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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJames Braithwaite, The Supercargo - Chapter 13. Arrival At Java
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James Braithwaite, The Supercargo - Chapter 13. Arrival At Java Post by :spearce000 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2708

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James Braithwaite, The Supercargo - Chapter 13. Arrival At Java


I was very sorry to have to part from my brother William, and not a little so from that merriest of merry midshipmen, Toby Trundle.

"We shall meet again one of these days, Trundle," I said, as I warmly shook hands with him. "I hope it will be in smooth water, too; we have had enough of the rough together."

I did my best to express to the captain and officers of the _Phoebe my sense of the kindness with which they had treated me from the first moment I had stepped on board their frigate to the last. We all sailed together, the men-of-war and their prize, to proceed to the Mauritius, then to refit and get ready for the expedition to Java. We also were bound for Java, but intended first to visit Antongil Bay for the purpose of trading with the natives. I was pleased to find myself among my old shipmates again. They had had no sickness on board, and not a man had been lost. The officers were the same in character, while their individual peculiarities seemed to stand out more prominently than before.

We found the natives at Antongil Bay very honourable in their dealings. Many of the chiefs spoke French perfectly well, and looked like Frenchmen. They were, we found, indeed, descendants of some of the Count Benyowsky's followers, who had married native women. The children of such marriages were generally highly esteemed by the natives, who had raised them to the rank of chiefs. From what I saw of all classes of the natives of Madagascar, but especially of the upper ranks, I should say that they were capable of a high state of civilisation, and I see no reason why they should not some day take their place among the civilised nations of the east. When that time will come it is impossible to say. Neither adventurers, like the brave and talented Benyowsky, nor French settlements, will bring it about. One thing, indeed, only can produce it--that is, the spread and the firm establishment of true Christianity among the people.

Some days after our departure we had a distant view of the island of Rodriguez. In about a fortnight afterwards we were glad to put on warm clothing instead of the light dress suitable to the tropics; yet we were only in the same parallel of latitude as Madeira. It showed us how much keener is the air of the southern hemisphere than that of the northern. We soon after fell in with the monsoon, or trade wind, which sent us flying along at a good rate; till early in August, on a bright morning, the look-out at the mast-head shouted at the top of his voice, "Land ho! Land ahead!" It was the north-west cape of New Holland, or Australia, a region then, as even to the present day, almost a _terra incognita to Europeans. As we neared it, we curiously looked out with our glasses for some signs of the habitations of men, but nothing could be seen to lead us to suppose that human beings were to be found there. The shore was low, sandy, and desolate, without the least intermixture of trees or verdure. A chain of rocks, over which the sea broke furiously, lined the coast. We continued in sight of this most inhospitable-looking land till the next morning. I could not help thinking of the vast extent of country which intervened between the shore at which we were gazing and the British settlement at Port Jackson, of which we had lately heard such flattering accounts. Was it a region flowing with milk and honey? one of lakes and streams, or of lofty mountains? did it contain one vast inland sea, or was it a sandy desert of burning sands, impassable for man?

This was a problem some of my emigrant friends had been discussing, and which I longed to see solved. After losing sight of the coast of New Holland, we had to keep a bright look-out, as we were in the supposed neighbourhood of certain islands which some navigators, it was reported, had seen, but no land appeared. One clear night we found ourselves suddenly, it seemed, floating in an ocean of milk, or more properly, perhaps, a thick solution of chalk in water. The surface was quite unruffled, nor was there the slightest mixture of that phosphoric appearance often seen on a dark night when the sea is agitated. The air was still, though it was not quite a calm, and the sky was perfectly clear. It took us some hours to slip through it. We drew up some in buckets, and found it to contain a small, scarcely perceptible, portion of a fine filamentous substance, quite transparent, such as I have occasionally seen where seaweed is abundant. Whether this was the cause of the milky appearance of the sea or not we could not determine. We were now sailing almost due north, for the Straits of Bally, as the passage is called between that small island and the east end of the magnificent island of Java. About the middle of August, early in the morning, again land was seen from the mast-head, and in a few hours we entered the Straits I have just mentioned. We could see the shores on both sides, that of Bally somewhat abrupt, while the Java shore, agreeably diversified by clumps of cocoa-nut trees and hills clothed with verdure, looked green and smiling, contrasting agreeably with that of New Holland, which we had so lately left. A large number of small boats or canoes were moving about in all directions, those under sail going at great speed. They were painted white, had one sail, and were fitted with outriggers. We had to keep a bright look-out lest we should run suddenly into the jaws of any French or Dutch man-of-war, which, escaping from our cruisers, might be pleased to snap up a richly-laden merchantman like the _Barbara_. We could not tell at the time whether the proposed expedition had arrived, or, if it had, whether it had been successful.

