Towards natives the Eurasian is cold, haughty, and formal; and this attitude is repaid, with interest, in scorn and hatred. There is no concealing the fact that to the mild Gentoo the Eurasian is a very distasteful object.
But having said this, the case for the prosecution closes, and we may turn to the many soft and gentle graces which the Eurasian develops.
In all the relations of family life the Eurasian is admirable. He is a dutiful son, a circumspect husband, and an affectionate father. He seldom runs through a fortune; he hardly ever elopes with a young lady of fashion; he is not in the habit of cutting off his son with a shilling; and he is an infrequent worshipper in that Temple of Separation where Decrees Nisi sever the Gordian knots of Hymen.
As a citizen he is zealously loyal. He will speak at municipal meetings, write letters about drainage and conservancy to the papers, observe local holidays in his best clothes, and attend funerals.
The Eurasian is a methodical and trustworthy clerk, and often occupies a position of great trust and responsibility in our public offices. He is not bold or original, like Sir Andrew Clarke; or amusing, like Mr. Stokes; but he does what work is given him to do without overstepping the modesty of nature.
[Most Eurasians are Catholics; but some belong to the small Protestant heresies and call themselves Presbyterians, Anabaptists, and what not. To whatever creed they attach themselves, they are faithful and devoted; but the pageantry, the music, the antiquity, and the mystery of the ancient Church, draw forth, with the most potent spells, the fervour of their warm, emotional natures. They are never sceptical: the harder a doctrine is to believe the more they like it; the more improbable a tradition is the more tenaciously they cling to it. They are attracted by the supernatural and the horrible; they would not bate a single saint or devil of the complete faith to rescue all the truths of modern science from the ban of the Church.]
The Eurasian girl is often pretty and graceful; and, if the solution of India in her veins be weak, there is an unconventionality and naivete sometimes which undoubtedly has a charm; and which, my dear friend, J.H——, of the 110th Clodhoppers (Lord Cardwell's Own Clodhoppers) never could resist: "What though upon her lips there hung the accents of the tchi-tchi tongue."
A good many Eurasians who are not clerks in public offices, or telegraph signallers, or merchants, are loafers. They are passed on wherever they are found, to the next station, and thus they are kept in healthy circulation throughout India. They are all in search of employment on the railway; but as a provisional arrangement, to meet the more immediate and pressing exigencies of life, they will accept a small gratuity, [or engage themselves in snapping up unconsidered trifles]. They are mainly supported by municipalities, who keep them in brandy, rice, and railway-tickets out of funds raised for this purpose. Workhouses and Malacca canes have still to be tried.
Bishop Gell's plan for colonising the Laccadives and Cocos with these loafers has not met with much acceptance at Simla. The Home Secretary does not see from what Imperial fund they can be supplied with bathing-drawers and barrel-organs; but the Home Secretary ought to know that there is a philanthropic society at Lucknow of the disinterested, romantic, Turnerelli type, ready to furnish all the wants of a young colony, from underclothing to Eno's fruit salt.
A great many wise proposals emanate from Simla as regards some artificial future for the Eurasian. One Ten-thousand-pounder asks Creation in a petulant tone of surprise why Creation does not make the Eurasian a carpenter; another looks round the windy hills and wonders why somebody does not make the Eurasian a high farmer. The shovel hats are surprised that the Eurasian does not become a missionary, or a schoolmaster, or a policeman, or something of that sort. The native papers say, "Deport him"; the white prints say, "Make him a soldier"; and the Eurasian himself says, "Make me a Commissioner, or give me a pension." In the meantime, while nothing is being done, we can rail at the Eurasian for not being as we are.
"Let us sit on the thrones In a purple sublimity, And grind down men's bones To a pale unanimity."
There is no proper classification of the mixed race in India as there is in America. The convenient term quadroon, for instance, instead of "four annas in the rupee," is quite unknown; the consequence is that every one—from Anna Maria de Souza, the "Portuguese" cook, a nobleman on whose cheek the best shoe-blacking would leave a white mark, to pretty Miss Fitzalan Courtney, of the Bombay Fencibles, who is as white as an Italian princess—is called an "Eurasian."
"Do you know, dear Vanity, that it is not impossible that King Asoka (of the Edict Pillars), the 'Constantine of Buddhism,' was an Eurasian? I have not got the works of Arrian, or Mr. Lethbridge's 'History of the World' at hand, but I have some recollection of Sandracottus, or one of Asoka's fathers or grandfathers, marrying a Miss Megasthenes, or Seleucus. With such memories no wonder they call us 'Mean Whites.'"—ALI BABA, K.C.B.
"Venio nunc ad voluptates agricolarum, quibus ego" (like the Famine Commissioners) "incredibiliter delector."
[November 8, 1879.]
I missed two people at the Delhi Assemblage of 1877. All the gram-fed secretaries and most of the alcoholic chiefs were there; but the famine-haunted villager and the delirium-shattered, opium-eating Chinaman, who had to pay the bill, were not present.
I cannot understand why Viceroys and English newspapers call the Indian cultivator a "riot." He never amounts to a riot if you treat him properly. He may be a disorderly crowd sometimes; but that is only when you embody him in a police force or convert him into cavalry. The atomic disembodied villager has no notion of rioting, ca-ira singing, or any of the tomfooleries of revolution. These pastimes are for men who are both idle and frivolous. When our villager wants to realise a political idea, he dies of famine. This has about it a certain air of seriousness. A man will not die of famine unless he be in earnest.
Lord Bacon's apothegm was that Eating maketh a full man; and it would be better to give the starving cultivator Bacon than the report of that Commission (which we cannot name without tears and laughter) which goes to work on the assumption that writing maketh a full man—that to write over a certain area of paper will fill the collapsed cuticles of the agricultural class throughout India.
When [Sir Richard Temple] first started the idea of holding famines, I proposed that he should illustrate his project by stopping the pay and allowances of the Government of India for a month. But he did not listen to my proposal. People seldom listen to my proposals; and sometimes I think that this accounts for my constitutional melancholy.
You will ask, "What has all this talk of food and famine to do with the villager?" I reply, "Everything." Famine is the horizon of the Indian villager; insufficient food is the foreground. And this is the more extraordinary since the villager is surrounded by a dreamland of plenty. Everywhere you see fields flooded deep with millet and wheat. The village and its old trees have to climb on to a knoll to keep their feet out of the glorious poppy and the luscious sugar-cane. Sumptuous cream-coloured bullocks move sleepily about with an air of luxurious sloth; and sleek Brahmans utter their lazy prayers while bathing languidly in the water and sunshine of the tank. Even the buffaloes have nothing to do but float the livelong day deeply immersed in the bulrushes. Everything is steeped in repose. The bees murmur their idylls among the flowers; the doves moan their amorous complaints from the shady leafage of pipal trees; out of the cool recesses of wells the idle cooing of the pigeons ascends into the summer-laden air; the rainbow-fed chameleon slumbers on the branch; the enamelled beetle on the leaf; the little fish in the sparkling depths below; the radiant kingfisher, tremulous as sunlight, in mid-air; and the peacock, with furled glories, on the temple tower of the silent gods. Amid this easeful and luscious splendour the villager labours and starves.
Reams of hiccoughing platitudes lodged in the pigeon-holes of the Home Office by all the gentlemen clerks and gentlemen farmers of the world cannot mend this. While the Indian villager has to maintain the glorious phantasmagoria of an imperial policy, while he has to support legions of scarlet soldiers, golden chuprassies, purple politicals, and green commissions, he must remain the hunger-stricken, overdriven phantom he is.
While the eagle of Thought rides the tempest in scorn, Who cares if the lightning is burning the corn?
If Old England is going to maintain her throne and her swagger in our vast Orient she ought to pay up like a—man, I was going to say; for, according to the old Sanscrit proverb, "You can get nothing for nothing, and deuced little for a halfpenny." These unpaid-for glories bring nothing but shame.
But even the poor Indian cultivator has his joys beneath the clouds of Revenue Boards and Famine Commissions. If we look closely at his life we may see a soft glory resting upon it. I am not Mr. Caird, and I do not intend entering into the technical details of agriculture—"Quid de utilitate loquar stercorandi?"—but I would say something of that sweetness which a close communion with earth and heaven must shed upon the silence of lonely labour in the fields. God is ever with the cultivator in all the manifold sights and sounds of this marvellous world of His. In that mysterious temple of the Dawn, in which we of noisy mess-rooms, heated courts, and dusty offices are infrequent worshippers, the peasant is a priest. There he offers up his hopes and fears for rain and sunshine; there he listens to the anthems of birds we rarely hear, and interprets auguries that for us have little meaning.
The beast of prey skulking back to his lair, the stag quenching his thirst ere retiring to the depths of the forest, the wedge of wild fowl flying with trumpet notes to some distant lake, the vulture hastening in heavy flight to the carrion that night has provided, the crane flapping to the shallows, and the jackal shuffling along to his shelter in the nullah, have each and all their portent to the initiated eye. Day, with its fierce glories, brings the throbbing silence of intense life, and under flickering shade, amid the soft pulsations of Nature, the cultivator lives his daydream. What there is of squalor, and drudgery, and carking care in his life melts into a brief oblivion, and he is a man in the presence of his God with the holy stillness of Nature brooding over him. With lengthening shadows comes labour and a re-awaking. The air is once more full of all sweet sounds, from the fine whistle of the kite, sailing with supreme dominion through the azure depths of air, to the stir and buzzing chatter of little birds and crickets among the leaves and grass. The egret has resumed his fishing in the tank where the rain is stored for the poppy and sugarcane fields, the sand-pipers bustle along the margin, or wheel in little silvery clouds over the bright waters, the gloomy cormorant sits alert on the stump of a dead date-tree, the little black divers hurry in and out of the weeds, and ever and anon shoot under the water in hot quest of some tiny fish; the whole machinery of life and death is in full play, and our villager shouts to his patient oxen and lives his life. Then gradual darkness, and food with homely joys, a little talk, a little tobacco, a few sad songs, and kindly sleep.
