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Amusing Story from 'The Indian Engineer'


See Frederick Dibblee's career in India
Railways of Frederick Dibblee
Frederick Dibblee's Employment Record
Institution of Civil Engineers Obituary

This article was published in 1888, a few months before Frederick Dibblee died, about an amusing incident that happened while he was working on the Nagpur Survey. It is written in mock-Biblical language. There are some notes and explanations at the end.

From 'The Indian Engineer' April 18th 1888
Bengal-Nagpur Railway Survey 1881
Extract from the unofficial Progress Report

And it came to pass about this time that as he jouneyed he came to a place which is called Katgora, nigh unto the city of Bilaspur, which is chiefest of the cities which are in the provinces that are in the midst of the land; he and his wife and his men-servants and his maid-servants, and his cattle, among which were many of the tribe of Behemoths, that great beast, for the carrying of his tents and of his goods. Certain young men were also with him that were called 'the boys' who had come from the hill called Cooper's. There were also with him six flighting men of valour of the army of the country, men of a dark complexion withal, and a centurion was in command of the fighting men.

And it came to pass that, as he was sitting by the door of his tent, about the going down of the sun, and his wife and the young men, even the boys, behold there stood before him the centurion that commanded the six fighting men that were with him, and made obeisance unto him. Now this centurion was a mighty man and a valiant hunter; for it was known unto all men, that when at one time, a wild beast, even a bear had passed nigh unto the tents, he had gone for that wild beast, a staff only being in his hand, and had put him to flight. So his master harkened unto the words of the centurion, and he opened his mouth and said 'Let not my lord be angry, but hear what thy servant speaketh'. And he answered and said unto him 'Say on'. And he said: The women of this city have besought me saying, The wild beasts that are in this land do increase and multiply mightily, and do eat of our corn and the fruit of our trees, and do climb up into our high trees, even our Mohur trees, and do eat the fruit thereof, and the same fruit is an exceeding pleasant fruit, sweet even as the sweetness of honey unto the lips, but stinking in the nostrils of him that doeth eat thereof. From this fruit cometh also a wine even a strong wine that maketh glad our hearts. Wherefore we pray thee, speak unto my lord that he may make ready his sword and his mighty spear, and his other weapon wherefrom there cometh that great and terrible voice. And thus it will come to pass that he will smite the old beasts and we will live and not die, we and our little ones. Wherefore, my lord, be thou ready, and when the wild beasts draw near at night unto the Mohur trees, thy servant will make bold to tell thee of this thing.' Then his master arose and cried with a loud voice unto the centurion. 'Thou hast well said and it shall be even as thou hast spoken'. Then he called unto him a servant and commanded him saying: 'Bring me, I pray thee of the wine that is pressed in the island that is in the west, from the com that is called barley' and he brought it. Then he and the young men that were with him, even the boys, drank of the wine of the barley, mixed with water, and they refreshed their souls withal.

But his wife that was in the tent, hearing the words of the centurion, rejoiced greatly in her heart, and leapt for joy and smote her hands together and said within herself 'When my husband is sleeping with an exceeding heavy sleep, as his manner is, then will I arise and make ready his sword and his spear and his weapon with the great and terrible voice that smiteth from afar, farther than the arrow of the bowmen that are in this land. I will make ready also his shoes for his feet and his coat of strange and divers colours that he weareth in the morning. Then I will awake my lord and put his weapon into his hand, and he will arise and smite the wild beasts that eat of the fruit of the land and his soul will rejoice.

Now the woman was not at all afraid, for so it was aforetime that very early in the morning as they were journeying before it was yet day, she was alone, for the others were with the tents that were bound upon the back of Behemoth, half a day's journey behind her. And she had gone on before them to prepare a place where they should pitch their tents, and behold there came out and met her upon the way a mighty bear of a black and terrible countenance, and her visage did not change at all, neither was she afraid but pursued that wild beast even into the wilderness; and now she said within herself, 'Peradventure he shall come again. And it came to pass that when they had drunk of the wine and of the water that the man-servant had brought unto them, her lord and the young men that were with him arose up and departed, every man unto his own tent, for it was night. But the centurion slept not.

