Edwin Lester Linden Arnold.

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

. (page 3 of 20)
Online LibraryEdwin Lester Linden ArnoldOn the Indian hills : or, Coffee-planting in southern India (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

week only took six times five annas about
equal to three shillings and fourpence and on
this, of course, many had to support a wife and
children too ill or weak to toil. Then, again,
the women many of them mothers, with small
brown fragments of humanity slung upon their
backs got three annas a day, and the most
they could earn was little more than two
shillings a week. Even the little children
came up, ducked their small shaven heads in
comical homage to the great white sahib, and
held out very small brown hands for the price
which those same hands were supposed to have
earned, at the rate of a penny a day. Last of
all, the maistries received pay at the rate of six
or eight annas per diem, and then the horse-
boys, cook, sweepers, and> hangers-on of all
sorts. When these were satisfied, there was
still a small crowd of non-contents who came
up and complained that their money was bad
would I change it ? which I always did when
possible, as if a poor fellow earned one rupee


and chanced to get paid with a bad, unchange-
able coin, there was nothing but starvation for
him during the next week. Others thought-
there was a mistake somewhere always to
their disadvantage and their names had to be
hunted for, and the amount of money given
compared with that entered in the book. It
was hopeless to please them all, but on going-
over the accounts during the course of the next
evening I was well satisfied to find there was
only an error of a few annas happily too
much given out, not too little.

Muster and paying over, and the stores and
outhouses locked up, the estate pony seen to,
and his feed of grain measured out, there were
still the sick and ill clustered round the bunga-
low verandah to be attended to before being^
released for the day. With these I was much

helped by E 's son, who, having spent all his

life in the south of India, knows the languages
and habits of the natives. Between us we
bandaged half a dozen ulcerated legs, sewed up
a chopped finger, administered castor oil and
Epsom salts a horrible brew of " Charlie's " in-
vention to two babies, gave a dose of quinine
to a young coolie girl who thought she had


fever, and some sulphur ointment to two in-
patients suffering from the itch. One old
woman, who -had recently had small-pox, came
up for her daily allowance of cod-liver oil, but
she had forgotten to bring the top of a cocoa-
nut shell with her, that being the article which
is usually produced to receive medicine. In
this dilemma I was for sending her back to the
lines to fetch the cocoa-nut, but my young friend
solved the difficulty in a very simple manner.
Telling the poor woman to sit down on the
ground, and open her mouth as wide as possible,
iind keep her eyes shut, and not to move a
muscle, he put the allowance of oil into a
handleless teacup, in which we mixed all our
medicines one after the other, and then poured
the contents into the woman's open mouth, to
her complete satisfaction.

After this we were free to enjoy a much-
needed rest, and we dined in solitary grandeur,
spending the last evening of my first week in
the forest telling stories " Charlie's " being
about the jungle and the " Blue Mountains " of
Bangalore, where he had passed all his sixteen
years, and I discoursing on the wonders of
London and the beauties of the home country,
subjects of which neither of us ever tired.'


With such a congenial companion, Sunday
passed harmlessly away in unpacking and over-
hauling my numerous belongings, and examining-
my four guns, with which my friend was de-
lighted, his previous experience having been
with heavy Snider rifles. We determined to
take out the small " collecting gun " the next
morning, to try it. Little did we think what an
unfortunate resolve that was. A long eighteen-
foot salmon rod, which I had brought in the
expectation of getting some mahseer fishing,
especially delighted " Charlie," who confessed
he had never seen anything like it before, and
persisted in practising fly-throwing with it all
day. A more orthodox mode of spending the
time was out of the question, as church is an
institution unknown of here, and my book-box
had not yet arrived, while E 's library con-
sisted of thirty copies of a pamphlet showing-
why he had suddenly left his last appointment,
and " The Family Doctor," a painful, though
perhaps useful work.

For the next few days there was a most
enjoyable break in the clouds, and we seized
the opportunity to hang out our wardrobes on
every available bush and rattan in the neigh-


bourhood, that they might get dry after the last
week's soaking. Like ants we also brought our
stock of tinned provision into the sunshine, and
put our boots and bed-clothes in a heap in a
sunny corner of the verandah. In fact, we
had been so miserably saturated for many days
and nights that we brought forth everything
movable to dry ; and much they needed it !