As we were coasting along, a hill appeared in sight, early in the morning, the summit thickly surrounded by clouds. As this nightcap of vapours cleared away, a remarkable cone was exposed to view, the base covered with the richest vegetation. Soon after this we got so entangled among clusters of rocky islands and coral reefs that we were very much afraid we should be unable to extricate ourselves, and that our ship would get on shore. Though there was not much risk of our losing our lives, the dread of having our ship and cargo destroyed was enough to make us anxious. Fortunately the wind fell, and by keeping look-outs at each fore-yard-arm and at the mast-head, we were able to perceive the dangers with which we were surrounded before we ran on any of them. At length we got into seemingly more clear water, but there being still several reefs and islands outside of us, Captain Hassall thought it prudent to anchor for the night. The shore off which we lay was lined with cocoa-nut and other palm-trees, rivulets were seen flowing down the sides of the hills, which were clothed with spice-bearing and other shrubs, the whole landscape presenting a scene of great tropical beauty.

"If I ever had to cast anchor anywhere on shore, that's the sort of country I should choose, now," observed Benjie Stubbs, our second officer, who had been examining the coast for some time through his glass.

"I wouldn't change one half-acre of any part of our principality for a thousand of its richest acres," said David Gwynne, our surgeon, to whom he spoke. "Poets talk of the spicy gales of these islands; in most cases they come laden with miasma-bearing fevers and agues on their wings; while it a fellow has to live on shore he gets roasted by day, with a good chance of a sunstroke, and he is stewed at night, and bitten by mosquitoes and other winged and crawling things, and wakes to find a cobra de capella or green snake gliding over his face."

"Oh, a man would soon get accustomed to those trifling inconveniences, as the natives must do; and money goes a long way in these regions for all the necessaries of life," answered Stubbs.

I must confess that, lovely as I had heard are many parts of those eastern isles, I was inclined to agree with the surgeon.

It was discovered this evening that in consequence of the heat, or from careless coopering, our water-casks had let out their contents, and that we had scarcely any fresh water in the ship. At Batavia it was very bad, and it might be some days before we should get there, or we could not tell when, should the expedition not have succeeded. It was therefore necessary to get water without delay, and as a river was marked on the chart near to where we lay, we agreed the next morning to go up, and, should we see no fort, to run in and obtain water and any fresh provisions we might require. Accordingly we weighed by sunrise, and, standing in, ran along the coast till we arrived off the mouth of the river we hoped to find. Some native houses were seen, but no fortifications and no buildings of an European character. We therefore thought that we should be perfectly safe in going ashore. On dropping our anchor, several canoes came off laden with turtles, ducks, fowls, cockatoos, monkeys, and other small animals and birds; besides sweet potatoes, yams, and other vegetables, grown by the natives for the supply of the ships passing along the coast. They found plenty of customers among our men, and the ship was soon turned into a perfect menagerie. We without difficulty made the people in the canoes understand that we wanted to replenish our water-casks, and we understood them to say that they would gladly help us. Two boats were therefore lowered and filled with casks; Stubbs took charge of one of them, and I went in the other, accompanied by little Jack Nobs, intending to exchange a few articles which I took with me suitable to the taste of the natives for some of the productions of their country. As we pulled up the river we saw the low shores on either side lined with houses built on high piles, by which they were raised a considerable distance above the ground, some, I should think, fully twenty feet. The only means of entering them was by a ladder, which we found it was the custom of the inhabitants to lift up at night to prevent the intrusion of strangers, but more especially, I should think, of wild beasts. The chief object, however, of their being built in this way is to raise them above the miasma of the marshy ground, which often rises only two or three feet. They were all on one floor, but had numerous partitions or rooms. The roofs, which were covered with palm leaves, projected some distance beyond the walls, so as to form a wide balcony all round. The ground beneath was also in many instances railed in, and thus served for the habitation of ducks, poultry, and cattle.

