Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

between them, and told the priests that they were to divide it. No sooner, however, had it touched the threshold, than the two old men began scrambling for it in the most indecorous manner, abusing each other, spitting, stamping, clapping their hands, and doing every thing but striking; the one insisting that it belonged to him, whose threshold it had touched, the other urging the known intentions of the donor, I tried to pacify them, but found it of no use, and left them in the midst of the fray. Meantime the priest of Rama, who had received his fee before, and was well satisfied, came up, with several of the villagers, to ask if I would see the Raja's palace. On my assenting, they led us to a really noble gothic gateway, overgrown with beautiful broad-leaved ivy, but in good preservation, and decidedly handsomer, though in pretty much the same style, with the “Holy Gate” of the Kremlin in Moscow. Within this, which had apparently been the entrance into the city, extended a broken but still stately avenue of tall trees, and on either side a wilderness of ruined buildings, overgrown with trees and brushwood, which reminded Stowe of the baths of Caracalla, and me of the upper part of the city of Caffa. I asked who had destroyed the place, and was told Seraiah Dowla, an answer which (as it was evidently a Hindoo ruin) fortunately suggested to me the name of the Raja Kissen "Chund. On asking whether this had been his residence, one of the peasants answered in the affirmative, adding that the Raja's grandchildren yet lived hard by: By this I supposed he meant somewhere in the neighbourhood, since nothing here promised shelter to any beings but wild beasts, and as I went along I could not help looking carefully before me, and thinking of Thalaba in the ruins of Babylon;

Cautiously he trode, and felt
The dangerous ground before him with his bow;
The adder at the noise alarmed,

Launched at th’intruding staff her arrowy tongue, Our guide meantime turned short to the right, and led us into what were evidently the ruins of a very extensive palace. Some parts of it reminded me of Conway Castle, and others of Bolton Abbey. It had towers like the former, though of less stately height, and had also long and striking cloisters of gothic arches, but all overgrown with ivy and jungle, roofless and desolate. Here, however in a court, whose gateway had still its old folding doors on their hinges, the two boys whom we had seen on the beach came forward to meet us, were announced to us as the great grand-sons of Raja Kissen Chund, and invited us very courteously in Persian, to enter their father's dwelling. I looked round in exceeding

[blocks in formation]

surprise. There was no more appearance of inhabitation than in Conway. Two or three cows were grazing among the ruins, and one was looking out from the top of a dilapidated turret, whither she had scrambled to browze on the ivy. The breech of a broken cannon, and a fragment of a mutilated inscription, lay on the grass, which was evidently only kept down by the grazing of cattle; and the jackalls, whose yells began to be heard around us as the evening closed in, seemed the natural lords of the place. Of course, I expressed no astonishment, but said how much respect I felt for their family, of whose ancient splendour I was well informed, and that I should be most happy to pay my compliments to the Raja, their father. They immediately led us up a short, steep, straight flight of steps, in the thickness of the wall of one of the towers, precisely such as that of which we find the remains in one of the gateways of Rhuddlan Castle, assuring me that it was a very good road;" and at the door of a little vaulted and unfurnished room like that which is shown in Carnarvon Castle, as the queen's bed-chamber, we were received by the Rajah Omichund, a fat shortish man, of about 45, of rather fair complexion, but with no other clothes than his waistcloth and Brahminical string, and only distinguished from his vassels by having his forehead marked all over with alternate stripes of chalk, vermilion, and gold leaf. The boys had evidently run home to inform him of our approach, and he had made some preparation to receive us in Durbar. His own Musnud was ready, a kind of mattrass laid on the ground, on which, with a very harmless ostentation, he laid a few trinkets, a gold watch, betel-nut box, &c. Two old arm chairs were placed opposite for Stowe and me. The young Rajas sat town at their father's right hand, and his naked domestics ranged themselves in a line behind him, with their hands respectfully folded. On the other side the Sotaburdar stood behind me; Stowe's servant took place behind him, and Abdullah between us as his interpreter, which function he discharged extremely well, and which was the more necessary, since, in strict conformity with court etiquette, the conversation passed in Persian. I confess I was moved by the apparent poverty of the representative of a house once very powerful, and paid him more attention than I perhaps might have done had his drawing room presented a more princely style. He was exceedingly pleased by my calling him “ Maha-Rajah,” or Great King, as if he were still a sovereign like his ancestors, and acknowledged the compliment by a smile, and a profound reverence. He seemed, however, much puzzled to make out my rank, never having heard (he said) of any “ Lord Sahib,” except the Governor-General, while he was still more perplexed by the exposition of “Lord

112

THE RAJA OMICHUND.

Bishop Sahib,” which for some reason or other my servants always prefer to that of " Lord Padre.” He apologized very civilly for his ignorance, observing that he had not been for many years in Calcutta, and that very few Sahibs ever came that way. I told him that I was going to Dacca, Benares, Delhi, and possibly Hurdwar; that I was to return in nine or ten months, and that should he visit Calcutta again, it would give me great pleasure if he would come to see me. He said he seldom stirred from home, but as he spoke his sons looked at him with so much earnest and intelligible expression of countenance, that he added that "his boys would be delighted to see Calcutta, and wait on me." He then asked very particularly of Abdullah in what street and what house I lived. After a short conversation of this kind, and some allusions on my part to his ancestors and their ancient wealth and splendour, which were well taken, we took leave, escorted to the gate by our two young friends, and thence by a nearer way through the ruins to our pinnace, by an elderly man, who said he was the Rajas's “Muktar, or chamberlain, and whose obsequious courtesy, high reverence for his master's family, and numerous apologies for the unprepared state in which we had found as the court,” reminded me of old Caleb Balderstone.

