Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Moreau De Jonnes in the West Indies (1795)(Part 4)


I stayed for three months in my mountain residence, my
friendship with Pakiri becoming mutually stronger every
day. I associated myself in his cares and projects for
victory over the enemy and the safety of his daughter.
As far as my youthful military experience and our in-
different means allowed, l drew up plans for the campaign
which we were impatient to open against our neighbors,
the English colonists of St. Vincent.

Already for a long time had the Caribs adopted the use
of firearms, though from necessity and custom they
continued to use bows, tomahawks, and a cutlass which they
handled very cleverly. I had obtained from Guadeloupe
powder, balls, and some muskets, and l extracted from
the wrecked frigate ten times as much by means of the
Carib swimmers. At the same time, my artillerymen
became instructors, teaching the Caribs to handle their
muskets and to maneuver like our light troops. Success
was prompt and effective. These were no dull peasants,
but active hunters, with a straight eye and sure foot, who
had only to learn how to work together.

They became so good in shooting at the target that l felt
obliged to attribute the cause to the mother of the chief
of the Black Caribs, whose powers of sorcery must have
speeded their rapid progress. Her two granddaughters,
Morning Star and Flower of the Forest, never missed the
target once. Looking on this general training of girls,
armed to defend their homes instead of groaning and calling
on Providence as they do in Europe, 1 could not believe
that the fortune of war would fail so fair and holy a cause.
I had already learnt how, in the West Indian Islands, the
great variations in localities render the study of the theater
of war very difficult, and complicate the operations which
might take place over a very small area. 1 determined to
gain an extensive knowledge of the country, as much for
the purpose of learning the means by which it might most
effectively be defended as for finding bases for the most
advantageous lines of attack on the enemy's territories.

Every day 1 traversed some portion of the island right up
to the frontier of the English colony, taking care to be
accompanied by the most intelligent of the guides. Pakiri
himself came with me to inspect the crest of the mountains
which divided the Carib portion of the island from that
invaded by the English.

A succession of slopes only left openings through a few
passes, which had nearly all been closed by enormous
barricades. The defiles left open were guarded by look-
outs, ready to give the alarm, and by the huge dogs
mentioned in a previous chapter. They had a bad reputation;
when a negro from the huts near their kennels happened
to die of apoplexy it was always said that he had been
strangled by the Carib hounds, and a11 believed it, because
the dogs were quite capable of doing lt. For my own part,
I kept a sharp lookout on them. When l visited the
frontier forests in Eliama's company they ran to couch at
her feet, but in bounding towards her they kept their
pale eyes fixed on me and growled and showed their teeth.
They mistook me for an Englishman, but l do not wish
to forget a service they rendered me.

Eliama took me one morning to the Soufrière mountain.
It was the first volcano I had visited, and 1 was much
interested in its phenomena. This day it was free from
clouds, and St. Lucia, Grenada, and Martinique were clearly
visible from its heights. The large trees which encircled
its base gave place as we ascended to shrubs covered with
lovely flowers, belonging for the most part to the Melastomaceae.
The circular top of the volcano was deeply pitted;
it was a huge basin contained in a border 60 or 7o feet high,
covered with green and flourishing plants. The bottom of
the basin was a rough soil, devoid of vegetation, resounding
underfoot, and cracked by the underground heat like the
earth of a sunburnt marsh.

From a dozen or fifteen fissures rose thick whitish columns
of smoke, tinted like the rainbow. Near the middle of this
great hearth stood up a hill about 100 feet high, the sides
of which were nearly vertical, and unclimbable but for
bushes which had grown on it close up to the top. We
had begun to climb when Eliama stopped and listened.
She had a wonderfully keen sense of hearing, of which her
countrymen said that she could hear a mouse nibbling in
the moon. She leant out from the bushes and showed me
a hunter on the lip of the volcano opposite to us, with
servants and dogs. He was an English officer intent on
sport or a visit to the Soufrière. He did not see us, as we
were behind the hill, and we could forestall his attack by
the carefully aimed lire of our carbines. I aimed at the
officer, and was going to fire, when my companion stopped
me, drew from her belt a long ivory whistle, and blew two
long and piercing calls. The hunters stopped, suspecting
that they had to do with a troop of savages. They were
not far wrong. As they were deliberating, two hounds
from a neighboring post appeared suddenly on the crest
of the crater in answer to the whistle. Directly they saw
the officer's party they recognized them as enemies, and
made for them. In the course of their attack they killed
two or three of the hounds, and rushed on towards their
masters, avoiding the effects of their gunshots by the rapidity
of their dash. The hunters, having no time to reload,
were obliged to fly, and throw themselves pell-mell down
the steep sides of the mountain. On our return home
Eliama sent our useful allies a testimony of the help they
had so promptly and fearlessly rendered to us.

