When the express had arrived that morning from Bombay, eight bodies were found of victims to the plague who had died on the way. They were laid on the platform and covered with a white sheet; and in the station there was a perfect panic, a surge of terror which spread to the town, and broke up the market. The shops were all shut, and the people rushed to their knees before the idols in the temples. In the distance we heard a sound of pipes, and the merchant hastened out to call the nautch-girls, who began to dance in the street just below us, among the vehicles and foot-passengers. There were two of them; one in a black skirt spangled with silver trinkets, the other in orange and red with a head-dress and necklace of jasmine. They danced with a gliding step, and then drew themselves up with a sudden jerk that made all their frippery tinkle. Then the girl in black, laying her right hand on her breast, stood still, with only a measured swaying movement of her whole body, while the dancer in yellow circled round, spinning as she went. Next the black one performed a sort of goose-step with her feet on one spot, yelling a so-called tune, and clacking her anklets one against the other. Then, after a few high leaps that set her saree flying, the dance was ended; she drew a black veil over her head, and turned with her face to the wall. The other boldly asked for backsheesh, held up her hands, and after getting her money, begged for cakes and sugar.

A station on the roadthe delightful days at Bunnoo left far behind.

[Pg 130] In this house abode the postmaster of the Persian mails, and I wanted to register a letter for Cabul. By noon, under the torrid blaze which takes the colour out of everything, exhaustion overpowers the city. Vehicles are rare; a few foot-passengers try to find a narrow line of shade close to the houses, and silence weighs on everything, broken only by the buzzing of flies, the strident croak of birds of prey.

In the little white church, all open windows, mass was performed by a priest with a strong Breton accent. During the sermon, to an accompaniment of parrots' screaming and kites' whistling, there was a constant rustle of fans, which were left on each seat till the following Sunday. The church was white and very plain; French was spoken, and little native boys showed us to our places on benches. Old women in sarees were on their knees, waving their arms to make large signs of the cross. A worthy Sister presided at the harmonium, and the little schoolgirls sang in their sweet young voices[Pg 144] airs of the most insipid type; but after the incessant hubbub of bagpipes and tom-toms their music seemed to me quite delicious, raising visions in my mind of masterpieces of harmony and grace.

A plantation of theobromas (cacao), carefully enclosed and tended, with their puckered leaves, and fruit-pods as large as an ostrich egg hanging from the trunk and the larger branches, seemed quite melancholy, like wild things tethered. [Pg 119]

In the chapel of the building through which I passed to go down to the tomb of La Martinire, two students, seated American fashion, with their feet on the back of the bench in front of them, were reading the Times of India and smoking cigarettes.

Wide strands of golden sand; here and there among the rice-fields the palms and bamboos are less crowded. In the moist air, that grows hotter and hotter, the daylight is blinding, hardly tolerable through the blue glass of the windows. Scorched, russet rocks stand up from the short grass, tremulous in the noontide heat. The cattle, the very birds, silent and motionless, have sought shelter in the shade; all the people have gone within doors. And then, towards evening, in an oasis of gigantic trees, amid bamboos and feathery reeds, behold the huge temples of Madura, in sharp outline against a rosy sky.

Next came a long file of carts, conveying cases of goods "made in Manchester," or loaded, in unstable equilibrium, with dry yellow fodder like couch grass, eaten by the horses here; and they struggled along the road which, crossing the limitless plain, appeared to lead nowhere.

The last train gone, all round the station there was quite a camp of luckless natives lying on the ground, wrapped in white cotton, and sleeping under the stars, so as to be nearer to-morrow to the train[Pg 20] which, perhaps, might carry them away from the plague-stricken city.