Click here to buy The Himalaya Club
Whilst we were enjoying ourselves after dinner, on the evening of the Hindoo holiday, the khansamah came in, and announced that two Sahibs had arrived.
‘Two Sahibs?’ said our host. ‘Who are they?’
‘They are strangers to me, Sahib,’ said the khansamah, ‘and they do not speak Hindostanee; but their bearers say that they are Lord Sahibs.’
‘Who on earth can they be?’ said the magistrate of Bijnore (loudly) to himself; and, rising, he left the table to make inquiry in person, and offer the travellers every hospitality.
‘O, I beg your pardon,’ said a voice from one of the palanquins. ‘But would you be good enough to tell me where I am?’
‘You are at Bijnore,’ said the magistrate, blandly. ‘Bij-what?’
‘Then, how far am I from Meerut?’
‘A very considerable distance—forty miles at least.’ ‘How the deuce is that?’
‘Well, sir—in the words of the Eton Latin Grammar—I may reply:—
Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas.
But where have you come from?’
‘From Seharry something or other; but confound these nores, and pores, and bores! There’s no recollecting the name of any place, for an hour together. The magistrate—I forget his name just now; but it was Radley, Bradley, Bagley, Ragley, or Cragley, or some such name—told me he would push me on to Meerut, and here am I, it seems, forty miles out of my road! Well, look here. I am Lord Jamleigh.’
‘Indeed! Well, you are welcome to some refreshment and repose in my home, in common with your friend; and whenever you desire to be ‘pushed on,’ I will exert my authority to the utmost to further your views.’
‘O, thank you. My friend is my valet. Here, Mexton, jump out and take my things into a room.’
While Mexton is obeying this order, and while his lordship is following his host, let us inform the reader who his lordship was, and what was the object of his mission to India.
His lordship was a young nobleman, who was about to enter Parliament, and, being desirous of acquiring information concerning India in order to be very strong when the question for renewing the charter came on in eighteen hundred and fifty-two or fifty-three, he resolved on travelling in the country for a few months: the entire period of his absence from home, including the journey overland, not to exceed half a year. After a passage of thirty-four days—having already seen the Island of Ceylon, and approved of it—his lordship landed at Madras, was carried up to Government house, where he took a hasty tiffin, and was then carried back to the beach, whence he reembarked on board the steamer, and was, three days afterwards, landed at the Ghaut in Calcutta, where he found a carriage ready to convey him to the vice- regal dwelling. After two days’ stay, he was ‘pushed on,’ at his own request, to the Upper Provinces: his destination being Lahore. The newspapers got hold of his name, and came out with something of this kind:—‘Amongst the passengers by the Bentinck is Lord Jamleigh, eldest son of the Right Honourable the Earl of Dapperleigh. His lordship leaves Calcutta this evening, and will pass through the following stations.’ Then came a list. At many of the stations he was met—officiously met, by gentlemen in authority, who dragged—literally dragged—him, in their anxiety to have a lord for a guest, to their houses, and kept him there as long as they could: taking care to have the north-west journals informed of where and with whom his lordship had put up. He was not allowed to stay at a dâk bungalow for an hour or two, and then proceed, taking—in the strictest sense of the phrase—his bird’s-eye view of India, its people, its institutions, and so forth. Some of them threw obstacles in the way of his getting bearers, so that he might remain with them for four- and-twenty hours, and thus thoroughly impregnate and air their houses with an aristocratical atmosphere. Others lugged him to their courts and collectorates, albeit he had seen one of each at Burdwan and Bengal, and consequently had seen the working of the Indian judicial and revenue departments, and knew all about them! This sycophantic importunity of a few government officials soured his lordship’s temper, which imparted to his manners a rudeness which was perhaps foreign to his nature. His lordship was led to believe that all Indian officials were a parcel of sycophants—progress-impeding sycophants—and hence he grew to treat them all alike: and he did not scruple, at last, to extract his information from them much in the same way that a petulant judge who has lost all patience with a rambling witness, takes him out of the hands of counsel, and brings him sharply to the point. For instance, ‘I know all about that, but tell me this,’—note-book in hand—would Lord Jamleigh in such wise frequently interrogate his civil hosts, who insisted on doing themselves the honour of entertaining his lordship. The fact was that, in his own opinion, he knew all about India and its affairs long before he touched the soil, for he had read a good deal in blue books and newspapers. His object, as we have before hinted, was simply to see the country and travel in it, or through it, and thus arm himself with a tremendous and telling weapon in a contested debate, should he take part therein. And therefore when his lordship asked questions it was not so much with a view to obtain information as to test the accuracy of that already acquired by reading, over the fireside in the library, of his father’s mansion in Bagdad Square. Thus, the entries in his lordship’s note-book were, after all, merely a matter of form.
