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Home -> Mark Twain -> Following the Equator -> Chapter 38

Following the Equator - Chapter 38

1. Contents

2. Chapter 1

3. Chapter 2

4. Chapter 3

5. Chapter 4

6. Chapter 5

7. Chapter 6

8. Chapter 7

9. Chapter 8

10. Chapter 9

11. Chapter 10

12. Chapter 11

13. Chapter 12

14. Chapter 13

15. Chapter 14

16. Chapter 15

17. Chapter 16

18. Chapter 17

19. Chapter 18

20. Chapter 19

21. Chapter 20

22. Chapter 21

23. Chapter 22

24. Chapter 23

25. Chapter 24

26. Chapter 25

27. Chapter 26

28. Chapter 27

29. Chapter 28

30. Chapter 29

31. Chapter 30

32. Chapter 31

33. Chapter 32

34. Chapter 33

35. Chapter 34

36. Chapter 35

37. Chapter 36

38. Chapter 37

39. Chapter 38

40. Chapter 39

41. Chapter 40

42. Chapter 41

43. Chapter 42

44. Chapter 43

45. Chapter 44

46. Chapter 45

47. Chapter 46

48. Chapter 47

49. Chapter 48

50. Chapter 49

51. Chapter 50

52. Chapter 51

53. Chapter 52

54. Chapter 53

55. Chapter 54

56. Chapter 55

57. Chapter 56

58. Chapter 57

59. Chapter 58

60. Chapter 59

61. Chapter 60

62. Chapter 61

63. Chapter 62

64. Chapter 63

65. Chapter 64

66. Chapter 65

67. Chapter 66

68. Chapter 67

69. Chapter 68

70. Chapter 69

71. Conclusion


Prosperity is the best protector of principle.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

EVENING--11th. Sailed in the Rosetta. This is a poor old ship, and
ought to be insured and sunk. As in the 'Oceana', just so here:
everybody dresses for dinner; they make it a sort of pious duty. These
fine and formal costumes are a rather conspicuous contrast to the poverty
and shabbiness of the surroundings . . . . If you want a slice of a
lime at four o'clock tea, you must sign an order on the bar. Limes cost
14 cents a barrel.

January 18th. We have been running up the Arabian Sea, latterly.
Closing up on Bombay now, and due to arrive this evening.

January 20th. Bombay! A bewitching place, a bewildering place, an
enchanting place--the Arabian Nights come again? It is a vast city;
contains about a million inhabitants. Natives, they are, with a slight
sprinkling of white people--not enough to have the slightest modifying
effect upon the massed dark complexion of the public. It is winter here,
yet the weather is the divine weather of June, and the foliage is the
fresh and heavenly foliage of June. There is a rank of noble great shade
trees across the way from the hotel, and under them sit groups of
picturesque natives of both sexes; and the juggler in his turban is there
with his snakes and his magic; and all day long the cabs and the
multitudinous varieties of costumes flock by. It does not seem as if one
could ever get tired of watching this moving show, this shining and
shifting spectacle . . . . In the great bazar the pack and jam of
natives was marvelous, the sea of rich-colored turbans and draperies an
inspiring sight, and the quaint and showy Indian architecture was just
the right setting for it. Toward sunset another show; this is the drive
around the sea-shore to Malabar Point, where Lord Sandhurst, the Governor
of the Bombay Presidency, lives. Parsee palaces all along the first part
of the drive; and past them all the world is driving; the private
carriages of wealthy Englishmen and natives of rank are manned by a
driver and three footmen in stunning oriental liveries--two of these
turbaned statues standing up behind, as fine as monuments. Sometimes
even the public carriages have this superabundant crew, slightly
modified--one to drive, one to sit by and see it done, and one to stand
up behind and yell--yell when there is anybody in the way, and for
practice when there isn't. It all helps to keep up the liveliness and
augment the general sense of swiftness and energy and confusion and

In the region of Scandal Point--felicitous name--where there are handy
rocks to sit on and a noble view of the sea on the one hand, and on the
other the passing and reprising whirl and tumult of gay carriages, are
great groups of comfortably-off Parsee women--perfect flower-beds of
brilliant color, a fascinating spectacle. Tramp, tramp, tramping along
the road, in singles, couples, groups, and gangs, you have the
working-man and the working-woman--but not clothed like ours. Usually
the man is a nobly-built great athlete, with not a rag on but his
loin-handkerchief; his color a deep dark brown, his skin satin, his
rounded muscles knobbing it as if it had eggs under it. Usually the
woman is a slender and shapely creature, as erect as a lightning-rod, and
she has but one thing on--a bright-colored piece of stuff which is wound
about her head and her body down nearly half-way to her knees, and which
clings like her own skin. Her legs and feet are bare, and so are her
arms, except for her fanciful bunches of loose silver rings on her ankles
and on her arms. She has jewelry bunched on the side of her nose also,
and showy clusterings on her toes. When she undresses for bed she takes
off her jewelry, I suppose. If she took off anything more she would
catch cold. As a rule she has a large shiney brass water jar of graceful
shape on her head, and one of her naked arms curves up and the hand holds
it there. She is so straight, so erect, and she steps with such style,
and such easy grace and dignity; and her curved arm and her brazen jar
are such a help to the picture indeed, our working-women cannot begin
with her as a road-decoration.

