Right out in the street sits a man weaving a web of wonderful colours; he throws the shuttles, carrying different coloured threads, across and across, without seeming to look at them, and all the time the web is growing into an intricate pattern under his fingers. So his father wove, and his grandfather and great-grandfather. All these crafts run in families. A little farther on is a potter spinning a wheel with his feet, while the soft lump of dull-coloured clay takes shape beneath his clever thumb as it races round. It seems to grow and swell and curve exquisitely as if it were a living thing. There are few sights more fascinating than a potter at work. You have often heard of the "potter's thumb," I expect? The thumb grows broad and flat and capable, because it is the chief instrument with which the potter works. On the floor beside him lie many of the clay jars of different sizes and shapes ready for the baking, others are being baked. There is always a good sale for them, and a potter in India flourishes exceedingly. Even now there is a woman passing us with a pot balanced on her head and a child on her hip. She swings along in the dust with a graceful gliding step, for she has been used to carrying things on her head almost from babyhood. These pots are brittle enough and frequently get broken, and even the poorest households must have a supply of them. But what helps the potter to make a living more than anything else is the custom that when a death occurs in a family, or a new life arrives in it, all the pots must be broken and new ones bought! It is a symbol of the life that has gone out and the new life beginning.
In church you must have heard those grandly poetic lines—
"Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
"Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."
Pass on to the silversmiths' quarter. Any of these men can do fine and beautiful work with very few tools. If you want anything made you pay them in a queer way. For the finished article is put in the scales and weighed against rupees thrown into the other balance, and when the rupees equal it then you give them to the workman, together with so many annas in each rupee for his work.
How can we ever take in all this varied life, so different from the life we are used to? The women sitting on the balconies above, the pariah dogs prowling for scraps below, the druggists and spice-sellers, the fruit and vegetable stalls? Over it all is that peculiar, scented, musty bazaar smell, made up of saffron and wood and dirt, with which we are already so familiar.
Wonderful Delhi! A city teeming with myriads of men of many races and customs, living side by side. Successor of seven cities which have stood here or hereabout in successive ages. From the earliest days a place of consequence, a place to be reckoned with, and now, by the proclamation of the King-Emperor, the first city in the land, as it is already the centre!
TO THE DEATH!
A curious building, isn't it? I mean that one right in front of us. It is something like a very large and many-sided crown, built of stone and set upon the ground. The sides are pierced with windows of the same sort as those seen in churches, and on each of the angles there is a little pinnacle. It rises up serenely against the soft blue sky of this early morning. We are far from Delhi now, having arrived at Cawnpore late last night, and we have come out here first thing this morning. It is only seven now.
Cawnpore! The Mutiny! Those two things rush simultaneously into the mind, for Cawnpore is associated with the most awful scenes of the Mutiny, and no Briton can ever think of it without those scenes flashing before him.
Come nearer and pass inside the crown and you will see in the centre a great angel of the usual sort, with high sweeping wings, holding palm branches folded across its breast. It marks the Well of Cawnpore.
You know that story, of course, and yet, as we sit here, on the very spot where it all happened, with the Indian sky above us, we cannot help recalling it once more. In telling it I shall not dwell on the agonies and bloodshed which have hallowed this place for ever; they are done with, and those who suffered have been at rest for nearly sixty years. The deep peace around us overlies their torments and forbids us to think too much of the darker side of the picture. But the heroism, the courage, the indomitable spirit that animated these men and women, these things live for ever, rising up from the earth in a flood of inspiration for all who pass over the place.
There are certain little animals called Tasmanian devils, who do not know what it is to give in; they die fighting and attack their persecutors as long as one limb hangs on to another; of such stuff were the people besieged at Cawnpore. They were encamped here on a wretched piece of flat ground, quite open except for a low mud wall, which anyone could have jumped over easily. There were about nine hundred and fifty of them altogether, some soldiers, some civilians, some women and children and a few native soldiers who remained loyal. Outside were unending hordes of natives well armed and well trained, because the greater part were the men of the native regiments who had mutinied, known by the name of Sepoys. A few huts built of thin brick were all the shelter the beleaguered people had; they were constantly under a shrieking storm of bullets and shells, and were ringed around by steel. You would have said two days at the outside would see the end of it, and that then the black hordes would sweep clean over that field, having wiped out the garrison completely; but so amazing is the power of pluck that those within held the hordes at bay for twenty-three days! They not only prevented any single Sepoy from getting inside alive, but they constantly sallied out and acted on the defensive, burning their enemies' defences and killing scores of them, while thousands fled in confusion before them! The sublime impudence of it! And all the time they were short of food; women and children were laid in holes in the earth covered with planks to protect them from the bullets. And water—ah, that was the worst—water had to be fetched from a well which was quite exposed in the midst of the encampment, and the Sepoys kept up an incessant fire on it. We are now beside it, this well where water was drawn at the price of blood, and yet volunteers were never lacking. The very ground our feet now rest upon was ringed around with the bodies of those who laid down their lives for the women and children. There was another well, a little distance off, now marked by an Iona cross, and to this, under cover of night, the British conveyed their dead for burial.
Read the inscription that circles round the wall of the well now in front of us:—
"Sacred to the perpetual memory of a great company of Christian people, chiefly women and children, who near this spot were cruelly murdered by the followers of the rebel, Nana Dhundu Pant of Bithur, and cast, the dying with the dead, into the well below, on the fifteenth day of July 1857."
Yes, we have not come to the end yet!
When the bloodthirsty tyrant, better known as Nana Sahib, found he could not crack this nut, when he realised that his whole army was held at bay by a few hundreds of determined spirits—there were only three hundred fighting men to begin with, and they were daily killed—he made terms with them, promising to send the survivors safely in boats down the river if they would give in. Desperate as they were, without food or water, without shade from the killing glare of the Indian summer sun, the brave men held their heads high and only accepted on condition they marched out under arms with so many rounds of ammunition to each man.
This was granted.
Now leave the well and follow that heroic band who went down to the river on that blazing day some sixty years ago. It is about a mile away. The little garrison now numbered some four hundred and fifty all told, the half of what they had been three weeks before. Blackened with the sun and smoke and gunpowder, so as to rival the Sepoys in complexion, tattered and worn and wounded, but yet with courage undaunted, they went down to the river.
There is another building here, an arcade on the banks facing the placid stream; it has a tower behind and a broad flight of stairs, a ghaut, as it is called, flanked by walls running down to the margin. But on that day long ago there was nothing of this, nothing but a number of clumsy boats with thatched roofs to keep the sun off, native fashion. As the English took their places in them, suddenly a bugle rang out, and at that signal the native boatmen sprang from their places and splashed ashore; up rose an army of Sepoys from the scrub on the banks, and death was rained on the victims of the blackest deed of treachery ever written in the annals of the world. Standing here on these smooth steps which mark the place it is difficult even to picture that scene of horror. Many were killed outright, many mortally wounded and torn, one hundred and twenty-five were dragged ashore and brutally killed afterwards; it was they who were thrown into the well; but three boats got away down the stream. Two went ashore and all the occupants were killed by the merciless brutes who lined the banks. The other had men in it, men who were filled with a madness of wrath that knew no bounds. In spite of their own condition, in spite of the odds against them, they leaped like tigers on the foe whenever they got the chance. They were followed by the natives, who fired on them repeatedly from a safe distance, and again and again the dead had to be east into the stream. Yet when a Sepoy boat ran against a sandbank, twenty or so of the powder-blackened Englishmen sprang out into the water and raced with fury to kill them, though the boat contained three times their own number. It is good to read how they wiped out all but those who escaped in terror by swimming! At last only fourteen of the English were left alive and they got hopelessly penned in a backwater. These men charged the army of Sepoys on the banks and made them keep their distance. They secured themselves in a tiny temple on the margin of the river and killed all who approached. At length, seeing preparations made for blowing them up with gunpowder, they charged out; seven who could swim made for the river, the other six (one was dead) rushed straight at the mass of Sepoys and dealt death on every side before they fell.
Four of the seven eventually outdistanced their persecutors and reached safety, and then, alas! one died.
It is good to hear that an avenging army descended on Cawnpore, though too late to save the remnant of the captives. The Sepoys were smitten hip and thigh, and thousands paid with their lives for those other lives they had spared not. Nana Sahib fled and was never heard of again. Stripped of all his wealth and luxury he must have skulked from place to place like a plague-tainted rat, till death took him and he went to meet the souls of the hundreds he had treacherously and brutally massacred.
It is finished! The price has been paid; the native has learnt that it is not well to meddle with white men. And we must not forget that hundreds of natives remained faithful, and gave their lives to save those of our fellow-countrymen.
As we wander back through the park in the sunshine, now growing fierce and strong, toward the Memorial Church showing above the trees, the chief feeling is not of bitterness but of pride. That little band, whose courage was unquenchable and untamable, were not picked men and women, but just an ordinary crowd made up of soldiers and civilians and their wives and children, yet not one act of selfishness or cowardice remains to stain their record. When the last extremity came, sloth and indifference and selfishness dropped off like sloughs and only devotion and bravery shone out. It is grand to belong to a race which holds these qualities as the highest good.
One incident more. When the tyrant had brought his handful of captives up from the river he found there were a few men among them. So before he started to massacre the women and babies he sent for the men to come forth to instant death; he dared not leave even half a dozen men of the untamable breed, who are "little used to lie down at the bidding of any man," among them, even unarmed.
