A FRAGMENT

The white inhabitants of Jamaica swear by the hill stations: Newcastle,
Mandeville, Malvern, Belle Vue and the rest. The description of the
journey to Newcastle will stand as an example of the manner in which one
travels to each, except that, in some cases, the railway as well as the
double-horse buggy is necessary for the journeying. The tourist should
remember that what appeals to the sun-dried Jamaican Englishman does not
of necessity appeal with the same force to a tourist in love with the
tropics. For my part I found the hill stations all a little dull, as
well as very cold and damp. Mandeville resembles a little English
country village on a warm, wet day in autumn. Malvern is also very
English, and though Belle Vue is more picturesque, it is not worth
travelling four thousand miles to see. Kingston and the little towns of
the plains repay even a bad sailor the two weeks spent in mid-ocean; the
hill stations do not. They are a snare and a delusion and a hollow sham.

Nevertheless we went to them all in the manner of docile sightseers.

Mandeville is famous for its donkey market and cool breeze. I did not
see the donkey selling in full swing, but from what I saw of the
market-place and the little donkeys I can appreciate the picturesque
possibilities of the affair. The cool breeze is far too cold; the cold,
damp rain and rain-mist far too penetrating. No, I disagree with the
Jamaicans in their estimate of their hill stations. No doubt they are
picturesque–all of them. Little villages built on steppes of giant
mountains, or small towns scattered over a high plateau. One experiences
many climates in climbing to them, and the beauty of the country which
separates them from the hot plains is magnificent beyond description.
One passes forest land and dense scrub, rushing rivulets and the dry
beds of larger rivers. One experiences every colour the imagination can
conceive, and sees all the fruits, and flowers, and timber trees to be
found in all the world. Yes, they have magnificent approaches these hill
stations, and for that reason they are places to visit. It is only their
climate one can object to, and that is wonderful too. The English
climate gives an English influence to the growing shrubs, and in
Mandeville one finds a village green and English trees fenced round by
groves of tall pines, and feather bamboos, and wavy banana
clumps,–England growing calmly with a green freshness in the midst of
the yellow tropics. Perhaps I have done the places an injustice; they
are really beautiful. It was the rain I disliked so much. You can stand
on the edge of Mandeville and watch the sun setting in the

[Illustration: STALLS OUTSIDE THE MARKET, MANDEVILLE]

midst of great valleys of wondrous beauty. Or in the morning you can
gaze through the damp mountain mist and see the yellow sun rising softly
from amidst the forest of palm-trees. You can listen to the
full-throated song of birds thanking God for the beauty of life, or see
lizards all green and gold, playing along the boughs of giant forest
trees. It is a good place, but somehow it lacks the airy-fairy lightness
of the hot plains. The natives do not laugh so much, and they are more
European in their dress and manners. There are white invalids in the
place and you cannot forget that it is a sanatorium.

Belle Vue is rather better and more picturesque and not so good. These
contradictions are permissable when one is writing of Jamaica. Belle Vue
is better because it is less civilised and less damp. It is more
picturesque because the only white man’s bungalow was built more than a
hundred years ago, and because the natives are less intimately
associated with the white people. It is not so good because it is not so
beautiful.

Still the view there from the edge of the mountain shelf, which
comprises the settlement, gives you a picture of Kingston and eight
miles of its northern suburbs, and beyond Kingston the wonderful bay,
Port Royal, the palisadoes and the ships at anchor and by the wharf
side. This view is compensation for the fatigues of the journey upwards.
The house too, the white man’s bungalow, is unique and full of history.
People say that it is older than two centuries, and its appearance gives
colour to the report. Heavy, arched doorways, great high rooms, solid
fittings and small windows. The woodwork is hand-carved and very
beautiful; the outbuildings are flimsy and very decrepid. Behind the
bungalow is a farmyard built on the model of those to be found in
England. There is a large water pool for the cattle, and an extensive
yard for the convenience of the farm hands. Here we can see the
dairy-work and watch the poultry strutting about in search of toothsome
morsels. An occasional dog lies gasping in the sun, and now and then a
little pig thrusts his nose into the gateway and gazes longingly at the
place so cruelly denied him. The un-English parts are the sheds devoted
to coffee-cooking and the place for the storing of cocoa and cinchona.

