THE ROAD FROM COLOMBO TO GALLE
The two first weeks of my stay in Ceylon had flown like a dream of constant wonder and delight. In Colombo I had made acquaintance with the most remarkable characteristics of Cinghalese nature and humanity, and at Peradenia I had admired the amazing fecundity and variety of tropical vegetation. Now it was high time that I should turn my attention to the scientific object of my journey - the study, namely, of the multiform and, to a great extent, unknown creatures of the Indian seas. I was more particularly anxious to examine those classes of marine creatures to which I had for many years been devoting my chief attention Monera and Radiolaria, Sponges and Corals, Medusae and Siphonophora, as they exist on the shores of Ceylon. I might hope to find some quite new modifications of structure as developed under the influence of the tropical sun and the general conditions of life.
The conditions under which these classes of marine crcatures attain their full development are highly complicated, and it is by no means a matter of indifference where on the sea-coast we attempt to study them. Not only are they affected by the universal conditions of sea-water - its saltness, purity, temperature) strength of current, and depth, but the nature of the coast - as being rocky or sandy, chalk or schist, barren or rich in vegetation - has an important influence on the development of the marine fauna. Especially marked are the effects of a greater or less admixture of fresh water, and the greater or smaller force of the waves and surf, as being favourable to the existence of certain groups of animals, while to others they are injurious or fatal. For any extensive multiplication of those classes of floating sea-creatures which I am specially interested in investigating - Radiolaria, Medusae, and Siphonophora the most favourable situations are marine bays with deep, clear still water, protected by rocky promontories, free from any great influx of fresh water and stirred by currents which carry in shoals of floating creatures. It is to such a combination of conditions that the harbour of Messina, the bay of Naples, and the gulf of Villafranca in the Mediterranean have long owed their repute and popularity among zoologists.
A glance at a map of India at once betrays the fact that very few such sheltered bays exist round its shores; they are neither so many nor so extensive as on the indented and varied coast of our incomparable Mediterranean. On the shores of Ceylon, however, there are three such sheltered gulfs - the two fine harbours of Galle and of Belligam on the south-west coast, and the large island-studded gulf of Trincomalie on the north-east. Trincomalie was, indeed, pronounced by Nelson to be one of the best harbours in the world. The English Government, a sovereign power in every quarter of the globe, as keen to perceive as it is prompt to improve and utilize every natural advantage, did not fail, on taking possession of Ceylon, to fortify Trincomalie and make it the naval port of the island. The Dutch had previously built two small forts on two headlands to protect the harbour - Fort Frederick to the northeast and Fort Ostenburg to the south. These were strengthened and extended by the English, who also greatly improved the little town. But much yet remains to be done, particularly when it is remembered that Trincomalie is the largest and most important harbour of refuge in all British India. In the struggle which sooner or later England must go through to keep her hold upon India, the stronghold and port of Trincomalie must undoubtedly prove of the utmost importance.
The harbour of Trincomalie is remarkable not only for its extent and depth, but for its numerous inlets and bays and the little wooded islands which guard its entrance; and, merely from its aspect, we are prepared to find it richly populated with marine life. In point of fact, several groups of animals, and more particularly Mollusca and Echinodermata, which creep upon the rocky bottom, appear to exist in a greater variety of species here than on any other part of the coast of Ceylon. It has long been famous for its handsome shells, richly coloured univalves, and elegantly formed bivalves; and several naturalists who have visited Trincomalie have discovered new and interesting forms of marine life. It was., therefore, very natural that I should direct my observations to this spot above all others, and decide on dredging and fishing in its waters for a month at least. Unfortunately, however, insuperable difficulties arose when I proposed carrying out this project.
