Concerning Animals and Other Matters
E.H. Aitken, (AKA Edward Hamilton)

Part 2 out of 3

How it has been done is one of those mysteries which will not open to
the iron keys of Darwin, But there it is for those to see who have eyes.


The ears of the little dogs bred for ladies' laps are the curls of a
mother's darling; the pendant love-locks of the old, old maid who,
despite of changeful fashions, clings to those memorials of the pensive
beauty of her youth, are repeated in solemn mimicry by the dachshund
trotting at her heels; but the sensible fur cap of the dignified
Newfoundland reminds us of the cold regions from which his forefathers
came. Some kinds of terriers still have their ears starched up to look
perky, and I have occasionally seen a dog with one ear up and the other
down as if straining after the elusive idea expressed in the
Baden-Powell hat. All which shows that "one touch of nature makes the
whole world kin."




Among the many and various strangers within my gates who have helped to
enliven the days of my exile, Tommy was one towards whom I still feel a
certain sense of obligation because he taught me for the first time what
an owl is. For Tommy was an owl. From any dictionary you may ascertain
that an owl is a nocturnal, carnivorous bird, of a short, stout form,
with downy feathers and a large head; and if that does not satisfy you,
there is no lack of books which will furnish fuller and more precise

But descriptions cannot impart acquaintance. I had sought acquaintance
and had gained some knowledge such as books cannot supply, not only of
owls in general, but of that particular species of owls to which Tommy
belonged, who, in the heraldry of ornithology, was _Carine brahma_, an
Indian spotted owlet. This branch of the ancient family of owls has
always been eccentric. It does not mope and to the moon complain. It
flouts the moon and the sun and everyone who passes by, showing its
round face at its door and even coming out, at odd times of the day, to
stare and bob and play the clown. It does not cry "Tuwhoo, Tuwhoo," as
the poets would have it, but laughs, jabbers, squeaks and chants
clamorous duets with its spouse.

All this I knew. I had also gathered from his public appearances that a
spotted owlet is happy in his domestic life and that he is fond of fat
white ants, for, when their winged swarms were flying, I had seen him
making short flights from his perch in a tree and catching them with his
feet; and I believed that he fed in secret on mice and lizards. But all
that did not amount to understanding an owl, as I discovered when Tommy
became a member of our chummery.

Tommy was born in "the second city of the British Empire," to wit,
Bombay, in the month of March, 1901. His birthplace was a hole in an old
"Coral" tree. Domestic life in that hole was not conducted with
regularity. Meals were at uncertain hours and uncertain also in their
quantity and quality. The parents were hunters and were absent for long
periods, and though there was incredible shouting and laughter when they
returned, they came at such irregular times that we did not suspect that
they were permanent residents and had a family. One night, however,
Tommy, being precocious and, as we discovered afterwards, keen on seeing
life, took advantage of parental absence to clamber to the entrance of
the nursery and, losing his balance, toppled over into the garden. He
kept cool, however, and tried to conceal himself, but Hurree the malee,
watering the plants early in the morning, spied him lying with his face
on the earth and brought him to us.

He seemed dead, but he was very much alive, as appeared when he was made
to sit up and turned those wonderful eyes of his upon us. He was a droll
little object at that time, nearly globular in form and covered with
down, like a toy for children to play with. His head turned like a
revolving lighthouse and flared those eyes upon you wherever you went,
great luminous orbs, black-centred and gold-ringed and full of silent
wonder, or, I should rather say, surprise. This never left him. To the
last everything that presented itself to his gaze, though he had seen it
a hundred times, seemed to fill him with fresh surprise. Nothing ever
became familiar. What an enviable cast of mind! It must make the
brightness of childhood perennial.

There was some discussion as to how Tommy should be fed, and we finally
decided that one should try to open the small hooked beak, whose point
could just be detected protruding from a nest of fluff, while another
held a piece of raw meat ready to pop in. It did not look an easy job,
but we had scarcely set about it when Tommy himself solved the
difficulty by plucking the meat out of our fingers and swallowing it.
This early intimation that, however absent he might look, he was "all
there" was never belied, and there was no further difficulty about the
feeding of him. When he saw us coming he always fell into the same
ridiculous attitude, with his face in the dust, but we just picked him
up and stood him on his proper end and showed him the meat and his
bashfulness vanished at once.

After sunset he would get lively and begin calling for his mother in a
strange husky voice. At this time we would let him out in the garden,
watching him closely, for, if he thought he was alone, he would sneak
away slyly, then make a run for liberty, hobbling along at a good rate
with the aid of his wings, though he never attempted to fly as yet. When
detected and overtaken, he fell on his face as before. One memorable day
he found a hole in a stone wall and, before we could stop him, he was
in. The hole was too small to admit a hand, though not a rat or a snake,
so the prospect was gloomy. Suddenly a happy inspiration came to me.
That sad, husky cry with which he expressed his need of a mother was not
difficult to mimic, and he might be cheated into thinking that a lost
brother or sister was looking for him. I retired and made the attempt,
and, hark! a faint echo came from the wall. At each repetition it became
clearer, until the round face and great eyes appeared at the mouth of
the hole. Then the round body tumbled out, and little Tommy was hobbling
about, looking, with pathetic eagerness, for "the old familiar faces."
When he discovered how he had been betrayed, his face went down and he
suffered himself to be carried quietly to the canary's cage in which he
was kept.

It seemed to be time now to begin Tommy's education, for I judged that,
if he had been at home, he would ere then have been getting nightly
lessons in the poacher's art. So I procured a small gecko, one of those
grey house lizards, with pellets at the ends of their toes, which come
down from the roof after the lamps are lit and gorge themselves on the
foolish moths and plant bugs that come to the light. Securing it with a
thin cord tied round its waist, I introduced it into Tommy's cage. He
looked surprised, very much surprised. He raised himself to his full
height. He gazed at it. He curtseyed. He gave a little jump and was
standing with both feet on the lizard. A moment more and the lizard was
gliding down his throat with my thin cord after it. Mr. Seton Thompson
would have us believe that all young things are laboriously trained by
their parents, just like human children, and if he was an eye-witness of
all the scenes that he describes so vividly, it must be so with other
young things. But he did not know Tommy, who is the bird of Minerva and
evidently sprang into being, like his patron goddess, with all his
armour on.

After a time, when he had exchanged his infant down for a suit of
feathers, he was promoted to a large cage out in the garden, and his
regular diet was a little raw meat or a mutton bone tied to one of his
perches, but, by way of a treat, I would offer him, whenever I could get
it, a locust, or large grasshopper. His way of accepting this was unique
and pretty. He would look surprised, stare, curtsey once or twice, stare
again and then, suddenly, noiselessly and as lightly as a fairy, flit
across the cage and, without alighting, pluck the insect from my fingers
with both his feet and return to his perch.

Why he bowed to his food and to everybody and everything that presented
itself before him was a riddle that I never solved. A materialistic
friend suggested that he was adjusting the focus of his wonderful eyes,
and the action was certainly like that of an optician examining a lens;
but I feel that there was something more ceremonial about it. This
punctiliousness cost him his dinner once. I was curious to know what he
would do with a mouse, so, having caught one alive, I slipped it quietly
into his cage. He was more surprised than ever before, raised himself
erect, bowed to the earth once, twice and three times, stared, bowed
again and so on until, to his evident astonishment and chagrin, the
mouse found an opening and was gone. The lesson was not lost. A few days
later I got another mouse, to which he began to do obeisance as before,
but very soon and suddenly, though as softly as falling snow, he plumped
upon it with both feet and, spreading his wings on the ground, looked
all round him with infinite satisfaction. The mouse squeaked, but he
stopped that by cracking its skull quietly with his beak. Then he
gathered himself up and flew to the perch with his prize.

One thing I noted about Tommy most emphatically. He never showed a sign
of affection, or what is called attachment. He maintained a strictly
bowing acquaintance with me. He was not afraid, but he would suffer no
familiarity. He would come and eat, with due ceremony, out of my hand,
but if I offered to touch him he was surprised and affronted and went
off at once. When I moved to another house I found that I could not
continue to keep him, so I sent him to the zoological garden, where I
visited him sometimes, but he never vouchsafed a token of recognition.
His heart was locked except to his own kin.

But since that time, when I have seen an owl, even a barn owl, or a
great horned owl, swiftly cross the sky in the darkness of night, I have
felt that I could accompany it, in imagination, on its secret quest. It
will arrive silently, like the angel of death, in a tree overlooking a
field in which a rat, whose hour has come, is furtively feeding, all
alert and tremulous, but unaware of any impending danger. The rat will
go on feeding, unconscious of the mocking curtsey and the baleful eyes
that follow with mute attention its every motion, until the hand of the
clock has moved to the point assigned by fate, and then it will feel
eight sharp talons plunged into its flesh. I have seen the fierce dash
of the sparrow hawk into a crowd of unsuspecting sparrows, I know the
triumph of the falcon as it rises for the final, fatal swoop on the
flying duck, and I have watched the kestrel, high in air, scanning the
field for some rash mouse or lizard that has wandered too far from
shelter. The owl is also a bird of prey, but its idea is different from
all these.




A thunderstorm has burst on the common rat. Its complicity in the spread
of the plague, which has been proved up to the hilt, has filled the cup
of its iniquities to overflowing, and we have awakened to the fact that
it is and always has been an arch-enemy of mankind. Simultaneously, in
widely separated parts of the world, a "pogrom" has been proclaimed, and
the accounts of the massacre which come to us from great cities like
Calcutta and Bombay are appalling and almost incredible. They would move
to pity the most callous heart, if pity could be associated with the
rat. But it cannot.

The wild rat deserves that humane consideration to which all our natural
fellow-creatures on this earth are entitled; but the domestic rat (I use
this term advisedly, for though man has not domesticated it, it has
thoroughly domesticated itself) cannot justify its existence. It is a
fungus of civilisation. If it confined itself to its natural food, the
farmer's grain, the tax which it levies on the country would still be
such as no free people ought to endure. But it confines itself to
nothing. As Waterton says: "After dining on carrion in the filthiest
sink, it will often manage to sup on the choicest dainties of the
larder, where like Celoeno of old _vestigia foeda relinquit_." It kills
chickens, plunders the nests of little birds, devouring mother, eggs and
young, murders and feeds on its brothers and sisters and even its own
offspring, and not infrequently tastes even man when it finds him
asleep. The bite of a rat is sometimes very poisonous, and I have had to
give three months' sick leave to a clerk who had been bitten by one. Add
to this that the rat multiplies at a rate which is simply criminal,
rearing a family of perhaps a dozen every two or three months, and no
further argument is needed to justify the war which has been declared
against it. Every engine of war will, no doubt, be brought into use,
traps of many kinds, poisons, cats, the professional rat-catcher, and a
rat bacillus which, if once it gets a footing, is expected to originate
a fearful epidemic.

But I need not linger any more among rats, which are not my subject. I
am writing in the hope that this may be an opportune time to put in a
plea for a much persecuted native of this and many other countries,
whose principal function in the economy of nature is to kill rats and
mice. The barn, or screech, owl, which is found over a great part of
Europe and Asia and also in America, was once very common in Britain,
inhabiting every "ivy-mantled tower," church steeple, barn loft, hollow
tree, or dovecot, in which it could get a lodging. But it was never
welcome. Like the Jews in the days of King John it has been relentlessly
persecuted by superstition, ignorance and avarice. Avarice, instigated
by ladies and milliners, has looked with covetous eye on its downy and
beautiful plumes; while ignorance and superstition have feared and hated
the owl in all countries and all ages. In ancient Rome it was a bird of
evil omen.

Foedaque fit volucris venturi nuncia luctus,
Ignavus bubo, dirum mortalibus omen.

In India, to-day, if an owl sits on the house-top, the occupants dare
scarcely lie down to sleep, for they know that the devil is walking the
rooms and marking someone for death. Lady Macbeth, when about the murder
of Duncan, starts and whispers,

Hark! Peace! It was the owl that shrieked,
The fatal bellman.