It is all color, bewitching color, enchanting color--everywhere all
around--all the way around the curving great opaline bay clear to
Government House, where the turbaned big native 'chuprassies' stand
grouped in state at the door in their robes of fiery red, and do most
properly and stunningly finish up the splendid show and make it
theatrically complete. I wish I were a 'chuprassy'.

This is indeed India! the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth
and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of
famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers
and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a hundred nations
and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods,
cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history,
grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays
bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations--the
one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable
interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant,
wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men
desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give
that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.
Even now, after the lapse of a year, the delirium of those days in Bombay
has not left me, and I hope never will. It was all new, no detail of it
hackneyed. And India did not wait for morning, it began at the hotel
--straight away. The lobbies and halls were full of turbaned, and fez'd
and embroidered, cap'd, and barefooted, and cotton-clad dark natives,
some of them rushing about, others at rest squatting, or sitting on the
ground; some of them chattering with energy, others still and dreamy; in
the dining-room every man's own private native servant standing behind
his chair, and dressed for a part in the Arabian Nights.

Our rooms were high up, on the front. A white man--he was a burly German
--went up with us, and brought three natives along to see to arranging
things. About fourteen others followed in procession, with the
hand-baggage; each carried an article--and only one; a bag, in some
cases, in other cases less. One strong native carried my overcoat,
another a parasol, another a box of cigars, another a novel, and the last
man in the procession had no load but a fan. It was all done with
earnestness and sincerity, there was not a smile in the procession from
the head of it to the tail of it. Each man waited patiently, tranquilly,
in no sort of hurry, till one of us found time to give him a copper, then
he bent his head reverently, touched his forehead with his fingers, and
went his way. They seemed a soft and gentle race, and there was
something both winning and touching about their demeanor.

There was a vast glazed door which opened upon the balcony. It needed
closing, or cleaning, or something, and a native got down on his knees
and went to work at it. He seemed to be doing it well enough, but
perhaps he wasn't, for the burly German put on a look that betrayed
dissatisfaction, then without explaining what was wrong, gave the native
a brisk cuff on the jaw and then told him where the defect was. It
seemed such a shame to do that before us all. The native took it with
meekness, saying nothing, and not showing in his face or manner any
resentment. I had not seen the like of this for fifty years. It carried
me back to my boyhood, and flashed upon me the forgotten fact that this
was the usual way of explaining one's desires to a slave. I was able to
remember that the method seemed right and natural to me in those days, I
being born to it and unaware that elsewhere there were other methods; but
I was also able to remember that those unresented cuffings made me sorry
for the victim and ashamed for the punisher. My father was a refined and
kindly gentleman, very grave, rather austere, of rigid probity, a sternly
just and upright man, albeit he attended no church and never spoke of
religious matters, and had no part nor lot in the pious joys of his
Presbyterian family, nor ever seemed to suffer from this deprivation. He
laid his hand upon me in punishment only twice in his life, and then not
heavily; once for telling him a lie--which surprised me, and showed me
how unsuspicious he was, for that was not my maiden effort. He punished
me those two times only, and never any other member of the family at all;
yet every now and then he cuffed our harmless slave boy, Lewis, for
trifling little blunders and awkwardnesses. My father had passed his life
among the slaves from his cradle up, and his cuffings proceeded from the
custom of the time, not from his nature. When I was ten years old I saw
a man fling a lump of iron-ore at a slaveman in anger, for merely doing
something awkwardly--as if that were a crime. It bounded from the man's
skull, and the man fell and never spoke again. He was dead in an hour.
I knew the man had a right to kill his slave if he wanted to, and yet it
seemed a pitiful thing and somehow wrong, though why wrong I was not deep
enough to explain if I had been asked to do it. Nobody in the village
approved of that murder, but of course no one said much about it.

It is curious--the space-annihilating power of thought. For just one
second, all that goes to make the me in me was in a Missourian village,
on the other side of the globe, vividly seeing again these forgotten
pictures of fifty years ago, and wholly unconscious of all things but
just those; and in the next second I was back in Bombay, and that
kneeling native's smitten cheek was not done tingling yet! Back to
boyhood--fifty years; back to age again, another fifty; and a flight
equal to the circumference of the globe-all in two seconds by the watch!

