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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 5284

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


I had long been anxious to see the city of the Porteuses, when the opportunity afforded itself to make the trip with a friend obliged to go thither on some important business;-I do not think I should have ever felt resigned to undertake it alone. With a level road the distance might be covered very quickly, but over mountains the journey is slow and wearisome in the perpetual tropic heat. Whether made on horseback or in a carriage, it takes between four and five hours to go from St. Pierre to Grand Anse, and it requires a longer time to return, as the road is then nearly all uphill. The young porteuse travels almost as rapidly; and the bare-footed black postman, who carries the mails in a square box at the end of a pole, is timed on leaving Morne Rouge at 4 A.M. to reach Ajoupa-Bouillon a little after six, and leaving Ajoupa-Bouillon at half-past six to reach Grande Anse at half-past eight, including many stoppages and delays on the way.

Going to Grande Anse from the chief city, one can either hire a horse or carriage at St. Pierre, or ascend to Morne Rouge by the public conveyance, and there procure a vehicle or animal, which latter is the cheaper and easier plan. About a mile beyond Morne Rouge, where the old Calebasse road enters the public highway, you reach the highest point of the journey,-the top of the enormous ridge dividing the north-east from the western coast, and cutting off the trade-winds from sultry St. Pierre. By climbing the little hill, with a tall stone cross on its summit, overlooking the Champ-Flore just here, you can perceive the sea on both sides of the island at once-lapis lazuli blue. From this elevation the road descends by a hundred windings and lessening undulations to the eastern shore. It sinks between mornes wooded to their summits,-bridges a host of torrents and ravines,-passes gorges from whence colossal trees tower far overhead, through heavy streaming of lianas, to mingle their green crowns in magnificent gloom. Now and then you hear a low long sweet sound like the deepest tone of a silver flute,-a bird-call, the cry of the siffleur-de-montagne; then all is stillness. You are not likely to see a white face again for hours, but at intervals a porteuse passes, walking very swiftly, or a field-hand heavily laden; and these salute you either by speech or a lifting of the hand to the head.... And it is very pleasant to hear the greetings and to see the smiles of those who thus pass,-the fine brown girls bearing trays, the dark laborers bowed under great burdens of bamboo-grass,-Bonjou', Missié! Then you should reply, if the speaker be a woman and pretty, "Good-d

ay, dear" (bonjou', chè), or, "Good-day, my daughter" (mafi) even if she be old; while if the passer-by be a man, your proper reply is, "Good-day, my son" (monfi).... They are less often uttered now than in other years, these kindly greetings, but they still form part of the good and true creole manners.

The feathery beauty of the tree-ferns shadowing each brook, the grace of bamboo and arborescent grasses, seem to decrease as the road descends,-but the palms grow taller. Often the way skirts a precipice dominating some marvellous valley prospect; again it is walled in by high green banks or shrubby slopes which cut off the view; and always it serpentines so that you cannot see more than a few hundred feet of the white track before you. About the fifteenth kilometre a glorious landscape opens to the right, reaching to the Atlantic;-the road still winds very high; forests are billowing hundreds of yards below it, and rising miles away up the slopes of mornes, beyond which, here and there, loom strange shapes of mountain,-shading off from misty green to violet and faintest gray. And through one grand opening in this multicolored surging of hills and peaks you perceive the gold-yellow of cane-fields touching the sky-colored sea. Grande Anse lies somewhere in that direction.... At the eighteenth kilometre you pass a cluster of little country cottages, a church, and one or two large buildings framed in shade-trees-the hamlet of Ajoupa-Bouillon. Yet a little farther, and you find you have left all the woods behind you. But the road continues its bewildering curves around and between low mornes covered with cane or cocoa plants: it dips down very low, rises again, dips once more;-and you perceive the soil is changing color; it is taking a red tint like that of the land of the American cotton-belt. Then you pass the Rivière Falaise (marked Filasse upon old maps),-with its shallow crystal torrent flowing through a very deep and rocky channel,-and the Capote and other streams; and over the yellow rim of cane-hills the long blue bar of the sea appears, edged landward with a dazzling fringe of foam. The heights you have passed are no longer verqant, but purplish or gray,-with Pelée's cloud-wrapped enormity overtopping all. A very strong warm wind is blowing upon you-the trade-wind, always driving the clouds west: this is the sunny side of Martinique, where gray days and heavy rains are less frequent. Once or twice more the sea disappears and reappears, always over canes; and then, after passing a bridge and turning a last curve, the road suddenly drops down to the shore and into the burgh of Grande Anse.

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