DELIGHTS OF CHANNEL RUNNING --
JOSEPHINE IN SAINT LUCIA
THE NEXT morning, March 30th, found me once more in the
Yakaboo rowing out of the bay of Château Belaire half an hour
after sunrise. The night had been an anxious one on the
morgue-suggesting cot of the rest room in the police station -- for the
devilish impish gusts had swept down one after the other from the
Souffrière and shaken that house till I thought it would blow
over like a paper box and go sailing out into the bay. If those fellows
caught us in the channel what would the poor Yakaboo do?
I argued that the wind coming down the smooth plane of the
mountain slope and shooting out across the water had developed a
velocity far greater than anything I should meet in the channel.
Perhaps so -- but I should learn a bit about it later. I somehow
bamboozled my mind into quiescence and at last fell asleep. Almost
immediately the big, burly Barbadian awoke me. In an hour and a half I
had rowed the six and a half miles to Point DeVolet, where I set sail.
I was now started on my first long channel run and it was
with considerable interest if not anxiety that I watched the canoe and
the seas. I had a lurking suspicion that I had made a grievous error
when I had designed the Yakaboo ; I had perhaps erred on the side
of safety and had given her a too powerful midship section in
proportion to her ends. That was the feeling I had while sailing in the
channels of the Grenadines. I was still traveling eastward as well as
northward, and I knew that it would only be by the most careful
windward work that I should be able to fetch the Pitons, thirty-one
miles away. The wind on this day was the same trade that I had met with
lower down, but the seas were longer than those of the Grenadines, and,
if not so choppy, were more vicious when they broke ; there would
be less current to carry me to leeward.
I had scarcely got her under way and was still under the lee
of the land when the first sea came, like the hoary hand of Neptune
himself and we turned to meet it. Aft I slid, she lifted her bow --
just enough -- and the sea broke under us -- and we dropped down its
steep back, with lighter hearts. In with the mainsheet and we were off
again, the canoe tearing along like a scared cotton-tail -- a little
white bunch under her stern. There was something worth while in this
and I kept my eyes to weather for the next sea. Again we met it and
came through triumphant. Perhaps I had not erred after all. Another
sprint and so on.
After a while the Yakaboo seemed to lag a little and hang
her head like a tired pony. It was the forward compartment that was
leaking again and I ran her into the wind, dropping the jib and
mainsail. The little mizzen aft, flat as a board, held her directly
into the wind's eye (which I believe is the best position for a very
small craft hove-to), and I could go about sponging out the compartment.
I had, of course, to keep a sharp lookout ahead for breaking
seas. If a sea threatened, I would hastily clap on the forehatch and
give the screws a couple of turns and then roll back on my haunches
into the after end of the cockpit. My precious camera was lashed half
way up the mizzen mast. Lightened of the water in her forehold I would
hoist the mainsail and jib and give her rein, that is, trim her sheets
for another scamper to windward. She was the spirited pony again.
That we were traveling well there could be no doubt. The
wind was blowing at least twenty miles an hour and the canoe was
covering her length with the smooth action of a thoroughbred. Yet when
I looked astern after the first hour it seemed as though we were still
under the shadow of Saint Vincent. I knew later that we had made five
miles. It was discouraging to look backwards, and I did very little of
it in my runs afterwards. I would wait till the greyish blue of the
island ahead had turned to blue and was shading into green and then I
would look back to the island that I had just left and I would estimate
that I was perhaps half way across the channel. Having assured myself
that I really was half way across, l kept my eyes over the bow, noting
the minute changes of the land ahead. But I am not yet half way across
Soon my eye began to focus on a persistent whitecap that my
brain refused to believe was a sail. But the eye insisted and the brain
had to give in when the speck refused to move -- it was always there,
just to leeward of the Pitons -- and it grew into a definite shape. Its
course must almost cross mine, for as it grew larger and larger, it
edged to windward closing in on the Pitons and was at last directly on
my course. Nearer it came till I could make out the figure of a man
poised erect out over the water. Another second and I could see the
line to which he was holding and which ran to the top of the mast. His
feet were on the gunwale. Then I distinguished several forms aft of him
in the canoe, all leaning far out to windward to see what strange bird
the Yakaboo might be, coming up out of the south.
Native canoe under sail.
The news of my coming had not jumped the channel ahead of
me, but these fellows had recognized my rig from afar as a rarity --
something to investigate. I shall never forget the picture of them
rushing by. They might have been Caribs of old descending, like the
Vikings that they were, on some island to be conquered. They came down
the wind with terrific speed, the water foaming white under them, a
third of the keel showing, the glistening forefoot leaving a train of
drops like a porpoise clearing the water.
For an instant my eye held it ; the man poised over the
sea ; the figures in the boat, bronze and ebony, tense with
excitement ; the white, sun-bleached sails, now outlined against a
blue sky and now thrown against an indigo sea, rivaling the brilliant
snowy clouds above. As they shot by, close abeam, their arms shot up
and they gave me a mighty yell while I waved my hat and shouted back at
them. If this sight of a single canoe coming down the wind thrilled the
hairs along my spine into an upright position, what would my feeling
have been to see a whole fleet of them as in the old days? I would not
look back -- I wanted the memory of that passing to remain as it was
and I sailed on, thinking for some time of each detail as it was
indelibly impressed upon my mind.
Like most of us, who are blessed with a lean body, I also
have that blessing which usually goes with it -- an appetite which is
entirely out of all proportion to the size of that lean body. Nervous
energy as well as manual labor requires food and when I made my channel
runs there was an expenditure of both -- and I needed feeding. I always
had food handy in my cockpit.
My mainstay was the jelly coconut or water -- nut as they
call it. This is the coconut that has not yet reached the stage where
the meat is the hard, white substance which we meet in the kitchen
pantry in the shredded form, but is still in the baby stage when the
meat is soft and jelly-like. In this stage the milk is not so rich as
later on, but is a sort of sweet coco-tasting water. I never wanted for
a supply of coconuts.
The natives along shore invariably saw to it that there were
four or five of them in my cockpit, prepared for instant use in the
following manner : the native balances the nut on the palm of the
left hand, while with a cutlass (not called machete in these islands
that have not known the Spaniard, except as a pirate), he cuts through
the hard, smooth surface of the husk and trims the pulpy mass, where
the stem joins the nut, into a point. At any time, then, with a single
slice of my knife, I could lop off this pulpy point and cut through the
soft stem end of the inner shell, making a small hole through which I
could drink the water.
When first it passes over your tongue, jaded by the
civilized drinks which have a tang to them, your judgment will be,
"Insipid!" Go out into the open and leave ice water a week behind you
and your tongue will recover some of its pre-civilized sensitiveness.
You will swear that there is nothing so cool nor delicious as the water
of the jelly coconut. After the water has been drunk there is yet the
jelly to be eaten. First a slice of the husk is cut oft to be used as a
spoon. Then, using my knife as a wedge and my axe as a driver, I split
open the nut and scooped out the jelly from the halves.
When my supply of pilot bread ran out I carried soda
crackers and sometimes the unleavened bread of the natives. Raw peameal
sausage helped out at times and there was, of course, the chocolate of
which I have spoken before. I also carried other tropical fruits
besides coconuts, mangoes, bananas, pineapples, but I never ate more
than one sort on a run. The coconut was my mainstay, however, and that
with a little bread and a piece of chocolate would make an excellent
stop-gap till I could reach shore and cook a substantial evening meal.
I was now half way across the channel, I judged, for neither
island had the advantage of nearness nor distance. After a while Vieux
Fort began to work its way to windward of me and the canoe was still
hanging bravely on to the Pitons. She was doing excellent work to
windward, creeping up the long hollows in pilot's luffs as is the habit
of this rudderless craft. The sum total of these small distances eaten
to windward a little more than made up for what we lost when we lay-to
for a combing sea. Saint Lucia had long since changed from a misty grey
to blue grey, and then slowly the green of the vegetation began to
assert itself in varying shades as patches of cultivation became
defined. Dun-colored spots on the hillsides took the shapes of native
huts. It was like the very slow development of a huge photographic
When within a few miles of the island the wind began to draw
to the south'ard, and as I eased the sheets of the canoe, she quickened
her pace like a horse headed for home. The plate was developing rapidly
-- I could make out the trees on the mountain ridges and the beaches
along shore. Vieux Fort was on our beam, the Pitons towered over
us ; then with the hum of tarred rigging in a gale, the
centerboard of the Yakaboo crooned its parting song to the channel and
we lost our motion in the glassy calm of Souffrière Bay. We had
completed our first long jump.
