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She buys most of the supplies. Mistress (cook is too superior to use the country form "Missees") is not supposed to lower herself by chaffering with people from the bush. Mistress acts only in an advisory capacity (from her hammock) after cook has succeeded in bringing the asking price into consonance with her somewhat bigoted ideas as to buying price.
She uses the outworn device of ruinous competition. She does not know that it is outworn. Most of the time she has half a dozen smiling, but frantic, ones standing in the garden before her cook-house while she incites them to underbid one another. Almost without fail, cook succeeds in getting some considerable reduction, such as a gill. A gill is three farthings. Now and then she makes a killing, and reduces somebody's price by a quatty. That is a field-day for her. A quatty is all of a penny ha'penny, or three cents in American coppers.
We do not see much of cook. Except when she pops into the garden to cut some glorious fire-red fruits from an akee
tree or order the yard-boy or the laundress to climb up for a breadfruit or a cocoanut, she lives secluded in her cook-house, which, as in all old-time Jamaican houses, is a short distance from the dwelling. All we know positively is that she must work some sort of magic, probably a beneficent obi; for no Northern cook would condescend to produce a luncheon of a single course with the trifling utensils with which cook will prepare a five- or sixcourse dinner, and for as many guests as we may happen to have.
The Jamaican landlord's ideas as to kitchen furnishings are so modest as to be almost immodest. When Mistress found that she could make an inventory of the kitchen on her visiting-card, she spoke to the landlord as soon as she could catch her breath. He explained that it would never do to give "these black people of ours" too much. They would simply break or lose everything. Since then, being of migratory habit, we have changed abodes several times, and if we thought that the first kitchen was of the utmost
simplicity, we have found that there are degrees of simplicity more uttermost still. Every new landlord has explained over again to us that little explanation about breakage or loss.
We believed it at first. I counted my money gloomily, and visioned it all passing away at the end of the season to pay the landlord for vanished things. When it became incumbent on us to give our first entertainment, we thought with terror of the smashing of crockery and glass that would punctuate the conversation.
There were to be thirty guests. Of course we did not have dishes enough for half a dozen, but in Jamaica one lays his acquaintances under eternal obligations by borrowing from them. One of our maids arrived that morning from a borrowing tour. She brought twenty-four plates stacked on her head. In each hand she bore a large and heavy basket. When I saw her climb the rugged path, I could not take proper pleasure in her acrobatic accomplishment. I thought of the bill. Other people's servants arrived with other crockery perched on their heads. The Jamaican believes always that a mighty bundle on the head is worth two little ones in the hands. A man arrived at the house one day bearing on his head a live pig
strapped to a board. That was merely amusing. I should not have had to pay for the pig if it had fallen and broken. The sight of those mounds of crockery moving up the precarious path was terrible.
Nothing crashed. Since then we have given many entertainments. At a recent one we had forty guests, all eating from borrowed dishes; and some of our too hospitable Jamaican friends insisted on sending us their choicest European porcelain.
I have just asked Mistress to give me an exact list of the breakage and loss during the last three seasons. I have explained to her that I don't care about literary style in this matter, but minute truth. She states officially that the total number of missing articles has been one pepper-caster, which, however, we believe to have been a mythical pepper-caster in the first place. The dead and injured are three tumblers, one plate, and a butterdish, which lost a handle. As Edith, our late butleress, explained, "I put him to sleep on the hice, and him handle went away, Mistress."
This list sounds so much like Sindbad at his worst that I hardly dare venture on my next statement, which is that in Jamaica a hostess can invite as many guests as she pleases for as long a time as she pleases, and never has to wonder if her servants will stand it. They not only will stand it, but they will be pleased!
They make a festival of it. Edith used to show her delight by wearing her most precious garment, or, rather, garments, for it was a pair of them. They were white kid slippers, very low-cut and very highheeled. She wore them on her bare, very black feet. Edith always was a great and inexpensive joy to any Northern strangers whom we had as guests.
The other servants used their feet as nature had intended them to be used. When tourists return home and say that in Jamaica the servants wait on table barefoot, it does not create the proper impression unless they are accurate enough to add that the barefooted servants wear stiffly starched white dresses and that their black heads are crowned with snow-white or scarlet turbans, and that they often have crimson blossoms in their hair, and that the barefooted Jamaican girl walks as Hebe or Diana must have walked, and
has a butler who can mix the best planters' punch in Jamaica. Mistress, who does not drink planters' punch, suggested after a while that the butler appeared to do nothing but mix punches. Womanlike, she refused to admit the argument that with prime golden rum available at two shillings a quart, it was economy to use as much as possible. So one day when an acquaintance wanted a butler, she sent him there, ostensibly as a loan.
My dear Mary:
Will you lend me your cook, butler, and waitress next Wednesday for our garden party and supper?
and the other lady, without asking her servants, will reply:
My dear Helen:
I shall be delighted. I shall send you our yard-boy, too. He will report to you early in the morning.
Drawn by W. M. Berger "THE YARD-BOY"
The yard-boy is not necessarily a boy. He is called yard-boy because he is the outdoors servant, and the "yard" in Jamaican language is the ground about the house, however large. He runs errands, chops wood for cook, carries burdens, and holds and attends to visitors' horses. Every well-conducted establishment has a yard-boy, and a very excellently well-conducted establishment has two or three, with, of course, a coachman. We, not being an excellently well-conducted establishment, have none. After our visitors' horses have climbed the coral road to our cliff-dwelling, nobody needs to hold them.
The position of yard-boy in our garden is filled speculatively by Sammy, who works by the job. Sammy has many strange arts. He cures chickens of the pip by doing something to them with a stick. Sometimes the chicken survives. Also he can chop a whole cord of heartlessly hard logwood and bully-wood with a rusty machete. When there are garden parties, there are only half a hundred of us among five thousand natives, and the half-hundred give one another parties in cessantly, -Sammy carries our contributions of furniture.
