The occasional drawback of weeping skies is counterbalanced by the gorgeous vegetation only seen to perfection in the rainy season, and that clouds should sometimes veil the burning blue to mitigate Equatorial sunshine proves a source of satisfaction to those who fail to appreciate the Rip Van Winkle life of womankind in Java. The journey to Garoet supplies a succession of vivid pictures, illustrating the individuality of the insular scenery. The weird outlines of volcanic ranges, shading from palest azure to deepest plum-colour, the dreamlike beauty of Elysian plains, and the stately palm-forests extending league upon league, with mighty vans clashing in the mountain breeze, assume magical charm as we penetrate into the heart of the alluring land. Two pyramidal peaks, Haroeman and Kaleidon, rise sheer from the fair plain of Lelés in colossal stairways of green rice-terraces. Knots of palm shelter innumerable villages which dot the mountain flanks, the woven huts fragile as houses of cards, but built up on identical sites through countless ages, recorded in perennial characters of living green on these twin trophies of primitive agriculture. Many travellers have commented on the strange undertone of music, echoing from a thousand silvery rills and tiny cascades, which follow the verdant lines of terrace or parapet, and make the shimmering air vocal with melody, like the distant song of surf on a coral reef. Variety of form belongs to all Javanese agriculture as the result of handicraft, for the peasant unconsciously puts his own personality into his toil. The exquisite tints of the rice in different stages of growth display a translucence indescribable except in terms of light and fire. The amber gleam of young shoots, the green flames of the springing crop, the pulsating emerald of later growth, and the golden sheen of ripened ears, invest the "gift of the gods" with unearthly radiance. The Eastern mind has ever responded to Nature's touch, for the great Mother whispers her closest secrets to simple hearts, and science now realises that civilisation has broken many of the subtle links which in earlier days were mystic bonds of union between man and the universe.
Malay idiosyncracy evidences the survival of many primal influences forgotten or denied by races of higher type and deeper culture. Very little is known concerning the Malayan people who mingled with almost every Oriental stock. Amphibious tastes suggest picturesque traditions of prolonged voyaging in search of fresh fishing grounds to supply the needs of a rapidly multiplying population. A strong Malay element exists even in far-off Japan, and the wide ramifications of the nomadic stock can be traced to broad rivers encountered on the southward journey, and luring stragglers from the main body by the mysterious glamour of winding water-ways piercing the tangled forests, and pointing to unknown realms of hope or promise. The Malay retains many of the hereditary gifts bestowed on the untaught children of Nature, and, in spreading his language and customs far over the vast Pacific, adopted few extraneous ideas from the world through which he wandered. His primeval instincts still sway his life under other conditions. Marvellous skill in hunting, fishing, boat-building, and navigation in tornado-swept waters, remains to him. The deft weaving of palm-leaf hut and wall of defence creates a village or destroys it at lightning speed. Even now his basket-work home is never built on dry land, if water can be found wherein to plant the supporting poles of the fragile dwellings, suggesting the impermanence of a nomadic race. The Malay never travels on foot to any place which can possibly be reached by water, his native element; winds and tides have imbued him with something of their own unstable and changing character, and the sea which nurtured him is still the supreme factor in his life. Feet vie with fingers in marvellous capacity, and to see a native cocoanut gatherer run up the polished stem of a swaying palm, with greater ease and swiftness than anyone shows in mounting a ladder, transports thought to the distant past, when the ancestral stock, disembarking from the rude canoes at nightfall, sought an evening meal on the edge of the palm-forest, bowed beneath the weight of green and yellow nuts a hundred feet overhead. What wonder if in lands of perpetual summer the syren song of some "long bright river" should lure the storm-tossed mariners from the perilous seas to the comparative security of inland life! The stern environment of Northern poverty stands out in terrible contrast with the teeming prodigality of tropical Nature, offering all the richest fruits of earth in full measure to these early wanderers across the Southern seas.
