Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
A Woman's Journey Through the Philippines
A Woman’s Journey Through the Philippines
INTRODUCTORY STATEMENTSLIFE on a cable-ship would be a lotus-eating dream were it not for the cable. But the cable, like the Commissariat cam-u-el in Mr. Kipling’s “Oonts,” is —
“— a devil an’ a ostrich an’ a orphan child in one.”
Whether we are picking it up, or paying it out; whether it is lying inert, coil upon coil, in the tanks like some great gorged anaconda, or gliding along the propelling machinery into some other tank, or off into the sea at our bow or stern; whether the dynamometer shows its tension to be great or small; whether we are grappling for it, or underrunning it; whether it is a shore end to be landed, or a deep-sea splice to be made, the cable is sure to develop most alarming symptoms, and some learned doctor must constantly sit in the testing-room, his finger on the cable’s pulse, taking its temperature from time to time as if it were a fractious child with a bad attack of measles, the eruption in this case being faults or breaks or leakages or kinks.
LAYING A SHORE END IN A PHILIPPINE COAST TOWN
The difficulty discovered, it must be localized. A hush falls over the ship. Down to the testing room go the experts. Seconds, minutes, hours crawl by. At last some one leaves the consultation for a brief space, frowning heavily and apparently deep in thought. No one dares address him, or ask the questions all are longing to have answered, and when his lips move silently we know that he is muttering over galvanometer readings to himself. During this time everyone talks in whispers, and not always intelligently, of the electrostatic capacity of the cable, absolute resistances, and the coefficients of correction, while the youngest member of the expedition neglects her beloved poodle, sonorously yclept “Snobbles,” and no longer hangs him head downward over the ship’s rail.
At last the fault is discovered, cut out, and a splice made, the tests showing the cable as good as new, whereupon the women return to their chiffons, the child to her games, and the men, not on duty, to their cigars, until the cessation of noise from the cable machinery, or the engine-room bell signalling “full speed astern” warns us something else may be amiss.
In the testing room, that Holy of Holies on board a cable-ship, the fate of the Burnside hangs upon a tiny, quivering spark of light thrown upon the scale by the galvanometer’s mirror. If this light jumps from side to side, or trembles nervously, or perhaps disappears entirely from the scale, our experts know the cable needs attention, and perhaps the ship will have to stop for hours at a time until the fault is located. If the trouble is not in the tanks, the paying-out machinery must be metamorphosed into a picking-up apparatus, and the cable already laid will be coiled back into the hold until the fault appears, when it will be cut out and the two ends of cable spliced. After this splice grows quite cool, tests are taken, and if they prove satisfactory, we again resume our paying out, knowing that while the spot of light on the galvanometer remains quietly in one position, the cable being laid is electrically sound and we can proceed without interruption.
As may be imagined everyone on the ship got to think in megohms, and scientific terms clung to our conversation just as the tar from the cable tanks clung to our wearing apparel, while few among us but had wild nightmares wherein the cable became a sentient thing, and made faces at us as it leapt overboard in a continuous suicidal frenzy.
The cable-ship Burnside, as some may remember, was one of the first prizes captured in the Spanish War. She had been a Spanish merchant ship, the Rita, trading between Spain and all Spanish ports in the West Indies, and when captured by the Yale, early in April, 1898, was on her way to Havana with a cargo of goods. There is little about her now, however, to suggest a Spanish coaster, save the old bell marked “Rita” in front of the captain’s cabin. The sight of this bell always brings to mind the wild patriotism of those early days of our war with Spain, when love of country was grown to an absorbing passion which made one eager to surrender all for the nation’s honour, and stifled dread of impending separation — a separation that might be forever — despite the rebel heart’s fierce protest. The Rita’s bell reminds one also of a country less fortunate than our own, and sometimes when looking at it, one can almost fancy the terror and excitement of those aboard the Spanish coaster when the Yale swept down upon her on that memorable April afternoon. But it is a far cry from that day to this, and the Burnside, manned by American sailors, flying Old Glory where once waved the red and yellow of Spain’s insignia, and laying American cable in American waters, is a very different ship from the Rita, fleeing before her pursuers in the West Indies.
When the Burnside left Manila on December 23, 1900, for the cable laying expedition in the far South Seas, there were eight army officers aboard, six of whom belonged to the Signal Corps, the seventh being a young doctor, and the eighth a major and quartermaster in charge of the transport. Besides these there were civilian cable experts, Signal Corps soldiers, Hospital Corps men, Signal Corps natives, and the ship’s officers, crew, and servants. The only passengers on the trip were women, two and a half of us, the fraction standing for a young person of nine summers, the quartermaster’s little daughter, whom we shall dub Half-a-Woman, letting eighteen represent the unit of grown-up value.
