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At Last by Charles Kingsley

CHAPTER II: DOWN THE ISLANDS

I had heard and read much, from boyhood, about these 'Lesser Antilles.' I had pictured them to myself a thousand times: but I was altogether unprepared for their beauty and grandeur. For hundreds of miles, day after day, the steamer carried us past a shifting diorama of scenery, which may be likened to Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples, repeated again and again, with every possible variation of the same type of delicate loveliness.

Under a cloudless sky, upon a sea, lively yet not unpleasantly rough, we thrashed and leaped along. Ahead of us, one after another, rose high on the southern horizon banks of gray cloud, from under each of which, as we neared it, descended the shoulder of a mighty mountain, dim and gray. Nearer still the gray changed to purple; lowlands rose out of the sea, sloping upwards with those grand and simple concave curves which betoken, almost always, volcanic land. Nearer still, the purple changed to green. Tall palm-trees and engine-houses stood out against the sky; the surf gleamed white around the base of isolated rocks. A little nearer, and we were under the lee, or western side, of the island. The sea grew smooth as glass; we entered the shade of the island-cloud, and slid along in still unfathomable blue water, close under the shore of what should have been one of the Islands of the Blest.

It was easy, in presence of such scenery, to conceive the exaltation which possessed the souls of the first discoverers of the West Indies. What wonder if they seemed to themselves to have burst into Fairyland -- to be at the gates of The Earthly Paradise? With such a climate, such a soil, such vegetation, such fruits, what luxury must not have seemed possible to the dwellers along those shores? What riches too, of gold and jewels, might not be hidden among those forest-shrouded glens and peaks? And beyond, and beyond again, ever new islands, new continents perhaps, an inexhaustible wealth of yet undiscovered worlds.

No wonder that the men rose above themselves, for good and for evil; that having, as it seemed to them, found infinitely, they hoped infinitely, and dared infinitely. They were a dumb generation and an unlettered, those old Conquistadores. They did not, as we do now, analyse and describe their own impressions: but they felt them nevertheless; and felt them, it may be, all the more intensely, because they could not utter them; and so went, half intoxicated, by day and night, with the beauty and the wonder round them, till the excitement overpowered alike their reason and their conscience; and, frenzied with superstition and greed, with contempt and hatred of the heathen Indians, and often with mere drink and sunshine, they did deeds which, like all wicked deeds, avenge themselves, and are avenging themselves, from Mexico to Chili, unto this very day.

I said that these islands resembled Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples. Like causes have produced like effects; and each island is little but the peak of a volcano, down whose shoulders lava and ash have slidden toward the sea. Some carry several crater cones, complicating at once the structure and scenery of the island; but the majority carry but a single cone, like that little island, or rather rock, of Saba, which is the first of the Antilles under the lee of which the steamer passes. Santa Cruz, which is left to leeward, is a long, low, ragged island, of the same form as St. Thomas's and the Virgins, and belonging, I should suppose, to the same formation. But Saba rises sheer out of the sea some 1500 feet or more, without flat ground, or even harbour. From a little landing-place to leeward a stair runs up 800 feet into the bosom of the old volcano; and in that hollow live some 1200 honest Dutch, and some 800 Negroes, who were, till of late years, their slaves, at least in law. But in Saba, it is said, the whites were really the slaves, and the Negroes the masters. For they went off whither and when they liked; earned money about the islands, and brought it home; expected their masters to keep them when out of work: and not in vain. The island was, happily for it, too poor for sugar-growing and the 'Grande Culture'; the Dutch were never tempted to increase the number of their slaves; looked upon the few they had as friends and children; and when emancipation came, no change whatsoever ensued, it is said, in the semi-feudal relation between the black men and the white. So these good Dutch live peacefully aloft in their volcano, which it is to be hoped will not explode again. They grow garden crops; among which, I understand, are several products of the temperate zone, the air being, at that height pleasantly cool. They sell their produce about the islands. They build boats up in the crater -- the best boats in all the West Indies -- and lower them down the cliff to the sea. They hire themselves out too, not having lost their forefathers' sea-going instincts, as sailors about all those seas, and are, like their boats, the best in those parts. They all speak English; and though they are nominally Lutherans, are glad of the services of the excellent Bishop of Antigua, who pays them periodical visits. He described them as virtuous, shrewd, simple, healthy folk, retaining, in spite of the tropic sun, the same clear white and red complexions which their ancestors brought from Holland two hundred years ago -- a proof, among many, that the white man need not degenerate in these isles.

Saba has, like most of these islands, its 'Somma' like that of Vesuvius; an outer ring of lava, the product of older eruptions, surrounding a central cone, the product of some newer one. But even this latter, as far as I could judge by the glass, is very ancient. Little more than the core of the central cone is left. The rest has been long since destroyed by rains and winds. A white cliff at the south end of the island should be examined by geologists. It belongs probably to that formation of tertiary calcareous marl so often seen in the West Indies, especially at Barbadoes: but if so, it must, to judge from the scar which it makes seaward, have been upheaved long ago, and like the whole island -- and indeed all the islands -- betokens an immense antiquity.

Much more recent -- in appearance at least -- is the little isle of St. Eustatius, or at least the crater-cone, with its lip broken down at one spot, which makes up five-sixths of the island. St. Eustatius may have been in eruption, though there is no record of it, during historic times, and looks more unrepentant and capable of misbehaving itself again than does any other crater-cone in the Antilles; far more so than the Souffriere in St. Vincent which exploded in 1812.

But these two are mere rocks. It is not till the traveller arrives at St. Kitts that he sees what a West Indian island is.

The 'Mother of the Antilles,' as she is called, is worthy of her name. Everywhere from the shore the land sweeps up, slowly at first, then rapidly, toward the central mass, the rugged peak whereof goes by the name of Mount Misery. Only once, and then but for a moment, did we succeed in getting a sight of the actual summit, so pertinaciously did the clouds crawl round it. 3700 feet aloft a pyramid of black lava rises above the broken walls of an older crater, and is, to judge from its knife-edge, flat top, and concave eastern side, the last remnant of an inner cone which has been washed, or more probably blasted, away. Beneath it, according to the report of an islander to Dr. Davy (and what I heard was to the same effect), is a deep hollow, longer than it is wide, without an outlet, walled in by precipices and steep declivities, from fissures in which steam and the fumes of sulphur are emitted. Sulphur in crystals abounds, encrusting the rocks and loose stones; and a stagnant pool of rain-water occupies the bottom of the Souffriere. A dangerous neighbour -- but as long as he keeps his temper, as he has done for three hundred years at least, a most beneficent one -- is this great hill, which took, in Columbus's imagination, the form of the giant St. Christopher bearing on his shoulder the infant Christ, and so gave a name to the whole island.

From the lava and ash ejected from this focus, the whole soils of the island have been formed; soils of still unexhausted fertility, save when -- as must needs be in a volcanic region -- patches of mere rapilli and scoriae occur. The mountain has hurled these out; and everywhere, as a glance of the eye shows, the tropic rains are carrying them yearly down to the lowland, exposing fresh surfaces to the action of the air, and, by continual denudation and degradation, remanuring the soil. Everywhere, too, are gullies sawn in the slopes, which terminate above in deep and narrow glens, giving, especially when alternated with long lava-streams, a ridge-and- furrow look to this and most other of the Antilles. Dr. Davy, with his usual acuteness of eye and soundness of judgment, attributes them rather to 'water acting on loose volcanic ashes' than to 'rents and fissures, the result of sudden and violent force.' Doubtless he is in the right. Thus, and thus only, has been formed the greater part of the most beautiful scenery in the West Indies; and I longed again and again, as I looked at it, for the company of my friend and teacher, Colonel George Greenwood, that I might show him, on island after island, such manifold corroborations of his theories in Rain and Rivers.

But our eyes were drawn off, at almost the second glance, from mountain-peaks and glens to the slopes of cultivated lowland, sheeted with bright green cane, and guinea-grass, and pigeon pea; and that not for their own sakes, but for the sake of objects so utterly unlike anything which we had ever seen, that it was not easy, at first, to discover what they were. Gray pillars, which seemed taller than the tallest poplars, smooth and cylindrical as those of a Doric temple, each carrying a flat head of darkest green, were ranged along roadsides and round fields, or stood, in groups or singly, near engine-works, or towered above rich shrubberies which shrouded comfortable country-houses. It was not easy, as I have said, to believe that these strange and noble things were trees: but such they were. At last we beheld, with wonder and delight, the pride of the West Indies, the Cabbage Palms -- Palmistes of the French settlers -- which botanists have well named Oreodoxa, the 'glory of the mountains.' We saw them afterwards a hundred times in their own native forests; and when they rose through tangled masses of richest vegetation, mixed with other and smaller species of palms, their form, fantastic though it was, harmonised well with hundreds of forms equally fantastic. But here they seemed, at first sight, out of place, incongruous, and artificial, standing amid no kindred forms, and towering over a cultivation and civilisation which might have been mistaken, seen from the sea, for wealthy farms along some English shore. Gladly would we have gone on shore, were it but to have stood awhile under those Palmistes; and an invitation was not wanting to a pretty tree-shrouded house on a low cliff a mile off, where doubtless every courtesy and many a luxury would have awaited us. But it could not be. We watched kind folk rowed to shore without us; and then turned to watch the black flotilla under our quarter.

