Edwin Lester Linden Arnold.

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

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Bungalow Hill. This is a spur of the high
range which bounds the estate on the north-
east, and was selected as a site for the " pucka "
bungalow on account of standing centrally
placed in the middle of the estate, and being
some two hundred feet above the surrounding
country, which should make it fairly healthy.
The only hills which overtop it are the high
forest-clad cone of " Hootcha Mullah " to the
-eastward within this property, and to the north-
west, across the Manalora stream (which is our
boundary in that direction), the rocky grass-
covered heights of the Pardagherry Mountain.
On this same hill, and just visible from where
I have been working lately, is a wonderful bare


precipice, with a wall of rock some three hun-
dred feet in height. Directly underneath,
almost sheltered from the rain by the overhang-
ing cliff above, with the help of a telescope it
is possible to make out the picturesque little
straw-thatched hut of another English planter,

S , who lived there by himself the greatest

hermit of us all.

The view was extensive whichever way one
looked. To right and left the high mountain
just mentioned shut off the quarter of each
monsoon, and looking southward down the
winding valley of the Manalora, the eye ranged
over long expanses of unclaimed jungle stretch-
ing right away to Cape Comorin. We were, in
fact, the most southerly of all the estates in this
direction, and beyond us was a wilderness, the
home of the bison and elephant, all " impene-
trable jungle." To the north-east we looked
along the course of the road, which leads here-
over half a dozen estates, buried in deep frames
of jungle, each with its little white bungalow
and dusky coolie " lines ; " and amid most one
caught here and there the flashing of a pool or
streamlet, the all-important water for turning
the pulping machinery and supplying the-


coolies. Farther away the ghaut road began,
and, the hills sloping down, nothing more was
seen of the forest until the lowlands unrolled
themselves, stretching far away like a wonder-
ful fabric of green and silver cloth. At this
distance the towns and villages could not be
made out, but just where the great Southern
Indian plain was melting away into indistin-
guishable distance, the great towering Xeil-
gherry Mountains rose up, ascending tier above-
tier into the sky.

Hither each morning I made my way, at the
head of a long array of axe and bill men, thread-
ing the narrow path, while the mist still hung-
about, and every spider's web was beaded with
a thousand glittering liquid diamonds, until
the hill-top was reached. There I stopped for a
moment to admire the view, while the maistries
got the coolies into working parties. But
there was not much time for meditating on the
beauties of nature, for much had to be done
before any attempt could be made to build on
this commanding spur. The forest which
clothed it was cut down some six months ago r
and presented the usual scene of wild confusion ;
but, for some reason, when the three months


of drying had been allowed and fire was ap-
plied, the burn proved a failure. The flames ran
rapidly over the clearing, and consumed all the
leaves and lighter stuff without touching the
heavier timber, which, of course, cannot be burnt
as it lies, unless a great heat is obtained by the
embers of the smaller materials. So it became
necessary to lop up everything and burn it by
instalments a long job, and needing all the
best labour on the estate. As soon as we
arrived, the ashes of yesterday's fires were
raked together and carefully nursed into a blaze
by the skilful coolies, and then twelve or fifteen
tiny columns of thin grey smoke curled up in
the still morning air, and soon the ring of the
iixes was heard and the crackling of sticks, as
the fires gained height and strength, and the
coolies no longer enjoyed poking them, but
threw on logs and branches from a respectful
distance. By the time the sun came up we
were encanopied in a dense curtain of yellow
smoke, through which at first he shone only
feebly, but when he got higher and stronger
and glared on us from above, his rays, added to
the heat of the now roaring bonfires, produced
a result never to be forgotten. Nearly every


day I was subjected to a temperature high
enough, one could almost fancy, to cook a chop
very nicely, and besides this I was continually
choked with smoke, blinded with clouds of hot
white ashes, and stifled with the fumes of hun-
dreds of strange weeds and herbs. I went to
work in the morning fresh, clean, and neat, in
white linen jacket and trousers, with nicely
polished top-boots and a snowy pith helmet,,
but when breakfast time came nothing could
present a more striking contrast than my ap-
pearance. My clothes were torn, soiled with
earth, and marked from head to foot with char-
coal. My hair was powdered thickly with
white ashes, and my face and hands about the
colour of a coolie's skin with smoke and dust.
It was useless to wash until the day's work was

done, so I usually breakfasted as I stood, and


one of the planters, dropping in to see me one
day at the mid-day meal, exclaimed as soon as
he had dismounted and entered my hut, " Why,
Arnold, what have you been doing? you look
like a coal-heaver ! " And I am afraid I did.

