J Dickinson.

A winter picnic: the story of a four months' outing in Nassau online

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" Where is the fish-market ? " asked Benita. " I
must have Lemuel take me there some day.

" Listen and you will know. It is just behind the
other market, a long, shed-like building near the
water's edge. They were cleaning house when we went
down this morning, and we waited till the movable slat
floor had been taken up, swept off, and replaced over

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A WINTER PICNIC. 41

the clean earth. I could stand an hour and look
down into the fishing-boats, drawn up close to the
side. Each one is built with a tank in the middle,
and there, in the clean sea-waler, the poor doomed
fishes swim about till somebody wants to buy. I don't
mean to say that all the fishes are bought in this way,
for the counters are full of them. Men were pouring
water over them this morning to keep them fresh and
flapping. If I were a fish I should wish to be kept in
a tank till my time came. The fishermen kill them
with a stick, a kind of pancake turner, I should judge,
striking the poor things till they are dead. One fish-
erman held up the loveliest angel-fish this morning !
I would have bought it for Benita to paint, only there
was no one to bring it home. They know us in the
market now, and if they have any thing new or
strange, they call our attention to it. A man showed
us the queerest thing shaped like a beechnut, with a
dark spotted skin, no scales, and two short white
horns, where the head was supposed to be. * Why,
it looks like a cow,* I said to Barbara.

" So it is, missus, so it is,' the man answered.
* Cow-fish, verra good eatin', missus. Want to buy
him, missus ? Only two cents ? '

" Isn't it strange that they always say * cents ' when
they speak to us, as if we didn't know anything
about their money ? I never lose a chance to retort,
however, so I replied:

" * A penny is a large price for so small a fish.'

" * Take him for a ha' penny, missus. He good eat-
ing, missus, verra ! '

"Those lovely-colored fishes do not come into



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42 A WINTER PICNIC,

market very often. I wonder if they are not all
bought up by the shell-workers? I wish we could
get one."

" Have some of the market-men save them for
you/* said Benita. " I saw a child go past here this
morning before you were up, with two little fishes
six or eight inches long. They were silvery, with
bright red stripes along the sides."

"Oh, those were squirrel-fish. We saw some in
market the other day, a whole * heap * of them '; but I
meant the rainbow-fish, and the parrot-fish, and the
glass-eyed snappers, and all the others that we have
read about as belonging to tropical waters."



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THE PASSERS-BY. — THE CHURCHES. — GARDENING.

HOW do you think this would sound in print ? "
asked Beatrix, holding up a sheet of paper
instead of the usual note-book.

" Read, and you will know," replied Barbara, " or
rather we shall know."

The Passers-By.

One of the chief amusements of the day is watching
from behind the jalousies the crowds of people who
go to the market, or home again. At this date the
writer is engaged in studying the loads carried to and
fro by the men, women, boys and girls. One never
tires of looking. Here is a cart, with long sticks of
sugar-cane, — queer, pointed poles that one covets for
bean-poles or dahlia-sticks till she finds that they are
pithy inside the shiny coat, and will not stand hard
usage. An ebony giant has just gone past with a
Saratoga trunk upon his head. Somebody must be
changing his or her boarding-place. I saw a woman
slipshodding down the hill a little while ago, with a
half bar of blue soap upon her head. Her hands were
entirely empty, and she carried her hat between her
teeth, as many of the women do. Such curious and
ponderous things as are borne upon the heads of
these negroes ! One would hardly believe it possible

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44 A WINTER PICNIC.

that a human skull could stand the pressure, even
though its owner be of sable hue. It is no uncom-
mon sight to see a boy helping another with his load,
or a woman placing the burden upon the head of
her fellow-traveler. " Put me up " is the common
phrase, which means that the owner of the basket has
been obliged to take it down for some reason, and
cannot put it back without assistance. I watched
some children in front of our house this morning, and
was amUsed to find that the Nassau boy is still a boy,
I didn't suppose he was, until I saw the by-play. One
little fellow had been to a shop and had gathered a
huge bundle of staves, three times as large as himself;
but one of the component parts of the parcel slipping
out from the encircling hoop, the others followed
suit, and the little burden-bearer was in trouble.
Patiently he sat down and gathered the sticks, plac-
ing them one by one in the barrel-hoop. Their flat
sides made them fit rather awkwardly in the round
receptacle, and they would keep slipping out, when
the last two were packed in. He worked for fifteen
minutes to make those two staves keep their places,
talking busily and good-naturedly to himself all the
time, though I could not hear what he said. At last
the feat was accomplished, and he stooped to the
ground, and tried to raise the bundle to his head ; but
just as he had poised it there, one of the unruly sticks
slipped again, and the rest came tumbling after.
Do you think he wailed as one of our small boys
would have done ? Not a bit of it. He manfully sat
down in the midst of the debris, and began picking up
the sticks, whistling an accompaniment to himself



