The Romance of Lady Isabel Burton, by Isabel Burton

Chapter V

Brazil

(1865-1867)

For to share is the bliss of heaven, as it is the joy of earth;

And the unshared bread lacks savour, and the wine unshared lacks zest;

And the joy of the soul redeemed would be little, little worth,

If, content with its own security. it could forget the rest.

Isabel had a pleasant voyage out to Brazil, and witnessed for the first time the ceremonies of “crossing the Line,” Neptune, and the tubbing, shaving, climbing the greasy pole, sack races, and all the rest of it. When the ship arrived at Pernambuco, on August 27, Isabel found all the letters she had written to her husband since they had parted at Lisbon accumulated at the post-office. This upset her so much that, while the other passengers were dancing and making merry, she stole on deck and passed the evening in tears, or, to use her own phrase, she had “a good boohoo in the moonlight.”

A few days later the ship reached Rio de Janeiro. Burton came on board to meet her, and she had the joy of personally delivering the overdue letters into his hands.

They stayed five or six weeks in Rio, at the Estrangeiros Hotel, and enjoyed a good deal of society, and made several excursions into the country round about. They were well received by the European society of the place, which was chiefly naval and diplomatic. This was pleasant for Isabel, who could never quite accommodate herself to the somewhat second-rate position to which the English Consul and his wife are generally relegated by foreign courts (more so then than now). Isabel was always sensitive about the position abroad of her husband and herself. In the ordinary way, at many foreign capitals, the consul and his wife are not permitted to attend court, and the line of demarcation between the Consular and Diplomatic service is rigidly drawn. But Isabel would have none of this, and she demanded and obtained the position which belonged to her by birth, and to her husband by reason of his famous and distinguished public services. Burton himself cared nothing for these things, and his wife only cared for them because she had an idea they would help him on in his career. That her efforts in this direction did help him there is no doubt; but in some ways they may have hindered too, for they aroused jealousy in certain small minds among his colleagues in the Consular service, who disliked to see the Burtons taking a social position superior to their own. The fact is that both Richard Burton and his wife were simply thrown away in the Consular service; they were too big for their position, in energy, in ability, in every way. They had no field for their activities, and their large and ardent natures perpetually chafed at the restraints and petty annoyances resulting from their semi-inferior position. Except at Damascus, they were round pegs in square holes. Burton was not of the stuff to make a good consul; and the same, relatively speaking, may be said of his wife. They were both of them in a false position from the start.

The following extract from a letter which Isabel wrote home shortly after her arrival in Brazil is of interest in this connexion:

“I dare say some of my friends do not know what a consul is. I am sure I had not the remotest idea until I came here, and then I find it is very much what Lady Augusta thinks in The Bramleighs, written by a much-respected member of our cloth, Charles Lever, consul at Trieste. ‘Isn’t a consul,’ she asks, ‘a horrid creature that lives in a seaport, and worries merchant seamen, and imprisons people who have no passports? Papa always wrote to the consul about getting heavy baggage through the custom-house; and when our servants quarrelled with the porters, or the hotel people, it was the consul sent some of them to jail. But you are aware, darling, he isn’t a creature one knows. They are simply impossible, dear — impossible! The moment a gentleman touches an emploi it’s all over with him — from that hour he becomes the Customs creature, or the consul, or the factor, or whatever it be, irrevocably. Do you know that is the only way to keep men of family out of small official life? We should see them keeping lighthouses if it were not for the obloquy.’ Now, alas! dear, as you are well aware, I do know what a consul is, and what it is to be settled down in a place that my Irish maid calls the 'end of God's speed,' whatever that may be; but which I interpret that, after Providence made the world, being Saturday night, all the rubbish was thrown down here and forgotten.”

She was over-sensitive on this point, and keenly alive to slights from those who, though inferior in other respects, were superior in official position, and who were jealous when they saw “only the Consul’s wife” playing the grande dame. They were unable to understand that a woman of Isabel’s calibre could hardly play any other part in whatever position she found herself. Fortunately, through the kindness of Sir Edward and Lady Thornton (Sir Edward was then British Minister at Rio), she experienced very few of these annoyances at Rio; and she always remembered their goodness to her in this respect. The Emperor and Empress also took the Burtons up, and made much of them.

