Transcribed by: Richard Farris [email@example.com]
FRENCH WEST INDIES
By LAFCADIO HEARN
AUTHOR OF "CHITA" ETC.
"La faon d'tre du pays est si agrable, la temprature si bonne, et l'on y vit dans une libert si honnte, que je n'aye pas vu un seul homme, ny une seule femme, qui en soient revenues, en qui je n'aye remarqu une grande passion d'y retourner."-LE PRE DUTERTRE (1667)
MON CHER AMI LEOPOLD ARNOUX NOTAIRE SAINT PIERRE, MARTINIQUE Souvenir de nos promenades,—de nos voyages,—de nos causeries,- des sympathies changes,—de tout le charme d'une amiti inaltrable et inoubliable,—de tout ce qui parle l'me au doux Pay des Revenants.
During a trip to the Lesser Antilles in the summer of 1887, the writer of the following pages, landing at Martinique, fell under the influence of that singular spell which the island has always exercised upon strangers, and by which it has earned its poetic name,—Le Pays des Revenants. Even as many another before him, he left its charmed shores only to know himself haunted by that irresistible regret,—unlike any other,—which is the enchantment of the land upon all who wander away from it. So he returned, intending to remain some months; but the bewitchment prevailed, and he remained two years.
Some of the literary results of that sojourn form the bulk of the present volume. Several, or portions of several, papers have been published in HARPER'S MAGAZINE; but the majority of the sketches now appear in print for the first time.
The introductory paper, entitled "A Midsummer Trip to the Tropics," consists for the most part of notes taken upon a voyage of nearly three thousand miles, accomplished in less than two months. During such hasty journeying it is scarcely possible for a writer to attempt anything more serious than a mere reflection of the personal experiences undergone; and, in spite of sundry justifiable departures from simple note-making, this paper is offered only as an effort to record the visual and emotional impressions of the moment.
My thanks are due to Mr. William Lawless, British Consul at St. Pierre, for several beautiful photographs, taken by himself, which have been used in the preparation of the illustrations.
L. H. Philadelphia, 1889.
PART ONE—A MIDSUMMER TRIP TO THE TROPICS
PART TWO—MARTINIQUE SKETCHES:—
I. LES PORTEUSES II. LA GRANDE ANSE III. UN REVENANT IV. LA GUIABLESSE V. LA VRETTE VI. LES BLANCHISSEUSES VII. LA PELE VIII. 'TI CANOTI IX. LA FILLE DE COULEUR X. BTE-NI-PI XI. MA BONNE XII. "PA COMBIN, CH" XIII. Y XIV. LYS
XV. APPENDIX:—SOME CREOLE MELODIES (not included in this transcription)
A Martinique Mtisse (Frontispiece) La Place Bertin, St. Pierre, Martinique Itinerant Pastry-seller In the Cimetire du Mouillage, St. Pierre In the Jardin des Plantes, St. Pierre Cascade in the Jardin des Plantes Departure of Steamer for Fort-de-France Statue of Josephine Inner Basin, Bridgetown, Barbadoes Trafalgar Square, Bridgetown, Barbadoes Street in Georgetown, Demerara Avenue in Georgetown, Demerara Victoria Regia in the Canal at Georgetown Demerara Coolie Girl St. James Avenue, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad Coolies of Trinidad Coolie Servant Coolie Merchant Church Street, St. George, Grenada Castries, St. Lucia 'Ti Marie Fort-de-France, Martinique Capre in Working Garb A Confirmation Procession Manner of Playing the Ka A Wayside Shrine, or Chapelle Rue Victor Hugo, St. Pierre Quarter of the Fort, St. Pierre Rivire des Blanchisseuses Foot of La Pell, behind the Quarter of the Fort Village of Morne Rouge Pell as seen from Grande Anse Arborescent Ferns on a Mountain Road 'Ti Canot The Martinique Turban The Guadeloupe Head-dress Young Mulattress Coolie Woman in Martinique Costume Country Girl-pure Negro Race Coolie Half-breed Capresse The Old Market-place of the Fort, St. Pierre Bread-fruit Tree Basse-terre, St. Kitt's
A Trip to the Tropics.
PART ONE—A MIDSUMMER TRIP TO THE TROPICS.
... A long, narrow, graceful steel steamer, with two masts and an orange-yellow chimney,—taking on cargo at Pier 49 East River. Through her yawning hatchways a mountainous piling up of barrels is visible below;—there is much rumbling and rattling of steam- winches, creaking of derrick-booms, groaning of pulleys as the freight is being lowered in. A breezeless July morning, and a dead heat,—87 already.
The saloon-deck gives one suggestion of past and of coming voyages. Under the white awnings long lounge-chairs sprawl here and there,—each with an occupant, smoking in silence, or dozing with head drooping to one side. A young man, awaking as I pass to my cabin, turns upon me a pair of peculiarly luminous black eyes,—creole eyes. Evidently a West Indian....
The morning is still gray, but the sun is dissolving the haze. Gradually the gray vanishes, and a beautiful, pale, vapory blue— a spiritualized Northern blue—colors water and sky. A cannon- shot suddenly shakes the heavy air: it is our farewell to the American shore;—we move. Back floats the wharf, and becomes vapory with a bluish tinge. Diaphanous mists seem to have caught the sky color; and even the great red storehouses take a faint blue tint as they recede. The horizon now has a greenish glow, Everywhere else the effect is that of looking through very light- blue glasses....
We steam under the colossal span of the mighty bridge; then for a little while Liberty towers above our passing,—seeming first to turn towards us, then to turn away from us, the solemn beauty of her passionless face of bronze. Tints brighten;—the heaven is growing a little bluer, A breeze springs up....
Then the water takes on another hue: pale-green lights play through it, It has begun to sound, Little waves lift up their heads as though to look at us,—patting the flanks of the vessel, and whispering to one another.
Far off the surface begins to show quick white flashes here and there, and the steamer begins to swing.... We are nearing Atlantic waters, The sun is high up now, almost overhead: there are a few thin clouds in the tender-colored sky,—flossy, long- drawn-out, white things. The horizon has lost its greenish glow: it is a spectral blue. Masts, spars, rigging,—the white boats and the orange chimney,—the bright deck-lines, and the snowy rail,—cut against the colored light in almost dazzling relief. Though the sun shines hot the wind is cold: its strong irregular blowing fans one into drowsiness. Also the somnolent chant of the engines—do-do, hey! do-do, hey!—lulls to sleep.
..Towards evening the glaucous sea-tint vanishes,—the water becomes blue. It is full of great flashes, as of seams opening and reclosing over a white surface. It spits spray in a ceaseless drizzle. Sometimes it reaches up and slaps the side of the steamer with a sound as of a great naked hand, The wind waxes boisterous. Swinging ends of cordage crack like whips. There is an immense humming that drowns speech,—a humming made up of many sounds: whining of pulleys, whistling of riggings, flapping and fluttering of canvas, roar of nettings in the wind. And this sonorous medley, ever growing louder, has rhythm,—a crescendo and diminuendo timed by the steamer's regular swinging: like a great Voice crying out, "Whoh-oh-oh! whoh-oh-oh!" We are nearing the life-centres of winds and currents. One can hardly walk on deck against the ever-increasing breath;—yet now the whole world is blue,—not the least cloud is visible; and the perfect transparency and voidness about us make the immense power of this invisible medium seem something ghostly and awful.... The log, at every revolution, whines exactly like a little puppy;—one can hear it through all the roar fully forty feet away.
...It is nearly sunset. Across the whole circle of the Day we have been steaming south. Now the horizon is gold green. All about the falling sun, this gold-green light takes vast expansion. ... Right on the edge of the sea is a tall, gracious ship, sailing sunsetward. Catching the vapory fire, she seems to become a phantom,—a ship of gold mist: all her spars and sails are luminous, and look like things seen in dreams.
Crimsoning more and more, the sun drops to the sea. The phantom ship approaches him,—touches the curve of his glowing face, sails right athwart it! Oh, the spectral splendor of that vision! The whole great ship in full sail instantly makes an acute silhouette against the monstrous disk,—rests there in the very middle of the vermilion sun. His face crimsons high above her top-masts,—broadens far beyond helm and bowsprit. Against this weird magnificence, her whole shape changes color: hull, masts, and sails turn black—a greenish black.
Sun and ship vanish together in another minute. Violet the night comes; and the rigging of the foremast cuts a cross upon the face of the moon.
Morning: the second day. The sea is an extraordinary blue,— looks to me something like violet ink. Close by the ship, where the foam-clouds are, it is beautifully mottled,—looks like blue marble with exquisite veinings and nebulosities.... Tepid wind, and cottony white clouds,—cirri climbing up over the edge of the sea all around. The sky is still pale blue, and the horizon is full of a whitish haze.
... A nice old French gentleman from Guadeloupe presumes to say this is not blue water—he declares it greenish (verdtre). Because I cannot discern the green, he tells me I do not yet know what blue water is. Attendez un peu!...
