Chapter 20 B 1888 My First Trip to the
At time of Henry's disappearance, I was a student in the Yale School of Fine Arts. My father, who held the dual professorships of Zoology and Geology in the
I doubt if the years I spent in the
The art school however, proved to be the real means of shaping my future career. Among my classmates was Frederick Remington who became famous for his western pictures, and another student was a youth from
Although sixty years have passed since I set out on my first trip to the tropics I can recall every detail, every event, even the most trivial incidents as vividly as though it were but yesterday. In those days tourists and fugitives from northern winters did not flock to the tropics. The
Sailing ships were still the chief cargo carriers in those days, there were few passengers traveling between the islands and the States and the few steamships that sailed to and from the
Never shall I forget the wonder and delight with which I gazed shoreward at
In those days
There is no need to describe the loveliest of the Antilles or to recall my impressions during the few days that I remained in
The resident physician, Dr. Alford Nicholls, who was deeply interested in the avifauna of the island, advised me to make my headquarters at Laudat - a tiny hamlet on the slopes of Morne Macaque nearly 3000 feet above the sea and about eight miles over the mountains from Roseau. So, the friendly doctor having sent a message to Laudat to let the people arrange my accommodations, I started out the next morning at daybreak with a husky black porter named Charles Rose carrying my heavy chest of clothes, ammunition and supplies atop his wooly head.
Never will memory of that first tramp become dim. Following the lovely
"He sing too pretty, mon," he observed, "he Siffleur montagne (Mountain Whistler) Oui, M'sieu he spirit bird for true. No mon see he but hear he sing plenty."
I did not blame Rose for attributing the wonderful melody to a spirit, but later on I collected many specimens of the shy dove-gray bird although I always felt like a criminal when I shot one, even if it was in the cause of Science.
So fascinated did I become in my surroundings and the vast forest through which the trail was a dusky damp cool tunnel that the steady upward climb and the miles we traveled passed unnoticed. But at last Rose reminded me that it was ''brekfus" time and calling a halt asked me to "ease me down" with his heavy burden. How he could carry a hundred and fifty pounds for hour after hour with apparently little effort or inconvenience was a mystery, but in
It is a common thing to see mountain women hurrying along the road with two huge bunches of plantains or bananas on their heads and so heavily laden that they cannot walk slowly but must keep up a steady trot and can only rest when they meet some one who will "ease them down". Their load being far too heavy-for them to lower it with their own hands.
As Rose and I seated ourselves beside a crystal clear spring gushing from the rocky cliff and proceeded to eat our "brekfus mange" two of these heavily-laden mountain girls arrived and in the odd native Creole or patois asked us to "ease me down". They were pretty girls, golden-skinned with high cheek bones and fawn-like black eyes. On their heads they wore the bright colored "
Evidently I was as strange to them as they were to me for aside from the few white men or women were seldom seen in those days and a white boy or rather I might say a "youth" was a real novelty. "He from win'ard side the islan’” Rose explained. "He" indicating the younger of the girls "pure Ca’ib an’ nex’ one he part Ca’ib an' part capresse." I had read of the few remaining Caribs still living on
Having finished our lunch and having lifted their loads to the girls’ heads I helped Rose "head" my dunnage and we continued on our way.
A few hours later we left the main road and following a narrow trail through the jungle, reached the cleared fields and clustered houses of Laudat. Had I been the Governor of the island I could not have received a warmer or more hospitable welcome. Men, women, boys and girls came hurrying from their homes as Rose stopped at the largest house and was eased of his load. Nearly all spoke English quite well and all but a few elderly people could converse after a manner in my language. Old Andre at whose house we had stopped, told me that everything had been arranged and the largest room had been made ready for my use. It was spotlessly clean, furnished with a chair, a table, a stool and a bed, all hand made of native wood, and on the table was an earthenware "monkey jar" holding a bouquet of fragrant frangipani and jasmine.
Although Andre, himself was almost pure African his gray-haired wife, was unmistakably Carib. His buxom daughter, LeBrun, was more Carib than Negro and his two sons- Leon and Jean - had kinky wool of the African but features of the Caribs. Wherever I looked I found the same mixture - and later learned that all in the village were related, that all belonged to either the Laudat or the Rolles family and that all had more or less Carib blood. It was a patriarchal village - almost a little country by itself, of which Andre was the ruler.
