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A modern man of business might believe that Bishop Heber of Calcutta wove into irresistible verse a tremendous advertisement for Ceylon real estate, but repelled investors by a sweeping castigation of mankind, when he wrote:

What though the spicy breezes
Blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;
Though every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile.

In tens of thousands of Christian churches the praises of Ceylon are thus sung every Sunday, and will be as long as the inhabitants of America and Great Britain speak the English language. Some of the divine’s statements, to be acceptable as impartial testimony, require modification; for the natural charms of the island are not so sweepingly perfect, and there man is far above the Asian average. Hymnists, it may be inferred, write with some of the license of poets. No part of England’s great realm, nevertheless, is more beautiful than the crown colony of Ceylon in the Indian Ocean.

An Eastbound traveler during the long run from Aden hears much of the incomparable island of palms, pearls, and elephants; and every waggish shipmate haunts smoke room and ladies’ saloon waiting for the opportunity to point out the lighthouse on Minecoy Island in the Maldives as “the Light of Asia.” Four hundred miles further and your good ship approaches Colombo. The great breakwater, whose first stone was laid by Albert Edward, is penetrated at last, and the polyglot and universal harbor of call unfolds like a fan.

There’s music within; the breezes bring proof of this. Surely, it is Bishop Heber’s trite stanzas repeated in unison by the forgiving populace they are sung everywhere, and why not in Ceylon’s great seaport? The ship churns forward to her moorings. It is singing; there is no mistaking it. But the air! Does it deal with “spicy breezes,” and “pleasing prospects?” No; it is a sort of chant. Listen again. Ah, it is Lottie Collins’s masterpiece, not Bishop Heber’s: it is “Ta-ra-ra boom de-ay.” And the chanters are dozens of Britain’s loyal subjects, youths naked and black, lying in wait to induce passengers to shower coins into the sea in recompense of a display of diving from catamarans constructed from trunks of palm-trees.

If asked what place in all the world can in a day show the greatest medley of humanity, I should pronounce in favor of the landing-jetty at Colombo. Scurrying ashore from ocean steamers in launches, in jolly-boats pulled by oars fashioned like huge mustard-spoons, or in outrigger canoes that glide rapidly, are representatives of every nation of the West, of China, of Japan in fact, of every division of God’s footstool having place in the list of nations. Being the great port of call and coaling station linking Occident, Orient and Australasia, a traveler naturally wants to inspect the place and stretch his legs on shore, while his ship is stocking with fuel to carry it to Aden, Singapore or to an antipodean port. Tiffin or dinner on terra firma is likewise coveted by the traveler with appetite jaded by weeks of sea-cooking. Ceylon’s capital teems consequently with people hungry for a table d’hote meal, a ’rickshaw ride, and the indiscriminate purchase of rubbishing cats-eye and sapphire jewelry.

The conglomeration of people on the promenade floor of the jetty, watching voyagers come and go, would tend to make a student of anthropology lose his mind. Every variety of man of Ceylon, practically of every creed and caste of India, even of all Asia, is there, and a liberal admixture of Europeans as well.

Leaning over the hand-rail all humanity appears equal for sight-seeing purposes, certainly. There are gentle Cingalese men with hair twisted into a knot on the back of the head and large shell comb on the crown, Tamil coolies and Hindus in profusion, of course. There are fat Parsees from Bombay, and Buddhist priests and monks in yellow togas, each armed with palm-leaf fan and umbrella, precisely as Gautama Buddha left his father’s mansion to sow the religion worshiped by nearly a third of the people of the earth. A group of lascars, on leave from a P. & O. liner, look depreciatingly on nautical brethren from colder climes. There are Malays, as well, obsequious Moormen merchants, and haughty Afghans from beyond the “Roof of the World,” as scholars call the Himalayas. Here and there are broad-chested Arabs from Aden way and the Persian Gulf, taking chances on the announcement of a pearl “fishery” by the government divers, who may secure a gem of price in an hour’s work, or may return home empty-handed. Their neighbors on the platform are seafarers coming with the embassy from the Sultan of the Maldive Islands, bringing to the governor of Ceylon the annual tribute sanctioned by custom, and the renewed assurances of loyalty to Edward VII. Close by them, and taking a profound interest in a group of European ladies stepping from a launch below, are three black girls in the garb of Catholic Sisters of Charity, whose chains and crucifixes are of unusual size.

With a conscious air of proprietorship of the British Empire, khaki-clad Tommy Atkins comes down the pier, attended by the inevitable fox terrier. Following close on his heels is a towering man of ebon complexion, with three stripes of ashes and the wafer of humility on his forehead. He is barefooted, and his solitary garment is a piece of cotton with which he has girded his loins; he is abundantly lacquered with cocoanut oil, to protect him from contracting a cold from the too rigorous “spicy breezes” of Lanka’s isle. A stranger would say he was a penitent wayfarer of God, not worth the smallest coin of the East. In one hand he carries an overfilled valise, and in the other a sunshade of immaculate white: the initiated recognize him to be a chettie, easily worth lakhs of rupees, who is presumably embarking for Rangoon, and there to purchase a cargo of rice.

