Fragrance in Travel Literature-Foot-prints of Travel, by Maturin M. Ballou

Foot-prints of Travel, by Maturin M. Ballou

On approaching the Hawaiian group from the north, the first land which is sighted is the island of Oahu, and soon after we pass along the windward shores of Maui and Molokai, doubling the lofty promontory of Diamond Head, which rears its precipitous front seven hundred feet above[Pg 14] the sea. We arrive at the dawn of day, while the rising sun beautifies the mountain tops, the green slopes, the gulches, and fern-clad hills, which here and there sparkle with silvery streamlets. The gentle morning breeze blowing off the land brings us the dewy fragrance of the flowers, which has been distilled from a wilderness of tropical bloom during the night. The land forms a shelter for our vessel, and we glide noiselessly over a perfectly calm sea. As we draw nearer to the shore, sugar plantations, cocoanut groves, and verdant pastures come clearly into view. Here and there the shore is dotted with the low, primitive dwellings of the natives, and occasionally we see picturesque, vine-clad cottages of American or European residents. Approaching still nearer to the city of Honolulu, it seems to be half-buried in a cloud of luxuriant foliage, while a broad and beautiful valley stretches away from the town far back among the lofty hills.

It will be observed that the women ride man-fashion here,—that is, astride of their horses,—and there is a good reason for this. Even European and American ladies who become residents also adopt this mode of riding, because side-saddles are not considered to be safe on the steep mountain roads. If one rides in any direction here, mountains must be crossed. The native women deck themselves in an extraordinary manner with flowers on all gala occasions, while the men wear wreaths of the same about their straw hats, often adding braids of laurel leaves across the shoulders and chest. The white blossoms of the jasmine, fragrant as tuberoses, which they much resemble, are generally employed for this decorative purpose. As a people the Hawaiians are very courteous and respectful,[Pg 18] rarely failing to greet all passing strangers with a softly articulated "alo-ha," which signifies "my love to you."

There is no winter or autumn here, no sere and yellow leaf period, but seemingly a perpetual spring, with a temperature almost unvarying; new leaves always swelling[Pg 40] from the bud, flowers always in bloom, the sun rising and setting within five minutes of six o'clock during the entire year. Singapore enjoys a soft breeze most of the day from across the Bay of Bengal, laden with fragrant sweetness from the spice-fields of Ceylon.

A two days' sail through waters which seem at night like a sea of phosphorescence, every ripple producing flashes of light, will take us to the island of Penang, the most northerly port of the Straits. It resembles Singapore in its people, vegetation, and climate, enjoying one long, unvarying summer. While the birds and butterflies are in perfect harmony with the loveliness of nature, while the flowers are glorious in beauty and in fragrance, man alone seems out of place in this region.

It will be remembered that to this island England banished Arabi Pacha after the sanguinary battlefield of Tel-el-Keber. It is one of the most interesting spots in the East, having been in its prime centuries before the birth of Christ. It was perhaps the Ophir of the Hebrews,[Pg 46] and it still abounds in precious stones and mineral wealth. Here we observe the native women strangely decked with cheap jewelry thrust through the tops and lobes of their ears, in their lips and nostrils, while about their necks hang ornaments consisting of bright sea-shells, mingled with sharks' teeth. If we go into the jungle, we find plenty of ebony, satin-wood, bamboo, fragrant balsam, and india-rubber trees; we see the shady pools covered with the lotus of fable and poetry, resembling huge pond-lilies; we behold brilliant flowers growing in tall trees, and others, very sweet and lowly, blooming beneath our feet. Vivid colors flash before our eyes, caused by the blue, yellow, and scarlet plumage of the feathered tribe. Parrots and paroquets are seen in hundreds. Storks, ibises, and herons fly lazily over the lagoons, and the gorgeous peacock is seen in his wild condition.

