Two more murders; one a squalid business with no motive—a man killed as he was on his way to gather his rice-harvest. Sixteen hill-men attacked him at once, riddling the body with bullets.
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.
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.
On the shore, on the steps in front of the temples and round the holy images, in short, everywhere on this day, red powder was sprinkled to inaugurate[Pg 179] the month just beginning; a beggar, to secure the favour of the gods, had smeared his head and hands with it.An old-world Indian city with nothing of modern flimsiness and tinsel. The arcades and balconies of the houses in the bazaar are carved out of solid wood, polished by ages to tones of burnished steel and warm gold. Copper nails in the doors shine in the sun. Along the quiet streets, where nothing passes by but, now and then, a slow-paced camel, Hindoos make their way, draped in pale pink, or in white scarcely tinged with green or orange colour; little naked children, with necklaces, bangles and belts of silver, looking like ribbons on their bronze skin. In front of the shops is a brilliant harmony of copper, sheeny fruits, and large pale green pots. A glad atmosphere of colour surrounds the smiling people and the houses with their old scorched stones.
On our way back through the temple-quarter a sudden wild excitement possessed the worshippers and priests; out of a side street rushed a large troop of monkeys, grey, with black faces. They galloped past in a close pack and fled to the trees, shrieking shrilly. One, however, lagged behind, bent on stealing some rice that had been brought as an offering to a plaster image of Vishnu. A Brahmin stood watching the monkey, and tried to scare it away with a display of threatening arms, but he dared not hit the beast sacred to Hanuman, the god of the green face. The creature, never stirring from the spot, yelled aloud, bringing the rest of the pack back on to the roof of the neighbouring pagodas. Then the ringleader, with a subdued, sleepy, innocent gait, stole gently up to the tray of offerings. He was on the point of reaching it when the priest raised his arm. This was a signal for the whole tribe to scream and dance with terror, but without retreating. The performance seemed likely to last; the bazaar and the temples were in a hubbub of excitement; the doors of the shops and the sanctuaries were hastily shut, till, at the mere sight of a man who came out[Pg 299] with a long bamboo in his hand, the whole pack made off and appeared no more, and Hardwar relapsed into its somnolent sanctity.In the evening at Byculla, in the street of the disreputable, in front of a house hermetically closed, and painted with a round red spot for each person who had died there, a fire of sulphur was burning with a livid glow. Only one gambling-house tried to tempt customers with a great noise of harmonium and tom-toms; and from a side street came a response of muffled tambourines and castanets. First the dead, wrapped in red stuff and tied to a bamboo, and then the procession turned into the lighted street. White shapes crowded by, vanishing at once, and the harmonium again rose above the silence with its skipping tunes, and the tom-toms beating out of time—and attracted no one.
In the afternoon the Minister came to take us to the palace. The Rajah, with his cousins, met us at the[Pg 66] foot of the grand staircase; a detachment of sowars were on guard. With great ceremony, preceded and followed by an army of officials and attendants, we went up to a room where a silver throne, inlaid with gold, of exquisite workmanship, between two armchairs of massive silver, looked quite out of keeping with gilt wood chairs with tapestry seats, and the everlasting Brussels carpet of poor and glaring design. On the various tables was the latest trumpery from Oxford Street—plush frames and varnished wooden screens; a shower of glass lustres hung from the ceiling.And on the man's replying that he would try, the sultan, who chose that the monument should have no rival, caused the architect to be thrown into the Jumna on the spot, where he was dashed to pieces at the foot of his masterpiece, which remains unique.
A tame white antelope was wandering about the garden of the old rajahs' palace, under a shower of gardenia-like flowers that hung by a stem[Pg 88] scarcely thicker than a thread. The whole of one avenue was strewn with this snow, on which the graceful little beast, with its large sad eyes, was feeding. Further on, under some other trees with red blossoms, stands a little mausoleum built by the prince over Jacky, his dog, "who was faithful and good."An interpreter translated to the accused the questions put by the judge, who understood the replies, though he was not allowed to speak excepting in English.[Pg 102]
The song of birds in the mitigated atmosphere of the dying day came in from outside, for a moment almost drowning the pleader's weariful tones as he poured forth his statement, emphasized by sweeping gestures.In the prince's stables were a long row of brood mares and superb stallions; and then a hundred or so of colts were turned out into the yard—mischievous, frisking things, romping against each other, suddenly stopping short, and wrapped ere long in white dust, which fell on us, too.
In the further room were four sufferers past all hope: one in the anguish of delirium that made him cry out the same words again and again, in a hoarse voice that was growing fainter. He was held by two attendants. Another lay with chattering teeth; a third was struggling violently, hidden under his coverlet; the fourth seemed unconscious, apathetic.As we reached Bunnoo green cornfields extended as far as the eye could see, under mulberry trees just unfolding their leaves. Numberless channels of water irrigated the land; the bed of the Kurrum[Pg 275] alone, quite white, was flecked here and there with blue pools, and was presently lost in the rosy distance of the hills on the Afghan frontier.But at Byculla, in Grant Road, the street of gambling-houses, there was a glare of lights; gaudy lanterns were displayed at the windows where spangles and tinsel trinkets glittered. And then, between two brightly illuminated houses where every window was wide open, there was the dark gap of a closed house, in front of it a pan of sulphur burning. The green and purple flame flickered grimly on the faces of the passers-by, making their dhotis look like shrouds wrapping spectres.
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.At the entrance into one of the chapels is the trunk of an Akshai bar or b? tree, a kind of fig such as the Buddhists place in front of their sanctuaries. The tree is living in the subterranean[Pg 185] vault, and after thrusting its head through the heavy layer of stones forming the roof of the temple, it spreads its branches under the light of day. Endless absurd legends have grown up about the mystery of this tree, which is said to be no less than twenty centuries old; and my guide, who talks aloud in the presence of the idols he despises, being a Mohammedan, bows reverently to the tree and murmurs, "That is sacred; God has touched it."详情
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