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    Chapter 48

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    Chapter 49
    Previous Chapter
    Grief can take care of itself; but to get the full value of a joy you
    must have somebody to divide it with.
    --Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

    We left Bombay for Allahabad by a night train. It is the custom of the
    country to avoid day travel when it can conveniently be done. But there
    is one trouble: while you can seemingly "secure" the two lower berths by
    making early application, there is no ticket as witness of it, and no
    other producible evidence in case your proprietorship shall chance to be
    challenged. The word "engaged" appears on the window, but it doesn't
    state who the compartment is engaged, for. If your Satan and your Barney
    arrive before somebody else's servants, and spread the bedding on the two
    sofas and then stand guard till you come, all will be well; but if they
    step aside on an errand, they may find the beds promoted to the two
    shelves, and somebody else's demons standing guard over their master's
    beds, which in the meantime have been spread upon your sofas.

    You do not pay anything extra for your sleeping place; that is where the
    trouble lies. If you buy a fare-ticket and fail to use it, there is room
    thus made available for someone else; but if the place were secured to
    you it would remain vacant, and yet your ticket would secure you another
    place when you were presently ready to travel.

    However, no explanation of such a system can make it seem quite rational
    to a person who has been used to a more rational system. If our people
    had the arranging of it, we should charge extra for securing the place,
    and then the road would suffer no loss if the purchaser did not occupy
    it.

    The present system encourages good manners--and also discourages them.
    If a young girl has a lower berth and an elderly lady comes in, it is
    usual for the girl to offer her place to this late comer; and it is usual
    for the late comer to thank her courteously and take it. But the thing
    happens differently sometimes. When we were ready to leave Bombay my
    daughter's satchels were holding possession of her berth--a lower one.
    At the last moment, a middle-aged American lady swarmed into the
    compartment, followed by native porters laden with her baggage. She was
    growling and snarling and scolding, and trying to make herself
    phenomenally disagreeable; and succeeding. Without a word, she hoisted
    the satchels into the hanging shelf, and took possession of that lower
    berth.

    On one of our trips Mr. Smythe and I got out at a station to walk up and
    down, and when we came back Smythe's bed was in the hanging shelf and an
    English cavalry officer was in bed on the sofa which he had lately been
    occupying. It was mean to be glad about it, but it is the way we are
    made; I could not have been gladder if it had been my enemy that had
    suffered this misfortune. We all like to see people in trouble, if it
    doesn't cost us anything. I was so happy over Mr. Smythe's chagrin that
    I couldn't go to sleep for thinking of it and enjoying it. I knew he
    supposed the officer had committed the robbery himself, whereas without a
    doubt the officer's servant had done it without his knowledge. Mr.
    Smythe kept this incident warm in his heart, and longed for a chance to
    get even with somebody for it. Sometime afterward the opportunity came,
    in Calcutta. We were leaving on a 24-hour journey to Darjeeling. Mr.
    Barclay, the general superintendent, has made special provision for our
    accommodation, Mr. Smythe said; so there was no need to hurry about
    getting to the train; consequently, we were a little late.

    When we arrived, the usual immense turmoil and confusion of a great
    Indian station were in full blast. It was an immoderately long train,
    for all the natives of India were going by it somewhither, and the native
    officials were being pestered to frenzy by belated and anxious people.
    They didn't know where our car was, and couldn't remember having received
    any orders about it. It was a deep disappointment; moreover, it looked
    as if our half of our party would be left behind altogether. Then Satan
    came running and said he had found a compartment with one shelf and one
    sofa unoccupied, and had made our beds and had stowed our baggage. We
    rushed to the place, and just as the train was ready to pull out and the
    porters were slamming the doors to, all down the line, an officer of the
    Indian Civil Service, a good friend of ours, put his head in and said:--

    "I have been hunting for you everywhere. What are you doing here? Don't
    you know----"

    The train started before he could finish. Mr. Smythe's opportunity was
    come. His bedding, on the shelf, at once changed places with the
    bedding--a stranger's--that was occupying the sofa that was opposite to
    mine. About ten o'clock we stopped somewhere, and a large Englishman of
    official military bearing stepped in. We pretended to be asleep. The
    lamps were covered, but there was light enough for us to note his look of
    surprise. He stood there, grand and fine, peering down at Smythe, and
    wondering in silence at the situation. After a bit he said:--

    "Well!" And that was all.

    But that was enough. It was easy to understand. It meant: "This is
    extraordinary. This is high-handed. I haven't had an experience like
    this before."

    He sat down on his baggage, and for twenty minutes we watched him through
    our eyelashes, rocking and swaying there to the motion of the train.
    Then we came to a station, and he got up and went out, muttering: "I must
    find a lower berth, or wait over." His servant came presently and carried
    away his things.

    Mr. Smythe's sore place was healed, his hunger for revenge was satisfied.
    But he couldn't sleep, and neither could I; for this was a venerable old.
    car, and nothing about it was taut. The closet door slammed all night,
    and defied every fastening we could invent. We got up very much jaded,
    at dawn, and stepped out at a way station; and, while we were taking a
    cup of coffee, that Englishman ranged up alongside, and somebody said to
    him:

    "So you didn't stop off, after all?"

