How Amyas Was Tempted of the Devil

“Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
   To war with evil? Is there any peace
In always climbing up the climbing wave?
   All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave
In silence; ripen, fall, and cease:
Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.”

Humboldt has somewhere a curious passage; in which, looking on some wretched group of Indians, squatting stupidly round their fires, besmeared with grease and paint, and devouring ants and clay, he somewhat naively remarks, that were it not for science, which teaches us that such is the crude material of humanity, and this the state from which we all have risen, he should have been tempted rather to look upon those hapless beings as the last degraded remnants of some fallen and dying race. One wishes that the great traveller had been bold enough to yield to that temptation, which his own reason and common sense presented to him as the real explanation of the sad sight, instead of following the dogmas of a so-called science, which has not a fact whereon to base its wild notion, and must ignore a thousand facts in asserting it. His own good sense, it seems, coincided instinctively with the Bible doctrine, that man in a state of nature is a fallen being, doomed to death—a view which may be a sad one, but still one more honorable to poor humanity than the theory, that we all began as some sort of two-handed apes. It is surely more hopeful to believe that those poor Otomacs or Guahibas were not what they ought to be, than to believe that they were. It is certainly more complimentary to them to think that they had been somewhat nobler and more prudent in centuries gone by, than that they were such blockheads as to have dragged on, the son after the father, for all the thousands of years which have elapsed since man was made, without having had wit enough to discover any better food than ants and clay.

Our voyagers, however, like those of their time, troubled their heads with no such questions. Taking the Bible story as they found it, they agreed with Humboldt’s reason, and not with his science; or, to speak correctly, agreed with Humboldt’s self, and not with the shallow anthropologic theories which happened to be in vogue fifty years ago; and their new hosts were in their eyes immortal souls like themselves, “captivated by the devil at his will,” lost there in the pathless forests, likely to be lost hereafter.

And certainly facts seemed to bear out their old-fashioned theories; although these Indians had sunk by no means so low as the Guahibas whom they had met upon the lower waters of the same river.

They beheld, on landing, a scattered village of palm-leaf sheds, under which, as usual, the hammocks were slung from tree to tree. Here and there, in openings in the forest, patches of cassava and indigo appeared; and there was a look of neatness and comfort about the little settlement superior to the average.

But now for the signs of the evil spirit. Certainly it was no good spirit who had inspired them with the art of music; or else (as Cary said) Apollo and Mercury (if they ever visited America) had played their forefathers a shabby trick, and put them off with very poor instruments, and still poorer taste. For on either side of the landing-place were arranged four or five stout fellows, each with a tall drum, or long earthen trumpet, swelling out in the course of its length into several hollow balls from which arose, the moment the strangers set foot on shore, so deafening a cacophony of howls, and groans, and thumps, as fully to justify Yeo’s remark, “They are calling upon their devil, sir.” To which Cary answered, with some show of reason, that “they were the less likely to be disappointed, for none but Sir Urian would ever come to listen to such a noise.”

“And you mark, sirs,” said Yeo, “there’s some feast or sacrifice toward. “I’m not overconfident of them yet.”

“Nonsense!” said Amyas, “we could kill every soul of them in half-an-hour, and they know that as well as we.”

But some great demonstration was plainly toward; for the children of the forest were arrayed in two lines, right and left of the open space, the men in front, and the women behind; and all bedizened, to the best of their power, with arnotto, indigo, and feathers.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.