"And how many die every day?"Some native lancers were man?uvring; they charged at top speed in a swirl of golden dust, which transfigured their movements, making them look as though they did not touch the earth, but were riding on the clouds. They swept lightly past, almost diaphanous, the colour of their yellow khaki uniforms mingling with the ochre sand; and then, not ten yards off, they stopped short, with astonishing precision, like an apparition. Their lances quivered for an instant, a flash of steel sparks against the sky—a salute to the Maharajah—and then they were as motionless as statues.In the little white church, all open windows, mass was performed by a priest with a strong Breton accent. During the sermon, to an accompaniment of parrots' screaming and kites' whistling, there was a constant rustle of fans, which were left on each seat till the following Sunday. The church was white and very plain; French was spoken, and little native boys showed us to our places on benches. Old women in sarees were on their knees, waving their arms to make large signs of the cross. A worthy Sister presided at the harmonium, and the little schoolgirls sang in their sweet young voices[Pg 144] airs of the most insipid type; but after the incessant hubbub of bagpipes and tom-toms their music seemed to me quite delicious, raising visions in my mind of masterpieces of harmony and grace.
The rice, lately sown, was sprouting in little square plots of dazzling green; it was being taken up to transplant into enormous fields perpetually under water. All the "paddy" fields are, in fact, channelled with watercourses, or if they are on higher ground, watered from a well. A long beam is balanced over the mouth of the well, and two boys run up and down to lower and raise the bucket; a man tilts the water into the runlets out of a large vessel of dusky copper, or perhaps out of a leaky, dripping water-skin.On the very summit of the hill, all over the ravine which divided it from another, and which has been filled up at an enormous cost, and then on the top of that other hill beyond, temples are piled up, shining against the too-blue sky, with pointed roofs of stone, scorched by the sun or stained by the rain, and patterned with pale-hued lichens. Above each a spear stands up, impaling a metal ball. In infinite variety, differing in materials, style, and proportions, some quite small, as if they had sprouted round the base of others that are gigantic, there are here five thousand temples built by the faithful, who are incessantly erecting more, devoting great fortunes to the vanity of leaving a chapel that bears their name.
The other victim, the night watchman of a neighbouring village, was suspected of treachery towards the hill-tribes in a recent skirmish. One ball through the head had killed him, and his arms had been cut off.
We landed at Ramnagar, a marble palace looking like a fortified town, its massive walls rising[Pg 174] from the river and crowned by balconies and fairy kiosks—a lacework of stone against the brilliant sky.Round the railway station crowds the village of Chandernagore, the huts close together, with no land to spare, and at length we were in the city of houses, with broad terraces in front in a classic style, with colonnades and decorations in relief, and broad eaves overhanging for shade. And beautiful gardens, bougainvilleas, and almond trees, white-blossomed faintly touched with pink, hedge in streets with foreign-sounding names. The air was full of the fresh scent of water and greenery and of the blessed peace of silence—so rare in India.[Pg 244]
A New Year's dinner this evening at the Guest Bungalow. The prince, forbidden by his religion to eat with men who are not of his own caste, was represented by Mr. S——, the English engineer at Bhawnagar.
When the gate to the platform was opened there was a stampede, a fearful rush to the train; then the cars, once filled, were immediately shut on the noisy glee of those who were going.A poor sick ape, beaten by all the others, sat crying with hunger at the top of a parapet. I called her for a long time, showing her some maize on a tray. At last she made up her mind to come down. With the utmost caution she reached me, and then, after two or three feints, she struck the platter with her closed fist, sending all the grain flying. Utterly scared, she fled, followed to her perch by a whole party of miscreants roused by the gong-like blow on the tray. Others stole into the temple to snatch the flowers while the attendant priest had his back turned; and when I left they were all busily engaged in rolling an earthenware bowl about, ending its career in a smash. In front of the temple the crimson dust round a stake shows the spot where every day the blood is shed of a goat sacrificed to the Divinity.At the end of the court, over which enormous bread-fruit trees cast a cool shade, above some steps and a marble terrace where some musicians were performing, stands the holy spot which we dared not go near. In the dim light we could see a square object, red embroidered in gold—the couch of Ram-Roy—and hanging to the wall a silver curtain. All this, though perhaps it is but tinsel, looked at a distance and in the shadow like brocade and magnificent jewels. Round the main building there are four kiosks dedicated to the Guru's four wives.
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."Dog! traitor! cruel wretch! eater of meat!——"
The poorhouse is about two miles from the city; it consists of a courtyard enclosed by walls, from which awnings are stretched supported on poles. And here from twelve to fifteen hundred wretched skeletons had found shelter, spectres with shoulder-blades almost cutting through the skin, arms shrunk to the bone, with the elbow-joint like a knot in the middle, and at the end hands which looked enormous and flat and limp, as if every knuckle were dislocated. Their gnarled knees projected from the fearful leanness of their legs, and the tightened skin between the starting ribs showed the hollow pit of the stomach. Men and women[Pg 192] alike were for the most part naked, but for a ragged cotton loin-cloth. And all had the same scared look in their eyes, the same grin of bare teeth between those hollow cheeks. Almost all had bleeding wounds where the bones had come through the skin.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.
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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.At a turn in the road the view opened out to a[Pg 249] distant horizon; the plain of Peshawur, intensely green in contrast with the rosy tone of the foreground; and far away the Himalayas, faintly blue with glaciers of fiery gold in the sun, against a gloomy sky where the clouds were gathering.[Pg 168]详情
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