The villages are of immemorial antiquity; their names, their traditions, their hereditary offices have come down out of the dim past through countless generations. History sweeps over them with her trampling armies and her conquerors, her changing dynasties and her shifting laws—sweeps over them and leaves them unchanged.
The village is self-contained. It is a complete organism, protoplastic it may be, with the chlorophyll of age colouring its institutions, but none the less a perfect, living entity. It has within itself everything that its existence demands, and it has no ambition. The torment of frustrated hope and of supersession is unknown in the village. We who are always striving to roll our prospects and our office boxes up the hill to Simla may learn a lesson here:
Sisyphus in vita quoque nobis ante oculos est Qui petere a populo fasces saevasque secures Imbibit et semper victus tristisque recedit. Nam petere imperium quod inanest nec datur umquam, Atque in eo semper durum sufferre laborem, Hoc est adverse nixantem trudere monte Saxum quod tamen e summojam vertice rusum Volvitur et plani raptim petit sequora campi.
In this idyllic existence, in which, as I have said, there is no ambition, several other ills are also wanting. There is, for instance, no News in the village. The village is without the pale of intelligence. This must indeed be bliss. Just fancy, dear Vanity, a state of existence in which there are no politics, no discoveries, no travels, no speculations, no Garnet Wolseleys, no Gladstones, no Captain Careys, no Sarah Bernhardts! If there be a heaven upon earth, it is surely here. Here no Press Commissioner sits on the hillside croaking dreary translations from the St. Petersburg press; here no Pioneer sings catches with Sir John Strachey in Council. But here the lark sings in heaven for evermore, the sweet corn grows below, and the villager, amid these quiet joys with which the earth fills her lap, dreams his low life.—ALI BABA, K.C.B.
THE OLD COLONEL
[November 15, 1879.]
The old Indian Colonel ripening for pension on the shelf of General Duty is an object at once pitiful and ludicrous. His profession has ebbed away from him, and he lies a melancholy derelict on the shore, with sails flapping idly against the mast and meaningless pennants streaming in the wind.
He has forgotten nearly everything he ever learnt of military duty, and what he has not forgotten has been changed. It is as much as he can do to keep up with the most advanced thoughts of the Horse Guards on buttons and gold lace. Yet he is still employed sometimes to turn out a guard, or to swear that "the Service is going," &c.; and though he has lost his nerve for riding, he has still a good seat on a boot-lace committee.
He is a very methodical old man. He rises at an early hour, strolls down to the club on the Mall—perhaps the Wheler Club, perhaps some other—has his tea, newspaper, and gossip there, and then back to his small bungalow, [where he turns out his servants for swearing parade. Each one gets it pretty hot; and then breakfast]. After breakfast he arrays himself for the day in some nondescript white uniform, and with a forage cap stuck gaily on one side of his head, a cheroot in his mouth, and a large white umbrella in his hand, he again sallies forth to the Club. An old horse is led behind him.
Now the serious business of life again begins—to get through the day. There are six newspapers to read, twelve pegs to drink, four-and-twenty Madras cheroots to smoke, there is kindly tiffin to linger over, forty winks afterwards, a game of billiards, the band on the Mall, dinner, and over all, incessant chatter, chatter, old scandal, old jokes, and old stories. Everyone likes the old Colonel, of course. Everyone says, "Here comes poor old Smith; what an infernal bore he is!" "Hulloa, Colonel, how are you? glad to see you! what's the news? how's exchange?"
The old Colonel is not avaricious, but he saves money. He cannot help it. He has no tastes and he draws very large pay. His mind, therefore, broods over questions relating to the investment of money, the depreciation of silver, and the saving effected by purchasing things at co-operative stores. He never really solves any problem suggested by these topics. His mind is not prehensile like the tail of the Apollo Bundar; everything eludes its grasp, so its pursuits are terminable. The old Colonel's cerebral caloric burns with a feeble flicker, like that of Madras secretariats, and never consumes a subject. The same theme is always fresh fuel. You might say the same thing to him every morning, at the same hour till the crack of doom, and he would never recollect that he had heard your remark before. This certainly must give a freshness to life and render eternity possible.
The old Colonel is not naturally an indolent man, but the prominent fact about him is that he has nothing to do. If you gave him a sun-dial to take care of, or a rain-gauge to watch, or a secret to keep, he would be quite delighted. I once asked Smith to keep a secret of mine, and the poor old fellow was so much afraid of losing it that in a few hours he had got everybody in the station helping him to keep it. It always surprises me that men with so much time on their hands do not become Political Agents.
Sometimes our old Colonel gets into the flagitious habit of writing for the newspapers. He talks himself into thinking that he possesses a grievance, so he puts together a fasciculus of lop-sided sentences, gets the ideas set straight by the Doctor, the spelling refurbished by the Padre, and fires off the product to the Delhi Gazette or the Himalayan Chronicle. Then days of feverish excitement supervene, hope alternating with fear. Will it appear? Will the Commander-in-Chief be offended? Will the Government of India be angry? What will the Service say?
The old Colonel is always rather suspicious of the great cocked-hats at head-quarters. He knows that to maintain an air of activity they must still be changing something or abolishing something, and he is always afraid that they will change or abolish him. But how could they change the old Colonel? In a regiment he would be like Alice in Wonderland; on the Staff he would be like old wine in a new bottle. They might make him a K.C.B., it is true; but he does not belong to the Simla Band of Hope, and stars must not be allowed to shoot madly from their sphere. As to abolishing the old Colonel, this too presents its difficulties, for Sir Norman Henry and all the celebrated cocked-hats at home and abroad look upon the Indian Staff Corps as Pygmalion looked on his Venus. They dote on its lifeless charms, and (figuratively) love to clasp it in their foolish arms. [Now the old Colonel is the trunk of this Frankenstein—to change the scene. So we must not abolish the old Colonel.]
It is better to dress him up in an old red coat, and strap him on to an old sword with a brass scabbard, that he may stand up on high ceremonials and drink the health of the good Queen for whom he has lived bravely through sunshine and stormy weather, in defiance of epidemics, retiring schemes and the Army Medical Department. It is good to ask him to place his old knees under your hospitable board, and to fill him with wholesome wine, while he decants the mellow stories of an Anglo-India that is speedily dissolving from view.
The old Colonel has no harm in him; his scandal blows upon the grandmothers of people that have passed away, and his little improprieties are such as might illustrate a sermon of the present day. [A rabbit might play with him if there were no chutni lying about.]
But you must never speak to him as if his sun were setting. He is as hopeful as a two-year-old. Every Gazette thrills him with vague expectations and alarms. If he found himself in orders for a Brigade he would be less surprised than anyone in the Army. He never ceases to hope that something may turn up—that something tangible may issue from the circumambient world of conjecture. But nothing will ever turn up for our poor old Colonel till his poor old toes turn up to the daisies. This change only, which we harshly call "Death," will steal over his prospects; this new slide only will be slipped into the magic lantern of his existence, accompanied by funeral drums and slow marching.
Soon we shall hardly be able to decipher his name and age on the crumbling gravestone among the weeds of our horrible station cemetery—but what matters it?
"For his bones are dust, And his sword is rust, And his soul is with the saints, we trust."
ALI BABA, K.C.B.
THE CIVIL SURGEON
"Throw physic to the dogs, I'll none of it."
[November 22, 1879.]
Perhaps you would hardly guess from his appearance and ways that he was a surgeon and a medicine-man. He certainly does not smell of lavender or peppermint, or display fine and curious linen, or tread softly like a cat. Contrariwise.
He smells of tobacco, and wears flannel underclothing. His step is heavy. He is a gross, big cow-buffalo sort of man, with a tangled growth of beard. His ranting voice and loud familiar manner amount to an outrage. He laughs like a camel, with deep bubbling noises. Thick corduroy breeches and gaiters swaddle his shapeless legs, and he rides a coarse-bred Waler mare.
I pray the gods that he may never be required to operate upon my eyes, or intestines, or any other delicate organ—that he may never be required to trephine my skull, or remove the roof of my mouth.
Of course he is a very good fellow. He walks straight into your drawing-room with a pipe in his mouth, bellowing out your name. No servant announces his arrival. He tramples in and crushes himself into a chair, without removing his hat, or performing any other high ceremonial. He has been riding in the sun, and is in a state of profuse perspiration; you will have to bring him round with the national beverage of Anglo-India, a brandy-and-soda.
Now he will enter upon your case. "Well, you're looking very blooming; what the devil is the matter with you? Eh? Eh? Want a trip to the hills? Eh? Eh? How is the bay pony? Eh? Have you seen Smith's new filly? Eh?"
This is very cheerful and reassuring if you are a healthy man with some large conspicuous disease—a broken rib, cholera, or toothache; but if you are a fine, delicately-made man, pregnant with poetry as the egg of the nightingale is pregnant with music, and throbbing with an exquisite nervous sensibility, perhaps languishing under some vague and occult disease, of which you are only conscious in moments of intense introspection, this mode of approaching the diagnosis is apt to give your system a shock.
Otherwise it may be bracing, like the inclement north wind. But, speaking for myself, it has proved most ruinous and disastrous. Since I have known the Doctor my constitution has broken up. I am a wreck. There is hardly a single drug in the whole pharmacopoeia that I can take with any pleasure, and I have entirely lost sight of a most interesting and curious complaint.
You see, dear Vanity, that I don't mince matters. I take our Doctor as I find him, rough and allopathic; but I am sure he might be improved in the course of two or three generations. We may leave this, however, to Nature and the Army Medical Department. Reform is not my business. I have no proposals to offer that will accelerate the progress of the Doctor towards a higher type.
Happily his surgical and medicinal functions claim only a portion of his time. He is in charge of the district gaol, a large and comfortable retreat for criminals. Here he is admirable. To some eight or nine hundred murderers, robbers, and inferior delinquents he plays the part of maitre d'hotel with infinite success. In the whole country side you will not find a community so well bathed, dressed, exercised, fed and lodged as that over which the Doctor presides. You observe on every face a quiet, Quakerish air of contentment. Every inmate of the gaol seems to think that he has now found a haven of rest.
