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JAMALPUR is the headquarters of the East India Railway. This in itself is not a startling statement. The wonder begins with the exploration of Jamalpur, which is a station entirely made by, and devoted to, the use of those untiring servants of the public, the railway folk. They have towns of their own at Toondla and Assensole; a sun-dried sanitarium at Bandikui; and Howrah, Ajmir, Allahabad, Lahore, and Pindi know their colonies. But Jamalpur is unadulteratedly ‘Railway,’ and he who has nothing to do with the E.I. Railway in some shape or another feels a stranger and an interloper. Running always east and southerly, the train carries him from the torments of the North-west into the wet, woolly warmth of Bengal, where may be found the hothouse heat that has ruined the temper of the good people of Calcutta. The land is fat and greasy with good living, and the wealth of the bodies of innumerable dead things; and here — just above Mokameh — may be seen fields stretching, without stick, stone, or bush to break the view, from the railway line to the horizon.
Up-country innocents must look at the map to learn that Jamalpur is near the top left-hand corner of the big loop that the E.I.R. throws out round Bhagalpur and part of the Bara-Banki districts. Northward of Jamalpur, as near as may be, lies the Ganges and Tirhoot, and eastward an offshoot of the volcanic Rajmehal range blocks the view.
A station which has neither Judge, Commissioner, Deputy, or ’Stunt, which is devoid of law courts, ticca-gharries, District Superintendents of Police, and many other evidences of an overcultured civilisation, is a curiosity. ‘We administer ourselves,’ says Jamalpur proudly, ‘or we did — till we had local self-government in — and now the racket-marker administers us.’ This is a solemn fact. The station, which had its beginnings thirty odd years ago, used, till comparatively recent times, to control its own roads, sewage, conservancy, and the like. But, with the introduction of local self-government, it was ordained that the ‘inestimable boon’ should be extended to a place made by, and maintained for, Europeans, and a brand-new municipality was created and nominated according to the many rules of the game. In the skirmish that ensued, the Club racket-marker fought his way to the front, secured a place on a board largely composed of Babus, and since that day Jamalpur’s views on government have not been fit for publication. To understand the magnitude of the insult, one must study the city — for station, in the strict sense of the word, it is not. Crotons, palms, mangoes, wellingtonias, teak, and bamboos adorn it, and the poinsettia and bougainvillea, the railway creeper and the Bignonia venusta, make it gay with many colours. It is laid out with military precision; to each house its just share of garden, its red-brick path, its growth of trees, and its neat little wicket gate. Its general aspect, in spite of the Dutch formality, is that of an English village, such a thing as enterprising stage-managers put on the theatres at home. The hills have thrown a protecting arm round nearly three sides of it, and on the fourth it is bounded by what are locally known as the ‘sheds’; in other words, the station, offices, and workshops of the Company. The E.I.R. only exists for outsiders. Its servants speak of it reverently, angrily, despitefully, or enthusiastically as ‘The Company’; and they never omit the big, big C. Men must have treated the Honourable the East India Company in something the same fashion ages ago. ‘The Company’ in Jamalpur is Lord Dufferin, all the Members of Council, the Body-Guard, Sir Frederick Roberts, Mr. Westland, whose name is at the bottom of the currency notes, the Oriental Life Assurance Company, and the Bengal Government all rolled into one. At first when a stranger enters this life, he is inclined to scoff and ask, in his ignorance, ‘What is this Company that you talk so much about?’ Later on, he ceases to scoff; for the Company is a ‘big’ thing — almost big enough to satisfy an American.