We had not yet, however, done with our acquaintance. In about half an hour's time the Muktar returned, and had a conversation with Abdullah, apparently to ascertain what my real rank was, and with directions to act accordingly. At least after receiving satisfaction on the points in question, he desired to see me, and announced that his master intended visiting me. I at first declined the honour, saying that we were travellers, that I was obliged to be off very early in the morning, and that I had no means with me of receiving him as I could wish to do. The old man however persisted, saying that his inaster would come immediately, and that - where there was friendship (joining his hands and cringing almost to the threshold) ceremony was unnecessary.” Stowe was gone to bed, however I made ready to receive them; but the Raja after all excused himself on account of the night air, and only sent his sons, who had by this time completely transformed themselves into eastern beaux, by the addition of white muslin dresses, and turbans of gold brocade. They brought also a present of mangoes, sugar and pastry, and advanced with the usual nuzzur, after the manner of Calcutta. They sate some time, occasionally answering me in Hindoostanee, but generally preferring Persian, of their acquirements in which they seemed proud, and they expressed some surprise that I did not speak it. They were like most of the young Indians I have seen, very lively, gentlemanly, and in:

[blocks in formation]

telligent, anxious to obtain information about Europe, and expressing repeatedly the pleasure they expected from a visit to Calcutta. At length as a sign of their ruksut,” or dismissal, I poured some lavender water on their hands and handkerchiefs, apologizing that I had no attar, and saying that it was “belattee gulab," (foreign rose-water.) They liked it to all appearance much, and we parted excellent friends. On the whole, I have been greatly pleased with the evening's adven-ture. It has given me an opportunity of seeing the highest class of Hindoo families, in their undress and daily habits of life. I had heard much of their simplicity, as compared with the Mussulmans; and even in the present instance, I am not quite sure whether it is to this simplicity, or to the poverty which I at first suspected, but which seemed contradicted by the appearance of the boys in the evening, that I am to attribute the sorry appearance of the court," and the dilapidated state in which the mansion is allowed to continue. I ought to mention, that after the boys were gone, the old Muktar remained for some minutes behind, hoping they had given me satisfaction; regretting that his master had the asthma, and saying, how grand a present would have been sent, if they had had more notice; and at length, asking permission to accompany lords when they came to see me.

So ended the evening, but not so the night. The news had bably spread through the village, that a “burra admee,” (a great man) had come to see the Raja, with divers accounts of our riches and splendour; and about one o'clock an alarm of thieves was given by my sirdar-bearer, who happening to look out of one of the cabin windows, saw three black heads just above the water, cautiously approaching the sides of the vessel. His outcry of Decoit! Decoit!” alarmed us, but also alarmed them; they turned rapidly round, and in a moment were seen running up the river banks. Thus we had a specimen of both the good and evil of India.

his young

pro

CHAPTER VI.

SIBNIBASHI TO DACCA.

GIPSIES-WINGED BUGS-MATABUNGA-FISHING-DIFFICULT

PASSAGE IN THE RIVER-BRAHMINY BULLS-TITÝBANI-ORNAMENTED BOATS-STRONG CURRENT--OTTERS-AVALANCHES--PAWN-KHYZR- ELEPHANTS BATHING,

JUNE 19.--We again proceeded, still for the most part in a northerly or north-westerly direction. The river this day

[blocks in formation]

was much broader than we have yet seen it, with sandy banks, covered with low silky rushes. Many cormorants, cranes, and porpoises were seen, but no alligators or crocodiles, though these shores I should have thought were well adapted to them. The day was very hot. We anchored at a place called Kishenpol, where the river had a decidedly western course. This place is not marked by Rennel, who is indeed nearly useless here. The neighbourhood is dry, sandy, and open, but with a good many villages in sight, each with its' adjacent wood, and the parts near the river cultivated with indigo, which I am told delights in a sandy soil. Some scattered ears of maize were growing among it. The banks were precipitous, and covered with fine long silky rushes, evidently of a kind which would be very valuable for cordage, &č. like the “ espanto” of Spain. Here they are only used as thatch, for which they are reckoned better than straw. This sort of cover is, I understand, the favourite haunt of the tiger, who likes the neighbourhood of water, and the power at the same time of lying dry and clean. Abdullah told us several circumstances about the tiger, which at least were curious, as showing the popular notions respecting him in India: "He not fierce, but very civil when he not provoked or very hungry; he then meddle with nobody.” He ascribed to him in fact many of the noble and generous properties, which, perhaps with equal justice, have been ascribed to the lion. "He had been, he said, when he was in service before, at one or two tiger hunts. The tiger once wounded never thought of flying afterwards, and except a short little roar when he sprung at his prey or his enemies, he was always silent both under wounds and in death. On asking if a tiger should cross our path, what would he do, he steadily repeated, “ he do no harm, we not fire at him." “ Would he be frightened at us!!! he afraid of nothing, and nobody.'

On the other side of the river was a large encampment of wretched tents of mats, with a number of little hackeries, panniers, ponies, goats, &c. so like gipsies, that on asking what they were, I was not much surprised to hear Abdullah say they were gipsies; that they were numerous in the upper provinces, living exactly like the gipsies in England; that he had seen the same people both in Persia and Russia, and that in Persia they spoke Hindoostanee the same as here. In Russia he had had no opportunity of ascertaining this fact; but in Persia, by Sir Gore Ousley's desire, he had spoken with some of the wandering tribes, and found that they understood and could answer him. I told him of Lord Teigumouth’s conversation in Hindvostanee with the old gip

Oh, no,

« PreviousContinue »