If the sea-horse on the ocean Own no dear domestic cave, Yet he slumbers without motion On the still and halcyon wave; If on rainy days the loafer Gamble when he cannot roam, The police will help him so far As to find him here a home.
This is indeed a quiet refuge for world-wearied men; a sanctuary undisturbed by the fears of the weak or the passions of the strong. All reasonable wants are gratified here; nothing is hoped for any more. The poor burglar burdened with unsaleable "grab" and the reproaches of a venal world sorrowfully seeks an asylum here. He brings nothing in his hand; he seeks nothing but rest. He whispers through the key-hole—
Nil cupientium Nudus castra peto.
Look at this prisoner slumbering peacefully beside his huqqa under the suggestive bottle tree (there is something touching in his selecting the shade of a bottle tree: Horace clearly had no bottle tree; or he would never have lain under a strawberry (and cream) tree). You can see that he has been softly nurtured. What a sleek, sturdy fellow he is! He is a covenanted servant here, having passed an examination in gang robbery accompanied by violence and prevarication. He cannot be discharged under a long term of years. Uncovenanted pilferers, in for a week, regard him with respect and envy. And certainly his lot is enviable; he has no cares, no anxieties. Famine and the depreciation of silver are nothing to him. Rain or sunshine, he lives in plenty. His days are spent in an innocent round of duties, relieved by sleep and contemplation of [Greek: to on]. In the long heats of summer he whiles away the time with carpet-making; between the showers of autumn he digs, like our first parents, in the Doctor's garden; and in winter, as there is no billiard-table, he takes a turn on the treadmill with his mates. Perhaps, as he does so, he recites Charles Lamb's Pindaric ode:—
Great mill! That by thy motion proper (No thanks to wind or sail, or toiling rill) Grinding that stubborn-corn, the human will, Turn'st out men's consciences, That were begrimed before, as clean and sweet As flour from purest wheat, Into thy hopper.
Yet sometimes a murmur rises like a summer zephyr even from the soft lap of luxury and ease. Even the hardened criminal, dandled on the knee of a patriarchal Government, will sometimes complain and try to give the Doctor trouble. But the Doctor has a specific—a brief incantation that allays every species of inflammatory discontent. "Look here, my man! If I hear any more of this infernal nonsense, I'll turn you out of the gaol neck and crop." This is a threat that never fails to produce the desired effect. To be expelled from gaol and driven, like Cain, into the rude and wicked world, a wanderer, an outcast—this would indeed be a cruel ban. Before such a presentiment the well-ordered mind of the criminal recoils with horror.
The Civil Surgeon is also a rain doctor, and takes charge of the Imperial gauge. If a pint more or a pint less than usual falls, he at once telegraphs this priceless gossip to the Press Commissioner, Oracle Grotto, Delphi, Elysium. This is one of our precautions to guard against famine. Mr. Caird is the other.
[I was once in a very small station where our Civil Surgeon was an Eurasian. He was a pompous little fellow, but a capital doctor, gaoler, and metereologist.
"Omnis Aristippum decint, color et status, et res."
We liked him so much that we all got ill; crime increased, the gaol filled, and no one ever passed the rain-gauge without either emptying it or pouring in a brandy-and-soda. With women and children he was a great favourite; for he had not become brutalised by familiarity with suffering in hospitals. His heart was still tender, his voice soft, and he had a gentle way with his hands. I never knew anyone who was so unwilling to inflict pain; yet he was not unnerved when it had to be done. But, poor little physician! he was not able to cure himself when fever laid her hot hand on him. He tried to go on with his work and live it down; but the recuperative forces of Nature were weak within him, and he died. "The good die first, and those whose hearts are dry as summer dust burn to the socket." Our cow-buffalo doctor is still alive, I fear.]—ALI BABA, K.C.B.
[November 29, 1879.]
I have come out to spend a day in the jungle with him, to see him play on his own stage. His little flock of white tents has flown many a march to meet me, and have now alighted at this accessible spot near a poor hamlet on the verge of cultivation. I feel that I have only to yield myself for a few days to its hospitable importunities and it will waft me away to profound forest depths, to the awful penetralia of the bison and the tiger. Even here everything is strange to me; the common native has become a Bheel, the sparrowhawk an eagle, the grass of the field a vast, reedy growth in which an elephant becomes a mere field mouse. Out of the leaves come strange bird-notes, a strange silence broods over us; it is broken by strange rustlings and cries; it closes over us again strangely. Nature swoons in its glory of sunshine and weird music; it has put forth its powers in colossal timber and howling beasts of prey; it faints amid little wild flowers, fanned by breezes and butterflies.
My heart beats in strange anapaests. This dream world of leaf and bird stirs the blood with a strange enchantment. The Spirit of Nature touches us with her caduceus:—
Fair are others, none behold thee; But thy voice sounds low and tender Like the fairest, for it folds thee From the sight, that liquid splendour; And all feel, yet see thee never, As I feel now ....
Our tents are played upon by the flickering shadows of the vast pipal-tree that rises in a laocooen tortuosity of roots out of an old well. The spot is cool and pleasant. Round us are picketed elephants, camels, bullocks, and horses, all enjoying the shade. Our servants are cooking their food on the precincts; each is busy in front of his own little mud fireplace. On a larger altar greater sacrifices are being offered up for our breakfast. A crowd of nearly naked Bheels watch the rites and snuff the fragrant incense of venison from a respectable distance. Their leader, a broken-looking old man, with hardly a rag on, stands apart exchanging deep confidences with my friend the Shikarry. This old Bheel is girt about the loins with knives, pouches, powder-horns, and ramrods; and he carries on his shoulder an aged flintlock. He looks old enough to be an English General Officer or a Cabinet Minister; and you might assume that he was in the last stage of physical and mental decay. But you would be quite wrong. This old Bheel will sit up all night on the branch of a tree among the horned owls; he will see the tiger kill the young buffalo tied up as a bait beneath; he will see it drink the life-blood and tear the haunch; he will watch it steal away and hide under the karaunda bush; he will sit there till day breaks, when he will creep under the thorn jungle, across the stream, up the scarp of the ravine, through the long grass to the sahib's camp, and give the word that makes the hunter's heart dance. From the camp he will stride from hamlet to hamlet till he has raised an army of beaters; and he will be back at the camp with his forces before the sahib has breakfasted. Through the long heats of the day he will be the life and soul of the hunt, urging on the beaters with voice and example, climbing trees, peeping under bushes, carrying orders, giving advice, changing the line, until that supreme moment when shots are fired, when the rasping growl tells that the shots have taken effect, and when at length the huge cat lies stretched out dead. And all this on a handful of parched grain!
[Is this nothing? Why then the world, and all that's in't, is nothing; The covering sky is nothing, Ali Baba's nothing.]
My friend the Shikarry delights to clothe himself in the coarse fabrics manufactured in gaol, which, when properly patched and decorated with pockets, have undoubtedly a certain wild-wood appearance.
As the hunter does not happen to be a Bheel with the privileges of nakedness conferred by a brown skin, this is perhaps the only practical alternative. If he went out to shoot in evening clothes, a crush hat, and a hansom cab, the chances are that he would make an example of himself and come to some untimely end. What would the Apollo Bundar say? What would the Bengali Baboo say? What would the sea-aye-ees say? Yes, our hunter affects coarse and snuffy clothes; they carry with them suggestions of hardship and roughing it; and his hat is umbrageous and old.
As to the man under the hat, he is an odd compound of vanity, sentiment, and generosity. He is as affected as a girl. Among other traits he affects reticence, and he will not tell me what the plans for the day are, or what khabbar[W] has been received. Knowing absolutely nothing, he moves about with a solemn and important air, [as if six months gone with a bandobast[X]]; and he says to me, "Don't fret yourself my dear fellow; you'll know all about it time enough. I have made arrangements." Then he dissembles and talks of irrelevant topics transcendentally. This makes me feel such a poor pen-and-ink fellow, such a worm, such a [Famine-commissioner, such a] Political Agent!
With this discordant note still vibrating we go in to breakfast; and then, dear Vanity, he bucks with a quiet, stubborn determination that would fill an American editor or an Under-Secretary of State with despair. [His lies are really that awful (as the Press Commissioner would say) which you couldn't tell as what he was joking, or inebriated, or drawing your leg.] He belongs to the twelve-foot-tiger school; so, perhaps, he can't help it.
If the whole truth were told, he is a warm-hearted, generous, plucky fellow, with boundless vanity and a romantic vein of maudlin sentiment that seduces him from time to time into the gin-and-water corner of an Indian newspaper. Under the heading of "The Forest Ranger's Lament," or "The Old Shikarry's Tale of Woe," he hiccoughs his column of sickly lines (with St. Vitus's dance in their feet), and then I believe he feels better. I have seen him do it; I have caught him in criminal conversation with a pen and a sheet of paper; bottle at hand—
A quo, ceu fonte perenni, Vatum Pieriis ora rigantur aquis.
In appearance he is a very short man with a long black beard, a sunburnt face, and a clay pipe. He has shot battalions of tigers and speared squadrons of wild pig. He is universally loved, universally admired, and universally laughed at.
He is generous to a fault. All the young fellows for miles round owe him money. He would think there was something wrong if they did not borrow from him; and yet, somehow, I don't think that he is very well off. There is nothing in his bungalow but guns, spears, and hunting trophies; he never goes home, and I have an idea that there is some heavy drain on his purse in the old country. But you should hear him troll a hunting song with his grand organ voice, and you would fancy him the richest man in the world, his note is so high and triumphant!
So when in after days we boast Of many wild boars slain, We'll not forget our runs to toast Or run them o'er again;
And when our memory's mirror true Reflects the scenes of yore, We'll think of him it brings to view, Who loved to hunt the boar.
ALI BABA, K.C.B.
THE GRASS-WIDOW IN NEPHELOCOCCYGIA
Her bosom's lord sits lightly on his throne?
