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Early Traveling Experiences in India by Fitzedward Hall

In August, 1849, when I had been living at Calcutta nearly three years, I was warned by my doctor that I must go on a sea-voyage or else to the Himalaya Mountains, if life was an object with me. Such it was, and very keenly. The four-and-twenty years of it which I had divided between study and rollicking had approved themselves, like this poor old world when it was new, "very good," and I had a strong objection to parting with it on so short an acquaintance. True, my hepatic apparatus, as the doctors grandly call the liver, had got miserably out of gear, though I was a water-drinker, and though I had a wholesome horror of tropical sunshine. But I had a good constitution, and I had the word of the medical faculty for it that many a man with not half so good a one as mine had pulled through a much worse condition than I was in. To go away somewhere, however, was proposed as my only alternative to migrating down to the hideous cemetery among the bogs and jackals of Chowringhee. But where should I go? After having been shot once and drowned twice when a boy, I had been ship-wrecked at the mouth of the sacred and accursed Ganges, and had just escaped with my life and Greek lexicon. Shooting—and I may throw in hanging—I felt proof against, and as for drowning, I had no fear of that. Nevertheless, I had been very near five months in coming out from Boston under the blundering seamanship of Captain Coffin (ominous cognomen!), and salt water, hard junk and weevilly biscuit were as unattractive to me in possible prospect as they were in retrospect. The sea I had weighed in the balance and had found it much wanting. I would, then, go to the Himalayas.

So I prepared to make for Simla, which, however, I never saw, nor had occasion to see, my liver complaint seeming to have been left behind, with my good wishes, in the City of Palaces. In the early days of Indian civilization to which I refer the most convenient way of journeying on high-roads was by palanquin. One of the black packing-cases so called was purchased, and an arrangement entered into, after the custom of the country, with the post-office to have relays of bearers provided on the road at stated times and places. Thus, I was to go as far as Ghazeepore, where I had a friend living, and there I was to give due notice if I wished to proceed farther. Traveling in India has so frequently been a subject of description that I shall not describe it anew. I allow myself, however, to say that if, before venturing on it, you lay in a stock of boiled tongues, sardines, marmalade, and tea and sugar, you could not do better by way of forestalling starvation and repentance. Every day I stopped once or twice at a travelers' bungalow, or rest-house; and I managed, notwithstanding that my stock of Urdú was scanty, to make my wants understood. That a great part of the copious monologue which my purveyors expended, as we settled the details of breakfast or dinner, was lost on me, did not seem, in the final result, to matter in the least. What I needed I asked for, and then listened attentively for the barbaric representative of "yes" or "no" in the Babel of sounds that followed, neglecting the flux of verbiage that engulfed it with the same lofty indifference which a mathematician professes toward infinitely small quantities. With a view to avoiding cross-purposes there is nothing like economy of speech. But how my tawny hosts could contrive to realize such a fortune of talk out of their very meagre capital of subject-matter excited my never-ending wonder. They could provide forlorn pullets, certainly from the same farmyard with the lean kine of Egypt, and to these they could add, what was much better left unadded, a villainous species of unleavened bread, a sort of hoecake, not at all improved—precisely like the run of travelers—by leaving home and wandering in the Orient. And this was about all they could provide. But, I repeat, how could expatiate on them! And how bespattered one with compound epithets of adulation!

