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.
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.
A palankin, hung with heavy red curtains, went by very quickly, borne by five men. They chanted a sort of double-quick march, marking the time with a plaintive sigh and a slight bend of the knees, which gave their pace the appearance of a dance, the litter swaying very gently.
Further off, under the banyan trees, is the sepoys' camp; they have been turned out of barracks on account of the plague; and flashing here and there among the dark, heavy verdure there lies the steely level of motionless ocean. A golden mass, an enormous shrine chased all over and starred with tapers, now came forward, borne by a score of naked men. Against the gold background, in a perfect glory of diamonds and pearls, sat Vishnu, decked out with flowers and jewels, his head bare with a huge brilliant in his forehead. 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.
The want of foresight in the people here is amazing. A servant earning five rupees a month got his son married, a child of fifteen, and for this event he bought fireworks on credit, and at enormous interest, which would cost him three years' wages.