The coolies do not seem to find the heat too
much for them ; they possess the advantage of
working entirely without clothes, and perspire


freely, the moisture running down their bare
bodies and cutting channels in the charcoal dust
:and ashes, until they afford a most curious
picture. But the superintendent is clothed, and
has to be continually on the move amongst the
fires, now crawling under charred logs on
hands and knees, and now reaching a distant
part of the clearing by walking along the tree-
trunks and leaping from one to the other.
While engaged in this latter way, I had a spill
which might have resulted in serious con-
sequences. Wishing to cross the crown of the
hill, where the fires were burning fiercely, to see
what a party of coolies on the opposite side
were doing, I climbed up on a log of peepul
wood lying across a lot of others, and, running
and j umping from stem to stem, had nearly got
through safely, but, being half blinded and
choked with the dense yellow smoke and fear-
ful heat, I dropped off one log, without due
caution, on to another four feet below, thinking
it was sound ; but the fire had eaten along-
through the whole tree, leaving a glowing mass
of burning embers and about half an inch of
green bark all round. Directly my feet touched
the trunk it gave way, and I came head over


heels to the ground, amid a blinding cloud of
smoke, dust, and ashes. The only damage done
was a few holes burnt in my clothes and one or
two scorches on my hands, while, if it were
possible, my clothes were grimier than ever.

It was impossible, however, to control the work
successfully all over the estate for long with
only my slight knowledge of the language ; and
after a spell of hard uphill work, I wrote to

Calicut to say that, as Mr. B would not

probably be back for several months, the interests
of the estate imperatively demanded there
should be some one on it who had had more
experience than had fallen to my share of the
various operations, and who could speak the
languages of the coolies. To this a reply was
sent, allowing that the work was very hard for
an unseasoned chickdoree, and stating that
as there was an unattached Englishman in the

district a brother of D , of Polyampara

who had had considerable experience, he would
soon be associated with me, if possible. Shortly

afterwards my new acquaintance, E. D ,

wrote to say he had accepted a temporary posi-
tion on the estate, and would come over in
heavy marching order the next day.


So I made a few preparations, rigged up
another bunk, ordered an extra supply of pro-
visions from Wallenghay ; and while seated at
breakfast one morning, I was aroused by the
arrival of a long string of coolie women loaded
with pots, pans, bedding, and general effects,
and behind them marched an Englishman, whom
I immediately recognized as one with whom
I had tiffined on first landing at the club-house,.
Calicut. So we fraternized readily, and, having-
stowed the new arrival's kit, proceeded to break-
fast, and then discussed future plans over our
cheroots. My friend's build and stature much
like that of the robust Ghoorkhas of Northern
India, five feet nothing in height, by three feet
broad gave great promise of energy, which was
not lessened by the fact that he was a Cornish-
man. He brought a servant with him, which
was fortunate, as " Sheitan's " cooking was very
poor and his habits horrible. It was impossible
to get any respect for cleanliness into that "boy's"
head, and he had a most free and easy way with
my property breaking my small stock of china,
cutting the stitches of the soles of my boots
when he scraped the mud off, with several
other offences, besides the , expense which his-


numerous " mothers " caused me by eating my

One of the very few creatures which I had shot
since reaching the estate was a specimen of the
magnificent Malabar squirrel, Sciurus maximus.
This extremely handsome animal is as large as
a full-grown hare, with the richest soft-furred
skin, mahogany colour on the back, striped
with a broad black band on either side, and
warm yellow underneath. The ears are ample
and fringed with long hairs, the eyes large and
hazel-coloured, while the face combines all the
colours of the body in stripes. They utter a
curious grunting sound when calling to each
other, but are silent when alarmed, and glide
from branch to branch, only betraying their
presence by shaking the leaves and twigs when
they spring. The first specimen I secured was
feeding far up among the thick foliage of a
jack tree, and would have been passed un-
noticed, but for husks of broken seeds which
kept falling to the ground as the squirrel un-
shelled the fruit. Even then it was no easy
matter to make him out at the elevation.

