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Everybody is talking horse now, and business will be at a standstill during the first few days of the coming month, when the pony races take place at the suburban course in Santa Mesa. As a result, every afternoon that some of us do not go rowing or play tennis, we adjourn to the race-track, and, in company with groups of Spaniards and wealthy mestizos, watch the smart ponies circle around the track.
And, speaking of the race-course, I have just made arrangements with one of my new friends to take a bungalow situated on a low rise that backgrounds the tracks at the quarter-mile post. It stands, prettily shaded by bamboo-trees, on practically the first bit of upland that later grows into the lofty mountains of the interior, and the view off over the race-course and low-lying paddy-fields, squared off into sections, toward the city, is the most picturesque. On another side we look off over the winding river toward the mountains, which hardly appear five miles away, and still another view is a bamboo grove, against which is backed up our little stable with various outbuildings including the kitchen. A broad veranda runs entirely around the main building, where the living-rooms are located, and Venetian roll-blinds let down from the piazza-roof keep off the afternoon sun.
Yesterday I had my first experience in making extensive purchases of furniture. and was interested to see about twelve coolies start off from the city toward our country residence, three miles away, loaded down with beds, tables, chairs, and other articles. Four of them started off later on with the up right piano balanced on a couple of cross-sticks resting on their shoulders, and trotted the whole distance without sitting down to play the "Li Hung Chang March" more than twice. These living carriers rather take the place of express wagons in the East, and a long caravan of furniture-laden Celestials, solemnly going along through the highway at a jogtrot, is no uncommon sight. We shall need dishes, knives, pots and kettles, and a whole World's Fair of trumpery, before we get started, and I shall have to be busy with a Spanish dictionary, in order to get familiar with the right names for the right things.
You have asked me how the mosquitoes fare upon the newly arrived foreigner. To tell the truth, I have not seen more than a dozen since coming to Manila, and those all sang in tune. Everybody sleeps under nettings, of course, but so far I have not seen as so many biters flying around at night as there are in the United States of America. To be sure, one sees a good many lizards hanging by the eye-teeth to the walls, or walking about unconcernedly up-side-down on the ceilings, but they do good missionary work by devouring the lost of smaller bugs, and it is one of our highest intellectual pursuits here in Manila to stretch out in long chair and go to sleep gazing upward at these enterprising bug-catchers pursuing their vocation. And now and then, from some piazza-roof or ceiling will drop on your face a so-called hairy caterpillar whose promenade on ones epidermis will cause it to swell up in great welts that close one's eyes and ruffle the temper.
Rats are more numerous than mosquitoes, and the other day, on my opening a drawer in some of our office furniture, three jumped out. The office was transformed into an impromptu race-course, and all hands were called to take part in the slaughter. But Manila doors are loose-jointed, and the rodents escaped somewhere into the next room. Since then I have had the legs sawed off my desk, so that these literary beggars, who delight to eat up one's valuable papers, should not climb in and make a meal off of my private cable code--a thing which they started to do some time ago. They have already several times run off with the candle which was used for heating sealing-wax, and posses such prowess that they even took it out of the candlestick.
We had a new arrival at the club lately in the person of a young Englishman who came fresh from Britain. someone had stuffed him with tales of indolent life in the Far East, for he came in to his first dinner at the club clad only in pajamas and green carpet-bag slippers. He also thought that the Spanish language consisted in adding final a's to words in the English tongue and shouted all over the club next morning for sopa, sopa, with which to cleanse him self. But the servant brought him a plate of soup, and he is now trying to remember that soap in Spanish is translated by jabon, not sopa. Jamon the word for ham, however, is close enough to give him trouble and he will no doubt ask for soap instead of ham at our next repast.
The pony races came off with great éclat on the first four days of this month, and were decidedly interesting. All Manila turned out, and such a collection of carriages I have never seen. All the Spanish ladies put an extra coat of paint in their complexions, and, dressed in their best bibs and tuckers, made somewhat of a ghastly show in the searching light of early afternoon. The high, thatched-roofed grand stand presented a duly gay appearance as the bell rang for the first event, and the dried-up paddy-fields, far and near ,crackled with natives directing their steps toward the centre of attraction.
In front of the grand stand groups of Spaniards, Englishmen, and sea-captains formed centres for betting, and of the sides were refreshment-booths to which everyone made pilgrimage as often as the articulatory muscles are in need of lubrication.
Some of the ponies were splendid-looking little "critters" and made almost as fast time as their larger brethren, the horses. During race-afternoons, business in the city was entirely suspended, and everyone who had a dollar took it to the race-course to gain other dollars. As the currency system is all metal, bets were paid in hard coin, and if you happen to buy a lucky ticket in the gambling machine, the "totalizator," you would perhaps have a whole hat-full of heavy silver cartwheels shoved at you on presenting the winning pasteboard. And it was no uncommon sight at the close of the races to see some of the thinly clad natives whom fortune had favored go trudging home across the rice-fields, carrying a load of dollars in a straw hat or a bright bandana.
One of the vessels are dropping away from their anchorage in the bay, and by Saturday our Vigilant will heave up anchor and start on her twenty thousand-mile journey to Boston via the cape, with her big cargo of hemp. Thanks to our attentions to the captains, they have seemed willing to take home for us any amount of souvenirs and curios, and I have sent along quite an assortment of stuffed bats lizards, and snake-skin canes, which I feel sure will cause somebody to creep on their arrival.
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