MoboReader > Literature > Here, There and Everywhere

   Chapter 7 No.7

Here, There and Everywhere By Lord Frederic Hamilton Characters: 45481

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


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.

In the days of my childhood, some ingenious person had devised a game known as "Educational Quartettes." These "quartettes" were merely another form of the game of "Happy Families," which seems to make so persistent an appeal to the young. Every one must be familiar with it. The underlying principle is that any possessor of one card of any family may ask another player for any missing card of the suit; in this way the whereabouts of the cards can be gradually ascertained, and "Mr. Bones the Butcher" finds himself eventually reunited, doubtless to his great joy, to his worthy, if unprepossessing spouse, Mrs. Bones, and to his curiously hideous offspring, Miss Bones and Master Bones. The same holds good with regard to the other families, those of Mr. Bun the Baker, Mr. Pots the Painter, and their friends, and we can only hope that these families make up in moral worth for their painful lack of physical attractions. "Educational Quartettes" were played in exactly the same way. At the age of six, I played them every night with my sisters and brother, and the set we habitually used was "English Ecclesiastical Architecture." In lieu of Mr. Bung the Brewer, we had "Norman Style, 1066-1145." Mrs. Bung was replaced by "Massive Columns," Miss Bung by "Round Arches," Master Bung by "Dog-tooth Mouldings," each one with its picture. The next Quartette was "Early English, 1189-1307." No. 2 being "Clustered Columns," No. 3 "Pointed Arches," No. 4 "Lancet Windows," each one again with its picture, and so on through the later styles. We had none of us the least idea that we were being educated; we thought that we were merely playing a game, but the information got insensibly absorbed through ear and eye, and remained there.

Never shall I forget the astonishment of a clergyman who was showing his church to my youngest brother and myself, he then being aged nine, and I eleven. The Vicar observed that, had we been older, we would have found his church very interesting architecturally, when my nine-year-old brother remarked quite casually, "Where we are, it is decorated 1307-1377, but by the organ it's Early English, 1189-1307." The clergyman, no doubt, thought him a precocious little prig, but from perpetually playing Architectural Quartettes, this little piece of information came instinctively from him, for he had absorbed it unconsciously.

Another set we habitually played was entitled "Famous Travellers," and even after the lapse of fifty-six years, many of the names still stick in my memory. For instance under "North Africa" came 2, Jules Gerard; 3, Earth; 4, Denham and Clapperton. Jules Gerard's name was familiar to me, for was he not, like the illustrious Tartarin de Tarascon, a tueur de lions? It was, indeed, Jules Gerard's example which first fired the imagination of the immortal Tarasconnais, though personally I confess to a slight feeling of disappointment at learning from Gerard's biographer that, in spite of his grandiloquent title, his total bag of lions in eleven years was only twenty-five. As to the German, Heinrich Earth, my knowledge of him is of the slightest, and I plead guilty to complete ignorance about Denham and Clapperton's exploits, though their names seem more suggestive of a firm of respectable family solicitors or of a small railway station on a branch line, than of two distinguished travellers. The main point is that after an interval of more than half a century, these names should have stuck in my memory, thus testifying to the educational value of the game. I wish that some educationalist, taking advantage of the proved liking of children for this form of game, would revive these Quartettes, for there is an immense advantage in a child learning unconsciously. I think that geography could be easily taught in this way; for instance: 1. France (capital Paris). 2. Lyons and Marseilles. 3. Bordeaux and Rouen. 4. Lille and Strasbourg. Coloured maps or views of the various cities would be indispensable, for I still maintain that a child remembers through its eyes. In my youth I was given a most excellent little manual of geography entitled Near Home, embellished with many crude woodcuts. The book had admittedly an extremely string religious bias, but it was written in a way calculated to interest the young, and thanks to the woodcuts most of its information got permanently absorbed. Perhaps some one with greater experience in such matters than I can pretend to, may devise a more effectual scheme for combating the crass ignorance of most English people about geography.

Should one ask the average Englishman where Bermuda is, he would be certain to reply, "Somewhere in the West Indies," which is exactly where it is not.

This fascinating archipelago of coral islands forms an isolated little group in the North Atlantic, six hundred miles from the United States, three thousand miles from Europe, and twelve hundred miles north of the West Indies. Bermuda is the second oldest British Colonial possession, ranking only after Newfoundland, which was discovered by John Cabot in 1497, and occupied in the name of Queen Elizabeth in 1583. Sir George Somers being wrecked on Bermuda in 1609, at once retaliated by annexing the group, though, as there is not one drop of water on any of the islands, there were naturally no aboriginal inhabitants to dispute his claim.