The communication between Trincomalie and the capital is even now very defective, and leaves much to be desired, whether by water or by land. A railway is projected between Kandy and Trincomalie, but is not yet begun. As Kandy is, as nearly as may be, half-way between the eastern and western coasts, and has long been connected with the western side by the Colombo railway, the extension of the line to the east coast seems indispensable, particularly when we consider the great strategical importance of Trincomalie and the superiority of its harbour, which is but little used by the mercantile marine. In spite of all this Trincomalie can still only be reached from Kandy by a very difficult and fatiguing road, passing day after day through dense and uninhabited forests. At the beginning of December, too, when I wanted to make the journey, this road was in a particularly bad state. The heavy rainfall accompanying the south-west monsoon had swept away many of the bridges, and made large tracts impassable; I could not but fear that the bullock-carts, which would have to carry my sixteen cases of instruments, etc., would stick on the way, or only arrive after much delay and with much damage.
Nor was the sea-voyage more promising. The Government despatches a small steamship, the Serendib, every month to make the circuit of the island, taking the northern half and the southern half first, alternately. This little coasting vessel is the only means of regular and direct communication between the principal places on the coast, otherwise thore is no intercourse, but by very uncertain and infrequent sailing boats. As ill-luck would have it, at the very time when I wanted to go to Trincomalie by the Serendib, it had suffered serious damage in a storm, and had gone to Bombay for repairs. Thus, in the first place, I had to postpone my visit to Trincomalie till a later date, and then, to my great regret, in consequence of other hinderances, the plan could not be carried out at all.
For the moment, then, I had no choice but to set out for the south coast, and set up my zoological laboratory either at Galle, or at Belligam. Galle, or Point de Galle, the most important seaport in the island, having been till within a few years the stopping station for all Indian travellers, and the place where European voyagers landed and embarked, offered the advantages of European civilization in procuring the necessaries of life and intercourse with cultivated English society. I might count on being able to fish in the fine large harbour in European boats, on finding an abundance of interesting marine creatures on its celebrated coral reefs, and on studying and preserving them with comparative ease and convenience. There would also be the advantage that other naturalists had worked there before me, and I should have the benefit of their experience of the locality and of its animal life. Ransonnet's fine work especially contains much valuable information as to the coral reefs of Galle.
The prospects offered by Belligam were widely different. Its beautiful and sheltered bay - fifteen miles further south than Galle, and halfway between this and Matura, the southernmost point of the island might be expected to resemble Galle as regards its coral banks and other topographical and zoological conditions; it had also, as being rarely visited and little studied, all the additional charm of the new and unknown. The tropical vegetation and the scenery generally were, from all I had read and heard, richer and more beautiful even than at Galle. To me, the greatest temptation of all was that after some months of the restraint of our artificial social life I should there escape it entirely; I could look forward to giving myself up in perfect liberty to the delights of the lavish nature of the tropics, to living in the midst of the simple children of nature, and forming some conception of that visionary primaeval paradise into which the human race was born. For Belligam is nothing more than a large, purely Cinghalese village, inhabited by fishermen, herdsmen, and tillers of the soil. But few of these four thousand swarthy natives, among whom there are no Europeans, inhabit the village itself on the shore of the bay; most of them live in scattered huts, dotted here and there on a broad level, covered with a magnificent wood of cocoa-nut trees. I should be able to pursue my investigations more steadily and with less interruption in the quiet and secluded resthouse of Belligam, than in the busy town of Galle among a crowd of kind friends and inquisitive acquaintances. Of course, I was prepared to meet with greater difficulties in arranging my laboratory and in carrying on my work; in fact, it was not impossible that unforeseen and insuperable obstacles might more easily occur there than in Galle to put a stop to it.
After much hesitation, and long debating the pros and cons, I finally decided for Belligam, and I had no reason to regret the choice. The six weeks I spent there were full to overflowing of wonderful experiences, and never to be forgotten as forming the crowning "bouquet" of my Indian journey, the sweetest and brightest flowers in a garland of delightful memories. Though I might perhaps have carried on my zoological studies better and more conveniently in Galle, I gained infinitely more on the side of general knowledge of nature and humanity in the charming seclusion of Belligam.
