Harry Alverson Franck.

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

. (page 36 of 51)
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passionate energy which the Briton of the " clawsses " puts into every,
thing from a casual greeting to a suicide. The honorable commis-
sioner sahib K. C. B., M. A., V. C., Bart, etc., was stretched out in
a reclining chair in the smoking-room of the club, his attention di-
vided between a cigarette and cooling beverage and the activities
of several other distinguished preservers of the alphabet, who were
driving a red and two white balls about a green table with character-
istic vim and vigor. The native who pointed out the mighty man
from the shelter of a veranda fern refused in an awe-struck whisper
to deliver my message until I had threatened to enter this sanctum of
social superiority unannounced. The Englishman bellowed a protest
at being disturbed, but rose and advanced to the door, glass in hand.

' I say, you know," he cried, in a voice having its domicile in the
pit of his stomach, ' this is n 't my office, my man. I cawn't be at-
tending to official duties day and night. Come to the high-court to-
morrow and I will look into your case."

" If any of the gentlemen inside, sir, or you, could put me onto a
job where I could earn the price of a tick

" A job ! In Delhi ? Do you fawncy there are full-rigged ship*
on the Jumna? Come to my office at ten-thirty or eleven in the morn-
ing."

" But to-morrow is a holiday."

" Hah ! By Jove, so it is ! Well, come to my bungalow instead."

"How about some work about the club? Anything at all."

" See here, my man," protested the commissioner, turning away,
" this is no employment bureau. I 'm going over for a game of ten-
nis and I '11 bid you good day."

" Then you '11 need someone to clia-e tennis balls for you," I called
after him, " I 'm fairly fast on my feet."

"Chase tennis balls!' cried the governor, coming back. 'Do you
mean you would run around before a crowd of native servants
you a white man - - and "

" Sure. Won't you? '



352 A VAGABOND JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD



' Eh er wha I ? When I play tennis ? Why, of course, for
exercise ; but you were talking about work."

" Well, let 's call it exercise if you 'd rather."

He stared at me a moment in silence, but, being an unusually quick-
witted Englishman, grinned as he turned away.

" Very well," he said, over his shoulder, " wait for me over at the
second court. I '11 give you a rupee a set in railway fare to-



morrow.'



I was perspiringly engaged as official ball-chaser of the Delhi ten-
nis club until twilight put an end to the sport, fagging three games
for the commissioner and as many more for his friends. The reward,
however, was not immediately forthcoming; and I turned back as
penniless as I had come, towards Delhi, four miles distant. The
half-audible melody of a summer night was broken now and then
by the patter of native feet along the dusty roadway, but I tramped
on for the most part in silence. Once I was startled by a lusty chorus
of male voices that burst out suddenly from the darkness ahead in
words of my own tongue ; and a moment later a squad of red-coats,
bound barrackward after a merry afternoon on leave, trooped by me,
arm in arm, singing at the top of their lungs, " The Place where the
Punkah-wallah Died." It is a sorrowful ditty, this favorite ballad
of the Tommy Atkins of India, bearing as it does the final word on the
infernal calidity of the peninsula. The punkah-wallah is as insensi-
ble to the sun's rays as any living mortal, his station is a shaded ve-
randa, his labor the languid moving of a weightless fan. He of the
ballad died of the heat at his post.

Bent on finding lodging in a deserted coach, I slid down the steep
slope at the edge of the European section into the broad railway
yards. A policeman patrolled the bank above ; detectives lurked in
the narrow alleyways between the long rows of side-tracked cars ;
and the headlights of puffing switch-engines turned streaks of the
night into broad day. I escaped detection only by vigilant dodging.
There were goods' vans without number, an endless forest of them 4
but they were sealed or loaded with some vile-smelling cargo ; pas^
senger coach was there none. I struck off boldly across the tracks
towards the lighted station. The glare of a head-light was turned full
upon me and without the slightest warning I felt myself launched
into space so suddenly that I did not lose my upright posture. The
sensation of falling seemed of several minutes' duration, as one ex-
periences in a dream of being thrown from a high building. Long



THE HEART OF INDIA 353

after the world above had disappeared, I landed in utter darkness, all
unhurt except for the barking of my nose. Near at hand several live
coals gleamed like watching eyes. I had walked into a cinder-pit
on the round-house track.

