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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 2195

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

... It is the morning of the third day since we left Barbadoes, and for the first time since entering tropic waters all things seem changed. The atmosphere is heavy with strange mists; and the light of an orange-colored sun, immensely magnified by vapors, illuminates a greenish-yellow sea,-foul and opaque, as if stagnant.... I remember just such a sunrise over the Louisiana gulf-coast.

We are in the shallows, moving very slowly. The line-caster keeps calling, at regular intervals: "Quarter less five, sir!" "And a half four, sir!"... There is little variation in his soundings-a quarter of a fathom or half a fathom difference. The warm air has a sickly heaviness, like the air of a swamp; the water shows olive and ochreous tones alternately;-the foam is yellow in our wake. These might be the colors of a fresh-water inundation....

A fellow-traveller tells me, as we lean over the rail, that this same viscous, glaucous sea washes the great penal colony of Cayenne-which he visited. When a convict dies there, the corpse, sewn up in a sack, is borne to the water, and a great bell toll

ed. Then the still surface is suddenly broken by fins innumerable-black fins of sharks rushing to the hideous funeral: they know the Bell!...

There is land in sight-very low land,-a thin dark line suggesting marshiness; and the nauseous color of the water always deepens.

As the land draws near, it reveals a beautiful tropical appearance. The sombre green line brightens color, I sharpens into a splendid fringe of fantastic evergreen fronds, bristling with palm crests. Then a mossy sea-wall comes into sight-dull gray stone-work, green-lined at all its joints. There is a fort. The steamer's whistle is exactly mocked by a queer echo, and the cannon-shot once reverberated-only once: there are no mountains here to multiply a sound. And all the while the water becomes a thicker and more turbid green; the wake looks more and more ochreous, the foam ropier and yellower. Vessels becalmed everywhere speck the glass-level of the sea, like insects sticking upon a mirror. It begins, all of a sudden, to rain torrentially; and through the white storm of falling drops nothing is discernible.

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