And even as late as the nineteenth century, Waterton's aged housekeeper
"knew full well what sorrow it had brought into other houses when she
was a young woman," Witches, like modern ladies of fashion, set great
value on its wings. The latter stick them on their hats, the witches in
Macbeth threw them into their boiling cauldron. Horace's Canidia could
not complete her recipe without

"Plumamque nocturnae strigis."

We may suppose that in Britain these superstitions are gone for ever,
killed and buried by board schools and compulsory education. If they are
(there is room for an _if_) they have been succeeded by a worse, the
superstition of gamekeepers and farmers. It is worse in effect, because
these men have guns, which their predecessors had not. And it is more
wicked, because it is founded on an ignorance for which there is no
excuse. How little harm the barn owl is likely to do game may be
inferred from the fact that, when it makes its lodging in a dovecot, the
pigeons suffer no concern! Waterton (and no better authority could be
quoted) scouts the idea, common among farmers, that its business there
is to eat the pigeons' eggs. "They lay the saddle," he says, "on the
wrong horse. They ought to put it on the rat." His predecessor in the
estate had allowed the owls to be destroyed and the rats to multiply,
and there were few young pigeons in the dovecot. Waterton took strong
measures to exterminate the rats, but built breeding places for the
owls, and the dovecot, which they constantly frequented, became prolific

But granting that the owls did twice the injury to game with which they
are credited, it would be repaid many times over by their services.
Waterton well says that, if we knew its utility in thinning the country
of mice, it would be with us what the ibis was with the Egyptians--a
sacred bird. He examined the pellets ejected by a pair of owls that
occupied a ruined gateway on the estate. Every pellet contained
skeletons of from four to seven mice. Owls, it may be necessary to
explain, swallow their food without separating flesh from bone, skin and
hair, and afterwards disgorge the indigestible portions rolled up into
little balls. In sixteen months the pair of owls above-mentioned had
accumulated a deposit of more than a bushel of these pellets, each a
funeral urn of from four to seven mice! In the old Portuguese fort of
Bassein in Western India I noticed that the earth at the foot of a
ruined tower was plentifully mixed with small skulls, jaws and other
bones. Taking home a handful and examining them, I found that they were
the remains of rats, mice and muskrats.

The owl kills small birds, large insects, frogs and even fishes, but
these are extras: its profession is rat-catching and mousing, and only
those who have a very intimate personal acquaintance with it know how
peculiarly its equipment and methods are adapted to this work. The
falcon gives open chase to the wild duck, keeping above it if possible
until near enough for a last spurt; then it comes down at a speed which
is terrific, and, striking the duck from above, dashes it to the ground.
The sparrow hawk plunges unexpectedly into a group of little birds and
nips up one with a long outstretched foot before they have time to get
clear of each other. The harrier skims over field, copse and meadow,
suddenly rounding corners and topping fences and surprising small
birds, or mice, on which it drops before they have recovered from their

The owl does none of these things. For one thing, it hunts in the night,
when its sight is keenest and rats are abroad feeding. Its flight is
almost noiseless and yet marvellously light and rapid when it pleases.
Sailing over field, lane and hedgerow and examining the ground as it
goes, it finds a likely place and takes a post of observation on a fence
perhaps, or a sheaf of corn. Here it sits, bolt upright, all eyes. It
sees a rat emerge from the grass and advance slowly, as it feeds, into
open ground. There is no hurry, for the doom of that rat is already
fixed. So the owl just sits and watches till the right moment has
arrived; then it flits swiftly, softly, silently, across the intervening
space and drops like a flake of snow. Without warning, or suspicion of
danger, the rat feels eight sharp claws buried in its flesh. It protests
with frantic squeals, but these are stopped with a nip that crunches its
skull, and the owl is away with it to the old tower, where the hungry
children are calling, with weird, impatient hisses, for something to

The owl does not hunt the fields and hedgerows only. It goes to all
places where rats or mice may be, reconnoitres farmyards, barns and
dwelling houses and boldly enters open windows. Sometimes it hovers in
the air, like a kestrel, scanning the ground below. And though its
regular hunting hours are from dusk till dawn, it has been seen at work
as late as nine or ten on a bright summer morning. But the vulgar boys
of bird society are fond of mobbing it when it appears abroad by day,
and it dislikes publicity.

The barn owl lays its eggs in the places which it inhabits. There is
usually a thick bed of pellets on the floor, and it considers no other
nest needful. The eggs are said to be laid in pairs. There may be two,
four, or six, of different eggs, in the nest, and perhaps a young one,
or two, at the same time. Eggs are found from April, or even March, till
June or July, and there is, sometimes at any rate, a second brood as
late as November or December. This owl does not hoot, but screeches. A
weird and ghostly voice it is, from which, according to Ovid, the bird
has its Latin name, Strix (pronounced "Streex," probably, at that time).

Est illis strigibus nomen, sed nominis hujus.
Causa, quod horrenda stridere nocte silent.

It is a sound which, coming suddenly out of the darkness, might well
start fears and forebodings in the dark and guilty mind of untutored
man, which would not be dispelled by a nearer view of the strange object
from which they proceeded. White, ghostly, upright, spindle-shaped and
biggest at the top, where two great orbs flare, like fiery bull's-eyes,
from the centres of two round white targets, it stands solemn and
speechless; you approach nearer and it falls into fearsome pantomimic
attitudes and grimaces, like a clown trying to frighten a child. And now
a new horror has been added to the barn owl. The numerous letters which
appeared in _The Times_ and were summarised, with comments, by Sir T.
Digby Pigott, C.B., in _The Contemporary Review_ of July 1908, leave no
reasonable room for doubt that this bird sometimes becomes brightly
luminous, and is the will-o'-the-wisp for believing in which we are
deriding our forefathers. All things considered, I cannot withhold my
sympathy and some respect for the superstition of aged housekeepers,
Romans and Indians. For that of gamekeepers and farmers I have neither.
All our new schemes of "Nature study" will surely deserve the reproach
of futility if, in the next generation, every farmhouse in England has
not its own Owl Tower for the encouragement of this friend of man.



Long before Jubal became the father of all such as handle the harp and
the organ and Tubalcain the instructor of every artificer in brass and
iron, Abel was a keeper of sheep, but the sacred writer has not informed
us how he first caught them and tamed them. If we consult other records
of the infancy of the human race, they reveal as little. When the
Egyptians began to portray their daily life on stone 6,000 or 7,000
years ago, they already had cattle and sheep, geese and ducks and dogs
and plenty of asses, though not horses. They got these from the
Assyrians, who had used them in their chariots long before they began to
record anything.

Further back than this we have no one to question except those shadowy
men of the Stone Age who have left us heaps of their implements, but
none of their bones. They were not so careful of the bones of horses,
which lie in thousands about the precincts of their untidy villages, but
not a scrawl on a bit of a mammoth tusk has been found to indicate
whether these were ridden and driven, or only hunted and eaten.

Why should it be recorded that Cadmus invented letters? Why should we
inquire who first made gunpowder and glass? Why should every schoolboy
be taught that Watt was the inventor of the steam engine? Can any of
these be put in the scale, as benefactors of our race, with the man who
first trained a horse to carry him on its back, or drew milk with his
hands from the udders of a cow? The familiarity of the thing has made us
callous to the wonder of it. Let us put it before us, like a painting or
a statue, and have a good look at it.

There is a farmhouse, any common farmhouse, just one of the molecules
that constitute the mass of our wholesome country life. A horse is being
harnessed for the plough: its ancestors sniffed the wind on the steppes
of Tartary. Meek cows are standing to be milked: when primitive man
first knew them in their native forests he used to give them a wide
berth, for his flint arrows fell harmless off their tough hides, and
they were fierce exceedingly. A cock is crowing on the fence as if the
whole farm belonged to himself: he ought to be skulking in an Indian
jungle. The sheep have no business here; their place is on the rocky
mountains of Asia. As for the dog, it is difficult to assign it a
country, for it owns no wild kindred in any part of the world, but it
ought at least to be worrying the sheep. If there is an ass, it is a
native of Abyssinia, and the Turkeys are Americans. The cat derives its
descent from an Egyptian.

But all these are of one country now and of one religion. They know no
home nor desire any, except the farmhouse, in which they were born and
bred, and the lord of it is their lord, to whom they look for food and
protection. And what would he do without them? What should we do without
them? It is impossible to conceive that life could be carried on if we
were deprived of these obedient and uncomplaining servants. High
civilisation has been attained without steam engines; education, as we
use the term now, is superfluous--Runjeet Singh, the Lion of the Punjab,
could neither read nor write; the human race has prospered and
multiplied without the knowledge of iron; but we know of no time when
man did without domestic animals.

It is vain to speculate how the thing first came about, whether the
sportive anthropoid ape took to riding on a wild goat before he emerged
as a man keeping flocks, or whether some great pioneer, destined to be
worshipped in after ages as a demigod, showed his fellows how the wild
calves, if taken young, might be trained into tractable slaves; and it
is hopeless to expect that any record will now leap to light which will
give us knowledge in place of speculation. But it might not be
unprofitable to seek for some clue to the strange selection which the
domesticating genius of man has made from among the multifarious
material presented to it by the animal kingdom. If we do so we shall
almost be forced to the conclusion that domesticability is a character,
or quality, inherent in some animals and entirely wanting in others.

Let us begin with pigeons, a very large group, but one that shows more
unity than any of the other Orders into which naturalists divide birds.
It embraces turtle doves of many species, wood pigeons, ground pigeons,
fruit pigeons and some strange forms like the great crowned pigeon of
Victoria. Of all these only one, the common blue rock, has been
domesticated. The ring dove of Asia has been kept as a cage bird for so
long that a permanent albino and also a fawn-coloured variety have been
established and are more common in aviaries than birds of the natural
colour; but the ring dove has not become a domestic fowl, and never
will. In this instance there is a plausible explanation, for the blue
rock, unlike the rest of the tribe, nests and roosts in holes and is
also gregarious; therefore, if provided with accommodation of the kind
it requires, it will form a permanent settlement and remain with us on
the same terms as the honey bee; while the ring dove, not caring for a
fixed home, must be confined, however tame it may become, or it will
wander and be lost.

But this explanation will not fit other cases. What a multitude of wild
ducks there are in Scotland and every other country, mallards, pintails,
gadwalls, widgeons, pochards and teals, all very much alike in their
habits and tastes! But of them all only one species, and that a
migratory one, the mallard, has been persuaded to abandon its wandering
ways and settle down to a life of ease and obesity as a dependant of
man. In India there is a duck of the same genus as the mallard, known as
the spotted-billed duck (_Anas poecilorhynchus_), which is as large as
the mallard and quite as tasty, and is, moreover, not migratory, but
remains and breeds in the country. But it has not been domesticated: the
tame ducks in India, as here, are all mallards. The muscovy duck is a
distinct species which has been domesticated elsewhere and introduced.

From the ducks let us turn to the hens. The partridge, grouse and
pheasant are all dainty birds, but if we desire to eat them we must
shoot them, or (_proh pudor!_) snare them. Plover's eggs are worth four
shillings a dozen, but we must seek them on the moors. The birds that
have covenanted to accept our food and protection and lay their eggs for
our use and rear their young for us to kill are descended from _Gallus
bankivus_, the jungle fowl of Eastern India. How they came here history
records not: perhaps the gipsies brought them. They appear now in
strange and diverse guise, the ponderous and feather-legged
Cochin-China, the clean-limbed and wiry game, the crested Houdan, the
Minorca with its monstrous comb, and the puny bantam. In Japan there is
a breed that carries a tail seven or eight feet in length, which has to
be "done" regularly like a lady's hair, to keep it from dirt and damage.

