World Travel - The Hottest Town in the World
( Originally Published 1903 )
WHEN the boys finally reached the town of Aden we found it to be a dirty, but decidedly interesting place. The people seemed to be the poorest of the poor, and considering the country in which they live, it isn't surprising that they haven't been able to accumulate a great deal of this world's goods. There was scarcely any green thing to be seen in the neighborhood, and what few trees there were had been planted in made land. It was impossible to buy fresh fruit. We went into a store and asked for pineapples, supposing, of course, they could be had in the green state, but the man offered us the canned variety, which we declined with thanks. We told him we could get canned pineapple at home. After we had been about some, we all agreed that we would rather live almost anywhere than in Aden, with its dirt and heat and wretched native population. The town is said to be the hottest in the world, and there is so little rain that the government had to devise a system of condensing the sea-water in order to furnish sufficient for drinking purposes.
We purchased a copy of an English newspaper which is published at Steamer Point, and one of the first things Kenneth read to us was an account of the terrible heat they were having in New York and Philadelphia. It gave the number of people who were dead, and after reading this we ceased to commiserate ourselves for being in Aden. " I guess we're no worse off than we'd be at home," said Timmie, " and we see so many interesting sights that we can sometimes forget the heat out here, while in New York we'd think of nothing else."
The Hottest City in the World
The Jewish shops in Aden contained many beautiful silks and embroideries, and we were tempted to buy them to take home with us. We resisted this inclination, however, and, contented ourselves with the purchase of some Jewish caps, which were wonderfully made, and seemed to embrace every color known. We also bought some silk vests such as the Arabs wear, and when we paraded the streets wearing the caps and waistcoats, the natives lined up to look at us. The people from the transport laughed when they passed us by, and no doubt they envied us our freedom to do as we pleased, without regard to appearances.
The purchase which I prized most was a queer-looking musical instrument which the natives called a domboura. We were going along a street and heard the monotonous tones which pass for music in the Orient. There was a crowd of natives gathered round an old man, who was picking a two-stringed instrument constructed on the order of an American banjo. It was much larger, and instead of thin sheepskin the rudely-carved bowl was covered with a piece of camel's hide, with some of the hair still intact. It looked as if it might have existed before the flood, and when I spied it first, I said to the boys, " There is the original banjo of the world." The old man picked one string and then the other, and the natives appeared to enjoy the sound. We watched them for awhile, and then I asked the player if he would care to sell the domboura, as he called it. He replied by asking a ridiculous sum, and I told him that I would give him one rupee, which is about sixty cents in American money. He pre-tended to be horrified at an offer so low, but before many minutes passed he agreed to take the money, and gave me the instrument. The natives laughed when they saw me carrying it through the street. I suppose they thought I couldn't play it, but I'm sure I can still get as much music out of it as that old man was able to make. When I reached the transport with my purchase, several of the passengers wanted to buy it from me, but I was determined to carry this primeval instrument home as the nucleus of a collection, and I kept it by me during the remainder of my trip around the world.
On this first day at Aden we remained ashore until nearly midnight. Mr. Casey had agreed to stand Timmie's watch, and as the town was so far from Steamer Point, we didn't expect to visit it again before sailing. And anyhow, one long day in Aden was enough. We had seen enough of the orange-haired Somalis who surprised us so at first sight, and before we had been about much, we discovered that the old men with beards dyed them orange as well. Kenneth never saw one of them without laughing, and pointing for the natives to look at my hair, and I became so used to these attentions on his part that I didn't object at all.
Into the Indian Ocean
It was good that we didn't plan to visit Aden a second time, for the trans-port finished coaling sooner than was expected, and at noon of the second day we lifted anchor and started for Colombo, Ceylon. The two British warships saluted us as we passed out, and our band played " Rule Britannia " as long as they were within hearing. The British officers, as usual, had treated our passengers with great kindness, and we all felt that the Anglo-American alliance was strengthened every time we visited a British port. The soldiers stationed at Aden had visited the recruits on our ship, too, and left behind them numerous souvenirs in the shape of buttons, shoulder-straps, and swagger-sticks. Some of the recruits had a regular passion for such trifles, and seemed bent on accumulating as many as possible on the way out to Manila. We were careful not to carry off any deserters from Aden, and Captain Linder had the whole ship carefully searched before we left port.
When we got out into the ocean toward the evening of this day, it became evident that we were to have a rough sea. So far on the voyage we had been blessed with fair weather and no storms, and everyone had been saying that this condition of things was too good to last. So when the waves began to twist the McClellan from stem to stern, and to wash the forward decks, I said to Mr Casey, " I guess we're in for it, at last." " Oh, no," he said ; " it's only the southwest monsoon, and we'll be able to make good time to Colombo with it back of us." I had never been able to distinguish between monsoons and typhoons, so I asked whether he meant that we were going to have a cyclone at sea. " No, no," he replied ; " this is only a strong wind, and the sea won't become dangerously rough." Notwithstanding this assurance, I felt anything but comfortable, and by the time supper was over in the mess-room I saw that I was in danger of becoming seasick once again. This would be too humiliating, to be ill in the very middle of the voyage, after I had been at sea more than six weeks, and I tried my best to fight the feeling off. There was no remedy, though, and determination had no effect, so I busied myself in keeping out of the sight of every member of the crew, and bore my misery in silence. I stood my watch as usual, though I was too weak to patrol the decks, and as soon as possible I sought my little bunk. Timmie realized what was the matter. " Never mind," he said ; " it's that grub we ate yesterday in that heathen town, and you'll be all right by morning. I'll stand watch for you, if you're not."