Ere beginning to describe its doings, let it be written, and repeated several times hereafter, that the E.I.R. passenger carriages, and especially the second-class, are just now horrid — being filthy and unwashen, dirty to look at, and dirty to live in. Having cast this small stone, we will examine Jamalpur. When it was laid out, in or before the Mutiny year, its designers allowed room for growth, and made the houses of one general design — some of brick, some of stone, some three, four, and six roomed, some single men’s barracks and some two-storied — all for the use of the employés. King’s Road, Prince’s Road, Queen’s Road, and Victoria Road — Jamalpur is loyal — cut the breadth of the station; and Albert Road, Church Street, and Steam Road the length of it. Neither on these roads nor on any of the cool-shaded smaller ones is anything unclean or unsightly to be found. There is a dreary village in the neighbourhood which is said to make the most of any cholera that may be going, but Jamalpur itself is specklessly and spotlessly neat. From St. Mary’s Church to the railway station, and from the buildings where they print daily about half a lakh of tickets, to the ringing, roaring, rattling workshops, everything has the air of having been cleaned up at ten that very morning and put under a glass case. There is a holy calm about the roads — totally unlike anything in an English manufacturing town. Wheeled conveyances are few, because every man’s bungalow is close to his work, and when the day has begun and the offices of the ‘Loco.’ and ‘Traffic’ have soaked up their thousands of natives and hundreds of Europeans, you shall pass under the dappled shadows of the trees, hearing nothing louder than the croon of some bearer playing with a child in the verandah or the faint tinkle of a piano. This is pleasant, and produces an impression of Watteau-like refinement tempered with Arcadian simplicity. The dry, anguished howl of the ‘buzzer,’ the big steam-whistle, breaks the hush, and all Jamalpur is alive with the tramping of tiffin-seeking feet. The Company gives one hour for meals between eleven and twelve. On the stroke of noon there is another rush back to the works or the offices, and Jamalpur sleeps through the afternoon till four or half-past, and then rouses for tennis at the institute.
In the hot weather it splashes in the swimming bath, or reads, for it has a library of several thousand books. One of the most flourishing lodges in the Bengal jurisdiction —‘St. George in the East’— lives at Jamalpur, and meets twice a month. Its members point out with justifiable pride that all the fittings were made by their own hands; and the lodge in its accoutrements and the energy of the craftsmen can compare with any in India. But the institute is the central gathering place, and its half-dozen tennis-courts and neatlylaid-out grounds seem to be always full. Here, if a stranger could judge, the greater part of the flirtation of Jamalpur is carried out, and here the dashing apprentice — the apprentices are the liveliest of all — learns that there are problems harder than any he studies at the night school, and that the heart of a maiden is more inscrutable than the mechanism of a locomotive. On Tuesdays and Fridays the volunteers parade. A and B Companies, 150 strong in all, of the E.I.R. Volunteers, are stationed here with the band. Their uniform, grey with red facings, is not lovely, but they know how to shoot and drill. They have to. The ‘Company’ makes it a condition of service that a man must be a volunteer; and volunteer in something more than name he must be, or some one will ask the reason why. Seeing that there are no regulars between Howrah and Dinapore, the ‘Company’ does well in exacting this toll. Some of the old soldiers are wearied of drill, some of the youngsters don’t like it, but — the way they entrain and detrain is worth seeing. They are as mobile a corps as can be desired, and perhaps ten or twelve years hence the Government may possibly be led to take a real interest in them and spend a few thousand rupees in providing them with real soldiers’ kits — not uniform and rifle merely. Their ranks include all sorts and conditions of men — heads of the ‘Loco.’ and ‘Traffic,’— the Company is no respecter of rank — clerks in the ‘audit,’ boys from mercantile firms at home, fighting with the intricacies of time, fare, and freight tables; guards who have grown grey in the service of the Company; mail and passenger drivers with nerves of cast-iron, who can shoot through a long afternoon without losing temper or flurrying; light-blue East Indians; Tyne-side men, slow of speech and uncommonly strong in the arm; lathy apprentices who have not yet ‘filled out’; fitters, turners, foremen, full, assistant, and sub-assistant station masters, and a host of others. In the hands of the younger men the regulation Martini-Henry naturally goes off the line occasionally on hunting expeditions.
There is a twelve hundred yards range running down one side of the station, and the condition of the grass by the firing butts tells its own tale. Scattered in the ranks of the volunteers are a fair number of old soldiers, for the Company has a weakness for recruiting from the Army for its guards who may, in time, become stationmasters. A good man from the Army, with his papers all correct and certificates from his commanding officer, can, after depositing twenty pounds to pay his home passage, in the event of his services being dispensed with, enter the Company’s service on something less than one hundred rupees a month and rise in time to four hundred as a stationmaster. A railway bungalow — and they are as substantially built as the engines — will cost him more than one-ninth of the pay of his grade, and the Provident Fund provides for his latter end.