The men came forth, and among them was a lad of fourteen; he was only a year older than you, but he preferred to be reckoned among the men rather than to hide behind the women's petticoats. He chose a soldier's death and he had it, for he fell pierced by bullets with the rest.
A CITY OF PRIESTS
Surely you have never before seen anything like this, there is nothing to be seen like it anywhere else!
We are at Benares, the sacred city of the Hindus, which stands on their sacred river, the Ganges. We have taken a boat and have floated out into the current, and are looking up with amazement at the spectacle before us. The city rises high on the banks, and towers and minarets and domes of a curious long-drawn-out shape, glittering in the sun like gold, arise out of the flat roofs. Down to the river at every opening between the houses stretch stairways, as you know called ghauts, some broad and some narrow. We judge that they are there, though we cannot see the steps, for every inch is covered by a moving mass of people, clothed in the colours of the rainbow. You have often turned a kaleidoscope over and over, and watched the bits of coloured glass falling into strange patterns. Half shut your eyes and make a tube of your hands and see if this doesn't remind you of a kaleidoscope.
Thousands and thousands of people are passing and repassing up and down, or sitting on every scrap of available building. They flow out over the steps and down into the water itself. They are standing there knee-deep, waist-deep, shoulder-deep, with hardly any clothes on their glistening brown and yellow bodies, diligently throwing the water over themselves, washing their long, straight, black hair in it, or even drinking it!
Ah, what is that gruesome object? Take care, don't touch it as it floats by; it looks like a bit of charred stick, but indeed it is half-burnt human bones!
We have already seen a few sacred rivers in our wanderings—the gigantic Nile, the tiny Jordan, and now we see the Ganges, which in size comes between the two, being one thousand four hundred and fifty-five miles in length. Quite a respectable-sized river that! The Hindus regard it with such reverence that they count bathing in it a religious act, and when they die their one desire is to be burned beside it so that their bones may be cast into its waters. If we row a little way up we shall see this ceremony at the Burning Ghauts. There are funeral pyres of wood where the relatives are carrying out the last offices for the dead. Some prowling pariah dogs, of the lean yellow breed, and a few impertinent crows are hovering about, hoping that some scraps may fall to their share. The dead bodies are rolled up in white and red cloth and lie with their feet in the blessed water awaiting their burning.
Men are bringing logs of wood to pile upon the pyres, others are poking about in the ashes of the last burned to see if maybe an anklet or ear-ring has fallen off and may be scavenged.
The red flames rise and lick up the sides, while the enveloping smoke wreathes around the corpse. Remember that at one time the miserable widow of the dead man would have mounted that gruesome throne and be sitting there to be burnt alive. This is forbidden by law now, as indeed it was forbidden by some of the wisest of the Indian kings too, only until the British came there never was any power strong enough to enforce it.
Benares is the religious capital of India; it takes the place that Canterbury does with us, and it has been the place of pilgrimage for generations.
We have met with Buddhists in Ceylon and Mohammedans in Egypt. There are Buddhists among the natives of India too, though not many, considering the population; there are many more Mohammedans, but by far the largest number of the people, outnumbering the Mohammedans by three to one, are the Hindus, and it is as a Hindu capital that Benares mainly exists. British rule throws protection alike over all races and all religions; never was there a broader based dominion; be a man a Hindu, Sikh, Mohammedan, Parsee, Buddhist, or Christian, the law protects him in the exercise of his faith so long as it does not lead to cruelty such as in the burning of widows, or so long as it does not encroach upon the rights of others.
The Hindu religion is an extraordinary one. At first sight, seeing the jumble up of strange gods,—the cow-goddess, the monkey-god, elephant-god, and others,—it seems rather to resemble the religion of the ancient Egyptians, but it is not a real resemblance. The highest idea of the Hindu, as of the Buddhist, is to pass out into a sort of painless existence of nothingness. And to overcome the flesh and to arrive at a placid state, where nothing matters, is attempted here on earth by some. Some of the old men, fakirs as they are called, like the one we met in Delhi, do astonishing things merely by force of an iron determination. They will sit so long holding an arm in one position that it shrivels. Others will lie for years on a bed of spikes. They eat very little, live on charity, and are often lost in a state of trance.
As we row slowly back along the river we see countless flat umbrellas, like those known as Japanese umbrellas, studding the gay crowd; under each one of these there is a "holy man," and there are thousands of them altogether in this city, living on the offerings of the pilgrims.
Look at that fellow seated cross-legged on a plank running out into the river. He pours water over his feet every now and again out of a little copper bowl, and mutters something. He is so much absorbed in what he is doing that he never looks up or turns his head. Another, close by, has hung his gaily-coloured turban on a post and proceeds to unwind his garment and cast it from him before he steps into the water with hardly a rag upon him. This lady in an orange scarf, dripping wet, seats herself on the end of the board, and winds a dry scarf round herself so adroitly that it is like a conjuring trick; she stands up and the wet one falls from her. She would get well paid as a quick-change artiste at a music hall, and such a gift would be invaluable for bathing on the Cornish coast!
The men along the edge are very jolly, they chatter all the time and splash and wash and enjoy themselves. No English seaside place on a trip-day can beat this crowd. The fact that dead bones and skulls are constantly thrown into the water, and that the ashes of dead people, and much else that is indescribably filthy, mingles with it, doesn't seem to disturb them at all.
When you have wearied of watching them we will go and visit one of the innumerable temples in the city, but we shall need a guide for that, as it is not safe to wander in these streets alone.
No sooner have we landed and fought our way into one of the narrow alleys, than the road is blocked by an enormous bull who stands placidly before a greengrocer's stall sampling his wares. The man makes no attempt to drive him away, but tries to tempt him by holding a choice bunch of his best stuff. The beast has slavered over much that will be sold for human food afterwards. What? A good smack on the flank! For goodness' sake take care! The animal is supposed to be sacred; to touch him would be to bring out all the inhabitants of these houses on to us like a swarm of hornets. Luckily the beast is so well fed that he soon moves on and we can get past.
Now we have reached the most important temple of all, known as the Golden Temple, and as we pass into the cloisters we see a couple more animals standing inside, as much at home as if they were in a byre, which, indeed, the place smells like, with a strange scent of sweet flowers on the top of it. It is a wonderful place, but oh, so dirty! It is dedicated, of all things, to the poison-god, Shiva! It stands in a quadrangle, roofed in, and above rise some of those curious elongated domes we saw from the boat. If we climb up through that flower-stall where blossoms are being sold for offerings, we can see these domes, which really have cost a lot of money, as two of them are gilt all over; the gilding keeps its glitter here and rises dazzlingly against the hot sky.
There are other temples by the dozen and mosques too for the Mohammedans. If we wander round we shall see many strange sights; in one shrine is the image of the god Saturn, a silver disc, in another that of Ganesh, the elephant-god, surely the most hideous of all! Look at him! A squatting dwarf with an elephant's trunk! At another place is the image of Shiva himself; it has a silver face, though made of stone, and possesses four hands; it is guarded by a dog, and you can buy little imitation dogs made of sugar anywhere near. There is even an image of the goddess of smallpox, and if you ask why the Hindu chooses such repulsive and revolting things to worship, the answer is, because he is afraid. He says, "If the gods are good they will not injure me, but if they are evil I must propitiate them!"
Everywhere we go we have copper bowls or even the half of coco-nut shells thrust at us for offerings; the priests tolerate the strangers entering their temples only because they hope to get something out of them.
* * * * *
We are now far from Benares; we have left behind the narrow crowded alleys, the violent smells, and the gay colours, and are in the train speeding toward Calcutta, whence we will take a steamer to Burma. The train has just stopped at a wayside station and there is a chance to stretch our legs. Ramaswamy appears and tells us they are going to stop here for a time. He doesn't seem to know why,—something about a sahib is all we can gather,—so we get out and wander along the village street. We have only gone a short way when we see a kind of litter coming along slung on bearers' shoulders. It is screened by curtains, and beside it rides a white man in a helmet, followed by natives. Why, that is the very man who came up in the train from Delhi with us! I wonder what he is doing here. That must be a sick woman in the litter. This is evidently what the train was waiting for, so we might as well go back.
We get to the station just in time to see the curtains pushed aside by the sahib, who very tenderly and skilfully raises in his arms the sick person inside, and supports him into the station. It is a gaunt scarecrow of a man, a skeleton of a creature, whose big pathetic eyes look dark in his hollow face. He is evidently very ill. He is half-carried across to a carriage next to ours that has been prepared for him, and is laid down on a couch on the seat, and it is not long before we get under way again. Going out a little later on to the platform between the two compartments we find our friend, the tall Englishman, standing there smoking. He recognises us at once and asks us about our experiences; it is not difficult to find out about the invalid.
"One of the best chaps going," he says shortly. "Simply broken up by the work he's been doing in the plague-camp up there. He is a doctor, so am I, and I've just got back from leave. I went up-country to relieve Jordan, but the work is nearly over, and I found him played out. He has hardly had his clothes off for weeks. The difficulty is to persuade these people to get out of their infected houses into a camp until the place is made sanitary and the plague stayed. He was single-handed at first, now there are two other men up there, so I can be spared to take him down to the coast. He'll get over it; oh yes, he's got the turn now, though he was nearly gone once or twice, but he'll never be the same man again. He is invalided home for a bit, and the voyage will pull him up, but even as he is he's sore at leaving it. He wants to finish his job."
"Then when you've left him at Calcutta you'll go back to the infected district?"
