A Wilderness Laboratory

I

ROBINSON CRUSOE had a wreck well stored with supplies, and we inherited only four walls and a roof. Still, we had a boy Friday — Sam, an ebony Demeraran, exactly half of whose teeth had been lost in the only automobile ride he had ever taken. Sam was sent by some personal Providence—perhaps the god of intelligence bureaus — as the first of our faithful following in Guiana. Sam had formerly been a warden in the Georgetown jail, and rumor had it that he left because he saw ‘jumbles’ in the court where one hundred and nine men had been hung. And surely that was where jumbies would be found if anywhere. Even Crusoe’s man must have admitted that. How wardenship could be of aid to us in our scientific work was a puzzle.

Only once before did a servant’s previous experience surpass this in utter uselessness. That was when a Russian chauffeur whom I had taken on trial found a cowboy saddle in my attic and seriously and proudly showed me in great detail, with the saddle strapped to the banisters, how with his long Cossack training he could stand on his neck when going at full speed! But Sam, like many another servant of the past, was to prove a treasure.

We had come from New York with a very distinct idea of what we wanted to do, but no idea at all of just how or where we should begin. On kindly but conflicting advice and suggestion, we had searched hither and thither over the coastlands of British Guiana. Everywhere we found drawbacks. We wanted to be near primeval jungle, we wished to be free of mosquitoes and other disturbers of long-continued observation. We desired the seemingly impossible combination of isolation and facility of communication with the outside world.

In a driving, tropical rain-storm I ascended the Essequibo to Bartica, and from the hills, as the sun broke through gray clouds, my friend the rubber planter pointed over two jungle-clad ranges to a great house, a house with many pillars, a house with roof of pale pink like a giant mora in full bloom. Then, like the good fairy prince in any wellregulated tale, he waved his wand toward it, and said, ‘That is Kalacoon; take it and use it if you want it.’ Only his wand was a stout walking-stick, and for the nonce the fairy prince had taken the form of a tall, bronzed, very goodlooking Englishman, who had carved a rubber plantation out of the very edge of the jungle, and with wife and small daughter lived in the midst of his cleanbarked trees.

And now we had had a gift of a great house in the heart of the Guiana wilderness, a house built many years before by one who was Protector of the Indians. This we were to turn into a home and a laboratory to study the wild things about us — birds, animals, and insects; not to collect them primarily, but to photograph, sketch, and watch them day after day, learning of those characters and habits which cannot be transported to a museum. And exactly this had not been done before; hence it took on new fascination.

I had never given serious thought to the details of housekeeping, and I suddenly realized how much for granted one takes things in civilization. In New York I had possessed beds and baths and tables, dishes and cooks and towels, in a spirit of subconsciousness which made one think of them only if they were not there. Now I had suddenly to think about all these and other things particularly hard. If it had been the usual camping duffle of hammock, net, tarpaulin, and frying-pan, that would have been simple. But when the sugar-bowl is empty, one becomes at once acutely conscious of it; if it is not, while the hand unbidden manipulates the tongs, the brain distils or listens to thoughts of opera, science, or war. Optical eclipse, impelled by familiarity, is often total. However, we found the Georgetown stores well stocked, and whenever we purchased a useless thing we found that it could be used for something else. And sooner or later, everything we possessed was used for something else, thereby moving one of us to suggest a society for reducing household articles by half.

But while it was well enough to make a lark of such things when one had to, we begrudged every minute taken from the new field outspread before us in every direction. For Kalacoon was on a hilltop and looked out on the northern third of the horizon over the expanse of three mighty rivers — the Essequibo, the Mazaruni, and the Cuyuni. And around us was high second growth, losing itself to the southward in a gigantic, abrupt wall of the real jungle — the jungle that I knew by experience was more wonderful than any of the forests of the Far East, of Burma or Ceylon or Malaysia.

We sat down on some packing-boxes after our first day of indoor labor, and watched the sun settle slowly beyond the silvered Mazaruni. And a song, not of the tropics, but bubbling and clear and jubilant as that of our northern singers, rang out from the single tall palm standing in our front compound. Clinging to the topmost frond was an oriole, jet as night, with the gold of sunshine on crown and shoulders and back. He was singing. While he sang, a second oriole swooped upward between two vanes of a frond to a small ball of fibres knotted close to the midrib. The event had come and it developed swiftly.

