“Do the English attend such shows?” asked Dr. Hawkes.
“Sometimes, from curiosity. But they are here just about what they are in London, and their habits are much the same,” replied the viscount. “The river here is about a mile wide. Formerly we could not have come as far as we have without seeing hundreds of corpses floating on the surface. Natives who were too poor to pay the bill for the funeral pyre threw the bodies of their friends into the river. Of course this was a menace to the health of the city; and the practice was forbidden by the government, which built an immense tower, wherein is kept a fire constantly burning, in which the bodies of the poor are consumed without expense.”
“See that big bird on the shore!” exclaimed Mrs. Belgrave. “I saw several of them yesterday, and I meant to ask what it was.”
“That is the arghilah, generally called the adjutant,” replied Sir Modava. “He is the licensed scavenger of Calcutta, for it is forbidden by law to kill or molest him. You see him walking about in a crowd with as much dignity and gravity as though he were a big banker; and he is also seen perched upon the walls and buildings. They have an enormous bill, as you observe. A friend of mine had a tame one; and one day when the table was ready for dinner he took a chicken from the dish and swallowed it whole. He has a searching eye, and discovers a hidden bit of meat, a dead cat or other animal, and bolts it in the twinkling of an eye.”
The steamer continued on her course down the river, and in less than four hours arrived at Diamond Harbor. It contained a fort, a signal-station, and a telegraph-office, though there is nothing in the shape of a village. The East India Company’s ships made this their port; but the improvement of the navigation of the river enables all the steamers to go up to the city, to which their arrival is telegraphed.
The extensive territory included in the delta of the Ganges is called the Sunderbunds, and is about equal to the State of Massachusetts in size. It is a muddy region, cut up by a network of streams; and it is full of swamps, morasses, and mud-holes. Nearest to the sea is a belt of land, forming a wide extent of jungle, with a dense undergrowth of tropical plants and verdure; for it is in the Torrid Zone, which the tourists entered about forty miles north of Calcutta. This jungle was the objective point of the hunters of the party.
The captain of the steam-yacht took the company on board through a number of the lagoons and cutoffs to enable them to see the wild character of the scenery. Lord Tremlyn, Sir Modava, and Dr. Ferrolan were kept busy explaining the trees, plants, crocodiles, storks, and other animals.
At a pleasant basin, dinner was served on board, and it was quite as good as they would have obtained at the Great Eastern; for just now the party were government guests, and the officials could not do enough for a person of Lord Tremlyn’s influence in England. After the meal the hunters prepared themselves for the sport in which they were to engage. Mrs. Belgrave warned her son to be very careful, and Mrs. Blossom did as much for Felix.