As for light, they have strange methods down there in the black depths. A great many of the deep-sea inhabitants carry their own lights, for they are more or less luminous, shining by internal light as glow-worms and fire-flies do. One extraordinary fish has a row of shiny spots stretching from his head to his tail, and when he is swimming about he must look like a liner with a lighted row of ship's ports stretching along his side. Even lobsters and crabs shine luminously, and what use it is to them when they are frequently blind it is hard to conjecture; it must have something to do with catching prey, who are perhaps not blind and may be attracted by the lights. There is at least one fish who hangs out what is like a red lantern, only it is the tip of his fin, and by this means he draws to himself small creatures who swim right into his capacious mouth; thus his dinner comes to him without his having to search for it!
I want to go to the bows, for it never seems to me I am in a ship until I can get to a place where there is nothing to shut one in. These modern liners are horribly shut in, one might as well be in a drawing-room most of the time. Here we are at last, and it is good to draw a deep breath, feeling the huge dome of the sky above and the wide rim of the horizon around with nothing to cut them off. Look down where the ship cleaves the sea with her bows cleanly and beautifully like a living thing. Hullo! there is a dolphin! We are in luck! Can you see him dancing round us and plunging in under water and coming up again, much as a dog does on land when he goes out for a walk with his master? There is another, and another! What they call a shoal. They go fast enough; I expect we are making about fifteen or sixteen knots, or miles, an hour, which is good going, and yet these little chaps swim round and round, cutting across ahead of us, diving under us and coming up again all the time; to them it is mere child's play, and they really are playing; they are full of fun, and there is no earthly reason why they should behave like that except for amusement!
There goes the bugle for lunch.
Seems early, you say? As if we had only just finished breakfast? Yes. Look at your watch. It is hopelessly wrong, of course; so is mine and everyone else's. We are going just about due east now, so we are meeting the sun half-way, so to speak. That is what makes the time different. You know that when the sun is at the highest point overhead at any place then it is midday, and as the earth spins round from west to east a constant succession of places come beneath him in turn, each getting their midday a little later than the one before. In the British Isles there is really very little difference between the hours when the eastern and western coasts meet the sun. Take Yarmouth, say, and Land's End; there is perhaps something like half an hour between them, but as it would be awkward for railway work and business if every place had a little different time, so, for convenience' sake, one "standard" time is adopted in England, Scotland, and now even in some of the nearest continental countries; this is the hour when the sun is highest above Greenwich, where is our greatest observatory. And this is called midday, even though as a matter of fact the real midday at different places may be earlier or later.
As we journey east across the world, however, we are constantly going forward to meet the sun. We are not only on the earth, which is turning round all the time, but we are going ahead ourselves as well, and out-running the earth, and so we arrive at noon sooner and sooner each day. Our watches of course take no heed of real time as judged by the sun, they are just mechanical and tick away their sixty minutes to each hour whether the sun is overhead or not. At this moment we are about four hours ahead of our friends in England. It is one o'clock here, but they will only be having breakfast! When we live always in one place it is easy to forget that we are on a ball spinning round in space, but this brings it home to us and makes us realise our absurd position in the universe. Well, let us get our lunch. There is one thing on board, everybody is always ready to eat an amazing amount after they have got over sea-sickness, and the number of meals we manage to consume here would surprise us at home!
As the evening closes in, the day undergoes a change; there is a thick bank of black-looking cloud in the west, and just as the sun goes down this breaks up into wild streamers and shows deep ragged gulfs of livid light between; there are glimpses of green and tawny-red and angry orange flashing through, and then the veil of cloud blots out the light. Yet it is still, there doesn't seem to be a ripple of wind, and the sea has a curious oily calm upon it. Would you like to come along to the bows after dinner? Don't, if you don't want to. It is more difficult to get there than we expected, for though it looks so calm there is a big swell, and we are rising and falling considerably on the smooth-backed hillocks of water. Creep under these ropes and over this barricade. Then we are free from all the entanglements. There are no dolphins now, but there is a strange light dancing away like fire from the cutting bow; it comes in streaks and flashes, one moment it seems as if it must be only a reflection in the cut water, and the next one could swear there was a real flash.
That is phosphorescence, which is very common in tropical seas, sometimes the whole sea is alight with it. Look at that! It is a vivid light like a wave of green fire, most beautiful! It is only, however, where the ship strikes the water that we see it to-night. But sometimes, though not often at this season of the year, the whole ocean seems to be alight with it; it is the effect of innumerable millions of tiny sea-creatures floating on the surface, though exactly why they do it at one time more than another is yet unknown. The curious thing is that there are so many different kinds of phosphorescence; there is the bright fiery kind like this we are seeing now in flashes, and there is a dull luminous kind which sailors call a "white sea." Then the whole sea appears as white as milk, or, as someone who has seen it describes it, as if it were changed to ice covered with a coating of snow. This was on a dark night before the moon had risen, but when she did get up it all disappeared and the sea looked much as usual, glittering only where the beams struck it, except for odd patches of shiny light here and there, and oddly enough exactly the same thing happened the following night. I'm afraid we shan't be lucky enough to see that.
Is the motion making you uncomfortable? No? I'm glad of that; you're a first-rate sailor. Let us go back to that jolly alcove at the end of the smoking-room looking aft, where we can see the great green-black waves rising suddenly behind us.
Yes, this is distinctly comfortable and quite interesting. It seems as if every wave rose in a great hill suddenly just after we had passed the spot! We must have come over it, but sitting like this we didn't feel it, we are riding so smoothly.
If we look out ahead we shall see the same sort of thing happening; we approach a black hillock of water, and just as we get to it it rolls down and disappears under us. The ship is so large that though she climbs those hills, we get the impression that the hills straighten underneath her. You must have noticed something of the same kind in riding a bicycle; if you are running down one hill and see another rising in front, the other one looks terrifically steep, but as you get on to it, it flattens out in an inexplicable way; it is the change in our own position that accounts for the phenomenon.
It is very close to-night and there is an uneasy feeling in the air; the captain did not appear at dinner. It is a good thing that they put off that fancy-dress ball which was to have been held this evening, for there could not have been much dancing. Your costume will come in useful another time. I want to see you sometime as a little Egyptian with a skull-cap and a garment like a flannel night-shirt! But we shall have another chance.
"Hope we're not in for a cyclone," says one of the men, appearing out of the smoking-room with a pipe in his mouth.
"Very unusual at this time of year in the North-East monsoon," replies another as they disappear.
At that moment forked lightning plays across the sky in a great ragged streak, and immediately there is another display as if answering it, but we can hear no thunder.
What is the North-East monsoon? It sounds rather like some kind of animal, but it is only the name given to a certain wind that blows always at one season of the year.
Across broad spaces of the ocean there are always steady winds to be counted on, such as the trade-winds, which are caused by the air at the Equator getting hot and rising, and being replaced by the cold air from the Poles which rushes in; besides this there are other winds which blow half the year, called monsoons, these are due to very much the same causes. The North-East monsoon comes in the northern winter; the air from the North Pole coming down slowly is met by the earth as she turns, and as she rushes into it she makes it a north-eastern wind; this, coming over the land from the north, is a dry wind, while the other one, the South-Western monsoon, coming from the south over the ocean in the other half of the year, is a wet wind and brings the rain which is such a boon to India.
The lightning is continually playing, and I shouldn't be surprised if we are on the edge of a cyclone, but with a big ship like this, and a captain who knows his business, there is nothing to be afraid of. These cyclones, which are called typhoons in the China seas, are curious storms which twist round and round in a circle, all the time progressing onward too, and the danger is in getting into the middle of one, for there, as you may imagine, the wind comes from all quarters at once, and the waves are piled up on all sides like huge overhanging pyramids. I've never been in the middle of one, I'm thankful to say, but those who have, and have escaped with their lives, say that the ship is buffeted as if by mighty billows which smack down upon her from all directions. Sometimes there is seen a space of blue sky, and there is a great calm, but this to the commander is the most ominous sign of all, for he knows he must be in the centre funnel of the storm, so to speak, and that it will be worse for him directly!
We had better go to bed, there's nothing else to do.
Are you awake? Yes, I thought even you could hardly sleep through that! What a smack! It sounds as if the heavens had opened and a water-spout had descended on deck! What a roar! Can you hear me? All right, come in here beside me if you like, but there is precious little room. It seems as if every noise on the ocean had been let loose. The rain must be simply one great volume of water, and the thunder——Even through our port-hole the cabin is as light as day with the lightning; it is just two o'clock in the morning. The thunder seems to come absolutely instantaneously with the lightning; we must be right in it! I never heard such crashes. One minute our heads are down below our feet and the next we are almost standing on end. Hang on! We shall probably get through all right, this noise doesn't mean anything very bad. But I thank my stars I'm not an officer on the bridge. How they ever manage to keep on their feet I don't know, much less how they give directions. One man told me that he was once in such a sea that when he was pitched off his feet into one end of the bridge he hadn't time to recover himself before the same pitch came again and sent him down just as he was trying to get up! At any time the life at sea is hard, but doubly so in a storm like this! Hour after hour it goes on. I don't suppose anyone has slept through this, and many must be feeling very ill. We are lucky to be spared that!
Next morning, though the lightning had ceased, the wind is terrific, it goes screeching past, and the rain comes down in buckets; with great difficulty we get into our clothes and scramble up to the smoking-room. It is a miserable day and very few of the passengers appear, but by the afternoon the worst is over, and we can get out into our alcove. We are still labouring heavily in a blue-black sea, and can see a very little way as we are surrounded by mountains of water. Hurrah! There is a cleft over in the east, which means the storm is breaking. Our captain knows the law of cyclones and has judged rightly which way to turn to get out of the track of the storm. We have passed through a corner of it, and though we have got out of our course, that won't mean much delay. Anyway, you've had an experience very few people have had, for there are few indeed of all the thousands who go to India who have ever been in the tail of a cyclone! It is most unusual, but in these seas one never knows what will happen.
A TROPICAL THUNDERSTORM
We have really arrived in the East! We are in Colombo, the capital town of Ceylon, the great island which lies swung like a pendant from the southernmost point of India. We are sitting in the shady verandah of one of the largest hotels, the Grand Oriental, called G.O.H. for short, and as we sip lemon-squash we look out over a scene so full of interest that it is difficult to take it all in. This is quite different from Port Said. There it was bright and clear, but there was not the wonderful smell and sense of being the East that we have here. The air is full of scent, a kind of spicy smell mingled with a touch of wood-smoke, and there is a balminess in it that we have never felt till now. The water in the harbour is a glorious emerald green, and small boys, almost naked, play about on roughly shaped log canoes called catamarans. They used to dive for pennies, but the sharks lopped off a leg here and an arm there and swallowed one up whole now and again, and so the Government forbade it. The dark wooden wharf forms a frame for gay figures in pure pinks and greens and yellows, and on the roads there run past continually the funniest sturdy little men with their loin-cloths tucked up, pulling light-looking chairs on high wheels with people in them. These chairs are called rickshaws and are the chief way of getting about. Very comfortable they are too, and quite cheap; we will go in them presently. The men who pull them have funny chignons of frizzy black hair sticking out under their little red caps, and it would be easy to mistake them for women. That attendant from the hotel at your elbow is asking you if you'll take another lemon-squash; he is quite a different sort of man from the runners, isn't he? Much taller and with a mild expression; his straight hair is adorned by a curved tortoise-shell comb of considerable size; he wears it round the back of his head, and how he makes it stay on among his very scanty locks is a miracle. His flowing white garments are immaculately clean, and he doesn't look as if he could kill a mosquito! He is a Cingalee, and the little men who run in the rickshaws are Tamils; these races live side by side in Ceylon, though there are many more Cingalese than Tamils. They are quite distinct, though they both originally came over from India, and in the old days when the Cingalese gave a line of kings to the island they were always fighting the Tamils; to-day both live together peacefully under British rule.
This place is a positive bazaar! There is a deep, crafty old merchant sitting like a spider over his pile of sheeny silks in the corner—he hopes to get good prices from the unwary tourist; there is another with a stall of beautiful brass and copper hand-worked things, and others with jewellery and carved ivory. But more interesting than any is the snake-charmer, who has just squatted down in front of us, prepared to give us an entertainment.
That is a cobra he takes out; you know it by its large, flat head. It seems sleepy and stupid, but its bite is deadly. It is possible, of course, that he has abstracted the poison-fangs which make its bite fatal, but even without them I shouldn't care to handle it. It is a huge beast, seven or eight feet long I should guess. See how he teases it; he is making it rise up on its coils and swing this way and that, darting its forked tongue out at him, and yet all the time it fears him. He has a marvellous power over it; its narrow, wicked light eyes are fixed on his face; it never looks away. Now he begins to play to it on a little flute; it is dancing, swaying its lean unlovely body to and fro and up and down in time with the tune. He puts down his pipe and makes a motion to it as if he were mesmerising it, passing his hands this way and that, until it comes to him and puts its flat head on his shoulder, nozzling into his neck. It makes one shudder to see it! It coils round his body again and again; he is enveloped in the coils. I should not care for that profession! It is not every man that can do it, only some of the natives have a gift for it, and they really have a power over snakes, even those in a wild state, for they make them come forth out of holes when called and remain passive at their feet. This man deserves a good tip. Bakshish they call it here too; that word accompanies you round the world!
I think we'll go for a jaunt, if you're ready, as the light falls quickly here. There is no difficulty in getting two rickshaws, and how they spin along. They say the men who drag them don't live many years, as the constant running wears them out, but they look healthy enough and show no more exhaustion after running than a horse does after trotting. Each one has twisted up his dhoti, as the white skirts they wear are called, showing his bare brown legs; the upper garment is simply a European cotton vest. We spin along the bright red road by the sea, seeing the long lines of foam breaking gently on the beach, and then turn into shady roads where trees with brilliant yellow leaves light the wayside. Then we pass through a native village with huts of thatch, while plantains, which at home we call bananas, grow on broad-leaved plants by each door. There is dust enough here, and mangy-looking pariah dogs, and cocks and hens, and multitudes of bright beady-eyed children with hardly any clothing on. There is plenty of foliage and greenery and a freshness and richness of colouring that is much better than the grey leafless harshness of an Egyptian village, for this land gets plenty of rain. Everyone seems good-humoured and happy, and the children look fat enough; some of them are very black, with woolly heads, of a different type from the others. These are the children of a race called Moormen.
When we get down near the hotel I want you to come into this jeweller's shop in the arcade; you'll see a strange sight. A crowd of tourists are sitting round a table which is covered with little heaps of shining stones, unset and piled on squares of white paper; some are brilliant blue, others flashing crimson, others sombre in hue, but showing a glitter of living light whichever way you turn them. The odd thing is that the visitors are handling them and turning them over, and examining them quite freely, while the owner, a wizened old man in horn spectacles, hardly watches!
"They're not real?"
Indeed they are! Rubies, star-sapphires, opals, and many another precious stone. That native owner has a queer faith in the honesty of his customers! Long may it last!
We are only in Colombo for one night, and to-morrow we are going up-country to stay with a friend of mine, a tea-planter.
As we are undressing you give a sudden start, "What's that?" Only a lizard scuttling over the dark-washed bedroom wall, first cousin to the chameleon you saw at Abu Simbel. He is quite harmless and lives on flies. He runs like a little shadow across the wall and sometimes he loses his balance and comes down thump on the floor, or breaks his fall on the mosquito curtains. He is one of the signs that we really are in the East; here is another. Listen for a moment at the window. There is a distant barking of dogs, a far-away crow from a defiant cock, a strange murmurous chant of men, weird cries intermingled, and now and then the deep beat of a parchment drum. The people of the land are all awake and stirring though it is late—the East never really sleeps as profoundly as does the West; there is a restlessness in the blood that stirs too much, and a pulsating warmth in the air that does not allow of deep slumber; it is the restlessness of the jungle translated into town life.
Next day at the station we find that the porters, though dressed in neat blue suits, have pronounced chignons of the same type as their brothers who draw the rickshaws, and in spite of their European-cut coats and trousers they run about with bare feet! We might make a museum of the strange porters we see on our wanderings, collecting a specimen from each country!
The train is comfortable enough and there is a luncheon-car, so we shan't starve this time; besides, the journey to Kandy is only a few hours. There I hope we shall be met, as I haven't the least idea whereabouts my friend, Mr. Hunter's, tea-plantation is; however, I sent him a wire yesterday directly we arrived to say we would come by this train, so he is sure to be there.
The line for the greater part of the way is laid on a terrace or shelf cut out of a hillside, and it winds along climbing ever up with a towering wall on one side and a precipice on the other. The little stations have hardly room to wedge in, but they are very gay with flowers—indeed the whole line is, for great yellow daisies and the terra-cotta blossoms of a pretty creeper called lantana climb everywhere. As we get higher and higher we can look down and see the country spread out before us like a map; it is cut up into neat little fields and would be like a draught-board except that the fields are often on different levels one above the other, made on land cut out from the hillsides. These people grow rice, which is to them what maize is to the Egyptian. In the fields, before it has been threshed, it is known as paddy. They live on rice and very little else, and seem to thrive on it. Rice pudding if repeated every day for a month at both breakfast and dinner would grow monotonous, but the man of the East does not find it so. His rice is not cooked with milk but with water, and is eaten with a little curry made of fish or vegetables to give it flavour.
Higher yet, and soon we see the hills laid out with rows of a tiny dark-green bush, planted as neatly as rows of turnips; this is the tea for which Ceylon is famous, and we shall get a nearer look at it presently. That and rubber are the staple crops that Englishmen come out here to raise, but they also grow coffee and other things too.
When we arrive at Kandy there is no sign of anything to meet us and no white man on the platform, so I make inquiries of the stationmaster, who is a Eurasian, which means that he has some white blood in his veins. He knows Mr. and Mrs. Hunter perfectly well, he says, though he has not seen them for a day or two. If, as I say, I wired, they are certain to send in a trap to meet us; but it may have been delayed or still be in the town. If we care to go up and look round, and come back again, he will meantime make inquiries. With many thanks we take his advice. The town is quite near and we find the main part of it built around a pretty little lake near which is the famous Temple of the Tooth. This is a massive building visited by thousands of pilgrims, because it enshrines a relic of great sanctity, nothing less than the tooth of Buddha! What Mohammed is to the Mohammedans so Buddha is to the Buddhists, among whom the greater part of the people of Ceylon may be counted. But Buddha is more than a prophet; his followers say that he has appeared on earth many times, and that the last time he came in the form of an Indian prince who, instead of living in careless luxury, left his home and wandered forth among the people to discover the meaning of life. When he found it, after deep meditation, he left certain precepts and rules to his followers. Some of them are very good, resembling our own Commandments: "Thou shalt not kill," "Thou shalt not lie," "Thou shalt not steal," "Thou shalt not drink intoxicating liquor." But, unlike the Mohammedans, the Buddhists do not believe in God. Their idea of blissful happiness at the last is to melt away into a kind of nothingness of perfect peace, with no desires, no worries, and no cares.