But however their outward aspects may differ, they are of the same
blood and know it. A featherweight bantam cock will stand up to an
elephantine brahma and fight him according to the rules of the ring and
next minute pay compliments to his lady in language which she will be at
no loss to understand. And if the artificial conditions of their life
were removed, they would soon all lapse alike to the image of the stock
from which they are sprung. This is well illustrated in a show case in
the South Kensington Museum exhibiting a group of fowls from Pitcairn's
Island. These are descended from some stock landed by the mutinous crew
of H.M.S. _Bounty_ in 1790, which ran wild, and in a century they have
gone back to the small size and lithe figure and almost to the game
colour of the wild birds from which they branched off before history

If we turn next to the Ruminants, the clean beasts which chew the cud
and divide the hoof, the puzzle becomes harder still. Deer and antelopes
are often kept as pets, and become so tame that they are allowed to
wander at liberty. In Egypt herds of gazelles were so kept before the
days of Cheops. In India I have known a black buck which regularly
attended the station cricket ground, moving among the nervous players
with its nose in the air and insolence in its gait, fully aware that
eighteen-inch horns with very sharp points insured respectful treatment.
Mr. Sterndale trained a Neilghai to go in harness. The great bovine
antelopes of Africa would become as tame, and there is no reason to
suppose that their beef and milk would not be as good as those of the
cow. But no antelope or deer appears ever to have been domesticated,
with the exception of the reindeer.

Of the other ruminants the ox, buffalo, yak, goat, sheep and a few
others are domestic animals, while the bison and the gaur, or so-called
Indian bison, and a large number of wild goats and sheep have been
neglected. The buffalo and yak have probably come under the yoke in
comparatively recent times, for they are little changed; but the goat
and still more the sheep have undergone a wonderful transformation
within and without. Who could recognise in a Leicester ewe the wary
denizen of precipitous mountains which will not feed until it has set a
sentinel to give warning if danger approaches? And here is a curious
fact which has scarcely been noticed by naturalists.

The original of our goat is supposed to be the Persian ibex. At any
rate, it was an ibex of some species, as its horns plainly show. But on
the plains of Northern India, under ranges of hills on which the Persian
ibex wanders wild, the common domestic goat is a very different animal
from that of Europe, and has peculiar spiral horns of the same pattern
as the markhor, another grand species of wild goat which draws eager
hunters to the higher reaches of the same mountains. From this it would
appear that two species of wild goat have been domesticated and kept to
some extent distinct, one eventually finding its way westward, but not
eastward and southward.

The Indian humped cattle also differ so widely in form, structure and
voice from those of Europe that there can scarcely be a doubt of their
descent from distinct species. But both have entirely disappeared as
wild animals, unless indeed the white cattle of Chillingham are really
descendants of Caesar's dreadful urus and not merely domestic cattle
lapsed into savagery. So have the camel, and, with a similar possible
exception, the horse. Was the whole race in each of these cases
subjugated, or exterminated, and that by uncivilised man with his
primitive weapons? There is no analogy here with the extinction of such
animals as the mammoth, for the ox is a beast in every way fitted to
live and thrive in the present condition of this world, as much so as
the buffalo and the Indian bison, which show no sign of approaching
extinction. Our fathers easily got rid of the difficulty by assuming
that Noah never released these species after the Flood, but what shall
those do who cannot believe in the literality of Noah's ark?

As for the dog, its domestication has been the creation of a new
species. The material was perhaps the wolf, more likely the jackal, but
possibly a blend of more than one species. But a dog is now a dog and
neither a wolf nor a jackal. A mastiff, a pug, a collie, a greyhound, a
pariah all recognise each other and observe the same rules of etiquette
when they meet.

We must admit, however, that, whatever pliability of disposition, or
other inherent suitability, led to the first domestication of certain
species of animals, the changes induced in their natures by many
generations of domesticity have made them amenable to man's control to a
degree which puts a wide difference between them and their wild
relations. A wild ass, though brought up from its birth in a stable,
would make a very intractable costermonger's moke. We may infer from
this that the first subjugation of each of our common domestic animals
was the achievement of some genius, or of some tribe favourably
situated, and that they spread from that centre by sale or barter,
rather than that they were separately domesticated in many places. This
would partly explain why a few species of widely different families are
so universally kept in all countries to the exclusion of hundreds of
species nearly allied and apparently as suitable. When a want could be
supplied by obtaining from another country an animal bred to live with
man and serve him, the long and difficult task of softening down the
wild instincts of a beast taken from the forests or the hills and
acclimatising its constitution to a domestic life was not likely to be

But there have been a few recent additions to our list of domestic
animals. The turkey and the guinea fowl are examples, and perhaps
within another generation we may be able to add the zebra. And there may
be many other animals fitted to enrich and adorn human life which would
make no insuperable resistance to domestication if wisely and patiently
handled. Here is a noble opening for carrying out in its kindest sense
the command, "Multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have
dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and
over every living thing that moveth upon the face of the earth."



I have met persons, otherwise quite sane, who told me that they would
like to visit India if it were not for the _snakes_. Now there is
something very depressing in the thought that this state of mind is
extant in England, for it is calculated, on occasion, to have results of
a most melancholy nature. By way of example, let us picture the case of
a broken-hearted maiden forced to reject an ardent lover because duty
calls him to a land where there are snakes. Think of his happiness
blighted for ever and her doomed to a "perpetual maidenhood," harrowed
with remorseful dreams of the hourly perils and horrors through which he
must be passing without her, and dreading to enter an academy or
picture-gallery lest a laocoon or a fury might revive apprehensions too
horrible to be borne. In view of possibilities so dreadful, surely it is
a duty that a man owes to his kind to disseminate the truth, if he can,
about the present condition in the East of that reptile which, crawling
on its belly and eating dust and having its head bruised by the
descendants of Eve, sometimes pays off her share of the curse on their
heels. Here the truth is.

Within the limits of our Indian Empire, including Burmah and Ceylon,
there are at present known to naturalists two hundred and sixty-four
species of snakes. Twenty-seven of these are sea-serpents, which never
leave the sea, and could not if they would. The remaining two hundred
and thirty-seven species comprise samples of every size and pattern of
limbless reptile found on this globe, from the gigantic python, which
crushes a jackal and swallows it whole, to the little burrowing
_Typhlops_, whose proportions are those of an earthworm and its food
white ants.

If you have made up your mind never to touch a snake or go nearer to one
than you can help, then I need scarcely tell you what you know already,
that these are all alike hideous and repulsive in their aspect, being
smeared from head to tail with a viscous and venomous slime, which, as
your Shakespeare will tell you, leaves a trail even on fig-leaves when
they have occasion to pass over such. This preparation would appear to
line them inside as well as out, for there is no lack of ancient and
modern testimony to the fact that they "slaver" their prey all over
before swallowing it, that it may slide the more easily down their
ghastly throats. Their eye is cruel and stony, and possesses a peculiar
property known as "fascination," which places their victims entirely at
their mercy. They have also the power of coiling themselves up like a
watch-spring and discharging themselves from a considerable distance at
those whom they have doomed to death--a fact which is attested by such
passages in the poets as--

Like adder darting from his coil,

and by travellers _passim_.

This is the true faith with respect to all serpents, and if you are
resolved to remain steadfast in it, you may do so even in India, for it
is possible to live in that country for months, I might almost say
years, without ever getting a sight of a live snake except in the basket
of a snake-charmer. If, however, you are minded to cultivate an
acquaintance with them, it is not difficult to find opportunities of
doing so, but I must warn you that it will be with jeopardy to your
faith, for the very first thing that will strike you about them will
probably be their cleanness. What has become of the classical slime I
cannot tell, but it is a fact that the skin of a modern snake is always
delightfully dry and clean, and as smooth to the touch as velvet.

The next thing that attracts attention is their beauty, not so much the
beauty of their colours as of their forms. With few exceptions, snakes
are the most graceful of living things. Every position into which they
put themselves, and every motion of their perfectly proportioned forms,
is artistic. The effect of this is enhanced by their gentleness and the
softness of their movements.

But if you want to see them properly, you must be careful not to
frighten them, for there is no creature more timid at heart than a
snake. One will sometimes let you get quite near to it and watch it,
simply because it does not notice you, being rather deaf and very
shortsighted, but when it does discover your presence, its one thought
is to slip away quietly and hide itself. It is on account of this
extreme timidity that we see them so seldom.

Of the two hundred and thirty-seven kinds that I have referred to, some
are, of course, very rare, or only found in particular parts of the
country, but at least forty or fifty of them occur everywhere, and some
are as plentiful as crows. Yet they keep themselves out of our way so
successfully that it is quite a rare event to meet with one.
Occasionally one finds its way into a house in quest of frogs, lizards,
musk-rats, or some other of the numerous malefactors that use our
dwellings as cities of refuge from the avenger, and it is discovered by
the Hamal behind a cupboard, or under a carpet. He does the one thing
which it occurs to a native to do in any emergency--viz. raises an
alarm. Then there is a general hubbub, servants rush together with the
longest sticks they can find, the children are hurried away to a place
of safety, the master appears on the scene, armed with his gun, and the

Wee, sleekit, cowrin', tim'rous beastie,

trying to slip away from the fuss which it dislikes so much, is headed,
and blown, or battered, to pieces. Then its head is pounded to a jelly,
for the servants are agreed that, if this precaution is omitted, it will
revive during the night and come and coil itself on the chest of its

Finally a council is held and a unanimous resolution recorded that
deceased was a serpent of the deadliest kind. This is not a lie, for
they believe it; but in the great majority of cases it is an untruth. Of
our two hundred and thirty-seven kinds of snakes only forty-four are
ranked by naturalists as venomous, and many of these are quite incapable
of killing any animal as large as a man. Others are very rare or local.
In short, we may reckon the poisonous snakes with which we have any
practical concern at four kinds, and the chance of a snake found in the
house belonging to one of these kinds stands at less than one in ten.

It is a sufficiently terrible thought, however, that there are even four
kinds of reptiles going silently about the land whose bite is certain
death. If they knew their powers and were maliciously disposed, our life
in the East would be like Christian's progress through the Valley of the
Shadow of Death. But the poisonous snakes are just as timid as the rest,
and as little inclined to act on the offensive against any living
creature except the little animals on which they prey. Even a trodden
worm will turn, and a snake has as much spirit as a worm. If a man
treads on it, it will turn and bite him. But it has no desire to be
trodden on. It does its best to avoid that mischance, and, I need
scarcely say, so does a man unless he is drunk. When both parties are
sincerely anxious to avoid a collision, a collision is not at all likely
to occur, and the fact is that, of all forms of death to which we are
exposed in India, death by snake-bite is about the one which we have
least reason to apprehend.

During a pretty long residence in India I have heard of only one
instance of an Englishman being killed by a snake. It was in Manipur,
and I read of it in the newspapers. During the same time I have heard of
only one death by lightning and one by falling into the fermenting vat
of a brewery, so I suppose these accidents are equally uncommon. Eating
oysters is much more fatal: I have heard of at least four or five deaths
from that cause.

The natives are far more exposed to danger from snakes than we are,
because they go barefoot, by night as well as day, through fields and
along narrow, overgrown footpaths about their villages. The tread of a
barefooted man does not make noise enough to warn a snake to get out of
his way, and if he treads on one, there is nothing between its fangs and
his skin. Again, the huts of the natives, being made of wattle and daub
and thatched with straw, offer to snakes just the kind of shelter that
they like, and the wonder is that naked men, sleeping on the ground in
such places, and poking about dark corners, among their stores of fuel
and other chattels, meet with so few accidents. It says a great deal for
the mild and inoffensive nature of the snake. Still, the total number of
deaths by snake-bite reported every year is very large, and looks
absolutely appalling if you do not think of dividing it among three
hundred millions. Treated in that way it shrivels up at once, and when
compared with the results of other causes of death, looks quite

The natives themselves are so far from regarding the serpent tribe with
our feelings that the deadliest of them all has been canonised and is
treated with all the respect due to a sub-deity. No Brahmin, or
religious-minded man of any respectable caste, will have a cobra killed
on any account. If one takes to haunting his premises, he will
propitiate it with offerings of silk and look for good luck from its

About snakes other than the cobra the average native concerns himself so
little that he does not know one from another by sight. They are all
classed together as _janwar,_ a word which answers exactly to the
"venomous beast" of Acts xxviii. 4; and though they are aware that some
are deadly and some are not, any particular snake that a _sahib_ has had
the honour to kill is one of the deadliest as a matter of course. I have
never met a native who knew that a venomous snake could be distinguished
by its fangs, except a few doctors and educated men who have imbibed
western science. In fact they do not think of the venom as a material
substance situated in the mouth. It is an effluence from the entire
animal, which may be projected at a man in various ways, by biting him,
or spitting at him, or giving him a flick with the tail.

