A Witch's Den


Our kind host Sham Rao was very gay during the remaining hours of our

visit. He did his best to entertain us, and would not hear of our

leaving the neighborhood without having seen its greatest celebrity, its

most interesting sight. A jadu wala--sorceress--well known in the

district, was just at this time under the influence of seven

sister-goddesses, who took posses
ion of her by turns, and spoke their

oracles through her lips. Sham Rao said we must not fail to see her, be

it only in the interests of science.

The evening closes in, and we once more get ready for an excursion. It

is only five miles to the cavern of the Pythia of Hindostan; the road

runs through a jungle, but it is level and smooth. Besides, the jungle

and its ferocious inhabitants have ceased to frighten us. The timid

elephants we had in the "dead city" are sent home, and we are to mount

new behemoths belonging to a neighboring Raja. The pair that stand

before the verandah like two dark hillocks are steady and trustworthy.

Many a time these two have hunted the royal tiger, and no wild shrieking

or thunderous roaring can frighten them. And so, let us start! The ruddy

flames of the torches dazzle our eyes and increase the forest gloom.

Our surroundings seem so dark, so mysterious. There is something

indescribably fascinating, almost solemn, in these night-journeys in the

out-of-the-way corners of India. Everything is silent and deserted

around you, everything is dozing on the earth and overhead. Only the

heavy, regular tread of the elephants breaks the stillness of the night,

like the sound of falling hammers in the underground smithy of Vulcan.

From time to time uncanny voices and murmurs are heard in the black


"The wind sings its strange song amongst the ruins," says one of us,

"what a wonderful acoustic phenomenon!"

"Bhuta, bhuta!" whisper the awestruck torch-bearers. They brandish their

torches and swiftly spin on one leg, and snap their fingers to chase

away the aggressive spirits.

The plaintive murmur is lost in the distance. The forest is once more

filled with the cadences of its invisible nocturnal life--the metallic

whirr of the crickets, the feeble, monotonous croak of the tree-frog,

the rustle of the leaves. From time to time all this suddenly stops

short and then begins again, gradually increasing and increasing.

Heavens! What teeming life, what stores of vital energy are hidden under

the smallest leaf, the most imperceptible blades of grass, in this

tropical forest! Myriads of stars shine in the dark blue of the sky, and

myriads of fireflies twinkle at us from every bush, moving sparks, like

a pale reflection of the far-away stars.

* * * * *

We left the thick forest behind us, and reached a deep glen, on three

sides bordered with the thick forest, where even by day the shadows are

as dark as by night. We were about two thousand feet above the foot of

the Vindhya ridge, judging by the ruined wall of Mandu, straight above

our heads.

Suddenly a very chilly wind rose that nearly blew our torches out.

Caught in the labyrinth of bushes and rocks, the wind angrily shook the

branches of the blossoming syringas, then, shaking itself free, it

turned back along the glen and flew down the valley, howling, whistling

and shrieking, as if all the fiends of the forest together were joining

in a funeral song.

"Here we are," said Sham Rao, dismounting. "Here is the village; the

elephants cannot go any further."

"The village? Surely you are mistaken. I don't see anything but trees."

"It is too dark to see the village. Besides, the huts are so small, and

so hidden by the bushes, that even by daytime you could hardly find

them. And there is no light in the houses, for fear of the spirits."

"And where is your witch? Do you mean we are to watch her performance in

complete darkness?"

Sham Rao cast a furtive, timid look round him; and his voice, when he

answered our questions, was somewhat tremulous.

"I implore you not to call her a witch! She may hear you.... It is not

far off, it is not more than half a mile. Do not allow this short

distance to shake your decision. No elephant, and not even a horse,

could make its way there. We must walk.... But we shall find plenty of

light there...."

This was unexpected, and far from agreeable. To walk in this gloomy

Indian night; to scramble through thickets of cactuses; to venture in a

dark forest, full of wild animals--this was too much for Miss X--. She

declared that she would go no further. She would wait for us in the

howdah on the elephant's back, and perhaps would go to sleep.

