Over the rice-fields, in the darkness, danced a maze of fire-flies, quite tiny, but extraordinarily bright; they whirled in endless streaks of flame, intangible, so fine that they seemed part of the air itself, crossing in a ceaseless tangle, faster and faster, and then dying out in diamond sparks, very softly twinkling little stars turning to silver in the moonlight. On the edge of a pool, where, like a huge, full-blown lotus flower, stands a kiosk of sculptured marble, dedicated to the Rajah's mother, we came upon the shoe market, the last survival of a time not so very long ago, when shoemakers, as working on the skins of dead beasts, dared not come within the precincts of a town. On the stone ceiling of almost every temple four large women's faces and certain crouching[Pg 75] gnomes appear in fresh red paint. In the very dim twilight that comes in through the narrow windows hung with blue gauze, the idols are visible behind lattices: white Buddhas blazing with sparkling gems that hang on their wrists and ankles, or form a perfect breastplate; and every one, without exception, has an enormous glittering imitation diamond in his forehead.
The old woman's bones and ashes were cast into the Ganges, her husband still vacantly looking on, as all that was left of his life's companion floated for a few moments, and then was swallowed up in an eddy. The air is heavy with indefinable perfume. We are already coasting the Indian shore, but it remains invisible, and gives no sign but by these gusts of warmer air laden with that inscrutable aroma of musk and pepper. A lighthouse to port, which we have for some time taken for a star, vanishes in the light mist that hangs over the coast, and then again there is nothing but the immensity of waters under the clear night, blue with moonlight.
When we left he was in a coppersmith's shop, singing with wide open, staring eyes; his face had a strangely sad expression while he sang a gay, jigging tune to foolish words that made the people laugh.