Sammy is not extortionate. He carries two mighty benches, a dozen chairs of honest mahogany, and three or four tables
of still more honest and heavy mahogany to the tennis-court half a mile away, and brings them back, for a net charge of sixpence. Sammy gets the same sum for going to the town, a mile and a half away, and bringing back twenty-five pounds of ice, which, of course, he brings on his head.
Cook considers Sammy an overpaid man. When cook goes to market in the town, she hires a man or woman who will carry a box-load of marketing on the head and a basketful in each hand for threepence. That is not so cheap as it appears to the careless American eye. The Jamaican penny is worth two cents in our money, so the charge for the little walk out and back again is really six cents.
It is not as low as the standard rate per mile established by the Government in the case of the Milk River mail-carrier in an adjoining district. His daily walk with a mail-pouch containing mail for several villages is thirty-two miles, making 192 miles a week, and his salary is ten shillings a week, which makes his rate of pay one and a quarter cents a mile. However, the bearers in the market do not expect private employers to be as economical as the Government can afford to be.
Cook's wages are five shillings a week, which is a shilling more than the standard. It is in consideration of the fact that we are bodies in unstable equilibrium, being weakly susceptible to the temptations of chance steamships. It makes cook's tenure uncertain; but she is always ready to depart with her tin trunk and her multitudinous bundles, and so far, whenever we have returned, we have found her sitting on that tin trunk in front of the house.
The other servants get four shillings a week, and their lodgings in the servants' quarters. With the exception of a stated allowance of bread and sugar, they provide their own food. This is a condition and not a theory. In Jamaican housekeeping there is no margin for surreptitious pickings. The tropics being unblessed by the cold-storage philanthropist and the preservative chemist, the day's provisions are brought in fresh every morning, and the day's purchases are limited strictly to the needs of the day. Besides, the Jamaican servants prefer their own food. Instead of coffee, they fancy a decoction of
cola-nut, and they like a native tea brewed from a weed that grows in the gardens and the bush. They are not meat-eaters. They live largely on "bread-kind," which is anything in the nature of yams, plantains, breadfruit, or cassava.
It is quite impossible to reconcile cook's indifference to food for herself with her exquisite care in cooking for us. But, then, it must be admitted that cook is a pearl of undoubted and rare price even in Jamaica. Good cooks do not grow on every bush there, nor do other good ser• vants; but the beauty of it is that if a good cook or servant is not found on one bush, there are many other bushes.
When Mistress lent the admirable butler away, she sent a boy into town to bring her out some butleresses. The use of this haughty word is not due to a spirit of personal ostentation, but to the butleress's professional pride. The boy returned in much less than an hour with a very fair line of samples. Edith was the result.
Edith left us after two months because she had words with the cook. As she told Mistress, regretfully, "I carn't bring myself, Mistress, to be respectful to no black nigger."
"We must forgive her, Mistress," said cook, after Edith had removed herself, with her tin trunk on top of her head and her hat and the white kid slippers in isolated grandeur on top of the trunk. "It been not too much time since her people reside in bush and wear no clothes at all."
Edith's successor, Ione, had to leave us with mutual regret. Circumstances of a magic nature over which neither side had control forced the separation. Somebody had put an obi on Ione. It was a wasting obi, and though to the naked eye Ione's one hundred and fifty-odd pounds seemed to cling to her robustly, she knew herself to be doomed unless she could locate the obi. Finally a skilful conjureman found it for a sixpence; but unfortunately for us, he was inconsiderate enough to find it near the house, under a famous silk-cotton-tree, the mighty buttress roots of which are notorious in all the district as being a very dangerous duppy-hole.
Next to the terrible and fatal Rolling Calf, duppies are the most fearful ghosts in Jamaica. Even cook, who does not exactly believe in duppies, has her opinion of that silk-cotton-tree after dark. The
obi-laden Ione simply could not remain anywhere near it.
The lady who has taken Ione's position is a little slower than the well-known mill of the Gods, and not nearly so sure. An order for drinks inevitably means three trips to the pantry for her, and the house is a house of magnificent distances, with the pantry at the end of the most magnificent distance.
On the first trip she brings the bottles very neatly on her serviette-covered tray. "The glasses, Juliet?" says Mistress, raising her eyebrows.
Forgive me, Mis
"And the corkscrew, Juliet!" demands Master after the second trip.
"Yes, if you please. Forgive me, Master," says Juliet.
"Yes, if you please. tress," says Juliet.
But when she arrives with it finally, she does not slam it down before her troublesome employers. She will run-no, not run-up-stairs and down-stairs all afternoon for tea and cake and more tea, and drinks, and ice, and more ice, and more tea, and never is there anything except a "Yes, please, Mistress," out of Juliet.
We have a neighbor, an American like ourselves, who does not agree with the rest of us about this Island of Servants. He is a charming gentleman, but when he gets on the subject of native servants he is not to hold or yet to bind. He swears that he will import Chinamen or Japanese or East Indian coolies at any expense. Sometimes he wishes that the island might be submerged in the sapphire Caribbean for an hour. We observe, however, that he has just built himself an expensive house and bought a plantation.
And Master, with a gentle shudder as of one who hears ghost-stories in pleasant company, thinks of his New York streets. He and Mistress look out over their ever-blooming garden, and there is utter peace: cook looking disapprovingly through her enormous spectacles at a vulture that is looking too approvingly on a chicken that she is plucking; the laundress hanging the wash (very white) on convenient bushes and the hen-coop; Sammy repairing the garden faucet with a piece of string which plainly is going to be entirely inadequate; and Juliet moving majestically like molasses from the cook-house with afternoon tea.