[December 6, 1879]
Little Mrs. Lollipop has certainly proved a source of disappointment to her lady friends. They have watched her for three seasons going lightly and merrily through all the gaieties of Cloudland; they have listened to the scandal of the cuckoos among the pine-trees and rhododendrons, but they have not caught her tripping. Oh, no, they will never catch her tripping. She does not trip for their amusement: perhaps she trips it when they go on the light fantastic toe, but there is no evidence; there is only a zephyr of conjecture, only the world's low whisper not yet broken into storm—not yet.
Yes, she is a source of disappointment to them. They have noted her points; her beauty has burned itself into their jealousy; her merry laugh has fanned their scorn; her bountiful presence is an affront to them, as is her ripe and lissom figure. They pronounce her morally unsound; they say her nature has a taint; they chill her popularity with silent smiles of slow disparagement. But they have no particulars; their slander is not concrete. It is an amorphous accusation, sweeping and vague, spleen-born and proofless.
She certainly knows how to dress. Her weeds sit easily and smoothly on their delightful mould. You might think of her as a sweet, warm statue painted in water-colours. (Who wouldn't be her Pygmalion?) If she adds a garment it is an improvement; if she removes a garment it is an improvement; if she dresses her hair it is better; if she lets it fall in a brown cascade over her white shoulders it is still better; when it is yet in curl-papers it is charming. If you smudge the tip of her nose with a burnt cork the effect is irresistible; if you stick a flower in her hair it is a fancy dress, a complete costume—she becomes Flora, Aurora, anything you like to name. Yet I have never clothed her in a flower, I have never smudged her nose with a burnt cork, I have never uncurled her hair. Ali Baba's character must not go drifting down the stream of gossip with the Hill Captains and the Under-Secretaries. But I hope that this does not destroy the argument. The argument is that she is quite too delightful, and therefore blown upon by poisonous whispers.
Her bungalow is an Elysium, of course; it is a cottage with a verandah, built on a steep slope, and buried deep in shrubbery and trees. Within all is plain, but exquisitely neat. A wood fire is burning gaily, and the kindly tea-tray is at hand. It is five o'clock. Clean servants move silently about with hot water, cake, &c. The little boy, a hostage from papa in the warm plains below, is sitting pensive, after the fashion of Anglo-Indian children, in a little chair. His bearer crouches behind him. The unspeakable widow, in a tea-gown dimly splendid with tropical vegetation in neutral tints, holds a piece of chocolate in her hand, while she leans back in her fauteuil convulsed with laughter. (It is not necessary to say that Ali Baba is relating one of his improving tales.) How pretty she looks, showing her excellent teeth and suffused with bright warm blushes, [which, I beg leave to explain, proceed from drinking hot tea and indulging in immoderate laughter, not from listening to A.B.'s improving tales!] As I gaze upon her with fond amazement, I murmur mechanically:—
Mine be a cot beside the hill; A tea-pot's hum shall soothe my ear, A widowy girl, that likes me still, With many a smile shall linger near.
I have been asked to write a philosophical minute on the mental and moral condition of delightful Mrs. Lollipop's husband, who lives down in the plains. I have been requested by the Press Commissioner to inquire in Government fashion, with pen and ink, as to whether the complaisant proprietor of so many charms desires to have a recheat winded in his forehead, and to hang his bugle in an invisible baldrick; whether it is true in his case that Love's ear will hear the lowest cuckoo note, and that Love's perception of gossip is more soft and sensible than are the tender horns of cockled snails. Towards all these points I have directed my researches. I have resolved myself into a Special Commission, and I have sat upon grass-widowers in camera. If I sit a little longer a Report will be hatched, which, of course, I shall take to England, and when there I shall go to the places of amusement with the Famine Commission, and have rather a good time of it. Already I can see, with that bright internal eye which requires no limelight, grim Famine stalking about the Aquarium after dinner with a merry jest preening its wings on his lips.
But what has all this talk of country matters to do with little Mrs. Lollipop? Absolutely nothing. She thinks no ill of herself. She is the most charitable woman in the world. There is no veil of sin over her eye; no cloud of suspicion darkens her forehead; no concealment feeds upon her damask cheek. Like Eve she goes about hand in hand with her friends, in native innocence, relying on what she has of virtue. Sweet simplicity! sweet confidence! My eagle quill shall not flutter these doves.
Have you ever watched her at a big dance? She takes possession of some large warrior who has lately arrived from the battle-fields of Umballa or Meerut, and she chaperones him about the rooms, staying him with flagons and prattling low nothings. The weaker vessel jibs a little at first; but gradually the spell begins to work and the love-light kindles in his eye. He dances, he makes a joke, he tells a story, he turns round and looks her in the face. He is lost. That big centurion is a casualty; and no one pities him. "How can he go on like that, odious creature!" say the withered wall-flowers, and the Hill Captains fume round, working out formulae to express his baseness. But he is away on the glorious mountains of vanity; the intoxicating atmosphere makes life tingle in his blood; he is an [Greek: aerobataes], he no longer treads the earth. In a few days Mrs. Lollipop will receive a post-card from the Colonel of her centurion's regiment.
MY DEAR MRS.
Lollipop, dic, per omnes Te deos oro, Robinson cur properes amando Perdere? cur apricum Oderit campum, patiens pulveris atque solis.
Ten to one an Archdeacon will be sent for to translate this. Ten to one there is a shindy, ending in tea and tearful smiles; for she is bound to get a blowing up.
After what I have written I suppose it would be superfluous to affirm with oaths my irrefragable belief in Mrs. Lollipop's innocence; it would be superfluous to deprecate the many-winged slanders that wound this milk-white hind. If, however, by swearing, any of your readers think I can be of service to her character, I hope they will let me know. I have learnt a few oaths lately that I reckon will unsphere some of the scandal-mongers of Nephelococcygia. I had my ear one morning at the keyhole when the Army Commission was revising the cursing and swearing code for field service.—(Ah! these dear old Generals, what depths of simplicity they disclose when they get by themselves! I sometimes think that if I had my life to live over again I would keep a newspaper and become a really great General. I know some five or six obscure aboriginal tribes that have never yet yielded a single war or a single K.C.B.)
But this is a digression. I was maintaining the goodness of Mrs. Lollipop—little Mrs. Lollipop! sweet little Mrs. Lollipop! I was going to say that she was far too good to be made the subject of whisperings and innuendoes. Her virtue is of such a robust type that even a Divorce Court would sink back abashed before it, like a guilty thing surprised. Indeed, she often reminds me of Caesar's wife.
The harpies of scandal protest that she dresses too low; that she exposes too freely the well-rounded charms of her black silk stockings; that she appears at fancy-dress balls picturesquely unclothed—in a word, that the public sees a little too much of little Mrs. Lollipop; and that, in conversation with men, she nibbles at the forbidden apples of thought. But all this proves her innocence, surely. She fears no danger, for she knows no sin. She cannot understand why she should hide anything from an admiring world. Why keep her charms concealed from mortal eye, like roses that in deserts bloom and die? She often reminds me of Una in Hypocrisy's cell.
I heard an old Gorgon ask one of Mrs. Lollipop's clientele the other day whether he would like to be Mrs. Lollipop's husband. "No," he said, "not her husband; I am not worthy to be her husband—
"But I would be the necklace And all day long to fall and rise Upon her balmy bosom With her laughter or her sighs; And I would lie so light, so light, I scarce should be unclasped at night."
That old Gorgon is now going through a course of hysterics under medical and clerical advice. Her ears are in as bad a case as Lady Macbeth's hands. Hymns will not purge them.—ALI BABA, K.C.B.
THE TRAVELLING M.P.
THE BRITISH LION RAMPANT
[December 13, 1879.]
There is not a more fearful wild fowl than your travelling M.P. This unhappy creature, whose mind is a perfect blank regarding Faujdari[Y] and Bandobast,[Z] and who cannot distinguish the molluscous Baboo from the osseous Pathan, will actually presume to discuss Indian subjects with you, unless strict precautions be taken.
When I meet one of these loose M.P.'s ramping about I always cut his claws at once. I say, "Now, Mr. T.G., you must understand that, according to my standard, you are a homunculus of the lowest type. There is nothing I value a man for that you can do; there is nothing I consider worth directing the human mind upon that you know. If you ask for any information which I may deem it expedient to give to a person in your unfortunate position, well and good; but if you venture to argue with me, to express any opinion, to criticise anything I may be good enough to say regarding India, or to quote any passage relating to Asia from the works of Burke, Cowper, Bright, or Fawcett, I will hand you over to Major Henderson for strangulation, I will cause your body to be burnt by an Imperial Commission of sweepers, and I will mention your name in the Pioneer."
In dangerous cases, where a note-book is carried, your loose M.P. must be made to reside within the pale of guarded conversation. If you are wise you will speak to him in the interrogative mood exclusively; and you will treat his answers with contumelious laughter or disdainful silence.
About a week after your M.P. has landed in India he will begin his great work on the history, literature, philosophy and social institutions of the Hindoos. You will see him in a railway carriage when stirred by the [Greek: oistros] studying Forbes's Hindustani Manual. He is undoubtedly writing the chapter on the philology of the Aryan Family. Do you observe the fine frenzy that kindles behind his spectacles as he leans back and tries to eject a root? These pangs are worth about half-a-crown an hour in the present state of the book market. One cannot contemplate them without profound emotion.
The reading world is hunger-bitten about Asia, and I often think I shall take three months' leave and run up a precis of Sanskrit and Pali literature, just a few folios for the learned world. Max Mueller begs me to learn these languages first; but this would be a toil and drudgery, whereas to me the pursuit of literary excellence and fame is a mere amusement, like lawn-tennis or rinking. It is the fault of the age to make a labour of what is meant to be a pastime.
Telle est de nos plaisirs la surface legere; Glissez, mortels, n'appuyez pas.
