Puslapio vaizdai

durian has an odor. In deference to passengers who are not durianivorous, Lascars are forbidden to bring the fruit on any tourist steamer. Yet if a stoker in the deepest coal-bunker has broken the rule and smuggled one on board, his brother on the lookout in the crow's-nest will soon know and become envious. With rotten eggs as a basis, if one adds sour milk and lusty Limburger cheese ad lib., an extremely unpleasant mixture may be produced. It quite fails, however, as an adequate simile to durian. The odor and taste of durian are unique, unparalleled, and they did not pass from my mind during my second Malaysian day. I am at a loss to explain why durian is not the favorite food of vultures and the exclusive preoccupation in life of burying beetles.

As thoroughly as my first day in Malaysia had been circumscribed by quarantine and salt-water, so was my second hectored by kindness. Within tantalizing sight of distant jungles, conscious of the calls of strange birds and the scent of wild blossoms, I had perforce to make my manners to courteous officials who, with their wives, left nothing of entertainment undone. Over beautiful roads I was swiftly motored to a most interesting laboratory for the study of tropical disease. Here were yardfuls of most amusinglooking fowls, all apparently in the last stage of intoxication. They staggered about, stepping on their own toes, and looking as mortified as it is possible for hens to look. As a matter of fact, they were temporarily paralyzed by a diet of polished rice. A change to the unhusked rice, rich in phosphorus, would at once restore health. The condition corresponded in all particulars to beriberi, the disease so common among the rice-eating Malays.

From the laboratory I sped through the dust to a wonderful botanical gar

den, one which had been accorded heedful care for many years, with great trees and palms, luxuriant tropical shrubs, and giant Malayan orchids with flower-stalks seven feet in length. Here magpie robins and drongos, ground doves and bulbuls, nested or sang, and here all seemed peaceful. And yet the very sense of undisturbed rest, of balance and permanence, was fraught with a deep sense of unreality. Within a month this entire valley was to be dammed and filled to the brim with reservoir water, and all these lakes and drives, the arbors and elaborate flower-beds, the palms with their birds' nests, and the myriads of other contented homes, would be buried many yards deep in cool, fresh water. The impending doom of all plants and all sedentary animal life was intensely oppressive. It was far more ominous than the presage of a disastrous storm, infinitely more portentous than the approach of a northern winter. To the imagination it was as appalling as the onrush of an overwhelming forest fire.

The only observation which remains in my memory was strange enough to be significant of the abnormal fate of these beautiful gardens. I saw a young duckling killed and partly pulled under, and when I looked carefully into the troubled waters I was astonished to see that the bird had been slain by an insect, one of those great waterbugs which in the States are commonly known as 'electric-light' or 'kissing' bugs. The powerful insect had submarined up and driven its beak deep into the breast of the duckling, which had died after a few futile struggles.

From this valley of the shadow I was hurried on to the usual country club and clock-golf and tea, and then the inevitable formal dinner. Not until the exhausting day was at last at an end did I realize the splendid spirit of hospitality which prompted it, and

I knew that I should duplicate the experience whenever any of these raresouled English folk found their way to New York, around on the opposite side of the planet.

Late in the evening I walked through the native quarter of the town of Kwala Lumpur. Then for the first time I began to appreciate how completely the Chinese are elbowing the Malays to the wall. The latter are excellent syces and grooms, but in all other capacities one thinks only of Mongolians.

Even at this late hour one tiny photographer's shop was open, with the proprietor, a short but clean-limbed young Chinaboy, squatted just within. His eyes were narrowest of slits, his pipe with its microscopic bowl was held lightly between his teeth. He might have been fast asleep. But at the first indication of my hesitancy, of my prospective interest, Chinaboy rose swiftly, his pipe vanished, and his eyes opened to ovals. Smilingly I was wished 'Goodleevling.'


In days to come Chinaboy did work for me and did it well, and I was the richer for knowing him, for watching his quiet assurance, his unassuming dignity. But best of all was his story, which was narrated with insight and imagination by the wife of a government official. It is a tale which is duplicated daily, perhaps hourly, wherever Malay and Chinese come into contact a tale of the quiet usurpation, by thrift and steadiness of purpose, of almost every field of endeavor by these patient Mongolians.

[ocr errors]

Not many months before, in this very street, Anggun Ana, photographer, kept a tiny shop- ugly, untidy, built of rough boards as are most Malay shops, and not particularly cleanly

within. In every way it resembled its owner, except that Anggun Ana was not ugly. A lazy man is always goodnatured, and no good-natured person is really ugly.