Think for a moment of the number of men that a line running from Howrah to Delhi must use, and you will realise what an enormous amount of patronage the Company holds in its hands. Naturally a father who has worked for the line expects the line to do something for the son; and the line is not backward in meeting his wishes where possible. The sons of old servants may be taken on at fifteen years of age, or thereabouts, as apprentices in the ‘shops,’ receiving twenty rupees in the first and fifty in the last year of their indentures. Then they come on the books as full ‘men’ on perhaps Rs. 65 a month, and the road is open to them in many ways. They may become foremen of departments on Rs. 500 a month, or drivers earning with overtime Rs. 370; or if they have been brought into the audit or the traffic, they may control innumerable Babus and draw several hundreds of rupees monthly; or, at eighteen or nineteen, they may be ticket-collectors, working up to the grade of guard, etc. Every rank of the huge, human hive has a desire to see its sons placed properly, and the native workmen, about three thousand, in the locomotive department only, are, said one man, ‘making a family affair of it altogether. You see all those men turning brass and looking after the machinery? They’ve all got relatives, and a lot of ’em own land out Monghyrway way close to us. They bring on their sons as soon as they are old enough to do anything, and the Company rather encourages it. You see the father is in a way responsible for his son, and he’ll teach him all he knows, and in that way the Company has a hold on them all. You’ve no notion how sharp a native is when he’s working on his own hook. All the district round here, right up to Monghyr, is more or less dependent on the railway.’
The Babus in the traffic department, in the stores’ issue department, in all the departments where men sit through the long, long Indian day among ledgers, and check and pencil and deal in figures and items and rupees, may be counted by hundreds. Imagine the struggle among them to locate their sons in comfortable cane-bottomed chairs, in front of a big pewter inkstand and stacks of paper! The Babus make beautiful accountants, and if we could only see it, a merciful Providence has made the Babu for figures and detail. Without him, the dividends of any company would be eaten up by the expenses of English or city-bred clerks. The Babu is a great man, and, to respect him, you must see five score or so of him in a room a hundred yards long, bending over ledgers, ledgers, and yet more ledgers — silent as the Sphinx and busy as a bee. He is the lubricant of the great machinery of the Company whose ways and works cannot be dealt with in a single scrawl.
THE railway folk, like the army and civilian castes, have their own language and life, which an outsider cannot hope to understand. For instance, when Jamalpur refers to itself as being ‘on the long siding,’ a lengthy explanation is necessary before the visitor grasps the fact that the whole of the two hundred and thirty odd miles of the loop from Luckeeserai to KanuJunction via Bhagalpur is thus contemptuously treated. Jamalpur insists that it is out of the world, and makes this an excuse for being proud of itself and all its institutions. But in one thing it is badly, disgracefully provided. At a moderate estimate there must be about two hundred Europeans with their families in this place. They can, and do, get their small supplies from Calcutta, but they are dependent on the tender mercies of the bazaar for their meat, which seems to be hawked from door to door. There is a Raja who owns or has an interest in the land on which the station stands, and he is averse to cow-killing. For these reasons, Jamalpur is not too well supplied with good meat, and what it wants is a decent meat-market with cleanly controlled slaughtering arrangements. The ‘Company,’ who gives grants to the schools and builds the institute and throws the shadow of its protection all over the place, might help this scheme forward.
The heart of Jamalpur is the ‘shops,’ and here a visitor will see more things in an hour than he can understand in a year. Steam Street very appropriately leads to the forty or fifty acres that the ‘shops’ cover, and to the busy silence of the loco. superintendent’s office, where a man must put down his name and his business on a slip of paper before he can penetrate into the Temple of Vulcan. About three thousand five hundred men are in the ‘shops,’ and, ten minutes after the day’s work has begun, the assistant superintendent knows exactly how many are ‘in.’ The heads of departments — silent, heavy-handed men, captains of five hundred or more — have their names fairly printed on a board which is exactly like a pool-marker. They ‘star a life’ when they come in, and their few names alone represent salaries to the extent of six thousand a month. They are men worth hearing deferentially. They hail from Manchester and the Clyde, and the great ironworks of the North: pleasant as cold water in a thirsty land is it to hear again the full Northumbrian burr or the long-drawn Yorkshire ‘aye.’ Under their great gravity of demeanour — a man who is in charge of a few lakhs’ worth of plant cannot afford to be riotously mirthful — lurks melody and humour. They can sing like north-countrymen, and in their hours of ease go back to the speech of the iron countries they have left behind, when ‘Ab o’ th’ yate ‘and all ‘Ben Briarly’s’ shrewd wit shakes the warm air of Bengal with deep-chested laughter. Hear ‘Ruglan’ Toon,’ with a chorus as true as the fall of trip-hammers, and fancy that you are back again in the smoky, rattling North!
