« 이전계속 »
THE BELLES OF THE ISLAND.
A COLONIAL SKETCH.
BY MRS. BUSHBY.
BALLS and other evening parties in the West Indies differ so little from similar entertainments in Britain, that they need not be described; but maroons may claim some little notice. One of these was proposed expressly to gratify Geraldine; and Mr. Montresor's fears lest his daughter should be struck with a coup de soleil, or might suffer from exposure to the dew of evening, being happily overcome by Mrs. Montresor's eloquence, whose prudence was not so strenuous on the score of health as in other matters, a pic-nic party was forthwith arranged.
Geraldine looked forward with much pleasure to an entertainment of a nature so novel to her; nor was she disappointed in its fulfilment, for the weather proved propitious—a fortunate circumstance not always attending marooning parties.
The spot fixed upon for the rendezvous of the marooners was on a little island, or key, situated at about a quarter of a mile from the farthest shore of a narrow promontory, which formed one side of the harbour of St. These keys, which are to be found dotting the sea round many of the islands, are sometimes barren of verdure, presenting only the appearance of a bold, bare rock-like the Sail Rock* off the island of St. Thomas, which takes its name from its striking resemblance to a ship under sail-but sometimes they are thickly covered with low brushwood, with wild, odoriferous plants, and with the native trees of the tropics. The key selected for our maroon was one so abounding in luxuriant vegetation, that it had been found necessary to send over early in the morning part
of a gang of negroes to clear a space for the accommodation of the party,
who followed, about one o'clock, in boats, with awnings spread to protect them from the noonday sun. The boats steered for a beautiful little cove, where they were run up as high as possible on the sloping beach to effect the more easily the landing of the ladies.
Here, however, a little scene took place. There was no actual danger nor difficulty whatsoever to be encountered, but some people are always determined to see dangers and difficulties where none exist, and some ladies think they are making themselves very interesting by a parade of weakness and fears before the stronger sex. Three or four of the ladies hesitated and tottered, two or three shrieked and fell, and the gentlemen felt themselves called upon to render prompt and efficient assistance to those, at least, who were young and pretty. Mrs. Montresor was amongst the most timid; she had not quite discarded the sin of her youth-affec
* The Sail Rock, not far from the entrance to the harbour of St. Thomas, was actually, during the wars of the earlier part of this century, fired at by an English man-of-war, being mistaken for an enemy's ship.
tation; but she fell in vain, nobody was gallant enough to carry shore, for the gentlemen were pressing forward to assist her daughter, who, feeling, and consequently showing, no alarm, sprang lightly from the seat in the boat to the beach without requiring or accepting their eagerly proffered aid.
The ladies from the different boats were at length all assembled on terra firma, without, except in one instance, any accident having arisen from their affected awkwardness. Miss Florence O'Brien was the solitary exception. She had placed herself in a very becoming attitude, with one pretty little foot in the air, while the other rested on an oar that had been carelessly thrown across the boat by one of the negro boatmen. Thus poised, she stood fluttering and uttering little faint shrieks, and secretly exulting on the impression she was no doubt making on captains, ensigns, and civilians, when the exquisite Mr. Fanshawe advanced from the stern of the boat with less than his usual deliberation of movement, and coming suddenly in contact with the oar, pushed it and Florence O'Brien forward together. She lost her balance, and in a moment was precipitated into the water. But she did not fall alone, for, grasping in her descent at what was nearest, she seized the unhappy Fanshawe's leg, and upsetting in her turn his equilibrium, they rolled together into the retiring wave. They were soon rescued, however, from the cold bath they had so unwittingly taken together, and were hurried away to have their garments dried before a fire which had been lighted at a little distance by the negroes in attendance, for the purpose of boiling the fish which the gentlemen were expected to catch during the morning, and which was to be prepared for the subsequent repast.
The whole party gathered round the fire to condole with the sufferers on their misfortune, and congratulate them on their escape from further evil. To Florence, the interest she excited was very consolatory, and she scarcely regretted her late unlooked-for immersion, as she held her wet slender ankle before the fire, leaning the while on the arm of some gallant gentleman, and enjoying the admiration it seemed to excite on those who were standing by. Mr. Fanshawe, also, appeared to derive some consolation, as he stretched forth his manly leg, and caught some of the fair group around glancing at it.
