficiency
in detecting their expression; they study them with an object, as my friend
the gambler studied the backs of the cards he played with; without seeing
the eyes of their intended dupe they would be at a loss what to say.

To return to Hawthorne.  His wife says in one of her letters quoted in the
book:  "The flame of his eyes consumed compliment, cant, sham, and
falsehood;  while the most wretched sinners -- so many of whom came to
confess to him -- met in his glance such a pity and sympathy that they
ceased to be afraid of God and began to return to Him. . . . 'I never dared
gaze at him, even I, unless his lids were down.'"

I think we have, most of us, seen eyes like these -- eyes which one rather
avoids meeting, because when met one is startled by the sight of a naked
human soul brought so near.  One person, at least, I have known to whom the
above description would {p 188} apply in every particular; a man whose
intellectual and moral nature was of the highest order, and who perished at
the age of thirty, a martyr to the cause of humanity.

How very strange, then, that savage man should have been endowed with this
eye unsuited to express the instincts and passions of savages, but able to
express the intelligence, high moral feelings, and spirituality which a
humane civilisation was, long ages after, to develop in his torpid brain!  A
fact like this seems to fit in with that flattering, fascinating, ingenious
hypothesis invented by Wallace to account for facts which, according to the
theory of natural selection, ought not to exist.

In answer to the question, What is the colour of the British eye? so
frequently asked, and not yet definitely settled, I wish, in conclusion, to
record my own observations here.  I have remarked a surprisingly great
difference in the eyes of the two classes into which the population is
practically divisible -- the well-to-do class and the poor.  I began my
observations in London -- there is no better place; and my simple plan was
to walk along the most frequented streets and thoroughfares, observing the
eyes of every person that passed me.  My sight being good, even the very
brief glance, which was all that could be had in most cases, was sufficient
for my purpose; and in this way hundreds of pairs of eyes could be seen in
the course of a day.  In Cheapside the population seemed too mixed; but {p
189} in Piccadilly, and Bond Street, and along Rotten Row, during the
season, it appeared safe to set down a very large majority of the
pedestrians as belonging to the prosperous class.  There are other streets
and thoroughfares in London where very nearly all the people seen in it at
any time are of the working class.  I also frequently strolled up and down
the long streets, where the poor do their marketing on Saturday evenings,
and when, owing to the slow rate of progress, their features can be easily
studied.

To take the better class first.  I think it would puzzle any stranger,
walking in Piccadilly or along the Row on a spring afternoon, to say what
the predominant colour of the English eye is, so great is the variety.
Every shade of grey and blue, from the faint cerulean of a pale sky, to the
ultramarine, called purple and violet, and which looks black; and every type
and shade of the dark eye, from the lightest hazel and the yellowish tint
resembling that of the sheep's iris, to the deepest browns, and the iris of
liquid jet with ruddy and orange reflections in it -- the tortoiseshell eye
and chief glory of the negro woman.  Another surprising fact was the large
proportion of fine eyes.  For this variety and excellence several
explanations might be given, not one of which would probably seem quite
satisfactory; I therefore leave the reader to form his own theory on the
subject.

In the lower class no such difficulty appeared. Here, in a very large
majority of cases -- about eighty per cent. I think -- the eye was grey, or
{p 190} grey-blue, but seldom pure.  The impurity was caused by a small
quantity of pigment, as I could generally see by looking closely at the
iris, a yellowish tinge being visible round the pupil. My conclusion was,
that this impure grey eye is the typical British eye at the present time;
that it is becoming pigmented, and will probably, if the race endures long
enough, become dark.



{p 191} CHAPTER XIII


THE PLAINS OF PATAGONIA

Near the end of Darwin's famous narrative of the voyage of the Beagle there
is a passage which, for me, has a very special interest and significance.
It is as follows, and the italicisation is mine:  "In calling up images of
the past, I find the plains of Patagonia frequently cross before my eyes;
yet these plains are pronounced by all to be most wretched and useless.
They are characterised only by negative possessions; without habitations,
without water, without trees, without mountains, they support only a few
dwarf plants.   WHY, THEN -- AND THE CASE IS NOT PECULIAR TO MYSELF -- HAVE
THESE ARID WASTES TAKEN SO FIRM POSSESSION OF MY MIND?'  Why have not the
still more level, the greener and more fertile pampas, which are serviceable
to mankind, produced an equal impression?  I can scarcely analyse these
feelings, but it must be partly owing to the free scope given to the
imagination.  The plains of Patagonia are boundless, for they are scarcely
practicable, and hence unknown; they bear the stamp of having thus lasted
for ages, and there appears no limit to their duration through future time.
 If, as the ancients supposed, the flat earth was surrounded by an
impassable breadth of water, {p 192} or by deserts heated to an intolerable
excess, who would not look at these last boundaries to man's knowledge with
deep but ill-defined sensations?"

That he did not in this passage hit on the right explanation of the
sensations he experienced in Patagonia, and of the strength of the
impressions it made on his mind, I am quite convinced; for the thing is just
as true of to-day as of the time, in 1836, when he wrote that the case was
not peculiar to himself.  Yet since that date -- which now, thanks to
Darwin, seems so remote to the naturalist -- those desolate regions have
ceased to be impracticable, and, although still uninhabited and
uninhabitable, except for a few nomads, they are no longer unknown.  During
the last twenty years the country has been crossed in various directions,
from the Atlantic to the Andes, and from the Rio Negro to the Straits of
Magellan, and has been found all barren.  The mysterious illusive city,
peopled by whites, which was long believed to exist in the unknown interior,
in a valley called Trapalanda, is to moderns a myth, a mirage of the mind,
as little to the traveller's imagination as the glittering capital of great
Manoa, which Alonzo Pizarro and his false friend Orellana failed to
discover.  The traveller of to-day really expects to see nothing more
exciting than a solitary huanaco keeping watch on a hilltop, and a few
grey-plumaged rheas flying from him, and, possibly, a band of long-haired
roving savages, with their faces painted black and red.  Yet, in spite of
accurate knowledge, the old charm still exists in all its freshness; {p 193}
and after all the discomforts and sufferings endured in a desert cursed with
eternal barrenness, the returned traveller finds in after years that it
still keeps its hold on him, that it shines brighter in memory, and is
dearer to him than any other region he may have visited.

We know that the more deeply our feelings are moved by any scene the more
vivid and lasting will its image be in memory -- a fact which accounts for
the comparatively unfading character of the images that date back to the
period of childhood, when we are most emotional.  Judging from my own case,
I believe that we have here the secret of the persistence of Patagonian
images, and their frequent recurrence in the minds of many who have visited
that grey, monotonous, and, in one sense, eminently uninteresting region.
It is not the effect of the unknown, it is not imagination; it is that
nature in these desolate scenes, for a reason to be guessed at by-and-by,
moves us more deeply than in others.  In describing his rambles in one of
the most desolate spots in Patagonia, Darwin remarks:  "Yet, in passing over
these scenes, without one bright object near, an ill-defined but strong
sense of pleasure is vividly excited."  When I recall a Patagonian scene, it
comes before me so complete in all its vast extent, with all its details so
clearly outlined, that, if I were actually gazing on it, I could scarcely
see it more distinctly; yet other scenes, even those that were beautiful and
sublime, with forest, and ocean, and mountain, and over all the deep blue
sky and brilliant {p 194} sunshine of the tropics, appear no longer distinct
and entire in memory, and only become more broken and clouded if any attempt
is made to regard them attentively.  Here and there I see a wooded mountain,
a grove of palms, a flowery tree, green waves dashing on a rocky shore --
nothing but isolated patches of bright colour, the parts of the picture that
have not faded on a great blurred canvas, or series of canvases.  These last
are images of scenes which were looked on with wonder and admiration --
feelings which the Patagonian wastes could not inspire -- but the grey,
monotonous solitude woke other and deeper feelings, and in that mental state
the scene was indelibly impressed on the mind.

I spent the greater part of one winter at a point on the Rio Negro, seventy
or eighty miles from the sea, where the valley on my side of the water was
about five miles wide.  The valley alone was habitable, where there was
water for man and beast, and a thin soil producing grass and grain; it is
perfectly level, and ends abruptly at the foot of the bank or terrace-like
formation of the higher barren plateau.  It was my custom to go out every
morning on horse-back with my gun, and, followed by one dog, to ride away
from the valley; and no sooner would I climb the terrace and plunge into the
grey universal thicket, than I would find myself as completely alone and cut
off from all sight and sound of human occupancy as if five hundred instead
of only five miles separated me from the hidden green valley and river.  So
wild and solitary and remote seemed that grey waste, {p 195} stretching away
into infinitude, a waste untrodden by man, and where the wild animals are so
few that they have made no discoverable path in the wilderness of thorns.
There I might have dropped down and died, and my flesh been devoured by
birds, and my bones bleached white in sun and wind, and no person would have
found them, and it would have been forgotten that one had ridden forth in
the morning and had not returned.  Or if, like the few wild animals there --
puma, huanaco, and hare-like Dolichotis, or Darwin's rhea and the crested
tinamou among the birds -- I had been able to exist without water, I might
have made myself a hermitage of brushwood or dug-out in the side of a cliff,
and dwelt there until I had grown grey as the stones and trees around me,
and no human foot would have stumbled on my hiding-place.

