A Birthday Party in the West Indies
WE were Americans and lived on one of the
West India islands. Which one I shall
not say; you may guess from the hints I give you.
It belonged to Denmark, and was inhabited by
people of almost every nation, for the city was a
busy trading place and famous sea-port.
This variety of nationalities is an advantage, or
a disadvantage, just as you choose to think. To us
children it was the most delightful thing in the
world—why, we saw a Malay sailor once; but an
English novelist, who wrote many books, visited
our island, and said in a contemptuous way that
it was "a Dano-Hispano-Yankee Doodle-niggery
place." This was in the book he published
about the West Indies and the Spanish
Main. We children never forgave that remark.
An American refers incidentally to our old
home in a beautiful story, called A Man Without a
Country. How the tears rolled down our cheeks
as we read that Philip Nolan had been there in the
harbor—perhaps just inside Prince Rupert's
I wonder if you have read that story? To us it
was almost sacred, so strong was our love of country,
and we believed every word to be true. The
first piece of poetry Tom wished to learn was
"Breathes there a man with soul so dead." But
Tom was too small to learn anything but Mother
Goose at the time he had his Birthday Party. He
was a chubby little fellow, whose third anniversary
was near at hand, and he was so clamorous for a
party—he scarcely knew what a party was, but he
wanted it all the more for that reason—that his
parents laughingly gave way to him.
We did not keep house as people do in this country;
in fact the house itself differed greatly from
such as you see.
The climate was warm all the year round, and
there were no chimneys where no fires were needed.
There were no glass windows, excepting on the east
side. At all other windows we had only jalousie
blinds, with heavy wooden shutters outside to be
closed when a hurricane was feared. The wonderful
Trade Winds blew from the East, and sometimes
brought showers; for this reason, we had glass on
that side. The floors were of North Carolina pine,
one of the few woods insects will not eat into and
destroy. It is a pretty cream yellow, that looked
well between the rugs scattered over it. Balconies
and wide verandas were on all sides of the house.
As to servants, they were all colored and we had
to have a great many, for each would only take
charge of one branch of service, and usually must
have a deputy or assistant to help. For instance,
Sophie, the cook, had a woman to clean fish, slice
beans, and do such work for her, as well as attend to
the fires. There was no stove in the kitchen. A
kind of counter, three feet wide and about as high,
built of brick, was on two sides of the room; this
had holes in the top here and there. The cooking
was done over these holes filled with charcoal; so
instead of one fire to cook dinner, Sophie had a
soup fire, a fish fire, a potato fire, and so forth. A
small brick oven baked the few things she cooked
Tom's nurse, or Nana, as all West India nurses
were called, was a tall negress, very dignified and
imposing in her manners, and so good we loved her
dearly. She always wore a black alpaca gown, a
white apron covering the whole front of it, a white
handkerchief crossed over her bosom, and one tied
over her hair. Her long gold ear-rings were her
only ornaments. These rings were very interesting,
because Nana often announced to us that she
had lost a friend and was wearing "deep mourning."
This meant that she had covered her ear-rings
with black silk neatly sewed on. They were
mournful-looking objects then, I assure you.
I cannot describe all the servants, odd as they
were, nor give you any idea of their way of talking—Creole,
Danish, and broken English—but I
must mention our butler, or "houseman," Christian
Utendahl, the most important member of the
household in his own opinion.
As soon as the party was decided on, Christian
and Nana were called in to be consulted. Then
it was discovered what a tiresome undertaking a
child's party might be. All children under the
care of Nanas must have those Nanas specially
invited, and a particular kind of punch must be
made for them; then champagne must be provided
for the little ones to drink toasts.
"Oh, this will never do. I cannot think of such
a thing," said mamma.
"I must advise you so to do, Madame," answered
Christian. "Nana's punch is lemonade wid leetle
bit claret in it; and when you see de glasses I'll
permide fer de champagne you'll see fer you'sef
dey can't hole a timmle full. Fer de credit of de
family, Madame, fer fear folks'll say 'Americains
don't know how to behave,' I must adwise you."
The last sentence was a powerful argument, and
the solemn negro used it with effect.
Here Nana interposed, saying, "My lady, how
you expec my leetle man to know how to conduct
hes-sef less we begin wid his manners jes now?"
Then she added that she could not appear without
a new gown, apron and head-handkerchief, and the
apron ought to have Mexicain drawn-work a finger
"deep at de bottom of it to be credi-tabble."
Next, Nana said the birthday cake must be made
by Dandy and covered with as many "sugar
babies" as there were guests.
These babies were pure sugar figures on straws
and were stuck into the cake through the icing.
"The 'Kranse Kage' and the 'Krone Kage'
can be made at home by Ellen and Sophie, Miss
Lind and Mrs. Harrigen," said Christian.
"Is a 'Kranse Kage' absolutely necessary?"
asked mamma. "It will keep the women pounding
almonds a whole day and it is very unwholesome."
"Of course it is necessary," said both advisers
together, and "it would bring de chile bad luck to
have it made out of de house," said Nana.
"Then we will have it and dispense with the
"Not have a 'Krone Kage'! Oh, we must have
dat out of compliment to de King, Madame."
Here mamma gave up in despair and let the
rulers of the household have their way without
Christian delivered the invitations to the party
in his most formal manner. The Hingleberg
boys, Emile Haagensen, Alma Pretorius, Ingeborg
Hjerm, Nita Gomez, Achille Anduze, and several
other boys and girls accepted promptly.
