The train rumbled into Colombo in the late afternoon. I made my way at
once through the pattering throng to Almeida’s. In the roofless
dining-room sat Askins, puffing furiously at his clay pipe and
scribbling with a sputtering pen in one of several half-penny notebooks
scattered on the table before him. At the further end lolled the Swede
and two fellow-beachcombers, staring at the writer as at the performer
of some mighty miracle.
“Doing?” grinned the Irishman, in answer to my question. “Oh! Just
another of my tales. You know you can’t knock around British-India for
twenty years without picking up a few things. About the time Ole took
his first bath I began jotting down some of the mix-ups I’ve wandered
into. That lot went to amuse Davy Jones when a tub I was playing second
engineer on threw up the sponge in the Bay of Bengal. Later on I knocked
the best of the yarns together again, and I tear off another now and
then when life gets dull.
“Published? Oh, I may shove them off one of these days on some penny
weekly. But if I don’t, the coroner can have them for his trouble when I
come to furl my mainsheet. He won’t find anything else.”
“Vonderful!” cried Ole, with a Dr. Watson accent, “I haf study in der
school an’ I rhead sometimes a story in der dog-vatch; min der man vitch
can make der stories! Vonderful, by Gott!”
“By the way, Franck,” said Askins, gathering the notebooks together,
“how about the yellow-birds who tried to shave your sky-piece over in
“Why, who has been telling you—?” I gasped.
“Haven’t heard a word,” replied the Irishman; “but I knew they’d flag
you. How did it turn out?”
I related my experiences with the temple priests.
“It’s an old game out here,” mused Askins. “In the good old days,
whenever one of the boys went broke, it was get converted. Not all
played out yet either. There’s a bunch of one-time beachcombers
scattered among the Burmese monasteries. An old pal of mine wears the
yellow up in Nepal. No graft about him, though. He’s a firm believer.
“Now and then a down-and-outer, especially over Bombay side, turns
Mohammedan. But most of ’em don’t take to the surgical operation, and
the cross-legged one remains the favorite. Of course, there’s always the
missionaries, too, but there’s not much in it for a white man to turn
Christian. There was good money in the Mohammedan game before it was
worked out. There’s a little yet. Of course, you know you won’t get a
red by tying up with the rice-bowlers, but it’s a job for life—if you
“Huh! Yank,” roared the Swede, peering at me through the smoke, “you get
burn some, eh, playin’ mit der monkeys in der jungle? Pretty soon you
ban sunstroke. Here, I make you trade.”
He pointed to the tropical helmet on the table before him.
“You’re on,” I responded.
“He ban good hat,” said Ole, proudly; “I get him last week from der
Swede consul. Min he too damn big. What you give?”
For answer I tossed my cap across the table.
“Nah!” protested the Scandinavian, “I sell him for tventy cents or I
take der cap an’ vun coat.”
I mounted to the floor above and returned with a cotton jacket that I
had left in the keeping of Askins.
“How’s this?” I demanded.
“He ban all right,” answered Ole, slipping into it; “der oder vas all
broke by der sleeves.”
I donned the helmet and strolled down to the landing jetty, where “the
boys” were accustomed to gather of an evening to enjoy the only cool
breeze that ever invaded Colombo. Few had been the changes in the
beachcomber ranks during my absence. Amid the drowsy yarning there
sounded often a familiar refrain:—“The circus is coming.” No one knew
just when; but then, one doesn’t worry in Ceylon. If he hasn’t rice, he
eats bananas. If he can’t find work, it is a joy merely to lie in the
shade and breathe.
The publicity of the cricket grounds had led me to seek other
sleeping-quarters. Opposite the shipping-office, in the heart of the
European section, lay Gordon Gardens, a park replete with fountains, gay
flower pots, and grateful shade. By day it was the rendezvous of the
élite of the city, white and black. By night its gates were closed, and
stern placards warned trespassers to beware. Small hindrance these,
however, for in all Colombo I had no better friend than Bobby, who
patroled the flanking street. Under the trees the night dew never fell,
the ocean breeze laughed at the toil of the punkah-wallah, the fountains
gave bathroom privileges, and prowling natives disturbed me no more; for
Bobby was owl-eyed. This new lodging had but one drawback. I must be up
and away with the dawn; for within pea-shooting distance of my chamber
towered the White House of Ceylon, and Governor Blake was reputed an
early riser and no friend of beachcombers.
One by one there drifted ashore in Colombo four fellow-countrymen, who,
following my example, soon won for Gordon Gardens the sub-title
“American Park Hotel.” Model youths, perhaps, would have shunned this
quartet, for each plead guilty to a checkered past. As for myself, I
found them boon companions.
Henderson, the oldest, was a deserter from the Asiatic squadron. Arnold,
middle-aged, laden with the spoils—in drafts—of a political career in
New York, awaited in Ceylon the conclusion of the Japanese-Russian war
before hastening to Port Arthur to open an American saloon.
Down at the point of the breakwater, where we were wont to gather often
for a dip in the brine, I made the acquaintance of Marten. He was a boy
of twenty-five, hailing from Tacoma, Washington. Arriving in the Orient
some years before with a record as a champion swimmer, he had spent two
seasons in diving for pearls on the Coromandel coast. Not one of the
native striplings who surrounded each arriving steamer, clamoring for
pennies, was more nearly amphibious than Marten. It was much more to
watch his submarine feats than to swim that the beachcombers sallied
forth each afternoon from their shady retreats.
We swam cautiously, the rest of us, for the harbor was infested with
sharks. On the day after my arrival, the _Worcestershire_ had buried in
the European cemetery of Colombo the upper half of what had been one of
my companions in the “glory-hole.” The appearance of a pair of black
fins out across the sun-flecked waters was certain to send us scrambling
up the rough face of the breakwater.
[Illustration: The rickshaw men of Colombo]
[Illustration: American wanderers who slept in the Gordon Gardens of
Colombo. Left to right: Arnold, ex-New York ward heeler; myself; “Dick
Haywood”; an English lad; and Marten of Tacoma, Washington]
But not so Marten. While we fled, he swam straight for the coming
monsters of the deep. When they were almost upon him he dived with a
shout of hilarity and a dash of foam into their very midst, to come to
the surface smiling and unscathed, perhaps far out across the harbor,
perhaps under our dangling feet. How he put the sharks to flight no man
knew. The “gang” was divided in its opinion between the assertion of the
swimmer himself that he “tickled ’em under the belly,” and the
conviction of Askins that he had merely to show them his face—for Marten
was not afflicted with manly beauty.
The last member of our party was a bully born on the Bowery, younger in
years than Marten, older in rascality than Henderson. As to his name, he
owned to several, and assured us at the first meeting that “Dick
Haywood” would do well enough for the time being. His chief claim to
fame was his own assertion that he had escaped from Sing Sing after
serving two years of a seven-year sentence. The story of his “get-away,”
with which he often entertained twilight gatherings on the jetty,
smacked of veracity. For all an innate skepticism, I found no reason to
disagree with the conclusion of the “gang” that his “song and dance” was
true. Certainly there was no doubt among his most casual acquaintances
of his ability to get into Sing Sing. He was clever enough, fortune
favoring, to have broken out.
Fleeing his native land, Haywood had brought up in Bombay and, having
enlisted in the British army, was assigned to a garrison in Rajputana.
Obviously, so temperamental a youth must soon weary of the guard duty
and pipe-clay polishing that make up the long, long Indian day of Tommy
Atkins. He engineered a second “get-away.” The enlistment papers and a
buttonless uniform in his bundle certified to this adventure. In the
course of time he reached Calcutta, chiefly through the fortune of
finding himself alone in a compartment of the Northwest Mail with a
Parsee merchant of more worldly wealth than physical prowess. A rumor of
this escapade soon drove him to Madras. There his unconventional habits
again asserted themselves and fortune temporarily deserted him. He was
taken in the bazaars in the act of “weeding the leathers.”
Once more he escaped, this time from a crowded court room, and finding
India no longer attractive, turned southward to Ceylon, hoping to make a
final “get-away” by sea.
Few of “the boys” gave credence to these last tales. But they were true.
For a newcomer in the ranks reported on the day of his arrival, before
he had laid eyes on the culprit, that Madras was placarded with
descriptions—they fitted Haywood exactly—of a man charged with
desertion, robbery, pick-pocketing, and escape from custody.
Awaking penniless on the morning following my return from Kandy, I
decided to investigate a charity system in vogue in British-India.
Kind-hearted sahibs, members of a national association known as the
“Friend-in-Need Society,” maintain in the larger cities a refuge for
stranded Europeans and Eurasians. Above the door of each Society
building appear the initial letters of its title. The inventive
wanderer, for other reasons than this, perhaps, has dubbed the kindly
institution the “Finish.”
In Colombo the Society offered only out-door relief, meal tickets
distributed by its president or secretary. I found the first of these
officials to be the youthful editor of Colombo’s English newspaper, with
offices a ship’s length from Gordon Gardens. Tickets, however, had he
“This office was too blooming handy,” he explained, throwing aside his
blue pencil to mop his brow. “If the hooligans loafing in the Gardens or
on the jetty had an idle hour on their hands, they spent it inventing
tales and strolled up here to see how much they could get out of the
Society by springing them on me. There was more than one of them, too,
that I’d have taken on the staff if he could have dished up as good a
yarn every week. But the thing got to be a fad, and, when I found that a
couple of fellows that applied to me had their pockets full of dibs at
the time, I decided to let the secretary, the Baptist minister, do the
distributing. His parsonage is four miles from the harbor, and the man
that will walk that far in Ceylon deserves all he can get out of him.”
Far out beyond the leper hospital, where putrescent mortals peered
dejectedly through the palings, I came upon the bungalow of the Reverend
Peacock, set well back from the red highway in a grove of palms. Several
old acquaintances, including Askins, had assembled. One of them stood
abjectly, hat in hand, before the judgment-seat at the end of the
The secretary was a man of pugilistic build, with the voice of a
side-show barker. His very roar seemed an assertion that he was an
infallible judge of human nature. Yet, strangely enough, he treated most
liberally the professional vagrants, and turned away empty-handed those
whose stories were told stammeringly for want of practice. Among those
who appeared before him that morning, for example, were two grafters,
Askins and myself; and an Italian sailor, really deserving of
The Irishman chose to state his case in the language of university
“Surely,” cried the reverend gentleman, in delight, “this must be the
first time a man of your parts has found himself in this predicament?”
“Verily, yes, Reverend Peacock,” quoth the learned son of Erin, with an
unrestrainable sigh, “the first indeed. As I can’t count the other
times, they don’t count,” he murmured to himself. “It’s the asthma,
“I shall be glad to make yours a special case,” said the secretary;
“Step aside into my study.”
I advanced to tell my tale and received eight tickets, twice the usual
number. A moment later the Italian was driven from the parsonage grounds
with the nearest approach to an oath that a minister is entitled to
include in his vocabulary.
The tickets, worth four cents each, entitled the holder to as many meals
of currie and rice, tea, bananas, and cakes in a native shop chosen by
the Society; it was the poorest in town. A faulty management was
suggested, too, by the fact that the proprietor was easily induced to
make good the Society vouchers in a neighboring arrack-shop.
Three day later, as dawn was breaking, I climbed the fence of the
“American Park Hotel” and strolled away to the beach for a dip in the
surf. Breakfast would have been more to the point, but my last ticket
was spent. One by one, “the boys,” little suspecting that this was to
prove the red-letter day of that Colombo season, turned back into the
squat city; and as the sun mounted higher I retreated to the freight
wharves, where the vague promise of a job had been held out to me the
The dock superintendent was slow in coming. At ten o’clock I was still
stretched out in the shade of his veranda, when I was suddenly aroused
by a shout from the shore end of the pier. I sprang up to see the Swede
struggling to keep a footing in the maelstrom of bullock carts, coolie
carriers, and shrieking stevedores, and waving his arms wildly above his
“Circus!” he cried, “Der circus is coom, Franck! Creeket ground!” and,
turning about, he dashed off at a pace that is rarely equaled in Ceylon
by white men who look forward to a long and active life.
I dived into the throng and fought my way to the gate. The Scandinavian
was already far down the red driveway leading to the native section.
Among such a company of out-of-works as graced Colombo at that season,
there was small chance of employment to those who lingered. I dashed
after the flying Norseman and overtook him at the entrance to the public
A circus at the hour of its arrival presents a chaotic scene under the
best of circumstances. When it has just disembarked from a sea voyage,
in a land swarming with half-civilized brown men, its disorder is
oppressive. The center of the cricket field was a wild confusion of
animal cages, rolls of canvas, scattered tent poles, and all else that
goes to make up a traveling menagerie, not forgetting those pompous
persons whose hectic garb make them as effective advertising mediums as
At the moment, these romantic beings were doing garrison duty; for the
recumbent circus was in a state of siege. Around it surged an
ever-increasing multitude of natives, peering, pushing, chattering,
falling back terror-stricken before the frenzied circus men who, armed
with iron-headed tent stakes, charged back and forth across the space;
but sweeping out upon the scattered paraphernalia again after each
We battled our way into the inner circle and shouted an offer of our
services to the blaspheming manager. He was a typical circus boss;
Irish, of course, bullet-headed, of powerful build, and free of
movement, with a belligerent cast of countenance that proclaimed his
readiness to engage in a “scrap” at any time that he could find leisure
for such entertainment. Tugging at a heap of canvas, he peered at us
between his out-stretched legs, and shouted above the din of battle:—
“Yis, I want four min! White wans! Are you fellows sailors? There’s a
hill of a lot o’ climbin’ to do.”
“Both A. Bs.,” I answered.
“All right! If ye want the job, bring two more.”
We turned to scrutinize the sea of humanity about us. There was not a
white face to be seen.
“Ve look by Almeida’s!” shouted the Swede, as we charged the mob.
Before we could escape, however, I caught sight of a familiar slouch hat
well back in the crowd, and a moment later Askins stood beside us.
Behind him came Dick Haywood and, our squad complete, we dashed back to
“Well!” he roared, “I pay a quid a week an’ find yerselves! Want it?”
“A pound a week,” muttered Askins, “that’s more’n two chips a day. Aye!
We’ll take it.”
“All right! Jump onto that center pole an’ get ’er up. If these niggers
get in the way, brain ’em with a tent stake. Stip lively now!”
The upper canvas was soon spread and a space roped off. The boss tossed
a pick-ax at me and set me to grubbing holes for the seat supports.
Carefully and evenly I swung the tool up and down in an old maid’s
stroke. The least slip would have broken a Singhalese head, so closely
did the natives press around me. To them the sight of a white man
employed at manual labor was the source of as much astonishment as any
of the wonders of the circus. Few, indeed, had ever before seen a
European manipulating heavier tools than pen or pencil. Within an hour
the news had spread abroad through the city that the circus had imported
the novelty of the age, some “white coolies;” and all Colombo and his
wife omitted the afternoon siesta and trooped to the cricket ground to
behold this reversal of society.
The mob that I drove from hole to hole increased rapidly. My mates,
carrying seat boards or sawdust for the ring, were as seriously
handicapped. Haywood of the untamed temper, taking the caustic advice of
the boss too literally, snatched up a tent stake and stretched two
natives bleeding on the ground. Even that brought small relief.
Strange comments sounded in my ears; for the native who speaks English
never loses an opportunity to display his learning. A pair at my elbow
opened fire in the diction of schoolbooks:—
“This sight is to me astounding!” shrieked the high-caste youth to his
older companion; “I have never before know that Europeans can do such
“Why, indeed, yes!” cried the babu. “In his home the sahib does just so
strong work as our coolies, but because he is play cricket and tennis he
is doing even stronger. He is not rich always and sitting in shade.”
“But do the white man not losing his caste when he is working like
coolies?” demanded the youth. “Why is this man work at such? Is he
perhaps prisoner that he disgraces himself lower than the keeper of the
“Truly, my friend, I not understand,” admitted the older man, a bit
sadly, “but I am reading that in sahib’s country he is make the workings
of coolie and yet is not coolie.”
There were others besides the native residents whose attention was
attracted to the “white coolies.” Here and there in the crowd I caught
sight of a European scowling darkly at us; just why, I could not guess,
unconscious of having done anything to provoke the ill-will of my race.
In due time, however, I learned the cause of their displeasure.
When night fell, all was in readiness for the initial performance;
though at the cost of a day’s work that we agreed could not be indulged
in more than semi-annually, even for an inducement of “more than two
chips.” The tents, large and small, were stretched, the circle of seats
complete. Rings, flying apparatus, properties, and lights were ready for
use. A half-thousand chairs, reserved for Europeans, had been ranged at
the ring side, the cage of the performing lion bolted together, and the
ticket booth set up at the entrance. The boss gave vent to a final
snarl, called a ’rickshaw, and drove off to his hotel for dinner.
Luckily, Askin’s credit was good in the favorite shop across the way. We
ate our currie and rice quickly, and returned to stretch out on the
grass at the players’ entrance.
Our pipes were barely lighted when two Europeans, dressed in snow-white
garments, stepped forward out of the darkness. We recognized in them two
Englishmen connected with the Lipton Tea Company.
“It strikes me, me men,” began one, in a high, querulous voice, “that
you chaps should know better than to do coolie labor in sight of all the
natives of the city.”
“What’s that?” I cried, in my surprise, though I heard Askins chuckling
“I suppose you chaps have only come to Ceylon,” suggested the other, in
a more conciliatory tone. “You probably don’t realize what a different
world this is out here. You cawn’t work at manual labor here, you know,
the way you can in Hyde Park. Why, you will destroy the prestige of
every white man on the island, if—”
“You’ve stirred up a fine kettle of fish already,” burst out the first
speaker. “But Arthur, these chaps are not bank clerks. They cawn’t
understand the sowt of language you talk to your stenographer, you
knoaw. They are only sailors. Let me tell them the trouble.
“Now look heah, me men. This awfternoon my Hindu servant stuck his head
in at my office door, and shouted right out for me to go to the cricket
ground and see the sahib coolies. By four o’clock he was talking back
every time I called him to do an errand. To-night, blawst me, he was so
slow in filling my pipe that I had to chuck a boot at him. By to-morrow
morning I suppose he’ll tell me to prepare me own bawth, bah Jove. This
sort of thing, ye knoaw, is giving the natives the notion that they’re
as good as Englishmen.”
“Think you’ll find,” said Askins, puffing slowly at his broken pipe, “if
you reflect a bit, that this unwonted arrogance in the aborigines and
the noticeable decrease in their respect for Europeans, which you
attribute entirely to our alleged indiscretion, are very largely due to
the recent victories of Japan over Russia.”
The Swede snorted like a stalled winch. The boot-chucker peered through
the darkness at the rags that covered Askins, M. A. Even “Arthur” could
not suppress a chuckle at his companion’s notion of a mere sailor’s
vocabulary. Before the other had recovered, he took up the broken thread
of the sermon.
“Reginald is right, me men, all the same. Ye knoaw of all the castes out
here only the very lowest work with their hands, and they are despised
by every other class. Why, the lowest caste in Ceylon, ye knoaw, won’t
undertake our meanest labor. We have to send over for Tamil and Hindu
coolies. Now the Englishmen are at the top of this caste system. The
natives look up to us as above their highest caste. If this highest
class, then, does labor that would degrade those of their lowest caste,
you can see where their reverence for white men would soon go.
“Chaps have come out here at different times, missionaries especially,
determined to treat the natives like equals, saying it was all rot and
wrong to keep up this caste system. And they chatted with their
servants, and patted the babies on the back, and sat at the same table
with natives, and even planted their own gardens. And those who haven’t
got knives in their ribs for hoodooing the children are looked upon as
insane or degenerate, or as men being punished for some crime. Why, if
these people ceased to look upon us as their social superiors they’d
drive us into the sea in a month. If you chaps want to stop long in
Colombo you’d better drop this circus job.”
“But if that’s all the work we can find on the whole blooming island?” I
“Work!” cried Reginald, excitedly, “Why, blawst it! Don’t work! Better
loaf than make us all lose caste with the natives.”
“But if the wily chip continues to elude us?” drawled Askins.
“Eh!” gasped Reggie.
“I mean if the currie and rice refuse to come at our whistle?”
“Oah! Yeou mean if you have no money to buy food?”
“You’ve hit it,” replied the Dublin sage; “that’s the very idea.”
“Why, blawst it, me man,” shrieked Reggie, “don’t you know there’s a
Friend-in-Need Society in Colombo? What do you fawncy we contribute to
it for? Now if you chaps don’t stop disgracing all the—”
“What’s the bloody row?” growled a voice in the darkness.
Our employer loomed up out of the night.
