SURELY no one can deny that there is a great gulf between pancakes and truffles. An eternal, fixed, abysmal cañon. It is like the chasm between beds and hammocks. It is not to be denied and not to be traversed; for if pancakes with syrup are a necessary of life, then truffles with anything must be, by the very nature of things, a supreme and undisputed luxury, a regal food for royalty and the chosen of the earth. There cannot be a shadow of a doubt that these two are divided; and it is not alone a mere arbitrary division of poverty and riches as it would appear on the surface. It is an alienation brought about by profound and fundamental differences; for the gulf between them is that gulf which separates the prosaic, the ordinary, the commonplace, from all that is colored and enlivened by romance.
The romance of truffles! The very word itself appears in a halo, an aristocratic halo full of mystery and suggestion. One remembers the hunters who must track their quarry through marshy and treacherous lands, and one cannot forget their confiding catspaw, that desolated pig, created only to be betrayed and robbed of the fungi of his labors. He is one of the pathetic characters of history, born to secret sorrow, victimized by those superior tastes which do not become his lowly station. Born to labor and to suffer, but not to eat. To this day he commands my sympathy; his ghost — lean, bourgeois, reproachful — looks out at me from every marketplace in the world where the truffle proclaims his faithful service.
But the pancake is a pancake, nothing more. It is without inherent or artificial glamour; and this unfortunately, when you come right down to it, is true of food in general. For food, after all, is one of the lesser considerations; the connoisseur, the gourmet, even the gourmand, spends no more than four hours out of the day at His table. From the cycle, he may select four in which to eat; but whether he will or not, he must set aside seven of the twenty-four in which to sleep.
Sleeping, then, as opposed to eating, is of almost double importance, since it consumes nearly twice as much time — and time, in itself, is the most valuable thing in the w orld. Considered from this angle, it seems incredible that we have no connoisseurs of sleep. For we have none. Therefore it is with some temerity that I declare sleep to be one of the romances of existence, and not by any chance the simple necessary it is reputed to be.
However, this romance, in company with whatever is worthy, is not to be discovered without the proper labor. Life is not all truffles. Neither do they grow in modest back-yards to be picked of mornings by the maid-of-allwork. A mere bed, notwithstanding its magic camouflage of coverings, of canopy, of disguised pillows, of shining brass or fluted carven posts, is, pancake like, never surrounded by this aura of romance. No, it is hammock sleep which is the sweetest of all slumber. Not in the hideous, dyed affairs of our summer porches, with their miserable curved sticks to keep the strands apart, and their maddening creaks which grow in length and discord the higher one swings — but in a hammock woven by Carib Indians. An Indian hammock selected at random will not suffice; it must be a Carib and none other. For they, themselves, are part and parcel of the romance, since they are not alone a quaint and poetic people, but the direct descendants of those remote Americans who were the first to see the caravels of Columbus. Indeed, he paid the initial tribute to their skill, for in the diary of his first voyage he writes,—
‘A great many Indians in canoes came to the ship to-day for the purpose of bartering their cotton, and hamacas or nets in which they sleep.'
It is supposed that this name owes its being to the hamack tree, from the bark of which they were woven. However that may be, the modern hammock of these tropical Red Men is so light and so delicate in texture that during the day one may wear it as a sash, while at night it forms an incomparable couch.
But one does not drop off to sleep in this before a just and proper preparation. This presents complexities. First, the hammock must be slung with just the right amount of tautness; then, the novice must master the knack of winding himself in his blanket that he may slide gently into his aerial bed and rest at right angles to the tied ends, thus permitting the free side-meshes to curl up naturally over his feet and head. This cannot be taught. It is an art; and any art is one tenth technique, and nine tenths natural talent. However, it is possible to acquire a certain virtuosity, which, after all is said, is but pure mechanical skill as opposed to sheer genius. One might, perhaps, get a hint by watching the living chrysalid of a potential moon-moth wriggle back into its cocoon — but little is to be learned from human teaching. However, if, night after night, one will watch his Indians, a certain instinctive knowledge will arise to aid and abet, him in his task. Then, after his patient apprenticeship, he may reap as he has sowed. If it is to be disaster, it is as immediate as it is ignominious; but if success is to be his portion, then he is destined to rest, wholly relaxed, upon a couch encushioned and resilient beyond belief. He finds himself exalted and supreme above all mundane disturbances, with the treetops and the stars for his canopy, and the earth a shadowy floor far beneath. This gentle aerial support is distributed throughout hundreds of fine meshes, and the sole contact with the earth is through twin living boles, pulsing with swift running sap, whose lichened bark and moonlit foliage excel any tapestry of man’s devising.
Perhaps it is atavistic— this desire to rest and swing in a hamaca. For these are not unlike the treetop couches of our arboreal ancestors, such a one as I have seen an orang-utan weave in a few minutes in the swaying crotch of a tree. At any rate, the hammock is not dependent upon four walls, upon rooms and houses, and it partakes altogether of the wilderness. Its movement is æolian — yielding to every breath of air. It has even its own weird harmony — for I have often heard a low, whistling hum as the air rushed through the cordage mesh. In a sudden tropical gale every taut strand of my hamaca has seemed a separate, melodious, orchestral note, while I was buffeted to and fro, marking time to some rhythmic and reckless tune of the wind playing fortissimo on the woven strings about me. The climax of this musical outburst was not without a mild element of danger — sufficient to create that enviable state of mind wherein the sense of security and the knowledge that a minor catastrophe may perhaps be brought about are weighed one against the other.
Special, unexpected, and interesting minor dangers are also the province of the hamaca. Once, in the tropics, a great fruit fell on the elastic strands and bounced upon my body. There was an ominous swish of the air in the sweeping arc which this missile described, also a goodly shower of leaves; and since the fusillade took place at midnight, it was, all in all, a somewhat alarming visitation. However, there were no honorable scars to mark its advent; and what is more important, from all my hundreds of hammock nights, I have no other memory of any actual or threatened danger which was not due to human carelessness or stupidity. It is true that once, in another continent, by the light of a campfire, I saw the long, liana-like body of a harmless tree-snake wind down from one of my fronded bed-posts and, like a living woof following its shuttle, weave a passing pattern of emerald through the pale meshes. But this heralded no harm, for the poisonous reptiles of that region never climb; and so, since I was worn out by a hard day, I shut my eyes and slept neither better nor worse because of the transient confidence of a neighborly serpent.
As a matter of fact, the wilderness provides but few real perils, and in a hammock one is safely removed from these. One lies in a stratum above all damp and chill of the ground, beyond the reach of crawling tick and looping leech; and with an enveloping mos-quitaro, or mosquito shirt, as the Venezuelans call it, one is fortified even in the worst haunts of these most disturbing of all pests.
Once my ring rope slipped and the hammock settled, but not enough to wake me up and force me to set it to rights. I was aware that something had gone wrong, but, half asleep, I preferred to leave the matter in the lap of the gods. Later, as a result, I was awakened several times by the patting of tiny paws against my body, as small jungle-folk, standing on their hindlegs, essayed to solve the mystery of the swaying, silent, bulging affair directly overhead. I was unlike any tree or branch or liana which had come their way before; I do not doubt that they thought me some new kind of ant-nest, since these structures are alike only as their purpose in life is identical — for they express every possible variation in shape, size, color, design, and position. As for their curiosity, I could make no complaint, for, at best, my visitors could not be so inquisitive as I, inasmuch as I had crossed one ocean and two continents with no greater object than to pry into their personal and civic affairs as well as those of their neighbors. To say nothing of their environment and other matters.
That my rope slipped was the direct result of my own inefficiency. The hammock protects one from the dangers of the outside world, but like any man-made structure, it shows evidences of those imperfections which are part and parcel of human nature, and serve, no doubt, to make it interesting. But one may at least strive for perfection by being careful. Therefore tie the ropes of your hammock yourself, or examine and test the job done for you. The master of hammock makes a knot the name of which I do not know — I cannot so much as describe it. But I would like to twist it again — two quick turns, a push and a pull; then, the greater the strain put upon it, the greater its resistance.
This trustworthiness commands respect and admiration, but it is in the morning that one feels the glow of real gratitude; for, in striking camp at dawn, one has but to give a single jerk and the rope is straightened out, without so much as a second’s delay. It is the tying, however, which must be well done — this I learned from bitter experience.
It was one morning, years ago, but the memory of it is with me still, vivid and painful. One of the party had left her hammock, which was tied securely since she was skillful in such matters, to sit down and rest in another, belonging to a servant. This was slung at one end of a high, tropical porch, which was without the railing that surrounds the more pretentious verandas of civilization, so that the hammock swung free, first over the rough flooring, then a little out over the yard itself. A rope slipped, the faulty knot gave way, and she fell backward — a seven-foot fall with no support of any kind by which she might save herself. A broken wrist was the price she had to pay for another’s carelessness — a broken wrist which, in civilization, is perhaps, one of the lesser tragedies; but this was in the very heart of the Guiana wilderness. Many hours from ether and surgical skill, such an accident assumes alarming proportions. Therefore, I repeat my warning: tie your knots or examine them.
It is true that, when all is said and done, a dweller in hammocks may bring upon himself any number of diverse dangers of a character never described in books or imagined in fiction. A fellow naturalist of mine never lost an opportunity to set innumerable traps for the lesser jungle-folk, such as mice and opossums, all of which he religiously measured and skinned, so that each, in its death, should add its mite to human knowledge. As a fisherman runs out set lines, so would he place his traps in a circle under his hammock, using a cord to tie each and every one to the meshes. This done, it was his custom to lie at ease and wait for the click below which would usher in a new specimen, — perhaps a new species, — to be lifted up, removed, and safely cached until morning. This strategic method served a double purpose: it conserved natural energy, and it protected the catch. For if the traps were set in the jungle and trustfully confided to its care until the break of day, the ants would leave a beautifully cleaned skeleton, intact, all unnecessarily entrapped.
Now it happened that once, when he had set his nocturnal traps, he straightway went to sleep in the midst of all the small jungle people who were calling for mates and new life, so that he did not hear the click which was to warn him that another little beast of fur had come unawares upon his death. Hut he heard, suddenly, a disturbance in the low ferns beneath his hammock. He reached over and caught hold of one of the cords, finding the attendant trap heavy with prey. He was on the point of feeling his way to the trap itself, when instead, by some subconscious prompting, he reached over and snapped on his flashlight. And there before him, hanging in mid-air, striking viciously at his fingers which were just beyond his reach, was a young fer-delance — one of the deadliest of tropical serpents. His nerves gave way, and with a crash the trap fell to the ground where he could hear it stirring and thrashing about among the dead leaves. This ominous rustling did not encourage sleep; he lay there for a long time listening, — and every minute is longer in the darkness, — while his hammock quivered and trembled with the reaction.
Guided by this, I might enter into a new field of naturalizing and say to those who might, in excitement, be tempted to do otherwise, ‘ Look at your traps before lifting them.’ But my audience would be too limited; I will refrain from so doing.
It is true that this brief experience might be looked upon as one illustration of the perils of the wilderness, since it is not customary for the fer-de-lance to frequent the city and the town. But this would give rise to a footless argument, leading nowhere. For danger is everywhere — it lurks in every shadow and is hidden in the bright sunlight, it is the uninvited guest, the invisible pedestrian who walks beside you in the crowded street ceaselessly, without tiring. But even a fer-de-lance should rather add to the number of hammock devotees than diminish them; for the three feet or more of elevation is as good as so many miles between the two of you. And three miles from any serpent is sufficient.
It may be that the very word danger is subjected to a different interpretation in each one of our mental dictionaries. It is elastic, comprehensive. To some it may include whatever is terrible, terrifying; to others it may symbolize a worthy antagonist, one who throws down the gantlet and asks no questions, but who will make a good and fair fight wherein advantage is neither taken nor given. I suppose, to be bitten by vampires would be thought a danger by many who have not graduated from the mattress of civilization to this cubiculum of the wilderness. This is due, in part, to an ignorance, which is to be condoned; and this ignorance, in turn, is due to that lack of desire for a knowledge of new countries and new experiences, which lack is to be deplored and openly mourned. When I first entered the vampire zone, I was apprized of the fact by the clotted blood on my horse’s neck in the early morning. In actually seeing this evidence, I experienced the diverse emotions of the discoverer, although as a matter of fact I had discovered nothing more than the verification of a scientific commonplace. It so happened that I had read, at one time, many conflicting statements of the workings of this aerial leech; therefore, finding myself in his native habitat, I went to all sorts of trouble to become a victim to his sorceries. The great toe is the favorite and stereotyped point of attack, we are told; so, in my hammock, my great toes were conscientiously exposed night, after night, but to no effect. When one of my Indians was more fortunate, my curiosity was satisfied; but my envy persists to this day.
I presume that this was a matter of ill luck, rather than a personal matter between the vampire and me. Therefore, as a direct result of this and like experiences, I have learned to make proper allowances for the whims of the fates. I have learned that it is their pleasure to deluge me with rainstorms at unpropitious moments, also to send me, with my hammock, to eminently desirable countries, which, however, are barren of trees and scourged of every respectable shrub. That the showers may not find me unprepared, I pack with my hamaca an extra length of rope, to be stretched taut from footpost to head-post, that a tarpaulin or canvas may be slung over it. When a treeless country is presented to me in prospect, I have two stout stakes prepared, and I do not move forward without them.
It is a wonderful thing to see an experienced hammocker take his stakes, first one, then the other, and plunge them into the ground three or four times, measuring at one glance the exact distance and angle, and securing magically that mysterious ‘give’ so essential to well-being and comfort. Anyone can sink them like fence-posts, so that they stand deep and rigid, a reproach and an accusation; but it requires a particular skill to judge by the pull whether or not they will hold through the night and at the same time yield with gentle and supple swing to the least movement of the sleeper. A Carib knows, instantly, worthy and unworthy ground. I have seen an Indian sink his hamaca posts into sand with one swift, concentrated motion, mathematical in its precision and surety, so that he might enter at once into a peaceful night of tranquil and unbroken slumber, while I, a tenderfoot then, must needs beat my stakes down into the ground with tremendous energy, only to come to earth with a resounding thwack the moment I mounted my couch.
The Red Man made his comment, smiling: ‘Yellow earth, much squeeze.’ Which, being translated, informed me that the clayey ground I had chosen, hard though it seemed, was more like putty in that it would slip and slip with the prolonged pressure until the post fell inward and catastrophe crowned my endeavor.
So it follows that the hammock, in company with an adequate tarpaulin and two trustworthy stakes, will survive the heaviest downpour as well as the most arid and uncompromising desert. Cut since it is man-made, with finite limitations, nature is not without means to defeat its purpose. The hammock cannot cope with the cold — real cold, that is, not the sudden chill of tropical night which a blanket resists, but the cold of the north or of high altitudes. This is the realm of the sleeping-bag, the joy of which is another story. More than once I have had to use a hammock at high levels, since there was nothing else at hand; and the numbness of the Arctic was mine. Every mesh seemed to invite a separate draught. The winds of heaven — all four — played unceasingly upon me, and I became in due time a swaying mummy of ice. It was my delusion that I was a dead Indian cached aloft upon my arboreal bier — which is not a normal state of mind for the sleeping explorer.
Anything rather than this helpless surrender to the elements. Better the lowlands and that fantastic shroud, the mosquitaro. For even to wind one’s self into this is an experience of note. It is ingenious, and called the mosquito shirt because of its general shape, which is as much like a shirt as anything else. A large round centre covers the hammock, and two sleeves extend up the supporting strands and inclose the ends, being tied to the ringropes. If at sundown swarms of mosquitoes become unbearable, one retires into his netting funnel, and there disrobes. Clothes are rolled into a bundle and tied to the hammock, that one may close one’s eyes reasonably confident that the supply will not be diminished by some small marauder. It is then that a miracle is enacted. For one is at least enabled, under these propitious circumstances, to achieve the impossible, to control and manipulate the void and the invisible, to obey that unforgotten advice of one’s youth, ‘Oh, g’wan — crawl into a hole and pull the hole in after you!’ At an early age, this unnatural advice intrigued my mind, so that I devised innumerable means of verifying it; I was filled with a despair and longing whenever I met it anew. But it was an ambition appeased only in maturity. And this is the miracle of the tropics: climb up into the hamaca, and, at this altitude, draw in the hole of the mosquitaro funnel, making it fast with a single knot. It is done. One is at rest, and lying back, listens to the humming of all the mosquitos in the world, to be lulled to sleep by the sad, minor singing of their myriad wings. But though I have slung my hammock in many lands, on all the continents, I have few memories of netting nights. Usually, both in tropics and in tempered climes, one may boldly lie with face uncovered to the night.
