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

THE RECEPTION OF THE MAHARAJAH AT BARODA

India has nearly twenty thousand miles of railroads open and in use, and thousands more in process of construction.  As in England, they are invariably called “railways.”  They do not have baggage, but it is “luggage;” a baggage-car is unknown, for they call it a “van;” and the conductor is the “guard.”  Our travellers had become accustomed to these terms, and many others, in England, and now used them very familiarly.

Early rising is hardly a virtue in India; for he who sleeps after six in the morning loses the best part of the day, especially in the hot season.  The tourists were up before this hour, and had coffee wherever they were.  They had been treated with the utmost kindness and consideration, and their hosts could not do enough for them.  They were conveyed to the railway station by them, and there found his lordship with a plan of a number of carriages-they are not cars there.  On this plan he had placed, with the assistance of the commander, the names of the entire party.

They were to leave at seven; for it is pleasanter to travel early in the morning than later in the day, and the train was all ready.  They were not a little astonished when they were introduced to their quarters in the vehicles, to find them quite as luxurious as a Pullman, though they were constructed on a different plan, and were wanting in some of the conveniences of the American palace-car, though better adapted to the climate of the country.

Each carriage contained but two compartments; but they were suites of rooms on a small scale.  The principal one was of good size, and on one side was cushioned to the ceiling, so that being “knocked about” did not imperil the traveller’s bones and flesh.  Against this stuffed partition was a low couch, which could be made up as a bed at night, or used as a reclining sofa by day.

Over it was a swinging couch suspended by straps, which could be folded up, or be entirely removed, and formed a couch like the one below it.  On the other side of the apartment was a toilet-room, with all conveniences required for washing and other purposes, including a water-cooler.  In this compartment the traveller takes his servant, and often a cook, for the valet cannot meddle with culinary matters; and they sleep on the floor wherever they can find a place.  A reasonable additional price is charged for accommodations in this luxurious style.

The journey to Baroda would occupy hardly more than three hours, and these elaborate arrangements were scarcely necessary for the time they were to be used; but the members of the party looked upon them with especial interest in connection with the long travel to Lahore, and that which was to follow to Calcutta, though they were to break the journey several times on the way.

The “Big Four” had a compartment to themselves, with the two servants, Sayad and Moro, who proved to be such good fellows that the boys liked them very much.  Sir Modava had managed to dismiss more than half of the attendants furnished at first, for all the party declared that such a mob of them was a nuisance; and the others had overcome their repugnance to serving more than one person in the face of dismissal, for their perquisites had already been considerable as they valued money.

“This isn’t bad for a haythen counthry,” said Felix, as he stretched himself on the lower couch.  “We’ll git to Calcutty widout breakin’ ahl the bones in our bodies.”

“This is vastly better than anything I expected to find here,” replied Louis, as he pushed his crony over against the partition, and lay down at his side.

“But where do the elephants and the tigers come in?” asked Scott, as he called upon Moro to “shine” his shoes.  “I haven’t seen an elephant since I came here.”

“Elephants are not worked in this country,” added Morris.  “The Moguls use them when they want to go in state, and sometimes when they go hunting tigers; and then the big beast gets most of the hard scratches.”

“But the elephant can take care of himself when the mahout allows him to do so,” argued Scott.

“Is the mahout his schnout?” asked Felix.

“You know better than that, Flix.  The mahout is the fellow that sits on the elephant’s neck and conducts him.  He is the driver,” replied Morris.

“Is he afeerd of schnakes?”

“He needn’t be, perched on the top of the pachyderm,” answered Scott.

“Who is he?  Oi’ve not been introjuced to ’m.”

“Are you going among elephants, Flix, and don’t know what a pachyderm is?” demanded Scott.

Oi see, it’s the elephant, and ye’s call him so bekase he carries his pack on his bachk; and ’pon me worrud that’s the roight place to carry it.”

“I wonder if we are to have any hunting out here where we are going,” suggested Scott.  “How is it, Louis?  You are in the ring with the Grand Moguls.”

“Sir Modava told me that the Maharajah whom we shall visit at Baroda is a great sportsman, and always treats his guests to a hunt,” answered Louis.

“Is it after schnakes?”

“No; but after tigers.”

“But I want to hunt some schnakes; I’d loike to bring down a good-soized cobry,” said Felix, rising from his reclining posture.

“No, you wouldn’t, Flix,” sneered Scott.  “If you saw a cobry, you would run till you got back to Ireland.”

“Is’ht me!  Wud I roon from a cobry?  Not mooch!  Ain’t I a lineal dayscindant of St. Patrick?-long life to him!  And didn’t he dhrive all the schnakes and toads out of the ould counthree!  Jisht show me a cobry, and thin see me roon!”

Before the Milesian could tell how he intended to kill the cobra if he saw one, the train stopped; and a moment later Sir Modava, the commander, and Mrs. Belgrade appeared at the door.

“We have come to make things a little more social,” said the Hindu gentleman as they entered the compartment; and the servants brought stools from the toilet-room, so that all were seated, making quite a family group.

“Are there any snakes where we are going, Sir Modava?” asked Felix, before any one else had a chance to speak.  “I am spoiling for a fight with a cobra;” and he came back to plain English, which he could use as well as any one.

