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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
The following are newspaper articles written between 1887 and 1888 for my paper. — R. K.
HOW does a King feel when he has kept peace in his borders, by skilfully playing off people against people, sect against sect, and kin against kin? Does he go out into the back verandah, take off his terai-crown, and rub his hands softly, chuckling the while — as I do now? — Does he pat himself on the back and hum merry little tunes as he walks up and down his garden? A man who takes no delight in ruling men — dozens of them — is no man. Behold! India has been squabbling over, the Great Cow Question any time these four hundred years, to the certain knowledge of history and successive governments. I, Smith, have settled it. That is all!
The trouble began, in the ancient and well-established fashion, with a love-affair across the Border, that is to say, in the next compound. Peroo, the cow-boy, went a-courting, and the innocent had not sense enough to keep to his own creed. He must needs make love to Baktawri, Corkler’s coachwan’s (coachman) little girl, and she being betrothed to Ahmed Buksh’s son, ætat nine, very properly threw a cow-dung cake at his head. Peroo scrambled back, hot and dishevelled, over the garden wall, and the vendetta began. Peroo is in no sense chivalrous. He saved Chukki, the ayah’s (maid) little daughter, from a big pariah dog once; but he made Chukki give him half a chupatti for his services, and Chukki cried horribly. Peroo threw bricks at Baktawri when next he saw her, and said shameful things about her birth and parentage, ‘If she be not fair to me, I will heave a rock at she,’ was Peroo’s rule of life after the cow-dung incident. Baktawri naturally objected to bricks, and she told her father.
Without, in the least, wishing to hurt Corkler’s feelings, I must put on record my opinion that his coachwan is a chamar-Mahometan, not too long converted. The lines on which he fought the quarrel lead me to this belief, for he made a Creed-question of the brick-throwing, instead of waiting for Peroo and smacking that young cateran when he caught him. Once beyond my borders, my people carry their lives in their own hand — the Government is not responsible for their safety. Corkler’s coachwan did not complain to me. He sent out an Army — Imam Din, his son — with general instructions to do Peroo a mischief in the eyes of his employer. This brought the fight, officially under my cognisance; and was a direct breach of the neutrality existing between myself and Corkler, who has ‘Punjab head,’ and declares that his servants are the best in the Province. I know better. They are the tailings of my compound —‘casters’ for dishonesty and riotousness. As an Army, Imam Din was distinctly inexperienced. As a General, he was beneath contempt. He came in the night with a hoe, and chipped a piece out of the dun heifer — Peroo’s charge — fondly imagining that Peroo would have to bear the blame. Peroo was discovered next morning weeping salt tears into the wound, and the mass of my Hindu population were at once up and in arms. Had I headed them, they would have descended upon Corkler’s compound and swept it off the face of the earth. But I calmed them with fair words and set a watch for the cow-hoer. Next night, Imam Din came again with a bamboo and began to hit the heifer over her legs. Peroo caught him — caught him by the leg — and held on for the dear vengeance, till Imam Din was locked up in the gram-godown, and Peroo told him that he would be led out to death in the morning. But with the dawn, the Clan Corkler came over, and there was pulling of turbans across the wall, till the Supreme Government was dressed and said, ‘Be silent!’ Now, Corkler’s coachwan’s brother was my coachwan, and a man much dreaded by Peroo. He was not unaccustomed to speak the truth at intervals, and, by virtue of that rare failing, I, the Supreme Government, appointed him head of the jirga (committee) to try the case of Peroo’s unauthorised love-making. The other members were my bearer (Hindu), Corkler’s bearer (Mahometan), with the ticca-dharzi (hired tailor), Mahometan, for Standing Counsel. Baktawri and Baktawri’s father were witnesses, but Baktawri’s mother came all unasked and seriously interfered with the gravity of the debate by abuse. But the dharzi upheld the dignity of the Law, and led Peroo away by the ear to a secluded spot near the well.
Imam Din’s case was an offence against the Government, raiding in British territory and maiming of cattle, complicated with trespass by night — all heinous crimes for which he might have been sent to gaol. The evidence was deadly conclusive, and the case was tried summarily in the presence of the heifer. Imam Din’s counsel was Corkler’s sais, who, with great acumen, pointed out that the boy had only acted under his father’s instructions. Pressed by the Supreme Government, he admitted that the letters of marque did not specify cows as an object of revenge, but merely Peroo. The hoeing of a heifer was a piece of spite on Imam Din’s part. This was admitted. The penalties of failure are dire. A chowkidar (watchman) was deputed to do justice on the person of Imam Din, but sentence was deferred pending the decision of the jirga on Peroo. The dharzi announced to the Supreme Government that Peroo had been found guilty of assaulting Baktawri, across the Border in Corkler’s compound, with bricks, thereby injuring the honour and dignity of Corkler’s coachwan. For this offence, the jirga submitted, a sentence of a dozen stripes was necessary, to be followed by two hours of ear-holding. The Corkler chowkidar was deputed to do sentence on the person of Peroo, and the Smith chowkidar on that of Imam Din. They laid on together with justice and discrimination, and seldom have two small boys been better trounced. Followed next a dreary interval of ‘ear-holding’ side by side. This is a peculiarly Oriental punishment, and should be seen to be appreciated. The Supreme Government then called for Corkler’s coachwan and pointed out the bleeding heifer, with such language as seemed suitable to the situation. Local knowledge in a case like this is invaluable. Corkler’s coachwan was notoriously a wealthy man, and so far a bad Mussulman in that he lent money at interest. As a financier he had few friends among his co-servants. On the other hand, in the Smith quarters, the Mahometan element largely predominated; because the Supreme Government considered the minds of Mahometans more get-at-able than those of Hindus. The sin of inciting an illiterate and fanatic family to go forth and do a mischief was duly dwelt upon by the Supreme Government, together with the dangers attending the vicarious jehad (religious war). Corkler’s coachwan offered no defence beyond the general statement that the Supreme Government was his father and his mother. This carried no weight. The Supreme Government touched lightly on the inexpediency of reviving an old creed-quarrel, and pointed out at venture, that the birth and education of a chamar (low-caste Hindu), three months converted, did not justify such extreme sectarianism. Here the populace shouted like the men of Ephesus, and sentence was passed amid tumultuous applause. Corkler’s coachwan was ordered to give a dinner, not only to the Hindus whom he had insulted, but also to the Mahometans of the Smith compound, and also to his own fellow-servants. His brother, the Smith coachwan, unconverted chamar, was to see that he did it. Refusal to comply with these words entailed a reference to Corkler and the ‘Inspector Sahib,’ who would send in his constables, and, with the connivance of the Supreme Government, would harry and vex all the Corkler compound. Corkler’s coachwan protested, but was overborne by Hindus and Mahometans alike, and his brother, who hated him with a cordial hatred, began to discuss the arrangements for the dinner. Peroo, by the way, was not to share in the feast, nor was Imam Din. The proceedings then terminated, and the Supreme Government went in to breakfast.
Ten days later the dinner came off and was continued far into the night. It marked a new era in my political relations with the outlying states, and was graced for a few minutes by the presence of the Supreme Government. Corkler’s coachwan hates me bitterly, but he can find no one to back him up in any scheme of annoyance that he may mature; for have I not won for my Empire a free dinner, with oceans of sweetmeats? And in this, gentlemen all, lies the secret of Oriental administration. My throne is set where it should be — on the stomachs of many people.
I AND the Government are roughly in the same condition; but modesty forces me to say that the Smith Administration is a few points better than the Imperial. Corkler’s coachwan, you may remember, was fined a caste-dinner by me for sending his son, Imam Din, to mangle my dun heifer. In my last published administration report, I stated that Corkler’s coachwan bore me a grudge for the fine imposed upon him, but among my servants and Corkler’s, at least, could find no one to support him in schemes of vengeance. I was quite right — right as an administration with prestige to support should always be.
But I own that I had never contemplated the possibility of Corkler’s coachwan going off to take service with Mr. Jehan Concepcion Fernandez de Lisboa Paul — a gentleman semi-orientalised, possessed of several dwelling-houses and an infamous temper. Corkler was an Englishman, and any attempt on his coachwan’s part to annoy me would have been summarily stopped. Mr. J.C.F. de L. Paul, on the other hand . . . but no matter. The business is now settled, and there is no necessity for importing a race-question into the story.
Once established in Mr. Paul’s compound, Corkler’s coachwan sent me an insolent message demanding a refund, with interest, of all the, money spent on the caste-dinner. The Government, in a temperately framed reply, refused point-blank, and pointed out that a Mahometan by his religion could not ask for interest. As I have stated in my last report, Corkler’s coachwan was a renegade chamar, converted to Islam for his wife’s sake. The impassive attitude of the Government had the effect of monstrously irritating Corkler’s coachwan, who sat on the wall of Mr. Paul’s compound and flung highly flavoured vernacular at the servants of the State as they passed. He said that it was his intention to make life a burden to the Government — profanely called Eschmitt Sahib. The Government went to office as usual and made no sign. Then Corkler’s coachwan formulated an indictment to the effect that Eschmitt Sahib had, on the occasion of the caste-dinner, pulled him vehemently by the ears, and robbed him of one rupee nine annas four pie. The charge was shouted from the top of Mr. Paul’s compound wall to the four winds of Heaven. It was disregarded by the Government, and the refugee took more daring measures. He came by night, and wrote upon the whitewashed walls with charcoal disgraceful sentences which made the Smith servants grin.
Now it is bad for any Government that its servants should grin at it. Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft; and irreverence is the parent of rebellion. Not content with writing, Corkler’s coachwan began to miscall the State — always from the top of Mr. Paul’s wall. He informed intending mussalchis (scullions) that Eschmitt Sahib invariably administered his pantry with a polo-stock; possible saises (grooms) were told that wages in the Smith establishment were paid yearly; while khitmatgars (butlers) learnt that their family honour was not safe within the gate-posts of the house of ‘Eschmitt.’ No real harm was done, for the character of my rule is known among all first-class servants. Still, the vituperation and all its circumstantial details made men laugh; and I choose that no one shall laugh.
My relations with Mr. Paul had always — for reasons connected with the incursions of hens — been strained. In pursuance of a carefully matured plan of campaign I demanded of Mr. Paul the body of Corkler’s coachwan, to be dealt with after my own ideas. Mr. Paul said that the man was a good coachwan and should not be given up. I then temperately — always temperately — gave him a sketch of the ruffian’s conduct. Mr. Paul announced his entire freedom from any responsibility in this matter, and requested that the correspondence might cease. It was vitally necessary to the well-being of my administration that Corkler’s coachwan should come into my possession. He was daily growing a greater nuisance, and had drawn unto him a disaffected dog-boy, lately in my employ.
Mr. Paul was deaf to my verbal, and blind to my written entreaties. For these reasons I was reluctantly compelled to take the law into my own hands — and break it. A khitmatgar was sent down the length of Mr. Paul’s wall to ‘draw the fire’ of Corkler’s coachwan, and while the latter cursed him by his gods for ever entering Eschmitt Sahib’s service, Eschmitt Sahib crept subtilely behind the wall and thrust the evil-speaker into the moonlit road, where he was pinioned, in strict silence, by the ambushed population of the Smith compound. Once collared, I regret to say, Cockler’s coachwan was seized with an unmanly panic; for the memory of the lewd sentences on the wall, the insults shouted from the top of Mr. Paul’s wall, and the warnings to wayfaring table-servants, came back to his mind. He wept salt tears and demanded the protection of the law and of Mr. Paul. He received neither. He was paraded by the State through the quarters, that all men and women and little children might look at him. He was then formally appointed last and lowest of the carriage-grooms — nauker-ke-nauker (servant of servants)— in perpetuity, on a salary which would never be increased. The entire Smith people — Hindu and Mussulman alike — were made responsible for his safe-keeping under pain of having all the thatch additions to their houses torn down, and the Light of the Favour of the State — the Great Hazur-ki-Mehrbani — darkened for ever.
Legally the State was wrongfully detaining Corkler’s coachwan. Practically, it was avenging itself for a protracted series of insults to its dignity.
Days rolled on, and Corkler’s coachwan became carriage-sais. Instead of driving two horses, it was his duty to let down the steps for the State to tread upon. When the other servants received cold-weather coats, he was compelled to buy one, and all extra lean-to huts round his house were strictly forbidden. That he did not run away, I ascribe solely to the exertions of the domestic police — that is to say, every man, woman, and child of the Smith Kingdom. He was delivered into their hands, for a prey and a laughing stock; and in their hands, unless I am much mistaken, they intend that he shall remain. I learn that my khansamah (head-butler) has informed Mr. Paul that his late servant is in gaol for robbing the Roman Catholic Chapel, of which Mr. Paul is a distinguished member; consequently that gentleman has relaxed his attempts to unearth what he called his ‘so good coachwan.’ That coachwan is now a living example and most lively presentment of the unrelaxing wrath of the State. However well he may work, however earnestly strive to win my favour, there is no human chance of his ever rising from his present position so long as Eschmitt Sahib and he are above the earth together. For reasons which I have hinted at above, he remains cleaning carriage-wheels, and will so remain to the end of the chapter; while the story of his fall and fate spreads through the bazars, and fills the ranks of servantdom with an intense respect for Eschmitt Sahib.
A broad-minded Oriental administration would have allowed me to nail up the head of Corkler’s coachwan over the hall door; a narrow-souled public may consider my present lenient treatment of him harsh and illegal. To this I can only reply that I know how to deal with my own people. I will never, never part with Corkler’s coachwan.
BE PLEASED to listen to a story of domestic trouble connected with the Private Services Commission in the back verandah, which did good work, though I, the Commission, say so, but it could not guard against the Unforeseen Contingency. There was peace in all my borders till Peroo, the cow-keeper’s son, came yesterday and paralysed the Government. He said his father had told him to gather sticks — dry sticks — for the evening fire. I would not check parental authority in any way, but I did not see why Peroo should mangle my sirris-trees. Peroo wept copiously, and, promising never to despoil my garden again, fled from my presence.
To-day I have caught him in the act of theft, and in the third fork of my white Doon sirris, twenty feet above ground. I have taken a chair and established myself at the foot of the tree, preparatory to making up my mind.
The situation is a serious one, for if Peroo be led to think that he can break down my trees unharmed, the garden will be a wilderness in a week. Furthermore, Peroo has insulted the Majesty of the Government. Which is Me. Also he has insulted my sirris in saying that it is dry. He deserves a double punishment.
On the other hand, Peroo is very young, very small, and very, very naked. At present he is penitent, for he is howling in a dry and husky fashion, and the squirrels are frightened.
The question is — how shall I capture Peroo? There are three courses open to me. I can shin up the tree and fight him on his own ground. I can shell him with clods of earth till he makes submission and comes down; or, and this seems the better plan, I can remain where I am, and cut him off from his supplies until the rifles — sticks I mean — are returned.
Peroo, for all practical purposes, is a marauding tribe from the Hills — head-man, fighting-tail and all. I, once more, am the State, cool, collected, and impassive. In half an hour or so Peroo will be forced to descend. He will then be smacked that is, if I can lay hold of his wriggling body. In the meantime, I will demonstrate.
‘Bearer, bring me the turn-tum ki chabuq (carriage-whip).’
It is brought and laid on the ground, while Peroo howls afresh. I will overawe this child. He has an armful of stolen sticks pressed to his stomach.
‘Bearer, bring also the chota mota chabuq (the little whip)— the one kept for the punnia kutta (spaniel).’
