Harry Alverson Franck.

A vagabond journey around the world : a narrative of personal experience online

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duly " converted."

' Do you men know why you have no money ; why you must travel
on deck with natives ? ' demanded the missionary, in parting. " It 's
because you 're not Christians."

We might have pointed out that the Lascars chattering about the
deck drew a monthly wage because they were Hindus. But why pro-



THREE HOBOES IN INDIA 291

long the argument? Hay wood had already pocketed the two rupees
that made our toleration worth while.

We landed with Bobby in the early morning and bade him farewell
sooner than we had expected. For a native on the wharf handed
him a telegram announcing that the forger was already en route for
Colombo in charge of a Madras officer. Tuticorin was an uninspiring
collection of mud huts and reeking bazaars. Our halt there was brief.
It would have been briefer had we not chanced to run across Askins.
The erudite wanderer had stranded sooner than he had anticipated.
I took pleasure in setting him afloat again, and caught the last glimpse
of his familiar figure, beginning to bend a bit now under the weight of
twenty years of ' knocking about," as the train bearing us northward
rumbled through the village.

Even the beachcomber does not walk in India. To ride is cheaper.
Third-class fare ranges from two-fifths to a half a cent a mile, and
on every train is a compartment reserved for " Europeans and Eura-
sians only," into which no native may enter on penalty of being fright-
ened out of his addled wits by a bellowing official.

Descending at the first station to quench a tropical thirst, I was as-
tonished to see Bobby peering out of a second-class window.

'I couldn't read the bloody wire without me glasses," he confided.
as I drew near, "an' I don't think I '11 be able to find 'em before this
'ere ticket 's run out. We don't git h'off fer a run up to Madras every
fortn'ght, an' I ayn't goin' to miss this one."

As I turned back to join my companions, the missionary from Kan-
sas appeared at the door of the same compartment. Evidently he had
thought better of his heartless decision to leave me to perdition, for
he fiung the door wide open.

" Come and ride with me to the next station," he commanded ; ' I
want to talk to you."

" I 'm third-class," I answered.

" Never mind," said the padre, " I know the guard."

Having no other plausible excuse to offer, I complied, and endured a
half-hour sermon. Through it all, Bobby sat stiffly erect in his corner,
for to my amazement the minister did not once address him.

" How 's this? " I demanded, as we drew into the first station. The
Kansan was choosing some tracts from his luggage in the next com-
partment. " Why don't he try to convert you, being so good a sub-
ject?"
. " 'E did," growled Bobby, " bloody 'ell, 'e did. But I shut 'im off.



A VAGABOND JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD

Told 'im I was one o' the shinin' lights o' the Salvation Army in Co-
lombo. Blawst me h'eyes, why can't these padres sing their song to
the niggers an' let h'onest Englishmen alone! One of 'em gits to
wind'ard o' me every time I breaks h'out fer a little holidye."

Armed with the tracts, I returned to my solicitous companions and
settled down to view the passing landscape. It bore small resemblance
to that of Ceylon. On either hand stretched treeless flat-lands,
parched and brown as Sahara, a desert blazed at by an implacable sun
and unwatered for months. A few native husbandmen, remnant of
the workers in abundant season, toiled on in the face of frustrated
hopes, scratching with worthless wooden plows the arid soil, that re-
fused to give back the seed intrusted to it. There is no sadder, more
forlorn, more hopeless of human creatures than this man of the masses
in India. His clothing in childhood consists of a string around his
belly and a charm-box on his left arm. Grown to man's estate, he
adds to this a narrow strip of cotton, tied to the string behind and
hanging over it in front. Regularly, each morning, he draws forth a
preparation of coloring matter and cow-dung for the cow is a sacred
animal and daubs on his forehead the sign of his caste, but the strip
of cotton he renews only when direst necessity demands. His home
is a wretched mud hut, too low to stand in, where he burrows by night
and squats on his heels by day. With the buoyant Singhalese he has
little in common. Sad-faced ever, if he smiles there is no joy in She
grimace. Enchained and bound down by an inexorable system of
caste, held in the bondage of an enforced habit of mind, habitually
overcome with a sense of his own inferiority, he is disgusting in his
groveling.

A hundred miles north of the seacoast, we halted to visit the famous
Brahmin temple of Madura. Haywood's interest in architecture was
confined to such details as the strength and resistance of window bars,
but he had developed a quaking fear of daytime solitude and would
not be separated from us.

