Moreover, he learned that there was also, on the island, a very unusual and most interesting colony of "poor whites," the descendants of English convicts who had been brought to the island in the seventeenth century. These were not criminals, but political prisoners who had fought in Monmouth's Rebellion. Pitied by the planters, despised even by the negro slaves, this small colony held itself aloof, starved, and married none but members of their own colony. They are now mere shadows of men, with puny bodies and witless minds, living in brush or wooden hovels and eating nothing but a little wild fruit and fish.
Their story made another good article for Stuart's paper, and he spent almost an entire day holding such conversation with them as he could, though their English language had so far degenerated that the boy found it hard to understand.
The colony is not far from the little village of Bathsheba, which Stuart had reached by the tramway that crosses the island. The returning tram was not due to start for a couple of hours, and so, idly, Stuart strolled southward along the beach, which, at that point, is fringed with curiously shaped rocks, forming curving bays shaded with thickets of trees which curve down to the shore. Some of these were modest-looking trees, something like apple-trees but with a longer, thinner leaf. They bore a fruit like a green apple.
The boy, tired from his walk along the soft white sand, threw himself down negligently beneath the trees, in the shade, and, finding one of the fruits fallen, close to his hand, picked it up and half decided to eat it. An inner warning bade him pause.
The day had been hot and the shade was inviting. A sour and yet not unpleasant odor was in the air. It made him sleepy, or, to speak more correctly, it made his limbs heavy, while a certain exhilaration of spirits lulled him into a false content. Soon, under these trees, on the beach near Bathsheba, Stuart passed into a languorous waking dream.
And the red land-crabs, on their stilt-like legs, crept nearer and nearer.
An hour later, one of the Barbadian negroes, coming home from his work, was met at the door of his cabin by his wife, her eyes wide with alarm.
"White pickney go along Terror Cove. No come um back."
"Fo' de sake!" came the astonished exclamation. "Best hop along, see!"
The burly negro, well-built like all his fellows, struck out along the beach. He talked to himself and shook his frizzled head as he went. His pace, which was distinctly that of hurry, betokened his disturbed mind.
"Pickney go alone here, by golly!" he declared as he traced the prints of a booted foot on the white sand and saw that they led only in one direction. "No come back! Dem debbil-trees, get um!"
He turned the corner and paused a minute at the extraordinary sight presented.
In the curve of the cove, dancing about with high, measured steps, like that of a trained carriage-horse, was the boy, his hands clutching a stout stick with which he was beating the air around him as though fighting some imaginary foe, in desperation for his life. The sand around his feet was spotted, as though with gouts of blood, by the ruddy land-crabs, and, from every direction, these repulsive carrion eaters were hastening to their prey.
They formed a horrible alliance—the "debbil-trees" and the blood-red land-crabs!
The negro broke into a run. The old instinct of the black to serve the white rose in him strongly, though his own blood ran cold as he came near the "debbil-trees."
The crabs were swarming all about the boy. Some of the most daring were clawing their way up his trousers, but Stuart seemed to have no eyes for them. With jerky strokes, as though his arms were worked by a string, he struck and slashed at the air at some imaginary enemy about the height of his waist.
As his rescuer came nearer, he could hear the boy screaming, a harsh, inhuman scream of rage and fear and madness combined. Jerky words amid the screams told of his terrors,
"They're eating me! Their claws are all around! Their eyes! Their eyes!"
But still the strokes were directed wildly at the air, and never a blow fell on the little red horrors at his feet.
"Ol' Doc, he say debbil-tree make um act that way," muttered the negro, as he ran, "pickney he think um crabs big as a mule!"
Stuart, fighting for his life with what his tortured imagination conceived to be gigantic monsters, saw, coming along the beach, the semblance of an ogre. The pupils of his eyes, contracted by the poison to mere pin-pricks, magnified enormously, and the negro took on the proportions of a giant.
But Stuart was a fighter. He would not run. He turned upon his new foe.
The negro, reckoning nothing of one smart blow from the stick, threw his muscular arms about the boy, held him as in a vice, and picking him up, carried him off as if he were a baby. The boy struggled and screamed but it availed him nothing.
"Pickney, he mad um sartain," announced the negro, as he strode by his own hut, "get him Ol' Doc good'n quick!"
Half walking and half running, but carrying his burden with ease, the negro hurried to a well-built house, on a height of land half a mile back from the coast. The house was surrounded by a well-kept garden, but the negro kicked the gate open without ceremony, and, still running, rushed into the house, calling,
"Mister Ol' Doc! Mister Ol' Doc!"
At his cries, one of the doors into the hall opened, and a keen-eyed man, much withered, and with a scraggly gray beard, came out. The negro did not wait for him to speak.
"Mister Ol' Doc," he said, "this pickney down by de debbil-trees, they got um sartain. You potion um quick!"
The doctor stepped aside from the door.
"Put him in there, Mark!" he directed. "Hold him, I'll be back in a minute!"
The negro threw Stuart on a cot and held him down, an easy task, now, for the boy's strength was ebbing fast.
The doctor was back in a moment, with a small phial. He dropped a few drops into the boy's mouth, then, stripping him, put an open box of ointment between himself and the negro.
"Now, Mark," he said, "rub that stuff into his body. Don't be afraid of it. Go after him as if you were grooming a horse. Put some elbow-grease into it. The ointment has got to soak in, and the skin has got to be kept warm. See, he's getting cold, now!"
The negro suited the action to the word. He rubbed with all his strength, and the ointment, concocted from some pungent herb, reddened the skin where it went in. But, a moment or two after, the redness disappeared and the bluish look of cold returned.
"Faster and harder!" cried the old doctor.
Sweat poured down from the negro's face. He ripped off jacket and shirt, and, bare to the waist, scrubbed at the boy's skin. And, if ever he stopped a moment to wipe the sweat from his forehead, the doctor cried,
"Faster and harder!"
Little by little, the reddening of the skin lasted longer, little by little the bluish tints began to go, little by little the stiffening which had begun, relaxed.
"He's coming round," cried the doctor. "Harder, now! Put your back into it, Mark!"
Nearly an hour had passed when the negro, exhausted and trembling from his exertions, sank into a chair. The doctor eyed him keenly, gave him a stiff dose from a medicine glass, and returned to his patient.
"He'll do now," he said. "In half an hour he'll feel as well as ever, and by tomorrow he'll be terribly ill."
"For de sake, Mister Ol' Doc, I got to rub um tomorrow?" pleaded the negro.
"No, not tomorrow. From now on, I've got to 'potion um,' as you put it."
He put his hand in his pocket.
"Here, Mark," he said, "is half a sovereign. That isn't for saving the boy's life, you understand, for you'd have done that any way, but for working on him as you have."
The negro pocketed the coin with a wide smile, but lingered.
"I want to see um come 'round," he explained.
As the doctor had forecast, in half an hour's time, the color flowed back into Stuart's cheeks, his breathing became normal, and, presently, he stirred and looked around.
"What—What——" he began, bewildered.
"You went to sleep under the shade of some poison-trees, manchineel trees, we call them here," the doctor explained. "Did you eat any of the fruit?"
"I—I don't know," replied Stuart, trying to remember. "I—I sort of went to sleep, that is, my body seemed to and my head didn't. And then I saw crabs coming. At first they were only small ones, then bigger ones came, and bigger, and bigger——"
He shivered and hid his face at the remembrance.
"There was nothing there except the regular red land-crabs," said the doctor, "maybe eighteen inches across, but with a body the size of your hand. Their exaggeration of size was a delirium due to poisoning."
"And the big, black ogre?"
"Was our friend Mark, here," explained the doctor, "who rescued you, first, and has saved your life by working over you, here."
Stuart held out his hand, feebly.
"I didn't know there were any trees which hurt you unless you touched them," he said.
"Plenty of them," answered the scientist. "There are over a hundred plants which give off smells or vapors which are injurious either to man or animals. Some are used by savages for arrow poisons, others for fish poisons, and some we use for medicinal drugs. Dixon records a 'gas-tree' in Africa, the essential oil of which contains chlorine and the smell of which is like the poison-gas used in the World War. And poison-ivy, in the United States, will poison some people even if they only pass close to it."
"Jes' how does a tree make a smell, Mister Ol' Doc?" queried Mark.
"That's hard to explain to you," answered the scientist, turning to the negro. "But every plant has some kind of a smell, that is, all of them have essential oils which volatilize in the air. Some, like the bay, have these oil-sacs in the leaves, some, like cinnamon, in the bark, and so on. The smell of flowers comes the same way."
"An' there is mo' kinds of debbil-trees 'an them on Terror Cove?"
"Plenty more kinds," was the answer, "though few of them are as deadly. These are famous. Lord Nelson, when a young man here in Barbados, was made very ill by drinking from a pool into which some branches of the manchineel had been thrown. In fact, he never really got over it."
"How about me, Doctor?" enquired Stuart. His face was flushing and its was evident that the semi-paralysis of the first infection was passing into a fever stage.
"It all depends whether you ate any of the fruit or not," the doctor answered. "If you didn't, you're safe. But you seem to have spent an hour in that poison-tree grove, and that gives the 'devil-trees,' as Mark calls them, plenty of time to get in their deadly work. You'll come out of it, all right, but you'll have to fight for it!"
For many days Stuart lay in an alternation of fever and stupor, tormented by dreams in which visions of the red land-crabs played a terrible part, but youth and clean living were on his side, and he passed the crisis. Thereafter, in the equable climate of Barbados—one of the most healthful of the West Indies Islands—his strength began to return.
The "Ol' Doc," as he was universally known in the neighborhood, was an eccentric scientist who had spent his life in studying the plants of the West Indies. He had lived in the Antilles for over forty years and knew as much about the people as he did about the plant life.
