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Home -> Mark Twain -> Following the Equator -> Chapter 37

Following the Equator - Chapter 37

1. Contents

2. Chapter 1

3. Chapter 2

4. Chapter 3

5. Chapter 4

6. Chapter 5

7. Chapter 6

8. Chapter 7

9. Chapter 8

10. Chapter 9

11. Chapter 10

12. Chapter 11

13. Chapter 12

14. Chapter 13

15. Chapter 14

16. Chapter 15

17. Chapter 16

18. Chapter 17

19. Chapter 18

20. Chapter 19

21. Chapter 20

22. Chapter 21

23. Chapter 22

24. Chapter 23

25. Chapter 24

26. Chapter 25

27. Chapter 26

28. Chapter 27

29. Chapter 28

30. Chapter 29

31. Chapter 30

32. Chapter 31

33. Chapter 32

34. Chapter 33

35. Chapter 34

36. Chapter 35

37. Chapter 36

38. Chapter 37

39. Chapter 38

40. Chapter 39

41. Chapter 40

42. Chapter 41

43. Chapter 42

44. Chapter 43

45. Chapter 44

46. Chapter 45

47. Chapter 46

48. Chapter 47

49. Chapter 48

50. Chapter 49

51. Chapter 50

52. Chapter 51

53. Chapter 52

54. Chapter 53

55. Chapter 54

56. Chapter 55

57. Chapter 56

58. Chapter 57

59. Chapter 58

60. Chapter 59

61. Chapter 60

62. Chapter 61

63. Chapter 62

64. Chapter 63

65. Chapter 64

66. Chapter 65

67. Chapter 66

68. Chapter 67

69. Chapter 68

70. Chapter 69

71. Conclusion


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



"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

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
embarrassment 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 eyes; 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

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.

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