The principal sapwallah had a wand in his hand, which he flourished while he repeated a volume of gibberish which none of the party but Sir Modava could understand. When Mrs. Belgrave asked what he said; he replied that he was uttering invocations to the serpents, and entreating the whole tribe of snakes not to bite the people.
One of the sapwallahs, who wore nothing but a turban on his head and a fringed cloth about his loins, went to one of the bowls from which half a dozen cobras were feeding, and taking hold of one of them, pulled him away from the milk. The serpent thus treated was furious with anger, and instantly opened out his hood, showing the spectacles in full. Another cobra was put in his place at the bowl, and his persecutor sat down on the ground with him, fooling with him as though he had been a kitten or a pet dog.
In turn the snakes remaining in the baskets were released, and allowed to feast on the milk as others were removed. There was a great crowd of sapwallahs in charge of them, and none of them were permitted to escape. The reptiles showed their temper as they were taken from the milk by spreading their hoods; but they were so skilfully manipulated that they had no chance to bite.
“I think I have had enough of this thing,” said Mr. Woolridge, with a look of disgust on his face. “There is no fun at all in it, and I should like to make them a target for my revolver.”
“It is about time for tiffin, and we had better return to the hotel,” added Lord Tremlyn. “I shall keep you busy this afternoon; and while you are resting you shall take in a Nautch dance, which is one of the institutions of this country. After that we shall go to the island of Elephanta.”
The live boys of the party were rather pleased with the spectacle, though they had had enough of it; while the ladies, whose flesh had been “crawling” at the uncanny sight, were glad to escape. They all reached the hotel, and were hungry enough after the long jaunt of the forenoon to appreciate the “tiffin.”
THE CAVES OF ELEPHANTA
The influence of Lord Tremlyn and Sir Modava was enough to procure anything in Bombay, and an apartment that served as a special banquet hall had been prepared at their command, and their guests were introduced to it immediately after tiffin. As the viscount had suggested, they were considerably fatigued after the long jaunt of the forenoon, though they were refreshed by the luncheon they had taken. The hall was furnished with sofas and easy-chairs for the occasion, and they were made very comfortable.
The performers were seated on the floor of the room when the company took their places. A man with a slouched turban and something like a sheet wound around his body, reaching nearly to his ankles, the only clothing he wore, entered the hall. At the entrance of the party the girls rose from the floor and saluted them deferentially.