A company of the Khyber Rifles are quartered there in the old buildings and the officers' deserted bungalows; over all hangs an atmosphere of icy desolation and overpowering melancholy. Above our heads a flight of eagles wheeled against the sky.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.
A town in mourning. In the suburban stations, so crowded but three weeks since, there was nobody, and nobody in the train we travelled by. No coolies for the baggage, no carriages, and the tramcars running down the wide, deserted road carried no passengers. The hotel was closed, all the servants had fled in terror of the plague, which was raging with increased violence. Every shop[Pg 92] had the shutters up; the great market, full of golden fruit and shaded by the flowering trees, was equally empty, and in the bazaar the rare wayfarers hurried by in silence.This cell is as dark as a cellar, barbarously squalid. But to all our questions the moollah who was our guide only replied:
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.A carriage with four horses, and servants in dark green livery thickly braided with silver, and gold turbans with three raised corners very like the cocked hats of the French Guards, were standing in the Court of Honour. The little princess took a seat between her father and me. To drive out she had put on an incredible necklace with bosses of diamonds and heavy emerald pendants. With her talismans round her neck in little gold boxes, with this necklace of light, and rings of precious stones in her ears, she looked like a too exquisite idol, motionless and silent. It was not till we were returning and the falling night hid her glittering jewels that she chirped a few words, and consented to give me her hand, and even sang a few crystal notes of a favourite song. A little princess of seven years who can already read and write, sew[Pg 69] and embroider, sing in time, and dance as lightly, I should fancy, as a butterfly with her tiny feet, that fidget in her gold slippers when she hears the music—though, frightened lest the Rajah should make her dance before me, she denied it altogether—a little princess, an only child, whom her father takes with him everywhere that she may see something of the world before she is eleven years old, for after that she will never leave her mother's zenana but to marry and be shut up in another harem.
In the distance is the great mosque which no unbeliever may enter; the doors stand wide open. The only ornaments on the white walls are the lamps, hung with red. In the court of the mosque,[Pg 97] under magnificent trees, are the tombs of the Nizams, with stone lattices, jewellery of marble, fragile pierced work, whereon wreaths of pale flowers are wrought with infinite grace. Near these tombs are two large fountains, where a crowd of men were bathing, talking very loud; and a large basin of porphyry full of grain was besieged by grey pigeons.Two old women had a quarrel, and all the neighbourhood came out to look on.
Gauze and muslin dresses moved gracefully about against the background of bamboos and roses. Light footsteps scarcely bent the grass; the ripple of talk, with its sprinkling of Indian words, was sweet and musical. Fireflies whirled above the plants making little tendrils of light; there was dreaminess in the air—an anticipation of fairyland to which the music seemed the prelude.CALCUTTA
Turning out of this high street blazing with lamps, were dens of prostitution, and dark, cut-throat alleys.But this suburb is now no more than a heap of huts and hovels. The tombs, ruined and overthrown, are few and far apart, heaped with sand, and showing as arid hillocks amid the level of withered grass. The plain beyond, laid out in rice-fields of a tender green, furrowed with silver streamlets, spreads unbroken to the foot of a huge wall of the hue of red gold enclosing a hill; and on[Pg 99] entering the precincts, behold, in the bays of the thickness of the wall, a whole village where dwell the families of the soldiers who guard this citadel.
These gentlemen of the Civil Service would put in an appearance "now and then"—the eternal "now and then" that answers every question in India. They stepped out of a buggy, walked quickly round, had seen, and were gone again in a great hurry to finish some important work for the next European mail.It was melancholy to return under the gloomy, spreading banyans, through the dimly-lighted suburbs, where the people were still at work and selling their wares; and the dungeon, the dead stones, the guns now for ever silenced and pointed at vacancy, were lost in blue darkness.
JEYPOORAt the further end of the last turning I saw a fire like blazing gold, the soaring flames flying up to an enormous banyan tree, turning its leaves to living fire. All round the pile on which the dead was being burned was a crowd drumming on copper pots and tom-toms.
"I shall pay as much as I can myself, and by-and-by my son will earn money, and we shall pay between us."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.An aggressive capital! Palaces of concrete and stucco washed with yellow stand cheek by jowl with commission agencies and hovels, and all without a suspicion of style, not even giving one the impression of a southern city. In the streets, thick with dust, an all-prevailing turmoil as of a fair is prolonged to the latest hours of night. Red uniforms and "young England" tourist suits ending their career in rags on half-breed coolies—a wearisome staleness and total effacement of local colour, worse than commonplace; and then, above all, a very strong and nauseating smell of lotus and tallow, with an after-gust of something peppery and acrid.详情
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