“Oh! That’ll be all right,” he asserted, in a soothing voice, when the
controversy had been explained to him; “The tints is all up. T’night
I’ll give these byes their uniforems, an’ whinever the show is goin’ on
an’ the niggers can see thim, they’ll wear thim.”
“Uniforms!” cried the Englishmen. “That’s different, ye knoaw.”
“Of course,” continued Reggie, lighting a cigarette, “it will be all
right with uniforms. When a man weahs a uniform, the natives think he is
doing something they cawn’t do, ye knoaw, and he keeps his cawste. Oah,
yes, that’ll do very nicely, Mr. Manager. We’ll be off, then,” and the
pair tripped away into the night.
“Fitzgerald’s Circus” was an Australian enterprise. Its personnel, from
Fritz himself to the trick poodle, hailed from the little continent. In
competition with the circuses of our own land this one-ring affair would
have attracted small attention; but its annual circuit of Oriental
cities, from Hong Kong to Bombay, was on virgin soil where the most
stereotyped “act” was greeted with bursts of enthusiasm.
To us, surfeited and sophisticated beings from an unmarveling world, the
sights of interest were in the amphitheater of benches rather than in
the ring. The burners lighted, we dashed off to don our uniforms. These
were light blue in color and richly trimmed with gold braid—things of
glory above which even the bald crown of Askins and the straw-tinted
thatch of the Swede inspired a deep Singhalese reverence. The designers
of the garments, however, having in mind durability rather than the
comfort of scores of annual wearers, had forced upon us a costume
appropriate to the upper ranges of the Himalayas.
Our first uniformed duties were those of ushers, and between the
appearance of the frightened vanguard of the audience and the first
fanfare of the audacious “orchestra,” life moved with a vim. The hordes
that swarmed in upon us before the barker had concluded his first appeal
comprised every caste of Singhalese society. Weighty problems unknown to
the most experienced circus man of the western world crowded themselves
upon us, demanding instantaneous solution. A delegation of priests in
cheese-cloth robes raised their shrill voices in protest because the
space allotted them gave no room for their betel-nut boxes. Half-breeds
shouted strenuous objections to being seated with natives. Merchants
refused to enter the same section with shopkeepers. Shopkeepers were
chary of pollution at the touch of scribes. Scribes cried out hoarsely
at contact with laborers. Skilled workmen screamed in frenzy at every
attempt to make place among them for mere coolies.
The lower the caste of the newcomer the more prolonged was the uproar
against him, and the more vindictive his own disgust at his inferiors.
The Hindu _sudra_, in his scanty loin-cloth, was abhorred of all, and
shrank servilely behind the usher during the circuit of the tent, while
each section in turn rose against him. The natives, for the most part,
refused to sit as circus seats are meant to be sat on, but squatted
obstinately on their heels, hugging their scrawny knees. Wily ’rickshaw
runners could be kept from crawling in among the chairs only by extreme
vigilance and occasional violence. Buxom brown women, caught in the
crush of humanity, ran imminent peril of being separated from their
loosely-fastened skirts, and through it all native youths from the
mission-schools, swarmed round us, intent on displaying their “English”
by asking useless and unanswerable questions.
The entrance of the European patrons, staid and pompous of demeanor, put
the natives on their best behavior, and, with the appearance of the
bicyclers for the first act, even the Eurasian forgot that the despised
sudra sat under the same tent with him. The heterogeneous throng settled
down into a motionless sea of strained, astonished faces. Fitzgerald
sahib prided himself on the smooth manner in which his entertainment was
run off, and to the four of us fell the task of supplying the oil to his
circus machinery. The “Wonderful Cycle Whiz! Never Before Performed by
Australians! Never!” once over, we had one minute to pull down the
bicycle track and carry the heavily weighted sections outside the tent.
While we lowered “Master Waldron’s” trapeze with one hand, we placed and
held the hurdles with the other. Tables and chairs for “Hadgie Tabor’s
Hand-Balancing Act!” must appear as if by magic. In breathless
succession the trick ponies must be led on, the ring cleared for the
performing elephant, set again for the “Astounding Jockey Act,” and
cleared for the “Hungarian Horses.”
Then “Mlle. Montgomery,” forgetting her bunion, capered into the glare
of publicity in a costume that made even the tropically-clad Singhalese
women gasp with envy. Most valiantly we struggled during her “Daring
Equestrian Act!” to drop the streamers low on her horse’s flanks, and to
strike the fair equestrienne squarely on the head with our paper hoops;
not so much from a desire to charm the audience with our dexterity as to
escape the sizzling comments which the fairy-like “mademoiselle” flung
back in snarling sotto voce at each blunderer.
Away with hoops and ribbons! Properties for the clown act! On the heels
of the fools came that “Mighty Demonstration of Man’s Power over
FEROCIOUS BEASTS!” during which an emaciated and moth-eaten tiger,
crouched on a horse, rode twice round the ring with the contrite and
crestfallen countenance of a hen-pecked suburbanite who has returned
home without recalling the reason for the knot in his handkerchief.
Ten minutes’ intermission, that was no intermission for us, and there
came more properties, hoops and rings of fire, tables and chairs,
performing dogs to be held in leash, and a final act for which we set up
the elephant’s bicycle and drove the lion out for a spin on the huge
animal’s back. Had our uniforms been as airy as the raiment of the Hindu
coolies slinking at the tail of the howling hordes that poured through
the exit, our labyrinthian paths about the enclosure could easily have
been traced by the streams of sweat left behind us. Even though our
tasks were by no means ended with the performance, we rarely waited for
the disappearance of the last stragglers to strip as far as unexacting
Singhalese propriety would permit.
When the last property had been laid away, we arranged our beds by
setting together several chairs chosen from the general havoc, and
turned in. Unless we were disturbed by prowling natives, we even slept;
though rarely all at once and never for an extended period.
The boss, during that strenuous first day, had promised us ample leisure
when once the tents and cages were set up. Unfortunately, he forgot his
promise. Each day we were stirring at dawn, and, after a banana and a
wafer across the way, we fell to work. The benches, which the departing
multitude had scattered pellmell in their dash for the cooler night
outside, must be reset. The chairs of the sahibs, strewn about the ring
like wreckage washed ashore, must be rearranged in symmetrical rows and
decorated with ribbons. Cast-off programs, banana peelings, betel-nut
leaves, and all the rubbish of a band of merrymakers had to be picked
up; the tent ropes “sweated” to keep them taut; the lion’s cage minutely
inspected; the ring re-sprinkled with sawdust and, a job abhorred,
freshly whitewashed. Between these regular duties came a hundred and one
chores of the boss’s finding; and, whatever the task in hand, it must be
interrupted ever and anon to throw tent stakes at the awe-stricken faces
that peered through the openings in the canvas. Strange fortune if we
were finished when the cry of “touch off the lights” sent us shinnying
up the tent poles and ropes in Jack Tar fashion to kindle the gasoline
burners. Not even the Reverend Peacock could have accused us, during
those merry days, of living, like drones, on the industry of others.
Fitzgerald’s Circus had been domiciled nearly a week in Colombo, when I
was unexpectedly advanced from the position of a “swipe” to one of
weighty importance. It was during an idle hour late one afternoon. The
four of us were displaying our accomplishments in the deserted ring,
when it was my good fortune, or bad, according to the individual point
of view, to be detected by the ringmaster and the proprietor in the act
of “doing a hand-stand.” Certain so commonplace a feat in itself could
not have attracted the attention the pair bestowed upon me, I regained
my accustomed posture fully expecting to lose my cherished “quid a week”
for this defilement of the sawdust circle. I waited contritely. The
ringmaster looked me over with critical dispassion from my shorn head to
my bare feet, turned his perpetual scowl on “Fitz” for a moment, and
addressed me in the metallic voice of a phonograph:—
“Know any other stunts?”
Was the question meant seriously, or was this caustic sarcasm but a
forerunner of my dismissal?
“One or two,” I admitted.
“Where’d ye learn ’em?” snapped the ringmaster.
I pleaded in exoneration a few years of gymnasium membership.
“Gymnasium on shipboard?” asked the owner.
“Why, no, sir, on land.”
“Could you do a dive over that chair into the ring, a head-stand, a
stiff-fall, and a roll-up?” rasped the ringmaster.
A chuckle and a snort sounded from my companions. Losing a job was, from
their point of view, neither a disgrace nor a misfortune—merely a joke.
“Yes, sir, I can work those,” I stammered.
“You’re a sailor?”
“Then a few tumbles won’t hurt you any. Can you hold a man of twelve
stone on your shoulders?”
I made a brief mental calculation; twelve times fourteen—one hundred and
“Sure,” I answered.
“Well,” snapped the ringmaster, savagely, “I want you to go on for
“Whaat!” I gasped; “Walha—!” In my astonishment I had all but taken to
my heels. Walhalla and Faust were our two clowns, and the joy with which
the antics of the pair were greeted by the natives kept them more in
evidence than any other performer. My companions roared with delight at
the fancied jest.
“Here! You swipes,” cried the ringmaster, whirling upon them; “go over
and brush the flies off that elephant! An’ keep ’em brushed off! D’ye
“Now, then, Franck,” said the proprietor—this sudden rise in the social
scale had given me even the right to be addressed by name—“Walhalla has
a fever. Out for good, I suppose. Damn it, Casey!” turning to his
right-hand man, “I’m always losing my exhibits. Look at this trip! My
best bare-back skirt dies of cholera in Singapore. My best cycler breaks
his neck in Rangoon. The plague walks off with my best trap man in
Bombay—damn the hole! Why in hell is it always the stars that go? Now
it’s Walhalla. Five turns cut out already. If we lose any more, we’re
done for. We can’t, that’s all. Now—”
“But I’m no circus man!” I protested, as his eye fell on me.
“Oh, hell!” said the ringmaster, “You’ve been with us long enough to
know Walhalla’s gags, and you can work up the stunts in a couple of
“But there’s the violin act!” I objected, recalling a combination of
alleged music and tumbling that always “brought down the house.”
“We’ll have to cut that out. But you can put on the others.”
“There’ll be ten chips a day in it,” put in “Fitz,” casually.
“Eh—er—ten rupees!” I choked. Self-respecting beachcomber though I was,
I would have turned missionary at that price.
“All right, sir. I’ll make a try at it,” I answered.
“Of course,” said “Fitz.” “Go and get tiffin and be back in half an
hour. I’ll have Faust here for a rehearsal.”
I sprang for an exit, but stopped suddenly as a thought struck me:—
[Illustration: The trick elephant of Fitzgerald’s circus and a
high-caste Singhalese with circle-comb]
[Illustration: John Askins, M.A., who had been “on the road” in the
Orient twenty years]
“But say,” I wailed, “we’re aground! The clothes—!”
“Stretch a leg and get tiffin!” cried the ringmaster; “Walhalla’s rags
are all here.”
From nightfall until the audience, which “Fitz” was holding back as long
as possible, stormed the tent, I worked feverishly with Faust in
perfecting “gags,” tumbles, and the time-honored brands of “horse-play.”
When our privacy was invaded, I scurried away to the dressing-tent to be
made up. Several long-established antics we were obliged to omit until
the next day gave more opportunity for rehearsal; but the clouted
audience was uncritical, the Europeans indifferent to “tommy-rot,” and
the performance passed with no worse mishap to the new member of the
troupe than one too realistic fall and an occasional relapse into
Yet life as a circus clown was nothing if not serious—under the paint.
The least difficult functions of this new calling were those executed in
public. To strike “Mlle. Montgomery” squarely on the head with a paper
hoop while holding one leg in the air, and to fall down from the
imaginary impact with a whoop was as simple a matter as to do the same
thing in all solemnity and the uniform of a “swipe.” It was back in the
dressing-tent, scraping dried paint off one side of my blistered
countenance while my fellow fool daubed fresh colors on the other,
jumping out of one ridiculous costume into one more idiotic, turning the
place topsy-turvy in a mad scramble for a misplaced dunce cap or a lost
slap-stick, that I began to lose my fascination for this honored
profession. On those days when we favored Colomboans with two
performances, there was little hilarity in the dethroned scaramouch who
made his bed of chairs at the ring side. I wondered no more at the
funereal countenance with which Walhalla had been wont to haunt our
morning hours before the fever fell upon him.
One long week I wore the cap and bells on the cricket ground of Colombo.
All good fortune, however, must have an end—even ten-rupee incomes for
stranded wanderers. There dawned a day when our canvas dwelling came
down by the run, and the mixed odor of sweat and sawdust was wafted away
on the hot monsoon that sweeps across the playground of Ceylon. The
season of Fitzgerald was over. The naked stevedores bundled into the
ship’s hold the chest that contained Walhalla’s merry raiment as
carelessly as they threw the sections of the lion’s cage on top of it.
On the forward deck the moth-eaten tiger peered through the bars at his
native jungle behind the city, and rubbed a watery eye; at the rail an
unpainted Faust stared gloomily down at the churning screw. There were
no tears shed by the united quartet that, from the far end of the
breakwater, watched the circus sink hull-down on the southern horizon;
but as we straggled back at dusk to join the beachcombers under the
palms of Gordon Gardens, I caught myself feeling now and then in the
band of my trousers for the sovereigns I had sewed there.
The departure of Ole for home as a consul passenger, closely followed by
that of Askins for India, “ere his elusive chips made their escape,”
left me the oldest “comber” on the beach. That honor might quickly have
fallen to the next of heir but for the pleading of a fellow-countryman;
for the merry circus days had left me a fortune that would carry me far
afield in the vast peninsula to the north. Marten of Tacoma, tally clerk
of the British Steam Navigation Company, promised to secure me a place
in the same capacity if I would delay my departure until pay day, that
he might accompany me. I agreed, for the ex-pearl-fisher spoke
Hindustanee fluently. Within an hour I was seated, notebook in hand, at
the edge of a hatch of a newly arrived vessel, drawing four rupees a day
and free from the dread of losing caste.
On the morning of April fourth, we took leave of the navigation company
and, having purchased tickets on the afternoon steamer to Tuticorin, set
out to bid farewell to our acquaintances in the city. The hour of
sailing was close at hand when Haywood, the much-wanted, burst in upon
us at Almeida’s.
“I hear,” he shouted, “that you fellows are off for India.”
“I’m going along,” he announced.
Naturally, we scowled. But on what ground could we protest? One does not
choose his fellow-passengers on an ocean voyage. Moreover, I owed the
erstwhile resident of Sing Sing some consideration. For a week before,
as we were leaving the favorite shop in Pettah, after a midnight lunch,
a Singhalese, mad with hasheesh smoking, had sought a quarrel with us.
Knowing the weakness of a native fist, I made no attempt to ward off a
threatened blow. Before it fell, Haywood suddenly flung the screaming
fellow into the gutter, and only then did I note that the hand I had
thought empty clutched a long, thin knife.
We held our peace, therefore, resolving to shake off our unwelcome
companion at the first opportunity, and, marching down to the quarantine
station, tumbled with a multitude of Indian coolies into a barge that
soon set us on board the _S. S. Kasara_.
“You see,” said Haywood, two hours later, pointing away to Ceylon
hovering on the evening horizon, “if I’d hung round that joint another
week, I’d been pinched sure. I got to get out of British territory, and
with no show to ship out of Colombo, the only chance was to make a break
through India. If I’d come alone, I’d ’ave been spotted. But with three
of us I won’t be noticed half as quick.”
Suddenly a cabin door within reach of our hands opened, and into our
midst stepped Bobby, in full uniform.
“What the devil!” I gasped, “Thought your beat was between the clock
tower and the Gardens?”
Over Haywood’s face had spread the hue of a shallow sea, and his lower
jaw hung loose on its hinges.
“Aha! Bobs,” grinned Marten, “doin’ a skip act, eh? Well, I’m mum.”
“Skip bloody ’ell,” snorted Bobby, “I’m h’off to Madras to snake back a
forger they’ve rounded up there.”
“Sure that’s all?” demanded my partner.
“Yep,” smiled Bobs.
Haywood drew a deep breath and rose to his feet.
“By God, Bobs,” he muttered, “do you want to give me heart-failure?
Thought sure you was campin’ on my trail.”
“Naw,” answered the policeman, “none o’ the toffs in Colombo ayn’t seen
them notices yet. But you’d best keep on the move.”
The rumor that there were three white men “on deck with the niggers”
soon found its way to the cabin, and brought down upon us a visitation
that poor Jack Tar must often suffer in the Orient. He was a missionary
from Kansas, stationed in the hills of Mysore. Marten and I, refusing to
admit his assertion that, as sailors, we were, ex officio, drunken,
dissolute, ambitionless louts, were cruelly abandoned to future
damnation. But Haywood, who had been wondering till then where he could
“raise the dust for an eye-opener in the morning,” pleaded guilty to
every charge and, in the course of a half-hour, was duly “converted.”
“Do you men know why you have no money; why you must travel on deck with
natives?” demanded the missionary, in parting. “It’s because you’re not
We might have pointed out that the Lascars chattering about the deck
drew a monthly wage because they were Hindus. But why prolong the
argument? Haywood had already pocketed the two rupees that made our
toleration worth while.
We landed with Bobby in the early morning and bade him farewell sooner
than we had expected. For a native on the wharf handed him a telegram
announcing that the forger was already en route for Colombo in charge of
a Madras officer. Tuticorin was an uninspiring collection of mud huts
and reeking bazaars. Our halt there was brief. It would have been
briefer had we not chanced to run across Askins. The erudite wanderer
had stranded sooner than he had anticipated. I took pleasure in setting
him afloat again, and caught the last glimpse of his familiar figure,
beginning to bend a bit now under the weight of twenty years of
“knocking about,” as the train bearing us northward rumbled through the
Even the beachcomber does not walk in India. To ride is cheaper.
Third-class fare ranges from two-fifths to a half a cent a mile, and on
every train is a compartment reserved for “Europeans and Eurasians
only,” into which no native may enter on penalty of being frightened out
of his addled wits by a bellowing official.
Descending at the first station to quench a tropical thirst, I was
astonished to see Bobby peering out of a second-class window.
“I couldn’t read the bloody wire without me glasses,” he confided, as I
drew near, “an’ I don’t think I’ll be able to find ’em before this ’ere
ticket’s run out. We don’t git h’off fer a run up to Madras every
fortn’ght, an’ I ayn’t goin’ to miss this one.”
As I turned back to join my companions, the missionary from Kansas
appeared at the door of the same compartment. Evidently he had thought
better of his heartless decision to leave me to perdition, for he flung
the door wide open.
“Come and ride with me to the next station,” he commanded; “I want to
talk to you.”
“I’m third-class,” I answered.
“Never mind,” said the padre, “I know the guard.”
Having no other plausible excuse to offer, I complied, and endured a
half-hour sermon. Through it all, Bobby sat stiffly erect in his corner,
for to my amazement the minister did not once address him.
“How’s this?” I demanded, as we drew into the first station. The Kansan
was choosing some tracts from his luggage in the next compartment. “Why
don’t he try to convert you, being so good a subject?”
“’E did,” growled Bobby, “bloody ’ell, ’e did. But I shut ’im off. Told
’im I was one o’ the shinin’ lights o’ the Salvation Army in Colombo.
Blawst me h’eyes, why can’t these padres sing their song to the niggers
an’ let h’onest Englishmen alone! One of ’em gits to wind’ard o’ me
every time I breaks h’out fer a little holidye.”
Armed with the tracts, I returned to my solicitous companions and
settled down to view the passing landscape. It bore small resemblance to
that of Ceylon. On either hand stretched treeless flat-lands, parched
and brown as Sahara, a desert blazed at by an implacable sun and
unwatered for months. A few native husbandmen, remnant of the workers in
abundant season, toiled on in the face of frustrated hopes, scratching
with worthless wooden plows the arid soil, that refused to give back the
seed intrusted to it. There is no sadder, more forlorn, more hopeless of
human creatures than this man of the masses in India. His clothing in
childhood consists of a string around his belly and a charm-box on his
left arm. Grown to man’s estate, he adds to this a narrow strip of
cotton, tied to the string behind and hanging over it in front.
Regularly, each morning, he draws forth a preparation of coloring matter
and cow-dung—for the cow is a sacred animal—and daubs on his forehead
the sign of his caste, but the strip of cotton he renews only when
direst necessity demands. His home is a wretched mud hut, too low to
stand in, where he burrows by night and squats on his heels by day. With
the buoyant Singhalese he has little in common. Sad-faced ever, if he
smiles there is no joy in the grimace. Enchained and bound down by an
inexorable system of caste, held in the bondage of an enforced habit of
mind, habitually overcome with a sense of his own inferiority, he is
disgusting in his groveling.
A hundred miles north of the seacoast, we halted to visit the famous
Brahmin temple of Madura. Haywood’s interest in architecture was
confined to such details as the strength and resistance of window bars,
but he had developed a quaking fear of daytime solitude and would not be
separated from us.