The temple served well as an introduction to the fantastic extrava-
gance of Oriental building. Its massive outer walls inclosed a vast
plot of ground. In the center, surrounded by a chaos of smaller
edifices, rose the inner temple, its cone-shaped roof and slender domes
a great field of burnished gold before which the eye quailed in the
cutting sunlight. Above all, the four gateways to the inclosure chal-
lenged attention. Identical in form, yet vastly different in minor de-
tail, they towered twelve stories above the lowly huts and swarming



THREE HOBOES IN INDIA 293

bazaars of the city that radiates from the sacred area. Four thousand
statues of Hindu gods to quote mathematical experts adorned
each gateway, hideous-faced idols, each pouring down from four pairs
of hands his blessing on the groveling humans who starved beneath.

Within the gates, under vaulted archways, swarmed multitudes; pil-
grims in the rags of contrition, shopkeepers shrieking the virtues of
their wares from their open booths, screaming vendors of trinket-,
abject coolies cringing before their countrymen of higher ca.-te,
loungers seeking relief from the sunshine outside. A sunken-eyed
youth wormed his way through the throng and offered us guidance,
at two annas. We accepted, and followed him down a branch passage-
way to the lead-colored pond in which unfastidious pilgrims washed
away their sins ; then out upon an open space for a nearer view of the
golden roofs. High up within, whispered the youth, while Marten in-
terpreted, dwelt a god; but we, as white men, dared not enter to verify
the assertion.

We turned back instead to the quarters of the sacred elephants.
Here seven of the jungle monsters, chained by a foot, thrashed about
over their supper of hay in a roofless stable. They were as ready to
accept a tuft of fodder from a heathen sahib as from the dust-clad
faquir who had tramped many a burning mile to perform this holy
act for the acquiring of merit. Children played in and out am >ng the
animals. The largest was amusing himself by setting the urchins, one
by one, on his back. But in the far corner stood another that even
the clouted keepers shunned. The most sacred of a holy troop, our
guide assured us, for he was mad, and wreaked a furious vengeance on
whomsoever came within reach of his writhing trunk. Yet- -if the
sunken-eyed youth spoke truly it was no misfortune to have life
crushed out by this holiest of animals. The coolie suffering that fate
was reborn a farmer, the peasant a shopkeeper, the merchant a war-
rior. Was it satisfaction with their station in life or a wcakne of
faith? We noted that even the despised sudrns avoided the far corner.

" And how about a white man? " a-ked I layw ><>d.

" A sahib," said our guide, " when he dies, becomes a crow. Tin
fore are white men afraid to die."

We turned out again into the bazaars. Naked i^irls, carrying baskets,
were quarreling over the offal of pacing bea-: The 1'ac.a.le of every
hut was decorated with splashes of manure, each bearing the imprint
of a hand. For fuel is there none in this treeless land, save bois de
vache.



294 A VAGABOND JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD

With nightfall, Haywood, promising to return quickly, set out to
visit the missionaries of Madura, to each of whom the Kansan had
given him a note. Before he rejoined us at the station he had suc-
ceeded in " raising the wind ' to the sum of three full fares to the
next city. Yet he sneered at our extravagance in purchasing tickets
for a night ride, and, tucking away the " convert money " in the band
of his tropical helmet, followed us out upon the platform. The train
was crowded. A band of coolies, whom the station master, in the ab-
sence of white travelers, had thrust into the European compartment,
tumbled out as rats scurry from a suddenly lighted room, and left us
in full possession.

In India, as in Europe, tickets are not taken up on the train; they
are punched at various stations en route by local officials, misnamed
" collectors." The collectors, however, are commonly Eurasian youths,
deferential to white men and no match in wits for beachcombers.

Having turned out the light in the ceiling of our compartment, we
stretched out on the two wooden benches and laid plans for the morrow.
At each halt Marten kept look-out. If the collector carried no lantern,
Haywood had merely to roll under a bench until he had passed. At
a whisper of 'bull's-eye" our unticketed companion slipped through
the opposite door, and watched the progress of the half-breed by peer-
ing under the train at his uniformed legs. Once he was taken red-
handed. It was after midnight, and we had all three fallen asleep.
Suddenly there came the rapping of a punch on the sill of the open
window.

" Tickets, sahibs," said an apologetic voice.

" Say, mate," whispered Haywood, " I 'm on the rocks. Can't you
slip me? Have a cigar."

