He rose and stepped toward me, his hand outstretched. Awkwardly I shifted the big box and fumbled to remove the accursed gloves. His Majesty waited. There was a hint of humor in his usually serious, dark eyes. Finally we shook hands and he directed me to an armchair. He smiled warmly. The tension of the preceding minutes vanished. From that moment on I was thoroughly at case with the King of Nepal.
The conversation skipped swiftly about, ranging across politics, art, music and medicine, the challenges of today and the hopes for tomorrow. But it always returned to hunting, the sport that is surely His Majesty's favorite. He was delighted with the shell box, fingering its mahogany grain with appreciation and meticulously inspecting it inside and out. Eventually we were joined by Her Majesty the Queen, who arrived so silently I did not hear her enter the room. She looked fragile and lovely in a filmy beige sari accented by an elegantly brocaded stole. Her shining black hair was drawn into a chignon. On her forehead she wore the small vermilion symbol of Hindu devotion. The Queen was accompanied by His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Birendra, a handsome 20-year-old just returned from Eton. In contrast to the King's tan jodhpurs and tunic, the Prince wore continental flannels and a sports jacket.
We talked at length of Africa and of Alaska, where His Majesty wants very much to hunt brown bear, of other hunting and other game, of children, of Siamese cats, of the relative merits of stallions and geldings and even of smoking and cancer. The Crown Prince, who does not smoke, said that the royal physician considered smoking of no danger to the Nepalese because there had been only two cases of any type of cancer in the entire country. The King interrupted to say that the doctor smoked at least 100 cigarettes a day, which might warp his professional judgment.
Finally, we talked of the upcoming shikar, the hunt.
"You will see much game," the King said.
"Leopards, Your Majesty?" I asked.
"Some, perhaps, but they are rare. That one," the King said, looking at the handsome spotted cat above us, "was shot by Her Majesty, here in the Valley of Kathmandu. The leopard would come out of the forest to cat the small deer. Her Majesty waited many evenings for it near the place where it fed. She was very patient. When finally it came again to that place, she took it with a single shot." He smiled fondly at the Queen.
"We shall travel far from the Valley of Kathmandu," the King added. "We go to the home of the tiger, to the Terai, where the big cats live. There you will see many tigers. They grow large and strong, and they are seldom hunted."
With that His Majesty leaned forward and touched a button on the coffee table before him. His Principal Private Secretary leaped through the door, bowed to the floor and presented the King with two parchment envelopes. Then, still bowing low, he backed from the room.
The King handed the envelopes to me. My name was written in script beneath the royal seal. "The program for the shikar," His Majesty said. "You will leave for the big-game camps on the day following tomorrow." The royal astrologers had finally set the date for the shoot to begin.