A heavy, rusty-red cloud hung over the field of Hindoo funeral fires. Tambourines and bells could be heard in the distance, and as we went nearer the noise grew louder in the foul air, stifling and stagnant; till when we got close to the place the noise and singing were frantic and the smell of burning was acrid, sickening.This native regiment, after many victories, was presented by the Empress Queen with a sort of mace. A little shrine contains two crossed knives, and is surmounted by three Ghoorkhas bearing a royal crown in silver. This object is preserved in a case in the ammunition store. An officer is appointed to guard it, and the soldier who took it out to show me touched it really as if it had been the Host. And it is a fact that on high festivals the soldiers come to sacrifice goats before the house where this fetish is treasured.
The doors were shut; all was silence—the stillness of the star-lit night.The view spread to the horizon of mauve-pink sky, very faintly streaked with green. We could see the white mass of Secunderabad, a town of English barracks, at the foot of chaotic red-brown rocks, looking like the heaped-up ruins of some city of the Titans; and among trees shrouded in blue smoke, Hyderabad, conspicuous for its two mosques—the tomb of the Empress and the Jumna Musjid, the mausoleum of the Nizams.
My friend Captain McT——, with whom I stayed, had a house with a peaked, reed-thatched roof. Round the verandah where we slept at night hung festoons of jasmine and bougainvillea. Bamboos, ph?nix, and curtains of creepers at the end of the lawn made a wall of verdure, fresh and cool; and through this were wafted the perfumes shed on the air—the scent of roses and verbena, of violet[Pg 290] or of rosemary, according to the side whence the wind blew, mingling with that of the amaryllis and honeysuckle in bloom close at hand. And in this quiet garden, far from the bazaar where the darboukhas were twanging, birds sang all night, and the fireflies danced in mazes from flower to flower.As we went back we found the roses carried in the morning by the Persian strewn on the ground in front of the Ali Musjid, and over them a flock of birds with red beaks were fluttering.
A Catholic church flanking the Jesuit college persistently sent up to us the shrill tinkle of a little bell, rattling out its quick, harsh strokes like a factory bell for workmen.In booths between these houses, the gamblers, standing round a board with numbered holes, were watching the ball as it slowly spun round, hit the edge, seemed to hesitate, and at last fell into one of the cups. Four-anna pieces, ten-rupee notes—anything will serve as a stake for the Hindoo ruffian in a starched shirt-front, low waistcoat and white tie, above the dhouti that hangs over his bare legs; or for the half-tipsy soldier and sailor,[Pg 28] the cautious Parsee who rarely puts down a stake, or the ragged coolie who has come to tempt fortune with his last silver bit.We left Rawal Pindi in a tonga. The night was black, the carriage had no lamps; but now and again, at the sound of the driver's horn, dark masses—baggage camels, scarcely distinguishable in the gloom—made way for us to go past at a gallop.
In a suburb of little houses beyond a great open square stands a gateway—a monumental portico of pink sandstone inlaid with white marble, on which the texts from the Koran, in black marble, look green in the intense light.As we returned to Lahore the palace rose before us among trees, a strip of wall, uninjured, covered with sapphire and emerald tiles; a fragile minaret crowning a tower bowered in flowering shrubs—and then the vision was past. The carriage drove on for[Pg 238] a long way by ruins and vestiges of beauty, and re-entered the town, where lanterns were being lighted over the throng that pushed and hustled about the fair.The pile of the girl with marigold wreaths and the shroud stained crimson and purple flung her ashes to the winds, reduced to mere atoms of bone and light cinder, and the servants of the place drowned a few still glowing sticks in the river;[Pg 169] the family and friends slowly went up the yellow stone steps and disappeared through a gateway leading into the town.
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.Turning out of this high street blazing with lamps, were dens of prostitution, and dark, cut-throat alleys.Making my way among the too numerous gods in relief against the overwrought walls heavy with carving, I came to a wonderful balcony where, in broken cages, I found the parrots that had betrayed me, and among them an exquisite pale yellow cockatoo of great rarity.
In the island of Srirangam we visited a temple to Vishnu, enclosed within eight walls, of which the three first only contain any dwellings. A crowd of pilgrims swarmed about the steps, where everything was on sale: little gods in bronze, in painted marble, in clay, and in wood; paper for[Pg 111] writing prayers on; sacred books; red and white face-paints, such as the worshippers of Vishnu use to mark their foreheads with a V; little baskets to hold the colours, with three or four divisions, and a mirror at the bottom; coco-nuts containing kohl; stuffs of every dye; religious pictures, artless indeed, and painted with laborious dabs of the brush in the presence of the customer; chromo-lithographs from Europe, sickeningly insipid and mawkishly pretty.
Then at Peshawur again in the evening, girls, with groups of soldiers in red jackets or Scotch kilts; the common women were horrible, whitened,[Pg 251] with loose shirts and tight-fitting trousers. One alone sat at her window wreathed about with mindi flowers in the crude light of a lamp. The others accosted the passer-by, laughing and shouting in shrill tones.
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