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A WINTER PICNIC, 45

and his occupation. It took ten minutes this time,
and again he raised the burden — to have the same
disaster repeated. As the whole dame to the ground,
a couple of his sable companions appeared on the
scene, — Ellen Curry and a boy about the size of our
hero. These people are always kind to each other,
and the new recruits put their shoulder-blades to the
wheel, metaphorically speaking, and soon had the
hoop repacked. Then the small boy stood with his
back to them, and, with much laughing and tugging,
they lifted the load to its owner's head. The three
trudged off together, and I, looking after them, saw
the girl, who had been the most energetic in the re-
cent packing, slyly step up behind her playfellow, and
pull out a stave. Of course, the scene was repeated,
the victim enjoying the sport most of all, judging
from appearances.

" That's as far as I have written, and now I want
your honest opinion as to its demerits," concluded Bee.

" Sounds very well, if it's true," remarked Barbara,
" and I suppose it must be, since its author was an
eye-witness."

" Oh, that will do, of course," absently assented
Benita, who was trying to paint an unknown flower,
the petals of which seemed gradually closing, in spite
of her ingenious contrivance of pins to keep them
open.

"Interesting and true both," said the Mother.
" But you haven't told an3rthing about the first Sun-
day, any of you. I thought there were several things
worth remembering that day."



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46 A WINTER PICNIC.

" I have a full and complete account of our Cathe-
dral experience, written on the spot, or rather after
our return, for my own * divorcement.' I'll find it,
and present it for your delectation." And Bee rum-
maged in the tray of her trunk, which stood near the
bedroom door.

" Why will you always go in the dark ? " asked the
Mother. " It isn't much trouble to light a lamp."

" Or candle. You've forgotten that we are in the
tropics, and use candles constructed with special ref-
erence to a warm climate. Oh, here it is." And she
opened a thin white box, filled with a miscellaneous
assortment of papers, and began reading from a torn
sheet:

" Everybody seemed to be dressed in his or her very
best, and intent upon reaching a place of worship as
soon as possible. Barbara wanted to go to one of our
own persuasion, but I was anxious to see something
new and strange ; besides, we were late, as we always
are, to our great disgust, but never to our reforma-
tion, and we heard that the Cathedral was near. We
emerged from the hotel street, and followed the
crowd, black and white, big and little, and every
mother's son of them with the tightest of shoes or
boots pinching his feet.

" * Is this the way to the Cathedral ? ' we asked of a
respectful and highly respectable colored man.

" * Right dis way, missus. I show you.* And he
beckoned benevolently with his long, black forefin-
ger, and grinned updh us as if we had just given him
a copper. We followed in his wake till he reached a
corner, when he paused and waited for us to come up.



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A. WINTER PICNIC, 47

^* * Now you jes turn dis corner, missus, and go up
dem steps and you be dar direckly. Go in de middle
door, and you strike de sexton.'

" We told him we thought we could not miss it. The
church stood on the corner, but that devoted man
never took his eyes off us till we were safe within the
portals. He would walk a few steps with his head
turned about, and then stop altogether, so fearful
was he that we should lose our way from the street to
the porch. The sexton was scarcely less solicitous.
He met us at the door, and smiled as if we had con-
ferred a personal favor, when to his query about a
seat we signified our desire for one. With much
flourish he led us up the center aisle, and we were
given a pew very near the pulpit. The Cathedral is
a brown-stone building, lofty and roomy, with a hand-
some stained-glass window behind the choir. The
services are intoned, the organ is played by a fine-
appearing, middle-aged lady, and the choir boys sing
well. When we came out, the people seemed to be
waiting for something, and we waited with the rest.
Presently a squad of gaily dressed soldiers came down
from the gallery and took their places in front of the
church. There were at least forty of them, I should
think.

