Puslapio vaizdai

"Obsessed by a fatuous devotion to penmanship"

Eventually, every bird being fed and I myself almost prostrated with nervous exhaustion, the thankless rascals would endeavor to make me repeat the process and flutter all over me, belligerently twittering a persistent encore.

Shamelessly, some of the more adventurous of the gang would pursue me to the al-fresco bath-room where I tubbed in the early dawn, and would waggle their feathers as the water was splashed over them, and chirrup angrily if the cook's hens, or any other unprivileged intruders, dared trespass as lawlessly as they.

My jungle palace stood in a natural clearing, on a ridge that shed the water during the rains. Its floor was a platIts floor was a platform of mud-mortar raised about eighteen inches above the level of the surrounding ground, and its roof was of thatch made from jungle-grass, no suitable palms growing in that part of India. This roof was supported on poles cut from the jungle, but walls there were none.

When the rainy season set in, we

made hurdles, latticed

with green boughs from the jungle, and these we leaned against

the poles on whatever side we most needed shelter.

If the wind blew high, these shelters were lashed to the poles in order that they would not blow in or out. It was an apotheosis of architectural simplicity.

The chameleons lived in these hurdles. They were quiet, law-abiding reptiles, and gave no trouble. The leopards lived with the cook and other retainers until they grew too big for domestic comfort and convenience, when they were presented to my nearest neighbor, a planter who lived about forty miles away.

He was a very renowned shikaree, or hunter, but as there were no roads in that part of the world, and a broad river lay between us, I did not see so much of him as I might have done were circumstances more conducive to neighborliness. That he was a man of great and discriminating acumen may be deduced from the fact that he always praised my bulbuls as being the most remarkable lot of wild fowl in southern Bengal.

As soon as I was bathed and dressed it was my custom to sally forth on horseback and visit certain mines in

which by that time I had secured many Santhals as workers. This meant a ride of about ten or fifteen miles, from which I returned at about nine or ten o'clock in the forenoon, quite ready for breakfast and a good stiff whisky "peg."

Between me and such pleasures, however, invariably ensued a second battle with the bulbuls; for on the first yelp of the friendly hound that heralded my approach to the compound, the whole tribe of feathered retainers came piping and fluttering from their perches in the shrubs or shelters, and congregated with their clamant grievances at the entrance-porch.

Before I was off my horse half a dozen of them would be squabbling about his ears or on my broad-rimmed topi; and when Narain Singh, my Garwhal, held out for me the bubbling and welcome glass, as like as not, before I touched it, a bulbul would be fluttering on its rim, pretending he thought it was the attah-pot.

Love of peace is the father of many follies. In my case it all too often led to my calling for the attah-pot and feeding those tempera

mental birds before sitting down to my own breakfast.

As a matter of fact, the wretched creatures did not really require food on such occasions. They had been picking up various kinds of bugs and beetles and other dainties all the morning; but, like spoiled women, they fretted for small and superfluous attentions, and would have combined to make my life miserable had I failed to pamper them.

At breakfast, however, they held me sacred and taboo. sacred and taboo. Once in a blue

moon, perhaps, frenzied by some drunken ecstasy of daring, or driven thither by the exigencies of battle with a butterfly, one might drop upon the dish of curry or alight for a transient second on the back of my chair. Taken by and large, however, as the sailors say, my person and my viands were alike immune from onslaught during the course of my lonely meal.

But when the cloth was cleared and I took up my newspaper or my writing, the period of truce was considered as having passed, and I was likely to have fresh incursions at any moment.

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"There were many trees of mysterious repute thereabouts"

Fortunately for me, the lure of the out-of-doors was then almost paramount for the bulbuls, and unless I started writing immediately after breakfast, I was likely to be left in peace for several hours. Three of the birds, however, were obsessed by a fatuous devotion

to penmanship, and if one or all of these happened to be on the premises when I started a letter, I had to abandon the work almost as soon as it was begun.

The scratching of the pen on the white paper seemed to enthral them. They would perch on my shoulder or on the ink-bottle, and the instant I started to write they would swoop down on the paper and peck wickedly at the nib as it scratched along. Perhaps they thought the written word was some fancifully twisted worm.

atory snakes and animals abounded among the trees and bushes, and doubtless also there were many ghosts and demons inimical to bird life that lurked there unseen of human eyes. There were many trees of mysterious repute thereabouts, some benignly

"Chidi Kahn then returned to his lawful Occasions"

It was the self-appointed duty of Chidi Khan to gather in the bulbuls at sundown and place them in their cages for the night. They were small brown birds not much bigger than ordinary English sparrows, light on the breast, and with black tufts on their heads. Well able to take care of themselves by day, though they were, the night was filled with perils that they could neither combat nor understand. Pred

haunted, others infested by devils wholly malignant. Despite the fact that the evil spirits of these arboreal temples were soothed and assuaged by constant offerings, rags, fruit, and bits



of sugar-cane that were left by pious native worshipers to clutter around their roots,-no sure dependence could be placed upon the effects of such precautions, and all haunted trees were regarded as evil roosts for bulbuls.