A friend of mine, a lady, when fresh in the country once compromised herself rather astonishingly by lending an ear to their multiloquence, instead of resolutely refusing her attention to all communication but that consisting of "yea, yea," and "nay, nay." She had noted down, in her tablets, the Urdú wherewith to ask whether a thing is procurable, and to order it, if procurable, to be forthcoming, with the appropriate outlandish words for "pullet" and "hoecake," and also those for straightforward answers, affirmative and negative. She was certain that with this lingual accoutrement she could not possibly be taken at a disadvantage. The experience of a few hours, however, unsettled her self-confidence very considerably. She alights at a wayside hostelry. Khudâbakhsh, the chief servant in attendance, arrayed in more or less fine linen, without the purple, surmounted by a turban after the likeness of Saturn and his rings in a pictorial astronomy-book, presents himself, and worships her with lowly salutations. "Is a fowl to be had?"—"Gharîb-parwar," is the prompt reply.—"Is hoecake to be had?"—"Dharm-antâr," officiously cuts in Khudâbakhsh's mate, a low-caste Hindoo; and the principal thinks it unnecessary to respond to the question a second time. Now, what is to be done? What do they mean? Have they fowl and hoecake? Have they not fowl and hoecake? Here, to be sure, is a very bivium of perplexities. The lady at last, with quiet nonchalance, demands the production of a gharîb-parwar and a dharm-antâr, thus unconsciously ordering a "cherisher of the poor" and an "incarnation of justice," the pretty appellations used to designate herself. "Queer things for breakfast!" Khudâbakhsh and his mate mentally reflect, exchanging glances, but without moving a muscle. Breakfast is served, and my friend sees before her just what she meant to order. On one dish reeks the bony contour of a chicken, grinning thankfulness for extinction at every joint, and on a second dish towers a pile of things like small wooden trenchers pressed flat. Of course she has been puzzled, she self-flatteringly concludes, by some less common names of the very common viands which lie displayed before her. By and by, however, she discovers that gharîb-parwar and dharm-antâr are not articles of gastronomic indulgence, at least beyond the borders of those islands of the blest where slices of cold missionary come on with the dessert. When fully aware of her little blunder she marvels, and not unreasonably, that any one should address a lady as "cherisher of the poor" or as "incarnation of justice," rather than as plain "madam;" and she thinks it equally strange that any one should so beat about the bush as to substitute polysyllables of compliment for hân, the much more expeditious equivalent of "yes."

Everything went on smoothly and monotonously enough till I was within twenty miles, roughly computed, of Ghazeepore. At this point, on reaching the end of a stage, my bearers woke me to say there was no relay waiting for them. It may have been midnight. I told them to set me down, to make up a fire and to go to sleep around it, but keeping watch, turn and turn about, each for an hour. Matters being thus disposed, I shut and hooked the palanquin doors, readjusting my blankets, and was soon dreaming of another hemisphere. At sunrise no new bearers had yet shown themselves. My men belonged to the region we were in, and I learned from them that the nearest European dwelt only eight miles distant. I bargained with them to take me to his bungalow. The unexpected wages which they were promised being liberal, they trotted off with unwonted briskness. In due course the bungalow loomed in sight, and as I approached it a burly figure, in shirt-sleeves and with arms akimbo, appeared in the verandah, his eyes turned in the direction of his unlooked-for visitor. "God bless you, Hugh Maxwell! I'm devilish glad to see you," shouted the burly figure, benedictory, but even in benediction not oblivious of the Old Teaser. "I wish to Goodness I was Hugh Maxwell!" I returned, stepping to the ground. "Oh, never mind," rejoined the hearty indigo-planter, perceiving his mistake and offering me his hand. "There is just time for a bath before breakfast," he added; and a good tubbing, in sufficient light to see and evade creeping things by, was far from unacceptable. I stayed with my good-natured host two days and nights, picking up, in the mean while, much curious information touching the cultivation and manufacture in which he was occupied. Like most persons of his calling, he was an ardent sportsman. The early hours of the morning he gave almost daily to a stroll with his gun; and the first evening I passed with him he invited me, in startlingly piebald phraseology, to accompany him on the morrow. "Be up by top dage," said he: "we will have chhotî hâzirî, and then a chal over the khets for some shikâr" Why he did not prefer to say "gun-fire," "tea and toast," "run," "fields," and "game," probably he could not have told himself. His way of peppering his English with Urdú was characteristic of his class, and till I got accustomed to it I found it somewhat perplexing. If he had known me all his life he could not have been more friendly. Yet his kindness and hospitality were not exceptional things in the India of a quarter of a century ago. All is changed there now—whether much for the better I am skeptical. Twenty-two hours after they were due my missing bearers made their appearance. Arrived at Ghazeepore, I addressed a complaint to the postmaster-general. Thereupon two sides of a large sheet of paper were spread for me with base official circumlocution, through the darkness of which I groped out, after some labor, the audacious libel that the blame, if there were any, rested entirely with myself. This stuff, signed by the functionary aforesaid, but doubtless concocted without his privity by one of his graceless subordinates, I knew to be the only satisfaction I was to look for. A request for revision of judgment would have been received with silent scorn, and appeal there was none. Digesting my disgust as best I could, I lighted my cheroot with the mendacious foolscap and blushed for my species.

