Letter No. 14
September 20, 1857
My dear Nanny,
What are the moments sighing, sister all day long, that ever while swiftly flying, they sing but the selfsame song – saying “Rash one, whole months have vanished since last you wrote to who am; crying, write, for the mail is rushing to leave the silvereye foam.” En effet, I find that my last letter to you appears to have been dated on the 5th of July last. Coasting craft, my boy, coasting craft will have their vagaries and not start at the right times, and Nicks will have their procrastinations and their “moods” in which writing may not be done.
Since I last had the satisfaction of addressing you, I am in receipt of yours of the 18th May and April for which I am your poor debtor ever. There is not much very particular news in your last letters to comment upon, but “Point de nouvelles; bonnes nouvelles” – an axiom which I hope you fully agree with, as I have scarcely the slightest scrap to tell you. I think I mentioned formerly that my friend Carmen had gone to Manila to see her Seraphim; but Carles tells me that her baptismal certificate can’t be found, and she can’t be married until it is, it appears that she was born on some vessel in the English Channel, and baptized either at Cork or at some other place – Federica who was then on board was too young at them time to remember where. Three witnesses to the Baptism would do instead of the document, but as neither it nor they can be found, the Archbishop won’t let her get married. So things are in a dreadful state – Seraphim in despair. Carmen wringing her hands and offering to be baptized all over again “sub conditione,” and the Excellentisimo e Illustrisimo Señor Don Fray Jose Aringuiren, Arzobispo de las Islas Filipinas sternly refusing to compromise in the matter in any shape or way. What a dreadful warning to all non-heretical ladies not to lose their certificate of Baptism. As for Dolores, you may put it down as pretty certain that the undersigned entertains no matrimonial projects in that quarter, as to fulfill them he would have to go through the trifling ceremony of becoming a Roman Catholic, of which at this time of day ‘pon my conscience I’d say (as the old song has it), there isn’t much likelihood – unless she was particularly fascinating, and he could turn the tables on Mother Church by carrying out the Popish principle of Mental Reservation on appearing to enter the Apostolic fold. Besides I am rather disgusted with Miss Pains[i] since last week when she ordered a pet dog, several months old, to have its ears and tail cut, Federica standing by consenting unto the deed. I, who hold the doctrine of Schopenhauer with regard to animals, am scandalized.
I have now a companion in the house, and am again learning to speak the tongue which the “Divine William” spake. But O Horror! John Higgin is the uneuphonious name of the youth in question – a Liverpudlian style of youth, with Liverpudlian manners and a squeakyish voice, he will probably remain with me and take a share in the “business” if business there be – I think that by this arrangement if I can scrape up a spare thousand dollars or what Robinson Crusoe and the old writers call “pieces-of-eight.” Then I may perhaps come home again – but who knows? The curtain is still drawn over that part of the play, and the actors must just play out the intervening acts, no skipping being allowed in the sublunary theatre.
What dreadful things have taken place in India! It is fearful to think of the number of women and children massacred, and I am afraid every succeeding mail will bring bad tidings to many a family at home. The last accounts we have here are of the murder of 606 Europeans at Cawnpore and the unsuccessful siege of Delhi, but we expect another mail in a few days. I think the insurrection may be suppressed after the shedding of an immense amount of blood, but the people at home will have to look sharp and send out the British Legions as soon as possible if the stout young woman at Windsor Castle is to retain her Empire in the East. I should like to be in India now, but seemed destined to live where life’s stream runs dullest. It seems also to run pretty sluggishly off the Pongo river, to judge from what our medico so humorously says in his letters from that Lethian flood. My household is now getting rather too large, consisting at present of the following dramatis personae:
John Higgin, junior partner
Cecilio Francisco, native clerk with a salary of $150 per annum
Domingo Ruiz, majordomo, salary $60 p.a.
Elena Ruiz, wife of Domingo
Carlotta Manson, mother of Elena
Victor Rafelos, coachman, salary $30 p.a.
Juan Lopez, warehouseman.
Ygnacio de los Reyes, cook, salary $48 p.a.
Tom and Terry – carriage horses
Bravo – a valiant bull terrier
Pinto – a spotted coach dog
Moro – a Manila poodle
Zapiron – a predatory cat
The above list of servants will appear large to you, but it is not out of the way in these Eastern countries. To give you an idea of the superfluities which some people have I may mention that the Governor of the Province has just now no less than twenty-five horses in his stables.
There are a lot of old beggar women kicking up a row on the stairs. They have a most peculiar style of begging. First they exclaim “Blessed be the most Holy Sacrament on the altar!” Then they repeat the “Lord’s Prayer,” and the “Hail, Virgin Mary,” etc. ending with a choral “Good Morning, gentlemen and ladies!” until you get quite tired, and shy down an alms to get them away. I have been reading little lately except the “Revue des Deux Mondes” in which there are some fine articles by J.J. Ampere on “L’histoire Romaine a Rome” with mischievous allusions to Louis Napoleon. How long is that individual going to last? Or rather how long is France going to consent to have her hands and feet tied? “Salva Libertate potens” and the state of things where Walewskis, Pereires and Morneys rise to the top. There is also a most excellent article on “Le roman de la vie domestique en Allemagne” in the Revue.
I am getting on very slowly with my building projects. The weather has been so bad that the timber can’t be brought from the adjacent islands, but I have built a temporary store of cane and palm, on the site which I formerly spoke of as covered with mangrove trees waving about in the water. The road which I had so many misgivings about is approaching completion, and will, I think, stand the action for a couple of years or so without requiring much repair, or at least I hope so. Another person has ventured to occupy a site close to the one I have taken, and if others do so also it will be an additional security for the road being kept in order. In this way the best and most advantageous part of the river bank will gradually be occupied, though no one had ventured to do so hitherto for want of a road across a deep part of the swamp. The road, however, has cost a great deal, and I sometimes wonder at my temerity in commencing it. If it tumbles down or causes an unremunerative expense R. and S. must look upon themselves as component parts of that body of victims caused by advancing civilization whom Napoleon alludes in one of his last speeches. I have forgotten to mention to Father that I am obliged to him for his suggestion about building with clay and chopped straw, but fear the heavy rains would affect it too much, as the soft stone used by some people here becomes very much worn, and requires to be faced every now and then with cement. Well, I hope I shall be able to scrape up enough money to take me home again in two or three years, but I have no doubt you have no faith in my homeward projects, and to tell you the truth I have none myself.
I have commenced an article on Panay, but don’t believe I shall ever finish it, or that if it were miraculously concluded it would be admitted to any of the better magazines. I am glad to hear your better report of the state of John’s health – I am waiting for that tabular statement of nephews and nieces. The waning margin reminds me to conclude this epistle, which I do with some compunction as to its stupidity. But you seem to have no objection to this latter quality, which is very fortunate in the present instance. I am inclined to agree with the parallel you draw between sincerity in any shape, and intellectual selfishness. I know a very scantily-gifted man at Manila who has the best heart in the world. I can’t lay claim to anything of that kind, but nevertheless have metaphorically speaking enough of that important organ to be your affectionate brother, Nick.
Don’t let that infant be called Peter Nicholas! It’s monstrous – might as well call him Nehemiah or some such dreadful name! The 10th of this month was my Saint’s day, San Nicholas de Tolentino – the two bands of the town came and played alternately in front of the house, and the residents called, or sent in their cards. This is “the custom of the country.”
[i] Refers to Dolores, which is the Spanish word for pains.