Tasmania is largely occupied for sheep-runs and wool-raising. The eastern side of the island is studded with lovely homesteads carefully fenced, the grounds about the residences being covered with fruit trees and flower plats. There does not appear to be any waste land, all is carefully improved in the peopled districts. The roads are often lined with thrifty hedges, symmetrically trimmed, frequently consisting of the brilliant, constant flowering, fragrant yellow gorse, and sometimes of the stocky species of scarlet geranium. This sort is not fragrant but becomes very thick by being cut partly down annually, until it makes an almost impenetrable hedge. Prosperity and good taste are everywhere noticeable, amid a succession of landscapes like those of the populous New England States.

The last part of this brief journey, that from Oxford to Ohinemutu, takes us through one of the grandest forests[Pg 99] in all New Zealand, extending eighteen or twenty miles, with scarcely a human habitation or sign of life, save the cabin where we change horses, and the occasional flutter of a bird. In this forest, mingled with tall columnar trees of various species, are seen frequent examples of the fern-tree thirty feet in height, and of surpassing beauty, spreading out their plumed summits like Egyptian palms, while the stems have the graceful inclination of the cocoanut-tree. The picturesque effect of the birches is remarkable, flanked by the massive outlines and drooping tassels of the rimu. For miles of the way on either side of the narrow road the forest is impenetrable even to the eye, save for the shortest distances, presenting a tangled mass of foliage, vines, and branches such as can be matched only by the virgin forests of Brazil, or the dangerous jungles of India. Ground ferns are observed in infinite variety, sometimes of a silvery texture, sometimes of orange-yellow, but oftenest of the various shades of green. Here, too, we make acquaintance with the sweet-scented manuaka, the fragrant veronica, and the glossy-leaved karaka; this last is the pride of the Maoris.

A journey of nine hundred miles, still over these broad plains of India, will bring us to the city of Agra, which, like Delhi, stands not on the Ganges, but on its great tributary, the Jumna. It is an important city, containing over forty thousand inhabitants. To all who visit this place the first object of interest will be the Taj (pronounced Tahj) Mahal, or tomb of the wife of the Emperor Shah-Jehan. It is the most interesting edifice in India and one of the most beautiful in the world. A tomb in this country means a magnificent structure of marble, with domes and minarets, the walls inlaid with precious stones, and the whole surrounded by gardens, fountains, and artificial lakes, covering from ten to twenty acres. Cheap as labor is in India, the Taj must have cost some fifteen millions of dollars, and was seventeen years in building. The Mogul Emperor resolved to erect the most superb monument ever reared to commemorate a woman's name, and he succeeded, for herein Mohammedan architecture reached its height. The mausoleum is situated in a spacious garden, the equal of which can hardly be found elsewhere, beautiful to the eye and delightful to the senses, with fragrant flowers, exotic and indigenous. This grand structure, with the ripeness of centuries upon it, is no ruin; all is fragrant and fresh as at the hour when it was completed. It is of white marble, three hundred feet in height, the principal dome being eighty feet high, and of such exquisite form and harmony is the whole that it seems almost to float in the air.

Arrived at the famous Rock, we are at once impressed upon landing with its military importance. Every other person one meets is in uniform, and cannon are as plenty as at Woolwich or West Point. The Signal Station is fifteen hundred feet in height. The zigzag path leading to the summit is lined with wild-flowers, though we come[Pg 140] now and again upon embrasures, whence protrude grim-muzzled guns. Further up we stoop to gather some daphnes and disclose a battery screened by fragrant and blooming flowers. From the top the view is magnificent; the white wings of commerce which sprinkle the sea look like sea-gulls, and steamships are only discernible by the long line of smoke trailing behind them. Far below us, on the Spanish side, lies the town, a thick mass of yellow, white, and brown houses; and nestling in the bay is the shipping, looking like toy-boats. The mountain ranges of Ceuta and Andalusia, on opposite continents, mingle with soft, over-shadowing clouds, while over our heads is a glorious dome of turquoise blue, such as no temple raised by the hand of man can imitate.