On this their first sojourn in Rio everything was most pleasant. The Diplomatic society, thanks to Sir Edward and Lady Thornton, welcomed the Burtons with open arms. A lady who occupied a prominent position in the Diplomatic circle of Rio at that time has told me the following about Isabel: “We liked her from the first, and we were always glad to see her when she came up to Rio or Petropolis from São Paulo. She was a handsome, fascinating woman, full of fun and high spirits, and the very best of good company. It was impossible to be dull with her, for she was a brilliant talker, and always had some witty anecdotes or tales of her adventures to tell us. She was devoted to her husband and his interests, and was never tired of singing his praises. She was a great help to him in every way, for he by no means shared her popularity.”

At Rio Isabel gave her first dinner-party — the first since her marriage; and here she got a touch of fever, which lasted for some time.

When she was sufficiently recovered, the Burtons left Rio for Santos (their consulate, one hundred and twenty miles to the south). They went down on board H.M.S. Triton, and on arrival were saluted by the usual number of guns. The Consular Corps were in attendance, and the Brazilian local magnates came to visit them. Thus began Isabel’s first experience of official life.

Santos was only a mangrove swamp, and in many respects as unhealthy as Fernando Po. Burton had come down and inspected the place before the arrival of his wife at Rio; and he had arranged, as there were two places equally requiring the presence of a consul — São Paulo on the top of the Serra, and Santos low down on the coast — that Isabel should live for the most part at São Paulo, which was comparatively healthy, and that they should ride up and down between Santos and São Paulo as need required. For an Englishwoman to have lived always at Santos would have been fatal to her health. The railway between Santos and São Paulo was then in process of being made. As they had determined not to sleep at Santos, the Burtons went the same day on trolleys along the new line as far as Mugis, where they stayed the night. The next day, by dint of mules, walking, riding, and occasional trolleys, they got to the top of the Serra, a very precipitous climb. At the top a locomotive took them to São Paulo, where they put up at a small inn. The next day Burton had to go down to Santos to establish his consulate; but his wife remained at São Paulo to look for a house, and, as she said, “set up our first real home.”

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Santos

In about a fortnight she followed him down to Santos in the diligence, and remained there until the swamps gave her a touch of fever. She then went up to São Paulo again, and after some difficulty found a house. This was in the latter part of 1865. The whole of the next eighteen months was spent between São Paulo and Santos, varied at long intervals by a trip to Rio, or a visit to Barra, the watering-place, or excursions in the country round São Paulo. Burton was often away on his consular duties or on expeditions to far-away places, and his wife was necessarily left much alone at São Paulo, where she led a life more like “farmhouse life,” to use her own phrase, than anything else. There were many and great drawbacks arising from the unhealthy climate, the insects and vermin, and the want of congenial society. But Isabel was one of those who manage to get enjoyment out of the most unlikely surroundings, and she always made the best of circumstances and the material at her disposal. As one has said of her, “If she had found herself in a coal-hole, she would immediately have set to work to arrange the coals to the best possible advantage.”

On the whole, this period of her life (December, 1865, to June, 1867) was a happy one. The story of it is best told in a series of letters which she wrote to her mother; and from them I have been permitted to make the following extracts:

“São Paulo, December 15, 1865.

“I do hate Santos. The climate is beastly, the people fluffy. The stinks, the vermin, the food, the niggers are all of a piece. There are no walks; and if you go one way, you sink knee-deep in mangrove swamps; another you are covered with sand-flies; and a third is crawling up a steep mountain by a mule-path to get a glimpse of the sea beyond the lagoons which surround Santos. I stayed there a fortnight and some days, and I got quite ill and peevish. At last Richard was to go to Ignipe, and I to São Paulo again. I started on Tuesday, the 12th, at one in the day; and as it was so fine I sent all my cloaks and warm wraps away, and started in a boat, as for two hours from Santos the roads had overflowed. Then I took the diligence, which is an open van with seven mules, and got the box-seat to enjoy the country. It rained in buckets, and thundered and lightened all the way. We dined in a roadside hut on black beans and garlic, I and strange travelling companions, and arrived in eleven and a half hours. I had only a cotton gown on and no shawl, and Kier (my maid) said I came to the door like a shivering charity-girl, with the rain streaming off the brim of my hat. Kier gave me some tea with brandy, groomed me down with brandy and water, and put me between blankets. They think me a wonderful person here for being so independent, as all the ladies are namby-pamby. To go up and down by myself between Santos and São Paulo is quite a masculine feat. I am the only woman who ever crossed the Serra outside the diligence, and the only lady or woman who ever walked across the viaduct, which is now a couple of planks wide across the valley, with one hundred and eighty feet to fall if you slip or get giddy. I saw every one staring at me and holding up their hands; and I was not aware I had done anything odd, till I landed safely the other side, and saw all the rest going round. The next day two of the workmen fell off and were killed.

