Every Day Life on a Ceylon Cocoa Estate

by Mary E. Steuart
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OCTOBER 28th. - The great event has at last come. This afternoon we have had a perfect deluge of rain, making me feel glad I got home before the burst, for our roads cut up very fast, which makes it heavy work for my little hackery bull; also the contents of a box carried on a man's head through pouring rain would not afterwards present the smartest of appearances. It is curious that at two places not more than thirty-five miles apart, there should have been a difference of five days in the date of the burst of the N.E. monsoon. Probably, it may be accounted for by there being a high range of mountains between the two districts.

NOVEMBER 4th. - The weather is now delightfully cool. Owing to the morning mist, we have had to give up having our early tea in the verandah, and instead take it by lamplight in the dining-room! It is only just light at muster time (5.30 a.m.) The days are perceptibly shorter, it being almost dark at six o'clock in the evening. Life would be very pleasant were it not that the insects seem to be having a perfect saturnalia. From the crickets, who chirp all night as loudly as birds do in the English springtime, down to the tiniest eyefly, all gradations put in an appearance. There are myriads of flies of sorts, and millions of ants, red, black and white. Whole flights of winged ants, who, poor, foolish creatures, cast their wings, and then quickly die. The roads are covered with these long wings, looking like the petals of strange flowers; here and there one passes a tree, a perfect hecatomb of wings at its foot, as if in their blind rush the battalions had hurled themselves against the trunk and come to terrible slaughter.

We find the best trap for flies is a saucer of soap-suds, such as children delight in preparing for bubbles. The "Poochees" (Tamil word for all noxious insects) are attracted to it, thinking it some delicate sweet, and are then caught and stifled in the network of bubbles. I have bought fly-papers, but found them useless. I suppose the sea air had affected them, and made the poison evaporate. Amongst insect pests, I do not see the green fly which plays such havoc with English roses. Our roses are now in perfection. We have bushes a perfect sheet of delicate yellow, and many pale blush kinds, which look cool and refreshing. La France, Baroness Rothschild, Captain Christie and Marshal Neil do remarkably well, and so does Gloire de Dijon, but I notice that all the Gloires I have seen in Ceylon have a pinker tinge than I am accustomed to. I miss the richness of the yellower tint. We have a small bright pink Japanese polyanthus rose, which is very effective; the bush is a perfect sheet of pink clusters, each individual flower being about the size of a sixpence. We have in blossom gardenia - double and single - stephanotis, and Cape jessamine, the scent almost too overpowering; also several kinds of hibiscus, lilies, balsams, white and pink cannas, and dahlias, which, with different coloured crotons and Japanese palms, make up quite a gay garden. I have sown some English flower seeds to come later, Phlox Drummondi, mallow, and sweet- williams. Our neighbours have geraniums and petunias, but they and I have failed to grow Shirley or Iceland poppies; and mignonette does not flourish: it develops into long straggling plants with attenuated flowers.

Our little society has had a great addition lately in the persons of a planter and his wife who have just returned from a well-earned holiday in England. They are most hospitable people, and at once hastened to resume their "at home day." The M.'s also receive one day in the week, so we have two pleasant meeting-places where the neighbours assemble as early in the afternoon as work will allow, for tea, tennis, croquet and golf. These little breaks in the usual monotony are much appreciated, and although of necessity the same people meet over and over again, we are all good friends, we do not see enough of each other to get wearied, and an occasional visitor from Kandy gives the sauce of novelty.

NOVEMBER 9th. - The store becomes more and more interesting. It is at present full to overflowing with 2000 bushels of coffee from P---, and quantities of cocoa. Last week the coffee cherry came in so fast that the coolies had to work night and day, in relays, to get it pulped sufficiently quickly, to prevent its losing the beautiful light colour from which the best grade takes its name of parchment coffee. It is really a wonderful sight to see four large rooms heaped with piles of coffee only waiting to be put into sacks and despatched. Such a crop has not been known on this group of Estates for twenty years. It will go far to make up for any deficiency that may be caused by the late outbreak of disease amongst the cocoa.

NOVEMBER 25th. - Since I last wrote Teevali has come and gone. The Tamils have two great Festivals, Thai Pongal in January and Teevali in November, the date of both varies slightly as it depends upon astronomical data. But this year Teevali was kept on November 12th and 13th, which with Sunday 14th gave a three days' holiday. It would be difficult to say whether coolies or Superintendents enjoy it most. The coolies have a big "Saami" and a great feast, and I am sorry to say consume a considerable amount of arrack. The Superintendents usually take advantage of no work to get leave to go away for a few days. Rob went up to the Rangalla hills, where a most successful tennis tournament had been organised. I meanwhile accompanied a friend on a delightful trip to Colombo.

