Fragrance in Travel Literature-Glimpses of life in Bermuda and the tropics by Margaret Newton

Glimpses of life in Bermuda and the tropics ([1897])
Newton, Margaret


To enumerate the different trees and shrubs and
flowering plants of Bermuda would occupy a volume,
but I must just describe a few of those which strike the
stranger as most tropical or strange. Everywhere the
Oleander flourishes, and it is said there are fourteen
different kinds of it. The commonest species is the
lovely pink blossom, both double and single, which
contrasts so charmingly with the grey-stained coral rock,
and which waves its fragrant blossoms by the way side ;
for many hedges are formed of this shrub, which attains
considerable height when growing in a somewhat damp
soil, and its supple branches bend with the wind like
reeds, and are, even when exposed to a windy aspect,
little injured by the storms which are disastrous to
bananas, pride of India, and the paw-paw. The pure
white waxen blossoms of the white oleander are very
lovely, but it appears to me less fragrant than its rose-
coloured sister. Red and pink of different shades and
combinations are the prevailing colours, and there are lots
found all over the island, now tossing their lovely clusters
high above banana ridges, against a background of purest
sky-blue, now standing out brightly against a patch of
cedar or grey rock shadow with, perhaps, some dark-
hued natives, graceful and picturesque, at work upon
the red brown clay near by, or anon marching
lightly, bare-footed or straw-hatted, with sometimes a
bundle on their heads like bronze caryatides supple in
outline, and giving just the touch of humanity and
colour to the peaceful scene which it needs.

The lily fields are a striking feature in Bermuda, and
about Easter, boxes of these exquisite and fragrant
flowers are exported to New York. Whole fields are
covered as with a snowy sheet. The lilies are like
Madonna lilies, with deeper tubes, and by the end of
December the plants were about five inches above ground.
Christmas is said to be^the best time for roses, and from
October on they continue to bloom luxuriantly.

It is strange to have sent off all one's Christmas letters
early in December, and to have received one's Christmas
letters ten days before that festival yet so it must be if
one would greet one's friends before Christmas. Such a
wonderful Christmas Eve and day ! and such holy,
tender, moonlit nights. Surely it must have been like
them nearly 1900 years ago when the shepherds watched
their flocks in the fields near Bethlehem, the balmy
Christmas Eve of eastern lands must be similar to this.
And as midnight approaches and the moonlight gleams
so tenderly so purely over the white-roofed, peaceful
world one is led back in spirit with a new realisation of
that night so many centuries ago, and one rises early
when the sun has already poured his radiant beams
through the window at half-past six o'clock greeting
one in a strange land with such a welcome as it is difficult
for one to associate with Christmas-tide. Such perfect
weather as one leaves the house to attend the early
celebration the sun is already radiant, and one feels
quite warm in a white cambric blouse, with no outer
wrap.
The church is all fragrant with narcissus, roses, and
hyacinths it is simply decorated. Some palm and
palmetto leaves give a tropical effect, and the ivy and
Bermuda holly are the only suggestives of English
decorations.

In the morning a little coloured girl who lives near
the Brunswick, and who has often watched me sketch,
brought me a most fragrant bouquet of narcissus and
honeysuckle, and looking up at me with her soft brown
eyes, she presented them, after standing shyly by my
side for a time, saying ' I thought you would like the
flowers to put on your dressing-table.'

It is the fashion in Roseau for dwellings to be built as
close to the sea as possible, so one is divided from the
sea by them. It is delightful, however, to stroll in the
pretty little public garden beside the fort, and to listen
to the waves dashing upon the shore beneath, or to sit
in the shade of palm trees there, and watch the changing
lights upon the sea and hills, while the air around is
fragrant with jessamine of different kinds, cannon ball
tree and other sweet perfumes. It is pleasant also to
roam down through the picturesque old market square,
or round in front of the post office close by, or to walk
towards the jetty by the side of the sea wall, and there
at the hour of sunset or of moonlight, to look out on
the ever changing sea and see the groups of men and
women who assemble there, where the men at sun-
set hour mend there nets upon the sea wall; and
then to retrace one's steps, and diving about a little
through the quaint old streets to return to the new
town by the Cathedral, and round again to the little
English Church with its palms and pailing curtained with
bongainvillier facing the old fort in the high part of the
town.

As I write, the rose-bush opposite my window
wafts its fragrance across the path. Behind it the fresh
verdure of a mango, glossy and verdant, makes a good
background. To the left a hillock rises studded with
grey stones and in the far distance like a gem set in
verdant tracery stand the far blue hills. Cloud shadows
of tender blue contend with rosy sunbeams for supremacy.
Gleams of gold and rose-colour and faintest green, flash
out from blue cloud-shadows, and warm, grey clouds with
golden linings float calmly above the hills. The king
corbeau wheels high almost within reach of cloud-
land, and then, poising easily for a brief space, descends
swiftly to his roost in the grove near by.

May 4. A morning of brilliant sunshine, the blue hills
ethereal in dawning light, palms and bananas glistening
in the still shimmering network of dew, red brown
acalaphas standing out against a misty background, roses,
and violets, dew laden, scenting the air with softest
fragrance. Such was the scene I viewed for the last time
from my window at Newleigh, as the eastern sun poured
his beams into my little chamber on the morning I was
to leave Mandeville.