The daily work was gone on with, but an
unfortunate accident which happened to my
comrade spoiled our enjoyment, and took me
away from the estate for a while. Seizing a
spare half-hour at breakfast-time one morning,
we went out, accompanied by a sporting maistry,
named Timma, to try the powers of the small
gun which had so taken " Charlie's " 'fancy.
This was a sixteen-bore muzzle-loader, and,
being only intended for securing specimens of
little birds, was loaded with a small charge.
All went well, and we procured some finches
and a thrush new to me, until we got to No. 3
clearing, where we rested for a time. I had
previously noticed my friend was a little care-
less of the small gun which he was carrying,
and begged him to keep it at half-cock. He
promised to do so, but while leaning against the


trunk of a fallen tree in the young coffee, and
listening- to the grey pigeons in the jungle, he
thoughtlessly put the hammer up ready for a
chance shot, and, resting the muzzle on the toe
of his boot to keep it clean, began playing
with the trigger while he talked. I was intent
on watching for a pigeon, and did not notice
this, but all of a sudden there was a report at
my side, and, looking hastily round, I saw the
gun fall to the ground and my companion
stagger backwards. " What on earth is the
matter ? " I said. " Oh," said he, " my foot has
gone ! " But it was not quite so bad as that.
When the smoke cleared away his foot was all
right, but we saw an ugly sight. His boot was
blackened with the burnt powder, and in the
toe was a great ragged hole, out of which, as
we looked, the blood slowly welled, and ran over
upon the ground in a thick red stream. He
behaved very well, but would not let me take
his boot off until we got home ; so, there being no
time to stand on ceremony or send for help, I
threw the two guns to the maistry, and, taking
my companion on my back, " made tracks " as fast
as possible to the settlement, which was more
than half a mile away. " Charlie " is a substantial


fellow, and the day was hot, but the blood which
trickled down continually kept me at my best
pace, and in a few minutes we were safe in our
hut and I was busy cutting away at the blood-
sodden boot, every movement of which caused
my unfortunate comrade a sharp pain. At last
it began to come off, and I drew it away in fear
and trembling, for I expected there would be
two or three toes loose inside, but was delighted
to see, when the foot was at length bare, that
though the big toe and the next one were a
powder-and-blood-stained mass, nothing had
actually come away ; and after washing them
carefully in tepid water, I was able to assure the
unfortunate fellow that, by a wonderful chance,
the whole charge of shot had passed between
the two toes. Thus, though both bones were
visible and the flesh was hanging in shreds, no
great harm was done. Patching the flesh up as
well as might be, and sewing it together with
white thread silk being lacking we finally
wrapped all up in lint and rags, and there
was my friend, disabled and looking like r.
gentleman with a bad attack of the gout. He
had borne the whole thing with the most
excellent fortitude, and when it was over was
a good deal more cheerful than I was.


That night I ransacked my memory for
thrilling accounts of adventures on English
rivers and Norwegian fiords, and sat up late by
the bedside of my damaged comrade, cheering
him. But the next day, and the day after, his
foot hurt him more and more ; and he got an
idea into his head that lockjaw was coming on,
as the wound was looking rather green ; and at
last insisted upon going down to his father at
Palghaut. So a second time my rough and
ready carpentering abilities were called into
use to make another munchiel, this bout of a
young bamboo stem, supporting a strong
blanket held open by short pieces of wood at
either end, and covered in on top by a broad
sheet of : palm-leaf matting strengthened by
cross-bars. It was well I took the precaution
to put a waterproof covering over the hammock,
as the sky looked very threatening, and the
thunder was rolling about like the chariot wheels
of Indra 011 the other side of the clouds.