Hark! There is commotion and much noise at the jetty entrance. Can it be an alarm of fire, or have the customs officials at the gates apprehended a flagrant smuggler? Oh, no; it is merely Great Britain arriving on the scene in the person of a smart-looking tea-planter who has honked down in his motor-car to see a comrade off on the mail steamer; incidentally, some of the noise proceeds from a group of sailors on leave from a battleship who are wrangling with ’rickshaw men as to proper payment for having been hauled about the city on a sight-seeing tour. And so it goes in Colombo. Each day presents a picture not to be adequately described by a less gifted writer than Kipling.

Colombo is the westermost town of that great division of Asia wherein subject races black, brown and yellow haul the white man in jinrickshaws. No institution of the East stamps the superiority of the European more than this menial office of the native. Probably every American when brought face to face with the matter says manfully that he will never descend to employing a fellow creature to run between shafts like an animal, that he (visitor from a land where rights of mankind are equal and constitutional) may be spared from footweariness under a tropic sun. It is a noble impulse but weak man is easily tempted. Hence, you decide to try the ’rickshaw just once.

The sensation is found to be agreeable, surprisingly so. Your fellow mortal, you perceive, is dripping with perspiration under the awful heat of the sun, while beneath the hood of the vehicle you are cool and comfortable. Then you yield to the savage defects of your moral make-up and decide never to walk another yard in the East, not when a ’rickshaw is to be had. The habit comes as easily as drinking, or anything that your conscience and bringing-up tell you is not quite right, although enjoyable.

The ’rickshaw in Colombo is a splendid convenience. The runner’s rights are as loyally protected as those of his employer, and he readily covers six miles an hour at a swinging gait. If his vehicle has rubber tires and ball-bearings the labor is not severe. The man might have a harder vocation with smaller pay.

Colombo has hotels that would satisfy in Europe or America one, the Grand Oriental, is spoken of as the most comfortable hostelry between Cairo and San Francisco. To refer to it by its full name stamps the newcomer and novice at traveling throughout half the world it is known familiarly as the “G. O. H.” Two miles from Colombo, gloriously situated on the sea-front, the Galle Face Hotel is fashionable, cool and quiet, but lacking in the characteristic of being an international casino which assuredly the “G. O. H.” is. Tiffin or dinner is an interesting function at a Colombo hotel, for one never knows who or what his table mates may be. In the East every man who travels is assumed to be somebody. Hence you suspect your vis-a-vis at dinner to be the governor of a colony somewhere in the immeasurable Orient, or a new commander for Saigon, or perhaps a Frankfort banker going to China to conclude the terms of a new loan. If your neighbor at table is specially reserved, and gives his orders like one accustomed to being obeyed, you fancy him to be an accomplished diplomatist, very likely having in his pocket the draft of a treaty affecting half the people of the Far East. No one seems ever to suspect his confreres of being mere business men. And the ladies well, they may be duchesses or dressmakers no longer content with traveling “on the Continong”; nobody cares which. If they are very well gowned, probably they are the latter.

An army of waiters clad in spotless and snowy uniforms with red facings and shining buttons set before you dishes you never heard of. Some are satisfying in the extreme; but these waiters, can they be described as in uniform? True, their garments are alike, but the head-gear is of infinite variety. According to caste or nationality each proclaims himself. But look once more; there is uniformity, for all are barefooted.

Wonderful fellows these Easterns. The native hotel band, led by a wandering European, plays Sousa’s marches and “Hiawatha,” yes, even “Tammany,” with accuracy; and the cooks prepare dishes with French names, make vin blanc and Hollandaise sauces worthy of Delmonico or Ritz, and this without permitting the palate to guide them. If they tasted food concocted for Christians a million kinds of perdition might be their punishment. Music may be mechanical, as it is claimed to be, but not cooking. How do the gastronomic experts of pagan Asia acquire their skill?

Considering that the Ceylon capital is only four hundred miles north of the equator, the heat is never extremely oppressive. One’s energies there, nevertheless, are not what they are farther north or at higher elevations. Kandy, the ancient up-country capital, is cooler, and Nuwara Eliya, in the mountains, is actually cold at night. When white people do anything in Colombo work, attend church, play bridge, or billiards a native keeps them moderately comfortable with swinging punkahs. Some hotels and residential bungalows have discarded punkahs for mechanical fans; but the complaint is that the electricity costs more than the punkah-wallah the fan-boy of the East. “Ah, yes; but your wallah frequently falls asleep at his work,” you remark to the resident. “True, and your electricity frequently fails us,” is the reply.

