When Hartog was told of the treachery of Donna Isabel Barreto, in stealing our portion of the gold obtained from the island of Armenio, and leaving us, for all she knew or cared, without the means to repair our vessel, he did not show so much anger as I expected. He seemed more to regret the loss of Donna Isabel than the treasure with which she had so heartlessly decamped.
“She was a clever woman, Peter,” was all he said to me in reference to the matter, “and I shall miss her.” Then he clapped me on the shoulder, and bade me not despond. “We still have the rubies,” he reminded me, “which, properly invested, will more than pay for all we need.”
I had forgotten the rubies, but I stipulated that the disposal of them should be left in my hands.
“Willingly, Peter,” replied Hartog, “for, between ourselves, I doubt not I am more at home on the sea than in making a bargain with land-rogues ashore. Take you command of the ship until she is once more taut and trim.”
To this I agreed, although I had no intention of depriving Hartog of his authority, and, after breakfast, I landed with a boat’s crew, in order to interview the islanders, and, if possible, to make arrangements with some of them for the equipment of our vessel.
Achin, the metropolis of Sumatra, is situated at the north-west end of the island. It stands on a plain, surrounded by woods and marshes, about five miles distant from the sea, near to a pleasant rivulet. The city consists of some eight thousand houses which take up more ground than a city of this size would demand by reason of every person surrounding his dwelling with a palisade that stands some yards distant from it. The inhabitants are, in general, small, and of very swarthy complexion. They have black eyes, flat faces, and high check-bones. Their hair is long and black, and they take great pains to dye their teeth black. They also besmear their bodies with oil, as do the natives of other hot countries, to protect themselves from being stung by insects, while they let their nails grow exceedingly long, scraping them until they are transparent, and dyeing them vermilion. The poorer class go almost naked, having only a small piece of cloth round the waist, and a piece of linen about the head, or a cap made of leaves resembling the crown of a hat. The richer sort wear white breeches to above the knee, and a piece of calico, or silk, wrapped round their loins and thrown over the left shoulder. Some wear sandals, but all are bare-legged and bare-bodied from the waist upward. The common language among them is the Malayan language, and, by speaking to some whom I met on landing, I found I was able to make myself understood, and to understand, though imperfectly, what was said to me. The Sumatrans are a very indolent race of people, which accounted for the small interest they took in the arrival of our ship, none thinking it worth while to come aboard, or to make any inquiry concerning us.