But this is the ‘unofficial’ side. Go forward through the gates under the mango trees, and set foot at once in sheds which have as little to do with mangoes as a locomotive with Lakshmi, The ‘buzzer’ howls, for it is nearly tiffin time. There is a rush from every quarter of the shops, a cloud of flying natives, and a procession of more sedately pacing Englishmen, and in three short minutes you are left absolutely alone among arrested wheels and belts, pulleys, cranks, and cranes — in a silence only broken by the soft sigh of a far-away steam-valve or the cooing of pigeons. You are, by favour freely granted, at liberty to wander anywhere you please through the deserted works. Walk into a huge, brick-built, tin-roofed stable, capable of holding twenty-four locomotives under treatment, and see what must be done to the Iron Horse once in every three years if he is to do his work well. On reflection, Iron Horse is wrong. An engine is a she — as distinctly feminine as a ship or a mine. Here stands the Echo, her wheels off, resting on blocks, her underside machinery taken out, and her side scrawled with mysterious hieroglyphics in chalk. An enormous green-painted iron harness-rack bears her piston and eccentric rods, and a neatly painted board shows that such and such Englishmen are the fitter, assistant, and apprentice engaged in editing that Echo. An engine seen from the platform and an engine viewed from underneath are two very different things. The one is as unimpressive as a cart; the other as imposing as a man-of-war in the yard.
In this manner is an engine treated for navicular, laminitis, back-sinew, or whatever it is that engines most suffer from. No. 607, we will say, goes wrong at Dinapore, Assensole, Buxar, or wherever it may be, after three years’ work. The place she came from is stencilled on the boiler, and the foreman examines her. Then he fills in a hospital sheet, which bears one hundred and eighty printed heads under which an engine can come into the shops. No. 607 needs repair in only one hundred and eighteen particulars, ranging from mud-hole-flanges and blower-cocks to lead-plugs, and platform brackets which have shaken loose. This certificate the foreman signs, and it is framed near the engine for the benefit of the three Europeans and the eight or nine natives who have to mend No. 607. To the ignorant the superhuman wisdom of the examiner seems only equalled by the audacity of the two men and the boy who are to undertake what is frivolously called the ‘job.’ No. 607 is in a sorely mangled condition, but 403 is much worse. She is reduced to a shell — is a very elle-woman of an engine, bearing only her funnel, the iron frame and the saddle that supports the boiler.
Four-and-twenty engines in every stage of decomposition stand in one huge shop. A travelling crane runs overhead, and the men have hauled up one end of a bright vermilion loco, The effect is the silence of a scornful stare — just such a look as a colonel’s portly wife gives through her pince-nez at the audacious subaltern. Engines are the ‘livest’ things that man ever made. They glare through their spectacle-plates, they tilt their noses contemptuously, and when their insides are gone they adorn themselves with red lead, and leer like decayed beauties; and in the Jamalpur works there is no escape from them. The shops can hold fifty without pressure, and on occasion as many again. Everywhere there are engines, and everywhere brass domes lie about on the ground like huge helmets in a pantomime. The silence is the weirdest touch of all. Some sprightly soul — an apprentice be sure — has daubed in red lead on the end of an iron tool-box a caricature of some friend who is evidently a riveter. The picture has all the interest of an Egyptian cartouche, for it shows that men have been here, and that the engines do not have it all their own way.
