JAMAICA–COUNTRY

I have spoken in disparaging terms of the chief town in Jamaica,
but I can atone for this by speaking in very high terms of the
country. In that island one would certainly prefer the life of the
country mouse. There is scenery in Jamaica which almost equals that
of Switzerland and the Tyrol; and there is also, which is more
essential, a temperature among the mountains in which a European can
live comfortably.

I travelled over the greater part of the island, and was very much
pleased with it. The drawbacks on such a tour are the expensiveness
of locomotion, the want of hotels, and the badness of the roads. As
to cost, the tourist always consoles himself by reflecting that he is
going to take the expensive journey once, and once only. The badness
of the roads forms an additional excitement; and the want of hotels
is cured, as it probably has been caused, by the hospitality of the
gentry.

And they are very hospitable–and hospitable, too, under adverse
circumstances. In olden times, when nobody anywhere was so rich as a
Jamaica planter, it was not surprising that he should be always glad
to see his own friends and his friends’ friends, and their friends.
Such visits dissipated the ennui of his own life, and the expense was
not appreciable–or, at any rate, not undesirable. An open house was
his usual rule of life. But matters are much altered with him now.
If he be a planter of the olden days, he will have passed through
fire and water in his endeavours to maintain his position. If, as is
more frequently the case, he be a man of new date on his estate, he
will probably have established himself with a small capital; and he
also will have to struggle. But, nevertheless, the hospitality is
maintained, perhaps not on the olden scale, yet on a scale that by no
means requires to be enlarged.

“It is rather hard on us,” said a young planter to me, with whom I
was on terms of sufficient intimacy to discuss such matters–“We send
word to the people at home that we are very poor. They won’t quite
believe us, so they send out somebody to see. The somebody comes,
a pleasant-mannered fellow, and we kill our little fatted calf for
him; probably it is only a ewe lamb. We bring out our bottle or two
of the best, that has been put by for a gala day, and so we make
his heart glad. He goes home, and what does he say of us? These
Jamaica planters are princes–the best fellows living; I liked them
amazingly. But as for their poverty, don’t believe a word of it.
They swim in claret, and usually bathe in champagne. Now that is
hard, seeing that our common fare is salt fish and rum and water.”
I advised him in future to receive such inquirers with his ordinary
fare only. “Yes,” said he, “and then we should get it on the other
cheek. We should be abused for our stinginess. No Jamaica man could
stand that.”

It is of course known that the sugar-cane is the chief production of
Jamaica; but one may travel for days in the island and only see a
cane piece here and there. By far the greater portion of the island
is covered with wild wood and jungle–what is there called bush.
Through this, on an occasional favourable spot, and very frequently
on the roadsides, one sees the gardens or provision-grounds of the
negroes. These are spots of land cultivated by them, for which they
either pay rent, or on which, as is quite as common, they have
squatted without payment of any rent.

These provision-grounds are very picturesque. They are not filled, as
a peasant’s garden in England or in Ireland is filled, with potatoes
and cabbages, or other vegetables similarly uninteresting in their
growth; but contain cocoa-trees, breadfruit-trees, oranges, mangoes,
limes, plantains, jack fruit, sour-sop, avocado pears, and a score of
others, all of which are luxuriant trees, some of considerable size,
and all of them of great beauty. The breadfruit-tree and the mango
are especially lovely, and I know nothing prettier than a grove of
oranges in Jamaica. In addition to this, they always have the yam,
which is with the negro somewhat as the potato is with the Irishman;
only that the Irishman has nothing else, whereas the negro generally
has either fish or meat, and has also a score of other fruits besides
the yam.

The yam, too, is picturesque in its growth. As with the potato, the
root alone is eaten, but the upper part is fostered and cared for
as a creeper, so that the ground may be unencumbered by its thick
tendrils. Support is provided for it as for grapes or peas. Then one
sees also in these provision-grounds patches of coffee and arrowroot,
and occasionally also patches of sugar-cane.

A man wishing to see the main features of the whole island, and
proceeding from Kingston as his head-quarters, must take two distinct
tours, one to the east and the other to the west. The former may be
best done on horseback, as the roads are, one may say, non-existent
for a considerable portion of the way, and sometimes almost worse
than non-existent in other places.

One of the most remarkable characteristics of Jamaica is the
copiousness of its rivers. It is said that its original name,
Xaymaca, signifies a country of streams; and it certainly is not
undeserved. This copiousness, though it adds to the beauty, as no
doubt it does also to its salubrity and fertility, adds something
too to the difficulty of locomotion. Bridges have not been built, or,
sad to say, have been allowed to go to destruction. One hears that
this river or that river is “down,” whereby it is signified that the
waters are swollen; and some of the rivers when so down are certainly
not easy of passage. Such impediments are more frequent in the east
than elsewhere, and on this account travelling on horseback is the
safest as well as the most expeditious means of transit. I found four
horses to be necessary, one for the groom, one for my clothes, and
two for myself. A lighter weight might have done with three.

An Englishman feels some bashfulness in riding up to a stranger’s
door with such a cortége, and bearing as an introduction a message
from somebody else, to say that you are to be entertained. But I
always found that such a message was a sufficient passport. “It is
our way,” one gentleman said to me, in answer to my apology. “When
four or five come in for dinner after ten o’clock at night, we do
think it hard, seeing that meat won’t keep in this country.”