I had, of course, to make considerable preparations for so long a stay in a remote fishing village. As the only possible residence for a European was the Government resthouse, and as no one is ever allowed to stay in these hostelries for more than three days, I had, in the first place, to obtain leave to reside there for several weeks. Sir James Longden, the governor of the island, to whom I had been particularly recommended by the English Government - and to whom I here beg to record my gratitude for his kind reception - gave me a letter of introduction to the president of the southern district, which not only secured me this permission, but enjoined each and every government official to be in all respects civil and serviceable to me. Under the pattern regularity and discipline which prevails in all the machinery of government throughout the English colonies, as well as in the mother country, such a letter of recommendation is not only an invaluable, but in many cases an indispensable talisman. This is especially the case in Ceylon, since the government of the island is independent of that of India, and under the direct authority of the Colonial Office in London; the governor is pretty nearly an unlimited monarch, and troubles himself but little with the decisions of his parliament of councillors. Most of the defects in the administration of affairs under which this fine island suflers are attributed to this absolute power of an individual, and it is certainly not at all to the taste of the constitutional English. One of the worst faults in the system, however, is that the governor never remains in office for more than four years - much too short a period; hardly enough, indeed, to enable him to know the island thoroughly. Still, under the peculiar conditions of a population consisting of two and a half millions, of which only three thousand are Europeans, the concentration of power in one person has many advantages. On the whole, a closer intimacy with the state of affairs in Ceylon confirmed me in the feeling that here, as in their other colonies, the practical instinct of the English hits on the right method, and manages the administration with greater discretion and insight than would be possible to most other civilized nations.
After providing myself with some letters of introduction to Galle and making numerous purchases for fitting up my lodgings at Belligam, I stowed my sixteen boxes in a large two-wheeled bullock-cart, which was to transport them to Galle within a week. These bullock-carts are the universal conveyance wherever there are roads on which they can travel; the largest can carry as much as two tons on their two huge wheels, and are pulled by four strong humped oxen, or zebus, of the largest breed. The yoke is not fixed across the front of the head but across the neck, just in front of the hump which bears the weight. The cart is covered with an arched tilt of plaited leaves of the cocoa-nut, and this thick double matting protects the freight within against the heaviest rain. Mats of the same material are hung in front and behind to close the awning. The cargo must be so skilfully packed and balanced that the centre of gravity rests in the middle over the axle of the single pair of wheels.
The driver sits on the shaft close behind the beasts, or sometimes between them; he never ceases urging them by shouts, or by rubbing their tails between their legs. Hundreds of these bullock-carts, some drawn by two and some by four zebus, are the living accessories of every road scene in Ceylon. Among these, at a quicker pace and sometimes even at a brisk trot, run the lighter bullock-carts - "bullockbandys," or "hackeries." These are smaller vehicles of the same shape, and drawn by a pretty and fairly swift bullock of a smaller breed.
On the 9th of December I left the hospitable roof of "Whist Bungalow," followed by the good wishes and not less good advice of my kind friends. The journey from Colombo to Galle is a favourite theme for a chapter in every account of a stay in Ceylon. Until a few years since all the mail steamers went first to Galle direct, and as the first excursion made by the passengers was always to Kandy, they first made acquaintance with the beauties of the island on that road. They are no doubt lavishly displayed there. The park-like cocoa-nut groves, which I first saw on my expedition to Kaduvella, with their endless variety of lovely pictures, here extend over a wide tract along the south-west coast. The road winds among them, coming out to skirt the rocky or sandy sea-shore or plunging into their thickest depths, and crossing bridges over the numerous small rivers which here flow into the sea.
Formerly, the whole distance from Colombo to Galle had to be travelled in a cart or carriage, but now the railway goes for about a third of the way. The line runs near the coast, cutting through the palm forest in an almost straight line, and running as far as Caltura. The extension of the line to Galle, which would be immensely advantageous to this port, is not allowed by the Government, from a fear lest Galle should thereby gain a preeminence above Colombo. As the traffic between the two towns is very considerable and constantly increasing, there can be no doubts as to its paying the shareholders. Unfortunately the ruling determination to keep Colombo ahead of Galle at any cost impels the Government to refuse even to grant their charter to a perfectly sound company, who are prepared with capital to construct and work the line. This is a standing grievance and discussed on every opportunity. The traveller is consequently compelled either to hire a conveyance at a great expense, or to trust himself in the mail omnibus which runs daily between Galle and Caltura; but this, too, is dear and remarkably uncomfortable.
