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234

BEAUTY OF THE ISLAND.

an early age, have at the first commencement of their career to make St. Thomas their residence, as far as they have any residence. They live of course on board their ships; but the peculiarity of St. Thomas is this; that the harbor is ten times more fatal than the town. It is that hole, up by the coaling wharves, which sends so many English lads to the grave. If this be so, this alone, I think, constitutes a strong reason why St. Thomas should not be so favored. These vessels now form a considerable fleet, and some of them spend nearly a third of their time at this place. The number of Englishmen so collected and endangered is sufficient to warrant us in regarding this as a great drawback on any utility which the island may have—if such utility there be.

But we must give even the devil his due. Seen from the water St. Thomas is very pretty. It is not so much the scenery of the island that pleases as the aspect of the town itself. It stands on three hills or mounts, with higher hills, green to their summit, rising behind them. Each mount is topped by a pleasant, cleanly edifice, and pretty-looking houses stretch down the sides to the water's edge. The buildings do look pretty and nice, and as though chance had arranged them for a picture. Indeed as seen from the harbor, the town looks like a panorama exquisitely painted. The air is thin and transparent, and every line shows itself clearly. As so seen the town of St. Thomas is certainly attractive. But it is like the Dead Sea fruit; all the charm is gone when it is tasted. Land there, and the beauty vanishes.

The hotel at St. Thomas is quite a thing of itself. There is no fair ground for complaint as regards the accommodation, considering where one is, and that people do not visit St. Thomas for pleasure : but the people that one meets there form as strange a collection as may per

THE CLIMATE AND THE APPETITE.

235

haps be found anywhere. In the first place, all languages seem alike to them.

One hears English, French, German, and Spanish spoken all around one, and apparently it is indifferent which. The waiters seem to speak them all.

The most of these guests I take it-certainly a large proportion of them-are residents of the place, who board at the inn. I have been there for a week at a time and it seemed that all then around me were so.

There were ladies among them, who always came punctually to their meals, and went through the long course of breakfast and the long course of dinner with admirable perseverance. I never saw eating to equal that eating. When I was there the house was always full ; but the landlord told me that he found it very hard to make money, and I can believe it.

A hot climate, it is generally thought, interferes with the appetite, affects the gastric juices with lassitude, gives to the stomach some of the apathy of the body, and lessens at any rate the consumption of animal food. That charge cannot be made against the air of St. Thomas. To whatever sudden changes the health may be subject, no lingering disinclination for food affects it. Men eat there as though it were the only solace of their life, and women also. Probably it is so.

They never talk at meals. A man and his wife may interchange a word or two as to the dishes; or men coming from the same store may whisper a syllable as to their culinary desires; but in an ordinary way there is no talking. I myself generally am not a mute person at my meals; and having dined at sundry tables d'hote have got over in a great degree that disinclination to speak to my neighbor which is attributed—I believe wrongly—to Englishmen. But at St. Thomas I took it into my head to wait till I was spoken to, and for a week I sat, twice

236

A LADY AT DINNER.

daily, between the same persons without receiving or speaking a single word.

I shall not soon forget the stout lady who sat opposite to me, and who was married to a little hooked-nosed Jew, who always accompanied her. Soup, fish, and then meat is the ordinary rule at such banquets; but here the fashion is for the guests, having curried favor with the waiters to get their plates of food brought in and put around before them in little circles ; so that a man while taking his soup may contemplate his fish and his roast beef, his wing of fowl, his allotment of salad, his peas and potatoes, his pudding, pie, and custard, and whatever other good things a benevolent and well-fee'd waiter way be able to collect for him. This somewhat crowds the table, and occasionally it becomes necessary for the guest to guard his treasures with an eagle's eye ;-hers also with an eagle's eye, and sometimes with an eagle's talon.

This stout lady was great on such occasions. "A bit of that,” she would exclaim, with head half turned round, as a man would pass behind her with a dish, while she was in the very act of unloading within her throat a whole knifeful charged to the hilt. The efforts which at first affected me as almost ridiculous advanced to the sublime as dinner went on. There was no shirking, no half measures, no slackened pace as the breath became short. The work was daily done to the final half-pound of cheese.

Cheese and jelly, guava jelly, were always eaten together. This I found to be the general fashion of St. Thomas. Some men dipped their cheese in jelly; some ate a bit of jelly and then a bit of cheese; some topped up with jelly and some topped up with cheese, all having it on their plates together. But this lady-she must have spent years in acquiring the exercise—had a knack

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of involving her cheese in jelly, covering up by a rapid twirl of her knife a bit about an inch thick, so that no cheesy surface should touch her palate, and then depositing the parcel, oh, ever so far down, without dropping above a globule or two of the covering on her bosom.

Her lord, the Israelite, used to fight hard too; but the battle was always over with him long before the lady showed even a sign of distress. He was one of those flashy weedy animals that make good running for a few yards and are then choked off. She was game up to the winning-post. There were many animals running at those races, but she might have given all the others the odds of a pound of solid food, and yet have beaten them.

But then, to see her rise from the table! Well; pace and extra weight together will distress the best horse that ever was shod !

Over and above this I found nothing of any general interest at St. Thomas.

238

NEW GRANADA.

CHAPTER XVI.

NEW GRANADA, AND THE ISTHMUS OF PANAMA.

It is probably known to all that New Granada is the most northern of the republics of South America ; or it should rather be said that it is the state nearest to the isthmus, of which indeed it comprehends a considerable portion ; the territory of the Gulf of Darien and the district of Panamá all being within the limits of New Granada.

It was however but the other day that New Granada formed only a part of the republic of Columbia, the republic of which Bolivar was the hero. As the inhabitants of Central America found it necessary to break up their state into different republics, so also did the people of Columbia. The heroes and patriots of Caracas and Quito could not consent to be governed from Bogotá; and therefore three seats were formed out of one. They are New Granada, with its capital of Bogotá ; Venezuela, with its capital of Caracas, lying exactly to the east of New Granada; and Ecuador—the state, that is, of Equator, lying to the south of New Granada, having its seaport at Guayaquil on the Pacific, with Quito, its chief City, exactly on the line.

The district of Columbia was one of the grandest appanages of the Spanish throne when the appanages of the Spanish throne were grand indeed. The town and port of Cartagena, on the Atlantic, were admirably fortified, as was also Panamá on the Pacific. Its interior cities were populous, flourishing, and, for that age, fairly civilized. Now the whole country has received the boon

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