Having divested himself of the dust with which he was covered, and having restored himself to his personal comforts, his lordship joined our little party, and partook of some dinner which the khansamah had prepared for him. His repast concluded, his lordship moistened his throat with a glass of cool claret, and proceeded, in his own manner, to interrogate his host, who was not only an accomplished scholar, but a ready and refined wit. It was thus that the dialogue was commenced and continued:—
‘What is the number of inhabitants in this district?’ asked the noble guest.
‘Upon my word I don’t know; I have never counted them,’ said the host.
‘But have you no idea? Can’t you give a guess?’
‘Oh, yes; some hundreds of thousands.’
‘Ah! And crime—much crime!’ his lordship persevered. ‘Very much. But we are going to reduce it, during the ensuing half-year, exactly thirty-three and a-half per cent,’ answered the magistrate, looking uncommonly statistical.
‘Well, that is what my assistant and myself have decided upon.’
‘I do not understand you. How can you possibly say at this moment whether, during the next six months, the amount of crime shall be greater or less?’ His lordship was puzzled.
‘How? Why just in the same way that the directors of a joint-stock bank determine in their parlour what shall be the amount of dividend payable to shareholders. My assistant wanted to make a reduction of fifty per centum on the last returns; but I think thirty-three and a-half will be a very fair figure.’
‘You intend, perhaps, to be more severe?’ said the young legislator.
‘Nothing of the kind. On the contrary, we intend to be less energetic by thirty-three and a-half per cent—to take matters more easily, in short.’
‘I wish I knew what you meant.’
‘I will explain it to you.’
‘As briefly as possible, please.’ His lordship did not want
to be bored, evidently.
‘By all means.’
‘I only want facts, you see.’
‘And I am about to give you facts—dry facts.’
‘The facts are these. There is a district in these provinces
nearly twice the size of this, and it contains nearly double the number of inhabitants.’
‘During the past half-year, the number of convictions in that district has been very much less than the number of convictions in this district. And the Sudder Court of Appeal has come to the conclusion, on looking at the figures in the official return, that the proportion of crime to population, in this district, is greater than it is in that district.’
‘Indeed? But suppose that the magistrate of that district only attends his court once or twice a-week, and then only for an hour or two on those days; and suppose that his assistant is a young man who makes sport his occupation and his business, and his recreation and his sport. And supposethat I and my assistant work hard, and do our best to hunt up all the murderers, thieves, and other culprits, whom we hear of, and bring them to justice and to punishment. What then? Are the figures in the official returns, touching the convictions, to be taken as any criterion of the crime perpetrated in our respective districts?’ His worship delivered these questions triumphantly.In that case, certainly not.’
‘Well, the Sudder have looked at the convictions, and the consequence has been, that in the last printed report issued by that august body (composed of three old and imbecile gentlemen) to the Government, the magistrate of that district and his assistant have been praised for their zeal, and recommended for promotion, while the magistrate and assistant of this district have been publicly censured; or, to use the cant phrase of the report, ‘handed up for the consideration of the Most Noble the Governor-General of India.’
‘Is it possible?’ asked the Lord, throwing up his hands. ‘You ask for dry facts, and I have given you dry facts.’ ‘May I make a note of this?’ (pulling out an elegant
souvenir). ‘Not that I should think of mentioning your name.’ ‘You may make a note of it; and, so far as mentioning my name is concerned, you may do as you please. I have already written to the Sudder what I have stated to you,’ was the
‘What! about the thirty-three and a-half per cent?’
‘Yes, and, what is more, I have insisted on a copy of the
letter being forwarded to the Governor-General.’
‘And what will be the result, do you suppose?’
‘I neither know nor care. I have just served my time in this penal country; and, being entitled to both my pardon and my pension, I intend to apply shortly for both.’
The reader will be glad to hear that a long correspondence ensued on this subject between the Sudder, the Government, and the mutinous magistrate. The upshot was, that the imbecile old men who had too long warmed that tribunal were pushed off their stools by the Governor-General (Lord Dalhousie), who, very meritoriously, bullied them into resigning the service; threatening, as some say, to hold a commission on their capacity for office. In their stead were appointed three gentlemen, whose abilities and vigour had hitherto been kept in the back settlements of India. The crowning point of all was, that the mutinous magistrate was one of the illustrious three!
Lord Jamleigh informed us that he had seen Lahore, and that he was about to go across the country to Bombay, and that he should then have seen all three Presidencies, as well as all the Upper Provinces, and the Punjab. He regretted, half apologetically, that he had not been able to take a look at the Himalayas, Simlah and Mussoorie; but the fact was, ‘he was so much pressed for time.’
