Lochner’s Hotel was their abiding-place, and Major Shandon regaled the party at dinner and in the evening with stories of the place, and proved himself to be a gentleman of “infinite humor.” The next morning the company took the train for Benares. They were a very sociable party, and preferred the conference carriage to being confined to the smaller compartments. The route was along the Boomtee River at first, which, some one has said, is the crookedest stream in the world, and the scenery was worth looking at. But as soon as the ladies and gentlemen had satisfied themselves with looking out the windows the commander presented Sir Modava as the “talkist” for the trip of six hours, or as much of the time as he chose to occupy.
“I shall not take more than half an hour for what I have to say, my much-loved friends,” the Hindu gentleman began, “though I know you are very patient and long-suffering; and I assure you that I shall not take offence if you look out the windows while I am talking. The Boomtee River is as pretty as it is sinuous. If you write to your friends in the United States about it, you can spell the last syllable t-i, if you prefer; for Indian orthography is not yet controlled by statute, as I hope it will be when we have established an Academie Indienne, such as they have in France. But Benares is my subject, and not spelling.
“Where is Benares? It is four hundred and twenty miles by rail from Calcutta, and is on the left bank of the Ganges. I suppose you know which side that is.”
“Of course we do,” laughed Mrs. Belgrave. “It is on the left-hand side.”
“You have put your foot in it, mother,” rallied Louis.
“Into the Ganges?” queried the lady. “I did at Cawnpore, but not here.”
“Suppose you were coming up the river in a steamer from Calcutta, which would be the left bank?” asked Louis.
“On my left, of course.”
“Then Sir Modava will have to oblige you by locating Benares on both sides of the Ganges, and I don’t believe it would be convenient for him to do that,” said Louis, laughing at the expense of his mother, who blushed, though she did not see what was wrong, when she realized that she had made a blunder of some kind.
“Better not have said anything,” whispered Mrs. Blossom in retaliation; for hitherto she had had a monopoly of all the blunders.”
“Will you tell me, Sarah, which is the left bank of a river, for it appears that I don’t know,” added the lady out loud.
“The left bank of the Ganges is the one Benares is on,” replied the worthy woman; and she was greeted with a roar of laughter, and a volley of applause started by the live boys who were making their way across India.
“Quite right, madam!” exclaimed Sir Modava, applauding with the others. “It may be a matter of no particular consequence; but you will excuse me for saying that the left bank is the one on your left as you go down the stream, and not at all as you go up.”