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TOM CRINGLE'S LOG.
SCENES IN JAMAICA.
I CONFESS that I did not promise myself much pleasure from my cruise ashore; somehow or other I had made up my mind to believe, that in Jamaica, putting aside the magnificence and natural beauty of the face of the country, there was little to interest me. I had pictured to myself the slaves-a miserable, squalid, half-fed, ill-clothed, over-worked race-and their masters, and the white inhabitants generally, as an unwholesomelooking crew of saffron-faced tyrants, who wore straw hats with umbrella brims, wide trowsers, and calico jackets, living on pepper pot and land crabs, and drinking sangaree and smoking cigars the whole day; in a word, that all that Bryan Edwards and others had written regarding the civilisation of the West Indies was a fable. But I was agreeably undeceived; for although I did meet with some extraordinary characters, and witnessed not a few rum scenes, yet on the whole I gratefully bear witness to the great hospitality of the inhabitants, both in the towns and in the country. In Kingston the society was exceedingly good, as good, I can freely affirm, as I ever met with in any provincial town anywhere; and there prevailed a warmth of heart, and a 'kindliness both in the males and females of those families to which I had the good fortune to be introduced, that I never experienced out of Jamaica.
At the period I am describing, the island was in the hey-day of its prosperity, and the harbour of Kingston was full of shipping. I had never before seen so superb a mercantile haven; it is completely land-locked, and the whole navy of England might ride in it commodiously.
On the sea face it is almost impregnable, for it would be little short of a miracle for an invading squadron to wind its way through the labyrinth of shoals and reefs lying off the mouth of it, amongst which the channels are so narrow and intricate, that at three or four points the sinking of a sand barge would effectually block up all
ingress; but, independently of this, the entrance at Port-Royal is defended by very strong works, the guns ranging the whole way across, while, a little farther on, the attacking ships would be exposed to a cross fire from the heavy metal of the Apostles' Battery; and even assuming all these obstacles to be overcome, and the passage into the harbour forced, before they could pass the narrows to get up to the anchorage at Kingston, they would be blown out of the water by a raking fire from sixty pieces of large cannon on Fort Augusta, which is so situated that they would have to turn to windward for at least half an hour, in a strait which at the widest, would not allow them to reach beyond musket-shot of the walls. Fortunately, as yet Mr Canning had not called his New World into existence, and the whole of the trade of Terra Firma, from Porto Cavello down to Chagres, the greater part of the trade of the islands of Cuba and San Domingo, and even that of Lima and San Blas, and the other ports of the Pacific, carried on across the Isthmus of Darien, centred in Kingston, the usual supplies through Cadiz being stopped by the advance of the French in the Peninsula. The result of this princely traffic, more magnificent than that of Tyre, was a stream of gold and silver flowing into the Bank of England, to the extent of three millions of pounds sterling annually in return for British manufactures; thus supplying the sinews of war to the government at home, and besides the advantage of so large a mart, employing an immense amount of British tonnage, and many thousand seamen; and in numberless ways opening up new outlets to British enterprise and ca pital. Alas! alas! where is all this now? The echo of the empty stores might answer "6 where!"
On arriving at Kingston, my first object was to seek out Mr ***, the admiral's agent, and one of the most extensive merchants in the place, in order to deliver some letters to him,
and get his advice as to my future proceedings. Mr Callaloo undertook to be my pilot, striding along a-beam of me, and leaving in his wake two serpentine dottings on the pavement from the droppings of water from his voluminous coat-skirts, which had been thoroughly soaked from his recent ducking.