All over the East you find temples which are supposed to contain some part of Buddha's person, hairs, teeth, even a collar-bone! Of course it is impossible that these things should be genuine, and in any case, if they were, there is nothing sacred about them. The worshippers always say they do not look upon Buddha as a god, but only a great spiritual teacher, yet the poor and ignorant come and worship and bow down in these temples, and there is no doubt that to them the image itself stands for a god. The tooth which is here is kept in many caskets, one within the other, and it is never shown except on very great occasions. Mr. Hunter saw it once, and says it is not a human tooth at all, but a great thing like a boar's tusk or possibly an elephant's tooth. He couldn't get a good look at it, anyway he saw enough to be quite sure that it is not human at all, and the same may be said without doubt of all similar relics.
What a lovely scene! The graceful dark-skinned crowd in their softly flowing garments of the purest pinks you ever saw, with sulphur yellow and rich red draperies thrown over them, are idling by the hoary grey steps of the temple and dropping bits of bread into the ponds in front. They are feeding the tortoises, fat lazy beasts who will hardly move to snap at the fragments unless they fall before their very noses. These beasts are supposed to be sacred too, and so they have an uncommonly good time of it. This massive building, temple and palace in one, was inhabited by the old line of native kings who made Kandy their capital.
We must get back to the station or we may miss Mr. Hunter. When we arrive there we find there is no sign of him, whereat the attentive stationmaster is greatly distressed. He advises us to hire a trap and drive to some place with an unpronounceable name, where Mr. Hunter is sure to meet us; visitors often do that, he says. I try to discover why we can't drive all the way, but his answers are not enlightening; "big hill," he replies, and I don't see why the trap can't go up a hill! However, we shall see. He engages a trap for us, anyway; with a scarecrow horse and a friendly looking driver whose hairy legs protrude from wrappings of cinnamon-coloured cloth—once white, I suppose—and we are off. The roads at first are very good; and there is none of the dust we suffered from so much in Egypt, for Ceylon is a moist land. In fact, it looks rather like rain now, with heavy clouds gathering up.
After going at a slow trot for a considerable distance the driver pulls up, and pointing with his whip to a tree-covered mountain says something unintelligible, which turns out to be "'Unter Tuan," after he has repeated it about six times. This means Mr. Hunter, "Tuan" being the same term of respect here that "Sahib" is in India.
There is no sign of a house or any living being; the place is absolutely deserted. In vain I sign to the man to go ahead; he shakes his head and remains seated on his box like an image of despair. I get out and see that the road runs away to nothing in the bushes and scrub in front, it just ends suddenly for no apparent reason, and while I am looking I hear a slight crackling in the bushes, and a tall, thin, very dirty-looking youth appears and salaams respectfully. The driver immediately begins to converse with him, whereupon the youth takes our bag unceremoniously out of the carriage and putting it on his head beckons to us to follow him. There is nothing else for it, so, after paying the driver, we do so, feeling like two infants in charge of this fellow.
I try the lean lad in English, asking him if he knows Hunter Tuan's place, but he swings round, looks at me gravely, and continues his graceful, elastic walk.
It is pretty warm, and the path is narrow and lined by thorn bushes, so the going is not easy; but the youth seems to float on ahead with mysterious ease, and we pant after him feeling as if our lives depended on not losing sight of him. At last the bushes get so thick that we have to push our way through, and we suddenly see him a good distance ahead, half-way across a broad and shallow river which bubbles round his knees.
"Hi!" we shout after him. "Stop!" And he turns, but only to beckon imperturbably and continue evenly on his way. It is evidently the custom of this country to walk through rivers when you meet them! Easy enough for the inhabitants, who are not encumbered with shoes and stockings, but for us....
Down we go and are soon hard after him with our boots slung round our necks and our stockings stuffed into them; the cool water splashing round our legs is rather pleasant. Lucky it is not deep. We have to stop and re-clothe on the other side. Here our coolie has condescended to wait for us, and just as you are about to sit down on a convenient hillock of bare brown earth he waves you away, and you see that big red ants with a most fierce and warlike appearance are running about it; it is their home and fortress! Once more booted we struggle on, uphill now, on a stony path, and very stiff work it is. When we tell our guide to stop for a moment he looks at us condescendingly and stands with his burden poised on his head, not even caring to put it down as he waits until these poor creatures, who are not carrying anything at all, regain their breath, and that makes us feel so inferior we don't like to stop often! The clouds gather and blacken, the perspiration is running down my back, and I am as wet as if I had waded through the river up to my neck. I should be glad to see the house, for we have been scrambling upwards for quite an hour now. What a place to live in! Fancy having to come down here every time you wanted to do a little shopping!
Another hour at least! A few drops, muttering thunder, and then, quicker than one can say it, a blinding, crashing downpour. Never in my life have I seen rain like this until that night at sea when we passed through the edge of the cyclone, and now twice have I met it in a week! It is simply a water-spout. A brilliant flash of lightning shows us the youth crouching under a bank some yards ahead, and we dive into the nearest place, following his example. Luckily the bank is high here and there is a kind of cave beneath a mass of broad-leaved plants; there is just room for the two of us huddled close together, and the wall of water sweeps past the entrance like a curtain. The rain makes a deafening noise, it literally crashes down; the path is a mountain torrent; if we had stayed there we should have been swept off our feet; it seems as if the whole mountain-side must go. We hang on to each other, avoiding the trickles as best we can. Hullo! this plant is a cardamom, carrying little seeds rather like spicy pepper; nibble one, it may keep off the effects of the wetting we have been unable to avoid altogether. How cold it seems to have grown all of a sudden! Is it the rain, or because we are so much higher up? I suppose really it is the latter, because I remember now that the planters always live on the tops of hills to get the fresh air, which is more healthy there than in the stifling valleys.
It is a long time before the storm passes, and when at last it dies down to a few drops and we emerge and shake ourselves, all trace of the coolie boy has vanished! Yes, it is true! He has gone, and the bag too! Well, he must have gone upward or we should have seen him pass, so let us hope he is honest and has taken the bag to the house. There is only one path, so we can do nothing but follow.
On we climb again, and presently the scene changes; we have got into the tea-scrub, and wander among rows of bushes about the size of gooseberry bushes, receiving deluges of cold water against our legs. The path zigzags this way and that, rising each time so that we can look back and see it lying below us in fold after fold. At last! There is an opening! I see a glimpse of green lawn and some poinsettias! This must be the place! Yes, I can see the bungalow, and here is a mackintosh-clad figure hastening down the path to greet us.
"My dear fellow! However did you get here? Why on earth didn't you let us know? We'd have sent to meet you!"
As we grasp hands I explain about the telegram. "Oh, then I shall get it with the letters to-morrow morning!" he says lightly. "No matter, so long as you are here and safe. I was afraid you had got lost upon the mountain-top, and was setting forth to seek you."
"But how did you know?"
"Your coolie arrived with the bag a quarter of an hour ago, and your name is written on the label very large and clear. Delighted to see you! The missus is romping round getting your beds aired and pinning up curtains in your honour!"
A SACRED TREE
Do you remember that just about this time last week we were crouching in a hole in a muddy bank waiting for the thunderstorm to pass on? How different now, though we are still in Ceylon and, as crow flies, not so many miles from the Hunters' mountain-side. It is a gorgeous tropical afternoon, the bits of sky we can see through the feathery-leaved trees are of the deepest blue, and we are resting, because it seems too hot to move a limb. In front of us there stretches a sheet of limpid water which might be a lake except that it is surrounded by a raised bund, or bank, artificially made, with hewn granite slabs as steps going down at one end. We are glad of the shade of the trees falling across the short turfy grass, and we are seated on some broken blocks of granite, keeping a sharp look out for snakes. They will hardly be likely to trouble us here, but in that jungly bit behind it wouldn't be at all safe to rest like this. Even to sit on the short grass might be unpleasant, as there are all sorts of unknown insects here which bite and sting and stab, but we are safely raised on stones and are wearing thick boots. Examine that slab of granite there beside you; do you see that it has a most wonderfully carved snake upon it—a cobra with seven heads? It is so clear-cut it might have been done yesterday, yet it is part of the ruins of a mighty city, a city as large as London, which once stretched its busy streets over this quiet glade. The cobra was a sacred beast to the Hindus, and a seven-headed one was peculiarly so, seven being a mystic number.
What a glorious butterfly! Its body is as big as a small bird, and its great velvety wings are the sharpest black and white. No, I don't for a moment suppose you'll catch it, so it is no use getting hot! I'm glad you can't, for we have no proper apparatus here, and it would only be a crushed mass to take home. Don't go headlong into the tank, though, in your frantic efforts; it might be awkward. No, I don't think there are any crocodiles, only a few sacred tortoises perhaps. Look! there is a tiny one—that small yellow thing that is walking away with the melancholy dignity of a retired general. Pick it up if you like certainly, see it wag its head and legs helplessly. I wish we could take it home. As you replace it, it continues its grave walk in the same direction as if it had never been rudely interrupted. At that instant a hare darts across an open glade and disappears in the thick undergrowth. What a country! AEsop's Fables in real life, where hares and tortoises live together!
