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Chapter I.: THE SILENT TRIP. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 7 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 7.
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THE SILENT TRIP.
The brief twilight of the tropics had just sped away before the shadows of night over the seas which gird Ceylon, when a raft, stealing along the quiet expanse before the breath of the night-wind, approached the spot beneath which lay one of the chank beds that enrich the north-west coast of the island. The situation of the bed was marked by the constant presence of a boat, placed there by the lessees of the chank bed to guard its treasures from pilferers. These thanks, or conch-shell, are a very tempting object of theft to the natives, not only as ornaments for their own persons, but as being in constant demand for the same purpose, and for burial with the distinguished dead, throughout the whole neighbouring continent of India. Sawn into rings, they deck the wrists, ancles, and fingers of many thousand dark beauties who care as little whether they are obtained by filching or by lawful fishing, as some fairer belles inquire whether their articles of luxury are smuggled or legally imported. Great precautions are therefore necessary to preserve the property of the chunk monopolists; and the best of these precautions are often useless. In the present case, the guard-boat might as well have been empty, for any opposition that it offered to the approach of the raft. The guard were probably asleep, or they would have perceived it at the moment that the moon lifted her horn above the eastern wave, spreading a sheet of light over the still expanse. At that moment, the two dusky figures which had been standing erect and silent beside the mast of the raft, began to move, though not to speak. Marana pointed to the golden light which was just appearing, and Rayo, understanding her sign, proceeded to lower the sail of matting, (which might become conspicuous in the moonlight,) and to dislodge the mast. Both figures then lay down beside it, so that the raft might have appeared, even to close observation, to be no more than a piece of drifting wood, but for the gleams sent forth from the precious stones with which Marana's silver hair-pins were set, and for the ripple of Ravo's paddle, which he contrived to ply as he lay. “The critical moment must be when he plunged, as there were no sea sounds amidst which the splash might be lost. All was as quiet as a lake. The guard-boat was no cradle to those who slept within it, for it kept its place as if it had been fixed in the sand of the beach. The black points of rock which rose above the surface at a distance towards the land were reflected with perfect fidelity, instead of in fluctuating lines of shadow. Marana dreaded the plunge for her lover, and fearfully watched to see dark figures rise up in the guard-boat while the circles were vet spreading, and breaking the moonlight to shivers on the surface. No foe appeared, however; and Marana was at liberty for new fears. There were enemies in the green depths below more formidable than any to the right hand or the left. It was quite as probable that a shark might take a fancy to this locality as a diver; and a chance meeting was little likely to end without strife. Marana drew towards the edge of the raft as its heavings subsided, and looked eagerly down, dreading to see a red tinge diffuse itself in the lucid depth, and starting at every shadow that floated through it. She was fingering her ebony beads meanwhile, and her lips moved as she murmured some aspirations compounded of a catholic prayer and a native charm. The depth was little more than two fathoms in this place, and Rayo was soon up again, though the minute of his submersion seemed incalculably longer to Marana. He delivered his pouch to her to be emptied, and rested himself by floating till he was ready for another descent.
Again and again he dived, till Marana discovered a treasure in the pouch which destroyed ail further temptation to theft that night, and relieved the damsel from the anxiety of watching more descents of her lover. A shell which opened to the right, commonly called a right-handed chank, a shell esteemed worth its weight in gold, appeared in the heap, and it was not worth while to run any further risk when so rare a possession as this was obtained. Rayo's spirits were so raised by his good fortune that he insisted on paddling quite round the guard-boat, near enough to see whether there was any one in it, while Marana looked anxiously at the ascending moon, whose flood of light was now veiling the stars. When she saw arms gleaming in the boat, she thought it too rash of her lover to come between the sleeping guard and the moon, and looked imploringly at him while she pointed to the shore. His curiosity once satisfied, the danger was soon over. Rayo ventured to stand up to paddle, when the raft had distanced the boat by half a mile, and Marana began her inquiries as to what he had seen in the deep.
