Cymbals and kettle-drums formed the orchestra, reinforced by the shrill cries and strident laughter of the spectators. From the top of the observatory, where instruments, all out of order, are to be seen on the deserted terraces, a staircase in a half-circle of stonework leads straight up to the open sky, and there the eye is dazzled by the view of Benares, all spread out below: the vast city of yellow stone, the cupolas of its temples, and its palaces stretching far along the Ganges, which slowly rolls its milky green waters under a sky of almost pearly whiteness; and in the distance the grassy plain of bright emerald green, lost on the horizon that throbs with the heat. Everything was wrapped in a halo rather than a haze, faintly blue with the smoke that went up from the funeral piles of the Hindoo dead.

As soon as dessert was removed two lieutenants got up, and seizing a couple of drums played away with all their might, while some other officers, under the pretext of dancing a Highland fling, cut the most amazing capers. When the band had left[Pg 276] the fun went on to the sound of the banjo, lasting late into the cool night, all in the highest spirits.

And from every stone, and in the rifts in the rocks, hung stalactites, like glittering icicles, and these too were of salt. In the spacious harbour, where a whole fleet of steamships lies at anchor, a swarm of decked boats are moving about, sober in colour, with the bows raised very high in a long peak, and immense narrow sails crossed like a pair of scissors, and resembling a seagull's wings. Steaming over the transparent and intensely blue sea, we presently perceived an opaquer streak of sandy matter, getting denser, and becoming at last liquid, extremely liquid, yellow mudthe waters of the Ganges, long before land was in sight. Between the low banks, with their inconspicuous vegetation, a desolate shore, we could have fancied we were still at sea when we had already reached the mouth of the sacred stream. Some Hindoos on board drew up the water in pails to wash their hands and face, fixing their eyes in adoration on the thick sandy fluid. Enormous steamships crossed our bows, and in the distance, like a flock of Ibis, skimmed a whole flotilla of boats with broad red sails, through which the low sun was shining. The banks closed in, the landscape grew more definitetall palm trees, plots of garden ground, factory chimneys, a high tower. On the water was an inextricable confusion of canoes and row-boats flitting among the steamships and sailing barks moored all along the town that stretched away out of sight.

As we returned past a villagea hamlet of houses gathering round a well surmounted by a kiosk shading a gaudy idol crowned with red[Pg 176] pinksa perfectly naked fakir, his straight black hair bound twice round his head like a turban, stood basking in the sun, leaning against a wall, and chanting in a rapid monotone, while two babies, under the shade of a fan-palm leaf, stared up at him and sucked their thumbs. By the side of the road, in the town, the walls are still standing, all that remains of a great hall in the palace of Secundra Bagh, in which, after the suppression of the Mutiny in 1857, two thousand sepoys who refused to surrender were put to death.

Next came a whole row of very small shops, where there was an endless variety of trifles for sale, toys made of wood painted red and green; and finally, on the ground floor of houses ornamented with carvings and slender colonnades, in a cool and shady and silent street, were the sellers of silk and cloth.

Here are carvers of painted wooden toysred[Pg 10] and green dolls, wooden balls, nests of little boxes in varied and vivid colours.

Not far from Peshawur a legend had arisen concerning a certain Guru, that the holy man now underground grew taller every year by a foot, and the heap of stones grew longer day by day, till the English authorities had to interfere and place a guard of soldiers to check the encroachment of the tumulus on the high road.

In this house abode the postmaster of the Persian mails, and I wanted to register a letter for Cabul.

A dancing-girl went by, wrapped in white muslin as thin as air, hardly veiling the exquisite grace of her shape. Close to us, in front of two musicians playing on the vina and the tom-tom, she began to dance, jingling the rattles and bells on her anklets: a mysterious dance with slow movements and long bows alternating with sudden leaps, her hands crossed on her heart, in a lightning flash of silver necklets and bangles. Every now and then a shadow passed between the nautch-girl and the lights that fell on her while she was dancing, and then she could scarcely be seen to touch the ground, she seemed to float in her fluttering[Pg 301] drapery; and presently, before the musicians had ceased playing, she vanished in the gloom of a side alley. She had asked for nothing, had danced simply for the pleasure of displaying her grace.