We seized a great ladder and by superhuman efforts raised it little by little, until it rested high against the smooth trunk. One of us then mounted the swaying rungs, reckless with excitement, and thrust his hand into the nest. It was withdrawn and went to his mouth, and down he came. To our impatient, impolite inquiries, he answered only with inarticulate mumblings and grunts. He reached the ground and into his pursed hands carefully regurgitated an egg — white, with clustered markings of lavender and sepia about the larger end. We looked at each other and grinned. Words seemed superfluous. Later I believe we quieted down and danced some kind of a war-dance. Our feelings had then reached the stage where they could at least be expressed in action. Perhaps it was not altogether the scientific joy of gazing at and possessing the first known egg of the moriche oriole. I know that by sheer perversity I kept thinking of the narrow-gauge cañon of a city street, as I gloried in this cosmic openness of tropical river and jungle and sunset. Only in an aeroplane have I experienced an equal spatial elation.

Our bird-nester told us that there was a second egg, and said something about not daring to put two in his mouth lest he slip and swallow both. But later, in a moment of weakness, he admitted the real reason, — that he had not the heart, after the glorious song and this splendid omen of our work, to do more than divide the spoils fifty-fifty with the orioles. Self-control was rewarded, as the other egg hatched and we learned a secret of the juvenile plumage of these birds, while the songs of the cadouries, as the Indians call them, were heard month after month at our windows.

Within a week our great front room, full thirty by sixty feet, with sixteen large windows, was a laboratory in appearance and odor. Hundreds of jars and vials, vivaria and insectaries, microscopes, guns, and cameras, with all their details and mysterious inner workings, left no table vacant. With book-shelves up, there remained only the walls, which little by little became mosaics of maps, diagrams, sketches, drying skins, Indian weapons, birds’ nests and shot-holes. Whiffs of formaline, chloroform, and xylol, together with the odors of occasional mislaid or neglected specimens, left no doubt as to the character of the room. We found that the trade wind came from the front, and also that we had much to discuss after the lamps were put out; so we turned the couches into their rightful functions of cots, and the three of us slept scattered here and there in the great room.

The vampire bats never allowed us to become bored. There were no mosquitoes or flies, so we used no nets; but for months we burned a lantern. Low around our heads swept the soft wings of the little creatures, while the bat enthusiast now and then fired his auxiliary pistol. Later we found that a score of them roosted behind a broken clapboard, and, by spreading a seine below and around this, we were able to capture and examine the entire colony at will. Tarantulas were common, but not in the least offensive, and we learned to know where to look for a big black fellow and a small gray one who kept the room free from cockroaches. One or two scorpions were caught indoors, but the three centipedes which appeared occasionally were those which had been brought in and were always escaping from a defective vivarium. There were no other dangers or inconveniences, if we can apply such terms to these comparatively harmless creatures.

This was the background of our labors, our laboratory as our English visitors called it: cool in the daytime, cold at night, where one could work as well as in the north, and where a morning’s tramp usually furnished material sufficient for a week of research. We came to know it as the house of a thousand noises. The partitions, like those of all tropical houses, extended only part way to the ceiling, so, as some one has said, one enjoyed about the privacy of a goldfish. It would have been a terrible place for a victim of insomnia; but when we were kept awake by noises it was because we were interested in them. After a day’s hard work in the jungle, it must indeed be a bad conscience or a serious physical ailment which keeps one awake a minute after one rolls up in his blanket. Through all the months of varying tropical seasons we slept as soundly as we should at home. I can do with five or six hours’ sleep the year round, and I begrudged even this in the tropical wonderland, where my utmost efforts seemed to result in such slight inroads into our tremendous zoölogical ignorance. At night I spent many wonderful hours, leaning first out of one, then out of another window, or occasionally going down the outside latticed stairway and strolling about the compound.

No two nights were alike, although almost all were peaceful, with hardly a breath of air stirring — just the cool, velvet touch of the tropics, always free from any trace of the heat of the day. Whether dark rich olive under crescent or starlight, or glowing silvery-gray in the flood of the full moon, the forest, so quiet, so motionless all about me, was always mysterious, always alluring. To the north, at the foot of the hill, lay the dark surface of the great river, its waters one amber, homogeneous flood, yet drawn from a thousand tributaries: hidden creeks seeping through mossy jungles far beyond the Spanish border, brown cascades filtering through gravel which gleamed with yellow gold and sparkled with the light from uncut diamonds. And to the south rose the wall of the jungle itself, symbol of all that is wild and untamed in nature.