Narayan was against this parti de plaisir from the very beginning, and

now, without explaining his reasons, he said she was the only sensible

one among us.

"You won't lose anything," he remarked, "by staying where you are. And I

only wish every one would follow your example."

"What ground have you for saying so, I wonder?" remonstrated Sham Rao,

and a slight note of disappointment rang in his voice, when he saw that

the excursion, proposed and organized by himself, threatened to come to

nothing. "What harm could be done by it? I won't insist any more that

the 'incarnation of gods' is a rare sight, and that the Europeans hardly

ever have an opportunity of witnessing it; but, besides, the Kangalim in

question is no ordinary woman. She leads a holy life; she is a

prophetess, and her blessing could not prove harmful to any one. I

insisted on this excursion out of pure patriotism."

"Sahib, if your patriotism consists in displaying before foreigners the

worst of our plagues, then why did you not order all the lepers of your

district to assemble and parade before the eyes of our guests? You are a

patel, you have the power to do it."

How bitterly Narayan's voice sounded to our unaccustomed ears. Usually

he was so even-tempered, so indifferent to everything belonging to the

exterior world.

Fearing a quarrel between the Hindus, the colonel remarked, in a

conciliatory tone, that it was too late for us to reconsider our

expedition. Besides, without being a believer in the "incarnation of

gods," he was personally firmly convinced that demoniacs existed even in

the West. He was eager to study every psychological phenomenon, wherever

he met with it, and whatever shape it might assume.

It would have been a striking sight for our European and American

friends if they had beheld our procession on that dark night. Our way

lay along a narrow winding path up the mountain. Not more than two

people could walk together--and we were thirty, including the

torch-bearers. Surely some reminiscence of night sallies against the

Confederate Southerners had revived in the colonel's breast, judging by

the readiness with which he took upon himself the leadership of our

small expedition. He ordered all the rifles and revolvers to be loaded,

despatched three torch-bearers to march ahead of us, and arranged us in

pairs. Under such a skilled chieftain we had nothing to fear from

tigers; and so our procession started, and slowly crawled up the winding


It cannot be said that the inquisitive travelers, who appeared later on,

in the den of the prophetess of Mandu, shone through the freshness and

elegance of their costumes. My gown, as well as the traveling suits of

the colonel and of Mr. Y-- were nearly torn to pieces. The cactuses

gathered from us whatever tribute they could, and the Babu's disheveled

hair swarmed with a whole colony of grasshoppers and fireflies, which

probably, were attracted thither by the smell of cocoanut oil. The stout

Sham Rao panted like a steam engine. Narayan alone was like his usual

self--that is to say, like a bronze Hercules, armed with a club. At the

last abrupt turn of the path, after having surmounted the difficulty of

climbing over huge, scattered stones, we suddenly found ourselves on a

perfectly smooth place; our eyes, in spite of our many torches, were

dazzled with light, and our ears were struck by a medley of unusual


A new glen opened before us, the entrance of which, from the valley, was

well masked by thick trees. We understood how easily we might have

wandered round it, without ever suspecting its existence. At the bottom

of the glen we discovered the abode of the celebrated Kangalim.

The den, as it turned out, was situated in the ruin of an old Hindu

temple in tolerably good preservation. In all probability it was built

long before the "Dead City," because during the epoch of the latter, the

heathen were not allowed to have their own places of worship; and the

temple stood quite close to the wall of the town, in fact, right under

it. The cupolas of the two smaller lateral pagodas had fallen long ago,

and huge bushes grew out of their altars. This evening their branches

were hidden under a mass of bright-colored rags, bits of ribbon, little

pots, and various other talismans, because, even in them, popular

superstition sees something sacred.

"And are not these poor people right? Did not these bushes grow on

sacred ground? Is not their sap impregnated with the incense of

offerings, and the exhalations of holy anchorites, who once lived and

breathed here?"

