The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69
Cooking Steak on the Rocks.
Englishmen, as a rule, enjoy a steak rather under than overdone. Many, perhaps, have heard of cooking on the page 36 rocks. Well, all you had to do in Aden if you required it, was to cut a thin steak and put it on the rocks, and it would soon be fit to eat. You'd have to stand by and watch it though, or a hawk would save you the trouble of eating it.
A Grunting Fish.
A few of us on our return from a morning swim remained watching some Arabs fishing from a breakwater near the Isthmus. We were very interested in the way they were pulling up the finny tribe. The line was no sooner in than up came a fish. We were not long there before a member of a very strange species was hauled up. It was not unlike a hedgehog at first glance. The natives seemed somewhat startled at it. We were particularly so, for the instant it dropped on land it commenced to grunt like a pig, and at every grunt it gave it swelled out so rapidly from about the size of a hedgehog to that of a large wire dish-cover, and not unlike it in shape. "Good heavens!" said one of my companions, "they've caught Old Nick," and he cleared; and as we all wanted our breakfast, we followed. This was the only time I had ever heard a fish trying to tell us of the wonders of the deep.
Refuge Tower at the Isthmus.
This is a structure of some note, perched as it is on the top of a conically-shaped rock. There are two ways of getting up by steps. If my memory serves me correctly, there are 91 steps in one and 93 in the other. Each step is about a foot high. This renders it all the more tedious to get up or down. There are no handrails to assist; therefore it requires a little nerve, to those, at any rate, who are at all timid in ascending to any great height. It would be a difficult place to take, for a dozen men could knock over hundreds as they came up. I only went up once just to say I had been up. I was glad to find that all others had about the same feeling about this as I had. I believe I know people now who would suffer a great deal rather than go up.
The Strike Among the Cooks.
I omitted to mention that after our return from the mainland from chastising the Arabs, there was a strike among our cooks (Somalies). This did not arise through a want of increased wages. It came about thus: The three days' cooked provisions, or the meat portion (pork), was, page 37 rather than throw it away, handed over to us to dispose of in the usual manner. Those chaps, of course, had a holy horror of pork, and they left, and would not come within cooey of us for three weeks, until all sign of the pork had been cleared from all the utensils used. Some Portuguese cooks were engaged in their stead. These fellows were not so particular, and we soon found out it was not to our advantage to keep them. They were too fond of that which we should have.
Bullets in Living Men.
A good deal has been said and written concerning men carrying bullets about in their bodies for years. We had two instances among our Aden detachment.
A sergeant (Lewis) who had been in the service of the Queen of Spain under Sir De Lacy Evans in 1835, received a bullet in the body, recovered from his wound, and after his return to England he entered our army, and went with the "Die Hards" to the Crimea. Then he went to Aden with us, and either in 1858 or 1859—I think the latter year—the bullet had worked down to the bottom of his foot, and a slight nick of the skin caused it to drop out. Lewis had been walking lame for years, and more so as the bullet got nearer the foot.
The other case was a Richard Hughes, who had his head in a bullet's way at Inkermann, and carried it till we were in Aden. We all knew there was something wrong about his nasal organ, not only from the tone of his voice, but from the constant little efforts to blow something out—something not usually expected. So one day out came this something in the shape of a Russian bullet, much to poor Hughes's relief. Hughes died soon after this—not through losing the bullet. Other causes could be traced, which cut off a real good soldier, and one of the most willing, energetic men I ever met. He had a stripe or two several times; but he was rather too fond of his drop ever to expect to go up to the three.
Good Water Drinkers.
The Somali women work very hard; the fact is they do all the most laborious work. Quite a crowd of them gather at the Arab Gate every morning to rush out as soon as it is opened. They go out to the mainland for bundles of wood. The loads they bring would astonish a stranger. They carry the bundle on the small of the back, on which they have a page 38 soft pad, of the improver stamp of the present day. They travel several miles out, then from the Arab Gate to town, another few miles. When they reach the Arab Gate with their loads they usually take a rest, and when relieved of the load they cannot stand straight for a considerable time. Some would call at the bungalow of the European on duty there for a drink of water. It was impossible to respond to every call, as will be shown further on, for it would take several pauney-whallas (water-carriers) all their time to keep up the supply.
One afternoon, not long before closing time (sun-set), a diminutive, withered old creature came to the door salaaming for a drink. The chatty was nearly full at the time, so I thought I would see how much she would drink, and I told her to satisfy her thirst. This pleased her, and she started. I was leaning on a stretcher reading, but could readily count the number of pints she would despatch. I had often watched one drink six or seven, but then they had not permission as this one had to take her fill. She went on, and when the number reached ten I left off reading and gazed with as much astonishment as she put forth efforts to use up all my water. Before she took a spell thirteen pints had disappeared, and I concluded that she had used nearly all, and went over to see, but there was still a fair quantity left, and I told her to wire in, which she readily did, and four more pints went out of sight, making in all 17 pints. Well, I thought to myself, I've been and done a fine thing for myself; there'll be an inquest over this, and when I say I allowed her to drink 17 pints of water they'll blame me for her death, and I vowed if I got safely over this that I would limit them to six pints in future.