This omnibus boasts, it is true. of the high-sounding title of "Royal Mail Coach," and displays the arms of England on its door pand, with the motto, "Honi so it qui mal y pense;" but the hint is unqualified mockery in view of the coach itself and the horses whose suffering lot it is to draw it. The slightly built vehicle looks as if it had been "constructed to carry" barely half a dozen passengers. but when opportunity serves double the number are crammed into it. The two narrow seats in the small "inside," and another stuck up behind, are then made to hold each three persons, though there is hardly space for two. The best seats are the box-scats by the driver, under the shade of a projecting
roof. Here the traveller has a free view of the glorious scenery on every side, and at the same time escapes the strong and by no means agreeable perfume that exhales from the perspiring Cinghalese. well polished with cocoa-nut oil, who are packed into the inside places. For this immunity, however, the white traveller pays fifteen rupees for a five hours` ride about six shillings an hour - while the dusky native pays only half.
The most horrible concomitant of this omnibus journey, as of all coach travelling in Ceylon, are the torments inflicted on the miserable horses. The "mild Cinghalese" seem, from time immemorial to thE present day, never to have conceived the idea that the management of horses is an art to be acquired, or that the horse itself must be trained or broken to harness. On the contrary. they seem to take it for granted that this comes as a matter of course, and that horses have an inherited tendency to pull vehicles. So, without any proper training, an unbroken colt is fastened in front of some conveyance by a kind of tackle, which is as uncomfortable to the beast as it is ill-adapted to its purpose, and then put to every variety of torture till it takes to its heels in sheer desperation. As a rule neither shouts nor flogging reduce it to this extremity, and every kind of ill-treatment is resorted to: it is dragged by the nostrils, which are particularly sensitive in the horse; its ears are wrung almost out of its head; ropes are tied to its forelegs, and half a dozen of howling and shrieking youngsters drag the poor beast forward. while others hold on to his tail and belabour him behind, sometimes even scorching the hapless brute with torches. In short, he goes through every torment that the "Holy Office" ever devised for the conversion of heretics and infidels; and many a time, as I have sat perched on the boxseat for a quarter of an hour at a time, forced to look on at these and similar barbarities without being able to prevent them, the question has irresistibly risen in my mind: For whose sins had these wretched horses to suffer? Who knows whether a similar fancy may not be lurking in the minds of the black coachman and stable lads, who are most of them worshippers of Siva, and believe in the transmigration of the soul. Perhaps they imagine that by these brutalities they are avenging their wrongs on the degraded souls of those cruel princes and warriors who were the former tyrants of their race.
It must be either some such notion as this or a total absence of humane feeling - or, perhaps, the extraordinary theory which is occasionally found to exist, even in Europe, that the lower animals are devoid of sensation - which explains the fact that the Cinghalese consider these and similar tortures inflicted on beasts as a delightful entertainment. The wretched oxen are always marked with their owners' names in large letters, cut quite through the skin. In the villages, through which the road passes and where the horses are changed, the arrival of the coach is the great event of the day, and all the inhabitants assemble with eager curiosity, partly to stare at the travellers and criticize their appearance, partly to look on at the ceremony of changing horses, and chiefly to play an active part in tormenting the fresh team. The poor beasts are at last driven to fly, and they usually start at a wild gallop, pursued by the yells of the populace, and rush madly onward till they lose their breath and fall into a slow trot. Covered with sweat, foaming at the mouth, and trembling in every limb, in about half an hour they reach the posting station, where they are parted from their fellowsufferers.
This mode of travelling, it need not be said, is not agreeable to the stranger who has trusted his person to the ricketty stage coach, nor is it devoid of danger. The conveyance is often upset and damaged, the goaded horses not unfrequently run away across country, or back the coach into the banana thickets or a deep ditch, and I was always prepared to spring from my perch on the box at a critical moment. In fact, it is difficult to conceive how the English Government, which is generally so strict in its arrangements and discipline, has not long since put an end to this brutality to animals, and more particularly extended its protection to the wretched horses that serve the "Royal Mail Coach."
