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Home -> Mark Twain -> Following the Equator -> Chapter 55

Following the Equator - Chapter 55

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


There are 869 different forms of lying, but only one of them has been
squarely forbidden. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.


February 14. We left at 4:30 P.M. Until dark we moved through rich
vegetation, then changed to a boat and crossed the Ganges.

February 15. Up with the sun. A brilliant morning, and frosty. A
double suit of flannels is found necessary. The plain is perfectly
level, and seems to stretch away and away and away, dimming and
softening, to the uttermost bounds of nowhere. What a soaring,
strenuous, gushing fountain spray of delicate greenery a bunch of bamboo
is! As far as the eye can reach, these grand vegetable geysers grace the
view, their spoutings refined to steam by distance. And there are fields
of bananas, with the sunshine glancing from the varnished surface of
their drooping vast leaves. And there are frequent groves of palm; and
an effective accent is given to the landscape by isolated individuals of
this picturesque family, towering, clean-stemmed, their plumes broken and
hanging ragged, Nature's imitation of an umbrella that has been out to
see what a cyclone is like and is trying not to look disappointed. And
everywhere through the soft morning vistas we glimpse the villages, the
countless villages, the myriad villages, thatched, built of clean new
matting, snuggling among grouped palms and sheaves of bamboo; villages,
villages, no end of villages, not three hundred yards apart, and dozens
and dozens of them in sight all the time; a mighty City, hundreds of
miles long, hundreds of miles broad, made all of villages, the biggest
city in the earth, and as populous as a European kingdom. I have seen no
such city as this before. And there is a continuously repeated and
replenished multitude of naked men in view on both sides and ahead. We
fly through it mile after mile, but still it is always there, on both
sides and ahead--brown-bodied, naked men and boys, plowing in the fields.
But not woman. In these two hours I have not seen a woman or a girl
working in the fields.

"From Greenland's icy mountains,
From India's coral strand,
Where Afric's sunny fountains
Roll down their golden sand.
From many an ancient river,
From many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver
Their land from error's chain."

Those are beautiful verses, and they have remained in my memory all my
life. But if the closing lines are true, let us hope that when we come
to answer the call and deliver the land from its errors, we shall secrete
from it some of our high-civilization ways, and at the same time borrow
some of its pagan ways to enrich our high system with. We have a right
to do this. If we lift those people up, we have a right to lift
ourselves up nine or ten grades or so, at their expense. A few years ago
I spent several weeks at Tolz, in Bavaria. It is a Roman Catholic
region, and not even Benares is more deeply or pervasively or
intelligently devout. In my diary of those days I find this:

"We took a long drive yesterday around about the lovely country
roads. But it was a drive whose pleasure was damaged in a couple of
ways: by the dreadful shrines and by the shameful spectacle of gray
and venerable old grandmothers toiling in the fields. The shrines
were frequent along the roads--figures of the Saviour nailed to the
cross and streaming with blood from the wounds of the nails and the

"When missionaries go from here do they find fault with the pagan
idols? I saw many women seventy and even eighty years old mowing
and binding in the fields, and pitchforking the loads into the

I was in Austria later, and in Munich. In Munich I saw gray old women
pushing trucks up hill and down, long distances, trucks laden with
barrels of beer, incredible loads. In my Austrian diary I find this:

"In the fields I often see a woman and a cow harnessed to the plow,
and a man driving.

"In the public street of Marienbad to-day, I saw an old, bent,
gray-headed woman, in harness with a dog, drawing a laden sled over
bare dirt roads and bare pavements; and at his ease walked the
driver, smoking his pipe, a hale fellow not thirty years old."

Five or six years ago I bought an open boat, made a kind of a canvas
wagon-roof over the stern of it to shelter me from sun and rain; hired a
courier and a boatman, and made a twelve-day floating voyage down the
Rhone from Lake Bourget to Marseilles. In my diary of that trip I find
this entry. I was far down the Rhone then:

"Passing St. Etienne, 2:15 P.M. On a distant ridge inland, a tall
openwork structure commandingly situated, with a statue of the
Virgin standing on it. A devout country. All down this river,
wherever there is a crag there is a statue of the Virgin on it. I
believe I have seen a hundred of them. And yet, in many respects,
the peasantry seem to be mere pagans, and destitute of any
considerable degree of civilization.