... The sky-tone deepens as the sun ascends,—deepens deliciously. The warm wind proves soporific. I drop asleep with the blue light in my face,—the strong bright blue of the noonday sky. As I doze it seems to burn like a cold fire right through my eyelids. Waking up with a start, I fancy that everything is turning blue,—myself included. "Do you not call this the real tropical blue?" I cry to my French fellow-traveller. "Mon Dieu! non," he exclaims, as in astonishment at the question;— "this is not blue !" ...What can be his idea of blue, I wonder!
Clots of sargasso float by,—light-yellow sea-weed. We are nearing the Sargasso-sea,—entering the path of the trade-winds. There is a long ground-swell, the steamer rocks and rolls, and the tumbling water always seems to me growing bluer; but my friend from Guadeloupe says that this color "which I call blue" is only darkness—only the shadow of prodigious depth.
Nothing now but blue sky and what I persist in calling blue sea. The clouds have melted away in the bright glow. There is no sign of life in the azure gulf above, nor in the abyss beneath—there are no wings or fins to be seen. Towards evening, under the slanting gold light, the color of the sea deepens into ultramarine; then the sun sinks down behind a bank of copper- colored cloud.
Morning of the third day. Same mild, warm wind. Bright blue sky, with some very thin clouds in the horizon,—like puffs of steam. The glow of the, sea-light through the open ports of my cabin makes them seem filled with thick blue glass.... It is becoming too warm for New York clothing....
Certainly the sea has become much bluer. It gives one the idea of liquefied sky: the foam might be formed of cirrus clouds compressed,—so extravagantly white it looks to-day, like snow in the sun. Nevertheless, the old gentleman from Guadeloupe still maintains this is not the true blue of the tropics
... The sky does not deepen its hue to-day: it brightens it— the blue glows as if it were taking fire throughout. Perhaps the sea may deepen its hue;—I do not believe it can take more luminous color without being set aflame.... I ask the ship's doctor whether it is really true that the West Indian waters are any bluer than these. He looks a moment at the sea, and replies, "Oh yes!" There is such a tone of surprise in his "oh" as might indicate that I had asked a very foolish question; and his look seems to express doubt whether I am quite in earnest.... I think, nevertheless, that this water is extravagantly, nonsensically blue!
... I read for an hour or two; fall asleep in the chair; wake up suddenly; look at the sea,—and cry out! This sea is impossibly blue! The painter who should try to paint it would be denounced as a lunatic.... Yet it is transparent; the foam-clouds, as they sink down, turn sky-blue,—a sky-blue which now looks white by contrast with the strange and violent splendor of the sea color. It seems as if one were looking into an immeasurable dyeing vat, or as though the whole ocean had been thickened with indigo. To say this is a mere reflection of the sky is nonsense!—the sky is too pale by a hundred shades for that! This must be the natural color of the water,—a blazing azure,—magnificent, impossible to describe.
The French passenger from Guadeloupe observes that the sea is "beginning to become blue."
And the fourth day. One awakens unspeakably lazy;—this must be the West Indian languor. Same sky, with a few more bright clouds than yesterday;—always the warm wind blowing. There is a long swell. Under this trade-breeze, warm like a human breath, the ocean seems to pulse,—to rise and fall as with a vast inspiration and expiration. Alternately its blue circle lifts and falls before us and behind us—we rise very high; we sink very low,—but always with a slow long motion. Nevertheless, the water looks smooth, perfectly smooth; the billowings which lift us cannot be seen;—it is because the summits of these swells are mile-broad,—too broad to be discerned from the level of our deck.
... Ten A.M.—Under the sun the sea is a flaming, dazzling lazulite. My French friend from Guadeloupe kindly confesses this is almost the color of tropical water.... Weeds floating by, a little below the surface, are azured. But the Guadeloupe gentleman says he has seen water still more blue. I am sorry,—I cannot believe him.
Mid-day.—The splendor of the sky is weird! No clouds above— only blue fire! Up from the warm deep color of the sea-circle the edge of the heaven glows as if bathed in greenish flame. The swaying circle of the resplendent sea seems to flash its jewel- color to the zenith. Clothing feels now almost too heavy to endure; and the warm wind brings a languor with it as of temptation.... One feels an irresistible desire to drowse on deck —the rushing speech of waves, the long rocking of the ship, the lukewarm caress of the wind, urge to slumber—but the light is too vast to permit of sleep. Its blue power compels wakefulness. And the brain is wearied at last by this duplicated azure splendor of sky and sea. How gratefully comes the evening to us,—with its violet glooms and promises of coolness!
All this sensuous blending of warmth and force in winds and waters more and more suggests an idea of the spiritualism of elements,—a sense of world-life. In all these soft sleepy swayings, these caresses of wind and sobbing of waters, Nature seems to confess some passional mood. Passengers converse of pleasant tempting things,—tropical fruits, tropical beverages, tropical mountain-breezes, tropical women It is a time for dreams—those day-dreams that come gently as a mist, with ghostly realization of hopes, desires, ambitions.... Men sailing to the mines of Guiana dream of gold.
The wind seems to grow continually warmer; the spray feels warm like blood. Awnings have to be clewed up, and wind-sails taken in;—still, there are no white-caps,—only the enormous swells, too broad to see, as the ocean falls and rises like a dreamer's breast....
The sunset comes with a great burning yellow glow, fading up through faint greens to lose itself in violet light;—there is no gloaming. The days have already become shorter.... Through the open ports, as we lie down to sleep, comes a great whispering,—the whispering of the seas: sounds as of articulate speech under the breath,—as, of women telling secrets....
Fifth day out. Trade-winds from the south-east; a huge tumbling of mountain-purple waves;—the steamer careens under a full spread of canvas. There is a sense of spring in the wind to- day,—something that makes one think of the bourgeoning of Northern woods, when naked trees first cover themselves with a mist of tender green,—something that recalls the first bird- songs, the first climbings of sap to sun, and gives a sense of vital plenitude.
... Evening fills the west with aureate woolly clouds,—the wool of the Fleece of Gold. Then Hesperus beams like another moon, and the stars burn very brightly. Still the ship bends under the even pressure of the warm wind in her sails; and her wake becomes a trail of fire. Large sparks dash up through it continuously, like an effervescence of flame;—and queer broad clouds of pale fire swirl by. Far out, where the water is black as pitch, there are no lights: it seems as if the steamer were only grinding out sparks with her keel, striking fire with her propeller.
Sixth day out. Wind tepid and still stronger, but sky very clear. An indigo sea, with beautiful white-caps. The ocean color is deepening: it is very rich now, but I think less wonderful than before;—it is an opulent pansy hue. Close by the ship it looks black-blue,—the color that bewitches in certain Celtic eyes.
There is a feverishness in the air;—the heat is growing heavy; the least exertion provokes perspiration; below-decks the air is like the air of an oven. Above-deck, however, the effect of all this light and heat is not altogether disagreeable;-one feels that vast elemental powers are near at hand, and that the blood is already aware of their approach.
All day the pure sky, the deepening of sea-color, the lukewarm wind. Then comes a superb sunset! There is a painting in the west wrought of cloud-colors,—a dream of high carmine cliffs and rocks outlying in a green sea, which lashes their bases with a foam of gold....
Even after dark the touch of the wind has the warmth of flesh. There is no moon; the sea-circle is black as Acheron; and our phosphor wake reappears quivering across it,—seeming to reach back to the very horizon. It is brighter to-night,—looks like another Via Lactea,—with points breaking through it like stars in a nebula. From our prow ripples rimmed with fire keep fleeing away to right and left into the night,—brightening as they run, then vanishing suddenly as if they had passed over a precipice. Crests of swells seem to burst into showers of sparks, and great patches of spume catch flame, smoulder through, and disappear.... The Southern Cross is visible,—sloping backward and sidewise, as if propped against the vault of the sky: it is not readily discovered by the unfamiliarized eye; it is only after it has been well pointed out to you that you discern its position. Then you find it is only the suggestion of a cross—four stars set almost quadrangularly, some brighter than others.
For two days there has been little conversation on board. It may be due in part to the somnolent influence of the warm wind,— in part to the ceaseless booming of waters and roar of rigging, which drown men's voices; but I fancy it is much more due to the impressions of space and depth and vastness,—the impressions of sea and sky, which compel something akin to awe.
Morning over the Caribbean Sea,—a calm, extremely dark-blue sea. There are lands in sight,—high lands, with sharp, peaked, unfamiliar outlines.
We passed other lands in the darkness: they no doubt resembled the shapes towering up around us now; for these are evidently volcanic creations,—jagged, coned, truncated, eccentric. Far off they first looked a very pale gray; now, as the light increases, they change hue a little,—showing misty greens and smoky blues. They rise very sharply from the sea to great heights,—the highest point always with a cloud upon it;—they thrust out singular long spurs, push up mountain shapes that have an odd scooped-out look. Some, extremely far away, seem, as they catch the sun, to be made of gold vapor; others have a madderish tone: these are colors of cloud. The closer we approach them, the more do tints of green make themselves visible. Purplish or bluish masses of coast slowly develop green surfaces; folds and wrinkles of land turn brightly verdant. Still, the color gleams as through a thin fog.