Yet I am never conscious of the bloody fang, the poison tooth, of the wilderness. The peace of this jungle at night was the same peace as that of the trees in our city parks. I knew that well within my horizon, jaguars and pumas were stalking their prey, while here and there on the forest floor bushmasters lay coiled like mats of death. But quite as vividly could I picture the stray cats pouncing on sleeping sparrows in the shrubbery of Washington Square, or the screech owls working havoc in the glades of Central Park where the glare of the electric lights is less violent. And I have not forgotten the two-score gulls and swans with torn throats — a single night’s work of wild mink in the Bronx. Nature is the same everywhere; only here the sparrows are not alien immigrants, and the light is not measured in kilowatts, and the hacka tigers are not so sated that they kill for pleasure.

A sound broke in upon my reverie, so low at first that it seemed but the droning hum of a beetle’s wings echoing against the hollow shield of their ebony cases. It was deep, soothing, almost hypnotic; one did not want it to cease. Then it gained in volume and depth, and from the heart of the bass there arose a terrible, subdued shrilling — a muffled, raucous grating which touched some secret chord of long-past fear. The whole effect was most terrifying, but still one did not desire it to cease. In itself it seemed wholly suited to its present jungle setting; the emotion it aroused was alien to all modern life. My mind sped swiftly back over the intervening years of sound, over the jeering chorus of Malay gibbons, the roars of anger of orang-utans, fourhanding themselves through the swaying Bornean jungle, and on past the impudent chatter of the gray langurs of Kashmir deodars. Memory came to rest in a tent-boat, seven years ago and not many more miles distant, when I heard my first red howlers. Then I shared my thrill. Now all with me were asleep, and alone I reached far out into the night and with mouth and ears absorbed every vibration of the wonderful chorus.

II

In spite of all this variety and immeasurable diversity, I came to perceive a definite sequence of many daily and nightly events, as I observed them from Kalacoon windows. Not only did the sun rise invariably in the east and the trade winds blow regularly every afternoon, but a multitude of organic beings timed their activities to these elemental phenomena. At half after five, when it was just light enough to see distinctly, I went out into the calm of dawn. The quiet of the great spaces at this hour was absolute. No matter how tempestuous the evening before, or the night, the hours of early morning were peaceful. Not a leaf stirred. The tide flowed silently up or down or for a time held itself motionless. At the flood the mirror surface would occasionally be shattered for a moment far from shore, where a porpoise or a great lucan ani rolled, or a crocodile or a water mama nosed for breath. The calm was invariable, but the air might be crystal clear to the horizon, or so drenched in mist that the nearest foliage was invisible.

No matter how early I went out into the dawn, the wrens were always singing — though they were recent arrivals at Kalacoon. Then, within a few minutes, the chachalacas began their loud duets, answering one another in couples from first one, then another direction, until the air was ringing with hanaqua! hanaqua! hanaqua! Dragonflies appeared in mid-air, martins left their nests among the beams, parrakeets crossed over from their roosts, and swifts met them coming from their sleeping quarters in hollow trees. The quaint little grassquits began their absurd dance against gravity, and blatant kiskadees ushered in the sun and day.

Then came an interval when every one was too busy feeding to sing, and the wren’s notes were hushed by an astounding succession of tiny spiders, and the chirps of young martins were smothered in winged ants. Swiftly the sun rose and the heat dissipated the mists and lured out a host of flying things. Even at mid-day one might sit at a window and take notes continuously of lesser happenings, while now and then something of such note occurred that one could only watch and wonder. This might be a migration of sulphur butterflies, thousands flying steadily toward the southeast hour after hour, day after day. Or a host of hummingbirds of nearly a score of species would descend upon the cashew blossoms in the rear compound. Most exciting was a flight of winged termites. In the rainy season the clouds would bank up about mid-day, and showers fall with true tropical violence. After an exceptionally long downpour the marriage flight would take place and logs, dead branches, and even the steps and beams of Kalacoon would give up their multitudes. From great rotted stumps the insects poured forth like curling smoke. The breeze carried them slowly off toward the west, and at the first hint the birds gathered to the feast. Only the Rangoon vultures surpassed them in numbers and voracity. The air was fretted with a kaleidoscopic network of swifts — from great, collared fellows to the tiny dwellers in palms — with swallows, martins, and, if late enough, nighthawks. Fork-tailed flycatchers swept by scores round the vortex of insects, while a fluttering host of kiskadees, tanagers, anis, thrushes, and wrens gleaned as best they could from grass-top or branch. In ten minutes the whole flight had vanished. Any queen termite which ran that gantlet safely deserved to found her colony without further molestation.