Everyone had to be officially introduced by Andre who did the honors in a strange mixture of English and Patois. But it made little difference, for the names were all French and, subsequently, I found that everyone had at least two names - one that with which they had been christened, the other, the name by which they were commonly known, a custom derived directly from the Caribs.
I was amazed at the friendliness and the hospitality of these mountain people. Gifts of flowers, fruit, poultry, eggs, fresh vegetables, jars of fresh milk; a freshly killed agouti and several wild pigeons or "ramier” were pressed upon me. Obviously it was impossible for one youthful American to consume the wealth of edibles for there was more than enough to feed Andre's family and Rose as well. And as my arrival seemed to call for a celebration I suggested a feast to which all were invited. We had a really wonderful time even if I was handicapped by my ignorance of Patois, for Rose or someone was always ready to act as my interpreter. I soon found that they were a most superstitious lot - thoroughly believing in Qbeah, jumbies , all sorts of spirits and supernatural beings, and practically all conversation consisted of hair-raising or shivery tales of spectres, vampires, obeah spells and they worked themselves up to such a state that the slightest unexpected sound or movement would send them into a panic.
Not yet having outgrown my boyish love of pranks I took advantage of their highly nervous state a few weeks later. One of the boys had brought me some live Hercules beetles - giant insects six inches or more in length. Not having had time to kill and prepare them I had temporarily tethered them to my stool by means of strings fastened about the thorax. In the midst of a most breath-taking tale being related by Jules I stepped into my darkened room, carefully unfastened the string to one of my giant beetles and released him. The instant the huge insect saw the lighted candles in the next room he spread his wings and headed for the candles. At the sudden loud whirr of the beetle's wings the already nervous people screamed and screeched in fright and little wonder for the immense beetle passing over their heads cast a gigantic shadow on the walls - a black demoniacal form that might well have been a jumbie. Then, before anyone had time to gather his or her wits, the candle was snuffed out by the beetle’s onrush.
Huddled together, moaning and whimpering in abject terror the people waited for what might happen next. I realized I had overdone my joke. Shouting that it was only one of my beetles that had escaped I managed to reach and relight the candles and capturing the dazed insect showed it to them. I admit I was terribly afraid that I had offended my friends and committed an unpardonable offense but to my relief and surprise they seemed to consider it a great joke, laughing merrily over their terror. But to tell the truth I do not think it ever occurred to them that I was responsible.
Pages upon pages might be filled with narratives of incidents, experiences, yes, even adventures that were my lot while on the island. And there were many firm friends that I made and interesting experiences with the loveable people. There was Beche, the Carib boy - an orphan adopted by old Andre. He was a natural born artist - like so many of the Indians - and while his "art" was primitive it was highly effective and his men and animals conveyed real “action" even though he was limited to a charred stick and hand-split shingles. Never have I seen a youngster more delighted than when I presented him with a couple colored pencils- red and blue, and a blank book. I still have some of the pictures that he drew for me and they remind me strongly of some of my own masterpieces that I turned out when Beche's age. Then there was Jimmy - stocky, copper-skinned, kinky-haired with his inquisitive eyes almost Simian in their questing expression. Although six years old Jimmy knew his alphabet, but could neither read nor write and he was utterly fascinated whenever I opened a book, especially if it contained pictures. "Moi des'e M'sieu" he would whisper. And how delighted he was when I allowed him to look at a book by himself. But he was anxious to learn English, still more anxious to learn to read and write so, having bought an English primer I took on the job of teaching Jimmy to read.
It was not as simple as I had hoped. Jimmy’s mind was all Patois. Even when he had learned the English names of the letters of the alphabet he would point at a picture of a cat and proudly exclaim “C-A-T-Chat" or indicating a dog "D-O-G-Chien". Even after he had mastered our language after a fashion and could talk, write and read English quite fluently, for that matter even today - Jimmy always has a tendency to call all living creatures by their Patois names. And when, as I often times do, I revisit