Rayo made light, as he had done for some time past, of the achievement of diving for chanks. He had practised it as a preparation for becoming a pearl-fisher in waters three times as deep, and for a much more precious treasure. He was to make his first trial of the nobler occupation at the approaching pearl fishery; and he spoke with becoming indifference of all meaner accomplishments. He had seen no sharks to-night; there would be more chance of them in deeper water. He had been startled by no strange appearances: nine fathoms down was the scene tor wonders. He had found no difficulty in filling his pouch: the oyster beds would afford harder work. Marana thought all this was counterbalanced by the absence of a charmer who might say “avaunt i” to sharks, and interpret all marvels, and lighten all toils. If her father could have been on the raft with them to-night, she should think as little of the trip as Rayo himself; and if he could but get himself engaged tbr the same boat that was to carry Rayo out to his first pearl fishing, she should have confidence in his prosperity and safe return.
They fell in with no other vessel till they came in sight of the shore,—the wildest and dreariest part of the shores of Ceylon. A flat yellow beach stretched away on either hand, without rock or tree, or any object which could cast a shadow, except the huts of mud and rushes which afforded a shelter to the natives. In no place was it easier to make a landing, and in none was it more difficult to laud unperceived, when sun or moon was above the horizon. No jutting rocks were there, behind whose screen a raft might lie concealed: no shady creek into which a skiff might glide and secrete itself beneath the mangroves: no groves of cocoa-nut, feathering the margin of the tide, beneath whose canopy dusky pilferers might creep to divide their spoils. All was l:ere open to the sky, and to a sky whose lesser lights leave little unrevealed even on the night of a new moon.
Rayo and Marana had little chance of stealing to their homes unobserved while so many eyes were looking upon them from above, and while a certain pair of vigilant human eyes preserved their wont of looking abroad upon the night. The tall figure of Father Anthony, the priest, was moving on the beach, preceded by his still taller shadow, when the raft floated on shore. Rayo saw this while still afloat; and if he had been an English smuggler, he would have pushed off again before he was recognized, and have kept out of sight till Father Anthony was safely housed. But Rayo's ideas of good manners would not allow of this. He had no notion of failing to pay his respects to any who came in his way, whatever might be the consequence of the meeting; and he now greeted Father Anthony with as much deference as Marana herself, hoping that it was no evil which kept their friend awake at this hour.
“No worse evil than being unable to rest so well here as in Europe, where there are no excessive heats of the day to make us restless at night. But what fish do you seek so late? I fear you have lost your nets,” he continued, seeing no fishing apparatus on board the raft.
Marana looked at Rayo, and Rayo said nothing.
“Chanks!” exclaimed Father Anthony, perceiving now of what Marana's burden consisted. “These chanks cannot be yours.”
“His hands brought them up,” declared Marana, pointing to her lover.
“It may be so, but they are no more his than the comb in his hair would be mine if I were to take it from him. Rayo, why did you steal these chanks? Do not you know that God punishes theft?”
“Is it theft to get chanks for my bride, when I have worked long for them, and can get no chanks by working? I thought God laid the chanks in our seas for our brides.”
“They have become the property of some who may let your brides, or the brides of india have them, as they may see fit. God gave them into the hands of those who possess them; and have He will be angry with any who take them away by fraud or violence. All cannot have these chank-beds, and those who have bought them must be protected in their possession.”
“I have earned as many as I have taken,” replied Rayo; “and to-night God has given them to me. The guard did not even stir when I plunged.
“And God gave him this,” added Marana, showing And the precious shell as an indubitable proof of all being right. Father Anthony had not been long enough in his present station to know the full value of what he now took into his hand; but it he had, his decision would have been the same, that the chanks were not Rayo's.
Rayo was much in want of his friend's guidance. In the school, it was taught as a duty that a just reward should be given for toil. Was it a duty out of school to toil without reward?
Certainly not, except in the case of the mutual services which friends and neighbours should yield to each other. But nobody thought of toiling without reward, as far as Father Anthony knew. The chank-fishers, he was sure, were paid. Rayo acknowledged having received certain portions of rice, and of cotton for clothing: but never any wages which would purchase what was necessary for Marana before her father would allow her to marry. Rayo had no objection to work. but he had not doubted about the liberty of paying himself, in case of an insuffieiency of wages. When he heard, however, all the denunciations that Father Anthony had to bring against the sin of theft, and it was pressed upon him that he had actually been guilty of the crime, he was perfectly submissive; no less so than Marana, though his eves did not stream like hers, and he did not so instantly betake himself to his devotions. He stood with his eves cast down, waiting for instructions.