High above me the projectile form of the Petit Piton tore an
occasional wraith from the low-flying trade clouds. Inset in its steep
side, some twenty feet above where I was now rowing, was a niched
shrine to the Virgin Mary, to whom many a hasty prayer had been uttered
during the fervor of bare deliverance from the rafales (squalls) of the
channel, prayers probably quickly forgotten in these calm waters under
the Pitons and the memory of them soon washed away in the little rum
shops of the coast town, which gets its name from the Souffrière
in the hills above it and gives that name to the bay before it. By this
sign of the Virgin Mary, I was leaving for a time the Protestant faith
of the outer Antilles and entering the Catholic. In a measure, I was
leaving the English for the French, for although Saint Lucia has been
in the possession of the English since 1803, there still remains the
old creole atmosphere of the French régime.
As I swung around the base of the smaller Piton, the
leveling rays of the late afternoon sun caught the distant walls of
wooden houses weatherworn to a silky sheen. The dull red of a tiled
roof here and there, the sharp white of what I soon learned were the
police buildings, broke the drab monotone of the town. A little
coasting steamer backed out, crab-like, from a cane-laden jetty and as
we passed in the bay, three white cotton tufts from her whistle tooted
my first welcome to Saint Lucia.
I had planned to show my papers to the police at
Souffrière and then to pitch my tent on some sandy beach beyond
a point that interested me just north of the town. I should then have a
good start for my row along the lee coast on the next day and I should
soon be channel running again -- to Martinique and the Empress
Josephine -- I had an especial interest in her.
But one never knows. It happened at Carriacou and it is apt
to happen at any time. The perverse imp, whatever his name may be,
thrives on the upsetting of plans. I had no sooner crawled up on the
jetty of Souffrière and stretched my legs when a black limb of
the law confronted me.
"Dis no port ob entry," he said ; "you mus' go
Castries was sixteen miles farther along the coast and I had
already traveled forty-two miles since sunup. I looked at my watch and
the hands showed four-thirty. I looked out over the sea and saw the
sun, like an impatient boy rushing through his chores, racing for his
bath in the horizon, a huge molten drop, trickling down the inverted
bowl of the firmament. If I now took to my canoe again and slept on the
beach somewhere up the shore, I should get into trouble at Castries for
I had already put my foot on shore.
I finally decided that it was two of one and half a dozen of
another -- two being the trouble I should get into by staying here and
six being the trouble I might get into in the proportionately larger
town of Castries. Confound a government that spends thirty cents for
red tape to wrap up a package worth ten!
Up to this time, my coming had not been detected, but with
the increasing agitation of the policeman, it dawned upon the jetty
stragglers that something unusual was on foot. Some one noticed the
strange canoe tethered like a patient animal to one of the legs of the
jetty. Some one else noticed that there was a strange person talking
with the policeman. I was rapidly being discovered by a horde of
babbling, ragged beach-loafers and fishermen, who followed like
swarming bees as we made our way to the police buildings. The swarm was
effectually barricaded outside as we entered the building, where I
showed my papers to Sergeant Prout.
In these islands when precedent lacks, complexity arises.
And here was something complex -- a man who traveled alone, voyaging in
the daytime and sleeping at night on whatever beach he happened to
land. The sergeant must needs have advice, so he sent for the leading
merchant of the town and the lawyer. The merchant, being a man of
business, said, "Ask your superior," and the lawyer, being a man of
caution, said, "Place the responsibility on some one else," at which
the sergeant telephoned to His Majesty's Treasurer at Castries. The
reply I did not hear. My canoe was carried into the cobbled courtyard
of the police buildings and my outfit was locked up in a cell next to
that of a thief.
"And now," said I, "if you will lend me a coalpot
and lock me up with my outfit I shall cook my supper and go to bed."
Not a smile on the faces around me.
"But there is an hotel in thee town," came from a voice at
my side, and not much higher than my belt, "I will conduc' you there."
He pronounced "hotel" with a lisp that made it more like
"hostel," and called the article "thee." I looked down and beheld him
who was to be my henchman during my stay in Souffrière. He was a
little fellow, black as the record of a trust magnate and with a face
that went with the name of Joseph Innocent.
I would take Sergeant Prout's word for anything and his nod
in answer to my questioning look was a good voucher for Joseph. And so
we walked out, Joseph parting the crowd before me, proudly carrying my
camera and portfolio while I followed, a pace or two behind, to observe
the quaint old town. Laid out in regular squares, the houses toed the
line of the sidewalks in one continuous wall from street to street. For
the most part, the walls were bare of paint, or if paint had ever been
used, it had long since been crumbled by the sun and washed away by the
rain. To relieve the dead geometric regularity, picturesque grilled
balconies overhung the sidewalks, giving proof that at some time there
had been life in the streets worth observing.
We passed the open square of the market with the bare,
sun-heated church at the far end, facing the west, as though its
memories lay forever behind it. Joseph stopped at one of the myriad
doors in the walls of houses. Would I ever be able to find this door
again? -- and I stepped from the street into the cool dark salle
à manger of this West Indian hotel. The mulatresse, who received
me, was of a better looking type, I thought, than the creole negress of
the English islands. "Could I have food and room for the night?"
"Mais oui," for in spite of my shifty appearance my camera
and portfolio were badges of respectability and vouched for me. I
dispatched Joseph for some cigarettes and while awaiting his return I
noticed that the mulatresse was setting places for two. I was to have
company -- a comforting thought when I could not be alone on the beach.
I am never so lonesome as when eating alone, where there are people
about. On the beach I should have had the company of the setting sun,
the tropical starlit night, and the murmur of the little rippling surf
on the smooth sands -- but here! the shuffling of the silent negress as
she placed the food before me would have been loneliness itself.
When Joseph came with the tin of cigarettes, I offered him a
"thrupence," for he had served me well. But he was a diplomat from his
wide-spreading toes to his apish face. There is a patois saying, "Zo
quité yone boudé plein fait zo sote, " -- "Don't let a
bellyful fool you."
"No! You give me de two copper," indicating the coins in my
hand, "for you need de silver for other person." He was an artist, I
learned later, and cared little for money -- but would I get him some
paints and brushes when I reached Castries?
The mulatresse had scarcely announced, "Monsieur est servi,"
when the other guest entered. He was an Englishman -- of the island --
spare and well-groomed, as one generally finds them, a government
engineer on his monthly tour inspecting the telephone system, which
girdles the island. While we ate our thon (tuna) our conversation
turned on the tuna fisheries of Martinique and I mentioned Josephine
"Josephine! Martinique! Why man alive! Josephine
spent part of her childhood days right here in Souffrière and I
don't know but what she was born on this island -- in the northern part
-- at Morne Paix-Bouche."
And so it happened that I was to be denied the beach to
stumble upon a page or two of that life of contrasts -- pathetic and
romantic -- of the Empress Josephine. Over our coffee and cigarettes my
friend told me of Père Remaud of the parish of Gros-Islet in the
north of Saint Lucia -- the man who knew more about Josephine's life in
this island than any one else. I decided, then, to spend some time in
Saint Lucia and I learned many things about her -- but who wants to
read dry history sandwiched in between salty channel runs? Our
conversation turned to other things and then died out even as the glow
of our cigarettes. We were both tired and mutually glad to turn in.
The camera got them just as they had slipped
through the high surf.
But the wakening effect of the coffee and the cold funereal
sheets of the high antique four-poster onto which I had climbed to
rest, kept off slumber for a while. What a cruise of contrasts it was
-- from the primitive life of the Carib living on fish and cassava, I
had sailed in a day from the fifteenth century into the eighteenth.
From my roll of blankets on the high ground of Point Espagñol I
had come to the more civilized, but not more comfortable, husk mattress
of the French régime. I was not long in deciding that the husk
mattress was no less aged than the four-poster. Perhaps the friends of
Josephine had slept in this bed, on this very mattress -- whatever
their sins may have been may this have shriven them! Sadness entered my
mood and I fell asleep.
Can the lover of small indulgences begin the day better than
I began my first morning in Saint Lucia? At six there was a knock at my
door, followed by the entrance of the mulatresse bearing a huge basin
of cold water with a calabash floating on its surface, the simplest and
yet the most delightful bath I have known. Scarcely had I slipped on my
clothes -- the mulatresse must have known by the sounds the progress of
my toilet -- when another knock ushered in a small pot of steaming
Liberian coffee such as only they of the French islands can grow and
brew. There is but one sequence to this -- a cigarette. This, then, was
my formula, after which I stepped out onto the street where Joseph was
waiting for me.
Not far from the town, up in the hills, lies Ventine, the
beauty spot of Saint Lucia. This is the safety valve, a sort of Hell's
Half Acre, that saved Saint Lucia during the eruptions of Saint Vincent
and Martinique. As the well-kept road wound upward, lined with orderly
fields and occasional clumps of trees, I could easily imagine myself to
be in southern Europe, for the morning was still cool and the road free
except for an infrequent figure shuffling along at its ease with its
burden balanced on top. It was pleasant to hear the prattle of Joseph
with its French construction of the English and that soft inflection,
which we lack so much in our own harsh language.
