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MARCH TO SAMULCOTTAH.
On the 19th of December, we left Vellore. march with a regiment, in the "cold weather," is not disagreeable, at all events for the first three weeks or so; but, if prolonged much beyond that time, it becomes irksome, and the sound of the "General," on drums and bugles, at 4, 3, and even sometimes 2 o'clock in the morning, according to the length of the day's march, becomes very worrying, and makes one long for the more reasonable awakening time in cantonments.
Long before the hour appointed for the march, the sleepy bugler, who has been roused up from his lair in the guard-tent by the sentry, paces, shiveringly, in the cold morning air, before the adjutant's tent. A man of the guard stirs up the adjutant's drowsy servants, and soon a gleam of light shows itself under the flounces of his canvas dwelling. And now the bugler gets his orders; and, after a preliminary clearing squeak or two, the well-blown "General" rings out on the darkness, and is taken up by the drums and bugles at the quarter-guard. A clatter of tent-pegs rises throughout the camp, and very soon the canvas town lies prone upon the ground; and, in about forty minutes, all is packed, and loaded up on carts, bullocks, or camels, as the case may be. The " Assembly " is sounded, and the regiment musters in front of what was, less than an hour before, a line of occupied tents; bayonets are fixed, and the snake-like column gropes its way out of camp on to the high road; and, with torch-bearing guides at its head, struggles on in the darkness. At dawn, after a short halt sacred to smoking, the regiment moves on, at a quickened pace, until the few white tents of the new camp, which had been sent on
the night before, come in sight: among them the mess-tent is conspicuous, it having been struck and sent on, with its attendant cortège of butler, cooks, and other myrmidons, immediately after an early afternoon dinner. Then another very short halt, and a brushingup of equipments, and letting down of tucked-up trouser feet; and, amid a gaping crowd of villagers, the regiment, with band playing, enters the new camp.
In former days, such as I am now writing of, the "maty" always carried his master's chair on his head, and on the chair a suit of "mufti," a plate, cup and saucer, knife and fork, &c., all tied up in a large towel; for the mess equipage of this kind was packed up during the march, and everything was camp fashion"-i.e. every officer brought his own crockery, &c. with him. Now, however, native servants have marched with the times, and have become less hardworking and more cheeky," and no maty, who would avoid the jeers of his fellows, will do anything of the kind; a special coolie must now be engaged for the chair and its contents.
On this march I went in very zealously for duckshooting, and by imprudent exposure-wading after wild fowl up to my waist in water, with a furiously hot sun overhead, and walking in my wet clothes three or four miles daily back to camp-I contracted a violent acute inflammation of the liver, which very nearly finished me. Strange to say, I remained, during my whole subsequent service, entirely free from any derangement of that important organ; and, in fact, have never been so much as reminded that I have such a thing as a liver belonging to me.
This same duck-shooting was very enjoyable. At most stages there were tanks within two or three
WATER-FOWL AND WADERS.
miles of the tents, sometimes much nearer, and these tanks were full of wild-fowl. The blue-winged, whitenecked goose, much tamer than its European congener of the marshes; the portly comb-duck, with a great black, helmet-like excrescence at the base of its bill; the handsome speckled, red-billed duck, as large as a mallard; the widgeon, with cream-coloured head and livid, bluish bill; the broad-billed shoveller, best of all for the table; the pintail, which almost rivals the shoveller in delicate flavour; the common teal, most numerous of all; the golden eye, with piebald plumage--a very crafty bird, better at diving than at flight, and which commonly occupies the far middle of the tank, well out of gun-shot from the shores. Lastly, I will mention that queer little bird, the "cotton teal"-really a diminutive goose, which flies up and down the surface of the water, with its continual cry of "kuk kuk a ruk-kuk kuk a ruk.” I had almost forgotten to name the whistling teal, an ugly, ungainly duck, with plumage rufous, all except a head and neck of dirty white, quite an exception to the finely-pencilled and game-like attire of most of the aquatic family. A stranger to the habits of this teal is often astonished to find the whole flock, which has circled round the tank, whistling all the while, perched up in some palmyra tree in most unducklike fashion.
These Indian tanks are likewise full of all manner of other water-fowl and waders. Cranes, herons, coots, some of them of brilliant plumage; waterhens, snake-birds (darters), and hundreds of others, "which now to describe would be too long " for these pages.
On the reedy borders of these tanks are innumer
able waders-stilt plover, with long crimson legs; various sandpipers, from the greenshank, nearly as large as a woodcock, to the little sandling, which skims along the shore in flocks of hundreds, more like little balls of wind-tossed foam than birds; snipe, both that species which is so well known in Europe, and the pintail snipe, which is exactly like the other in size and colour, but has one point of difference, as noted in its trivial name.
Snakes, both venomous and also of harmless species, were common on this march. One morning, while riding in front of the regiment, my eye lighted upon a thick squab snake curled up on the side of the road. I dismounted and examined the torpid-looking reptile, and, touching it with a stick, it uncoiled itself, and I found it to be an amphisbæna, about a foot long, and as thick as a man's thumb. Knowing it to be a perfectly harmless creature, I put it into my coat pocket and remounted. The sepoys were greatly agitated at this proceeding, and assured me that it was a most deadly serpent, that its bite would cause a man's flesh to rot off his bones, and begged me to throw it away immediately. "Look at it," said they, "look at it; see its unnatural shape-its tail as thick as its head; and it is well known that its head and tail change place every six months! It must be deadly!" However, I carried it to the end of the day's march, and then put it into a bottle of spirits of wine, in company with sundry other snakes, centipedes, scorpions, and numerous other "bugs" which I had collected.
Another day, near a sea-side village named Ramapatam, I had leave to shoot my way to camp, instead of accompanying the regiment. Passing through
some scrub jungle, I heard a loud hissing, very like the boiling over of a kettle, in a bush close to me, and, looking in, saw a very large and handsome snake coiled up in the bush. in the bush. One barrel was enough for him, and, on dragging him out of the bush, we saw that he was a daboiea, one of the most deadly and vicious of Indian snakes. It was fully five feet in length, and, in the thickest part, as large round as my wrist. The head of this snake was peculiarly suggestive of danger. Flat, very broad, and joined on to the neck in ace of spades fashion, it had a bulldog appearance; nor were its jaws, when prised open with a stick, less formidable than suggested by its appearance. There were five poison-fangs, all of different lengths, two on one side and three on the other. The largest of these fangs measured about an inch, the shortest not more than one-third of an inch. The skin was very handsome, a rich chocolate brown, marbled with chains of spots, blotches of black encircled with white and yellow.
Between Nellore and Ongole we had good shooting, especially with floriken and quail. One drawback was the great number of poisonous snakes which infested the grass-lands. We often came across half a dozen cobras, and vipers of sorts, in the course of a morning's shooting.
The country was flat and grassy, and, being along the sea-shore, was intersected by water-courses and small creeks, more or less swampy and treacherous. In one morning's march we came upon one of these muddy creeks, and were amused to see a cart-wheel sticking up just above the surface of the water; the cart itself was evidently on its broadside below. No one was more amused than one of our captains, who