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many of the plants heavy with their bunches nearing maturity, others showing little more than the big purple flower, shaped like a swollen, unhusked ear of corn, along the stem of which a miniature bunch is just starting. Between these are other fields, with trees girdled and blackened, where some forest is being killed to make way for more bananas. Negro women with oval market-baskets on their heads are tramping energetically along the white highway; now and then the refined features of a Hindu breaks the monotony of brutal negro faces, though he has lost his distinctive garb. Then comes the prison farm of St. Catherine's Parish, with its green gardens, its irrigation ditches filled with clear water, and its horde of prison laborers. The first suggestion of beauty in the landscape appears near May Pen. A "pen," in the Jamaica dialect, means a grassy field or a pasture, and "pen-keeping" is the local term for breeding and raising cattle. Here and there the inevitable old square brick chimneys of sugar-mills dot the ever-descending plain, which at length begins to be hidden by low foot-hills. Sapling-like forests spring up along the way, and the logwood, which grows in scattered quantities all over the island, lies piled at the railway stations, the outer layer of wood roughly hacked away, leaving only the reddish heart. Schooners carry north many cargoes of these crooked logs and the still more awkward stumps, while several mills on the island turn it into an extract that is shipped in barrels to color our garments dark-blue or black.
Soon the soil turns reddish, and clearings and habitations become rare. By this time we were the only white persons on the train and shortly after that the only passengers in the first-class coach. A larger engine took us in tow, and we climbed 865 feet in the next six miles. Dense, almost unpopulated, forests, like some portions of eastern Cuba, covered the ever more rugged landscape; but if the scenery flanking Jamaica's railway is more striking than that visible from the trains in Porto Rico, it is because it passes through rather than around the island, for on the whole our own, WestIndian colony is more beautiful.
Jamaica claims advantages over all the rest of the world for banana cultivation. The vast tracts of virgin land in Central America and Colombia are two days farther from the principal market. Costa Rica is hampered by frequent droughts at the very season when the fruit most needs rain; for the great game in banana-growing is to have them ready to cut at the time when other fruit is scarce in the North. Cuba is a trifle too near the north pole, it is wedded to its sugar industry, and its labor is several times more expensive than that of Jamaica. Bananas demand heat, moisture, and a good fat soil, and all these may be had in the largest of the British West Indies, particularly in the northeastern parish of Portland, for the Blue Mountains, which deny Kingston and its vicinity the rainfall it needs, precipitate most of it here.
It is scarcely necessary to say, I suppose, that bananas grow on a species of mammoth weed rather than on a tree, that each produces a single bunch, that this grows "upside-down" from our fruit-stand point of view, and that they must be cut before they are ripe. Golden Vale looks like an immense green lake surrounded by mountains, up the lower slopes of which the bananas climb for a considerable distance. Hindu men, whom the overseers invariably address as "Babu," do most of the cutting, while the more powerful, but less careful, negroes do the handling. The "Babus" wander in and out through the green archways, giving a glance at each hanging bunch. When they see one that has reached the proper stage of development, they grasp it by the protruding stem, to which the big blue flower usually still clings, and pull down "tree" and all with a savage jerk. A machete, or what is called a cutlas in Jamaica, flashes, a negro catches the bunch as it falls, another slash severs the flower-bearing stem a few inches from the topmost bananas, a third leaves the "tree" a mere stump, shoulder-high, and the cutters continue their search. Days later, when its sap has all run back into the roots, the stump is cut off at the ground and a new shoot springs up to produce next year's bunch. Those that have been gathered are wrapped in
dry brown banana leaves, and carried to the roadside, along which other brown heaps lie everywhere.
