|Site Map > Electronic Library > Mark Twain > Following The Equator > CHAPTER XXXVII: From Sydney for Ceylon - A Lascar Crew - A Fine Ship - Three Cats and a Basket of Kittens - Dinner Conversations - Veuve Cliquot Wine - At Anchor in King George's Sound Albany Harbor - More Cats - A Vulture on Board - Nearing the Equator again - Dressing for Dinner - Ceylon, Hotel Bristol - Servant Brampy - A Feminine Man - Japanese Jinriksha or Cart - Scenes in Ceylon - A Missionary School - Insincerity of Clothes|
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CHAPTER XXXVII: From Sydney for Ceylon - A Lascar Crew - A Fine Ship - Three Cats and a Basket of Kittens - Dinner Conversations - Veuve Cliquot Wine - At Anchor in King George's Sound Albany Harbor - More Cats - A Vulture on Board - Nearing the Equator again - Dressing for Dinner - Ceylon, Hotel Bristol - Servant Brampy - A Feminine Man - Japanese Jinriksha or Cart - Scenes in Ceylon - A Missionary School - Insincerity of Clothes
To succeed in the other trades, capacity must be shown; in the law, concealment of it will do.
- Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
MONDAY, - December 23, 1895. Sailed from Sydney for Ceylon in the P. & O. steamer 'Oceana'. A Lascar crew mans this ship - the first I have seen. White cotton petticoat and pants; barefoot; red shawl for belt; straw cap, brimless, on head, with red scarf wound around it; complexion a rich dark brown; short straight black hair; whiskers fine and silky; lustrous and intensely black. Mild, good faces; willing and obedient people; capable, too; but are said to go into hopeless panics when there is danger. They are from Bombay and the coast thereabouts. Left some of the trunks in Sydney, to be shipped to South Africa by a vessel advertised to sail three months hence. The proverb says: "Separate not yourself from your baggage."
This 'Oceana' is a stately big ship, luxuriously appointed. She has spacious promenade decks. Large rooms; a surpassingly comfortable ship. The officers' library is well selected; a ship's library is not usually that . . . . For meals, the bugle call, man-of-war fashion; a pleasant change from the terrible gong . . . . Three big cats - very friendly loafers; they wander all over the ship; the white one follows the chief steward around like a dog. There is also a basket of kittens. One of these cats goes ashore, in port, in England, Australia, and India, to see how his various families are getting along, and is seen no more till the ship is ready to sail. No one knows how he finds out the sailing date, but no doubt he comes down to the dock every day and takes a look, and when he sees baggage and passengers flocking in, recognizes that it is time to get aboard. This is what the sailors believe. The Chief Engineer has been in the China and India trade thirty three years, and has had but three Christmases at home in that time . . . . Conversational items at dinner, "Mocha! sold all over the world! It is not true. In fact, very few foreigners except the Emperor of Russia have ever seen a grain of it, or ever will, while they live." Another man said: "There is no sale in Australia for Australian wine. But it goes to France and comes back with a French label on it, and then they buy it." I have heard that the most of the French-labeled claret in New York is made in California. And I remember what Professor S. told me once about Veuve Cliquot - if that was the wine, and I think it was. He was the guest of a great wine merchant whose town was quite near that vineyard, and this merchant asked him if very much V. C. was drunk in America.
"Oh, yes," said S., "a great abundance of it."
"Is it easy to be had?"
"Oh, yes - easy as water. All first and second-class hotels have it."
"What do you pay for it?"
"It depends on the style of the hotel - from fifteen to twenty-five francs a bottle."
"Oh, fortunate country! Why, it's worth 100 francs right here on the ground."
"Do you mean that we are drinking a bogus Veuve-Cliquot over there?"
"Yes - and there was never a bottle of the genuine in America since Columbus's time. That wine all comes from a little bit of a patch of ground which isn't big enough to raise many bottles; and all of it that is produced goes every year to one person - the Emperor of Russia. He takes the whole crop in advance, be it big or little."
January 4, 1898. Christmas in Melbourne, New Year's Day in Adelaide, and saw most of the friends again in both places . . . . Lying here at anchor all day - Albany (King George's Sound), Western Australia. It is a perfectly landlocked harbor, or roadstead - spacious to look at, but not deep water. Desolate-looking rocks and scarred hills. Plenty of ships arriving now, rushing to the new gold-fields. The papers are full of wonderful tales of the sort always to be heard in connection with new gold diggings. A sample: a youth staked out a claim and tried to sell half for L5; no takers; he stuck to it fourteen days, starving, then struck it rich and sold out for L10,000. . . About sunset, strong breeze blowing, got up the anchor. We were in a small deep puddle, with a narrow channel leading out of it, minutely buoyed, to the sea.
I stayed on deck to see how we were going to manage it with such a big ship and such a strong wind. On the bridge our giant captain, in uniform; at his side a little pilot in elaborately gold-laced uniform; on the forecastle a white mate and quartermaster or two, and a brilliant crowd of lascars standing by for business. Our stern was pointing straight at the head of the channel; so we must turn entirely around in the puddle - and the wind blowing as described. It was done, and beautifully. It was done by help of a jib. We stirred up much mud, but did not touch the bottom. We turned right around in our tracks - a seeming impossibility. We had several casts of quarter-less 5, and one cast of half 4 - 27 feet; we were drawing 26 astern. By the time we were entirely around and pointed, the first buoy was not more than a hundred yards in front of us. It was a fine piece of work, and I was the only passenger that saw it. However, the others got their dinner; the P. & O. Company got mine . . . . More cats developed. Smythe says it is a British law that they must be carried; and he instanced a case of a ship not allowed to sail till she sent for a couple. The bill came, too: "Debtor, to 2 cats, 20 shillings." . . . News comes that within this week Siam has acknowledged herself to be, in effect, a French province. It seems plain that all savage and semi-civilized countries are going to be grabbed . . . . A vulture on board; bald, red, queer-shaped head, featherless red places here and there on his body, intense great black eyes set in featherless rims of inflamed flesh; dissipated look; a businesslike style, a selfish, conscienceless, murderous aspect - the very look of a professional assassin, and yet a bird which does no murder. What was the use of getting him up in that tragic style for so innocent a trade as his? For this one isn't the sort that wars upon the living, his diet is offal - and the more out of date it is the better he likes it. Nature should give him a suit of rusty black; then he would be all right, for he would look like an undertaker and would harmonize with his business; whereas the way he is now he is horribly out of true.
January 5. At 9 this morning we passed Cape Leeuwin (lioness) and ceased from our long due-west course along the southern shore of Australia. Turning this extreme southwestern corner, we now take a long straight slant nearly N. W., without a break, for Ceylon. As we speed northward it will grow hotter very fast - but it isn't chilly, now. . . . The vulture is from the public menagerie at Adelaide - a great and interesting collection. It was there that we saw the baby tiger solemnly spreading its mouth and trying to roar like its majestic mother. It swaggered, scowling, back and forth on its short legs just as it had seen her do on her long ones, and now and then snarling viciously, exposing its teeth, with a threatening lift of its upper lip and bristling moustache; and when it thought it was impressing the visitors, it would spread its mouth wide and do that screechy cry which it meant for a roar, but which did not deceive. It took itself quite seriously, and was lovably comical. And there was a hyena - an ugly creature; as ugly as the tiger-kitty was pretty. It repeatedly arched its back and delivered itself of such a human cry; a startling resemblance; a cry which was just that of a grown person badly hurt. In the dark one would assuredly go to its assistance - and be disappointed . . . . Many friends of Australasian Federation on board. They feel sure that the good day is not far off, now. But there seems to be a party that would go further-have Australasia cut loose from the British Empire and set up housekeeping on her own hook. It seems an unwise idea. They point to the United States, but it seems to me that the cases lack a good deal of being alike. Australasia governs herself wholly - there is no interference; and her commerce and manufactures are not oppressed in any way. If our case had been the same we should not have gone out when we did.
