Gauze and muslin dresses moved gracefully about against the background of bamboos and roses. Light footsteps scarcely bent the grass; the ripple of talk, with its sprinkling of Indian words, was sweet and musical. Fireflies whirled above the plants making little tendrils of light; there was dreaminess in the air—an anticipation of fairyland to which the music seemed the prelude.
COLOMBOThen a fat native lawyer began to speak, and silence fell on the crowd of three or four hundred listeners sitting behind the accused, as if they were in church. The monotonous voice went on and on, urging every plea.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.
As we passed the sacred tanks, where a smell of decay filled the air that still rang with the cries of the bats, our horses suddenly shied and refused to go forward, terror-stricken by some invisible danger suggested to them by that reiterated shriek or the corpse-like smell. A very long minute passed as we sat in the carriage, a minute of dread that left us quite excited by this mysterious peril of which we had somehow felt the awe. Nor was it till we had left the great trees by the tanks behind us that the impression wore off under the comforting light of the stars.
"Nautch-girls for tourists, like Europeans," said my Indian servant Abibulla. "Can-can dancing-girls," he added, with an air of triumph at having shown me a wonder."How do you expect to pay?" asked his master, an officer.
In the side streets the natives lay sleeping on the bare earth in the coolness of night. On every house were the spots of red paint that told how many of the inhabitants had died of the plague;[Pg 304] and the smaller the house the closer were the dabs of paint, almost framing the door with a chain of red spots.A little way off, in the burning sandy plain, is a pagoda sacred to the pigeons. Lying as close as tiles, in the sun, they hide the roof under their snowy plumage. Round pots are hung all about the building, swaying in the wind, for the birds to nest in, a red decoration against the russet stone; each one contains an amorous and cooing pair.
"We give rice to the sick, who all have dysentery, instead of the daily cake."The Viharas, monasteries of cells hollowed out in the hillside, extend for more than half a mile; briars and creepers screen the entrances leading to these little retreats, a tangle of flowers and carvings.
At a stopping-place a flock of sheep huddled together in terror, hens scuttered about clucking anxiously, the stable dogs crouched and slunk; high overhead a large eagle was slowly wheeling in the air.
A salesman of whom I had bought several things, wishing to do me a civility, called a tom-tom player, who was to escort me home rapping on his ass's[Pg 215] skin; and when I declined very positively, the poor man murmured with a piteous, crushed look:
"Could you design another tomb as beautiful as this?" asked the emperor.
The night was spent in travelling: an oppressive night of crushing heat, with leaden clouds on the very top of us; and next day, in the blazing sunlight, nothing seemed to have any colour—everything was white and hot against a blue-black sky that seemed low enough to rest on the earth. Wayfarers slept under every tree, and in the villages every place was shut, everything seemed dead. It was only where we changed horses that we saw anyone—people who disappeared again immediately under shelter from the sun.MURREE详情
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