Here, one by one, in came the nautch-girls, dancers. Robed in stiff sarees, their legs encumbered with very full trousers, they stood extravagantly upright, their arms away from their sides and their hands hanging loosely. At the first sound of the tambourines, beaten by men who squatted close to the wall, they began to dance; jumping forward on both feet, then backward, striking their ankles together to make their nanparas ring, very heavy anklets weighing on their feet, bare with silver toe-rings. One of them spun on and on for a[Pg 29] long time, while the others held a high, shrill notehigher, shriller still; then suddenly everything stopped, the music first, then the dancingin the air, as it wereand the nautch-girls, huddled together like sheep in a corner of the room, tried to move us with the only three English words they knew, the old woman repeating them; and as finally we positively would not understand, the jumping and idiotic spinning and shouts began again in the heated air of the room.

For our noonday rest I took shelter under a wood-carver's shed. On the ground was a large plank in which, with a clumsy chisel, he carved out circles, alternating with plane-leaves and palms. The shavings, fine as hairs, gleamed in the sun, and gave out a scent of violets. The man, dressed in white and a pink turban, with necklaces and bangles on his arms of bright brass, sang as he tapped with little blows, and seemed happy to be alive in the world. He gave us permission to sit in the shade of his stall, but scorned to converse with Abibulla.

Then starting to his feet, and stretching out his arm to point at me, he poured forth invective in sharp, rapid speech. The words flowed without pause:

In the little white church, all open windows, mass was performed by a priest with a strong Breton accent. During the sermon, to an accompaniment of parrots' screaming and kites' whistling, there was a constant rustle of fans, which were left on each seat till the following Sunday. The church was white and very plain; French was spoken, and little native boys showed us to our places on benches. Old women in sarees were on their knees, waving their arms to make large signs of the cross. A worthy Sister presided at the harmonium, and the little schoolgirls sang in their sweet young voices[Pg 144] airs of the most insipid type; but after the incessant hubbub of bagpipes and tom-toms their music seemed to me quite delicious, raising visions in my mind of masterpieces of harmony and grace. A delightful surprise was a museum of Indian art, the first I had seen, a fine collection and admirably arranged;[A] but the natives who resorted hither to enjoy the cool shelter of the galleries talked to each other from a distance, as is their universal custom, at the top of their voices, which rang doubly loud under the echoing vaults.

At our feet lay old Gwalior, sacked again and again, and as often rebuilt out of its own ruins;[Pg 202] and now the princely residences, all of marble wrought in almost transparent lacework, serve to shelter wandering cattle.

In another hut was a woman, brought hither yesterday with her husband, who had died that morning. She had an exquisite, long, pale face and blue-black hair. On her arms were many[Pg 35] bangles, and gold earrings glittered in her ears. For a moment she opened her large gazelle-like eyes, and then with a very sad little sigh turned to the wall, making her trinkets rattle. She was still dressed in her blue choli. A striped coverlet had been thrown over her; by her bed she had a whole set of burnished copper pans and canisters. Charmingly pretty, and not yet exhausted by the disease, which only declared itself yesterday, she was sleeping quietly, more like a being in a storybook than a plague-stricken creature, who must infallibly die on the morrow under the incapable treatment of the Hindoo "bone-setter."

When the last stone was placed, Shah Jehan sent for the architect and went with him to the top of the mausoleum.

Under the cool shade of evening, the softening[Pg 44] touch of twilight, all this sculptured magnificence assumes an air of supreme grandeur, and calls up a world of legends and beliefs till the temples seem to recede, fading into the vapour of the blue night.