Late in the afternoon of the 16th of October,
our preparations were "complete ; and having
determined to take my friend down to the low-
lands at his earnest request, as he was quite
helpless by himself, and hoping to get back early



the next morning, the munchiel and a dozen
coolies, with a strong but bad-tempered old
horse, the property of the estate, for myself,
were all waiting outside. Scarcely had
" Charlie " been safely stowed into the mun-
chiel, than there was a bright flash of lightning
and a roar of thunder directly overhead, which
set my steed dancing and neighing with fright,
and down fell the rain, as if the floor of
heaven had given way and a second deluge
was coming on. Hastily giving the signal to
start, I scrambled into the saddle, much to the
disgust of the tattoo, who thought the stable
more comfortable than the jungle paths on such
an afternoon ; and before we had gone a hun-
dred yards every one of us but my friend in the
hammock was saturated through and through.
The rain was tremendous. Not content with
coming down in drops like ordinary rain, it
seemed to descend in blinding torrents. The
thick roof of leaves overhead made no difference ;
every leaf was a small waterspout, and the tree
trunks were glossy with water pouring from
them. The ground, which a few minutes before
had been fairly dry and solid, was now a swamp
in places, and on the steep parts was cut up by


hundreds of rushing rivulets, which tore along,
sweeping down sticks, stones, and rubbish to
the nearest stream, in headlong rush. I no
longer wondered why the hill-tops of this region
are bare and soilless. A few such storms would
wash away anything except firmly fixed rocks.
It is a wonder the trees themselves stand.

Through this cruel storm we made our way,
scarcely seeing the bridle-track for the rain, the
thunder rolling overhead and the trees swing-
ing about and bending like reeds, threatening
every moment to fall on us or at least block our
road ; until, as darkness came on, we emerged
into the estate of the Dewan of Cochin, from
which, to the head of the ghaut, the road was
" pucka," and there was less chance of missing
it. Here, my horse being nervous and excited,
I thought a gallop might do him good ; so,
leaving the munchiel behind, I made the best of
my way through the tall coffee of this clearing,
as fast as my steed liked to go, and never drew

rein until on the borders of D 's estate of

Polyampara, where, after some time, the mun-
chiel came up ; thereon, holding a consultation
with my friend and the maistry in charge, we
determined to stay the night at D 's bunga-


low, and go on the next morning to Palghaut.
There was small chance of being able to cross
the flooded rivers in the darkness and rain,
leaving out of consideration the haunted samee
place, which the coolies were loth to pass on
such a night. So we betook ourselves to the
friendly shelter, and were, as usual, hospitably-

The journey down was concluded next day
without any noteworthy incident, and R ,.
who was laid up in the hospital at Palghaut,
received his son and news of the gun accident
at the same time. Finding there was no hope
of his being able to move for two or three days,,
and being anxious about the working of the
coolies during my absence, I bade good-bye to
two or three hospitable friends, picked up in the
rapid way in which acquaintances are made at
Indian stations, and early next morning turned
my back on the pleasant little town much
more warm and genial than the gaunt, gloomy
jungles. Riding hard, I reached Wallenghay in
time for a late breakfast at Widow Vladimir's.
Here I learnt that two Englishmen had gone
the day before up to the jungles to shoot, and
anxious to know who they were, I pressed on,


fording the stream at the foot of the ghaut, and
commenced the ascent.

Passing through the lowlands, the heat had
been very great, in spite of the fact that my
clothes were of the whitest and thinnest
" duck ; " but as I mounted into higher regions,
the temperature fell very rapidly, and from the
appearance of the clouds I feared there was
another drenching in store for myself and

At one part of the road, where the jungle
hung very dense on either side, and we were pro-
ceeding slowly to give Rozinante breathing time
before the stiffest part of the ascent was reached,
something moved in the jungle on my left, and
then a beautiful spotted deer came out upon
the road and paced slowly along about twelve
yards in front of me, apparently not in the
least frightened by my presence. This is one
of the most lovely of animals, and well known
to every Indian sportsman. Its hide is of the
warmest mouse-coloured brown, with a darker
ridge down the back, and marked in every part
of its graceful body with pure white moonlike
discs. This one especially, as it stepped slowly
along through the dappled sunlight which came


glancing through the forest foliage, with it&
slender legs and wide-spreading four-pronged
horns, looked the very embodiment of grace
and natural beauty. I had no gun with me,
and, if I had had one, should scarcely have felt
the heart to use it ; so the pretty creature
accompanied me some way, and then was lost
in the mazes of the jungle.