During the next few days there was so much
excitement in the household, so much disagreement
between Christian and Nana, and Tom was
so vociferous, mamma said nothing would ever induce
her to give a party for children again.
In Tom's good moments you would be sure to
see him standing with his hands behind him, while
Nana trained him in what he should say and do.
"Sissy," he whispered to me, "Nana says if I ain't
very, very dood she'll gie me a fatoi before evelly
(We never knew what this mysterious punishment
was, and now we think it must be Creole for
something that never happens. We were often
threatened with it and as often escaped it.)
At last the day came, and Tom was to be
allowed to haul up the flag that morning. (We
always kept the American flag floating over our
house.) When the Danish soldiers fired the sunrise
cannon from the fort, Tom pulled on the ropes
with all his strength, his dear little face as red as
it could be, and when the flag reached the top of
the tall staff he gave a long sigh of satisfaction.
We were not to see the parlors till just before the
guests were to come, about twelve o'clock. When
we did go in we screamed with delight. The
rooms were filled with flowers. The pillars were
hidden by long ferns and the Mexican vine which
has long wreaths of tiny pink flowers, such as you
may have seen in the dress caps of babies. Tall
vases of pink and white oleander filled the alcove,
and everywhere were white carnations, jasmine,
frangipanni, and doodle-doo blossoms. All this
had been done by the servants as a surprise.
In the middle of the room was the table. The
gorgeous birthday cake, bristling with knights,
ladies, angels and all kinds of figures, was in the
centre, and the Kranse Kage and Krone Kage
were at either end of it; in the former a small silk
American flag, in the latter a Danish one, were
placed; between them were all sorts of good things,
just such as you have at your parties. At each
plate was the queerest wee glass imaginable.
Tom received many presents. One of them, a
gun with a bayonet, gave almost too much bliss.
He sat and hugged it, evidently thinking it was
Christian, dressed in white, met every one at
the street gate. To the guests he said, "Mr. and
Mrs. Alger presents deir complements and are
glad to see you;" and to the Nanas he said
politely, "How you so far dis mawning?"
To get to our house, one had to mount three or
four steps from the street, then there was a high
iron fence and gate. On each side of this were
the only trees I ever disliked. We called them
the "Boiled Huckleberry Pudding" trees. They
had large poisonous-looking leaves, and bore pale
lumpish fruit about as large as a quart measure,
with small black seeds here and there through
them. There were no other trees like them on
the island and we had a tradition that they came
from Otaheite and would kill any one instantly
who tasted the fruit. There were beautiful trees
and flowers on this terrace and on all; then came
a wall covered with vines, and fifteen stone steps
leading to another terrace and another wall. In
this second wall, near the pepper-tree, was the
home of our two monkeys Jack and Jill. On the
third terrace was the house.
Tom received his friends nicely, Nana standing
just behind him dressed in her new gown and
beautiful apron. We could see she was very anxious
lest he should disgrace her before the other
Nanas. Often we heard her whisper "Say howdy
wid de odder hand, My Heart," or "Mind what I
tole you, Son." She escorted the Nanas to the
court, where the bowl of punch was standing, and
they drank Tom's health with many good wishes.
As soon as all the children had arrived they were
seated at table, each Nana standing behind her
charge. Daintily and prettily the little ones ate,
and when Christian passed the cake around the
"sugar babies" were drawn out with much ceremony.
Then the other large cakes were cut and
served and Christian put a drop of champagne in
each little glass. As soon as this was done, quick
as thought Carl Hingleberg stood up and said:
"Lienge leve Kongen!"
Would you believe it? Every little tot lifted his
or her glass and drank this solemnly. Christian
filled the glasses again and we saw Bebé Anduze
was being nudged and pushed by her Nana; at
last she put her finger in her mouth and hung her
head but said very sweetly, "I wiss Tom Alger
have many nice birfdays and be a dood boy!"
How we all laughed! And how surprised we
were when Tom bowed and said, "Tak," but he
spoiled it all by pounding on the table and shouting
"Hurrah for Grant!"
When all had done, Nana lifted Tom down from
his chair and turned him to the right. Each child
he took by the hand and said, "Velbekomme;" and
the answer given to him was "Fak for mad." Then
Tom scampered off, and came back with his gun
and singing with all his might "Den tapre land
soldat;" and where he did not know the Danish
words, he sang "Good Night, my brudder Ben!"
which Nana proudly explained "he composed hes-sef."
All the children joined in the chorus and
were pleased at his singing something they all
Now came the great event of the day. We went
down to the wharf, where papa had boats ready to
take us off to the American man-of-war in the
harbor. We were kindly taken all over it and
Tom was allowed to fire off a large cannon. This
consoled him for the loss of his bayonet, which fell
overboard on our way to the ship, by mamma's
We had a delightful afternoon, and, when we
returned home, Tom shook hands with all and
"Farvel Kom igjen."
Note.—Kranse Kage, Wreath Cake; Krone Kage, Crown
Cake; Tak, Thanks; Den tapre land soldat, The brave land
soldier; Velbekomme, Welcome; Fak for mad, Thanks for
bread, or the food; Lienge leve Kongen, Long live the King;
Farvel Kom igjen, Farewell, come again.