Although I might have stalked and watched the white campañeros for a week past, yet whenever there came to ear the anvil-like kong! kang! or the ringing, sonorous kaaaaaaaaaaang! of a bell-bird three miles away, I always stopped work and became one great ear to this jungle angelus.

One could watch the changing seasons of the great tropical jungle from the same wonder windows of Kalacoon. A dull rose suffused the tree-tops, deepening day by day, and finally the green appeared, picked out everywhere by a myriad blossoms — magenta, mauve, maroon, carmine, rose, salmon-pink. Yet the glass showed only top-gallant foliage of wilted, parti-colored leaves. Illusion upon illusion: these were not wilted, but newborn leaves which thus in their spring glory rivaled our autumnal tints. One never forgot the day when the first mora burst into full bloom — a great mound of lavender pigment, swung nearly two hundred feet in mid-air, dominating all the surrounding jungle growth. This was the lush, prodigal way in which the tropics announced spring.

Whether I had spent the day in hard tramping or stalking in the jungle, or at my laboratory table trying to disentangle the whys and wherefores from the physical skein of my specimens, toward sunset I always went down to the cement floor of an orchid-house long fallen in decay. This was under the open sky, and from this spot on the highest hilltop in all this region, I watched the end of the day.

No sunset should ever be described, and the Kalacoon sunsets were too wonderful for aught but wordless reverence. They were explosions of wild glory, palettefuls of unheard-of pigments splashed across the sky, and most bewildering because they were chiefly in the west or north. This evening on which I write was sealed with a sunset of negligible yellow, but the east was a splendor of forest fires and minarets, great golden castles and pale-green dragons and snow-capped mountains all conceived and moulded from glorious tumbled cloud-masses, and ultimately melting back into them again. The moriche orioles met the beauty of the heavens with their silver notes, and as the sky cooled, there arose the sweet, trilled cadence of the little tinamou heralding the voices of night. The silvery collared nighthawks began their eternal questioning who-are-you! whoare-you ! and the coolness banished all thought of the blistering sunshine now pouring down upon the waters of the Pacific.

Not until later, when the night-life was fairly under way, and all the beings of the sun hidden and asleep, did the deep bass rumble of the big toads commence, and the tinkling chorus of the little frogs. Last of all came the essence of the nocturnal — the sound furthest removed from day. All other voices seemed to become for an instant hushed, and the poor-me-one spoke — a wail which rose, trembled, and broke into a falling cadence of hopeless sighs.

And now, with the crescent moon writing its heliograph cipher upon the water, a new sound arose, low and indistinct, lost for a moment, then rising and lost again. Then it rang out rich and harmonious, the full-throated paddling chanty of a gold-boat of blacks coming down river with their tiny pokes of glittering dust. It tore at the heart-strings of memory, and in its wildness, its sad minor strain, was strangely moving. The steersman set the words and in high, quavering tones led the chorus, which broke in, took up the phrase, different each time, and repeated it twice over, with a sweet pathos, a finality of cadence which no trained white chorus could reproduce.

There was much of savage African rhythm in these boat-songs, and instead of the drum of the Zulus came the regular thump-thump, thump-thump, of paddles on the thwarts. They were paddling slowly, weary and tired after a long day of portaging, passing with the tide down to Bartica. Then on to a short, exciting period of affluence in Georgetown, after which they would return for another six months in the gold bush. They were realizing their little El Dorados in these very waters more successfully than Sir Walter Raleigh was able to do.

III

I have said that the wonder windows would take one to the Far East; and hardly had the gold-boat passed out of hearing when the never-to-beforgotten heat-beat-beat-beat of a tomtom rose without hint or introduction, and straightway the cecropias became deodars and the palms dwarfed to pîpuls and sal, and the smells of the Calcutta bazaars and the dust of Agra caravans lived again in that sound.

A voice in soft Hindustani tones was heard below — the low, inarticulate phrases framing themselves into a gentle honk-honka, honk, honk-honka. Then, still out of sight, came a voice on the stairway: ‘Salaam, sahib, will sahib come see dance and see wedding?’

The sahib would; and I followed the wavering lantern of the bride’s father down the steep, rocky path which, at the water’s edge, turned toward the half-dozen huts of the East Indians.

For a week the coolie women had done no work in the fields, but had spent much of their time squatted in chanting circles. I learned that a marriage was to take place, and, to my surprise, the bride proved to be Budhany, the little child who brought us milk each day from the only cow south of the Mazaruni. Another day, as I passed to the tent-boat, I saw the groom, naked save for his breech-clout, looking very foolish and unhappy, seated on a box in the centre of the one short street, and surrounded by six or eight women, all who could reach him vigorously slapping him and rubbing him with oil from head to foot. Every evening, to the dull monotone of a tom-tom, the shrill voices of the women were carried up to Kalacoon; but to-night a louder, more sonorous drum was audible and the moaning whine of a short, misshapen Hindi violin.

Amid a murmur of salaams we seated ourselves on grocery boxes while the audience ranged itself behind. In the flickering light of torches I recognized my friends one by one. There was Guiadeen who had brought in the first ant-eater; he seated us. Then Persaïd of the prominent teeth, who had tried to cheat me of a sixpence already paid for a mouse-opossum with her young. Persaïd gave us only a hasty salaam, for he was a very busy and fussy master of ceremonies. From behind came the constant droning chant of the priest, lingeringly reading from a tattered Pali volume, an oil torch dripping close to his white turban. His voice was cracked, but his intonation was careful and his words well articulated. The day before we had greeted him and chaffingly admonished him to marry them well.

‘God only could promise that,’ he had replied with a quick smile.

Others of the little village I knew: Rahim the milkman, and Mahabol, with the head and beard of a Sikh on the legs of a Bengalee, and a thin Bengalee at that. The audience which pressed close behind looked and smelled Calcutta and Darjeeling, and a homesickness which was pain came over me, to be once more among the great Himalayas. The flickering torch showed all my retinue threaded along the outer rim of onlookers; my following who formed a veritable racial tower of Babel. There was Jeremiah the Akawai, and Vingi the Macushi and Semmi the Wapiano — red Indians from forest and savannah. Near them the broad, black African face of little Mame, all eyes and mouth in the dim light. Then de Freitas the Portuguese, and all the others of less certain lineage.

Meanwhile Persaïd had brought forth an oily, vile-smelling liquid with which he coated a square yard of earth, and then with pounded maize and rice he marked out a mystic figure — two squares and diagonals. As the ceremony went on I lost much of the significance, and the coolies themselves seemed very vague. They were all of low caste and preserved more of the form than knowledge of the intricate rites.

We were at the groom’s end of the absurd street, and before long Madhoo himself appeared and was led a few steps away by his female tormentors. This time they scrubbed and washed and rinsed him with water, and then dressed him in a soft white waist-cloth draped coolie-wise. Then a long tightsleeved pink dress was pulled with much difficulty over his head. Madhoo now looked like a woman dressed in a fashion long extinct. Next, a pink turban was wound wonderfully about his head and he was led to one side of the rice figure, where he sat down on a low stool.

Sam, my black factotum, sat close to me, translating when my slender knowledge of Hindustani gave out. Suddenly he stopped abruptly in the middle of a sentence, I saw that he was staring at the groom, the whites of his eyes glistening in astonishment.

‘Chief,’ he whispered at last, ‘see where my socks, my shoes!’

And sure enough, we saw Persaïd pulling the purple-striped socks, which had been Sam’s delight, over the unaccustomed ankles of the groom. These were followed by cheap white tennis shoes, causing another ejaculation on the part of Sam.

‘Hello, shoes!’ I heard him murmur to himself.

