AN OFFICER'S DIARY OF A TWO MONTHS BOAT
EXPEDITION IN BURMAH.
September 18th. — Thermometer 104 degs. in sun, in shade 88 degs. Dull work lying here inactive, in a crowdy boat along the river's muddy bank, too hot to step ashore. The only break in our monotony is watching the natives, men, women, and children, come out to bathe, and swim astern of our boats, in which art all are alike adepts, hanging on from time to time for rest by our "painters," with the exciting change of watching their pantomimic critiques upon our manner, acts, and gestures, all squatting on their hams or "sit-upons," with arms across, both men and women, like so many overgrown apes. From morning to dewy eve they sit in wondering rows upon the summit of the bank, especially at meal times on deck, watching in jibbering amazement each movement of the spoon, or knife, or fork, to them great novelties, no doubt, chewing the eternal "betel nut," and chunem wrapped together in a green leaf, and carried by the convenient round perforation in the "ear-lobe." They use this betel preparation to blacken their teeth, and turn their lips a rose colour vermilion red; in Burmese man or woman, the outward proof of style, or fashion, in fact, the Burman equivalent for crinoline or peg top. As I was taking my accustomed bath at the stem of our boat this morning, an unmistakable sniff came floating down to leeward, I looked, and lo, a Burman corpse with bloated face upturned, swimming by me in the current, just clearing me in its course.
September 19th. — thermometer 103 degs air, shade 86 degs. Sunday, our usual tin of hot cocoa and biscuit at 5 a.m. Our more than usual dressing to-day after the swim, previous to the performance of Divine Service, after which (I presume the better day the better deed) we found ourselves in the midst of a rather strange scene. Our friend, the "Head man" of the town, having got up, I suppose for our amusement, a "piece" of a regatta with four of his war canoes, each paddled by some forty naked warriors accompanying each stroke most vigorously with all kinds of passionate gesticulations and outlandish yells. These canoes are low, and very long built of a single log, high-stemed where the steersman stands to ply his powerful guiding paddle— each carries a gingall in the bows; they are very swift, and with their many squatting paddlers convey to one's mind the idea of an enormous centipede, no doubt as venomous in war. The chief got up a "match," or kind of Indian ballet-dance, in which the Burmese women excel as in the drama too, to edify us barbarians when all the rank and beauty were assembled to gaze upon us "lions." One of our consorts went yesterday (to amuse a victim) to Sumbawa, a village said to be hostile, a short distance off, but returned at evening without the expected adventure. We also had a letter off, from the chief of a village a little higher up, scratched with a nail upon a piece of plantain leaf, most primitively, which being interpreted, we were told meant that the said chief being in league with Ava, challenged us to meet him at our own time. Our crafty chief of Hausedah (being a wooding station for our steamers) wished to destroy the message without interpreting it to us, fearing to lose the protection of our boats, being doubtless compromised with Ava, by aiding and supplying us with necessaries. Thermometer this day in air 102 degs., in shade 90 degs., water 85 degs.
Tuesday, September 21. — Glass in air 103 degs., shade 91 degs. Four or five cases to-day and yesterday occurred of vertigo and diarrhoea.
September 22nd. — Air 100 degs., shade 90 degs. ; wet and overcast. A boat came up to-day to say the Dacoits were at Sooloon, but not trusting to the informant's good faith or correctness of recital, we told the chief to send his war canoes to punish them.
September 24. — Air 103 degs., shade 91, weather hot and dry. I find that vertigo and diarrhoea are on the increase. Still at anchor; our first case of cholera appeared to-day.
On the 26th, I find that I have been so busy for the last few days that i can scarcely now collect and resume the thread of my subject. On the 24th we all went to a "sing song pigeon," or dramatic entertainment, got up by the Rajah in our honour, first having sailed some few miles up the river through a narrow creek— so narrow that we frequently got jammed in the coarse bulrushes, and had to drag the boat through it by main force, which, added to the invitation of the mosquitoes (now in full swing, as bad as ever), and a lurking attack by the Burmese being momentarily apprehended, exposed as we were to be raked by them from the canoes, whilst our gun could do nothing, made the prospect of a night spent so exceedingly uncomfortable, when, much to our relief by dint of sheer exertion, we found ourselves at midnight, again out in the open "Irrawaddi," and soon were back to our old anchorage. Tired out by the exposure of the day, I was in the land of dreams, of sweet and balmy slumber, when I was roused at three o'clock in the morning by an officer coming from one of our consort boats with a sick man who proved to be the most able of our party, now prostrate in the collapse of cholera. The pulse weak and fluttering, the countenance cadaverous, blue and pinched, not half the size of health an hour before, dry and parched, with eyes so far retreating as though the head were eyeless, having only hollow sockets, the extremities cold, shrivelled, bloodless, blue, in fact, a living corpse within three hours to be a corpse indeed. We interred him on the same morning on an uninhabited island beyond the river, marking his rude grave with a bamboo cross. Peace to his manes.