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Bath House, the most ambitious structure ever erected in the West Indies, and perhaps the most beautiful hotel the world has ever seen, was the popular winter refuge of English people of fashion in the earlier half of the nineteenth century. This immense irregular pile of masonry stood on a terraced eminence rising from the flat border of Nevis, a volcano whose fires had migrated to less fortunate isles and covered with some fifty square miles of soil that yielded every luxury of the Antilles. There was game in the jungles, fish in the sea, did the men desire sport; there were groves of palm and cocoanut for picnics, a town like a bazaar, a drive of twenty-four miles round the base of the ever-beautiful ever-changing mountain; and a sloop always ready to convey the guests to St. Kitts, Montserrat, or Antigua, where they were sure of entertainment from the hospitable planters. There were sea baths and sulphur baths; above all, the air was light and stimulating on the hottest days, for the trade winds rarely deserted Nevis and St. Kitts, no matter what the fate of the rest of that blooming archipelago.
Bath House was surrounded by wide gardens of tropical trees, ferns, and flowers of gay and delicate hues. Its several terraces flamed with colour, as well as its numerous little balconies and galleries, and the flat surfaces of the roof: the whole effect being that of an Eastern palace with hanging gardens, a vast pleasure house, designed for some extravagant and voluptuous potentate. Anything less like an hotel had never been erected; and the interior, with its lofty pillared rooms, its costly mahogany furniture, its panels and hangings of rich brocades, the thick rugs on the polished floors, if more European than Oriental, equally resembled a palace; an effect in no wise diminished by the brilliant plumage of the guests. If the climate compelled them to forswear velvet and satin, their “muslins were from Bengal and their silks from Benares”; and as the daughters of the planters emulated these birds of fashion in all things, Nevis in winter would have been independent of its gorgeous birds and flowers: the bonnets were miracles of posies and plumes, and the crinoline set off the costly materials, the flounces and fringes, the streamers and rosettes, the frills of lace old and new. And as the English Creoles with their skin like porcelain, and their small dainty figures, imitated their more rosy and well-grown sisters of the North, the handsome strapping coloured wenches copied their island betters in materials which if flimsy were no less bright; so it is no matter for wonder that the young bloods came from London to admire and loiter and flirt in an enchanted clime that seemed made for naught else, that the sons of the planters sent to London for their own finery, and the young coloured bucks strutted about like peacocks on such days as they were not grinding cane or serving the reckless guests of Bath House in the shops of Charlestown.
That was the heyday of Nevis, a time of luxury and splendour and gaiety unknown on even the most fertile of the other islands, for none other was ever bold enough to venture such an hotel; and if the bold adventurer came to grief, as was inevitable, still all honour to him for his spirit, and the brief glory he gave to the loveliest island of the Caribbees.
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