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HOME > Science Fiction > The City of Dreadful Night > CHAPTER V.WITH THE CALCUTTA POLICE.
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“The City was of Night—perchance of Death,
But certainly of Night.”
—The City of Dreadful Night.
In the beginning, the Police were responsible. They said in a patronizing way that, merely as a matter of convenience, they would prefer to take a wanderer round the great city themselves, sooner than let him contract a broken head on his own account in the slums. They said that there were places and places where a white man, unsupported by the arm of the law, would be robbed and mobbed; and that there were other places where drunken would make it very unpleasant for him. There was a night for the patrol, but apologies were offered beforehand for the comparative of the tour.
“Come up to the fire in the first place, and then you’ll be able to see the city.” This was at No. 22, Lal Bazar, which is the{50} headquarters of the Calcutta Police, the centre of the great web of telephone wires where Justice sits all day and all night looking after one million people and a floating population of one hundred thousand. But her work shall be dealt with later on. The fire lookout is a little sentry-box on the top of the three-storied police offices. Here a native watchman waits always, ready to give warning to the brigade below if the smoke rises by day or the flames by night in any of the city. From this eyrie, in the warm night, one hears the heart of Calcutta beating. , the city stretches away three long miles, with three more miles of suburbs beyond, to Dum-Dum and Barrackpore. The lamplit dusk on this side is full of noises and shouts and smells. Close to the Police Office, at the sailors’ coffee-shop are roaring . Southerly, the city’s confused lights give place to the orderly lamp-rows of the maidan and Chouringhi, where the respectabilities live and the Police have very little to do. From the east goes up to the sky the clamor of Sealdah, the of the trams, and the voices of all Bow Bazar chaffering and making merry. are the business quarters, hushed now, the lamps of the on the river, and the twinkling lights on the Howrah{51} side. It is a wonderful sight—this Pisgah view of a huge city resting after the of the day. “Does the noise of traffic go on all through the hot weather?” “Of course. The hot months are the busiest in the year and money’s tightest. You should see the cutting about at that season. Calcutta can’t stop, my dear sir.” “What happens then?” “Nothing happens; the death-rate goes up a little. That’s all!” Even in February, the weather would, up-country, be called and , but Calcutta is convinced that it is her cold season. The noises of the city grow perceptibly; it is the night side of Calcutta waking up and going abroad. in the sailors’ coffee-shop is singing : “Shall we gather at the River-the beautiful, the beautiful, the River?” What an there is about his selections! However, that it amuses before it shocks the listeners, is not to be doubted. An Englishman, far from his native land, is liable to become careless, and it would be if he did otherwise in ill-smelling Calcutta. There is a of in the courtyard below. Some of the Mounted Police have come in from somewhere or other out of the great darkness. A clog-dance of iron hoofs follows, and an Englishman’s voice is heard an agitated{52} horse who seems to be on his legs. Some of the Mounted Police are going out into the great darkness. “What’s on?” “Walk-round at Government House. The Reserve men are being formed up below. They’re calling the roll.” The Reserve men are all English, and big English at that. They form up and tramp out of the courtyard to line Government Place, and see that Mrs. Lollipop’s brougham does not get smashed up by Sirdar Chuckerbutty Bahadur’s C-spring barouche with the two raw walers. Very military men are the Calcutta European Police in their set-up, and he who knows their composition knows some startling stories of gentlemen-rankers and the like. They are, despite the wearing climate they work in and the wearing work they do, as fine five-score of Englishmen as you shall find east of Suez.
Listen for a moment from the fire lookout to the voices of the night, and you will see why they must be so. Two thousand sailors of fifty nationalities are adrift in Calcutta every Sunday, and of these perhaps two hundred are distinctly the worse for liquor. There is a mild row going on, even now, somewhere at the back of Bow Bazar, which at nightfall fills with sailormen who have a wonderful gift of falling foul{53} of the native population. To keep the Queen’s peace is of course only a small portion of Police duty, but it is trying. The burly president of the lock-up for European drunks-Calcutta central lock-up is worth seeing-rejoices in a thumb just now, and has to do his work left-handed in consequence. But his left hand is a marvellously one, and when on duty his sleeves are turned up to the shoulder that the jovial may see that there is no . The president’s labors are handicapped in that the road of sin to the lock-up runs through a grimy lit............
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