Granada is situated about seventy miles north of Malaga, where set the sun of Moorish glory, but where still exists that embodiment of romance, the Alhambra. This palace-fortress is the one attraction of the district. It is difficult to realize that the Moors possessed such architectural skill, and that they produced such splendid palaces centuries ago. It is also quite as remarkable that Time, the great destroyer, should have spared for our admiration such minute, lace-like carvings, and such brilliant mosaics. The marvel of the architecture is its perfect harmony; there[Pg 147] are no jarring elements in this superb structure, no false notes in the grand anthem which it articulates. In visiting the Alhambra one must be assisted by both history and the imagination; he must know something of the people who built and beautified it; he must be able to summon back the brave warriors and beautiful ladies from the dim past to people again these glorious halls. He must call to life the orange, the myrtle, and the myriads of fragrant flowers that bloomed of old in these now silent marble courts. As we pass from one section to another, from hall to hall, chamber to chamber, lingering with busy thoughts amid the faded glory, the very atmosphere teems with historical reminiscences of that most romantic period, the mediæval days, when the Moors held regal court in Andalusia. A lurking sympathy steals over us for that exiled people who could create and give life to such a terrestrial paradise.

The gayly dressed flower-girls, with dainty little baskets rich in color and captivating in fragrance, press button-hole bouquets on the pedestrians, while men perambulate the streets with cakes and candies displayed in open wooden boxes hung about their necks. In short, Sunday is made a holiday, when grandees and beggars come forth like marching regiments into the Puerto del Sol. The Prado and public gardens are crowded with gayly dressed people, children, and nurses, the costumes of the latter being of the most theatrical character. No one who can walk stays within doors on Sunday at Madrid.

The distance from Bordeaux to Paris is about four hundred miles. The route passes all the way through a charming and highly cultivated country. The well-prepared fields are green with varied crops, showing a high state of cultivation. Flocks of sheep, tended by shepherdesses with tall Norman caps of white linen and picturesque bright colored dresses, enliven the landscape. These industrious women are seen knitting as they watch their charge. Others are driving oxen while men hold the plow. Gangs of men and women together in long rows are preparing the ground for the seed, and all seem cheerful and happy. The small railroad stations recall those of India between Tuticorin and Madras, where the surroundings are beautified by fragrant flower-gardens, their bland, odorous breath acting like a charm upon the senses amid the noise and bustle of arrival and departure. Now and again as we progress the pointed architecture of some picturesque château presents itself among the clustering trees, with its bright verdant lawn and neat outlying buildings, and so we speed swiftly on until by and by we glide into the large station at Paris.

The flower market of this large capital is ever [Pg 167]suggestive and interesting. The women, of all ages, who bring these floral gems to the city, exhibit a taste in their arrangement which would be of value to a professional artist. One may detect a living poem in each little department. The principal square devoted to this purpose is situated just over the Pont Neuf and borders the Seine. The market is changed so as to be held for two days of each week under the shadow of the Madeleine, in the Place de la Madeleine, the noblest of modern Christian temples in its chaste architecture. As we come down from the Rue Scribe, in the early part of the day, we see vehicles, with liveried attendants, pause while the fair occupants purchase a cluster of favorite flowers; dainty beauties on foot come hither to go away laden with fragrant gems, while well-dressed men deck their buttonholes with a bit of color and fragrance combined. Here is a white-frocked butcher selecting a full-blown pot of pansies, and here a sad-faced woman, in widow's weeds, takes away a wreath of immortelles—to-night it will deck a tomb in the cemetery of Père la Chaise. This giddy and nervous fellow, who is full of smiles, takes away a wedding wreath—price is no object to him. Yonder is a pale-faced shop-girl—what sunny yet half-sad features she has! She must perhaps forego her dinner in order to possess that pot of mignonette, but she trips lightly away with it in a happy mood.