Let us pass on to the beginning of 1851. Having then been stationary at Benares for a whole year, I was longing for a little variety. Oude, deservedly called the Garden of India, was, by all accounts, well worth visiting. I resolved to visit it. But not merely was independent exploration in that kingdom attended with risk: in strict propriety, one had no business there except by royal authority, which royal authority, as concerned a traveler, strongly recommended itself to respectful consideration from including a guard, and that free of expense. An acquaintance of mine wrote a letter for me to the Resident at Lucknow, Sir Henry Sleeman. The royal authority was obtained, and the guard inclusive was to meet me on the Oude frontier. Tents were borrowed; servants and camels were hired; long consultations were held with old stagers in the marching line. The canvas which was to shelter me for six weeks was built up in front of my house, and already I felt myself half a nomad. The last evening was spent with veterans in the ways of camping out, and at three o'clock the next morning I mounted my horse and began my journey. My road lay through Jaunpoor, and here I encountered a violent thunderstorm in the middle of the night, with floods of rain. At the cost of being almost drowned out and blown away, I learned the expediency of trenching one's tabernacle, and the wisdom of putting one's confidence in none but brand-new cordage. In the city of Jaunpoor there is not much to arrest notice, saving its very durable bridge, dating from the time of Akbar, and the Atâlâ Masjid, a mosque deformed from a rather ancient Hindoo temple; and the rest of the district of Jaunpoor which my route lay through was altogether uninteresting.

The borders of the district crossed, after traversing a narrow strip of Oude I came again to British territory. This fragment formed a perfect island, so to speak, the domains of the nawab hemming it in on every side. The one European inhabitant of this isolated but fertile spot was an indigo-planter, near whose bungalow and factory I encamped for a night. His establishment was of long standing, but he had no neighbor within many miles, and there was that about the place which filled me with a sense of utter dreariness and depression. Hard by the house was a burial-ground, and wholly by that house it had been peopled with all its many tenants. Saddening were the brief and almost unvaried histories recorded on its unpretending monuments. There was a name, and then a date, and then that word at the bare mention of which there are few old Indians who, as it calls up memories of bygone shocks and griefs, can refrain from a sickening shudder—"cholera." Among all who rested there in peace, so far away from every reminder of childhood and of home, not one had passed the prime of life. It was easy to picture to one's self the last gloomy hours of those hapless exiles, stricken down by the fell scourge in the pride of their strength, and perhaps at the full tide of their prosperity, with none to succor, and with no hope from the first but that they must perish. Nor was this quite all. How could their sole companions, their servants, people of the country, and bound to their masters by none but the mercenary tie of a hireling, soothe their dying moments with any genuine sympathy, or supply in the dread travail of mortality the room of a friend, or even of a fellow-countryman? This is no baseless sketch of fancy. Familiar facts dispense with all need to draw on the imagination in outlining the end of one who meets a destiny like theirs. The planter suddenly finds himself ill; he rapidly grows worse; a few hours of agony in his solitude, and all is over. Tidings of the event are carried to the nearest factory, and then to another and another. Two or three of his former acquaintances ride over to his bungalow, knock up a rude coffin, mumble a few sentences about "the resurrection and the life," "our dear brother here departed," and "ashes to ashes, dust to dust," bury him out of sight, and set up a decent stone over his grave. His place is filled again in a few weeks or months, and his successor, regardless of warnings, toils on in the old routine, possibly to share his miserable fate.