Peroo has stopped howling. He peers through the branches and breathes through his nose very hard. Decidedly, I am impressing him with a show of armed strength. The idea of that cruel whip-thong curling round Peroo’s fat little brown stomach is not a pleasant one. But I must be firm.
‘Peroo, come down and be hit for stealing the Sahib’s wood.’
Peroo scuttles up to the fourth fork, and waits developments.
‘Peroo, will you come down?’
‘No. The Sahib will hit me.’
Here the goalla appears, and learns that his son is in disgrace. ‘Beat him well, Sahib,’ says the goalla. ‘He is a budmash. I never told him to steal your wood. Peroo, descend and be very much beaten.’
There is silence for a moment. Then, crisp and clear from the very top of the sirris, floats down the answer of the treed dacoit.
‘Kubbi, kubbi nahin (Never — never — No!).’
The goalla hides a smile with his hand and departs, saying: ‘Very well. This night I will beat you dead.’
There is a rustle in the leaves as Peroo wriggles himself into a more comfortable seat.
‘Shall I send a punkha-coolie after him?’ suggests the bearer.
This is not good. Peroo might fall and hurt himself. Besides I have no desire to employ native troops. They demand too much batta. The punkha-coolie would expect four annas for capturing Peroo. I will deal with the robber myself. He shall be treated judicially, when the excitement of wrong-doing shall have died away, as befits his tender years, with an old bedroom slipper, and the bearer shall hold him. Yes, he shall be smacked three times — once gently, once moderately, and once severely. After the punishment shall come the fine. He shall help the malli (gardener) to keep the flower-beds in order for a week, and then —
‘Sahib! Sahib! Can I come down?’
The rebel treats for terms.
‘Peroo, you are a nut-cut (a young imp).’
‘It was my father’s order. He told me to get sticks.’
‘From this tree?’
‘Yes; Protector of the Poor. He said the Sahib would not come back from office till I had gathered many sticks.’
‘Your father didn’t tell me that.’
‘My father is a liar. Sahib! Sahib! Are you going to hit me?’
‘Come down and I’ll think about it.’
Peroo drops as far as the third fork, sees the whip, and hesitates.
‘If you will take away the whips I will come down.’
There is a frankness in this negotiation that I respect. I stoop, pick up the whips, and turn to throw them into the verandah.
Follows a rustle, a sound of scraped bark, and a thud. When I turn, Peroo is down, off and over the compound wall. He has not dropped the stolen firewood, and I feel distinctly foolish.
My prestige, so far as Peroo is concerned, is gone.
This Administration will now go indoors for a drink.
UPON the evidence of a scullion, I, the State, rose up and made sudden investigation of the crowded serai. There I found and dismissed, as harmful to public morals, a lady in a pink saree who was masquerading as somebody’s wife. The utter and abject loneliness of the mussalchi, that outcaste of the cook-room, should, Orientally speaking, have led him to make a favourable report to his fellow-servants. That he did not do so I attributed to a certain hardness of character brought out by innumerable kickings and scanty fare. Therefore I acted on his evidence and, in so doing, brought down the wrath of the entire serai, not on my head — for they were afraid of me — but on the humble head of Karim Baksh, mussalchi. He had accused the bearer of inaccuracy in money matters, and the khansamah of idleness; besides bringing about the ejectment of fifteen people — men, women, and children — related by holy and unholy ties to all the servants. Can you wonder that Karim Baksh was a marked boy? Departmentally, he was under the control of the khansamah, I myself taking but small interest in the subordinate appointments on my staff. Two days after the evidence had been tendered, I was not surprised to learn that Karim Baksh had been dismissed by his superior; reason given, that he was personally unclean. It is a fundamental maxim of my administration that all power delegated is liable to sudden and unexpected resumption at the hands of the Head. This prevents the right of the Lord-Proprietor from lapsing by time. The khansamah’s decision was reversed without reason given, and the enemies of Karim Baksh sustained their first defeat. They were bold in making their first move so soon. I, Smith, who devote hours that would be better spent on honest money-getting, to the study of my servants, knew they would not try less direct tactics. Karim Baksh slept soundly, over against the drain that carries off the water of my bath, as the enemy conspired.
One night I was walking round the house when the pungent stench of a hookah drifted out of the pantry. A hookah, out of place, is to me an abomination. I removed it gingerly, and demanded the name of the owner. Out of the darkness sprang a man, who said, ‘Karim Baksh!’ It was the bearer. Running my hand along the stem, I felt the loop of leather which a chamar attaches, or should attach, to his pipe, lest higher castes be defiled unwittingly. The bearer lied, for the burning hookah was a device of the groom — friend of the lady in the pink saree — to compass the downfall of Karim Baksh. So the second move of the enemy was foiled, and Karim Baksh asleep as dogs sleep, by the drain, took no harm.
Came thirdly, after a decent interval to give me time to forget the Private Services Commission, the gumnamah (the anonymous letter)— stuck into the frame of the looking-glass. Karim Baksh had proposed an elopement with the sweeper’s wife, and the morality of the serai was in danger. Also the sweeper threatened murder, which could be avoided by the dismissal of Karim Baksh. The blear-eyed orphan heard the charge against him unmoved, and, at the end, turning his face to the sun, said: ‘Look at me, Sahib! Am I the man a woman runs away with?’ Then pointing to the ayah, ‘Or she the woman to tempt a Mussulman!’ Low as was Karim Baksh, the mussalchi, he could by right of creed look down upon a she-sweeper. The charge under Section 498, I.P.C., broke down in silence and tears, and thus the third attempt of the enemy came to naught.
I, Smith, who have some knowledge of my subjects, knew that the next charge would be a genuine one, based on the weakness of Karim Baksh, which was clumsiness — phenomenal ineptitude of hand and foot. Nor was I disappointed. A fortnight passed, and the bearer and the khansamah simultaneously preferred charges against Karim Baksh. He had broken two tea-cups and had neglected to report their loss to me; the value of the tea-cups was four annas. They must have spent days spying upon Karim Baksh, for he was a morose and solitary boy who did his cup-cleaning alone.
Taxed with the fragments, Karim Baksh attempted no defence. Things were as the witnesses said, and I was his father and his mother. By my rule, a servant who does not confess a fault suffers, when that fault is discovered, severe punishment. But the red Hanuman, who grins by the well in the bazar, prompted the bearer at that moment to express his extreme solicitude for the honour and dignity of my service. Literally translated, the sentence ran, ‘The zeal of thy house has eaten me up.’
Then an immense indignation and disgust took possession of me, Smith, who have trodden, as far as an Englishman may tread, the miry gullies of native thought. I knew — none better — the peculations of the bearer, the vices of the khansamah, and the abject, fawning acquiescence with which these two men would meet the basest wish that my mind could conceive. And they talked to me — thieves and worse that they were — of their desire that I should be well served! Lied to me as though I had been a griff but twenty minutes landed on the Apollo Bunder! In the middle stood Karim Baksh, silent; on either side was an accuser, broken tea-cup in hand; the khansamah, mindful of the banished lady in the pink saree; the bearer remembering that, since the date of the Private Services Commission, the whisky and the rupees had been locked up. And they talked of the shortcomings of Karim Baksh — the outcaste — the boy too ugly to achieve and too stupid to conceive sin — a blunderer at the worst. Taking each accuser by the nape of his neck, I smote their cunning skulls the one against the other, till they saw stars by the firmamentful. Then I cast them from me, for I was sick of them, knowing how long they had worked in secret to compass the downfall of Karim Baksh.
And they laid their hands upon their mouths and were dumb, for they saw that I, Smith, knew to what end they had striven.
This Administration may not control a revenue of seventy-two millions, more or less, per annum, but it is wiser than — some people.
IF THERE be any idle ones who remember the campaign against Peroo, the cow-man’s son, or retain any recollection of the great intrigue set afoot by all the servants against the scullion — if, I say, there be any who bear in mind these notable episodes in my administration, I would pray their attention to what follows.
The Gazette of India shows that I have been absent for two months from the station in which is my house.
The day before I departed, I called the Empire together, from the bearer to the sais’ friends’ hanger-on, and it numbered, with wives and babes, thirty-seven souls — all well-fed, prosperous, and contented under my rule, which includes free phenyle and quinine. I made a speech — a long speech — to the listening peoples. I announced that the inestimable boon of local self-government was to be theirs for the next eight weeks. They said that it was ‘good talk.’ I laid upon the Departments concerned the charge of my garden, my harness, my house, my horse, my guns, my furniture, all the screens in front of the doors, both cows, and the little calf that was to come. I charged them by their hope of presents in the future to act cleanly and carefully by my chattels; to abstain from fighting, and to keep the serai sweet. That this might be done under the eye of authority, I appointed a Viceroy — the very strong man Bahadur Khan, khitmatgar to wit — and, that he might have a material hold over his subjects, gave him an ounce-phial of cinchona febrifuge, to distribute against the fevers of September. Lastly — and of this I have never sufficiently repented — I gave all of them their two months’ wages in advance. They were desperately poor some of them — how poor only I and the moneylender knew — but I repent still of my act. A rich democracy inevitably rots.
Eliminating that one financial error, could any man have done better than I? I know he could not, for I took a plebiscite of the Empire on the matter, and it said with one voice that my scheme was singularly right. On that assurance I left it and went to lighter pleasures.
On the fourth day came the gumnameh. In my heart of hearts I had expected one, but not so soon — oh, not so soon! It was on a postcard, and preferred serious accusations of neglect and immorality against Bahadur Khan, my Viceroy. I understood then the value of the anonymous letter. However much you despise it, it breeds distrust — especially when it arrives with every other mail. To my shame be it said I caused a watch to be set on Bahadur Khan, employing a tender Babu. But it was too late. An urgent private telegram informed me: ‘Bahadur Khan secreted sweeper’s daughter. House leaks.’ The head of my administration, the man with all the cinchona febrifuge, had proved untrustworthy, and — the house leaked. The agonies of managing an Empire from the Hills can only be appreciated by those who have made the experiment. Before I had been three weeks parted from my country, I was compelled, by force of circumstance, to rule it on paper, through a hireling executive — the Babu — totally incapable of understanding the wants of my people, and, in the nature of things, purely temporary. He had, at some portion of his career, been in a subordinate branch of the Secretariat. His training there had paralysed him. Instead of taking steps when Bahadur Khan eloped with the sweeper’s daughter, whom I could well have spared, and the cinchona febrifuge, which I knew would be wanted, he wrote me voluminous reports on both thefts. The leakage of the house he dismissed in one paragraph, merely stating that ‘much furniture had been swamped.’ I wrote to my landlord, a Hindu of the old school. He replied that he could do nothing so long as my servants piled cut fuel on the top of the house, straining the woodwork of the verandahs. Also, he said that the bhisti (water-carrier) refused to recognise his authority, or to sprinkle water on the road-metal which was then being laid down for the carriage drive. On this announcement came a letter from the Babu, intimating that bad fever had broken out in the serai, and that the servants falsely accused him of having bought the cinchona febrifuge of Bahadur Khan, ex-Viceroy, now political fugitive, for the purpose of vending retail. The fever and not the false charge interested me. I suggested — this by wire — that the Babu should buy quinine. In three days he wrote to know whether he should purchase common or Europe quinine, and whether I would repay him. I sent the quinine down by parcel post, and sighed for Bahadur Khan with all his faults. Had he only stayed to look after my people, I would have forgiven the affair of the sweeper’s daughter. He was immoral, but an administrator, and would have done his best with the fever.
In course of time my leave came to an end, and I descended on my Empire, expecting the worst. Nor was I disappointed. In the first place, the horses had not been shod for two months; in the second, the garden had not been touched for the same space of time; in the third; the serai was unspeakably filthy; in the fourth, the house was inches deep in dust, and there were muddy stains on most of the furniture; in the fifth, the house had never been opened; in the sixth, seventeen of my people had gone away and two had died of fever; in the seventh, the little calf was dead. Eighthly and lastly, the remnant of my retainers were fighting furiously among themselves, clique against clique, creed against creed, and woman against woman; this last was the most overwhelming of all. It was a dreary home-coming. The Empire formed up two deep round the carriage and began to explain its grievances. It wept and recriminated and abused till it was dismissed. Next morning I discovered that its finances were in a most disorganised condition. It had borrowed money for a wedding, and to recoup itself had invented little bills of imaginary expenses contracted during my absence.
For three hours I executed judgment, and strove as best I could to repair a waste, neglected, and desolate realm. By 4 P.M. the ship of state had been cleared of the greater part of the raffle, and its crew — to continue the metaphor — had beaten to quarters, united and obedient once more.
Though I knew the fault lay with Bahadur Khan — wicked, abandoned, but decisive and capable-of-ruling-men Bahadur Khan — I could not rid myself of the thought that I was wrong in leaving my people so long to their own devices.
But this was absurd. A man can’t spend all his time looking after his servants, can he?
MOWGI was a mehter (a sweeper), but he was also a Punjabi, and consequently, had a head on his shoulders. Mowgi was my mehter — the property of Smith who governs a vast population of servants with unprecedented success. When he was my subject I did not appreciate him properly. I called him lazy and unclean; I protested against the multitude of his family. Mowgi asked for his dismissal — he was the only servant who ever voluntarily left the Shadow of my Protection — and I said: ‘O Mowgi, either you are an irreclaimable ruffian or a singularly self-reliant man. In either case you will come to great grief. Where do you intend to go?’ ‘God knows,’ said Mowgi cheerfully. ‘I shall leave my wife and all the children here, and go somewhere else. If you, Sahib, turn them out, they will die! For you are their only protector.’
So I was dowered with Mowgi’s wife — wives rather, for he had forgotten the new one from Rawalpindi; and Mowgi went out to the unknown, and never sent a single letter to his family. The wives would clamour in the verandah and accuse me of having taken the remittances, which they said Mowgi must have sent, to help out my own pay. When I supported them they were quite sure of the theft. For these reasons I was angry with the absent Mowgi.
Time passed, and I, the great Smith, went abroad on travels and left my Empire in Commission. The wives were the feudatory Native States, but the Commission could not make them recognise any feudal tie. They both married, saying that Mowgi was a bad man; but they never left my compound.
In the course of my wanderings I came to the great Native State of Ghorahpur, which, as every one knows, is on the borders of the Indian Desert. None the less, it requires almost as many printed forms for its proper administration as a real district. Among its other peculiarities, it was proud of its prisoners — kaidis they were called. In the old days Ghorahpur was wont to run its dacoits through the stomach or cut them with swords; but now it prides itself on keeping them in leg-irons and employing them on ‘remunerative labour,’ that is to say, in sitting in the sun by the side of a road and waiting until some road-metal comes and lays itself.
A gang of kaidis was hard at work in this fashion when I came by, and the warder was picking his teeth with the end of his bayonet. One of the fettered sinners came forward and salaamed deeply to me. It was Mowgi — fat, well fed, and with a twinkle in his eye. ‘Is the Presence in good health and are all in his house well?’ said Mowgi. ‘What in the world are you doing here?’ demanded the Presence. ‘By your honour’s favour I am in prison,’ said he, shaking one leg delicately to make the ankle-iron jingle on the leg-bar. ‘I have been in prison nearly a month.’
‘What for — dacoity?’
‘I have been a Sahib’s servant,’ said Mowgi, offended. ‘Do you think that I should ever become a low dacoit like these men here? I am in prison for making a numbering for the people.’