On his counter lay an untouched order. It was a hard job of films of assorted sizes, and he did not like it. For two hours Anggun Ana sat in the doorway wondering whether to begin work on them the next morning or the morning after.

'Am velly good Chinaboy,' said a liquid voice in his ear, rousing him from a doze. 'Can dust, sleep floors, eat velly little.' Chinaboy, neatly clad in a faded smock and a braided queue, stood before Anggun Ana and made a low bow, which tickled the pride of the Malay. 'Am velly good boy,' insisted the small Mongolian, explaining that he would work for his rice and a place to sleep.

Anggun Ana considered the applicant with patronizing outward gravity and inward jubilation. After the prolonged haggling which the East demands before the consummation of the smallest bargain, he engaged him at his own terms, one bowl of rice a day, -conveying the impression that he was thereby doing Chinaboy an immeasurable favor. The latter seemed to have no word with which to express his gratitude. Slowly and earnestly, three times, with many bows, he said, 'Muchee 'blige!'

[blocks in formation]

held himself in constant readiness for the opportunity which an optimistic mind always knows is just ahead.

One day, six months later, an Englishman brought in some films - a large order which must be done at once. Anggun Ana had gone to the corner to buy some sweet cakes. The Englishman suggested that Chinaboy go search for his master immediately. But the latter shrugged his shoulders, gathered the films in his apron and said, 'Can do,' with such modesty and assurance that the Englishman agreed to the bargain.

The films and prints were delivered at the hotel two hours before the appointed time, with no mistakes and the work well done. A few more tourists dropped into Anggun Ana's shop in the next two months. Each time the proprietor was out and Chinaboy did the work and kept the money.

Then one night a new little bandbox of a shop budded off from the godown across the street. Chinaboy had graduated from his apprenticeship. He had moved up to the grade of proprietor, as his brightly painted and incorrectly spelled sign indicated. His shop was clean, always clean, and tidy, and orders were executed promptly even when Chinaboy had to work all night to finish them. Into a black lacquer box trickled a thin, yet surely swelling stream of money. On the day the box was filled, Chinaboy walked across the street and bought out Anggun Ana at his own price, just as months before he had bargained to work at his own price. Anggun Ana is now attached to a planter's ménage and sleeps near the horses. Chinaboy has moved down to the corner opposite the hotel and employs three assistants, none of them Malays.

Thus the steady, quiet, unyielding conquest of Malaysia is being carried forward by Chinaboys-first immi

grants, later apprentices, and at last proprietors. They come from an overcrowded, impoverished land which only reluctantly yields its increase. They are trained to industry, tenacity, and thrift. Before their attack the goodnatured, slow-moving, indolent Malay goes down to quiet, certain defeat.

In my short evening's walk I had abundant opportunity to observe the lesser, subtle workings which in due time will effect racial distribution in all the Far East. People were dominant in my mind; the jungle was for the


Three hours of intensive effort the next morning set various people and official departments in motion, perfecting arrangements for the trip into the interior. When I had given it sufficient impetus, I turned the matter over to competent hands, Aladdin's and others, and made my way as speedily as I could to the nearest jungle. I could hope only for a short plunge to-day, and on the advice of a bronzed planter whose love of the wilderness shone in his eyes when I told of my coming trip, I motored out to a bukit, or mountain, in which were some interesting lime

stone caves.

My day with these caves was unforgettable. Gulliver and Alice and Seumas might have accompanied me and would not have been bored, so strange were the great caverns. Even the approach held something of mystery, for while they were etched into the base of a high precipitous mountain, this was invisible until one stood suddenly before it. After passing along roads beaded with thatched coolie huts and little Chinese shops, the purring motor turned into a lane-like path and I drove past all the rubber trees in the world thousands and thousands of them. Like the rows of pulque plants on the Mexican uplands, the trunks of the rubber trees seemed to revolve as I

[blocks in formation]

A stiff climb of a hundred yards brought me to the mouth of the dark cave- a great, gaping, black hole, the edges draped with graceful vines. I entered and, after going a hundred feet, looked back and saw an exquisite bit of the tropical landscape: palms, distant blue mountains, and white clouds framed in the jet-black jagged aperture.

The great height was overwhelming; the graceful, dome-like summit of the cavern stretched up and up into the very vitals of the mountain. Then I plunged into darkness and lighted my electric searchlight, which seemed at first the merest bit of light ray. On and on I went, and at last, far in the distance, perceived a faint glimmer from high overhead. A rustling sound at my feet drew my light downward, and there were untold thousands of great brown cockroaches, all striving to bury themselves out of sight in the soft, sawdust-like flooring, the century-old guano of the bats. I had to go with great care, for huge jagged rocks and deformed stalagmites obstructed the path in every direction.