Bermuda is to me a perpetual economic puzzle, for it seems to defy triumphantly all the rules which govern other places. Here is a group of islands whose total superficies is only 12,500 acres, of which little more than one-tenth is capable of cultivation. There is no fresh water whatever, the inhabitants being entirely dependent on the rainfall for their supply; and yet some 22,000 people, white and coloured, live there in great prosperity, and there is no poverty whatever. I almost hesitate before adding that there are no taxes in Bermuda beyond a 10 per cent. ad valorem duty on everything imported into the islands except foodstuffs; for the housing accommodation is already rather overstrained, and should this fact become generally known, I apprehend that there would be such an influx into Bermuda from the United Kingdom of persons desirous of escaping from our present crushing burden of taxation, that the many caves of the archipelago would all have to be fitted up as lodging-houses. The real explanation of the prosperity of the islands is probably to be found in the wonderful fertility of the soil, which produces three crops a year, and in the immense tourist traffic during the winter months.

The islands were originally settled in rather a curious way. Certain families, my own amongst them, took shares in the "Bermuda Company," and each undertook to plant a little "tribe" there. These "tribes" seem to have come principally from Norfolk and Lincolnshire, as is shown by the names of the principal island families. The Triminghams, the Tuckers, the Inghams, the Pennistones, and the Outerbridges have all been there since the early sixteen hundreds. Probably nowhere in the world is the colour-line drawn more rigidly than in Bermuda; white and coloured never meet socially, and there are separate schools for white and black children. This is, of course, due to the instinct of self-preservation; in so small a community it would have been impossible otherwise for the white settlers to keep their blood pure for three hundred years. The names of the different parishes show the families who originally took shares in the Bermuda Company; Pembroke, Devonshire, Hamilton, Warwick, Paget, and Somerset amongst others.

They are the most delightful islands imaginable. The vegetation is sub-tropical rather than tropical, and all the islands are clothed with a dense growth of Bermudian cedar (really a juniper), and of oleander. I have never seen a sea of deeper sapphire-blue, and this is reflected not from above, but from below, and is due to the bed of white coral sand beneath the water. On the dullest day the water keeps its deep-blue tint. When the oleanders are in bloom, the milk-white houses, peeping out from this sheet of rose-pink, with the deep indigo of the sea, and the sombre green of the cedars, make one of the most enchanting pictures that it is possible to imagine.

Bermuda has distinctly an island climate, which is perhaps fortunate, as the inhabitants are entirely dependent on rain-water. With a north wind there is brilliant sunshine tempered by occasional terrific downpours. With a south wind there is a perpetual warm drizzle varied with heavy showers. With a west wind the weather is apt to be uncertain, but I was assured that an east wind brought settled, fine weather. I never recollect an east wind in Bermuda, but my climatic reminiscences only extend to the winter months.

Bermuda is the most northern coral-atoll existing, and is the only place where I have actually seen the coral insect at work on the reefs. He is not an insect at all, but a sort of black slug. These curious creatures have all an inherited tendency to suicide, for when the coral-worm gets above the tide-level he dies. Still they work bravely away, obsessed with the idea of raising their own particular reef well out of the water at the cost of their own lives. The coral of a reef is an ugly brown substance which has been inelegantly compared to a decayed tooth. Not until the coral is pulverised does it take on its milk-white colour. I am told by learned people that Bermuda, like most coral islands, is of Aolian formation; that is, that the powdered coral has been gradually deposited by the winds of countless centuries until it has risen high out of the water. Farther south in the tropics, we know what happens. Nature has given the cocoa-nut the power of preserving its vitality almost indefinitely. The fallen nuts float on the sea and drift hither and thither. Once washed up on a beach and dried by the sun, the nut thrusts out little green suckers from those "eyes" which every one must have noticed on cocoa-nuts, anchors itself firmly into the soil, and in seven years will be bearing fruit. The fallen fronds decay and make soil, and so another island becomes gradually clothed with vegetation. In Bermuda the cedar replaces the cocoa-nut palm.