“You asked me to tell you about São Paulo.

“I have taken a house in the town itself, because if Richard has to be away often, I should not feel very safe with only Kier, out in the country amongst lawless people and beasts. The part of the town I am in is very high, on a good eminence, and therefore dry and healthy, a nice little street, though narrow. I have an appartement furnished; four rooms to myself and the use of three others, and the kitchen, the servant of the house, and everything but food, for 150 milreis, or £15 a month.

“Behind is a yard and a patch of flowers, which people of sanguine temperaments might call a garden, where we keep barrels of water for washing or drinking. We have to buy water at threepence a gallon.

“As to furniture, in the Brazils they put many things into a house which you do not want, and nothing you do. I have had their hard, lumbering, buggy beds removed, and have put up our own little iron English bedsteads with spring mattresses. I slept in my own cosy little bed from Montagu Place last night for the first time since it left my room there (now Dilly’s); I kissed it with delight, and jumped in it. I also bought one in London for Richard.

“My servants consist of Kier, and one black boy, a very curious dwarf as black as the grate, named Chico. He is honest and sharp as a needle, and can do everything. All the English here wanted him, and did their best to prevent his coming to me; but he ran away, and came to me for less than half the money he asked them; and he watches me like a dog, and flies for everything I want. I shall bring him home with me when I come. The slaves here have to work night and day, and people treat them like mules, with an utter disregard for their personal comforts. There is something superior and refined in my dwarf, and I treat him with the same consideration as I would a white servant; I see that he has plenty of good food, a good bed, and proper exercise and sleep, and he works none the worse for it.

“São Paulo itself is a pretty, white, straggling town on a hill and running down into a high table-land, which is well wooded and watered, and mountains all round in the distance. We are about three thousand feet above sea-level. It is a fine climate, too hot from nine till four in summer, but fairly cool all the other hours. No cockroaches, fleas, bugs, and sand-flies, but only mosquitoes and jiggers. Out in the country there are snakes, monkeys, jaguars, and wild cats, scorpion-centipedes, and spiders, but not in the town. Of course it is dull for those who have time to be dull, and very expensive. For those who are launched in Brazilian society, it is a fast and immoral place, without any chic or style. It is full of students, and no one is religious or honest in money matters; and I should never be surprised if fire were rained down upon it, as in a city of the Old Testament, for want of a just Brazilian. En revanche it is very healthy, and only one month’s journey to England.

“I have had my first jigger since I wrote. A jigger is a little dirty insect like a white tick that gets into your foot, under your toe-nail if possible, burrows, and makes a large bag of eggs. It itches; and if you are wise, you send at once for a negress, and she picks it out with a common pin: if you do it yourself, you break its bag, and your foot festers. I knew nothing about it, and left it for eight days, and found I could not walk for a little black lump in my foot, which spurted fluid like ink when I touched it. At last my nigger asked me to let him look at it, and he got a sharp pair of scissors and took it out. It was like a white bag this size O, with a black head, and it left quite a hole in my foot. You cannot walk about here without your shoes, and they must be full of camphor, or the jiggers get into your feet, and people have their nails taken off to extract them, and sometimes their toes and feet cut off.”

“São Paulo, January 3, 1866.