By dint of a cat-like spring from the top of the largest heap of ashes,
I grasped the rail above and drew myself out, to find the engine crew
preparing to descend into the pit to recover my body. The station
platform was crowded. Beyond, surrounded on all sides by the teem-
ing bazaars, lay a thick-wooded park known as Queen's Gardens.
Placards on the ten-foot picket fence forbade trespassing after night-
fall ; but though I climbed the barrier in full sight of strollers and
shopkeepers they held their peace, convinced, no doubt, that the
sahib who entered at that hour was called thither by official duties.
I stretched out in the long grass, but the foliage overhead offered no
such shelter as the trees of equatorial Ceylon, and I awoke in the
morning dripping wet from the fallen dew.

Again that afternoon I did service at the tennis court, earning two
rupees more than the sum required to carry me back to Calcutta, and,
returning to the city, boarded the Saturday night express. The Eu-
ropean compartment was commodious and furnished not only with
a wash-room but with two wooden shelves on which I slept by night,
undisturbed by Eurasian collectors. Following the direct line
through Cawnpore and Allahabad, the train drew into Howrah on
Monday morning. Not once during the journey had my box-stall
been invaded. Nine hundred and fifty-four miles I had traveled, in
a private car on an express and the ticket had cost $2.82 ! Truly,
impecunious victims of the Wanderlust should look upon India as
the promised land.




CHAPTER XVII

BEYOND THE GANGES

[WO hours after my arrival in Calcutta there entered the
American consulate, high up above the Maidan, a white man
who should have won the sympathy even of the hard-hearted
manager who had denied him admittance to the Sailors' Home for
once having deserted that institution for a trip " up-country." He
was the possessor of a single rupee. His cotton garments, thanks to
dhobies, Ganges mud, and forty-two hundred miles of third-class
travel, were threadbare rags through which the tropical sun had red-
dened his once white skin. Under one arm he carried a tattered, sun-
burned bundle of the size of a kodak. European residents of a far-
off district might have recognized in him the erstwhile ball-chaser
of the tennis club of Delhi. In short, 'twas I.

" Years before you were born," said the white-haired sahib who
listened to my story, " I was American consul in Calcutta, the chief
of whose duties since that day has been to listen to the hard-luck
tales of stranded seamen. Times have changed, but the stories
have n't, and won't, I suppose, so long as there are women and beer,
and land-sharks ashore to turn sailors into beachcombers."

As he talked he filled out a form with a few strokes of a pen.

" This chit," he said, handing it to me, " is good for a week at the
Methodist Seamens' Institute. You have small chance of finding
work in Calcutta, though you might try Smith Brothers, the American
dentists, down the street; and you certainly won't sign on. But get
out of town, somewhere, somehow, before the week is over."

" Yes, sir," I answered, opening the door. " Oh, say, Mr. Consul,
was there an American fellow by name of Hay wood in to see you ? '

"Haywood?' mused the old man. "You mean Dick Haywood r
that poor seaman who was robbed and beaten on an Italian sailing
vessel, and kicked ashore here without his wages ? '

" Why er yes, sir, that 's him," I replied.

Yes, I sent him away a week ago, to Rangoon as a consul passen-
ger. But his was an especially sad case. I can't spend money on
every Tom, Dick, and Har



"



BEYOND THE GANGES 355

" Oh ! I was n't askin' that, sir," I protested, closing the door be-
hind me.

The Seamens' Institute occupied the second story and the roof
of a ramshackle building in Lall Bazaar street, just off Dalhousie
square. Even about the foot of the stairway hovered a scent of
squalor and compulsory piety. On the walls of the main room, huge
placards, illuminated with texts from the tale of the prodigal son
and the stains of tobacco juice, concealed the ravages which time anil
brawlers had wrought on the plaster. Magazines and books of the
Sunday-school species littered chairs and shelves. Four sear-faced
old Tars, grouped about a hunch-backed table, played checkers as if
it were an imperative duty, and cursed only in an undertone. For
the office door stood open. I entered and tendered my " chit ' to
the Irish manager.

Ye 're welcome," he asserted, as he inscribed my name in a huge
volume; ''but mind ye, this is a Methodist insteetootion and there's
to be no cuss-words on the primaces. An' close the door be'ind ye."
The cuss-words ye Ve picked up," growled a grizzled checker-
player, when I had complied with the order s ' ye must stow \vhils*
ye 're here. But if ye want to learn some new wans, listen a\ yon
keyhole when he 's workin' his figyurs."

