The most original electioneering poster I ever saw was in Capetown in March, 1914. It was an admirably got-up enlargement of a funeral card, with a deep black border, adorned with a realistic picture of a hearse, and was worded "Unionist Opposition dead. Government dying. Electors of the Liesbeck Division drive your big nails into the coffin by voting for Tom Maginess on Saturday." Whether it was due to this novel form of electioneering or not, I cannot say, but Maginess won the seat by two thousand votes. I still have a copy of that poster.
Neither Londonderry nor Capetown are in Jamaica, but oddly enough, Middlesex is, for the island is divided into three counties, Cornwall, Middlesex, and Surrey. The local geography is a little confusing, for it is a surprise to find (in Jamaica at all events) that Westmoreland is in Cornwall, and Manchester in Middlesex.
Kingston owes its position as capital to the misfortunes of its two neighbours, Port Royal and Spanish Town. When Port Royal was totally destroyed by an earthquake in 1692, the few survivors crossed the bay and founded a new town on the sandy Liguanea plain. Owing to its splendid harbour, Kingston soon became a place of great importance, though the seat of Government remained in sleepy Spanish Town, but the latter lying inland, and close to the swamps of the Rio Cobre, was so persistently unhealthy that in 1870 the Government was transferred to Kingston. Though very prosperous, its most fervent admirer could not call it beautiful, and, owing to its sandy soil, it is an intensely hot place, but in compensation it receives the full sea breeze. Every morning about nine, the sea breeze (locally known as "the Doctor") sets in. Gentle at first, by noon it is rushing and roaring through the town in a perfect gale, to drop and die away entirely by 4 p.m. By a most convenient arrangement, the land breeze, disagreeably known as "the Undertaker," drops down from the Liguanea Mountains on to the sweltering town about 11 p.m., and continues all through the night. It is this double breeze, from sea by day, from land by night, that renders life in Kingston tolerable. Owing to the sea breeze invariably blowing from the same direction, Jamaicans have the puzzling habit of using "Windward" and "Leeward" as synonyms for East and West. To be told that such-and-such a place is "two miles to Windward of you" seems lacking in definiteness to a new arrival.
As we rolled slowly along in our buggy, the Guardsman was in a state of perpetual bewilderment at having growing sugar, coffee, cocoa, and rice pointed out to him by the driver. "I thought that it was an island," he murmured; "it turns out to be nothing but a blessed growing grocer's shop." Half-way between Kingston and Spanish Town is the Old Ferry Inn, the oldest inn in the New World. It stands in a mass of luxuriant greenery on the very edge of the Rio Cobre swamps, and is a place to be avoided at nightfall on that account. This fever trap of an inn, being just half-way between Kingston and Spanish Town, was, of all places in the island to select, the chosen meeting-place of the young bloods of both towns in the eighteenth century. Here they drove out to dine and carouse, and as they probably all got drunk, many of them must have slept here, on the very edge of the swamp, to die of yellow fever shortly afterwards.
Sleepy Spanish Town, the old capital, has a decayed dignity of its own. The public square, with its stately eighteenth-century buildings, is the only architectural feature I ever saw in the British West Indies. Our national lack of imagination is typically exemplified in the King's House, now deserted, which occupies one side of the square. When it was finished in 1760, it was considered a sumptuous building. The architect, Craskell, in that scorching climate, designed exactly the sort of red-brick and white stone Georgian house that he would have erected at, say, Richmond. With limitless space at his disposal, he surrounded his house with streets on all four sides of it, without one yard of garden, or one scrap of shade. No wonder that poor little Lady Nugent detested this oven of an official residence. The interior, though, contains some spacious, stately Georgian rooms; the temperature being that of a Turkish bath.
Rodney's monument is a graceful, admirably designed little temple, and the cathedral of a vague Gothic, is spacious and dignified. Spanish Town cathedral claims to have been built in 1541, in spite of an inscription over the door recording that "this church was thrown downe by ye dreadfull hurricane of August ye 28, 1712, and was rebuilt in 1714." It contains a great collection of elaborate and splendid monuments, all sent out from England, and erected to various island worthies. The amazing arrogance of an inscription on a tombstone of 1690, in the south transept, struck me as original. It commemorates some Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica, and after the usual eulogistic category of his unparalleled good qualities, ends "so in the fifty-fifth year of his age he appeared with great applause before his God."
There is a peculiarly beautiful tree, the Petraea, which seems to flourish particularly well in Spanish Town. When in flower in February, neither trunk, leaves, nor branches can be seen for its dense clusters of bright blue blossoms, which are unfortunately very short-lived.
Four miles above Spanish Town the hideously named Bog Walk, the famous gorge of the Rio Cobre, commences. I do not believe that there is a more exquisitely beautiful glen in the whole world. The clear stream rushes down the centre, whilst the rocky walls tower up almost perpendicularly for five or six hundred feet on either side, and these rocks, precipitous as they are, are clothed with a dense growth of tropical forest. The bread-fruit tree with its broad, scalloped leaves, the showy star-apple, glossy green above deep gold below, mahoganies, oranges, and bananas, all seem to grow wild. The bread-fruit was introduced into Jamaica from the South Sea Islands, and the first attempt to transplant it was made by the ill-fated Bounty, and led to the historical mutiny on board, as a result of which the mutineers established themselves on Pitcairn Island, where their descendants remain to this day. Whatever adventures marked its original advent, the bread-fruit has made itself thoroughly at home in the West Indies, and forms the staple food of the negroes. When carefully prepared it really might pass for under-done bread, prepared from very indifferent flour by an inexperienced and unskilled baker. It is the immense variety of the foliage and the constantly changing panorama that gives Bog Walk its charm, together with the red, pink, and fawn-coloured trumpets of the hibiscus, dotting the precipitous ramparts of rock over the rushing blue river. Bog Walk is distinctly one of those places which no one with opportunities for seeing it should miss. It opens out into an equally beautiful basin, St. Thomas-in-the-Vale, of which Michael Scott gives an admirable description in Tom Cringle. I should hardly select that steamy cup in the hills as a place of residence, but as a natural forcing-house and a sample of riotous vegetation, it is worth seeing.
The native orchids of Jamaica are mostly oncidiums, with insignificant little brown and yellow flowers, and have no commercial value whatever. The Guardsman, however, was obsessed with the idea that he would discover some peerless bloom for which he would be paid hundreds of pounds by a London dealer. Every silk-cotton tree is covered with what Jamaicans term "wild pines," air-plants, orchids, and other epiphytes, and every silk-cotton was to him a potential Golconda, so whenever we came across one he wanted the buggy stopped, and up the tree he went like a lamp lighter. I am bound to admit that he was an admirable tree climber, but I objected on the score of delicacy to the large rents that these aerial rambles occasioned in his white ducks. On regaining the ground he loaded the buggy with his spoils, despite the driver's assertion that "dat all trash." Unfortunately with his epiphytes he brought down whole colonies of ants, and the Jamaican ant is a most pugnacious insect with abnormal biting powers. After I had been forced to disrobe behind some convenient greenery in order to rid myself of these aggressive little creatures, I was compelled to put a stern veto on further tree exploration.
The ascent from Ewarton, over the Monte Diavolo, is so splendid that I have made it five times for sheer delight in the view. Below lies St. Thomas-in-the-Vale, a splendid riot of palms, orange, and forest trees, and above it towers hill after hill, dominated by the lofty peaks of the Blue Mountains. It is a gorgeously vivid panorama, all in greens, gold, and vivid blues. Monte Diavolo is the only part of Jamaica where there are wild parrots; it is also the home of the allspice tree, or pimento, as it is called in the island. This curious tree cannot be raised from seed or cutting, neither can it be layered; it can only propagate itself in Nature's own fashion, and the seed must pass through the body of a bird before it will germinate. So it is fortunate, being the important article of commerce it is, that the supply of trees is not failing. Bay rum is made from the leaves of the allspice tree.
Once over the Monte Diavolo, quite a different Jamaica unrolls itself. Broad pasture-lands replace the tropical house at Kew; rolling, well-kept fields of guinea-grass, surrounded with neat, dry-stone walls and with trim gates, give an impression of a long-settled land. We were amongst the "pen-keepers," or stock-raisers here. This part of the colony certainly has a home-like look; a little spoilt as regards resemblance by the luxuriance with which creepers and plants, which at home we cultivate with immense care in stove-houses, here riot wild in lavish masses over the stone walls. If the cherished rarities of one country are unnoticed weeds in another land, plenty of analogies in other respects spring to the mind. I could wish though, for aesthetic reasons, that our English lanes grew tropical Begonias, Coraline, and a peculiarly attractive Polypody fern, similar to ours, except for the young growths being rose-pink. Between Dry Harbour and Brown's Town there is one succession of fine country-places, derelict for the most part now, but remnants of the great days before King Sugar was dethroned. Here the opulent sugar planters built themselves lordly pleasure houses on the high limestone formation. Sugar grows best on swampy ground, but swamps breed fever, so these magnates wisely made their homes on the limestone, and so increased their days.