Hotels, as an institution, are, on the whole, a comfortable
arrangement. One prefers, perhaps, ordering one’s dinner to asking
for it; and many men delight in the wide capability of finding fault
which an inn affords. But they are very hostile to the spirit of
hospitality. The time will soon come when the backwoodsman will have
his tariff for public accommodation, and an Arab will charge you a
fixed price for his pipe and cup of coffee in the desert. But that
era has not yet been reached in Jamaica.

Crossing the same river four-and-twenty times is tedious; especially
if this is done in heavy rain, when the road is a narrow track
through thickly-wooded ravines, and when an open umbrella is
absolutely necessary. But so often had we to cross the Waag-water in
our route from Kingston to the northern shore.

It was here that I first saw the full effect of tropical vegetation,
and I shall never forget it. Perhaps the most graceful of all the
woodland productions is the bamboo. It grows either in clusters, like
clumps of trees in an English park, or, as is more usual when found
in its indigenous state, in long rows by the riversides. The trunk
of the bamboo is a huge hollow cane, bearing no leaves except at its
head. One such cane alone would be uninteresting enough. But their
great height, the peculiarly graceful curve of their growth, and
the excessive thickness of the drooping foliage of hundreds of them
clustered together produce an effect which nothing can surpass.

The cotton-tree is almost as beautiful when standing alone. The trunk
of this tree grows to a magnificent height, and with magnificent
proportions: it is frequently straight; and those which are most
beautiful throw out no branches till they have reached a height
greater than that of any ordinary tree with us. Nature, in order
to sustain so large a mass, supplies it with huge spurs at the
foot, which act as buttresses for its support, connecting the roots
immediately with the trunk as much as twenty feet above the ground.
I measured more than one, which, including the buttresses, were over
thirty feet in circumference. Then from its head the branches break
forth in most luxurious profusion, covering an enormous extent of
ground with their shade.

But the most striking peculiarity of these trees consists in the
parasite plants by which they are enveloped, and which hang from
their branches down to the ground with tendrils of wonderful
strength. These parasites are of various kinds, the fig being the
most obdurate with its embraces. It frequently may be seen that the
original tree has departed wholly from sight, and I should imagine
almost wholly from existence; and then the very name is changed,
and the cotton-tree is called a fig-tree. In others the process of
destruction may be observed, and the interior trunk may be seen to be
stayed in its growth and stunted in its measure by the creepers which
surround it. This pernicious embrace the natives describe as “The
Scotchman hugging the Creole.” The metaphor is sufficiently satirical
upon our northern friends, who are supposed not to have thriven badly
in their visits to the Western islands.

But it often happens that the tree has reached its full growth
before the parasites have fallen on it, and then, in place of being
strangled, it is adorned. Every branch is covered with a wondrous
growth–with plants of a thousand colours and a thousand sorts. Some
droop with long and graceful tendrils from the boughs, and so touch
the ground; while others hang in a ball of leaves and flowers, which
swing for years, apparently without changing their position.

The growth of these parasite plants must be slow, though it is so
very rich. A gentleman with whom I was staying, and in whose grounds
I saw by far the most lovely tree of this description that met my
sight, assured me that he had watched it closely for more than
twenty years, and that he could trace no difference in the size or
arrangement of the parasite plants by which it was surrounded.

We went across the island to a little village called Annotta Bay,
traversing the Waag-water twenty-four times, as I have said; and
from thence, through the parishes of Metcalf and St. George, to Port
Antonio. “Fuit ilium et ingens gloria.” This may certainly be said
of Port Antonio and the adjacent district. It was once a military
station, and the empty barracks, standing so beautifully over the
sea, on an extreme point of land, are now waiting till time shall
reduce them to ruin. The place is utterly desolate, though not yet
broken up in its desolation, as such buildings quickly become when
left wholly untenanted. A rusty cannon or two still stand at the
embrasures, watching the entrance to the fort; and among the grass
we found a few metal balls, the last remains of the last ordnance
supplies.

But Port Antonio was once a goodly town, and the country round it,
the parish of Portland, is as fertile as any in the island. But now
there is hardly a sugar estate in the whole parish. It is given
up to the growth of yams, cocoas, and plantains. It has become a
provision-ground for negroes, and the palmy days of the town are of
course gone.

Nevertheless, there was a decent little inn at Port Antonio, which
will always be memorable to me on account of the love sorrows of a
young maiden whom I chanced to meet there. The meeting was in this
wise:–

I was sitting in the parlour of the inn, after dinner, when a young
lady walked in, dressed altogether in white. And she was well
dressed, and not without the ordinary decoration of crinoline and
ribbons. She was of the coloured race; and her jet black, crisp, yet
wavy hair was brushed back in a becoming fashion. Whence she came or
who she was I did not know, and never learnt. That she was familiar
in the house I presumed from her moving the books and little
ornaments on the table, and arranging the cups and shells upon a
shelf. “Heigh-ho!” she ejaculated, when I had watched her for about a
minute.

