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Title: The City of Dreadful Night
Author: Rudyard, Kipling, Rudyard
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Internet Archive)



                            [Illustration]



                              THE CITY OF
                            DREADFUL NIGHT

                                  By
                            RUDYARD KIPLING

                         With Illustrations by
                          CHARLES D. FARRAND

                       [Illustration: colophon]

                          ALEX. GROSSET & CO.
                    11 EAST SIXTEENTH ST., NEW YORK
                                 1899

                            COPYRIGHT, 1899
                                  BY
                          ALEX. GROSSET & CO.



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER I.

                                                                    PAGE

A Real Live City,                                                      5


CHAPTER II.

The Reflections of a Savage,                                          14


CHAPTER III.

The Council of the Gods,                                              25


CHAPTER IV.

On the Banks of the Hugli,                                            37


CHAPTER V.

With the Calcutta Police,                                             49


CHAPTER VI.

The City of Dreadful Night,                                           58


CHAPTER VII.

Deeper and Deeper Still,                                              72


CHAPTER VIII.

Concerning Lucia,                                                     82



THE CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT.



CHAPTER I.

A REAL LIVE CITY.


We are all backwoodsmen and barbarians together--we others dwelling
beyond the Ditch, in the outer darkness of the Mofussil. There are no
such things as commissioners and heads of departments in the world, and
there is only one city in India. Bombay is too green, too pretty, and
too stragglesome; and Madras died ever so long ago. Let us take off our
hats to Calcutta, the many-sided, the smoky, the magnificent, as we
drive in over the Hugli Bridge in the dawn of a still February morning.
We have left India behind us at Howrah Station, and now we enter foreign
parts. No, not wholly foreign. Say rather too familiar.

All men of certain age know the feeling of caged irritation--an
illustration in the _Graphic_, a bar of music, or the light words of a
friend from home may set it ablaze--that comes from the knowledge of
our lost heritage of London. At home they, the other men, our equals,
have at their disposal all that town can supply--the roar of the
streets, the lights, the music, the pleasant places, the millions of
their own kind, and a wilderness full of pretty, fresh-colored
Englishwomen, theatres, and restaurants. It is their right. They accept
it as such, and even affect to look upon it with contempt. And we, we
have nothing except the few amusements that we painfully build up for
ourselves--the dolorous dissipations of gymkhanas where every one knows
everybody else, or the chastened intoxication of dances where all
engagements are booked, in ink, ten days ahead, and where everybody’s
antecedents are as patent as his or her method of waltzing. We have been
deprived of our inheritance. The men at home are enjoying it all, not
knowing how fair and rich it is, and we at the most can only fly
westward for a few months and gorge what, properly speaking, should take
seven or eight or ten luxurious years. That is the lost heritage of
London; and the knowledge of the forfeiture, wilful or forced, comes to
most men at times and seasons, and they get cross.

Calcutta holds out false hopes of some return. The dense smoke hangs
low, in the chill of the morning, over an ocean of roofs, and, as the
city wakes, there goes up to the smoke a deep, full-throated boom of
life and motion and humanity. For this reason does he who sees Calcutta
for the first time hang joyously out of the _ticca-gharri_ and sniff the
smoke, and turn his face toward the tumult, saying: “This is, at last,
some portion of my heritage returned to me. This is a city. There is
life here, and there should be all manner of pleasant things for the
having, across the river and under the smoke.” When Leland, he who wrote
the Hans Breitmann Ballads, once desired to know the name of an austere,
plug-hatted redskin of repute, his answer, from the lips of a
half-breed, was:

“He Injun. He big Injun. He heap big Injun. He dam big heap Injun. He
dam mighty great big heap Injun. He Jones!” The litany is an expressive
one, and exactly describes the first emotions of a wandering savage
adrift in Calcutta. The eye has lost its sense of proportion, the focus
has contracted through overmuch residence in up-country stations--twenty
minutes’ canter from hospital to parade-ground, you know--and the mind
has shrunk with the eye. Both say together, as they take in the sweep
of shipping above and below the Hugli Bridge: “Why, this is London! This
is the docks. This is Imperial. This is worth coming across India to
see!”

Then a distinctly wicked idea takes possession of the mind: “What a
divine--what a heavenly place to _loot_!” This gives place to a much
worse devil--that of Conservatism. It seems not only a wrong but a
criminal thing to allow natives to have any voice in the control of such
a city--adorned, docked, wharfed, fronted and reclaimed by Englishmen,
existing only because England lives, and dependent for its life on
England. All India knows of the Calcutta Municipality; but has any one
thoroughly investigated the Big Calcutta Stink? There is only one.
Benares is fouler in point of concentrated, pent-up muck, and there are
local stenches in Peshawur which are stronger than the B.C.S.; but, for
diffused, soul-sickening expansiveness, the reek of Calcutta beats both
Benares and Peshawur. Bombay cloaks her stenches with a veneer of
assafœtida and _huqa_-tobacco; Calcutta is above pretence. There is no
tracing back the Calcutta plague to any one source. It is faint, it is
sickly, and it is indescribable; but Americans at the Great Eastern
Hotel say that it is something like the smell of the Chinese quarter in
San Francisco. It is certainly not an Indian smell. It resembles the
essence of corruption that has rotted for the second time--the clammy
odor of blue slime. And there is no escape from it. It blows across the
_maidan_; it comes in gusts into the corridors of the Great Eastern
Hotel; what they are pleased to call the “Palaces of Chouringhi” carry
it; it swirls round the Bengal Club; it pours out of by-streets with
sickening intensity, and the breeze of the morning is laden with it. It
is first found, in spite of the fume of the engines, in Howrah Station.
It seems to be worst in the little lanes at the back of Lal Bazar where
the drinking-shops are, but it is nearly as bad opposite Government
House and in the Public Offices. The thing is intermittent. Six
moderately pure mouthfuls of air may be drawn without offence. Then
comes the seventh wave and the queasiness of an uncultured stomach. If
you live long enough in Calcutta you grow used to it. The regular
residents admit the disgrace, but their answer is: “Wait till the wind
blows off the Salt Lakes where all the sewage goes, and _then_ you’ll
smell something.” That is their defence! Small wonder that they consider
Calcutta is a fit place for a permanent Viceroy. Englishmen who can
calmly extenuate one shame by another are capable of asking for
anything--and expecting to get it.

If an up-country station holding three thousand troops and twenty
civilians owned such a possession as Calcutta does, the Deputy
Commissioner or the Cantonment Magistrate would have all the natives off
the board of management or decently shovelled into the background until
the mess was abated. Then they might come on again and talk of
“high-handed oppression” as much as they liked. That stink, to an
unprejudiced nose, damns Calcutta as a City of Kings. And, in spite of
that stink, they allow, they even encourage, natives to look after the
place! The damp, drainage-soaked soil is sick with the teeming life of a
hundred years, and the Municipal Board list is choked with the names of
natives--men of the breed born in and raised off this surfeited
muck-heap! They own property, these amiable Aryans on the Municipal and
the Bengal Legislative Council. Launch a proposal to tax them on that
property, and they naturally howl. They also howl up-country, but there
the halls for mass-meetings are few, and the vernacular papers fewer,
and with a _zubbardusti_ Secretary and a President whose favor is worth
the having and whose wrath is undesirable, men are kept clean despite
themselves, and may not poison their neighbors. Why, asks a savage, let
them vote at all? They can put up with this filthiness. They _cannot_
have any feelings worth caring a rush for. Let them live quietly and
hide away their money under our protection, while we tax them till they
know through their purses the measure of their neglect in the past, and
when a little of the smell has been abolished, bring them back again to
talk and take the credit of enlightenment. The better classes own their
broughams and barouches; the worse can shoulder an Englishman into the
kennel and talk to him as though he were a _khidmatgar_. They can refer
to an English lady as an _aurat_; they are permitted a freedom--not to
put it too coarsely--of speech which, if used by an Englishman toward an
Englishman, would end in serious trouble. They are fenced and protected
and made inviolate. Surely they might be content with all those things
without entering into matters which they cannot, by the nature of their
birth, understand.

Now, whether all this genial diatribe be the outcome of an unbiased mind
or the result first of sickness caused by that ferocious stench, and
secondly of headache due to day-long smoking to drown the stench, is an
open question. Anyway, Calcutta is a fearsome place for a man not
educated up to it.

A word of advice to other barbarians. Do not bring a north-country
servant into Calcutta. He is sure to get into trouble, because he does
not understand the customs of the city. A Punjabi in this place for the
first time esteems it his bounden duty to go to the _Ajaib-ghar_--the
Museum. Such an one has gone and is even now returned very angry and
troubled in the spirit. “I went to the Museum,” says he, “and no one
gave me any _gali_. I went to the market to buy my food, and then I sat
upon a seat. There came a _chaprissi_ who said: ‘Go away, I want to sit
here.’ I said: ‘I am here first.’ He said: ‘I am a _chaprissi_! _nikal
jao!_’ and he hit me. Now that sitting-place was open to all, so I hit
him till he wept. He ran away for the Police, and I went away too, for
the Police here are all _Sahibs_. Can I have leave from two o’clock to
go and look for that _chaprissi_ and hit him again?”

Behold the situation! An unknown city full of smell that makes one long
for rest and retirement, and a champing _naukar_, not yet six hours in
the stew, who has started a blood-feud with an unknown _chaprissi_ and
clamors to go forth to the fray. General orders that, whatever may be
said or done to him, he must not say or do anything in return lead to an
eloquent harangue on the quality of _izzat_ and the nature of “face
blackening.” There is no _izzat_ in Calcutta, and this Awful Smell
blackens the face of any Englishman who sniffs it.

Alas! for the lost delusion of the heritage that was to be restored. Let
us sleep, let us sleep, and pray that Calcutta may be better to-morrow.

At present it is remarkably like sleeping with a corpse.



CHAPTER II.

THE REFLECTIONS OF A SAVAGE.


Morning brings counsel. _Does_ Calcutta smell so pestiferously after
all? Heavy rain has fallen in the night. She is newly-washed, and the
clear sunlight shows her at her best. Where, oh where, in all this
wilderness of life, shall a man go? Newman and Co. publish a three-rupee
guide which produces first despair and then fear in the mind of the
reader. Let us drop Newman and Co. out of the topmost window of the
Great Eastern, trusting to luck and the flight of the hours to evolve
wonders and mysteries and amusements.

The Great Eastern hums with life through all its hundred rooms. Doors
slam merrily, and all the nations of the earth run up and down the
staircases. This alone is refreshing, because the passers bump you and
ask you to stand aside. Fancy finding any place outside a Levée-room
where Englishmen are crowded together to this extent! Fancy sitting down
seventy strong to _tâble d’hôte_ and with a deafening clatter of knives
and forks! Fancy finding a real bar whence drinks may be obtained! and,
joy of joys, fancy stepping out of the hotel into the arms of a live,
white, helmeted, buttoned, truncheoned Bobby! A beautiful, burly
Bobby--just the sort of man who, seven thousand miles away, staves off
the stuttering witticism of the three-o’clock-in-the-morning reveller by
the strong badged arm of authority. What would happen if one spoke to
this Bobby? Would he be offended? He is not offended. He is affable. He
has to patrol the pavement in front of the Great Eastern and to see that
the crowding _ticca-gharris_ do not jam. Toward a presumably respectable
white he behaves as a man and a brother. There is no arrogance about
him. And this is disappointing. Closer inspection shows that he is not a
_real_ Bobby after all. He is a Municipal Police something and his
uniform is not correct; at least if they have not changed the dress of
the men at home. But no matter. Later on we will inquire into the
Calcutta Bobby, because he is a white man, and has to deal with some of
the “toughest” folk that ever set out of malice aforethought to paint
Job Charnock’s city vermillion. You must not, you cannot cross Old Court
House Street without looking carefully to see that you stand no chance
of being run over. This is beautiful. There is a steady roar of traffic,
cut every two minutes by the deeper roll of the trams. The driving is
eccentric, not to say bad, but there is the traffic--more than
unsophisticated eyes have beheld for a certain number of years. It means
business, it means money-making, it means crowded and hurrying life, and
it gets into the blood and makes it move. Here be big shops with
plate-glass fronts--all displaying the well-known names of firms that we
savages only correspond with through the V. P. P. and Parcels Post. They
are all here, as large as life, ready to supply anything you need if you
only care to sign. Great is the fascination of being able to obtain a
thing on the spot without having to write for a week and wait for a
month, and then get something quite different. No wonder pretty ladies,
who live anywhere within a reasonable distance, come down to do their
shopping personally.