‘A what?’ Mowgi grinned, and told the tale of his misdeeds thus:—
‘When I left your service, Sahib, I went to Delhi, and from Delhi I came to the Sambhur Salt Lake over there!’ He pointed across the sand. ‘I was a Jemadar of mehters (a headman of sweepers) there, because these Marwarri people are without sense. Then they gave me leave because they said that I had stolen money. It was true, but I was also very glad to go away, for my legs were sore from the salt of the Sambhur Lake. I went away and hired a camel for twenty rupees a month. That was shameful talk, but these thieves of Marwarris would not let me have it for less.’
‘Where did you get the money from?’ I asked.
‘I have said that I had stolen it. I am a poor man. I could not get it by any other way.’
‘But what did you want with a camel?’
‘The Sahib shall hear. In the house of a certain Sahib at Sambhur was a big book which came from Bombay, and whenever the Sahib wanted anything to eat or good tobacco, he looked into the book and wrote a letter to Bombay, and in a week all the things came as he had ordered — soap and sugar and boots. I took that book; it was a fat one; and I shaved my moustache in the manner of Mahometans, and I got upon my camel and went away from that bad place of Sambhur.’
‘Where did you go?’
‘I cannot say. I went for four days over the sand till I was very far from Sambhur. Then I came to a village and said: “I am Wajib Ali, Bahadur, a servant of the Government, and many men are wanted to go and fight in Kabul. The order is written in this book. How many strong men have you?” They were afraid because of my big book, and because they were without sense. They gave me food, and all the headmen gave me rupees to spare the men in that village, and I went away from there with nineteen rupees. The name of that village was Kot. And as I had done at Kot, so I did at other villages — Waka, Tung, Malair, Palan, Myokal, and other places — always getting rupees that the names of the strong young men might not be written down. I went from Bikanir to Jeysulmir, till my book in which I always looked wisely so as to frighten the people, was back-broken, and I got one thousand seven hundred and eight rupees twelve annas and six pies.’
‘All from a camel and a Treacher’s Price List?’
‘I do not know the name of the book, but these people were very frightened of me. But I tried to take my takkus from a servant of this State, and he made a report, and they sent troopers, who caught me — me, and my little camel, and my big book. Therefore I was sent to prison.’
‘Mowgi,’ said I solemnly, ‘if this be true, you are a great man. When will you be out of prison?’
‘In one year. I got three months for taking the numbering of the people, and one year for pretending to be a Mahometan. But I may run away before. All these people are very stupid men.’
‘My arms, Mowgi,’ I said, ‘will be open to you when the term of your captivity is ended. You shall be my body-servant.’
‘The Presence is my father and my mother,’ said Mowgi. ‘I will come.’
‘The wives have married, Mowgi,’ I said.
‘No matter,’ said Mowgi. ‘I also have a wife at Sambhur and one here. When I return to the service of the Presence, which one shall I bring?’
‘Which one you please.’
‘The Presence is my protection and a son of the gods,’ said Mowgi. ‘Without doubt I will come as soon as I can escape.’
I am waiting now for the return of Mowgi. I will make him overseer of all my house.
NOW Hatim Tai was condemned to death by the Government, because he had stepped upon his mahout, broken his near-hindleg-chain, and punched poor old pursy Durga Pershad in the ribs till that venerable beast squealed for mercy. Hatim Tai was dangerous to the community, and the mahout’s widow said that her husband’s soul would never rest till Hatim’s little, pig-like eye was glazed in the frost of death. Did Hatim care? Not he. He trumpeted as he swung at his pickets, and he stole as much of Durga Pershad’s food as he could. Then he went to sleep and looked that ‘all the tomorrows should be as to-day,’ and that he should never carry loads again. But the minions of the Law did not sleep. They came by night and scanned the huge bulk of Hatim Tai, and took counsel together how he might best be slain.
‘If we borrowed a seven-pounder,’ began the Subaltern, ‘or, better still, if we turned him loose and had the Horse Battery out! A general inspection would be nothing to it! I wonder whether my Major would see it?’
‘Skittles,’ said all the Doctors together. ‘He’s our property.’ They severally murmured, ‘arsenic,’ ‘strychnine,’ and ‘opium,’ and went their way, while Hatim Tai dreamed of elephant loves, wooed and won long ago in the Doon. The day broke, and savage mahouts led him away to the place of execution; for he was quiet, being ‘fey,’ as are both men and beasts when they approach the brink of the grave unknowing. ‘Ha, Salah! Ha, Budmash! To-day you die!’ shouted the mahouts, ‘and Mangli’s ghost will rode you with an ankus heated in the flames of Put, O murderer and tunbellied thief.’ ‘A long journey,’ thought Hatim Tai. ‘Wonder what they’ll do at the end of it.’ He broke off the branch of a tree and tickled himself on his jowl and ears. And so he walked into the place of execution, where men waited with many chains and grievous ropes, and bound him as he had never been bound before.
‘Foolish people!’ said Hatim Tai. ‘Almost as foolish as Mangli when he called me — the pride of all the Doon, the brightest jewel in Sanderson Sahib’s crown — a “base-born.” I shall break these ropes in a minute or two, and then, between my fore and hind legs, some one is like to be hurt.’
‘How much d’you think he’ll want?’ said the first Doctor. ‘About two ounces,’ answered the second. ‘Say three to be on the safe side,’ said the first; and they did up the three. ounces of arsenic in a ball of sugar. ‘Before a fight it is best to eat,’ said Hatim Tai, and he put away the gur with a salaam; for he prided himself upon his manners. The men fell, back, and Hatim Tai was conscious of grateful warmth in his stomach. ‘Bless their innocence!’ thought he. ‘They’ve given me a mussala. I don’t think I want it; but, I’ll show that I’m not ungrateful.’
And he did! The chains and the ropes held firm. ‘It’s beginning to work,’ said a Doctor. ‘Nonsense,’ said the Subaltern. ‘I know old Hatim’s ways. He’s lost his temper. If the ropes break we’re done for.’
Hatim kicked and wriggled and squealed and did his best, so far as his anatomy allowed, to buck jump; but the ropes stretched not one inch.
‘I am making a fool of myself,’ he trumpeted. ‘I must be calm. At seventy years of age one should behave with dignity. None the less, these ropes are excessively galling.’ He ceased his struggles, and rocked to and fro sulkily. ‘He is going to fall!’ whispered a Doctor. ‘Not a bit of it. Now it’s my turn. We’ll try the strychnine,’ said the second.
Prick a large and healthy tiger with a corking-pin, and you will, in some small measure, realise the difficulty of injecting strychnine subcutaneously into an elephant nine feet eleven inches and one-half at the shoulder. Hatim Tai forgot his dignity and stood on his head, while all the world wondered. ‘I told you that would fetch him!’ shouted the apostle of strychnine, waving an enormous bottle. ‘That’s the death-rattle! Stand back all!’
But it was only Hatim Tai expressing his regret that he had slain Mangli, and so fallen into the hands of the most incompetent mahouts that he had ever made string-stirrups. ‘I was never jabbed with an ankus all over my body before; and I won’t stand it!’ blared Hatim Tai. He stood upon his head afresh and kicked. ‘Final convulsion,’ said the Doctor, just as Hatim Tai grew weary and settled into peace again. After all, it was not worth behaving like a baby. He would be calm. He was calm for two hours, and the Doctors looked at their watches and yawned.
‘Now it’s my turn,’ said the third Doctor. ‘Afim lao.’ They brought it — a knob of Patna opium of the purest, in weight half a seer. Hatim swallowed it whole. Ghazipur excise opium, two cakes of a seer each, followed, helped down with much gur. ‘This is good,’ said Hatim Tai. ‘They are sorry for their rudeness. Give me some more.’
The hours wore on, and the sun began to sink, but not so Hatim Tai. The three Doctors cast professional rivalry to the winds and united in ravaging their dispensaries in Hatim Tai’s behalf. Cyanide of potassium amused him. Bisulphide of mercury, chloral (very little of that), sulphate of copper, oxide of zinc, red lead, bismuth, carbonate of baryta, corrosive sublimate, quicklime, stramonium, veratrium, colchicum, muriatic acid, and lunar caustic, all went down, one after another, in the balls of sugar; and Hatim Tai never blenched.
It was not until the Hospital Assistant clamoured: ‘All these things Government Store and Medical Comforts,’ that the Doctors desisted and wiped their heated brows. ‘’Might as well physic a Cairo sarcophagus,’ grumbled the first Doctor, and Hatim Tai gurgled gently; meaning that he would like another gur-ball.
‘Bless my soul!’ said the Subaltern, who had gone away, done a day’s work, and returned with his pet eight-bore. ‘D’you mean to say that you haven’t killed Hatim Tai yet — three of you? Most unprofessional, I call it. You could have polished off a battery in that time.’ ‘Battery!’ shrieked the baffled medicos in chorus. ‘He’s got enough poison in his system to settle the whole blessed British Army!’
‘Let me try,’ said the Subaltern, unstrapping the gun-case in his dog-cart. He threw a handkerchief upon the ground, and passed quickly in front of the elephant. Hatim Tai lowered his head slightly to look, and even as he did so the spherical shell smote him on the ‘Saucer of Life’— the little spot no bigger than a man’s hand which is six inches above a line drawn from eye to eye. ‘This is the end,’ said Hatim Tai. ‘I die as Niwaz Jung died!’ He strove to keep his feet, staggered, recovered, and reeled afresh. Then, with one wild trumpet that rang far through the twilight, Hatim Tai fell dead among his pickets.
‘Might ha’ saved half your dispensaries if you’d called me in to treat him at first,’ said the Subaltern, wiping out the eight-bore.
SURJUN came back from Kimberley, which is Tom Tiddler’s Ground, where he had been picking up gold and silver. He was no longer a Purbeah. A real diamond ring sparkled on his hand, and his tweed suit had cost him forty-two shillings and sixpence. He paid two hundred pounds into the Bank; and it was there that I caught him and treated him as befitted a rich man. ‘O Surjun, come to my house and tell me your story.’
Nothing loath, Surjun came — diamond ring and all. His speech was composite. When he wished to be impressive he spoke English checkered with the Low Dutch slang of the Diamond Fields. When he would be expressive, he returned to his vernacular, and was as native as a gentleman with sixteen-and-sixpenny boots could be.
‘I will tell you my tale,’ said Surjun, displaying the diamond ring. ‘There was a friend of mine, and he went to Kimberley, and was a firm there selling things to the digger-men. In thirteen years he made seven thousand pounds. He came to me — I was from Chyebassa in those days — and said, “Come into my firm.” I went with him. Oh no! I was not an emigrant. I took my own ship, and we became the firm of Surjun and Jagesser. Here is the card of my firm. You can read it “Surjun and Jagesser Dubé, De Beer’s Terrace, De Beer’s Fields, Kimberley.” We made an iron house — all the houses are iron there — and we sold, to the diggers and the Kaffirs and all sorts of men, clothes, flour, mealies, that is Indian corn, sardines and milk, and salmon in tins, and boots, and blankets, and clothes just as good as the clothes as I wear now.
‘Kimberley is a good place. There are no pennies there — what you call pice — except to buy stamps with. Threepence is the smallest piece of money, and even threepence will not buy a drink. A drink is one shilling, one shilling and threepence, or one shilling and ninepence. And even the water there, it is one shilling and threepence for a hundred gallons in Kimberley. All things you get you pay money for. Yes, this diamond ring cost much money. Here is the bill, and there is the receipt stamp upon the bill —“Behrendt of Dutoitspan Road.” It is written upon the bill, and the price was thirteen pounds four shillings. It is a good diamond — Cape Diamond. That is why the colour is a little, little soft yellow. All Cape diamonds are so.
‘How did I get my money? ’Fore Gott, I cannot tell, Sahib. You sell one day, you sell the other day, and all the other days — give the thing and take the money — the money comes. If we know man very well, we give credit one week, and if very, very well, so much as one month. You buy boots for eleven shillings and sixpence sell for sixteen shillings. What you buy at one pound, you sell for thirty shillings — at Kimberley. That is the custom. No good selling bad things. All the digger-men know and the Kaffirs too.
‘The Kaffir is a strange man. He comes into the shops and say, taking a blanket, “How much?” in the Kaffir talk — So!’
Surjun here delivered the most wonderful series of clicks that I had ever heard from a human throat.
‘That is how the Kaffir asks “How much?”’ said Surjun calmly, enjoying the sensation that he had produced.
‘Then you say, “No, you say,” and you say it so.’ (More clicks and a sound like a hurricane of kisses.) ‘Then the Kaffir he say: “No, no, that blanket your blanket, not my blanket. You say”’ ‘ And how long does this business last?’ ‘Till the Kaffir he tired, and says,’ answered Surjun. ‘And then do you begin the real bargaining.’ ‘Yes,’ said Surjun, ‘same as in bazar here. The Kaffir he says, “I can’t pay!” Then you fold up blanket, and Kaffir goes away. Then he comes back and says “gobu,” that is Kaffir for blanket. And so you sell him all he wants.’
‘Poor Kaffir! And what is Kimberley like to look at?’
‘A beautiful clean place — all so clean, and there is a very good law there. This law. A man he come into your compound after nine o’clock, and you say vootsac — same as nickle jao — and he doesn’t vootsac; suppose you shoot that man and he dies, and he calls you before magistrate, he can’t do nothing.’
‘Very few dead men can. Are you allowed to shoot before saying “vootsac”?’
‘Oh Hell, yes! Shoot if you see him in the compound after nine o’clock. That is the law. Perhaps he have come to steal diamonds. Many men steal diamonds, and buy and sell without license. That is called Aidibi.’
‘Oh! “I.D.B.” I see. Well, what happens to them?’
‘They go to gaol for years and years. Very many men in gaol for I.D.B. Very many men your people, very few mine. Heaps of Kaffirs. Kaffir he swallows diamond, and takes medicine to find him again. You get not less than ten years for I.D.B. But I and my friend, we stay in our iron house and mind shop. That too is the way to make money.’
‘Aren’t your people glad to see you when you come back? ‘
‘My people is all dead. Father dead, mother dead; and only brother living with some children across the river. I have been there, but that is not my place. I belong to nowhere now. They are all dead. After a few weeks I take my steamer to Kimberley, and then my friend he come here and put his money in the Bank.’
‘Why don’t you bank in Kimberley?’
‘I wanted to see my brother, and I have given him one thousand rupees. No, one hundred pounds; that is more, more. Here is the Bank bill. All the others he is dead. There are some people of this country at Kimberley — Rajputs, Brahmins, Ahirs, Parsees, Chamars, Bunnias, Telis — all kinds go there. But my people are dead. I shall take my brother’s son back with me to Kimberley, and when he can talk the Kaffir talk, he will be useful, and he shall come into the firm. My brother does not mind. He sees that I am rich. And now I must go to the village, Sahib. Good day, sir.’
Surjun rose, made as if to depart, but returned. The Native had come to the top.
‘Sahib! Is this talk for publish in paper?’
‘Then put in about this diamond ring.’ He went away, twirling the ring lovingly on his finger.
Know, therefore, O Public, by these presents, that Surjun, son of Surjun, one time resident in the village of Jhusi, in the District of Allahabad, in the North-West Provinces, at present partner in the firm of Surjun and Jagesser Dubé, De Beer’s Terrace, De Beer’s Fields, Kimberley, who has tempted his fortune beyond the seas, owns legally and rightfully a Cape stone, valued at thirteen pounds four shillings sterling, sold to him by Behrendt of Dutoitspan Road, Kimberley.
And it looks uncommonly well.
