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“couch-builder." But in this street, older by a century than the English occupation, natives were content to follow old customs and retain ancient appellations.
In each shop squatted a man or woman waiting for custom, which came but slowly. Occasionally a child came up and had weighed out to her with infinite carefulness an ounce of ghee, fished out of a jar by the impartial finger of the proprietor, which was next inserted in whatever other receptacle had a call made upon it. Now and then a woman bought a few pice worth of rice, and the trade in betel-nuts was comparatively lively. For the rest the dealers sat in their shops gazing into vacancy or talking across the narrow passage to their equally disengaged neighbour on the other side.
At the corner of a by-street sat an old woman with a few handfuls of parched peas stored in a bit of paper with a little tin measure designed to mete out the luxury to solvent customers. As none came, the old woman fondled the peas with bony hands not less parched than they, arranging and rearranging them with a tireless devotion that must have added sensibly to their flavour. Perhaps she was hungry herself, and thus dallied with an appetite too expensive to be
satiated. I suppose the market value of the whole stock was one penny, and when this was turned over and the first profits gleaned the old lady would have her dinner. In the meanwhile she took in sustenance by the pores, as Joey Ladle was accustomed, in the recesses of his employer's cellar, to take his wine.
Whenever I saw a comparatively well-todo person I showed him the scrap of paper with the Hindoo's address on. Generally he turned it so as to read it sideways, and invariably returned it with a deprecatory shake of the head. No Christian, it seems, ever penetrates this quarter.
At last I came to a place with “Press" written over it, and, showing the paper, was. directed by sign up a courtyard. There were stables outside, and at first that seemed all. But espying a narrow passage I followed it, and came into a courtyard faced by a house of remarkable appearance, flanked on either side by outbuildings. The house was a cut between a disused gin palace and a show booth. It was painted in gaudy colours, had glass chandeliers hanging down, and was adorned with many mirrors. In one corner of the verandah, rolled up in a blue-and-red. coverlet, was a patriarch fast asleep, and
there in the centre of the yard, sitting upon a low couch some eight feet long by six broad, was my mysterious acquaintance of the morning.
He was as delighted to see me as I was surprised at this second rencontre in this outof-the-way yard in the native quarter. His back was turned as I entered, and he was gazing reflectively upon a basket of very dirty cakes which shared the couch with him. Around, in different postures all indicative of profoundest respect and veneration, were half a dozen men. One, waving a dirty pockethandkerchief, was keeping flies off the too seductive face of the giant; a second held in his hand a stock of lime leaves; and a third held fast in the damp palm of his swarthy hand a store of small pieces of betel-nut. From these the mysterious creature on the couch alternately helped himself while he gazed with troubled brow upon the casket of cakes, apparently debating with himself whether he should buy a pennyworth.
But trouble vanished when he saw me. The cakeman was peremptorily dismissed, the other two servitors were waved off, and a great fat hand was affectionately pressing mine.
“Post-office, ha !” he said by way of greet
ing, and that being his available stock of English he shook hands again.
In his country this essentially absurd ceremony is unknown; but he knew Englishmen did it, and if he could not speak English he could shake hands, which he did frequently. I sat and talked with him for a time; but I could make nothing of him, and left without the slightest notion whether he was the Hindoo editor (whom otherwise I never found), or whether he was a false prophet or a deposed prince. He was certainly, taking into account the absence of preliminary acquaintance, the friendliest man I ever met.
Agra, called by the Mussulman Akbarabad, the City of Akbar, was not always the capital of the Great Mogul. He had begun to build it in 1566, but four years later a circumstance happened which determined him to move to to Futtehpore Sikri, some twenty-four miles distant. At this place there lived a holy man named Selim Christi, who foretold the birth of a son to the great Emperor. The son arrived in due time, a remarkable circumstance in early married life which so pleased Akbar that he not only called the lad Selim, after the Sheik, but determined to go and reside in the immediate neighbourhood of the holy man. Agra was projected and partly built, but that was a mere trifle in the way of an imperial whim. The capital should be at Futtehpore Sikri, and forthwith the Emperor set about building a palace for himself, one for his Christian wife, a row of palaces for his other wives, à palace for his Prime Minister, stables, a mint, a pavilion, a council chamber, and other marvellous structures, the ruins of which stand to this day attesting imperial magnificence and the genius of the native workman.
But the same personal influence that had caused the creation of the city decreed its desertion. Selim Christi discovered that the pomp and circumstance of the Court interfered with his devotions. He bore the affliction as long as possible, spreading his prayer carpet in quiet places and groaning inwardly in the spirit.
At length the crisis came. The Emperor having created this splendid and costly jewel of a town, determined to enclose it in a casket of impregnable fortifications. Then out of the fulness of his heart the holy Sheik spoke.
'My lord,” he said, “twenty times has your slave made the pilgrimage to Mecca, and never amid the heat of the day, the weariness of the night, or the hunger of the morning was his soul so sorely tempted by worldly