"Look! you see that bird there? Eet ees call the
cuckoo mayoque by the creole. They say that God, w'en he was building
the world (but I don' beleeve it), ask the cuckoo to carry stone to the
stream. But the cuckoo would not do it because it would soil his
beautiful fethaire. Then God say, 'For that you shall never, drink from
the stream an eef you do you will drown. An' now the cuckoo can only
get water from the flowers and leaves."
A little farther on, he darted to the side of the road and
brought back a leaf of the silver fern. He told me to hold out my hand
-- "no, wiz zee back upwards." Placing the leaf on the brown skin he
gave it a slap and the leaf slipped off leaving the delicate tracery of
its form in a silver powder. And so it was on that delightful walk, I
came to like the little native, bright and full of spirit. Some day he
may, as a regular duty, open my door in the morning and say, "Will you
have your, coffee now, sir, or w'en you arize?"
We finally arrived at the Ventine, which is the thin-crusted
floor of an ancient crater. The sulphur smell that greeted me brought
back memories of Yellowstone Park. From Southern Europe I had been
whisked back to the States. And to carry the illusion still further I
found there three Americans, Foster, Green and Smith (good plain Yankee
names of no pretension), who were working the sulphur of the crater. We
fell on each other's necks, so to speak.
One needed a guide and Foster took me about on the hot floor
to see the boiling mud pools and the steam jets. On our way up to the
cottage where the men lived with their families Foster showed me the
natural advantages of living in a place like this. The region of the
Ventine would be a wonderful place of retirement for the rheumatic
cripple. Here were hot springs of temperatures from tepid to boiling,
cold mountain streams that made natural shower baths, as they tumbled
down the rocks, and pools of curative mineral water.
As we walked along the path Foster dug his hands into the
bank. "When you want to wash your hands just reach into the side of the
hill -- here -- and haul out a lump of this soft clay stuff. Rub your
hands together and a little farther on -- here -- you have the choice
of either hot or cold water to wash it off in. You see, my hands are as
soft as a baby's skin."
He talked like an advertisement. They are planning to build
a hotel at the Ventine some day. If they do it will be a new
Souffrière come to life and I can imagine no more delightful
We left the Ventine in the cool of the afternoon and passing
the town walked out along the broad east road to the ruins of the old
French baths, where the aristocracy of France, some of them exiles, and
some come to the island to recoup their fortunes, were wont to take the
cure. There is but little now remaining, a few walls, a tank into which
the sulphur water flows from the mountain stream, and a massive stone
arch set in a thick woods that takes two hours from each end of the day
and holds a gloom like a shroud for the dead past. A cow was grazing
where grace once trod and where perhaps the little Yeyette* came with
her elders. That evening I chatted with a man, Monsieur Devaux, whose
grandaunt, Mademoiselle Petit L'Étang, had often spoken of
having played with the little Josephine, at the estate of Malmaison in
the hills to the north of Souffrière.
But there was little else to be learned and the next morning
I left for Castries.
Offshore, trying to claw into the wind against the tide, was
a little sloop which somehow looked familiar. It was calm alongshore
and I rowed for an hour. Then a breeze came directly from the north and
I made sail for beating. As I neared the sloop on the out tack she ran
up a signal. I dropped my mainsail for an instant to let them know that
I understood, and ran in again on the other tack. She was the Glen
Nevis from Grenada and had called at Kingstown on her way to Saint
Lucia with ice.
When she followed me into port an hour later, I found that
my Man Friday of St. George's was in command.
* Childhood name of the
They had left Kingstown the day before I had left
Château Belaire, and although I had stopped off a day at
Souffrière, I beat them into Castries by an hour. In other
words, it had taken them seventy-two hours to cover the sixty miles
from Kingstown to Castries. My time for traveling the same distance was
twenty hours. This showed the advantage of the canoe as a vehicle in
these waters, for I could not only sail the rough channels but also
slip along under the lee of the islands where the larger boats would be
helplessly becalmed. As these fellows sail they must, of necessity,
lose valuable ground to windward by dropping away from the island they
are leaving to avoid calms and then they must beat their way up to the
Compared with Grenada and Saint Vincent, the lee coast of
Saint Lucia is low and uninteresting except for two wonderful harbors,
close together, near the northern end ; Cul-de-Sac, the location
of the Usine Central for the manufacture of sugar, and Castries, the
coaling station of the English islands, with its Vigie, the lately
abandoned Gibraltar of the British West Indies.* It was in the hills
between these almost landlocked harbors that Sir John Moore fought with
the French and the Caribs and learned the real art of warfare that made
possible his marvellous retreat at Coruña.
As we approached Castries, a large, white yacht came up from
over the horizon and slipped into the harbor. She proved to be the
Atinah -- belonging to Edouard Rothschild and flying the French flag.
She had bumped on a reef south of Cuba and came here to coal before
going home to dock. A Norwegian tramp, probably owned by an American
company, stole around the south of the island and came up behind me, a
huge mass of ocean-going utility, and swung into port after the yacht.
* Shortly after the outbreak
of the present war in Europe
the Vigie was fortified with guns brought over from Martinique
and garrisoned in 1915 by a company of Canadian soldiers.
An Englishman came out, relieved of coals she had brought
from Cardiff, her rusty sides high out of water, the tips of her
propeller making a white haystack under her counter. The little
coasting steamer, which had saluted me two days before, bustled out of
her home on her daily run to Vieux Fort.
There was commerce in this port -- I had not been near a
steamer for two months. Before sailing into the harbor, we made an
inquisitive tack offshore in order to have a peep at Martinique. There
she lay -- a little to the westward of Saint Lucia ; the arc was
swinging back and I should soon be in the Leeward islands. Distinct
against the haze of Martinique stood the famous Diamond Rock and here,
only six miles off, lay Pigeon Island, lifting its head, a lion
couchant with Fort Rodney in its mane.
On the other tack we ran into the busy harbor. French,
English, and Norwegian flags were there. My little ensign, no larger
than a bandana handkerchief, was all that represented the United States
in this large company. But the Yakaboo flitted past her overgrown
children -- for after all the canoe is the mother of them all -- to a
quiet corner that showed no change since the advent of steam.
I had decided to spend some time in Castries -- looking into
the past of a certain lady. I ought to make the type appear shamefaced
as I write this, but you already know who the lady is, or was, and that
she has been dead nearly a century and her past was a romance. There
comes an indefinable sense of peace and quiet when one sails into a
secure and almost landlocked harbor such as the carénage of
Castries, but I did not know that I was only sailing from the
vicissitudes of the Caribbean to the uncertainties of a veritable sea
of hearsay concerning Josephine.
For instance, there was an old negro who had seen the
Empress in Castries when a little child. Whether he was the little
child, or she was the little child, I do not know -- perhaps it was
Castries that was the little child. He was brought to me one day as I
stood in the street chatting with one of the merchants of the town.
"Undoubtedly old," I said to my friend, as one would comment
upon a piece of furniture. He seemed a youth compared with some of our
old Southern darkies, shriveled and cotton-tufted.
"Quel âge?' I yelled at him, for he was
"Cent onze e' sep' s'mains," came the answer. One hundred
and eleven years and seven weeks! If I had not caught him unawares he
might have given the days and hours.
But his age was not so remarkable as his memory. He
remembered having seen Josephine on the streets and especially at the
time when she left Saint Lucia for Martinique on her way to France to
marry Beauharnais. There was no doubting that honest old face and there
was nothing but admiration for a memory that reached back not only to
youth and childhood, but even to prenatal existence. He was born two
years after Josephine had paid her last visit to these islands! I took
his photograph and paid him a shilling, which shows that a wonderful
memory is nothing if not a commercial asset.
My papers from St. George's, which had been viséd
from port to port would serve me no longer since I was now leaving for
Martinique, which was French. One morning I walked into the office of
the French consul, who, it seemed to me, was suspiciously suave and
gracious. The idea of traveling about in a boat of less than a quarter
of a ton was very amusing. He filled in the blanks of an impressive
document, which I stuck in my pocket. When I asked the amount of the
fee he said, "Twenty francs." "Whew!" I muttered to myself, "no wonder
he was so blasted polite."
Out past the Vigie and I was happy again. One is always glad
to run into port, but the voyager is doubly glad to leave it again.
There are countless petty annoyances on shore that one never meets on
the broad seas. I often worry about the weather, but most of that worry
is done when I am ashore. As soon as I stepped into the canoe that
morning I felt that I was leaving my small troubles on the stone quay,
whimpering like a pack of forlorn dogs. I should lose sight of them and
the quay as soon as I rounded the Vigie.