The temple served well as an introduction to the fantastic extravagance
of Oriental building. Its massive outer walls inclosed a vast plot of
ground. In the center, surrounded by a chaos of smaller edifices, rose
the inner temple, its cone-shaped roof and slender domes a great field
of burnished gold before which the eye quailed in the cutting sunlight.
Above all, the four gateways to the inclosure challenged attention.
Identical in form, yet vastly different in minor detail, they towered
twelve stories above the lowly huts and swarming bazaars of the city
that radiates from the sacred area. Four thousand statues of Hindu
gods—to quote mathematical experts—adorned each gateway, hideous-faced
idols, each pouring down from four pairs of hands his blessing on the
groveling humans who starved beneath.
Within the gates, under vaulted archways, swarmed multitudes; pilgrims
in the rags of contrition, shopkeepers shrieking the virtues of their
wares from their open booths, screaming vendors of trinkets, abject
coolies cringing before their countrymen of higher caste, loungers
seeking relief from the sunshine outside. A sunken-eyed youth wormed his
way through the throng and offered us guidance at two annas. We
accepted, and followed him down a branch passageway to the lead-colored
pond in which unfastidious pilgrims washed away their sins; then out
upon an open space for a nearer view of the golden roofs. High up
within, whispered the youth, while Marten interpreted, dwelt a god; but
we, as white men, dared not enter to verify the assertion.
We turned back instead to the quarters of the sacred elephants. Here
seven of the jungle monsters, chained by a foot, thrashed about over
their supper of hay in a roofless stable. They were as ready to accept a
tuft of fodder from a heathen sahib as from the dust-clad faquir who had
tramped many a burning mile to perform this holy act for the acquiring
of merit. Children played in and out among the animals. The largest was
amusing himself by setting the urchins, one by one, on his back. But in
the far corner stood another that even the clouted keepers shunned. The
most sacred of a holy troop, our guide assured us, for he was mad, and
wreaked a furious vengeance on whomsoever came within reach of his
writhing trunk. Yet—if the sunken-eyed youth spoke truly—it was no
misfortune to have life crushed out by this holiest of animals. The
coolie suffering that fate was reborn a farmer, the peasant a
shopkeeper, the merchant a warrior. Was it satisfaction with their
station in life or a weakness of faith? We noted that even the despised
sudras avoided the far corner.
“And how about a white man?” asked Haywood.
“A sahib,” said our guide, “when he dies, becomes a crow. Therefore are
white men afraid to die.”
We turned out again into the bazaars. Naked girls, carrying baskets,
were quarreling over the offal of passing beasts. The façade of every
hut was decorated with splashes of manure, each bearing the imprint of a
hand. For fuel is there none in this treeless land, save bois de vache.
With nightfall, Haywood, promising to return quickly, set out to visit
the missionaries of Madura, to each of whom the Kansan had given him a
note. Before he rejoined us at the station he had succeeded in “raising
the wind” to the sum of three full fares to the next city. Yet he
sneered at our extravagance in purchasing tickets for a night ride, and,
tucking away the “convert money” in the band of his tropical helmet,
followed us out upon the platform. The train was crowded. A band of
coolies, whom the station master, in the absence of white travelers, had
thrust into the European compartment, tumbled out as rats scurry from a
suddenly lighted room, and left us in full possession.
In India, as in Europe, tickets are not taken up on the train; they are
punched at various stations en route by local officials, misnamed
“collectors.” The collectors, however, are commonly Eurasian youths,
deferential to white men and no match in wits for beachcombers.
Having turned out the light in the ceiling of our compartment, we
stretched out on the two wooden benches and laid plans for the morrow.
At each halt Marten kept look-out. If the collector carried no lantern,
Haywood had merely to roll under a bench until he had passed. At a
whisper of “bull’s-eye” our unticketed companion slipped through the
opposite door, and watched the progress of the half-breed by peering
under the train at his uniformed legs. Once he was taken red-handed. It
was after midnight, and we had all three fallen asleep. Suddenly there
came the rapping of a punch on the sill of the open window.
“Tickets, sahibs,” said an apologetic voice.
“Say, mate,” whispered Haywood, “I’m on the rocks. Can’t you slip me?
Have a cigar.”
The Eurasian declined the proffered stogie with a startled shake of the
head, punched our tickets, and passed on without a word. Haywood sat on
tenter-hooks for several moments, but the engine screeched at last, and
he lay down again, vowing to wake thereafter at every halt.
We arrived at Trinchinopoly in the small hours and stretched out on a
station bench to sleep out the night undisturbed. The chief of Haywood’s
difficulties, however, was still to be overcome, for the only exit from
the platform was guarded by a Eurasian who was sure to call for tickets.
It was Marten, given to sudden inspirations, who saved the day for the
New Yorker. As we approached the gate, he ran forward and, to my
astonishment, attempted to force his way through it without producing
[Illustration: A Hindu of Madras with caste-mark, of cow-dung and
coloring-matter, on his forehead]
“Here! Ticket, please, sahib,” cried the Eurasian.
“Oh! Go to the devil!” growled Marten.
“Ticket! Where is your ticket? Stop!”
Marten pushed the collector aside and stepped out.
“Ah!” screeched the official, “I know! You haven’t any ticket. You stole
your ride. Come back, or I’ll call a policeman.”
The man of inspiration sprang at the half-breed with a savage snarl and
grasped him by the collar.
“What in hell do you mean by saying I haven’t any ticket? I’ll break
“But I know you haven’t,” persisted the collector, though somewhat
“Do you think that sahibs travel without tickets?” roared Marten,
drawing the bit of cardboard from his pocket. “Take your bloody ticket,
but don’t ever tell a sahib again that he’s stealing his rides.”
The Eurasian stretched out a hand to me, mumbling an apology, but was so
overcome with fear and the dread of accusing another innocent sahib that
Haywood stepped out behind us unchallenged.
We were waylaid by a peregrinating barber, and took turns in squatting
on our heels for a quick shave and a slap in the face with a damp cloth.
The service cost two pice (one cent). The barber was, perhaps, twelve
years old, but an American “tonsorialist” would have gasped at the
dexterity with which he manipulated his razor, as he would have wondered
at several long, slim instruments, not unlike hat pins, which he rolled
up in his kit as he finished. These were tools rarely employed on
sahibs, but no native would consider a shave complete until his ears had
been cleaned with one of them.
The city of Trichinopoly was some miles distant from the station. Though
we were agreed that such action was the height of extravagance, we
hailed a bullock cart and offered four annas for the trip to the town.
An anna, let it be understood once for all, is the equivalent of the
English penny. The cart was the crudest of two-wheeled vehicles, so
exactly balanced on its axle that the attempt of two of us to climb in
behind came near suspending the tiny, raw-boned bullock in mid-air. A
screech from the driver called our attention to the peril of his beast,
and under his directions we succeeded in boarding the craft by
approaching opposite ends and drawing ourselves up simultaneously. The
wagon was some four feet long and three wide, with an arched roof; too
short to lie down in, too low to sit up in. One of us, in turn, crouched
beside the driver on the knife-like edge of the head-board, with knees
drawn up on a level with the eyes, clinging desperately to the
projecting roof. The other two lay in close embrace within, with legs
projecting some two feet behind.
The bullock was a true Oriental. After much urging, he set out at the
mincing gait of a man in a sack-race—a lame man, of very limited
vitality. A dozen heavy welts from the driver’s pole and as many shrill
screams urged him, occasionally, into a trot. But it lasted always just
four paces, at the end of which the animal shook his head slowly from
side to side, as though shocked at his unseemly conduct, and fell again
into a walk. The cart was innocent of springs, the roadway an excellent
imitation of an abandoned quarry. Our sweltering progress was marked by
a series of shocks as from an electric battery.
Marten ordered the driver to conduct us to an eating-shop. The native
grinned knowingly and turned his animal into a by-path leading to a
sahib hotel. When we objected to this as too high-priced, he shook his
head mournfully and protested that he knew of no native shop which white
men might enter. We bumped by a score of restaurants, but all bore the
sign “For Hindus Only.”
At last, in a narrow alleyway, the bullock fell asleep before a
miserable hut. The driver screeched, and a startled coolie tumbled out
of the shanty. There ensued a heated debate in the dialect of southern
India, in which Marten fully held his own. For a time, the coolie
refused to run the risk of losing caste through our polluting touch, but
the princely offer of three annas each won him over, and we disembarked,
to squat on his creaking veranda.
The bullock cart crawled on. The coolie ran screaming into the hut and
reappeared with three banana leaves, a wife, and a multitude of naked
urchins, all but the youngest of whom carried a cocoanut shell filled
with water or curries. These being deposited within reach, the native
spread the leaves before us, and his better half dumped in the center of
each a small peck of rice that burned our over-eager fingers. The meal
over, we rose to depart; but the native shrieked with dismay and
insisted that we carry the leaves and shells away with us, as no member
of his family dared touch them.
We wandered on through the bazaars towards the towering rock at the
summit of which sits Tommy Atkins, puffing drowsily at his pipe, in
utter indifference to the approach of that day when his soul, in
punishment for eating of the flesh of the sacred cow, shall take up
its residence in the body of a pig. Our dinner had been more abundant
than substantial. Within an hour I caught myself eyeing the food
spread out in the open booths on either side. There were coils of
rope-like pastry fried in oil, lumps, balls, cakes of sweetmeats,
_chappatties_—bread-sheets smaller and more brittle than those of the
Arab—pans of dark red chillies, potatoes cut into small cubes and
covered with a green curry sauce. The Hindu is as much given to
nibbling as the Mohammedan. By choice, perhaps, he would eat seldom
and heartily, but he lives the most literally from hand to mouth of
any human creature, and no sooner earns a half-anna than he hurries
away to sacrifice it to his ever-unsatisfied hunger. The coolie is
rarely permitted to enter a Hindu restaurant, the white man never; and
brief were the intervals during my wanderings in India that I lived on
other fare than that of the low-caste native. The prices could not
have been lower, but to eat of the messes displayed under the ragged
awnings of Indian shops requires an imperturbable temperament, an
unrestrainable appetite, and a taste for edible fire acquired only by
There are caste rules, too, of which I was supremely ignorant when I
dropped behind my companions and aroused a shopkeeper asleep among his
pots and pans. For months I had been accustomed, in my linguistic
ignorance, to pick out my own food; but no sooner had I laid hand on a
sweetmeat than the merchant shot into the air with an agonized scream
that brought my fellow-countrymen running back upon me.
“What’s the nigger bawling about, Marten?” demanded Haywood.
“Oh, Franck’s gone and polluted his pan of sweets.”
“But I only touched the one I picked up,” I protested, “and I’m going to
“These fool niggers won’t see it that way,” replied Marten; “if you put
a finger on one piece, the whole dish is polluted. He’s sending for a
low-caste man now to carry the panful away and dump it. Nobody’ll buy
anything while it stays here.”
The keeper refused angrily to enter into negotiations after this
disaster and we moved on to the next booth. Under the tutelage of
Marten, I stood afar off and pointed a respectful finger from one dish
to another. The proprietor, obeying my orders of “ek annika do, cheh
pisika da” (one anna of that, six pice of this) filled several
canoe-shaped sacks made of leaves sewn together with thread-like weeds,
and, motioning to me to stand aloof, dropped the bundles into my hands,
taking care to let go of each before it had touched my palm.
Go where we would, the cry of pollution preceded us. The vendor of green
cocoanuts entreated us to carry away the shells when we had drunk the
milk; passing natives sprang aside in terror when we tossed a banana
skin on the ground. The seller of water melons would have been compelled
to sacrifice his entire stock if one seed of the slice in our hands had
fallen on the extreme edge of the banana leaf that covered his stand.
As we turned a corner in the crowded market place, Haywood, who was
smoking, accidentally spat on the flowing gown of a turbaned passer-by.
“Oh! sahib!” screamed the native, in excellent English, “See what you
have done! You have made me lose caste. For weeks I may not go among my
friends nor see my family. I must stop my business, and wear rags, and
sit in the street, and pour ashes on my head, and go often to the temple
to purify myself.”
“Tommy-rot,” said Haywood.
But was it? Certainly not to the weeping Hindu, who turned back the way
he had come.
These strange superstitions make India a land of especial hardship to
the white vagabond “on the road.” He is, in the natural course of
events, as safe from violence as in England; but once off the beaten
track he finds it difficult to obtain not only food and lodging, but the
sine qua non of the tropics—water. In view of this fact the rulers of
India have established a system which, should it come to his ears, would
fill the American “hobo” with raging envy. The peninsula, as the world
knows, is divided into districts, each governed by a commissioner and a
deputy commissioner. Except in isolated cases, these executives are
Englishmen, of whom the senior commonly dwells in the most important
city of his territory, and the deputy in the second in size. The law
provides that any penniless European shall, upon application to any one
of these governors, be provided with a third-class railway ticket to the
capital of the next district, and also with “batter”—money with which to
buy food—to the amount of one rupee a day. The beachcomber who wanders
inland, therefore, is relayed from one official to another, at the
expense of the government, to any port which he may select. This ideal
state of affairs is well known to every white vagrant in India, who
takes it duly into account, like every published charity, in summing up
the ways and means of a projected journey.
[Illustration: Hindus of all castes now travel by train]
[Illustration: “Haywood” snaps me as I am getting a shave in
Not many hours after our arrival in Trichinopoly, Marten had “gone
broke.” The four rupees a day of a tally clerk was a princely income in
the Orient; but the ex-pearl-fisher was imbued with the adventurer’s
philosophy that “money is made to spend,” and as the final act of a day
of extravagance had tossed his last anna to an idiot roaming through the
bazaars. Haywood was anxious to “salt down” the rupees in his hat band,
I to make the acquaintance of so important a personage as a district
commissioner. Thus it happened that as noonday fell over Trichinopoly,
three cotton-clad Americans emerged from the native town and turned
northward towards the governor’s bungalow.
Heat waves hovered like fog before us. Here and there a pathetic tree
cast its slender shadow, like a splash of ink, across the white highway.
A few coolies, their skins immune to sunburn, shuffled through the sand
on their way to the town. We accosted one to inquire our way, but he
sprang with a side jump to the extreme edge of the roadway, in terror of
our polluting touch.
“Commissioner sahib keh bungalow kéhdereh?” asked Marten.
“Hazur hum malum neh, sahib (I don’t know, sir),” stammered the native,
backing away as we approached.
“Stand still, you fellows,” shouted Marten; “you’re scaring him so he
can’t understand. Every nigger knows where the commissioner lives.
Commissioner sahib keh bungalow kéhdereh?”
“Far down the road, oh, protector of the unfortunate.”
We came upon the low rambling building in a grove among rocky hillocks.
Along the broad veranda crouched a dozen punkah-wallahs, pulling
drowsily at the cords that moved the great velvet fans within. Under the
punkahs, at their desks, sat a small army of native officials, mere
secretaries and clerks, most of them, yet quite majestic of appearance
in the flowing gowns, great black beards, and brilliant turbans of the
high-class Hindu. Servants swarmed about the writers, groveling on their
knees each time a social superior deigned to issue a command. White men
were there none.
The possessor of the most regal turban rose from his cushions as we
entered and addressed us in English:—
“Can I be of service to you, sahibs?”
“We want to see the commissioner,” said Marten.
“The commissioner sahib,” replied the Hindu, “is at his bungalow. He
will perhaps come here for a half hour at three o’clock.”
“But we want tickets for the one o’clock train,” Haywood blurted out.
“I am the assistant commissioner,” answered the native. “What the
commissioner sahib can do I can do. But it is a very long process to
draw upon the funds of the district, and you cannot, perhaps, catch the
one o’clock train. Still, I shall hurry as much as possible.”
In his breathless haste he resumed his seat, carefully folded his legs,
rolled a cigarette with great deliberation, blew smoke at the punkahs
for several moments, and, pulling out the drawers of his desk, examined
one by one the ledgers and documents within them. The object of his
search was not forthcoming. He rose gradually to his feet, made inquiry
among his hirsute colleagues, returned to his cushions, and, calling a
dozen servants around him, despatched them on as many errands.
“It’s the ledger in which we enter the names of those who apply for
tickets,” he explained, “it will soon be found”; and he lighted another
A servant came upon the book at last—plainly in sight on the top of the
assistant’s desk. That official opened the volume with unnecessary
reverence, read half the entries it contained, and, choosing a native
pen, prepared to write. He was not amusing himself at our expense. He
was fully convinced that he was moving with all possible celerity.
Slowly his sputtering pen rendered into the crippled orthography of his
native tongue comprehensive biographies of the two mythological beings
whom Marten and Haywood chose to represent; and the writer turned to me.
I protested that I intended to buy my own ticket; but the assistant,
regarding me, evidently, as an accessory before the fact, insisted that
the story of my life must also adorn the pages of his ledger. The entry
completed, he laid the book away in a drawer, locked it, and called for
“The third-class fare to Tanjore,” he mused, “is twelve annas. Two
tickets will be one and eight. Batter for a half-day for two, one rupee.
Total, two rupees and eight annas. I shall now draw upon the treasurer
for that amount,” and he dragged forth another gigantic tome.
“Tanjore?” cried Marten. “Why, that ain’t fifty miles from here! Is that
as far as you’re going to ship us?”
“A commissioner lives there,” replied the Hindu, “and he will send you
on. Each district is allowed to spend only enough for a ticket to the
“If we have to go through this every forty miles,” groaned Marten,
“we’ll die before we get anywhere.”
“Let’s try the commish,” suggested Haywood; “where’s his joint?”
The assistant pointed at the back door, and we struck off through the
rock-strewn grove. On the way, Marten fell victim to another
“I’ve got it!” he crowed, as we came in sight of the bodyguard of
servants, flitting in and out among the plants and vines of the
commissioner’s veranda, “Just watch my smoke.”
A native conducted us into a broad, low room, richly furnished and
cooled by rhythmically moving punkahs. The governor of the district was
a very young man, the junior, perhaps, of some of our trio. He bade us
be seated, ordered a servant to bring us cooling drinks, and, when they
were served, signified his readiness to hear our story. Marten stepped
forward and, assuming the attitude of an orator on whose word hangs the
fate of nations, proceeded to trot out the inspiration.
“We have come to you, Mr. Commissioner,” he began, “because we must be
in Madras to-morrow morning, and we can’t make it unless we go through
on the one o’clock train. We’re seamen, sir, from a tramp that tied up
in Colombo last month. A couple of nights ago we got shore leave and
went for a cruise around the city. The skipper told us to be on board at
midnight. We landed on the wharf at eleven, an’ paid off our ’rickshaws
an’ yelled for a sampan. But blast me eyes, sir, if she wasn’t gone!
She’d pulled ’er mud-hook at ten o’clock, sir, we found out, an’ was off
two hours before the skipper told us to come back, an’ we was left on
the beach. We knowed she was makin’ fer Madras, so we comes over to
Tuticorin an’ started to catch ’er. She’ll be off to-morrow morning for
’ome, an’ if we don’t make ’er we’ll be left on the beach, an’ all our
clothes is on board, sir. One of us”—pointing at me—“’as dibs enough to
take ’im through, but the assistant commissioner won’t give us two
tickets only to Tanjore, an’ eight annas batter, an’ if we stop in every
district it’ll take a week to get there, an’ cost the gover’ment a lot
o’ batter. Couldn’t you give us a ticket straight through, sir, so’s we
can make ’er, an’ all our clothes an’ papers is on board, sir.”
“Are you sure your captain will let you back on board?” asked the
“Sure,” cried Marten and Haywood as one man.
The Englishman snatched an official sheet from a drawer, scrawled a few
lines on it, and handed it to our spokesman.
“Here’s an order for through tickets and a day’s batter,” he said.
“Hurry down to the office and give it to my assistant.”
The Hindu force was dismayed at the note. The assistant scanned the
signature suspiciously, while secretaries and clerks crowded around him.
“Why, that will be nearly ten rupees!” gasped an official, perusing the
“I wonder,” mused the assistant, “has the commissioner sahib power to
grant such an order?”
The force did not know. There were few things of importance, apparently,
that it did know; but the haste with which it abandoned more irksome
duties and fell to pulling out ponderous volumes proved that it was
eager to learn.
“Yes, here it is,” sighed the senior officer at last, pointing out a
page to his colleagues, “‘within the discretion of the commissioner.’”
“Well, julty karow!” shouted Marten.
There is, you see, a Hindu equivalent for “hurry up.” Philologists have
noted it, translators have found it valuable, natives use it to
interpret the expression that falls so often from sahib lips. But the
records make no mention of a man who has induced a Hindu actually and
physically to julty karow.