The Eurasian declined the proffered stogie with a startled shake of
the head, punched our tickets, and passed on without a word. Hay-
Wood sat on tenter-hooks for several moments, but the engine screeched
at last, and he lay down again, vowing to wake thereafter at every
halt.

We arrived at Trinchinopoly in the small hours and stretched out
on a station bench to sleep out the night undisturbed. The chief of
Haywood's difficulties, however, was still to be overcome, for the only
exit from the platform was guarded by a Eurasian who was sure to
call for tickets. It was Marten, given to sudden inspirations, who
saved the day for the New Yorker. As we approached the gate, \*?



THREE HOBOES IN INDIA 295

ran forward and, to my astonishment, attempted to force his way
through it without producing his ticket.

' Here ! Ticket, please, sahib," cried the Eurasian.

" Oh ! Go to the devil ! " growled Marten.

" Ticket ! Where is your ticket ? Stop ! "

Marten pushed the collector aside and stepped out.

" Ah ! ' screeched the official, " I know ! You have n't any ticket.
You stole your ride. Come back, or I '11 call a policeman."

The man of inspiration sprang at the half-breed with a savage snarl
and grasped him by the collar.

; What in hell do you mean by saying I have n't any ticket ? I '11
break your head."

' But I know you have n't," persisted the collector, though somewhat
meekly.

"Do you think that sahibs travel without tickets?' roared Marten,
drawing the bit of cardboard from his pocket. " Take your bloody
ticket, but don't ever tell a sahib again that he 's stealing his rides."

The Eurasian stretched out a hand to me, mumbling an apology, but
was so overcome with fear and the dread of accusing another innocent
sahib that Haywood stepped out behind us unchallenged.

We were waylaid by a peregrinating barber, and took turns in
squatting on our heels for a quick shave and a slap in the face with a
damp cloth. The service cost two pice (one cent). The barber was,
perhaps, twelve years old, but an American " tonsorialist " would have
gasped at the dexterity with which he manipulated his razor, as he
would have wondered at several long, slim instruments, not unlike hat
pins, which he rolled up in his kit as he finished. These were tools
rarely employed on sahibs, but no native would consider a shave com-
plete until his ears had been cleaned with one of them.

The city of Trichinopoly was some miles distant from the station.
Though we were agreed that such action was the height of extrava-
gance, we hailed a bullock cart and offered four annas for the trip to
the town. An anna, let it be understood once for all, is the equivalent
of the English penny. The cart was the crudest of two-wheeled ve-
hicles, so exactly balanced on its axle that the attempt of two of us to
climb in behind came near su^pendin^ the tiny, raw-lxmed bulloek in
mid-air. A screech from the driver called our attention to the peril
of his beast, and under his directions we succeeded in boarding the
craft by approaching opposite ends and drawing ourselves up simul-



296 A VAGABOND JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD

taneously. The wagon was some four feet long and three wide, with
an arched roof ; too short to lie down in, too low to sit up in. One of
us, in turn, crouched beside the driver on the knife-like edge of the
head-board, with knees drawn up on a level with the eyes, clinging des-
perately to the projecting roof. The other two lay in close embrace
within, with legs projecting some two feet behind.

The bullock was a true Oriental. After much urging, he set out at
the mincing gait of a man in a sack-race a lame man, of very limited
vitality. A dozen heavy welts from the driver's pole and as many
shrill screams urged him, occasionally, into a trot. But it lasted al-
ways just four paces, at the end of which the animal shook his head
slowly from side to side, as though shocked at his unseemly conduct,
and fell again into a walk. The cart was innocent of springs, the road-
way an excellent imitation of an abandoned quarry. Our sweltering
progress was marked by a series of shocks as from an electric bat-
tery.

Marten ordered the driver to conduct us to an eating-shop. The
native grinned knowingly and turned his animal into a by-path leading
to a sahib hotel. When we objected to this as too high-priced, he
shook his head mournfully and protested that he knew of no native
shop which white men might enter. We bumped by a score of restau-
rants, but all bore the sign " For Hindus Only."

At last, in a narrow alleyway, the bullock fell asleep before a miser-
able hut. The driver screeched, and a startled coolie tumbled out of
the shanty. There ensued a heated debate in the dialect of southern
India, in which Marten fully held his own. For a time, the coolie re-
fused to run the risk of losing caste through our polluting touch, but
the princely offer of three annas each won him over, and we disem-
barked, to squat on his creaking veranda.

