CHAPTER XI. MADRAS AND CALCUTTA.
DEPARTURE FROM CEYLON - MADRAS - CALCUTTA - MODE OF LIFE OF THE EUROPEANS - THE HINDOOS - PRINCIPAL OBJECTS OF INTEREST IN THE TOWN - VISIT TO A BABOO - RELIGIOUS FESTIVALS OF THE HINDOOS - HOUSES OF DEATH AND PLACES FOR BURNING THE DEAD - MAHOMEDAN AND EUROPEAN MARRIAGE CEREMONIES.
On the afternoon of the 27th of October I went on board the steamship "Bentinck," of 500 horse-power; but we did not weigh anchor much before evening.
Among the passengers was an Indian prince of the name of Schadathan, who had been made prisoner by the English for breaking a peace he had concluded with them. He was treated with all the respect due to his rank, and he was allowed his two companions, his mundschi, or secretary, and six of his servants. They were all dressed in the Oriental fashion, only, instead of turbans, they wore high, round caps, composed of pasteboard covered with gold or silver stuff. They wore also luxuriant long black hair, and beards.
The companions of the prince took their meals with the servants. A carpet was spread out upon the deck, and two large dishes, one containing boiled fowls, and the other pillau, placed upon it; the company used their hands for knives and forks.
28th October. We still were in sight of the fine dark mountain ranges of Ceylon. Now and then, too, some huge detached groups of rocks would be visible towering above the waves.
29th October. Saw no land. A few whales betrayed their presence by the showers of spray they spouted up, and immense swarms of flying fish were startled by the noise of our engines.
On the morning of the 30th of October we came in sight of the Indian continent. We soon approached near enough to the shore to distinguish that it was particularly remarkable for its beauty, being flat and partly covered with yellow sand; in the back-ground were chains of low hills.
At 1 o'clock, P.M., we anchored at a considerable distance (six miles) from Madras. The anchoring place here is the most dangerous in the world, the ground-swell being so strong that at no time can large vessels approach near the town, and many weeks often pass without even a boat being able to do so. Ships, consequently, only stop a very short time, and there are rarely more than a dozen to be seen riding at anchor. Large boats, rowed by ten or twelve men, come alongside them to take the passengers, letters, and merchandise ashore.
The steamer stops here eight hours, which may be spent in viewing the town, though any one so doing runs a chance of being left behind, as the wind is constantly changing. I trusted to the good luck which had always attended me during my travels, and made one of the party that disembarked; but we had not got more than half way to land when I was punished for my curiosity. It began to rain most fearfully, and we were very soon wet to the skin. We took refuge in the first coffee-house we saw, situated at the water's edge; the rain had now assumed a tropical character, and we were unable to leave our asylum. As soon as the storm had passed by, a cry was raised for us to return as quickly as possible, as there was no knowing what might follow.
A speculative baker of Madras had come out in the first boat that reached the steamer with ice and biscuits for sale, which he disposed of very much to his profit.
The angry heavens at length took compassion on us and cleared up before sunset. We were then enabled to see the palace-like dwellings of the Europeans, built half in the Grecian and half in the Italian style of architecture, stretching along the shore and beautifully lighted by the sun. Besides these, there were others standing outside the town in the midst of magnificent gardens.
Before we left, a number of natives ventured to us in small boats with fruit, fish, and other trifles. Their boats were constructed of the trunks of four small trees, tightly bound together with thin ropes made of the fibres of the cocoa-tree; a long piece of wood served as an oar. The waves broke so completely over them that I imagined every instant that both boats and men were irretrievably lost.
The good people were almost in a state of nature, and seemed to bestow all their care on their heads, which were covered with pieces of cloth, turbans, cloth or straw caps, or very high and peaked straw hats. The more respectable - among whom may be reckoned the boatmen who brought the passengers and mails - were, however, in many cases, very tastily dressed. They had on neat jackets, and large long pieces of cloth wrapped round their bodies; both the cloths and jackets were white, with a border of blue stripes. On their heads they wore tightly fitting white caps, with a long flap hanging down as far as their shoulders. These caps, too, had a blue border. The complexion of the natives was a dark brown or coffee colour.
Late in the evening, a native woman came on board with her two children. She had paid second-class fare, and was shown a small dark berth not far from the first cabin places. Her younger child had, unfortunately, a bad cough, which prevented some rich English lady, who had likewise a child with her, from sleeping. Perhaps the exaggerated tenderness which this lady manifested for her little son caused her to believe that the cough might be catching; but, be that as it may, the first thing she did on the following morning, was to beg that the captain would transfer mother and children to the deck, which the noble-hearted humane captain immediately did, neither the lady nor himself caring in the least whether the poor mother had or had not, even a warm coverlid to protect her sick child from the night cold and the frequent heavy showers.