MADURA

The elephant of ceremony, covered with a velvet cloth embroidered with gold, on which was placed a massive silver howdah edged with gold, was in waiting to take me for a ride. Round the beast's neck hung a huge necklace of balls as large as apples and long pendants from his ears, all of silver, tinkling as he moved and glittering in the sun. The mahout rested a ladder against the elephant's head for me to mount by, and we set out, following the Rajah and escorted by sowars, to the very modern tennis club of Palitana. We met a strange caravan; a small party of men surrounding more than a hundred women wrapped in dark robes, and bearing on their veiled heads heavy bales sewn up in matting, and large copper pots. A little blind boy led the way, singing a monotonous chant of three high notes. He came up to my tonga, and to thank me for the small coin I gave him he said, "Salaam, Sahib," and then repeated the same words again and again to his[Pg 37] tune, dancing a little step of his own invention till the whole caravan was hidden from me in a cloud of dust.

More and yet more temples, seen through the mist of weariness, the nightmare of grimacing idols, the heavy vapour of the incense burnt in every chapel, and of the flowers brought by the pilgrims. A dark red pagoda, lighted by a mysterious blue gleam falling intermittently from somewhere in the roof, enshrined a white marble god, whose glittering gems seemed to rise and fall behind the cloud of perfume that floated about him. A town in mourning. In the suburban stations, so crowded but three weeks since, there was nobody, and nobody in the train we travelled by. No coolies for the baggage, no carriages, and the tramcars running down the wide, deserted road carried no passengers. The hotel was closed, all the servants had fled in terror of the plague, which was raging with increased violence. Every shop[Pg 92] had the shutters up; the great market, full of golden fruit and shaded by the flowering trees, was equally empty, and in the bazaar the rare wayfarers hurried by in silence.