THERE are times when one wants to get into pyjamas and stretch and loll, and explain things generally. This is one of those times. It is impossible to stand at ease in London, and the inhabitants are so abominably egotistical that one cannot shout “I, I, I” for two minutes without another man joining in with “Me, too!” Which things are an allegory.
The amusement began with a gentleman of infinite erudition offering to publish my autobiography. I was to write a string of legends—he would publish them; and would I forward a cheque for five guineas “to cover incidental expenses?” To him I explained that I wanted five guinea cheques myself very much indeed, and that, emboldened by his letter, which gave me a very fair insight into his character, I was even then maturing his autobiography, which I hoped to publish before long with illustrations, and would he forward a cheque for five guineas “to cover incidental expenses?” This brought me an eight-page compilation of contumely. He was grieved to find that he had been mistaken in my character, which he had believed was, at least, elevated. He begged me to remember that the first letter had been written in the strictest confidence, and that if I notated one tittle of the said “repository” he would unkennel the bloodhounds of the law and hunt me down. An autobiography on the lines that I had “so flippantly proposed” was libel without benefit of authorship, and I had better lend him two guineas—I.O.U. enclosed—to salve his lacerated feelings. I replied that I had his autobiography by me in manuscript, and would post it to his address, V.P.P., two guineas and one-half. He evidently knew nothing about the V.P.P., and the correspondence stopped. It is really very hard for an Anglo-Indian to get along in London. Besides, my autobiography is not a thing I should care to make public before extensive Bowdlerisation.
These things, however, only led up to much worse. I dare not grin over them unless I step aside Eastward. I wrote stories, all about little pieces of India, carefully arranged and expurgated for the English public. Then various people began to write about them. One gentleman pointed out that I had taken “the well-worn themes of passion, love, despair and fate,” and, thanks to the “singular fascination” of my style had “wrought them into new and glowing fabricks instinct with the eternal vitality of the East.” For three days after this chit I was almost too proud to speak to the housemaid with the fan-teeth (there is a story about her that I will tell another time). On the fourth day another gentleman made clear that that beautiful style was “tortuous, elaborated and inept,” and it was only on account of the “newness of the subjects handled so crabbedly” that I “arrested the attention of the public for a day.” Then I wept before the housemaid, and she called me a “real gentleman” because I gave her a shilling.
Then I tried an all-round cannon—published one thing under one name and another under another, and sat still to watch. A gentleman, who also speaks with authority on Literature and Art, came to me and said: “I don’t deny that there is a great deal of clever and superficial fooling in that last thing of yours in the—I’ve forgotten what it was called—but do you yourself think that you have that curious, subtle grip on and instinct of matters Oriental that that other man shows in his study of native life?” And he mentioned the name of my Other Self. I bowed my head, and my shoulders shook with repentance and grief. “No,” said I. “It’s so true,” said he. “Yes,” said I. “So feeling,” said he. “Indeed it is,” said I. “Such honest work, tool” said he. “Oh, awful!” said I. “Think it over,” said he, “and try to follow his path.” “I will,” said I. And when he left I danced sarabands with the housemaid of the fan-teeth till she wanted to know whether I had bought “spirruts.”
Then another man came along and sat on my sofa and hailed me as a brother. “And I know that we are kindred souls,” said he, “because I feel sure that you have evolved all the dreamy mystery and curious brutality of the British soldier from the pure realm of fancy.” “I did,” I said. “If you went into a barrack-room you would see at once.” “Faugh!” said he. “What have we to do with barrack-rooms? The pure air of fancy feeds us both; keep to that. If you are trammelled by the bitter, bornée truth, you are lost. You die the death of Zola. Invention is the only test of creation.” “Of course,” said I. “Zola’s a bold, bad man. Not a patch on you,” I hadn’t caught his name, but I fancied that would prevent him flinging himself about on my sofa, which is a cheap one. “I don’t say that altogether,” he said. “He has his strong points. But he is deficient in imaginative constructiveness. You, I see from what you have said, will belong to the Neo-Gynekalistic school.” I knew “Gyne” meant something about cow-killing, and was prepared to hedge when he said good-bye, and wrote an article about my ways and works, which brought another man to my door spouting foam.
“Great Landor’s ghost!” he said. “What under the stars has possessed you to join the Gynekalistic lot?” “I haven’t,” I said. “I believe in municipal regulation of slaughterhouses, if there is a strong Deputy Conmiissioner to control the Muhanunadan butchers, especially in the hot weather, but . . . ” “This is madness,” said he. “Your reputation is at stake. You must make it clear to the world that you have nothing whatever to do with the flatulent, imballasted fiction of . . . ” “Do you suppose the world cares a tuppeny dam?” said I.
Then he raged afresh, and left me, pointing out that the Gynewallahs wrote about nothing but women—which seems rather an unlimited subject—and that I would die the death of a French author whose name I have forgotten. But it wasn’t Zola this time.
I asked the housemaid what in the world the Gynekalisthenics were. “La, sir,” said she, “it’s only their way of being rude. That fat gentleman with the long hair tried to kiss me when I opened the door. I slapped his fat chops for him.”
Now the crisis is at its height. All the entire romid world, composed, as far as I can learn, of the Gynekalistic and the anti-Gynekalistic man, and two or three loafers, are trying to find out to what school I rightly belong. They seem to use what they are pleased to call my reputation as a bolster through which to stab at the foe. One gentleman is proving that I am a bit of a blackguard, probably reduced from the ranks, rather an impostor, and a considerable amount of plagiarist. The other man denies the reduction from the ranks, withholds judgment about the plagiarism, but would like, in the interest of the public—who are at present exclusively occupied with Barnum—to prove it true, and is convinced that my style is “hermaphroditic.” I have all the money on the first man. He is on the eve of discovering that I stole a dead Tommy’s diary just before I was drummed out of the service for desertion, and have lived on the proceeds ever since. “Do yew know,” as the Private Secretary said at Simla this year, “it’s remarkably hard for an Anglo-Indian to get along in England.”
Shakl hai lekin ukl nahin hai!