Just as the great bamboo region was reached,
at an elevation of about one thousand feet above
the sea-, the sky grew black as ink, and a wind
came rushing out of the mountain gorges,
bending the trees before it and bringing the
mist in its wake ; and then the storm overhead
broke and the rain came down in ceaseless
torrents, turning a thousand rills into dashing-
streams and making my path a slippery swamp,
in which the horse staggered about, while the
steam rose from him in columns. Between rain
and steam I soon was in the condition of moist
blotting-paper. But turning back was not to
be thought of, and it was very necessary to
reach a torrent which crossed the road on ahead
before it should be so flooded as to become im-
passable, and my steed, who seemed to know his
stable lay in front of him, floundered up the


slippery road and soon brought me to the banks.
This stream, which has been mentioned before
as being noticeable for the six or seven round
basins worn in its bed a little higher up, where
the road cut it, has no well-defined course, but
in dry weather trickles across a broad, flat
shelf of rock, and falls with a musical tinkle into
a beautiful fern-grown chasm on the far side.
But now the scene was anything but promising.
Instead of a rivulet meandering downwards,
there was a foaming brown torrent racing over
the ledge, carrying down great loose stones
with it and falling with a loud roar far down
into the unknown chasm below, while the road,
which must be reached if I wanted any supper,
was just discernible through the spray and
mist amongst the rocks on the far side. My
horse was quite frightened, and could not be
brought to try the venture while I was on his
back ; so, seeing it was useless that way, and
being already wet through, I jumped off and,
dragging the horse after me, waded in. At
first the water was only a foot deep, but it soon
rose and filled my top-boots, and got higher
and higher, until in mid-stream the rush was
so severe, every moment I expected to lose my


footing. The horse's hoofs clattered and slipped
on the smooth rock, and he grew more and more
nervous. In one place we were only a few
yards from the edge where the stream broke
into foam and went thundering down the gulley,
and a slip there would have sent us both to
wander in other worlds ; but we got by and
were almost safe, when a grey figure, that had
been watching us unseen, sprang up among the
misty rocks in front, and with a most sepulchral
and mournful howl, such as none but evil-minded
things could give, dashed back into the jungle.
My horse reared right up and snorted, and I
thought his last moment had come, but he re-
gained his footing by a wonderful chance, and
a moment after we were standing, dripping, safe
on shore. The weird apparition that had
startled us at so critical a moment was a hungry
hyena on the look out for dead bodies. Pro-
bably he had seen us arrive on the opposite
shore, and, with the cunning of his species, had
fancied there was a bountiful supper in store
for him, which, of course, must have been a
very exciting prospect on so wet an afternoon.
One can easily imagine with what eager interest,
as he crouched among the rocks, the gaunt


brute watched the Englishman and his horse;
and his feelings can be understood when his
supper in futuro passed the most dangerous
place and had nearly readied safety. No
wonder he -howled !

Then into the saddle again, and ever up-
wards through the lonely and gloomy bamboo
jungles the chosen home of bison and tigers
where the rain half blinded me, and the tall
stems on either side lashed about like reeds in
the wind. The samee place was reached at
dusk, and looked the very beau ideal of a haunt
of ghosts, with the white mist eddying about
the groaning trees, the dead leaves whirling in
circles, and the great pile of wooden memorials
of human suffering. Here, getting on to level
ground, and consequently a better made road,
it was possible to ride fast, and, galloping
through the storm, we crossed Polyampara and
the jungle beyond, passed the next bungalow

of C. H , and skirted "W 's estate of

Poothapara without stopping. I subsequently
asked the latter if he had seen me, and he said
he was smoking in his verandah and had
noticed a horseman in white, on a " fiery black
steed," passing along the high ground when the


storm was at its worst, and had been sorely
perplexed to think who could be out riding on
such an evening. In fact, I let the horse make
his own pace, and, his home being in front and
his grain waiting, we did quick time for the
rest of the way, and, just " saving daylight
into harbour," cantered down into the settle-
ment as darkness fell.