The first thing that caught our eye on board the negro boats which were alongside was, of course, the baskets of fruits and vegetables, of which one of us at least had been hearing all his life. At St. Thomas's we had been introduced to bananas (figs, as they are miscalled in the West Indies); to the great green oranges, thick- skinned and fragrant; to those junks of sugar-cane, some two feet long, which Cuffy and Cuffy's ladies delight to gnaw, walking, sitting, and standing; increasing thereby the size of their lips, and breaking out, often enough, their upper front teeth. We had seen, and eaten too, the sweet sop {25a} -- a passable fruit, or rather congeries of fruits, looking like a green and purple strawberry, of the bigness of an orange. It is the cousin of the prickly sour-sop; {25b} of the really delicious, but to me unknown, Chirimoya; {25c} and of the custard apple, {25d} containing a pulp which (as those who remember the delectable pages of Tom Cringle know) bears a startling likeness to brains. Bunches of grapes, at St. Kitts, lay among these: and at St. Lucia we saw with them, for the first time, Avocado, or Alligator pears, alias midshipman's butter; {26a} large round brown fruits, to be eaten with pepper and salt by those who list. With these, in open baskets, lay bright scarlet capsicums, green coconuts tinged with orange, great roots of yam {26b} and cush-cush, {26c} with strange pulse of various kinds and hues. The contents of these vegetable baskets were often as gay-coloured as the gaudy gowns, and still gaudier turbans, of the women who offered them for sale.

Screaming and jabbering, the Negroes and Negresses thrust each other's boats about, scramble from one to the other with gestures of wrath and defiance, and seemed at every moment about to fall to fisticuffs and to upset themselves among the sharks. But they did neither. Their excitement evaporated in noise. To their 'ladies,' to do them justice, the men were always civil, while the said 'ladies' bullied them and ordered them about without mercy. The negro women are, without doubt, on a more thorough footing of equality with the men than the women of any white race. The causes, I believe, are two. In the first place there is less difference between the sexes in mere physical strength and courage; and watching the average Negresses, one can well believe the stories of those terrible Amazonian guards of the King of Dahomey, whose boast is, that they are no longer women, but men. There is no doubt that, in case of a rebellion, the black women of the West Indies would be as formidable, cutlass in hand, as the men. The other cause is the exceeding ease with which, not merely food, but gay clothes and ornaments, can be procured by light labour. The negro woman has no need to marry and make herself the slave of a man, in order to get a home and subsistence. Independent she is, for good and evil; and independent she takes care to remain; and no schemes for civilising the Negro will have any deep or permanent good effect which do not take note of, and legislate for, this singular fact.

Meanwhile, it was a comfort to one fresh from the cities of the Old World, and the short and stunted figures, the mesquin and scrofulous visages, which crowd our alleys and back wynds, to see everywhere health, strength, and goodly stature, especially among women. Nowhere in the West Indies are to be seen those haggard down-trodden mothers, grown old before their time, too common in England, and commoner still in France. Health, 'rude' in every sense of the word, is the mark of the negro woman, and of the negro man likewise. Their faces shine with fatness; they seem to enjoy, they do enjoy, the mere act of living, like the lizard on the wall. It may be said -- it must be said -- that, if they be human beings (as they are), they are meant for something more than mere enjoyment of life. Well and good: but are they not meant for enjoyment likewise? Let us take the beam out of our own eye, before we take the mote out of theirs; let us, before we complain of them for being too healthy and comfortable, remember that we have at home here tens of thousands of paupers, rogues, whatnot, who are not a whit more civilised, intellectual, virtuous, or spiritual than the Negro, and are meanwhile neither healthy nor comfortable. The Negro may have the corpus sanum without the mens sana. But what of those whose souls and bodies are alike unsound?

Away south, along the low spit at the south end of the island, where are salt-pans which, I suspect, lie in now extinguished craters; and past little Nevis, the conical ruin, as it were, of a volcanic island. It was probably joined to the low end of St. Kitts not many years ago. It is separated from it now only by a channel called the Narrows, some four to six miles across, and very shallow, there being not more than four fathoms in many places, and infested with reefs, whether of true coral or of volcanic rock I should be glad to know. A single peak, with its Souffriere, rises to some 2000 feet; right and left of it are two lower hills, fragments, apparently, of a Somma, or older and larger crater. The lava and ash slide in concave slopes of fertile soil down to the sea, forming an island some four miles by three, which was in the seventeenth century a little paradise, containing 4000 white citizens, who had dwindled down in 1805, under the baneful influences of slavery, to 1300; in 1832 (the period of emancipation) to 500; and in 1854 to only 170. {27a} A happy place, however, it is said still to be, with a population of more than 10,000, who, as there is happily no Crown land in the island, cannot squat, and so return to their original savagery; but are well-ordered and peaceable, industrious, and well- taught, and need, it is said, not only no soldiers, but no police.

One spot on the little island we should have liked much to have seen: the house where Nelson, after his marriage with Mrs. Nisbet, a lady of Nevis, dwelt awhile in peace and purity. Happier for him, perhaps, though not for England, had he never left that quiet nest.

And now, on the leeward bow, another gray mountain island rose; and on the windward another, lower and longer. The former was Montserrat, which I should have gladly visited, as I had been invited to do. For little Montserrat is just now the scene of a very hopeful and important experiment. {27b} The Messrs. Sturge have established there a large plantation of limes, and a manufactory of lime-juice, which promises to be able to supply, in good time, vast quantities of that most useful of all sea-medicines.

Their connection with the Society of Friends, and indeed the very name of Sturge, is a guarantee that such a work will be carried on for the benefit, not merely of the capitalists, but of the coloured people who are employed. Already, I am assured, a marked improvement has taken place among them; and I, for one, heartily bid God-speed to the enterprise: to any enterprise, indeed, which tends to divert labour and capital from that exclusive sugar-growing which has been most injurious, I verily believe the bane, of the West Indies. On that subject I may have to say more in a future chapter. I ask the reader, meanwhile, to follow, as the ship's head goes round to windward toward Antigua.

Antigua is lower, longer, and flatter than the other islands. It carries no central peak: but its wildness of ragged uplands forms, it is said, a natural fortress, which ought to be impregnable; and its loyal and industrious people boast that, were every other West Indian island lost, the English might make a stand in Antigua long enough to enable them to reconquer the whole. I should have feared, from the look of the island, that no large force could hold out long in a country so destitute of water as those volcanic hills, rusty, ragged, treeless, almost sad and desolate -- if any land could be sad and desolate with such a blue sea leaping around and such a blue sky blazing above. Those who wish to know the agricultural capabilities of Antigua, and to know, too, the good sense and courage, the justice and humanity, which have enabled the Antiguans to struggle on and upward through all their difficulties, in spite of drought, hurricane, and earthquake, till permanent prosperity seems now become certain, should read Dr. Davy's excellent book, which I cannot too often recommend. For us, we could only give a hasty look at its southern volcanic cliffs; while we regretted that we could not inspect the marine strata of the eastern parts of the island, with their calcareous marls and limestones, hardened clays and cherts, and famous silicified trees, which offer important problems to the geologist, as yet not worked out. {28}

We could well believe, as the steamer ran into English Harbour, that Antigua was still subject to earthquakes; and had been shaken, with great loss of property though not of life, in the Guadaloupe earthquake of 1843, when 5000 lives were lost in the town of Point- a-Pitre alone. The only well-marked effect which Dr. Davy could hear of, apart from damage to artificial structures, was the partial sinking of a causeway leading to Rat Island, in the harbour of St. John. No wonder: if St. John's harbour be -- as from its shape on the map it probably is -- simply an extinct crater, or group of craters, like English Harbour. A more picturesque or more uncanny little hole than that latter we had never yet seen: but there are many such harbours about these islands, which nature, for the time being at least, has handed over from the dominion of fire to that of water. Past low cliffs of ash and volcanic boulder, sloping westward to the sea, which is eating them fast away, the steamer runs in through a deep crack, a pistol-shot in width. On the east side a strange section of gray lava and ash is gnawn into caves. On the right, a bluff rock of black lava dips sheer into water several fathoms deep; and you anchor at once inside an irregular group of craters, having passed through a gap in one of their sides, which has probably been torn out by a lava flow. Whether the land, at the time of the flow, was higher or lower than at present, who can tell? This is certain, that the first basin is for half of its circumference circular, and walled with ash beds, which seem to slope outward from it. To the left it leads away into a long creek, up which, somewhat to our surprise, we saw neat government-houses and quays; and between them and us, a noble ironclad and other ships of war at anchor close against lava and ash cliffs. But right ahead, the dusty sides of the crater are covered with strange bushes, its glaring shingle spotted with bright green Manchineels; while on the cliffs around, aloes innumerable, seemingly the imported American Agave, send up their groups of huge fat pointed leaves from crannies so arid that one would fancy a moss would wither in them. A strange place it is, and strangely hot likewise; and one could not but fear a day -- it is to be hoped long distant -- when it will be hotter still.

