Besieged on a Locomotive.
I was stationed at Sooramnn.','alum in 1875, where I formed a dose friendship with Tom Newdegate, the assistant traffic manager of the western section of the Chenuaputnam Railway. It was a very hot June evening; and Tom and I were stretched in long American chairs in the verandah of my bungalow, smoking our trichies, when my " boy " came to ask for my instructions about a journey I had to make by train on the following day to a station a few miles down the line.
The prospect was not a pleasant one, as the land wind was still prevailing, and I bad little inclination to face that parching, fiery blast. Therefore I did not look forward with eagerness to spending a dayiu the Dak bungalow at Snnkery Droog. " Why not go to-night ?" asked Tom. " I am running a special ' goods' to Pothanore at twelve o'clock, and you can bo dropped at Sunkery. Or, better still, I will go with you; r.nd we will ride on the engine, the coolest place in the train by day or night." I readily closed with the offer, the chance of travelling by night instead of by day at that time of the year being too good to bo lost; and telling my boy to pack up a day's provisions, not forgetting a bottle of Exsbaw and half a doznn sodas, and, ordering the black chef to join him with his cooking utensils, Tom and I dozed oft' in our chairs to bo wakened at half-past eleven o'clock. At that hour precisely we wero aroused by the boy's monotonous " Sah! Sab !" and wo were forthwith driven to the j railway station. J We were soon otf, and I found out at j once that Tom was right about the engine j being the coolest place. The velocity of the engine creates a current of air J which r.ipidly absorbs the abundant mois- j tures thrown out from one's pores when the j thermometer registers 90deg at midnight. With our cheroots burning fragrantly we bowled along very chattily, and felt regretful that we bad not a longer run before us. Nothing worthy of notice had happened until the driver ordered his firemen to make up the fnruace. Sooramungalum being upwatxls of i'oo miles from the sea, coal or compressed patent fuel would be too costly to bum in the engines on account of the expense of bringing it from the coast; besides, coal perishes very rapidly under a tropical sun. Therefore, the furnaces are constructed to burn wood, of which there is a, fair supply i available from the company's jungle reserves. J Of course, all fuel is precious, and drivers must take the fat witli the lean—that is, roots as well as logs. Now, snakes very much affect the hollow crevices of roots of old trees in India ; and thus they aro frequency carried into the wood yards at the railway stations, and thence aro occasionally transferred to the engine tenders. This was exactly our eas«:. As the fireman took up a log to throw it into the furnace, down dropped a lively cobra on to the footplate. It was not a very large specimen of " spectacles "—about 4ft loDg—but a onefoot hooder is quite enough to grant a passport to the stoutest man that ev«r hopped, and to frank him to that country from whose bourne no traveller returns. So, being four | human beings on that foot-plate, and | quently somewhat crowded, we skipped; back with much alacrity. Unfortunately none of us had a stick, or the matter could speedily have been ended. As it was, all we could hope for was that the reptile would i glide off the engine and drop on to the [ track. 3
But the creature showed no inclination to ; go. Either it knew the by-law against j leaving the train whilst in motion, or it> liked the fierce heat from the open furnace, j It reared itself up, and in the hope _ of; frightening it I made a kick at it, taking; care, of course, not to let my foot go within j striking distance, as my light ducks would j have heen no protection against those awful i fangs. , j It was an unfortunate demonstration ; for i the snake, so far from being intimidated,, accepted the menace as a casus belli, and advanced upon us. We were besieged ! The driver 3prang out on one side of the i engine, holding on to the hand-rail which j runs along the boiler ; the fireman went uj> | the pile of logs behind him like a mountain j cat; Tom vanished from the scene on the i opposite side of the. engine to that the driver I had taken, calling to me to him. They were all as much at home skipping around the engine in the dark as squirrels on ; the top branches of a beech tree; but to me j the unfamiliar situation was perfectly be- j wildering, and, being partly fascinated by j the loathsome thing, I was unable to stir, j and my feet seemed rooted to the spot. j The cobra raised itself to strike ! ( I tried to jump off the engine, but I could ! not move. I would have called out, but horror had tied my tongue. The next instant I expected to receive the mortal wound, when the fireman slipped down from the logs behind the snake, seized it by the tail, and flung it bodily into the furnace. It was a relief to see that cobra squirming in the fire. .... Sunkery Droog signals were now in sight; and Tom and I were soon after enjoying a peg in the station. But before the tram went on there was a short interview between that fireman and myself; and by the very broad grin on his good-natured face, and the " Salaam, Iyer !" with which be brought both palms to his forehead, I judged he was well satisfied. Certainly I was.— ' Blackwood.'
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Besieged on a Locomotive., Evening Star, Issue 8048, 26 October 1889, Supplement