While I was thus cogitating and giving myself unnecessary anxiety, she salaamed me and walked off. It was fortunate she was not encumbered with corsets or other tight laced apparel. Her shrivelled appearance would suggest her to be about 150 years old. The men never do that sort of work, they seem to be above it. They usually attend to the Europeans as cooks, boot-blacks, scrubbers, &c. They look on the aged women as only fit for hard work; for the young folks, I find that some of our young race are not adverse to this sort of thing either, having no objection whatever to see their parents do all the work if they will. Many parents I feel sure will agree with this remark. Fancy one small person putting 17 pints of water out of sight.page 39
I once put myself into a similar predicament. I went to the doctor for a dose of medicine, and I thought he gave me an emetic, so I went and procured a camp kettle full of warm water, and went to a sly place to drink some of it, to bring back the dose. I got about half way through the water, then tried to bring it up; but it wouldn't move. On I went and finished the water; then poked my finger as far as I could down my throat. That was no use. Then I procured a long straw; but the result was the same—I was compelled to slacken out. However, I told no one what had occurred, as I did not care to let my chums see what an ass I had made of myself. Some concluded that I was developing rapidly into a dropsical patient, and that there would be a funeral in the company in a day or two; but there wasn't, at least not on my account.
A Fair Game.
I have said that the Somali men were very active and fond of games. They had a system of gambling which deserves notice. A number of them would squat round in a circle on the ground, and each would put down a coin in front of him, and then they'd gaze, sometimes for many minutes, as mute as possible. Then suddenly one would scoop the pool. I was curious one day to ask why it was grabbed up by one, and it was explained that whoever owned the coin on which a fly would first alight was the winner. For fairness I think it would be hard to beat that game, for it would be difficult to have a trained fly of one's own which could distinguish its owner's coin. We have heard lately of trained fleas; but I have not heard yet of trained flies.
Every Monday morning a supply of porter and arrack had to be brought from the commissariat store, some distance away, and for this purpose two or three good judges of liquors were taken on a bullock dray to sample the various barrels. Those not considered good were at once emptied out on the ground. Those men generally came home gloriously tight. This being a duty, they were of course privileged.
To relate the system of liquor supply to the men will not be out of place here. Each man was allowed to purchase two pints of porter and two glasses of arrack a day. The check was thus: A roll of each company was placed on a board page 40 which hung on the wall. Opposite each name were four small holes. Through each was a tape with a knot on each end to prevent its being pulled through. The string was about an inch long. Before any drinks were issued (the first supply was at noon) all the strings were pulled back, hanging behind the board. According as a man had a drink a string was pulled out, and when they all hung to the front a man was supposed to be done for the day; but as the profits of the canteen sergeant depended on the quantity sold, he was not always inquisitive enough to ask names. He knew who could stand extra allowance. Sometimes the strings would by mistake or some other cause get pulled back, so that he would not be seen serving a man who had four knots hanging opposite his name.
As proof that canteen sergeants were not too exacting in seeking names, here is an instance:—
Mick Kervin made an exception once in sharing with another, three annas. He decided to drink their worth himself. As time was short, and he thought if he shouted for anyone he was running a certain risk in not getting a return that night, so he went into the canteen and called for "three glasses of arrack."
"Who are they for?" said the Sergeant.
Mick replied, "there's one for me, one for Kervin, and one for Ladawacks (a nickname)."
He got the three lots, took them aside, and put them out of sight. Now this Sergeant knew every man of the detachment just as well as I do the number of my own children; indeed, I think better, for I have often had to pause when asked how many boys and how main-girls there were—rough, isn't it?
Mick was a very innocent man, as harmless as a babe. Officers and all shared this opinion of him. Mick did not know his age, and he was one of those whose age you could not get at within a dozen years or so. The nearest approach Mick could go to it was that he could "jist remember the night of the big wind." When and where Old Boreas had displayed his power which Mick could remember none of us could guess.
Mick wanted an advance of pay one day. His Captain was present to see it paid, and Mick walked up to him, and put his mouth close to his ear and whispered, "I want ten rupees to-day."page 41
The Captain, good humoredly, put his mouth to Mick's ear and replied, "all right."
When the others had been paid the Captain said to the pay Sergeant that Kervin wanted ten rupees.
"His account won't stand it," was the reply.
The Captain then turned to Mick and said, "whatever do you want of so much money? Do you want to get married?
"Well," said Mick, "I'd not mind that same, but, be gorrah, there's none here would have me but blacks, and if I took one of them to ould Ireland, I'd be kicked out of the house, so I would."
It ended in Mick receiving only five rupees; this would not last him long, as he rarely went to bed worth an anna. Mick was usually blessed with a remarkably good appetite, and his regular rations did not at all times satisfy him, so he often ran to the canteen for what he called a "chest opener," this was a pound loaf. Salt beef was issued once a week, and Mick would frequently be heard wishing the day to come round, for he always got a good fill that day. It made him so thirsty that he had to resort to the water chatty.
Many are aware that French soldiers are far away above ours in looking after number one when on a campaign, and things must be scarce indeed if they cannot only procure enough for their own use, but turn in some honest coins by selling to others. If in the vicinity of English troops they look upon them as solid cash, as they are easily caught. The following proof will amply show this. The victim is still in the flesh within the bounds of the Provincial District of Wellington.
One day a French soldier called at the hut of the Grenadier Company of the Die Hards in the Crimea, with what he called a rabbit. Everything that could have told the tale was carefully taken off, and the animal was just ready for the cook. The price asked and obtained was 3s. 6d., and the man went off rejoicing. The next day he came around crying "meeow," "meeow." It then dawned upon those who had feasted that they had eaten a cat, and such was the case. It was useless offering any more rabbits in that quarter. Frequently' they would come round collecting all the spare biscuits, to even the sweepings of the huts, take it away, grind it up, make it into bread, and come next day and sell a loaf page 42 for perhaps 2s. or 2s. 6d. Meet a French soldier in the Crimea and you could bet a thousand to one that you could purchase from him a tot of cognac.