THE PEARL OF THE ANTILLES.*
THAT any one proposing to write a book about Cuba, especially of a picturesque sort, should have fixed upon "The Pearl of the. Antilles" as its title, is so very probable and self-suggestive, that it is not at all surprising to find the same idea occurring, like Mr. Puff's, to two minds. As, however, it occurred to Mr. Goodman first, and he registered and advertised the fact considerably before the rival "Pearl " was announced, he establishes a sound griev- ance in the adoption of his title by another gentleman, who has also been to Cuba, and has written a book about it. But Mr. Good- man has two sources of consolation,—the rival book is a very little one, and political, whereas his is a good-sized volume, de-. lightfully vivid and picturesque, and as non-political as possible under the circumstances of " The Loyal and Ever-faithful Isle," which rejoices also in the appellations of " The Summer Isle of Eden" and "The Garden of the West."
Mr. Goodman visited Cuba under pleasant auspices ; his com- panion, Don Nicasio Rodriguez, was an artist and a Cuban, and their reception, after they had run the gauntlet of official restrictions, was bewilderingly cordial. Their first few weeks in Santiago offered some of the oddest experiences of travel on record. Wherever they went, some unknown friend had anticipated their arrival, and secretly provided for their wants. They turned into a café for refreshments, and the waiter refused to take their money, assuring them that their repast had already been paid for. Sub- sequently they discovered that the proprietors of all the restaurants and cafés in the town had been instructed by some mysterious persons not to accept payment from Don Nicasio and his com- panion, but to "put it down to the account." Whenever they visited' the theatre the same pecuniary objections were raised, and on one- occasion, the haberdasher from whom Mr. Goodman ordered a dozen shirts actually refused to favour him with a bill. This state of things, which sounds celestial, speedily became intolerable, and the visitors publicly announced their intention of bolting, if it were not put an end to. The warning took effect, but still the tendency of the Cubans to " stand treat" remained in certain respects irrepressible, and the old Spanish forms of politeness, which in Spain never meant anything, and are now obsolete, have- really some sincerity in them in Cuba.
We derive from this book an impression that the Pearl of the is a very delightful place, though hitherto one of those in which " the blacks for ever weep," and where houses have to be con- structed with an eye to earthquakes. The free, easy, out-of-door We- is equally free and easy in-doors, where domestic affairs are on the simplest scale. One has hardly any furniture, and one sets up one's bed—called a catre, and closely resembling a tressled apple-stall, with a canvas tray—anywhere. It is rather limiting to one's par- ticular ideas of breakfast to find that all the butter is imported in * The Pearl of the Antilles ; or, an Artist in Cuba. By Walter Goodman.. London : Henry S. King and Co.
bottles, like pickled onions in other places; but then the fruit and vegetables enlarge one's general ideas of food more than propor-
tionally, and there's no smoke except tobacco smoke. Good manners, rocking chairs, toed/as, pretty women—though rather fat—a pervading atmosphere of kindliness and good-nature, and
a general sense that nobody has too much to do, and that amusement has a recognised place in every one's life, make up a very attractive picture ; and Mr. Goodman, who possesses a strong sense of humour, seems to have appreciated it all to the fullest extent. His description of the daily life of his companion • and himself after they had set up as portrait painters is very amusing. He went, in and out of print, by the name of " El Caballero Ingles Don Gualterio," and he was speedily in great
request as a painter of portraits of dead people, for his patrons could not be induced to believe that a living person is a fit subject for an artist's brush ; and so it often happened that he was called up like a doctor, in the night, to hasten to the house of a moribund, for the purpose of making notes to serve afterwards as guides in the painting of the dead man's portrait. He and Don Nic asio evidently deserved all the kindness they met with, and all
the popularity they attained, for they accommodated themselves to the place and the people with most commendable readiness, and many capital stories are the result to us. They painted everything, from high-art subjects, in which the local press declared that they rivalled Titian and Raphael, to "ances- tors" in a " set" scene for the Teatro Real, and Don Beuigno's gig. Don Benigno is a person whose acquaintance we are delighted to make, and this is a description of his " quitrin :"— " A two-wheeled carriage of the gig class, the component parts of which bear one to the other something of the proportions of a spider and his web ; the body of the conveyance being extremely small, the shafts inconceivably long, and the wheels of a gigantic circumference. The street-doors of most Cuban houses are con- structed with a view to the admittance of such a vehicle, which, when not in use, is carefully enveloped in brown holland, like a harp or a chandelier, and is deposited in the hall, or, in some
cases, in a corner of the marble-paved reception-room." Don Benigno's gig in the studio was, therefore, not very remarkable. The friends were in the habit of drawing lots on the occasion of the " sick calls" we have referred to, and the unfortunate winner would betake himself, clad in sombre garments, to the house of mourning. An amusing account of a " velorio," or
night-wake, presents the mutable, impulsive, tender-hearted, absurd Cubans in a pleasing though ludicrous light. The friends painted bird-portraits too, and kept the living originals on the premises, to our great advantage. The Cocos are the most delight- ful birds within our knowledge, especially Lord Coco, whose con- duct, when Lady Coco wandered from the house and lost herself in an adjacent field, is an example to husbands. " Until her reappearance, Lord Coco is inconsolable. The pastimes of the studio and the patio have no attractions for the bereaved bird. He fasts during the day, and croaks dismally at night. But when Lady Coco returns, Lord Coco is quite another bird, and in a moment of rapture he secretes our last tube of flake-white in the water-jug!" They also kept a pair of young crocodiles in a tank.
