At half-past three in the afternoon the signal was given for the meeting in Conference Hall. The ladies would have been glad to hear Sir Modava again; but the commander invited the speakers, and kept his own counsels, so that the party did not know whom they were to hear first.
“There is still a great deal to be said about India, and I am trying to dispose of some of the dryest subjects first. Dr. Ferrolan has very unselfishly consented to make a martyr of himself in the treatment of one of these topics, though I hope another time to assign him something more to his mind. Dr. Ferrolan.”
This gentleman was received almost as enthusiastically as the handsome Hindu; for the Americans were disposed to treat all their guests with uniform courtesy, though it was hardly possible not to make an exception in favor of Sir Modava.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I have to admit that, with the limitations the excellent commander has put upon me, there is force in what he said about the dryness of the subject. I delight in botany; and it will not be my fault that I fail to interest you, especially the ladies, who are always and everywhere fond of flowers. But I bow to the mandate of the supreme authority here, and will do the best I can with the broad topic with which I am to struggle. But I will do you the justice to believe that you all want to know something more about the fauna of India.
“I have to observe in the first place that almost one-half of this great region is tropical, though not a square foot of it is within three hundred and fifty miles of the equator. In the Himalaya Mountains we have regions of perpetual snow; and in the country south of them it is more than temperate; it is cold in its season. You can see for yourselves that in a territory extending from the island paradise of Ceylon to the frozen regions of the highest mountain in the world, we have every variety of climate, and consequently about every production that grows on the surface of the earth.
“Our tropical productions are not quite equal to those that grow on the equator. The coffee, sugar, tobacco, and spices are somewhat inferior to those of Java, Sumatra, and Celebes. Rice is the staple food of the common people, and has been raised from prehistoric periods. Maize, which I believe you Americans call Indian corn”—
“Simply corn, if you please,” interposed the commander.
“But corn covers grain of all kinds,” suggested the doctor.
“Not with us; we call each grain by its own name, and never include them under the name of corn. It is simply the fashion of the country; and if you spoke of corn in Chicago, it would mean maize to the people who heard you.”
“I shall know how to speak to an American audience on this subject hereafter; but corn and millet are raised for the food of some of the animals. Oilseeds, as flax for linseed, are largely exported. The cultivation of wheat has been greatly improved, and all the grains are raised. In the Himalayas, on the borders of China, teas are grown under European direction; and you will excuse me if I suggest that they are better than those of ‘the central flowery nation.’ Dye-stuffs, indigo, and lac are noted for their quality and their quantity.