Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/344

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one regular servant or labourer on this estate. Fifteen acres of coffee have all run wild, and grown into tall straggling bushes, from total lack of hands to tend it. As there is no one to gather the crop of ripe red coffee-cherries, they are left to drop, and the rats eat the soft fruit, leaving the beans untouched; so the family collect these, all ready pulped, and devoutly wish the rats were ten times as numerous.

But the most precious crop here is vanilla, which is both pretty and lucrative, being worth about four dollars a pound. It is a luxuriant creeper, and grows so freely that a branch broken off and falling on the ground takes root of its own accord; and it climbs all over the tall coffee-shrubs, the palms, avocat pear and orange trees, and everything that comes in its way, growing best on living wood, the tendrils thence deriving sustenance. It also flourishes best in unweeded grounds, the roots being thereby kept cool.

So the steep wooded hillside is densely matted with this fragrant spice, which scents the whole air,—indeed the atmosphere of the house is redolent of vanilla. It is like living in a spice-box, as the pods are laid to dry in every available corner. They must be gathered unripe, and dried in a moist warm place; sometimes they are packed under layers of quilts to prevent them from bursting, and so losing their fragrant essence.

All this sounds very pleasant, and only suggests light work, yet in truth this cultivation involves most exhausting toil. The plant is an exotic; it lives in these isles by the will of the planter, not by nature's law. In its native home exquisite humming-birds hover over its blossoms, therein darting their long bills in search of honey, and drawing them forth, clogged with the golden pollen, which they carry to the next flower, thus doing nature's work of fertilisation.

Here the flowers have no such dainty wooers, and the vanilla bears no fruit unless fertilised by human hand. So M. and Madame Valles, and their son, divide the steep hillside into three sections, and each morning they patiently but wearily toil up and down, up and down, again, and again, and again, in order to manipulate each blossom that has expanded during the night. "Faire le mariage