    "No. The guard found a place for me that had been, engaged and not
    occupied. I had a whole saloon car all to myself--oh, quite palatial!
    I never had such luck in my life."

    That was our car, you see. We moved into it, straight off, the family
    and all. But I asked the English gentleman to remain, and he did. A
    pleasant man, an infantry colonel; and doesn't know, yet, that Smythe
    robbed him of his berth, but thinks it was done by Smythe's servant
    without Smythe's knowledge. He was assisted in gathering this
    impression.

    The Indian trains are manned by natives exclusively. The Indian stations
    except very large and important ones--are manned entirely by natives, and
    so are the posts and telegraphs. The rank and file of the police are
    natives. All these people are pleasant and accommodating. One day I
    left an express train to lounge about in that perennially ravishing show,
    the ebb and flow and whirl of gaudy natives, that is always surging up
    and down the spacious platform of a great Indian station; and I lost
    myself in the ecstasy of it, and when I turned, the train was moving
    swiftly away. I was going to sit down and wait for another train, as I
    would have done at home; I had no thought of any other course. But a
    native official, who had a green flag in his hand, saw me, and said
    politely:

    "Don't you belong in the train, sir?"

    "Yes." I said.

    He waved his flag, and the train came back! And he put me aboard with as
    much ceremony as if I had been the General Superintendent. They are
    kindly people, the natives. The face and the bearing that indicate a
    surly spirit and a bad heart seemed to me to be so rare among Indians--so
    nearly non-existent, in fact--that I sometimes wondered if Thuggee wasn't
    a dream, and not a reality. The bad hearts are there, but I believe that
    they are in a small, poor minority. One thing is sure: They are much the
    most interesting people in the world--and the nearest to being
    incomprehensible. At any rate, the hardest to account for. Their
    character and their history, their customs and their religion, confront
    you with riddles at every turn-riddles which are a trifle more perplexing
    after they are explained than they were before. You can get the facts of
    a custom--like caste, and Suttee, and Thuggee, and so on--and with the
    facts a theory which tries to explain, but never quite does it to your
    satisfaction. You can never quite understand how so strange a thing
    could have been born, nor why.

    For instance--the Suttee. This is the explanation of it:

    A woman who throws away her life when her husband dies is instantly
    joined to him again, and is forever afterward happy with him in heaven;
    her family will build a little monument to her, or a temple, and will
    hold her in honor, and, indeed, worship her memory always; they will
    themselves be held in honor by the public; the woman's self-sacrifice has
    conferred a noble and lasting distinction upon her posterity. And,
    besides, see what she has escaped: If she had elected to live, she would
    be a disgraced person; she could not remarry; her family would despise
    her and disown her; she would be a friendless outcast, and miserable all
    her days.

    Very well, you say, but the explanation is not complete yet. How did
    people come to drift into such a strange custom? What was the origin of
    the idea? "Well, nobody knows; it was probably a revelation sent down by
    the gods." One more thing: Why was such a cruel death chosen--why
    wouldn't a gentle one have answered? "Nobody knows; maybe that was a
    revelation, too."

    No--you can never understand it. It all seems impossible. You resolve
    to believe that a widow never burnt herself willingly, but went to her
    death because she was afraid to defy public opinion. But you are not
    able to keep that position. History drives you from it. Major Sleeman
    has a convincing case in one of his books. In his government on the
    Nerbudda he made a brave attempt on the 28th of March, 1828, to put down
    Suttee on his own hook and without warrant from the Supreme Government of
    India. He could not foresee that the Government would put it down itself
    eight months later. The only backing he had was a bold nature and a
    compassionate heart. He issued his proclamation abolishing the Suttee in
    his district. On the morning of Tuesday--note the day of the week--the
    24th of the following November, Ummed Singh Upadhya, head of the most
    respectable and most extensive Brahmin family in the district, died, and
    presently came a deputation of his sons and grandsons to beg that his old
    widow might be allowed to burn herself upon his pyre. Sleeman threatened
    to enforce his order, and punish severely any man who assisted; and he
    placed a police guard to see that no one did so. From the early morning
    the old widow of sixty-five had been sitting on the bank of the sacred
    river by her dead, waiting through the long hours for the permission; and
    at last the refusal came instead. In one little sentence Sleeman gives
    you a pathetic picture of this lonely old gray figure: all day and all
    night "she remained sitting by the edge of the water without eating or
    drinking." The next morning the body of the husband was burned to ashes
    in a pit eight feet square and three or four feet deep, in the view of
    several thousand spectators. Then the widow waded out to a bare rock in
    the river, and everybody went away but her sons and other relations. All
    day she sat there on her rock in the blazing sun without food or drink,
    and with no clothing but a sheet over her shoulders.