"Was this city here at the same time as Rameses II. was living?"
No. Egypt was past its best days before this city, which was called Anuradhapura (Anarajapura), was built, and you must remember Rameses II. was by no means one of the earliest kings of Egypt, he came quite late on in his country's history. His date was about thirteen hundred years before Christ, and it must have been about eight hundred years after that, though still you notice, 500 B.C., that this city was founded by some Cingalese who are supposed to have come over from India. That makes it between two thousand and three thousand years old, which we should think ancient enough if we hadn't visited Egypt first. Anuradhapura flourished for centuries as the capital of the Cingalese kings, who often carried on savage battles with the Tamils when they came over from India also.
Turn round now and examine that hill you wanted to climb a little while ago and tell me if you can see anything peculiar about it. No, I don't mean that large grey monkey who has just peeped at us in an impudent way and then swung himself into hiding, though I admit he is very interesting. I mean something odd about the hill itself. It is covered with trees and jungle scrub certainly, as any ordinary hill might be, but it is oddly steep and the sides rise very sharply from the ground. It is an even shape too, more like an inverted bowl than a hill; or, better still, just try to imagine some giant cutting off the dome of St. Paul's and setting it down here in the jungle, wouldn't it look something like that?
You don't quite agree, for you say that this has trees and bushes growing on it and St. Paul's dome would be bare. That is so, but if St. Paul's dome had been left for many hundreds of years in a country where vegetation grows as fast as it does here, wouldn't it probably be grown over too?
Yes, I do mean it. That isn't a hill at all, but a huge brick building called a dagoba, made by the same race of men who dug out this tank, and whose descendants to-day, with tortoise-shell combs in their hair, wait on us in the Colombo hotels.
We will go back now to the place where we left that native cart and driver and we'll find a dagoba which has been stripped of its trees, so that we can see what it really looks like.
Hush! Do you hear that curious singing like a chant? Wait; there is a procession of pilgrims. They come swinging round the corner of the road in their picturesque flowing garments, and just at the turn they stop and kneel with their hands held palms together before their faces, and they bow repeatedly before marching on again. Let us go and find out what it was that stopped them. We soon come to it and find that it is the seated figure of a man with one hand falling over his knee and the other on his lap, while his legs are crossed tailor-wise. It is painted white and it is not very much larger than life. This is Buddha, of whom you heard in Kandy, and all over here, and in Burma, and in a less degree in India, you will find images of him set up to remind his followers of the precepts he left for them to follow.
Our driver is dead asleep under a tree, but we manage to wake him and soon we are rattling along a tree-shaded road in the queer little cart to Ruanveli, the best known of all the dagobas. When we arrive in full view of it we dismiss the driver and climb on to a slab of stone that is raised from the ground and tilted slightly like a table with two legs higher than the others. Here we can gaze upon this extraordinary monument which rises about one hundred and fifty feet into the air, and is about two and a half times as much across, just the shape of a pudding basin, you see. It is not a temple, not even a tomb, as the Pyramids are, but a solid block built of millions and millions of bricks with a tiny chamber inside containing an infinitely precious relic, nothing less than a few of Buddha's hairs. So they say! Only the priests were allowed to go into this sacred chamber, with the exception of one king, who had this priceless privilege granted to him. It is not very many years since mighty monuments were rediscovered, because the jungle had grown up all around them and no one knew even where Anuradhapura had stood; but now there are men who spend their whole time uncovering and preserving them, just as many men are working at the excavations in Egypt; and the trees and overgrowth have been stripped from Ruanveli, which stands forth sharp and clear-cut against this beautiful sky.
Men are very much alike all the world over! This great dagoba was put up by one of the Cingalese kings, Dutugemunu, to celebrate his great victory over the Tamils, just as Rameses II. put up the inimitable temple of Abu Simbel to celebrate his victory over the Syrians. Before Dutugemunu came to the throne the Tamils had usurped all power and made one of their own men, called Elala, king, and the young prince, exiled from his capital city, met them in battle outside the walls. He fought with great bravery, and in the end the issue of the day was decided by a single combat between him and Elala, both mounted on huge elephants. That must have been a fight indeed! Dutugemunu killed Elala and regained the throne of his fathers, but he must have been a singularly enlightened prince for his age, for he not only buried his fallen foe with great honour but he gave orders that henceforth all music should cease when bands were marching past his tomb, and that royalties were to alight from their horses or palanquins and walk past on foot to do honour to the mighty dead. Even in the nineteenth century one of the princes from Kandy, who was flying from capture, obeyed the order and would not allow himself to be carried past the spot! So the memory of Elala and the great fight he made were kept alive as Dutugemunu had intended they should be.
On this very slab where we are now sitting it is said that Dutugemunu died. If not the actual stone, it is probably the spot. It was about 140 B.C., and when he knew he was dying he gave orders that he should be carried out here, that his fast failing eyes might look their last on the greatest monument of his reign. In the midst of his great city, with its fine buildings and the great tanks he had caused to be made to give the people water, he thought most of all of Ruanveli, partly because of the sacred relic enclosed, but partly also because he had done a wonderful thing in paying for all the labour that was used in its building, instead of forcing his subjects to work for nothing, as was the custom in his time.
There is much to examine in Ruanveli; we can see the casing of granite running up the sides, we can examine a statue of the king himself and many wonderful carvings; around the dagoba runs a magnificent granite platform wide enough for six elephants to walk abreast, as no doubt they did many times in the gay processions on festival days.
Behind the dagoba, not far off, is an immense lake, or tank, much larger than that we saw this morning. It was considered a peculiar work of merit for kings to make these tanks so that water could be stored up for the use of the people, and they are found all over Ceylon; there is one twenty miles in length!
The sun has fallen low by the time we pass on to the Brazen Palace. At first, when we near it, we see merely a forest of columns with nothing brazen about them; they are not very high, about twice the height of a man perhaps, and they are set in rows very near together. Altogether there are one thousand six hundred of them! There is no roof now, but in the days of its glory this great house, which was built for the priest, had nine, and was finished by a sheet of burnished copper which caught the sun's rays and flashed far and wide beneath the clear blue sky. The walls were decorated with glittering stones and the fittings were of the most costly and beautiful kind. The wonder is how the priests found room to walk about between those multitudinous columns which so filled the space in their halls.
One more sight in this city of ancient glory. Do you see across that park-like space of short grass some fires glimmering weirdly in the dusk which has now fallen round the most sacred object in Anuradhapura; I won't say what it is. Come nearer. A heavy scent, like that of tuberoses, greets us as we approach; it comes from the white waxy blossoms of the frangipani lying in that cardboard saucer with all the heads put outwards like the spokes of a wheel. In the centre is a pink blossom. Those flowers are sold as offerings in this sacred place. Don't stumble over that dark bundle, it is a sleeping child. Step cautiously between the bright-eyed people who watch, furtively alert, like shy woodland creatures, as they crouch low over their fires, for the evening has suddenly become chilly with the loss of the sun. These are pilgrims come from afar, and they will lie down to sleep just as they are in the open. There are very few at this time of the year; but in June and July, which are the principal months, thousands and thousands arrive here, having crossed weary leagues to come. It is strange how the world is linked up by its pilgrimages. We saw the pilgrims in the Holy Land coming from afar to the Christian shrines, humble and devout, believing all that was told them and carrying out in their poor lives much of Christ's teaching; we saw them in crowded and uncomfortable ships journeying from Mecca, the shrine of Mohammedanism; and now we see them here reverently drawn to the only sacred place they know, there to pray to something unseen and unknown, that they may be helped by a power stronger than themselves. In all ages and all races man yearns for a god, and if he knows not God he still worships dimly any strange god he hears of.
We cross some brick pavement, and climb up a few worn steps on to a platform surrounded by a railing. Out of the middle of it there grows a gnarled and ancient tree with crooked boughs splitting asunder with hardly any leaves on them.
Now do you see?
You only see monkeys looking like little black demons against the afterglow still lingering in the sky as they leap from the tall palm trees near, but this tree is not a palm.
Suddenly a leaf, shaped like that of a poplar, but much larger, floats down, and in an instant a slight dark figure, tied up in a bundle of loose clothes, falls upon it, and holding it between the palms of the hands bows again and again. That leaf is a precious relic, for this is the sacred Bo tree, said to be at least two thousand years old!
After the Cingalese had come over from India and settled here, a monk came and converted them to Buddhism; he was followed by his sister, a princess, as he was a prince, and she brought with her, so it is said, a branch of the actual tree under which Buddha sat when he considered all the problems of life and found an answer to them, which he left to his people. This branch, being planted, became a tree itself. So the story goes; and that there has been a tree here worshipped for untold ages is true, and if that is so, whatever its origin, this also to us is a sacred spot, hallowed by the thousands of poor souls who, knowing not the light, yet have come here with yearnings towards the light and to the "unknown god."