Fishing on the reefs in Bermuda is the best fun imaginable for persons not liable to sea-sickness. The fisherman has in his left hand a "water-glass," which is merely a stout box with the bottom filled in with plate-glass. The water-glass must be held below the ripple of the surface, which, by the way, requires a fair amount of muscular effort, when through the pane of glass, the sea-floor ten fathoms below is clearly visible. The coloured fish of Jamaica were neutral-tinted pigmies compared to the polychrome monsters on a Bermudian reef, and one could actually see them swallowing one's bait. One of the loveliest fishes that swims is the Bermudian angel-fish, who has the further merit of almost equalling a sole when fried. Shaped like a John Dory, he has a lemon-coloured body with a back of brilliant turquoise-blue, which gleams in the water like vivid blue enamel. He is further decorated with two long orange streamers. The angel-fish, having a very small mouth, must be fished for with a special hook. Then there is the queen-turbot, shaded from dark blue to palest turquoise, reminding one of Lord's Cricket Ground at an Eton and Harrow match; besides pink fish, scarlet fish, and orange fish, which when captured make the bottom-boards of the boat look like a Futurist landscape, not to speak of horrible, spotted, eel-like creatures whose bite is venomous. Reef-fishing is full of exciting incidents, but its chief attraction is the amazing beauty of the sea-gardens as seen through the water-glass, with sponges and sea-fans of every hue, gently waving in the current far below, as fish of all the colours of the rainbow play in and out of them in the clear blue water.

At Bermuda I found my old friend, the Guardsman, established at Government House as A.D.C. The island is one of the most ideal places in the world for boat-sailing, and the Guardsman had taken up yacht racing with his usual enthusiasm; atoning for his lack of experience by a persistent readiness to take the most hideous risks. The C.O. of the British battalion then stationed in Bermuda was rather hard put to it to find sufficient employment for his men, owing to the restricted area of the island. He encouraged, therefore, their engagements in civilian capacities, as it not only put money into the men's pockets, but kept them interested. At Government House we had soldier-gardeners, soldier-grooms, a soldier cowman, and a soldier-footman. The footman was a Southampton lad, and having been employed as a boy in a racing-yacht on the Solent, was a most useful man in a boat, and the Guardsman had accordingly annexed him as one of his racing crew, regardless of the fact that his labours afloat rather interfered with the specific domestic duties ashore for which he had been engaged by the Governor. A hundred-year-old yacht had for many years been handed over from Governor to Governor. The Lady of the Isles was Bermudian-rigged and Bermudian-built of cedar-wood. She had great beam, and was very lightly sparred, having a correspondingly small sail-area, but in spite of her great age she was still absolutely sound and was a splendid sea-boat. The Bermudian rig had been evolved to meet local conditions. Imagine a cutter with one single long spar in the place of a mast and topmast; this spar is stepped rather farther aft than it would be in an ordinary cutter, and there is one huge mainsail, "leg-of-mutton" shaped, with a boom but no gaff, and a very large jib. Owing to their big head-sails, and to their heavy keels, these Bermudian craft fore-reach like a steamer, and hardly ever miss stays. For the same reason they are very wet, as they bury themselves in the water. A handsome silver cup had been presented by a visitor for a yacht race right round the Bermudas, and the Guardsman managed to persuade the Governor to enter his centenarian yacht for this race, and to confide the sailing of her to himself. The ancient Lady of the Isles got a very liberal time allowance on account of her age and her small spread of canvas, but to every one but the Guardsman it seemed like entering a Clydesdale for the Derby. He had already formulated his plan, but kept it strictly to himself; for its success half a gale of wind was necessary. I agreed to sail with him, and as the start was to be at 6 a.m. I got up three mornings running at 4 a.m., and found myself with Joss, the Guardsman, and the soldier-footman on the water-front at half-past five in the morning, only to discover that there was not the faintest breath of air, and that Hamilton Harbour lay one unruffled sheet of lapis-lazuli in a flat calm; a state of things I should imagine unparallelled in "the still vexed Bermoothes." (How on earth did Shakespeare ever come to hear of Bermuda?) Three days running the race was declared "off," so when the Guardsman awoke me on the fourth morning with the news that it was blowing a full gale, I flatly declined to move, and turned over and went to sleep again, thereby saving my nerves a considerable trial.

