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38

NARRATIVE

OF

A JOURNEY, &c.

CHAPTER I.

SAUGOR : TIGERS-COUNTRY POATS-ARAB SHIPS-VILLAGE: MALDIVIAN

VESSELSGARDEN REACH-APPROACH TO CALCUTTA-ARRIVAL: OLD GOVERNMENT HOUSE: NATIVE HOUSEHOLD,

Ar day-break of October the 4th, we had a good view of the Island of Saugor, a perfectly flat and swampy shore, with scattered tall trees dark like firs, and jungle about the height of young coppice wood, of a very fresh and vivid green. With a large glass I could distinguish something like deer grazing or lying down amid the swampy grass, and also some ruinous cottages and barn-like buildings.

These are the remains of a village begun by a joint company, who undertook to cut down the thickets and reclaim the marshes of Saugor, a few years ago. They found, however, that as the woods were cut down on this side, the sea encroached, the sandy beach not having sufficient tenacity of itself to resist its invasions; and the land was again abandoned to its wild deer and its tigers ; for these last it has always been infamous, and the natives, I understand, regard it with such dread, that it is almost impossible to induce them to approach the wilder. parts of its shore, even in boats, as instances are said to be by no means infrequent of tigers swimming off from the coast to a considerable distance. This danger is, probably, like all others, over-rated, but it is a fortunate circumstance that some such terror hangs over Saugor,

Vol. 1.-6

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to deter idle seamen and young officers from venturing on shooting excursions, so much as they otherwise would do, on a shore so dreadfully unwholesome as all these marshy islets are, under a sun, which even now intensely fierce, is standing over our heads “ in a hot and copper sky.” The stream of coffee-coloured water by which we are surrounded, sufficiently indicates by its tint the inundations which have supplied it.

One of the first specimens of the manners of the country which have fallen under our notice, has been a human corpse, slowly floating past, according to the well-known custom of the Hindoos. About 12 o'clock some boats came on board with fish and fruit, manned by Hindoos from the coast.

They were all small slender men, extremely black, but well made, with good countenances and fine features,-certainly a handsome race; the fruits were shaddocks, plantains, and coconuts, none good of their kind, as we were told; the shaddock resembles a melon externally, but is in fact a vast orange, with a rind of two inches thick, the pulp much less juicy than a common orange, and with rather a bitter flavour, certainly a fruit which would be little valued in England, but which in this burning weather I thought rather pleasant and refreshing. The plantain grows in bunches, with its stalks arranged side by side; the fruit is shaped like a kidney potatoe, covered with a loose dusky skin, which peals off easily with the fingers. The pulp is not unlike an over-ripe pear.

While we were marketing with these poor people, several large boats from the Maldive Islands passed, which were pointed out to me by the pilot as objects of curiosity, not often coming to Calcutta ; they have one mast, a very large square mainsail, and one top-sail, are built, the more solid parts of coco-wood, the lighter of bamboo, and sail very fast and near the wind; each carries from 30 to 50 men, who are all sharers in the vessel and her cargo, which consists of cowries, dried fish, coco-nut oil, and the coir or twine made from the fibres of the same useful tree ; and each has a small cabin to himself.

Several boats of a larger dimension soon after came alongside; one was decked, with two masts, a bowsprit, and rigged like a schooner without topsails. The master and crew of this last were taller and finer men than those whom we had seen before; the former had a white turban wreathed round a red cap, a white short shirt without sleeves, and a silver armlet a little above the elbow, the crew were chiefly naked, except a cloth round the loins; the colour of all was the darkest shade of antique bronze, and together with the elegant forms and wellturned limbs of many among them, gave the spectator a perfect impression of Grecian statues of that metal; in stature and appa

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rent strength they were certainly much inferior to the generality of our ship's company.

