The setting sun was pouring a torrent of crimson light along the Rio as the prow of our canoe bumped against the steps of the wharf, warning us that we had at length reached our destination. The landing-place is a little beyond the arsenal, and commands a full view of the cathedral and other conspicuous objects. The first glance around convinced us that we were about to visit a city of the dead, and at once swept away the delusion caused by the distant view of white-washed churches and towers, glittering steeples and domes.
As such places should always, in our humble opinion, be visited for the first time by moonlight, we spent an hour or two in ascertaining what accommodations the Aljube, or ecclesiastical prison, would afford. Dellon's terrible description of the place had prepared us for "roughing it," but we were agreeably disappointed. (18) The whole building, with the exception of a few upper rooms, had been cleaned, plastered, and painted, till it presented a most respectable appearance. Salvador, it is true, had ventured into the garrets, and returned with his pantaloons swarming with animal life. This, however, only suggested the precaution of placing water pots under the legs of our "Waterloo," and strewing the floor with the leaves of the "sacred grass," a vegetable luxury abounding in this part of the world.
When the moon began to sail slowly over the eastern hills, we started on our tour of inspection, and, as a preliminary measure, walked down the wharf, a long and broad road, lined with double rows of trees, and faced with stone, opposite the sea. A more suggestive scene could not be conceived than the utter desolation which lay before us. Everything that met the eye or ear seemed teeming with melancholy associations; the very rustling of the trees and the murmur of the waves sounded like a dirge for the departed grandeur of the city.
A few minutes' walk led us to a conspicuous object on the right hand side of the wharf. It was a solitary gateway, towering above the huge mass of ruins which flanks the entrance to the Strada Diretta. (19) On approaching it we observed the statue of Saint Catherine, (20) shrined in an upper niche, and a grotesque figure of Vasco de Gama in one beneath. Under this arch the newly-appointed viceroys of Goa used to pass in triumphal procession towards the palace.
Beyond the gateway a level road, once a populous thoroughfare, leads to the Terra di Sabaio, a large square, fronting the Se Prinmaçial or Cathedral of Saint Catherine, and flanked by the Casa Santa. Before visiting the latter spot we turned to the left, and ascending a heap of ruins, looked down upon the excavation, which now marks the place where the Viceregal Palace rose. The building, which occupied more than two acres of ground, has long been razed from the very foundations, and the ground on which it stood is now covered with the luxuriant growth of poisonous plants and thorny trees. As we wandered amidst them, a solitary jackal, slinking away from the intruder, was the only living being that met our view, and the deep bell of the cathedral, marking the lapse of time for dozens, where hundreds of thousands had once hearkened to it, the only sound telling of man's presence that reached our ear.
In the streets beyond, nothing but the foundations of the houses could be traced, the tall cocoa and the lank grass waving rankly over many a forgotten building. In the only edifices which superstition has hitherto saved, the churches, convents, and monasteries, a window or two, dimly lighted up, showed that here and there dwells some solitary priest. The whole scene reminded us of the Arab's eloquent description of the "city with impenetrable gates, still, without a voice or a cheery inhabitant: the owl hooting in its quarters, and birds skimming in circles in its areas, and the raven croaking in its great thoroughfare streets, as if bewailing those that had been in it." What a contrast between the moonlit scenery of the distant bay, smiling in all eternal Nature's loveliness, and the dull grey piles of ruined or desolate habitations, the short-lived labours of man!
We turned towards the Casa Santa, and with little difficulty climbed to the top of the heaps which mark the front where its three gates stood. In these remains the eye, perhaps influenced by imagination, detects something more than usually dreary. A curse seems to have fallen upon it; not a shrub springs between the fragments of stone, which, broken and blackened with decay, are left to encumber the soil, as unworthy of being removed.
Whilst we were sitting there, an old priest, who was preparing to perform mass in the cathedral, came up and asked what we were doing.
"Looking at the Casa Santa," we answered. He inquired if we were Christian, meaning, of course, Roman Catholic. We replied in the affirmative, intending, however, to use the designation it its ampler sense.
"Ah, very well," replied our interrogator. "I put the question, because the heretics from Bombay and other places always go to see the Casa Santa first in order to insult its present state."
