Page images

made my way straight for it; but on arriving at it, found it was only a temple, most probably erected by some shipwrecked fishermen or sailors out of the coarse timber of their wreck, &c., and after feeling the images carefully, to ascertain if they might chance to be constructed of any thing edible (how we wished even to find a gingerbread idol amongst them; wouldn't we have gobbled down his godship?) we took our departure in sorrow and despair.

Two very lean sparrows flitted across my path, but they looked so wretchedly poor that I let them depart in peace.

On arriving at the beach where we had landed, I was nonplussed by observing all the Malays stretched out in skirmishing order along the shore on their hands and knees, and apparently digging some treasures from under the sand, which operation was presently elucidated by observing several forage caps full of cockles by the sides of some of the soldiers. As the landing from the ship had taken up many hours, it was now beginning to grow dark, so the bugle sounded the retreat, and every man brought in his cap, handkerchief, and hands, full of these shellfish (not a man, I firmly believe, having himself eaten one, until his share was afterwards doled out to him) and having piled them in a heap on the sand, the men formed a circle around, and chaunted a hymn to ALLAH, before commencing the repast.

The moon had risen above the waters in one round ball of fire, apparently of double the size that it appears in our own hemisphere, and as its beams fell on the white sails of the stranded ship in the distance, and illumined our shipwrecked group in their adoration to the Prophet, it left an impression on my mind that a thousand years of earthly vicissitudes could never efface. I could not help imagining, however, how different might probably have been the scene, had I been thrown in such a situation with the denizens of more civilised nations, with whom, I am much inclined to believe, Allah would have been far less noticed than the cockles, and when again, I fear, it might have been said with truth, “ There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger." For the following two days and a half I was as staunch a Mahommedan (barring the giving up wine) as ever dreamt of the black eyes of a houri.

The hymn over, the men were ranged in a row, and about a quart of cockles dealt out to each. (I see, my dear reader, you are dying to perpetrate a pun, and to affirm that there could be no more appropriate food for "muscle-men” than cockles); and for my own part, I candidly own to have never enjoyed a repast so deliciously as I did that hatful of raw shell-fish, every one of which was swallowed alive of course, after being wrenched open by being placed back to back with his neighbour and slightly twisted round, a proceeding that at once revealed the plump interior of both at the same time.

We had brought a large barrel of water ashore with us, so, having made the most sumptuous repast we had tasted for many a day, we were proceeding to lose sight of our troubles in sleep, when the cry

of brought us at once to our feet again, and sure enough our hymn was not unheeded, for scarcely three miles off was a schooner scudding past the island at the rate of six or seven knots an hour! In a second I had the rifles, which were already loaded, unpiled, and, at the word of command,

a sail”

thirty reports rang simultaneously through the still night air, followed by a cheer that might vie in extent of sound with the preceding explosion, and which we soon had the unspeakable gratification of seeing answered by a blue light on board. Continuing to fire off rifles at intervals, we gave notice of where we were located, and the schooner having come as close to the land as she safely could, sent a boat on shore to see who we were, and what was the matter.

She proved to have been one of the last vessels that had proceeded upwards with troops, now on her return, but so devotedly were we all engaged with our treat at the time she was passing, that it was next to a miracle she had not sailed by unnoticed. We moreover learnt that we were on one of those very small islands at the head of the Gulf of Manarr, and not six hours' sail from our destination. As it was too late to embark at once, owing to the dangerous nature of the coast and our ignorance of the tides, we waited until daylight before the first boat-load put off, and at 10 A.M. we were on our way once more to the fishery, leaving the Bassein Merchant (for such was the title of the tub that had got us into this scrape), on the reef; but whether the “merchant" ever resumed business, or became a bank-(of coral)rupt, I neither know nor care.

At five that evening we were received in the open arms of our more fortunate comrades, who had long given us up as having gone to the bottom, and the feeling of delight at our preservation was such as I never saw equalled; the English soldiers vying with the Malays as to who could show most attention to the rescued riflemen, and if the seductive voice of John Bull, in proffer of his wine-cup that night, did cause certain transgressions of the commands of “ Allah,” all I can say is, that Allah must be a much more unforgiving and stubborn old deity than I take him for, if he did not forgive the offence in respect of the occasion.

Reader, my good fellow, would you enjoy a dinner in perfection ?-if so, I'll give you a never failing receipt, viz., lock yourself up for a week with a quart bowl of brown sugar and a jar of pickled onions as your sole companions, and if on the seventh day you don't become aware of the enjoy. ment of a Christian-like feed, all I can say is that you will be a great deal better out of this world than in it. But now for the oysters.

