The full moon wore the hue of tragedy that evening. It had risen early, during the last glimmer of daylight, in the semblance of a huge, blood-red ball, and, flaming like a sunset low down behind the tamarind-trees in the Lange Laan, it was ascending, slowly divesting itself of its tragic complexion, in a pallid sky. A deathly stillness lay over all things like a veil, as though, after the long mid-day siesta, the evening rest were beginning without an intervening period of life. Over the town, whose white villas and porticoes lay huddled amid the trees of the lanes and gardens, hung the windless oppression of the evening air, as though the listless night were weary of the blazing day of eastern monsoon. The houses, from which not a sound was heard, shrank away, in deathly silence, amid the foliage of their gardens, with their evenly-spaced, gleaming rows of great whitewashed flower-pots. Here and there a lamp was already lit. Suddenly a dog barked and another answered, rending the muffled silence into long, ragged tatters: the dogs’ angry throats sounded hoarse, panting, harshly hostile; then they, too, suddenly fell silent.
At the end of the Lange Laan the Residency lay far back in its grounds. Low and vivid in the darkness of the banyan-trees, it lifted the zig-zag outline of its tiled roofs, one behind the other, against the dark background of the garden, with one crude line of letters and numerals that dated the whole: a roof over each gallery and verandah, a roof over each room, receding into one long outline of irregular roofs. In front, however, rose the white pillars of the front verandah, and the white pillars of the portico, gleaming tall and stately, set far apart, with a large, welcoming spaciousness, making the roomy entrance impressive as a palace doorway. Through the open doors the central gallery was seen in dim perspective, running through to the back, lit by a single flickering light.
A native messenger was lighting the lanterns beside the house. Semicircles of great white pots with roses and chrysanthemums, with palms and caladiums, curved widely to right and left in front of the house. A broad gravel path formed the drive to the white-pillared portico; next came a wide, parched lawn, surrounded by flower-pots, and, in the middle, on a carved stone pedestal, a monumental vase, holding a tall latania. The only fresh green was that of the meandering pond, on which floated the giant leaves of a Victoria Regia, huddled together like round green tea-trays, with here and there a bright lotus-like flower between them. A path wound beside the pond; and on a circular space paved with pebbles stood a tall flag-staff, with the flag already hauled down, as it was every day at six o’clock. A plain gate divided the grounds from the Lange Laan.
The vast grounds were silent. There were now burning, slowly and laboriously lit by the lamp-boy, one lamp in the chandelier in the front verandah and one indoors, turned low, like two night-lights in a palace which, with its pillars and its vanishing perspective of roofs, was somehow reminiscent of a child’s dream. On the steps of the office a few messengers, in their dark uniforms, sat talking in whispers. One of them stood up after a while and walked, with a quiet, leisurely step, to a bronze bell which hung high, by the messengers’ lodge, in the extreme corner of the grounds. When he had reached it, after taking about a hundred paces, he sounded seven slow, reverberating strokes. The clapper struck the bell with a brazen, booming note; and each stroke was prolonged by an undulating echo, a deep, thrilling vibration. The dogs began to bark again. The messenger, boyishly slender in his blue cloth jacket with yellow facings and trousers with yellow stripes, slowly and quietly, with supple step, retraced his hundred paces to the other messengers.