Imágenes de página

overseer, as soon as he could get off the ground, where he had thrown himself in an uncontrollable fit of laughter, had the man stripped and laid across a log, where he set his servant to pick out the pellets with a penknife.

Next night I was awakened out of my first sleep by a peculiar sort of tap, tap, on the floor, as if a cat with walnut shells had been moving about the room. The feline race, in all its varieties, is my detestation, so I slipped out of bed to expel the intruder, but the instant my toe touched the ground, it was seized as if by a smith's forceps. I drew it into bed, but the annoyance followed it; and in an agony of alarm and pain, I thrust my hand down, when my thumb was instantly manacled to the other suffering member. I now lost my wits altogether, and roared murder, which brought a servant in with a light, and there I was, thumb and toe, in the clinch of a land-crab.

I had been exceedingly struck with the beauty of the negro villages on the old settled estates, which are usually situated in the most picturesque spots, and I determined to visit the one which lay on a sunny bank, full in view from my window, divided on two sides from the cane pieces by a precipitous ravine, and on the other two by a high logwood hedge, so like hawthorn, that I could scarcely tell the difference, even when close to it.

At a distance it had the appearance of one entire orchard of fruittrees, where were mingled together the pyramidal orange in fruit and in flower, the former in all its stages from green to dropping ripe,-the citron, lemon, and lime-trees, the stately, glossy-leaved star-apple, the golden shaddock and grape-fruit, with their slender branches bending under their ponderous yellow fruit, -the cashew, with its apple like those of the cities of the plain, fair to look at, but acrid to the taste, to which the far-famed nut is appended like a bud,-the avocado, with its brobdignag pear, as large as a purser's lantern, the bread-fruit, with a leaf that would have covered Adam like a Bishop's apron, and a fruit for all the world in size and shape like a Blackamoor's head; while for underwood you had the green, fresh, dew-spangled plantain, round which

in the hottest day there is always a halo of coolness,-the coco root, the yam and granadillo, with their long vines twining up the neighbouring trees and shrubs like hop tendrils, and pease and beans, in all their endless variety of blossom and of odour, from the Lima bean, with a stalk as thick as my arm, to the mouse pea, three inches high, the pine-apple, literally growing in, and constituting, with its prickly leaves, part of the hedgerows,-the custard apple, like russet bags of cold pudding,-the cocoa and coffee bushes, and the devil knows what all that is delightful in nature besides; while aloft, the tall graceful cocoa-nut, the majestic palm, and the gigantic wild cottontree, shot up here and there like minarets far above the rest, high into the blue heavens.

I entered one of the narrow winding footpaths, where an immense variety of convolvuli crept along the penguin fences, disclosing their delicate flowers in the morning freshness, (all that class here shut shop at noon,) and passion flowers of all sizes, from a soup-plate to a thumb ring. The huts were substantially thatched with palm leaves, and the walls woven with a basket work of twigs, plastered over with clay, and whitewashed; the floors were of baked clay, dry and comfortable. They all consisted of a hall and a sleepingroom off each side of it; in many of the former I noticed mahogany sideboards, and chairs, and glass decanters, while a whole lot of African drums and flutes, and sometimes a good gun, hung from the rafters; and it would have gladdened an Irishman's heart to have seen the adjoining piggeries. Before one of the houses an old woman was taking care of a dozen black infants, little naked, glossy, black guinea-pigs, with parti-coloured beads tied round their loins, each squatted like a little Indian pagod in the middle of a large wooden bowl, to keep it off the damp ground. While I was pursuing my ramble, a large conch shell was blown at the overseer's house, and the different gangs turned in to dinner; they came along dancing and shouting, and playing tricks on each other in the little paths, in all the happy anticipation of a good dinner, and an hour and a half to eat it in, the men well clad in Osnaburg frocks

and trowsers, and the women in baize petticoats and Osnaburg shifts, with a neat printed calico short gown over all. "And these are slaves," thought I," and this is West Indian bondage! Oh that some of my wellmeaning anti-slavery friends were here, to judge from the evidence of their own senses!"

