The post-chaise was a tonga, escorted by a mounted sowar, armed with a naked sword. He rode ahead at a rattling trot, but the clatter was drowned by the shouts of the driver and of the sais, who scrambled up on the steps and urged the steeds on with excited flogging. "And no medicine?"
Japanese girls, too, in every possible hue, with piles of tinsel and flowers above their little flat faces all covered with saffron and white paint; little fidgeting parrakeets flitting from window to window, and calling to the people in the street in shrill, nasal tones.
The ugliest of these palaces is that of the Maharajah, with galleries of varnished wood, of which the windows overlooking the river are filled with gaudy stained glass. In the garden is a pagoda painted in crude colours crowned with a gilt cupola; the zenana has bright red walls striped with green, and in the grounds there is a cottage exactly copied from a villa in the suburbs of London.
Then, on the right, endless pools and rivers; naked men were ploughing in the liquid mud and splashed all over by the oxen drawing a light wooden plough, their bronze bodies caked ere long with a carapace of dry, grey mud.
[Pg 205] Whenever our green driver meets another ekka-driver they both get off their perch and take a few puffs at the hookah that hangs in a bag at the back of the vehicle.
At the top, facing two immense rocks that look like couchant lions, there was another palace; one[Pg 100] wall alone is left standing; on the creamy marble a peacock spreads its tail, carved into very delicate sprays and flowers.
"A doctor? I cannot say," replied Abibulla, "but the sahib knows many things." The woman's eyes entreated me. Would I not come? it would comfort the sick man, and help him, perhaps, to die easily if the gods would not spare him.
Down in the streets the houses looked ghostly blue in the moonlight, the cross roads, lighted with the warmer glow of a few lamps in red paper shades, alternating with the black darkness, in which it was just possible to discern cows and goats lying on the ground.
Flocks of almost tame partridges and wood-pigeons occupying the road did not fly till they were almost under the horses' feet, and all the way as we went, we saw, scampering from tree to tree, the scared little squirrels, grey with black stripes and straight-up bushy tails.