As we returned past a village—a hamlet of houses gathering round a well surmounted by a kiosk shading a gaudy idol crowned with red[Pg 176] pinks—a perfectly naked fakir, his straight black hair bound twice round his head like a turban, stood basking in the sun, leaning against a wall, and chanting in a rapid monotone, while two babies, under the shade of a fan-palm leaf, stared up at him and sucked their thumbs.
The bridegroom sits awaiting his guests, in his garden all decorated with arches and arbours, and[Pg 14] starred with white lanterns. An orchestra is playing, hidden in a shrubbery.At our feet lay old Gwalior, sacked again and again, and as often rebuilt out of its own ruins;[Pg 202] and now the princely residences, all of marble wrought in almost transparent lacework, serve to shelter wandering cattle.
In the midst of a large room crowded with women in light-hued sarees, the bridegroom takes his seat between two tables, on which are large trays of rice. Facing him is a chair, and one is occupied by the bride, who is brought in by a party of girls. She is scarcely fourteen, all in white; on her head is a veil of invisibly fine muslin ten folds thick; it enfolds her in innocence, and is crowned with sprays of myrtle blossom.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.
At every street-corner there were blocks of salt,[Pg 298] which the cows and goats licked as they went past.
The hills are left behind us; the plateau of Cashmere spreads as far as the eye can see, traversed by the glistening Jellum, that slowly rolling stream, spreading here and there into lakes.Images of horses recurred at intervals, singly, or in pairs face to face; and as evening came on we saw round a pagoda a whole procession of horses in terra-cotta, some very much injured, arranged as if they were running round, one after another, in search of the heads and legs they had lost.
The bargaining was interminable, something in this manner:—The little palace of Nilam Bagh, panelled inside throughout with carved wood, looks like a jewel-casket dropped in a vast park of green shade and[Pg 85] broad lawns. Rawl Shri Bhaosinhji, Rajah of Bhawnagar, is very young, almost a child, and still very shy, dressed in the European fashion in a long grey overcoat, with a voluminous turban of turquoise-blue gauze.
A tonga arrived just as we drove up, bringing an English official, travelling in his own carriage; gaiters, shooting jacket, a switch in his hand. He seated himself outside the bungalow in a cane chair, close by mine. Out of a case that was brought before him a hatchet and a pistol were unpacked, documentary evidence of the crime into which he was to inquire.At the end of the day one of the beasts could do no more. A shiver ran through the limbs of the poor thing, which, as soon as it was released from the shafts, lay down, a stream of blood staining the[Pg 274] pale sand; and in an instant, with a deep sigh, it was stiff in death.
In the plain the sowars were performing an[Pg 280] Indian fantasia. Charging at a gallop, their wide sleeves flying behind them, they swept past like a whirlwind, aiming with their lances at a peg of wood stuck into the ground. Whenever it was speared there were frantic shouts and applause from a crowd of spectators, packed in the best places. In a cloud of dust, growing steadily thicker and hanging motionless over the riders, the performance went on, its centre always this same peg of wood, replaced again and again, exciting the enthusiasm of connoisseurs till the last ray of light died away.After breakfast a party of jugglers appeared in front of the hotel; they performed on a little carpet spread under the shade of a banyan tree. Acrobatic tricks first, human ladders, feats of strength; then nutmegs were made to vanish and reappear; and finally they conjured away each other in turn, in little square hampers that they stabbed with knives to prove that there was nobody inside;[Pg 11] and to divert the spectators' attention at critical moments they beat a tom-tom and played a shrill sort of bagpipe.
Towards evening the sky turned to a dull, dark green, and in the sudden gloom down came the rain in floods, tremendous, solid, for about five minutes; then as suddenly it was as hot as ever again, dry and overpowering.
The garden, which is very extensive and laid out in beds carefully crammed with common flowers, has Jablochkoff lamps at every turning. It is traversed by a little narrow-gauge railway, and[Pg 203] the toy train is kept under a vault of the brand-new, spotless white palace.详情
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