“Come,” urged Haywood, “we want to make the one o’clock train.”
“I will hurry,” promised the assistant, transforming his turban into a
sheet and gravely rearranging it. “I shall now make out the order.”
“But give us the tickets and cut out the red tape,” growled Marten.
“Oh, sahib, that is impossible,” gasped the Hindu. “I must make out the
order and send it to the secretary to be sealed. Then it will go to the
treasurer, who will make a note of it and send it to the auditor to be
stamped and signed. Then it will be returned to the treasurer, who will
file it and make out a receipt to send back to the secretary, who will
send it to me to be signed, and the auditor—”
But Marten had fled through the back door and we dashed after him.
“You know,” said the commissioner, as he finished writing a second note,
“you can’t hurry the Aryan brown. Kipling has written four lines that
cover the subject. I’ve told them to give you the tickets at once and
look up the law afterward. But you probably cannot catch the one o’clock
train. There is, however, a night express that reaches Madras in the
morning, and you may take that, even though there is an excess fare, if
they cannot get you off by the other.”
The second note demoralized the force. Urged on by the threat of new
expenditures, the assistant strove bravely for once against his
lethargic Oriental nature. But hurry he could not, from lack of
practice. His pen refused to write smoothly, the treasurer’s keys were
out of place, and, when found, refused to fit the lock of the strong
box. The senior gave up at last, and, promising that a secretary would
meet us at the station in the evening with the higher-priced tickets,
bade us good day.
As we rose to depart, Marten asked for water. The high-caste officials
scowled almost angrily at the request; they cried out in horrified
chorus when Haywood stepped towards a chettie in the corner of the room.
“Don’t touch that, sahib!” shrieked the assistant; “I shall arrange to
give you a drink.”
He spoke like a man on whom had suddenly fallen the task of launching a
first-class battleship. One can smile with indulgence at the naked,
illiterate coolie who clings to the silly superstitions of caste. The
ignorance and sterility of a brain weakened by centuries of habitual
desuetude pardons him. But to see educated, full-grown men among men
descend to the fanatical childishness of ridiculous customs seems, in
this twentieth century, the height of absurdity.
Among the servants within the building were none low enough in caste to
be assigned the task of bringing us water. The assistant sent for a
punkah-wallah. One of the great folds of velvet fell motionless and
there sneaked into the room the most abject of human creatures. A curt
order sounded. The sudra dropped to a squat, raised his clasped hands to
his forehead, and shuffled off towards the chettie. Certainly, had he
had a tail it would have been close drawn between his legs.
Picking up a heavy brass goblet, he placed it, not on the table, but on
the floor in the middle of the room. The officials nearest the blighted
spot abandoned their desks, and the entire company formed a circle
around us. Haywood stepped forward to pick up the cup.
“No, no,” cried the force, “stand back!”
The coolie slunk forward with the chettie and, holding it fully two feet
above the goblet, filled the vessel, and drew back several paces.
“Now you may drink,” said the assistant.
“Do you want more?” he asked, when the cup was empty.
“Then leave the lota on the floor and stand back.”
The punkah-wallah filled it as before.
“Good day,” repeated the assistant, when we acknowledged ourselves
satisfied, “but you must carry the lota away with you.”
“But it costs a good piece of money,” suggested Haywood.
“Yes,” sighed the Hindu, “but no one dares touch it any more.”
A native clerk met us on the station platform at nightfall, with tickets
and “batter.” On the express that thundered in a moment later were two
European compartments; but Haywood was roused to the virile profanity of
the Bowery at finding one of them occupied by natives. At the climax of
an aria that displayed to advantage his remarkable vocabulary of
execrations, a deep, solemn bass sounded from the next compartment:—
“Young man! Have you no fear of the fires of hell?”
“Oh! Lord!” gasped Marten, “Another padre!”
“Will you drive these niggers out of here!” screamed Haywood to a
“Take the next compartment behind,” answered the official, over his
shoulder; “There’s only one man in it.”
“Yes! But he’s a missionary!” bawled Marten.
The guard was gone. The station master gave the signal for departure and
we boarded the express with a sigh of resignation. Haywood swore to wait
for the next train rather than endure a sermon; but the fear of being
left behind fell upon him, and, as the engine screeched, he scrambled
through the door after us.
The sermon was immediately forthcoming, and the information we gleaned
anent the future dwelling-place of blasphemous seamen was more
voluminous than encouraging. Luckily, towards midnight the missionary
exhausted both his text and his voice, and left us to enjoy such sleep
as the ticket punchers permitted.
[Illustration: The Hindu affects many strange coiffures. Natives of
[Illustration: A Hindu basket-weaver of Madras]
In Haywood, as in others of his ilk, neither the Hindu nor his
institutions awakened any noticeable degree of respect. To him all
natives, from Brahmins to sudras, were “niggers,” and such of their
customs as did not conform to the standards set up in the vicinity of
Mulberry Bend he branded “damn nonsense.” He was a graduate of a school
in which differences of opinion are decided in favor of the disputant
first able to crawl to his feet at the end of the controversy. Nay,
more: he had won public recognition in that brand of oratory, and had
long since outgrown the notion that there was any court of last appeal
other than a “knock-out.” There were several little points on which
Marten and I should have been convinced in spite of our better judgment
had not a cruel fate enrolled the New Yorker in the welter-weight class.
Now the Hindu has never been able to see what advantage or satisfaction
arises from marring the visage of an enemy. He takes great joy in giving
a foe unpleasant information concerning the doings of his ancestors back
to the sixth generation, in carrying off his wife, or in gathering
together a band of friends to accuse him in court of some atrocious
crime. But his anger rarely expresses itself in muscular activity.
“When a sahib becomes angry,” a babu once confided to me, “he goes
insane. He loses his mind and makes his hands hard and pushes them often
and swiftly into the face or the stomach of the other man, or makes his
feet go against him behind. It is because he is crazy that he does such
foolish things, that have not something to do with the thing that has
made him angry.”
Having no fear, therefore, of being repaid in his own coin, Haywood had
contracted the pleasant little habit of “beating up” a native on the
slightest provocation. Such conduct, of course, is not confined to
beachcombers. Many a European hotel in the Orient displays conspicuous
placards politely requesting guests not to beat or kick the servants;
but to make their complaints to the manager.
Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the Hindu heartily deserves an occasional
chastisement. The subtle ways in which he can annoy a white man without
committing an act that can legally be punished, transcend the
imagination of the Western mind. For centuries past, too, the sahib has
been permitted to defend himself against such persecution after the
orthodox manner of the Occident. But the good old days, alas, are gone.
A very few years ago an act was passed making assault upon a native a
crime. The world outside credited it to the humanity of Lord Curzon.
Residents within the country whisper that an overwhelming desire to win
the good will of the natives had its rise at the moment when a certain
great European power began to gaze longingly from its bleak steppes in
the north upon this vast peninsula below the Himalayas. The Hindu, of
course, has not been slow to realize his new power. Slap a native
lightly in the face, and the probability is that he will appear in court
to-morrow with a lacerated and bleeding countenance and a score of
friends prepared to swear on anything from the Vedas to the ashes of a
sacred bull that you inflicted the injury.
Haywood was fully cognizant of this state of affairs. Certainly it would
have been wisdom, too, on the part of one anxious to pass through India
as unostentatiously as possible to have endured an occasional petty
annoyance, rather than to attract attention by resenting it. But
endurance was not Haywood’s strong point, and a score of times we felt
called upon to warn him that his belligerency would bring him to grief.
In the early morning after our departure from Trichinopoly, the prophecy
was fulfilled. The express stopped at a suburban station of Madras, and
Haywood beckoned to a vendor of bananas on the platform. Now the youths
of India are wont to gamble with bananas, because matches are too
costly, and we were not surprised that the New Yorker blazed up
wrathfully when the hawker demanded two annas for four.
He paid the exorbitant price under protest, and settled down to break
his fast. The fruit, however, proved to be long past the stage when it
could appeal to a sahib taste, and the purchaser rose to shake his fist
at the deceitful vendor. The shadow of a derisive grin played on the
features of the native; the thumb of his outspread hand hovered,
entirely by accident, around the end of his nose; and he fell to
chanting a ditty that a man ignorant of the tongue of Madras would have
considered quite harmless.
“He says,” interpreted Marten, “that your grandfather was the son of a
pig, and fed your father on the entrails of a yellow dog; that your
grandmother gave birth to seven puppies, and your mo—”
But Haywood had snatched open the door, and, before the terrified native
could move, he “made his foot go against him behind” in no uncertain
manner. The Hindu shrieked like a lost soul thrown into the bottomless
pit, abandoned his basket, and ran screaming down the platform.
Barely had the New Yorker regained his seat when a native officer
appeared at the window.
“What for you strike the coolie?” he stammered, angrily; “You come with
me! I arrest you,” and he attempted to step into the compartment.
“Oh, rot!” shouted Marten, “_you_ arrest a white man! Get out of here or
I’ll break your neck.”
The policeman tumbled out precipitately.
“Don’t let him bother you, Haywood,” went on my partner. “Make him get a
white cop if he wants to arrest you.”
“Huh! Don’t imagine for a minute any nigger is going to pinch _me_,”
snorted the New Yorker, settling down and lighting his pipe.
“I’ll get you a white policeman,” screamed the officer, “down at the
Beach station, and I’ll ride there with you.”
He stepped up on the running board once more.
“You’ll ride with the rest of the niggers,” roared Marten. “This
compartment is reserved for Europeans.”
The officer was fully aware of that fact. He stepped into the next
compartment and, ordering the natives who had been peering at us over
the top of the partition to sit down, glued his eyes upon us. The train
went on. As far as the next station, Haywood laughed at the threat of
arrest on so slight a charge. Before we had reached the second, he had
grown serious, and, as we drew near the third, he addressed us in an
“Say! I’m going to let this fellow pinch me.”
“What!” whispered Marten, “you’re a fool! A nigger policeman can’t
arrest a white man!”
“He can if the white man lets him,” retorted Haywood. “There’s always a
bunch of Bobbies at the Beach station and any white cop in Madras would
recognize me, an’ they’d hand me out about five years of the lock-step.
One of you claim my bundle’s yours, an’ take it an’ this note from the
padre to the Christer it’s addressed to, an’ leave ’em there.”
“Heh, you,” he called to the officer above us; “if you want to run me in
I’ll go along.”
The officer came near smiling. What native would not have envied him the
honor of conducting a sahib to a police station? I swung the New
Yorker’s bundle over my shoulder and we stepped out. The policeman
walked at a respectful distance from his prisoner and led the way across
the Maidan. Three furlongs from the railway, he entered the yard of a
small, brick cottage, framed in shrubbery and flowers, and, opening the
door for Haywood, closed it in our faces.
We turned away towards the Y. M. C. A. building, an imposing modern
edifice that housed the addressee of Haywood’s note.
“I’ll pick you up again in a day or two,” said Marten, at the foot of
the steps. “I’ve got an uncle living in town with a nigger wife, and I
always touch him for a few good meals when I land here.”
The association manager consented to take charge of Haywood’s bundle,
and offered me one night’s lodging until I could “look around.” I
accepted gladly, though there were still four sovereigns in the band of
my trousers. Force of habit led me down to the harbor; but, as I
anticipated, I ran no danger of employment in that quarter. The
boarding-houses swarmed with native seamen, and the shipping master had
not signed on a white sailor in so long that he had concluded the type
was extinct. I drifted away into the bazaars and, turning up at the
association building at nightfall, retreated to a veranda of the second
story with a blanket supplied by the manager.
It was my good fortune to find employment the next morning. The job was
suggestive of the spy and the tattle-tale, but the most indolent of
vagabonds could not have dreamed of a more ideal means of amassing a
fortune. I had merely to sit still and do nothing—and draw three rupees
a day for doing it. Almost the only condition imposed upon me was that
the sitting must be done on a street car.
Let me explain. The electric tramways of the city of Madras are numerous
and well-patronized. The company does not dare to entrust the position
on the front platform to aborigines; for in case of emergency the Hindu
has a remarkable faculty of being anywhere but at his post, and of doing
anything but the right thing. But as conductor, a native or Eurasian of
some slight education does as well as a real man. He has only to poke
the pice and annas into the cash register he wears about his neck and
punch and deliver a ticket. Yet it is surprising, nay, sad, to find how
many accidents befall him while engaged in this simple task. He will
forget, for instance, to give the passenger the ticket that is his
receipt for fare paid; coppers will cling tenaciously to his fingers in
spite of his best efforts to dislodge them; he has even been known, in
his absent-mindedness, to overlook his friends on his tour of collection
through the car. Don’t, for a moment, fancy that he is dishonest. It is
merely because he is a Hindu and was born that way.
To correct these unimportant little faults, the corporation has a force
of inspectors, occasionally sahibs, commonly Eurasians, clad in khaki
uniforms and armed with report pads, who spring out unexpectedly from
obscure side streets to offer expert assistance to passing conductors.
But, of course, mathematical experts do not dodge in and out of the
sun-baked alleyways of Madras for the good of their health. The spirit
of India is sure to attack them sooner or later, even if it has not been
with them since birth. Cases of friendship between inspectors and
conductors are not unknown, and it is not the way of the Oriental to
attempt to reduce his friend’s income. In short, the auditors must be
audited, and, all unknown to them or its other servants, the corporation
employs a small select band of men who do _not_ wear uniforms, and who
do _not_ line up before the wicket on pay day.
It was by merest chance that I learned of this state of affairs and
found my way to a small office that no one would have suspected of being
in any way connected with the transportation system of Madras. An
Englishman who was ostensibly a private broker deemed my answers to his
cross-examination satisfactory, and I was initiated at once into the
mysterious masonry of inspector of inspectors. The broker warned me not
to build hopes of an extended engagement, rather to anticipate an early
dismissal; for the uniformed employés were famed for lynx-eyed
vigilance, and my usefulness to the company, obviously, could not endure
beyond the few days that might elapse before I was “spotted.” He did not
add that a longer period might give me opportunity to form too intimate
acquaintances, but he wore the air of a man who had not exhausted his
My duties began forthwith. The Englishman supplied me with a handful of
coppers that were to return to the corporation through its cash
registers. I was to board a tramway, find place of observation in a back
seat, and pay my fare as an ordinary passenger. The distance I should
travel on each car, the routes I should follow, my changes from one line
to another, were left to my own discretion. Upon alighting, I was to
stroll far enough away from the line to allay suspicion and return to
hail another car. The company required only that I make out each
evening, in the private office, a report of my observations, with the
numbers of the cars, and sign a statement to the effect that I had
devoted the eight hours to the interests of the corporation. What could
have been more entirely mon affaire? If there was a nook or corner of
Madras that I did not visit during the few days that followed, it was
not within strolling distance of any streetcar line.
Among the sights of the city must be noted her human bullocks. Horses
are rare in Madras. The transportation of freight falls to a company of
leather-skinned, rice-fed coolies whose strength and endurance pass
belief. Their carts are massive, two-wheeled vehicles, as cumbersome as
ever burdened a yoke of oxen. The virtues of axle-grease they know not,
and through the streets of Madras resounds a droning as of the Egyptian
sakkas on the plain of Thebes. Yet two of these emaciated creatures will
drag a wagon, laden with great bales from the ships, or a dozen steel
rails, for miles over hills and hollows, with fewer breathing spells
than a truckman would allow a team of horses.
My devotion to corporate interests brought me the surprise supreme of my
Oriental wanderings. At the corner of the Maidan, where the tramway
swings round towards the harbor, a gang of coolies was repairing the
roadway. That, in itself, was no cause for wonder. But among the
workmen, dressed like the others in a ragged loin-cloth, swinging his
rammer as stolidly, gazing as abjectly at the ground as his companions,
was a white man! There could be no doubt of it. Under the tan of an
Indian sun his skin was as fair as a Norseman’s, his shock of unkempt
hair was a fiery red, and his eyes were blue! But a white man ramming
macadam! A sahib so unmindful of his high origin as to join the ranks of
the most miserable, the most debased, the most abhorred of human
creatures! To become a sudra and ram macadam in the public streets,
dressed in a clout! Here was the final, lasciate ogni speranza end. A
terror came upon me, a longing to flee while yet there was time, from
the blighted land in which a man of my own flesh and blood could fall to
Again and again my rounds of the city brought me back to the corner of
the Maidan. The renegade toiled stolidly on, bending dejectedly over his
task, never raising his head to glance at the passing throng. Twice I
was moved to alight and speak, to learn his dreadful story, but the car
had rumbled on before I gathered courage. Leaving the broker’s office as
twilight fell, I passed that way again. A babu loitering on the curb
drew me into conversation and I put a question to him.
“What! That?” he said, following the direction of my finger. “Why,
that’s a Hindu albino.”
I turned away to an eating-shop, the proprietor of which had long since
alienated his fellow-countrymen by professing conversion to
Christianity, and sat down for supper. It was the official “bums’
retreat” of Madras. A half-dozen white wanderers were gathered. I looked
for Marten among them; but he had found pleasure, evidently, in the
company of his chocolate-colored cousins, and when the last yarn was
spun he had not put in an appearance. I stepped out again into the night
to find a lodging.
Had I imagined that I alone, of all Madras, was planning to sleep
beneath the stars, I should have been doomed to disappointment. For an
hour I roamed the city, seeking a bit of open space. If there was a
passageway or a platband too small to accommodate a coolie or a street
urchin, it was occupied by a mongrel cur. The night was black. There was
danger of running upon some huddled family in the darkness, and the
pollution of touch might prove mutual. I left the close-packed town
behind and struck off across the Maidan. Here was room and to spare; but
the law forbade, and if officers did not enforce the ordinance, sneak
thieves did—Hindu thieves who can travel on their bellies faster than an
honest man can walk, making less noise than the gentle southern breeze,
and steal the teeth from a sleeper’s mouth and the eyes from under his
lids ere he wakes. I kept on, stumbling over a knoll now and then,
falling flat in a dry ditch, and fetching up against a fence. Groping
along it, I came upon the highway that leads southward along the shore
of the sea. A furlong beyond was a grove of high trees, with
wide-spreading branches, like the pine; and beneath them soft beach
sand. I halted there. A landward breeze had tempered the oppressive
heat; the boughs above whispered hoarsely together. At regular intervals
through the night, the sepulchral voice of the Bay of Bengal spoke
faintly across the barren strand.
When I awoke, it was broad daylight, and Sunday. The day of rest brings
small change to the teeming hordes of India, but conductors and
inspectors were permitted to whisper together unobserved, and I took
advantage of the holiday to put my wardrobe in the hands of a _dhoby_. A
dhoby, in any language but Hindustanee, is a laundryman. But the word
fails dismally as a translation. Within those two syllables lurks a
volume of meaning to the sahib who has dwelt in the land of India. The
editors of Anglo-Indian newspapers, who may only write and endure, are
undecided whether to style him a fiend or a raving maniac. Youthful
philosophers and poets, grown eloquent under the inspiration of a newly
returned basket, fill more columns than the reporter of the viceroy’s
For the dhoby is a man of energy. High above his head, like a flail, he
swings each streaming garment and brings it down on his flat stone as if
his principal desire in life were to split it to bits. Not once, but as
long as strength endures, and when he can swing no more he flings down
the tog and jumps fiendishly upon it. His bare feet tread a wild
Terpsichorean orgie, and when he can dance no longer he falls upon the
unoffending rag and tugs and strains and twists and pulls, as though
determined that it shall come to be washed no more. Flying buttons are
his glee. If he can reduce the garment to the component parts in which
the maker cut it, his joy is complete. When the power to beat and tramp
and tug fails him, he tosses the shreds disdainfully into the stream or
cistern and attacks the wardrobe of another helpless client. Yet he is
strictly honest. At nightfall he bears back to its owner the dirt he
carried away, and the threads that hold it together. When all other
words of vituperation seem weak and insipid, the Anglo-Indian calls his
enemy a dhoby.
The cook of the rendezvous offered, for three annas, to wash all that I
owned, save my shoes and the inner workings of my pith helmet. In a more
commonplace land the possessor of a single suit would have been
bedridden until the task was done. But not in India. A large
handkerchief was ample attire within the “bums’ retreat.” The
beachcombers gathered in the dining-room saw in the costume cause for
envy, not ridicule; for few could boast of as much when wash-day came
for them, and the hours that might have been spent under sheets and
blankets in a sterner clime passed quickly in the writing of letters.
From the back yard, for a time, came the shrieks of maltreated garments.
Then all fell silent. In fear and trembling, I ventured forth to take
inventory of my indispensable raiment. But as a dhoby the cook was a
bungler. There were a few rents in the gear arrayed on the eaves gutter,
a button was missing here and there, and there was no evidence of snowy
whiteness. But every garment could still be easily identified, and an
hour with a ship’s needle, when the blazing sun had done its work,
sufficed to heal the wounds, though not the scars, of combat.