Great Buddha! you who strove so earnestly to diminish the miseries of this miserable life and mitigate the torments of suffering creation, what mistakes you made! What a blessing you would have conferred on men and beasts if, instead of the foolish prohibition to take the life of any creature, you had laid down the merciful law: Thou shalt torture no living thing. The prohibition is, on the whole, scrupulously attended to by every Cinghalese Buddhist, though there are many exceptions. For instance, they look on with frank satisfaction when a naturalist fires at the monkeys and flying foxes that rob them of their bananas, or when a planter shoots the elephants that tread down their rice-fields, the leopards that carry off their goats, or the palm-cats which devour their fowls. But, as a rule, they will give no assistance or encouragement, and take the greatest care to avoid killing anything themselves. For this reason, almost all who belong to the fishermen's caste are Roman Cathotics; they have renounced Buddhism to avoid all difficulties in the way of catching fish.
The stubborn recalcitrancy displayed by the Indian horses to their tormentors, and their universal propensity to shy at unexpected moments, together with the frenzied pace at which they start, demand no small skill in the driver. The coachman and his assistant, the stable lad, must be constantly on the alert. The endurance and staying power of these horse-boys are quite amazing; naked, all but a loin-cloth and a posthorn strung round him, with a white turban on his head, a black Tamil will run a whole stage by the side of the horses, pulling the traces first one way and then another, and swinging himself up on to the step or coach pole when going at the utmost pace. If the coach meets another vehicle, or if the road makes a sudden bend, he seizes the horses' heads and gives them a violent jerk in the right direction. In crossing the long wooden bridges which span the wide torrents, he suddenly checks the steeds in their career and leads them carefully over the shifting and clattering logs. If a child runs into the road, as often happens, or an old woman does not get out of the way, the horse-boy jumps forward with swift promptitude and pushes the horses back with a strong hand. In short, he must be ready for everything, here, there, and everywhere.
Although the seventy miles of road between Colombo and Galle present no variety in the character of the landscape, the enchanted eye of the traveller is never weary of it. The unflagging charm of the cocoanut wood, and the inexhaustible variety of grouping and combination in the accessories of the landscape, never fail to keep him interested. The stinging heat of the tropical sun is not often unbearable, for it is greatly mitigated, both by the cool sea breeze and the shade of the woods. The elegant plumes of the cocoa-nut palm, as of most palm-trees, do not, it is true, afford the deep and refreshing shade of the denser foliage of our forest trees, for the sunbeams filter through the divisions between the leaflets in every direction in broken flecks of light. But their slender stems are, in many cases, covered by graceful garlands of climbing peppervines and other creepers; they hang in festoons from one tree to another, like artificially woven wreaths, and hang down in massive pendants, densely covered with leaves. Many of them are gay with splendid flowers, as, for instance, the flame-coloured Gloriosa, the blue Thunbergia, the rose-pink Bourgainvillea, and gold-colourcd butterfly-orchids of various species.
Between and under the ubiquitous palms grow a host of other trees, particularly the stately mango, and the towering breadfruit tree, with its dense dark-green crown. The slender columnar trunk of the papaw (Carica papaya) is elegantly marked and crowned with a regular diadem of large palmate leaves. Many varieties of jasmine, orange, and lemon trees are completely covered with fragrant white blossoms; and among these nestle the pretty little white or brown huts of the natives, with their idyllic surroundings - the traveller might fancy himself riding through one long village in the midst of palm gardens, but that now and again he passes through a more crowded tract of forest trees, or finds himself among a colony of houses, standing in closer rows round a country bazaar, and forming a real and more populous village.