The high-road runs past one stately entrance-gate after another; entrances with high Georgian, carved stone gateposts surmounted with vases, probably sent out ready-made from England; Adam entrances, with sphinxes and the stereotyped Adam semi-circular railings, all very imposing, and all alike derelict. Beyond the florid wrought-iron gates the gravel drives disappear under a uniform sea of grass; the once neatly shaved lawns are covered with dense "bush." All gone! Planters and their fine houses alike! King Sugar has been for long dethroned. The names of these places, "Amity," "Concord," "Orange Grove," "Harmony Hall," "Friendship," and "Fellowship Hall," all rather suggest the names of Masonic Lodges, and seem to point to a certain amount of conviviality. The houses themselves are hardly up to the standard of their ambitious entrance-gates, for they are mostly of the stereotyped Jamaican "Great House" type; plain, gabled buildings surrounded by verandahs, looking rather like gigantic meat safes; but, as they say in Ireland, any beggar can see the gatehouse, but few people see the house itself, and I imagine that skilled craftsmen were rare in Jamaica in the eighteenth century.
The attempt to reconstruct the life of one, two, or three hundred years ago has always appealed to me, especially amidst very familiar scenes. The stage-setting, so to speak, is much as it must have appeared to our predecessors, but the actual drama played on the stage must have been so very different. I should have liked to have seen these planters' houses a hundred years ago, swarming with guests, whilst the cookhouses smoked bravely as armies of black slaves busied themselves in preparing one of the gigantic repasts described by Lady Nugent. Unfortunately to enter thoroughly into the spirit of the thing, one would have been forced, in her words, "to eat like a cormorant, and to drink like a porpoise," with the certainty of a liver attack to follow.
Talking of bygone days, the Fourth-Form Room at Harrow has been unchanged since Queen Elizabeth's time, and still retains all its Elizabethan fittings: heavy, clumsy, solid oak armchairs for the masters, each one equipped with a stout, iron-bound, oak table, and strong oak benches for the boys. As a youngster, I liked to think that I was sitting on the identical benches occupied, more than three hundred years earlier, by Elizabethan youths in trunk hose and doublets. In my youth I was much impressed in Canterbury Cathedral by the sight of the deep grooves worn by the knees of countless thousands of pilgrims to Thomas a Beckett's shrine in the solid stone of the steps leading from the Choir to the retro-Choir, steps only to be ascended by pilgrims on their knees. At Harrow the inch-thick oak planks of the Elizabethan benches have been completely worn through in places by the perpetual fidgeting of hundreds of generations of schoolboys, which is as remarkable in its way as the knee grooves at Canterbury, though the attrition is due to a different portion of the human anatomy. As a boy I used to wonder how the trunk-hosed Elizabethan Harrovians addressed each other, and whether they found it very difficult to avoid palpable anachronisms in every sentence. Their conversations would probably have been something like this: "Come hither, young Smith; I would fain speak with thee. Only one semester hast thou been here, and thy place in the school is but lowly, yet are thy hose cross-gartered, and thy doublet is of silk. Thou swankest, and that is not seemly, therefore shall I trounce thee right lustily to teach thee what a sorry young knave thou art." "Nay, good Master Brown, hearken to me. This morn too late I kept my bed, and finding not my buff jerkin, did don in haste my Sunday doublet of changeable taffeta, for thou wottest the ills that do befall those late for school. Neither by my halidom knew I, that being yet of tender years, it was not meet for me to go cross-gartered, so prithee, gentle youth, cease belabouring me with thy feet."
Incidentally, I suppose that Christopher Columbus and his adventurers all landed in the West Indies in 1492, clad in full armour, after the fashion of the age, and I cannot imagine how they escaped being baked alive in the scorching heat. Every suit of armour must have been a portable Dutch-oven, inflicting tortures on its unfortunate wearer. The little bay near Brown's Town where Columbus landed in Jamaica, on his third voyage, is still called "Don Christopher's Cove," though the Spanish form of his name is, of course, Cristobal Colon.
Brown's Town is the most beautiful little spot imaginable, glowing with colour from its wealth of flowers. It had, though, another attraction for me. The hotel was kept by a white lady of most "serious" views, and in the hotel dining-room I found a bookshelf containing all the books given me as a child for Sunday reading. There they all were! Little Henry and his Bearer, Anna Ross the Orphan of Waterloo, Agathos, and many, many more, including a well-remembered American book, Melbourne House. The heroine of the last-named work, an odiously priggish child called Daisy Randolph, refused to sing on a Sunday when desired to do so by her mother. For this, most properly, she was whipped. A devoted black maid who shared Daisy's religious views, comforted her little mistress by bringing her a supper of fried oysters, ice-cream and waffles. As a child I used to think how gladly I would undergo a whipping every Sunday were it only to be followed by a supper of fried oysters, ice-cream and waffles, the latter a comestible unknown to me, but suggesting infinitely delicious possibilities. Unfortunately I can never remember having been asked to sing on Sunday, or indeed on any other day.
Speaking seriously, I do not believe that these emotionally pietistic little books produced any good effect on the children into whose hands they were put. I remember as a child feeling exasperated against the ultra-righteous little heroines of all these works. I say heroine, because no boy was ever given a chance as a household-reformer, unless he had happened to have been born a hopeless cripple, or were suffering from an incurable spinal complaint. In the latter case, experience induced the certainty that the author would be unable to resist the temptation of introducing a pathetic death-bed scene. Accordingly, when the little hero's spine grew increasingly painful and he began to waste away, the two next chapters were carefully skipped in order to be spared the harrowing details of the young martyr's demise. Girls, not being so invariably doomed to an early death, were alone qualified to act as family evangelists, and one knew that the sweet child's influence was bound, slowly but surely, to permeate the entire household. Her mother would cease to care only for "the world and its fine things," and would even endeavour to curb her inordinate love of dress. Her father would practically abandon betting, and, should he have been fortunate enough to have backed a winner, would at once rush on conscience-stricken feet to pour the whole of his gains into the nearest missionary collecting-box. Even the cynical old bachelor uncle, who habitually scoffed at his niece's precocious piety, became gradually influenced by her shining example, and would awake one morning to find himself the amazed, yet gratified, possessor of "a new heart."
In order to renew my acquaintance with the whole of these friends of my youth, I remained two days longer in Brown's Town, with the assent of the good-natured Guardsman.
Joss, the Guardsman, had a fine baritone voice, and the English rector of Brown's Town, after hearing him sing in the hotel, at once commandeered him for his church on Sunday, though warning him that he would be the only white member of the choir. My services were also requisitioned for the organ. That church at Brown's Town is, by the way, the most astonishingly spacious and handsome building to find in an inland country parish in Jamaica. On the Sunday, seeing the Guardsman in conversation with the local tenor, a gentleman of absolutely ebony-black complexion, at the vestry door, both of them in their cassocks and surplices, I went to fetch my camera, for here at last was a chance of satisfying the Guardsman's mania for turning his trip to the West Indies to profitable account. Every one is familiar with the ingenious advertisements of the proprietors of a certain well-known brand of whisky. My photograph would, unquestionably, be a picture in "Black and White," both as regards complexion and costume, but on second thoughts, the likenesses of two choir-men in cassocks and surplices seemed to me inappropriate as an advertisement for a whisky, however excellent it might be, though they had both unquestionably been engaged in singing spiritual songs.
It was Archbishop Magee who, when Bishop of Peterborough, encountered a drunken navvy one day as he was walking through the poorer quarters of that town. The navvy staggered out of a public-house, diffusing a powerful aroma of gin all round him; when he saw his Chief Pastor he raised his hand in a gesture of mock benediction and called jeeringly to the Bishop, "The Lord be with you!" "And with thy spirits," answered Magee like a flash.
The drive from Brown's Town across the centre of the island to Mandeville is one of the most beautiful things that can be imagined. It can only be undertaken with mules, and then requires twelve hours, the road running through the heart of the ginger-growing district, of which Boroughbridge is the headquarters. The Guardsman was more than ever confirmed in his opinion that Jamaica was only a growing grocer's shop, especially as we had passed through dense groves of nutmeg-trees in the morning. I have a confused recollection of deep valleys traversed by rushing, clear streams, of towering pinnacles of rock, and of lovely forest glades, the whole of them clothed with the most gorgeous vegetation that can be conceived, of strange and unfamiliar shapes glowing with unknown blossoms, with blue mountains in the distance. It was one ever-changing panorama of loveliness, with beauty of outline, beauty of detail, and unimaginable beauty of colour.
We were forced to return to Kingston, for a French Cruiser Squadron was paying a prolonged visit to Jamaica, and the Governor required my services as interpreter.
That visit of the French Fleet was quite an historical event, for it was the first outward manifestation of the Anglo-French Entente. The Anglo-French Convention had been signed two years previously, on April 8, 1904. I cannot say with whom the idea of terminating the five-hundred-year-old feud between Britain and France originated, but I know who were the instruments who translated the idea into practical effect: they were M. Paul Cambon, French Ambassador in London, and my brother-in-law, Lord Lansdowne, then Foreign Secretary; between them they smoothed down asperities, removed ancient grievances, and lubricated points of contact where friction might arise. No one, probably, anticipated at the time the tremendous consequences of the Anglo-French Convention, nor dreamed that it was destined, after the most terrible conflict of all time, to change the entire history of the world.