My "chit" entitled me to three meals of forecastle fare a day, the
privileges of Sunday-school literature and checkerboards, the use of
a crippled cot, and the right to listen each evening to a two-hour ser-
mon in the mission chapel. In the company that gathered around
the messboard at noon were few whose mother-tongue was other than
my own. The British Isles were ably represented ; there were wan-
derers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and even two from
"the States."

My compatriots were Chicago youths whose partnership seemed
singularly appropriate in India. For the one was named William
Curry and the other Clarence Rice.

" D 'y 'ivcr put yer two eyes on a bctther combcenation thon tlmt to
be floatin' about this land uv sunburn an' nakediu demanded

my companion on the right. "Why, whin they two be on the Iteaeh
they 'd 'ave only to look wan anithcr in the face to git a full meal.
An' yit they're after tellin' us they're .^ r oin' to break it onp."

"You bet we be! " ejaculated Rice, forcing an extraordinary mouth-
ful into one cheek to give full play to hi- tongue. This bunch don't
go pards no more in this man's land ! '



356 A VAGABOND JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD

"Per why?' asked a sailor.

" Here 's how," continued Rice. ' In Nagpore the commissioner
give us a swell set-down an' everything looked good fer tickets to
Cally. 'What's yer name?' sez the guy to Bill, when we come into
the office after puttin' away the set-down. l An' what 's yours ? ' he
sez to me, after Bill had told him. ' Clarence Rice,' sez I. ' Go on,'
hollers the commish. ' None o' yer phony names on me ! Ye 're a pair
o' grafters. Git out o' this office an' out o' Nagpore in a hour or 1 11
have ye run in wid yer currie an' rice ! '

" Yes," sighed Curry, " that 's what they handed us all the way
from Bombay. We was three weeks gettin' across."

The meal over, I descended to the street with the one self-support-
ing guest of the mission. He was a clean-cut, stocky young man of
twenty-five, named Gerald James, from Perth, Australia. Until the
outbreak of the Boer war he had been a kangaroo hunter in his native
land. A year's service in South Africa had aroused his latent Wan-
derlust and, once discharged, he had turned northward with two com-
panions. Arrived in Calcutta, his partners had joined the police force^
while James, weary of bearing arms, had become a salesman in a
well-known department store.

I disclosed my accomplishments to his manager that afternoon, but
he did not need to glance more than once at my tattered garb to be
certain that his staff was complete. At their barracks the Australian's
partners assured me that their knowledge of the city proved that the
only choice left to a white man stranded in Calcutta was to don a
police uniform. Evidently they knew whereof they spoke, for em-
ployers to whom I gained access during the days that followed
laughed at the notion of hiring white laborers ; and, though scores of
ships lay at anchor in the Hoogly, their captains refused to listen even
to my offer to work my passage. To join the police force, however,
would have meant a long sojourn in Calcutta, and at any hour of the
day one might catch sight of two coolies hurrying across the Maidan
with the corpse of the latest victim of the plague.

Nothing short of foolhardy would have been an attempt to cross
on foot the marshy, fever-stricken deltas to the eastward. One pos-
sible escape from the city presented itself. Through the Australian
officers, whose beat was the station platform, I made the acquaintance
of a Eurasian collector who promised to " set me right with the guard "
as far as Goalando, on the banks of the Ganges. The signs portended



BEYOND THE GANGES 357

however, that once arrived there I should be in far worse straits than
in the capital.

A chance meeting- with a German traveler, who spoke no English,
raised my hoard to seven rupees; but the purchase of a new roll of
films reduced it again to less than half that amount, and at that low
level my fortunes remained for all my efforts. Sartorially, I came off
better; for the manager of the mission, calling me into his office one
morning, asked my assistance in auditing his account-book, and gave
me for the service two duck suits left behind by some former guest.
I succeeded, too, in trading my cast-off garments and my dilapidated
slippers for a pair of shoes in good condition.

At the Institute, life moved smoothly on. Each day began with a
stroll along the docks and two hours of loafing in the courtyard of the
Sailors' Home, where seamen, paying off, were wont to display their
rolls, and captains had even been known, in earlier days, to seek re-
cruits. After dinner, those of long experience in Oriental lands re-
tired to their crippled cots or a shaded corner of the roof, while the
4 youngsters ' played checkers or pieced together some story from
the magazine leaves that the 'boy' had thrown into a hasty jumble
before morning inspection. From four to sunset was the period of
individual initiative, when the inventive set off to try the effect of a
new " tale of woe ' on beneficent European residents. The " old
hands," less ambitious, lighted their pipes and turned out for a
promenade around Dalhousie square. Thus passed the sunlit hours.
He who had lived through one day with the " Lall Bazaar bunch '
knew all the rest.