“I have had twelve hard days’ work, from six in the morning till late at night, with Kier and my black boy. We have had to unpack fifty-nine pieces of baggage, wash the dirty trunks and stow them away, sort, dry, and clean all their contents, and arrange ourselves in our rooms. We are now comfortable for the moment; but we shall not stay here very long. There are many disagreeables in the house which I did not know till I had settled in it and taken it for four months. For example, I have rented it from a French family who are composed, it appears, of odds and ends, and they have the same right as myself to two of these rooms, the salon and the storeroom, so I am not alone and cannot do as I like; and, worst of all, one of them is a lady who will come up and call on me. I am obliged to send to her and beg to be excused, which is disagreeable. She is, it appears, a notorious personage. Richard is gone to the mines, and has been away now nearly three weeks; and I have taken it upon myself to rent a very nice house opposite this one. The English here mislead one about expenses; I am obliged to buy my own experience, and I do not expect to shake down into my income for three or four months more. The English like to appear grand, saving all the while; and they like to show me off as their lady consul, and make me run into expenses, while I want honestly to live within £700 a year, and have as much comfort as that will allow us. It will only go as far as £300 in England.”

“São Paulo, January 17, 1866.

“I have settled down in my furnished apartments with Kier and Chico, and am chiefly employed in arranging domestic expenses, studying Portuguese, and practising my music. Richard has been gone to the mines a month, and returned to Santos yesterday; so I conclude he will be up here in a few days. It is our fifth wedding day on the 22nd. Here every one wants to let his own especial dog-hole to us, so it is very hard to get settled. The house is a nice, large, roomy one, with good views. Kier and I and Chico, with the assistance of a friend’s servant, are painting, white-washing, and papering it ourselves. Only fancy, the Brazilians are dreadfully shocked at me for working! They never do anything but live in rags, filth, and discomfort at the back of their houses, and have one show-room and one show-dress for strangers, eat fejão (black beans), and pretend they are spending the deuce and all. The eighth deadly sin here is to be poor, or worse, economical. They say I am economical, because I work myself. I said to one of the principal ladies yesterday: ‘Yes, I am economical; but I spend all I have, and do not save; I pay my debts, and make my husband comfortable; and we are always well fed and well dressed, and clean at both ends of our house. That’s English way!’ So she shut up.”

“São Paulo, March 9, 1866.

“I got the same crying fit about you, dear mother, last week, as I did at Lisbon, starting up in the night and screaming out that you were dead; I find I do it whenever I am over-fatigued and weak. The chance of losing you is what weighs most on my mind, and it is therefore my nightmare when I am not strong; not but what when awake I am perfectly confident that we shall meet again before another year is out.

“I caught a cobra snake yesterday in our garden, and bottled it in spirits, and also heaps of spiders, whose bite is like a cobra’s — they are about the size of half a crown.”

“São Paulo, April 18, 1866.

“I have had a great row in my house last night; but when you write back, you must not mention it, because Richard was unfortunately out, and I do not want him to know it. Chico has taken a great dislike to the young gentleman who lodges in my house downstairs, because he has called him names; so last night, Richard being away, he got a pail full of slops and watched for him like a monkey to fling it all over him; but the young man caught sight of him, and gave him a kick that sent him and the pail flying into the air. I heard a great noise and went down, ill as I was, and found the little imp chattering like a monkey, and showing his teeth; so I made him go down on his knees and beg the young man’s pardon. I was going to send him away; but to-day he came and knelt and kissed the ground before me, and implored me to forgive him this once, and he would never do such a thing again; so I have promised this time, and will not tell Richard. Richard would half kill him if he knew it; so you must none of you write back any jokes.”

“São Paulo, May 14, 1866.

“My house is now completely finished, and looks very pretty and comfortable in a barnlike way. I shall be so pleased to receive the candlesticks and vases for my altar as a birthday present, and the Mater Dolorosa. My chapel is the only really pretty and refined part of my house, except the terrace; the rooms are rough and coarse with holes and chinks, but with all that is absolutely necessary in them, and they are large and airy. I painted my chapel myself, white with a blue border and a blue domed ceiling and a gilt border. I first nailed thin bits of wood over the rat-holes in the floor, and then covered it with Indian matting. I have painted inscriptions on the walls in blue. I have always a lamp burning, and the altar is a mass of flowers. It is of plain wood with the Holy Stone let in, and covered with an Indian cloth, and again with a piece of lace. I have white muslin curtains in a semicircle opening in the middle.