“Look here. If you want to be respectable you musn’t smoke in the
streets. Nobody does it.” This is advice kindly tendered by a friend in
a black coat. There is no Levée or Lieutenant-Governor in sight; but he
wears the frock-coat because it is daylight, and he can be seen. He also
refrains from smoking for the same reason. He admits that Providence
built the open air to be smoked in, but he says that “it isn’t the
thing.” This man has a brougham, a remarkably natty little pill-box with
a curious wabble about the wheels. He steps into the brougham and puts
on--a top-hat, a shiny black “plug.”

There was a man up-country once who owned a top-hat. He leased it to
amateur theatrical companies for some seasons until the nap wore off.
Then he threw it into a tree and wild bees hived in it. Men were wont to
come and look at the hat, in its palmy days, for the sake of feeling
homesick. It interested all the station, and died with two seers of
_babul_ flower honey in its bosom. But top-hats are not intended to be
worn in India. They are as sacred as home letters and old rosebuds. The
friend cannot see this. He allows that if he stepped out of his brougham
and walked about in the sunshine for ten minutes he would get a bad
headache. In half an hour he would probably catch sunstroke. He allows
all this, but he keeps to his hat and cannot see why a barbarian is
moved to inextinguishable laughter at the sight. Everyone who owns a
brougham and many people who hire _ticca-gharris_ keep top-hats and
black frock-coats. The effect is curious, and at first fills the
beholder with surprise.

And now, “let us see the handsome houses where the wealthy nobles
dwell.” Northerly lies the great human jungle of the native city,
stretching from Burra Bazar to Chitpore. That can keep. Southerly is the
_maidan_ and Chouringhi. “If you get out into the centre of the _maidan_
you will understand why Calcutta is called the City of Palaces.” The
travelled American said so at the Great Eastern. There is a short tower,
falsely called a “memorial,” standing in a waste of soft, sour green.
That is as good a place to get to as any other. Near here the
newly-landed waler is taught the whole duty of the trap-horse and
careers madly in a brake. Near here young Calcutta gets upon a horse and
is incontinently run away with. Near here hundreds of kine feed, close
to the innumerable trams and the whirl of traffic along the face of
Chouringhi Road. The size of the _maidan_ takes the heart out of anyone
accustomed to the “gardens” of up-country, just as they say Newmarket
Heath cows a horse accustomed to more shut-in course. The huge level is
studded with brazen statues of eminent gentlemen riding fretful horses
on diabolically severe curbs. The expanse dwarfs the statues, dwarfs
everything except the frontage of the far-away Chouringhi Road. It is
big--it is impressive. There is no escaping the fact. They built houses
in the old days when the rupee was two shillings and a penny. Those
houses are three-storied, and ornamented with service-staircases like
houses in the Hills. They are also very close together, and they own
garden walls of _pukka_-masonry pierced with a single gate. In their
shut-upness they are British. In their spaciousness they are Oriental,
but those service-staircases do not look healthy. We will form an
amateur sanitary commission and call upon Chouringhi.

A first introduction to the Calcutta _durwan_ is not nice. If he is
chewing _pan_, he does not take the trouble to get rid of his quid. If
he is sitting on his _charpoy_ chewing sugarcane, he does not think it
worth his while to rise. He has to be taught those things, and he cannot
understand why he should be reproved. Clearly he is a survival of a
played-out system. Providence never intended that any native should be
made a _concierge_ more insolent than any of the French variety. The
people of Calcutta put an Uria in a little lodge close to the gate of
their house, in order that loafers may be turned away, and the houses
protected from theft. The natural result is that the _durwan_ treats
everybody whom he does not know as a loafer, has an intimate and
vendible knowledge of all the outgoings and incomings in that house, and
controls, to a large extent, the nomination of the _naukar-log_. They
say that one of the estimable class is now suing a bank for about three
lakhs of rupees. Up-country, a Lieutenant-Governor’s _charprassi_ has to
work for thirty years before he can retire on seventy thousand rupees of
savings. The Calcutta _durwan_ is a great institution. The head and
front of his offence is that he will insist upon trying to talk English.
How he protects the houses Calcutta only knows. He can be frightened out
of his wits by severe speech, and is generally asleep in calling hours.
If a rough round of visits be any guide, three times out of seven he is
fragrant of drink. So much for the durwan. Now for the houses he guards.

Very pleasant is the sensation of being ushered into a pestiferously
stablesome drawing-room. “Does this always happen?” No, “not unless you
shut up the room for some time; but if you open the _jhilmills_ there
are other smells. You see the stables and the servants’ quarters are
close too.” People pay five hundred a month for half-a-dozen rooms
filled with _attr_ of this kind. They make no complaint. When they think
the honor of the city is at stake they say defiantly: “Yes, but you must
remember we’re a metropolis. We are crowded here. We have no room. We
aren’t like your little stations.” Chouringhi is a stately place full of
sumptuous houses, but it is best to look at it hastily. Stop to consider
for a moment what the cramped compounds, the black soaked soil, the
netted intricacies of the service-staircases, the packed stables, the
seethment of human life round the _durwans_’ lodges, and the curious
arrangement of little open drains means, and you will call it a whited
sepulchre.

Men living in expensive tenements suffer from chronic sore-throat, and
will tell you cheerily that “we’ve got typhoid in Calcutta now.” Is the
pest ever out of it? Everything seems to be built with a view to its
comfort. It can lodge comfortably on roofs, climb along from the
gutter-pipe to piazza, or rise from sink to verandah and thence to the
topmost story. But Calcutta says that all is sound and produces figures
to prove it; at the same time admitting that healthy cut flesh will not
readily heal. Further evidence may be dispensed with.

Here come pouring down Park Street on the _maidan_ a rush of broughams,
neat buggies, the lightest of gigs, trim office brownberrys, shining
victorias, and a sprinkling of veritable hansom cabs. In the broughams
sit men in top-hats. In the other carts, young men, all very much
alike, and all immaculately turned out. A fresh stream from Chouringhi
joins the Park Street detachment, and the two together stream away
across the _maidan_ toward the business quarter of the city. This is
Calcutta going to office--the civilians to the Government Buildings and
the young men to their firms and their blocks and their wharves. Here
one sees that Calcutta has the best turn-out in the Empire. Horses and
traps alike are enviably perfect, and--mark the touchstone of
civilization--_the lamps are in the sockets_. This is distinctly
refreshing. Once more we will take off our hats to Calcutta, the
well-appointed, the luxurious. The country-bred is a rare beast here;
his place is taken by the waler, and the waler, though a ruffian at
heart, can be made to look like a gentleman. It would be indecorous as
well as insane to applaud the winking harness, the perfectly lacquered
panels, and the liveried _saises_. They show well in the outwardly fair
roads shadowed by the Palaces.

How many sections of the complex society of the place do the carts
carry? _Imprimis_, the Bengal Civilian who goes to Writers’ Buildings
and sits in a perfect office and speaks flippantly of “sending things
into India,” meaning thereby the Supreme Government. He is a great
person, and his mouth is full of promotion-and-appointment “shop.”
Generally he is referred to as a “rising man.” Calcutta seems full of
“rising men.” _Secondly_, the Government of India man, who wears a
familiar Simla face, rents a flat when he is not up in the Hills, and is
rational on the subject of the drawbacks of Calcutta. _Thirdly_, the man
of the “firms,” the pure non-official who fights under the banner of one
of the great houses of the City, or for his own hand in a neat office,
or dashes about Clive Street in a brougham doing “share work” or
something of the kind. He fears not “Bengal,” nor regards he “India.” He
swears impartially at both when their actions interfere with his
operations. His “shop” is quite unintelligible. He is like the English
city man with the chill off, lives well and entertains hospitably. In
the old days he was greater than he is now, but still he bulks large. He
is rational in so far that he will help the abuse of the Municipality,
but womanish in his insistence on the excellencies of Calcutta. Over and
above these who are hurrying to work are the various brigades, squads,
and detachments of the other interests. But they are sets and not
sections, and revolve round Belvedere, Government House, and Fort
William. Simla and Darjeeling claim them in the hot weather. Let them
go. They wear top-hats and frock-coats.

It is time to escape from Chouringhi Road and get among the long-shore
folk, who have no prejudices against tobacco, and who all use pretty
nearly the same sort of hat.



CHAPTER III.

THE COUNCIL OF THE GODS.


     He set up conclusions to the number of nine thousand seven hundred
     and sixty-four ... he went afterwards to the Sorbonne, where he
     maintained argument against the theologians for the space of six
     weeks, from four o’clock in the morning till six in the evening,
     except for an interval of two hours to refresh themselves and take
     their repasts, and at this were present the greatest part of the
     lords of the court, the masters of request, presidents,
     counsellors, those of the accompts, secretaries, advocates, and
     others; as also the sheriffs of the said town.

                                                        --_Pantagruel._


“The Bengal Legislative Council is sitting now. You will find it in an
octagonal wing of Writers’ Buildings: straight across the _maidan_. It’s
worth seeing.” “What are they sitting on?” “Municipal business. No end
of a debate.” So much for trying to keep low company. The long-shore
loafers must stand over. Without doubt this Council is going to hang
some one for the state of the City, and Sir Steuart Bayley will be chief
executioner. One does not come across Councils every day.

Writers’ Buildings are large. You can trouble the busy workers of
half-a-dozen departments before you stumble upon the black-stained
staircase that leads to an upper chamber looking out over a populous
street. Wild _chuprassis_ block the way. The Councillor Sahibs are
sitting, but anyone can enter. “To the right of the Lât Sahib’s chair,
and go quietly.” Ill-mannered minion! Does he expect the awe-stricken
spectator to prance in with a jubilant warwhoop or turn Catherine-wheels
round that sumptuous octagonal room with the blue-domed roof? There are
gilt capitals to the half pillars, and an Egyptian patterned
lotus-stencil makes the walls decorously gay. A thick-piled carpet
covers all the floor, and must be delightful in the hot weather. On a
black wooden throne, comfortably cushioned in green leather, sits Sir
Steuart Bayley, Ruler of Bengal. The rest are all great men, or else
they would not be there. Not to know them argues one’s self unknown.
There are a dozen of them, and sit six-a-side at two slightly curved
lines of beautifully polished desks. Thus Sir Steuart Bayley occupies
the frog of a badly made horse-shoe split at the toe. In front of him,
at a table covered with books and pamphlets and papers, toils a
secretary. There is a seat for the Reporters, and that is all. The
place enjoys a chastened gloom, and its very atmosphere fills one with
awe. This is the heart of Bengal, and uncommonly well upholstered. If
the work matches the first-class furniture, the inkpots, the carpet, and
the resplendent ceiling, there will be something worth seeing. But where
is the criminal who is to be hanged for the stench that runs up and down
Writers’ Buildings staircases, for the rubbish heaps in the Chitpore
Road, for the sickly savor of Chouringhi, for the dirty little tanks at
the back of Belvedere, for the street full of smallpox, for the reeking
gharri-stand outside the Great Eastern, for the state of the stone and
dirt pavements, for the condition of the gullies of Shampooker, and for
a hundred other things?