Our preparations for invasion were complete, and we
only awaited the assistance of troops from Guadeloupe,
which had long been promised us, in order to attack the
English colony; but Victor Hugues had several enterprises
in course of action, and ours, in his eyes, was not the most

His delays gave the enemy time to rally and organize
his means of defense, and prepare a strong opposition to
us. The town of Kingstown, the English capital, was
covered by an entrenched camp and defended' by fortified
lines based on the citadel, which was an old castle over-
looked by the surrounding hills, but safe from surprise
through its height and the thickness of its walls. At last
a battalion of infantry reached us, and a dozen privateers
disembarked a portion of their crews to help in the attack.
1 wish 1 could say that the men of this force resembled my
good comrades of Quiberon, who were guided in all their
deeds by love of their country, and whose heroism was
impervious to evil passions. Historical accuracy compels
me to paint in very different colors this gathering of
refractories from the colonial regimental depots, of naval
deserters enlisted by the privateers, of embodied runaway
slaves, and of a general rising of natives, whose ranks were
swollen, like those of ancient Gaul, by wives and daughters
acting as warriors.

It cannot be denied that these natives were the most
civilized part of the army, with the smallest taste for loot,
incendiarism, and destruction. They were better disciplined
than the soldiers, not so fierce as the negroes, and, besides,
not so fond of drink as the sailors. 1 was too much of an
artillery officer not to be disgusted with the disorder and '
license surrounding me, and 1 was glad to receive orders
to proceed on a detached mission.

While the infantry column with the seamen followed the .
coast road, I took the tracks over the mountains,
accompanied by the Red Caribs, in order to take the enemy in
flank and find a good position for my two field-guns.
Everything went as well as 1 could wish. I passed over
the cracks opened in the hills by various earthquakes; I
crossed the Black Forest and the ridges which divided the
native territory from that of the English, and I debouched
on the colonial ground covered by a cloud of skirmishers, '
who swept over my front. Only some dwellings, having
offered resistance, were taken by storm and burnt, either
by accident or in reprisal.

In all the volcanic islands of the great American archipelago
the hills are high lava streams which flowed from
a common center; they branch out and diminish in thickness
as they approach the sea. So, then, in becoming
master of the highest point, one possesses the key to a11 the
positions on and near the coast, dominating them from an
advantageous height, with power to attack from diverging
routes. This explains how l was able to post my artillery
on the fortified flank of the enemy, and open a point-blank
fire which dismounted his guns or made his gunners quit
them. At the same time the column which had moved by
the coast attacked the trenches and scaled them easily,
as the natives had filled in the ditches with fascines. Al1
the works were carried and the defenders, for the most part,
cut to pieces, in consequence of the want of a line of retreat
and their having closed the redoubt at the neck of the
retrenchment. If our troops, following up this great success,
had dashed in pursuit, they would have entered the town
and the citadel itself simultaneously with the pursued; but
the camp offered a good prey to pillagers, and a neighboring
rum distillery attracted the drunkards--that is,
the larger portion of the force. A thousand butts of grog
were tapped be the conquerors, who lay by hundreds on the
ground. Pakiri, seeing not only the impossibility of
continuing the attack, but that we should be wiped out if the
enemy took advantage of our disorder, set a light to the
factory, which blazed up like a bowl of punch. Next
morning our troops turned out very late, marching half
asleep against the enemy. The suburb was easily taken,
and the town would have followed but for an unforeseen
accident. Overnight, on the approach of the privateers, a
corvette in harbor had slipped her moorings, set sail, and
disappeared. During the night she got to windward, and
in the course of the fight returned towards Kingstown,
steering for the twelve Guadeloupe privateers, which were
lying at anchor undefended, as their crews were in the
ranks of the force. Their captains, alarmed by the
threatened danger, recalled them without consideration for
the success of the attack on the town, and, assembling them
on the beach, hurried them into boats and got them quickly
on board. This movement, which was not promptly
noticed, threw the operations into partial disorder and
discouraged the troops. It was mistaken for a retreat,
and gradually produced one which became general. If the
enemy had seen it at once, he might have made a sortie,
which could not have failed to succeed. To hide the
evacuation of the suburb Pakiri set light to the
foremost houses.

