The Waves splashed on the bold rocks that guard the little harbor of Colombo on the southwest shore of the island of Ceylon. Groves of palm trees looked down on the one-story houses of the town. Upon a rock outside of Colombo stood a barefoot boy, his dark eyes gazing toward the tropically green mountains of the island. His attention was particularly riveted on one of the highest peaks, that one which is known to English-speaking people as “Adam’s Peak,” and which is reverenced by natives as being the traditional spot from which Buddha ascended to heaven.
“The butterflies are making their pilgrimage to the holy footprint,” murmured the boy, Comale, to himself.
He could see from his standpoint great streams of butterflies, taking their flight apparently from all parts of the island, and going toward the famous Peak. These flights of butterflies, occurring occasionally in Ceylon, have won for the butterflies themselves the name of “Samanaliya,” since it is thought that the heathen god, Saman, left his footprint on the mountain, and the butterflies, like devout beings, take pains to go on pilgrimage to the holy footprint.
Comale himself knew better than to believe in this old heathen tale, yet he never saw the myriads of flying butterflies without remembering what he had been taught in his earlier years, before Christianity came under the high-pitched roof where Comale’s father and mother lived.
Long time did Comale stand on the rock and gaze at the vast numbers of flying, winged “pilgrims.” The butterflies seemed countless, and at last Comale, sighing a little, said, “They are very good,” and, jumping from his rock, made haste toward the cinnamon gardens where he worked.
Comale was a “peeler.” In the perfectly white soil around the city of Colombo, the cinnamon tree flourishes as well as, if not better than, in any other place in the world. It requires much practice to become a skillful peeler of cinnamon, but Comale, having been taught by his father, and being moreover a careful, observing lad, was fast attaining a degree of success in his trade. Formerly the Cingalese had allowed the cinnamon trees to grow to their natural height, about twenty or thirty feet, and naturally the cinnamon bark from such trees had been tough. This was long ago, however, before even the Dutch owned Colombo. Better wisdom came with them, and in these later days of English rule, sensible ideas still prevailed. The cinnamon trees were kept pruned, and the comparatively young shoots were found to produce better cinnamon than old trees had done.
Comale, arriving at the gardens, began to work. The branches he chose for cutting were about three feet long and were the growth of from three to five years.
Comale made longitudinal cuts in the bark, two cuts in a small shoot, more cuts in a large shoot, and then with his instrument carefully removed the bark strips.
He placed the pieces of bark in bundles, in which shape the cinnamon was to stay for a while, that it might ferment, so that the outer skin and the under green portion might be more easily scraped away by Comale with a curved knife. After that, the inner cinnamon bark would dry and draw up, till the pieces looked like quills. But ever, as Comale worked this day, something inly disturbed his thoughts. He was very unhappy.
“Comale,” warned his father sharply, “that was a bad cut! Be more careful!”
Comale’s father was attending to some bark that had dried to quills. He was putting small cinnamon quills into larger ones, till he made a collection about forty inches long. Then he would bind the cinnamon into bundles by pieces of split bamboo. But Comale’s father kept an eye on his son’s work, also.
Comale was much abashed at his father’s reproof. For a time the lad kept his mind upon the cinnamon. Then his thoughts went back to their old uncomfortable vein, for he found in a tree a little bundle of sticks from four to six inches long, all the sticks placed lengthwise, the whole looking like a small bunch of firewood. Comale knew what this bundle was, well enough, for many a time he had found this kind of a nest of the larva of a moth. He knew it was lined with fine spun silk, and that the heathen people said that the moth used once to be a real person who stole wood, and who, having died, came back to earth again in the form of a moth, condemned, for the former theft, to make little bunches of firewood. Comale sighed as he touched the little bundle hanging from the tree.