“Your duty is clear, Rayo,” said Father Anthony. “He that hath stolen must not only steal no more, but must restore what he hath stolen. When the sun uses, you must go to the owners of these chanks and restore them, relating your offence and seeking their pardon; I need not say humbly, for I have never observed you fail in humlity.”
Rayo made obeisance, and Marana hoped he might also relate how he fell into the offence.
“If he does it without any pretence of justifying himself,” said father Anthony, who was not unwilling that the facts of the oppression under which his poor friends laboured should be brought home, on every possible occasion, to the owner of the wealth which surrounded them, and which they might not appropriate, Rayo may say why he wishes for chanks and for the money that chanks will bring; but he must not defend himself for having taken them without leave. Neither must you excuse yourself before God, Rayo; but seek His pardon before you sleep. May He pardon and bless you, Rayo!”
“How far will you have to carry them? ⃜asked Marana, as soon as Father Anthony was out of hearing. as If it is not too far for a woman, I will go with you, and carry them, and confess for you. How far must they be carried.”
Rayo painted to his father's hut, his own abode, and began walking towards it with a countenance of perfect content. But Marana stopped, and looked the entreaty which she dared not speak.
“They are heavy,” observed Rayo, taking the chanks from her.
“No, no. I will carry them to the mountains, I will swim with them through the sea, sooner than that the curse shall light upon you, Rayo. Father Anthony says the curse comes upon those who do not do as they say, and a great curse upon those who steal as we have done, unless they restore.”
“It will bring a curse to say what he bids me say to the rich men. I shall fish no more chanks, and lose what I have got, and perhaps fish no pearls. This will be a curse.”
“But what will Father Anthony say to-morrow?”
“Let us see if he finds it out.”
“But the curse will come, whether Father Anthony knows or not.”
“Your father shall charm it away, and you shall have your rings; and the rest shall be sold at the fishery. Then we will build a house, and we will each have new clothing, and we will be married.—But let us hide the chanks. If my father finds them, lie will sell some. If Neyna finds them, she will ask for rings too. We will hide them in the rushes.”
Marana dared not resist, but her horror of the curse grew every moment. She did not think at all the worse of her lover for his determination. She rather admired the bravery of it, her thoughts being employed, not on the sin, but on its apprehended consequences. She doubted whether her father had a charm strong enough to obviate the effects of her lover's rashness; and she was far less afraid of anything that might come out of the rushes than of what might come out of the deed which Rayo went to do there.
When the torches were lighted, without which it is unsafe to penetrate the places where leopards may be crouching on dry sand, hidden by the silky rushes, she went first, fearing, not the glaring eye of a savage beast, but the vigilant glance of some saint or demon whom her religion or the old superstitions of the country taught her to regard as the dispenser of punishment from above. She started as the night-wind swept among the reeds, not so much from dread of some velvet paw that might be stealing towards her, as from expectation of some token of wrath. All was quiet, however. The curse was not perceived immediately to light, and the lovers parted in safety at the door of her father's hut.
Marana stood for some time hesitating between lying down at once on her mat to sleep, and waking her father, to trouble him for a charm without loss of time. A belter plan than either flashed across her mind, and found more and more favour the longer she entertained it. It might avert the curse without exposing Rayo to shame; and the loss of the chanks (which was involved in her scheme) was a small price to pay for such security. She hoped Rayo) might be brought to think so: and if not, she could rather bear his anger than see the curse light upon him. The chanks were intended chiefly for her: and she could do without them for ornaments, and had rather marry Rayo without a house and without new clothing than expose him to the curse: and thus, by a process of reasoning over which the fear of a curse presided, she convinced herself that the best thing she could do was to restore the chanks to their oozy bed.
Without a torch, for she had not now the means of getting one, she stole out, and crept to the hiding place among the rushes. Without bite from snake, or alarm from any living thing more formidable than a bat, she made her way out again. Without help or hinderance, she pushed the little raft into the water, hoisted its mast and mat, and stood out alone into the shining sea. What kind of malignant beings she could imagine to be hovering between the glorious constellations and their earthly mirror, it was for her to tell. The miseries which she believed them commissioned to dispense came from a much nearer place than the nearest of those radiant spheres, or even of the dense clouds which began to show like a low wall along the horizon. The miseries under the pressure of which her lover had committed crime, and she was now dreading the atonement, came from the corrupt desires and infirm judgments of men near at hand, whose passion was for the possession of the powers of the earth, and not for alliance with the powers of the air.
