Cajun History

Chita: A Memory of Last Island – 2.IV

 

“Chita:  A Memory of Last Island:  A Novelete” by Lafcadio Hearn
Originally published April 1888 in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine

 

 

Last Island, located in the Gulf of Mexico south of Dulac, Louisiana, was a popular resort for rich Southerners in the 1800s.
The Last Island Village included a resort hotel, several gambling establishments, and approximately one hundred houses.   In the Fall of 1856, a hurricane hit Last Island—not a building was left standing and over 200 people died in the storm.  Last Island and the hurricane are described in Lafcadio Hearn’s novella, Chita: A Memory of Last Island.

 

II. — OUT OF THE SEA’S STRENGTH

IV.

—”Madre de Dios!—mi sueno!” screamed Carmen, abandoning her preparations for the morning meal, as Feliu, nude, like a marine god, rushed in and held out to her a dripping and gasping baby-girl,—”Mother of God! my dream!” But there was no time then to tell of dreams; the child might die. In one instant Carmen’s quick deft hands had stripped the slender little body; and while Mateo and Feliu were finding dry clothing and stimulants, and Miguel telling how it all happened—quickly, passionately, with furious gesture,—the kind and vigorous woman exerted all her skill to revive the flickering life. Soon Feliu came to aid her, while his men set to work completing the interrupted preparation of the breakfast. Flannels were heated for the friction of the frail limbs; and brandy-and-water warmed, which Carmen administered by the spoonful, skilfully as any physician,—until, at last, the little creature opened her eyes and began to sob. Sobbing still, she was laid in Carmen’s warm feather-bed, well swathed in woollen wrappings. The immediate danger, at least, was over; and Feliu smiled with pride and pleasure.

Then Carmen first ventured to relate her dream; and his face became grave again. Husband and wife gazed a moment into each other’s eyes, feeling together the same strange thrill—that mysterious faint creeping, as of a wind passing, which is the awe of the Unknowable. Then they looked at the child, lying there, pink checked with the flush of the blood returning; and such a sudden tenderness touched them as they had known long years before, while together bending above the slumbering loveliness of lost Conchita.

—”Que ojos!” murmured Feliu, as he turned away,—feigning hunger . . . . (He was not hungry; but his sight had grown a little dim, as with a mist.) Que ojos! They were singular eyes, large, dark, and wonderfully fringed. The child’s hair was yellow—it was the flash of it that had saved her; yet her eyes and brows were beautifully black. She was comely, but with such a curious, delicate comeliness—totally unlike the robust beauty of Concha . . . . At intervals she would moan a little between her sobs; and at last cried out with a thin shrill cry: “Maman!—oh! maman!” Then Carmen lifted her from the bed to her lap, and caressed her, and rocked her gently to and fro, as she had done many a night for Concha,—murmuring,—”Yo seré tu madre, angel mio, dulzura mia;— seré tu madrecita, palomita mia!” (I will be thy mother, my angel, my sweet;—I will be thy little mother, my doveling.) And the long silk fringes of the child’s eyes overlapped, shadowed her little cheeks; and she slept—just as Conchita had slept long ago,—with her head on Carmen’s bosom.

Feliu re-appeared at the inner door: at a sign, he approached cautiously, without noise, and looked.

—”She can talk,” whispered Carmen in Spanish: “she called her mother”—ha llamado su madre.

—”Y Dios tambien la ha llamado,” responded Feliu, with rude pathos;—”And God also called her.”

—”But the Virgin sent us the child, Feliu,—sent us the child for Concha’s sake.”

He did not answer at once; he seemed to be thinking very deeply;—Carmen anxiously scanned his impassive face.

—”Who knows?” he answered at last;—”who knows? Perhaps she has ceased to belong to any one else.” . . . .

One after another, Feliu’s luggers fluttered in,—bearing with them news of the immense calamity. And all the fishermen, in turn, looked at the child. Not one had ever seen her before.