Two observations struck me forcibly ; first, that the deep bronze tint is more naturally agreeable to the human eye than the fair skins of Europe, since we are not displeased with it even in the first instance, while it is well known that to them a fair complexion gives the idea of ill health, and of that sort of deformity which in our eyes belongs to an Albino. There is, indeed, something in a Negro which requires long habit to reconcile the eye to him; but for this the features and the hair, far more than the colour, are answerable. The second observation was, how entirely the idea of indelicacy, which would naturally belong to such figures as those now around us if they were white, is prevented by their being of a different colour from ourselves. So much are we children of association and habit, and so instinctively and immediately do our feelings adapt themselves to a total change of circumstances; it is the partial and inconsistent change only which affects us.

The whole river, and the general character of this shore and muddy stream, remind me strongly at this moment of the Don, between Tcherkask and Asof,—and Kedgeree, a village on the opposite side of the river from Saugor, if it bad but a church, would not be unlike Oxai, the residence of the Attaman Platoff.

Several boats again came on board us ; in one of which was a man dressed in muslin, who spoke good English, and said he was a Sircar,* come down in quest of employment, if any of the officers on board would entrust their investments to him, or if any body chose to borrow money at 12 per cent. In appearance and manners he was no bad specimen of the low usurers who frequent almost all seaports. While we were conversing with him, a fowl fell overboard, and his crew were desired to hand it up again; the naked rowers refused, as it is considered impure to touch feathers; but the Sircar was less scrupulous, and gave it up at the gangway. A Panchway, or passage boat, succeeded him, whose crew offered their services for 15 rupees to carry any passengers to Calcutta, a distance of above 100 miles. This was a very characteristic and interesting vessel, large and broad, shaped like a snuffer dish; a deck fore and aft, and the middle covered with a roof of palm branches, over which again was lashed a coarse cloth, the whole forming an excellent shade from the sun; but, as I should apprehend, intolerably close. The “Serang," or master, stood on the little after-deck, steering with a long oar; another man, a little before him, had a similar oar on the starboard quarter; six rowers were seated cross-legged on

* A native agent, as well as a money-lender.--En.

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the deck upon the tilt, and plied their short paddles with much dexterity; not, however, as paddles usually are plied, but in the manner of oars, resting them instead of on rullocks, on bamboos, which rose upright from the sides. A large long sail of thin transparent sackcloth in three pieces, very loosely tacked to each other, completed the equipment. The rowers were all naked except the "Cummerbund," or sash; the steersman indeed had in addition a white cap, and a white cloth loosely flung like a scarf over one shoulder: the whole offered a group which might have belonged to the wildest of the Polynesian islands. Several of these Panchways were now around us, the whole scene affording to an European eye a picture of very great singularity and interest. One of the Serangs had a broad umbrella thatched with palm leaves, which he contrived to rest on his shoulder while he steered his canoe, which differed from the others in having a somewhat higher stern. The whole appearance of these boats is dingy and dirty, more so I believe than the reality.

We were now approaching the side of the river opposite Kedgeree: here all likeness to the Don disappeared, and nothing met the eye but a dismal and unbroken line of thick, black, wood and thicket, apparently impenetrable and interminable, which one might easily imagine to be the habitation of every thing monstrous, disgusting, and dangerous, from the tiger and the cobra di capello down to the scorpion and musquito--from the thunder storm to the fever. We had seen, the night before, the lightnings flash incessantly and most majestically from this quarter; and what we now saw was not ill fitted for a nursery of such storms as Southey describes as prevailing in his Padalon. The seamen and officers spoke of this shore with horror, as the grave of all who were so unfortunate as to remain many days in its neighbourhood; and even under our present brilliant sun, it required no great stretch of fancy to picture feverish exhalations rising from every part of it. As we drew nearer to the Sunderbunds their appearance improved; the woods assumed a greater variety of green and of shade; several round-topped trees, and some low palms, were seen among them, and a fresh vegetable fragrance was wafted from the shore. The stream is here intense, and its struggle with the spring-tide raises waves of a dark-coloured water, which put me in mind of the river where Dante found the spirit of Filippo Argenti. I looked with much interest on the first coco palms 1 saw, yet they rather disappointed me. Their forms are indeed extremely graceful, but their verdure is black and funereal, and they have something the appearance of the plumes of feathers which are carried before a hearse. Their presence, however, announced a more open and habitable country. The jungle receded from the shore,

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