And the Señor asked us whether we would attend mass at the cathedral; we declined, however, with a promise to admire its beauties the next day and departed once more on our wanderings.
For an hour or two we walked about without meeting a single human being. Occasionally we could detect a distant form disappearing from the road and rapidly threading its way through the thick trees as we drew near. Such precaution is still deemed necessary at Goa, though the inducements to robbery or violence, judging from the appearance of the miserable inhabitants, must be very small.
At last, fatigued with the monotony of the ruins and the length of the walk, we retraced our steps, and passing down the Strada Diretta, sat under the shade of a tree facing the Rio. Nothing could be more delicately beautiful than the scene before us-the dark hills, clothed with semi-transparent mist, the little streams glistening like lines of silver over the opposite plain, and the purple surface of the creek stretched at our feet. Most musically too, the mimic waves splashed against the barrier of stone, and the soft whisperings of the night breeze alternately rose and fell in unison with the voice of the waters.
Suddenly we heard, or thought we heard, a groan proceeding from behind the tree. It was followed by the usual Hindoo ejaculation of "Ram! Ram!" (21)
Our curiosity was excited. We rose from our seat and walked towards the place whence the sound came.
By the clear light of the moon we could distinguish the emaciated form and features of an old Jogee. (22) He was sparingly dressed, in the usual ochre-coloured cotton clothes, and sat upon the ground, with his back against the trunk of the tree. As he caught sight of us, he raised himself upon his elbow, and began to beg in the usual whining tone.
"Thy gift will serve for my funeral," he said with a faint smile, pointing to a few plantain leaf platters, containing turmeric, red powder, rice, and a few other similar articles.
We inquired into what he considered the signs and symptoms of approaching dissolution. It was a complaint that must have caused him intense pain, which any surgeon could have instantly alleviated. We told him what medical skill could do, offered to take him at once where assistance could be procured, and warned him that the mode of suicide which he proposed to carry out, would be one of most agonising description.
"I consider this disease a token from the Bhagwán (the Almighty) that this form of existence is finished!" and he steadfastly refused all aid.
We asked whether pain might not make him repent his decision, perhaps to late. His reply was characteristic of his caste. Pointing to a long sabre cut, which seamed the length of his right side, he remarked,
"I have been a soldier-under your rule. If I feared not death in fighting at the word of the Feringee, am I likely, do you think, to shrink from it when the Diety summons me?"
It is useless to argue with these people; so we confined ourselves to inquiring what had made him leave the Company's service.
He told us the old story, the cause of half the asceticism in the East-a disappointment in an affaire de cœur. After rising to the rank of naick or corporal, very rapidly, in consequence of saving the life of an officer at the siege of Poonah, he and a comrade obtained leave of absence, and returned to their native hamlet, in the Maharatta hills. There he fell in love, desperately, as Orientals only can, with the wife of the village Brahman. A few months afterwards the husband died, and it was determined by the caste brethren that the relict should follow him, by the Suttee rite. The soldier, however, resolved to save her, and his comrade, appraised of his plans, promised to aid him with heart and hand.
The pyre was heaped up, and surrounded by a throng of gazers collected to witness the ceremony, so interesting and exciting to a superstitious people.
At length the Suttee appeared, supported by her female relations, down the path opened to her by the awe-struck crowd. Slowly she ascended the pile of firewood; and, after distributing little gifts to those around, sat down, with the head of the deceased in her lap. At each of the four corners of the pyre was a Brahman, chaunting some holy song. Presently the priest who stood fronting the south-east, retired to fetch the sacred fire.
Suddenly a horseman, clad in yellow clothes, (23) dashed out of a neighbouring thicket. Before any had time to oppose him, his fierce little Maharatta pony clove the throng, and almost falling upon his haunches with the effort, stood motionless by the side of the still unlit pyre. At that instant the widow, assisted by a friendly hand, rose from her seat, and was clasped in the horseman's arms.
One touch of the long Maharatta spur, and the pony again bounds, plunging through the crowd, towards the place whence he came. Another moment and they will be saved!
Just as the fugitives are disappearing behind the thicket, an arrow shot from the bow of a Rankari, (24) missing its mark, pierces deep into the widow's side.
The soldier buried his paramour under the tree where we were sitting. Life had no longer any charms for him. He never returned to his corps, and resolved to devote himself to futurity.
