January 3

January 3, 1863

Two more men died last night, but not from Company B. We sent off another mail to-day. I wish we might get some letters. We ought to have a lot of them when they do come.

January 3, 1864

Sunday. There was preaching in the quarters as promised. After a good sermon by an old man whom Colonel Parker had got hold of, the colonel gave a first-rate talk to all hands. I wrote several letters to home folks and had to tell them I had heard nothing more about my leave to go home. Good night, all.

January 3rd.—A sergeant we took down to Havre yesterday told me of his battalion's very heavy losses. He said out of the 1400 of all ranks he came out with, there are now only 5 sergeants, 1 officer, and 72 men left. He said the young officers won't take cover—"they get too excited and won't listen to people who've 'ad a little experience." One would keep putting his head out of the trench because he hadn't seen a German. "I kept tellin' of him," said the sergeant, "but of course he got 'it!"

Quite a comfortable day; no snow yet, but it looks likely to storm in a day or two; wrote to Pert [1], and had our usual inspection this forenoon. Since dinner, I have read "Washington's Farewell Address", and the "Declaration of Independence". This evening quite a number of recruits arrived for the regiment, but none for Company B. Capt. J. A. Salisbury has been in to call on Lieut. Stetson, and broken my camp chair. This is still more provoking than not to get a letter from home for chairs are not plentiful here. He is a big man.

[1]Miss P. A. Thomson, a cousin and many years a teacher in Goddard Seminary, Barre, Vt.

January 3

January 3, 1879.--Letter from----. This kind friend of mine has no pity.... I have been trying to quiet his over-delicate susceptibilities.... It is difficult to write perfectly easy letters when one finds them studied with a magnifying glass, and treated like monumental inscriptions, in which each character has been deliberately engraved with a view to an eternity of life. Such disproportion between the word and its commentary, between the playfulness of the writer and the analytical temper of the reader, is not favorable to ease of style. One dares not be one's natural self with these serious folk who attach importance to everything; it is difficult to write open-heartedly if one must weigh every phrase and every word.

Esprit means taking things in the sense which they are meant to have, entering into the tone of other people, being able to place one's self on the required level; esprit is that just and accurate sense which divines, appreciates, and weighs quickly, lightly, and well. The mind must have its play, the Muse is winged--the Greeks knew it, and Socrates.

January Third

The only calendar
That marks my seasons,
Is that sweet face of hers,
Her moods and reasons,
Wherein no record is
Of winter seasons.
Madison Cawein

 

Alfred Mordecai born, 1804

 

 

January 3

MODE OF TRAVELLING.

I ought to give you some account of our voyage to this place. We quitted Midnapore, after a hard week's packing, at nine o'clock on Tuesday evening, December 27th. On the Monday we went to dine and sleep at the house of the Captain of Engineers, because our own was in such a condition from packing; and after dinner on Tuesday at nine o'clock we entered our horrible palanquin. I flatter myself that most of the people at Midnapore were very sorry when we left. We had sixteen men to carry us, two mussalchees, or men who carry mussals (torches made of long strips of cotton bound tightly together and dipped in oil), and two banghy-bearers, to carry each two tin boxes with our clothes in them.

We soon got clear of the station of Midnapore, and then the scene became most wild and romantic—a narrow road, bounded on each side by an interminable jungle, or plain covered with low bushes so thickly matted together as to afford only passage to the deadly cobra, the snarling jackal, and the ravenous tiger. On the road our own palanquins, one a hundred yards in front of the other, carried by black men with merely a cloth round their loins, the red glaring torches showing the others who ran swiftly by their side, the banghy-bearers trying to keep up with us, and all keeping up a loud monotonous sing-song tune, which was varied occasionally by the shrill cry of the jackal, the grinning snarl of the hyæna, or in the distance the deeper roar of the tiger in search of his prey—and yet in the midst of all this we both slept well, awakened only occasionally by the plashing of the men through the fords of the river or the stopping at a village to change bearers.

JELASORE.

In the latter case we were not detained an instant, the fresh relays being in attendance with as much patience and regularity as if they were horses waiting for a coach. Thus we travelled on without interruption until we reached Danton, called Dantoon. This was about nine o'clock in the morning. At this place there is a dâk-bungalow—that is, a bungalow, or thatched house, built by Government for the accommodation of travellers. In Turkey it would be called a caravanserai. Here there is a man with fire and water, but the traveller brings his own provisions, wine, tea, bread, &c., in his palanquin, though he can generally get eggs. We stayed here about two hours, and had some tea, eggs, and biscuits, and no one who has not experienced it can have any idea of the comfort of a short rest after a night of dâk travelling. Although you lie down in the palanquin, yet every limb gets cramped, and the incessant jolting is most painful to the bones, even of one so fat as I am, and I have increased sadly in bulk since I came to India. Off we started again a little before eleven, and at about one we reached the house of an Indigo-planter at Jelasore. I never saw him before, but he received us most hospitably. His wife was rejoiced to see us—she had not seen a European lady for seventeen months, for their nearest neighbours live at a distance of forty miles, or about twelve hours' journey. Here we spent a most agreeable day, delighted with everything. In the evening I took a walk with our kind host to see an old fort.

