As we returned past a village—a hamlet of houses gathering round a well surmounted by a kiosk shading a gaudy idol crowned with red[Pg 176] pinks—a perfectly naked fakir, his straight black hair bound twice round his head like a turban, stood basking in the sun, leaning against a wall, and chanting in a rapid monotone, while two babies, under the shade of a fan-palm leaf, stared up at him and sucked their thumbs.
Then there were races of baggage-mules, and competitions of speed in harnessing horses and in striking the tents. Finally the English officers rode a race, and then the prizes were distributed—money to the men and blue pugarees with gold thread to the native officers.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.
A prodigious palace has left the skeleton of its walls pierced with large windows, and in the blackened stone, almost at the top of the building, a balcony with a canopy over it, resting on fragile columns, is still uninjured; of a pale yellow, like lemon-tree wood, it looks as if it had come into existence only yesterday, a flower risen from the death of the ruins.Our last evening at the Residency, where I had spent days made enchanting by music.
Abibulla saw them off with great deference and a contrite air, and watched their retreat; then, as[Pg 260] I was about to send him to despatch the message, he was indignant. The police! What could they do to a sahib like me? It was all very well to frighten poor folks—it was a sin to waste money in asking for a reply which I should never be called upon to show—and so he went on, till I made up my mind to think no more of the matter. And whenever I met the chief at the bazaar or by the Jellum, he only asked after my health and my amusements.Heavy coaches with solid wheels, hermetically covered with red stuff patterned with white, were bringing home the invisible but noisy ladies of the zenana.
Dilbar dances and sings before the brothers, and[Pg 230] then proposes to play cards. The stake is the liberty of the loser. The four princes play against the dancing-girl, who wins and has them imprisoned on the spot.The fort of Allahabad, the fort of the mutiny of 1857, is a complete citadel where, in the thickness of the walls, behind screens of acacia trees, lurk doors into palaces. Among the gardens there are clearings full of guns and ambulance waggons, and enormous barracks and huts for native soldiers. Then on the ponderous stonework of the ramparts rise little kiosks in the light Hindoo-Mussulman style, elaborate and slender, built by Akbar the [Pg 183]conqueror, who took Prayag and razed it, to build on the site a city dedicated to Allah. And now modern architecture is slowly invading it, adding to the flat walls which hide under their monotony the gems of stonework with their elegant decoration.
Close to a temple, of which the cornice is decorated with female figures holding musical instruments, on a sort of terrace a party of youths were making a distracting din with brass instruments, acutely shrill, and, of course, tom-toms. Two very small temples covered with brass that shines like gold stand in the bazaar to mark the beginning and end of the coppersmiths' quarter, where every stall rings with the tinkle of the little hammers tapping the metal that is beaten into trays and pots and a thousand vessels for the worship of the gods and for domestic purposes. Workmen aged four, the great-grand-sons of the master-smith, were already trying their 'prentice hand, chiselling the hard metal with a free touch, and ornamenting cups and bowls of traditional shape. And this is the only part of the calm and lazy city, living on its temples and its sacred river,[Pg 161] where the visitor feels himself a "tourist." Here the shops for the special craft of Benares are furnished with the unwonted luxury of chairs, and some display of signs and wares is made. Further on is a large open place full of piles of flowers, garlands of jasmine and marigold, and heaps of rose petals to be strewn on the water.
All about the town of pink plaster, in the dust of the roads and fields, are an endless number of dead temples—temples of every size and of every period; and all deserted, all empty; even those that are uninjured look like ruins.
At the top of the street a caravan of moollahs were performing their devotions at the tomb of a Mohammedan saint, whose sarcophagus was enclosed within a balustrade of marble and a border of lilies, alternately yellow and green, with large full-blown flowers in blue, fragile relics that have[Pg 223] survived for centuries amid ruins that are comparatively recent.
There was always the same torture of the horses, too small and too lean for their work, galloping the five miles of the stage and then stopping dead on the spot, incapable of moving, hustled by the fresh team that rushed off on its wild career.
The servant who came to tell me that dinner was served went barefoot, like all native servants, in spite of his livery—a sash and a shoulder-belt arranged over the Indian costume, and bearing the arms of England, and a monogram placed in his turban.详情
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