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Letters From Mauritius by Lady Barker 01

Easter Sunday, April 21, 1878.

"How's her head, Seccuni?"—"Nor'-nor'-east, quarter east, saar." Such had been the question often asked, at my impatient prompting, of the placid Lascar quartermaster during the past fortnight. And the answer generally elicited a sigh from the good-natured captain of the Actæa, a sigh which I reproduced with a good deal of added woe in its intonation and a slight dash of feminine impatience. For this easterly bearing was all wrong for us. "Anything from the south would do," but not a puff seemed inclined to come our way from the south. Seventeen days ago we scraped over the bar at the mouth of D'Urban harbor, spread our sails, and fled away before a fair wind toward the north end of Madagascar, meaning to leave it on the starboard bow and so fetch "L'Ile Maurice, ancienne Ile de France," as it is still fondly styled. The fair wind had freshened to a gale a day or two later, and bowled us along before it, and we had made a rapid and prosperous voyage so far. Sunny days and cold, clear, starry nights had come and gone amid the intense and wonderful loveliness of these strange seas. Not a sail had we passed, not a gull had been seen, scarcely a porpoise. But now this radiant Easter Sunday morning finds us almost becalmed on the eastern side of Mauritius, with what air is stirring dead ahead, but only coming in a cat's-paw now and then. Except for one's natural impatience to drop anchor it would have been no penance to loiter on such a day, and so make it a memory which would stand out for ever in bold relief amid the monotony of life. "A study of color" indeed—a study in wonderful harmonies of vivid blues and opalesque pinks, amethysts and greens, indigoes and lakes, all the gem-like tints breaking up into sparkling fragments every moment, to reset themselves the next instant in a new and exquisite combination. The tiny island at once impresses me with a respectful admiration. What nonsense is this the geography-books state, and I have repeated, about Mauritius being the same size as the Isle of Wight? Absurd! Here is a bold range of volcanic-looking mountains rising up grand and clear against the beautiful background of a summer sky, on whose slopes and in whose valleys, green down to the water's edge, lie fertile stretches of cultivation. We are not near enough to see whether the pale shimmer of the young vegetation is due to grass or waving cane-tops. Bold ravines are cut sharply down the mountainous sides and lighted up by the silvery glint of rushing water, and the breakers, for all the mirror-like calm of the sea out here, a couple of miles from shore, are beating the barrier rocks and dashing their snow aloft with a dull thud which strikes on the ear in mesmeric rhythm. Yes, it is quite the fairest scene one need wish to rest wave-worn and eager eyes upon, and it is still more beautiful if you look over the vessel's side. The sea is of a Mediterranean blue, and is literally alive with fish beneath, and lovely sea-creatures floating upon, the sunlit water. It appears as if one could see down to unknown depths through that clear sapphire medium, breaking up here and there into pale blue reflections which are even more enchanting than its intense tints. Fishes, apparently of gold and rose-color or of a radiant blue barred and banded with silver, dart, plunge and chase each other after the fragments of biscuit we throw overboard. Films of crystal and ruby oar themselves gently along the upper surface or float like folded sea-flowers on the motionless water. A flock of tiny sea-mews, half the size of the fish, are screaming shrilly and darting down on the shoal; but as for their catching them, the idea is preposterous, for the fish are twice as big as the birds.

Still, we want to get on: we sadly want to beat another barque which started a couple of hours after us from Natal, and we are barely drifting a knot an hour. It is not in the least too hot. D'Urban was very sultry when we left, but I have been shivering ever since in my holland gown, thinking fondly and regretfully of serge skirts and a sealskin jacket down in the hold. It may be safely taken as an axiom in travelling that you seldom suffer from cold more than in what are supposed to be hot climates, and the wary voyageuse will never separate herself hopelessly from her winter wraps, even when steering to tropical lands. In spite of all my experience, I am often taken in on this point, and I should have perished from cold during this voyage as we got farther south if it had not been for the friendly presence of a rough Scotch plaid. Even the days were cold on deck out of the sun, and the long nights—for darkness treads close on the heels of sunset in the winter months of these latitudes—would have indeed been nipping without warm wraps.