After sailing through two rain squalls and making an
investigating tack under Pigeon Island, I headed for the beach of the
village of Gros-Islet, for I had business there. I wanted to see
Père Remaud and examine some of the parish signatures. As I
beached the canoe, Henry Belmar, a fine young colonial Englishman, came
through the crowd of natives to meet me. He was riding through
Gros-Islet on governmental duties, had seen me in the bay, and had
ordered food at one of the houses in the town. The thoughtful
hospitality of the colonial Englishman has often made me think upon the
manner in which we too often treat the stranger who comes to our
shores. If he is outré, we lionize him and the women make a
freak of him. If he is of our own kind, we let him shift for himself.
We drank our febrifuge with the usual "chin-chin," and after luncheon
set out for the house of Père Remaud.
The priest was a young man, full of strength and vigor,
much, I thought, as Père Labat would have been had we known him
in our age. Père Remaud was interested in the things of the
world. He lived for his parish, read, shot ramiers (pigeons), and could
talk intimately on the politics of my own country. While I had been
eating with Belmar, the priest had been down to the beach to see my
canoe and at the moment when we arrived he was hastily turning the
leaves of a French sporting catalogue to see whether he might discover
to just what species the Yakaboo belonged -- much as he would attempt
to classify a strange flower which he had found in the hills of his
I spent the afternoon with him, looking over the old parish
records. But for the faded paper on which they stood out in bold lines,
the letters and signatures might have been written yesterday. There was
the signature of Louis Raphael Martin, a planter of Saint Lucia, who
had known Josephine here and had been received by her at Malmaison in
France. There was that of Auguste Hosten under the date of 1810, who,
Frédéric Masson says, loaned a large sum of money to
Josephine at the time of the Revolution, when the guillotine had taken
her first husband and before she met Napoleon.
We talked, and I made many notes during the long afternoon
till at last the yellow sunshine gave warning that I must leave.
Père Remaud came down to the beach with me and as we heeled to
the evening breeze I heard his last "Bon voyage" above the babble of
The same puff that carried the last adieux of Père
Remaud helped us across the white sandy floor of the bay and left us,
close to the shores of Pigeon Island. Three whaleboats were lying on
the beach and as I stepped ashore their crews came straggling down to
meet me. I found that the man in command of the station was Napoleon
Olivier of Bequia, a brother of José at Caille, and I was again
in my whaling days of the Grenadines. I was soon as far from Josephine
and Père Remaud as the twentieth century is from the eighteenth
-- but not for long. Accompanied by the two sons of Olivier, I climbed
to the famous old fort, now called "Rodney," where that admiral, second
only to Nelson, watched for the French fleet to come out of their
hiding in the bay of Fort Royal (now Fort de France), thirty miles to
the north, in Martinique. His own fleet lay below him in the Saint
Croix roads, like impatient hounds tugging at their leashes, eager to
be in chase of their quarry.
The French at last slipped out on the night of April 8th,
1782, the news of their departure being signaled to Rodney by means of
a chain of English lookout ships. Rodney was immediately on their heels
and on the 12th met the French in the Dominica channel, where he fought
the battle of "The Saints."
The fort itself is scarcely more than a rampart with a
powder magazine on the east side and a flagstaff stepping in the
center. There were no guns left and the trees, growing out of the
pavement, told of long years of disuse. The sun had dropped below the
ridge of the island as we scrambled down again through long rank grass,
waist-high, and through a small dark grove of trees, among which there
were several tombs of officers, their inscriptions still decipherable,
the last narrow earthly homes of men who had died while stationed here,
not from the bullets of the French, but from the insidious attack of
that enemy which they knew not -- the mosquito.
I cooked my supper with the whalemen in the ruins of the old
barracks. A rain tank, still intact from the time of the occupation,
furnished water and I was soon yarning with Olivier over the bubbling
pots. The season had been a bad one, only one small whale had been
caught. One of the best harpooners was lying sick with fever in
Gros-Islet, and the whole outfit was in a state of black dejection.
Poor Olivier! He was not only doomed to lose his harpooner,
for three years later when I sailed my schooner into the quiet haven of
Bequia he came aboard and, sitting on the top step of the companionway,
he told me with tears in his eyes that one of his sons, who had taken
me up to the fort, had died of fever shortly after I had left Pigeon
Island. He had no photograph to remember his son by, but he remembered
that I had taken a snapshot on the rampart -- would I give him a print?
Supper over, we put up impromptu tents in the long, soft
grass above the beach where the boats lay, for the ruins, they said,
were full of fleas. It may have been fleas or it may have been
superstition that inhabited the barracks with jumbies. The tents were
impromptu, old sloop sails thrown over the masts of the whaleboats. One
end of the masts rested on the ground while the other was supported by
crossed oars lashed together about seven feet above ground. Had these
shelters not been put up after sunset and taken down before sunrise I
might have had an interesting photograph of shipwrecked mariners. I
crawled in with Olivier, for it would save me the work of pitching my
own tent. I was awakened by the chilly drizzle of a morning squall.
As I got up and shook myself at sunrise -- that is
5 :51 on that particular day -- (the sun did not rise for us until
sometime later, when he edged above the Morne du Cap on Saint Lucia),
the weather did not look promising. Had it been the fifth day of the
first quarter I would not have started for Martinique, but it was the
fifth of the second, which had shown a lamb-like disposition, and there
were two days of it left -- I was on the safe side. The indications
were for rain rather than wind and I decided to take the chance.
Olivier was a bit doubtful.
I cooked my breakfast with the men in the barracks, dragged
my canoe down to the water's edge and watched the weather. At eight
o'clock, the rain having ceased, I bade good-bye to the whalers, who
had decided not to try for humpbacks that day, and was off. As we
sailed out through the reefs by Burgot Rocks the heavy surf gave
warning that there would be plenty of wind outside. Once clear of Saint
Lucia I laid my course for Diamond Rock, a good six points off the wind.
What a comfort it was to ease my sheets a bit and to know
that if the current began to take me to leeward I could make it up by
working closer to windward. Those extra points were like a separate
bank account laid up for a rainy day.
The canoe enjoyed this work. She fairly flew, sliding into
the deep troughs and climbing the tall seas in long diagonals. In half
an hour Saint Lucia behind me was completely hidden by rain clouds and
so was Martinique ahead. The two islands seemed to have wrapped
themselves in their vaporous blankets in high dudgeon, like a couple of
Indian bucks who have failed to wheedle whisky out of a passing
tourist. Fearful lest the weather might break and come up from the
southwest, I kept a constant watch on the procession of the trade
clouds in the northeast, ready to come about with the first weakening
of the wind.
Afraid? not exactly -- but cautious. The Yakaboo drove on
like the sturdy little animal that she was. We flow knew each other so
well that we did not even bother to head into the breaking seas, except
the very large ones. Some of them we could roll under and slip by.
Others came aboard and at times I was waist deep in water and foam,
sitting on the deck to windward, my feet braced in the cockpit under
the opposite coaming. If there had not been the danger of filling her
sails with water, I could have made the mainsheet fast for she
practically sailed herself. Between deluges, I bailed out the cockpit
with a calabash.
Once in a while she would hang her head and then I hove-to
to bail out the forward compartment with a sponge. The exhilaration of
the Saint Vincent channel was nothing compared to this. The water was
warm and my constant ducking was not unpleasant. I thought I could feel
a tingle in the region of my pre-evolute gills.
The ruins of the church at Owia. The bell and
the ladder can be seen at left.
It may seem strange that in these channel runs where the
trade blew strong, the force of the wind never seemed to bother the
canoe. Although it was usually blowing fully twenty miles an hour and
often twenty-five, I was obliged to reef my sails but four times on the
whole cruise ; on the run to Dominica, when the wind was very
strong ; again, under the lee of Dominica ; in the run to
Guadeloupe, when the canoe was going too fast in a following sea, and,
for the same reason, on my run to Saba. I have often carried full sail
when a large sloop has been obliged to reef.
The reason for this is that the wind close to the surface of
water, broken up into ridges from three to eight feet in height, is
considerably retarded and the stratum through which the low rig of the
Yakaboo moved was not traveling at a rate of more than three-fourths
the actual velocity of the free wind. Upon approaching land, where the
seas began to diminish in size and before I had reached the influence
of the down draft from the mountains, I could always feel a slight but
definite increase in the force of the wind.
Sailing as I did -- seated only a few inches above the water
-- I had an excellent Opportunity to observe the flying fish which rose
almost continually from under the bow of the canoe. Although they were
smaller than those I have seen in the channels off the California coast
-- they were seldom more than about nine inches long -- their flight
did not seem to be appreciably shorter. Their speed in the water
immediately before they emerge must be terrific for they come out as
though shot from a submarine catapult ; their gossamer wings,
vibrating from the translated motion of the powerful tail, make the
deception of flight most real.
The flight is in effect the act of soaring with the body at
an angle of from ten to fifteen degrees with the horizontal. The wings
are close to the head and the lower part of the body often passes
through the crest of a wave from time to time when the tail seems to
give an impetus to the decreasing speed of the flight. This, however,
may be an illusion, due to the dropping away of the wave, which might
thus give the fish the appearance of rising up from the water. I have
spent many hours watching these singular fish and, while there can be
no doubt that they do not actually fly, it seems almost incredible that
a fish can hurl itself from the Water with sufficient force to rise to
a height of twenty or more feet and soar for a distance of from three
to four hundred feet -- perhaps farther.
The land ahead had shaken off its cloud blanket and was now
rapidly defining itself, for this channel was shorter than the last one
and my old enemy, the lee tide, had been scarcely perceptible. As I
held the canoe up for "Diamond Rock," I again noticed the decided
veering of the wind to the south'ard, and from time to time I had to
ease off my sheets till the canoe was running well off in a beam sea
that moderated as I approached land. The sky, which had been well
clouded during most of the run, opened at a fortunate moment while I
hove-to, stood up in the cockpit, and took a photograph of the famous
Rock. There was no hope of landing in that run of sea and I had to be
content with a hasty survey of the Rock as the canoe bobbed up and
down, her nose into the wind.
Were I writing this narrative true to events, I should have
no time to describe the Rock and relate a bit of its history for I had
scarcely time to stow my camera when a squall came chasing down on my
heels. I hastily raised the mainsail and ran "brad aft," as the
harpooner Bynoe would say, to get plenty of sea room. When the squall
did catch us, we hove-to with the jib safely stowed and the mainsail
securely lashed so that the wind could not get its fingers into it, and
with the sturdy little mizzen dutifully holding the canoe into the wind.
You shall have the story now while I am sitting in the
cockpit -- doing nothing but watch the Rock disappear in the mist to
windward, while the Yakaboo is backing off gracefully at a rate of four
miles an hour.
Diamond Rock rises in the shape of a dome to a height of
five hundred and seventy feet, a mile distant from the Martinique
shore. In 1804, when the English and French were making their last
fight for the supremacy of the Caribbean, Admiral Hood laid the H. M.
S. Centaur close under the lee of the Rock, put kedges out to sea, and
ran lines to the shore. Fortunately, calm weather aided the Admiral in
his operations and he was able to hoist three long 24s and two 18s to
the top of the Rock where hasty fortifications were built. Here
Lieutenant Maurice, with one hundred and twenty men, harassed the
The Rock was named H. M. S. Diamond Rock and for sixteen
months this stationary man-of-war held out against the French, who had
two 74s, a corvette, a schooner, and eleven gunboats. Lack of food
finally caused these gallant men to surrender and so great was the
admiration of the French governor, the Marquise de Bouillé, that
he treated them as his guests at Fort Royal (Fort de France), till the
proper exchanges could be made. By a strange coincidence, this same
Maurice, who had become a captain, in 1811 captured the island of
Anholt and successfully held it against the Danes.
While I have been yarning to you about Diamond Rock, I have
also partaken of my frugal sea-luncheon of coconut, pilot bread, and
chocolate. I believe, just to make up for the nastiness of the weather,
I raided my larder under the cockpit floor to the extent of a small can
of potted meat, and I remember saving the empty tin till I was well in
shore, for I did not care to excite the curiosity of a chance shark
that might be passing by.
The squall was a mixture of wind and spiteful rain and I
thought of the Yakaboo as akin to the chimney sweep's donkey in "Water
Babies." For an hour it blew hard and then let up as quickly as it had
come, the sea subsiding as if by magic. I found that we were well oft
shore nearly due west of Cape Solomon, four miles from the point where
the squall had picked me up. Shaping our course past the cape, we soon
ran into the calm of the picturesque bay of Fort de France.
Tucked well back from the sea, on the northern shore of the
bay, lay the capital of the island. The afternoon was in its decline
and the level rays of the sun striking into the low rain clouds that
hung over the land threw a golden light on the town and hills, making
it a yellow-skied picture by an old Dutch master. The effect of days
gone by was heightened by the presence of a large square-rigger that
lay in the anchorage with her sails brailed up to dry after the rain.
No steamer was there to mar the illusion -- the picture was not modern.
As I rowed closer to the town I turned from time to time to
see what changes were going on behind my back. On a bluff close aboard
were the pretty homes of a villa quarter and over one the tricolor of
France proclaimed the governor's house. Beyond was a row of warehouses
fronting the sea and beyond these, as though behind a bulwark, rose the
cathedral steeple. At the far end of the row of warehouses a long
landing jetty ran out at right angles to the water front. Still farther
to the eastward Fort St. Louis lay out into the harbor jealously
guarding the carénage behind it. At the water's edge and not far
from the shore end of the jetty was a building with the revenue flag
over it and for this I shaped my course.
As I neared the government landing the harbormaster's boat
came out with its dusky crew of douanes (customs officers), wearing
blue and white-banded jerseys and the French helmet of the tropics,
with its brim drooped in back to protect the nape of the neck. I passed
my papers to them and started to follow. The man in the stern, who now
held my expensive bill of health, waved me back.
"Jettez votre ancre!"
I answered that I carried no anchor and they pulled away as
from a pest.
"Restez la!" he yelled, pointing indefinitely out into the
middle of the bay. The crew landed their officer and then rowed out
again, placing themselves between me and the shore. Half an hour
passed ; I could see the people of the town trickle down through
the streets and gather along the water front. Then I began to notice
that there was something wrong with the Yakaboo. She was tired and
woman-like she gave way -- not to tears, but the reverse. She leaked.
She had had a hard day of it and wanted to sit down somewhere ;
the bottom of the harbor being the nearest place, she started for that.
A seam must have opened on the run across and I had to bail.
But what on earth were those fellows doing with my bill of
health and why on earth did they not allow me to come ashore? Between
spells of bailing I took up my oars and started to circumnavigate the
douanes, but they were inshore of me and had the advantage. The sun
sank lower and the crowd along shore became denser. Finally it dawned
upon me. My expensive bill of health was dated the day before and the
customs officers were trying to guess what I had been doing the day
before and where I had been the previous night. Why they did not ask me
directly I do not know, and what they actually thought and said to each
other I never heard. That they took me for some sort of spy I am
Two weeks in quarantine began to loom up as a vivid
possibility. I then remembered that "Monty" at Kingstown had given me a
letter to his brother-in-law, a merchant by the name of Richaud, who
lived in Fort de France. The next move was to get the letter to Richaud
-- he might be standing in that crowd on the jetty. So I took the
letter out of my portfolio and put it in my pocket where it would be
handy. Then I gave the Yakaboo a final sponge-out and started to pull
at a smart pace away from the jetty. The crew in the harbormaster's
boat swallowed the bait and quickly headed me off.
In a flash I yanked the canoe about and rowed for the jetty,
under full steam, at the same time yelling over my shoulder for
Monsieur Richaud. Luck was with me. There was a movement in the crowd
and a little man was pushed to the outer edge like the stone out of a
prune. In a jiffy I was alongside and the letter was in his hands. The
baffled douanes, who had turned by this time and were after me full
tilt, nosed me away from the jetty, while I lay oft, softly whistling
"Yankee Doodle." This seemed to take with the crowd and they applauded.
They were not in sympathy with douanes -- few West Indians are, for
they are all fond of smuggling.
Whether it was Monty's letter backed by the pull of Monsieur
Richaud, who seemed to be a man of some importance, or whether the
officials decided to call it a day and to go home, I don't know, but I
was at last beckoned to come ashore and just in time, for the Yakaboo
sank with a gurgle of relief in the soft ooze on the beach. Before I
knew what was going on, my whole outfit was bundled into the customs
office to undergo the inspection of the officials. Even the canoe was
bailed out and carried into the barracks, where she rested on the floor
by the side of a gunrack filled with cumbersome St. Étienne
rifles. There being no Bible handy I placed my hand on the next most
holy thing, the bosom of my shirt, and swore that after this I would
cruise in seas more homogeneous as to the nationality of their islands.
While this silent ceremony was going on, the douanes looked at me in an
awed way and one of them muttered "Fou" (crazy). He was probably right.
But Monsieur Richaud was there and he introduced himself to
me. He had been expecting me for some time, he said, and I explained as
best I could -- it was mental agony to try to recall from a musty
memory words that I had not used for ten years or more -- that I had
spent some time with the Caribs in Saint Vincent and some time in Saint
Lucia, since I had left "Monty." Monsieur was a little, jolly
round-faced Frenchman with the prosperous air of a business man of some
consequence. He was reputed to be one of the rich men of Fort de
France. Would I bestow upon him the honor of dining with him at his
house? I would bestow that honor. We said "au revoir" to the douanes
and stepped out into the street.
