In the streets, swarming with people, every woman who is not a pariah, walks veiled in all the mystery of her unrevealed features, her long, dreamy eyes alone visible.
Turning out of this high street blazing with lamps, were dens of prostitution, and dark, cut-throat alleys.
The moon at night shed an intense light, warm and golden. There was scarcely any shadow, and in the quivering atmosphere the flowers poured out their perfume on the cooler air. Frogs croaked a basso continuo to cries of night birds, and a sort of roar, very loud but very distant, almost drowned the concert in the fort close by.One morning a quantity of dead rats were found lying on the ground; next some pigeons and fowls. Then a man died of a strange malady—an unknown disease, and then others, before it was known that they were even ill. A little fever, a little swelling under the arm, or in the throat, or on the groin—and in forty-eight hours the patient was dead. The mysterious disease spread and increased; every day the victims were more and more numerous; an occult and treacherous evil, come none knew whence. At first it was attributed to some dates imported from Syria, to some corn brought from up-country; the dates were destroyed, the corn thrown into the sea, but the scourge went on and increased, heralded by terror and woe.
Above the road lie dark cliffs; a rose-coloured waterfall of melted snow tumbled mixing with the clay—pink with lilac depths, and the foam iridescent in the sunbeams. The ruins of a large temple of green stone carved with myriads of fine lines stood in solitude at the edge of a wood, and the background was the mountain-range, the Himalayas, lost in the sky and bathed in blue light. Only a portico remains standing—a massive, enduring frame for the infinite distance of snow-capped giants. The stones have lost their hue; they are darkly streaked by the rains and a growth of grey and purple mosses, and russet or white lichens have eaten into the surface.
There were people performing their devotional ablutions below stream from the place of burning, and one old man took a few drops of water in the hollow of his hand and drank it, quite close to a shapeless black mass at which a kite was pecking as it floated by.
The song of birds in the mitigated atmosphere of the dying day came in from outside, for a moment almost drowning the pleader's weariful tones as he poured forth his statement, emphasized by sweeping gestures.One boy, who being very tall looked even more emaciated than the rest, dragged an enormous leg swollen with elephantiasis, which had not diminished with the reduction of the rest of his body.
All the men carry fighting quails in little cages made of a net stretched over a wooden tray and cone-shaped at top. Towards evening, in the shade of the houses, at the street corners, in the courtyards—everywhere, there is a group betting on the chances of a fight. The birds taken out of the cages at first turn slowly round each other, their beaks close together. Then a spring, a flutter of wings and flying feathers; the quails strike and peck, aiming at the head, and then suddenly they seem quite indifferent and turn round and round again, picking up grain from the ground. When a[Pg 284] bird is killed at the end of a battle, its eyes blinded and its breast torn open, it is considered a fine, a noble spectacle, and amateurs will talk of it for a long time. As a rule, after a few rounds one of the birds tries to get away. Then its owner pricks its neck with a knife, and the gasping creature dies slowly in the dust, the blood oozing drop by drop.
At sunrise we reached Nandgaun, whence I went on towards Ellora in a tonga, the Indian post-chaise, with two wheels and a wide awning so low and so far forward that the traveller must stoop to look out at the landscape. A rosy haze still hung over the country, rent in places and revealing transparent blue hills beyond the fields of crude green barley and rice. The road was hedged with mimosa, cassia, and a flowering thorny shrub, looking like a sort of honeysuckle with yellow blossoms, and smelling strongly of ginger.
Before daybreak, before the réveillée, the moollah's prayer roused the Sikhs, of which two regiments were quartered in the fort; and till it was broad daylight, till the sun had chased away shadows and sadness, I still felt the melancholy, the twilight sense of uneasiness left by that slow and plaintive chant.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.A port crowded with steamers taking in coal, and very light barks high out of the water, kept in equilibrium by parallel outriggers at the ends of two flexible spars. These crank boats, made of[Pg 124] planks that scarcely overlap, were piled with luggage, and the boatmen jostle and turn and skim close under the fast-steaming transatlantic liners, amid a bewildering babel of shouts and oaths, under a sun hot enough to melt lead.详情
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