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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 3346

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Such travel in such a country would be impossible but for the excellent national roads,-limestone highways, solid, broad, faultlessly graded,-that wind from town to town, from hamlet to hamlet, over mountains, over ravines; ascending by zigzags to heights of twenty-five hundred feet; traversing the primeval forests of the interior; now skirting the dizziest precipices, now descending into the loveliest valleys. There are thirty-one of these magnificent routes, with a total length of 488,052 metres (more than 303 miles), whereof the construction required engineering talent of the highest order,-the building of bridges beyond counting, and devices the most ingenious to provide against dangers of storms, floods, and land-slips. Most have drinking-fountains along their course at almost regular intervals,-generally made by the negroes, who have a simple but excellent plan for turning the water of a spring through bamboo pipes to the road-way. Each road is also furnished with mile-stones, or rather kilometre-stones; and the drainage is perfect enough to assure of the highway becoming dry within fifteen minutes after the heaviest rain, so long as the surface is maintained in tolerably good condition. Well-kept embankments of earth (usually covered with a rich growth of mosses, vines, and ferns), or even solid walls of masonry, line the side that overhangs a dangerous depth. And all these highways pass through landscapes of amazing beauty,-visions of mountains so many-tinted and so singular of outline that they would almost seem to have been created for the express purpose of compelling astonishment. This tropic Nature appears to call into being nothing

ordinary: the shapes which she evokes are always either gracious or odd,-and her eccentricities, her extravagances, have a fantastic charm, a grotesqueness as of artistic whim. Even where the landscape-view is cut off by high woods the forms of ancient trees-the infinite interwreathing of vine growths all on fire with violence of blossom-color,-the enormous green outbursts of balisiers, with leaves ten to thirteen feet long,-the columnar solemnity of great palmistes,-the pliant quivering exqisiteness of bamboo,-the furious splendor of roses run mad-more than atone for the loss of the horizon. Sometimes you approach a steep covered with a growth of what, at first glance, looks precisely like fine green fur: it is a first-growth of young bamboo. Or you see a hill-side covered with huge green feathers, all shelving down and overlapping as in the tail of some unutterable bird: these are baby ferns. And where the road leaps some deep ravine with a double or triple bridge of white stone, note well what delicious shapes spring up into sunshine from the black profundity on either hand! Palmiform you might hastily term them,-but no palm was ever so gracile; no palm ever bore so dainty a head of green plumes light as lace! These likewise are ferns (rare survivors, maybe, of that period of monstrous vegetation which preceded the apparition of man), beautiful tree-ferns, whose every young plume, unrolling in a spiral from the bud, at first assumes the shape of a crozier,-a crozier of emerald! Therefore are some of this species called "archbishop-trees," no doubt.... But one might write for a hundred years of the sights to be seen upon such a mountain road.

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