But no one thinks of wraps this balmy Easter Sunday. It is delicious as to temperature, only we are in an ungrateful hurry, and the stars find us scarcely a dozen miles from where they left us. I sit up to see myself safe through the narrow passage between Flat Island and Round Island, and fall asleep at last to the monotonous chant of so many "fathoms and no bottom," for we take soundings every five minutes or so in this reefy region. An apology for wind gets up at last, which takes us round the north end of the island, and we creep up to the outer anchorage of Port Louis, on its western shore, slowly but safely in that darkest hour before dawn.

Bad news travels fast, they say, and some one actually took the trouble of getting out of his bed and rowing out to us as soon as our anchor was down to tell us, with apparently great satisfaction, that we had lost our race, and that we should have to go into quarantine with the earliest dawn. Having awakened all the sleepers with this soothing intelligence, and called up a host of bitter feelings of rage and disappointment in the heart of every one on board, this friendly voice bade us good-night, and the owner rowed away into the gloom around, apparently at peace with himself and all the world.

How can I set forth the indignation we all felt to be put in quarantine because of a little insignificant epidemic of fever at D'Urban, in coming to a place noted as a hotbed of every variety of fever? If it was measles, or even chicken-pox, we declared we could have understood it. But fever! This sentiment was found very comforting, and it was a great disappointment to find how little convincing it appeared to the authorities. However, the anticipation proved to have been much worse than the reality, for as we were all perfectly well, and had been so ever since leaving D'Urban, the quarantine laws became delightfully elastic, and in a couple of days or so the yellow flag was hauled down, and a more gay and cheerful bit of bunting proclaimed to our friends on shore that we were no longer objects of fear and aversion.

In two minutes F—— is on board, and in two minutes more I am in a boat alongside, being swiftly rowed to the flat shore of Port Louis through a crowd of shipping, for the fine harbor of the little island seems to attract to itself an enormous number of vessels. From Calcutta and China, Ceylon and Madras, Pondicherry, London, Marseilles, the Cape, Callao and Bordeaux, and from many a port besides, vessels of all varieties of rig and tonnage come hither.

In the daytime, as I now see it for the first time, Port Louis is indeed a crowded and busy place, and its low-pitched warehouses and unpretending-looking buildings hold many and many thousand tons of miscellaneous merchandise coming in or going out. But at sunset an exodus of all the white and most of the creole inhabitants sets in, leaving the dusty streets and dingy buildings to watchmen and coolies and dogs. It is quite curious to notice, as I do directly, what a horror the English residents have of sleeping even one single night in Port Louis; and this dread certainly appears to be well founded if even half the stories one hears be true. Some half dozen officials, whose duties oblige them to be always close to the harbor, contrive, however, to live in the town, but they nearly all give a melancholy report of the constant attacks of fever they or their families suffer from.

Certainly, at the first glance, Port Louis is not a prepossessing place to live, or try to live, in. I will say nothing of the shabby shops, the dilapidated-looking dwellings, one passes in a rapid drive through the streets, because I know how deceitful outside appearances are as to the internal resources or comforts of a tropical town. Those dingy shops may hold excellent though miscellaneous goods in their dark recesses, and would be absolutely unbearable to either owner or customer if they were lighted with staring plate-glass windows. Nor would it be possible to array tempting articles in gallant order behind so hot and glaring a screen, for no shade or canvas would prevent everything from bleaching white in a few hours. As for the peeled walls of house and garden, no stucco or paint can stand many weeks of tropical sun and showers. Everything gets to look blistered or washed out directly after it has been renovated, and great allowances must be made for these shortcomings so patent to the eye of a fresh visitor. What I most regretted in Port Louis was its low-lying, fever-haunted situation. It looks marked out as a hotbed of disease, and the wonder to me is, not that it should now and for ten years past have the character of being a nest for breeding fevers, but that there ever should have been a time when illness was not rife in such a locality. Sheltered from anything like a free circulation of air by hills rising abruptly from the seashore, swampy by nature, crowded to excess by thousands of emigrants from all parts of the coast added to its own swarming population, it seems little short of marvellous that even by day Europeans can contrive to exist there long enough to carry on the enormous trade which comes and goes to and from its harbor. Yet they do so, and on the whole manage very well by avoiding exposure to the sun and taking care to sleep out of the town. This is rendered possible to all by an admirable system of railways, which are under government control, and will gradually form a perfect network over the island. The engineering difficulties of these lines must have been great, and it is an appalling sight to witness a train in motion. So hilly is the little island that if the engine is approaching the chances are it looks as if it were about to plunge wildly down on its head and turn a somersault into the station, or else it seems to be gradually climbing up a steep gradient after the fashion of a fly on the wall. But everything appears well managed, and the dulness of the daily press is never enlivened by accounts of a railway accident.