“On May 5 my landlord’s child was christened in my chapel. They asked me to lend it to them for the occasion, so I decorated the chapel and made it very pretty. I thought they would christen the child, take a glass of wine and a bit of cake, and depart within an hour. To my discomfort they brought a lot of friends, children, and niggers, and they stopped six hours, during which I had to entertain them (in Portuguese). They ran all over my house, pulled about everything, ate and drank everything, spat on my clean floors, made me hold the child to be christened, and it was a year old, and kicked and screamed like a young colt all the time. Part of the ceremony was that I had to present a silver sword about the size of a dagger, ornamented with mock jewels, to the statue of Our Lady for the child. I had a very pleasant day!

“One day we walked almost six miles out of São Paulo up the mountains to make a pilgrimage to a small wayside chapel; and there we had São Paulo like a map at our feet, and all the glorious mountains round us, and we sat under a banana tree and spread our lunch and ate it, and stayed all day and walked back in the cool of the evening. Some of these South American evening scenes are very lovely and on a magnificent scale. The canoes paddling down the river, the sun setting on the mountains, the large foliage and big insects, the cool, sweet-scented atmosphere, and a sort of evening hum in the air, the angelus in the distance, the thrum of the guitars from the blacks going home from work — all add to the charm. Richard came home on Saturday, the 12th, after a pleasant nineteen days’ ride in the interior. He went to pay a visit to some French savants in some village, and they took him for a Brazilian Government spy, and were very rude to him, and finding afterwards who he was wrote him an humble apology. On June 1 I am going up to Rio. Richard is going to read his travels before the Emperor. The Comte and Comtesse d’Eu have asked us to their palace; but I do not think we shall go there, as there will be too much etiquette to permit of our attending to our affairs.”

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Petropolis

Petropolis, Above Rio, June 22, 1866.

“Petropolis is a bit of table-land about three thousand feet high in the mountains, just big enough to contain a pretty, white, straggling town, with a river running through it — a town composed of villas and gardens, and inhabited by the Diplomatic Corps. It is a Diplomatic nest, in fact. This small settlement is surrounded by the mountain-tops, and on all sides between them are wild panoramic views. We went the other day to be presented to the Emperor and Empress. The first time we were taken by the Vicomte and Vicomtesse Barbaçena. She is one of the Empress’s favourites. I was in grand toilet, and Richard in uniform. The palace is in a beautiful locality, but not grander than Crewe, or any English country gentleman’s place. We were ushered through lines of corridors by successions of chamberlains, and in a few moments into the imperial presence. The Emperor is a fine man, about six feet two inches, with chestnut hair, blue eyes, and broad shoulders, and has manly manners. He was very cordial to us, and after a short audience we were passed on to the Empress’s reception-room, where, after the usual kissing of hands, we sat down and conversed for about twenty minutes (always in French). She is a daughter of Ferdinand II. of Naples; and the Emperor, as you know, is Pedro, the son of Pedro I., the first Emperor of Brazil and King of Portugal.

“The second time the Emperor kept Richard two hours and a half talking on important affairs and asking his opinion of the resources of the country. The third time we visited the Comte d’Eu and the Duc de Saxe, who have each married daughters of the Emperor. The former (Comte d’Eu) is an old and kind patron of Richard; and we were received quite in a friendly way by him, like any other morning visit, and we are now in a position to go whenever we like to the palace sans cérémonie. None of the other English here have the privilege. While we were with the Comte d’Eu and his wife, their pet terrier came and sat up and begged; it looked so ridiculous, so like a subject before royalty, that we all roared with laughter. I am reported to have gone to Court with a magnificent tiara of diamonds (you remember my crystals!). The Emperor has taken a great fancy to Richard, and has put him in communication with him, and all the Ministers of State here make a great fuss with him (Richard).

“The society in Rio is entirely Diplomatic. There are the Ministers from every Court in the world with their attachés.

“Rio de Janeiro, June, 1866.

I have been again to the palace (this time to the birthday drawing-room), and to-morrow am going to see the Empress in the evening. I am very fond of our Minister and his wife, Mr.22 and Mrs. Thornton, and I am very proud of them; they are people we can look up to.