‘Poor devils!’ exclaimed our host, smiling. ‘But, as they won’t know anything about it, they won’t feel it much— indeed, not at all.’
‘To whom are you alluding?’ asked my lord.
‘The Himalayas,’ sighed our host, passing the claret to his lordship, who, by this time, had discovered that he had notgot into a nest of sycophants, who worshipped a title, no matter how frivolous or how insolent the man might be who wore it; but that he had accidentally fallen into the company of persons of independent character; and albeit, they were desirous of giving him a welcome and making him comfortable—being a stranger who had lost his way— nevertheless, were determined to make him pay in some shape for the want of courtesy he had exhibited when the bearers set his palkee down at the door of the bungalow. This discovery made his lordship a little uncomfortable, and rather cautious in his observations. He felt, in short, as one who knows that he has committed an error, and that some penalty will be exacted; but what penalty, and how exacted, he cannot imagine. Had he been able to get away, he would probably have taken a hasty farewell of us. But that was impossible. His jaded bearers were cooking their food, and, until twelve o’clock, there was no hope of getting them together.
The khansamah came in with a fresh bottle of wine. Our host, withdrawing his cigar from his lips, inquired of him if the wants of the gentleman’s servant had been attended to.
‘Yes, Sahib,’ was the reply.
‘And have you given him any champagne?’
‘Oh, pray do nothing of the kind!’ exclaimed his Lordship.
‘He is not accustomed to it.’
‘Then he will enjoy it all the more,’ said our host. ‘I hope he is taking notes, and will write a book on India. I should much like to see his impressions in print; and he may possibly dignify me by devoting a few lines to the character of my hospitality. It is to be hoped, however, that, should his travel inspire him with a thirst for literary distinction, he will confine himself to a personal compilation of his experience, and not go into judicial or revenue matters; for, should he do so, you may find yourself clashing with him, and that would be awkward. His publisher’s critic might be inclined to break a spear with your publisher’s critic, in their respective reviews of your respective works, and it would be quite impossible to conjecture where the controversy might end. Indisposed as I am, generally, to obtrude my advice upon any one, and much less on a perfect stranger, I nevertheless feel that I am only doing you a kindness when I say that, if I were you, I would regard Hindostan as a sort of Juan Fernandez, myself the Crusoe thereof, and this valet as my man Friday; and then, with a due observance of that line of demarcation which should always be drawn between civilised man and the savage, I would not permit him to keep even a stick whereon to notch the day or time of any particular event that occurred during my residence in the country, lest he should some day or other—in consequence of my having discharged him, or he having discharged me—rise up and instigate some man or other to call in question the accuracy of my facts. The wine is with you; will you fill, and pass it on?’
Lord Jamleigh became very red in the face, and rather confused both in manner and speech. As for myself and the two assistant magistrates, there was something so benignant in the expression of our host’s handsome and dignified countenance—something so quaintly sarcastic in the tone and manner of his discourse, that, had we known that death was the penalty of not maintaining the gravity of our features, our lives would certainly have been forfeited.
A silence for several minutes ensued; and then Lord Jamleigh spoke to our host as follows:—
‘Most of the young noblemen who come to this country, come only to travel about and amuse themselves. I come on business—I may say, Parliamentary business. My time is short, and I must make the most of it. I dare say, when you saw my name in the papers, as having arrived in India, you little thought that I was not a man of pleasure and excursion?’
‘Upon my word, the subject never once became a matter of speculation with me,’ said our host.
After some further conversation, in which our host spared his visitor as little as was consistent with good breeding, Lord Jamleigh, who had been ‘sitting upon thorns,’ rose and said:—
‘I am afraid I have already trespassed on your goodness too long. I will not attempt to apolo—apolo—or to express how much—how much; nor to assure you that—assure you— that when—’
‘Oh, pray don’t mention it!’ said our host, smiling. ‘You desire your palkee?’
‘If you please,’ said Lord Jamleigh.
The palkee was ordered, and we were standing in expectation that it would be instantly announced as ‘ready,’ when the sirdar-bearer (head personal attendant) came into the room, in a state of excessive trepidation, and informed us that the Sahib’s Sahib (Lord Jamleigh’s valet) was drunk, asleep, and refused to be disturbed on any pretence whatever. This announcement, which caused general merriment, induced Lord Jamleigh to ejaculate:—
‘That’s the champagne, I suspected as much!’
‘Where is he?’ inquired our host of the sirdar-bearer. ‘In his palkee?’
‘No, Sahib,’ was the reply. ‘He is lying on that Sahib’s bed,’ pointing to me.