... The first tropical visitor has just boarded our ship: a wonderful fly, shaped like a common fly, but at least five times larger. His body is a beautiful shining black; his wings seem ribbed and jointed with silver, his head is jewel-green, with exquisitely cut emeralds for eyes.
Islands pass and disappear behind us. The sun has now risen well; the sky is a rich blue, and the tardy moon still hangs in it. Lilac tones show through the water. In the south there are a few straggling small white clouds,—like a long flight of birds. A great gray mountain shape looms up before us. We are steaming on Santa Cruz.
The island has a true volcanic outline, sharp and high: the cliffs sheer down almost perpendicularly. The shape is still vapory, varying in coloring from purplish to bright gray; but wherever peaks and spurs fully catch the sun they edge themselves with a beautiful green glow, while interlying ravines seem filled with foggy blue.
As we approach, sun lighted surfaces come out still more luminously green. Glens and sheltered valleys still hold blues and grays; but points fairly illuminated by the solar glow show just such a fiery green as burns in the plumage of certain humming-birds. And just as the lustrous colors of these birds shift according to changes of light, so the island shifts colors here and there,—from emerald to blue, and blue to gray.... But now we are near: it shows us a lovely heaping of high bright hills in front,—with a further coast-line very low and long and verdant, fringed with a white beach, and tufted with spidery palm-crests. Immediately opposite, other palms are poised; their trunks look like pillars of unpolished silver, their leaves shimmer like bronze.
... The water of the harbor is transparent and pale green. One can see many fish, and some small sharks. White butterflies are fluttering about us in the blue air. Naked black boys are bathing on the beach;—they swim well, but will not venture out far because of the sharks. A boat puts off to bring colored girls on board. They are tall, and not uncomely, although very dark;— they coax us, with all sorts of endearing words, to purchase bay rum, fruits, Florida water.... We go ashore in boats. The water of the harbor has a slightly fetid odor.
Viewed from the bay, under the green shadow of the hills overlooking it, Frederiksted has the appearance of a beautiful Spanish town, with its Romanesque piazzas, churches, many arched buildings peeping through breaks in a line of mahogany, bread- fruit, mango, tamarind, and palm trees,—an irregular mass of at least fifty different tints, from a fiery emerald to a sombre bluish-green. But on entering the streets the illusion of beauty passes: you find yourself in a crumbling, decaying town, with buildings only two stories high. The lower part, of arched Spanish design, is usually of lava rock or of brick, painted a light, warm yellow; the upper stories are most commonly left unpainted, and are rudely constructed of light timber. There are many heavy arcades and courts opening on the streets with large archways. Lava blocks have been used in paving as well as in building; and more than one of the narrow streets, as it slopes up the hill through the great light, is seen to cut its way through craggy masses of volcanic stone.
But all the buildings look dilapidated; the stucco and paint is falling or peeling everywhere; there are fissures in the walls, crumbling faades, tumbling roofs. The first stories, built with solidity worthy of an earthquake region, seem extravagantly heavy by contrast with the frail wooden superstructures. One reason may be that the city was burned and sacked during a negro revolt in 1878;—the Spanish basements resisted the fire well, and it was found necessary to rebuild only the second stories of the buildings; but the work was done cheaply and flimsily, not massively and enduringly, as by the first colonial builders.
There is great wealth of verdure. Cabbage and cocoa palms overlook all the streets, bending above almost every structure, whether hut or public building;—everywhere you see the splitted green of banana leaves. In the court-yards you may occasionally catch sight of some splendid palm with silver-gray stem so barred as to look jointed, like the body of an annelid.
In the market-place—a broad paved square, crossed by two rows of tamarind-trees, and bounded on one side by a Spanish piazza—you can study a spectacle of savage picturesqueness. There are no benches, no stalls, no booths; the dealers stand, sit, or squat upon the ground under the sun, or upon the steps of the neighboring arcade. Their wares are piled up at their feet, for the most part. Some few have little tables, but as a rule the eatables are simply laid on the dusty ground or heaped upon the steps of the piazza—reddish-yellow mangoes, that look like great apples squeezed out of shape, bunches of bananas, pyramids of bright- green cocoanuts, immense golden-green oranges, and various other fruits and vegetables totally unfamiliar to Northern eyes.... It is no use to ask questions—the black dealers speak no dialect comprehensible outside of the Antilles: it is a negro-English that sounds like some African tongue,—a rolling current of vowels and consonants, pouring so rapidly that the inexperienced ear cannot detach one intelligible word, A friendly white coming up enabled me to learn one phrase: "Massa, youwancocknerfoobuy?" (Master, do you want to buy a cocoanut?)
The market is quite crowded,—full of bright color under the tremendous noon light. Buyers and dealers are generally black; —very few yellow or brown people are visible in the gathering. The greater number present are women; they are very simply, almost savagely, garbed—only a skirt or petticoat, over which is worn a sort of calico short dress, which scarcely descends two inches below the hips, and is confined about the waist with a belt or a string. The skirt bells out like the skirt of a dancer, leaving the feet and bare legs well exposed; and the head is covered with a white handkerchief, twisted so as to look like a turban. Multitudes of these barelegged black women are walking past us,—carrying bundles or baskets upon their heads, and smoking very long cigars.
They are generally short and thick-set, and walk with surprising erectness, and with long, firm steps, carrying the bosom well forward. Their limbs are strong and finely rounded. Whether walking or standing, their poise is admirable,—might be called graceful, were it not for the absence of real grace of form in such compact, powerful little figures. All wear brightly colored cottonade stuffs, and the general effect of the costume in a large gathering is very agreeable, the dominant hues being pink, white, and blue. Half the women are smoking. All chatter loudly, speaking their English jargon with a pitch of voice totally unlike the English timbre: it sometimes sounds as if they were trying to pronounce English rapidly according to French pronunciation and pitch of voice.
These green oranges have a delicious scent and amazing juiciness. Peeling one of them is sufficient to perfume the skin of the hands for the rest of the day, however often one may use soap and water.... We smoke Porto Rico cigars, and drink West Indian lemonades, strongly flavored with rum. The tobacco has a rich, sweet taste; the rum is velvety, sugary, with a pleasant, soothing effect: both have a rich aroma. There is a wholesome originality about the flavor of these products, a uniqueness which certifies to their naif purity: something as opulent and frank as the juices and odors of tropical fruits and flowers.
The streets leading from the plaza glare violently in the strong sunlight;—the ground, almost dead-white, dazzles the eyes.... There are few comely faces visible,—in the streets all are black who pass. But through open shop-doors one occasionally catches glimpses of a pretty quadroon face,—with immense black eyes,—a face yellow like a ripe banana.
... It is now after mid-day. Looking up to the hills, or along sloping streets towards the shore, wonderful variations of foliage-color meet the eye: gold-greens, sap-greens, bluish and metallic greens of many tints, reddish-greens, yellowish-greens. The cane-fields are broad sheets of beautiful gold-green; and nearly as bright are the masses of pomme-cannelle frondescence, the groves of lemon and orange; while tamarind and mahoganies are heavily sombre. Everywhere palm-crests soar above the wood-lines, and tremble with a metallic shimmering in the blue light. Up through a ponderous thickness of tamarind rises the spire of the church; a skeleton of open stone-work, without glasses or lattices or shutters of any sort for its naked apertures: it is all open to the winds of heaven; it seems to be gasping with all its granite mouths for breath—panting in this azure heat. In the bay the water looks greener than ever: it is so clear that the light passes under every boat and ship to the very bottom; the vessels only cast very thin green shadows,—so transparent that fish can be distinctly seen passing through from sunlight to sunlight.
The sunset offers a splendid spectacle of pure color; there is only an immense yellow glow in the west,—a lemon-colored blaze; but when it melts into the blue there is an exquisite green light.... We leave to-morrow.
... Morning: the green hills are looming in a bluish vapor: the long faint-yellow slope of beach to the left of the town, under the mangoes and tamarinds, is already thronged with bathers,—all men or boys, and all naked: black, brown, yellow, and white. The white bathers are Danish soldiers from the barracks; the Northern brightness of their skins forms an almost startling contrast with the deep colors of the nature about them, and with the dark complexions of the natives. Some very slender, graceful brown lads are bathing with them,—lightly built as deer: these are probably creoles. Some of the black bathers are clumsy-looking, and have astonishingly long legs.... Then little boys come down, leading horses;—they strip, leap naked on the animals' backs, and ride into the sea,—yelling, screaming, splashing, in the morning light. Some are a fine brown color, like old bronze. Nothing could-be more statuesque than the unconscious attitudes of these bronze bodies in leaping, wrestling, running, pitching shells. Their simple grace is in admirable harmony with that of Nature's green creations about them,—rhymes faultlessly with the perfect self-balance of the palms that poise along the shore....
