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HOME > Science Fiction > The City of Dreadful Night > CHAPTER III. THE COUNCIL OF THE GODS.
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 He set up conclusions to the number of nine thousand seven hundred and sixty-four ... he went afterwards to the Sorbonne, where he maintained argument against the theologians for the space of six weeks, from four o’clock in the morning till six in the evening, except for an of two hours to refresh themselves and take their repasts, and at this were present the greatest part of the lords of the court, the masters of request, presidents, counsellors, those of the accompts, secretaries, advocates, and others; as also the sheriffs of the said town.  
“The Bengal Council is sitting now. You will find it in an octagonal wing of Writers’ Buildings: straight across the maidan. It’s worth seeing.” “What are they sitting on?” “Municipal business. No end of a debate.” So much for trying to keep low company. The long-shore loafers must stand over. Without doubt this Council is going to hang some one for the state of the City, and Sir Steuart Bayley will be chief executioner. One does not come across Councils every day.
Writers’ Buildings are large. You can trouble the busy workers of half-a-dozen departments before you stumble upon the black-stained staircase that leads to an upper looking out over a street. Wild chuprassis block the way. The Councillor Sahibs are sitting, but anyone can enter. “To the right of the Lât Sahib’s chair, and go quietly.” Ill-mannered ! Does he expect the -stricken spectator to in with a jubilant warwhoop or turn Catherine-wheels round that octagonal room with the blue-domed roof? There are capitals to the half pillars, and an Egyptian patterned lotus-stencil makes the walls decorously gay. A thick-piled carpet covers all the floor, and must be in the hot weather. On a black wooden throne, comfortably cushioned in green leather, sits Sir Steuart Bayley, Ruler of Bengal. The rest are all great men, or else they would not be there. Not to know them argues one’s self unknown. There are a dozen of them, and sit six-a-side at two slightly curved lines of beautifully polished desks. Thus Sir Steuart Bayley occupies the frog of a badly made horse-shoe split at the toe. In front of him, at a table covered with books and pamphlets and papers, a secretary. There is a seat for the Reporters, and that is all. The place enjoys a chastened gloom, and its very atmosphere fills one with awe. This is the heart of Bengal, and well upholstered. If the work matches the first-class furniture, the inkpots, the carpet, and the resplendent ceiling, there will be something worth seeing. But where is the criminal who is to be hanged for the stench that runs up and down Writers’ Buildings staircases, for the rubbish heaps in the Chitpore Road, for the sickly of Chouringhi, for the dirty little tanks at the back of Belvedere, for the street full of , for the gharri-stand outside the Great Eastern, for the state of the stone and dirt pavements, for the condition of the gullies of Shampooker, and for a hundred other things?
“This, I submit, is an artificial scheme in of Nature’s unit, the individual.” The speaker is a slight, spare native in a flat hat-turban, and a black alpaca frock-coat. He looks like a vakil to the boot-heels, and, with his unvarying smile and regulated gesticulation, recalls memories of up-country courts. He never hesitates, is never at a loss for a word, and never in one sentence repeats himself. He talks and talks and talks in a level voice, rising occasionally half an octave when a point has to be driven home. Some of his periods sound very familiar. This, for instance, might be a sentence from the Mirror: “So much for the principle. Let us now examine how far it is supported by .” This sounds bad. When a fluent native is of “principles” and “,” the chances are that he will go on for some time. Moreover, where is the criminal, and what is all this talk about abstractions? They want , not sentiments, in this part of the world.
A friendly whisper brings enlightenment: “They are through the Calcutta Municipal Bill—plurality of votes you know; here are the papers.” And so it is! A mass of motions and on matters relating to votes. Is A to be allowed to give two votes in one ward and one in another? Is section 10 to be omitted, and is one man to be allowed one vote and no more? How many votes does three hundred rupees’ worth of landed property carry? Is it better to kiss a post or throw it in the fire? Not a word about carbolic acid and gangs of . The little man in the black choga in his subject. He is great on principles and precedents, and the necessity of “popularizing our system.” He fears that under certain circumstances “the status of the candidates will decline.” He riots in “self-adjusting majorities,” and the “healthy influence of the educated middle classes.”
For a practical answer to this, there steals across the council chamber just one faint whiff. It is as though some one laughed low and bitterly. But no man . The Englishmen look bored, the native members stare in front of them. Sir Steuart Bayley’s face is as set as the face of the Sphinx. For these things he draws his pay, and his is a low wage for heavy . But the speaker, now adrift, is not altogether to be blamed. He is a Bengali, who has got before him just such a subject as his soul loveth—an elaborate piece of academical reform leading no-whither. Here is a quiet room full of pens and papers, and there are men who must listen to him. there is no time limit to the speeches. Can you wonder that he talks? He says “I submit” once every ninety seconds, varying the form with “I do submit.” “The popular element in the electoral body should have .” Quite so. He quotes one John Stuart Mill to prove it. There steals over the listener a sense of nightmare. He has heard all this before somewhere—yea; even down to J. S. Mill and the references to the “true interests of the ratepayers.” He sees what is coming next. Yes, there is the old Sabha Anjuman journalistic formula—“Western education is an exotic plant of recent importation.” How on earth did this man drag Western education into this discussion? Who knows? Perhaps Sir Steuart Bayley does. He seems to be listening. The others are looking at their watches. The spell of the level voice sinks the listener yet deeper into a trance. He is haunted by the ghosts of all the of all the political platforms of Great Britain. He hears all the old, old vestry phrases, and once more he smells the smell. That is no dream. Western education is an exotic plant. It is the upas tree, and it is all our fault. We brought it out from England exactly as we brought out the ink bottles and the patterns for the chairs. We planted it and it grew—monstrous as a banian. Now we are choked by the roots of it spreading so thickly in this fat soil of Bengal. The speaker continues. Bit by bit. We builded this , visible and invisible, the crown of Writers’ Buildings, as we have built and peopled the buildings. Now we have gone too far to retreat, being “tied and bound with the chain of our own sins.” The speech continues. We made that florid sentence. That of is ours. We taught him what was constitutional and what was unconstitutional in the days when Calcutta . Calcutta smells still, but we must listen to all that he has to say about the plurality of votes and the t............
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