The Government of India spends a large sum of money every year in
rewards for the destruction of snakes. This is one of those sacrifices
to sentiment which every prudent government offers. The sentiment to
which respect is paid in this case is of course British, not Indian.
Indian sentiment is propitiated by not levying any tax on dogs, so the
pariah cur, owned and disowned, in all stages of starvation, mange and
disease, infests every town and village, lying in wait for the bacillus
of rabies. Against the one fatal case of snake-bite mentioned above, I
have known of at least half a dozen deaths among Englishmen from the
more horrible scourge of hydrophobia. In the steamer which brought me
home there were two private soldiers on their way to M. Pasteur, at the
expense, of course, of the British Government.



We must wait for another month or two before we can think of the winter
in this country in the past tense, but in India the month of March is
the beginning of the hot season, and the tourists who have been enjoying
the pleasant side of Anglo-Indian life and assuring themselves that
their exiled countrymen have not much to grumble at will now be making
haste to flee.

During the month the various hotels of Bombay will be pretty familiar
with the grey sun-hat, fortified with _puggaree_ and pendent flap, which
is the sign of the globe-trotter in the East. And all the tribe of birds
of prey who look upon him as their lawful spoil will recognise the sign
from afar and gather about him as he sits in the balcony after
breakfast, taking his last view of the gorgeous East, and perhaps (it is
to be feared) seeking inspiration for a few matured reflections
wherewith to bring the forthcoming book to an impressive close. The
vendor of Delhi jewellery will be there and the Sind-work-box-walla,
with his small, compressed white turban and spotless robes, and the
Cashmere shawl merchant and many more, pressing on the gentleman's
notice for the last time their most tempting wares and preparing for the
long bout of fence which will decide at what point between "asking
price" and "selling price" each article shall change ownership. The
distance between these two points is wide and variable, depending upon
the indications of wealth about the purchaser's person and the
indications of innocence about his countenance.

And when the poor globe-trotter, who has long since spent more money
than he ever meant to spend, and loaded himself with things which he
could have got cheaper in London or New York, tries to shake off his
tormentors by getting up and leaning over the balcony rails, the shrill
voice of the snake-charmer will assail him from below, promising him, in
a torrent of sonorous Hindustanee, variegated with pigeon English and
illuminated with wild gesticulations, such a superfine _tamasha_ as it
never was the fortune of the _sahib_ to witness before.

_Tamasha_ is one of those Indian words, like _bundobust_, for which
there is no equivalent in the English language, and which are at once so
comprehensive and so expressive that, when once the use of them has been
acquired, they become indispensable, so that they have gained a
permanent place in the Anglo-Indian's vocabulary. It is not slang, but a
good word of ancient origin. Hobson-Jobson quotes a curious Latin writer
on the Empire of the Grand Mogul, who uses it with a definition
appended, "ut spectet Thamasham, id est pugnas elephantorum, leonum,
buffalorum et aliarura ferarum." "Show" comes nearest it in English, but
falls far short of it.

The _tamasha_ which the snake-charmer promises the _sahib_ will include
serpent dances, a fight between a cobra and a mungoose, the inevitable
mango tree, and other tricks of juggling. But to a stranger the
snake-charmer himself is a better _tamasha_ than anything he can show.
He is indeed a most extraordinary animal. His hair and beard are long
and unkempt, his general aspect wild, his clothing a mixture of savagery
and the wreckage of civilisation. He wears a turban, of course, and
generally a large one; but it is put on without art, just wound about
his head anyhow, and hanging lopsidedly over one ear. It and the loose
cloth wrapped about the middle of him are as dirty as may be and truly
Oriental, though erratic. But, besides these, he wears a jacket of
coloured calico, or any other material, with one button fastened,
probably on the wrong buttonhole, and under this, if the weather is
cold, he may have a shirt seemingly obtained from some Indian
representative of Moses & Co.

On his shoulder he carries a long bamboo, from the ends of which hang
villainously shabby baskets, some flat and round, occupied by snakes,
others large and oblong, filled with apparatus of jugglery. The members
of his family, down to an unclothed, precocious imp of ten, accompany
him, carrying similar baskets, or capacious wallets, or long,
cylindrical drums, on which they play with their fingers. The dramatic
effect of the whole is enhanced when one of them allows a huge python, a
snake of the _Boa constrictor_ tribe, which kills its prey by crushing
it, to wind its hideous, speckled coils round his body.

What the snake-charmer is by race or origin ethnologists may determine
when they have done with the gipsy. He is not a Hindu. No particular
part of the country acknowledges him as its native. He is to the great
races, castes, and creeds of India what the waif is to the billows of
the sea. His language, in public at least, is Hindustanee, but this is a
sort of _lingua franca_, the common property of all the inhabitants of
the country. His religion is probably one of the many forms of demon
worship which grow rank on the fringes of Hinduism. He must be classed,
no doubt, with the other wandering tribes which roam the country,
camping under umbrellas, or something little better, each consecrated to
some particular form of common crime, and each professing some not in
itself dishonest occupation, like the tinkering of gipsies.

But the snake-charmer is the best known and most widely spread of them
all. By occupation he is a professor of three occult sciences. First, he
is a juggler, and in this art he has some skill. His masterpiece is the
famous mango trick, which consists in making a miniature mango tree
grow up in a few minutes, and even blossom and bear fruit, out of some
bare spot which he has covered with his mysterious basket. It has been
written about by travellers in extravagant terms of astonishment and
admiration, but, as generally performed, is an extremely clumsy-looking
trick, though it is undoubtedly difficult to guess how it is done. A
more blood-curdling feat is to put the unclothed and precocious imp
aforementioned under a large basket, and then run a sword savagely
through and through every corner of it, and draw it out covered with
gore. When the sickened spectators are about to lynch the murderer, the
imp runs in smiling from the garden gate.

The connection between these performances and the man's second trade,
namely, snake-charming, is not obvious to a Western mind; but it must be
remembered that the snake-charmer is not a mere, vulgar juggler, amusing
people with sleight-of-hand. His feats are miracles, performed with the
assistance of superior powers. In short, he is a theosophist, only his
converse is not with excorporated Mahatmas from Thibet, but with spirits
of another grade, whose Superior has been known from very remote
antiquity as an Old Serpent. In deference to this respectable connection
the cobra holds a distinguished place even in orthodox Hinduism. So it
is altogether fit that a performer of wonders should be on intimate
terms with the serpent tribe. The snake-charmer keeps all sorts of
them, but chiefly cobras. These he professes to charm from their holes
by playing upon an instrument which may have some hereditary connection
with the bagpipe, for it has an air-reservoir consisting of a large
gourd, and it makes a most abominable noise. As soon as the cobra shows
itself the charmer catches it by the tail with one hand, and, running
the other swiftly along its body, grips it firmly just behind the jaws,
so that it cannot turn and bite. Practice and coolness make this an easy
feat. Then the poison fangs are pulled out with a pair of forceps and
the cobra is quite harmless. It is kept in a round, flat basket, out of
which, when the charmer removes the lid and begins to play, it raises
its graceful head, and, expanding its hood, sways gently in response to
the music.

Scientific men aver that a snake has no ears and cannot possibly hear
the strains of the pipe, but that sort of science simply spoils a
picturesque subject like the snake-charmer. So much is certain, that all
snakes cannot be played upon in this way: there are some species which
are utterly callous to the influences to which the cobra yields itself
so readily. No missionary will find any difficulty in getting a
snake-charmer to appreciate that Scripture text about the deaf adder
which will not listen to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so

To these two occupations the snake-charmer adds that of a medicine man,
for who should know the occult potencies of herbs and trees so well as
he? So, as he wanders from village to village, he is welcomed as well as
feared. But one wealthy tourist is worth more to him than a whole
village of ryots, so he keeps his eye on every town in which he is
likely to fall in with the travelling white man. And the travelling
white man would be sorry to miss him, for he is one of the few relics of
an ancient state of things which railways and telegraphs and the
Educational Department have left unchanged.

The itinerant jeweller and the Sind-work-box-walla are unmistakably
being left behind as the East hurries after the West, and we shall soon
know them no more. Showy shops, where the inexperienced traveller may
see all the products of Sind and Benares, and Cutch and Cashmere, spread
before him at fixed prices, are multiplying rapidly and taking the bread
from the mouth of the poor hawker. But the snake-charmer seems safe from
that kind of competition. It is difficult to forecast a time when a
broad signboard in Rampart Row will invite the passer-by to visit Mr.
Nagshett's world-renowned Serpent Tamasha, Mungoose and Cobra Fight,
Mango-tree Illusion, etc. Entrance, one rupee.



In a little book on the snakes of India, published many years ago by Dr.
Nicholson of the Madras Medical Service, the conviction was expressed
that the snake-charmers of Burmah knew of some antidote to the poison of
the cobra which gave them confidence in handling it. He said that
nothing would induce them to divulge it, but that he suspected it
consisted in gradual inoculation with the venom itself. Putting the
question to himself why he did not attempt to attest this by experiment,
he replied that there were two reasons, which, if I recollect rightly,
were, first, that he had a strong natural repugnance to anything like
cruelty to animals, and, secondly, that he had observed that as soon as
a man got the notion into his head that he had discovered a cure for
snake-bite, he began to show symptoms of insanity.

It is rather remarkable that, after so many years, another Scottish
doctor, not in Madras, but in Edinburgh, has proved, by just such
experiments as Dr. Nicholson shrank from, that an "aged and previously
sedate horse" may, by gradual inoculation with cobra poison, be
rendered so thoroughly proof against it that a dose which would suffice
to kill ten ordinary horses only imparts "increased vigour and
liveliness" to it. Further, Dr. Fraser has found that the serum of the
blood of an animal thus rendered proof against poison is itself an
antidote capable of combating that poison after it has been at work for
thirty minutes in the veins of a rabbit, and arresting its effects. And
all this has been achieved without apparent detriment to the
distinguished doctor's sanity.

This must be intensely interesting intelligence to Englishmen throughout
India, and joyful intelligence too, for, scoff as we may at the danger
of being bitten by a poisonous snake, nobody likes to think that, if
such a thing _should_ happen to him (and very narrow escapes sometimes
remind us that it may), there would be nothing for him to do but to lie
down and die. And so, ever since the Honourable East India Company was
chartered, the antidote to snake poison has been a sort of philosopher's
stone, sought after by doctors and men of science along many lines of
investigation. And every now and then somebody has risen up and
announced that he has found it, and has had disciples for a season.

But one remedy after another, though it might give startling results in
the laboratory, has proved to be useless in common life, and the
majority of Englishmen have long since resigned themselves to the
conclusion that there is no practical cure for the bite of a poisonous
snake. For what avails it to carry about in your travelling bag a phial
of strong ammonia and to live in more jeopardy of death by asphyxiation
than you ever were by snakes, unless you have some guarantee that, when
it is your fate to be bitten by a snake, the phial will be at hand? For
ammonia must act on the venom before the venom has had time to act upon
you, or it will only add another pain to your end; and that gives only a
few minutes to go upon. So with nitric acid and every agent that
operates by neutralising the poison and not by counteracting its
effects. And this has been the character of all the remedies hitherto
put forward. "They are," says Sir Joseph Fayrer, "absolutely without any
specific effect on the condition produced by the poison."

