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“ Hum !” again. After a pause" Put these young men in the book to attend all parades, drills, guard-mountings, and the officer of the day in his rounds, till further orders.
We sat for a few minutes longer in great humility, wishing ourselves, or perhaps the great commander himself, far away, when Harley, having first ascertained that there were no further instructions for him at the moment, kindly stepped in to our relief, by proposing to go with us to choose our quarters; on which we took leave of our commahder.
On regaining the outside of the house, Lieutenant Harley thus addressed us : -“ Well, youngsters, what do you think of Old Gruff ?”
“ I don't think I shall like him much,” was my reply; “ but I suppose he is like all other commanding officers.”
« God forbid !" replied the adjutant, with evident sincerity ; “but come along, lads, you will not be so badly off-there are some hearty fellows, you will find, in the regiment.”
With the assistance of our kind conductor, Milden and I speedily fixed upon excellent quarters, in the front row of the south range of officers' barracks, and were afterwards introduced by him to most of our brother officers, on whom we called. At the mess in the evening we met the unmarried officers of the regiment, and also a number of young men, who, like ourselves, had been appointed to do duty with the corps, forming altogether a party of about eighteen. We were most hospitably received, and soon fest ourselves quite at home. That night we had much merriment, and thought we had good reason to congratulate ourselves on having our present lot cast amongst so many good fellows. Horses were offered to and accepted by us for a ride in the morning, and we were told not to care about attending the first parade after our arrival. We retired to our new domicile about midnight, highly delighted with our reception in the gallant corps with which we were to serve our apprenticeship.
Early the following morning two horses were brought to us ready caparisoned. Not being fully prepared to attend the parade as part and parcel thereof, we mounted the steeds, and took up a retired position, whence we could overlook the morning service. The early day was highly favourable for the study of a Bengal fog. The vapour, for the height of about six feet above the surface of the earth, lay around like a still white sea. The upper atmosphere was cut as sharply clear from it as ocean is from sky after an unclouded tropical sunset. The tops of trees and houses rested like islets on this milky plain. On looking towards the parade-ground, where the men were already assembled, we saw distinctly, in the broad light of morn, the mounted officers in the act of riding, but their horses were invisible, and the effect was indescribably ludicrous. The sergeants' pikes and the bayonets of the men glanced and danced about, and took up new positions without any visible agency. As the sun rose, this vapoury waste gradually sank, or rather appeared to sink into the earth, like a subsiding mass of water, and the heads, bodies, and legs of the soldiery became gradually exposed till all was clear.
From my introductions at Berhampore, I shortly became acquainted with Major, Mrs., and Miss Snowden. The major at this time was on the invalid establishment, having been sorely battered by the united forces of climate and severe campaigning. It was on his own application that he had been permitted to retire from active service, in order to domesticate himself quietly with his wife and daughter, being sufficiently gratified with the laurels he had already won. He was a cheerful, hospitable man, and a great favourite with all the young people. Mrs. Snowden was a country-born lady, also very kind and hospitable, had high aristocratical notions respecting the future settlement of her daughter, and was very showy in her costume. Miss Amelia Snowden, sixteen years of age, was a goodhumoured, half-educated girl, who had enjoyed a two years' residence in England, during a furlough which her father had taken for the benefit of her instruction. With this family I soon formed a visiting acquaintance, paying, as was perhaps natural, some rather marked attentions to its younger branch.
The cantonments of Berhampore, which I have not yet described, may vie in appearance with any military station in India.
The barracks for the officers and the European troops form a large square, the interior of which is a beautiful grass lawn, preserved from the pressure of unlawful feet by sentries. The quarters for general and field-officers are on the west side, and very commodious, with gardens in the rear. In the centre of this side is a broad opening, which displays the well-trimmed flag-staff on the bund or embankment of the river, and here all the Moorshedabad and Berhampore world assemble three evenings in the week to be delighted with mili
On the eastern face of the square stand the soldiers' barracks, three separate buildings, each a palace to appearance, and on the northern and southern faces are captains' and subalterns' quarters in two ranges, all spacious and excellent, provided with bathing-rooms, and other comforts essential in a tropical climate. There are fire-places in some of these houses, but not in all; they would occasionally be very acceptable in December and January.