Not a word of Haywood had reached me since the police station had
swallowed him up. Evidently he was still forcibly separated from
society; but had he escaped with a light sentence or fallen victim to
“five years of the lock-step?” When my Monday report had been filed, I
set out to find the answer to that question. Such cases, they told me,
were tried at a court in a distant section of the city. Its officials
knew nothing of the New Yorker however, and I tramped to the suburban
station where the “crime” had been committed. Inquiry seemed futile. The
vendor was there, as blithesome as ever, and his bananas were hoary with
age, but the fourteen words of Hindustanee I had picked up were those he
did not know. The policeman on the platform had heard some discussion of
the case, but had no definite information to offer. Then came the relief
squad, and the officer who had made the arrest directed me to another
There were several buildings of judicial aspect scattered over the great
campus, but they were closed for the night. The door of a hut, such as
servants dwell in, stood ajar, and I entered. A high-caste native was
gathering together books and papers from the desk of a miniature court
room. I made known my errand.
“Haywood?” answered the Hindu, “Ah! Yes, I know about him. I know _all_
about him, for he was tried before me.”
The New Yorker had swallowed his pride, indeed, to consent to being
tried by a “nigger” rather than to come into contact with white
“And what did you hand him?” I ventured.
The justice, striving to appear at ease in a pompous dignity that was as
much too large for him as the enormous blue and white turban that
bellied out above his thin face like an un-reefed mainsail in a stiff
breeze, chose a ledger from the desk and turned over the leaves.
“Ah, here it is,” he exclaimed, pointing out an entry; “Richard Haywood,
Englishman. Charge, assault. Found in his possession, four annas, three
pice, one pocketknife, one pipe, three cigarettes, two buttons.” They
were nothing if not exact, but they had overlooked one of the uses of
the bands on pith helmets. “Plea, guilty. Sentence, five rupees fine.
Prisoner alleging indigence, sentence was changed to one week in the
“Suppose I pay his fine?” I asked. “Will he be released at once?”
“Yes, but the case has passed out of my jurisdiction. You must pay it to
No sojourner in Madras need make inquiry for the great white building
that houses her felons. I reached it in time to find the massive gate
still unlocked and gained admittance to the warden’s office. He denied
my request for an interview with Haywood, however, on the ground that
prisoners for so brief a period were not allowed visitors. I opened my
mouth to mention the fine, then stopped. Perhaps the New Yorker had some
secret reason for choosing to swelter seven days in an Indian prison. If
he was anxious to be free, he had only to take down his hat and, like
the magician, produce from it the money that would set him at liberty. I
resolved to run no risk of upsetting subtle plans, and turned back into
Two days later, the broker confided to me the sad news that I had been
“spotted.” Marten, who had joined me in the grove lodging, the night
before, proposed to apply at once to the secretary of the Friend-in-Need
Society for a ticket northward. Eager to investigate the Home which the
society operates in Madras, I accompanied him. The secretary was an
English magistrate who held court in a building facing the harbor. The
court room was crowded to suffocation. While we waited for the native
policeman to return with an answer to our note I caught enough of the
interpreter’s words to learn that the perspiring Briton under the
punkahs was weighing the momentous question of the damages due a
shopkeeper for temporary loss of caste.
The attaché, after long absence, brought the information that the trial
was at its climax and that he dared not disturb proceedings. But Marten,
familiar with the “ropes” of official India, snorted in disgust and led
the way down a passage that brought us to an anteroom behind the
judgment seat. Beckoning to me to follow, he pushed aside the officers
who would have barred our progress, and marched boldly into the court
room, halting before the stenographer’s table. I anticipated immediate
imprisonment for contempt of court; but the magistrate, eager, as who
would not have been, for a moment’s relief from native hair-splitting,
signed to the interpreter to stay the case, and, sliding down in his
daïs until he was all but lying on his back, bade us step up beside him.
Marten, who had transferred to Calcutta the phantom ship he was
pursuing, applied for a through ticket; I, for admission to the Society
“I’ll give you both a chit to the manager for to-night,” said the
justice, when we had spun our yarns. “The Home is rather overcrowded,
but we always try to find a place for Englishmen, even if we can’t
accommodate all the Germans, Italians, and Turks that turn up.”
“But we’re not Englishmen,” I put in.
“Nonsense,” yawned the judge. “When I say Englishmen of course I include
Americans, but as to you”—he turned to Marten—“I can’t give you a ticket
to Calcutta. That’s more than a thousand miles. I’ll have the manager
ship you to Vizagapatam in the morning. That is half way, and the
commissioner there will send you on.”
He made out the notes and we departed. As we passed the street entrance,
the corpulent babu was again pouring forth the woes of the polluted
But for a sign over the entrance, the Home might have been taken for the
estate of an English gentleman of modest income. The grounds were
extensive and well-wooded. The gate was guarded by a lodge, beyond which
the Home itself, a low, rambling bungalow, peeped through the trees. A
score of vagabonds, burned brown in face and garb, loitered in the shade
along the curb. Half were Eurasians. There is no more irreclaimable
vagrant under the sun’s rays than the tropical half-breed when once he
joins the fraternity of the Great Unwashed. Reputation or personal
appearance are to him matters of utter indifference. A threadbare jacket
and trousers—sad commentaries of the willfulness of the dhoby—mark his
social superiority to the coolie; but he goes barefooted by choice,
often bareheaded, and in his abhorrence of unnecessary activity is as
truly a Hindu as his maternal ancestor. Like the native, too, he is
indifferent to bodily affliction—so it bring no pain—and laughs at
encroaching disease as though he shared with the Brahmin the conviction
that his present form is only one of hundreds that he will inhabit.
At our arrival a youth of this class was entertaining the assembled
wanderers with a spicy tale. His language was the lazy, half-enunciated
English of the tropical hybrid, and he chuckled with glee as often as
his companions. Yet he was a victim of the dread “elephantiasis” so
common among natives. His left foot and leg below the knee were swollen
to four times their natural size, and to accommodate the abnormal limb
his trouser leg was split to the thigh. As the gate opened, he rose and
dragged his incurable affliction with him, leaving in the sand
footprints like the nest of a mongrel cur.
The manager was a bullet-headed Irishman, chosen, like many another, for
his knowledge of the wily ways of the vagrant, gleaned in many a year
“on the road.” The Home, though more ambitious in its scope, resembled
the Asile Rudolph of Cairo. The meals, consisting of native food, were
served in the same generous portions, and the cots, in spite of the
unconventional habits of the inmates, were as scrupulously clean.
Adjoining the quarters of the transient guests, the society provided a
permanent home for aged and crippled beachcombers. We sat late under the
veranda, listening to strange tales of the road of earlier days from a
score of old cronies who quarreled for a pinch of tobacco and wept when
their words were discredited. Sad fate, indeed, for those who, in the
years of their strength and inspiration, had made the world their
playground, to be sentenced thus to end their days in the meager bit of
space to which sightless eyes or paralyzed limbs confined them, while
they wandered on in spirit over boundless seas and trackless land.
Early the next morning the manager led the way to the Beach station and,
having supplied Marten with a ticket to Vizagapatam and a day’s
“batter,” bade us bon voyage. The journey was long; it might also have
been uneventful but for my companion’s incorrigible longing to annoy his
fellow-beings. The weak point in Marten’s make-up was his head. Years
before, during his days before the mast, he had gone ashore in a
disreputable port after paying off from a voyage of several months’
duration and, overladen with good cheer, had been so successfully
sand-bagged that he not only lost his earnings but emerged from the
encounter with a broken head. At the hospital it was found necessary to
trepan his skull. But the metal plate had proved a poor substitute for
sound bone; and the ex-pearl-fisher was wont to warn every new
acquaintance to beware “horse-play,” as a blow on the head might result
in serious injury.
The favorite occupation of the Hindu on his travels is sleeping. If
there is an alien voyager in his compartment he sits stiffly in his
place, on guard against a loss of caste. When his companions are all of
his own class, he stretches out on his back and slumbers, open-mouthed,
like a dead fish. But the benches are short. The native, therefore,
seeks relief by sticking his feet out the window. An Indian train
bristles from engine to guard-van with bare, brown legs that give it the
aspect of a battery of small guns.
Our express had halted, late in the afternoon, on a switch beside a
train southward bound. Marten, chancing to have a straw in his
possession, leaned out of the window and fell to tickling the soles of a
pair of protruding feet. Their owner was a sound sleeper. For several
moments he did not stir. As our train started, he awoke suddenly and
sprang up with so startling a whoop that my companion recoiled in
surprise and struck his head sharply on the top of the window.
The native was quickly avenged. For a moment his tormentor clung to the
casement, straining in every limb, then fell to the floor, writhing in
agony. Plainly he had lost consciousness, but he thrashed about the
compartment like a captive boa constrictor, twisting body and limbs in
racking contortions, and foaming at the mouth until his ashy face was
covered with spume, and dirt from the floor. His strength was
supernatural. To attempt to control him was useless,—forbidden, in fact,
on the day that he had warned me of his injury. I took refuge on one of
the benches to escape his convulsions.
The express sped on in the falling darkness. The next station was far
distant. Before me rose a vision of myself surrounded by stern officials
and attempting in vain to explain the presence of a corpse in my
compartment. Foolhardy, indeed, had I been to choose such a companion.
For a long hour his fit continued. Then the contortions of his body
diminished little by little; his arms and legs twitched spasmodically in
lessening jerks; his eyes, glassy and bloodshot, opened for a moment,
closed again, and he lay still. Through the interminable night he
stretched prone on the floor, motionless as a cadaver. When morning
broke in the east he sat up suddenly with a jest on his lips and none
the worse, apparently, for his ravings. But his memory retained no
record of occurrences from the moment when the wild shout of the Hindu
had sounded in his ears three hundred miles away.
An hour later we were purchasing sweetmeats in the bazaars of
Vizagapatam. The flat, sun-baked fields of southern India had been left
behind. The surrounding country was hilly and verdant; to the eastward
stretched the blue bay of Bengal. In the offing a ship lay at anchor.
Naked coolies, bent double under bales and bundles, waded waist-deep
into the sea and cast their burdens into a lighter. Adjoining the
bazaars, a sudra village of inhabited haycocks huddled together in a
valley. Before the huts men, women, and children crouched on their
haunches in the dust, their cadaverous knees on a level with their
sunken eyes, their fleshless talons clawing at scraps of half-putrid
food. Now and again they snarled at each other. More often they stared
away as vacantly as ruminating animals at the vista of squalor beyond.
Beside the village rose a barren rock, monument to the medley of
religions that inflict India. On its summit, within a space of little
more than an acre, commanding an outlook far out over the sea, stood a
Brahmin temple, a Mohammedan mosque, and a Christian church, each
reached by its own stairway cut in the perpendicular face of the rock.
Several miles separated the sudra village from the government buildings.
On the way native policemen and soldiers drew up at attention and
saluted as we passed. An entire squad, loitering before the central
station, fell quickly into ranks and stood stiffly at present-arms as
long as we remained in sight. In this English-governed land, the native
sees in every sahib a possible superior officer to whom it is safest to
We reached in due time the commissioner’s office. His only
representative in the deserted bureaus was an emaciated punkah-wallah,
turned watchman, who bowed his head in the dust before the door as
Marten addressed him.
“Nay, sahibs,” he murmured, “the commissioner sahib and the little
commissioners are absent, protectors of the miserable. To-day is the
Brahmin new year”—it was April thirteenth—“oh, charitable one, and a
holiday. The sahibs may come to-morrow. But nay! To-morrow is a feast of
the Mohammedans and a holiday also.”
“And the next day is Sunday,” I put in, when Marten had interpreted.
“The commissioner’s bungalow?” he demanded.
“In the forest beyond the hills,” murmured the coolie, pointing
northward. “Two cigarettes distant, oh, greatest of sahibs.”
To the grief of many a peregrinating beachcomber, the “appearances” of
the British governors of India are as rare as those of world-famed
tenors. We continued along a shimmering highway, winding among trees,
the dense shadows of which gave our eyes occasional relief, and a mile
beyond found the commissioner at home. Marten gained a hearing and
emerged with a note to the assistant commissioner. Once entangled in the
meshes of Oriental red-tape, there was no escape; and from midday till
late afternoon we raced back and forth through the streets and byways of
Vizagapatam, and routed out no fewer than twelve Hindu officials from
their holiday siestas. Even then my companion won a ticket only halfway
to the city on the Hoogly.
We caught the night express and reached Berhampore next morning. At his
bungalow, a youthful commissioner was so moved by Marten’s account of
the loss of his phantom ship—the story had lost nothing in frequent
repetitions—that he waived all legal formalities and gave him an order
on the station master for a ticket to his destination. Had he followed
the movements of the abandoned seaman for the rest of the day he might
have listened skeptically to the tale of the next wanderer to seek his
On the shores of the Bay of Bengal, some two hundred miles south of the
capital and a day’s tramp from the main line, lies Puri, the city of
Juggernaut. I should have visited it alone had not Marten, utterly
indifferent to the suspense of his grieving shipmates, insisted on
We alighted at Khurda Road and purchased tickets to the sacred city at a
price that could scarcely have covered the cost of printing. A train of
unusual length for a branch line was already so densely packed with
pilgrims that those who tumbled out of the compartment which the station
master chose to assign us were in imminent danger of being left behind.
Iron-voiced vendors danced about the platform. Their wares were the
usual greasy sweets, doughy bread-sheets and curried potatoes that had
been our fare for long days past. But this was “holy food,” prepared by
the priests of the hallowed city; for the Hindu on his pilgrimages to a
sacred shrine may not eat of worldly viands. For all that the hawkers
sold to us gladly, not abating, however, by a copper, the exorbitant
prices to which their monopoly and the superstitions of their regular
customers entitled them.
Night was falling when we descended at Puri. The station, as part of a
system abhorred of the gods of Hind, stood in the open country, a full
two miles from the sacred city. Not even the inhabitants of Benares are
more fanatical than those of Puri. Natives coming upon us in the
darkness along the road of sacrifice sprang aside in terror, and
shrieked a long-drawn “sahib hai!” to warn others to beware our
polluting touch. In the bazaars, many a merchant cried out in anger when
we approached his tumble-down shop; and only with much wheedling could
we draw one of them forth into the street to sell us sweetmeats and
fruits. Half the shacks were devoted to the sale of _dude_, which is to
say, milk—of bullocks and goats, of course, for the udders of the sacred
cow may not be violated. We paused at one to purchase. A vicious-faced
youth took our pice gingerly and filled two vessels much like
flowerpots. I emptied my own and stepped forward to replace it on the
worm-eaten board that served as counter. The youth sprang at me with a
scream of rage and fear, and, before the pot had touched the counter,
Marten knocked it out of my hand and shattered it to bits on the
cobblestones, then smashed his own beside it. The two pice I had paid
for the milk included the price of the vessel, great quantities of which
are made of the red clay of neighboring pits. The crash of pottery that
startled the silence of the night at frequent intervals were signs, not
of some sad accident, as I had supposed, but that a drinker had finished
his dude. The miserable, uneven streets were paved in fragments of
There was not a native hut in Puri that we could enter, much less sleep
in, and, our evening meal finished en marche, we returned to the station
and asked permission of the Eurasian agent to occupy two of the wicker
chairs in the waiting-room. He refused, not only because it was against
the rules, which didn’t matter, but because he was sure to be found out
if he disobeyed them. He knew of better quarters, however, and directed
us accordingly. We stumbled off through the railway yards and came upon
the first-class coach he had mentioned, on a deserted side track. It was
the best “hotel” of our Indian trip. The car was built on the lines of
the American Pullman, with great couches upholstered in soft leather.
There were burnished lamps that we could light with impunity when the
heavy curtains had been drawn, several large mirrors, and running water.
Small wonder if we slept late next morning and found it necessary to
reconnoiter a bit, for the sake of the station master’s reputation,
before making our exit.
[Illustration: The great road of Puri, over which the massive Juggernaut
car is drawn once a year]
The inventive genius of the Hindu has bedecked the dwelling of god
Juggernaut with that extravagance of barbaric splendor beloved of the
Oriental. Admittance is denied the sahib, but without is much to be
seen. The temple rises in seven domes, one above each of four stone
stairways deep-worn by centuries of pilgrim feet and knees, and three
within the crumbling, time-eaten wall. They are domes, though, only in
general outline. The Hindu strives for bizarre effects in his
architecture; he dreads, above all, plain surfaces. The smaller domes
rise en perron like the terraced vineyards of the Alps, the steps half
hidden under glittering ornamentations,—hideous-faced gods of many arms,
repulsive distortions of sacred animals, haggard, misshapen gargoyles.
Above them towers Juggernaut’s throne room, resembling a cucumber stood
on end and suggesting that its builder, starting with the dome as his
original conception, was loath to bring his creation to completion, and
pushed his walls onward and upward to a dizzy height, to end at last
abruptly in a flat cupola. Mayhap his despotic master had doomed him to
that fate which has so often befallen successful architects in the
Orient, of losing his hands when his masterpiece was completed.
Everywhere the temple bears witness to the ravages of time. The
splendors of earlier days are faded and crumbling; there hovers over all
not so much an air of neglect as of the inability of these groveling,
British-ruled descendants of the talented creators to arrest the decay,
an acknowledgment that the days of such constructions and the Hindus of
such days are passé.
Pilgrims swarm in Puri at all seasons. Our way through the narrow
streets was often barred by shrieking processions; a hundred pious
families had pitched their tents at the edge of the great road. But it
is in the month of July, when the bloodthirsty god makes his annual
excursion to a smaller temple two miles distant, that untold multitudes
pour in upon the wretched hamlet. The car, weighing many tons, is set up
outside the temple, and Juggernaut, amid the clamor of barbaric rites,
is placed on his throne therein. Hordes of natives eager to “acquire
merit” surge round the chariot, screaming and struggling in the frenzy
of fanaticism for a place at the long ropes, and, to the accompaniment
of weird incantations, the procession starts. The great road, scene in
bygone centuries of uncounted human sacrifices, stretches away straight
and level to the smaller temple. It is the most generous roadway in
India, fully a furlong wide, in reality a great plain, covered with
withered grass where the tramp of many feet has not worn it bare. A
thousand naked bodies, burnished by the blazing sunlight, strain like
demons at the ropes. As one falls, a hundred others surge forward to
fight for his place. The aged peasant to whom this pilgrimage has
dissipated the meager earnings of a lifetime, returns to his native
village with inner assurance of the favor of the gods in his next
existence if he can force his way through the rabble for one weak tug.
But the ponderous car moves slowly. A scanty rice diet is not conducive
to great physical strength, and the massive wheels cut deep into the
sandy plain. The ruts of the last journey, made nine months before, were
by no means obliterated at the time of our visit. Short as is the
distance between the two temples, the passing oftentimes endures a week;
and the struggle for places decreases day by day as those who have
performed their act of devotion turn homeward. The last fanatics drop
out one by one. The ropes lose their tautness and sag of their own
weight. A scanty remnant of the multitude gives a few “dry pulls”; and
the grim-visaged god completes his journey behind bands of coolies hired
for the occasion.
They sacrifice no more to Juggernaut. John Bull has scowled on the
custom. But the American superintendent of the mission hospital among
the trees at the roadside bore witness that the insatiate monster has
still a goodly quota of victims; for annually the plague breaks out
among the superstitious, devitalized pilgrims and leaves hundreds to die
on the flat, sandy coast like fish tossed ashore.
He who has journeyed through this strange land will be slow ever after
to look upon animals as devoid of intelligence and the power to reason.
Encircling the temple, we chanced upon one of her sacred bulls setting
forth on his morning rounds through the thatch-roofed bazaars that make
up the town of Puri. He was a sleek, plump beast, with short, stumpy
horns and a hump, as harmless, apparently, as a child’s pet poodle. We
kept him company, for, strange to say, the fanatics, who had all but
mobbed us for setting foot on the flagging before a temple gate, offered
no protest when we petted this most reverenced of animals. He was too
near the gods no doubt to be polluted even by a sahib touch.
[Illustration: The main entrance to Juggernaut’s temple in Puri. I was
mobbed for stepping on the flagging around the column]
Setting a course for the nearest shop, he advanced with dignified tread,
shouldering his way through the multitude, pushing aside all who stood
in his path, not rudely, but firmly, something almost human in his
manner, of waywardness, self-complacency, and arrogance. The
impoverished descendants of an ancient house would have marched with
that stately air of superiority, the son of a nouveau riche with that
attitude of primary proprietorship in the world and its goods. Native
reverence for the animal was little short of disgusting. Pilgrims
prostrated themselves before him; hawkers stepped aside with muttered
prayers; scores of women fell on their knees and elbows in the teeming
streets, bowed their heads low in the dust, and ran to kiss his flanks.