For two or three miles out of Port Louis the country is still flat and marshy, and ugly to the last degree—not the ugliness of bareness and trim neatness, but overgrown, dank and mournful, for all its teeming life. By the roadside stand, here and there, what once were handsome and hospitable mansions, but are now abodes of desolation and decay. The same sad story may be told of each—how their owners, well-born descendants of old French families, flourished there, amid their beautiful flowers, in health and happiness for many a long day until the fatal "fever year" of 1867, when half the families were carried off by swift death, and the survivors wellnigh ruined by hurricanes and disasters of all sorts. Poor little Mauritius has certainly passed through some very hard times, but she has borne them bravely and pluckily, and is now reaping her reward in returning prosperity. Sharp as has been the lesson, it is something for her inhabitants to have learned to enforce better sanitary laws, and there is little fear now but that their eyes have been opened to the importance of health regulations.

One effect of the epidemic which desolated Port Louis has been the creation of the prettiest imaginable suburbs or settlements within eight or ten miles of the town. These districts have the quaintest French names—Beau Bassin, Curépipe, Pamplemousse, Flacq, Moka, and so forth, with the English name of "Racehill" standing out among them in cockney simplicity. My particular suburb is the nearest and most convenient from which F—— can compass his daily official duties, but I am not entitled to boast of an elevation of more than eight hundred feet. Still, there is an extraordinary difference in the temperature before we have climbed to even half that height, and we turn out of a green lane bordered by thick hedges of something exactly like English hawthorn into a wind-swept clearing on the borders of a deep ravine where stands a bungalow-looking dwelling rejoicing in the name of "The Oaks." It might much more appropriately have been called "The Palms," for I can't see an oak anywhere, whilst there are some lovely graceful trees with rustling giant leaves on the lawn; but I cannot look beyond the wide veranda, where Zulu Jack is waiting to welcome me with the old musical cry of "Jakasu-casa!" and my little five-o'clock tea-table arranged, just as I used to have it in Natal, on the shady side of the house. Yes, it is home at last, and very homelike and comfortable it all looks after the tossing, changing voyaging of the past two months, for I have come a long way round.

Beau Bassin, May 21st.

I feel as if I had lived here all my life, although it is really more unlike the ordinary English colony than it is possible to imagine; and yet (as the walrus said to the carpenter) this "is scarcely odd," because it is not an English colony at all. It is thoroughly and entirely French, and the very small part of the habits of the people which is not French is Indian. The result of more than a century of civilization, and of the teachings of many colonists, not counting the Portuguese discoverers early in the sixteenth century, is a mixed but very comfortable code of manners and customs. One has not here to struggle against the ignorance and incapacity of native servants. The clever, quick Indian has learned the polish and elegance of his French masters, and the first thing which struck me was the pretty manners of the native—or, as they are called, creole—inhabitants. Everybody has a "Bon soir!" or a "Salaam!" for us as we pass them in our twilight walks, and the manners of the domestic servants are full of attention and courtesy. Mauritius first belonged to the Dutch (for the Portuguese did not attempt to colonize it), who seem to have been bullied out of it by pirates and hurricanes, and who finally gave it up as a thankless task about the year 1700. A few years later the French, having a thriving colony next door at Bourbon, sent over a man-of-war and "annexed," unopposed, the pretty little island. But there were all sorts of difficulties to overcome in those early days, and it was not even found possible—from mismanagement of course—to make the place pay its own working expenses. Then came the war with England at the beginning of this century; and that made things worse, for of course we tried to get hold of it, and there were many sharp sea-fights off its lovely shores, until, after a gallant defence, a landing was effected by the English, who took possession of it somewhere about 1811. Still, it does not seem to have been of much use to them, for the French inhabitants naturally made difficulties and declined to take the oath of allegiance; so that it was not until the great settling-day—or rather year—of 1814, when Louis XVIII. "came to his own again" and definitively ceded Mauritius to the British, that we began to set to work, aided by the inhabitants with right good-will, to develop and make the most of its enormous natural resources.

