« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
a crocodile will enter from the bank during the night, awaiting the first bather in the early morning as his victim. The older ones, huge brutes that run to eighteen feet in length, seem always to sleep with one eye open, and it is difficult to approach near enough to get a shot. With only the slightest movement of the tail they slide down gently into the water and disappear just as one draws within range. The smaller ones, on the other hand, sleep so soundly that one can get within a few yards of them unobserved. But even then one cannot count the coveted skin as won. A crocodile is a difficult beast to kill stone dead. The fatal spot is just behind the ear, but to find that spot from a launch or boat that is never quite still requires a more than unusually good aim. If the first shot does not get right home there is seldom time for a second, the huge great body, with a sudden rush, disappearing into the stream. Even if struck and mortally wounded the shock may give the body an impetus that sends it sliding down the bank into the water, and once engulfed in one of the big rivers there is no retrieving it.
Stories of their boldness and ferocity are numerous in the Sunderbans. At one Thanna (police station) on the river bank, not long since, the Daroga (police officer) was mustering a number of accused who had been arrested in a dacoity case, preparatory to marching them into headquarters, when suddenly up the low shelving bank rushed an enormous crocodile, seized the nearest of the prisoners and carried him off in full view of his comrades and the police, before any one of them could interfere, even had he had the courage to do so. Another smaller river was infested by a monster that was known to have carried off seven persons, and a special reward was offered for it. A native shikari, with a wonderful native blunderbuss, finally shot it, and, accompanied by many of the villagers, brought it in with great triumph to headquarters to secure the reward. I went out into the verandah to inspect the kill, congratulated the shikari on his success and the villagers on having got rid of so great a pest, and saw the money reward paid out to them in my presence. An hour later, when I left office, though the crocodile had been taken away, I saw them still grouped together just outside the verandah, and as I passed it was evident that they wanted to speak to me. I stopped and asked them what it was they wanted. For a moment they hung back with that deprecating look a native wears when he makes a request but is not quite sure of its reception. Then one of them bolder than the rest stood forward and, with his hands folded together in an attitude of supplication, gave voice to their petition.
'Huzoor, he said, “your Honour has paid us for killing the crocodile, but inside that crocodile are our wives, our sisters, our cousins, and our aunts. Will not your Honour give us monetary compensation for them too?'
Only once did I meet in the Sunderbans with what were called tame crocodiles. They were in an enormous tank, one of the many constructed by the great Khan Jahan Ali, in whose day, four hundred and fifty years ago, a great town flourished, of which nothing now survives save the great mosque with its seventy-seven domes and the tomb of the warrior saint. The tank is known as the Ghoradighi, the curious tradition attaching to it being that it covers as much ground as a horse could run without tiring, though, large as the tank is, one cannot be impressed with the staying powers of the horse in question. In this tank are a number of crocodiles said to be the descendants of those placed there by Khan Jahan Ali. The natives call them tame crocodiles, and they certainly show an utter fearlessness of them that contrasts strongly with their horror of those in the great rivers-men, women, and children drawing water and bathing in the tank with the utmost unconcern. 'God knows who has taught them to forget their pristine ferocity,' as my Babu guide said. One of the villagers is anxious to show them to the visitor and begins to call them with curious sing-song intonations 'Ao Khalapar ’– Ao Dalapar '('Come, black side'-'Come, white side '). For a time nothing ruffles the requisite stillness of the lake, the great pink lotus flowers with their wide-spreading leaves alone breaking the smoothness of its surface. But long before I had noticed the slightest movement, the little group of villagers beside me has seen them coming. The faintest ripple on the water, and then above it, just visible, there appears nothing but the tip of the monster's snout. Rapidly, followed by another, it moves across the lake towards us. Right up into the shallow water below the bank, exposing themselves fully to view, they half swim, half wade, then, with their hideous greedy eyes fixed upon the foremost villager, they wait. What follows is horrible. Two wretched shrieking murghis (chickens) are held aloft to attract them nearer still, and are finally thrown out to them. With extraordinary agility, considering their huge bulky bodies, the crocodiles dart forward and the unfortunate murghis disappear within the hideous capacious jaws. The huge monsters glide back again into the lake and the water closes over them into its unruffled smoothness.
A BROKEN REED.
We were raked by the eyes of Orrington as we passed down the High Street on our way to evening service. It got suddenly on my nerves.
'What keeps you in this beastly, gossiping, provincial hole ?' I demanded of Lattery.
He turned an absent glance upon me, and hitched his roll of music in the old, young way a little higher under his arm. Then my question penetrated his mind.
What an irritable brute you always were, Cutty,' he remarked, pleasantly. What's the matter with the place? It's only dull, and if you, by simply spending a week-end with me, can relieve its monotony, why need you object? It's not even as if it were you they were specially interested in; any stranger would do. His humorous glance invited me to rise to the bait.
