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One morning, a primitive tribe, known as The Mud People, make their way through the woods in search leaves that when smoked, produce visions and temporary aphasia. Wearing only loincloths and strange masks, with their hair and bodies caked in mud, the group inhales the smoke of the burning leaves and then prepares Yool yun, a consort for their priestess Khar-Lah-Tah, for sacrifice. Suddenly a croquet ball bounds through the forest and stops at the priestess' feet, interrupting the ceremony. Intrigued by the mysterious object, Khar-Lah-Tah tracks it through the woods toward its source, while the others follow. In the commotion, an outcast tribeswoman frees Yool yun and they join the crowd. Along the path, a tribesman takes The Forest Girl, a member of another tribe, captive. As men briefly fornicate with women in abrupt, brutal movements, they are ignored by the others. When the croquet ball leads them to an abandoned mansion, the tribe wanders aimlessly in the unfamiliar structure, bewildered by the staircases, mirrors, doors, paintings and sculptures. One woman is so enamored by a portrait that she kisses and caresses it. Seeing a bronze life-size sculpture of a goddess, the priestess lays the croquet ball at its feet as an offering. Within minutes all the tribespeople are playing among piles of the mansion's remnants: clothes, furs, makeup, jewelry and scissors, with which they cut each others' hair. By the afternoon, the tribe has begun to adapt the mannerisms and dress of the last inhabitants of the house circa pre-World War II. While men in suits play with train sets and smoke cigars, women wearing sequined costumes and the elegant sportswear of the idle rich discuss beauty tips. Outside gentle Penelope is horrified to find others using a magnifying glass to burn bees to death with the sun's rays. Although the tribe's lovemaking is more genteel, they engage in sex publicly, on the surrounding grounds. While some have learned to read, their behavior is still child-like, as when several blatantly ignore the rules of croquet, hitting more timid members' balls out of the game. As evening falls, an evening dinner party begins and the tribespeople evolve into their civilized counterparts. The priestess, hostess of the party, is now referred to as Carlotta, a patron to young musician Julian and her once-consort, now referred to as James, is a well-traveled but disdained guest. A brutish tribesman has become Otto Nerder, ruthless capitalist. Also attending are the elderly Sir Harry and Lady Cora, who banter about table etiquette; debutante Emily Penning and young Cecily, and several others. They are all being served by a maid, who is The Forest Girl, now called Asha. During dinner, James tells a history of The Mudpeople, a matriarchal tribe he encountered briefly while visiting Africa. When the guests gasp at his descriptions of the Queen's yearly consort being crushed to death as a sacrifice, James reminds them that The Mudpeople's entire culture was later crushed by Westerners. As the guests flirt and talk about politics over dinner, a strange haunting sound fills the mansion, followed by a croquet ball bounding into the room. After the meal, the crowd retires to a sitting room where young Zia's recitation of a sweet poem is interrupted by radio announcements that a large passenger ship has sunk in the ocean. Although temporarily sobered by the news, the group is eager to watch Carlotta perform her psychic reading on the bruises on a piece of fruit a guest has touched and are entertained by her litany of seemingly innocuous and disconnected recitation of words, including "duplicity," "remorse," "a soiled kimono," and "rubber sheets," that she associates with the fruit and the guest. Then the cross-dressing Leslie, dressed in a man's top coat and hat, leads the group in a glamorous tap dance routine to the song "Steppin' on a Spaniel." After Julian's singing recital is met with little applause, he retires to his attic room to practice the cello. Meanwhile, two couples go the basement to have sex, while the other guests sip champagne poolside. As they become increasingly drunk, several men and women crudely insult each other, while the otherwise pompous Otto begs them for help for no apparent reason. Slowing reverting to their primitive habits, the group do not attempt to save James when he throws himself into the pool to drown. Instead, they swim over his dead body and dive down to fleece his pockets, while inside Asha leads a group in an Eastern chanting ceremony. When Penelope tells Julian of James's suicide, the musician refuses to respond or leave his attic room. Soon after, Emily, Carlotta, Otto, Cecily, Harry, Cora and Asha play games in the basement and degenerate into unintelligible mumbling while drawing mud circles on the concrete walls. Later, Asha is wooed by Ilona, who recites the benefits of different depilatory techniques while undressing her, oblivious that Penelope has hung herself from a nearby tree. Back in the basement, Asha brings the group a turkey carcass, which they ravenously feed on, while Otto gleans through the coal until he finds a piece of sparkling glass which the others fight over. At the dawn's light, everyone but Julian is on the front lawn viciously smacking the croquet mallets against the games posts. Soon they are all racing across the lawn, chasing croquet balls that bound through the woods. Finally even Julian comes down from his tower, hits a ball and then chases it into the forest.