“Since I wrote Richard has given two lectures before a room full of people. The Emperor and Empress, Comte d’Eu, and the Princesse Impériale were present; we had to receive them, and to entertain them after in the room prepared for them. I have seen them three times since I wrote, and they always make us sit down and talk to us for some time. I told the Empress all about your paralysis, and how anxious I was about you; and she is so sympathetic and kind, and always asks what news I have of you. She appears to take an interest in me, and asks me every sort of question. Most of my time in Rio has been occupied in going to dinners.”

“Rio de Janeiro, July 8, 1866.

“Yes, I am still covered with boils, and I cannot sit or stand, walk or lie down, without a moan, and I am irritated and depressed beyond words. I do not know if my blood be too poor or too hot, and there is nobody here to ask; but Kier makes me drink porter, which I can get at Rio. I have a few days well, and then I burst out in crops of boils; and if an animal sting me, the place festers directly, and after I get well again for a few days. I am very thin, and my nose like a cut-water; and people who saw me on my arrival from England say I look very delicate; but I feel very well when I have no boils.

“Since I wrote the flag-ship has come in, and I am greatly distressed because I am going to lose nearly the only nice lady friend I have, Mrs. Elliot, who was a daughter of Sir John Plackett, and married Admiral Elliot, the son of Lord Minto; he has got his promotion.”

“Rio de Janeiro, July 23, 1866.

“I am still here. Richard left me a fortnight ago, and I am still at the Patent work. You have no idea how heartbreaking it is to have anything to do with the Ministers. When last I wrote to you, we were informed that we had obtained our concession. I was in high glee about it, and Richard went away as jolly as a sandboy, only leaving me to receive the papers; and no sooner was he gone than I got a letter to tell me the Council of State had raised an objection to its being printed, and I have been obliged to remain in the hotel at Rio at great expense, and all alone to fight the case as best I may. Richard is gone to look after the sea-serpent (but I do not tell this, as it might get him into a row with the F.O.). I forgot to tell you there is said to be a sea-serpent here one hundred and sixty feet long. No English person can have any idea of the way matters are conducted at Rio. I am receiving the greatest kindness from the Emperor, Empress, Comte d’Eu, and the Imperial Princess, and the Ministers, and you would think I should be able to get anything. They offer me and promise me everything; but when I accept it, and think next day I shall receive my Patent papers signed, there is always some little hitch that will take a few days more. I have been here seven weeks like this, and of course have no redress. On July 10 the Meida went away, taking the Elliots, the Admiral and his wife. I went out a little way with them; and it was most affecting to see the parting between them and the fleet. The ships all manned their rigging, cheered, and played ‘God save the Queen’ and ‘I am leaving thee in sorrow.’ I never saw any one look so distressed as the Admiral; and Mrs. Elliot cried, and so did I.”

“São Paulo, August 17, 1866.

“On Saturday, the 11th, I left Rio, much to my regret for some things, and to that of the friends I made there, who wanted me to stay for a ball on the 14th. However, I knew Richard’s travels would be finished about that day, and he would feel dull and lonely at home alone, so I thought bonne épouse avant tout, and that the rest could take care of itself. I sailed on the 11th, and was rewarded, as at four o’clock in the morning of the 12th poor Richard came off from the coast in a canoe in a gale of wind, and the captain obliged me by laying to and taking him in. His canoe had been upset, and he was two days in the water, but not deep water. We then came home together. It blew very hard, and I was sick all the way. I find it very dull here in Rio. It is like farmhouse life up the country, with no one to speak to; but I shall soon get reconciled, and have plenty to do to make the place comfortable again, and resume my bourgeoise life.”

“São Paulo, September 2, 1866.

“To-morrow a little Englishman and woman are to be married. Richard has to marry them. It seems so strange. Fancy him doing parson! We shall muster about eighty people, Brazilian and English. I shall wear my poplin, black and white lace, and crystal coronet. People marry at five in the evening, and dance after, and sleep in the house. Richard says, ‘I won’t say, “Let us pray."’ He is going to begin with, ‘Do any of you know any reason why this man and woman should not be married? Have any of you got anything to say?’ Then, shaking his finger at them in a threatening way, he is going to plunge into it. I know I shall burst out laughing.”

“São Paulo, September 15, 1866.

