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Following The Equator
A Journey Around The World

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CHAPTER XXXVI.

The Poems of Mrs. Moore—The Sad Fate of William Upson—A Fellow Traveler Imitating the Prince of Wales—A Would-be Dude—Arrival at Sydney—Curious Town Names with Poem

There are several good protections against temptations, but the surest is cowardice.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.

Names are not always what they seem. The common Welsh name Bzjxxllwep is pronounced Jackson.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.

Friday, December 13. Sailed, at 3 p.m., in the ‘Mararoa’. Summer seas and a good ship—life has nothing better.

Monday. Three days of paradise. Warm and sunny and smooth; the sea a luminous Mediterranean blue . . . . One lolls in a long chair all day under deck-awnings, and reads and smokes, in measureless content. One does not read prose at such a time, but poetry. I have been reading the poems of Mrs. Julia A. Moore, again, and I find in them the same grace and melody that attracted me when they were first published, twenty years ago, and have held me in happy bonds ever since.

“The Sentimental Song Book” has long been out of print, and has been forgotten by the world in general, but not by me. I carry it with me always—it and Goldsmith’s deathless story.

Indeed, it has the same deep charm for me that the Vicar of Wakefield has, and I find in it the same subtle touch—the touch that makes an intentionally humorous episode pathetic and an intentionally pathetic one funny. In her time Mrs. Moore was called “the Sweet Singer of Michigan,” and was best known by that name. I have read her book through twice today, with the purpose of determining which of her pieces has most merit, and I am persuaded that for wide grasp and sustained power, “William Upson” may claim first place—

WILLIAM UPSON.
Air—“The Major’s Only Son."
Come all good people far and near,
Oh, come and see what you can hear,
It’s of a young man true and brave,
That is now sleeping in his grave.

Now, William Upson was his name
If it’s not that, it’s all the same
He did enlist in a cruel strife,
And it caused him to lose his life.

He was Perry Upson’s eldest son,
His father loved his noble son,
This son was nineteen years of age
When first in the rebellion he engaged.

His father said that he might go,
But his dear mother she said no,
“Oh! stay at home, dear Billy,” she said,
But she could not turn his head.

He went to Nashville, in Tennessee,
There his kind friends he could not see;
He died among strangers, so far away,
They did not know where his body lay.

He was taken sick and lived four weeks,
And Oh! how his parents weep,
But now they must in sorrow mourn,
For Billy has gone to his heavenly home.

Oh! if his mother could have seen her son,
For she loved him, her darling son;
If she could heard his dying prayer,
It would ease her heart till she met him there.

How it would relieve his mother’s heart
To see her son from this world depart,
And hear his noble words of love,
As he left this world for that above.

Now it will relieve his mother’s heart,
For her son is laid in our graveyard;
For now she knows that his grave is near,
She will not shed so many tears.

Although she knows not that it was her son,
For his coffin could not be opened
It might be someone in his place,
For she could not see his noble face.

December, 17. Reached Sydney.

December, 19. In the train. Fellow of 30 with four valises; a slim creature, with teeth which made his mouth look like a neglected churchyard. He had solidified hair—solidified with pomatum; it was all one shell. He smoked the most extraordinary cigarettes—made of some kind of manure, apparently. These and his hair made him smell like the very nation. He had a low-cut vest on, which exposed a deal of frayed and broken and unclean shirtfront. Showy studs, of imitation gold—they had made black disks on the linen. Oversized sleeve buttons of imitation gold, the copper base showing through. Ponderous watch-chain of imitation gold. I judge that he couldn’t tell the time by it, for he asked Smythe what time it was, once. He wore a coat which had been gay when it was young; 5-o’clock-tea-trousers of a light tint, and marvelously soiled; yellow mustache with a dashing upward whirl at the ends; foxy shoes, imitation patent leather. He was a novelty—an imitation dude. He would have been a real one if he could have afforded it. But he was satisfied with himself. You could see it in his expression, and in all his attitudes and movements. He was living in a dude dreamland where all his squalid shams were genuine, and himself a sincerity. It disarmed criticism, it mollified spite, to see him so enjoy his imitation languors, and arts, and airs, and his studied daintinesses of gesture and misbegotten refinements. It was plain to me that he was imagining himself the Prince of Wales, and was doing everything the way he thought the Prince would do it. For bringing his four valises aboard and stowing them in the nettings, he gave his porter four cents, and lightly apologized for the smallness of the gratuity—just with the condescendingest little royal air in the world. He stretched himself out on the front seat and rested his pomatum-cake on the middle arm, and stuck his feet out of the window, and began to pose as the Prince and work his dreams and languors for exhibition; and he would indolently watch the blue films curling up from his cigarette, and inhale the stench, and look so grateful; and would flip the ash away with the daintiest gesture, unintentionally displaying his brass ring in the most intentional way; why, it was as good as being in Marlborough House itself to see him do it so like.

There was other scenery in the trip. That of the Hawksbury river, in the National Park region, fine—extraordinarily fine, with spacious views of stream and lake imposingly framed in woody hills; and every now and then the noblest groupings of mountains, and the most enchanting rearrangements of the water effects. Further along, green flats, thinly covered with gum forests, with here and there the huts and cabins of small farmers engaged in raising children. Still further along, arid stretches, lifeless and melancholy. Then Newcastle, a rushing town, capital of the rich coal regions. Approaching Scone, wide farming and grazing levels, with pretty frequent glimpses of a troublesome plant—a particularly devilish little prickly pear, daily damned in the orisons of the agriculturist; imported by a lady of sentiment, and contributed gratis to the colony. Blazing hot, all day.

December 20. Back to Sydney. Blazing hot again. From the newspaper, and from the map, I have made a collection of curious names of Australasian towns, with the idea of making a poem out of them:

Tumut
Takee
Murriwillumba
Bowral
Ballarat
Mullengudgery
Murrurundi
Wagga-Wagga
Wyalong
Murrumbidgee
Goomeroo
Wolloway
Wangary
Wanilla
Worrow
Koppio
Yankalilla
Yaranyacka
Yackamoorundie
Kaiwaka
Coomooroo
Tauranga
Geelong
Tongariro
Kaikoura
Wakatipu
Oohipara
Waitpinga
Goelwa
Munno Para
Nangkita
Myponga
Kapunda
Kooringa
Penola
Nangwarry
Kongorong
Comaum
Koolywurtie
Killanoola
Naracoorte
Muloowurtie
Binnum
Wallaroo
Wirrega
Mundoora
Hauraki
Rangiriri
Teawamute
Taranaki
Toowoomba
Goondiwindi
Jerrilderie
Whangaroa
Wollongong
Woolloomooloo
Bombola
Coolgardie
Bendigo
Coonamble
Cootamundra
Woolgoolga
Mittagong
Jamberoo
Kondoparinga
Kuitpo
Tungkillo
Oukaparinga
Talunga
Yatala
Parawirra
Moorooroo
Whangarei
Woolundunga
Booleroo
Pernatty
Parramatta
Taroom
Narrandera
Deniliquin
Kawakawa.

It may be best to build the poem now, and make the weather help

A SWELTERING DAY IN AUSTRALIA.
(To be read soft and low, with the lights turned down.)
The Bombola faints in the hot Bowral tree,
Where fierce Mullengudgery’s smothering fires
Far from the breezes of Coolgardie
Burn ghastly and blue as the day expires;

And Murriwillumba complaineth in song
For the garlanded bowers of Woolloomooloo,
And the Ballarat Fly and the lone Wollongong
They dream of the gardens of Jamberoo;

The wallabi sighs for the Murrubidgee,
For the velvety sod of the Munno Parah,
Where the waters of healing from Muloowurtie
Flow dim in the gloaming by Yaranyackah;

The Koppio sorrows for lost Wolloway,
And sigheth in secret for Murrurundi,
The Whangeroo wombat lamenteth the day
That made him an exile from Jerrilderie;

The Teawamute Tumut from Wirrega’s glade,
The Nangkita swallow, the Wallaroo swan,
They long for the peace of the Timaru shade
And thy balmy soft airs, O sweet Mittagong!