And so, out in the open, away from the three great sheds, between and under more engines, till we strike a wilderness of lines all converging to one turn-table. Here be elephant-stalls ranged round a half-circle, and in each stall stands one engine, and each engine stares at the turn-table. A stolid and disconcerting company is this ring-of-eyes monsters; 324, 432, and 8 are shining like toys. They are ready for their turn of duty, and are as spruce as hansoms. Lacquered chocolate, picked out with black, red, and white, is their dress, and delicate lemon graces the ceilings of the cabs. The driver should be a gentleman in evening dress with white kid gloves, and there should be gold-headed champagne bottles in the spick-and-span tenders. Huckleberry Finn says of a timber raft, ‘It amounted to something being captain of that raft.’ Thrice enviable is the man who, drawing Rs. 220 a month, is allowed to make Rs. 150 overtime out of locos. Nos. 324, 432, or 8. Fifty yards beyond this gorgeous trinity are ten to twelve engines who have put in to Jamalpur to bait. They are alive, their fires are lighted, and they are swearing and purring and growling one at another as they stand alone. Here is evidently one of the newest type — No. 25, a giant who has just brought the mail in and waits to be cleaned up preparatory to going out afresh.
The tiffin hour has ended. The buzzer blows, and with a roar, a rattle, and a clang the shops take up their toil. The hubbub that followed, on the Prince’s kiss to the sleeping beauty was not so loud or sudden. Experience, with a foot-rule in his pocket, authority in his port, and a merry twinkle in his eye, comes up and catches Ignorance walking gingerly round No. 25. ‘That’s one of the best we have,’ says Experience, ‘a four-wheeled coupled bogie they call her. She’s by Dobbs. She’s done her hundred and fifty miles today; and she’ll run in to Rampore Haut this afternoon; then she’ll rest a day and be cleaned up. Roughly, she does her three hundred miles in the four-and-twenty hours. She’s a beauty. She’s out from home, but we can build our own engines — all except the wheels. We’re building ten locos now, and we’ve got a dozen boilers ready if you care to look at them. How long does a loco last? That’s just as may be. She will do as much as her driver lets her. Some men play the mischief with a loco. and some handle ’em properly. Our drivers prefer Hawthorne’s old four wheeled coupled engines because they give the least bother. There is one in that shed, and it’s a good ’un to travel. But eighty thousand miles generally sees the gloss off an engine, and she goes into the shops to be overhauled and refitted and replaned, and a lot of things that you wouldn’t understand if I told, you about them. No. 10, the first loco. on the line, is running still, but very little of the original engine must be left by this time. That one there came out in the Mutiny year. She’s by Slaughter and Grunning, and she’s built for speed in front of a light load. French-looking sort of thing, isn’t she? That’s because her cylinders are on a tilt. We used her for the mail once, but the mail has grown heavier and heavier, and now we use six-wheeled coupled eighteen-inch, inside cylinder, 45-ton locos. to shift thousand-ton trains. No! All locos. aren’t alike. It isn’t merely pulling a lever. The Company likes its drivers to know their locos., and a man will keep his Hawthorne for two or three years. The more mileage he gets out of her before she has to be overhauled the better man he is. It pays to let a man have his fancy engine. A man must take an interest in his loco., and that means she must belong to him. Some locos. won’t do anything, even if you coax and humour them. I don’t think there are any unlucky ones now, but some years ago No. 31 wasn’t popular. The drivers went sick or took leave when they were told off for her. She killed her driver on the Jubbulpore line, she left the rails at Kajra, she did something or other at Rampur Haut, and Lord knows what she didn’t do or try to do in other places! All the drivers fought shy of her, and in the end she disappeared. They said she was condemned, but I shouldn’t wonder if the Company changed her number quietly, and changed the luck at the same time. You see, the Government Inspector comes and looks at our stock now and again, and when an engine’s condemned he puts his dhobi-mark on her, and she’s broken up. Well, No. 31 was condemned, but there was a whisper that they only shifted her number, and ran her out again. When the drivers didn’t know, there were no accidents. I don’t think we’ve got an unlucky one running now. Some are different from others, but there are no man-eaters. Yes, a driver of the mail is somebody. He can make Rs. 370 a month if he’s a covenanted man. We get a lot of our drivers in the country, and we don’t import from England as much as we did. ’Stands to reason that, now there’s more competition both among lines and in the labour market, the Company can’t afford to be as generous as it used to be. It doesn’t cheat a man though. It’s this way with the drivers. A native driver gets about Rs. 20 a month, and in his way he’s supposed to be good enough for branch work and shunting and such. Well, an English driver’ll get from Rs. 8o to Rs. 220, and overtime. The English driver knows what the native gets, and in time they tell the driver that the native’ll improve. The driver has that to think of. You see? That’s competition!’