Monte Carlo, the headquarters of the gambling fraternity, lies within a mile of the palace on the shore line. The beautiful spot where the "Casino" (gambling saloon) is situated is one of the most picturesque which can be conceived of, overlooking from a considerable height the Mediterranean Sea. To the extraordinary beauties accorded by nature man has added his best efforts, lavishing money to produce unequalled attractions. There is here an elegant hotel, brilliant café, attractive saloons, delightful[Pg 177] gardens, floral bowers, shooting-galleries, in short, nearly every possible device to fascinate and occupy the visitor. The roads over which we drive in this vicinity are full of interest, besides the delightful views which greet us on every hand. Wayside shrines to the Virgin are seen at every cross-road, and upon every hillside we meet scores of priests; the little church-bells are ringing incessantly; the roads are thronged with beggars; the beautiful-faced but ragged children attract us by their bright eyes and dark complexions, just touched with a soft rose-tint. We are surprised at the multiplicity of donkeys, their bodies hidden by big loads of merchandise; we observe with interest those handsome milk-white oxen, with wide-spreading horns; we inhale the fragrance of the orange groves, and remember that we are in Italy.

The common people of Florence seem actuated by a universal spirit of industry; and as to beggars, we see none upon its streets—a fact worthy of note in Italy. The women fruit-dealers on the corners of the streets are busy with their needles, while awaiting customers; the flower-girls are equally industrious, sitting beside their fragrant wares; the girl who opens the gate for us and guides us to the tombs of Mrs. Browning and Theodore Parker, in the city burial grounds, knits steadily as she walks. The public park is called the Cascine, and lies along the banks of the Arno; in some respects it is more attractive than most of such resorts in Europe, being finely wooded, and consequently presenting shady drives, and quiet rural retreats for pedestrians. It is the favorite resort of all classes who have leisure in the after part of the day, and is enlivened three or four times each week by the presence of a military band, which discourses the choicest music to ears ever ready for this sort of entertainment: no people are more fond of music than the Italians.

The flowers of the torrid and temperate zones, as a rule, close their eyes like human beings, and sleep a third or half of the twenty-four hours, but in Arctic regions, life to those lovely children of Nature is one long sunny period, and sleep comes only with death and decay. It will also be observed that the flowers assume more vivid colors and emit more fragrance during their brief lives than they do in the south. The long, delightful period of twilight during the summer season is seen here in perfection, full of roseate loveliness. There is no dew to be encountered or avoided, no dampness; all is crystal clearness.

The short-lived summer perhaps makes flowers all the more carefully tended. In the rudest domestic quarters a few pet plants are seen whose arrangement and nurture show womanly care. Every window in the humble dwellings has its living screen of drooping, many-colored fuchsias, geraniums, forget-me-nots, and monthly roses. The ivy is especially prized here, and is picturesquely trained to hang about the window-frames. The fragrant sweet-pea, with its snow-white and peach-blossom hues, is often mingled prettily with the dark green of the ivy, the climbing propensities of each making them fitting mates. Surely there must be an innate sense of refinement among the people of these frost-imbued regions, whatever their seeming, when they are actuated by such delicate tastes.

San Salvador is sighted on our starboard bow (right-hand side), the spot where Columbus first landed in the New World. It will be found laid down on most English maps as Cat Island, and is now the home of two or three thousand colored people, the descendants of imported Africans. The island is nearly as large as New Providence. It is said that the oranges grown here are the sweetest and best that are known. The voyager in these latitudes is constantly saluted by gentle breezes full of tropical fragrance, intensified in[Pg 339] effect by the distant view of cocoanut, palmetto, and banana trees, clothing the islands in a mantle of green, down to the very water's edge. As we glide along, gazing shoreward, now and again little groups of swallows seem to be flitting a few feet above the waves, then suddenly disappearing beneath the water. These are flying-fish enjoying an air-bath, either in frolic or in fear; pursued possibly by some dreaded enemy in the sea, which they are trying to escape.

The winding channel which leads from the sea to the harbor passes through low hills and broad meadows covered with rank verdure, cocoanut groves, and fishing hamlets. Thrifty palms and intensely green bananas line the way, with here and there upon the pleasant banks a charming country-house in the midst of a garden fragrant with flowers. So close is the shore all the while that one seems to be navigating upon the land, gliding among trees[Pg 342] and over greensward rather than upon blue water. Steaming slowly up the Santiago River, we presently pass a sharp angle of the hills, leading into a broad sheltered bay, upon whose banks stands the rambling old city of Santiago de Cuba, built on a hillside like Tangier, in Africa, and it is almost as Oriental as the capital of Morocco. The first and most conspicuous objects to meet the eye are the twin towers of the ancient cathedral, which have withstood so many earthquakes.

