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    Chapter 56

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    Chapter 57
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    There are two times in a man's life when he should not speculate: when he
    can't afford it, and when he can.
    --Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

    On Monday and Tuesday at sunrise we again had fair-to-middling views of
    the stupendous mountains; then, being well cooled off and refreshed, we
    were ready to chance the weather of the lower world once more.

    We traveled up hill by the regular train five miles to the summit, then
    changed to a little canvas-canopied hand-car for the 35-mile descent. It
    was the size of a sleigh, it had six seats and was so low that it seemed
    to rest on the ground. It had no engine or other propelling power, and
    needed none to help it fly down those steep inclines. It only needed a
    strong brake, to modify its flight, and it had that. There was a story
    of a disastrous trip made down the mountain once in this little car by
    the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, when the car jumped the track and
    threw its passengers over a precipice. It was not true, but the story
    had value for me, for it made me nervous, and nervousness wakes a person
    up and makes him alive and alert, and heightens the thrill of a new and
    doubtful experience. The car could really jump the track, of course; a
    pebble on the track, placed there by either accident or malice, at a
    sharp curve where one might strike it before the eye could discover it,
    could derail the car and fling it down into India; and the fact that the
    lieutenant-governor had escaped was no proof that I would have the same
    luck. And standing there, looking down upon the Indian Empire from the
    airy altitude of 7,000 feet, it seemed unpleasantly far, dangerously far,
    to be flung from a handcar.

    But after all, there was but small danger-for me. What there was, was
    for Mr. Pugh, inspector of a division of the Indian police, in whose
    company and protection we had come from Calcutta. He had seen long
    service as an artillery officer, was less nervous than I was, and so he
    was to go ahead of us in a pilot hand-car, with a Ghurka and another
    native; and the plan was that when we should see his car jump over a
    precipice we must put on our break [sp.] and send for another pilot.
    It was a good arrangement. Also Mr. Barnard, chief engineer of the
    mountain-division of the road, was to take personal charge of our car,
    and he had been down the mountain in it many a time.

    Everything looked safe. Indeed, there was but one questionable detail
    left: the regular train was to follow us as soon as we should start, and
    it might run over us. Privately, I thought it would.

    The road fell sharply down in front of us and went corkscrewing in and
    out around the crags and precipices, down, down, forever down, suggesting
    nothing so exactly or so uncomfortably as a croaked toboggan slide with
    no end to it. Mr. Pugh waved his flag and started, like an arrow from a
    bow, and before I could get out of the car we were gone too. I had
    previously had but one sensation like the shock of that departure, and
    that was the gaspy shock that took my breath away the first time that I
    was discharged from the summit of a toboggan slide. But in both
    instances the sensation was pleasurable--intensely so; it was a sudden
    and immense exaltation, a mixed ecstasy of deadly fright and unimaginable
    joy. I believe that this combination makes the perfection of human

    The pilot car's flight down the mountain suggested the swoop of a swallow
    that is skimming the ground, so swiftly and smoothly and gracefully it
    swept down the long straight reaches and soared in and out of the bends
    and around the corners. We raced after it, and seemed to flash by the
    capes and crags with the speed of light; and now and then we almost
    overtook it--and had hopes; but it was only playing with us; when we got
    near, it released its brake, make a spring around a corner, and the next
    time it spun into view, a few seconds later, it looked as small as a
    wheelbarrow, it was so far away. We played with the train in the same
    way. We often got out to gather flowers or sit on a precipice and look
    at the scenery, then presently we would hear a dull and growing roar, and
    the long coils of the train would come into sight behind and above us;
    but we did not need to start till the locomotive was close down upon us
    --then we soon left it far behind. It had to stop at every station,
    therefore it was not an embarrassment to us. Our brake was a good piece
    of machinery; it could bring the car to a standstill on a slope as steep
    as a house-roof.

    The scenery was grand and varied and beautiful, and there was no hurry;
    we could always stop and examine it. There was abundance of time. We
    did not need to hamper the train; if it wanted the road, we could switch
    off and let it go by, then overtake it and pass it later. We stopped at
    one place to see the Gladstone Cliff, a great crag which the ages and the
    weather have sculptured into a recognizable portrait of the venerable
    statesman. Mr. Gladstone is a stockholder in the road, and Nature began
    this portrait ten thousand years ago, with the idea of having the
    compliment ready in time for the event.