The Kooringa buffalo pants in the sun,
The Kondoparinga lies gaping for breath,
The Kongorong Camaum to the shadow has won,
But the Goomeroo sinks in the slumber of death;

In the weltering hell of the Moorooroo plain
The Yatala Wangary withers and dies,
And the Worrow Wanilla, demented with pain,
To the Woolgoolga woodlands despairingly flies;

Sweet Nangwarry’s desolate, Coonamble wails,
And Tungkillo Kuito in sables is drest,
For the Whangerei winds fall asleep in the sails
And the Booleroo life-breeze is dead in the west.

Mypongo, Kapunda, O slumber no more
Yankalilla, Parawirra, be warned
There’s death in the air!
Killanoola, wherefore
Shall the prayer of Penola be scorned?

Cootamundra, and Takee, and Wakatipu,
Toowoomba, Kaikoura are lost
From Onkaparinga to far Oamaru
All burn in this hell’s holocaust!

Paramatta and Binnum are gone to their rest
In the vale of Tapanni Taroom,
Kawakawa, Deniliquin—all that was best
In the earth are but graves and a tomb!

Narrandera mourns, Cameron answers not
When the roll of the scathless we cry
Tongariro, Goondiwindi, Woolundunga, the spot
Is mute and forlorn where ye lie.

Those are good words for poetry. Among the best I have ever seen. There are 81 in the list. I did not need them all, but I have knocked down 66 of them; which is a good bag, it seems to me, for a person not in the business. Perhaps a poet laureate could do better, but a poet laureate gets wages, and that is different. When I write poetry I do not get any wages; often I lose money by it. The best word in that list, and the most musical and gurgly, is Woolloomoolloo. It is a place near Sydney, and is a favorite pleasure-resort. It has eight O’s in it.




CHAPTER XXXVII.

From Sydney for Ceylon—A Lascar Crew—A Fine Ship—Three Cats and a Basket of Kittens—Dinner Conversations—Veuve Cliquot Wine—At Anchor in King George’s Sound Albany Harbor—More Cats—A Vulture on Board—Nearing the Equator again—Dressing for Dinner—Ceylon, Hotel Bristol—Servant Brampy—A Feminine Man—Japanese Jinriksha or Cart—Scenes in Ceylon—A Missionary School—Insincerity of Clothes

To succeed in the other trades, capacity must be shown; in the law, concealment of it will do.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.

MONDAY,—December 23, 1895. Sailed from Sydney for Ceylon in the P. & O. steamer ‘Oceana’. A Lascar crew mans this ship—the first I have seen. White cotton petticoat and pants; barefoot; red shawl for belt; straw cap, brimless, on head, with red scarf wound around it; complexion a rich dark brown; short straight black hair; whiskers fine and silky; lustrous and intensely black. Mild, good faces; willing and obedient people; capable, too; but are said to go into hopeless panics when there is danger. They are from Bombay and the coast thereabouts. Left some of the trunks in Sydney, to be shipped to South Africa by a vessel advertised to sail three months hence. The proverb says: “Separate not yourself from your baggage.”

This ‘Oceana’ is a stately big ship, luxuriously appointed. She has spacious promenade decks. Large rooms; a surpassingly comfortable ship. The officers’ library is well selected; a ship’s library is not usually that . . . . For meals, the bugle call, man-of-war fashion; a pleasant change from the terrible gong . . . . Three big cats—very friendly loafers; they wander all over the ship; the white one follows the chief steward around like a dog. There is also a basket of kittens. One of these cats goes ashore, in port, in England, Australia, and India, to see how his various families are getting along, and is seen no more till the ship is ready to sail. No one knows how he finds out the sailing date, but no doubt he comes down to the dock every day and takes a look, and when he sees baggage and passengers flocking in, recognizes that it is time to get aboard. This is what the sailors believe. . . .

The Chief Engineer has been in the China and India trade thirty three years, and has had but three Christmases at home in that time . . . . Conversational items at dinner, “Mocha! sold all over the world! It is not true. In fact, very few foreigners except the Emperor of Russia have ever seen a grain of it, or ever will, while they live.” Another man said: “There is no sale in Australia for Australian wine. But it goes to France and comes back with a French label on it, and then they buy it.” I have heard that the most of the French-labeled claret in New York is made in California. And I remember what Professor S. told me once about Veuve Cliquot—if that was the wine, and I think it was. He was the guest of a great wine merchant whose town was quite near that vineyard, and this merchant asked him if very much V. C. was drunk in America.

“Oh, yes,” said S., “a great abundance of it.”

“Is it easy to be had?”

“Oh, yes—easy as water. All first and second-class hotels have it.”

“What do you pay for it?”

“It depends on the style of the hotel—from fifteen to twenty-five francs a bottle.”

“Oh, fortunate country! Why, it’s worth 100 francs right here on the ground.”

“No!”

“Yes!”

“Do you mean that we are drinking a bogus Veuve-Cliquot over there?”

“Yes—and there was never a bottle of the genuine in America since Columbus’s time. That wine all comes from a little bit of a patch of ground which isn’t big enough to raise many bottles; and all of it that is produced goes every year to one person—the Emperor of Russia. He takes the whole crop in advance, be it big or little.”

January 4, 1896. Christmas in Melbourne, New Year’s Day in Adelaide, and saw most of the friends again in both places . . . . Lying here at anchor all day—Albany (King George’s Sound), Western Australia. It is a perfectly landlocked harbor, or roadstead—spacious to look at, but not deep water. Desolate-looking rocks and scarred hills. Plenty of ships arriving now, rushing to the new gold-fields. The papers are full of wonderful tales of the sort always to be heard in connection with new gold diggings. A sample: a youth staked out a claim and tried to sell half for L5; no takers; he stuck to it fourteen days, starving, then struck it rich and sold out for L10,000. . . About sunset, strong breeze blowing, got up the anchor. We were in a small deep puddle, with a narrow channel leading out of it, minutely buoyed, to the sea.

I stayed on deck to see how we were going to manage it with such a big ship and such a strong wind. On the bridge our giant captain, in uniform; at his side a little pilot in elaborately gold-laced uniform; on the forecastle a white mate and quartermaster or two, and a brilliant crowd of lascars standing by for business. Our stern was pointing straight at the head of the channel; so we must turn entirely around in the puddle—and the wind blowing as described. It was done, and beautifully. It was done by help of a jib. We stirred up much mud, but did not touch the bottom. We turned right around in our tracks—a seeming impossibility. We had several casts of quarter-less 5, and one cast of half 4—27 feet; we were drawing 26 astern. By the time we were entirely around and pointed, the first buoy was not more than a hundred yards in front of us. It was a fine piece of work, and I was the only passenger that saw it. However, the others got their dinner; the P. & O. Company got mine . . . . More cats developed. Smythe says it is a British law that they must be carried; and he instanced a case of a ship not allowed to sail till she sent for a couple. The bill came, too: “Debtor, to 2 cats, 20 shillings.” . . . News comes that within this week Siam has acknowledged herself to be, in effect, a French province. It seems plain that all savage and semi-civilized countries are going to be grabbed . . . . A vulture on board; bald, red, queer-shaped head, featherless red places here and there on his body, intense great black eyes set in featherless rims of inflamed flesh; dissipated look; a businesslike style, a selfish, conscienceless, murderous aspect—the very look of a professional assassin, and yet a bird which does no murder. What was the use of getting him up in that tragic style for so innocent a trade as his? For this one isn’t the sort that wars upon the living, his diet is offal—and the more out of date it is the better he likes it. Nature should give him a suit of rusty black; then he would be all right, for he would look like an undertaker and would harmonize with his business; whereas the way he is now he is horribly out of true.