Kindly-natured, the old botanist became greatly interested in his young patient, and, that he should not weary in enforced idleness, sent to Bridgetown for Stuart's trunk and his portable typewriter. Day by day the boy practised, and then turned his hand to writing a story of his experiences with the "debbil-trees" which story, by the way, he had to rewrite three times before his host would let him send it.
"Writing," he would say, "is like everything else in the world. You can do it quickly and well, after years of experience, but, at the beginning, you must never let a sentence pass until you are sure that you cannot phrase it better."
Moreover, as it turned out, the Ol' Doc was to be Stuart's guide in more senses than one, for when the boy casually mentioned Guy Cecil's name, the botanist twisted his head sidewise sharply.
"Eh, what? Who's that?" he asked. "What does he look like?"
Stuart gave a description, as exact as he could.
"Do you suppose he knows anything about flowers?"
"He seemed to know a lot about Jamaica orchids," the boy replied.
The botanist tapped the arm of his chair with definite, meditative taps.
"That man," he said, "has always been a mystery to me. How old would you take him to be?"
"Oh, forty or so," the boy answered.
"He has looked that age for twenty years, to my knowledge. If I didn't know better, I should believe him to have found the Fountain of Perpetual Youth which Ponce de Leon and so many other of the early Spanish adventurers sailed to the Spanish Main to find."
"But what is he?" asked Stuart, sitting forward and eager in attention.
"Who knows? He is the friend, the personal friend, of nearly every important man in the Caribbean, whether that official be British, French or Dutch; he is also regarded as a witch-master by half the black population. I have met him in the jungles, botanizing—and he is a good botanist—I have seen him suddenly appear as the owner of a sugar plantation, as a seeker for mining concessions, as a merchant, and as a hotel proprietor. I have seen him the owner of a luxurious yacht; I have met him, half-ragged, looking for a job, with every appearance of poverty and misery."
"But," cried the lad in surprise, "what can that all imply? Do you suppose he's just some sort of a conspirator, or swindler, sometimes rich and sometimes poor, according to the hauls he has made?"
"Well," said the botanist, "sometimes I have thought he is the sort of man who would have been a privateer in the old days, a 'gentleman buccaneer.' Maybe he is still, but in a different way. Sometimes, I have thought that he was attached to the Secret Service of some government."
"Probably not," the scientist answered, "because he is too English for that. No, he is so English that I thought he must be for some other government and was just playing the English part to throw off suspicion."
"It's not unlikely."
Whereupon Stuart remembered the guarded way in which the Managing Editor had spoken of "European Powers," and this thought of Cecil threw him back upon his quest.
"I'll soon have to be going on to Trinidad," he suggested a day or two later. "I think I'm strong enough to travel, now."
"Yes," the old botanist answered, "you're strong enough to travel, but you'd better not go just now."
"Well——" the old West Indian resident cast a look at the sky, "there are a good many reasons. Unless I'm much mistaken, there's wind about, big wind, hurricane wind, maybe. I've been feeling uneasy, ever since noon yesterday. Do you see those three mares'-tail high-cirrus clouds?"
"You mean those that look like feathers, with the quills so much thicker than usual?"
"Yes, those. And you notice that those quills, as you call them, are not parallel, but all point in the same direction, like the sticks of a fan? That means a big atmospheric disturbance in that direction, and it means, too, that it must be a gyrating one. That type of cirrus clouds isn't proof of a coming hurricane, not by a good deal, but it's one of the signs. And, if it comes, the center of it is now just about where those mares'-tails are pointing."
"You're really afraid of a hurricane!" exclaimed Stuart, a little alarmed at the seriousness of the old man's manner.
"There are few things in the world of which one ought more to be afraid!" declared the old scientist dryly. "A hurricane is worse, far worse, than an earthquake, sometimes."
Stuart sat silent for a moment, then,
"Are there any more signs?" he asked.
"Yes," was the quiet answer. "Nearly all the hurricane signs are beginning to show. Look at the sea! If you'll notice, the surface is fairly glassy, showing that there is not much surface wind. Yet, in spite of that, there is a heavy, choppy, yet rolling swell coming up on the beach."
"I had noticed the roar," Stuart agreed, "one can hear it plainly from here."
"Exactly. But, if you watch for a few minutes, you'll see that the swells are not long and unbroken, as after a steady period of strong wind from any quarter, but irregular, some of the swells long, some short. That suggests that they have received their initial impulse from a hurricane, with a whirling center, the waves being whipped by gusts that change their direction constantly.
"Notice, too, how hollow our voices sound, as if there were a queer resonance in the air, rather as if we were talking inside a drum.
"You were complaining of the heat this morning, and, now, there is hardly any wind. What does that mean?
"It means that the trade wind, which keeps this island cool even in the hottest summer, has been dying down, since yesterday. Now, since the trade winds blow constantly, and are a part of the unchanging movements of the atmosphere, you can see for yourself that any disturbance of the atmosphere which is violent enough to overcome the constant current of the trade winds must be of vast size and of tremendous force.
"What can such a disturbance be? The only answer is—a hurricane.
"Then there's another reason for feeling heat. That would be if the air were unusually hazy and moist. Now, if you'll observe, during this morning and the early part of the afternoon, the air has been clear, then hazy, then clear again, and is once more hazy. That shows a rapid and violent change in the upper air.
"So far, so good. Now, in addition to observations of the clouds, the sea and the air at the surface, it helps—more, it is all-important—to check these observations by some scientific instrument which cannot lie. For this, we must use the barometer, which, as you probably know, is merely an instrument for weighing the air. When the air is heavier the barometer rises, when the air grows lighter, the barometer falls.
"Yesterday, the barometer rose very high, much higher than it would in ordinary weather. This morning, it was jumpy, showing—as the changes in the haziness of the air showed—irregular and violent movements in the upper atmosphere. It is now beginning to go down steadily, a little faster every hour. This is an almost sure sign that there is a hurricane in action somewhere, and, probably, within a few hundred miles of here.
"But tell me, Stuart, since we have been talking, have you noticed any change in the atmosphere, or in the sky."
"Well," answered the boy, hesitating, for he did not wish to seem alarmist, "it did seem to me as if there were a sort of reddish color in the sky, as if the blue were turning rusty."
"Watch it!" said the botanist, with a note of awe in his voice, "and you will see what you never have seen before!"
For a few moments he kept silence.
The rusty color gradually rose in intensity to a ruby hue and then to an angry crimson, deepening as the sun sank.
Over the sky, covered with a milky veil, which reflected this glowing color, there began to rise, in the south-west, an arch of shredded cirrus cloud, its denser surface having greater reflecting powers, seeming to give it a sharp outline against the veiled sky.
The scientist rose, consulted the barometer, and returned, looking very grave.
"It looks bad," he said. "There is not much doubt that it will strike the island."
"Take to the hurricane wing, then!" suggested Stuart, a little jestingly. In common with many Barbados houses, the botanist's dwelling was provided with a hurricane wing, a structure of heavy masonry, with only one or two narrow slits to let in air, and with a roof like a gun casemate.
There was no jest in the Old Doctor's tone, as he answered,
"I have already ordered that provisions be sent there, and that the servants be prepared to go."
This statement brought Stuart up with a jerk. In common with many people, it seemed impossible to him that he would pass through one of the great convulsions of nature. Human optimism always expects to escape a danger.
"But this is the beginning of October!" the boy protested. "I always thought hurricanes came in the summer months."
"No; August, September and October are the three worst months. That is natural, for a hurricane could not happen in the winter and even the early summer ones are not especially dangerous. But the signs of this one are troubling. Look!"
He pointed to the sea.
The rolling swell was losing its character. The water, usually either a turquoise-blue or a jade-green, was now an opaque olive-black. The waves were choppy, and threw up small heads of foam like the swirl of cross-currents in a tide-rip.
Stuart began to feel a little frightened.
"Do you really think it will come here?"
"Yes," said the botanist gravely, "I do. In fact I am sure of it. Barbados is full in the hurricane track, you know."
"But why?" queried the boy. "I've always heard of West Indian hurricanes. Do they only happen here? I don't see why they should come here more than any other place."
"Do you know why they come at all?"
Stuart thought for a moment.
"No," he answered, "I don't know that I do. I never thought anything about it. I always figured that storms just happened, somehow."
"Nothing 'just happens,'" was the stern rebuke. "Hark!"
He held up his finger for silence.
A low rumbling, sounding something like the pounding of heavy surf on a beach heard at a distance, and closely akin to the sound made by Niagara Falls, seemed to fill the air. And, across the sound, came cracks like distant pistol shots heard on a clear day.
The white arch rose slowly and just underneath it appeared an arch of darker cloud, almost black.
At the same moment, came a puff of the cool wind from the north.
"We will have it in less than two hours," said the scientist. "It is a good thing that all afternoon I have had the men and women on the place nailing the shutters tight and fastening everything that can be fastened. We may only get the edge of the hurricane, we may get the center. There is no telling. An island is not like a ship, which can direct its course so as to escape the terrible vortex of the center. We've got to stay and take it."
"But has every hurricane a center?" queried the boy, a little relieved by the thought that the storm would not come for two hours. In that time, he foolishly thought, it might have spent its force. He did not know that hurricanes possess a life of their own which endures not less than a week, and in one or two cases, as long as a month.
"You wouldn't ask whether every hurricane has a center," the scientist replied, "if you knew a little more about them. As there is nothing for us to do but wait, and as it is foolish to go to the hurricane wing until the time of danger, I might as well explain to you what a hurricane really is. Then, if you live through it——" Stuart jumped at the sudden idea of the imminent danger—"you'll be able to write to your paper about it, intelligently."
"I'd really like to know," declared Stuart, leaning forward eagerly.
"Well," said his informant, "I'll make it as simple as I can, though, I warn you, a hurricane isn't a subject that can be explained in a sentence or two.
"You know that summer and winter weather are different. You ought to be able to see that summer and winter winds are different. The difference in seasons is caused by the respective positions of the northern and southern hemispheres to the sun. The greater the heat, the greater the atmospheric changes. Hurricanes are great whirls caused by violent changes of the air. Therefore hurricanes come only in the summer."