But "anti-venene," as Dr. Fraser calls his immunised blood-serum,
follows the poison into the system, even after the fatal symptoms have
begun to show themselves, and arrests them at once. So the Anglo-Indian
may throw away his ammonia phial and, arming himself with another of
anti-venene and a hypodermic syringe, feel that he is safe against an
accident which will never happen. As for the man who is not nervous, he
will speak of the new antidote, and think of it as most interesting and
valuable, and go on his way as before with no expectation of ever being
bitten by a venomous snake. The medical man of every degree will order
a supply as soon as it is to be had, and conscientiously try to stamp
out the smouldering hope within him that somebody in the station will
soon be bitten by a cobra and give him a chance.

Among the dusky millions of India Dr. Fraser's discovery will create no
"catholic ravishment" because they will not hear of it. And if they did
hear of it they would regard his labours as misapplied and the result as
superfluous. For the Hindu has never shared the Englishman's opinion
that there is no cure for snake-bite. On the contrary, he is assured
that there are not one or two but many specifics for the bite of every
kind of snake, known to those whose business it is to know them. If they
are not invariably efficacious, it is for the simple reason that if a
man's time has come to die he will die. But if his time has not come to
die they will not fail to cure him, and since no man can know when he is
bitten whether his time has come or not, he will lay the odds against
Fate by trying, not one or another of them, but as many as he can hear
of or get. Some of them are drastic in their effects, and so it too
often proves that the poor man's time has indeed come, for though he
might survive the snake he succumbs to the cure.

It is many years now since the news was brought to me one day that a man
whom I knew very well had been bitten by a deadly serpent and was dying.
He was a fine, strongly built young fellow, a Mohammedan, in the employ
of a Parsee liquor distiller, in whose godown he was arranging firewood
when he was bitten in the foot. Without looking at the snake he rushed
out and, falling on his face on the ground, implored the bystanders to
take care of his wife and children as he was a dead man. The news spread
and all the village ran together. The man was taken to an open room in
his employer's premises and vigorous measures for his recovery were set
on foot, in which his employer's family and servants, his own friends
and as many of the general public as chose to look in, were allowed to
take part.

First of all, some jungle men were called in, for the man of the jungle
must naturally know more about snakes than other men. These were
probably Katkurrees, an aboriginal race, who live by woodcutting,
hunting and other sylvan occupations. They proved to be practical men
and at once sucked the wound. An intelligent Havildar of the Customs
Department, who chanced to be present, then lanced the wound slightly to
let the blood flow, and tied the leg tightly in two places above it.
This was admirable. If what the jungle men and the Havildar did were
always and promptly done whenever a man is bitten by a snake, few such
accidents would end fatally.

But this poor man's friends did not stop there. A supply of chickens had
been procured with all haste, and these were scientifically applied.
This is a remedy in which the natives have great faith, and I have known
Europeans who were convinced of its efficacy. The manner of its
application scarcely admits of description in these pages, but the
effect is that the chickens absorb the poison and die, while the man
lives. The number of chickens required is a gauge of the virulence of
the serpent, for as soon as the venom is all extracted they cease to
die. Nobody, however, could tell me how many chickens perished in this
case. They were all too busy to stop and note the result of one remedy
while another remained untried. And there were many yet.

Somebody suggested that the venom should be dislodged from the patient's
stomach, so an emetic was administered in the form of a handful of
common salt, with immediate and seismic effect. Then a decoction of
_neem_ leaves was poured down the man's throat. The _neem_ tree is an
enemy of all fevers and a friend of man generally, so much so that it is
healthful to sleep under its shade. Therefore a decoction of the leaves
could not fail to be beneficial in one way or another. The residue of
the leaves was well rubbed into the crown of the man's head for more
direct effect on the brains in case they might be affected. Something
else was rubbed in under the root of the tongue.

In the meantime a man with some experience in exorcism had brought twigs
of a tree of well-ascertained potency in expelling the devil, and
advised that, in view of the known connection between serpents and
Satan, it would be well to try beating the patient with these. The
advice was taken, and many stripes were laid upon him. Massage was also
tried, and other homely expedients, such as bandaging and thumping with
the fists, were not neglected.

It was about noon when I was told of the accident, and I went down at
once and found the poor man in a woeful state, as well he might be after
such rough handling as he had suffered for four consecutive hours; but
he was quite conscious and there was neither pain nor swelling in the
bitten foot. I remonstrated most vigorously, pointing out that the
snake, which nobody had seen, might not have been a venomous one at all,
that there were no symptoms of poisoning, except such as might also be
explained by the treatment the man had suffered at the hands of his
friends, and that, in short, I could see no reason to think he was going
to die unless they were determined to kill him.

My words appeared to produce a good effect on the Parsees at least, and
they consented to stop curing the man and let him rest, giving him such
stimulating refreshment as he would take, for he was a pious Mussulman
and would not touch wine or spirits. I said what I could to cheer him
up, and went away hoping that I had saved a human life. Alas! In an hour
or so a friend came in with a root of rare virtue and persuaded the man
to swallow some preparation of it. _Post hoc_, whether _propter hoc_ I
dare not say, he became unconscious and sank. Before night he was

All this did not happen in some obscure village in a remote jungle. It
happened within a mile and a half of a town controlled by a municipal
corporation which enjoys the rights and privileges of "local
self-government." In that town there was a dispensary, with a very
capable assistant-surgeon in charge, and in that dispensary I doubt not
you would have found a bottle of strong _liquor ammoniae_ and a printed
copy of the directions issued by a paternal Government for the recovery
of persons bitten by venomous serpents. But when the man was bitten the
one thing which occurred to nobody was to take him there, and when I
heard of the matter the assistant-surgeon had just left for a distant
place, passing on his way the gate of the house in which the man lay.
This was a bad case, but there is little reason to hope that it was
altogether exceptional. I am afraid there can be no question at all that
hundreds of the deaths put down to snake-bite by village punchayets
every year might with more truth be registered as "cured to death."




Beharil Surajmul was the greatest moneylender in Dowlutpoor. He was a
man of rare talents. He remembered the face of every man who had at any
time come to borrow money of him since he began to work, as a little
boy, in his father's office, so that it was impossible to deceive him.
He had also such a miraculous skill in the making out of accounts that a
poor man who had come to him in extremity for a loan of fifty rupees, to
meet the expenses of his daughter's marriage, might go on making
payments for the remainder of his life without reducing the debt by one
rupee. In fact, it seemed to increase with each payment.

And if the matter went into court, Beharilal never failed to show that
there was still a balance due to him much larger than the original loan.
But so courteous and pleasant was the Seth in his manner to all that
such matters never went into court until the right time, of which he was
an infallible judge, for he knew the private affairs of every family in
Dowlutpoor. Then a decree was obtained and the debtor's house, or land,
was sold to defray the debt, Beharilal himself being usually the
purchaser, though not, of course, in his own name, for he was a prudent

By these means Beharilal had become possessed of large estates, which he
managed with such skill that they yielded to him revenues which they had
never yielded to the former owners of them, while his tenants, who were
mostly former owners, grew daily more deeply involved in their pecuniary
obligations to him, and therefore entertained no thought of leaving him,
for he could put them into prison any day if he chose. Their contentment
gave him great satisfaction, and he treated them with benevolence,
giving them advances of money for all their necessary expenses and
appropriating the whole of their crops at the harvest to repay himself.
He bound them to buy all that they had need of at his shop, so that he
made profit off them on both sides.

And as his wealth increased, his person increased with it and his
appearance became more imposing, so that he was regarded everywhere with
the highest respect and esteem. He was, moreover, a very religious man
and charitable beyond most. By early risers he might be seen in his
garden seeking out the nests of ants and giving them, with his own
hands, their daily dole of rice. It was his benevolent thoughtfulness
which had supplied drinking troughs for the flocks of pigeons that
continually plundered the stores of the other grain merchants. He had
also established a pinjrapole for aged, sickly and ownerless animals of
all kinds. To this he required all his tenants to send their bullocks
when they became unfit for work, and he sold them new cattle, good and
strong, at prices fixed by himself. If any of his old debtors, when
reduced to beggary, came to his door for alms, they were never sent away
without a handful of rice or a copper coin. He kept a bag of the
smallest copper coins always at hand for such purposes.

Beharilal had a fine house, designed by himself and surrounded by a vast
garden stocked with mangoes, guavas, custard apples, oranges and other
fruit trees, and made beautiful and fragrant with all manner of flowers.
The cool shade drew together birds of many kinds from the dry plains of
the surrounding country, and it pleased Beharilal to think that they
also were recipients of his bounty and that the benefits which he
conferred on them would certainly be entered to the credit of his
account with Heaven.

Some he fed, such as the crows, which flocked about the back door, like
a convocation of Christian padres, in the morning and afternoon, when
the ladies of his family gave out their portion of boiled rice and ghee.
The pigeons also came together in hundreds in an open space under the
shade of a noble peepul tree, where grain was thrown out for them at
three o'clock every day; and among them were many chattering sparrows
and not a few green parrots, which walked quaintly among the bustling
pigeons, their long tails moving from side to side like the pointer of
the scale on which the Bunia weighed his rupees. This resemblance struck
him as he reclined against the fat red cushion in his verandah summing
up his gains. There were other birds which would not eat his food, but
found abundance, suited to their respective castes, among the shrubs and
trees that he had planted. Mynas walked eagerly on the lawns looking for
grasshoppers, glittering sunbirds hovered over the flowers, thrusting
their slender bills into each nectar-laden blossom, bulbuls twittered
among the mulberries and the koel made the shady banian tree resound
with its melodious notes.

In a remote corner of the garden, under the dark shade of a tamarind,
there stood a small shrine, like a whitewashed tomb, with a niche or
recess on one side of it containing a conical stone smeared with red
ochre. Some called it Mahadeo and some Khandoba, but no one could
explain the presence of a Mahratta god in a Bunia's garden in
Dowlutpoor, except by quoting an old tradition about one Narayen who had
come from the Mahratta country and lived for many years in this place.
Some said he was a prosperous goldsmith of great piety, but others
maintained that he was a Sunyasee, or saint, and there was no certainty
in the matter. The one point on which all were agreed was the great
sanctity of the shrine, and Beharilal was most careful to perform at it
every ceremony which custom, or tradition, sanctioned for placating the
god and averting any calamity that might arise from his displeasure.

At the base of one of the old cracked walls of the shrine there was a
hole which was the den of a very large, black cobra. Several times it
had been seen in the garden, and, when pursued, had glided into this
hole and escaped. When Beharilal first heard of it he was much troubled
in his mind, but, having consulted a Brahmin, he gave strict injunctions
that the reptile should not be molested, and since that time he had
never failed to place an offering of milk near to the hole in the
morning and in the evening.

Now it happened that at this time there was in Dowlutpoor an English
doctor who was generally known as the Jadoo-walla Saheb, because he was
believed to practise sorcery and had some mysterious need of snakes.
Perhaps he was only making experiments with their venom. At any rate, he
wanted live cobras and offered a good price for them. So when Nagoo, the
snake-charmer, heard that there was a large one in Beharilal's garden,
he thought he might do good business by capturing it for the Jadoo-walla
Saheb, and at the same time demanding a reward from the timorous Bunia
for ridding him of such a dangerous neighbour. With this intent he
repaired to the garden with all the apparatus of his art, his flat
snake baskets, his mongoose and his crooked pipe. Having reconnoitred
the ground, he commenced operations by sitting down on his hams and
producing such ear-splitting strains from the crooked pipe as might have
charmed Cerberus to leave his kennel at the gate of hell. Great was his
surprise and mortification when he heard the voice of Beharilal raised
in tones of unwonted passion and saw a stalwart Purdaisee advancing
towards him armed with an iron-bound lathee, who, without ceremony, nay,
with abusive epithets, hustled him and all his gear out of the garden.
Nagoo was a snake-charmer and by nature a gipsy, and this treatment
rankled in his dark bosom.