At the landing-place some way up a number of natives were collected, who received us in a very friendly way. We saw no Dutchmen nor other Europeans. As we could not make ourselves understood by the natives, we were unable to ascertain what had occurred at the other end of the island. The men in the canoes had for clothing only a cloth round their waists, but the people who now received us were habited in a much more complete fashion. They wore the _sarong_, a piece of coloured cloth about eight feet long and four wide, part of which was thrown over the shoulder like a Highlander's plaid, the rest bound round the waist serving as a kilt. They all had on drawers secured by a sash, and several wore a short frock coat with buttons in front, called a _baju_. All had daggers, and several, who were evidently people of some consequence, had two in copper or silver sheaths. The latter had their teeth blackened, which was evidently looked on as a mark of gentility. They also wore turbans, while the lower orders only had little caps on their heads. The watering-place was some little way up the river, and while the mates proceeded there with the boats, I landed at the village or town. I had not proceeded far when I was given to understand that a chief or some person of consequence wished to see me, for the purpose, I supposed, of trading. His habitation was pointed out to me on the summit of some high ground at a distance from the river. It appeared to be far larger than the houses of the village. Without hesitation I set off, followed by Jack, and accompanied by several of my first acquaintance, towards it. I now more than ever regretted having lost O'Carroll, for understanding as he did the languages of the people of the Archipelago, he would greatly have facilitated our proceedings.

The house or palace of the great man was surrounded, as are all the island habitations of every degree which I saw in Java, with gardens. We entered on the north side into a large square court, on either side of which were rows of Indian fig-trees, with two large fig-trees nearly in the centre. Passing through this we found ourselves in a smaller court, surrounded by pillars, and covered in by a light roof. Here most of my companions remained, but I was conducted up a flight of steps to a handsome terrace in front of a building of considerable size, in the centre of which was a spacious hall, the roof richly painted with red and gold. This hall of audience was on the top of the hill; steps from it led down to other houses which composed the dwelling of the chief and his family.

As I looked down from the terrace, I could see the tops of the houses of the poorer class of people, which surrounded the palace of the chief. They were all in the midst of gardens, and had walls round them. I found, indeed, that I was in the centre of a town, or large village, though in coming along I had scarcely seen any habitations, so completely shut in were they by trees and shrubs. I had thus an example of the fertility of Java, and of the industry of its inhabitants. With regard to the habitations of the barbarians whose lands I visited, I must observe that, though there were exceptions to the rule, they were generally far superior in respect to the wants of the occupants than are the dwellings of a large number of the poorer classes in Scotland, and especially in Ireland, and in some districts even in England. They are in good condition, clean, sufficiently furnished, and well ventilated. Granted that the materials of which they are built are cheap, that from the fertility of the land a man by labouring three days in the week can supply all his wants for the remaining four, and has time to repair his house and furniture, and that he has no rates and taxes to pay, still I cannot help believing that there is something wrong somewhere, that God never intended it to be so, and that it is a matter it behoves us to look to more than we have done. Though distance seemed to increase my love for Old England, it did not blind me to her faults, and I often blushed when I found myself among heathen savages, and saw the superiority of some of their ways to ours. These or similar thoughts occupied me while I stood on the terrace gazing on the fine prospect around, and waiting for the appearance of the chief.

After some time the chief appeared at the entrance of the hall of audience, with a gay coloured umbrella borne over his head, a slave carrying the indispensable betel-box by his side, a handsome turban on his head, and his sash stuck full of jewel-hilted daggers with golden scabbards, while all his attendants stood round with their bodies bent forward and their eyes cast to the ground, as a sign of reverence. I thus knew that I was in the presence of a very important person. I was rather puzzled to discover who he took me for, that he treated me with so much state. How we were to understand each other, and I was to ascertain the truth, I could not tell. I think I mentioned that I learned a little Dutch, which I had practised occasionally with Peter Klopps, my old cousin's butler.

I tried the chief with some complimentary phrases in that language, but he shook his head; I then tried him with French. He shook his head still more vehemently, and, from the signs he made, I thought that he was annoyed that I had not brought an interpreter with me. After a time, however, finding that he could get nothing out of me, he said something to one of his attendants, who, raising his hands with his palms closed till his thumbs touched his nose in rather a curious fashion, uttered a few words in reply, and then hurried off by the way I had come. I was after this conducted into the hall, where on a raised platform the chief took his seat, making signs to me to sit near him, his attendants having done the same. Slaves then brought in some basins of water, in one of which the chief washed his hands, I following his example. Trays were then brought in, with meat and rice and fish, and certain vegetables cut up into small fragments. There were no knives, or forks, or spoons. The chief set an example, which I was obliged to follow, of dipping his fingers into the mess before him, and, as it were, clawing up a mouthful and transferring it to his mouth. Had his hands not first been washed, I certainly should not have liked the proceeding, but as I was by this time very hungry, and the dishes were pleasant tasted and well cooked, I did ample justice to the repast.