Of these interesting creatures Mr. Goodman says :—" We have done our beat to tame them, but they have not yet fallen into our domestic ways. Nor does time improve their vicious natures, for at the tender age of six months they have already shown signs of insubordination. If they persist in their evil courses, we must needs make a premature end of them, which is no easy matter, for their scaly hides are already as tough as leather, and the only defenceless parts about them are their small eyes and open mouths." The author does not tell us whether he had to kill the baby croco- diles ; we hope not. But the most interesting creature to whom he introduces us is the majestic Grulla, a painfully decorous bird:—
, "There is a dignity about her walk, and a formality about her ways, which are examples to her feathered companions. At night she is as serviceable as the best watch-dog, warning all trespassers by her piercing shriek, and by a furious dash at them with her strong neck and sharp-pointed beak. Grath" abominates all newcomers, and it was long before she was reconciled to the presence of her crocodile companions. When first their objectionable society was thrust upon the huge bird, she became nearly beside herself with vexation, and made savage onslaughts on the invaders' impenetrable hides. Once Grails was in imminent danger of losing her neck, while taking a blind header at the enemy's beady eye; for in a moment the reptile opened his yard of jaw for the easy accommodation of the bird's three feet of throat. My lady's behaviour at table leaves nothing to be desired. At the dinner-hour she strides into our apartment without bidding, and takes her allotted place. The bird's two feet six inches of legs serve her instead of a chair, and her swanlike neck enables her to take a bird's-eye view of the most distant dish. But she never ventures to help herself to anything till the meal is actually placed en the plate before her; nor does she bolt her food like a beast, but disposes of it gracefully, like the best educated biped. Jerking the article for con- sumption neatly into her beak, and raising her head high in the airs she waits till the comestible has gravitated naturally down her throat. The Grulla's favourite dishes are sweet bananas, boiled pumpkin, and the crumb of new bread ; but she is also partial to fresh raw beefsteak, whenever she can get it."
Mr. Goodman's book is desultory, perhaps, but its desultoriness is of that picturesque and fascinating kind which is infinitely pre-. ferable to system, and in the end quite as instructive. Reading it is like rambling about with a companion, who does not want to take you as directly and as quickly as possible to certain specified places, but who is content to loiter, observing everything, com- menting upon everything, turning everything into a picture, and with a cheerful flow of spirits, full of fun, but far above frivolity. He saw everything and noted everything, and several chapters devoted to the characteristics of the people are exceedingly, interesting and remarkable; among these are " The Black Art in Cuba" and "A Taste of Cuban Prison Life." These are the two chapters which lend the touch of pain to the book, otherwise sparkling and amusing from beginning to end. The drollest chapter is devoted to theatrical subjects, and the author plays a part in it, in every sense, for whenever an English play was wanted for adaptation to the Spanish stage, the manager very naturally fell back upon the Caballero Ingles. How he translated "Box and Cox" into choice Castilian, and was induced to act a part in a wonderful farce, called " Los Mocitos del Dia," or " The Fops of the Period " ; how he figutled on the posters as " Mister Charles, a Yankee engineer from a sugar plantation ;" the vicissitudes of the play, and the triumphant success of the experiment, are most amusingly told. The scenes of slave-life are very sad indeed, but not so unbearably painful as they would have been, but for the good time nearly come. The whole book deserves the heartiest commendation, but we cannot understand why it was not illustrated by the " Anglo- Saxon follower of the divine art of Apelles."