In the early part of 1905 the Emperor William had made his theatrical triumphal progress through the Turkish dominions, and on March 31 of the same year he landed at Tangier in great state. What exact agreement the Emperor concluded with the Sultan of Morocco we do not know, but from that moment the French met with nothing but difficulties in Morocco, their own particular "sphere of influence" under the Anglo-French Convention. All the reforms proposed by France were flouted by the Sultan, and Germans claimed equal commercial and economic rights with the French. A conference met at Algeciras on January 10, 1906, to settle these and other disputed questions, but the French authorities viewed the situation with the utmost anxiety. They were convinced that the "mailed fist" would be brandished in their faces on the smallest provocation, and that the French Navy might have to intervene.
Now came the first visible result of the entente. The British Government offered the hospitality of Kingston Harbour, with coaling facilities, for an unlimited period to the French Cruiser Squadron, then in the West Indies. Kingston is not only the finest harbour in the Antilles, but the coaling arrangements are far superior to any in the French ports, and, most important point of all, Kingston would be some twenty-four hours steaming nearer to Gibraltar and the Mediterranean, in case of emergency, than the French islands of Guadeloupe or Martinique.
The arrival, then, of the French Fleet was a great event, and, acting possibly on a hint from home, every attention was shown to the French officers by the Governor, Sir Alexander Swettenham. He entertained forty French officers to luncheon at King's House, and his French having grown rather rusty, asked me to welcome them in his name. I took great care in preparing my speech, and began by ascertaining whether any of the reporters who would be present understood French. I was much relieved to find that not one of them knew a single word of the language, for that gave me a free hand. The table, on the occasion of the luncheon, was decorated in a fashion only possible in the West Indies. One end of the table glowed, a scarlet carpet of the splendid flowers of the Amherstia nobilis, looking like red satin tassels, then came a carpet of the great white trumpets of the Beaumontia, on a ground of white stephanotis. Lastly a blue carpet of giant solanums, interspersed with the dainty blue blossoms of the Petraea, the whole forming the most magnificent tricolour flag imaginable. The French officers much appreciated this attention.
I spoke for twenty minutes, and fairly let myself go. With a feeling of security due to the inability of the reporters to follow French, I said the most abominably indiscreet things, considering that it was an official entertainment in an official residence, but I think that I must have been quite eloquent, for, when I sat down, the French Admiral crossed the room and shook hands warmly with me, saying, "Monsieur, au nom de la France je vous remercie."
Joss, the Guardsman, struck up an intimate alliance with a young French naval lieutenant of his own age. As the Guardsman knew just two words of French, and the Frenchman was totally ignorant of English, I cannot conceive how they understood one another, but they seemed to take great delight in each other's society, exploring together every corner of Kingston, both by day and by night, addressing each other as "Henri, old man," or "Joss vieux copain," and jabbering away incessantly, each in his own tongue.
Lady Swettenham, the Governor's wife, paid a formal visit to the Admiral on board his flag-ship, the Desaix, and I accompanied her. The Admiral told Lady Swettenham that she and Lady Lathom, who was with her, must consent to be tied up with ribbons bearing the ship's name, the French naval fashion of doing honour to ladies of distinction. The Flag-Lieutenant came in and took a good look at the ladies' dresses; Lady Swettenham being in white, Lady Lathom in pale mauve. Presently "Flags" reappeared bearing white and mauve ribbons (of the exact shade of her dress) for Lady Lathom, and pale pink and blue ones for Lady Swettenham, each about four yards long. Proverbially gallant as are British naval officers, the idea of first studying the ladies' dresses would not have occurred to them; that little touch requires a Frenchman. We wished to take our leave, but the Admiral begged us to remain; there was evidently something coming. It was an intensely hot afternoon, and the heavy, red-plush furniture and curtains of the Admiral's cabin seemed to add to the heat. His face wore the expression some people assume when they are preparing a treat for a child. "Flags" looked in and nodded. "Faites entrer alors," ordered the Admiral, still smiling, and a steward came in bearing six bottles of Guinness' stout. "You see that I know what you like," added the Admiral, beaming. On a broiling hot afternoon in Jamaica, tepid stout is the very last thing in the world that one would choose to drink, but the Admiral was convinced that it was the habitual beverage of all English people, and had actually sent his steward ashore to procure the precious liquid. It was a delicate attention, but it so happened that both ladies had a positive aversion to stout; they drank it bravely notwithstanding, and we all assumed expressions of intense delight, to the Admiral's immense gratification.
It was the Admiral's first visit to the West Indies, and he did not like them. "Non, madame. Des nuits sans fraicheur, des fleurs sans odeur, des fruits sans saveur, des femmes sans pudeur; voila les Antilles!"
The Guardsman and I, anxious to see more of this lovely island, went off by train to the western extremity of Jamaica. The engineer who surveyed the Jamaican Government Railway must have been an extremely eccentric individual. There is a comparatively level and very fertile belt near the sea-coast, extending right round the island. Here nearly all the produce is grown. Instead of building his railway through this flat, thickly populated zone, the engineer chose to construct his line across the mountain range of the interior, a district very sparsely inhabited, and hardly cultivated at all. The Jamaica Government Railway is admirably designed if regarded as a scenic railway, but is hardly successful if considered as a commercial undertaking. The train winds slowly through the "Cockpit" country; now panting laboriously up steep inclines, now sliding down a long gradient, with a prodigious grinding of brakes and squeaking of wheels. The scenery is gorgeous, but there is no produce to handle at the various stations, and but few passengers to pick up. As we found every hotel full at our destination, we had to take refuge in a boarding-house, though warned that it was only for coloured people. We found four subfuse young men, with complexions shaded from pale coffee-colour to deep sepia, at supper in the dining-room.
"May I inquire, sir," said the Guardsman, with ready tact, to the lightest-complexioned of the young men, "how long you have been out from England?"
"I was born in Jamaica, sir," answered the immensely gratified youth, "and have never left it."
"And do you, sir," continued the Guardsman to the swarthiest of them all, "feel the heat of the climate much? It is rather a change from England, isn't it?"
"I, too, sir, have never left Jamaica," replied the delighted young man.
So enchanted were these dusky youths at having been mistaken for white men, that they simply overwhelmed us with attentions during the rest of our stay there.
The Guardsman was bent on shooting an alligator, and having heard that these pleasant saurians swarmed in a swamp beyond the town, went there at dusk with his rifle, and I, very foolishly, was induced to accompany him. There is something most uncanny in these tracts of swamp at nightfall. The twisted, distorted trees, the gleaming, evil-smelling pools of water, and the immense, snake-like lianes hanging from the branches all give one a curious sense of unreality, especially on a moonlight night. It is like a Gustave Dore drawing of a bewitched forest. The Guardsman splashed about in the shallow water, but never a sign of an alligator did we see. Giant tortoises crawled lazily about, just visible in the half-light under the trees; innumerable land-crabs scurried to and fro, and unclean reptiles pattered over the fetid ooze, but we saw no more alligators than we should have seen in St. James's Park.
There was a little group of coral islands, decked with plumes of cocoa-nut palms, on the other side of the bay, close to a great mangrove swamp, and the Guardsman insisted on our hiring a boat and rowing out there, blazing though the sun was. These mangrove swamps are evil-looking places. The mangrove, the only tree, I believe, that actually grows in salt water, has unnaturally green leaves. The trees grow on things like stilts, digging their roots deep into the foul slime. When the tide is out, these stilts stand grey and naked below the canopy of vivid greenery, and amongst them obscene, crab-like things crawl over the festering black ooze. The water in the labyrinth of channels between the mangroves was thick and discoloured; there was not a breath of air, the heat was unbearable, and the whole place steamed with decay and disease.
Yet somehow the scene seemed very familiar, for one had read of it, again and again, in a hundred boys' books. The same mental process was at work both in myself and in Joss, but it took different forms. I composed in my mind a chapter of a thrilling romance. "Suddenly down one of the glassy channels between the mangroves we saw the pirate felucca approaching us rapidly. She had got out her sweeps and looked like some gigantic water-insect as she made her way towards us, churning the sleeping waters into foam. At her tiller stood a tall form, which I recognised with a shudder as that of the villainous mulatto Pedro, and her black flag drooped limply in the stagnant air. Our gallant captain at once ordered our carronades to be loaded with canister, and then addressed the crew. 'Yonder gang of dastardly miscreants think to capture us, my lads,' cried Captain Trueman, 'but little they know the material they have to deal with. Even the boys, Bob and Jim, young as they are, will show them the sort of stuff a British tar is made of, if I am not mistaken.' On hearing our gallant captain's noble words, Jim and I exchanged a silent hand-grip, and Jim, snatching up a matchlock, levelled it at the head of the mulatto Pedro, but at that very moment," etc., etc., etc., though I much fear that the remainder of Bob, the Boy Buccaneer of the Bahamas will remain unwritten.
Our surroundings suggested the same idea to Joss, but were prompting the Guardsman to more direct action. From one or two of his remarks I had foreseen the possibility of his making an incredible suggestion to me, and gradually suspicion ripened into horrified certainty.
"Would you very much mind—" he began, "at least if you are not too old—I should so like—we shall never get another opportunity like this—would you very much mind—" and out it came, "playing at pirates for a little while?"