After dinner we wander out again into the tree-shaded road near, and a sight of extraordinary splendour startles us. Every tree is brilliantly illuminated as if by a million points of electric light. You have seen an arc-light which seems to scintillate rays? These lights might be very tiny arc-lights, for each one vibrates in the intensity of its luminousness. We can see the outlines of the trees clearly. It is a wonderful evening for fire-flies. No one knows why on some nights they appear like this in countless thousands, and on other nights, apparently the same, there is not one to be seen. It looks almost as if they had parties and agreed to do their best on certain occasions. They have evidently done their best for us to-night, for the other people following us out of the hotel, who have been here longer than us, are entranced.
"Never saw anything like it, not even in the West Indies," says one man.
"Puts a Christmas tree in the shade," remarks another.
Catch one, he doesn't burn; don't grab him so as to hurt him, just take him gently; that is right; bring him into the light and open your hand a little. You see he is a flat, greenish beetle, with head set on a funny hinge so that he could nod it violently if he liked. Half shut your hand and turn away from the light; now you see two round green eyes glowing like emeralds. He doesn't seem embarrassed by all this attention, but you might let him go back to his party!
When we have let him go we will walk down the avenue of living light, where is one thing more to see to-night. It is only ten minutes' walk and as we near it it gleams in the dim light of the brilliant stars, a ghostly white object. As our eyes grow accustomed to the light we see a building like a snow-white bell. It is small compared with the gigantic dagobas we have examined already to-day, for the very tip of the pinnacle, rising above the bell-shaped part, is only sixty-three feet, but it is very graceful and is considered the most sacred of all the dagobas, for it was built to enshrine Buddha's collar-bone!
We haven't seen the half of Anuradhapura yet, and there are numbers of other ancient cities in Ceylon to explore, to say nothing of rock-temples with strange paintings and carvings; but we mustn't be here too long or we shan't get through India and Burma before the hot weather comes, which no European can endure.
The white coating of this dagoba is a stuff called chunam, a kind of lime. It is startlingly white and looks beautiful at night, but otherwise it is just a sort of whitewash, clean enough but not particularly attractive. There are numbers of the same square-cut granite columns that we saw at the Brazen Temple falling about near the dagoba, some this way and some that. A good place for snakes, that is why we came round by the road and walked so carefully.
Hullo! There is one! Keep still! Did you see him wriggle across among the interlacing shadows of the trees? A large one too! Thank goodness he has gone harmlessly! I wonder what sort he was? We ought not to have come out, let us get back as quickly as we can.
India at last!
We have come up the west coast from Ceylon and are now approaching Bombay. It is night-time, and far ahead we see a great yellow light which appears and disappears, and is visible for twenty miles out at sea. It seems to blink at us in greeting, peeping every few seconds to see if we are still there. Then at last we ride into the harbour, and such a harbour! We cannot see it now at all, and even if it were daylight we couldn't see more than a very small part of it, for it is fifteen miles one way by four or five the other, and a harbour that size cannot be taken in at one glance.
We have to sleep on board, for there are some formalities to be observed before we go ashore. There is our heavy baggage to get out of the hold, for instance, and to pass through the Customs. That can wait until to-morrow.
Our first impression of Bombay is therefore a city of lights. There are lights sprinkled about anyhow and anywhere; some in chains, some separate, some low, and some apparently slung high up in mid-air. These are on the hill above the town, which itself stands on an island.
The very first incident we notice is a ludicrous one, and I am sure we shan't forget it. A rather stout Englishman who is landing to-night steps on to the launch, and in an instant is garlanded with marigolds hung in wreaths round his neck. A crowd of native friends surrounds him. Some are in European dress, and talk a queer sort of English very fast and fluently, as if it were being pumped out of their mouths by the yard; others wear the flowing drapery of the East. Many of them carry bunches of flowers, which look more like balls, because the native habit is to strip off every atom of leaf and then pack the blossoms with all their heads together as tight as they will go. Many such balls are being pressed upon the embarrassed Englishman, and the scent of crushed marigolds fills the air. This is all by way of welcome, and it is evident that the newcomer is a prime favourite with the people. He looks sheepish, but his round rosy face rises good-humouredly above the absurd garlands.
Next morning we are up in good time, and as soon as ever we get our baggage clear of the Customs we go sight-seeing. In our nostrils is the subtle scent of India; it has something of dust in it, but is not chiefly dust, as in Egypt; there is a waft of wood-smoke, and a strong flavour of mixed spices, and some hint of sweet flowers, and many other things not so agreeable. It is a blend that any Anglo-Indian knows, and if he smelt it suddenly when he was thousands of miles away, with the daisied grass beneath his feet, and the swallows wheeling overhead, it would carry him back with a jump to a land of dark faces and burning sun and red dust, and all the vivid sights of the East.
We are not starting on our great journey across India until the evening, so we can wander at will through the broad clean streets, looking into the magnificent shops that might be in any European town, and then we can plunge into the native part, where we find narrow, busy bazaars that might belong to the Arabian Nights.
Bombay was one of the first bits of India to belong to the English. The Portuguese held it before then, and gave it to our nation as part of the dower of Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese princess who married Charles II. You know the old saying, "trade follows the flag," and it certainly did in Bombay, for the East India Company rented the city from the king at L10 a year. The Company pushed forward all over the rest of India year by year, and it was through their steady and persistent advance in the country that the British finally occupied India—so later on the saying was reversed, and "the flag followed trade," as it more often does. But you know that story, every British boy does, the story of Clive and Hastings, and later on of the Mutiny; it is a part of English history and one of the most thrilling parts too.
Bombay is a city of trade; her immense docks receive ships of all sizes, her wharves are laden with the produce of the world, her wide streets are open to traffic of all descriptions, her public buildings are splendid, her clubs and hotels palatial. Her merchants prosper and grow rich, and build for themselves houses on Malabar Hill, the long ridge above the town, which catches the sea-breezes. At one time that ridge was looked upon as sacred to Europeans, but now the wealthy natives settle there, and there is not room for all the poorer Europeans, who have to be content with lower levels.
Stand still for a moment in this street, and look around. Here comes a motor-car, and in it lolls a hugely fat man with a yellow skin, and that crafty insolent look which marks the successful native trader; his thick neck rolls in creases above his purple brocade coat. But they are not all like this; some are thoughtful men who have given lakhs of rupees for the public good.
What a contrast! Here is one of the poorest of the poor. A bullock-cart comes along, drawn by two lean animals with their ribs sticking out. A heavy yoke passes across their necks, but otherwise they have not a scrap of harness on them. That lean man huddled up on the pole between them, clad in a few yards of rag, prods them with a pointed stick when he wants them to go this way and that. He dares not now twist their tails till he breaks them, or keep open running sores so that he may prick them in a sensitive part, as he would have done at one time, for if he did the police would be down on him.
On the side-walk there is a lady, yes, it is a lady—in very baggy green and gold trousers, with gold anklets tinkling as she walks. Her head and face are swathed in a "sari" or shawl of shot gold and purple, which only allows her heavy black eyes to appear above its folds. The street is alive with men in white; some wear long white coats buttoned down over the kind of white petticoat called a dhoti, others have the curious habit of wearing their shirts outside their trousers like a kilt, but you soon get used to this, and cease to notice it. That fellow in a tall extinguisher cap made of lamb's wool is a Persian.
In the midst of all this queer crowd, which looks like a fancy-dress ball let loose in broad daylight, run the curving steel tram-lines. There are shades of every complexion to be seen. That very fresh, pink-faced lady, who has just gone dashing by in her smart "tum-tum" or pony-cart, is at one end of the scale—she is probably newly out from home,—and that ebony-black native woman of so low a caste that she goes uncovered in the public street is at the other, but even she, poor thing, cares enough about her personal appearance to wear a gold ring through one of her nostrils!
Now we can see the long outline of Malabar Hill quite clearly, and below all its trees and gardens and the great houses rising among them, but at one part, the highest, the hill is kept for other uses. Look up into the clear blue sky overhead, do you see a black speck? Not got it yet? Wait a moment and try again. There! That is right, and there is another and another; you can't help seeing them now. Their flight is the slow heavy flight of clumsy birds. What do you suppose they are? Vultures. They live, as you know, on carrion, which is dead flesh, and the vultures of Bombay are peculiarly favoured, for they banquet on human bodies.
In this district there are a large number of Parsees or fire-worshippers, and these people have their peculiar ceremonies. Under the British Crown every man is free to carry out his own religion in his own way; persecution is unknown. The Parsees have their cemetery on the top of that high hill; it is a beautiful place, laid out in gardens, and reached by flights of steps. Only at one end are five grim towers shut in by a wall and called the Towers of Silence. Their parapets are high, and none may climb to the top except certain men set apart and dedicated for this terrible work. When a Parsee dies, his body is borne reverently and with care to the gardens on the hill, but instead of burying it in the earth, these men take it up the winding stairs of one of the towers and lay it on the roof, and then retire. The vultures do the rest! No human being has ever seen that dread spectacle, for when the men come back again about a fortnight later there are only the clean bleached bones of the skeleton to take away and lay in quicklime to be absorbed.
So the vultures hover over Bombay and sit like great images around the parapets on the Towers of Silence, knowing that they will never lack a meal!