Government House has a signal-station of its own, and at ten o'clock a message arrived announcing that the Lady of the Isles was leading by four miles. The Governor, who had never taken his old yacht's entry seriously, grew tremendously excited, ordered a light trap and two fast ponies round, and he and I, equipped with telescopes and sandwiches, spent the rest of the day tearing from one end of the island to the other, now on the south shore, now on the north shore, lying on our stomachs with telescopes to our eyes. It was quite true that the old centenarian had a tremendous lead, which was gradually decreased as the day went on. Still, the Guardsman, with face and hands the colour of a copper kettle, appeared triumphantly at dinner with a large silver cup which he presented with a bow to Lady Wodehouse, the Governor's wife, whilst the soldier-footman, burnt redder than the Reddest of Indians above his white shirt and tie, grinned sympathetically as he busied himself over his duties with the cauliflowers and potatoes. What had happened was this: the race was right round the islands, without any mark-boats to round. There was a very heavy sea running, and great breakers were washing over the reefs. The other yachts all headed for the "gate," or opening in the reefs, but the Guardsman, a keen hunting man, knowing that alone of the competitors the old Lady of the Isles had no "fin-keel," had determined to try and jump the reef. In spite of the frantic protests of the black pilot, he headed straight for the reef, and, watching his opportunity, put her fairly at it as a big sea swept along, and got over without a scrape, thus gaining six miles. It was a horribly risky proceeding, for had they bumped, the old yacht would have gone to pieces, and the big sharks lie hungrily off the reefs. The one chance for the broad-beamed old boat, with her small sail-area, was a gale of wind, for here her wonderful qualities as a sea-boat came in. I often sailed in races with the Guardsman in a smaller modern boat, much to the detriment of my nervous system, for he was incorrigible about taking risks, in which he was abetted by the soldier-footman, a sporting youth who, being always given a pecuniary interest in the races, was quite willing to take chances. The Guardsman, as a hunting man, never seemed to realise that a yacht had not the same jumping powers as a horse, and that a reef was a somewhat formidable barrier to tackle.

Owing to Bermudian boats being so "wet," one always landed soaked to the skin, and in any town but Hamilton, people would have stared at seeing three drowned rats in white garments, clinging like tights, making their dripping way home through the streets; but there it is such an everyday occurrence that no one even turned their heads; and, as the soldier-footman was fond of observing, "It's comfortable feeling as 'ow you're so wet that you can't get no wetter no'ow."

Bermuda has its own little Parliament of thirty-six members, the oldest Parliament in the New World. It really is an ideal Chamber, for every one of the thirty-six members sit on the Government side; there is no Opposition. The electors do not seem to favour youthful representatives, for the heads of the legislators were all white or grey, and there seemed in the atmosphere a wholesome mistrust of innovations. There was great popular excitement over a Bill for permitting the use of motor-cars in the islands, a Bill to which public opinion was dead opposed. There was some reason in this opposition. The roads in Bermuda are excellent, but they are all made of coral, which becomes very slippery when wet. The roads twist a great deal, and the island is hilly, and the farmers complained that they could never get their great wagons of vegetables (locally called "garden-truck") down to the harbour in safety should motor-cars be permitted. I well remember one white-headed old gentleman thundering out: "Our fathers got on without all these new-fangled notions, and what was good enough for my father is good enough for me, Mr. Speaker," a sentiment which provoked loud outbursts of applause. Another patriarch observed: "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, is our motto in Bermuda, Mr. Speaker," a confession of faith which was received by the House with rapturous enthusiasm; so, by thirty-three votes to three, all motors were declared illegal in the islands.

I do not apprehend that there will ever be a shortage of building materials in Bermuda, for this is how a house is built. The whole formation being of coral, the stones are quarried on the actual

site of the house, the hole thus created being cemented and used as a cistern for the rain-water from the roof. The accommodating coral is as soft as cheese when first cut, but hardens after some months' exposure to the air. The soft stones are shaped as wanted, together with thin slabs of coral for the roof, and are then all left to harden. When finished, the entire house, including the roof, is whitewashed, the convenient coral also furnishing the whitening material.

These white roofs give quite an individual character to a Bermudian landscape, their object, of course, being to keep the rain-water supply pure. The men and women who live in these houses are really delightful people, and are all perfectly natural and unaffected. They are all, as one might suppose in so small a place, inter-related. The men seem to have a natural aptitude for cricket, whilst Bermudian girls can all dance, swim, play lawn-tennis, and sail boats to perfection. On my second visit to the islands, I was much struck with one small incident. Two pretty sisters were always the first arrivals at the bi-weekly hotel dances. I found that they lived on the far side of Hamilton Harbour, some six miles by road. As they could not afford ten dollars twice a week for carriage hire, they put on sea-boots and oilskins over their ball-gowns, and then paddled themselves across a mile and a half of rough water, shook out their creases and touched up their hair on arrival, danced all the evening, and then paddled themselves home, whatever the weather. Most Bermudian girls, indeed, seem quite amphibious.

