For the rest

Jamaica, the land of wood and water, is rich in the possession of
countless streams of clear, rushing water. Each of its mountains and
rocky hills contains at least one or two fine waterfalls; each of its
peaceful valleys is streaked with a silver band of river-water flashing
in the sun. To say which of all the rivers might be counted the most
beautiful would be to offend a thousand streams, and all the Jamaican
districts save one. But this at least can be said. No stream in Jamaica
is more beautiful than that part of the Rio Cobra River that flows from
Spanish Town, seawards, through the country called by the islanders, Bog
Walk.

I know a man who was sent by his English doctor to Jamaica for rest and
change. He landed in Kingston and, falling in love with the island,
determined to stop for many weeks. After three days he left Kingston for
Spanish Town, and there he saw Bog Walk.

His intention had been to stop in Spanish Town one night and then
journey farther inland in order to thoroughly explore the country.
Spanish Town delighted him; Bog Walk fascinated him. He bought a
fishing-rod and sat in a punt, anchored in the centre of the Rio Cobra
River at Bog Walk, smoking his pipe and catching fish for five weeks. He
could not tear himself away. And that was all the Jamaica he ever saw.
He had seen Kingston and Spanish Town and Bog Walk, and that he counted
quite enough. And who, knowing these places, knowing the Rio Cobra River
at Bog Walk especially, would be foolish enough to count my friend
foolish. At any rate he saw enough to enable him to say that Jamaica is
the most beautiful country in the world. That is his unqualified
opinion. To him Jamaica is a white city filled to overflowing with
bungalows and coloured people; and a glorious golden valley rich in
tropical trees and fairy flowers which shelter a clear river alive with
fish and brilliant weed. For five weeks he lived in Paradise, at peace
with all the world. His Jamaica is the memory of that time. For our part
we saw the rich Cobra River and drifted down along the shores of Bog
Walk in a flat punt, listening to the music of the birds and the melody
of the insects; watching the shadows of heavy trees flirting with the
river ripples; shivering along the dark stretches where the sky was
blackened by the heavy bamboo clumps, and listening, awe-stricken, to
the noise of their clicking stems. The beauty of the bamboo is a
melancholy beauty; the high canes, fluttering with wavy foliage at their
heads, look cold and miserable along their stems. Our sporting friend,
Large, said they reminded him of those unpleasant

[Illustration: DRY HARBOUR, JAMAICA]

moments in his school days when he chose corporal punishment in
preference to Latin lines. Forrest would not paint them. They were too
foolishly ugly. And I will leave them alone and remember only the rich
river glades of sunlit water studded with white lilies and aflame with
brilliant weeds. I will call to mind the banks filled with palm trees,
thin bush-topped giants, straight as arrows or curved like the archer’s
bow. The palm groves, planted by the mysterious hand of nature in the
form of army corps in battle formation; the front-rank trees on either
side of the stream engaged in bowing in accordance with the chivalry of
romantic forests. The bent trees form a graceful arbour, miles long. The
sun, filtering through the palm-tree roof, spangles the river with
flashing gems of light. And both banks are cool and soft and filled with
scented plants and gaudy blossoms. Occasionally a dragon fly, pursued by
twittering birds, flashes ahead, twisting and doubling like tropical
lightning. Our punt makes no noise as it floats down stream, guided from
the stern by a negro with a bamboo pole. I sit in the bow and watch the
little brown, river-tortoise, the water-rats and gleaming fish.

In the water of the Rio Cobra River there is only one thing that is not
really beautiful, and that is the tortoise. Made into ornaments for my
lady’s hair, the shell of the tortoise is full of subtle fascination.
But on the back of its mother reptile the shell is coloured like the mud
of the Thames at Lambeth; and in the scum that hides the beauty of the
shell weeds of the darkest, dreariest kind grow, like seaweed on an old
wooden sailing-ship. When the tortoise swims the weeds trail from his
back like a cluster of rats’ tails.

Animal life is not in evidence. The most remarkable thing in connection
with Jamaica is the fact that, practically, it cannot boast the
possession of a single indigenous animal larger than the rat species.
The island should be filled with deer. The high bush-covered mountain
slopes would give cover to the greatest of the antlered tribe, and here
among the trees of the valleys and the water of the clear rivers one can
imagine that the quiet pools are the drinking-places of herds of
elephants. But Jamaica is barren so far as animals are concerned. Not
even a monkey scrambles among the leafy vastness of the heaviest
forests, and even in the thickest undergrowth a man may tread with
safety.

Large, who in England is a squire and a sportsman, frequently bemoaned
this lack of animal life. “Put a herd of deer in each of the forests of
Jamaica, and in five years the island will be the sportsman’s paradise,”
he said. And I have no doubt his estimate was correct. I put his opinion
on record for the benefit of those who run the island for profit.

Our boat floated along a stream so narrow that one’s arm, stretched
horizontally at full length, would have measured the exact width; the
attitude would have enabled our fingers to brush through thick beds of
flowering orchids. We passed a native ruthlessly cutting away fragrant
weeds with a murderous machette; we swept beneath a bridge of solid
masonry, and in a little time emerged into a great pool of silent water
which made our little craft pause, and enabled us to dream in peace. It
would be a horrible thing to travel at more than one knot speed down
this river of scented beauty.

We remained quietly still and gazed at a scene as glorious as a young
child’s dream-fairyland. A dream of wood and rock and water, shaded and
shrouded by the wildest mass of luxuriant tropical foliage.

This Jamaica is indeed the Queen of the Antilles, the fairest jewel in
the golden Caribbean, the land of perpetual music and light and beauty.
As I have already written, its name should be God’s island. Its beauty
cannot be translated by art or word or music. It is a dreamland and a
land of dreams.

People talk of its industrial backwardness, its commercial weakness,–of
the impossibility of its finances. I myself have written of its
commercial future. As well discuss the poverty of the convolvulus or the
nakedness of the lily. Jamaica was created by Providence to show mankind
something of the meaning of beauty. It was to stand as an explanation of
Eden–a glimpse of Paradise. Nature never intended that it should become
a rum garden, or even a field for speculative agriculture. It is just a
place that should be allowed to stand for ever as the garden of the
world; the vigorous yet languorous Hesperian reflection of all the
beauty of the east and west and north and south; the heart and soul of
terrestrial beauty. We drifted along, but I know not what else we saw.
I remember the place in a hazy manner; my memory serves me as though it
were a kaleidoscope whose every piece of broken glass was a glimpse of a
new world fitted with joyous life and beauty.

I know that we slipped anchor at last and drank the milk from green
cocoanuts. I know that we got into a buggy and drove along a white dusty
road and reached a place where a meal was served and eaten. But most of
all I remember that across the pools and streams of the Bog Walk gorge
of the Rio Cobra River is to be heard the music of the stars and the
rich lullaby of the rustling of angels’ wings. And Large said it would
have been better had there been a few deer about; Forrest had put down
his sketch-book with a sigh.

For the rest any Jamaica guide-book will tell you that the flat-bottomed
river-boat cost you only a few silver coins.

I met him in a country road a few miles out of Spanish Town. He was a
well-dressed black, and had that air of sanctity about him which
immediately suggests the church of Nonconformity. He wished me good
morning with cheerful superiority, and I engaged him in conversation. He
was not a parson, but he prayed to God that he was a good Christian and
a deacon of His holy Church. He would have discussed every dogma known
to Christendom had I been in the philosophic mood. But I led the way to
politics, and my friend found congenial ground.

He was an Imperialist and a Protectionist, and withal, he added, a
staunch democrat. He believed in God and Jamaica and the negro race.
Jamaica for the Jamaicans. It must be a government for the people by the
people. Not a fantastical caricature of law-making and liberty which
always could be vetoed by a despotic Governor and his clique. He hoped
he was loyal to the Crown and to the King of Britain, but his heart bled
for his own country and his own race. He was prepared to make Jamaica
the horizon of his political outlook. His duty to God was to attend to
the needs of the people of his own race and blood settled in the country
of their birth. “We black people outnumber you whites by at least forty
to one; is it rational that we should always submit to your despotic
government? Though the British Government is the cleanest and the most
enlightened in the world, neither Imperial Parliament nor a Governor
four or five years resident in the colony, properly understands the
needs of Jamaica. Since the population is black let the Government be
black. The British gave their slaves unconditioned freedom; that was an
act for which no negro owes any thanks to Britain. Freedom is the
natural right of every individual, whether he is white or black; so the
black man owes no thanks to the white for having been permitted to claim
his natural heritage of freedom. Rather do the whites owe a great debt
to the black for the gross injustice of the slave days.” That was a
matter he did not wish to press. To-day he and the people of his race
are, as individuals, entirely free. His complaint was that politically
they were still bound. They are not permitted to govern themselves as
they would like to do. The Governor of Jamaica has never been a black
man. Yet, for all practical purposes, the population of Jamaica is
entirely black.

My friend had scathing criticisms to offer on the questions of the
Jamaican Representative Government. The minority–by law it is a
permanent minority–of the members of the legislative assembly are
elected by the people. The elected members were returned after having
pledged themselves to certain measures. These measures were, in the
majority of cases, thrown out by the Governors’ permanent legal
majority. Government under such conditions was characterised by my
friend as being little better than a farce. He repeated his phrase
“fantastical caricature of law-making.”

“What would you have?” I asked.

The verbosity of his reply was only equalled by its vehemence.

“I would have Jamaica governed as England is governed. The people of
this island have every moral right to govern themselves, to frame their
own laws and to administer those laws. We are no longer barbarians; we
are an educated people with ambitions, and the strength to attain our
ambitions. We recognise that it is a fine thing to be a part of the
great Empire of Britain, but we recognise, even more clearly, that it is
a finer thing to be a free, unfettered nation. England will always have
our heartiest support and affection. When we have become a nation and
ceased to be a crown colony, Jamaica will always feel that really she is
the child of Britain.”

“So you anticipate that one day Jamaica will be entirely independent of
England?” I asked.

“It is inevitable,” he replied. “Already the more educated coloured
people feel the bitterness of their semi-dependence. Already the
smouldering embers of the fire of absolute freedom are in evidence
throughout the land. We are not without our politicians. We are not
without our leaders; perhaps we have not yet found one quite strong
enough to lead us on to political victory. We have not found our
Cromwell. But, some day, soon, a strong man will appear, and Jamaica
will become an independent nation.”

“And what about the white men?”

“They will be unaffected. They will always be made welcome in our
country; law and order will prevail under the new system just as it
prevails to-day. You English have taught us how to become a great
people; you have given us the immeasurable benefit of your religion; you
have given us a framework for our laws and constitution. When the time
comes for us to make full use of that knowledge, you will find that your
wisdom was not thrown to waste.”

“But the freedom you aspire to can only come by revolution.”

“Political revolution–yes; armed revolution–no. We natives of Jamaica
think we frequently see indications in your English Parliament that your
Liberal party would not be averse to granting us that freedom which, one
day, we shall be strong enough to demand. I believe that in the end
justice must prevail. I know that our independence must come because I
know that it is just that it should come.”

“And,” I suggested, “if you cannot obtain it by peaceful methods you
will take it by armed force?”

“I do not think, when we are ready, that armed force will be necessary.
Jamaica is no longer of great value to England.”

[Illustration: ON THE BEACH, BARBADOES]

“But England guards the interests of her children, and nearly all the
land of Jamaica belongs to English planters.”

“The land of Jamaica belongs by natural right to the people of Jamaica.”

“You believe in the doctrine of land nationalisation?”

“I believe in the doctrine of justice.”

“Would you propose to compensate the planters when you despoil them of
their land?”

“That I cannot say. Compensation such as that would be a simple act of
grace. Morally it would not be necessary.”

I mentioned to him that I had heard much about the annexation of Jamaica
by the United States.

“That will never come about,” he said. “Jamaicans would not stand it,
America does not desire it. But it would be better for America if we
were entirely independent.”

“Why?” I asked.

“When the Panama Canal is completed Jamaica will be a place of some
strategical importance,” he replied.

The conversation drifted to the condition of the people. I mentioned
that the intelligence of the majority of the coloured people was not
equal to the standard of the white.

“There I disagree,” he said. “So far we have not produced one great man.
We have no great statesmen or warriors or divines. But in the mass our
people compare favourably with the agricultural labourers of England,
Germany or France. They are a clean-living, quiet people, easily led and
easily governed.”

“You know Europe?” I asked.

“I lived in England ten years,” he replied. “I have been to many of the
continental capitals. But my heart has always been in Jamaica. I like my
own people best. We live a happier life than any European people, and we
are cleaner in our mode of living.”

“Yet,” I ventured, “the majority of the children born on the island are
illegitimate.”

“True,” he admitted, “but have you seen in Kingston, or anywhere else in
the island, any traces of an immorality to equal the wickedness of
London, Paris, or Berlin?”

I took refuge in the remark. “If you are so happy why change your
condition; why attempt to alter your system of Government, why attempt
to become an independent nation?”

“Because we have ambition, and because it is good for any nation that
its children shall be eligible for the highest honours the nation can
give. As a people we cannot be perfectly happy while we know that
another race has drawn a chalk circle, as it were, round us, and has
said, Thus far you may go, but not beyond. The possibility of
maintaining a permanent minority in the legislative council is the chalk
mark.”

“How long will it be,” I ventured, “before the chalk mark is erased?”

“That I cannot say and do not care to guess.

[Illustration: OFF TRINIDAD]

Perhaps five years, perhaps less than five years, or perhaps it will be
a quarter of a century. Your Liberal party may rub out the chalk for us,
or—-”

“Or,” I insisted.

“America may suggest to England that it would be a graceful thing to
do.”