Marching boldly up to the first booth, the bull chose a morsel of green
stuff from the inclined platform, and, chewing it leisurely after the
manner of an epicure, strolled on to the next stall. In the days of his
novitiate, ’tis said, the sacred calf eats his fill of the first food he
comes upon. A few weeks of experience, however, make him discriminating
in his tastes. Through the long rows of shops the beast levied on all,
stopping longest where the supplies were freshest, and awaking a mild
protest from the keeper. It was only a protest, however; taking the form
of a chanted prayer. For how may the Hindu know that the soul of his
grandfather does not look out through those bovine eyes! At any rate, he
acquires merit for every leaf and stock that he loses. Now and again,
Marten interpreted a rogation.
“Hast thou not always had thy fill, oh, holy one!” prayed the native,
rocking his body back and forth in time to his chant, “I would willingly
feed thee. Hast thou not always found welcome at my shop? But I am a
poor man, O king of sacred beasts. I pray thee, therefore, take of the
goods of my neighbor, who is the possessor of great wealth. For my
poverty is extreme, and if thou dost not desist, to-morrow may I not be
here to feed thee.”
As if in answer to the prayer, the animal moved on to the booth of the
neighbor, who bore no outward sign, at least, of the great wealth that
had been charged against him. His stock was fresh, however, and the bull
ate generously in spite of the keeper’s incantation. A second and a
third time the prayer was repeated, but to no effect. Then the Hindu,
picking up the joint of a bamboo, murmured the prayer into it.
“Thou canst not hear the prayer of a poor man, O sacred one, through thy
ears,” wailed the merchant. “Listen then to this petition,” and, rising
in his place, he struck the animal sharply over the nose with the
bamboo. The bull turned a reproachful gaze on the violator of his
sanctity, looked sorrowfully at him for a moment through half-closed
eyelids, and strolled slowly away.
Conspicuous among the swarming thousands of Puri are the widows. With
the death of her husband the Hindu woman must shave her head and dress
in a snow-white sheet that clings closely about her as she walks. Under
no circumstances may she marry again nor lay aside the garb that
announces her bereavement. More often than not her departed spouse has
left her unprovided with this world’s goods, and in India the woman’s
means of earning a livelihood are—well, painfully limited. Under a
humane British rule the widow’s fate is less cruel than in the days when
she mounted the funeral pyre with her dead, perhaps; but it is certainly
no less humiliating. The uninformed sahib would seem justified in
supposing that the chief interest of the Indian wife is the preservation
of her husband’s health.
The Hindu woman of the masses enjoys an almost Occidental freedom from
seclusion. Compared with the coarse females of Mohammedan lands, she is
modest, almost dainty—pretty, too, in her younger days, for all her
color. But age comes early, and with the increase of wrinkles and
barbaric jewelry her charms fade. Her costume is more ample than that of
the Singhalese,—a single strip of cloth of ten or twelve yards wound
round her body from neck to ankles, leaving only arms and left shoulder
bare. Lithe and supple by nature, her every movement might be graceful
were it not the custom of her husband, dreading the tax collector, to
load her down with his surplus wealth. As a girl she is bedecked with
gaudy trinkets before her costume has advanced beyond the fig-leaf
stage; as a matron, her passing sounds like a junk-shop in the grasp of
a cyclone. It is no unusual experience to meet a female wearing rings on
every finger and toe; bracelets on both arms from wrists to elbows;
rings in the top, side, and lobe of each ear; and three nose-rings, one
of which, some two inches in diameter, pierces the left nostril and
swings back and forth against the cheek of the wearer. What a throb of
joy must come to the husband who presses so precious a wife to his
bosom! But on the other hand, as once I caught Marten musing to himself,
“Suppose she flew de coop?”
[Illustration: “Suttee” having been forbidden by their English rulers,
Hindu widows must now shave their heads, dress in white, and gain their
livelihood as best they can]
[Illustration: A seller of the wood with which the bodies of Hindus are
burned on the banks of the Ganges. Very despised caste.]
The term “old maid” has no synonym in Hindustanee, and needed none until
the first female missionary invaded the peninsula. Bachelors, too, are
rare. There chanced to fall into my hands an Anglo-Indian sheet wherein
was propounded this enigma over the signature of “a puzzled babu.”
“Why,” demanded the puzzled one, after the usual incomprehensible
introduction necessary to prove his knowledge of the sahib tongue, “is
the Englishman living many times without a wife? If the Hindu is more
than very young and has not yet married himself he is contemplated
wicked and unclean. I am reading that in all the white man countries
there live more women than the men are. Why has not every sahib taken
one for his wife?”
Why not, indeed?
Marten had begun to display an arrogant author’s pride in the tale that
had carried him so rapidly northward. Several times he had gone out of
his way in Puri to tell some Eurasian or babu the sad story of his
marooning, and, as afternoon crept on, he resolved to repeat it once
more for the entertainment of the commissioner of the district.
“But,” I protested, “you have a ticket to Calcutta. You can’t use two!”
“Right,” he answered, “but it’s about six cigarettes from the commish’s
bungalow to the station, and he may come up with the dibs without
sending a nigger so far to buy the pasteboard. If he don’t loosen we’ll
have to fix it up with the station master.”
The commissioner had fled to the hills and his deputy was a native; a
strange one, though, for he not only acceded to the request of the
stranded seaman for a through ticket, but actually and visibly hurried
to complete the necessary formalities before the departure of the daily
train. He did not “come up with the dibs,” however, nor would the
station master buy back the ticket which a government clerk purchased
for my companion. But there was some gain in the manœuvre; for upon his
arrival in Calcutta the railway officials very kindly refunded to Marten
some four rupees on the unused portion of the ticket from Berhampore.
An express similar to that from which we had alighted twenty-four hours
before rumbled into Khurda Road soon after we reached the main line. We
strolled along the platform and pulled open the door of the European
compartment—and fell back in astonishment. A familiar topee with bulging
hatband swung from a peg near the ceiling. On a bench beneath, reposed
the bundle which I had once lugged across the Maidan of Madras, and
beside it sat Haywood! For some cause unknown he had been released at
the end of six days’ imprisonment and had lost no time in taking the
north-bound express—without a ticket.
His joy at the reunion exceeded our own. Marten grumbled under his
breath at the fate that kept us in such baneful company, and, though he
did not hesitate to invent fanciful tales to explain to querulous
collectors the presence of three tropical helmets when only two
travelers were visible, he said nothing of the extra ticket in his
hatband. Several times during the night Haywood found it expedient to
drop out the further door for a stroll in the darkness, but he escaped
detection and, as the day dawned, alighted with us at the Howrah
terminal. He had “held down” the same train without paying an anna of
fare, for 1,032 miles!
The pontoon bridge connecting Howrah with Calcutta was alive with
coolies tramping from their wretched hovels on the western bank to a day
of toil in the city. A multitude of natives disported in the muddy
waters of the Hoogly before a sacred bathing ghat. Below the bridge
scores of ships lay at anchor, native sampans and barges inveigled their
way among them, from the docks came the rattle of steam cranes and the
shrill chatter of stevedores at their labor. Here, at last, was a real
city, with all its familiar roar and bustle. My companions departed to
visit a missionary notorious for his friendliness to beachcombers, and I
plunged at random into the stream of humanity that surged through the
Late that afternoon we were reunited at the Sailors’ Home. As time wore
on the conviction grew that we must shake off Haywood once for all. Go
where we would, he was ever at our heels, bringing disgrace upon us.
Picking pockets was his glee. When other excitement failed he turned to
filching small articles from the booths along the way. The last straw
was added to our burden as we were returning to the Home along the
Strand on our second day in Calcutta. The sophisticated inhabitants of
the metropolis, far from springing aside at the approach of a European,
are more accustomed to push him into the gutter. To be jostled by a
“nigger” was an insult that Haywood could not brook. He resorted to
Bowery tactics; but to little effect, for the Strand was crowded. The
day was hot. The higher caste natives, our chief annoyers, carried
umbrellas that soon suggested to the New Yorker a better means of
retaliation. Opening his pocket knife, he marched boldly through the
throng, slashing viciously at every sunshade whose owner provoked his
ire. An angry murmur rose behind us. Before we had reached the Home, a
screaming mob of tradesmen surged around us, waving ruined umbrellas in
our faces. Decidedly it was time to abandon the perpetrator of such
outrages. Hints had availed nothing, frankness less. Violence against a
“pal” was out of keeping with the code of morals of “the road.” There
was nothing left but strategy.
The New Yorker ate heartily that evening. His plate was still heaped
high with currie and rice when Marten and I retired to a bench in the
garden of the Home. Plan had I none, as yet, for continuing my journey,
for Calcutta was worth a week of sight-seeing. But plans are quickly
made in the vagabond world.
“Look here, mate,” said Marten, in a stage whisper, “we’ve got to ditch
that fellow. The cops’ll be running us in along with him some day.”
I nodded. A seaman came to stretch himself out in the grass near at
hand, and we fell silent. Darkness was striding upon us when a servant
of the Home advanced to close the gate leading into the street. Suddenly
Marten raised a hand and shouted to the gateman.
“Let’s dig out,” he muttered.
“Where?” I queried.
“Sure,” I answered, springing to my feet.
We slipped out through the gate, stalked across the Maidan among the
statues of sahibs who have made history in India, past old Fort William,
and down to the banks of the Hoogly. The tropical night had fallen, and
above the city behind blazed the brilliant southern cross. For an hour
we tramped along the docks, jostled now and then by black stevedores and
native seamen. The cobble stones under our feet gave way to a soft
country road. A railway crossed our path and we stumbled along it in the
darkness. Out of the night rose a large, two-story bungalow.
“Guards’ shack,” said Marten.
A “goods train” was making up in the yards. A European in the uniform of
a brakeman ran down the steps of the bungalow, a lantern in his hand.
Behind him came a coolie, carrying his lunch-basket.
“Goin’ out soon, mate?” bawled Marten.
“All made up,” answered the Englishman, peering at us a moment with the
lantern high above his head, and hurrying on.
“Think we’ll go along,” shouted Marten.
The guard was already swallowed up in the darkness, but his voice came
back to us out of the night:—
“All right! Lay low!”
A moment later the tiny British engine shrieked, a man in the
neighboring tower opened the block, and the diminutive freight screamed
by us. We grasped the rods of a high, open car and swung ourselves up.
On the floor, folded to the size of a large mattress, lay a tarpaulin
car-cover. A cooling breeze, sweeping over the moving train, lulled us
to sleep. Once we were awakened by the roar of a passing express, and
peered over the edge of the car to find ourselves on a switch. Then the
train rattled on and we stretched out again. A second time we were
aroused by shunting engines, and the guard, passing by, called out that
he had reached the end of his run. We climbed out, and, retreating to a
grassy slope, slept out the night.
The morning sun showed an extensive forest close at hand. A red, sandy
roadway, deep-shaded by thick overhanging branches, led off through the
trees. Here and there in a tiny clearing a scrawny native cooked a
scanty breakfast over a fire of leaves and twigs before his thatch hut.
Above us sounded the note of a tropical bird. The jostling multitudes
and sullen roar of Calcutta seemed innumerable leagues distant.
The forest opened and fell away on either hand; and we paused on the
high, grassy bank of a broad river, glistening in the slanting sunlight.
Below, in two groups, natives, male and female, were bathing. Along a
highway following the course of the river stretched a one-row town, low
hovels of a single story for the most part, above which a government
building and a modest little church stood out conspicuously.
A quaint, old-fashioned spire against the background of an India horizon
is a landmark not easily forgotten.
“Thunder!” snorted Martin. “Is this all we’ve made? That bloody train
must have been side-tracked half the time we was poundin’ our list’ners.
I know this burg. It’s Hoogly, not forty miles from Cally. But there’s a
commish here. He’s a real sport, and ticketed me to Cally four years
ago. Don’t believe he’ll remember my figure-’ead, neither. Come on.”
We strolled on down the highway. Before the government building a score
of prisoners, with belts and heavy anklets of iron connected by two
jointed bars, were piling cobble stones.
“But here!” I cried suddenly; “He’ll only give you a ticket back to
Calcutta if we’re so near there.”
“No bloody fear,” retorted Marten; “he’ll ticket me the way I want to
go. That’s old Lord Curzy’s law.”
“Then you’ll have to drop that yarn about the _Guiseppe Sarto_.”
Marten had thus christened his phantom ship, not because he hoped to win
favor with the Pope, but because he had been hard-pressed for an Italian
name. Commissioners who listened to his “song and dance” had a
disconcerting habit of drawing from a pigeon-hole the latest marine
guide at the mention of an English vessel. But Italian windjammers,
unlisted, might be moved about as freely as pawns on a chessboard.
“Drop nothing,” snapped the ex-pearl fisher. “Think I’m goin’ to let a
good yarn like that go to waste, an’ after me spendin’ a whole bloody
day learnin’ to pronounce that dago name—an’ the skipper’s? Not me! I’m
goin’ to send the Joe Taylor”—in familiar parlance he preferred the
English version of the name—“over to Bombay, this time. I’ll have ’er
due there in four days.”
We turned in at an imposing lodge gate and followed a graveled walk
towards a great, white bungalow with windows commanding a vista of the
sparkling Hoogly and the rolling plains beyond. From the veranda,
curtained by trailing vines, richly-garbed servants watched our approach
with the half-belligerent, half-curious air of faithful house dogs.
Having no personal interest in the proceedings, I dropped into a rustic
bench beside the highway. A chatter of Hindustanee greeted my companion;
a stocky Punjabi rose from his heels and entered the bungalow.
There ensued a scene without precedent in my Indian experience. A tall,
comely Englishman, dressed in the whitest of ducks, stepped briskly out
upon the veranda, and, totally ignoring the awful gulf that separates a
district commissioner from a penniless beachcomber, bawled out:—
“I say, you chaps, come inside and have some breakfast.”
Much less would have been my astonishment had he suddenly opened fire on
us from a masked battery. I looked up to see Marten leaning weakly
against a veranda post.
“I only come with my mate, sir,” I explained. “It’s him as wants the
ticket. I’m only waitin’, sir.”
“Then come along and have some breakfast while you wait,” retorted the
Englishman. “Early risers have good appetites, and where would you buy
anything fit to eat in Hoogly? I’ve finished, but Maghmoód has covers
laid for you.”
We entered the bungalow on tiptoe and took places at a flower-decked
table. Two turbaned servants slipped noiselessly into the room and
served us viands of other lands. A punkah-wallah on the veranda kept the
great fans in motion. Upon me fell the vague sense of having witnessed
scenes like this in some former existence. Even here, then, on the banks
of the Hoogly, men ate with knives and forks from delicate china ware,
wiping their fingers on snow-white linen rather than on a leg of their
trousers, and left fruit peelings on their plates instead of throwing
them under the table! It seemed anachronistic.
“I told you,” murmured Marten, finishing his steak and a long silence,
and mopping his plate dry with a slice of bread plastered with butter
from far-off Denmark; “I told you he was a real sport. He’s the same
one, an’ give me a swell hand-out four years ago.”
Maghmoód entered bearing cigars and cigarettes on a silver tray, and the
information that we were to follow the commissioner to his office, two
An hour later we were journeying leisurely northwestward in a crowded
train that halted at every hamlet and cross-road. Marten had received a
ticket to Bankipore, far beyond the destination of the local at Burdwan,
where we alighted three hours before the arrival of the night express. A
gaping crowd surrounded us as we halted to purchase sweetmeats in the
bazaars and, flocking at our heels, quickly drew upon us the attention
of the local police.
Dreading Russian spies, the Indian government has, during the few years
past, required its officers to follow closely the trail of foreigners
within the country. The native policeman, however, could not distinguish
a suspicious character from a member of the viceroy’s council, and takes
a childish delight in demonstrating his importance to society by
subjecting every sahib stranger who will suffer it to a lengthy
cross-examination. Half the gendarmes of Burdwan, eager to win from
their superiors reputation for perspicacity, sought to bring us before
the recorders at the police station. Their methods were ludicrous. They
neither commanded nor requested; they invited us in the flowery phrases
of compliment to accompany them, and, when we passed on unheeding,
turned back in sorrow to their posts.
Two lynx-eyed officers, however, hung on our heels, and, following us to
the station as night fell, joined a group of railway gendarmes on the
platform. A lengthy conference ensued; then the squad lined up before
the bench on which we were seated, and a sergeant drew out one of the
small volumes which the government has adopted as a register for
“Will the sahibs be pleased to give me their names?” wheedled the
sergeant, in the timid voice of a half-starved Villon addressing his
verses to a noble patron.
I took the book and pencil from his hand and filled out the blanks on a
“And you, sahib?” said the officer, turning to Marten.
“Oh, go to the devil!” growled my companion; “I ain’t no Roossian. You
got no damn business botherin’ Europeans. Go chase yourself.”
“The sahib must give the informations or he cannot go on the train,”
murmured the native.
“How the devil will you stop me from goin’?” demanded Marten.
The officer muttered something in the vernacular to his companions.
“You would, would you?” bellowed Marten.
“Ah! The sahib speaks Hindustanee?” gasped the sergeant. “What is your
name, please, sir?”
“Look here,” growled Marten, “I’ll give you my name if you’ll promise
not to ask any more fool questions.”
The native smiled with delight and poised his pencil.
“And the name, sir?”
“Higgeldy Piggeldy,” said Marten.
“Ah! And how is it spelled, please, sahib?”
The sergeant wrote the words slowly and solemnly at my companion’s
“And which is the sahib’s birthplace?” he wheedled.
“You bloody liar,” roared Marten; “didn’t you say you wouldn’t ask
“Ah! Yes, sahib,” bleated the babu; “but we must have the informations.
Please, sir, which is your birthplace?”
“If you don’t chase yourself, I’ll break your neck!” roared Marten,
springing to his feet.
The assembled officers fell over each other in their haste to escape the
onslaught. Marten returned to the bench and sat down in moody silence.
The sergeant, urged forward by his fellow officers, advanced timidly to
within several paces of us and, poised ready to spring, addressed me in
“Sahib, the police wish, please, sir, to know why the sahibs have come
“Because the local dropped us here, and we had to wait for the express.”
“But why have you not take the express all the time?”
“We were at Hoogly. It doesn’t stop there.”
“Then, why have you not stay in the station? Why have you walked in the
bazaars and in the temples?”
“To see the sights, of course.”
“But there are not sights in Burdwan. It is a dirty village and very
poor and very small. Europeans are coming to Benares and to Calcutta,
but they are not coming in Burdwan. Why have the sahibs come in Burdwan,
and the sun is very hot?”
“I told you why. The sun doesn’t bother us.”
“Then why have the sahibs bought sweets and chappaties in the bazaars?”
“Because we were hungry.”
“Sahibs are not eating native food; they must have European food. Why
have you bought these?”
“For Lord’s sake, hit that nigger on the head with something!” burst out
Marten. “I want to sleep.”
The sergeant retreated several paces and continued his examination.
“And why have the sahibs gone to the tem—?”
The shriek of an incoming train drowned the rest, and we hastened
towards the European compartment.
“You must not go in the train!” screamed the sergeant, while the squad
danced excitedly around us. “Stop! You must answer—”
We stepped inside and slammed the door.
“The train cannot be allowed to go!” screeched the babu, racing up and
down the platform. “The sahibs are not allowed to go. You must hold the
train, sahib!” he cried to a European guard hurrying by.
“Hold nothing,” answered the official. “Are you crazy? This is the
Bombay mail,” and he blew his whistle.
The sergeant grasped the edge of the open window with one hand and,
waving his notebook wildly in the other, raced along the platform beside
“You must answer the questions, sahibs—”
The train was rapidly gaining headway.
“Get down, sahibs! Come out! You are not allowed—”
He could hold the pace no longer. With a final shriek he released his
hold and we sped on into the night.
Hours afterward we were awakened by a voice at the open window. A native
officer was peering in upon us.
“I have received a telegraph from Burdwan for a sahib who has not
answered some questions,” he smiled, holding up his notebook.
“My name’s Franck,” I yawned.
“Then it must be the other sahib,” said the native. “You are, sir, I
think, Mr. Higgeldy Piggeldy?”
“Naw! Mine’s Marten,” said my companion, drawing out his papers. “Bloody
funny name, that. Can’t be no Englishman. Must be a Roossian.”
We left the express at daybreak. Bankipore was suffering from one of the
long droughts that have ever been the blight of this section of India.