I hardly knew how to accost her, for I object to the word Miss, as
standing alone; and yet it was necessary that I should accost her.
“Ah, well: heigh-ho!” she repeated. It was easy to perceive that she
had a grief to tell.

“Lady,” said I–I felt that the address was somewhat stilted, but in
the lack of any introduction I knew not how else to begin–“Lady, I
fear that you are in sorrow?”

“Sorrow enough!” said she. “I’se in de deepest sorrow. Heigh-ho me!
Well, de world will end some day,” and turning her face full upon
me, she crossed her hands. I was seated on a sofa, and she came and
sat beside me, crossing her hands upon her lap, and looking away to
the opposite wall. I am not a very young man; and my friends have
told me that I show strongly that steady married appearance of a
paterfamilias which is so apt to lend assurance to maiden timidity.

“It will end some day for us all,” I replied. “But with you, it has
hardly yet had its beginning.”

“‘Tis a very bad world, and sooner over de better. To be treated so’s
enough to break any girl’s heart; it is! My heart’s clean broke, I
know dat.” And as she put both her long, thin dark hands to her side,
I saw that she had not forgotten her rings.

“It is love then that ails you?”

“No!” She said this very sharply, turning full round upon me, and
fixing her large black eyes upon mine. “No, I don’t love him one bit;
not now, and never again. No, not if he were down dere begging.” And
she stamped her little foot upon the ground as though she had an
imaginary neck beneath her heel.

“But you did love him?”

“Yes.” She spoke very softly now, and shook her head gently. “I did
love him–oh, so much! He was so handsome, so nice! I shall never see
such a man again: such eyes; such a mouth! and then his nose! He was
a Jew, you know.”

I had not known it before, and received the information perhaps with
some little start of surprise.

“Served me right; didn’t it? And I’se a Baptist, you know. They’d
have read me out, I know dat. But I didn’t seem to mind it den.” And
then she gently struck one hand with the other, as she smiled sweetly
in my face. The trick is customary with the coloured women in the
West Indies when they have entered upon a nice familiar, pleasant bit
of chat. At this period I felt myself to be sufficiently intimate
with her to ask her name.

“Josephine; dat’s my name. D’you like dat name?”

“It’s as pretty as its owner–nearly.”

“Pretty! no; I’se not pretty. If I was pretty, he’d not have left me
so. He used to call me Feeny.”

“What! the Jew did.” I thought it might be well to detract from the
merit of the lost admirer. “A girl like you should have a Christian
lover.”

“Dat’s what dey all says.”

“Of course they do: you ought to be glad it’s over.”

“I ain’t tho’; not a bit; tho’ I do hate him so. Oh, I hate him; I
hate him! I hate him worse dan poison.” And again her little foot
went to work. I must confess that it was a pretty foot; and as for
her waist, I never saw one better turned, or more deftly clothed. Her
little foot went to work upon the floor, and then clenching her small
right hand, she held it up before my face as though to show me that
she knew how to menace.

I took her hand in mine, and told her that those fingers had not
been made for threats. “You are a Christian,” said I, “and should
forgive.”

“I’se a Baptist,” she replied; “and in course I does forgive him: I
does forgive him; but–! He’ll be wretched in this life, I know; and
she–she’ll be wretcheder; and when he dies–oh-h-h-h!”

In that prolonged expression there was a curse as deep as any that
Ernulphus ever gave. Alas! such is the forgiveness of too many a
Christian!

“As for me, I wouldn’t demean myself to touch de hem of her garment!
Poor fellow! What a life he’ll have; for she’s a virgo with a
vengeance.” This at the moment astonished me; but from the whole
tenor of the lady’s speech I was at once convinced that no satirical
allusion was intended. In the hurry of her fluttering thoughts she
had merely omitted the letter “a.” It was her rival’s temper, not her
virtue, that she doubted.

“The Jew is going to be married then?”

“He told her so; but p’raps he’ll jilt her too, you know.” It was
easy to see that the idea was not an unpleasant one.

“And then he’ll come back to you?”

“Yes, yes; and I’ll spit at him;” and in the fury of her mind she
absolutely did perform the operation. “I wish he would; I’d sit so,
and listen to him;” and she crossed her hands and assumed an air of
dignified quiescence which well became her. “I’d listen every word
he say; just so. Every word till he done; and I’d smile”–and she
did smile–“and den when he offer me his hand”–and she put out her
own–“I’d spit at him, and leave him so.” And rising majestically
from her seat she stalked out of the room.

As she fully closed the door behind her, I thought that the interview
was over, and that I should see no more of my fair friend; but in
this I was mistaken. The door was soon reopened, and she again seated
herself on the sofa beside me.

“Your heart would permit of your doing that?” said I; “and he with
such a beautiful nose?”

“Yes; it would. I’d ‘spise myself to take him now, if he was ever so
beautiful. But I’se sure of this, I’ll never love no oder man–never
again. He did dance so genteelly.”

“A Baptist dance!” I exclaimed.

“Well; it wasn’t de ting, was it? And I knew I’d be read out; oh, but
it was so nice! I’ll never have no more dancing now. I’ve just taken
up with a class now, you know, since he’s gone.”

“Taken up with a class?”

“Yes; I teaches the nigger children; and I has a card for the
minister. I got four dollars last week, and you must give me
something.”

