The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69
John Mullins's Bird
John Mullins's Bird.
"Well, what's the matter with you, Mullins?"
"Arrah musha, sir, I don't know; but cure me, doctor, for the love of God, and you can have all the rupaas (rupees) I've got in the bank."
"Oh! how many have you?" said the doctor.
"Oh," said John, "a whole lot."
"All right," said Dr. Griffin, who was fond of a joke, "we'll see what we can do for you."
So he gave the necessary instructions, and among the items of diet sago was mentioned. John heard all.
Next day the doctor asked him how he was doing.
"I'm no better, doctor, and I didn't get that bird you ordered me yesterday."
"What bird," said the doctor.
"Why, that seagull," said John.
"Why, you d—d fool, I said nothing about a seagull; however, if you'd like one, perhaps one of your comrades will shoot one for you." There were plenty close at hand.
John got all right and lived to come to this colony. He was a powerful man, though well up in years, having joined the army after passing over the lino of middle age.
The first month after our arrival in Aden John's credit at the bank was read out to him, so many rupees, annas, &c. It had been changed, of course, from £ s. d. John roared out, "To h—ll with the rupaas, let me hear me credit in pounds. What do I know about your rupaas?" and it took some time to convince him that so many rupees represented so many pounds. John was one of those men that could say a great deal without getting himself into trouble, as his disposition was well known.page 28
Poor old Stephen Maloney and John were comrades for years. When in Taranaki in '87 had I known that poor old Maloney was there, I would have gone to see him if the journey involved a twenty-miles walk. I am sure he was ignorant of my being there, or he would have looked me up. He was in my company for many years. I first saw him on 6th March, 1856, when I was transferred to the "Die Hards" in the Crimea. He was in the same company up to some time after arriving in this colony. When I first saw him he must have been older than I am now, so at the time of his death he must have been close on ninety.
John Mullins was a very saving man, so much so that he was often tempted to do some very strange things. I do not infer anything dishonest. Here is one thing he did. He was out of blacking, but did not relish the idea of having to hand out the price of a box. Men did not care to lend such things to one who would never purchase if he could avoid it. A man who had an extra box said to him, "Look here, John, if you'll eat half of this you may keep the other to use." "All right," said John, jumping at the offer, and the full box of blacking was cut fairly in two, and he ate the half. It didn't make him sick, but it did some of those who witnessed the beastly operation.
The cholera paid us a visit and remained about three weeks, and 1300 of the inhabitants and a number of Sepoys succumbed to its ravages, but, strange to say, not one European was taken off. We were not allowed out except on duty during this exciting time. We could see them being carried past about 300 yards from our bungalows; the train of Doolies passing to the hospital. Another might be seen taking away the dead to the place of burial or cremation.
We had a theatrical company among us, and put some very fair pieces on the stage. During an interval in one night's performance, two of our lady characters went out to refresh themselves at the canteen in their stage garb, and well got up. Some Jack tars were about from Steamer Point and spotted them in among the men in the canteen. They soon had them in tow and strutting about the square. The tars were piling it on, when the stage bell rang. They gathered up their skirts, and one said to the other, "Come on, Tom, or by jingo we'll be late," and away they flew, leaving the tars thunderstruck, and when they found their breath one said, "By heavens that's two of them d—d soldier actors."page 29
One night when all was quiet and nothing could be heard but the sentry calling "All's well," and the jackall on the rocks close at hand, and all the men sound in the land of Nod, a big black fellow stole into one of the bungalows, unnoticed by the sentry. It is thought that he came round the rocks from the mainland. However, he got in, and there was of course nothing to keep him out, for the bungalows are nearly all doors and windows, and in this delightful spot they were nearly always open, and a light burning all night. He selected a time when all would be sound asleep, and but for some man turning in bed and opening his eyes, he might have been there till morning. This man saw him turning down the bed clothes, and he jumped up and gave the alarm. The visitor received some pretty rough handling from our quartermaster, who was soon on the spot. The fellow got a rare good shaking, and he was marched off to the cells, and in the morning it was discovered that he was terribly affected with smallpox. Then there was a hubbub. Every one who had touched him, or had been where he had been or walked, became rather uneasy. He was taken away by the civil authority from our midst, and bottles of disinfectants were scattered about ad lib. The fellow had been placing green leaves close to the sleeper, to, as was supposed, set the horrible disease among us. He was not quite right in the upper story, and in consequence had been induced to undertake the work; but he did not succeed, and he was packed off to the mainland, and the event was soon almost forgotten.
Doing sentry duty in the wee hours was a very dreary thing indeed, no matter if every available moment during the day had been taken advantage of and devoted to sleep. This from various causes was impossible.
One night I was on from 12 to 2, and the whole length of the lines had to be looked to. Everything was open—no gates to lock at night—so the sentry could walk round the whole space occupied. I soon found it impossible to keep my eyes open. I therefore got at one end and squared myself for the other, locked my arms round my rifle at the old support, shut my eyes, and marched off in slow, very slow, time, and by the time I was at the other end I had enjoyed a very fair snooze. I went back and did it over again. Had I walked back over the same ground, I was liable to walk away out of our lines altogether, but could not the way I did it, as a high rock was there to stop me.page 30
Another night I was posted in front—the road leading to the town. I was just in front of the last building. Here, again, I was overcome, and quietly took a seat on a big stone close to the wall, locked my rifle, and off I went. On such occasions the slightest noise would rouse me up. Something did on this occasion. It was a moonlight night, and as I opened my eyes I counted seventeen jackals, all within less than that number of yards from me. Sleep soon went off me, and there I sat, highly amused at their capers, and did not move for some time. Then I gradually drew one foot well under and sprang up, and the way they flew up the rocks close by was worth seeing. Before I moved, one would sneak up close and dodge back again. As they get very little to eat and are nearly all blessed with a very fair appetite, that number would have been able to dispose of me at their ease.
Jackals are rather innocent things if you are on the alert, but I don't think they are very choice in their food. We often wondered how they existed. They and the hyenas frequently came down and helped themselves to our water. They could never get anything to eat, for the hawks took care of all scraps, for the moment you threw a thing out of your hand, several would be down after it. They kept the lines very clean, and no one was allowed to injure them. We often had a bit of fun, though. Get a newspaper, tie it to the end of a string, and a bone or bit of meat at the other. This would soon be nipped up, and away would go the paper in the air, and all the hawks would go for the one with the paper, and he would have a very lively time of it until he got the string detached and the paper dropped.