The flat plains of the surrounding country spread out an arid, sun-baked
desert as far as the eye could see. Along the roadway the dust rose in
clouds at every step, the trees stood lifeless in ragged shrouds of
dead, brown leaves. The few low-caste natives still energetic enough to
bestir themselves dragged by at the listless pace of animals turned out
to die, utter hopelessness in their shriveled faces, their tongues
lolling from their mouths. The sear grass of the great Maidan was
crushed to powder under our feet; a half-mile stroll brought on all the
symptoms of physical fatigue; the moistureless, dust-laden air smarted
in our throats and lungs and left our lips and nostrils parched and
In the center of the Maidan, as far as possible from the human kennels
of the surrounding town, were pitched several sun-bleached tents. A
dun-colored coolie, squatting in a dusty patch, cried out at our
approach; and a native of higher caste pushed aside the flap of the tent
and, shading his eyes under an outstretched hand, gazed towards us. He
was dressed in uniform, his jacket open at the throat, and his bare feet
thrust into a pair of shabby slippers. A figure commonplace enough, yet
at sight of him we gasped with delight. For on his head sat a fez! It
was far from becoming to its wearer; a turban would have offered more
protection against the Indian sun, but it heralded a Mohammedan free
from the fanatical superstitions of the Brahmin faith. We might quench
our thirst at once with no pollution of the cup; and depart without
feeling that creepy sensation of guilt that one experiences at home in
stopping in a saloon for a drink of water—if such things happen. How the
point of view towards one’s fellow men change with every advance to the
eastward! In this superstitious land an Islamite seemed almost a
But we were thirsty.
“Pawnee hai? Oh! Maghmoód, we would drink,” cried Marten.
The follower of the prophet smiled at the words of the vernacular as he
answered in perfect English:—
“Assuredly, gentlemen. I should be delighted. Step inside, where it is
His was no crude-builded language of the babu. An Oxford fellow could
not have expressed his thoughts more clearly, nor given more immediate
evidence of a sahib point of view.
The tent was furnished with mats and couches. In one corner stood a
chair and a desk littered with papers. The Mohammedan handed us a
chettie of water. When we had drunk our fill, he offered cigarettes and
motioned to a couch.
“Be seated, gentlemen,” he said. “Unless you have urgent business you
may as well rest a bit.”
“Gee!” puffed my companion, leaning back on his elbows; “I’m glad a
Mohammedan’s superstitions don’t make him believe all this tommy-rot
Marten of Tacoma was not distinguished for tact.
“We try, at any rate,” smiled the officer, “to be sane in our beliefs.”
“Of course,” went on my mate, “you have plenty of fool superstitions,
too; and you put rings in your wives’ noses, to lead ’em around by, I
A flash of fire kindled the eye of our host, but he smiled again as he
“We try, though, sir, to be sparing of unnecessary insults.”
“Gee!” murmured Marten, without looking up; “This is a good cigarette.”
“Is this an encampment?” I put in, feeling it my duty to lead the
conversation into other channels. “I don’t see any sepoys about.”
“Oh, by no means,” said the Mohammedan; “this is police headquarters.
The smaller tents house the men.”
“Then you are not a soldier?”
“Not in recent years. I am chief of police for Bankipore.”
Marten cast a half-startled glance at the profile of the man he had
taken for a simple sergeant, and assumed a more dignified posture.
“The police, then, live in tents here?” I went on.
“If we didn’t, few of us would be living at all,” replied the chief.
“Early in March, with the famine, the plague broke out, and the
inhabitants have been dying in hundreds ever since. Ten of the force
were carried from their huts to the funeral pyres in the first week.
Then we set up the tents.”
“Doesn’t the government try to check the epidemic?”
“Try! We have been fighting it tooth and nail since the day it began.
But what can we do among ignorant, superstitious Hindus? Our people are
poor. They live in filthy huts with dirt floors, into which rats can dig
easily. If we attempt to fumigate a house, the family abandons it and
sleeps on the ground outside, the surest way of taking the plague. If we
try to purify their water and food we have a riot on our hands. The
huts, too, are so packed together and burdened with filth that the only
way to clean them would be to burn up the town. We have a force of
government doctors. Medicine, also, is free to all. But you know my
people. They would far rather die of plague than run the risk of losing
caste through the doctor’s touch. If a man dies, his family prefers to
scoop a hole in the floor and squat on his grave, rather than to turn
his body over to Christians or Mohammedans. We have strict laws against
concealing sickness and death, but it is difficult to enforce them. To
make things worse, the rumor is always going the rounds that the sahib
government has ordered the doctors to poison their patients or cast a
spell upon them; and among the masses such tales are readily believed.
What can you expect of ignorant, fanatical people who barely realize
that reading and writing exist, and who never learn anything except on
hearsay? Police and doctors and government medicine will never wipe out
the plague. The only thing that can stop it is rain, and until that
comes Bankipore will keep on dying.”
Marvelous was the manner in which this son of the Orient ran on in an
alien tongue, never at a loss for the word to express his meaning
“Do all those attacked by the plague die?” I asked.
“I have been keeping tab on the cases,” returned the chief, “and I find
that a fraction of less than ninety-six per cent result fatally. I know
of men who have recovered. Our former district commissioner was one. If
the victim is a European or a well-to-do native he has about one chance
for life to three for death. But among the sudras, the coolies, the
peasants, the poor shopkeepers, there is small hope. They have always
half starved on a rice diet, the drought has left us famine-stricken for
a year; obviously, having no constitutions to fall back upon, they
merely lie down and die, never making an effort unless their religious
superstitions are in danger of violation. No, it is only rain that will
save us,” he concluded, pushing aside the flap of the tent and gazing
hopelessly at the cloudless sky.
We turned away into the town. It needed no word from the chief of police
to call attention to the ravages of plague and famine. The shopkeepers,
humped over their wares, wore the air of dogs ever in the fear of a
beating; the low-caste natives stared greedily at the stale,
dust-covered foodstuffs spread out along the way; fleshless
personifications of misery crawled by, whining for cowries—the
sea-shells that charitable India bestows on her beggar army. The
inhabitants were not hungry. That is their normal condition. They were
starving. Yet the general misery made them none the less slaves of their
omnipresent superstitions. The gaunt, sunken-eyed merchant screamed in
frenzy when our fingers approached his octogenarian rice cakes and
chappaties; he held his bony claw on a level with our knees to catch the
coppers we offered. His stock was plentiful, if grey-bearded; his prices
as low as in the days of abundance. It was, after all, chiefly a famine
At the great government bungalow, on a low hill to the eastward of the
town, were few evidences of affliction. The official force, from the
richly-gowned and turbaned judge, holding court on the veranda, to the
punkah-wallah who cooled his court-room, were glossy, well-fed
creatures. The commissioner, who drove up in a dog cart ornamented with
two footmen in scarlet and white livery, and who marched with majestic
tread through a lane of kowtowing inferiors, certainly had not come
without his breakfast. But even he must have known of the famine, for in
the stringy shade of thin-foliaged trees nearby huddled scores of
wretches waiting for leave to appeal for government assistance.
Native starvelings, obviously, should not take precedence over a sahib.
While I dropped into a proffered seat at the right hand of the judge,
Marten followed the Englishman inside. A long line of prisoners,
shackled in pairs and guarded by many native policemen, awaited
judgment. Two by two they dropped on their knees in the sun-scorched
dust, sat down on their heels, and, raising clasped hands to their
faces, rocked slowly back and forth. The judge muttered a half-dozen
words, which writers behind him jotted down in ponderous volumes, waved
a flabby hand, and the culprits passed on.
“These,” whispered an interpreter in my ear, “are wicked thieves. They
have stolen chappaties in the bazaars. They have prison for three
months. These next escape quickly with six weeks. They have cut a coolie
with knives. Those who kneel now have polluted high-caste food.”
Close to an hour the procession continued. An aged coolie, wrinkled and
creased of skin as if he had been wrung out and hung up to dry, and a
naked, half-grown boy brought up the rear. While they knelt, the
secretary turned over the pages of his book.
“More thieves,” said the interpreter. “The boy has stolen a brass lota;
the man, the lunch of a train guard, three months ago. Their prison is
The judge spoke and a policeman produced a large bunch of keys and
removed their shackles. Man and boy fell on their faces in the dust, and
rising, wandered away over the brow of the hill.
A moment later Marten emerged from the bungalow.
“The old song and dance is as good as ever!” he cried, when we were out
of earshot. “I got a boost to Allahabad an’ two days’ batter an’ the
commish’s sympathy. Come on; let’s take in the sights.”
Bankipore’s chief object of interest was a stone granary, in shape an
immense bee-hive or hay-cock, depository in days of plenty for years of
famine. As such things go in India, it was a very modern structure,
having been erected in the time of the American revolution. It was
empty. An outside stairway, winding upward, led to a circular opening in
the apex, through which trains of coolies, in days gone by, poured a
steady stream of grain. Within was Stygian darkness. We were rewarded
for the perspiring ascent by a far-reaching view of the famine-stricken
plains, and off to the eastward I caught my first glimpse of the Ganges.
We halted late that night at Buxar, far short of Allahabad, and took
slower train next morning to Moghul Serai. For to have remained on board
the express would have been to pass in the darkness the holy city of
The pilgrim train was densely packed with wildly-excited natives and
their precious bundles. Not once during the seven-mile journey across
the arid plateau did a vista of protruding brown feet greet us as we
looked back along the carriages. The windows of every compartment framed
eager, longing faces, straining for the first glimpse of the sacred
city. To many of our fellow-travelers this twentieth of April had been
in anticipation, and would be in retrospect, the greatest day of their
worldly existence. For the mere sight of holy “Kashi” suffices to wipe
out many sins of past decades. Even the gods of the Brahmin come here to
consummate their purification.
[Illustration: Bankipur’s chief object of interest is a vast granary
built in the time of the American Revolution to keep grain for times of
famine. From its top the traveler catches his first glimpse of the
[Illustration: Women of Delhi near gate forced during the Sepoy
rebellion. One carries water in a Standard Oil can, another a basket of
As we rounded a low sand dune, a muffled chorus of exclamations sounded
above the rumble of the train, and called me to the open window. To the
left, a half-mile distant, the sacred river Ganges swept round from the
eastward in a graceful curve and continued southward across our path. On
the opposite shore, bathing its feet in the sparkling stream, sprawled
the holy city. Travelers familiar with all urban dwelling places of man
name three as most distinctive in sky-line,—New York, Constantinople and
Benares. The last, certainly, is not least impressive. Long before
Gautama, seeking truth, journeyed thither, multitudes of Hindus had been
absolved of their sins at the foot of this village on the Ganges. To the
bathing ghats and shrines of the Brahmin the Buddhist added his temples.
Then came the Mohammedan conquerors with new beauties of Saracenic
architecture. In the toleration of British rule Jain and Sihk and even
Christian have contributed their share to this composite monument to the
world’s religions. Through it all, the city has grown without rhyme or
reason. Temples, monasteries, shrines, kiosks, topes, mosques, chapels
have vied with each other and the huts and shops of the inhabitants in a
wild scramble for place close to the absolving waters of the Ganges,
until the crescent-shaped “Kashi” of to-day lies heaped upon itself, as
different from the orderly cities of the western world as a mass of
football players in hot scrimmage from a company of soldiers. From the
very midst of the architectural scramble, giving center to the picture,
rise two slender minarets of the Mosque Aurunzebe, needing but a
connecting bar to suggest two goal posts.
The train rumbled across the railway bridge and halted on the edge of
the city. No engineering genius could have surveyed a line through it.
We plunged into the riot of buildings and were at once engulfed in a
whirlpool of humanity. Damascus and Cairo had seemed over-populated;
compared with Benares, they were deserted. Where the chattering stream
flowed against us, we advanced by short spurts, pausing for breath when
we were tossed aside into the wares of bawling shopkeepers, or against a
façade decorated with bois de vache. Worshipers, massed before outdoor
shrines, blocked the way as effectually as stone walls. Cross currents
of pilgrims, bursting forth from Jain or Hindu temple, bore us away with
them through side streets we had not chosen to explore. Pilgrims there
were everywhere, of every caste, of every shade, from the brass-tinted
hillman to the black Madrasi, representatives of all the land of India
from the snow line of the Himalayas to Tuticorin by the sea. Among them
the inhabitants of Benares were a mere handful.
Sacred bulls shouldered us aside with utter indifference to what had
once been the color of our skins. Twice the vast bulk of a holy elephant
loomed up before us. On the friezes and roofs of Hindu temples monkeys
wearing glittering and apparently costly rings on every finger scampered
and chattered with an audacity that to the natives was an additional
proof of their divinity.
We had been buffeted back and forth through the tortuous channels for
more than an hour when a frenzied beating of drums and a wailing of
pipes bore down upon us.
“Religious procession!” screamed Marten, dragging me after him up the
steps of a Jain temple. “We’ll have to hang out here till it gets by.
How’s them fer glad rags?”
The paraders were, indeed, attired in astonishing costumes, even for
India. The street below us was quickly filled with a screaming of colors
no less discordant than the harrowing “music” to which a thousand
marchers kept uncertain step. Some of the fanatics, not satisfied with
an exaggeration of native garb, masqueraded in the most fantastic of
guises, among which the most amusing was that of a bold fellow
burlesquing a sahib. He was “made up” to emphasize the white man’s
idiosyncrasies, and marched in a hollow square where no point could be
hidden from the view of the delighted bystanders. To the Hindu, he is an
ass who wears jacket and trousers in preference to a cool, flowing robe;
the tenderness of sahib feet is the subject of many a vulgar jest. The
burlesquer was attired in a suit of shrieking checks that fitted his
slender form as tightly as a glove; on his feet were shoes with great
projecting soles in which he might have walked with impunity on red-hot
irons. His flour-powdered face was far paler than that of the latest
subaltern to arrive from England; over his long hair he wore a
close-cropped wig of sickly yellow hue; and his tropical helmet would
have given ample shade for four men. He was smoking a homemade imitation
of a “bulldog” pipe, and swung a small fence rail jauntily back and
forth as he walked. Every dozen yards he feigned to fall into a rage
and, dancing about in a simulation of insanity, rushed upon the
surrounding paraders, striking wildly about him with his clenched fists.
The fact that he never opened his lips during this performance brought
great delight to the natives, accustomed to give vent to their anger by
taxing their vocal organs to the utmost.
There were other suggestions of the Hindu’s hatred of his rulers, the
boldest of which brought up the rear of the procession. Two natives bore
aloft a rough wooden cross on which a monkey was crucified—with cords
rather than with nails. How widespread are the teachings of Christian
missionaries was suggested by the fact that the most illiterate
countryman “saw the point,” and twisted his lean features into the ugly
grimace that is the low-caste Hindu’s manner of expressing mirth.
[Illustration: One of the many flights of steps leading down to the
bathing ghats and funeral pyres of Benares]
We fought our way onward to the center of the town and descended a great
stone stairway beneath the slender minarets. Up and down the embankment
groups of thinly-clad pilgrims, dripping from their ablutions, smoked
vile-smelling cigarettes in the shadow of temple walls or purchased holy
food at the straw-thatched booths. Here and there members of the most
despised caste in India stood before ponderous scales, weighing out the
wood that must be used in the cremation of the Hindu dead who hope to
attain salvation. The abhorrence of their fellow-beings hung lightly
upon the wood-sellers, tempered as it was by the enjoyment of a monopoly
compared with which an American trust is a benevolent institution.
In the bathing ghats, segregation of sexes prevailed. The men wore loin
clothes, the women white winding sheets through which the contour and
hue of their brown bodies shone plainly as they rose from the water.
From time to time bands of natives, covered with the dust of travel,
tumbled down the stairways and plunged eagerly into the purging river.
There is no sin so vile, says the Hindu, that it cannot be washed away
in the Ganges at the foot of Benares. Let us hope so, for its waters
certainly have no other virtues. Gladly would I, for one, bear away any
portable burden of peccadillos in preference to descending into that
fever-infected flow of mud. A ray of sunlight will not pass through a
wineglassful of Ganges water. Yet pilgrims not only splashed about in
it, ducking their heads beneath the surface and dashing it over their
faces, they rinsed their mouths in it, scraped their tongues with sticks
dipped in it, spat it out in great jets, as if bent on dislodging some
tenacious sin from between their back molars.
Our circuit of the city brought us back to the station long enough
before train time to give opportunity for a duty that falls often to the
roadster in India,—a general “wash up.” Twice that day we had been taken
for Eurasians. Benares ends abruptly at the railway line; beyond,
stretches a flat, monotonous landscape of arid, unpeopled moorland.
Armed with a two-pice lump of soap of the hue of maple sugar, we slid
down the steep bank below the railway bridge in an avalanche of sand and
rubble. Once there, Marten decided that he was “too tired” to turn
dhoby, and stretched out in the shade of the bank. I approached the
stream, sinking halfway to my knees in the slime. There would have been
no Indian impropriety in disrobing at once, but there would certainly
have been a sadly sunburned sahib ten minutes afterward. Ordinary
beachcombers, like my companion, being possessed of but two cotton
garments, must have retired unlaundered or blistered. I, however, was no
ordinary vagabond. My wardrobe included three pieces. It was the
simplest matter in the world, therefore, to scrub the jacket while
wearing the shirt and the shirt while wearing the jacket, and to wrap
the garment de luxe around my legs while I soaked the third in the
accumulation of Hindu sins.
“Say, mate,” drawled Marten, while I daubed my trousers with the
maple-sugar soap, “you’ll sure go to heaven fer scrubbin’ your rags in
that mud. There’s always a bunch of Hindu gods hangin’ around here. I
don’t want to disturb a honest laborin’ man, o’ course, but I’d be so
lonesome if you was gone that I’m goin’ to tell you that there’s one
comin’ to take you to heaven now, an’ if you’re finished with livin’—”
I looked up suddenly. Barely ten feet away the ugly snout of a crocodile
was moving towards me.
“Stand still!” shouted Marten, as I struggled to pull my legs from the
clinging mud. “He’s a god, I tell you. Besides, he’s probably hungry.
Don’t be so damn selfish.”
The trouser, well aimed, ended his speech abruptly as I reached dry
land. I worked, thereafter, with wide-open eyes; and before the task was
ended, caught sight of no less than fourteen of the river gods of India.
We regained the station in time for the train to Moghul Serai, and,
catching the northwest express, arrived in Allahabad late at night. The
Strangers’ Rest, vagabonds’ retreat a half mile from the station, was
long since closed; but the Irish superintendent was a light sleeper, and
we were soon weighing down two charpoys under the trees of the inner
The jangling of the breakfast bell awakened us. The Allahabad “Rest” was
famed far and wide for its “European chow.” All through the night we had
embraced ourselves in joyful anticipation of reviving our flagging
memories on the subject of the taste of meat. Marten had even dared to
dream a wondrous dream, wherein he had pursued a Gargantuan beefsteak as
broad as the arid plain below Benares, in thickness like unto a native
hut, across half the land of India, only to wake as he was falling upon
it in the foothills of the Himalayas.
“An’ the bloomin’ thing was steamin’ hot,” he driveled, as we raced for
the dining-room with a mob of ordinarily phlegmatic roadsters, “an’ the
juice was runnin’ out all over the fields”—we dropped into places at the
table—“an’ it was that bloody rare that—ah—er—wha—what the devil’s
this?” he gasped, pointing at the plate before him.
“Eh?” cried the superintendent, from the doorway.
“I was askin’,” murmured Marten, “what kind o’ meat this might be.”
“That?” smiled our portly host. “Why, ’tis dhried fish, to be sure. The
day’s Good Friday, you’ll be remimberin’.”
So we were glad rather than sorry that the piety of the English rector,
to whom that power was deputed, forbade him issuing tickets to stranded
seamen until the next day.
Nothing short of a promise to set up a bottle of arrack would have
enticed another sojourner at the Rest outside its shady grove. I set off
to explore the city of Allah alone. Life moved sluggishly in its broad,
straight streets; for the day’s inactivity of Europeans and Eurasians
had clogged the wheels of industry. Lepers swarmed under the trees along
the boulevard passing the Rest—lepers male and female, without fingers,
or lips, or eyelids, some with stumps for feet, and others with great
running sores where their faces should have been. Still others had lost
their vocal cords, so that their speech, as they crept close up behind
the passing sahib to solicit alms, was an inarticulate gurgle.
Great credit should be given to the Mohammedan women of Allahabad and
beyond, who, with no Worth to do them service, display individuality of
dress sufficient to attract a flagging attention. To be exact, it isn’t
a dress at all, being merely a jacket and a pair of thin, cotton
trousers, full above the knee and close-fitting below, like
riding-breeches. The costume originated with its wearers, no doubt. Far
be it from me, at least, to accuse them of copying the garb of the
sahibs who gallop along the broader thoroughfares.
