Read CHAPTER XVI of Across India / Live Boys in the Far East, free online book, by Oliver Optic, on ReadCentral.com.

A MULTITUDE OF NATIVE SERVANTS

The barge was ready as soon as it was needed, and lay at the platform of the gangway, with the crew in their white uniforms, quite as smart as man-of-war’s-men.  The coolie boatmen who were seeking a job to put the passengers on shore were disappointed.  The clothing of the guests had been taken in hand by Sparks and Sordy, the cabin stewards, dried, cleaned, and pressed.  They wore them now, and had returned the borrowed garments.

The party were impatient to see the strange sights on shore; and they were ready at the gangway when the viscount, to whom the commander had abandoned the direction of the company, gave the word.  The ladies were assisted to their places, and the “Big Four” went into the fore-sheets.  Bargate, the old man-of-war’s-man, was the cockswain, and his lordship gave the word to him to give way.

“Pull to the Apollo Bunder, if you please, my man,” said he.

“Which, your honor?” asked Bargate blankly.

“I mean the bit of a basin you see nearly abreast of the ship,” the new leader explained, pointing out the locality.

The cockswain shoved off the stern of the boat, the oars dropped into the water, and the men gave way.  It was a pull of but a few minutes, and the barge shot into the basin, and came to a convenient landing-place.  On the shore they found Mr. Windham, one of the chief officials of the custom-house, who had been on board of the ship.  He was surrounded by a small mob of young Hindus, neatly dressed in the native garments of white cotton.  The ladies were assisted to the shore first.  All of the party carried small valises or satchels containing the needed articles for a few days’ stay at a hotel; and these natives took possession of them as they landed.

“What is this man, Sir Modava?” asked Mrs. Belgrave, as one of them relieved her of the bag she carried.

“He is your Khidmutgar, madam,” replied the Hindu knight, with a smile on his handsome face.

“My what?” demanded the lady.  “And must I pronounce that word?”

“Not unless you wish to do so.  This man is your servant, your waiter.”

“But what are we to do with such a lot of them?” inquired Mrs. Belgrave, as she looked upon the group of Hindus.

“There is only one for each person of the company; for every one must have his servant.  We are going to the Victoria Hotel, and this Khidmutgar will attend upon you at the table, and do anything you require.”

“I don’t think I shall need him all the time,” added the lady, who thought he would be a nuisance to her.

The young Hindus presented themselves to all the passengers as they landed, taking their small baggage, canes, and umbrellas.  Some of them had heard Sir Modava’s explanation, and Lord Tremlyn repeated it to others.  Most of them had decided to take things as they came, and accepted the custom of the country without any friction.  Mrs. Blossom looked rather wildly at the satellite who was to attend to her wants; but her good friend told her to say nothing, and she submitted without a word.

“Captain Ringgold,” said the viscount, as he brought forward a rather stout man, with spectacles on his nose, and an odd-looking cap or turban on his head, “this is Pallonjee Pestonjee, the proprietor of the Victoria Hotel.”

“I am happy to know you, sir,” replied the commander, as he took the hand of the gentleman, who was a Parsee, though he did not attempt to pronounce the name.

“We have half a dozen shigrams here,” continued his lordship.

“What are we to do with them, my Lord?” asked the captain.

“They are two-horse carriages; and, if you please, we will ride to the hotel in them,” laughed the distinguished guide.

The party seated themselves in the vehicles, which were of English pattern; and they saw cabs and omnibuses in the vicinity.  Taking Rampart Row, they passed the university, the court-house, and other public buildings, into Esplanade Road, leading to their destination, about a mile from the landing.

“On our right is Byculla, one of the divisions of the city, and a business quarter, where you will find the retail shops, though they are not all here,” said the viscount.  “This locality is generally called the Fort; for though its walls have been removed, it retains the old name.  Just below the Apollo Bunder, where we landed, are the Grant buildings, or warehouses.  Perhaps you saw them from the deck of the ship.  Below these, at the extremity of the point, is Colaba, the native town, which is largely occupied by commercial buildings.  But we shall ride over this ground again, and you will have the opportunity to see the various structures in detail.”

But the tourists were not very much interested in the buildings; for they wanted to see India, its manners and customs, and for the last year they had been seeing edifices as noted as any in the world, though they had yet to be introduced to the temples and palaces of this country, which were different from anything they had seen before.

They soon arrived at the Victoria Hotel; and the khidmutgars, carrying the light baggage, were not behind them, though they had run all the way from the bunder.  The landlord had come in a carriage.  Felix McGavonty, who was the captain’s clerk, had made out several lists of the passengers, at the request of Lord Tremlyn; and one of them had been sent to the hotel, so that their rooms were already assigned to them.  Their servants appeared to be familiar with the Victoria, and they were taken to their apartments at once.

“What the dickens do we want of all these fellows?” asked Scott when they had been conducted to a room with four beds in it.  “They will be a nuisance to us.”

“We don’t need all you fellows,” added Louis Belgrave, turning to his servant.  “We are accustomed to wait on ourselves.  One of you is enough for all of us.”

“No, Sahib; no khidmutgar waits on more than one gentleman,” replied Louis’s man, with a cheerful smile, displaying a wealth of white teeth which would have been creditable to an Alabama negro.