    We saw a banyan tree which sent down supporting stems from branches which
    were sixty feet above the ground. That is, I suppose it was a banyan;
    its bark resembled that of the great banyan in the botanical gardens at
    Calcutta, that spider-legged thing with its wilderness of vegetable
    columns. And there were frequent glimpses of a totally leafless tree
    upon whose innumerable twigs and branches a cloud of crimson butterflies
    had lighted--apparently. In fact these brilliant red butterflies were
    flowers, but the illusion was good. Afterward in South Africa, I saw
    another splendid effect made by red flowers. This flower was probably
    called the torch-plant--should have been so named, anyway. It had a
    slender stem several feet high, and from its top stood up a single tongue
    of flame, an intensely red flower of the size and shape of a small
    corn-cob. The stems stood three or four feet apart all over a great
    hill-slope that was a mile long, and make one think of what the Place
    de la Concorde would be if its myriad lights were red instead of white
    and yellow.

    A few miles down the mountain we stopped half an hour to see a Thibetan
    dramatic performance. It was in the open air on the hillside. The
    audience was composed of Thibetans, Ghurkas, and other unusual people.
    The costumes of the actors were in the last degree outlandish, and the
    performance was in keeping with the clothes. To an accompaniment of
    barbarous noises the actors stepped out one after another and began to
    spin around with immense swiftness and vigor and violence, chanting the
    while, and soon the whole troupe would be spinning and chanting and
    raising the dust. They were performing an ancient and celebrated
    historical play, and a Chinaman explained it to me in pidjin English as
    it went along. The play was obscure enough without the explanation; with
    the explanation added, it was (opake). As a drama this ancient
    historical work of art was defective, I thought, but as a wild and
    barbarous spectacle the representation was beyond criticism.
    Far down the mountain we got out to look at a piece of remarkable
    loop-engineering--a spiral where the road curves upon itself with such
    abruptness that when the regular train came down and entered the loop, we
    stood over it and saw the locomotive disappear under our bridge, then in
    a few moments appear again, chasing its own tail; and we saw it gain on
    it, overtake it, draw ahead past the rear cars, and run a race with that
    end of the train. It was like a snake swallowing itself.

    Half-way down the mountain we stopped about an hour at Mr. Barnard's
    house for refreshments, and while we were sitting on the veranda looking
    at the distant panorama of hills through a gap in the forest, we came
    very near seeing a leopard kill a calf.--[It killed it the day before.]
    --It is a wild place and lovely. From the woods all about came the songs
    of birds,--among them the contributions of a couple of birds which I was
    not then acquainted with: the brain-fever bird and the coppersmith. The
    song of the brain-fever demon starts on a low but steadily rising key,
    and is a spiral twist which augments in intensity and severity with each
    added spiral, growing sharper and sharper, and more and more painful,
    more and more agonizing, more and more maddening, intolerable,
    unendurable, as it bores deeper and deeper and deeper into the listener's
    brain, until at last the brain fever comes as a relief and the man dies.
    I am bringing some of these birds home to America. They will be a great
    curiosity there, and it is believed that in our climate they will
    multiply like rabbits.

    The coppersmith bird's note at a certain distance away has the ring of a
    sledge on granite; at a certain other distance the hammering has a more
    metallic ring, and you might think that the bird was mending a copper
    kettle; at another distance it has a more woodeny thump, but it is a
    thump that is full of energy, and sounds just like starting a bung. So
    he is a hard bird to name with a single name; he is a stone-breaker,
    coppersmith, and bung-starter, and even then he is not completely named,
    for when he is close by you find that there is a soft, deep, melodious
    quality in his thump, and for that no satisfying name occurs to you. You
    will not mind his other notes, but when he camps near enough for you to
    hear that one, you presently find that his measured and monotonous
    repetition of it is beginning to disturb you; next it will weary you,
    soon it will distress you, and before long each thump will hurt your
    head; if this goes on, you will lose your mind with the pain and misery
    of it, and go crazy. I am bringing some of these birds home to America.
    There is nothing like them there. They will be a great surprise, and it
    is said that in a climate like ours they will surpass expectation for

    I am bringing some nightingales, too, and some cue-owls. I got them in
    Italy. The song of the nightingale is the deadliest known to
    ornithology. That demoniacal shriek can kill at thirty yards. The note
    of the cue-owl is infinitely soft and sweet--soft and sweet as the
    whisper of a flute. But penetrating--oh, beyond belief; it can bore
    through boiler-iron. It is a lingering note, and comes in triplets, on
    the one unchanging key: hoo-o-o, hoo-o-o, hoo-o-o; then a silence of
    fifteen seconds, then the triplet again; and so on, all night. At first
    it is divine; then less so; then trying; then distressing; then
    excruciating; then agonizing, and at the end of two hours the listener is
    a maniac.

    And so, presently we took to the hand-car and went flying down the
    mountain again; flying and stopping, flying and stopping, till at last we
    were in the plain once more and stowed for Calcutta in the regular train.
    That was the most enjoyable day I have spent in the earth. For rousing,
    tingling, rapturous pleasure there is no holiday trip that approaches the
    bird-flight down the Himalayas in a hand-car. It has no fault, no
    blemish, no lack, except that there are only thirty-five miles of it
    instead of five hundred.
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