"Yes, of course, why not? It's all in the day's work, and you know we've actually had only thirty deaths in a month since the beggars were got out into camp, and they were dying at the rate of hundreds a week before. Grand, isn't it?" His face lights up with enthusiasm.
India is full of such men; they don't play for safety, they take their lives in their hands at a moment's notice, and go blithely to grapple with death.
THE GOLDEN PAGODA
It is hot and still, we have passed across a place of broken tangled undergrowth and come out into a rather untidy courtyard, where some sneaking yellow pariah dogs barked at us until I cut at them with my stick, when they ran away and barked again from a safe distance. There seems to be no one else here but ourselves. A great tree covered with glorious magenta flowers stands on one side. It is our old friend the bougainvillea, but here it grows into a great tree instead of a creeper. It is backed up by the dark foliage of many mango trees. In front of us is a large house which seems to rise in many storeys, and the roof of each storey is carved and decorated, so that it shows up like lacework against the sky. The house stands on legs, so that the under part is quite open, and a broad flight of wooden steps leads up to a verandah on the first floor. Stop to examine the carving on the balustrade. It is wonderful! Figures of tigers, dragons, peacocks, monkeys, and elephants are all set among foliage and cut out very deeply.
When we arrived in Burma yesterday we came up the river Irrawaddy, which at its mouth is called the Rangoon River. What seemed like low green banks are really swamps filled with rushes growing high and strong; as we passed between them suddenly we saw afar off a gleam of gold, and by staring hard we made out a great tower against the sky. We are going to visit it presently, but just now I want you to see something else quite funny. Step softly on the broad wooden verandah and peep round that corner.
There squats an old man with a perfectly bald head, smooth as a billiard ball; he wears a loose garment of dull yellow stuff which forms a sort of skirt and is draped across one shoulder as well, falling over his honey-coloured chest. He is all yellow, except for his round, shining black eyes, very like glistening balls of jet. On the ground in front of him, lying full length on their little stomachs, are about a dozen small boys. You thought they were girls? I don't wonder! Each one has a feathery tuft of hair in the middle of his head standing up like carrot tops, except for this the little skull is closely shaven all round. They all have skimpy white jackets and skirts from which their skinny little yellow legs stick out kicking in the effort to master their tasks. In a loud sing-song jabber they are repeating something which they read off the slates they hold in front of them. It would be funny to learn lessons lying flat on the floor, wouldn't it? But these boys have never sat on chairs in their lives; they will have to learn that as an accomplishment if they go into business offices when they are older.
The old poongyi, or monk, is the teacher. This beautiful carved wooden building is the house where the monks live, and it is called a choung. In the morning, very early, the monks wander forth, dressed in yellow robes and carrying begging-bowls and fans. They do not beg, however, they are much too proud; they merely stop and stand about where there are houses, and the people rush to pour food into their bowls. It is a privilege for them to be allowed to do this, as they are supposed to "gain merit" by so doing. Nearly all the Burmese are Buddhists, and these men are Buddhist monks.
You would never guess what the fans are for; they are to put up as screens to shield the faces of the monks when they pass a woman, for they are not supposed ever to look at a woman, it is too frivolous! When the begging-bowls are full they generally contain a strange mixture, for everyone pours in anything he or she happens to have; there will certainly be rice, both cooked and raw, peas, perhaps fish, and this may be wrapped up in a leaf to keep it separate, which is necessary when it is curried; then there will be some cakes or cucumbers; possibly, in the season, mangoes and plantains. One of the greatest delicacies of the Burmese is a horribly smelly stuff called ngape, made of rotten fish laid in salt; no feast is complete without it.
The monks are supposed to live on what they get in their begging-bowls, but, as a matter of fact, in wealthy monasteries they don't; they empty it out for the pariah dogs, which explains why so many dogs always hang around the monasteries.
The Burmese have some funny notions; one is that they do not like anyone else's feet to be above their heads, so they build their houses on posts and do not use the ground floor. It looks as if there were many more storeys rising above the first floor where they live, but that is a sham; the roof is only built to look like that, and is hollow inside. In most of the monasteries there are schools, and the little boys are taught in them, as you see here. Besides this, every boy, when he gets to a certain age, must spend a time, longer or shorter, in the monastery. It may be only a few days or weeks and it may be years, according to the ideas of his parents, but while he is there he has to wear the yellow robe and carry the begging-bowl, and what to a growing boy must be most trying of all, he is not allowed to eat anything after midday!
That old fellow has caught sight of us; he is getting up and seems quite pleased to welcome us. It is a good thing we brought Ramaswamy with us, for he can speak Burmese and interpret for us; the monk knows no English. The little boys spring to their feet and stand gazing at us with wide eyes, delighted, as any boys would be, at getting an interruption to their lessons. They gradually come round us and begin to laugh and even to touch our clothes, but the old monk sends them all away and leads us into the wooden rooms of the monastery that open off the verandah. Several monks here are lying lazily about on mats half-asleep, but in a moment they all surround us, and for the first few minutes we experience rather an eerie sensation. Coming in from the bright sunshine outside everything seems very dim, and these curious men with their shaven heads and beetle eyes come close up to us and press upon us, pawing us and pointing to a great image of Buddha shining out in a ghostly way from a shrine at the end of the hall.
There are many little candles burning before it, most of them sticking to the ground by their own grease. One of the monks takes one up and holds it so that we can see the image, about twice life-size, seated in that calm attitude of the sitting Buddha, with crossed legs and one hand on the lap, while the other hangs loosely down. There is a serene self-satisfied smirk on the marble face, which looks more like that of a woman than a man. Ramaswamy explains to us that this is a very specially holy Buddha, and that the little dabs of gold splashed here and there about him are the offerings of the faithful; they are simply bits of gold-leaf stuck on. Gold-leaf is expensive, for it is real gold beaten very thin, and these little bits represent much self-denial on the part of many poor people. A Burman's great object in life is to "gain merit" for a future existence, for he thinks that he will live again and again many times in different forms, and that as he behaves in this life so he will be born again into a better or worse state in the next; if he is very bad he runs the risk of becoming a snake or some other repulsive reptile. He is not afraid of overdoing the merit, as the ancient Egyptian was; the more he can pile up for himself the better, and the way in which he does this is to feed the poongyis, build choungs and pagodas, and set up or adorn figures of Buddha.
The priests at this choung own a priceless relic; it is no less than a hair of Buddha! After some persuasion they are induced to show it to us. They bring a great casket, which is solemnly unlocked, showing another inside, and again another, and at last we get down to a little glass box with an artificial white flower in it, round which is wound a long and very wiry white hair. I should say many of the same sort could be got from any long-tailed white horse!
On a table near are various offerings, and among them we see a rather greasy pack of ordinary playing-cards and a soda-water bottle, besides several saucers of waxy white blossoms of the frangipani flower, such as we saw in Ceylon, emitting a very strong scent. The soda-water bottle and playing-cards look rather dissipated, but they are quite serious offerings, given by somebody who thinks them rare and interesting. Our ears for some time past have told us that an extraordinary amount of ticking is going on, and now that our eyes have become accustomed to the light, we can see numerous clocks on brackets and tables; these are of all sorts and sizes, including a 2s. 11d. "Bee" clock, cuckoo clocks, and even one large "grandfather." In between and about them, on the floor and on the shelves, are lamps large and lamps small, some brass, some china, and some glass!
The clocks are all going hard, ticking away as if they were running a race to see which could get ahead of the other. It is a funny medley! The monks are lazy enough and pass half their days asleep, but if they keep all these clocks wound up someone must have something to do. These are all offerings, and the more the better; no monk can ever get enough lamps or clocks to satisfy him!
We pass down and out into the courtyard, and all the monks follow us in a body and gently edge us toward some ponds or tanks where fat tortoises lie on the banks or float lazily in the stagnant water.
There is a man sitting on the side selling balls of rice and bits of bread. Just as we come up a graceful Burmese woman buys a ball and throws it into the water. In an instant what looks like a voracious army of huge spiders floats up from below and attacks it, and as the ball of rice dissolves and falls apart every grain disappears. Looking more closely we see that they are not spiders at all, but a curious kind of fish with long feelers growing out all round his mouth and nose. As he thrusts up his mouth to the surface, with all the feelers wriggling, the rest of his body is unseen, and the appearance is exactly that of a round spider with wriggling legs. Buy a bit of crust and see the fish dart at it and simply tear it to pieces; they scramble at it from all sides, pushing and nibbling, and in less time than you could imagine every crumb is gone!
The woman is laughing, and we laugh back at her. She is short and very neat, with her shining black hair coiled round her head and secured by two big pins, while a dainty spray of flower falls down on one side. Her face looks quite light coloured, for it is thickly covered with a kind of soft yellow powder, and she has a brilliant gauzy scarf across her little white jacket and falling down over her tight rose-pink silk skirt. As she walks away with a curious shuffle we see that she has on the quaintest shoes, with red velvet caps and no heels; but the caps are so much too small for her feet that she has had to leave the little toe outside! This is a fine dodge, and Mah Shwe can say she takes twos or threes in shoes with truth, even if her feet are much larger!
The monks are standing in a solemn group near their staircase when we go back, and when I suggest to Ramaswamy we should give them something he disagrees vigorously. "Not touching money, Master, only food and rice, no money." All right, we won't tempt them, and I put back the rupee I had taken out. You must have noticed already that the money here is the same as in India. Then we climb into the miserable little box on wheels which is waiting for us; it is the only cab we can get here, and calls itself a ticca-gharry. The little rat of a pony seems a very long way off; it is a tight squeeze for us inside, and there is certainly no room on the box beside the hairy-legged native for Ramaswamy, but he hops up on a board there is behind for the purpose, and hangs on as we jolt away to the Golden Pagoda.
