Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter IV.: NIGHT IN THE JUNGLE. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 7
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Chapter IV.: NIGHT IN THE JUNGLE. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 7 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 7.
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NIGHT IN THE JUNGLE.
Almost all who lived to the west of Adam's Peak looked with glad eyes to the lowering sky which hung over the sea like a leaden canopy. The rains came late this year; the rice-fields languished; the verdure seemed to crave of the light clouds which floated around the mountaintops that they would descend in showers, There was now a prospect of rain in abundance, and all looked for it with impatience but Marana, to whose troubled spirit the moaning of the rising wind in the trees, and the dull roar of the distant sea spoke of hags riding the blast, and curses cradled in the clouds. As she sat this evening at the door of her hut, weaving a basket of cane which her own hands had cut, dried, and split, she glanced up uneasily to the sky, where the twilight was being rapidly quenched by the rolling vapours, and started at every fire-fly that brushed past her, as if it bad been a spark from the electric mass which overhung the entire region. When it was no longer possible to pursue her occupation, for want of light, she crossed her arms, and remained seated on her threshold. It was not that she watched for the flitting forth of the bat; nor to see the gaudier winged creatures of the wood nestle in the brakes; nor to see the moonbeams piercing a way for themselves through the curtain of foliage till they kissed the modest lotus that slept on the bosom of the water; nor to mark the vigilant stars resume their watch, rising, some like mute sentinels, others in full constellation like trained bands, to look down from their blue height upon all that moved and breathed below. There was no visible kindling of golden fires in the firmament this night; no winging home of a belated bird; and the water-lilies were left to themselves. It was to watch for some opening in the clouds which might let down air and light, that Marana still sat abroad. She felt half stifled with heat, and with a vague fear, and dreaded kindling a light, and closing the entrance for the night.— Roya was still behind the dwelling, tying up bunches of cocoa-nut leaves to burn, and splitting resinous woods into torches. When the twilight expired, he was there. When the black darkness had descended a full hour, he was lighting himself through the wood with one of his new torches.
“It is time to close the door against the panther,” said be to Marana, before he set forth. “Spread the mat and sleep, when you have prayed to St. Anthony for me.”
“And you? will you not kneel to pray on the same mat?”
“I have a prayer to say some way off which no one may overhear. So go in, and trust to my returning,—before day-break, if not in darkness.”
“O, do not bring any more curses, Rayo, by taking what is not ours. Here is money to buy grain in the harbour, and—”
“Money!” exclaimed Rayo. “Your friend Amoottra must have brought you money. Does it not taint your fingers with leprosy, Marana?”
She let the money fall in a fit of horror; but when her husband laughed a laugh which must have been highly offensive to any hag who might happen to be within hearing, Marana conjured him to do nothing to remind the foe of her expecting victim. Rayo had superstition enough in him to induce him to take the hint, though not sufficient to prevent his searching for the dropped money by the light of his torch, and being very glad to pick it up from the brown, crumbling turf where it had fallen. In vain Marana entreated to be permitted to carry the torch for her husband. In vain she urged the desirableness of her being at hand to sing the “Hail!” to the first burst oi the season's thunder. She was commanded to pray and sleep, and dream of the verdure which might possibly have overspread the rice-field before the morning.
She ventured, however, to steal out on the track of Rayo's footsteps. The risk of falling in with a leopard or a tiger-cat while she carried no torch was nothing in comparison with the uncertainty as to what was being done or undergone by her husband. She had been his companion on the raft one night, and in his flight through the woods on another; and now he went out alone, and in silence as to his object. She feared that this reserve argued something more than care for her health; some desperation of design too great to be confided even to her. She blamed herself for all. Some immediate misfortune was, she believed, to follow her impious act of the morning; and all her husband's sins, from his withdrawal of confidence from her, to whatever act he might be now about to perpetrate, must be answered for by her. She went out to watch as an unpractised magician may be supposed to await the results of his first spell, in a state of expectation made wretched by horror and fear.