January 13. Unspeakably hot. The equator is arriving again. We are within eight degrees of it. Ceylon present. Dear me, it is beautiful! And most sumptuously tropical, as to character of foliage and opulence of it. "What though the spicy breezes blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle" - an eloquent line, an incomparable line; it says little, but conveys whole libraries of sentiment, and Oriental charm and mystery, and tropic deliciousness - a line that quivers and tingles with a thousand unexpressed and inexpressible things, things that haunt one and find no articulate voice . . . . Colombo, the capital. An Oriental town, most manifestly; and fascinating.
In this palatial ship the passengers dress for dinner. The ladies' toilettes make a fine display of color, and this is in keeping with the elegance of the vessel's furnishings and the flooding brilliancies of the electric light. On the stormy Atlantic one never sees a man in evening dress, except at the rarest intervals; and then there is only one, not two; and he shows up but once on the voyage - the night before the ship makes port - the night when they have the "concert" and do the amateur wailings and recitations. He is the tenor, as a rule . . . . There has been a deal of cricket-playing on board; it seems a queer game for a ship, but they enclose the promenade deck with nettings and keep the ball from flying overboard, and the sport goes very well, and is properly violent and exciting . . . . We must part from this vessel here.
January 14. Hotel Bristol. Servant Brompy. Alert, gentle, smiling, winning young brown creature as ever was. Beautiful shining black hair combed back like a woman's, and knotted at the back of his head-tortoise-shell comb in it, sign that he is a Singhalese; slender, shapely form; jacket; under it is a beltless and flowing white cotton gown - from neck straight to heel; he and his outfit quite unmasculine. It was an embarassment to undress before him.
We drove to the market, using the Japanese jinriksha - our first acquaintanceship with it. It is a light cart, with a native to draw it. He makes good speed for half-an-hour, but it is hard work for him; he is too slight for it. After the half-hour there is no more pleasure for you; your attention is all on the man, just as it would be on a tired horse, and necessarily your sympathy is there too. There's a plenty of these 'rickshas, and the tariff is incredibly cheap.
I was in Cairo years ago. That was Oriental, but there was a lack. When you are in Florida or New Orleans you are in the South - that is granted; but you are not in the South; you are in a modified South, a tempered South. Cairo was a tempered Orient - an Orient with an indefinite something wanting. That feeling was not present in Ceylon. Ceylon was Oriental in the last measure of completeness - utterly Oriental; also utterly tropical; and indeed to one's unreasoning spiritual sense the two things belong together. All the requisites were present. The costumes were right; the black and brown exposures, unconscious of immodesty, were right; the juggler was there, with his basket, his snakes, his mongoose, and his arrangements for growing a tree from seed to foliage and ripe fruitage before one's eves; in sight were plants and flowers familiar to one on books but in no other way celebrated, desirable, strange, but in production restricted to the hot belt of the equator; and out a little way in the country were the proper deadly snakes, and fierce beasts of prey, and the wild elephant and the monkey. And there was that swoon in the air which one associates with the tropics, and that smother of heat, heavy with odors of unknown flowers, and that sudden invasion of purple gloom fissured with lightnings, - then the tumult of crashing thunder and the downpour and presently all sunny and smiling again; all these things were there; the conditions were complete, nothing was lacking. And away off in the deeps of the jungle and in the remotenesses of the mountains were the ruined cities and mouldering temples, mysterious relics of the pomps of a forgotten time and a vanished race - and this was as it should be, also, for nothing is quite satisfyingly Oriental that lacks the somber and impressive qualities of mystery and antiquity.