We walked along together and for some time there was a silence. Then my
friend began: “It is the only thing. The only possible solution of the
many Jamaican problems. The weakness of the English rule in Jamaica is
that the island is governed by those who are paid to govern. The
ambition of the majority of the English officials seems to be to earn
their money and begone. Jamaica is not their home. Just as I in England
always thought of this island as home, and worked in England so that I
might return here, so do the English people think of England while
living here. It would be foolish to expect anything else. The more
ambitious servants of the British Government work hard here, not so much
for the good of the place as for the good of themselves. They want to
make a noise and distinguish themselves. Their hearts are set on
promotion, not on the well-being of the people of the Government. The
same applies to some extent to the planters. English planters who have
settled in the island feel that they are living in exile. If they cannot
make money enough to afford long holidays in England,–if they cannot
send their wives to England every year and their children to English
schools,–they complain of their poverty. Economically that is wrong; it
is not fair to the country that so much money made in Jamaica should be
spent in England. I am a planter–a very successful planter. I make
quite enough money to live here in the greatest comfort, but I could not
afford prolonged holidays in England, neither could I afford to send my
wife and children there. If I were an Englishman I should bewail my fate
and call myself a pauper. As it is I count myself rich. I want no more
than I have.”

“But,” I said, “you have your tourists here. Surely more money comes
into the island from the pockets of English and American tourists than
goes out by reason of the holidays of the planters.”

“Yes,” he admitted. “But the tourist money goes to the hotel-keepers and
retail dealers in the towns. The money the planters take out is taken
from the agricultural districts; money which should have been invested
in agriculture, spent in improving the sugar plantations and the fruit
fields. We cannot hope to become rich because we have rich hotels and
flourishing tradesmen. We can hope to become rich if our agricultural
resources are developed, if our plantations are improved, and more
machinery is imported. The English planters treat the island as though
it were a gold mine to be sucked dry and then abandoned. The coloured
people know that Jamaica is not that. The three quarters of a million of
a people can only be supported in comfort by the commercial advancement
of the country. Do not forget that our population is rapidly
increasing.”

“I see at least one insurmountable difficulty in your path,” I said.
“Even if your dream of freedom came true, how would you deal with the
half-breed population?”

“We should absorb them,” he replied. “They are at one with us in our
dream of freedom.”

“And you can trust them to be at one with you always?” I asked.

“They will be our Irish,” he replied.

Continue Reading

GOING TO WORK

In the streets of Kingston I had frequently seen companies of one or
other of the brilliant West Indian Regiments swinging along to the music
of their drums, and on dance and dinner nights I had noticed Artillery
officers lounging about the terraces of my hotel. I had seen a couple of
Service Corps men trying their polo ponies, and afar off, among a
sparkling group of bejewelled women, I once caught sight of a glittering
aide-de-camp. But of our friend Tommy of the line I had seen nothing. A
friendly Artilleryman assured me that some of the British Line were on
the island. I met him in the Kingston High Street, and he pointed
towards the mountain chain which overhangs the town. “They’re up there,”
he said. Following his direction, I saw a few white specks faintly
showing through the summit haze of a mountain peak. The white specks, I
discovered, were the cantonments of Newcastle, the military hill station
of Jamaica.

The next morning we started at nine, and drove along shaded lanes and
dusty, open roads, flanked by gardens and plantations, banana trees,
pines, and cocoanuts. Around us the air was transparently clear, above
us a sky of the deepest blue, and everywhere–above, below and
around–we felt the sun. For two miles we had the level road, and then
we reached the mountains.

A rushing mountain torrent crashing through a deep chasm filled almost
to the brim with giant boulders, on which trees and plants and creeping
flowers had found abundant soil; a road twisting like a tangled thread
up and along the face of the mountain, and then lost in the mists of the
summit; a heavy scent of tropical flowers; a vast sea of flashing
colour–these things marked the beginning of the mountains. Slowly we
crawled along a road just wide enough to contain our buggy. On one side
the mountain walled us in; on the other a precipice deepened as we
ascended. The valley below and the walls around were clothed in yellow
grass and thickly set with trees; cotton and pine and cocoanut, banana,
orange, and a hundred others grew in clumps and groves and lines, just
as their father-seed had fallen or casual native had chanced to plant.
Sometimes we passed a mile or so of level stretch, and there we found
plantations and nigger huts. Below us we could see coffee mills and
sugar estates; halfway up another peak a little church appeared amidst a
tiny hamlet; but far above we made out Newcastle and the upper heights,
bare and frowning amidst the gloom of the mountain mists. Soon the
climate changed. In place of fruit and flowers, we found brown scrub and
English gorse. Rainbows became common as trees. Then the sun
disappeared,

[Illustration: A HOUSE ON THE HILLS]

and we found the clammy rain-mist. Somehow we had slipped away from
joyous sun-kissed Jamaica and found Newcastle.

If I were a soldier I should pray all day long that I might never see
the military station at Newcastle. Imagine a small parade-ground,
levelled by spade work; a straggling collection of huts, built on
never-ending steps; a few cottages for the officers; a very obvious
burial-ground, well stocked with tombstones streaked with names, planted
among the huts just outside the reading-room, and you have the
cantonments of Newcastle. On the parade-ground, half a yard from the
face of a step of rock thirty feet high, a couple of posts and a tape
enable the sporting Tommy to practise goal shooting from dawn till
sunset. Failing this he has half-a-dozen six-week old English newspapers
in the reading-room, and a magnificent view of Kingston always to be
seen through the mists and rain which seem for ever to bedim this eerie
camp. The officers, I believe, have a tennis-court; but for Tommy it is
shooting the goal, the newspapers, or the view, if he wishes to avoid
the cells. Otherwise—-

I heard the story from Tommy himself. He showed us the camp; first the
burial-ground, and then–“Well there ain’t much more to see ’ere. That’s
the parade-ground, and that’s the sergeants’ mess. We sleeps over there,
and bein’ Sunday, the canteen don’t open to-day till six. We usually
shoots the goal, and smokes, and sometimes we rags the blacks. See that
nigger ’ut? Well, we goes there sometimes–of course, it’s out’er
bounds–and takes the beer and rags the blacks. Once we chucked three
or four of ’em over the gully because they set on one of ours. There’s
one or two in cells now for molestin’ the natives. Then some of us
deserts, you know. Goes off down to the coast, ships as firemen and gets
to the States. I ’aven’t done that yet. Don’t know why we come up ’ere;
there ain’t no fever nowhere now….” It was a long and interesting
description he gave us. I gathered that in spite of the parade-ground
and kicking the goal; in spite of the reading-room, with its platform
and soldier-painted scenery; in spite even of the tiny billiard-table
and the picturesque cemetery, the life of Tommy in garrison at Newcastle
is not a jolly one. Tired of doing the things he is allowed to do, and
without the means to appreciate expensive joys of the canteen, the
youthful, full-blooded soldier sallies forth on mischief bent. Then he
experiences a salutary change of scenery in the confines of the cells.
Sometimes, as our friend remarked, he deserts.

Every year for many weary months a few hundred Tommies do these things
in Newcastle. Kingston and the plains are peopled by tourists in search
of health and pleasure; the climate of the island is entirely
salubrious; Jamaica is a recognised sanatorium; but the Government says
that the British soldier must live in the Hill station so many months of
the year. It is a ridiculous story, something in the nature of a
repetition of the blunders of fifty years ago. Then the British
regiments were sent to garrison Fort Augusta, a camp delightfully
situated in the midst of a deadly swamp. From Fort Augusta the military
authorities jumped to Newcastle. Fifty years hence these gentlemen may
realise that the plains of Jamaica are perfectly healthy, and that
Newcastle is really a little dull; until then–poor Tommy.

Newcastle is not unhealthy: it is merely a little damp and a little
dull. From the point of view of the tourist it is magnificent. The
romantic grandeur of the giant mountain chains stretching east and west;
the wonderful view of town and harbour; the marvellous colour effects;
the cathedral-like solemnity of the place–all these things are
delightful in the extreme. But I turned my back on the place without
regret. For I remembered that far below the valleys were bathed in light
and warmth and colour. I knew that halfway down the mountain I should
find the orange, the passion flower, and the scented air of the tropics.
And I was glad when the horses bumped us along the path which zigzagged
downwards through the clouds to the land of sunshine.

Foremost in the list of a negro’s recreations should be placed the game
of love. The black man makes love with the persistency of a Don Juan and
with the fervour of a Mexican. He learns his first lessons in courtship
long before the school-day age is over. Every boy of twelve has his
honey girl, just as every coloured man of sixteen has his wife. There is
an Arcadian touch in their love meetings–a fascinating rhythm of
sensuous art in their songs of passion. The concert platforms and music
halls of London have reflected, not incorrectly, many negro love
stories; and the large straw hats and white pants and extravagant
phraseology may be counted as roughly typical of the costume and poetry
of Jamaica. The negro makes love with the natural freedom of a savage,
but the Jamaican negro tempers his love-making with poetic entreaty. I
can imagine that the Jamaican loves to hear the sonorous doggerel of his
own ecstatic wooing–that he pleads with his mistress as much for his
own pleasure as for hers. The black lady listens, and loves to listen,
because his extravagant praise appeals to her vanity, and the black
lady is as vain as any white daughter of a rich “buccra.” It may come as
a shock and surprise to most of my readers to learn that the love-sick
black man sometimes declares his love by letter. Whether this is always
due to bashfulness or to the accident of geographical distance, I know
not. But I have been privileged to read one or two impassioned missives
duly authenticated as being the love letters of coloured men to dusky
belles. They are interesting enough for reproduction here. I obtained
them from a copy of a Christmas number of a Jamaican paper–the
_Gleaner_ of Kingston.

The first is written by a love-sick native to a Creole widow. It is
addressed in full to

“MRS. AGOSTISS R—- .

“I hope you know Valintine is now in season. I will take the
pleasure to write you this; my hearth is yours and you are mine,
but do you know it. I love you as the bee love the flower. The
flower may fade, but true love shall never. My love for you is a
love that cannot be fade. You shall be my love here as in heaven
for ever. The Rose in June is not so sweet as when two lovers’
kisses meet. Kiss me quick and be my honey. I still remain true
lover,

“JAMES.”

James is an honest and prosperous black man in the mountains of Jamaica.
It is pleasant to know that “Mrs. Agostiss” listened to his simple
appeal and became “his honey.”

The second epistle has a religious flavour. King Solomon is artfully
brought forward as a sort of “backer” of the ardent writer’s suit:–

“MY DEAR LOVE–At present my love for you is so strong that I
cannot express. So I even write that you may see it. It is every
man deauty to write a formil letter.

“My pen is bad and my ink is pale, but my love will never fail.
King Solomon say that Love is strong as death, and Jealousy is
cruel than the grave. Love me little, bear me longer; hasty love is
not love at all. This is the first time I sat down to write you
about it.

“I love my Dove. Your love is black and ruby–the chefer of ten
thousand. You head is much fine gold. You lock are bushy and black
as a raven. Your eyes was the eyes in the river, by the rivers of
water. Your cheeks as a bead (_i.e._ bed) of spices as sweet
flowers. Your lips is like lilies. You hand as gold wring. Your
legs as a pillar of marble set upon sockets of fine gold. Your
countenance as a Lebanon. Your mouth look to be more sweet. Your
sweet altogether.

“I have no more time to write as I am so tired and full time to go
to bead. I will now close my letter with love.”

Poor “Garg Plummer” is in a desperate plight indeed. It is to be hoped
that his “dear lov” listened to his strong entreaty. But it could not be
otherwise. What human woman could resist the following:–

“DEAR LOV–I is wrote you a letter to beg of you to make me your
lover, but you is not wrote me again. I is dead of love every day
wen you look so hansom I cane (_i.e._ cannot) sleep, cane eat. I
dun no how I feel. I beg you to accep af me as your lover. The rose
is not sweet as a kiss from you, my lov.

“Do meet me to-night at the bottom gate an give me you love. Miss
Lucy toots (_i.e._ teeth) so green I is like one ear of earn, an
her eye dem is so pretty. Lard! I wish I never been born. Poor me,
Garg (_i.e._ George), I lov Miss Lucy to distraction. Yours truly,

“GARG PLUMMER.

“Answer me sone lov.”

The fourth letter I reprint simply to show how a little greed may kill
all the romance of a negro’s love. We trace an artificiality in his love
passages. It is hoped that his note produced nothing but a silent
contempt:–

“I writ to hear from you wether you intend to make me a fool. I is
not a puppy show that you think you find any better than me. i
witch (wish) to send the yam bed for plantin in your garden, but i
do not know wether i will reap the benefit of it.”

Number five is honest but unhappy. He is filled with forebodings of
evil. The green-eyed monster has claimed him as his very own:–

“MY DEAR JEMIMA–I has not heard from you for dis 2 weeks gorn. Has
you forgot de day wen

[Illustration: ROSIE, A JAMAICAN NEGRESS]

you mek me promise to be my true luv? You must know dat I has heard
a lot of tings about you which has been sorely disappoint me in
you.

“I have heard dat you stan at your gate and talk to a fine dress
coachman. I have heard dat you go to church wid him. I have heard
dat you am promise to me but you luv him.

GEORGE.

“Many kisses me sweet luv.”

The sixth, and last, is a jumble of incomprehensible passion. No doubt
the writer knew what he meant, and perhaps the lady was able to
interpret the author’s meaning. But I do not know whether the average
reader will gain much by reading:–

“DEAR ELIZA–I take the liberty of myself to inform you this few
lines, hoping you may not offend (_i.e._ be offended), as often is.
I had often seen you in my hearts. There are myriads of loveliness
in my hearts toward you. My loving intentions were really unto
another female, but now the love between I and she are very out now
entirely.

“And now his the excepted time I find to explain to my lovely
appearance, but whether if their be any love in your hearts or mind
towards me it is hard for I to know, but his I take this liberty to
inform you this kind, loving, and affectionate letter.

“I hope when it received into your hand you receive with peace and
all goodwill, pleasure, and comforts, and hoping that you might
ansure me from this letter with a loving appearance, that in due
time Boath of us might be able to join together in the holy state
of matremony.

