As soon as dessert was removed two lieutenants got up, and seizing a couple of drums played away with all their might, while some other officers, under the pretext of dancing a Highland fling, cut the most amazing capers. When the band had left[Pg 276] the fun went on to the sound of the banjo, lasting late into the cool night, all in the highest spirits.
The game had begun. The prince's cousins, dressed in light white muslin, seemed to fly as they ran after the ball in the fluttering of the diaphanous stuff.
The old king is at once cured; he embraces his sons again and again. After this emotion the first thing he remarks is the new palace that has sprung from the ground exactly opposite his own. As we passed the sacred tanks, where a smell of decay filled the air that still rang with the cries of the bats, our horses suddenly shied and refused to go forward, terror-stricken by some invisible danger suggested to them by that reiterated shriek or the corpse-like smell. A very long minute passed as we sat in the carriage, a minute of dread that left us quite excited by this mysterious peril of which we had somehow felt the awe. Nor was it till we had left the great trees by the tanks behind us that the impression wore off under the comforting light of the stars.
On entering the park the cocked turbans of the bodyguard again reminded us of the hats of the French Guards. We stopped at a bungalow by a creek of the Jellum that was paved with broad lotus-leaves, among which the buds were already opening their pink hearts.
At the end of the day one of the beasts could do no more. A shiver ran through the limbs of the poor thing, which, as soon as it was released from the shafts, lay down, a stream of blood staining the[Pg 274] pale sand; and in an instant, with a deep sigh, it was stiff in death.
In the bazaar I sought in vain for the petticoats embroidered with rosettes, flowers, and elephants pursued by tigers, such as the women wear here; these robes are made only to order and are not to be found. Then Abibulla simply asked a beggar-woman to sell me hers. The poor creature, hooted at by some old gossips, retired into a corner to undress, and, wrapped in the packing-cloth in which she had been carrying some rags, brought me the petticoat.
Near the statues, which are placed in a row close to the wall, other statues, finer, slenderer, and more graceful, stood before the pedestals, anointing the stone with some oil which in time soaks in and blackens it, or else hanging lanterns up over the divinities. These were the temple servants, wearing nothing but the langouti tied round their loins; they either shuffle about barefoot, or remain motionless in rapt ecstasy before the little niches where the idols grin or scowl among branches of roses and amaryllis.
Beyond a wide valley that lay far beneath us a mountain-range gleamed softly in the blue distance, starry and sapphire-hued above rising levels of delicate green. Here, in the fresher air, floated the fragrance of mosses and alpine flowers, and above the[Pg 127] cascades falling in showers we could see the tangle of climbing plants, ferns, orchids, and hibiscus, a swaying curtain all woven of leaves and blossoms.
In a little alley of booths was a shop with no front show, and behind it a sort of studio full of carvers and artists working on sandal-wood boxes, ivory fans as fine as gauze, and wooden lattices with elaborate flower patterns, used to screen the zenana windows. And in little recesses workmen dressed in white, with small copper pots about them in which they had brought rice for their meals, were chasing and embossing metal with little taps of their primitive tools, never making a mistake, working as their fancy might suggest, without any pattern, and quite at home in the maze of interlacing ornament.