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Monday, March 17, 2014

Mrs. R. in Malacca, continued

[August 1800] There was a small party engaged to dine at the castle that evening, where for the first time I saw and wondered at the eastern manners and style of living. The suite of apartments were lofty and spacious, and the table was covered with a profusion of delicate viands; after which, the finest fruits were served, the different names and properties of which were painted out by our kind entertainer. 

Amongst these the mangosteen is, I think, without exception, the most delicious and finest flavoured fruit I ever tasted; it is about he size of an apple; the part to be eaten is enclosed in a thick dark brown rind, and when opened, it shews five or six white jelly-like fibres, resembling the small quarters of an orange. The pine-apples were very large, and well flavoured; we had also mangoes and guavas, with the custard-apple; the latter, about the size of a large orange, with a rough grey coat outside; when ripe it appears to burst the skin, and exhibits a thick cream-coloured substance. It is eaten with a tea-spoon, and the hard black seeds, which it is mixed with, rejected. 

Many persons are extremely partial to this fruit, but I must confess it was no favourite of mine; we also had several kinds of oranges and lichees, originally transplanted from China. The latter is a very delicious fruit, a kind of pulp covered over a hard kernel, and a rough coast formed an exterior covering to the whole, about the size of a walnut. We also had the pumblenose [pomelo], or, as they are called in the West-Indies, chaddock; they are a fine cooling fruit, about the size of a cocoa-nut, and resemble the orange in colour: a still greater variety of others, the names of which I have forgotten.

After dinner the gentlemen joined the ladies at tea in the drawing-room; cards were then introduced, and the evening passed away most pleasantly. My long absence from female society acted as a charm upon my spirits, and made me meet it with a double relish. I was informed at parting with Mrs. T[aylor]. that a horse would be ready for my husband at daylight next morning, and that the colonel would drive me out in his curricle, to see the place before the sun rose too high, as it was only early in the morning that this could be accomplished. I thanked my polite hostess for her information and next morning was ready to attend.

We had a most delightful drive round the environs of the town. Passing the Chinese burial ground, and through the street where these people reside, I was surprised to observe a long chest, finely carved and ornamented, at each door of the Chinese houses. These the colonel told me were their coffins, and that as soon as a China-man saved money enough he then procured a coffin for himself, and generally slept upon the lid. He also informed me that a poor fellow had been lately murdered, while thus asleep upon his coffin, by a mad Malay, who had ran a-much, or, in other words, had lost all his money and other property by gambling, and then given himself up in despair.

The Malays on such occasions often indulge in in an intoxicating drug called bang, mixed with opium, and the operation of which causes raging madness. In this state they determine to stab, with their kresse or dagger (a weapon no Malay is without) every living creature that falls in their way, after first having sacrificed, if possible, the person who had gained their property. The old invented story, however, about the upas-tree being possessed of a gum of a deadly poisonous nature, is nothing else than a scarecrow to keep European nations from smelling out the Dutch spices. It is well known that no grass will grow under the clove-tree, but the Malay kresse may be poisoned in various ways independently of this fictitious gum, the colonel told me that such scenes frequently occurred in the interior of the country; and when known to take place, a high price was offered to the first man who could dispatch the demon, for in this light they certainly deserve to be viewed; but we cannot marvel much at such atrocities taking place amongst these savage people, when, alas! but too many such instances occur amongst our own countrymen, after bad fortune at the gambling-table. There is but little difference (in my humble opinion) between him who shoots his friend in a duel, and afterwards destroys himself, and the mad Malay who runs a-muck, and always ends in self-destruction, if not overtaken.

Before we returned to the castle, the sun became so very warm as to render the shade not a little grateful. We breakfasted at a pleasant retreat on a hill within the boundary of the fort, and from whence we had a fine extensive view of the surrounding country; we commanded also a view of the shipping in the roads, and the lofty mountains on the island of Sumatra. Notwithstanding the proximity to the equator, being in lat. about two deg. north, the verdure and foliage are ever green. 

Near the mount is an old church, which was built by the Portuguese upwards of two centuries ago, and might still be preserved at a small expense. Perhaps, however, the settlement may be given back to our Dutch friends, should a peace take place; in which case they should advance the needful for this purpose, but at present there is really danger, in walking across the slab floor, of the vaults underneath giving way. On these stones are many memorials of Europeans, formerly resident, and whose remains are interred here.

After breakfast we again descended to the castle, but on the way were detained to look at a reservoir of water, which contained many gold and silver fish, which eat from the hand. I felt much indebted to Mrs. T. who took great pains to let me see every thing worth notice within the fort. It will be a matter of regret should they ever demolish the strong walls of this secure retreat; it was frequently, however, the subject of conversation, that orders were expected from home to blow up the works.

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