The bullock cart crawled on. The coolie ran screaming into the
hut and reappeared with three banana leaves, a wife, and a multitude
of naked urchins, all but the youngest of whom carried a cocoanut
shell filled with water or curries. These being deposited within reach,
the native spread the leaves before us, and his better half dumped in
the center of each a small peck of rice that burned our over-eager fin-
gers. The meal over, we rose to depart ; but the native shrieked with
dismay and insisted that we carry the leaves and shells away with us,
as no member of his family dared touch them.

We wandered on through the bazaars towards the towering rock at
the summit of which sits Tommy Atkins, puffing drowsily at his pipe,



THREE HOBOES IN INDIA



297



m utter indifference to the approach of that clay when his soul, in pun-
ishment for eating of the flesh of the sacred cow, shall take up its
residence in the body of a pig. Our dinner had been more abundant
than substantial. Within an hour I caught myself eyeing the food
spread out in the open booths on either side. There wore coils of
rope-like pastry fried in oil, lumps, balls, cakes of sweetmeats, ciiap-
pattics bread-sheets smaller and more brittle than those of the
Arab pans of dark red chillies, potatoes cut into small cubes and
covered with a green curry sauce. The Hindu is as much given to
nibbling as the Mohammedan. By choice, perhaps, he would eat sel-
dom and heartily, but he lives the most literally from hand to mouth
of any human creature, and no sooner earns a half-anna than he hur-
ries away to sacrifice it to his ever-unsatisfied hunger. The coolie is
rarely permitted to enter a Hindu restaurant, the white man never ;
and brief were the intervals during my wanderings in India that I
lived on other fare than that of the low-caste native. The prices
could not have been lower, but to eat of the messes displayed under
the ragged awnings of Indian shops requires an imperturbable tempera-
ment, an unrestrainable appetite, and a taste for edible fire acquired
only by Oriental residence.

There are caste rules, too, of which I was supremely ignorant when
I dropped behind my companions and aroused a shopkeeper asleep
among his pots and pans. For months I had been accustomed, in my
linguistic ignorance, to pick out my own food ; but no sooner had I
laid hand on a sweetmeat than the merchant shot into the air with an
agonized scream that brought my fellow-countrymen running back
upon me.

"What's the nigger bawling about, Marten?" demanded ilaywood.

" Oh, Franck 's gone and polluted his pan of sweets."

"But I only touched the one I picked up," I protested, 'and I in
going to eat that."

" These fool niggers won't see it that way," replied Marten ; " if you
put a finger on one piece, the whole di.-Ji is pollrted. He 's sending i"r
a low-caste man now to carry the panful away and dump it. Xo-
body '11 buy anything while it stays here."

The keeper refused angrily to enter into negotiations after this dis-
aster and we moved on to the next booth. I 'nder the tutelage of
Marten, I stood afar off and pointed a ropectful finger from one dish
to another. The proprietor, obeying my orders of " ek annika do. el
pisika da ' (one anna of that, six pice of this ) filled several canoe-



298 A VAGABOND JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD

shaped sacks made of leaves sewn together with thread-like weeds, and,
motioning to me to stand aloof, dropped the bundles into my hands,
taking care to let go of each before it had touched my palm.

Go where we would, the cry of pollution preceded us. The vendor
of green cocoanuts entreated us to carry away the shells when we had
drunk the milk ; passing natives sprang aside in terror when we tossed
a banana skin on the ground. The seller of water melons would have
been compelled to sacrifice his entire stock if one seed of the slice in
our hands had fallen on the extreme edge of the banana leaf that cov-
ered his stand.

As we turned a corner in the crowded market place, Haywood, who
was smoking, accidentally spat on the flowing gown of a turbaned
passer-by.

" Oh ! sahib ! " screamed the native, in excellent English, " See what
you have done ! You have made me lose caste. For weeks I may not
go among my friends nor see my family. I must stop my business, and
wear rags, and sit in the street, and pour ashes on my head, and go often
to the temple to purify myself."

" Tommy-rot," said Haywood.

But was it? Certainly not to the weeping Hindu, who turned back
the way he had come.

