What was most unusual, they came without pedigree or dowry, this being Ramabai’s idea; though, in truth, Umballa objected at first to the lack of dowry. He had expected to inherit this dowry. He gave way to Ramabai because he did not care to have Ramabai suspect what his inner thoughts were. Let the fool Ramabai pick out his chestnuts for him. Umballa laughed in his voluminous sleeve.
Some one of these matrimonially inclined houris the colonel would have to select; if he refused, then should Ramabai do the selecting. More, he would marry the fortunate woman by proxy. There was no possible loophole for the colonel.
The populace was charmed, enchanted, as it always is over a new excitement. Much as they individually despised Umballa, collectively they admired his ingenuity in devising fresh amusements. Extra feast days came one after another. The Oriental dislikes work; and any one who could invent means of avoiding it was worthy of gratitude. So, then, the populace fell in with Umballa’s scheme agreeably. The bhang and betel and toddy sellers did a fine business during the festival of Rama.
There was merrymaking in the streets, day and night. The temples and mosques were filled to overflowing. Musicians with reeds and tom-toms paraded the bazaars. In nearly every square the Nautch girl danced, or the juggler plied his trade, or there was a mongoose-cobra fight (the cobra, of course, bereft of its fangs), and fakirs grew mango trees out of nothing. There was a flurry in the slave mart, too.
The troops swaggered about, overbearing. They were soon to get their pay. The gold and silver were rotting in the treasury. Why leave it there, since gold and silver were minted to be spent?
There were elephant fights in the reconstructed arena; tigers attacked wild boars, who fought with enormous razor-like tusks, as swift and deadly as any Malay kris. The half forgotten ceremony of feeding the wild pig before sundown each day was given life again. And drove after drove came in from the jungles for the grain, which was distributed from a platform. And wild peacocks followed the pigs. A wonderful sight it was to see several thousand pigs come trotting in, each drove headed by its fighting boar. When the old fellows met there was carnage; squealing and grunting, they fought. The peacocks shrilled and hopped from back to back for such grain as fell upon the bristly backs of the pigs. Here and there a white peacock would be snared, or a boar whose tusks promised a battle royal with some leopard or tiger.
And through all this turmoil and clamor Ahmed and Lal Singh moved, sounding the true sentiments of the people. They did not want white kings or white queens; they desired to be ruled by their kind, who would not start innovations but would let affairs drift on as they had done for centuries.
Nor was Bruce inactive. Many a time Umballa had stood within an arm’s length of death; but always Bruce had resisted the impulse. It would be rank folly to upset Ramabai’s plans, which were to culminate in Umballa’s overthrow.