“I hoping that the answer which you are to send to me it may unto
good intention to me from you that when I always goine to write you
again I may be able to write saying, my dear, lovely Eliza.

“Your affectionate lover, affraied (_i.e._ afraid), J.S.

“Dear Eliza, wether if you are willing or not, Please to sent me an
ansure back. Do my dear.”

So much for the black man’s love letters.

For an accurate picture of the love scenes you must visit the island of
rivers and take your place in one of those quiet corners of the banana
field, and wait for George and Jemima, or James and Mrs. Agostiss R—-.
I cannot describe the scene. Go to Jamaica and see it for yourself. It
is enough that I have made public the love letters of six men I have
never seen; I will not attempt to deal with the meeting and courting of
a black man and his sweetheart, lest, unconsciously, I should travesty a
fine poem.

The scenes of the love meetings of the natives of Jamaica are always
framed in a rich setting of tropical moonlight, or waving palm trees and
flashing fire-flies.

If a negro lover could not be eloquent in the midst of such rare beauty
he would be unworthy of the name of man.

Next to love-making, eating and drinking, and then dancing may be
counted the recreations of the Jamaican coloured gentleman. Though it
cannot with justice be stated that the negro is an excessively large
eater, the manner in which he takes his food evidences the keen
enjoyment he gets from every meal. There is no question of lack of
appetite in a negro when feeding time arrives. Whether the dish before
him be fruit or salt fish, or mashed vegetables cooked with fat, the
diner attacks his food with the utmost relish. There is great licking of
lips, rolling of eyes and heavy munching by strong jaws. Give a negro a
meat bone, and when he has done with it the fragments that remain would
not be of the slightest service to the hungriest dog. When the native
has finished his dish of vegetables he cleans the plate with his fingers
and tongue. There is no food wasted in the land of eternal sunshine.
Give a black child a dozen mangoes and then watch from a safe distance.
Before you have seen the child’s manner of eating, you have not realised
how juicy a mango really is. With the negro, eating is not an art, but a
sensation of concentrated joy. It is very much the same with drinking.
He can go an extraordinary length of time without needing any liquid,
but when a negro gets the bottle to his lips, quarts disappear at every
gulp. No matter whether the drink be water or cokernut juice or rum, the
true black man cannot sip. He drinks as much as he can swallow without
stopping to take breath, and then he has finished.

A social gathering is never a success in any Jamaican hut or
drawing-room unless the assembled guests are given leave to indulge in
the pastime of the dance. Dancing is to the black lady what small talk
is to her white sister. Indeed, it is infinitely more even than that.
Dancing is everything. They dance when they are merry and full of joy,
and they dance when they mourn their dead; they dance when they are
hungry and when they have feasted. They dance when they are carrying
their fruits to the market-place, and they dance as they return with the
spoils of their trading. In moments of religious ecstasy their limbs
twitch for the relief found in treading the graceful measure, and when
great sorrow has fallen on a household, the members dance slowly to
express their woe.

Curiously enough their dancing lacks precision; they have not set
pieces; no master teaches them “left foot forward, right foot up,
twist”; there is no “one two three, hop, one two three, hop” about the
coloured dance, yet it is always perfectly graceful. If there is music
so much the better, but if there is no music the dancing goes on just
the same. The Jamaicans dance with their legs and bodies and heads; all
their limbs are brought into play. The arms wave in sympathy with the
active legs, the body bends, the head is thrust forwards and backwards.
The whole business is snake-like and fascinating.

Sometimes when a large party is collected, a dance will be arranged to
represent some story or history. Biblical pictures are the most popular,
and the unrehearsed effect of fifty perspiring negroes, seeking to
represent in a ballet the story of Jonah and the Whale,

[Illustration: COUNTRYWOMAN GOING TO MARKET, BARBADOES]

is not without a certain weird and extravagant humour. When the story is
of a more bellicose kind–when, for instance, the tableau is that of
David and Goliath, the David sometimes overdoes the punishment of the
vanquished giant, and there is a little riot caused by the indignation
of a too severely-handled artist, who had been persuaded with difficulty
to enact the unpopular part. To the black people acting ceases to be
make-believe as soon as the dancing begins; David is David, and Goliath
is in fact the unhappy giant. So it can be imagined that difficulties
frequently arise though there has been no malicious intent, and though
the violence may have been born of pure unconscious art.

Sometimes the coloured dancers break into song, and then the bizarre
effect is heightened and intensified. The soft, melodious chants of the
happy darkies are in perfect keeping with the languorous climate and
romantic scenery of the tropical island. The songs are of love and
passion. “Ma honey and ma little bird, ma sweet lips and true love” are
the usual descriptions of the black man for his mistress. Most of these
songs can be heard in the High Street of Kingston, in the early hours of
market days when the villagers come down from the country to sell their
garden-produce. But the real recreation of the negro is love-making; and
all these things, with the exception of the eating and drinking, are
simply parts of the game.

You can see him in the market-place or in the drinking-shops. Sometimes
he lolls about with his thin cigarette on the Kingston tram cars, but
more frequently he is to be found leaning on his walking-stick at the
corners of mean streets. As a rule his straw hat is tilted in the
fashion affected by the London office-boy when taking his lady-love for
a Sunday stroll on Peckham Rye. His coat is cut in the tight American
style, which may be admirable for the comfort of people who live in
climates colder than that of Kingston, Jamaica. His trousering is vivid
and lacking in style, and his yellow boots are cut with the easy grace
of a working cobbler who also deals in pictures. The glory of his get-up
is his collar. It may be that our Dandy is not rich enough to afford a
frequent laundry bill, so that his collar is worn to the bitter end of
its condition of starchiness. Nevertheless it is always there, encasing
the neck, and twisting each discordant ear in a manner painful to
behold. He walks with a curious strut–for all the world like a
half-lame peacock; and when he meets any member of the fair sex he
curls back his heavy lips and displays two rows of the whitest teeth.
When he winks one is irresistibly reminded of the famous drill-sergeant
who instructed his troop of country yeoman to “draw swords and twist
your eyes round with a loud click.” The negro’s wink is a serious
matter; it suggests a wealth of fearful possibilities. It is repellent,
but alluring–frightfully attractive.

As a rule it is a youth who mixes much with the tourists that ventures
in this unseemly manner to ogle the women and decorate the promenades.
In his working hours the true Dandy is usually a call-boy at one of the
hotels, or an assistant waiter. It is not at all certain that he is a
single man; probably he has a young wife who takes in washing, or cleans
the boots at some boarding-house. But his better half is never to be
seen at his side when he dons his yellow boots and crimson necktie and
goes for his Sunday stroll. He feels that it would be foolish to permit
the dowdy rags of his working spouse to discount the glory of his rich
attire. So he twists his cigarette (he cannot afford to light it since
he has not got another) in his brass ringed fingers, and struts and
grins in solitary grandeur.

It is his earnest hope that he may find some chance acquaintance, who,
having more money but less magnificent attire, may invite him to drink
in order that he may gain a sort of reflected splendour. So every friend
he meets is hailed with a great gusto; even the working busmen in their
shabby driving clothes are not beneath his notice, and he would be
proud to clasp the hand of a coloured scavenger provided there was the
remotest chance of finding such a person with a few Jamaican pennies.
Your true Dandy is never exclusive; he is an adventurer pure and simple;
and he dresses in the highest height of fashion, partly from great
vanity and partly because he will not advertise his poverty. Sometimes
he meets one of his own tribe, and then Dandy walks with Dandy and there
is a heavy music of negro laughter. Together they are bold as half-tamed
lions. They accost a white man and ask for a match or a cigarette; they
will even raise their tiny hats to the wives of high officials. Then
they make a tour round the rum shops and enter each, hoping to find a
friend or make a new acquaintance. If they pass the ancient market-women
selling sweet stuffs, they will exercise their wit at her expense, and
the ends of their slender canes will disturb her fly-blown dainties; if
she is not extremely quick of sight, they will thieve a sugar stick or
two, and munch them in the open street; they exhibit a profound contempt
for the law of petty larceny. Though the sticky stuffs will not improve
the condition of their lips and fingers, the dirty face smudges will
exhibit to an admiring world the fact that they have eaten luxuriously.

When our pair of gallants meet a lady whose acquaintance they desire,
they introduce themselves with a playful prod with their walking-canes;
if the damsel should resent this undue familiarity, she must endure a
long and loud chorus of personalities. For the Dude is lacking in the
elements of chivalrous refinement. But as a rule the lady is proud to be
conquered by such a duet of splendour. She submits to the playful
gallantries of the couple, and takes her full part in the round of
boisterous persiflage.

Great joy fills the heart of Dandy when a cynical busman sarcastically
hails them with “Want a bus, sah?” No matter how fascinating the lady
who at that particular moment may be engaging his attention, he steps in
the roadway and loudly asks the fare to the swellest hotel he can think
of. The grinning busman replies, and then there is much bargaining done
in the loudest tones in the public highroad. It is a game of
make-believe. The busman pretends that he has found a possible fare, the
Dandy pretends that he wanted to be driven to a certain place for a
certain sum. Such a scene does not suggest amusement to the Englishman,
but it is rare sport to the penniless Dude and superior busman. The end
comes only when the busman sees a really possible customer and whips his
horse along; then the Dude assumes an air of offended dignity and
resumes his conversation with the lady. It is truly a brainless,
exquisite Dandy.

With similar characteristics but employing very different methods is the
coloured lady of extreme fashion. She dresses as extravagantly as the
dandiest Dandy; she wears vivid colours in cheap silks or heavy brocades
or velvets; she affects coloured picture-hats of huge dimensions, and
her foot-wear is always made in brilliant patent-leather; but she is not
so poor or

[Illustration: ON THE ROAD TO MARKET, JAMAICA]

so adventurous as the Dandy. She is careful in her conversation. A
polite accent is her chief ambition. She simpers and lisps and uses
pigeon English, and when she is forced to laugh she screens her face
with a scented cambric handkerchief. She is a coloured lady, and not the
richest, boldest busman dare claim her friendship, though it may be that
one of them is her husband. Her friends are among the chapel people; the
preachers, the deacons, and the gentleman of the choir. She will
condescend to notice West Indian non-commissioned officers, but in doing
this she is reaching to her lowest limit. Her ambition is to be counted
rich and beautiful. She is a lady of colour and fashion. Call her a
negress and she will faint with indignant shame. Her husband is a
citizen with a vote, and she is his lady. Though she parades the High
Streets her object is simply to be admired. Though she is an absolute
coquette, her desire is not to make chance acquaintance with the
unimportant natives on the side walks. If a white man, or a rich man who
is nearly white, looks and looks again–well that of course is a
different matter.

Harmless types, both of them. Both the Dandy and the coloured lady of
extreme fashion are amusing, picturesque, and harmless. They have
elected to play droll parts in the game of life; it may be that they
lack perspective, but certainly they possess great imagination. Their’s
is a part of make-believe, and they play it with great seriousness.

Continue Reading

A SOLDIER OF THE WEST INDIAN REGIMENT

Wild Man Street is the central place of Jamaican gaiety. In the day-time
it seems an ordinary street, white in the roadway and green in its walls
of painted houses. The evening shadows blacken the place into an abode
of infamy.

We drove there through the wild scents of a tropic night. The bejewelled
skies sparkled no brighter than the flashing insects; the fresh sea
breeze struggled in vain to kill the half Eastern scents of the garden
flowers and aromatic woods. The singing of the insects made music which
the soft air translated into a sweet lullaby. As you drive to the town
of Kingston, the noises and the scents become more and more suggestive
of the East. The place might be Ceylon, Yokohama, or Hong Kong. We were
to see a bungalow which might be found with equal ease in the byways of
any of these places; the difference existing only in the skins and
tongues of the women. The place was larger than an ordinary house of the
working people; the gaining of fugitive wealth is the only compensation
looked for by the Jamaican dancing women.

The reception room was fitted with cheap muslins and common bamboo
furniture. The stained wood floor was relieved in patches by tiny
squares of matting or cheap imitations of the carpets of Turkey. Several
of the rickety tables supported brass ash trays in which cheap and
evil-smelling pastils smouldered unhealthily, half drowning the odour of
the scents the women used. With finger rings made of silver, flashing
with lack lustre glass or paste; arms and necks encircled with coral or
cheap pearl bands, the women, gowned in flowing robes of white or
yellow, listlessly sustained a difficult part. It is difficult for a gay
woman to appear gay without the aid of strong liquors. This place is one
of the houses where the women dance only at the bidding of white men,
the black man is not a welcome guest. The women call themselves white;
really they are brown or yellow or nearly black. They use powder freely,
and cheap rouge also. The effect is awful; a black man in war streaks of
white or vermilion is not more hideous; they speak the pigeon English of
an affected Eurasian, with a tincture of the sing-song drawl of an
educated negro. To these women all the other natives of Jamaica are
coloured. They speak of the England they have never seen as home. White
men are “chaps” or “felhers”; whisky is their drink, and they suggest
with proud frankness that they are the daughters of great white men. But
coloured people, especially coloured people of this class, are not
infallible. We gave them money, which they received with the grace of a
dissatisfied four-wheel cab driver,

[Illustration: A COLOURED GIRL]

but they produced liquor and became animated. White teeth flashed and
the accent became more coloured and so more natural. It was not pretty
talk, and it was lacking in the elements of refinement. The gaiety of
the women of this class always seems forced. As they talked and
gesticulated the paint and powder flaked off their cheeks as whitewash
scales off a crumpled ceiling. They lost their reserve and found
abandon. One, of uncertain age but decided embonpoint, took up a
mandoline, which was well varnished and hung with ribbons, but badly
tuned, and sang a song. The words were indistinct; the title of the song
I never knew; the tune I am glad to have forgotten.

The doors were closed and window shutters drawn; the unholy stench of
the pastils filled the room with suffocating smoke; it was as though
these women acted their parts and had obtained cheap properties and
mismanaged scenic effects. The amusement of the place, if it existed at
all, was colourless in the extreme. The dancing we did not see. So we
left the place and found the sweet-smelling night breeze.