I reached the rift in the lofty roof, and the glare blinded me for the moment, although it was tempered with a tracery veil of green. I had already begun to adapt myself to the everlasting darkness. At my feet the light fell softened, diluted with a subterranean twilight. In the centre of this part of the cave, directly under the cleft in the roof, was a curious, gigantic stalag

mite, still forming from the constant dripping, two hundred feet overhead -a stalagmite of great size and extreme irregularity. The first casual glance showed it vividly to the eye as two weird, unnamable beasts struggling with each other. No feature or limb was distinct, and yet the suggestiveness of the whole was irresistible. Virile with the strength of a Rodin, the lime-saturated water had splashed it into visibility, depositing the swell of muscles and the tracery of veins through all the passing years, to the musical tapping of the falling drops. And in all the great extent of the passage of the cavern, the statue had been brought into being in the only spot where it would be visible by the light of the outer world. My eyes were probably the first to perceive and appreciate the remarkable resemblance to a work of art carefully planned and elaborately executed by the genius of


For a long time I sat here, finding the odor of the bats less pungent than elsewhere, and here I watched the ghostly creatures dash past. From the inky darkness of some hidden fissure they dropped almost to my face; then, with a whip of their leathery wings, they turned and vanished in the dark cavern ahead. The noise their wings made was incredibly loud; sometimes a purring, as fifty small ones whirred past together; then a sharp singing, and finally an astonishing whistling twang as a single giant bat twisted and flickered on his frightened way.

Another sound was the musical, hollow dripping of slowly falling drops on some thin resonant bit of stone, a metronome marking the passing of inky black hours and years and centuries; for in this cavern there are no days. Every noise I made, whether of voice or footfall, was taken up and magnified and passed upward from ledge to ledge,

until it reached the roof and returned again to me. It was changed, however, wholly altered; for it seemed that no sound of healthy creature could remain pure in this dim, durable dark ness, the sepulchre of unburied bats, the underworld of hateful, bleached things, of sunless, hopeless blackness. The obscurity seemed, by reason of its uninterrupted ages of persistence, to have condensed, the ebony air to have liquefied. There was no twilight of imagination, inspired by knowledge of coming day. Only quiet, eternal night. From the black gulf ahead came, now and then, low distant mumblings, mingled with the shrill squeaks of the bats, and into this vocal void I now plunged, with the searchlight playing at my feet to avoid tripping and falling. I found that I had entered a veritable Dante's Inferno, and pictured to myself some still more dreadful 'round' as presently to open out ahead. The sighing, gibbering, squeaking spirits or devils were there in multitudes, brushing my face or fighting among themselves as they clung to the slippery fissures high, high overhead. More than once my light led me down a small, blind side lane, into which I stumbled as far as possible. At the end of one such corridor was a roundish hole leading irregularly downward, far beyond the rays of my light. Another contracted very slowly, until the damp walls touched my head and sides and I drew nervously back, glad to escape from the sense of suffocation - as if the walls were actually closing about me, inevitably, irrevocably.

[blocks in formation]

had recently fallen, having by some accident broken its shoulder, and lay, like fallen Lucifer, gnashing its teeth and helplessly turning from side to side. More than this, two horrible gnomes fled at my approach - a long, sinuous serpent, white from its generations of life within the cave, and a huge centipede, pale, translucent green, sinister as death itself. I shuddered as I beheld this ghastly tableau, serpent and centipede both emblematic of poisonous death, preparing to feast upon a yet living bat, devil-winged and devil-faced.

The predatory ones escaped me, though I wanted the snake. I put the bat out of his misery, his evil squeaking rage at fate remaining undiminished to the very last breath. On his nose were the great leaves of skin which aided him in dodging the obstacles in his path of darkness gans which must have failed him for a fatal moment.


Farther on I turned sharp corners and wound my path around strange angles, disturbing unending hosts of bats and finding many recently dead, together with unnumbered skeletons half buried in the guano. Now and then a centipede fled from my tiny pencil of light, and once I broke open a nest of stinging ants, blind but ferocious, which attacked me and made me flee for several yards headlong, heedless of bruising, jagged obstacles.

Then my feet sank suddenly in ooze and water, and, flashing the light ahead, I saw it reflected from the ripples of an underground river flowing with no more than a murmur out of one yawning hole into the opposite wall of the cavern, mysterious as the Styx. Beyond this I might not pass. The current was swift and it was far over my depth. I had no wish to be swept deep into the bowels of these mighty Malay mountains, although the Nibe

« AnkstesnisTęsti »