I really believe Mauritius stands alone in the whole world for variety of scenery, of climate and of productions within the smallest imaginable space. It might be a continent looked at through reversed opera-glasses for the ambitious scale of its mountains, its ravines and its waterfalls. When once you leave the plains behind—it is all on such a toy scale that you do this in half an hour—you breathe mountain-air and look down deep gorges and cross wide, rushing rivers. Of course the sea is part of every view. If it is lost sight of for five minutes, there is nothing to do but go on a few yards and turn a corner to see it again, stretching wide and blue and beautiful out to the horizon. As for the length and breadth of the island representing its area, the idea is wildly wrong. The acreage is enormous in proportion to this same illusory length and breadth, which very soon fades out of the newcomer's mind. One confusing effect of the hilly nature of the ground is that one dwarfs the relative length of distances, and gets to talk of five miles as a long way off. At first I used to say—rather impertinently, I confess—"Surely nothing can be very far away here!" but I have learned better already in this short month, and recognize that even three miles constitute something of a drive. And the chances are—nay, the certainty is—that three miles in any direction will show you a greater variety of beautiful scenery than the same distance over any other part of the habitable globe. The only expression I can find to describe Mauritius to myself is one I used to hear my grandmother use in speaking of a pretty girl who chanced to be rather petite. "She is a pocket Venus," the old lady would say; and so I find myself calling L'Ile Maurice a pocket Venus among islets.

This is the beginning of the cool season, which lasts till November; and really the climate just now is very delightful. A little too windy, perhaps, for my individual taste, but that is owing to the rather exposed situation of my house. The trade winds sweep in from the south-east, and very nearly blow me and my possessions out of the drawing-room. Still, it would be the height of ingratitude to quarrel with such a healthy, refreshing gale, and I try to avoid the remorse which I am assured will overtake me in the hot season if I grumble now. Of course it is hot in the sun, but ladies need seldom or never expose themselves to it. The gentlemen are armed, when they go out, with white umbrellas, and keep as much as possible out of the fierce heat. At night it is quite cold, and one or even two blankets are indispensable; yet this is by no means one of the coolest situations in the island, though it bears an excellent character for healthiness. Of course I can only tell you this time of what lies immediately around me, for I have hardly strayed five miles from my own door since I arrived. There is always so much to do in settling one's self in a new home. This time, I am bound to say, the difficulties have been reduced to a minimum, not only from the prompt kindness and helpfulness of my charming neighbors, but because I found excellent servants ready to my hand, instead of needing to go through the laborious process of training them. The cooks are very good—better indeed than the food material, which is not always of the best quality. The beef is imported from Madagascar, and is thin and queerly butchered, but presents itself at table in a sufficiently attractive form: so do the long-legged fowls of the island. But the object of distrust is always the mutton, which is more often goat, and consequently tough and rank: when it is only kid one can manage it, but the older animal is beyond me. Vegetables and fruit are abundant and delicious, and I have tasted very nice fish, though they do not seem plentiful. Nor is the actual cost of living great for what is technically called "bazaar"—i.e., home-grown—articles of daily food. Indeed, such things are cheap, and a few rupees go a long way in "bazaar." The moment you come to articles de luxe from England or France, then, indeed, you must reckon in dollars, or even piastres, for it sounds too overwhelming in rupees. Wine is the exception which proves the rule in this case, and every one drinks an excellent, wholesome light claret which is absurdly and delightfully cheap, and which comes straight from Bordeaux. Ribbons, clothes, boots and gloves, all things of that sort, are also expensive, but not unreasonably so when the enormous cost of carriage is taken into account. Everything comes by the only direct line of communication with England, in the "Messageries Maritimes," which is a swift but costly mode of transmission. Still, all actual necessaries are cheap and plentiful in spite of the teeming population one sees everywhere.