“This, I submit, is an artificial scheme in supersession of Nature’s
unit, the individual.” The speaker is a slight, spare native in a flat
hat-turban, and a black alpaca frock-coat. He looks like a _vakil_ to
the boot-heels, and, with his unvarying smile and regulated
gesticulation, recalls memories of up-country courts. He never
hesitates, is never at a loss for a word, and never in one sentence
repeats himself. He talks and talks and talks in a level voice, rising
occasionally half an octave when a point has to be driven home. Some of
his periods sound very familiar. This, for instance, might be a
sentence from the _Mirror_: “So much for the principle. Let us now
examine how far it is supported by precedent.” This sounds bad. When a
fluent native is discoursing of “principles” and “precedents,” the
chances are that he will go on for some time. Moreover, where is the
criminal, and what is all this talk about abstractions? They want
shovels, not sentiments, in this part of the world.

A friendly whisper brings enlightenment: “They are plowing through the
Calcutta Municipal Bill--plurality of votes you know; here are the
papers.” And so it is! A mass of motions and amendments on matters
relating to ward votes. Is _A_ to be allowed to give two votes in one
ward and one in another? Is section 10 to be omitted, and is one man to
be allowed one vote and no more? How many votes does three hundred
rupees’ worth of landed property carry? Is it better to kiss a post or
throw it in the fire? Not a word about carbolic acid and gangs of
_domes_. The little man in the black _choga_ revels in his subject. He
is great on principles and precedents, and the necessity of
“popularizing our system.” He fears that under certain circumstances
“the status of the candidates will decline.” He riots in
“self-adjusting majorities,” and the “healthy influence of the educated
middle classes.”

For a practical answer to this, there steals across the council chamber
just one faint whiff. It is as though some one laughed low and bitterly.
But no man heeds. The Englishmen look supremely bored, the native
members stare stolidly in front of them. Sir Steuart Bayley’s face is as
set as the face of the Sphinx. For these things he draws his pay, and
his is a low wage for heavy labor. But the speaker, now adrift, is not
altogether to be blamed. He is a Bengali, who has got before him just
such a subject as his soul loveth--an elaborate piece of academical
reform leading no-whither. Here is a quiet room full of pens and papers,
and there are men who must listen to him. Apparently there is no time
limit to the speeches. Can you wonder that he talks? He says “I submit”
once every ninety seconds, varying the form with “I do submit.” “The
popular element in the electoral body should have prominence.” Quite so.
He quotes one John Stuart Mill to prove it. There steals over the
listener a numbing sense of nightmare. He has heard all this before
somewhere--yea; even down to J. S. Mill and the references to the “true
interests of the ratepayers.” He sees what is coming next. Yes, there
is the old Sabha Anjuman journalistic formula--“Western education is an
exotic plant of recent importation.” How on earth did this man drag
Western education into this discussion? Who knows? Perhaps Sir Steuart
Bayley does. He seems to be listening. The others are looking at their
watches. The spell of the level voice sinks the listener yet deeper into
a trance. He is haunted by the ghosts of all the cant of all the
political platforms of Great Britain. He hears all the old, old vestry
phrases, and once more he smells the smell. _That_ is no dream. Western
education is an exotic plant. It is the upas tree, and it is all our
fault. We brought it out from England exactly as we brought out the ink
bottles and the patterns for the chairs. We planted it and it
grew--monstrous as a banian. Now we are choked by the roots of it
spreading so thickly in this fat soil of Bengal. The speaker continues.
Bit by bit. We builded this dome, visible and invisible, the crown of
Writers’ Buildings, as we have built and peopled the buildings. Now we
have gone too far to retreat, being “tied and bound with the chain of
our own sins.” The speech continues. We made that florid sentence. That
torrent of verbiage is ours. We taught him what was constitutional and
what was unconstitutional in the days when Calcutta smelt. Calcutta
smells still, but we must listen to all that he has to say about the
plurality of votes and the threshing of wind and the weaving of ropes of
sand. It is our own fault absolutely.

The speech ends, and there rises a gray Englishman in a black
frock-coat. He looks a strong man, and a worldly. Surely he will say:
“Yes, Lala Sahib, all this may be true talk, but there’s a _burra krab_
smell in this place, and everything must be _safkaroed_ in a week, or
the Deputy Commissioner will not take any notice of you in _durbar_.” He
says nothing of the kind. This is a Legislative Council, where they call
each other “Honorable So-and-So’s.” The Englishman in the frock-coat
begs all to remember that “we are discussing principles, and no
consideration of the details ought to influence the verdict on the
principles.” Is he then like the rest? How does this strange thing come
about? Perhaps these so English office fittings are responsible for the
warp. The Council Chamber might be a London Board-room. Perhaps after
long years among the pens and papers its occupants grow to think that it
really is, and in this belief give _résumés_ of the history of Local
Self-Government in England.

The black frock-coat, emphasizing his points with his spectacle-case,
is telling his friends how the parish was first the unit of
self-government. He then explains how burgesses were elected, and in
tones of deep fervor announces: “Commissioners of Sewers are elected in
the same way.” Whereunto all this lecture? Is he trying to run a motion
through under cover of a cloud of words, essaying the well-known
“cuttle-fish trick” of the West?

He abandons England for a while, and _now_ we get a glimpse of the
cloven hoof in a casual reference to Hindus and Mahomedans. The Hindus
will lose nothing by the complete establishment of plurality of votes.
They will have the control of their own wards as they used to have. So
there is race-feeling, to be explained away, even among these beautiful
desks. Scratch the Council, and you come to the old, old trouble. The
black frock-coat sits down, and a keen-eyed, black-bearded Englishman
rises with one hand in his pocket to explain his views on an alteration
of the vote qualification. The idea of an amendment seems to have just
struck him. He hints that he will bring it forward later on. He is
academical like the others, but not half so good a speaker. All this is
dreary beyond words. Why do they talk and talk about owners and
occupiers and burgesses in England and the growth of autonomous
institutions when the city, the great city, is here crying out to be
cleansed? What has England to do with Calcutta’s evil, and why should
Englishmen be forced to wander through mazes of unprofitable argument
against men who cannot understand the iniquity of dirt?

A pause follows the black-bearded man’s speech. Rises another native, a
heavily-built Babu, in a black gown and a strange head-dress. A snowy
white strip of cloth is thrown _jharun_-wise over his shoulders. His
voice is high, and not always under control. He begins: “I will try to
be as brief as possible.” This is ominous. By the way, in Council there
seems to be no necessity for a form of address. The orators plunge _in
medias res_, and only when they are well launched throw an occasional
“Sir” toward Sir Steuart Bayley, who sits with one leg doubled under him
and a dry pen in his hand. This speaker is no good. He talks, but he
says nothing, and he only knows where he is drifting to. He says: “We
must remember that we are legislating for the Metropolis of India, and
therefore we should borrow our institutions from large English towns,
and not from parochial institutions.” If you think for a minute, that
shows a large and healthy knowledge of the history of Local
Self-Government. It also reveals the attitude of Calcutta. If the city
thought less about itself as a metropolis and more as a midden, its
state would be better. The speaker talks patronizingly of “my friend,”
alluding to the black frock-coat. Then he flounders afresh, and his
voice gallops up the gamut as he declares, “and therefore that makes all
the difference.” He hints vaguely at threats, something to do with the
Hindus and the Mahomedans, but what he means it is difficult to
discover. Here, however, is a sentence taken _verbatim_. It is not
likely to appear in this form in the Calcutta papers. The black
frock-coat had said that if a wealthy native “had eight votes to his
credit, his vanity would prompt him to go to the polling-booth, because
he would feel better than half-a-dozen _gharri-wans_ or petty traders.”
(Fancy allowing a _gharri-wan_ to vote! He has yet to learn how to
drive!) Hereon the gentleman with the white cloth: “Then the complaint
is that influential voters will not take the trouble to vote. In my
humble opinion, if that be so, adopt voting papers. _That_ is the way to
meet them. In the same way--The Calcutta Trades’ Association--you
abolish all plurality of votes: and that is the way to meet _them_.”
Lucid, is it not? Up flies the irresponsible voice, and delivers this
statement: “In the election for the House of Commons plurality are
allowed for persons having interest in different districts.” Then
hopeless, hopeless fog. It is a great pity that India ever heard of
anybody higher than the heads of the Civil Service. The country appeals
from the _Chota_ to the _Burra Sahib_ all too readily as it is. Once
more a whiff. The gentleman gives a defiant jerk of his shoulder-cloth,
and sits down.

Then Sir Steuart Bayley: “The question before the Council is,” etc.
There is a ripple of “Ayes” and “Noes,” and the “Noes” have it, whatever
it may be. The black-bearded gentleman springs his amendment about the
voting qualifications. A large senator in a white waistcoat, and with a
most genial smile, rises and proceeds to smash up the amendment. Can’t
see the use of it. Calls it in effect rubbish. The black frock-coat
rises to explain his friend’s amendment, and incidentally makes a funny
little slip. He is a knight, and his friend has been newly knighted. He
refers to him as “Mister.” The black _choga_, he who spoke first of all,
speaks again, and talks of the “_sojorner_ who comes here for a little
time, and then leaves the land.” Well it is for the black _choga_ that
the sojourner does come, or there would be no comfy places wherein to
talk about the power that can be measured by wealth and the intellect
“which, sir, I submit, cannot be so measured.” The amendment is lost,
and trebly and quadruply lost is the listener. In the name of sanity and
to preserve the tattered shirt-tails of a torn illusion, let us escape.
This is the Calcutta Municipal Bill. They have been at it for several
Saturdays. Last Saturday Sir Steuart Bayley pointed out that at their
present rate they would be about two years in getting it through. Now
they will sit till dusk, unless Sir Steuart Bayley, who wants to see
Lord Connemara off, puts up the black frock-coat to move an adjournment.
It is not good to see a Government close to. This leads to the formation
of blatantly self-satisfied judgments, which may be quite as wrong as
the cramping system with which we have encompassed ourselves. And in the
streets outside Englishmen summarize the situation brutally, thus: “The
whole thing is a farce. Time is money to us. We can’t stick out those
everlasting speeches in the municipality. The natives choke us off, but
we know that if things get too bad the Government will step in and
interfere, and so we worry along somehow.” Meantime Calcutta continues
to cry out for the bucket and the broom.



CHAPTER IV.

ON THE BANKS OF THE HUGLI.