She followed Rayo's steps at such a distance that she could not herself have been perceived, if he had chanced to look behind him; but the torch which he carried before him marked the outlines of his figure very distinctly, as the light was reflected from the roof of foliage upon his anointed hmbs, from which nearly the last remains of his garments were dropping in rags. When he emerged from the shade, on reaching the ditch which surrounded the cinnamon garden, he slackened his pace, as if meditating the method by which he might go straightest to some fixed point which he had in his eye. He turned to the left. Marana turned to the left likewise, keeping under the shadow of the wood. He stopped, and looked up to the sky. She could not so raise her eyes, for the heavens at that moment opened, and let out a flood of lightning, from which a self-condemned person like herself could not but shrink. Again and again came the lightning, sustaining the awful alternation by which the landscape appeared one moment wrapt in midnight darkness, and the next in noon-day glare. Crashing thunder then came, peal upon peal, driving her from her perilous station under the trees to a more open part of the jungle, where she stood fearfully glancing about her in a sort of expectation that every object within sight would rise up against her, and come crowding about her; for the thunder was enough to waken the dead, and no suspicion crossed her mind that this storm was not especially directed against herself. Rayo's operations did not seem to be impeded by it. He had crossed the ditch while Marana had covered her eye, and in the intervals of the lightning, the dancing spark of his torch might be seen wandering, like a will-o'-the-wisp, at a greater and a greater distance. It was not long before it became evident to his wife whither and for what purpose he was gone. Little puffs of dun smoke arose, like fire-balloons, from behind the dark-leaved shrubbery which he had entered. A delicious scent pervaded the region as the fire spread, like airs from heaven finding their way among blasts from hell. It was plain that Rayo was setting fire to the bark which was in course of being harvested.
What might be his fate if he fell into the hands of the challias, Marana dared not think. If he could but creep away under the bushes, and leave it to be supposed that lightning had been the agent of mischief, she could rejoice as heartily as he in the discomfiture of the presumptuous challias, and the loss suffered by the strangers who, under the pretence of protection, were perpetually employed in rifling the land of its treasures, and depressing the condition of the natural owners of those treasures. She would have rejoiced to see every twig in this vast garden consumed, if such destruction could avail to drive away the Honourable Company who, by right of purchase, interfered to limit the production, restrict the commerce, and therefore impoverish the condition of those from whom they derived their wealth. If this Company could but be driven from its monopoly, so that every man might plant cinnamon in his garden, and sit under its shadow with none to make him afraid, he who this night carried the fire-brand might be set up for worship on a higher eminence (if such could be found) than Adam's Peak, and be feasted and gailanded daily, instead of like the holy Footmark, once a year.
What Rayo's fate was it was impossible to conjecture, all watching and listening being now baffled by the commotion of the storm. Smoke arose after awhile in a second place, then in a third, thus marking the progress of the incendiary. There were only a few spikes of clear flame visible. Each heap of bark must be presently consumed, and the shrubs were too moist to be in danger of more than a singeing from the file. The most obvious thing to the anxious wife was to follow her husband; and more than once she attempted to move: but, at first, her wasted limbs failed her, and then she thought she perceived tokens of an approaching earthquake. A wind like this had often, in her recollection, brought down some massy distant tree, whose fall shook the ground for many a rood; but now, either many such trees were falling, or some other cause prolonged the vibration. She expected an earthquake, during which the hag would arise, or she herself be swallowed up by some chasm that would open beneath her feet. Suddenly the shaking ceased, and a flash disclosed to her a horrible vision at hand which explained all. Fiery eyes blazed, and white tusks gleamed over the tallest of the shrubs which grew to the left of the place where she stood. She had just seen the twisting of the lithe trunk which could carry her up twenty feet in an instant, and she now heard the snuffing and snorting before which every living thing within many furlongs must be quaking like herself. She felt before the elephant like a worm in the path of a cruel schoolboy,—as certain that the ponderous tread would be directed to crush her; and when the next gleam showed the bulky head and shoulders of this moving mass veering round to face her, she could only pray that she might be annihilated by one tread, instead of being made fatal sport of high in the air.