Boom! and a thunder-rolling of echoes. We move slowly out of the harbor, then swiftly towards the southeast.... The island seems to turn slowly half round; then to retreat from us. Across our way appears a long band of green light, reaching over the sea like a thin protraction of color from the extended spur of verdure in which the western end of the island terminates. That is a sunken reef, and a dangerous one. Lying high upon it, in very sharp relief against the blue light, is a wrecked vessel on her beam-ends,—the carcass of a brig. Her decks have been broken in; the roofs of her cabins are gone; her masts are splintered off short; her empty hold yawns naked to the sun; all her upper parts have taken a yellowish-white color,—the color of sun-bleached bone.
Behind us the mountains still float back. Their shining green has changed to a less vivid hue; they are taking bluish tones here and there; but their outlines are still sharp, and along their high soft slopes there are white specklings, which are villages and towns. These white specks diminish swiftly,— dwindle to the dimensions of salt-grains,—finally vanish. Then the island grows uniformly bluish; it becomes cloudy, vague as a dream of mountains;—it turns at last gray as smoke, and then melts into the horizon-light like a mirage.
Another yellow sunset, made weird by extraordinary black, dense, fantastic shapes of cloud. Night darkens, , and again the Southern Cross glimmers before our prow, and the two Milky Ways reveal themselves,—that of the Cosmos and that ghostlier one which stretches over the black deep behind us. This alternately broadens and narrows at regular intervals, concomitantly with the rhythmical swing of the steamer, Before us the bows spout: fire; behind us there is a flaming and roaring as of Phlegethon; and the voices of wind and sea become so loud that we cannot talk to one another,—cannot make our words heard even by shouting.
Early morning: the eighth day. Moored in another blue harbor,— a great semicircular basin, bounded by a high billowing of hills all green from the fringe of yellow beach up to their loftiest clouded summit. The land has that up-tossed look which tells a volcanic origin. There are curiously scalloped heights, which, though emerald from base to crest, still retain all the physiognomy of volcanoes: their ribbed sides must be lava under that verdure. Out of sight westward—in successions of bright green, pale green, bluish-green, and vapory gray-stretches a long chain of crater shapes. Truncated, jagged, or rounded, all these elevations are interunited by their curving hollows of land or by filaments—very low valleys. And as they grade away in varying color through distance, these hill-chains take a curious segmented, jointed appearance, like insect forms, enormous ant- bodies.... This is St. Kitt's.
We row ashore over a tossing dark-blue water, and leaving the long wharf, pass under a great arch and over a sort of bridge into the town of Basse-Terre, through a concourse of brown and black people.
It is very tropical-looking; but more sombre than Frederiksted. There are palms everywhere,—cocoa, fan, and cabbage palms; many bread-fruit trees, tamarinds, bananas, Indian fig-trees, mangoes, and unfamiliar things the negroes call by incomprehensible names,—"sap-saps," "dhool-dhools." But there is less color, less reflection of light than in Santa Cruz; there is less quaintness; no Spanish buildings, no canary-colored arcades. All the narrow streets are gray or neutral-tinted; the ground has a dark ashen tone. Most of the dwellings are timber, resting on brick props, or elevated upon blocks of lava rock. It seems almost as if some breath from the enormous and always clouded mountain overlooking the town had begrimed everything, darkening even the colors of vegetation.
The population is not picturesque. The costumes are commonplace; the tints of the women's attire are dull. Browns and sombre blues and grays are commoner than pinks, yellows, and violets. Occasionally you observe a fine half-breed type—some tall brown girl walking by with a swaying grace like that of a sloop at sea;—but such spectacles are not frequent. Most of those you meet are black or a blackish brown. Many stores are kept by yellow men with intensely black hair and eyes,—men who do not smile. These are Portuguese. There are some few fine buildings; but the most pleasing sight the little town can offer the visitor is the pretty Botanical Garden, with its banyans and its palms, its monstrous lilies and extraordinary fruit-trees, and its beautiful little mountains. From some of these trees a peculiar tillandsia streams down, much like our Spanish moss,—but it is black!
... As we move away southwardly, the receding outlines of the island look more and more volcanic. A chain of hills and cones, all very green, and connected by strips of valley-land so low that the edge of the sea-circle on the other side of the island can be seen through the gaps. We steam past truncated hills, past heights that have the look of the stumps of peaks cut half down, —ancient fire-mouths choked by tropical verdure.
Southward, above and beyond the deep-green chain, tower other volcanic forms,—very far away, and so pale-gray as to seem like clouds. Those are the heights of Nevis,—another creation of the subterranean fires.
It draws nearer, floats steadily into definition: a great mountain flanked by two small ones; three summits; the loftiest, with clouds packed high upon it, still seems to smoke;—the second highest displays the most symmetrical crater-form I have yet seen. All are still grayish-blue or gray. Gradually through the blues break long high gleams of green.
As we steam closer, the island becomes all verdant from flood to sky; the great dead crater shows its immense wreath of perennial green. On the lower slopes little settlements are sprinkled in white, red, and brown: houses, windmills, sugar-factories, high chimneys are distinguishable;—cane-plantations unfold gold- green surfaces.
We pass away. The island does not seem to sink behind us, but to become a ghost. All its outlines grow shadowy. For a little while it continues green;—but it is a hazy, spectral green, as of colored vapor. The sea today looks almost black: the south- west wind has filled the day with luminous mist; and the phantom of Nevis melts in the vast glow, dissolves utterly.... Once more we are out of sight of land,—in the centre of a blue-black circle of sea. The water-line cuts blackly against the immense light of the horizon,—a huge white glory that flames up very high before it fades and melts into the eternal blue.
Then a high white shape like a cloud appears before us,—on the purplish-dark edge of the sea. The cloud-shape enlarges, heightens without changing contour. It is not a cloud, but an island! Its outlines begin to sharpen,—with faintest pencillings of color. Shadowy valleys appear, spectral hollows, phantom slopes of pallid blue or green. The apparition is so like a mirage that it is difficult to persuade oneself one is looking at real land,—that it is not a dream. It seems to have shaped itself all suddenly out of the glowing haze. We pass many miles beyond it; and it vanishes into mist again.
... Another and a larger ghost; but we steam straight upon it until it materializes,—Montserrat. It bears a family likeness to the islands we have already passed—one dominant height, with massing of bright crater shapes about it, and ranges of green hills linked together by low valleys. About its highest summit also hovers a flock of clouds. At the foot of the vast hill nestles the little white and red town of Plymouth. The single salute of our gun is answered by a stupendous broadside of echoes.
Plymouth is more than half hidden in the rich foliage that fringes the wonderfully wrinkled green of the hills at their base;—it has a curtain of palms before it. Approaching, you discern only one or two faades above the sea-wall, and the long wharf projecting through an opening ing in the masonry, over which young palms stand thick as canes on a sugar plantation. But on reaching the street that descends towards the heavily bowldered shore you find yourself in a delightfully drowsy little burgh,—a miniature tropical town,—with very narrow paved ways, —steep, irregular, full of odd curves and angles,—and likewise of tiny courts everywhere sending up jets of palm-plumes, or displaying above their stone enclosures great candelabra-shapes of cacti. All is old-fashioned and quiet and queer and small. Even the palms are diminutive,—slim and delicate; there is a something in their poise and slenderness like the charm of young girls who have not yet ceased to be children, though soon to become women....
There is a glorious sunset,—a fervid orange splendor, shading starward into delicate roses and greens. Then black boatmen come astern and quarrel furiously for the privilege of carrying one passenger ashore; and as they scream and gesticulate, half naked, their silhouettes against the sunset seem forms of great black apes.
... Under steam and sail we are making south again, with a warm wind blowing south-east,—a wind very moist, very powerful, and soporific. Facing it, one feels almost cool; but the moment one is sheltered from it profuse perspiration bursts out. The ship rocks over immense swells; night falls very black; and there are surprising displays of phosphorescence.
... Morning. A gold sunrise over an indigo sea. The wind is a great warm caress; the sky a spotless blue. We are steaming on Dominica,—the loftiest of the lesser Antilles. While the silhouette is yet all violet in distance nothing more solemnly beautiful can well be imagined: a vast cathedral shape, whose spires are mountain peaks, towering in the horizon, sheer up from the sea.
We stay at Roseau only long enough to land the mails, and wonder at the loveliness of the island. A beautifully wrinkled mass of green and blue and gray;—a strangely abrupt peaking and heaping of the land. Behind the green heights loom the blues; behind these the grays—all pinnacled against the sky-glow-thrusting up through gaps or behind promontories. Indescribably exquisite the foldings and hollowings of the emerald coast. In glen and vale the color of cane-fields shines like a pooling of fluid bronze, as if the luminous essence of the hill tints had been dripping down and clarifying there. Far to our left, a bright green spur pierces into the now turquoise sea; and beyond it, a beautiful mountain form, blue and curved like a hip, slopes seaward, showing lighted wrinkles here and there, of green. And from the foreground, against the blue of the softly outlined shape, cocoa- palms are curving,—all sharp and shining in the sun.
... Another hour; and Martinique looms before us. At first it appears all gray, a vapory gray; then it becomes bluish-gray; then all green.