In our daily evening walk we cut off a corner through the bazaar, and it is most amusing to see and hear the representatives of all the countries of the East laughing, jangling and chatting in their own tongues, and apparently all at once. Besides Indians from each presidency, there are crowds of Chinese, Cingalese, Malabars, Malagask, superadded to the creole population. They seem orderly enough, though perhaps the police reports could tell a different tale. If only the daylight would last longer in these latitudes, where exercise is only possible after sundown! However early we set forth, the end of the walk is sure to be accomplished stumblingly in profound darkness. Happily, there are no snakes or poisonous reptiles of any sort, nor have I yet seen anything more personally objectionable than a mosquito. I rather owe a grudge, though, to a little insect called the mason-fly, which has a perfect passion for running up mud huts (compared to its larger edifices on the walls and ceiling) on my blotting-books and between the leaves of my pet volumes. The white ants are the worst insect foe we have, and the stories I hear of their performances would do credit to the Arabian Nights. I have already learned to consider as pets the little soft brown lizards which emerge from behind the picture-frames at night as soon as ever the lamps are lit. They come out to catch the flies on the ceiling, and stalk their prey in the cleverest and stealthiest fashion. Occasionally, however, they quarrel with each other, and have terrific combats over head, with the invariable result of a wriggling inch of tail dropping down on one's book or paper. This cool weather is of course the time when one is freest from insect visitors, and I have not yet seen any butterflies. A stray grasshopper, with green wings folded exactly like a large leaf, or an inquisitive mantis, blunders on to my writing-table occasionally, but not often enough to be anything but welcome. As my sitting-room may be said, speaking architecturally, to consist merely of a floor and ceiling, there is no reason why all the insects in the island should not come in at any one of its seven open doors (I have no windows) if they choose.

The houses are very pretty, however, in spite of their being all doorway. The polished floors—unhappily, mine are painted red, which is a great sorrow to me—the large rooms, with nice furniture and a wealth of flowers, give a look of great comfort and elegance to the interior. The wide, low verandas are shaded on the sunny side by screens or blinds of ratan painted green, and from the ceiling dangle baskets, large baskets, filled with every imaginable variety of fern. I never saw anything like the beauty of the foliage. The leaves of the plants would give color and variety enough without the flowers, and they too are in profusion. Every house stands in its own grounds, and I think I may say that every house has a beautiful shrubbery and garden attached to it. Of course, with all this warm rain constantly falling, the pruning-knife is as much needed as the spade, but the natives make excellent and clever gardeners, and every place is well and neatly kept. Mine is the only overgrown and yet empty garden I have seen, but, all the same, I have more flowers in my drawing-room than any one else, for all my neighbors take compassion on me and send me baskets full of the loveliest roses every morning. Then it is only necessary to send old Bonhomme, the gardener, a little way down the steep side of the ravine to pick as much maiden-hair or other delicate ferns as would stock the market at Covent Garden for a week.

If it were not for everybody being in such a terror about their health, this lonely little island would be a very charming place. But ever since the fever a feeling of sanitary distrust seems to have sprung up among the inhabitants, which strikes a newcomer very vividly. The European inhabitants look very well, and the ladies and children are far more blooming—though I acknowledge it is a delicate bloom—than any one I saw in Natal. Still, you can detect that the question of health is uppermost in the public mind. If a house is spoken of, its only recommendation need be that it is healthy. There is very little society at night, because night air is considered dangerous: even the chief attraction of lawn-tennis, the universal game here, is that "it is so healthy." And to see the way the gentlemen wrap up after it in coats which seem to have been made for arctic wear! Of course they are quite right to be careful, and it is a comfort to know that with proper care and the precautions taught by experience there is no reason why, under the blessing of God, a European should not enjoy as good health in Mauritius as in other places with a better reputation. There are nearly always cases of fever in Port Louis, and three or four deaths a day from it; but then the native white and creole population is very large, and the proportion is not so alarming.

