As we passed the sacred tanks, where a smell of decay filled the air that still rang with the cries of the bats, our horses suddenly shied and refused to go forward, terror-stricken by some invisible danger suggested to them by that reiterated shriek or the corpse-like smell. A very long minute passed as we sat in the carriage, a minute of dread that left us quite excited by this mysterious peril of which we had somehow felt the awe. Nor was it till we had left the great trees by the tanks behind us that the impression wore off under the comforting light of the stars.The noise in the dock is maddening. The Customs, the police, the health-officers, all mob the voyager with undreamed-of formalities, such as a paper to be signed declaring that he has but one watch and one scarf-pin, and that their value is in proportion to the wearer's fortune. Then, again, the dispersal of the luggage, which must be fished out at another spot amid the yelling horde of coolies who rush at[Pg 4] the trunks and use the portmanteaus as missiles, till at last we are in the street.
A funeral came pushing past me in the silence of this sleeping district: the body, wrapped in red, hung from a bamboo that rested on the bearers' shoulders. No one followed him, and the group disappeared at once in the deep gloom of the narrow alley.
Shops of the same trade are found in rows; carpenters joining their blocks, and workmen carving ornaments with very simple tools—clumsy tools—which they use with little, timid, persistent taps. Further on, coppersmiths are hammering the little pots which are to be seen in everybody's hands; under the shade of an awning stretched over the tiny booth, the finished vessels, piled up to the roof, shed a glory over the half-naked toilers who bend over their anvils, perpetually making jars of a traditional pattern, used for ablutions. There are two men at work in each shop, three at most, and sometimes an old man who sits smoking with half-closed eyes.
"And no medicine?"
And to close the procession came more soldiers.When the gate to the platform was opened there was a stampede, a fearful rush to the train; then the cars, once filled, were immediately shut on the noisy glee of those who were going.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.
Beyond these ruins, at the end of a long avenue bordered with tamarind trees, beyond an artificial lake, is the tomb of Shah Alam. A wide marble court; to the right a mosque with three ranks of columns; above, a massive roof crowned with a[Pg 56] bulbous dome, flanked by fragile minarets. The fountain for ablutions in the midst of the court is surmounted by a marble slab supported on slender columns. To the left, under the shade of a large tree, is the mausoleum of marble, yellow with age, looking like amber, the panels pierced with patterns of freer design than goldsmith's work.
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.
At the railway station thousands of people had collected to take leave of a great turbaned moollah from Mecca, dressed in yellow silk. Long after we had left Darjeeling the faithful ran by the side of the carriage to kiss his hand, on which blazed an enormous diamond cut in a cone; and all along the road, when the train going downhill went too fast for anyone to keep up with it, Moslem natives bowed and prostrated themselves in the road, shouting words of Godspeed to the holy man. And at one stopping-place a little carpet was spread, on which he took off his shoes and prayed—hurried through his last prostrations by the whistle of the locomotive.The temples were already closed, but my servant, Abibulla, diverted the attention of the gatekeeper, and I stole unseen into the outer precincts.
The little princess had made her way between the seats, close up to us; she was wrapped in dark-coloured gauze, with woven gold borders, so light! scarcely less light than the diaphanous material of the dress. And as I admired this wonderful silk, the Rajah had some bayadères' dresses brought out for me to see: twelve or fifteen skirts, one above another, pleated and spangled with gold, yet, hanging to one finger, scarcely the weight of a straw.
And there are ruins all the way to Delhi, whither we returned by the old fortress of Purana Kila, with its pink walls overlooked by a few aerial minarets and more traces of graceful carving, the precursors of the Divan i Khas and Moti Musjid the Pearl Mosque.详情
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