It is another of the beautiful volcanic family: it owns the same hill shapes with which we have already become acquainted; its uppermost height is hooded with the familiar cloud; we see the same gold-yellow plains, the same wonderful varieties of verdancy, the same long green spurs reaching out into the sea,— doubtless formed by old lava torrents. But all this is now repeated for us more imposingly, more grandiosely;—it is wrought upon a larger scale than anything we have yet seen. The semicircular sweep of the harbor, dominated by the eternally veiled summit of the Montagne Pelee (misnamed, since it is green to the very clouds), from which the land slopes down on either hand to the sea by gigantic undulations, is one of the fairest sights that human eye can gaze upon. Thus viewed, the whole island shape is a mass of green, with purplish streaks and shadowings here and there: glooms of forest-hollows, or moving umbrages of cloud. The city of St. Pierre, on the edge of the land, looks as if it had slided down the hill behind it, so strangely do the streets come tumbling to the port in cascades of masonry,—with a red billowing of tiled roofs over all, and enormous palms poking up through it,—higher even than the creamy white twin towers of its cathedral.
We anchor in limpid blue water; the cannon-shot is. answered by a prolonged thunder-clapping of mountain echo.
Then from the shore a curious flotilla bears down upon us. There is one boat, two or three canoes; but the bulk of the craft are simply wooden frames,—flat-bottomed structures, made from shipping-cases or lard-boxes, with triangular ends. In these sit naked boys,—boys between ten and fourteen years of age,—varying in color from a fine clear yellow to a deep reddish-brown or chocolate tint. They row with two little square, flat pieces of wood for paddles, clutched in each hand; and these lid-shaped things are dipped into the water on either side with absolute precision, in perfect time,—all the pairs of little naked arms seeming moved by a single impulse. There is much unconscious grace in this paddling, as well as skill. Then all about the ship these ridiculous little boats begin to describe circles, —crossing and intercrossing so closely as almost to bring them into collision, yet never touching. The boys have simply come out to dive for coins they expect passengers to fling to them. All are chattering creole, laughing and screaming shrilly; every eye, quick and bright as a bird's, watches the faces of the passengers on deck. "'Tention-l !" shriek a dozen soprani. Some passenger's fingers have entered his vest-pocket, and the boys are on the alert. Through the air, twirling and glittering, tumbles an English shilling, and drops into the deep water beyond the little fleet. Instantly all the lads leap, scramble, topple head-foremost out of their little tubs, and dive in pursuit. In the blue water their lithe figures look perfectly red,—all but the soles of their upturned feet, which show nearly white. Almost immediately they all rise again: one holds up at arm's- length above the water the recovered coin, and then puts it into his mouth for safe-keeping; Coin after coin is thrown in, and as speedily brought up; a shower of small silver follows, and not a piece is lost. These lads move through the water without apparent effort, with the suppleness of fishes. Most are decidedly fine-looking boys, with admirably rounded limbs, delicately formed extremities. The best diver and swiftest swimmer, however, is a red lad;—his face is rather commonplace, but his slim body has the grace of an antique bronze.
... We are ashore in St. Pierre, the quaintest, queerest, and the prettiest withal, among West Indian cities: all stone-built and stone-flagged, with very narrow streets, wooden or zinc awnings, and peaked roofs of red tile, pierced by gabled dormers. Most of the buildings are painted in a clear yellow tone, which contrasts delightfully with the burning blue ribbon of tropical sky above; and no street is absolutely level; nearly all of them climb hills, descend into hollows, curve, twist, describe sudden angles. There is everywhere a loud murmur of running water,—pouring through the deep gutters contrived between the paved thoroughfare and the absurd little sidewalks, varying in width from one to three feet. The architecture is quite old: it is seventeenth century, probably; and it reminds one a great deal of that characterizing the antiquated French quarter of New Orleans. All the tints, the forms, the vistas, would seem to have been especially selected or designed for aquarelle studies,—just to please the whim of some extravagant artist. The windows are frameless openings without glass; some have iron bars; all have heavy wooden shutters with movable slats, through which light and air can enter as through Venetian blinds. These are usually painted green or bright bluish-gray.
So steep are the streets descending to the harbor,—by flights of old mossy stone steps,—that looking down them to the azure water you have the sensation of gazing from a cliff. From certain openings in the main street—the Rue Victor Hugo—you can get something like a bird's-eye view of the harbor with its shipping. The roofs of the street below are under your feet, and other streets are rising behind you to meet the mountain roads. They climb at a very steep angle, occasionally breaking into stairs of lava rock, all grass-tufted and moss-lined.
The town has an aspect of great solidity: it is a creation of crag-looks almost as if it had been hewn out of one mountain fragment, instead of having been constructed stone by stone. Although commonly consisting of two stories and an attic only, the dwellings have walls three feet in thickness;—on one street, facing the sea, they are even heavier, and slope outward like ramparts, so that the perpendicular recesses of windows and doors have the appearance of being opened between buttresses. It may have been partly as a precaution against earthquakes, and partly for the sake of coolness, that the early colonial architects built thus;—giving the city a physiognomy so well worthy of its name,—the name of the Saint of the Rock.
And everywhere rushes mountain water,—cool and crystal clear, washing the streets;—from time to time you come to some public fountain flinging a silvery column to the sun, or showering bright spray over a group of black bronze tritons or bronze swans. The Tritons on the Place Bertin you will not readily forget;—their curving torsos might have been modelled from the forms of those ebon men who toil there tirelessly all day in the great heat, rolling hogsheads of sugar or casks of rum. And often you will note, in the course of a walk, little drinking-fountains contrived at the angle of a building, or in the thick walls bordering the bulwarks or enclosing public squares: glittering threads of water spurting through lion-lips of stone. Some mountain torrent, skilfully directed and divided, is thus perpetually refreshing the city,—supplying its fountains and cooling its courts.... This is called the Gouyave water: it is not the same stream which sweeps and purifies the streets.
Picturesqueness and color: these are the particular and the unrivalled charms of St. Pierre. As you pursue the Grande Rue, or Rue Victor Hugo,—which traverses the town through all its length, undulating over hill-slopes and into hollows and over a bridge,—you become more and more enchanted by the contrast of the yellow-glowing walls to right and left with the jagged strip of gentian-blue sky overhead. Charming also it is to watch the cross-streets climbing up to the fiery green of the mountains behind the town. On the lower side of the main thoroughfare other streets open in wonderful bursts of blue-warm blue of horizon and sea. The steps by which these ways descend towards the bay are black with age, and slightly mossed close to the wall on either side: they have an alarming steepness,—one might easily stumble from the upper into the lower street. Looking towards the water through these openings from the Grande Rue, you will notice that the sea-line cuts across the blue space just at the level of the upper story of the house on the lower street-corner. Sometimes, a hundred feet below, you see a ship resting in the azure aperture,—seemingly suspended there in sky- color, floating in blue light. And everywhere and always, through sunshine or shadow, comes to you the scent of the city,—the characteristic odor of St. Pierre;—a compound odor suggesting the intermingling of sugar and garlic in those strange tropical dishes which creoles love....
... A population fantastic, astonishing,—a population of the Arabian Nights. It is many-colored; but the general dominant tint is yellow, like that of the town itself—yellow in the interblending of all the hues characterizing multresse, capresse, griffe, quarteronne, mtisse, chabine,—a general effect of rich brownish yellow. You are among a people of half- breeds,—the finest mixed race of the West Indies.
Straight as palms, and supple and tall, these colored women and men impress one powerfully by their dignified carriage and easy elegance of movement. They walk without swinging of the shoulders;—the perfectly set torso seems to remain rigid; yet the step is a long full stride, and the whole weight is springily poised on the very tip of the bare foot. All, or nearly all, are without shoes: the treading of many naked feet over the heated pavement makes a continuous whispering sound.
... Perhaps the most novel impression of all is that produced by the singularity and brilliancy of certain of the women's costumes. These were developed, at least a hundred years ago, by some curious sumptuary law regulating the dress of slaves and colored people of free condition,—a law which allowed considerable liberty as to material and tint, prescribing chiefly form. But some of these fashions suggest the Orient: they offer beautiful audacities of color contrast; and the full-dress coiffure, above all, is so strikingly Eastern that one might be tempted to believe it was first introduced into the colony by some Mohammedan slave. It is merely an immense Madras handkerchief, which is folded about the head with admirable art, like a turban;—one bright end pushed through at the top in front, being left sticking up like a plume. Then this turban, always full of bright canary-color, is fastened with golden brooches,—one in front and one at either side. As for the remainder of the dress, it is simple enough: an embroidered, low- cut chemise with sleeves; a skirt or jupe, very long behind, but caught up and fastened in front below the breasts so as to bring the hem everywhere to a level with the end of the long chemise; and finally a foulard, or silken kerchief, thrown over the shoulders. These jupes and foulards, however, are exquisite in pattern and color: bright crimson, bright yellow, bright blue, bright green,—lilac, violet, rose,—sometimes mingled in plaidings or checkerings or stripings: black with orange, sky-blue with purple. And whatever be the colors of the costume, which vary astonishingly, the coiffure must be yellow- brilliant, flashing yellow—the turban is certain to have yellow stripes or yellow squares. To this display add the effect of costly and curious jewellery: immense earrings, each pendant being formed of five gold cylinders joined together (cylinders sometimes two inches long, and an inch at least in circumference);—a necklace of double, triple, quadruple, or quintuple rows of large hollow gold beads (sometimes smooth, but generally ally graven)—the wonderful collier-choux. Now, this glowing jewellery is not a mere imitation of pure metal: the ear-rings are worth one hundred and seventy-five francs a pair; the necklace of a Martinique quadroon may cost five hundred or even one thousand francs.... It may be the gift of her lover, her doudoux, but such articles are usually purchased either on time by small payments, or bead by bead singly until the requisite number is made up.
