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BHAWNAGAR
The little palace of Nilam Bagh, panelled inside throughout with carved wood, looks like a jewel-casket dropped in a vast park of green shade and[Pg 85] broad lawns. Rawl Shri Bhaosinhji, Rajah of Bhawnagar, is very young, almost a child, and still very shy, dressed in the European fashion in a long grey overcoat, with a voluminous turban of turquoise-blue gauze.

As soon as he had bid us welcome, bunches of chrysanthemums were presented to us tied round a little stick. The Rajah hung garlands of jasmine round our neck, and a servant sprinkled us with otto of roses. The conversation turned on Europe, which Rawl Shri regards as a land of marvels, where fairy-like manufactures are produced and extraordinary forces have subjugated nature. He, like his cousin of Palitana, has a passion for horses, and he took me to visit his stud.

On the edge of a pool, where, like a huge, full-blown lotus flower, stands a kiosk of sculptured marble, dedicated to the Rajah's mother, we came upon the shoe market, the last survival of a time not so very long ago, when shoemakers, as working on the skins of dead beasts, dared not come within the precincts of a town.

It was a miserable assemblage of booths and tumble-down dwellings, crowded round a sumptuous old palace with porticoes carved with divinities. The new town consists of modern buildings, devoid of[Pg 86] style, the residence of wealthy Parsee merchants. Here are libraries, archives—all kinds of offices, which seem so useless here, and which, till I was told what they were, I took to be a prison.

A long train of wailing women, loud in lamentation, came slowly out of a house where one lay dead whom they had just been to look at, on their way now to wash their garments, defiled by contact with the body. But all dressed in red, with gaudy embroidery in yellow, white, and green, and large spangles of looking-glass glittering in the sun, they did not look much like mourners.

Really the prison this time! in the midst of a large enclosure with high walls; a building on a star-shaped plan, with large windows to admit air and daylight. The prisoners, in a white uniform, with chains on their feet, were manufacturing various articles in basket-work, and in a shed with a cotton awning a hundred or so of convicts were weaving carpets. The brilliancy of colour was indescribable; the vividness of the medley of worsted piled by the side of the gorgeous looms, the light hues of the dresses, the faded turbans touched with light, the glitter of the steel chains, the bronze skins, glorified to gold in the quivering sunshine, which, scarcely subdued by the awning, bathed the[Pg 87] scene in a glow so intense that it seemed to proceed from the objects themselves. Behind each loom sat a warder, with the pattern of the carpet on his knees, dictating the colours to the weavers, chanting out his weariful litany of numbers and shades in a monotonous voice.

A poor old fellow, behind a grating that shut him into a kind of hovel, called out to us, first beseeching and then threatening, rushing frantically to the back of his hut and at once coming forward again with fresh abuse. He was a dangerous madman, placed there to keep him out of mischief and to be cured by the Divinity.

In the bazaar I sought in vain for the petticoats embroidered with rosettes, flowers, and elephants pursued by tigers, such as the women wear here; these robes are made only to order and are not to be found. Then Abibulla simply asked a beggar-woman to sell me hers. The poor creature, hooted at by some old gossips, retired into a corner to undress, and, wrapped in the packing-cloth in which she had been carrying some rags, brought me the petticoat.

A tame white antelope was wandering about the garden of the old rajahs' palace, under a shower of gardenia-like flowers that hung by a stem[Pg 88] scarcely thicker than a thread. The whole of one avenue was strewn with this snow, on which the graceful little beast, with its large sad eyes, was feeding. Further on, under some other trees with red blossoms, stands a little mausoleum built by the prince over Jacky, his dog, "who was faithful and good."

Some native lancers were man?uvring; they charged at top speed in a swirl of golden dust, which transfigured their movements, making them look as though they did not touch the earth, but were riding on the clouds. They swept lightly past, almost diaphanous, the colour of their yellow khaki uniforms mingling with the ochre sand; and then, not ten yards off, they stopped short, with astonishing precision, like an apparition. Their lances quivered for an instant, a flash of steel sparks against the sky—a salute to the Maharajah—and then they were as motionless as statues.

The regiment is housed under sheds, the horses picketed to the ground by one fore and one hind foot. They are thoroughbred and magnificent beasts, almost all from the prince's stud, and affectionately cared for by the men, who were delighted to be complimented on their steeds.

[Pg 89]

A New Year's dinner this evening at the Guest Bungalow. The prince, forbidden by his religion to eat with men who are not of his own caste, was represented by Mr. S——, the English engineer at Bhawnagar.

The long table was filled with officials and their wives, as happy as children—pulling crackers at dessert, putting on paper caps, singing the latest music-hall nonsense; while outside, jackals whined, suddenly coming so close that they drowned the voices and the accompaniment on the piano.

At the railway station a woman, who would accept no gratuity, strewed flowers on the cushions of my carriage, and put garlands along the grooves of the open windows—bunches of ebony flowers, of Indian cork-flowers, lilies, and China roses on the point of dropping, only hanging to the calyx by the tip of the petals.

In the distance, across the plain, herds of deer were feeding, and hardly looked up as the train went by.

At a station where we stopped, a man with a broad, jolly, smiling face got into the carriage. He was a juggler and a magician, could do whatever he would, and at the time when the line was opened[Pg 90] he threatened that if he were not allowed to travel free he would break the trains into splinters. The officials had a panic, and the authorities were so nervous that they gave way; so he is always travelling from one station to another, living in the carriages.

He came into ours as if he were at home, and amused himself by worrying me. At first he made believe to throw my rings out of window, substituting others, I know not how, which I saw fall on the line and roll into the grass on the bank. My watch got into his hands and vanished; I found it in my friend T——'s pocket, and afterwards in a basket of provender closed at Bhawnagar, and which I unpacked with my own hands.

The man was dressed in blue and silver, his belt studded with four-anna pieces; hanging to his girdle was a whole array of small knives, sheaths, and boxes. With his sleeves turned up to his elbows, he fairly amazed me, conjuring away into the air eight rupees that filled his hand, and finding them again one by one in our pockets, bags, or plaids. He turned everything topsy-turvy, swaggered as if he were the master, and then went off, with his broad smile, to amuse other travellers.
 
At another station, a man, standing on the carriage step, held out a broad sheet to a servant, the two ends falling to the ground. Then a lady stepped out, hid herself under the stuff, which wrapped her from head to foot, and walked along the platform with a woman-servant. She was the wife of some superior clerk, not rich enough to have a palankin, but of too high caste to uncover her face—a white bundle tottering along the platform. One of her antelope-skin slippers came off; for a second a tiny foot was put out with silver anklets. The woman put her mistress's shoe on again, and then both went to the waiting-room reserved for ladies.


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