Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/281

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

ward between the gorges of radiating waterways. In general, the mass of northern Martinique bulges upward and outward, a great dome convex toward the sky; but west and southwest of the summit crater there is an irregularly triangular amphitheater, of a form suggesting that a segment of the mountain has dropped several hundred feet below the general contour. At the coast line this depression forms the shallow bay of St. Pierre roadstead; and thence to the crest the depressed segment is bounded by rocky walls—sharp divides, cliffs, and lines of mornes, in different places. Almost in the center of this triangular trough sloping down from Pelee crater to the sea stood the city of St. Pierre, the metropolis of Martinique—that gem of the Antilles which must always live in history as the birthplace of Josephine, the early home of Bernardin de St. Pierre and the real scene (through youthful associations) of the epic of Paul and Virginia. St. Pierre was, indeed, an Antillean metropolis, the abode of culture and refinement, a mart of trade and shipping, the site of educational institutions of no mean grade, a city whose strong and distinctive characters were well worthy the gifted pen of its best chronicler, Lafcadio Hearn. Up the steep slopes toward the idly gaping crater four miles away, ran well beaten footpaths (for horses and wheels are alien to the precipitous slopes of the Antilles) leading to plantations and on to suburban villages, Carbet on the south, Precheur on the northern boundary of the amphitheater, Morne Rouge on the divide stretching away from the crater. The colonial Jardin Botanique lay in the rear, some hundred feet above the city; luxuriant cane-fields covered every available spot, groves and rows of palms skirted streets and pathways, legion brooks carried living water from the upper slopes to the sea, and thick native verdure mantled all the surface save fields and paths. Some half-way down the trough from Pelee to St. Pierre stood a minor crater, with traces of fumaroles; but they were covered from sight and memory by the prevailing verdure. A picturesque pond lay at the bottom of the great crater; and much of the water flowing seaward from the verdure-clad hills of the trough gathered into a central stream, La Riviere Blanche. Such was the area of destruction.

It is probable that the explosion of May 5 vaporized the water of the crater-set pond, and blew it into the air; it is also probable that the minor crater half-way down the slope toward St. Pierre was at least partially opened. More certain it is that on the morning of May 8 a mass of molten rock in the throat of the great crater exploded by the flashing into gas of the water and other volatile substances approaching the surface and so escaping subterranean pressure; and that immediately afterward (probably timed by the disturbed air pressure due to the first discharge) the minor crater fired a smaller