The first thing we see when we arrive at it are two enormous monsters, not like any animal in existence, made of white plaster with glaring red eyes. They have dragons' heads and tigers' bodies and are most terribly ferocious. These guard the entrance to the pagoda and are called leogryphs. Between them there is a long ascent rising to the pagoda platform. The place is like a bazaar with people in their gay clothes coming and going, and the sun glinting through between the pillars at the open spaces. It is difficult to tell the difference between men and women, for all alike wear skirts and jackets, and you never see a man with a beard, hardly ever with a moustache. But the true distinction is that the men have a gay handkerchief called a goungbaung wound round their heads, and the women wear no head covering, and, as you have seen, they never think of veiling their faces, like the Mohammedan women. The men's head-gear is very different from that we saw in India; it is not a huge and heavy erection, but just a silk or cotton scarf twisted up and tucked in, and very often there is a "bird's nest" of dark hair sticking out in the middle of it, for the men's hair is long as well as the women's, but they roll it up so that it is not seen.
Everyone is very bright and friendly, and the girls who are selling all sorts of little tawdry things on the stalls by the stairs call out to us persuasively to buy from them. On the whole the place is clean, and there is no bazaar smell, only a certain sharp wood-smoke flavour and the scent of many flowers. But at the foot of every white column are horrible deep-red stains that look as if some little animal had been slaughtered there. It is not so bad as that. You remember we saw a man whose mouth was stained red with chewing betel-nut, which he did in the same way that some of the roughest men in England chew tobacco? These are the stains of that betel-nut, for nearly everyone here has the nasty habit.
Up the steps we pass, higher and higher, and come out on to a great platform which looks like a street, for it is lined with buildings on all four sides and in the middle too; but rising above those in the middle is the great pagoda, the Shwe Dagon,—shwe means golden,—and this is the most wonderful thing in Burma.
It is so wide at the base that it takes quite a long time to walk round it, and then it goes up in a bell-like curve, tapering to a steeple little less than the height of St. Paul's Cathedral. At the very top of all, so high that we can only see it by cricking our necks, is an iron cage called a htee, meaning "umbrella," decorated with swinging bells. Listen for a moment and perhaps you can hear them as the wind sways them about. No, the air is too still to-day. Deep in the innermost chamber of the pagoda are no less than eight hairs of Buddha, besides other relics of other Buddhas who lived before the last.
The marvel of it is that this great monument is pure gold from top to bottom. Much of it is covered with thin plates of real gold, and the rest, yards and yards of it, is plastered with gold-leaf.
Did you see that red glint from the top as the sun caught the htee at an angle? That was probably a real ruby, for it flashed out like a sword blade. There are many real stones set up there, and the htee alone cost L50,000!
Coming back to earth, look at the glitter on all these shrines that line the platform on both sides. Though it looks like a street it isn't really, for there are no houses, only shrines and temples. That one close to us is dazzling to look at. No, those blue and red flashes are not from real jewels; examine them and see. The shrine is encased with little pieces of looking-glass, some red and some blue and some plain, all fitted in together like mosaic.
The next is made of the wonderful carved woodwork the Burmans do so well, and it is gilded all over; for my own part I prefer the dark teak ungilded, but still this looks very handsome among the rest. That tall post like a flagstaff, with streamers flying from it, is a praying-post; can you make out the figure like a weather-cock at the top? It is a goose instead of a cock, and doesn't tell the direction of the wind. It is the sacred goose. The brilliance of all this detail takes one's breath away. On every side we see the people worshipping, and yet it is not a festival day, for then we should hardly be able to move for the crowds on the platform—where there are tens now there would then be thousands. The worshippers drop down quite simply on the pavement before a favourite shrine and hold up their hands toward it, sometimes with an offering of flowers in them, or even a big taper. There is a woman passing smoking a monstrous "green" cigar. It is a huge thick roll of light-coloured stuff like shavings, about as long as your arm from elbow to wrist, and as thick as a man's finger. She has to open her little round mouth wide to get the end in. It is not filled with pure tobacco, but a chopped mixture of all sorts; even you could smoke it without any harm. Why yes, women smoke here almost all day, and children too. They do say the mothers give the babies-in-arms a whiff, but I haven't seen that myself!
Set up everywhere are coloured umbrellas with fringes of coloured beads, as large as those used for tents on lawns sometimes. We peer into numberless shrines as we pass and see Buddhas of every sort peeping at us out of the dim interiors; there are Buddhas of brass, Buddhas of marble, Buddhas of alabaster, Buddhas coated with white paint, and Buddhas covered with gold. Most of them are seated, always exactly in the same position as the one we saw far away in Ceylon. This is supposed to signify Buddha as he sat under the Bo tree meditating. Others show him standing with one hand upraised, and this is to show Buddha as he was when teaching, and others are lying down, but these are the least common. They are supposed to show Buddha when he passed into eternal calm.
Pink is by far the favourite colour for the people's clothes, and it is very vivid, like the colour seen in striped coco-nut cream, but white is also much worn, and there is some yellow in orange shades. Many of the Burmese wear a shirt of maroon check, just like a check duster; these are their workaday clothes, on festivals they generally manage to come out in silks.
Come round now to the back of the shrines that line the platform on the outer side, here there is another open space, and on it are bells as large as church bells; they hang between two posts. Take up one of those deer's horns lying beside that one and stroke it hard. It gives out a clear musical note. Try now the piece of wood, that sounds different. Everyone who passes stops to strike one or the other of the bells, they want to call the attention of the "good nats," or spirits, to the fact that they are at the pagoda! In this shed is an enormous bell large enough to hold half a dozen men. I don't think you'll be able to make much effect with a deer's horn on that. It is the third largest in the world, and once was in the bottom of the Rangoon River, for the English were carrying it away when it toppled over and sank. Engineers tried to raise it, but failed, because of its enormous weight; but the Burmans, after some time, were allowed to try, and somehow managed to succeed, and not only so, but they hauled it right up here! It does look as though there were something weird about its positive refusal to be carried away!
Along the edge of this part of the pagoda are a number of wooden platforms raised a foot or two from the ground, for the use of those who come from long distances, and on them many families are lying or sitting. On one sits a tiny boy with a quizzical intelligent little face. His top-knot sticks up like an out-of-curl feather. Beside him is a still smaller mite who cannot be more than two; he has little silver bangles on his fat wrists and ankles, and a strip of cotton rolled round his dumpy body, while papa and mamma and numerous aunts are seated on the platform behind gravely smoking.
I stop to light a cigarette close to this family, and in an instant the elder lad holds out his hand timidly. Just to see what he will do I give him a cigarette; he takes it with a self-possessed courtesy and looks at me, politely waiting for a light. I hand him the box and he strikes a match and bows a little as he returns it; even the children have excellent manners. Drawing in a great whiff of smoke he sends it out through his little round nose in keen enjoyment. But the fat baby has suddenly become alive to what is going on, and crawling on the top of his brother clamorously demands a smoke more loudly than if he were asking for sweets. The bigger boy hands him the cigarette. He knows quite enough not to put the lighted end in his mouth, and in a second is puffing so vigorously that the cigarette burns away like a furnace; when his brother sees this he makes a desperate effort to recover it, but the fat baby pushes him off with one hand, while he clings to the cigarette with the other, and, turning away his head, smokes harder than ever.
We are both reduced to fits of laughter by this time, and the family on the platform are enjoying the joke too. Seeing that there are likely to be difficulties, I solve them by producing another cigarette for the elder boy, and the fat baby is left in full possession of the first one. The last sight we have of him is as he violently resists a grown-up sister who is trying to take away the stub!
THE KING'S REPRESENTATIVE
We are lucky! No sooner have we returned to the hotel than a gorgeous man, over six feet high, dressed in white, with a red sash, in which is stuck a tasselled dagger, greets us. He is a chuprassie, or messenger, and has come from Government House with a note inviting us to a garden-party there this afternoon. What a day of it! This is the result of my having been up there yesterday to write our names in the book kept for the purpose, while I left you to rest. That is the way people do here instead of leaving cards, so that His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor may know who has come to the country. I thought perhaps he would take some notice of us, because his younger brother was my great friend at the 'Varsity, but this is very prompt. I am glad you will have a chance of seeing something of Government House, as most people in England have not an idea how things are run here. Burma is counted as one of the provinces of India, and is under the Viceroy of all India, but within his own borders the Lieutenant-Governor is the ruler and representative of the King.
It is about four o'clock, when, having had a rest and made ourselves as smart as we can, we crawl up the long drive leading to Government House in one of the ridiculous small ticca-gharries which are the only conveyances one can get.
We are one of a long procession of vehicles going at a foot's pace, stopping and starting again. Some are private carriages, there are a few motors, a few dog-carts, and ours is not the only little box on wheels. Lean out a little and you will see a flash of jewels and satiny silk in that one in front of us; evidently some wealthy natives are among the guests. The long line of vehicles comes up to the door, and when the occupants have alighted the drivers curve on round the lawn and go away. At last our turn comes. A pleasant-looking man, all in white, with a red sash and sword, and a wonderful bunch of tassels and plaits in gold, called an aiguillette, on his breast, greets us as cordially as if we were old friends. Notice the plume of rose-pink feathers on his helmet! He seems to know all about us without our saying a word, and as he leads the way across the short grass lawn to where our host and hostess stand ready to greet their guests, he tells me that His Excellency's brother, my old friend, is actually staying here now.