January 5. At 9 this morning we passed Cape Leeuwin (lioness) and ceased from our long due-west course along the southern shore of Australia. Turning this extreme southwestern corner, we now take a long straight slant nearly N. W., without a break, for Ceylon. As we speed northward it will grow hotter very fast—but it isn’t chilly, now. . . . The vulture is from the public menagerie at Adelaide—a great and interesting collection. It was there that we saw the baby tiger solemnly spreading its mouth and trying to roar like its majestic mother. It swaggered, scowling, back and forth on its short legs just as it had seen her do on her long ones, and now and then snarling viciously, exposing its teeth, with a threatening lift of its upper lip and bristling moustache; and when it thought it was impressing the visitors, it would spread its mouth wide and do that screechy cry which it meant for a roar, but which did not deceive. It took itself quite seriously, and was lovably comical. And there was a hyena—an ugly creature; as ugly as the tiger-kitty was pretty. It repeatedly arched its back and delivered itself of such a human cry; a startling resemblance; a cry which was just that of a grown person badly hurt. In the dark one would assuredly go to its assistance—and be disappointed . . . . Many friends of Australasian Federation on board. They feel sure that the good day is not far off, now. But there seems to be a party that would go further—have Australasia cut loose from the British Empire and set up housekeeping on her own hook. It seems an unwise idea. They point to the United States, but it seems to me that the cases lack a good deal of being alike. Australasia governs herself wholly—there is no interference; and her commerce and manufactures are not oppressed in any way. If our case had been the same we should not have gone out when we did.

January 13. Unspeakably hot. The equator is arriving again. We are within eight degrees of it. Ceylon present. Dear me, it is beautiful! And most sumptuously tropical, as to character of foliage and opulence of it. “What though the spicy breezes blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle”—an eloquent line, an incomparable line; it says little, but conveys whole libraries of sentiment, and Oriental charm and mystery, and tropic deliciousness—a line that quivers and tingles with a thousand unexpressed and inexpressible things, things that haunt one and find no articulate voice . . . . Colombo, the capital. An Oriental town, most manifestly; and fascinating.

In this palatial ship the passengers dress for dinner. The ladies’ toilettes make a fine display of color, and this is in keeping with the elegance of the vessel’s furnishings and the flooding brilliancies of the electric light. On the stormy Atlantic one never sees a man in evening dress, except at the rarest intervals; and then there is only one, not two; and he shows up but once on the voyage—the night before the ship makes port—the night when they have the “concert” and do the amateur wailings and recitations. He is the tenor, as a rule . . . . There has been a deal of cricket-playing on board; it seems a queer game for a ship, but they enclose the promenade deck with nettings and keep the ball from flying overboard, and the sport goes very well, and is properly violent and exciting . . . . We must part from this vessel here.

January 14. Hotel Bristol. Servant Brompy. Alert, gentle, smiling, winning young brown creature as ever was. Beautiful shining black hair combed back like a woman’s, and knotted at the back of his head—tortoise-shell comb in it, sign that he is a Singhalese; slender, shapely form; jacket; under it is a beltless and flowing white cotton gown—from neck straight to heel; he and his outfit quite unmasculine. It was an embarrassment to undress before him.

We drove to the market, using the Japanese jinriksha—our first acquaintanceship with it. It is a light cart, with a native to draw it. He makes good speed for half-an-hour, but it is hard work for him; he is too slight for it. After the half-hour there is no more pleasure for you; your attention is all on the man, just as it would be on a tired horse, and necessarily your sympathy is there too. There’s a plenty of these ‘rickshas, and the tariff is incredibly cheap.

I was in Cairo years ago. That was Oriental, but there was a lack. When you are in Florida or New Orleans you are in the South—that is granted; but you are not in the South; you are in a modified South, a tempered South. Cairo was a tempered Orient—an Orient with an indefinite something wanting. That feeling was not present in Ceylon. Ceylon was Oriental in the last measure of completeness—utterly Oriental; also utterly tropical; and indeed to one’s unreasoning spiritual sense the two things belong together. All the requisites were present. The costumes were right; the black and brown exposures, unconscious of immodesty, were right; the juggler was there, with his basket, his snakes, his mongoose, and his arrangements for growing a tree from seed to foliage and ripe fruitage before one’s eyes; in sight were plants and flowers familiar to one on books but in no other way—celebrated, desirable, strange, but in production restricted to the hot belt of the equator; and out a little way in the country were the proper deadly snakes, and fierce beasts of prey, and the wild elephant and the monkey. And there was that swoon in the air which one associates with the tropics, and that smother of heat, heavy with odors of unknown flowers, and that sudden invasion of purple gloom fissured with lightnings,—then the tumult of crashing thunder and the downpour and presently all sunny and smiling again; all these things were there; the conditions were complete, nothing was lacking. And away off in the deeps of the jungle and in the remotenesses of the mountains were the ruined cities and mouldering temples, mysterious relics of the pomps of a forgotten time and a vanished race—and this was as it should be, also, for nothing is quite satisfyingly Oriental that lacks the somber and impressive qualities of mystery and antiquity.

The drive through the town and out to the Galle Face by the seashore, what a dream it was of tropical splendors of bloom and blossom, and Oriental conflagrations of costume! The walking groups of men, women, boys, girls, babies—each individual was a flame, each group a house afire for color. And such stunning colors, such intensely vivid colors, such rich and exquisite minglings and fusings of rainbows and lightnings! And all harmonious, all in perfect taste; never a discordant note; never a color on any person swearing at another color on him or failing to harmonize faultlessly with the colors of any group the wearer might join. The stuffs were silk—thin, soft, delicate, clinging; and, as a rule, each piece a solid color: a splendid green, a splendid blue, a splendid yellow, a splendid purple, a splendid ruby, deep, and rich with smouldering fires—they swept continuously by in crowds and legions and multitudes, glowing, flashing, burning, radiant; and every five seconds came a burst of blinding red that made a body catch his breath, and filled his heart with joy. And then, the unimaginable grace of those costumes! Sometimes a woman’s whole dress was but a scarf wound about her person and her head, sometimes a man’s was but a turban and a careless rag or two—in both cases generous areas of polished dark skin showing—but always the arrangement compelled the homage of the eye and made the heart sing for gladness.

I can see it to this day, that radiant panorama, that wilderness of rich color, that incomparable dissolving-view of harmonious tints, and lithe half-covered forms, and beautiful brown faces, and gracious and graceful gestures and attitudes and movements, free, unstudied, barren of stiffness and restraint, and—

Just then, into this dream of fairyland and paradise a grating dissonance was injected.

Out of a missionary school came marching, two and two, sixteen prim and pious little Christian black girls, Europeanly clothed—dressed, to the last detail, as they would have been dressed on a summer Sunday in an English or American village. Those clothes—oh, they were unspeakably ugly! Ugly, barbarous, destitute of taste, destitute of grace, repulsive as a shroud. I looked at my womenfolk’s clothes—just full-grown duplicates of the outrages disguising those poor little abused creatures—and was ashamed to be seen in the street with them. Then I looked at my own clothes, and was ashamed to be seen in the street with myself.

However, we must put up with our clothes as they are—they have their reason for existing. They are on us to expose us—to advertise what we wear them to conceal. They are a sign; a sign of insincerity; a sign of suppressed vanity; a pretense that we despise gorgeous colors and the graces of harmony and form; and we put them on to propagate that lie and back it up. But we do not deceive our neighbor; and when we step into Ceylon we realize that we have not even deceived ourselves. We do love brilliant colors and graceful costumes; and at home we will turn out in a storm to see them when the procession goes by—and envy the wearers. We go to the theater to look at them and grieve that we can’t be clothed like that. We go to the King’s ball, when we get a chance, and are glad of a sight of the splendid uniforms and the glittering orders. When we are granted permission to attend an imperial drawing-room we shut ourselves up in private and parade around in the theatrical court-dress by the hour, and admire ourselves in the glass, and are utterly happy; and every member of every governor’s staff in democratic America does the same with his grand new uniform—and if he is not watched he will get himself photographed in it, too. When I see the Lord Mayor’s footman I am dissatisfied with my lot. Yes, our clothes are a lie, and have been nothing short of that these hundred years. They are insincere, they are the ugly and appropriate outward exposure of an inward sham and a moral decay.

The last little brown boy I chanced to notice in the crowds and swarms of Colombo had nothing on but a twine string around his waist, but in my memory the frank honesty of his costume still stands out in pleasant contrast with the odious flummery in which the little Sunday-school dowdies were masquerading.