But few are thus richly attired: the greater number of the women carrying burdens on their heads,—peddling vegetables, cakes, fruit, ready-cooked food, from door to door,—are very simply dressed in a single plain robe of vivid colors (douillette) reaching from neck to feet, and made with a train, but generally girded well up so as to sit close to the figure and leave the lower limbs partly bare and perfectly free. These women can walk all day long up and down hill in the hot sun, without shoes, carrying loads of from one hundred to one hundred and fifty pounds on their heads; and if their little stock sometimes fails to come up to the accustomed weight stones are added to make it heavy enough. Doubtless the habit of carrying everything in this way from childhood has much to do with the remarkable vigor and erectness of the population.... I have seen a grand-piano carried on the heads of four men. With the women the load is very seldom steadied with the hand after having been once placed in position. The head remains almost most motionless; but the black, quick, piercing eyes flash into every window and door-way to watch for a customer's signal. And the creole street-cries, uttered in a sonorous, far-reaching high key, interblend and produce random harmonies very pleasant to hear.
..._"e moune-l, a qui l bel mango?"_ Her basket of mangoes certainly weighs as much as herself.... _"a qui l bel avocat?,"_ The alligator-pear—cuts and tastes like beautiful green cheese... _"a qui l escargot?"_ Call her, if you like snails.... _"Ca qui l titiri?"_ Minuscule fish, of which a thousand would scarcely fill a tea-cup;—one of the most delicate of Martinique dishes.... _"a qui l canna?—a qui l charbon?—a qui l di pain aub?" (Who wants ducks, charcoal, or pretty little loaves shaped like cucumbers.)... _"a qui l pain-mi?"_ A sweet maize cake in the form of a tiny sugar-loaf, wrapped in a piece of banana leaf.... _"a qui l fromass" (pharmacie) "lapotcai crole?"_ She deals in creole roots and herbs, and all the leaves that make _tisanes_ or poultices or medicines: _matriquin, feuill-corossol, balai-doux, manioc-chapelle, Marie- Perrine, graine-enba-feuill, bois d'lhomme, zhbe-gras, bonnet- carr, zhbe-codeinne, zhbe—femme, zhbe—chtte, canne- dleau, poque, fleu-papillon, lateigne,_ and a score of others you never saw or heard of before.... _"a qui l dicaments?"_ (overalls for laboring-men).... _" moune-l, si ou pa l achet canari- dans lanmain moin, moin k craz y."_ The vender of red clay cooking-pots;—she has only one left, if you do not buy it she will break it!
"H! zenfants-la!—en deho'!" Run out to meet her, little children, if you like the sweet rice-cakes.... "H! gens pa' enho', gens pa' enbas, gens di galtas, moin ni bel gouous poisson!" Ho! people up-stairs, people down-stairs, and all ye good folks who dwell in the attics,—know that she has very big and very beautiful fish to sell!... "H! a qui l mang yonne?"—those are "akras,"—flat yellow-brown cakes, made of pounded codfish, or beans, or both, seasoned with pepper and fried in butter.... And then comes the pastry-seller, black as ebony, but dressed all in white, and white-aproned and white. capped like a French cook, and chanting half in French, half in creole, with a voice like a clarinet:
"C'est louvouier de la ptisserie qui passe, Qui t ka veill pou' gagner son existence, Toujours content, Toujours joyeux. Oh, qu'ils sont bons!— Oh, qu'ils sont doux!"
It is the pastryman passing by, who has been up all night to gain his livelihood,—always content,—always happy.... Oh, how good they are (the pies)!—Oh, how sweet they are!
... The quaint stores bordering both sides of the street bear no names and no signs over their huge arched doors;—you must look well inside to know what business is being done. Even then you will scarcely be able to satisfy yourself as to the nature of the commerce;—for they are selling gridirons and frying-pans in the dry goods stores, holy images and rosaries in the notion stores, sweet-cakes and confectionery in the crockery stores, coffee and stationery in the millinery stores, cigars and tobacco in the china stores, cravats and laces and ribbons in the jewellery stores, sugar and guava jelly in the tobacco stores! But of all the objects exposed for sale the most attractive, because the most exotic, is a doll,—the Martinique poupe. There are two kinds,—the poupe-capresse, of which the body is covered with smooth reddish-brown leather, to imitate the tint of the capresse race; and the poupe-ngresse, covered with black leather. When dressed, these dolls range in price from eleven to thirty-five francs,—some, dressed to order, may cost even more; and a good poupe-ngresse is a delightful curiosity. Both varieties of dolls are attired in the costume of the people; but the ngresse is usually dressed the more simply. Each doll has a broidered chemise, a tastefully arranged jupe of bright hues; a silk foulard, a collier-choux, ear-rings of five cylinders (zanneaux—clous), and a charming little yellow-banded Madras turban. Such a doll is a perfect costume-model,—a perfect miniature of Martinique fashions, to the smallest details of material and color: it is almost too artistic for a toy.
These old costume-colors of Martinique-always relieved by brilliant yellow stripings or checkerings, except in the special violet dresses worn on certain religious occasions—have an indescribable luminosity,—a wonderful power of bringing out the fine warm tints of this tropical flesh. Such are the hues of those rich costumes Nature gives to her nearest of kin and her dearest,—her honey-lovers—her insects: these are wasp-colors. I do not know whether the fact ever occurred to the childish fancy of this strange race; but there is a creole expression which first suggested it to me;—in the patois, pouend gupe, "to catch a wasp," signifies making love to a pretty colored girl. ... And the more one observes these costumes, the more one feels that only Nature could .have taught such rare comprehension of powers and harmonies among colors,—such knowledge of chromatic witchcrafts and chromatic laws.
... This evening, as I write, La Pele is more heavily coiffed than is her wont. Of purple and lilac cloud the coiffure is,—a magnificent Madras, yellow-banded by the sinking sun. La Pele is in costume de fte, like a capresse attired for a baptism or a ball; and in her phantom turban one great star glimmers for a brooch.
Following the Rue Victor Hugo in the direction of the Fort,— crossing the Rivire Roxelane, or Rivire des Blanchisseuses, whose rocky bed is white with unsoaped linen far as the eye can reach,—you descend through some tortuous narrow streets into the principal marketplace. 
A square—well paved and well shaded—with a fountain in the midst. Here the dealers are seated in rows;—one half of the market is devoted to fruits and vegetables; the other to the sale of fresh fish and meats. On first entering you are confused by the press and deafened by the storm of creole chatter;—then you begin to discern some order in this chaos, and to observe curious things.
In the middle of the paved square, about the market fountain, are lying boats filled with fish, which have been carried up from the water upon men's shoulders,—or, if very heavy, conveyed on rollers.... Such fish!—blue, rosy, green, lilac, scarlet, gold: no spectral tints these, but luminous and strong like fire. Here also you see heaps of long thin fish looking like piled bars of silver,—absolutely dazzling,—of almost equal thickness from head to tail;—near by are heaps of flat pink creatures;—beyond these, again, a mass of azure backs and golden bellies. Among the stalls you can study the monsters,—twelve or fifteen feet long,—the shark, the vierge, the sword fish, the tonne,—or the eccentricities. Some are very thin round disks, with long, brilliant, wormy feelers in lieu of fins, flickering in all directions like a moving pendent silver fringe;—others bristle with spines;—others, serpent-bodied, are so speckled as to resemble shapes of red polished granite. These are moringues. The balaou, couliou, macriau, lazard, tcha-tcha, bonnique, and zorphi severally represent almost all possible tints of blue and violet. The souri is rose-color and yellow; the cirurgien is black, with yellow and red stripes; the patate, black and yellow; the gros-zi is vermilion; the couronn, red and black. Their names are not less unfamiliar than their shapes and tints;-the aiguille-de-mer, or sea-needle, long and thin as a pencil;-the Bon-Di-mani-moin ("the Good-God handled me"), which has something like finger-marks upon it;— the lambi, a huge sea-snail;—the pisquette, the laline (the Moon);—the crapaud-de-mer, or sea-toad, with a dangerous dorsal fin;—the vermeil, the jacquot, the chaponne, and fifty others.... As the sun gets higher, banana or balisier leaves are laid over the fish.