One of the things which I think are not generally understood is, how completely the whole place is French. It is not in the least like any colony which I have ever seen. It is a comfortable settlement, where families have intermarried and taken root in the soil, regarding it with quite as fond and fervent an affection as we bear to our own country. Instead of the apologies for, and abuse of, a colony (woe to you if you find fault, however!) with which your old colonist greets a new arrival, I find here a strong patriotic sentiment of pride and love, which is certainly well merited. When you take into consideration the tiny dimensions of the island, its distance from all the centres of civilization, its isolation, the great calamities which have befallen it from hurricane, drought and pestilence, and the way it has overlived them all, there is every justification for the pride and glory of its inhabitants in their fair and fertile islet. Never were such good roads: I don't know how they are managed or who keeps them in order, except that I believe everything in the whole place is done by government. Certainly, government ought to be patted on the back if those neat, wide, well-kept roads are its handiwork. But, as I was saying, it is a surprise to most English comers to find how thoroughly French the whole place is, and you perceive the change first and chiefly in the graceful and courteous manners of the people of all grades and classes. Instead of the delightful British stare and avoidance of strangers, every one, from the highest official to the poorest peasant, has a word or bow of greeting for the passer-by; and especially is this genial civility to be admired and noticed at the railway-stations and in the carriages. You never hear English spoken except among a few officials, and a knowledge of French is the first necessity of life here. Unhappily, there is a patois in use among the creoles and other natives which is very confusing. It is made up of a strange jumble of Eastern languages, grafted on a debased kind of French, and gabbled with the rapidity of lightning and a great deal of gesticulation. At a ball you hear far more French than English spoken, and at a concert I attended lately not a single song was in English. Even in the Protestant churches there is a special service held in French every Sunday, as well as another in Tamil, besides the English services; so a clergyman in Mauritius needs to be a good linguist. The polished floors, well frotté every morning, and the rather set-out style of the rooms, all make a house look French. The business of the law-courts and the newspapers are also in French, with only here and there a column of English. The notifications of distances, the weights and measures, the "avis aux voyageurs," the finger-posts, wayside bills, signs on shop-fronts, are all in French. When by any chance the owner of a shop breaks out into an English notification of his wares—and it is generally a Chinaman or Parsee who is fired by this noble ambition—the result is as difficult to decipher as if it were a cuneiform inscription.

The greatest difference, as it is the one which most affects my individual comfort, which I have yet found out between Mauritius and an ordinary English colony is the poverty of the book-shops. Your true creole is not a reading character, though, on the other hand, he has a great and natural taste for music. I miss the one or even two excellent book shops where one could get, at quite reasonable prices too, most of the new and readable books which I have always found in the chief town of every English colony. At Cape Town, Christchurch, New Zealand, Maritzburg, D'Urban, there are far better booksellers than in most English country towns. Here it appears to me as if the love of literature were confined to the few English officials, who devour each other's half dozen volumes with an appetite which speaks terribly of a state of chronic mental famine. I keep hoping that I shall always be as busy as I am now, and so have very little time for reading, for if it is ever otherwise I too shall experience the universal starvation.

Beau Bassin, June 20th.

It has never been my lot hitherto, even in all my various wanderings, to stand of a clear starlight night and see the dear old Plough shining in the northern sky whilst the Southern Cross rode high in the eastern heaven. But I can see them both now; and the last thing I always do before going to bed is to go out and look first straight before me, where the Plough hangs luminous and low over the sea, and then stroll toward the right-hand or eastern side of the veranda and gaze up at the beautiful Cross through the rustling, tall tree-tops. It is much too cold now to sit out in the wide veranda and either watch the stars or try to catch a glimpse of the monkeys peeping up over the edge of the ravine in the moonlight, thereby awakening poor rheumatic old Boxer's futile rage by their gambols. My favorite theory is that one is never so cold as in a tropical country, and I have had great encouragement in that idea lately. We are always regretting that no fireplace has been included in the internal arrangements of this house, and when we go out to dinner part of the pleasure of the evening consists in getting well roasted in front of a coal-fire in the drawing-room. I am assured that a few months hence I shall utterly deny this said theory, and refuse to believe the fireplaces I see occasionally could ever be used except as receptacles for pots of ferns and large-leaved plants. At present, however, it is, as I say, delightfully, bracingly cold in the morning and evening, and almost too cold for comfort at night unless indeed you are well provided with blankets. We take long walks of three or four miles of an evening, starting when the sun sinks low enough for the luxuriant hedges by the roadside to afford us occasional shelter, and returning either in the starlight dusk or in the crisper air of a moonlight evening. In every direction the walk is sure to be a pretty one, whether we have the hill of the Corps-de-Garde before us, with its distinctly-marked profile of a French soldier of the days of the Empire lying with crossed hands, the head and feet cutting the sky-line sharp and clear, or the bolder outlines of blue Mount Ory or cloud-capped Pieter Both. Our path always lies through a splendid tangle of vegetation, where the pruning-knife seems the only gardening tool needed, and where the deepening twilight brings out many a heavy perfume from some hidden flower. Above us bends a vault of lapis-lazuli, with globes of light hanging in it, and around us is a heavenly, soft and balmy air. Whenever I say to a resident how delicious I find it all, he or she is sure to answer dolefully, "Wait till the hot weather!" But my idea is, that if there is this terrible time in front of us, it is surely all the more reason why we should enjoy immensely the agreeable present. That there is some very different weather to be battled with is apparent by the extraordinary shutters one sees to all the houses. Imagine doors built as if to stand a siege, strengthened by heavy cross-pieces of wood close together, and, instead of bolt or lock, kept in their places by solid iron bars as thick as my wrist. Every door and window in the length and breadth of the island is furnished with these contre-vents, or hurricane-shutters, and they tell their own tale. So do the huge stones, or rather rocks, with which the roofs of the humbler houses and verandas are weighted. My expression of face must have been something amusing when I remarked triumphantly the other day to one of my acquaintances, who had just observed that my house stood in a very exposed situation, "But it has been built a great many years, and must have stood the great hurricanes of 1848 and 1868." "Ah!" replied Cassandra cheerfully; "there was not much left of it, I fancy, after the '48 hurricane, and I know that the veranda was blown right over the house in the gale of '68." Was not that a cheerful tale to hear of one's house? Just now the weather is wet and windy as well as cold, and the constant and capricious heavy showers reduce the lawn-tennis players to despair.