"That's clear and easy!" declared the boy, delighted that he was able to follow the explanation.
"Now, as to why hurricanes strike here and nowhere else. I'll try and explain that, too. There is a belt of ocean, just north of and on the equator, known as the 'doldrums,' where it is nearly always calm, and very hot. There is also a belt of air running from Southern Europe to the West Indies where the north-east trade winds blow all the year round. Between this perpetual calm of the doldrums and the perpetual wind of the trades is a region of atmospheric instability.
"Now, consider conditions to the west of us. The Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, together, form what is almost a great inland sea with the West Indian Islands as its eastern shore. The trade winds do not reach it. The Pacific winds do not reach it, for they are diverted by the high ranges of Central America. The winds from North America do not reach it, because these always turn northwards on reaching the Mississippi Valley and leave the United States by the St. Lawrence Valley.
"So, Stuart, you can see that the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico have over them, in summer, a region of air, little disturbed by wind, not far from the Equator and which, therefore, becomes steadily heated and steadily saturated by the evaporation from the body of water below."
"Yes," agreed the boy, "I can see that."
"Very good. Now, such a steady heating of one section of air is bound to disturb the balance of the atmosphere. This disturbance, moreover, must be acted upon by the rotation of the earth. Just as all the weather in the United States comes from the west and travels eastwards, so the track of hurricane origins travels eastwards during the course of a summer.
"For this reason, West Indian hurricanes in June generally have their origin west of Jamaica, July hurricanes east of Jamaica, August hurricanes in the eastern Caribbean, September hurricanes in the Atlantic east and south of the West Indies, and October hurricanes far out to sea, perhaps even as far as half-way to the Cape Verde Islands on the shores of Africa. This hurricane which is approaching, is from the direction of East-South-East, judging from the barometer and other conditions, and probably had its cradle a thousand or more miles away."
"And it hasn't blown itself out?"
"Far from it. It is only gathering strength and violence. Not until it twists off on its track will it begin to diminish. For hurricanes follow a regular track, an invisible trail marked out for them in the sky."
"Yes, all of them. This track is shaped like a rounded cone, or, more often, like a boomerang, with a short arm running north-westwards to its place of turning and a long arm running northeastwards until its force is spent. The point of turning is always in the West Indies zone. As the storm is at its worst at the point of turning, it is always in the West Indies that the hurricane is most destructive.
"No matter where they start, West Indian hurricanes always sweep north-westward until they have crossed the line of the West Indies and then wheel around sharply to the north-east, skirting the United States coast. Some strike Florida. A good many run along the coast and hit Hatteras. Some never actually touch the continent at all, and only a few ever strike inland. But some part of the West Indies is hit by every one of them."
"Are they so frequent?"
"There's never a year without one or more. There have been years with five or six. Of course, some hurricanes are much more violent than others. Their destructive character depends a good deal, too, on the place where their center passes. Thus if, at the moment of its greatest fury, the full ferocity of the whirl is expended on the ocean, not much harm is done. But if it should chance to descend upon a busy and thriving city, the loss of life will be appalling.
"Of these disastrous hurricanes, it would be fair to state that at least once in every four years, some part of the West Indies is going to suffer a disaster, and once in every twenty years there is a hurricane of such violence as to be reckoned a world calamity."
The botanist rose, took another look at the barometer, and called one of the older servants.
"Send every one into the hurricane wing," he said. "See that the storm lantern is there, filled and lighted. Tell the cook to pour a pail of water on the kitchen fire before she leaves. See, yourself, that every place is securely fastened. The rain will be here in ten minutes."
The negro, who was gray with fright, flashed a quick look of relief at the orders to seek the hurricane wing, and ran off at full speed.
"The first rain-squalls will not be bad," continued the "Old Doc," "and I like to stay out as long as I can, to watch its coming. It will be nearly dark when this one strikes us, though, and there won't be much to see."
"But what starts them, sir?" queried the boy, who had become intensely interested, since the grim phantasmagoria was unfolding itself on sea and sky before his eyes.
"As I have told you, it is the creation of a super-heated and saturated mass of air, only possible in a calm region, such as the Caribbean west of the West Indies, or the doldrum region southeast of them. Let me show you how it happens.
"A region of air, over a tropical sea, little moved by wind-currents, becomes warmer than the surrounding region of air; the air over this region becomes lighter; the lighter air rises and flows over the colder layers of surrounding air, increasing the pressure on that ring and increasing the inward flow to the warm central area where the air pressure has been diminished by the overflow aloft. The overflowing air reaches a point on the outside of the cold air area, when it again descends, and once more flows inward to the center, making a complete circuit. Do you understand so far?"
Stuart knitted his brows in perplexity.
"I—I think so, but I'm not sure," he said. "Then the barometer rose, yesterday, because we were in the cold air area, which became heavier because there was a layer of warm air on the top of it. The storm has moved westward. The cold air section has passed. The barometer is falling now because we're in the region of warm air, which is steadily rising and is therefore lighter. That shows we're nearer to the center. Is that it?"
The scientist tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair in pleased appreciation.
"Very good," he said, "you are exactly right. And, from now on, the barometer will drop suddenly, for the whirl of the wind will make a partial vacuum in the very center of the hurricane."
"But I don't see what makes it whirl," protested the boy. "If it goes up in the middle, flows over at the top and comes down at the outside and then flows into the middle again, why could it not keep on doing that all the time, until the balance was put straight again?"
"It would," the scientist agreed, "but for one thing you have forgotten."
"And what's that?"
"The rotation of the earth."
A single drop of rain fell, then another, making a splash as large as a twenty-five cent piece.
"Now see it come!" said the scientist.
As though his words had summoned it, a liquid opacity, like a piece of clouded glass, thrust itself between their eyes and the landscape. So suddenly it came that Stuart actually did not realize that this was falling rain, until, looking at the ground, he saw the earth dissolve into mud before his eyes and saw the garden turn into what seemed like the bed of a shallow river. The wind whistled with a vicious note. The squall lasted scarcely a minute, and was gone.
"That's the first," remarked the boy's informant. "We'd better get under shelter, they'll come fast and furious soon."
Passing through a low passage connecting the house with the hurricane wing, Stuart noticed that, beside the massiveness of the structure, it was braced from within.
"In case the house should fall on it," the scientist observed, noting Stuart's glances. "I've no wish to be buried alive. In any case, I keep crowbars in the wing, so that, in case of any unforeseen disaster, a breach could be made in the walls and we could get out that way."
They entered the hurricane wing. It was not as dark as Stuart had expected. The scientist, anxious to observe the storms when they should come, had built into the wall two double dead-eye windows, such as are used in the lower decks of liners and which can resist the impact of the heaviest waves.
The crimson light had gone. The vivid sunset reflections, now thrown back from the black arch, yet gave a reddish smokiness to the livid and sickly green which showed, from time to time, beneath the underhanging masses of inky black. The sky to the north and to the south had a tortured appearance, as though some demon of a size beyond imagining were twisting the furies of the tempest in his clutch.
"You asked," said the scientist, speaking in the hurricane wing, as quietly as he had on the verandah, and paying absolutely no heed to the moaning and praying of the negroes huddled in the darkest corner, "what makes a hurricane whirl. Yet, in the heavens, you can see the skies a-twist!"
A second rain-squall struck. Thick as were the walls, they could not keep out the wailing shriek of the wind, nor the hissing of the rain, which flashed like a continuous cutting blade of steel past the windows. The hurricane wing could not rock, it was too low and solidly planted for that, but it trembled in the impact.
After a couple of minutes came a lull, and Stuart's ears were filled with the cries and howling of the frightened negroes, not a sound of which had been audible during the squall. The scientist continued his talk in an even voice, as peacefully as though he were in his study.
"You asked what could set the skies a-twist. I told you, the earth's rotation. For, Stuart, you must remember that a hurricane is not a small thing. This heated region of the air of which we have been speaking, with its outer belt of cooler air, and the descending warm air beyond, is a region certainly not less than five hundred miles in diameter and may be a great deal more.
"Now, the air, as you know, is held to the earth's surface by gravitation, but, being gaseous, it is not held as closely as if it were in a solid state. Also, there is centrifugal force to be considered. Also the fact that the earth is not round, but flattened at the poles. Also the important fact that air at the equator is more heated than at the Polar regions. All these things together keep the air in a constant commotion. The combined effect of these, in the northern hemisphere, is that air moving along the surface of the earth is deflected to the right. Thus in the case we are considering, the lower currents, approaching the heated center, do not come in equally from all directions, but are compelled to approach in spirals. This spiral action once begun increases, of itself, in power and velocity. This is a hurricane in its baby stage."
Another squall struck.
Speech again became impossible. As before, sheets of water—which bore no relation to rain, but seemed rather as though the earth were at the foot of a waterfall from which a river was leaping from on high—were hurled over the land. The shrieking of the wind had a wild and maniacal sound, the sound which Jamaicans have christened "the hell-cackle of a hurricane." This squall lasted longer, five minutes or more, and when it passed, the wind dropped somewhat, but did not die down. It raged furiously, its shriek dropped to a sullen and menacing roar.
"Such a hurricane as this," the "Ol' Doc" continued, "has taken many days to brew. Day after day the air has remained in its ominous quietude over the surface of the ocean, becoming warmer and warmer, gathering strength for its devastating career. The water vapor has risen higher and higher. Dense cumulus clouds have formed, the upper surfaces of which have caught all the sun's heat, intensifying the unstable equilibrium of the air. The powers of the tempest have grown steadily in all evil majesty of destructiveness. Day by day, then hour by hour, then minute by minute, the awful force has been generated, as steam is generated by fierce furnace fires under a ship's boilers.