We stayed at the Galle Face Hotel situated quite away from the noise and bustle of the town, on the very brink of the sea. It is in every way a most luxurious place to sojourn in. I perfectly revelled at night in lying with my windows wide open - the health-giving sea breeze blowing in my face, and the splash of the waves lulling me to sleep. At this time of the year great care is always taken to select rooms facing the sea, for a deadly wind, called locally the "land wind," is very apt to blow off the shore across the low lying swampy ground at the back of Colombo, bringing in its train fever and much sickness. People speak of a person having a "touch of the land wind," as if it were a distinct and fully recognised disease.

Colombo is often called the "Clapham Junction of the World," so many ocean routes here converge, and at the innumerable small tables in the huge white dining saloon of the Galle Face Hotel, may be seen at one time passengers from England, France, and Germany, India, China, the Straits, Burmah, and Australia and New Zealand. Whilst I was staying there one of the Japanese passenger line steamers came in. The next table to us was occupied by a Japanese lady and two gentlemen, all in European dress, but their Japanese servant waited on them in most gorgeous attire, a mixture of silk and gold embroidery impossible to describe.

Colombo itself is full of interest with its shops of native jewellery and all the products of the East, in the shape of rich stuffs, and embroideries, china, carved woods, tortoiseshell, silver, lace, and in fact every sort of novelty to tempt the Western eye, and to open the Western purse. It has also a museum, fine harbour works, and there are many lovely drives in the suburbs.

I returned home to find that the excellent young servant, whom I have previously mentioned, had been the victim of a bad attack of malarial fever, and was quite incapacitated for work. We had the doctor, and set ourselves to follow his directions to nurse the boy back to health and strength. Thinking that the nourishing food we could give him would accomplish that object more quickly, than if we sent him back to take his share in his father's hut with eight brothers and sisters; however, his father thought otherwise, and I copy his letter on the subject, as being a very good example of the way in which natives express themselves. It begins:-

"Most respected Lady,

"I most humbly beg leave to inform your ladyship that I am very grateful to your ladyship for the kindness shown towards my humble self and my poor son, your ladyship's humble and dutiful servant. It is with deep regret that myself and my poor family feel very much the absence of my sick child, who I doubt not will soon come to himself under your ladyship's tender care; but our tender feelings and affection towards this sick child who is out of our sight are really made trying and almost unbearable. I therefore beg with due deference and submission that your ladyship out of goodness be graciously pleased to suffer my child to come to me, and I will send him back if it pleases your ladyship after he has recovered, or I would prefer if it so please your ladyship to pay him off for the benefit of his health, which is the only thing we have to look for to get on earning.

"Trusting that your ladyship will be pleased to grant my humble request and in anticipation therewith send bearer my mother (N.B. really his wife) to accompany or rather bring the boy with her, which act of kindness shall with the sincerest gratitude be ever remembered by

"Your ladyship's most humble and dutiful servant, C A--- - Appoo"

Needless to say I paid the boy off, though I don't think he was himself anxious to go, and I shall miss his refined ways and his good English for a long time to come.

Whilst on this subject of native letters, I must copy one more. It was received by a friend of mine who had checked several overcharged items in her beef book. I give it verbatim excepting that I have altered the names, that my friend may not be identified:-

"Respected Madam,

"We beg to inform your madamship that you might have seen our letter of date regarding the alterations which were made in the beef book.

"Yet it seems to us that your madamship going as usual in altering the prices of article thereby.

"We beg your madamship to draw your special attention to the fact that we are supplying you with the best of articles as well as with the cheapest price possible.

"The above mentioned fact your madamship can easily understand if your madamship were to refer to price lists of Messrs. F. & Co. and Messrs. M. & Co.

"Please note that we are charging the articles according to our price-list and nothing more.

"Therefore under these circumstances that your madamship will be very much pleased in not altering the prices in the beef book in future, if such being the case we shall be a great loser thereby, please note the above

"Yours faithfully, A. B. C. Nagoor & Co."

This matter of the beef book keeps the Ceylon housekeeper always in good fighting trim. The beef man sends a list of his prices to which for a time he adheres, but by degrees he begins his system of extortion. A cent here and two cents there are added on, and a few lbs of meat more than you ordered are popped into the bill. These, if you are wise, you promptly repudiate, and write scathing remarks in your beef book (this part of the business I leave to Rob), the beef man then amends his ways and for a time all things go smoothly, until he thinks you have forgotten, and your suspicions are lulled to sleep, then once more prices go up, and the quality of the meat goes down, and the same old game of extortion and remonstrance begins again, until your patience is weaned out, and you leave him for someone else, probably only to find that your last case is worse than your first. When I first came out I was rather surprised to find how much the young men knew about the prices of household goods, but I now understand how a long course of trying to outwit the beef man, it keeps them quite au fait with the current price of all they require.

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