" . . . . We reached a not very promising looking village about
4 o'clock, and I concluded to tie up for the day; munching fruit and
fogging the hood with pipe-smoke had grown monotonous; I could not
have the hood furled, because the floods of rain fell unceasingly.
The tavern was on the river bank, as is the custom. It was dull
there, and melancholy--nothing to do but look out of the window into
the drenching rain, and shiver; one could do that, for it was bleak
and cold and windy, and country France furnishes no fire. Winter
overcoats did not help me much; they had to be supplemented with
rugs. The raindrops were so large and struck the river with such
force that they knocked up the water like pebble-splashes.

"With the exception of a very occasional woodenshod peasant, nobody
was abroad in this bitter weather--I mean nobody of our sex. But
all weathers are alike to the women in these continental countries.
To them and the other animals, life is serious; nothing interrupts
their slavery. Three of them were washing clothes in the river
under the window when I arrived, and they continued at it as long as
there was light to work by. One was apparently thirty; another--the
mother!--above fifty; the third--grandmother!--so old and worn and
gray she could have passed for eighty; I took her to be that old.
They had no waterproofs nor rubbers, of course; over their shoulders
they wore gunnysacks--simply conductors for rivers of water; some of
the volume reached the ground; the rest soaked in on the way.

"At last a vigorous fellow of thirty-five arrived, dry and
comfortable, smoking his pipe under his big umbrella in an open
donkey-cart-husband, son, and grandson of those women! He stood up
in the cart, sheltering himself, and began to superintend, issuing
his orders in a masterly tone of command, and showing temper when
they were not obeyed swiftly enough.

"Without complaint or murmur the drowned women patiently carried out
the orders, lifting the immense baskets of soggy, wrung-out clothing
into the cart and stowing them to the man's satisfaction. There
were six of the great baskets, and a man of mere ordinary strength
could not have lifted any one of them. The cart being full now, the
Frenchman descended, still sheltered by his umbrella, entered the
tavern, and the women went drooping homeward, trudging in the wake
of the cart, and soon were blended with the deluge and lost to

"When I went down into the public room, the Frenchman had his bottle
of wine and plate of food on a bare table black with grease, and was
"chomping" like a horse. He had the little religious paper which is
in everybody's hands on the Rhone borders, and was enlightening
himself with the histories of French saints who used to flee to the
desert in the Middle Ages to escape the contamination of woman. For
two hundred years France has been sending missionaries to other
savage lands. To spare to the needy from poverty like hers is fine
and true generosity."

But to get back to India--where, as my favorite poem says--

"Every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile."

It is because Bavaria and Austria and France have not introduced their
civilization to him yet. But Bavaria and Austria and France are on their
way. They are coming. They will rescue him; they will refine the
vileness out of him.

Some time during the forenoon, approaching the mountains, we changed from
the regular train to one composed of little canvas-sheltered cars that
skimmed along within a foot of the ground and seemed to be going fifty
miles an hour when they were really making about twenty. Each car had
seating capacity for half-a-dozen persons; and when the curtains were up
one was substantially out of doors, and could see everywhere, and get all
the breeze, and be luxuriously comfortable. It was not a pleasure
excursion in name only, but in fact.

After a while the stopped at a little wooden coop of a station just
within the curtain of the sombre jungle, a place with a deep and dense
forest of great trees and scrub and vines all about it. The royal Bengal
tiger is in great force there, and is very bold and unconventional. From
this lonely little station a message once went to the railway manager in
Calcutta: "Tiger eating station-master on front porch; telegraph

It was there that I had my first tiger hunt. I killed thirteen. We were
presently away again, and the train began to climb the mountains. In one
place seven wild elephants crossed the track, but two of them got away
before I could overtake them. The railway journey up the mountain is
forty miles, and it takes eight hours to make it. It is so wild and
interesting and exciting and enchanting that it ought to take a week. As
for the vegetation, it is a museum. The jungle seemed to contain samples
of every rare and curious tree and bush that we had ever seen or heard
of. It is from that museum, I think, that the globe must have been
supplied with the trees and vines and shrubs that it holds precious.

The road is infinitely and charmingly crooked. It goes winding in and
out under lofty cliffs that are smothered in vines and foliage, and
around the edges of bottomless chasms; and all the way one glides by
files of picturesque natives, some carrying burdens up, others going down
from their work in the tea-gardens; and once there was a gaudy wedding
procession, all bright tinsel and color, and a bride, comely and girlish,
who peeped out from the curtains of her palanquin, exposing her face with
that pure delight which the young and happy take in sin for sin's own

By and by we were well up in the region of the clouds, and from that
breezy height we looked down and afar over a wonderful picture--the
Plains of India, stretching to the horizon, soft and fair, level as a
floor, shimmering with heat, mottled with cloud-shadows, and cloven with
shining rivers. Immediately below us, and receding down, down, down,
toward the valley, was a shaven confusion of hilltops, with ribbony roads
and paths squirming and snaking cream-yellow all over them and about
them, every curve and twist sharply distinct.