"Why, Stuart, it has been figured that the air in a hurricane a hundred miles in diameter and a mile high, weighs as much as half-a-million Atlantic liners, and this incredibly huge mass is driven at twice the speed of the fastest ship afloat. In these gusts, which come with the rain squalls, the wind will rise to a velocity of a hundred and twenty miles an hour. It strikes!"
A crack of thunder deafened all, and green and violet lightning winked and flickered continuously. The hiss of the rain, the shrieking of the wind and the snapping crackle of the thunder defied speech. The heat in the hurricane wing was terrific, but Stuart shivered with cold. It was the cold of terror, the cold of helplessness, the cold of being powerless in such an awful evidence of the occasional malignity of Nature.
Between the approach of night and the closing in of the clouds, an inky darkness prevailed, though in the intervals between the outbursts of lightning, the sky had a mottled copper and green coloration, the copper being the edges of low raincloud-masses, and the green, the flying scud above.
Squall followed squall in ever-closer succession, the uproar changing constantly from the shriek of the hundred-mile wind in the squall to the dull roar of the fifty-mile wind in between. The thunder crackled, without any after-rumble, and the trembling of the ground could be felt from the pounding of the terrific waves half a mile away. Then, in a long-drawn-out descending wail, like the howl of a calling coyote, the hurricane died down to absolute stillness.
"Whew!" exclaimed Stuart, in relief. "I'm glad that's over."
"Over!" the scientist exclaimed. "The worst is to come! We're in the eye of the hurricane. Look!"
Overhead the sky was almost clear, so clear that the stars could be seen, but the whirl of air, high overhead, made them twinkle so that they seemed to be dancing in their places. To seaward, a violet glow, throbbing and pulsating, showed where the lightning was playing.
"I'm going out to see if all's safe," said the scientist. "Do you want to come?"
Stuart would have rather not. But he dared not refuse. They had hardly left the hurricane wing and got to the outside, when "Ol' Doc" sniffed.
"No," he said, "we'll go back. We're not full in the center. The edge will catch us again."
Not slowly this time, but with a swiftness that made it seem unreal, a shape like a large hand rose out of the night and blotted out the stars. A distant clamor could be heard, at first faintly, and then with a growing speed, like the oncoming of an express train.
"In with you, in!" cried the scientist.
They rushed through the low passage and bolted the heavy door.
Then with a crash which seemed enough to tear a world from its moorings, the opposite side of the hurricane struck, all the worse in that it came without even a preparatory breeze. The noise, the tumult, the sense of the elements unchained in all their fury was so terrible that the boy lost all sense of the passage of time. The negroes no longer moaned or prayed. A stupor of paralysis seized them.
So passed the night.
Towards morning, the painful rarefaction of the air diminished. The squalls of rain and all-devouring gusts of wind abated, and became less and less frequent.
The sky turned gray. Upon the far horizon rose again the cirrus arc, but with the dark above and the light below. Majestically it rose and spanned the sky, and, under its rim of destruction, came the sunrise in its most peaceful colors of rose and pearl-gray, sunrise upon a ravaged island.
Over three hundred persons had been killed that night, and many millions of dollars of damage done. Yet everyone in Barbados breathed relief.
The hurricane had passed.
THE LAKE OF PITCH
Still weak from his illness after the manchineel poisoning, and exhausted as he was after a sleepless night in the grip of a hurricane, yet Stuart's first thought on leaving the hurricane wing was to get a news story to his paper. The spell of journalism was on him.
Around the "Ol' Doc's" place, the hurricane seemed to have done little damage. Not a building had fallen. Trees were stripped bare of their leaves, cane-fields laid low, but when the boy commented on this escape, the old scientist shook his head.
"I built these structures with hurricanes in view," he said. "This old place will stand like a lighthouse. But you'll find it different in the negro quarters. Alas! You will find mourning, everywhere."
At the boy's urgency the botanist agreed to lend him a horse and light carriage and bade one of the negroes drive the lad to Bridgetown. A hasty breakfast was swallowed, and, before six in the morning, Stuart was on his way back across the island, his faithful typewriter beside him.
They had not gone far before the real tragedy of the hurricane began to show itself. Here was a house in splinters, and a group of people, crying, with bowed heads, told that death had been there. The fields were stripped bare. Near Corrington, a sugar factory showed a piece of broken wall as all that remained. The road had been washed away by the torrential floods.
In a small settlement, some negroes were working in a frenzy around a mass of ruined cottages, from beneath which sounded dolorous cries. The carriage stopped and both Stuart and the driver leaped out to aid. Ten minutes' work unearthed three sufferers, two but slightly hurt, the third with his leg broken. Alas! Others were not so fortunate.
Rising smoke, here and there, showed where fire had followed the hurricane. Instead of the songs of labor in the fields, nothing was to be heard but cries of distress. As the country grew more thickly settled, on the way to Bridgetown, so was the suffering more intense and the death-roll heavier. The drive, not more than twelve miles in all, took over four hours, so littered was the road with fallen trees and the debris of houses.
In the ruins of Bridgetown, Stuart met one of his newspaper friends, the news instinct still inspiring him to secure every detail of the catastrophe, though there was no newspaper office, the building being in ruins and the presses buried under an avalanche of brick.
"The wires are down, too," said this newspaper man, "if I were you, I'd chase right over to Trinidad. The mail steamer, which should have gone last night, hasn't left yet, or, at least, I don't think she has. She couldn't leave till the hurricane passed and the sea calmed down a bit. At present, we are cut off from the world. It'll take two or three days, a week, maybe, before the shore ends of the submarine cables are recovered. If you can catch that steamer, you'll be in Trinidad this evening."
"But suppose the cables are broken there, too?" suggested Stuart.
"They're not likely to be," his friend replied, "we just caught the southern end of the hurricane here—lucky we didn't get the middle!—and so Trinidad is likely to have escaped entirely. But you'll have to hurry to catch that steamer. I'll get in touch with Ol' Doc, the best way I can, and send your trunk on to you down there. Got your typewriter? That's all right, then. Write your story on the boat. Now, hurry up! Here!"
He shouted to a passing negro.
"Go down to the pier, Pierre, get a boat, any boat, and take this passenger. He's got to catch the steamer."
"Me catch um!"
And he did, though it was by the narrowest margin, for the mail steamer had steam up, and only waited until this last passenger should come aboard.
Stuart had counted on being able to enrich his account of the hurricane with personal stories from the passengers on the steamer, all of whom had been through the disaster, some on board ship and some ashore. There was no chance of this. Although a glorious day, not a soul among the passengers was on deck. All were sleeping, for all, alike, had waked and watched.
Stuart was dropping with weariness and sleep, but he remembered what the Managing Editor had said to him about a "scoop" and he thought that this might be the great opportunity of his life to make a reputation for himself on his first trip out. A well-placed half-sovereign with the deck steward brought him a cup of strong coffee every two hours, and though his mind was fogged with weariness, so vivid had been his impressions that they could not help but be thrilling.
Though one of the most richly verdant of all the West India islands, Trinidad had little beauty to Stuart, on his first sight of it. He saw it through a haze of weariness, his eyes red-rimmed through lack of sleep. The harbor is shallow, and Stuart, like other passengers, landed in a launch, but he had eyes only for one thing—the cable office. Since his only luggage consisted of a portable typewriter—his trunk having been left behind at "Ol' Doc's"—the customs' examination was brief.
At the Cable Office, Stuart learned, to his delight, that not a message had either reached the office or gone out about the Barbados hurricane. He had a scoop. He put his story on the wires, staggered across the street to the nearest hotel, threw off coat and boots and dropped upon the bed in an exhausted slumber. And, as an undercurrent to his dreams, rang the triumph song of the journalist:
Stuart slept the clock round. It was evening again when he awoke. A wash to take the sleep out of his eyes, and down he went to see how big a dinner he could put away. But the doorman at the hotel, an East Indian, came forward to him with a telegram on a salver. The boy tore it open, and read:
And if Stuart had been offered the Governor Generalship of all the West Indian Islands put together, he could not have been more proud.
He spent the evening interviewing some of the passengers who had come on the mail steamer the day before and who had stayed in Port of Spain and, before midnight, filed at the cable office a good "second-day story." Remembering what his friend the reporter had told him, Stuart realized that though he was still sending this matter to Fergus, as it was straight news stuff, it probably was being handled by the Night Telegraph staff. That would not help to fill Fergus' columns in the Sunday issue, and the boy realized that, no matter what live day stuff he got hold of, he must not fall behind in his series of articles on the Color Question in the West Indies.
This question—which takes on the proportions of a problem in everyone of the West Indian Islands—was very different in Trinidad than in Barbados. The peoples and languages of Trinidad are strangely mixed. Though it is an English colony, yet the language of the best families is Spanish, and the general language of the negro population is Creole French, a subvariant of that of Haiti. The boy found, too, on his first long walks in the neighborhood of Port-of-Spain, that there was a large outer settlement of East Indian coolies, and quite a number of Chinese. The English, in Trinidad, were few in number.
In his quest for interviews about the hurricane, one of the chattiest of Stuart's informants had been a Mr. James, a resident of Barbados, but whose commercial interests were mainly in Trinidad. Since, then, this gentleman evidently knew the life in both islands, his comparisons would be of value, and the following day Stuart asked him for a second interview.
"I'm starting out to my place on the Nariva Cocal," the planter replied, "going in about an hour. Very glad to have you as my guest, if you wish, and the trip will give you a good view of the island. Then we can chat on the way."
Stuart jumped at the opportunity. This was exactly what he was after, for the Nariva Cocal, with its thirteen-mile long coco-nut grove on the shore of the ocean, is famous. The boy knew, too, that this section was very difficult of access, the Nariva River forming a mixture of river, tidal creek, lagoon, mangrove swamp and marsh, hard to cross.