It was wonderful, considering the pain he must have been enduring, to hear him relate his tale so calmly and circumstantially.
The next morning, when we passed by the spot, three or four half-naked figures, in the holy garb, were sitting like mourners round the body of the old Jogee.
Strange the contempt for life shown by all these metempsychosists. Had we saved that man by main force-an impossibility, by the by, under the circumstances of the case-he would have cursed us, during the remnant of his days, for committing an act of bitter and unprovoked enmity. With the Hindoo generally, death is a mere darkening of the stage in the mighty theatre of mundane life. To him the Destroyer appears unaccompanied by the dread ideas of the Moslem tomb-torments, or the horror with which the Cristian (25) looks towards the Great Day; and if Judgment, and its consecutive state of reward or punishment, be not utterly unknown to him, his mind is untrained to dwell upon such events. Consequently, with him Death has lost half his sting, and the Pyre can claim no victory over him.
Old Goa has few charms when seen by the light of day. The places usually visited are the Se Primaçial (Catherdral), the nunnery of Santa Monaca, and the churches of St. Francis, St. Gaetano, and Bom Jesus. The latter contains the magnificent tomb of St. Francis Xavier. His saintship, however, is no longer displayed to reverential gazers in mummy or "scalded pig" form. Altogether we reckoned about thirty buildings. Many of them were falling to ruins, and others were being, or had been, partially demolished. The extraordinary amount of havoc committed during the last thirty years, (26) is owing partly to the poverty of the Portuguese. Like the modern Romans, they found it cheaper to carry away cut stone, than to quarry it: but, unlike the inhabitants of the Eternal City, they have now no grand object in preserving the ruins. At Panjim, we were informed that even the woodwork that decorates some of the churches, had been put up for sale.
The edifices, which are still in good repair, may be described in very few words. They are, generally speaking, large rambling piles, exposing an extensive surface of white-washed wall, surmounted by sloping roofs of red tile, with lofty belfries and small windows. The visitor will admire the vastness of the design, the excellence of the position, and the adaptation of the architecture to the country and climate. But there his praise will cease. With the exception of some remarkable wood-work, the minor decorations of paintings and statues are inferior to those of any Italian village church. As there is no such thing as coloured marble in the country, parts to the walls are painted exactly in the style of a small cabaret in the south of France. The frescoes are of the most grotesque description. Pontius Pilate is accommodated with a huge Turkish turban; and the other saints and sinners appear in costumes equally curious in an historical and pictorial point of view. Some groups, as for instance the Jesuit martyrs upon the walls of Saint Francis, are absolutely ludicrous. Boiled, roasted, grilled and hashed missionaries, looking more like seals than men, gaze upon you with an eternal smile. A semi-decapitated individual stands bolt upright during the painful process which is being performed by a score of grim-looking heathen. And black savages are uselessly endeavouring to stick another dart in the epidermis of some unfortunate, whose body has already become more
"Like an Egyptian porcupig"
than aught human. One may fancy what an exhibition it is, from the following fact. Whenever a picture or fresco fades, the less brilliant parts are immediately supplied with a coating of superior vividness by the hand of a common house-decorator. They remind us forcibly of the studio of an Anglo-Indian officer, who, being devotedly fond of pictorial pursuits, and rather pinched for time withal, used to teach his black servants to lay the blue, green, and brown on the canvas, and when he could spare a leisure moment, return to scrap, brush, and glaze the colour into sky, trees, and ground.
Very like the paintings is the sculpture: it presents a series of cherubims, angels, and saints, whose very aspect makes one shudder, and think of Frankenstein. Stone is sometimes, wood the material generally used. The latter is almost always painted to make the statue look as unlike life as possible.
Yet in spite of these disenchanting details, a feeling not unallied to awe creeps over one when wandering down the desert aisles, or through the crowdless cloisters. In a cathedral large enough for a first-rate city in Europe, some twenty or thirty native Christians may be seen at their devotions, and in monasteries built for hundreds of monks, a single priest is often the only occupant. The few human beings that meet the eye, increase rather than diminish the dismal effect of the scene; as sepulchral looking as the spectacle around them, their pallid countenances, and emanciated forms seem so many incarnations of the curse of desolation which still hovers over the ruins of Old Goa.