MARTINIQUE -- FORT DE FRANCE.
IT WAS DARK and it was raining. My clothes were already wet
and I sloshed along the narrow sidewalks behind the little man like a
dripping Newfoundland dog. His wife was ill, he said, but he wished to
at least give me a dinner, a change of clothes and then find me a
lodging place. I had become so used to wet clothing that I forgot to
bring my dry duds. I could see little of the town as we walked along
the dark streets, but the impression was that of a small city -- larger
than any I had yet seen in these islands. At our elbows was a
monotonous unbroken wall of house fronts with closed doors and
jalousied windows, which occasionally gave a faint gleam of light.
Presently my friend stopped in front of one of the doors and pushed it
in. We stepped into a sort of wide corridor at the farther end of which
was another door through which we passed into my friend's house. The
house in reality had two fronts, one on the street and this which faced
on a sort of patio which separated it from the kitchen and servants'
quarters. I made this hasty survey as the master gave some orders in
patois to a large negress, whose attention was fixed on my bedraggled
figure, which gave the impression of having but lately been fished out
of the sea.
First of all there was that enjoyable little liquid
ceremony, "a votre santé," in which I rose in the estimation of
mine host upon denying allegiance to "wisky soda." This should be
further proof that I was no English spy at least. Then I was led
upstairs to the guest room which Monsieur was now occupying. Monsieur
was short and beamy, while my build was of the reverse order, and the
result of the change of dry clothes which I put on was ludicrous -- but
I was dry and comfortable, which was the main thing. It was pleasant to
know that I could now sit down in a comfortable chair without leaving a
lasting salt stain behind me, pink-dyed from the color which was
continually running from the lining of my coat. What little dignity to
which I may lay claim, took wing at the sight of a foot of brown paw
and forearm dangling from the sleeve of the coat. In like manner the
trousers withdrew to a discreet distance from my feet and hung in
desperate puckers around my middle.
Thus arrayed I was ushered into the presence of Madame
Richaud, who lay recovering from an attack of fever in an immense
four-poster. I paid my respects, assured her of the good health and
well-being of her brother, and bowing with as much grace as possible, I
followed my host to the drawing room.
The door through which we had passed from the street to the
house of Monsieur Richaud was what one might call a general utility
door, used by the master of the house on all ordinary occasions and by
the servants and tradespeople. This door, as I have said, opened into a
sort of corridor or antechamber through which one had to pass before
gaining access to the house proper. There was, however, another street
door, which opened from the sidewalk directly into the parlor or living
room, where I now sat with my friend. This gives an uncomfortable
feeling of intimacy with the street -- in a step one moves from the
living room to the sidewalk. It made me think of one of the smaller
canals of Venice, where I had seen an urchin dive from a front window
into the street. On either side of this door were two windows, lacking
glass, with jalousies between the interstices of which I could now and
then see the whites of peeking eyes.
It is in the nature of these people to be fond of street
life and during my stay in Fort de France I noticed that the little
balconies, with long French windows opening upon them, which projected
from the second stories, were occupied most of the time. The aspect of
the glaring white and yellow houses, monotonous as the sheer walls of
the Wallibu Dry River, could never be so pleasing as the green
courtyards in the rear, viewed from large airy galleries. It was just
the drift of the street, a casual word now and then and a few exchanges
with neighbors similarly occupied.
As we talked, the thought came to me that there was at least
one advantage to this parlor street door -- it was handy for funerals.
Strange to say, I saw such a room put to just this use the very next
day. The corpse was laid in state in the parlor and the doors were wide
open so that any one, who wished, might enter in and look. There is, of
course, some degree of common sense in this, for the rest of the house
being practically cut off, the family need not be disturbed by the
entrance of numerous friends, some of whom may not alone be satisfied
in viewing the corpse, but take a morbid delight in viewing the grief
But mall this had little to do with the dinner which was
announced from the door of the adjoining dining room. Monsieur
Richaud's two children, a boy and a girl in that nondescript age which
precedes the bachfisch, now put in their appearance, the girl proudly
taking the place of her mother at the head of the table. The dinner was
excellent, but what I ate I did not remember even long enough to write
in my note-book the next day, for while I was mechanically eating a
soup that was delicious, I could give no specific thought to it, but
must concentrate my entire attention to fetching up those few French
words which were resting in the misty depths of my mind as in the muddy
bottom of a well. Having "dove up" those words, I used them in a
conversation which, while it was understood by Monsieur Richaud,
afforded considerable amusement to the children. But the little
Frenchman fared no better. Wishing to impress me with his familiarity
with the English language he described the beauties of the northern
coast of Martinique. He came to a fitting climax when he told of a
river -- "w'ich arrive at zee sea by casharettes."
When the substantial part of the meal was over, a wash
basin, soap and towel were passed around -- satisfactory if not
aesthetic -- the three articles reminding me of their relations on the
back stoop of a western farmhouse. After this, the fruit, which in this
case was mango. I will not repeat the ponderous witticism regarding the
mango and the bathtub. I have often speculated on this joke, however,
and have almost come to the conclusion that it was invented first and
the fruit discovered afterward. I can imagine Captain Cook suddenly
starting up and slapping his thigh. "What ho!" he shouts, "I have
thought up a most excellent joke, but I must find a fruit to fit it."
And so he sets forth, discovers the mango and circumnavigates the globe.
However, we ate mangoes and our fingers became messy. As I
was looking for some place to rest my hands where they would do the
least damage to table linen, the negress, who had been serving us,
brought in four plates with large finger bowls on them. There was tepid
water in the bowls and by their sides were small beakers about the size
of bird-baths. First we took up the beakers, filled them with water
from the bowls and set them aside. Then we washed our finger tips in
the bowls and finally dipped them in the clean water in the beakers and
wiped our lips, an aesthetic proceeding which averaged the use of the
wash basin and the soap. This rite concluded, the beaker was upset in
the bowl -- a signal that the dinner was over.
Thus dried, fed and doubly cleansed, my sum of content
lacked only tobacco and a bed. They raise their own tobacco in
Martinique -- Tabac de Martinique -- and that it is pure is where
praise halts and turns her back. As for strength -- I called it Tabac
de Diable. I have shaved the festive plug and smoked the black twist
that resembled a smoked herring from the time of the Salem witches, but
these are as corn silk to the Tabac de Martinique. I had finished my
supply of tobacco from home and now, forced to use the weed of
Martinique, I "learned to love it." There was nothing else to do. It
reminded me of the tenderfoot who leaned up against a white pine bar in
the Far West and asked for a mint julep -- "Well frappéd." As
the barkeeper produced a tumbler and a bottle he said, "You'll have
three fingers of this bug juice and YOU'LL LOVE IT."
But the Tabac de Diable served me a good turn. Half a year
later, in the cozy tap room of the Fitzwilliam Tavern, I incautiously
left a partly smoked cigar within the reach of a practical joker, who,
taking advantage of my preoccupation in a book, watched the cigar go
out and then with the aid of a pin inserted a piece of elastic band
into the end of the cigar. I did not notice the anticipation of a bit
of fun on the faces of the men who had come from an uninteresting game
of bridge in another room. I relit the cigar and resumed the smoking of
it, still deeply engrossed in my book. I remembered later that one by
one the jokers had left the room with silent tread as if in the
presence of the dead. For once I was alone in the room and I had the
fireplace to myself. I finished the cigar and threw the stump into the
fire. It was the Tabac de Diable that had inoculated me and for some
time after I left Martinique I found that I could smoke almost anything
that was at all porous and would burn if an indraft was applied to it.
But I did not enjoy it that first time when Monsieur Richaud handed me
a Martinique cigar.
There now remained the last want -- a bed -- and my friend
guessed this for I nearly fell asleep over his cigar.
He led me out into the deserted streets lighted by a faint
starlight and still shining from the rain which had let up. We turned
into one of the main thoroughfares at the end of which blazed an
electric light, yellow, like the moon rising through a mist. Here
flourished the "Grand Hôtel de l'Eurôpe," a name, I
believe, as legion as Smith. I fully expect, after crossing my last
channel, the Styx, to find a sign on the other shore thus -- "Grand
Hôtel de l'Eurôpe -- Coolest Spot in Hades -- Asbestos
Linen -- Sight Seeing Auto Hell/speed leaves at 10 A.M. -- Choice New
Consignment of Magnates seen at Hard Labor."
My tired senses made scant note of the marble-floored room,
the click of the billiard balls, and the questioning glances of the
wasp-betrousered French officers, and I bade good night to my host, who
had vouched for my harmlessness and left me in charge of the clerk.
The kaleidoscope day came to an end as I crawled under the
mosquito bar of an immense four-poster, in a room on the premièr
étage, and dove between the sheets with a grunt of satisfaction.
At first I thought it was the love song of a mosquito, but
as I began to awaken the sound resolved itself into the thin blare of a
trumpet-call and I wondered where I was. My eyes, directed at the
ceiling when I opened them, caught the rays of the morning sun, sifted
through the jalousies and striking the gauze canopy over me in bands of
moted light. The trumpet sounded again -- this time almost under my
window -- and stretching out of bed like a snail from its shell, I
peeked through the vanes of the jalousie and saw a company of soldiers
returning from their morning drill. There was a delicious novelty about
it all that made me feel absolutely carefree, and, as I thought of the
Yakaboo and her precious outfit, I hoped that they, as well as I, had
rested in the customs station with its antiquated St. Étienne
rifles for company. I hoped that there had been no quarrel between my
Austrian gun and the Frenchmen and that my little British rifle had not
flaunted the Union Jack in their faces. I was in that coma of
carelessness when if an earthquake had come to crush out my life with
the falling of the ponderous walls about me, I would have reproved it
with the dying words, "Oh, pshaw, why didn't you wait till I had
finished my cruise?" This feeling is worth traveling to the ends of the
earth to experience.
A knock on the door brought forth a hasty "Entrez" as I slid
back between the sheets. An aged negress brought in a small pot of
coffee and a pitcher of hot milk which I found to my horror would have
to stay my hunger until the hour of déjeuner at eleven.
Later, another knock ushered in my clothes from Monsieur
Richaud, already washed and dried. My precious shirt looked like a
miserable piece of bunting after a rainy Fourth of July, faded and
color-run. I dressed and sallied forth to investigate the town.
Fort de France was as new and strange to me as St. George's
had been and far more interesting. An impending week of rainy weather
decided for me and I made up my mind to spend that week here. Until I
was ready to put to sea again and sail for Dominica I could not take my
outfit away from the customs office. Camping along shore, then, was out
of the question. There was no alternative for me than to become for the
time a part of the life of the town. Curiously enough, I find that one
passes through various phases during the first few days in a new town
or country. At first there is the novelty of the place which appeals to
one. This is followed by a period of restlessness -- the first blush of
novelty has worn off and one comes almost to the point of hating the
place. It is like the European tourist who rushes upon a town, gorges
himself with what pictures and sights are easily accessible and then in
a fit of surfeit hates the thought of the rich optical food before him.
But then comes the third stage, which lasts indefinitely, when the
spirit of the town makes itself felt and one begins to see through the
thin veneer of first impressions and to make friends. Those first
impressions -- unless they are very striking -- vanish little by little
till one comes to regard the place more or less with the eyes of the
native. After all, this whole process is both natural and human. It is
during the last stage (granting always that the town or country has any
interest for one at all) that the residence in all out of the way
places is brought about of stray Englishmen, Scotchmen, Irishmen and in
more recent years Americans. One commonly hears the admission, "I
didn't care for the place at all at first but somehow I became fond of
it and here I am -- let's see, it's blank years now."
My first care was for my outfit which I was allowed to
overhaul and put in order in the barracks room. My portfolio and camera
I could take with me to the hotel, but the latter was of no use for my
films became fogged from the excessive moisture of a rainy week and
when I did try to make an exposure it was only of some conventional
subject. I could not wander at random from the confines of the town nor
edge near the picturesque carénage in back of Fort St. Louis
where there is an important coaling station and repair shop without
being shadowed by some private apparently detailed for the purpose.
While overhauling my outfit I could see that every bag had been
carefully searched -- nothing, of course, was missing. Through some
sort of feigned misunderstanding I was unable to get back my expensive
bill of health -- perhaps they thought I might alter the date and use
it in Guadeloupe (above Dominica), the next French island. I had hoped
to bluff the harbor-master at Dominica, but with my French bill of
health gone, I could not do otherwise than obtain a new paper for
Dominica -- the officials saw to that -- and it was just as well in the
end for I met with the same officiousness that greeted Captain Slocum
when I arrived at Roseau.
It had been raining and the deep, old-world gutters were
full, miniature canals in which the broken shell of a coconut might be
seen sailing down to the sea like the egg shell of Hans Christian
Andersen. Apparently most of the refuse of the town is carried off in
these gutters. But the canal gutters serve another purpose -- they wash
the feet of the country people. One sees a woman whose muddy or dusty
feet proclaim her to be from the country, walking into town with a
monstrous burden on her head. She will suddenly stop on the edge of the
sidewalk and balance on one foot while she carefully lowers the other
into the running water of the gutter. She may at the same time be
passing the time o' day with some approaching acquaintance half a block
away. Their conversation seems to have a universal focus for any
distance under a quarter of a mile -- the intensity is the same for
three feet or a block.
Having washed her right foot with the nonchalance of a
tightrope walker, she goes on her way till she makes such a turning as
will bring her left foot alongside the gutter, and she proceeds as
It was usually in the afternoon that I saw that most
picturesque sang mêle, the creole of Martinique, unaffected by
the so-called advance of civilization, wearing the dress of watered
silk and the heavy gold ornaments, with just that faint trace of
interesting barbarity that goes with the generous features, the
wide-spread eyes and the blue-black hair. She is a reminder of creole
days of French Louisiana -- the coarser progenitor of our so-called
"creole." I could see that most of these women were married, by the
sign of the madras qualandi which is in reality a silk bandana tied on
the head turban-wise, one corner knotted and stuck upright above the
forehead like a feather. The unmarried women wear the madras in the
usual manner, that is, without the knotted corner upright.
That these women are beautiful there is no denying ;
the skin though it may be dark is very clear and the eyes give a frank
open expression and by reason of their position seem to diminish what
African coarseness may have been left in the nose. The nose may be
flattish and a bit heavy but the broad, even high forehead, wide-spread
eyes and perfect teeth counteract this effect so that it is hardly
noticeable. One finds these people a delightful contrast to the
rawboned creole of the English colonies with her male-like figure and
eccentricities of hair, nose, lips, hands and feet.
There was a refreshing spirit of enterprise -- we get the
word from the French -- and of varied interests that were a relief
after having seen the "live and bear it" spirit of the English islands.
The people of Martinique are industrious and they are happy -- the one
naturally follows the other. In the market I found nearly all the
vegetables of the temperate climate besides those of the tropics. They
are now extensively growing the vanilla bean and the Liberian coffee is
excellent. The wines which they import from France are inexpensive. In
drinking the claret they dilute it with water which is the French
custom and is as it should be. One might live very comfortably in Fort
de France. There were electric lights and book stores where one could
buy the current French magazines -- illustrated, humorous and naughty.
I bought several. There was just one step in their enterprise which I
did not appreciate and that was the cultivating of home-grown tobacco
-- Tabac de Diable.
My walks about town were for the most part sallies from the
hotel during intermissions between showers, for it rained almost
continually for the entire week. These sallies I alternated with
periods of writing in the quiet little cabaret where an occasional
acquaintance would sit down for a chat, my French taking courage from
day to day like an incipient moustache. I usually occupied a
marble-topped table under an open window by which bobbed the heads of
What front the Hôtel de l'Eurôpe boasts, faces
toward the savanna in the middle of which stands the statue of the
Empress Josephine. Here she stands, guarded by a high iron fence and
surrounded by seven tall palms, their tops, towering to a lofty
coronet, above her head, seemed to claim her after all as a child of
the West Indies. She is looking pensively across the bay towards Trois
Îlets where she may or may not have been born and where so many
sentimental steamer-deck authorities on the West Indies may or may not
have made pilgrimages to the parish church and perhaps to the ruins of
the La Pagerie estate. That she spent a considerable part of her West
Indian days in Saint Lucia there can be no doubt and I will say for the
benefit of the steamer-deck authorities that there is a very strong
likelihood that she was born in that island. Was it some ironical whim
that tempted the sculptor to impart a wistfulness in her face which
seemed to carry her thoughts far beyond Trois Îlets and across
the channel to the little plantation on the Morne Paix-Bouche and
perhaps still farther, along that half mythical chemin de la Longue
Chasse, which I discovered some time later on an old map of Saint
Lucia, leading from the Dauphin quarter down to Souffrière? I
have often wondered whether it was mere chance that impelled the
sculptor to express that sign of parturient womanhood for which
Napoleon longed and the lack of which caused one of the most pathetic
partings in history.
One morning I was honored by a call from the clerk of the
hotel. A delegation from the Union Sportive Martiniquaise et Touring
Club Antillais wished to wait upon me at four o'clock in the afternoon
-- would I receive them? At four, then, while I was sitting at my table
in the cabaret, the delegation of four came, headed by a fiery little
man of dark hue -- but a thorough Frenchman. His name was Waddy and I
came to like him very much. The committee was very much embarrassed as
a whole and individually like timid schoolgirls, but if they blushed it
was like the desert violet -- unseen.
