La Catastrophe de la Martinique: twenty-nine
And it is important to say, because it would be odious to allow the propagation of this absurd legend—survivors imploring for help, and receiving none. Dedicated people, doctors, soldiers, police, the simple citizens, have climbed through the ruins of Saint-Pierre as soon as the burning ashes, diminishing, permitted their going in without dying. The city was anxiously explored, by every means, and they found not a trace of the living. No more at the prison of the miraculous Auguste, than the streets vaguely indicated by Vaillant, as containing the house with the eight wounded.
Further, as I will go on saying, everything proves that all life was instantaneously snuffed in Saint-Pierre, at the moment of the catastrophe. To claim that anyone had survived, is as absurd as to say the law of gravity had been modified by ministerial decree. One can blame a great many things on the Administration, and as many times as the occasion demands, I will… But, frankly, blaming it for allowing death, without aiding the survivors of Saint-Pierre, and that taken on faith, from two cretinous jokers, the gunners Tribut and Vaillant, is too much!
To be able to say that no one had wanted to see the danger before the 8th, for the sake of the elections…that is enough!
The romance invented by these two humbugs to justify their spree is worthy of the prisoner Auguste. To believe these characters, and to make them heroes of sensational articles, you must be an American journalist… And again… one of those who planted their walking sticks on the side of the crater to pinpoint their measurements…
Let us not joke too much about the American journalists… Ours are not—alas!—much further from reproach…and have we published fantasies, in the great and little journals…?
Picked out from a newspaper of Bordeaux on the day of our arrival, this note on—
—an infantryman who escaped the disaster.
It is the soldier Jeannin, of the 4th regiment. He was in the garrison of Saint-Pierre, at the very flank of the peak, with a handful of men, seventeen, all of them brave, who mounted guard, turn by turn, on the redoubtable mountain.
Alone, he survived. The eve of the eruption, he had performed his accustomed task; he had gone up, gun in hand, onto the mountain. No sign had caught his attention. Mount Pelée was not frightening. They had walked, said the soldier, as on the hills at home. The next day, the mountain was on fire, and sowing around it misery and death.
Is it beautiful, these soldiers, who go up on the mountain, gun in hand…? Brave soldier Jeannin… Begone!
Interview with M. Raybaud
M. Raybaud is the managing director of the sugar-cane plantations that cover the hillsides of the Saint-James properties, situated above Saint-Pierre, on the east side. Four years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting these plantations, and I have retained the best memory of the charming welcome given me by M. Raybaud, in his lovely colonial house, in the settlement at Trou-Vaillant. My first care in arriving at Fort-de-France, thus, was to make inquiry of M. Raybaud, and to search for him. Happily, he had, as well as his family, escaped death. The altitude of the estate had preserved it from the scourge. The volume of the flaming torrent that rolled in the valley of the Roxelane, and destroyed Saint-Pierre, spread no higher than 120 meters, as I have said in recounting my visit to the ruins of Saint-Pierre.
The dwelling of M. Raybaud sits at 160 meters in altitude; it is that which saved it, as well as its inhabitants.
Advised of my arrival at Fort-de-France, M. Raybaud came to see me. He told me what he had seen. And he saw well, for he was placed, so to speak, in the best box.
I will let him speak:
“Since the 20th of April, the ash had fallen. One heard from the foot of the mountain, subterranean noises that seemed to come from the side of the Prêcheur. I had noted that the disappearance of the Guérin factory took place three days before the new moon of the 8th, which produced the terrible eruption. The eruption of the 20th also coincided with a phase of the moon.
“The phenomena occurring within the mountain had been terrifying Saint-Pierre. And, no matter anyone’s saying they doubted the danger, many people were afraid. The proof is that twenty-six of our friends came to beg our hospitality, notably the sister of M. Chomereau-Lamothe, the Deputy Director of the Bank of France*. They had said in the city, that there was much less danger on the heights.
*After reading this interview with M. Raybaud, in the Journal, where I had published a few chapters of this book, M. Chomereau-Lamothe kindly wrote to me two letters, from which I extract these few lines:
“Permit me, monsieur, to thank you for what you say of M. Raybaud, to whom I owe such gratitude [ … ] Allow me to add that the modesty of our friend has hidden a great part of the truth [ … ] My parents have in fact written to me that they owe their lives to the energy, the presence of mind, the intelligent initiative, and the sustained courage of the young son of M. Raybaud…
La Catastrophe de la Martinque
(1902, Jean Hess, La Catastrophe de la Martinique; 2018, translation, Stephanie Foster)