We felt curious to visit the nunnery of Santa Monaca, an order said to be strict in the extreme. The nuns are called madres (mothers) by the natives, in token of respect, and are supposed to lead a very correct life. Most of these ladies are born in the country; they take the veil at any age when favoured with a vocation.
Our curiosity was disappointed. All we saw as a variety of black handmaids, and the portress, an antiquated lay sister, who insisted upon our purchasing many rosaries and sweetmeats. Her garrulity was excessive; nothing would satisfy her desire for mastering the intricacies of modern Portuguese annals but a long historical sketch by us fancifully impromptued. Her heart manifestly warmed towards us when we gave her the information required. Upon the strength of it she led us into a most uninteresting chapel, and pointed out the gallery occupied by the nuns during divine service. As, however, a close grating and a curtain behind it effectually conceal the spot from eyes profane, we derived little advantage from her civility. We hinted and hinted that an introduction to the prioress would be very acceptable-in vain; and when taking heart of grace we openly asked permission to view the cloisters, which are said to be worth seeing, the amiable old soror replied indignantly, that it was utterly impossible. It struck us forcibly that there was some mystery in the case, and accordingly determined to hunt it out.
"Did the Sahib tell them that he is an Englishman?" asked Salvador, after at least an hour's hesitation, falsification, and prevarication produced by a palpable desire to evade the subject.
We answered affirmatively, and inquired what our country had to do with being refused admittance?
"Everything," remarked Salvador. He then proceeded to establish the truth of his assertion by a variety of distorted and disjointed fragments of an adventure, which the labour of our ingenious cross-questioning managed to put together in the following form.
"About ten years ago," said Salvador, "I returned to Goa with my master, Lieut. -----, of the -- Regt., a very clever gentleman, who knew everything. He could talk to each man of a multitude in his own language, and all of them would appear equally surprised by, and delighted with him. Besides his faith was every man's faith. In a certain Mussulmance country he married a girl, and divorced her a week afterwards. Moreover, he chaunted the Koran, and the circumcised dogs considered him a kind of saint. The Hindoos also respected him, because he always eat his beef in secret, spoke religiously of the cow, and had a devil, (i.e., some heathen image) in an inner room. At Cochin he went to the Jewish place of worship, and read a large book, just like a priest. Ah! he was a clever Sahib that! he could send away a rampant and raging creditor playful as a little goat, and borrow more money from Parsees at less interest than was ever paid or promised by any other gentleman in the world.
"At last my master came to Goa, where of course he became so pious a Christian that he kept a priest in the house-to perfect him in Portuguese-and attended mass once a day. And when we went to see the old city, such were the fervency of his lamentations over the ruins of the Inquisition, and the frequency of his dinners to the padre of Saint Francis, that the simple old gentleman half cannonized him in his heard. But I guessed that some trick was at hand, when a pattimar, hired for a month, came and lay off the wharf stairs, close to where the Sahib is now sitting; and presently it appeared that my officer had indeed been cooking a pretty kettle of fish!
"My master had been spending his leisure hours with the Prioress of Santa Monaca, who-good lady-when informed by him that his sister, a young English girl, was only waiting till a good comfortable quiet nunnery could be found for her, not only showed her new friend about the cloisters and dormitories, but even introduced him to some of the nuns. Edifying it must have been to see his meek countenance as he detailed to the Madres his well-digested plans for the future welfare of that apocryphal little child, accompanied with a thousand queries concerning the style of living, the moral and religious education, the order and discipline of the convent. The Prioress desired nothing more than to have an English girl in her house-except, perhaps, the monthly allowance of a hundred rupees which the affectionate brother insisted upon making to her.
"You must know, Sahib, that the madres are, generally speaking, by no means good-looking. They wear ugly white clothes, and cut their hair short, like a man's. But, the Latin professor-"
"The Latin professor, who taught the novices and the younger nuns learning, was a very pretty white girl, with large black eyes, a modest smile, and a darling of a figure. As soon as I saw that Latin professor's face, I understood the whole nature and disposition of the affair.
"My master at first met with some difficulty, because the professor did not dare to look at him, and, besides, was always accompanied by an elder sister."
"Then, how did he manage?"
"Hush, sir, for Santa Maria's sake; here comes the priest of Bom Jesus, to return the Sahib's call."