第四届“中国青年好网民”优秀故事征集启动

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. And of all the victims of the disaster those I had just seen were not the most to be pitied. It was on families of high caste, men who might not work and whose wives must be kept in seclusion, that the famine weighed most cruelly. At first they borrowed money (and the rate of interest recognized and tolerated here is seventy-five per cent.), then they sold all they could sell. Bereft of every resource, unable to earn anything in any way, regarding the famine as an inevitable infliction by the incensed gods, they let themselves starve to death in sullen pride, shut up in their houses with their womankind. Thus they were the most difficult to rescue. Their unassailable dignity made them refuse what they would have regarded as charity, even to save the life of those dearest to them, and it needed the angelic craft of the women of the Zenana Mission to induce the kshatriyas to accept the smallest sum to keep themselves alive.

Seen through the blue glass under the low, broad carapace that covered the carriage, the landscape circled past, the colour hardly subdued to that of Europe; even in the dusk, with the windows open, everything was still intolerably, crudely white, with reflections of fiery gold. Everything vibrated in the heat, and at the stations the walls after baking all day scorched you when you went near.

DEHRA DOON

Presently three beggar-women came up to sing from door to door. In their arms, like babies at the breast, they carried shapeless idols painted red, bedizened with spangles and gilt paper. They wailed out a ditty repeated again and again, knocked perseveringly at the doors, insisting on alms; and[Pg 96] then, when they had received it, they touched the threshold with their blood-coloured puppets and departed. The rice, lately sown, was sprouting in little square plots of dazzling green; it was being taken up to transplant into enormous fields perpetually under water. All the "paddy" fields are, in fact, channelled with watercourses, or if they are on higher ground, watered from a well. A long beam is balanced over the mouth of the well, and two boys run up and down to lower and raise the bucket; a man tilts the water into the runlets out of a large vessel of dusky copper, or perhaps out of a leaky, dripping water-skin.

And as the priests knew that the beast would need no help they again left me to myself. Up came the elephant at a brisk trot, flourishing his trunk and hooting; within two yards of me he stopped and stood still. He accepted a four-anna piece that I offered him, and handed it up for his driver, but finding no one on his back he put the coin back into my pocket, and sniffing all over my coat found a biscuit, ate it, and then quietly went back to his stable. A dark street corner where there were no shops. Under a canopy constructed of four bamboos thatched with straw, a young man in a light-coloured dhoti was sitting on a low stool; about him were women singing. Presently one of them came forward, and dipping her fingers into three little copper pots that stood on the ground in front of the youth, she took first oil, then a green paste, and finally some perfume with which she touched seven spotsthe lad's feet, knees, shoulders, and turban. Then she wiped her fingers on the saree of the bridegroom's motherfor he was to be[Pg 252] married on the morrowwho was standing behind her son. Inside the building, under a silken Persian rug, stretched like an awning, there were piles of coin on a cloth spread on the ground, with flowers, rice, and sweetmeats offered there. In a recess was a band of musicianstom-toms and fiddlesscarcely audible in the turmoil of shouted prayers and the chatter of the faithful.

Another mausoleum is of lace-like carving in marble, the roof painted with Persian ornament; and the whole thing is uninjured, as fresh as if it had been wrought yesterday, under the broad shade of theobromas and cedars that have grown up among the ruins.