A Tall Ship Tale #58: ‘Dem Bonze, ‘Dem Bonze

Paul DeAnguera continues.

Sir Hillary Throckmorton-Shillingsworth III had hoped that his moss disguise would cause the skittish gnus to take a neutral attitude toward him. But in fact they became positively enamored of him. Several of the beasts followed him back to Mombassa, where the H.M.S. Legume was waiting. They even started up the gangplank after him, but the officer of the watch blocked the animals’ way. He was sure they would only cause trouble. “No gnus is good gnus,” he declared.

“What’s our next stop?” Sir Hillary asked the First Mate.

“We’re still working that out. Professor Peabody wants to try some more time traveling, to calibrate his weigh-back machine. But the Captain wants to go to Malaysia; he thinks he’ll find treasure there.”


“Penang for gold.”

They compromised on going back to the twelfth century and northeast to Cambodia. “But you must call it Kambuja, as the folk of this period do,” the Professor cautioned them.

The Legume followed the Mekong and Tonle Basak rivers to lake Tonle Sap. When they dropped anchor near a cluster of temples at the north end of the lake, the crewmen who were handling the cable were stunned by an electrical shock. Captain Quid was concerned about this unexpected danger. “How powerful would you say the shock was?” he asked the Professor. Peabody examined and spoke to some of the victims, and answered “About one angkor-wat.”

Sir Hillary, whose intelligence work had led to an extensive study of the far east, proposed to explore the holy city by mingling with a party of bonzes from Thailand. He shaved off his hair, donned a saffron robe, and slipped over the side after darkness fell. He idled through the torchlit colonnades of filigreed temples. Sonorous chants and clouds of purple incense drifted from their doors. He felt a touch on his shoulder. “Come, friend! It is time to receive our instruments and practice for tomorrow’s procession.” He followed the monks toward a courtyard, until he caught sight of the richly carved lintel under which they were passing.

“Here are the brothers Sunda and Upasunda, battling for the favors of Tilottama the heavenly dancer while demons fly overhead,” they told him. “But that is the old religion, which we are here to counteract. Come!” And they formed a line before the band-leader.

“We are here as part of a procession to honor King Suryavarman II,” he told them. “And to do so in a way that will do credit to our beloved Buddha. Lord Gotama tells us to spare the creatures of the earth from suffering by eating no meat. And so, instead of our usual instruments, we will glorify his words by playing these vegetables.” So saying, he began handing out carrots and squashes and corn-cobs and melons of various sorts. Sir Hillary received a large, slippery, oval white onion.

“What do I do with this?” he asked in puzzlement.

“It is the business of a musician to make notes,” the band-leader reminded him. “Is this not a notable vegetable?”

“Why, so it is. It is a magnificent onion! But, how do I play it?”

“As a woodwind, I should think,” suggested the melon-player to his left.

“Reed it and weep!”

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