Edwin Lester Linden Arnold.

On the Indian hills : or, Coffee-planting in southern India (Volume 2) online

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had no fever during the night, I felt duty-
bound to get back to my own jungles, and take

some of the work off D 's shoulders ; so,

breakfast over, and due thanks having been
paid to my generous entertainers, I slung my



E OAD-MAKINti. 339



rifle, took a last look round and a long breath
of fresh air, and plunged down into the fatal
jungle. That same rifle had grown won-
drously heavy lately. Not so long before, it
hung light as a feather at my back, but now it
felt a ponderous mass of wood and iron, and
I shifted its position twenty times in a mile.

The jungles were fearfully hot and close
after Yarlavachen, though it was just the
weather for the collector. Insects of all sorts
were abundant, and enjoying themselves while
the warm weather lasted, for we were on the
brink of the wet monsoon, and they would
soon have to hybernate or die. One dead tree
was a magnificent sight, being surrounded by
hundreds of the lovely brass-green Chrysochroa
fulgida, an almond-shaped beetle nearly two
inches in length, and each green wing-case
adorned with a rosy stripe running down it.
As these insects flew round and round the
withered stem, they made a beautiful display
in the bright sunlight, and one not easily to
be forgotten.

Then I came across a bright emerald-coated
lizard of large size, with gold eyes and a
wonderful prismatic throat, sky-blue, orange-



340 ON THE INDIAN HILLS.

yellow, and vivid red, all fading into each
other ; but the gaudiness of this dandy lacertan
made him shy, and he would not stop to he
closely investigated. The smaller grey lizards
were, as ever, very common, and glided over
and under the fallen timber in every direction.
One attracted my attention particularly by his
violent contortions, and, capturing him easily
with my hand, I found a very large, soft-bodied
beetle was firmly fixed in his mouth. He could
not swallow it, as it was stuck in his teeth, and
could not eject it for the same reason ; so, not
liking to leave him in such an uncomfortable
predicament, I took the liberty of pushing the
beetle down his throat with a grass stem, for
which he seemed very much obliged when
placed in freedom once more.

In many places the sandy drifts were pitted
with the little hollows made by the ant-lions,
the curious little larva of a clear-winged fly.
At the bottom of each little excavation crouched
the small lobster-shaped creature, buried up to
his eyes in sand, with nothing showing but a
long and sharp pair of forceps. Woe to the
foraging ant that ventured on the brink of that
treacherous pit, for he is sure to slip in and be



ROAD-MAKING. 341



devoured by the vigilant monster below, who
sits expectant all day, with a good appetite
always at command when a victim arrives.

Then there were many birds about a fine
black thrush haunting the underwood, whence,
when disturbed, he rose with a long-drawn and
melancholy whistle. Although his general
colour was the deepest velvety black, he had on
either shoulder an epaulet <5f bright sky-blue
feathers, wonderfully conspicuous by contrast.
This was the Myioplionus Horsfieldii of science,
a well-known bird of Southern India. A brisk
little nut-hatch, of a slaty blue colour (Dendro-
phila frontalis), was also very busy about the
decaying trees, and exhibited all the wonderful
clinging and climbing capabilities of his family.
Really it seemed to him to be a matter of the
most profound indifference which way his head
was when he swallowed a fat grub or a juicy
beetle, and he seemed at times to defy the law
of gravitation.

But the most remarkable and beautiful birds
seen during this walk were those of a family of
six splendid jet-black woodpeckers, with naming
crimson crests, which were hard at work ham-
mering at a dead tree as I passed. These



342 ON THE INDIAN HILLS.

birds were probably the Picus Hodgsoni, though
there are two or three Southern Indian varieties
of woodpeckers very much alike in general
plumage, and it was only the second time I had
observed them in these jungles.

During the next few days after my return,
two hundred Canarese coolies arrived on the

estate, and R came back with them. They

were a poor lot, even worse than the Tamils
who had recently run away ; but when the super-
intendent showed them the deserted " lines,"
and told them to take up their quarters there,
they said they were much too dirty, and would
not move into them until they were thoroughlv
cleaned out an expression of opinion which
made R - doubtless feel very small, but
pleased and amused me. By the way, while the
" lines " were being cleaned, all these men and
women camped round my hut, and, having no
servant just then, and nothing but a latch on
the door, they could have made off with any-
thing they wished during my absence ; but
nothing was touched.

