In a little alley of booths was a shop with no front show, and behind it a sort of studio full of carvers and artists working on sandal-wood boxes, ivory fans as fine as gauze, and wooden lattices with elaborate flower patterns, used to screen the zenana windows. And in little recesses workmen dressed in white, with small copper pots about them in which they had brought rice for their meals, were chasing and embossing metal with little taps of their primitive tools, never making a mistake, working as their fancy might suggest, without any pattern, and quite at home in the maze of interlacing ornament.
In the bazaar a light, glossy cheetah was being led round for an airing. The beast had on a sort of hood of silk stuck with peacock's feathers, which its keeper pulled down over its eyes when it saw a prey on which it was eager to spring; and with its eyes thus blinded, it would lick the hand that gave it an anna with a hot tongue as rough as a rasp.
A company of the Khyber Rifles are quartered there in the old buildings and the officers' deserted bungalows; over all hangs an atmosphere of icy desolation and overpowering melancholy. Above our heads a flight of eagles wheeled against the sky.The old palace of the kings is now yellow-ochre, coated with plaster and lime-wash over the splendid antique marble walls.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.
The whole mausoleum, the terrace on which it stands, the four minarets as tall as light-towers, are all in dead white marble, the whiteness of milk and opal, glistening with nacreous tints in the brilliant sunshine under a sky pale with heat and dust.Tazulmulook finds Bakaoli asleep in her garden, and after plucking the miraculous flower he exchanges the ring for that of the princess and departs. Bakaoli awakes, and discovering the theft of the flower and of her ring is much disturbed, and gives orders that the thief is to be caught.
A Ja?n temple. A confusion of ornament, carved pillars, capitals far too heavy, with a medley of animals, gods and flowers, under a roof all graven and embossed. In the sanctuary, where the walls are riddled with carving, is an enormous Buddha of black marble decked out with emeralds, gold beads and rare pearls, hanging in necklaces down to his waist. A large diamond blazes in his forehead above crystal eyes, terrifically bright. Every evening all this jewellery—the gift of Hati Singh, a wealthy Ja?n merchant who built the temple—is packed away into a strong-box, which we were shown in the cellar.Then from afar came the sound of tom-toms and bagpipes, nearer and nearer, and the musicians became visible at the top of one of the stair-like alleys. First came the men, then the women. One of these, robed in pale green with a violet and silver saree, carried a child in her arms wrapped in a red dress embroidered with gold. He was this day six[Pg 160] months old; he had eaten rice, and was brought to see the sacred Ganges for the first time. The family, friends, and neighbours had assembled in honour of the great ceremony, which consisted in holding the infant face downwards over the water, which he scarcely saw with half-shut eyes; and then the procession went back again to the sound of the music, and was gone.These gentlemen of the Civil Service would put in an appearance "now and then"—the eternal "now and then" that answers every question in India. They stepped out of a buggy, walked quickly round, had seen, and were gone again in a great hurry to finish some important work for the next European mail.
Our boat stole slowly past the palaces, where there were no lights, through the haze rising from the river, and all things assumed a dissolving appearance as though they were about to vanish; all was shrouded and dim with mystery.Then, another day, the air was leaden, too heavy to breathe. The mountains of the gem-like hues had lost their glory; they were of one flat tone of dusky grey, and further away were lost to view, invisible in the dead monotony of the colourless sky. The silence was oppressive; there was not a bird in the air, and a strange uneasiness scared the beasts, all seeking a shady refuge.
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