For some little distance out of Port-of-Spain the train passed through true tropical forests of a verdure not to be outrivaled in any part of the New World. "Here," says Treves, "is a very revel of green, a hoard, a pyramid, a piled-up cairn of green, rising aloft from an iris-blue sea. Here are the dull green of wet moss, the clear green of the parrot's wing, the green tints of old copper, of malachite, of the wild apple, the bronze-green of the beetle's back, the dead green of the autumn Nile." And these are expressed, not in plants, but in trees. The moss is waist-high, the ferns wave twenty feet overhead, the bamboo drapes a feathery fringe by every stream, the cocoa trees grow right up to the road or railroad which sweeps along as on an avenue between them, while at every crossing the white roadway is lined by the majestic sentinels of plantain, coco-nut palm and breadfruit tree.
Beyond St. Joseph, the ground became a low plain, level and monotonous, and given over to sugar-cane. Near d'Abadie, this crop gave place to cocoa, the staple of the center of the island, and this extended through Arima to Sangre Grande, the terminus of the railroad. During the trip Stuart's host had enlightened him by an exact and painstaking description of the growing of these various crops and the methods of their preparation for market.
At Sangre Grande, the railroad ended and a two-wheeled buggy was waiting. The planter ordered the East Indian driver to follow in the motor-bus which conveys passengers to Manzanilla, and took the reins himself, so as to give a place to Stuart. The road had left the level, and passed over low hills and valleys all given over to cocoa trees.
"See those bottles!" commented Mr. James, pointing to bottles daubed with paint, bunches of white feathers and similar objects hung on trees at various points of the road.
"Yes," answered Stuart, "what are they for?"
"Those are our police!" the planter explained. "This colony is well governed, but planters have had a good deal of trouble keeping the negroes from stealing. We used to engage a number of watchmen, and the police force in this part of the island was increased. It didn't do any good, you know! Stealing went on just the same.
"So my partner, down here, went and got hold of the chief Obeah-man or witch-doctor of the island—paid him a good stiff price, too—and asked him to put a charm on the plantation. He did it, and those bottles and feathers are some of the charms. We pay for having them renewed every year. It costs a tidy bit, but less than the watchmen and police did."
"And have the thefts stopped?"
"Absolutely. There hasn't been a shilling's worth of stuff touched since the obeah-man was here."
"But obeah wouldn't have any effect on East Indian coolies," objected Stuart.
"Coolies don't steal," was the terse reply, "those that are Mohammedans don't, any way. Trinidad negroes do. They're different from the Barbadian negroes, quite different. Obeah seems to be about the only thing they care about."
"I ran up against some Obeah in Haiti," remarked Stuart, "though Voodoo is stronger there."
"I never heard of much real Voodoo stuff here in the Windward Islands," the planter rejoined, "but Obeah plays a big part in negro life. And, as I was just telling you, the whites aren't above using it, sometimes."
"In Haiti," responded Stuart, "Father and I once found an Obeah sign in the road. Father, who knows a lot about those things, read it as a charm to prevent any white man going that way. I thought it was silly to pay any attention, but Father made a long detour around it. A week or so after I heard that a white trader had been driving along that road, and he drove right over the sign. Half a mile on, his horse took fright, threw him out of the buggy and he was killed."
The planter shrugged his shoulders.
"I know," he said. "It's all right to call it coincidence, but down in these islands that kind of coincidence happens a bit too often. For me, I'll throw a shilling to an Obeah-man any time I see one, and I won't play any tricks with charms if I know enough about them to keep away."
The buggy jogged along at a smart pace until the shore was reached, and then set down the beach over the hard wet sand. On the one side heaved the long rollers of the Atlantic, on the other was the continuous grove of coco-nut palms, thirteen miles long, one of the finest unbroken stretches in the entire world.
A hospitable welcome was extended to Stuart at the house of the Nariva Cocal, and, after dinner, the planter took him to the shores of the Nariva River, not more than twenty or thirty yards from the house, which, at this place, had a bank free of marsh for a distance of perhaps a couple of hundred yards.
"It was just at a place like this, but a little higher up-stream," said the planter, "that the snake story happened which Kingsley described in 'At Last.' Four girls were bathing in this river, because the surf is too heavy for sea-bathing, and one of them, who had gone into the water partly dressed, felt something clutch at her dress.
"It was a huge anaconda.
"The other three girls, with a good deal of pluck, I think, rushed into the shallow water and grabbed hold of their comrade. The snake did not let go, but the dress was torn from her body by the wrestle between the strength of the reptile and that of the four girls. I know one of the sisters quite well. She's an old woman, now, but she lives in Sangre Grande, still."
Turning from the river, Stuart and the planter strolled some distance down the knife-like sandy ridge between the ocean and the swamp. This narrow ridge, at no point a hundred yards wide and averaging less than half that, contains over 300,000 palms, and this plantation alone helps to make Trinidad one of the greatest coco-nut markets of the world.
"I notice," said Stuart, anxious to get material for his articles, "that nearly all your laborers here are East Indian coolies. Are they better than negroes?"
"They come here under different conditions," explained the planter. "The negro is free to work or not, as he chooses, but the coolie is indentured. He has to work. He earns less than the negro, but, by the time we pay his voyage and all the various obligations that we have to undertake for an indentured laborer, the coolie isn't much cheaper to us than the negro. But, while the negro can do more work in a day than the coolie, he won't. Moreover, if he feels, after a few days' work, that he has had enough of it, he just goes away. A Trinidad negro with a pound or two in his pocket won't do a tap of work until the last penny be spent. The coolie will work quietly, steadily, continuously. What is more, he saves his money. That's bringing about a deuced curious situation in Trinidad, you know.
"One of the queer things about the West Indies, as you know yourself, having lived in Cuba, is that there is really no middle class. Here, in Trinidad, there are the wealthy Spanish families and the English officials and planters. The blacks are the laborers. For many decades there has been no class between. Now, the East Indians, who came here as coolies, are beginning to follow the commercial instinct of the east, and to open small shops or to buy land. Hence the negro, who used to despise and look down on the coolie because he worked for even less money, is now finding himself subordinate to an East Indian class which has risen to be his superior. Then the East Indians have commenced rice-growing, and now are employing negroes, oversetting the old social basis.
"There's one thing, son, which few people realize in this color question in the West Indies. That is that the negro has not got the instincts of a shopkeeper. He doesn't take to trade, ever. If he gets educated, he wants at once to be a doctor, a lawyer, or, still more, a preacher. But this is a commercial age, and any race which shows itself unfitted for commerce is bound to stay the under dog, you know. Trinidad shows that, given equal conditions, the East Indian coolie will rise, the negro will not."
The following morning, Mr. James having gone over the books of the plantation with his manager, the two started back for Port-of-Spain.
"Why don't you live here, Mr. James?" asked the boy. "It's a lovely spot, in that coco-nut grove, with the sea right at your doors."
"Climate, my boy," was the answer. "I told you, on the way over here, that Trinidad is reckoned one of the most prosperous islands of the West Indies—though it really belongs more to the coast of South America than it does to the Antilles—but, if you stop to think for a moment, you'll see that the prosperity of Trinidad is due to the fact that it has a warm, moist, even climate all the year round. That's fine for cocoa and coco-nuts, but it's not good for humans. The warm moist air of Trinidad is deuced enervating. No, let me go back to Barbados. It may not be as beautiful—I'll admit that it isn't—but at least there is a north-east breeze nearly all the year round to keep me jolly cool."
The two travelers talked of various subjects, but, once more aboard the train at Sangre Grande, the question of Trinidad's wealth recurred to Stuart, and he sought further information.
"You spoke of the island as being prosperous, Mr. James," he said. "Has the Pitch Lake, discovered so many centuries ago by Sir Walter Raleigh, had anything to do with it?"
"Directly, not such a great deal, though, of course, it is a steady source of income, especially to the Crown. Asphalt is less than a twentieth part of the value of the exports of the island, so, you see, Trinidad would have been rich without that. Indirectly, of course, the Pitch Lake has been the means of attracting attention to the island, especially in earlier times. The facts that Trinidad is out of the hurricane track and off the earthquake belt have had a good deal to do with its prosperity, too, you know. My friend Cecil always declares that Trinidad and Jamaica together, the two richest of the West Indian islands, ought to run the whole cluster of Caribbean islands, just as little England runs the whole British Empire."
"Who was it said that?" asked Stuart curiously, though his heart was thumping with excitement.
"A chap I know, Cecil, Guy Cecil, sort of a globe-trotter. One of the biggest shareholders in this Pitch Lake. Funny sort of Johnny. Know him?"
"I—I think I've met him," answered the boy. "Tall, eyes a very light blue, almost colorless, speaks very correct English, fussy about his clothes and doesn't talk about himself much."
"That's the very man!" cried the planter, "I couldn't have described him better myself. Where did you meet him?"
Stuart answered non-committally and steered the subject into other channels, determining within himself that he would certainly go out to the Pitch Lake, if only with the hope of finding out something more about this mysterious Guy Cecil, whose name seemed to be cropping up everywhere.
The following day, having seen his friend the planter off on the homeward bound mail steamer, Stuart prepared for his visit to the famous Pitch Lake, though the planter had warned him that he would be disappointed.
Going by railway to Fernando, Stuart took a small steamer to La Brea, the shipping point for the asphalt, a town, which, by reason of its association with pitch, has a strange and unnatural air. The beach is covered with pieces of pitch, encrusted with sand and stones, worn by the water into the most grotesque shapes and forming so many resting-places for hundreds of pelicans. Some of these blocks of hardened asphalt had been polished by the sea until they shone like jewels of jet as large as a table, others, fringed with green seaweed, gave the shore an uncanny appearance of a sea-beach not of this earth. Unlike the universally white towns of the West Indies, La Brea is black. The impress of pitch is everywhere. The pier is caked with the pitch, the pavements are pitch, and, on the only street in the town as Stuart passed, he saw a black child, sitting on a black boulder of pitch, and playing with a black doll made of pitch.
