CHAPTER XXII. TO CANTON UP THE PEARL RIVER.
Sails of silk and ropes of sandal
Such as gleam in ancient lore,
And the singing of the sailors,
And the answer from the shore.
Tuesday, February 27th. - Until half-past ten we were occupied in the pleasant task of reading news from home - all good this time, I am happy to say. At 10.30 we landed and went up the hill to breakfast with Sir Arthur and Miss Kennedy, and heard a good deal about the colony. It is wonderful to think that thirty years ago it scarcely existed, and now it is a large and flourishing place, with splendid houses, institutions, roads, and gardens. We were also most agreeably surprised by the beauty of the scenery. It is really lovely, and, though the hills around are barren, wherever cultivation has been attempted, vegetation appears to flourish luxuriantly. The climate cannot be very bad, judging by the healthy look of the residents and troops. Typhoons seem to be the greatest drawback. They come without any warning, and it is impossible to guard against them and their disastrous effects. Thousands of lives, and millions of pounds' worth of property, are destroyed in a few hours. We have been shown some of the effects of a very severe typhoon that occurred in 1874. It seems almost incredible that the mere force of the wind can snap iron posts in two, break granite columns, and blow off heavy roofs.
After breakfast the ceremony of presenting the departing Governor with a State umbrella took place. It was a token of respect from ten thousand Chinese inhabitants of Hongkong, and is the greatest compliment that can be paid to any official. It arrived in a large camphor-wood box, and the address, beautifully embroidered in gold thread and silk, was enclosed in a magnificent sandal-wood box about four feet long, covered with the richest carving. Precisely at twelve some forty vermilion-coloured visiting cards were handed in, with the name of each member of the deputation written in Chinese and English characters. The visitors were all received in a large drawing-room, whilst we ladies observed the proceedings through the doors leading from a smaller room. It is not considered etiquette by the Chinese for ladies to appear at these public ceremonies.
After it was all over, a stroll through the town, and a look at the shops, filled up the rest of the time in the morning, until we went on board to fetch the children for an expedition up the Peak to the signal station. As usual many visitors came on board the yacht, and it was later than we had intended before we could make a start. I had to be carried up the steep ascent in a chair, but the children and dogs thoroughly enjoyed themselves scampering about. The little ones picked heaps of flowers and ferns. The dogs had not been allowed to land before, as everybody told me they would be sure to be stolen directly. We returned on board before sunset, and had time for a little rest before some friends arrived to dinner. We have shipped two Chinese boys here to work in the pantry and kitchen. They are excellent servants as a rule, but how they will get on with the others, and how they will like the sea-life, remains to be proved.
Wednesday, February 28th. - I was up and off at half-past six to the market, and returned to a late breakfast on board; after which a large party of China merchants came as a deputation to invite Tom to fix a day to dine with them. I think they proposed to pay him what is for them an unusual compliment, partly because they were pleased with some remarks he made yesterday at Government House, and partly because they think so much of his enterprise in making a voyage round the world in a yacht with his wife and family. They examined everything on board, and seemed to be specially interested in Tom's Board of Trade certificate, which one of their number translated in full for the benefit of the rest.
The Chinese part of the town stands quite away from the foreign settlement. It is dirty and crowded in spite of its wide streets, and the large, gaily coloured houses have the names and advertisements of their proprietors painted all across them. The theatre is in the middle of the city, and was densely crowded. A box had been reserved for us, for the ordinary seats are like a carpenter's bench. On the floor of the house men and women sat together, but in the galleries the men sat apart, and there were separate boxes for the women. The acting was rough, and accompanied by the most discordant music. The scenery seemed of an excessively rudimentary description, as you may imagine when I tell you that a steep hill up which the hero and heroine climbed with great difficulty was composed of five kitchen chairs arranged in a pyramid on the top of three kitchen tables, held in position by men in their ordinary dress. The fugitives were supposed to be a Tartar general and his wife, escaping from their enemies after a great battle. The fighting was renewed at intervals with great noise and spirit. Some of the costumes were very fine, and cost from 30_l. to 40_l. apiece.
From the theatre we drove to the Chinese hospital, and thence to the Chinese recreation ground, where we saw sundry itinerant quacks and vendors of all sorts of rubbish. As we were walking along, having left our chairs for a few minutes to look at the Chinese shops, a man picked my pocket of a one-dollar note. Mr. Freer and the Doctor saw, pursued, and caught him. He vehemently protested his innocence, but to no avail. They proceeded to strip him, found the note, gave him a good shaking, and told him to go.