Experience returns to the engine-sheds, now full of clamour, and enlarges on the beauties of sick locomotives. The fitters and the assistants and the apprentices are hammering and punching and gauging, and otherwise technically disporting themselves round their enormous patients, and their language, as caught in snatches, is beautifully unintelligible.
But one flying sentence goes straight to the heart. It is the cry of Humanity over the Task of Life, done into unrefined English. An apprentice, grimed to his eyebrows, his cloth cap well on the back of his curly head and his hands deep in his pockets, is sitting on the edge of a tool-box ruefully regarding the very much disorganised engine whose slave is he. A handsome boy, this apprentice, and well made. He whistles softly between his teeth, and his brow puckers. Then he addresses the engine, half in expostulation and half in despair, ‘Oh, you condemned old female dog!’ He puts the sentence more crisply — much more crisply — and Ignorance chuckles sympathetically.
Ignorance also is puzzled over these engines.
IN the wilderness of the railway shops — and machinery that planes and shaves, and bevels and stamps, and punches and hoists and nips — the first idea that occurs to an outsider, when he has seen the men who people the place, is that it must be the birthplace of inventions — a pasture-ground of fat patents. If a writing-man, who plays with shadows and dresses dolls that others may laugh at their antics, draws help and comfort and new methods of working old ideas from the stored shelves of a library, how, in the name of Commonsense, his god, can a doing-man, whose mind is set upon things that snatch a few moments from flying Time or put power into weak hands, refrain from going forward and adding new inventions to the hundreds among which he daily moves?
Appealed to on this subject, Experience, who had served the E.I.R. loyally for many years, held his peace. ‘We don’t go in much for patents; but,’ he added, with a praiseworthy attempt to turn the conversation, ‘we can build you any mortal thing you like. We’ve got the Bradford Leslie steamer for the Sahibgunge ferry. Come and see the brass-work for her bows. It’s in the casting-shed.’
It would have been cruel to have pressed Experience further, and Ignorance, to foredate matters a little, went about to discover why Experience shied off this question, and why the men of Jamalpur had not each and all invented and patented something. He won his information in the end, but it did not come from Jamalpur. That must be clearly understood. It was found anywhere you please between Howrah and Hoti Mardan; and here it is that all the world may admire a prudent and far-sighted Board of Directors. Once upon a time, as every one in the profession knows, two men invented the D. and O. sleeper — cast-iron, of five pieces, very serviceable. The men were in the Company’s employ, and their masters said: ‘Your brains are ours. Hand us over those sleepers.’ Being of pay and position, D. and O. made some sort of resistance and got a royalty or a bonus. At any rate, the Company had to pay for its sleepers. But thereafter, and the condition exists to this day, they caused it to be written in each servant’s covenant, that if by chance he invented aught, his invention was to belong to the Company. Providence has mercifully arranged that no man or syndicate of men can buy the ‘holy spirit of man’ outright without suffering in some way or another just as much as the purchase. America fully, and Germany in part, recognises this law. The E.I. Railway’s breach of it is thoroughly English. They say, or it is said of them that they say, ‘We are afraid of our men, who belong to us, wasting their time on trying to invent.’