Taking a negro boy as a guide, Stuart started for the famous deposit of asphalt, about one mile inland. The countryside leading thither was not absolutely barren, but it was scrawny and dismal. A coarse sand alternated with chunks of black asphalt. A few trees managed to find a foothold here and there, and there was sparse vegetation in patches.
There was nothing exciting, nothing momentous in the approach to the lake. Nor was there anything startling in the sight of the lake itself.
Although previously warned, Stuart could not repress an exclamation of disappointed surprise at his first view of this famous lake, the greatest deposit of natural asphalt in the world.
A circular depression, so slight that it was hard for the boy to realize that it was a depression at all, had, toward its center, a smaller flat, 115 acres in extent. There were no flames, no sulphurous steam, no smoke, no bubbling whirls of viscid matter, nothing exciting whatever. The stretch before him resembled nothing so much as mud-flat with the tide out. The dried-up bed of a large park pond, with a small island or two of green shrubbery, and some very scrawny palms around the edge would exactly represent the famous Pitch Lake of Trinidad.
Arriving at the edge, Stuart stepped on the lake with the utmost precaution, for he had read that the lake was both warm and liquid. Both were true. But the warmth was only slight, and the liquidity was so dense that, when a piece of pitch was taken out, it took several hours for the slow-moving mass to fill up the hole.
"The sensation that walking upon this substance gave," writes Treves, "was no other than that of treading upon the flank of some immense beast, some Titanic mammoth lying prostrate in a swamp. The surface was black, it was dry and minutely wrinkled like an elephant's skin, it was blood-warm, it was soft and yielded to the tread precisely as one would suppose that an acre of solid flesh would yield. The general impression was heightened by certain surface creases, where the hide seemed to be turned in as in the folds behind an elephant's ears. These skin furrows were filled with water, as if the collapsed animal was perspiring.
"The heat of the air was great, the light was almost blinding, while the shimmer upon the baked surface, added to the swaying of one's feet in soft places, gave rise to the idea that the mighty beast was still breathing, and that its many-acred flank actually moved."
The task of taking the pitch out of this lake, Stuart found to be as prosaic as the lake itself. Laborers, with picks, broke off large pieces—which showed a dull blue cleavage—while other laborers lifted the pieces on their heads—the material is light—and carried them to trucks, running on a little railroad on the surface of the lake, and pulled by a cable line.
The tracks sink into the lake, little by little, and have to be pried up and moved to a new spot every three days, but as they are specially constructed for this, the labor is trifling. The laborers work right beside the railroad trucks. It makes no difference where the ditch is dug, from which the asphalt is taken, as the hole left the night before is filled again by the following morning.
It has been estimated that this deposit alone contains over 9,000,000 tons of asphalt. It is 135 feet deep, and though enormous quantities of the stuff have been taken out, the level has not fallen more than ten feet.
In the lake are certain small islands, which move around from place to place, apparently following some little-known currents in the lower layers of the pitch.
Stuart went on to the factory, hoping to get some further information about Guy Cecil, but met with a sudden and unexpected rebuff. Not only did no one about the place seem to know the name, but they refused to admit that they recognized the description, and seemed to resent the questions.
Trying to change the subject, Stuart commenced to ask questions about where the asphalt came from, and the manager, who seemed to be a Canadian, turned on the boy, sharply.
"See here," he said, "I don't know who you are, nor where you come from. But I'll give a civil answer to a civil question. As for this Cecil, I don't know anything about him. As for where this asphalt come from, I don't know, and nobody knows. Some say it's inorganic, some say is from vegetable deposits of a long time ago, some say it's fish. The chemists are still scrapping about it. Nobody knows. Now, is there anything more?"
The manner of the response was not one to lead Stuart to further attempts. He shook his head, and with a curt farewell went back to La Brea, Fernando and Port de Spain.
At the hotel he found a telegram.
Two days later Stuart boarded the steamer for Martinique, the Island of the Volcano.
THE MORNING OF DOOM
"Ay," said the first mate to Stuart, as they paced the bridge on the little steamer which was taking the boy to Martinique, "yonder little island is St. Lucia, maybe the most beautiful of the West Indies, though it isn't safe for folks to wander around much there."
"Why?" asked Stuart in surprise, "are the negroes mutinous?"
"No, bless ye!" the mate gave a short laugh. "Mighty nice folks in St. Lucia, though Castries, the capital, is a great fever town. It isn't the folks that are dangerous. Snakes, my bully boy, snakes! It's the home of the fer-de-lance."
"The Yellow Viper?" queried Stuart.
"The same. An' the name's a good one. It's more viperous than any other snake of the viper bunch, an' its disposition is mean and yellow right through. Ever see one?"
"No," said Stuart, "I haven't. I heard there were some in Trinidad, and there have been a few reported in Cuba. But I guess they're rare there. What do they look like?"
The mate spat freely over the side, while he gathered his powers for a description.
"If ye can think of a fish that's been a long time dead," he suggested, "an' has turned a sort of phosphorescent brown-yellow in decayin', ye'll have a general idea of the color. The head, like all the vipers, is low, flat an' triangle-shaped. The eye is a bright orange color, an' so shinin' that flashes from it look like sparks of red-yellow fire. I've never seen them at night, but folks who have, say that in the dark the eyes look like glowin' charcoal.
"If I had to take a walk through the St. Lucia woods, I'd put on armor, I would! Why, any minute, something you take for a branch, a knot of liana, a clump of fruit, a hangin' air-plant, may take life an' strike. An' that's all ye'll ever know in this world."
"There's no cure for it?"
"None. A little while after a fer-de-lance strikes, ye're as dead as if you'd been dropped in mid-Atlantic, with a shot tied to your feet."
"Maybe I'm just as glad I'm not going to land there," said Stuart, "though I guess it's one of the most famous fighting spots of the world. I read once that for a hundred and fifty years there was never a year without a battle on that island. Seven times it was held by the English and seven times by the French."
"Like enough," replied the mate. "It's owned by the English now, but Castries is a French town, through and through. But Castries sticks in my memory for a reason which means more to a deep-water sailor than any land fightin'. We were lyin' in the harbor at Castries when the Roddam came in, ay, more'n twenty years ago."
"What was the Roddam?" queried Stuart, scenting a story.
"Have ye forgotten," answered the mate in a return query, "or didn't ye ever know? Let me tell ye what the Roddam was!"
"We were lyin' right over there, in Castries Harbor, dischargin' coal—which was carried down by negro women in baskets on their heads—when we saw creep round the headland of Vigie, where you can see the old barracks from here, the shape of a steamer. She came slowly, like some wounded an' crippled critter. Clear across the bay we could hear her screw creakin,' an' her engines clankin' like they were all poundin' to pieces. What a sight she was! We looked at her, struck still ourselves an' unable to speak. They talk of a Phantom Ship, but if ever anything looked like a Phantom Steamer, the Roddam was that one.
"From funnel-rim to water-line she was grey an' ghost-like, lookin' like a boat seen in an ugly dream. Every scrap o' paint had been burned from her sides, or else was hangin' down from the bare iron like flaps o' skin. She had been flayed alive, an' she showed it. Some of her derricks were gone, the ropes charred an' the wires endin' in blobs o' melted metal. The planks of her chart-house were blackened. Her ventilators had crumpled into masses without any shape.
"Laborin' like a critter in pain, she managed to make shallow water, an' a rattle o' chain told o' the droppin' o' the anchor. After that, nothin'! There wasn't a sign o' life aboard.
"The harbor folks pulled out to take a look at the craft. As they came near, the smell o' fire an' sulphur met them. A hush, like death, seemed to hang over her. The colored boatmen quit rowin', but the harbor-master forced them on. Her ladder was still down. The harbor-master climbed aboard.
"On deck, nothin' moved. The harbor-master stepped down into grey ashes, sinkin' above his knee. With a scream he drew back. The ashes were hot, almost white-hot, below. The light surface ash flew up about him and half-suffocated him. His boot half-burned from his foot and chokin', the harbor-master staggered back to the rail for air.
"No life was to be seen, nothin' but piles o' grey ash, heaped in mounds. Ash was everywhere. From it rose a quivering heat, smellin' o' sulphur an' the Pit.
"Yet everyone couldn't be dead on this ghost-ship, for someone must ha' steered her into the harbor, an' dropped the anchor. Makin' his way along the rail, the harbor-master made his way to where he could reach the iron ladder goin' to the bridge, an' climbed it. The bridge was clear of ash, blown free by the mornin' breeze.
"The chart-house door was open. In it, lyin' across the steam steerin' wheel, was Captain Freeman, unconscious. His face was so blistered that his eyes were nearly shut. His hair was singed right down to the skull. His hands were raw an' bleedin'. His clothes were scorched into something that was black an' brittle. The harbor-master lifted him, an' laid him on the chart-house bunk."
"What others were there?"
"Pickin' his way, he got to the bow an' found the deck hand who had let down the anchor. He was blind an' his flesh was crisped and cracking.
"From below, crawled up four o' the engine-room crew. Most o' the others aboard lay dead under those heaps o' hot ash on the deck."
"What had happened?"
"This had happened. The Roddam had been through the eruption of Mont Pelee, the only ship which escaped o' the eighteen that were in the harbor. She got away only because she made port just fifty-two minutes before the eruption, an' had been ordered to the quarantine station, some distance off."
"Did you see anything of the eruption yourself?"
"We knew that somethin' had happened, even down here in St. Lucia. It turned almost as black as night for a few minutes, an' our skipper, who was ashore, said he had felt a slight earthquake. But we saw enough of it, right after."
"How?" queried Stuart.
"We had a lot o' foodstuff in our cargo, some of which was billed for Caracas. But, as soon as we heard the story, our captain told the engineer to get up full steam an' make for Fort-de-France. He knew the owners would have wanted him to go to the relief of the folks of Martinique. We got there the next day an' saw sights! Sights I can't ever forget!"