CHAPTER XXXVIII.

Steamer Rosetta to Bombay—Limes 14 cents a Barrel—Bombay, a Bewitching City—Descriptions of People and Dress—Woman as a Road Decoration—India, the Land of Dreams and Romance—Fourteen Porters to Carry Baggage—Correcting a Servant—Killing a Slave—Arranging a Bedroom—Three Hours’ Work and a Terrible Racket—The Bird of Birds, the Indian Crow

Prosperity is the best protector of principle.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.

EVENING—14th. Sailed in the Rosetta. This is a poor old ship, and ought to be insured and sunk. As in the ‘Oceana’, just so here: everybody dresses for dinner; they make it a sort of pious duty. These fine and formal costumes are a rather conspicuous contrast to the poverty and shabbiness of the surroundings . . . . If you want a slice of a lime at four o’clock tea, you must sign an order on the bar. Limes cost 14 cents a barrel.

January 18th. We have been running up the Arabian Sea, latterly. Closing up on Bombay now, and due to arrive this evening.

January 20th. Bombay! A bewitching place, a bewildering place, an enchanting place—the Arabian Nights come again? It is a vast city; contains about a million inhabitants. Natives, they are, with a slight sprinkling of white people—not enough to have the slightest modifying effect upon the massed dark complexion of the public. It is winter here, yet the weather is the divine weather of June, and the foliage is the fresh and heavenly foliage of June. There is a rank of noble great shade trees across the way from the hotel, and under them sit groups of picturesque natives of both sexes; and the juggler in his turban is there with his snakes and his magic; and all day long the cabs and the multitudinous varieties of costumes flock by. It does not seem as if one could ever get tired of watching this moving show, this shining and shifting spectacle . . . . In the great bazar the pack and jam of natives was marvelous, the sea of rich-colored turbans and draperies an inspiring sight, and the quaint and showy Indian architecture was just the right setting for it. Toward sunset another show; this is the drive around the sea-shore to Malabar Point, where Lord Sandhurst, the Governor of the Bombay Presidency, lives. Parsee palaces all along the first part of the drive; and past them all the world is driving; the private carriages of wealthy Englishmen and natives of rank are manned by a driver and three footmen in stunning oriental liveries—two of these turbaned statues standing up behind, as fine as monuments. Sometimes even the public carriages have this superabundant crew, slightly modified—one to drive, one to sit by and see it done, and one to stand up behind and yell—yell when there is anybody in the way, and for practice when there isn’t. It all helps to keep up the liveliness and augment the general sense of swiftness and energy and confusion and pow-wow.

In the region of Scandal Point—felicitous name—where there are handy rocks to sit on and a noble view of the sea on the one hand, and on the other the passing and repassing whirl and tumult of gay carriages, are great groups of comfortably-off Parsee women—perfect flower-beds of brilliant color, a fascinating spectacle. Tramp, tramp, tramping along the road, in singles, couples, groups, and gangs, you have the working-man and the working-woman—but not clothed like ours. Usually the man is a nobly-built great athlete, with not a rag on but his loin-handkerchief; his color a deep dark brown, his skin satin, his rounded muscles knobbing it as if it had eggs under it. Usually the woman is a slender and shapely creature, as erect as a lightning-rod, and she has but one thing on—a bright-colored piece of stuff which is wound about her head and her body down nearly half-way to her knees, and which clings like her own skin. Her legs and feet are bare, and so are her arms, except for her fanciful bunches of loose silver rings on her ankles and on her arms. She has jewelry bunched on the side of her nose also, and showy cluster-rings on her toes. When she undresses for bed she takes off her jewelry, I suppose. If she took off anything more she would catch cold. As a rule she has a large shiney brass water jar of graceful shape on her head, and one of her naked arms curves up and the hand holds it there. She is so straight, so erect, and she steps with such style, and such easy grace and dignity; and her curved arm and her brazen jar are such a help to the picture—indeed, our working-women cannot begin with her as a road-decoration.

It is all color, bewitching color, enchanting color—everywhere all around—all the way around the curving great opaline bay clear to Government House, where the turbaned big native ‘chuprassies’ stand grouped in state at the door in their robes of fiery red, and do most properly and stunningly finish up the splendid show and make it theatrically complete. I wish I were a ‘chuprassy’.

This is indeed India! the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations—the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined. Even now, after the lapse of a year, the delirium of those days in Bombay has not left me, and I hope never will. It was all new, no detail of it hackneyed. And India did not wait for morning, it began at the hotel—straight away. The lobbies and halls were full of turbaned, and fez’d and embroidered, cap’d, and barefooted, and cotton-clad dark natives, some of them rushing about, others at rest squatting, or sitting on the ground; some of them chattering with energy, others still and dreamy; in the dining-room every man’s own private native servant standing behind his chair, and dressed for a part in the Arabian Nights.

Our rooms were high up, on the front. A white man—he was a burly German—went up with us, and brought three natives along to see to arranging things. About fourteen others followed in procession, with the hand-baggage; each carried an article—and only one; a bag, in some cases, in other cases less. One strong native carried my overcoat, another a parasol, another a box of cigars, another a novel, and the last man in the procession had no load but a fan. It was all done with earnestness and sincerity, there was not a smile in the procession from the head of it to the tail of it. Each man waited patiently, tranquilly, in no sort of hurry, till one of us found time to give him a copper, then he bent his head reverently, touched his forehead with his fingers, and went his way. They seemed a soft and gentle race, and there was something both winning and touching about their demeanor.

There was a vast glazed door which opened upon the balcony. It needed closing, or cleaning, or something, and a native got down on his knees and went to work at it. He seemed to be doing it well enough, but perhaps he wasn’t, for the burly German put on a look that betrayed dissatisfaction, then without explaining what was wrong, gave the native a brisk cuff on the jaw and then told him where the defect was. It seemed such a shame to do that before us all. The native took it with meekness, saying nothing, and not showing in his face or manner any resentment. I had not seen the like of this for fifty years. It carried me back to my boyhood, and flashed upon me the forgotten fact that this was the usual way of explaining one’s desires to a slave. I was able to remember that the method seemed right and natural to me in those days, I being born to it and unaware that elsewhere there were other methods; but I was also able to remember that those unresented cuffings made me sorry for the victim and ashamed for the punisher. My father was a refined and kindly gentleman, very grave, rather austere, of rigid probity, a sternly just and upright man, albeit he attended no church and never spoke of religious matters, and had no part nor lot in the pious joys of his Presbyterian family, nor ever seemed to suffer from this deprivation. He laid his hand upon me in punishment only twice in his life, and then not heavily; once for telling him a lie—which surprised me, and showed me how unsuspicious he was, for that was not my maiden effort. He punished me those two times only, and never any other member of the family at all; yet every now and then he cuffed our harmless slave boy, Lewis, for trifling little blunders and awkwardnesses. My father had passed his life among the slaves from his cradle up, and his cuffings proceeded from the custom of the time, not from his nature. When I was ten years old I saw a man fling a lump of iron-ore at a slaveman in anger, for merely doing something awkwardly—as if that were a crime. It bounded from the man’s skull, and the man fell and never spoke again. He was dead in an hour. I knew the man had a right to kill his slave if he wanted to, and yet it seemed a pitiful thing and somehow wrong, though why wrong I was not deep enough to explain if I had been asked to do it. Nobody in the village approved of that murder, but of course no one said much about it.

It is curious—the space-annihilating power of thought. For just one second, all that goes to make the me in me was in a Missourian village, on the other side of the globe, vividly seeing again these forgotten pictures of fifty years ago, and wholly unconscious of all things but just those; and in the next second I was back in Bombay, and that kneeling native’s smitten cheek was not done tingling yet! Back to boyhood—fifty years; back to age again, another fifty; and a flight equal to the circumference of the globe-all in two seconds by the watch!

Some natives—I don’t remember how many—went into my bedroom, now, and put things to rights and arranged the mosquito-bar, and I went to bed to nurse my cough. It was about nine in the evening. What a state of things! For three hours the yelling and shouting of natives in the hall continued, along with the velvety patter of their swift bare feet—what a racket it was! They were yelling orders and messages down three flights. Why, in the matter of noise it amounted to a riot, an insurrection, a revolution. And then there were other noises mixed up with these and at intervals tremendously accenting them—roofs falling in, I judged, windows smashing, persons being murdered, crows squawking, and deriding, and cursing, canaries screeching, monkeys jabbering, macaws blaspheming, and every now and then fiendish bursts of laughter and explosions of dynamite. By midnight I had suffered all the different kinds of shocks there are, and knew that I could never more be disturbed by them, either isolated or in combination. Then came peace—stillness deep and solemn and lasted till five.

Then it all broke loose again. And who re-started it? The Bird of Birds the Indian crow. I came to know him well, by and by, and be infatuated with him. I suppose he is the hardest lot that wears feathers. Yes, and the cheerfulest, and the best satisfied with himself. He never arrived at what he is by any careless process, or any sudden one; he is a work of art, and “art is long”; he is the product of immemorial ages, and of deep calculation; one can’t make a bird like that in a day. He has been reincarnated more times than Shiva; and he has kept a sample of each incarnation, and fused it into his constitution. In the course of his evolutionary promotions, his sublime march toward ultimate perfection, he has been a gambler, a low comedian, a dissolute priest, a fussy woman, a blackguard, a scoffer, a liar, a thief, a spy, an informer, a trading politician, a swindler, a professional hypocrite, a patriot for cash, a reformer, a lecturer, a lawyer, a conspirator, a rebel, a royalist, a democrat, a practicer and propagator of irreverence, a meddler, an intruder, a busybody, an infidel, and a wallower in sin for the mere love of it. The strange result, the incredible result, of this patient accumulation of all damnable traits is, that he does not know what care is, he does not know what sorrow is, he does not know what remorse is, his life is one long thundering ecstasy of happiness, and he will go to his death untroubled, knowing that he will soon turn up again as an author or something, and be even more intolerably capable and comfortable than ever he was before.

In his straddling wide forward-step, and his springy side-wise series of hops, and his impudent air, and his cunning way of canting his head to one side upon occasion, he reminds one of the American blackbird. But the sharp resemblances stop there. He is much bigger than the blackbird; and he lacks the blackbird’s trim and slender and beautiful build and shapely beak; and of course his sober garb of gray and rusty black is a poor and humble thing compared with the splendid lustre of the blackbird’s metallic sables and shifting and flashing bronze glories. The blackbird is a perfect gentleman, in deportment and attire, and is not noisy, I believe, except when holding religious services and political conventions in a tree; but this Indian sham Quaker is just a rowdy, and is always noisy when awake—always chaffing, scolding, scoffing, laughing, ripping, and cursing, and carrying on about something or other. I never saw such a bird for delivering opinions. Nothing escapes him; he notices everything that happens, and brings out his opinion about it, particularly if it is a matter that is none of his business. And it is never a mild opinion, but always violent—violent and profane—the presence of ladies does not affect him. His opinions are not the outcome of reflection, for he never thinks about anything, but heaves out the opinion that is on top in his mind, and which is often an opinion about some quite different thing and does not fit the case. But that is his way; his main idea is to get out an opinion, and if he stopped to think he would lose chances.

I suppose he has no enemies among men. The whites and Mohammedans never seemed to molest him; and the Hindoos, because of their religion, never take the life of any creature, but spare even the snakes and tigers and fleas and rats.

If I sat on one end of the balcony, the crows would gather on the railing at the other end and talk about me; and edge closer, little by little, till I could almost reach them; and they would sit there, in the most unabashed way, and talk about my clothes, and my hair, and my complexion, and probable character and vocation and politics, and how I came to be in India, and what I had been doing, and how many days I had got for it, and how I had happened to go unhanged so long, and when would it probably come off, and might there be more of my sort where I came from, and when would they be hanged,—and so on, and so on, until I could not longer endure the embarrassment of it; then I would shoo them away, and they would circle around in the air a little while, laughing and deriding and mocking, and presently settle on the rail and do it all over again.

They were very sociable when there was anything to eat—oppressively so. With a little encouragement they would come in and light on the table and help me eat my breakfast; and once when I was in the other room and they found themselves alone, they carried off everything they could lift; and they were particular to choose things which they could make no use of after they got them. In India their number is beyond estimate, and their noise is in proportion. I suppose they cost the country more than the government does; yet that is not a light matter. Still, they pay; their company pays; it would sadden the land to take their cheerful voice out of it.







CHAPTER XXXIX.

God Vishnu, 108 Names—Change of Titles or Hunting for an Heir—Bombay as a Kaleidoscope—The Native’s Man Servant—Servants’ Recommendations—How Manuel got his Name and his English—Satan—A Visit from God

By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man’s, I mean.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.

You soon find your long-ago dreams of India rising in a sort of vague and luscious moonlight above the horizon-rim of your opaque consciousness, and softly lighting up a thousand forgotten details which were parts of a vision that had once been vivid to you when you were a boy, and steeped your spirit in tales of the East. The barbaric gorgeousnesses, for instance; and the princely titles, the sumptuous titles, the sounding titles,—how good they taste in the mouth! The Nizam of Hyderabad; the Maharajah of Travancore; the Nabob of Jubbelpore; the Begum of Bhopal; the Nawab of Mysore; the Ranee of Gulnare; the Ahkoond of Swat’s; the Rao of Rohilkund; the Gaikwar of Baroda. Indeed, it is a country that runs richly to name. The great god Vishnu has 108—108 special ones—108 peculiarly holy ones—names just for Sunday use only. I learned the whole of Vishnu’s 108 by heart once, but they wouldn’t stay; I don’t remember any of them now but John W.

And the romances connected with those princely native houses—to this day they are always turning up, just as in the old, old times. They were sweating out a romance in an English court in Bombay a while before we were there. In this case a native prince, 16 1/2 years old, who has been enjoying his titles and dignities and estates unmolested for fourteen years, is suddenly haled into court on the charge that he is rightfully no prince at all, but a pauper peasant; that the real prince died when two and one-half years old; that the death was concealed, and a peasant child smuggled into the royal cradle, and that this present incumbent was that smuggled substitute. This is the very material that so many oriental tales have been made of.

The case of that great prince, the Gaikwar of Baroda, is a reversal of the theme. When that throne fell vacant, no heir could be found for some time, but at last one was found in the person of a peasant child who was making mud pies in a village street, and having an innocent good time. But his pedigree was straight; he was the true prince, and he has reigned ever since, with none to dispute his right.

Lately there was another hunt for an heir to another princely house, and one was found who was circumstanced about as the Gaikwar had been. His fathers were traced back, in humble life, along a branch of the ancestral tree to the point where it joined the stem fourteen generations ago, and his heirship was thereby squarely established. The tracing was done by means of the records of one of the great Hindoo shrines, where princes on pilgrimage record their names and the date of their visit. This is to keep the prince’s religious account straight, and his spiritual person safe; but the record has the added value of keeping the pedigree authentic, too.

When I think of Bombay now, at this distance of time, I seem to have a kaleidoscope at my eye; and I hear the clash of the glass bits as the splendid figures change, and fall apart, and flash into new forms, figure after figure, and with the birth of each new form I feel my skin crinkle and my nerve-web tingle with a new thrill of wonder and delight. These remembered pictures float past me in a sequence of contracts; following the same order always, and always whirling by and disappearing with the swiftness of a dream, leaving me with the sense that the actuality was the experience of an hour, at most, whereas it really covered days, I think.

The series begins with the hiring of a “bearer”—native man-servant—a person who should be selected with some care, because as long as he is in your employ he will be about as near to you as your clothes.

In India your day may be said to begin with the “bearer’s” knock on the bedroom door, accompanied by a formula of words—a formula which is intended to mean that the bath is ready. It doesn’t really seem to mean anything at all. But that is because you are not used to “bearer” English. You will presently understand.