THIS IS the true story of the terrible disgrace that came to Jullundri mehter, through Jamuna, his wife. Those who say that a mehter has no caste, speak in ignorance. Those who say that there is a caste in the Empire so mean and so abject that there are no castes below it, speak in greater ignorance. The arain says that the chamar has no caste; the chamar knows that the mehter has none; and the mehter swears by Lal Beg, his god, that the od, whose god is Bhagirat, is without caste. Below the od lies the kaparia-bawaria, in spite of all that the low-caste Brahmins say or do. A Teji mehter or a Sundoo mehter is as much above a kaparia-bawaria as an Englishman is above a mehter. Lal Beg is the mehter-god, and his image is the Glorified Broom made of peacocks’ feathers, red cloth, scraps of tinsel, and the cast-off finery of English toilette tables.
Jamuna was a Malka-sansi of Gujrat, an eater of lizards and dogs, one ‘married under the basket,’ a worshipper of Malang Shah. When her first husband was cast into the Lahore Central Gaol for lifting a pony on the banks of the Ravee, Jamuna cut herself adrift from her section of the tribe and let it pass on to Delhi. She believed that the Government would keep her man for two or three days only; but it kept him for two years — long enough for a sansi to forget everything in this world except the customs of her tribe. Those are never forgotten.
As she waited for the return of her man, she scraped acquaintance with a mehtranee ayah in the employ of a Eurasian, and assisted her in the grosser portions of her work. She also earned money — sufficient to buy her a cloth and food. ‘The sansi,’ as one of their proverbs says, ‘will thrive in a desert.’ ‘What are you?’ said the mehtranee to Jamuna. ‘A Boorat mehtranee,’ said Jamuna, for the sansi, as one of their proverbs says, are quick-witted as snakes. ‘A Boorat mehtranee from the south,’ said Jamuna; and her statement was not questioned, for she wore good clothes, and her black hair was combed and neatly parted.
Clinging to the skirts of the Eurasian’s ayah, Jamuna climbed to service under an Englishman — a railway employé’s wife. Jamuna had ambitions. It was pleasant to be a mehtranee of good standing. It will be better still, thought Jamuna, to turn Mussulman and be married to a real table-servant, openly, by the mullah. Such things had been; and Jamuna was fair.
But Jullundri, mehter, was a man to win the heart of woman, and he stole away Jamuna’s in the dusk, when she took the English babies for their walks.
‘You have brought me a stranger-wife. Why did you not marry among your own clan?’ said his grey-haired mother to Jullundri. ‘A strangerwife is a curse and a fire.’ Jullundri laughed; for he was a jemadar of mehters, drawing seven rupees a month, and Jamuna loved him.
‘A curse and a fire and a shame,’ muttered the old woman, and she slunk into her hut and cursed Jamuna.
But Lal Beg, the very powerful God of the mehters, was not deceived, and he put a stumblingblock in the path of Jamuna that brought her to open shame. ‘A sansi is as quick-witted as a snake’; but the snake longs for the cactus hedge, and a sansi for the desolate freedom of the wild ass. Jamuna knew the chant of Lai Beg, the prayer to the Glorified Broom, and had sung it many times in rear of the staggering, tottering pole as it was borne down the Mall. Lal Beg was insulted.
His great festival in the month of Har brought him revenge on Jamuna and Jullundri. Husband and wife followed the Glorified Broom, through the station and beyond, to the desolate grey flats by the river, near the Forest Reserve and the Bridge-of-Boats. Two hundred mehters shouted and sang till their voices failed them, and they halted in the sand, still warm with the day’s sun. On a spit near the burning ghât, a band of sansis had encamped, and one of their number had brought in a ragged bag full of lizards caught on the Meean Meer road. The gang were singing over their captures, singing that quaint song of the ‘Passing of the Sansis,’ which fires the blood of all true thieves.
Over the sand the notes struck clearly on Jamuna’s ear as the Lal Beg procession re-formed and moved Citywards. But louder than the cry of worshippers of Lal Beg rose the song of Jamuna, the sober Boorat mehtranee, and mother of Jullundri’s children. Shrill as the noise of the nightwind among rocks went back to the sansi camp the answer of the ‘Passing of the Sansis,’ and the mehters drew back in horror. But Jamuna heard only the call from the ragged huts by the river, and the call of the song —
‘The horses, the horses, the fat horses, and the sticks, the little sticks of the tents. Aho! Aho!
Feet that leave no mark on the sand, and fingers that leave no trace on the door. Aho! Aho!
By the name of Malang Shah; in darkness, by the reed and the rope. . . . ‘
So far Jamuna sang, but the head man of the procession of Lal Beg struck her heavily across the mouth, saying, ‘By this I know that thou art a sansi.’
MARCHING-ORDERS as vague as the following naturally ended in confusion: ‘There’s a priest somewhere, in Amritsar or outside it, or somewhere else, who cut off his tongue some days ago, and says it’s grown again. Go and look.’ Amritsar is a city with a population of one hundred and fifty thousand, more or less, and so huge that a tramway runs round the walls. To lay hands on one particular man of all the crowd was not easy; for the tongue having grown again, he would in no way differ from his fellows. Now, had he remained tongueless, an inspection of the mouths of the passers-by would have been some sort of guide. However, dumb or tongued, all Amritsar knew about him. The small Parsee boy, who appears to run the refreshment-room alone, volunteered the startling information that the ‘Priest without the tongue could be found all anywhere, in the city or elsewhere,’ and waved his little hands in circles to show the vastness of his knowledge. A booking-clerk — could it be possible that he was of the Arya-Samaj? — had also heard of the Sadhu, and, pen in hand, denounced him as an impostor, a ‘bad person,’ and a ‘fraudulent mendicant.’ He grew so excited, and jabbed his pen so viciously into the air that his questioner fled to a ticca-gharri, where he was prompted by some Imp of Perversity to simulate extreme ignorance of the language to deceive the driver. So he said twice with emphasis, ‘Sadhu?’ ‘Jehan,’ said the driver, ‘fush-class, Durbar Sahib!’ Then the fare thrust out his tongue, and the scales fell from the driver’s eyes. ‘Bahut accha,’ said the driver, and without further parley headed into the trackless desert that encircles Fort Govindghar. The Sahib’s word conveyed no meaning to him, but he understood the gesture; and, after a while, turned the carriage from a road to a plain.
Close to the Lahore Veterinary School lies a cool, brick-built, tree-shaded monastery, studded with the tombs of the pious founders, adorned with steps, terraces, and winding paths, which is known as Chajju Bhagat’s Chubara. This place is possessed with the spirit of peace, and is filled by priests in salmon-coloured loin-cloths and a great odour of sanctity. The Amritsar driver had halted in the very double of the Lahore chubara — assuring his fare that here and nowhere else would be found the Sadhu with the miraculous tongue.
Indeed the surroundings were such as delight the holy men of the East. There was a sleepy breeze through the pipals overhead, and a square court crammed with pigeon-holes where one might sleep; there were fair walls and mounds and little mud-platforms against or on which fires for cooking could be built, and there were wells by the dozen. There were priests by the score who sprang out of the dust, and slid off balconies or rose from cots as inquiries were made for the Sadhu. They were nice priests, sleek, full-fed, thick-jowled beasts, undefiled by wood-ash or turmeric, and mostly good-looking. The older men sang songs to the squirrels and the dust-puffs that the light wind was raising on the plain. They were idle — very idle. The younger priests stated that the Sadhu with the tongue had betaken himself to another chubara some miles away, and was even then being worshipped by hordes of admirers. They did not specify the exact spot, but pointed vaguely in the direction of Jandiala. However, the driver said he knew and made haste to depart. The priests pointed out courteously that the weather was warm, and that it would be better to rest a while before starting. So a rest was called, and while he sat in the shadow of the gate of the courtyard, the Englishman realised for a few minutes why it is that, now and then, men of his race, suddenly going mad, turn to the people of this land and become their priests; as did —— on the Bombay side, and later — — who lived for a time with the fakir on the top of Jakko. The miraculous idleness — the monumental sloth of the place; the silence as the priests settled down to sleep one by one; the drowsy drone of one of the younger men who had thrown himself stomach-down in the warm dust and was singing under his breath; the warm airs from across the plain and the faint smell of burnt ghi and incense, laid hold of the mind and limbs till, for at least fifteen seconds, it seemed that life would be a good thing if one could doze, and bask, and smoke from the rising of the sun till the twilight — a fat hog among fat hogs.
The chase was resumed, and the gharri drove to Jandiala — more or less. It abandoned the main roads completely, although it was a ‘fush-class,’ and comported itself like an ekka, till Amritsar sunk on the horizon, or thereabouts, and it pulled up at a second chubara, more peaceful and secluded than the first, and fenced with a thicker belt of trees. There was an eruption under the horses’ feet and a scattering of dust, which presently settled down and showed a beautiful young man with a head such as artists put on the shoulders of Belial. It was the head of an unlicked devil, marvellously handsome, and it made the horses shy. Belial knew nothing of the Sadhu who had cut out the tongue. He scowled at the driver, scowled at the fare, and then settled down in the dust, laughing wildly, and pointing to the earth and the sky. Now for a native to laugh aloud, without reason, publicly and at high noon, is a gruesome thing and calculated to chill the blood. Even the sight of silver coinage had no effect on Belial. He dilated his nostrils, pursed his lips, and gave himself up to renewed mirth. As there seemed to be no one else in the chubara, the carriage drove away, pursued by the laughter of the Beautiful Young Man in the Dust. A priest was caught wandering on the road, but for long he denied all knowledge of the Sadhu. In vain the Englishman protested that he came as a humble believer in the miracle; that he carried an offering of rupees for the Sadhu; that he regarded the Sadhu as one of the leading men of the century, and would render him immortal for at least twelve hours. The priest was dumb. He was next bribed — extortionately bribed — and said that the Sadhu was at the Durbar Sahib preaching. To the Golden temple accordingly the carriage went and found the regular array of ministers and the eternal passage of Sikh women round and round the Grunth; which things have been more than once described in this paper. But there was no Sadhu. An old Nihang, grey-haired and sceptical — for he had lived some thirty years in a church as it were — was sitting on the steps of the tank, dabbling his feet in the water. ‘O Sahib,’ said he blandly, ‘what concern have you with a miraculous Sadhu? You are not a Poliswala. And, O Sahib, what concern has the Sadhu with you?’ he Englishman explained with heat — for fruitless drives in the middle of an October day are trying to the temper — his adventures at the various chubaras, not omitting the incident of the Beautiful Young Man in the Dust. The Nihang smiled shrewdly: ‘Without doubt, Sahib, these men have told you lies. They do not want you to see the Sadhu; and the Sadhu does not desire to see you. This affair is an affair for us common people and not for Sahibs. The honour of the Gods is increased; but you do not worship the Gods.’ So saying he gravely began to undress and waddled into the water.
Then the Englishman perceived that he had been basely betrayed by the gharri-driver, and all the priests of the first chubara, and the wandering priest near the second chubara; and that the only sensible person was the Beautiful Young Man in the Dust, and he was mad.
This vexed the Englishman, and he came away. If Sadhus cut out their tongues and if the great Gods restore them, the devotees might at least have the decency to be interviewed.
My notion was that you had been
(Before they had this fit)
An obstacle that came between
Him and ourselves and it.
‘That’s the most important piece of evidence we’ve heard yet,’ said the king, rubbing his hands. So now let the jury . . .’
‘If any one of them can explain it,’ said Alice, ‘I’ll give him sixpence. I don’t believe there’s an atom of meaning in it’— Alice in Wonderland.
THIS, Protector of the Poor, is the hissab (your bill of house-expenses) for last month and a little bit of the month before — eleven days — and this, I think, is what it will be next month. Is it a long bill in five sheets? Assuredly yes, Sahib. Are the accounts of so honourable a house of the Sahib to be kept on one sheet only? This hissab cost one rupee to write. It is true that the Sahib will pay the one rupee; but consider how beautiful and and how true is the account, and how clean is the paper. Ibrahim, who is the very best petition-writer in all the bazar, drew it up. Ahoo! Such an account is this account! And I am to explain it all? Is it not written there in the red ink, and the black ink, and the green ink? What more does the Heaven-born want? Ibrahim, who is the best of all the petition-writers in the bazar, made this hissab. There is an envelope also. Shall I fetch that envelope? Ibrahim has written your name outside in three inks — a very murasla is this envelope. An explanation? Ahoo! God is my witness that it is as plain as the sun at noon. By your Honour’s permission I will explain, taking the accounts in my hand.
Now there are four accounts — that for last month, which is in red; that for the month before, which is in black; that for the month to come, which is in green; and an account of private expense and dispens, which is in pencil. Does the Presence understand that? Very good talk.
There was the bread, and the milk, and the cow’s food, and both horses, and the saddle-soap for last month, which is in green ink. No, red ink — the Presence speaks the truth. It was red ink, and it was for last month, and that was fifty-seven rupees eight annas; but there was the cost of a new manger for the cow, to be sunk into mud, and that was eleven annas. But I did not put that into the last month’s account. I carried that over to this month — the green ink. No? There is no account for this month? Your Honour speaks the truth. Those eleven annas I carried thus — in my head.
The Sahib has said it is not a matter of eleven annas, but of seventy-seven rupees. That is quite true; but, O Sahib, if I, and Ibrahim, who is the best petition-writer in the bazar, do not attend to the annas, how shall your substance increase? So the food and the saddle-soap for the cows and the other things were fifty-seven rupees eight annas, and the servants’ wages were a hundred and ten — all for last month. And now I must think, for this is a large account. Oh yes! It was in Jeth that I spoke to the Dhobi about the washing, and he said, ‘My bill will be eleven rupees two pies.’ It is written there in the green ink, and that, in addition to the soap, was sixty-eight rupees, seven annas, two pies. All of last month. And the hundred and ten rupees for the servants’ wages make the total to one hundred and seventy-eight rupees, seven annas, two pies, as Ibrahim, who is the best petition-writer in the bazar, has set down.
But I said that all things would only be one hundred and fifty? Yes. That was at first,. Sahib, before I was well aware of all things. Later on, it will be in the memory of the Presence that I said it would be one hundred and ninety. But that was before I had spoken to the Dhobi. No, it was before I had bought the trunk-straps for which you gave orders. I remember that I said it would be one hundred and ninety. Why is the Sahib so hot? Is not the account long enough? I know always what the expense of the house will be. Let the Presence follow my finger. That is the green ink, that is the black, here is the red, and there is the pencil-mark of the private expenses. To this I add what I said six weeks ago before I had bought the trunk-straps by your order. And so that is a fifth account. Very good talk! The Presence has seen what happened last month, and I will now show the month before last, and the month that is to come — together in little brackets; the one bill balancing to the other like swinging scales.
Thus runs the account of the month before last:— A box of matches three pies, and black thread for buttons three annas (it was the best black thread), khas — khas for the tatties twelve annas; and the other things forty-one rupees. To which that of the month to come had an answer in respect to the candles for the dog-cart; but I did not know how much these would cost, and I have written one rupee two annas, for they are always changing their prices in the bazar. And the oil for the carriage is one rupee, and the other things are forty-one rupees, and that is for the next month.
An explanation? Still an explanation? Khuda-ka-kusm! Have I not explained and has not Ibrahim, who is notoriously the best petition-writer in the bazar, put it down in the red ink, and the green ink, and the black; and is there not the private dispens account, withal, showing what should have been but which fell out otherwise, and what might have been but could not?