It must have been once very strong, and was probably built by the Mahrattas as a depôt for plunder when they overran this part of the country. In the inner court is a three-domed building, resembling, except in ornament, a mosque. The walls are several feet thick, built of hard stone strongly clamped together with iron. High up in the interior of the centre dome are four niches, which I hope to explore on some future occasion. The inner enclosure is surrounded by a strong stone wall and a deep moat now dry. Beyond this is a level space of a few yards in width, and then again, in another part of the wall, there are signs of a narrow sallyport, and opposite to this, between the trenches, as if it might have been reached by a drawbridge, is a very high mound of earth. Over the sallyport there has evidently been a strong tower, and above the central entrance into the interior building is a stone with an inscription. It appears very perfect, but no one can read it; it is neither Ooriah, Hindustanee, Sanscrit, nor Persian. I have called this a Mahratta fort, because that is the general opinion amongst Europeans. I myself doubt it, and from its age and appearance think it much more likely that it was erected by the Moguls when they first invaded the country; how I wished, as I stood there, that I could have seen it as it was in former ages, with its garrison, and its horsemen, and its despotic governor. The next time I go I shall provide myself with some paper covered with charcoal, and try to take an impression of the inscription. We were in some fear, during our examination, lest we should be interrupted by the natives, as they have very recently got the idea that it was once inhabited by one of their gods, and therefore consider it a sacred place. I fancied, as well as the darkness would allow me to see, that far back in one of the niches I could dimly perceive a coloured statue of a female. Before we went to see this ruin my kind host took me into his garden to show me the India-rubber tree. We scraped the bark with a piece of rough glass, and a white sticky juice oozed out; this we took between our fingers and squeezed until it became a sort of brown gluey substance. In this state it is used by the native hunters as birdlime. After being exposed to the air for some time it gradually hardens and becomes what we call India-rubber. A large part of this garden was planted with arrow-root.

ATTACK BY A TIGER.

At half-past eight we again entered the palanquin, and started for Balasore, where we arrived at half-past seven the next morning, and were set down at the Circuit-house—a large house belonging to Government, and kept for the convenience of officers, including the chaplain, who have to travel the district every year. I can conceive nothing more wild than the dâk travelling; but I have described it all, except that in each palanquin we carry a brace of loaded pistols. I will relate an instance, and a very remarkable one, of the advantage of carrying loaded pistols in this country. Major M., now the second in command at Midnapore, was one day out with some friends, sitting quietly under the shade of a bank, when suddenly a tiger sprang out of a jungle, seized the Major by the leg, threw him over his shoulders, and trotted off with him. The Major's companions raised a loud shout; but the beast was hungry, and did not choose to be frightened from his meal. The Major, however, fortunately had a brace of loaded pistols in his belt; he pulled out one, and fired it at the head of the tiger as it carried him off. It flashed in the pan; and almost in despair he seized the other, and shot the tiger dead on the spot. The only injury the Major received was a broken and lacerated leg, which has rendered him in some measure a cripple ever since. This story I know to be true, both from the Major himself and from those who were with him.

A HUNGRY BEAR.

A small party went out for a day's pleasure a little while ago from Midnapore. They went to the Ghape, a most beautiful spot at about five miles' distance. After rambling about they went into an old house which is there, with an excellent appetite for dinner. The "cook-room" was about a hundred yards from the house. They waited and waited, and no dinner came; so at last one of the gentlemen went to see the cause of the delay, when lo! as if watching for the dinner, there was an enormous black bear sitting half-way between the house and the cook-room. They shouted, and tried to drive him away; but no, master Bruin only growled; he did not see why he should not have something to eat. None of the party had guns; and they say that they were kept waiting five hours without their dinner before the beast's patience was exhausted and he stalked off. We were, as I before said, set down at the "Circuit-house." This I expected to have found tolerably furnished; but, alas! when we went in, we found nothing but one mat, three tables, and two chairs. We then had the palanquins taken into a bed-room, and determined to make ourselves as comfortable as we could. I then went out to make calls—for in India the new comers call upon the old residents, reversing the English custom. This did not take me long, as the whole station consists of the magistrate and his wife, the excise-officer and his daughter, the postmaster, doctor, and deputy-magistrate.

At night we slept as well as we could in the palanquins, but were kept awake the greater part of the time by the mosquitoes, and the next morning our hands and faces were most beautifully spotted over with their bites. On this the second day one or two people called; and when the excise-officer and his daughter came in, the deficiency in furniture was at once made manifest. There were Mr. and Miss B., Mrs. Acland, and I, with only two chairs amongst us, and these, like all the chairs in India, were arm-chairs, so that we could not even manage by sitting two on one chair; so Miss B. and my wife had the two chairs, and Mr. B. and I sat upon the table—rather a high one it was—so that our feet dangled about half-way between our seat and the floor. However, there was one great advantage in this evidence of poverty, for Mr. B., as soon as he got home, sent us a large bedstead, some chairs, and other things necessary to make us comfortable.