Where he gets his English is his own secret. There is nothing like it elsewhere in the earth; or even in paradise, perhaps, but the other place is probably full of it. You hire him as soon as you touch Indian soil; for no matter what your sex is, you cannot do without him. He is messenger, valet, chambermaid, table-waiter, lady’s maid, courier—he is everything. He carries a coarse linen clothes-bag and a quilt; he sleeps on the stone floor outside your chamber door, and gets his meals you do not know where nor when; you only know that he is not fed on the premises, either when you are in a hotel or when you are a guest in a private house. His wages are large—from an Indian point of view—and he feeds and clothes himself out of them. We had three of him in two and a half months. The first one’s rate was thirty rupees a month that is to say, twenty-seven cents a day; the rate of the others, Rs. 40 (40 rupees) a month. A princely sum; for the native switchman on a railway and the native servant in a private family get only Rs. 7 per month, and the farm-hand only 4. The two former feed and clothe themselves and their families on their $1.90 per month; but I cannot believe that the farmhand has to feed himself on his $1.08. I think the farm probably feeds him, and that the whole of his wages, except a trifle for the priest, go to the support of his family. That is, to the feeding of his family; for they live in a mud hut, hand-made, and, doubtless, rent-free, and they wear no clothes; at least, nothing more than a rag. And not much of a rag at that, in the case of the males. However, these are handsome times for the farm-hand; he was not always the child of luxury that he is now. The Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces, in a recent official utterance wherein he was rebuking a native deputation for complaining of hard times, reminded them that they could easily remember when a farm-hand’s wages were only half a rupee (former value) a month—that is to say, less than a cent a day; nearly $2.90 a year. If such a wage-earner had a good deal of a family—and they all have that, for God is very good to these poor natives in some ways—he would save a profit of fifteen cents, clean and clear, out of his year’s toil; I mean a frugal, thrifty person would, not one given to display and ostentation. And if he owed $13.50 and took good care of his health, he could pay it off in ninety years. Then he could hold up his head, and look his creditors in the face again.

Think of these facts and what they mean. India does not consist of cities. There are no cities in India—to speak of. Its stupendous population consists of farm-laborers. India is one vast farm—one almost interminable stretch of fields with mud fences between. . . Think of the above facts; and consider what an incredible aggregate of poverty they place before you.

The first Bearer that applied, waited below and sent up his recommendations. That was the first morning in Bombay. We read them over; carefully, cautiously, thoughtfully. There was not a fault to find with them—except one; they were all from Americans. Is that a slur? If it is, it is a deserved one. In my experience, an American’s recommendation of a servant is not usually valuable. We are too good-natured a race; we hate to say the unpleasant thing; we shrink from speaking the unkind truth about a poor fellow whose bread depends upon our verdict; so we speak of his good points only, thus not scrupling to tell a lie—a silent lie—for in not mentioning his bad ones we as good as say he hasn’t any. The only difference that I know of between a silent lie and a spoken one is, that the silent lie is a less respectable one than the other. And it can deceive, whereas the other can’t—as a rule. We not only tell the silent lie as to a servant’s faults, but we sin in another way: we overpraise his merits; for when it comes to writing recommendations of servants we are a nation of gushers. And we have not the Frenchman’s excuse. In France you must give the departing servant a good recommendation; and you must conceal his faults; you have no choice. If you mention his faults for the protection of the next candidate for his services, he can sue you for damages; and the court will award them, too; and, moreover, the judge will give you a sharp dressing-down from the bench for trying to destroy a poor man’s character, and rob him of his bread. I do not state this on my own authority, I got it from a French physician of fame and repute—a man who was born in Paris, and had practiced there all his life. And he said that he spoke not merely from common knowledge, but from exasperating personal experience.

As I was saying, the Bearer’s recommendations were all from American tourists; and St. Peter would have admitted him to the fields of the blest on them—I mean if he is as unfamiliar with our people and our ways as I suppose he is. According to these recommendations, Manuel X. was supreme in all the arts connected with his complex trade; and these manifold arts were mentioned—and praised-in detail. His English was spoken of in terms of warm admiration—admiration verging upon rapture. I took pleased note of that, and hoped that some of it might be true.

We had to have some one right away; so the family went down stairs and took him a week on trial; then sent him up to me and departed on their affairs. I was shut up in my quarters with a bronchial cough, and glad to have something fresh to look at, something new to play with. Manuel filled the bill; Manuel was very welcome. He was toward fifty years old, tall, slender, with a slight stoop—an artificial stoop, a deferential stoop, a stoop rigidified by long habit—with face of European mould; short hair intensely black; gentle black eyes, timid black eyes, indeed; complexion very dark, nearly black in fact; face smooth-shaven. He was bareheaded and barefooted, and was never otherwise while his week with us lasted; his clothing was European, cheap, flimsy, and showed much wear.

He stood before me and inclined his head (and body) in the pathetic Indian way, touching his forehead with the finger-ends of his right hand, in salute. I said:

“Manuel, you are evidently Indian, but you seem to have a Spanish name when you put it all together. How is that?”

A perplexed look gathered in his face; it was plain that he had not understood—but he didn’t let on. He spoke back placidly.

“Name, Manuel. Yes, master.”

“I know; but how did you get the name?”

“Oh, yes, I suppose. Think happen so. Father same name, not mother.”

I saw that I must simplify my language and spread my words apart, if I would be understood by this English scholar.

“Well—then—how—did—your—father—get—his name?”

“Oh, he,”—brightening a little—“he Christian—Portygee; live in Goa; I born Goa; mother not Portygee, mother native-high-caste Brahmin—Coolin Brahmin; highest caste; no other so high caste. I high-caste Brahmin, too. Christian, too, same like father; high-caste Christian Brahmin, master—Salvation Army.”

All this haltingly, and with difficulty. Then he had an inspiration, and began to pour out a flood of words that I could make nothing of; so I said:

“There—don’t do that. I can’t understand Hindostani.”

“Not Hindostani, master—English. Always I speaking English sometimes when I talking every day all the time at you.”

“Very well, stick to that; that is intelligible. It is not up to my hopes, it is not up to the promise of the recommendations, still it is English, and I understand it. Don’t elaborate it; I don’t like elaborations when they are crippled by uncertainty of touch.”

“Master?”

“Oh, never mind; it was only a random thought; I didn’t expect you to understand it. How did you get your English; is it an acquirement, or just a gift of God?”

After some hesitation—piously:

“Yes, he very good. Christian god very good, Hindoo god very good, too. Two million Hindoo god, one Christian god—make two million and one. All mine; two million and one god. I got a plenty. Sometime I pray all time at those, keep it up, go all time every day; give something at shrine, all good for me, make me better man; good for me, good for my family, dam good.”

Then he had another inspiration, and went rambling off into fervent confusions and incoherencies, and I had to stop him again. I thought we had talked enough, so I told him to go to the bathroom and clean it up and remove the slops—this to get rid of him. He went away, seeming to understand, and got out some of my clothes and began to brush them. I repeated my desire several times, simplifying and re-simplifying it, and at last he got the idea. Then he went away and put a coolie at the work, and explained that he would lose caste if he did it himself; it would be pollution, by the law of his caste, and it would cost him a deal of fuss and trouble to purify himself and accomplish his rehabilitation. He said that that kind of work was strictly forbidden to persons of caste, and as strictly restricted to the very bottom layer of Hindoo society—the despised ‘Sudra’ (the toiler, the laborer). He was right; and apparently the poor Sudra has been content with his strange lot, his insulting distinction, for ages and ages—clear back to the beginning of things, so to speak. Buckle says that his name—laborer—is a term of contempt; that it is ordained by the Institutes of Menu (900 B.C.) that if a Sudra sit on a level with his superior he shall be exiled or branded—[Without going into particulars I will remark that as a rule they wear no clothing that would conceal the brand.—M. T.] . . . if he speak contemptuously of his superior or insult him he shall suffer death; if he listen to the reading of the sacred books he shall have burning oil poured in his ears; if he memorize passages from them he shall be killed; if he marry his daughter to a Brahmin the husband shall go to hell for defiling himself by contact with a woman so infinitely his inferior; and that it is forbidden to a Sudra to acquire wealth. “The bulk of the population of India,” says Bucklet—[Population to-day, 300,000,000.]—“is the Sudras—the workers, the farmers, the creators of wealth.”