But as the days were alike, so were the nights different. Each
evening of the week was dedicated by long custom to its own special
attraction, and newcomers fell as quickly into the routine as a newly
arrived prince into the social swirl of the capital. On Monday, sup-
per over, the company rambled off to that section of the Maidan ad-
joining the viceroy's palace to listen to the weekly hand concert, dur-
ing the course of which the fortunate occasionally picked up a rupee
that had fallen from the pocket of some inebriated Tommy Atkins.
On Tuesday the rendezvous was the Presbyterian church at the
corner of the square; for it was then and there tlint charitable meni-
cahibs, incorporated into a "Ladies' Aid Society," ended their weekly
sewing-bee by distributing among the needy the evidences of their skill
with the needle. Hour after hour, a long procession of beachcombers



358 A VAGABOND JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD

filed up the narrow stairway of the Institute, to dump strange odds
and ends of cosmopolitan raiment on the floor. The night was far
spent before the last trade had been consummated.

Wednesday, however, was the red-letter date in the Institute cal-
endar. On that evening came the weekly " social." In company with
an " old timer," I set off early for the English church far out beyond
Fort William, in the chapel of which we were served such unfamiliar
delicacies as ice cream so the donators dared to name it and
cake. The invitations were issued to ' all seamen on shore in the
city," but found acceptance, of course, only among the penniless, for
the arrack-shops of Calcutta are subject to no early closing law.

In a corner of the chapel sat several young ladies and the junior
rector of the parish, a handsome English youth, announced on the
program as the president of the meeting. We were favored, however,
only with a view of his well-tailored back, for the necessity of fur-
nishing giggle motifs for the fair maidens and the consumption of in-
numerable cigarettes left him no time for sterner duties.

When the last plate had been licked clean, the gathering resolved
itself into a soiree musicale. A snub-nosed English miss fell upon
the piano beside the pulpit, and every ragged adventurer who could
be dragged within pistol-shot of the maltreated instrument inflicted
a song on his indulgent mates. More than once the performer, indif-
ferent to memsahib blushes, refused either to expurgate or curtail the
ballad of his choice, and it became the duty of a self-appointed com-
mrttee to drag him back to his seat.

The suppression of a grog-shop ditty had been followed by several
moments of fidgety silence when a chorus of hoarse whispers near the
back of the chapel relieved the general embarrassment. A tow-headed
beachcomber a Swede by all seeming was forced to his feet
and advanced self-consciously up the aisle. He was the sorriest-
looking " vag ' in the gathering. His garb was a strange collection
of tatters, through which his sunburned skin peeped out here and
there; and his hands, calloused evidences of self-supporting days,
hung heavily at his sides. The noises thus far produced would have
been prohibited by law in a civilized country, and I settled back in
my seat prepared to endure some new auditory atrocity. The Swede,
ignoring the stairs by which more conventional mortals mounted,
stepped from the floor to the rostrum, and strode to the piano. The
audience, grinning nervously, waited for him to turn and bellow forth
some halyard ehantie. He squatted instead on the recently vacated



BEYOND THE GANGES 359

stool and, running his stumpy fingers over the keys, fell to playing
with unusual skill Mendelssohn's " Friihlingslied." Such surprises
befall, now and then, in the vagabond world. Its denizens are not
always the unseeing, unknowing louts that those of a more laundered
realm imagine.

" The Swanee River ' was suggested as the Swede stalked back
to his seat, and the rafters rang with the response ; for there was
scarcely one of these adventurers, from every corner of the globe,
who could not sing it without prompting from beginning to end.
During the rendition of " God Save the King," the youthful rector tore
himself away from the entrancing maidens, and puffing at his fortieth
cigarette, shook us each by the hand as we passed out into the night.
A pleasant evening he had spent, evidently, in spite of our presence.

' After all," mused the " old timer," as he hobbled across the
Maidan at my side, " Holy Joes is a hell of a lot like other people,
ain't they?"

Of the entertainments of other evenings I may not speak with au-
thority, for on that day I had concluded to take the Eurasian col-
lector at his word and escape from Calcutta before I had out-lived
my welcome. As I stretched out on the roof of the Institute on my
return from the chapel, the man beside me rolled over on his blanket
and peered at me through the darkness.

