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We went into the observatory, where the servants were sleeping in the open air on camp beds, lying across each other and blocking the entrance.[Pg 177] I went to gaze at the north star, looking very small, a tiny spangle of blue in the blue velvet sky, visible at the top of a crazy flight of steps that goes up to nowhere in the air from the topmost terrace. The sultana's mosque is quite small, of translucent milky-white marble, and close by it is a[Pg 208] red wall, hardly pierced by a narrow window with a stone screen, behind which Shah Jehangir was kept a prisoner for seven years.

And, quite unexpectedly, as we turned a corner beyond the coppersmiths' alley, we came on a row of tea-shops, displaying huge and burly china jars. Chinamen, in black or blue, sat at the shop doors in wide, stiff armchairs, their fine, plaited pigtail hanging over the back, while they awaited a customer with a good-humoured expression of dull indifference.

Some prisoners were brought to the train; a single sepoy led them by a chain. Two carried enormous bales, and the third a heavy case. They packed themselves into a compartment that was almost full already, and one of a couple that were chained together by the wrists put the chain round his neck; then, when he had scraped acquaintance with the other travellers, he amused himself by tormenting the hawkers of drink and pastry, bargaining with them for a long time and buying nothing, quite delighted when he had put them in a rage with him. Where the roads cross there are basins where flowers are kept fresh, and above them white pigeons are always fluttering. Public scribes, squatting cross-legged on the ground, trace letters that look like arabesques, on rice-paper with a reed pen. Those who dictate them crouch beside them with an absorbed and meditative expression, dropping out the words one by one with long pauses between.

An interpreter translated to the accused the questions put by the judge, who understood the replies, though he was not allowed to speak excepting in English.

We could see the procession coming straight up a hollow ravine from the valley to the Dokma, a path that none but Parsees are allowed to tread;[Pg 31] eight bearers in white, the bier also covered with white, and, far behind, the relations and friends of the dead, all robed in white, two and two, each pair holding between them a square of white stuff in sign of union. They came very slowly up the steps of the steep ascent with a measured chant, in muffled tones, on long-drawn vowels. And from the surrounding trees, from far and near, with a great flutter of wings, the vultures flew to meet the corpse, darkening the sky for a moment.

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.

Four women and two men wearing masks stretched in a broad grimaceone of the men in a red satin robe edged with leopard-skin, while the other had a squalid white shirt, intentionally soiled, over all his clothesthen began to dance round the priest, stopping presently to spin very fast on one[Pg 149] spot, and the girls' skirts floated gracefully in heavy folds, showing their under-skirts of bright satin embroidered with silver and gold. One of these women, who were not satisfied with painting their faces, by way of adornment, on the nose and cheeks with blackened pig's blood, took off her mask, showing her whole face smeared with it. She and the man in the dirty shirt played a number of mountebank's tricks to the great delectation of the spectators, and she finished amid thunders of applause by seating herself on the Lama's knee and stroking his beard.

"Ah, your Kali, then?"

"Farewell," said he, "and may the Almighty protect you, for you look kind."

A regiment of artillery was marching into quarters. The Highlanders' band came out to meet them: four bagpipes, two side drums, and one big drum. They repeat the same short strain, simple enough, again and again; in Europe I should, perhaps, think it trivial, almost irritating, but here, filling me as it does with reminiscences of Brittany, especially after the persistent horror of tom-toms and shrill pipes, it strikes me as delightfulI even follow the soldiers to their quarters.

Some native lancers were man?uvring; they charged at top speed in a swirl of golden dust, which transfigured their movements, making them look as though they did not touch the earth, but were riding on the clouds. They swept lightly past, almost diaphanous, the colour of their yellow khaki uniforms mingling with the ochre sand; and then, not ten yards off, they stopped short, with astonishing precision, like an apparition. Their lances quivered for an instant, a flash of steel sparks against the skya salute to the Maharajahand then they were as motionless as statues.

One of the police in charge had a whip, and when he was leading away the old man, holding his chain he "played horses" with him, to the great amusement of the bystanders, and even of the old fellow himself.