CHAPTER XXI. MAURITIUS TO ENGLAND
The flat swampy land on which Pernambuco stands is surrounded, at the distance of a few miles, by a semicircle of low hills, or rather by the edge of a country elevated perhaps two hundred feet above the sea. The old city of Olinda stands on one extremity of this range. One day I took a canoe, and proceeded up one of the channels to visit it; I found the old town from its situation both sweeter and cleaner than that of Pernambuco. I must here commemorate what happened for the first time during our nearly five years' wandering, namely, having met with a want of politeness. I was refused in a sullen manner at two different houses, and obtained with difficulty from a third, permission to pass through their gardens to an uncultivated hill, for the purpose of viewing the country. I feel glad that this happened in the land of the Brazilians, for I bear them no good will - a land also of slavery, and therefore of moral debasement. A Spaniard would have felt ashamed at the very thought of refusing such a request, or of behaving to a stranger with rudeness. The channel by which we went to and returned from Olinda, was bordered on each side by mangroves, which sprang like a miniature forest out of the greasy mud-banks. The bright green colour of these bushes always reminded me of the rank grass in a church-yard: both are nourished by putrid exhalations; the one speaks of death past, and the other too often of death to come.
The most curious object which I saw in this neighbourhood, was the reef that forms the harbour. I doubt whether in the whole world any other natural structure has so artificial an appearance.  It runs for a length of several miles in an absolutely straight line, parallel to, and not far distant from, the shore. It varies in width from thirty to sixty yards, and its surface is level and smooth; it is composed of obscurely stratified hard sandstone. At high water the waves break over it; at low water its summit is left dry, and it might then be mistaken for a breakwater erected by Cyclopean workmen. On this coast the currents of the sea tend to throw up in front of the land, long spits and bars of loose sand, and on one of these, part of the town of Pernambuco stands. In former times a long spit of this nature seems to have become consolidated by the percolation of calcareous matter, and afterwards to have been gradually upheaved; the outer and loose parts during this process having been worn away by the action of the sea, and the solid nucleus left as we now see it. Although night and day the waves of the open Atlantic, turbid with sediment, are driven against the steep outside edges of this wall of stone, yet the oldest pilots know of no tradition of any change in its appearance. This durability is much the most curious fact in its history: it is due to a tough layer, a few inches thick, of calcareous matter, wholly formed by the successive growth and death of the small shells of Serpulae, together with some few barnacles and nulliporae. These nulliporae, which are hard, very simply-organized sea-plants, play an analogous and important part in protecting the upper surfaces of coral-reefs, behind and within the breakers, where the true corals, during the outward growth of the mass, become killed by exposure to the sun and air. These insignificant organic beings, especially the Serpulae, have done good service to the people of Pernambuco; for without their protective aid the bar of sandstone would inevitably have been long ago worn away and without the bar, there would have been no harbour.
On the 19th of August we finally left the shores of Brazil. I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave-country. To this day, if I hear a distant scream, it recalls with painful vividness my feelings, when passing a house near Pernambuco, I heard the most pitiable moans, and could not but suspect that some poor slave was being tortured, yet knew that I was as powerless as a child even to remonstrate. I suspected that these moans were from a tortured slave, for I was told that this was the case in another instance. Near Rio de Janeiro I lived opposite to an old lady, who kept screws to crush the fingers of her female slaves. I have stayed in a house where a young household mulatto, daily and hourly, was reviled, beaten, and persecuted enough to break the spirit of the lowest animal. I have seen a little boy, six or seven years old, struck thrice with a horse-whip (before I could interfere) on his naked head, for having handed me a glass of water not quite clean; I saw his father tremble at a mere glance from his master's eye. These latter cruelties were witnessed by me in a Spanish colony, in which it has always been said, that slaves are better treated than by the Portuguese, English, or other European nations. I have seen at Rio de Janeiro a powerful negro afraid to ward off a blow directed, as he thought, at his face. I was present when a kind-hearted man was on the point of separating forever the men, women, and little children of a large number of families who had long lived together. I will not even allude to the many heart-sickening atrocities which I authentically heard of; - nor would I have mentioned the above revolting details, had I not met with several people, so blinded by the constitutional gaiety of the negro as to speak of slavery as a tolerable evil. Such people have generally visited at the houses of the upper classes, where the domestic slaves are usually well treated, and they have not, like myself, lived amongst the lower classes. Such inquirers will ask slaves about their condition; they forget that the slave must indeed be dull, who does not calculate on the chance of his answer reaching his master's ears.