We slept again under the spreading trees, and might have slept well, had
not the spot chanced to be the rendezvous of all the mosquitoes of the
northwest provinces. With morning our host marched away at the head of a
band of wandering minstrels to carry entertainment to the English
rector. The performance endured beyond all precedent. One by one the
artists straggled back to the grove, some glad, some sorrowful; and
among the latter was Marten. In accordance with our plan to continue
towards the Punjab, he had promised to send the “_Guiseppe Sarto_” from
the harbor of Bombay, where it had ridden at anchor since the day that
we entered Hoogly, to Kurachee at the mouth of the Indus. The classic
tale had aroused the old-time sympathy; the rector had listened gravely;
the story must surely have brought its reward had not the teller, too
cock-sure of his lines, forgotten momentarily the contemplated revision
of the text and blurted out the familiar name so distinctly that
correction was impossible. He had drawn, therefore, when the division of
lots fell, a ticket to Bombay.
There were two reasons why Marten had no desire to visit that port:
first, because I had refused to accompany him; second, because the
commissioners of that uncharitable presidency have contracted the
reprehensible habit of committing to the workhouse the penniless white
man taken within their borders. But the die was cast. The law required
that the holder of a government ticket depart by the first train, and
even had it not, there was no one else in Allahabad to whom to appeal.
The grief of the former pearl fisher was acute, lachrymose, in fact. To
dry his tears I consented to accompany him to the capital of the next
We took leave of the Irishman as darkness fell and before the night was
well on its wane had sought a sharp-cornered repose at the station of
Jubbulpore. The commissioner of that district, moved by a more carefully
constructed tale, granted the stranded mariner a ticket to Jhansi. The
route mapped out for him led southward to the junction with the main
line, which I, anxious to explore a territory off the beaten track,
chose to gain by an unimportant branch. We separated, therefore,
promising to meet again next day at Bina.
Returning northward to the village of Khatni, I spent the night on a
station settee, and boarded the mixed train that sallies forth daily
from that rural terminal. It was in charge of a Eurasian driver and
guard, of whom the latter gave me full possession of a roomy compartment
adjoining his own. The country was rolling in outline, a series of broad
ridges across which the train rose and fell regularly. To right and left
stretched jungle, uninhabited and apparently impenetrable. The villages
rarely comprised more than a cluster of huts behind the railway
bungalow, to which the inhabitants flocked to greet the arrival of the
train, the one event that enlivened a monotonous daily existence. Now
and then I caught sight of some species of deer bounding away through
the low tropical shrubbery, and once of that dreaded beast of India—a
tiger. He was a gaunt, agile creature, more dingy in color than those in
captivity, who advanced rapidly, yet almost cautiously, clearing the low
jungle growth in long, easy bounds. On the track he halted a moment,
gazed scornfully at the sluggard locomotive, then sprang into the
thicket and was gone.
We halted at midday at the station of Damoh. Certain that my private
carriage could not be invaded in a district where Europeans were almost
unknown, I left my knapsack on a bench and retreated to the station
buffet. At my exit a strange sight greeted my eyes. Before the door of
my compartment was grouped the population of Damoh. Inside stood a
native policeman, in khaki and red turban. Under one arm he held the
guidebook, a tobacco box, a pipe, a spool of film, and the leaf-wrapped
lunch that had made up the contents of my knapsack. The sack itself, a
half-dozen letters, and the kodak-cover lay on the floor under his feet.
By some stroke of genius he had found the springs that released the back
of the kodak, and having laid that on the bench beside him, was
complacently turning the screw that unwound the ruined film, to the
delight of his admiring fellow-countrymen.
The natives fled at my approach, and the officer, dropping my
possessions on the floor, dashed for the shelter of the station-master’s
office. I followed after to make complaint, and came upon him cowering
behind a heap of baggage, his hands tightly clasped over the badge that
bore his number.
“He says,” interpreted the Eurasian agent, when I had demanded an
explanation, “that it is his duty to look in empty compartments for lost
articles, but that he has not taken the littlest thing, not even a box
of matches, and asks that you forgive him. If you cannot put the queer
machine together again, he will.”
“These fellows are always prying into things like monkeys,” put in the
guard, “I’d make complaint to the inspector at Bina.”
A change came over the face of the policeman. Till then he had been the
picture of contrition; now he advanced boldly and poured forth a deluge
of incomprehensible lingo.
“Why, what’s this?” cried the station-master. “He says you assaulted
“Does he look like it?” I demanded.
“No,” admitted the agent, “most sahibs leave marks.”
“Oh! That’s the old trick,” snorted the guard. “He understood the word
‘inspector’ and thinks he’ll keep out of hot water by making a counter
“I don’t believe the tale,” said the agent, “but he insists on making a
complaint, and I shall have to telegraph it to the inspector at the end
of the line.”
The train went on. There being no European officers in the district I
could not be placed under arrest, but it was not long before I found the
police drag-net drawing close around me. The first station beyond Damoh
was a populous town, and among the natives who crowded the platform my
attention was drawn to two sturdy fellows in the garb of countrymen who
elbowed their way through the throng and stared boldly in upon me.
Apparently they had designs on my depleted pocketbook, but, indifferent
to so slight a loss, I returned their scowls and settled back in my
seat. We were well under way again when I turned from my contemplation
of the distant landscape and glanced along the swaying cars. From the
next compartment, his eyes glued on my own, hung one of the countrymen.
Annoyed, I moved to the opposite side of the car. The head and shoulders
of the second rascal protruded from the window ahead. The situation
burst upon me. These, then, were “plain-clothes guys” assigned the duty
of shadowing me to my destination.
As long as the journey lasted, the detectives sat motionless in their
places, their heads twisted halfway round on their shoulders, staring
like observant owls at the only means of exit from my compartment. I
descended at Bina as twilight fell, and they hung on my heels until I
had been accosted by a young Englishman in khaki uniform.
“The station-master at Damoh,” began the Briton, “reports that you
assaulted a native officer. Will you come with me, please?”
He led the way to the waiting-room, and, producing a notebook, jotted
down my story.
“He needed a good drubbing whether he got it or not,” he admitted, when
I had concluded. “Unfortunately I cannot release you until the inspector
“When will that be?”
“To-morrow, probably, on this same train.”
“But I can’t afford to be delayed twenty-four hours,” I protested. “I’m
short on cash and I’ve got to meet a mate.”
“I am sorry,” returned the Englishman, “but as deputy inspector I have
no power in the matter. I do not want to lock you up if you will promise
not to leave the station precincts. You may sleep in the first-class
Whether he relied entirely on my promise, I did not learn. At any rate,
he ordered the agent to arrange a cane couch for me, and not long after
his departure a coolie arrived from the barracks with such a dinner as I
did not often enjoy during my days of liberty. The next day the fare was
even more generous, and was supplemented by several delicacies which the
Eurasian guard sent from the messroom of the railway bungalow. The
latter had not neglected to make public my story, and every hour brought
Englishmen, Eurasians, or babus to express their conviction that I was
being grossly mistreated. Among them was a leathery little Irishman, a
traveling photographer with headquarters in Agra, and a discussion of
our common interests ended with his writing me a “chit” to his employer,
whom he represented as in need of an assistant.
The deputy inspector hovered about the station, and during one of his
visits I asked for a book with which to while away the time. He must
have pondered long over the shelves in his bungalow in quest of a volume
that would appeal to a sailor of slight education, of American
nationality, who was ostensibly suffering severe depression of spirits.
His choice demonstrated the unfailing perspicacity of the Briton. He
came back bearing a thumb-worn copy of “Bill Nye’s History of the United
With nightfall came the inspector to listen to a repetition of my story.
“Your account,” he announced, “agrees entirely with that of the Eurasian
guard. I shall release you at once.”
An hour afterward I left Bina and, halting at Jhansi and the free state
of Gwalior, arrived in Agra three days later. Until then I had fancied
that Marten had passed me during the night of my captivity. But as I
alighted, I was surprised to see, in a letter-rack such as is maintained
at most Indian stations for the convenience of travelers, a post card
across which my name was misspelled in bold, blue letters. On the back
was scrawled this simple message:—
GODAWARA, INDIA—April 25th.
Missed the train to Bina becaze I knoked the block off a nigger
polisman. They draged me down hear and the comish finned me 15 dibs
and then payed the fine and put me rite as far as Agra. I wil pick
you up ther on the 27th.
The twenty-seventh was past. The ex-pearl-fisher had evidently gone on,
and I saw him no more.
Reduced now to a handful of coppers, I lost no time in seeking out the
photographer to whom my “chit” was addressed. He was a Parsee of slender
build, dressed in European garb, the trousers of which, fitting his long
legs all too snugly, gave him a strangely spiderlike appearance. A small
velvet skull-cap, embroidered in red and pink with representations of
flowers and leaves, sat imperturbable on the top of his head, holding
its place with every movement of his lithe body as if nailed there.
Suggestion was there none, in his mien, of strange religious beliefs.
His English was fluent, his manner affable, yet tempered with a
ceremonial coldness, as of one convinced of the necessity of being ever
on his dignity.
We came quickly to terms. The shop, well stocked with photographic
supplies, was in charge of a Eurasian clerk, and my new duties confined
me within the narrow limits of the dark-room. He who would taste
purgatory has but to find employment in a photographer’s workshop in
India. As the door closed behind me, I muttered a determination to hold
my new-found position for a fortnight. Before the first set of plates
had been transferred to the fixing-bath, the resolution weakened; when
an hour had passed, a voice within me whispered that three days’ wages
would be amply sufficient for all present needs. There were new elements
of the photographer’s craft to be learned in the Parsee’s laboratory,
too, such as the use of ice in every process, and during the learning I
conducted, all unintentionally, a series of researches in the action of
NaCl on the various chemicals in my charge. In short, the stoke-hole of
an ocean-liner would have been hibernal by comparison. My employer’s tap
on the door, with the suggestion that it was time to set up the
shutters, did not need to be repeated.
Once in the street, the Parsee hailed a Hindu hansom, a sort of stranded
ferryboat set up on two circular table-tops and attached to what had
once been a pair of bullocks, and we were driven off. That we reached
the residence of my employer before morning and in good health was
reason for self-congratulation, for it was nearly a mile distant. The
axle-grooves in the misapplied table-tops were as near the center as if
they had been bored by a musket in the hands of a blind man at one
hundred paces. The driver was with great difficulty inspired to action,
and was totally incapable of transmitting such inspiration to his
animals. Along the boulevard the craft moved at the cumbersome gait of a
land crab; in the rougher streets it pitched and rolled like a derelict
in the trough of the waves.
[Illustration: The Taj Mahal, Agra, India]
The Parsee, accustomed to this fancied solution of the transit problem
of Agra, fell into that half doze of dreamy contentment typical of the
home-coming suburbanite the world over, and roused himself only when the
rattle of the cobble stones of his own courtyard disturbed his
ruminations. We alighted equi-distant from two squat bungalows, of which
the fire-worshiper gave me leave to enter the former, ere he retired to
the bosom of his family in the other. My new home housed a band of
servants and a lodger. The deep veranda was curtained by a network of
creeping vines that the drought had touched with autumn colors. As I
mounted the steps, a long-drawn groan sounded from the semi-darkness,
and I was greeted by the sight of the lodger tossing deliriously on one
of two dilapidated willow armchairs with which the piazza was furnished.
A fever raged within him—the first symptoms, he was convinced, of the
plague that would carry him off before dawn. Plainly he did not care to
go. The charpoys within were all occupied. I preëmpted the unoccupied
chair and listened through the night to the Eurasian’s frenzied endeavor
to frighten off the grim visitor.
To the grief of the Parsee, I fled from his sweat-box the next
afternoon, and, having visited Agra and her incomparable Taj Mahal, took
night train to Delhi. The traveler who journeys slowly northward through
this land of strange scenes and superstitions loses sight, oftentimes,
of the fact that no other political entity includes within its borders
so many heterogeneous elements. India is not the dwelling place of one
people. The Punjabi of the north differs as much from the Maduran as the
Scotchman from the Neapolitan. The hillman and the man of the plains
prove on close acquaintance to have little more in common than their
brown skins and their misery. Shake your fist at a Madrasi and he will
take to his heels. Deny a Gurka the privilege of fighting and you have
robbed him of all that makes life worth living.
The casual tourist, noting only slight changes from day to day, may not
realize this diversity of population. But let him push on to
Shahjehanabad, the city of King John, which they who dwell elsewhere
call Delhi. Here is a different world, an Arab world almost, to remind
him that Islam once held vast sway in the land of Hind. Easily might he
fancy himself again in Damascus. As in “Shaam,” here are labyrinthian
streets, each given up to a single trade. In shaded nooks and corners
the black-bearded scribe plies his art; from many a minaret sounds the
chant of the muezzin; the fez vies with the turban for supremacy.
Lean-faced Bedouins and files of cushion-shod camels bring with them a
suggestion of the wild sweep of the desert; and, if another touch is
needed, over all hovers those crowning symbols of Mohammedan
civilization,—filth and pariah dogs.
But with the squalor came new privileges to sahib wanderers. Of
Mohammedan eating-shops there were plenty, and never a protest rose
against me when I paused to choose from the steaming kettles framed in
the doorway. The messes, if the blear-eyed Islamite who stirred the
fires under them was to be believed, contained no other flesh than
mutton. There were bones in more than one dish that looked suspiciously
small for those of the sheep; and the rabbit is not indigenous to India.
But quién sabe? The light-skinned vagrant is too thankful, certainly,
for an opportunity to satisfy his carnivorous tastes to appoint himself
a committee of investigation or to inquire into the status of the pure
It was this scent of a more western world perhaps, which soon brought
upon me the realization that our unplanned excursion “up country” had
carried me a thousand miles afield. I awoke one morning resolved to turn
eastward once more. Unfortunately the turning lacked impetus, for in my
pocket were four lonely coppers. A half-day’s search in the native city
failed to bring to light any demand for white-skinned labor, and I
concluded to make public my offer of services through the district
The afternoon siesta was ended and the élite of Delhi were awakening to
new life when I crossed the bridge spanning the railway yards and
entered the cantonment and the European section. Over miles of rolling
country, thinly streaked by the shade of those few withered trees that
had outlived the drought, were scattered the barracks, government
offices, and the bungalows of white residents. At the district court a
lonely babu clerk welcomed me with the information that the government
force was enjoying a Mohammedan holiday, that the next day was sacred to
some Hindu saint or sacred ape, and the third, the Christian day of
rest. The road to the commissioner’s residence passed those of a score
of English officials, each situated in a private park, on the lodge gate
of which an ensign set forth the name of the owner and the titles which
a grateful monarch permitted him to attach thereto. An hour beyond the
court, I was confronted by the astonishing pedigree of the ruler of the
district and turned aside with bated breath into his estate. The
honorable commissioner sahib was not at home, asserted the native butler
who was whitewashing canvas shoes on the back veranda; he had gone to
the honorable Englishmen’s club.
[Illustration: A market-day in Delhi, India. Many castes of Hindus and
Mohammedans are represented]
[Illustration: The Hindu street-sprinkler does not lay much dust]
A score of smart traps and dog carts, in charge of gorgeously liveried
saïs were drawn up about the long, two-story club-house. On the
neighboring courts four pairs of linen-clad Englishmen, surrounded by a
select audience of admiring memsahibs and a hundred wondering servants,
were playing tennis with that deliberate, dispassionate energy which the
Briton of the “clawsses” puts into everything from a casual greeting to
a suicide. The honorable commissioner sahib K. C. B., M. A., V. C, Bart,
etc., was stretched out in a reclining chair in the smoking-room of the
club, his attention divided between a cigarette and cooling beverage and
the activities of several other distinguished preservers of the
alphabet, who were driving a red and two white balls about a green table
with characteristic vim and vigor. The native who pointed out the mighty
man from the shelter of a veranda fern refused in an awe-struck whisper
to deliver my message until I had threatened to enter this sanctum of
social superiority unannounced. The Englishman bellowed a protest at
being disturbed, but rose and advanced to the door, glass in hand.
“I say, you know,” he cried, in a voice having its domicile in the pit
of his stomach, “this isn’t my office, my man. I cawn’t be attending to
official duties day and night. Come to the high-court to-morrow and I
will look into your case.”
“If any of the gentlemen inside, sir, or you, could put me onto a job
where I could earn the price of a tick—”
“A job! In Delhi? Do you fawncy there are full-rigged ships on the
Jumna? Come to my office at ten-thirty or eleven in the morning.”
“But to-morrow is a holiday.”
“Hah! By Jove, so it is! Well, come to my bungalow instead.”
“How about some work about the club? Anything at all.”
“See here, my man,” protested the commissioner, turning away, “this is
no employment bureau. I’m going over for a game of tennis and I’ll bid
you good day.”
“Then you’ll need someone to chase tennis balls for you,” I called after
him, “I’m fairly fast on my feet.”
“Chase tennis balls!” cried the governor, coming back. “Do you mean you
would run around before a crowd of native servants—you—a white man—and—”
“Sure. Won’t you?”
“Eh—er—wha—I? When I play tennis? Why, of course, for exercise; but you
were talking about work.”
“Well, let’s call it exercise if you’d rather.”
He stared at me a moment in silence, but, being an unusually
quick-witted Englishman, grinned as he turned away.
“Very well,” he said, over his shoulder, “wait for me over at the second
court. I’ll give you a rupee a set—in railway fare—to-morrow.”
I was perspiringly engaged as official ball-chaser of the Delhi tennis
club until twilight put an end to the sport, fagging three games for the
commissioner and as many more for his friends. The reward, however, was
not immediately forthcoming; and I turned back as penniless as I had
come, towards Delhi, four miles distant. The half-audible melody of a
summer night was broken now and then by the patter of native feet along
the dusty roadway, but I tramped on for the most part in silence. Once I
was startled by a lusty chorus of male voices that burst out suddenly
from the darkness ahead in words of my own tongue; and a moment later a
squad of red-coats, bound barrack-ward after a merry afternoon on leave,
trooped by me, arm in arm, singing at the top of their lungs, “The Place
where the Punkah-wallah Died.” It is a sorrowful ditty, this favorite
ballad of the Tommy Atkins of India, bearing as it does the final word
on the infernal calidity of the peninsula. The punkah-wallah is as
insensible to the sun’s rays as any living mortal, his station is a
shaded veranda, his labor the languid moving of a weightless fan. He of
the ballad died of the heat at his post.
Bent on finding lodging in a deserted coach, I slid down the steep slope
at the edge of the European section into the broad railway yards. A
policeman patrolled the bank above; detectives lurked in the narrow
alleyways between the long rows of side-tracked cars; and the headlights
of puffing switch-engines turned streaks of the night into broad day. I
escaped detection only by vigilant dodging. There were goods’ vans
without number, an endless forest of them, but they were sealed or
loaded with some vile-smelling cargo; passenger coach was there none. I
struck off boldly across the tracks towards the lighted station. The
glare of a head-light was turned full upon me and without the slightest
warning I felt myself launched into space so suddenly that I did not
lose my upright posture. The sensation of falling seemed of several
minutes’ duration, as one experiences in a dream of being thrown from a
high building. Long after the world above had disappeared, I landed in
utter darkness, all unhurt except for the barking of my nose. Near at
hand several live coals gleamed like watching eyes. I had walked into a
cinder-pit on the round-house track.
[Illustration: A lady of quality of Delhi out for a drive]
[Illustration: Hindu women drinking cocoanut-milk]
By dint of a cat-like spring from the top of the largest heap of ashes,
I grasped the rail above and drew myself out, to find the engine crew
preparing to descend into the pit to recover my body. The station
platform was crowded. Beyond, surrounded on all sides by the teeming
bazaars, lay a thick-wooded park known as Queen’s Gardens. Placards on
the ten-foot picket fence forbade trespassing after nightfall; but
though I climbed the barrier in full sight of strollers and shopkeepers
they held their peace, convinced, no doubt, that the sahib who entered
at that hour was called thither by official duties. I stretched out in
the long grass, but the foliage overhead offered no such shelter as the
trees of equatorial Ceylon, and I awoke in the morning dripping wet from
the fallen dew.
Again that afternoon I did service at the tennis court, earning two
rupees more than the sum required to carry me back to Calcutta, and,
returning to the city, boarded the Saturday night express. The European
compartment was commodious and furnished not only with a wash-room but
with two wooden shelves on which I slept by night, undisturbed by
Eurasian collectors. Following the direct line through Cawnpore and
Allahabad, the train drew into Howrah on Monday morning. Not once during
the journey had my box-stall been invaded. Nine hundred and fifty-four
miles I had traveled, in a private car on an express—and the ticket had
cost $2.82! Truly, impecunious victims of the Wanderlust should look
upon India as the promised land.