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CALCUTTA PEONS; OR HURKARUS AND SAEES, OR GROOMS.
AT a distance of about nine miles from the place where we had left the yacht, we landed among some tall bamboos, and walked near a quarter of a mile to the front of a dingy, deserted looking house, not very unlike a country gentleman's house in Russia, near some powder mills; here we found carriages waiting for us, drawn by small horses with switch tails, and driven by postilions with whiskers, turbans, bare legs and arms, and blue jackets with tawdry yellow lace. A "saees," or groom, ran by the side of each horse, and behind one of them were two decent looking men with long beards and white cotton dresses, who introduced themselves as my "peons," or "hurkarus;" their badges were a short mace, or club of silver, of a crooked form, and terminating in a tiger's head, something resembling a Dacian standard, as represented on Trajan's pillar, and a long silver stick, with a knot at the head. We set out at a round trot, the saeeses keeping their places very nimbly on each side of us, though on foot, along a raised, broadish, but bad road, with deep ditches of stagnant water on each side, beyond which stretched out an apparently interminable wood of fruit-trees, interspersed with cottages; some VOL. II. 3d SERIES.
seemed to be shops, being entirely open with verandahs, and all chiefly made up of mats and twisted bamboo. The crowd of people was considerable, and kept up something like the appearance of a fair along the whole line of road. Many were in bullock-carts, others driving loaded bullocks before them, a few had wretched ponies, which, as well as the bullocks, bore too many and indubitable narks of neglect and hard treatment; the manner in which the Hindoos seemed to treat even their horned cattle, sacred as they are from the butcher's knife, appeared far worse than that which often disgusts the eye, and wounds the feelings of a passenger through London. HEBER.
THE DAYS OF MY BOYHOOD.
In my early childhood I was sent to a preparatory school, kept by a very worthy woman, who took the most excellent care of the bodies of the little boys committed to her care, and intended to take the same of their souls; but as this latter care consisted chiefly in laying many restraints upon us, it produced little other effect than that of making us very orderly in her presence. Her house, though old, was large, and very convenient, and amongst other advantages it possessed, was that of a very large play-room on the first floor, which ran along the whole of one side of the house.
At each end of the room was a large window, one looking upon the wide and busy street, which formed the whole length of the little town in which we lived, whilst the other faced the garden; and an extensive distant view beyond this last window had been stopped up before the house fell into the hands of my school-mistress, and had not been opened by her, so that the only prospect remaining for our gratification was that of the village street, and this not only furnished entertainment for our eyes, but for our ears also. The village was on the great North road, and consequently coaches were passing at all hours of the day, besides close and open carriages of every shape and size; and likewise the Village Inn, at which many
of the coaches changed horses, was nearly opposite to us, and in fine weather there was generally assembled before the Inn, especially at the hours when the mail coaches were expected, a certain set of the least employed, perhaps I may as well say, some of the most idle neighbours. Some of these were men who having gained or inherited a sufficient income to enable them to live without business, did not think it necessary to furnish themselves with any other rational employment of their time: they might be seen for a considerable portion of the day conferring together in a body, or in little groups, filling up a great part of the street which faces the Inn. Sometimes they might be observed swinging their canes carelessly, holding each other by the button, in close discourse, but always sufficiently disengaged to remark every body that passed, and ready to assemble round every coach that stopped. With diligent attention at our hours of play we could often distinguish what these persons said, and we could very distinctly observe the various figures that jumped off the coaches, and count the number of outside passengers; and besides the sound of the french horn, and rattling of wheels and horses hoofs, sounds innocent enough, we were often exposed to hear language by no means calculated to edify our minds.
This unfortunate window was the source of continual quarrels between our school-mistress and ourselves, and especially on a Sunday, as we were generally most strictly forbidden to look out of the window at the time when the prospect held out the most temptations, and when our minds were least employed by objects calculated to withdraw our attention from the passing
I had been at school scarcely two years, when an elderly lady, a distant relation of our school-mistress, came to board in the house, which being very large, afforded her a comfortable bed-room and sitting-room, excluded from the noise of the house at least as much as she desired; for as I often heard her express herself, she had been for many years accustomed to children, and she still loved the sound of their cheerful voices ; one approach from the staircase to her apartments was through an anti-chamber opening into our play-room.
This lady took possession of her room on a Saturday evening,
and our first introduction to her, which I shall never forget was on the following Sunday. We were just returned from morning service, and with our clean pinafores on, and our small book of collects in our hands, we were turned into the play-room whilst the cloth was being laid for dinner below; and as the Governess shut the door upon us, she gave us her customary order to walk about the room learning our collects, but by no means to assemble at the window or to make a noise: a few minutes of tolerable obedience had past, when suddenly the sound of the french-horn was heard, and nearly a quarter of an hour before its usual time the mail-coach stopped before the Inn, for it had brought good news, and the horses heads were dressed with blue ribbon and laurel.
As I passed the window in the course of my walk my eye caught the laurel and the ribbon, and immediately I proclaimed with a loud voice what I had seen; instantly our governess's prudent order was forgotten, and we all rushed to the window, and so loud a noise followed, that in a few minutes our governess herself came up stairs to see what was going on, and at the same moment the door of the anti-room opened, and the lady, whom I shall henceforth call by her real name of Mrs. Wittingham, came forwards; both looked at us with surprise, but in the countenance of my governess, the surprise was mixed with an expression of displeasure and acrimony, which soon produced total silence amongst us. As she walked up to us, lifting up both her hands," Is it thus, young gentlemen," she said, "that you obey my orders; have you so soon forgotten what I have said to you about the great impropriety of pushing all your heads out on a Sunday to see what is going on at that profane Inn, and your collect books all thrown upon the floor? I declare that you shall not have one morsel of dinner till your collects are learnt, and I do not know that even then you shall taste the plum-pudding, to punish you for your noise and disobedience."
"But, Ma'am," I said, thinking to apologize for our fault, "the horses have got laurel and blue ribbon on their heads."
"And how came you to know what the horses had got on their heads;-you must have been looking out of the window young gentleman, or you could not have seen either laurel or