If it is possible to find a place in which the stupefying smoke of a
burning pastil is not altogether bad, I would suggest that that place
might be a hall in which black people are dancing the dignity dance. To
the white man the negro is not without a curious odour, which seems to
get more powerful when the black man takes violent exercise. Picture a
room, bare as a barn, painted light blue, and filled to overflowing with
people of all shades of colour, from ebony to dark walnut. Though the
window shutters are half open the light night breeze is too delicate to
cool all the people in a room whose temperature must be above one
hundred degrees. Arranged in couples the dancers are executing most
weird and complicated antics–some with a certain degree of grace and
rhythm–to the noise of a band of three tired musicians. Probably the
dancing would be more regular if the music were abolished. If the three
men were playing the same tune, each had learned the piece in different
time, and was playing his hardest in order to show the others how the
thing should really run. However the dancers did not mind, so the
spectator had no right to grumble. The dancing waxed more furious, and
the lagging music raced to keep pace with the spirit of the dancers. The
more excited of the twirling crowd began to chant a weird chorus; the
words seemed to be entirely impromptu, the melody was monotonous, and
somehow it reminded me of the muffled sound of a band of tom-toms. The
dignity dance itself, if it has any set arrangement at all, is something
like the visiting and the grand chain in our lancers. The dancers,
twirling in couples at most giddy speed, frequently separated, and the
men in a long line approached the women, who in turn retired. When the
wall is reached the men retire, and the women do the advancing. A sudden
bang on the part of the orchestra, and a shout by the eager dancers, is
the signal for the breaking of the lines; and the men snatch their
partners and twirl more giddy circles. Interesting as the dancing was it
could not be called either fascinating or unique. Save for the coloured
skin of the dancers, and the curious odour of the room, a similar scene
can be witnessed in any European ballroom. From the dignity ballroom we
went to a concert hall where all the performers were coloured and all
the audience jet black. The performers seemed to enjoy the entertainment
most of all.

The songs were delivered in European concert fashion, and they were
mostly well known ballads:–“Robin Adair,” “I dreamt that I dwelt in
Marble Halls,” and other old airs of that description. It was not an
interesting performance. But the audience applauded everything, they
encored everyone, and when a reciter appeared and gave a rendering of
Hamlet by “Mr. William Shakespeare” members of the audience could
scarcely contain themselves. It was a bad recitation, but I fancy the
people in the body of the hall had paid their entrance money and were
determined to make the best of the business. Certainly they seemed to
like hearing themselves shout. We asked a supercilious half-breed, who
wore an evening suit and a crimson necktie, where we could hear some
native singing.

“If,” said he, “you refer to the songs of the negroes, I can only
indicate the low rum shops, and even there it is not permitted.”

Evidently his opinion of the musical abilities of the black man was not
a high one. However we accepted his advice and journeyed to the rum
shops.

In the architecture of their drinking saloons, as in nearly everything
else, the Jamaicans have imitated New York rather than London. You enter
a swing door and discover a long room fitted with a serving counter, and
otherwise bare of furniture. A man presides over the rum bottles, and
the drinkers are mostly negroes of the richer class; small shopkeepers,
clerks, buggymen, and adventurers. We put our heads in the doors of many
of the drinking shops but we never heard the native music.

We had to be content with a pilgrimage through the deserted streets of
the capital. Save for a few buggies and now and then a noisy road car,
Kingston was almost deserted. At some of the street corners groups of
men were engaged in violent conversation, and occasionally we saw a
policeman; otherwise the empty pavements echoed only the noise of our
walking. There are no theatres in Jamaica, and all the wealthier people
live in the distant suburbs. The poorer black men who live in the side
streets of the town have to be up betimes, so they do not waste their
strength by keeping up late at night. It is a cold and a deathly place
at night, this little town of Kingston. No shop keeps open after dark;
no lights appear in the windows of the houses; no crowds of people
promenade the High Street, and jostle each other in friendly rivalry.

Occasionally when passing a house we heard the echo of laughter, and
sometimes merry noise of music, but as a rule the homes were dark and
silent. It seemed a decayed, deserted city; a place from which all
people had fled.

In Jamaica the Army is mainly considered as a prop to society. Among the
whites the officers are in great request as dancing men, players at the
game of tennis and possible husbands for fair daughters. Among the
blacks the same applies to the coloured Tommy, except that there is no
tennis. The West Indian regiments have seen service, and have proved
their metal as fighting men in various parts of Africa. The West Indian
Colonels are as proud of their black regiments as any commander of any
white battalion of the line. But the languorous atmosphere of Jamaica
does not suggest strife; so, the tendency among Jamaicans, high and low,
rich and poor, is to regard the military as purely social people. When
the Governor is one guest short at a dinner or luncheon or tennis
function, an officer is requisitioned from the nearest garrison or camp.
When Mama is hard up for men at one of her select dances, the subaltern
receives a dainty invitation.

In the day-time the young West Indian Army officer gets through his
early morning work as quickly as possible, and then scrambles,
schoolboy fashion, into the playing fields. Drill is over by midday, and
then the uniform (khaki and sun helmet) is flung aside for cool flannels
or polo breeches. From midday until four the hours must be spent inside
a house, away from the sun. So after luncheon it is forty winks, or
cards or a game of pool. Then, when the full heat of the sun has
smouldered into the early evening glow, the games begin. Polo, cricket,
tennis, or golf; these are the first favourites. A few will take a spin
on a fast pony; others, it may be, will sail across Kingston Bay and
take a surf bath among the palisadoes. But for the majority it is either
polo, cricket, tennis, or golf. Golf for seniors, polo for the young
subaltern newly joined, tennis for the older captains, and cricket for
full lieutenants. The two hours between four and six mark the playtime
for the Jamaican Army. After six the clubhouses or mess smokerooms
tinkle with the music of many glasses, as the young officers refresh
themselves after two hours’ work in a climate marking well above 100° on
the thermometer. An hour with pipes and comrades over the friendly
glass, and then a bath and dinner. After dinner the officer becomes the
social animal, and the messroom and barrack-yard know him no more till
midnight. That is the life of the Army officer. It is rather dull and a
little monotonous; but the young men make the most of it and meanwhile
pray for leave and England.

With the Colonial Tommy it is different. He works at his drill or
musketry and then, at midday,

[Illustration: A TROPICAL LANDSCAPE NEAR CASTLETON]

dines. If he can he gets off for the afternoon; then he lounges into
Kingston and plumes himself on the side walks to the admiration of the
black and yellow girls. No sun has any terrors for your true West Indian
soldier. His skull is thick enough even without the protection of his
smart undress cap. His amusement is similar to that of an English Tommy
in any garrison town, except that he does not drink so much. He is the
idol of the populace; especially on the afternoon of the Sabbath, when,
after Church is over, he is permitted to parade at large in the
brilliant full-dress uniform of his regiment. Scarlet and yellow or
scarlet and white, zouave jackets, and white or yellow spats, his get up
is that of a French Zouave West Indianised; and he is the King of
feminine Jamaica. He is popular among men and women alike, since the
civilian men are conscious of a reflected grandeur when in company with
a soldier in full dress. A military comrade helps them with the women,
just as one returned yeoman peopled a smokeroom with heroes during our
South African War. The black Tommy is paid his shilling a day, just as
though he were a redcoated white man. He was recruited in some West
Indian island, or in Western Africa in the district Sierra Leone,–he
cares not where, for now his home is the cool barrack-room,–and he is
quite content to stand before a few thousand people as a soldier of the
King. Generally he has at least one silver medal to show that he has
heard the music of the Martini fired in anger. He has fought savage
races in lands where a white man has no right to go, and he knows that
he has his value. He is not jealous of the draft of the white British
regiment which, for some unknown reason, is always to be found in the
hills somewhere about Newcastle; he is not jealous because he is too
conscious of superiority. Could a white regiment have marched in the
full glare of the noon sun through Ashanti and not dropped a man? Could
a white man pierce jungle and fight through malarious tangled
undergrowth, wading slimy swamps, swimming rushing rivers, and live? Can
any company of white soldiers march with the swing of a West Indian
Regiment when the black pipers shriek the quick-step?

When the white men think they can, and say so, then West India rises by
half companies and ties service razors on stout sticks of ebony, and
there is riot in the land of perpetual sunshine. Black men are mauled
with heavy belts in the fashion of the British Infantry, and white men
stagger home gashed with razor cuts and faint for lack of blood. When
the civil war is over, each side, conscious of victory, willingly
forgives and for several months forgets. Then peace is found among the
huts at Newcastle, and sweet peace amidst the tents of the plains.

The black troops insist that it is necessary that their women should be
treated with respect, even deference, by their white brothers in arms.
This the white Tommy has not yet learned to do. Possibly the lesson is
difficult owing to the infinite extent of the acquaintanceship with
feminine Jamaica peculiar to the West Indian regiments. Every lady is a
friend of some soldier’s friend, if she is not his sister, aunt, wife,
or mother. So trouble sometimes springs from this source. Then it is out
belts and razors until the officers intervene. Shots have been fired,
but this is unusual. And the result of the court-martial offers no
encouragement to would-be marksmen. As a rule the Tommies, black and
white, mix and fraternise as well as may be expected. Each has a large
respect, well mixed with a great contempt, for his alien brother. Each
serves the same white King whose dominion over all the earth is
unquestioned. The King is the common sentiment to which hangs the
brotherhood of the British soldiers, white and black.

On the other hand the Jamaican police are not popular with the people of
the island. The uniform they wear is not sufficiently striking; there is
no great blaze of colour–no suggestion of power or rank or beauty. A
plain white tunic and dark blue trousers with a red stripe, a simple
white helmet and plain black leather boots, make up the uniform of the
Constabulary. It is impossible for a negro to respect such a costume, or
to be proud of a police so uniformed. So the people have come to look
upon the policemen as workers; men made for use, and not turned out for
the sake of ornamenting a town already bright and picturesque enough.
And it may be that this is the reason why the Jamaican constable is
regarded as a judicial potentate–a man whose word is law–a person to
be avoided, even feared. The presence of a policeman stops the noisy
jabber or a street crowd of fruit-sellers; his approach melts a group
of excited quarrellers; his uplifted hand stems the tide of rushing
traffic–just as it is in England. The police are efficient and
unpopular. The constable alone among the inhabitants of Kingston does
not lounge and laugh and chatter. If he smiles it is with an air of
conscious superiority. The mouths of the men are curved downwards in the
form of a perpetual sneer. The law cannot be merry; the limbs of the law
may not be humanly happy.

The Jamaican police force is well organised and very efficient. There
are inspectors and sub-inspectors, staff-sergeants and sergeants and
constables, and above all one white Chief. Most of the senior officers
are white men; the rank and file are black and brown, and yellow and
dusky white. It is on the rank and file that the work of Government
falls. A plain constable in Jamaica is a far more powerful man than any
white-gloved, long-sworded police inspector in England. Every regulation
beat in the island of rivers is a courthouse, presided over by an
impartial and all powerful policeman-judge. Fifty times a day he will be
called upon to arbitrate in matters of great delicacy. It may be that
there is a doubt in the minds of two women as to the ownership of a
valuable article of diet or furniture. The policeman weighs the evidence
of witnesses and pronounces judgment. He will, in cases of real
necessity, administer the oath to people whose mere word is open to
doubt, and he makes people swear, Scotch fashion, with uplifted hands.

Round such street-corner courts small crowds are allowed to congregate,
and respectfully listen to the words of one whose knowledge of
police-court ritual stands him in good stead. I have heard a policeman
restore to a woman that good name which the jealousy of a chattering
neighbour had flung to the four winds; the same man afterwards settled a
knotty point in regard to the freshness of a heap of fish which a
despondent purchaser pleaded were bad. This was a serious case; the
constable smelt the fish and handled them with the reverence of an usher
for a barrister’s brief bag. In this instance the judgment of the
constable gave satisfaction to one man and made him unpopular with a
crowd. It was openly suggested that he had received a promise of largess
from the man whose case he upheld. As a body the force has a
Spartan-like love for unpopularity, born of the exhibition of unbending
power in performing their illegal office of judge and jury. I once
toured the side streets of the city with a pompous black sergeant who
obviously knew the town only from the kerbstone to the railing. The
Jamaica police have no eyes that see through brick walls. They have a
love for intrigue, but lack the capacity of meeting cunning with
detective craft. If a thing is to be seen with the naked eye they see it
well enough; but, as a rule, they have no imagination and no power of
working up theories. Sherlock Holmes would have been a chemist only had
he been born a negro.

Every constable seems to imagine that, socially and politically, he is
far above the ordinary inhabitant. He feels towards his coloured
brethren in about the same way as a cavalry colonel feels towards a
newly-joined militia private. Between a member of the constabulary force
and an ordinary person there can be no close friendship. The black
policeman lives in a atmosphere of the police court, and seems always to
regard every member of the public as a possible prisoner and a certain
criminal. Really in his heart I think he feels the bitterness of his
exalted loneliness. He inwardly regrets the necessity of his aloofness
from human pleasures. He would probably prefer to be a soldier. This he
will never admit, even to himself. But, I repeat, probably he would
prefer to be a soldier of the line. The uniform is better; it is far
more picturesque. And the men of the West Indian Regiments combine
dignity and popularity in a manner entirely mystifying to the Jamaican
police. Besides, the brilliant-soldier companies march down the high
road to the music of pipes and drums, and the weary constable has to
stand by and see that the road is clear. The soldier is a picturesque
hero; the police constable is–a constable of justice and nothing
more.

