In the coppersmiths' street was a booth that seemed to be a school of art, where little fellows of seven or eight were engraving platters and pots with the decision of practised craftsmen.
Very late in the evening came the sound of darboukhas once more. A throng of people, lighted up by a red glow, came along, escorting a car drawn by oxen. At each of the four corners were children carrying torches, and in the middle of the car a tall pole was fixed. On this, little Hindoo boys were performing the most extraordinary acrobatic tricks, climbing it with the very tips of their toes and fingers, sliding down again head foremost, and stopping within an inch of the floor. Their bronze skins, in contrast to the white loin-cloth that cut them across the middle, and their fine muscular limbs, made them look like antique figures. The performance went on to the noise of drums and singing, and was in honour of the seventieth birthday of a Mohammedan witch who dwelt in the village. The car presently moved off, and, after two or three[Pg 49] stoppages, reached the old woman's door. The toothless hag, her face carved into black furrows, under a towzle of white hair emerging from a ragged kerchief, with a stupid stare lighted up by a gleam of wickedness when she fixed an eye, sat on the ground in her hovel surrounded by an unspeakable heap of rags and leavings. The crowd squeezed in and gathered round her; but she sat perfectly unmoved, and the little acrobats, performing in front of her door, did not win a glance from her. And then, the noise and glare annoying her probably, she turned with her face to the wall and remained so. She never quitted her lair; all she needed was brought to her by the villagers, who dreaded the spells she could cast. Her reputation for wisdom and magic had spread far and wide. The Nizam's cousin, and prime minister of the dominion, never fails to pay her a visit when passing through Nandgaun, and other even greater personages, spoken of only with bated breath, have been known to consult her.
Beyond the outermost wall, when we had at last left it behind us, at the foot of the pile of terra-cotta-coloured bricks, were vast tanks of stagnant water, said to be inexhaustible. Near them was a shrine to Siva, with two small idols hung with yellow flowers, where an old Hindoo was praying devoutly; and then through a park of giant trees, and shrubs bright with strange blossoms, over which the parrots flew screaming.
The plague-stricken man lay on a low bed struggling with anguish; large drops of sweat stood on his face, his throat was wrapped in wet bandages, and he spoke with difficulty, as in a dream. I turned back into Grant Road, where bands of tom-toms and harmoniums were hard at it, where the gamblers were stifling each other round the roulette-boards in a frenzy of amusement and high spirits, eager for enjoyment before hovering death should swoop down on them.