The delightful climate is exemplified by the abundance and variety of fruits and flowers. Let us visit a private garden in the environs of the city. Here the mango with its peach-like foliage is found, bending to the ground with the weight of its ripening fruit; the alligator-pear is wonderfully beautiful in its blossom, suggesting in form and[Pg 345] color the passion-flower; the soft, delicate foliage of the tamarind is like our sensitive plant; the banana-trees are in full bearing, the deep green fruit (it is ripened and turns yellow off the tree), being in clusters of nearly a hundred, tipped at the same time by a single, pendent, glutinous bud nearly as large as a pineapple. Here we see also the star-apple-tree, remarkable for its uniform and graceful shape, full of green fruit, with here and there a ripening specimen. The zapota, in its rusty coat, hangs in tempting abundance. From low, broad-spreading trees hangs the grape fruit, as large as a baby's head and yellow as gold; while the orange and lemon trees, bearing blossoms, and green and ripening fruit all together, serve to charm the eye and to fill the garden with rich fragrance.

The flowers were strongly individualized. The frangipanni, tall, and almost leafless, with thick, flesh-like shoots, and decked with a small, white blossom, was fragrant and abundant. Here, also, was the wild passion-flower, in which the Spaniards thought they beheld the emblem of our Saviour's passion. The golden-hued peta was found beside the myriad-flowering oleander and the night-blooming cereus, while the luxuriant undergrowth was braided with the cactus and the aloe. They were also delighted by tropical fruits in confusing variety, of which they knew not even the names.

This was four hundred years ago, and to-day the same flowers and the same luscious fruits grow upon the soil in similar abundance. Nature in this land of endless summer puts forth strange eagerness, ever running to fruits, flowers, and fragrance, as if they were outlets for her exuberant fancy.

It seems unreasonable that, when the generous, fruitful soil of Cuba is capable of producing two or three crops of vegetation annually, the agricultural interests of the island should be so poorly developed. Thousands of acres of virgin soil have never been broken. Cuba is capable of supporting a population of almost any density; certainly[Pg 359] five or six millions of people might find goodly homes here, and yet the largest estimate of the present number of inhabitants gives only a million and a half. When we tread the fertile soil and behold the clustering fruits in such abundance,—the citron, the star-apple, the perfumed pineapple, the luscious banana, and others,—not forgetting the various noble woods which caused Columbus to exclaim with pleasure, we are forcibly struck with the thought of how much nature, and how little man, has done for this "Eden of the Gulf." We long to see it peopled by those who can appreciate the gifts of Providence,—men willing to do their part in grateful recognition of the possibilities so liberally bestowed by Heaven.

There is here a fine specimen of the Australian musk-tree, which attains a height of nearly twenty feet, and exhales from leaf and bark a peculiar sweet odor, though not at all like what its name indicates. Here we see also the she-oak-tree, which is said to emit a curious wailing sound during the quietest state of the atmosphere, when there is not a breath of wind to move the branches or the leaves. This tree is found growing near the sea in Australia, and is said to have borrowed the murmur of the conch-shell. It has proved to be the inspiring theme of many a local poet. The flowers in this garden are as attractive as the trees; fuchsias, roses, and camellias are in great perfection and variety, flanked by a species of double pansies and a whole army of brilliant tulips. Flowers bloom in every month of the year in this region, out of doors, and are rarely troubled by the frost.