The clocks of the city have struck two. Where can a man get food?
Calcutta is not rich in respect of dainty accommodation. You can stay
your stomach at Peliti’s or Bonsard’s, but their shops are not to be
found in Hasting Street, or in the places where brokers fly to and fro
in office-jauns, sweating and growing visibly _rich_. There must be some
sort of entertainment where sailors congregate. “Honest Bombay Jack”
supplies nothing but Burma cheroots and whisky in liqueur-glasses, but
in Lal Bazar, not far from “The Sailors’ Coffee-rooms,” a board gives
bold advertisement that “officers and seamen can find good quarters.” In
evidence a row of neat officers and seamen are sitting on a bench by the
“hotel” door smoking. There is an almost military likeness in their
clothes. Perhaps “Honest Bombay Jack” only keeps one kind of felt hat
and one brand of suit. When Jack of the mercantile marine is sober, he
is very sober. When he is drunk he is--but ask the river police what a
lean, mad Yankee can do with his nails and teeth. These gentlemen
smoking on the bench are impassive almost as Red Indians. Their
attitudes are unrestrained, and they do not wear braces. Nor, it would
appear from the bill of fare, are they particular as to what they eat
when they attend _tâble d’hôte_. The fare is substantial and the
regulation peg--every house has its own depth of peg if you will refrain
from stopping Ganymede--something to wonder at. Three fingers and a
trifle over seems to be the use of the officers and seamen who are
talking so quietly in the doorway. One says--he has evidently finished a
long story--“and so he shipped for four pound ten with a first mate’s
certificate and all, and that was in a German barque.” Another spits
with conviction and says genially, without raising his voice: “That was
a hell of a ship; who knows her?” No answer from the _panchayet_, but a
Dane or a German wants to know whether the _Myra_ is “up” yet. A dry,
red-haired man gives her exact position in the river--(How in the world
can he know?)--and the probable hour of her arrival. The grave debate
drifts into a discussion of a recent river accident, whereby a big
steamer was damaged, and had to put back and discharge cargo. A burly
gentleman who is taking a constitutional down Lal Bazar strolls up and
says: “I tell you she fouled her own chain with her own forefoot. Hev
you seen the plates?” “No.” “Then how the ---- can any ---- like you ----
say what it ---- well was?” He passes on, having delivered his highly
flavored opinion without heat or passion. No one seems to resent the
expletives.

Let us get down to the river and see this stamp of men more thoroughly.
Clark Russell has told us that their lives are hard enough in all
conscience. What are their pleasures and diversions? The Port Office,
where live the gentlemen who make improvements in the Port of Calcutta,
ought to supply information. It stands large and fair, and built in an
orientalized manner after the Italians at the corner of Fairlie Place
upon the great Strand Road, and a continual clamor of traffic by land
and by sea goes up throughout the day and far into the night against its
windows. This is a place to enter more reverently than the Bengal
Legislative Council, for it houses the direction of the uncertain Hugli
down to the Sandheads, owns enormous wealth, and spends huge sums on the
frontaging of river banks, the expansion of jetties, and the manufacture
of docks costing two hundred lakhs of rupees. Two million tons of
sea-going shippage yearly find their way up and down the river by the
guidance of the Port Office, and the men of the Port Office know more
than it is good for men to hold in their heads. They can without
reference to telegraphic bulletins give the position of all the big
steamers, coming up or going down, from the Hugli to the sea, day by
day, with their tonnage, the names of their captains, and the nature of
their cargo. Looking out from the verandah of their offices over a
lancer-regiment of masts, they can declare truthfully the name of every
ship within eye-scope, with the day and hour when she will depart.

In a room at the bottom of the building lounge big men, carefully
dressed. Now there is a type of face which belongs almost exclusively to
Bengal Cavalry officers--majors for choice. Everybody knows the bronzed,
black-moustached, clear-speaking Native Cavalry officer. He exists
unnaturally in novels, and naturally on the frontier. These men in the
big room have its cast of face so strongly marked that one marvels what
officers are doing by the river. “Have they come to book passengers for
home?” “Those men! They’re pilots. Some of them draw between two and
three thousand rupees a month. They are responsible for half-a-million
pounds’ worth of cargo sometimes.” They certainly are men, and they
carry themselves as such. They confer together by twos and threes, and
appeal frequently to shipping lists.

“_Isn’t_ a pilot a man who always wears a pea-jacket and shouts through
a speaking-trumpet?” “Well, you can ask those gentlemen if you like.
You’ve got your notions from home pilots. Ours aren’t that kind exactly.
They are a picked service, as carefully weeded as the Indian Civil. Some
of ’em have brothers in it, and some belong to the old Indian army
families.” But they are not all equally well paid. The Calcutta papers
sometimes echo the groans of the junior pilots who are not allowed the
handling of ships over a certain tonnage. As it is yearly growing
cheaper to build one big steamer than two little ones, these juniors are
crowded out, and, while the seniors get their thousands, some of the
youngsters make at the end of one month exactly thirty rupees. This is a
grievance with them; and it seems well-founded.

In the flats above the pilots’ room are hushed and chapel-like offices,
all sumptuously fitted, where Englishmen write and telephone and
telegraph, and deft Babus forever draw maps of the shifting Hugli. Any
hope of understanding the work of the Port Commissioners is thoroughly
dashed by being taken through the Port maps of a quarter of a century
past. Men have played with the Hugli as children play with a
gutter-runnel, and, in return, the Hugli once rose and played with men
and ships till the Strand Road was littered with the raffle and the
carcasses of big ships. There are photos on the walls of the cyclone of
’64, when the _Thunder_ came inland and sat upon an American barque,
obstructing all the traffic. Very curious are these photos, and almost
impossible to believe. How can a big, strong steamer have her three
masts razed to deck level? How can a heavy, country boat be pitched on
to the poop of a high-walled liner? and how can the side be bodily torn
out of a ship? The photos say that all these things are possible, and
men aver that a cyclone may come again and scatter the craft like chaff.
Outside the Port Office are the export and import sheds, buildings that
can hold a ship’s cargo a-piece, all standing on reclaimed ground. Here
be several strong smells, a mass of railway lines, and a multitude of
men. “Do you see where that trolly is standing, behind the big P. and O.
berth? In that place as nearly as may be the _Govindpur_ went down about
twenty years ago, and began to shift out!” “But that is solid ground.”
“She sank there, and the next tide made a scour-hole on one side of her.
The returning tide knocked her into it. Then the mud made up behind her.
Next tide the business was repeated--always the scour-hole in the mud
and the filling up behind her. So she rolled and was pushed out and out
until she got in the way of the shipping right out yonder, and we had to
blow her up. When a ship sinks in mud or quicksand she regularly digs
her own grave and wriggles herself into it deeper and deeper till she
reaches moderately solid stuff. Then she sticks.” Horrible idea, is it
not, to go down and down with each tide into the foul Hugli mud?

Close to the Port Offices is the Shipping Office, where the captains
engage their crews. The men must produce their discharges from their
last ships in the presence of the shipping master, or, as they call him,
“The Deputy Shipping.” He passes them as correct after having satisfied
himself that they are not deserters from other ships, and they then sign
articles for the voyage. This is the ceremony, beginning with the
“dearly beloved” of the crew-hunting captain down to the “amazement” of
the identified deserter. There is a dingy building, next door to the
Sailors’ Home, at whose gate stand the cast-ups of all the seas in all
manner of raiment. There are Seedee boys, Bombay _serangs_ and Madras
fishermen of the salt villages, Malays who insist upon marrying native
women, grow jealous and run _amok_: Malay-Hindus, Hindu-Malay-whites,
Burmese, Burma-whites, Burma-native-whites, Italians with gold earrings
and a thirst for gambling, Yankees of all the States, with Mulattoes and
pure buck-niggers, red and rough Danes, Cingalese, Cornish boys who seem
fresh taken from the plough-tail, “corn-stalks” from colonial ships
where they got four pound ten a month as seamen, tun-bellied Germans,
Cockney mates keeping a little aloof from the crowd and talking in knots
together, unmistakable “Tommies” who have tumbled into seafaring life by
some mistake, cockatoo-tufted Welshmen spitting and swearing like cats,
broken-down loafers, gray-headed, penniless, and pitiful, swaggering
boys, and very quiet men with gashes and cuts on their faces. It is an
ethnological museum where all the specimens are playing comedies and
tragedies. The head of it all is the “Deputy Shipping,” and he sits,
supported by an English policeman whose fists are knobby, in a great
Chair of State. The “Deputy Shipping” knows all the iniquity of the
river-side, all the ships, all the captains, and a fair amount of the
men. He is fenced off from the crowd by a strong wooden railing, behind
which are gathered those who “stand and wait,” the unemployed of the
mercantile marine. They have had their spree--poor devils--and now they
will go to sea again on as low a wage as three pound ten a month, to
fetch up at the end in some Shanghai stew or San Francisco hell. They
have turned their backs on the seductions of the Howrah boarding-houses
and the delights of Colootolla. If Fate will, “Nightingales” will know
them no more for a season, and their successors may paint Collinga Bazar
vermillion. But what captain will take some of these battered, shattered
wrecks whose hands shake and whose eyes are red?

Enter suddenly a bearded captain, who has made his selection from the
crowd on a previous day, and now wants to get his men passed. He is not
fastidious in his choice. His eleven seem a tough lot for such a
mild-eyed, civil-spoken man to manage. But the captain in the Shipping
Office and the captain on the ship are two different things. He brings
his crew up to the “Deputy Shipping’s” bar, and hands in their greasy,
tattered discharges. But the heart of the “Deputy Shipping” is hot
within him, because, two days ago, a Howrah crimp stole a whole crew
from a down-dropping ship, insomuch that the captain had to come back
and whip up a new crew at one o’clock in the day. Evil will it be if the
“Deputy Shipping” finds one of these bounty-jumpers in the chosen crew
of the _Blenkindoon_, let us say.

The “Deputy Shipping” tells the story with heat. “I didn’t know they did
such things in Calcutta,” says the captain. “Do such things! They’d
steal the eye-teeth out of your head there, Captain.” He picks up a
discharge and calls for Michael Donelly, who is a loose-knit,
vicious-looking Irish-American who chews. “Stand up, man, stand up!”
Michael Donelly wants to lean against the desk, and the English
policeman won’t have it. “What was your last ship?” “_Fairy Queen._”
“When did you leave her?” “‘Bout ’leven days.” “Captain’s name?”
“Flahy.” “That’ll do. Next man: Jules Anderson.” Jules Anderson is a
Dane. His statements tally with the discharge-certificate of the United
States, as the Eagle attesteth. He is passed and falls back. Slivey, the
Englishman, and David, a huge plum-colored negro who ships as cook, are
also passed. Then comes Bassompra, a little Italian, who speaks English.
“What’s your last ship?” “_Ferdinand._” “No, after that?” “German
barque.” Bassompra does not look happy. “When did she sail?” “About
three weeks ago.” “What’s her name?” “_Haidée._” “You deserted from
her?” “Yes, but she’s left port.” The “Deputy Shipping” runs rapidly
through a shipping-list, throws it down with a bang. “‘Twon’t do. No
German barque _Haidée_ here for three months. How do I know you don’t
belong to the Jackson’s crew? Cap’ain, I’m afraid you’ll have to ship
another man. He must stand over. Take the rest away and make ’em sign.”

The bead-eyed Bassompra seems to have lost his chance of a voyage, and
his case will be inquired into. The captain departs with his men and
they sign articles for the voyage, while the “Deputy Shipping” tells
strange tales of the sailorman’s life. “They’ll quit a good ship for the
sake of a spree, and catch on again at three pound ten, and by Jove,
they’ll let their skippers pay ’em at ten rupees to the sovereign--poor
beggars! As soon as the money’s gone they’ll ship, but not before. Every
one under rank of captain engages here. The competition makes first
mates ship sometimes for five pounds or as low as four ten a month.”
(The gentleman in the boarding-house was right, you see.) “A first
mate’s wages are seven ten or eight, and foreign captains ship for
twelve pounds a month and bring their own small stores--everything, that
is to say, except beef, peas, flour, coffee, and molasses.”