The mountain railway, curving round ridge or precipice and spanning sombre gorge with bridge and aqueduct, affords superb views of the unrivalled plains. Waterfalls foam over granite cliffs; a sinuous river flings a silver chain round the symmetrical base of Kaleidon, and from our lofty vantage point we gaze into the luminous green of a million palms, where the warm heart of a deep forest opens to display the lustre and colour of molten emeralds. The Soendanese quarter of the island gives place to the ancient Javanese territory, and Malay characteristics, though underlying and mingling with every insular stock, are here modified by a strain of Hindu ancestry, which gives refinement of feature and grace of carriage. Well-modelled figures and delicate hands and feet are attributed to the liberal admixture of royal and noble blood with that of the peasantry, for the ancient Rulers of Java respected no rights but their own, and the domestic arrangements of King Solomon prevailed in a kingdom of tyrants and slaves. Hindu thraldom was intensified under Arab priests, who, following in the train of piratical Moormen, claimed the sovereignty of Java under their protection. The gold-embroidered jacket of civil or military rank, with the kris thrust into a brilliant sash, here supplements the universal sarong, itself of bolder design and glowing colour in this old-world realm of Mataram, the centre of Java's historic interest. The crooked blade of the kris is still used in divination, light and shadow playing over the wavy steel, ever suggesting cabalistic signs inscribed by an invisible hand on the azure surface. The kris is popularly endowed with healing efficacy, and the availing touch of the sacred talisman is an article of Javanese faith. A hundred varieties of the weapon are found in the Malay Archipelago, from the gold-hilted and diamond-studded royal kris to the boat-handled dagger of common use, permitted to all but peasants; women of the higher class wear it in the girdle, and though unrepresented in the sculpture of Javanese temples, the kris is ascribed to the days of Panji, a Hindu warrior whose feats form the libretto of a popular drama, though his authenticity appears uncertain. The changes in local costume and character, as seen in wayside villages, enliven the journey until we reach the mountain gateway of Tjadas Pangeran, "the Royal Stone," flanked by flashing waterfalls, and forming the entrance to the region supreme in natural scenery, archaic art, and literary interest. The black cone of Goentoer, "the thunder peak," accentuates the red blaze of the declining sun on the intricate rice-mosaic of green and gold in the divinely beautiful plain revealed through the rocky cleft. Amid the many glories of Javanese landscape, the poetic glamour of these palm-girt levels lingers longest in the memory, for the world-famed picture known as "The Plains of Heaven" might have been inspired by the haunting loveliness of these rolling uplands. Our railway carriage contains a native Regent, his principal wife, and a pretty daughter. Javanese princes are made ostensible rulers of native districts, but associated with Dutch Residents as "Elder Brothers," who may be more accurately termed compulsory advisers. Without a measure of despotic authority exercised by the fraternal partner, the spendthrift Malay would cause perpetual hindrance to insular development and commercial prosperity. The old Regent, with embroidered military jacket glittering above his elaborately-patterned sarong, looks a grim and forbidding figure, and evidently regards his womenkind as beneath notice. His head is tied up in a black kerchief, and a brilliant Order conferred by the Queen of Holland adorns his breast. Madame, in magenta shawl and purple gown, travesties European costume. Diamonds blaze incongruously on arms and neck, a scarlet flower in oily black braids completing her startling attire. The girl, in yellow sarong and pink cotton jacket glorified with rubies and pearls, shows her high breeding in slender wrists, delicate hands, and bare feet of exquisite modelling, a red stain of henna drawing attention to their statuesque contour. She staggers beneath a load of impedimenta belonging to her princely father: bags, bundles, and a heavy cloak. Javanese parents of exalted rank treat their daughters with disdain, the approved discipline of family life consisting in stamping an impression of abject insignificance deeply on the plastic mind of girlhood. Fertile plain and wooded slopes are alike destitute of domestic animals. The sheep was unknown to native races in this pastureless land, and, though introduced by the earliest colonists, is still spoken of as "the Dutch goat," no other term existing for it in Malay parlance. Monkeys chatter and rustle in forest trees, gorgeous birds flit past on jewelled wings, and frogs in this rainy season make a deep booming like the tuning of numerous violoncellos. At length the little town of Garoet appears in a green valley, encircled by a diadem of peaks which suggest a