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THE PHANTOM RICKSHAW AND OTHER GHOST STORIES (Rudyard Kipling) online
"THE FINEST STORY IN THE WORLD"
There was no answer. The flaming colors of an Aquarium poster caught my eye and I wondered whether it would be wise or prudent to lure Charlie into the hands of the professional mesmerist, and whether, if he were under his power, he would speak of his past lives. If he did, and if people believed him ... but Charlie would be frightened and flustered, or made conceited by the interviews. In either case he would begin to lie, through fear or vanity. He was safest in my own hands.
"They are very funny fools, your English," said a voice at my elbow, and turning round I recognized a casual acquaintance, a young Bengali law student, called Grish Chunder, whose father had sent him to England to become civilized. The old man was a retired native official, and on an income of five pounds a month contrived to allow his son two hundred pounds a year, and the run of his teeth in a city where he could pretend to be the cadet of a royal house, and tell stories of the brutal Indian bureaucrats who ground the faces of the poor.
Grish Chunder was a young, fat, full-bodied Bengali dressed with scrupulous care in frock coat, tall hat, light trousers and tan gloves. But I had known him in the days when the brutal Indian Government paid for his university education, and he contributed cheap sedition to _Sachi Durpan_, and intrigued with the wives of his schoolmates.
"That is very funny and very foolish," he said, nodding at the poster. "I am going down to the Northbrook Club. Will you come too?"
I walked with him for some time. "You are not well," he said. "What is there in your mind? You do not talk."
"Grish Chunder, you've been too well educated to believe in a God, haven't you?"
"Oah, yes, _here_! But when I go home I must conciliate popular superstition, and make ceremonies of purification, and my women will anoint idols."
"And bang up _tulsi_ and feast the _purohit_, and take you back into caste again and make a good _khuttrj_ of you again, you advanced social Free-thinker. And you'll eat _desi_ food, and like it all, from the smell in the courtyard to the mustard oil over you."
"I shall very much like it," said Grish Chunder, unguardedly. "Once a Hindu--always a Hindu. But I like to know what the English think they know."
"I'll tell you something that one Englishman knows. It's an old tale to you."
I began to tell the story of Charlie in English, but Grish Chunder put a question in the vernacular, and the history went forward naturally in the tongue best suited for its telling. After all it could never have been told in English. Grish Chunder heard me, nodding from time to time, and then came up to my rooms where I finished the tale.
"_Beshak_," he said, philosophically. "_Lekin darwaza band hai._ (Without doubt, but the door is shut.) I have heard of this remembering of previous existences among my people. It is of course an old tale with us, but, to happen to an Englishman--a cow-fed _Malechk_--an outcast. By Jove, that is _most_ peculiar!"
"Outcast yourself, Grish Chunder! You eat cow-beef every day. Let's think the thing over. The boy remembers his incarnations."
"Does he know that?" said Grish Chunder, quietly, swinging his legs as he sat on my table. He was speaking in English now.
"He does not know anything. Would I speak to you if he did? Go on!"
"There is no going on at all. If you tell that to your friends they will say you are mad and put it in the papers. Suppose, now, you prosecute for libel."