In every house a tiny lamp allowed us to see the women, squatting while they pounded millet, or cooked in copper pots. Then night suddenly fell, and I could no longer find my way about the dark alleys, stumbling as I went over cows lying across the path, till I suddenly found myself opposite a very tall pagoda, three storeys high. On the threshold the bonzes were banging with all their might on gongs and drums, alternately with bells. And on the opposite side of the street, in a sort of shed enclosed on three sides, but wide open to the passers-by, people in gay robes were prostrate before two shapeless idols, Krishna and Vishnu, painted bright red, twinkling with ornaments of tinsel and lead-paper, and crudely lighted up by lamps with reflectors. And then at once I was between low houses again, and going down tortuous streets to the river-bed,[Pg 48] whither I was guided by the sound of castanets and tambourines.And then night, the real night, transparently blue and luminous with stars, appeared above the last cloud that vanished with the last clap of thunder. Unspeakable freshness and peace reigned over nature, and in the limpid air the mountain-chains, the giant Himalayas, extended to infinity in tones of amethyst and sapphire. Nearer to us, lights sparkled out in the innumerable huts built even to the verge of the eternal snows, on every spot of arable ground or half-starved grass land.At every street-corner there were blocks of salt,[Pg 298] which the cows and goats licked as they went past.
There was not a living thing in the silence and overheated air—not a bird, not a fly; and beyond the houses lay the plain once more, a monotonous stretch of dead whiteness, the unspeakable desolation of murderous nature, henceforth for ever barren.They were all flying from the plague, which was spreading, and emptying the bazaars and workshops. The Exchange being closed, trade was at a standstill, and the poor creatures who were spared by the pestilence were in danger of dying of hunger.
Abibulla saw them off with great deference and a contrite air, and watched their retreat; then, as[Pg 260] I was about to send him to despatch the message, he was indignant. The police! What could they do to a sahib like me? It was all very well to frighten poor folks—it was a sin to waste money in asking for a reply which I should never be called upon to show—and so he went on, till I made up my mind to think no more of the matter. And whenever I met the chief at the bazaar or by the Jellum, he only asked after my health and my amusements.As we returned the wind had fallen, and the men rowed. The moon rose pale gold, and in the distance, in the violet haze, the lights of Bombay mingled with the stars. The boatmen's[Pg 23] chant was very vague, a rocking measure on ascending intervals.
Whenever our green driver meets another ekka-driver they both get off their perch and take a few puffs at the hookah that hangs in a bag at the back of the vehicle.
They shoved it under water, but it presently rose to the surface and floated down the stream, followed by a flock of hawks that snatched at the burnt remains and fought over them in the air, while crocodiles below swam up and snapped at them, dragging them down in their enormous jaws, which appeared for a moment above the water.Between the houses tiny garden-plots full of flowers surround gravestones, on which fresh roses are constantly laid.
A naked fakir, his brown skin plastered with flour, and his long black hair all matted, bent over the bodies muttering holy words; then flourishing two yellow rags that he took out of a wallet hanging from his shoulder, he exorcised the station, driving away the spectre of the pestilence; going very fast, running along the line by which the evil had come, and vanishing where the rails ended behind the trees.Then a quiet little street. Our guide paused in front of a whitewashed house. An old woman came out, and with many salaams and speeches of welcome led us into a large, low room.
Still the tonga; uphill and down, over the hilly country, with a horizon of dull, low mountains, and the horses worse and worse, impossible to start but by a storm of blows. Towards evening a particularly vicious pair ended by overturning us into a ditch full of liquid mud. The sais alone was completely immersed, and appealed loudly to Rama with shrieks of terror. Abibulla on his part, after making sure that the sahibs and baggage were all safe and sound, took off his shoes, spread his dhoti on the ground, and made the introductory salaams of thanksgiving to the Prophet, while the coolie driver returned thanks to Rama.Just within the enclosure to our right is a tomb. A Mohammedan who came forth to take the sacred[Pg 74] hill, the brother of an emperor of Delhi, fell dead at the foot of a Ja?n idol, which he had dared to touch with his staff. How the legend developed it is impossible to say; but this warrior, buried on the spot where he was stricken down by the divinity, has the miraculous power of curing barrenness in the women who invoke him. Votive offerings, little cradles daubed with yellow and red, are heaped on the pavement and hang to the railing.
At the entrance into one of the chapels is the trunk of an Akshai bar or b? tree, a kind of fig such as the Buddhists place in front of their sanctuaries. The tree is living in the subterranean[Pg 185] vault, and after thrusting its head through the heavy layer of stones forming the roof of the temple, it spreads its branches under the light of day. Endless absurd legends have grown up about the mystery of this tree, which is said to be no less than twenty centuries old; and my guide, who talks aloud in the presence of the idols he despises, being a Mohammedan, bows reverently to the tree and murmurs, "That is sacred; God has touched it."In another hut was a woman, brought hither yesterday with her husband, who had died that morning. She had an exquisite, long, pale face and blue-black hair. On her arms were many[Pg 35] bangles, and gold earrings glittered in her ears. For a moment she opened her large gazelle-like eyes, and then with a very sad little sigh turned to the wall, making her trinkets rattle. She was still dressed in her blue choli. A striped coverlet had been thrown over her; by her bed she had a whole set of burnished copper pans and canisters. Charmingly pretty, and not yet exhausted by the disease, which only declared itself yesterday, she was sleeping quietly, more like a being in a storybook than a plague-stricken creature, who must infallibly die on the morrow under the incapable treatment of the Hindoo "bone-setter.""The mother of Christ."详情
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