His Excellency is in English costume, with a star on his breast; he shakes hands kindly and calls out to summon his brother, who is not far off, and we pass on to make way for the stream of newcomers.
We could not be in better hands. Claude and I have not met for years, but that makes no difference; we greet each other as if we had parted only yesterday. He takes us over to the tables for tea and fruit. And when he hears this is your first visit he insists on your eating a mango, which is the most famous fruit in the country and just ripe. These are a specially good sort, not very large, with pink "cheeks"; when you have stripped off the tough skin you find you get down to the big stone very soon, and there isn't much room for the fruity part between, still, what there is of it is excellent, and I see you furtively using your handkerchief to get rid of the stickiness afterwards!
Then we sit in basket-chairs, not too near the band, and Claude tells us "all about it." It is a much more brilliant scene than an ordinary garden-party at home, because in addition to the Europeans there are a number of high-class Burmese. Those little ladies near us standing in a group are most gorgeously attired in much-embroidered fussy little jackets with short wings, or lappets, sticking out behind, and their skirts, or tameins, are woven of the richest silk. As that one turns you see that beside the flowers in her hair she has two big pins with heads the size of small walnuts; those are real diamonds, not perhaps of the first water, but still of great value. The ladies' faces are smooth with yellow powder, and there is something very neat about their movements. A little way off is a Burman with a pink goungbaum and very rich silk skirt. The grass, kept green by plentiful early morning watering, is quite vivid in colour, and the clear cloudless sky is of a thrilling blue. Government House itself is a great palace, not beautiful, as it is built of yellow brick and pink terra-cotta, but imposing and dignified. Burman attendants wearing turbans and skirts, called lyungis, of purest mauve, and dainty white jackets, glide about with the refreshments. Burmans will seldom take service with anyone, generally they leave that to the natives of India, but they make a distinction in the case of anyone so important as the Lieutenant-Governor.
"It's all rather overwhelming to me," says my friend. "You know I am a quiet man; a well-seasoned pipe and a den full of books are about my mark. I had no idea till I came out here that my brother was such a boss; it makes me want to run away."
"Tell us about some of the guests," I suggest. "Why does that man in the saffron-coloured robe have yards too much of it?"
"That's his best garment, called a putso, I understand. The more stuff the better, all bunched up; to show he can afford it, I suppose. Doesn't leave much room for the tailor to display his cut. He's a prominent Government man. I don't know him personally. Those two ladies in the fussy little jackets are royalties; they wear that sort of thing because they're of the old royal blood, though otherwise you only see it in the pwes, or plays. They are of the house of Theebaw, the king we dethroned in 1885 when we took over Upper Burma. He's living still in India, where he was sent into exile. I don't know what relation these two are to him, but when every king had at least thirty sons, there was no scarcity of relations! It was the custom for the son who mounted the throne in the old days to kill off all his brothers if he could lay hands on them, as a precaution in case of accidents. I take it some of the ladies were spared, which would make for the inequality of the sexes."
"I suppose your brother is like a king out here?"
"He is the representative of the King. You should see him driving in state with outriders in scarlet liveries. People in England don't realise it. I always say how he will suffer when he retires and goes to England, where no one will shiko to him!"
At that moment he springs to his feet to shake hands with a dignified short Burman in beautiful native dress, to whom he introduces us. This is the Sawbwa, or chief, of Hsipaw, one of the native states. The Sawbwa has been educated in England and speaks perfectly correct English. He has a passion for travel and wants to go round the world, he says, but he has to get permission from the Viceroy before leaving the country, as the English Government doesn't like the native princes leaving their territory. So long as he stays at home and governs his people well he is not interfered with, but when he wants to go away he feels the hand of Britain over him!
After talking a little while he asks us if we have seen the football—he calls it football, but, as he explains, it is a native game called chin-lon, which is not quite the same.
We saunter across the lawn and find that a sort of exhibition game for the amusement of the guests is going on. The ball is made of wicker-work and is kept in the air by the knees or feet of the players very cleverly, in fact, so cleverly that it looks quite easy to do. The young men who are playing turn and twist and always catch it just right, sending it spinning upwards very neatly. This is a game played by every village lad, but if you tried it you'd find it uncommonly difficult.
A little farther on two men are boxing with their feet, raising their legs in the high kick and sometimes smacking each other's faces with the soles; the way they balance is extraordinary, there are roars of laughter when one nearly goes over but just recovers himself. He is a bit of a clown, that fellow, and does it on purpose now and again, though really he is perfectly balanced. Then we walk on with Claude toward the house, where the marble steps are lined by chuprassies, like the one who brought us our invitation this morning; we pass into the hall, with its high white columns and airy spaciousness, and then we see masses of wood-carving like that at the choung, deeply undercut, and a huge pair of elephant tusks. Everywhere are tall vases with great orange and red flags, something of the same kind as those that grow by riversides, only much larger.
The passages are in the form of great arcades, and the ballroom behind is vast. It is indeed a palace fit for a king!
His Excellency is very gracious, and when he is free for a few minutes he talks to us and asks us to stay with him and his wife on our way back from up-country, an invitation we gladly accept. He also promises to make everything easy for us on our tour. As we go away, after having taken our leave, I hear you say thoughtfully—
"I think I'd like to be a Lieutenant-Governor when I grow up!"
It is a good ambition, but you will have to be clever and very hard working to achieve it, and even then you will want a bit of luck. You must go into the Indian Civil Service first, and after all, of course, you may never get there, but with a bit of luck——
THE CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE
"This butter is uneatable, Ramaswamy."
"I wash him, Master."
He takes away the dish of nasty, yellow, tinned butter and presently returns with it fresh and white, with much of the disagreeable taste and smell gone. Good! Now we know.
We are sitting on a broad verandah of dark wood with a roof overhead. It is so wide that it is just like a room, only the outer sides are open. We look out over a moat filled with water and covered with leaves and pink flowers. These are the celebrated lotus flowers, or lilies. Behind rise red walls, with here and there quaint little maroon-coloured towers, all pinnacles and angles, showing up like fretwork against the sky. The moat is crossed by bridges of dazzling white. It is nearly midday, the hottest and stillest time of all the day, and we are lunching in the Circuit House at Mandalay, the old capital of the kings of Burma.
Everyone knows Mandalay by name from Kipling's poem, even if they know nothing of the rest of Burma. We came up here from Rangoon by train,—it took a night,—and by special permission of His Excellency were allowed to stay in this house, which is usually reserved for Government officials, instead of going to the rest-house intended for visitors, and not nearly so nice.
From where we sit we can look through into the wooden unpapered bedrooms behind, with the little string beds on which our own bedding lies in heaps. Ramaswamy has not had time to put it out yet, for he has been busy cooking our tiffin. In these houses the keeper, or derwan, will do everything for you if you like, and you pay him so much for his trouble, but if you prefer your own servant to do it you can make that arrangement and borrow the pots and pans. Ramaswamy has given us already buttered eggs, some cutlets which tasted goaty, with some excellent little vegetables called bringals, as well as a dish of mixed curry, and he has now put some fruit on the table, and is bringing in coffee. He cooks out there behind in the compound. I saw him just now bending over a handful of sticks. However he manages to get the things hot I don't know. These natives have marvellous ways.
We must rest a while this afternoon and have an early tea before starting out to see the palace which lies inside that brick wall.
The tea is decent, the toast smoky, and the milk very poor. Ramaswamy says that it is almost impossible to get milk; the Burmans don't drink it themselves, and he thinks we shall have to fall back upon that condensed stuff. However, there is excellent jam, and that is a good thing. Look round this bare wooden room and notice how little furniture one needs for perfect comfort. A couple of deck-chairs, a couple of small chairs, a table, a lamp, and a waste-paper basket! What a lot of superfluous furniture one does accumulate in England!
What are you smiling at? The recollection of the bath? It's a very good way of bathing, I think. A wooden tub in the middle of a tiny room without anything else in it. You can splash as much as ever you like, and even if you spilt the whole bath it wouldn't matter much, because the water would simply run down through the cracks in the plank floor, and any one who knows anything here knows enough not to stand underneath a bathroom which is built out on wooden legs.
We'll start now if you're ready! Hullo! Did you ever see anything so impudent? A great crow on the tea-table! Frighten him away, he's after those chocolates wrapped in silver paper that you brought up from Rangoon. The cheek of it!
When we have passed over the white bridge and got inside the wall of the palace we see a wide space of green with a few houses scattered here and there, and in the middle a group of buildings, one of which has a very tall spire. Inside this wall at one time, the Burman time, was crammed the whole of Mandalay—six thousand houses, more or less. It was the town. The British cleared out all the houses, and the town is now outside in wide streets,—we saw it this morning as we drove up from the station,—and the palace is left here alone in its glory.
That tall, many-roofed spire is the King's house. Only the King was allowed to rival the poongyis in the number of his roofs, no other Burman might do such a thing. It is an empty distinction in two senses, for, as you know, the roofs don't mean floors, they are hollow. There is only one floor, for, of course, the King could never risk the frightful indignity of having anyone's feet above his head. At the top is a htee, or umbrella, as there is on the pagodas.