I went out the second time with a great friend of mine, who was anxious to see her son, then quartered in the island. We had attended the Parade Service on Sunday at the Garrison Church, and my friend was resting on the hotel verandah, when she heard two American ladies talking. "My dear," said one of them, "you ought to have come up to that Garrison Church. I tell you, it was a right smart, snappy, dandy little Service, with a Colonel in full uniform reading selections from the Bible from a gilt eagle."

Amongst other interesting people I saw a good deal of at that time in Bermuda was "Mark Twain," who had, however, begun to fail, and that most cultivated and delightful of men, the late William Dean Howells. I twice met at luncheon a gentleman who, I was told, might possibly be adopted as Democratic Candidate for the Presidency of the United States. His name was Dr. Woodrow Wilson.

Many country houses in Bermuda have pieces of old Chippendale and French furniture in them, as well as fine specimens of old French and Spanish silver. I entirely discredit the malicious rumours I have heard about the origin of these treasures. All male Bermudians were seafaring folk in the eighteenth century, and ill-natured people hint that these intrepid mariners, not content with their legitimate trading profits, were occasionally not averse to-a little maritime enterprise. These scandalmongers insinuate that in addition to the British Ensign under which they sailed, another flag of a duskier hue was kept in a convenient locker, and was occasionally hoisted when the owner felt inclined to indulge his tastes as a collector of works of art, or to act as a Marine Agent. I do not believe one word of it, and emphatically decline to associate such kindly people with such dubious proceedings, even if a hundred and fifty years have elapsed since then.

These merchant-traders conducted their affairs on the most patriarchal principles. They built their own schooners of their own cedar-wood, and sailed them themselves with a crew of their own black slaves. The invariable round-voyage was rather a complicated one. The first stage was from Bermuda in ballast to Turks' Island, in the British Caicos group. At Turks' Island for two hundred years salt has been prepared by evaporating sea-water. The Bermudian owner filled up with salt, and sailed for the Banks of Newfoundland, where he disposed of his cargo of salt to the fishermen for curing their cod, and loaded up with salt-fish, with which he sailed to the West Indies. Salt-fish has always been, and still is, the staple article of diet of the West Indian negro; so, his load of salt-fish being advantageously disposed of, he filled up with sugar, coffee, rum, and other tropical produce, and left for New York, where he found a ready sale for his cargo. At New York he loaded up with manufactured goods and "Yankee notions," and returned to Bermuda to dispose of them, thus completing the round trip; but I still refuse to credit the story of other and less legitimate developments of mercantile enterprise. Of course, should Britain be at war with either France or Spain, and should a richly loaded French or Spanish merchantman happen to be overtaken, things might obviously be a little different. The Bermudian owner might then feel it his duty to relieve the vessel of any objects of value to avoid tempting the cupidity of others less scrupulous than himself; but I cannot believe that this was an habitual practice, and should the dusky flag ever have been hoisted, I feel certain that it was only through sheer inadvertence.

I know of one country house in Bermuda where the origin of all the beautiful things it contains is above all suspicion. The house stands on a knoll overlooking the ultramarine waters of Hamilton Harbour, and is surrounded by a dense growth of palms, fiddle trees, and spice trees. The rooms are panelled in carved cedar-wood, and there is charming "grillage" iron-work in the fanlights and outside gates. There is an old circular-walled garden with brick paths, a perfect blaze of colour; and at the back of the house, which is clothed in stephanotis and "Gloire de Dijon" roses, an avenue of flaming scarlet poinsettias leads to the orchard: it is a delightful, restful, old-world place, which, together with its inhabitants, somehow still retains its eighteenth-century atmosphere.