It was unthinkable! The Guardsman was actually proposing to a staid, middle-aged gentleman of forty-eight, an ex-Member of Parliament, a church-warden, and an ex-editor, to play at pirates with him, as though he were ten years old. I pointed out how unusual it was for an officer in the Coldstream, aged twenty-six, to think even of so puerile an amusement, but to include a dignified, earnest-minded, elderly man in the invitation was really an unprecedented outrage. My justifiable indignation increased when I found that the Guardsman actually expected me at my age to enact the role of "Carlos, the Cut-throat of the Caribbean."
Our discussion was interrupted by a violent shivering fit which seized me, accompanied by a sudden, racking headache. The swamps had done their work on the previous evening. By night-time I was in a high fever, and when we returned to Kingston next day by train, I, with a temperature up to anywhere, was hardly conscious of where I was or what I was doing.
I was put to bed at King's House, and the fever rapidly turned to malarial gastritis. The distressing feature connected with this complaint is that it is impossible to retain any nourishment whatever. An attack of fever is so common in hot countries that this would not be worth mentioning, except as an example of the curious way in which Nature sometimes prompts her own remedy. The doctor tried half the drugs in the pharmacopoeia on me, the fever simply laughed at them all. Nothing could have exceeded the kindness of Sir Alexander and Lady Swettenham during my illness, but as I could take no nourishment of any kind, I naturally grew very weak. The doctor urged me to cancel my passage and await the next steamer to England, but something told me that as soon as I felt the motion of a ship under me, the persistent sickness would stop. I also felt sure that were I to remain in Jamaica another fortnight, I should remain there permanently, and gruesome memories haunted me of an undertaker's shop in Kingston, which displayed a prominent sign, "Handsome black and gold funeral goods" (note the euphemism!) "delivered in any part of the city within two hours of telephone call." As I had no desire to make a more intimate acquaintance with the "funeral goods," however handsome, I insisted on being carried down to the mail-steamer, and was put to bed in the liner. It was blowing very fresh, and we heard that there was a heavy sea outside. As long as we lay alongside the jetty in the smooth waters of the harbour, the distressing symptoms persisted at their regular intervals, but no sooner had the ship cleared Port Royal and begun to lift to the very heavy sea outside, than the sickness stopped as though by magic. The Port Kingston, of the now defunct Imperial Direct West India Mail Line, was really a champion pitcher, for she had an immense beam for her length, and a great amount of top-hamper in the way of deck-houses. As the violent motion continued, I was able to take as much food as I wanted with impunity, and next day, the heavy seas still tossing the Port Kingston about like a cork, I was up and about, perfectly well, free from fever and able, as Lady Nugent would have said, "to eat like a cormorant." I noted, however, that the motion of the ship seemed to produce on most of the passengers an exactly opposite effect to what it did on myself.
The voyage from Jamaica, by that line, was rather a trying one, for in the interest of the cargo of bananas, the Captain steered straight for the Newfoundland Banks, so in five days the temperature dropped from 90 degrees to 40 degrees, and the unfortunate West Indian passengers would cower and shiver in their thickest clothes over the radiators, where the steam hissed and sizzled.
Before we had been at sea two days, we heard of a most gallant act that had been done by one in our midst. The mail-boats of the Imperial Direct Line each carried from six to eight apprentices, young lads in process of training as officers in the Merchant Service. The apprentices on board the Port Kingston had had a great deal of hard work whilst the ship was loading her cargo of fruit at Port Henderson previous to our voyage home, so the Captain granted them all a holiday, lent them one of the ship's boats, provided them with luncheon and fishing lines, and sent them out for a day's sailing and fishing in Kingston Harbour.
They sailed and caught fish, and, as the afternoon wore on, began to "rag," as boys will do. They ragged so effectually that they managed to capsize the boat, and were, all of them, thrown into the water.
Curiously enough, three of the eight apprentices were unable to swim. The senior apprentice, a boy named Robert Clinch, seventeen years old, swam out, and brought back two of his young companions in safety to the keel of the upturned boat. Clinch was just starting to bring in the third lad, the youngest of them all, when there was a great swirl in the water, the grey outline of a shark rose to the surface, turned on his back, and dragged the little fellow down. Clinch, without one instant's hesitation, dived under the shark and attacked him with his bare fists. It was an immensely courageous thing to do, for where there is one shark there will probably be many, and the boy knew that he ran the risk of being torn to pieces at any minute. So rigorous was his onslaught on the shark that the fish released his victim, though not before he had bitten off both the little fellow's legs at the thigh. Clinch swam back with the mangled body of his young friend to the upturned boat, and managed to get him on to the keel, but the poor lad bled to death in a few minutes.
Young Clinch was a most modest boy. Nothing could get him to talk of his exploit, and should the subject be mentioned, he would grow very red, shuffle his feet, and turn the conversation into some other channel. The passengers drew up an address, with which they presented him, as a mark of their appreciation of his act of heroism, but it was with great difficulty that Clinch could be induced to accept it.
The episode made such an impression on me that I wrote out an account of it, got it attested and signed by the Captain, and forwarded it to Lord Knollys, an old friend of mine, who was then Private Secretary to King Edward, asking him to bring the matter to his Majesty's notice.
I am pleased to add that, in due course, Midshipman Robert Clinch was duly summoned to Buckingham Palace, where he received the well-earned Albert Medal for saving life, and also the Medal of the Royal Humane Society.
I should very much like to know what Robert Clinch's subsequent career has been.
The Spanish Main—Its real meaning—A detestable region—Tarpon and sharks—The isthmus—The story of the great pearl "La Pelegrina"—The Irishman and the Peruvian—The vagaries of the Southern Cross—The great Kingston earthquake—Point of view of small boys—Some earthquake incidents—"Flesh-coloured" stockings—Negro hysteria—A family incident, and the unfortunate Archbishop—Port Royal—A sugar estate—A scene from a boy's book in real life—Cocoa-nuts— Reef-fishing—Two young men of great promise.
With so firm a hold had Jamaica captured me that January 3, 1907, found me again starting for that delightful island, this time accompanied by a very favourite nephew, who, poor lad, was destined to fall in Belgium in the very early days of the war.
We purposely chose the longer route by Barbados, Trinidad, and the Spanish Main, in order to be able to visit the Panama Canal Works, then only in their semi-final stage.
A curious misapprehension seems to exist about that term "Spanish Main," which somehow suggests to me infinite romance; conquistadores, treasure-ships, gentlemen-adventurers, and bold buccaneers. It is merely a shortened way of writing Spanish Mainland, and refers not to the sea, but to the land; the terra firma, as opposed to the Antilles; the continent, in distinction to the islands. By a natural process the term came to be applied to the sea washing the Spanish Mainland, but "main" does not mean sea, and never did. It is only in the last hundred years that poets have begun to use "main" as synonymous with sea, probably because there are so many more rhymes to the former than to the latter, and it sounds a fine dashing sort of term, but I can find no trace of a warrant for the use of the word in this sense before 1810. "Main" refers to the land, not to the water.
I can imagine no more detestable spot anywhere than this Spanish Main, in spite of the distant view of the mighty Cordilleras, around whose summits perpetual thunderstorms seem to play, and from which fierce gales swoop down on the sea. Clammy, suffocating heat, fever-dealing swamps, decaying towns, with an effete population and a huge rainfall, do not constitute an attractive whole. Owing to the intense humidity, even the gales bring no refreshing coolness in their train.
It is easy to understand the importance the old Spanish conquistadores attached to the Isthmus of Panama, for all the gold brought from Peru had to be carried across it on mule-back to the Atlantic coast, before it could be shipped to Spain. Even Columbus, who did not know of the existence of the Pacific, founded a short-lived settlement at Porto Bello, or Nombre de Dios, in 1502, and Martin de Enciso established another at Darien in 1502, but the combined effects of the deadly climate and of hostile Indians exterminated the settlers. After Vasco Nunez de Balboa had discovered the Pacific on September 26, 1513, the strategic importance of the Isthmus became obvious, so Cartagena on the Caribbean, and Panama on the Pacific were founded. The ill-advised and ill-fated enterprise of the Scotsman William Patterson came much later, in 1698. The Scottish settlement of Darien, from which such marvellous results were expected, lasted barely two years. In 1700 the few survivors of the adventurers from Scotland were expelled by the Spaniards, ruined alike in health and pocket. The fever-stricken coasts of the Spanish Main needed but little defence of forts and guns, to protect them against the aggressive efforts of other European nations.
At our first calling-place after leaving England, we heard of the total destruction of Kingston, our destination, by the great earthquake of January 14, but it was too late to turn back, so on we went, past breezy Barbados, and sweltering Trinidad, to the Spanish Main. The curious little nautilus, or Portuguese man-of-war, is very common in these waters, and can be seen in quantities sailing along the surface with their crude-magenta membranes extended to the breeze. Cartagena de Indias, a city of narrow streets, high houses and massive ramparts, is a curious piece of seventeenth-century Spain to find transplanted to the Tropics. I imagine that all its inhabitants, by the law of the survival of the fittest, must be immune from fever, which is certainly not the case in that most unattractive spot Colon.