PALANQUIN-BEARERS' SONGS.

I ought to mention the chant of the palanquin-bearers; though they keep to the same sing-song tune, yet they generally invent the words as they go along. I will give a sample, as well as I could make it out, of what my bearers sang the other night; I have tried to render their words as nearly as I could into English, so as to preserve the metre. The poetry must be improved. A palkee means a palanquin: it is the Hindustanee word, though one also generally used in conversation. Each line is sung in a different voice; in the following, for instance, the first line would be sung in the usual voice, the second very high, the third in a sort of gruff tone:—

"Oh, what a heavy bag!No; it's an elephant:He is an awful weight.Let's throw his palkee down—Let's set him in the mud—Let's leave him to his fate.No, for he'll be angry then;Ay, and he will beat us then With a thick stick.Then let's make haste and get along,Jump along quick."

And then, suiting the action to the word, off they set in a nasty jog-trot which rattled every bone in my body, keeping chorus all the time of "jump along quick, jump along quick," until they were obliged to stop for laughing. The second sample is from the men who carried Mrs. Acland, and is in quite a different metre. I must tell you that "cubbadar" means "take care," and "baba" (pronounced "barba") means "young lady:"—

1.

"She's not heavy,Cubbadar!Little baba,Cubbadar!Carry her swiftly,Cubbadar!Pretty baba,Cubbadar!Cubbadar!Cubbadar!

2.

"Trim the torches,Cubbadar!For the road's rough,Cubbadar!Here the bridge is,Cubbadar!Pass it swiftly,Cubbadar!Cubbadar!Cubbadar!

3.

"Carry her gently,Cubbadar!Little baba,Cubbadar!Sing so cheerily,Cubbadar!Pretty baba,Cubbadar!Cubbadar!Cubbadar!"

At this place very little wood is to be found—not enough for the people to use for their fires during what is called the cold weather. The women accordingly go out, and instead of gathering wood they pick up cowdung. This they knead into flat round cakes about the size of pancakes, dry them in the sun, and they burn almost as well as the turf or peat which is used in England, though it is a great nuisance, for the thick smoke it emits has a very unpleasant smell.

The other day we saw a most beautiful sight on the nearer hills. Some of the jungle (or wild) men had set fire to the grass and bushes on the side. The fire spread, shooting rapidly from one part to another, and as it was late in the evening it produced a most magnificent scene. The object in doing this was to get rid of the snakes, bears, and tigers, in order that the people might go and cut down the few large trees that grew on the hill.

Last night, as my wife and I were having a game of casino, we heard a low growl in the compound, and directly afterwards a screaming amongst the fowls, and a hallooing of the servants (we carry fowls wherever we go, or we should be almost starved); the only words I could distinguish were "Bargh! bargh!" A tiger! a tiger! I jumped up; but on examination it proved to be a false alarm. It was only a large wild animal, something resembling our fox, only with shorter legs and longer body, which had attacked the fowls; and I had not so much presence of mind as the Major I told you of, for when I ran out into the compound to see what was the matter I quite forgot to take my pistols, so the thief got safely off; but I have now secured my fowls more effectually.

Just before we left Midnapore, a large flock of birds, flying in regular order, amounting, I should think, to several thousands, passed over the place. They made a great noise, and I thought they were wild geese; but I hear they were a bird called the cyris, which stands about five feet high, and is not a water-bird.

INDIAN SCAVENGERS.

I was much amused this afternoon whilst I was sitting in the verandah with watching the crows. I think I have described them to you. They are very like the carrion-crow in England, but rather smaller. There is a law which imposes a heavy fine upon any one who kills them; this is very right, for they carry away a quantity of refuse and filth which would otherwise putrefy and cause disease; but the consequence is, that they are more numerous and more impudent than the sparrows in England. I threw out the bones of a fowl we had had for dinner; presently about fifty crows came down within a few feet of me, and began to peck away; every now and then a bird, which people here call a kite, would swoop down, and send all the crows cawing away. As soon as it rose, down came the crows again; presently one of them flew away with a large bone in his beak; the kite saw it, and was off in pursuit. Backwards and forwards, up and down the poor crow dodged, but its pursuer followed it, and had nearly reached it, when the pursued thought it best to drop the bone. The sharp eye of the kite perceived this, and, although he was some distance above at the time, yet he made a dart down and caught the bone in his mouth before it had reached the ground. I have lately seen some kites like the others in all respects, except that the body and head are white, the wings being still brown; these are rather larger than the others.

Every sort of filth here is thrown out into the fields, and in a very few hours the jackals and crows clear it away, assisted by the pariah dogs. These are the only scavengers in the country.

The rain began on the 24th of December, and we had occasional showers for two days; but every one is disappointed by the season. Instead of having nice cool weather in January, the hot weather has completely set in, although it does not in general begin before the middle of February. The thermometer in the shade is at this moment above 80°, although this is considered a cool place.

For my dinner yesterday I had some peacock-cutlets, which the surgeon of the station had sent me.