Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 63

The principal difference between a cat and a lie is that the cat has only
nine lives.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

April 20.--The cyclone of 1892 killed and crippled hundreds of people;
it was accompanied by a deluge of rain, which drowned Port Louis and
produced a water famine. Quite true; for it burst the reservoir and the
water-pipes; and for a time after the flood had disappeared there was
much distress from want of water.

This is the only place in the world where no breed of matches can stand
the damp. Only one match in 16 will light.

The roads are hard and smooth; some of the compounds are spacious, some
of the bungalows commodious, and the roadways are walled by tall bamboo
hedges, trim and green and beautiful; and there are azalea hedges, too,
both the white and the red; I never saw that before.

As to healthiness: I translate from to-day's (April 20) Merchants' and
Planters' Gazette, from the article of a regular contributor, "Carminge,"
concerning the death of the nephew of a prominent citizen:

"Sad and lugubrious existence, this which we lead in Mauritius; I
believe there is no other country in the world where one dies more
easily than among us. The least indisposition becomes a mortal
malady; a simple headache develops into meningitis; a cold into
pneumonia, and presently, when we are least expecting it, death is a
guest in our home."

This daily paper has a meteorological report which tells you what the
weather was day before yesterday.

One is clever pestered by a beggar or a peddler in this town, so far as I
can see. This is pleasantly different from India.

April 22. To such as believe that the quaint product called French
civilization would be an improvement upon the civilization of New Guinea
and the like, the snatching of Madagascar and the laying on of French
civilization there will be fully justified. But why did the English
allow the French to have Madagascar? Did she respect a theft of a couple
of centuries ago? Dear me, robbery by European nations of each other's
territories has never been a sin, is not a sin to-day. To the several
cabinets the several political establishments of the world are
clotheslines; and a large part of the official duty of these cabinets is
to keep an eye on each other's wash and grab what they can of it as
opportunity offers. All the territorial possessions of all the political
establishments in the earth--including America, of course--consist of
pilferings from other people's wash. No tribe, howsoever insignificant,
and no nation, howsoever mighty, occupies a foot of land that was not
stolen. When the English, the French, and the Spaniards reached America,
the Indian tribes had been raiding each other's territorial clothes-lines
for ages, and every acre of ground in the continent had been stolen and
re-stolen 500 times. The English, the French, and the Spaniards went to
work and stole it all over again; and when that was satisfactorily
accomplished they went diligently to work and stole it from each other.
In Europe and Asia and Africa every acre of ground has been stolen
several millions of times. A crime persevered in a thousand centuries
ceases to be a crime, and becomes a virtue. This is the law of custom,
and custom supersedes all other forms of law. Christian governments are
as frank to-day, as open and above-board, in discussing projects for
raiding each other's clothes-lines as ever they were before the Golden
Rule came smiling into this inhospitable world and couldn't get a night's
lodging anywhere. In 150 years England has beneficently retired garment
after garment from the Indian lines, until there is hardly a rag of the
original wash left dangling anywhere. In 800 years an obscure
tribe of Muscovite savages has risen to the dazzling position of
Land-Robber-in-Chief; she found a quarter of the world hanging out to dry
on a hundred parallels of latitude, and she scooped in the whole wash.
She keeps a sharp eye on a multitude of little lines that stretch along
the northern boundaries of India, and every now and then she snatches a
hip-rag or a pair of pyjamas. It is England's prospective property, and
Russia knows it; but Russia cares nothing for that. In fact, in our day
land-robbery, claim-jumping, is become a European governmental frenzy.
Some have been hard at it in the borders of China, in Burma, in Siam, and
the islands of the sea; and all have been at it in Africa. Africa has
been as coolly divided up and portioned out among the gang as if they had
bought it and paid for it. And now straightway they are beginning the
old game again--to steal each other's grabbings. Germany found a vast
slice of Central Africa with the English flag and the English missionary
and the English trader scattered all over it, but with certain
formalities neglected--no signs up, "Keep off the grass,"
"Trespassers-forbidden," etc.--and she stepped in with a cold calm smile
and put up the signs herself, and swept those English pioneers promptly
out of the country.

There is a tremendous point there. It can be put into the form of a
maxim: Get your formalities right--never mind about the moralities.

It was an impudent thing; but England had to put up with it. Now, in the
case of Madagascar, the formalities had originally been observed, but by
neglect they had fallen into desuetude ages ago. England should have
snatched Madagascar from the French clothes-line. Without an effort she
could have saved those harmless natives from the calamity of French
civilization, and she did not do it. Now it is too late.

The signs of the times show plainly enough what is going to happen. All
the savage lands in the world are going to be brought under subjection to
the Christian governments of Europe. I am not sorry, but glad. This
coming fate might have been a calamity to those savage peoples two
hundred years ago; but now it will in some cases be a benefaction. The
sooner the seizure is consummated, the better for the savages.

The dreary and dragging ages of bloodshed and disorder and oppression
will give place to peace and order and the reign of law. When one
considers what India was under her Hindoo and Mohammedan rulers, and what
she is now; when he remembers the miseries of her millions then and the
protections and humanities which they enjoy now, he must concede that the
most fortunate thing that has ever befallen that empire was the
establishment of British supremacy there. The savage lands of the world
are to pass to alien possession, their peoples to the mercies of alien
rulers. Let us hope and believe that they will all benefit by the
change.