The learned but superstitious Sham Rao would only answer our questions

by new questions.

But the central temple, built of red granite, stood unharmed by time,

and, as we learned afterwards, a deep tunnel opened just behind its

closely-shut door. What was beyond it no one knew. Sham Rao assured us

that no man of the last three generations had ever stepped over the

threshold of this thick iron door; no one had seen the subterranean

passage for many years. Kangalim lived there in perfect isolation, and,

according to the oldest people in the neighborhood, she had always lived

there. Some people said she was three hundred years old; others alleged

that a certain old man on his death-bed had revealed to his son that

this old woman was no one else than his own uncle. This fabulous uncle

had settled in the cave in the times when the "Dead City" still counted

several hundreds of inhabitants. The hermit, busy paving his road to

Moksha, had no intercourse with the rest of the world, and nobody knew

how he lived and what he ate. But a good while ago, in the days when the

Bellati (foreigners) had not yet taken possession of this mountain, the

old hermit suddenly was transformed into a hermitess. She continues his

pursuits and speaks with his voice, and often in his name; but she

receives worshippers, which was not the practice of her predecessor.

We had come too early, and the Pythia did not at first appear. But the

square before the temple was full of people, and a wild though

picturesque scene it was. An enormous bonfire blazed in the center, and

round it crowded the naked savages like so many black gnomes, adding

whole branches of trees sacred to the seven sister-goddesses. Slowly and

evenly they all jumped from one leg to another to a tune of a single

monotonous musical phrase, which they repeated in chorus, accompanied by

several local drums and tambourines. The hushed trill of the latter

mingled with the forest echoes and the hysterical moans of two little

girls, who lay under a heap of leaves by the fire. The poor children

were brought here by their mothers, in the hope that the goddesses would

take pity upon them and banish the two evil spirits under whose

obsession they were. Both mothers were quite young, and sat on their

heels blankly and sadly staring at the flames. No one paid us the

slightest attention when we appeared, and afterwards during all our stay

these people acted as if we were invisible. Had we worn a cap of

darkness they could not have behaved more strangely.

"They feel the approach of the gods! The atmosphere is full of their

sacred emanations!" mysteriously explained Sham Rao, contemplating with

reverence the natives, whom his beloved Haeckel might have easily

mistaken for his "missing link," the brood of his Bathybius Haeckelii.

"They are simply under the influence of toddy and opium!" retorted the

irreverent Babu.

The lookers-on moved as in a dream, as if they all were only

half-awakened somnambulists, but the actors were simply victims of St.

Vitus's dance. One of them, a tall old man, a mere skeleton with a long

white beard, left the ring and begun whirling vertiginously, with his

arms spread like wings, and loudly grinding his long, wolf-like teeth.

He was painful and disgusting to look at. He soon fell down, and was

carelessly, almost mechanically pushed aside by the feet of the others

still engaged in their demoniac performance.

All this was frightful enough, but many more horrors were in store for


Waiting for the appearance of the prima donna of this forest opera

company, we sat down on the trunk of a fallen tree, ready to ask

innumerable questions of our condescending host. But I was hardly seated

when a feeling of indescribable astonishment and horror made me shrink


I beheld the skull of a monstrous animal, the like of which I could not

find in my zoological reminiscences.

This head was much larger than the head of an elephant skeleton. And

still it could not be anything but an elephant, judging by the skilfully

restored trunk, which wound down to my feet like a gigantic black leech.

But an elephant has no horns, whereas this one had four of them! The

front pair stuck from the flat forehead slightly bending forward and

then spreading out; and the others had a wide base, like the root of a

deer's horn, that gradually decreased almost up to the middle, and bore

long branches enough to decorate a dozen ordinary elks. Pieces of the

transparent amber-yellow rhinoceros skin were strained over the empty

eye-holes of the skull, and small lamps burning behind them only added

to the horror, the devilish appearance of this head.

"What can this be?" was our unanimous question. None of us had ever met

anything like it, and even the colonel looked aghast.

