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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 4802

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

We are overlooking from this height the birthplaces of several rivers; and the rivers of Pelée are the clearest and the coolest of the island.

From whatever direction the trip be undertaken, the ascent of the volcano must be made over some one of those many immense ridges sloping from the summit to the sea west, north, and east,-like buttresses eight to ten miles long,-formed by ancient lava-torrents. Down the deep gorges between them the cloud-fed rivers run,-receiving as they descend the waters of countless smaller streams gushing from either side of the ridge. There are also cold springs,-one of which furnishes St. Pierre with her Eau-de-Gouyave (guava-water), which is always sweet, clear, and cool in the very hottest weather. But the water of almost everyone of the seventy-five principal rivers of Martinique is cool and clear and sweet. And these rivers are curious in their way. Their average fall has been estimated at nine inches to every six feet;-many are cataracts;-the Rivière de Case-Navire has a fall of nearly 150 feet to every fifty yards of its upper course. Naturally these streams cut for themselves channels of immense depth. Where they flow through forests and between mornes, their banks vary from 1200 to 1600 feet high,-so as to render their beds inaccessible; and many enter the sea through a channel of rock with perpendicular walls from 100 to 200 feet high. Their waters are necessarily shallow in normal weather; but during rain-storms they become torrents thunderous, and terrific beyond description. In order to comprehend their sudden swelling, one must know what tropical rain is. Col. Boyer Peyreleau, in 1823, estimated the annual rainfall in these colonies at 150 inches on the coast, to 350 on the mountains,-while the annual fall at Paris was only eighteen inches. The character of such rain is totally different from that of rain in the temperate zone: the drops are enormous, heavy, like hailstones,-one will spatter over the circumference of a saucer;-and the shower roars so that people cannot hear each other speak without shouting. When there is a true storm, no roofing seems able to shut out the cataract; the best-built houses leak in all directions; and objects but a short distance off become invisible behind the heavy curtain of water. The ravages of such rain may be imagined! Roads are cut away in an hour; trees are overthrown as if

blown down;-for there are few West Indian trees which plunge their roots even as low as two feet; they merely extend them over a large diameter; and isolated trees will actually slide under rain. The swelling of rivers is so sudden that washer-women at work in the Roxelane and other streams have been swept away and drowned without the least warning of their danger; the shower occurring seven or eight miles off.

Most of these rivers are well stocked with fish, of which the tétart, banane, loche, and dormeur are the principal varieties. The tétart (best of all) and the loche climb the torrents to the height of 2500 and even 3000 feet: they have a kind of pneumatic sucker, which enables them to cling to rocks. Under stones in the lower basins crawfish of the most extraordinary size are taken; some will measure thirty-six inches from claw to tail. And at all the river-mouths, during July and August, are caught vast numbers of "titiri" [33] -tiny white fish, of which a thousand might be put into one teacup. They are delicious when served in oil,-infinitely more delicate than the sardine. Some regard them as a particular species: others believe them to be only the fry of larger fish,-as their periodical appearance and disappearance would seem to indicate. They are often swept by millions into the city of St. Pierre, with the flow of mountain-water which purifies the streets: then you will see them swarming in the gutters, fountains, and bathing-basins;-and on Saturdays, when the water is temporarily shut off to allow of the pipes being cleansed, the titiri may die in the gutters in such numbers as to make the air offensive.

The mountain-crab, celebrated for its periodical migrations, is also found at considerable heights. Its numbers appear to have been diminished extraordinarily by its consumption as an article of negro diet; but in certain islands those armies of crabs described by the old writers are still occasionally to be seen. The Père Dutertre relates that in 1640, at St. Christophe, thirty sick emigrants, temporarily left on the beach, were attacked and devoured alive during the night by a similar species of crab. "They descended from the mountains in such multitude," he tells us, "that they were heaped higher than houses over the bodies of the poor wretches... whose bones were picked so clean that not one speck of flesh could be found upon them."...

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