It may interest any prospective visitors to Colon to learn that there is excellent tarpon fishing in Colon Harbour itself. My nephew, having provided himself with a tarpon rod, hooked a splendid fish from the deck of the mail-steamer, the bait being a "cavalle," a local white fish of some 3 lbs. My nephew played the tarpon for nearly two hours; the fish fought splendidly, shooting continuously into the air, a curved glittering bar of silver, 180 lbs. of giant gleaming herring, when the line (a stout piano wire) suddenly snapped as he was being reeled in. A tarpon fisherman has a leathern "bucket" strapped in front of him, in which to rest the butt of his rod, otherwise the strain would be too great. Whilst my nephew was playing his tarpon, I was fortunate enough to hook a large shark, and there was little fear of my line parting, for it was a light chain of solid steel. I was surprised that the brute showed so little fight, he let me tow him about where I liked. We fixed a running noose to the wire rope of a derrick, and after a few attempts succeeded in dropping it over the shark's head, and in tautening it behind his fins; the steam-derrick did the rest. I could see distinctly six or seven pilot-fish playing round the shark. They were of about a pound weight, and were marked exactly like our fresh-water perch, except that their stripes were bright blue on a golden ground. As the shark is rather stupid, and has but poor eyesight, the function of the pilot-fish is to ascertain where food is to be found, and then to show their master the way to it, after which, like the sycophants they are, they live on the crumbs that fall from his mouth. The pilot-fish only deserted their master when the derrick hauled him out of the water, and at the same time some dozen remoras, or sucking-fish, looking like disgusted bloated leeches, let go their hold on the shark and dropped back into the sea.
No human being would voluntarily pay a second visit to Colon, a dirty, mean collection of shanties, with inhabitants worthy of it. The principal article of commerce seemed to be black-calico "funeral suits," a sartorial novelty to me.
Since the Americans took command of the Canal Zone they have achieved wonders in the way of sanitation, and have practically extirpated yellow fever. The credit for this is principally due to Colonel Goethals, but no amount of sanitation can transform a belt of swamps with an annual rainfall of 150 inches into a health-resort. The yellow-lined faces of the American engineers told their own tale, although they had no longer to contend with the fearful mortality from yellow fever which, together with venality and corruption, effectually wrecked Ferdinand de Lesseps' attempt to pierce the Isthmus in 1889.
The railway between Colon and Panama was opened as far back as 1855, and is supposed to have cost a life for every sleeper laid. Neglected little cemeteries stretch beside the track almost from ocean to ocean. Before the American Government took over the railway there was one class and one fare between Colon and Panama, for which the modest sum of $25 gold was demanded, or 5 pounds for forty-seven miles, which makes even our existing railway fares seem moderate. People had perforce to use the railway, for there were no other means of communication.
For forty-seven miles the track runs through rank, steamy swamps, devoid of beauty, the monotony only broken by the endless cemeteries and an occasional alligator dozing on a bank of black slime.
Panama is the oldest city on the American Continent, and has just four hundred and one years of history behind it. It has unquestionably a strong element of the picturesque about it. It is curious to see in America so venerable a church as that of Santa Ana, built in 1560.
From the immensely solid ramparts, built in the actual Pacific, the Pearl Islands are dimly visible. These islands had a personal interest for me. Balboa was the first European to set eyes on the Pacific on September 29, 1513. He had with him one hundred and ninety Spaniards, amongst whom was the famous Pizarro. A few days after, he crossed over to the Pearl Islands, which he found in a state of great commotion, for a slave had just found the largest pear-shaped pearl ever seen. Balboa, with great presence of mind, at once annexed the great pearl, and gave the slave his freedom.
Having fallen out of favour with Ferdinand V. of Spain (Isabella had died in 1504), Balboa endeavoured to propitiate the king by sending home an envoy with gifts for him, and amongst these presents was the great pearl. The beauty of the jewel was at once recognised; it was named "La Pelegrina," and took its place amongst the treasures of the Spanish Crown. After Ferdinand V.'s death, the great pearl with the other Crown jewels came into the possession of his grandson, the Hapsburg Emperor Charles V., and from Charles "La Pelegrina" descended to his son, Philip II. of Spain. When Philip married Queen Mary Tudor of England, he gave her "La Pelegrina" as a wedding present. The portrait of Queen Mary in the Prado at Madrid, shows her wearing this pearl, so does another one at Hampton Court, and a small portrait in Winchester Cathedral, where her marriage with Philip took place. After Mary's death "La Pelegrina" returned to Spain, and was handed down from sovereign to sovereign until Napoleon in 1808 placed his brother Joseph on the throne of Spain. It was a somewhat unsteady throne, and after many vicissitudes, Joseph fled from Spain in the Spring of 1813. Anticipating some such enforced retirement, Joseph, like a prudent man, had had some of the smaller and more valuable pictures from the Spanish palaces packed in wagons and despatched towards the frontier. These pictures fell into the hands of Wellington's troops at the Battle of Vittoria, and are hanging at this moment in Apsley House, Piccadilly, for Ferdinand VII., on his restoration to the throne, presented them to the Duke of Wellington; or rather, to be quite accurate, "lent" them to the Duke of Wellington and to his successors. Joseph Bonaparte also thoughtfully placed some of the Spanish Crown jewels, including "La Pelegrina," in his pockets, and got away safely with them. Joseph died, and left the great pearl to his nephew, Prince Louis Napoleon, afterwards Napoleon III. When Prince Louis came to London in exile, he brought "La Pelegrina" with him. Prince Louis Napoleon was a close friend of my father's and had been his "Esquire" at the famous Eglinton tournament. The Prince came to see my father one day and confided to him that he was in great pecuniary difficulties. He asked my father to recommend him an honest jeweller who would pay him the price he wanted for "La Pelegrina." He named the price, and drew the great pearl out of his pocket. My father, after examining the jewel and noticing its flawless shape and lustre, silently opened a drawer, drew a cheque, and handed it to Prince Louis without a word. That afternoon my father presented my mother with "La Pelegrina." To my mother it was an unceasing source of anxiety. The pearl had never been bored, and was so heavy that it was constantly falling from its setting. Three times she lost it; three times she found it again. Once at a ball at Buckingham Palace, on putting her hand to her neck, she found that the great pearl had gone. She was much distressed, knowing how upset my father would be. On going into supper, she saw "La Pelegrina" gleaming at her from the folds of the velvet train of the lady immediately in front of her. Again she lost it at Windsor Castle, and it was found in the upholstery of a sofa. As a child, on the rare occasions when "La Pelegrina" came out of its safe, I loved to stroke and smooth its sleek, satin-like sheen. The great pearl somehow fascinated me. When it came into my brother's possession after my father's death, he had "La Pelegrina" bored, though it impaired its value, so my sister-in-law was able to wear the great jewel as often as she wished without running the constant danger of losing it. I liked that distant glimpse of the Pearl Islands, for they were the birthplace of the jewel which had attracted me so curiously as a child.
We returned from Panama by a train after dark. As the night-air from the swamps has the reputation of being deadly, every window in the car was shut. I noticed a dark-skinned citizen of either Peru or Ecuador in some difficulties with the conductor, owing to his lack of knowledge of English. The Peruvian pulled up a window (up on the American Continent, not down as with us) and sat in the full draught of the night-air. A pleasant young Irishman named Martin, a near relative of the Miss Martin who collaborated with Miss Somerville in the inimitable Experiences of an Irish R.M. noticed this. "By Gad! that fellow will get fever if he sits in the draught from the swamps. I'll go and warn him." I told Martin that the South American spoke no English. "That's all right," cried Martin. "I speak a little Spanish myself." Taking a seat by the Peruvian, Martin tapped him on the shoulder to secure his attention, pointed a warning finger at the open window, and said slowly but impressively, in a strong Co. Galway accent, "Swamp—o, mustn't-sit-in-draught—o; sit-in-draught—o, get-chill—o; get-chill—o, catch-fever—o; catch-fever—o, damned-ill —o; damned-ill—o, die—o." He repeated this twice, and upon the Peruvian turning a blank look of incomprehension at him, returned to his place saying, "I don't believe that fellow understands one single word of Spanish," so I went myself and warned the Peruvian in Spanish of the risk he was running, and he closed the window. I do not know whether he suffered for his imprudence, but Martin was down next day with a sharp bout of fever.
Martin next announced that the Southern Cross had gone stark, staring mad, and had moved round by mistake to the North. We were travelling from the Pacific to the Atlantic, therefore presumably going from West to East, and there, through the window, sure enough was that much-overrated constellation, the Southern Cross, shining away gaily in the North. Upon reflexion, it seemed unreasonable to suppose that the Southern Cross could have so far forgotten its appointed place in the heavens, the points of the compass, and the very obligations its name imposed upon it, as to establish itself deliberately in the North: there must be some mistake somewhere. So we got a map, and discovered, to our amazement, that, though Colon is on the Atlantic and Panama on the Pacific, yet Colon is West of Panama, owing to the kink in the Isthmus at this point. The railway from the Pacific runs North-west to the Atlantic, though at this particular part of the line we were travelling due West, so the Southern Cross was right after all, and we were wrong.
The track from ocean to ocean seemed to be lined with one continuous street of wooden stores, eating-houses, and dance-halls, all erected for the benefit of the workers on the canal, and all alike blazing with paraffin lamps. It was like one continuous fair, but the kindly night masked the endless cemeteries.
We bought in Colon a little book of verse entitled Panama Patchwork. It was the work of an American, James Stanley Gilbert, who had lived for six years on the Isthmus, and had seen most of his friends die there. Gilbert's lines have, therefore, a certain excusable tinge of morbidity, as, for example:
"Beyond the Chagres River Are paths that lead to death: To fever's deadly breezes, To malaria's poisonous breath."