While we are approaching Cairo, and are yet two or three leagues away, the dim outlines of the everlasting pyramids are seen through the shimmering haze, softly outlined against the evening sky. It is impossible not to recall the words of the Humpback, in the Thousand and One Nights, as we see the pyramids and glistening minarets of the Oriental city coming into view; "He who hath not seen Cairo hath not seen the world; its soil is golden; its Nile is a wonder; its women are like the black-eyed virgins of Paradise; its houses are palaces; and its air is soft,—its odor surpassing that of aloes-wood and cheering the heart,—and how can Cairo be otherwise, when it is the Mother of the world?"

The bazaars present a novel aspect. Here an old bearded Turk offers for sale odors, curious pastes and essences, with kohl for shading about the eyes, and henna dye for the fingers. Another has various ornaments of sandal wood, delicately wrought fans, and other trifles. His next-door neighbor, whose quarters are only a degree more dingy, offers pipes, curiously made, with carved amber mouthpieces, and others with long, flexible, silken tubes. Turbaned crowds stroll leisurely about. Now a strong and wiry Bedouin passes, leading his horse and taking count of everything with his sharp, black eyes, and now a Nile boatman. Yonder is an Abyssinian slave, and beyond is an Egyptian trader, with here and there a Greek or a Maltese. Amid it all one feels curious as to where Aladdin's uncle may be just now, with his new lamps to exchange for old ones. We will ascend the loftiest point of this Arabian city to obtain a more comprehensive view.

here is an abundance of iron and copper from the Urals, dried fish in tall piles from the Caspian, tea from China, cotton from India, silk and rugs from Persia, heavy furs and sables from Siberia, wool in the raw state from Cashmere, together with the varied products of the trans-Caucasian provinces, even including droves of wild horses. Fancy goods are here displayed from England as well as from Paris and Vienna, toys from Nuremberg, ornaments of jade and lapis-lazuli from Kashgar, precious stones from Ceylon, and gems from pearl-producing Penang. Variety, indeed! Then what a conglomerate of odors permeates everything,—boiled cabbage, coffee, tea, and tanned leather,—dominated by the all-pervading musk; but all this is quite in consonance with the queer surroundings which meet the eye, where everything presents itself through an Oriental haze.

Hong Kong is an island nearly forty miles in circumference, consisting of a cluster of hills rising almost to the dignity of mountains. The gray granite of which the island is mostly composed, furnishes an excellent material for building purposes, and is largely employed for that object, affording a good opportunity for architectural display. A trip of a hundred miles up the Pearl River takes us to Canton, strangest of strange cities. It has a population of a million and a half, and yet there is not a street of over ten feet in width within the walls, horses and wheeled vehicles being unknown. The city extends a[Pg 35] distance of five miles along the river, and a hundred thousand people live in boats. At the corners of the streets, niches in the walls of the houses contain idols, before which incense is constantly burning day and night.

The areca-palm, known as the Penang-tree, is the source of the betel-nut, which is chewed by the natives as a stimulant; and as it abounds on the island, it has given it the name it bears. The town covers about a square mile, through which runs one broad, main street, intersected by lesser thoroughfares at right angles. A drive about the place gives us an idea that it is a thrifty town, but not[Pg 42] nearly so populous as Singapore. It is also observable that the Chinese element predominates here. The main street is lined by shops kept by them. The front of the dwellings being open, gives the passer-by a full view of all that may be going on inside the household. Shrines are nearly always seen in some nook or corner, before which incense is burning, this shrine-room evidently being also the sleeping, eating, and living room.

As we view the scene, Military Mass begins. The congregation is very small, consisting almost exclusively of women, who seem to do penance for both sexes in Cuba. The military band, which leads the column of infantry, marches, playing an operatic air, while turning one side for the soldiery to pass on towards the altar. The time-keeping steps of the men upon the marble floor mingle with drum, fife, and organ. Over all, one catches now and then the subdued voice of the priest, reciting his prescribed part at the altar, where he kneels and reads alternately. The boys in white gowns busily swing incense vessels; the tall, flaring candles cast long shadows athwart the high altar; the files of soldiers kneel and rise at the tap of the drum; seen through an atmosphere clouded by the fumes of burning incense, all this combines to make up a picture which is sure to forcibly impress itself upon the memory.