The travelling M.P. will probably come to you with a letter of introduction from the last station he has visited, and he will immediately proceed to make himself quite at home in your bungalow with the easy manners of the Briton abroad. He will acquaint you with his plans and name the places of interest in the neighbourhood which he requires you to show him. He will ask you to take him, as a preliminary canter, to the gaol and lunatic asylum; and he will make many interesting suggestions to the civil surgeon as to the management of these institutions, comparing them unfavourably with those he has visited in other stations. He will then inspect the Brigadier-General commanding the station, the chaplain, and the missionaries. On his return—when he ought to be bathing—he will probably write his article for the Twentieth Century, entitled "Is India Worth Keeping?" And this ridiculous old Shrovetide cock, whose ignorance and information leave two broad streaks of laughter in his wake, is turned loose upon the reading public! Upon my word, I believe the reading public would do better to go and sit at the feet of Baboo Sillabub Thunder Gosht, B.A.
What is it that these travelling people put on paper? Let me put it in the form of a conundrum. Q. What is it that the travelling M.P. treasures up and the Anglo-Indian hastens to throw away? A. Erroneous, hazy, distorted first impressions. Before the eyes of the griffin, India steams up in poetical mists, illusive, fantastic, subjective, ideal, picturesque. The adult Qui Hai attains to prose, to stern and disappointing realities; he removes the gilt from the Empire and penetrates to the brown ginger-bread of Rajas and Baboos. One of the most serious duties attending a residence in India is the correcting of those misapprehensions which your travelling M.P. sacrifices his bath to hustle upon paper. The spectacled people embalmed in secretariats alone among Anglo-Indians continue to see the gay visions of griffinhood. They alone preserve the phantasmagoria of bookland and dreamland. As for the rest of us:—
Out of the day and night A joy has taken flight: Baboos and Rajas and Indian lore Move our faint hearts with grief, but with delight No more—oh, never more!
It is strange that one who is modest and inoffensive in his own country should immediately on leaving it exhibit some of the worst features of Arryism; but it seems inevitable. I have met in this unhappy land, countrymen (who are gentlemen in England, Members of Parliament, and Deputy Lieutenants, and that kind of thing) whose conduct and demeanour while here I can never recall without tears and blushes for our common humanity. My friends witnessing this emotion often suppose that I am thinking of the Famine Commission.
[I am an Anglo-Indian cherishing many a burning Anglo-Indian prejudice, and I should be sorry if from what I have written here it does not sufficiently appear that I cherish a burning prejudice against the British Tourist in India, who comes out to get up India and to do India; not against the tourist who comes out to shoot or to play the fool in a quiet unostentatious way.]
As far as I can learn, it is a generally received opinion at home that a man who has seen the Taj at Agra, the Qutb at Delhi, and the Duke at Madras, has graduated with honours in all questions connected with British interests in Asia; and is only unfitted for the office of Governor-General of India from knowing too much.—ALI BABA, K.C.B.
"Her life is lone. He sits apart; He loves her yet: she will not weep, Tho' rapt in matters dark and deep He seems to slight her simple heart.
"For him she plays, to him she sings Of early faith and plighted vows; She knows but matters of the house, And he, he knows a thousand things."
[December 20, 1879.]
I first met her shepherding her little flock across the ocean. She was a beautiful woman, in the full sweetness and bloom of life. [The mystery of early wifehood and motherhood gave a pensiveness to her soft eyes; but her voice and manner disclosed the cheerful confidence of perfect health and a pure heart.] Her talk was of the busy husband she had left, the station life, the attached servants, the favourite horse, the garden, and the bungalow. Her husband would soon follow her, in a year, or two years, and they would return together; but they would return to a silent home—the children would be left behind. She was going home to her mother and sisters; but there had been changes in this home. So her thoughts were woven of hopes and fears; and, as she sat on deck of an evening, with the great heart of the moon-lit sea palpitating around us, and the homeless night-wind sighing through the cordage, she would sing to us one of the plaintive ballads of the old country, till we forgot to listen to the sobbing and the trampling of the engines, and till all sights and sounds resolved themselves into a temple of sentiment round a charming priestess chanting low anthems. She would leave us early to go to her babies. She would leave us throbbing with mock heroics, undecided whether we should cry, or consecrate our lives to some high and noble enterprise, or drink one more glass of hot whiskey-and-water. She was kind, but not sentimental; her sweet, yet practical "good-night" was quite of the work-a-day world; we felt that it tended to dispel illusions.
She had three little boys, who were turned out three times a day in the ultimate state of good behaviour, tidiness, and cleanliness, and who lapsed three times a day into a state of original sin combined with tar and ship's grease. These three little boys pervaded the vessel with an innocent smile on their three little faces, their mother's winning smile. Every man on the ship was their own familiar friend, bound to them by little interchanges of biscuits, confidences, twine, and by that electric smile which their mother communicated, and from which no one wished to be insulated. Yes, they quite pervaded the vessel, these three little innocents, flying that bright and friendly smile; and there was no description of mischief suitable for three very little boys that they did not exhaust. The ingenuity they squandered every day in doing a hundred things which they ought not to have done was perfectly marvellous. Before the voyage was half over we thought there was nothing left for them to do; but we were entirely mistaken. The daily round, a common cask would furnish all they had to ask; to them the meanest whistle that blows, or a pocket-knife, could give thoughts that too often led to smiles and tears.
Their mother's thoughts were ever with them; but she was like a hen with a brood of ducklings. They passed out of her element, and only returned as hunger called them. When they did return she was all that soap and water, loving reproaches, and tender appeals could be; and as they were very affectionate little boys, they were for the time thoroughly cleansed morally and physically, and sealed with the absolution of kisses.
I saw her three years afterwards in England. She was living in lodgings near a school which her boys attended. She looked careworn. Her relations had been kind to her, but not warmly affectionate. She had been disappointed with the welcome they had given her. They seemed changed to her, more formal, narrower, colder. She longed to be back in India; to be with her husband once more. But he was engrossed with his work. He wrote short letters enclosing cheques; but he never said that he missed her, that he longed to see her again, that she must come out to him, or that he must go to her. He could not have grown cold too? No, he was busy; he had never been demonstrative in his affection; this was his way. And she was anxious about the boys. She did not know whether they were really getting on, whether she was doing the best for them, whether their father would be satisfied. She had no friends near her, no one to speak to; so she brooded over these problems, exaggerated them, and fretted.
The husband was a man who lived in his own thoughts, and his thoughts were book thoughts. The world of leaf and bird, the circumambient firmament of music and light, shone in upon him through books. A book was the master key that unlocked all his senses, that unfolded the varied landscape, animated the hero, painted the flower, swelled the orchestra of wind and ocean, peopled the plains of India with starvelings and the mountains of Afghanistan with cut-throats. Without a book he moved about like a shadow lost in some dim dreamland of echoes.
Everyone knew he was a scholar, and his thoughts had once or twice rung out to the world clear and loud as a trumpet-note through the oracles of the Press. But in society he was shy, awkward, and uncouth of speech, quite unable to marshal his thoughts, deserted by his memory, abashed before his own silences, and startled by his own words. Any fool who could talk about the legs of a horse or the height of the thermometer was Prospero to this social Caliban.
He felt that before the fine instincts of women his infirmity was especially conspicuous, and he drifted into misogyny through bashfulness and pride; and yet misogyny was incompatible with his scheme of life and his ambition. He felt himself to be worthy of the full diapason of home life; he desired to be as other men were, besides being something more.
[Greek: Kakon gynaikes all' homos, o daemotai, Ouk estin oikein oikian aneu kakou. Kai gar to gaemai, kai to mae gaemai, kakon.]
So he married her who loved him for choosing her, and who reverenced him for his mysterious treasures of thought.
There was much in his life that she could never share: but he longed for companionship in thought, and for the first year of their married life he tried to introduce her to his world. He led her slowly up to the quiet hill-tops of thought where the air is still and clear, and he gave her to drink of the magic fountains of music. Their hearts beat one delicious measure. Her gentle nature was plastic under the poet's touch, wrought in an instant to perfect harmony with love, or tears, or laughter. To read aloud to her in the evening after the day's work was over, and to see her stirred by every breath of the thought-storm, was to enjoy an exquisite interpretation of the poet's motive, like an impression bold and sharp from the matrix of the poet's mind. This was to hear the song of the poet and Nature's low echo. How tranquilising it was! How it effaced the petty vexations of the day!—"softening and concealing; and busy with a hand of healing."
Tale tuum carmen nobis, divine poeta, Quale sopor fessis in gramine, quale per aestum Dulcis aquae saliente sitim restinguere rivo.
But with the advent of babies poetry declined, and the sympathetic wife became more and more motherly. The father retired sadly into the dreamland of books. He will not emerge again. Husband and wife will stand upon the clear hill-tops together no more.
Neither quite knows what has happened; they both feel changed with an undefined sorrow, with a regret that pride will not enunciate. She is now again in India with her husband. There are duties, courtesies, nay, kindnesses which both will perform, but the ghost of love and sympathy will only rise in their hearts to jibber in mockery words and phrases that have lost their meaning, that have lost their enchantment.
"O love! who bewailest The frailty of all things here, Why choose you the frailest For your cradle, your home, and your bier?
"Its passions will rock thee As the storms rock the raven on high; Bright reason will mock thee Like the sun from a wintry sky.
"From thy nest every rafter Will rot, and thine eagle home Leave thee naked to laughter When leaves fall and cold winds come."
ALI BABA, K.C.B.
ALI BABA ALONE
THE LAST DAY
"Now the last of many days, All beautiful and bright as thou, The loveliest, and the last is dead, Rise, memory, and write its praise."
[December 27, 1879.]
