Children were selling whortleberries in plaited baskets; they came up very shyly, and as soon as they had sold their spoil hurried back to hide in their nook. Further on a little Afghan boy, standing alone and motionless by the roadside, held out three eggs for sale.
Then into a garden with a number of quite narrow, straight paths bordered with nasturtiums, tall daisies, and geraniums, while a tangle of jasmine, china roses, bougainvillea, and poinsettia flourished freely under the shade of tamarind and palm trees. Over a clump of orange trees in blossom a cloud of butterflies was flitting, white patterned with black above, and cloisonnés beneath in red and yellow with fine black outlines.
Music attracted us to where the cross-roads met, darboukhas struck with rapid fingers and a bagpipe droning out a lively tune. The musicians sat among stones and bricks, tapping in quick time on their ass's-skin drums, beating a measure for some masons to work to. Women carried the bricks men spread the mortar; they all sang and worked with almost dancing movements in time with the music, as if they were at play.
The road goes on. Trees cast their shade on the flagstone pavement, but between the houses and through open windows the sandy plain may be seen, the endless whiteness lost in a horizon of dust.
More and yet more temples, seen through the mist of weariness, the nightmare of grimacing idols, the heavy vapour of the incense burnt in every chapel, and of the flowers brought by the pilgrims. A dark red pagoda, lighted by a mysterious blue gleam falling intermittently from somewhere in the roof, enshrined a white marble god, whose glittering gems seemed to rise and fall behind the cloud of perfume that floated about him.
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.Dewani Khas, the great hall of audience, on columns open on all sides to the sky and landscape, overlooks a pit about thirty paces away where tigers and elephants fought to divert the sultan and his court. At the threshold is a large block of black marble—the throne of Akbar the Great. At the time of the incursion of the Jats, who drove the emperor from his palace, as soon as the usurper took his seat, the stone, the legend tells, split and shed blood; the iridescent stain remains to this day.
In the afternoon—calm and almost cool—I went to call on the Resident, who talked to me of India in the days of Dupleix, of its departed glory, and the poor old fort of Chandernagore, once impregnable and now demolished under the provisions of treaties; and as we walked on through the town, between gardens that look like the great parks of the French kings, all the past seemed to live again on this forgotten spot of earth, and every moment, in the silence of the purple dusk, I could have fancied that I saw in the avenues, under the tall ph?nix palms, the shades of powdered marquises in skirts with full farthingales, and of gallant knights of St. Louis; then from a far distance came the sound of a piano—some simple melody quavering in the air that was so full of memories."Could you design another tomb as beautiful as this?" asked the emperor.One of these halls, almost at the top of the mount, accommodated a school. The elder pupils sat on stools by the master's side; the little ones and the girls, in groups of five or six, squatted on mats in the corners; and all the little people were very quiet in the atmosphere of sandal-wood and flowers brought as offerings, read gravely out of big religious books, and listened to the Brahmin as, in a deep, resonant voice, he chanted a sort of strongly-marked melody. There was scarcely an ornament on the light-coloured walls, pierced with deep windows showing foliage without; and among the dead whiteness of the mats and the schoolchildren's draperies there was but one bright light,[Pg 109] the bell over the pulpit, surmounted by the sacred bull in bronze, of precious workmanship.
There are women, too, in the throng of men, but fewer in number. Parsee ladies, draped in light sarees of pale-hued muslin bordered with black, which shroud them entirely, being drawn closely over the narrow skirt, crossed several times over the bosom, and thrown over the right shoulder to cover the head and fall lightly on the left shoulder. Hindoo women, scarcely clothed in red stuff, faded in places to a strong pink; a very skimpy bodice, the chol, embroidered with silk and spangles, covers the bust, leaving the arms and bosom free; a piece of thin cotton stuff, drawn round the legs and twisted about the waist, covers the shoulders and head, like a shawl. On their wrists and ankles are silver bangles; they have rings on their fingers and toes, broad necklaces with pendants, earrings, and a sort of stud of gold or copper, with coloured stones, through the left nostril. They go barefoot, pliant[Pg 8] forms avoiding the jostling of the crowd, and carrying on their head a pile of copper pots one above another, shining like gold, and scarcely held by one slender arm with its bangles glittering in the sun. The tinkle of the nanparas on their ankles keeps time with their swinging and infinitely graceful gait, and a scent of jasmine and sandal-wood is wafted from their light raiment. Moslem women, wrapped from head to foot in sacks of thick white calico, with a muslin blind over their eyes, toddle awkwardly one behind the other, generally two or three together. Native children beg, pursuing the passenger under the very feet of the horses; their sharp voices louder than the hubbub of shouts, bells, and gongs, which exhausts and stultifies, and finally intoxicates the brain.Another fakir, a young man, had come to sit at the elder's feet, and when I had finished my business the "holy man" began to knead his disciple's muscles, wringing and disjointing his arms and dislocating his left shoulder; and, as if in mockery of my distressed expression, he bent the lad's back inwards till his face was between his heels, and left him for a long minute in that torturing position.
Firmly erect in military attitudes, they moved like one man. All without exception turn out capital soldiers.Outside the night is moonless, deep blue. Venus seems quite close to us, shining with intense brightness, and the jasmines scent the air, softly lighted by the lanterns which burn out one by one.
Near a temple some bells and tom-toms animated the silence with their clang and clatter. Worshippers stole in noiselessly, barefoot on the stones, and entered the sanctuary, within which tapers were burning.详情
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