Page images
PDF
EPUB

Council unanimously passed a resolution to that effect. But the Colonial Office vetoed the proposition, and there is some angry talk at Hongkong about this interference with the purely local affairs of the colony. Like most colonists, the Hongkong settlers are good, honest, uncompromising Tories, fretful under the domination of a Liberal ministry, which, when questions arise between natives and colonists, unaccountably insists upon the just claims of natives being considered, and so flouting “ British interests." But in this matter of a military instructor of the police they are strong Home Rulers, and their case is commended to the sympathy of Mr. Healy and Mr. Biggar.

The governor has recently returned from a tour through China as far as Pekin, which was marked by an incident that might have had serious international consequences. His Excellency stayed at tea-houses when beyond the field of foreign hotels. Waking up in one of these in the early morning, he found his watch had disappeared. Reaching out for his trousers with intent to go and make inquiries, he found that these also had “ gone away in the eigenweit.” The governor is a burly man of straightforward speech, and looks much more like a British admiral of the old school than a civilian in the diplomatic service. According to common report in Hongkong the spectacle of his semi-clad Excellency stamping round the tea-house in search of his trousers, and frankly expressing his opinion of the Chinese in general, and the thief in particular, was quite awesome. Correspondence on the subject is, I believe, still going forward, but is not likely to be presented to Parliament.

CHAPTER VIII.

IN THE TROPICS.

It is a striking thing, when making long journeys by sea in the far East, to notice how the British lion has laid its massive paw upon successive points of strategical importance, till it has girdled Asia, Africa, and Europe with a line of outposts. As in the time of the Armada beacon fires were built around the coast6 Till Skiddaw saw the fire that burned on Gaunt's em

battled pile, And the red glare on Skiddaw roused the burghers of

Carlisle," so now, on a larger range, beacon fire answers to beacon fire from the China Seas to the Mediterranean. It is lit at Hongkong, in Southern China. It is flashed from Singapore, on the Malay peninsula, and is taken up almost within sight at Penang. It twinkles at Fort Blair on the lonely Andaman Island. Rangoon and Moulmein hand on the torch, which blazes throughout British Burmah. Akyab, at the mouth of the Ganges, shows the light, making near connection with India. All Ceylon is British, with its military camp at Colombo, and its naval station in Trincomalee. Aden in Arabia, and Perim on the far side of the Red Sea, hold out the signal, which burns on Sokotra, a little island commanding the Gulf of Aden; whilst in the Mediterranean it shows boldly forth at Cyprus, Malta, and on the Rock of Gibraltar. How it came to pass that these odd corners of the earth should belong to a little island set in northern seas, it would perhaps not be desirable too closely to inquire. But there they are, quietly, unresistingly, and, to tell the truth, prosperously living under British rule, monuments of the activity and the audacity, of British enterprise.

Singapore, as we approached, was a long low landmark, lying dark under wet skies, with here and there patches of green showing where the Chinese, having worked a gambia field at high pressure, had exhausted the generous soil, and, leaving it, the coarse long grass had sprung up. We left Hongkong in the Verona, which, on getting clear of the harbour, found itself battling with heavy seas. It was a hot, close, “muggy,” night, good neither for man nor beast.

A passenger, impatient of the restraint of his cabin, had a bed made up for him in the saloon. In the dead of the night he woke, dreaming of green pastures and lowing kine. He found he was being walked over by two oxen shipped at Hongkong with ulterior purposes. They, too, had found their quarters uncomfortable, and, walking out, had strayed into the saloon, round which they sniffed with much melancholy boo-ooing. On the second day we slid into summer seas, the north-east monsoon filling our sails and making the hot ship glad with pleasant breezes. The punkahs began to swing in the saloon, and on deck appeared gossamer dresses and thinnest of flannel suits.

Before the steamer came to her moorings in Singapore she was surrounded by a fleet of small roughly made boats, manned by tawny lads naked save for a loincloth.

“Yessir, yessir !” they shouted in chorus; “have a dive, sir ? All right, sir! throw in a piece, sir."

A coin thrown over, the boat nearest to which it fell was suddenly emptied; the lads leaped into the water like a flash of brown thunderbolts, and in a moment were back again, holding the tiny silver coin in their

« PreviousContinue »