When that " boy " of mine did come back,
after having got over his fear of the cholera,
I was very glad, as he relieved me of the dis-



ROAD-MAKING. 343



tasteful job of cooking my own meals. He had
asked permission to get his wife and baby up
from the lowlands, which I had readily given,
as he assured me his wife was ' ; very small,"
and would not eat much of my food ; so one
morning my breakfast was interrupted by the
arrival of a very diminutive woman, half hidden
under a load of cooking-pots and sleeping-mats,
with a brown baby perched on top. " "Whose is
this ? " I inquired. " Oh, sahib," said the " boy,"
" he's my wife." So we exchanged salaams,
and the new additions to my household took up
their quarters in the rear. It was a matter of
some curiosity to me how they lodged in the
little tiny kitchen, until, going to doctor my
servant one day, when he was ill with fever,
I found him and his better half coiled up like*
a couple of squirrels on the two rough boards
which served as dresser and table, and the baby
suspended from the roof in a shawl. On that
day the " boy " was too ill to cook me any dinner,
so it was done, and done very well, by his wife.
But she was much too shy to place it on my
table, and instead seized the opportunity, when
I was having a wash, to put dishes, crockery,
etc., just inside the door, and placing the cloth



344 ON TEE INDIAN HILLS.

on top, bolted back to the kitchen ; so the
arranging was left to myself.

The brown baby was very inquisitive, and
occasionally crawled into my verandah to take
a good stare at the burra sahib, whom he
seemed to think a most curious object ; but his
mother generally interrupted the contemplation
by snatching him up by his waistcloth and
bearing him howling away. His parents were
equally amusing sometimes. For instance, for
about a week everything sent in to me was
roasted or fried, nothing was ever boiled ; and
when I came to ask an explanation, it turned
out my servant had imported some chickens
from the lowlands, and one hen had undertaken
to make a nest and hatch some eggs in my only
saucepan ; so the " boy," not liking to disturb her,
had resolved to do all my cooking in a frying-
pan or before the fire. On another day his
wife volunteered to prepare me some soup for
breakfast, as her husband was ill again ; but by
mischance, instead of taking a cake of preserved
soup, she got hold of a square of brown Windsor
soap, and knowing nothing of this material, she
carefully boiled it up with carrots and plenty
of salt and pepper, and sent it in to me. I



EO AD-MAKING. 345



shall not easily forget my first and last taste of
that horrible saponaceous broth.

The " boy " seemed to share the usual indif-
ference of the natives for the fate of their country-
men and former friends, and, excepting as it put
himself in danger, seemed totally careless of
suffering and sorrow very likely the effects
of seeing too much of both. Thus, amongst the
creatures I had collected round me to relieve
the solitude of the jungle, was a fox-terrier and
three half-grown puppies, all of them a present

from TV , of Poothpara. It was an amusing

sight to see the old dog lead out the young
ones to hunt in the jungle, and when I shot
them anything they used to go frantic with
delight. But they were also much given to
foraging on their own account. On one occasion
they were out all day, and it was only when
I was seated at dinner that there came the
patter of canine feet in the verandah, and the
truants filed in, and, sneaking under the table,
went to sleep at once, appearing to suffer from
fearfully bad dreams. " Boy," I said to the
servant behind my chair, "how is it my dogs
look so full and sleep so badly ? " " The sahib's
dogs," he said, " have been hunting in the



346 ON THE INDIAN HILLS.

jungle and found dead coolie. They not want
any more dinner for very long time ; " and this
he said with perfect placidity, as though it
were a very ordinary occurrence.

Another of my pets was a cat, but she was
only nominally mine, although I gave eight
annas for her in the lowlands. From the very
first she utterly refused to recognize me as her
owner, but made herself a nest in the thatch
of the roof, whence she sallied forth at night,
killed my chickens, upset my lamps, and ate
my provisions in a truly lawless way. I only
saw her once after I let her out of the basket
on her arrival, and then it was to fire at her
with a rifle as she was darting up a tree, under
the impression she was a new species of wild
jungle cat.