Out of English Harbour, after taking on board fruit and bargaining for beads, for which Antigua is famous, we passed the lonely rock of Redonda, toward a mighty mountain which lay under a sheet of clouds of corresponding vastness. That was Guadaloupe. The dark undersides of the rolling clouds mingled with the dark peaks and ridges, till we could not see where earth ended and vapour began; and the clouds from far to the eastward up the wind massed themselves on the island, and then ceased suddenly to leeward, leaving the sky clear and the sea brilliant.

I should be glad to know the cause of this phenomenon, which we saw several times among the islands, but never in greater perfection than on nearing Nevis from the south on our return. In that case, however, the cloud continued to leeward. It came up from the east for full ten miles, an advancing column of tall ghostly cumuli, leaden, above a leaden sea; and slid toward the island, whose lines seemed to leap up once to meet them; fail; then, in a second leap, to plunge the crater-peak high into the mist; and then to sink down again into the western sea, so gently that the line of shore and sea was indistinguishable. But above, the cloud-procession passed on, shattered by its contact with the mountain, and transfigured as it neared the setting sun into long upward streaming lines of rack, purple and primrose against a saffron sky, while Venus lingered low between cloud and sea, a spark of fire glittering through dull red haze.

And now the steamer ran due south, across the vast basin which is ringed round by Antigua, Montserrat, and Guadaloupe, with St. Kitts and Nevis showing like tall gray ghosts to the north-west. Higher and higher ahead rose the great mountain mass of Guadaloupe, its head in its own canopy of cloud. The island falls into the sea sharply to leeward. But it stretches out to windward in a long line of flat land edged with low cliff, and studded with large farms and engine-houses. It might be a bit of the Isle of Thanet, or of the Lothians, were it not for those umbrella-like Palmistes, a hundred feet high, which stand out everywhere against the sky. At its northern end, a furious surf was beating on a sandy beach; and beyond that, dim and distant, loomed up the low flat farther island, known by the name of Grande Terre.

Guadaloupe, as some of my readers may know, consists, properly speaking, of two islands, divided by a swamp and a narrow salt-water river. The eastward half, or Grande Terre, which is composed of marine strata, is hardly seen in the island voyage, and then only at a distance, first behind the westward Basse Terre, and then behind other little islands, the Saintes and Mariegalante. But the westward island, rising in one lofty volcanic mass which hides the eastern island from view, is perhaps, for mere grandeur, the grandest in the Archipelago. The mountains -- among which are, it is said, fourteen extinct craters -- range upward higher and higher toward the southern end, with corries and glens, which must be, when seen near, hanging gardens of stupendous size. The forests seem to be as magnificent as they were in the days of Pere Labat. Tiny knots on distant cliff-tops, when looked at through the glass, are found to be single trees of enormous height and breadth. Gullies hundreds of feet in depth, rushing downwards toward the sea, represent the rush of the torrents which have helped, through thousands of rainy seasons, to scoop them out and down.

But all this grandeur and richness culminates, toward the southern end, in one great crater-peak 5000 feet in height, at the foot of which lies the Port of Basse Terre, or Bourg St. Francois.

We never were so fortunate as to see the Souffriere entirely free from cloud. The lower, wider, and more ancient crater was generally clear: but out of the midst of it rose a second cone buried in darkness and mist. Once only we caught sight of part of its lip, and the sight was one not to be forgotten.

The sun was rising behind the hills. The purple mountain was backed by clear blue sky. High above it hung sheets of orange cloud lighted from underneath; lower down, and close upon the hill-tops, curved sheets of bright white mist

'Stooped from heaven, and took the shape,
With fold on fold, of mountain and of cape.'

And under them, again, the crater seethed with gray mist, among which, at one moment, we could discern portions of its lip; not smooth, like that of Vesuvius, but broken into awful peaks and chasms hundreds of feet in height. As the sun rose, level lights of golden green streamed round the peak right and left over the downs: but only for a while. As the sky-clouds vanished in his blazing rays, earth-clouds rolled up below from the valleys behind; wreathed and weltered about the great black teeth of the crater; and then sinking among them, and below them, shrouded the whole cone in purple darkness for the day; while in the foreground blazed in the sunshine broad slopes of cane-field: below them again the town, with handsome houses and old-fashioned churches and convents, dating possibly from the seventeenth century, embowered in mangoes, tamarinds, and palmistes; and along the beach a market beneath a row of trees, with canoes drawn up to be unladen, and gay dresses of every hue. The surf whispered softly on the beach. The cheerful murmur of voices came off the shore, and above it the tinkling of some little bell, calling good folks to early mass. A cheery, brilliant picture as man could wish to see: but marred by two ugly elements. A mile away on the low northern cliff, marked with many a cross, was the lonely cholera cemetery, a remembrance of the fearful pestilence which a few years since swept away thousands of the people: and above frowned that black giant, now asleep; but for how long?

In 1797 an eruption hurled out pumice, ashes, and sulphureous vapours. In the great crisis of 1812, indeed, the volcano was quiet, leaving the Souffriere of St. Vincent to do the work; but since then he has shown an ugly and uncertain humour. Smoke by day, and flame by night -- or probably that light reflected from below which is often mistaken for flame in volcanic eruptions -- have been seen again and again above the crater; and the awful earthquake of 1843 proves that his capacity for mischief is unabated. The whole island, indeed, is somewhat unsafe; for the hapless town of Point-a- Pitre, destroyed by that earthquake, stands not on the volcanic Basse Terre, but on the edge of the marine Grande Terre, near the southern mouth of the salt-water river. Heaven grant these good people of Guadaloupe a long respite; for they are said to deserve it, as far as human industry and enterprise goes. They have, as well, I understand, as the gentlemen of Martinique, discovered the worth of the 'division of labour.' Throughout the West Indies the planter is usually not merely a sugar-grower, but a sugar-maker also. He requires, therefore, two capitals, and two intellects likewise, one for his cane-fields, the other for his 'ingenio,' engine-house, or sugar-works. But he does not gain thereby two profits. Having two things to do, neither, usually, is done well. The cane-farming is bad, the sugar-making bad; and the sugar, when made, disposed of through merchants by a cumbrous, antiquated, and expensive system. These shrewd Frenchmen, and, I am told, even small proprietors among the Negroes, not being crippled, happily for them, by those absurd sugar-duties which, till Mr. Lowe's budget, put a premium on the making of bad sugar, are confining themselves to growing the canes, and sell them raw to 'Usines Centrales,' at which they are manufactured into sugar. They thus devote their own capital and intellect to increasing the yield of their estates; while the central factories, it is said, pay dividends ranging from twenty to forty per cent. I regretted much that I was unable to visit in crop-time one of these factories, and see the working of a system which seems to contain one of the best elements of the co- operative principle.

But (and this is at present a serious inconvenience to a traveller in the Antilles) the steamer passes each island only once a fortnight; so that to land in an island is equivalent to staying there at least that time, unless one chooses to take the chances of a coasting schooner, and bad food, bugs, cockroaches, and a bunk which -- but I will not describe. 'Non ragionam di lor, ma guarda' (down the companion) 'e passa.'

I must therefore content myself with describing, as honestly as I can, what little we saw from the sea, of islands at each of which we would gladly have stayed several days.

As the traveller nears each of them -- Guadaloupe, Dominica, Martinique (of which two last we had only one passing glance), St. Vincent, St. Lucia, and Grenada -- he will be impressed, not only by the peculiarity of their form, but by the richness of their colour.

All of them do not, like St. Kitts, Guadaloupe, and St. Vincent, slope up to one central peak. In Martinique, for instance, there are three separate peaks, or groups of peaks -- the Mont Pelee, the Pitons du Carbet, and the Piton du Vauclain. But all have that peculiar jagged outline which is noticed first at the Virgin Islands.

Flat 'vans' or hog-backed hills, and broad sweeps of moorland, so common in Scotland, are as rare as are steep walls of cliff, so common in the Alps. Pyramid is piled on pyramid, the sides of each at a slope of about 45 degrees, till the whole range is a congeries of multitudinous peaks and peaklets, round the base of which spreads out, with a sudden sweep, the smooth lowland of volcanic ash and lava. This extreme raggedness of outline is easily explained. The mountains have never been, as in Scotland, planed smooth by ice. They have been gouged out, in every direction, by the furious tropic rains and tropic rain-torrents. Had the rocks been stratified and tolerably horizontal, these rains would have cut them out into tablelands divided by deep gullies, such as may be seen in Abyssinia, and in certain parts of the western United States. But these rocks are altogether amorphous and unstratified, and have been poured or spouted out as lumps, dykes, and sheets of lava, of every degree of hardness; so that the rain, in degrading them, has worn them, not into tables and ranges, but into innumerable cones. And the process of degradation is still going on rapidly. Though a cliff, or sheet of bare rock, is hardly visible among the glens, yet here and there a bright brown patch tells of a recent landslip; and the masses of debris and banks of shingle, backed by a pestilential little swamp at the mouth of each torrent, show how furious must be the downpour and down-roll before the force of a sudden flood, along so headlong an incline.