Not once, nor twice, nor thrice, but day after day I returned to this
solitude, going to it in the morning as if to attend a festival, and leaving
it only when hunger and thirst and the westering sun compelled me.  And yet
I had no object in going -- no motive which could be put into words; for
although I carried a gun, there was nothing to shoot -- the shooting was all
left behind in the valley.  Sometimes a Dolichotis, starting up at my
approach, flashed for one moment on my sight, to vanish the next moment in
the continuous thicket; or a covey of tinamous sprang rocket-like into the
air, and fled away with long wailing notes and loud whur of wings; or on
some distant hill-side a bright patch {p 196} of yellow, of a deer that was
watching me, appeared and remained motionless for two or three minutes.  But
the animals were few, and sometimes I would pass an entire day without
seeing one mammal, and perhaps not more than a dozen birds of any size.  The
weather at that time was cheerless, generally with a grey film of cloud
spread over the sky, and a bleak wind, often cold enough to make my bridle
hand feel quite numb.  Moreover, it was not possible to enjoy a canter; the
bushes grew so close together that it was as much as one could do to pass
through at a walk without brushing against them; and at this slow pace,
which would have seemed intolerable in other circumstances, I would ride
about for hours at a stretch.  In the scene itself there was nothing to
delight the eye.  Everywhere through the light, grey mould, grey as ashes
and formed by the ashes of myriads of generations of dead trees, where the
wind had blown on it, or the rain had washed it away, the underlying yellow
sand appeared, and the old ocean-polished pebbles, dull red, and grey, and
green, and yellow.  On arriving at a hill, I would slowly ride to its
summit, and stand there to survey the prospect.  On every side it stretched
away in great undulations; but the undulations were wild and irregular; the
hills were rounded and cone-shaped, they were solitary and in groups and
ranges; some sloped gently, others were ridge-like and stretched away in
league-long terraces, with other terraces beyond; and all alike were clothed
in the grey everlasting thorny vegetation.  How grey it {p 197} all was!
hardly less so near at hand than on the haze-wrapped horizon, where the
hills were dim and the outline blurred by distance.  Sometimes I would see
the large eagle-like, white-breasted buzzard, 'Buteo erythronotus', perched
on the summit of a bush half a mile away; and so long as it would continue
stationed motionless before me my eyes would remain involuntarily fixed on
it, just as one keeps his eyes on a bright light shining in the gloom; for
the whiteness of the hawk seemed to exercise a fascinating power on the
vision, so surpassingly bright was it by contrast in the midst of that
universal unrelieved greyness.  Descending from my look-out, I would take up
my aimless wanderings again, and visit other elevations to gaze on the same
landscape from another point; and so on for hours, and at noon I would
dismount and sit or lie on my folded poncho for an hour or longer.  One day,
in these rambles, I discovered a small grove composed of twenty to thirty
trees, about eighteen feet high, and taller than the surrounding trees.
They were growing at a convenient distance apart, and had evidently been
resorted to by a herd of deer or other wild animals for a very long time,
for the boles were polished to a glassy smoothness with much rubbing, and
the ground beneath was trodden to a floor of clean, loose yellow sand.  This
grove was on a hill differing in shape from other hills in its
neighbourhood, so that it was easy for me to find it on other occasions; and
after a time I made a point of finding and using it as a resting-place every
day at noon.  I did not ask {p 198} myself why I made choice of that one
spot, sometimes going miles out of my way to sit there, instead of sitting
down under any one of the millions of trees and bushes covering the country,
on any other hillside.  I thought nothing at all about it, but acted
unconsciously; only afterwards, when revolving the subject, it seemed to me
that after having rested there once, each time I wished to rest again the
wish came associated with the image of that particular clump of trees, with
polished stems and clean bed of sand beneath; and in a short time I formed a
habit of returning, animal-like, to repose at that same spot.

It was perhaps a mistake to say that I would sit down and rest, since I was
never tired:  and yet without being tired, that noonday pause, during which
I sat for an hour without moving, was strangely grateful.  All day the
silence seemed grateful, it was very perfect, very profound.  These were no
insects, and the only bird-sound -- a feeble chirp of alarm emitted by a
small skulking wren-like species -- was not heard oftener than two or three
times an hour.  The only sounds as I rode were the muffled hoof-strokes of
my horse, scratching of twigs against my boot or saddle-flap, and the low
panting of the dog.  And it seemed to be a relief to escape even from these
sounds when I dismounted and sat down:  for in a few moments the dog would
stretch his head out on his paws and go to sleep, and then there would be no
sound, not even the rustle of a leaf.  For unless the wind blows strong
there is no fluttering motion {p 199} and no whisper in the small stiff
undeciduous leaves; and the bushes stand unmoving as if carved out of stone.
 One day while 'listening' to the silence, it occurred to my mind to wonder
what the effect would be if I were to shout aloud.  This seemed at the time
a horrible suggestion of fancy, a "lawless and uncertain thought" which
almost made me shudder, and I was anxious to dismiss it quickly from my
mind.  But during those solitary days it was a rare thing for any thought to
cross my mind; animal forms did not cross my vision or bird-voices assail my
hearing more rarely.  In that novel state of mind I was in, thought had
become impossible.  Elsewhere I had always been able to think most freely on
horseback; and on the pampas, even in the most lonely places, my mind was
always most active when I travelled at a swinging gallop.  This was
doubtless habit; but now, with a horse under me, I had become incapable of
reflection:  my mind had suddenly transformed itself from a thinking machine
into a machine for some other unknown purpose.  To think was like setting in
motion a noisy engine in my brain; and there was something there which bade
me be still, and I was forced to obey.  My state was one of SUSPENSE and
WATCHFULNESS:  yet I had no expectation of meeting with an adventure, and
felt as free from apprehension as I feel now when sitting in a room in
London.  The change in me was just as great and wonderful as if I had
changed my identity for that of another man or animal; but at the time I was
powerless to wonder at or speculate {p 200} about it; the state seemed
familiar rather than strange, and although accompanied by a strong feeling
of elation, I did not know it -- did not know that something had come
between me and my intellect -- until I lost it and returned to my former
self -- to thinking, and the old insipid existence.

Such changes in us, however brief in duration they may be, and in most cases
they are very brief, but which so long as they last seem to affect us down
to the very roots of our being, and come as a great surprise -- a revelation
of an unfamiliar and unsuspected nature hidden under the nature we are
conscious of -- can only be attributed to an instantaneous reversion to the
primitive and wholly savage mental conditions.  Probably not many men exist
who would be unable to recall similar cases in their own experience; but it
frequently happens that the revived instinct is so purely animal in
character and repugnant to our refined or humanitarian feelings, that it is
sedulously concealed and its promptings resisted.  In the military and
seafaring vocations, and in lives of travel and adventure, these sudden and
surprising reversions are most frequently experienced.  The excitement
affecting men going into battle, which even affects those who are
constitutionally timid and will cause them to exhibit a reckless daring and
contempt of danger astonishing to themselves, is a familiar instance.  This
instinctive courage has been compared to intoxication, but it does not, like
alcohol, obscure a man's faculties:  on {p 201} the contrary, he is far more
keenly active to everything going on around him than the person who keeps
perfectly cool.  The man who is coolly courageous in fight has his faculties
in their ordinary condition:  the faculties of the man who goes into battle
inflamed with instinctive, joyous excitement are sharpened to a
preternatural keenness. (1)  When the constitutionally timid man has had an
experience of this kind he looks back on the day that brought it to him as
the happiest he has known, one that stands out brightly and shines with a
strange glory among his days.

[footnote]  (1)  In an article on "Courage" by Lord Wolseley, in the
Fortnightly Review for August 1889, there occurs the following passage,
descriptive of the state of mind experienced by men in fight; "All maddening
pleasures seem to be compressed into that very short space of time, and yet
every sensation experienced in those fleeting moments is so indelibly
impressed on the brain that not even the most trifling incident is ever
forgotten in after life."

When we are suddenly confronted with any terrible danger, the change of
nature we undergo is equally great. In some cases fear paralyses us, and,
like animals, we stand still, powerless to move a step in flight, or to lift
a hand in defence of our lives; and sometimes we are seized with panic, and,
again, act more like the inferior animals than rational beings.  On the
other hand, frequently in cases of sudden extreme peril, which cannot be
escaped by flight, and must be instantly faced, even the most timid men at
once, as if by miracle, become possessed of the necessary courage, sharp,
quick apprehension, and swift decision.  This is a miracle very common in
nature; man and the inferior animals alike, when {p 202} confronted with
almost certain death "gather resolution from despair."  We are accustomed to
call this the "courage of despair"; but there can really be no trace of so
debilitating a feeling in the person fighting, or prepared to fight, for
dear life.  At such times the mind is clearer than it has ever been; the
nerves are steel; there is nothing felt but a wonderful strength and fury
and daring.  Looking back at certain perilous moments in my own life, I
remember them with a kind of joy; not that there was any joyful excitement
then, but because they brought me a new experience -- a new nature, as it
were -- and lifted me for a time above myself.  And yet, comparing myself
with other men, I find that on ordinary occasions my courage is rather below
than above the average.  And probably this instinctive courage, which
flashes out so brightly on occasions, is inherited by a very large majority
of the male children born into the world; only in civilised life the exact
conjuncture of circumstances needed to call it into activity rarely occurs.

In hunting, again, instinctive impulses come very much to the surface.
Leech caricatured Gallic ignorance of fox-hunting in England when he made
his French gentleman gallop over the hounds and dash away to capture the fox
himself; but the sketch may be also taken as a comic illustration of a
feeling that exists in every one of us.  If any sportsman among my readers
has ever been confronted with some wild animal -- a wild dog, a pig, or cat,
let us say -- when he had no firearm or other weapon to {p 203} kill it in
the usual civilised way, and has nevertheless attacked it, driven by a
sudden uncontrollable impulse, with a hunting-knife, or anything that came
to hand, and has succeeded in slaying it, I would ask such a one whether
this victory did not give him a greater satisfaction than all his other
achievements in the field?  After it, all legitimate sport would seem
illegitimate, and whole hecatombs of hares and pheasants, and even large
animals, fallen before his gun, would only stir in him a feeling of disgust
and self-contempt.  He would probably hold his tongue about a combat of that
brutal kind, but all the same he would gladly remember how in some strange,
unaccountable way he suddenly became possessed of the daring, quickness, and
certitude necessary to hold his wily, desperate foe in check, to escape its
fangs and claws, and finally to overcome it. Above all, he would remember
the keen feeling of savage joy experienced in the contest.  This would make
all ordinary sport seem insipid; to kill a rat in some natural way would
seem better to him than to murder elephants scientifically from a safe
distance.  The feeling occasionally bursts out in The Story of My Heart:
"To shoot with a gun is nothing . . . . Give me an iron mace that I may
crush the savage beast and hammer him down.  A spear to thrust him through
with, so that I may feel the long blade enter, and the push of the shaft."
And more in the same strain, shocking to some, perhaps, but showing that
gentle Richard Jefferies had in him some of the elements of a fine
barbarian.

{p 204} But it is in childhood and boyhood when instincts are nearest to the
surface, and ready when occasion serves to spring into activity.  Inherited
second nature is weakest then; and habit has not progressed far in weaving
its fine network of restraining influences over the primitive nature.  The
network is continually being strengthened in the individual's life, and, in
the end, he is eased, like the caterpillar, in an impervious cocoon; only,
as we have seen, there are in life miraculous moments when the cocoon
suddenly dissolves, or becomes transparent, and he is permitted to see
himself in his original nakedness.  The delight which children experience on
entering woods and other wild places is very keen; and this feeling,
although it diminishes as we advance in life, remains with us to the last.
Equally great is their delight at finding wild fruits, honey, and other
natural food; and even when not hungry they will devour it with strange
zest.  They will gladly feast on sour, acrid fruits, which at table, and
picked in the garden, would only excite disgust.  This instinctive seeking
for food, and the delight experienced in finding it, occasionally comes up
in very unexpected and surprising ways.  '"As I came through the wood," says
Thoreau, "I caught a glimpse of a woodchuk stealing across my path, and felt
a strange thrill of savage delight, and was strongly tempted to seize and
devour him raw; not that I was hungry then, except for the wildness which he
represented."