"It is a Sivatherium," said Narayan. "Is it possible you never came

across these fossils in European museums? Their remains are common

enough in the Himalayas, though, of course, in fragments. They were

called after Shiva."

"If the collector of this district ever hears that this antediluvian

relic adorns the den of your--ahem!--witch," remarked the Babu, "it

won't adorn it many days longer."

All around the skull and on the floor of the portico there were heaps of

white flowers, which, though not quite antediluvian, were totally

unknown to us. They were as large as a big rose, and their white petals

were covered with a red powder, the inevitable concomitant of every

Indian religious ceremony. Further on there were groups of cocoanuts,

and large brass dishes filled with rice, each adorned with a red or

green taper. In the center of the portico there stood a queer-shaped

censer, surrounded with chandeliers. A little boy, dressed from head to

foot in white, threw into it handfuls of aromatic powders.

"These people, who assemble here to worship Kangalim," said Sham Rao,

"do not actually belong either to her sect or to any other. They are

devil-worshippers. They do not believe in Hindu gods; they live in small

communities; they belong to one of the many Indian races which usually

are called the hill-tribes. Unlike the Shanars of Southern Travancore,

they do not use the blood of sacrificial animals; they do not build

separate temples to their bhutas. But they are possessed by the strange

fancy that the goddess Kali, the wife of Shiva, from time immemorial has

had a grudge against them, and sends her favorite evil spirits to

torture them. Save this little difference, they have the same beliefs

as the Shanars. God does not exist for them; and even Shiva is

considered by them as an ordinary spirit. Their chief worship is offered

to the souls of the dead. These souls, however righteous and kind they

may be in their lifetime, become after death as wicked as can be; they

are happy only when they are torturing living men and cattle. As the

opportunities of doing so are the only reward for the virtues they

possessed when incarnated, a very wicked man is punished by becoming

after his death a very soft-hearted ghost; he loathes his loss of

daring, and is altogether miserable. The results of this strange logic

are not bad, nevertheless. These savages and devil-worshippers are the

kindest and the most truth-loving of all the hill-tribes. They do

whatever they can to be worthy of their ultimate reward; because, don't

you see, they all long to become the wickedest of devils!"

And put in good humor by his own wittiness, Sham Rao laughed till his

hilarity became offensive, considering the sacredness of the place.

"A year ago some business matters sent me to Tinevelli," continued he.

"Staying with a friend of mine, who is a Shanar, I was allowed to be

present at one of the ceremonies in the honor of devils. No European has

as yet witnessed this worship, whatever the missionaries may say; but

there are many converts amongst the Shanars, who willingly describe them

to the padres. My friend is a wealthy man, which is probably the

reason why the devils are especially vicious to him. They poison his

cattle, spoil his crops and his coffee plants, and persecute his

numerous relations, sending them sunstrokes, madness and epilepsy, over

which illnesses they especially preside. These wicked demons have

settled in every corner of his spacious landed property--in the woods,

the ruins, and even in his stables. To avert all this, my friend covered

his land with stucco pyramids, and prayed humbly, asking the demons to

draw their portraits on each of them, so that he may recognize them and

worship each of them separately, as the rightful owner of this, or that,

particular pyramid. And what do you think?... Next morning all the

pyramids were found covered with drawings. Each of them bore an

incredibly good likeness of the dead of the neighborhood. My friend had

known personally almost all of them. He found also a portrait of his own

late father amongst the lot."

"Well? And was he satisfied?"

"Oh, he was very glad, very satisfied. It enabled him to choose the

right thing to gratify the personal tastes of each demon, don't you see?

He was not vexed at finding his father's portrait. His father was

somewhat irascible; once he nearly broke both his son's legs,

administering to him fatherly punishment with an iron bar, so that he

could not possibly be very dangerous after his death. But another

portrait, found on the best and the prettiest of the pyramids, amazed my

friend a good deal, and put him in a blue funk. The whole district

recognized an English officer, a certain Captain Pole, who in his

lifetime was as kind a gentleman as ever lived."