At an elevation of 6,000 feet we entered a thick cloud, and it shut out
the world and kept it shut out. We climbed 1,000 feet higher, then began
to descend, and presently got down to Darjeeling, which is 6,000 feet
above the level of the Plains.

We had passed many a mountain village on the way up, and seen some new
kinds of natives, among them many samples of the fighting Ghurkas. They
are not large men, but they are strong and resolute. There are no better
soldiers among Britain's native troops. And we had passed shoals of
their women climbing the forty miles of steep road from the valley to
their mountain homes, with tall baskets on their backs hitched to their
foreheads by a band, and containing a freightage weighing--I will not say
how many hundreds of pounds, for the sum is unbelievable. These were
young women, and they strode smartly along under these astonishing
burdens with the air of people out for a holiday. I was told that a
woman will carry a piano on her back all the way up the mountain; and
that more than once a woman had done it. If these were old women I
should regard the Ghurkas as no more civilized than the Europeans.
At the railway station at Darjeeling you find plenty of cab-substitutes
--open coffins, in which you sit, and are then borne on men's shoulders up
the steep roads into the town.

Up there we found a fairly comfortable hotel, the property of an
indiscriminate and incoherent landlord, who looks after nothing, but
leaves everything to his army of Indian servants. No, he does look after
the bill--to be just to him--and the tourist cannot do better than follow
his example. I was told by a resident that the summit of Kinchinjunga is
often hidden in the clouds, and that sometimes a tourist has waited
twenty-two days and then been obliged to go away without a sight of it.
And yet went not disappointed; for when he got his hotel bill he
recognized that he was now seeing the highest thing in the Himalayas.
But this is probably a lie.

After lecturing I went to the Club that night, and that was a comfortable
place. It is loftily situated, and looks out over a vast spread of
scenery; from it you can see where the boundaries of three countries come
together, some thirty miles away; Thibet is one of them, Nepaul another,
and I think Herzegovina was the other. Apparently, in every town and
city in India the gentlemen of the British civil and military service
have a club; sometimes it is a palatial one, always it is pleasant and
homelike. The hotels are not always as good as they might be, and the
stranger who has access to the Club is grateful for his privilege and
knows how to value it.

Next day was Sunday. Friends came in the gray dawn with horses, and my
party rode away to a distant point where Kinchinjunga and Mount Everest
show up best, but I stayed at home for a private view; for it was very
old, and I was not acquainted with the horses, any way. I got a pipe and
a few blankets and sat for two hours at the window, and saw the sun drive
away the veiling gray and touch up the snow-peaks one after another with
pale pink splashes and delicate washes of gold, and finally flood the
whole mighty convulsion of snow-mountains with a deluge of rich

Kinchinjunga's peak was but fitfully visible, but in the between times it
was vividly clear against the sky--away up there in the blue dome more
than 28,000 feet above sea level--the loftiest land I had ever seen, by
12,000 feet or more. It was 45 miles away. Mount Everest is a thousand
feet higher, but it was not a part of that sea of mountains piled up
there before me, so I did not see it; but I did not care, because I think
that mountains that are as high as that are disagreeable.

I changed from the back to the front of the house and spent the rest of
the morning there, watching the swarthy strange tribes flock by from
their far homes in the Himalayas. All ages and both sexes were
represented, and the breeds were quite new to me, though the costumes of
the Thibetans made them look a good deal like Chinamen. The prayer-wheel
was a frequent feature. It brought me near to these people, and made
them seem kinfolk of mine. Through our preacher we do much of our
praying by proxy. We do not whirl him around a stick, as they do, but
that is merely a detail. The swarm swung briskly by, hour after hour, a
strange and striking pageant. It was wasted there, and it seemed a pity.
It should have been sent streaming through the cities of Europe or
America, to refresh eyes weary of the pale monotonies of the
circus-pageant. These people were bound for the bazar, with things to
sell. We went down there, later, and saw that novel congress of the wild
peoples, and plowed here and there through it, and concluded that it
would be worth coming from Calcutta to see, even if there were no
Kinchinjunga and Everest.

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