The red and blue birds form one of the attractions of Bermuda. The male red bird, the Cardinal Grosbeak, a remarkably sweet songster, wears an entire suit of vivid carmine, and has a fine tufted crest of the same colour, whilst his wife is dressed more soberly in dull grey bordered with red, just like a Netley nursing sister. The blue birds have dull red breasts like our robins, with turquoise-blue backs and wings, glinting with the same metallic sheen on the blue that the angel-fish display in the water. As with our kingfishers, one has the sense of a brilliant flash of blue light shooting past one. The red and blue birds are very accommodating, for they often sit on the same tree, making startling splashes of colour against the sombre green of the cedars. That the light blue may not have it all its own way, there is the indigo bird as well, serving as a reminder of Oxford and Harrow, and pretty little ground-doves, the smallest of the pigeon family, as well as the "Chick-of-the-Village," a most engaging little creature. Unfortunately some one was injudicious enough to import the English house-sparrow: these detestable little birds, whose instincts are purely mischievous and destructive, like all useless things, have increased at an enormous rate, and are gradually driving the beautiful native birds away. All these birds were wonderfully tame till the hateful sparrows began molesting them. I am glad to say that a fine of 5 pounds is levied on any one killing or capturing a red or blue bird, and I only wish that a reward were given for every sparrow killed. That pleasant writer "Bartimaeus," has in his book Unreality drawn a very sympathetic picture of Bermuda under the transparent alias of "Somer's Island." He, too, has obviously fallen a victim to its charms, and duly comments on the blue birds, which Maeterlinck could find here in any number without a lengthy and painstaking quest.

As a boy, whilst exploring rock-pools at low water on the west coast of Scotland, I used to think longingly of the rock-pools in warm seas, which I pictured to myself as perfect treasure-houses of marine curiosities. They are most disappointing. Neither in Bermuda, nor in the West Indies, nor even on the Cape Peninsula, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, could I find anything whatever in the rock-pools. To adopt the Sunday School child's word, there seem to be no "tindamies" on the beaches of warm seas. Every one must have heard of the little girl who got her first glimpse of the sea on a Sunday School excursion. The child seemed terribly disappointed at something, and in answer to her teacher's question, said that she liked the sea, "but please where were the 'tindamies?' I was looking forward so to the tindamies!" Pressed for an explanation the little girl repeated from the Fourth Commandment, "In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all the tindamies." Tindamies is quite a convenient word for star-fish, crabs, cuttle-fish and other flotsam and jetsam of the beach.

The Sunday School child's mistake is rather akin to that of the old Sussex shepherd who had never had a day's illness in his life. When at last he did take to his bed, it was quite obvious that he would never leave it again. The vicar of the parish visited him almost daily to read to him. The old man always begged the clergyman to read him the hymn, "The roseate hues of early dawn." At the tenth request for the reading of this hymn the clergyman asked him what it was in the lines that made such an appeal to him. "Ah, sir," answered the old shepherd, "here I lie, and I know full well that I shall never get up again; but when you reads me that beautiful 'ymn, I fancies myself on the downs again at daybreak, and can just see 'Them rows of ewes at early dawn'!"

Had the old shepherd lived in Bermuda instead of in Sussex, that is a sight which he would never have seen, for the local grass, though it appears green enough to the eye, is a coarse growth which crackles under the feet and contains no nutriment whatever as pasture; so all cows have to be fed on imported hay, rendering milk very costly. For the same reason all meat and butter have to be imported, and their price even in pre-war days was sufficiently staggering. The high cost of living and the myriads of mosquitoes are the only draw-backs to life in these Delectable Islands. That no systematic effort to exterminate mosquitoes has ever been made in Bermuda is to me incomprehensible, for these mosquitoes are all of the Stegomyia, or yellow-fever-carrying variety. The Americans have shown, both in the Canal Zone and in Havana, that with sufficient organisation it is quite possible to extirpate these dangerous pests, and the Bermudians could not do better than to follow their example.

Our soldier-gardeners at Government House had their own methods, and were inclined to attach importance to points considered trivial by civilians. The men were laying out a new vegetable garden for the Governor, and I went with the corporal one evening to inspect progress. The corporal, after glancing at the new-planted rows of vegetables, shook his head in deep sadness. "'Arris, 'Arris, I'm surprised at you! Look at the dressing of that there rear rank of lettuces. Up with them all!" and I had to point out that the lettuces would grow quite as well, and prove just as succulent, even should they not happen to be in strict alignment, and that the dressing was only important at a subsequent stage. I laid out a new border to the approach for the Governor, with the help of four soldiers, and it was really rather a successful piece of work. I began with a large group of Kentia and Chamaeropes palms, after which came a patch of bright yellow crotons, giving place to a thicket of a white-foliaged Mexican shrub, followed by a mass of crimson and orange crotons and copper-coloured coleus, which arrangement I repeated. What with scarlet poinsettias, many-hued hibiscus, and the pretty native orange pigeon-berry, I got quite an amount of colour into my border.

