« PreviousContinue »
THE ISLE OF SPICY BREEZES.
"THE children's hour” has found a historiographer in charming verse; but I do not remember reading, even in prose, any account of “the gentleman's hour” on board a P. and 0. steamer. It begins at any moment after daybreak, and extends up to eight o'clock. During this time the quarter-deck is sacred to the tread of man. There is no written rule to the effect that no lady is permitted, or at least expected, to appear on deck before eight o'clock has struck. But so it is; and this period of the day, the pleasantest in Indian seas, has, with characteristic selfishness, been marked by the lords of creation as their own, and they assume the right to pace the deck arrayed in whatever odd garments they may be accustomed to go to the bath in.
The pyjama is a garment composed of varied material, but invariable in its ungainli
It is generally of flannel, but may be of silk, and consists of a loose jacket belted round the waist and a pair of shapeless drawers. Thus arrayed, without shoes or stockings, and generally hatless, the gentlemen, fresh from their bath or in preparation for it, march up and down the deck with curious and not always attractive revelations of contour. It is an old custom, old almost as the birth of the P. and 0. Company, and is one of the cherished privileges of the East Indian. If any one were to attempt to interfere with it the angry indignation which bristles round the Ilbert Bill would be but as a zephyr breeze. The ladies sometimes whisper a protest, but none have dared, or have found the opportunity, of raising a serious cabal against it. It is one of the institutions of the P. and O., whose laws, like that of an earlier empire, alter not.
Contemporaneously with the pacing to and fro of disguised judges, colonels on leave, civil servants, and mighty merchants, goes forward the cleaning of the ship. Every morning a P. and 0. steamer is subject to a ruthless “tidying up.” The decks, spotless to begin with, are scoured, the paint washed, the brasses rubbed, the silver cleaned, the saloon carpet taken up and shaken, and the floor washed. Persons interested in the educa
tional improvement of housemaids might do worse than send them for a trip in a P. and 0. steamer. If they would take back any infection of the thoroughness of the morning brushing, shaking, and scouring, it would spread happiness through many households.
The plan upon which the vessels of this magnificent fleet get their morning tub is but an incidental exemplification of the system upon which the gigantic business is worked. I suppose there is, or certainly was before German confederation became an plished fact, many a kingdom the administration of whose affairs did not entail revenues equal to those embarked in the P. and O. Company, or require an equal measure of statesmanship for their direction. In the harbour at Colombo to-day there are three great steamers, all belonging to this line, coming from different parts of the world and going on various routes. A fortnight ago there were six. Yet Colombo is only one port of call, and in all parts of the Eastern hemisphere these ships are moving to and fro, arriving on specified days and departing at fixed hours with the regularity of train on the Metropolitan Railway.
We sighted Ceylon early in the morning, and throughout a summer day, with the sea like glass and the sky sapphire, we skirted the island, passing poor Point de Galle, now shorn of its glory, and making for Colombo, which within the past two years has inherited the advantage and distinction of being the port of call for the P. and O. steamers. Passengers familiar with Bishop Heber's hymn went sniffing about in search of the “ Spicy breezes that blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle,” and were evidently disappointed at not realizing the dream of early infancy. But the bishop knew what he was writing about, and the spicy breezes are due to no effort of the imagination or exigency of rhyme. Captain Atkinson, of the Verona, tells me he has sniffed the spicy breezes when steaming fifty miles off the island. It all depends upon the state of the weather in Ceylon and the direction of the wind.
Point de Galle was abandoned as a port of call because it lies exposed to the ocean, and with the south-west monsoon is too lively a place for vessels lying at anchor, still less for those taking in cargo. There is a breakwater at Colombo which, though it seems to lie low, answers for order and affords safe and convenient anchorage for the largest steamers. When we arrived off Penang there came on board a portly gentleman in white ducks and sun-helmet, with an umbrella swinging in his right hand. I thought he was the lieutenantgovernor, or whatever answers to the Lord Mayor in Penang. He turned out to be the pilot, and, leaning upon his umbrella, was good enough to take the steamer to its moorings. At Colombo no pilot came off for more than an hour after our arrival. Another steamer had got just ahead of us, and, as the angered captain put it, “it seemed as if there was only one pilot in Colombo.” When he did arrive his services were declined, and the ship lay out at anchor all night. We landed in the early morning, Adam's Peak, forty miles off, shining in clear outline against the golden sky, through which the sun was rising.
We crossed the harbour in a catamaran, a kind of gondola of which the Cingalese have obtained the monopoly, and are likely to keep it. The craft consists, to begin with, of the log of a tree roughly hollowed out. On this is built a structure of pole and canvas, which is in no part broader than two feet, and tapers to the ends, which are on the average twenty feet apart. It is clear that a boat on this plan would not float, a difficulty triumphantly overcome by attaching to it, by two arched poles ten or twelve feet long, a heavy spar, which floats on the water. This balances the cata