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Chapter 5



I thought that I must be dreaming. None who did not
witness the sight could form any idea of it. I will, however,
endeavour to depict something of it. I will simply recount
what I saw with my own eyes. This small portion of
a great scene minutely reproduced will enable you to form
some notion as to the general aspect of the town during the
three days of pillage. Multiply these details ~ad libitum~
and you will get the ensemble.

I had taken refuge by the gate of the town, a puny barrier
made of long laths painted yellow, nailed to cross laths
and sharpened at the top. Near by was a kind of shed in
which some hapless colonists, who had been driven from
their homes, had sought shelter. They were silent and
seemed to be petrified in all the attitudes of despair. Just
outside of the shed an old man, weeping, was seated on the
trunk of a mahogany tree which was lying on the ground
and looked like the shaft of a column. Another vainly
sought to restrain a white woman who, wild with fright,
was trying to flee, without knowing where she was going,
through the crowd of furious, ragged, howling negroes.

The negroes, however, free, victorious, drunk, mad, paid
not the slightest attention to this miserable, forlorn group
of whites. A short distance from us two of them, with
their knives between their teeth, were slaughtering an ox,
upon which they were kneeling with their feet in its blood.
A little further on two hideous negresses, dressed as
marchionesses, covered with ribbons and pompons, their
breasts bare, and their heads encumbered with feathers and
laces, were quarrelling over a magnificent dress of Chinese
satin, which one of them had grasped with her nails while
the other hung on to it with her teeth. At their feet a
number of little blacks were ransacking a broken trunk
from which the dress had been taken.

The rest was incredible to see and impossible to describe.
It was a crowd, a mob, a masquerade, a revel, a hell, a
terrible buffoonery. Negroes, negresses and mulattoes, in
every posture, in all manner of disguises, displayed all sorts
of costumes, and what was worse, their nudity.

Here was a pot-bellied, ugly mulatto, of furious mien,
attired like the planters, in a waistcoat and trousers of
white material, but with a bishop's mitre on his head and a
crosier in his hand. Elsewhere three or four negroes with
three-cornered hats stuck on their heads and wearing red
or blue military coats with the shoulder belts crossed upon
their black skin, were harassing an unfortunate militiaman
they had captured, and who, with his hands tied behind his
back, was being dragged through the town. With
loud bursts of laughter they slapped his powdered hair
and pulled his long pigtail. Now and then they would
stop and force the prisoner to kneel and by signs give him
to understand that they were going to shoot him there.
Then prodding him with the butts of their rifles they
would make him get up again, and go through the same
performance further on.

A number of old mulattresses had formed a ring and
were skipping round in the midst of the mob. They were
dressed in the nattiest costumes of our youngest and
prettiest white women, and in dancing raised their skirts
so as to show their lean, shrivelled legs and yellow thighs.
Nothing queerer could be imagined than all these charming
fashions and finery of the frivolous century of Louis
XV., these Watteau shepherdess costumes, furbelows,
plumes and laces, upon these black, ugly-faced, flat-nosed,
woolly-headed, frightful people. Thus decked out they
were no longer even negroes and negresses; they were apes
and monkeys.

Add to all this a deafening uproar. Every mouth that
was not making a contortion was emitting yells.

I have not finished; you must accept the picture complete
to its minutest detail.

Twenty paces from me was an inn, a frightful hovel,
whose sign was a wreath of dried herbs hung upon a pickaxe.
Nothing but a roof window and three-legged tables.
A low ale-house, rickety tables. Negroes and mulattoes
were drinking there, intoxicating and besotting themselves,
and fraternising. One has to have seen these things to
depict them. In front of the tables of the drunkards a
fairly young negress was displaying herself. She was
dressed in a man's waistcoat, unbuttoned, and a woman's
skirt loosely attached. She wore no chemise and her
abdomen was bare. On her head was a magistrate's wig. On
one shoulder she carried a parasol, and on the other a rifle
with bayonet fixed.

A few whites, stark naked, ran about miserably in the
midst of this pandemonium. On a litter was being borne
the nude body of a stout man, in whose breast a dagger
was sticking as a cross is stuck in the ground.

On every hand were gnomes bronze-coloured, red, black,
kneeling, sitting, squatting, heaped together, opening
trunks, forcing locks, trying on bracelets, clasping
necklaces about their necks, donning coats or dresses, breaking,
ripping, tearing. Two blacks were trying to get into the
same coat; each had got an arm on, and they were belabouring
each other with their disengaged fists. It was the second
stage of a sacked town. Robbery and joy had succeeded
rage. In a few corners some were still engaged in killing,
but the great majority were pillaging. All were carrying
off their booty, some in their arms, some in baskets on their
backs, some in wheelbarrows.

The strangest thing about it all was that in the midst of
the incredible, tumultuous mob, an interminable file of
pillagers who were rich and fortunate enough to possess
horses and vehicles, marched and deployed, in order and
with the solemn gravity of a procession. This was quite a
different kind of a medley!

Imagine carts of all kinds with loads of every description:
a four-horse carriage full of broken crockery and
kitchen utensils, with two or three dressed-up and beplumed
negroes on each horse; a big wagon drawn by oxen
and loaded with bales carefully corded and packed, damask
armchairs, frying pans and pitchforks, and on top of this
pyramid a negress wearing a necklace and with a feather
stuck in her hair; an old country coach drawn by a
single mule and with a load of ten trunks and, ten negroes,
three of whom were upon the animal's back. Mingle with
all this bath chairs, litters and sedan chairs piled high with
loot of all kinds, precious articles of furniture with the
most sordid objects. It was the hut and the drawing-room
pitched together pell-mell into a cart, an immense removal
by madmen defiling through the town.

What was incomprehensible was the equanimity with
which the petty robbers regarded the wholesale robbers.
The pillagers afoot stepped aside to let the pillagers in
carriages pass.

There were, it is true, a few patrols, if a squad of five or
six monkeys disguised as soldiers and each beating at his
own sweet will on a drum can be called a patrol.

Near the gate of the town, through which this immense
stream of vehicles was issuing, pranced a mulatto, a tall,
lean, yellow rascal, rigged out in a judge's gown and white
tie, with his sleeves rolled up, a sword in his hand, and his
legs bare. He was digging his heels into a fat-bellied horse
that pawed about in the crowd. He was the magistrate
charged with the duty of preserving order at the gate.

A little further on galloped another group. A negro in
a red coat with a blue sash, a general's epaulettes and an
immense hat surcharged with tri-colour feathers, was
forcing his way through the rabble. He was preceded by
a horrible, helmetted negro boy beating upon a drum, and
followed by two mulattoes, one in a colonel's coat, the other
dressed as a Turk with a hideous Mardi Gras turban on
his ugly Chinese-like head.

Out on the plain I could see battalions of ragged soldiers
drawn up round a big house, on which was a crowded balcony
draped with a tri-colour flag. It had all the appearance
of a balcony from which a speech was being delivered.

Beyond these battalions, this balcony, this flag and this
speech was a calm, magnificent prospect-trees green and
charming, mountains of superb shape, a cloudless sky, the
ocean without a ripple.

Strange and sad it is to see the grimace of man made
with such effrontery in presence of the face of God!

Victor Hugo