In a coach-house, through which we passed on our way to see the prince's favourite horses with the state carriages—quite commonplace and comfortable, and made at Palitana—was a chigram,[Pg 68] off which its silk cover was lifted; it was painted bright red and spangled with twinkling copper nails. This carriage, which is hermetically closed when the Ranee goes out in it, was lined with cloth-of-gold patterned with Gohel Sheri's initials within a horseshoe: a little hand-glass on one of the cushions, two boxes of chased silver, the curtains and hangings redolent of otto of roses.Not far from Peshawur a legend had arisen concerning a certain Guru, that the holy man now underground grew taller every year by a foot, and the heap of stones grew longer day by day, till the English authorities had to interfere and place a guard of soldiers to check the encroachment of the tumulus on the high road.
The actors spoke their parts like lessons, with a gesture only now and then, and invariably wrong;[Pg 229] and they all spoke and sang through the nose in an irritating voice pitched too high.The front of the temple is covered with paintings. Decorations in the Persian style divide the panels, on which are depicted the principal scenes from the sacred books of the Brahmins. There are two perfect things to be seen here: two nude female figures standing, one white, the other brown, exquisitely refined in colouring, admirably drawn in a style reminding me of early Italian art; and then, just beyond these, tasteless imitations of chromos—goddesses with eyes too large and a simper like the advertisements of tooth-paste, and some horrible caricatures of English ladies in the fashion of ten years ago holding parasols like a nimbus.Then at Peshawur again in the evening, girls, with groups of soldiers in red jackets or Scotch kilts; the common women were horrible, whitened,[Pg 251] with loose shirts and tight-fitting trousers. One alone sat at her window wreathed about with mindi flowers in the crude light of a lamp. The others accosted the passer-by, laughing and shouting in shrill tones.
A bulbul, flying out of a temple where it had been picking up the offered rice, perched on a pomegranate tree and began to sing, at first a little timid chirp, and then a ripple of song, soon drowned by the shrieks of parrots, which came down on the tree and drove out the little red-breasted chorister.Here, once more, is the spectre of the mutiny that broke out in the Residency, of which the ruins may be seen in the middle of a park intersected by watercourses, the English flag still proudly waving over them.Next day was kept as the spring festival. Every man had a rose stuck into his turban, and a shirt embroidered in gold on the shoulders and breast. The women appeared in stiff and gaudy veil cloths, bedizened with trumpery jewellery. Everybody was gay; a little excited towards evening by arrack, and dancing, and singing to the eternal tom-toms. Even the fiercest men from the hills, with black[Pg 279] turbans and enormously full calico trousers that once were white, and shirts embroidered in bright silks, had set aside their ferocious looks and stuck roses in their pugarees, smiling at those they met.
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.
At night the sound of a remote tom-tom attracted me to a large square shaded by giant trees. In a very tiny hut made of matting, a misshapen statue of Kali, bedizened with a diadem, a belt, nanparas, and bangles made of beads and gold tinsel, stood over a prostrate image in clay of Siva, lying on his back. In front of this divinity, under an awning stretched beneath the boughs of a banyan tree, two nautch-girls in transparent sarees were dancing a very smooth sliding step to the accompaniment of two bagpipes and some drums. The Hindoo spectators sat in a circle on the ground—a white mass[Pg 142] dimly lighted by a few lanterns—and sang to the music a soft, monotonous chant.
The man was dressed in blue and silver, his belt studded with four-anna pieces; hanging to his girdle was a whole array of small knives, sheaths, and boxes. With his sleeves turned up to his elbows, he fairly amazed me, conjuring away into the air eight rupees that filled his hand, and finding them again one by one in our pockets, bags, or plaids. He turned everything topsy-turvy, swaggered as if he were the master, and then went off, with his broad smile, to amuse other travellers.Men were carrying mud in enormous turtle-shells that they used for baskets.
In the courtyard a tall and gaudy cock was keeping the crows in order, driving them relentlessly away from the kitchen precincts. On the roof of the servants' quarters, always in the same spot, perched a kite, ready to pounce as soon as anything was thrown out. The doves, the house-pigeons, the fowls fled at once and squatted in corners; but the cock stood his ground, his feathers all on end, his crest erect, chuckling with rage and stalking round the yard within ten paces of the bird of prey.
Immediately on entering we were in the maze of vaults, sanctuaries, great halls and arcades, where stall-keepers sell their goods, priests keep school, and flower-sellers wander. Statues, repeated in long rows, lead up to temples all alike, of a bewildering uniformity of architecture and identical decoration.Broad streets crossing each other at right angles; houses, palaces, archways flanked by towers, and colonnades, all alike covered with pink-washed plaster decorated with white. And all the buildings have the hasty, temporary appearance of a town run up for an exhibition to last only a few months.A man went past in heavy, nailed shoes, wrapped in a flowing dhoti; he carried a long cane over his[Pg 267] left shoulder, and as he went he cried, "Soli, soli, a?a soli." All the dogs in the village crowded after him howling; and in the distance I saw that he was walking round and round two carriages without horses, still repeating "Soli, soli."
Mystery broods over this ruined past; grandeur seemed to rise up in the sunset glow. We went[Pg 101] down the hill, while behind us a saffron haze veiled the Royal Hill, effaced every detail of architecture, and shed over all an amethystine halo.Suddenly there was a panic among the horses; they shied, reared, and bolted across the fields, and the road being cleared, the elephants belonging to the Ameer of Cabul went by, to march at the head of the caravan. Next came a thousand camels, also the Ameer's; like the elephants, they carried no baggage, but on the back of one female was a young one, tied into a basket, born only the day before, all white and woolly.
Even more than the assembly of their relatives and friends, the prisoners at the bar maintained the impassive mien of men who attach no disgrace to a sentence pronounced by a conquering race; they would take the penalty without a murmur, as one of the inevitable incidents of this life, which to them is but a stage, a passage to a higher existence.A Catholic church flanking the Jesuit college persistently sent up to us the shrill tinkle of a little bell, rattling out its quick, harsh strokes like a factory bell for workmen.详情
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