How shall I lay this spectre of my own identity? Shall I leave it to melt away gracefully in the light of setting suns? It would never do to put it out like a farthing rushlight after it had haunted the Great Ornamental in an aurora of smiles. Is Ali Baba to cease upon the midnight without pain? or is he to lie down like a tired child and weep out the spark? or should he just flit to Elysium? There, seated on Elysian lawns, browsed by none but Dian's (no allusion to little Mrs. Lollipop) fawns, amid the noise of fountains wonderous and the parle of voices thunderous, some wag might scribble on his door, "Here lies Ali Baba"—as if glancing at his truthfulness. How is he to pass effectively into the golden silences? How is he to relapse into the still-world of observation? Would four thousand five hundred a month and Simla do it, with nothing to do and allowances, and a seat beside those littered under the swart Dog-Star of India? Or is it to be the mandragora of pension, that he may sleep out the great gap of ennui between this life and something better? How lonely the Government of India would feel! How the world would forget the Government of India! Voices would ask:—
Do ye sit there still in slumber In gigantic Alpine rows? The black poppies out of number Nodding, dripping from your brows To the red lees of your wine— And so kept alive and fine.
Sometimes I think that Ali Baba should be satisfied with the oblivion-mantle of knighthood and relapse into dingy respectability in the Avilion of Brompton or Bath; but since he has taken to wearing stars the accompanying itch for blood and fame has come:—
How doth the greedy K.C.B. Delight to brag and fight, And gather medals all the day And wear them all the night.
The fear of being out-medalled and out-starred stings him:—
[Consimili ratione ab eodem saepe timore Macerat invidia, ante oculos ilium esse polentem, Illum aspectari, claro qui incedit honore, Ipsi se in tenebris volvi caenoque queruntur Insereunt partim statuarum et nominis ergo.]
Thus the desire to go hustling up the hill to the Temple of Fame with the other starry hosts impels him forward. If you mix yourself up with K.C.B.'s and raise your platform of ambition, you are just where you were at the A B C of your career. Living on a table-land, you experience no sensation of height. For the intoxicating delights of elevation you require a solitary pinnacle, some lonely eminence. Aut Caesar, aut nullus; whether in the zenith or the Nadir of the world's favour.
But how much more comfortable in the cold season than the chill splendours of the pinnacles of fame, where "pale suns unfelt at distance roll away," is a comfortable bungalow on the plains, with a little mulled claret after dinner. Here I think Ali Baba will be found, hidden from his creditors, the reading world, in the warm light of thought, singing songs unbidden till a few select cronies are wrought to sympathy with hopes and fears they heeded not—before the mulled claret.
To this symposium the A.-D.-C.-in-Waiting has invited himself on behalf of the Empire. He will sing the Imperial Anthem composed by Mr. Eastwick, and it will be translated into archaic Persian by an imperial Munshi for the benefit of the Man in Buckram, who will be present. The Man in Buckram, who is suffering from a cold in his heart, will be wrapped up in himself and a cocked hat. The Press Commissioner has also asked for an invitation. He will deliver a sentiment:—"Quid sit futurum eras fuge quaerere." A Commander-in-Chief will tell the old story about the Service going to the dogs; after which there will be an interval of ten minutes allowed for swearing and hiccuping. The Travelling M.P. will take the opportunity to jot down a few hasty notes on Aryan characteristics for the Twentieth Century before being placed under the table. The Baboo will subsequently be told off to sit on the Member's head. During this function the Baboo will deliver some sesquipedalian reflections in the rodomontade mood. The Shikarry will then tell the twelve-foot-tiger story. Mrs. Lollipop will tell a fib and make tea; and Ali Baba (unless his heart is too full of mulled claret) will make a joke. The company will break up at this point, after receiving a plenary dispensation from the Archdeacon.
Under such influences Ali Baba may become serious; he may learn from the wisdom of age and be cheered by the sallies of youth. But little Mrs. Lollipop can hardly be called one of the Sallies of his youth. Sally Lollipop rose upon the horizon of his middle age. She boiled up, pure blanc-mange and roses, over the dark brim of life's afternoon, a blushing sunrise, though late to rise, and most cheerful. Sometimes after spending an afternoon with her, Ali Baba feels so cheered that the Government of India seems quite innocent and bright, like an old ballerina seen through the mists of champagne and limelight. He walks down the Mall smiling upon foolish Under Secretaries and fat Baboos. The people whisper as he passes, "There goes Ali Baba"; and echo answers "Who is Ali Baba?" Then a little wind of conjecture breathes through the pine-trees and names are heard.
It is better not to call Ali Baba names. Nothing is so misleading as a vulgar nomenclature. I once knew a man who was called "Counsellor of the Empress" when he ought to have had his photograph exposed in the London shop-windows like King Cetewayo, K.C.M.G. I have heard an eminent Frontier General called "Judas Iscariot," and I myself was once pointed out as a "Famine Commissioner," and afterwards as an expurgated edition of the Secretary to the Punjab Government. People seemed to think that Ali Baba would smell sweeter under some other name. This was a mistake.
Almost everything you are told in Simla is a mistake. You should never believe anything you hear till it is contradicted by the Pioneer. I suppose the Government of India is the greatest gobemouche in the world. I suppose there never was an administration of equal importance which received so much information and which was so ill-informed. At a bureaucratic Simla dinner-party the abysses of ignorance that yawn below the company on every Indian topic are quite appalling!
I once heard Mr. Stokes say that he had never heard of my book on the Permanent Settlement; and yet Mr. Stokes is a decidedly intelligent man, with some knowledge of Cymric and law. I daresay now if you were to draw off and decant the law on his brain, it would amount to a full dose for an adult; yet he never heard of my book on the Permanent Settlement. He knew about Blackstone; he had seen an old copy once in a second-hand book shop; but he had never heard of my work! How loosely the world floats around us! I question its objective reality. I doubt whether anything has more objectivity in it than Ali Baba himself. He was certainly flogged at school. Yet when we now try to put our finger on Ali Baba he eludes the touch; when we try to lay him he starts up gibbering at Cabul, Lahore, or elsewhere. Perhaps it is easier to imprison him in morocco boards and allow him to be blown with restless violence round about the pendant world, abandoned to critics: whom our lawless and uncertain thoughts imagine howling.
[Ali Baba! I know not what thou art, but know that thou and I must part; and why or where and how we met, I own to me's a secret yet. Ali Baba, we've been long together through pleasant and through cloudy weather; 'tis hard to part when things are dear, bar silver, piece cloth, bottled beer, then steal away with this short warning: choose thine own winding-sheet, say not good-night here, but in some brighter binding, sweet, bid me good morning.]—ALI BABA, K.C.B.
EXTRACTS FROM SERIOUS REFLECTIONS AND OTHER CONTRIBUTIONS.
BY "OUR POLITICAL ORPHAN."
The Bombay Gazette Press, 1881.
THE TEAPOT SERIES
[January 5, 1880.]
MY DEAR MRS. SMITH,
I cannot understand why Mrs. Smith, with her absurd figure—for really I can apply no other adjective to it—should wear that most absurdly tight dress. Some one should tell her what a fright it makes of her. She is nothing but convexities. She looks exactly like an hour-glass, or a sodawater machine. At a little distance you can hardly tell whether she is coming to you, or going away from you. She looks just the same all round. People call her smile sweet; but then it is the mere sweetness of inanity. It is the blank brightness of an empty chamber. She sheds these smiles upon everyone and everything, and they are felt to be cold like moonshine. Speaking for myself, these eau-sucre smiles could not suckle my love. I would languish upon them. My love demands stronger drink. Mrs. Smith's features are good, no doubt. Her eyes are good. An oculist would be satisfied with them. They have a cornea, a crystalline lens, a retina, and so on, and she can see with them. This is all very satisfactory, I do not deny, as far as it goes. Physiologically her eyes are admirable; but for poetry, for love, or even for flirting, they are useless. There is no significance in them, no witchery, no suggestiveness. The aurora of beautiful far-away thoughts does not coruscate in them. Her eyelids conceal them, but do not quench them. They would be nothing for winking, or tears. If she winked at me, I should not jump into the air, as if shot in the spine, with my blood tingling to my extremities; my heart would not beat like a side-drum; my blushes would not come perspiring through my whiskers. Her winking would altogether misfire. Why? Because her winking would be physiological and not erotic. If you ever learnt to love her, it would not be for any lovelight in her eye; it would never be the quick, fierce, hot, biting electric passion of the fleshly poets, it would be what a chemist might call the "eremacausis" kindled by habit. Mrs. Smith's tears are quite the poorest product of the lachrymal glands I have ever seen. They are simply a form of water. They might dribble from an effete pump; they might leak from a worn-out mashq.[AA] I observe them with pity and regret. Their drip has no echo in my bosom; it produces no stalactites of sympathy in my heart.
I have often been told that her nose was good—and good it unquestionably is—good for blowing; good for sneezing; good for snoring; good for smelling; a fine nose for a catarrh. But who could play with it? Who could tweak it passionately, as a prelude to kissing? Who could linger over it tenderly with a candle, or a lump of mutton fat, when cold had laid its cruel hand upon it? It is not tip-tilted like a flower; it is not whimsical with some ravishing and unexpected little crook. It is straight, like a mathematical line. But it has no parts. Her cheeks are round and fair. Each has its dimple and blush. They are thoroughly healthy, Mrs. Smith's digestion is unexceptionable. You might indicate the contour of these cheeks with a pair of compasses; you might paint them with your thumb. Poor Mrs. Smith's talk, or babble rather, is of her husband, her children, her home. It is a mere purring over them. She never cuts them to pieces, and holds them up to scorn and mockery. She never penetrates their weaknesses. She does not even understand that Smith is a common-place, stereotyped kind of fellow, exactly like hundreds of other men in his class. She does not appear to notice the ghastly defects in his education, tastes, and character, which gape before all the world else. She does not see that he is without the morbidezza of culture; that he finds no appogiatura in art; that he never rises at midnight, amid lightning and rain, to emit an inarticulate cry of aesthetic anguish in some metrical construction of the renaissance period. She does not miss in him that yearning after the unattainable, which in some mysterious wise fills us with a mute despair; which has in it yet I know not what of sweetness amid the delirious aspirations with which it distracts us. She cannot know, with her base instincts dragging her down to the hearth-level of home and child, the material gracelessness of her husband, equally incapable of striking an Anglo-Saxon, or a mediaeval attitude; and with his blood flushed, healthy face unable to realize in his expression that divine sorrow which can alone distinguish the man of culture from ordinary Englishmen, or the anthropoid apes. She will never know what vibrates so harshly on us—the want of feeling for colour which is displayed in the coarse tone of his brown hair. So in regard to her children, the mind of Mrs. Smith is quite uncritical. Look at that baby, like a thousand other babies you see every day. It has not a single idiosyncrasy on which anyone above the intellectual level of a cretin could hang an affection. Its porcine eyes twinkle dimly through rolls of fat; it splutters and puffs, and its habits are simply abominable. What a gross home for that life's star, which hath had elsewhere its setting and cometh from afar! The star is quenched in fat; it has exchanged the music of the spheres for a hideous caterwauling! Yet Mrs. Smith loves that child, and gobbles over it, descending to its abysses of grossness.