But in strange contrast with the ragged outline, and with the wild devastation of the rainy season, is the richness of the verdure which clothes the islands, up to their highest peaks, in what seems a coat of green fur; but when looked at through the glasses, proves to be, in most cases, gigantic timber. Not a rock is seen. If there be a cliff here and there, it is as green as an English lawn. Steep slopes are gray with groo-groo palms, {33} or yellow with unknown flowering trees. High against the sky-line, tiny knots and lumps are found to be gigantic trees. Each glen has buried its streamlet a hundred feet in vegetation, above which, here and there, the gray stem and dark crown of some palmiste towers up like the mast of some great admiral. The eye and the fancy strain vainly into the green abysses, and wander up and down over the wealth of depths and heights, compared with which European parks and woodlands are but paltry scrub and shaugh. No books are needed to tell that. The eye discovers it for itself, even before it has learnt to judge of the great size of the vegetation, from the endless variety of form and colour. For the islands, though green intensely, are not of one, but of every conceivable green, or rather of hues ranging from pale yellow through all greens into cobalt blue; and as the wind stirs the leaves, and sweeps the lights and shadows over hill and glen, all is ever-changing, iridescent, like a peacock's neck; till the whole island, from peak to shore, seems some glorious jewel -- an emerald with tints of sapphire and topaz, hanging between blue sea and white surf below, and blue sky and white cloud above.

If the reader fancies that I exaggerate, let him go and see. Let him lie for one hour off the Rosseau at Dominica. Let him sail down the leeward side of Guadaloupe, down the leeward side of what island he will, and judge for himself how poor, and yet how tawdry, my words are, compared with the luscious yet magnificent colouring of the Antilles.

The traveller, at least so I think, would remark also, with some surprise, the seeming smallness of these islands. The Basse Terre of Guadaloupe, for instance, is forty miles in length. As you lie off it, it does not look half, or even a quarter, of that length; and that, not merely because the distances north and south are foreshortened, or shut in by nearer headlands. The causes, I believe, are more subtle and more complex. First, the novel clearness of the air, which makes the traveller, fresh from misty England, fancy every object far nearer, and therefore far smaller, than it actually is. Next the simplicity of form. Each outer line trends upward so surely toward a single focus; each whole is so sharply defined between its base-line of sea and its background of sky, that, like a statue, each island is compact and complete in itself, an isolated and self-dependent organism; and therefore, like every beautiful statue, it looks much smaller than it is. So perfect this isolation seems, that one fancies, at moments, that the island does not rise out of the sea, but floats upon it; that it is held in place, not by the roots of the mountains, and deep miles of lava-wall below, but by the cloud which has caught it by the top, and will not let it go. Let that cloud but rise, and vanish, and the whole beautiful thing will be cast adrift; ready to fetch way before the wind, and (as it will seem often enough to do when viewed through a cabin-port) to slide silently past you, while you are sliding past it.

And yet, to him who knows the past, a dark shadow hangs over all this beauty; and the air -- even in clearest blaze of sunshine -- is full of ghosts. I do not speak of the shadow of negro slavery, nor of the shadow which, though abolished, it has left behind, not to be cleared off for generations to come. I speak of the shadow of war, and the ghosts of gallant soldiers and sailors. Truly here

'The spirits of our fathers
Might start from every wave;
For the deck it was their field of fame,
And ocean was their grave,'

and ask us: What have you done with these islands, which we won for you with precious blood? What could we answer? We have misused them, neglected them; till now, ashamed of the slavery of the past, and too ignorant and helpless to govern them now slavery is gone, we are half-minded to throw them away again, or to allow them to annex themselves, in sheer weariness at our imbecility, to the Americans, who, far too wise to throw them away in their turn, will accept them gladly as an instalment of that great development of their empire, when 'The stars and stripes shall float upon Cape Horn.'

But was it for this that these islands were taken and retaken, till every gully held the skeleton of an Englishman? Was it for this that these seas were reddened with blood year after year, till the sharks learnt to gather to a sea-fight, as eagle, kite, and wolf gathered of old to fights on land? Did all those gallant souls go down to Hades in vain, and leave nothing for the Englishman but the sad and proud memory of their useless valour? That at least they have left.

However we may deplore those old wars as unnecessary; however much we may hate war in itself, as perhaps the worst of all the superfluous curses with which man continues to deface himself and this fair earth of God, yet one must be less than Englishman, less, it may be, than man, if one does not feel a thrill of pride at entering waters where one says to oneself, -- Here Rodney, on the glorious 12th of April 1782, broke Count de Grasse's line (teaching thereby Nelson to do the same in like case), took and destroyed seven French ships of the line and scattered the rest, preventing the French fleet from joining the Spaniards at Hispaniola; thus saving Jamaica and the whole West Indies, and brought about by that single tremendous blow the honourable peace of 1783. On what a scene of crippled and sinking, shattered and triumphant ships, in what a sea, must the conquerors have looked round from the Formidable's poop, with De Grasse at luncheon with Rodney in the cabin below, and not, as he had boastfully promised, on board his own Fills de Paris. Truly, though cynically, wrote Sir Gilbert Blane, 'If superior beings make a sport of the quarrels of mortals, they could not have chosen a better theatre for this magnificent exhibition, nor could they ever have better entertainment than this day afforded.'

Yon lovely roadstead of Dominica -- there it was that Rodney first caught up the French on the 9th of April, three days before, and would have beaten them there and then, had not a great part of his fleet lain becalmed under these very highlands, past which we are steaming through water smooth as glass. You glance, again, running down the coast of Martinique, into a deep bay, ringed round with gay houses embowered in mango and coconut, with the Piton du Vauclain rising into the clouds behind it. That is the Cul-de-sac Royal, for years the rendezvous and stronghold of the French fleets. From it Count de Grasse sailed out on the fatal 8th of April; and there, beyond it, opens an isolated rock, of the shape, but double the size, of one of the great Pyramids, which was once the British sloop of war Diamond Rock.

For, in the end of 1803, Sir Samuel Hood saw that French ships passing to Fort Royal harbour in Martinique escaped him by running through the deep channel between Pointe du Diamante and this same rock, which rises sheer out of the water 600 feet, and is about a mile round, and only accessible at a point to the leeward, and even then only when there is no surf. He who lands, it is said, has then to creep through crannies and dangerous steeps, round to the windward side, where the eye is suddenly relieved by a sloping grove of wild fig-trees, clinging by innumerable air-roots to the cracks of the stone.

So Hood, with that inspiration of genius so common then among sailors, laid his seventy-four, the Centaur, close alongside the Diamond; made a hawser, with a traveller on it, fast to the ship and to the top of the rock; and in January 1804 got three long 24's and two 18's hauled up far above his masthead by sailors who, as they 'hung like clusters,' appeared 'like mice hauling a little sausage. Scarcely could we hear the Governor on the top directing them with his trumpet; the Centaur lying close under, like a cocoa-nut shell, to which the hawsers are affixed.' {36} In this strange fortress Lieutenant James Wilkie Maurice (let his name be recollected as one of England's forgotten worthies) was established, with 120 men and boys, and ammunition, provisions, and water, for four months; and the rock was borne on the books of the Admiralty as His Majesty's ship Diamond Rock, and swept the seas with her guns till the 1st of June 1805, when she had to surrender, for want of powder, to a French squadron of two 74's, a frigate, a corvette, a schooner, and eleven gunboats, after killing and wounding some seventy men on the rock alone, and destroying three gunboats, with a loss to herself of two men killed and one wounded. Remembering which story, who will blame the traveller if he takes off his hat to His Majesty's quondam corvette, as he sees for the first time its pink and yellow sides shining in the sun, above the sparkling seas over which it domineered of old? You run onwards toward St. Lucia. Across that channel Rodney's line of frigates watched for the expected reinforcement of the French fleet. The first bay in St. Lucia is Gros islet; and there is the Gros islet itself -- Pigeon Rock, as the English call it -- behind which Rodney's fleet lay waiting at anchor, while he himself sat on the top of the rock, day after day, spy- glass in hand, watching for the signals from his frigates that the French fleet was on the move.

And those glens and forests of St. Lucia -- over them and through them Sir John Moore and Sir Ralph Abercrombie fought, week after week, month after month, not merely against French soldiers, but against worse enemies; 'Brigands,' as the poor fellows were called; Negroes liberated by the Revolution of 1792. With their heads full (and who can blame them?) of the Rights of Man, and the democratic teachings of that valiant and able friend of Robespierre, Victor Hugues, they had destroyed their masters, man, woman, and child, horribly enough, and then helped to drive out of the island the invading English, who were already half destroyed, not with fighting, but with fever. And now 'St. Lucia the faithful,' as the Convention had named her, was swarming with fresh English; and the remaining French and the drilled Negroes made a desperate stand in the earthworks of yonder Morne Fortunee, above the harbour, and had to surrender, with 100 guns and all their stores; and then the poor black fellows, who only knew that they were free, and intended to remain free, took to the bush, and fed on the wild cush-cush roots and the plunder of the plantations, man-hunting, murdering French and English alike, and being put to death in return whenever caught. Gentle Abercrombie could not coax them into peace: stern Moore could not shoot and hang them into it; and the 'Brigand war' dragged hideously on, till Moore -- who was nearly caught by them in a six-oared boat off the Pitons, and had to row for his life to St. Vincent, so saving himself for the glory of Corunna -- was all but dead of fever; and Colonel James Drummond had to carry on the miserable work, till the whole 'Armee Francaise dans les bois' laid down their rusty muskets, on the one condition, that free they had been, and free they should remain. So they were formed into an English regiment, and sent to fight on the coast of Africa; and in more senses than one 'went to their own place.' Then St. Lucia was ours till the peace of 1802; then French again, under the good and wise Nogues; to be retaken by us in 1803 once and for all.

