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Chapter 1

Could I believe that any one event in our lives was more strictly providential than another, I should say without hesitation that the event or series of events which led me to the island of St. Thomas in the winter of 1854 deserves that distinction. When I left home I had but one well defined purpose, aside from a little recreation; that was to visit Haiti to see what sort of work, Africans born and bred in slavery, were making of self-government, a question about which public sentiment in the United States was then seriously divided and in which both as a journalist and a patriot I then felt a special interest. I had no thought of going farther. I had no curiosity to see St. Thomas or any of its in habitants, I was borne thither, too, by a chain of incidents, every one of which I would gladly have avoided. It proved to be the only way by which I could get home to the United States without indefinite delay. Port au Prince, where I had my headquarters while in Haiti, was desolated by yellow and other malignant fevers to such an extent that for four or five weeks of my stay there, most of the vessels in port were prevented from leaving for lack of sailors. Of the entire crew of the bark that brought me to Haiti, all but two were in the cemetery within four days after my arrival. Thus when ready to return, I was compelled, to my serious inconvenience, to cross to St. Thomas in the hope of there getting a steamer for New York. On my arrival at that island, however, I found that the New York steamer - there was then but one on the line - had met with an accident on her last homeward voyage; at least such was the information given out by her agents, and had gone into dock in New York for repairs, how long to be detained there, no one at St. Thomas professed to know. I afterward had reason to suspect that the accident, if any had been sustained, had been sufficiently magnified to make it serve as a pretext for withdrawing her temporarily from an unprofitable service, St. Thomas being at this time in a more distressed sanitary condition, even, than Haiti. A French emigrant ship, bound to some port in South America, had been driven in there in distress only a few days before my arrival, and compelled to discharge her cargo there. The Negroes of the island who were employed for this work, were stimulated to unaccustomed fatigue and exposure under a broiling sun, by extra pay. After thus being overheated by day, they knew no better than to lay themselves down to sleep on their doormats as usual at night, without any covering and in most cases without a roof over them. The consequence in nearly every instance was a chill, for the temperature at midnight was from 40 to 50 degrees lower than at noon; and the cholera broke out on the very next day with such virulence that, within a month after the arrival of the distressed vessel, one-tenth of the population of the island were in their graves. This state of things necessarily prolonged my detention, for the vessels in the harbor by which I might have hoped to get to Havana or to some other Spanish port in steam communication with New York, could get no charters for any of the Spanish islands because of the rigorous and prolonged quarantine to which they were sure to be condemned for having sailed last from a cholera infected district. Consequently I had no alternative but to take up my quarters at the principal, indeed the only, hotel on the island - by no means a bad one - kept by a Creole Spaniard who had formerly conducted a similar business at the city of St. Domingo, and there await the slow revolution of the wheel of fortune. The only guest sleeping in the hotel - though a number of residents took their meals there - was a Danish lawyer by the name of Kjerulff, who had practiced his profession for many years in St. Thomas, but like myself was temporarily established at the hotel, awaiting an opportunity of getting to the United States. . .

We naturally fell into a sort of acquaintance that commonly follows contiguity, and which ripened rapidly when he discovered that we had some common difficulties to overcome and a common destination. One morning during the second week of my sojourn on the inland, Mr. Kjerulff and I chanced both to be seated in the spacious but then deserted dining hall - deserted by everyone but ourselves, I mean - he at one end and I at the other, and both with books in our hands. I was reading the Bible.

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