As I have said above, a guard was directed to await me on the Oude borders. Various, conflicting, and all of them wide of the mark, were my speculations on its outward and visible form, and the martial equipment by which it was to strike terror in all beholders. Was it to consist of horse or of foot? and of how many men? and so forth. The mystery was resolved at the time and place appointed. A camel—a picked sample, seemingly, for general ugliness and the vicious way it writhed its mouth—shambled up to my tent. Its rider, who in all specialties of repulsiveness tallied with the beast to a hair, impaled a letter on the tip of his spear and handed it down. It was from the Resident at Lucknow. In its unpromising bearer I beheld my guard. If the look of a thorough ruffian, much unwashed, with the spear just mentioned, a matchlock, and an assortment round his waist of what resembled carving-knives and skewers, was to be my sufficient defence in time of trouble, I was well provided for. However it was to be explained, no harm came to me anywhere on my march. But my guard, if he looked zealously after my interests, looked full as zealously after his own. For what I knew he was licensed, as a servant of the state, to billet himself at free quarters on his royal master's subjects: at any rate, so he did. But, greatly to his vexation, I would not hear of his compelling the shopkeepers with whom my butler had daily dealings in buying necessaries for me to provision my camp at their own charge. The man was for carrying things with a high hand; and at the period of which I am writing to do so was in Oude wellnigh the universal rule. Justice was fast dying out in the land, and violence already reigned prevalent in its stead. The taxes, exorbitant as apportioned at the court, were farmed by merciless wretches who made them more exorbitant still, and who collected them, for the most part, at the point of the sword. Open robbery, deadly brawls and private assassination had become matters of perpetual occurrence. There was scarcely a day during my tour that I was not in the close vicinity of fatal skirmishes, and that I did not fall in with parties carrying away from them the dead or wounded. Obviously, this state of affairs could not exist for any very long duration. The nawab was advised, warned, and then menaced with deposal, provided things were not righted in his dominions, radically and speedily, to the satisfaction of the East India Company. Harsh measures, equally with mild, were, however, altogether wasted on him. Personally, he was a groveling debauchee, exhausted alike in mind and in body to sheer imbecility; and his courtiers and counselors were little better than himself. To anarchy, insurrection seemed inevitably imminent. It was precluded by annexation, and the kingdom of Oude, not an hour in advance of its deserts, took its place in finished history.

Game of a humbler description I met with in abundance everywhere in Oude, but I had hunted the tiger with the rajah of Benares, and since then had conceived a disdain of feathered things, bustards excepted. Moreover, I had lately bought a superb double-barreled Swiss rifle, as yet untested in real work. With inviting jungles constantly within easy reach, not to experiment with this lordly implement on something bigger than a wild pig demanded abnegation beyond my philosophy. I had no companion, but then I would control my impetuosity, do nothing rash, and, if I could, keep out of the way of temptation. One day, therefore, breakfast despatched, I shouldered my lovely Switzer, and struck off at random across the open. Woodland was not far to seek, and before I had been away an hour I was in the heart of a dense jungle. Ordinary deer and "such-like" I might have shot at will, but I happened to be in an exclusive mood of mind, and was determined to drop a blue-cow, if anything. But let not my Occidental reader reproach me with having meditated such an atrocity as bovicide. I have literally translated the Hindoo nîl gâe, the misleading name given in India to the white-footed antelope, sometimes called also rojh. At last my slaughterous appetite was gratified, and a blue-cow bore witness to the merit of my rifle, if not to my marksmanship. It had cost me a tiresome search, and, being a shy animal, much stealthy tracking. Yet when the beautiful creature lay stretched at my feet it seemed as if I had been guilty of wanton cruelty, and I wished my aim had miscarried, proud as I had just before been of having done execution at what looked to be an impracticably long range. Not improbably I tried to extenuate my inhumanity by the argument that if I had not killed it somebody else would have done so. Be this how it may, I could never bring myself to shoot another, though I had many a fair chance. All things considered, then, I am disposed to strike a balance in my favor.

However, a little while previously I had done a bit of bloodshed which could not have lain on the very tenderest of consciences. The circumstances were these: Near my camp was a patch of sugar-cane, which I noticed bore marks of visitation by some creature with a taste for sweets. The neighborhood, I ascertained, was infested with wild hogs. In the afternoon I surveyed the fields adjoining the sugar-cane, and made my dispositions against night. The moon was at the full. As soon as it rose I took my rifle and repaired to a position selected with reference to a certain tree. This tree had a low—but not too low—horizontal branch, strong enough, as proved by experiment, to bear my weight. Presently, an unmistakable concert of snorting and grunting announced the approach of swine. I picked out their fugleman, a well-grown boar, and fired. He was only wounded, and immediately gave chase after me. I might discharge my second barrel at him, but suppose I should miss? Perched out of his reach, I might miss him with impunity, and load again. All this I had pondered beforehand. So I started for my tree, which I reached some ten seconds sooner than the boar, swung myself up on its low branch, and there took my seat. The boar rushed furiously to and fro, raging like the heathen of the Psalmist, and also, like the Psalmist's people—not a well-ordered democracy like ours, of course—imagining a vain thing. Again and again he quixotically charged the bole of the tree, no doubt thinking it to be myself in a new shape. A fine classical boar he must have been, with his poetic faith in instantaneous metamorphosis. His classicality, however, what with his unmannerly savageness and my own suspension between heaven and earth, I did not feel bound to respect. So, without the slightest emotion of sentimentality, I put a ball through his head.

