I turned back into Grant Road, where bands of tom-toms and harmoniums were hard at it, where the gamblers were stifling each other round the roulette-boards in a frenzy of amusement and high spirits, eager for enjoyment before hovering death should swoop down on them.
After inspecting my little permit to visit the Khyber, the officials at the fort had placed in my carriage a soldier of the native Khyber rifle-corps, six feet six in height, placid and gentle. When I got out of the carriage to walk up a hill he would follow a yard or so behind, and watching all my movements, looked rather as if he were taking me to prison than like an escort to protect me.
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.Far away, at the end of the bazaar, in a street where no one passes, are the shoemakers' booths littered with leather parings; old cases or petroleum tins serve as seats. Among the workmen swarm children in rags, pelting each other with slippers.
The sarcophagus rests in the depths of a vaulted crypt lighted only by narrow latticed loopholes, and it is shrouded in a mysterious glimmer, a mingling of golden sunbeams and the reflections from the marble walls inlaid with precious stones."The mother of Christ."
The drill sergeant shouts the word of command in wonderful English—lept, meaning left.
Near the statues, which are placed in a row close to the wall, other statues, finer, slenderer, and more graceful, stood before the pedestals, anointing the stone with some oil which in time soaks in and blackens it, or else hanging lanterns up over the divinities. These were the temple servants, wearing nothing but the langouti tied round their loins; they either shuffle about barefoot, or remain motionless in rapt ecstasy before the little niches where the idols grin or scowl among branches of roses and amaryllis.[Pg 168]
The Rajah being absent we were allowed to see everything. On the upper floor is the Ranee's dressing-room. All round the large room were glass wardrobes, in which could be seen bodices in the latest Paris fashion, and ugly enough; and then a perfect rainbow of tender opaline hues: light silks as fine as cobwebs, shawls of every dye in Cashmere wool with woven patterns, and[Pg 53] gauze of that delicate rose-colour and of the yellow that looks like gold with the light shining through, which are only to be seen in India—royal fabrics, dream-colours, carefully laid up in sandal-wood and stored behind glass and thick curtains, which were dropped over them as soon as we had looked. And crowding every table and bracket were the most childish things—screens, cups and boxes in imitation bronze, set with false stones—the playthings of a little barbarian. A coloured photograph stood on the toilet-table between brushes and pomatum-pots; it represented the mistress of this abode, a slender doll without brains, her eyes fixed on vacancy.Bakaoli, having returned to her own country, sends her confidante, named Hammala, with a letter to Tazulmulook, who at once follows the messenger. The prince and the queen fall in love with each other. Bakaoli's mother finds them together, and furious at the disobedience of her daughter, who is affianced to another rajah, she calls up a djinn to plunge Tazulmulook in a magic fount. The prince finds himself transformed into a devil with horns, and wanders about the jungle once more. There he meets a pariah woman with three children, who begs him to marry her. Tazulmulook in despair leaps back into the spring to die there, and to his great surprise recovers his original shape.
We drove across a succession of parks to visit[Pg 175] Sumer Mundir, a too elaborately carved temple, the panels representing scenes from the Ramayana set in ornamental borders. On the roof, which bristled with sculptured stone, thousands of blue pigeons were perched asleep, their iridescent plumage scarcely stirring in the sunshine. Beyond a tank at the end of the park was a palace in the Arab style with incredibly delicate ornaments of wrought marble, open halls painted in subdued colouring, and lighted by the golden reflections from the water. The pool had steps all round it, in which crowds seat themselves on the occasions of pilgrimage, and far away the enchanting vision of Benares, the holy city, in every shade of amber and honey.The maiden was placed on a very high pile of saplings and dry crackling boughs. Her father fetched the sacred fire, and then, with the same ceremonials and prayers, set light to the wood, which flashed up in a golden glow with a sweet odour. The flame rose clear against the sky for a long time before the smell of her burnt flesh mingled with that of the poor woman, whose limbs, under the action of the heat, seemed to stretch to an inordinate length. One arm, sticking out from the fire, seemed to clench its fist, which was bright yellow, as if it would clutch at something; and then all was consumed—the wood pile fell in, the skull cracking with a dull snap, and nothing was left but a heap of embers, into which the attendants raked the cinders that rolled down the sloping bank.THE SACRED HILL
"Farewell," said he, "and may the Almighty protect you, for you look kind."详情
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