“I do not think the climate disagrees with me. Of course one does not feel buoyant in great heat; but it is more money affairs and local miseries that worry me, and you know we all have them in every latitude. I should not feel justified, I think, in coming home for anything but serious illness. I have just domesticated and tamed Richard a little; and it would not do to give him an excuse for becoming a wandering vagabond again. He requires a comfortable and respectable home, and a tight hand upon his purse-strings; and I feel that I have a mission which amply fills my hands. Nobody knows all the difficulties in a colonial or tropical home till she has tried them — the difficulty of giving and taking, of being charitable and sweet-tempered, and yet being mistress with proper dignity, as here we are all on a par. I often think a parvenue, or half-bred woman, would burst if she had to do as I do. But do not notice any of this writing back.

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Sao Paulo

“I have had a ride on my new horse: a wretched animal to look at; but he went like the wind across the country, which is very wild and beautiful. The riding here is very different to English riding. If the animal is to walk or trot, he goes a sort of ambling jiggle, which I think most uncomfortable. You cannot rise, nor do even a military trot, but sit down in your saddle like a jelly and let him go. The only other pace is a hard gallop, which is the best; you go like the wind over prairie and valley, up and down hill, all the same. The horses here are trained so that if your animal puts his foot in a hole you shoot off over his head, and he turns head over heels, and then stands up and waits for you, and never breaks his leg. In the wilds women ride straddle-leg like a man; but one does not like to do it here. We are a shade too civilized. We are leading a very regular life: up at 5 a.m. and out for a walk; I then go to Mass, market, and home; Richard gives me a fencing lesson and Indian clubs; then cold bath and dress; breakfast at 11 a.m., and then look after my house; practice singing, Portuguese, help Richard with literature, dine at six o’clock, and to bed at nine or ten.

“I am at present engaged with the F. O. Reports: I have to copy (1) thirty-two pages on Cotton Report; (2) one hundred and twenty-five pages Geographical Report; (3) eighty pages General Trade Report. This for Lord Stanley, so I do it cheerfully.”

“Rio de Janeiro, December 8, 1866.

“We are nearly all down with cholera. I have had a very mild attack. Our Chargé d’ affaires has nearly died of it, and also our Secretary of Legation; Kier has had it also mildly. Here people cannot drink or be indolent with impunity. If I did not fence, do gymnastics, ride and bathe in the sea, eat and drink but little, attend to my internal arrangements, and occupy myself from early till late, to keep my mind free from the depression that comes upon us all in these latitudes, especially those who are not in clover like us, I could not live for six months. As it is, I do not think I have lost anything, except one’s skin darkens from the sun, and one feels weak from the heat; but I could recover in six months in England.

“When I got the cholera, it was three in the morning. I thought I was dying, so I got up, went to my desk and settled all my worldly affairs, carried my last instructions to Kier in her bed, put on my clothes, and went out to confession and communion.”

“Rio de Janeiro, December 22, 1866.

“I have come down to Rio again to try and sell a book of Richard’s, and am still at work about the gold concession. Richard is travelling (with leave) in the interior. I accompanied Richard part of the way on his travels. We parted on a little mountain with a church on the top — a most romantic spot. He started with two companions, three horse-boys, and a long string of mules. I rode my black horse, and returned alone with one mounted slave. We had fearful weather all the time, torrents of tropical rain, thunder and lightning, and our horses were often knee-deep in the slush and mud. You cannot imagine how beautiful the forests are. The trees are all interlaced with beautiful creepers, things that would be cultivated in a hot-house, and then be a failure, and all wild, tangled, and luxuriant, and in a virgin forest; you must force your horse through these to make your way.

“You need not be frightened about me and my riding, though every one says I am sure to be thrown some day; but I never ride a Rio Grande horse for that reason. Only a man can shoot off properly when they turn head over heels. I am getting very well up in all that concerns stables and horses, and ride every day. The other day I went off to ride, and I lost myself for four and a half hours in a forest, and got quite frightened. I met two bulls and a large snake (cobra); I rode away from the two former, and the latter wriggled away under my horse’s belly; he was frightened at it. The ladies’ society here is awful; they have all risen out of unknown depths. Chico is still with me, and likely to be, as we are both very fond of him. I have made a smart lad of him, and he would make a great sensation in London as a tiger. He is so proud of the buttons Rody sent me for him, and shows them to every one.”

