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.

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