* * * * *
We have seen many and bewildering things in this great city, and when at last we arrive at the station between five and six in the evening, for our first journey across this vast land, we are glad to rest. We engaged our places directly we arrived, for here, where a journey takes often nights and days, it is no use wandering in casually a few minutes before the train starts. We also engaged the whole of a compartment to ourselves, as we want a good night's sleep. It has been cleaned and prepared, and looks very comfortable when we come to claim it. There are two seats running lengthwise, the opposite way to that which they do in an English train. Above them are two more which can be let down as bunks if required, so that the carriage can accommodate four, but as we have paid extra to get it to ourselves we ought not to be disturbed.
By the way, you haven't seen any Indian money yet. This is a rupee, a large and substantial coin you see, about as big as a two-shilling piece, but it is only worth one and fourpence; fifteen of them go to the pound. An anna is a penny, and that little coin like a threepenny bit is a two-anna bit.
We have had to hire a native boy to travel with us and look after the luggage, as it is difficult to do without one in India. All servants are called "boys" here, even if they are grey-headed; our man is probably about five-and-twenty. He is called Ramaswamy, and has a chocolate-coloured moon-face with big round eyes; I think he is intelligent though he looks stupid. He is dressed in spotless white, his garments consisting of a short jacket and a dhoti, and he wears a large round turban on his head, and a pair of neat little gold ear-rings in his ears. It is a very difficult thing to get a really trustworthy boy, but the Madrassees are the best, and Ramaswamy comes from the Madras country far south; he has been in service with a man I know for two years, and as he is only lent to us for this trip he will probably behave himself. He is piling up our bedding in a corner of the carriage, and later on when the train stops at a station for a few minutes he will come to spread it out. It seems funny to have to carry bedding with us on a journey, but it is very necessary here. We have pillows and rugs and a couple of rezai each. These are rather like eider-down quilts, but are stuffed with cotton instead of down, so they are heavier, and very comfortable they are to lie upon when doubled up.
You remarked on the amount of luggage we seem to be taking in the carriage, it is a simple nothing to what is the custom here; look at all that being piled into the next compartment! Besides masses of bedding there is a deck-chair, a typewriter, a case for a topee, or helmet, a gun-case, two portmanteaus, and a box of books, as well as a lunch-basket. The owner, a pleasant-looking, sun-browned Englishman, stands by giving orders to his native servants in Hindustanee, which is a language spoken by the English people to the natives and understood pretty nearly everywhere. That man is almost certainly what is here known as a "civilian," that is to say, one of the men in the Indian Civil Service who govern India. They have to pass stiff examinations at home, and then come out here for a number of years to do all the work of government, being magistrates, judges, rulers, and general protectors of the native, giving up their lives to the country, and dealing out justice to all men. Some men have not the habit of command, but if it is in them at all it comes out here, where one white man alone in a district running to hundreds of miles often has everything in his own hands; he has to make decisions in an instant of emergency, and stand by them, compel evildoers to behave, save the miserable low-caste natives, ground down by those above them, and often to hold his life in his hand for fear of the knife or bullet of a fanatic.
A little farther up the platform there is a gorgeous group, of which the central figure is a fine tall man, slenderly built, with a clear proud face. He is dressed in marvellous silks which shimmer and flash in the late afternoon sunlight. His upper garment is deep rich rose, and the lower one a medley of greens and gold. Watch the flashing of that great jewel which fastens the aigrette in his turban; it is probably worth anywhere about three thousand pounds. That man is a native prince, and those very splendid gentlemen in purple and yellow silk are seeing him off. There are many of these native rulers or maharajahs in India, and they keep up the state of royalty and are treated with respect. So long as they rule their people wisely the British Government does not interfere with them.
Sometimes one thinks of India as one whole country, as England is or France, but that is not true. It is not, and never was. The state held by a native prince may be only the size of a gentleman's country estate, but it may be as large as the United Kingdom. In the old days the rulers of these kingdoms were for ever fighting against each other, and though one of them sometimes got the better of his neighbours for a while, India was never ruled from end to end by one sovereign until it passed into the possession of Great Britain. The nations and races who make up this vast land are as different from each other as the races of Europe; to think of them as being one people would be as foolish as to imagine that you, say, and an Italian, were one people.
The size of India is a thing almost impossible to conceive. In old-fashioned atlases the whole of this mighty land was often given one page to itself, and little England was put on another just the same size, that is to say, they were drawn on quite different scales, a mile in England being given about as much space as forty miles in India! The best way to judge is this—picture India set down on the map of Europe, and you will find it would cover about half of it!
At the other end of the train, the third-class end, what a contrast to His Highness! Here a crowd of natives of all kinds have been crammed into what look like covered-in trucks, and they are squatting on the floor. There is no hardship in that, they prefer it; to sit on chairs is an art only acquired by the Europeanised. There are women here as well as men; look at that handsome creature whose crimson scarf has slipped off her sheeny black hair, showing the gold ring in her nose and the huge decorative ear-rings! She is hugging a tiny boy with one blue bead slung round his neck as a charm, just as it was round the donkey's neck in Egypt,—people are very much alike all the world over! This little chap has silver bangles on his podgy ankles but not a rag of any sort of clothing.
These people are packed so tightly you could hardly get a foot in between them, but they are very happy, because they love travelling. Natives have no idea of time, and when they are going to start on a journey as likely as not they arrive at the station the evening before, sleep rolled round in their garments where they may happen to be, and next day eat a handful of something or other they carry with them, waiting patiently till that marvellous object, the train, condescends to start. Most of these here are munching sweetmeats; they love them as children do, and the sweetmeat-seller never lacks trade. There he is, with a tray on his shoulder! A man with a water-pot stops by the third classes and pours some of the precious fluid into the cups held out to him, and even into one man's hands. You notice that he is careful not to touch either hand or cup. In India there is an extraordinary custom called caste, deep-rooted in the natives. They are all divided into higher and lower castes, according to their birth, and those of a higher caste will not allow those of a lower caste to touch them or prepare their food and drink, for they fancy they would be defiled! Only the lowest castes of all will do dirty work, such as scavenging and carrying away refuse, and you can imagine what difficulties all this leads to. The Brahman, who is the highest caste, will not touch food which has been defiled even by having the shadow of another fall on it, he would throw it away and remain hungry sooner.
As we stroll back to our places we pass various men with marks on their foreheads; these are caste-marks and to those who understand they tell a great deal. Standing beside the second classes we see a short-sighted gentleman in glasses, wearing an alpaca suit; he has with him a lady, who, like himself, is coffee-coloured. She is wearing a full petticoat of brocaded silk, and has a very lovely shawl edged with sequins thrown round her head in place of a hat, but, alas, all this magnificence is spoilt by the pair of tight and obviously most uncomfortable yellow leather European shoes, which she has put on to show how fashionable she is. When she climbs into the carriage she immediately takes them off, putting them on the seat beside her, and shows a pair of bare brown feet without shame. The shoes were only meant for show, and she has endured them to the utmost!
Well, we are off! And as it is dark we can't, unfortunately, see much of the country, which at first is quite pretty. Presently we cross the sea by a long bridge and notice the lights reflected sparkling in the water, and then we begin to climb up into the hills and it quickly grows colder.
While we go along to the restaurant-car for dinner Ramaswamy takes advantage of the stoppage of the train to hasten along, settling his turban as he comes. He must never appear before us without it; we are supposed to think it a fixture on his round cropped head, and also he must not come into a room where we are with his shoes on! Odd how fashion differs! With us men remove the head-covering on entering a room, but would not dream of being so rude as to take off their shoes!
When we come back after dinner we find our bedding neatly spread out and looking very inviting. As there is nothing else to do it is not long before we turn in and fall asleep, lulled by the rumbling of the train.
I am deep in dreamland when I am woke unpleasantly by a draught of icy air as the door at the end of the compartment is pushed open, and I realise the train has stopped at a station. The native guard stands in the doorway apologetically fumbling with the key which he has just used in undoing the door. "Mem-sahib coming in," says he hopelessly, and a very disagreeable high-pitched voice makes itself heard behind him. Pushing rudely past come a man and woman so much alike they must be brother and sister; they have both coarse features and clumsy squat figures; they speak English but with a strong Colonial accent of some kind.
"They can't have it all their own way," says Madam viciously. "I'm coming in here, and that's flat."
An overloaded coolie follows, and dumps down masses of rolled-up bedding and trunks into the small space between our bunks and departs.
"This compartment is engaged," I say as politely as I can, conscious that I don't look dignified in shirt-sleeves, but thankful I have only taken off my coat and boots.
"Can't help that," snaps the lady.
"Isn't there any other——" I begin patiently.
"I telling the Mem-sahib," begins the guard plaintively, "that there is one with only——"
"Don't care if there is! Horace, undo that bundle. I'm going to bed at once," and the newcomer proceeds to remove her coat and hat.
The guard hastily lets down the two upper bunks and disappears as the train gets under way again.
Appalled at the idea of how much she may think it necessary to remove, and thankful that you are sleeping peacefully through all the turmoil, I get up and grope for my shoes.
"If you prefer the lower bunk it is at your service," I say, making the best of a bad job and gathering up my coverlets. She deigns to snap out "Thanks!"
"I will go outside until you're ready," I say, retreating to the small platform between the carriages; there is nothing else for it, as there isn't room to turn inside. Just as I leave I add to the man, "Don't wake the boy if you can help it, he has had a hard day."