If any one asked me what was the serious occupation of my life here, I should answer without hesitation, "Airing my clothes." And it would be absolutely true. No one who has not seen it can imagine the damp and mildew which cover everything if it be shut up for even a few days. Ammonia in the box or drawer keeps the gloves from being spotted like the pard, but nothing seems to avail with the other articles of clothing. Linen feels quite wet if it is left unused in the almirah, or chest of drawers, for a week. Silk dresses break out into a measle-like rash of yellow spots. Cotton or muslin gowns become livid and take unto themselves a horrible charnel-house odor. Shoes and books are speedily covered a quarter of an inch deep by a mould which you can easily imagine would begin to grow ferns and long grasses in another week or so.

Hats, caps, cloth clothes, all share the same damp fate, whilst, as for the poor books, their condition is enough to make one weep, and that in spite of my constant attention and repeated dabbings with spirits of wine. And this is not the dampest part of the island by any means. Do not suppose, however, that damp is the only enemy to one's toilette here. I found a snail the other day in my wardrobe which had been journeying slowly but effectively across some favorite silken skirts. Cockroaches prefer tulle and net, and eat their way recklessly and rapidly through choicest lace, besides nibbling every cloth-bound book in the island. On the other hand, the rats confine their attentions chiefly to the boots and shoes of the resident, and are at all events good friends to the makers and sellers of those necessary articles. So, you see, garments are likely to be a source of more trouble than pleasure to their possessor if he or she is at all inclined to be always tiré à quatre épingles.

Except these objectionable creatures, there is not much animal life astir around me in the belle isle. It is too cold still for the butterflies, and I do not observe much variety among the birds. There are flocks of minas always twittering about my lawn—glossy birds very like starlings in their shape and impudent ways, only with more white in the plumage and with brilliant orange-colored circles round their eyes. There are plenty of paroquets, I am told, and cardinal birds, but I have not yet seen them. A sort of hybrid canary whistles and chirps in the early mornings, and I hear the shrill wild note of a merle every now and then. Of winged game there are but few varieties—partridges, quails, guinea-fowl and pigeons making up the list—but, on the other hand, poultry seems to swarm everywhere. I never saw such long-necked and long-legged cocks and hens in my life as I see here; but these feathered giraffes appear to thrive remarkably well, and scratch and cackle around every Malabar hut. I have not seen a sheep or a goat since I arrived, nor a cow or bullock grazing. The milch cows are all stall-fed. The bullocks go straight from shipboard to the butcher, and the horses are never turned out. This is partly because there is no pasturage, the land being used entirely for sugar-cane or else left in small patches of jungle. As might be expected from such a volcanic-looking island, the surface of the ground is extremely stony, but the sugar-cane loves the light soil, and I am told that it thrives best where the stones are just turned aside and a furrow left for the cane-plant. After a year or so the furrow is changed by the rocks being rolled back again into their original places, and the space they occupied is then available for young plants. The wild hares are terrible enemies to the first shoots of the cane, and we pass picturesque gardiens armed with amazing fusils and clad in every variety of picturesque rag, keeping a sort of boundary-guard at the edges of the sprouting cane-fields. There are a great many dogs to be seen about, and they are also regarded as gardiens; for the swarming miscellaneous Eastern population does not bear the best reputation in the world for honesty, and the police seem to have their hands full. All that I know about the use of the dogs as auxiliaries is that they yelp and bark hideously all night at each other, for every one seems to resent as a personal insult any nocturnal visit from a neighbor's dog.