"That you, Franck?' he whispered.

The voice was that of James, the Australian.

" Yes," I answered.

" Some of the lads," came the response, ''told me you 're going to
hit the trail asrain.'



' I 'm off to-morrow night."

? "



Where away ?

" Somewhere to the east."

The Australian fell silent a moment, and his voice was apologetic
when he spoke again.

" I quit my job to-day. There's the plague, and the sumimT com-
ing on, and they expected me to take orders from a balm manager.
Calcutta is no good. I'd like to get to Hong Kong, but tin- hoys say
no beachcomber can make it in a year. Think you '11 conic any-
where near there ? '

" Expect to be there inside a couple of month-."

"How if we go pards?' murmured Jam- ' I 've never been on
the road much, but I've bummed around Australia some after kang-



360 A VAGABOND JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD

aroos, and I 've got fourteen dibs. I '11 put that up for my part of
the stake."

" Sure/' I answered, for of all the inmates of the Institute there
was no one I should sooner have chosen as a partner for the rough
days to come, than James.

" How '11 we make it?" he queried. ' It 's a long jump."
" I '11 set you right to Goalando," I replied, ' and you can fix me
up on the Ganges boat, if the skipper turns us down. If we can make
Chittagong I think we can beat it through the jungle to Mandalay,
though the boys say we can't. Then we '11 drop down to Rangoon.
They say shipping is good there. But let 's have it understood that
when we hit Hong Kong each one goes where he likes."
" All right," said the Australian, lying down once more.
Thursday passed quickly in the overhauling of our gear, and, having
stuffed our possessions into James' carpetbag, we set off at nightfall
for the station ; not two of us, but three, for Rice of Chicago had in-
vited himself to accompany us.

" What ! So many ? ' ' cried the guard, when the Eurasian had in-
troduced us, " That 's a big bunch of deadheads for one trip. Well,
pile on. I '11 see that the collectors slip you."

My companions returned to the waiting-room for the carpetbag,
and I fell into step with the station policeman, James' former partner.
The platform was swarming with a cosmopolitan humanity. Afghans,
Sinks, Bengalis, Tamils, and Mohammedans strolled back and forth
or took garrulous leave of their departing friends through the train
windows. Suddenly my attention was drawn to a priest of Buddha
pushing his way through the throng. The yellow robe is rare in
northern India, yet it was something more than the garment that led
me to poke the policeman in the ribs. For the arms and shoulder of
its wearer were white and the face that grinned beneath the shaven
poll could have been designed in no other spot on earth than the
Emerald Isle!

" Blow me," cried the officer, " if it ain't the Irish Buddhist, the
bishop of Rangoon ! I met 'im once in Singapore. Everybody in
Burma knows 'im;" and he stepped forward with a greeting.

"Do I rimimber ye?' chuckled the priest, "I do thot. Ye were
down in the Sthraits. Bless me, and ye 're up here on the force now,
eh? Oo's yer frind?"

" American," said the Australian, " off fer Chittagong with a pard
o' mine."



BEYOND THE GANGES 361

" Foine ! " cried the Irishman. " I 'm bound the same. I 'm second-
class, but I '11 see ye on the boat the-morrow."

He passed on and, as the train started, James and Rice tumbled into
an empty compartment after me. The guard kept his promise and
not once during the night were we disturbed. When daylight
awakened us our car stood alone on a side-track at the end of the
line.

Goalando was a village of mud huts, perched on a slimy, slop-
ing bank of the Ganges like turtles ready to slip into the stream at
the first hint of danger. A shriveled Hindu, frightened speechless by
the appearance of three sahibs before his shop door, sold us a stale
and fly-specked breakfast, and we turned down towards the river.
On the sagging gangplank of a tiny steamer, moored at the foot of
the slippery bank, stood the Irish Buddhist, his yellow robe drawn
up about his knees, scrubbing his legs in the muddy water.

' Good mornin' te ye ! " he called, waving a dripping hand. ' Come
on board and we '11 have a chat. She don't leave till noon."

" The time '11 pass fast," I suggested, " if you '11 give us your yarn."

" Sure and I will," answered the Irishman, ' if ye '11 promise te
listen te a good sthraight talk on religion after."

What was it in my appearance that led every religious propagandist
to look upon me as a possible convert? Even the missionary from
Kansas had loaded me down with tracts.



Online LibraryHarry Alverson FranckA vagabond journey around the world : a narrative of personal experience → online text (page 36 of 51)