I must also plead guilty to having shot two
or three of the great black monkeys which



abound in these jungles during the wet mon-
soon, but I always had a feeling of quasi-homi-
cide when one was shot they bear such
wonderfully human faces, and they behave in
much the same way as a human being might.
Hearing some chattering in the tree-tops once,
I went to the spot, and coming suddenly into
view of one old monkey, he seemed to know
that hiding was safer than flying under the
circumstances, so, seizing hold of a leafy bough
above, he drew it down until his head and
shoulders were quite hidden ; but it did not
occur to him that all the rest of his body
was exposed his " untutored mind " fancied
that if he could not see me, it followed natu-
rally that he himself must be invisible, much
the same argument as those philosophers use
who deny the existence of a spiritual world.
The size of these monkeys is enormous when
their arboreal life is taken into account. Many
of them are as large as a retriever dog, and
must weigh seventy or eighty pounds at the
least. One that I shot was a monster, who taxed
all my energies to get the carcass back half a
mile to the bungalow, and when I threw him
down in the verandah, I vowed he could be little


under a hundred pounds. In colour they are
jet black ; the old males, however, carry a
white frill round the neck and a white front.
Their tails are long as long as the body,
but never used, as far as I have observed, for
prehension ; in fact, they are generally dragged
behind their possessor in a careless sort of way,
and when the monkey runs along a branch
they wave to and fro in a very aimless manner.
Their skins form excellent carriage rugs and
mats, but are too coarse for wraps or cloaks.
There is also a very considerable difficulty in
preserving and drying them properly in the
jungle, owing to the continual dampness of
the atmosphere, which makes anything resem-
bling leather very mouldy in a short time.
Monkeys are numbered amongst the foes of the
coffee planter, as they make free with the
sweet ripe berries, the stones of which are
frequently found dry and clean, in lines, under
branches and fallen trees, having passed un-
injured through their digestive arrangements ;
and such seeds, old planters will tell you,
make the very choicest coffee. The coolies eat
monkey flesh quite freely a sure proof their
religion is not related to that of the Hindoos


and whenever my gun brings one down,
there is a great deal of salaaming around me^
and anxious inquiries as to how I am going
to dispose of the body. Indeed, I tried the
" devilled " leg of a young monkey myself at
breakfast one morning, and it was not bad ;
probably a hungry man might enjoy it very
much. The native superintendent of the Dewan
of Cochin's estate, the next one to the north
of ours, employed a man to wander about in
the jungles with a rusty musket, with which
he shot the monkeys as they fed in the tree-
tops, and got a small reward per skin. One
day he came to my hut to know if I had any
skins to sell him, but our commercial positions
were reversed, as I bought all the fifteen which
he had with him for a couple of rupees con-
siderably more than he would have obtained
from the Dewan.

Another creature which only puts in an ap-
pearance when the days are growing brighter
and hotter, is the gay little striped squirrel ,.
a first cousin of the palm-squirrel of the plains,
but rather darker in colour, and known to
science by the name of Sciurus trivittatus.
This does little harm to new estates, as it con-


fines its attention, like the monkeys, to the
ripe berries, and I am always glad to see
their lithe little forms darting along the fallen
timber, pulling up for half a moment to see
what the enemy is doing, and then, with a
ilick of the bushy little tail and a few sharp
chirrups, vanishing into some hollow or broken
bough. They make themselves wonderfully at
home, especially on the outskirts of the clearings,
where the timber is half overgrown by weeds
and bushes ; but curiously, though I have seen
scores in such places, I never observed one
climbing a standing tree a proof they are not
actually the same as the lowland squirrel, who
spends all his time on the trunk and branches
of his arboreal home.