Persons of a sanguine temperament will find
the first year on a new estate full of little
difficulties and disappointments, and will often
be severely tried if they are given to feeling
lonely. Now, I had promised myself a com-
fortable dinner and a pleasant change into dry
clothes after my long ride, but when the bun-
galow was reached, it was shut up and still,
no cheerful light or promising smoke issuing
from the chimney everything was wet, cheer-
less, and dark. I shouted " Grhora- wallah ! "
till the jungle echoed, but no one came ; so r
vowing vengeance on the truant " horse boy,"
I took the horse to the stable, unsaddled him,
wiped him down, fed him, and then got into
my bungalow by the " office " window, as the
door was locked.

It took ten minutes to find and rouse the


" cook boy," who was stupefied with arrack,
which he had been drinking to keep the damp
and cold out ; and, while he exerted his feeble
intellect in making a fire in the store with a
pile of wet logs, my clothes were changed; and,
once more dry again and under shelter, my
thoughts turned on dinner, my last " pucka" meal
having been at the " Travellers' Bungalow "
at Palghaut the evening before. So I asked
the boy what he proposed to give me. He
was still extremely foggy, and, after rubbing
his eyes and thinking for a moment, said,
"Nothing, sahib." My only reply was to
direct him to open one of my tins of preserved
soup, which I had brought up for such an
occasion, and get it ready " juldie ; " but, to
my extreme disgust, he informed me, in con-
fused sentences, that two Englishmen had been
up the day before, and had dropped in to
see me, but finding I was away and, as the
stupid " boy " told them, not expected back for
some time, they breakfasted here, and seemed
to have made free with the tinned provisions,
after which they marched southward. A short
note, which the servant produced from his
turban, told me that their own provisions not


having then come up, and hearing I should
not be back for some time, they had looted
what they had seen in the cupboard, and would
replace them " with very many thanks before
I returned." This was but cold comfort, and on.
examining what food there was left, I found it
consisted of a bottle of palm-brandy, two pounds
of black pepper, and the remains of a piece of
bacon which hung above my bed. The sole
consolation was that my unknown guests had
not been able to borrow my store of tobacco,
which, under some benign ; influence, I had
locked up before starting for the lowlands.

There was nothing to be done but to put the
best face on the matter ; so I was soon seated
^it the table, with the lamp burning dimly over-
head in the dense opal-coloured smoke of the
wood fire, which did not seem to care about
going up the chimney in an orthodox manner,
-and several rashers of bacon in front, flanked
by the arrack and huge pepper-tin. There was
some comfort for the meagreness of the fare in
making as much display as possible. After
all, hunger is the best sauce for all kinds of
food, and one can dine very fairly off bacon
-and plenty of pepper after a long wet ride,


especially if there is nothing else to be had,
while arrack punch is excellent when properly
made. There were, indeed, a few little extra
inconveniences, such as the night insects, who
seemed to be having a public meeting round
the lamp and on the table, continually hop-
ping into my plate or glass ; and then again a
musk-rat had been crawling over the bacon
while it was suspended on the wall, and had
left a remarkably strong taste behind him.
This set me thinking on the many stories I
had read of the skill of native servants in
poisoning people in a mild way, so that they
gradually languished and slid into other worlds,
and I fell to wondering whether my cook was
to be trusted. He knew well there were
several hundred rupees in the safe, the keys
of which were in my pocket : what would be
easier than for him to give me a sleeping
draught or a dose of powdered glass, and then
there was a fortune at his command ! And
then what a shocking bad character he had I

F had sent him down to me the first day

of my arrival, with a note to the effect -that he
was sure I should be in want of a servant, and
as the bearer was " the biggest rogue and


greatest thief in the district," he could not keep
him any longer, and hoped he might suit me
until something hetter was to be had. His
name was "Chokra" when he entered my
service, but my young friend " Charlie " re-
christened him " Sheitan" after a short acquaint-
ance with his dusky form and darkling habits.
Meditating in this vein, while the fire burnt
low and the rain beat upon the thatch and the
wind howled, something caused me to look over
my shoulder, and there stood the object of my
thoughts, with his arms folded on his chest,
silent and motionless, scarcely anything of his
evil face being visible in the gloom but his white
teeth and rolling eyeballs. At first I was con-

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryEdwin Lester Linden ArnoldOn the Indian hills : or, Coffee-planting in southern India (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 20)