Instances of cruelty and depravity certainly occur here as well as all the world over, but the edicts of the colonial Government are well calculated to prevent them, and the British planter, except here and there one, feels for the wrongs done to a poor ill-treated slave, and shows that his heart grieves for him by causing immediate redress and preventing a repetition.
Long may ye flourish, peaceful and liberal inhabitants of Demerara. Your doors are ever open to harbour the harbourless; your purses never shut to the wants of the distressed: many a ruined fugitive from the Oroonoque will bless your kindness to him in the hour of need, when flying from the woes of civil discord, without food or raiment, he begged for shelter underneath your roof. The poor sufferer in Trinidad who lost his all in the devouring flames will remember your charity to his latest moments. The traveller, as he leaves your port, casts a longing, lingering look behind: your attentions, your hospitality, your pleasantry and mirth are uppermost in his thoughts; your prosperity is close to his heart. Let us now, gentle reader, retire from the busy scenes of man and journey on towards the wilds in quest of the feathered tribe.
Leave behind you your high-seasoned dishes, your wines and your delicacies: carry nothing but what is necessary for your own comfort and the object in view, and depend upon the skill of an Indian, or your own, for fish and game. A sheet about twelve feet long, ten wide, painted, and with loop- holes on each side, will be of great service: in a few minutes you can suspend it betwixt two trees in the shape of a roof. Under this, in your hammock, you may defy the pelting shower, and sleep heedless of the dews of night. A hat, a shirt and a light pair of trousers will be all the raiment you require. Custom will soon teach you to tread lightly and barefoot on the little inequalities of the ground, and show you how to pass on unwounded amid the mantling briers.
Snakes, in these wilds, are certainly an annoyance, though perhaps more in imagination than reality, for you must recollect that the serpent is never the first to offend: his poisonous fang was not given him for conquest - he never inflicts a wound with it but to defend existence. Provided you walk cautiously and do not absolutely touch him, you may pass in safety close by him. As he is often coiled up on the ground, and amongst the branches of the trees above you, a degree of circumspection is necessary lest you unwarily disturb him.
Tigers are too few, and too apt to fly before the noble face of man, to require a moment of your attention.
The bite of the most noxious of the insects, at the very worst, only causes a transient fever with a degree of pain more or less.
Birds in general, with a few exceptions, are not common in the very remote parts of the forest. The sides of rivers, lakes and creeks, the borders of savannas, the old abandoned habitations of Indians and wood-cutters, seem to be their favourite haunts.
Though least in size, the glittering mantle of the humming-bird entitles it to the first place in the list of the birds of the new world. It may truly be called the bird of paradise: and had it existed in the Old World, it would have claimed the title instead of the bird which has now the honour to bear it. See it darting through the air almost as quick as thought! - now it is within a yard of your face! - in an instant gone! - now it flutters from flower to flower to sip the silver dew - it is now a ruby - now a topaz - now an emerald - now all burnished gold! It would be arrogant to pretend to describe this winged gem of Nature after Buffon's elegant description of it.
Cayenne and Demerara produce the same hummingbirds. Perhaps you would wish to know something of their haunts. Chiefly in the months of July and August, the tree called bois immortel, very common in Demerara, bears abundance of red blossom which stays on the tree for some weeks; then it is that most of the different species of humming-birds are very plentiful. The wild red sage is also their favourite shrub, and they buzz like bees round the blossom of the wallaba tree. Indeed, there is scarce a flower in the interior, or on the sea-coast, but what receives frequent visits from one or other of the species.
On entering the forests, on the rising land in the interior, the blue and green, the smallest brown, no bigger than the humble-bee, with two long feathers in the tail, and the little forked-tail purple-throated humming- birds, glitter before you in ever-changing attitudes. One species alone never shows his beauty to the sun: and were it not for his lovely shining colours, you might almost be tempted to class him with the goat-suckers, on account of his habits. He is the largest of all the humming-birds, and is all red and changing gold-green, except the head, which is black. He has two long feathers in the tail which cross each other, and these have gained him the name of karabimiti, or ara humming-bird, from the Indians. You never find him on the sea-coast, or where the river is salt, or in the heart of the forest, unless fresh water be there. He keeps close by the side of woody fresh-water rivers and dark and lonely creeks. He leaves his retreat before sunrise to feed on the insects over the water; he returns to it as soon as the sun's rays cause a glare of light, is sedentary all day long, and comes out again for a short tune after sunset. He builds his nest on a twig over the water in the unfrequented creeks: it looks like tanned cow-leather.