Saturday, 24 December 2011

Béche and the Stranger


The last blog entry introduced this new magazine(source) to the publications that Hyatt Verrill wrote for. He was still a teen when he first travelled to Dominica, and we know he visited the island at least three times. His first visit was before 1900 and from the visit in 1948, we know that he wanted to ‘retire’ to Dominica. He presented two paintings to the library. We gifted the Library in Dominica with four books from our collection./drf





Béche and the Stranger
By A. Hyatt Verrill
Everyland magazine, September, 1916. Digitized by Doug Frizzle Dec. 2011.
This is the last of the Béche storiesfor Béche has grown up. The earlier stories in this series appeared in January and March, 1915.

SEVERAL years had passed since Béche the Carib boy had flown his leaf kites, sailed his palm boats, and caught his first fish. He had grown and had learned much. No longer was he afraid to go fishing with his father, but every day sailed far out to sea in the canoe. In fact, for a boy he was noted as a fisherman, and his father promised that soon they would go into the forest and cut down a gommier tree to make a canoe for Béche's own. Béche loved the woods and often he borrowed his father's old muzzle-loading gun and wandered through the forest in search of parrots, ramiers (wild pigeons), and agoutis (a small brown animal like a large guinea-pig). Béche never tried to kill anything. Once he had succeeded in killing a great purple ciceroo (a giant parrot), the wildest and shyest of game, and wonderfully proud he had felt when he brought it home.
And then one day a stranger came to the Caribs' village. He was a white man, and, although Béche had seen many white men, they were not like the newcomer. All those he had seen before were British officials or planters, men whose duties or interests brought them to the out-of-the-way village, and who thought it a great nuisance, and fumed and fretted and swore at the simple ways and food of the Indians, and thought them scarcely better than animals, and who hurried away just as soon as their business was over. But this man was not an Englishman and he was neither a magistrate, who wearily fined the people in the little court, nor a planter seeking for land, nor an excise officer looking for smugglers. Béche's father said he was an American, but this meant nothing to the Carib boy, for he had never heard of such a country as America. The stranger did not act like the other white men, either. He seemed to like the Indians and ate the food they offered and lived in the hut given him, and made no complaint. In the evenings he would talk with the Carib men and would listen to their fairy tales and legends and ask many questions of the old men and women, some of whom still spoke the language of their ancestors. Béche often saw the man take a queer package of white sheets from his pocket and make marks upon these with a pointed stick, and this interested the Carib boy greatly. He wondered if it were some sort of witchcraft or magic, and then one day the white man saw the Carib boy watching and tried to explain what he was doing. He told Béche he was writing, and then he pointed to one of the marked sheets and repeated a story Béche's uncle had told several days before; but Béche couldn't understand that the man was making notes or reading what he had written, for he had never heard of such things before. Then the man laughed and with his pointed stick made a few lines and Béche was almost frightened, he was so surprised, for there on the paper was the little village, with the canoes drawn upon the beach, the waving palms, and the high mountain beyond. Béche looked at the picture a moment and then ran out and stared about to see if the palms and mountains and canoes were still there, for he thought it must be "obi" and that the stranger had really made all the things about go on the paper. Then he surprised Béche still more by drawing a picture of Béche himself and of his old father and mother, and the Indian boy stood spellbound while the white man covered sheets of paper with birds, and trees and fishes. To Béche these were very wonderful, and, when the man gave the pictures to him and he might have them, the little Carib felt very rich and proud. Then the white man handed the boy the paper and pencil and told him to make a picture, and Béche, very shy and nervous, tried to draw a picture of the white man, and when it was done his new friend roared with laughter to see how funny he looked in the Indian boy's eyes, and Béche tried to explain that he didn't really look like that and that the triangular body and long crooked legs and skinny arms and round eyes and three-cornered head and huge ears were not at all like the white man's, but just "made themselves" that way on the paper.
