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Hidden Treasures, part 3: In which the Lorrains encounter a fierce storm, a meteor and two hermits

Posted Tuesday, 11th August 2015

“It seems that we have been asleep but a few minutes when we hear the stentorian voice of our travelling companion shouting to the boatman to get up, & upon looking at our watch we find it already past five o’clock.  There is the usual groaning among the men, the mumbling of inarticulate sentences & then again the startling shout “get up, get up” from our friend K-, repeated by his cook, his serving man & our boy who likes to feel that he has someone to order about.  Presently the sound of the bubbling hookah is heard we know that the boatmen are taking their usual morning pull at the fragrant weed before turning out & unfastening the boats.  A smell unknown to any but those who have travelled in the East pervades the atmosphere, it is the perfume given off by the smoking of a peculiar mixture of molasses & tobacco, in which all Bengalis revel, and which no doubt has a charm quite its own.  The roof creaks & we know that one of the men has finished his humble breakfast & is walking over our heads in order to get to the front of the boat, & just as he is about to push the boat into the mainstream, the head of our boy Khuma appears in front of the dog kennel arrangement & then his hands come into view & we see that he is bringing us a cup of tea each before we start.  We are soon shooting down the “long rapid” in fine style & all day long keep up at a fair speed, and as we are going with the stream there is little work for the men to do.  We stop at midday for the men to take their food & we climb into K’s boat & sit under his “kennel”, native fashion on the floor & take our breakfast also, but we are nearly melted with the heat, the sun shining upon the mat roof so near to our heads making the boats almost unbearable & we are glad when we are once more moving for the rapid motion makes a cool breeze even in the warmest part of the day.  When sunset comes we are glad to get off our backs where we have been lying all day & to stretch our limbs on a sandy beach, by running up and down & finally by taking a swim in the river.  This gives us an appetite[d] for dinner & we do full justice to the goodly repast which is set before us.  Soon after turning in, the heavens become overcast & the rumble of distant thunder warns us of the approach of a storm, amid the howling of the wind we hear K. giving orders to secure his boat & we see that ours is safely moored, the bamboo flap which serves as a door to our “kennel” is let down and tied, & presently the rain begins to fall in torrents, the whole air is full of the roar of thunder claps, groaning forest trees, & howling wind, & as we lie on our backs we can see through the numerous holes in our fragile door the almost incessant lightning flashes.  The gentle rocking of our tiny craft upon the water serves however to sooth us and before long we are fast asleep, “rocked in the cradle of the deep”.  The next thing we are conscious of is that the men are preparing to start & the day passes by quietly enough & at evening we tie up at Hermits’ Ghât.  This is a rude landing place in the forest close to the hut of 2 hermits who are held in great veneration by all the boatmen who ply on this river.  It is customary for every man to give these holy recluses some little token of respect as he passes, a few pice [sic], a pumpkin, a little salt or anything that happens to be handy.  The old gentlemen who were here when we first came up the river have gone & their places have been taken by younger men – one a Hindoo & the other a Mahommedan.  As we sit outside in the starlight – we amuse ourselves by watching the cooking operations of a Bengali, who being a good friend of the Hindoo caste, thinks that his food will be defiled if he cooks it on board the boat in which he is journeying, belonging as it does to Mussulmans, so he is sitting out in the open & in the darkness doing his best to prepare his evening meal, holding a lighted stick over the pot occasionally to see how his rice is cooking & between times fanning off the swarms of winged insects which seem intent upon precipitating themselves into his food.  Suddenly our attention is arrested by a large meteor falling from the sky like a globe of fire & lightning up the darkness for one brief second.  It appears to fall into the forest, a short distance from where we are seated, but doubtless our eyes have deceived us.  We now think of turning in & the usual preparation of our beds takes place, & before long the only sounds which break the silence are those of the frogs on the shore & the insects in the surrounding jungle…”

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