The sweepers, the saises, the bearers, the whole tribe of noisy, idle servants—men, women, and children—all sleep out of doors in the hotter weather. And all day long the camp-bed, the two mats, and half a dozen pots, which constitute the[Pg 285] whole furniture of a family, move round the house with the shade, only settling down after dark.Colaba is the port; the docks, with tall houses between the enormous warehouses. The silence is appalling; windows, doors—all are closed. Only a few coolies hurry by in the white sunshine, with[Pg 13] handkerchiefs over their mouths to protect them against the infection in these streets, whence came the plague which stole at first through the suburbs, nearer and nearer to the heart of the city, driving the maddened populace before it.
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.
PALITANAThe road from Cawnpore to Gwalior makes a bend towards central India across a stony, barren tract, where a sort of leprosy of pale lichen has overgrown the white dust on the fields that are no longer tilled. There is no verdure; mere skeletons of trees, and a few scattered palms still spread their leaves, protecting under their shade clumps of golden gynerium.Wide strands of golden sand; here and there among the rice-fields the palms and bamboos are less crowded. In the moist air, that grows hotter and hotter, the daylight is blinding, hardly tolerable through the blue glass of the windows. Scorched, russet rocks stand up from the short grass, tremulous in the noontide heat. The cattle, the very birds, silent and motionless, have sought shelter in the shade; all the people have gone within doors. And then, towards evening, in an oasis of gigantic trees, amid bamboos and feathery reeds, behold the huge temples of Madura, in sharp outline against a rosy sky.
A Sikh, an old soldier, not long since bought a few acres of land; to pay for it he produced 800[Pg 281] rupees in silver, and on his wives, whom he brought with him, were 3000 rupees' worth of jewels."She is the mother of Christ, you say? You are a stranger, and you cannot know all the mischief they do us in the name of her Son."
Under the white dome a wooden ceiling, gilt in the hollows of the carving, has taken the place of an earlier ceiling of massive silver, worth seventy lacs of rupees, which was carried off by the conquerors after some long-ago seizure of the city. Inside, by way of walls, are carvings in marble of twisted lilies, inconceivably graceful and light. And then, at one of the entrances, those marble lattices, once gilt and now bereft of their gold, look just like topaz in the midday sun. After that magic splendour of gold and marbles fused to topaz and amber, the rest of the palace—the sleeping-rooms, the couches inlaid with mosaic flowers, the pierced stone balconies overlooking the Jumna—all seemed commonplace and familiar.
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.Stations for prayer stand all along the road; little open shrines, where footprints are worshipped, stamped on flags of white marble, a large footprint surrounded by a dozen of a child's foot.
In this house abode the postmaster of the Persian mails, and I wanted to register a letter for Cabul.Presently all the company is assembled, robed in long white tunics. The bridegroom, likewise dressed in white, has a chain of flowers round his neck; orchids, lilies, and jasmine, falling to his waist. In one hand he holds a bouquet of white flowers, in the other a coco-nut. A shawl, neatly folded, hangs over one arm.
"She is the mother of Christ, you say? You are a stranger, and you cannot know all the mischief they do us in the name of her Son."We met a strange caravan; a small party of men surrounding more than a hundred women wrapped in dark robes, and bearing on their veiled heads heavy bales sewn up in matting, and large copper pots. A little blind boy led the way, singing a monotonous chant of three high notes. He came up to my tonga, and to thank me for the small coin I gave him he said, "Salaam, Sahib," and then repeated the same words again and again to his[Pg 37] tune, dancing a little step of his own invention till the whole caravan was hidden from me in a cloud of dust.
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Steaming over the transparent and intensely blue sea, we presently perceived an opaquer streak of sandy matter, getting denser, and becoming at last liquid, extremely liquid, yellow mud—the waters of the Ganges, long before land was in sight. Between the low banks, with their inconspicuous vegetation, a desolate shore, we could have fancied we were still at sea when we had already reached the mouth of the sacred stream. Some Hindoos on board drew up the water in pails to wash their hands and face, fixing their eyes in adoration on the thick sandy fluid. Enormous steamships crossed our bows, and in the distance, like a flock of Ibis, skimmed a whole flotilla of boats with broad red sails, through which the low sun was shining. The banks closed in, the landscape grew more definite—tall palm trees, plots of garden ground, factory chimneys, a high tower. On the water was an inextricable confusion of canoes and row-boats flitting among the steamships and sailing barks moored all along the town that stretched away out of sight.[Pg 89]
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.And then we came away from this hospital, where no sister of charity, no woman even, had brought some little consolation or the kindliness of a smile to these dying creatures, whose wandering or frantic black eyes haunted me.详情
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