The palace is not all one big building, but a number of buildings, or halls, each only one storey, grouped about with courtyards between. We wander in and out of them, treading on polished floors and seeing brilliant bits of colour framed in dark doorways. Some of the pillars glow a dull red, others are a wonderful gold; some of the doorways are set in frames of carved wood gilded all over. We see columns encrusted with little bits of many-coloured looking-glass, like those we saw in Rangoon. The halls are very dim in contrast with the brilliant light outside, and there is a kind of tawdriness in the decoration which makes one feel how different in nature these people must be from the ancient Egyptians who built so solidly. Here all is gay, but you feel it is gimcrack—it won't last. Look at that balustrade, gleaming deep green; examine it—do you see what it is? Nothing in the world but a row of green glass bottles turned upside down and embedded in cement! This place isn't old at all. It has not been built sixty years; before that the capital was elsewhere.
All at once Ramaswamy, who has been following noiselessly, pushes you aside with a cry of "Scorpion, Master." There, on the ground, difficult to see in this dim light, is a round black thing about as big as the palm of your hand, with a tail sticking out from it. It is the shape of a tadpole. In another minute you would have trodden on him, and if he had got in above your shoe, well—it would have been unpleasant in any case, and might have meant death!
He lies quite still, not attempting to run away until Ramaswamy's shout brings one of the guardians, a tall man in a dark blue uniform and red sash. He rushes to find a big stone. We won't stop to see it. Poor beggar! Doubtless they'll "larn him to be a scorpion!"
When King Theebaw reigned here he thought himself invincible; the many-roofed spire was "the centre of the universe." He imagined he could treat as he liked not only his own subjects but that white-faced race who had had the audacity to settle down in southern Burma. He soon learnt his mistake.
Leaving the palace we go on to see a very curious thing not far off outside the walls, this is the Kutho-daw, the Royal Merit-House. We enter by an elaborate white gateway and find ourselves in a perfect forest of pagodas. They are planted in rows and are all exactly alike and not very large. They are glittering white, and each one has a slate slab inside. The Kutho-daw was built by Theebaw's uncle, who acquired much merit thereby, and he deserved it, for there are no less than seven hundred and twenty-nine pagodas. On the slate inside each is inscribed some part of the Buddhist Scriptures. It was a grand idea thus to preserve indelibly on stone the whole Burmese Bible. Here it is for all time. Peep inside one and you will see the funny-looking Burmese writing, which all runs on without being divided up into words, and looks consequently so incomprehensible to us.
What? How you jump! What is it? Another beast? Yes, I see him, that is a tarantula crouching in the darkest corner and looking at us out of wicked little eyes that shine like diamond points. He is a monster spider, isn't he? All hairy too, and his body striped with yellow bands like a wasp's. He sits still, but he is very much alive and ready to jump at a minute's notice. They are venomous brutes. Not quite so bad as a scorpion, but still the bite from one of these fellows is a very unpleasant thing. We will leave him, he can't do much harm here.
Now we will drive round the town and see how the people live.
Here is a happy family seated on a wooden platform stretching out in front of their house. The dust around and over them and in the roadway is almost as bad as Egypt, but here there is nearly always a tree or shrub of some sort to bring in a flash of green. The huts too are built of wood and mats and are raised several feet from the ground; they do not look so hopelessly crooked as the Egyptian mud houses. In the space underneath huge black pigs, like great boars, wander, and there are black goats too, and skinny hens and pariah dogs. Do you see that mother-dog lying in the roadway, too lazy to move, with six yellow puppies sprawling over her? Poor brute, she is a mass of mange and so skinny that her ribs stick out! The people here are taught by their religion not to take life of any kind; some of the priests strain their water through a sieve lest they should inadvertently swallow an insect! So no one kills, even in mercy. All these miserable puppies are allowed to grow up to a starved wretched existence, a misery to themselves and everyone else.
Look at those two elephants stalking down the road; they move majestically, and when they reach the pariah dog the driver, or oozie, seated on the first one's neck, pricks him with a point to make him look where he is going, so that he avoids the dog. You will see plenty of elephants here, for elephants are to Burma what camels are to Egypt, the regular beasts of burden. They carry the kit and camp paraphernalia for the men who go into the jungle sometimes for months. They move the logs and trunks of the timber which is cut in the forests in large quantities. You remember the dark wood of the Circuit House and the poongyi choung? That is all teak, the best known wood in the country, corresponding to our oak. There are forests of it, and large companies exist simply for getting it out. There are still herds of wild elephants in the little disturbed parts of Burma, and every now and again Government catches them in keddahs in great quantities. I wish we had the luck to go with a hunting-party.
The family which owns that hut is seated on the edge of the platform and are watching us with as much interest as we watch them. Two bright-eyed little girls in jackets play beside a smiling woman. You will notice here the girls and women have quite as good a time as the boys and men; no veiling of faces or hiding away for them. The Burman knows better, and he would get on badly without the active help and advice of his comrade and wife.
ON A CARGO BOAT
Did you ever see anything like it in your life? I never did.
We are on a steamer coming down the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay, and it is our first evening on board. We are not the only passengers, there are also a widow lady and her daughter, a girl a few years older than you, but still in pigtails, whose name is Joyce. We were all four sitting very comfortably after dinner on the deck, which is roofed in, making a fine open room like a verandah, when a few large, light-coloured moths appeared; then, as if by magic, the whole deck was suddenly alive with them. They banged against the glass of the lights, thumped into our faces, and whirled around exactly like a thick snowstorm with very large flakes.
"It's one of the plagues of Egypt," you yell.
Joyce screams, pulls her long plaits round her face to prevent the moths catching in them, and dives for her cabin. Everyone follows suit, and soon anxious voices can be heard asking, "How many got in with you?"
It is impossible to shut the port-hole, and in less time than I can tear off my clothes my tiny room is as bad as the deck.
Luckily there are mosquito-curtains, and glad of them we are, as we can hear the loathsome soft-bodied creatures blundering about outside them.
Lo! in the morning they are all gone, and when I get on deck, and ask the captain, a stern soul from Aberdeen, where they have disappeared to, he points to the river. "Where would they be? Overboard, of course. Dead, every one of them. They live but a day."
Leaning over the vessel's side I see some of the gummy bodies, mere hollow shells now, transparent and fragile, sticking on to the black paint about the bows. The creatures are white ants who come out of holes in the ground at this time of year. Our lights attracted a new-born swarm. At least that must have been it, because we weren't plagued with them again in the same way, though the captain says that in the wet season it is impossible to sit on the deck at all in the evenings because of the multitude of winged things.
"But then you haven't got any hair," I hear Joyce's cheerful voice saying on the deck. You evidently reply something, for she rejoins at once, "Oh yes, it's in plaits, but they might stick in them! I've always had a creepy horror of crawly things sticking in my hair."
"Cut it off," you suggest brutally.
This is a cargo boat. We had much to see at Mandalay; we visited the Aracan Pagoda and Golden Temple, we went up to the hill-station, Maymyo, and on to the Gokteik Gorge, spanned by one of the highest trestle bridges in the world, and when we arrived back at Mandalay we found that the passenger boat had just left, so we came on by this one, the China, which is really just as comfortable and not so crowded. She is fitted with bathrooms and comfortable cabins with little beds in them, and on the spacious upper deck are two immense mirrors so placed that all the sights on the shore are reflected in them. You can sit in a lounge-chair and watch them flash past like a continuous cinematograph.
The Irrawaddy flows right through Burma, cutting it in half, as the Nile does Egypt; and it is rather like the Nile, but, of course, not nearly so long, not so long even as the Ganges, though steamers can go up it for nine hundred miles, equal to the length of England and Scotland put together! The river is wide and shallow in places, sometimes as much as two miles across, and at these places great care has to be taken not to run on sandbanks; there is much poling and shouting out of soundings, and when we do stick, a boat rows out with an anchor and drops it, and after a while we ride up to the anchor and there we are!
There is far more vegetation to be seen on the banks than in Egypt, and the life in the villages is much more attractive. The houses are perfectly beautiful—at a distance. They are built of dark wood, and stand on posts, with wide verandahs and thatched roofs, are nearly always embowered in great trees, and have a luxuriant growth of plantains and trees around. The spires of the pagodas and the pinnacles and roofs of the choungs generally rise up somewhere in the picture, and in the evening, when the whole village comes down to the water, the scene is charming. The cattle stand knee-deep and the people bathe and wash their clothes and drink heartily of the muddy stream, and then slip on dry garments, after which the women and girls stream up the steep banks, carrying red chatties of water on their heads. All are lively, full of play and chaff. Their life is a happy one, because perfectly simple and natural; no one need starve and no one wants to be rich.
All day the steamer floats along, generally winding slowly across and across the river wherever a little red flag stuck up on the banks tells that there are a few cases or barrels or packets to be taken down to the market. At one place it is let-pet, or pickled tea, though the plant from which the stuff is made is not really a tea-plant. Burmans love it, and no feast is complete without it, indeed a packet of let-pet is an invitation to something festive.
It is early afternoon and quite hot and still as we circle toward the shore where the red flag hangs drooping; people in gay clothes are dabbed about like little splashes of colour on the whity-yellow sand. Suddenly there is a splash, and from our bows, which are high up in the air, one of the Lascars, dressed in blue dungaree trousers, drops feet first into the water like a stone; while he is in the air another follows and another, until there are half a dozen of them in the water, and they go across to the shore, paddling with each hand alternately as a dog does with his paws. They are carrying a line ashore. They always jump off like this at every landing-place. They shake themselves like dogs as they land, and the sun soon dries their one and only garment. But it takes a good while before the line is fixed up to the captain's liking!
