Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
NIGHT ON THE RIVER
AFTER Chie Lo had watched her pussy eat all the fish she could possibly wish, the children went outdoors again to sit in the cool evening air.
The night was already pitch-dark, for there was no moon, and there is no long twilight in the tropics at any season of the year.
But what a beautiful sight now met the children's eyes! It seemed almost like fairyland, there were so many lights to be seen in every direction.
Their home stood just below the great city of Bangkok, and along the shores of the river the houses and palaces and temples could be seen almost as plainly as in the daytime.
Floating theatres were passing by, each one lighted with numbers of coloured paper lanterns.
"Look! look!" cried Chin. "There are some actors giving a show outside. They want to tempt people to stop and come in to the play. See the beautiful pointed fingernails on that one. What fine care he must take of them!"
It is no wonder Chin noticed the man's finger-nails, for they were at least five inches long.
"See the wings on the other actor, Chin," said his sister. "I suppose he represents some strange being who does wonderful deeds. I should like to go to the play. Look! there is a party of people who are going on board of the theatre."
The children now turned their eyes toward the small boat of a Chinaman who was calling aloud to the passers-by:
"Come here and buy chouchou; it is a fine dish, indeed."
A moment afterward he was kept so busy that he had no time to call. His canoe was fairly surrounded by other boats, for many people were eager to taste the delicious soup he served from an odd little stove in front of him.
It is hard to tell how chouchou is made. Many kinds of meat and all sorts of vegetables are boiled down to jelly and seasoned with salt and pepper. He must have, had a good recipe, for every one that tasted his chouchou seemed to like it and want more.
"Listen to the music, Chie Lo," said her brother, as he turned longingly away from the chouchou seller.
It seemed more like noise than music. Two men stood on a bamboo raft causing loud, wailing sounds to come from some queer reed instruments. A third player was making the loudest noise of all. He sat in the middle of a musical wheel, as it is called. This wheel is made of metal cups of different sizes placed next each other in a circle.
It seems strange that Chin and his sister should enjoy such "music," and stranger still that the grown-up people should also like it; but they seemed to do so. Were they doing it for their own pleasure? Oh no, they had dainties to sell as well as the chouchou maker, and this was their way of attracting attention.
New sights could be seen constantly. Here were the beautifully-trimmed boats of the rich people taking a ride for pleasure after the heat of the day. There were the canoes of the poor, who were also out to enjoy the sights, for Bangkok is a city built upon the water.
The river Meinam flows through its very centre. The name of the river means "Mother of Waters," just as the name of our own Mississippi means "The Father of Waters." It is well named, for many canals reach out from it in different directions.
If a person is going to a temple to worship, if he has shopping to do, or a visit to make, he does not take a car or carriage, nor does he often walk. He steps into a boat, and after a pleasant sail or row, he finds himself at his journey's end.
"Let's go down the river before we go to bed," said Chin, who had grown tired of sitting still.
He stepped front the platform into his own little canoe and Chie Lo followed him.
The children looked very much alike. Their faces were of the same shape, their eyes were of the same colour, and the two little round heads were shaved in exactly the same way. A tuft of hair had been left on the top of each and was coiled into a knot.
When Chin grew a little older there would be a great celebration over the shaving of his tuft. It would mark his "coming of age," but that would not be for two or three years yet. He was only eleven years old now and was left to do much as he pleased.
The little canoe made its way in and out among the big boats and soon left the city behind. Tall palm-trees lined the banks of the river and waved gently in the evening breeze.
Suddenly there was a loud sound, like a big drum, in the water directly under the boat. "Tom, tom! Tom, tom!" It startled Chie Lo, and she exclaimed:
"What is it, Chin? What is it?"
"It must be a drum-fish, Chie Lo. Nothing else could make a sound like that."
"Of course, Chin. It was all so quiet, and then the sound was so sudden, I didn't think for a moment what it could be."
They had often seen this ugly-looking fish, which is never eaten by the people of their country. It is able to make a loud noise by means of a sort of bladder under its throat, and it is well called the "drum-fish."
The children still went onward, keeping time with their sculls. Suddenly the air around them blazed with countless lights, and a moment afterward the darkness seemed blacker than ever. Then, again the lights appeared, only to be lost as suddenly, while Chin and his sister held their oars and watched.
"Aren't they lovely?" said Chie Lo. "I never get tired of looking at the fireflies."
It is no wonder she thought so. The fireflies of Siam are not only very large and brilliant, but they are found in great numbers. And, strange to say, they seem fond of gathering together on certain kinds of trees only. There they send forth their light and again withdraw it at exactly the same moment.
It seems as though they must be under the orders of some leader. How else do they keep together?
"I can hear the trumpeter beetle calling along the shore," said Chin, as the boat floated about. "He makes a big noise for his size, and takes his part in the song of the night. There must be hundreds of lizards singing up there among the bushes, too, and I don't know what else."
"I suppose the parrots are asleep in the tree-tops by this time, as well as the monkeys. Don't you love to go about in the woods, Chin?"
"It is almost the best fun in the world, I think. Oh, Chie Lo, I saw something the other day I didn't tell you about. You made me think of it when you spoke of the monkeys. Father and I had gone a long way up the river in the canoe to get wild bananas. We had just turned to come home when I saw a crocodile ahead of us, lying close to the shore. His wicked mouth was wide open and his eyes were glittering.
"All at once I saw what was the matter. A chain of monkeys was hanging from a treetop above him. They were having sport with the monster. The lowest monkey would suddenly strike out with his paw and touch the crocodile's head when he was off his guard. Then the whole chain of monkeys would swing away as quick as a flash, and the crocodile would snap too late.
"Oh, he did get so angry after awhile, it made me laugh, Chie Lo. The monkeys grew bolder after awhile, and chattered more and more loudly.
"Then the crocodile began to play a game himself. He shut his eyes and pretended to be asleep. Down swung the monkeys, straight over his head. His jaws opened suddenly in time to seize the little fellow who had been teasing him. That was the last of the silly little monkey, whose brothers and sisters fled up into the tree-tops as fast as they could go. I didn't see them again, but we could hear them crying and wailing as long as we stayed near the place."
"I wish I had been there," sighed Chie Lo. "It must have made you laugh to watch the monkeys before they were caught. But they are easily scared. I shouldn't be afraid of monkeys anywhere."
Chin smiled when his sister said these words.
"If there were enough monkeys together, Chie Lo, and if they were all angry and chasing you, I don't think you would exactly enjoy it.
"Father told me of a time when he was off with a party of men in a deep forest. They caught a baby monkey, and one of the men was going to bring it home. It made the mother wild to have her child taken from her. She raised a loud cry and started after the men. Her friends and relatives joined her, crying and screaming.
"But this was not all, for every other monkey in the forest seemed to get the idea of battle. On they came by the hundreds and the thousands. Do you think those men weren't scared? They hurried along as fast as they could, stumbling over bushes and floundering in the mud. They were only too glad to reach the bank of the river, where they jumped into the canoes and paddled quickly away. The monkeys crowded on the shore and screamed at them. I wish I could have seen them."
Chin lay back and laughed as he finished the story.
"We mustn't stop to talk any more, for it is getting late," said Chie Lo. "But I love to hear you tell these stories, Chin. I hope you will remember some more to-morrow night. Now we must paddle home as fast as we can go."