Another Attack of Mal de Mer
But in the morning I was no better. The old ship was pitching and tossing in a frightful way, and I felt like blessing those persons who insisted that the McClellan was a good sea-boat. I said to Mr Casey that I would as soon be sailing in a tub, and he laughed. " You'll feel better later on," he said, " and after you're well you'll enjoy this spanking breeze." Of course I stood my watch, as usual. If the crew knew I was laid up in bed they'd everyone know what was the matter with me, and I was determined to preserve my reputation at all costs. Most of the passengers were uncomfortable, too, so I had the decks pretty much to myself.
It was two days before I was able to visit the mess-room and stay longer than two or three minutes at a time, and three days before I felt like myself again. Then I began to take a renewed interest in what went on about me. The wind was still blowing from the southwest, but Captain Linder had ordered the sails hoisted, and they served to steady the ship. I went into the boat-swain's room and tried to find out something about monsoons in his sailing-books. I discovered a statement to the effect that the southwest monsoon blows steadily in the Indian Ocean from April to October, so I knew there was no chance of smooth water before we reached Colombo. There was no music in the evening on the saloon deck, for the passengers didn't feel able to appreciate it, and of course they weren't in a dancing mood. They sat around in steamer chairs, or lay quietly in their cots on deck. One poor woman, the wife of a colonel, had been scarcely able to sit up since we left New York, and she said several times that she would never again travel by water for the sake of seeing her husband. " If he wants to see me after he's ordered back to the States, he'll have to go to Manila," she said, " for I don't ever expect to cross the ocean again." Of course she changed her mind when she was safe on land again, but no doubt she was in earnest in what she said while we were in the Indian Ocean.
There wasn't much sociability on the forward deck, either. The majority of the recruits were ill, and the sailors couldn't sit on the No. 2 hatch or the fo'c'stle head without getting drenched at intervals. Sometimes there wouldn't be a wave over the rail for an hour or two, but then a big one was sure to come sooner or later and drench everyone within reach. One day the Eddy boys had come forward to visit with Timmie and I We were all seated on the hatch and planning what wonderful things we would do in Ceylon, when all at once we heard a yell from the boatswain's room. We knew what it meant, but before we could move, a great wave struck us from behind and rolled every one of us into the gutter. Then, when we were climbing to our feet, another followed, and still a third came after us before we could seek shelter. All this was great fun for the crew. They turned out en masse, as soon as the danger was over, to poke fun at our dripping clothes and woe-begone expressions. They didn't cease to talk about it in the mess-room for several days, and after this experience Timmie and I invited our visitors into our little cabin when there was danger of a drenching. The cabin, however, was not a pleasant place in rough weather. It was so situated that when the port was closed there was almost no air for breathing, and there was always a damp, nasty smell. Our clothes were mil-dewed if we left them in our lockers for two or three days without airing.
The Love of the Sea
We spent most of our spare time at this period of the voyage in Jack, the boatswain's room. He was a jolly fellow, and good to all us boys. He gave me much good advice about how I had better act when Captain Linder was about, and what things I had best leave alone. Some of the sailors sat up nights to think of jokes to play on me, and Jack used to warn me beforehand, so that I could sometimes turn the tables on them. He watched with interest my progress as a sailor, and often laughed when he recalled the first two or three days I had spent on board. " You've learned fast, my lad," he said one evening, " and you'll turn out a flat-footed sailor yet. You'll be sorry to leave the old ship when we reach Manila. I expect to see you go down the gangway with tears in your eyes." And when I thought of how homelike the ship had come to be, I wondered whether Jack wasn't right, after all. I was beginning to understand for the first time in my life why sailors love the sea, and can't bring themselves to work on land. When I first went to Europe, and saw how hard the crews work, and for what small pay, I thought they were foolish indeed. They could earn more money by less work ashore, and they would certainly have a much better time, altogether. But now I began to understand that a sailor feels safe and at home on shipboard, and is a stranger in a strange land when he goes ashore in port. Still, I was already looking forward to our arrival at Manila, and, remembering some of my experiences on the transport, I didn't think I would be sorry when the time came for me to leave.
The Captain and the first officer had always some complaint to make about the way I did my work, but now I was accustomed to this fault-finding, and it didn't worry me long. I knew that I would be through with them all at Manila, and until then I could put up with anything, especially as I had so many good friends among the sailors.
I had a great deal to think about during the long night watch from twelve to four, and this was now my favorite. I told Timmie that I would as soon have it all the time, and of course he was willing. I used to stand at the rail for half an hour at a time, watching the wonderful phosphorus in the water, and the great fish which followed the ship, and thinking of the trip which was before me and the interesting experiences which were behind. And although I never regretted that I had started round the world, I couldn't help thinking sometimes of Will Renwick and Jack Irwin, and the boys at home, and wishing that I were safe with them in the little Jersey town.