In Trinidad where fashion has many votaries, it is the
custom for the ' beau monde ' to drive round the savan-
nah every afternoon, where they meet all their friends.
It is a lovely drive, and the wide green stretch of the
Queen's Park with its fine clumps of Royal palms, its
grand dome-shaped samans, its yellow blossomed logwood,
its cannon-ball tree and other fragrant trees under the
shade of which long horned Zebu cattle humped and soft-
eyed, and with a certain dignity of aspect, stand serenely.

Next morning I spent at the Deaconess's Home until
train time. The journey to Mandeville is remarkable
for the very pastoral views it discloses. The country is
really very like England. It is all more or less carefully
cultivated and looks very green. Silk cotton trees,
mangoes, a few palms, bread-fruit trees and bananas are
there, also orange trees. At this season, however, it is
rare to see a tree with golden fruit upon it, and the
blossom is just over which a month ago perfumed the air.


At Golden Grove there is an old water-mill, and be-
yond more than a square mile of bananas. The road
would eventually have led us back to Port Antonio. We
crossed several fords, but there was nothing very new
about this part of the country, though it was often very
pretty. On the way back our driver brought down from
a tree which grew beside the road, a number of rose
apples. They have exactly the taste and perfume of moss
rosebuds. The inside is hollow, containing a seed the size
of a marble, and the colour of the fruit is golden.

The soft wind rustles the palms to the right, and their
grey stems curve upwards from the luxuriant grass.
Below the house are crange-trees, but no fruit is to be
seen at present, and on the left broad emerald-leaved
bananas are unfurled. Surmounting the hill on which
the house stands are crimson and brown-leaved acala-'.
phas, and the scent of violets growing beneath the"
window is wafted in to me. It has been a peaceful time,
and to-morrow my travels begin again. My next stage
will be Montego Bay.

Outside the church windows my eyes could not help
wandering through the unstained glass to a lovely orchid
which was blooming on the vestry roof, and by its side
grew a picturesque wild pine. In the little churchyard,
crotons of many hues, almost vied with flowers or autumn
colours in their tints of rose and gold and saffron. Roses
too bloomed plentifully and the cool white walls and
painting of the church, set in their frame of grass and
sweeping trees was refreshing to the sight. The vases
were filled with pure white lilies and a simple cross stood
upon the altar. Some Easter texts had not yet been
removed and through the wide opened windows the
birds and butterflies, and sometimes humming-birds
glided in, and the lizards frisked up and down the win-
dow panes or basked in the sun. The scent of roses
after rain too was wafted towards one by the gentle breeze
and sweet peace and harmony were united there. Out-
side too, surely Nature joined in the universal hymn.

Jessamine and night blooming cereus scented the air,
and the atmosphere was heavy with moist vegetation. I
saw one superb bit of scenery, with the precipitous moun-
tain through which the tunnel runs in the centre, and
steep wooded slopes running down towards the river is
well worth remembering; it would be a grand subject for a
picture but otherwise I felt no inclination to remain
longer at Bog Walk. At the hotel, my room which had
two corner windows, I found to be exempt from fastenings,
(it overlooked the gallery), however, by means of nails
they were secured at last. Fire-flies kept flitting from
the next room into mine through the wide space near
the ceiling, sometimes with rather startling effect. The
night was chilly too, and damp, and I could not sleep
much, however, morning broke at last, and by the
7.50 train I took my departure for Kingston. The
hotel was just across the road, and the maid carried my
box over to the station upon her head. The scenery was
for a time, most beautiful. Most striking was the piece I
had seen from the road the evening before, then the
train plunged into a tunnel of considerable extent to
emerge into other scenes of beauty. Through several
tunnels we passed, getting glimpses of valleys within
valleys, and vegetation in wild luxuriance.

Coffee plantations do well in this part, and at Cold
Springs Mr McLean has a place for preparing the berries
which are at this season being gathered. At Newcastle
many English flowers grow well. Outside the cottage
where I am staying is a border of rose trees, balsams,
violets and forget-me-nots with sweet scented verbena,
orange trees, lemons, bananas and a patch of potatoes,
lettuce, and cabbages also grow well and indeed anything
will grow in Jamaica and will repay a slight outlay of
trouble. The strange thing is that more things are not
grown, for Nature has endowed the soil with such
productive qualities that for agricultural purposes it is a
fortune in itself and in the cool pure air of the hills
there is no excuse for the indolence which often
characterises the inhabitants of the lower regions. Here
at Newcastle the air is wonderfully pure and cool and
the supply of fresh mountain springs quite inexhaustible.
It is certainly a healthy place to live in, far removed
indeed from the ' madding crowd ' though doubtless the
troops would prefer more variety, yet they are a host
in themselves.

Donkey carts and traps, driven by picturesque brown
men and boys, go round on Christmas Eve, laden with
palm leaves, palmettos, Bermuda holly, bracken, a pretty
kind of sage, and a sort of down-flecked scrub found in
the marshes, and boys and girls walk, laden with fern
and scrub for their homely decorations. It is difficult
for a northener to realise that it is Christmas-tide for
the strong sunshine and cloudless sky, the rose-scented
air, and tall hibiscus, and magnolia shrubs so common
everywhere, are in full bloom. Mid-December had been
wet, and almost cool for a few days but now it is
warm as summer time, and as I ramble off to Spanish
point to sketch the sparkling sea under the wonderful
sky and verdant foliage attired in a light cotton blouse,
it seems to me more like July. The air, too is fresh and
sparkling after the cooler days and a crisp, pure light
pervades the atmosphere.