Let us now hark back to the blue-cow, beautiful and breathless. Satisfied, for the nonce, with my prowess in laying it low, I plunged into the forest, just to explore. I must have rambled several miles, when I suddenly came upon an impervious barrier of quickset. Following its course a little way, I found that it curved, and at one point I espied through it a broad ditch filled with water, and a wall beyond. By and by I reached a gap in the barrier, and a drawbridge leading up to a large gate. I crossed the bridge, knocked at the gate, parleyed with an invisible porter, and was admitted. My visit was evidently viewed with a mixture of dislike and suspicion, but with no sign of alarm when it was seen that I was really unaccompanied, as, while still outside, I had said I was. Looking around, I perceived that I was in a substantial fortress. Eight or ten ruffianly fellows came about me and wished to know what I wanted. I asked who lived there, and they informed me, adding an expression of surprise at my putting such a question. Was their master at home? He was. And could I see him? They would let me know directly. On this I was conducted to a small room, and left there, The roughs paced backward and forward before the door, casting glances at me which I fancied to be sinister. In a few minutes their chief, a stalwart, brawny biped, swaggered in, twirling his moustaches, clanking his sword, and studying to seem truculent. He, no less than his men, was at a loss to know what I could have come there for. So I told him the unvarnished facts of the case, and paused for his reply. He had none to make. The latest news from Lucknow he inquired for, indeed, but as I had come from the opposite direction, and withal did not know the latest news of the capital from the stalest, I could contribute nothing to his enlightenment. Besides my rifle, I had in my belt a pair of loaded pistols. He desired to look at them, but took in good part enough my objection that I never trusted them in any hands but my own. We went on talking for a little while, when he called for betel and pan. This meant that I might go. I helped myself, took leave and recrossed the drawbridge. It was a notorious freebooter, a Hindoo Robin Hood, that I had dropped upon. But why did he not tumble me into his ditch and enrich his armory with my rifle and pistols? It may be that prudence operated, in his letting me go free, as a check on his lust for a very small gain. Despite the then disordered condition of the country—or, in some instances, by very reason of it—people of his stamp were every here and there called to a summary reckoning. A bandit would know the haunts of other bandits, and either to conciliate the government or in the hope of reward occasionally betrayed or slew a fellow-outlaw. While in Oude, one morning just after breakfast I was told there was something to show me in a basket. The cover was removed, and there I saw sixteen human heads. Their late proprietors were a famous brigand and his merry men, only looking quite the reverse of merry in the grim ghastliness of decapitation. I scarcely recovered my appetite before tiffin.

By an odd concurrence of circumstances, when near Fyzabad I was for three days thrown on the hospitality of a wealthy Mohammedan. Nothing could have exceeded his kindness, but the peculiar nature of the entertainment he gave me may be conjectured when I mention that he had not such a thing as a chair, table, knife, fork or spoon to his name. Perforce, I had to dine sitting on the floor and with the sole aid of my fingers. However, I accepted my fate without a murmur, and soon learned to feed after the fashion of Eden as deftly as if I had been bred to it. Hindoo cookery I could rarely screw up my courage so heroically as to venture upon. Even the odor of my Calcutta washerman, redolent with the fragrance of castor oil, was too much for my unchastised squeamishness; and as to assafoetida, the favorite condiment of our Aryan cousins, I was so uncatholic as to bring away from India the same aversion to it that I had carried out there. But a Mohammedan has, with some unimportant reservations, highly rational notions as concerns the eatable and the drinkable. His endless variety of kabobs and pilaus is worthy of all commendation; and his sherbets, which refresh without a sting or a resipiscent headache next morning, are no doubt the style of phlegm-cutters and gum-ticklers which one had better patronize pretty exclusively while between the tropics. The gentleman of the circumcision whom I had for host was, I suspect, something of an epicure, and his cooking was such as I found eminently toothsome. My dinner was on the floor at the polite hour of eight, after which he would come to me for a short talk and to chant a little Persian poetry. At nine he was due in his harem, which, he gave me to understand, was a populous establishment.

