Suddenly there was a panic among the horses; they shied, reared, and bolted across the fields, and the road being cleared, the elephants belonging to the Ameer of Cabul went by, to march at the head of the caravan. Next came a thousand camels, also the Ameer's; like the elephants, they carried no baggage, but on the back of one female was a young one, tied into a basket, born only the day before, all white and woolly.Bakaoli bewails her lover's departure, for which no one, not even her mother, can comfort her.
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.At the first ray of sunrise I went down to the temples, hewn out of the side of the hill and extending for above a mile and a quarter. Gigantic stairs are cut in the rock, and lead to caves enshrining immense altars, on which Buddha or other idols of enormous size are enthroned. Hall after hall is upheld by carved pillars. Bas-reliefs on the walls represent the beatitudes of Krishna surrounded by women, or the vengeance of Vishnu the terrible, or the marriage of Siva and Parvati; while on the flat roof, on the panels and architraves—all part of the solid rock—there is an endless procession of Krishnas and Vishnus, on a rather smaller scale, producing utter weariness of their unvaried attitudes and beatific or infuriated grimacing.
With day came the grip of fire, the overwhelming[Pg 302] mastery of the heat. The sunshine pierced through every crack in the shutters and blinds, intolerably vivid. In feverish exhaustion, helpless to withstand the glow and light, we could but lie under the waving punkah and await the blessed return of night.The actors were exclusively men and boys, those who took female parts wore rusty wigs over their own long, black hair; these were plaited on each side of the face, and waxed behind to fall over the shoulders. The costumes of velvet and satin, heavily embroidered with gold and silver, were hideous.
And once more in a barge on the Ganges. The atmosphere seemed faintly iridescent, like mother-of-pearl, the silence serenely lulled by the distant sound of a flute. The palaces and temples, reflected in the still water, looked in the distance like forts crowned with turrets of gold, and their little windows like loopholes. The broad stairs of the quays, where the priests' umbrellas glitter, assumed a spacious, unfamiliar dignity, the red colour shading paler towards the bottom, where it was washed off by the lapping Ganges, looking as though a fairy hanging of gauze were spread under the wavelets in honour of the Apsaras and the divinities of the river.
Further away was one of the famine-camps—established all over India—to afford the means of earning a living to those whom the scourge had driven from their native provinces.
Soldiers, bristling with daggers and pistols in their belts, are on guard at the gate. Pikes and long muskets stand piled in the background; over this arsenal, flowering jasmine and convolvulus with enormous bell flowers hang their graceful shade.In the close-shut room the air, loaded with scent and smoke, was quite unbreathable; musicians playing behind a partition added to the irritating effect of all this perfume and noise.
The gateway looks as if it had been carved by the dints of bullets in the stone, and close by, a breach in the huge enclosing wall scored all over by shot gave ingress to the murderous host. Inside,[Pg 189] on the walls that are left standing, and they are many, the bullets seem to have scrawled strange characters. In the bath-house with its graceful columns and arabesque ornaments, in Dr. Fayrer's house, of which the proportions remind us of Trianon, where Sir Henry Lawrence died among the ruins of the mosque—everywhere, we see tablets of black marble commemorating the numerous victims of the rebellion. In one barrack two hundred and forty-five women and children were murdered; in another forty-five officers were buried in the ruins. And close by the scene of carnage, in a smiling cemetery, their graves hidden in flowers, under the shadow of the English flag that flies from the summit of the ruined tower which formerly commanded the country round, sleep the nine hundred and twenty-seven victims of Nana Sahib's treachery.
Behind a ponderous wall, dinted all over by shot, and showing broad, light patches once covered by earthenware tiles, is the palace of Runjeet Singh, inlaid with enamelled pictures in green, blue, and yellow of tiger-fights and horse-races, mingling with flowers and garlands of boughs. The durbar, the hall or presence chamber, opens by a verandah on a forecourt paved with marble; in its walls are mirrors and panels of coloured glass over a ground of dull gold, agate-like tints iridescent with a nacreous, silvery, luminous lustre.
Copyright © 2020