صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

rapid manner: so that, in spite of the excellence of the pilot service of the river, and of the constant surveys which are made of the banks, wrecks on the way up or down are not of uncommon occurrence; and as we pass down we may see above water the mast-heads of more than one vessel which has failed to thread the labyrinth, and is being rapidly swallowed up by the all-devouring quicksands.

By the time that we reach Culpee, a short distance below Diamond Harbour, the tide has ebbed too far to allow of our steamer, with her deep load of opium, to cross the shallow bar a little further down; so we anchor for the night, and but for the mosquitoes have a cooler and pleasanter sleep than we could have obtained in Calcutta. Next forenoon, with the tide nearly full, we start again, and before six o'clock that evening we have put our pilot on his brig, and are well out of the river, though still in

ddy and not very deep water. But on getting up on the morning of the 21st, we find we are again in real salt water; the muddy colour has disappeared, and a deep blue expanse, with here and there a snow-white crest, has taken its place. The weather is clear and bright; a light breeze scarcely fills the sails, all of which are spread; the sun comes out of the ocean to the east, a clear ball of gold.

We have a thousand miles to run before reaching Penang, and we are in for four or five days of real Bay of Bengal weather-calm sea, still atmosphere, and hot sun. An almost universal somnolence falls upon the passengers before two days are over; and though, when one of them maintains that the cargo of opium is the cause, he is thought to be trying to make a joke, subsequent enquiries lead to the belief that such is really the case. The vessel's screw keeps pounding away, making every chair or bench in the saloon vibrate from morning till

TIIE BAY OF BENGAL.

97

night, with one brief interval when a bearir. grows hot and a short stoppage ensues, reminding one of the interval vouchsafed by an itinerant organ-grinder when he ceases grinding at one's own door and moves on to the next neighbour's. The small ship’s cabins are unbearable in the heat, and everyone sleeps on deck.

Early on the morning of the 23rd we pass within ten miles of the island of Narcondam, a mountain rising out of the sea to a height of 2,150 feet, clothed with fine vegetation from base to summit.

On the afternoon of the 24th we pass the Seyers Islands, well wooded also, and with their coastline indented into many bays and rocky headlands. Later in the evening we are within a few miles of the coast of Malacca, and can catch frequent glimpses of it by the aid of the flashes of lightning which play with intense brilliancy all round the horizon far on into the night.

Early on the morning of the 25th we are off the Button Islands, one hundred miles from Penang. These are small well-wooded islands, each of them just such an islet as would answer to the description of that of Enoch Arden, with its seaward-gazing gorge,' and its ' ferns and palms and precipices.' On the same day, before the sun has set, we are anchored in Penang Harbour, between the island of Pulo Penang and the mainland. Between us and the shore of the island are a number of picturesque junks and skiffs of both Chinese and Malayan rig. Lining the shore, all round the harbour, are the walls and houses of the town of Penang, their white roofs interspersed with green clusters of palms and other trees; behind and above the town rise the hills of which the island is composed, varying in height from 500 up to 2,500 feet, their outline broken into numerous peaks and shoulders, their sides a dense expanse of green forest. Nearest and most con

[ocr errors]

6

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

spicuous among these hills is the Flagstaff Hill, on the sides of which various bungalows peep out from among the trees. Turning to the mainland, we look on the flat coastline, which is the seaward boundary of the Wellesley Province, and which gives way a few miles to the northward to a bold and handsome mountain, rising up steeply from the water, and making a fine finish to the view in that direction.

Penang has only been in British hands for eighty-four years, and in that time, from being the home of a few Malay families and a few fishermen, it has become the abode of more than 130,000 people, most numerous among whom are the Malays, the Chinese ranking next.

