Chapter XXX

By Mark Twain
From Following the Equator (1897).


Nature makes the locust with an appetite for crops; man would have made him with an appetite for sand.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

We spent part of an afternoon and a night at sea, and reached Bluff, in New Zealand, early in the morning. Bluff is at the bottom of the middle island, and is away down south, nearly forty-seven degrees below the equator. It lies as far south of the line as Quebec lies north of it, and the climates of the two should be alike; but for some reason or other it has not been so arranged. Quebec is hot in the summer and cold in the winter, but Bluff's climate is less intense; the cold weather is not very cold, the hot weather is not very hot; and the difference between the hottest month and the coldest is but 17 degrees Fahrenheit.

In New Zealand the rabbit plague began at Bluff. The man who introduced the rabbit there was banqueted and lauded; but they would hang him, now, if they could get him. In England the natural enemy of the rabbit is detested and persecuted; in the Bluff region the natural enemy of the rabbit is honored, and his person is sacred. The rabbit's natural enemy in England is the poacher, in Bluff its natural enemy is the stoat, the weasel, the ferret, the cat, and the mongoose. In England any person below the Heir who is caught with a rabbit in his possession must satisfactorily explain how it got there, or he will suffer fine and imprisonment, together with extinction of his peerage; in Bluff, the cat found with a rabbit in its possession does not have to explain--everybody looks the other way; the person caught noticing would suffer fine and imprisonment, with extinction of peerage. This is a sure way to undermine the moral fabric of a cat. Thirty years from now there will not be a moral cat in New Zealand. Some think there is none there now. In England the poacher is watched, tracked, hunted--he dare not show his face; in Bluff the cat, the weasel, the stoat, and the mongoose go up and down, whither they will, unmolested. By a law of the legislature, posted where all may read, it is decreed that any person found in possession of one of these creatures (dead) must satisfactorily explain the circumstances or pay a fine of not less than L5, nor more than L20. The revenue from this source is not large. Persons who want to pay a hundred dollars for a dead cat are getting rarer and rarer every day. This is bad, for the revenue was to go to the endowment of a University. All governments are more or less short-sighted: in England they fine the poacher, whereas he ought to be banished to New Zealand. New Zealand would pay his way, and give him wages.

It was from Bluff that we ought to have cut across to the west coast and visited the New Zealand Switzerland, a land of superb scenery, made up of snowy grandeurs, anal mighty glaciers, and beautiful lakes; and over there, also, are the wonderful rivals of the Norwegian and Alaskan fiords; and for neighbor, a waterfall of 1,900 feet; but we were obliged to postpone the trip to some later and indefinite time.

November 6. A lovely summer morning; brilliant blue sky. A few miles out from Invercargill, passed through vast level green expanses snowed over with sheep. Fine to see. The green, deep and very vivid sometimes; at other times less so, but delicate and lovely. A passenger reminds me that I am in "the England of the Far South."

Dunedin, same date. The town justifies Michael Davitt's praises. The people are Scotch. They stopped here on their way from home to heaven- thinking they had arrived. The population is stated at 40,000, by Malcolm Ross, journalist; stated by an M. P. at 60,000. A journalist cannot lie.

To the residence of Dr. Hockin. He has a fine collection of books relating to New Zealand; and his house is a museum of Maori art and antiquities. He has pictures and prints in color of many native chiefs of the past--some of them of note in history. There is nothing of the savage in the faces; nothing could be finer than these men's features, nothing more intellectual than these faces, nothing more masculine, nothing nobler than their aspect. The aboriginals of Australia and Tasmania looked the savage, but these chiefs looked like Roman patricians. The tattooing in these portraits ought to suggest the savage, of course, but it does not. The designs are so flowing and graceful and beautiful that they are a most satisfactory decoration. It takes but fifteen minutes to get reconciled to the tattooing, and but fifteen more to perceive that it is just the thing. After that, the undecorated European face is unpleasant and ignoble.

Dr. Hockiu gave us a ghastly curiosity--a lignified caterpillar with a plant growing out of the back of its neck--a plant with a slender stem 4 inches high. It happened not by accident, but by design--Nature's design. This caterpillar was in the act of loyally carrying out a law inflicted upon him by Nature--a law purposely inflicted upon him to get him into trouble--a law which was a trap; in pursuance of this law he made the proper preparations for turning himself into a night-moth; that is to say, he dug a little trench, a little grave, and then stretched himself out in it on his stomach and partially buried himself--then Nature was ready for him. She blew the spores of a peculiar fungus through the air with a purpose. Some of them fell into a crease in the back of the caterpillar's neck, and began to sprout and grow--for there was soil there--he had not washed his neck. The roots forced themselves down into the worm's person, and rearward along through its body, sucking up the creature's juices for sap; the worm slowly died, and turned to wood. And here he was now, a wooden caterpillar, with every detail of his former physique delicately and exactly preserved and perpetuated, and with that stem standing up out of him for his monument--monument commemorative of his own loyalty and of Nature's unfair return for it.

Nature is always acting like that. Mrs. X. said (of course) that the caterpillar was not conscious and didn't suffer. She should have known better. No caterpillar can deceive Nature. If this one couldn't suffer, Nature would have known it and would have hunted up another caterpillar. Not that she would have let this one go, merely because it was defective. No. She would have waited and let him turn into a night-moth; and then fried him in the candle.

Nature cakes a fish's eyes over with parasites, so that it shan't be able to avoid its enemies or find its food. She sends parasites into a star- fish's system, which clog up its prongs and swell them and make them so uncomfortable that the poor creature delivers itself from the prong to ease its misery; and presently it has to part with another prong for the sake of comfort, and finally with a third. If it re-grows the prongs, the parasite returns and the same thing is repeated. And finally, when the ability to reproduce prongs is lost through age, that poor old star- fish can't get around any more, and so it dies of starvation.

In Australia is prevalent a horrible disease due to an "unperfected tapeworm." Unperfected--that is what they call it, I do not know why, for it transacts business just as well as if it were finished and frescoed and gilded, and all that.

November 9. To the museum and public picture gallery with the president of the Society of Artists. Some fine pictures there, lent by the S. of A. several of them they bought, the others came to them by gift. Next, to the gallery of the S. of A.--annual exhibition--just opened. Fine. Think of a town like this having two such collections as this, and a Society of Artists. It is so all over Australasia. If it were a monarchy one might understand it. I mean an absolute monarchy, where it isn't necessary to vote money, but take it. Then art flourishes. But these colonies are republics--republics with a wide suffrage; voters of both sexes, this one of New Zealand. In republics, neither the government nor the rich private citizen is much given to propagating art. All over Australasia pictures by famous European artists are bought for the public galleries by the State and by societies of citizens. Living citizens--not dead ones. They rob themselves to give, not their heirs. This S. of A. here owns its buildings built it by subscription.








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