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A TOUR IN THE COUNTRY.
I HAVE spoken in disparaging terms of the chief town in Jamaica, but I can atone for this by speaking in very high terms of the country. In that island one would certainly prefer the life of the country mouse. There is scenery in Jamaica which almost equals that of Switzerland and the Tyrol; and there is also, which is more essential, a temperature among the mountains in which a European can live comfortably.
I travelled over the greater part of the island, and very much pleased with it. The drawbacks on such a tour are the expensiveness of locomotion, the want of hotels, and the badness of the roads. As to cost, the tourist always consoles himself by reflecting that he is going to take the expensive journey once, and once only. The badness of the roads forms an additional excitement; and the want of hotels is cured, as it probably has been caused, by the hospitality of the gentry.
And they are very hospitable—and hospitable, too, under adverse circumstances. In olden times, when nobody anywhere was so rich as a Jamaica planter, it was not surprising that he should be always glad to see his own friends and his friends' friends, and their friends. Such visits dissipated the ennui of his own life, and the expense was not appreciable—or, at any rate, not undesirable. An
his usual rule of life. But matters are much altered with him now. If he be a planter of the olden days, he will have passed through
fire and water in his endeavors to maintain his position. If, as is more frequently the case, he be a man of new date on his estate, he will probably have established himself with a small capital ; and he also will have to struggle. But, nevertheless, the hospitality is maintained, perhaps not on the olden scale, yet on a scale that by no means requires to be enlarged.
It is rather hard on us,” said a young planter to me, with whom I was on terms of sufficient intimacy to discuss such matters—“ We send word to the people at home that we are very poor. They won't quite believe us, so they send out somebody to see.
The somebody comes, a pleasant-mannered fellow, and we kill our little fatted calf for him ; probably it is only a ewe lamb. We bring out our bottle or two of the best, that has been put by for a gala day, and so we make his heart glad. He goes home, and what does he say of us? These Jamaica planters are princes—the best fellows living; I liked them amazingly. But as for their poverty, don't believe a word of it. They swim in claret and usually bathe in champagne. Now that is hard, seeing that our common fare is salt fish and rum and water." I advised him in future to receive such inquirers with his ordinary fare only. Yes,” said he, " and then we should get it on the other cheek. We should be abused for our stingi
No Jamaica man could stand that." It is of course known that the sugar-cane is the chief production of Jamaica ; but one may travel for days in the island and only see a cane piece here and there. By far the greater portion of the island is covered with wild wood and jungle-what is there called bush. Through this, on an occasional favorable spot, and very frequently on the roadsides, one sees the gardens or provision. grounds of the negroes. These are spots of land cultiva
ted by them, for which they either pay rent, or on which, as is quite as common, they have squatted without payment of any rent.
These provision-grounds are very picturesque. They are not filled, as a peasant's garden in England or in Ireland is filled, with potatoes and cabbages, or other vegetables similarly uninteresting in their growth ; but contain cocoa-nut trees, breadfruit-trees, oranges, mangoes, limes, plantains, jack fruit, sour-sop, avocado pears, and a score of others, all of which are luxuriant trees, some of considerable size, and all of them of great beauty The breadfruit-tree and the mango are especially lovely, and I know nothing prettier than a grove of oranges in Jamaica. In addition to this, they always have the yam, which is with the negro somewhat as the potato is with the Irishman; only that the Irishman has nothing else, whereas the negro generally has either fish or meat, and has also a score of other fruits beside the yam.
The yam, too, is picturesque in its growth. As with the potatoe, the root alone is eaten, but the upper part is fostered and cared for as a creeper, so that the ground may be unencumbered by its thick tendrils. Support is provided for it as for grapes or peas.
Then one sees also in these provision-grounds patches of coffee and arrowroot, and occasionally also patches of sugar-cane.
A man wishing to see the main features of the whole island, and proceeding from Kingston as his head-quarters, must take two distinct tours, one to the east and the other to the west. The former may be best done on horseback, as the roads are, one may say, non-existent for a considerable portion of the way, and sometimes almost worse than non-existent in other places.
One of the most remarkable characteristics of Jamaica is the copiousness of its rivers. It is said that its original
name, Xaymaca, signifies a country of streams; and it certainly is not undeserved. This copiousness, though it adds to the beauty, as no doubt it does also to its salubrity and fertility, adds something too to the difficulty of locomotion. Bridges have not been built, or, sad to say, have been allowed to go to destruction. One hears that this river or that river is “ down,” whereby it is signified that the waters are swollen; and some of the rivers when so down are certainly not easy of passage. Such impediments are more frequent in the east than elsewhere, and on this account travelling on horseback is the safest as well as the most expeditious means of transit. I found four horses to be necessary, one for the groom, one for my clothes, and two for myself. A lighter weight might have done with three.
An Englishman feels some bashfulness in riding up to a stranger's door with such a cortége, and bearing as an introduction a message from somebody else, to say that you are to be entertained. But I always found that such a message was a sufficient passport. It is our way," one gentleman said to me, in answer to my apology.
" When four or five come in for dinner after ten o'clock at night, we do think it hard, seeing that meat won't keep in this country.”
Hotels, as an institution, are, on the whole, a comfortable arrangement. One prefers, perhaps, ordering one's dinner to asking for it; and many men delight in the wide capability of finding fault which an inn affords. But they are very hostile to the spirit of hospitality. The time will soon come when the backwoodsman will have his tariff for public accommodation, and an Arab will charge you a fixed price for his pipe and cup of coffee in the desert. But that era has not yet been reached in Jamaica.
Crossing the same river four-and-twenty times is tedious; especially if this is done in heavy rain, when the road is a narrow track through thickly-wooded ravines, and when an open umbrella is absolutely necessary. But so often had we to cross the Waag-water in our route from Kingston to the northern shore.
It here that I first saw the full effect of tropical vegetation, and I shall never forget it. Perhaps the most graceful of all the woodland productions is the bamboo. It grows either in clusters, like clumps of trees in an English park, or, as is more usual when found in its indigenous state, in long rows by the riversides. The trunk of the bamboo is a huge hollow cane, bearing no leaves except at its head. One such cane alone would be uninteresting enough. But their great height, the peculiarly graceful curve of their growth, and the excessive thickness of the drooping foliage of hundreds of them clustered together produce an effect which nothing can surpass.
The cotton-tree is almost as beautiful when standing alone. The trunk of this tree grows to a magnificent height, and with magnificent proportions: it is frequently straight; and those which are most beautiful throw out no branches till they have reached a height greater than that of any ordinary tree with us. Nature, in order to sustain so large a mass, supplies it with huge spurs at the foot, which act as buttresses for its support, connecting the roots immediately with the trunk as much as twenty feet above the ground. I measured more than one, which, including the buttresses, were over thirty feet in circumference. Then from its head the branches break forth in most luxurious profusion, covering an enormous extent of ground with their shade.
But the most striking peculiarity of these trees consists in the parasite plants by which they are enveloped, and