An Isle of Mystery

When evening began to draw on, we were driving beneath the trees of a wild jungle; arriving soon after at a large lake, we left the carriages. The shores were overgrown with reeds - not the reeds that answer our European notions, but rather such as Gulliver was likely to meet with in his travels to Brobdingnag. The place was perfectly deserted, but we saw a boat fastened close to the land. We had still about an hour and a half of daylight before us, and so we quietly sat down on some ruins and enjoyed the splendid view, whilst the servants of the Takur transported our bags, boxes and bundles of rugs from the carriages to the ferry boat. Mr. Y - -was preparing to paint the picture before us, which indeed was charming.

"Don't be in a hurry to take down this view," said Gulab-Sing. "In half an hour we shall be on the islet, where the view is still lovelier. We may spend there the night and tomorrow morning as well."

"I am afraid it will be too dark in an hour," said Mr. Y - -, opening his color box. "And as for tomorrow, we shall probably have to start very early."

"Oh, no! there is not the slightest need to start early. We may even stay here part of the afternoon. From here to the railway station it is only three hours, and the train only leaves for J ubbulpore at eight in the evening. And do you know," added the Takur, smiling in his usual mysterious way, "I am going to treat you to a concert. Tonight you shall be witness of a very interesting natural phenomenon connected with this island."

We all pricked up our ears with curiosity.

"Do you mean that island there? and do you really think we must go?" asked the colonel. "Why should not we spend the night here, where we are so deliciously cool, and where... "

"Where the forest swarms with playful leopards, and the reeds shelter snug family parties of the serpent race, were you going to say, colonel?" interrupted the Babu, with a broad grin. "Don't you admire this merry gathering, for instance? Look at them! There is the father and the mother, uncles, aunts, and children.... I am sure I could point out even a mother-in-law."

Miss X - -looked in the direction he indicated and shrieked, till all the echoes of the forest groaned in answer. Not farther than three steps from her there were at least forty grown up serpents and baby snakes. They amused themselves by practising somersaults, coiled up, then straightened again and interlaced their tails, presenting to our dilated eyes a picture of perfect innocence and primitive contentment. Miss X - -could not stand it any longer and fled to the carriage, whence she showed us a pale, horrified face. The Takur, who had arranged himself comfortably beside Mr. Y - -in order to watch the progress of his paint-ing, left his seat and looked attentively at the dangerous group, quietly smoking his gargari - Rajput narghile - the while.

"If you do not stop screaming you will attract all the wild animals of the forest in another ten minutes," said he. "None of you have anything to fear. If you do not excite an animal he is almost sure to leave you alone, and most probably will run away from you."

With these words he lightly waved his pipe in the direction of the serpentine family-party. A thunderbolt falling in their midst could not have been more effectual. The whole living mass looked stunned for a moment, and then rapidly disappeared among the reeds with loud hissing and rustling.

"Now this is pure mesmerism, I declare," said the colonel, on whom not a gesture of the Takur was lost. "How did you do it, Gulab-Sing? Where did you learn this science?"

"They were simply frightened away by the sudden movement of my chibook, and there was no science and no mesmerism about it. Probably by this fashionable modern word you mean what we Hindus call vashi-karana vidya - that is to say, the science of charming people and animals by the force of will. However, as I have already said, this has nothing to do with what I did."

"But you do not deny, do you, that you have studied this science and possess this gift?"

"Of course I don't. Every Hindu of my sect is bound to study the mysteries of physiology and psychology amongst other secrets left to us by our ancestors. But what of that? I am very much afraid, my dear colonel," said the Takur with a quiet smile, "that you are rather inclined to view the simplest of my acts through a mystical prism. Narayan has been telling you all kinds of things about me behind my back.... Now, is it not so?"

And he looked at Narayan, who sat at his feet, with an indescribable mixture of fondness and reproof. The Dekkan colossus dropped his eyes and remained silent.

"You have guessed rightly," absently answered Mr. Y - -, busy over his drawing apparatus. "Narayan sees in you something like his late deity Shiva; something just a little less than Parabrahm. Would you believe it? He seriously assured us - in Nassik it was - that the Raj-Yogis, and amongst them yourself - though I must own I still fail to understand what a Raj-Yogi is, precisely - can force any one to see, not what is before his eyes at the given moment, but what is only in the imagination of the Raj-Yogi. If I remember rightly he called it Maya.... Now, this seemed to me going a little too far!"

"Well! You did not believe, of course, and laughed at Narayan?" asked the Takur, fathoming with his eyes the dark green deeps of the lake.

"Not precisely... Though, I dare say, I did just a little bit," went on Mr. Y - -, absently, being fully engrossed by the view, and trying to fix his eyes on the most effective part of it. "I dare say I am too scep-tical on this kind of question."

"And knowing Mr. Y - -as I do," said the colonel, I can add, for my part, that even were any of these phenomena to happen to himself personally, he, like Dr. Carpenter, would doubt his own eyes rather than believe."