Now I hate Baptists–as she did her lover–like poison; and even
under such pressure as this I could not bring myself to aid in their
support.

“You very stingy man! Caspar Isaacs”–he was her lost lover–“gave me
a dollar.”

“But perhaps you gave him a kiss.”

“Perhaps I did,” said she. “But you may be quite sure of this, quite;
I’ll never give him anoder,” and she again slapped one hand upon the
other, and compressed her lips, and gently shook her head as she made
the declaration, “I’ll never give him anoder kiss–dat’s sure as
fate.”

I had nothing further to say, and began to feel that I ought not to
detain the lady longer. We sat together, however, silent for a while,
and then she arose and spoke to me standing. “I’se in a reg’lar
difficulty now, however; and it’s just about that I am come to ask
you.”

“Well, Josephine, anything that I can do to help you–”

“‘Tain’t much; I only want your advice. I’se going to Kingston, you
see.”

“Ah, you’ll find another lover there.”

“It’s not for dat den, for I don’t want none; but I’se going anyways,
’cause I live dere.”

“Oh, you live at Kingston?”

“Course I does. And I’se no ways to go but just in de droger”–the
West Indian coasting vessels are so called.

“Don’t you like going in the droger?” I asked.

“Oh, yes; I likes it well enough.”

“Are you sea-sick?”

“Oh, no.”

“Then what’s the harm of the droger?”

“Why, you see”–and she turned away her face and looked towards the
window–“why you see, Isaacs is the captain of her, and ’twill be so
odd like.”

“You could not possibly have a better opportunity for recovering all
that you have lost.”

“You tink so?”

“Certainly.”

“Den you know noting about it. I will never recover noting of him,
never. Bah! But I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll pay him my pound for
my passage; and den it’ll be a purely ‘mercial transaction.”

On this point I agreed with her, and then she offered me her hand
with the view of bidding me farewell. “Good-bye, Josephine,” I said;
“perhaps you would be happier with a Christian husband.”

“P’raps I would; p’raps better with none at all. But I don’t tink
I’ll ever be happy no more. ‘Tis so dull: good-bye.” Were I a girl, I
doubt whether I also would not sooner dance with a Jew than pray with
a Baptist.

“Good-bye, Josephine.” I pressed her hand, and so she went, and I
never saw nor heard more of her.

There was not about my Josephine all the pathos of Maria; nor can
I tell my story as Sterne told his. But Josephine in her sorrow was
I think more true to human nature than Maria. It may perhaps be
possible that Sterne embellished his facts. I, at any rate, have not
done that.

I had another adventure at Port Antonio. About two o’clock in the
morning there was an earthquake, and we were all nearly shaken out of
our beds. Some one rushed into my room, declaring that not a stone
would be left standing of Port Royal. There were two distinct blows,
separated by some seconds, and a loud noise was heard. I cannot say
that I was frightened, as I had not time to realize the fact of the
earthquake before it was all over. No harm was done, I believe,
anywhere, beyond the disseverance of a little plaster from the walls.

The largest expanse of unbroken cane-fields in Jamaica is at the
extreme south-east, in the parish of St. George’s in the East. Here
I saw a plain of about four thousand acres under canes. It looked to
be prosperous; but I was told by the planter with whom I was staying
that the land had lately been deluged with water; that the canes
were covered with mud; and that the crops would be very short. Poor
Jamaica! It seems as though all the elements are in league against
her.

I was not sorry to return to Kingston from this trip, for I was
tired of the saddle. In Jamaica everybody rides, but nobody seems to
get much beyond a walk. Now to me there is no pace on horseback so
wearying as an unbroken walk. I did goad my horse into trotting, but
it was clear that the animal was not used to it.

Shortly afterwards I went to the west. The distances here were
longer, but the journey was made on wheels, and was not so fatiguing.
Moreover, I stayed some little time with a friend in one of the
distant parishes of the island. The scenery during the whole
expedition was very grand. The road goes through Spanish Town, and
then divides itself, one road going westward by the northern coast,
and the other by that to the south. I went by the former, and began
my journey by the bog or bogue walk, a road through a magnificent
ravine, and then over Mount Diabolo. The Devil assumes to himself all
the finest scenery in all countries. Of a delicious mountain tarn he
makes his punch-bowl; he loves to leap from crag to crag over the
wildest ravines; he builds picturesque bridges in most impassable
sites; and makes roads over mountains at gradients not to be
attempted by the wildest engineer. The road over Mount Diabolo is
very fine, and the view back to Kingston very grand.

From thence I went down into the parish of St. Anns, on the northern
side. They all speak of St. Anns as being the most fertile district
in the island. The inhabitants are addicted to grazing rather than
sugarmaking, and thrive in that pursuit very well. But all Jamaica is
suited for a grazing-ground, and all the West Indies should be the
market for their cattle.

On the northern coast there are two towns, Falmouth and Montego Bay,
both of which are, at any rate in appearance, more prosperous than
Kingston. I cannot say that the streets are alive with trade; but
they do not appear to be so neglected, desolate, and wretched as the
metropolis or the seat of government. They have jails and hospitals,
mayors and magistrates, and are, except in atmosphere, very like
small country towns in England.