Ai, Sahib, what can I do? It is perhaps a something heavy bill, but there were reasons; and let the Presence consider that the Dhobi lived at the ghat over against the river, and I had to go there — two kos, upon my faith! — to get his bill; and, moreover, the horses were shod at the hospital, and that was a kos away, and the Hospital Babu was late in rendering his accounts. Does the Sahib say that I should know how the accounts will fall — not only for the month before last, but for this month as well? I do — I did — I will do! Is it my fault that more rupees have gone than I knew? The Sahib laughs! Forty years I have been a khansamah to the Sahib-log — from mussalchi to mate, and head khansamah have I risen (smites himself on the breast), and never have I been laughed at before. Why does the Sahib laugh? By the blessed Imams, my uncle was cook to Jan Larens; and I am a priest at the Musjid; and I am laughed at? Sahib, seeing that there were so many bills to come in, and that the Dhobi lived at the ghat as I have said, and the Horse hospital was a kos away, and God only knows where the sweeper lived, but his account came late also, it is not strange that I should be a little stupid as to my accounts, whereof there are so many. For the Dhobi was at the ghat, etc. Forty years have I been a khansamah, and there is no khansamah who could have kept his accounts so well. Only by my great and singular regard for the welfare of the Presence does it come about that they are not a hundred rupees wrong. For the Dhobi was at the ghat, etc. And I will not be laughed at! The accounts are beautiful accounts, and only I could have kept them.”
. . . . .
. . . . .
Sahib — Sahib! Garibparwar! I have been to Ibrahim, who is the best petition-writer in the bazar, and he has written all that I have said — all that the Sahib could not understand — upon pink paper from Sialkot. So now there are the five accounts and the explanation; and for the writing of all six you, O Sahib, must pay! But for my honour’s sake do not laugh at me any more.
From Golam Singh, Mistri, Landin, Belait, to Ram Singh, Mistri, son of Jeewun Singh, in the town of Rajah Jung, in the tehsil of Kasur, in the district of Lahore, in the Province of the Punjab.
Wah Gooroojee ki futteh.
CALL together now our friends and brothers, and our children and the Lambardar, to the big square by the well. Say that I, Golam Singh, have written you a letter across the Black Water, and let the town hear of the wonders which I have seen in Belait. Rutton Singh, the bunnia, who has been to Delhi, will tell you, my brother, that I am a liar; but I have witnesses of our faith, besides the others, who will attest when we return what I have written.
I have now been many days in Belait, in this big city. Though I were to write till my hand fell from my wrist, I could not state its bigness. I myself know that, to see one another, the Sahib-log, of whom there are crores of crores, use the railway dâk, which is laid not above the ground as is the Sirkar’s railway in our own country, but underneath it, below the houses. I have gone down myself into this rail together with the other witnesses. The air is very bad in those places, and this is why the Sahib-log have become white.
There are more people here than I have ever seen. Ten times as many as there are at Delhi, and they are all Sahibs who do us great honour. Many hundred Sahibs have been in our country, and they all speak to us, asking if we are pleased.
In this city the streets run for many miles in a straight line, and are so broad that four bullock-carts of four bullocks might stand side by side. At night they are lit with English lamps, which need no oil, but are fed by wind which burns. I and the others have seen this. By day sometimes the sun does not shine, and the city becomes black. Then these lamps are lit all day and men go to work.
The bazars are three times as large as our bazars, and the shopkeepers, who are all Sahibs, sit inside where they cannot be seen, but their name is written outside. There are no bunnias’ shops, and all the prices are written. If the price is high, it cannot be lowered; nor will the shopkeeper bargain at all. This is very strange. But I have witnesses.
One shop I have seen was twice as large as Rajah Jung. It held hundreds of shopkeeper-sahibs and memsahibs, and thousands who come to buy. The Sahib-log speak one talk when they purchase their bazar, and they make no noise.
There are no ekkas here, but there are yellow and green ticca-gharries bigger than Rutton Singh’s house, holding half a hundred people. The horses here are as big as elephants. I have seen no ponies, and there are no buffaloes.
It is not true that the Sahibs use the belaitee punkah (the thermantidote) like as you and I made for the Dipty Sahib two years ago. The air is cold, and there are neither coolies nor verandahs. Nor do the Sahibs drink belaitee panee (soda-water) when they are thirsty. They drink water — very clean and good — as we do.
In this city there are plains so vast that they appear like jungle; but when you have crossed them you come again to lakhs of houses, and there are houses on all sides. None of the houses are of mud or wood, but all are in brick or stone. Some have carved doors in stone, but the carving is very bad. Even the door of Rutton Singh’s house is better carved; but Rutton Singh’s house could be put into any fore-court of these belaitee houses. They are as big as mountains.
No one sleeps outside his house or in the road. This is thought shameless; but it is very strange to see. There are no flat roofs to the houses. They are all pointed; I have seen this and so have the others.
In this city there are so many carriages and horses in the street that a man, to cross over, must call a police-wallah, who puts up his hand, and the carriages stop. I swear to you by our father that on account of me, Golam Singh mistri, all the carriages of many streets have been stopped that I might cross like a Padshah. Let Rutton Singh know this.
In this city for four annas you may send news faster than the wind over four hundred kos. There are witnesses; and I have a paper of the Government showing that this is true.
In this city our honour is very great, and we have learned to shekand like the Sahib-logue. All the memsahibs, who are very beautiful, look at us, but we do not understand their talk. These memsahibs are like the memsahibs in our country.
In this city there are a hundred dances every night. The houses where they nautch hold many thousand people, and the nautch is so wonderful that I cannot describe it. The Sahibs are a wonderful people. They can make a sea upon dry land, and then a fire, and then a big fort with soldiers — all in half an hour while you look. The other men will say this too, for they also saw what I saw at one of the nautches.
Rutton Singh’s son, who has become a pleader, has said that the Sahibs are only men like us black men. This is a lie, for they know more than we know. I will tell. When we people left Bombay for Belait, we came upon the Black Water, which you cannot understand. For five days we saw only the water, as flat as a planed board with no marks on it. Yet the Captain Sahib in charge of the fire-boat said, from the first, ‘In five days we shall reach a little town, and in four more a big canal.’ These things happened as he had said, though there was nothing to point the road, and the little town was no bigger than the town of Lod. We came there by night, and yet the Captain Sahib knew! How, then, can Rutton Singh’s son say such lies? I have seen this city in which are crores of crores of people. There is no end to its houses and its shops, for I have never yet seen the open jungle. There is nothing hidden from these people. They can turn the night into day [I have seen it], and they never rest from working. It is true that they do not understand carpenter’s work, but all other things they understand, as I and the people with me have seen. They are no common people.
Bid our father’s widow see to my house and little Golam Singh’s mother; for I return in some months, and I have bought many wonderful things in this country, the like of which you have never seen. But your minds are ignorant, and you will say I am a liar. I shall, therefore, bring my witnesses to humble Rutton Singh, bunnia, who went to Delhi, and who is an owl and the son of an owl.
From Yakub Khan, Kuki Khel, of Lala China, Malik, in the Englishman’s City of Calcutta with Vahbtahn Sahib, to Katal Khan, Kuki Khel, of Lala China, which is in the Khaibar. This letter to go by the Sirkar’s mail to Pubbi, and thence Mahbub Ali, the writer, takes delivery and, if God pleases, gives to my son.
Also, for my heart is clean, this writing goes on to Sultan Khan, on the upper hill over against Kuka Ghoz, which is in Bara, through the country of the Zuka Khel. Mahbub Ali goes through if God pleases.
To My Son. — Know this. I have come with the others and Vahbtahn (Warburton) Sahib, as was agreed, down to the river, and the rail-dâk does not stop at Attock. Thus the Mullah of Tordurra lied. Remember this when next he comes for food. The rail-dâk goes on for many days. The others who came with me are witnesses to this. Fifteen times, for there was but little to do in the dâk, I made all the prayers from the niyah to the munajat, and yet the journey was not ended. And at the places where we stopped there were often to be seen the fighting-men of the English, such as those we killed, when certain of our men went with the Bonerwals in the matter of Umbeyla, whose guns I have in my house. Everywhere there were fighting-men; but it may be that the English were afraid of us, and so drew together all their troops upon the line of the rail-dâk and the fire-carriage. Vahbtahn Sahib is a very clever man, and he may have given the order. None the less, there must be many troops in this country; more than all the strength of the Afridis. But Yar Khan says that all the land, which runs to the east and to the west many days’ journey in the rail-dâk, is also full of fighting-men, and. big guns by the score. Our Mullahs gave us no news of this when they said that, in the matter of six years gone, there were no more English in the land, all having been sent to Afghanistan, and that the country was rising in fire behind them. Tell the Mullah of Tordurra the words of Yar Khan. He has lied in respect to the rail-dâk, and it may be that he will now speak the truth regarding what his son saw when he went to Delhi with the horses. I have asked many men for news of the strength of the fighting-men in this country, and all say that it is very great. Howbeit, Vahbtahn Sahib is a clever man and may have told them to speak thus, as I told the women of Sikanderkhelogarhi to speak when we were pressed by the Sangu Khel, in that night when you, my son, took Torukh Khan’s head, and I saw that I had bred a man.
If there be as many men throughout the place as I have seen and the people say, the mouth of the Khaibar is shut, and it were better to give no heed to our Mullahs. But read further and see for what reasons I, who am a Malak of the Kuki Khel, say this. I have come through many cities — all larger than Kabul. Rawal Pindi, which is far beyond the Attock, whence came all the English who fought us in the business of six years gone. That is a great city, filled with fighting-men — four thousand of both kinds, and guns. Lahore is also a great city, with another four thousand troops, and that is one night by the rail-dâk from Rawal Pindi. Amritsar has a strong fort, but I do not know how many men are there. The words of the people who go down with the grapes and the almonds in the winter are true, and our Mullahs have lied to us. Jullundur is also a place of troops, and there is a fort at Phillour, and there are many thousand men at Umballa, which is one night, going very swiftly in the rail-dâk, from Lahore. And at Meerut, which is half a day from Umballa, there are more men and horses; and at Delhi there are more also, in a very strong fort. Our people go only as far south as Delhi; but beyond Delhi there are no more strong Punjabi people — but only a mean race without strength. The country is very rich here, flat, with cattle and crops. We, of the villages of the Khaibar alone, could loot these people; but there are more fighting-men at Agra, and at Cawnpore, and at Allahabad, and many other places, whose names do not stay with me. Thus, my son, by day and by night, always going swiftly in the rail-dâk we came down to this very big city of Calcutta.
My mouth dripped when I saw the place that they call Bengal — so rich it was; and my heart was troubled when I saw how many of the English were there. The land is very strongly held, and there are a multitude of English and half-English in the place. They give us great honour, but all men regard us as though we were strange beasts, and not fighting-men with hundreds of guns. If Yar Khan has spoken truth and the land throughout is as I have seen, and no show has been made to fill us with fear, I, Yakub Khan, tell you, my son, and you, O Sultan Khan! that the English do well to thus despise us; for on the Oath of a Pathan, we are only beasts in their sight. It may be that Vahbtahn Sahib has told them all to look at us in this manner — for, though we receive great honour, no man shows fear, and busies himself with his work when we have passed by. Even that very terrible man, the Governor of Kabul, would be as no one in this great City of Calcutta. Were I to write what I have seen, all our people would say that I was mad and a liar. But this I will write privately, that only you, my son, and Sultan Khan may see; for ye know that, in respect to my own blood, I am no liar. There are lights without oil or wood burning brightly in this city; and on the water of the river lie boats which go by fire, as the rail-dâk goes, carrying men and fighting-men by two and three thousand. God knows whence they come! They travel by water, and therefore there must be yet another country to the eastward full of fighting-men. I cannot make clear how these things are. Every day more boats come. I do not think that this is arranged by Vahbtahn Sahib; for no man in those boats takes any notice of us; and we feel, going to and from every place, that we are children. When that Kaffir came to us, three years agone, is it in thy memory how, before we shot him, we looked on him for a show, and the children came out and laughed? In this place no children laugh at us; but none the less do we feel that we are all like that man from Kafirstan.
In the matter of our safe-conduct, be at ease. We are with Vahbtahn Sahib, and his word is true. Moreover, as we said in the jirgah, we have been brought down to see the richness of the country, and for that reason they will do us no harm. I cannot tell why they, being so strong — if these things be not all arranged by Vahbtahn Sahib — took any trouble for us. Yar Khan, whose heart has become so soft within him in three days, says that the louse does not kill the Afridi, but none the less the Afridi takes off his upper-coat for the itching. This is a bitter saying, and I, O my son, and O my friend Sultan Khan, am hard upon believing it.
I put this charge upon you. Whatever the Mullah of Tordurra may say, both respecting the matter that we know of, which it is not prudent to write, and respecting the going-out in spring against the Sangu Khel, do you, my son, and you, Sultan Khan, keep the men of the Khaibar villages, and the men of the Upper Bara, still, till I return and can speak with my mouth. The blood-feuds are between man and man, and these must go forward by custom; but let there be no more than single shots fired. We will speak together, and ye will discover that my words are good. I would give hope if I could, but I cannot give hope. Yar Khan says that it were well to keep to the blood-feuds only; and he hath said openly among us, in the smoking-time, that he has a fear of the English, greater than any fear of the curses of our Mullahs. Ye know that I am a man unafraid. Ye knew when I cut down the Malik of the Sipah Khel, when he came into Kadam, that I was a man unafraid. But this is no matter of one man’s life, or the lives of a hundred, or a thousand; and albeit I cursed Yar Khan with the others, yet in my heart I am afraid even as he is. If these English, and God knows where their homes lie, for they come from a strange place, we do not know how strong in fighting-men — if, O my son, and friend of my heart Sultan Khan, these devils can thus fill the land over four days’ journey by this very swift rail-dâk from Peshawar, and can draw white light, as bright as the sun, from iron poles, and can send fire-boats full of men from the east, and moreover, as I have seen, can make new rupees as easily as women make cow-dung cakes — what can the Afridis do?
The Mullah of Tordurra said that they came from the west, and that their rail-dâk stopped at Attock, and that there were none of them except those who came into our country in the great fight. In all three things he has lied. Give no heed to him. I myself will shoot him when I return. If he be a Saint, there will be miracles over his tomb, which I will build. If he be no Saint, there is but one Mullah the less. It were better that he should die than take the Khaibar villages into a new blockade; as did the Mullah of Kardara, when we were brought to shame by Jan Larens and I was a young man.
The black men in this place are dogs and children. To such an one I spoke yesterday, saying, ‘Where is Vahbtahn Sahib?’ and he answered nothing, but laughed. I took him by the throat and shook him, only a little and very gently, for I did not wish to bring trouble on Vahbtahn Sahib, and he has said that our customs are not the customs of this country. This black man wept, and said that I had killed him, but truly I had only shaken him to and fro. He was a fat man, with white stockings, dressed in woman’s fashion, speaking English, but acting without courtesy either to the Sahibs or to us. Thus are all the black people in the city of Calcutta. But for these English, we who are here now could loot the city, and portion out the women, who are fair.
I have bought an English rifle for you, my son, better than the one which Shere Khan stole from Cherat last summer, throwing to two thousand paces; and for Sultan Khan an English revolver, as he asked. Of the wonders of this great city I will speak when we meet, for I cannot write them.