Presently the road diverges towards the sea and runs for some distance along the shore. Here wide levels of smooth sand alternate with rocky hills, and these are picturesquely covered with the Pandanus, or screw-pine. The pandang (Pandanus odororatissimus) is one of the most remarkable and characteristic plants of the tropics. It is nearly related to the palm tribe, and is known by the name of screw-pine, which should more properly be screw-palm. The elegant trunk is cylindrical, commonly from twenty to forty feet high, and often bent; it is forked or branched, like a candelabrum. Each branch bears at the end a thick sheaf of large sword-shaped leaves, like those of a Dracaena or Yucca. These leaves are sometimes sea-green and sometimes dark, gracefully drooping, and with their bases arranged in a close spiral, so that the tuft looks as if it had been regularly screwed. From the bottom of this spiral hang racemes of white and wonderfully fragrant flowers, or large fruits, something like a pine-apple. The most singular part of this tree is its slender aerial roots, which are thrown out from the trunk at various places and fork below; when they reach the soil they take root in it, and serve as props to the feeble stem, looking exactly as if the tree were mounted on stilts. These screw-pines have a particularly grotesque appearance when they stand upon these stilts, high above the surrounding brushwood, or straddle down into the rifts between the stones, or creep like snakes along the surface of the soil.
The white stretch of sand which forms the strand, frequently broken by dark jutting rock, is alive with nimble crabs, which vanish with great rapidity; indeed, their swiftness has gained them the classic-sounding name of Ocypoda. Numbers of hermit crabs (Pagurus) wander meditatively among their light-footed relatives, dragging the shells in which they protect their soft and sensitive bodies with great dignity. Here and there sandpipers are to be seen, graceful herons, plovers, and other shorebirds, busied in catching fish in successful competition with the Cinghalese. These fishermen ply their calling sometimes singly, sometimes in parties; they then commonly go out in several canoes with large seine nets, which they combine to draw to the shore. The solitary fishers, on the contrary, prefer to take their prey in the rolling surf; and it is very interesting to watch the naked brown figure, with po protection against the scorching sun but a broad-brimmed palm hat, leaping boldly into the tumbling waves and bringing out the fish in a small hand-net. He seems to enjoy his fresh salt bath as much as his children do, who play by dozens on the sands. and are accomplished swimmers by the time they are six or eight years old.
The white or yellowish margin of sand follows the coast often for miles, like a narrow gleaming satin ribbon, bending with its multifarious curves and beautiful open bays, and dividing the deep blue waters of the Indian Ocean from the bright green cocoa-nut groves. This hem of sand is all the prettier where the stooping heads of the crowded palms bend far across it, as if leaning forward to breathe the fresh sea-breeze more freely and enjoy the full blaze of the sun-light. The soil at their feet is strewn with beautiful shore plants, of which three are particularly conspicuous - the goat's foot convolvulus. with its two-lobed leaves and violet flowers - Ipomaea pes-capri; an elegant pink-blossomed Impaliens; and the noble funnel-shaped lily Pancratium Zeylanicum. Its beautiful white flowers. which have narrow pendant petals, grow in umbels on slender stems six to eight feet high. Then by the roadside there are the huge arrow-head leaves of the Calla, a handsome aroid. If the sun is too hot, or a shower comes on suddenly, the Cinghalese simply breaks off one of the great Caladium leaves - it protects him better than a cotton or silk umbrella, and is elegantly marked with transparent veining, often painted with crimson spots. Thus, in this sunny paradise, parasols grow by the wayside, or, more precisely, en-tout-cas, since they serve the double purpose of an umbrella and a sun-shade.
A most beautiful feature of the Galle and Colombo road are the numerous river mouths, which intersect the cocos-wood, and the wide lagoons which stretch between them, particularly along the northern portion from Colombo to Caltura. The former lords of the island, the Dutch, were so delighted with these water-ways, which reminded them of their native land, that they adapted them to a regular system of canals and neglected the land roads. Under their rule numerous barges and canal-boats, like the Trekschuit of the low countries, travelled from town to town, and were the chief means of communication. Since the English have made the capital high road, the water-traffic has fallen into desuetude. But they still afford a succession of pleasing pictures to the traveller
as he is hurried by, with their banks covered with dense thickets of bamboo and lofty palms, and their pretty little islands and rocks; the tall cocoa-nut palms tower above the undergrowth, "like a forest above the forest," as Humboldt aptly describes it. The undulating hills in the blue distance supply an appropriate background where, here and there, the high heads of the mountains are visible, and loftiest of all the noble cone of Adam's Peak.