These things are not pleasant to listen to while the hungry-eyed men in
the bad clothes lounge and scratch and loaf behind the railing. What
comes to them in the end? They die, it seems, though that is not
altogether strange. They die at sea in strange and horrible ways; they
die, a few of them, in the Kintals, being lost and suffocated in the
great sink of Calcutta; they die in strange places by the waterside, and
the Hugli takes them away under the mooring chains and the buoys, and
casts them up on the sands below, if the River Police have missed the
capture. They sail the sea because they must live; and there is no end
to their toil. Very, very few find haven of any kind, and the earth,
whose ways they do not understand, is cruel to them, when they walk upon
it to drink and be merry after the manner of beasts. Jack ashore is a
pretty thing when he is in a book or in the blue jacket of the Navy.
Mercantile Jack is not so lovely. Later on, we will see where his
“sprees” lead him.

[Illustration: “FROM THIS EYRIE, IN THE WARM NIGHT, ONE HEARS THE HEART
OF CALCUTTA BEATING.”]



CHAPTER V.

WITH THE CALCUTTA POLICE.

    “The City was of Night--perchance of Death,
    But certainly of Night.”
           --_The City of Dreadful Night._


In the beginning, the Police were responsible. They said in a
patronizing way that, merely as a matter of convenience, they would
prefer to take a wanderer round the great city themselves, sooner than
let him contract a broken head on his own account in the slums. They
said that there were places and places where a white man, unsupported by
the arm of the law, would be robbed and mobbed; and that there were
other places where drunken seamen would make it very unpleasant for him.
There was a night fixed for the patrol, but apologies were offered
beforehand for the comparative insignificance of the tour.

“Come up to the fire lookout in the first place, and then you’ll be able
to see the city.” This was at No. 22, Lal Bazar, which is the
headquarters of the Calcutta Police, the centre of the great web of
telephone wires where Justice sits all day and all night looking after
one million people and a floating population of one hundred thousand.
But her work shall be dealt with later on. The fire lookout is a little
sentry-box on the top of the three-storied police offices. Here a native
watchman waits always, ready to give warning to the brigade below if the
smoke rises by day or the flames by night in any ward of the city. From
this eyrie, in the warm night, one hears the heart of Calcutta beating.
Northward, the city stretches away three long miles, with three more
miles of suburbs beyond, to Dum-Dum and Barrackpore. The lamplit dusk on
this side is full of noises and shouts and smells. Close to the Police
Office, jovial mariners at the sailors’ coffee-shop are roaring hymns.
Southerly, the city’s confused lights give place to the orderly
lamp-rows of the _maidan_ and Chouringhi, where the respectabilities
live and the Police have very little to do. From the east goes up to the
sky the clamor of Sealdah, the rumble of the trams, and the voices of
all Bow Bazar chaffering and making merry. Westward are the business
quarters, hushed now, the lamps of the shipping on the river, and the
twinkling lights on the Howrah side. It is a wonderful sight--this
Pisgah view of a huge city resting after the labors of the day. “Does
the noise of traffic go on all through the hot weather?” “Of course. The
hot months are the busiest in the year and money’s tightest. You should
see the brokers cutting about at that season. Calcutta _can’t_ stop, my
dear sir.” “What happens then?” “Nothing happens; the death-rate goes up
a little. That’s all!” Even in February, the weather would, up-country,
be called muggy and stifling, but Calcutta is convinced that it is her
cold season. The noises of the city grow perceptibly; it is the night
side of Calcutta waking up and going abroad. Jack in the sailors’
coffee-shop is singing joyously: “Shall we gather at the River-the
beautiful, the beautiful, the River?” What an incongruity there is about
his selections! However, that it amuses before it shocks the listeners,
is not to be doubted. An Englishman, far from his native land, is liable
to become careless, and it would be remarkable if he did otherwise in
ill-smelling Calcutta. There is a clatter of hoofs in the courtyard
below. Some of the Mounted Police have come in from somewhere or other
out of the great darkness. A clog-dance of iron hoofs follows, and an
Englishman’s voice is heard soothing an agitated horse who seems to be
standing on his hind legs. Some of the Mounted Police are going out into
the great darkness. “What’s on?” “Walk-round at Government House. The
Reserve men are being formed up below. They’re calling the roll.” The
Reserve men are all English, and big English at that. They form up and
tramp out of the courtyard to line Government Place, and see that Mrs.
Lollipop’s brougham does not get smashed up by Sirdar Chuckerbutty
Bahadur’s lumbering C-spring barouche with the two raw walers. Very
military men are the Calcutta European Police in their set-up, and he
who knows their composition knows some startling stories of
gentlemen-rankers and the like. They are, despite the wearing climate
they work in and the wearing work they do, as fine five-score of
Englishmen as you shall find east of Suez.

Listen for a moment from the fire lookout to the voices of the night,
and you will see why they must be so. Two thousand sailors of fifty
nationalities are adrift in Calcutta every Sunday, and of these perhaps
two hundred are distinctly the worse for liquor. There is a mild row
going on, even now, somewhere at the back of Bow Bazar, which at
nightfall fills with sailormen who have a wonderful gift of falling
foul of the native population. To keep the Queen’s peace is of course
only a small portion of Police duty, but it is trying. The burly
president of the lock-up for European drunks-Calcutta central lock-up is
worth seeing-rejoices in a sprained thumb just now, and has to do his
work left-handed in consequence. But his left hand is a marvellously
persuasive one, and when on duty his sleeves are turned up to the
shoulder that the jovial mariner may see that there is no deception. The
president’s labors are handicapped in that the road of sin to the
lock-up runs through a grimy little garden-the brick paths are worn deep
with the tread of many drunken feet-where a man can give a great deal of
trouble by sticking his toes into the ground and getting mixed up with
the shrubs. “A straight run in” would be much more convenient both for
the president and the drunk. Generally speaking--and here Police
experience is pretty much the same all over the civilized world-a woman
drunk is a good deal worse than a man drunk. She scratches and bites
like a Chinaman and swears like several fiends. Strange people may be
unearthed in the lock-ups. Here is a perfectly true story, not three
weeks old. A visitor, an unofficial one, wandered into the native side
of the spacious accommodation provided for those who have gone or done
wrong. A wild-eyed Babu rose from the fixed charpoy and said in the best
of English: “Good-morning, sir.” “_Good_-morning; who are you, and what
are you in for?” Then the Babu, in one breath: “I would have you know
that I do not go to prison as a criminal but as a reformer. You’ve read
the _Vicar of Wakefield_?” “Ye-es.” “Well, _I_ am the Vicar of Bengal-at
least, that’s what I call myself.” The visitor collapsed. He had not
nerve enough to continue the conversation. Then said the voice of the
authority: “He’s down in connection with a cheating case at Serampore.
May be shamming. But he’ll be looked to in time.”

The best place to hear about the Police is the fire lookout. From that
eyrie one can see how difficult must be the work of control over the
great, growling beast of a city. By all means let us abuse the Police,
but let us see what the poor wretches have to do with their three
thousand natives and one hundred Englishmen. From Howrah and Bally and
the other suburbs at least a hundred thousand people come in to Calcutta
for the day and leave at night. Also Chandernagore is handy for the
fugitive law-breaker, who can enter in the evening and get away before
the noon of the next day, having marked his house and broken into it.

“But how can the prevalent offence be housebreaking in a place like
this?” “Easily enough. When you’ve seen a little of the city you’ll see.
Natives sleep and lie about all over the place, and whole quarters are
just so many rabbit-warrens. Wait till you see the Machua Bazar. Well,
besides the petty theft and burglary, we have heavy cases of forgery and
fraud, that leave us with our wits pitted against a Bengali’s. When a
Bengali criminal is working a fraud of the sort he loves, he is _about_
the cleverest soul you could wish for. He gives us cases a year long to
unravel. Then there are the murders in the low houses--very curious
things they are. You’ll see the house where Sheikh Babu was murdered
presently, and you’ll understand. The Burra Bazar and Jora Bagan
sections are the two worst ones for heavy cases; but Colootollah is the
most aggravating. There’s Colootollah over yonder--that patch of
darkness beyond the lights. That section is full of tuppenny-ha’penny
petty cases, that keep the men up all night and make ’em swear. You’ll
see Colootollah, and then perhaps you’ll understand. Bamun Bustee is the
quietest of all, and Lal Bazar and Bow Bazar, as you can see for
yourself, are the rowdiest. You’ve no notion what the natives come to
the _thannahs_ for. A _naukar_ will come in and want a summons against
his master for refusing him half-an-hour’s _chuti_. I suppose it _does_
seem rather revolutionary to an up-country man, but they try to do it
here. Now wait a minute, before we go down into the city and see the
Fire Brigade turned out. Business is slack with them just now, but you
time ’em and see.” An order is given, and a bell strikes softly thrice.
There is an orderly rush of men, the click of a bolt, a red fire-engine,
spitting and swearing with the sparks flying from the furnace, is
dragged out of its shelter. A huge brake, which holds supplementary
hoses, men, and hatchets, follows, and a hose-cart is the third on the
list. The men push the heavy things about as though they were pith toys.
Five horses appear. Two are shot into the fire-engine, two--monsters
these--into the brake, and the fifth, a powerful beast, warranted to
trot fourteen miles an hour, backs into the hose-cart shafts. The men
clamber up, some one says softly, “All ready there,” and with an angry
whistle the fire-engine, followed by the other two, flies out into Lal
Bazar, the sparks trailing behind. Time--1 min. 40 secs. “They’ll find
out it’s a false alarm, and come back again in five minutes.” “Why?”
“Because there will be no constables on the road to give ’em the
direction of the fire, and because the driver wasn’t told the ward of
the outbreak when he went out!” “Do you mean to say that you can from
this absurd pigeon-loft locate the wards in the night-time?” “Of course:
what would be the good of a lookout if the man couldn’t tell where the
fire was?” “But it’s all pitchy black, and the lights are so confusing.”

“Ha! Ha! You’ll be more confused in ten minutes. You’ll have lost your
way as you never lost it before. You’re going to go round Bow Bazar
section.”

“And the Lord have mercy on my soul!” Calcutta, the darker portion of
it, does not look an inviting place to dive into at night.



CHAPTER VI.

THE CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT.

    “And since they cannot spend or use aright
      The little time here given them in trust,
    But lavish it in weary undelight
      Of foolish toil, and trouble, strife and lust--
    They naturally claimeth to inherit
      The Everlasting Future--that their merit
    May have full scope.... As surely is most just.”
                 --_The City of Dreadful Night._


The difficulty is to prevent this account from growing steadily
unwholesome. But one cannot rake through a big city without encountering
muck.

The Police kept their word. In five short minutes, as they had
prophesied, their charge was lost as he had never been lost before.
“Where are we now?” “Somewhere off the Chitpore Road, but you wouldn’t
understand if you were told. Follow now, and step pretty much where we
step--there’s a good deal of filth hereabouts.”

The thick, greasy night shuts in everything. We have gone beyond the
ancestral houses of the Ghoses of the Boses, beyond the lamps, the
smells, and the crowd of Chitpore Road, and have come to a great
wilderness of packed houses--just such mysterious, conspiring tenements
as Dickens would have loved. There is no breath of breeze here, and the
air is perceptibly warmer. There is little regularity in the drift, and
the utmost niggardliness in the spacing of what, for want of a better
name, we must call the streets. If Calcutta keeps such luxuries as
Commissioners of Sewers and Paving, they die before they reach this
place. The air is heavy with a faint, sour stench--the essence of
long-neglected abominations--and it cannot escape from among the tall,
three-storied houses. “This, my dear sir, is a _perfectly_ respectable
quarter as quarters go. That house at the head of the alley, with the
elaborate stucco-work round the top of the door, was built long ago by a
celebrated midwife. Great people used to live here once. Now it’s
the--Aha! Look out for that carriage.” A big mail-phaeton crashes out of
the darkness and, recklessly driven, disappears. The wonder is how it
ever got into this maze of narrow streets, where nobody seems to be
moving, and where the dull throbbing of the city’s life only comes
faintly and by snatches. “Now it’s the what?” “St. John’s Wood of
Calcutta--for the rich Babus. That ‘fitton’ belonged to one of them.”
“Well it’s not much of a place to look at.” “Don’t judge by appearances.
About here live the women who have beggared kings. We aren’t going to
let you down into unadulterated vice all at once. You must see it first
with the gilding on--and mind that rotten board.”