The two furthermost parishes of Jamaica are Hanover and Westmoreland,
and I stayed for a short time with a gentleman who lives on the
borders of the two. I certainly was never in a more lovely country.
He was a sugar planter; but the canes and sugar, which, after
all, are ugly and by no means savoury appurtenances, were located
somewhere out of sight. As far as I myself might know, from what I
saw, my host’s ordinary occupations were exactly those of a country
gentleman in England. He fished and shot, and looked after his
estate, and acted as a magistrate; and over and above this, was
somewhat particular about his dinner, and the ornamentation of the
land immediately round his house. I do not know that Fate can give a
man a pleasanter life. If, however, he did at unseen moments inspect
his cane-holes, and employ himself among the sugar hogsheads and rum
puncheons, it must be acknowledged that he had a serious drawback on
his happiness.

Country life in Jamaica certainly has its attractions. The day is
generally begun at six o’clock, when a cup of coffee is brought in by
a sable minister. I believe it is customary to take this in bed, or
rather on the bed; for in Jamaica one’s connection with one’s bed
does not amount to getting into it. One gets within the musquito net,
and then plunges about with a loose sheet, which is sometimes on and
sometimes off. With the cup of coffee comes a small modicum of dry
toast.

After that the toilet progresses, not at a rapid pace. A tub of cold
water and dilettante dressing will do something more than kill an
hour, so that it is half-past seven or eight before one leaves one’s
room. When one first arrives in the West Indies, one hears much of
early morning exercise, especially for ladies; and for ladies, early
morning exercise is the only exercise possible. But it appeared to
me that I heard more of it than I saw. And even as regards early
travelling, the eager promise was generally broken. An assumed start
at five a.m. usually meant seven; and one at six, half-past eight.
This, however, is the time of day at which the sugar grower is
presumed to look at his canes, and the grazier to inspect his kine.
At this hour–eight o’clock, that is–the men ride, and _sometimes_
also the ladies. And when the latter ceremony does take place, there
is no pleasanter hour in all the four-and-twenty.

At ten or half-past ten the nation sits down to breakfast; not to a
meal, my dear Mrs. Jones, consisting of tea and bread and butter,
with two eggs for the master of the family and one for the mistress;
but a stout, solid banquet, consisting of fish, beefsteaks–a
breakfast is not a breakfast in the West Indies without beefsteaks
and onions, nor is a dinner so to be called without bread and cheese
and beer–potatoes, yams, plaintains, eggs, and half a dozen “tinned”
productions, namely, meats sent from England in tin cases. Though
they have every delicacy which the world can give them of native
production, all these are as nothing, unless they also have something
from England. Then there are tea and chocolate upon the table, and
on the sideboard beer and wine, rum and brandy. ‘Tis so that they
breakfast at rural quarters in Jamaica.

Then comes the day. Ladies may not subject their fair skin to the
outrages of a tropical sun, and therefore, unless on very special
occasions, they do not go out between breakfast and dinner. That they
occupy themselves well during the while, charity feels convinced.
Sarcasm, however, says that they do not sin from over energy. For
my own part, I do not care a doit for sarcasm. When their lords
reappear, they are always found smiling, well-dressed, and pretty;
and then after dinner they have but one sin–there is but one
drawback–they will go to bed at 9 o’clock.

But by the men during the day it did not seem to me that the sun
was much regarded, or that it need be much regarded. One cannot and
certainly should not walk much; and no one does walk. A horse is
there as a matter of course, and one walks upon that; not a great
beast sixteen hands high, requiring all manner of levers between its
jaws, capricoling and prancing about, and giving a man a deal of work
merely to keep his seat and look stately; but a canny little quiet
brute, fed chiefly on grass, patient of the sun, and not inclined to
be troublesome. With such legs under him, and at a distance of some
twenty miles from the coast, a man may get about in Jamaica pretty
nearly as well as he can in England.

I saw various grazing farms–pens they are here called–while I was
in this part of the country; and I could not but fancy that grazing
should in Jamaica be the natural and most beneficial pursuit of the
proprietor, as on the other side of the Atlantic it certainly is in
Ireland. I never saw grass to equal the guinea grass in some of the
parishes; and at Knockalva I looked at Hereford cattle which I have
rarely, if ever, seen beaten at any agricultural show in England.
At present the island does not altogether supply itself with meat;
but it might do so, and supply, moreover, nearly the whole of the
remaining West Indies. Proprietors of land say that the sea transit
is too costly. Of course it is at present; the trade not yet
existing; for indeed, at present there is no means of such transit.
But screw steamers now always appear quickly enough wherever freight
offers itself; and if the cattle were there, they would soon find
their way down to the Windward Islands.

But I am running away from my day. The inspection of a pen or two,
perhaps occasionally of the sugar works when they are about, soon
wears through the hours, and at five preparations commence for the
six o’clock dinner. The dressing again is a dilettante process, even
for the least dandified of mankind. It is astonishing how much men
think, and must think, of their clothes when within the tropics.
Dressing is necessarily done slowly, or else one gets heated quicker
than one has cooled down. And then one’s clothes always want airing,
and the supply of clean linen is necessarily copious, or, at any
rate, should be so. Let no man think that he can dress for dinner in
ten minutes because he is accustomed to do so in England. He cannot
brush his hair, or pull on his boots, or fasten his buttons at the
same pace he does at home. He dries his face very leisurely, and sits
down gravely to rest before he draws on his black pantaloons.