A square room painted white and fitted with dull red benches and a
raised platform; on the platform the magistrate, a weary-looking man
with faded hair and wrinkled face, and eyes screened by gold-rimmed
spectacles. As he sits, listlessly playing with his papers, apparently
indifferent to the pleadings of the prisoners, or the garrulous
stormings of nervous witnesses, he seems to suggest a tired speculator
reading the first official details of his own bankruptcy. Occasionally
he raises his voice and a hushed court hears, “All right, get down now,”
and a witness, only just sufficiently recovered from nervousness to have
reached the period of unintelligible verbosity, gets down with a sulky
jerk and proud bearing. All Jamaican negroes speak a language officially
known as English. From the fact that it is alleged that he can
understand the unbroken flow of their fearful eloquence, the magistrate
must be counted a man of consummate linguistic ability. In front of the
platform is a huge table, at which all the whites and yellow-whites of
the district are foregathered to witness the administration of justice.
At the head of the table, and at the feet of the magistrate, is the
clerk; an ancient man with the remains of a weak voice, and a habit of
looking over his steel eye-glasses in the approved scholastic style. He
is an important, if not a picturesque personage. The decorative touch is
afforded to the court by the appearance of the inspector of police. He
sits at another corner of the large table behind a great white helmet
carefully placed on the summit of a large pile of important blue papers,
in the proper crown and cushion fashion. The helmet is the police
inspector’s shield and guard, and badge of office. It is an inflexible
example of the power and nobility of the law; it is an object on which
the prisoners may fasten their eyes, should they be unable to gaze for
ever into the inscrutable depths of the spectacles of the presiding
magistrate. Compared with the magistrate, the clerk and the inspector of
police, the other whites and yellow-whites are unimportant. Planters and
tradesmen, and commission agents, they lounge gracelessly round the
table, fingering their riding whips or pulling at the ends of their
scrubby beards. The table marks the boundary line of the charmed circle,
into which only the whites, and the not very yellow-whites, may enter
with impunity. Beyond, in the public benches, grouped carelessly in
picturesque disorder, are the natives. A sweltering crowd it is,
throbbing with silence, just as the tropical midday throbs with heat.
The prisoner at the bar, a ragged, unkempt negro, whose cleaner father
must have come from the malarial swamps behind the Gold Coast, is
answering to a charge of stealing, feloniously and with malicious
intent, one and a half pairs of meat known and described (in Jamaica and
elsewhere) as pig’s trotters. As we entered, the prisoner at the bar was
tearing at the mangy patches of his mud-coloured hair, and pleading “I
no took them master, sir, yer honor, I no took them; I ask to be set
free. I no see them, I no eat them, ’fore God in ’eaven.”

It was interesting to watch the varied emotions playing over the
expressive faces of the watching crowd of the man’s enemies and friends.
Enemies first, because the natives seemed as cruelly thoughtless, and
quite as vicious, as the ladies in any balcony at a Spanish bull-ring.
When the monotonous mumble of the magistrate has finished, only the
pleased smile of the prisoner told us the news of his acquittal. To the
unexperienced ear, the magistrate’s mumble was just as incomprehensible
as any of the jargon of the witnesses themselves.

The next two or three cases were concerned with the question of
paternity, and in each instance the plaintive lady received the
consolation of eighteen-pence a week for a period of years. Then
followed a charge of assault. One lady had beaten another with an
implement remotely resembling a carpenter’s stool. On each side there
were many witnesses and, apparently, many liars. One coquette in a West
Indian gown of yellow, green, blue, and pink, ventured to repeat to the
court some of the vulgar abuse which, in her opinion, contributed to,
and completely justified, the assault referred to. Hers was an eloquent
and ingenious pleading. First, she swore before God and Heaven that the
assault was not an assault at all, “Ester did not lay a finger on the
woman”; then she justified the assault in language which stirred even
the lethargic magistrate. “Such language will do your friend no good; it
only serves to show that you are a low abandoned woman”–he ventured to
remark in a low, even monotone.

“So’s she, she is low and abandoned too; she is … and she said”….
The woman was on her metal, and desired above all things to incriminate
the enemy of her friend.

In the end someone was fined eight shillings and costs. Who it was I
never knew; but my impression is that it was either a witness or the
police constable.

Two young and innocent-looking boys were charged by a one-legged baker
with stealing a loaf, value one penny. The baker was evidently a man of
parts, one of which was religion. He kissed the book with a vivacious
reverence and commenced, “Your Honour and gentlemen:–Them two boys
Simon Fogarty and Thomas Smiff was in my bakery on the pretence of
executing a purchase. I ask them to lift a board in order that I may
take up bread enough to supply them. They become impertinent. I rebuke
them. They only laugh and say I too much fool. I again rebuke them, and
then I get over the counter in order to chastise them. They fly; but I
seize one, Simon

[Illustration: A NEGRO NURSE WITH CHINESE CHILDREN, JAMAICA]

Fogarty, and he struggle so hard that I oblige to call in the aid of
Constable Perkin, who shall come before your Honour and say I speak the
truth only. When I go back to my shop I find that one loaf had gone. I
run into the street and see Thomas Smiff with my loaf to his lips. I
call witness to see him also, and they tell you how the wicked boy, who
is the pest of the street, eat my loaf for which I receive no payment.”
The police constable confirmed the baker’s statement, and the magistrate
looked bored to extinction. It is just the police court in which that
ancient suburban drama “Black justice” might be performed with
propriety.

In spite of the eloquence of the baker and the accurate testimony of the
police constable, those boys might have been let off with a caution;
but, just as justice was looking its weakest, the police inspector rose,
and, placing one hand gracefully upon the summit of his helmet,
addressed the court.

“May I venture to say that those boys are the most incorrigible rascals
in the district. They do no work; they are dirty, lazy, and a terror to
the neighbourhood. They give more trouble to the police than any other
man or woman on the island.” The quality of mercy is immediately
strained, and although the pardon flows out (mainly because the baker
requests it) the dregs remain in a sentence to come up for judgment when
called upon to do so.

The boys jointly attempt to hide a wide and intelligent grin behind the
battered remains of what must once have been a felt hat.

And so the court goes on.

The merry hum of the day insects mingles with the shrill tones of
singing birds, and the chatter of anxious litigants in the yard below.
The magistrate continues his anxious calculations, and the clerk is
assiduous in his endeavours to balance a pair of rusty pince-nez on a
nose obviously too slippery with sweat. The police inspector frowns
round the room from behind the majestic screen of his helmet, and the
black usher shouts silence, or swears a witness after the usual caution
of “Take se bible in you righ’ ’and”….

Continue Reading

GOING TO CHURCH

In the day-time it is good to sit on one of the jutting piers which
fringe the bay of Kingston, and, lolling under the deep shade of a heavy
roof, give the sea breeze free play with your hair. It is a touch of
health, a vision of sweet coolness, a sensation of rare joy. You are in
the atmosphere of Southern Europe. Round you spread the tropics.
Shorewards the palm bends languidly as it feels the breath of the sea’s
vigour; the sun, seen through an ocean breeze, is dulled into purple
haze; the moving boats and rocking masts give life and motion to a dead
world. At midday the West Indies present the picture of death. There is
no movement, no life current. It is as though the island of Jamaica were
scorched dead. The birds float like ragged strips of paper on the edge
of the breeze which dies on its journey inland. Here, by the sea, the
senses are lulled to sweet indifference to all things save the noise and
coolness of the breeze. Jamaicans call this breeze the doctor; it is the
doctor that makes Jamaica a place fit for the homes of the white men.
Without it, the place would be a fever-ridden land of pestilence. With
it, and not even the sun is more regular, the land is called a health
resort.

As I sit here musing, the strip of land on which are planted the forts
and military cantonments of Port Royal, swings seaward, a thin line of
deep green, a false horizon for a sea of richest blue. Parts of the
place are blotted out by sailing ships with canvas spread, or steamers,
painted white, and little fishing craft. Above Port Royal a single strip
of cloud rises from behind the land in a dull haze of grey; where the
cloud-chain touches the light blue of the sky it bellies out white to
the sun. The broad domes of this cloud-range are whiter than the snowy
caps of the ocean rollers.

As I sit, breathing in the sweet coolness of the breeze, a flash of warm
brown shoots from the blue of the sea, and a diving boy shimmers in the
laughing sun. He will dive for pennies he says. Better sit here and cool
I suggest, and in this manner I first get to know something of the inner
life of Timothy Dorias, gamin and diving boy, as good a young rogue as
you will find anywhere. Vicious and happy as the sun, joyous as the
sparkling wavelet, he is thirteen, and, apparently, already deeply
experienced in the vice of the world. Yes he goes to school–that is to
say, he has been to school; really on second thoughts he intended to
convey the fact that he is going to school–next month.

He is thirteen and has a wife–not really a wife, you know–there is no
suggestion of wedlock–but a wife nevertheless.

[Illustration: DIVING BOYS, OFF BARBADOES]

No he does not go to church–there are no boots. His father is a
fisherman, and he is of a family of eight. His two sisters stay at home
and help their mother, who sees to the children and the grandchildren;
the grandchildren are offsprings of the two sisters. “No, sah, they be
not married yet–some day perhaps.” He wishes to show us strange places
in the town of Kingston–a merry enough guide, but one lacking in
restraint. His accent is mellow and he is not black. A rich, dark brown
colour he is, with curly hair, white teeth, and deep black eyes. His
stories of Jamaica are of intrigue, dancing eyes, and sunlight;
green-shuttered windows and soft glances. He is a born Romeo, a West
Indian Don Juan.

The history of Jamaica he knows not, he says, neither can he tell us why
some people are black and some white. Best of all is to be brown, “like
me,” he says; then one is black to the black people, and white to the
white. Really it is a wise thirteen-year-old, witness the postscript. “I
should pass as white in England, but not here. Too many nearly white
here, sah.” He likes the black people best because they are “plenty more
happier,” but the money is in the hands of the whites. When he is old he
will catch fish and live alone in a house with his wife and children. If
ever he should tire of fishing, Jamaica is “plenty full of fruit.” A
little work would be necessary, perhaps, but he does not mind work.
Witness the time he spends in practising diving in the Kingston bay, he
says. Women will do his housework and attend to his fruit patch; his
wife will see to the clothes of his children. Yes, perhaps it would be
good to go out to the sea in big ships, and find adventure in lands
beyond the colour line of the setting sun. But in the big ships there is
little fruit, and women are not at hand to wait on men. No, it is better
to remain where people are safe. Sometimes the big ships go away and
never return. The reason is that some one on board has sinned in the
eyes of God. Yes, everyone sins plenty often, but God is kind and shuts
His eye, otherwise every living man and woman would be blasted dead.
Women are not so important as men. We tell them they are, because it
pleases them, and so they do more work. But really it is better to be a
man. Women are weak and little in their minds, they are too much afraid,
and too little given to thinking of big things. You must be kind, but
not too kind, to a woman. If you are too kind, she will think you weak
and foolish, and she will do no work for you. Yes, he loved his mother
and his sisters, but he loved his father most of all, because he was big
and strong, and fished in the bay even when the weather was very rough.
His father only laughed and cuffed him when he stole the bananas from
the cart in the market-place, but his mother talked of it for days, and
told all the neighbours that he was a thief and a bad boy; and she told
the parson man, who at any moment might tell God. Then he would be sent
to hell, all for one or two bananas. His father was angry with his
mother for telling the people, and his mother cuffed him still, because
his father had beaten her for telling people his son was a thief.

His own people were better than the blacks, because they were whiter,
and God himself is white. He was not certain whether black people would
go to heaven, but he was certain that white and brown folk could go
there and live in the skies in the same great house. When he went there
he should want to dive plenty much, and fish in the river with a rod
with a wheel on it. No, he was not afraid to die, except that if he died
now he would find none of his friends in heaven. He never thought of
sharks when he dived in the bay, but his friend had only one leg left,
because a shark took the other one off when he was diving for pennies
flung from an American fruit-boat. He guessed he made too much noise
himself to please the sharks; anyway he could dive under one if it tried
to bite him.

He was telling us of his passion for the English and of his love of
truth and justice, when suddenly he flung himself from our jetty and
splashed into the bay to reappear well out of reach of land. A policeman
appeared at my elbow and grinned quietly; he assured us that he would
have given much had the boy not caught sight of him as he crept towards
us. The rascal was a thief and a blackguard, and he would be arrested,
sure as eggs sah, and then birched or sent to gaol. This he assured us
was true and unvarnished fact, on his word as a constable of justice. So
much for Jamaican youth.

The native of Jamaica flies to religion as an ant creeps to the
honey-pot. Give a nigger a few catch-words and a ritual in which he can
take a leading part, and there is no more religious man on the face of
the earth. I never met a native man or woman who was not either Baptist
or Methodist, Catholic or Church of England, or member of some other
sect to which he or she clung with the strength of pious madness. There
is no tolerance in the really religious Black. Every member of every
other sect is a member of the eternally damned. In the opinion of the
Catholic there is no hope for his Plymouth Brother. The Baptist cannot
hope for the salvation of the Free Methodist. Every Sunday every
religious nigger goes to church in the morning, in the afternoon if
possible, and then again at night. After evensong there are open-air
services where crowds of souls are saved, with great regularity, week by
week. They tell each other that they have been plucked like a brand from
the burning, and they dance and shout and sing; sometimes, in moments of
great exaltation, they grovel on the ground and clutch at the earth for
inspiration and spiritual comfort. It is impossible for a saved soul to
be cool. The idea of having so narrowly escaped from the burning
brimstone inflames the hearts of the newly saved at each weekly
performance. A revivalist ceremony closely resembles a fetich dance in
an African forest. The ritual is similar, though the cause and effect
are happily different. I do not wish it to be supposed that I venture to
scoff at the religion of the natives of Jamaica. My desire is simply to
attempt a description of the outward and visible effect of the religious
services. At heart every negro is most painfully emotional. After
undergoing the deepest sensation of salvation the negro wanders homeward
satisfied, relieved, and very merry. There is no evidence of deep
impression; no outward suggestion that the man is spiritually affected
to any great degree. The impression I gathered was that Jamaicans are
religious with their lips and voices; that salvation was a thing to be
regularly sought and experienced once a week–just as among certain
people in other more civilised countries. This capacity for the
endurance of great spirituality gives birth in Jamaica to many
lamentable exhibitions of religious humbug. Prophets arrive; new sects
are called into being by unscrupulous adventurers who claim to be in
direct contact with the Deity.