I refrain from quoting others which are really too gruesome to reproduce, but I like his welcome to the Trade wind, the boisterous advent of which announces the end of the very unhealthy wet season, and a brief spell of dry weather. It must be remembered that the author was unused to the pen:
"Blow thou brave old Trade wind, blow! Send the mighty billows flashing In the radiant sunlight, dashing O'er the reef, like thunder crashing, Blow thou brave old Trade wind, blow!"
One can almost hear the great seas thundering on the coral reefs in reading these lines, and can see in imagination the nodding cocoanut palms bending their pliant green heads to the life-giving Trades.
It is curious the different terms used for these continuous winds: we call them "Trade winds"; the French, "Vents alizes"; the Germans, "Passatwinde"; the Spanish "Vientos generates." All quite different.
As my nephew and I drove out of the dock enclosure at Kingston, we were appalled at the scene of desolation that met our eyes. Kingston was one heap of ruins; there was not a house intact. Neither of us had imagined the possibility of a town being so completely destroyed, for this was in 1907, not 1915, and twenty brief seconds had sufficed to wreck a prosperous city of 40,000 inhabitants. The streets had been partially cleared, but the telephone and the electric-light wires were all down, as were the overhead wires for the trolly-cars. We traversed three miles of shapeless heaps of bricks and stones. Some trim well-kept villas in the suburbs which I remembered well, were either shaken down, or gaped on the road through broad fissures in their frontages, great piles of debris announcing that the building was only, so to speak, standing on sufferance, and would have to be entirely reconstructed. On arriving at King's House, we found the main building still standing, but so damaged that it might collapse at any moment, and therefore uninhabitable. The handsome ballroom, which formed a separate wing, was nothing but a pile of rubbish, a formless mass of bricks and plaster. The dining-room, making the corresponding wing, was built entirely of wood, and had consequently escaped injury. This dining-room was a very lofty hall, paved with marble and entirely surrounded by arches open to the air. It had previously reminded me of the interiors seen in Italian pictures of sacred subjects, with its bareness, spacious whiteness, its columns and arches. Here the Governor, Lady Swettenham and her sister were living, in little encampments formed by screens. Two splendid chandeliers of Spanish bronze, originally looted from Havannah in the eighteenth century, had been dismantled by the Governor's orders, in view of the possibility of further shocks. The verandah outside formed the living-room for every one. My nephew and I were very comfortably lodged in a little wooden shed, formerly the laundry. I had noticed as we drove through the town that the great Edinburgh reservoirs were apparently quite uninjured, and here at King's House the fountain was splashing in its basin as gaily as ever, the building containing the big swimming-bath was undamaged, and the spring which fed the bath still gurgled cheerfully into it. Wherever there was water, the shock seemed to have been neutralised, for I imagine that the water acted as a cushion to deaden the earth-wave. Neither the electric lighting nor the telephones were working.
A tropical night is seldom quiet, what with the croaking of frogs, the chirping of the cicadas, and some bird, insect, or reptile that imitates the winding in of a fishing-reel for hours together, but really the noise of the Jamaican nights after the earthquake was quite unbearable. Negroes are very hysterical, and some black preachers had utilised the earthquake to start a series of revival meetings, and these were held just outside the grounds of King's House. Right through the night they lasted, with continual hymn-singing, varied with loud cries and groans. "Abide with me" is a beautiful hymn, but really its beauties began to pall when it had been sung through from beginning to end nine times running. Neither my nephew nor I could get any sleep that first night owing to the blatant devotional exercises of the overwrought negroes.
Both Sir Alexander and Lady Swettenham were really wonderful. He, though an old man, only allowed himself five hours' sleep, and spent his days at Headquarters House trying to bring the affairs of the ruined city into some kind of order, and to start the every-day machinery of ordinary civilised life again, for there were no shops, no butchers or bakers, no clothing, no groceries—everything had been destroyed, and had to be reconstructed. We had noticed the previous afternoon a very rough newly erected shanty. It was barely finished, but already jets of steam were puffing from its roof, and a large sign proclaimed it a steam-bakery. That was the only source of bread-supply in Kingston. Is it necessary to specify the nationality of a firm so prompt to rise to an emergency, or to add that the names over the door were two Scottish ones? Lady Swettenham was equally indefatigable, and sat on endless committees: for sheltering the destitute, for helping the homeless with food, money and clothing, for providing for the widows and orphans.
It was estimated that twelve hundred people lost their lives on that fatal afternoon of January 14, 1907, though even this pales before the terrific catastrophe of St. Pierre in Martinique, on May 8, 1902, when forty thousand people and one of the finest towns in the West Indies were blotted out of existence in one minute by a fiery blast from the volcano Mont Pele.
Lady Swettenham was driving into Kingston with Lady Dudley at 2.30 p.m. on the day of the earthquake. Some ten minutes later they felt the carriage suddenly rise, and then fall again. The horses stopped, and the coachman looked back in vain for the tree he thought he must have run over, until, on turning the next corner, they came upon a house in ruins. Then Lady Swettenham knew. Both ladies worked all night in the hospital, attending to the hundreds of injured. The hospital dispensary had been wrecked, and, sad to say, the supply of chloroform became exhausted, so amputations had to be performed without anaesthetics. Most fortunately there was to have been a great ball at King's House that very evening, so Lady Swettenham was able to provide the hospital with unlimited soup, jellies, and cold chickens; otherwise it would have been impossible to provide the sufferers with any food at all.
As we all know, points of view differ. After the trolley-car service had been re-established, my nephew and I had occasion to go into Kingston daily towards noon. On the front bench of the car there was always seated a little white boy, about nine years old, with a pile of school-books. He was a well-mannered, friendly little fellow and soon entered into conversation. Waxing confidential, he observed to us, "Isn't this earthquake awfully jolly? Our school is all 'mashed up' so we get out at half-past eleven instead of at one."
"And how about your own house, Charlie? Is that all right?"
"Oh no, it's all 'mashed up' too, so is Daddy's store. We're living on the lawn in tents, like Robinson Crusoe. It's most awfully jolly!"
Incidentally I may remark that Charlie's father had been completely ruined by the earthquake, his store not being insured, but the small boy only saw things from his own point of view.
A certain London West-End church, with which I am connected, has a Resident Choir School attached to it. As the choir-boys' dormitory is at the top of the building, every time that there was an air-raid during the war, they were routed out of bed and sent down to the coal-cellar. The boys were told to write an account of one peculiarly severe raid as part of their school-work. One small urchin described it as follows: "The Vicar woke us up and told us there was an air-raid, and that we were to go down into the coal-cellar in our pyjamas with our blankets. It was awfully jolly down in the cellar. In our blankets we looked like robbers in a cave, or like a lot of Red Indians. The Vicar told us stories, and we had buns and cocoa and sang songs. It was all so awfully jolly that all the chaps hope that there will be plenty more air-raids."
Here again the small boy's point of view differs materially from that of the adult.
To go back to Jamaica, an acquaintance had returned early from his office, and was having a cup of coffee on his verandah at 2.30. Suddenly he saw the trees at the end of his garden rise up some eight feet. A quick brain-wave suggested an earthquake to him at once, and half-unconsciously he jumped from the verandah for all he was worth. As he alighted on the lawn, his house crashed down behind him.
There were some further milder shocks. I was engaged in shaving early one morning in our little wooden house, when I felt myself pushed violently against the dressing-table, almost removing my chin with the razor at the same time. I suspected my nephew of a practical joke, and called out angrily to him. In an aggrieved voice he protested that he had not touched me, but had himself been hurled by an unseen agency against the wardrobe. Then came a perfect cannonade of nuts from an overhanging tree on to the wooden roof of our modest temporary abode, and still we did not understand. I had at that time an English valet, the most stolid man I have ever come across. He entered the hut with a pair of brown shoes in one hand, a pair of white ones in the other. In the most matter-of-fact way he observed, "There's been an earthquake, so perhaps you would like to wear your brown shoes to-day, instead of the white ones." By what process of reasoning he judged brown shoes more fitted to earthquake conditions than white ones, rather escaped me.
Appalling tragedy though the earthquake was, like most tragedies it had its occasional lighter side. A certain leading lady of the island had been in the habit of wearing short skirts, long before the dictates of fashion imposed the present unbecoming skimpy garments. She did this on account of the numerous insect pests with which Jamaica unfortunately abounds. For the same reason she adopted light-coloured stockings, so that any creeping intruder could be easily seen and brushed off. Her wardrobe being destroyed in the earthquake, she took the train into Spanish Town in an endeavour to replenish it. In a large drapery store the black forewoman at once recognised the lady, and came forward, all bows and smiles, to greet so important a customer.
"Please, what can I hab de pleasure of showing Madam?"
"I want some silk stockings, either pink or flesh-colour, if you have any!"
"Very sorry, Madam, we hab no pink silk stockings, but we hab plenty of flesh-coloured ones," taking down as she spoke a great bundle of black silk stockings. Of course, if one thinks over it for a moment, it would be so.
