The soft monotonous throb of tom-toms came beating through the ambient air like a pulse of teeming life; and when he left her at her sister's door the purple darkness of an Eastern night had curtained off the sea. Fay was still lying on her long chair in the verandah when Jan got in.
They met not a soul as they walked, but while the village was still far away and unreal, the bark of guns, fired quickly one after the other, jarred their ears, and the mountain wind brought a crying of raïtas, African clarionettes, and the dull, yet fierce beat of tom-toms. "Now I know why we've met no one," said Nevill.
Preparations for a war on a considerable scale were clearly taking place. Men mustered daily on the dusty plain with firearms and assegais. Much pombe was drunk; many palavers took place; a constant drumming of gongs and tom-toms disturbed their ears by day and by night. The Englishmen concluded some big marauding expedition was in contemplation. And they were quite right.
On the troops being landed, possession was taken of the abandoned fortifications, and the British flag floated on the first military position in the Chinese Empire captured by her majesty's forces. An inner fortress was, however, discovered, from which the Chinese soldiers which crowded it, opened their fire, beating their tom-toms and gongs, waving banners, and beckoning the English to attack.
We were thus employed when we heard a tremendous noise proceeding from the house in which the king's wife lay sick. On looking out we saw it surrounded by people, who were singing, and shouting, and shrieking, and dancing, with all their might; some beating tom-toms and drums; others blowing horns and shaking rattles, all uniting in a hideous chorus.
The orgy at the fire was lifting its tone of riot into one of savagery and menace, the tom-toms beat more swiftly with gaining excitement, and the yapping yells were growing more frequent.
With these words Tom turned his back on the performers, and followed us to the house. So absorbed were the spectators in the dancing if dancing it could be called that they did not perceive our departure. We could hear the shrieks and shouts of laughter and applause, the drumming on tom-toms, and the sound of the horns until a late hour in the night.
Then at last when, in the sunset, level rays of light rested golden on the bay and turned to amethyst the distant mountains on the mainland, all was ready. Once again, this time to the weird music of tom-toms and the beating of drums, a boat was lowered from the ship while on the shore the Indians watched. It was in truth a picture not soon to be forgotten.
I had placed my shikari with a rifle in a convenient position about 200 yards in advance, upon a mucharn or platform that had been constructed for myself. Having after some trouble arranged the beaters in a proper line, I gave the order for an advance. In an instant the shouts arose, and three or four tom-toms added to the din.
There was a great to-do about it in the town, and the tom-toms had mysteriously returned from the hillsides. "I've been pretty cut up about it all," he admitted. "But there's no doubt it's for the best. As I look back on it, I see she never was comfortable in her mind. On and off, hot and cold and I took it for flightiness.
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