In almost all cases -- those in which danger is {p 205} encountered and rage
experienced being exceptions -- the return to an instinctive or primitive
state of mind is accompanied by this feeling of elation, which, in the very
young, rises to an intense gladness, and sometimes makes them mad with joy,
like animals newly escaped from captivity.  And, for a similar reason, the
civilised life is one of continual repression, although it may not seem so
until a glimpse of nature's wildness, a taste of adventure, an accident
suddenly makes it seem unspeakably irksome; and in that state we feel that
our loss in departing from nature exceeds our gain.

It was elation of this kind, the feeling experienced on going back to a
mental condition we have outgrown, which I had in the Patagonian solitude;
for I had undoubtedly GONE BACK; and that state of intense watchfulness, or
alertness rather, with suspension of the higher intellectual faculties,
represented the mental state of the pure savage.  He thinks little, reasons
little, having a surer guide in his instinct; he is in perfect harmony with
nature, and is nearly on a level, mentally, with the wild animals he preys
on, and which in their turn sometimes prey on him.  If the plains of
Patagonia affect a person in this way, even in a much less degree than in my
case, it is not strange that they impress themselves so vividly on the mind,
and remain fresh in memory, and return frequently; while other scenery,
however grand or beautiful, fades gradually away, and is at last forgotten.
 To a slight, in most cases probably a very slight, extent, all natural
sights and {p 206} sounds affect us in the same way; but the effect is often
transitory, and is gone with the first shock of pleasure, to be followed in
some cases by a profound and mysterious melancholy.  The greenness of earth;
forest and river and hill; the blue haze and distant horizon; shadows of
clouds sweeping over the sun-flushed landscape -- to see it all is like
returning to a home, which is more truly our home than any habitation we
know.  The cry of the wild bird pierces us to the heart; we have never heard
that cry before, and it is more familiar to us than our mother's voice.  "I
heard," says Thoreau, "a robin in the distance, the first I had heard for
many a thousand years, methought, whose note I shall not forget for many a
thousand more, -- the same sweet and powerful song as of yore.  O the
evening robin!"  Hafiz sings:

O breeze of the morning blow me a memory of the ancient time; If after a
thousand years thy odours should float o'er my dust, My bones, full of
gladness uprising, would dance in the sepulchre!

And we ourselves are the living sepulchres of a dead past -- that past which
was ours for so many thousands of years before this life of the present
began; its old bones are slumbering in us -- dead, and yet not dead nor deaf
to Nature's voices; the noisy burn, the roar of the waterfall, and thunder
of long waves on the shore, and the sound of rain and whispering winds in
the multitudinous leaves, bring it a memory of the ancient time; and the
bones rejoice and dance in their sepulchre.

Professor W. K. Parker, in his work On Mammalian Descent, speaking of the
hairy covering {p 207} almost universal in this class of animals, ways:
"This has become, as everyone knows, a custom among the race of men, and
shows, at present, no sign of becoming obsolete.  Moreover, that first
correlation, namely, milk-glands and a hairy covering, appears to have
entered the very soul of creatures of this class, and to have become
PSYCHICAL as well as PHYSICAL, for in that type, which is only inferior to
the angels, the fondness for this kind of outer covering is a strong and
ineradicable passion."  I am not sure that this view accords with some facts
in our experience, and with some instinctive feelings which we all have.
Like Waterton I have found that the feet take very kindly to the earth,
however hot or cold or rough it may be, and that shoes, after being left off
for a short time, seem as uncomfortable as a mask.  The face is always
uncovered; why does the supposed correlation not apply to this part?  The
face is pleasantly warm when the too delicate body shivers with cold under
its covering; and pleasantly cool when the sun shines hot on us.  When the
wind strikes us on a hot day, or during violent exercise, the sensation to
the face is extremely agreeable, but far from agreeable to the body where
the covering does not allow the moisture to evaporate rapidly.  The umbrella
has not entered the soul -- not yet; but it is miserable to get wet in the
rain, yet pleasant to feel the rain on the face.  "I am all face," the naked
American savage said, to explain why he felt no discomfort from the bleak
wind which made his civilised fellow-traveller shiver in his furs.  Again,
{p 208} what a relief, what a pleasure, to throw off the clothes when
occasion permits.  Leigh Hunt wrote an amusing paper on the pleasures of
going to bed, when the legs, long separated by unnatural clothing,
delightedly rub against and renew their acquaintance with one another.
Everyone knows the feeling.  If it were convenient, and custom not so
tyrannical, many of us would be glad to follow Benjamin Franklin's example,
and rise not to dress, but to settle comfortably down to our morning's work,
with nothing on.  When, for the first time, in some region where nothing but
a fig-leaf has "entered the soul," we see men and women going about naked
and unashamed, we experience a slight shock; but it has more pleasure than
pain in it, although we are reluctant to admit the pleasure, probably
because we mistake the nature of the feeling.  If, after seeing them for a
few days in their native simplicity, our new friends appear before us
clothed, we are shocked again, and this time disagreeably so; it is like
seeing those who were free and joyous yesterday now appear with fettered
feet and sullen downcast faces.

To leave this question; what has truly entered our soul and become psychical
is our environment -- that wild nature in which and to which we were born at
an inconceivably remote period, and which made us what we are.  It is true
that we are eminently adaptive, that we have created, and exist in some sort
of harmony with new conditions, widely different from those to which we were
originally adapted; but the old harmony was infinitely more {p 209} perfect
than the new, and if there be such a thing as historical memory in us, it is
not strange that the sweetest moment in any life, pleasant or dreary, should
be when Nature draws near to it, and, taking up her neglected instrument,
plays a fragment of some ancient melody, long unheard on the earth.

It might be asked:  If nature has at times this peculiar effect on us,
restoring instantaneously the old vanished harmony between organism and
environment, why should it be experienced in a greater degree in the
Patagonian desert than in other solitary places -- a desert which is
waterless, where animal voices are seldom heard, and vegetation is grey
instead of green?  I can only suggest a reason for the effect being so much
greater in my own case.  In sub-tropical woods and thickets, and in wild
forests in temperate regions, the cheerful verdure and bright colours of
flower and insects, if we have acquired a habit of looking closely at these
things, and the melody and noises of bird-life engage the senses; there is
movement and brightness; new forms, animal and vegetable, are continually
appearing, curiosity and expectation are excited, and the mind is so much
occupied with novel objects that the effect of wild nature in its entirety
is minimised.  In Patagonia the monotony of the plains, or expanse of low
hills, the universal unrelieved greyness of everything, and the absence of
animal forms and objects new to the eye, leave the mind open and free to
receive an impression of visible nature as a whole.  One gazes on the
prospect as on the sea, for it stretches {p 210} away sea-like, without
change, into infinitude; but without the sparkle of water, the changes of
hue which shadows and sunlight and nearness and distance give, and motion of
waves and white flash of foam.  It has a look of antiquity, of desolation,
of eternal peace, of a desert that has been a desert from of old and will
continue a desert for ever; and we know that its only human inhabitants are
a few wandering savages -- who live by hunting as their progenitors have
done for thousands of years.  Again, in fertile savannahs and pampas there
may appear no signs of human occupancy, but the traveller knows that
eventually the advancing tide of humanity will come with its flocks and
herds, and the ancient silence and desolation will be no more; and this
thought is like human companionship, and mitigates the effect of nature's
wildness on the spirit.  In Patagonia no such thought or dream of the
approaching changes to be wrought by human agency can affect the mind.
There is no water there, the arid soil is sand and gravel -- pebbles rounded
by the action of ancient seas, before Europe was; and nothing grows except
the barren things that Nature loves -- thorns, and a few woody herbs, and
scattered tufts of wiry bitter grass.

Doubtless we are not all affected in solitude by wild nature in the same
degree; even in the Patagonian wastes many would probably experience no such
mental change as I have described.  Others have their instincts nearer to
the surface, and are moved deeply by nature in any solitary place; and {p
211} I imagine that Thoreau was such a one.  At all events, although he was
without the Darwinian lights which we have, and these feelings were always
to him "strange," "mysterious," "unaccountable," he does not conceal them.
This is the "something uncanny in Thoreau" which seems inexplicable and
startling to such as have never been startled by nature, nor deeply moved;
but which, to others, imparts a peculiarly delightful aromatic flavour to
his writings.  It is his wish towards a more primitive mode of life, his
strange abandonment when he scours the wood like a half-starved hound, and
no morsel could be too savage for him; the desire to take a ranker hold on
life and live more as the animals do; the sympathy with nature so keep that
it takes his breath away; the feeling that all the elements were congenial
to him, which made the wildest scenes unaccountably familiar, so that he
came and went with a strange liberty in nature.  Once only he had doubts,
and thought that human companionship might be essential to happiness; but he
was at the same time conscious of a slight insanity in the mood; and he soon
again became sensible of the sweet beneficent society of nature, of an
infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere
sustaining him.

In the limits of a chapter it is impossible to do more than touch the
surface of so large a subject as that of the instincts and remains of
instincts existing in us. Dr. Wallace doubts that there are any human
instincts, even in the perfect savage; which {p 212} seems strange in so
keen an observer, and one who has lived so much with nature and uncivilised
men; but it must be borne in mind that his peculiar theories with regard to
man's origin -- the acquisition of large brains, naked body, and the upright
form not through but in spite of natural selection -- would predispose him
to take such a view.  My own experience and observation have led me to a
contrary conclusion, and my belief is that we might learn something by
looking more beneath the hardened crust of custom into the still burning
core.  For instance, that experience I had in Patagonia -- the novel state
of mind I have described -- seemed to furnish an answer to a question
frequently asked with regard to men living in a state of nature.  When we
consider that our intellect, unlike that of the inferior animals, is
progressive, how wonderful it seems that communities and tribes of men
should exist -- "are contented to exist," we often say, just as if they had
any choice in the matter -- for ages and for thousands of years in a state
of pure barbarism, living from hand to mouth, exposed to extremes of
temperature, and to frequently-recurring famine even in the midst of the
greatest fertility, when a little foresight -- "the smallest amount of
intelligence possessed by the lowest of mankind," we say -- would be
sufficient to make their condition immeasurably better.  If, in the wild
natural life, their normal state is like that into which I temporarily fell,
than it no longer appears strange to me that they take no thought for the
morrow, and {p 213} remain stationary, and are only a little removed from
other mammalians, their superiority in this respect being only sufficient to
counterbalance their physical disadvantages.  That instinctive state of the
human mind, when the higher faculties appear to be non-existent, a state of
intense alertness and preparedness, which compels the man to watch and
listen and go silently and stealthily, must be like that of the lower
animals:  the brain in them like a highly-polished mirror, in which all
visible nature -- every hill, tree, leaf -- is reflected with miraculous
clearness; and we can imagine that if the animal could think and reason,
thought would be superfluous and a hindrance, since it would dim that bright
perception on which his safety depends.

That is a part, the lesser part, of the lesson I learnt in the Patagonian
solitude:  the second, larger part must be cut very short; for on all sides
it leads to other questions, some of which would probably be thought "more
curious than edifying."  That hidden fiery core is nearer to us than we
ordinarily imagine, and its heat still permeates the crust to keep us warm.
 This is, no doubt, a matter of annoyance and even grief to those who grow
impatient at Nature's unconscionable slowness; who wish to be altogether
independent of such an underlying brute energy; to live on a cool crust and
rapidly grow angelic.  But, as things are, it is, perhaps, better to be
still, for a while, a little lower than the angels:  we are hardly in a
position just yet to dispense with the unangelic qualities, even in this
exceedingly complex state, in {p 214} which we appear to be so effectually
"hedged in from harm."  I recall here an incident witnessed by a friend of
mine of an Indian he and his fellow-soldiers were pursuing who might easily
have escaped unharmed; but when his one companion was thrown to the ground
through his horse falling, the first Indian turned deliberately, sprang to
the earth, and, standing motionless by the other's side, received the white
men's bullets. Not for love -- it would be absurd to suppose such a thing --
but inspired by that fierce instinctive spirit of defiance which in some
cases will actually cause a man to go out of his way to seek death.  Why are
we, children of light -- the light which makes us timid -- so strongly
stirred by a deed like this, so useless and irrational, and feel an
admiration so great that compared with it that which is called forth by the
noblest virtue, or the highest achievement of the intellect, seems like a
pale dim feeling?  It is because in our inmost natures, our deepest
feelings, we are still one with the savage.  We admire a Gordon less for his
god-like qualities -- his spirituality, and crystal purity of heart, and
justice, and love of his kind -- than for that more ancient nobility, the
qualities he had in common with the wild man of childish intellect, an old
Viking, a fighting Colonel Burnaby, a Captain Webb who madly flings his life
away, a vulgar Welsh prize-fighter who enters a den full of growling lions,
and drives them before him like frightened sheep.  It is due to this
instinctive savage spirit in us, in spite of our artificial life and all we
have done to {p 215} rid ourselves of an inconvenient heritage, that we are
capable of so-called heroic deeds; of cheerfully exposing ourselves to the
greatest privations and hardships, suffering them stoically, and facing
death without blenching, sacrificing our lives, as we say, in the cause of
humanity, or geography, or some other branch of science.

It is related that a late aged prime minister of England on one occasion
stood for several hours at his sovereign's side at a reception, in an
oppressive atmosphere, and suffering excruciating pains from a gouty foot;
yet making no sign and concealing his anguish under a smiling countenance.
We have been told that this showed his good blood:  that because he came of
a good stock, and had the training and traditional feelings of a gentleman,
he was able to suffer in that calm way.  This pretty delusion quickly
vanishes in a surgical hospital, or on a field covered with wounded men
after a fight.  But the savage always endures pain more stoically than the
civilised man.  He is

Self-balanced against contingencies, As the trees and animals are.

However great the sufferings of the gouty premier may have been, they were
less than those which any Indian youth in Guiana and Venezuela voluntarily
subjects himself to before he ventures to call himself a man, or to ask for
a wife.  Small in comparison, yet he did not endure them smilingly because
the traditional pride and other feelings of {p 216} a gentleman made it
possible for him to do so, but because that more ancient and nobler pride,
the stern instinct of endurance of the savage, came to his aid and sustained
him.

These things do not, or at all events should not, surprise us.  They can
only surprise those who are without the virile instinct, or who have never
become conscious of it on account of the circumstances of their lives.  The
only wonder is that the stern indomitable spirit in us should ever in any
circumstances fail a man, that even on the scaffold or with the world
against him he should be overcome by despair and burst into weak tears and
lamentations, and faint in the presence of his fellows.  In one of the most
eloquent passages of his finest work Herman Melville describes as follows
that manly spirit or instinct in us, and the effect produced on us by the
sight of its failure:  "Men may seem detestable as joint-stock companies and
nations; knaves, fools, and murderers there may be; men may have mean and
meagre faces; but man, in the ideal, is so noble and so sparkling, such a
grand and glowing creature, that over any ignominious blemish in him all his
fellows should run to throw their costliest robes.  That immaculate
manliness we feel in ourselves -- so far within us that it remains intact
though all the outer character seems gone -- bleeds with keenest anguish at
the spectacle of a valour-ruined man.  Nor can piety itself, at such a
shameful sight, completely stifle her upbraidings against the permitting
stars.  But this august dignity I treat of, is not the {p 217} dignity of
kings and robes, but the abounding dignity which has no robed investiture.
Thou shalt see it shining in the arm that wields a pick and drives a spike;
that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God
Himself."

There is then something to be said in favour of this animal and primitive
nature in us.  Thoreau, albeit so spiritually-minded, could yet "reverence"
that lower nature in him which made him brother to the brute.  He
experienced and fully appreciated its tonic effect.  And until we get a
better civilisation more equal in its ameliorating effect on all classes --
if there must be classes -- and more likely to endure, it is perhaps a
fortunate thing that we have so far failed to eliminate the "savage" in us
-- the "Old Man" as some might prefer to call it.  Not a respectable Old
Man, but a very useful one occasionally, when we stand in sore need of his
services and he comes promptly and unsummoned to our aid.



{p 218} CHAPTER XIV


THE PERFUME OF AN EVENING PRIMROSE

I sometimes walk in a large garden where the evening primrose is permitted
to grow, but only at the extreme end of the ground, thrust away, as it were,
back against the unkept edge with its pretty tangle of thorn, briar, and
woodbine, to keep company there with a few straggling poppies, with
hollyhock, red and white foxglove, and other coarse and weed-like plants,
all together forming a kind of horizon, dappled with colour, to the garden
on that side, a suitable background to the delicate, more valued blooms. It
has a neglected appearance, its tall straggling stems insufficiently clothed
with leaves, leaning away from contact with the hedge; a plant of somewhat
melancholy aspect, suggesting to a fanciful mind the image of a maiden
originally intended by Nature to be her most perfect type of grace and
ethereal loveliness, but who soon outgrew her strength with all beauty of
form, and who now wanders abroad, careless of appearances, in a faded flimsy
garment, her fair yellow hair dishevelled, her mournful eyes fixed ever on
the earth where she will shortly be.

I never pass this weedy, pale-flowered alien without stooping to thrust my
nose into first one blossom, {p 219} then another, and still another, until
that organ, like some industrious bee, is thickly powdered with the golden
dust.  If, after an interval, I find myself once more at the same spot, I
repeat this performance with as much care as if it was a kind of religious
ceremony it would not be safe to omit; and at all times I am as reluctant to
pass without approaching my nose to it, as the great Dr. Johnson was to pass
a street-post without touching it with his hand.  My motive, however, is not
a superstitious one, nor is it merely one of those meaningless habits which
men sometimes contract, and of which they are scarcely conscious.  When I
first knew the evening primrose, where it is both a wild and a garden flower
and very common, I did not often smell at it, but was satisfied to inhale
its subtle fragrance from the air.  And this reminds me that in England it
does not perfume the air as it certainly does on the pampas of La Plata, in
the early morning in places where it is abundant; here its fragrance, while
unchanged in character, has either become less volatile or so diminished in
quantity that one is not sensible that the flower possesses a perfume until
he approaches his nose to it.

My sole motive in smelling the evening primrose is the pleasure it gives me.
 This pleasure greatly surpasses that which I receive from other flowers far
more famous for their fragrance, for it is in a great degree mental, and is
due to association.  Why is this pleasure so vivid, so immeasurably greater
than the mental pleasure afforded by the sight of the flower?  The books
tell us that sight, the most {p 220) important of our senses, is the most
intellectual; while smell, the least important, is in man the most emotional
sense.  This is a very brief statement of the fact; I will now restate it
another way and more fully.

I am now holding an evening primrose in my hand.  As a fact at this moment I
am holding nothing but the pen with which I am writing this chapter; but I
am supposing myself back in the garden, and holding the flower that first
suggested this train of thought.  I turn it about this way and that, and
although it pleases it does not delight, does not move me:  certainly I do
not think very highly of its beauty, although it is beautiful; placed beside
the rose, the fuchsia, the azalea, or the lily, it would not attract the
eye.  But it is a link with the past, it summons vanished scenes to my mind.
 I recognise that the plant I plucked it from possesses a good deal of
adaptiveness, a quality one would scarcely suspect from seeing it only in an
English garden.  Thus I remember that I first knew it as a garden flower,
that it grew large, on a large plant, as here; that on summer evenings I was
accustomed to watch its slim, pale, yellow buds unfold, and called it, when
speaking in Spanish, by its quaint native name of James of the night, and,
in English, primrose simply.  I recall with a smile that it was a shock to
my childish mind to learn that our primrose was not THE primrose.  Then, I
remember, came the time when I could ride out over the plain; and it
surprised me to discover that this primrose, unlike the four-o'clock and
morning-glory, and other evening flowers in our {p 221} garden, was also a
wild flower.  I knew it by its unmistakable perfume, but on those plains,
where the grass was cropped close, the plant was small, only a few inches
high, and the flowers no bigger than buttercups. Afterwards I met with it
again in the swampy woods and everglades along the Plata River; and there it
grew tall and rank, five or six feet high in some cases, with large flowers
that had only a faint perfume.  Still later, going on longer expeditions,
sometimes with cattle, I found it in extraordinary abundance on the level
pampas south of the Salado River; there it was a tall slender plant,
grass-like among the tall grasses, with wide open flowers about an inch in
diameter, and not more than two or three on each plant.  Finally, I remember
that on first landing in Patagonia, on a desert part of the coast, the time
being a little after day-break, I became conscious of the familiar perfume
in the air, and, looking about me, discovered a plant growing on the barren
sand not many yards from the sea; there it grew, low and bush-like in form,
with stiff horizontal stems and a profusion of small symmetrical flowers.

All this about the plant, and much more, with many scenes and events of the
past, are suggested to my mind by the flower in my hand; but while these
scenes and events are recalled with pleasure, it is a kind of mental
pleasure that we frequently experience, and very slight in degree.  But when
I approach the flower to my face and inhale its perfume, than a shock of
keen pleasure is experienced, {p 222} and a mental change so great that it
is like a miracle.  For a space of time so short that if it could be
measured it would probably be found to occupy no more than a fraction of a
second, I am no longer in an English garden recalling and consciously
thinking about that vanished past, but during that brief moment time and
space seem annihilated and the past is now.  I am again on the grassy
pampas, where I have been sleeping very soundly under the stars -- would
that I could now sleep as soundly under a roof!  It is the moment of
wakening, when my eyes are just opening to the pure over-arching sky,
flushed in its eastern half with tender colour; and at the moment that
nature thus reveals itself to my vision in its exquisite morning beauty and
freshness, I am sensible of the subtle primrose perfume in the air.  The
blossoms are all about me, for miles and for leagues on that great level
expanse, as if the morning wind had blown them out of that eastern sky and
scattered their pale yellow stars in millions over the surface of the tall
sere grass.

I do not say that this shock of pleasure I have described, this vivid
reproduction of a long-past scene, is experienced each time I smell the
flower; it is experienced fully only at long intervals, after weeks and
months, when the fragrance is, so to speak, new to me, and afterwards in a
lesser degree on each repetition, until the feeling is exhausted.  If I
continue to smell again and again at the flower, I do it only as a spur to
memory; or in a mechanical way, just as a person might always walk along a
certain {p 223} path with his eyes fixed on the ground, remembering that he
once on a time dropped some valuable article there, and although he knows
that it was lost irrecoverably, he still searches the ground for it.

Other vegetable odours affect me in a similar way, but in a very much
fainter degree, except in one or two cases. Thus, the Lombardy poplar was
one of the trees I first became acquainted with in childhood, and it has
ever since been a pleasure to me to see it; but in spring, when its newly
opened leaves give out their peculiar aroma, for a moment, when I first
smell it, I am actually a boy again, among the tall poplar trees, their
myriads of heart-shaped leaves rustling to the hot November wind, and
sparkling like silver in the brilliant sunshine.  More than that, I am, in
that visionary moment, clinging fast to the slim vertical branches, high
above the earth, forty or fifty feet perhaps; and just where I have ceased
from climbing, in the cleft of a branch and against the white bark, I see
the dainty little cup-shaped nest I have been seeking; and round my head, as
I gaze down in it, delighted at the sight of the small pearly eggs it
contains, flutter the black-headed, golden-winged siskins, uttering their
long canary-like notes of solicitude.  It all comes and goes like a flash of
lightning, but the scene revealed, and the accompanying feeling, the
complete recovery of a lost sensation, are wonderfully real.  Nothing that
we see or hear can thus restore the past.  The sight of the poplar tree, the
sound made by the wind in its summer foliage, the {p 224} song of the
golden-winged siskins when I meet with them in captivity, bring up many past
scenes to my mind, and among others the picture I have described; but it is
a picture only, until the fragrance of the poplar touches the nerve of
smell, and then it is something more.

I have no doubt that my experience is similar to that of others, especially
of those who have lived a rural life, and whose senses have been trained by
an early-acquired habit of attention.  When we read of Cuvier (and the same
thing has been recorded of others), that the scent of some humble flower or
weed, familiar to him in boyhood, would always affect him to tears, I
presume that the poignant feeling of grief -- grief, that is, for the loss
of a vanished happiness -- which ended in tears, succeeded to some such
vivid representation of the past as I have described, and to the purely
delightful recovery of a vanished sensation.  Not only flowery and aromatic
odours can produce this powerful effect; it is caused by any smell, not
positively disagreeable, which may be in any way associated with a happy
period in early or past life:  the smell, for instance, of peat smoke, of a
brewery, a tan yard, of cattle and sheep, and sheep-folds, of burning weeds,
brush-wood, and charcoal; the dank smell of marshes, and the smell, "ancient
and fish-like," that clings about many seaside towns and villages; also the
smell of the sea itself, and of decaying seaweed, and the dusty smell of
rain in summer, and the smell of new-mown hay, and of stables and of
freshly-ploughed {p 225} ground, with so many others that every reader can
add to the list from his own experience.  Being so common a thing, it may be
thought that I have dwelt too long on it.  My excuse must be that some
things are common without being familiar; also that some common things have
not yet been explained.

Locke somewhere says that unless we refresh our mental pictures of what we
have seen by looking again at their originals, they fade, and in the end are
lost.  Bain appears to have the same opinion, at all events he says:  "The
simplest impression that can be made, of taste, smell, touch, hearing,
sight, needs repetition in order to endure of its own accord."  Probably it
is a fact that when any scene, not yet lost by the memory, a house, let us
say, is looked at again after a long interval, it does not, unless seen in a
new setting, create a new image distinct from the old and faded one, but
covers the former image, so to speak, the pre-existent picture, and may
therefore be said to freshen it.  Most of the impressions we receive are no
doubt very transitory, but it is certainly an error that all our mental
pictures, not freshened in the way described, fade and disappear, since it
is in the experience of every one of us that many mental pictures of scenes
looked at once only, and in some cases only for a few moments, remain
persistently in the mind.  But the remembered scenes or objects do not
present themselves to the mental eye perfect and in their first vivid
colours, except on very rare occasions; they are like certain old paintings
that always look dark and obscured until {p 226} a wet sponge is passed over
them, whereupon for a short time they recover their clearness of outline and
brilliancy of colour.  In recalling the past, emotion plays the part of the
wet sponge, and it is excited most powerfully in us when we encounter, after
a long interval, some once familiar odour associated in some way with the
picture recalled.  But why?  Not finding an answer in the books, I am
compelled to seek for one, true or false, in the wilderness of my own mind.

The reason, I imagine, is that while smells are so much to us they cannot,
like things seen and things heard, be reproduced in the mind, but are at
once forgotten.  It is true that in the books smell is classified along with
taste, as being much lower or less intellectual than sight and hearing, for
the reason (scarcely a valid one) that there must be actual contact of the
organ of smell with the object smelt, or a material emanation from, and
portion of, such object, although the object itself might be miles away
beyond the sight or even beyond the horizon.  the light of nature is enough
to show how false the arrangement is that places smell and taste together,
as much lower and widely apart from sight and hearing.  Rather the extreme
delicacy of the olfactory nerve raises smell to the rank of an intellectual
sense, but very little below the two first and higher senses.  And yet,
while sights and sounds are retained and can be reproduced at will, and
their phantasms are like the reality, an odour has no phantasm in the brain;
or, to be very exact, the phantasm of {p 227} an odour, or its presentment
or representation, is so faint and quickly gone when any effort is made to
recover it, that, compared with the distinct and abiding presentments of
sights and sounds, it is as nothing.  Imagine, for example, that you had
often seen Windsor Castle, and knew a great deal about it, its history, its
noble appearance, which will look familiar to you when you see it again and
affect you pleasantly as in the past; and that yet you could not see it with
the mind's eye, but that when, after a recent visit, you tried to see it
mentally, nothing but a formless, dim, whitish patch appeared, only to
disappear in an instant and come no more.  Such a case would represent our
condition with regard to even the strongest and most familiar smells.  Yet
in spite of our inability to recall them, we do distinctly make the effort;
and in the case of some strong odour which we have recently inhaled, the
mind mocks us with this faint shadow of a phantasm; and this vain, or almost
vain, effort of the mind seems to show that odours in some past period of
our history were so much more to us than they are now that they could be
vividly reproduced, and that this power has been lost, or, at all events, is
so weakened as to be of no use.

I find that Bain, who makes different and contradictory statements on this
subject in his work on The Senses and the Intellect, has the following
sentence, with which I agree:  "By a great effort of the mind, we may
approach very near to the recovery of a smell that we have been extremely
familiar with, {p 228} as, for example, the odour of coffee, and if we were
more dependent on ideas of smell, we might succeed much better."  A very big
IF, by the way; but it is probable that some savages, and some individuals
among us that have a very acute sense of smell, do succeed much better.
This sense being so much more to dogs than to man, it is not strange that
they remember smells rather than sights, and can reproduce the sensation of
smells, as their twitching and sniffing noses when they dream seem to show.

This approach in ourselves to the recovery of a strong or familiar smell,
this dim white patch, to speak in metaphor, the ghost of a phantasm of a
smell, seems to have misled the philosophers into the idea that we can
mentally reproduce odours.  Bain, as I have said, contradicts himself, and
therefore, excepting in the sentence I have quoted, must be put down among
those who are against me; and with him are McCosh, Bastian, Luys, Ferrier,
and others who write on the brain and the mind.  Do they copy from each
other?  It is very odd that they all tell us that we know very little about
the sense of smell, and prove it by affirming that we can recall the
sensations produced by odours, in some cases quoting the poet:

Odours, when sweet violets sicken, Live within the sense they quicken.

I was seriously alarmed at the beginning of this inquiry by reading in
McCosh:  "When the organs of taste and smell, supposed by Ferrier to be at
the {p 229} back of the head, are diseased or out of order, the reproduction
of the corresponding sensations may be indistinct."  So indistinct was the
reproduction in my own case, even of the smell of coffee, that after reading
this passage I began to fear that my own brain had misled me, and so, to
satisfy myself on the point, I consulted others, friends and acquaintances,
who all began trying to recall the sensations produced on them by the odours
they were most familiar with.  The result of their efforts has restored my
peace of mind.  With the exception of two or three ladies, who, having no
male relations to make up their minds for them, profess to be still in
doubt, all sadly acknowledged that they find themselves poorer by one
faculty than they had supposed themselves to be; that they began trying to
recall smells in the belief that they had the power; that they found that
they could almost do it, then began to doubt, and finally with a feeling of
impotence, of being baffled, gave it up.

A simple mental experiment may serve to convince any person who tries it
that the sensations of smell do not reproduce themselves in the mind.  We
think of a rose, or a lily, or a violet, and a feeling of pleasure attends
the thought; but that this feeling is caused solely by the image of
something beautiful to the eye becomes evident when we proceed to think of
some artificial perfume, or extract, or essence of a flower.  The extract,
we know, gave us far more pleasure than the slight perfume of the flower,
but there is no feeling of pleasure in thinking of it:  it is nothing {p
230} more than an idea in the mind.  On the other hand, when we remember
some extremely painful scene that we have witnessed, or some sound,
expressing distress or anguish, that we have heard, something of the
distressed feeling experienced at the time is reproduced in us; and it is
common to hear people say, It makes me sad, or makes me dizzy, or makes my
blood run cold, when I think of it; which is literally true, because in
thinking of it they again (in a sense) see and hear it. But to think of evil
odours does not affect us at all:  we can, in imagination, uncork and sniff
at cans of petroleum and saturate our pocket-handkerchiefs with asafœtida or
carbolic acid, or walk behind a dust-cart, or wade through miles of fetid
slime in some tropical morass, or take up some mephitic animal, like the
skunk, and fondle it as we would a kitten, yet experience no pain, and no
sensation of nausea.  We can, if we like, call up all the sweet and
abominable smells in nature, just as Owen Glendower called spirits from the
vasty deep, but, like the spirits, they refuse to come; or they come not as
smells but as ideas, so that phosphuretted hydrogen causes no pain, and
frangipane no pleasure.  We only know that smells exist; that we have
roughly classified them as fragrant, aromatic, fresh, ethereal, stimulating,
acrid, nauseous, and virulent; that each of these generic names includes a
very large number of distinct odours:  we know them all because the mind has
taken note of the distinct character of each, and of its effect on us, not
because it has registered a sensation {p 231} in our brain to be reproduced
at will, as in the case of something we have seen or heard.

It is true that we are equally powerless to recall tastes.  Bain admits that
"these sensations are deficient as regards the power of being remembered";
but he did not discover the fact himself, nor does he verify it from his own
experience, merely telling us that "Longet observes."  But taste is not an
emotional sense.  I know, for instance, that if I were to partake of some
once familiar, long-untasted dish, flavoured, let me say, with some such
abomination (to the English palate) as cummin-seed or garlic; some
vegetable, or fruit, wild or cultivated, that I never see in England, it
would not move me as I am moved by an odour, and would perhaps give me less
pleasure than a dish of strawberries and cream.  For in the flavour there is
obvious contact with the organ of taste; it is gross and inseparable from
the thing eaten to supply a bodily want, and gives a momentary and purely
animal gratification; therefore to the mind it is not in the same category,
but very much lower than that invisible, immaterial something that flies to
us, not to give a sensuous pleasure only, but also to lead, to warn, to
instruct, and call up before the mental eye bright images of things unseen.
 Consequently our inability to recall past flavours is not felt as a loss,
and no effort is made to recover them; they are lost and were not worth
keeping.

This, then, to my mind, is the reason that smell is an emotional sense in so
great a degree, compared {p 232} with the other senses -- namely, because,
like sight and hearing, it is an intellectual sense, and because, unlike
sight and hearing, its sensations are forgotten; and when after a long
interval a forgotten odour, once familiar and associated intimately with the
past, is again encountered, the sudden, unexpected recovery of a lost
sensation affects us in some such way as the accidental discovery of a store
of gold, hidden away by ourselves in some past period of our life and
forgotten; or as it would affect us to be met face to face by some dear
friend, long absent and supposed to be dead.  The suddenly recovered
sensation is more to us for a moment than a mere sensation; it is like a
recovery of the irrecoverable past.  We are not moved in this way, or at all
events not nearly in the same degree, by seeing objects or hearing sounds
that are associated with and recall past scenes, simply because the old
familiar sights and sounds have never been forgotten; their phantasms have
always existed in the brain.  If, for instance, I hear a bird's note that I
have not heard for the last twenty years, it is not as if I had not really
heard it, since I have listened to it mentally a thousand times during the
interval, and it does not surprise or come to me like something that was
lost and is recovered, and consequently does not move me. And so with the
sensation of sight; I cannot think of any fragrant flower that grows in my
distant home without seeing it, so that its beauty may always be enjoyed; --
but its fragrance, alas, has vanished and returns not!



{p 233} APPENDIX


On the Birds of the Rio Negro of Patagonia.

By W.H. Hudson, CMZS. Published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society
of London, 16 April 1872

Edited by David Dewar

I wrote a few days ago to inform Mr. Sclater that I had returned from
Patagonia, and had determined to send to him all the specimens, or at least
duplicates of all the specimens collected, as well as my notes on them. I
now forward them.

My observations have been confined to the valley of the Rio Negro and to the
adjacent high grounds. I advanced altogether not much over a hundred miles
from the sea.

I met with one hundred and twenty-six species of birds altogether on the Rio
Negro; but of these, ninety-three  are also found in the Buenos Ayrean
Pampas. I therefore met with only thirty-three species peculiar to
Patagonia; and as some of these are very rarely seen, I did not succeed in
obtaining them all. This is certainly a very insignificant number; but in a
country with an excessively dry climate, the watercourses few and widely
separated, {p 234} an arid sandy soil, and scanty, dwarfish vegetation, it
is impossible that there should be many species of birds. Still, had I been
enabled to advance one or two hundred miles further, I am confident that
this collection would have exhibited a far greater variety, as the country
becomes much more thickly wooded in the interior. I did not succeed in
obtaining specimens of the Rhea darwini. It is called by the Indians Molu
Chinque, meaning Dwarf Chinque, the name of the common species being
Chinque. They are found over the whole country, from the Rio Negro to the
Straits of Magellan, and are also met with, but rarely, north of the river.
They were formerly exceedingly numerous along the Rio Negro; but a few years
ago their feathers rose to an exorbitant price. Gauchos and Indians found
that hunting the ostrich was their most lucrative employment; and
consequently these noble birds were pursued unceasingly, and slaughtered in
such numbers that they have been nearly exterminated wherever the nature of
the country admits of their being chased. I was so anxious to obtain
specimens of this bird that I engaged ten or twelve Indians, by offering a
liberal award, to hunt for me; they went out several times, but failed to
capture a single adult bird.

A few facts I have been able to gather in reference to them may not prove
uninteresting, as the R. darwini is but imperfectly known. When hunted it
frequently attempts to elude the sight by suddenly squatting down amongst
the bushes; and when lying close amid the grey-leaved bushes that cover the
country it frequents, it very easily escapes the sight. When hotly pursued
it possesses the same remarkable habit as the R. americana of raising the
wings alternately and holding them erect; it also manifests the same
facility for suddenly doubling, in {p 235} order to avoid its pursuers. It
runs more swiftly than the common species, but is also more quickly
exhausted. When running, the R. americana carries the neck erect or slightly
sloping forward; the R. darwini carries it stretched forward almost
horizontally, making it appear smaller than it is. From this habit it is
said to derive the vernacular name of Dwarf Ostrich. They go in flocks of
from three or four to thirty or more individuals. I have not been able to
learn if the males fight together as do those of the R. americana, or if
they possess like that species a call note. The strange trumpeting cry of
the R. americana is often heard after they have been hunted and scattered in
all directions; it is an indescribable sound, and resembles somewhat the
hollow heavy sigh with which a bull often ends his bellowing, and appears to
fill the air, so that it is impossible to tell from which quarter it
proceeds.

A number of females lay in one nest, the nest being merely a slight
depression lined with a little dry rubbish; as many as fifty eggs are
sometimes found in one nest. But the R. darwini, as well as the common
species, lays many stray eggs, at a distance from the nest. I inspected a
number of eggs brought in by a party of hunters, and was surprised at the
great differences amongst them in size, form, and colour. The average size
of the eggs was the same as those of the common species; in shape they were
more or less oval or elliptical, scarcely two being found precisely alike.
When newly laid, the eggs are of a deep rich green, and the shell possesses
a fine polish. They very soon fade, however; and first the side exposed to
the sun assumes a dull pale mottled green; this colour again changes to a
yellowish, and again to a pale stone-blue, becoming at last almost white.
The comparative age of each egg in the nest may be told by the colour of its
shell. {p 236}

When the females have finished laying, the male sits on and hatches the
young. The young are hatched with the legs feathered to the toes; these
feathers are not shed from the legs, but are gradually worn off as the bird
grows old by continual friction against the stiff shrubs amid which they
live.

I met with a species of hawk so remarkable in its structure and habits that
I cannot refrain from giving a short notice of it, though, to my intense
disappointment, I did not succeed in getting any specimens of it. The upper
plumage is grey, the wings and under plumage white; the tail is long; the
wings very blunt, and so short that when on the wing the bird rushes through
the air with great violence. They are seen in pairs, sitting on the top of a
bush, and at long intervals through the day suddenly burst into a loud
excited chorus of notes, which resembles more the language of a Passerine
bird than of a hawk. Whenever I approached one, it would utter a loud, long
cry of alarm, and go on repeating it till, before I was within shot, it
would fly off, and take up its position on a distant tree. I saw about a
dozen individuals, and followed them about several days, but in vain.

The condor is met with occasionally on the Atlantic coast; I saw but one
individual, and was surprised to find him proof against several charges of
shot.

The song of the male Diuca finch is the sweetest I have heard in Patagonia,
with two exceptions -- that of the Cardinal amarillo and of the Calandria
blanca, one who knows by heart 'the songs of all the winged choristers.' In
summer, when these finches live in pairs thinly scattered over the country,
the song of the male is the first indication of the approach of day. When
the profound stillness of midnight yet reigns and the thick darkness that
pre- {p 237} cedes the dawn envelopes earth, suddenly the noise of this
little bird is heard wonderfully sweet and clear. In this quiet hour the
song may be heard at a great distance, and is composed of half a dozen
notes, repeated at short intervals till the day has fully dawned. But in
winter, when they live in companies, their great singing time is in the
evening, when the flock has gathered in some large thick-foliaged bush,
which they have chosen for a winter roosting place. This winter evening song
is very different from that heard in summer, the notes appearing sharper,
and uttered in a wild and rapid manner. A little after sunset they burst
into a concert, which lasts several minutes, sinking and growing louder by
turns, and in which it is quite impossible to distinguish the song of any
individual. After a few minutes of silence, the singing is suddenly renewed,
and again almost as suddenly ended. For an hour after sunset this fitful and
impetuous singing is continued. Close by a house I lived in several months
were three large chanar bushes, where a multitude of these finches roosted
every night; and they never missed singing a night, however cloudy, or cold,
or rainy the weather was. So fond did they seem of this charming habit that
when I would approach the bushes or stand beneath them, the alarm caused by
my presence would interrupt the performance but a few moments; for suddenly
they would burst almost simultaneously into singing, the birds all the time
pursuing each other through the bushes often within a foot of my head.

The Patagonian calandria closely resembles the Buenos Ayrean calandria, but
is smaller, the plumage deeper grey; the eye is also a darker green. When a
person approaches the nest, the parent birds manifest their anxiety by
perching and hopping on the twigs within a {p 238} yard or two of his head,
but without uttering any sound; the Buenos Ayres species, when alarmed,
utters incessantly a loud, harsh, angry cry. Neither of these species will
live in confinement.