When I came from Lala China the tale of blood between our house and the house of Zarmat Shah lacked one on our side. I have been gone many days, but I have no news from you that it is made even. If ye have not yet killed the boy who had the feud laid upon him when I went, do nothing but guard your lives till ye get the new rifle. With a steady rest it will throw across the valley into Zarmat Shah’s field, and so ye can kill the women at evening.
Now I will cease, for I am tired of this writing. Make Mahbub Ali welcome, and bid him stay till ye have written an answer to this, telling me whether all be well in my house. My blood is not cold that I charge you once again to give no ear to the Mullahs, who have lied, as I will show; and, above all else, to keep the villages still till I return. Nor am I a clucking hen of a Khuttick if I write last, that these English are devils, against whom only the Will of God can help us.
And why should we beat our heads against a rock, for we only spill our brains
And when we have the Valley to content us, why should we go out against the Mountain?
A strong man, saith Kabir, is strong only till he meet with a stronger.
1888: On Wednesday morning last, the ashes of the late ruler of Gwalior were consigned to the Ganges without the walls of Allahabad Fort. Scindia died in June of last year, and, shortly after the cremation, the main portion of the ashes were taken to the water. Yesterday’s function, the disposal of what remained (it is impossible not to be horrible in dealing with such a subject), was comparatively of an unimportant nature, but rather grim to witness.
Beyond the melon-beds and chappar villages that stand upon the spit of sun-baked mud and sand by the confluence of the Jumna and the Ganges, lies a flag-bedizened home of fakirs, gurus, gosains, sanyasis, and the like. A stone’s throw from this place boils and eddies the line of demarcation between the pure green waters of the Jumna and the turbid current of the Ganges; and here they brought the ashes of Scindia. With these came minor functionaries of the Gwalior State, six Brahmins of the Court, and nine of Scindia’s relatives. In his lifetime, the Maharaja had a deep and rooted distrust of his own family and clan, and no Scindia was ever allowed office about him. Indeed, so great was his aversion that he would not even permit them to die in the Luskar, or City of Gwalior. They must needs go out when their last hour came, and die in a neighbouring jaghir village which belongea to Sir Michael Filose, one of that Italian family which has served the State so long and faithfully. When such an one had died, Scindia, by his own command, was not informed of the event till the prescribed days of mourning had elapsed. Then notice was given to him by the placing of his bed on the ground — a sign of mourning — and he would ask, not too tenderly, ‘Which Scindia is dead?’
Considering this unamiable treatment, the wonder was that so many as nine of his own kin could be found to attend the last rites on that sun-dried mud-bank. There was, or seemed to be, no attempt at ceremony, and, naturally enough, no pretence at grief; nor was there any gathering of native notables. The common crowd and the multitude of priests had the spectacle to themselves, if we except a few artillerymen from the Fort, who had strolled down to see what was happening to ‘one of them (qualified) kings.’ By ten o’clock, a tawdry silken litter bearing the ashes and accompanied by the mourners, had reached the water’s edge, where wooden cots had been run out into the stream, and where the water-deepened boats had been employed to carry the press of sight-seers. Underfoot, the wet ground was trodden by hundreds of feet into a slimy pulp of mud and stale flowers of sacrifice; and on this compost slipped and blundered a fine white horse, whose fittings were heavy with bosses of new silver. He, and a big elephant, adorned with a necklace of silver plaques, were a gift to the priests who in cash and dinners would profit by the day’s work to the extent of eight or ten thousand rupees.
Overhead a hundred fakirs’ flags, bearing devices of gods, beasts, and the trident of Shiva, fluttered in the air while all around, like vultures drawn by carrion, crowded the priests. There were burly, bull-necked, freshly oiled ruffians, sleek of paunch and jowl, clothed in pure white linen; mad wandering mendicants carrying the peacock’s feather, the begging bowl, and the patched cloak; salmon-robed sanyasis from up-country, and evil-eyed gosains from the south. They crowded upon the wooden bedsteads, piled themselves upon the boats, and jostled into the first places in the crowd in the mud, and all their eyes were turned toward two nearly naked men who seemed to be kneading some Horror in their hands and dropping it into the water. The closely packed boats rocked gently, the crowd babbled and buzzed, and uncouth music wailed and shrieked, while from behind the sullen, squat bulk of Allahabad Fort the booming of minute-guns announced that the Imperial Government was paying honour to the memory of His Highness Maharaja Jyaji Rao Scindia, G.C.B., G.C.S.I., once owner of twenty thousand square miles of land, nearly three million people, and treasure untold, if all tales be true. Not fifty yards upstream, a swollen dead goat was bobbing up and down in the water in a ghastly parody on kid-like skittishness, and green filth was cast ashore by every little wave.
Was there anything more to see? The white horse refused to be led into the water and splashed all the bystanders with dirt, and the elephant’s weight broke up the sand it was standing on and turned it to a quag. This much was visible, but little else; for the clamouring priests forbade any English foot to come too near, perhaps for fear that their gains might be lessened. Where the press parted, it was possible to catch a glimpse of this ghoulish kneading by the naked men in the boat, and to hear the words of a chanted prayer. But that was all.
And school foundations in the act
Of holiday, three files compact,
Shall learn to view thee as a fact
Connected with that zealous tract
‘Rome, Babylon, and Nineveh.’
IT would have been presumption and weariness deliberately to have described Benares. No man, except he who writes a guide-book, ‘does’ the Strand or Westminster Abbey. The foreigner — French or American — tells London what to think of herself, as the visitor tells the Anglo-Indian what to think of India. Our neighbour over the way always knows so much more about us than we ourselves. The Bride interpreted Benares as fresh youth and radiant beauty can interpret a city grey and worn with years. Providence had been very good to her, and she repaid Providence by dressing herself to the best advantage — which, if the French speak truth, is all that a fair woman can do toward religion. Generations of untroubled ease and,well-being must have builded the dainty figure and rare face, and the untamable arrogance of wealth looked out of the calm eyes. ‘India,’ said The Bride philosophically, ‘is an incident only in our trip. We are going on to Australia and China, and then Home by San Francisco and New York. We shall be at Home again before the season is quite ended.’ And she patted her bracelets, smiling softly to herself over some thought that had little enough to do with Benares or India — whichever was the ‘incident.’ She went into the city of Benares. Benares of the Buddhists and the Hindus — of Durga of the Thousand Names — of two Thousand Temples, and twice two thousand stenches. Her high heels rang delicately upon the stone pavement of the gullies, and her brow, unmarked as that of a little child, was troubled by the stenches. ‘Why does Benares smell so?’ demanded The Bride pathetically. ‘Must we do it, if it smells like this?’ The Bridegroom was high-coloured, fair-whiskered, and insistent, as an Englishman should be. ‘Of course we must. It would never do to go home without having seen Benares. Where is a guide?’ The streets were alive with them, and the couple chose him who spoke English most fluently. ‘Would you like to see where the Hindus are burnt?’ said he. They would, though The Bride shuddered as she spoke, for she feared that it would be very horrible. A ray of gracious sunlight touched her hair as she turned, walking cautiously in the middle of the narrow way, into the maze of the byways of Benares.
The sunlight ceased after a few paces, and the horrors of the Holy City gathered round her. Neglected rainbow-hued sewage sprawled across the path, and a bull, rotten with some hideous disease that distorted his head out of all bestial likeness, pushed through the filth. The Bride picked her way carefully, giving the bull the wall. A lean dog, dying of mange, growled and yelped among her starveling puppies on a threshold that led into the darkness of some unclean temple. The Bride stooped and patted the beast on the head. ‘I think she’s something like Bessie,’ said The Bride, and once again her thoughts wandered far beyond Benares. The lanes grew narrower and the symbols of a brutal cult more numerous. Hanuman, red, shameless, and smeared with oil, leaped and leered upon. the walls above stolid, black stone bulls, knee-deep in yellow flowers. The bells clamoured from unseen temples, and half-naked men with evil eyes rushed out of dark places and besought her for money, saying that they were priests — padris, like the padris of her own faith. One young man — who knows in what Mission school he had picked up his speech? — told her this in English, and The Bride laughed merrily, shaking her head. ‘These men speak English,’ she called back to her husband. ‘Isn’t it funny!’
But the mirth went out of her face when a turn in the lane brought her suddenly above the burning-ghât, where a man was piling logs on some Thing that lay wrapped in white cloth, near the water of the Ganges. ‘We can’t see well from this place,’ said the Bridegroom stolidly. ‘Let us get a little closer.’ They moved forward through deep grey dust — white sand of the river and black dust of man blended — till they commanded a full view of the steeply sloping bank and the Thing under the logs. A man was laboriously starting a fire at the river end of the pile; stepping wide now and again to avoid the hot embers of a dying blaze actually on the edge of the water. The Bride’s face blanched, and she looked appealingly to her husband, but he had only eyes for the newly lit flame. Slowly, very slowly, a white dog crept on his belly down the bank, toward a heap of ashes among which the water was hissing. A plunge, followed by a yelp of pain, told that he had reached food, and that the food was too hot for him. With a deftness that marked long training, he raked the capture from the ashes on to the dust and slobbered, nosing it tentatively. As it cooled, he settled, with noises of animal delight, to his meal and worried and growled and tore. ‘Will!’ said The Bride faintly. The Bridegroom was watching the newly lit pyre and could not attend. A log slipped sideways, and through the chink showed the face of the man below, smiling the dull thick smile of death, which is such a smile as a very drunken man wears when he has found in his wide-swimming brain a joke of exquisite savour. The dead man grinned up to the sun and the fair face of The Bride. The flames sputtered and caught and spread. A man waded out knee-deep into the water, which was covered with greasy black embers and an oily scum. He chased the bobbing driftwood with a basket, that it might be saved for another occasion, and threw each take on a mound of such economies or on the back of the unheeding dog deep in the enjoyment of his hot dinner.
Slowly, very slowly, as the flames crackled, the Smiling Dead Man lifted one knee through the light logs. He had just been smitten with the idea of rising from his last couch and confounding the spectators. It was easy to see he was tasting the notion of this novel, this stupendous practical joke, and would presently, always smiling, rise up, and up, and up, and . . .
The fire-shrivelled knee gave way, and with its collapse little flames ran forward and whistled and whispered and fluttered from heel to head. ‘Come away, Will,’ said The Bride, ‘come away! It is too horrible. I’m sorry that I saw it.’ They left together, she with her arm in her husband’s for a sign to all the world that, though Death be inevitable and awful, Love is still the greater, and in its sweet selfishness can set at naught even the horrors of a burning-ghât.
‘I never thought what it meant before,’ said The Bride, releasing her husband’s arm as she recovered herself; ‘I see now.’ ‘See what?’ ‘Don’t you know?’ said The Bride, ‘what Edwin Arnold says:—
For all the tears of all the eyes
Have room in Gunga’s bed,
And all the sorrow is gone to-morrow
When the white flames have fed.
I see now. I think it is very, very horrible.’ Then to the guide, suddenly, with a deep compassion, ‘And will you be — will you be burnt in that way, too?’ ‘Yes, your Ladyship,’ said the guide cheerfully, ‘we are all burnt that way.’ ‘Poor wretch!’ said The Bride to herself. ‘Now show us some more temples.’ A second time they dived into Benares City, but it was at least five long minutes before The Bride recovered those buoyant spirits which were hers by right of Youth and Love and Happiness. A very pale and sober little face peered into the filth of the Temple of the Cow, where the odour of Holiness and Humanity are highest. Fearful and wonderful old women, crippled in hands and feet, body and back, crawled round her; some even touching the hem of her dress. And at this she shuddered, for the hands were very foul. The walls dripped filth, the pavement sweated filth, and the contagion of uncleanliness walked among the worshippers. There might have been beauty in the Temple of the Cow; there certainly was horror enough and to spare; but The Bride was conscious only of the filth of the place. She turned to the wisest and best man in the world, asking indignantly, ‘Why don’t these horrid people clean the place out?’ ‘I don’t know,’ said The Bridegroom; ‘I suppose their religion forbids it.’ Once more they set out on their journey through the city of monstrous creeds — she in front, the pure white hem of her petticoat raised indignantly clear of the mire, and her eyes full of alarm and watchfulness. Closed galleries crossed the narrow way, and the light of day fainted and grew sick ere it could climb down into the abominations of the gullies. A litter of gorgeous red and gold barred the passage to the Golden Temple. ‘It is the Maharani of Hazaribagh,’ said the guide, ‘she coming to pray for a child.’ ‘Ah!’ said The Bride, and turning quickly to her husband, said, ‘I wish mother were with us.’ The Bridegroom made no answer. Perhaps he was beginning to repent of dragging a young English girl through the iniquities of Benares. He announced his intention of returning to his hotel, and The Bride dutifully followed. At every turn lewd gods grinned and mouthed at her, the still air was clogged with thick odours and the reek of rotten marigold flowers, and disease stood blind and naked before the sun. ‘Let us get away quickly,’ said The Bride; and they escaped to the main street, having honestly accomplished nearly two-thirds of what was written in the little red guide-book. An instinct inherited from a century of cleanly English housewives made The Bride pause before getting into the carriage, and, addressing the seething crowd generally, murmur, ‘Oh you horrid people! Shouldn’t I like to wash you.’
Yet Benares — which name must certainly be derived from be, without, and nares, nostrils — is not entirely a Sacred Midden. Very early in the morning, almost before the light had given promise of the day, a boat put out from a ghât and rowed upstream till it stayed in front of the ruined magnificence of Scindia’s Ghât — a range of ruined wall and drunken bastion. The Bride and Bridegroom had risen early to catch their last glimpse of the city. There was no one abroad at that hour, and, except for three or four stone-laden boats rolling down from Mirzapur, they were alone upon the river. In the silence a voice thundered far above their heads: ‘I bear witness that there is no God but God.’ It was the mullah, proclaiming the Oneness of God in the city of the Million Manifestations. The call rang across the sleeping city and far over the river, and be sure that the mullah abated nothing of the defiance of his cry for that he looked down upon a sea of temples and smelt the incense of a hundred Hindu shrines. The Bride could make neither head nor tail of the business. ‘What is he making that noise for, Will?’ she asked. ‘Worshipping Vishnu,’ was the ready reply; for at the outset of his venture into matrimony a young husband is at the least infallible. The Bride snuggled down under her wraps, keeping her delicate, chill-pinked little nose toward the city. Day broke over Benares, and The Bride stood up and applauded with both her hands. It was finer, she said, than any transformation scene; and so in her gratitude she applauded the earth, the sun, and the everlasting sky. The river turned to a silver flood and the ruled lines of the ghâts to red gold. ‘How can I describe this to mother?’ she cried, as the wonder grew, and timeless Benares roused to a fresh day. The Bride nestled down in the boat and gazed round-eyed. As water spurts through a leaky dam, as ants pour out from the invaded nest, so the people of Benares poured down the ghâts to the river. Wherever The Bride’s eye rested, it saw men and women stepping downwards, always downwards, by rotten wall, worn step, tufted bastion, riven water-gate, and stark, bare, dusty bank, to the water. The hundred priests drifted down to their stations under the large mat-umbrellas that all pictures of Benares represent so faithfully. The Bride’s face lighted. with joy. She had found a simile. ‘Will! Do you recollect that pantomime we went to ages and ages ago — before we were engaged — at Brighton? Doesn’t it remind you of the scene of the Fairy Mushrooms — just before they all got up and danced, you know? Isn’t it splendid?’ She leaned forward, her chin in her hand, and watched long and intently; and Nature, who is without doubt a Frenchwoman, so keen is her love for effect, arranged that the shell-like pink of The Bride’s cheek should be turned against a dull red house, in the windows of which sat women in blood-red clothes, letting down crimson turban cloths for the morning breeze to riot with. From the burning-ghât rose lazily a welt of thick blue smoke, and an eddy of the air blew a wreath across the river. The Bride coughed. ‘Will,’ she said, ‘promise me when I die you won’t have me cremated — if cremation is the fashion then.’ And ‘Will’ promised lightly, as a man promises who is looking for long years.