The story goes that a very little while ago a negro arrived in Kingston
from one of the Southern American States. He brought with him a
second-hand uniform of a captain of the British Navy, sword included.
He purchased a donkey in the market place and quietly attired himself
in all the glory of the blue and gold of the British Navy. He mounted
the donkey and loosely slung his sword so that the scabbard rattled
along the cobbles of the rough Kingston roadways. Then, slowly he rode
through the town. Men, women, and children followed him in mighty
astonishment. He rode slowly, with bent head, his arms folded across his
breast. By the time he reached the outskirts of the town the following
crowd numbered many hundreds. He led them to a great field, and halted
his sorry steed, and for several moments sat solemnly staring at his
donkey’s ears, making no movement. Suddenly he drew the sword from out
the scabbard and flung himself upright in his stirrups, waving the sword
aloft. Thrice he did this in silence. Then he turned to the wondering
crowd and shouted–“Kneel to the might of God. Bow down to His servant.
I am come to save you from sin.”

Then he preached to them for an hour. He remained in that field for
several days, and made many converts and found a multitude of followers.
These he marched in procession to the side of a river in which he
baptised them all. Part of his creed was that all people should bathe
every day in water which he had blessed with his all powerful sword. He
dispensed the blessed river water to many hundreds of people every day,
making a money charge for every gallon. When he had amassed a small
fortune he quietly disappeared, and left his flock leaderless and
disconsolate. There appears to be many such chapters in the religious
life of Jamaica. The people are at the mercy of any adventurer who has
sufficient intelligence and enough audacity to prey upon their
credulity, and play his own hand with unfaltering boldness.

It would not be fair to suggest that all the inhabitants of Jamaica
could be influenced by a jackanapes in a naval uniform and sword, riding
on a donkey. There are of course a large number, a large majority, of
really intelligent men and women who are properly religious. I mention
extreme cases in order that it may be possible for you to gain some
insight into the extraordinary character of the Black man. It is easy
for any educated man to make great crowds of Jamaicans profess and call
themselves Christians. To really imbue the people with a knowledge of
the elementary duties of Christian people is a task of great difficulty.
Sunday is their day of rest. The old people smoke their pipes and gossip
in the shade of their doorways, the youngsters parade the town in all
the glory of their gaudy finery. On Sunday the natural idleness of the
coloured man is as it were legalised. Once a week their besetting sin of
indolence becomes a real virtue. So the day is enjoyed to the full. It
is never necessary to drive home to a nigger the fact that it is wicked
to labour on the seventh day. The difficulty is to persuade him to work
on the other six.

Everyone has heard of the Jamaican revivalist meetings, those weird
religious orgies where men and women run riot in the name of great
salvation. They are difficult services to witness; the people,
especially

[Illustration: A GINGERBREAD-SELLER, ST. LUCIA]

the parson people, are shy in the presence of the unbelieving. You can
only enter a native synagogue by means of great cunning and an utter
absence of self-restraint. The interiors of such synagogues are
commonplace–you can see their furniture and fittings in any tiny bethel
in poorer London. The difference lies in the people only; in Jamaica
they are all utterly black and very happy. The preacher wears
spectacles, and has a white beard and conventional clerical collar and
white shirt. The congregation are attired in all the tints of a German
Noah’s Ark, and show examples of half the costumes known to civilisation
and Whitechapel. Of course there are more women than men, but still the
males that appear are not less zealous than the most excitable of the
ladies. When the service has half spent itself, order, and the souls of
the people, have become really affected. The solemnity of the place
entirely disappears, and pandemonium comes in like a rustling, choking
tornado. Men and women dance and pray and sing and shout, and then fall
backwards to the hard wood floor clutching the empty air in the agony of
spiritual exaltation. The preacher abstains from flinging himself into
the heat of the melée with infinite difficulty, and by exercising his
power of self-restraint in a manner inspiring to behold. The
congregation exhausts its frenzy and lies quiet and purified, in the
manner of a snake that has exhausted its poison gland in attacking the
sacking held by an experienced charmer. In this manner is a large
proportion of the population of the island every week, with great
regularity, saved from damnation. The parson is carried home to sup with
the senior deacon, and the congregation disperses into little groups of
devotees, each member anxious to examine the religious experience of his
brother, or explain at great length his own sensations of salvation.

“Turtles or tortoises constitute one of the orders of reptiles, the
_Chelonia_. They are characterised by having the trunk of the body
incased in a more or less ossified carapace, which consists of a dorsal
more or less convex portion, and of a flat ventral one, the so-called
plastron.”

If you could see a turtle panting for breath, sighing in fat breathless
agony, or swallowing nothing, in the manner of a nervous singer, you
would conclude that this description should be wrapped in more
sympathetic terms. I can imagine nothing more absolutely pitiable than
the sight of a full hundred turtle overturned, belly upwards, in the
full glare of a noon sun, awaiting shipment over the four thousand miles
of rolling Atlantic weather, to meet a doom intimately associated with
the beginning, the first course, of an Aldermanic dinner. The soulful
eyes of a panting turtle express knowledge of impending doom, and only
half conquer agony. It is a sight to turn away from–one which must
always be remembered at the first reading of a rich menu. But, really,
in his native haunts, the turtle is an elusive beast, a kind of marine
De Wet, who wants a lot of catching, but who, once caught, proves
himself or herself to be good all round. Good, that is, if belonging to
the succulent green species, for the Hornbilled variety is of little use
save for the production of tortoise-shell, and the Loggerhead is a
truculent rascal who is best left alone. Strictly speaking, of course,
the turtle is not a beast at all, but a reptile, dear to lovers of
callipee and turtle eggs, and otherwise useful in a score of ways.
Although this most succulent of all reptiles frequents all tropical
oceans more or less, his true home may be said to be at the
alligator-shaped island of Grand Cayman or Cairman, called by Columbus
Las Tortugas because of the hosts of turtle that he found there. Grand
Cayman is a dependency of Jamaica, and passed into the possession of the
Crown soon after the conquest of the Queen of the West India islands.

Hunting the turtle is carried on in different ways according to the
locality; the simplest plan, of course, is to waylay the female when she
leaves the shore after depositing her eggs, and then just turn her on
her back and wait until it is convenient to remove her to a kraal. There
is no risk or sport about this proceeding, which, in nine cases out of
ten, is successful; occasionally, however, a round-backed turtle will
roll over and make tracks for the sea with unexpected swiftness. Another
plan is to spear or harpoon the reptiles in open sea, and yet another to
entangle them in nets when they come to the surface to breathe.

[Illustration: BOATS OFF DOMINICA]

The inhabitants of Grand Cayman are born seamen and turtle hunters, and
they favour the last course. Their plan is to make large webbed fishing
nets from the leaves of the thatch palm, first denuding the leaf of a
certain membranous substance at the back, and then twisting into almost
unbreakable cords and drying. This laborious task is all done by hand,
and when the net is finished the strongest turtle vainly tries to
release his head or fin from its meshes. The folks of Grand Cayman are
their own boat-builders, and their custom is to sail in small fleets to
the banks off the coast of Nicaragua, and cast their heavily-weighted
nets in the direction the turtle is sure to take when intent upon an
egg-laying expedition. Often enough the boats are out for weeks before
enough turtle are captured to repay the boatmen for their labour. But,
once caught, it is easy enough to hoist the net-entangled turtle into
the schooners, where he is stored, shell downwards, in the hold, and fed
on sea-grass and weed. At one time the trade suffered greatly because
the Spaniards persistently destroyed the females before the eggs were
deposited, simply for the sake of obtaining calipee. But nowadays the
turtle is hunted with greater wisdom, and our civic fathers need not
tremble for the future of their beloved delicacy.

With their cargo of turtles aboard the schooners make tracks for
Jamaica, where their catch is deposited in kraals to await shipment to
Europe.

It is a commonplace story when reduced to a bare description, but really
the fishing is full of romance. The sailing amidst the golden islands
of the west, the anchorage off the sandy coast of Nicaragua; the casting
of the wide-meshed nets and the catching of heavy two or three hundred
pound turtles, desperately savage. The turning of a half-exhausted
turtle on to his shell-armoured back; the noise of the heavy flapping of
over two hundred fins stronger than a strong man’s arm; the pathos of
continual sighing, uncanny, half human, wholly unnerving. The journey to
the Jamaica jetty. The flopping of the catch into a deep-sea pool,
boarded off from the open bay; the feeding of the brutes with curious
grass which, seemingly ignored, somehow disappears gradually, when no
one is by to witness. Then the romantic drudgery of turtle fishing ends,
and the dangerous part begins. The danger lies in the fishing from the
pool, the turning on the hot wooden slab, the shipment, in a steamer
homeward bound, and–the dinner table.

Of late there has been some excitement over Jamaica turtle fishing. The
British fishers claim the right of fishing in places Nicaragua called
her very own. Schooners were detained and a British ship of war
journeyed to the fishing grounds to see that the game was played with
fairness. The affair has blown over now, at least so the black Jamaican
turtle fisherman told me. Not that he would care anyway; for his work is
only that of fishing up the turtle from the pool. He does not bother
about the troubles of schooners. His is pretty work, filled to
overflowing with dangerous possibilities. Still there are compensations.
The feeding of the turtle is employment entailing the expenditure of
very little bodily exertion; the thrusting of a few heaps of weed
through a loose board; and the fishing comes but seldom, once a week
perhaps, or once in two weeks. And, after all, a little danger is a good
thing for a man who must swagger before his women folk as one in
authority over more than a hundred turtle.

He will invite you to the fishing with all the joy of a young child
conscious of an audience before whom he knows he can carry himself with
distinction. First he strips in the full glare of noonday, and glories
in the exhibition of his nudity. “I go among all those savage fishes
with no knife, no, not even a gun,” he will tell you. Though why a gun
should be mentioned I cannot imagine, since his work is under water. He
strides to the loose board with the air of an African chieftain in his
village among his women and little children. And after all some
weakness, if weakness it be, is permissible in a man who has to play a
man’s part in the fullest meaning of the phrase.

With a single rope in his left hand he falls, feet first, into the pool,
in which the turtle are jostling each other for room. He disappears
absolutely; the surface of the pool is bare save for the half hidden
shells of a group of the turtle. After two minutes, it may be a little
less or perhaps a few seconds more, the man’s head reappears, and he
shouts to his watching mates the order to pull. They haul at the rope
the other end of which sank with the man, the fisher meanwhile floating
quietly and keeping a bright look out for the snapping heads of the
beasts he could not avoid disturbing. The result of the hauling shows
the white belly of a turtle as it is hoisted upwards, head first, out of
the water. The noise of the heavy sighs, and the heavier noise of the
sighing chorus in the pool, disturbs the whole jetty. Blood comes on the
giant fins in the places where they touch the back shell. First the
thrust head appears above the boarding, a head which at once resembles
the face of a flat-nosed snake and the top of a mammoth branch of
asparagus. The eyes roll like a drunken man to whom the shame of his
drunkenness has suddenly become apparent. Then come the flapping fins,
the broad white belly, and lastly the other fins. Then two hundred
pounds of soup flesh is flung upwards and crashed on to its hard back
shell; the rope which encircled its breast just below the fore fins is
unloosed, and the poor beast is left to sigh and flap and shake in
peace. It is almost impossible for a turtle to regain its legs once it
has been turned fairly on its back. Then the fishing game begins afresh.

I saw just one hundred fish brought to light in this manner. One beast
turned the scale at three hundred pounds. He was the giant of his tribe,
and he showed his high breeding when the time came for his uplifting.
All his fins flapped blood at each stroke and his sighing resembled the
noise of a young cow who has lost her first calf.

Continue Reading

A MARKET WOMAN

The town of Kingston is made up of mean streets crammed with little
bungalow houses, filled to overflowing with people coloured in all the
shades of black and yellow. If the place resembles any well-known
capital it must be New York; but a New York built by children in
doll’s-house style, and painted green and white. In the manner of New
York the streets stretch to the wharves and quays of the giant harbour,
and electric tram-cars clang along the busy roads by day and night.
Electric poles stick up along the roadway in blatant disregard of the
finer feelings of romantic tourists. The shops are usually called
emporiums, and they flash with all the gaudy fitments common to the
meaner streets of New York city. Some there are that might be
English–quiet and respectable places in which the white man finds his
needs supplied by intelligent half-breeds, who do not count themselves
among the coloured class. These aristocrats among Jamaica’s shop
assistants have all the polish of a London draper, mixed with an
obvious consciousness of vast responsibility. As a rule he affects gold
spectacles, and closely resembles an Indian Babu studying law. With this
class of salesman it is impossible to exercise one’s powers of
bargaining. The suggestion of a reduction in the price of a linen collar
would be to these commercial gentlemen entirely in the nature of an
insult. They do not live to amass money. Their mission is to supply
Jamaican Englishmen with necessary comforts at the lowest possible
price; there is no suggestion of gain in their commerce. Homilies on the
ethics of tradesmanship, delivered with great eloquence and a religious
accent from behind a dark face screened with gold spectacles, are
impressive in the extreme. The real salesman is to be found in smaller
stores. There the tradesman regards as a man without wisdom the dull
buyer who pays more than half the sum asked for any article. It is on
such that the people wax fat in the land. This acute process of buying
is tedious if the buyer lacks experience. The easiest method is to offer
the merchant just one quarter the sum asked for any article. This gives
the keeper of the shop a shock, but impresses him with the fact that he
is not likely to be able to swindle you to an unlimited extent. It has
become legitimate trade with him, and so when you double your offer and
proffer half the original figure, the desired commodity is wrapped up
and money changes hands. It is only by adopting this method that a
tourist can afford to live in Jamaica. There is still another class of
seller, but with this class the white man has no dealings. The women who
sell sticky

[Illustration: AN OLD GATEWAY, KINGSTON]

sweetmeats or sweating pastries along the kerb-stones, do not appeal to
the adult of the race of England. Such sellers are the native
costermongers. They have no barrows or elaborate stalls; their
paraphernalia consists of a broken basket, or piece of board supported
across the knees. They are the sellers of fruit, sweetmeats, tobacco,
eggs, live poultry, and the sticky, greasy pastries dear to the heart of
the negro, be he old or young. As a rule the basket stalls are placed at
the roadside, well in the glare of the sun. The saleswoman is usually
very old, and her costume is of dull rags constructed to resemble a
lady’s dress. Her face is creased at the jaws, and the cheek bones stand
out like gnarled fists; her remaining teeth are very yellow, and her
skinny hands are for ever shuffling the contents of her basket. Such
women make no bid for trade; the buyer comes or he comes not. The dull
face shows no emotion. It may be that the basket and its contents are
the property of a negro speculator; she, the seller, perhaps, is simply
an agent working for her daily yam. These are not the merry women of the
market-place who come in from the country with a load of produce to sell
and to spend a day in town. If it were not for the sweetmeats they would
pass as ancient beggars. Of course Kingston has its gamin–the wild,
bareheaded, barelegged boy, who is always shouting or running or playing
his mysterious games of the streets. He, of course, is the essence of
youthful happiness. His day is divided between the harbour, where he
dives for pennies among the sharks alongside ocean-going passenger
boats, and the streets, where he is prepared for anything, from stealing
a water melon to chasing the donkeys of the market-place. When a
stranger accosts him he becomes all grinning innocence and flashing
teeth. “Me work, sah, yes, sah, very hard work, very little money. I ask
you for a penny, sah, for my mother’s sake, sah, one penny.” It seems to
me that every boy, be he black or white, or yellow or red, whether he
live in London, Paris, Tokio, or Kingston, Jamaica, is afflicted with
the same genius of mischief.