We were naturally glad to see these little
animals, as they are the heralds of the spring
on the hills, and when they came we knew
that the cool weather was close upon us, and
we were so delighted at the prospect of a
little blue sky and warmth after several months
of perpetual rain and chilly mist, that we were
not afraid even of the advent of the hot season
which would follow.

Pardagherry Mountain, opposite to my hut,


grew greener and greener every day, and pre-
sented a lovely spectacle, all the more alluring
as it seemed so inaccessible. It appeared to be
a vast expanse of mingled rocks and grass,
with here and there a patch of jungle or reeds
fringing some watercourse. In one place there
was a sheer precipice of some hundred feet
high, over which a foaming stream was for
ever falling in a silver streak. When it rained
the cascade swelled wide and broad, sho wing-
up well against the grey rock, and when the
rain ceased it dwindled into a thread of water
scarcely visible at the distance ; but it flowed
more or less all the year round, and R 's
son tells me he has seen the dusky masses
of a herd of elephants crossing the sky-line
of the hill in the early morning, after having
probably spent the night playing in the basin
at its foot. It wafe a lovely stream, and some
day I hoped to explore its course, and

" Follow the light
Of the fleet nymph'8 flight
To the brink of the Indian deep."

That same hill-top, though but seldom visited,
has been on one of those rare occasions the


scene of a mournful event, which deprived the
world of a brave English lady. Even her
name is unknown to me, but, as I heard the
story, she was the wife of a collector, or per-
haps forest overseer, and with her husband and
a few servants had ascended to the unknown

wilds which overhang the estates of S ,

about three miles from Pardagherry. As sun-
set was coming on one day, the Englishman
rode on ahead to choose a camping ground,
leaving the lady, also mounted, to follow more
leisurely. The former galloped up to a plea-
sant spot by a reedy stream, and was just
congratulating himself on such a favoured
locality, when a small herd of elephants at rest
under the trees hard by saw him, and broke
back as fast as they could go by the path
hemmed in with rocks on either side, up which
the English lady was advancing. The panic-
stricken herd charged down, and before any
warning was given rushed upon the little party
in the narrow path. The native servants, being
on foot, escaped among the rocks ; but the
lady's horse shied, threw her, and fled before
the elephants down the pass. The whole herd
passed over the unfortunate Englishwoman,


who had so pluckily followed her husband into
these wild regions, and she died a few minutes
after he came up ; so the sylvan camping-place
must have been sorrowful enough that night.

My friend " Charlie " returned from the low-
lands after a time, having recovered from his
gun accident, and began to open a small
" nursery " for one of the planters on the other
side of the Manalora stream, opposite to our
territory. Besides him another young English-
man, L , turned up and stayed on the

estate for some time, until he could break some
more land to the south of us for another com-
pany. Thus, southward the course of civili-
zation takes its way, and Pardagherry was no
longer Ultima Thule, but was left behind by

L 's new place, which, on account of the

difficulty of access, its solitude, and deadly fever-
mists, we named the " Bitter End." L ,

however, was a plucky fellow. He left the
Varlavachen Bungalow, the eyrie of F , my
acquaintance of Palghaut, perched upon the
summit of a steep mountain, and descended to
our low-lying hut/where no one could stay long
without contracting jungle-fever. Though he
did not say so, it is obvious he thought very


lightly of our style of life ; and, in fact, the four
of us were packed about as tightly as could be
in our little hut. We got on well enough
during the day, as we were all employed in the
jungles except just at meal times ; but when
night came and we turned in, it was a tight
fit. Our four berths, placed side by side across
the sleeping apartment, completely filled it up,
with the spaces occupied by the box which did
duty for a washing-stand and one shaky chair.
We were always dreadfully tired after the
day's work, and soon after dinner retired to
our couches, made of nothing softer than un-
planed teak-boards supported on biscuit-boxes.
Soon four forms might have been seen by the
dim light of the lantern swinging overhead,
each in a flannel sleeping-suit, and rolled up
in grey blankets, with a long cheroot between
each pair of lips. D had an accordion,
which he generally brought to bed with him, and
in the solemn stillness of the night, when the
jungles were buried in darkness, and tigers and
elephants roamed about as they listed, the strains
of many songs went up in a fitful manner
from our hut. If the coolies listened they must
have had a poor opinion of us as a musical