Stand at the bottom of a lift and look upward. Then you will get both
the size and the design of the tiny courtyard round which one of these
big dark houses is built. The central square may be perhaps ten feet
every way, but the balconies that run inside it overhang, and seem to
cut away half the available space. To reach the square a man must go
round many corners, down a covered-in way, and up and down two or three
baffling and confused steps. There are no lamps to guide, and the
janitors of the establishment seem to be compelled to sleep in the
passages. The central square, the _patio_ or whatever it must be called,
reeks with the faint, sour smell which finds its way impartially into
every room. “Now you will understand,” say the Police kindly, as their
charge blunders, shin-first, into a well-dark winding staircase, “that
these are not the sort of places

[Illustration: “A GLARE OF LIGHT ON THE STAIR-HEAD, A CLINK OF
INNUMERABLE BANGLES, A RUSTLE OF MUCH FINE GAUZE, AND THE DAINTY
INIQUITY STANDS REVEALED.”]

to visit alone.” “Who wants to? Of all the disgusting, inaccessible
dens--Holy Cupid, what’s this?”

A glare of light on the stair-head, a clink of innumerable bangles, a
rustle of much fine gauze, and the Dainty Iniquity stands revealed,
blazing--literally blazing--with jewelry from head to foot. Take one of
the fairest miniatures that the Delhi painters draw, and multiply it by
ten; throw in one of Angelica Kaufmann’s best portraits, and add
anything that you can think of from Beckford to Lalla Rookh, and you
will still fall short of the merits of that perfect face. For an
instant, even the grim, professional gravity of the Police is relaxed in
the presence of the Dainty Iniquity with the gems, who so prettily
invites every one to be seated, and proffers such refreshments as she
conceives the palates of the barbarians would prefer. Her Abigails are
only one degree less gorgeous than she. Half a lakh, or fifty thousand
pounds’ worth--it is easier to credit the latter statement than the
former--are disposed upon her little body. Each hand carries five
jewelled rings which are connected by golden chains to a great jewelled
boss of gold in the centre of the back of the hand. Ear-rings weighted
with emeralds and pearls, diamond nose-rings, and how many other
hundred articles make up the list of adornments. English furniture of a
gorgeous and gimcrack kind, unlimited chandeliers and a collection of
atrocious Continental prints--something, but not altogether, like the
glazed plaques on _bonbon_ boxes--are scattered about the house, and on
every landing--let us trust this is a mistake--lies, squats, or loafs a
Bengali who can talk English with unholy fluency. The recurrence
suggests--only suggests, mind--a grim possibility of the affectation of
excessive virtue by day, tempered with the sort of unwholesome enjoyment
after dusk--this loafing and lobbying and chattering and smoking, and,
unless the bottles lie tippling among the foul-tongued handmaidens of
the Dainty Iniquity. How many men follow this double, deleterious sort
of life? The Police are discreetly dumb.

“Now _don’t_ go talking about ‘domiciliary visits’ just because this one
happens to be a pretty woman. We’ve _got_ to know these creatures. They
make the rich man and the poor spend their money; and when a man can’t
get money for ’em honestly, he comes under _our_ notice. _Now_ do you
see? If there was any domiciliary ‘visit’ about it, the whole houseful
would be hidden past our finding as soon as we turned up in the
courtyard. We’re friends--to a certain extent.” And, indeed, it seemed
no difficult thing to be friends to any extent with the Dainty Iniquity
who was so surpassingly different from all that experience taught of the
beauty of the East. Here was the face from which a man could write
_Lalla Rookhs_ by the dozen, and believe every work that he wrote. Hers
was the beauty that Byron sang of when he wrote--

“Remember, if you come here alone, the chances are that you’ll be
clubbed, or stuck, or, anyhow, mobbed. You’ll understand that this part
of the world is shut to Europeans--absolutely. Mind the steps, and
follow on.” The vision dies out in the smells and gross darkness of the
night, in evil, time-rotten brickwork, and another wilderness of shut-up
houses, wherein it seems that people do continually and feebly strum
stringed instruments of a plaintive and wailsome nature.

Follows, after another plunge into a passage of a court-yard, and up a
staircase, the apparition of a Fat Vice, in whom is no sort of romance,
nor beauty, but unlimited coarse humor. She too is studded with jewels,
and her house is even finer than the house of the other, and more
infested with the extraordinary men who speak such good English and are
so deferential to the Police. The Fat Vice has been a great leader of
fashion in her day, and stripped a zemindar Raja to his last
acre--insomuch that he ended in the House of Correction for a theft
committed for her sake. Native opinion has it that she is a “monstrous
well-preserved woman.” On this point, as on some others, the races will
agree to differ.

The scene changes suddenly as a slide in a magic lantern. Dainty
Iniquity and Fat Vice slide away on a roll of streets and alleys, each
more squalid than its predecessor. We are “somewhere at the back of the
Machua Bazar,” well in the heart of the city. There are no houses
here--nothing but acres and acres, it seems, of foul wattle-and-dab
huts, any one of which would be a disgrace to a frontier village. The
whole arrangement is a neatly contrived germ and fire trap, reflecting
great credit upon the Calcutta Municipality.

“What happens when these pigsties catch fire?” “They’re built up again,”
say the Police, as though this were the natural order of things. “Land
is immensely valuable here.” All the more reason, then, to turn several
Hausmanns loose into the city, with instructions to make barracks for
the population that cannot find room in the huts and sleeps in the open
ways, cherishing dogs and worse, much worse, in its unwashen bosom.
“Here is a licensed coffee-shop. This is where your _naukers_ go for
amusement and to see nautches.” There is a huge _chappar_ shed,
ingeniously ornamented with insecure kerosene lamps, and crammed with
_gharriwans_, _khitmatgars_, small store-keepers and the like. Never a
sign of a European. Why? “Because if an Englishman messed about here,
he’d get into trouble. Men don’t come here unless they’re drunk or have
lost their way.” The _gharriwans_--they have the privilege of voting,
have they not?--look peaceful enough as they squat on tables or crowd by
the doors to watch the nautch that is going forward. Five pitiful
draggle-tails are huddled together on a bench under one of the lamps,
while the sixth is squirming and shrieking before the impassive crowd.
She sings of love as understood by the Oriental--the love that dries the
heart and consumes the liver. In this place, the words that would look
so well on paper have an evil and ghastly significance. The _gharriwans_
stare or sup tumblers and cups of a filthy decoction, and the
_kunchenee_ howls with renewed vigor in the presence of the Police.
Where the Dainty Iniquity was hung with gold and gems, she is trapped
with pewter and glass; and where there was heavy embroidery on the Fat
Vice’s dress, defaced, stamped tinsel faithfully reduplicates the
pattern on the tawdry robes of the _kunchenee_. So you see, if one cares
to moralize, they are sisters of the same class.

Two or three men, blessed with uneasy consciences, have quietly slipped
out of the coffee-shop into the mazes of the huts beyond. The Police
laugh, and those nearest in the crowd laugh applausively, as in duty
bound. Perhaps the rabbits grin uneasily when the ferret lands at the
bottom of the burrow and begins to clear the warren.

“The _chandoo_-shops shut up at six, so you’ll have to see opium-smoking
before dark some day. No, you won’t, though.” The detective nose sniffs,
and the detective body makes for a half-opened door of a hut whence
floats the fragrance of the black smoke. Those of the inhabitants who
are able to stand promptly clear out--they have no love for the
Police--and there remain only four men lying down and one standing up.
This latter has a pet mongoose coiled round his neck. He speaks English
fluently. Yes, he has no fear. It was a private smoking party and--“No
business to-night--show how you smoke opium.” “Aha! You want to see.
Very good, I show. Hiya! you”--he kicks a man on the floor--“show how
opium-smoking.” The kickee grunts lazily and turns on his elbow. The
mongoose, always keeping to the man’s neck, erects every hair of its
body like an angry cat, and chatters in its owner’s ear. The lamp for
the opium-pipe is the only one in the room, and lights a scene as wild
as anything in the witches’ revel; the mongoose acting as the familiar
spirit. A voice from the ground says, in tones of infinite weariness:
“You take _afim_, so”--a long, long pause, and another kick from the man
possessed of the devil--the mongoose. “You take _afim_?” He takes a
pellet of the black, treacly stuff on the end of a knitting-needle. “And
light _afim_.” He plunges the pellet into the night-light, where it
swells and fumes greasily. “And then you put it in your pipe.” The
smoking pellet is jammed into the tiny bowl of the thick, bamboo-stemmed
pipe, and all speech ceases, except the unearthly noise of the mongoose.
The man on the ground is sucking at his pipe, and when the smoking
pellet has ceased to smoke will be half way to _Nibhan_. “Now you go,”
says the man with the mongoose. “I am going smoke.” The hut door closes
upon a red-lit view of huddled legs and bodies, and the man with the
mongoose sinking, sinking on to his knees, his head bowed forward, and
the little hairy devil chattering on the nape of his neck.

After this the fetid night air seems almost cool, for the hut is as hot
as a furnace. “See the _pukka chandu_ shops in full blast to-morrow. Now
for Colootollah. Come through the huts. There is no decoration about
_this_ vice.”

The huts now gave place to houses very tall and spacious and very dark.
But for the narrowness of the streets we might have stumbled upon
Chouringhi in the dark. An hour and a half has passed, and up to this
time we have not crossed our trail once. “You might knock about the city
for a night and never cross the same line. Recollect Calcutta isn’t one
of your poky up-country cities of a lakh and a half of people.” “How
long does it take to know it then?” “About a lifetime, and even then
some of the streets puzzle you.” “How much has the head of a ward to
know?” “Every house in his ward if he can, who owns it, what sort of
character the inhabitants are, who are their friends, who go out and in,
who loaf about the place at night, and so on and so on.” “And he knows
all this by night as well as by day?” “Of course. Why shouldn’t he?”
“No reason in the world. Only it’s pitchy black just now, and I’d like
to see where this alley is going to end.” “Round the corner beyond that
dead wall. There’s a lamp there. Then you’ll be able to see.” A shadow
flits out of a gully and disappears. “Who’s that?” “Sergeant of Police
just to see where we’re going in case of accidents.” Another shadow
staggers into the darkness. “Who’s _that_?” “Man from the fort or a
sailor from the ships. I couldn’t quite see.” The Police open a shut
door in a high wall, and stumble unceremoniously among a gang of women
cooking their food. The floor is of beaten earth, the steps that lead
into the upper stories are unspeakably grimy, and the heat is the heat
of April. The women rise hastily, and the light of the bull’s eye--for
the Police have now lighted a lantern in regular “rounds of London”
fashion--shows six bleared faces--one a half native, half Chinese one,
and the others Bengali. “There are no men here!” they cry. “The house is
empty.” Then they grin and jabber and chew _pan_ and spit, and hurry up
the steps into the darkness. A range of three big rooms has been knocked
into one here, and there is some sort of arrangement of mats. But an
average country-bred is more sumptuously accommodated in an
Englishman’s stable. A home horse would snort at the accommodation.