Even more puzzling, perhaps, are the astonishing varieties of green, yellow, and parti-colored vegetables,—and fruits of all hues and forms,—out of which display you retain only a confused general memory of sweet smells and luscious colors. But there are some oddities which impress the recollection in a particular way. One is a great cylindrical ivory-colored thing,—shaped like an elephant's tusk, except that it is not curved: this is the head of the cabbage-palm, or palmiste,—the brain of one of the noblest trees in the tropics, which must be totally destroyed to obtain it. Raw or cooked, it is eaten in a great variety of ways,—in salads, stews, fritters, or akras. Soon after this compact cylinder of young germinating leaves has been removed, large worms begin to appear in the hollow of the dead tree,—the vers-palmiste. You may see these for sale in the market, crawling about in bowls or cans: they are said, when fried alive, to taste like almonds, and are esteemed as a great luxury.
... Then you begin to look about you at the faces of the black, brown, and yellow people who are watching at you curiously from beneath their Madras turbans, or from under the shade of mushroom-shaped hats as large as umbrellas. And as you observe the bare backs, bare shoulders, bare legs and arms and feet, you will find that the colors of flesh are even more varied and surprising than the colors of fruit. Nevertheless, it is only with fruit-colors that many of these skin-tints can be correctly be compared; the only terms of comparison used by the colored people themselves being terms of this kind,—such as peau-chapotille, "sapota-skin." The sapota or sapotille is a juicy brown fruit with a rind satiny like a human cuticle, and just the color, when flushed and ripe, of certain half-breed skins. But among the brighter half-breeds, the colors, I think, are much more fruit-like;—there are banana-tints, lemon-tones, orange-hues, with sometimes such a mingling of ruddiness as in the pink ripening of a mango. Agreeable to the eye the darker skins certainly are, and often very remarkable—all clear tones of bronze being represented; but the brighter tints are absolutely beautiful. Standing perfectly naked at door-ways, or playing naked in the sun, astonishing children may sometimes be seen,—banana-colored or gulf orange babies, There is one rare race-type, totally unseen like the rest: the skin has a perfect gold-tone, an exquisite metallic yellow the eyes are long, and have long silky lashes;—the hair is a mass of thick, rich, glossy the curls that show blue lights in the sun. What mingling of races produced this beautiful type?—there is some strange blood in the blending,—not of coolie, nor of African, nor of Chinese, although there are Chinese types here of indubitable beauty. 
... All this population is vigorous, graceful, healthy: all you see passing by are well made—there are no sickly faces, no scrawny limbs. If by some rare chance you encounter a person who has lost an arm or a leg, you can be almost certain you are looking at a victim of the fer-de-lance,—the serpent whose venom putrefies living tissue.... Without fear of exaggerating facts, I can venture to say that the muscular development of the working-men here is something which must be seen in order to be believed;—to study fine displays of it, one should watch the blacks and half-breeds working naked to the waist,—on the landings, in the gas-houses and slaughter-houses or on the nearest plantations. They are not generally large men, perhaps not extraordinarily powerful; but they have the aspect of sculptural or even of anatomical models; they seem absolutely devoid of adipose tissue; their muscles stand out with a saliency that astonishes the eye. At a tanning-yard, while I was watching a dozen blacks at work, a young mulatto with the mischievous face of a faun walked by, wearing nothing but a clout (lantcho) about his loins; and never, not even in bronze, did I see so beautiful a play of muscles. A demonstrator of anatomy could have used him for a class-model;—a sculptor wishing to shape a fine Mercury would have been satisfied to take a cast of such a body without thinking of making one modification from neck to heel. "Frugal diet is the cause of this physical condition," a young French professor assures me; "all these men," he says, "live upon salt codfish and fruit." But frugal living alone could never produce such symmetry and saliency of muscles: race- crossing, climate, perpetual exercise, healthy labor—many conditions must have combined to cause it. Also it is certain that this tropical sun has a tendency to dissolve spare flesh, to melt away all superfluous tissue, leaving the muscular fibre dense and solid as mahogany.
At the mouillage, below a green morne, is the bathing- place. A rocky beach rounding away under heights of tropical wood;—palms curving out above the sand, or bending half-way across it. Ships at anchor in blue water, against golden-yellow horizon. A vast blue glow. Water clear as diamond, and lukewarm.
It is about one hour after sunrise; and the high parts of Montaigne Pele are still misty blue. Under the palms and among the lava rocks, and also in little cabins farther up the slope, bathers are dressing or undressing: the water is also dotted with heads of swimmers. Women and girls enter it well robed from feet to shoulders;—men go in very sparsely clad;—there are lads wearing nothing. Young boys— yellow and brown little fellows—run in naked, and swim out to pointed rocks that jut up black above the bright water. They climb up one at a time to dive down. Poised for the leap upon the black lava crag, and against the blue light of the sky, each lithe figure, gilded by the morning sun, has a statuesqueness and a luminosity impossible to paint in words. These bodies seem to radiate color; and the azure light intensifies the hue: it is idyllic, incredible;—Coomans used paler colors in his Pompeiian studies, and his figures were never so symmetrical. This flesh does not look like flesh, but like fruit-pulp....
... Everywhere crosses, little shrines, way-side chapels, statues of saints. You will see crucifixes and statuettes even in the forks or hollows of trees shadowing the high-roads. As you ascend these towards the interior you will see, every mile or half-mile, some chapel, or a cross erected upon a pedestal of masonry, or some little niche contrived in a wall, closed by a wire grating, through which the image of a Christ or a Madonna is visible. Lamps are kept burning all night before these figures. But the village of Morne Rouge—some two thousand feet above the sea, and about an hour's drive from St. Pierre—is chiefly remarkable for such displays: it is a place of pilgrimage as well as a health resort. Above the village, upon the steep slope of a higher morne, one may note a singular succession of little edifices ascending to the summit,—fourteen little tabernacles, each containing a relievo representing some incident of Christ's Passion. This is called Le Calvaire: it requires more than a feeble piety to perform the religious exercise of climbing the height, and saying a prayer before each little shrine on the way. From the porch of the crowning structure the village of Morne Rouge appears so far below that it makes one almost dizzy to look at it; but even for the profane one ascent is well worth making, for the sake of the beautiful view. On all the neighboring heights around are votive chapels or great crucifixes.
St. Pierre is less peopled with images than Morne Rouge; but it has several colossal ones, which may be seen from any part of the harbor. On the heights above the middle quarter, or Centre, a gigantic Christ overlooks the bay; and from the Morne d'Orange, which bounds the city on the south, a great white Virgin-Notre Dame de la Garde, patron of mariners—watches above the ships at anchor in the mouillage.
... Thrice daily, from the towers of the white cathedral, a superb chime of bells rolls its carillon through the town. On great holidays the bells are wonderfully rung;—the ringers are African, and something of African feeling is observable in their impressive but in cantatory manner of ringing. The bourdon must have cost a fortune. When it is made to speak, the effect is startling: all the city vibrates to a weird sound difficult to describe,—an abysmal, quivering moan, producing unfamiliar harmonies as the voices of the smaller bells are seized and interblended by it. ...One will not easily forget the ringing of a bel-midi.
... Behind the cathedral, above the peaked city roofs, and at the foot of the wood-clad Morne d'Orange, is the Cimetire du Mouillage. ... It is full of beauty,—this strange tropical cemetery. Most of the low tombs are covered with small square black and white tiles, set exactly after the fashion of the squares on a chess-board; at the foot of each grave stands a black cross, bearing on its centre a little white plaque, on which the name is graven in delicate and tasteful lettering. So pretty these little tombs are, that you might almost believe yourself in a toy cemetery. Here and there, again, are miniature marble chapels built over the dead,—containing white Madonnas and Christs and little angels,—while flowering creepers climb and twine about the pillars. Death seems so luminous here that one thinks of it unconciously as a soft rising from this soft green earth,—like a vapor invisible,—to melt into the prodigious day. Everything is bright and neat and beautiful; the air is sleepy with jasmine scent and odor of white lilies; and the palm—emblem of immortality—lifts its head a hundred feet into the blue light. There are rows of these majestic and symbolic trees;—two enormous ones guard the entrance;—the others rise from among the tombs,—white-stemmed, out-spreading their huge parasols of verdure higher than the cathedral towers.
Behind all this, the dumb green life of the morne seems striving to descend, to invade the rest of the dead. It thrusts green hands over the wall,—pushes strong roots underneath;—it attacks every joint of the stone-work, patiently, imperceptibly, yet almost irresistibly.
... Some day there may be a great change in the little city of St. Pierre;—there may be less money and less zeal and less remembrance of the lost. Then from the morne, over the bulwark, the green host will move down unopposed;—creepers will prepare the way, dislocating the pretty tombs, pulling away the checkered tiling;—then will corne the giants, rooting deeper,—feeling for the dust of hearts, groping among the bones;—and all that love has hidden away shall be restored to Nature,—absorbed into the rich juices of her verdure,—revitalized in her bursts of color,—resurrected in her upliftings of emerald and gold to the great sun....