Sam always personified those parts of his environment which touched his feelings most deeply, whether clothes, curries, thorns, or gravitation. When unloading the tent-boat a few nights before, he had left his shoes on the bank; and during a trip up the hill to Kalacoon they had vanished. For a moment I was not sure that Sam, like the hero in some melodrama, would not rise and forbid the marriage. Then I heard him chuckling and knew that his sense of humor and regard for our evening’s entertainment had nobly overcome what must have been a very real desire to possess again those gorgeous articles of attire. And, besides, I felt sure that the morrow would witness a short, pithy interview regarding these same articles, between Sam and either Madhoo or Persaïd!

Clad now in this added glory, the groom waited, like the tethered heifer, looking furtively at his circle of wellwishers. His little, shriveled mother came and squatted close behind him, toboggan-fashion, and flung a fold of her cloth over his back. Then she waved various things three times over his head: a stone grain-crusher, a brass bowl of water, and tossed rice and pellets of dough in the four directions. Red paint was put on her toes and feet and caste marks on her son.

Meanwhile the dancer had begun and his musicians were in full swing; but of these I shall speak later. The groom was backed into an elaborate headdress, a high, open-work affair of long wired beads with dangling artificial flowers. First it was placed on the mother’s head and then on the turban of the long-suffering young man. An outflaring of torches and a line of whiterobed and turbaned coolies from the other end of the street of six houses roused the groom and his friends to new activity. He climbed upon one of the men, straddling his neck, and what appeared to be a best man, or boy, mounted another human steed. They were then carried the few feet to the house of the bride, the shiny, blackrubber soles of the filched tennis shoes sticking absurdly out in front. A third man carried a bundle, — very small, to which no one seemed to attach much importance, — which was said to contain clothes for the bride.

After an undignified dismounting, the groom squatted by a new rice-andmaizc square and removed his shoes and socks, to his own evident relief and Sam’s renewed excitement. Then coppers passed to the priest and many symbolic gifts were put in the groom’s hands; some of these he ate, and others he laid in the square. Whenever money passed, it was hidden under sweetsmelling frangipani blossoms, or temple-flowers, as they are called in India. The bride’s mother came out and performed numerous rites to and around the groom; finally, a small person in white also achieved one or two unimportant things and disappeared.

While we waited for some culminating event, the groom stood up, skillfully lit a cigarette through the meshes of the dangling head-dress, and walked with his friends to the porch of the opposite house, where he squatted on the earthen floor in the semi-darkness. Then came Persaïd and announced, ‘Marriage over; man wait until daylight, then carry off bride to honeymoon house’ — the ’dobe hut plastered all over with the imprint of hundreds of white, outspread fingers and palms.

The marriage over! This was a shock. The critical moment had come and passed, eluding us, and Budhany, the little bride, had appeared and vanished so hurriedly that we had not recognized her.

The dancer had throughout been the focus of interest for me. There was no perfunctory work or slurring over of the niceties of his part, and his sincerity and absorption inspired and stimulated his four assistants until they fairly lost themselves in abandon to the rhythm and the chant. His name was Gokool and he had come up from one of the great coastal sugar plantations. Nowhere outside of India had I seen such conscientious devotion to the dancer’s work.

Rammo the tent-boat captain played the cretinous violin; he it was who never tired of bringing us giant buprestids and rails’ eggs, and whose reward was to watch and listen to our typewriter machine through all the time that he dared prolong his visit to our laboratory. Dusrate played the tiny clinking cymbals; Matoora, he of the woman’s voice, held the torch always close before the dancer’s face; while the drummer — the most striking of them all — was a stranger, Omeer by name. Omeer, with the double-ended tom-tom in a neck-sling, followed Gokool about, his eyes never leaving the latter’s face. Little by little he became wholly rapt, absorbed, and his face so expressive, so working with emotion, that I could watch nothing else.

Gokool was a real actor, a master of his art, with a voice deep, yet shifting easily to falsetto quavers, and with the controlled ability of emphasizing the slightest intonations and delicate semitones which made his singing full of emotional power. He got his little orchestra together, patting his palms in the tempo he wished, then broke suddenly into the wailing, dynamic, abrupt phrases which I knew so well. Had not my servants droned them over my camp-fires from Kashmir to Myitkyina, and itinerant ballad-singers chanted them from Ceylon to the Great Snows!