The life of the city went forward. The Bride heard, though she did not understand, the marriage song, and the chant of prayers, and the wail of the mourners. She looked long and steadfastly at the beating heart of Benares and at the Dead for whom no day had dawned. The place was hers to watch and enjoy if she pleased. Her enjoyment was tempered with some thought of regret; for her eyebrows contracted and she thought. Then the trouble was apparent. ‘Will!’ she said softly, ‘they don’t seem to think much of us, do they?’ Did she expect, then, that the whole city would make obeisance to young Love, robed and crowned in a grey tweed travelling dress and velvet toque?
The boat drifted downstream, and an hour or so later the Dufferin Bridge bore away The Bride and Bridegroom on their travels, in which India was to be ‘only an incident.’
FOUR or five years ago, when the Egerton Woollen Mills were young, and Dhariwal, on the Amritsar and Pathankot Line, was just beginning to grow, there was decreed an annual holiday for all the workers in the Mill. In time the little gathering increased from a purely private tamasha to a fair, and now all the Gurdaspur District goes a-merrymaking with the Mill-hands. Here the history begins.
On the evening of Friday, the 20th of August, an Outsider went down to Dhariwal to see that mela. He had understood that it was an affair which concerned the People only — that no one in authority had to keep order — that there were no police, and that everybody did what was right in their own eyes; none going wrong. This was refreshing and pastoral, even as Dhariwal, which is on the banks of the Canal, is refreshing and pastoral. The Egerton Mills own a baby railway — twenty-inch gauge — which joins on to the big line at Dhariwal station, so that the visitor steps from one carriage into another, and journeys in state.
Dusk was closing in as the locomotive — it wore a cloth round its loins and a string of beads round its neck — ran the tiny carriage into the Mill-yard, and the Outsider heard the low grumble of turbines, and caught a whiff of hot wool from a shed. (The Mills were running and would run till eleven o’clock that night, because, though holidays were necessary, orders were many and urgent.) Both smell and sound suggested the North country at once — bleak, paved streets of Skipton and Keighley; chimneys of Beverley and Burnley; grey stone houses within stone walls, and the moors looking down on all. It was perfectly natural, therefore, to find that the Englishmen who directed the departments of the establishment were from the North also; and delightful as it was natural to hear again the slow, staid Yorkshire tongue. Here the illusion stopped; for, in place of the merry rattle of the clogs as the Mill-hands left their work, there was only the soft patter of naked feet on bare ground, and for purple, smoke-girt moors, the far-off line of the Dalhousie Hills.
Presently, the electric light began its work, and a tour over the Mills was undertaken. The machinery, the thousands of spindles, and the roaring power-looms were familiar as the faces of old friends; but the workers were strange indeed. Small brown boys, naked except for a loin-cloth, ‘pieced’ the yarn from the spindles under the strong blaze of the electric light, and semi-nude men toiled at the carding-machine between the whirring belts. It was a shock and a realisation — for boys and men seemed to know their work in almost Yorkshire fashion.
But the amusement and not the labour of the Mill was what the Outsider had come to see — the amusement which required no policemen and no appearance of control from without.
Early on Saturday morning all Dhariwal gathered itself on the banks of the Canal — a magnificent stretch of water — to watch the swimming-race, a short half-mile downstream. Forty-three bronzes had arranged themselves in picturesque attitudes on the girders of the Railway bridge, and the crowd chaffed them according to their deserts. The race was won, from start to finish, by a tailor with a wonderful side-stroke and a cataract in one eye. The advantage counter-balanced the defect, for he steered his mid-stream course as straight as a fish, was never headed, and won, sorely pumped, in seven minutes and a few seconds. The crowd ran along the bank and yelled instructions to its favourites at the top of its voice. Up to this time not more than five hundred folk had put in an appearance, so it was impossible to judge of their behaviour in bulk.
After the swimming came the greased pole, an entertainment the pains whereof are reserved for light-limbed boys, and the prizes, in the shape of gay cloths and rupees, are appropriated by heavy fathers. The crowd had disposed itself in and about the shadow of the trees, where one might circulate comfortably and see the local notabilities.
They are decidedly Republicans in Dhariwal, being innocent of Darbaries, C.I.E.’s, fat old gentlemen in flowered brocade dressing-gowns, and cattle of that kind. Every one seemed much on a level, with the exception of some famous wrestlers, who stood aside with an air of conscious worth, and grinned cavernously when spoken to. They were the pick of the assembly, and were to prove their claims to greatness on the morrow. Until the Outsider realised how great an interest the Gurdaspur District took in wrestling, he was rather at a loss to understand why men walked round and round each other warily, as do dogs on the eve of a quarrel.
The greasy-pole competition finished, there was a general move in the direction of the main road, and couples were chosen from among the Millhands for a three-legged race. Here the Outsider joyfully anticipated difficulty in keeping the course clear without a line of policemen; for all crowds, unless duly marshalled, will edge forward to see what is going on.
But the democracy of Dhariwal got into their places as they were told, and kept them, with such slight assistance as three or four self-constituted office-bearers gave. Only once, when the honour of two villages and the Mill was at stake in the Tug-of-War, were they unable to hold in, and the Englishmen had to push them back. But this was exceptional, and only evoked laughter, for in the front rank of all — yellow-trousered and blue-coated — was a real live policeman, who was shouldered about as impartially as the rest. More impartially, in fact; for to keep a policeman in order is a seldom-given joy, and should be made much of.
Then back to the Mill bungalow for breakfast, where there was a gathering of five or six Englishmen — Canal Officers and Engineers. Here follows a digression.
After long residence in places where folk discuss such intangible things as Lines, Policies, Schemes, Measures, and the like, in an abstract and bloodless sort of way, it was a revelation to listen to men who talk of Things and the People — crops and ploughs and water-supplies, and the best means of using all three for the benefit of a district. They spoke masterfully, these Englishmen, as owners of a country might speak, and it was not at first that one realised how every one of the concerns they touched upon with the air of proprietorship were matters which had not the faintest bearing on their pay or prospects, but concerned the better tillage or husbandry of the fields around. It was good to sit idly in the garden, by the guava-trees, and to hear these stories of work undertaken and carried out in the interests of, and, best of all, recognised by, Nubbi Buksh — the man whose mind moves so slowly and whose life is so bounded. They had no particular love for the land, and most assuredly no hope of gain from it. Yet they spoke as though their hopes of salvation were centred on driving into a Zemindar’s head the expediency of cutting his wheat a little earlier than his wont; or on proving to some authority or other that the Canal-rate in such and such a district was too high. Every one knows that India is a country filled with Englishmen, who live down in the plains and do things other than writing futile reports, but it is wholesome to meet them in the flesh.
To return, however, to the ‘Tug-of-War’ and the sad story of the ten men of Futteh Nangal. Now Futteh Nangal is a village of proud people, mostly sepoys, full in the stomach; and Kung is another village filled with Mill-hands of long standing, who have grown lusty on good pay. When the tug began, quoth the proud men of Futteh Nangal: ‘Let all the other teams compete. We will stand aside and pull the winners.’ This hauteur was not allowed, and in the end it happened that the men of Kung thoroughly defeated the sepoys of Futteh Nangal amid a scene of the wildest excitement, and secured for themselves the prize — an American plough — leaving the men of Futteh Nangal only a new and improved rice-husker.
Other sports followed, and the crowd grew denser and denser throughout the day, till evening, when every one assembled once more by the banks of the Canal to see the fireworks, which were impressive. Great boxes of rockets and shells, and wheels and Roman-candles, had come up from Calcutta, and the intelligent despatchers had packed the whole in straw, which absorbs damp. This didn’t spoil the shells and rockets — quite the contrary. It added a pleasing uncertainty to their flight and converted the shells into very fair imitations of the real article. The crowd dodged and ducked, and yelled and laughed and chaffed, at each illumination, and did their best to fall into the Canal. It was a jovial scuffle, and ended, when the last shell had burst gloriously on the water, in a general adjournment to the main street of Dhariwal village, where there was provided a magic-lantern.
At first sight it does not seem likely that a purely rustic audience would take any deep interest in magic-lanterns; but they did, and showed a most unexpected desire to know what the pictures meant. It was an out-of-door performance, the sheet being stretched on the side of a house, and the people sitting below in silence. Then the native doctor — who was popular with the Mill-hands — went up on to the roof and began a running commentary on the pictures as they appeared; and his imagination was as fluent as his Punjabi. The crowd grew irreverent and jested with him, until they recognised a portrait of one of the native overseers and a khitmutgar. Then they turned upon the two who had achieved fame thus strangely, and commented on their beauty. Lastly, there flashed upon the sheet a portrait of Her Majesty the Empress. The native doctor rose to the occasion, and, after enumerating a few of our Great Lady’s virtues, called upon the crowd to salaam and cheer; both of which they did noisily, and even more noisily, when they were introduced to the Prince of Wales. One might moralise to any extent on the effect produced by this little demonstration in an out-of-the-way corner of Her Majesty’s Empire.
Next morning, being Sunday and cool, was given up to wrestling. By this time the whole of the Gurdaspur District was represented, and the crowd was some five thousand strong. Eventually, after much shouting one hundred and seventy men from all the villages, near and far, were set down to wrestle, if time allowed. And in truth the first prize — a plough, for the man who showed most form’— was worth wrestling for. Armed with a notebook and a pencil, the Manager, by virtue of considerable experience in the craft, picked out the men who were to contend together; and these, fearing defeat, did in almost every instance explain how their antagonist was too much for them. The people sat down in companies upon the grass, village by village, flanking a huge square marked on the ground. Other restraint there was none. Within the square was the roped ring for the wrestlers, and close to the ring a tent for the dozen or so of Englishmen present. Be it noted that anybody might come into this tent who did not interfere with a view of the wrestling. There were no lean brown men, clasping their noses with their hands and following in the wake of the Manager Sahib. Still less were there the fat men in gorgeous raiment before noted — the men who shake hands ‘Europe fashion’ and demand the favour of your interest for their uncle’s son’s wife’s cousin.
It was a sternly democratic community, bent on enjoying itself, and, unlike all. other democracies, knowing how to secure what it wanted.
The wrestlers were called out by name, stripped, and set to amid applauding shouts from their respective villages and trainers. There were many men of mark engaged — huge men who stripped magnificently; light, lean men, who wriggled like eels, and got the mastery by force of cunning; men deep in the breast as bulls, lean in the flank as greyhounds, and lithe as otters; men who wrestled with amicable grins; men who lost their tempers and smote each other with the clenched hand on the face, and so were turned out of the ring amid a storm of derision from all four points of the compass; men as handsome as statues of the Greek gods, and foul-visaged men whose noses were very properly rubbed in the dirt.
As he watched, the Outsider was filled with a great contempt and pity for all artists at Home, because he felt sure that they had never seen the human form aright. One wrestler caught another by the waist, and lifting him breast high, attempted to throw him bodily, the other stiffening himself like a bar as he was heaved up. The coup failed, and for half a minute the two stayed motionless as stone, till the lighter weight wrenched himself out of the other’s arms, and the two came down — flashing through a dozen perfect poses as they fell — till they subsided once more into ignoble scuffle in the dust. The story of that day’s strife would be a long one were it written at length — how one man did brutally twist the knee of another (which is allowed by wrestling law, though generally considered mean) for a good ten minutes, and how the twistee groaned, but held out, and eventually threw the twister, and stalked round the square to receive the congratulations of his friends; how the winner in each bout danced joyfully over to the tent to have his name recorded (there were between three and four hundred rupees given in prizes in the wrestling matches alone); how the Mill-hands applauded their men; and how Siddum, Risada, Kalair, Narote, Sohul, Maha, and Doolanagar, villages of repute, yelled in reply; how the Sujhanpur men took many prizes for the honour of the Sugar mills there; how the event of the day was a tussle between a boy — a mere child — and a young man; how the youngster nearly defeated his opponent amid riotous yells, but broke down finally through sheer exhaustion; how his trainer ran forward to give him a pill of dark and mysterious composition, but was ordered away under the rules of the game. Lastly, how a haughty and most wonderfully ugly weaver of the Mill was thrown by an outsider, and how the Manager chuckled, saying that a defeat at wrestling would keep the weaver quiet and humble for some time, which was desirable. All these things would demand much space to describe and must go unrecorded.
They wrestled — couple by couple — for six good hours by the clock, and a Kashmiri weaver (why are Kashmiris so objectionable all the Province over?) later on in the afternoon, was moved to make himself a nuisance to his neighbours. Then the four self-appointed office-bearers moved in his direction; but the crowd had already dealt with him, and the Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland was never so suppressed as that weaver. Which proves that a democracy can keep order among themselves when they like.
The Outsider departed, leaving the wrestlers still at work, and the last he heard as he dived through that most affable, grinning assembly, was the shout of one of the Mill-hands, who had thrown his man and ran to the tent to get his name entered. Freely translated, the words were exactly what Gareth, the Scullion-Knight, said to King Arthur:—
Yea, mighty through thy meats and drinks am I,
And I can topple over a hundred such.
Then back to the Schemes and Lines and Policies and Projects filled with admiration for the Englishmen who live in patriarchal fashion among the People, respecting and respected, knowing their ways and their wants; believing (soundest of all beliefs) that ‘too much progress is bad,’ and compassing with their heads and hands real, concrete, and undeniable Things. As distinguished from the speech which dies and the paper-work which perishes.
‘Men instinctively act under the excitement of the battlefield, only as they have been taught to act in peace.’ . . . These words deserve to be engraved in letters of gold over the gates of every barrack and drill-ground in the country. The drill of the soldier now begins and ends in the Company. . . . Each Company will stand for itself on parade, practically as independent as a battery of artillery in a brigade, etc., etc. Vide Comments on New German Drill Regulations, in Pioneer.
SCENE. — Canteen of the Tyneside Tailtwisters, in full blast. CHUMER of B Company annexes the Pioneer on its arrival, by right of the strong arm, and turns it over contemptuously.
CHUMER. —’Ain’t much in this ’ere. On’y Jack the Ripper and a lot about Ci-vilians. ’Might think the ’ole country was full of Ci-vilians. Ci-vilians an’ drill. ’Strewth a’ mighty! As if a man didn’t get ’nuff drill outside o’ his evenin’ paiper. Anybody got the fill of a pip. ’ere?
SHUCKBRUGH of B Company (passing pouch). — Let’s ’ave ’old o’ that paper. Wot’s on? Wot’s in? No more new drill?
CHUMER. — Drill be sugared! When I was at ’ome, now, buyin’ my Times orf the Railway stall like a gentleman, I never read nothin’ about drill. There wasn’t no drill. Strike me blind, these Injian papers ain’t got nothin’ else to write about. When ’tisn’t our drill, it’s Rooshian or Prooshian or French. It’s Prooshian now. Brrh!
HOOKEY (E Company). — All for to improve your mind, Chew. You’ll get a first-class school ticket one o’ these days, if you go on.
CHUMER (whose strong point is not education). — You’ll get a first-class head on top o’ your shoulders, ’Ook, if you go on. You mind that I ain’t no bloomin’ litteratoor but . . .