" * Forward, march ! ' shouted the commander, and
they took their way toward their quarters. It was a
fine sight, and one to which we shall be witnesses
again, for I believe the performance is repeated
every Sunday."

"You never told us about the accommodating
colored man before/* said the artist ; " but the people



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4^ A WINTER PICNIC.

are always particularly kind to strangers here ; I
mean the colored people. That was rather differ-
ent from our experience in Trinity Church last
Sunday."

** Which is Trinity ? " asked Bee. " Oh, I remem-
ber, the Methodist, isn't it ? "

"Yes, that is, the Wesleyan. There is quite a ser-
vice, so that at first I imagined that we had made a
mistake and were in an Episcopalian church. I was
not undeceived until I opened the hymn-book.
One thing I liked, everybody sang."

** Just so in the Cathedral— black and white, grown
people and children."

"We must write more about the religious privi-
leges," said Barbara, " since they are so abundant.
I asked Mr. C. the other day what were the amuse-
ments of the Nassauese, as he calls them, and he re-
plied in three words — * Going to church.' "

" Oh, can't you tell about St. Agnes ? " exclaimed
Bee, " we haven't said a word about it to these two
people, and it will be good practice for you."

" I must finish my letter. I'll leave that for you,"
and Barbara's pen traveled over the paper as if it
would never be done.

" It was last Sunday morning, you know, and the
long road to Grant's Town was a trifle too warm to
be pleasant, but we were well repaid. The church is
a pretty stone building, in the pointed style, set back
from the street, and embowered in roses and hibiscus
shrubs. A tree leans over the roof, and they say it
will have gorgeous scarlet blossoms before we go
home. What a picturesque sketch it will make,



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A WINTER PICNIC. 49

the church and its surroundings, if you can only
paint it ! "

" I can and I will," declared Benita.

" What was I saying ? Oh, we wondered why there
were two bells put up on standards outside, but there
was nobody to tell us, nobody to seat us either, when
we went in at the centre door of the three, so we took
our seats just behind the baptismal font in the middle
of the room. I thought the stone coping around the
bottom of it would made a place for my feet, and I
am so short. We had time to look around us before
the services began, for we were quite early, in spite of
the long walk. The floor and ceiling are of that beauti-
ful pine, and the altar — there were five bouquets of
roses on it, and the hangings were of indigo blue
and maroon, embroidered with ecclesiastical designs.
Lighted candles burned in gold candlesticks — think
of that," she said, turning to the Mother.

" Why, it's Catholic, isn't it ? "

" No, indeed, and the candles were red and white
and green. They weren't all lighted, though ; only
those at the back. Oh, I forgot to tell you that
over the door on the outside was the inscription :
* Enter, mortal, praise and pray.* We must drive
past there to-morrow, and you can see the outside,
but you must go some Sunday, too. The walls are
hung with French lithographs, I think ; at least they
are colored — scenes in our Saviour's life. The people
began to assemble, all of them negroes, most of them
well dressed ; I should think the church would
seat about four hundred and fifty, shouldn't you,
Barb ? "



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so A WINTER PICNIC.

"Thereabouts," replied Barbara, without look-
ing up.

" After a while the choir boys marched in — little
fellows, some of them — with very black faces and very
white gowns ; then the venerable priest, and he wore
over his long white gown a purple dolman."

" You don't mean dolman, my child."

" Well, it looked exactly like that one you had
had ten years ago, only it was more pointed, front
and back alike, and extremely short over the arms.
I wish you had seen it, then you*d believe what I say,
for really it was trimmed all around and down the
back seam with white braid. It is only that we are
not accustomed to such dress, that it seems strange
to us. Do you suppose Aaron would have looked
less peculiar than this good old man to our unused
eyes ? It is we who are strange, isn't it ? St. Agnes
is very high church, we are told, and good Father
Fisher has been there twenty-eight years, without
rest or change. This paper, given us on the street,
says so. He must be a good worker, and I notice
that the colored people pay him great reverence when
they meet him. I think it was a special occasion last
Sunday, for I can't believe they have as much cere-
mony at every service. The people bowed their
heads at every mention of the name of Christ — the
offering was lifted up to the crucifix, and, when the
communion was prepared, the priest lifted the wafers
and wine in the same way. The communicants went
up into the chancel — if that is the name they give the
place — and the priest made the sign of the cross with
plate and cup before he handed them to the people



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A WINTER PICNIC. 5 1

kneeling there. I wonder if they did not have tickets.
They gave the priest a paper or something as they
went up. After the wine had been passed, the priest
drank all that was left, and rinsed out the cup twice.
I suppose that must have meant somethings but I can't
think what."