“São Paulo, March 10, 1867.

“When Richard is away, it is not always safe here. For instance, last night a drunken English sailor, who had run away from his ship, got into the house, and insisted on having a passport and his papers made out. I could not persuade him that the Consul was absent, and had to give him food and money to get him out. Still, if he had used any violence, I would have gone down to the lodgers. At the same time, I never see or hear of them unless I wish it. Do not mention about the drunken sailor writing back, as Richard would say it was my own fault, because I will not allow any one to be turned away from my door who is in need, and so my house is open to all the poor of the neighbourhood, and he scolds me for it. I sometimes suffer for it, but only one case out of twenty.

“Brazilians never give charity; and how can the poor judge between a true Catholic and a Brazilian one, if some of us do not act up to our religion in the only way that speaks home to them? I certainly felt rather frightened last night, as the sailor told me he was a ‘a damned scoundrel and a murderer,’ and wanted a bed in the house; but I coaxed him off with a milreis, and then barred the door.”

“The Barra, April 13, 1867.

“I write to you from a fresh place. In São Paulo they have been making a new road, and have enclosed a piece of marsh with water five feet deep. The new road prevents this discharging itself into the river beneath, and the enclosed water is stagnant and putrid, and causes a malaria in my house. Richard has just returned — knocked up by six weeks in the wilds — and he broke out with fever. I felt affected and the whole house squeamish. I rushed off with Richard to the sea-border, about fifty miles from São Paulo. Kier begged to be left. We have got a magnificent sand-beach, and rose-coloured shells, and spacious bay, and mountain scenery all around; but we have some other disadvantages. It would be intensely pleasant if Richard would get better. One might walk on the beach in one’s nightgown; and we walked from our ranco, or shed, to the sea, and can bathe and walk as we like. We are in what they dare to call the hotel. It is a shed, Swiss-shape, and as good inside as a poor cottage at home, with fare to match. It is as hot as the lower regions; and if one could take off one’s flesh and sit in one’s bones, one would be too glad. The very sea-breeze dries you up, and the vermin numbers about twenty species. The flies of various kinds, mosquitoes, sand-flies, and borruchutes, are at you day and night; and if you jump up in the night, it is only to squash beetles. A woman here had a snake round her leg yesterday. Behind the house and up to the first range of mountain is one vast mangrove swamp, full of fevers and vermin. I will not sleep in the beds about in strange houses (there is so much leprosy in the country), and so I always carry my hammock with me, and sling it. Last night it blew so hard that Chico and I had to get up and nail all the old things they call windows. I thought the old shanty was going to be carried away. I must tell you this is our sanatorium or fashionable watering-place here.

“I have had another bad boil since I wrote to you. We have had a Brazilian friend of Richard’s lodging with us, who kept saying, ‘If you ride with that boil, in a few days you will fall down dead’; or, ‘Oh! don’t leave that jigger in your foot; in a week it will have to be cut off.’ Such as his mania; and he used to go to bed all tied up with towels and things for fear his ears should catch cold. He was quite a young man too!

“You know I have often told you that people here think me shockingly independent because I ride with Chico behind me. So what do you think I did the other day? They have, at last, something to talk about now. I rode out about a league and a half, where I met four fine geese. I must tell you I have never seen a goose; they do not eat them here, but only use them as an ornamental bird. Well, Chico and I caught them, and slung one at each side of my saddle, and one at each side of his, and rode with them cackling and squawking all the way through the town; and whenever I met any woman I thought would be ashamed of me, I stopped and was ever so civil to her. When I got up to our house, Richard, hearing the noise, ran out on the balcony; and seeing what was the matter, he laughed and shook his fist, and said, ‘Oh, you delightful blackguard — how like you!’”

Two months later Burton obtained leave of absence from his consulate, and he and his wife started on an expedition into the interior. This expedition was the most memorable event of Isabel’s life in Brazil. On her return she wrote a full account of her adventures, intending to publish it later. She never did so, and we found the manuscript among her papers after her death. This unpublished manuscript, revised and condensed, forms the next three chapters.

22Afterwards the Right Hon. Sir Edward Thornton, H.B.M. Minister at Washington, sometime Ambassador at St. Petersburg, etc.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burton/isabel/romance/chapter15.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:33