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A Pondicherry Boy
by [?]

“Yes, I speak it, serang. Many English people speak it a little. Very easy for English people learn a little, just the same as we learn jeldy jow, toom sooar.”

And as the serang was well acquainted with the capabilities of English officers with regard to abusive language, he went away convinced that “Pondicherry” and “Hindustani” insults were perhaps taught in English schools after all.

In spite of my refusing to take Pondicherry into my confidence he remained on friendly, if suspicious, terms with me. When I said a word or two of French to him he beamed all over, and turned to the others as much as to say, “Didn’t I tell you he came from my country?” For nothing that I and the serang or his friends said convinced him, or even shook his opinion. He used to sneak up to me occasionally as he worked about the decks and spring a question on me about someone at Pondicherry. Of course I had heard of no one there. But my ignorance was wholly put on; he was sure of that. Often and often I caught his eyes on me, and I knew his mind was pondering theories to account for my conduct. It was all very well for me or anyone else to say that Pondicherry was talked elsewhere than in his own home. He had travelled, he had been in Australia, in England, in many parts of the East, and he had never, never met anyone but himself and myself who knew it! I think he would have given me a month’s pay if I would have only owned up to having been at Pondicherry. He certainly offered me an ample plateful of curried shark, a part of one we had caught days before, if I would be frank about the matter; but even my desire to obtain possession of that smell and drop it overboard did not tempt me to a white lie. I persisted in remaining an Englishman through the whole passage of one hundred and two days. And then at last, after good times and bad, after calms on the Line and no small hurricane south of stormy Cape Leuuwin, we came up with Cape Otway and entered the Heads. Pondicherry’s time for solving the mystery grew short. In another few hours the passengers would go ashore and be never seen again. For my own part, though the passage had been one of pure discomfort, I was almost sorry to leave the old ship. I had to quit a number of friends, black and white, and had to face a new and perhaps unfriendly world. Though the Hydrabad half-starved me I was at anyrate sure of water and biscuit. And many of the poor Lascars had been chums to me. As I made preparations to leave the vessel and stood on deck waiting, I saw Pondicherry sneaking about in the background. I said farewell to his old serang, and the Malay quartermasters, who were all fine men, and to some of the meaner outcast Klings, and then Pondicherry darted up to me. I knew quite well what was in his mind. It was in his very eyes. I was now going, and should be seen no more. Perhaps at the last I might be induced to speak the truth. And even if I did not own up bravely, it was at anyrate necessary to bid farewell to a countryman, though he denied his own country. He came close to me in the crowd and touched my sleeve appealingly.

“What is it, Pondy?”

“Oh, sahib, you tell me now where you learn Pondicherry?”

“Pondy, I told you the truth long ago,” I answered.

“Sahib, it is not possible.”

He turned away, and I went on board the tug which served us as a tender. Presently I saw him lean over the rail and wave his hand. When he saw that I noticed him he called out in French once more, with angry, scornful reproach,–

“If you were not there, how, how can you speak it?”