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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 4865

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


... 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.

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