The following night there was to be a grand play or wake in the negro houses, over the head cooper, who had died in the morning, and I determined to be present at it, although the overseer tried to dissuade me, saying that no white person ever broke in on these orgies, that the negroes were very averse to their doing so, and that neither he, nor any of the white people on the estate, had ever been present on such an occasion. This very interdict excited my curiosity still more; so I rose about midnight, and let myself gently down through the window, and shaped my course in the direction of the negro houses, guided by a loud drumming, which, as I came nearer, every now and then sank into a low murmuring roll, when a strong bass voice would burst forth into a wild recitative; to which succeeded a loud piercing chorus of female voices, during which the drums were beaten with great vehemence; this was succeeded by another solo, and so on. There was no moon, and I had to thread my way along one of the winding footpaths by star-light. When I arrived within a stone-cast of the hut before which the play was being held, I left the beaten track, and crept onwards, until I gained the shelter of the stem of a wild cotton tree, behind which I skulked un


The scene was wild enough. Before the door a circle was formed by about twenty women, all in their best clothes, sitting on the ground, and swaying their bodies to and fro, while they sung in chorus the wild dirge already mentioned, the words of which I could not make out; in the centre of the circle sat four men playing on gumbies, or the long drum already described, while a fifth stood behind them, with a conch

shell, which he kept sounding at intervals. Other three negroes kept circling round the outer verge of the circle of women, naked all to their waist cloths, spinning about and about with their hands above their heads, like so many dancing dervishes. It was one of these three that from time to time took up the recitative, the female chorus breaking in after each line. Close to the drummers lay the body in an open coffin, supported on two low stools or tressels; a piece of flaming resinous wood was stuck in the ground at the head, and another at the feet, and a lump of kneaded clay, in which another torch-like splinter was fixed, rested on the breast. An old man, naked like the solo singer, was digging a grave close to where the body lay. The following was the chant:→→

« I say, broder, you can't go yet.”


"When de morning star rise, den we put you in a hole."

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Three calibashes, or gourds, with pork, yams, and rum, were placed on a small bench that stood close to the head of the bier, and at right angles to it.

In a little while, the women, singing men, and drummers, suddenly gave a loud shout, or rather yell, clapped their hands three times, and then rushed into the surrounding cottages, leaving the old gravedigger alone with the body.

He had completed the grave, and had squatted himself on his hams be side the coffin, swinging his body as the women had done, and uttering a low moaning sound, frequently ending in a loud pech, like that of a pavior when he brings down his ram


* Duppy, Ghost.

I noticed he kept looking towards the east, watching, as I conjectured, the first appearance of the morning star, but it was as yet too early. He lifted the gourd with the pork, and took a large mouthful.

"How is dis? I cant put dis meat in quacco's coffin, dere is salt in de pork; Duppy can't bear salt," another large mouthful-" Duppy hate salt too much,”-here he ate it all up, and placed the empty gourd in the coffin. He then took up the one with boiled yam in it, and tasted it


"Salt here too-who de debil do such a ting?-must not let Duppy taste dat." He discussed this also, placing the empty vessel in the cof fin as he had done with the other. He then came to the calibash with the rum. There is no salt there, thought I.

“Rum! ah, Duppy love rum-if it be well strong, let me see-Massa Niger, who put water in a dis rum, eh? Duppy will never touch dat " —a long pull—“ no, no, never touch dat." Here he finished the whole, and placed the empty vessel beside the others; then gradually sunk back on his hams with his mouth open, and his eyes starting from the sockets, as he peered up into the tree, apparently at some terrible object. I looked up also, and saw a large yellow snake, nearly ten feet long, let itself gradually down, directly over the coffin, with its tail round a limb of the cotton tree, until its head reached within an inch of the dead man's face, which it licked with its long forked tongue, uttering a loud hissing noise.

I was fascinated with horror, and could not move a muscle; at length the creature swung itself up again, and disappeared amongst the branch


[ocr errors]

Quashie gained courage, as the rum began to operate, and the snake to disappear. "Come to catch Quacco's Duppy, before him get to Africa, sure as can be. De metody parson say de devil, old sarpant, dat must be old sarpant, for I never see so big one, so it must be devil."