And lo, in the darkness of the night the centurion came softly unto the door of his lord's tent and in a still small voice spake and said: 'Master, Master, Baloo, Baloo!' Then his wife, hearing the words of the centurion, arose in haste and woke her lord. And he awoke and got him to his feet and walked even as one in a sleep walketh when he dreameth for his eyes were heavy. Then she gaveth him his weapon into his hand, and he took it unwittingly and in great haste. Then she led him to the door of the tent and put his feet into his shoes and his coat of divers colours upon his back.

And she opened the door of the tent and behold in the darkness of the night three great she-bears out of the wood had come nigh unto the tents and were eating of the fruit of the mohur trees that had fallen on to the ground, and there was a sound even as the sound of feeding and a breathing through the nostrils withal. Then she, being behind him even at the door of the tent, pointed the weapon that was in the hands of her husband and cried with a soft voice and said 'Smite them! Smite them!' Then he, being heavy with sleep and holding the weapon unwittingly, drew at a venture and shot one of the beasts.

But seeing that the other two wild beasts departed not thence, neither feared the voice of the weapon that was in the hands of her lord, the woman marvelled greatly and cried again unto her husband 'Smite! Smitel.' And he, being by this time awakened out of his sleep, smote yet another wild beast from afar, even from the door of the tent. But the third beast that was with them that were smitten went thence not at all, nor fled away but remained. So she cried again unto her husband, 'It is well my lord, but smite again I pray thee, lest peradventure this wild beast that still liveth be that same great bear with a black and terrible countenance that met me sometime upon the way and that I pursued into the wilderness.'

Then he smote again a third time, even as his wife commanded him and lo! there arose a great and bitter cry from the beast that had been smitten, for it was not yet slain. And he said within himself: 'Behold, it is a dream and I am not awakened out of my sleep, for verily aforetime I heard not the cry of a bear like unto this bear'. And he arose and went out quickly and looked upon the carcases of the beasts that had been slain and lo! they were red and black and their tails were long and not after the manner of bears, which have short tails. And he covered his face for he was ashamed.

And it came to pass that the centurion had followed him to see the thing that was done, and the six fighting men and all the men servants and Dyal Chaunder, the scribe and the six young men that were with him, even the boys. And they brought torches, for it was night. And when they came unto the carcases of the beasts that had been slain, they looked into one another's faces and were silent for the space of one hour. But the lord, being ashamed, beheld no man's face but turned and went into his tent. For they were kine.

And soon there arose a great sound of laughter from the tent of the young men, even the boys. But from the tent of the hunter that had slain the kine was heard the voice of only one that laughed and the laughter was even as the laughter of a woman and not of a man. And she smote her hands together, but her lord laughed not at all, for he was ashamed. And from the tent of Dyal Chaunder the scribe and from the tent under which slept the centurion was heard no laughter at all, for they said within themselves: 'Our master hath slain three kine that are holy kine and sacred, now therefore our faces are blackened before the people of this land.' And they wept sore.

And it came to pass that they all rose up very early in the morning before it was day and got them from thence with haste, lest peradventure the people of the city should revile them. And they came into the city of Bilaspore, where in those days there resided a publican, who was also a man of war, but whose name was even the name of a Pharisee, and not of a publican. But Dyal Ghaunder the scribe tarried behind with the kine that had been slain, for the wife of his lord had besought him, saying 'Suffer not I pray thee, the report of the thing that hath been done to follow us into the city of the publican who is also a man of war.' And she gave him certain pieces of silver wherewithal to appease the wrath of those that possessed the kine. And he came unto her at evening and said. 'For ten pieces of silver, current money with the merchant, have I appeased the wrath of them that possessed the kine;' and she said 'Thou hast done well.'

