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   Chapter 84 March 20th.

Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 2784

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


... The infinite goodness of this colored population to one another is something which impresses with astonishment those accustomed to the selfishness of the world's great cities. No one is suffered to go to the pest-house who has a bed to lie upon, and a single relative or tried friend to administer remedies;-the multitude who pass through the lazarettos are strangers,-persons from the country who have no home of their own, or servants who are not permitted to remain sick in houses of employers.... There are, however, many cases where a mistress will not suffer her bonne to take the risks of the pest-house,-especially in families where there are no children: the domestic is carefully nursed; a physician hired for her, remedies purchased for her....

But among the colored people themselves the heroism displayed is beautiful, is touching,-something which makes one doubt all accepted theories about the natural egotism of mankind, and would compel the most hardened pessimist to conceive a higher idea of humanity. There is never a moment's hesitation in visiting a stricken individual: every relative, and even the most intimate friends of every relative, may be seen hurrying to the bedside. They take turns at nursing, sitting up all night, securing medical attendance and medicines, without ever thought of the danger,-nay, of the almost absolute certainty of contagion. If t

he patient have no means, all contribute: what the sister or brother has not, the uncle or the aunt, the godfather or godmother, the cousin, brother-in-law or sister-in-law, may be able to give. No one dreams of refusing money or linen or wine or anything possible to give, lend, or procure on credit. Women seem to forget that they are beautiful, that they are young, that they are loved,-forget everything but sense of that which they hold to be duty. You see young girls of remarkably elegant presence,-young colored girls well educated and élevées-en-chapeau [23] (that is say, brought up like white creole girls, dressed and accomplished like them), voluntarily leave rich homes to nurse some poor mulatress or capresse in the indigent quarters of the town, because the sick one happens to be a distant relative. They will not trust others to perform this for them;-they feel bound to do it in person. I heard such a one say, in reply to some earnest protest about thus exposing herself (she had never been vaccinated);-"Ah! quand il s'agit du devoir, la vie ou la mort c'est pour moi la même chose."

... But without any sanitary law to check this self-immolation, and with the conviction that in the presence of duty, or what is believed to be duty, "life or death is same thing," or ought to be so considered,-you can readily imagine how soon the city must become one vast hospital.

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