I tell this little story at some length, as an instance of what these islands have cost us in blood and treasure. I have heard it regretted that we restored Martinique to the French, and kept St. Lucia instead. But in so doing, the British Government acted at least on the advice which Rodney had given as early as the year 1778. St. Lucia, he held, would render Martinique and the other islands of little use in war, owing to its windward situation and its good harbours; for from St. Lucia every other British island might receive speedy succour. He advised that the Little Carenage should be made a permanent naval station, with dockyard and fortifications, and a town built there by Government, which would, in his opinion, have become a metropolis for the other islands. And indeed, Nature had done her part to make such a project easy of accomplishment. But Rodney's advice was not taken -- any more than his advice to people the island, by having a considerable quantity of land in each parish allotted to ten-acre men (i.e. white yeomen), under penalty of forfeiting it to the Crown should it be ever converted to any other use than provision ground (i.e. thrown into sugar estates). This advice shows that Rodney's genius, though, with the prejudices of his time, he supported not only slavery, but the slave-trade itself, had perceived one of the most fatal weaknesses of the slave-holding and sugar-growing system. And well it would have been for St. Lucia if his advice had been taken. But neither ten-acre men nor dockyards were ever established in St. Lucia. The mail-steamers, if they need to go into dock, have, I am ashamed to say, to go to Martinique, where the French manage matters better. The admirable Carenage harbour is empty; Castries remains a little town, small, dirty, dilapidated, and unwholesome; and St. Lucia itself is hardly to be called a colony, but rather the nucleus of a colony, which may become hereafter, by energy and good government, a rich and thickly-peopled garden up to the very mountain-tops.

We went up 800 feet of steep hill, to pay a visit on that Morne Fortunee which Moore and Abercrombie took, with terrible loss of life, in May 1796; and wondered at the courage and the tenacity of purpose which could have contrived to invest, and much more to assault, such a stronghold, 'dragging the guns across ravines and up the acclivities of the mountains and rocks,' and then attacking the works only along one narrow neck of down, which must be fat, to this day, with English blood.

All was peaceful enough now. The forts were crumbling, the barracks empty, and the 'neat cottages, smiling flower gardens, smooth grass- plats and gravel-walks,' which were once the pride of the citadel, replaced for the most part with Guava-scrub and sensitive plants. But nothing can destroy the beauty of the panorama. To the north and east a wilderness of mountain peaks; to the west the Grand Cul- de-sac and the Carenage, mapped out in sheets of blue between high promontories; and, beyond all, the open sea. What a land: and in what a climate: and all lying well-nigh as it has been since the making of the world, waiting for man to come and take possession. But there, as elsewhere, matters are mending steadily; and in another hundred years St. Lucia may be an honour to the English race.

We were, of course, anxious to obtain at St. Lucia specimens of that abominable reptile, the Fer-de-lance, or rat-tailed snake, {38} which is the pest of this island, as well as of the neighbouring island of Martinique, and, in Pere Labat's time, of lesser Martinique in the Grenadines, from which, according to Davy, it seems to have disappeared. It occurs also in Guadaloupe. In great Martinique -- so the French say -- it is dangerous to travel through certain woodlands on account of the Fer-de-lance, who lies along a bough, and strikes, without provocation, at horse or man. I suspect this statement, however, to be an exaggeration. I was assured that this was not the case in St. Lucia; that the snake attacks no oftener than other venomous snakes, -- that is, when trodden on, or when his retreat is cut off. At all events, it seems easy enough to kill him: so easy, that I hope yet it may be possible to catch him alive, and that the Zoological Gardens may at last possess -- what they have long coveted in vain -- hideous attraction of a live Fer-de- lance. The specimens which we brought home are curious enough, even from this aesthetic point of view. Why are these poisonous snakes so repulsive in appearance, some of them at least, and that not in proportion to their dangerous properties? For no one who puts the mere dread out of his mind will call the Cobras ugly, even anything but beautiful; nor, again, the deadly Coral snake of Trinidad, whose beauty tempts children, and even grown people, to play with it, or make a necklace of it, sometimes to their own destruction. But who will call the Puff Adder of the Cape, or this very Fer-de-lance, anything but ugly and horrible: not only from the brutality signified, to us at least, by the flat triangular head and the heavy jaw, but by the look of malevolence and craft signified, to us at least, by the eye and the lip? 'To us at least,' I say. For it is an open question, and will be one, as long as the nominalist and the realist schools of thought keep up their controversy -- which they will do to the world's end -- whether this seeming hideousness be a real fact: whether we do not attribute to the snake the same passions which we should expect to find -- and to abhor -- in a human countenance of somewhat the same shape, and then justify our assumption to ourselves by the creature's bites, which are actually no more the result of craft and malevolence than the bite of a frightened mouse or squirrel. I should be glad to believe that the latter theory were the true one; that nothing is created really ugly, that the Fer-de-lance looks an hideous fiend, the Ocelot a beautiful fiend, merely because the outlines of the Ocelot approach more nearly to those which we consider beautiful in a human being: but I confess myself not yet convinced. 'There is a great deal of human nature in man,' said the wise Yankee; and one's human nature, perhaps one's common-sense also, will persist in considering beauty and ugliness as absolute realities, in spite of one's efforts to be fair to the weighty arguments on the other side.

These Fer-de-lances, be that as it may, are a great pest in St. Lucia. Dr. Davy says that he 'was told by the Lieutenant-Governor that as many as thirty rat-tailed snakes were killed in clearing a piece of land, of no great extent, near Government House.' I can well believe this, for about the same number were killed only two years ago in clearing, probably, the same piece of ground, which is infested with that creeping pest of the West Indies, the wild Guava- bush, from which guava-jelly is made. The present Lieutenant- Governor has offered a small reward for the head of every Fer-de- lance killed: and the number brought in, in the first month, was so large that I do not like to quote it merely from memory. Certainly, it was high time to make a crusade against these unwelcome denizens. Dr. Davy, judging from a Government report, says that nineteen persons were killed by them in one small parish in the year 1849; and the death, though by no means certain, is, when it befalls, a hideous death enough. If any one wishes to know what it is like, let him read the tragedy which Sir Richard Schomburgk tells -- with his usual brilliance and pathos, for he is a poet as well as a man of science -- in his Travels in British Guiana, vol. ii. p.255 -- how the Craspedocephalus, coiled on a stone in the ford, let fourteen people walk over him without stirring, or allowing himself to be seen: and at last rose, and, missing Schomburgk himself, struck the beautiful Indian bride, the 'Liebling der ganzen Gesellschaft;' and how she died in her bridegroom's arms, with horrors which I do not record.

Strangely enough, this snake, so fatal to man, has no power against another West Indian snake, almost equally common, namely, the Cribo. {40} This brave animal, closely connected with our common water- snake, is perfectly harmless, and a welcome guest in West Indian houses, because he clears them of rats. He is some six or eight feet long, black, with more or less bright yellow about the tail and under the stomach. He not only faces the Fer-de-lance, who is often as big as he, but kills and eats him. It was but last year, I think, that the population of Carenage turned out to see a fight in a tree between a Cribo and a Fer-de-lance, of about equal size, which, after a two hours' struggle, ended in the Cribo swallowing the Fer-de-lance, head foremost. But when he had got his adversary about one-third down, the Creoles -- just as so many Englishmen would have done -- seeing that all the sport was over, rewarded the brave Cribo by killing both, and preserving them as a curiosity in spirits. How the Fer-de-lance came into the Antilles is a puzzle. The black American scorpion -- whose bite is more dreaded by the Negroes than even the snake's -- may have been easily brought by ship in luggage or in cargo. But the Fer-de-lance, whose nearest home is in Guiana, is not likely to have come on board ship. It is difficult to believe that he travelled northward by land at the epoch -- if such a one there ever was -- when these islands were joined to South America: for if so, he would surely be found in St. Vincent, in Grenada, and most surely of all in Trinidad. So far from that being the case, he will not live, it is said, in St. Vincent. For (so goes the story) during the Carib war of 1795-96, the savages imported Fer-de-lances from St. Lucia or Martinique, and turned them loose, in hopes of their destroying the white men: but they did not breed, dwindled away, and were soon extinct. It is possible that they, or their eggs, came in floating timber from the Orinoco: but if so, how is it that they have never been stranded on the east coast of Trinidad, whither timber without end drifts from that river? In a word, I have no explanation whatsoever to give; as I am not minded to fall back on the medieval one, that the devil must have brought them thither, to plague the inhabitants for their sins.