Half-a-Woman was the queen of the ship, and held her court quite royally from the Powers-that-Be, our commanding officer, down to the roughest old salt in the forecastle. Having a child aboard gave the only real touch of Christmas to our tropical pretence of it. Everything else was lacking — the snow, the tree, the holly and wreaths, the Christmas carol, the dear ones so far away — but the little child was with us, and wherever children are there also will the Christmas spirit come, even though the thermometer registers ninety in the shade, and at the close of that long summer-hot day we all felt more than “richer by one mocking Christmas past.”
Half-a-Woman was also obliging enough to have a birthday on the trip, which we celebrated by a dinner in her honour, a very fine dinner which opened with clear turtle soup and ended with her favourite ice and a birthday cake of gigantic proportions, decorated with ornate chocolate roses and tiny incandescent lamps in place of the conventional age-enumerating candles, cable-ship birthday cakes being eminently scientific and up-to-date. Other people may have had birthdays en route, for we were away from Manila many weeks, but none were acknowledged; modesty doubtless constraining those older than Half-a-Woman from making a too ostentatious display of tell-tale incandescent lights.
“UNTIL EVENTIDE THE SUMMER SKIES ABOVE US SLEPT, AS DID THE SUMMER SEAS BELOW US”
It was a very busy trip, everyone on the ship being occupied, with the exception of the women who spent most of their time under the cool blue awning of the quarterdeck, where many a letter was written, and many a book read aloud and discussed, though more often we accomplished little, preferring to lie back in our long steamer chairs and watch the wooded islands with cloud shadows on their shaggy breasts drift slowly by and fade into the purple distance.
Now we would pass close to some luxuriantly overgrown shore where tall cocoanut-palms marched in endless procession along the white beach; now past hills where groups of bamboos swung back and forth in the warm breeze, and feathery palms and plantains, the sunlight flickering through their leaves, showed myriad tints of green and gold and misty gray; these in turn giving place to some volcanic mountain, bare and desolate. Then for hours there would be no land at all, only the wonderful horizonless blue of water and sky, the sunlight on the waves so dazzlingly bright as to hurt the eyes.
But nearly always in this thickly islanded sea there was land, either on one side or the other, land bearing strange names redolent of tropic richness, over whose pronunciation we would lazily disagree. Perhaps it would be but a cliff-bound coast or a group of barren islands in the distance, bluer even than the skies above them; perhaps some lofty mountain on whose ridges the white clouds lay like drifted snow; or perhaps a tier of forest-grown hills, rising one above the other, those nearest the water clothed in countless shades of green, verging from deepest olive to the tender tint of newly awakened buds in the springtime, those farthest away blue or violet against the horizon.
Golden days these were when Time himself grew young again, and, resting on his scythe, dreamed the sunlit hours away. Until eventide the summer skies above us slept, as did the summer seas below us, when both awakened from their slumbers flushed and rosy. On some evenings the heavy white clouds piled high in the west seemed to catch fire, the red blaze spreading over the heavens, to be reflected later in the mirror-like water of the sea. Then the crimson light would gradually change to amethyst and gold, with the sun hanging like a ball of flame between heaven and earth, while every conceivable colour, or combination of colours, played riotously over all in the kaleidoscopic shifting of the clouds. At last the sun would touch the horizon, sinking lower and lower into the sea, while the heavens lost their glory, taking on pale tints of purple and violet. A moment more and the swift darkness of the tropics would blot out every vestige of colour, for there is no twilight in the Philippines, no half-tones between the dazzling tropic sunset and the dusky tropic night.
Then there were other evenings when the colours lying in distinct strata looked not unlike celestial pousse-cafés, or perhaps some delicately blended shade of pink and blue and mauve, suggested to a feminine mind creations of millinery art; or yet again, when a sky that had been gray and sober all day suddenly blazed out into crimson and gold at sunset, one was irresistibly reminded of a “Quakeress grown worldly.”
And then would come the night and the wonderful starlit heavens of the tropics —
“— unfathom’d, untrod,
Every star sent a trail of light to the still water, seeming to fasten the sky to the sea with long silver skewers; wonderful phosphorescence played about beneath us like wraiths of drowned men luring one to destruction; while in the musical lap of the water against the ship’s side one almost fancied the sound of Lorelei’s singing. And then there were starless nights with only a red moon to shine through cloudy skies; and nights no less beautiful when all the world seemed shrouded in black velvet, when the dusky sea parted silently to let the boat pass through, and then closed behind it with no laugh or ripple of water to speed it onward, breathlessly still nights of fathomless darkness. The ship’s master, burdened with visions of coral reefs on a chartless coast, failed to appreciate the æsthetic beauty of sailing unknown seas in limitless darkness, and either anchored on such nights, or paced back and forth upon his bridge, longing for electric lighted heavens that would not play him such scurvy tricks.