Then the people swarm across the plank into the great barge, or flat, tied alongside of us, and a shouting sing-song begins as men and girls alike hurry up and down carrying on board sacks of monkey-nuts. They work hard and untiringly and always good-humouredly; the popular notion that the Burman is a lazy fellow is based on the fact that he won't work if he can help it, but when he has to he does it with goodwill. A funny little incident occurs. The captain, walking down his own gangway, is run into by a coolie who is heading up the plank with a sack on his shoulders; wrathfully the captain sends him and his sack flying, and they both land in deep water. That is nothing, however, for every Burman can swim, and no one bears any ill-feeling about it.
Crowds of little boys and girls are dancing and splashing about on the edge of the water with infinite glee. A mother comes down with her baby and goes into deep water with the tiny thing clinging to her; suddenly she lets it go, and swimming with one hand holds it up with the other while it kicks spasmodically like a little frog. The babies learn to swim before they can walk.
Joyce is seized with a brilliant idea. "Mother," she cries, "those toys we bought in the bazaar! Mayn't I give them to the children?"
Taking leave for granted she flies into her cabin and returns with two gaily painted wooden animals whose legs move on strings; there is a yellow tiger with a red mouth, and a purple monkey. Joyce stands as high as she can on the rail and makes the tiger jump its legs up and down. A yell of delight from the children on the shore shows that she is understood. They plunge into the water like porpoises, and after a minute Joyce drops the tiger straight down. It is a good distance to swim, some fifty yards, perhaps, and the little black heads bob up and down frantically as the youngsters make desperate attempts to get through the water.
Good! Go it! Two little boys about equal size are well ahead of the others and rapidly nearing the prize. It is just a toss-up which gets it; they grab simultaneously, but their fingers close on empty water. The tiger has disappeared, sucked down by something into the depths! Has it been eaten by a fish?
No, there it is, having risen to the surface again some yards distant, grasped by a thin little arm. The owner of the arm emerges the next instant, shaking back her long black hair. It is a small girl, who actually dived under the boys and snatched the prize away! She deserves it, and holding it on high lies on her back and kicks her way back to land with her legs. She is a magnificent swimmer. They all follow her and crowd around her on the shore while she dangles the treasure in the sun, but no one attempts to take it from her.
At the moment everyone has forgotten that there may be more forthcoming, and when Joyce holds up the purple monkey only one tiny podgy fellow sees it, and slipping silently into the water exerts himself tremendously to get well out before the others discover him. He swims slowly, for he is very small, and when he is half-way across the others are after him like a pack of hounds; but he gets the monkey, and turns his bright eager face up to us radiant with delight. One of the elder boys carries his treasure back for him, and by the way the little fellow yields it up readily it is quite evident that he is not in the least afraid of its being taken from him. His faith is justified, for he gets it back directly he lands, and then the children dance round the two lucky ones, singing and making such a noise that a troop of anxious parents hurry down to find out what is the matter. Those toys will be treasures for many a long day.
The steamer screeches and we are off once more. Soon we see a great sugar-loaf hill in the distance, also a perfect forest of pagodas of all shapes and sizes along the river bank. This is Pagahn, a celebrated place, now deserted and melancholy. Imagine a strip of ground eight miles long and two broad, covered by hundreds of pagodas; it is said there are nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine, but no one could count them, for half of them are mere heaps of stones, so possibly there may be one more to make a round number! Pagahn was once a capital city, and the then Burman king pulled down some of the pagodas to build up the defences of his walls when he heard that a Chinese king was coming to attack him; but of course he got the worst of it after such an impious act, as anyone would guess, and since then the place has been deserted. Some of the largest pagodas have been restored, which is rather a wonder in Burma as restoration does not make for "merit." You can see the snow-white outlines rising gracefully in the middle of the rough line of uneven buildings. Unluckily, instead of stopping here we go across the river and anchor at Yenangyaung, where there is a very strong smell of something. "I know," Joyce declares, wrinkling up her smooth little nose. "It's lamp oil."
She is right, it is petroleum; there are here wells of it, from which it bursts up with great force sometimes, like a geyser.
If we had been on a tourist steamer we should have visited Pagahn, but then we should have missed seeing much human life.
An evening later the captain comes up to say that there is a pwe, or play, going on in the village near which we have anchored for the night, and wouldn't we like to go to see it? This is a grand chance, because Burmese pwes are very funny things indeed. The people have them at every chance,—births, weddings, deaths, and festivals, none are ever complete without a play!
We dine early, and, accompanied by the captain, set out afterwards, all four of us, for the village. The moon is getting up but is not bright yet, and we can see the trees standing up against a deep blue night sky, with the big bright stars winking at us through the palm fronds. The village street is deserted, and long before we reach the end of it where the pwe is going on we hear an exciting clash of cymbals and bang of drums which sets you and Joyce dancing.
At last, right in the roadway, between the thatched houses, we see a big crowd, and coming up to it find every man, woman, child, and baby belonging to the village seated on the ground or lying in front of a small platform. The platform is simply a few loose boards standing on some boxes, and when anyone walks across it the boards jump up and down. In front are the footlights, a row of earthenware bowls filled with oil, with a lighted wick floating in each one.
The Burman who is giving the pwe and has sent us the message about it comes forward and leads us to the front courteously. He is a portly man with a dress of rich silk so stiff it would stand by itself, and a large fur cape, like those worn by coachmen in England, over his shoulders, for the evenings are sharp. In following him through the crowd we find great difficulty in avoiding stepping on arms and legs which seem to be strewn haphazard on the bare earth, the owners being partly covered up with mats or rugs. Most of the men are squatting gravely with bath-towels over their shoulders—they make convenient wraps. Men and women alike are smoking either huge green cheroots or small brown ones. Our seats are right in front of the stage and consist of a row of soap-boxes. Joyce's mother clutches me in horror. "I can't sit down there," she says with a gasp; "I shall fall over." The captain misunderstands her and gallantly tries one himself, saying, "It holds me, Madam." As he is at least sixteen stone in weight this sends Joyce off into fits of irrepressible giggles, luckily drowned by the band, which is making an ear-splitting noise—"La-la-la, la-la-la!" One man bangs an instrument like those called harmonicons, with slats of metal set across it all the way up. Another is seated inside a tub, the rim of which is entirely composed of small drums; another cracks bamboo clappers together in an agonising way, while clarionets do their best, and a pipe fills in all the intervals it can find.
A girl with a very coquettish gold-embroidered jacket, which stands out behind like two pert wings in the same way as those worn by the princesses at the garden-party, is rouging her face close to us; she gets it to her liking by leaning over the footlights and gazing in a little hand-mirror, then she takes up an enormous cigar which lies smoking beside her and puffs away contentedly till her turn comes.
Two clowns are taking their part; we can't understand a word they say, but their humorous faces and comic gestures are irresistibly funny. Suddenly Golden-Jacket puts down her cigar, springs to her feet, and gets across the shaking boards with marvellous serpentine movements in a skirt tighter even than a modern one, literally a tube wound around her legs. Then, waving her long thin hands and arms so that ripples seem to run up and down them, she sings in a thin shrill voice a long song, while one of the clowns breaks in with "Yes, yes" and "Come on," meant for us and greatly appreciated by the audience. As the song wends toward its end, Golden-Jacket looks behind her more than once, and at last stops and says something out loud.
"She's telling the villain to hurry up or she won't wait for him," explains the captain, who understands Burmese. "She is in a forest. You see the branch of a tree stuck between the boards there? That's the forest. She went to meet her lover, the prince, for she is a princess, of course, but the villain has done his job, and now he's going to catch her."
The princess trills out some more lines, and the villain, who has apparently been having great difficulties with his costume at the back of the stage, in full view of the audience, steps heavily forward, making the boards bounce right up. When she sees him she shrieks and faints in his arms. He makes a long speech holding her. The clowns appear again. The heroine shakes herself free, and with great self-possession squats down once more on the edge of the stage and resumes her cigar until her turn comes again. The branch of the tree is pulled up, and in its place is put a box with a piece of pink muslin over it, while three men in long robes come in and sit down, one on the box and the other two on the boards beside him, and they all talk interminably. The band, which has only stopped impatiently while the actual speaking was going on, clashes in wildly at every possible interval and now drowns the voices altogether for a few minutes, just to remind us it is there. The men on the stage continue repeating their parts, whether it plays or not, and apparently they are so long winded that the plot does not suffer at all from the sentences which are lost in the noise.
"That's her father, the king," explains the captain. "He is taking counsel from his ministers how to recover his daughter and punish the villain. She's a boy, of course—they all are."
We can hardly believe it! The slender form, the graceful movements, the long thin fingers, the wonderful management of that terrible skirt, the coquettish movements! You can hardly imagine any British boy doing it, can you?
We are beginning to have about enough of it after a couple of hours, though the Burmans themselves comfortably settle down all night, and there are pwes that go on for days. What with the clashing music, the thick smoke in the air, the strange language, and a kind of dreaminess over everything, it is too much for Joyce, and she suddenly flops her head down on my shoulder in a profound slumber, hugely to your delight.
Her mother's cry of "Joyce!" brings her to herself with a crimson face, and I see you get a surreptitious kick for giggling, which you richly deserve!
We make a move, thank the Burmese entertainer, explain we have to be off early in the morning, and try to get out without setting our feet on anyone's head!
"Why, it has been snowing!" you cry in amazement as we get clear. It does look like it. The moon is full and white, high in the heavens, and shows up the dust which lies thickly over the village in a mantle of white.
