Then a Parsee woman stopped my servant to ask him if I were a doctor.
Turning out of this high street blazing with lamps, were dens of prostitution, and dark, cut-throat alleys.When the dead are to be honoured in this land each true believer lays a pebble as homage on the tomb, and the dead man's repute is estimated by the size of the pile of stones that covers him.
The rajah's sleeping-room has at one end a dais ascended by three steps; here the sovereign's bed used to be spread; and here, now, the judges of the Supreme Court have their seats. In the middle of the room was a confused array of benches and tables, and against the walls, also washed with yellow, hung a series of portraits of bewigged worthies.The evening was exquisitely calm, shrouding everything in rose-colour, and shedding a light, opalescent golden haze on the pools and streams. And out of this floating gauze, in the doubtful light, white figures seemed to emerge gradually,[Pg 107] only to vanish again in the pure, transparent atmosphere of the blue night.
[Pg 270]As we went down to the shore a whole swarm of little dark boys wanted to sell scarabs, rattans, birds' nests shaped like pockets, and dream-flowers, gathered from the creepers on the temples; large almond-scented lilies, and hanging bunches of the ebony-tree flowers, so fragile in texture and already faded in the sun, but exhaling till evening a faint perfume of verbena and lemon.
As we go nearer, gothic towers are distinguishable among the buildings—faint reminiscences of Chester, clumsily revived under the burning light of white Asia.In a dirty stable, strewn with withered plants, stood some forlorn, sickly-looking beasts, the sacred bulls of Madura.
With tea a servant brought packets of betel in a chased gold box, with a lid imitating a lotus flower. Then, when everybody was served, he carefully replaced the precious object in an embroidered silk bag and disappeared.There are temples all along the shore, poor little structures for the most part. On the walls gaudy borders of crude colour serve to frame chromo-lithographs representing the principal events of the Vedas. There are but one or two sanctuaries built of marble, and very rarely have the idols any precious jewels.At night, in the crowded station, a guard of honour was waiting, composed of sepoys. There was shouting among the crowd, a fanatical turmoil, a storm of orders, and heavy blows. Some great[Pg 93] magnate got out of the train, surrounded by secretaries and officers. The soldiers, bearing torches, attended him to his carriage; they remounted their horses, following the vehicle, in which a light dress was visible. Very fast, and with a great clatter, they rode away into the silent night fragrant with rich scents; they were lost under the trees to reappear in the distance on a height, the torches galloping still and the smoke hanging in a ruddy cloud above the bright steel and the white cruppers. Then, at a turn in the road, they all vanished.
In the train again, en route for Ahmedabad. As we crossed the fertile plain of Gujerat the first monkeys were to be seen, in families, in tribes, perched on tall pine trees, chasing each other, or swinging on the wires that rail in the road, and solemnly watching the train go by. Peacocks marched about with measured step, and spread their tails in the tall banyan trees tangled with flowering creepers. Shyer than these, the grey secretary birds, with a red roll above their beak, seemed waiting to fly as we approached. On the margin of the lakes and streams thousands of white cranes stood fishing, perched on one leg; and in every patch of tobacco, or dahl, or cotton, was a hut perched on four piles, its boarded walls and leaf-thatch giving shelter to a naked native, watching to scare buffaloes, birds, monkeys, and thieves from his crop.
Further away, in another quite small temple, a young Brahmin robed in white, and very handsome, was reading the Ramayana to two women; the three quite filled the little building. The entrance was screened by a curtain composed of jasmine flowers threaded on fine string, and behind this veil of flowers the three figures looked like the creatures of a legend. Outside the sanctuary, seated on the steps and flagstones and obstructing the street, were a score or so of women redolent of lemon and[Pg 178] sandal-wood, and listening to the scripture distinctly chanted out by the young priest.
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The orchestra, consisting of a harmonium, a violin, and a darboukha, played a languishing, drawling air to a halting rhythm, while the chorus, standing in a line on the stage, sang the introductory verses.Then follow more trays with tufts of jasmine stuck into the heart of a pink rose; and as the guest takes one of these bouquets the servant sprinkles first the flowers and then him with rose-water.
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