Her house is one of many in a long unlovely street; it is furnished according to the most corrupt dictates of bestial Philistinism—that is, with a view to comfort. There are no subtle harmonies in the papers and chintzes; there are no hidden suggestions of form and tone in the cornices and bell handles; all is barren of proportion, concord, and meaning. Still, this poor woman, with her inartistic eye and foolish heart, loves this wretched shelter, and would pour out her idiotic tears if she were leaving it for Paradise.
But if we descend from our aesthetic heights to the lowly level of the biped Smith, we may see Mrs. S. in a totally different atmosphere, and certain lights and shadows will play about her with a radiance not altogether without beauty. She is a single-minded woman, anxious to make her husband and children comfortable and happy in their home,—and dreaming of nothing beyond this. She is full of homely wisdom; a hundred little economies she practises with forethought and unwearying assiduity tend to make her husband and children love her and regard her as a paragon of domestic policy. Her husband's affection and her children's affection are all the world to her; music and painting and poetry, Mr. Ruskin, Phidias, Praxiteles, Holman Hunt, and Mr. Whistler pale away into shadows of shadows in presence of the indications of love she receives from that baby. And this intense single-minded love elevates her within its own compass. She sees in that baby's eyes the light that never was on sea or land, the consecration and the mother's dream. She broods over it till she effects for it in her own maternal fancy an apotheosis; and round its image in her heart there glows a bright halo of poetry. She sees through the fat. The grossness disappears before her rapt gaze. There remains the spirit from heaven:—
Sweet spirit newly come from Heaven With all the God upon thee, still Beams of no earthly light are given Thy heart e'en yet to bless and fill. Thy soul a sky whose sun has set, Wears glory hovering round it yet; And childhood's eve glows sadly bright Ere life hath deepened into night.
So with the husband; so with the home; a glory gathers round them, which she alone, the intense worshipper, sees; and this unaesthetic Mrs. Smith, altogether unsatisfactory to the artistic eye, most practical, most commonplace, carries within her some of the Promethean flame, and is worthy of that halo of homely joy and affection with which she is crowned.
[February 19, 1880.]
I first met him driving home from cutcherry in his buggy. He was a fat man in the early afternoon of life. In his blue eyes lay the mystery of many a secret salad and unwritten milk-punch; but though he smoked the longest cheroots of Trichinopoly and Dindigul, his hand was still steady and still grasped a cue or a long tumbler, with the unerring certainty of early youth and unshaken health.
Of an evening he would come over to my bungalow in a friendly way; he would "just drop in," as he used to say, in his pleasant offhand fashion, and he would irrigate himself with my brandy and soda, amid genial smiles and a brandishing of his long cheroot, playfully indicating his recognition of a stimulant with which he had been long acquainted.
As he began to glow with conversation and brandy, he would call for cards and play ecarte with me, until the room gradually resolved itself into one of the circles of some Californian Inferno, with a knave of spades digging the diamonds out of my heart and clubbing my trumps.
He would leave me throbbing with the eructation of oaths and the hollow aching of an empty purse, and uncertain whether to give up cards and liquor for hymns and Government paper or whether to call him back and take fortune by storm. But he had gone off with a resolute "good night" that tended to dispel illusions; he had gone to his own No. 1 Exshaw and his French novels, which he read as he lay on his solitary bachelor couch.
Yes,—his bachelor couch, for he was not married. He had loved much and often. He had loved a great many people in different stations of life, but they did not marry him. He was, upon the whole, glad that they did not marry him; for they were often married to other people, and he would have been lonely with one, dissatisfied with two, and embarrassed with more; so he continued his austere bachelor life; and always tried to love unostentatiously somebody else's wife.
He loved somebody else's wife, because he had no wife of his own, and the heart requires love. It was very wrong of him to love somebody else's wife, and to sponge thus on affections which belonged to another; but then he had nothing puritanical or pharisaical in his nature; he was too highly cultivated to be moral, and arguing the point in the mood of sweet Barbara, he had often succeeded in persuading pretty women that he did right in loving them, though their household duties belonged to another.
I have said that he was too highly cultivated to be religious. He was exceedingly emotional and intellectual; and the procrustean bed of a creed would have been intolerable torture to him. Life throbbed around him in an aurora of skittles. The world of morality only raised a languid smile, or tickled an appetite pleased with novelty. An archdeacon, or a book of sermons delighted him. He would play with them and ponder over them, as if they were old china, or curious etchings. But he was never profane, especially before bishops, or children, and he always went to church on Sunday morning.
He went to church on Sunday morning, because it was quaint and old-fashioned to do so, and because he loved to see the women of his acquaintance in their devotional moods and attitudes. There was hardly any mood or attitude in which he did not love to see a woman, partly because he was full of human sympathy and tenderness, and partly for other reasons. I suppose he was a student of human nature, though he always repudiated the notion of being a student of anything. He said that life was too short for serious study, and that every kind of pursuit should be tempered with fooling; while to prevent fooling becoming wearisome it should always be dashed with something earnest, as the sodawater is dashed with brandy, or the Government of India with Mr. Whitley Stokes.
Nigrorum memor, dum licet, ignium, Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem: Dulce est desipere in loco.
But besides being a man of pleasure and a capital billiard player, he was a Collector in the North-Western Provinces—a man who sat at the receipt of custom under a punkah, and read his Pioneer. The Lord High Cockalorum at Nynee Tal, Sir Somebody Thingmajig,—I am speaking of years ago—did not like him, I believe; but nobody thought any the worse of him for this; and although he continued to be a Collector until the shades of evening, when all his contemporaries had retired into the Dreamland of Commissionerships, he still loved and was loved; and to the very last he read his French novels and quoted Horace, sitting peacefully on the bank while the stream of promotion rolled on, knowing well that it would roll on in omne aevum, and not caring a jot whether it did, or did not. What was a seat at the Sadr Board[BB] to him, a seat among the solemn mummies of the service? He would not object to lie in the same graveyard with them; but to sit at the same board while this sensible warm motion of life still continued was too much; this could never be. He belonged to a higher order of spirits. As a boy he had not bartered the music of his soul for Eastern languages and the Rent Law; and as an old man he would not sit in state with corpses faintly animated by rupees.
To the last he mocked promotion; he mocked, till the dread mocker laid mocking fingers on his liver, and till gibe and laughter were silenced for evermore. So the Collector died, the merry Collector; and "where shall we bury the merry Collector?" became the last problem for his friends to deal with. I was in far away lands at the time with another friend of his—we mourned for the Collector.
We would have buried him in soft summer weather under sweet arbute trees, near the shore of some murmuring Italian sea. The west wind should whisper its grief over his grave for ever:—
"Thou who didst waken from his summer-dreams The blue Mediterranean, where he lay Lull'd by the coil of his crystalline streams, Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay, And saw in sleep old palaces and towers Quivering within the wave's intenser day, All overgrown with azure moss and flowers."
Blue-eyed girls have bound his dear head with garlands of the amorous rosemary. The echoes of sea-caves would have chanted requiems until time should be no more. Embalmed in darkness the nightingale would nightly for ever pour forth her soul in profuse strains of inconsolable ecstasy; by day the dove should moan in the flickering shade until the sun should cease to roll on his fiery path:—
"Where through groves deep and high, Sounds the far billow, Where early violets die under the willow. There, through the summer day, Cool streams are laving; There, while the tempests sway, Scarce are boughs waving; There thy rest should'st thou take, Parted for ever, Never again to wake: never, O never!"
With tender hand we would have traced on his memorial urn some valediction—not without hope—of love and friendship.
It was otherwise. He was buried during a dust-storm in a loathsome Indian cemetery. No friend stood by the grave. A hard priest reluctantly pattered an abbreviated service: and people whispered that it was not well with the Collector's soul. He is now forgotten.
But, dear friend, thy memory blossoms in my heart for ever, thy merry laugh will still sound in my ear:—
"Abiding with me till I sail To seek thee on the mystic deeps, And this electric force, that keeps A thousand pulses dancing, fail."
THE GRYPHON'S ANABASIS
[March 29, 1880.]
For some days the moustaches had been assuming a fiercer curl; more and more troopers had been added to the escort; the Lord whispered in the unreluctant ear softer and softer nothings; the scarlet runners bowed lower and lower; and it was rumoured that the Lord had given the Gryphon a pot of his own club-mutton hair-grease. It would be a halo. This development of glory must have a limit: a feeling got abroad that the Gryphon must go.
The Commander-in-Chief would come up to him bathed in smiles and say nothing; at other times with tears in his eyes he would swear with far resounding, multitudinous oaths to accompany the Gryphon. One day Wolseley's pocket-book and a tooth-brush would be packed in tin; next day they would be unpacked. The vacillation was awful; it amounted to an agony; it involved all the circles; the newspapers were profoundly moved.
The Gryphon starts. Editors forget their proofs; Baboos forget Moses; mothers forget their cicisbeos. The mind of Calcutta is turned upon the Gryphon.
A thousand blue eyes and ten thousand black focus him. He takes his seat. A double-first class carriage has been reserved. The Superintendent-General of Balloons and Fireworks appears on the platform: the Gryphon steps out, takes precedence of him, and then returns to his carriage. The excitement increases. Pre-paid telegrams are flashed to Bombay, Madras, Allahabad, and Lahore; the engine whistles "God save the Queen-Empress and the Secretary to the Punjab Government;" and the train pours out its glories into the darkness.
