Letter to Mother, 5/2/00
c/o Orient Co.
My dearest Mother
Here we are in our new abode and at present we feel strange and forlorn. We had a long day on Friday and I was very tired, but still not so bad as I thought I should be. We were nearly an hour late in getting to Negombo as about 4 or 5 miles away one of the springs of the coach suddenly broke. Luckily we had just got into a village and the blacksmith was able to tinker it up, but it took 45 minutes and it was very hot waiting about. There was not a vehicle of any description to be had or we should have gone on to Negombo. The coach landed us about 1 1/2 miles away and Mr Van Dort (the manager) was waiting with a bullock cart that he had borrowed, a sort of a low wagonette drawn by two bulls. It was not extra comfortable, but it was heavenly after the coach, my back was nearly broke and the thing jolted in the most awful manner.
They do have such miserable horses, you never saw such pairs. One would be a great enormous thing and the other almost a pony. Coming along in the cart, one of the bulls had an obstinate fit and would take its head from under the yoke, and keep turning round, the man had quite a job with it. I can imagine Lin saying ‘Oh, the brute!’. I have got quite used to seeing everything drawn by bulls. You scarcely ever see horses, only in small dog carts and things like Victorias with a cover that are called Hacknies, that go to and fro from the stations and that sort of thing in Colombo. What are called Trotting Bulls go along very fast, the natives tear about in these. They are little black ones and are bred in Ceylon, but the ones that pull carts and wagons are big white ones and come from India. They all have humps of course and are driven in a yoke which is a round piece of wood that goes across between their head and hump.
Our boxes and cases that we sent off by boat won’t come before next Wednesday. We just missed one boat or they would have come last night. So at present we have got only just the bare furniture, but we should not have unpacked anyhow as all the walls have got to be whitewashed. It is so tiresome it having to be done after we are in. The walls are always whitewashed out here and these have just been left the bare cement, a sort of yellowy white which is far from pretty. It is only the walls that are done, the ceiling is the bare corrugated iron roof and then thatch on top of that, made of dried cocoa-nut leaves. There is a space of about a foot between the top of the wall and the roof for the wind to blow through. The rooms are always very lofty here, about twice as high as at home, and the ceiling goes up to a point in the middle. It is so funny to see the bare roof. Sometimes the rain comes through but not often. Of course you very often have ceiling cloth stretched across, we had in some of the rooms at Veyangoda.
We are not in the bedroom we want, so the men are going to whitewash that tomorrow, then we can move straight in and settle down. They are both nice large bedrooms with two big windows in each and they are divided into three, two wooden divisions and one glass and they move round and round on pivots in the middle, to let in as much air as possible. There has been a lovely breeze here every day. It is the north-east monsoon and as the bedrooms face the north, they are delightfully cool. The verandah faces south so is very hot. It is quite unbearable between 12 and 4 as the temperature is about 94 and I expect it will be even more soon as this month and the next one are the hottest.
This is a very simple little house, just four rooms, two above and two below, like a doll’s house. On the ground floor there is the dining room and another room which at present is used as the office, but George is going to see about building an office as soon as possible. We shall want it as a sitting room as it is nice and cool. The stairs go straight up between the two rooms. The bathroom is at the bottom of the stairs, such a funny bath, made of cement, like our ordinary one at home only very shallow and narrow. George says it is like a coffin and it is rather an uncanny shape. I never have my bath quite cold, but have a pail of boiling water brought in, so can have it quite hot if I like. The upper verandah is a very jolly one, and I am going to make one end a little drawing room. I shall always have to be up here until we get the other sitting room and even then, except in the hot part of the day, it is nicer as there is more wind. We can’t sit in the lower verandah. It is too bare and open, but we have all our pots put along the edge. Some of the plants have suffered rather in travelling, but I think they will soon recover. We have lots of ferns, big leafed maiden hairs, and ordinary rather fine leafed ones, and some like harts tongues. Then there are some things of the Arum lily tribe, with big dark green leaves, some of them variegated. The flower is very insignificant. Arum lilies grow quite wild, like weeds.
The temperature has gone down to 90, so I have ventured out onto the verandah. We have had tea in our bedroom as it is the coolest place, and while we were having it, we interviewed the Tambi at the same time. The Tambi is a sort of pedlar who goes about with goods in a bullock wagon, and he tells us he will come once a month, so I may find him useful. He has been trying to make me buy some very pretty figured muslins but we only wanted curtain muslin and stuff for making cushions. George had a huge cane chair made for me, as he knew I liked big ones, but if anything it is too roomy so I am going to make some thick cushions for it.
The men are whitewashing the bedroom but they are like English workmen and get on very slowly.
It is rather jolly – the company have got a steam launch which is hardly ever used and the boiler is out of order so they have sent it up here for George to repair. He has been overhauling it today (and getting black from head to foot in consequence) and he says there is very little wants doing to it and it will soon be all right. So we are going to to keep it up here and go about in it and it will be very jolly. Of course it is only a tiny thing, like a big rowing boat and George will look after it with a man to stoke. It will take us just as much time as the coach to get to Colombo but be decidedly more comfortable, even if we did it in a day. We shall be able to make some jolly excursions, especially when there is a moon. It is very pretty a little higher up than here, as the canal ends and we get into the natural water. It is really a long lagoon inside a big sand bank which goes up the west side of the island, joined together by canals here and there and a lot of work is done by barges, called “Padda” boats, which go up and down with goods. All the cocoa-nut cases go from here to Colombo in them as there is no railway.
I am glad such a nice lot of Addiscombe boys are going to the war. We saw ours off on Thursday. They marched past the G.O.H. to the jetty which is quite close. It made us feel very choky when they went by, they looked so sweet in their khaki uniforms with the band of the Highland regiment that belongs here playing before them. (That must be Capt Leigh’s son that died at Canary. He showed me his photo once and told me he was dying of consumption. He was very miserable about it, poor man, and I think from what he said, he was his only child, but I did not like to ask.)
The Rome will be in Colombo on the 15th. I am so sorry not to be able to go on board, but I am going to write to the Captain and send him my photograph.
It is much nicer having George so close. At Veyangoda the mill was half a mile away but here it is only a few yards and I can see him and Mr Van Dort walking about and it is much less lonely. And of course the office being in the house at present they are often in there and George can pop upstairs now and then to have a little gossip.
There is no attempt at a garden. Mr Harbor did not care about anything and the soil is all loose sand, so we shall have to get some mould before we can do anything. Exactly in front of the house is a square place that I think we shall turn into a tennis court. Then down a steep bank is the canal and on the other side a road and behind that a huge cocoa-nut estate called the Horekelly estate. This mill and house is built on a bit of ground belonging to it. We have nothing but cocoa-nuts all round us. They are very pretty, like huge Prince of Wales’ plumes against the blue sky.
I am suffering so from the mosquitos. They get at me everywhere, especially my feet. My ankles are a mask of bites ad I could tear them to pieces. Last night I sat with bandages soaked in ammonia and water tied round my ankles so as to get a little peace. George tears at his legs and cusses occasionally.
I hope you will understand the plans. I have put a cross on our bedroom in both houses. ‘Godown’ means where the servants sleep.
I must shut up as the post cooly is waiting.
I do hope you are all better and that you’ve got a servant. That seems a hopeless case though.
With much love and kisses to all
Your loving daughter, Mab
(This letter included the two plans plus a sprig of rosemary which still survives over a hundred years later and all those miles.)