Rambles and recollections of an Indian official!
Major-General Sir W. H. Sleeman, K.C.B.
Basaltic Cappings—Interview with a Native Chief—A Singular Character

On the 5th[1] we came to the village of Seorī. Soon after leaving Dhamonī, we descended the northern face of the Vindhya range into the plains of Bundēlkhand. The face of this range overlooking the valley of the Nerbudda to the south is, as I have before stated, a series of mural precipices, like so many rounded bastions, the slight dip of the strata being to the north.


The northern face towards Bundēlkhand, on the contrary, here descends gradually, as the strata dip slightly towards the north, and we pass down gently over their back. The strata have, however, been a good deal broken, and the road was so rugged that two of our carts broke down in descending. From the descent over the northern face of the tableland into Bundēlkhand to the descent over the southern face into the valley of the Nerbudda must be a distance of one hundred miles directly north and south.


The descent over the northern face is not everywhere so gradual; on the contrary, there are but few places where it is at all feasible; and some of the rivers of the tableland between Jubbulpore and Mirzapore have a perpendicular fall of more than four hundred feet over these mural precipices of the northern face of the Vindhya range.[2] A man, if he have good nerve, may hang over the summits, and suspend in his hand a plummet that shall reach the bottom.


I should mention that this tableland is not only intersected by ranges, but everywhere studded with isolated hills rising suddenly out of basins or valleys. These ranges and isolated hills are all of the same sandstone formation, and capped with basalt, more or less amygdaloidal. The valleys and cappings have often a substratum of very compact basalt, which must evidently have flowed into them after these islands were formed. The question is, how were these valleys and basins scooped out?


'Time, time, time!' says Mr. Scrope; 'grant me only time, and I can account for everything.' I think, however, that I am right in considering the basaltic cappings of these ranges and isolated hills to have once formed part of continued flat beds of great lakes. The flat parallel planes of these cappings, corresponding with each other, however distantly separated the hills they cover may be, would seem to indicate that they could not all have been subject to the convulsions of nature by which the whole substrata were upheaved above the ocean.


I am disposed to think that such islands and ranges of the sandstone were formed before the deposit of the basalt, and that the form of the surface is now returning to what it then was, by the gradual decomposition and wearing away of the latter rock. Much, however, may be said on both sides of this, as of every other question. After descending from the sandstone of the Vindhya[3] range into Bundēlkhand, we pass over basalt and basaltic soil, reposing immediately on syenitic granite, with here and there beds and veins of pure feldspar, hornblende, and quartz.


Takht Singh, the younger brother of Arjun Singh, the Rājā of Shāhgarh,[4] came out several miles to meet me on his elephant. Finding me on horseback, he got off from his elephant, and mounted his horse, and we rode on till we met the Rājā himself, about a mile from our tents. He was on horseback, with a large and splendidly dressed train of followers, all mounted on fine sleek horses, bred in the Rājā's own stables.


He was mounted on a snow-white steed of his own breeding (and I have rarely seen a finer animal), and dressed in a light suit of silver brocade made to represent the scales of steel armour, surmounted by a gold turban. Takht Singh was more plainly dressed, but is a much finer and more intelligent-looking man. Having escorted us to our tents, they took their leave, and returned to their own, which were pitched on a rising ground on the other side of a small stream, half a mile distant.


Takht Singh resides here in a very pretty fortified castle on an eminence. It is a square building, with a round bastion at each corner, and one on each face, rising into towers above the walls.


A little after midday the Rājā and his brother came to pay us a visit; and about four o'clock I went to return it, accompanied by Lieutenant Thomas. As usual, he had a nautch (dance) upon carpets, spread upon the sward under awnings in front of the pavilion in which we were received.


While the women were dancing and singing, a very fine panther was brought in to be shown to us. He had been caught, full-grown, two years before, and, in the hands of a skilful man, was fit for the chase in six months. It was a very beautiful animal, but, for the sake of the sport, kept wretchedly thin.[5] He seemed especially indifferent to the crowd and the music, but could not bear to see the woman whirling about in the dance with her red mantle floating in the breeze; and, whenever his head was turned towards her, he cropped his ears. She at last, in play, swept close by him, and with open mouth he attempted to spring upon her, but was pulled back by the keeper. She gave a shriek, and nearly fell upon her back in fright.


The Rājā is a man of no parts or character, and, his expenditure being beyond his income, he is killing his goose for the sake of her eggs—that is, he is ruining all the farmers and cultivators of his large estate by exactions, and thereby throwing immense tracts of fine land out of tillage. He was the heir to the fortress and territory of Garhā Kotā, near Sāgar, which was taken by Sindhia's army, under the command of Jean Baptiste Filose,[6] just before our conquest in 1817.


I was then with my regiment, which was commanded by Colonel, afterwards Major- General, G———,[7] a very singular character. When our surgeon. Dr. E———, received the newspaper announcing the capture of Garhā Kotā in Central India by Jean-Baptiste, an officer of the corps was with him, who called on the colonel on his way home, and mentioned this as a bit of news.


As soon as this officer had left him, the colonel wrote off a note to the doctor: 'My dear Doctor,—I understand that that fellow, John the Baptist, has got into Sindhia's service, and now commands an army—do send me the newspapers.'


These were certainly the words of his note, and, at the only time I heard him speak on the subject of religion he discomfited his adversary in an argument at the mess by 'Why, sir, you do not suppose that I believe in those fellows, Luther, Calvin, and John the Baptist, do you?'


Nothing could stand this argument. All the party burst into a laugh, which the old gentleman took for an unequivocal recognition of his victory, and his adversary was silenced. He was an old man when I first became acquainted with him. I put into his hands, when in camp, Miss Edgeworth's novels, in the hope of being able to induce him to read by degrees; and I have frequently seen the tears stealing down over his furrowed cheeks, as he sat pondering over her pages in the corner of his tent.


A braver soldier never lived than old G———; and he distinguished himself greatly in the command of his regiment, under Lord Lake, at the battle of Laswāri[8] and siege of Bharatpur.[9] It was impossible ever to persuade him that the characters and incidents of these novels were the mere creations of fancy—he felt them to be true—he wished them to be true, and he would have them to be true.


We were not very anxious to undeceive him, as the illusion gave him pleasure and did him good. Bolingbroke says, after an ancient author, 'History is philosophy teaching by example.'[10] With equal truth may we say that fiction, like that of Maria Edgeworth, is philosophy teaching by emotion. It certainly taught old G——— to be a better man, to leave much of the little evil he had been in the habit of doing, and to do much of the good he had been accustomed to leave undone.



Notes: