While the eagle
of Thought rides the tempest in scorn,
Who cares if the lightning is burning the corn?
If Old England is going to maintain her throne and her swagger in our vast Orient she ought to pay up like a—man, I was going to say; for, according to the old Sanscrit proverb, “You can get nothing for nothing, and deuced little for a halfpenny.” These unpaid-for glories bring nothing but shame.
But even the poor Indian cultivator has his joys beneath the clouds of Revenue Boards and Famine Commissions. If we look closely at his life we may see a soft glory resting upon it. I am not Mr. Caird, and I do not intend entering into the technical details of agriculture—“Quid de utilitate loquar stercorandi?”—but I would say something of that sweetness which a close communion with earth and heaven must shed upon the silence of lonely labour in the fields. God is ever with the cultivator in all the manifold sights and sounds of this marvellous world of His. In that mysterious temple of the Dawn, in which we of noisy mess-rooms, heated courts, and dusty offices are infrequent worshippers, the peasant is a priest. There he offers up his hopes and fears for rain and sunshine; there he listens to the anthems of birds we rarely hear, and interprets auguries that for us have little meaning.
The beast of prey skulking back to his lair, the stag quenching his thirst ere retiring to the depths of the forest, the wedge of wild fowl flying with trumpet notes to some distant lake, the vulture hastening in heavy flight to the carrion that night has provided, the crane flapping to the shallows, and the jackal shuffling along to his shelter in the nullah, have each and all their portent to the initiated eye. Day, with its fierce glories, brings the throbbing silence of intense life, and under flickering shade, amid the soft pulsations of Nature, the cultivator lives his daydream. What there is of squalor, and drudgery, and carking care in his life melts into a brief oblivion, and he is a man in the presence of his God with the holy stillness of Nature brooding over him. With lengthening shadows comes labour and a re-awaking. The air is once more full of all sweet sounds, from the fine whistle of the kite, sailing with supreme dominion through the azure depths of air, to the stir and buzzing chatter of little birds and crickets among the leaves and grass. The egret has resumed his fishing in the tank where the rain is stored for the poppy and sugarcane fields, the sand-pipers bustle along the margin, or wheel in little silvery clouds over the bright waters, the gloomy cormorant sits alert on the stump of a dead date-tree, the little black divers hurry in and out of the weeds, and ever and anon shoot under the water in hot quest of some tiny fish; the whole machinery of life and death is in full play, and our villager shouts to his patient oxen and lives his life. Then gradual darkness, and food with homely joys, a little talk, a little tobacco, a few sad songs, and kindly sleep.