The vocal performance of the Patagonian bird is characterised by the same
apparently infinite variety as is that of the Buenos Ayrean bird. It would
scarcely be possible for me to give an adequate idea of its powers in a
description. The singing of the Patagonian species is perhaps inferior, his
voice being less powerful than that of the other species; his mellow or
clear notes are often mingled with shrill ones resembling the songs or cries
of various birds. While incapable of notes so loud or harsh as those of the
Buenos Ayres bird, or of changes so wild or sudden, he possesses even a
greater variety of sweet notes; day after day, for months, I heard them
singing, and I never once listened to them for any length of time without
hearing some note or notes that I had never heard before. I have often
observed that when a bird, while singing, emits a few of these new notes, he
seems surprised and delighted with them; for after a silent pause he repeats
them again and again a vast number of times, as if to impress them on his
memory. When he once more resumes his varied singing, for hours, and
sometimes for days, the expression he has discovered is still favourite, and
recurs with the greatest frequency. Many individuals seem to possess a
peculiar style of singing; and they seem more or less able to borrow or
imitate each other's notes; sometimes all the birds frequenting a thicket
will be heard constantly repeating, for many days, a few particular notes as
if they possessed no other song, while in other localities these notes will
not be heard at all. The bird sits on the summit of a bush when singing; and
its music is {p 239} heard in all seasons, and in all weathers, from dawn
till dark; but he usually sings in a leisurely unexcited manner, remaining
silent a long interval after every five or six or a dozen notes, and
apparently listening to his brother performers. These snatches of melody
often seem like a prelude or promise of something better coming; there is in
them such exquisite sweetness, such variety, that the hearer is ever
expecting a fuller measure; and still the bird opens its bill to delight and
disappoint him, as if not yet ready to begin.

I send you one specimen of the beautiful Calandria blanca. I do not know if
any examples of this bird have ever been examined by naturalists. It is by
no means numerous in Patagonia; certainly nothing was known of its song; but
the pleasure I felt in making the discovery of its vocal powers it would be
idle of me to attempt to portray. In October, a few days before leaving the
Rio Negro, I was one morning walking through the thick woods of chanar, when
my attention was suddenly arrested by the song of a bird issuing from a bush
close by, a song to which I listened with astonishment and delight, so
totally different, so vastly superior to the song of all other birds,
whether native or foreign, to which I had ever listened. Notes surpassing in
melody, power, and variety those of both the Patagonian and Buenos Ayrean
calandria were rapidly pouring forth in an unbroken stream, till I marvelled
that the throat of any bird could sustain so powerful a song for so long a
time. No sooner had this flow of unfamiliar music ceased than I heard
issuing from the same spot, the shrill, confused, and impetuous song of a
small Patagonian fly-catcher; this was succeeded by the delightful matin
song of the small grey finch. {p 240}

After this I heard the trilling song of the red bird, with its silvery
bell-like sound; then followed the leisurely uttered, mellow, delicious
strain of the yellow cardinal. These songs followed rapidly (for no sooner
did one end than the other began) and were all repeated with miraculous
fidelity. At first I imagined that all these birds that had been imitated
had actually been singing near me; but when the sweet vocalist resumed his
own matchless song again, and I discovered that all the strains that I had
heard had issued from a single throat, how much was my wonder and admiration
for the delightful performer increased! I soon advanced near enough to catch
sight of the singer, and found it to be the Calandria blanca. I found the
pleasure of listening to him enhanced if he was at the same time seen; so
carried away with rapture at his own melody seems the bird, so many and so
beautiful are the gestures and motions with which he accompanies the
performance. He would incessantly pass from bush to bush, sometimes soar
above the thicket for a hundred yards, with a flight as slow as that of a
heron, and at times rise with a swift, wild flight, then circle down and sit
on the summit of a bush, with the broad wings and tail spread out, an object
beautiful to see. What pity it is that this bird should frequent only a
desert country, where so very few can hear it. I cannot help saying that I
consider it the finest singer in America, though such an opinion may be
thought extravagant; but it possesses to perfection the marvellous faculty
of imitation, that has given such celebrity to the Virginian mocking-bird,
and I cannot believe that the mocking-bird of the north, in its own song,
can surpass or even equal the C. blanca.

The Cnipolegus hudsoni, a new species, is readily distinguishable by the
white spotting of the flank feathers. This {p 241} character is not found in
any other species of the genus.

This bird makes his appearance in September in the close thickets bordering
on the Rio Negro; he is usually seen perched on the topmost twig of a bush
watching for insects, after which he darts with great swiftness. He has one
most remarkable habit; suddenly quitting his perch he glides two or three
times close round it, uttering at the same time a peculiar sharp note. It
also frequently utters a sharp, rapid chirping, but has no song. When,
flying, it displays the white bars on its wings it has a strange and pretty
appearance.

The Gallito derives its vernacular name meaning Little Cock from the manner
of carrying the tail elevated like the domestic fowl.

I found it exceedingly numerous in the thickets near to the town of Carmen.
It is in its habits an amusing bird, scarcely possessing the power of
flight, but so ready to take alarm, swift of foot, and fond of concealment,
that it is often very difficult to get a sight of it. No sooner do they spy
out an intruder in the thicket, than the alarm is spread, each bird hopping
up into a bush, and uttering incessantly, at intervals of three or four
seconds, a loud, hollow chirrup, and at times a violent scolding cry,
several times repeated. If the bird finds himself approached, he immediately
springs to the ground and runs off with amazing rapidity to a safe distance.
Then he again ascends a bush and resumes the angry note. Three or four times
I have seen one raise itself from the ground, and fly several yards with a
low feeble flight; but whenever I chanced to come on one on an open place I
found that I could overtake it running, without the bird being able to raise
itself. They often fly down from a bush, but always ascend it by hopping
from branch to branch. {p 242}

I send you two, unfortunately much injured, specimens of the Synallaxis
sulphurifera. It must be exceedingly rare in Patagonia; for this pair were
the only ones I saw during my sojourn in that country, though I constantly
sought for them in the most likely places.

The homely and interesting Homorus guttaralis is, perhaps, a new species. It
frequents open plains abounding in low, thorny, and widely scattered bushes,
and on the approach of a traveller shows itself on the summit of a bush,
with crest erect, and uttering a succession of sharp, angry chirps. The male
and female perform a chorus of notes so powerful that they may be heard
distinctly a mile away. Its flight is low and feeble; but it runs very
rapidly on the ground. This bird builds a nest extraordinary for its size
and strength; it is placed in the middle of a low, thorny, and widely
spreading bush; it is perfectly round, the lower part just raised only a few
inches above the ground; the depth of the whole nest is usually from four to
five feet, the cavity inside is one foot in depth. The opening is on the
side and small, and has in front of it a narrow arched gallery resting on
the horizontal twigs, and thirteen or fourteen inches in length. The nest is
composed entirely of thick sticks, and is so compactly built that I had hard
work to demolish one by thrusting the barrel of a long musket into it and
prizing it up by pieces. I also, to test the strength of a nest, stood on
one for some time, stamping my heel on it with great force, without injuring
it in the least.

The Patagonian pigeon appears in winter in the settled parts of the Rio
Negro; they come in large flocks, and gather in great numbers on the
ploughed fields, eager to devour the wheat; so that the farmers, when sowing
broadcast, have to be constantly firing at them, or keep {p 243} trained
dogs to chase them from the fields. The lively, brisk manner of a Patagonian
pigeon is in strong contrast with the slow, stately steps and deliberate
manner of picking up its food of the Buenos Ayrean species. Its song is
composed of notes equal in length and number to that of the Buenos Ayrean
bird; but the voice of the former is exceedingly hoarse, while that of the
latter is the most agreeable dove melody I have ever heard.

The Perdiz grande is common on the Buenos Ayrean plains, wherever the long
grasses abound. I do not know how far north it extends; but south it is
common as far as the Colorado. South of this river it becomes very rare, and
disappears before the Rio Negro is reached. This bird has no cover but the
giant grasses, through which it pushes like a rail; and wherever the country
is settled it soon disappears, so that it is now extinct over a vast portion
of this province.

It is solitary in its habits, conceals itself in the grass very closely, and
flies with great reluctance. I doubt if there is anywhere a bird with such a
sounding flight as this; and I can only compare the whirr of its wings to
the rattling of a light vehicle driven at great speed over a hard road. From
the moment it rises until it again alights there is no cessation in the
rapid vibration of the wings; but like a ball thrown by the hand the bird
goes gradually sloping towards the earth, the distance it is able to
accomplish at a flight being from fifteen hundred to two thousand yards.
This flight it can repeat when driven up again as many as three times, after
which the bird can rise no more. The call is heard at all seasons of the
year; on pleasant days, and invariably near sunset, it is uttered while the
bird sits concealed in the grass, many birds answering each other; for
though I call it a solitary bird {p 244} (they rarely being seen in company)
several individuals are mostly found living near each other. The song or
call is composed of five or six long notes, with a mellow, flute-like sound,
and so impressively uttered and sweetly modulated that it is, perhaps, the
sweetest bird music heard in the Pampas.

The Martineta, from its size and mottled plumage, somewhat resembles the
Perdiz grande, the most apparent exterior difference being the redder
plumage and longer bill of the latter, and the long slender crest of the
former, which, when excited, the bird carries direct forward, like a horn.
There is, however, an anatomical difference between the species of far more
consequence. The structure of the intestinal canal in the Martineta is most
extraordinary, and totally unlike that of any other bird I have ever
dissected; the canal divides near the stomach into a pair of great ducts
that extend almost the entire length of the abdominal cavity, and are
thickly set with rows of large membranous clam-shaped protuberances.

They are extremely fond of dusting themselves, and form circular nest-like
hollows in the ground for that purpose; these hollows are deep and neatly
made, and are visited by the birds every day. They go in coveys of from half
a dozen to twenty individuals, and when disturbed do not usually take to
flight, but start up one after another, and run off with amazing swiftness,
uttering as they run shrill, squealing cries, as if in great terror. Their
flight, though violent, is not sounding as that of the Perdiz grande, and
differs remarkably in another respect; every twenty or thirty yards the
wings cease their vibration, remaining motionless for a second, when the
bird renews the effort. The flight is accompanied with a soft wailing note
that appears to die away and again swell as {p 245} the flapping of the
wings is renewed. Thus the flight is a series of rushes, rather than a
continuous rush like that of the P. grande.

After arriving in Patagonia, I was told by several persons residing there
that there were two species of small partridge; one I found to be the lesser
partridge of Buenos Ayres, which frequents only the valley of the Rio Negro;
the other was a smaller species, of which I send you several examples, and
found only on the high tablelands. The adults of the last species resemble
the young of the former; and after having observed them for several months,
I am satisfied that they are not identical, nor varieties; for they differ
not only in size and colouring, but in habits.

