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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 4329

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Hindoos; coolies; men, women, and children-standing, walking, or sitting in the sun, under the shadowing of the palms. Men squatting, with hands clasped over their black knees, are watching us from under their white turbans-very steadily, with a slight scowl. All these Indian faces have the same set, stern expression, the same knitting of the brows; and the keen gaze is not altogether pleasant. It borders upon hostility; it is the look of measurement-measurement physical and moral. In the mighty swarming of India these have learned the full meaning and force of life's law as we Occidentals rarely learn it. Under the dark fixed frown eye glitters like a serpent's.

Nearly all wear the same Indian dress; the thickly folded turban, usually white, white drawers reaching but half-way down the thigh, leaving the knees and the legs bare, and white jacket. A few don long blue robes, and wear a colored head-dress: these are babagees-priests. Most of the men look tall; they are slender and small-boned, but the limbs are well turned. They are grave-talk in low tones, and seldom smile. Those you see heavy black beards are probably Mussulmans: I am told they have their mosques here, and that the muezzein's call to prayer is chanted three times daily on many plantations. Others shave, but the Mohammedans allow all the beard to grow.... Very comely some of the women are in their close-clinging soft brief robes and tantalizing veils-a costume leaving shoulders, arms, and ankles bare. The dark arm is always tapered and rounded; the silver-circled ankle always elegantly knit to the light straight foot. Many slim girls, whether standing or walking or in repose, offer remarkable studies of grace; their attitude when erect always suggests lightness and suppleness, like the poise of a dancer.

... A coolie mother passes, carrying at her hip a very pretty naked baby. It has exquisite delicacy of limb: its tiny ankles are circled by thin bright silver rings; it looks like a little bronze statuette, a statuette of Kama, the Indian Eros. The mother's arms are covered from elbow to wrist with silver bracelets,-some flat and decorated; others coarse,

round, smooth, with ends hammered into the form of viper-heads. She has large flowers of gold in her ears, a small gold flower in her very delicate little nose. This nose ornament does not seem absurd; on these dark skins the effect is almost as pleasing as it is bizarre. This jewellery is pure metal;-it is thus the coolies carry their savings,-melting down silver or gold coin, and recasting it into bracelets, ear-rings, and nose ornaments.

... Evening is brief: all this time the days have been growing shorter: it will be black at 6 P.M. One does not regret it;-the glory of such a tropical day as this is almost too much to endure for twelve hours. The sun is already low, and yellow with a tinge of orange: as he falls between the palms his stare colors the world with a strange hue-such a phantasmal light as might be given by a nearly burnt-out sun. The air is full of unfamiliar odors. We pass a flame-colored bush; and an extraordinary perfume-strange, rich, sweet-envelops us like a caress: the soul of a red jasmine....

... What a tropical sunset is this-within two days' steam-journey of the equator! Almost to the zenith the sky flames up from the sea,-one tremendous orange incandescence, rapidly deepening to vermilion as the sun dips. The indescribable intensity of this mighty burning makes one totally unprepared for the spectacle of its sudden passing: a seeming drawing down behind the sea of the whole vast flare of light.... Instantly the world becomes indigo. The air grows humid, weighty with vapor; frogs commence to make a queer bubbling noise; and some unknown creature begins in the trees a singular music, not trilling, like the note of our cricket, but one continuous shrill tone, high, keen, as of a thin jet of steam leaking through a valve. Strong vegetal scents, aromatic and novel, rise up. Under the trees of our hotel I hear a continuous dripping sound; the drops fall heavily, like bodies of clumsy insects. But it is not dew, nor insects; it is a thick, transparent jelly-a fleshy liquor that falls in immense drops.... The night grows chill with dews, with vegetable breath; and we sleep with windows nearly closed.

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