tropical Engadine. Volcanic mountains replace Alpine crests, but the white battlements of Papandayang's smoking crater give the effect of distant snow, and the dark pines of the Swiss valley are merely translated into the lustrous green of crowding palms. Brawling river, rustic bridge, and brown hamlets foster the strange illusion, and if it be true that somewhere in the wide world every face finds a counterpart, natural scenery may be subject to an identical law, and various ice-bound landscapes be mirrored under Southern skies in pictures wreathed with palm-fronds and tropic flowers. The Hotel Rupert, garlanded with creepers, the open lattices trellised with ivy and roses, shows a more poetic aspect than any hostelry of the distant Engadine. Our hostess is the widow of a German physician, and her fair young daughter, alert and capable as the typical Hausfrau of her native land, has established a reputation for supplying the guests with the home comforts and restful atmosphere which make the Hotel Rupert an ideal abiding-place in stagnant Java, where as a rule the sole luxuries are out-of-doors, and of Nature's providing. That the Dutchman flourishes on his diet of tinned meat, his appalling rice-table, and the extraordinary sequence of dishes which probably belonged to the early days of colonisation, either proves herculean strength or the triumph of mind over matter, but to those of less heroic mould the unwonted amenities of a more familiar civilisation are welcome as a green oasis in a sandy desert. A cool and healthy mountain climate gives unwonted zest for the lovely excursions of which Garoet is the centre. From the little lake Setoe Bajendit, a covered raft plies to a cupola-crowned hill, facing a noble panorama of volcanic peaks the Soendanese désa of basket-work huts, through which we pass, presents a curious spectacle, with the village street lined on either side by rows of kneeling children, clad in Dame Nature's brown suit alone; each little figure holding up a long-stemmed flower—red hybiscus, creamy tuberose, or snowy gardenia—the imploring faces raised in silent entreaty to the white strangers for the infinitesimal coins which suffice to purchase a sheaf of blossom. Changing lights and shadows sweep across the glancing emerald of the rice-filled vale, darken the purple rifts of mountain gorges, or intensify the luminous azure of soaring crests. Wayside fruit-stalls make gay patches of colour among green piles of banana leaves, and thin yellow strips of bamboo, the approved paper and string of the tropics, in which every parcel is packed. Tall sugar-cane and plumy maize surround each brown désa beneath the knot of palms, and fields of tapioca vary the prevailing rice-grounds with sharp-pointed leaves and paler verdure. The entire tapioca crop of Java belongs to Huntley and Palmer, for use in the manufacture of the biscuits which make a valuable supplement to the Javanese commissariat, for unlimited rice seldom commends itself to English tastes. Hot springs abound in this volcanic soil, and in the "five waters" of Tjipanas, each of different temperature, the native finds a panacea wherein he can indulge to his heart's content, the healing springs rushing into stone tanks set in sheds of bamboo. The principal excursion from Garoet is to the active crater of the Papandayang, a long drive of twelve miles leading to the foot of the volcano. From this point a chair carried by six coolies is required for the steep road, formed by hundreds of moss-grown steps. Plantations of coffee, cinchona, and tapioca girdle the lower slopes of the mountain, hedges and thickets of red and purple coleas bordering the primeval jungle of orchid-decked trees on the higher levels, the moss-grown boughs wreathed with epiphytal plants, the trunks covered with branching ferns, and the thick ropes of matted lianas strangling the dense forest in their green embrace. Wild oleander mingles rosy blossoms with bushes of living gold like tall growths of double buttercups, and at length the cooler regions show the familiar ferns, violets, and primroses of the temperate zone. The weird silence of the jungle is emphasised by an occasional cry of a wild bird, flitting among the tall tree tops, or the crash of a bough, dragged down by the weight of some climbing rattan. A walk up a boulder-strewn slope reaches the old crater, or Solfatara, almost surrounded by steep walls of rock. Boiling and wheezing springs, fast-forming sulphur columns, and clouds of choking steam, rise from the yellow and orange-powdered earth. A deafening noise issues from the self-building architecture of ruddy pillars, the bubbling of boiling mud, and the shrill spouting of hot vapours from narrow orifices in the trembling crust of the fire-charged earth. Golden sulphur-pools shower burning drops on every side, and from the mysterious kawa or crater, echoes of subterranean thunder sound at intervals, from the traditional forge where native legends assert that a chained giant is condemned to work eternally in the service of the Evil One.
