CHAPTER XXV. CEYLON.
Thus was this place
A happy rural seat of various views,
Groves whose rich trees wept odorous gums and balm,
Others, whose fruit, burnish'd with golden rind,
Hung amiable, Hesperian fables true.
Wednesday, March 28th. - At midnight the wind was slightly ahead, and we could distinctly smell the fragrant breezes and spicy odours of Ceylon. We made the eastern side of the island at daylight, and coasted along its palm-fringed shores all day. I had been very unwell for some days past, but this delightful indication of our near approach to the land seemed to do me good at once. If only the interior is as beautiful as what we can see from the deck of the yacht, my expectations will be fully realised, brilliant as they are.
As the sun set, the beauty of the scene from the deck of the yacht seemed to increase. We proceeded slowly, and at about nine o'clock were in the roads of Galle and could see the ships at anchor. Tom did not like to venture further in the dark without a pilot, and accordingly told the signal-man to make signals for one, but being impatient he sent up a rocket, besides burning blue lights, a mistake which had the effect of bringing the first officer of the P. and O. steamship 'Poonah' on board, who thought perhaps we had got aground or were in trouble of some sort. He also informed us that pilots never came off after dark, and kindly offered to show us a good anchorage for the night.
Thursday, March 29th. - The pilot came off early, and soon after six we dropped anchor in Galle harbour. The entrance is fine, and the bay one of the most beautiful in the world. The picturesque town, with its old buildings, and the white surf dashing in among the splendid cocoa-trees which grow down to the water's edge, combined to make up a charming picture. We went on board the 'Poonah' to breakfast as arranged, and afterwards all over the ship, which is in splendid order. Thence we went ashore to the Oriental Company's Hotel, a most comfortable building, with a large, shady verandah, which to-day was crowded by passengers from the 'Poonah.' At tiffin there was a great crowd, and we met some old friends. At three o'clock we returned to the yacht, to show her to the captain of the 'Poonah' and some of his friends, and an hour later we started in two carriages for a drive to Wockwalla, a hill commanding a splendid view. The drive was delightful, and the vegetation more beautiful than any we have seen since leaving Tahiti, but it would have been more enjoyable if we had not been so pestered by boys selling flowers and bunches of mace in various stages of development. It certainly is very pretty when the peach-like fruit is half open and shows the network of scarlet mace surrounding the brown nutmeg within. From Wockwalla the view is lovely, over paddy-fields, jungle, and virgin forest, up to the hills close by and to the mountains beyond. There is a small refreshment-room at the top of the hill, kept by a nice little mulatto woman and her husband. Here we drank lemonade, ate mangoes, and watched the sun gradually declining, but we were obliged to leave before it had set, as we wanted to visit the cinnamon gardens on our way back. The prettiest thing in the whole scene was the river running through the middle of the landscape, and the white-winged, scarlet-bodied cranes, disporting themselves along the banks among the dark green foliage and light green shoots of the crimson-tipped cinnamon-trees. We had a glorious drive home along the sea-shore under cocoa-nut trees, amongst which the fireflies flitted, and through which we could see the red and purple afterglow of the sunset. Ceylon is, as every one knows, celebrated for its real gems, and almost as much for the wonderful imitations offered for sale by the natives. Some are made in Birmingham and exported, but many are made here and in India, and are far better in appearance than ours, or even those of Paris. More than once in the course of our drive, half-naked Indians produced from their waist-cloths rubies, sapphires, and emeralds for which they asked from one to four thousand rupees, and gratefully took fourpence, after a long run with the carriage, and much vociferation and gesticulation. After table-d'hote dinner at the hotel we went off to the yacht in a pilot boat; the buoys were all illuminated, and boats with four or five men in them, provided with torches, were in readiness to show us the right way out. By ten o'clock we were outside the harbour and on our way to Colombo.
Friday, March 30th. - It rained heavily during the night, and we were obliged to sleep in the deck-house instead of on deck. At daylight all was again bright and beautiful, and the cocoanut-clad coast of Ceylon looked most fascinating in the early morning light. About ten o'clock we dropped our anchor in the harbour at Colombo, which was crowded with shipping. 175,000 coolies have been landed here within the last two or three months; consequently labour is very cheap this year in the coffee plantations.