One morning whilst stationed at B , I was taking my cup of tea and cheroot at the “coffee shop,” i. e., the verandah of Bachelor’s Hall, a bungalow in which dwelt four jolly young fellows, and where most of the young officers congregated after their morning ride, or parade, to take their “chota hazree,” or small breakfast, the larger meal being generally three or four hours later.
After gossiping for some time about the chances of promotion, or of active service, of the merits of our respective Arabs, and of the girls last from England, a young Scotch assistant-surgeon who had lately joined the regiment, turning to Sinclair, a lieutenant of some seven or eight years’ standing, said in a broad accent:
“Seenclair, you’re a bit dabbler in natural heestory, though ye ha’not my skeel in it, what d’ye think o’ my deescoovery of a new species of snake, wi’ horuns on its head?”
“Stuff,” returned Sinclair, “you are always making some boast or other, and you are conceited enough to take any credit to yourself.”
“Weel, that’s unco’ unpoleete, and I dinna thank ye for it; but what I state’s a fack, for I deesteenckly saw the beast this morn’s morn with my ain eyes.”
“And why did you not try to kill it?”
“So I did; but the sleepery repteel got into a hole before ye could coont sax; but my sais saw it too, speer at him aboot it.”
The man was called accordingly, but was not forthcoming at that time, having gone to the bazaar for grain for his master’s horse, so the subject dropped for the present.
The doctor’s chum, a young ensign, afterwards informed us that he, the doctor, on returning home, prepared the scroll of a letter addressed to the secretary of some Naturalists’ Society in Scotland, in which he announced, in grandiloquent language, his discovery of a new species of snake with horns growing out of its head, leaving the technical details to be filled up after he had caught and examined a specimen. This letter he showed to his chum, with much bragging about the fame he should get, that the snake would be called “Serpens Macgillivry,” after him, &c.
The next morning, the same party being assembled at the coffee-shop, the subject was again referred to, and the doctor’s was sent for.
On the man appearing and making many aalams to the sahibs, he was questioned by his master, who would not lose the opportunity of showing off his proficiency in the language, of which, however, he really knew very little.
“Hussun Khan, yesterday morning did you not see a snake with things” (turning to us), “What’s the Hindustani for horuns?” as nobody would enlighten him, he went on, using pantomime, and putting up a finger at each side of his head, “things like these on his head?”
“Yes, protector of the poor, I saw it.”
“There,” said the excited naturalist to us, “I told ye so. Who’s richt noo? If I can only get a speecimen, my fortun’s made.” Then, turning to the sais, he said in bad Hindustani, “I’ll give you five rupees for a live snake like that, and one rupee for a dead one: go and dig at the hole where we saw it go in.”
On this the man said something which his master evidently did not understand, but which caused most of those present to burst into roars of laughter. At last, Sinclair, when he was composed enough to speak, interpreted the sais’ reply, which was: “Why does the sahib want that particular snake? He would have swallowed the frog, legs and all, soon after we saw him, and become like any other snake.”
Doctor Macgillivry blushed to the roots of his red hair, and rushed away to his house, where his chum saw him tearing up and scattering to the winds the letter that was to announce to the world this great discovery. He then set to work and wrote an application for an exchange to another regiment, to which in due time he departed. His reputation as a naturalist followed him, however, and he was long badgered about “the snake with horns.”
G. P. S.