The New Dispensation—I

London in a fog, November

by Rudyard Kipling

THINGS have happened—but that is neither here nor there. What I urgently require is a servant—a nice, fat Mussulman khitmatgar, who is not above doing bearer’s work on occasion. Such a man I would go down to Southampton or Tilbury to meet, would usher tenderly into a first-class carriage (I always go third myself) , and wrap in the warmest of flannel. He should be “Jenab;’ and I would be “O Tum.” When he died, as he assuredly would in this weather, I would bury him in my best back garden and write mortuary verses for publication in the Koh-i-Nur, or whatever vernacular paper he might read. I want, in short, a servant; and this is why I am writing to you.

The English, who, by the way, are unmitigated barbarians, maintain cotton-print housemaids to do work which is the manifest portion of a man. Besides which, no properly constructed person cares to see a white woman waiting upon his needs, filling coal-scuttles (these are very mysterious beasts) and tidying rooms. The young homebred Englishman does not object, and one of the most tantalising sights in the world is that of the young man of the house—the son newly introduced to shaving-water and great on the subject of maintaining authority—it is tantalising, I say, to see this young cub hectoring a miserable little slavey for not having lighted a fire or put his slippers in their proper place. The next time a big, bold man from the frontier comes home I shall hire him to kick a few young gentlemen of my acquaintance all round their own drawing-rooms while I lecture on my theory that this sort of thing accounts for the perceptible lack of chivalry in the modem Englishman. Now, if you or I or anybody else raved over and lectured at Kadir Baksh, or Ram Singh, or Jagesa on the necessity of obeying orders and the beauty of reverencing our noble selves, our men would laugh; or if the lecture struck them as too long-winded would ask us if our livers were out of order and recommend dawai. The housemaid must stand with her eyes on the ground while the yormg whelp sticks his hands under the tail of his dressing-gown and explains her duty to her. This makes me ill and sick—sick for Kadir Baksh, who rose from the earth when I called him, who knew the sequence of my papers and the ordering of my paltry garments, and, I verily believed, loved me not altogether for the sake of lucre. He said he would come with me to Belait because, “though the sahib says he will never return to India, yet I know, and all the other nauker log know, that return is his fate.”

Being a fool, I left Kadir Baksh behind, and now I am alone with housemaids, who will under no circumstances sleep on the mat outside the door. Even as I write, one of these persons is cleaning up my room. Kadir Baksh would have done his work without noise. She tramps and scuffles; and, what is much worse, snuffles horribly. Kadir Baksh would have saluted me cheerfully and began some sort of a yam of the “It hath reached me, O Auspicious King!” order, and perhaps we should have debated over the worthlessness of Dunni, the sais, or the chances of a little cold-weather expedition, or the wisdom of retaining a fresh chaprassi—some intimate friend of Kadir Baksh. But now I have no horses and no chaprassis, and this smutty-faced girl glares at me across the room as though she expected I was going to eat her.

She must have a soul of her own—a life of her own—and perhaps a few amusements. I can’t get at these things. She says: “Ho, yuss,” and “Ho, no,” and if I hadn’t heard her chattering to the lift-boy on the stairs I should think that her education stopped at these two phrases. Now, I knew all about Kadir Baksh, his hopes and his savings—his experiences in the past, and the health of the little ones. He was a man—a human man remarkably like myself, and he knew that as well as I. A housemaid is of course not a man, but she might at least be a woman. My wanderings about this amazing heathen city have brought me into contact with very many English mem sahibs who seem to be eaten up with the fear of letting their servants get “above their position,” or “presume,” or do something which would shake the foundations of the four-mile cab radius. They seem to carry on a sort of cat-and-mouse war when the husband is at office and they have nothing much to do. Later, at places where their friends assemble, they recount the campaign, and the other women purr approvingly and say: “You did quite right, my dear. It is evident that she forgets her place.”

All this is edifying to the stranger, and gives him a great idea of the dignity that has to be bolstered and buttressed, eight hours of the twenty-four, against the incendiary attacks of an eighteen-pound including-beer-money sleeps-in-a-garret-at-the-top-of-the-house servant-girl. There is a fine-crusted, slave-holding instinct in the hearts of a good many deep-bosomed matrons—a “throw back” to the times when we trafficked in black ivory. At tea-tables and places where they eat muffins it is called dignity. Now, your Kadir Baksh or my Kadir Baksh, who is a downtrodden and oppressed heathen (the young gentlemen who bullyrag white women assure me that we are in the habit of kicking our dependents and beating them with umbrellas daily), would ask for his chits, and probably say something sarcastic ere he drifted out of the compound gate, if you nagged or worried his noble self. He does not know much about the meaner forms of dignity, but he is entirely sound on the subject of izzat; and the fact of his cracking an azure and Oriental jest with you in the privacy of your dressing-room, or seeing you at your incoherent worst when you have an attack of fever, does not in the least affect his general deportment in public, where he knows that the honour of his sahib is his own honour, and dons a new kummerbund on the strength of it.

I have tried to deal with those housemaids in every possible way. To sling a blunt “Annie” or “Mary” or “Jane” at a girl whose only fault is that she is a heavy-handed incompetent, strikes me as rather an insult, seeing that the girl may have a brother, and that if you had a sister who was a servant you would object to her being howled at upstairs and downstairs by her given name. But only ladies’ maids are entitled to their surnames. They are not nice people as a castee, and they regard the housemaids as the chamar regards the mehter. Consequently, I have to call these girls by their Christian names, and cock my feet up on a chair when they are cleaning the grate, and pass them in the halls in the morning as though they didn’t exist. Now, the morning salutation of your Kadir Baksh or my Kadir is a performance which Turveydrop might envy. These persons don’t understand a nod; they think it as bad as a wink, I believe. Respect and courtesy are lost upon them, and I suppose I must gather my dressing-gown into a tail and swear at them in the bloodless voice affected by the British female who—have I mentioned this?—is a highly composite heathen when she comes in contact with her sister clay downstairs.

The softer methods lay one open to harder suspicions. Not long ago there was trouble among my shirts. I fancied buttons grew on neck-bands. Kadir Baksh and the durzie encoraged me in the belief. When the lead-coloured linen (they cannot wash, by the way, in this stronghold of infidels) shed its buttons I cast about for a means of renewal. There was a housemaid, and she was not very ugly, and I thought she could sew. I knew I could not. Therefore I strove to ingratiate myself with her, believing that a little interest, combined with a little capital, would fix those buttons more firmly than anything else. Subsequently, and after an interval—the buttons were dropping like autumn leaves—I kissed her. The buttons were attached at once. So, unluckily, was the housemaid, for I gathered that she looked forward to a lifetime of shirtsewing in an ofiicial capacity, and my Revenue Board contemplated no additional establishment. My shirts are buttonsome, but my character is blasted. Oh, I wish I had Kadir Baksh!

This is only the first instalment of my troubles. The heathen in these parts do not understand me; so if you will allow I will come to you for sympathy from time to time. I am a child of calamity.