The chief and his attendants having eaten as much as they well could, my young attendant Jack, who sat somewhat behind me, having done the same, water was again brought in, that everybody might wash their hands.

I heard Jack Nobs in a low tone give rough colloquial expressions of his satisfaction.

"They don't seem much given to talking, though," he added to himself. "I wonder whether it is that they think we don't understand their lingo, or that they don't understand ours; I'll just try them, though."

Whereon in a half whisper he addressed the person sitting next to him, who bowed and salaamed very politely in return, but made no reply.

"What I axes you, mounseer, is, whether you feels comfortable after your dinner," continued Jack, in a loud whisper. "And, I say, will you tell us who the gentleman in the fine clothes is, for I can't make out nohow? Does he know that my master here is a great merchant, and that if he wishes to do a bit of trade, he is the man to do it with him?"

The same dumb show on the part of the Javanese went on as before. Jack's attempt at opening up a conversation was put a stop to by the return of the servant with dishes containing a variety of vegetables and fruits, which were as welcome, probably, to him as to me. One dish contained a sweet potato cooked. It must have weighed from twelve to fifteen pounds. I have heard of one weighing thirty pounds. The natives appeared very fond of it. We had peas and artichokes and a dish of sago, the mode of obtaining which I afterwards saw, and will describe presently. I heard Jack cry out when he saw one of the dishes of fruit. It was, I found, the _durian_, a fruit of which the natives are very fond, and which I got to like, though its peculiarly offensive odour at first gave me a dislike to it. It is nearly of the size of a man's head, and is of a spherical form. It consists of five cells, each containing from one to four large seeds enveloped in a rich white pulp, itself covered with a thin pellicle, which prevents the seed from adhering to it. This pulp is the edible portion of the fruit. However, a dish of _mangostine was more to my taste. It is one of the most exquisite of Indian fruits. It is mildly acid, and has an extreme delicacy of flavour without being luscious or cloying. In external appearance it resembles a ripe pomegranate, but is smaller and more completely globular. A rather tough rind, brown without, and of a deep crimson within, encloses three or four black seeds surrounded by a soft, semi-transparent, snow-white pulp, having occasionally a very slight crimson plush. The pulp is eaten. We had also the well-known Jack-fruit, a great favourite with the natives; and the _champadak_, a much smaller fruit, of more slender form and more oblong shape. It has a slightly farinaceous consistency, and has a very delicate and sweet flavour. I remember several other fruits; indeed, the chief seemed anxious to show to me, a stranger, the various productions of his country. There were mangoes, shaddocks, and pine-apples in profusion, and several other small fruits, some too luscious for my palate, but others having an agreeable sub-acid taste.

We sat and sat on, waiting for the return of the messenger. I observed that whereas a calabash of water stood near the guests, from which they drank sparingly, a jug was placed close to the chief, and that as he continued to sip from it his eyes began to roll and his head to turn from side to side in a curious manner. Suddenly, as if seized with a generous impulse, or rather having overcome a selfish one, he passed the jug with a sigh over to me, and made signs that if I was so inclined I was to drink from it. I did so without hesitation, but my breath was almost taken away. It was the strongest arrack. I could not ascertain how the chief, who was a Mohammedan, could allow himself to do what is so contrary to the law of the prophet. I observed that his attendants looked away when he drank, as they did when I put the cup to my lips; so I conclude that they knew well enough that it was not quite the right thing to do. All the inhabitants of Java are nominally Mohammedans, but, in the interior especially, a number of gross and idolatrous practices are mixed up with the performance of its ceremonies, while the upper orders especially are very lax in their principles. Most of them, in spite of the law of their prophet prohibiting the use of wine and spirits, drink them whenever they can be procured. The rich have as many wives as they can support, but the poor are obliged to content themselves with one. I should say that my host, when I returned him the jar of arrack, deprived of very little of its contents, gave a grunt of satisfaction, from which I inferred that his supply had run short, and that he was thankful that I had not taken more. I kept anxiously waiting all the time for the arrival of an interpreter, for whom I was convinced the chief had sent. After we lost Captain O'Carroll we returned to our original intention of procuring one at Batavia. This must account for my being at present without one. I had come on shore in the hope that I might make myself sufficiently understood to carry on a trade by means of signs, as I knew was often done. As, however, my new friends would not make the attempt to talk by signs or in any other way, I had to wait patiently till somebody should arrive to help us out of our dilemma.

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