“That’s what’s the matter, is it?” added Scott.  “I have learned that no Hindu will do more than one kind of work, take care of more than one person; and no groom will take care of more than one horse.  If you have six horses, you must have six hostlers.  That is what Sir Modava told me.”

“Custom is law here, and we must follow the fashions,” replied Louis.  “What is your name, my boy?” he continued, turning to his servant.

“Sayad, sahib,” answered he.

Scott’s was Moro, Morris’s was Mobarak, and Felix’s was Balaya; but the last two were speedily abbreviated into “Mobby” and “Bally,” to which the young Hindus offered no objection.  They were all under twenty years of age, and spoke English passably well.

“Here, Sayad! black my shoes,” said Louis, determined to make use of his servant.

“I don’t clean the shoes,” replied the fellow, shaking his head.  “I call the porter;” and he did so.

“That is just what Sir Modava told me,” added Scott.

But Sayad had opened his master’s valise, placed his toilet articles on the bureau, and brushed his coat, which he had taken off.  He arranged everything with good taste, and smiled expansively every time Louis looked at him.  The shoes of all four were polished in time; and they were ready to begin their explorations of the city, though it was rather late in the day.

“What time is dinner, Moro?” asked Scott.

“Seven o’clock, sahib,” replied the boy; and he was more of a boy than a man.

“What time are the other meals?”

“Meals?” queried Moro.

“What time is breakfast?”

“Bring sahib coffee at six in the morning; breakfast at nine; tiffin at one.”

“What’s that last one, Moro?”

“We had tiffin at Suez, and it means luncheon,” interposed Morris.

“I didn’t hear the word; but it is all right, and tiffin it is after this time.  Come; are you going down-stairs, fellows?”

“There is a public sitting-room down-stairs, and we will find that first.”

The four servants followed them when they went down-stairs.  None of the party had yet gone to the public room except Sir Modava, though Lord Tremlyn soon joined him.  Their attendants stopped outside the doors.

“We are going to the tailor’s now,” said the Hindu gentleman.  “As you are aware, we lost all our clothes except what we had on, and we must order a new supply.”

“May we go with you?” asked Louis.

“Certainly; if you desire to do so.  You may find something to amuse you on the way, as we shall walk; for we want to get our sea-legs off,” replied Sir Modava.  “It is only five o’clock here, and we have two hours before dinner-time.  Ah, here is Miss Blanche.”

She was followed by her servant, who was decidedly a nuisance to her, though he retreated from her room as soon as he had put things in order, and remained within call outside the door.  Louis invited her to take a walk with them, and she went up-stairs to consult her mother.  She returned in a few minutes, ready to go out; and she was as radiant as a fairy in her light costume.

They passed out of the hotel; and the first thing that attracted Louis’s attention was a palanquin.  It was not a new thing to the travellers, for they had seen such conveyances in Constantinople and elsewhere.

“You must ride in that palanquin, Miss Blanche,” said Louis; and he told Sayad to have it brought up to the door.

It was a compartment like a box, about seven feet long, with a pair of sliding doors at the side.  It was balanced on a pole, with braces above and below it.  It appeared to be so poised, with the pole above the centre of gravity, that it could not be turned over.  The four bearers were coolies, with bare legs, cotton turbans on their heads, and not otherwise overloaded with clothing; but they were dressed like all the coolies about the streets and in the boats of the harbor.

The fair young lady had never been in a palanquin, though she had seen them, and she was pleased with the idea of the ride.  It was dropped down upon its four legs, or feet, and Louis assisted her to the interior.  It was provided with cushions, and Sir Modava instructed her to recline so that she could see out of the open doors.  The young millionaire walked by the side of the vehicle, while the others all followed, with their servants at a respectful distance.

“How do you like the motion, Miss Blanche?” asked Louis, after they had gone a short distance.

“It is not as uneasy as the gait of a camel, though I can feel every step of the bearers.  But I should prefer a shigram, if it only had a better name,” replied she.

“You can call it a brougham, or simply a carriage, if you prefer.  We are not here to learn the Indian languages, and we can take our choice; and we can talk ‘good old United States,’ in speaking of things,” suggested Louis.  “There! what will you call that vehicle, Miss Blanche?”

“That is called a gharri” interposed Sir Modava, who was within hearing.

The vehicle was such as none of the Americans had ever seen.  It was a sort of two-wheeled cart, with a top like an old-fashioned chaise, in which a man was seated, while a rough-looking fellow rode in front.

“I should say it was an ox-cart, so far as the team is concerned,” said Scott.

“Those are not oxen; they are called bullocks in this country.  As you see, they have humps like a camel, though much smaller, in front of which is the yoke,” the Hindu knight explained.

“But they don’t drive oxen in the United States with a pair of rope reins, as this fellow does,” said Scott.

“I have seen them do so in North Carolina,” added Morris, who had travelled in the South with his parents.

“I give it up, and it’s all right.  But what is that man in the cart?  Is he a Grand Mogul?”

“Hardly,” replied Sir Modava, laughing.  “The driver is the lowest caste of laborers, who works for fivepence a day, and supports his family on it.  The man inside is the cook of a Parsee merchant I happen to know, and probably he is going to market to buy supplies for the family.  But here we are at the tailor’s.  You can continue your ramble, and your servants can tell you the way, and what the buildings are.”

The two gentlemen entered the tailor’s shop; for there are no stores here any more than in London.