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REMINISCENCES OF SPORT
Cadets' Quarters. Some Indian Birds.-Vellore.-Hill Fort
and Tippoo's Regiment.--Sepoy Mutiny of 1807.-Crocodiles in Fort Ditch.-Indian Fish.-Flying Foxes.Subalterns' Monkeys.-Snake Charmers.-Native Festivals.-Reorganization of Native Army.-Holee Festival. -Shooting Excursion.-Parawat Jungle.-Farewell Vellore. March to Samulcottah.
Samulcottah. - Duck-shooting.Amphisbæna.--A Venomous Serpent.- Arrival at Samulcottah.
the present volume the Author advances no claim to anything but a plain record of such things, especially in Indian sport, as have been met with during a long but uneventful service of upwards of forty years in the East.
He has carefully eschewed the disagreeable cacography, which is known as the “Hunterian " system of spelling proper names of places, and which has of late years been officially adopted. In spite of official recognition, this pedantic system has found little favour with any other class; and he believes that in using the old method (or want of method) of spelling, he will have the suffrages of nine-tenths of Indian readers.
The voyage to India, in times past, was far less agreeable and much more tedious than it now is. The dreary monotony of the four months' voyage, broken only by occasional glimpses of far-off islands, and by the rare sight of other ships voyaging on the wide ocean, has few charms for memory; there is little to be extracted from the journal of such a voyage. To use Tom Cringle's simile—" There are but few plums in the porridge.”
In 1840, when we arrived, in the good ship Marion, at Madras, cadets' quarters in Fort St. George were the haven of rest after the voyage. There was not much comfort. A very plain cane-bottomed cot, a camp-table, and two massive chairs, in a bare, whitewashed room. All else had to be supplied by the cadet occupant, and afforded the first pickings to the native servant, more or less dishonest, whom it happened to the “griffin " to engage on arrival. These cadets' quarters were infested by a host of natives, with both live and dead stock to sell. Young jackals, mongrel dogs, paroquets, mainas (Indian starlings), and every description of pedlery. Among this varied assortment, mosquito curtains were almost the most useful things; for want of them, the griffin's face, the morning after his arrival, more resembled that of a patient just recovering from measles than the fresh rosy visage of the evening before. On awaking, hot and inflamed with the misery of the first night in India, strange sounds and sights presented themselves through the long window opening on the fort wall. Kites of two species, the large brown fork-tailed bird, and the smaller chesnut and white fish-kite, were skirling in peevish tones, keeping a sharp eye the while upon the preparation of breakfast for the troops
in the adjacent barracks. Little striped squirrels were uttering their excited “ Chink ! Chink !” accompanying each note with a jerk of their bushy tails.
The Indian crow, also, did not fail to put in an appearance. With glossy coat and breeches, all black except a neck coloured jackdaw fashion, with head on one side, and bright eyes glancing in all directions, he, too, evinced a strong interest in the breakfast preparations, ever and anon taking a short flight into some neighbouring room, where he would sit on the long punkah and caw the occupant into a state of distraction and an irresistible desire to throw boot, book, or anything nearest at hand, at the impudent intruder.
The next few weeks were passed at one of the fine Garden Houses on the bank of the Adyar river, the residence of a judge of the Supreme Court. With my single-barrelled gun I addressed myself to form a collection of bird-skins, which I eventually sent to England.
In the extensive grounds of “ Mowbray Gardens," there was a great variety of birds. The bright blue and green flycatcher, with a yellow gleam under its wings, which sits on a high spray, darting off, at short intervals, to snap up some fitting prey ; each time returning, with a joyful twitter, to its perch. The coppersmith (little barbet), so called from its metallic note, continually uttered, and exactly resembling the tap, tap, of a small hammer clinking upon metal. A sober suit he wears, dull olive-greens and browns; but with a most lovely ruby spot upon his little forehead. The mango-bird, decked in as bright a yellow as the ripe fruit from which it derives its The “ Coel” or rain-bird ; the male a glossy black, the female much of the colour and appearance of its English and Indian cousin, the cuckoo. It is called the rain-bird because its persistent, annoying cry, “Who are you ! who are you ! ” is most heard in, or just before, rainy weather. Its cry is exasperating, especially when roused to anger by the mocking echo of native boys, whom it answers in a crescendo shriek of “ Who are you !” till the welkin rings again.
The little owl must not be forgotten. About the size of a thick-set thrush, this comical little bird sits among the gnarled branches of aged trees, and raises, ever and anon, a jocund chatter with his mate, or with some lively neighbour, who answers the challenge from a dark corner in the shadiest tangle of his own old tree. The natives have a story that, by taking his attention, and then walking round and round the tree on which he is perched, this little owl can be made to screw his own head off! The bird is supposed to turn his head in conformity with the gyrations of the intruder, until it is absolutely twisted off !
A small black bird, of the cuckoo kind, with a forked tail, is a very spirited little fellow. Called by the English the “king crow”. —by the natives, more appositely, “cēlsir” (charcoal) and “cutwal” (policeman)—it exercises great tyranny over other birds, especially over the more formidable birds of prey. If a crow, hawk, or kite approaches the spot where the "cutwal” resides, the little warrior rushes out, and darts on the intruder, diving down upon him with loud shrieks of anger, almost touching him each time with its whirring wings, and so harassing him that he speedily beats a retreat from the domain of the tiny vixen,