A native judge is sitting cross-legged on a little mat in his house. A petitioner appears of the lowest caste, a Sudra. The judge, quite motionless, watches the man unfasten his sandals, rush up to him, and with a profound bow touch his feet in sign of submission. For a man of higher caste, a Vaysiya, the ceremonial is the same, only instead of running forward the visitor walks up to the judge and merely pretends to touch his slippers. Then comes a kshatriya advancing very slowly; the judge rises to meet him half-way, and they both bow.Then, from a bridge across the Ganges, for a moment we had a last glimpse of the sacred city—the gold-coloured umbrellas, the throng of bathers on the steps to the river—and then Abibulla gravely remarked, "If only India had three cities like Benares it would be impossible ever to leave it."Spread before us in the iridescent atmosphere, the view extends over Palitana under its blue veil of light smoke, over the verdant plain chequered with plots of brown earth, and the winding ribbon of the Satrunji, a river as sacred to the Ja?ns as the Ganges is to the Brahmins. And far away, vague in the distance, a light shimmering more brightly where all is bright, lies the luminous breadth of the sea.
There are two towns of Peshawur: one a distracted, silly place, with no beginning nor end, straggling along something in the manner of Madras, with an embryonic bazaar and all the amusements demanded by soldiers; the other enclosed in walls of dried mud, which are preserved only "to protect the town from robbers."Above a large fan-palm the pale fronds of a talipot soar towards the sky, gracefully recurved like enormous ostrich plumes. A fluff, a down, of flowers clings to the stems of the magnificent crest, a delicate pale cloud; and the broad leaves of the tree, which will die when it has blossomed, are already withering and drooping on the crown. Then, in the clearings made by the recent decay of such a giant, falling where it had stood, and crushing the bamboos and ph?nix that grew round its foot, the flowers sprang in myriads—great sunflowers, shrubs of poinsettia, with its tufts of red or white bracts at the end of a branch of green[Pg 132] leaves, surrounding a small inconspicuous blossom, and tall, lavender-blue lilies.And at this day the high road passes Secundra Bagh in ruins, and on the ground where Nana Sahib's soldiers fell, huge flowers are strewn of "flame of the forest" fading into hues of blood.
A little way off an old man was wrapping the naked body of a poor woman in a white cloth; then he fastened it to two poles to dip it in the river; finally, with the help of another Sudra, he laid the corpse on a meagre funeral pile, and went off to fetch some live charcoal from the sacred fire which the Brahmins perpetually keep alive on a stone terrace overlooking the Ganges. He carried the scrap of burning wood at the end of a bunch of reeds, and, praying aloud, walked five times round the pyre, which completely concealed the body. Then he gently waved the bunch of reeds, making them blaze up, and placed them beneath the wood, which slowly caught fire, sending up dense curling clouds of white vapour and slender tongues of flame, creeping along the damp logs that[Pg 167] seemed to go out again immediately. But suddenly the fire flared up to the top of the pile; the flesh hissed in the flame, and filled the air with a sickening smell.
This native regiment, after many victories, was presented by the Empress Queen with a sort of mace. A little shrine contains two crossed knives, and is surmounted by three Ghoorkhas bearing a royal crown in silver. This object is preserved in a case in the ammunition store. An officer is appointed to guard it, and the soldier who took it out to show me touched it really as if it had been the Host. And it is a fact that on high festivals the soldiers come to sacrifice goats before the house where this fetish is treasured.The rice, lately sown, was sprouting in little square plots of dazzling green; it was being taken up to transplant into enormous fields perpetually under water. All the "paddy" fields are, in fact, channelled with watercourses, or if they are on higher ground, watered from a well. A long beam is balanced over the mouth of the well, and two boys run up and down to lower and raise the bucket; a man tilts the water into the runlets out of a large vessel of dusky copper, or perhaps out of a leaky, dripping water-skin.
The children of the bazaar watched them pass, holding out in their fingers scraps of food—the remains of cakes, green fruit, or handfuls of rice, and the famishing creatures quarrelled for the morsels, frightening the little ones, who fled. Then they disappeared silently under the awnings, filling the air with a smell of dust and pepper, scaring the pigeons away from the pool for ablutions, and the birds fluttered up in dismay in the rosy sunset glow, seeking some other refuge for the night.The old woman's bones and ashes were cast into the Ganges, her husband still vacantly looking on, as all that was left of his life's companion floated for a few moments, and then was swallowed up in an eddy.
At the back of the room the master of the house squatted on the floor, dressed in green richly embroidered with gold, and on his head was a vase-shaped cap or tiara of astrakhan. Near him, in an armchair, sat a perfectly naked fakir, his breast covered with jade necklaces. His face was of superhuman beauty, emaciated, with a look of suffering, his eyes glowing with rapt ecstasy. He seemed to be entranced, seeing nothing but a vision, and intoxicated by its splendour.In the silence of a moonless night nine o'clock struck from the great tower of the Law Courts—a pretty set of chimes, reminding me of Bruges or Antwerp; and when the peal had died away a bugle in the sepoys' quarters took up the strain of the chimes, only infinitely softer, saddened to a minor key and to a slower measure; while in the distance[Pg 32] an English trumpet, loud and clear, sounded the recall in counterpart.
White clouds grew opalescent against the deep, infinite, blue-velvet sky, and their edges next the moon were fringed with silver. The stars, of a luminous pale green like aqua marine, seemed dead and had no twinkle.
Inside the shops everything was piled together. The same man is at once a banker, a maker of papier-maché boxes—papi-machi they call it here—and of carpets, a goldsmith, tailor, upholsterer—and never lets you go till you have bought something.
The almost imperceptible hum of a bagpipe came up from below; in a white mosque of open colonnades enclosing a paved court, and in front of the little lamps that burned above the holy of holies sheltering the Koran, figures in light garments were prostrate in prayer; their murmurs came up to us in sighs, mingling with the slow and tender notes of the music.A tea plantation—a garden of large shrubs pruned[Pg 293] in such a way as to secure the greatest possible growth of young shoots, and above the delicate tea plants a shady hedge of fan palms and taller trees. The leaves are gathered by day, spread in the evening on hurdles and left for the night in open sheds. On the morrow they are first thrown into a sort of bottomless square funnel which revolves on a board; rolled and broken in this machine they are ready for drying. The tea passes through twenty grades of increasing temperature, and in drying it gives out the most delightful aroma—a mixture of sweetbriar, seaweed, and violets, with a scent of tea too. The leaves are finally sifted, which sorts them in four sizes into boxes containing the different qualities."The mother of Christ."
Then, suddenly, there was a clatter of tom-toms, and rattling of castanets, a Hindoo funeral passing by. The dead lay stretched on a bier, his face painted and horrible, a livid grin between the dreadful scarlet cheeks, covered with wreaths of jasmine and roses. A man walking before the corpse carried a jar of burning charcoal to light the funeral pile. Friends followed the bier, each bringing a log of wood, to add to the pyre as a last homage to the dead.详情
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