At the back of the shops, which lie lower than the street, we could see men trampling in vats all[Pg 261] day long; they were stamping and treading on old woollen shawls, fulling them to take off the shiny traces of wear, to sell them again as new goods.And then seeing that I did not go, that on wakening again from his dream I was still there, he fixed his eyes on me and caught sight of a medal that I wear.
The air is redolent of musk, sandal-wood, jasmine, and the acrid smell of the hookahs smoked by placid old men sitting in the shadow of their doors.
Adjacent to this temple was the court-house, a hall of ancient splendour in the time of the kings of Kandy. It stood wide open, the walls lined with carved wood panels. The court was sitting under the punkhas that swung with regular monotony, the judges robed in red. One of the accused, standing in a sort of pen, listened unmoved to the pleading. A large label bearing the number 5 hung over his breast. Behind a barrier stood other natives, each decorated with a number, under the charge of sepoys. One of them, having been wounded in the murderous fray for which they were being tried, lay at full length on a litter covered with pretty matting, red and white and green, stretched on bamboo legs. A long robe of light silk enveloped his legs, and he alone of them all had charming features, long black eyes with dark blue depths, his face framed in a sort of halo of silky, tangled hair. He, like the man now being sentenced and those who had gone through their examination,[Pg 129] seemed quite indifferent to the judges and the lawyers. He mildly waved a palm leaf which served him as a fan, and looked as if he were listening to voices in a dream, very far away.In the prince's stables were a long row of brood mares and superb stallions; and then a hundred or so of colts were turned out into the yard—mischievous, frisking things, romping against each other, suddenly stopping short, and wrapped ere long in white dust, which fell on us, too.In another building is the hall where the dastours say the last prayers over the dead in the presence of the relations; the body is then stripped in a consecrated chamber and abandoned to the mysteries of the tower.
Colonel C—— went out shooting wild duck on a pool close to Bunnoo with a native, whose horse, led by a servant, came after them. But when they came to the native gentleman's village he mounted, and returned the civility of the salaaming people, who till then had avoided recognizing him, [Pg 282]regarding the fact that a kshatriya had come on foot as sufficient evidence that he wished to pass incognito. Then, when they were out of the village, the native gentleman dismounted and walked on with the colonel.
In the sacred tank, where Vishnu bathes when[Pg 165] he comes on earth, an old woman was standing pouring the stagnant green water over her body, while others of the faithful, seated on the steps, were piously drinking the stuff from a coco-nut that they handed round. In one corner of this pool was an exquisite bower of floating wreaths—yellow, white, and violet—a splash of bright colour on the squalid water.
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In the middle of the station groups of women and children squatted on the flagstones, their little bundles about them of red and white rags, and copper pots looking like gold; a huddled heap of misery, in this enormous hall of palatial proportions, handsomely decorated with sculptured marble.The music played louder, light flashed out on all sides, the god stood still, and bayadères performed their worship. With slow gestures, their hands first hollowed and held to the brow, then their arms flung out, they bowed before the idol with a snake-like, gliding motion, while the music played very softly and the lights burnt faintly. The nauchnees, in dark muslin drapery spangled with gold, bangles on their arms, their necks, and their ankles, and rings on their toes, swayed as they danced, and swung long, light garlands of flowers which hung about their necks. And there were flowers in their hair, in a bunch on each side of the head, above two gold plates from which hung strings of beads. The flying, impalpable gauze looked like a swirl of mist about their limbs.
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