But these were not half as interesting as some of the things the stranger had and did. He had guns,—wonderful shining guns, not at all like those of the Caribs, and, instead of pouring powder and shot into them, all the stranger had to do was to open the gun and slip in a little bright box; and in a chest the white man had ever so many queer and interesting things. There were little knives and scissors and tools and a funny glass that would make fire when held in the sun, and more fish-hooks than Béche had ever seen in all his life. There were cans of powder and bags of shot and papers of pins and dozens of needles and spools of thread and many other objects Béche had never seen or heard of, and the Carib boy thought the stranger must be very rich indeed to have all these things. When he saw Béche looking longingly at the fish-hooks and the powder and shot, he gave the boy a full dozen of the hooks and a whole bag of shot and enough powder to last for months, and Béche was so glad and grateful and thought the stranger such a wonderful man that he vowed blood-friendship from that moment and followed his new friend about like a dog. And the stranger did such mysterious and wonderful things. He could kill the parrots from the tallest trees, and could shoot the ramiers as they flew overhead, and this was so marvelous to the Carib boy that he almost worshiped the stranger and looked upon him in awe as a superior sort of being.
But after he had shot the birds he didn't pick off the feathers and then cook their bodies. Instead he used his bright little scissors and knives and took the skins off, feathers and all, and filled them with cotton and placed them in little paper wrappers in a chest, for this white man was a naturalist, and had gone to the Carib village to collect the rare birds and other creatures in the woods. But of course Béche had never heard of a naturalist, and he couldn't understand why any one should want birds except for food. Then he saw the stranger catching bugs and beetles and butterflies, and he wondered still more. He knew that some bugs were good to eat; many a time he had eaten the roasted grubs from the palm trees which are called groo-groo-worms, but he had never known any one to eat beetles or butterflies. But the white man put all these away in papers or bottles, and, although Béche was puzzled, he realized that the stranger wished all these live creatures for some reason of his own, and so, as he wished to please his new friend, he too began to gather all the insects his sharp eyes saw, and these he brought carefully to his friend.
The white man seemed greatly pleased and he patted Béche on the shoulder and thanked him, and then he reached in his pocket and handed the Carib boy a big, round, shining two-shilling piece. Béche could scarcely believe his eyes. He never had had anything but a copper penny before, and here were two shillings! Presently the white man asked the boy what he would do with his money. Béche thought a long time. There were so many wonderful things he wanted, and so much could be bought with all this wealth, he was sure, that he could scarcely make up his mind. Then at last he decided and told his friend he would buy a shiny gun like the white man's. How the stranger did laugh at this, but soon he stopped and told the Carib boy that a gun would cost many times his two shillings. Then Béche decided he'd buy a wonderful "fire-glass," but this he found could not be had for two shillings. Then he decided he'd like some of the white sheets and a sharp stick to make pictures. At this the white man laughed again, and told Béche he need not spend his money for such things, and, opening his chest, he drew out two of the packages of paper and two pencils and gave them to him. Then, not knowing anything else in the world to do, Béche ran to his mother and gave her the two-shilling piece.
This was only the first of many shillings that Béche was to have, for he brought bugs and insects and birds to his friend, and one day, when he brought a lovely bird which none of the Indians had seen save once or twice, the stranger gave Béche the wonderful fire-glass. Now a still more wonderful thing happened, for the white man drew pictures on the paper and made strange marks under them. There was a picture of a fish and under it the funny marks like this — "P-E-C-H-E"; and under the picture of a dog, these marks—"C-H-I-E-N". Then the white man made the same marks without the pictures and asked Béche what they meant, and without hesitating the Carib boy looked at "P-E-C-H-E" and said "Peche," and at "C-H-I-E-N" and said "Chien," for Béche was learning to spell and read, without knowing it.
Soon the boy was able to make the same marks himself, and he covered sheets of paper with funny pictures marked "Chien" and "Peche" and other words he had learned to print. But the stranger soon began to have troubles he had not foreseen. Béche spoke and understood nothing but his native Creole patois, and, while this language does very well when one is speaking, it's quite a different matter when one wants to write it, and Béche's teacher discovered that names of various objects were about all he could teach the boy in this funny tongue. But the teaching did not cease on that account; and what do you suppose the stranger did to overcome the difficulty? Why, he began teaching Béche English! Of course it was slow work, but it wasn't so hard or slow as you might think. In fact it was quite easy at first and Béche soon learned the English names for many things. Under the word "Peche" the white man wrote “F-I-S-H," and under "Chien," "D-O-G," and so on with all the other pictures; and Béche was wonderfully proud to think he really knew English and strutted about saying "Dog," "Fish," "Bird," "House," and other words continually.