At the mouths of the larger rivers, several of which are crossed on the road, the smiling landscape assumes a graver character; the sombre mangroves are a particularly conspicuous feature. The shore of these estuaries is generally thickly covered with them, and their aerial roots form an impenetrable tangle. Formerly they used to be infested with crocodiles, but the progress of civilization and agriculture has driven these reptiles up the rivers. The finest of the rivers is the noble Kalu Ganga, or Black river, which I afterwards explored for the greater part of its length. The lower reaches are as wide as the Rhine at Cologne. At the mouth stands Caltura, a large village, and the terminus of the railway. At the southernmost end of Caltura a magnificent banyan tree grows across the high road, like a triumphal arch. The aerial roots of this huge tree have taken hold on the soil on the opposite side of the road and grown to be large trunks, and these and the main trunk form a lofty Gothic vault, which is all the more striking because a number of parasitic ferns, orchids, wild vines, and other parasitic plants have overgrown the stems. Not far from the shore near Caltura I found, on a subsequent visit, another wonderful tree - an indiarubber tree - of which the snakelike roots, twisted and plaited till they look like a close lattice, form a perfect labyrinth. Troops of merry children were playing in the nooks between these root-trellices.
Another delightful spot is the rest-house of Bentotte, where the "Royal Mail" stops for an hour to allow the passengers to rest, and recruit their powers of endurance by breakfast. A particular delicacy here are the oysters, for which the place is famous. They are served raw, or baked, or pickled in vinegar. The rest-house is beautifully situated on a hill, among tall tamarind trees, and has a splendid view over the sunlit sea and the bridge which spans the river-mouth. After breakfast I watched the oyster-fishery below this bridge, and then spent a quarter of an hour in lounging through the picturesque bazaar of the straggling town. The wares and traffic in this bazaar are in perfect keeping with the idyllic character of the surroundings, with the primitive furniture of the native huts, and the elementary character of their owners' dress. By far the most important articles of commerce are rice and curry, the staples of food, and betel and areca, the favourite luxury. These and other matters for sale lie temptingly spread on wide green banana leaves in simple booths, with an open front, serving at once as door and window. Between them are heaps of cocoa-nuts, monstrous bunches of bananas, and piles of scented pine-apples; the starchy roots of the yam, the Colocasia, and other plants; enormous breadfruit, weighing from thirty to forty pounds each, and the nearly allied jack-fruit; and then, as delicacies, the noble mango and the dainty anona, or custard-apple. While we are strongly attracted to these fruit-stalls - which the Cinghalese often decorate very prettily with flowers and boughs - by their delicious perfume, we are equally repelled from certain others by a pungent odour, which is anything rather than tempting. This "ancient and fish-like smell" proceeds from heaps of fresh and dried marine creatures, principally fish and crustacea; among these the prime favourites are shrimps or prawns, an important ingredient in the preparation of the native spiced dish, curry.*12
There can be no greater mistake than to expect to find in these Cinghalese markets the noise and clamour and confusion which are characteristic of market scenes among most nations, and more particularly in the southern countries of Europe. Anyone who has looked on, for instance, at the bustle and hurry on the pretty piazza at Verona, or the vehement tumult of Santa Lucia at Naples, might imagine that in a tropical bazaar in Ceylon the crowd and uproar would rise to a still higher pitch. Nothing of the kind. The gentle subdued nature of the Cinghalese affects even their way of trading; buyers and sellers alike seem to take but a feeble interest in the transaction, small in proportion to the trifling copper coin for which the most splendid fruits may be purchased. These coins, I may mention, are pieces of one cent and of five cents, and there are a hundred cents to a rupee (worth two shillings); they are stamped with a cocoa palm. The Cinghalese, however, are not indifferent to the value of money, but they need less of the commodity, perhaps, than any other people on earth; for there are few spots, indeed, where kindly mother Nature pours out so inexhaustible and uninterrupted a supply of her richest and choicest gifts as on this privileged isle. The poorest Cinghalese can with the greatest ease earn as much as will buy the rice which is absolutely indispensable to life; ten to fifteen cents are ample for a day's food. The abundance of vegetable produce on land, and the quantity of fish obtained from the sea are so enormous that there is no lack of curry with the rice and other variety in their diet.