Is it wholly impossible, then, for men of mechanical experience and large sympathies to check the mere patent-hunter and bring forward the man with an idea? Is there no supervision in the ‘shops,’ or have the men who play tennis and billiards at the institute not a minute which they can rightly call their very own? Would it ruin the richest Company in India to lend their model-shop and their lathes to half a dozen, or, for the matter of that, half a hundred, abortive experiments? A Massachusetts organ factory, a Racine buggy shop, an Oregon lumber-yard, would laugh at the notion. An American toy-maker might swindle an employe after the invention, but he would in his own interests help the man to ‘see what comes of the thing.’ Surely a wealthy, a powerful and, as all Jamalpur bears witness, a considerate Company might cut that clause out of the covenant and await the issue. There would be quite enough jealousy between man and man, grade and grade, to keep down all but the keenest souls; and, with due respect to the steam-hammer and the rolling-mill, we have not yet made machinery perfect. The ‘shops’ are not likely to spawn unmanageable Stephensons or grasping Brunels; but in the minor turns of mechanical thought that find concrete expressions in links, axle-boxes, joint packings, valves and spring-stirrups something might — something would — be done were the practical prohibition removed. Will a North-countryman give you anything but warm hospitality for nothing? Or if you claim from him overtime service as a right, will he work zealously? ‘Onything but t’ brass,’ is his motto, and his ideas are his ‘brass.’
Gentlemen in authority, if this should meet your august eyes, spare it a minute’s thought, and, clearing away the floridity, get to the heart of the mistake and see if it cannot be rationally put right. Above all, remember that Jamalpur supplied no information. It was as mute as an oyster. There is no one within your jurisdiction to — ahem — ‘drop upon.’
Let us, after this excursion into the offices, return to the shops and only ask Experience such questions as he can without disloyalty answer.
‘We used once,’ says he, leading to the foundry, ‘to sell our old rails and import new ones. Even when we used ’em for roof beams and so on, we had more than we knew what to do with. Now we have got rolling-mills, and we use the rails to make tie-bars for the D. and O. sleepers and all sorts of things. We turn out five hundred D. and O. sleepers a day. Altogether, we use about seventy-five tons of our own iron a month here. Iron in Calcutta costs about five-eight a hundredweight; ours costs between three-four and three-eight, and on that item alone we save three thousand a month. Don’t ask me how many miles of rails we own. There are fifteen hundred miles of line, and you can make your own calculation. All those things like babies’ graves, down in that shed, are the moulds for the D. and O. sleepers. We test them by dropping three hundredweight and three hundred quarters of iron on top of them from a height of seven feet, or eleven sometimes. They don’t often smash. We have a notion here that our iron is as good as the Home stuff.’
A sleek white and brindled pariah thrusts himself into the conversation. His house appears to be on the warm ashes of the bolt-maker. This is a horrible machine, which chews red-hot iron bars and spits them out perfect bolts. Its manners are disgusting, and it gobbles over its food.
‘Hi, Jack!’ says Experience, stroking the interloper, ‘you’ve been trying to break your leg again. That’s the dog of the works. At least he makes believe that the works belong to him. He’ll follow any one of us about the shops as far as the gate, but never a step further. You can see he’s in first-class condition. The boys give him his ticket, and, one of these days, he’ll try to get on to the Company’s books as a regular worker. He’s too clever to live.’ Jack heads the procession as far as the walls of the rolling-shed and then returns to his machinery room. He waddles with fatness and despises strangers.
‘How would you like to be hot-potted there?’ says Experience, who has read and who is enthusiastic over She, as he points to the great furnaces whence the slag is being dragged out by hooks. ‘Here is the old material going into the furnace in that big iron bucket. Look at the scraps of iron. There’s an old D. and O. sleeper, there’s a lot of clips from a cylinder, there’s a lot of snipped-up rails, there’s a driving-wheel block, there’s an old hook, and a sprinkling of boilerplates and rivets.’
The bucket is tipped into the furnace with a thunderous roar and the slag below pours forth more quickly. ‘An engine,’ says Experience reflectively, ‘can run over herself so to say. After she’s broken up she is made into sleepers for the line. You’ll see how she’s broken up later.’ A few paces further on, semi-nude demons are capering over strips of glowing hot iron which are put into a mill as rails and emerge as thin, shapely tie-bars. The natives wear rough sandals and some pretence of aprons, but the greater part of them is ‘all face.’ ‘As I said before,’ says Experience, ‘a native’s cuteness when he’s working on ticket is something startling. Beyond occasionally hanging on to a red-hot bar too long and so letting their pincers be drawn through the mills, these men take precious good care not to go wrong. Our machinery is fenced and guardrailed as much as possible, and these men don’t get caught up in the belting. In the first place, they’re careful — the father warns the son and so on — and in the second, there’s nothing about ’em for the belting to catch on unless the man shoves his hand in. Oh, a native’s no fool! He knows that it doesn’t do to be foolish when he’s dealing with a crane or a driving-wheel. You’re looking at all those chopped rails? We make our iron as they blend baccy. We mix up all sorts to get the required quality. Those rails have just been chopped by this tobacco-cutter thing.’ Experience bends down and sets a vicious-looking, parrot-headed beam to work. There is a quiver — a snap — and a dull smash and a heavy rail is nipped in two like a stick of barley-sugar.