Among all these beautiful islands, St. Lucia is, I think, the most beautiful; not indeed on account of the size or form of its central mass, which is surpassed by that of several others, but on account of those two extraordinary mountains at its south-western end, which, while all conical hills in the French islands are called Pitons, bear the name of The Pitons par excellence. From most elevated points in the island their twin peaks may be seen jutting up over the other hills, like, according to irreverent English sailors, the tips of a donkey's ears. But, as the steamer runs southward along the shore, these two peaks open out, and you find yourself in deep water close to the base of two obelisks, rather than mountains, which rise sheer out of the sea, one to the height of 2710, the other to that of 2680 feet, about a mile from each other. Between them is the loveliest little bay; and behind them green wooded slopes rise toward the rearward mountain of the Souffriere. The whole glitters clear and keen in blazing sunshine: but behind, black depths of cloud and gray sheets of rain shroud all the central highlands in mystery and sadness. Beyond them, without a shore, spreads open sea. But the fantastic grandeur of the place cannot be described in words. The pencil of the artist must be trusted. I can vouch that he has not in the least exaggerated the slenderness and steepness of the rock-masses. One of them, it is said, has never been climbed; unless a myth which hangs about it is true. Certain English sailors, probably of Rodney's men -- and numbering, according to the pleasure of the narrator, three hundred, thirty, or three -- are said to have warped themselves up it by lianes and scrub; but they found the rock-ledges garrisoned by an enemy more terrible than any French. Beneath the bites of the Fer-de- lances, and it may be beneath the blaze of the sun, man after man dropped; and lay, or rolled down the cliffs. A single survivor was seen to reach the summit, to wave the Union Jack in triumph over his head, and then to fall a corpse. So runs the tale, which, if not true, has yet its value, as a token of what, in those old days, English sailors were believed capable of daring and of doing.

At the back of these two Pitons is the Souffriere, probably the remains of the old crater, now fallen in, and only 1000 feet above the sea: a golden egg to the islanders, were it but used, in case of war, and any difficulty occurring in obtaining sulphur from Sicily, a supply of the article to almost any amount might be obtained from this and the other like Solfaterras of the British Antilles; they being, so long as the natural distillation of the substance continues active as at present, inexhaustible. But to work them profitably will require a little more common-sense than the good folks of St. Lucia have as yet shown. In 1836 two gentlemen of Antigua, {43a} Mr. Bennett and Mr. Wood, set up sulphur works at the Souffriere of St. Lucia, and began prosperously enough, exporting 540 tons the first year. 'But in 1840,' says Mr. Breen, 'the sugar-growers took the alarm,' fearing, it is to be presumed, that labour would be diverted from the cane-estates, 'and at their instigation the Legislative Council imposed a tax of 16s. sterling on every ton of purified sulphur exported from the colony.' The consequence was that 'Messrs. Bennett and Wood, after incurring a heavy loss of time and treasure, had to break up their establishment and retire from the colony.' One has heard of the man who killed the goose to get the golden egg. In this case the goose, to avoid the trouble of laying, seems to have killed the man.

The next link in the chain, as the steamer runs southward, is St. Vincent; a single volcano peak, like St. Kitts, or the Basse Terre of Guadaloupe. Very grand are the vast sheets, probably of lava covered with ash, which pour down from between two rounded mountains just above the town. Rich with green canes, they contrast strongly with the brown ragged cliffs right and left of them, and still more with the awful depths beyond and above, where, underneath a canopy of bright white clouds, scowls a purple darkness of cliffs and glens, among which lies, unseen, the Souffriere.

In vain, both going and coming, by sunlight, and again by moonlight, when the cane-fields gleamed white below and the hills were pitch- black above, did we try to catch a sight of this crater-peak. One fact alone we ascertained, that like all, as far as I have seen, of the West Indian volcanoes, it does not terminate in an ash-cone, but in ragged cliffs of blasted rock. The explosion of April 27, 1812, must have been too violent, and too short, to allow of any accumulation round the crater. And no wonder; for that single explosion relieved an interior pressure upon the crust of the earth, which had agitated sea and land from the Azores to the West Indian islands, the coasts of Venezuela, the Cordillera of New Grenada, and the valleys of the Mississippi and Ohio. For nearly two years the earthquakes had continued, when they culminated in one great tragedy, which should be read at length in the pages of Humboldt. {43b} On March 26, 1812, when the people of Caraccas were assembled in the churches, beneath a still and blazing sky, one minute of earthquake sufficed to bury, amid the ruins of churches and houses, nearly 10,000 souls. The same earthquake wrought terrible destruction along the whole line of the northern Cordilleras, and was felt even at Santa Fe de Bogota, and Honda, 180 leagues from Caraccas. But the end was not yet. While the wretched survivors of Caraccas were dying of fever and starvation, and wandering inland to escape from ever-renewed earthquake shocks, among villages and farms, which, ruined like their own city, could give them no shelter, the almost forgotten volcano of St. Vincent was muttering in suppressed wrath. It had thrown out no lava since 1718; if, at least, the eruption spoken of by Moreau de Jonnes took place in the Souffriere. According to him, with a terrific earthquake, clouds of ashes were driven into the air with violent detonations from a mountain situated at the eastern end of the island. When the eruption had ceased, it was found that the whole mountain had disappeared. Now there is no eastern end to St. Vincent, nor any mountain on the east coast: and the Souffriere is at the northern end. It is impossible, meanwhile, that the wreck of such a mountain should not have left traces visible and notorious to this day. May not the truth be, that the Souffriere had once a lofty cone, which was blasted away in 1718, leaving the present crater-ring of cliffs and peaks; and that thus may be explained the discrepancies in the accounts of its height, which Mr. Scrope gives as 4940 feet, and Humboldt and Dr. Davy at 3000, a measurement which seems to me to be more probably correct? The mountain is said to have been slightly active in 1785. In 1812 its old crater had been for some years (and is now) a deep blue lake, with walls of rock around 800 feet in height, reminding one traveller of the Lake of Albano. {44} But for twelve months it had given warning, by frequent earthquake shocks, that it had its part to play in the great subterranean battle between rock and steam; and on the 27th of April 1812 the battle began.

A negro boy -- he is said to be still alive in St. Vincent -- was herding cattle on the mountain-side. A stone fell near him; and then another. He fancied that other boys were pelting him from the cliffs above, and began throwing stones in return. But the stones fell thicker: and among them one, and then another, too large to have been thrown by human hand. And the poor little fellow woke up to the fact that not a boy, but the mountain, was throwing stones at him; and that the column of black cloud which was rising from the crater above was not harmless vapour, but dust, and ash, and stone. He turned, and ran for his life, leaving the cattle to their fate, while the steam mitrailleuse of the Titans -- to which all man's engines of destruction are but pop-guns -- roared on for three days and nights, covering the greater part of the island in ashes, burying crops, breaking branches off the trees, and spreading ruin from which several estates never recovered; and so the 30th of April dawned in darkness which might be felt.

Meanwhile, on that same day, to change the scene of the campaign two hundred and ten leagues, 'a distance,' as Humboldt says, 'equal to that between Vesuvius and Paris,' 'the inhabitants, not only of Caraccas, but of Calabozo, situate in the midst of the Llanos, over a space of four thousand square leagues, were terrified by a subterranean noise, which resembled frequent discharges of the loudest cannon. It was accompanied by no shock: and, what is very remarkable, was as loud on the coast as at eighty leagues' distance inland; and at Caraccas, as well as at Calabozo, preparations were made to put the place in defence against an enemy who seemed to be advancing with heavy artillery.' They might as well have copied the St. Vincent herd-boy, and thrown their stones, too, at the Titans; for the noise was, there can be no doubt, nothing else than the final explosion in St. Vincent far away. The same explosion was heard in Venezuela, the same at Martinique and Guadaloupe: but there, too, there were no earthquake shocks. The volcanoes of the two French islands lay quiet, and left their English brother to do the work. On the same day a stream of lava rushed down from the mountain, reached the sea in four hours, and then all was over. The earthquakes which had shaken for two years a sheet of the earth's surface larger than half Europe were stilled by the eruption of this single vent.

No wonder if, with such facts on my memory since my childhood, I looked up at that Souffriere with awe, as at a giant, obedient though clumsy, beneficent though terrible, reposing aloft among the clouds when his appointed work was done.

The strangest fact about this eruption was, that the mountain did not make use of its old crater. The original vent must have become so jammed and consolidated, in the few years between 1785 and 1812, that it could not be reopened, even by a steam-force the vastness of which may be guessed at from the vastness of the area which it had shaken for two years. So when the eruption was over, it was found that the old crater-lake, incredible as it may seem, remained undisturbed, as far as has been ascertained. But close to it, and separated only by a knife-edge of rock some 700 feet in height, and so narrow that, as I was assured by one who had seen it, it is dangerous to crawl along it, a second crater, nearly as large as the first, had been blasted out, the bottom of which, in like manner, is now filled with water. I regretted much that I could not visit it. Three points I longed to ascertain carefully -- the relative heights of the water in the two craters; the height and nature of the spot where the lava stream issued; and lastly, if possible, the actual causes of the locally famous Rabacca, or 'Dry River,' one of the largest streams in the island, which was swallowed up during the eruption, at a short distance from its source, leaving its bed an arid gully to this day. But it could not be, and I owe what little I know of the summit of the Souffriere principally to a most intelligent and gentleman-like young Wesleyan minister, whose name has escaped me. He described vividly as we stood together on the deck, looking up at the volcano, the awful beauty of the twin lakes, and of the clouds which, for months together, whirl in and out of the cups in fantastic shapes before the eddies of the trade-wind.