Dressing for dinner, however, is _de rigeur_ in the West Indies. If
a black coat, &c., could be laid aside anywhere as barbaric, and
light loose clothing adopted, this should be done here. The soldiers,
at least the privates, are already dressed as Zouaves; and children
and negroes are hardly dressed at all. But the visitor, victim of
tropical fashionable society, must appear in black clothing, because
black clothing is the thing in England. “The Governor won’t see you
in that coat,” was said to me once on my way to Spanish Town, “even
on a morning.” The Governor did see me, and as far as I could observe
did not know whether or no I had on any coat. Such, however, is the
feeling of the place. But we shall never get to dinner.

This again is a matter of considerable importance, as, indeed,
where is it not? While in England we are all writing letters to the
‘Times,’ to ascertain how closely we can copy the vices of Apicius on
eight hundred pounds a year, and complaining because in our perverse
stupidity we cannot pamper our palates with sufficient variety, it is
not open to us to say a word against the luxuries of a West Indian
table. We have reached the days when a man not only eats his best,
but complains bitterly and publicly because he cannot eat better;
when we sigh out loud because no Horace will teach us where the
sweetest cabbage grows; how best to souse our living poultry, so that
their fibres when cooked may not offend our teeth. These lessons of
Horace are accounted among his Satires. But what of that? That which
was satire to Augustine Rome shall be simple homely teaching to the
subject of Victoria with his thousand a year.

But the cook in the Jamaica country house is a person of importance,
and I am inclined to think that the lady whom I have accused of
idleness does during those vacant interlunar hours occasionally peer
into her kitchen. The results at any rate are good–sufficiently so
to break the hearts of some of our miserable eight hundred a year men
at home.

After dinner no wine is taken–none, at least, beyond one glass with
the ladies, and, if you choose it, one after they are gone. Before
dinner, as I should have mentioned before, a glass of bitters is as
much _de rigeur_ as the black coat. I know how this will disgust many
a kindly friend in dear good old thickly-prejudiced native England.
Yes, ma’am, bitters! No, not gin and bitters, such as the cabmen take
at the gin-palaces; not gin and bitters at all, unless you specially
request it; but sherry and bitters; and a very pretty habit it is for
a warm country. If you don’t drink your wine after dinner, why not
take it before? I have no doubt that it is the more wholesome habit
of the two.

Not that I recommend, even in the warmest climate, a second bitter,
or a third. There are spots in the West Indies where men take third
bitters, and long bitters, in which the bitter time begins when the
soda water and brandy time ends–in which the latter commences when
the breakfast beer-bottles disappear. There are such places, but they
must not be named by me in characters plainly legible. To kiss and
tell is very criminal, as the whole world knows. But while on the
subject of bitters, I must say this: Let no man ever allow himself to
take a long bitter such as men make at —-. It is beyond the power
of man to stop at one. A long bitter duly swiggled is your true West
Indian syren.

And then men and women saunter out on the verandah, or perhaps, if it
be starlight or moonlight, into the garden. Oh, what stars they are,
those in that western tropical world! How beautiful a woman looks by
their light, how sweet the air smells, how gloriously legible are
the constellations of the heavens! And then one sips a cup of coffee,
and there is a little chat, the lightest of the light, and a little
music, light enough also, and at nine one retires to one’s light
slumbers. It is a pleasant life for a short time, though the flavour
of the _dolce far niente_ is somewhat too prevalent for Saxon
energies fresh from Europe.

Such are the ordinary evenings of society; but there are occasions
when no complaint can be made of lack of energy. The soul of a
Jamaica lady revels in a dance. Dancing is popular in England–is
popular almost everywhere, but in Jamaica it is the elixir of life;
the Medea’s cauldron, which makes old people young; the cup of Circe,
which neither man nor woman can withstand. Look at that lady who has
been content to sit still and look beautiful for the last two hours;
let but the sound of a polka meet her and she will awake to life as
lively, to motion as energetic, as that of a Scotch sportsman on the
12th of August. It is singular how the most listless girl who seems
to trail through her long days almost without moving her limbs, will
continue to waltz and polk and rush up and down a galopade from ten
till five; and then think the hours all too short!

And it is not the girls only, and the boys–begging their pardon–who
rave for dancing. Steady matrons of five-and-forty are just as
anxious, and grave senators, whose years are past naming. See that
gentleman with the bald head and grizzled beard, how sedulously he is
making up his card! “Madam, the fourth polka,” he says to the stout
lady in the turban and the yellow slip, who could not move yesterday
because of her rheumatism. “I’m full up to the fifth,” she replies,
looking at the MS. hanging from her side; “but shall be so happy for
the sixth, or perhaps the second schottische.” And then, after a
little grave conference, the matter is settled between them.

“I hope you dance quick dances,” a lady said to me. “Quick!” I
replied in my ignorance; “has not one to go by the music in Jamaica?”
“Oh, you goose! don’t you know what quick dances are? I never
dance anything but quick dances, quadrilles are so deadly dull.” I
could not but be amused at this new theory as to the quick and the
dead–new at least to me, though, alas! I found myself tabooed from
all the joys of the night by this invidious distinction.