Would I do them the honor to be entertained for the rest of
the afternoon? I said that I should be delighted -- and felt like a
cheap edition of Dr. Cook. Waddy explained to me that the club was very
much interested in my cruise and that it was their intention to become
familiar with the other islands of the Antilles. The members of the
club were for the most part eager to visit the neighboring islands but
they were too timid to trust themselves to anything smaller than a
steamer and while there was more or less frequent communication by
steamer with Europe there was no inter-island service except by sloop.
My coming in a canoe had set them a wonderful example, he told me.
We then walked to the jetty and were rowed out into the
harbor to visit a West Indian schooner of the type that sailed from
Martinique to Cayenne and upon which Waddy hoped the Club as a whole
could some day be induced to cruise. She was an old Gloucester
fisherman of about eighty tons and perfectly safe (I assured Waddy) for
the use of the Touring Club Antillais. Having surveyed the schooner we
were rowed ashore where a carriage awaited us. We then drove by a
circuitous route, carefully planned out beforehand to include the
various sights of note in the town, to the rented house in the Rue
Amiral de Gueydon where the Union Sportive Martiniquaise et Touring
Club Antillais thrived.
I was escorted to a room on the upper floor where the Union
Sportive Martiniquaise et Touring Club was already gathered. To my
intense embarrassment, the President of the Union Sportive
Martiniquaise et Touring proceeded to read off a long speech from a
paper in his hand. What he said I managed to understand for the most
part but it concerns us little here. I replied to the members of the
Union Sportive Martiniquaise to the best of my ability -- in French --
and what I said I know but they did not understand -- neither does that
concern us in this writing. After a pleasant stramash of verbal
bouquets we were served with refreshments which consisted of champagne
and lady fingers. Champagne is not a rare beverage in the French
islands, but I did not imagine that I should see it used with the
familiarity with which the German treats his morning coffee ; I
mean the habit of dipping his toast in it. But dipping seemed the
custom and into the champagne went the lady fingers of the Union
Sportive, and mine. To me these people were warmhearted and impulsive
and as I got to know them, thoroughly likable.
According to my almanac, it was Easter Sunday and I almost
felt ashamed of my morning cigarette as I left the hotel for a little
stroll before I should sit down to my notes at the marble-topped table.
But somehow or other I thought I must be mistaken in the day. While
there were few people on the streets, to be sure, all the small shops
were open. I walked over to the covered market and to my surprise I
found that open also but most of the business had already been
transacted. But the large stores, emporiums and magasins as they were
called, were closed. Then I passed a church and saw that it was packed.
Another church was packed. The priests were doing a thriving business
and I realized that perhaps after all it was Easter Sunday. I did not
know that with the ending of Lent the people were having a last
injection of the antitoxin of religion to inoculate themselves from the
influence of Satan which was sure to follow on Monday. And it was on
account of Monday that the small shops and the market were open, for
everybody went to the country for the Easter holidays, that is
everybody who was anybody, and they left the town to the proletariat.
Those who were fortunate enough to be able to spend the week in the
country must need get their last fresh supplies at the market and the
little necessities such as sweets, tobacco and so on which were apt to
be forgotten in the press of Saturday could yet be bought on the way
home from church.
The next morning I found that the market was not open and
that all the shops were closed. So were the houses for that matter --
everybody had made an early departure, the devil was having his due and
the town was left to the rest. Various members of the Union Sportive
played soccer football beneath the unheeding eyes of the Empress, in
costumes that would have brought a smile to those marble lips, I
believe, could she have looked down at them. With utter disregard for
the likes or dislikes of one color for another these members of the
Union Sportive wore jerseys of banded red, green and purple and with an
equal disregard for the fierce tropical heat, they raced over the
savanna, most of them with knickerbockers but some with trousers,
brailed up, if one might use the seagoing term. But all the trousers
did not calmly submit to this seagoing treatment and generally slipped
down as to the left leg. (After some consideration I have come to the
conclusion that this phenomenon was on account of the left leg usually
being smaller than the right ; hence the left trouser leg would be
more prone to come down.) One would see an energetic member of the
Union being carried rapidly after the ball by a pair of legs, one
decorously covered and the other exposed in all its masculine
shamelessness of pink underwear, livid "Y" of garter, violent hose of
Ethiopian choice and shoe of generous dimension with long French toe,
cutting arcs in advance and bootstrap waving bravely behind. Even to
stand perfectly still in the shade of a tree to watch this performance
was heating and I moved on.
The unearthly squeal of a flute brought me across the
savanna to a shady grove where something was holding the attention of a
large crowd. The flute, I found, was only one of four instruments held
captive in a ring of prancing wooden horses that circled on an iron
track like fish in a well. Each horse was mounted on an iron wheel with
pedals and those who could afford the necessary five sous were allowed
to circle for a time on this merry-go-round, in mad delight, the power
coming from their own mahogany limbs which showed a like absence of
stockings in both sexes. The riders wore shoes and the impression when
they were in motion was that they also wore stockings but when the ride
came to an end the illusion vanished. There was no central pivot,
merely this bracelet of horses fastened to each other and kept from
cavorting away over the savanna by the U-shaped track wherein ran the
wheels under their bellies. It was a piece of engineering skill -- the
evident pride of the owner -- and being machinery it must needs be
oiled. For this purpose a boy wandered about in the confines of this
equine circle with a long-spouted oilcan in his hand. The shrieking
axles, while in motion, were guarded by the pumping legs of the riders
and therefore could not be oiled ; there remained only one other
part for lubrication and that was the track. So the boy very adroitly
followed the wheel of some favorite steed with the nose of the oilcan.
But, you ask, why not oil the axles at the end of the ride? Ah, but
everybody is resting then, the horses and the orchestra ; besides
the axles are no longer squeaking.
But let's have that delicious tidbit -- the orchestra. After
the flute-player, I name them in the order of their effective
strength ; there was the man who played on the fiddle, which ages
ago in these parts had slipped from its customary place under the chin
to the hollow of the left shoulder. Then came the man who shook a gourd
filled with small pebbles and the drummer who beat on a huge section of
bamboo with two pieces of wood like chop sticks. These last two
instruments were extremely effective, mainly because they were of
African origin and played upon by African experts. They were artists of
rhythm -- a metronome could have done no better. In the hands of the
drummer the bamboo echoed the jungle from the light patter of rain
drops on palm fronds to the oncoming thunder-roll of an impending
storm. From the complacent beating of time this master lashed himself
into a fury as the orchestra periodically rose to a climax under the
spur of the flute-player. But it was the gourd which held my eye
longest. The hard surface of the gourd, a calabash about eighteen
inches long, was banded with deep grooves across which the performer
rubbed his thumbnail, producing a noise that reminded me of the dry
grass of the prairies where the rattlesnake sounds his note of warning.
For an instant the gourd would be poised above the head of the player
to suddenly swoop, twirling and whistling, through a fathom of orbit to
fetch up for a moment hugged in the curving form of its master where it
gurgled and hissed under the tickle of a thumbnail of hideous power.
In the evening, after dinner, I would walk out across the
savanna to the still waters of the carénage -- I was living in
such a civilized state that canoe cruise, whalers, and Caribs seemed to
have slipped back into the remote haze of memory -- where an aged
steamer, clipper-stemmed and with a ship's counter, lay rusting at her
mooring, her square ports and rail with gingerbread white-painted
life-net, a delight to one who revels in a past that is just near
enough to be intimate. From the carénage my walk would continue
along the quay, past the barracks of the naval station across the
street from which a tribe of cozy little cabarets blinked cheerfully
into the night through open doors and windows.
Before long a quartet of French sailors, wearing Peter
Thompson caps with red or blue fuzzy tassels set atop like
butter-balls, would come singing up the street and swing into one or
another of the cabarets as though drawn by some invisible current, the
song being continued to its end.
If the singing were good -- and it usually was -- the little
room would gradually fill, to the joy of the beaming landlord. The song
finished, there would be refreshments and then one of the audience
would get up and sing some catchy little Parisian tune and if there
were sufficient talent among those present, the entertainment might
last long after the goodwife had withdrawn with her knitting and her
children and until the landlord himself had closed the shutters outside
and was making furtive attempts to put his place in order. With the
stroke of ten, the guests would pour out and the door would close
behind them to cut off its rectangular beam of light and leave the
street in darkness.
But this life in Fort de France was becoming too
demoralizing and I should soon be too lazy to cook another meal. The
rainy week was over and I bade adieu to the statue of Josephine,
extracted my outfit from the jealous care of the douanes, and sailed
for the ruined city of St. Pierre.