Seen from the bay, the little red-white-and-yellow city forms but one multicolored streak against the burning green of the lofty island. There is no naked soil, no bare rock: the chains of the mountains, rising by successive ridges towards the interior, are still covered with forests;—tropical woods ascend the peaks to the height of four and five thousand feet. To describe the beauty of these woods—even of those covering the mornes in the immediate vicinity of St. Pierre—seems to me almost impossible;—there are forms and colors which appear to demand the creation of new words to express. Especially is this true in regard to hue;—the green of a tropical forest is something which one familiar only with the tones of Northern vegetation can form no just conception of: it is a color that conveys the idea of green fire.
You have only to follow the high-road leading out of St. Pierre by way of the Savane du Fort to find yourself, after twenty minutes' walk, in front of the Morne Parnasse, and before the verge of a high wood,—remnant of the enormous growth once covering all the island. What a tropical forest is, as seen from without, you will then begin to feel, with a sort of awe, while you watch that beautiful upclimbing of green shapes to the height of perhaps a thousand feet overhead. It presents one seemingly solid surface of vivid color,—rugose like a cliff. You do not readily distinguish whole trees in the mass;—you only perceive suggestions, dreams of trees, Doresqueries. Shapes that seem to be staggering under weight of creepers rise a hundred feet above you;—others, equally huge, are towering above these; and still higher, a legion of monstrosities are nodding, bending, tossing up green arms, pushing out great knees, projecting curves as of backs and shoulders, intertwining mockeries of limbs. No distinct head appears except where some palm pushes up its crest in the general fight for sun. All else looks as if under a veil,—hidden and half smothered by heavy drooping things. Blazing green vines cover every branch and stem;—they form draperies and tapestries and curtains and motionless cascades—pouring down over all projections like a thick silent flood: an amazing inundation of parasitic life.... It is a weird awful beauty that you gaze upon; and yet the spectacle is imperfect. These woods have been decimated; the finest trees have been cut down: you see only a ruin of what was. To see the true primeval forest, you must ride well into the interior.
The absolutism of green does not, however, always prevail in these woods. During a brief season, corresponding to some of our winter months, the forests suddenly break into a very conflagration of color, caused by blossoming of the lianas— crimson, canary-yellow, blue and white. There are other flowerings, indeed; but that of the lianas alone has chromatic force enough to change the aspect of a landscape.
... If it is possible for a West Indian forest to be described at all, it could not be described more powerfully than it has been by Dr. E. Rufz, a creole of Martinique, one of whose works I venture to translate the following remarkable pages:
... "The sea, the sea alone, because it is the most colossal of earthly spectacles,—only the sea can afford us any terms of comparison for the attempt to describe a grand-bois;—but even then one must imagine the sea on a day of a storm, suddenly immobilized in the expression of its mightiest fury. For the summits of these vast woods repeat all the inequalities of the land they cover; and these inequalities are mountains from 4200 to 4800 feet in height, and valleys of corresponding profundity. All this is hidden, blended together, smoothed over by verdure, in soft and enormous undulations,—in immense billowings of foliage. Only, instead of a blue line at the horizon, you have a green line; instead of flashings of blue, you have flashings of green,—and in all the tints, in all the combinations of which green is capable: deep green, light green, yellow-green, black- green.
"When your eyes grow weary—if it indeed be possible for them to weary—of contemplating the exterior of these tremendous woods, try to penetrate a little into their interior. What an inextricable chaos it is! The sands of a sea are not more closely pressed together than the trees are here: some straight, some curved, some upright, some toppling,—fallen, or leaning against one another, or heaped high upon each other. Climbing lianas, which cross from one tree to the other, like ropes passing from mast to mast, help to fill up all the gaps in this treillage; and parasites—not timid parasites like ivy or like moss, but parasites which are trees self-grafted upon trees— dominate the primitive trunks, overwhelm them, usurp the place of their foliage, and fall back to the ground, forming factitious weeping-willows. You do not find here, as in the great forests of the North, the eternal monotony of birch and fir: this is the kingdom of infinite variety;—species the most diverse elbow each other, interlace, strangle and devour each other: all ranks and orders are confounded, as in a human mob. The soft and tender balisier opens its parasol of leaves beside the gommier, which is the cedar of the colonies you see the acomat, the courbaril, the mahogany, the tedre—caillou, the iron- wood... but as well enumerate by name all the soldiers of an army! Our oak, the balata, forces the palm to lengthen itself prodigiously in order to get a few thin beams of sunlight; for it is as difficult here for the poor trees to obtain one glance from this King of the world, as for us, subjects of a monarchy, to obtain one look from our monarch. As for the soil, it is needless to think of looking at it: it lies as far below us probably as the bottom of the sea;—it disappeared, ever so long ago, under the heaping of debris,—under a sort of manure that has been accumulating there since the creation: you sink into it as into slime; you walk upon putrefied trunks, in a dust that has no name! Here indeed it is that one can get some comprehension of what vegetable antiquity signifies;—a lurid light (lurida lux), greenish, as wan at noon as the light of the moon at midnight, confuses forms and lends them a vague and fantastic aspect; a mephitic humidity exhales from all parts; an odor of death prevails; and a calm which is not silence (for the ear fancies it can hear the great movement of composition and of decomposition perpetually going on) tends to inspire you with that old mysterious horror which the ancients felt in the primitive forests of Germany and of Gaul:
"'Arboribus suus horror inest.'" *
* "Enqute sur le Serpent de la Martinique (Vipre Fer-de-Lance, Bothrops Lancol, etc.)" Par le Docteur E. Rufz. 2 ed. 1859. Paris: Germer-Ballire. pp. 55-57 (note).
But the sense of awe inspired by a tropic forest is certainly greater than the mystic fear which any wooded wilderness of the North could ever have created. The brilliancy of colors that seem almost preternatural; the vastness of the ocean of frondage, and the violet blackness of rare gaps, revealing its in conceived profundity; and the million mysterious sounds which make up its perpetual murmur,—compel the idea of a creative force that almost terrifies. Man feels here like an insect,—fears like an insect on the alert for merciless enemies; and the fear is not unfounded. To enter these green abysses without a guide were folly: even with the best of guides there is peril. Nature is dangerous here: the powers that build are also the powers that putrefy; here life and death are perpetually interchanging office in the never-ceasing transformation of forces,—melting down and reshaping living substance simultaneously within the same vast crucible. There are trees distilling venom, there are plants that have fangs, there are perfumes that affect the brain, there are cold green creepers whose touch blisters flesh like fire; while in all the recesses and the shadows is a swarming of unfamiliar life, beautiful or hideous,—insect, reptile, bird,— inter-warring, devouring, preying.... But the great peril of the forest—the danger which deters even the naturalist;—is the presence of the terrible fer-de-lance (trigonocephalus lanceolatus,—bothrops lanceolatus,—craspodecephalus),— deadliest of the Occidental thanatophidia, and probably one of the deadliest serpents of the known world.
... There are no less than eight varieties of it,—the most common being the dark gray, speckled with black—precisely the color that enables the creature to hide itself among the protruding roots of the trees, by simply coiling about them, and concealing its triangular head. Sometimes the snake is a clear bright yellow: then it is difficult to distinguish it from the bunch of bananas among which it conceals itself. Or the creature may be a dark yellow,—or a yellowish brown,—or the color of wine-lees, speckled pink and black,—or dead black with a yellow belly,—or black with a pink belly: all hues of tropical forest- mould, of old bark, of decomposing trees. ... The iris of the eye is orange,—with red flashes: it glows at night like burning charcoal.
And the fer-de-lance reigns absolute king over the mountains and the ravines; he is lord of the forest and solitudes by day, and by night he extends his dominion over the public roads, the familiar paths, the parks, pleasure resorts. People must remain at home after dark, unless they dwell in the city itself: if you happen to be out visiting after sunset, only a mile from town, your friends will caution you anxiously not to follow the boulevard as you go back, and to keep as closely as possible to the very centre of the path. Even in the brightest noon you cannot venture to enter the woods without an experienced escort; you cannot trust your eyes to detect danger: at any moment a seeming branch, a knot of lianas, a pink or gray root, a clump of pendent yellow It, may suddenly take life, writhe, stretch, spring, strike.... Then you will need aid indeed, and most quickly; for within the span of a few heart-beats the wounded flesh chills, tumefies, softens. Soon it changes or, and begins to spot violaceously; while an icy coldness creeps through all the blood. If the panseur or the physician arrives in time, and no vein has been pierced, there is hope; but it more often happens that the blow is received directly on a vein of the foot or ankle,—in which case nothing can save the victim. Even when life is saved the danger is not over. Necrosis of the tissues is likely to set in: the flesh corrupts, falls from the bone sometimes in tatters; and the colors of its putrefaction simuulate the hues of vegetable decay,—the ghastly grays and pinks and yellows of trunks rotting down into the dark soil which gave them birth. The human victim moulders as the trees moulder,—crumbles and dissolves as crumbles the substance of the dead palms and balatas: the Death-of-the-Woods is upon him.