Pretty as are the gardens of Government House, they have to yield the palm to those of Admiralty House, which have been carefully tended by generations of admirals. Bartimaeus in Unreality grows quite enthusiastic over these gardens, though he does not mention their three peculiarities. One is a fountain, the only one in the islands. As there is not one drop of fresh water, this fountain has its own catchment area, and its own special rain-water tank. My own idea is that the Admiral reserves its playing for the visits of foreign naval men, to delude them into the idea that Bermuda has an abundant water supply. The second unusual feature is a series of large chambers hewn out of the solid rock, with openings towards the sea. These caves were cut out by convict labour as a refuge from the fierce heat of the summer months. The third is a flat tombstone by the lawn-tennis ground, inscribed "Here lies a British Midshipman 1810," nothing more; no name, no age, no particulars. I have often wondered how that forlorn, nameless, ageless midshipman came to be lying in the Admiral's garden. He was probably drowned and washed ashore without anything to identify him, so they buried him where they found him.

The particular white battalion quartered in Bermuda during my first visit there was very fortunate in its ladies, for it had an unusual proportion of married officers. I have the greatest admiration for these plucky little women who accompany their husbands all over the globe, and who always seem to manage, however narrow their means, to create a cheerful and attractive little home for their menkind. They all appeared able to dress themselves well, though, if the truth were known, they were probably mostly their own dressmakers, and, owing to the servant difficulty in Bermuda, their own cooks as well; they had transformed their little white-washed houses into the most inviting little dwellings, and in spite of having to do a great part of their own housework, they always managed to look pretty and charming. The average wife of the average officer of a Line regiment is a wonderful little woman.

The supper-parties in the married officers' quarters at Prospect Camp were the cheeriest entertainments I have ever been at. Every one had to contribute something. My own culinary attainments being confined to the preparation of three dishes, I was compelled to repeat them monotonously. The subalterns were made to carry the dishes from the kitchen, and to "wash-up" afterwards, yet I am sure that the average London hostess would have envied the jollity, the fun and high spirits that made those informal supper-parties so delightful, and would have given anything to introduce some of this cheery atmosphere into her own decorous and extremely dull entertainments, where the guests did not have to cook their own dinners.

I gave a dinner-party at an hotel to eleven people, all officers or officers' wives. The conversation turned on birthplaces, and the answers given were so curious, that I wrote them all down. Not only were all my guests soldiers and soldiers' wives, but they were nearly all the sons and daughters of soldiers as well. One major had been born at Cape Town; his very comely wife in Barbados. The other major had been born at Meerut in India, his wife at Quebec, and her unmarried sister in Mauritius; and so it was with all of them. Of those twelve people of pure British blood, I was the only one who had been born in England or in Europe; even the subaltern had been born in Hong-Kong. I do not thing that stay-at-homes quite realise the existence of this little world of people journeying from end to end of the earth in the course of their duty, and taking it all as a matter of course.

I regret that the Imperial West India Direct Line should now be defunct, for this gave a monthly direct service between Bristol and Bermuda, and I can conceive of no pleasanter winter quarters for those desirous of escaping the rigours of an English January and February. Ten days after leaving Bristol, ten days it must be confessed of extremely angry seas, the ship dropped her anchor in Grassy Bay, and the astonished arrival from England found ripe strawberries, new peas, and new potatoes awaiting his good pleasure. No visitor could fail to be delighted with the pretty, prosperous little island, and with its genial and hospitable inhabitants. For Americans, too, the place was a godsend, for in forty-eight hours they could escape from the extreme and fickle climate of New York, and find themselves in warm sunshine, tempered, it is true, by occasional downpours, for Nature, realising that the inhabitants were dependent on the rainfall for their water supply, did her best to avoid any shortage of this necessity of life. Canadians had also a great liking for the islands, for not only were they on their own soil there, but in sixty hours they could transport themselves from the ice and snow of Montreal and Toronto to a climate where roses and geraniums bloomed at Christmas, and where orange and lemon trees and great wine-coloured drifts of Bougainvillaa mocked at the futile efforts of winter to touch them. The Bishop of Bermuda, who also included Newfoundland in his See, declared that climatically his diocese was absolutely ideal, for he passed the six winter months in Bermuda and the remainder of the year in Newfoundland, thus escaping alike the rigorous winters of the northern island and the fierce summer heat of the southern one. The Bishop himself was a Newfoundlander, as were many of the Church of England clergy in Bermuda. A humorous friend of mine, a sapper in charge of the "wireless," shared to the full my liking for the islands and their pleasant inhabitants, but positively detested Prospect Camp where he was stationed. Prospect, though healthy enough, is wind-swept, very dusty, and quite devoid of shade. He declared that the well-known hymn should be altered, and ought to run:

"What though the Ocean breezes

Blow o'er Bermuda's isle;

Where every man is pleasing

And only Prospect vile."