The drive through the town and out to the Galle Face by the seashore, what a dream it was of tropical splendors of bloom and blossom, and Oriental conflagrations of costume! The walking groups of men, women, boys, girls, babies - each individual was a flame, each group a house afire for color. And such stunning colors, such intensely vivid colors, such rich and exquisite minglings and fusings of rainbows and lightnings! And all harmonious, all in perfect taste; never a discordant note; never a color on any person swearing at another color on him or failing to harmonize faultlessly with the colors of any group the wearer might join. The stuffs were silk-thin, soft, delicate, clinging; and, as a rule, each piece a solid color: a splendid green, a splendid blue, a splendid yellow, a splendid purple, a splendid ruby, deep, and rich with smouldering fires they swept continuously by in crowds and legions and multitudes, glowing, flashing, burning, radiant; and every five seconds came a burst of blinding red that made a body catch his breath, and filled his heart with joy. And then, the unimaginable grace of those costumes! Sometimes a woman's whole dress was but a scarf wound about her person and her head, sometimes a man's was but a turban and a careless rag or two - in both cases generous areas of polished dark skin showing - but always the arrangement compelled the homage of the eye and made the heart sing for gladness.
I can see it to this day, that radiant panorama, that wilderness of rich color, that incomparable dissolving-view of harmonious tints, and lithe half-covered forms, and beautiful brown faces, and gracious and graceful gestures and attitudes and movements, free, unstudied, barren of stiffness and restraint, and -
Just then, into this dream of fairyland and paradise a grating dissonance was injected.
Out of a missionary school came marching, two and two, sixteen prim and pious little Christian black girls, Europeanly clothed - dressed, to the last detail, as they would have been dressed on a summer Sunday in an English or American village. Those clothes - oh, they were unspeakably ugly! Ugly, barbarous, destitute of taste, destitute of grace, repulsive as a shroud. I looked at my womenfolk's clothes - just full-grown duplicates of the outrages disguising those poor little abused creatures - and was ashamed to be seen in the street with them. Then I looked at my own clothes, and was ashamed to be seen in the street with myself.
However, we must put up with our clothes as they are - they have their reason for existing. They are on us to expose us - to advertise what we wear them to conceal. They are a sign; a sign of insincerity; a sign of suppressed vanity; a pretense that we despise gorgeous colors and the graces of harmony and form; and we put them on to propagate that lie and back it up. But we do not deceive our neighbor; and when we step into Ceylon we realize that we have not even deceived ourselves. We do love brilliant colors and graceful costumes; and at home we will turn out in a storm to see them when the procession goes by - and envy the wearers. We go to the theater to look at them and grieve that we can't be clothed like that. We go to the King's ball, when we get a chance, and are glad of a sight of the splendid uniforms and the glittering orders. When we are granted permission to attend an imperial drawing-room we shut ourselves up in private and parade around in the theatrical court-dress by the hour, and admire ourselves in the glass, and are utterly happy; and every member of every governor's staff in democratic America does the same with his grand new uniform - and if he is not watched he will get himself photographed in it, too. When I see the Lord Mayor's footman I am dissatisfied with my lot. Yes, our clothes are a lie, and have been nothing short of that these hundred years. They are insincere, they are the ugly and appropriate outward exposure of an inward sham and a moral decay.
The last little brown boy I chanced to notice in the crowds and swarms of Colombo had nothing on but a twine string around his waist, but in my memory the frank honesty of his costume still stands out in pleasant contrast with the odious flummery in which the little Sunday-school dowdies were masquerading.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXXVIII: Steamer Rosettes to Bombay - Limes 14 cents a Barrel - Bombay, a Bewitching City - Descriptions of People and Dress - Woman as a Road Decoration-India, the Land of Dreams and Romance - Fourteen Porters to Carry Baggage-Correcting a Servant - Killing a Slave - Arranging a Bedroom - Three Hours' Work and a Terrible Racket - The Bird of Birds, the Indian Crow