Every thing appeared to be thriving, and as we passed along, the hot sandy streets were crowded with drays conveying goods from the wharfs to the stores, and from the stores to the Spanish Posadas. The merchants of the place, active, sharplooking men, were seen grouped under the piazzas in earnest conversation with their Spanish customers, or perched on the top of the bales and boxes just landed, waiting to hook the gingham-coated, Moorish-looking Dons, as they came along with cigars in their mouths, and a train of negro servants following them with fire buckets on their heads, filled with pesos fuertes. The appearance of the town itself was novel and pleasing; the houses, mostly of two stories, looked as if they had been built of cards, most of them being surrounded with piazzas from ten to fourteen feet wide, gaily painted with green and white, and formed by the roofs projecting beyond the brick walls or shells of the houses. On the ground-floor these piazzas are open, and in the lower part of the town, where the houses are built contiguous to each other, they form a covered way, affording a most grateful shelter from the sun, on each side of the streets, which last are unpaved, and more like dry river-courses, than thoroughfares in a Christian town. On the floor above, the balconies are shut in with a sort of movable blinds, called "Jealousies," like large-bladed Venetian blinds fixed in frames, with here and there a glazed sash to admit light in bad weather when the blinds are closed, In the upper part of the town the effect is very beautiful, every house standing detached from its neigh bour, in its little garden filled with vines, fruit-trees, and stately palms, and cocoa-nut trees, with a court of negro houses and offices behind, and a patriarchal-looking draw-well in the centre, generally overshadowed
by a magnificent wild tamarind. When I arrived at the great_merchant's place of business, I was shewn into a lofty cool room, with a range of desks along the walls, where a dozen clerks were quill-driving. In the centre sat my man, a small sallow, yet perfectly gentlemanlike personage. "Dat is massa," quoth my black usher. I accordingly walked up to him, and presented my letter. He never lifted his head from his paper, which I had half a mind to resent; but at the moment there was a bustle in the piazza, and a group of navy officers, amongst whom was the admiral, came in. My silent friend was now alert enough, and profuse of his bows and smiles. "Who have we here? Who is that boy, L-?" said the admiral to his secretary. "Young Cringle, sir, the only one except Mr Splinter saved from the Torch; he was first on the Admiralty list 'tother day."
"What, the lad Willoughby spoke so well of ?”
"The same, sir, he got his promotion by last packet."
"I know, I know. I say, Mr Cringle, you are appointed to the Firebrand, do you know that?"
I did not know it, and began to fear my cruise on shore was all up.
"But I don't look for her from Havanna for a month; so leave your address with L-, that you may get the order to join when she does come."
It appeared that I had seen the worst of the agent, for he gave me a very kind invitation to stay some days with him, and drove me home in his ketureen, a sort of sedan chair, with the front and sides knocked out, and mounted on a gig body. Before dinner we were lounging about the piazza, and looking down into the street, when a negro funeral came past, preceded by a squad of drunken black vagabonds, singing and playing on gumbies, African drums, made out of pieces of hollow trees, about six feet long, with skins braced over them, each carried by one man, while another beats it with his open hands. The coffin was borne along on the heads of two negroes→→ a negro carries every thing on his head, from a bale of goods to a wineglass or tea-cup. It is a practice for
the bearers, when they come near the house of any one against whom the deceased was supposed to have had a grudge, to pretend that the coffin will not pass by, and in the present case, when they came opposite to where we stood, they began to wheel round and round, and to stagger under their load, while the choristers shouted at the top of their lungs.
"We beg you, shipmate, for come along-do, broder, come away;" then another reel. "What, you no wantee go in a hole, eh? You hab grudge gainst somebody lif here, eh!" Another devil of a lurch "Massa *** housekeeper, eh? Ah, it must be !"-A tremendous stagger" Oh, Massa *** dollar for drink; someting to hold play" (negro wake) "in Spring-path," (the negro burying-ground;) "Be diacko say him won't pass less you give it." And here they began to spin round more violently than before; but at the instant a drove of bullocks coming along, they got entangled amongst them, and down went body and bearers and all, the coffin bursting in the fall, and the dead corpse, with its white grave clothes and black face, rolling over and over in the sand amongst the feet of the cattle. It was immediately caught up, however, bundled into the coffin again, and away they staggered, drumming and singing as loudly as before.
The party at dinner was a large one; every thing in good style, wines superb, turtle, &c., magnificent, and the company exceedingly companionable. A Mr Francis Fyall, (a great planting attorney, that is, an agent for a number of proprietors of estates, who preferred living in England, and paying a commission to him for managing in Jamaica, to facing the climate themselves,) to whom I had an introduction, rather posed me, by asking me during dinner, if I would take any thing in the long way with him, which he explained by saying he would be glad to take a glass of small beer with me. This, after a deluge of Madeira, Champagne, and all manner of light wines, was rather trying; but I kept my countenance as well as I could. One thing I remember struck me as remarkable, just as we were rising to go to the
drawingroom, a cloud of winged ants burst in upon us through the open windows, and had it not been for the glass shades, would have extinguished the candles; but when they had once settled on the table, they deliberately wriggled themselves free of their wings, as one would cast off a great coat, and crept away in their simple and more humble capacity of creeping things. Next day I went to wait on my relation, Mrs S; I had had a confoundedly hot walk through the burning sandy streets, and was nearly blinded by the reflection from them, as I ascended the front stairs. There are no carpets in the houses in Jamaica; but the floors, which are often of mahogany, are beautifully polished, and shine like a well-kept dinner table. They are, of course, very slippery, and require wary walking till one gets accustomed to them. The rooms are made exceedingly dark during the heat of the day, according to the prevailing practice in all ardent climates. A black footman, very handsomely dressed, all to his bare legs, (I thought at first he had black silk stockings on,) preceded me, and when he reached the drawingroom door, asked my name. I told him, “ Mr Cringle”— whereupon he sung out to my dismay-" Massa Captain Ringtail to wait pan Misses."