Therefore Chidi Khan shepherded

them home every night, and often there was a fearsome hue and cry when some errant bird was missing. In such an event, no retainer of the establishment might retire to rest until the truant was safely recovered.

Winter passed with few such mishaps, but strange things happened in the spring. Out of those happenings came sad losses. Around about that country-side grew many mowah-trees, fine, umbrageous fellows that spread their shade almost as generously as the

sacred banians, and blossomed into heavy-scented, wax-like flowers that covered the ground where they fell.

Upon this seasonal falling of the mowah-blooms ensued much rejoicing among the natives, who gathered the fallen blossoms in great baskets, singing the while, and even blowing conchhorns as they reaped the harvest of the trees. Well might they be merry on such occasions, because the fall of the mowah-bloom was really their vintage, a genuinely bacchanalian festival, and from the thick, heavy-scented blossoms they brewed the most potent and most terrible beer on earth.

Following the vintage came the nuptial season of the Santhals, which utterly disrupted all work at the mines. while it lasted, and in no respect savored of those more romantic wooings that the bulbuls of Moore and Byron were supposed to accelerate in the more conventional regions of Persia and Kashmir. In the principal Santhal village the natives erected a huge, barn-like structure, roofed and walled with thatch and brambles. On a set day all the matrimonially eligible youths and damsels of the adjacent district were gathered together and inducted into this connubial arbor, and there they were left to woo and mate with one another until all who could find their respective affinities of the opposite sex had found them.

That love at first sight is no common failing of the Santhals was revealed by the fact that this process of mutual selection occupied several days; and even at the end of that period several unmated youths and damsels were left forlorn, and were perforce obliged to wait another year before being able to secure a second chance in the great lottery of marriage.

Whether it was the mowah beer or the nuptials that came between Chidi Khan and his responsibilities to the bulbuls, I never was able to explain satisfactorily; but for a week I was left cookless and the bulbuls were deprived of their shepherd, and five of the bulbuls disappeared.

Chidi Khan then returned to his lawful occasions, chastened and deeply repentant; but of the fourteen bulbuls that had cheered our domicile only nine remained. Of the five that had departed, two were of the trio that used to bewilder me while I was writing.

Shortly after this great bereavement, other afflictions followed that were ultimately destined to bear harshly upon the bulbuls and the Santhals and all my other people of the jungle. Their sahib was at the parting of the ways.

One afternoon I sallied forth with my groom and my grass-cutter and my body-servant, Narain Singh, and we traveled the forty miles and crossed the river that separated me from my neighbor. neighbor. He lived in a "pukka” house, with great brick pillars supporting its lofty roof. Fair fountains and gardens were about; many ryots tilled the adjacent lands, whence they brought their indigo to his factory, where it was wrought into the blue dye of commerce. He saw more people of his own kind than I did, and he saw them oftener; but I am not sure that I was the lonelier white man of the two. With him I tarried a pleasant week, spending our days hunting after bears and leopards and other wild things, and between times, by lamplight, we arranged that there should be a fair asylum for my bulbuls were I to be called elsewhere. He

rode with me to the river when we parted, and I saw him only once more.

Before my advent thither, the greatest god in my people's country was the god of the great cotton-tree that raised its gaunt, drab majesty above a mound that stood about two hundred yards from my abode. Nobody dared gather the fluffy balls that floated away from it in the flowering season, because every such piece of fluff was reputed to embody some peculiar devil of its own.

It was not for me, a stranger within their gates, to question the might or puissance of the Santhals' god, supported as it was on a foundation of unfathomable tradition. Therefore I always treated him with becoming reverence, and did much toward establishing a religious entente affecting many uncongenial creeds by despatching as my oblation, to be placed at the foot of the sacred tree, a roasted junglefowl that was too tough to cut with a carving-knife.

part it is open to question whether by the end of a year the god of the tree or the sahib of the bulbuls was considered of the greater importance. Chidi Khan, lantern to my feet in the matter of bulbuls, made no effort to claim even a share of the renown which he had thus brought upon me, but rather sought to repudiate it. This always baffled my comprehension; but Chidi Khan was a Mohammedan servant of the old school, and as such sought his own exaltation in the reflected glory of the presence.

With that object in view, no doubt, he proclaimed that my intimacy with the bulbuls was a mere trifling result of my power in the matter of weaving spells, a statement that seemed reasonable and satisfactory to his hearers, though it frequently placed me in situations of great embarrassment. Thus on one occasion, when they brought in a wretched native who had been badly stung by a huge scorpion and was bellowing his agony to the skies, I gave Chidi Khan a solution of ammonia to apply to the wound and neutralize the poison. Such stings generally keep the patient howling for two or more days, but the relief given by a quick application of ammonia is instantaneous.

Chidi Khan explained to the grate


"All rare creatures, all fresh and genuine"

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