Tour Of The Caribbean – The Shadow of the Mountain

IT was in February 1907 just four years and nine months after the great disaster—that I visited St. Pierre.

We steamed into the roadstead from Fort de France, and anchored as near the shore as the sunken shipping would allow. On entering the wide bay on which the city stood, the only impression is one of utter desolation. Dominating the whole district is the awful mountain La Pelee. It is well named ” The Bald,” for, with the exception of the verdure on its southern side, it is, as seen from the sea, nothing more than a gigantic cinder heap. The height of Mont Pele is 4428 feet.’ It is a volcano of immense girth, since it occupies practically the northern end of the island. Enormous tentacles, in the form of harsh ridges, reach down to the Atlantic on the one side, and to the Caribbean Sea on the other.

St. Pierre is at the very foot of the volcano, lying nearer to it by a mile than Pompeii did to Vesuvius. The rim of the crater is hidden in a cloud of smoke and mist. The slopes of the mountain are a ghastly fawn colour, streaked with grey and sinister tints of brown. They are slopes of mud relieved only by drifts of ash and hurled out rocks. When the sun is setting, the long shadows cast by the lower peaks across the cinder wastes are like the shadows that fall from the craters in the moon. Here and there are valleys of lilac or indigo blue, but their walls are burnt and bare so that they are mere echoing chines, terrible in their emptiness and loneliness. Torrents of rain have gouged gutters down the glissade of mud, while, at certain points, crests of caused by the ejective forces below.”‘ Photographs of this strange pool show it to be singularly dismal, desolate and unlovely.

That it may be the haunt of the diablotin, or little devil (the bird who gives a name to the highest peak in Dpminica), is possible, as that fowl has peculiar and doleful habits. The diablotin is said by Froude to be ” a great bird, black as charcoal, half raven and half parrot.” Others state that it spends its days in craters and its nights by the melancholy sea searching for fish. If this be true it is to be conceived that the unpleasant bird would find in the dead, sulphur-blasted, and boulder-strewn shores of the Boiling Lake all the charms of home.