" Read your Bible, my child, I think you'll discover
the meaning there," said the Mother reprovingly.

" We don't do so in our church," rejoined Benita.

"Who shall say which way is right?" said the
Mother.

*• He carefully dried the cup with a napkin, after
that," went on Bee, " and then we had a good short
sermon, but I couldn't help wondering if those peo-
ple understood it, they are so ignorant. I enjoyed
their singing very much, didn't you, Barbara ? "

"Yes, I wonder how they teach them? but I sup-
pose it comes naturally. It seems to me, friends, that
we ought not to sit up any longer. I am sleepy, and
we have something to do on the morrow."

" Oh, yes ! the carpenter is coming early to ease
these front windows. I shouldn't be surprised if he
were here by ten o'clock. That is the time he
came this morning, but actually he was all day mak-
ing the small cupboard. He seems to work all the
time too, but he goes to his shop for every tool that
he uses, instead of bringing them in a basket as our
carpenters do ; and isn't it queer that these men seem
to have no standard of prices as we do. I asked him
how much he would charge for putting up a shelf in
the dining-room, and he said a dollar and a quarter! "

" * How long will it take you ? ' I aske4f

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52 A WINTER PICNIC,

" * Half an hour, Missus,' he said.

" Think of it! I inquired his price for a day's
work.

" * We doesn't work that way, Missus. We always
works by the job.'

" He is a splendid looking fellow, isn't he ? And
have you noticed how much better he speaks than many
of the colored people ? I wanted to get some idea of
business, so I insisted upon the last question. * How
much would you ask if you worked all day for me ?
You would do that if I wanted you to, wouldn't you.?'

" * Yes, Missus.'

" * Well, how much would you ask by the day ?*

** He thought a minute, and said seventy-five cents ! "

" That is as much as they know about business,"
said Benita, "but I'm glad you paid him the dollar
and a quarter for the shelf. His shop is two streets
from here, you know, and he had to go a good many
times."

" Well, good-night," said the Mother, folding her
work, " if there's so much to do to-morrow, all in the
way of play, I suppose, we mustn't linger."

" Are you going to have radishes for breakfast ? "
asked Benita.

"Oh, Mary, Mary, quite contrary.
How does your garden grow ? "

sang Beatrix.

" It grows very fast, I think," responded the Mo-
ther. ** The radishes are almost large enough, and
the lettuce would have been, if that stupid boy had
made the beds right."



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A WINTER PICNIC. 53

"You must have your experience in the book,"
said Barbara. " We were in Grant's Town, you know,
the day you had your two garden-beds constructed,
and I never heard how it was done. Tell us about it.
AVhy weren't the beds right ? "

** Well, you see, I had gone out with my trowel to
.plant the radish and lettuce seed, when a boy about
as big as Lemuel came through the lane with the su-
gar you had sent home from the store."

" And you asked him to make your garden ? "

" No ; I only said, * Is this the way you make gar-
dens here ? ' and he said it wasn't. He said he would
make it for me, if I'd wait for him to run home for his
peck-hoe."

" His what ? " inquired the artist, looking up from
her sketch-book.

" His peck-hoe."

" Don't you mean pick ? "

" No, — peck, peck-hoe. That's just what he called
it."

" And you waited, of course. Such a chance wasn't
to be lost," said Beatrix.

" Yes, I waited, but he wasn't gone a minute. He
came back with a short-handled thing that had a long
blade—"

" Why, what was it ? " said Barbara.

" A peck-hoe was what he called it, but I should
say it was a kind of two-handled hoe. He scratched
up the ground — "

" Your chicken would have done that, if he had been
given half a chance," said Bee.



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54 A WINTER PICNIC,

— " And then he raised up the bed," went on the
Mother.

" Got a corner of the peck-hoe under one end, I
suppose," remarked Barbara.

" Hush," said Bee. " This is going into our book
and I want to hear the rest. And then ? — "

" And then he brought two pails of water and
poured on the beds, and planted the seeds."

" But I thought he did something with his hands,"
said Benita, who had heard about it before.

