Captain McT——'s orderly appeared as soon as we stirred in the morning, shouldering arms—the "arm" an umbrella which the authorities allow as a privilege off duty to the Ghoorkhas, men from the high plateaux, who are very sensitive to sunstroke, and who wear only a cap without a pugaree. The umbrella solemnly resting against his right shoulder, this worthy stood at attention, serious and motionless, and very upright—a quaint figure, his age impossible to guess, with his Mongolian face, his little slits of eyes, and his figure, in spite of his military squareness, rather too pliant in the yellow khaki uniform.
The artist sat at work in a corner of the window, copying minutely, for the thousandth time perhaps, a Taj or a Moti Musjid. Quite unmoved while his[Pg 226] shopman displayed his wares, he worked on with brushes as fine as needles; but when, on leaving, I asked him where I could procure some colours I needed, "Then the sahib paints?" said he; and he rose at once, insisted on my taking a seat, pressed me to accept a little sandal-wood frame, as a fellow-artist, and then would positively paint my portrait.A forest in flower: Indian almond trees white, other trees yellow, a kind of magnolia with delicate pink blossoms; and among these hues like perfume, flew a cloud of birds, black, shot with glistening metallic green, and butterflies of polished bronze and dark gold flashed with blue, and others again sprinkled with white on the nacreous, orange-tinted wings.
Fakirs, holding out their begging-bowls as they squatted round an opening in the ground, showed that it was the entrance to a temple; a few steps down, a long corridor with little niches on each side, and then hall after hall full of grimacing gods, lighted up by our guide's torch, till at last we reached an immense vault where impenetrable darkness filled the angles lost in a labyrinth of arcades converging to some mystery. Here all the Hindoo gods, carved in stone, have been crowded together, with their horrible contortions, their stolid beatitude, their affected grace; and in their midst is a huge idol, hacked with a great cut by Aurungzeeb, the Moslem emperor, at the time of his conquest. Suddenly all about us was a crowd of Brahmins, appearing from what dark corners we could not discover. They looked nasty and half asleep, and vanished at once with a murmur of whispered speech that hung about the galleries in an echo.The ripe rice, in golden ears, is cut with sickles; a row of women in red gather it into sheaves, which men carry on their back, at once, to the next village, and there it is threshed out forthwith on floors but just swept.
Deeply graven in the stone of one of the walls is the giant hand of Ali the Conqueror, the terrible, who came from the land of the Arabs, killing all on his way who refused to be converted to Islam. And he died in the desolate Khyber, where all who pass do him honour, and entreat his protection on their way.
At the door of the house the sick man's wife was washing a white robe, in which he would be dressed for the grave on the morrow. The nearest relation of the dying must always wash his garment, and the woman, knowing that her husband had the plague and was doomed, as she was required by ritual to prepare for the burial while her husband was yet living, wore a look of mute and tearless resignation that terrified me.The evening was exquisitely calm, shrouding everything in rose-colour, and shedding a light, opalescent golden haze on the pools and streams. And out of this floating gauze, in the doubtful light, white figures seemed to emerge gradually,[Pg 107] only to vanish again in the pure, transparent atmosphere of the blue night.
Tazulmulook on his way meets a blind man, whom he restores to sight by the help of the magical flower; the man relates the story of the cure to the four brothers, who quickly follow up Tazulmulook and presently overtake him. After a short conflict they rob him of the talisman and fly. The young prince is in despair, but as he wrings his hands he rubs Bakaoli's ring and the dragon instantly appears. Tazulmulook commands him forthwith to build a palace in front of that of King Zainulmulook.Three musicians in white, with red turbans, squatted down on the ground in front of us. One sang to the accompaniment of a viol with three strings and nine frets, and a darboukha; a drawling strain, all on the upper notes, and rising higher to a shrill monotonous wail, retarded, as it were, to a rhythm against the accompaniment; then by degrees more lively, faster and faster, ending with a sudden stop on a word of guttural consonants. But the man began again; he sang for a long time, varying the tunes, always returning to the first. But nothing of them remains in my mind, not even the rhythm, only a vague recollection, a singular echo, confused but [Pg 67]charming, in spite of the weirdness of the too high pitch.The manager also traded in clocks, and a selection was displayed for sale at one end of the stalls.
In this Peshawur the houses are crowded along narrow, crooked alleys, and there is but one rather wider street of shops, which here already have a quite[Pg 242] Persian character, having for sale only the products of Cabul or Bokhara. The balconies, the shutters, the verandahs and galleries are of wood inlaid in patterns like spider-net. The timbers are so slight that they would seem quite useless and too fragile to last; and yet they are amazingly strong, and alone remain in place, amid heaps of stones, in houses that have fallen into ruin. In the streets, the contrast is strange, of tiny houses with the Afghans, all over six feet high, superb men wearing heavy dhotis of light colours faded to white, still showing in the shadow of the folds a greenish-blue tinge of dead turquoise. Solemn and slow, or motionless in statuesque attitudes while they converse in few words, and never gesticulate, they are very fine, with a fierce beauty; their large, open eyes are too black, and their smile quite distressingly white in faces where the muscles look stiff-set. Even the children, in pale-hued silk shirts, are melancholy, languid, spiritless, but very droll, too, in their little pointed caps covered with gold braid, and the finery of endless metal necklaces, and bangles on their ankles and arms.The same ubiquitous terminus on a sandy plain, remote from everything; then a drive jolting through bogs, and we reached the dirty, scattered town crowded with people who had collected round a sort of fair with booths for mountebanks, and roundabouts of wooden horses.
Before daybreak, before the réveillée, the moollah's prayer roused the Sikhs, of which two regiments were quartered in the fort; and till it was broad daylight, till the sun had chased away shadows and sadness, I still felt the melancholy, the twilight sense of uneasiness left by that slow and plaintive chant.In the sleeping town of Darjeeling a bell and drum were sounding to announce the Tibetan Christmas. The Brahmin paradise remained invisible and mysterious behind a clear sky studded with stars.
In the forecourt a cast-metal nymph presides over a sham-bronze fountain.A road between ancient trees and green fields which are perpetually irrigated leads to Sicandra-Bagh. Here, at the end of a wretched village of huts and hovels, is the magnificence of a stately portal of red stone broadly decorated with white; and then, through a garden where trees and shrubs make one huge bouquet, behold the imposing mass of the tomb of Akbar the Great. The mausoleum is on the scale of a cathedral. There are two stories of galleries in pink sandstone crowned by a marble pavilion with lace-like walls; and there, high up, is the sarcophagus of white stone, covered with inscriptions setting forth the nineteen names of Allah.
At night, in the crowded station, a guard of honour was waiting, composed of sepoys. There was shouting among the crowd, a fanatical turmoil, a storm of orders, and heavy blows. Some great[Pg 93] magnate got out of the train, surrounded by secretaries and officers. The soldiers, bearing torches, attended him to his carriage; they remounted their horses, following the vehicle, in which a light dress was visible. Very fast, and with a great clatter, they rode away into the silent night fragrant with rich scents; they were lost under the trees to reappear in the distance on a height, the torches galloping still and the smoke hanging in a ruddy cloud above the bright steel and the white cruppers. Then, at a turn in the road, they all vanished.In the forecourt a cast-metal nymph presides over a sham-bronze fountain.详情
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