Why, then, should the Cinghalese make life bitter by labour? Nay, nay - they have far too much of the easy-going nature, the true philosophy of life. So they may be seen stretched at full length and reposing in their simple dwellings, or squatting in groups and chatting to their heart's content. The small amount of labour required in their gardenplots is soon accomplished, and the rest of the time is theirs to play in. But their very play is anything rather than exciting or energetic. On the contrary, a spell of peace and languor seems to have been cast over all the life and doings of these happy children of nature, which is amazingly fascinating and strange. Enviable Cinghalese! you have no care either for the morrow or for the more distant future. All that you and your children need to keep you alive grows under your hand, and what more you may desire by way of luxury you can procure with the very smallest amount of exertion. You are, indeed, like "the lilies of the field" which grow round your humble homes. "They toil not, neither do they spin," and their mother, Nature, feeds them. You, like them, have no war-like ambitions; no anxious reflections on the increasing competition in trade, or the rise and fall of stock ever disturb your slumbers. Titles and Orders, the highest aim of civilized men, are to you unknown. And in spite of that you enjoy life! Nay, I almost think it has never occurred to you to envy us Europeans our thousand superfluous requirements. You are quite content to be simple human souls, children of nature. living in paradise, and enjoying it. There you lie, at full length. under the palm roof of your huts, contemplating the dancing lights and shadows among the plumes of the cocoa-nuts; perennially refreshed by the unequalled luxury of chewing betel-nut, and playing at intervals with your sweet little children, or taking a delicious bath in the river that flows by the road, and devoting your whole attention to the subsequent toilet, so as to set the tortoiseshell comb at the most bewitching angle in that elaborately twisted top-knot. Where is the careworn son of culture who would not envy you your harmless mode of existence and your Edenlike simplicity!
These and similar reflections irresistibly rose in my mind as I stood gazing at the groups of Cinghalese enjoying life in their blameless fashion in the peaceful silence of their banana groves, while the coach changed horses at the last stage before reaching Galle. Here the struggle for existence seemed to have ceased; seemed, at any rate. I was first roused from my reveries by being asked by the two horse-boys to mount again to my box-seat. These worthy Malabars then informed me, in broken English, that this was an appropriate moment for presenting them with the usual "tip," or "bakshseesh," for drink, since, when we should arrive in Galle, they would be too busy and the time would be too short for this important matter to meet with due attention. As I had seen a highly respectable Cinghalese, who had been set down some time previously, give each of these two fellows a double anna, a little silver coin worth about threepence, I thought I was doing ample credit to my higher dignity as a white man by offering four times as much - half a rupee a-piece. But the coachman and the conductor alike held up my donation with indignant gestures, and gave me a lecture on the superiority of my white skin, which was, no doubt, highly flattering. The upshot of it was that every white gentleman must give at least double - a rupee - to each of them as drink-money, and that a man as white as I was and with such light hair, must certainly be very high caste, and must expect to be fleeced accordingly. Although to be so highly taxed for my fair complexion could not be otherwise than delightful, I was not to be persuaded to pay more on that score, than a rupee to each as a "white man's" tax; and I finally had the satisfaction of hearing myself pronounced to be a "perfect gentleman."
However, when I thought of the exquisite enjoyment of nature I had derived from my five-hours' ride, I thought the fare well laid out, and in spite of the heat and fatigue I was sorry when, at about four in the afternoon, the light-house of Galle came in sight. Soon after the "mail coach" rattled over the drawbridge of the old moat, and then through a long dark barbican, pulling up finally in front of the elegant "Oriental Hotel" of Punto Galla.