Béche knew there were such things as books, for often his father and the other men and women would bring old newspapers and magazines and catalogs home when they went to the distant town. But they didn't bring them to read, or to look at, and you would never guess what they did use them for. It was to paste upon the walls of their huts for wall paper! Some of the houses were quite covered with the pages, and one day Béche discovered that the marks on these were exactly like the marks he had learned to make. He was greatly excited, and went over the papers inch by inch, and when at last he found the words “Dog" and "Horse" and "House" and "Fish" and other words he knew, he danced and pranced about in perfect joy at his discovery.
The white man told him he was very bright, and gave him a shilling for his discovery; and for days Béche sat before the paper on the walls, copying the words; and then, taking them to his friend, he would ask what they meant.
One day he noticed the white man making marks on paper which were very different from those he knew, and he asked his friend what the new marks meant. The other told him they were figures, and that by them he could tell how many birds he had shot, how much money he had paid the Caribs, how many days he had been in the village, and many other things. Béche couldn't possibly understand this, for how could little black marks tell things that even his father must count up on fingers and toes over and over again? Then the stranger had a happy thought and sent Béche for a number of small sticks. Then he seated himself on the floor by Béche's side, and taking one stick he laid it on the floor and held up one finger, and made a mark on the paper like this—1. Then he took two sticks and placed these on the floor in this position — — and held up two fingers, and made this mark—2. Then he bent one stick and placed two others beside it like this, = <, and, holding up three fingers, made the figure 3 on paper. In the same way he made 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 out of sticks, using the number of pieces the figure represented in each. It was very interesting to Béche, really a sort of game; and, with the figures on the paper as a guide, the boy spent the whole day making the queer shapes with the sticks until he learned that each figure stood for a number. In a few days he had learned to add, for the stranger showed him that by taking the two sticks used in making the figure 2, and the one stick used for figure 1, and placing them together, he could make the figure 3. When Béche grasped the idea and realized that by drawing the figure 3 on paper it was just the same as adding the three sticks together, he fairly shouted with delight.
The stranger had now been at Béche's village for several weeks, and even the little naked children who ran away from him at first would clamber about his knees and would sit on his lap and try to tell him stories in their funny baby patois. The men liked him because he could hunt and tramp and sail as well as themselves, or even better. The women liked him because he was so kind to the children and also because he showed them how to do many things more easily and better than before. And the children liked him because he frolicked and played with them and taught them games and made them toys.
At last came the time when the stranger told the Indians he must leave them. This made the Caribs very sad and Béche was saddest of them all. Before he left, he gave the Caribs many presents, and the old chief almost forgot his sorrow at losing his guest in the joy at the gun and other useful things the white man gave him.
Perhaps you think that Béche continued to study and went to school and learned to read books and became a great man among the Caribs. Of course, that's the way all good stories should end, and I wish I could say that he did, but I'm sorry to admit that nothing of the sort happened. There was no school near, where Béche could go; he had no one to teach him, and he soon found that it was very tire-some, copying the letters and figures from the wall-paper without knowing what they meant; but he never forgot what the stranger had taught him and he always hoped tht some day his white-man friend would return.
All this happened many years ago, and when at last the stranger did go back to Béche's island home he found wonderful changes had taken place. There was a school at the village; white men had plantations and estates all about; many of the Caribs lived in board houses; and Béche had grown into a big, strong man, with a house and garden of his own, and with a wife and a whole flock of little Béches and their brown sisters. But big Béche knew his old friend just as soon as he saw him, and wonderfully happy he was to meet him again after so many years. After the excitement of the first greeting was over, Béche hunted about in his basket trunk and away down in the bottom found a little package. It was very carefully tied up in dry plantain leaves and rawhide, and what do you suppose was inside? The very first picture Béche had ever made, —the funny, ugly, misshapen picture of the white man himself!

