“后美国时代”,中东三雄的政治抱负

Above Darjeelinga modern and fashionable health-resort, a town of villas, for the most part with corrugated iron roofshangs a dense mist, cutting off the horizon at a distance of a few miles; and through the dull substance of this fleece, at an impossible height, there was a reflectiona mirage, an illusion, a brighter gleam, a bluer shadow, which might be the top of a mountain; but so high up, so far away, and above all so transient, that it failed to fix itself on the memory, blotted out at once by the pallid wall that shut[Pg 147] in the scene. But at sunset one thickness of the haze melted away, unveiling, leagues on leagues away, a chain of giant mountains, not yet the snowy peaks, but bright-hued cliffs on which gold and purple mingled in symphonies before dying into violet, turning to blue in the moonlight; and the mists fell once morea shroud at our feet, an abyss of shadows, in which the tea-planters' lamps twinkled through the darkness.

Amid hanging swathes of creepers, in a fold of the hill stands another temple, of red stone, very gloomy; and, in its depths, a rigid white Buddha, with purple shadows over his eyes of glittering crystal. And so on to temples innumerable, so much alike that, seeing each for the first time, I fancied that I was retracing my steps; and endless little shrine-like recesses, sheltering each its Buddha, make blots[Pg 43] of shadow on the bright ochre-coloured stone of the cliffs. For centuries, in the rainy season, thousands of pilgrims have come, year after year, to take up their abode in these cells, spending the cold weather in prayer and then going off to beg their living and coming back for the next wet season.

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

A man in the fort always struck out the hours on a gong, very slowly, in the heat of the day. Twelve at noon was interminableone, two, three were so feeble as to be scarcely audible. And then when it was cooler and the tom-toms could be heard in the distance, the strokes had a queer dislocated rhythm, and sometimes even a stroke too many, smothered in a hurried roll.

Inside, the walls are panelled with mosaic of carnelian and chalcedony, representing poppies and funkias, so fragile-looking, so delicate, that they seem real flowers blooming in front of the marble. And marble screens, carved into lace-work, filling the high doorways and the windows, admit a tender amber-toned light. Squeezed in and crushed between houses that tower above it, rises the pointed dome of Biseshwar Matti, covered with leaves of chased gold; smaller cones surround the principal dome, bristling with tiny pyramids of gold, carved into flowers round statues of Kali with her eight arms, of Ganesa, and of peacocks with spread tails. Under this splendid cupola, dazzlingly bright against the sky,[Pg 156] the temple itself is quite small, and strictly closed against the unbeliever. Some pious hands had hung chains of jasmine and roses above the entrance, and they gave a touch of beauty to the stonework, very old, and soiled with large stains of oil. A sense of intense piety hangs about this sanctuary, subdues every voice, and bends the head of every passer-by in reverence of the mystery, and they all bring flowers. We stopped at a bungalow by a creek of the Jellum that was paved with broad lotus-leaves, among which the buds were already opening their pink hearts.

This native regiment, after many victories, was presented by the Empress Queen with a sort of mace. A little shrine contains two crossed knives, and is surmounted by three Ghoorkhas bearing a royal crown in silver. This object is preserved in a case in the ammunition store. An officer is appointed to guard it, and the soldier who took it out to show me touched it really as if it had been the Host. And it is a fact that on high festivals the soldiers come to sacrifice goats before the house where this fetish is treasured.

After her another woman repeated the ceremony, and then they went away, still singing. This went on for part of the evening. When it was all over they went to eat rice at the bridegroom's house, and meanwhile the same ceremony had been performed with the bride, whom her neighbours had taken it by turns to anoint and perfume, in a house closed against prying eyes.

The actors spoke their parts like lessons, with a gesture only now and then, and invariably wrong;[Pg 229] and they all spoke and sang through the nose in an irritating voice pitched too high.

[Pg 295]

In the streets, swarming with people, every woman who is not a pariah, walks veiled in all the mystery of her unrevealed features, her long, dreamy eyes alone visible.