“The fisheries are under government regulation. An official announces when the work is permitted, and then it lasts only from four to six weeks. Thirteen men and ten divers are generally the crew of each boat, five of the latter going down into the water while the other five rest. Each diver has a stone, weighing forty pounds, attached to a line long enough to reach the bottom, with a loop near the weight, into which he puts his foot. The water varies in depth from fifty-four to seventy-eight feet. They work quickly; for a minute is the usual time they remain in the water, though some can stand it twenty seconds longer.
“One would suppose that the sharks, which abound in these waters, would make it dangerous business; but very few accidents occur, for the commotion about the boats seems to scare them away. When the diver gives the signal he is hauled up, with his bag of oysters, as rapidly as possible. But the ladies know more about pearls than I do, and I will say no more about them.
“There are many rivers in Ceylon, rising in the high land, and flowing into the sea; but none of them are as long as the Mississippi. The climate of the island is simply magnificent; the average heat in Colombo on the high lands never exceeds 70 deg.. I shall permit you to describe the flowers after you have seen them; but the vegetation generally of the island is exceedingly luxuriant. In regard to animals, the tiger does not reside in Ceylon. The elephant, generally without any tusks, is the chief ruler in the forests here. The bear and the leopard are found. There is no end of monkeys. There are sixteen kinds of bats here, and all your base-ball clubs could be supplied from the stock; and there is a flying fox, which might amuse you if you could catch one. He is a sort of bat; and the more of them you shoot, the better the farmer will be pleased, for they feed on his fruit. Plenty of birds of all sorts are found in the island. The crocodile is the biggest reptile found in Ceylon.”
“But the snakes, your lordship?” suggested Felix.
“There are a few poisonous snakes; and the two worst are the cobra and the ticpolonga, the latter a sort of viper; and the former is an old friend of yours, Mr. McGavonty. The people are called Singhalese, but more generally Cingalese, and are believed to be the descendants of immigrants from the region of the Ganges. There are other races here, as the Malabars. The religion of Ceylon is the Buddhist, and it has a very strong hold upon the natives here as well as in Burma.
“Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, is said to have visited Ceylon three times, and to have preached his doctrines here. His sacred footstep on Adam’s Peak, 7,420 feet high, the second highest elevation in the island, is still adored by the people. But the most sacred relic here is the tooth of Gautama, kept in an elegant shrine and carefully guarded at Candy. But it is said to be well known that the Portuguese destroyed the original; and the substitute is a discolored bit of ivory, without the least resemblance to a human tooth. There are many temples, sacred caverns, some of them sculptured like those near Bombay.