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HOME > Science Fiction > The City of Dreadful Night > CHAPTER I.A REAL LIVE CITY.
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 We are all backwoodsmen and together—we others beyond the Ditch, in the outer darkness of the Mofussil. There are no such things as and heads of departments in the world, and there is only one city in India. Bombay is too green, too pretty, and too stragglesome; and Madras died ever so long ago. Let us take off our hats to Calcutta, the many-sided, the smoky, the magnificent, as we drive in over the Hugli Bridge in the dawn of a still February morning. We have left India behind us at Howrah Station, and now we enter foreign parts. No, not wholly foreign. Say rather too familiar.  
All men of certain age know the feeling of caged irritation—an illustration in the , a bar of music, or the light words of a friend from home may set it ablaze—that comes from the knowledge of our lost heritage of London. At home they, the other men, our equals, have at their disposal all that town can supply—the roar of the streets, the lights, the music, the pleasant places, the millions of their own kind, and a full of pretty, fresh-colored Englishwomen, theatres, and restaurants. It is their right. They accept it as such, and even affect to look upon it with contempt. And we, we have nothing except the few amusements that we painfully build up for ourselves—the dissipations of gymkhanas where every one knows everybody else, or the chastened of dances where all engagements are booked, in ink, ten days ahead, and where everybody’s antecedents are as patent as his or her method of waltzing. We have been deprived of our inheritance. The men at home are enjoying it all, not knowing how fair and rich it is, and we at the most can only fly for a few months and what, properly speaking, should take seven or eight or ten years. That is the lost heritage of London; and the knowledge of the , or forced, comes to most men at times and seasons, and they get cross.
Calcutta holds out false hopes of some return. The smoke hangs low, in the chill of the morning, over an ocean of roofs, and, as the city wakes, there goes up to the smoke a deep, full-throated boom of life and motion and humanity. For this reason does he who sees Calcutta for the first time hang out of the ticca-gharri and the smoke, and turn his face toward the , saying: “This is, at last, some portion of my heritage returned to me. This is a city. There is life here, and there should be all manner of pleasant things for the having, across the river and under the smoke.” When Leland, he who wrote the Hans Breitmann , once desired to know the name of an , plug-hatted redskin of repute, his answer, from the lips of a half-breed, was:
“He Injun. He big Injun. He heap big Injun. He dam big heap Injun. He dam great big heap Injun. He Jones!” The litany is an one, and exactly describes the first emotions of a wandering adrift in Calcutta. The eye has lost its sense of proportion, the focus has contracted through overmuch residence in up-country stations—twenty minutes’ canter from hospital to parade-ground, you know—and the mind has shrunk with the eye. Both say together, as they take in the sweep of above and below the Hugli Bridge: “Why, this is London! This is the docks. This is Imperial. This is worth coming across India to see!”
Then a distinctly wicked idea takes possession of the mind: “What a divine—what a heavenly place to loot!” This gives place to a much worse devil—that of Conservatism. It seems not only a wrong but a criminal thing to allow natives to have any voice in the control of such a city—adorned, docked, , fronted and by Englishmen, existing only because England lives, and dependent for its life on England. All India knows of the Calcutta Municipality; but has any one investigated the Big Calcutta ? There is only one. Benares is in point of concentrated, pent-up muck, and there are local stenches in Peshawur which are stronger than the B.C.S.; but, for , soul-sickening expansiveness, the of Calcutta beats both Benares and Peshawur. Bombay cloaks her stenches with a of assafœtida and huqa-tobacco; Calcutta is above . There is no tracing back the Calcutta plague to any one source. It is faint, it is sickly, and it is indescribable; but Americans at the Great Eastern Hotel say that it is something like the smell of the Chinese quarter in San Francisco. It is certainly not an Indian smell. It resembles the essence of that has rotted for the second time—the clammy odor of blue slime. And there is no escape from it. It blows across the maidan; it comes in into the corridors of the Great Eastern Hotel; what they are pleased to call the “Palaces of Chouringhi” carry it; it round the Bengal Club; it pours out of by-streets with sickening , and the breeze of the morning is with it. It is first found, in spite of the
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