nation, for D was only a beginner on his

instrument, and rarely got safely through more
than two or three notes, when he recommenced,
or broke off to tell us we were singing out of
tune. It was the most mournful affair trying
to follow him, for he had to go very slowly
and think beforehand on each note ; so as our
cheroots burnt down, he had things more and
more his own way, till, finding us dozing, he
generally attempted a lively " God save the
Queen," by way of finale. A sleepy sort of
idea that we ought to stand up and take our
hats off pervaded us, but, on the whole, we did
not think her Majesty would mind the omission,
and soon silence settled down and suppressed

even D 's melancholy instrument.

I have mentioned one evening on which
there was an alarm of elephants. On another,
as we were all asleep, a great noise suddenly
broke out in the coolie " lines," and we heard the
natives shouting, "Hatti! hatti! " '/Elephants;"
so we turned out as quickly as we could. I

and L , who were sleeping in neighbouring

bunks, being only half awake, and no light
burning, by some mischance seized upon the
same pair of trousers. He monopolized one


leg and I the other, and the natural result was
that when we tried to get up we came a heavy
cropper on the floor, which effectually woke us,
and we sat facing each other for some moments,
wondering what was the matter. At last we
exclaimed together, " What are you doing with

my trousers ? " Meanwhile, D had taken

down a rifle from the pegs, and had run out
to get a shot if possible ; hut " Charlie " spoiled
his chance by groping to the head of my bed,
and, without a word of warning, pulling the
string attached to the spring gun outside, which
he had loaded the day before with a couple of
handfuls of native powder and part of an old
sock rammed tightly over the bullet. The re-
sult was a terrific explosion, which seemed to
frighten both the elephants and the coolies, for
all other sounds died away immediately after-
wards, and we were left to finish the night in

But an undisturbed night was quite the
exception. On one occasion a great cackling
arose amongst some cocks and hens that we kept
in a small shed, and, turning out with revolvers
and sticks, we found an animal about the size of
a large cat had broken in and killed three of


our fowls, to the great consternation of the
others. After a hunt, " Charlie " saw the beast
escaping along a bough overhead, and brought
him down with a shot from my revolver. We
were also considerably troubled with rats, which
played nocturnal games on our beds, and even
nibbled us when they got the chance ; so we

borrowed a cat from Mrs. F ofVarlavachen

a real English cat, who became a great pet
and it kept the rats somewhat in order. One
night, as I was lying in my cot with the lamp
dimly burning, a large rat came out, and, after
wandering about the floor, jumped into a tin
bucket. Just at that moment the cat came in,
and, catching sight of the disappearing tail, pro-
ceeded to stalk the bucket in a very scientific
style ; but some slight sound alarmed the rat,
and I saw him jump out and run away on the
off side. Meanwhile the cat, who felt sure of
getting him, and had not observed this, crept
to within a couple of "paces, and then, gently
lashing her tail from side to side and gathering
her limbs under her, measured the distance, and
with a single bound leapt right into the pail.
Of course, there was nothing there, and I never
saw a creature look so supremely astonished as


she did. On windy nights our sleep was
broken by the rubbing of the trees together,
and by the long rattan creepers swinging to and
fro and striking against each other, with the
occasional falling of branches or trees a danger
to which we were exposed during the whole of
the monsoon. If the elements were at rest, the
insect world woke up and treated us to ani-
mated concerts of most mingled sounds ; but
fatigue is a good narcotic, and we paid at last
very small attention to such things.

An occupation which now took up some of
my time was fixing supports to the young
coffee trees of two years old, which were grow-
ing into considerable bushes with thick heads of
glossy dark green leaves. In spite of the belts-
of jungle left between the clearings, the plants-
feel the wind more or less, and when the ground
is wet it swings them round and round, so that
the stem works an opening in the soil just
where it comes above ground. Then, if there
should be any breeze on the next hot day, when
the ground is baked hard by the sun, the plant

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Online LibraryEdwin Lester Linden ArnoldOn the Indian hills : or, Coffee-planting in southern India (Volume 2) → online text (page 6 of 20)