Letter No. 4
November 3rd, 1852
Per “Ville e Torriens” to Singapore
My dear Nanny,
“With a wet pen, and a thin thin sheet,
And ink that follow free
We’ll soon fill up this page, my boy,
And send it unto thee.”
Of a verity it must be filled up, and that right quickly, for never, I think did I plant myself in a writing attitude with less idea of what I am about to remark, or in a more turbid and unfavorable time to remark it in. Here I am in this limited bedroom, which I jointly occupy with a friend and colleague, seated opposite that amiable gent, between whom and myself the following dialogue has just become a matter of history.
Myself – “John, amigo mio,[i] got any thin paper?”
John - “Caballero,[ii] here’s any extent on it.”
Myself - “And a pen, munificient J., hast thou e’en a pen?”
John - “Si señor, si señor, here’s a stunner for you…”
With which stunner, a noisy quill one, I commence operations.
I wrote you a few line by the last mail which left this city, I think, on the 8th of October. I have, as I then mentioned, no letters from home written in August, and hope that nothing has occurred to prevent the coming forward of the usual document except that it was not deemed worthwhile to write to an unsatisfactory cove like your present correspondent.
Here we have totally recovered from the shock which affected some of our nerves on the 16th of Sept. I allude to the “terremoto” (earthquake) which came and upset a few of our equanimities, and caught me reposing on a sofa which I evacuated to find the individuals who had been dining just outside the room no longer visible, but gone fled, vanished – unlike the baseless fabric of a dream leaving any amount of wreck behind; bottles turned over, glasses, shades, plaster; O monsieur! C’etait un tableau diabolique, satanic, mirifique, mirambolique, unique … we still have little juvenile earthquakes at intervals, three during the last four days – but take no notice of ‘em, and even the local press is tired of chronicling ‘em. This place is a good deal more countrified than our old residence in the Escolta and we think that the atmosphere is much purer and better. We are surrounded on all sides by the small palm-leaf and bamboo houses of the indigenous Indians, with a sprinkling of mansions of more pretensions inhabited mostly by mestizos. Little tinklings of guitars come straggling in here, and one hears domestic sounds processing from the adjacent houses. We might have a tolerably nice garden it anybody would look after it. Just now our compound is full of straggling, ragged plaintain trees, and nondescript bushes with pretty though-to-me totally-unknown orange-coloured flowers. But we have a big tamarind tree in front of the door which gives us a green and flourishing appearance.
On the other side of the house, towards the river, we have an island which looks very pretty, and is inhabited by a few Indians and the pensive-looking inmates of the large “Real Hospicio.”[iii] This little island is a mass of greenery and looks very inviting. We are constantly saying that “We’ll go over and explore it one day,” but we never do somehow, and I doubt whether we ever shall. We have been doing a considerable deal in the way of studying at home, have we gents, since we came out staying here. As for me, I am taking things as coolly as I can, and waiting with some amount of impatience for the end of December at which date, as I think I have previously observed, I intend that my regular salary shall cease. I shall demand a small amount per mencis which will enable me to avoid entrenching upon my capital, and, after getting everything as well as I can, take ship for some place or other. It is said that a French man-of-war steamer would leave Hongkong on the 10th of this month, so that we shall probably have the mail (September) from England in a few days, and I may learn how you are getting on at home. I am sorry that this is such an absurd sort of letter, but have not been able to do any better. It is your fault if you have these kinds of things delivered to you month after month at an enormous expense in postage. You should say, “My dear Sir, you can for the future confine your epistolary communications to a short annual report of your proceedings, which will be succinctly commented on by your friends if they see fit to make any remarks on it.”
Such an arrangement I have no doubt you would discover to be infinitely more satisfactory. I do not think I shall be able to add any more to this before the departure of the mail. Meantime, mi amable Señorita Doña Anna Loney y Condy, I place myself at your feet and perform the operation which mother used to call “Popping into bed” to be followed by another proceeding which the same metaphorical personage designated, if I recollect right as “popping off to sleep.” At half past five, I shall pop, out of bed again, pop into the river, drink a bowl of tea, and go off to the place of writing, 9th November.
This vessel has been detained until today, and the hour of closing up finds me without having added anything to this, as not a scrap of disposable time presented itself since, but believe me dear Nanny,
Your most affectionate brother,