文化--北京频道--人民网

They were all flying from the plague, which was spreading, and emptying the bazaars and workshops. The Exchange being closed, trade was at a standstill, and the poor creatures who were spared by the pestilence were in danger of dying of hunger.

Outside, under a thatched screen, sits the punkah coolie, his legs crossed, the string in his hand; and as soon as everyone goes into the room he wakes up, rocks his body to and fro, his arm out in a fixed position, swaying all of a piece with a mechanical see-saw, utterly stupid. He will go to sleep lulled by his own rocking, and never wake unless the cord breaks, or somebody stops him. In the train to Delhi the windows were screened with cuscus mats constantly sprinkled with water, and so long as the train was in motion the air came in cool, fragrant, and breathable. But whenever we stopped in the desert which this country becomes just before the monsoon, melted lead seemed to scorch up the atmosphere and shut the train in between walls of fire.

The old woman's bones and ashes were cast into the Ganges, her husband still vacantly looking on, as all that was left of his life's companion floated for a few moments, and then was swallowed up in an eddy.

The morning mist shrouds everything; the scene insensibly passes through a series of pale tints, to reappear ere long in the clear rosy light, which sheds a powdering of glowing gold on the broad roadstead of Bombay.

Fakirs, holding out their begging-bowls as they squatted round an opening in the ground, showed that it was the entrance to a temple; a few steps down, a long corridor with little niches on each side, and then hall after hall full of grimacing gods, lighted up by our guide's torch, till at last we reached an immense vault where impenetrable darkness filled the angles lost in a labyrinth of arcades converging to some mystery. Here all the Hindoo gods, carved in stone, have been crowded together, with their horrible contortions, their stolid beatitude, their affected grace; and in their midst is a huge idol, hacked with a great cut by Aurungzeeb, the Moslem emperor, at the time of his conquest. Suddenly all about us was a crowd of Brahmins, appearing from what dark corners we could not discover. They looked nasty and half asleep, and vanished at once with a murmur of whispered speech that hung about the galleries in an echo.

Such as were able to work at making rope or straw mats earned an anna a day, the children half an anna. This was extra to their food, a cake of gram flour, which was all the allowance for twenty-four hours. But among those admitted to the poorhouse about a quarter of the number were unable to work. In a similar but smaller enclosure adjacent was the infirmary, a hospital with no physician, no remedies. The shrunken creatures lay shivering in the sun, huddled under rags of blanket. All were moaning, many were unconscious, wandering in delirium, shrieking, and writhing. One man, too weak to stand, came up grovelling on his hands and knees, taking me for a doctor, and beseeching me to go to his wife who was lying over there, and by her a dusky moist rag as it seemedher very inside purged out by dysentery.

There are temples all along the shore, poor little structures for the most part. On the walls gaudy borders of crude colour serve to frame chromo-lithographs representing the principal events of the Vedas. There are but one or two sanctuaries built of marble, and very rarely have the idols any precious jewels.

The horizon is the Himalaya range; the slopes are covered with the ribbed velvet of the tea plantations, and on one hill stand the scattered bungalows of Mussoree, looking no bigger than pebbles.

The coachman we engaged at the station was a giant, with an olive skin and a huge, pale pink turban. He was clad in stuffs so thin that on his box, against the light, we could see the shape of his body through the thickness of five or six tunics that he wore one over another.

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.