The day after the explosion, 'Black Sunday,' gave a proof of, though no measure of, the enormous force which had been exerted. Eighty miles to windward lies Barbadoes. All Saturday a heavy cannonading had been heard to the eastward. The English and French fleets were surely engaged. The soldiers were called out; the batteries manned: but the cannonade died away, and all went to bed in wonder. On the 1st of May the clocks struck six: but the sun did not, as usual in the tropics, answer to the call. The darkness was still intense, and grew more intense as the morning wore on. A slow and silent rain of impalpable dust was falling over the whole island. The Negroes rushed shrieking into the streets. Surely the last day was come. The white folk caught (and little blame to them) the panic; and some began to pray who had not prayed for years. The pious and the educated (and there were plenty of both in Barbadoes) were not proof against the infection. Old letters describe the scene in the churches that morning as hideous -- prayers, sobs, and cries, in Stygian darkness, from trembling crowds. And still the darkness continued, and the dust fell.

I have a letter, written by one long since dead, who had at least powers of description of no common order, telling how, when he tried to go out of his house upon the east coast, he could not find the trees on his own lawn, save by feeling for their stems. He stood amazed not only in utter darkness, but in utter silence. For the trade-wind had fallen dead; the everlasting roar of the surf was gone; and the only noise was the crashing of branches, snapped by the weight of the clammy dust. He went in again, and waited. About one o'clock the veil began to lift; a lurid sunlight stared in from the horizon: but all was black overhead. Gradually the dust-cloud drifted away; the island saw the sun once more; and saw itself inches deep in black, and in this case fertilising, dust. The trade-wind blew suddenly once more out of the clear east, and the surf roared again along the shore.

Meanwhile, a heavy earthquake-wave had struck part at least of the shores of Barbadoes. The gentleman on the east coast, going out, found traces of the sea, and boats and logs washed up, some 10 to 20 feet above high-tide mark: a convulsion which seems to have gone unmarked during the general dismay.

One man at least, an old friend of John Hunter, Sir Joseph Banks and others their compeers, was above the dismay, and the superstitious panic which accompanied it. Finding it still dark when he rose to dress, he opened (so the story used to run) his window; found it stick, and felt upon the sill a coat of soft powder. 'The volcano in St. Vincent has broken out at last,' said the wise man, 'and this is the dust of it.' So he quieted his household and his Negroes, lighted his candles, and went to his scientific books, in that delight, mingled with an awe not the less deep because it is rational and self-possessed, with which he, like other men of science, looked at the wonders of this wondrous world.

Those who will recollect that Barbadoes is eighty miles to windward of St. Vincent, and that a strong breeze from E.N.E. is usually blowing from the former island to the latter, will be able to imagine, not to measure, the force of an explosion which must have blown this dust several miles into the air, above the region of the trade-wind, whether into a totally calm stratum, or into that still higher one in which the heated south-west wind is hurrying continually from the tropics toward the pole. As for the cessation of the trade-wind itself during the fall of the dust, I leave the fact to be explained by more learned men: the authority whom I have quoted leaves no doubt in my mind as to the fact.

On leaving St. Vincent, the track lies past the Grenadines. For sixty miles, long low islands of quaint forms and euphonious names -- Becquia, Mustique, Canonau, Carriacou, Isle de Rhone -- rise a few hundred feet out of the unfathomable sea, bare of wood, edged with cliffs and streaks of red and gray rock, resembling, says Dr. Davy, the Cyclades of the Grecian Archipelago: their number is counted at three hundred. The largest of them all is not 8000 acres in extent; the smallest about 600. A quiet prosperous race of little yeomen, beside a few planters, dwell there; the latter feeding and exporting much stock, the former much provisions, and both troubling themselves less than of yore with sugar and cotton. They build coasting vessels, and trade with them to the larger islands; and they might be, it is said, if they chose, much richer than they are, -- if that be any good to them.

The steamer does not stop at any of these little sea-hermitages; so that we could only watch their shores: and they were worth watching. They had been, plainly, sea-gnawn for countless ages; and may, at some remote time, have been all joined in one long ragged chine of hills, the highest about 1000 feet. They seem to be for the most part made up of marls and limestones, with trap-dykes and other igneous matters here and there. And one could not help entertaining the fancy that they were a specimen of what the other islands were once, or at least would have been now, had not each of them had its volcanic vents, to pile up hard lavas thousands of feet aloft, above the marine strata, and so consolidate each ragged chine of submerged mountain into one solid conical island, like St. Vincent at their northern end, and at their southern end that beautiful Grenada to which we were fast approaching, and which we reached, on our outward voyage, at nightfall; running in toward a narrow gap of moonlit cliffs, beyond which we could discern the lights of a town. We did not enter the harbour: but lay close off its gateway in safe deep water; fired our gun, and waited for the swarm of negro boats, which began to splash out to us through the darkness, the jabbering of their crews heard long before the flash of their oars was seen.

Most weird and fantastic are these nightly visits to West Indian harbours. Above, the black mountain-depths, with their canopy of cloud, bright white against the purple night, hung with keen stars. The moon, it may be on her back in the west, sinking like a golden goblet behind some rock-fort, half shrouded in black trees. Below, a line of bright mist over a swamp, with the coco-palms standing up through it, dark, and yet glistering in the moon. A light here and there in a house: another here and there in a vessel, unseen in the dark. The echo of the gun from hill to hill. Wild voices from shore and sea. The snorting of the steamer, the rattling of the chain through the hawse-hole; and on deck, and under the quarter, strange gleams of red light amid pitchy darkness, from engines, galley fires, lanthorns; and black folk and white folk flitting restlessly across them.

The strangest show: 'like a thing in a play,' says every one when they see it for the first time. And when at the gun-fire one tumbles out of one's berth, and up on deck, to see the new island, one has need to rub one's eyes, and pinch oneself -- as I was minded to do again and again during the next few weeks -- to make sure that it is not all a dream. It is always worth the trouble, meanwhile, to tumble up on deck, not merely for the show, but for the episodes of West Indian life and manners, which, quaint enough by day, are sure to be even more quaint at night, in the confusion and bustle of the darkness. One such I witnessed in that same harbour of Grenada, not easily to be forgotten.

A tall and very handsome middle-aged brown woman, in a limp print gown and a gorgeous turban, stood at the gangway in a glare of light, which made her look like some splendid witch by a Walpurgis night-fire. 'Tell your boatman to go round to the other side,' quoth the officer in charge.

'Fanqua! (Francois) You go round oder side of de ship!'

Fanqua, who seemed to be her son, being sleepy, tipsy, stupid, or lazy, did not stir.

'Fanqua! You hear what de officer say? You go round.'

No move.

'Fanqua! You not ashamed of youself? You not hear de officer say he turn a steam-pipe over you?'

No move.

'Fanqua!' (authoritative).

'Fanqua!' (indignant).

'Fanqua!' (argumentative).

'Fanqua!' (astonished).

'Fanqua!' (majestic).

'Fanqua!' (confidentially alluring).

'Fanqua!' (regretful). And so on, through every conceivable tone of expression.

But Fanqua did not move; and the officer and bystanders laughed.

She summoned all her talents, and uttered one last 'Fanqua!' which was a triumph of art.

Shame and surprise were blended in her voice with tenderness and pity, and they again with meek despair. To have been betrayed, disgraced, and so unexpectedly, by one whom she loved, and must love still, in spite of this, his fearful fall!

It was more than heart could bear. Breathing his name but that once more, she stood a moment, like a queen of tragedy, one long arm drawing her garments round her, the other outstretched, as if to cast off -- had she the heart to do it -- the rebel; and then stalked away into the darkness of the paddle-boxes -- for ever and a day to brood speechless over her great sorrow? Not in the least. To begin chattering away to her acquaintances, as if no Fanqua existed in the world.

It was a piece of admirable play-acting; and was meant to be. She had been conscious all the while that she was an object of attention -- possibly of admiration -- to a group of men; and she knew what was right to be done and said under the circumstances, and did it perfectly, even to the smallest change of voice. She was doubtless quite sincere the whole time, and felt everything which her voice expressed: but she felt it, because it was proper to feel it; and deceived herself probably more than she deceived any one about her.

A curious phase of human nature is that same play-acting, effect- studying, temperament, which ends, if indulged in too much, in hopeless self-deception, and 'the hypocrisy which,' as Mr. Carlyle says, 'is honestly indignant that you should think it hypocritical.' It is common enough among Negresses, and among coloured people too: but is it so very uncommon among whites? Is it not the bane of too many Irish? of too many modern French? of certain English, for that matter, whom I have known, who probably had no drop of French or Irish blood in their veins? But it is all the more baneful the higher the organisation is; because, the more brilliant the intellect, the more noble the instincts, the more able its victim is to say -- 'See: I feel what I ought, I say what I ought, I do what I ought: and what more would you have? Why do you Philistines persist in regarding me with distrust and ridicule? What is this common honesty, and what is this |single eye,| which you suspect me of not possessing?'

