He interrupted me:"And no medicine?"
A kind of grey snipe, as they rose to fly, spread white wings which made them look like storks or gulls, and then, dropping suddenly, became dull specks again, scarcely distinguishable on the margin of the tank. Ibis, on the watch, with pretty, deliberate, cautious movements, stood on one leg,[Pg 105] their bodies reflected in the mirror on which lay the lotus and the broad, frilled leaves of the water-lily, and a sort of bind-weed hanging from the edge in festoons of small, arrow-shaped leaves, with a crowd of tiny pink starry flowers that looked as if they were embroidered on the water.
Seen through the blue glass under the low, broad carapace that covered the carriage, the landscape circled past, the colour hardly subdued to that of Europe; even in the dusk, with the windows open, everything was still intolerably, crudely white, with reflections of fiery gold. Everything vibrated in the heat, and at the stations the walls after baking all day scorched you when you went near.
We met a strange caravan; a small party of men surrounding more than a hundred women wrapped in dark robes, and bearing on their veiled heads heavy bales sewn up in matting, and large copper pots. A little blind boy led the way, singing a monotonous chant of three high notes. He came up to my tonga, and to thank me for the small coin I gave him he said, "Salaam, Sahib," and then repeated the same words again and again to his[Pg 37] tune, dancing a little step of his own invention till the whole caravan was hidden from me in a cloud of dust.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 old palace of the kings is now yellow-ochre, coated with plaster and lime-wash over the splendid antique marble walls.The children of the bazaar watched them pass, holding out in their fingers scraps of food—the remains of cakes, green fruit, or handfuls of rice, and the famishing creatures quarrelled for the morsels, frightening the little ones, who fled. Then they disappeared silently under the awnings, filling the air with a smell of dust and pepper, scaring the pigeons away from the pool for ablutions, and the birds fluttered up in dismay in the rosy sunset glow, seeking some other refuge for the night.Many hapless creatures here suffer from elephantiasis, and even quite little children are to be seen with an ankle stiffened, or perhaps both the joints ossified; and the whole limb will by-and-by be swollen by the disease, a monstrous mass dreadfully heavy to drag about. Other forms of lupus affect the face, and almost always, amid a crowd watching[Pg 138] some amusing performance, a head suddenly appears of ivory whiteness, the skin clinging to the bone or disfigured by bleeding sores.
Round the railway station crowds the village of Chandernagore, the huts close together, with no land to spare, and at length we were in the city of houses, with broad terraces in front in a classic style, with colonnades and decorations in relief, and broad eaves overhanging for shade. And beautiful gardens, bougainvilleas, and almond trees, white-blossomed faintly touched with pink, hedge in streets with foreign-sounding names. The air was full of the fresh scent of water and greenery and of the blessed peace of silence—so rare in India.When I went away home to the fort, where I was living with my friend Lieutenant F——, the sentinel's challenge, the tall grey walls casting sharp shadows on the courtyard silvered with moonlight, and another sentry's cry; and still, in contrast with the cheerful evening, I could remember nothing but the tonga post-horse—a thing so frequent in this land of fanatics, so common that no one gives it more than a passing thought.
And then, under the verandah, the accused were brought up: an old man and a youth, father and son, both superbly handsome, very tall, erect, haughty, in spite of the hustling of the armed men and the heavy chains that weighed on them; and after bowing low to the judge they stood towering above the crowd of witnesses, soldiers, and native functionaries, in magnificent dignity and calm indifference.Halting at noon at Kohala, we found a barber in the open street shaving and snipping his customers. In a cage hanging to the bough of a tree above his head a partridge was hopping about—black speckled with white, and gold-coloured wings. It had a strident cry like the setting of a saw.
Further on, in the temple stables, open to the sky and surrounded by a colonnade of carved and painted pillars, some women, in silken sarees of dark hues, were waiting on the bulls and the tiny zebu cows, feeding them with the flower offerings strewn on the mosaic pavement of the courtyard.详情
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