From the dirty little village of Aripo (which is only populated, I believe, during the pearl fishery, and which seems to be founded entirely upon monstrous oyster shells), about two hundred boats start out to sea every morning, each boat carrying two divers, two assistants, and a Malay rifleman, with loaded arms, to protect the oysters from being robbed of their treasures before they have reached the shore. When this fleet has arrived at its destination, about four miles from land, the diving commences; and as there is always an armed vessel stationed in the neighbourhood for the protection of the oyster boats, a person may look on from under an awning therein, and enjoy the whole scene in a very dolce far niente sort

To enable the divers to reach the bottom of the sea, which is from ten to twenty fathoms in depth where the oysters are found, a long rope is woven round a pulley at each boat's cross-trees, to the end of which is attached a large stone, weighing two or three hundred weight; this stone is poised over the side of the boat, and the diver standing upon it, and taking with him a basket (also attached on board by a rope), gives the word

of way.

was fitted

with every

to “let go,” and at once sinks with the stone to the bottom. This is again wound up, and the diver is left below to scrape as many oysters as he can into the basket during his submarine sojourn. When this is accomplished, he loosens his hold of the rock or sea-weed that he had clung on to below with one hand whilst he filled the hamper with the other, and immediately shooting up to the surface is again taken on board, the hamper or basket full of oysters being hauled up at the same time. Then the second diver goes down, and so it goes on till 4 o'clock P.M., when the boats return with their freights.

Being personally acquainted with the gentleman who had the management of the fishery in the year I was stationed there, I used, when off duty, to go out in the government boat, which

up convenience in the way of awnings, &c., and taking every necessary luxury with me, in addition to a diver, I divided the day between feasting and hunting for pearls in the oysters which were brought up by this man especially for my own use, and many a lucky prize I sometimes came across.

When the fishery was nearly over for the day, we used to give prizes to the man who would remain longest under water, and on one occasion I knew a man to remain below for one minute and fifty-eight seconds, but he was so exhausted when he reached the top, that it was a long time before he could be brought to.

All these divers were Malabars, and brought up to the habit of diving from their infancy, so I doubt if they are to be surpassed anywhere, although I well remember reading, in my younger days, in a standard work which, I believe, was an “ Encyclopedia” in about thirty volumes, that it was usual for pearl divers to remain twenty minutes under water without inconvenience! an assertion that, for the benefit of others who

be impressed with the same idea imbibed from the same source, I should wish the promulgator to be requested to prove in his own person. What makes me so well remember the circumstance, was my standing out at the time, single-handed, in all the obstinacy of ten summers, against the “Encyclopedia," on the point ; a piece of temerity that was chastised by a two hours' earlier dose of bed than usual, to my utter disgust.

As soon as the boats are sufficiently loaded with oysters, a sailing match takes place for the shore among them, and a very good idea of a monster regatta it gives one. The troops on duty are now drawn out on the beach, to see that the oysters are not appropriated by any one, before being sold by auction, or placed in the government store. This is a large quadrangular space, guarded by four lofty walls; the floor being an inclined plane, intersected with numerous gutters, through which small streams of water are continually running from a reservoir in which the oysters, not sold by auction, are placed to rot and open.

As soon, however, as the oysters have been landed, as many as possible are put up in small lots and sold; and a very amusing part of the business it constituted, being a complete lottery, as one might purchase five pounds' worth of oysters without being recompensed by a single pearl, whilst the private soldier investing his penny or twopence in the purchase of half a dozen, might find a prize valuable enough to purchase his discharge, and keep bim in clover for the remainder of his existence. I recollect one man (an English corporal) coming to me with a pearl he had extracted from his


pennyworth of oysters, which was as large as a cherry-stone, and for which he asked me five shillings. As I believed I could get the owner at least 5001. for it, I persuaded him to forthwith accompany me to a pearl merchant in the bazaar, who, on examining it, offered forty rupees (41.) for it. Unfortunately, it was a black, discoloured, pearl, although perfectly round. Had it been white and transparent, he said he would have caught at it for 10,000 rupees (10001.), so much depends on the shape and transparency of a pearl in its value.

But determined to make a profit or loss in our own private dealings, each officer might be seen sitting outside his barrack-room every morning with about a couple of hundred oysters piled on one side of him, and a bucket of water on the other, backing his lot, to the amount of his day's pay, to contain more pearls than that of his neighbour, while the witnessing the avidity with which every one wrenched open his oyster in hopes of treasure was most amusing.