This put me out a leetle-especially as I heard some one say" Captain who-what a very odd name?"
But I had no time for reflection, as I had not blundered three steps out of the glare of the Piazza, into the palpable obscure of the darkened drawingroom, black as night from the contrast, when I capsized headlong over an ottoman in the middle of the apartment, and floundered right into the middle of a group of young ladies, and one or two lapdogs, by whom it was conjointly occupied. Trying to recover myself, I slipped on the glasslike floor, and came down stern foremost, and being now regularly at the slack end, for I could not well get lower, I sat still scratching my caput in the midst of a gay company of morning visitors, enjoying the gratifying consciousness that I was distinctly visible to them, although my dazzled optics could as yet distinguish nothing. To add to my pleasureable sensations, I now
perceived from the coldness of the floor, that in my downfall the catastrophe of my unmentionables had been grievously rent, but I had nothing for it but sitting patiently still amidst the suppressed laughter of the company, until I became accustomed to the twilight, and they, like bright stars, began to dawn on my bewildered senses in all their love·liness, and prodigiously handsome women some of them were, for the Creoles, so far as figure is concerned, are generally perfect, while beautiful features are not wanting, and my travel had reconciled me to the absence of the rose from their cheeks. My eldest cousin Mary (where is there a name like Mary?) now approached, she and I were old friends, and many a junketing we used to have in my father's house during the holidays, when she was a boarding-school girl in England. My hardihood and selfpossession returned, under the double gratification of seeing her, and the certainty that my blushes (for my cheeks were glowing like hot iron) could not have been observed in the subdued green light that pervaded the room.
"Well, Tom, since you are no longer dazzled, and see us all now, you had better get up, hadn't you you see mamma is waiting there to embrace you?”
"Why, I think myself I had better; but when I broached-to so suddenly, I split my lower canvass, Mary, and I cannot budge until your mother lends me a petticoat."
"A what? you are crazy, Tom""Not a whit, not a whit, why I have split my-ahem."
"This is speaking plain, an't it?" Away tripped the sylph-like girl, and in a twinkling re-appeared with the desired garment, which in a convulsion of laughter she slipped over my head as I sat on the floor; and having fastened it properly round my waist, I rose and paid my respects to my warm-hearted relations. But that petticoat-It could not have been the old woman's, there could have been no such virtue in an old woman's petticoat; no, no, it must either have been a charmed garment, or-or-Mary's own; for from that hour I was a lost man, and the devoted slave of her large black eyes, and high pale forehead. “Oh, murder
you speak of the sun dazzling, what is it to the lustre of that same eye of yours, Mary ?"
In the evening I escorted the ladies to a ball, (by the way, a West India ball-room being a perfect lantern, open to the four winds of heaven, is cooler than a ball-room any where else,) and a very gay affair it turned out to be, although I had more trouble in getting admittance than I bargained for, and was witness to as comical a row (considering the very frivolous origin of it, and the quality of the parties engaged in it) as ever took place even in that peppery country, where, I verily believe, the temper of the people, generous though it be in the main, is hotter than the climate, and that, God knows! is sudoriferous enough. I was walking through the entrance saloon with my fair cousin on my arm, stepping out like a hero to the opening crash of a fine military band, towards the entrance of the splendid ball-room filled with elegant company, brilliantly lighted up and ornamented with the most rare and beautiful shrubs and flowers, which no European conservatory could have furnished forth, and arched overhead with palm branches and a profusion of evergreens, while the polished floor, like one vast mirror, reflected the fine forms of the pale but lovely black-eyed and black-haired West Indian dames, glancing amidst the more sombre dresses of their partners, while the whole group was relieved by being here and there spangled with a rich naval or military uniform. As we approached, a constable put his staff across the doorway.
Beg pardon, sir, but you are not in full dress."
Now this was the first night whereon I had sported my lieutenant's uniform, and with my gold swab on my shoulder, the sparkling bullion glancing in the corner of my eye at the very moment, my dress-sword by my side, gold buckles in my shoes, and spotless white trowsers, I had, in my innocence, considered myself a deuced killing fellow, and felt proportionably mortified at this address.
"No one can be admitted in trowsers, sir," said the man.
"Shiver my timbers !" I could not help the exclamation, the transaç◄