“The native flowers are not so rich as you would expect to find; but the white lilies of the water are as pretty as anywhere, and the flowering shrubs are beautiful. Of course, if you went out to walk in the jungle you would find wild-flowers enough to make a bouquet.”
“But who would do it?” asked Mr. Woolridge.
“I would for one,” replied the doctor. “Why not?”
“The cobra-de-capello!” exclaimed the magnate.
“They are not agreeable companions; but we don’t make half so much of them as you do, sir. I will not meddle with this subject, as it is assigned to another, and I have no desire to steal his thunder-box. We have all the flowers of Europe, and probably of America; but they are not indigenous to the soil, though they thrive very well.
“Especially on the coast, but of course not in the north, you will find stately palms of all varieties. The banian tree (the English write it banyan) grows here, and I might talk an hour about it. Something like it is the peepul, or pipal, though its branches do not take root in the ground like the other. Its scientific name is the Ficus religiosa; for it is the sacred fig of India, and it is called the bo-tree in Ceylon.
“The peepul is considered sacred by the Hindus, because Vishnu, the Preserver, and the second person in the Brahminical trinity, was born under it. This tree is extensively planted around the temples of the Hindus, and many religious devotees pass their lives under its shade for its sanctifying influence. It is useful for other purposes; for the lac-insect feeds upon its leaves, and the women get a kind of caoutchouc from its sap, which they use as bandoline.”
“What in the world is bandoline, Mister?” asked Mrs. Blossom, who had listened with half-open mouth after the doctor called the tree sacred.
“It is quite English, I dare say,” laughed the speaker, while Mrs. Belgrave was tugging at the sleeve of her friend in order to suppress her. “I venture to say you have used something of the kind, madame. Our women make it of Irish moss, and use it to stiffen the hair, so as to make it lie in the right place.
“I must not forget the bamboo, which is found all over India, and even 12,000 feet up the mountains. Of course you know all about it, for the slender stem is carried to all Europe and America. As you look at it you observe that it has the same structure as some of the grasses, the same joints and cells. It is not sugar-cane, but at some seasons a sweet juice flows from the joints, which is here called Indian honey. I have no doubt my young friends have used the bamboo when they went fishing; and the most expensive fly-rods are made from its material, as well as canes, and scores of other useful articles.
“The original forests which once covered hills and plains have been recklessly cut away; and long ago this source of wealth was driven back into the mountains, to the vast injury of the climate and the water supply for the nourishment of the arable lands of the Country. But the British government has taken hold of this matter since the middle of the present century, and has made considerable progress towards the restoration of the forests. Not less than 100,000 square miles of land are now under supervision to this end.