In the West Indies, polkas and the like are quick dances; quadrilles
and their counterparts are simply dead. A lady shows you no
compliment by giving you her hand for the latter; in that you have
merely to amuse her by conversation. Flirting, as any practitioner
knows, is spoilt by much talking. Many words make the amusement
either absurd or serious, and either alternative is to be avoided.

And thus I soon became used to quick dances and long drinks–that
is, in my vocabulary. “Will you have a long drink or a short one?”
It sounds odd, but is very expressive. A long drink is taken from
a tumbler, a short one from a wine-glass. The whole extent of the
choice thus becomes intelligible.

Many things are necessary, and many changes must be made before
Jamaica can again enjoy all her former prosperity. I do not know
whether the total abolition of the growth of sugar be not one of
them. But this I do know, that whatever be their produce, they must
have roads on which to carry it before they can grow rich. The roads
through the greater part of the island are very bad indeed; and those
along the southern coast, through the parishes of St. Elizabeth,
Manchester, and Clarendon, are by no means among the best. I returned
to Kingston by this route, and shall never forget some of my
difficulties. On the whole, the south-western portion of the island
is by no means equal to the northern.

I took a third expedition up to Newcastle, where are placed the
barracks for our white troops, to the Blue Mountain peak, and to
various gentlemen’s houses in these localities. For grandeur of
scenery this is the finest part of the island. The mountains are far
too abrupt, and the land too much broken for those lovely park-like
landscapes of which the parishes of Westmoreland and Hanover are
full, and of which Stuttlestone, the property of Lord Howard de
Walden, is perhaps the most beautiful specimen. But nothing can be
grander, either in colour or grouping, than the ravines of the Blue
Mountain ranges of hills. Perhaps the finest view in the island is
from Raymond Lodge, a house high up among the mountains, in which–so
local rumour says–‘Tom Cringle’s Log’ was written.

To reach these regions a man must be an equestrian–as must also
a woman. No lady lives there so old but what she is to be seen on
horseback, nor any child so young. Babies are carried up there on
pillows, and whole families on ponies. ‘Tis here that bishops and
generals love to dwell, that their daughters may have rosy cheeks,
and their sons stalwart limbs. And they are right. Children that are
brought up among these mountains, though they live but twelve or
eighteen miles from their young friends down at Kingston, cannot be
taken as belonging to the same race. I can imagine no more healthy
climate than the mountains round Newcastle.

I shall not soon forget my ride to Newcastle. Two ladies accompanied
me and my excellent friend who was pioneering me through the country;
and they were kind enough to show us the way over all the break-neck
passes in the country. To them and to their horses, these were like
easy highroads; but to me,–! It was manifestly a disappointment to
them that my heart did not faint visibly within me.

I have hunted in Carmarthenshire, and a man who has done that ought
to be able to ride anywhere; but in riding over some of these
razorback crags, my heart, though it did not faint visibly, did
almost do so invisibly. However, we got safely to Newcastle, and
our fair friends returned over the same route with no other escort
than that of a black groom. In spite of the crags the ride was not
unpleasant.

One would almost enlist as a full private in one of her Majesty’s
regiments of the line if one were sure of being quartered for ever at
Newcastle–at Newcastle, Jamaica, I mean. Other Newcastles of which I
wot have by no means equal attraction. This place also is accessible
only by foot or on horseback; and is therefore singularly situated
for a barrack. But yet it consists now of a goodly village, in
which live colonels, and majors, and chaplains, and surgeons, and
purveyors, all in a state of bliss–as it were in a second Eden. It
is a military paradise, in which war is spoken of, and dinners and
dancing abound. If good air and fine scenery be dear to the heart of
the British soldier, he ought to be happy at Newcastle. Nevertheless,
I prefer the views from Raymond Lodge to any that Newcastle can
afford.

And now I have a mournful story to tell. Did any man ever know of any
good befalling him from going up a mountain; always excepting Albert
Smith, who, we are told, has realized half a million by going up
Mont Blanc? If a man can go up his mountains in Piccadilly, it may
be all very well; in so doing he perhaps may see the sun rise, and
be able to watch nature in her wildest vagaries. But as for the
true ascent–the nasty, damp, dirty, slippery, boot-destroying,
shin-breaking, veritable mountain! Let me recommend my friends to
let it alone, unless they have a gift for making half a million in
Piccadilly. I have tried many a mountain in a small way, and never
found one to answer. I hereby protest that I will never try another.

However, I did go up the Blue Mountain Peak, which ascends–so I was
told–to the respectable height of 8,000 feet above the sea level.
To enable me to do this, I provided myself with a companion, and he
provided me with five negroes, a supply of beef, bread, and water,
some wine and brandy, and what appeared to me to be about ten gallons
of rum; for we were to spend the night on the Blue Mountain Peak, in
order that the rising sun might be rightly worshipped.

