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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 4479

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


... It is a breezeless and cloudless noon. Under the dazzling downpour of light the hills seem to smoke blue: something like a thin yellow fog haloes the leagues of ripening cane,-a vast reflection. There is no stir in all the green mysterious front of the vine-veiled woods. The palms of the roads keep their heads quite still, as if listening. The canes do not utter a single susurration. Rarely is there such absolute stillness among them: on the calmest days there are usually rustlings audible, thin cracklings, faint creepings: sounds that betray the passing of some little animal or reptile-a rat or a wa manicou, or a zanoli or couresse,-more often, however, no harmless lizard or snake, but the deadly fer-de-lance. To-day, all these seem to sleep; and there are no workers among the cane to clear away the weeds,-to uproot the pié-treffe, pié-poule, pié-balai, zhèbe-en-mè: it is the hour of rest.

A woman is coming along the road,-young, very swarthy, very tall, and barefooted, and black-robed: she wears a high white turban with dark stripes, and a white foulard is thrown about her fine shoulders; she bears no burden, and walks very swiftly and noiselessly.... Soundless as shadow the motion of all these naked-footed people is. On any quiet mountain-way, full of curves, where you fancy yourself alone, you may often be startled by something you feel, rather than hear, behind you,-surd steps, the springy movement of a long lithe body, dumb oscillations of raiment;-and ere you can turn to look, the haunter swiftly passes with creole greeting of "bon-jou'" or "bonsouè, Missié." This sudden "becoming aware" in broad daylight of a living presence unseen is even more disquieting than that sensation which, in absolute darkness, makes one halt all breathlessly before great solid objects, whose proximity has been revealed by some mute blind emanation of force alone. But it is very seldom, indeed, that the negro or half-breed is thus surprised: he seems to divine an advent by some specialized sense,-like an animal,-and to become conscious of a look directed upon him from any distance or from behind any covert;-to pass within the range of his keen vision unnoticed is almost impossible.... And the approach of this

woman has been already observed by the habitants of the ajoupas;-dark faces peer out from windows and door-ways;-one half-nude laborer even strolls out to the road-side under the sun to her coming. He looks a moment, turns to the hut and calls:-

-"Ou-ou! Fafa!"

-"étí! Gabou!"

-"Vini ti bouin!-mi bel negresse!"

Out rushes Fafa, with his huge straw hat in his hand: "Oti, Gabou?"

-"Mi!"

-"'Ah! quimbé moin!" cries black Fafa, enthusiastically; "fouinq! li bel!-Jésis-Ma?a! li doux!"...Neither ever saw that woman before; and both feel as if they could watch her forever.

There is something superb in the port of a tall young mountain-griffone, or negress, who is comely and knows that she is comely: it is a black poem of artless dignity, primitive grace, savage exultation of movement.... "Ou marché tête enlai conm couresse qui ka passélariviè" (You walk with your head in the air, like the couresse-serpent swimming a river) is a creole comparison which pictures perfectly the poise of her neck and chin. And in her walk there is also a serpentine elegance, a sinuous charm: the shoulders do not swing; the cambered torso seems immobile;-but alternately from waist to heel, and from heel to waist, with each long full stride, an indescribable undulation seems to pass; while the folds of her loose robe oscillate to right and left behind her, in perfect libration, with the free swaying of the hips. With us, only a finely trained dancer could attempt such a walk;-with the Martinique woman of color it is natural as the tint of her skin; and this allurement of motion unrestrained is most marked in those who have never worn shoes, and are clad lightly as the women of antiquity,-in two very thin and simple garments;-chemise and robe-d'indienne.... But whence is she?-of what canton? Not from Vauclin, nor from Lamentin, nor from Marigot,-from Case-Pilote or from Case-Navire: Fafa knows all the people there. Never of Sainte-Anne, nor of Sainte-Luce, nor of Sainte-Marie, nor of Diamant, nor of Gros-Morne, nor of Carbet,-the birthplace of Gabou. Neither is she of the village of the Abysms, which is in the Parish of the Preacher,-nor yet of Ducos nor of Fran?ois, which are in the Commune of the Holy Ghost....

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