Gokool’s dress was wide and his skirt flaring, so that, when he whirled, it stood straight out, and it was stiff with embroidery and scintillating with tinsel. From his sleek, black hair came perfume, that musky, exciting scent which alone would summon India to mind as with a rub of Aladdin’s lamp. His anklets and bracelets clinked as he moved; and suddenly, and to our Western senses always unexpectedly, he would begin the swaying, reeling motion, almost that of a cobra in hood. Then after several more phrases, chanted with all the fire and temperamental vigor which marks Hindu music, he would start the rigid little muscular steps which carried him over the ground with no apparent effort, though all the time he was wholly tense and working up into that ecstasy which would obsess him more and more. His songs were of love and riches and war, and all the things of life which can mean so little to these poor coolies.

Exhausted at last, he stopped; and I found that I too suddenly relaxed — that I had been sitting with every muscle tense in sympathy. Gokool came and gave me salaam, and as he turned away for a hand-hollowed puff of hemp I spoke a little word of thanks in his own tongue.

He looked back, not believing that he had heard aright. I repeated it and asked if he knew ‘Dar-i-Parhadoor,’ this being my phonetic spelling of a certain ballad of ancient India.

‘Koom, sahib,’ he said; and kneeling touched my foot with his head.

Then we talked as best we could, and I found he was from the Hills, and knew and adored the Parhadoor, and was even more homesick for the Great Snows than I. But once something had snapped in his head and he could not work in the sun, and could dance but rarely; so now he earned money for his daily rice only and could never return.

Then he gathered his musicians once more and sang part of the majestic Parhadoor, which is full of romance and royal wars, and has much to do with the wonders of the early Rajputs. And he sang more to me than to the groom, who neither looked nor listened, but kept busy with his clothes.

Out of all the pressing throng a little coolie boy came and squatted close, and his eyes grew large as he listened to the tale, and from time to time he smiled at me. He had once brought me a coral snake, but I could not call him by name. Now I knew him for the one unlike the rest, — worthy perhaps of a place in my memory roll of supercoolies, — who worked at weeding day after day, like the rest of the men, but who thought other thoughts than those of Mahabol and Guiadeen. I wished I had known of him sooner.

So Gokool sang to us two, the coolie boy and me, a song of ancient India, and danced it by moonlight here in this American jungle, and I dotted his dancing circle with pence, and a few bits, and even a shilling or two. And Gokool thanked me with dignity. And his face will long remain vivid, tense with feeling, forgetful of all but the loud-cadenced phrases, the quavering chant which broke in and out of falsetto so subtlely that no Western voice may imitate it. And I like to think that he enjoyed dancing for a sahib who loved Lucknow and the old ballads. And so we parted.

After I cached the vampire lantern behind its intrenched bulwark of books and magazines, I leaned far out of a window and thought over the night’s happenings. It was long after midnight, and the steady throb of the tomtom still kept rhythm with the beat of my temples, and I gave myself up to the lure of the hypnotic monotone.

One thought kept recurring — of the little girl far back in the dark depths of the wattled hut. She was so little, so childish, and her part that evening had been so slight and perfunctory, not as much as that of any of the other women and girls who had slovenly performed the half-understood rites. She had brought us milk regularly, and smiled when we wished salaam to her.

She knew less of India than I did. Guiana, this alien land, as humid and luxuriant as the Great Plains were dry and parched — this was her native country. And this evening was her supreme moment; yet her part in it had not seemed fair. She would have liked so much to have worn that pink dress which made of her future husband a caricature; she would have adored to place the shining, tinseled head-dress on her black hair — more with a child’s delight than a woman’s. And now she would live in a house of her own, and not a play-house, and obey this kindfaced young man — young, but not in comparison with her, whose father he could have been. And she would have anklets and bracelets and a gorgeous nose-button if he could save enough shillings, — I almost said rupees, — and ultimately she would go and cut grass with the other women, and each day take her little baby astride her hip down to the water and wash it, as she, so very short a time ago, had been washed.

And so, close to the wonder windows, we had seen a marriage of strange peoples, who were yet of our own old Aryan stock; whose ceremonies were already ancient when the Christians first kept faith, now transported to a new land where life was infinitely easier for them than in their own overcrowded villages; immigrants to the tropical hinterland where they rubbed elbows with idle Africans and stolid Red Indians. And I was glad of all their strange symbolic doings, for these showed imagination and a love of the long past in time and the distant in space.

I wished a good wish for Budhany, our little milkmaid, and forgot all in the sound, dreamless sleep which comes each night to Kalacoon.