Some natives--I don't remember how many--went into my bedroom, now, and
put things to rights and arranged the mosquito-bar, and I went to bed to
nurse my cough. It was about nine in the evening. What a state of
things! For three hours the yelling and shouting of natives in the hall
continued, along with the velvety patter of their swift bare feet--what a
racket it was! They were yelling orders and messages down three flights.
Why, in the matter of noise it amounted to a riot, an insurrection, a
revolution. And then there were other noises mixed up with these and at
intervals tremendously accenting them--roofs falling in, I judged,
windows smashing, persons being murdered, crows squawking, and deriding,
and cursing, canaries screeching, monkeys jabbering, macaws blaspheming,
and every now and then fiendish bursts of laughter and explosions of
dynamite. By midnight I had suffered all the different kinds of shocks
there are, and knew that I could never more be disturbed by them, either
isolated or in combination. Then came peace--stillness deep and solemn
and lasted till five.

Then it all broke loose again. And who re-started it? The Bird of Birds
the Indian crow. I came to know him well, by and by, and be infatuated
with him. I suppose he is the hardest lot that wears feathers. Yes, and
the cheerfulest, and the best satisfied with himself. He never arrived
at what he is by any careless process, or any sudden one; he is a work of
art, and "art is long"; he is the product of immemorial ages, and of deep
calculation; one can't make a bird like that in a day. He has been
reincarnated more times than Shiva; and he has kept a sample of each
incarnation, and fused it into his constitution. In the course of his
evolutionary promotions, his sublime march toward ultimate perfection, he
has been a gambler, a low comedian, a dissolute priest, a fussy woman, a
blackguard, a scoffer, a liar, a thief, a spy, an informer, a trading
politician, a swindler, a professional hypocrite, a patriot for cash, a
reformer, a lecturer, a lawyer, a conspirator, a rebel, a royalist, a
democrat, a practicer and propagator of irreverence, a meddler, an
intruder, a busybody, an infidel, and a wallower in sin for the mere love
of it. The strange result, the incredible result, of this patient
accumulation of all damnable traits is, that be does not know what care
is, he does not know what sorrow is, he does not know what remorse is,
his life is one long thundering ecstasy of happiness, and he will go to
his death untroubled, knowing that he will soon turn up again as an
author or something, and be even more intolerably capable and comfortable
than ever he was before.

In his straddling wide forward-step, and his springy side-wise series of
hops, and his impudent air, and his cunning way of canting his head to
one side upon occasion, he reminds one of the American blackbird. But
the sharp resemblances stop there. He is much bigger than the blackbird;
and he lacks the blackbird's trim and slender and beautiful build and
shapely beak; and of course his sober garb of gray and rusty black is a
poor and humble thing compared with the splendid lustre of the
blackbird's metallic sables and shifting and flashing bronze glories.
The blackbird is a perfect gentleman, in deportment and attire, and is
not noisy, I believe, except when holding religious services and
political conventions in a tree; but this Indian sham Quaker is just a
rowdy, and is always noisy when awake--always chaffing, scolding,
scoffing, laughing, ripping, and cursing, and carrying on about something
or other. I never saw such a bird for delivering opinions. Nothing
escapes him; he notices everything that happens, and brings out his
opinion about it, particularly if it is a matter that is none of his
business. And it is never a mild opinion, but always violent--violent
and profane--the presence of ladies does not affect him. His opinions
are not the outcome of reflection, for he never thinks about anything,
but heaves out the opinion that is on top in his mind, and which is often
an opinion about some quite different thing and does not fit the case.
But that is his way; his main idea is to get out an opinion, and if he
stopped to think he would lose chances.

I suppose he has no enemies among men. The whites and Mohammedans never
seemed to molest him; and the Hindoos, because of their religion, never
take the life of any creature, but spare even the snakes and tigers and
fleas and rats. If I sat on one end of the balcony, the crows would
gather on the railing at the other end and talk about me; and edge
closer, little by little, till I could almost reach them; and they would
sit there, in the most unabashed way, and talk about my clothes, and my
hair, and my complexion, and probable character and vocation and
politics, and how I came to be in India, and what I had been doing, and
how many days I had got for it, and how I had happened to go unhanged
so long, and when would it probably come off, and might there be more of
my sort where I came from, and when would they be hanged,--and so on, and
so on, until I could not longer endure the embarrassment of it; then I
would shoo them away, and they would circle around in the air a little
while, laughing and deriding and mocking, and presently settle on the
rail and do it all over again.

They were very sociable when there was anything to eat--oppressively so.
With a little encouragement they would come in and light on the table and
help me eat my breakfast; and once when I was in the other room and they
found themselves alone, they carried off everything they could lift; and
they were particular to choose things which they could make no use of
after they got them. In India their number is beyond estimate, and their
noise is in proportion. I suppose they cost the country more than the
government does; yet that is not a light matter. Still, they pay; their
company pays; it would sadden the land to take their cheerful voice out
of it.

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