The religious hysteria amongst the negroes showed no signs of abating. A black "prophet," a full-blooded negro named Bedward, made his appearance, and gained a great following. Bedward, dressed in a discarded British naval uniform, and attended by a neurotic bodyguard of screaming, hysterical negresses, made continual triumphal parades through the streets of Kingston. As far as I could ascertain the most important item in his religious crusade was the baptism of his converts in the Hope River, at a uniform charge of half-a-crown per head.
With regard to baptism, a curious incident occurred long before I was born. A sister of mine, the late Duchess of Buccleuch, was so frail and delicate at her birth that it was thought that she could not possibly survive. She was accordingly baptised privately two days after her birth. She rallied, and grew into a big sturdy girl. When she was four years old, my father had her received into the Church by the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the Chapel Royal, St. James's Palace. During the service the Archbishop became inarticulate, and many of those present feared that he had sustained a stroke, or had been suddenly afflicted with aphasia. What had happened was this: As my sister was inclined to be fidgetty and troublesome, my mother had, perhaps unwisely, given her a packet of sugar-almonds to keep her quiet. The child was actually sucking one of these when she arrived at the Chapel Royal, but was, of course, made to remove it. Unseen by any one, she managed to place another in her mouth. When the Archbishop took her in his arms, the child, seeing his mouth so close to hers, with the kindest intentions in the world, took the sugar-almond from her own mouth and popped it into the Archbishop's. Never had a Primate been in a more embarrassing situation! Having both his arms occupied in holding the child, he could not remove the offending almond with his fingers. It would be quite superfluous on my part to point out how highly indecorous it would be for an Archbishop to—shall we say to expel anything from his mouth—in church; and even after the sugar had been dissolved, an almond must be crunched before it can be disposed of, another wholly inadmissible contingency. So the poor Archbishop had perforce to remain inarticulate; let us only hope that you and I may never find ourselves in so difficult a situation.
Many people in Jamaica were in 1907 in quite as difficult a situation. I found the wife of the Chief Justice, an old acquaintance of mine in the Far East, living in the emptied swimming-bath of what had been her home. The officers of the West India Regiment at Up Park Camp were all under canvas on the cricket-ground. The officers' quarters at Up Park Barracks were exceedingly well designed for the climate, being raised on arcades. They were shattered, but the wooden shingle roofs had fallen intact and unbroken, and lay on the ground in pieces about 100 feet long, a most curious spectacle. Students of Tom Cringle will remember the gruesome description of his dinner at the Mess at Up Park Camp, during an epidemic of yellow fever, when one officer after another got up and left the room, pinching the regimental doctor on the shoulder as he did so, as an intimation that he, too, had been claimed by the yellow death. The military authorities acted unwisely in selecting Up Park as a site for barracks. It certainly stands high, but is shut off from the sea breeze by the hill known as Long Mountain, and has, in addition, a dangerous swamp to windward of it, two drawbacks which might have been foreseen.
I noticed that brick houses suffered more than stone ones. This was attributed to the inferior mortar used by Jamaican masons, for which there can be no excuse, for the island abounds in lime. Wooden houses escaped scatheless. Every statue in the Public Gardens was thrown down, except that of Queen Victoria. The superstitious negroes were much impressed by this fact, though the earthquake had, curiously enough, twisted the statue entirely round. Instead of facing the sea, as she formerly did, the Queen now turned her back on it, otherwise the statue was uninjured. The clock on the shattered Parish Church recorded the fatal hour when it had stopped in the general ruin: 2.42 p.m. As far as I could learn, the earthquake had not taken the form of a trembling motion, but the solid ground had twice risen and fallen eight feet, a sort of land-wave, which apparently was confined to the light sandy Liguanea plain, for where the mountains began no shock had been felt. The fine old church of St. Andrew had been originally built in 1635, but had been demolished by the earthquake of 1692 and rebuilt in 1700, as the inscription at the west end testified. Here the words "Anna Regina," surrounded by a mass of florid carving, showed that Jamaica is no land of yesterday. The earthquake of 1907 shook down the tower, but did not injure the collection of very fine seventeenth- and eighteenth-century monuments the church contains. The inscription on one of these, opposite the Governor's pew, pleased me by its originality. After a detailed list of the many admirable qualities of the lady it commemorates, it goes on to say that "in the yeare 1685 she passed through the spotted veil of the smallpox to her God."
We accompanied the Governor to Port Royal to take stock of the damage there. Previous to 1692, Port Royal was reputed the richest and the wickedest spot on earth, for it was the headquarters of the Buccaneers; here they divided their ill-gotten gains, and here they strutted about bedizened in their tawdry finery, drinking and gambling. I should be inclined to distrust the local legend that in the many taverns the wine was all served in jewelled golden cups, for, given the character of the customers, one would imagine that the gold cups would be apt to leave the taverns with the customers. Then came the earthquake of 1692, and half of Port Royal was swallowed by the sea. A pillar has been erected at Green Bay, opposite to a Huguenot refugee, one Lewis Galdy, who had a wonderful escape. According to the inscription on it, "Mr. Lewis Galdy was swallowed by the earthquake, and, by the providence of God, thrown by another shock into the sea, and lived many years afterwards in great reputation."
Port Royal cannot be called a fortunate spot, for in 1703 it was again entirely destroyed by fire, and in 1722 it was swept away by a hurricane.
It is, in spite of its historic past, a mean, squalid, decaying little place. Being built almost entirely of wood, the town had sustained but little injury, but the massive concrete fort at the end of the peninsula had slid bodily into the sea, six-inch guns and all. Some twenty cocoa-nut palms it had taken with it were standing in the water, their brown withered tops just peering above the surface, giving a curious effect of desolation. A tramway used for conveying ammunition bore witness to the violence of the earth-waves, for it stood in places some ten feet up in the air, resting on nothing at all; looking for all the world like a switchback railway at Earl's Court. So many charges are levelled at the Royal Engineers that it is pleasant to be able to testify that every building erected by this much-abused corps at Port Royal had resisted the earthquake and was standing intact. Port Royal, notwithstanding its situation at the end of a peninsula, had in old days a terrible reputation for unhealthiness, only surpassed by that of Fort Augusta across the bay, the latter a veritable charnel-house. The neighbourhood of the poisonous swamps of the Rio Cobre was in both cases responsible for the loss of tens of thousands of British soldiers' lives in these two ill-fated spots. They were both hot-beds of yellow fever.
My nephew and I, being able to do no good there, were anxious to escape from ruined Kingston, and made arrangements to stay as paying guests with one or two planters, in order to see something of their daily life. After a second drive through the exquisitely beautiful Bog Walk and over Monte Diavolo, we found ourselves on the sugar estate of a widow, a lady of pure white blood. There were abundant indications of the former prosperity of the place, and even more apparent signs that at present the wolf was very close to the door. The verandah was paved with marble, there was some fine mahogany carving in the central hall, the dessert-service was of George II. silver-gilt, and the china beautiful old Spode. Everything else about the place told its own story of desperate financial conditions. Our hostess declared that it was impossible for a woman to manage a sugar estate, as she could not always be about amongst the canes and in the boiler-house, and her sons were not yet old enough to help her. No one who has not experienced it can picture the heat of a Jamaican sugar-factory; I should imagine the temperature to be about 120 degrees. Most people, I think, take a rather childish pleasure in watching the first stages of the manufacture of familiar products. I confess to feeling interested on being told that the stream of muddy liquid issuing from the crushed canes and trickling gaily down its wooden gutters, would ultimately figure as the lump-sugar of our breakfast-tables. There is also a peculiarly fascinating apparatus known as a vacuum-pan, peeping into which, through a little tale window, a species of brown porridge transforms itself into crystallised sugar of the sort known to housekeepers as "Demerara" under your very eyes; and another equally attractive, rapidly revolving machine in which the molasses, by centrifugal force, detaches itself from the sugar, and runs of its own accord down its appointed channels to the rum distillery, where Alice's Dormouse would have had the gratification of seeing a real treacle-well. In this latter place, where the smell of the fermenting molasses is awful, only East Indian coolies can be employed, a West Indian negro being unable to withstand its alcoholic temptations.
After seeing all the lions of the island, we drifted as paying guests to a school for little white boys on the north coast.
The surroundings of this school were ideally beautiful. It stood on a promontory jutting into the sea, with a coral reef in front of it, but shut in as it was by the hills, the heat of the place was unbearable, and the little white boys all looked pathetically pale and "peaky."