It is intensely cold outside, and after having smoked two cigarettes I think I may venture in again as I hear no sounds, so I knock, and getting no answer enter. By the dim light I make out the form of the lady in my bunk; but that is surely not the brother in the one opposite? It is! The impudence of it! They have turned you out and made you go into the upper one. As I climb to my own perch, internally wrathful and debating whether I shall not poke the man up and make him restore you to your place, I hear your sleepy voice in a stage whisper—
"He made me come up here." Then deliberately, leaning over and with mischief in your voice, you add: "I suppose when you are fat like that it would be very difficult to climb."
I think you got your own back! I saw the fellow squirm!
Bad as they were at night our fellow-travellers are worse in the daytime. They won't get up until ten o'clock, and we have to stay outside until they do, as there is nowhere to sit down. Ramaswamy brings us chota hazri, consisting of tea and toast and plantains, and we eat it outside. The Englishman in the next compartment looks out presently and invites us in. He laughs when he hears of our adventure. "Brutes!" he says tersely; "people like that should be hanged at sight. The worst is you meet them travelling more often than elsewhere; they have come into some money probably, and are so proud of it they think themselves little gods."
I think he was right, for when we pull up at the station, where we are at last to get rid of our tormentors, I happen to remark to you that I thought some restaurant we had been to in Bombay was rather expensive.
"Did you indeed!" says the lady, taking the remark as if addressed to herself. "'Grace and I dined there and paid double that, and we did not think anything of it."
She then immediately turns, and seeing Ramaswamy standing outside mistakes him for a station-attendant, and orders him to tie up their bedding. He looks to me for orders. I nod to him to do it, and, hat in hand, make a sweeping bow—
"Only too glad if my boy can be of any service to you, Madam."
I think I also got my own back!
THE CAPITAL OF INDIA
If you draw a line across the map of India from the north to the south at the greatest length, and another from east to west at the greatest breadth, the two will form a cross of the usual shape, with the cross-bar high up. Just at the point where they intersect stands Delhi, the chief city in India since the King-Emperor's proclamation in 1911. Before that Calcutta was the capital, but Calcutta, like Bombay, is a city of trade, and has practically no historic memories. Delhi is full of the romance of history. In the Mutiny the question as to who should hold it was of the greatest importance, and if the British then had let it slip from their grip, without an effort to retake it, their power in India would have been gone for ever.
Now, on the first morning that we are here, let us drive round and see what we can of this splendid city. First we will go down the Chandni Chauk, the main street which cuts Delhi into two parts. It is immensely wide and lined with trees of a good size. These stand on each side of a broad walk for foot-passengers, which runs down the middle of the street, foreign fashion, and makes a popular promenade. The gay colours of the natives' clothes flash in and out of the shadows of the trees as the people pass along, each on his own errand. On one side are the tram-lines and on the other you can see a fast bullock-cart with pretty little white trotting bullocks as dainty in their own way as antelopes, and as different from the slow yellow ones as carriage-horses are from cart-horses. There are on both sides shops for jewels, for sweetmeats, for the richest and most beautiful silks and ivory, and mingled with them grocers' shops filled with tinned stuffs from England, and others with every kind of modern utensil for a house. Such a mixture! They are all heavily protected against the sun by awnings, for even at this early hour of the morning it is strong. At the end of the street is a tall red sandstone tower with a clock in it. In the distance we see the spire of an English church, and down that opening we catch sight of a Mohammedan mosque. The shop here beside us is a blaze of colour with Eastern carpets hung out like banners; the native owner squats on a thing like a wooden bedstead by his door and chews betel-nut, which makes his tongue and lips a deep red. Next door is a vigorous agency for the sale of sewing-machines! A Hindu religious fanatic, smeared with ashes and with hardly any clothes to cover his lean body, walks ahead with eyes unseeing, and at the same moment a smart motor-car stops beside us and the voice of a high-bred English-woman says, "I will meet you at the Effinghams in an hour," as she waves a greeting to her companions and steps out.
Hullo! There is a band. Round the corner swings a company of Ghurkas, the sturdy little men who helped England to overcome the mutineers. They look very soldier-like in their neat holly-green uniforms, with small round caps set at a jaunty angle on their cropped heads. They are hill tribes from the north, and in appearance not unlike the Japanese. They are all so much of one size you could run a ruler along their heads. Their swinging stride would delight a soldier's heart, for it is like clockwork in its precision. They are born soldiers, brave and easily disciplined, devoted to their officers and without the knowledge of fear. They have faults, of course. The Ghurka is apt to be rather a gay dog; he gets drunk, and the girls he loves are many, but he is of the right stuff, and his officers are proud of him.
I was talking to one of them as we came up the coast on the ship.
"Nothing like them anywhere else in the world," he said. "They take to drill like their mother's milk, they thrive on it and discipline—the slightest fault that might be overlooked elsewhere we punish severely. They like it and live up to it. You could lead a Ghurka regiment anywhere; fighting is their pastime. They have nothing in common with the slothful races of Lower India; they are alert and vigorous and active as cats. The funniest thing is their love for the Highlanders; if a Highland regiment comes up the two meet and mingle as if they were brothers. You'll see a great Highlander in his kilt and feather bonnet arm in arm with one of these little chaps, hobnobbing as if they had known each other all their lives. And the Ghurkas won't have anything to say to the other Indian regiments; they despise them all except the Sikhs—they get on with them all right."
We are lucky, for the Ghurkas are followed by a company of Sikhs, and anything less like the Ghurkas you could hardly imagine. The Sikhs are big men with stern bearded faces, they look like veterans and are a pleasant sight in their scarlet tunics with neat gaitered feet. There were many Sikh regiments belonging to our army in the black days of the Mutiny, and some wavered, but some held firm. Had it not been for the Sikhs things would have gone badly with us.
Now we are nearing the Lahore Gate and you can see that Delhi is a walled city. The walls run all round for six miles, and are backed up by a twenty-five feet ditch, so that it is a tough city for any army to take. The gate itself is a fine building. When the British troops, who varied at times from 5000 to 10,000 men, set to work to attack this strong city, held by 40,000 to 100,000 natives, many of them trained and disciplined soldiers, taught by the very men against whom they were fighting, it seemed an impossible task. The audacity of it! This gate was one of the hardest of all to break through. Four attacking parties had been sent against the walls, the other three got in, but the one that came here failed. Then the others tried to work their way through, inside the city, to capture this gate. They crept along the narrow lane running inside the wall, but it was commanded everywhere from the heights of the houses by the enemy, who poured down a murderous fire into it. Again and again the reckless men, who determined to take the gate, started off on the deadly errand, again and again they were wiped off, and alas! one of those mortally wounded was General John Nicholson, whose utter disregard of danger and marvellous understanding of the native character had made many of the natives look on him as a god!
Now we are outside and driving up to the ridge. Every British boy and girl has heard of the ridge. It played a great part in the Mutiny. It is a long backbone of hill which runs close up to the city at one end. We will leave our carriage to go slowly along to the far end, where the road winds up, and we ourselves will scramble up at this side till we gain the Mutiny Memorial, a Gothic tower rising in many stages like a church spire. We can mount the steps inside to see the view. It is worth it, for miles and miles of country lie spread before us from this height.
I don't want to go into details of history, but if ever there is a place where history was made it is here. On this ridge for months was camped the British army, including some loyal native regiments, and all the time they never wavered in their determination to retake Delhi, then in the hands of the natives. Our men could not be said to besiege the city, because to besiege means to sit down all round a place and prevent the inhabitants from getting supplies from outside until they are compelled to give in or are too weak to resist the entrance of the besiegers; we never invested Delhi in this way. There were not enough men even to attempt it; the natives could always get supplies into the city, if they wanted, from the river Jumna, which runs past the other side. But the British sat steadily on their heights in grim determination, and never lost the chance of a move. They died in hundreds; remember it was during an Indian summer, and even under the best conditions, with ice and punkahs and shade, the European finds it hard to get through the hot weather. Here there were no conveniences and very few even of what might be considered necessaries. The men suffered from dysentery, fever, wounds, and sunstroke, and yet they carried through their forlorn hope triumphantly, and it was hardly a year later that the Queen of England was proclaimed Sovereign of India.
In that great plain, which stretches far as eye can see on the other side of the ridge, some twenty years later another proclamation was made, and the Queen was further proclaimed under the title of Empress of India; while in 1911 her grandson, King George, himself proclaimed Delhi as the capital of India in place of Calcutta.
Over the screen of trees you can see beautiful Delhi lying within its hoary walls. You can see the towers and steeples and minarets and domes of the city. Now look the other way, along the ridge. That great pillar close to us is very old; it was made by one of the Hindu kings, but it was only put up here ten years after the Mutiny, and is not interesting. That white house farther on is now a hospital; it was once a private house, and in it General Nicholson died. Look on again, much farther, past trees and other houses, and you will see a rounded building with turrets—that is the Flagstaff Tower so fiercely held.
Come down now to rejoin the carriage and we will go back to the city by the Kashmir Gate. Of all the gates this is the one with the most daring story of adventure attached to it.
When the British had resolved to make an assault on the city they detailed four parties, as I said, to attack in four places. One of them was this gate. The other three places had been partially broken in by the guns, and there was a chance for those heroic madmen to get through, but this was entire. The assaulting party had first to break a way in and then get through.
And they did it!