Few people seem to realise that Bermuda is a first-class fortress, a dockyard, and an important naval coaling-station. A glance at the map will show its strategic importance. Nature has made it almost inaccessible with barrier-reefs, and there is but one narrow and difficult entrance off St. George's. This entrance is jealously guarded by a heavy battery of 12 in. and 6 in. guns, and the ten-mile long ship-channel inside the reefs from St. George's to the Dockyard is very difficult and complicated, though I imagine that, with modern guns, a ship could lie outside the reefs and shell the islands to pieces.

The first time that I was in Bermuda, a German Training Squadron arrived, with a number of naval cadets on board, and announced their intention of remaining ten days. The German officers at once exhibited a most un-Teutonic keenness about sea-fishing. The Governor, fully alive to the advantage a possibly hostile power might reap from an independent survey and charting of the tortuous and difficult ship-channel between St. George's and the Dockyard, at once held a consultation with the Senior Naval Officer, in the Admiral's absence, and, as a result of this consultation, three naval petty officers were detailed to show the Germans the best fishing-grounds. At the same time naval patrol boats displayed a quite unusual activity inside the reefs. Both patrol boats and petty officers had their private orders, and I fancy that these steps resulted in very few soundings being taken, and in the ship-channel remaining uncharted by our German visitors. I was returning myself, after dark, in the ferry-boat plying between the Dockyard and Hamilton, when there were four German officers on the bridge. Imagining themselves secure in the general ignorance of their language, they were openly noting the position of the leading lights, as the little steamer threaded her way through the smaller islands and "One rock" and "Two rock passage," and all these observations were, I imagine, duly entered in their pocket-books after landing. In conversation with the German officers I was much struck with the essentially false ideas that they had with regard to the position of the motherland and her dependencies. They seemed convinced that every Dominion and dependency was merely waiting for the first favourable opportunity to declare its complete independence, and they hardly troubled to conceal their opinion that Britain was hopelessly decadent, and would never be able to wage a campaign again. Bermuda, in view of its wonderful strategic position, had, I am convinced, been marked down as a future German possession, when they would have endeavoured to make a second Heligoland of it.

Nowhere could a little population be found more loyal to the motherland than in Bermuda, or prouder of its common heritage.

A friend of mine, a lady who had never left the islands, wrote some lines which I thought so fine that I set them to music. Her words, though, are so much better than my setting, that I will quote them in full.

THE SONG OF THE BERMUDIANS THE KEEPERS OF THE WESTERN GATE

Queen of the Seas! Thou hast given us the Keys,

Proudly do we hold them, we thy Children and akin,

Though we be nor rich nor great,

We will guard the Western Gate,

And our lives shall pay the forfeit ere we let the foeman in.

Empty are our hands, for we have nor wealth nor lands,

No grain or gold to give thee, and so few a folk are we;

Yet in very will and deed,

We will serve thee at thy need,

And keep thine ancient fortalice beyond the Western Sea.

The sea is at our doors, and we front its fretted floors,

Swept by every wind that listeth, ringed with reefs from rim to rim,

Though we may not break its bars,

Yet by light of sun or stars

Our hearts are fain for England, and for her our eyes are dim.

Sweet Mother, ponder this, lest thy favour we should miss;

We, the loneliest and least of all thy peoples of the sea.

With bared heads and proud

We bless thy name aloud,

For gift of lowly service, as we guard the gate for thee.

Those lines, to me, have a fine ring about them. The words, "In very will and deed, We will serve thee at thy need," were not a mere empty boast, as the splendid record of little Bermuda in the years of trouble from 1914 to 1918 shows, when almost every man of military age, whether white or coloured, voluntarily crossed the Atlantic to help the motherland in her need; so let us wish all success to the sun-kissed, cedar-clad little islands, and to their genial inhabitants.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares