TROPIC DAYS (1918)
E. J. BANFIELD
AUTHOR OF "THE CONFESSIONS OF A BEACHCOMBER" AND "MY TROPIC ISLE"
"Peace and silence. . . combined with the large liberties of nature."
MY BROTHER BEACHCOMBERS; Professing, Practising
In my previous books the endeavour was to give exact if prosaic details of life on an island off the coast of North Queensland on which a few of the original inhabitants preserved their uncontaminated ways. Here is presented another instalment of sketches of a quiet scene. Again an attempt is made to describe—not as ethnological specimens, but as men and women—types of a crude race in ordinary habit as they live, though not without a tint of imagination to embolden the better truths.
I thankfully acknowledge indebtedness to my friends Mr. Charles Hedley, of the Australian Museum (Sydney); Dr. R. Hamlyn-Harris, Director of the Queensland Museum; and Mr. Dodd S. Clarke, of Townsville, N.Q., for valuable aid in the preparation of my notes for publication.
PART I—SUN DAYS.
IN IDLE MOMENT ETERNAL SUNSHINE FRAGRANCE AND FRUIT THE SCENE-SHIFTER BRACE PLANTS SHADOWS "SMILING MORN" ANCESTRAL SHADE QUIET WATERS "THE LOWING HERD" BABBLING BEACHES THE LOST ISLE
PART II—THE PASSING RACE.
THE CORROBOREE THE CANOE-MAKER TWO LADIES—NELLY, THE SHREW; MARIA DANCES SOOSIE BLUE SHIRT THE FORGOTTEN DEAD EAGLE'S-NEST FLOAT NATURE IN RETALIATION "STAR RUN ABOUT" BLACKS AS FISHERMEN HOOKS NARCOTICS AND POISONS FLY-FISHING
PEARLS WHAT IS A PEARL? A PEARL IN THE MAKING STRANGE PEARLS PEARLS AND HIGH TRAGEDY SNAKE AND FROG PRATTLE THE BUSH TRACK THE LITTLE BROWN MAN UP AND AWAY "PASSETH ALL UNDERSTANDING" TIME'S FINGER THE SOUL WITHIN THE STONE
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
AT HOME ON THE TROPIC STRAND "DEBIL-DEBIL" NATURE'S PUZZLE: FIND THE BIRD ORCHID (PHAIUS GRANDIFOLIUS) ORCHID (BULBOPHYLLUM BAILEYI) A SPIDER CRAB A SPIDER CRAB DISGUISED CASUARINAS TOURNEFORTIA ARGENTA MACARANGA TANARIUS UMBRELLA TREE SHADOWS SUN-SALUTED TREE FERNS "THE LOWING HERD" PERFECT HAPPINESS GIGANTIC OYSTER (OSTREA CRISTA GALLI) SANDSPIT SWIRL GLOOM AND GLEAM COWRIES "SOOSIE'S" TYPE TAPES LEAF VARIATIONS (FICUS OPPOSITA) TYPICAL FORM RIGHT HAND TOP CORNER TELLINA A SHELL COLLECTION TRITON DOMESTIC DUTIES PEARL-ENTOMBED FISH AND RACEMOSE PEARL CATTIERS PEARL-IMPRISONED CHITON TWO STRANGE PEARLS TWO BUBBLE SHELLS PEARL JOSSES WHITE APPLE (EUGENIA CORMIFLORA) CYCADS DESERTED CYCAD AND PALMS WIND-TORMENTED FIG-TREE THE IDLE OCEAN
PART I—SUN DAYS
IN IDLE MOMENT
"'Are you not frequently idle?' 'Never, brother. When we are not engaged in our traffic we are engaged in our relaxations.'"—BORROW.
On the smooth beaches and in the silent bush, where time is not regulated by formalities or shackled by conventions, there delicious lapses—fag-ends of the day to be utilised in a dreamy mood which observes and accepts the happenings of Nature without disturbing the shyest of her manifestations or permitting 'the-mind to dwell on any but the vaguest speculations.
Such idle moments are mine. Let these pages tell of their occupation.
As the years pass it is proved that the administration of the affairs of an island, the settled population of which is limited to three, involves pleasant though exacting duties. It is a gainful government—not gainful in the accepted sense, but in all that vitally matters—personal freedom, absence of irksome regulations remindful of the street, liberty to enjoy the mood of the moment and to commune with Nature in her most fascinating aspects. Those who are out of touch with great and dusty events may, by way of compensation, be the more sensitive to the processes of the universe, which, though incessantly repeated, are blessed with recurrent freshness.
The sun rises, travels across a cloudless sky, gleams on a sailless sea, disappears behind purple mountains gilding their outline, and the day is done. Not a single dust-speck has soiled sky or earth; not the faintest echo of noisy labours disturbed the silences; not an alien sight has intruded. What can there be in such a scene to exhilarate? Must not the inhabitants vegetate dully after the style of their own bananas? Actually the day has been all too brief for the accomplishment of inevitable duties and to the complete enjoyment of all too alluring relaxations.
Here is opportunity to patronise the sun, to revel in the companionship of the sea, to confirm the usage of beaches, to admonish winds to seemliness and secrecy, to approve good-tempered trees, to exchange confidences with flowering plants, to claim the perfumed air, to rejoice in the silence—
"Not learning more than the fond eye doth teach, Which pries not to th' interior."
How oft is the confession that the fullest moments of life are achieved when I roam the beaches with little more in the way of raiment than sunburn and naught in hand save the leaves of some strange, sand-loving plant? Then is it that the individual is magnified. The sun salutes. The wind fans. The sea sighs a love melody. The caressing sand takes print of my foot alone. All the world might be mine, for none is present to dispute possession. The sailless sea smiles in ripples, and strews its verge with treasures for my acceptance. The sky's purity enriches my soul. Shall I not joy therein?
Though he may be unable to attain those moments of irresistible intuition which came to Amiel, when a man feels himself great like the universe and calm like a god, one may thrill with love and admiration for Nature without resigning sense of superiority over all other of her works or abating one jot of justifiable pride.
Even in tropical Queensland there is a sense of revivification during the last half of August and first of September, and the soul of man responds thereto, as do plants and birds, in lawful manner. Perhaps it is that the alien dweller in lands of the sun, when he frisks mentally and physically at this sprightly season, is merely obeying an imperative characteristic bred into him during untold generations when the winter was cruelly real and spring a joyful release from cold and distress. The cause may be slight, but there is none to doubt the actual awakening, for it is persuasive and irresistible.
The lemon-trees are discarding the burden of superfluous fruit with almost immoderate haste, for the gentle flowers must have their day. Pomeloes have put forth new growth a yard long in less than a fortnight, and are preparing a bridal array of blooms such as will make birds and butterflies frantic with admiration and perfume the scene for the compass of a mile. The buff-and-yellow sprays of the mango attract millions of humming insects, great and small. Most of the orchids are in full flower, the coral-trees glow, the castanospermum is full of bud, loose bunches of white fruit decorate the creeping palms, and the sunflower-tree is blotched with gold in masses. The birds make declaration of attachment for the season.
Great trees, amorous birds, frail insects, perceive the subtle influence of the season, and shall not coarse-fibred man rejoice, though there be little or nothing to which he may point as special evidence of inspiration? He may feel the indefinable without comprehending any material reason why. He may confess, although there is but a trifle more sunshine than a month ago—and what influence a trifle where there is so much—and scarcely any difference of temperature, that Nature is insisting on obedience to one of her mighty laws—the law of heredity. Why, therefore, refrain from justifying the allusion? Why persist in declining the invitations of the hour? Far be it from me to do so. Is sufferance the cognizance of this Free Isle?
All my days are Days of the Sun. All my days are holy. Duty may suggest the propriety of contentment within four walls. Inclination and the thrill of the season lure me to gloat over the more manifest of its magic. Be sure that, unabashed and impenitent, shall I riot over sordid industry during the most gracious time of year to hearken to the eloquence and accept the teachings of unpeopled spaces.
Such is the silence of the bush that the silken rustle of the butterflies becomes audible and the distinctive flight of birds is recognised—not alone such exaggerated differences as the whirr of quail, the bustle of scrub fowl, and the whistle and clacking of nutmeg pigeons, but the delicate and tender characteristics of the wing notes of the meeker kinds of doves and the honey-eaters, and also the calculated flutterings of the fly-catchers. In the whistling swoop of the grey goshawk there is a note of ominous blood-thirstiness, silent though the destroyer has sat awaiting the moment for swift and decisive action.
Seldom, even on the stillest evening, may the presence of the night-jar be detected, except by its coarse call, while the sprightly little sun-bird flits hither and thither, prodigal of its vivid colours and joying with machine-like whirring. The sun-bird exemplifies the brightness of the day. All its activities are bold and conspicuous. Aptly named, it has nothing to hide, no deeds which will not withstand the scrutiny of the vividest rays.
To work out its destiny the night-jar depends on secret doings and on flight soft as a falling leaf. It is a bird of the twilight and night. Startled from brooding over its eggs or yet dependent chicks, it is ghost-like in its flittings and disappearances. In broad daylight it moves from its resting-place as a leaf blown by an erratic and sudden puff, and vanishes as it touches the sheltering bosom of Mother Earth. Mark the spot of its vanishment and approach never so cautiously, and you see naught. Peer about and from your very feet that which had been deemed to be a shred of bark rises and is wafted away again by a phantom zephyr.
The chick which the parent bird has hidden remains a puzzle. It moves not, it may not blink. Its crafty parent has so nibbled and frayed the edges of the decaying brown leaves among which it nestles that it has become absorbed in the scene. There is nothing to distinguish between the leaf-like feathers and the feather-like leaves. The instinct of the bird has blotted itself out. It is there, but invisible, and to be discovered only by the critical inspection of every inch of its environment. You have found it; but not for minutes after its instinct has warned it to possess its soul calmly and not to be afraid. So firm is its purpose that if inadvertently you put your foot on its tender body it would not move or utter cry. All its faculties are concentrated on impassiveness, and thus does Nature guard its weakest and most helpless offspring.
While you ponder on the wonderful faith of the tiny creature which suffers handling without resistance, the shred of bark, driven by the imperceptible zephyr, falls a few yards away, and in an agony of anxiety utters an imploring purr, or was it an imprecation? That half purr, half hiss has been the only sound of the episode. It is a warning to be gone and leave Nature to her secrets and silences.
A month's abstinence may not be a very severe penance for an island on which the rainfall averages 124 inches per year; but when vegetation suffers from the cruelty of four almost rainless months, promises and slights amount to something more than mere discourtesy. How genuine the thanksgiving to the soft skies after an incense-stimulating shower. Insects whirl in the sunshine. Among the pomelo-trees is a cyclone of scarcely visible things. Motes and specks of light dance in disorderly figures, to be detected as animated objects only by gauzy wings catching the light and reflecting it. Each insect, wakened but an hour ago by the warmth of the moist soil, in an abandonment of the moment, is a helioscope transmitting signals of pure pleasure. Drops still linger on myriads of leaves, and glitter on the glorious gold of the Chinese laburnum; the air is saturated with rich scents, and the frolicking crowd, invisible but for the oblique light, does not dream of disaster. Their crowded hour has attracted other eyes, appreciative in another sense. Masked wood-swallows, swiftlets, spangled drongos, leaden fly-eaters, barred-shouldered fly-eaters, hurry to the circus to desolate it with hungry swoops. The assemblage is noisy, for two or three drongos cannot meet without making a clatter on the subject of the moment. They cannot sing, but clink and jangle with as much intensity and individual satisfaction as if gifted with peerless note. It is the height of the season, and a newly matched pair, satisfied with an ample meal, sit side by side on a branch to tell of their love, and in language which, though it may lack tunefulness, has the outstanding quality of enthusiasm. But why waste clamorous love-notes on a world busy with breakfast? The sportful, tail-flicking dandy flits and alights so that he may address himself solely to his delighted and accepting spouse, peering into her reddish eyes the while, and in ecstasy proclaiming, in tones as loud and unmusical as her own, that life overflows with joy when mutual admiration surcharges the breast.
The noise stays a company of metallic starlings in headlong flight from the nest-laden tree in the forest to the many-fruited jungle. Though they most conscientiously search the fronds of coco-nut palms for insignificant grubs and caterpillars, starlings do not hawk for insects. Held up by the excitement—for by this time other birds have darted to the feast—the starlings alight among the plumes of the laburnum, interrogating in acidulous tones, their black, burnished, iridescent feathers and flame-hued eyes making a picture of rare vividness and beauty.
How thin becomes the throng! Last night's shower, the morning warmth of the soil, have brought forth a gush of life that wheels and sparkles in the sun and becomes bait for birds. Are droughts designed by Nature to test endurance on the part of animal and vegetable life? Leaves fall from evergreen trees almost as completely as from the deciduous, and even the jungle is thickly strewn, while every slight hollow is filled with brittle debris where usually leaves are limp with dampness and mould. The jungle has lost, too, its rich, moist odours. Whiffs of the pleasant earthy smell, telling of the decay of clean vegetable refuse, do issue in the early morning and after sundown; but while the sun is searching out all the privacies of the once dim area, the wholesome fragrance does not exist.
Drought proves that certain species of exotic plants are hardier than natives. Wattles suffer more than mangoes, and citrus fruits have powers of endurance equal to eucalyptus. Whence does the banana obtain the liquid which flows from severed stem and drips from the cut bunch? Dig into the soil and no trace of even dampness is there; but rather parched soil and unnatural warmth, almost heat. Heat and moisture are the elements which enable one of the most succulent of plants to bear a bunch of fruit luscious and refreshing, and when heat alone prevails, the wonder is that the whole patch of luxuriant greenness does not collapse and wither. But the broad leaves woo the cool night airs, and while the thin, harsh, tough foliage of the wattles becomes languid and droops and falls, the banana grove retains its verdancy, each plant a reservoir of sap.
A noteworthy feature of the botany of the coast of tropical Queensland is its alliance with the Malayan Archipelago and India. Most of the related plants do not occur in those parts closest to other equatorial regions in the geographical sense, but in localities in which climate and physical conditions are similar. Probably there are more affinities in the coastal strip of which this isle is typical than in all the rest of the continent of Australia. One prominent example may be mentioned-viz., "the marking-nut tree." When the distinctiveness of the botany of the southern portions of Australia from that of the old country began to impress itself on the earliest settlers, the miscalled native cherry was the very first on the list of reversals. The good folks at home were told that the seeds of the Australian cherry "grow on the outside." The fruit of the cashew or marking-nut tree betrays a similar feature in more pronounced fashion. The fruit is really the thickened, succulent stalk of the kidney-shaped nut. The tint of the fruit being attractive, unsophisticated children eat of it and earn scalded lips and swollen tongues, while their clothing is stained indelibly by the juice. Botanists know the handsome tree as SEMECARPUS AUSTRALIENSIS, but by the indignant parent of the child with tearful and distorted features and ruined raiment it is offensively called the "tar-tree," and is subject to shrill denunciations. The fleshy stalk beneath the fruit is, however, quite wholesome either raw or cooked, but the oily pericarp contains a caustic principle actually poisonous, so that unwary children would of a certainty eat the worst part. The tree, which belongs to the same order as the mango, has a limited range, and there are those who would like to see it exterminated, forgetful that in other parts of the world the edible parts are enjoyed, and also that a valuable means to the identification of linen is manufactured from it. A tree that is ornamental, that provides dense shade, that bears pretty and strange fruit, an edible part, and provides an economic principle, is not to be condemned off-hand because of one blot on its character.
An Indian representative of the genera produces a nut which when roasted is highly relished, though dubiously known as the coffin-nail or promotion nut, but there is no reason to believe that it is specially indigestible unless eaten in immoderate quantity.
One of the many bewilderments of botany is that plants of one family exhibit characteristics and habits so divergent that the casual observer fails to recognise the least signs of relationship. Similar confusion arises in the case of plants of the same species producing foliage of varied form. One of the figs (FICUS OPPOSITA) displays such remarkable inconsistency that until reassured by many examples it is difficult to credit an undoubted fact. The typical leaf is oblong elliptical, while individual plants produce lanceolate leaves with two short lateral lobes, with many intermediate forms. As the plant develops, the abnormal forms tend to disappear, though mature plants occasionally retain them. There seems to exist correlation between foliage and fruit, for branches exhibiting leaves with never so slight a variation from the type are, according to local observation, invariably barren. The leaves, which, when young, are densely hairy on the underside, on maturity become so rough and coarse that they are used by the blacks as a substitute for sandpaper in the smoothing of weapons. The fruit is small, dark purple when ripe, sweet, but rough to the palate.
During the fulness of the wet season, a diminutive orchid, the roots, tuber, leaf, and flower of which may be easily covered by the glass of a lady's watch, springs upon exposed shoulders of the hills. So far it has not been recorded for any other part of Australia, or, indeed, the world. Science has bestowed upon it the title of CORYSANTHES FIMBRIATA, for it is all too retiring of disposition to demand of man a familiar name. Probably it may be quite common in similar localities, but its size, its brief periodicity, and inconspicuousness, contribute to make it, at present, one of the rarities of botany. Beneath a kidney-shaped leaf a tiny, solitary, hooded, purple flower shelters with becoming modesty, the art of concealment being so delicately employed that it seems to preserve its virginal purity. There is proof, however, that the flower does possess some "secret virtue," for if the plant be immersed in glycerine the preservative takes the hue of the flower. Nature having ordained that the plants should be elusive, they appear in remote spots and unlikely situations with foothold among loose and gritty fragments of rock, and with cessation of the sustaining rains disappear, each having borne but a single leaf and produced but a solitary flower. The leaf does not seem to be attractive to insects, nor is the flower despoiled or the tuber interfered with. The first dry day sears the plants, and succeeding days shrivel them to dust and they vanish. What part in the great scheme of Nature does the humble flower fulfil? Or is it merely a lowly decoration, not designed to court the ardent gaze of the sun, but to brighten an otherwise bare space of Mother Earth with a spot of fugitive purple?
Widely different are the ant-house plants, of which North Queensland has two genera. One is purely an epiphyte, growing attached to a tree like many of the orchids. In both genera the gouty stems are hollow, a feature of which ants take advantage; they are merely occupiers, not the makers of their homes. Few, if any, of the plants are uninhabited by a resentful swarm, ready to attack whomsoever may presume to interfere with it. It is discomposing to the uninitiated to find the curious "orchid," laboriously wrenched from a tree, overflowing with stinging and pungent ants, nor is he likely to reflect that the association between the plant and the insect may be more than accidental.
Some of the commonest wattles exhibit singularity of foliage well worth notice. Upon the germination of the seeds the primary leaves are pinnate. After a brief period this pretty foliage is succeeded by a boomerang-shaped growth, which prevails during life. Botanists do not speak of such trees as possessing leaves, but "leaf-stalks dilated into the form of a blade and usually with vertical edges, as in Australian acacias." If one of these wattles is burnt to the ground, but yet retains sufficient life to enable it to shoot from the charred stem, the new growth will be of pinnate leaves, shortly to be abandoned for the substitutes, which are of a form which checks transpiration and fits the plant to survive in specially dry localities. Several of the species thus equipped to withstand drought are extremely robust in districts where the rainfall is prolific. There are no data available to support the theory that such species in a wet district are more vigorous and attain larger dimensions than representatives in drier and hotter localities. In her distribution of the Australian national flower, Nature seems to be "careless of the type," or rather regardless in respect of conditions of climate.
Human beings, and occasionally animals lower in the scale, deviate distressingly in their conduct from the general. Plants, too, though lacking the organ of brain, are subject to aberrations of foliage almost as fantastical as the mental bent which in man is displayed by the sticking of straws in the hair. "Phyllomania" is the recognised term for this waywardness. One of the trees of this locality, the raroo (CAREYA AUSTRALIS), seems singularly prone to the infirmity, for without apparent cause it abandons habitual ways and clothes its trunk and branches with huge rosettes of small, slight, and ineffective leaves, evidence, probably, of vital degeneration.
Among the beautiful trees of this Island there is one, PITHECOLOBIUM PRUINOSUM, possessing features of attraction during successive phases of growth. The young branches, foliage, and inflorescence, are coated with minute silky hair, as if dusted with bronze of golden tint. The dense, light, semi-drooping foliage produces a cloud-like effect, to which the great masses of buff flowers add a delightful fleeciness, while the ripe pods, much twisted and involved (to carry similitude as far as it may), might be likened to dull lightning in thunderous vapour. The tree flourishes in almost pure sand within a few yards of salt water, and, being hardy and of clean habit, might well be used decoratively.
Standing with its feet awash at high tide, the huge fig-tree began life as a parasite, the seed planted by a beak-cleaning bird in a crevice of the bark of its forerunner. In time the host disappeared, embraced and absorbed. Now the tree is a sturdy host. Another fig envelops some of its branches, two umbrella-trees cling stubbornly to its sides, a pandanus palm grows comfortably at the base of a limb, tons of staghorn, bird's-nest, polypodium, and other epiphytal ferns, have licence to flourish, orchids hang decoratively, and several shrubs spring aspiringly among its roots. But the big tree still asserts its individuality. It is the host, the others merely dependents or tenants. Most of the functions of the tree are associated with the sea. Twice a year it studs its branches with pink fruit, food for many weeks for a carnival of birds, the relics of the feast dully carpeting the sand. Before the first fruiting the old leaves fall, and for a brief interval the shadows of branches and twigs, intricate, involved, erratic, might be likened to unschooled scribblings, with here a flourish and there a blot and many a boisterous smudge. Soon—it is merely a question of days—the swelling buds displace millions of leaf-sheaves, pale green and fragile, which fall and, curling in on themselves, redden, and again the yellow sand is littered, while overhead fresh foliage, changing rapidly from golden, glistening brown to rich dark green, makes one compact blotch. And when the wind torments sea and forest, and branches bend and sway, and creepers drift before it, the white blooms of the orchids, so light and delicate that a sigh agitates them, might be "foam flakes torn from the fringe of spray" and tossed aloft.
The technical description of a fairly common tree—IXORA TIMORENSIS—is silent on a quality that appeals to the unversed admirer almost as strongly as the handsome flowers, which occur in large, loose panicles at the terminals of the branches. Boldly exposed, the white flowers as they lose primal freshness change to cream, but last for several weeks. The omitted compliment from formal records is the singular fragrance of the flowers—strong, sweet, and enticing, though with a drug-like savour, as if rather an artificial addition than a provision of Nature. During December the perfume hangs heavily about the trees, being specially virile in the cool of evening and morning. Being confined to the tropical coast, away from the centres of population, and flowering at a season when visitors avoid the north, the scented Ixora has so far remained uncommended. Those who are familiar with it in its native scene dwell on its unique excellence, and are proud to reflect that when a comprehensive catalogue of the flowering and perfumed plants of Australia comes to be compiled it will stand high in order of merit, being unique and characteristic of the richness of that part of the continent in which it exists naturally.
Twice during lengthy intervals have I been perturbed by the conduct of the sea-swallows (terns) which breed in this neighbourhood. They select for their nurseries coral banks, depositing large numbers of eggs beyond the limit of high tides. In obedience to some law, the joyful white birds began to lay in September, five or six weeks earlier than usual. It seemed to be a half-hearted effort to maintain the strength of the colony, the unanimous and general purpose being postponed for three months, when numerous clutches and marvellously variegated eggs embellished the coral. But that which was a perfectly safe and wise undertaking in September was a foolish and dangerous experiment in December. The tides then approach their maximum, flooding areas denied three months previously. Wholesale tragedy was inevitable. The full moon brought bereavement to many parents, for the sea overwhelmed the nurseries, or the best part of them. Many wise birds had laid their eggs above the limit of the highest tide. Others screamed in protest against the cruelty of the sea, for eggs and fluffy chicks do not surely represent legitimate tribute to Neptune. Several fledglings were found half buried in sand and coral chips, some with merely the head with bright and apprehensive eyes obtruding. Why were not the whole of the parents of the colony prudent when in default the penalty was inevitable? Five score were wise, five hundred were foolish, and the natural increase from the second brood must have been seriously diminished. Several of the parent birds had brooded over their eggs until overwhelmed by the surges and drowned. Some on the tide limit squatted buried to the eyes in sand and seaweed. Of one the tip of a wing only protruded. It was alive, fostering unbroken eggs.
The metallic starlings have again built on a favourite tree—not massive and tough, but a slim though tall Moreton Bay ash, the branchlets of which are not notoriously brittle. They withstand a certain weight, beyond which they snap. Why do these otherwise highly intelligent birds so overstrain branches with groups of nests that "regrettable incidents" cannot be averted? First there came to the ground a group of four, and then twenty nests, all containing eggs or helpless young. By these and similar mishaps during the season the colony suffered loss to the extent of at least a hundred.
"But, like the martlet, Builds in the weather on the outward wall Even in the force and road of casualty."
How often, too, do we find nests in places absurdly wrong? Wonderfully and skilfully constructed nests are attached to supports obviously weak, and eggs are laid on the ground right in the track of man and less considerate animals. Some birds seem to lay eggs and rear young solely that snakes may not lack and suffer hunger, while how large a proportion of beautiful and innocent creatures are destined to become prey to hawks?
Years ago scientific visitors to a coral islet found almost innumerable sea birds and eggs. The multitude of birds and their prodigious fecundity inspired the thought that the "rookery" for the whole breadth of the Indian Ocean had been discovered. Investigations showed that the islet was also the abiding-place of a certain species of lizard which subsisted entirely on eggs. It was calculated that not one egg in several hundred was hatched out; yet in spite of such an extraordinary natural check the islet was enormously overpopulated. Thousands of birds every year laid eggs for the maintenance of fat and pompous reptiles, without reflecting that there were other and lizardless isles on which the vital function of incubation might be performed without loss. Years after other men of science sought the isle. Birds seemed to be as numerous as ever, but the lizards had disappeared. Had the birds been wise enough to perceive that the plague of lizards had been sent as reproof for overcrowding, or did the lizards become victims to physical deterioration incident upon gluttony and sloth?
"Into every instinctive act there is an intrusion of reasoned act." No doubt; but in the case of the terns—sea-frequenting and sea-loving—which had not the wit to lay their eggs beyond the reach of spring tides, the reasoning is the merest intrusion. Yet an instance of what seems to be the reasoned act of a wasp may be cited. The insect had selected a dead log of soft wood as a site for its egg-shaft. It was at a spot to which the occupations of the season took me daily, so that the boring operations were watched from beginning to end. The work was done rapidly and neatly, and when all was ready for the deposit of the eggs the insect constructed from papier-mache-like material a disc-shaped lid exactly fitting the mouth of the excavation, to which it was attached on its upper edge by a hinge. Then round and about the disc similar stuff was plastered, so as to form an irregular splash, imitative of a bird's droppings to the-degree of perfect deception. In the centre was the lid with the hinge, and whensoever the insect visited its nursery the lid swung up, closing behind it. On departure it fell into position. Unless the insect by its presence betrayed its secret, the shrewdest observer at close quarters would have been misled.
There are reasons for the belief that green tree-ants understand and respect the laws of neutrality. There are several communities in the mango-trees, and since some of the trees overhang the fence, the top wire is used as a highway. When a gate is opened traffic is suspended. In a minute or two of a busy day there will be considerable gatherings on the latch-style, and if the intervening space is narrowed by the swing of the gate the impatient insects begin to make a living bridge across the perilous gap. At one particular gate, which is opened and shut many times a day, it has been noticed that the ants never seem to resent interruptions or to be vexed by them. If they happen to get on the hands or fingers, they submit to be restored to the gate; but go to the formicary on the mango-tree half a dozen yards away and offer a friendly finger, and you will find dozens of pugnacious individuals ready to defend their home. Do they recognise that they are but pilgrims of the fence, enjoying certain rights on sufferance, that it is a path of peace on which belligerents must not intrude, a neutral tract under the custody of the law of nations, which ants, as well as men, must respect? Whatsoever the reason, the deportment of the truculent ant on the highway is that of an upholder of peace at any price. It is to be doubted if the animal world holds more illustrious examples of heroism than a green tree-ants' nest. Two or three individuals may be despised as long as their assaults are confined to the less sensitive parts of the body; but let a huge colony up among the branches of an orange-tree be disturbed, and the first army corps instantly mobilised, and it will not be cowardly hastily to retreat. So eager for the fray are the warriors, so well organised, so completely devoted to the self-sacrificing duty of protecting the community, that two distinct methods of advance and attack are exercised forthwith in the midst of what appears to be calamitous confusion. Swarming on the extremity of the branches among which the formicary is constructed, the defenders, projecting their terminal segments as far into space as possible, eject formic acid in the direction of the enemy. Like shrapnel from machine guns, the liquid missile sweeps a considerable area. Against the sunlight it appears as a continuous spray, and should one infinitesimal drop descend into the eye the stoutest mortal will blink. Attacks are made singly and in detachments. Heroes actually hurl themselves from the branches, and, failing to reach the enemy, run along the ground and, scaling his legs, inflict punishment on the first convenient patch of unprotected skin. Detachments muster in blobs, fall in a mass to the ground, and charge. If one of these forlorn hopes happens to be successful, the observant man will retire with little of his dignity remaining.
It is interesting to note how readily birds acquire tastes for the sweet fruits which man cultivates. One of the honey-eaters, the diet of which ranges from nectar to the juice of one of the native cucumbers, as bitter as colocynth, has become an ardent advocate for the thorough ripening of bananas. While on the plant the fruit is not appreciated, but after the bunch has been hung for a week or so and the first fruits are changing colour the bird is enthusiastic. Formerly bunches were ripened in a thatched building for the the most part open, and the bird got the very best of the bunch. Now the process takes place where the bird has to venture through wire-netting. It has no fear, entering without ceremony, loudly complaining when inadvertently disturbed, and flying to other parts of the house to express remonstrance when the supply is exhausted.
Scarcity of surface-water sharpens the powers of observation of some birds and increases the trustfulness of certain species towards human beings in a region wherein they are held to have rights on equality with those of their superiors in the animal world. For years, during the few weeks which generally intervene between the disappearance of accustomed water reserves and the beginning of the wet season, with its super-abundance, the metallic starlings have been wont to obtain refreshment from a hollow far up a huge tea-tree, the supply in which seemed to be inexhaustible. The tyrant's plea, necessity, ordained the destruction of the never-failing tree, and now the starlings descend by the hundred into the deep and shady ravine whence water is pumped, and drink also from the cattle-trough and bathe therein with noise and excitement of happy children on the beach. It is quite within the mark to compute the starlings by the hundred. The trough is edged nearly all day long by thirsty or dirty birds, while scores sit round among the shrubs waiting turn and commenting on the frolics and splashings of others in excitable tones. When, perhaps, there are but a poor dozen or so round the trough, you may chance to see the birds in attitudes more varied than those of Pliny's doves, and catch the shadows of burnished necks darkening the water, as in that famous mosaic, and even the glistening reflection of the red, jewel-like eyes. Other birds, with far less assurance and shrill clamour than the lovely starlings, visit the trough regularly and by the score. Two species of honey-eaters are seldom unrepresented. The barred-shouldered dove, the spangled drongo, the noisy pitta, the red-crowned fruit pigeon, the pheasant-tailed pigeon, are less frequent visitors; and though the purple-breasted fruit pigeon—the most magnificent of all—talks to his mate in coarse gutturals from the trees above, he has not been seen actually drinking. So shy and furtive a bird would choose his time for refreshment when there is little likelihood of interruption. In the ravine there are often metallic starlings by the dozen, and little green pigeons—for those domiciled come and go at all hours of the day. Occasionally a sulphur-crested cockatoo comes sailing down to the diminishing pool through interwoven leafage noiselessly as a butterfly; but scrub fowls, scared by the apparition in white, scamper off with a clatter, scattering the dead leaves. In such narrow quarters, birds are under restraint, and show anxiety and apprehension. There is no sport or play. They drink quickly and with faculties strained, and flutter off excitedly on the least alarm. Well may they be suspicious, for is not the cool spot attractive to the sly enemy, the green snake, which conceals its presence by faithful resemblance to the creepers among which it glides? Here, too, come millions of industrious bees, and in the dusk the big pencil-tailed water-rat, which the masterful dog kills with as little ceremony as he does the bird-scaring snakes.
It was late for cockatoos to start on their daily flight to the mainland from the big tree close to the twin palms half-way up the hill, and as they flew hastily and in close company they scolded each other in unmannerly terms. The language must have been vexing, for as they sped along far above the passionless sea one jostled the other. It was just the sort of action to provoke hungry, peevish birds to vindictiveness. That which had been jostled turned on the offender with angry shrieking, and instantly a clamorous fight was in progress. Claws became interlocked, and they fell each with distended crest, like a gilt-edged cloudlet following the setting sun. Shadow and substance met with a splash. The sea momentarily swallowed the combatants. Then a yellow note of exclamation appeared, and with laboured flutterings, using his enemy as a base, one rose and struggled to the beach oaks. Frantic wing-beating showed that the other bird was in serious difficulties. It was a hundred yards out, but the enjoyment of a sunbath after a sea frolic enabled one to proceed to the rescue without preliminaries. Half drowned and completely cowed, the bird was now confronted by a more awful peril than that of the sea. A bedraggled crest indicated horror at the steady approach of the enemy man, whose presence stimulated the sodden bird to such extraordinary efforts that it succeeded in rising and in making slow, low flight to the beach.
At dawn a bat flew into a spider's web spun during the night, the extremities of the wings being so entangled that struggling was almost impossible. A big spider pounced on it. Not a minute elapsed from the entanglement until the bat was released, but the venom of the spider had done its work. There was not a sign of life. The spider is dark grey in colour, bloated of body, slothful, and of most retiring disposition. Huddled up into almost spherical form, it lurks in dark places, which it soon makes insanitary. In the open it crouches among dead leaves which have gathered in the fork of a tree, and will construct a web which spans the coconut avenue with its stays. From one aspect its rotund body invites a good-humoured smile, for the marking exactly simulates the features of a tabby cat, well fed, sleepy, and in placid mood. Venom of virulence to kill a bat almost instantly would be severe enough to a human being. This dirty, obese spider deserves little consideration at the hand of man.
A moonless, cloudless night. The little praam takes the ground in the bay a few yards from the beach, and in the midst of a constellation of "jelly-fishes" spherical in form and varying in size. The larger are so many pale blue orbs floating lazily in a luminous mist, the only visible manifestation of life being a delicate but rhythmical deepening of the central hue. The wash of my wading seems not to affect them. I become conscious of the sudden appearance and swift disappearance of lesser spheres of startling brilliance. They emerge from nothingness, pause for a moment, and shoot towards me with extraordinary impulse. Each is a mere globule, resplendently blue. The tint intensifies as with accelerated velocity the atom flies until of its own excessive energy it explodes with a shell-like flash, leaving a sinuous trail of golden light. To burst into sight, gather force, to flash and slowly vanish—such is the sum of life of a speck of sea-jelly. To be the centre towards which scores of the watery meteors gravitate, to witness their apparently spontaneous beginning, their swift, brief, but ineffectual career and lingering end, delights this night of darkness. How many of the race of man are there whose post-mortem glory outshines life tenfold?
Beneath a slab of dead coral on the reef there was revealed one of those primitive and curious marine animals which has no common name, but which science recognises as SYNAPTA BESELLI. It is a relation of the beche-de-mer, of snake-like form, with a group of gills differentiating the head. Playing about it were three or four little fish which immediately took advantage of the only remaining cover, the body of the Synapta, snoodling beside it so artfully that they were quite concealed. The protector did not appear to resent the close company of the fish, which remained perfectly motionless. In a few seconds the Synapta began to extrude its feathery gills, which had been partly retracted on disturbance. I counted the gills, and while my forefinger indicated the sixth, a little fish, not previously noticed, appeared at the focus and edged off to the margin of the pool, now and again making decided efforts to regain its sanctuary. It was about an inch long and a third deep, ruby red, with pink undersides and pink, transparent fins. Three narrow bands of silver edged with lavender extended across the shoulder. Life gave it jewel-like lustre. The companionship between the slow and feeble Synapta, one of the most primitive of sea things, and the brilliant, agile fish may be another instance of commensalism.
No one who parades a coral reef can fail to be impressed by the various means adopted by its weaker denizens to evade the consequences of conspicuousness. Among the vast multitude of creatures, mostly hostile to each other, few are more remarkable than the crabs, not only on account of form and habit, but for care of themselves during the periodic casting of their shells. They therefore represent an entertaining study and a never-ending source of pleasure to the observer, who, as he happens on some fantastic member of the family, wonders, remembering his Shakespeare, what impossible matter will Nature make easy next. Dreamy little ripples were laying on the strands sprays of seaweed, torn from the reef which was not quite out of the influence of the easterly swell. The conditions were ordinary, but one fragment made itself noticeable by slight, almost undiscernible, but still distinctive efforts to regain the water, whence it was separated by a few inches. Seaweed alone was visible as it rested on the palm of the hand. Presently it moved hesitatingly and with infinite slowness, and, being reversed, revealed itself as a "watery" crab under living disguise. The specimen was sent to the Australian Museum, Sydney, where it came under the hands of my friend Mr. Allan R. McCulloch, who devotes himself to the phenomena of the sea; and since his references to it are explicit and authoritative, they will be more acceptable than generalities from an uninformed pen: "The crab you sent is the second specimen known of ZEWA BANFIELDI, which I described from a dried specimen received from you some years ago. Not only the species, but the genus also, was unknown until you gave me the opportunity of describing this interesting beast. It is one of the spider crabs, or Oxyrhynchus, most of which have long horns projecting from the rostrum, and are more or less thickly covered with stiff curled setae, to which seaweeds, sponges, and other marine growths—selected according to the taste of the bearer—are attached. When these crabs shed their shells, which they must do periodically to allow of growth, they retire to a dark corner and draw themselves out of a slit between the back and the abdomen, legs and all, which must, I imagine, be a delicate and somewhat painful proceeding. After emerging, they are, of course, quite soft, and the setae on the carapace and legs are flexible. The crab then selects choice bits of weed from its old shell and fastens them to itself by the setae, which soon curl at the tips like the tendrils of a vine, and so hold them firmly. The weeds and sponges, requiring no roots, but merely a secure base, readily grow in their new position, and so cover their host with a sheltering disguise, enabling it to sally forth in quest of fresh loves and other adventures. I am sending the reprint with the original description and figure, also a sketch of the crab with its weedy garments. Much of the weed had become detached on its arrival here, which is, perhaps, fortunate, since the sketch would otherwise have shown merely a cluster of weeds." It could be well wished that the specimen had retained the whole of its floral cloak, for then the sketch would have shown its deceptive qualities in perfection. Masquerading as a spray of seaweed, the crab eludes its enemies, the mask being of such high order that even man, with his perceptions, does not penetrate it unless he exercises his reasoning faculties. Because he knows that a spray of seaweed is not endowed with independent movement, when it does walk about he, at first, is as incredulous as was Macbeth when told of that "moving grove" of Birman.
"North Queensland is my country. I love it. I live in it. I would die for it."—DODD S. CLARKE.
To those who earnestly believe that a country exercises dominance over its inhabitants, mental as well as physical, the present state of North Queensland offers interesting problems. Save for a fast-disappearing remnant, gone are the original occupiers of the land. The most listless, the least thrifty of the old peoples, have given place to representatives of the most adventurous, the most successful—men and women of British blood, of progressive ideas, vaunting and independent spirit, but with slight respect for the traditions of their race. Apt to regard their own land as all-sufficient, to resent the incoming of strangers (especially those of dark complexion), determined to exclude coloured labour from tropical fields, while demanding higher and yet higher recompense for work which in other equatorial regions is deemed to be servile, on what grounds do they base the hope of adapting themselves to their environment, of becoming children of the soil?
The genius of the race forbids degeneracy. Marked and sudden improvement may be expected if examples drawn from the lower animals and certain plants are applicable. Huxley laid it down that "the animals and plants of the Northern Hemisphere are not only as well adapted to live in the Southern Hemisphere as its own autochones, but are in many cases absolutely better adapted, and so overrun and extirpate the aborigines. Clearly, therefore, the species which naturally inhabits a country is not necessarily the best adapted to its climate and other conditions." Australian aboriginals having given way before a race better fitted to flourish, what will the future of the new race be? What ideal is at present pursued?
To one who firmly upholds the theory of the evolution of Australian types, and who thinks he perceives convincing evidence in support of his belief, it seems likely that on the tropical coast, where the influence of the sun is all-powerful, rainfall abundant, and vegetation prolific, the type will not only be more rapidly developed, but that it will be pronounced in bodily form, in tongue, and in temperament. One of the reasons compelling towards such conclusion is the decided desire—nay, the ambition—on the part of native-born Australians to do glad and seemly homage to the sun.
If a traveller from distant and friendly lands were to accept as germs of a type those who sport in the surf at fashionable watering-places, he might infer from the display of brown backs and shoulders that Australia had not escaped a smudge of aboriginal blood. But this ardently cultivated tint is notoriously impermanent. Contradictory as it may be, the most earnest advocates of the "White Australia" principle use more than the average quantity of oil, which makes the skin to shine and embrown under the influence of the much-loved sun. Do not their shoulders bear testimony to the sun's wholesome salutations, and does not the too fair and thin-skinned individual smart under his peeling and display envy against the favoured ones who burn to the tint of old copper? Naturally, those who have the most intense longing for a coloured skin, who persistently seek to acquire it by exposure to the sun seconded by anointings, will prevail. In the course of a few generations—it would be idle to say how many—the type will be fixed and the unguent superfluous; in the meantime the use of coco-nut oil has become one of the confirmed customs of the country, as in Fiji and elsewhere in the Pacific.
If "beauty born of murmuring sound" may enhance the charms of maidenhood, is it too much to expect that sunburn, fervently desired, may not only permanently darken the complexion, but affect the mien of the race? And thus in years to come the white Australian may be of the past—transformed physically by the supremacy of soil and sun, and improved in disposition and character by economic observances as irrefutable as the laws of Nature. The horses of out dry, stony uplands have already developed hoofs in shape and texture well adapted to the country over which they roam, and have become surer-footed and more active and durable. Conditions and circumstances which in a few generations effect desirable changes in horses will assuredly be influential in respect of the physique and stamina and moralities of man. North Queensland will establish a type, just as Tierra del Fuego did many centuries since, and the type will be that which is best fitted to maintain itself. It will be brown of complexion, hardy and alert. North Queensland is expansive and varied. It comprises a marvellous range of geological phenomena, from which may be expected remarkable variants. The sheep-grower of the treeless downs will differ from the denizen of the steamy coast who supplies him with sugar and bananas. The man from among the limestone bluffs may be in temperament strange to the dweller on the black soil plains and to the individual who lives among barren hills seamed with copper. Readers of English books and magazines are familiar with the little prominence given to matters which stand for good and worthiness and the stress laid on the seeming disadvantages of life in tropical Australia. A favourite magazine may contain a series of articles, sumptuously illustrated, conveying information concerning country life in Canada. It is impossible not to visualise the miles of wheat-fields, the imposing elevators, the railways cutting across endless prairies or winding among wonderful mountains, snowcapped as a stage effect merely. The pictures of chubby children and buxom girls and sturdy boys tell of the healthfulness and invigorating qualities of the climate. Is it not always spring or summer in Canada? Would not the man who whispered of snow and ice be a renegade, a dastard, a rebel? North Queenslanders do not attempt to belittle the reputation of Canada as a field for the activities of the surplus population of the old country. We are of the same blood and breed, and merely ask for a proper understanding of our own good land. The comfort given to Canada is all in the family, and an Empire which extends from pole to pole must needs embrace differences of climate and productions.
Do not we all take upon our shoulders the burden of Empire? Here we bear our share stripped to the buff, while Canada bustles under an equally honourable but heavier load. Occasionally, no doubt, the most patriotic son of our Lady of Snows would joy in the heat of North Queensland noon; while the sweatful North Queenslander may often pant for the superfluous ice of his far-away cousin.
The denizens of the different parts of the Empire quite understand one another, and realise that to be great the Empire must disregard temperatures as it does prickly heat and chilblains. Only the casual visitor fails in this.
Sun Days are essential to the production of sugar and bananas and mangoes, to say nothing of pineapples and other fruits of the tropics. When we are called upon to endure extraordinary heat, we tell one another of the penance and find excuse for extra drinks. But neither the heat nor the comparison of personal experiences is of the injurious nature of some of the refreshments. The weather is not compounded of excesses, but of means. Is it not true that few countries in the wide world would be considered fit for habitation by human beings if the character of the climate was estimated by its extremes?
No North Queenslander will resent records of high temperatures. He will be quite content to be shown enjoying and flourishing in the heat in which sugar-cane thrives, for thereby is to be proved a fact theorists seem unable to grasp—viz., that such is the soundness and virtue of the British race that it adapts itself with equal success to the long, dark, cold winter of Canada and the perpetual summer of North Queensland. Who is to say that the Canadian in his thick woollens and furs is a healthier subject, a worthier type, than the North Queenslander, stripped to the waist in the full blaze of the sun, glorying in his own vigour, proud of his magnificent heritage, and scornful of the opinions of those who have never experienced that supreme zest of life unpurchasable outside the tropic zone?
With intent to picturesquely demonstrate that soil will tell, some are ready to assert that we owe Christianity to the horizontal limestone formation of Palestine. Accepting the theory with whole-hearted enthusiasm, and admitting that North Queensland comprehends tracts of country not dissimilar from the Holy Land, mark what the future may have in store for the race. Do you want old age?—Methuselah, Noah, Isaac. Strong men?—Gosselin, Samson, Saul. Beautiful women?—Ruth, Rebecca, Esther. Does not David, the man after God's own heart, appeal? Was not Solomon, the wise, the glorious, the prolific, a superior type? And, with all reverence be it said, was not the Founder of the Christian religion a solar product?
Hotter lands beyond the bounds of Palestine gave to the world men and women whose deeds and influence still astound and stimulate millions of mankind—the Queen of Sheba, Cleopatra, Pharaoh the Great, Moses the leader, whom the Lord knew face to face, Joseph the organiser, Mahomet, the benign Buddha, and all the sages, the poets, the historians, the architects of the gorgeous East. May not those who elect to live in lands of high temperature and who are strong in their faith cite apt and illustrious precedents, and make bold to say that none has exercised more influence on the minds and destinies of mankind than those born in the lands of the Sun?
FRAGRANCE AND FRUIT
"The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise."—Holy Writ.
While the remnant of the crop of citrus fruits still hangs on the trees, after providing refreshing food for six months and more, the blooms which promise next year's supplies decorate the branches. Is it not pleasing to have such graceful promises before the burden of the passing season has disposed of all its sweetness? Possibly these early flowers are destined to produce fruit for the admiration of living things upon which the gardener bestows anything but a welcome. It may come to maturity just after the wet season, when flies and moths feast and corrupt in riot which provokes to wrath. Inconsequent feeders, they probe the fruit and flit away after a sip which does not absorb a thousandth part of its keen juices, or they use a comely specimen in which to deposit eggs, which in the course of Nature become grubs. All such infected fruit the trees abandon until the ground is strewn with waste. Such disaster happens when the air is favourable to the breeding of quivering gauze wings; but there comes a time when the fruit suffers little or no ill, and then the heart of the orchardist rejoices as does that of the fisher when the wind comes up from the sea. Then does he accept fine promises in good faith, for it has come to be the fashion for certain varieties of citrus fruits to provide two crops, and the second, which ripens about the beginning of August, the superior in size, appearances generally, and distinctly in flavour. The fruit is just as juicy as that which ripens when the air is saturated with the moisture of the wet season, while its fragrance almost equals that of the snowy flowers whence it sprang. These facts hasten to this conclusion—that the orange-grower has something beyond mere money in compensation for his toil. Can it be called toil? Does he not for the most part, after the first and essential preliminaries are of the past, permit Nature to have her own wayward will with his dutiful trees? Does he always and invariably cut out the dead wood which tells of much too strenuous efforts on their part to justify their existence and his care? Does he attempt to exterminate the pretty flies which send to the ground a certain percentage, while yet the fruit is immature and bitter? Does he let the light of the caressing sun into the hearts of his pet trees by removing superfluous twigs? Well does he know that if he tended them as he should their bounty to him would be much magnified. Yet does he dream on, accepting that which comes, admiring leafage, bloom, and fragrant fruit, and always postponing the day when substantial aid and credit should be given. There is something to be said in favour of this happy attitude towards good-natured trees. Should it not suffice to have given them monopoly and choice? Many others, and some of far nobler proportions, have been exterminated for their special benefit and advantage. They have been grown from seed of most highly complimented fruit; their infancy and youth have been nurtured and protected; each has been assigned its proper place with due regard to the welfare of neighbours; less promising vegetation has been summarily checked; the first flowers have been sniffed with high delight, the first fruits sampled with extravagant praise. Having bestowed upon trees care and attention, while they were yet mere sprouts of tender green, and admired their sturdy development, and approved their best efforts, is it not yours to accept whatsoever they offer as reward and recompense for past labour and present appreciation?
From the artistic standpoint the most admirable of all the citrus-trees is the pomelo, which, however, lacks merit from the commercial side. The tree grows more sedately than the orange or the mandarin, but on a grander scale. The leaves are bigger, tougher, and the appendages on either side of the stalk (which botanists call the stipules) more developed. The blooms are greater, and endowed with a much richer perfume than the orange; the fruit is huge and fragrant, though somewhat disappointing to the individual who expects the sweetness of the mandarin; while, if the views of the learned in such attributes are trustworthy it possesses medicinal qualities which are foreign to its dainty, diminutive relative. It would be mere affectation to refrain from these compliments to the pomelo when the atmosphere is saturated with the perfume from lusty trees. Certainly one has to wait patiently for many a long year ere his trees greet him with white flowers which pour out perfume of rare density and enrich him with golden fruit almost as big as footballs. From nine to twelve years must elapse, but expectancy is not wholly measurable by the arbitrariness of time. The true standard is the desire, tempered by the patience of the custodian of the trees.
In August the pomeloes put on their most attractive appearances. The young leaves of lively tint contrast with the almost sombre green of the older foliage, and flowers in clusters give a most becoming adornment. Big and beautiful as they are, scent is their most conspicuous feature. Even in the open air it is rich almost to cloyness. It hangs about the tree while the wind is still, and the slightest movement of the air wafts it hither and thither. It stings sensitive folk with its intensity at close quarters, but when diffused is fragrance of ethereal delight. All day long birds frolic in the trees, some to cull the nectar, some to search for insects attracted for like purpose, some to nibble and discard white petals. All the moist soil beneath is strewn with snowy flakes, for at night flying foxes blunder among the branches, destroying more blooms than they eat. But why grumble? Birds which nip off petals and musty foxes which brush down whole posies in their clumsiness are but positive checks to overproduction. Do they not avert the unthankful task of carting away dozens of barrow loads of superfluous fruit? Last night at dusk there was a sensation of the coming of rain, though the air was still and the sky clear. I paused under the trees to expand my lungs with their scented breathings. A semi-intoxicated bird twittered drowsily among the branches,
"His happy good-night air, Some blessed hope, whereof he knew, And I was unaware."
Dozens of sphinx moths—big torpedo-shaped bodies carried by wings of soft brown and dull red—floated about, sipping where and when and as long as they liked. Sometimes the sphinx has almost an aggressive tone In his flight—hasty, important, brooking no interference. Last night's note was of supreme content. A rich and overflowing feast was spread and the insects hovered over the posies and sipped and fluted like merry roysterers, without a care or thought of the morrow. It was a love-feast, for the still night seemed to invite the trees to give of their richest and best; the psalm of the insects was audible, not to the distance whence the perfume was dissipated, but for many a scented yard. The trees seemed sanctified, and I stood bare-headed among them and gave my silent praise for a delightsome experience. Expectancy and patience had been overpaid.
"We are all going to the play or coming from it."—DICKENS.
In a few hours came "the season's difference." The scene-shifter worked with almost magical haste, with silence, and with supreme effect. The gloomy days and nights of misty hill-tops and damp hollows, where the grass was sodden and the air dull and irresponsive to sound, gave way to bright sunshine, cloudless skies, calm seas, echoing hills, and the tinge of that which for lack of the ideal word we call "spring." Spring does not visit the tropical coast, where vegetation does not tolerate any period of rest. When plants are not actually romping with excess of vital force, as during the height of the wet season, they grow with the haste of summer. And yet immediately on the dispersal of the mists of July the least observance could not fail to recognise that a certain and elaborate change had taken place. The mango-trees had been flowering for several weeks in a trivial, half-hearted way, but when the sun sent its thrills down into the moist soil the lemons and pomeloes began to sweeten the air; the sunflower-tree displayed its golden crowns among huge soft leaves, and the last blooms of belated wattles fell, showing that it is possible for tributes representative of May and September to be paid on one and the same date.
The scene-shifter came softly "as the small rain upon the tender herb," but with an orchestra of his own. Years of observation have shown that the weather does control the habits of some birds—birds of distinct and regular methods of life. Two such are common—the nutmeg pigeon and the metallic starling. Both species leave this part of the North during the third week of March, flying in flocks to regions nearer the equator. For several weeks the starlings train themselves for the long Northern flight and its perils, dashing with impetuous speed through the forest and wheeling up into the sky until they disappear, to become visible again as black dots hurtling through space when the sunlight plays on their glossy feathers as the course of the flock is changed. With the rush of a wind of small measure but immense velocity, the flock descends earthwards, among and over the trees, perfecting itself by trials of endurance and intricate alertness. The birds return during the first week in August, in small and silent companies, to reoccupy favourite resorts in common. The nutmeg pigeons are also of exact habit, the time for their return generally coinciding with that of the starlings. This year (1916) both birds were noticed just after the scene-shifter had swept the hills of mists, and now other birds seem to have awakened to the conditions which the starlings and the nutmegs brought with them from hotter lands. The swamp pheasants are whooping and gurgling, and that semi-migratory fellow, the spangled drongo—a flattering name, for he jangles but does not spangle—sits on the slim branch of the Moreton Bay ash which held last year's nest and chatters discordances in the very ears of his responsive mate. They will start building a loose nest on the brittlest branch forthwith, and while the lady sits on her three eggs he will screech defiances to the high heavens and perform aerial gymnastics with delirious delight.
The sun-birds are searching the lemon blooms. The breast of the gay, assertive little bird is far richer in tint than the brightest of the lemons. A minute ago one perched on a ripe fruit as if to shame it by contrast, and the fruit has since seemed a trifle dull of tint, and with light-hearted inconsequence the pair are now probing narrow throats of papaw flowers. The ground has been too much overgrown with grass and weeds for the comfort of the little green pigeons which come strutting down the paths for seeds and crumbs. Dry soil, which may be easily scanned and scratched, is more to their liking, so they keep to the forest, where in some places the undergrowth of wattles is so dense that the sun may not visit the ground, and the bare places glitter with seed.
When rain was seriously deficient, proof was given that some proportion of the wattle seeds eaten by pigeons are not digested. In the crevices of logs supporting the water-trough, which proved to be a popular refreshment spot of many species of birds, clamorous with thirst, seeds were deposited, and when the rains came the trough was fringed and decorated with pinnate leaves of sprouting wattles, some of which grew so strongly, notwithstanding the absence of soil, save that which occurs from the slow decay of seasoned bloodwood, that if summary measures had not been taken the trough might have been embowered. The season seems to have been too damp for the night-jars, though quite to the taste of all species of pigeons. In the course of a few minutes the voice of the timid, tremulous, barred-shouldered dove came from among the yellow-flowered hibiscus of the beach, while the pheasant-tailed pigeon sounded its rich, dual note, the red-crowned fruit pigeon tolled its mournful chime, and the guttural of the magnificent fruit pigeon—often heard, but seldom seen—came from the jungle close at hand. Not one of these birds was visible, nor was the fluty-voiced shrike thrush, which answers every strange call and mimics crude attempts to reproduce its varied notes. The blue kingfisher is investigating the tumour made by white ants in the bloodwood wherein the nest is annually excavated, and soon the chattering notes of the pair will be heard. A week ago few signs of the approach of the scene-shifter were discernible. He has come, and plants and birds respond to his genial and becoming presence—plants with richer growth and more abundant flowers, birds with the unreflecting gaiety of nuptial days.
"Remove the vegetable kingdom, or interrupt the flow of its unconscious benefactions, and the whole higher life of the world ends."—HENRY DRUMMOND.
Strolling on the curving footway of broken shells and coral chips marking the limit of the morning's tide, a vague attempt was made to catalogue the plants which crowd each other on the verge of salt water, and so to make comparison with that part of Australia the features of which provoked Adam Lindsay Gordon to frame an adhesive phrase concerning bright scentless blossoms and songless, bright birds. Excluding the acacias and eucalypts, said to have given sameness to the scenes among which the exotic poet ranged, a long list might be compiled; nor will the pleasant sounds of the afternoon be set down in formal order to the vexing of his memory, for possibly he never heard the whoop and gurgle of the swamp pheasant or the blended voices of hundreds of nutmeg pigeons mellowed by half a mile of still, warm air.
Nor may such unassuming vegetation as the grasses—at least a dozen varieties—find place in an enumeration which appeals primarily on the grounds of prominence, though it would not do to despise the soft and pleasant carpet beneath the orderly row of Casuarinas which the tide planted during the last big cyclone with gardener's art. The common name for the trees—"she" (or "shea" oaks, as the late F. Manson Bailey preferred)—mimics the sound of the wind among the branches, which the slightest zephyr stirs and, the storm lashes into sea-like roar. The bright green of the grasses sets off the dull green and bronze of the steadfast harps of the beach. At certain seasons and in some lights, when the sun is in the west, the minute scales at the joints of the slender, pendulous branchlets shine like old gold, producing a theatrical effect which, if not experienced before, startles and almost persuades to the belief that the complaining trees have been decorated by one who "has sought out many inventions." But the slant of the sun alters, the light fades, leaving them sombre in hue and whispering more and more discreetly as the night calm settles over the scene. Such communicable trees should stand together, commenting on passing events, booming in unison with the cyclone, and mimicking the tenderest tones of the idlest wind. During a storm, when the big waves crash on the beach and the Casuarinas are tormented, the tumult is bewildering; but however loud their plaint, very few suffer, though growing in loose sand; for the roots are widespread and, like the trunk and main branches, tough, while the branchlets stream before the wind.
Close behind the screen of Casuarinas is a magnificent specimen of a wide-spreading shrub, in form a squat dome, which commemorates the name of a French naturalist—TOURNEFORTIA ARGENTA. The leaves, crowded at the ends of thick branchlets, are covered with soft, silky hairs of a silvery cast, which reflect the sun's rays. It would be gross exaggeration to say that the finely shaped shrub shines like silver, for the general hue of the foliage is sage green, but that it has a silvery cast, which in certain lights contrasts with the dull gold of its neighbours, is an alluring fact which must not be strained. Moreover, the shrub covers an almost perfect circle, about thirty feet in diameter, and since it is not more than ten feet high, its form is as if Nature had designed the creation of a circus of shadow, dense and cool, for the comfort of mankind.
At high-water mark stands one of the Terminalias with big terminal light green leaves, musty flowers, and purple fruit—gold, silver, and purple in close array—while over the sand the goat-footed convolvulus sends long, succulent shoots bearing huge pink flowers complementary to the purple of the beach-pea (CANVALIA OBTUSIFOLIA).
Under the she-oaks young coral trees have sprung up, but the red flowers are of the past, and so also have the gold and white of the Calophyllums disappeared. But in the evening the breeze brings whiffs of a singular savour, pleasant yet not sweet, which comes from the acre or two of native hops a few yards back. The bruised leaves thereof give off anything but an attractive odour, yet the faint natural exhalations from the plant are sniffed eagerly and to the revivification of pleasant recollections.
Among a crowd of massive shrubs sprawls a plant of loose habit known as CAESALPINA BONDUCELLA, the long clinging branches and the pods of which are armed with hooked prickles. It is a plant of wide range, for the bluish-grey seeds are said to be used in Arabia for necklets. In the idle days of the past the blacks were wont to enclose a single seed in a miniature basket woven of strips of cane for the amusement of infants—probably the first of rattles. It has seized for support some of the branches of a rare tree (CERBERA ODOLLAM) which bears long, glossy, lanceolate leaves, large, pink-centred, white flowers, delicately fragrant, and compressed oval fruit, brilliantly scarlet. The tempting appearance of the fruit is all that may be said in its favour, for it is hard and bitter, and said to be vicious in its effects on the human system; hence the generic title, after the three-headed dog, guardian of the portals of the infernal regions.
Grouped here and there are pale green, big-leaved shrubs (PREMNA OBTUSIFOLIA,) bearing flowers and fruit calling to mind the elder of the old country. The wood is deep yellow in colour, but apparently of no practical use.
Another small tree, suggesting in its regular and well-balanced shape the use of the pruning-knife, is GUETTARDIA SPECIOSA, the flowers of which are white with a tinge of pink in the centre and highly fragrant. The fruit is a hard, woody drupe, containing small seeds. TIMONIUS RUMPHII, belonging to the same Family, but of more frequent occurrence, bears small white flowers and globular fruit. The white, finely grained wood is said to resemble English sycamore. Though harsh and flaky, the surface of the bark seems to retain moisture, making it attractive to several species of fungi and epiphytal ferns, the most conspicuous of the latter being the stag's-horn. Few of the trees near the beach are free from such encumbrances.
To unaccustomed eyes the Pandanus palm is chief among the noticeable features of the flora of the coast of tropical Queensland. Two species are represented on these accommodating sands, each suffering no ill, from imbibing salt water, each exhibiting the peculiarity whence the genus derives its common name—the screw palm, the arrangement of the long, narrow, prickle-edged leaves displaying in the most regular and demonstrative style the perfect spiral. The single stem of youth frequently deteriorates and occasionally disappears altogether, adventitious roots, descending from various heights, forming an elaborate and sure and ever-developing support. The huge, bright orange-tinted fruit of the species known as Odoratissimus is highly attractive in appearance, and to the uninitiated offers pleasing hopes and delicious expectations. It is, however, delusive, being constituted of woody drupes in close clusters collected into a globular head, with meagre yellow pulp at the base of each group, the pulp having an aromatic and unsatisfactory flavour. Each drupe contains an oblong oval kernel, pleasant to the taste, but so trivial in size as to be hardly worth the trouble of extraction unless there is little else to occupy attention save the pangs of hunger. These defects do not detract from the parade of the tree—picturesque, singular, and replete with interest to the observer of the infinite variety of the vegetation of the tropics.
The cockatoo apple (CAREYA AUSTRALIS), which has several useful qualities, flourishes exceedingly. The ripe fruit, green and insipid, was wont to be eaten by the blacks, bark from the branches was twisted into fishing-lines, that of the roots used for poisoning fish, while the leaves, heated over the fire until the oil exuded, were applied to bruised and aching parts of the body. Extraordinary tenacity of life distinguished the tree, the axe, fire, and poison failing under some circumstances to vanquish it.
Another and closely related member of the same Family (Myrtaceae) is BARRINGTONIA SPECIOSA, which, so far as local experience is to be trusted, is restricted to the beaches, growing lustily in pure sand at the very verge of high-water mark. The glossy leaves of this many-branched tree often exceed a foot in length; the flowers, too, are large and singular in style, the petals being comparatively insignificant, while the numerous stamens attain a length of four inches and are of a lovely shade of red. Like its relative, the cockatoo apple, the flowers of the Barringtonia have a meaty smell, which seems to attract many species of insects. In keeping with other characteristics, the fruit is large, consisting of a thick, woody covering, as if Nature designed that the single seeds should be adequately protected during a protracted oceanic drift. It is often cast up on the sand, but the seed does not germinate as consistently as that of the cannon-ball-tree; but when it does it rarely fails to become established.
Two species of Ficus deserve to be mentioned, though this catalogue does not claim to be exhaustive. FICUS FASCICULATA, as the title implies, bears its inedible fruit in bundles, branches, trunk, and exposed roots, being alike fertile, and is almost as retentive of life as the cockatoo apple. Opposita is remarkable for varied form of foliage, referred to particularly elsewhere, and for the sweetness of its fruit.
One of the loveliest and most remarkable plants of the beach is the seacoast laburnum (SOPHORA TOMENTOSA), with its pinnate leaves of sage green, hoary with silvery fur as soft as seal-skin, and bearing terminal spikes of golden flowers with scent invoking slight comparison with mignonette. The thick, silky leaves, the yellow flowers, and the strange pods, are distinctive qualities, which atone for the absence of the special sweetness of the garden favourite. The pods begin as slender, silvery, dangling threads, which speedily lengthen and become constricted. When the breeze flusters the shrubs, revealing the undersides of the leaves at a reflective angle and shaking the tasselled pods, and the splashes of gold sway hither and thither, the character of the shrub as one of the most attractive ornaments of the beach is so truly displayed that it might be likened to the tree of the sun described by Marco Polo—green on one side, but white when perceived on the other.
This quality, however, is not special or peculiar. The brown kurrajong (COMMERSONIA ECHINATA) exhibits it even more conspicuously, and, when the dusty white flowers—displayed in almost horizontal planes—are buffeted by the winds and the white undersides of the leaves are revealed, the whole style of the tree is transformed as a demure damsel is by tempestuous petticoats.
With the grey-green of the Sophora is often intertwined the leafless creeper CASSYTHA FILIFORMIS, which in the days of the past the blacks were wont to use with other beach plants in the composition of a crude seine net. The long-reaching, white-flowered CLERODENDRON INERME and the tough, sprawling BLAINVILLEA LATIFOLIA, with its small, harsh flowers, yellow as buttercups but resembling a daisy in form, were also embodied in the net.
The Poonga oil-tree, the new and old leaves the colour of new copper, and the mature the darkest of green, bears spikes of pale lavender flowers, and makes a decided blotch among the light green succulent leaves of the native cabbage (SCAEVOLA KOENIGII), with its strange white flowers and milk-white fruit. All parts of the plant are said to be emetic.
Two varieties of VITEX TRIFOLIA, each bearing pretty lavender flowers, but in other respects sharply contrasted, are among the commonest of denizens of the beach. The one is a prostrate plant with sage-coloured and sage-scented leaves; the other a shrub or small tree with light green foliage, the underside of which is mealy-white, and flowers paler than those of its lowly kin. Each is pretty, and the creeping variety (known in Egypt as the "Hand of Mary") decidedly one of the most eager lovers of the sand, to which it keeps strictly.
Almost within reach from high water are representatives of a tall, shining-leaved shrub known as MORINDA CITRIFOLIA, the flower-heads of which merge into a berry which has a most disagreeable odour and a still more objectionable flavour. It is related that when La Perouse was cast away on one of the islands of the South Pacific, a native undertook to ward off the pangs of hunger by converting the fruit into an edible dish. But his manipulation seemed but to intensify original nauseousness, and the brave Frenchman and his companions found semi-starvation more endurable than the repugnant mess.
Magnificent representatives of the umbrella-tree (BRASSAIA ACTINOPHYLLA), unique among the many novelties of the tropical coast, are massed in groups or stand in solitary grace close to the sea. Queensland has a monopoly over this handsome and remarkable tree, the genus to which it belongs being limited to a single species occurring nowhere else in a native state. Discovered by Banks and Solander at Cooktown in 1770, the second record of its existence, it is believed, was made from specimens obtained on this island by Macgillivray and Huxley in 1848. Possibly the very trees which attracted their attention still crown their rayed and glossy leaflets with long, radiating rods thickly set with red, stud-like flowers. Such foliage and such flowers would appeal gloriously to an enthusiastic botanist, and to so devoted, indefatigable, and successful a searcher after the wonders and the higher truths of the world as Huxley.
Few of the ornaments of the beach are more noticeable than that known commonly as the sunflower-tree and by the natives as Gingee (DIPLANTHERA TETRAPHYLLA), with its big leaves, soft of surface when young, but harsh and coarse at maturity. The golden flowers, grouped in huge heads, are rich in nectar, attracting birds and butterflies by day and flying foxes at night. The fruit, enclosed in a crisp capsule, is tough and leathery, in shape a flattened oval, and is entirely covered with silken seeds lying close and dense as the feathers of the grebe. When numbers of the capsules open simultaneously, the seeds float earthwards like a silvery mantle or stream before the wind like a veil. Rarely the capsule falls to the ground complete, and then the parting of the valves reveals the fruit, in form not unlike a small fish covered with glistening scales. The soft white wood is generally condemned, but duly seasoned it becomes tough, and is durable when not exposed to the weather. Like other quick-growing trees, the Gin-gee takes no long time in arriving at maturity, and its life is comparatively brief. Often big trees die from no apparent cause, and the wood becoming dry and tindery, the limbs crash to the ground suddenly, and in a few months the whole substance disappears in dust and mould.
Though the flowering season of the Calophyllum is of the past, the tree which bestows on the beaches the deepest shade and is handsome in all its parts must not be disregarded, for does it not, ever and anon, strive after a higher purpose than the production of goodly leaves, white flowers, and nuts "harsh and crude"? On rare occasions the external covering of the nut turns yellow on the tree, and is then found to enclose a thin envelope of pulp of aromatic and rather gratifying flavour. Such a phenomenon seems to manifest inherent excellencies, a laudable effort towards self-improvement, a plea for assistance on the part of some approving and patient man, an indication of the lines on which he might co-operate. The tree does not need gloss for its perfect leaves or fragrance for its flowers, nor need the qualities of its pink wood of wavering figure be extolled. With the exception of the stamens, all parts of the inflorescence, inclusive of the long pedicles, are milk-white, and the perfume is as sweet and refreshing as an English spring posy. Chemists tell us that the oil from the kernels contains a green pigment which changes to yellow on saponification, and that the resin is emetic and purgative, and healing when applied as plaster. If botanical science can develop the meritorious tendencies the fruit occasionally exhibits, the Calophyllum would certainly rank as one of the most wonderful of all tropical fruits. And may it not be wise to indulge the highest hopes when it is borne in mind that at the head of the Family to which the Calophyllum belongs stands that queen of fruits—the mangosteen? Faith in the probable idealisation of the Calophyllum is justified by reference to the "Prefatory and Other Notes" to the late F. M. Bailey's great work, the "Comprehensive Catalogue of Queensland Plants," where is to be found these encouraging words: "When any particular plant is said to furnish a useful fruit, it must not be imagined that the fruit equals the apple, pear, or peach of the present day, but all so marked are superior to the fruits known to our far-back forefathers."
Two eucalypts—bloodwood and Moreton Bay ash (CORYMBOSA and TESSELLARIS respectively)—and two acacias are represented, the former developing into great trees of economic value, the latter being comparatively short-lived and ornamental. The young shoots of Acacia flavescens are covered as with golden fleece, and its globular flowers are pale yellow. The wood resembles in tint and texture its ally, the raspberry-jam wood of Western Australia, though lacking its significant and remarkable aroma. ACACIA AULACOCARPA displays in pendant masses golden tassels rich in fragrance.
The yellow-flowered hibiscus (cotton-tree) overhangs the tide, and the small-leaved shrub the blacks name Tee-bee (WIKSTRAEMIA INDICA), the pink, semi-transparent fruit of which is eaten in times of stress, springs from pure sand.
A tall, almost branchless shrub (MACARANGA TANARIUS), the Toogantoogan of the natives, grows in close clumps conducive to the production of light, straight, slim stems used as fish-spears. The bark peels readily in long strands, easily convertible into lines, and the sap from incised stems, which crystallises with a reddish tint, is a fast cement. Huge platter-shaped leaves are supported on long stalks from nearly the centre, whence radiate prominent nerves of pale green. Some plants exhibit leaf-stalks of ruby red, with central leaf-spot and nerves like in hue, producing the most beautiful effect. If the growth of the plant could be kept within bounds it would be gladly admitted as a garden shrub. The stems and the base of the leaf-stalk are coated with, glaucous bloom, like that of a ripe plum. The bloom, easily to be rubbed off, is said to derive its title from that Glaucus who took part in the Trojan War and had the simplicity, or the wisdom, to exchange his suit of golden armour for one of iron.
The length of the beach thus casually examined is not more than a quarter of a mile long, and no plant mentioned is more than a few yards from high-water mark, the soil being almost pure sand. Imagine some three square miles of country varied by hills and flats of rich soil, with creeks and ravines, precipices and bluffs, dense jungle and thick forest, hollows wherein water lodges in the wet season, and granite ridges, and then endeavour to comprehend the botany of one small island of the tropical coast!
To obtain demonstration of the vitalising and nourishing principles in maritime sands under the effects of heat, light, and moisture, it is necessary to retrace our steps and walk round the sandspit to the transfigured and degenerate mouth of that once mangrove-creek known to the blacks by a name signifying that a boy once tethered in it a sucking fish (Remora). Obstructed by a bank, the creek is dead and dry save when the floods of the wet season co-operate with high tides and effect a breach, to be repaired on the cessation of the rains. No more than four years have passed since the formation of the bank began. It is now a shrubbery made by the incessant and tireless sea from materials hostile, insipid, and loose-sand, shells, and coral debris, with pumice from some far-away volcano. On this newly made, restricted strip one may peep and botanise without restraint, discovering that though it does not offer conditions at all favourable to the retention of moisture, plants of varied character crowd each other for space and flourish as if drawing nutriment from rich loam.
Several botanical Families are represented, the genera and species being:
Casuarina equisetifolia (she-oak) Avicennia officinalis (white mangrove). Clerodendron inerme. Premna obtusifolia. Vitex trifolia. Vitex trifolia, var. obovata. Carapa moluccensis (cannon-ball-tree). Erylhrina indica (coral-tree). Sophora tomentosa (sea-coast laburnum). Pongamia glabra (poonga oil-tree). Vigna luteola (yellow-flowered pea). Calophyllum inophyllum (Alexandrian laurel). Terminalia melanocarpa. Ximenia americana (yellow plum). Scoevola koenigii (native cabbage). Hibiscus tiliaceus (cotton-tree). Wikstroemia indica. Macaranga tanarius. Euphorbia eremophilla (caustic bush). Dodonaea viscosa (hop-bush). Passiflora foetida (stinking passion fruit). Ipomea pes caprae (goat-footed convolvulus). Ionidium suffruticosum, Form A. Ionidium suffruticosum, Form B (spade-flower). Blainvillea latifolia. Gnaphalium luteo-album (flannel-leaf or cud-weed). Vernonia cinerea (erect, fluffy-seeded weed). Remirea maritima (spiky sand-binder). Cyperus decompositus (giant sedge). Erigeron linifolius (cobbler's pegs or rag-weed). Tribulus terrestris (caltrops). Triumfetta procumbens (burr). Salsola kali (prickly salt-wort). Mesembryanthemum aequilaterale (pig's face). Anthistria ciliata (kangaroo-grass). Paspalum distichum (water couch-grass). Zoysia pungens (coast couch-grass). Lepturus repens (creeping wire-grass). Panicum leucophaeum (pasture-grass). Andropogon refractus (barbed wire-grass). Tragus racemosus (burr-grass). Eragrostis brownii, var. pubescens (love-grass).
With the exception of some of the grasses and two noxious weeds, this assemblage is representative of plants which grow just beyond the sweep of the waves, and are prosperously at home nowhere else. One, the cannonball-tree, is so highly specialised that its presence is but temporary, for it endures but a single set of conditions—saline mud and the shade of mangroves. The thick, leathery capsule contains several irregularly shaped seeds, somewhat similar to Brazil nuts, but larger in size and not to be reassembled readily after separation. When stranded, germination is prompt, but the young plants, lacking essential conditions, invariably perish. One of the trailers—the caltrops—has trilobed, saw-edged leaves (harsh on both sides), yellow flowers of unpleasant odour, and fruit which, perhaps, formed the model of the war weapon of the time of the Crusaders. In whatever position it rests on the ground it presents an array of spikes to the bare foot. Though all its superficial qualities are graceless, it performs the admirable office of binding sand, and thus prepares the way for benign and faultless vegetation.
That his garden might not only be instructive but profitable to mankind, Neptune heaved on to its verge three coco-nuts, the goose-barnacles on two of which bore testimony to a long drift. That which retained the germ of life fell into the hands of a visiting black boy, who split it open to feast on the pithy and insipid "apple" within its shell at the base of the sprout. This mischance ruined for the time being the prospect of a fine effect; but the perseverance and prodigality of Neptune none may estimate. He will certainly bring from distant domain another nut which may escape the observation of the never-to-be-satisfied black boys until the young plant itself has assimilated its concentrated food, and begins to spread its glossy fronds in the face of the sun. In the meantime the garden displays four weeds, two of the nature of pests, two of discomfort merely; ornamental, scented, and flowering shrubs, and trees promising to be conspicuous and picturesque, so that credit is to be divided—the sea made the site, the adjacent land provided all the becoming plants.
What are the elements in this primitive spot which afford nutriment to vegetation of such varied character? Probably there are few of the beaches of islands within the Great Barrier Reef on which the majority of the plants do not exist. It is typical, therefore, not of isolated experiments on the part of Nature, but of conditions and processes repeated in similitude wheresoever in the region raw sand heals the wounds inflicted by the sea or the grumbling sea retreats before the sibilant, incessant sand.
"The wish—that ages have not yet subdued— In man to have no master save his mood."
Before the coming of the obscuring grey of these wet-season days, when the tranquil sea absorbed the lustrous blue of the sky, I discovered myself day-dreaming for a blissful moment or two ere the crude anchor of the flattie slipped slowly to the mud twelve feet below. The rough iron and rusty chain cast curious crinkled shadows, and presently, as the iron sank into the slate-coloured mud and the chain tightened, the shadow was single but infirm. Light and the magic of the sea, which, though it takes its ease, is forbidden absolute rest, transformed it until imagination created similitude to a serpent in its natural element. Its half-concealed, formless head was verified by a flake of rust just where a watchful eye might have been, and the sun played upon it.
So here at last was the sea-serpent with alert eye and without end. It was all so realistic and endowed with such benignity and such gentleness of motion that I gazed at it with the gladness of a discoverer. In response to a slight motion of the hand, the sea-serpent wriggled as though in haste; but wriggle as it might the end never came.
The boat drifted back. The serpent became seriously elongated, but though the beginning was now a grey blotch in the mud, the end was not. I might beat up a little foam with the chain, and see below a giddy dance or at least lively flourishes and swaying. Yet there was something lacking—the end. But for that very commonplace default did there not here exist a very good beginning for another romance of the sea?
The phantom, born of light and limpid salt water and iron into which rust had deeply gnawed, gave zest to the pursuit of shadows. What is commoner under the tropic sun? The boat was now over the sand of the steeply shelving beach, where the water takes the tint of the chrysolite and creatures of fairy lightness come into view. Often on still days small sea-spiders sport under the lea of the boat, each of the eight legs supported by a bubble. With astonishing nimbleness, the spider slips and glides over the surface as a man in laborious snow-shoes over the snow. Having basked in the sun and frolicked with its kind, the spider abandons its pads, takes to its hairy bosom a bubble of air, and dives below. The shadows, not the spiders alone, gave pleasing entertainment. Each vague shadow and the eight bubble-shod feet formed a brooch-like ornament on the yellow sand—a grey jewel surrounded by diamonds, for every bubble acted as a lens concentrating the light. When the frail creatures darted hither and thither—the majestic sun does not disdain to lend his brilliance to the most prosaic of happenings—the shadows of the bubbles became jewels or daylight lightnings. The hour was so restful, the light so searching, that many of the spiders, long of leg and pearly-grey of body, gathered about the boat, the shade of which seemed to be grateful. A wave of the hand dispersed the gay assemblage, but in a few seconds the playful creatures—not too easily to be deprived of their place in the sun—reappeared from nowhere, and the beads and flashes on the floor of old Ocean once more began to glitter.