The men are paid as much as two annas (one penny) a day. The women earn ten, seven, or three[Pg 195] cowries (shells at the rate of about 190 to the anna) for each basket-load, according to the distance, and could make as much as an anna a day. But each of these toilers had to support many belongings who could not work, and squatted about the camp in their desolate and pitiable misery. And the food was insufficient for any of them, only hindering the poor creatures from dying at once.Really the prison this time! in the midst of a large enclosure with high walls; a building on a star-shaped plan, with large windows to admit air and daylight. The prisoners, in a white uniform, with chains on their feet, were manufacturing various articles in basket-work, and in a shed with a cotton awning a hundred or so of convicts were weaving carpets. The brilliancy of colour was indescribable; the vividness of the medley of worsted piled by the side of the gorgeous looms, the light hues of the dresses, the faded turbans touched with light, the glitter of the steel chains, the bronze skins, glorified to gold in the quivering sunshine, which, scarcely subdued by the awning, bathed the[Pg 87] scene in a glow so intense that it seemed to proceed from the objects themselves. Behind each loom sat a warder, with the pattern of the carpet on his knees, dictating the colours to the weavers, chanting out his weariful litany of numbers and shades in a monotonous voice.
Legends have gathered round the Taj Mahal as about every old building in India, and this one seems to me not impossible in its barbarity.The attendants threw water on the pauper's pyre, and then with their long bamboos pushed the mass of burnt wood and flesh into the Ganges, where it looked like some enormous black frog with a white patch for the head.Between the tracery of bamboos, behind clumps of cedars spreading their level plumes of fine, flexible needles, we still constantly saw the roofs of temples involved in clouds of tiny phosphorescent sparks weaving their maze of light; and the clang of bells and drums fell on the ear.
Near a temple some bells and tom-toms animated the silence with their clang and clatter. Worshippers stole in noiselessly, barefoot on the stones, and entered the sanctuary, within which tapers were burning."What is the Virgin Mary?"
A tea-party in the afternoon at the yacht club. The ladies in smart dresses, the talk all of fashionable gossip—how far away from all I had been seeing. An European atmosphere, where a touch of local colour was only suggested by the native servants. The plague, the ruling terror when I was last in Bombay, was forgotten; the only subject now was the Jubilee, and the latest news from England arrived by that day's mail.
The Rajah's residence, of plaster like the rest of the town, is pink too outside, but the interior is aggressive with paint of harsh colours. In the living rooms is shabby furniture, gilt chairs turned one over the other, as on the day after a ball. The curtains over the doors and windows are of silk,[Pg 214] but frayed and threadbare. In the shade of a marble court with carved columns, clerks are employed in counting money—handsome coins stamped with flowers and Indian characters, laid out in rows. They count them into bags round which soldiers mount guard.Between the cliff-walls of the defile, in a sort of bay, stands Ali Musjid, a little white mosque where travellers tarry to pray.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.
All round the Rajah's palace crowds a town of palaces, mosques, and temples dedicated to Vishnu; and outside the walls, on a plain lying between the hills of Amber, is another town, still thick with ruins amid the forest of encroaching trees. And it is all dead, deserted, dust-coloured, unspeakably sad, with the sadness of destruction and desertion in the midst of a landscape gorgeous with flowers and groves. In the palace of Amber, guides make a good[Pg 216] business of showing us the public rooms, baths, and bedrooms, all restored with an eye to the tourist. In the gardens, heavy with perfume, the trees display swinging balls of baked earth full of holes, which protect the ripening fruit from the monkeys; a whole tribe of them scampered off at our approach, and went to torment the peacocks that were solemnly promenading a path, and that presently flew away.
A tea plantation—a garden of large shrubs pruned[Pg 293] in such a way as to secure the greatest possible growth of young shoots, and above the delicate tea plants a shady hedge of fan palms and taller trees. The leaves are gathered by day, spread in the evening on hurdles and left for the night in open sheds. On the morrow they are first thrown into a sort of bottomless square funnel which revolves on a board; rolled and broken in this machine they are ready for drying. The tea passes through twenty grades of increasing temperature, and in drying it gives out the most delightful aroma—a mixture of sweetbriar, seaweed, and violets, with a scent of tea too. The leaves are finally sifted, which sorts them in four sizes into boxes containing the different qualities.To the right of the forecourt is the high priest's room; lustres, glass shades, gilt chairs, coloured photographs, incongruously surrounding an antique silk carpet, soiled and stained.An old man who sold us some shells, had, in the days of prosperity, made a little fortune by charming the sharks with spells and signs that kept them away from the boats, and from the naked and defenceless pearl-fishers as they plunged into the deep to seek the precious shells.
Beyond the outermost wall, when we had at last left it behind us, at the foot of the pile of terra-cotta-coloured bricks, were vast tanks of stagnant water, said to be inexhaustible. Near them was a shrine to Siva, with two small idols hung with yellow flowers, where an old Hindoo was praying devoutly; and then through a park of giant trees, and shrubs bright with strange blossoms, over which the parrots flew screaming.The large town lies along the bank of the Jellum; the houses are of wood, grey and satiny with old age, and almost all tottering to their end on the strand unprotected by an embankment. The windows are latticed with bent wood in fanciful designs. Large houses built of brick have thrown out covered balconies and verandahs, supported on tall piles in the water, and on brackets carved to represent monsters or flowering creepers.
On the landing-stage we read in large letters: "Beware of sunstroke," and lower down, "Avoid it by buying the best umbrellas and the best pith helmets of John Dash." The streets are the commonplace highways of a commercial town; the houses tall, with shops below. Dust and light alike were blinding; jinrickshaws were passing to and fro, drawn by almost naked coolies running as fast as horses.Then her bedroom: no bed, only a vast mattress rolled up against the wall, and spread over the floor every night—it must cover the whole room.详情
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