About the yard, among the coffee and cinchona huts, the cattle stand
listlessly gazing earthward, and the mountain goats flick their tails in
endless endeavour to disturb offending insects. It is rural–Arcadian in
its simplicity and great beauty. The bungalow and farmyard are
surrounded by a forest of pimento–an all-spice whose foliage is more
fragrant than the spice which makes the cultivation prosperous. Some
day, when Jamaicans awaken to the significance of the richness of their
island, some one will distil the perfume from the pimento leaf, and in
England we shall be able smell the wild fragrance of a Jamaican forest.
Where the forests end the banana plantations commence, and dotted about
the fields we find the native settlements.

Native settlements are all unique; they are all strange villages erected
according to an architecture

[Illustration: A ROAD IN MANDEVILLE]

peculiar to the minds of say fifty people. Each man builds his hut
according to his own idea of what a hut should be like, and he digs the
foundations with no regard for juxtaposition or the symmetry of the
whole village. The result is always purely picturesque. Some huts are of
heavy grass thatched with banana leaves; others are mud-thatched with
cobbled floors. The richer natives build wood houses out of disused
packing cases, and live under stencilled letterings which once directed
a package out of England. One house was built with box-wood drawn from
cases that had contained sugar, biscuits, marmalade, jam, cube-sugar and
cigarettes. The result fanned one’s pride in the might of England’s
commerce, since all these things were plainly marked London or Liverpool
or Dundee.

About the huts, and amidst the plantations round the village, the black
children played their Jamaican games with open-mouthed enthusiasm. The
children of the country villages are not overburdened with unnecessary
clothing and they are very strong and happy. By mixing with the little
children one loses faith in the old belief that it is impossible to
really civilise a coal-black nigger. The little ones differ from the
white children only in the colour of their skins and the superiority of
their physique. A negro child of two runs and laughs and plays as
sturdily as does a London child of four. They have a little school of
their own and a little church as well. Their one teacher is a lady of
colour who lives well away from the village, but the parson is as black
as the blackest among them. The teacher, who is a lady, wears
eye-glasses; the parson affects spectacles heavily rimmed with yellow
metal. On week days the people of the village, old and young, are very
simple; on Sundays they are very religious. The women do more work than
the men, though the men are not entirely given up to idleness. The women
attend to the home life, the housework, and the nursing, and they tend
the cultivation of the little family garden patch which supplies the
family with yams and banana, and occasionally a little crop of luscious
mangoes as well. The husband hires out his labour to the nearest planter
and receives his wage of a shilling a day. He hoes the fields, sees to
hedges, carries the water, drives the horses, or donkeys, or mules, or
bullocks; gathers the ripened fruit, packs it for the market, and, when
neither the planter nor the overseer is within eyeshot, idles away the
time to his heart’s delight. The women are careful about their own
adornment only on Sundays or those rare occasions when it is necessary
for them to make the long journey into Kingston market. On week days
they seem to wear whatever happened to come handiest when they were
engaged in the act of dressing. The men wear long cotton drawers or the
remains of heavy trousering, a very shady shirt, a battered yippo-yappo
hat, and occasionally, an affair which undoubtedly at some remote period
resembled a coat of the style affected by Europeans.

I went to tea with some people who were neither white, nor black, nor
yellow. They were not half castes, not even quadroons. Octoroons they
would be called if they were very poor. White they pass as, in the great
house they live in. White they are to the few negro workmen they employ.

I give the conversation, not because it is of interest, but to show the
vernacular as voiced by the cultured octoroon. They were pleased to see
us, and I had the impression that I was undergoing the pleasant
sensation of being lionised–such was the warmth of my welcome.

“You take sugar and milk?” I took milk.

“Oh we always take sugar in Jamaica. It grows here you know, and a few
years back it was the most perfectly important product of the country,”
explained the lady, and her husband confirmed her statement with–

“Yes, the English have killed that branch of our commerce by the
introduction of free trade in sugar. My grandfather grew very very rich
on sugar; most of the money he and my father left I am spending in
trying to improve the condition of the island. I cannot hope to make
money. I do it for the good of my country; I am what you call a
philanthropist!”

He played with the fine jewelled ring on his left hand and smiled at me,
showing a perfect set of large white teeth. His eyes were larger than is
common among Englishmen, and his dark hair contained just the suggestion
of a curl. His wife was whiter than he, but her eyes were blacker than
those of any Englishwoman. Her lips were brown-red, and her hair a wavy
black. She spoiled what might have been a strikingly pretty appearance
by wearing pince-nez, for which she had no real use. They had plain
glasses heavily framed in gold, and they hung from her blouse by a
twisted chain of gold and platinum.

“Yes,” she said, “we are philanthropists!”

“I am perfectly conscious that not many of us white men cultivate our
plantations as we ought to do. But I know I work unselfishly. I take my
country seriously.”