The lesser partridges, so abundant everywhere on the Pampas, are tame in
disposition, and move in a leisurely manner, uttering as they walk or run a
succession of soft whistling notes. When numerous it is unnecessary to shoot
them, as any number can be killed with a long whip or stick. This species
has two distinct songs or calls, pleasing to the ear, and heard all the year
round; one is a succession of twenty or thirty short, impressive notes of
great compass, and ended by half a dozen rapidly uttered notes, beginning
loud, and sinking lower till they cease; the other call is a soft continuous
trill, appearing to swell mysteriously on the air; for the hearer cannot
tell whence it proceeds; it lasts several seconds, then seems gradually to
die away.

The valley of the Rio Negro, usually nine or ten miles in width, is a flat
plain, resembling the Buenos Ayrean pampas; and wherever long grasses and
reeds abound the call note of the lesser partridge is heard winter and
summer; but outside of the valley I have never met with it. {p 246} {p 247}

INDEX

Albinism, Herman Melville on, 106:  why we are unpleasantly affected by,
106, 107

Animism, Dr. Tylor on, 110

Anumbius acuticaudatus, nest-building habits of, 9

Apple Country, 98

Armadillos, 10, 13; bones of, 35:  defective sight of, 169

Arrow-heads, Palæolithic and Neolithic, 35; highly-finished, 36

Asturina pucherani, a white-eyed hawk, 171

Azara, Felix de, on song birds in Paraguay, 144, 147

Bacon, on embroidery, 49

Bain, on duration of sense-impressions, 225, 227, 231

Bates, on bird music in South America, 141; on Cyphorhinus cantans, 146

Bird music, in Patagonia, 133; in South America, 133-149; difficult to
describe, 135-139; aerial character of, 139-140

Birds, song, number of species in South America, 143

Blackbird, Argentine (Turdus fuscater), 142

Brazilians, attack on El Carmen by, 87-91

Broca, Dr. Paul, classification of eyes, 181

Bubo magellanicus.  See Owl

Buffon, a fancy of, 40; on American song birds, 144

Burroughs, Mr. John, on British and American song birds, 140

Buteo erythronotus, conspicuousness of, 197

Buzzard, white-breasted, 197

Cachalote, 9

Cacti, fruit of, 44

Calandria mocking-bird (Mimus modulator), song of, 134

Calodromus elegans, eggs of, 44; voice and habits of, 122-123

Carancho, 160

Carmen de Patagones, 19; attacked by a Brazilian force, 87-91

Carrion-hawk (Milvago chimango), 24

Carter, Dr. Brudenell, on weak sight in civilised man, 167

Cathartes atratus, 47

Cavia australis, bones of, 35

Chañar tree, 15; fruit of, 45; flowers of, 46

Chi-chi, 99

Children in Patagonia, 43

Chloephaga magellanica, 74

Chrysomitiris magellanica.  See Siskin

Collie-dog, character of, 54, 55

Columba maculosa, depredations of, 74; song, 115

Condalia spinosa, fruit of, 45

Condor, 51

Conspicuousness, effects of, 107

Coots, wheat destroyed by, 73

Courage, instinct of, 200-202 {p 248} Cow and pigs, friendship between, 52,
53

Coypú (Myiopotamus coypú), bones of, 35

Craspedocephalus alternatus, 24

Ctenomys magellanica, bones of, 35; habits of, 121-122

Cusar-leofú, 32

Cuvier, effect of some odours on, 224

Cyphorhinus cantans, Bates on, 146

Dafila spinicauda, depredations of, 74

Darwin, on Craspedocephalus alternatus, 25; on resemblance of animals to
man, 25; on singing birds in South America, 134, 144; on how the mind is
affected by Patagonian scenery, 193

Dasypus minutus, 10

Deer, bones of, 35; distant sight of, 196

Dendrocolaptidæ, 8

Diuca minor, morning song of, 14, 116

Dog, native, character of, 54

Dogs, anecdotes of, 54-68

Dolichotis patagonica, bones of, 35; observed watching me, 132; seen on the
uplands, 195

D'Orbigny, on the flute-bird's song, 145

Duck, brown pintail, 74

Dunes, 4, 12

Earthquake, shock of, experienced at El Carmen, 93

Œcodoma ants, habits of, 127-130

Embernagra platensis.  See Red-billed finch

Escandalosa plant, 130

Evening primrose, 6; fragrance of, 218; adaptiveness of, 220

Eyes, abnormal colour in, 150; colour of in birds, 170; colour of in men,
172; individual variations in, 173; luminous, 174; owls', 175; green, 180;
Broca's table of colours of, 181; brown, 185; blue, 185; British, 188-190

Falco sparverius, nesting in cliffs, 128

Felis geoffroyi, 46

Firewood-gatherer, 10

Flamingo, shooting a, 59-61

Flute-bird, song of, 145

Fontana, Dr. G., on Indians of the Pampas and Gran Chaco, 162

Franklin, Benjamin, a characteristic of, 208

Gaucho with abnormal eyes, 150

Gauchos, dislike to spectacles of, 152

Germans, weakness of sight in, 165

Gould, his collection of humming-birds, 171

Greyhounds, hunting on their own account, 55, 56

Gums, edible, 44; chewing, 118-120

Gurliaca decorticans.  See Chañar

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, eyes of, 187

Homorus gutturalis, habits of, 9

Huanaco, bones of, 35

Humboldt, on eyesight in savages, 159, 167 {p 249} Hunt, Leigh, on the
pleasure of going to bed, 208

Hunting, instinct of, 202

Icteridæ, 143

Incas, the rainbow-worshippers, 49; knowledge of nature's laws of, 128

Indian remains, 34-39

Indian burial-places, 38

Indians, life among the, 94-102; eyesight of, 159, 160; life-conditions of
the, 161; Fontana on, 161; Pelleschi on, 167; instinctive courage, 214;
endurance of pain, 215

Instincts, human, 200-217; in children, 204; Dr. Wallace on, 211

Itaparica, capture of the warship, 91

Jefferies, Richard, instinctive savage feelings, 203

Juniper, a gum-bearing, 118

La Merced, 19

Leaf-cutting ants, 127-130

Lichenops perspicillata, 179

Liquorice plant, 7

Little cock, amusing habits of, 121

Locke on mental pictures, 225

Locusts, depredations of, 73

Lombardy poplar, odour of, 223

Maken, 118

Manzanas, Las, 98

Martineta, 44

Melville, Herman, on the quality of whiteness, 104-109; on valour, 216

Mendoza, destruction of, 93

Migration, 5

Military starling, 116

Milky sea, a, 113

Mill, J. S., a doctrine of, 77

Milvago chimango.  See Carrion-hawk

Mimus modulator.  See Calandria mocking-bird

Missionary Society, South American, 27

Moby Dick, H. Melville's, 104

Mocking-bird, Patagonian, 8, 116, 134; white-banded, 115; calandria, 134

Mocking-birds, 145

Myiopotamus coypú.  See Coypú

Nightingale, melody of, 137

Nothura darwini, eggs of, 44

Oculto, habits of, 121

Organ-bird, Bates on the, 146

Ostriches, god of the, 114

Owl, Magellanic eagle, 175-177

Parker, Prof. W. K., on clothing, 206

Parrots in Patagonia, 125

Patagonia, first sight of, 4-6; legends, 4; salubrious climate of, 116-118;
explored, 192; Darwin on plains of, 191; secret of charm of, 193;
description of scenery of, 193-198

Peccary, bones of, 35

Pelleschi on Gran Chaco Indians, 167

Phytotoma rutila.  See Plant-cutter

Picture puzzles, 164

Pigeons, rock, resting in cliff, 126

Pigs and cow, friendship between, 52, 53 {p 250} Piquellin, 45

Plant-cutter (Phytotoma rutila), habits of, 8

Polar bear, man's fear of, 106, 114

Polybori, 46

Polyborus tharus, flight of, 160

Primitive Culture, Dr. Tylor's, 110

Progne furcata, description of, 29; migration of, 30-31

Puma, a tree-climber, 46; abundant on the Rio Negro, 72; depredations of, 72

Rainbow, a brilliant, 48-49

Realejo, song of, 146

Red-billed finch (Embernagra platensis), 24

Resemblance of inferior animals to man, 26

Resemblances, imitative and protective in nature, 164

Retriever, character of the, 56, 57; account of a, 56-58

Revolver accident, 21

Rhea, bones of, 35; a white, 114

Rhinocrypta lanceolata, amusing habits of, 121

Rio Negro, first sight of, 15; colour of, 32, 33; valley of the, 33;
psychological effect of the, 40-44, 45; extraordinary sunset effect on, 49

Salix humboldtiana, 46

Scandalous, plant named, 130

Shark, white, fear inspired by, 107

Sight in savage and civilised men, 150-169

Simson, Mr., on the flute-bird of Ecuador, 146

Siskin, black-headed (Chrysomitris icterica), 126, 223

Snakes, hard to detect, 163; defective sight of, 168

Snow, at El Carmen, 103; whiteness of, and effect on the mind, 109-113

Song-sparrow (Zonotrichia canicapilla), 24

Sosa the Scout, anecdote of, 91

Soul Shapes, treatise on, 151

South American Missionary Society, 27

Spencer, Herbert, on adaptiveness of organs, 166

Swallow, white-rumped (Tachycineta leucorrhoa), morning song of, 23, 27;
purple, 29; migration of, 30-31

Swan, black-necked, 16

Synallaxis, 9

Tachycineta leucorrhoa.  See Swallow, white-rumped

Tanagers, 142

Thoreau, instinctive impulses in, 204; on the robin's song, 206; feeling for
nature in, 211

Thorn-bird, habits of, 10

Thurn, Mr. im, on paucity of bird music in British Guiana, 141

Tinamous, eggs of, 44; language and habits of, 122-123; seen on the uplands,
195

Trapalanda, legend of, 4, 192

Trarú, 160

Troglodytes furvus, Azara on song of, 145

Troupials, number of species, 143

Trupialis militaris.  See Military starling {p 251} Tuco-tuco, 35

Turdus fuscater.  See Blackbird, Argentine

Tylor, Dr., on animism, 110

Upland geese, 48; shooting, 63; depredations of, 74

Upucerthia dumetoria, 9

Vignoli, Dr. de, on the mythical faculty, 111

Vizcacha, bones of, 35

Vulture, black, 47

Wallace, Dr. A. R., on bird music in the tropics, 147; on human instincts,
211; peculiar theory of, 188

Waterton, on bare feet, 207

Whale, The White, Melville's romance, 104

Whiteness, the quality of, 103-114; abnormal, in animals, 114

White shark, fear inspired by, 107

Willow trees on the Rio Negro, 48

Wolseley, Lord, on instinctive courage, 201

Woodman, 10

Wren, La Plata, Azara on, 145; character of song of, 145

Wrens, a highly melodious family, 145-147

Zenaida maculata, song of, 115

Zonotrichia canicapilla.  See Song-sparrow



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