Over the rice-fields, in the darkness, danced a maze of fire-flies, quite tiny, but extraordinarily bright; they whirled in endless streaks of flame, intangible, so fine that they seemed part of the air itself, crossing in a ceaseless tangle, faster and faster, and then dying out in diamond sparks, very softly twinkling little stars turning to silver in the moonlight.Between the large parasols are thousands of little pagodas, formed of four columns and a roof, and sheltering idols wreathed with flowers, to whom the faithful pray and bring offerings. Garlands are for ever floating down-stream, jasmine and Indian pinks, and patches of scattered rose petals; and on the banks of the river, where the sand forms little bays, flowers lie in a hem of delicate colours.
Outside the town the carriage went on for a long time through a poverty-stricken quarter, and past plots of ground dug out for the erection of factories. Fragile flowers, rose and lilac, bloomed in the shade of banyans and palm trees. Hedges of jasmine and bougainvillea, alternating with rose trees, scented the air. Then we came to Parel, a suburb where, in a spacious enclosure, stands the hospital for infectious diseases. It is a lofty structure of iron, the roof and walls of matting, which is burnt when infected with microbes, and which allows the free passage of the air. In spite of the heat outside it was almost cool in these shady halls.
[Pg 12]And then we came away from this hospital, where no sister of charity, no woman even, had brought some little consolation or the kindliness of a smile to these dying creatures, whose wandering or frantic black eyes haunted me.
So, after waiting for the reply of the gentleman whose business it was to give me this free pass, seeing that he could not make up his mind, I left the town without it.
The Rajah, a prisoner in his little state, a ruler only in name and deposed from his power, as I rose to take my leave, cast a glance of deep melancholy towards a last golden beam that quivered on the sacred hill, and seemed to awake from a dream.We drove across a succession of parks to visit[Pg 175] Sumer Mundir, a too elaborately carved temple, the panels representing scenes from the Ramayana set in ornamental borders. On the roof, which bristled with sculptured stone, thousands of blue pigeons were perched asleep, their iridescent plumage scarcely stirring in the sunshine. Beyond a tank at the end of the park was a palace in the Arab style with incredibly delicate ornaments of wrought marble, open halls painted in subdued colouring, and lighted by the golden reflections from the water. The pool had steps all round it, in which crowds seat themselves on the occasions of pilgrimage, and far away the enchanting vision of Benares, the holy city, in every shade of amber and honey.
Under the archway by which we entered a cow crossed our path, her head decked with a tiara of peacock's feathers, and went her way alone for a[Pg 200] walk at an easy pace. Within the palace is a maze of corridors, and pierced carving round every room fretting the daylight. An inner court is decorated with earthenware panels set in scroll-work of stone. A slender colonnade in white marble is relieved against the yellow walls, and below the roof, in the subdued light of the deeper angles, the stone, the marble, the porcelain, take hues of sapphire, topaz, and enamel, reflections as of gold and mother-of-pearl. In a pavilion is a little divan within three walls, all pierced and carved; it suggests a hollow pearl with its sides covered with embroidery that dimly shows against the sheeny smoothness of the marble. The effect is so exquisitely soft, so indescribably harmonious, that the idea of size is lost, and the very materials seem transfigured into unknown substances. One has a sense as of being in some fairy palace, enclosed in a gem excavated by gnomes—a crystal of silk and frost, as it were, bright with its own light.Opposite the hotel, beyond the tennis club, is a sort of no-man's-land, where carriages are housed under tents. Natives dust and wash and wipe down the carriages in the sun, which is already very hot; and the work done, and the carriages under cover, out come swarms of little darkies, like ants, who squall and run about among the tents till sunset.
The noise in the dock is maddening. The Customs, the police, the health-officers, all mob the voyager with undreamed-of formalities, such as a paper to be signed declaring that he has but one watch and one scarf-pin, and that their value is in proportion to the wearer's fortune. Then, again, the dispersal of the luggage, which must be fished out at another spot amid the yelling horde of coolies who rush at[Pg 4] the trunks and use the portmanteaus as missiles, till at last we are in the street.And again ruins. Under an archway still left standing on piers carved with lilies and foliage, lay a whole family of pariahs covered with leprosy and sores.
From the roof, consisting of terraces between cupolas, there is a view of many temples glorified in the golden sunset, and nearer at hand stand ten[Pg 123] imposing columns, very tall—the last remaining vestiges of the rajah's elephant-house.Afternoon, in the bazaar, in the warm glow of the sinking sun, wonderfully quiet. No sound but that of some workmen's tools; no passers-by, no shouting of voices, no bargaining. A few poor people stand by the stalls and examine the goods, but the seller does not seem to care. Invisible guzlas vibrate in the air, and the piping invitation of a moollah falls from the top of a minaret.
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