For some considerable distance we rode, till we came indeed to the
highest inhabited house in the island. This is the property of a
coffee-planter who lives there, and who divides his time and energies
between the growth of coffee and the entertainment of visitors to the
mountain. So hospitable an old gentleman, or one so droll in speech,
or singular in his mode of living, I shall probably never meet again.
His tales as to the fate of other travellers made me tremble for what
might some day be told of my own adventures. He feeds you gallantly,
sends you on your way with a God-speed, and then hands you down to
derision with the wickedest mockery. He is the gibing spirit of
the mountain, and I would at any rate recommend no ladies to trust
themselves to his courtesies.

Here we entered and called for the best of everything–beer, brandy,
coffee, ringtailed doves, salt fish, fat fowls, English potatoes,
hot pickles, and Worcester sauce. “What, C—-, no Worcester sauce!
Gammon; make the fellow go and look for it.” ‘Tis thus hospitality
is claimed in Jamaica; and in process of time the Worcester sauce
was forthcoming. It must be remembered that every article of food
has to be carried up to this place on mules’ backs, over the tops of
mountains for twenty or thirty miles.

When we had breakfasted and drunk and smoked, and promised our host
that he should have the pleasure of feeding us again on the morrow,
we proceeded on our way. The five negroes each had loads on their
heads and cutlasses in their hands. We ourselves travelled without
other burdens than our own big sticks.

I have nothing remarkable to tell of the ascent. We soon got into
a cloud, and never got out of it. But that is a matter of course.
We were soon wet through up to our middles, but that is a matter
of course also. We came to various dreadful passages, which broke
our toes and our nails and our hats, the worst of which was called
Jacob’s ladder–also a matter of course. Every now and then we
regaled the negroes with rum, and the more rum we gave them the more
they wanted. And every now and then we regaled ourselves with brandy
and water, and the oftener we regaled ourselves the more we required
to be regaled. All which things are matters of course. And so we
arrived at the Blue Mountain Peak.

Our first two objects were to construct a hut and collect wood for
firing. As for any enjoyment from the position, that, for that
evening, was quite out of the question. We were wet through and
through, and could hardly see twenty yards before us on any side.
So we set the men to work to produce such mitigation of our evil
position as was possible.

We did build a hut, and we did make a fire; and we did administer
more rum to the negroes, without which they refused to work at all.
When a black man knows that you want him, he is apt to become very
impudent, especially when backed by rum; and at such times they
altogether forget, or at any rate disregard, the punishment that may
follow in the shape of curtailed gratuities.

Slowly and mournfully we dried ourselves at the fire; or rather did
not dry ourselves, but scorched our clothes and burnt our boots in
a vain endeavour to do so. It is a singular fact, but one which
experience has fully taught me, that when a man is thoroughly wet he
may burn his trousers off his legs and his shoes off his feet, and
yet they will not be dry–nor will he. Mournfully we turned ourselves
before the fire–slowly, like badly-roasted joints of meat; and the
result was exactly that: we were badly roasted–roasted and raw at
the same time.

And then we crept into our hut, and made one of these wretched
repasts in which the collops of food slip down and get sat upon; in
which the salt is blown away and the bread saturated in beer; in
which one gnaws one’s food as Adam probably did, but as men need
not do now, far removed as they are from Adam’s discomforts. A man
may cheerfully go without his dinner and feed like a beast when he
gains anything by it; but when he gains nothing, and has his boots
scorched off his feet into the bargain, it is hard then for him to
be cheerful. I was bound to be jolly, as my companion had come there
merely for my sake; but how it came to pass that he did not become
sulky, that was the miracle. As it was, I know full well that he
wished me–safe in England.

Having looked to our fire and smoked a sad cigar, we put ourselves
to bed in our hut. The operation consisted in huddling on all the
clothes we had. But even with this the cold prevented us from
sleeping. The chill damp air penetrated through two shirts, two
coats, two pairs of trousers. It was impossible to believe that we
were in the tropics.

And then the men got drunk and refused to cut more firewood, and
disputes began which lasted all night; and all was cold, damp,
comfortless, wretched, and endless. And so the morning came.

That it was morning our watches told us, and also a dull dawning of
muddy light through the constant mist; but as for sunrise–! The sun
may rise for those who get up decently from their beds in the plains
below, but there is no sunrising on Helvellyn, or Righi, or the Blue
Mountain Peak. Nothing rises there; but mists and clouds are for ever
falling.

And then we packed up our wretched traps, and again descended. While
coming up some quips and cranks had passed between us and our sable
followers; but now all was silent as grim death. We were thinking
of our sore hands and bruised feet; were mindful of the dirt which
clogged us, and the damp which enveloped us; were mindful also a
little of our spoilt raiment, and ill-requited labours. Our wit did
not flow freely as we descended.

A second breakfast with the man of the mountain, and a glorious bath
in a huge tank somewhat restored us, and as we regained our horses
the miseries of our expedition were over. My friend fervently and
loudly declared that no spirit of hospitality, no courtesy to a
stranger, no human eloquence should again tempt him to ascend the
Blue Mountains; and I cordially advised him to keep his resolution.
I made no vows aloud, but I may here protest that any such vows were
unnecessary.

I afterwards visited another seat, Flamstead, which, as regards
scenery, has rival claims to those of Raymond Lodge. The views from
Flamstead were certainly very beautiful; but on the whole I preferred
my first love.