April 23. "The first year they gather shells; the second year they
gather shells and drink; the third year they do not gather shells." (Said
of immigrants to Mauritius.)

Population 375,000. 120 sugar factories.

Population 1851, 185,000. The increase is due mainly to the introduction
of Indian coolies. They now apparently form the great majority of the
population. They are admirable breeders; their homes are always hazy
with children. Great savers of money. A British officer told me that in
India he paid his servant 10 rupees a month, and he had 11 cousins,
uncles, parents, etc., dependent upon him, and he supported them on his
wages. These thrifty coolies are said to be acquiring land a trifle at a
time, and cultivating it; and may own the island by and by.

The Indian women do very hard labor [for wages of (1/2 rupee) for twelve
hours' work.] They carry mats of sugar on their heads (70 pounds) all
day lading ships, for half a rupee, and work at gardening all day for
less.

The camaron is a fresh water creature like a cray-fish. It is regarded
here as the world's chiefest delicacy--and certainly it is good. Guards
patrol the streams to prevent poaching it. A fine of Rs.200 or 300
(they say) for poaching. Bait is thrown in the water; the camaron goes
for it; the fisher drops his loop in and works it around and about the
camaron he has selected, till he gets it over its tail; then there's a
jerk or something to certify the camaron that it is his turn now; he
suddenly backs away, which moves the loop still further up his person and
draws it taut, and his days are ended.

Another dish, called palmiste, is like raw turnip-shavings and tastes
like green almonds; is very delicate and good. Costs the life of a palm
tree 12 to 20 years old--for it is the pith.

Another dish--looks like greens or a tangle of fine seaweed--is a
preparation of the deadly nightshade. Good enough.

The monkeys live in the dense forests on the flanks of the toy mountains,
and they flock down nights and raid the sugar-fields. Also on other
estates they come down and destroy a sort of bean-crop--just for fun,
apparently--tear off the pods and throw them down.

The cyclone of 1892 tore down two great blocks of stone buildings in the
center of Port Louis--the chief architectural feature-and left the
uncomely and apparently frail blocks standing. Everywhere in its track
it annihilated houses, tore off roofs, destroyed trees and crops. The
men were in the towns, the women and children at home in the country
getting crippled, killed, frightened to insanity; and the rain deluging
them, the wind howling, the thunder crashing, the lightning glaring.
This for an hour or so. Then a lull and sunshine; many ventured out of
safe shelter; then suddenly here it came again from the opposite point
and renewed and completed the devastation. It is said the Chinese fed
the sufferers for days on free rice.

Whole streets in Port Louis were laid flat--wrecked. During a minute and
a half the wind blew 123 miles an hour; no official record made after
that, when it may have reached 150. It cut down an obelisk. It carried
an American ship into the woods after breaking the chains of two anchors.
They now use four-two forward, two astern. Common report says it killed
1,200 in Port Louis alone, in half an hour. Then came the lull of the
central calm--people did not know the barometer was still going down
--then suddenly all perdition broke loose again while people were rushing
around seeking friends and rescuing the wounded. The noise was
comparable to nothing; there is nothing resembling it but thunder and
cannon, and these are feeble in comparison.

What there is of Mauritius is beautiful. You have undulating wide
expanses of sugar-cane--a fine, fresh green and very pleasant to the eye;
and everywhere else you have a ragged luxuriance of tropic vegetation of
vivid greens of varying shades, a wild tangle of underbrush, with
graceful tall palms lifting their crippled plumes high above it; and you
have stretches of shady dense forest with limpid streams frolicking
through them, continually glimpsed and lost and glimpsed again in the
pleasantest hide-and-seek fashion; and you have some tiny mountains,
some quaint and picturesque groups of toy peaks, and a dainty little
vest-pocket Matterhorn; and here and there and now and then a strip of
sea with a white ruffle of surf breaks into the view.

That is Mauritius; and pretty enough. The details are few, the massed
result is charming, but not imposing; not riotous, not exciting; it is a
Sunday landscape. Perspective, and the enchantments wrought by distance,
are wanting. There are no distances; there is no perspective, so to
speak. Fifteen miles as the crow flies is the usual limit of vision.
Mauritius is a garden and a park combined. It affects one's emotions as
parks and gardens affect them. The surfaces of one's spiritual deeps are
pleasantly played upon, the deeps themselves are not reached, not
stirred. Spaciousness, remote altitudes, the sense of mystery which
haunts apparently inaccessible mountain domes and summits reposing in the
sky--these are the things which exalt the spirit and move it to see
visions and dream dreams.

The Sandwich Islands remain my ideal of the perfect thing in the matter
of tropical islands. I would add another story to Mauna Loa's 16,000
feet if I could, and make it particularly bold and steep and craggy and
forbidding and snowy; and I would make the volcano spout its lava-floods
out of its summit instead of its sides; but aside from these
non-essentials I have no corrections to suggest. I hope these will be
attended to; I do not wish to have to speak of it again.


Mark Twain