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This carefully crafted ebook: "Complete Short Stories of Rudyard Kipling: 25 Illustrated Collections" is formatted for your eReader with a functional and detailed table of contents. Short Story Collections: The City of Dreadful Night Plain Tales from the Hills The Story of the Gadsbys Soldier's Three The Phantom 'Rickshaw and Other Ghost Stories Under the Deodars Wee Willie Winkie Life's Handicap Many Inventions The Jungle Book The Second Jungle Book The Day's Work Stalky and Co. Just So Stories Traffics and Discoveries Puck of Pook's Hill Actions and Reactions Abaft the Funnel Rewards and Fairies The Eyes of Asia A Diversity of Creatures Land and Sea Tales Debits and Credits Thy Servant a Dog Limits and Renewals Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was an English short-story writer, poet, and novelist. He wrote tales and poems of British soldiers in India and stories for children. He is regarded as a major innovator in the art of the short story; his children's books are classics of children's literature; and one critic described his work as exhibiting "a versatile and luminous narrative gift".
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Illustrator: John Lockwood Kipling, Joseph M. Gleeson
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 Hughli 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 a 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-coloured 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.’
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 Hughli 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 Peshawar which are stronger than the B.C.S.; but, for diffused, soul-sickening expansiveness, the reek of Calcutta beats both Benares and Peshawar. Bombay cloaks her stenches with a veneer of assafœtida and 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 odour of blue slime. And there is no escape from it. It blows across the maidân; it comes in gusts into the corridors of the Great Eastern Hotel; what they are pleased to call the ‘Palaces of Chowringhi’ 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 ‘highhanded 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 strong Secretary and a President whose favour is worth the having and whose wrath is undesirable, men are kept clean despite themselves, and may not poison their neighbours. 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, let us 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 cook. 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 unbiassed 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 abuse. I went to the market to buy my food, and then I sat upon a seat. There came an orderly who said, “Go away, I want to sit here.” I said, “I am here first.” He said, “I am a chaprassi! get out!” 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 man and hit him again?’
Behold the situation! An unknown city full of smell that makes one long for rest and retirement, and a champing servant, not yet six hours in the stew, who has started a blood-feud with an unknown chaprassi and clamours to go forth to the fray.
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.
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?
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 the Levée-room where Englishmen are crowded together to this extent! Fancy sitting down seventy strong to table 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! 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 carriages 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 vermilion. 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 deep 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 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 mustn’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 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 rose-buds. 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 die of 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. Every one 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 maidân and Chowringhi. ‘If you get out into the centre of the maidân 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. The size of the maidân takes the heart out of any one accustomed to the ‘gardens’ of up-country, just as they say Newmarket Heath cows a horse accustomed to a 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 Chowringhi 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 very close together, and they have garden walls of 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 Chowringhi.
A first introduction to the Calcutta durwân or door-keeper is not nice. If he is chewing pân, he does not take the trouble to get rid of his quid. If he is sitting on his cot chewing sugar-cane, 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 a man 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 durwân 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 servants. 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 servant has to work for thirty years before he can retire on seventy thousand rupees of savings. The Calcutta durwân 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 durwân. 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 shutters there are other smells. You see the stables and the servants’ quarters are close to.’ People pay five hundred a month for half a dozen rooms filled with scents of this kind. They make no complaint. When they think the honour 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.’ Chowringhi 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 durwâns’ lodges, and the curious arrangement of little open drains mean, 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 maiden 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 Chowringhi joins the Park Street detachment, and the two together stream away across the maidân 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 civilisation — the lamps are in their sockets! The countrybred 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 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? First, the Bengal Civilian who goes to Writers’ Buildings and sits in a perfect office and speaks flippantly of ‘sending things into India,’ meaning thereby he refers matters to 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 excellences 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 Chowringhi Road and get among the long-shore folk, who have no prejudices against tobacco, and who all use very much the same sort of hat.
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.
‘The Bengal Legislative Council is sitting now. You will find it in an octagonal wing of Writers’ Buildings: straight across the maidân. 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 orderlies block the way. The Councillor Sahibs are sitting, but any one 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 war-whoop 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 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 oneself unknown. There are a dozen of them, and sit six aside 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 ceilings, 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 savour of Chowringhi; 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 scribe 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 ploughing 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 sweepers. The little man in the black dressing-gown revels in his subject. He is great on principles and precedents, and the necessity of ‘popularising 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 of the Stink. 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 — low wage for heavy labour. 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 nowhere. 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.
The speech ends, and there rises a grey 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 vile smell in this place, and everything must be cleaned 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 ‘Honourable 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 grew 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, emphasising 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 fervour 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 Mahometans. 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 dusterwise 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’ towards 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 patronisingly 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 Mahometans, 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. Once more a whiff of the Stink. 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 dressing-gown, he who spoke first of all, speaks again, and talks of the ‘sojourner who comes here for a little time, and then leaves the land.’ Well it is for the black gown 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 summarise 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.
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 Hastings 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 table 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 assembly, 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 flavoured opinion without heat or passion. No one seems to resent the garnish.
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 orientalised manner after the Italians at the corner of Fairlie Place upon the great Strand Road, and a continual clamour 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 controls the direction of the uncertain Hughli 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 Hughli 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 office over a lancer-regiment of masts, they can declare truthfully the name of every ship within eyescope, and 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 his cast of face so strongly marked that one marvels what officers are doing by the river. ‘Have they come to book passages 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 peajacket 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 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 wellfounded.
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 for ever draw maps of the shifting Hughli. 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 Hughli as children play with a gutter-runnel, and, in return, the Hughli 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 apiece, 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 Hughli 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 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 deserter. There is a dingy building, next door to the Sailors’ Home, at whose gate the cast-ups of all the seas stand in all manner of raiment. There are the Seedee boys, Bombay serangs and Madras fishermen of the salt villages; Malays who insist upon marrying Calcutta women, grow jealous and run amok; Malay-Hindus, Hindu-Malay-whites, Burmese, Burma-whites, Burma-native-whites; Italians with gold ear-rings and a thirst for gambling; Yankees of all the States, with Mulattoes and pure buck-niggers; red and rough Danes, Cingalese, Cornish boys 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; brokendown loafers, grey-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 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 Colootollah. If Fate will, ‘Nightingale’s’ will know them no more for a season. But what skipper 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 his 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.
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, a loose-knit, vicious-looking Irish-American who chews. ‘Stand up, man, standup!’ 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-coloured 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’en, 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 water-side, and the Hughli 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.
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 patronising way that 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.
‘Come up to the fire look-out 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 look-out is a little sentry-box on the top of the three-storied police offices. Here a native watchman waits 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 maidân and Chowringhi, where the respectabilities live and the Police have very little to do. From the east goes up to the sky the clamour 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. ‘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?’ 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?’ ‘A dance 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 setup, 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 a five-score of Englishmen as you shall find east of Suez.
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