SHUCKBRUGH. — Go on about the Prooshians an’ let ’Ook alone. ’Ook ’as a — wot’s its name? — fas — fas — fascilitude for impartin’ instruction. ’E’s down in the Captain’s book as sich. Ain’t you, ’Ook?
CHUMER (anxious to vindicate his education). — Listen ’ere! ‘Men instinck — stinkivly act under the excitement of the battle-field on’y as they ’ave been taught for to act in peace.’ An’ the man that wrote that sez ’t ought to be printed in gold in our barricks.
SHUCKBRUGH (who has been through the Afghan War). —’Might a told ’im that, if he’d come to me, any time these ten years.
HOOKEY (loftily). — O I bid fair he’s a bloomin’ General. Wot’s ’e drivin’ at?
SHUCKBRUGH. —’E says wot you do on p’rade you do without thinkin’ under fire. If you was taught to stand on your ’ed on p’rade, you’d do so in action.
CHUMER. — I’d lie on my belly first for a bit, if so be there was aught to lie be’ind.
HOOKEY. — That’s ’ow you’ve been taught. We’re allus lyin’ on our bellies be’ind every bloomin’ bush — spoilin’ our best clobber. Takin’ advantage o’ cover, they call it.
SHUCKBRUGH. — An’ the more you lie the more you want to lie. That’s human natur’.
CHUMER. — It’s rare good — for the henemy. I’m lyin’ ’ere where this pipe is; Shukky’s there by the ’baccy-paper; ’Ook is there be’ind the pewter, an’ the rest of us all over the place crawlin’ on our bellies an’ poppin’ at the smoke in front. Old Pompey, arf a mile be’ind, sez, ‘The battalion will now attack.’ Little Mildred squeaks out, ‘Charrge!’ Shukky an’ me, an’ you, an’ ’im, picks ourselves out o’ the dirt, an’ charges. But ’ow the dooce can you charge from skirmishin’ order? That’s wot I want to know. There ain’t no touch — there ain’t no chello; an’ the minut’ the charge is over, you’ve got to play at bein’ a bloomin’ field-rat all over again.
GENERAL CHORUS. — Bray-vo, Chew! Go it, Sir, Garnet! Two pints and a hopper for Chew! Kernel Chew!
HOOKEY (who has possessed himself of the paper). — Well, the Prooshians ain’t goin’ to have any more o’ that. There ain’t goin’ to be no more battalio-drill — so this bloke says. On’y just the comp’ny handed over to the comp’ny orf’cer to do wot ’e likes with.
SHUCKBRUGH. — Gawd ’elp B Comp’ny if they do that to us!
CHUMER (hotly). — You’re bloomin’ pious all of a sudden. Wot’s wrong with Little Mildred, I’d like to know?
SHUCKBRUGH. — Little Mildred’s all right. It’s his bloomin’ dandified Skipper — it’s Collar an’ Cuffs — it’s Ho de Kolone — it’s Squeaky Jim that I’m set against.
CHUMER. — Well. Ho de Kolone is goin’ ’Ome, an’ may be we’ll have Sugartongs instead. Sugartongs is a hard drill, but ’e’s got no bloomin’ frills about ’im.
HOOKEY (of E Company). — You ought to ’ave Hackerstone — e’d wheel yer into line. Our Jemima ain’t much to look at, but ’e knows wot ’e wants to do an’ he does it. ’E don’t club the company an’ damn the Sargints, Jemima doesn’t. ’E’s a proper man an’ no error.
SHUCKBRUGH. — Thank you for nothin’. Sugartongs is a vast better. Mess Sargint ’e told us that Sugartongs is goin’ to be married at ’Ome. If ’e’s that, o’ course ’e won’t be no good; but the Mess Sargint’s a bloomin’ liar mostly.
CHUMER. — Sugartongs won’t marry — not ’e. ’E’s too fond o’ the regiment. Little Mildred’s like to do that first; bein’ so young.
HOOKEY (returning to paper). —‘Only the comp’ny an’ the comp’ny orf’cer doin’ what ’e thinks ’is men can do.’ ‘Strewth! Our Jemima’d make us dance down the middle an’ back again. But what would they do with our Colonel? I don’t catch the run o’ this new trick of company officers thinkin’ for themselves.
SHUCKBRUGH. — Give ’im a stickin’ plaster to keep ’im on ’is ’orse at battalion p’rade, an’ lock ’im up in ord’ly-room ’tween whiles. Me an’ one or two more would see ’im now an’ again. Ho! Ho!
CHUMER. — A Colonel’s a bloomin’ Colonel anyway. ’Can’t do without a Colonel.
SHUCKBRUGH. —’Oo said we would, you fool? Colonel ’ll give his order, ‘Go an’ do this an’ go an’ do that, an’ do it quick.’ Sugartongs ’e salutes an’ Jemima ’e salutes an’ orf we goes; Little Mildred trippin’ over ’is sword every other step. We know Sugartongs; you know Jemima an’ they know us. ‘Come on,’ sez they. ‘Come on it is,’ sez we; an’ we don’ crawl on our bellies no more, but comes on. Old Pompey has given ’is orders an’ we does ’em. Old Pompey can’t cut in too with: ‘Wot the this an’ that are you doin’ there? Retire your men. Go to Blazes and cart cinders,’ an’ such like. There’s a deal in that there notion of independent commands.
CHUMER. — There is. It’s ’ow it comes in action anywoys, if it isn’t wot it comes on p’rade. But look ’ere, wot ’appens if you don’t know your bloomin’ orf’cer, an’ ’e don’t know nor care a brass farden about you — like Squeakin’ Jim?
HOOKEY. — Things ’appens, as a rule; an’ then again they don’t some’ow. There’s a deal o’ luck knockin’ about the world, an’ takin’ one thing with another a fair shares o’ that, comes to the Army. ’Cordin’ to this ’ere (he thumps the paper) we ain’t got no weppings worth the name, an’ we don’t know ’ow to use ’em when we ’ave — I didn’t mean your belt, Chew — we ain’t got no orf’cers we ’ave got bloomin’ swipes for liquor.
CHUMER (sotto voce). — Yuss. Undred an’ ten gallons beer made out of a heighty-four-gallon cask an’ the strength kep’ up with ’baccy. Yah! Go on, ’Ook.
HOOKEY. — We ain’t got no drill, we ain’t got no men, we ain’t got no kit, nor yet no bullocks to carry it if we ’ad — where in the name o’ fortune do all our bloomin’ victories come from? It’s a tail-uppards way o’ workin’; but where do the victories come from?
SHUCKBRUGH (recovering his pipe from Hookey’s mouth). — Ask Little Mildred —’e carries the Colours. Chew, are you goin’ to the bazar?
A narrow-minded Legislature sets its face against that Atkins, whose Christian name is Thomas, drinking with the ‘civilian.’ To this prejudice I and Gunner Barnabas rise superior. Ever since the night when he, weeping, asked me whether the road was as frisky as his mule, and then fell head-first from the latter on the former, we have entertained a respect for each other. I wondered that he had not been instantly killed, and he that I had not reported him to various high Military Authorities then in sight, instead of gently rolling him down the hillside till the danger was overpast. On that occasion, it cannot be denied that Gunner Barnabas was drunk. Later on, as our intimacy grew, he explained briefly that he had been ‘overtaken’ for the first time in three years; and I had no reason to doubt the truth of his words.
Gunner Barnabas was a lean, heavy-browed, hollow-eyed giant, with a moustache of the same hue and texture as his mule’s tail. Much had he seen from Karachi to Bhamo, and, so his bosom friend, McGair, assured me, had once killed a man ‘with ’e’s naked fistes.’ But it was hard to make him talk. When he was moved to speech, he roved impartially from one dialect to another, being a Devonshire man, brought up in the slums of Fratton, nearly absorbed into Portsmouth Dockyard, sent to Ireland as a blacksmith’s assistant, educated imperfectly in London, and there enlisted into what he profanely called a ‘jim-jam batt’ry.’ ‘They want big ’uns for the work we does,’ quoth Gunner Barnabas, bringing down a huge hairy hand on his mule’s withers. ‘Big ’uns an’ steady ’uns. He flung the bridle over the mule’s head, hitched the beast to a tree, and settled himself on a boulder ere lighting an unspeakably rank bazar-cheroot.
The current of conversation flowed for a while over the pebbles of triviality. Then, in answer to a remark of mine, Gunner Barnabas heaved his huge shoulders clear of the rock and rolled out his mind between puffs. We had touched tenderly and reverently on the great question of temperance in the Army. Gunner Barnabas pointed across the valley to the Commander-in-Chief’s house and spoke: ‘’Im as lives over yonder is goin’ the right way to work,’ said he. ‘You can make a man march by reg’lation, make a man fire by reg’lation, make a man load up a bloomin’ mule by reg’lation. You can’t make him a Blue Light by reg’lation, and that’s the only thing as ’ill make the Blue Lights stop grousin’ and stiffen’.’ It should be explained for the benefit of the uninitiated, that a ‘Blue Light’ is a Good Templar, that ‘grousing’ is sulking, and ‘stiffing’ is using unparliamentary language. ‘An’ Blue Lights, specially when the orf’cer commanding is a Blue Light too, is a won’erful fool. You never be a Blue Light, Sir, not so long as you live.’ I promised faithfully that the Blue Lights should burn without me to all Eternity, and demanded of Gunner Barnabas the reasons for his dislike.
My friend formulated his indictment slowly and judicially. ‘Sometimes a Blue Light’s a blue shirker; very often ’e’s a noosance; and more than often ’e’s a lawyer, with more chin than ’e or ’is friends wants to ’ear. When a man — any man — sez to me “you’re damned, and there ain’t no trustin’ you,”— meanin’ not as you or I sittin’ ’ere might say “you be damned” comfortable an’ by way o’ makin’ talk like, but official damned — why, naturally, I ain’t pleased. Now when a Blue Light ain’t sayin’ that ’e’s throwin’ out a forty-seven-inch chest hinside of ’isself as it was, an’ letting you see ’e thinks it. I hate a Blue Light. But there’s some is good, better than ord’nary, and them I has nothing to say against. What I sez is, too much bloomin’ ’oliness ain’t proper, nor fit for man or beast.’ He threw himself back on the ground and drove his boot-heels into the mould. Evidently, Gunner Barnabas had suffered from the ‘Blue Lights’ at some portion of his career. I suggested mildly that the Order to which he objected was doing good work, and quoted statistics to prove this, but the great Gunner remained unconvinced. ‘Look ’ere,’ said he, ‘if you knows anything o’ the likes o’ us, you knows that the Blue Lights sez when a man drinks he drinks for the purpose of meanin’ to be bloomin’ drunk, and there ain’t no safety ’cept in not drinking at all. Now that ain’t all true. There’s men as can drink their whack and be no worse for it. Them’s grown men, for the boys drink for honour and glory — Lord ’elp ’em — an’ they should be dealt with diff’rent.
‘But the Blue Light ’e sez to us: “You drink mod’rate? You ain’t got it in you, an’ you don’t come into our nice rooms no more. You go to the Canteen an’ hog your liquor there.” Now I put to you, Sir, as a friend, are that the sort of manners to projuce good feelin’ in a rig’ment or anywhere else? And when ’Im that lives over yonder’— out went the black-bristled hand once more towards Snowdon —‘sez in a — in a — pamphlick which it is likely you ’ave seen’— Barnabas was talking down to my civilian intellect —‘sez “come on and be mod’rate them as can, an’ I’ll see that your Orf’cer Commandin’ ’elps you;” up gets the Blue Lights and sez: “’Strewth! the Commander-in-Chief is aidin’ an’ abettin’ the Devil an’ all ’is Angels. You can’t be mod’rate,” sez the Blue Lights, an’ that’s what makes ’em feel ’oly. Garrn! It’s settin’ ’emselves up for bein’ better men than them as commands ’em, an’ puttin’ difficulties all round’ an’ about. That’s a bloomin’ Blue Light all over, that is. What I sez is give the mod’rate lay a chance. I s’pose there’s room even for Blue Lights an’ men without aprins in this ’ere big Army. Let the Blue Lights take off their aprins an’ ’elp the mod’rate men if they ain’t too proud. I ain’t above goin’ out on pass with a Blue Light if ’e sez I’m a man, an’ not an — untrustable Devil always a-hankerin’ after lush. But contrariwise’— Gunner Barnabas stopped.
‘Contrariwise how?’ said I.
‘If I was ’Im as lives over yonder, an’ you was me, an’ you wouldn’t take the mod’rate lay, an’ was a-comin’ on the books and otherwise amisconductin’ of yourself, I would say: “Gunner Barnabas,” I would say, an’ by that I would be understood to be addressin’ everybody with a uniform, “you are a incorrigable in-tox-i-cator”’— Barnabas sat up, folded his arms, and assumed an air of ultra judicial ferocity —‘“reported to me as such by your Orf’cer Commandin’. Very good, Gunner Barnabas,” I would say. “I cannot, knowin’ what I do o’ the likes of you, subjergate your indecent cravin’ for lush; but I will edgercate you to hold your liquor without offence to them as is your friends an’ companions, an’ without danger to the Army if so be you’re on sentry-go. I will make your life, Gunner Barnabas, such that you will pray on your two bended knees for to be shut of it. You shall be flogged between the guns if you disgrace a Batt’ry, or in hollow square o’ the rig’ment if you belong to the Fut, or from stables to barricks and back again if you are Cav’lry. I’ll clink you till you forget what the sun looks like, an’ I’ll pack-drill you till your kit grows into your shoulder-blades like toadstools on a stump. I’ll learn you to be sober when the Widow requires of your services, an’ if I don’t learn you I’ll kill you. Understan’ that, Gunner Barnabas; for tenderness is wasted on the likes o’ you. You shall learn for to control yourself for fear o’ your dirty life; an’ so long as that fear is over you, Gunner Barnabas, you’ll be a man worth the shootin’.”’
Gunner Barnabas stopped abruptly and broke into a laugh. ‘I’m as bad as the Blue Lights, only t’other way on. But ’tis a fact that, in spite o’ any amount o’ mod’ration and pamphlicks we’ve got a scatterin’ o’ young imps an’ old devils wot you can’t touch excep’ through the hide o’ them, and by cuttin’ deep at that. Some o’ the young ones wants but one leatherin’ to keep the fear o’ drink before their eyes for years an’ years; some o’ the old ones wants leatherin’ now and again, for the want of drink is in their marrer. You talk, an’ you talk, an’ you talk o’ what a fine fellow the Privit Sodger is — an so ’e is many of him; but there’s one med’cin’ or one sickness that you’ve guv up too soon. Preach an’ Blue Light an’ medal and teach us, but, for some of us, keep the whipcord handy.’
Barnabas had rather startled me by the vehemence of his words. He must have seen this, for he said with a twinkle in his eye: ‘I should have made a first-class Blue Light — rammin’ double-charges home in this way. Well, I know I’m speakin’ truth, and the Blue Light thinks he is, I s’pose; an’ it’s too big a business for you an’ me to settle in. one afternoon.’
The sound of horses’ feet came from the path above our heads. Barnabas sprang up.
‘Orf’cer an’ ’rf’cer’s lady,’ said he, relapsing into his usual speech. ‘’Won’t do for you to be seen a-talkin’ with the likes o’ me. Hutup kurcha!’
And with a stumble, a crash, and a jingle of harness Gunner Barnabas went his way.
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