When Rayo rose in the morning at his father's calls to trim the boat for a fishing expedition, he was surprised to see no sign of his little raft on the beach. It might have been washed away, the sea being no longer so smooth as it was a few hours before: or some unscrupulous neighbour might have used it for his own convenience, It was of little consequence; a raft being the simplest and cheapest of all contrivances by which a Cingalese can set himself afloat. The disappearance was explained when old Gomgode's flat-bottomed fishing-boat, containing himself and Rayo, had made some progress from the land, and was pitching in the rising swell, while the young man threw out his nets.
“Rayo, Rayo,” said Gomgode, “what is floating out beyond? Rayo, Rayo. tell me whether it is not your raft.”
Rayo believed it was, but could scarcely distinguish it yet with sufficient certainty to claim it. The old man's sight might not be really better than his son's, but it was usually sharpened by curiosity to a much greater degree than that of the less vivacious Rayo. He now perceived that there was a woman upon the raft, and then Rayo also began to see very. clearly; and not only to see, but to act. Gomgode could not conceive what possessed Rayo to draw in the nets so hastily, and quit their station, and give up every thing for the sake of following or meeting this raft. when to-day, of all days, it was important to secure a good draught of fish. They had come out early, on purpose, the auction of the oyster-banks being just about to he held, giving a fine opportunity for the sale of fish. One boat after another was dropping out from the shore, and Rayo was losing all the advantage of being out first, was, giving up all his preparations, for the sake of making towards the raft.
“Rayo, Rayo,” the old man exclaimed.
“Father, Marana is there, dripping and struggling.”
“Is it Marana? It is Marana. What sent her out, Rayo? How long has she been out, Rayo? Did you Know that she had your raft, Rayo? O, Rayo, what is she going to do now, Rayo?”
Marana was about to do a somewhat perilous thing. She was about to dash through a threatening wave as a horserider bursts through a blind hoop, trusting to light again. The sea was now far too rough for so slight a machine as this raft. It pitched and shivered as every wave broke over it, and afforded so little secure hold against the stronger swells which succeeded each other, that Marana seemed to find it her best way to pass through them separately. She was seen standing with her face towards the approaching wave, eyeing it steadily, and cleaving her way through it so as to come. out near the very point to which the raft was descending from its ridge. This was all very well for awhile; but Marana was yet a great way from shore, and it was scarcely possible but that such a succession of plunges must exhaust her before she could commit herself finally to the waves to be cast upon the beach. It was contrary to her habits also to use much exertion, and the effort which brought her out thus alone upon the sea, whatever might be its motive, could hardly be long sustained. Rayo was full of wonder and of fear; and his father's remonstrances and questions stood little chance of being attended to till Marana was safe on board.
Marana herself, though by far the most deferential person that Gomgode was wont to meet, could scarcely bring herself to give an answer to his inquiries till she had obtained Rayo's forgiveness for having, at great sacrifice to herself, averted the curse from him. Meek and downcast, the dusky beauty stood before him, her half-clothed frame trembling with her late exertions, and the salt water dripping from her hair. One corner of her garment seemed to be very carefully cherished by her. It contained the precious right-handed chank. She had not found in her heart to part with it, on arriving at the place of deposit: and, while hesitating, several good reasons for keeping it occurred to her, as is not unfrequently the case with those who are religious after her manner, any more than with those who are not religious at all. It was a pity the shell should be lost, and it was likely never to be fished up among so many. It might be turned to a much better purpose, if her father would make it a charm. There could be no sin in keeping it, if it was thus converted to a religious use instead of being sold for a profit. Marana therefore kept the chank, and was the better able to bear her lover's displeasure from the silent consciousness that she held a treasure for him in her possession.
She did not make a syllable of reply to his lowering look and few cutting words against herself, and when his wrath turned upon Father Anthony, or rather upon any priest or religion which interfered with his doings, Marana testified only by a slight glance round her that she was uneasy under this rashness of complaint.
