他来武汉处理“小事”

Outside the town of Delhi a road bordered by great trees leads across the white plain, all strewn with temples and tombs, to Khoutab, the ancient capital of the Mogulsa dead city, where the ruins still standing in many places speak of a past of unimaginable splendour. There is a colossal tower of red masonry that springs from the soil with no basement; it is reeded from top to bottom, gradually growing thinner as it rises, with fillets of letters in relief, and balconies on brackets as light as ribbands alternating to the top. It is an enormous mass of red stone, which the ages have scarcely discoloured,[Pg 219] and was built by Khoutab-Oudeen Eibek to commemorate his victory over the Sultan Pithri-Raj, the triumph of Islam over Brahminism. The guards' band played Indian tunes, to a measure I could not yet catch, and Strauss' waltzes very oddly accented. Suddenly the princess appeared,[Pg 84] in soft rose-pink lightly touched with blue. She wore a pearl necklace with slides of ruby and emerald, shoes thickly worked with gold, and a broad pink sash somewhat darker in colour than her silver-striped tunic.

On our way back through the temple-quarter a sudden wild excitement possessed the worshippers and priests; out of a side street rushed a large troop of monkeys, grey, with black faces. They galloped past in a close pack and fled to the trees, shrieking shrilly. One, however, lagged behind, bent on stealing some rice that had been brought as an offering to a plaster image of Vishnu. A Brahmin stood watching the monkey, and tried to scare it away with a display of threatening arms, but he dared not hit the beast sacred to Hanuman, the god of the green face. The creature, never stirring from the spot, yelled aloud, bringing the rest of the pack back on to the roof of the neighbouring pagodas. Then the ringleader, with a subdued, sleepy, innocent gait, stole gently up to the tray of offerings. He was on the point of reaching it when the priest raised his arm. This was a signal for the whole tribe to scream and dance with terror, but without retreating. The performance seemed likely to last; the bazaar and the temples were in a hubbub of excitement; the doors of the shops and the sanctuaries were hastily shut, till, at the mere sight of a man who came out[Pg 299] with a long bamboo in his hand, the whole pack made off and appeared no more, and Hardwar relapsed into its somnolent sanctity.

On the bank of the river, where there are no more steps, only beaten earth, in a little raised pit a pile of wood was slowly dying out. A man with[Pg 166] a cane raked back the sticks as they fell and rolled away. A squatting crowd were waiting till their relation was altogether consumed to cast his ashes on the sacred waters.

In the distance, across the plain, herds of deer were feeding, and hardly looked up as the train went by.

"Pan, sahib!""Water, sir!"

Ekkas, and chigrams closed with thick curtains, came galloping past with loud cries from within. All was noise and a shifting of many colours, seeming more foolish here, in this large island, with its deserted avenues of tall trees, than anywhere else.

The country was nowhere deserted. Labourers in the rice-fields were transplanting the young seedlings or watering the taller growth that waved in delicate transparent verdure. Or again, there were the watchers perched on their platforms in the middle of the fields; fishermen pushing little nets before them, fastened to triangular frames, or grubbing in the mud in search of shell-fishsmall freshwater mussels, which they carried away in clay jars of Etruscan form. A motley crowd, with animated and graceful gesticulations; the women red or white figures in fluttering sarees, with flowers in their hair, and a few glittering bangles on their arms; the children quite naked, with bead necklaces and queer charms of lead or wood in their ears or their nose; the men slender and active, wearing light-coloured turbans made of yards on yards of twisted muslin, their brown skin hidden only by the langouti or loin-cloth.