He caught a glimpse of my face at this moment; it seemed that I had no powers of fascination like the snake, for he roared out," Murder, murder, de devil, de devil, first like a serpent, den like himself; see him

white face behind de tree; see him white face behind de tree;" and then, in the extremity of his fear, he popt headforemost into the grave, leaving his quivering legs, and feet sticking upwards, as if he had been planted by the head.

A number of negroes ran out of the nearest houses, and, to my sur prise, four white seamen appeared amongst them, who, the moment they got sight of my uniform, as I ran away, gave chase, and immediately pinioned me. They were all armed, and I had no doubt were part of the crew of the smuggling schooner, and that they had a depot amongst the negro houses. "Yo ho, my hearty, heave to, or here goes with a brace of bullets."

I told them who I was, and that curiosity alone brought me there.

"Gammon, tell that to the marines; you're a spy, messmate, and on board you go with us, so sure as I be Paul Brandywine."

Here was a change with a vengeance. An hour before I was surrounded by friends, and resting com❤ fortably in my warm bed, and now I was a prisoner to a set of brigands, who were smugglers at the best, and what might they not be at the worst? I had no chance of escape by any sudden effort of strength or activity, for a piece of a handspike had been thrust across my back, passing under both of my arms, which were tightly lashed to it, as if I had been trussed for roasting, so that I could no more run, with a chance of escape, than a goose without his pinions. After we left the negro houses, I perceived, with some surprise, that my captors kept the beaten tract, leading directly to, and past the overseer's dwelling. "Come, here is a chance, at all events," argued I to myself. "If I get within hail, I will alarm_the lieges, if a deuced good pipe don't fail me.'

This determination had scarcely been framed in my mind, when, as if my very thoughts had been audible, the smuggler next me on the right hand drew a pistol, and held it close to my starboard ear.

[ocr errors]

Friend, if you tries to raise the house, or speaks to any Niger, or other person we meets, I'll walk through your skull with two ounces of lead.'

"You are particularly obliging,"

said I; "but what do you promise yourselves by carrying me off? Were you to murder me, you would be none the richer; for I have no valuables about me, as you may easily ascertain by searching me." "And do you think that freeborn Americans like we have kidnapped you for your dirty rings, and watch, and mayhap a few dollars, which I takes you to mean by your waluboles, as you calls them ?”

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Why, then, what, in the devil's name, have you kidnapped me for ?" And I began to feel my choler overpowering my discretion, when Master Paul Brandywine, who I now suspected to be the mate of the smuggler, took the small liberty of jerking the landyard, that had been made fast to the middle of the handspike, so violently, that I thought both my shoulders were dislocated; for I was fairly checked down on my back, just as you may have seen a pig-merchant on the Fermoy road bring an uproarious boar to his marrowbones; while the man, who had previously threatened to blow my brains out, knelt beside me, and civilly insinuated, that "if I was tired of my life, he calculated I had better speak as loud again."

There was no jest in all this; so I had nothing for it but to walk silently along with my escort, after having gathered myself up as well as I could. We crept so close under the windows of the overseer's house, where we picked up a lot of empty ankers, slung on a long pole, that I fancied I heard, or really did hear, some one snore-oh how I envied the sleeper! At length we reached the beach, where we found two men lying on their oars, in what, so far as I could distinguish, appeared to be a sharp swift-looking whale boat, which they kept close to, with her head forward, however, to be ready for a start, should any thing suspicious appear close to them.

The boat-keeper hailed promptly, "Who goes there," as they feathered their oars.

"The Tidy little wave," was the


No more words passed, and the men who had, in the first instance, pulled a stroke or two to give the boat way, now backed water, and

tailed her on to the beach, when we all stepped on board.

Two of my captors now took each an oar; we shoved off, and glanced away through the darkness, along the smooth surface of the sparkling sea, until we reached the schooner, by this time hauled out into the fair way at the mouth of the cove, where she lay hove short, with her mainsail hoisted up, riding to the land-wind, and apparently all ready to cant and be off the moment the boat returned.

As we came alongside, the captain of her, my friend Obediah, as I had no difficulty in guessing, from his very out of the way configuration, dark as it was, called out, " I says, Paul, who have you got in the starn-sheets there?"