Manuel was a failure, poor old fellow. His age was against him. He was desperately slow and phenomenally forgetful. When he went three blocks on an errand he would be gone two hours, and then forget what it was he went for. When he packed a trunk it took him forever, and the trunk’s contents were an unimaginable chaos when he got done. He couldn’t wait satisfactorily at table—a prime defect, for if you haven’t your own servant in an Indian hotel you are likely to have a slow time of it and go away hungry. We couldn’t understand his English; he couldn’t understand ours; and when we found that he couldn’t understand his own, it seemed time for us to part. I had to discharge him; there was no help for it. But I did it as kindly as I could, and as gently. We must part, said I, but I hoped we should meet again in a better world. It was not true, but it was only a little thing to say, and saved his feelings and cost me nothing.

But now that he was gone, and was off my mind and heart, my spirits began to rise at once, and I was soon feeling brisk and ready to go out and have adventures. Then his newly-hired successor flitted in, touched his forehead, and began to fly around here, there, and everywhere, on his velvet feet, and in five minutes he had everything in the room “ship-shape and Bristol fashion,” as the sailors say, and was standing at the salute, waiting for orders. Dear me, what a rustler he was after the slumbrous way of Manuel, poor old slug! All my heart, all my affection, all my admiration, went out spontaneously to this frisky little forked black thing, this compact and compressed incarnation of energy and force and promptness and celerity and confidence, this smart, smily, engaging, shiney-eyed little devil, feruled on his upper end by a gleaming fire-coal of a fez with a red-hot tassel dangling from it. I said, with deep satisfaction—

“You’ll suit. What is your name?”

He reeled it mellowly off.

“Let me see if I can make a selection out of it—for business uses, I mean; we will keep the rest for Sundays. Give it to me in installments.”

He did it. But there did not seem to be any short ones, except Mousa—which suggested mouse. It was out of character; it was too soft, too quiet, too conservative; it didn’t fit his splendid style. I considered, and said—

“Mousa is short enough, but I don’t quite like it. It seems colorless—inharmonious—inadequate; and I am sensitive to such things. How do you think Satan would do?”

“Yes, master. Satan do wair good.”

It was his way of saying “very good.”

There was a rap at the door. Satan covered the ground with a single skip; there was a word or two of Hindostani, then he disappeared. Three minutes later he was before me again, militarily erect, and waiting for me to speak first.

“What is it, Satan?”

“God want to see you.”

“Who?”

“God. I show him up, master?”

“Why, this is so unusual, that—that—well, you see indeed I am so unprepared—I don’t quite know what I do mean. Dear me, can’t you explain? Don’t you see that this is a most ex——”

“Here his card, master.”

Wasn’t it curious—and amazing, and tremendous, and all that? Such a personage going around calling on such as I, and sending up his card, like a mortal—sending it up by Satan. It was a bewildering collision of the impossibles. But this was the land of the Arabian Nights, this was India! and what is it that cannot happen in India?

We had the interview. Satan was right—the Visitor was indeed a God in the conviction of his multitudinous followers, and was worshiped by them in sincerity and humble adoration. They are troubled by no doubts as to his divine origin and office. They believe in him, they pray to him, they make offerings to him, they beg of him remission of sins; to them his person, together with everything connected with it, is sacred; from his barber they buy the parings of his nails and set them in gold, and wear them as precious amulets.

I tried to seem tranquilly conversational and at rest, but I was not. Would you have been? I was in a suppressed frenzy of excitement and curiosity and glad wonder. I could not keep my eyes off him. I was looking upon a god, an actual god, a recognized and accepted god; and every detail of his person and his dress had a consuming interest for me. And the thought went floating through my head, “He is worshiped—think of it—he is not a recipient of the pale homage called compliment, wherewith the highest human clay must make shift to be satisfied, but of an infinitely richer spiritual food: adoration, worship!—men and women lay their cares and their griefs and their broken hearts at his feet; and he gives them his peace; and they go away healed.”

And just then the Awful Visitor said, in the simplest way—“There is a feature of the philosophy of Huck Finn which”—and went luminously on with the construction of a compact and nicely-discriminated literary verdict.

It is a land of surprises—India! I had had my ambitions—I had hoped, and almost expected, to be read by kings and presidents and emperors—but I had never looked so high as That. It would be false modesty to pretend that I was not inordinately pleased. I was. I was much more pleased than I should have been with a compliment from a man.

He remained half an hour, and I found him a most courteous and charming gentleman. The godship has been in his family a good while, but I do not know how long. He is a Mohammedan deity; by earthly rank he is a prince; not an Indian but a Persian prince. He is a direct descendant of the Prophet’s line. He is comely; also young—for a god; not forty, perhaps not above thirty-five years old. He wears his immense honors with tranquil grace, and with a dignity proper to his awful calling. He speaks English with the ease and purity of a person born to it. I think I am not overstating this. He was the only god I had ever seen, and I was very favorably impressed. When he rose to say good-bye, the door swung open and I caught the flash of a red fez, and heard these words, reverently said—

“Satan see God out?”

“Yes.” And these mis-mated Beings passed from view Satan in the lead and The Other following after.





CHAPTER XL.

The Government House at Malabar Point—Mansion of Kumar Shri Samatsin Hji Bahadur—The Indian Princess—A Difficult Game—Wardrobe and Jewels—Ceremonials—Decorations when Leaving—The Towers of Silence—A Funeral

Few of us can stand prosperity. Another man’s, I mean.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.

The next picture in my mind is Government House, on Malabar Point, with the wide sea-view from the windows and broad balconies; abode of His Excellency the Governor of the Bombay Presidency—a residence which is European in everything but the native guards and servants, and is a home and a palace of state harmoniously combined.

That was England, the English power, the English civilization, the modern civilization—with the quiet elegancies and quiet colors and quiet tastes and quiet dignity that are the outcome of the modern cultivation. And following it came a picture of the ancient civilization of India—an hour in the mansion of a native prince: Kumar Schri Samatsinhji Bahadur of the Palitana State.

The young lad, his heir, was with the prince; also, the lad’s sister, a wee brown sprite, very pretty, very serious, very winning, delicately moulded, costumed like the daintiest butterfly, a dear little fairyland princess, gravely willing to be friendly with the strangers, but in the beginning preferring to hold her father’s hand until she could take stock of them and determine how far they were to be trusted. She must have been eight years old; so in the natural (Indian) order of things she would be a bride in three or four years from now, and then this free contact with the sun and the air and the other belongings of out-door nature and comradeship with visiting male folk would end, and she would shut herself up in the zenana for life, like her mother, and by inherited habit of mind would be happy in that seclusion and not look upon it as an irksome restraint and a weary captivity.

The game which the prince amuses his leisure with—however, never mind it, I should never be able to describe it intelligibly. I tried to get an idea of it while my wife and daughter visited the princess in the zenana, a lady of charming graces and a fluent speaker of English, but I did not make it out. It is a complicated game, and I believe it is said that nobody can learn to play it well—but an Indian. And I was not able to learn how to wind a turban. It seemed a simple art and easy; but that was a deception. It is a piece of thin, delicate stuff a foot wide or more, and forty or fifty feet long; and the exhibitor of the art takes one end of it in his two hands, and winds it in and out intricately about his head, twisting it as he goes, and in a minute or two the thing is finished, and is neat and symmetrical and fits as snugly as a mould.

We were interested in the wardrobe and the jewels, and in the silverware, and its grace of shape and beauty and delicacy of ornamentation. The silverware is kept locked up, except at meal-times, and none but the chief butler and the prince have keys to the safe. I did not clearly understand why, but it was not for the protection of the silver. It was either to protect the prince from the contamination which his caste would suffer if the vessels were touched by low-caste hands, or it was to protect his highness from poison. Possibly it was both. I believe a salaried taster has to taste everything before the prince ventures it—an ancient and judicious custom in the East, and has thinned out the tasters a good deal, for of course it is the cook that puts the poison in. If I were an Indian prince I would not go to the expense of a taster, I would eat with the cook.