Speaking of cats and trees reminds me of
a slight adventure I had some time before
with a large member of the feline tribe,
which might easily have resulted disastrously
for me. The weather was particularly hot, and,
having done a long morning's work in some
clearings far to the southward, I was slowly
taking my way homewards to breakfast ; but,
being in no particular hurry, I thought I would



ROAD-MAKING. 347



rest a little under a beautiful spreading tree
which grew close beside a dry nullah, nearly
choked with long reeds and wild sago. I shut
my umbrella up, placing it against the trunk,
and then, for want of something better to do,
took out my pocket-knife and proceeded to
carve my initials on the smooth bark. I am
rather skilful at carving initials, the result of
practice, perhaps, and it was five minutes or
more before those of mine pleased me suffi-
ciently to be thought finished. But when
there was nothing else to be done to them,
I shut the knife with a click, and slipping it
into my pocket, let my eyes wander up the
beautiful smooth trunk of the noble tree.
Judge of my feelings when I saw crouching
on a branch scarcely six feet above any head,
so low, indeed, I could have poked it with the
ferule of my umbrella, a full-grown and gleam-
ing-eyed panther. His body was partly hidden
by the branch, but his tail hung over one side,
and his head looked over the other, and in the
deep shade his eyes shone like opals. When our
glances met, his lips curled up slowly into a fierce
snarl, showing all his white teeth, and I saw
his claws grip into the green bark ready for



348 ON THE INDIAN HILLS.

a spring, and instinctively my hand went down
to the hunting-knife in my belt. For a mo-
ment things hung in suspense, and the next
second might have pitted his vast strength,
great weight, and superior position against my
knife and fever- wasted muscles. But he kept
his place, though his eyes watched every move-
ment'; so I judged discretion was in this case
the best part of valour, and, slowly taking up
my umbrella and keeping my eyes full on his,
I backed off until the tree was hidden by
others, and then took a swift " bee-line " for my
hut to fetch a rifle. But by the time I was
armed and back at the tree, the panther was
gone, and I never saw him again. Had he
chanced to be hungry, or a fraction more ready
for a fight, he would doubtless have saved you,
courteous reader, all the trouble of wading
through this chapter, by putting a final stop to
the author's wanderings in the jungle.



( 349 )



CHAPTER XYI.

THROUGH WATER AND FIRE.

AT last the hot weather ended, and the heavy
grey clouds, which had been hurrying over the
sky like the skirmishers of a vast army, banked
themselves up and flooded the thirsty land.
The first few heavy drops fell one day while

L and I were smoking in my verandah,

but they were only the forerunners of the great
downpour, though they made the withered
leaves on the ground hop and rustle, and
frightened the lizards horribly before they
stopped, leaving the air full of a wonderfully
fragrant smell, as of wet wine-coolers.

But the monsoon burst that night in serious
earnest. It was impossible to get to sleep the
air was so dense and hot, and the mosquitoes
were so busy and furious in every direction.
Up to eleven o'clock there was a profound



350 ON THE INDIAN HILLS.

hush outside, and I was almost asleep, when
there came a blinding flash of lightning, and
immediately afterwards a loud peal of thunder,
and the wind crept up from the valley and
began to rock the tree-tops. Then down came
the rain in continuous sheets, followed by more
lightning, which enabled me to catch glimpses
of the path and hillside streaming with water,
the tree-trunks shining as though they were
carved out of silver, and everything far and
near dripping and hanging down limp under
the tropical midnight downpour. I was won-
dering what the monkeys were doing outside,
and all the dry-weather creatures, but soon
found that charity begins at home, and that
it was quite unnecessary to pride myself on
being safe under shelter. The thatch of my
roof had been put on early in the year, and
during the dry weather it had shrunk con-
siderably, so that, instead of forming a com-
pact mass, as old thatch should, it was more
like fresh straw loosely laid down. Conse-
quently, when the rain began to descend in
earnest, it found its way through into my
sleeping compartment with very little difficulty.
I was sitting up in my charpoy listening to



THROUGH WATER AND FIRE. 351

the howling of the wind, by this time blowing
a regular hurricane, and watching the bright
blue forks of lightning playing about the tree-
tops, when I was suddenly aware of a little
trickle of water descending down my back, and
then another and another rivulet developing.
It was necessary to act promptly ; so, springing
up, I rolled all the bed-things into a mass, and
covered them with a waterproof. Then, open-
ing an umbrella, I sat on top in my flannel
sleeping-suit, and calmly watched niy property
being flooded. It was a profoundly uncom-
fortable night, and my position was both cold
and ridiculous. The rain came in everywhere,
and soon everything was afloat, while as fast
as I lit lamp after lamp, the rain-water put
them out and left me in darkness. When the
roof of one's house plays one false, it is
hopeless to contend against the elements. I
made two or three attempts, and found a little
shelter for some of my best books under the
dining table, but the greater part of my be-
longings were soon hopelessly saturated. My
bed was also converted into a sort of tent, more
or less dry, by crossing cords from the four
posts and throwing coats and shawls over