Pear-shaped Ceylon, separated from India by only fifty miles of water, is three fourths the size of Ireland, and its population 3,600,000. Seventy-five per cent. of the people are Cingalese, and their language a dialect harking back to Sanskrit. The Cingalese are mostly Buddhists, with a sprinkling of Roman Catholics, the latter religion having been left in the land by its one-time Portuguese rulers. The Tamils, numbering a million, are not native to the island, like the Cingalese, but have come from southern India as laborers on coffee and tea estates; they are chiefly Hindus, although thousands have been converted to the Christian faith. The Mohammedan Moormen, living on the coast, approximate a quarter of a million in number. Europeans of all nationalities, not including the British troops, total only 6,500, a percentage of the island’s human family to be computed in fractions.

The Cingalese seen chiefly in the towns wear their long hair arranged like a woman’s, and around their heads a large, semicircular comb of shell, as has been said. The comb has nothing to do with religion or caste contrary to what a visitor is usually told; it merely announces the wearer to be not of the coolie class, who carry sacks of rice and cases of merchandise on their heads. Half the people of Ceylon wear no head-gear, and not two per cent. know what it is to wear shoes.

Colombo’s population is about 160,000. The capital is a handsome city, with communities on seafront, on the shores of a sinuous lake, and ranging inland for miles through cinnamon gardens and groves of cocoanut-palms. Queen’s House, where the governor resides, is a rambling pile. The general post-office is the best building in the capital, and the museum and Prince’s club, close by, are entitled to notice. The hard red-soil roads of the city extend for miles into the palm forests, and are equal to any in the world. Government officials and European commercial people live in handsome suburban bungalows smothered amid superb foliage trees and flowering shrubs and vines.

What were called the maritime provinces of Ceylon were ruled by the Dutch until 1796. But in that year England supplanted Holland, and in 1815 she secured control of the entire island by overthrowing the Kandyan kingdom, for a long time confining European invasion to the island’s seaboard. Ceylon costs Britain little worry and practically no expenditure. Strategically the island is valueless, save the benefit accruing to England in controlling if need be the enormous coal heaps of Colombo, and the maintenance there of a graving dock capable of handling the biggest battleship. Four hundred miles of government railways earn a tremendous profit, and moderate import and export duties on commodities keep the colonial cash-box well lined.

As in other Asiatic countries, the staple food is rice. Strange to say, Ceylon produces of this only half what is demanded by the people. Hence, it is necessary to import eight million bushels from India and Malay regions, costing approximately $5,000,000. On the other hand, the island sends to Europe and America annually $21,000,000 worth of tea, besides considerable quantities of rubber, cocoanut-oil, cacao, and plumbago. Ceylon’s crude rubber commands the highest price, and is a crop growing by leaps and bounds. It is estimated that eight hundred million cocoanuts are grown yearly in Ceylon. An item in the list of exports is elephants. These go to India as beasts of burden and pleasure, and the government collects two hundred rupees for every elephant sent from the island.

There is a possibility of two great events any springtime in Ceylon, and the prospect of either occurring is a theme of endless small talk in the offices and bungalow homes of everybody connected with “Government.” One is the elephant kraal, planned for the edification of His Excellency the Governor and a few officials and visitors of distinction, who, from cages in trees at elevated points insuring safety, look down upon the driving in of converging herds of elephants. When an earth-strewn flooring of bamboo gives way and the monarchs of the jungle are cast into a stockaded pit, the kraal is complete. Then, ordinarily, the Ceylon treasury undergoes drafts for forage, until an authorized functionary negotiates the sale of the animals to maharajahs and lesser worthies up in India.

A kraal occurs every four or five years, or when a British royalty happens in Ceylon. Each governor is entitled by custom to the semi-royal honor at least once during his incumbency. The kraal is an enterprise usually paying for itself, unless there be a glut in the elephant market. The last kraal failed dismally, nevertheless, but for a very different reason. The drive had been so successful that the stockade was full to overflowing with leviathan beasts trumpeting their displeasure and wrath. While the dicker for their sale in India was proceeding, they became boisterously unruly, and, breaking down their prison of palm-tree trunks, scampered away to forest and jungle, without so much as saying “thank you” for weeks of gorging on rations paid for out of the public cash-box. And this was the reason why the kraal arranged for last year was abandoned, after hundreds of natives had been busy for weeks in “driving in” from every up-country district to jeopardize good money was deemed not in keeping with the principles of good finance by certain material Britons responsible for the insular exchequer.

The popular event, coming as often as twice every three years, is the pearl-fishery. It interests everybody not living in mountain fastnesses, and appeals irresistibly to the hearts of the proletariat. Tricking elephants into captivity may be the sport of grandees, but the chance to gamble over the contents of the humble oyster of the Eastern seas invites participation from the meekest plucker of tea-buds on Ceylon’s hill-slopes to the lowliest coolie in Colombo. Verily, the pearl-fishery is the sensational event of that land sung of by Bishop Heber.