The island originally belonged to the Malay kingdom of Keddah, but shortly before 1786 an Englishman, Captain Francis Light, received it as a marriage portion with the King of Keddah's daughter, and he transferred it to the East India Company. The name of the island, Pulo Penang, is said to mean “ beetel-nut,' that being one of the chief productions of the island. Palm-oil, sugar, indigo, tobacco, coffee, and valuable woods, are also produced. Though the thermometer seldom falls lower than 75o on the island, the climate is said to be a healthy one.

Going ashore in the evening we find that there is plenty of stir in the place, especially among the Chinese. Threading our way through the dimly-lighted streets, we find that, the labour and heat of the day being over, the industrious Chinamen are taking care to refresh themselves in various ways from their toil. Here, at the side of the street, is a great trough, at which a dozen or more of them are performing their ablutions; here a number of stalls where jellies, sweetmeats, and drinks indescribable, but evidently unalcoholic, are being retailed; here a teahouse, where weak tea is being drunk in just the same

[blocks in formation]

way as its kindred beverage is taken in any continental café. In every street we pass a dozen houses whose open front gives a view through the front room on to a shrine, over which is a large tablet inscribed with the name of an ancestor, or of a patron god of the Chinese householder, and before the tablet are two candles burning.

The Chinese in Penang almost monopolise the shopkeeping; hence the apparent preponderance of their faces and their customs in the streets : among the boatmen and fishermen the majority seem to be Malays.

As we row back to our steamer late at night, the water in the harbour is almost motionless, and phosphorescent to a degree seldom witnessed. The ripples fall off from the bow of our ósampan’ in lines of molten silver, and as the oars splash in and out of the water, every scattered drop is a liquid gem.

Our steamer stays twenty-four hours at Penang, so we shall have time to get up to the top of the Flagstaff Hill. Going ashore at daybreak on the 26th, we land at the wharf and charter two neat gharries, each drawn by one of the famous Penang ponies, little fellows not more than twelve hands high, beautifully shaped, and as sturdy and strong as they are small. After driving four miles to the foot of the ascent to the Flagstaff, we leave the gharries and each mount a pony. Then comes a ride of an hour and a half up hill, through a dense wood, which fulfils in every point one's idea of tropical luxuriance of vegetation. The cocoa-nut and areca- palms of the lower levels give place as we rise to forest trees of great variety and often of immense height: a dense undergrowth of smaller trees and shrubs, matted together with creepers, fills up the spaces between the larger trunks: a rich variety of ferns lines the sides of the path, and covers every spot which the more powerful vegetation has spared, while

a

here and there an orchid, or a brilliant creeper-flower, gives colour to the otherwise unvarying green. There is, however, that absence of animal life which may often be remarked where vegetable life is so abundant; nor, in the damp, warm atmosphere which pervades these rank forests, can we perceive any of those sharp, fresh scents which the drier and less luxuriant woods of more temperate latitudes so often exude.

Arrived at the summit of the Flagstaff Hill, we are disappointed to find that a mist spreads a veil beneath us over the lower world; nor have we to wait long before a cloud sweeps up over the summit, and pours down upon us a heavy shower. But in another half hour the mist clears away, and reveals to us a beautiful panorama of the rest of the island, with its wooded hills and jutting headlands, of the sea stretching away to the western horizon and running in on the east between the island and the opposite coast, and of the mainland with its flat wood-clad plains near the sea and its hazy mountains farther inland.

Early in the afternoon we are weighing anchor again, and soon begin to make a course for Singapore. Twentyfour hours' steaming brings us abreast of Cape Rachada on the Malacca coast, a bold cliff surmounted by a lighthouse; and three hours later we pass within sight of the British settlement of Malacca, one of the smallest of our dependencies, but possessed of some valuable tin mines, and said to produce the finest tapioca in the world.

In the early morning of the 28th we passed through the pretty group of Carramon Islands which dot the Malacca Straits within thirty miles of Singapore, and by ten o'clock we are fast alongside a wharf in the lesser harbour of that place, distant three or four miles from the town.

We go ashore in a blazing sun, which rather tends to contradict the assertion of the Singaporeans that they

« السابقةمتابعة »