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Chapter 7

ADVENTURE OF CHEVALIER BURKE IN INDIA.

Extracted from his Memoirs.

. . . Here was I, therefore, on the streets of that city, the name
of which I cannot call to mind, while even then I was so ill-
acquainted with its situation that I knew not whether to go south
or north. The alert being sudden, I had run forth without shoes or
stockings; my hat had been struck from my head in the mellay; my
kit was in the hands of the English; I had no companion but the
cipaye, no weapon but my sword, and the devil a coin in my pocket.
In short, I was for all the world like one of those calendars with
whom Mr. Galland has made us acquainted in his elegant tales.
These gentlemen, you will remember, were for ever falling in with
extraordinary incidents; and I was myself upon the brink of one so
astonishing that I protest I cannot explain it to this day.

The cipaye was a very honest man; he had served many years with the
French colours, and would have let himself be cut to pieces for any
of the brave countrymen of Mr. Lally. It is the same fellow (his
name has quite escaped me) of whom I have narrated already a
surprising instance of generosity of mind - when he found Mr. de
Fessac and myself upon the ramparts, entirely overcome with liquor,
and covered us with straw while the commandant was passing by. I
consulted him, therefore, with perfect freedom. It was a fine
question what to do; but we decided at last to escalade a garden
wall, where we could certainly sleep in the shadow of the trees,
and might perhaps find an occasion to get hold of a pair of
slippers and a turban. In that part of the city we had only the
difficulty of the choice, for it was a quarter consisting entirely
of walled gardens, and the lanes which divided them were at that
hour of the night deserted. I gave the cipaye a back, and we had
soon dropped into a large enclosure full of trees. The place was
soaking with the dew, which, in that country, is exceedingly
unwholesome, above all to whites; yet my fatigue was so extreme
that I was already half asleep, when the cipaye recalled me to my
senses. In the far end of the enclosure a bright light had
suddenly shone out, and continued to burn steadily among the
leaves. It was a circumstance highly unusual in such a place and
hour; and, in our situation, it behoved us to proceed with some
timidity. The cipaye was sent to reconnoitre, and pretty soon
returned with the intelligence that we had fallen extremely amiss,
for the house belonged to a white man, who was in all likelihood
English.

"Faith," says I, "if there is a white man to be seen, I will have a
look at him; for, the Lord be praised! there are more sorts than
the one!"

The cipaye led me forward accordingly to a place from which I had a
clear view upon the house. It was surrounded with a wide verandah;
a lamp, very well trimmed, stood upon the floor of it, and on
either side of the lamp there sat a man, cross-legged, after the
Oriental manner. Both, besides, were bundled up in muslin like two
natives; and yet one of them was not only a white man, but a man
very well known to me and the reader, being indeed that very Master
of Ballantrae of whose gallantry and genius I have had to speak so
often. Word had reached me that he was come to the Indies, though
we had never met at least, and I heard little of his occupations.
But, sure, I had no sooner recognised him, and found myself in the
arms of so old a comrade, than I supposed my tribulations were
quite done. I stepped plainly forth into the light of the moon,
which shone exceeding strong, and hailing Ballantrae by name, made
him in a few words master of my grievous situation. He turned,
started the least thing in the world, looked me fair in the face
while I was speaking, and when I had done addressed himself to his
companion in the barbarous native dialect. The second person, who
was of an extraordinary delicate appearance, with legs like walking
canes and fingers like the stalk of a tobacco pipe, (6) now rose to
his feet.

"The Sahib," says he, "understands no English language. I
understand it myself, and I see you make some small mistake - oh!
which may happen very often. But the Sahib would be glad to know
how you come in a garden."

"Ballantrae!" I cried, "have you the damned impudence to deny me to
my face?"

Ballantrae never moved a muscle, staring at me like an image in a
pagoda.

"The Sahib understands no English language," says the native, as
glib as before. "He be glad to know how you come in a garden."

"Oh! the divil fetch him," says I. "He would be glad to know how I
come in a garden, would he? Well, now, my dear man, just have the
civility to tell the Sahib, with my kind love, that we are two
soldiers here whom he never met and never heard of, but the cipaye
is a broth of a boy, and I am a broth of a boy myself; and if we
don't get a full meal of meat, and a turban, and slippers, and the
value of a gold mohur in small change as a matter of convenience,
bedad, my friend, I could lay my finger on a garden where there is
going to be trouble."

They carried their comedy so far as to converse awhile in
Hindustanee; and then says the Hindu, with the same smile, but
sighing as if he were tired of the repetition, "The Sahib would be
glad to know how you come in a garden."

"Is that the way of it?" says I, and laying my hand on my sword-
hilt I bade the cipaye draw.

Ballantrae's Hindu, still smiling, pulled out a pistol from his
bosom, and though Ballantrae himself never moved a muscle I knew
him well enough to be sure he was prepared.

"The Sahib thinks you better go away," says the Hindu.

Well, to be plain, it was what I was thinking myself; for the
report of a pistol would have been, under Providence, the means of
hanging the pair of us.

"Tell the Sahib I consider him no gentleman," says I, and turned
away with a gesture of contempt.

I was not gone three steps when the voice of the Hindu called me
back. "The Sahib would be glad to know if you are a dam low
Irishman," says he; and at the words Ballantrae smiled and bowed
very low.

"What is that?" says I.

"The Sahib say you ask your friend Mackellar," says the Hindu.
"The Sahib he cry quits."

"Tell the Sahib I will give him a cure for the Scots fiddle when
next we meet," cried I.

The pair were still smiling as I left.

There is little doubt some flaws may be picked in my own behaviour;
and when a man, however gallant, appeals to posterity with an
account of his exploits, he must almost certainly expect to share
the fate of Caesar and Alexander, and to meet with some detractors.
But there is one thing that can never be laid at the door of
Francis Burke: he never turned his back on a friend. . . .

(Here follows a passage which the Chevalier Burke has been at the
pains to delete before sending me his manuscript. Doubtless it was
some very natural complaint of what he supposed to be an
indiscretion on my part; though, indeed, I can call none to mind.
Perhaps Mr. Henry was less guarded; or it is just possible the
Master found the means to examine my correspondence, and himself
read the letter from Troyes: in revenge for which this cruel jest
was perpetrated on Mr. Burke in his extreme necessity. The Master,
for all his wickedness, was not without some natural affection; I
believe he was sincerely attached to Mr. Burke in the beginning;
but the thought of treachery dried up the springs of his very
shallow friendship, and his detestable nature appeared naked. - E.
McK.)

Robert Louis Stevenson

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