From birds'-nest soup, which, by the way, is insipid, to shark's fin and bamboo shoots in rapid succession, we had it all. I thought each course would surely be the last; but finally we did get to sweet dishes, and I knew we were approaching the end. Then came the bowl of rice and tea, which are supposed to be able to neutralize the mess which has gone before.
I did not feel so sure; but I was hungry, and as the food did not seem to be, as Barkins said, bad, I kept on, though I could not help wondering what we were eating. "I say, Ching," said Smith suddenly, "when's the birds'-nest soup coming? Oughtn't we to have had that first?" "Eat um all up lit' bit go," replied Ching. "What, that sticky stuff?" I cried. "Yes.
These birds'-nest caves are found all over Borneo and the Malay Peninsula, and also in Java and other parts of the Malay archipelago, but these are by far the largest. The revenue from these caves alone brings the Government a very large sum. By far the greatest number of these nests are sent to China, where birds'-nest soup is an expensive luxury. The natives of Borneo do not eat them.
The other day I was reading how one of our princes was entertained in China, and among the dishes on the table "birds'-nest soup" was mentioned. Now I know that these nests, which are sold in China for their weight in silver, are made of a clear jelly which comes from the swallow's mouth. The nests are built against the sides of rocky cliffs, so that it is very dangerous work to procure them.
The sources of the Company's revenues have been referred to on a previous page, and may be summarised here under the following principal heads: The "Farms" of Opium, Tobacco, Spirits, and of Pawnbroking, the Rent of the edible birds'-nest caves, Market Dues, Duties on Imports and Exports, Court Fines and Fees, Poll Tax on aborigines, House and Store Rents, profit accruing from the introduction of the Company's copper or bronze token coinage a considerable item Interest and Commission resulting from the Banking business carried on by the Treasury pending the establishment of a Banking Company, Land Sales and Quit-rents on land alienated, and Postal Receipts.
He believes that all that is beautiful in life is founded on compassion and kindness and sympathy that nothing of great value can exist without them. Do you think that a Burmese boy would be allowed to birds'-nest, or worry rats with a terrier, or go ferreting? Not so. These would be crimes. That this kindness and compassion for animals has very far-reaching results no one can doubt.
The Chinese and Japanese have long been famous for their birds'-nest soup, and for making the best, after his lamented decease, of the friend of man the dog. About the Australians and New Zealanders, perhaps the less said the better. Many students will feel that our own colonists have neglected to set a proper example to these poor heathen races, who, save kangaroos, have no larger game than rats.
"Well, I've heard of the Chinese eating puppy-dog stew; it comes after birds'-nest soup, you know." "Papa!" indignantly. Mr. Forester lifted the little fellow out of the basket and set him on the floor. He began running along with such a queer little waddle that they all laughed. Then he stopped and contemplated them questioningly, as much as to say, "What are you laughing at?"
Little time was afforded for these private expressions of amiable feeling. The grand repast was declared ready, and the importance of this announcement overweighed, for a short period, the claims of scandal and ill-nature. The company quickly found their way to the tables, which, as the "Pekin Gazette" of the next morning said, in describing the fête, "literally groaned beneath the weight of the delicacies with which they were loaded." The consultations of the Ning-po cook and his confederates had produced great results. The guests seated themselves, and delicately tasted the slices of goose and shell-fish, and the pickled berries, and prawns, and preserves, which always compose the prefatory course of a Chinese dinner of high degree. Then porcelain plates and spoons of the finest quality, and ivory chopsticks tipped with pearl, were distributed about, and the birds'-nest soup was brought on. After a sufficient indulgence in this luxury, came sea-slugs, and shark stews, and crab salad, all served with rich and gelatinous sauces, and cooked to a charm. Ducks' tongues and deers' tendons, from Tartary, succeeded, with stewed fruits and mucilaginous gravy. Every known and some unknown luxuries were lavishly provided. The Ning-po cook had invented a new dish expressly for the occasion, "Baked ice
Fat bears'-paws, brought from the dark forest fifty miles away, these will do for that comfortable-looking mandarin with the red ball on the top of his cap. I think he has eaten something of the same kind before. A birds'-nest soup for my lady in the great house on the hill; birds' nests brought from the rocks where the waves dash, and the birds feel themselves very safe.