“Nice sort of place, isn’t it?” say the Police, genially. “This is where
the sailors get robbed and drunk.” “They must be blind drunk before they
come.” “Na--Na! Na sailor men ee--yah!” chorus the women, catching at
the one word they understand. “Arl gone!” The Police take no notice, but
tramp down the big room with the mat loose-boxes. A woman is shivering
in one of these. “What’s the matter?” “Fever. Seek. Vary, _vary_ seek.”
She huddles herself into a heap on the _charpoy_ and groans.

A tiny, pitch-black closet opens out of the long room, and into this the
Police plunge. “Hullo! What’s here?” Down flashes the lantern, and a
white hand with black nails comes out of the gloom. Somebody is asleep
or drunk in the cot. The ring of lantern light travels slowly up and
down the body. “A sailor from the ships. He’s got his _dungarees_ on.
He’ll be robbed before the morning most likely.” The man is sleeping
like a little child, both arms thrown over his head, and he is not
unhandsome. He is shoeless, and there are huge holes in his stockings.
He is a pure-blooded white, and carries the flush of innocent sleep on
his cheeks.

The light is turned off, and the Police depart; while the woman in the
loose-box shivers, and moans that she is “seek: vary, _vary_ seek.” It
is not surprising.



CHAPTER VII.

DEEPER AND DEEPER STILL.

    I built myself a lordly pleasure-house,
      Wherein at ease for aye to dwell;
    I said: “O Soul, make merry and carouse,
      Dear Soul--for all is well.”
             --_The Palace of Art._


“And where next? I don’t like Colootollah.” The Police and their charge
are standing in the interminable waste of houses under the starlight.
“To the lowest sink of all,” say the Police after the manner of Virgil
when he took the Italian with the indigestion to look at the frozen
sinners. “And where’s that?” “Somewhere about here; but you wouldn’t
know if you were told.” They lead and they lead and they lead, and they
cease not from leading till they come to the last circle of the
Inferno--a long, long, winding, quiet road. “There you are; you can see
for yourself.”

But there is nothing to be seen. On one side are houses--gaunt and dark,
naked and devoid of furniture; on the other, low, mean stalls, lighted,
and with shamelessly open doors, wherein women stand and lounge, and
mutter and whisper one to another. There is a hush here, or at least the
busy silence of an officer of counting-house in working hours. One look
down the street is sufficient. Lead on, gentlemen of the Calcutta
Police. Let us escape from the lines of open doors, the flaring lamps
within, the glimpses of the tawdry toilet-tables adorned with little
plaster dogs, glass balls from Christmas-trees, and--for religion must
not be despised though women be fallen--pictures of the saints and
statuettes of the Virgin. The street is a long one, and other streets,
full of the same pitiful wares, branch off from it.

“Why are they so quiet? Why don’t they make a row and sing and shout,
and so on?” “Why should they, poor devils?” say the Police, and fall to
telling tales of horror, of women decoyed into _palkis_ and shot into
this trap. Then other tales that shatter one’s belief in all things and
folk of good repute. “How can you Police have faith in humanity?”

“That’s because you’re seeing it all in a lump for the first time, and
it’s not nice that way. Makes a man jump rather, doesn’t it? But,
recollect, you’ve _asked_ for the worst places, and you can’t complain.”
“Who’s complaining? Bring on your atrocities. Isn’t that a European
woman at that door?” “Yes. Mrs. D----, widow of a soldier, mother of
seven children.” “Nine, if you please, and good-evening to you,” shrills
Mrs. D----, leaning against the doorpost, her arms folded on her bosom.
She is a rather pretty, slightly-made Eurasian, and whatever shame she
may have owned she has long since cast behind her. A shapeless
Burmo-native trot, with high cheek-bones and mouth like a shark, calls
Mrs. D---- “Mem-Sahib.” The word jars unspeakably. Her life is a matter
between herself and her Maker, but in that she--the widow of a soldier
of the Queen--has stooped to this common foulness in the face of the
city, she has offended against the white race. The Police fail to fall
in with this righteous indignation. More--they laugh at it out of the
wealth of their unholy knowledge. “You’re from up-country, and of course
you don’t understand. There are any amount of that lot in the city.”
Then the secret of the insolence of Calcutta is made plain. Small wonder
the natives fail to respect the Sahib, seeing what they see and knowing
what they know. In the good old days, the honorable the directors
deported him or her who misbehaved grossly, and the white man preserved
his _izzat_. He may have been a ruffian, but he was a ruffian on a
large scale. He did not sink in the presence of the people. The natives
are quite right to take the wall of the Sahib who has been at great
pains to prove that he is of the same flesh and blood.

All this time Mrs. D---- stands on the threshold of her room and looks
upon the men with unabashed eyes. If the spirit of that English soldier,
who married her long ago by the forms of the English Church, be now
flitting bat-wise above the roofs, how singularly pleased and proud it
must be! Mrs. D---- is a lady with a story. She is not averse to telling
it. “What was--ahem--the case in which you were--er--hmn--concerned,
Mrs. D----?” “They said I’d poisoned my husband by putting something
into his drinking-water.” This is interesting. How much modesty _has_
this creature? Let us see. “And--ah--_did_ you?” “‘Twasn’t proved,” says
Mrs. D---- with a laugh, a pleasant, lady-like laugh that does infinite
credit to her education and upbringing. Worthy Mrs. D----! It would pay
a novelist--a French one let us say--to pick you out of the stews and
make you talk.

The Police move forward, into a region of Mrs. D----’s. This is
horrible; but they are used to it, and evidently consider indignation
affectation. Everywhere are the empty houses, and the babbling women in
print gowns. The clocks in the city are close upon midnight, but the
Police show no signs of stopping. They plunge hither and thither, like
wreckers into the surf; and each plunge brings up a sample of misery,
filth, and woe.

“Sheikh Babu was murdered just here,” they say, pulling up in one of the
most troublesome houses in the ward. It would never do to appear
ignorant of the murder of Sheikh Babu. “I only wonder that more aren’t
killed.” The houses with their breakneck staircases, their hundred
corners, low roofs, hidden courtyards and winding passages, seem
specially built for crime of every kind. A woman--Eurasian--rises to a
sitting position on a board-charpoy and blinks sleepily at the Police.
Then she throws herself down with a grunt. “What’s the matter with you?”
“I live in Markiss Lane and”--this with intense gravity--“I’m _so_
drunk.” She has a rather striking gipsy-like face, but her language
might be improved.

“Come along,” say the Police, “we’ll head back to Bentinck Street, and
put you on the road to the Great Eastern.” They walk long and steadily,
and the talk falls on gambling hells. “You ought to see our men rush
one of ’em. They like the work--natives of course. When we’ve marked a
hell down, we post men at the entrances and carry it. Sometimes the
Chinese bite, but as a rule they fight fair. It’s a pity we hadn’t a
hell to show you. Let’s go in here--there may be something forward.”
“Here” appears to be in the heart of a Chinese quarter, for the
pigtails--do they ever go to bed?--are scuttling about the streets.
“Never go into a Chinese place alone,” say the Police, and swing open a
postern gate in a strong, green door. Two Chinamen appear.

“What are we going to see?” “Japanese gir--No, we aren’t, by Jove! Catch
that Chinaman, _quick_.” The pigtail is trying to double back across a
courtyard into an inner chamber; but a large hand on his shoulder spins
him round and puts him in rear of the line of advancing Englishmen, who
are, be it observed, making a fair amount of noise with their boots. A
second door is thrown open, and the visitors advance into a large,
square room blazing with gas. Here thirteen pigtails, deaf and blind to
the outer world, are bending over a table. The captured Chinaman dodges
uneasily in the rear of the procession. Five--ten--fifteen seconds pass,
the Englishmen standing in the full light less than three paces from
the absorbed gang who see nothing. Then burly Superintendent Lamb brings
down his hand on his thigh with a crack like a pistol-shot and shouts:
“How do, John?” Follows a frantic rush of scared Celestials, almost
tumbling over each other in their anxiety to get clear. Gudgeon before
the rush of the pike are nothing to John Chinaman detected in the act of
gambling. One pigtail scoops up a pile of copper money, another a
chinaware soup-bowl, and only a little mound of accusing cowries remains
on the white matting that covers the table. In less than half a minute
two facts are forcibly brought home to the visitor. First, that a
pigtail is largely composed of silk, and rasps the palm of the hand as
it slides through; and secondly, that the forearm of a Chinaman is
surprisingly muscular and well-developed. “What’s going to be done?”
“Nothing. They’re only three of us, and all the ringleaders would get
away. Look at the doors. We’ve got ’em safe any time we want to catch
’em, if this little visit doesn’t make ’em shift their quarters. Hi!
John. No pidgin to-night. Show how you makee play. That fat youngster
there is our informer.”

Half the pigtails have fled into the darkness, but the remainder,
assured and trebly assured that the Police really mean “no pidgin,”
return to the table and stand round while the croupier proceeds to
manipulate the cowries, the little curved slip of bamboo and the
soup-bowl. They never gamble, these innocents. They only come to look
on, and smoke opium in the next room. Yet as the game progresses their
eyes light up, and one by one they drop in to deposit their pice on odd
or even--the number of the cowries that are covered and left uncovered
by the little soup-bowl. _Mythan_ is the name of the amusement, and,
whatever may be its demerits, it is _clean_. The Police look on while
their charge plays and loots a parchment-skinned horror--one of Swift’s
Struldbrugs, strayed from Laputa--of the enormous sum of two annas. The
return of this wealth, doubled, sets the loser beating his forehead
against the table from sheer gratitude.

“_Most_ immoral game this. A man might drop five whole rupees, if he
began playing at sundown and kept it up all night. Don’t _you_ ever play
whist occasionally?”

“Now, we didn’t bring you round to make fun of this department. A man
can lose as much as ever he likes and he can fight as well, and if he
loses all his money he steals to get more. A Chinaman is insane about
gambling, and half his crime comes from it. It _must_ be kept down.”
“And the other business. Any sort of supervision there?” “No; so long as
they keep outside the penal code. Ask Dr.---- about that. It’s outside
our department. Here we are in Bentinck Street and you can be driven to
the Great Eastern in a few minutes. Joss houses? Oh, yes. If you want
more horrors, Superintendent Lamb will take you round with him to-morrow
afternoon at five. Report yourself at the Bow Bazar Thanna at five
minutes to. Good-night.”

The Police depart, and in a few minutes the silent, well-ordered
respectability of Old Council House Street, with the grim Free Kirk at
the end of it, is reached. All good Calcutta has gone to bed, the last
tram has passed, and the peace of the night is upon the world. Would it
be wise and rational to climb the spire of that kirk, and shout after
the fashion of the great Lion-slayer of Tarescon: “O true believers!
Decency is a fraud and a sham. There is nothing clean or pure or
wholesome under the stars, and we are all going to perdition together.
Amen!” On second thoughts it would not; for the spire is slippery, the
night is hot, and the Police have been specially careful to warn their
charge that he must not be carried away by the sight of horrors that
cannot be written or hinted at.

“Good-morning,” says the Policeman tramping the pavement in front of the
Great Eastern, and he nods his head pleasantly to show that he is the
representative of Law and Peace, and that the city of Calcutta is safe
from itself for the present.



CHAPTER VIII.

CONCERNING LUCIA.

    “Was a woman such a woman--cheeks so round and lips so red?
     On the neck the small head buoyant like the bellflower in its bed.”


