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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 2372

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


... By nine o'clock, as a general rule, St. Pierre becomes silent: everyone here retires early and rises with the sun. But sometimes, when the night is exceptionally warm, people continue to sit at their doors and chat until a far later hour; and on such a night one may hear and see curious things, in this period of plague....

It is certainly singular that while the howling of a dog at night has no ghastly signification here (nobody ever pays the least attention to the sound, however hideous), the moaning and screaming of cats is believed to bode death; and in these times folks never appear to feel too sleepy to rise at any hour and drive them away when they begin their cries.... To-night-a night so oppressive that all but the sick are sitting up-almost a panic is created in our street by a screaming of cats;-and long after the creatures have been hunted out of sight and hearing, everybody who has a relative ill with the prevailing malady continues to discuss the omen with terror.

... Then I observe a colored child standing bare-footed in the moonlight, with her little round arms uplifted and hands joined above her head. A more graceful little figure it would be

hard to find as she appears thus posed; but, all unconsciously, she is violating another superstition by this very attitude; and the angry mother shrieks:-

-"Ti manmaille-là!-tiré lanmain-ou assous tête-ou, foute! pisse moin encò là!... Espéré moin allé lazarett avant metté lanmain conm ?a!" (Child, take down your hands from your head... because I am here yet! Wait till I go to the lazaretto before you put up your hands like that!)

For it was the savage, natural, primitive gesture of mourning,-of great despair.

... Then all begin to compare their misfortunes, to relate their miseries;-they say grotesque things,-even make jests about their troubles. One declares:-

-"Si moin té ka venne chapeau, à fòce moin ni malhè, toutt manman sé fai yche yo sans tête." (I have that ill-luck, that if I were selling hats all the mothers would have children without heads!)

-Those who sit at their doors, I observe, do not sit, a rule, upon the steps, even when these are of wood. There is a superstition which checks such a practice. "Si ou assise assous pas-lapòte, ou ké pouend doulè toutt moune." (If you sit upon the door-step, you will take the pain of all who pass by.)

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