And this brings us to the greatest joy of hammock life, admission to the secrets of the wilderness, initiation to new intimacies and subtleties of this kingdom, at once welcomed and delicately ignored as any honored guest should be. For this one must make unwonted demands upon one’s nocturnal senses. From habit, perhaps, it is natural to lie with the eyes wide open, but with all the faculties concentrated on the two senses which bring impressions from the world of darkness — hearing and smell. In a jungle hut a loud cry from out of the black treetops now and then reaches the ear; in a tent the faint noises of the night outside arc borne on the wind, and at times the silhouette of a passing animal moves slowly across the heavy cloth; but in a hamaca one is not thus set apart to be baffled by hidden mysteries
— one is given the very point of view of the creatures who live and die in the open.
Through the meshes which press gently against one’s face comes every sound which our human ears can distinguish and set apart from the silence
— a silence which in itself is only a mirage of apparent soundlessness, a testimonial to the imperfection of our senses. The moaning and whining of some distant beast of prey is brought on the breeze to mingle with the silken swishing of the palm fronds overhead and the insistent chirping of many insects — a chirping so fine and shrill that it verges upon the very limits of our hearing. And these, combined, unified, are no more than the ground surge beneath countless waves of sound. For the voice of the jungle is the voice of love, of hatred, of despair — and in the night-time, when the dominance of sense-activity shifts from eye to ear, from retina to nostril, it cries aloud its confidences to all the world. But the human mind is not equal to a true understanding of these; for in a tropical jungle the birds and the frogs, the beasts and the insects are sending out their messages so swiftly one upon the other, that the senses fail of their mission and only chaos and a great confusion are carried to the brain. The whirring of invisible wings and the movement of the wind in the low branches become one and the same: it is an epic, told in some strange tongue, an epic filled to overflowing with tragedy, with poetry and mystery. The cloth of this drama is woven from many-colored threads, for Nature is lavish with her pigment, reckless with life and death. She is generous because there is no need for her to be miserly. And in the darkness, I have heard the working of her will, translating as best I could.
In the darkness, I have at times heard the tramping of many feet; in a land traversed only by Indian trails I have listened to an overloaded freight train toiling up a steep grade; I have heard the noise of distant battle and the cries of the victor and the vanquished. Hard by, among the trees, I have heard a woman seized, have heard her crying, pleading for mercy, have heard her choking and sobbing till the end came in a terrible, gasping sigh; and then, in the sudden silence, there was a movement and thrashing about in the topmost branches, and the flutter and whirr of great wings moving swiftly away from me into the heart of the jungle — the only clue to the author of this vocal tragedy. Once, a Pan of the woods tuned up his pipes—striking a false note now and then, as if it were his whim to appear no more than the veriest amateur; then suddenly, with the full liquid sweetness of his reeds, bursting into a strain so wonderful, so silvery clear, that I lay with mouth open to still the beating of blood in my ears, hardly breathing, so that I might catch every vibration of his song. When the last note died away, there was utter stillness about me for an instant — nothing stirred, nothing moved; the wind seemed to have forsaken the leaves. From a great distance, as if he were going deeper into the woods, I heard him once more tuning up his pipes; but he did not play again.
Beside me, I heard the low voice of one of my natives murmuring, ‘ Muerte ha pasado.’ My mind took up this phrase, repeating it, giving it the rhythm of Pan’s song — a rhythm delicate, sustained, full of color and meaning in itself. I was ashamed that one of my kind could translate such sweet and poignant music into a superstition, could believe that it was the song of death, — the death that passes, — and not the voice of life. But it may have been that he was wiser in such matters than I; superstitions are many times no more than truth in masquerade. For I could call it by no name — whether bird or beast, creature of fur or feather or scale. And not for one, but for a thousand creatures within my hearing, any obscure nocturnal sound may have heralded the end of life. Song and death may go hand in hand, and such a song may be a beautiful one, unsung, unuttered until this moment when Nature demands the final payment for what she has given so lavishly. In the open, the dominant note is the call to a mate, and with it, that there may be color and form and contrast, there is that note of pure vocal exuberance which is beauty for beauty and for nothing else; but in this harmony there is sometimes the cry of a creature who has come upon death unawares, a creature who has perhaps been dumb all the days of his life, only to cry aloud this once for pity, for mercy, or for faith, in this hour of his extremity. Of all, the most terrible is the death-scream of a horse, — a cry of frightful timbre, — treasured, according to some secret law, until this dire instant when for him death indeed passes.
It was years ago that I heard the pipes of Pan; but one does not forget these mysteries of the jungle night: the sounds and scents and the dim, glimpsed ghosts which flit through the darkness and the deepest shadow mark a place for themselves in one’s memory, which is not erased. I have lain in my hammock looking at a tapestry of green draped over a half-fallen tree, and then for a few minutes have turned to watch the bats flicker across a bit of sky visible through the dark branches. When I looked back again at the tapestry, although the dusk had only a moment before settled into the deeper blue of twilight, a score of great lustrous stars were shining there, making new patterns in the green drapery; for in this short time, the spectral blooms of the night had awakened and flooded my resting-place with their fragrance.
And these were but the first of the flowers; for when the brief tropic twilight is quenched, a new world is born. The leaves and blossoms of the day are at rest, and the birds and insects sleep. New blooms open, strange scents pour forth. Even our dull senses respond to these; for just as the eye is dimmed, so are the other senses quickened in the sudden night of the jungle. Nearby, so close that one can reach out and touch them, the pale cereous moons expand, exhaling their sweetness, subtle breaths of fragrance calling for the very life of their race to the whirring hawkmoths. The tiny miller who, through the hours of glare has crouched beneath a leaf, flutters upward, and the trail of her perfume summons her mate perhaps half a mile down wind. The civet cat, stimulated by love or war, fills the glade with an odor so pungent that it seems as if the other senses must mark it.
Although there may seem not a breath of air in motion, yet the tide of scent is never still. One’s moistened finger may reveal no cool side, since there is not the vestige of a breeze; but faint odors arrive, become stronger, and die away, or are wholly dissipated by an onrush of others, so musky or so sweet that one can almost taste them. These have their secret purposes, since Nature is not wasteful. If she creates beautiful things, it is to serve some ultimate end; it is her whim to walk in obscure paths, but her goal is fixed and immutable. However, her designs are hidden and not easy to decipher; at best, one achieves, not knowledge, but a few isolated facts.
Sport in a hammock might, by the casual thinker, be considered as limited to dreams of the hunt and chase. Yet I have found at my disposal a score of amusements. When the dusk has just settled down, and the little bats fill every glade in the forest, a box of beetles or grasshoppers — or even bits of chopped meat — offers the possibility of a new and neglected sport, in effect the inversion of baiting a school of fish. Toss a grasshopper into the air and he has only time to spread his wings for a parachute to earth, when a bat swoops past so quickly that the eyes refuse to see any single effort — but the grasshopper has vanished. As for the piece of meat, it is drawn like a magnet to the fierce little face. Once I tried the experiment of a bit of blunted bent wire on a long piece of thread, and at the very first cast I entangled a flutter-mouse and pulled him in. I was aghast when I saw what I had captured. A body hardly as large as that of a mouse was topped with the head of a fiend incarnate. Between his red puffed lips his teeth showed needlesharp and ivory-white; his eyes were as evil as a caricature from Simplicissimus, and set deep in his head, while his ears and nose were monstrous with fold upon fold of skinny flaps. It was not a living face, but a mask of frightful mobility.
I set him free, deeming anything so ugly well worthy of life, if such could find sustenance among his fellows and win a mate for himself somewhere in this world. But he, for all his hideousness and unseemly mien, is not the vampire; the blood-sucking bat has won a mantle of deceit from the hands of Nature — a garb that gives him a modest and not unpleasing appearance, and makes it a difficult matter to distinguish him from his guileless confrères of our summer evenings.
But in the tropics, — the native land of the hammock, — not only the mysteries of the night, but the affairs of the day may be legitimately investigated from this aerial point of view. In the hot countries every unacclimatized white man must, sooner or later, succumb to that sacred custom, the siesta. In the cool of the day he may work vigorously, but this hour of rest is indispensable. And in camp, when the sun nears the zenith and the hush which settles over the jungle proclaims that most of the wild creatures are resting, one may swing one’s hammock in the very heart of this primitive forest and straightway be admitted into a new province, where rare and unsuspected experiences are open to the wayfarer. This is not the province of sleep or dreams, where all things are possible and preëminently reasonable; for one does not go through sundry hardships and all manner of self-denial, only to be blindfolded on the very threshold of his ambition. No naturalist of the temperament which begrudges every unused hour will, for a moment, think of sleep under such conditions. It is true that the rest and quiet are necessary to cool the Northern blood for active work in the afternoon, but the eye and the brain can suffer no harm from the keenest attention.
In the northlands the difference in the temperature of the early dawn and high noon is so slight that the effect on birds and other creatures, as well as plants of all kinds, is not profound. But in the tropics a change takes place which is as pronounced as that brought about by day and night. Above all, the volume of sound becomes no more than a pianissimo melody; for the chorus of birds and insects dies away little by little with the increase of heat. There is something geometrical about this, something precise and fine in this working of a natural law — a law from which no living being is immune, for at length one unconsciously lies motionless, overcome by the warmth and this illusion of silence.
The swaying of the hammock sets in motion a cool breeze, and lying at full length, one is admitted at high noon to a new domain which has no other portal but this. At this hour, the jungle shows few evidences of life, not a chirp of bird or song of insect, and no rustling of leaves in the great heat which has descended so surely and so inevitably. But from hidden places and cool shadows come broken sounds and whisperings, which cover the gamut from insects to mammals and unite to make a drowsy and contented murmuring — a musical undertone of amity and goodwill. For pursuit and killing are at the lowest ebb, the stifling heat being the flag of truce in the world-wide struggle for life and food and mate — a struggle which halts for naught else, day or night.
Lying quietly, the confidence of every unconventional and adventurous wanderer will include your couch, since courage is a natural virtue when the spirit of friendliness is abroad in the land. I felt that I had acquired merit that eventful day when a pair of humming-birds — thimblefuls of fluff with flaming breastplates and caps of gold — looked upon me with such favor that they made the strands of my hamaca their boudoir. I was not conscious of their designs upon me until I saw them whirring toward me, two bright, swiftly moving atoms, glowing like tiny meteors, humming like a very battalion of bees. They betook themselves to two chosen cords and, close together, settled themselves with no further demands upon existence. A hundred of them could have rested upon the pair of strands; even the dragon-flies which dashed past had a wider spread of wing; but for these two there were a myriad glistening featherlets to be oiled and arranged, two pairs of slender wings to be whipped clean of every speck of dust, two delicate, sharp bills to be wiped again and again and cleared of microscopic drops of nectar. Then — like the great eagles roosting high overhead in the clefts of the mountainside
— these mites of birds must needs tuck their heads beneat their wings for sleep; thus we three rested in the violent heat.
On other days, weaver birds have brought dried grasses and woven them into the fabric of my hammock, making me indeed feel that my couch was a part of the wilderness. At times, some of the larger birds have crept close to my glade, to sleep in the shadows of the low jungle-growth. But these were, one and all, timid folk, politely incurious, with evident respect for the rights of the individual. But once, some others of a ruder and more barbaric temperament advanced upon me unawares, and found me unprepared for their coming. I was dozing quietly, glad to escape for an instant the insistent screaming of a cicada which seemed to have gone mad in the heat, when a low rustling caught my ear — a sound of moving leaves without wind; the voice of a breeze in the midst of breathless heat. There was in it something sinister and foreboding. I leaned over the edge of my hammock, and saw coming toward me, in a broad, irregular front, a great army of ants, battalion after battalion of them flowing like a sea of living motes over twigs and leaves and stems. I knew the danger and I half sat up, prepared to roll out and walk to one side. Then I gauged my supporting strands; tested them until they vibrated and hummed, and lay back, watching, to see what would come about. I knew that no creature in the world could stay in the path of this horde and live. To kill an insect or a great bird would require only a few instants, and the death of a jaguar or a tapir would mean only a few more. Against this attack, claws, teeth, poison-fangs would be idle weapons.
In the van fled a cloud of terrified insects — those gifted with flight to wing their way far off, while the humbler ones went running headlong, their legs, four, six, or a hundred, making the swiftest pace vouchsafed them. There were foolish folk who climbed up low ferns, achieving the swaying, topmost fronds only to be trailed by the savage ants and brought down to instant death.
Even the winged ones were not immune, for if they hesitated a second, an ant would seize upon them, and, although carried into the air, would not loosen his grip, but cling to them, obstruct their flight, and perhaps bring them to earth in the heart of the jungle, where, cut off from their kind, the single combat would be waged to the death. From where I watched, I saw massacres innumerable; terrible battles in which some creature — a giant beside an ant —fought for his life, crushing to death scores of the enemy before giving up.
They were a merciless army and their number was countless, with host upon host following close on each other’s heels. A horde of warriors found a bird in my game-bag, and left of it hardly a feather. I wondered whether they would discover me, and they did, though I think it was more by accident than by intention. Nevertheless a half-dozen ants appeared on the footstrands, nervously twiddling their antennæ in my direction. Their appraisal was brief; with no more than a second’s delay they started toward me. I waited until they were well on their way, then vigorously twanged the cords under them harpwise, sending all the scouts into mid-air and headlong down among their fellows. So far as I know, this was a revolutionary manœuvre in military tactics, comparable only to the explosion of a set mine. But even so, when the last of this brigade had gone on their menacing, pitiless way, and the danger had passed to a new province, I could not help thinking of the certain, inexorable fate of a man who, unable to move from his hammock or to make any defense, should be thus exposed to their attack. There could be no help for him if but one of this great host should scent him out and carry the word back to the rank and file.
It was after this army had been lost in the black shadows of the forest floor, that I remembered those others who had come with them — those attendant birds of prey who profit by the evil work of this legion. For, hovering over them, sometimes a little in advance, there had been a flying squadron of ant-birds and others which had come to feed, not on the ants, but on the insects which had been frightened into flight. At one time, three of these dropped down to perch on my hammock, nervous, watchful, and alert, waiting but a moment before darting after some ill-fated moth or grasshopper which, in its great panic, had escaped one danger only to fall an easy victim to another. For a little while, the twittering and chirping of these campfollowers, these feathered profiteers, was brought back to me on the wind; and when it had died away, I took up my work again in a glade in which no voice of insect reached my ears. The hunting ants had done their work thoroughly.
And so it comes about that by day or by night the hammock carries with it its own reward to those who have learned but one thing — that there is a chasm between pancakes and truffles. It is an open door to a new land which does not fail of its promise, a land in which the prosaic, the ordinary, the commonplace have no place, since they have been shouldered out, dethroned, by a new and competent perspective. The god of hammocks is unfailingly kind, just, and generous to those who have found pancakes wanting and have discovered by inspiration, or what-not, that truffles do not grow in back-yards to be served at early breakfast by the maid-of-all-work. Which proves, I believe, that a mere bed may be a block in the path of philosophy, a commonplace, and that truffles and hammocks — hammocks unquestionably — are twin doors to the land of romance.
The swayer in hammocks may find amusement and may enrich science by his record of observations; his memory will be more vivid, his caste the worthier, for the intimacy with wild things achieved when swinging between earth and sky, unfettered by mattress or roof.