The eruption of Mont Pelee and the destruction of the town of St. Pierre, in 1902, over 30,000 people being killed in the space of three seconds, was one of the most tragic disasters of history, and the ruins of St. Pierre are today the most astounding ruins that the world contains of so vast and terrible a calamity, outrivaling those of Pompeii.
The cataclysm did not come without warning. As early as March 23, a scientist ascended the volcano and reported that a small crater was in eruption. By the end of April, to quote from Heilprin, "vast columns of steam and ash had been and were being blown out, boiling mud was flowing from its sides and terrific rumblings came from its interior. Lurid lights hung over the crown at night-time, and lightning flashed in dazzling sheets through the cloud-world. What further warnings could any volcano give?"
On April 25, a crater broke into a small eruption, throwing out showers of rock-material, which, however, did not reach the town, distant a mile from the foot of the volcano. On May 5, an avalanche of boiling mud, many acres wide, tumbled down from the volcano, and went roaring along the bed of the Riviere Blanche at the rate of a mile a minute. A large sugar factory was engulfed and some 159 lives lost. On May 6 and 7, the sulphur fumes were so strong in the streets that horses, and even people, dropped from suffocation.
Again—what further warning could any volcano give?
There were other warnings. On April 30, light ashes had begun to fall. On May 1 an excursion was announced for the summit of Mont Pelee for those who wished to see a volcano in action, but that morning a deeper coat of ashes blanched the streets. The Jardin des Plantes—one of the richest tropical gardens of the West Indies—lay buried beneath a cap of gray and white. The heights above the city seemed snow-clad. The country roads were blocked and obliterated, and horses would neither work nor travel. Birds fell in their noiseless flight, smothered by the ash that surrounded them, or asphyxiated by poisonous vapors or gases that were being poured into the atmosphere.
"The rain of ashes never ceases," the local paper wrote on May 3. "At about half-past nine, the sun shone forth timidly. The passing of carriages is no longer heard in the streets. The wheels are muffled. Many business houses are closed to customers.... The excursion which had been organized for tomorrow morning cannot take place, the crater being absolutely inaccessible. Those who had planned to take part will be informed on what date this excursion will become possible."
On May 4 the paper wrote: "The sea is covered in patches with dead birds. Many lie asphyxiated on the roads. The cattle suffer greatly, asphyxiated by the dust of ashes. The children of the planters wander aimlessly about the courtyards, with their little donkeys, like human wrecks. They are no longer black, but white, and look as if hoar frost had formed upon them.... Desolation, aridity and eternal silence prevail over the countryside."
Next day, May 5, was the day when the mud crater opened. It was followed by an upsurging wave from the ocean, which added to the fear of the people, but which receded slowly and with little damage. On the day following, Pelee was shrouded in a heavy cloud, and ashes and cinders fell over a wide stretch of country. The surface waters had disappeared. Trees had been burned of their leaves. Yet a commission appointed to investigate the condition of the volcano made light of it, saying "the relative position of the craters and the valleys, leading towards the sea, enables the statement that the safety of St. Pierre is complete."
Wednesday, May 7, opened one of the saddest and most terrorizing of the many days that led up to the final eruption. Since four o'clock in the morning, Mont Pelee had been hoarse with its roaring, and vivid lightning flashed through its shattered clouds. Thunder rolled over its head, and lurid glares played across the smoky column which towered aloft. "Some say," says Heilprin, "that at this time it showed two fiery crater-mouths, which shone out like fire-filled blast furnaces. The volcano seemed prepared for a last effort.
"When daylight broke through the clouds and cast its softening rays over the roadstead, another picture of horror rose to the eyes. The shimmering waters of the open sea were loaded with wreckage of all kinds—islands of debris from field and forest and floating fields of pumice and jetsam. As far as the eye could reach, it saw but a field of desolation." The river of Basse-Pointe overflowed with a torrent of black water, which carried several houses away. Black rains fell.
Again, and for the last time—could a volcano give any further warning?
Yet the governor, a scientific commission, and the local paper joined in advising the inhabitants of St. Pierre not to flee the city, the article closing with the words, "Mont Pelee presents no more dangers to the inhabitants of St. Pierre than does Vesuvius to those of Naples."
Next day the governor was dead, the members of the commission were dead, the editor was dead, and the presses on which this article had been printed had, in one blast, been fused into a mass of twisted metal.
Came the 8th of May, 1902.
Shortly after midnight the thunders ceased for a while, but by four o'clock, two hours before the shadows of night had lifted, an ominous cloud was seen flowing out to sea, followed in its train by streaks of fiery cinders. The sun was barely above the horizon when the roaring began again. The Vicar-General describes these sounds as follows: "I distinguished clearly four kinds of noises; first the clap of thunder, which followed the lightning at intervals of twenty seconds; then the mighty muffled detonations of the volcano, like the roaring of many cannon fired simultaneously; third, the continuous rumbling of the crater, which the inhabitants designated the 'roaring of the lion,' and then last, as though furnishing the bass for this gloomy music, the deep noise of the swelling waters, of all the torrents which take their source upon the mountain, generated by an overflow such as has never yet been seen. This immense rising of thirty streams at once, without one drop of water having fallen on the sea-coast, gives some idea of the cataracts which must pour down upon the summit from the storm-clouds gathered around the crater."
"Hundreds of agonized people," writes Heilprin, in his great scientific work on the catastrophe, "had gathered to their devotions in the Cathedral and the Cathedral Square, this being Ascension Day, but probably there were not many among them who did not feel that the tide of the world had turned, for even through the atmosphere of the sainted bells, the fiery missiles were being hurled to warn of destruction. The fate of the city and of its inhabitants had already been sealed.
"The big hand of the clock of the Military Hospital had just reached the minute mark of 7:50 a.m. when a great brown cloud was seen to issue from the side of the volcano, followed almost immediately by a cloud of vapory blackness, which separated from it and took a course downward to the sea. Deafening detonations from the interior preceded this appearance, and a lofty white pennant was seen to rise from the summit of the volcano.
"With wild fury the black cloud rolled down the mountain slope, pressing closely the contours of the valley along which had previously swept the mud-flow that overwhelmed the factory three days before, and spreading fan-like to the sea.
"In two minutes, or less, it had reached the doomed city, a flash of blinding intensity parted its coils, and St. Pierre was ablaze. The clock of the Military Hospital halted at 7:52 a.m.—a historic time-mark among the ruins, the recorder of one of the greatest catastrophic events that are written in the history of the world."
Just before the cloud struck, its violet-grey center showed, and the forepart of this was luminous. It struck the town with the fury of a tornado of flame. Whirls of fire writhed spirally about it. The mountain had belched death, death in many forms: death by fire, death by poisonous gases, death by a super-furnace heat, but, principally, death by a sudden suffocation, the fiery and flaming cloud having consumed all the breathable air.
Whole streets of houses were mown down by the flaming scythe. Walls three to four feet in thickness were blown away like paper. Massive machinery was crumpled up as if it had been clutched in a titanic white-hot metal hand. The town was raked by a hurricane of incandescent dust and super-heated gas.
The violet luminosity, with its writhing serpents of flame, was followed in a second or two by a thousand points of light as the town took fire, followed, almost instantaneously, by a burst of light of every color in the spectrum, as a thousand substances leaped into combustion, and then, in a moment——
An impenetrable cloud of smoke and ash absolutely blotted out the sun. The sky was covered. The hills were hidden. The sea was as invisible as at midnight. Even the grayness of the ash gave back no light; there was none to give.
Three seconds had elapsed since the violet-gray cloud of fury struck the town, but in those three seconds 30,000 people lay dead, slain with such appalling swiftness that none knew their fate. No one had tried to escape.
The eruption was witnessed, from a distance, by only one trained observer, Roger Arnoux, and a translation of his record is, in part, as follows:
"Having left St. Pierre at about five in the evening (May 7) I was witness to the following spectacle: Enormous rocks, being clearly distinguishable, were being projected from the crater to a considerable elevation, so high, indeed, as to occupy a quarter of a minute in their flight.
"About eight o'clock of the evening we recognized for the first time, playing about the crater, fixed fires that burned with a brilliant white flame. Shortly afterwards, several detonations, similar to those that had been heard at St. Pierre, were noted coming from the south, which confirmed me in my opinion that there already existed a number of submarine craters from which gases were being projected, to explode when coming in contact with the air.
"Having retired for the night, at about nine o'clock, I awoke shortly afterwards in the midst of a suffocating heat and completely bathed in perspiration.... I awoke again about eleven thirty-five, having felt a trembling of the earth ... but again went to sleep, waking at half-past seven. My first observation was of the crater, which I found sufficiently calm, the vapors being chased swiftly under pressure of an east wind.
"At about eight o'clock, when still watching the crater (M. Arnoux was the only man who saw the beginning of the eruption and lived to tell the tale), I noted a small cloud pass out, followed two seconds after by a considerable cloud, whose flight to the Pointe de Carbet (beyond the city) occupied less than three seconds, being at the same time already in our zenith, thus showing that it developed almost as rapidly in height as in length. The vapors were of a violet-gray color and seemingly very dense, for, although endowed with an almost inconceivably powerful ascensive force, they retained to the zenith their rounded summits. Innumerable electric scintillations played through the chaos of vapors, at the same time that the ears were deafened by a frightful fracas.
"I had, at this time, an impression that St. Pierre had been destroyed.... As the monster seemed to near us, my people, panic-stricken, ran to a neighboring hillock that dominated the house, begging me to do the same.... Hardly had we arrived at the summit when the sun was completely veiled, and in its place came almost complete blackness.... At this time we observed over St. Pierre, a column of fire, estimated to be 1,200 feet in height, which seemed to be endowed with the movement of rotation as well as onward movement." St. Pierre was no more.
