A Birthday Party in the West Indies

by Unknown

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 Rocks!

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 that way.

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 'Krone Kage.'"

"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 further resistance.

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 body."

(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 "the party."

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 knew.

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 special request.

We had a delightful afternoon, and, when we returned home, Tom shook hands with all and said,

"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.