Along the rear of the soldiers' barracks lies a very large oblong tank, memorable as having been the scene of a bailiff-ducking. This pestilence visited Berhampore with fell intent to seize an officer, but was himself taken captive by the soldiers, who, having first belted him according to the most approved method, gave him a sound ducking in the tank, and then discharged him.
Such acts as these are, of course, very unjustifiable ; but if it be considered that officers, for no very large sums, have been conveyed away from their regiments to considerable distances, exceeding a thousand and twelve hundred miles, to the Calcutta jail, No. 1, Cheringhee, it cannot be a matter of surprise that little scruple should be made as to the means of evading a sheriff's officer. The sepoys have a fierce hatred of the genus, and would gladly, if they could, put Johnny Doe very summarily out of the way. To my knowledge this service has been kindly volunteered to an officer.
Some years ago a bailiff was observed prowling about Benares in search of his prey. Two battalions of sepoys, who were stationed there, having collected as large a rabble of boys as they could muster, protec
and being themselves off duty and in undress, accompanied this limb of the law ten miles on a forced march towards Calcutta. Great were the beating of tomtoms, chilumchees, thalees, lotas, * &c., and the shoutings, hootings, and derisive cheerings of their youthful but remarkably energetic allies. On taking leave of him he was kindly advised not to return, and he took the hint.
Commandants of stations are called upon to protect a sheriff's officer on announcing himself in cantonments, and when this tion is claimed, it is at times granted effectually.
The visiter is placed under the special care of a corporal's party, who are enjoined by no means to lose sight of him, and thus he is marched about whithersoever he chooses to go, but under fixed bayonets, and a complete prisoner virtually, so long as he remains at the place. Sometimes, as an additional honour, a drum and fife have been considerately accorded, in order that all whose appearance might cause his feelings to be excited should be duly warned to keep out of his sight.
To retur to my topography. From the north-east angle of the square leads the road to the city of Moorshedabad. The main guard lies a little retired from the left of this road, and immediately outside of the square of buildings. This minute detail may appear superfluous, but it is nevertheless necessary; for that identical main guard was on one occasion the conspicuous scene of my juvenile sublimity. It was there that I first mounted guard, and it was on the evening of the same day that I exclaimed, “Stand to your arms, my men,” at the very moment that I perceived Miss Snowden passing in the carriage with her father and mother. There was nothing miraculous in this coincidence, for I had contrived it by means of a running sentry, who gave me due notice of their approach, without inquiring my reason for ordering it.
Beautiful vision! She recognised me, “and waved her lily hand !" Neither the pen of angels nor of martyrs could describe my feelings on that great occasion ! O the suffocating sensation ! O the mighty swelling of heart that then expanded my frame !
I believe I made several blunders, to the great amusement of the soldiers. They did not speak, to be sure, but I saw it in their faces. I should have added the climax to their enjoyment by piling the arms with bayonets unfixed, but for the kindly interposition of a sergeant. Why I unfixed them at all, I know not.
Reader ! excuse this detention at the main guard, for indeed I can on no occasion get past it without yielding the tribute of a sigh to the memory of scenes fled, alas, for ever!
On the right of the Moorshedabad road, and opposite the main guard, stands the six-pounder that announces daily the return of morning dawn, and evening bedtime, (soldiers' bedtime. It is placed on the bank of the tank already mentioned, and a sepoy sentry is there stationed. It was here that I witnessed a native soldier's ingenuity exerted on an English comrade in arms. One evening at dusk, as I chanced to be strolling near the sentry's beat, I perceived a European soldier proceeding on his way to the barracks,
* Vessels of brass for washing, cooking, holding water, &c.
carrying what is called a kedgeree-pot, or earthen vessel, with great
Now, any unsanctioned vessel containing liquor is strictly prohibited admission into barracks, and all sentries are ordered to attend particularly to this. The soldier being challenged by the sepoy, and desired to surrender his prize, put down the vessel, squared himself, and offered to box for a glass.
“ You may pass on," said the sentry. John Bull speedily availing himself of this permission, took up his well-beloved burthen of arrack, and proceeded on his way.
He had not, however, advanced more than a few paces, when he felt a shock on the arm which bore the load, and on looking to discover the cause, he became aware that a bayonet had passed through his fragile vessel, and that its contents were pouring on the earth. Great were his astonishment and wrath, and he now seriously prepared himself to make an assault, but on this second occasion his demonstrations were met by the bayonet held firmly at the charge, ready to receive him. I now felt it high time to interfere, and did so, which put a stop to hostilities.
