Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/303

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271
THE HOUSE OF BRANDER.

We have a regular European breakfast and dinner, at which, however, only my hostess and her big brothers, with the Belgian manager and a few French officers, generally appear. The others prefer eating à l'indigène, sitting on their mats in another room, or beneath the shady trees; in fact, the native element is pretty strong, which gives this house half its interest. All the connections of the royal family, and a number of pretty demi-blanche girls, dressed in flowing sacques, are continually coming and going; and once a-week Mrs Brander has a reception for all the young folk, and for as many French officers as like to come; and they all dance and make merry,—rather more so, I think, than at the admiral's Wednesday receptions at Government House, which are, nevertheless, very enjoyable.

I had heard the praises of my hostess sung in no measured terms by all the members of the mission, both French and English, as well as by our consul and his family; but only since I have lived under her roof have I realised what a very exceptional woman she is. To the affectionate kindliness of a genuine Tahitian, she adds the Anglo-Jewish strength of character and business capacity inherited from her father; and the combination is one which would be truly remarkable in any woman, but is doubly so in one of the gentle daughters of the South Seas. The born chiefess is revealed in her large-hearted generosity to every creature that comes within her reach; though her extreme unselfishness makes her shrink from any expenditure that seems to tend only to her own comfort. She appears to be always thinking what she can do for other people—rich or poor, in all parts of the group. She has estates scattered all over these isles, and conducts all their business herself, as well as attending to everything connected with the great mercantile house created by her late husband. Though she has many assistants, she is emphatically its head, and not the smallest detail can be carried out without her sanction. Every business transaction, whether with the French Government, or foreign vessels requiring supplies, or her own trading ships, passes through her hands. Everything is done by her special order, and every business paper has to receive her