第二十三章 常相士说梦

After inspecting my little permit to visit the Khyber, the officials at the fort had placed in my carriage a soldier of the native Khyber rifle-corps, six feet six in height, placid and gentle. When I got out of the carriage to walk up a hill he would follow a yard or so behind, and watching all my movements, looked rather as if he were taking me to prison than like an escort to protect me.

"A doctor? I cannot say," replied Abibulla, "but the sahib knows many things." The woman's eyes entreated me. Would I not come? it would comfort the sick man, and help him, perhaps, to die easily if the gods would not spare him. Under a loggia, flowery with mosaics of jasper and carnelian, the emperor, seated on a white marble throne embroidered with carving, administered justice. At his feet, on a raised stone flag, the divan, his prime minister took down the despot's words, to transmit them to the people who were kept at a respectful distance under a colonnade, forming a verandah round the imperial palace.

From the broad steps on the shore other narrower flights lead to archways and porticoes, or zigzag up to the lanes that make a gap of distant blackness in the light-hued mass of palaces and embankments.

Out of doors, meanwhile, one funeral procession almost trod on the heels of the last; at the latest gleam of day, and out towards the west, above the Field of Burning, a broad red cloud filled all one quarter of the sky. Inside, after going through a long array of rooms filled with sham European furniturehandsome chairs and sofas covered with plush, Brussels carpets with red and yellow flowers on a green groundwe came to the throne-room, an enormous, preposterous hall, which, with its rows of cane chairs and its machine-made Gothic woodwork, was very like the waiting-room or dining-room of an American hotel.

Past a magnificent railway station, and through a manufacturing district of tall furnaces, we came to the quiet country and the Ganges, bordered with gardens, where creepers in flower hang over the muddy stream stained with iridescent grease and soot.