The moment the boat touched the shore after a prosperous trip, she hastened to her father's cottage, not waiting to observe how much more Gomgode would ask for his fish than they were actually worth, nor even to hear whether anything was yet known of the quality of the oysters which had been brought up as a sample from the pearl banks, and on whose evidence the auction was to proceed. She had an office to discharge, in common with her neighbours; to dress and light up the road bv which the agent of the government was to approach: and she was anxious to obtain the desired favour from her father before she went forth.
The Charmer, who was expecting an application, in the course of this day, to hold his services in readiness for the fishery, was now absorbed in his preparations. He sat in a corner of his hut with his documents spread before him. Strips of the talipot-leaf, on which some consecrated style, guided by a wise man's hand, had traced mysterious characters, lay before the Charmer, and beads and images and various sacred indescribable articles were scattered around. He gave no heed to his child when she entered, and his melancholy countenance wore a deeper sadness than usual.
“Father!” softly said Marana, after some time waiting his pleasure; “where will the sharks be during the fishery?”
The Charmer shook his head, and acknowledged his doubt whether St. Anthony would be permitted to keep them all within the bounds of Adam's Bridge, or whether some would be left at large between the north banks and the shore. The south banks would be safe; but the north, alas! were those in which Marana was interested.
“Father! the monsoon will surely not arrive too early?”
“Not till April is nearly past,” he replied, cheerfully. “It is even likely that there may be complaints in the south of drought, from the delay of the rains. There will be no storms in our fishery.”
“I will ask Father Anthony to praise the saints Will the fishery be rich?”
“To some, and not to others. This is commonly the case; and I cannot discover whose countenanees will be sad in illegibleipo, and whose merry voices will sing along the shore at Condatchy, when the last signal-gun has brought, back the last boat.”
There was a long pause before Marana ventured to utter the more important question,
“Father! will any one be waited for in the paradise under the sea?”
The Charmer rubbed his hand over his brow, and said that this was the point he was endeavouring to ascertain when his daughter entered. His indications were at variance; and whether the fishery was to be fatal to none, or to more than he had put the question for, he could not decide,—Marana felt that she must request Father Anthony to intercede with, as well as praise the saints.
“Is it a blind day to you, father?” she inquired, struck by his tone of doubt on almost every topic she had introduced.
“My blind days are many,” he replied, “and the blindness troubles me. Marcair looks doubtfully upon me, and I look doubtfully upon myself, — because I warned him that a wild elephant would tread his rice-ground seven nights ago. Marcair lighted eleven fires, and thirty-two friends kept watch with him for three nights: and not a twig was heard to snap in the jungle and those who laid ear to the ground say that not so much as a panther trod within a mine.”
“Seven nights since? That was the night that ball of white fire crossed the sky”
“A ball of fire! St. Anthony opened your eyes to see It! A ball of white fire cast from the hand of a saint is more fearful than eleven fires kindled by men's hands.”
“The elephant was seared, father, no doubt, The ball passed, over that very jungle, and then above Marcair's rice-ground, and then into the sea.”
The Charmer's spirits were so raised by the news of this interposition, that he presently contrived to bring his most important calculations to an agreement, and then lost no time in charming the shell, that his daughter might be at liberty to reveal to the neighbours what she had seen on the seventh preceding night, and thus reestablish her father's credit.
She had never heard her father speak more positively on any point than on this,—that if Rayo was married to her before he went out to the fishery, this charm would bring Rayo back safe from the fishery, lt followed that Rayo should have his wish, and be married before the adventure. There being no dwelling ready nor any thing to put therein, was a matter of small moment in comparison with Rayo's safety.
Marana went forth with her usual slow and demure step and demeanour: but the torches which flashed here and there on her path were reflected back from her eyes as brightly as from the topazes on the crown of her head. With a lighter, but no less graceful touch than usual, did she unfurl the fan-like talipot leaves of which the tents for the strangers were composed. With more than her usual fancy did she feather with cocoa-nut leaves the poles of bamboo to which torches were to be fastened at intervals along the road. She was too poor to pay the tribute of white cotton cloth for the government agent to walk upon, when he should arrive within sight of the huts: but she had a new song to offer, which was worth full as much. She had, besides, a little cocoa-nut oil to spare for the anointing of a sister beauty or two, when she had made her own toilet: so that the remark went round that Marana must have got some new charm from her father for her special adornment. Rayo's manner seemed to show that he thought so too.