My Lord is deeply stirred. He believes the Asian mystery has been solved. He returns to Government House and gives vent to his overwrought feelings in smoke—Parascho cigarettes; then he telegraphs himself to sleep. Dreams sweep over him, issuing from the fabled gates of shining ivory.
Meanwhile the Gryphon speeds on, yearning like a god in pain for his far-away aphelion in Kabul. Morning bashfully overtakes him; and the train dances into stations festooned with branches of olive and palm. A feu-de-joie of champagne corks is fired; special correspondents in clean white trousers enliven the scene; Baron Reuter's ubiquitous young man turns on rapturous telegrams; and a faint smile dawns darkly on the Gryphon's scorn-worn face.
Merrily shrieks the whistling engine as the Punjab comes sliding down, the round world to welcome its curled darling. It spurns with contemptuous piston the vulgar corn-growing provinces of Couper; it seeks the fields that are sown with dragon's teeth; it hisses forward with furious joy, like the flaming chariot of some Heaven-booked Prophet. Already Egerton anticipates its welcome advent. He can hardly sit still on his pro-consular throne; he smiles in dockets and demi-officials; he walks up and down his alabaster halls, and out into his gardens of asphodel, and snuffs the air. It is redolent with some rare effluvium; pomatum-laden winds breathe across the daffadown dillies from the warm chambers of the south. A cloud crosses His Honour's face, a summer cloud dissolving into sunshine. "It is the pomade of Saul:—but it is our own glorious David whose unctuous curls carry the Elysian fragrance." Then taking up his harp and dancing an ecstatic measure, he sings—
"He is coming, my Gryphon, my swell; Were it ever so laden with care, My heart would know him, and smell The grease in his coal-black hair."
The whole of the Punjab is astir. Deputy Commissioners, and Extra Assistant Commissioners, and Kookas, and Sikhs, and Mazhabi-Sikhs crowd the stations; but the Gryphon passes fiercely onwards. The light of battle is now in his eye; he is in uniform; a political sword hangs from his divine waist; a looking-glass poses itself before him. Life burns wildly in his heart: time throbs along in hot seconds; Eternity unfolds around her far-receding horizons of glory.
The train emits telegrams as it hurls itself forward: "the Gryphon is well:—he is in the presence of his Future:—History watches him:—he is drinking a peg:—the Civil and Military Gazette has caught a glimpse of him:—glory, glory, glory, to the Gryphon, the mock turtle is his wash-pot, over Lyall will he cast his shoe."
Earthquakes are felt all along the line from Peshawar to Kabul. Strings of camels laden with portmanteaus stretch from the rising to the setting sun. The whole of the Guides and Bengal Cavalry have resolved themselves into orderlies, and are riding behind the Gryphon. Tens of thousands of insurgents are lining the road and making holiday to see the Gryphon pass.
Kabul is astir. Roberts, with bare feet and a rope round his neck, comes forward, performs Kadambosi and presents the keys of Sherpur to the Gryphon, who hands them graciously to his Extra Assistant Deputy Khidmatgar General. The wires are red hot with messages: "The Gryphon is taking a pill; the Gryphon is bathing; the Gryphon is breakfasting; the Gryphon is making a joke; the Gryphon has been bitten by a flea; the wound is not pronounced dangerous, he is recovering slowly:—Glory, glory to the Gryphon—Amen, amen!"— YOUR POLITICAL ORPHAN.
THE ORPHAN'S GOOD RESOLUTIONS
[June 8, 1880.]
Part I.—Persons I will try to avoid. " II.—Things I will try to avoid. " III.—Habits I will try to avoid. " IV.—Opinions I will try to avoid. " V.—Circumstances I will try to avoid.
* * * * *
PART I.—BAD COMPANY.
PERSONS I WILL TRY TO AVOID.
He has a villa in the country; but his place of business is in town; somewhere near Sackville Street. Vulgarity had marked him for her own at an early age. She had set her mark indelibly on his speech, his manners, and his habits. When ten years old he had learned to aspirate his initial vowels; when twelve he had mastered the whole theory and practice of eating cheese with his knife; at seventeen his mind was saturated with ribald music of the Vaudeville type.
Reader, you anticipate me? You suppose I refer to one of Mr. Gladstone's new Ministers, or to one of Lord Beaconsfield's new Baronets?
You are, of course, mistaken. My man is a tailor; one of the best tailors in the world. He has made hundreds of coats for me; and he has sent me hundreds of circulars and bills.
Now, however, he has lost my address, and there seems a coolness between us. We stand aloof; the scars remaining.
His name is Sartor, and I owe him a good deal of money.
He is always up to the Hills when the weather is unpleasant on the plains. Butterfly-collecting, singing to a guitar passionate songs of love and hate, and lying the live-long day on a long chair with a long tumbler in his hand, and a volume of Longfellow on the floor, are his characteristic pursuits. It is needless to say that he is the Accountant-General, and the last man in the world to suppose that I have given myself ten days' privilege leave to the Hills on urgent private affairs,—affairs de coeur, and affairs de rien, of sorts.
His head is shaved to the bone; his face, of the Semitic type, is most sinister, truculent, and ferocious; his filthy Afghan rags bristle with knives and tulwars. He carries five or six matchlocks under one arm, and a hymn book, or Koran, under the other. He is in holy orders—a Ghazi! A pint, or a pint and a half, of my blood, would earn for him Paradise, with sharab, houris, and all the rest of it.
He was once an exceedingly pleasant fellow, full of talk and anecdote. We were at school together. He was captain of our eleven and at the head of the sixth form. I looked up to him; quoted him; imitated him; lent him my pocket money. Afterwards a great many other people lent him their money too, and played ecarte with him; yet at no period of his life was he rich, and now he is decidedly poor. Still the old love of borrowing money and playing ecarte burns hectically in his bosom, and with years a habit of turning up the king has grown upon him. No one likes to tell him that he has acquired this habit of turning up the king; he is so poor!
She was rather nice-looking once, and I amused myself with fancying that I loved her. She was to me the summer pilot of an empty heart unto the shores of nothing. It was then that I acquired that facility in versification which has since so often helped to bind a book, or line a box, or served to curl a maiden's locks. She, learned reams of those verses by heart, and still repeats them. Her good looks and my illusions have passed away: but those verses—those thrice accursed verses, remain. How they make my ears tingle! How they burn my cheeks! Will time, think you, never impair her infernal memory?
I lisp a little, it is true; but, thank goodness, no longer in numbers. I only lisp a little when any occasion arises to utter sibilant sounds; on such occasions this little girl, the only child of her mother, and she a widow, mimics my infirmity. The widow is silly and laughs nervously, as people with a fine sense of humour laugh in church when a book falls. This laugh of the widow is not easy to bear; for she is pretty. Were she not pretty her mocking child would come, I ween, to some untimely end.
My Lord is, more or less, admired by two or three young ladies I know; and when he puts his arm round my neck and drags me up and down a crowded ball-room I cannot help wishing that they were in the pillory instead of me. I really wish to be polite to H.E., but how can I say that I think he was justified in finessing his deficit and playing surpluses?
How can I agree with him when he says that Abdur Rahman will come galloping in to Cabul to tender his submission as soon as he receives Mr. Lepel Griffin's photograph neatly wrapped up in a Post Office Order for two lakhs of rupees? And then that Star of India he is always pressing on me! As I say to him,—what should I do with it?
I can't go hanging things round my neck like King Coffee Calcalli, or the Emperor of Blue China.
But soon it will not be difficult for me to avoid my Lord: for
"Sic desideriis icta fidelibus Quaerit patria Caesarem."
He still smiles when we meet; and I don't think any the less of him because he was called "Bumble" at school and afterwards made Governor of Bombay. Men drift unconsciously into these things. But when I happen to be near him he has a nervous way of lunging with his stick that I can't quite get over. They say he once dreamt that I had poked fun at him in a newspaper; and the hallucination continues to produce an angry aberration of his mind, coupled with gnashing of the teeth and other dangerous symptoms.
He is a huge gob of flesh, which is perhaps animated dimly by some spark of humanity smouldering filthily in a heart cancerous with money-grubbing. His whole character and mode of life stink with poisonous exhalations in my moral nostrils. Nature denounces, in her loud commination service, his clammy hand, his restless eye, his sinister and bestial mouth. Why should he waken me from the dreams of literature and the low music of my own reflections to disgorge from the cesspool of his mind the impertinent questions and the loathsome compliments which form his notion of conversation? He has come to "pay his respects." I abhor "his respects." He is rich:—What is that to me? He is powerful with all the power of corruption: I scorn his power, I figuratively spit upon it. He is perhaps the man whom the Government delights to honour. More shame to the Government! A bully at home, and a tyrant among his own people, on all sides dastardly and mean, he is a bad representative of a gentle and intellectual race, that for its heroic traditions, its high thoughts, its noble language and its exquisite urbanity has been the wonder of the whole world since the dawn of history.
A cocked hat, a tailcoat with gold buttons and a rapier:—"See'st thou not the air of the court in these enfoldings? Hath not his gait in it the measure of the court? Receives not thy nose court-odour from him? Reflects he not on thy baseness court-contempt?" Observe how mysterious he is: consider the secrets burning on his tongue. He is all asides and whispers and winks and nods to other young popinjays of the same feather. He could tell you the very brand of the pills the Raja is taking: he receives the paltriest gossip of the Nawab's court filtered through a lying vakeel. Ten to one he carries in his pocket a cipher telegram from Simla empowering him to confer the title of Jee[CC] on some neighbouring Thakor. Surely it is no wonder that he believes himself to be the hub of creation. Within a radius of twenty miles there is no one even fit to come between the wind and his nobility. If he should ever catch hold of you by the arm and take you aside for a moment from the madding crowd of a lawn-tennis party to whisper in your ear the arrival of a complimentary Kharita and a pound of sweetmeats from the Foreign Office for the Jam of Bredanbatta you should let off smiles and blushes in token of the honour and glory thus placed at your credit.