I think Joyce is asleep most of the way back. "I feel as if I were drugged," she says as we haul her up the gangway.
Next day at sunrise we are off.
After golden hours of placid slipping down the shining waterway we pull up at about five for the night, and having finished tea we four sally forth for a walk, little dreaming what is going to happen.
Joyce's mother is a most attractive woman. She is well read, very keenly alive, and has travelled a great deal. She and I have much in common, and, I must say, as I help her across the paddy fields I forget all about you two.
It is not until we turn to go home that I miss you.
"They can't be far," I say reassuringly, and give a loud cooee, but there is no response.
"They can't possibly come to harm here," I say. "There is nothing to hurt them," and I shout again.
"Perhaps they have circled round and gone back to the ship another way," Joyce's mother suggests, and we turn. Darkness falls very quickly here, and it is dark before we get on board, but in answer to our anxious questions we find no one has seen anything of you.
Joyce's mother is very brave and sensible, but I can see that her heart is torn with anxiety. I try to comfort her by telling her that you are as good as a man, and have been brought up to look after yourself, but it makes little difference. She agrees, however, to remain on the steamer while the captain and I and a couple of Lascars with lanterns go forth again.
What a night we have of it! We wander far and wide, calling and waving the lights with no result, and when we come back in the grey dawn, with troubled hearts, there is still no news.
"Someone has taken them in," says the captain. "They're queer fellows, these Burmans; they daren't go out at nights for fear of spooks. You'll see they'll bring them safely back in the morning."
And he is right, for, as the sky flashes rosy red, we see you afar off coming across the fields. A sight you are, indeed, as you come nearer, with your torn clothes and scratched faces! But Joyce's mother gives a cry of joy and precipitates herself across the flat and along the gangway, hatless, and clasps her daughter in her arms as if she would never let her go again. You and I are not so emotional, but I'm jolly glad to see you again!
You shall tell your story in your own words. I wrote it down exactly as you told it to me, so that your people might have it.
Joyce's a brick. She can do most things boys can, and we soon began racing each other along those little raised bits of earth between the beds in the paddy fields. I splashed right in once or twice and we shrieked with laughter. By and by we found ourselves through that and out on a flat place covered with thorns. They weren't very high mostly, and we didn't feel them through our shoes, but now and again one caught us on the ankles and then didn't we hop! By the time we had reached the road I suppose we had lost sight of you altogether. I didn't think about it. I just had a feeling we must scramble on in that fizzing red sunset light, and then when we got tired turn plump round and go straight back to the ship the same way. I didn't really think about it, though.
The road? Yes, it was a sort of a road, at least it was a clear space marked all over with deep ruts and lined by little trees, and it ran ever so far both ways, as Euclid says a line does. The first thing we saw were two huge elephants, striding along with a wooden thing on the neck of one, banging and rattling as his head went up and down. A man was sitting on his neck and he took no notice of us at all, but they—the elephants, I mean—just loped along in that swinging way they do; I think it must make anyone sea-sick to be on their backs. We stared at them till they got far away. Then I discovered that the little trees were mimosa, which shrivel up when you touch them. They had dropped seeds on the ground, I suppose, for under them were tiny little mimosas, not trees but scrub stuff. Joyce had never seen any, and when I rubbed my hand across them and she saw them wither up, she cried out, "What a shame! Dear little things, don't be afraid of me!" and plumped herself down beside them to cuddle them, but they withered more than ever. How we laughed! The ones I had withered first were just beginning to come right again, and I was going to make them shut up once more, and she had caught my hand to stop me, when we heard a noise and looked up, and there was a great buffalo coming right at us with his nose stuck up straight in the air as if he smelt something nasty. You never saw anything so comic! Joyce cried out, "Oh, what a darling!" But into my head, quick as lightning, came what you told me about buffaloes, who hate Europeans savagely, though a Burmese child of four can drive them with a twig. I grabbed Joyce's hand and pulled her up, and then I saw he was coming for us and no mistake, with his nose up in that absurd fashion, and his great horns sticking out. We made a bolt for the nearest tree just as the buffalo plunged across the place we had been, like a runaway motor-car. Then he stopped and looked funny. All at once he caught sight of my topee, which had fallen off and rolled away a bit, and up went his nose again, and when he reached it down went his head and into it like a battering-ram; and didn't he make the clods fly as he spiked his horns into it. The trees were not very high, and had smooth stems so far up, and then a lot of branches. If we could get up there we'd be all right.
"Get up the tree, Joyce," I whispered. "I'll boost you."
So I did, shoving her up for all I was worth, and she hung on as high as she could reach, and there she stuck; even the best girls aren't quite like boys.
"Swarm up it," I urged.
"I can't," she said in an agonised voice, and I saw it was true, her petticoats were to blame, of course; any boy would have been up before you could say "knife."
Down she came again with a thud, and old Mr. Buffalo heard it and made for us like a fiend. We ran for the next tree and dodged him round it; it was a bit too exciting! He made rushes at us dead straight, and we tried always to keep the trunk of the tree between us and him as if it were the leader in Fox and Geese. When he came past like a bolt we ran the other side, but once or twice he nearly spiked us, and if he had knocked one of us down, or we had stumbled, it would have been all up with us. It was exhausting too. I was fearfully out of breath myself; being on a steamer a fellow can't keep in training, and as for Joyce, she was panting so that she couldn't speak.
Then I noticed that across the road was a jungly thicket; it was not open ground, as it was on the side we had come from, and I thought if we could reach that we might perhaps lose the gentleman, or he would lose us.
So I explained to Joyce in gasps that the next time he charged we must run behind his back and bolt across the road; she nodded and clutched my hand tighter than ever.
So we did it and were half-way over the road—it was very wide—before he found it out.
All the time, I must tell you, he had been making a funny little noise, a bit between a grunt and squeak, quite ridiculous for a huge black hairy beast like him; if I had had any breath to waste it would have made me laugh.
Now we heard that funny little noise—Uweekuweekuweek—just like that, coming over the road; we hadn't time to look. Never did any road I ever crossed seem so long; it was like a bad dream. We slipped and stumbled and didn't seem to make any headway, and every moment I expected to feel that great head in the flat of my back sending me sprawling ready to be spiked. At last we reached the line of bushes, and I gave Joyce a great pull with all my strength to pitch her to one side, for he was close on us then, and she went headlong and fell full length into the bushes, and I dropped on the top of her just as his majesty thundered past.
We lay there quiet as mice, though it was awfully uncomfortable; I was squashing Joyce to bits, and great thorns seemed running into me all over. Then a dreadful thought occurred to me—there were probably snakes there! Which was worst, snakes or the buffalo? And I asked cautiously—
"Have you been stung, Joyce?" and she answered so gravely, "Not yet," that I exploded, and, would you believe it, that old animal that had been rootling about in the bushes to find us, heard it and came at us again. We scrambled up and ran, tripping and tearing and crashing on into that wood, and I think he found some difficulty in following us, for after a while we couldn't hear him any more.
We stopped and listened with all our ears, but it seemed as if we were safe, for he wasn't a crafty animal and didn't know enough to come along quietly and surprise us. It was very dark there in that jungle, and for the first time I thought of you and how anxious you and Joyce's mother would be. So I said, "Come along home now," and pulled hold of Joyce. But she resisted and said, "It's not that way, silly; it's just the opposite."
I was positive and so was she.
I tried to think of all the things one tells by: the stars, but there weren't any, and I couldn't have done much with them if there had been; the moss on the north side of the trees, but there didn't seem to be any. I guess it's different in Burma. However, there was just a yellowish glow still, and I knew that must be in the west, and as the river runs north and south, and we were on the left bank, I guessed the way I wanted to go was about right. When I had proved it to Joyce she gave in and said she had said it all the time, just as women always do!
So we walked and walked, but we never came to that old road again. Once I thought I'd found it, but it was only some open, flat, thorny ground. It was very dark then, the dark comes on so fast here. Suddenly we both began to run as hard as we could, hand in hand; I don't know why, something set us off and I felt just as if I must, and I suppose Joyce did too, and then—crash!—before we knew where we were—smash!—we were flying, slipping, tobogganing down through some bushes, with our feet shooting out under us, and at last we reached the bottom. It was a steep gully, a kind of nullah. When we did get down we arrived separately, for we had had to let go to save ourselves. I was awfully sore, I know, and I wondered what had happened to her, being a girl and so much softer. But she didn't seem to mind much, for when I sang out, she answered quite cheerfully, "I'm sitting in the middle of a bramble bush like a bumble-bee. Do they sit in bushes, though? I think I'm getting a little mixed!"
A girl like that is a jolly good pal, I can tell you!
It was a snaky place and that is what I was afraid of. We trod carefully along the bottom and made noises to scare them off. Then I had a happy thought; I had a box of matches with me, and I kept on striking them till we found a handful of dry twigs which burnt up finely. It was so still there that they blazed straight and steady, and I used them as a torch and flourished them about low down as we walked.
I don't know if we really did see any snakes. Joyce is quite positive she counted fourteen, sliding away in front of the light at different times; but then she sees things much quicker than I do.
It took us a long time to get out of that nullah, and we tried all sorts of different ways, but the sides were too steep. Often we had to stop to get more twigs, and once, just as I had got a handful, Joyce said, "Why, there are little plums growing on them." We ate quite a lot, and they were refreshing and bitter, but it didn't mean much, for they were all skin and stone.