And they departed thence and journeyed many days and came into a city which is called The City of a Thousand Gardens and they dwelt there. And they wot not that it was known what manner of thing had been done. But the noise thereof spread abroad throughout the land, so they tarried there for the space of but two months, and being ashamed by reason of the laughter of the young men, even the boys, and of the long man who has writ this, whose laughter was turned into weeping until he was like to die, he that had slain the kine, and his wife and his manservants and his maidservants departed thence and went into a far country and there abide even unto the present day.

And the other works of this mighty hunter and his name (F.L.Dibblee Ex. Eng.) and all that he did, and the highway that he found for the King, are they not written in the book of the Chronicles of the Public Works Department?


Notes:

Nagpur (or Nagpoor) is in the centre of India, and Bilaspur is about half way between Nagpur and Calcutta (see Railway Map of India 1909. Bilaspur is a junction on the Calcutta-Nagpur Railway. I can't find Katgora, but the story says that it is close to Bilaspur.

his cattle, among which were many of the tribe of Behemoths, that great beast, for the carrying of his tents and of his goods.
A Behemoth is a large beast mentioned in the Book of Job, later often identified as a hippopotamus. This seems unlikely! It could be a water-buffalo, or possibly even an elephant. Both were used as pack animals.

Certain young men were also with him that were called 'the boys' who had come from the hill called Cooper's.
Cooper's Hill was the Royal Indian College of Civil Engineering, in Surrey, England. Frederick Dibblee was not trained there. He was trained in Canada.

There were also with him six fighting men of valour of the army of the country, men of a dark complexion withal, and a centurion was in command of the fighting men.
These soldiers would be from a native regiment, with their officer. The officer figures later in the story as brave, alert and sensible.

Mohur trees ... the fruit is an exceeding pleasant fruit, sweet even as the sweetness of honey unto the lips, but stinking in the nostrils of him that doeth eat thereof. From this fruit cometh also a wine even a strong wine that maketh glad our hearts.
This is a bit of a puzzle. There is a tree known as the Mohur tree - the Royal Poinciana or Flame Tree, usually called the Gul Mohur Tree or Gold Mohur tree. It may be the most colorful flowering tree in the world with brigth red flowers. However, no-one mentions the fruit (or the smell!) This description sounds like a Durian, which is notorious for its sweet fruit and vile smell. Durian trees are cultivated in India. It ferments easily. Tempoyak is a condiment made from fermented Durian fruit in Malaysia.

his other weapon wherefrom there cometh that great and terrible voice - a gun.

drank of the wine of the barley, mixed with water - whiskey (you don't put water in beer).

his shoes for his feet and his coat of strange and divers colours that he weareth in the morning
I wonder if this means his slippers and dressing gown?

Baloo - Anyone who has read The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling will instantly recognise this! However the Jungle Book stories were first published in magazines in 1893 and this story was published earlier, in 1888. It doesn't bother to translate Baloo as Bear. It shows how the British in India were quite knowledgeable about the local languages.

And they came into the city of Bilaspore, where in those days there resided a publican, who was also a man of war, but whose name was even the name of a Pharisee, and not of a publican. - Unknown.

The City of a Thousand Gardens - Hazaribagh is a city about 100 miles south of Patna. Its name is made of two Urdu words, hazar meaning 'thousand', and bagh meaning 'garden'. Hence the literal meaning of Hazaribagh is 'City of thousand gardens'.

the long man who has writ this - If you read this sentence carefully, it seems that the article was not written by Frederick Dibblee himself. He may have been in Burma when it was published. Anyway, the writer laughed until he cried, but Frederick Dibblee didn't laugh! It sounds like someone who was in the party. This included Frederick Dibblee himself, his wife, and his servants (none of which seem likely), the native soldiers and officers, a native scribe, and the 'boys' from Cooper's Hill. I assume that it was one of the later.

the book of the Chronicles of the Public Works Department - This is the "official record of Mr. Dibblee's service under the Indian Government" which is given in the Institution of Civil Engineers Obituary.

There are two transcriptions of this story, by his daughter Jane and son Frederick Lewis. The family must have enjoyed it.