But it's you we're talking about,' I said, declining it. Why stay? Is there anything to keep you ? '
He was thoughtful a moment. 'I don't know that I've ever actually asked myself that,' he ruminated ; ‘but-well, yes, I suppose there's Robin Gay.'
* Robin -?'
It was characteristic of Lattery to state a fact, like that, without offering an explanation. We were at the vestry door, and with a nod and another hitch of his music he left me, and went in.
The beauty of the spring evening tugged at my heart, and I hesitated. But Lattery and an organ were a combination not to be resisted; I went into the Parish Church of Orrington.
It held the typical Sunday-evening congregation of a small country town. A sprinkling of gentlefolk (the devout nucleus of the morning congregation), a considerable number of shopkeepers with their families, a few pairs of young lovers, and several groups of boys and girls, separated, but agreeably conscious of proximity and mutual admiration. And, all told, the church was still half empty.
Across a rather large area of vacant pews my eyes travelled, till they rested on a group of three in the north transept—and were held. A thin, large-boned woman of between thirty-five and forty VOL. XXXIV.-NO. 203, N.S.
sat in the corner of a pew, slowly turning the leaves of a hymn-book. Once she looked across to the hymn-board opposite her, and I saw her eyes. They were dull, heavy, unarresting. She was dressed, rigidly and unbecomingly, in a black dress with touches of white and a white hat with touches of black; nothing to differentiate her, I thought, from half a dozen mothers of her age and class in other pews. At the outer extremity of the seat was a tall, hard-featured man of fifty-five or so, with small alert eyes and lips of an iron grip. Between these two sat a lad of about sixteen.
It was something in the boy's attitude that first caught my attention : the easy grace of the arm flung half over the back of the seat and supporting his head seemed singularly out of place in that environment of decorous, rather inert religion, and stiff, awkwardly worn Sunday clothes. Not that his own clothes were different; his dark suit was of some coarse material and badly cut, but it could not wholly hide the grace of the young body, nor spoil at all the singularly alive, yet at the same time aloof, look in the eyes, and the fine, free poise of the head, flung back to rest on his hand. Such a hand! But I had barely time to guess the meaning of those long, sensitive fingers before his father (I was obliged to admit it must be his father) leaned towards him with some curt whispered word, and the boy quickly drew down his arm, a swift flush overspreading his face. The mother took no notice; over her open hymn-book her face was impassive as that of a statue.
'Poor lad,' I thought, with a little leap of sympathy, 'what a setting for that temperament!'
And then, with what was less music than a soft throb of ecstasy at the touch of a master hand, the organ spoke. Instinctively I glanced at the boy—and found what I sought. Not in anything he looked or did, but simply in the tense, unconscious stillness that bound him as with a charm. Beyond all doubt I knew that Lattery was getting from him his exquisite due—that that soft sea of sound throbbed in his throat and surged in his soul with a vast lift and sweep that was half agony. And on the boy's right his father sat with keen, curious eyes that discreetly roved, as impervious to those harmonies as if he had been stone-deaf; on his left was his mother, dull, stiff, with bent, unheeding head. Three quiet figures—and the ripening material of tragedy. ...
'Well ?' demanded Lattery, when we were back, and he had put a match to the fire without which it is his admirable habit not to spend a single evening of the year,
* Well what?' I inquired, surprised, for my last remark had referred simply to this custom of his.
He looked at me, whimsically. ‘Aren't you going to tell me,
And then I remembered the uncanny power-or is it merely sympathy ?-by which Lattery could always reach beyond the word to the thought.
'Well, it's nothing much,' I confessed, half-embarrassed. 'I was only thinking of a boy I saw in that church of yours.'
How should I know ? A lad who sat in the transept between a hard-headed tradesman of a father and a fossilised mother.'
* Oh !’Lattery smiled in a pleased, absorbed way. “So you found him ? I hoped you would. You always did have that kind of sense, Cutty. That's Robin Gay.'
* What? The boy you-?' • Yes.'
There was something exciting in the quiet confidence of Lattery's manner.
'He's as good as all that? 'I asked.
Then I understood Robin Gay's hold on Lattery-Lattery, who can interpret like a god but not create ; Lattery, who has much, yet infinitely less than there is to have, and mourns it with an everlasting sorrow.
* Piano ?' I asked, after a pause.
'That's what I'm teaching him, Lattery answered, and of the sadness of that emphasis he was unaware. ‘And, of course, harmony. There's no time for more. But in the end it will be everything; he will make music. Unless
'Well, opposition at home is pretty strong. And he has the defects of his qualities--a kind of weakness, emotional recklessness, liability to wild resentments and passionate despairs.'
* There must,'I mused,' be scope for all those with such a mother and such
Lattery smiled. 'I thought you'd come a cropper over the mother, Cutty. Just you be careful.'
I stared and was. 'Well, his father, anyway, looks like an undertaker—and one who'd bury you alive if trade were bad.' Lattery nodded. 'Same thing,' he said. “He's the principal