In the evening calm, the silence, broken only by the yelling of the jackals, weighed heavy on the spirit; and in spite of the twinkling lights and the village at our feet, an oppressive sense of loneliness, of aloofness and death, clutched me like a nightmare.
"Could you design another tomb as beautiful as this?" asked the emperor.
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 train, now travelling northwards again, ran for a long way across the scorched plain through groves of dead trees and sandhills covered with lichen, till, in the golden sunset close to Gwalior, suddenly, at the foot of a hill, we came upon the greenery of fine parks with palaces rising above cool marble tanks.Every house in the town was shuttered, not a soul was to be seen in the baked streets; only here and there in a shady corner a beggar might be seen asleep. A chigram only was slowly moving along at the slow pace of two draught oxen, carrying the women of a zenana, and their constant chatter[Pg 300] within the curtains of the clumsy vehicle sounded formidably loud and discordant in the silence, the death-like exhaustion of noon. A foxy smell came up from everything that the sun was baking, and towards the end of the day it had become intolerable, corpse-like. It died away, however, after sunset.
In the heart of an extensive park, where wide lawns are planted with gigantic baobabs and clumps of bamboo and tamarind, stands an important-looking building, hideously modern in a mixture of heterogeneous styles and materials, of a crude yellow colour, and much too new. There is no attempt at unity of effect. A central dome crowns the edifice and a square tower rises by the side of it. Some portions, like pavilions, low and small, carry ornaments disproportioned to their size; while others, containing vast halls, have minute windows pierced[Pg 52] in their walls, hardly larger than loopholes, but framed in elaborate sculpture and lost in the great mass of stone. Arcades of light and slender columns, connected by lace-like pierced work of alarming fragility, enclose little courts full of tree-ferns and waving palms spreading over large pools of water. The walls are covered with niches, balconies, pilasters, and balustrades carved in the Indian style, the same subjects constantly repeated.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.
Here are carvers of painted wooden toys—red[Pg 10] and green dolls, wooden balls, nests of little boxes in varied and vivid colours.
Off next morning to the Khyber Pass. The road lay across the vast monotonous plain, richly productive all the way from Peshawur to the foot of the hills. At one end of a field some men had spread a net and were beating the field towards the corners with a heavy rope that broke down the tall oats; before long the birds were seen struggling under the meshes, but they were soon caught and carried away in cages.At 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.
And, quite unexpectedly, as we turned a corner beyond the coppersmiths' alley, we came on a row of tea-shops, displaying huge and burly china jars. Chinamen, in black or blue, sat at the shop doors in wide, stiff armchairs, their fine, plaited pigtail hanging over the back, while they awaited a customer with a good-humoured expression of dull indifference.One of these mausoleums served us for a bungalow. The distance was visible from the window openings, which were fringed with cuscus blinds[Pg 39] that would be pulled down at night: the spreading dark plain, broken by gleaming pools, and dotted with the lamps in the temples to Vishnu, of which the cones were visible in silhouette, cutting the clear horizon.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.
Soldiers, bristling with daggers and pistols in their belts, are on guard at the gate. Pikes and long muskets stand piled in the background; over this arsenal, flowering jasmine and convolvulus with enormous bell flowers hang their graceful shade.详情
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