Then came the open country already heated; through shady groves where exquisite butterflies, on velvety blue wings, flitted in masses. On either side, waved tall luxuriant palms, and quantities of flowers in splendid profusion. At last we came to the cemetery, with mandarins’ tombs and many-coloured inscriptions, adorned with paintings of dragons and other monsters; amid astounding foliage and plants growing everywhere. The spot where we laid him down to rest resembled a nook in the gardens of Indra. Into the earth we drove the little wooden cross, lettered:
SYLVESTRE MOAN, AGED 19.
And we left him, forced to go because of the hot rising sun; we turned back once more to look at him under those marvellous trees and huge nodding flowers.
The trooper continued its course through the Indian Ocean. Down below in the floating hospital other death-scenes went on. On deck there was carelessness of health and youth. Round about, over the sea, was a very feast of pure sun and air.
In this fine trade-wind weather, the sailors, stretched in the shade of the sails, were playing with little pet parrots and making them run races. In this Singapore, which they had just left, the sailors buy all kinds of tame animals. They had all chosen baby parrots, with childish looks upon their hooknose faces; they had no tails yet; they were green, of a wonderful shade. As they went running over the clean white planks, they looked like fresh young leaves, fallen from tropical trees.
Sometimes the sailors gathered them all together in one lot, when they inspected one another funnily; twisting about their throats, to be seen under all aspects. They comically waddled about like so many lame people, or suddenly started off in a great hurry for some unknown destination; and some fell down in their excitement. And there were monkeys, learning tricks of all kinds, another source of amusement. Some were most tenderly loved and even kissed extravagantly, as they nestled against the callous bosoms of their masters, gazing fondly at them with womanish eyes, half-grotesque and half-touching.
Upon the stroke of three o’clock, the quartermasters brought on deck two canvas bags, sealed with huge red seals, bearing Sylvestre’s name; for by order of the regulations in regard to the dead, all his clothes and personal worldly belongings were to be sold by auction. The sailors gaily grouped themselves around the pile; for, on board a hospital ship, too many of these sales of effects are seen to excite any particular emotion. Besides, Sylvestre had been but little known upon that ship.
His jackets and shirts and blue-striped jerseys were fingered and turned over and then bought up at different prices, the buyers forcing the bidding just to amuse themselves.
Then came the turn of the small treasure-box, which was sold for fifty sous. The letters and military medal had been taken out of it, to be sent back to the family; but not the book of songs and the work of Confucious, with the needles, cotton, and buttons, and all the petty requisites placed there by the forethought of Granny Moan for sewing and mending.