Some weeks passed and the sun had scarcely risen when Beharilal sat in
the ota in front of his house at his daily business, which began as soon
as his teeth were cleaned and ended about eleven at night. The place was
not tidy. Two or three mats were spread on the floor, a spare one was
rolled up in a corner, several pairs of shoes were on the steps,
umbrellas leaned against the wall, handles downwards, and a large chatty
of drinking water stood beside them. The Bunia himself, bare-headed and
bare-footed, sat cross-legged on a cushion, with a wooden stool in front
of him, on which lay an open ledger of stout yellowish paper, bound in
soft red leather and nearly two feet in length. In this he was carefully
entering yesterday's transactions with a reed pen, which he dipped
frequently in a brass inkpot filled with a sponge soaked in a muddy
black fluid.

Beside him sat his son, aged two years, playing with the red, lacquered
cylinder in which he kept his reed pens. Beharilal had two girls also,
but they were with the women folk in the interior of the house, where he
was content they should stay. This was his only boy, the pride and joy
of his heart. Engrossed as he was in recording his gains, he could not
refrain from lifting his eyes now and again to feast them on that rotund
little body, like a goblet set on two pillars. No clothing concealed the
tense and shiny brown skin, but there were silver bracelets on the fat
wrists and massive anklets where deep creases divided the fat little
feet from the fat little legs, and a representation, in chased silver,
of Eve's fig leaf hung from a silver chain which encircled the sphere
that should have been his waist. His globular head was curiously shaven.
From two deep pits between the bulging brow and the fat cheeks that
nearly squeezed out the little nose between them, two black diamonds
twinkled, full of wonder, as the small purse mouth prattled to itself
softly and inarticulately of the mysteries of life.

Suddenly a startled cry, passing into a prolonged wail of fear, roused
old Beharilal, and he saw a sight that nearly caused him to swoon with
terror. The little man, a moment ago so placid and happy, was shrinking
back with "I don't like that thing" inscribed in lines of anguish on
his distorted face, and not three feet from him a huge cobra, just
emerged from the roll of matting, eyed him with a stony stare, its head
raised and its hood expanded. Its quivering tongue flickered out from
between its lips like distant flashes of forked lightning.

For a moment Beharilal stood stupefied, then all the heroism that was in
him spent itself at once. Seizing the heavy wooden stool in both his
hands, he raised it high over his head and dashed it down on the
reptile. The sharp edge of hard wood broke its back, and as it wriggled
and lashed about, biting at everything within reach, the Bunia snatched
up his boy and waddled into the house at a pace to which he had long
been unaccustomed, calling out, in frantic gasps, for help. A rush of
excited and screaming women met him in the inner court, and he dropped
his precious burden, with pious ejaculations, into the arms of its
mother, and stood panting and speechless. Then calling aloud to know if
all danger was past, he ventured cautiously out again and saw that the
Purdaisee and the Malee had ejected the wriggling cobra and were
pounding its head into a jelly with a big stone.

For some seconds he looked on in a strange stupor, and then he realised
what he had done. He, Beharilal, the Bunia, who had always removed the
insects so tenderly from his own person that they were not hurt, who had
never committed the sin of killing a mosquito or a fly; he, with his own
hands, had taken the life of the guardian cobra of the shrine!
"Urray-ray! Bap-ray!" he cried, "for what demerit of mine has this
ill-luck befallen me in my old age? What will happen now?"

"Nay, Sethjkee," said the Malee, "be not afraid. It was in your destiny
that this offspring of Satan should come to its end by your hand. We
have pounded its head properly, so it will not return to you,"

"But what of its mate?" said Beharilal. "I have heard that, if any man
kills a cobra, its mate will follow him by day and by night until it has
had its revenge. Is that not so?"

The Malee answered, "Chh, Chh! There is no mate of this cobra," but his
tone was not confident.

"Go," cried Beharilal--"go quickly and call Nagoo, the snake-charmer. He
has knowledge."

"I will go," said the Malee, and set off at a run; but when he got out
of the gate he lapsed into a leisurely walk, for why should a man lose
his breath without cause? In time he found his way to the little
settlement of huts constructed of poles and mats, where Nagoo sat on the
ground smoking his "chillum," and told his errand.

"Why should I come?" was Nagoo's reply; "I went to take away that cobra
and the Bunia drove me from the garden with abuse. Why does he send for
me now?"

"He is a Bunia," said the Malee, as if that summed up the whole matter;
but he added, after a pause, "If he sees a burning ground, he shakes
like a peepul leaf. The cobra has died by his hand and his liver has
become like water. Whatever you ask he will give. You should come,"

Nagoo replied aloud, "I will come," and to himself, "I will give him
physic." Then he took up his baskets and his pipe and followed the

Beharilal proceeded to business with a directness foreign to his habit,
looking over his shoulder at intervals lest a snake might be silently
approaching. "Good Nagoo," he said, "a great misfortune has happened.
The cobra of the shrine has been killed. Has it a mate?"

"How can a cobra not have a mate?" answered Nagoo curtly.

Then Beharilal employed the most insinuating of the many tones of his
voice. "Listen, Nagoo. You are a man of skill. Capture that cobra and I
will pay you well. I will give you five rupees." Then, observing no
response in the wrinkled visage of the charmer, "I will give you ten

Nagoo would have sold his revenge for a tithe of the wealth thus dangled
before him, but he saw no reason to suppose that there was another cobra
anywhere in the garden, so he answered with the calm confidence of an
expert, "That cannot be done. The serpent will not heed any pipe now. In
its mind there is only revenge."

"Then what will it do?" said the trembling Bunia.

"If its mate died by the hand of a man, it will follow that man until
it has accomplished its purpose."

"But how will it know," asked Beharilal, "by whose hand its mate died?"

Nagoo replied with pious simplicity, "How can I tell by what means it
knows? God informs it."

"But," pleaded Beharilal, "is there no escape?--if a man goes away by
the railway or by water?"

Nagoo pondered for a moment and said, "If a man crossed the sea, the
serpent would be baulked. If he goes by railway it will not leave him.
Let him go to Madras, it will find him."

With a faltering hand the Bunia put some rupees, uncounted, into the
charmer's skinny palm, saying, "Go, make incantations. Do something.
There is great knowledge of mysteries with you"; and he hurried back
into the house.

His arrangements were very soon made. His account books, with a bundle
of bonds and hoondies and cash and his son, were put into a small cart
drawn by a pair of fast trotting bullocks, into which he himself
climbed, after looking under the cushion to see that there was no evil
beast lurking there, and got away in haste while the sun was yet hot.
The rest of the family followed with the household property, and in a
few days the house was empty and only the Malee remained in charge. Many
years have passed and the house is empty still, and the Malee, grown
grey and frail, is still in charge. He gets no wages, but he sells the
jasmine flowers and the mangoes and guavas, and he grows chillies and
brinjals, and so fills the stomachs of himself and his little grandson
and is contented. If you ask him where the Seth has gone, he replies,
"Who knows?" His debt has gone with his creditor, "gone glimmering
through the dream of things that were," and he has no desire to recall

A civil or military officer from the station, taking a solitary walk,
sometimes finds himself at the Cobra Bungalow, and turns in to wander
among its old trees and unswept paths, obstructed by overgrown and
untended shrubs, and wonders how it got its name. Then he pauses at the
whitewashed shrine and notes that the god-stone has been freshly painted
red and that chaplets of faded flowers lie before it. But the old Malee
approaches with a meek salaam and a posy of jasmine and marigolds and
warns him that there is a cobra in the shrine.



It was January 13 of a good many years ago, in those happy days that
have "gone glimmering through the dream of things that were." The sun
had scarcely risen, and I was sitting in the cosy cabin of my yacht
enjoying my "chota hazree," which, being interpreted, means "lesser
presence," and in Anglo-Indian speech signifies an "eye-opener" of tea
and toast--the greater presence appears some hours later and we call it
breakfast. I will not say that the view from my cabin windows was
enchanting. The placid waters of the broad creek would have been
pleasant to look upon if the level rays of the sun in his strength had
not skimmed them with such a blinding glare, but the low, flat-topped
hills that bounded them were forbidding.

The people said truly that God had made this a country of stones, but
they forgot that He had clothed the stones with trees of evergreen
foliage and a dense undergrowth of shrubs and grass, to protect and hold
together the thick bed of loam which the fallen leaves enriched from
year to year. It was the axes of their fathers that felled the trees,
to sell for fuel, and the billhooks of their mothers that hacked away
the bushes and grubbed up their very roots to burn on the household
cooking hole. Then the torrential rains of the south-west monsoon came
down on the naked, defenceless, parched and cracked soil and swept it in
muddy cascades down to the sea, leaving flats of bare rock, strewn thick
with round stones, sore to the best-shod foot of man and cruel to the
hoofs of a horse. About and among the huts of the unswept and malodorous
hamlet just above the shore there were fine trees, mango, tamarind,
babool and bor, showing what might have been elsewhere.

On the rounded top of the highest hill frowned in black ruin an old
Mahratta fort, covered on the top and sides and choked within by that
dense mass of struggling vegetation which always takes possession of old
forts in India. The weather-worn stones and crumbling mortar seem to
feed the trees to gluttony. First some bird-drops the seeds of the
banian fig into crevices of the ramparts, and its insidious roots push
their way and grow and grow into great tortuous snakes, embracing the
massive blocks of basalt, heaving them up and holding them up, so that
they cannot fall. Then prickly shrubs and thorny trees follow, fighting
for every inch of ground, but quite unable to eject the gently
persistent custard-apple, descended doubtless from seeds which the
garrison dropped as they ate the luscious fruit, on account of which the
Portuguese introduced the tree from South America. I had penetrated
into that fort and had seen something of the snakes and birds of night,
but not the ghosts and demons which I was assured made it their
habitation by day.

On a level place a little below the fort stood two monuments, telling of
the days when the Honourable East India Company maintained a "Resident"
at this place. Here he lived in proud solitude, upholding the British
flag. But his wife and the little one on whose face he had not yet
looked were on their way from Bombay in a native "pattimar" to join him,
and as he stood gazing over the sea at the red setting sun one 5th of
October, he thought of the glad to-morrow and the end of his dreary
loneliness. It fell to him to put up one of these monuments, with a
sorrowful inscription to all that was left to him on the following
morning, the "memory" of a beloved wife and an infant thirty-one days
old, drowned in crossing the bar on October 6, 1853.

We have strewed our best to the weeds unrest,
To the shark and the sheering gull.
If blood be the price of admiralty,
Lord God, we ha' paid in full.

I carried my gun and rifle with me in my yacht. They served to keep up
my character as a sportsman, and did not often require to be cleaned. So
the morning calm of my mind was lashed into an unwonted tempest of
excitement when my jolly skipper, Sheikh Abdul Rehman, came in and told
me briefly that a "bag" (which word does not rhyme with rag, but must
be pronounced like barg without the _r_ and signifies a tiger or
panther) had killed a cow in the village the night before last.

When he added that the villagers had set a spring gun for it last
evening and it had returned to the "kill" and been badly wounded, my
excitement was turned into wrath. I had been at anchor here all
yesterday. The Indian ryot everywhere turns instinctively to the _sahib_
as his protector against all wild beasts. What did these men mean by
keeping their own counsel and setting an infernal machine for their
enemy? Abdul Rehman explained, and the explanation was simple and
sufficient. My fat predecessor in the appointment that I held had no
relish for sport and kept no guns, so the simple villagers, when they
saw my boat with its familiar flag, looked for no help from that
quarter. However, I might still win renown off that wounded "bag," if it
was not a myth; but, to tell the truth, I was sceptical. The tiger and
the panther are not nomads on rocky plains, like the antelope. I landed,
notwithstanding, promptly and visited the scene. Sure enough, there was
a young heifer lying on its side, with the unmistakable deep pits where
the jaws of the panther had gripped its throat, and a gory cavity where
it had selected a gigot for its dinner.

