In a quiet, darkened corner a girl was lying on a bier, a girl of the Brahmin caste, all in white, veiled by a transparent saree. By her side an old man, a bearded patriarch, seemed to wait for someone. Then another Brahmin came out from a little house, carrying the fire wherewith to light the funeral pile in a little pot hanging from his girdle. The two old men took up their burthen—so light that even to them, tottering already towards their end, it seemed to be no weight. They made their way cautiously, so as not to tread on the [Pg 305]sleeping figures strewn about the street, going very slowly in devious zigzags. A dog woke and howled at them; and then, as silence fell, I could hear again the dying sounds of harmoniums and tom-toms, and the clatter of the games.
A salesman of whom I had bought several things, wishing to do me a civility, called a tom-tom player, who was to escort me home rapping on his ass's[Pg 215] skin; and when I declined very positively, the poor man murmured with a piteous, crushed look:Outside the palace is a large garden, devoid of shade, with pools of water bowered in flowers and shrubs that shelter myriads of singing birds. At the end of the park is a tank full of crocodiles. A keeper called the brutes, and they came up facing us in a row, their jaws open to catch the food which the Rajah amuses himself by throwing to them.
"He comes now and then," said the baboo, who was our guide; but on my pressing the question this "now and then" remained vague, no day or week could be named.THE SACRED HILL
The noise in the dock is maddening. The Customs, the police, the health-officers, all mob the voyager with undreamed-of formalities, such as a paper to be signed declaring that he has but one watch and one scarf-pin, and that their value is in proportion to the wearer's fortune. Then, again, the dispersal of the luggage, which must be fished out at another spot amid the yelling horde of coolies who rush at[Pg 4] the trunks and use the portmanteaus as missiles, till at last we are in the street.The heat to-day has suddenly become stifling; the low clouds veil the colourless sun, and the flowers, which yesterday were still lovely, are now[Pg 278] withered and pallid, and only give out their scent in the evening, when it is cool again.Music in the evening, in the gardens which surround the library, the chapel, and the tennis[Pg 286] courts. The ladies' dresses and the uniforms were lustrous in the moonlight. First we had the regimental band, and then songs to a banjo accompaniment; and all about us in the tall trees, the minahs and parrots shrieking as if it were broad daylight, finished the concert by themselves. A huge creeper, swaying between two branches, hung like a curtain of yellow flowers embroidered, as it seemed, on the airy tangle of leaves.
On the stone ceiling of almost every temple four large women's faces and certain crouching[Pg 75] gnomes appear in fresh red paint. In the very dim twilight that comes in through the narrow windows hung with blue gauze, the idols are visible behind lattices: white Buddhas blazing with sparkling gems that hang on their wrists and ankles, or form a perfect breastplate; and every one, without exception, has an enormous glittering imitation diamond in his forehead.On reaching the temple of Vishnu, on the very threshold, we met an elephant marching in front of the Brahmin priests, who were carrying water in copper amphor? to bathe the idols withal. Musicians followed the elephant, playing on bagpipes, on a kind of little trumpet, very short and shrill-toned, and on drums; and the beast, with its trunk swaying to right and left, begged a gift for the expenses of the temple.
As we went down to the shore a whole swarm of little dark boys wanted to sell scarabs, rattans, birds' nests shaped like pockets, and dream-flowers, gathered from the creepers on the temples; large almond-scented lilies, and hanging bunches of the ebony-tree flowers, so fragile in texture and already faded in the sun, but exhaling till evening a faint perfume of verbena and lemon.
In a quiet, darkened corner a girl was lying on a bier, a girl of the Brahmin caste, all in white, veiled by a transparent saree. By her side an old man, a bearded patriarch, seemed to wait for someone. Then another Brahmin came out from a little house, carrying the fire wherewith to light the funeral pile in a little pot hanging from his girdle. The two old men took up their burthen—so light that even to them, tottering already towards their end, it seemed to be no weight. They made their way cautiously, so as not to tread on the [Pg 305]sleeping figures strewn about the street, going very slowly in devious zigzags. A dog woke and howled at them; and then, as silence fell, I could hear again the dying sounds of harmoniums and tom-toms, and the clatter of the games.The Viharas, monasteries of cells hollowed out in the hillside, extend for more than half a mile; briars and creepers screen the entrances leading to these little retreats, a tangle of flowers and carvings.
A giant rock and natural fortress command the plain, towering above the garden-land. Two roads, hewn in the stone, lead by easy ascents to the top. All along the rock wall bas-reliefs are carved, warriors riding on elephants, and Kalis in graceful attitudes. There are openings to the green depths of reservoirs, small temples, arcades sheltering idols bowered in fresh flowers. Arches in the Ja?n style of architecture span the road, and at the summit, beyond the inevitable drawbridge, stands Mandir, the palace of King Pal, a dazzling structure of yellow stone, looking as if it had grown on the hill-rock that it crowns with beauty. Towers carrying domed lanterns spring skywards above the massive walls. The decoration is playfully light, carvings alternating with inlaid tiles; and all round the lordly and solemn edifice wheels a procession of blue ducks on a yellow ground in earthenware.
On entering this portal, lo, a miraculous vision! At the end of an avenue of dark cypress trees stands the tomb of Mumtaj-Mahal, a dream in marble, its whiteness, crowned by five cupolas that might be pearls, mirrored in a pool edged with pink stone and borders of flowers.We left the caravan far behind. In the gorge with its rosy-pink soil the silence was exquisite, the air had the freshness of a mountain height, and quite inexplicably amid these barren rocks, where there was not a sign of vegetation, there was a scent of honey and almonds.
In the evening at Byculla, in the street of the disreputable, in front of a house hermetically closed, and painted with a round red spot for each person who had died there, a fire of sulphur was burning with a livid glow. Only one gambling-house tried to tempt customers with a great noise of harmonium and tom-toms; and from a side street came a response of muffled tambourines and castanets. First the dead, wrapped in red stuff and tied to a bamboo, and then the procession turned into the lighted street. White shapes crowded by, vanishing at once, and the harmonium again rose above the silence with its skipping tunes, and the tom-toms beating out of time—and attracted no one.详情
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