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CHAPTER XVIII.

THE WONDER OF INDIA.

THE tameness of the common birds in India has been nowhere more strikingly illustrated than in this crowded city. On a piece of waste ground skirting one of the main roads a flock of sirus, numbering over half a hundred, are daily accustomed to gather and discuss the occupation of Egypt, the Ilbert Bill, the alleged designs of Russia on India, and other matters of general interest. No one disturbs their consultation. No wicked boy throws stones at them, nor does any man raise gun to shoot. They have their talk out and go their way in search of whatever scraps householders may have provided for them. At the hotel many more sparrows than guests sit down to breakfast. They fly in by open doors, across bedrooms into the dining-room, walk about the floor, and sometimes alight on the tablecloth, helping themselves to crumbs.

Every morning one particularly pert fellow flies into my bedroom, perches on the inner window-sill, and with shrill voice and mendacious detail tells me he built the Taj. This is manifestly impossible, and is confuted by well-known facts. But if contradicted he brings in two or three other fellows, who, sitting on the bed-rail, on the washstand, on my portmanteau, wherever there is clawhold, back him up with more details, creating a shrill clamour from which I am at last glad

to make escape.

Before going to see the Taj, “the wonder of India,” it is advisable to visit the mausoleum of Kwajee Aeeas, commonly known as the tomb of Itmud-00-Dowlah. This would of itself be worth seeing if it stood one hundred miles distant from the Taj. But the truth is that, after beholding the Taj, nothing of the same kind is worth looking at. Nevertheless the tomb of Itmud has attractions of its own, and a history excelling in human interest that of many grander places. Kwajee Aeeas was a soldier of fortune who came from Western Tartary in the hope of finding appointment in the service of the great Emperor Akbar. In this he succeeded, but the foundation of his supreme fortunes was laid when his daughter Noor-Mahal was born. She

grew up in matchless beauty, and lit in the breast of the heir-apparent that glowing passion the history of which is written in Moore's “Light of the Harem."

She happened to be engaged to Sheer Afgan, one of the nobles of the court, and being an exceedingly shrewd person married him. A match with the Emperor's son seemed more brilliant, but in those days it was by no means certain that an heir-apparent would reach the throne.

His very claim might prove fatal to him, and if he were poisoned, strangled, or walled up, his wife would be in sore straits. Sheer Afgan, on the contrary, was in a well-established position, not too high to invite hostility and yet high enough to satisfy the reasonable expectations of Becky Sharp. When, however,

, Jehangir succeeded to the throne of Akbar, things were changed. Sheer Afgan was got out of the way, and his widow, otherwise inconsolable, married the Emperor.

The new Empress immediately began to provide for her relations, who at news of her advancement flocked in from Tartary. Her father she caused to be made high treasurer, and all her uncles, her cousins, and her aunts had fat places found for them about the court. Having no children by Jehangir, she concentrated her attention upon the advancement of her daughter by the hapless Sheer Afgan, whom she married to a younger son of the Emperor. As a preliminary towards recovering the throne for him, she induced her husband to put out the eyes of his eldest son, Khosroo.

Khosroo's mother was naturally indignant at this. Noor-Mahal invited the lady to her apartments to talk the matter over. Walking round the courtyard she incidentally asked her visitor to look down a new well that had been dug, and gently but firmly pushed her in.

This new family bereavement moved the heart of Shah Jehan, the second son, toward his unfortunate elder brother. He went off to a quiet place in the south of India, and sent back a messenger to say he “could not endure the separation from his poor blind brother." Khosroo, touched by this sympathy, went off to his brother, who embraced him so affectionately that he strangled him.

Noor-Mahal looked upon this proceeding with approval, since it left only one life between her son-in-law and the throne. Shah Jehan must be removed, and all would be well. But Jehan, as his little comedy with his “poor blind brother” testified, was both crafty and determined.

It became a game of “pull-devil, pull-baker,” and Shah Jehan won. Coming to the throne on the death of his father, he put out the eyes of his brother Noor-Mahal's son-in-law, impartially strangled all his other blood relations, and cast into prison the dowager Empress.

Here through long years this Catharine of Hindostan ate out her lion heart, comforted only by the memory of the days when she had been first at the council board, had led the imperial troops into battle, and had caused her name to be struck on the coin issued from the imperial mint, the first and last time till the epoch of Victoria that a woman's name was so honoured in India.

Noor-Mahal, as will appear from this simple story, was a woman of strong family affection, and it was in obedience to this impulse she built this great mausoleum, Itmud-oo-Dowlah, for the entombment of her father.

She sleeps by his side, life's fitful fever over, only her story left to light up a lurid page in the early history of India.

The Taj was built by Shah Jehan, and apart from its architectural beauties, it is the most magnificent tribute ever raised by man to the memory of a dead wife. Jehan had married the niece of the terrible Empress Noor - Mahal. Moomtaz-ee- Mahal had inherited much of the beauty of her aunt, and

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