Elsewhere, a bull-nosed hydraulic cutter is railcutting as if it enjoyed the fun. In another shed stand the steam-hammers; the unemployed ones murmuring and muttering to themselves, as is the uncanny custom of all steam-souled machinery. Experience, with his hand on a long lever, makes one of the monsters perform and though Ignorance knows that a man designed and men do continually build steam-hammers, the effect is as though Experience were maddening a chained beast. The massive block slides down the guides, only to pause hungrily an inch above the anvil, or restlessly throb through a foot and a half of space, each motion being controlled by an almost imperceptible handling of the levers. ‘When these things are newly overhauled, you can regulate your blow to within an eighth of an inch,’ says Experience. ‘We had a foreman here once who could work ’em beautifully. He had the touch. One day a visitor, no end of a swell in a tall, white hat, came round the works, and our foreman borrowed the hat and brought the hammer down just enough to press the nap and no more. “How wonderful!” said the visitor, putting his hand carelessly upon this lever rod here.’ Experience suits the action to the word and the hammer thunders on the anvil. ‘Well, you can guess for yourself. Next minute there wasn’t enough left of that tall, white hat to make a postage-stamp of. Steam-hammers aren’t things to play with. Now we’ll go over to the stores . . . .
Whatever apparent disorder there might have been in the works, the store department is as clean as a new pin, and stupefying in its naval order. Copper plates, bar, angle, and rod iron, duplicate cranks and slide bars, the piston rods of the Bradford Leslie steamer, engine grease, files, and hammerheads — every conceivable article, from leather laces of beltings to head-lamps, necessary for the due and proper working of a long line, is stocked, stacked, piled, and put away in appropriate compartments. In the midst of it all, neck deep in ledgers and indent forms, stands the many-handed Babu, the steam of the engine whose power extends from Howrah to Ghaziabad.
The Company does everything, and knows everything. The gallant apprentice may be a wild youth with an earnest desire to go occasionally ‘upon the bend.’ But three times a week, between 7 and 8 P.M., he must attend the night-school and sit at the feet of M. Bonnaud, who teaches him mechanics and statics so thoroughly that even the awful Government Inspector is pleased. And when there is no night-school the Company will by no means wash its hands of its men out of working-hours. No man can be violently restrained from going to the bad if he insists upon it, but in the service of the Company a man has every warning; his escapades are known, and a judiciously arranged transfer sometimes keeps a good fellow clear of the down-grade. No one can flatter himself that in the multitude he is overlooked, or believe that between 4. P.M. and 9 A.M. he is at liberty to misdemean himself. Sooner or later, but generally sooner, his goings-on are known, and he is reminded that ‘Britons never shall be slaves’— to things that destroy good work as well as souls. Maybe the Company acts only in its own interest, but the result is good.
Best and prettiest of the many good and pretty things in Jamalpur is the institute of a Saturday when the Volunteer Band is playing and the tennis courts are full and the babydom of Jamalpur — fat, sturdy children — frolic round the band-stand. The people dance — but big as the institute is, it is getting too small for their dances — they act, they play billiards, they study their newspapers, they play cards and everything else, and they flirt in a sumptuous building, and in the hot weather the gallant apprentice ducks his friend in the big swimming-bath. Decidedly the railway folk make their lives pleasant.
Let us go down southward to the big Giridih collieries and see the coal that feeds the furnace that smelts the iron that makes the sleeper that bears the loco. that pulls the carriage that holds the freight that comes from the country that is made richer by the Great Company Bahadur, the East Indian Railway.
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