After the Hurricane 1898

by Cynthia Costain

AFTERMATH

The days, weeks, and months after the hurricane dragged on with hardship, work, worry, and problems, but help continued to arrive and eventually the island itself seemed to spring back into life. Green spread over the sodden earth, skeleton trees produced small new leaves and as the sun shone and the warm breeze blew people began planting again. Grown ups were not so worried and the children relaxed into their usual routines of school and play.

One evening Dad suddenly said, “How about a picnic and some sea bathing at Villa tomorrow?”

Mother thought it over and agreed that it would be pleasant to have a change and a rest. Then the girls all exclaimed and and the boys began talking of boats and swimming, and the children poked each other and giggled. Early the next morning then, the wagon was packed with food, the children, driver, and servants set out slowly to drive the six miles to Villa. Later, the ladies in the carriage and the men on horseback followed more quickly. The meeting place was the little stone jetty opposite Young’s Island which stood about two hundred yards across the water. It was a perfect place for a picnic; a series of small bays of sand and rock, with hillsides behind curving in a great semicircle. On Young’s Island was an Isolation Hospital which Dad wanted to examine for needed repairs after the hurricane, and behind was the big rock on which Fort Duvernette had been built during the Napoleonic wars.

The children could hardly wait to tumble out of the wagon and rush down the sand to the glorious sparkling turquoise sea, but the grown-ups were already arriving and Dad soon took charge. The wagon was unloaded, the horses tethered nearby with the driver in charge, while Mother was made comfortable in a folding chair in the shade. All the men and boys went around the bay where they could swim and splash in the nude without offending the sensibilities of the ladies. Meanwhile the girls undressed modestly behind the wagon and helped the smaller ones into an assortment of old cut-down dresses and drawers, then they headed decorously to the shallow water where they bobbed up and down in the little waves. The boys were taught to swim by being thrown into deeper water from a boat and encouraged to dog paddle to shore but the girls were not expected to swim or even to float. They enjoyed the warm water and little waves, playing with the children and laughing together, revelling in the sun and freedom from corsets- what joy!

Afterwards was the picnic in the shade of the few palm trees and bushes still standing- sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs, little meat pies and even a few oranges, although there was little fruit to be had this year. Tea had been brought in the big old Chinese teapot in its padded silk nest and a few small black boys appeared with green coconuts and were well rewarded. The children loved to watch the boys chop off the tops with their cutlasses and enjoyed the cool faintly sweet taste of the coconut water.

The ladies settled to rest and snooze while the older boys ran along the beach to persuade a fisherman to row them to Young’s Island where Dad and the other men could see what damage had been done while the boat took them on to Fort Duvenet. There they climbed the old crumbling stone steps to the top and mounted the abandoned cannon and the immense walls, pretending that the French ships were creeping into the bay. The little girls on shore hunted in the sand for tiny pink shells they called `Puppy Dogs’ Eyes’ while the small boys explored the wrack left by the hurricane high up on the shore and found sad remains of oars and boats, life belts, battered boxes, and debris.

Too soon the afternoon passed. The family gathered to leave and the children clutched their treasures and snuggled down on the floor of the wagon, already half asleep with the sun and the sea, while the adults took one last look at the lovely peaceful sea with the deep blue reaching out to the horizon.

Once the main problems were taken care of and the Government was functioning satisfactorily Dad and the other landowners began to travel further from Kingstown to see what had happened in outlying districts and make sure that help was available. These journeys were by horse or by boat, and as the roads were cleared, people were anxious to see how their own estates had fared.

The term plantation was not used in St. Vincent, and estates were generally quite small. One of the Hazell estates was `Grandsable’ in the north of the island near the town of Georgetown. All the family loved the beautiful old house on the hillside, with the mountains behind and the wide view of the valley and the sea from the big verandah. This might be called their holiday home as it took a whole day to get there by slow moving wagons and carriages over steep narrow roads, transporting family, food, servants, clothes, and linens, so once they arrived they stayed and enjoyed themselves. Carol loved the long drive when one of the excitements was to stop at the village of Stubbs to rest the horses. All the villagers clustered around to exchange news and the children were allowed to get out of the carriage to run around and stretch their legs. Occasionally one of the old ladies would come with a basket of Burney Sugar Cake or Coconut Candy and Mother would recognize old servants or people from the market and buy `treats’ for the children.

On this occasion there was no leisurely family visit. Father with a group of men on horseback set out early one morning to ride up north through Caliaqua, past Ratho Mill and Prospect, and on to Stubbs. A short stop, then along Argyle Beach with its black sands and the islands of Bequia, Balisoe, and Battawea plainly visible out to sea. After that they passed the estate at Spring and the arrowroot factory-washed lean by the torrential rain, it was for once without the pungent unpleasant smell of the bitty, the residue of the crushed root after the starch had been extracted, left to rot in the riverbed until the next rain washed it down to the sea. Then they rode on up the coast and finally to Georgetown. There had been landslides and in many places great trees had blown down, little houses levelled, and roads washed out but already the work of clearing had begun. At Grandsable and most of the other estates, the local people had sheltered in the cellars of the big houses and there had been no loss of life and few injuries. People were rebuilding their small houses and in the main buildings the need for galvanized iron for roofs and glass for windows were the most urgent requirements.

It would be many months before the family could spend happy carefree holidays at Grandsable, sitting on the big verandah entertaining friends and neighbours while the children played barefoot in old clothes and picked fruit. The trees were bare, the sugarcane was flattened, and the soil washed down the hillside into the sea, but Father was pleased to return home with no worse news: the house was still standing, and Mother was relieved to hear that apart from minor damage all was well- even her beautiful scarlet, blue and gold dinner service had survived!

Much as they enjoyed Grandsable, the place the children loved best for a holiday was Mustique, a little bare tropical island down the chain of the Grenadines, far away from everywhere. For the children, Mustique was an adventure. To begin with, you had to sail a long way in a big boat with every single thing you were going to need when you were there: sacks, boxes, crates, and chests packed with food, bedlinen, knives and forks, towels and pans, dolls and balls and hardly any clothes. The adults and the children perched on sacks and boxes while the boys climbed as high as they could and were pirates. All this was necessary because there was not a `proper’ house on Mustique- it was a building with big rooms and wide windows, with furniture like beds and tables and chairs, but just enough for everyday use, and it was like living in a picnic all the time. Everyone had their own favourite place on the island and did whatever they liked to do best. The boys went out with the fishermen and there was delicious redfish for dinner and sometimes even lobster; the little girls found the prettiest shells and picked flowers for the house. Everyone relaxed and enjoyed the sea and the sky and the lovely bare quiet scenery.

How could they know that many years later during the Depression the youngest of the boys, Fred, would sell Mustique for twenty-five thousand dollars? Later, the Honourable Colin Tennant, a British millionaire bought the island with the idea of creating a fabulous retreat for discriminating and wealthy friends. In a wonderful advertising gesture, he gave Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, a piece of land to build a house on Mustique as a wedding present. Before long others followed, and beautiful houses were created by the talented Oliver Messel. It remains a quiet but special place for those who can afford it.

Perhaps the Princess, resting in her lovely house, thinks Mustique a pleasant place for a holiday. To the little Hazell children long ago, it was the most beautiful place in the whole world.

January 2020:

Apparently the British Prime Minster Boris Johnson does, in spite of various crises in his own country and in the world…