“India is a vast territory; but it is estimated that not more than one-third of it is under cultivation, or used for pasturage. Doubtless there is much more of it available; but a considerable of it consists of steep mountain-sides, of deserts, and the beds and overflow of the rivers. With your permission, Mr. Commander, I will retreat from this prominent position, after doing the best I could with a meagre subject;” and the doctor bowed to the audience, while they were applauding him warmly.
“I think you had better make no apology for your treatment of your subject. I can always tell by the expression of the company whether or not the speaker is interesting the party; and I am sure you have succeeded admirably. The next feature to which I call your attention is Sir Modava Rao, on snakes.”
The gentleman was received quite as warmly as before; but Mrs. Belgrave was sorry that such a fine-looking gentleman should have to talk about snakes.
“I fully believe that the Good Father of us all distributed poisonous snakes over India for a good and wise purpose, though I do not know what it was; and if I had the power to do so, I should not dare to kill or banish them all, for I know not what injury I might do my country by removing them. Many thousand natives die every year from snakebites. Statistics say that 20,000 perish in this manner. But that is only one in 14,361; and a single malignant disease has destroyed more than that in the same time.
“The old woman who was accused of cruelty in skinning live eels, replied that she had been doing so all her life, and the eels must be used to it by this time. We are used to snakes in India, and we don’t mind them half as much as you think you would if you lived here. The government offers rewards for killing harmful animals, and thousands of snakes are destroyed every year.”
“Do you think it is right to kill them if God put them here for a good purpose, Sir Modava?” asked Mrs. Belgrave.
“Certainly I do. God gave us fire: is it right, therefore, to let the city burn up when the fire is kindled? God suffers sin and evil to remain in the world, though he could banish them by a wave of his mighty arm! Shall we not protect ourselves from the tempest he sends? Shall we permit the plague or the cholera to decimate our land because God punishes us in that way for violating the laws he has set up in our bodies?
“This subject is too large for me to pursue it in detail. I need not describe the cobra, for you will see no end of them about the streets of the cities in the hands of the snake-charmers. He is five feet or more in length. His fangs are in his upper jaw. They are not tubed or hollow; but he has a sort of groove on the outside of the tooth, down which the deadly poison flows. In his natural state, his bite is sure death unless a specific or antidote is soon applied. Thanks to modern science, the sufferer from the bite of a cobra is generally cured if the right remedy is applied soon enough. I have been twice bitten by cobras. The medicine used in my case was the Aristolochia Indica.