“Plenty of them, Mr. McGavonty,” replied the East Indian.  “You will not get badly spoiled before you fall in with all you will wish to see.”

“Then I will bag some of them,” added Felix.

“No, you won’t, Flix; they will be more likely to bag you,” rallied Scott.

“But I am in earnest,” persisted the Milesian.  “I have seen plenty of them in Bombay; and upon my word and honor, I don’t feel at all afraid of them.  One of them might hit me when I was not looking, for they don’t play fair; but I shall be on the watch for them, and I’ll take my chance.”

“But, Sir Modava, do you really dare to go out where there are cobras?” asked Mrs. Belgrave, looking at her son.

“Certainly we do; we don’t think anything at all about them.”

“But you are in danger all the time.”

“Of course it is possible that one may be bitten when a snake comes upon him unawares.  The deaths from snakes and wild animals in all India averages annually twenty-two thousand.  About a thousand are killed by tigers.  Of a hundred and fifty kinds of snakes, only about twenty are poisonous.  The deaths from snakes is one in 13,070; and the chance of being bitten is very small.”

“I am afraid your figures lie, Sir Modava,” said Captain Ringgold, with a pleasant laugh.  “Millions of the people live in cities and large towns where there isn’t a snake of any kind.”

“Quite true, and, to some extent, the figures do lie; but there are plenty of cobras and other snakes in parts of Bombay, and the figures are not so false as you think, Captain,” replied Sir Modava.  “But I forget that I was sent here for a purpose by Lord Tremlyn.  I am to tell you something about the Mahrattas, which is the name of the people who inhabited the region north of us.  They have a long history which I have not time to review, but they have been prominent in the earlier affairs of India.  They have always been a warlike people, and wrested the country from the Mogul emperor, sometimes called the Grand Mogul, and made themselves a powerful people.

“The present maharajah rules over the most extensive kingdom of any native prince.  He is a Rajput, which is the aristocracy of the Mahrattas.  He is the most powerful of the Indian rulers, and one of the most hospitable.  I was formerly in his service, and he considers himself under some slight obligations to me.  He is an independent prince in the same sense that other rulers are in this country.  There is always a British representative at his court, who advises him in some matters of government, and his realm is called a protected state.

“He is a great sportsman; and I have no doubt you will be invited to hunt with him, as well as to witness some exhibitions which may not be agreeable to the ladies.”

“Don’t we stop at any stations on the road?” asked Louis.

“There is no town of any great consequence between Surat and Baroda, and this is a special express train,” replied Sir Modava.

Some of the party looked out the windows, and the intelligent guide explained what was to be seen along the way.  Some handsome temples attracted their attention, but they were insignificant compared with what they had been taught to expect in the future.  The train crossed a bridge, which brought them into the suburbs of Baroda.

“The outskirts of the town contain a hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants, far more than the city itself,” said the Hindu gentleman.  “The streets are very narrow here, and the houses are nearly all of wood; but they are different from any you have seen before, for they are peculiar to Goojerat, the state of which Baroda is the capital.  You see at about all the crossings pagodas and idols, with banners flying over them.  It is an unhealthy region, the ground is so low; and yonder you see a stately hospital, built by the Guicowar, as the maharajah is called.”

The tourists had all they could do to see the strange things that were pointed out to them, and while thus employed the train stopped at the station.  Looking out the windows again, they saw several elephants, all handsomely caparisoned, and with howdahs on their backs.  A band of native musicians was playing near them, and the party wondered what this display could mean; but Sir Modava was unable to inform them.  They got out of the carriages, and found themselves in a handsome square.

A company of cavalry was drawn up near the elephants, at the head of which, surrounded by a numerous staff of officers, sat on a prancing horse, caparisoned with exceeding richness, a person who could be no other than the maharajah.  He was dressed in the most magnificent robes of India, covered with jewels in ornamental profusion.

“That is the Guicowar,” said the Hindu guide.

“He is doing us great honor in coming out in this manner to welcome us.”

As soon as he discovered the party, the ruler dismounted nimbly from his noble steed, and, attended by some high officers, advanced to meet them.  A sort of procession was hastily formed with Lord Tremlyn at the head of it; for he was the most distinguished person, and in some sense the representative of the British home government.  The Italian band of the general, as soon as the native band ceased, struck up “Hail, to the chief!”

The party encountered the king, who rushed up to the viscount, and seized him by the hand, as not all kings are in the habit of doing.  They talked together for a few moments, when his Highness happened to see Sir Modava, and rushed to him, seizing him in a semi-embrace, clasping the Hindu with his right hand while the left encircled his shoulder.  The potentate was profuse in his congratulations to the two gentlemen on their escape from death in the shipwreck, and this afforded Lord Tremlyn an opportunity to present Captain Ringgold as the commander of the steamer that had saved them.

“He is my friend, then,” said the Maharajah, as he gave him no equivocal shake of the hand.

Then Louis and his mother were presented and described, and received an equally warm welcome.  But the prince decided to receive the rest of the party at the palace, and they were requested to mount the elephants.  The ladies were timid about it; but Louis told his mother that she must get up into the howdah as though she had been riding elephants all her life, and she did so, the others following her example.  Louis assisted his mother first, and then Miss Blanche.

They were all seated on the huge beasts, and the procession started, the Italian band following the native, and playing when they ceased to do so.