A little further along the road is the burial-ground, and to the right of it the sepoy lines and parade-ground. To the former spot I have followed several of my companions to their last home. The loss of one's friends in a country where sickness is so frequent, and dissolution so rapid, is, at the first entrance into life, a very sad and sorrowful subject for meditation ; but the repeated visitations of death in the midst of young and lusty life speedily tend to benumb the more reflective feelings of our nature; and regret for the loss of a companion not often outlives the day of his funeral, unless the ties of friendship have been very close. This carelessness does not arise from any want of real kindly feeling ; for, in India, sick persons are attended by their friends with a tenderness that might only be expected, perhaps, from the hands of near and dear relatives. It arises from a sense of the greatly reduced value of life. A sort of “Ah, well | it may be my turn next—as likely as not-no use in fretting—a short life and a merry one." And thus the door is closed to reflection.
It is too well known that where life is held on the most frail tenure, death is invariably least regarded, and religion kept aloof as an unpleasant and gloomy monitor. This is a fearful thing, but it is the truth. There are indeed exceptions, but, alas, how few !
In this churchyard without a church is an obelisk monument raised over the remains of the late George Thomas, one of the most extraordinary men that the Eastern world has known, perhaps for ages. He would be an excellent hero for the very able pen of a Fraser or a Morier, though possibly his real acts might need little aid from their inventive powers to render the tale impressively interesting. As his life was itself an interesting romance, I take leave to recommend the perusal of it.*
I have now completed my survey of Berhampore in this direction, and make a halt where two roads separate - the one on the right leading past the defunct provincial battalion lines to Moorshedabad, and the other to Cossimbazar, the principal silk manufactory in India. Before I quit the subject, however, I must offer my tribute of applause to the civil authorities, through whose agency the roads about Berhampore are (or were) kept in excellent order.
* “Memoirs of the Life and Military Exploits of George Thomas, a General in the service of the Native Powers in the North-West of India. By Captain William Franklin.
On my first arrival at Berhampore I had employed a moonshee, or native teacher, to instruct me in the Hindostanee language. He was a very enlightened Mussulman, named Dost Ali, and appeared perfectly acquainted with both gur Old and New Testament histories. Indeed the Mahummedan religion is grounded on these.
As I had been brought up with great religious care, and on my departure from England was made sensible that the conversion of the heathen would be one of my most glorious objects in a foreign country, I thought that, for my first attack, the moonshee would be an excellent stronghold against which to break ground; wisely calculating that if I could carry by storm so important an outwork, I might by that opening assault the enemy in the very citadel he held in the heart of my household. My first endeavour was to convince him that Mahummed was a prodigious rascal, but this preliminary I never could establish. Here we split; and from that day to this I have never personally entered into contest with the enemy on foreign ground, though I may have occasionally contributed my mite towards his expulsion by abler tacticians. He must, however, be attacked before he has thrown up all his intrenchments around the human heart. I have marvellously little faith in the conversion of old idolworship-devoted Hindoos. The ancient oak in Moccas Park, Herefordshire, is as lithe as they are, and might with equal facility be trained anew.
There are several excellent schools in India now, of which I may say more hereafter.
Dost Ali admitted that our Saviour was a great prophet, and would by no means allow that he was crucified. He maintained that when he was betrayed he was carried up into heaven by an angel, who at the same moment passed his hand across the face of Judas Iscariot, who (Judas ) instantaneously became the counterpart of Jesus Christ in form and feature, and was himself crucified.
One afternoon, when the heat of the sun had abated, a small party of us went on a shooting expedition to Pope's * Jheel. This is a fine sheet of water about two or three miles from the barracks. It is said to be four miles in length, and is sufficiently broad to admit of three punts or small boats abreast, at the distance of seventy or eighty yards apart, provided the outward boats proceed along the shore. This jheel is a celebrated place of resort for wild fowl; and many hundreds, if not thousands, of geese, ducks, teals, divers, and many other birds, are to be found there. Each boat is attended by a single native, who manages it by means of a bamboo pole, which is pressed against the side or bottom according to circumstances, for there is no rudder.
* How it became possessed of this appellation I know not. The native name is, I believe, Motee Jheel, or Lake of Pearls. It formerly was part of the channel of the. Cossimbazar river, or Hoogbly, which will account for its length being so great in proportion to the breadth.