"A bloody spy, captain; he who was with the overseer when he peppered your sheathing t'other morning."

Ohɔ, bring him on board-bring him on board. I knows there be a man-of-war schooner close aboard of the island, somewheres hereabouts. I sees through it all, smash my eyes!—I sees through it.—But what kept you, Paul? Don't you see the morning-star has risen."

By this time I stood on the deck of the little vessel, which was not above a foot out of the water; and Obediah, as he spoke, pointed to the small dark pit of a companion, for there was no light below, nor indeed any where on board, except in the binnacle, and that carefully masked, indicating by his threatening manner, that I was to get below as speedily as possible.

"Don't you see the morning-star, sir? Why the sun will be up in an hour, I calculate, and then the seabreeze will be down on us before we get any thing of an offing."

The mention of the morning-star recalled vividly to my recollection the scene I had so recently witnessed at the negro wake; it seemed there was another person beside poor Quacco, likely to be crammed into a hole before the day broke, and to be carried to Africa, too, for what I knew; but one must needs go when the devil drives, so I slipped down into the cabin, and the schooner having weighed, made sail to the northward.


We are summoned, by the import ant labours of Mr M'Gregor, to a duty which has something of a patriotic value at all times, and at this time, for many parts of our domestic empire, something of a local interest -the duty of exposing to British eyes the great field of enterprise which is annually expanding before us in our British American dependencies. Never was so vast a system of such dependencies so little known in any national sense, or so inadequately valued. System we call them, meaning that, as their natural advantages are gradually coming forward to our knowledge, they betray such several and partial endowments of wealth and situation, as prove them to have been designed for mutual dependence and co-operation: singly, they are all weak; jointly, they compose the framework of a strong empire. Were it, indeed, possible [we abominate so sad an augury] that the mixed polity of our glorious country should ever be dissolved by the efforts of anarchy taking the shape of reformation, or that, by any other unhappy revolutions, the House of Brunswick (like that of Braganza) should be expatriated and thrown upon its American possessions, we affirm that a powerful empire might be developed to the north of the United States, out of no other rudiments than those which at present compose our colonial territory on the American continent. The simple discovery in Nova Scotia of coal fitted for the steam-engine [which the anthracite coal of the United States notoriously is not],-this one discovery, in connexion with that of iron-mines in the same province, at one blow lays the foundations-broad and deep-of power and commercial pre-eminence. Coal and iron are the two pillars on which our domestic grandeur has rested. The same elements of power, unfolded under the same protection of equal laws [for, excepting Canada, the British jurisprudence has every where taken root

in our Transatlantic realm], will doubtless tend to results the same in kind, however differing in degree, on the gulf of St Lawrence as on the Thames or on the Clyde. One danger only would threaten such a consummation-the possible want of a sufficient internal cohesion. Left to themselves, several provinces might find a momentary interest, or might imagine a lasting one, in disclaiming their British allegiance; and might pass over to the Federal Union of the great American Republic. But exactly this danger it is for which we have it in our power to provide by good policy, by paternal government, and by those institutions for nursing a civic and patriotic spirit, which hitherto we have but too much neglected. Even the use of the French language in the Canadas has been too indulgently treated by the British government. Of all barriers in the way of civic sympathy and unity of national feeling, language is the most difficult to surmount. But in threefourths of a century, by means of schools, and by provisions for annexing important civil privileges to the use of the English language, much might have been accomplished. Much may yet be accomplished; and something, indeed, has been accomplished by the general equity of our government in the midst of its many errors. It is probable, also, that the tide of emigration being in so large an overbalance British, may have the effect of diffusing and sustaining a British state of political feeling. British, we say, as not easily perceiving under what other name or presiding influence it would be possible to create such a unity of feeling amongst these provinces as would avail to bind them into one federal whole. However, if any other principle of cohesion could be found, and by whatsoever means, if the end were but attained of knitting these provinces into one political system, pursuing the same interests, and animated by one national feeling, they have, we repeat,

* British America. By John M'Gregor, Esq. - In two volumes. Edinburgh W. Blackwood.

London: T. Cadell.

« AnteriorContinuar »