The horses are better than I expected. When one hears that every four-footed beast has to be imported, one naturally expects dear and indifferent horses, but I am agreeably surprised in this respect. We have horses from the Cape, from Natal, and even from Australia, and they do not appear to cost more here than they would in their respective countries. I may add that there is also no difficulty whatever in providing yourself with an excellent carriage of any kind you prefer, and it is far better to choose one here than to import one. I mention this because a carriage or conveyance of some sort is the necessary of necessaries here—as indispensable as a pair of boots would be in England. I scarcely ever see any one on horseback: people never seem to ride, to my great regret. I am assured that it will be much too hot to do so in the summer evenings, and that the hardness of the roads prevents riding from being an agreeable mode of exercise. Every village can furnish sundry carrioles for hire, queer-looking little conveyances, like a minute section of a tilt-cart mounted on two crazy wheels and drawn by a rat of a pony. Ponies are a great institution here, and are really more suitable for ordinary work than horses. They are imported in large numbers from Pegu and other parts of Birmah, and also from Java, Timur and different places in the Malay Archipelago. They stand about twelve or fourteen hands high, and are the strongest, healthiest, pluckiest little beauties imaginable, full of fire and go. Occasionally I meet a carriage drawn by a handsome pair of mules, and they are much used in the numerous carts and for farm-work, especially on the sugar estates. They are chiefly brought from South America and from the Persian Gulf, and have many admirers, but I cannot say I like them as a substitute either for horses or for the gay little ponies. This is such an exceedingly sociable place that I have frequent opportunities of looking at the nice horses of my visitors, and most of the equipages would do credit to any establishment. The favorite style of carriage in use here is very like a victoria, only there is a curious custom of always keeping the hood up. It looks so strange to my eyes to see the hood, which projects unusually far as a screen against either sun or rain, kept habitually up, even during the brief and balmy twilight, when one fancies it would be so much more agreeable to drive swiftly through the soft air without any screening soufflet. Of course it would be quite necessary to keep it up in the daytime, or even late at night against the heavy dew, but this does not begin to fall until it is too dark to remain out driving.

I must say I like Mauritius extremely. It is so comfortable to live in a place with good servants and commodious houses, and the society is particularly refined and agreeable, owing chiefly to the mixture of a strong French element in its otherwise humdrum ingredients. I have never seen such a wealth of lovely hair or such beautiful eyes and teeth as I observe in the girls in every ball-room here; and when you add exceedingly charming—alas! that I must say foreign—manners and a great deal of musical talent, you can easily imagine that the style of the society is a good deal above that to be found in most colonies.

What weigh upon me most sadly in the Mauritius are the solitude and the intense loneliness of the little island. We are very gay and pleasant among ourselves, but I often feel as if I were in a dream as far as the rest of the world is concerned, or as if we were all living in another planet. Only once in a month does the least whisper reach us from the great outer world beyond our girdling reef of breaking foam: only once in four long weeks can any tidings come to us from those we love and are parted from—any news of the progress of events, any thrilling incidents of daily history; and it is strange how diluted the sense of interest becomes by passing through so long an interval of days and weeks. The force of everything is weakened, its strength broken. Can you fancy the position of a ship at sea, not voyaging toward any port or harbor, but moored in the midst of a vast, desolate ocean? Once in a weary while of thirty days another ship passes and throws some mailbags on board, and whilst we stretch out clamorous hands and cry for fuller tidings, for more news, the vessel has passed out of our reach, and we are absolutely alone once more. It is the strangest sensation, and I do not think one can ever get reconciled to it. True, there is a great deal of talk just now about a connecting cable which is some day to join us by electric wires to the centres of civilization; but no telegraphic message can ever make up for letters, and it will always be too costly for private use except on great emergencies. Strange to say, the mercantile community, which is a very influential one here, objects strongly to proposals of either telegraphic or increased postal communication. They have no doubt good reasons for their opinion, but I think if their pretty little children were on the other side of the world, instead of close at hand, they would agree with me that it is very hard to wait for four weeks between the mails.