For my special service he detailed, to my surprise, not a man, but a young woman, who, I take it, was in bonds. Under considerate Hindoo and Mohammedan masters slavery is, however, the lightest of hardships, and the damsel appropriated to wait on me, if she were not a slave, could not have been lighter-hearted. A student of all the natural products of the East, I did not neglect while there to bestow a proper share of study on Indian womankind; and as my Fyzabad abigail was a noteworthy specimen of her species, I may as well gratify the curiosity of the untraveled to know what she was like. Such as she was the queen of Sheba would perhaps have been if scoured very bright and pared shapely. Her name was Dilrubâ, which signifies, being interpreted, "Heart-ravisher." She may have been seventeen or eighteen; she was of a good height and elegantly proportioned, with a well-set neck, sloping shoulders, and fine bust; and her carriage had that stately and sylph-like grace which no words can depict, and which is found nowhere on earth but among the Orientals. Her hands and feet were exquisitely small and symmetrical. Her arms, which were bare to the shoulder, displayed everything of fullness, rotundity and lines of beauty that could be desired. Their hue and delicacy of texture would have reminded a connoisseur of brownish satin. Her waist, tight-cinctured, was—which is the highest praise—not ultra-fashionable, and the undulations of her gauzy drapery disclosed, as she receded, enough of ankle and crural adjacency to furnish hints of improvement to most classical sculptors. Her lips, I regret to say, were too liny, and not of the true ruby tint, but with the exception of her mouth all her features were, not to say more, good. As to her eyes, I should do injustice by any attempt to describe them. An object must be susceptible of calm and dispassionate contemplation if one would analyze it afterward without complete disaster. A very irresistible little piece of orientality she must indeed have been, perchance the reader will conclude. And yet, if the reader is a man and a brother—that is to say, a brother white man—I answer him he is altogether in too great a hurry. He has forgotten her color; and color is a matter which we narrow—minded dwellers in the North find it impossible to be liberal about. Not by five-and-twenty shades, at the least, did the trim creature resemble any lily of the valley but a very dark one; and of the rose she was totally unsuggestive. If I had been so cosmopolitan as to make love to her, she could not have called up a blush to save her pretty little soul and body. She might have turned green or yellow, for aught I know, but by no possibility could she have done what she ought to have done.

At Fyzabad there is but little to see, and that little is rather uninteresting. What impressed me there, more than anything else, was a particular private dwelling, and especially a certain room in it. The edifice to which I refer belonged to an opulent Mohammedan, and had been erected by an English architect. Being constructed pretty closely on the model of a mansion in Belgravia, it was wholly unsuited in a hot climate to any purpose except that of torture. In all probability, its constructor, as he roasted over his work, omitted of set intention to fit it up with fireplaces. In this omission, however, there was a breach of contract, for in all its details the building was to be thoroughly English. The defect was pointed out at the last moment, and strict injunctions were given to repair it. Fireplaces there must be, and a full complement of them. The matter was finally compromised by providing a single small square room at the top of the house with one in each of its side walls. In the same spirit of determination not to come short of the mark, a rich Bengalee baboo whom I once knew furnished his drawing-room, a large apartment, with thirty-two round tables and an equal number of musical boxes.

A great deal more might be said of Oude as I saw it, but the region, since it became English territory, has been so often and so fully described that I forbear to dwell on it. At Lucknow, its capital, I spent a week as guest of Sir Henry Sleeman, with whom, from that time to the end of his life, I was in constant correspondence. That Sir Henry was a man altogether out of the common must be evident from his various publications. I came to know his mind on most subjects very intimately. In every respect he was original and peculiar, and but for a rooted aversion to anything like Boswellism I might here depict a character such as one seldom meets with in these days. To his personal influence it was largely owing that for many a long year the annexation of Oude to the Indian empire was suspended in disastrous balance.