Arrived at the wharves, the truck is as quickly unloaded, and an endless chain of negroes, nearly all women, take up the task of distribution, according to size and destination. For there are "English" and "American" bananas, grown in the same field and differing not at all in species, but by about ten days in their cutting-time, so that the former are lean and the latter fat. Moreover, a bunch is not by any means always a bunch in the language of the banana companies. In the first place they are more often called "stems," and a "stem" must have at least nine "hands" of fruit (the latter average a dozen bananas each) if it is to be paid for as a full bunch. If it has more than that well and good; that is the company's gain and no one's loss. But if there are but eight "hands," it is rated two thirds of a "stem," if seven, one half; if six, one fourth; if less than that, the planter might better have fed it to his hogs or his laborers, for the buyers will have none of it. Two men snatch up the bunches one by one, casting aside the brown leaf wrappers, and lay each one flat on a passing head, the owner of which shuffles away as if it were burdened with nothing but a hat instead of an average weight of eighty pounds. At the edge of the shed in which the bananas are piled to await prompt shipment stands a high desk with three men, usually quadroons or lighter, about it. The oldest, most intelligent, and
most experienced-looking of these casts what seems to be a careless glance at each "stem," and mumbles in a weary, monotone "English, eight," "American, nine," "English, seven," or some other of the combinations; his most youthful companion makes a pencil mark on the ledger before him, the least lively-looking of the trio hands a metal or cardboard disk to the carrier, who drops it into a pocket and slouches on to the particular pile to which her burden has been assigned. On the way she passes a negro armed with a cutlas, who lops off the protruding ends of the stem in front of her nose and behind her ears as she walks without so much as arousing a flicker of her drowsy, black eyelids. When the ship comes in, which must be that night or at latest the next day, a similar endless chain of negroes, more nearly male in sex, carry the bananas on board, a tally-clerk ringing the bell of an automatic counter in his hand as each
"stem" passes. In some ports a wide leather belt takes the place of this human chain. But a large gang is required for all that, which, when the last pile has disappeared from the wharf, strews itself about it, and sleeps soundly on the hard planks until the next load arrives. Its quota supplied, the steamer's hatches are quickly battened down, icy air is turned in upon the perishable cargo, and the vessel rushes full speed ahead for the United States or England, where the fruit begins to rattle away in other trucks before the mere human passengers have leave to descend the gangway.
Lost Ships and Lonely Seas III. The Tragedy of the Frigate Medusa
By RALPH D. PAINE
Illustrations by George Avison
MONG the countless episodes of disaster at sea, the fate of the French frigate Medusa and her people still possesses mournful and poignant distinction. Other ships have gone down with much greater loss of life, including such modern instances as the Titanic and the Lusitania, or have been missing with all hands; but the story of the Medusa casts a dark shadow across the chronicles of human suffering, even though a century has passed since the event. There are some enterprises which seem foredoomed to failure through a conspiracy of circumstances, as if a spell of evil enchantment had been woven to thwart them. Of such a kind was this most unhappy voyage.
As an incident of the final overthrow of Napoleon, Great Britain returned to France the colonial territory of Senegal, on the west coast of Africa, between Cape Blanco and the Gambia River. A French expedition was sent out to reoccupy and govern the little settlements and clearings that fringed the tropical wilderness. It comprised officials, servants, soldiers, and laborers, who sailed from France in the frigate Medusa and three smaller vessels on June 17, 1816. The French Navy had been shattered and swept from the seas by the broadsides of British fleets, and its morale had ebbed. This mission, moreover, was not a strictly naval affair, and the personnel of the ships was recruited with no particular care. The
seamen were the scrapings of the waterfront, and the officers had not been selected for efficiency. They were typical neither of French arms nor of the people. It seemed a commonplace task, no doubt, to sail with the summer breezes on a voyage not much farther
than the Cape Verd Islands, and disembark the passengers and cargo.
Captain Chaumareys of the Medusa was a light-hearted, agreeable shipmate, but he appears to have been a most indifferent seaman. When no more than ten days out from port he discovered that his reckoning had set him thirty leagues, or almost a hundred miles, out of his course. This was not enough to condemn him utterly, because navigation was a crude art a century ago, and ships blundered about the high seas and found their way to port in the most astonishing manner. But Captain Chaumareys was not made cautious by his error, and he drove along with fatuous confidence in his ability, and paid no heed to the opinions of his officers. He also managed to lose sight of the three smaller ships of the squadron. It was one fatal mischance after another.
On the first of July, when the frigate crossed the tropic of Cancer, the debonair captain made it an excuse for a holiday and took personal charge of the gaieties, which so absorbed him that he turned over the command of the ship to M. Richefort, one of the civilian officials who had seen naval service. For all the fiddling and singing and dancing, there was a feeling of uneasiness on board, and the officers discussed it over their wine in the ward-room, and the passengers were aware of it in the cabin, "while the crew performed the fantastic ceremonies usual on such occasions, although the frigate was surrounded with all the unseen perils of the ocean. A few persons, aware of the danger, protested, but without effect, even when it was ascertained that the Medusa was on the bank of Arguin."
The ship was, in fact, entrapped among the shoals and reefs that ex
tended like a labyrinth far out from the African coast. It was an area of many disasters to stout vessels, whose crews had been taken captive by savage tribes if they survived the hostility of the sea. M. Richefort, who was obligingly acting as commander of the Medusa during these holiday festivities, insisted that there was a hundred fathoms of water under the keel and not the slightest cause for anxiety, and they still danced on deck to the scraping of the fiddles.