At night the broad verandah of the Hotel Rupert is transformed into a stage for a performance of the topeng or national drama, chartered by an American guest. The weird spectacle, accompanied by the gamelon music, transports us to the days of old-world Java, story and performance being of ancient origin and religious signification. The subjects of the topeng are derived from the Panji group of dramatic poems, the ancient costumes, the curious masks, and the office of the dalang or reciter, whose ventriloquial skill is required for the entire wording of the libretto, comprise a valuable memento of bygone days, otherwise entirely forgotten. The wayang-wayang or "shadow dance" of puppets, vies with the topeng in popularity, but the latter ranks as classic and lyrical drama. A graceful girl in pink, with floating scarf, and gleaming kris in her spangled sash, exhibits wonderful skill in the supple play of wrist and fingers, through the process known as devitalization, a form of drill which gives to the arm a plastic power of detached movement, fascinating but uncanny. The dusky garden is filled with a native crowd, moved alternately to tears and laughter by exploits unintelligible to the European spectator, for the story of every national hero is known to the poorest and most ignorant of the people, from perpetual attendance on theatrical performances. The al fresco entertainments necessitated by the climate provide exceptional opportunities of dramatic education in the legends of Java's heroic age. The spacious verandahs gleaming with the soft light of Chinese lanterns, and set in depths of shadow, the scented gloom of the tropical night veiling the dusky lawns, crowded with mysterious figures drawn by the weird music from every quarter, the brilliant robes and grotesque masks of the actors, compose a picture of archaic charm. Passers-by pause on their way to look, and listen with unwearied interest to the oft-told tales, for the stories of the world's childhood, like the fairy lore of our own early days, deepen their significance to the untaught mind by perpetual repetition. The Hindu cloudland which veils the Javanese past "was reached by a ladder of realities," for the exploits of gods and mythical heroes were afterwards attributed to native Rulers, until the medley of truth and fiction, history and mythology, became an inextricable tangle. The birds' beaks, and hooked noses of the masks in the topeng, and of the puppets in the shadow-play, were made compulsory after the Arabic conquest, in order to reconcile the national pastime with the creed of Islam, which forbade the dramatic representation of the human form. The reigning Susunhan evaded the decree by distorting mask and puppet, but although the outside world might no longer recognise the heroes of the play, Javanese knowledge of national tradition easily pierced the flimsy disguise, and credited their deified heroes with a new power of metamorphosis. The fantastic play lasts so far into the night that the prolonged libretto is brought to a summary conclusion by the hostess, since European nature can stand no more, though the rapt attention of the Malay would continue till morning. The satiety of modern days has never touched these simple minds, and an entire absence of that critical element which disintegrates so many of life's simple joys, ministers to the supreme satisfaction derived from the crude ideals of native drama. Silently the brown spectators slip away like shadows from the dim and dewy garden, for the simple and untaught Malay, though eagerly welcoming the privileges permitted to him, never encroaches upon them, and the conduct of these Eastern playgoers affords an example of order and sobriety which shames many an audience of higher education and social superiority in distant Europe.