Round the corpse the villagers had arranged a circular fence of thorns,
with one opening, across which they had stretched a cord, attached at
the other end to the trigger of an old shooting iron of some sort,
charged with slugs and looking hard at the opening. The gun had gone off
during the night, and the ground was soaked with blood. A few yards off
there was another great swamp of blood. The beast had staggered away and
lain down for a while, faint and sick. Then it had got up and crawled
home, still dripping with blood, by which we tracked it for a good
distance, but the trace grew gradually fainter and at last ceased

"It has gone to the fort," said the men--"bags always go to the fort." I
pointed out that, if it had meant to go to the fort, it would have gone
towards the fort, instead of in another direction; but the argument did
not move them. "The fort is a jungle, and where else should a 'bag' take
refuge but in a jungle?" However, I was obstinate, and pursued the
original direction until we arrived at the brow of the hill, where it
sloped steeply down to the sea. The whole slope, for half a mile, was
covered with a dense scrub of Lantana bushes. This is another plant
introduced in some by-gone century from South America, and planted first
in gardens for its profuse clusters of red and pink verbena-like
blossoms (it is a near relation of the garden verbena), whence it has
spread like the rabbit in New Zealand, and become a nuisance. "There," I
cried, pointing at the scrub, "there, without doubt, your wounded 'bag'
is lying."

Some of the men, unbelieving still, were amusing themselves by rolling
large stones down the slope, when suddenly there was a sound of
scrambling, and across an opening in the scrub, in sight of us all, a
huge hyaena scurried away "on three legs." I sent a man post-haste for
my rifle, which I had not brought with me, never expecting to require it
until a regular campaign could be arranged. As soon as it arrived, we
formed in line and advanced, throwing stones in all directions.

Make no offering of admiration at the shrine of our hardihood, for we
were in no peril. Among carnivorous beasts there is not a more
contemptible poltroon than the hyaena, even when wounded. A friend of
mine once tied up a billy goat as a bait for a panther and sat up over
it in a tree. In the middle of the night a hyaena nosed it from afar,
and came sneaking up in the rear, for hyaenas love the flesh of goats
next to that of dogs. But the goat saw it, and, turning about bravely,
presented his horned front. This the hyaena could not find stomach to
face. For two hours he manoeuvred to take the goat in rear, but it
turned as he circled, and stood up to him stoutly till the dawn came,
and my friend cut short its disreputable career with a bullet.

To return to my story, we had not gone far when, on a lower level, not
many yards from me, I was suddenly confronted by that repulsive,
ghoulish physiognomy which can never be forgotten when once seen, the
smoky-black snout, broad forehead and great upstanding ears. Instantly
the beast wheeled and scrambled over a bank, receiving a hasty rear
shot which, as I afterwards found, left it but one limb to go with, for
the bullet passed clean through a hindleg and lodged in a foreleg. It
went on, however, and some time passed before I descried it far off
dragging itself painfully across an open space. A careful shot finished
it, and it died under a thick bush, where we found it and dragged it
out. It proved to be a large male, measuring 4 feet 7 inches, from which
something over a foot must be deducted for its shabby tail.

The natives all maintained still that their cow had been killed by a
panther, saying that the hyaena had come on the second night, after
their manner, to fill its base belly with the leavings. And there was
some circumstantial evidence in favour of this view. In the first place,
I never heard of a hyaena having the audacity to attack a cow; in the
second, the tooth-marks on the cow showed that it had been executed
according to the tradition of all the great cats--by seizing its throat
and breaking its neck; and in the third, a hyaena, sitting down to such
a meal, would certainly have begun with calf's head and crunched up
every bone of the skull before thinking of sirloin or rumpsteak. But the
absurdity of a panther being found in such a region outweighed all this
and I scoffed.

I was yet to learn a lesson in humility out of this adventure. Two years
later I sailed over the bar and dropped anchor at the same spot. I was
met with the intelligence that on the previous evening two panthers had
been seen sitting on the brow of the hill and gazing at the beauties of
the fading sunset, as wild beasts are so fond of doing. A night or two
later a cow was attacked in a neighbouring field, and, staggering into
the village, fell down and died in a narrow alley between two houses.
The panther followed and prowled about all night, but the villagers,
hammering at their doors with sticks, scared it from its meal.

I at once had a nest put up in a small tree, and took my position in it
at sunset. The common people in India do not waste much money on lamp
oil, preferring to sleep during the hours appointed by Nature for the
purpose, so it was not long before all doors were securely barred and
quietness reigned. Then the mosquitoes awoke and came to inquire for me,
the little bats (how I blessed them!) wheeled about my head, the
night-jar called to his fellow, and the little owls sat on a branch
together and talked to each other about me. Hour after hour passed, and
it became too dark in that narrow alley to see a panther if it had come.
So I came down and got to my boat. The panther was engaged a mile away
dining on another cow! On further inquiry I learned that there was some
good forest a day's journey distant, and it was quite the fashion among
the panthers of that place to spend a weekend occasionally at a spot so
full of all delights as this dark, jungle-smothered fort.



I do not believe that the Member of Parliament who moved the adjournment
of the House to consider the culpable carelessness of the Government of
India in allowing the Rajah of Muttighur to fall into the moat of his
own castle when he was drunk, could have told you what a Purbhoo is, not
though you had spelled it Prabhu, so that he could find it in his
_Gazetteer_. Of course he saw hundreds of them during that Christmas
which he spent in the East before he wrote his book; but then he took
them all for Brahmins. He never noticed that the curve of their turbans
was not the same, and the idol mark on their foreheads was quite
different, nor even that their shoes were not forked at the toes, but
ended in a sharp point curled upwards. And if he did not see these
things which were on the surface, what could he know of matters that lie

Now the first and most important thing to be known respecting the
Purbhoo, the fundamental fact of him, is that he is not a Brahmin. If he
were a Brahmin, one essential piece of our administrative apparatus in
India would be wanting, and without it the whole machinery would
assuredly go out of order. Nor is it easy to see how we could replace
him. Not one of the other castes would serve even as a makeshift. They
are all too far removed from the Brahmin. But the Purbhoo is near him,
irritatingly near him, and he has proved in practice to be just the sort
of homoeopathic remedy we require, the counter-irritant, the outward
blister by wise application of which we can keep down the internal

In speaking of the Brahmin as an inflammation in the body politic I
disown all offensive and invidious implications. I am only using a
convenient simile. You may reverse it if you like and make the disease
stand for the Purbhoo, in which case the Brahmin will be the blister.
Which way fits the facts best will depend upon which caste chances at
the time to be nearest to the vitals of Government.

The case stands thus. Before the days of British rule the Brahmin was
the priest and man of letters, the "clerke" in short. The rajahs and
chiefs were much of the same mind as old Douglas:

Thanks to Saint Bothan son of mine,
Save Gawain, ne'er could pen a line,

Gawain being a bishop. As a Mohammedan gentleman related to one of the
ruling Indian princes put the matter when speaking to me a few years
ago, "In those days none of us could write. Our pen was the sword. If
any writing had to be done the Brahmin was called in." And no doubt he
did excellent service, being diligent, astute, and withal pliant and
diplomatic. If to these qualities he added ambition, he might, and often
did, become a Cardinal Wolsey in the state. In Poona, for example, the
Brahmin Prime Minister gradually overshadowed the Mahratta king, and the
descendant of Shivajee was put on a back shelf as Rajah of Sattara,
while the Peishwa ruled at the capital.

Of course this carnal advancement was not gained without some sacrifice
of his spiritual character, and the "secular" Brahmin had to bow, _quoad
sacra_, to the penniless Bhut, or "regular" Brahmin, who, refusing to
contaminate his sanctity by doing any kind of work, ate of the temple,
or lived by royal bounty or private charity, and by the free breakfasts
without which a marriage, "thread ceremony" or funeral in a gentleman's
house could not be respectably celebrated. Idleness and sanctity are a
powerful combination, and it is written in the _shastras_ that every day
in which a holy man does no work for his bread, but lives by begging, is
equal in the eyes of the gods to a day spent in fasting; so, though the
prospect of power and wealth might tempt a few restless and wayward
spirits, the great mass of the Brahmin caste clung to the sacred

All this time the Purbhoo was in the land, but insignificant. He had no
sacred calling. Tradition assigned him a hybrid origin. He could not
presume to be a warrior, because his mother was a _shoodra_, nor could
he condescend to be a farmer, for his father was a _kshutriya_. So the
gods had given him the pen, and he was a writer--not a secretary, but a
humble quill-driver. But when the Portuguese and then the British came
upon the scene, not ruling by word of mouth, like the native rajahs, but
inditing their orders and keeping records, the Purbhoo saw an open door
and went in.

Then the Brahmin woke up, for he saw that he was in evil case. The
spirit of the British _raj_ was falling like a blight and a pestilence
upon the means by which he had lived, drying up the fountains of
religious revenue and slowly but surely blighting the luxuriance of that
pious liberality which always took the form of feeding holy men. He
found that he must work for his bread whether he liked it or not, and
the only implement of secular work that would not soil his priestly hand
was the pen. And this was already taken up by the Purbhoo, who carried
himself haughtily under the new _regime_ and showed no mind to make way
for the holier man. Hence sprang those bitter enmities and jealousies
which have done so much to lighten the difficulties of our position.

The British Government has often been accused of acting on the maxim,
_Divide et impera_. It is a libel. We do not divide, for there is no
need. Division is already there. We have only to rejoice and rule. How
well and justly we rule all the world knows, but only the initiated know
how much we owe to the fact that the talents and energies which would
otherwise be employed in thwarting our just intentions and
phlebotomising the ryot are largely preoccupied with the more useful
work of thwarting and undermining each other.

What could a collector do single-handed against a host of clerks and
subordinate magistrates and petty officials of every grade, all armed
with the awfulness of a heaven-born sanctity, all hedged round with the
prestige of an ancient supremacy, endowed with a mole-like genius for
underground work which the Englishman never fathoms, and all leagued
together to suck to the uttermost the life blood of those inferior
castes which were created expressly for their advantage?

_He_ is working in a foreign language, among customs and ways of thought
which it takes a lifetime to understand: _they_ are using their mother
tongue and handling matters that they have known from childhood. _He_
cannot tell a lie and is ashamed to deceive: _they_ are trained in a
thrifty policy which saves the truth for a last resort in case
everything else should fail. He would be helpless in their hands as a
sucking child. But he knows they will do for him what he cannot do for
himself. The Purbhoo will lie in wait for the Brahmin, and the Brahmin
will keep his lynx eye on the Purbhoo. And woe to the one who trips
first. So the collector arranges his men with judicious skill to the
fostering of each other's virtue, and the result is most gratifying.
The country blesses his administration, and his subordinates are equally
surprised and delighted at their own integrity.

I speak of a wise and able administrator. There are men in the Indian
Civil Service who are neither wise nor able, and some who are not
administrators at all, having most unhappily mistaken their vocation.
When such a one becomes collector of a district his _chitnis_, or chief
secretary, sees that that tide in the affairs of men has come which,
"taken at the flood, leads on to fortune," and his caste-fellows all
through the service are filled with unholy joy. But he does nothing rash
or hasty. Wilily and patiently he goes to work to make his own
foundation sure first of all. He studies his chief under all conditions,
discovers his little foibles and vanities and feeds them sedulously. He
masters codes, rules and regulations, standing orders, precedents and
past correspondence, till it is dangerous to contradict him and always
safe to trust him. In every difficulty he is at hand, clearing away
perplexity and refreshing the "swithering" mind with his precision and
assurance. He becomes indispensable. The collector reposes absolute
confidence in him and is proud to say so in his reports.

