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In the midst of a large room crowded with women in light-hued sarees, the bridegroom takes his seat between two tables, on which are large trays of rice. Facing him is a chair, and one is occupied by the bride, who is brought in by a party of girls. She is scarcely fourteen, all in white; on her head is a veil of invisibly fine muslin ten folds thick; it enfolds her in innocence, and is crowned with sprays of myrtle blossom.

A fortified wall encloses Lashkar, the residence of the Maharajah of Gwalior; the bridges, which form part of the enclosure crossing the river that flows through the estate, have thick bars filling up the arches.

When the last stone was placed, Shah Jehan sent for the architect and went with him to the top of the mausoleum. Abibulla saw them off with great deference and a contrite air, and watched their retreat; then, as[Pg 260] I was about to send him to despatch the message, he was indignant. The police! What could they do to a sahib like me? It was all very well to frighten poor folksit was a sin to waste money in asking for a reply which I should never be called upon to showand so he went on, till I made up my mind to think no more of the matter. And whenever I met the chief at the bazaar or by the Jellum, he only asked after my health and my amusements. The pile of the girl with marigold wreaths and the shroud stained crimson and purple flung her ashes to the winds, reduced to mere atoms of bone and light cinder, and the servants of the place drowned a few still glowing sticks in the river;[Pg 169] the family and friends slowly went up the yellow stone steps and disappeared through a gateway leading into the town.

The ugliest of these palaces is that of the Maharajah, with galleries of varnished wood, of which the windows overlooking the river are filled with gaudy stained glass. In the garden is a pagoda painted in crude colours crowned with a gilt cupola; the zenana has bright red walls striped with green, and in the grounds there is a cottage exactly copied from a villa in the suburbs of London.

In the spacious harbour, where a whole fleet of steamships lies at anchor, a swarm of decked boats are moving about, sober in colour, with the bows raised very high in a long peak, and immense narrow sails crossed like a pair of scissors, and resembling a seagull's wings.