With a crash that flung the merrymakers this way and that, and brought the spars tumbling about their ears, the Medusa struck in only sixteen feet of water, and the deadly sands had inextricably gripped her. She was a lost
ship on this bright day of calm seas and sunny weather and sailors blithely tripping it heel and toe. It was soon realized that the frigate might pound to pieces in the first gale of wind, and that advantage had better be taken of the quiescent ocean to get away from her. The coast was known to be no more than forty miles distant, and the hope of escape was strong.
There was time in which to abandon ship with some order and method, to break out provisions and water-barrels, to safeguard the lives of the people as far as possible; but panic ran from deck to deck, and the ship was like a madhouse. There was little discipline among the crew, but they were not wholly responsible for the demoralization. The soldiers and laborers bound to Sénégal were Spanish, French, Italians, and negroes, many of whom had probably been in prison or in the convict hulks, and were sent away for their country's good.
The frigate had six boats, which were hurriedly launched and filled with men. In one of these boats were the Governor of Sénégal and his family, and in another were placed four children and the wives of the officials. Among those who fled away in the boats was the gay Captain Chaumareys, who scrambled through a port-hole without delaying a moment. There are cowards in all services, afloat and ashore, but they are seldom conspicuous. This feather-brained poltroon disappears from the narrative, the last glimpse of him framed in a port-hole, as
he wriggled through and left his ship still populous with terrified castaways for whom there were no boats.
They had intrepid men among them who bullied the others into helping build a raft. The best that could be done was to fashion a pitiful contrivance of spars and planks, held together by lashings. It was sixty-five feet long and twenty broad, not even decked over, twisting and working to the motion of the waves, which slapped over it when the ocean was smooth, or splashed between the timbers. As soon as it floated alongside the frigate, one hundred and fifty persons frantically jammed themselves upon it, standing in water to their waists, and in danger of slipping between the planks. The only part of the raft which was unsubmerged, when laden, had room for no more than fifteen men to lie down upon it.
The weather was still calm, and the ship rested solidly upon her sandy bed, the upper decks clear of the water. It seems incredible that no barrels of beef and biscuit were hoisted out of the store-rooms and lashed to the timbers of the raft, no water-casks rolled from the tiers. A kind of mob hysteria swept them along, and the men of resolution were carried with it. They could not stem this wild exodus. The flimsy, wave-washed raft moved away from the Medusa with only biscuit enough for one scanty meal, and some casks of wine.
One of the boats that was not so crowded as the others had the grace to row back to the ship with orders to take off a few if there were men still aboard. To the surprise of the lieutenant in charge, sixty men had been left behind because there was not even a foothold for them on the raft. The boat managed to stow all but seventeen of them, who were very drunk by this time and preferred to stand by the ship and the spirit-room. The fear of death had ceased to trouble them. Of these seventeen derelicts it is recorded that after the boats reached the coast and carried the tidings to the little port of St. Louis, Sénégal, a sailing vessel was sent in search of the frigate. Disabled in a gale, she was so long delayed for repairs that fifty-two days had passed
before the wreck of the Medusa was boarded.
Three men were still alive on her, "but they lived in separate corners of the hulk and never met but to run at each other with drawn knives." Two others had sailed off on a tiny raft, which was cast up on the coast of Sahara, but the men were drowned. A third drifted away on a hen-coop as the craft of his choice, but foundered in sight of the frigate. The rest of them died of too little food and too much rum, the provisions having been spoiled or lost by the breaking up of the ship.
It was understood that the raft, with its burden of one hundred and fifty souls, would be taken in tow by the six boats strung in a line, and the flotilla would make for the nearest coast, which might have been reached in two or three days of favoring weather. After a few hours of slow, but encouraging, progress, the tow-line of the captain's boat parted. Instead of making fast to the raft again, all the other boats cast off their cables, and under sail and oar set off to the eastward to save themselves, abandoning the raft.
On the makeshift raft there were those who knew how to die like Frenchmen and gentlemen. What they endured has been handed down to us in the personal accounts of M. Correard and M. Savigny, colonial officials, who wrote with that vivid and dramatic touch that is the gift of many of their race. Even in translation it is profoundly moving. When they saw the boats forsake them and vanish at the edge of the azure horizon, a stupor fell upon these wretched people as they clung to one another, with arms locked and bodies pressed together in order that they might not be washed off the raft. A small group, in whom nobility of character burned like an unquenchable flame, assumed the leadership, attempting to maintain some sort of discipline and decency, to ration the precious wine, to make the raft more seaworthy. One of the few survivors wrote:
The first day passed in a manner sufficiently tranquil. We talked of the means by which we would save ourselves; we spoke of it as a certain circumstance, which reani