LETTER XX (Continued)
There have been Rajahs all day in the veranda, and their followers sitting on the steps, all received by Mr. Low with quiet courtesy, and regaled with tea or coffee and cigarettes. A short time ago the reigning prince, who does not appear to be a cypher, came with a great train of followers, some of them only wearing sarongs, a grandson, to whom he is much attached, and the deposed Sultan's two boys, of whom I told you before. They are in Malay clothing, and seem to have lost their vivacity, or at least it is in abeyance. Before I came here, I understood from many people that "His Highness" is very generally detested. So, also, says Sir Benson Maxwell in _Our Malay Conquests_. Major M'Nair in his amusing book on Perak says: "He is a man over middle age, and is described as being of considerable ability, feared and hated by many of the chiefs, and as being of a fierce and cruel disposition, but he was a proved man as to his loyalty" (to British interests), "and there being no desire on the part of the Government to annex the State of Perak, his appointment was the wisest course that, under the circumstances, could be pursued." This is all that the greatest apologist for British proceedings in Perak has to say.
I was not prepossessed in his favor before I came, for among other stories of his cruel disposition, I was told that it was "absolutely true" that three years ago he poured boiling water down the back of a runaway female slave who had been recaptured, and then put a red ant's nest upon it. If "piracy" is to be the term applied to levying blackmail, he was certainly a pirate, for he exacted a tenth of the cargo of every boat which passed up his river, a Rajah higher up doing the same thing. He is said to have a very strong character, to be grasping, and to be a "brute;" but Mr. Low gets on very well with him apparently. He is an elderly man, wearing a sort of fez on a shaven head. He has a gray mustache. His brow is a fine one, and his face has a look of force, but the lower part of it is coarse and heavy. He was fanning himself with his fez, and when I crossed the veranda and gave him a fan, he accepted it without the slightest gesture of thanks, as if I had been a slave. When Mr. Low told him that I had been at Koto-lamah, he said that the chief in whose house I had rested deserved to be shot, and ought to be shot. He and Mr. Low talked business for an hour; but all important matters are transacted in what is called a native council.
I wrote that I believed myself to be the only European in Kwala Kangsa, but I find that there was another at the time when I wrote thus - a young man of good family, who came out here seeking an appointment. He was sun-stricken three days ago, and violent fever and delirium set in, during the height of which he overpowered four Sikhs who were taking care of him, rushed out of doors, fell down exhausted, was carried home, and died at four in the morning, his last delirious dreams being of gambling and losing heavily.
The lamentable burial took place in the evening as the shadows fell. This sums up the story - a career of dissipation, death at twenty-one, a rough, oblong box, no one to be sorry. It made my heart ache for the mother, who would have given much to be where I was, and see "the dreary death train" move slowly to the dreary inclosure on a hill-top, where the grass grows rank and very green round a number of white wooden crosses, which mark the graves of the officers and soldiers who fell in 1876. The Union Jack was thrown over the coffin, which was carried by six Sikhs, and Mr. Low, Major Swinburne, Rajah Dris and some followers, and Sultan Abdullah's two boys, who had nothing better to do, followed it. By the time the grave was reached torches were required, and the burial service was read from my prayer-book. It was all sad and saddening.
The weather is still glorious, the winding Perak still mirrors in scarcely rippled blue the intensely blue sky, "never wind blows loudly," but soft airs rustle the trees. One could not lead a more tropical life than this, with apes and elephants about one under the cocoa-palms, and with the mercury ranging from 80 degrees to 90 degrees! Gorgeous, indeed, are the birds and butterflies and flowers; but often when the erythrina and the Poinciana regia are strewing the ground with their flaming blossoms, I think with a passionate longing of the fragile Trientalis Europae, of crimson-tipped lichens, of faint odors of half-hidden primroses, of whiffs of honey and heather from purple moorlands, and of all the homely, fragrant, unobtrusive flowers that are linked with you! I should like a chance of being "cold to the bone!"