352 ON THE INDIAN HILLS.

them. Into this harbour of refuge I crept, and
watched the water coming down the walls
and descending in cascades from the roof, for
there was no sleep for me. The tempest
howled overhead, and the trees rocked and
groaned, until every moment I expected one
to come crashing through the roof of my
deluged hut. Indeed, a great trunk did fall
a little higher up the ridge, and I could feel
the concussion in my hut, so near was it.
Then another matter kept me awake. My
hut, like every house in India, was a great
harbourage for all sorts of strange creatures
in the insect way, besides bats, snakes, rats,
lizards, and so on. All these creatures were
flooded out of my walls and roofs, and wan-
dered aimlessly about the furniture and floor.
Such a chance was not to be lost, and, careless
of being wetted through and through, every
now and then I emerged from under the
shelter of my tent to secure and box a strange
centipede, or give chase to a big spider, or to
paddle about with bare feet after a lizard which
looked something out of the ordinary. In this
way I made some considerable additions to my
collection that night, and with the exception



THROUGH WATER AND FIRE. 353

of being wet through all the time, with no
chance of sleeping, I was not so desperate as
may be supposed. Nevertheless, I felt glad
when dawn broke and daylight made it pos-
sible to move about freely ; till, finally, a good
breakfast with plenty of hot coffee set me up
again.

"\Vith the breaking of another monsoon the
work relapsed into its old channels, and nothing
was done now but constant " planting out " of
the young seedlings in the places they were to
occupy a dreadfully monotonous labour, which
goes on day after day without stop or variety.
Thus we had passed through a whole year of
a new estate, and some idea of the round of
operations may have been gathered by the
reader. Afterwards it would become more
varied, and when there arises a prospect of a
crop it is necessary to build " pulping houses,"
where the ripe cherry-like berries are subjected
to constant streams of water and freed from the
soft fleshy outer part, the hard stone inside
(which is the coffee of commerce) being roughly
dried on carefully levelled plots of ground, and
sent down to Calicut or elsewhere, on the backs
of bullocks, to be divested of a thin silvery skin

VOL. II. 2 A



354 ON THE INDIAN HILLS.

which still enwraps the bean. Thus it is pre-
pared for exportation and consumption in the
European markets ; and little the comfortable
citizens at breakfast, or homefolk as they sip
their after-dinner cafe noir, think or know by
what hard work the rough material has been
grown and prepared for their use !

On July 21st an accident happened which
forced a holiday upon me, whether I would or
no. Perhaps it was even fortunate it occurred,
as otherwise I should not have left the jungles
until perchance carried down the ghauts feet
foremost.

I was busy writing, and the evening being
cold and wet, and fever still hanging about me,
on that eventful day I had made a fire in the
stove in my little hut, the chimney of which
passed up through the thatch of the roof. The
dinner was standing ready on the table and the
lamp was burning brightly, but, as the next
day was mail day, I wrote on and on, absorbed
in my occupation. The temperature of the
room suddenly increased very rapidly, and a
sort of red glow came on the paper, which I
remembered afterwards, but at the time thought
little of. However, the heat became so notice-



THROUGH WATER AND FIRE. 355

able, that I at last started up to attend to the
stove, which I supposed was the culprit ; but,
to my dismay and astonishment, directly my
eyes were raised, I saw the whole roof of my
hut already in flames, and burning fiercely
under a strong wind which was howling
through the trees outside. What followed was
very brief and decisive. My " boy " was just
coming round from the kitchen with a dish of
curry, but when he saw this astonishing sight
he stood spell-bound for a moment, and then
down went the curry, and he flew to the big
bell hanging on a tree close by, and rang a
peal which brought the coolies swarming up
the hill in a dusky yelling crowd from their
" lines." Half a glance showed me it was im-
possible to save the hut, for it was now well
alight, and the strong wind increased the flames
every moment, while the nearest water was at
the bottom of the hill, and I knew well that
before we could collect chatties and organize a
fire brigade, it would be all over. So I pro-
ceeded to save what was possible. The estate
books were got out first, along with a lot of
my own, which will bear the marks of the
jungle mud, into which they were thrown, as