Rayo proved her unintentional deliverer. The fire he had kindled did not catch the green shrubs; but some flakes were carried off by the wind, and fell among the parched grass near the outskirts of the plantation. There were in an instant rivulets of fire running beneath the stems, joining and parting, according to the quantity of fuel which lay in their way. Every morsel of oily bark casually dropped the day before, now sent up its tiny jet of blue flame; the dried twigs snapped and kindled, and the gleaming ditch was the boundary-line between the darkness and the light. This fire was as unwelcome to the wild elephant beyond its reach as to the burnished snakes that came wriggling out into the blaze as their holes grew too hot to hold them. He turned short round with a troubled cry, and distanced the scene at his quickest trot, wakening the birds as he brushed their covert in his passage, and leaving far behind the scared elk that burst a way among the stems, and the hyænas that hushed their cry and skulked in the thickets. To the mind of a Cingalese, the elephant of Ceylon is the most majestic of all animals, the elephants of all other countries being reported to acknowledge its supremacy by a salam; but this emperor of the beasts was now put to flight by the same means that made the gazelle palpitate in its hiding place among the grass.
The alarm was soon at an end. The canopy of clouds descended, lower and lower, till there seemed small breathing space left between them and the earth, and then burst, quenching the lightning and the flame at once, drowning the thunder, and threatening to plunge the island in the sea. When the sheet of water had descended for a while, the ditch overflowed, the snakes raised themselves on end, the waters found their way into the lair of every couchant beast, and dripped from the plumage of every bird on its perch. To wade through the jungle in this pitchy darkness immediately after the dazzling apparition of the cinnamon garden had vanished, was impossible. Marana remained clinging to a tree, the creepers from which dangled wet in her face, till she heard the sound of a quiet laugh through the flash and downpour. “Here is the hag, at last,” thought she, expecting to feel the loathsome touch which she was persuaded she must encounter sooner or later. Her agonized cry for mercy produced another laugh, but a kindly one. It was from her husband.
“Rayo! what a storm!”
“St. Anthony rides the monsoon this year,” replied Rayo. “Do you know what the lightning has done in the garden? The Company have been praying for the monsoon for their neighbours' sake. In the morning you will hear how they complain of it for their own.”
“Was it all the storm, Rayo?”
“They will tell you so in the morning. Come home now. I will take you by a path where the waters cannot beat you down like the dragon-fly, nor carry you away like the squirrel that is caught far from its hole. But I forbade your coming abroad. You were afraid to await the hag under a roof, I suppose. If she must come, I wish it might be in the morning. She would see in the garden that which would make her so merry that she would forget you.”
“Can you say your prayers to keep off the curse to-night, Rayo? Dare you?”
“O, yes; and quickly, that I may sleep, and be early ready to see the Challias collect in the garden.”
In the morning, before Marana's long ague-fit had given place to sleep, her husband was on the spot of the late cinnamon harvest. The sky was not clear of clouds, large masses still being in act of rising from the east; but a mild sunshine burnished the scene; the rose-coloured peaks of the distant mountains,—the fresh-springing verdure of the fields which were so lately brown,—and the multitudes of winged creatures that flitted, hovered, and sailed in the balmy air. All was as fair in the interval of the storms as if no storm had ever been. It was much more the faces to Rayo to see no signs of storm in wonderful of those who were most concerned in the loss of the cinnamon. Mr. Carr looked not only free from anger towards the lightning to which he attributed the destruction, but satisfied and pleased at the existing state of things.
“The lightning has saved the Company from the curses of the people,” he heard Captain Cinnamon whisper to a modelier of the garden. “There was too good a crop this year; and if some of it must be burned, it was very well that accident should do it.”
“And that accident should have burned more than the Company would have dared to destroy in the face of the natives. Now they may put their own price upon their bark; and a pretty price it will be, to judge by Mr. Carr's pleased face.”
“Not that he wishes ill to the natives, or to the eaters of cinnamon in other lands. But he is thinking of the good news he has to send to his employers.”
Rayo rolled himself in the sand when he thus learned what was the result of his enterprise.