"You may think yourself deuced lucky in having that leg to boast of yet," said Mr. Mackenzie. "A salt-water bath has before now put a man's leg in possession of that unpleasant pirate, a shark."
"Pon my soul, I-I-made up my mind-a-mind to-to come to close quarters with some such foe-when I-I found myself so unexpectedly-in-in the water." And he stroked the cherished leg with looks expressive of pride and satisfaction.
"I dare say you mistook poor Florence's little hand for a shark's great mouth, when she so unceremoniously seized upon you to save herself," said Helen, with a sneer. "It certainly was an exhibition of unusual ferocity on her part."
"I did not know what I was catching at, I assure you," said Florence, poutingly.
"Or you would have made a steadier choice," rejoined Helen. "Ho, ho, ho! So you are not worth catching, Mr. Fanshawe; that's a sad sentence pronounced upon you by the ladies," said, or rather sniMay-VOL. CXIX. NO. CCCCLXXIII.
velled, Mr. Orlando Fish, who brought on a violent fit of coughing by laughing at his own wit. Mr. Fanshawe cast one sidelong look of contempt at the unfashionable apparel of the convulsed Mr. Fish, and deigned no further notice of him.
The party now began to disperse, to follow their different plans of amusement for the morning. Some of the gentlemen returned to the boats, and put off for the purpose of fishing; while others joined most of the ladies on a shelling expedition. Mrs. Orlando Fish and a select few preferred spending an hour in botanising. The ladies of New England have a great "notion" of botany, and Mrs. Fish was this day accompanied by a young Bostonian damsel, who had just finished her education at "college."
At length approached the dinner-hour, and the party, tired of fishing, shelling, and botanising, hastened, nothing loth, to the more pleasing labour that awaited them.
The tables were placed in a situation which had the advantage of combining shade with the fresh sea-breeze, on a large flat rock, rising, as it were, but one step above the sloping beach, and from which the loose sand had been carefully swept by the negroes. This low mass of rock, which was almost smooth on its surface, and was many feet in length and width, was half encircled by thick plants and umbrageous trees, rendered still more impervious to the rays of the sun by the wild vines that swung high in waving festoons from tree to tree, and formed a sort of leafy network, filling up the interstices between the branches. On the other side lay the sparkling beach chequered by the slender shoots of the wild potato-vine, with its large bright convolvulus, which seemed to raise its head in freshness, as if greeting the cool wave which was lazily ebbing and flowing around it. Beyond this, the eye looked over a wide expanse of deep blue sea, its monotony-if aught that relates to the beautiful sea can be called monotonous-relieved by the white sail of some distant ship, and the dark outline of some nearer skiff. The sun was still shedding its powerful beams, but under the friendly foliage of the natural arbour they had chosen for their retreat the marooners were sheltered from its blaze. The ladies' bonnets were tied to the branches of the surrounding trees, which also served as pegs whereon to hang the gentlemen's hats. The wines, &c., were none the worse of having been cooled by being buried in the wet sand; and it was amusing to see the servants disinterring them as they were wanted.
When the repast was finished, there being no drawing-room for the ladies to retire to, they and the gentlemen rose from table about the same time, but not until they had all received several admonitory hints from Mr. Orlando Fish that the "doo" was beginning to fall. Setting at nought, however, the dangers of the "doo," the marooners seemed determined on prolonging the pleasures of their rural fête. The ancients of the party talked over their youthful days, pitied the degeneracy of the present generation, and lamented the spirit of innovation that was making such rapid strides over the world. The younger part of the assembly made love, flirted, and admired themselves and their neighbours according to their different vocations. But some of the younger members are entitled to more courteous notice, and these we shall now beg leave to introduce to our readers.
Lionel Seymour was the possessor of an estate adjoining that on which Mr. Ludlow lived. He had been educated partly in England, partly in Germany, and was a young man of considerable talents and information, of amiable dispositions, pleasing manners, and agreeable exterior-indeed, generally thought handsome.
The sudden death of his father had recalled him to his native island before he had entirely finished his studies at a German university; and some little difficulty in the arrangement of his affairs had detained him in the West Indies until, unlike the generality of his countrymen, he had lost all wish to leave it at least, for a permanency. His fortune was good, and his health was good, for he did not disquiet himself by uselessly repining that his lot had been cast in the West Indies, nor in yearnings of the spirit after the beatitude of life in Europe. Albeit a West Indian, he took a lively interest in the happiness and well-being of his negroes, and it would have been difficult even for anti-slavery ingenuity to have fastened on him the stigma of cruelty. He lived respectable and respected in a country where character is more difficult to preserve than in most other parts of the world, because privacy or concealment, whether in good deeds or in bad deeds, there is none. what young ladies call "an uncommonly nice young man," and it was a great pity that Helen Ludlow alone was perverse enough to be blind to his merits. Many a damsel was willing to become, at a word, "Mrs. Seymour," and many a mamma set her heart on him for her daughter. But mammas and daughters plotted for him in vain his thoughts were fixed on Helen Ludlow, and, with the proverbial blindness of love, he sometimes flattered himself that her coldness was but assumed.
Sometimes only, for there were moments when he despaired of succeeding to engage her affections, and when, dejected and unhappy, he would shut himself up for days, avoiding all society, and vainly tasking himself to conquer a passion which solitude was only calculated to increase. Then, restless and wretched, he would rush again into the world, and if Helen but received him with a smile, and gaily bantered him on his love of seclusion, he would deceive himself into the hope that she was relenting towards him, and that her welcome conveyed a warmer feeling than that of mere good will. But Helen cared not for him, she cared for nothing in the island of her birth except her father, for whom she felt all the attachment that can be felt, unaccompanied by respect.
The golden tints of the setting sun were now beginning to fade, and the evening star to shed its clear ray in a long line of light across the sparkling sea. It was that delicious hour, nowhere so much to be enjoyed as in the West Indies, when daylight, not twilight,
Melts beneath the moon away;
it was that time so beautifully described in a charming poem on the West Indies :
Delicious coolness steals upon the land;
The wave, low murmuring, creeps upon the sand;
With winning sweetness greet the evening hour ;—
that hour when all nature seems to harmonise; when the serenity of the
air, the gentleness of the refreshing breeze, the purple glow around, lend enchantment to scenes at all times beautiful.
The voice of laughter and of noisy mirth was hushed, and the least imaginative of the party seemed to feel the influence of the hour and the objects around. There was a general wish for music, and Mrs. Temple, having smuggled over her cousin Lionel Seymour's guitar, he was requested to sing. Lionel was an excellent musician, but perhaps he might not have been prevailed on to "show off," as Mr. Fish called it, had not Helen joined warmly in the request. He was about to sing some popular ballad, when Mrs. Temple asked him to indulge them with one of his own compositions, for he was fond of writing verses, and often set them to airs of his own composing. He hesitated for a moment, but could he lose the opportunity of making perhaps a favourable impression on Helen? No; he preluded a few moments, then, leaning against a tree, he sang to one of his own airs the following words:
"Spirit of Love! oh, waft the sigh,
With which thou bid'st my bosom swell,
To her, whose cold, averted eye
Tells she has never known thy spell.
Yon star of eve-yon placid moon;
That memory cheats her when it tries
With Nature's lavish beauty clad,
Oh! bid her cast the gloom away
For one-but one-bright smile to me!"
Seymour looked with speaking eyes at Helen as he finished his song; and Helen felt confused, overwhelmed. She was touched by the words of his song, by the rich melody of his voice, and by the melancholy of his countenance; but, though touched, she had no "bright smiles" for him. Yet the tear started to her eye, and, rising abruptly, she wandered alone into the narrow walks of the surrounding wilderness.
Seymour hesitated one moment, then handing the guitar to Florence O'Brien, and bespeaking one of her "beautiful Italian ariettes," he left the group to follow Helen along the tangled path she had chosen to pursue.
The simultaneous disappearance of Helen and her admirer seemed to create no very agreeable reflections in the breast of one individual pre