356 ON THE INDIAN HILLS.

long as they last; and then I unlocked some
drawers and salvaged several parcels of money.
By this time the place was like an oven and
burning " fore and aft," and the wild-looking
crowd of coolies outside were yelling and
dancing about quite at their wits' end. One old
woman rushed bravely in, and making for my
sleeping compartment, seized a blanket and
pillow, which she gripped tight in her dusky
arms and carried about with her for the rest of
the time, being much too excited to put them
down anywhere. Fired by this example, some
coolies made a rush into the porch. Unfortu-
nately, my door opened outwards, and in the
scuffle it banged to and was kept hard shut in
my face by the great crowd outside, of whom
the men nearest the door were pressed close
against it by the others further away. In vain
I kicked and shouted ; it was shut firm, and the
dense yellow smoke was blinding me and get-
ting down my throat. At length I called out
to the head native maistry, whom I knew was
outside, " Jowra maistry, knock some of those
fools down and clear my door." Then there came
the refreshing " whack, whack ! " of his stick,
and the crowd parted and the door opened, but



THROUGH WATER AND FIRE. 357

not a moment too soon. Already the flaming
mass of the roof overhead was rocking on the
slender uprights which supported it. Any
moment it might fall. The last I saw of the
interior of my poor hut was the ready-set table,
the lamp still burning placidly in the thick
yellow smoke, the white tablecloth on fire in
twenty places, and big flakes of matting falling,
smoking, to right and left. Scarcely had the
door opened and freed me, when I heard the
sharp crack of my revolver, which hung up
loaded at the head of my bed, and the bullet
whistled overhead. The pistol had become red-
hot, and now added to the general confusion by
falling to the ground, and every now and then
leaping up and firing a shot promiscuously into
the crowd. This reminded me of my unfor-
tunate guns, which there had been no time to
save, and they, in turn, reminded me of a new,
unopened five-gallon tin of kerosene oil which
stood in my bedroom. I would have fetched it
out, though it were red-hot, had there been
any chance of its staying the fire ; but, as it
was, I was so disgusted with the loss of my
property, I thought it might as well take its
chance and end up the tomasha by a grand



358 ON THE INDIAN HILLS.

final firewoik. And so it did ! The coolies had
scarcely obeyed my warning and got behind
trees, when there was a terrific bang, which was
heard right up on top of Bungalow Hill ; a great
column of smoke, flames, and sparks leapt right
up to the tree-tops, singeing the leaves ; and
then, dying down, the roof fell in, followed by
what remained of the walls. For a moment
everything was brightly illuminated, but soon
the fire went out with a sudden calm, and I was
aware I was standing in my slippers, bare-
headed, in the rain, which was falling fast now,
by the smoking cinders of the poor little house
which had sheltered me for ten or eleven
months.

That night I slept rolled up in a blanket

on the floor of L 's bungalow on the hill,

and the next morning, after a melancholy search
amongst the ruins for treasure trove in which
I found rupees and annas fused into lumps, and
only the metal-work of my guns remaining I
confided my servants, my dogs, all my belong-
ings that could be got together (and the cat,
if she could be found) to the care of my friend ;
borrowed a pair of boots and a hat, and, mount-
ing the estate pony, turned my back on the



THROUGH WATEE AND FIEE. 359

Pardagherry jungles, meaning to go to Calicut
to refit and see a doctor, and perhaps take a
holiday, if he prescribed one, at that great resort
of the broken-down Southern Indians, the Neil-
gherry Hills.



3 GO ON THE INDIAN HILLS.



CHAPTER XVII.

VANQUISHED BY FEVER.

NEVER was a more melancholy ride than that
of mine the day after the disastrous fire which
thus forced leave of absence upon me. And
yet it has left a very slight impression on
my memory ; all that occurs to me when I think
of it was that I was racked with pain, and so
weak it was difficult to sit in the saddle. I can
remember the blinding torrents of rain which
poured down unceasingly as the lonely jungle
paths leading to the head of the ghaut were
paced, and the torrents of water cutting the
path up with innumerable rills. But although
wet through before being in the saddle many
minutes, it made no difference to me ; all my
thoughts were full of regret at leaving the
estate unfinished, and turning my back on my


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