My nephew pointed out to me that a little cove near the school must be the identical place we had both read of hundreds of times, and he justly remarked what an ideal spot it would be in which to be shipwrecked. All the traditional accessories were there. The coral reef with the breakers thundering on it; the placid lagoon inshore; a little cove whose dazzling white coral beach was fringed with cocoa-nut palms down to the very water's edge; a crystal-clear spring trickling down the cliff and tumbling into a rocky basin; the hill behind clothed with a dense jungle of bread-fruit trees and wild plantains, whose sea of greenery was starred with the golden balls of innumerable orange trees; the whole place must really have been lifted bodily out of some boy's book, and put here to prove that writers of fiction occasionally tell the truth, for it seemed perfectly familiar to both of us. Certainly, the oranges were of the bitter Seville variety and were uneatable, and wild plantains are but an indifferent article of diet; still, they satisfied the eye, and fulfilled their purpose as indispensable accessories to the castaway's new home. It would be impossible to conceive of more orthodox surroundings in which to be shipwrecked, for our vessel would be, of course, piled up on the reef within convenient distance, and we would presuppose a current setting into the cove. We should also have to assume that the ship was loaded with a general cargo, including such unlikely items as tool-chests and cases of vegetable seeds, all of which would be washed ashore undamaged precisely when wanted. It is quite obvious that a cargo of, say, type-writers, or railway metals, would prove of doubtful utility to any castaways, nor would there be much probability of either of these articles floating ashore. My nephew, a slave to tradition, wished at once to construct a hut of palm branches close to the clear spring, as is always done in the books; he was also positively yearning to light a fire in the manner customary amongst orthodox castaways, by using my spectacles as a burning-glass. With regard to the necessary commissariat arrangements, he pointed out that there were abundant Avocado pear trees in the vicinity, which would furnish "Midshipman's butter," whilst the bread-fruit tree would satisfactorily replace the baker, and the Aki fruit form an excellent substitute for eggs. He enlarged on the innumerable other vegetable conveniences of the island, and declared that it was almost flying in the face of Providence for a sea-captain to neglect to lose his ship in so ideal a spot.
Whilst watching the little boys playing football in a temperature of 90 degrees, we noticed an unusual adjunct to a football field. A great pile of unripe, green cocoa-nuts (called "water-cocoa-nuts" in Jamaica) lay in one corner, with a negro boy standing guard over them. Up would trot a dripping little white urchin, and pant out, "Please open me a nut, Arthur," and with one stroke of his machete the young negro would decapitate a nut, which the little fellow would drain thirstily and then rush back to his game. The schoolmaster told me that he always gave his boys cocoa-nut water at their dinner, as it never causes a chill, and as there were thousands of trees growing round the school, it was an inexpensive luxury. One of the duties of Arthur, the negro boy, was to supply the school with nuts, and I saw him going up the trees like a monkey, with the aid of a sling of rope round his leg.
I and my nephew went out fishing on the reef at dawn, before the breeze sprang up. The water was like glass, and we could see the bottom quite clearly at nine fathoms. It was like fishing in an aquarium. The most impossible marine monsters! Turquoise-blue fish; grey and pink fish; some green and scarlet, others as yellow as canaries. We could follow our lines right down to the bottom, and see the fish hook themselves amongst the jagged coral, till the bottom-boards of the boat looked like a rainbow with our victims. As the breeze sprang up, the surf started at once, and fishing became impossible. We had been warned that many of the reef fish were uneatable, and that the yellow ones were actively poisonous. We were quite proud of our Joseph's-coat-like catch, but our henchman, the negro lad Arthur, assured us that every fish we had caught was poisonous. We had reason later to doubt this assertion, as we saw him walking home with a splendid parti-coloured string of fish, probably chuckling over the white man's credulity.
The natural surroundings of that school were lovely, but the little white boys, who had lived all their lives in Jamaica, most likely took it all for granted, and thought it quite natural to have their bathing-place surrounded by cocoa-nut palms, their playground fringed with hibiscus and scarlet poinsettias, and the garden a riot of mangoes, bread-fruits, nutmeg and cinnamon trees.
No doubt they thought their school and its grounds dull and hideous. On a subsequent voyage home from Jamaica, there was on board a very small boy from this identical school, on his way to a school in Scotland. He seemed about eight; a little, sturdy figure in white cotton shorts. He was really much older, and it was curious to hear a deep bass voice (with a strong Scottish accent) issuing from so small a frame. He was a very independent little Scot, wanting no help, and quite able to take care of himself. We arrived at Bristol in bitterly cold weather, and the boy, who had been five years in Jamaica, had only his tropical clothing. We left him on the platform of Bristol station, a forlorn little figure, shivering in his inadequate white cotton shorts, and blue with the unaccustomed cold, to commence his battle with the world alone, but still declining any assistance in reaching his destination. That boy had a brief, but most distinguished career. He passed second out of Sandhurst, sweeping the board of prizes, including the King's Prize, Lord Roberts' Prize, the Sword of Honour, and the riding and shooting prizes. He chose the Indian Army, and the 9th Goorkhas as his regiment, a choice he had made, as he told me afterwards, since his earliest boyhood, when Rudyard Kipling's books had first opened his eyes to a new world. That lad proved to have the most extraordinary natural gift for Oriental languages. Within two years of his first arrival in India he had passed in higher Urdu, in higher Hindi, in Punjabi, and in Pushtoo. Norman Kemp had; in addition, some curious intuitive faculty for understanding the Oriental mind, and was a born leader of men. He was a wonderful all-round sportsman, and promised to be one of the finest soldier-jockeys India has ever turned out, for here his light weight and very diminutive size were assets. He came to France with the first Indian contingent, went through eighteen months' heavy fighting there, and then took part in the relief of Kut, where he won the M.C. for conspicuous valour on the field, and afterwards gained the D.S.O. I have heard him conversing in five different languages with the wounded Indian soldiers in the Pavilion Hospital at Brighton (with the Scottish accent underlying them all), and noted the thorough understanding there was between him and the men. Young as he was, he had managed to get inside the Oriental mind. He was killed in a paltry frontier affray, six months after the Armistice. I am convinced that Norman Kemp would have made a great name for himself had he lived. He had the peculiar faculty of gaining the confidence of the Oriental, and I think that he would have eventually drifted from the Military to the Political or Administrative side in India. He was a splendid little fellow.
Nearly twenty-five years earlier, I had known another very similar type of young man. He was a subaltern in the Norfolk Regiment, and a great school-friend of a nephew of mine. Chafing at the monotony of regimental life, he got seconded, and went out to the Nigerian Frontier Field Force. Here that young fellow of twenty-two, who had hitherto confined his energies to playing football and boxing, proved himself not only a natural leader of men, but a born administrator as well. He quickly gained the confidence of his Haussa troops, and then set to work to improve the sanitary conditions of Jebba, where he was stationed. He equipped the town with a good water-supply, as well as with a system of drainage, and planted large vegetable gardens, so that the European residents need no longer be entirely dependent on tinned foods. It was Ronald Buxton, too, who first had the idea of building houses on tripods of railway metals, to raise them above the deadly ground-mists. Thanks to him, the place became reasonably healthy, and his powers of organisation being quickly recognised, he was transferred from the Military to the Administrative side. His whole heart was in his work. Like young Kemp, Buxton always stayed in my house when on leave. Though the most tempting invitations to shoot and to hunt rained in on him whilst in England, he was always fretting and chafing to be back at work in his pestilential West African swamp, where he lived on a perpetual diet of bully beef and yams in a leaky native grass-built hut. Like young Kemp, he was absolutely indifferent to the ordinary comforts of life, and appeared really to enjoy hardships, and they were both quite insensible to the attractions of money. He was killed in the South African War, or would, I am sure, have had a most distinguished Colonial career. These two young men seemed created to be pioneers in rough lands. As far as my own experience goes, it is only these Islands that produce young men of the precise stamp of Norman Kemp and Ronald Buxton.
Appalling ignorance of geography amongst English people—Novel pedagogic methods—"Happy Families"—An instructive game—Bermuda—A waterless island—A most inviting archipelago—Bermuda the most northern coral-atoll—The reefs and their polychrome fish—A "water-glass"—Sea-gardens—An ideal sailing place-How the Guardsman won his race—A miniature Parliament—Unfounded aspersions on the Bermudians—Red and blue birds—Two pardonable mistakes—Soldier gardeners—Officers' wives—The little roaming home-makers—A pleasant island—The inquisitive German Naval Officers—"The Song of the Bermudians."
The crass ignorance of the average Englishman about geography is really appalling. He neither knows, nor wants to know, anything about it, and oddly enough seems to think that there is something rather clever about his dense ignorance. This ignorance extends to our statesmen, as we know by the painful experience of some of our treaties, which can only have been drawn up by men grossly ignorant of the parts of the world about which they were supposed to be negotiating. I quite admit that geography is almost ignored in our schools, and yet no branch of knowledge can be made so attractive to the young, and, taught in conjunction with history, as it should be, none is of higher educational value. At the request of two clerical friends, I gave some geography lessons last year to the little boys in their schools. My methods were admittedly illegitimate. In the course of the last fifteen years I have sent hundreds of coloured picture-postcards of places all over the world, in Asia, Africa, Europe and America, to a small great-nephew of mine, now of an age when such things no longer appeal to him. Armed with my big bundle of postcards, and with another parcel as well, I tackled my small pupils. I never spoke of them of a place without showing them a set of views of it, for I have a theory that the young remember more by the eye than by the ear. In this way a place-name conveyed to them a definite idea, for they had seen half-a-dozen somewhat garishly coloured presentments of it. The young love colour. Then my second method came into play. "Evans, what did I tell you last time grew in Jamaica?" "Sugar and coffee, sir," "Next boy, what else?" "Pepper, salt and mustard, sir." "Young idiot! Next boy." "Cocoa, sir, and ginger." "Very good, Oxley. Bring me that long parcel there. There is enough preserved ginger for two pieces for each boy; Ellis, who gave a silly answer, gets none." "Baker, what fruit did I tell you grew in the West Indies?" "Pineapples, sir." "Very good, Baker. Bring me those two tins of pineapple and the tin-opener. Plenty for you all." My lessons were quite enormously popular with my pupils, though the matron complained that the boys seemed liable to bilious attacks after them.