    The relatives remained with her and all tried to persuade her to desist
    from her purpose, for they deeply loved her. She steadily refused. Then
    a part of the family went to Sleeman's house, ten miles away, and tried
    again to get him to let her burn herself. He refused, hoping to save her
    yet.

    All that day she scorched in her sheet on the rock, and all that night
    she kept her vigil there in the bitter cold. Thursday morning, in the
    sight of her relatives, she went through a ceremonial which said more to
    them than any words could have done; she put on the dhaja (a coarse red
    turban) and broke her bracelets in pieces. By these acts she became a
    dead person in the eye of the law, and excluded from her caste forever.
    By the iron rule of ancient custom, if she should now choose to live she
    could never return to her family. Sleeman was in deep trouble. If she
    starved herself to death her family would be disgraced; and, moreover,
    starving would be a more lingering misery than the death by fire. He
    went back in the evening thoroughly worried. The old woman remained on
    her rock, and there in the morning he found her with her dhaja still on
    her head. "She talked very collectedly, telling me that she had
    determined to mix her ashes with those of her departed husband, and
    should patiently wait my permission to do so, assured that God would
    enable her to sustain life till that was given, though she dared not eat
    or drink. Looking at the sun, then rising before her over a long and
    beautiful reach of the river, she said calmly, 'My soul has been for five
    days with my husband's near that sun; nothing but my earthly frame is
    left; and this, I know, you will in time suffer to be mixed with his
    ashes in yonder pit, because it is not in your nature or usage wantonly
    to prolong the miseries of a poor old woman.'"

    He assured her that it was his desire and duty to save her, and to urge
    her to live, and to keep her family from the disgrace of being thought
    her murderers. But she said she "was not afraid of their being thought
    so; that they had all, like good children, done everything in their power
    to induce her to live, and to abide with them; and if I should consent I
    know they would love and honor me, but my duties to them have now ended.
    I commit them all to your care, and I go to attend my husband, Ummed
    Singh Upadhya, with whose ashes on the funeral pile mine have been
    already three times mixed."

    She believed that she and he had been upon the earth three several times
    as wife and husband, and that she had burned herself to death three times
    upon his pyre. That is why she said that strange thing. Since she had
    broken her bracelets and put on the red turban she regarded herself as a
    corpse; otherwise she would not have allowed herself to do her husband
    the irreverence of pronouncing his name. "This was the first time in her
    long life that she had ever uttered her husband's name, for in India no
    woman, high or low, ever pronounces the name of her husband."

    Major Sleeman still tried to shake her purpose. He promised to build her
    a fine house among the temples of her ancestors upon the bank of the
    river and make handsome provision for her out of rent-free lands if she
    would consent to live; and if she wouldn't he would allow no stone or
    brick to ever mark the place where she died. But she only smiled and
    said, "My pulse has long ceased to beat, my spirit has departed; I shall
    suffer nothing in the burning; and if you wish proof, order some fire and
    you shall see this arm consumed without giving me any pain."

    Sleeman was now satisfied that he could not alter her purpose. He sent
    for all the chief members of the family and said he would suffer her to
    burn herself if they would enter into a written engagement to abandon the
    suttee in their family thenceforth. They agreed; the papers were drawn
    out and signed, and at noon, Saturday, word was sent to the poor old
    woman. She seemed greatly pleased. The ceremonies of bathing were gone
    through with, and by three o'clock she was ready and the fire was briskly
    burning in the pit. She had now gone without food or drink during more
    than four days and a half. She came ashore from her rock, first wetting
    her sheet in the waters of the sacred river, for without that safeguard
    any shadow which might fall upon her would convey impurity to her; then
    she walked to the pit, leaning upon one of her sons and a nephew--the
    distance was a hundred and fifty yards.

    "I had sentries placed all around, and no other person was allowed to
    approach within five paces. She came on with a calm and cheerful
    countenance, stopped once, and casting her eyes upwards, said, 'Why have
    they kept me five days from thee, my husband?' On coming to the sentries
    her supporters stopped and remained standing; she moved on, and walked
    once around the pit, paused a moment, and while muttering a prayer, threw
    some flowers into the fire. She then walked up deliberately and steadily
    to the brink, stepped into the centre of the flame, sat down, and leaning
    back in the midst as if reposing upon a couch, was consumed without
    uttering a shriek or betraying one sign of agony."

    It is fine and beautiful. It compels one's reverence and respect--no,
    has it freely, and without compulsion. We see how the custom, once
    started, could continue, for the soul of it is that stupendous power,
    Faith; faith brought to the pitch of effectiveness by the cumulative
    force of example and long use and custom; but we cannot understand how
    the first widows came to take to it. That is a perplexing detail.

    Sleeman says that it was usual to play music at the suttee, but that the
    white man's notion that this was to drown the screams of the martyr is
    not correct; that it had a quite different purpose. It was believed that
    the martyr died prophecying; that the prophecies sometimes foretold
    disaster, and it was considered a kindness to those upon whom it was to
    fall to drown the voice and keep them in ignorance of the misfortune that
    was to come.
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