Time must be filled in somehow till five this afternoon, when
Superintendent Lamb will reveal more horrors. Why not, the trams aiding,
go to the Old Park Street Cemetery? It is presumption, of course,
because none other than the great Sir W. W. Hunter once went there, and
wove from his visit certain fascinating articles for the _Englishman_;
the memory of which lingers even to this day, though they were written
fully two years since.

But the great Sir W. W. went in his Legislative Consular brougham and
never in an unbridled tram-car which pulled up somewhere in the middle
of Dhurrumtollah. “You want go Park Street? No trams going Park Street.
You get out here.” Calcutta tram conductors are not polite. Some day one
of them will be hurt. The car shuffles unsympathetically down the
street, and the evicted is stranded in Dhurrumtollah, which may be the
Hammersmith Highway of Calcutta. Providence arranged this mistake, and
paved the way to a Great Discovery now published for the first time.
Dhurrumtollah is full of the People of India, walking in family parties
and groups and confidential couples. And the people of India are neither
Hindu nor Mussulman--Jew, Ethiop, Gueber, or expatriated British. They
are the Eurasians, and there are hundreds and hundreds of them in
Dhurrumtollah now. There is Papa with a shining black hat fit for a
counsellor of the Queen, and Mamma, whose silken attire is tight upon
her portly figure, and The Brood made up of straw-hatted, olive-cheeked,
sharp-eyed little boys, and leggy maidens wearing white, open-work
stockings calculated to show dust. There are the young men who smoke bad
cigars and carry themselves lordily--such as have incomes. There are
also the young women with the beautiful eyes and the wonderful dresses
which always fit so badly across the shoulders. And they carry
prayer-books or baskets, because they are either going to mass or the
market. Without doubt, these are the people of India. They were born in
it, bred in it, and will die in it. The Englishman only comes to the
country, and the natives of course were there from the first, but these
people have been made here, and no one has done anything for them except
talk and write about them. Yet they belong, some of them, to old and
honorable families, hold “houses, messuages, and tenements” in Sealdah,
and are rich, a few of them. They all look prosperous and contented, and
they chatter eternally in that curious dialect that no one has yet
reduced to print. Beyond what little they please to reveal now and again
in the newspapers, we know nothing about their life which touches so
intimately the white on the one hand and the black on the other. It must
be interesting--more interesting than the colorless Anglo-Indian
article; but who has treated of it? There was one novel once in which
the second heroine was an Eurasienne. She was a strictly subordinate
character, and came to a sad end. The poet of the race, Henry
Derozio--he of whom Mr. Thomas Edwards wrote a history--was bitten with
Keats and Scott and Shelley, and overlooked in his search for material
things that lay nearest to him. All this mass of humanity in
Dhurrumtollah is unexploited and almost unknown. Wanted, therefore, a
writer from among the Eurasians, who shall write so that men shall be
pleased to read a story of Eurasian life; then outsiders will be
interested in the People of India, and will admit that the race has
possibilities.

A futile attempt to get to Park Street from Dhurrumtollah ends in the
market--the Hogg Market men call it. Perhaps a knight of that name built
it. It is not one-half as pretty as the Crawford Market, in Bombay, but
... it appears to be the trysting-place of Young Calcutta. The natural
inclination of youth is to lie abed late, and to let the seniors do all
the hard work. Why, therefore, should Pyramus who has to be ruling
account forms at ten, and Thisbe, who _cannot_ be interested in the
price of second quality beef, wander, in studiously correct raiment,
round and about the stalls before the sun is well clear of the earth?
Pyramus carries a walking-stick with imitation silver straps upon it,
and there are cloth tops to his boots; but his collar has been two days
worn. Thisbe crowns her dark head with a blue velvet Tam-o’-Shanter; but
one of her boots lacks a button, and there is a tear in the left-hand
glove. Mamma, who despises gloves, is rapidly filling a shallow basket,
that the coolie-boy carries, with vegetables, potatoes, purple brinjals,
and--Oh, Pyramus! Do you ever kiss Thisbe when Mamma is not
near?--garlic--yea, _lusson_ of the bazar. Mamma is generous in her
views on garlic. Pyramus comes round the corner of the stall looking for
nobody in particular--not he--and is elaborately polite to Mamma.
Somehow, he and Thisbe drift off together, and Mamma, very portly and
very voluble, is left to chaffer and sort and select alone. In the name
of the Sacred Unities do not, young people, retire to the meat-stalls to
exchange confidences! Come up to this end, where the roses are arriving
in great flat baskets, where the air is heavy with the fragrance of
flowers, and the young buds and greenery are littering all the floor.
They won’t--they prefer talking by the dead, unromantic muttons, where
there are not so many buyers. How they babble! There must have been a
quarrel to make up. Thisbe shakes the blue velvet Tam-o’-Shanter and
says: “O yess!” scornfully. Pyramus answers: “No-a, no-a. Do-ant say
thatt.” Mamma’s basket is full and she picks up Thisbe hastily. Pyramus
departs. _He_ never came here to do any marketing. He came to meet
Thisbe, who in ten years will own a figure very much like Mamma’s. May
their ways be smooth before them, and after honest service of the
Government, may Pyramus retire on Rs. 250 per mensen, into a nice
little house somewhere in Monghyr or Chunar.

From love by natural sequence to death. Where _is_ the Park Street
Cemetery? A hundred _gharriwans_ leap from their boxes and invade the
market, and after a short struggle one of them uncarts his capture in a
burial-ground--a ghastly new place, close to a tramway. This is not what
is wanted. The living dead are here--the people whose names are not yet
altogether perished and whose tombstones are tended. “Where are the
_old_ dead?” “Nobody goes there,” says the _gharriwan_. “It is up that
road.” He points up a long and utterly deserted thoroughfare, running
between high walls. This is the place, and the entrance to it, with its
_mallee_ waiting with one brown, battered rose, its grilled door and its
professional notices, bears a hideous likeness to the entrance of Simla
churchyard. But, once inside, the sightseer stands in the heart of utter
desolation--all the more forlorn for being swept up. Lower Park Street
cuts a great graveyard in two. The guide-books will tell you when the
place was opened and when it was closed. The eye is ready to swear that
it is as old as Herculaneum and Pompeii. The tombs are small houses. It
is as though we walked down the streets of a town, so tall axe they and
so closely do they stand--a town shrivelled by fire, and scarred by
frost and siege. They must have been afraid of their friends rising up
before the due time that they weighted them with such cruel mounds of
masonry. Strong man, weak woman, or somebody’s “infant son aged fifteen
months”--it is all the same. For each the squat obelisk, the defaced
classic temple, the cellaret of chunam, or the candlestick of
brickwork--the heavy slab, the rust-eaten railings, the whopper-jawed
cherubs and the apoplectic angels. Men were rich in those days and could
afford to put a hundred cubic feet of masonry into the grave of even so
humble a person as “Jno. Clements, Captain of the Country Service,
1820.” When the “dearly beloved” had held rank answering to that of
Commissioner, the efforts are still more sumptuous and the verse....
Well, the following speaks for itself:

    “Soft on thy tomb shall fond Remembrance shed
       The warm yet unavailing tear,
     And purple flowers that deck the honored dead
       Shall strew the loved and honored bier.”

Failure to comply with the contract does not, let us hope, entail
forfeiture of the earnest-money; or the honored dead might be grieved.
The slab is out of his tomb, and leans foolishly against it; the
railings are rotted, and there are no more lasting ornaments than
blisters and stains, which are the work of the weather, and not the
result of the “warm yet unavailing tear.” The eyes that promised to shed
them have been closed any time these seventy years.

Let us go about and moralize cheaply on the tombstones, trailing the
robe of pious reflection up and down the pathways of the grave. Here is
a big and stately tomb sacred to “Lucia,” who died in 1776 A.D., aged
23. Here also be verses which an irreverent thumb can bring to light.
Thus they wrote, when their hearts were heavy in them, one hundred and
sixteen years ago:

    “What needs the emblem, what the plaintive strain,
       What all the arts that sculpture e’er expressed,
     To tell the treasure that these walls contain?
       Let those declare it most who knew her best.

    “The tender pity she would oft display
       Shall be with interest at her shrine returned,
     Connubial love, connubial tears repay,
       And Lucia loved shall still be Lucia mourned.

    “Though closed the lips, though stopped the tuneful breath,
       The silent, clay-cold monitress shall teach--
     In all the alarming eloquence of death
       With double pathos to the heart shall preach.

    “Shall teach the virtuous maid, the faithful wife,
       If young and fair, that young and fair was she,
     Then close the useful lesson of her life,
      And tell them what she is, they soon must be.”

That goes well, even after all these years, does it not? and seems to
bring Lucia very near, in spite of what the later generation is pleased
to call the stiltedness of the old-time verse.

Who will declare the merits of Lucia--dead in her spring before there
was even a _Hickey’s Gazette_ to chronicle the amusements of Calcutta,
and publish, with scurrilous asterisks, the _liaisons_ of heads of
departments? What pot-bellied East Indiaman brought the “virtuous maid”
up the river, and did Lucia “make her bargain,” as the cant of those
times went, on the first, second, or third day after her arrival? Or did
she, with the others of the batch, give a spinsters’ ball as a last
trial--following the custom of the country? No. She was a fair Kentish
maiden, sent out, at a cost of five hundred pounds, English money, under
the captain’s charge, to wed the man of her choice, and _he_ knew Clive
well, had had dealings with Omichand, and talked to men who had lived
through the terrible night in the Black Hole. He was a rich man, Lucia’s
battered tomb proves it, and he gave Lucia all that her heart could
wish. A green-painted boat to take the air in on the river of evenings.
Coffree slave-boys who could play on the French horn, and even a very
elegant, neat coach with a genteel rutlan roof ornamented with flowers
very highly finished, ten best polished plate glasses, ornamented with a
few elegant medallions enriched with mother-o’-pearl, that she might
take her drive on the course as befitted a factor’s wife. All these
things he gave her. And when the convoys came up the river, and the guns
thundered, and the servants of the Honorable the East India Company
drank to the king’s health, be sure that Lucia before all the other
ladies in the fort had her choice of the new stuffs from England and was
cordially hated in consequence. Tilly Kettle painted her picture a
little before she died, and the hot-blooded young writers did duel with
small swords in the fort ditch for the honor of piloting her through a
minuet at the Calcutta theatre or the Punch House. But Warren Hastings
danced with her instead, and the writers were confounded--every man of
them. She was a toast far up the river. And she walked in the evening on
the bastions of Fort-William, and said: “La! I protest!” It was there
that she exchanged congratulations with all her friends on the 20th of
October, when those who were alive gathered together to felicitate
themselves on having come through another hot season; and the men--even
the sober factor saw no wrong here--got most royally and Britishly drunk
on Madeira that had twice rounded the Cape. But Lucia fell sick, and the
doctor--he who went home after seven years with five lakhs and a half,
and a corner of this vast graveyard to his account--said that it was a
pukka or putrid fever, and the system required strengthening. So they
fed Lucia on hot curries, and mulled wine worked up with spirits and
fortified with spices, for nearly a week; at the end of which time she
closed her eyes on the weary, weary river and the fort forever, and a
gallant, with a turn for _belles lettres_, wept openly as men did then
and had no shame of it, and composed the verses above set, and thought
himself a neat hand at the pen--stap his vitals! But the factor was so
grieved that he could write nothing at all--could only spend his
money--and he counted his wealth by lakhs--on a sumptuous grave. A
little later on he took comfort, and when the next batch came out----

But this has nothing whatever to do with the story of Lucia, the
virtuous maid, the faithful wife. Her ghost went to Mrs. Westland’s
powder ball, and looked very beautiful.





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