Formerly the government used to keep all these oysters itself, and have them opened in the store by men chosen on purpose, instead of selling them by auction ; but these fellows got so expert, that even although they were closely watched, they would manage to jerk a pearl from the oyster-shell into their mouths without being detected, and swallow it ; a proceeding, however, if discovered, that entailed a very summary mode of punishment under the hands of a native doctor. The oysters that are not now sold are placed into the reservoir before-mentioned that stands in the store, and here they die and open of themselves. The pearls then immediately drop from them, and are carried by the water continually flowing through the reservoir into the gutters, until they are caught by a small gauze network, through which the water passes, leaving the pearls behind, and they are then picked up in large quantities. Very few of these pearls, I understand, are sent home, all finding a sale on the coast of India, among the richer class of natives.

When the fishery is about half over, the nuisance commences. All the oysters that have been placed in the government store to open, begin to putrify under the rays of a burning sun, and the stench surpasses any pestilence ever inflicted on the earth. Then commences fever, cholera, dysentery, and all the concomitant ills of foul air, filth, and heat. For miles and miles in the jungle will the disgusting effluvium be carried in the direction of the wind, and to prevent being too nearly exposed to it, the barracks are situated at a distance of two miles from the place, yet even there it is at times intolerable, particularly at night. Had the oysters been eatable, we might have assisted to lessen the number left to decay, but they never are eaten by natives or English, being very dissimilar to our own oysters, and few of them being smaller than a dessertplate, so that one oyster, if a man were bold enough to make a trial, would make half a dozen patés, or an entire “ scallop” of itself.

Our mess-room consisted of a tent erected on the sands, not at a great distance from the surf; and there being a tolerable supply of game in the neighbourhood, no sooner was the arduous morning occupation of pearlhunting over, than an early “tiffin” would follow, and every one would sally forth in pursuit of adding some little delicacy to our table in the evening

But, talking of delicacies!—I made a discovery there, that had I done the same at home, and been born a cook instead of an ensign, Carême himself would have done homage to me.

It happened one day, after having been out and finding nothing for several hours, that on tumbling up some rocks to get a good view of the sea, 1 came upon an animal never encountered before in all my excursions, and which, at first, rather astonished me. The first thing I did was to drop in a bullet over the shot already in the gun, and shoot him. On coming up to the animal, I found, to my horror, that I had shot my own crest (a most unlucky omen, I should fancy), and a “Porcupine,” in all the fretfulness of a hundred quills, lay dead before me. However, I absolved my conscience for the murderous deed, by considering what an appropriate addition it would make, after being stuffed, to a family lobby; and advanced to lift him up to carry home for this purpose, a proceeding I found easier to imagine than to perform ; until, by tying his legs together, and in this way slinging him across my gun, I managed to get along pretty comfortably, with the exception of a sharp prick or two now and then.

It was under these circumstances that I unluckily fell in with a large shooting party, and my staggering along with a porcupine on my shoulders formed a source of caricatures and jokes that never left me whilst I remained in the island. A luminous idea now struck me, that, instead of having him stuffed, I would most decidedly eat him (metamorphosing him from stuffée to stuffer), so ensconcing myself in a quiet nook of the Jungle, I soon stripped him of his quills, and having gained the cook’s affection by a present of two rix-dollars, we put him into a pie, and served him up that night at mess! I had the “helping” it, and passed it off as vealpie (as it most resembled that in appearance), and all I know is, that I began to be very much afraid I should have none left for myself, as every body present became a customer ; at last, did secure a morsel, and nothing more exquisitely delicious did I ever taste in my life-so excellent was it, that had there been a pie apiece, I believe they would have all been demolished—for the major, who was our commandant, and a great gourmand, immediately asked the mess-cook where he got his meat, which worthy immediately pointed at me, and said, “G-, saib, give it, present."

Of course every one looked to me for an explanation ; as, how I could get better veal than any one else was a mystery. I then told the party that it was “the porcupine ;” and never shall I forget the horror depicted in most of their faces : some turned as pale as ghosts, and yelled for petits verres of cognac, whilst others tried to laugh at and disbelieve it. However, so excellent was it, that I was determined, if possible, to have another pie, and the next day I found a nest of porcupines in the neighbourhood of the scene of the former one's destruction ; and although, on the second production of the dish, I was only joined in the delicacy by a very green” ensign, still, before a fortnight was over, one by one became a convert, and “G—'s dish,” or “ porcupine pie,” got to such a premium-the demand exceeding the supply-that the animals became exhausted ; and no more “materials” could be got within a dozen miles, the “fretful” animal having become, no doubt, too “crusty" to show out with only the prospect of a pie before him.

I here had an opportunity, one morning, of practically deciding the truth of the opposite theories, entertained by the celebrated


« PreviousContinue »