The capital of Jamaica has its pest also. In most places frequented by
tourists the great pest is the guide pest; in Jamaica it is the
buggyman. The buggy, of course, is the cab of the Indies, and the
buggyman is the curse of the country. With him we will deal at length
elsewhere. But the buggies and the buggyman should always be considered
as the Jamaican pests.

It is curious to see the long electric Canadian road car swing at
ten-mile speed down these narrow streets crowded with the picturesque
people of the Western Indies. The effect of the streets is
kaleidoscopic; the sudden appearance of a car reminds one of the
mutoscope which shows a railway train rushing at the audience. Such is
the impression of the road car in the crowded Jamaican streets. The
people have become accustomed to this touch of a vigorous Western world.
The noise of its rushing and the horrible jangle of its clanking bell
have ceased to provoke interest. The car is a thing on which, for a
copper or two, the workers may ride home. It saves great fatigue and
much walking. The market baskets may be placed beneath the seats; the
town slips rapidly behind, and home is reached. Heaven knows what moves
the car along. There are no horses, and no engines like those on the
railway. It is a thing causing annoyance to the buggyman, that is all.
For the rest you can ride five or six miles at ten miles an hour speed
for four Jamaican pennies.

The country-people, who come once a week to sell their produce in the
great Saturday foregathering of agricultural Jamaica, still show wonder
and fear at the approach of a tram. They still jump into the hedges as
the tram flies along–still turn their eyes away from the chaff of the
negro conductor. But that is the only respect shown to this foreign
importation.

The dusty streets of the capital melt into country lanes with scented
hedges as you swing out of the city on a journey to the Constant Spring
terminus of the tramway. White dust takes the place of the darker city
dust. The scent of half the flowers of the world crush out the musty
odour of crowded alleys, always stewing beneath a tropic sun. That is
the great charm of the tramway, the only real excuse for its existence.
By it you can rush out of evil town-life into the sweetness of the most
beautiful country in the world. To see a high range of purple mountains,
fronted by heavy fields of banana trees and towering pines, and
brilliant flowers of every tint and shade and shape–to see all these
from the seat of a tram car which might just as well be taking you from
Shepherd’s Bush to Kew, is a thing every one should experience. The
attitude of the native to the cars is representative of ingrained
indifference to everything.

Of all places in and about Kingston, the market-place is the most
fascinating. Really there are two buildings–two groups of compact
sheds, walled in and guarded by lazy constables of justice. They are
distant from each other to the extent of about half a mile, but the road
which links the one to the other is, on market days, just as busy a
place as either building. So it is easier to count both buildings and
roadway one long market. And it is better to trade in the open highway
than it is to haggle with women in a crowded building reeking with
strong smells of fruit and fowls and vegetables, musty basket-work,
decomposing meat, and a few hundred healthy negroes. Of course it is
necessary that we should go the round of the covered stalls and stand
the cross-fire of two rows of anxious saleswomen, whose lung power is of
artillery force. After the first ten yards of the passage any ordinary
Englishman has lost his power of blushing. The blandishments of the
women are crude and full of personalities. One calls you a pretty
English gentleman, and shouts her strong opinion that you would look
very handsome in her fine hat of Ippi Appa straw. Another hails you as
her long-lost lover; and a younger woman, more brazen than her seniors,
invites you to greet her with a “fine big kiss, my love.” It is
embarrassing, especially if you show embarrassment. A blush on your
cheek is, as it were, a red flag to

[Illustration: A FRUIT-SELLER ON A SIDE-WALK, KINGSTON]

the wit of three hundred women. Soon you find your utter abandon and
exchange compliments. The negro woman respects a white man who has no
reserve. At one stall you will find all the fruits of the Indies:
succulent mangoes, golden grape fruit, oranges, bananas, guavas,
nazeberries, pine-apples, and a half hundred others. The combined force
of all the smells is terrific. Next, an aged basket-woman displays
examples of the only real art-work produced by the West Indian negroes.
The baskets are really good. You can buy one of any shape, any size, and
any and every design. Coloured grass is let into snow-white reed with
fine cunning, and without regard for any canon of conventionality. The
character of the casual negroes is shown in the patterns of their
basket-work. All the younger women are told off to superintend the
stalls which cater to the weaknesses of tourists. The women are given
silver ornaments to wear on their coal black wrists, and frequently
their ears are hung with heavy Eastern rings. This is a fashion copied
from the coolie women. All the woman’s personal jewellery is offered for
sale. She will explain the meaning of the most complicated article of
native manufactures with cheerful languor. She assumes an air of
indifference so long as she knows you intend to buy. When you begin to
show indifference, the instinct of the saleswoman springs to life in
her, and she is all entreaty. She offers wonderful whips made from the
lace bark tree, whips whose butt and long plaited lash are both made
from one piece of wood. She offers walking sticks of ebony, groo groo
palm, pimento, bamboo, or cinnamon. Or if you prefer it, you can
purchase a shark’s backbone mounted on a steel rod and fitted with a
handle of scented sandal wood. This, the lady will tell you, is in
England a great novelty, and surely worth five little dollars. Of course
there is basket-work, and some pottery shaped out of red Caribbean clay.
There are strings of coloured seeds and flower-pots made from wide
bamboos. Gourds are carved and coloured and cut into useless shapes
alleged to be ornamental, and cocoa-nuts are carved into men’s heads,
the red hair left to make a frizzy beard. These, the lady says, are very
fine. There are little gourds set on wooden skewers, and so formed into
babies’ rattles. These the arch maiden sells to young men and maidens.
Last of all, she produces dainty d’oyleys and table-centres and fine
ornaments made from the lace bark-tree, and fashioned with ferns and
pressed blossoms. These things cost a great deal of money, but as a rule
they are very decorative. When you leave her stall, the lady pursues you
for many yards with a mammoth lamp-shade, which, she assures you, will
be greatly appreciated by your home folks.

But the stall of the tourist caterer suggests artificiality. After all,
the real market is under the vestibule of the great square building.
Here are the native people with their pepper-pods and cocoa, their live
fowls and jackass rope. The latter, be it understood, is tobacco. Sold
in rope form at one penny or twopence per yard, the tobacco is called
jackass rope, for what reason I could not discover. It is in this
corner of the market-place that one meets the negro only. The woman
minds the stall and does the selling, while the husband gossips with his
fellows, or sips strong liquids at the rum bars. The anxious wife
squats, nigger fashion, beside her heap of pepper-pods, and her hands
play with them listlessly, just as we imagine a miser plays with his
gold, until the heap is sold. She is patient and ladylike. The white man
walks along her strip of market land, and she voices no light banter. If
you ask questions as to her wares she answers with modesty and with
intelligence. This is the country-woman, polite and unsophisticated.
Beyond the department devoted to the sale of spices and pepper-pods and
tobacco, we come to the chicken saleroom. Jamaican market-women nurse
captive fowls just in the same manner as Englishwomen fondle lap-dogs.
They stroke them and play with their feathers, open a wing to show the
strength and youth of a bird, and hold the beak towards their face as if
pleading with the doomed fowls for farewell kisses.

Fronting the poultry-women are the sellers of native vegetables and
fruits. These wares are heaped on strips of torn sacking spread upon the
stone floor of the market. Each woman sits next her piece of sacking and
noisily shouts the merits of her own particular goods. When no customers
are about, these women are content to wrangle among themselves as to the
comparative merits of rival heaps of fruit; from commercial squabbles of
this description it is easy for the conversation to descend to the
level of vulgar personalities and strong abuse.

The meat market is the only selling place which offers no attraction to
the idle lounger. For myself I was content to smell it afar off and pass
quickly by. Opposite the main entrance to the principal building is the
market courtyard, a square patch of grey dust enclosed by an iron
railing, and containing a drinking fountain for the people and a long
water-filled trough for the donkeys. This is the resting-place for the
workers and idling-place for the idlers. Littered about the dust are
groups of children, and donkeys, and adults. The children are playing
their games, the donkeys are munching at heaps of half-dried green
grass, and the adults, stretched at full length on the dust, or on the
grass heaps at which the donkeys are taking their meal, are for the most
part sleeping the sleep of the tired negro. A few there are who have
chosen to lie in the shadow of empty market carts, but more are to be
found sleeping in the full glare of the sun.

The fountain in the centre of the courtyard is the drawing-room of the
market place. Here come the youth and the maiden to gossip and flirt
over the midday cup of water, and here lounge the matrons to discuss
prices, and costumes, and husbands. The men for the most part have found
the rum bars, but the women and the striplings congregate round the
drinking fountain, drink cups of water, and bathe their hands and faces
in the donkey’s drinking trough. The noise of the laughter and talking
is louder than the sound of a

[Illustration: THE TOBACCO MARKET, KINGSTON]

heavy tide breaking over a pebbly beach. And the place is filled with
grey dust-clouds as the people pass and repass, moving from the fountain
to make way for new-comers. The blackness of their bare legs is hidden
by the dirty grey dust. No matter how supple or glossy the skin may
really be, two minutes’ walking in the courtyard gives bare legs the
appearance of age, and suggests the existence of loathsome disease. The
grey dust rises up and powders the women’s hair until the black curls
are lightened to the colour of brown pepper. In fact the unpleasant dust
envelopes everything under a cloud of unclean greyness. In the courtyard
of the market-place the black people seem grey and diseased; the white
folk never pass beyond the entrance gate.

It is on market days that one can see in the Kingston high roads, and in
the suburban lanes, groups of country women walking beneath heavy
head-loads of garden produce. In all the world there is nothing more
graceful than the carriage of a negro woman swinging along, with free
and easy motion, under a head-load which would be heavy to an ordinary
white man. With head erect, straight neck, chest flung forward, and arms
swinging with unconscious freedom, the women present perfect examples of
graceful strength. Their stride is long, and easy, and very regular.
They are the most graceful walkers in the world. I have never seen a
lady in Europe with a carriage as perfect as that of the ordinary
Jamaica negro market-woman.

At one time Jamaica was peopled by a race of red men whose beauty and
timidity were the wonder and convenience of the little band of Europeans
who were the first whites to tread the fragrant shores of the Pearl of
the Antilles. To-day not a trace of these Caribs remains. Unfit for
competition with the strenuous white or muscular black, the race, so far
as Jamaica is concerned, has run its course. The red people are
remembered only by the stone implements and rude pottery preserved in
the Jamaican museum. Nowadays the island is peopled by whites–English,
American, and those of Spanish blood; blacks–grandchildren
of the slaves imported from West and West Central Africa; and
half-breeds–yellow and brown people–the descendants of those intrigues
of the white man and his black servant which, not many years back, were
common among the people of the country.

The white man needs but little description; you can see him in England
or in any colony: an Englishman who takes his cold bath, and considers
himself not the least important member of the most important race
extant. His arrogance is undiminished by the tropic sun, though his
habits of life may have become West Indianised. He rises at six and
breakfasts at ten or eleven, lunches at two or three, and dines at
seven. His food is as it is in England, save that fruit and vegetables
are more plentiful. His house is built bungalow fashion, and his
servants (with whom he has more trouble than his brethren in London) are
blacker than the blackest hat. His complexion is either white with a
yellowish tinge, or red mahogany. His women-folk dress in the latest
Parisian creations, and suffer only from lack of exercise. It is not a
climate for exertion, and the English lady goes to the length of taking
none at all. She crosses the street in her buggy, and has a black maid
to hand, so that she may never be called upon to make any unnecessary
movement. The man has his polo, and tennis, and pigeon-shooting, his
saddle-horse, and golf. If he is very brave and a great enthusiast,
there is the cricket field. The lady always prefers the unhealthy luxury
of repose. So her face is milk-coloured; she is whiter than her husband.