The fire spread rapidly, and the curtain of flames and smoke
flung between the combatants allowed our troops to withdraw
before the town recognized what we were doing.
Throughout this day, so different from yesterday, l held
in check the artillery of the citadel, which could have
seriously affected our attack on the town. I had brought
forward my guns along the last spur of a long hill, the
narrow crest of which ran back to the central mountains of
the island. Thence l took in reverse part of the defenses
of the castle, and I had only to fear a battlemented cavalier
with an elevation superior to that of my battery.
1 succeeded in stopping its fire, and l prevented the other
works, which I dominated, from firing on our troops when
they occupied the suburb and were attacking the town.
I had with me a detachment, in order to support me and
oppose any attempt of the enemy to cut me off in my
advanced position. But when the suburb was taken every
man of it, wishing to have his share of the spoil, rushed
down the hill to be first at the quarry, and I was left there
alone. From the height on which 1 was posted 1 saw
develop below me, one after another, all the misfortunes
which destroyed my hopes and led my friends to ruin.
When retreat became a rout, and the enemy poured out of
all the posterns in columns formed to pursue our troops,
I thought it was time to be off. 1 could hardly hope to
save my guns, my worn-out gunners alone being left to
drag them to the mountains, which were steeply scarped
in many places. Nevertheless, we started, and climbed,
perhaps, half a league along the crest of a ridge which
descended in cliffs on which grew rope-like creepers, hiding
the cliffs. While halted, several Caribs passed close by
us; I wanted to stop them, but 'they declined, and told me
things which showed me the extent of our disaster and
made me decide to throw one of my guns into the ravine.
Just as I had made this sacrifice a young Black Carib
came towards me, evidently, from the long red feather on
his head, a chief of the tribe. This warrior, who carried a
tomahawk in a bandolier and a carbine, was none other
than Flower of the Forest, daughter of the chief of the
Black tribe. Directly she was near enough to make herself
heard she warned us that we were cut off, and must get
away at once; my gunners did not wait to be told twice.
Not believing the danger to be so pressing, 1 waited for her
to join me. "I thought," said she, "that in the turmoil
no one would warn you of the retreat, and set out at once
to do so. It was well 1 did so, as on the way I have seen
a strong body of negroes move by a crest behind you to
surprise you. Look out ! there they are!" There suddenly
appeared above the thickets daubed faces and muskets
being lowered in aim at me. But at the same instant the
girl seized me firmly by the arm and flung herself from the
top of the cliff, dragging me with her into the ravine, which
lay below us to a depth of 600 feet. The balls from the
muskets of the enemy whistled over our heads, and when
they were able to fire another round our precipitous descent
had carried us at one drop to such a distance that, with
the shelter of the hanging creepers, we were out of danger.
However, in order to put the negroes of a11 idea of pursuit,
my companion, after a short breathing-space, threw herself
once more downwards, and we repeated this terrible effort
ten times. We should without doubt have been dashed to
pieces on the rocks had they not been covered with a carpet
of bushes, and we should have fallen in one drop, as from
a high tower, but for a network of hanging plants and
branches which broke our fall. By marvelous good luck
we arrived at the foot of the cliff on a pretty lawn of flowery
plants, with no more hurt than a few scratches; but this
method of quick travel had so tired my lungs that for some
time I hardly felt sure that l was still in this world. As
for Flower of the Forest, she found the game so amusing
that she roared with laughter, and said I was her prisoner.
More seriously, she made herself neat again, and set about
finding a way out of the ravine in which we were enclosed
by two mountainous walls. If we descended we should
approach the enemy's post and fall into their power. If,
on the other hand, we ascended, it became harder each
step to get out, as the sides grew steeper and closer together
the farther it penetrated into the volcanic mass of the
center of the island. The bed of the ravine at that time
was nearly dry and we could move along it in spite of the
huge basaltic blocks lying in it. But the torrent which
had rolled them down might at any moment overwhelm us
like an avalanche; were a storm cloud to burst in the
mountains, its flood-waters would drown us. '