Very beautiful was that harbour of George Town, seen by day. In the centre an entrance some two hundred yards across: on the right, a cliff of volcanic sand, interspersed with large boulders hurled from some volcano now silent, where black women, with baskets on their heads, were filling a barge with gravel. On the left, rocks of hard lava, surmounted by a well-lined old fort, strong enough in the days of 32-pounders. Beyond it, still on the left, the little city, scrambling up the hillside, with its red roofs and church spires, among coconut and bread-fruit trees, looking just like a German toy town. In front, at the bottom of the harbour, villa over villa, garden over garden, up to the large and handsome Government House, one of the most delectable spots of all this delectable land; and piled above it, green hill upon green hill, which, the eye soon discovers, are the Sommas of old craters, one inside the other towards the central peak of Mount Maitland, 1700 feet high. On the right bow, low sharp cliff-points of volcanic ash; and on the right again, a circular lake a quarter of a mile across and 40 feet in depth, with a coral reef, almost awash, stretching from it to the ash-cliff on the south side of the harbour mouth. A glance shows that this is none other than an old crater, like that inside English Harbour in Antigua, probably that which has hurled out the boulders and the ash; and one whose temper is still uncertain, and to be watched anxiously in earthquake times. The Etang du Vieux Bourg is its name; for, so tradition tells, in the beginning of the seventeenth century the old French town stood where the white coral- reef gleams under water; in fact, upon the northern lip of the crater. One day, however, the Enceladus below turned over in his sleep, and the whole town was swallowed up, or washed away. The sole survivor was a certain blacksmith, who thereupon was made -- or as sole survivor made himself -- Governor of the island of Grenada. So runs the tale; and so it seemed likely to run again, during the late earthquake at St. Thomas's. For on the very same day, and before any earthquake-wave from St. Thomas's had reached Grenada -- if any ever reached it, which I could not clearly ascertain -- this Etang du Vieux Bourg boiled up suddenly, hurling masses of water into the lower part of the town, washing away a stage, and doing much damage. The people were, and with good reason, in much anxiety for some hours after: but the little fit of ill-temper went off, having vented itself, as is well known, in the sea between St. Thomas's and Santa Cruz, many miles away.

The bottom of the crater, I was assured, was not permanently altered: but the same informant -- an eye-witness on whom I can fully depend -- shared the popular opinion that it had opened, sucked in sea-water, and spouted it out again. If so, the good folks of George Town are quite right in holding that they had a very narrow escape of utter destruction.

An animated and picturesque spot, as the steamer runs alongside, is the wooden wharf where passengers are to land and the ship to coal. The coaling Negroes and Negresses, dressed or undressed, in their dingiest rags, contrast with the country Negresses, in gaudy prints and gaudier turbans, who carry on their heads baskets of fruit even more gaudy than their dresses. Both country and town Negroes, meanwhile, look -- as they are said to be -- comfortable and prosperous; and I can well believe the story that beggars are unknown in the island. The coalers, indeed, are only too well off, for they earn enough, by one day of violent and degrading toil, to live in reckless shiftless comfort, and, I am assured, something very like debauchery, till the next steamer comes in.

No sooner is the plank down, than a struggling line getting on board meets a struggling line getting on shore; and it is well if the passenger, on landing, is not besmirched with coal-dust, after a narrow escape of being shoved into the sea off the stage. But, after all, civility pays in Grenada, as in the rest of the world; and the Negro, like the Frenchman, though surly and rude enough if treated with the least haughtiness, will generally, like the Frenchman, melt at once at a touch of the hat, and an appeal to 'Laissez passer Mademoiselle.' On shore we got, through be-coaled Negroes, men and women, safe and not very much be-coaled ourselves; and were driven up steep streets of black porous lava, between lava houses and walls, and past lava gardens, in which jutted up everywhere, amid the loveliest vegetation, black knots and lumps scorched by the nether fires. The situation of the house -- the principal one of the island -- to which we drove, is beautiful beyond description. It stands on a knoll some 300 feet in height, commanded only by a slight rise to the north; and the wind of the eastern mountains sweeps fresh and cool through a wide hall and lofty rooms. Outside, a pleasure-ground and garden, with the same flowers as we plant out in summer at home; and behind, tier on tier of green wooded hill, with cottages and farms in the hollows, might have made us fancy ourselves for a moment in some charming country- house in Wales. But opposite the drawing-room window rose a Candelabra Cereus, thirty feet high. On the lawn in front great shrubs of red Frangipani carried rose-coloured flowers which filled the air with fragrance, at the end of thick and all but leafless branches. Trees hung over them with smooth greasy stems of bright copper -- which has gained them the name of 'Indian skin,' at least in Trinidad, where we often saw them wild; another glance showed us that every tree and shrub around was different from those at home: and we recollected where we were; and recollected, too, as we looked at the wealth of flower and fruit and verdure, that it was sharp winter at home. We admired this and that: especially a most lovely Convolvulus -- I know not whether we have it in our hothouses {52a} -- with purple maroon flowers; and an old hog-plum {52b} -- Mombin of the French -- a huge tree, which was striking, not so much from its size as from its shape. Growing among blocks of lava, it had assumed the exact shape of an English oak in a poor soil and exposed situation; globular-headed, gnarled, stunted, and most unlike to its giant brethren of the primeval woods, which range upward 60 or 80 feet without a branch. We walked up to see the old fort, commanding the harbour from a height of 800 feet. We sat and rested by the roadside under a great cotton-wood tree, and looked down on gorges of richest green, on negro gardens, and groo-groo palms, and here and there a cabbage-palm, or a huge tree at whose name we could not guess; then turned through an arch cut in the rock into the interior of the fort, which now holds neither guns nor soldiers, to see at our feet the triple harbour, the steep town, and a very paradise of garden and orchard; and then down again, with the regretful thought, which haunted me throughout the islands -- What might the West Indies not have been by now, had it not been for slavery, rum, and sugar?

We got down to the steamer again, just in time, happily, not to see a great fight in the water between two Negroes; to watch which all the women had stopped their work, and cheered the combatants with savage shouts and laughter. At last the coaling and the cursing were over; and we steamed out again to sea.

I have antedated this little episode -- delightful for more reasons than I set down here -- because I do not wish to trouble my readers with two descriptions of the same island -- and those mere passing glimpses.

There are two craters, I should say, in Grenada, beside the harbour. One, the Grand Etang, lies high in the central group of mountains, which rise to 3700 feet, and is itself about 1740 feet above the sea. Dr. Davy describes it as a lake of great beauty, surrounded by bamboos and tree-ferns. The other crater-lake lies on the north- east coast, and nearer to the sea-level: and I more than suspect that more would be recognised, up and down the island, by the eye of a practised geologist.

The southern end of Grenada -- of whatsoever rock it may be composed -- shows evidence of the same wave-destruction as do the Grenadines. Arches and stacks, and low horizontal strata laid bare along the cliff, in some places white with guano, prove that the sea has been at work for ages, which must be many and long, considering that the surf, on that leeward side of the island, is little or none the whole year round. With these low cliffs, in strongest contrast to the stately and precipitous southern point of St. Lucia, the southern point of Grenada slides into the sea, the last of the true Antilles. For Tobago, Robinson Crusoe's island, which lies away unseen to windward, is seemingly a fragment of South America, like the island of Trinidad, to which the steamer now ran dead south for seventy miles.

It was on the shortest day of the year -- St. Thomas's Day -- at seven in the morning (half-past eleven of English time, just as the old women at Eversley would have been going round the parish for their 'goodying'), that we became aware of the blue mountains of North Trinidad ahead of us; to the west of them the island of the Dragon's Mouth; and westward again, a cloud among the clouds, the last spur of the Cordilleras of the Spanish Main. There was South America at last; and as a witness that this, too, was no dream, the blue water of the Windward Islands changed suddenly into foul bottle-green. The waters of the Orinoco, waters from the peaks of the Andes far away, were staining the sea around us. With thoughts full of three great names, connected, as long as civilised man shall remain, with those waters -- Columbus, Raleigh, Humboldt -- we steamed on, to see hills, not standing out, like those of the isles which we had passed, in intense clearness of green and yellow, purple and blue, but all shrouded in haze, like those of the Hebrides or the West of Ireland. Onward through a narrow channel in the mountain-wall, not a rifle-shot across, which goes by the name of the Ape's Mouth, banked by high cliffs of dark Silurian rock -- not bare, though, as in Britain, but furred with timber, festooned with lianes, down to the very spray of the gnawing surf. One little stack of rocks, not thirty feet high, and as many broad, stood almost in the midst of the channel, and in the very northern mouth of it, exposed to the full cut of surf and trade-wind. But the plants on it, even seen through the glasses, told us where we were. One huge low tree covered the top with shining foliage, like that of a Portugal laurel; all around it upright Cerei reared their gray candelabra, and below them, hanging down the rock to the very surf, deep green night-blowing Cereus twined and waved, looking just like a curtain of gigantic stag's-horn moss. We ran through the channel; then amid more low wooded islands, it may be for a mile, before a strong back current rushing in from the sea; and then saw before us a vast plain of muddy water. No shore was visible to the westward; to the eastward the northern hills of Trinidad, forest clad, sank to the water; to the south lay a long line of coast, generally level with the water's edge, and green with mangroves, or dotted with coco- palms. That was the Gulf of Paria, and Trinidad beyond.

Shipping at anchor, and buildings along the flat shore, marked Port of Spain, destined hereafter to stand, not on the seaside, but, like Lynn in Norfolk, and other fen-land towns, in the midst of some of the richest reclaimed alluvial in the world.

As the steamer stopped at last, her screw whirled up from the bottom clouds of yellow mud, the mingled deposits of the Caroni and the Orinoco. In half an hour more we were on shore, amid Negroes, Coolies, Chinese, French, Spaniards, short-legged Guaraon dogs, and black vultures.

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