Ceremonials are always interesting; and I noted that the Indian good-morning is a ceremonial, whereas ours doesn’t amount to that. In salutation the son reverently touches the father’s forehead with a small silver implement tipped with vermillion paste which leaves a red spot there, and in return the son receives the father’s blessing. Our good morning is well enough for the rowdy West, perhaps, but would be too brusque for the soft and ceremonious East.

After being properly necklaced, according to custom, with great garlands made of yellow flowers, and provided with betel-nut to chew, this pleasant visit closed, and we passed thence to a scene of a different sort: from this glow of color and this sunny life to those grim receptacles of the Parsee dead, the Towers of Silence. There is something stately about that name, and an impressiveness which sinks deep; the hush of death is in it. We have the Grave, the Tomb, the Mausoleum, God’s Acre, the Cemetery; and association has made them eloquent with solemn meaning; but we have no name that is so majestic as that one, or lingers upon the ear with such deep and haunting pathos.

On lofty ground, in the midst of a paradise of tropical foliage and flowers, remote from the world and its turmoil and noise, they stood—the Towers of Silence; and away below was spread the wide groves of cocoa palms, then the city, mile on mile, then the ocean with its fleets of creeping ships all steeped in a stillness as deep as the hush that hallowed this high place of the dead. The vultures were there. They stood close together in a great circle all around the rim of a massive low tower—waiting; stood as motionless as sculptured ornaments, and indeed almost deceived one into the belief that that was what they were. Presently there was a slight stir among the score of persons present, and all moved reverently out of the path and ceased from talking. A funeral procession entered the great gate, marching two and two, and moved silently by, toward the Tower. The corpse lay in a shallow shell, and was under cover of a white cloth, but was otherwise naked. The bearers of the body were separated by an interval of thirty feet from the mourners. They, and also the mourners, were draped all in pure white, and each couple of mourners was figuratively bound together by a piece of white rope or a handkerchief—though they merely held the ends of it in their hands. Behind the procession followed a dog, which was led in a leash. When the mourners had reached the neighborhood of the Tower—neither they nor any other human being but the bearers of the dead must approach within thirty feet of it—they turned and went back to one of the prayer-houses within the gates, to pray for the spirit of their dead. The bearers unlocked the Tower’s sole door and disappeared from view within. In a little while they came out bringing the bier and the white covering-cloth, and locked the door again. Then the ring of vultures rose, flapping their wings, and swooped down into the Tower to devour the body. Nothing was left of it but a clean-picked skeleton when they flocked-out again a few minutes afterward.

The principle which underlies and orders everything connected with a Parsee funeral is Purity. By the tenets of the Zoroastrian religion, the elements, Earth, Fire, and Water, are sacred, and must not be contaminated by contact with a dead body. Hence corpses must not be burned, neither must they be buried. None may touch the dead or enter the Towers where they repose except certain men who are officially appointed for that purpose. They receive high pay, but theirs is a dismal life, for they must live apart from their species, because their commerce with the dead defiles them, and any who should associate with them would share their defilement. When they come out of the Tower the clothes they are wearing are exchanged for others, in a building within the grounds, and the ones which they have taken off are left behind, for they are contaminated, and must never be used again or suffered to go outside the grounds. These bearers come to every funeral in new garments. So far as is known, no human being, other than an official corpse-bearer—save one—has ever entered a Tower of Silence after its consecration. Just a hundred years ago a European rushed in behind the bearers and fed his brutal curiosity with a glimpse of the forbidden mysteries of the place. This shabby savage’s name is not given; his quality is also concealed. These two details, taken in connection with the fact that for his extraordinary offense the only punishment he got from the East India Company’s Government was a solemn official “reprimand”—suggest the suspicion that he was a European of consequence. The same public document which contained the reprimand gave warning that future offenders of his sort, if in the Company’s service, would be dismissed; and if merchants, suffer revocation of license and exile to England.

The Towers are not tall, but are low in proportion to their circumference, like a gasometer. If you should fill a gasometer half way up with solid granite masonry, then drive a wide and deep well down through the center of this mass of masonry, you would have the idea of a Tower of Silence. On the masonry surrounding the well the bodies lie, in shallow trenches which radiate like wheel-spokes from the well. The trenches slant toward the well and carry into it the rainfall. Underground drains, with charcoal filters in them, carry off this water from the bottom of the well.

When a skeleton has lain in the Tower exposed to the rain and the flaming sun a month it is perfectly dry and clean. Then the same bearers that brought it there come gloved and take it up with tongs and throw it into the well. There it turns to dust. It is never seen again, never touched again, in the world. Other peoples separate their dead, and preserve and continue social distinctions in the grave—the skeletons of kings and statesmen and generals in temples and pantheons proper to skeletons of their degree, and the skeletons of the commonplace and the poor in places suited to their meaner estate; but the Parsees hold that all men rank alike in death—all are humble, all poor, all destitute. In sign of their poverty they are sent to their grave naked, in sign of their equality the bones of the rich, the poor, the illustrious and the obscure are flung into the common well together. At a Parsee funeral there are no vehicles; all concerned must walk, both rich and poor, howsoever great the distance to be traversed may be. In the wells of the Five Towers of Silence is mingled the dust of all the Parsee men and women and children who have died in Bombay and its vicinity during the two centuries which have elapsed since the Mohammedan conquerors drove the Parsees out of Persia, and into that region of India. The earliest of the five towers was built by the Modi family something more than 200 years ago, and it is now reserved to the heirs of that house; none but the dead of that blood are carried thither.

The origin of at least one of the details of a Parsee funeral is not now known—the presence of the dog. Before a corpse is borne from the house of mourning it must be uncovered and exposed to the gaze of a dog; a dog must also be led in the rear of the funeral. Mr. Nusserwanjee Byramjee, Secretary to the Parsee Punchayet, said that these formalities had once had a meaning and a reason for their institution, but that they were survivals whose origin none could now account for. Custom and tradition continue them in force, antiquity hallows them. It is thought that in ancient times in Persia the dog was a sacred animal and could guide souls to heaven; also that his eye had the power of purifying objects which had been contaminated by the touch of the dead; and that hence his presence with the funeral cortege provides an ever-applicable remedy in case of need.

The Parsees claim that their method of disposing of the dead is an effective protection of the living; that it disseminates no corruption, no impurities of any sort, no disease-germs; that no wrap, no garment which has touched the dead is allowed to touch the living afterward; that from the Towers of Silence nothing proceeds which can carry harm to the outside world. These are just claims, I think. As a sanitary measure, their system seems to be about the equivalent of cremation, and as sure. We are drifting slowly—but hopefully—toward cremation in these days. It could not be expected that this progress should be swift, but if it be steady and continuous, even if slow, that will suffice. When cremation becomes the rule we shall cease to shudder at it; we should shudder at burial if we allowed ourselves to think what goes on in the grave.

The dog was an impressive figure to me, representing as he did a mystery whose key is lost. He was humble, and apparently depressed; and he let his head droop pensively, and looked as if he might be trying to call back to his mind what it was that he had used to symbolize ages ago when he began his function. There was another impressive thing close at hand, but I was not privileged to see it. That was the sacred fire—a fire which is supposed to have been burning without interruption for more than two centuries; and so, living by the same heat that was imparted to it so long ago.

The Parsees are a remarkable community. There are only about 60,000 in Bombay, and only about half as many as that in the rest of India; but they make up in importance what they lack in numbers. They are highly educated, energetic, enterprising, progressive, rich, and the Jew himself is not more lavish or catholic in his charities and benevolences. The Parsees build and endow hospitals, for both men and animals; and they and their womenkind keep an open purse for all great and good objects. They are a political force, and a valued support to the government. They have a pure and lofty religion, and they preserve it in its integrity and order their lives by it.

We took a final sweep of the wonderful view of plain and city and ocean, and so ended our visit to the garden and the Towers of Silence; and the last thing I noticed was another symbol—a voluntary symbol this one; it was a vulture standing on the sawed-off top of a tall and slender and branchless palm in an open space in the ground; he was perfectly motionless, and looked like a piece of sculpture on a pillar. And he had a mortuary look, too, which was in keeping with the place.