The five told off to make the breach were Lieutenants Home and Salkeld, and Sergeants Carmichael, Burgess, and Smith. Some carried bags of gunpowder, and others, the fire to set them off. It was daylight when they ran towards the gate across a single plank spanning the ditch, so that they had to go one by one in full range of the enemy's fire from the walls. The marvel is that any lived to reach the gate alive. When one fell another leaped forward to carry on his task. The bags were flung down, and those who placed them tumbled back into the ditch, while their comrades set the powder alight and rolled down too. Out of the whole party only Home and Smith survived. The wicket of the gate was burst open by the explosion, and the storming party, also crossing that single plank, made for it, got inside, and beat back the foe, meeting their comrades, who had burst in at other points, inside.
The tale of "how Horatius kept the bridge" pales before this amazing pluck.
We must get out and look at the gate where this actually happened not sixty years ago.
There are two wide arches in the shattered wall, and the coping above is half gone; it remains unrestored just as it was that day. On a slab is an inscription telling of this noble deed when men died for their country without hesitation.
Close by is the cemetery where General Nicholson is buried. You can see his statue in the city raised high on a pedestal. He stands with bared head and drawn sword. But Nicholson's is not the only name immortalised by the Mutiny—there are the two brothers, John and Henry Lawrence, Outram and Havelock, Hodson, Sir Colin Campbell, and many another name which is a household word in England. These men, in those days of fierce fighting and desperate stress, made history and wrote themselves in its pages by deeds that still cause every British boy's heart to ring within him. We have passed through the Kashmir Gate, and here, on one side of the street, is a battered bit of arcade, another Mutiny memorial. In the early days, just at the first outbreak, when no one realised what was going to happen, the mutineers marched on Delhi. This bit of wall was part of the powder magazine, then in charge of nine men. They defended it against a swarming army of Sepoys, as the native soldiers were called, and when they found that they could not hold it in spite of their desperate defence, they calmly blew up the powder magazine, and themselves with it, to prevent its falling into the hands of the mutineers and being used against their kinsmen. The most incredible part of the whole story is that three of those who blew up the magazine actually escaped with their lives!
We are now approaching the fort and palace, the kernel of the city, which it is best to see after the ridge.
It is a fine building that faces us, with an ornamental arcade running along the upper part. We pass in on foot under the gateway and see another, a Hall of Public Audience, with red sandstone pillars. Inside is a great throne of white marble, inlaid with mosaic work, where the old kings of Delhi used to sit and listen to their ministers. The last of this line was still living in the palace when the Mutiny broke out. He was a poor specimen, given up to indulgence and sloth; but the British had left him the state of royalty and all his wealth until the rising made it impossible any more. His sons and grandson, who, when the Mutiny broke out, themselves actually murdered and tortured helpless English women and children, and watched their agonies as "sport," were rightly shot out of hand, and the old king became a prisoner.
Coming out of this hall our eyes are caught by a gleam of something lustrously white against a sky which is now burning blue. This is another Hall of Audience, the Diwan-i-Khas, more beautiful than the first. It is of white marble, which, in this clear atmosphere, remains white, and it is richly ornamented with gilt. It is in the form of a square cloister or arcade, with a little dome at each corner, and if we stand inside and look out between the white pillars to see the lawns and the trees in the old palace gardens, we shall find it difficult to realise that this place of beauty and peace was ever a scene of fierce revolt. The rest of the palace is now used partly as a barracks.
When the British, having beaten their way through the narrow streets, and swept them clear of the foe, arrived here on that fateful day, the 14th September 1857, they found the palace deserted, except for a stray sentry, holding his position with sublime courage. The rest had fled,—thousands flying from hundreds,—and well they might, for the British troops were wrought up by the cruelties of the Sepoys to a sublime and just fury that made them seem like avenging angels. It is said in one place that the sternness of the expression of the Sikhs' faces made the wretched Sepoys fly without a shot being fired. The palace area is full of beautiful buildings, and we shall see many more specimens of this kind of Oriental architecture when we visit the mosques in the town this afternoon.
So much is there to see, indeed, that it is not until the next day we can ride out for a sight beyond the walls.
Pull up your horse and look ahead. Do you see that huge column rising skyward from the plain? It is called the Kutab Minar and is two hundred and forty feet high. As we get under it and gaze up at it it seems to tower into the very sky. It is forty-seven feet across the base and narrows to the top, it is fluted all the way down, and has frills in stone around it here and there—truly a curious sight! There are three hundred and seventy-nine steps to climb to the top; do you want to try them? If so, I will wait here and hold your horse. You shake your head. Wise boy!
There are other buildings around, parts of a mosque, and inside is an iron pillar said to be one of the oldest things in India. The Kutab Minar is supposed to have been built about the reign of our King John, though there are some who put it further back; the pillar is considerably older than that, but it cannot compare in antiquity with many things we have seen in Egypt. After the Hindu kings came a line of Moghul or Mohammedan kings who swept the others away; of these the old king of Delhi, living at the time of the Mutiny, was the last, and it is supposed that it was at the beginning of the rule of the Moghul kings that the Kutab Minar was erected.
Notice that brown-faced, scantily clad boy, who keeps beckoning and shouting "Sahib." We follow him as he leads us to a well, and almost before we realise what he is doing he goes down head first, a drop of at least eighty feet, into the black water below. There is a tradition that the water of this well cannot drown anyone. At anyrate it hasn't rid the world of this rascal, for here he comes shaking the water off his oily body and grinning. He has earned his bakshish!
As we are in Delhi for several days more we can go at our leisure through the bazaars, which really are well worth seeing. We choose a late afternoon, when there is no hurry and we can watch the people in their daily life and get a glimpse into the real India.
The streets are narrow, mere passages mostly, and lined by the open-air stalls or wooden sheds which are what the native understands by shops. A marvellous array of slippers greets us first, for all of one trade tend to congregate together, a curious custom and one which you would think was not very good for trade, though convenient to the customer. There are slippers of all colours from scarlet to brown; you would never have thought they could be so decorative. They hang in bunches, festoons, and chains. Every man here wears slippers when he puts anything at all on his feet. Boots would be of no use to him, for he has so often to shuffle off his foot-gear in a hurry. Modern streets, with their stones and liability to nails and broken glass and other sharp things, has led to the native taking to strong soled slippers when he walks about his business.
There is a sizzling and a delicious smell from the next shop, and peeping in we see a huddled form crouched over a pot placed on a few red embers; it might be a witch stirring potions and muttering incantations. But it is only a native looking after a pan full of Indian corn popping out in the most fluffy and tempting way. I have often popped it on a shovel over the school fire. A native soldier, who is passing, stops and bargains for a handful, and carries it off, eating it as he goes; when he has had enough he will stow the rest in his turban, which serves as his pocket, his private trunk, and play-box all in one. This is the food he best thrives on, so his wants are easily supplied. A tailor sitting cross-legged on his board attracts us next; he is a good-looking old man with a grey beard and kindly eyes blinking behind horn spectacles. His garments are of the dark red colour seen sometimes in certain parts of the country when the earth is ploughed. His turban is a mighty erection of green arranged with much dignity. You would think it hot and heavy to carry all those yards of stuff on your head, but the habit has probably arisen to protect the head from sunstroke.
"He is a dhurzi, Sahib," says Ramaswamy, who has followed us to interpret if we want. "He making all clothes for mem-sahibs. Very clever man and not asking too much money."
Yes, a dhurzi will come and sit outside on a verandah and work by the day and copy any garment you give him; sewing is a man's job here, and not a woman's.
Then we see a sweetmeat shop with a crowd outside and a cloud of flies bearing them company. While we look, many of the flies crawl slowly over the sticky, syrupy stuff which has just come from the pan, and get their legs entangled in it, but it doesn't seem to hinder the sale, which goes on cheerfully. There are sweets in rings and coils and fantastic shapes. A child gets a large pink slab for two pice, and ten pice go to the penny, that is to say, the anna, so it is not dear. The buyer tucks the sticky stuff up in the corner of her garment and ties it carefully into a knot before starting homeward.
Standing a little aloof from the crowd and looking at them disdainfully is a small boy with a twisted cord slung across his left shoulder. "He be Brahman, Sahib," says Ramaswamy timidly. "Very proud and not eating anything dirty peoples touch, just having had cord." Standing where he is, so as not to approach nearer to the lad, he asks a few questions, which are answered curtly and proudly, with a glance thrown across at us as much as if to say they wouldn't have been answered at all except for our presence.
"Just two, three days he been made Brahman," explains Ramaswamy.
But he was born a Brahman, of course, and what Ramaswamy means is that up till then he was counted a child and could play and run about with other children without responsibilities; now that he has been invested with the cord he has taken up his birthright and is of the highest caste, the caste from which the priests come; he may not eat anything prepared by a lower caste, or even let others touch him, for he is set apart, and very proud of his new dignity in spite of the many difficulties it carries with it.
The child who stands staring at us with her shawl over her head is a little girl about the same age as the boy. She has been grinding corn between two stones and is a very thin and miserable little wretch. Her clothes are rags and there are no bangles on her little brown ankles. Ramaswamy tells us she is a widow! That child? She has probably never even seen the boy-husband who was so unlucky as to die; but because he did she is scorned by everyone. The worst life in all India is that of a widow. She has no ornaments, no amusements, and is treated worse than a slavey in a boarding-house, and for her there is no escape.