These strange superstitions make India a land of especial hardship
to the white vagabond " on the road." He is, in the natural course
of events, as safe from violence as in England ; but once off the beaten
track he finds it difficult to obtain not only food and lodging, but the
sine qua non of the tropics water. In view of this fact the rulers
of India have established a system which, should it come to his ears,
would fill the American " hobo " with raging envy. The peninsula, as
the world knows, is divided into districts, each governed by a commis-
sioner and a deputy commissioner. Except in isolated cases, these ex-
ecutives are Englishmen, of whom the senior commonly dwells in the
most important city of his territory, and the deputy in the second in
size. The law provides that any penniless European shall, upon appli-
cation to any one of these governors, be provided with a third-class
railway ticket to the capital of the next district, and also with " batter '
money with which to buy food to the amount of one rupee a
day. The beachcomber who wanders inland, therefore, is relayed
from one official to another, at the expense of the government, to any
port which he may select. This ideal state of affairs is well known to
every white vagrant in India, who takes it duly into account, like every



THREE HOBOES IN INDIA



299



published charity, in summing up the ways and means of a projected
journey.

Not many hours after our arrival in Trichinopoly, Marten had " gone
broke." The four rupees a day of a tally clerk was a princely income
in the Orient ; but the ex-pearl-fisher was imbued with the adventurer's
philosophy that "money is made to spend," and as the final act of a
day of extravagance had tossed his last anna to an idiot roaming
through the bazaars. Haywood was anxious to " salt down ' the
rupees in his hat band, I to make the acquaintance of so important a
personage as a district commissioner. Thus it happened that as noon-
day fell over Trichinopoly, three cotton-clad Americans emerged from
the native town and turned northward towards the governor's bun-
galow.

Heat waves hovered like fog before us. Here and there a pathetic
tree cast its slender shadow, like a splash of ink, across the white
highway. A few coolies, their skins immune to sunburn, shuflled
through the sand on their way to the town. We accosted one to in-
quire our way, but he sprang with a side jump to the extreme edge of
the roadway, in terror of our polluting touch.

" Commissioner sahib keh bungalow kehdereh?" asked Marten.

" Hazur hum malum neh, sahib (I don't know, sir)," stammered
the native, backing away as we approached.

" Stand still, you fellows," shouted Marten ; " you 're scaring him so
he can't understand. Every nigger knows where the commissioner
lives. Commissioner sahib keh bungalow kehdereh ? '

" Far down the road, oh, protector of the unfortunate."

We came upon the low rambling building in a grove among rocky
hillocks. Along" the broad veranda crouched a dozen punkah-wallahs,
pulling drowsily at the cords that moved the great velvet fans within.
Under the punkahs, at their desks, sat a small army of native officials,
mere secretaries and clerks, most of them, yet quite majestic of ap-
pearance in the flowing gowns, great black bean Is, and brilliant tur-
bans of the high-class Hindu. Servants swarmed about the write-
groveling on their knees each time a social superior deigned to issue a
command. White men were there none.

The possessor of the most regal turban rose from his cushions as we
entered and addressed us in Engli>h : -

" Can I be of service to you, sahib

" We want to see the commissioner," said Marten.

" The commissioner sahib," replied the Hindu, " is at his bunga-



300 A VAGABOND JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD

low. He will perhaps come here for a half hour at three o'clock."

" But we want tickets for the one o'clock train," Haywood blurted
out.

" I am the assistant commissioner," answered the native. " What
the commissioner sahib can do I can do. But it is a very long process
to draw upon the funds of the district, and you cannot, perhaps, catch
the one o'clock train. Still, I shall hurry as much as possible."

In his breathless haste he resumed his seat, carefully folded his legs,
rolled a cigarette with great deliberation, blew smoke at the punkahs
for several moments, and, pulling out the drawers of his desk, examined
one by one the ledgers and documents within them. The object of
his search was not forthcoming. He rose gradually to his feet, made
inquiry among his hirsute colleagues, returned to his cushions, and,
calling a dozen servants around him, despatched them on as many
errands.

" It 's the ledger in which we enter the names of those who apply
for tickets," he explained, " it will soon be found " ; and he lighted
another cigarette.

A servant came upon the book at last plainly in sight on the top
of the assistant's desk. That official opened the volume with un-
necessary reverence, read half the entries it contained, and, choosing
a native pen, prepared to write. He was not amusing himself at our
expense. He was fully convinced that he was moving with all pos-
sible celerity.

Slowly his sputtering pen rendered into the crippled orthography of
his native tongue comprehensive biographies of the two mythological



Online LibraryHarry Alverson FranckA vagabond journey around the world : a narrative of personal experience → online text (page 30 of 51)