The lady added–“That is what the Governor said to him the other day.
The Governor said, ‘My dear friend, you take your country seriously.’
And so he does–perfectly. And so do I.”

“Well, I was smoking with some gentlemen the other day, and they agreed
with me that we Englishmen are very unselfish in not going home and
leaving the country to rack and ruination.”

[Illustration: HUTS, ST. ANN’S BAY, JAMAICA]

“Ah, what would I give to go home,” exclaimed my hostess.

“To England?” I asked, nervously.

“Of course,” she replied tartly.

“Do you come from London?” I ventured.

“From near London.”

The spirit of enterprise entered my soul, and I determined to ascertain
whether the good lady had ever seen our little homeland, so I put
questions to her which were distinctly not those a guest should play
with at an afternoon dinner-table. I entrapped her into many foolish
mistakes, but she would never admit that she had never seen England. Her
knowledge of places and things, gathered from reading guide-books and
London newspapers, was certainly astonishing. But it was not difficult
to pierce through the surface crust of her knowledge. She had been
introduced to the King of course, but she knew the late Queen better.
She didn’t care much for the Princess of Wales though the Prince himself
was a very interesting man.

They told us of the losses they had sustained through the hurricanes,
and the lady explained that because they had lost so many many thousand
pounds she was forced to be very very economical with her “money for
pins.”

But with all their negro-pigeon-English they were hospitable enough, and
nothing would have delighted the worthy couple more than our acceptance
of their proffered entertainment for many weeks.

“Yes, stop here; we will make you perfectly happy and at home; the house
is yours and all the servants, my horses and buggies (he had one of
each), and my fishing rods are at your disposal if only you will
remain.”

We could not stop, since we were more than seventy miles from the
capital and were due to catch a boat in two days. The hostess bewailed
the poverty of the household.

“In the period of my grandfather you would not have been permitted to
depart in this manner. Then we should have been able to place at your
convenience many horses and buggies, so that you could have travelled to
Kingston by road, and not in a railway train with negroes. If only we
had slaves again and protection also, then you would be able to stop in
Jamaica in comfort and luxury.”

“But, my dear,” remonstrated the husband, “slavery is a thing not to be
desired by us cultured gentlemen and ladies. We must protect the weak
and fallen; it is our _juty_ to heaven to _succure_ the black heathen of
the negroid race. Never say words in praise of slavery. Our _juty_ is to
helevate the trampled negroid to our condition of education and
refinement.”

The lady, so heavily admonished, wept copiously and the man frowned
heavily to emphasise the weight of his admonitory disquisition. We moved
uneasily in our chairs and I fingered my watch; it is unusual to be
confronted by a lady’s tears at an afternoon tea function. “Pray do not
go,” said the lady. “Pardon these weakly tears. I feel for my husband. I
think of the many thousands of pounds sterling he has been wasted of by
the loss of slavery and the sugar duty. I weep for the nobleness he
shows in speaking like that.” The frown on the husband’s face became
intensified and he gave evidence of the possibility of a new outburst.
But I boldly intervened with–“But after all what is a nigger compared
with the comfort of white men?”

“That’s just it,” replied our host; “you’ve just hit it. What is a
nigger? He is our unequal in every manner. He is but little better than
the animals and beasts of the fields. But just to study him the British
Government has spread ruination throughout Jamaica. That is just what I
say. What is a nigger that he should have dispoiled me of my wealth?”

While he was delivering himself of this vehement contradiction of his
former chastened sentiments it was quite obvious that the nigger he so
much despised was in reality his natural grandmother. Our hostess flung
aside her eye-glasses and the effect was similar to opening of the
lock-gates on the upper reaches of the Thames. The tears poured forth in
a copious stream of weeping.

“But, Algey,” she sobbed–“Algey you must not forget that you are the
nation’s protector of the weak, and poor, and coloured. Do not forget
that you do your best. The lowest of the low niggers have wives and
children.”

“True, true,” mumbled the husband; “sometimes I forget myself and the
words flow out like boiling lava from Vesuvius. But I will continue in
the way I have gone for many years, and I will be a help and protector
to the poor and down-trodden. The humble of the earth are my
brothers–that is what I must decline to forget.”

Before we took our leave the couple had regained their cheerfulness, and
the lady had made us promise always to think kindly of Jamaica. “After
all,” she lisped, “I must regard Jamaica as my home country since here I
saw the light of the first day; England is home, of course, always, but
Jamaica is my place of birth.”

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