The immediate danger came from another cause. The negro soldiers
from whom we had escaped, being unable to follow us,
hailed a troop of comrades marching along the opposite
top of the ravine, and denounced us to them as chiefs
whom it was important to capture. Having found a path,
they climbed down, and we were obliged to seek shelter
in the part farthest from the bed of the torrent. The
enclosure in which we took refuge was shut in on a11 sides
by cliffs on which the skies seemed to rest, and as vertical
as immense walls. We had only escaped from the bullets
to fall into a trap where, before being killed, we were to
undergo ignominious and barbaric treatment. 1 was roused
from thoughts of these horrors by Flower of the Forest,
who had gone on a little in front, and returned to say that
there was a cave near which might serve as a refuge in
a last extremity. It was the bottom of an immense fissure
which pierced the mountain. Overnight, in marching with
my guns, I had seen this fissure, which was as broad as the
ditches of our fields, and had been told that a 200 fathom
line could not sound its depth, and that it divided the whole
mass of the mountain; we had crossed it by a flying bridge.
There were mysterious traditions concerning it, and Flower
of the Forest was afraid to enter the cave. I persuaded
her to follow me, and we took up a position ready to fire
with certainty should occasion require. We had not long
to wait. The negroes ran up to the cave's mouth, were
afraid to enter, and tried to reach us with promiscuous fire;
our shots, on the contrary, picked off their leaders, who
fell dead or wounded. On this the troop withdrew under
cover and awaited nightfall, which was approaching. This
would be more advantageous to them, and so it proved ;
for as the girl in a low voice was telling me the story of the
evil spirits said to haunt the cave, she stopped, and struck
a vigorous blow with her tomahawk; luckily she had seen
in the darkness below us the glitter of an eye. A piercing
cry and a heavy fall told us that a negro had been bold
enough to crawl after us and had met his fate.

This episode showed me the imprudence of remaining
any longer in the outer cave; we withdrew into the narrow
entry, the soil of which was 2 or 3 feet higher and less
accessible. From this asylum we could hear the movements
of the enemy, who now seemed more numerous and strangely
busy. We waited a long time, anxious to discover the
plan of which we were to be the victims. At length it
showed itself ; a reddish light, which increased rapidly, lit
up the opening of the cave. It came from a large tub,
whence flaming firebrands rolled to our feet. Unless there
was an explosion l could not see how we were to be hurt
by this. My uncertainty was soon dispelled. A large
bundle of faggots of the green Sterculia fetida were thrown
on the fire and half extinguished it; from it rose a blue
smoke, thick and irritating beyond expression. We were
suffocated and seized with violent coughing. To escape
from this scourge we hurried down the passage of the cave,
compelled to go farther as the smoke followed us. I
besought Flower of the Forest to conquer her superstitions
and show the same boldness as in the battles of the morning
and evening; I assured her that no evil spirits lived here,
and that none could have any power over me nor over her,
as she was under my care. l do not know whether she
believed me, but, trembling with fright, she said she would
follow me, as our lives were bound together. We started; '
the difficulties of the road were many; for the greater part
the passage was so narrow that we could only go singly
and at times squeeze through sideways. When the sides
opened out and formed chambers there was the danger of
losing the direction of the fissure. The ground underfoot
was strewn with blocks of lava, which had to be felt out
with the bayonets of our muskets. After going for some
time without seeing any supernatural apparition my comrade
was reassured, and offered to go in front. I must
confess she was much the better guide, and much quicker in
feeling with her bayonet the obstacles in the path ; but she
often stopped, frightened by some imagined noise or

At length, hungry and tired out, we sat down on a mound
of sand and fell fast asleep. When we awoke our spirits
were calmer and bodies less wearied. We resumed our
walk with more hope, and were encouraged by the difficulties
becoming less. Presently Flower of the Forest said she
heard waves breaking, and a moment later declared she
saw the light of day ahead. l had to take her word for it,
as I neither heard nor saw anything. She was right, how-
ever, as on rounding a corner we saw through an arched
opening a distant view of green country the noise was that
of a stream about 4o feet wide falling into a basin which
filled the mouth of the fissure. The water in it was boiling
and gave of a cloud of steam, which seemed unable to
rise. It was too broad to leap across, and we were in
despair at thus being cut of from safety after escaping so
many dangers. In my misery l stooped and put my hand
in the huge caldron. To my surprise, the water was only
pleasantly warm ; its trouble was in the vapor. I breathed
it in stooping, and was seized with violent sneezing and
a racking cough. l saw there was nothing for it but to
warn my companion to hold her breath, and dragged her
into the basin. We were not obliged to swim. No doubt
the girl must have forgotten my advice and taken a breath.
1 felt her weaken and, seizing her in my arms, 1 managed
to carry her across, crawl over the. edge of the basin, and
lay her senseless on the grass outside the mouth of the cave.
Feeling myself in danger of fainting, I had just time to
load and fire of my musket before I fainted beside her.
When l came to l was being rolled on a mat from side to
side by half a dozen Carib women, under the direction of
a sailor who douched me alternately with warm and cold
water. This treatment had proved successful with my
companion, who had been carried to her father's lodge as
soon as she was sufficiently revived. It took me longer,
and I was still only partially recovered when Pakiri and
his daughter came to take me back to my mountain home,
where I slowly regained strength. I only saw Flower of the
Forest once again, for on the evening of the day that
I did so I was recalled by order of Victor Hugues to
Guadeloupe. He was furious at the check before Kingstown, and
counted on my help in punishing all those he found
responsible for 1t.