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Inland from Colombo it is pure enchantment to travel among the rich and tangled vegetation of every shade of green that grows by the margins of the pools, the rivers, and the rice-fields. At first, skirting the shallows, where men, standing to their waists in water, were fishing with large nets which[Pg 126] they managed but clumsily, the flat banks are overgrown with anthuriums, their broad leaves of dark velvet or of light gauze splashed with rose and white, mirrored in the channels that form a network to irrigate the rice-swamps. Then ferns, bamboos, and feathery reeds in every varying shade of gold; creepers clinging to the trunks of coco trees or ph?nix-palms bear bunches of pink or yellow blossoms between the palm-leaves, invading everything with their luxuriance, and forming a gaudy undergrowth below the tall treesa light but impenetrable thicket where the sun casts warm purple shadows.

There was a large encampment round the bungalow that night: tents for the soldiers, and under the vehicles men sleeping on straw; others gathered round the fires, over which hung the cooking-pots, listening to a story-teller; and in a small hut of mud walls, with the door hanging loose, were the two prisoners with no light, watched by three dozing soldiers.

On our way back to the hotel, in a park through which we had to pass, we suddenly heard overhead a shrill outcry proceeding from a banyan tree to which a number of vampires had hung themselves up. Clinging together side by side, like black rags, and hardly visible in the thick foliage, the creatures formed a sort of living bunch, creeping, swaying, and all uttering the same harsh, monotonous, incessant cry.

The country was nowhere deserted. Labourers in the rice-fields were transplanting the young seedlings or watering the taller growth that waved in delicate transparent verdure. Or again, there were the watchers perched on their platforms in the middle of the fields; fishermen pushing little nets before them, fastened to triangular frames, or grubbing in the mud in search of shell-fishsmall freshwater mussels, which they carried away in clay jars of Etruscan form. A motley crowd, with animated and graceful gesticulations; the women red or white figures in fluttering sarees, with flowers in their hair, and a few glittering bangles on their arms; the children quite naked, with bead necklaces and queer charms of lead or wood in their ears or their nose; the men slender and active, wearing light-coloured turbans made of yards on yards of twisted muslin, their brown skin hidden only by the langouti or loin-cloth.

A kind of grey snipe, as they rose to fly, spread white wings which made them look like storks or gulls, and then, dropping suddenly, became dull specks again, scarcely distinguishable on the margin of the tank. Ibis, on the watch, with pretty, deliberate, cautious movements, stood on one leg,[Pg 105] their bodies reflected in the mirror on which lay the lotus and the broad, frilled leaves of the water-lily, and a sort of bind-weed hanging from the edge in festoons of small, arrow-shaped leaves, with a crowd of tiny pink starry flowers that looked as if they were embroidered on the water.

The almost imperceptible hum of a bagpipe came up from below; in a white mosque of open colonnades enclosing a paved court, and in front of the little lamps that burned above the holy of holies sheltering the Koran, figures in light garments were prostrate in prayer; their murmurs came up to us in sighs, mingling with the slow and tender notes of the music.

At night the sound of a remote tom-tom attracted me to a large square shaded by giant trees. In a very tiny hut made of matting, a misshapen statue of Kali, bedizened with a diadem, a belt, nanparas, and bangles made of beads and gold tinsel, stood over a prostrate image in clay of Siva, lying on his back. In front of this divinity, under an awning stretched beneath the boughs of a banyan tree, two nautch-girls in transparent sarees were dancing a very smooth sliding step to the accompaniment of two bagpipes and some drums. The Hindoo spectators sat in a circle on the grounda white mass[Pg 142] dimly lighted by a few lanternsand sang to the music a soft, monotonous chant.

In a consecrated hall we came to a plaster image of a camel modelled over stone. To prove that you are without sin you must be able to pass under the beast, or at least between the front legs and the girth of the belly without touching any part; and so very narrow is this little gateway of Ja?n virtue that, to preserve my character in the presence of my escort, I did not attempt it.

At night, when the fog had at last cleared off, a column of fire was piled up on the engine; it shone[Pg 154] on the smooth trunks of the "flame of the forest," which looked like the pillars of a cathedral, on the sparkling water-springs all hung about with prayer-strips, on the veronica shrubs covered with flowers and as tall as trees, and the sheaves of bamboo and fern; or it lighted up the hanging screen of creepers, the impenetrable jungle growth that shut in the silence of the sleeping forest.

Children were selling whortleberries in plaited baskets; they came up very shyly, and as soon as they had sold their spoil hurried back to hide in their nook. Further on a little Afghan boy, standing alone and motionless by the roadside, held out three eggs for sale.

KOHAT