The society of the island is divided into three sections–the military,
the civil officials, and the others. The three sets meet occasionally
when one matches itself against another at sport, or when there is a
great reception at Government House. These foregatherings are of
interest to those who deal in scandal. In the clubs the men mix more
frequently, but it is not the men who make the social life of Jamaica.
The life of the Englishman

[Illustration: AN OLD WOMAN]

differs from that of the Anglo-Indian at a hill station; it is not the
same as the life in a provincial town. But somehow it is a strange
mixture of these two, except that in the social life the bachelor plays
but a puny part. Not many mothers take their daughters to Jamaica, so,
in the capital, the bachelor lives in one of the hotels and plays
billiards in the evenings. It would be a blessing to the single men if a
few enterprising mothers with many daughters would take up their abode
in some of the charming villa residences a few miles out of Kingston.

The life of the Jamaica negro is almost ideal. As a rule he either
entirely ignores the little work he ought to do, or leaves it to the
exhaustless energy of his indefatigable wife. He spends his life in
shady parts of the market-place, or lolls in the sun outside the place
of his abode. Nothing worries him. He is imperturbable; glorious in his
idleness, happy in a blissful ignorance which takes no account of
yesterday or to-morrow. His only grievance, if he has one, is the
limited working power of one woman. Happy is the man who is the father
of many able-bodied youngsters. If by some mischance–the accident of
domestic misfortune, or the promptings of _ennui_ born of inaction–he
is forced to work, he works with cheerfulness, and with a happy grin
complains through the day, and then spends his night in revelry. When
you have questioned one black man as to the extent and remuneration of
his labour, you have interviewed the island. The temperament of the
negro is inborn; it never varies; all negroes are blood brethren. Ask
any man if he works hard and you will hear–

“Yes, me work very hard, sah.”

“You look well on it.”

“No, me no well, sah; me not fit for work; too sick.”

“But you get well paid.”

“No well paid, sah. Plenty work; very little money, sah.”

All this with a satisfied grin except when he describes the weakness of
his health; then his eyes roll and his face clouds in a manner almost
convincing to new arrivals.

With the women it is different. They have no time for conversation with
idle strangers; they work with unceasing energy. If they pause, it is
only to stare with an air of half-timid wonder, or to break into long
peals of boisterous laughter. If it were not for the women folk, Jamaica
would indeed be hard put to it for workers.

In character the Jamaican negroes are a mixture of good and bad; of
Africa and Europe, with the vices of both the blacks and the whites, and
only some of the virtues of the people of Europe. They are civilised
with a sort of quasi-civilisation, which somehow suggests an
indifferently humorous burlesque performed by irresponsible amateurs. It
takes many months to educate a new-comer into treating the black
Jamaicans with becoming seriousness. As a rule they are well-meaning
people, full of curious mannerisms, with which

[Illustration: COCOANUT PALMS, FALMOUTH, JAMAICA]

it is difficult for the white man to be in entire sympathy. The ideas of
a black man are different from those of white. He sees things from a
different point of view, and cannot really be happy with a white, who,
legally his equal, is actually in many ways infinitely his superior. In
many ways the Jamaican native resembles his coloured brother of the
American States; he is just as arrogant–even more so–but he is not
quite so really independent, and by no means so energetic. It is
certainly a fact that the Jamaican negroes are the happiest, relatively
the richest, and quite the most comfortable inhabitants of the globe.
Though there may be poverty among them, there is no unsatisfied hunger.
The fields and the hedges, as well as the market-places, afford food and
comfort for the dweller in this land of perpetual sun. Clothes they have
in too great an abundance. It is only for the purposes of pride and
vainglory that clothes are worn at all. The climate is warm enough to
justify nudity, and although this happy condition of freedom is not
compatible with the canons of modern society, it is easily possible for
a native to be clad and outwardly furnished for a very few shillings per
annum. Overcoats are unknown. Coals are only associated with the
steamships in Kingston Harbour, and the railway. Meat is an unnecessary
luxury–almost an unhealthy one. The people live on fruit and
vegetables, with an occasional dish of salt fish caught in the rivers or
from the waters of the Caribbean Sea, and cured with a total disregard
for delicate sweetness. At the first and the twenty-first glance, the
European would pronounce the dried fish of the Jamaican nigger bad, if
not entirely putrid. The popularity of this form of diet among the
people is evidence of the over-sensitiveness of the civilised nose. The
West Indian soldier of the line receives full rations as well as his
shilling a day. The meat he receives from a beneficent Government is the
same as that served out to his English brother-in-arms, and it is from
this source that the old English settler draws the supply of fresh meat
for his own table. It is better to go among the West Indian messrooms
and buy the soldiers’ meat rations than it is to chance the tenderness
of the joints on the market butcher’s slabs. By a little enterprise and
a good deal of bargaining with a coal-black mess sergeant, you are
certain of obtaining the juiciest steak to be found on the island; and
in doing so you materially add to the popularity of the army among
possible recruits by enlarging the pocket-money of the black soldiers of
the line. Our West Indian Tommies prefer the saltest of stale salt-fish
to the juiciest of fresh juicy-steaks, and as a rule the officer of the
day is quite prepared to wink at a little irregularity which makes for
the happiness of his men and the comfort of the island. Besides, it is
probable that the same officer of the day is occasionally invited to
dine out in the bungalows of older inhabitants. The readiness with which
the soldier is prepared to part with meat rations is proof that flesh
foods are an unnecessary luxury for the West Indian native.

The negroes of the island are sharply divided into

[Illustration: A MILKMAID, BARBADOES]

two classes: those who live in the towns, and the country labourers. The
two classes differ as much as do English agriculturists and Londoners.
In Jamaica the country people are superior to the town-bred class. The
influences of town life are not good for emotional people whose fathers’
fathers hunted men in the forest lands of Western Africa. They receive
impressions too easily. They are impressed by the bad as well as by the
good. A black servant is always his own idea of his white master. A
black man must imitate; his race has only just come in contact with
civilisation. Instinctively he imitates because he has not yet reached
that state which some day may enable him to initiate. If he is to appear
in the guise of a civilised man he must follow; his experience is not
great enough to enable him to lead; his instincts are still African and
barbarian. So the town man, subject to the influences of a city in which
live types of every class of every European race, is necessarily at a
disadvantage compared with the man who lives with nature among people of
his own colour and only one or two white men of one race.

The dwellers in the Jamaican cities look down upon the country folk as
unsophisticated nonentities. The country people imagine the townsmen to
be priests of iniquity, cunning, and steeped in wickedness. Just as it
is in England, only more so. In the country all the coloured people are,
approximately, of one class; they all belong to one station. In towns
the buggyman looks down upon the costermonger as an inferior, just as
the wives of shopkeepers ignore the existence of Mrs. Buggyman. In
imitation of the English, foolish class distinction has given birth to a
form of snobbishness which is entirely ludicrous. In Kingston the
outward and visible sign of prosperity or social superiority is shown in
the costume of the women-folk, and in the simpering accent of the
maidens. The more uncomfortable a woman looks when she goes on church
parade, the more diffidence she shows before opening her mouth to answer
a simple question, the higher she is in the social scale, as it is
understood by native Jamaicans. This is as it is among the shopkeepers
and the proprietors of buggy horses and worn-out four-wheel tourist
conveyances. With the workers it is altogether different. The aged lady,
who sits for twelve hours of every day selling gingerbread beneath the
half-shade of a decaying arch fronting an important shop in the main
street, thinks little of costume and nothing of accent. She is persuaded
to talk with great difficulty, though her story would be really
interesting. An old black lady lacks that venerable appearance peculiar
to the aged dames of England. She does not appear too clean, her hair is
reduced to mangy patches of dusty black curls, showing here and there on
the top of her smooth black pate. The forehead is furrowed and her
cheeks sunken, the chin protrudes, and is the heaviest and most
noticeable of all the features. Her lips have vanished, and the eyes
peer through dull-red rims from behind a half-screen of fallen skin. She
is bent double by age and the infirmities born of rough work. There, all
day long, she sits selling gingerbread cake beneath the half-shade of
decaying archways. No one ever seems to buy her dainties, but there she
sits all day long staring vacantly into nothing. Occasionally she
fingers her cakes, and the movement of her hands disturbs a cloud of
flies who claim her cookies as their own. She is listless and entirely
dumb; there is no crowd of chattering loafers round her stall, no group
of children playing hide-and-seek under the shadow of her protection.
She is alone–a picture of desolation. She will sit there gazing at
nothing, heeding nothing, until she finds the consolation of the sleep
of death. As a conversationalist she is quite impossible. If a white man
stops to give her greeting, she replies not by word of mouth, but with
an out-thrust hand. She has money greed. Half her day is spent in silent
pleading for alms. Altogether she is not picturesque; she lacks the
elements of cleanliness, and her cookies are not wholesome. She is
something to pass by with a shudder–a human being of the lowest species
undergoing a very slow process of decay. If she has intelligence, it is
hidden with her life-story behind the shrunken eyes half-hidden by the
dull-red rims and hanging skin.

The most obvious inhabitants of Kingston are the drivers of the buggies.
A Jamaican buggy is a spider-like species of the four-wheeled vehicle,
known in England as the country fly. It is drawn by one horse, which is
neither a horse, nor a pony, nor a mule, but something remotely
resembling all these things, and raising sentiments of deep pity in the
hearts of all beholders. The driver of the buggy, the buggyman,
supplies the necessary enthusiasm to the horse and buggy alike. One
instinctively feels that but for the elevating spirit of sublime
optimism which the buggyman possesses to the fullest degree, the poor
horse would drop dead and the vehicle would fall to bits. The buggyman
ignores everything in life save possible customers. If you hire a buggy
you are the life and soul of the driver until you enter his crazy
carriage; then you become as less than nothing, and the driver
shamelessly bargains with pedestrians for the use of his coach when the
time comes for you to leave. The buggymen know Kingston as well as the
London cabby knows his London, and that is saying much. He drives with a
rattling carelessness which is entirely good for weakly nerves. He
ignores the protests of his nervous fare, and smiles in derision of the
warning hand of an outraged police. He cannons other buggies as though
they were billiard balls, and finally lands his victim, in a condition
entirely demoralised and feverish, at a place where he has no desire to
go. Then the driver blames the passenger for not giving correct
directions, and explains that to drive on will be another sixpenny fare.
The law in Jamaica reads, “Sixpence per passenger to any place in town,”
so the driver gallops to an unfrequented corner of the place and demands
an extra sixpence. The fare must pay, or walk back in the sun through
the stench of poorer Kingston. It is really better for tourists to buy a
buggy and a horse and to hire a driver if they intend to stay in the
island for

[Illustration: WAITING MAIDS]

more than three weeks. These can be as easily sold as they can be
purchased, and the possession of them saves the waste of much precious
energy, and it is better for the language and morals of a vigorous
person.

When he is not pursuing possible customers, the buggyman is asleep
inside his carriage. His battered hat is carelessly balanced on the tip
of his little nose, his feet are resting on the cushion of the front
seat, his hands hanging limp, and he slumbers deeply, exhibiting the
deep caverns of his mighty jaw. Flies settle and nest in his open mouth,
children swarm round his buggy and tickle him with half-chewed
sweetstuffs, women chaff him from the side walks, but he stirs not, not
an eyelid moves. But let a tourist or a white man come within one
hundred yards of him and he is alive again and in pursuit. He discovers
a possible fare by the sense of smell. He is all eyes and ears and nose
for white men. When he sleeps, his horse sleeps also. It is in many
cases all the rest the poor beast hopes to get. It is usual for the poor
beast to be dragged from his resting-place (it is neither stable, nor
nest, nor open field) and harnessed at 8 A.M. He retires when the night
is far spent, and the last straggler has settled beneath the mosquito
netting of his bungalow bedroom. During the day he is driven to the full
extent of his capabilities. He must always run his quickest. There are
no words spoken to him: he is driven with the whip, and with the whip
only. His food is coarse guinea-grass, and he is lucky if he finds much
of that; his water comes should his journeying carry him past a water
tank. For all that, he has the heart and soul of a carriage horse, and
he is as keen in his master’s hunt for fares as a trained polo pony is
in following the ball. In colour he is usually a bright yellowy red,
with mane and tail of light yellow. He always shows his ribs, and the
whip is pleasant to him because the lash disturbs the flies. He never
falls or stumbles; he has learned to be sure of his feet by carrying
tourists up high mountains by way of narrow winding paths. If he has one
vice it is sleepiness, but in that matter he is well under the control
of his driver.

When the buggy driver has finished his work he lolls about the drinking
shops–an important man. He is the hardest drinker in Kingston. He mixes
more with white men than do most of the other natives, and his calling
puts him in touch with the doings of men of all types. He calls for his
rum, and chaffs the barmaid, for all the world like a city clerk; and
his conversation is of horse-racing and betting odds, and worse. He is
well-to-do, and proud that the Government has sufficient confidence in
his personal character and in his prowess as a coachman to entrust him
with a license to drive a hackney coach. This license is to the Jamaica
buggyman exactly what his commission is to a newly-joined young officer.
It gives the black man status. It is a link between him and the
Government. It shows him and all Jamaica that he, buggy-driver, with a
license and a number, is not an unknown man, but an official with a
position recognised by officialdom.

When a buggyman marries he usually chooses his wife from among the
yellow women. The negress is beneath him. He likes to have as his wife a
woman who may call herself white when she receives his guests or attends
his chapel on the Sabbath. He will tell you that he married white, and
you will wonder how he managed it, until you see his lady. If you are so
inclined, you may abuse the driver and his wife and his children, his
horse and his buggy, his incapacity and everything that is his. He will
only laugh and crack his whip and sway about in his seat with merriment.
He will do anything to please you, on the chance of your dealing
generously with him when the time comes for payment. He is a
thick-skinned black man. He has no delicacy, and no false pride, and
little shame. This you will find out when you hand him your silver and
tell him to be gone. Compared with him the London four-wheel cabby is an
angel of mercy. The buggyman will abandon his horse and his buggy, and
follow you down side streets, shouting that you have paid him too
little. He will fling your silver to the ground and stamp on it. Then,
picking it up, he will follow you shouting that you owe him money. No
one heeds him. It is a common scene, and not worthy the attention of
Jamaicans.

Continue Reading