Then the _chitnis_, if he is a Brahmin, addresses himself to the task of
eliminating the Purbhoo from the service, or at least depriving him of
place and power. It is a delicate task, but the Brahmin's touch is
light. He never disparages a Purbhoo from that day; "damning with faint
praise" is safer and as effectual. He practises the charity which
covereth a multitude of faults, but he leaves a tag end of one peeping
out to attract curiosity, and if the collector asks questions, he is
candid and tells the truth, though with manifest reluctance. Then he
grapples with the gradation lists, which have fallen into confusion, and
puts them into such excellent order that the collector can see at a
glance every man's past services and present claims to promotion. And
from these lists it appears that clearly, whenever any vacancy has to be
filled, a Brahmin has the first claim. And so, as the shades of night
yield to the dawn of day, the Purbhoo by degrees fades away and
disappears, and the star of the Brahmin rises and shines everywhere with
still increasing splendour.

But the Purbhoo possesses his soul in patience, and keeps a note of
every slip that the Brahmin makes. For the next _chitnis_ may be a
Purbhoo, and then the day of reckoning will come and old scores will be
paid off. The Brahmin knows that too, and the thought of it makes him
walk warily even in the day of his prosperity. Thus our administration
is saved from utter corruption.



Among the classic fairy-tales which passed like shooting stars across
those dark hours of our boyhood in which we wrestled with the grim
rudiments of Latin and Greek, and which abide in the memory after nearly
all that they helped to brighten has passed away, there was one which
related to a contest between Neptune and Minerva as to which should
confer the greatest benefit on the human race. Neptune first struck his
trident on the ground (or was it on the waves? "Eheu fugaces"--no, that
also is gone), and there sprang forth a noble steed, pawing the ground,
terrible in war and no less useful in peace. Then the watery god leaned
back and smiled as if he would say, "Now, beat that." But the Goddess of
Wisdom brought out of the earth a modest, dark tree bearing olives and,
in classic phrase, "took the cake," Oriental mythology is more luxuriant
and fantastic than that of the West, but I do not know if it has any
legend parallel to this. If it has, then I am sure the palm is awarded
to the deity who gave to the human race the tree that bears the coconut.

Passing a confectioner's shop, I saw a tempting packet labelled
"Cokernut Toffee." I bought a pennyworth and gave it to my little girl,

"I laye a-thynkynge, a-thynkynge, a-thynkynge."

How many boys and girls are there in this kingdom to whom the word
coconut connotes an ingredient which goes to the making of a very
toothsome sweetie? And how many confectioners and shop girls are there
whose idea is no broader? Again:

"I laye a-thynkynge, a-thynkynge, a-thynkynge,
And merrie sang the Birde as she sat upon the spraye."

And I said, "Little Bird, what do you know of the coconut?" And it made
answer, "It is a cup full of food, rich and sweet, which kind hands hang
out for me in winter," How narrow may be the key-hole through which we
take our outlook on things human and divine, never doubting that we see
the whole! In our own British Empire, only a few thousand miles away,
sits a mild Hindu, almost unclad and wholly unlettered, to whom the tree
that bore the fruit that flavoured the toffee that my little girl is
enjoying seems to be one of the predominating tints of the whole
landscape of life. It puts a roof over his head, it lightens his
darkness, it helps to feed his body, it furnishes the wine that maketh
glad his heart and the oil that causeth his face to shine, and time
would fail me to tell of all the other things that it does for him. As a
type and symbol, it is always about him, spanning the sunshine and
shower of life with bows of hope.

The coconut tree is a palm, and has nothing to do with cocoa of the
breakfast table. That word is a perversion of "cacao," and came to us
from Mexico: the other is the Portuguese word "coco," which means a nut.
It is what Vasco da Gama called the thing when he first saw it, and the
word, with our English translation added, has stuck to it. The tree is,
I need scarcely say, a palm, one of many kinds that flourish in India.
But none of them can be ranked with it. The rough date palm makes dense
groves on sandy plains, but brings no fruit to perfection, pining for
something which only Arabia can supply; the strong but unprofitable
"brab," or fan palm, rises on rocky hills, the beautiful fish-tailed
palm in forests solitarily, while the "areca" rears its tall, smooth
stem and delicate head in gardens and supplies millions with a solace
more indispensable than tobacco or tea. But the coconut loves a sandy
soil and the salt breath of the sea and the company of its own kind. The
others grow erect as a mast, but the gentle coconuts lean on the wind
and mingle the waving of their sisterly arms, casting a grateful shade
on the humble folk who live under their blessing.

To the mariner sailing by India's coral strand that country presents the
aspect of an endless beach of shell sand, quite innocent of coral, on
which the surf breaks continually into dazzling white foam against a
dark background of pensive palms. He might naturally suppose that they
had grown up of themselves, like the screw-pines and aloes which
sometimes share the beach with them; but that would be a great mistake.
Everyone of them has been planted and carefully watered for years and
manured annually with fresh foliage of forest trees buried in a moat
round the root. And so it grew in stature, but not in girth, until its
head was sixty, seventy or even eighty feet above the ground, and a
hundred nuts of various sizes hung in bunches from long, shiny, green
arms, each as thick as a man's, which had thrust themselves out from
between the lower fronds.

There is no production of Nature that I know of less negotiable than a
coconut as the tree presents it. The man who first showed the way into
it deserved a place in mythology with Prometheus, Jason and other heroes
of the dawn. There is a crab, I know, which lives on coconuts, enjoying
the scientific name of _Birgus latro_, the Burglar; but it seems to be a
special invention, as big as a cat and armed with two fearful pairs of
pincers in front for rending the outside casings of the fruits, and a
more delicate tool on its hind-legs for picking out the meat. Other
animals have to do without it, as had man, I opine, in the stone and
copper ages. With the iron age came a chopper, called in Western India a
"koita," with which he can hack his way through most of the obstructions
of life. When, with this, he has slashed off the tough outer rind and
the inch-thick packing of agglutinated fibres, like metal wires, he has
only to crack the hard shell which contains the kernel.

How little we can conceive the spaces in his life that would be empty
without that firm pulp, at once nutritious, sweet and fragrant! Curry
cannot be made without it, the cook cannot advance three steps in its
absence, pattimars laden with it are sailing north, south, east and
west, a thousand creaky wooden mills are squeezing the limpid oil out of
it, a hundred thousand little earthen lamps filled with that oil are
making visible the smoky darkness of hut and temple, brightening the
wedding feast and illuminating the sad page over which the candidate for
university honours nods his shaven head. That oil fed lighthouses of the
first order and illuminated viceregal balls and durbars before paraffin
and kerosene inundated the earth. And it has other uses. For arresting
premature baldness and preventing the hair turning grey its virtues are
equalled by no other oil known to us, and there is a fortune awaiting
the hairdresser who can find means effectually to remove or suppress its
peculiar and penetrating odour. Joao Gomez, my faithful "boy," did not
object to the odour, and when he had been tempted to pass my comb
through his raven locks as he was dusting my dressing table, I always
knew it.

When the white kernel has been turned to account, the utilities of the
coconut are not exhausted. The shell, neatly bisected, makes a pair of
teacups, and either of these, fitted with a wooden handle, makes a handy
spoon. Laurenco de Gama demands one or two of these inexpensive spoons
to complete the furnishing of my kitchen. As for the obstinate casing
that wraps the coconut shell, it is an article of commerce. It must
first be soaked for some months in a pit on the slimy bank of the
backwater, until all the stuff that holds it together in a stiff and
obdurate mass has rotted away and set free those hard and smooth fibres
which nothing can rot. These, when thoroughly purged of the foul black
pollution in which they have sweltered so long, will go out to all
quarters of the world under the name of "coir" to make indestructible
door mats and other indispensable things. It will penetrate to every
corner of India in which a white man lives, to mat his verandahs and
stuff his mattresses.

And who shall recount a tithe of its other uses? Of course, the nude man
under the coconut tree knows nothing of all this. He does without a
mattress, and has no use for a door mat. But he cannot do without
cordage, and if you took from him his coconut fibre, life would almost
stop. Wherewith would he bind the rafters of his hut to the beams, or
tether the cow, or let down the bucket into the well? What would all the
boats do that traverse the backwater, or lie at anchor in the bay, or
line the sandy beach? From the cable of the great pattimar, now getting
under weigh for the Persian Gulf with a cargo of coconuts, to the
painter of the dugout, "hodee," every yard of cordage about them is made
of imperishable coir.

When the axe is at last laid to the old coconut tree, a beam will fall
to the earth sixty feet in length, hard as teak and already rounded and
smoothed. True, you cannot saw it into planks, but no one will complain
of that in a village which does not own a saw. It cleaves readily enough
and straightly, forming long troughs most useful for leading water from
the well to the plantation and for many other purposes. It can also be
chopped into lengths suitable for the ridge poles of the hut, or for
bridges to span the deep ditches which drain the rice fields or feed the
salt pans. When out in quest of snipe I have sometimes had to choose
between crossing by one of those bridges, innocent of even a handrail,
and wading through the black slough of despond which it spanned.
Choosing neither, I went home, but the "Kolee" and the "Agree" trip over
them like birds, balancing household chattels on their steady heads.

We must not think, however, of the trunk as, at the best, anything more
than a by-product of the coconut tree, whose head is more than its body.
Even while it lives its head is shorn once a year, for, as fresh fronds
push out and upward from the centre, those of the outer circle get old
and must be cut away. And when one of those feathery, fern-like fronds,
toying with the breeze, comes crashing to the ground, it is ten or
twelve feet long, and consists of a great backbone, as thick at the base
as a man's leg, with a close-set row of swords on either side, about a
yard in length. They are hard and tough, but supple yet and of a shiny
green colour; but they will turn to brown as they wither.

Now observe that this gigantic, unmanageable-looking leaf, like
everything else about the coconut tree, is almost a ready-made article,
demanding no machinery to turn it to account, except the "koita" which
hangs ever ready from the nude man's girdle. With it he will cleave the
backbone lengthwise, and then, taking each half separately, he will
simply twist backwards every second sword and plait them all into a mat
two feet wide, eight or ten feet long, and firmly bounded and held
together on one side by the unbreakable backbone. This is a "jaolee,"
lighter than slates, or tiles, and more handy than any form of thatch.
You have just to arrange your "jaolees" neatly on your bamboo frame,
each overlapping the one below it, then tie them securely in their
places with coir rope and your roof is made for a year.

There is yet another benevolence of the coconut tree which I have left
to the last, and the simple folk of whom I am trying to write with
fellow feeling would certainly have named it first. I ought to refer to
it as a curse: they, without qualm or question, call it a blessing. Let
me try to describe it dispassionately. If you wander in any palm grove
in Western India, looking upward, it will soon strike you that a large
number of the trees do not seem to bear coconuts at all, but black
earthen pots. If your visit should chance to be made early in the
morning, or late in the afternoon, the mystery will soon be revealed.
You will see a dusky, sinewy figure, not of a monkey, but of a man,
ascending and descending those trees with marvellous celerity and ease,
grasping the trunks with his hands and fitting his naked feet into
slight notches cut in them. The distance between the notches is so great
that his knee goes up to his chin at each step, but he is as supple as
he is sinewy and feels no inconvenience. For he is a Bhundaree, or
Toddy-drawer, and his forefathers have been Bhundarees since the time, I
suppose, when Manu made his immortal laws.

His waistcloth is tightly girded about him, in his hand he carries a
broad billhook as bright and keen as a razor, and from his caudal region
depends a tail more strange than any borne by beast or reptile. It looks
like a large brown pot, constructed in the middle. It is, in fact, a
large gourd, or calabash, hanging by a hook from the climber's
waistband. When he has reached the top of a tree, he gets among the
branches and, sitting astride of one of them, proceeds to detach one of
the black pots from the stout fruit stem on which it is fastened, and
empty its contents into his tail. Then, taking his billhook, he
carefully pares the raw end of the stem, refastens the black pot in its
place and hurries down to make the ascent of another tree, and so on
until his tail is full of a foaming white liquor spotted with drowned
honey bees and filling the surrounding air with a rank odour of
fermentation. This liquor is "toddy."

If I were a Darwin I would not leave that word until I had traced the
agencies which wafted it over sea and land from the shores of Hindustan


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