" Oh, I forgot that he used his fingers for a rake, and
made the earth fine with them. He told me I must
water the beds every night and morning, but the let-
tuce has not grown well. I thought that wasn't the
way to do it, but I didn't say anything. It seemed as
if he ought to know better than I. I paid him three
big coppers, and he went off happy."

" I don't believe he ever made a garden in his life
before," announced Bee. " That ' peck-hoe ' he had
probably stolen from somebody's kitchen, and I sup-
pose it wasn't designed for that use at all. These
negroes will do anything for a few coppers."

" But the gardens all look like that," said Barbara.
" They are made with high beds, so that the water
will be sure to run off, and then the poor, devoted
creatures wet them thoroughly, night and morning."



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VI.

THE CORAL REEF.

Nassau, Feb. 25, 1886.

DEAR Friends : — Upon the morning of the twenty-
second, just as we were devising ways and means
wherewith to celebrate the birthday of the illustrious
G. W., there came a messenger from Captain
Major to say that it was a perfect day for the Coral
Reef ; that is, a south wind and a smooth sea. We
had been waiting some weeks for a propitious time,
so we immediately put up a modest luncheon, bolted,
locked, and barred our domicile, and rushed off te the
dock, where the gay little Molly Bawn awaited our
arrival. This jaunty craft is painted brown upon the
outside ; her deck is lemon-yellow ; the inner por-
tions are pale blue and white. When I tell you that
fifteen are easily carried by her, you can fancy how
comfortable four people might be. Molly has a main
boom thirty-seven feet long, and that gives an ample
spread of canvas ; but as Robbins, who manages our
row-boat, says, " No motter w'at kin' o' boat you is
got, you wan's good conduction," and that we are sure
to have from Captain Major.

We were sorry to sail out under the Union Jack
when the Nirvana^ of New York, was dressed from
top to toe with other flags, and the American banner

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56 A WINTER PICNIC,

floated from so many standards, — but away we went,
through the spongers lying at anchor, and soon passed
the " steam drudge," where a lonesome cat and dog
greeted us as resentfully as if we had really injured
them. Then on we fared past Big and Little Potter's
Cay, Fort Montague, and Athol Island, which latter is
the ** curantine " station of Nassau.

It was " hoody '* when we left the dock — oh, maybe
you don't know that I mean cloudy — and as for the
sea, beautiful as it always is to us who know its
changeful aspects so well, it seemed as if it had never
shown a lovelier face. We passed over the snowy
ocean floor through waters of lucent green, then came
to depths of robin's-egg blue, where the short brown
weeds gave seeming substance to the shimmering
waves. The northern sky showed a great bank of
indigo blue — that blue where red is strongly hinted.
There were endless variations of color everywhere,
and I, who had sadly concluded that poets and writ-
ers imagined vain things, or else that I was color-
blind, at last I saw " empurpled waters," for, as we
gently sped along I beheld for myself the hues of the
amethyst, like a delicate film upon the surface, deep-
iening only to fade and vanish away like a vapor.

Presently
'* Down dropped the breeze, the sails dropped down/'
but it was not

"Sad as sad could be/*

even though a pair of oars began to ply. We looked
down through fifteen feet of water, and plainly saw
many strange and curious animals. Upon the white

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A WINTER PICNIC, 57

sand lay the great brown sea-stars, and as the waves
were very gentle, and the surface of each had its own
fine little crinkles, all these star-fish seemed to be
dancing about on the bottom in fours or sixes.

About this time we became aware that our captain
was whistling very industriously in a succession of
clear coaxing notes, such as Tm sure IVe somewhere
heard used in calling a horse from pasture ; then he
went into the Sidie which had been trailing behind us,
and rowed ahead, while Lemuel took his place and
even whistled the same notes.

** Keep it up, Lem," called the captain in a moment
of silence, and then it dawned upon us that they were
trying to "raise the wind." We couldn't induce
Lemuel to vary his whistle, nor could we laugh him
out of his firmly seated conviction that his whistling
would bring about the desired result. After an hour
of steady entreaty the breeze freshened, filling our
drooping sails, and sending the Mollie ahead like a
swift-winged bird.

Do you fancy that the calm was tedious ? Not at
all. We never wearied of the play of the upper
waters, or of gazing deeper where an irregular net of


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Online LibraryJ DickinsonA winter picnic: the story of a four months' outing in Nassau → online text (page 4 of 18)