Some Very Strange Plants
By A. Hyatt Verrill
Everyland Nature Club
Care of Everyland, 156 Fifth Avenue, New York City
IF you were walking through the woods and were very, very thirsty, what would you do for a drink? Why, you'd find a spring or a brook, you say. Of course, if there was a spring or brook near, you might, but suppose there was not a drop of clear, cool water to be found! In the north you might go thirsty for a very long time, but if you were in the tropics, or at least in some parts of the tropics, you could get a nice, refreshing drink of water from some of the plants growing all about you.
This may seem very strange, but there are many strange things in nature and some of the strangest are plants.
In nearly all tropical forests the trees are covered with hanging vines known as lianas. These are very useful things, although they are a great nuisance when traveling through the forests, for they are of all sizes, from tiny threads to huge ropes, and they are tangled and knotted and twisted together like a perfect network.
They are very strong, and the people where they are found use them for ropes and lines and call them "bush ropes." One kind is used to make rattan, and if you examine the ends of a piece of rattan you will see a number of tiny holes. These are really the ends of little tubes which extend the whole length of the vine and through which the sap flows. If a living liana is cut in two, a stream of sap will flow out of these holes and then it will soon thicken and form a scab across the end of the vine, just as your blood will form a scab when your finger is cut. Some of the lianas have sap which is bitter, but others have sap which is as clear and fresh as the finest spring water. It is from this that the traveler in the tropical woods can obtain a drink when thirsty, for all he has to do is to cut off a piece of one of these vines and drink the sap. But in many places there are still other plants at which the traveler may find cool, clear water. One of these vegetable fountains is so useful that it is called the Traveler's Palm; and by cutting off one of the long leaves close to the trunk a good drink may always be found stored ready for the thirsty traveler. Still another plant where a drink may always be obtained is known as the "wild pine," as it looks a great deal like a real pineapple plant. But instead of growing on the ground the wild pine grows high up on the branches of forest trees and on the vines which cling to them. At the base of each leaf of the wild pine there is a cup-shaped hollow which always contains fresh, cool water. Quite often mosquitoes breed in this water and so, in many parts of the tropics, man has been obliged to destroy all the wild pines in the vicinity to do away with the troublesome and dangerous insects. The wild pine is an "air plant" or parasite, for it grows in the air without requiring earth like most plants, and in the tropics there are a great many kinds of these funny air plants. There are orchids with beautiful and strange shaped flowers, wild pines, and many other parasites, and they are all wonderful and interesting, but of them all there are none more strange than the Lizard Tree and the Air Cabbage. The Lizard Tree, when growing, looks like a huge green lizard crawling up the trees, but I think "Centipede Tree" would be a more appropriate name. The stem is thick and jointed, like bamboo, with slender white roots and smooth green leaves growing from each joint. Every little while one of these joints breaks off and falls down, and wherever the joints land they take root and commence to grow until three or four feet long, when their joints break off and start still other plants. But oftentimes the pieces fall to the earth, where the joints cannot break away and take root, and when this happens the funny plant continues to grow until it reaches a tree, when it climbs up until its joints can break away and tumble down.
This is a very strange way for a plant to increase, but the Air Cabbage has a habit just as funny, although very different. This plant looks like a giant cabbage and deep down in the center of its leaves is a little cup filled with seeds. The roots are very slender, and when the big plant is fully grown it becomes top heavy and the first hard wind or heavy shower tips it over and thus allows the seeds to tumble out and fall to the ground, or to the lower branches of the trees.
All the funny plants of the tropics are not air plants and lianas, however. Sometimes when walking through the woods in the tropics, you may stub your toes against some hard object, and, looking down, you see a rusty cannon-ball lying half hidden among the leaves. Of course, it's very surprising to find cannon-balls in such a place, but it really isn't a cannon-ball at all, but the fruit of a tree, and when you look about and see the tree you will be more surprised than if it were a real cannon-ball. The tree is known as the Cannon Ball Tree and the funny fruits are borne on short stems sprouting directly from the bark of the trunk. The flowers are very odd and pretty but they are ill-smelling like the fruit. The tree has very few leaves and these all fall off at the season when the fruits ripen, and so you can imagine what a funny sight this tree presents with its bare branches and the great rusty-brown balls hanging to the trunk.
Still another strange tree is the Sand-Box Tree. The seeds of this tree are large, round, and nearly flat, and are held within a pretty scalloped shell about three or four inches in diameter. These seed pods are real vegetable firecrackers, for when they are ripe they explode with a loud noise and scatter or shoot the seeds far and wide. During the season when the sand-box seeds ripen a constant popping may be heard from the trees and the seeds fly about like rain or hail. The natives of the countries where the sand-box trees are found have a very pretty and quaint idea about the popping seeds, for they believe that whenever a seed-pod explodes it announces a lizard's wedding has taken place.
It is strange enough to think of cannon-balls and firecrackers growing on trees and of drinking water from vines and palms, but how would you like to he able to get the cloth and lace for your garments from trees? That is what many of the South American natives do, for where they live there is a tree called the Lace-Bark Tree. This tree has a wonderful inner bark which may easily be unrolled and appears like broad sheets of creamy-white lace.
This is known as Seda Virgin or Virgin Lace, by the Spanish Americans, and is used by them for draperies, curtains, shawls, mantillas, and garments. It is so tough and strong that it even is made into ropes, cables, and harness, and it is so common and so easily gathered that it is seldom washed, but when soiled is cast aside for a new supply.
These are but a few of the strange and useful trees and plants in the tropical forests and the native woodsman can find anything he requires for food, drink, shelter, fuel, weapons, and clothing. Even thread and needles are there, for if the Indian tears his scanty clothing he does not have to go to his home to have it repaired. Cutting a leaf from an Agave plant he pounds the fleshy pulp between two stones until only the sharp spine at the leaf-tip and the tough fibres are left, when lo and behold, he possesses a serviceable needle and a bundle of tough threads ready for use!
And this is not the only use to which the Agave may be put. To the native Indian it is as useful as the reindeer to the Laplander. From the juice he obtains drink; from the roots a coarse, but healthy flour, and from the leaf-fibers he weaves mats and clothing which he sews together with a needle and thread also made from the same plant.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent finds.

Merry Christmas.

Alan

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.