And there were gray days, too, which only served to make more golden the sun-kissed ones; days when no observations could be taken with the sextant, to the huge disgust of the officer in charge of such work; days when the distant mountains loomed spectre-like through the mist, their sharp outlines vignetted into the sky. Occasionally the fog would lift a bit, just enough to reveal the rain-drenched islands around us, and then suddenly wipe them out of existence again, leaving the ship alone on a gray and shore-less sea.
As for amusements, these were not lacking, what with reading, writing, bag-punching, and playing games with the small girl while under way; and when at anchor there was always shooting, hunting, and fishing for the men, and for us all swimming off the ship’s side. This last was often done in shark‑ridden waters, to the great disapproval of the ship’s officers, some of whom would stand on the well-deck, revolver in hand, while more than once a swift bullet was sent shrilling over our heads at some great fin rising out of the sea beyond. On our trip to and from Bongao, one of the Tawi Tawi Islands, on a wrecking expedition to save the launch Maud, stranded there on a coral reef, all the Signal Corps officers were at liberty, too, which made life on the ship even more agreeable, the delightful experience being again repeated on our return trip to Manila from Pasacao, Luzon.
When one considers that the ship laid approximately five hundred knots of cable, and travelled over three thousand knots on the trip, which does not include the Bongao wrecking expedition, it will be seen how difficult the work was, in that in every instance, save from Zamboanga, Mindanao, to Sulu, on the island of Sulu, we had to make a preliminary trip, sounding and taking observations, before the cable could be laid, the Spanish charts being worse than unreliable. Then, too, a government transport dragged our cable with her anchor at one place, a fierce tropical storm wrecked it at another, while careless Moro trench diggers bruised it with stones at a third, which meant many extra days of work for the Signal Corps at each of these places, and for us idle ones a continuation of pleasant experiences, the whole trip taking in all three and a half months.
Three and a half months of ideal summer weather from the last of December to the middle of April, and real summer weather at that, not the sham midwinter summer of the tourist who has his photograph taken attired in flannels and standing under a palm-tree in California, Florida, or the Mediterranean, only to shiveringly resume his normal attire as soon as possible. The Philippine winter climate is quite different, what some one has defined as the climate of heaven, warmth without heat and coolness without cold, when men sport linen or khaki continuously, and women wear lawns and organdies throughout the season, with a light wrap added thereto at night — if it chances to be becoming.
In a few years it will be to these southern seas that the millionaire brings his yacht for a winter cruise; it will be in these forests that he hunts for wild boar and deer, or shoots woodcock, duck, snipe, pigeons, and pheasants; in these waters that he fishes for the iridescent silver beauties that here abound. It will be on these sunlit shores invalids seeking health will find it, and here that huge sanitariums should be built, for despite the tales of pessimistic travellers, no lovelier climate exists than can be found in Philippine coast towns from the middle of November until the last of March. After that it becomes unbearably hot, and then one is in danger of all kinds of fevers or digestive troubles, and should, if possible, go to Japan to get cooled off.
Of course, even during the Garden-of-Eden months, one must take the same care of himself that he would in any country, and most of the travellers who write against the Philippine climate have, according to their own statements, lived most unhealthfully as regarded diet, shelter, exposure, and the like. During the hot season itself one can get along very comfortably in the Philippines, if he makes it a rule to live just as he would at home, only at half speed, if I may so express it.
A PHILIPPINE COAST TOWN
But aside from its possibilities for the leisure class, what a world of interest the Philippines has in store for us from a governmental and commercial standpoint! What a treasure-trove it will prove to the historian, geographer, antiquarian, naturalist, geologist and ethnologist. At every stopping-place my little note-book was filled with statistics as to trade in hemp, cane-sugar, cocao, rice, copra, tobacco, and the like. I even had a hint here and there as to the geology of the group, but ruthlessly blue-pencilled out such bits of useful information, and while it may not be at all utilitarian, rejoice that I have been privileged to see these islands in a state of nature, before the engineer has honeycombed the virgin forest with iron rails; before the great heart of the hills is torn open for the gold, or coal, or iron to be found there; before the primitive plough, buffalo, and half-dressed native give way to the latest type of steam or electric apparatus for farming; before the picturesque girls pounding rice in wooden mortars step aside for noisy mills; before the electric light frightens away the tropic stars, and dims the lantern hanging from the gable of every nipa shack; before banking houses do away with the cocoanut into which thrifty natives drop their money, coin by coin, through a slit in the top; before the sunlit stillness of these coast towns is marred by the jar and grind of factory machinery; before the child country is grown too old and too worldly-wise.