Rescuers were soon on their way. Twenty-three minutes after the clouds had been seen rising from Mont Pelee and the cable and telephone lines were broken, a little steamer left Fort-de-France, the capital. It reached half-way, then, finding that the rain of stones and ashes threatened to sink it, returned. The boat started anew at ten o'clock and rounded the point of Carbet. The volcano was shrouded in smoke and ashes. For three miles the coast was in flames. Seventeen vessels in the roadstead, two of which were American steamers, burned at anchor. The heat from this immense conflagration prevented the boat from proceeding and it returned to Fort-de-France, reaching there at one o'clock, bringing the sinister tidings.
At midday, the Acting Governor of Martinique ordered the Suchet to go with troops to be under the direction of the Governor, then at St. Pierre. About three o'clock, a party was landed on the shore. The pier was covered with bodies. The town was all in fire and in ruins. The heat was such that the landing party could not endure more than three or four minutes. The Governor was dead also.
"St. Pierre," writes a witness on another rescue ship, which arrived at almost the same moment, "is no more. Its ruins stretch before us, in their shroud of smoke and ashes, gloomy and silent, a city of the dead. Our eyes seek the inhabitants fleeing distracted, or returning to look for the dead. Nothing to be seen. No living soul appears in this desert of desolation, encompassed by appalling silence.... Through the clouds of ashes and of smoke diffused in our atmosphere, the sun breaks wan and dim, as it is never seen in our skies, and throws over the whole picture a sinister light, suggestive of a world beyond the grave."
Two of the inhabitants, and two only, escaped; one a negro prisoner, who was not found until three days later, burned half to death in his prison cell; and one, a shoemaker, who, by some strange eddy in the all-killing gas, and who was on the very edge of the track of destruction, fled, though others fell dead on every side of him.
A second eruption, coupled with an earthquake, on May 20, completed the wreckage of the buildings. This outburst was even more violent than the first. There was no loss of life, for no one was left to slay.
Five years later, Sir Frederick Treves visited St. Pierre. "Along the whole stretch of the bay," he writes, "there is not one living figure to be seen, not one sign of human life, not even a poor hut, nor grazing cattle.... A generous growth of jungle has spread over the place in these five years. Rank bushes, and even small trees, make a thicket along some of the less traversed ways.... Over some of the houses luxuriant creepers have spread, while long grass, ferns and forest flowers have filled up many a court and modest lane."
Twelve years later, a visitor to St. Pierre found a small wooden pier erected. A tiny hotel had been built. Huts were clustering under the ruins. Several parties were at work clearing away the ruins, but slowly, for the government of the colony would not assist in the work, believing that the region was unsafe. At the time of this visit, Mont Pelee was still smoking.
This was the ruined city which Stuart was going to see. On board the steamer were the two or three books which tell the story of the great eruption, and the boy filled his brain full of the terrible story that he might better feel the great adventure that the next day should bring him.
The steamer reached Fort-de-France in the evening, and the boy found the town, though ill-lighted, gay. A band was playing in the Plaza, not far from the landing place and most of the shops were still open. Morning showed an even brighter Fort-de-France, for, though when St. Pierre was in its glory, Fort-de-France was the lesser town, the capital now is the center of the commercial prosperity of the island. For this, however, Stuart had little regard. Sunrise found him on the little steamer which leaves daily for St. Pierre.
The journey was not long, three hours along a coast of steep cliffs with verdant mountains above. Small fishing hamlets, half-hidden behind coco-nut palms, appeared in every cove. The steamer passed Carbet, that town on the edge of the great eruptive flood, which had its own death-list, and they turned the point of land into the harbor of St. Pierre.
Before the boy's eyes rose the Mountain of Destruction, sullen, twisted, wrinkled and still menacing, not all silent yet. The hills around were green, and verdure spread over the country once deep in volcanic ash. But Mont Pelee was brown and bald still.
Nineteen years had passed since the eruption, but St. Pierre had not recovered. At first sight, from the sea, the town gave a slight impression of being rebuilt. But this was only the strange combination of old ruins and modern fishing huts. The handsome stone wharves still stood, but no vessels lay beside them.
The little steamer slowed and tied up at a tiny wooden pier. A statue, symbolical of St. Pierre in her agony, had been erected on the end of the pier. The boy landed, and walked slowly along the frail wooden structure, to take in the scene as it presented itself to him.
Alas, for St. Pierre! As Lafcadio Hearn described it—"the quaint, whimsical, wonderfully colored little town, the sweetest, queerest, darlingest little city in the Antilles.... Walls are lemon color, quaint balconies and lattices are green. Palm trees rise from courts and gardens into the warm blue sky, indescribably blue, that appears almost to touch the feathery heads of them. And all things within and without the yellow vista are steeped in a sunshine electrically white, in a radiance so powerful that it lends even to the pavement of basalt the glitter of silver ore.
"Everywhere rushes mountain water—cool and crystal—clear, washing the streets; from time to time you come to some public fountain flinging a silvery column to the sun.... And often you will note, in the course of a walk, little drinking fountains contrived in the angle of a building, or in the thick walls bordering the bulwarks or enclosing public squares; glittering threads of water spurting through lion-lips of stone."
Alas for St. Pierre!
Above the pier but one street had been partly restored, and, at every gap, the boy's gaze encountered gray ruins. The ash, poured out by the mountain in its vast upheaval, has made a rich soil. To Stuart's eyes, the town was a town of dreams, of great stone staircases that led to nowhere, of high archways that gave upon a waste. The entrance hall of the great Cathedral, once one of the finest in the West Indies, still leads to the high altar, but that finds its home in a little wooden structure with a tin roof, shrinking in what was once a corner of the apse.
Built as a lean-to in the corner of what had once been a small, but strongly-built house was a store, a very small store, outside the door of which a crippled negro was sitting. Thinking that this might be one of the old-timers of St. Pierre, Stuart stopped and bought a small trinket, partly as a memento, partly as a means of getting into conversation.
"But yes, Monsieur," answered the storekeeper, "it was my wife and I—we escaped. My wife, she had been sent into Morne Rouge, that very morning, with a message from her mistress. Me, I was working on the road, not more than a mile away. I saw nothing of it, Monsieur. About half-past seven that morning (twenty-two minutes, therefore, before the final eruption) a shower of stones fell where I was working. One fell on my back, and left me crippled, as you see. But my four children, ah! Monsieur, they sleep here, somewhere!"
He waved his hand toward the riot of ruin and foliage which now marks the city which once prided itself on being called "the gayest little city in the West Indies."
"Yet you have come back!" exclaimed Stuart.
"But yes, Monsieur, what would you? It pleased God that I should be born here, that my children should be taken away from me here; and, maybe, that I should die here, too."
"You are not afraid that Mont Pelee will begin again?"
The negro shrugged his shoulders.
"It is my home, Monsieur," he said simply. "Better a home which is sad than the place of a stranger which is gay. But we hope, Monsieur, that some day the government of Martinique will accept a parole of good conduct from the Great Eater of Lives"—he pointed to Mont Pelee—"and give us back our town again."
Next morning, studying the life of the little town, Stuart found that many others shared the view of the crippled negro. The little market-place on the Place Bertin, though lacking any shelter from pouring rain or blazing sun, was crowded with three or four hundred market women. Daily the little steamer takes a cargo from St. Pierre, for the ash from the volcano has enriched the soil, and the planters are growing wealthy. There are many more little houses and thatched huts tucked into corners of the ruins than appear at first sight, and a hotel has been built for the tourists who visit the strange spot.
The crater in Mont Pelee is silent now; the great vent which hurled white-hot rocks, incandescent dust and mephitic gases, is now covered with a thick green shrubbery, only here and there do small smoke-holes emit a light sulphurous vapor; but the great mountain, treeless, wrinkled, implacable, seemed to Stuart to throw a solemn shadow of threat upon the town. The secret of St. Pierre, as Stuart wrote to his paper, "lies in the hope of its inhabitants, but its real future lies in the parole of good conduct from the Great Eater of Human Lives, Mont Pelee."
A CORSAIR'S DEATH
There is not a corner of the world which is more full of historic memories than is the West Indies. Dominica, the next island which Stuart passed after he had left Martinique, besides being one of the scenic glories of the world, described as "a tabernacle for the sun, a shrine of a thousand spires, rising tier above tier, in one exquisite fabric of green, purple and grey," has many claims to fame. Here, the cannibal Caribs were so fierce that for 255 years they defied the successive fleets of Spaniards, French and English who tried to take possession of the island. Some three hundred Caribs still dwell upon the island upon a reservation provided by the government. The warriors no longer make war, and fish has taken the place of the flesh of their enemies as a staple diet.
Under the cliffs of Dominica is a memory of the Civil War, for there the Confederate vessel Alabama finally escaped the Federal man-of-war Iroquois. A few miles further north, between Dominica and Guadeloupe, in The Saints Passage, was fought, in 1782, the great sea-battle between Rodney and De Grasse, which ended in the decisive victory of the English over the French and gave Britain the mastery of the Caribbean Sea. It ranks as one of the great historic sea-fights of the world.
The next island on the direct line to the north, St. Kitts, is not destitute of fame. As Cecil had told Stuart, St. Kitts or St. Christopher was first a home for buccaneers, and later one of the keys to the military occupation of the West Indies. Its neighbor, St. Nevis, together with other claims to romance, has a special interest to the United States in that Alexander Hamilton—perhaps one of the greatest of American statesmen—was born there.
Near St. Kitts lies Antigua, where the Most Blessed Trinity—despite her name, one of the most famous pirate craft afloat—settled after her bloody cruises. Its captain was Bartholomew Sharp, described as "an acrid-looking villain whose scarred face had been tanned to the color of old brandy, whose shaggy brows were black with gunpowder, and whose long hair, half singed off in a recent fight, was tied up in a nun's wimple. He was dressed in the long embroidered coat of a Spanish grandee, and, as there was a bullet hole in the back of the garment, it may be surmised that the previous owner had come to a violent end. His hose of white silk were as dirty as the deck, his shoe buckles were of dull silver."