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   Chapter 80 March 8th

Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 2515

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


... Rich households throughout the city are almost helpless for the want of servants. One can scarcely obtain help at any price: it is true that young country-girls keep coming into town to fill the places of the dead; but these new-comers fall a prey to the disease much more readily than those who preceded them, And such deaths en represent more than a mere derangement in the mechanism of domestic life. The creole bonne bears a relation to the family of an absolutely peculiar sort,-a relation of which the term "house-servant" does not convey the faintest idea. She is really a member of the household: her association with its life usually begins in childhood, when she is barely strong enough to carry a dobanne of water up-stairs;-and in many cases she has the additional claim of having been born in the house. As a child, she plays with the white children,-shares their pleasures and presents. She is very seldom harshly spoken to, or reminded of the fact that she is a servitor: she has a pet name;-she is allowed much familiarity,-is often permitted to join in conversation when there is no company present, and to express her opinion about domestic affairs. She costs very little to keep; four or five dollars a year will supply her with all ne

cessary clothing;-she rarely wears shoes;-she sleeps on a little straw mattress (paillasse) on the floor, or perhaps upon a paillasse supported upon an "elephant" (lèfan)-two thick square pieces of hard mattress placed together so as to form an oblong. She is only a nominal expense to the family; and she is the confidential messenger, the nurse, the chamber-maid, the water-carrier,-everything, in short, except cook and washer-woman. Families possessing a really good bonne would not part with her on any consideration. If she has been brought up in the house-hold, she is regarded almost as a kind of adopted child. If she leave that household to make a home of her own, and have ill-fortune afterwards, she will not be afraid to return with her baby, which will perhaps be received and brought up as she herself was, under the old roof. The stranger may feel puzzled at first by this state of affairs; yet the cause is not obscure. It is traceable to the time of the formation of creole society-to the early period of slavery. Among the Latin races,-especially the French,-slavery preserved in modern times many of the least harsh features of slavery in the antique world,-where the domestic slave, entering the familia, actually became a member of it.

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