"Indeed? But do you mean to say that this strange people worshipped

Captain Pole also?"

"Of course they did! Captain Pole was such a worthy man, such an honest

officer, that, after his death, he could not help being promoted to the

highest rank of Shanar devils. The Pe-Kovil, demon's-house, sacred to

his memory, stands side by side with the Pe-Kovil Bhadrakali, which was

recently conferred on the wife of a certain German missionary, who also

was a most charitable lady and so is very dangerous now."

"But what are their ceremonies? Tell us something about their rites."

"Their rites consist chiefly of dancing, singing, and killing

sacrificial animals. The Shanars have no castes, and eat all kinds of

meat. The crowd assembles about the Pe-Kovil, previously designated by

the priest; there is a general beating of drums, and slaughtering of

fowls, sheep and goats. When Captain Pole's turn came an ox was killed,

as a thoughtful attention to the peculiar tastes of his nation. The

priest appeared, covered with bangles, and holding a wand on which

tinkled numberless little bells, and wearing garlands of red and white

flowers round his neck, and a black mantle, on which were embroidered

the ugliest fiends you can imagine. Horns were blown and drums rolled

incessantly. And oh, I forgot to tell you there was also a kind of

fiddle, the secret of which is known only to the Shanar priesthood. Its

bow is ordinary enough, made of bamboo; but it is whispered that the

strings are human veins.... When Captain Pole took possession of the

priest's body, the priest leaped high in the air, and then rushed on the

ox and killed him. He drank off the hot blood, and then began his dance.

But what a fright he was when dancing! You know, I am not

superstitious.... Am I?..."

Sham Rao looked at us inquiringly, and I, for one, was glad at this

moment that Miss X-- was half a mile off, asleep in the howdah.

"He turned, and turned, as if possessed by all the demons of Naraka. The

enraged crowd hooted and howled when the priest begun to inflict deep

wounds all over his body with the bloody sacrificial knife. To see him,

with his hair waving in the wind and his mouth covered with foam; to see

him bathing in the blood of the sacrificed animal, mixing it with his

own, was more than I could bear. I felt as if hallucinated, I fancied I

also was spinning round...."

Sham Rao stopped abruptly, struck dumb. Kangalim stood before us!

Her appearance was so unexpected that we all felt embarrassed. Carried

away by Sham Rao's description, we had noticed neither how nor whence

she came. Had she appeared from beneath the earth we could not have been

more astonished. Narayan stared at her, opening wide his big jet-black

eyes; the Babu clicked his tongue in utter confusion.

Imagine a skeleton seven feet high, covered with brown leather, with a

dead child's tiny head stuck on its bony shoulders; the eyes set so deep

and at the same time flashing such fiendish flames all through your body

that you begin to feel your brain stop working, your thoughts become

entangled and your blood freeze in your veins.

I describe my personal impressions, and no words of mine can do them

justice. My description is too weak. Mr. Y-- and the colonel both grew

pale under her stare and Mr. Y-- made a movement as if about to rise.

Needless to say that such an impression could not last. As soon as the

witch had turned her gleaming eyes to the kneeling crowd, it vanished as

swiftly as it had come. But still all our attention was fixed on this

remarkable creature.

Three hundred years old! Who can tell? Judging by her appearance, we

might as well conjecture her to be a thousand. We beheld a genuine

living mummy, or rather a mummy endowed with motion. She seemed to have

been withering since the creation. Neither time, nor the ills of life,

nor the elements could ever affect this living statue of death. The

all-destroying hand of time had touched her and stopped short. Time

could do no more, and so had left her. And with all this, not a single

gray hair. Her long black locks shone with a greenish sheen, and fell in

heavy masses down to her knees.

To my great shame, I must confess that a disgusting reminiscence flashed

into my memory. I thought about the hair and the nails of corpses

growing in the graves, and tried to examine the nails of the old woman.

Meanwhile, she stood motionless as if suddenly transformed into an ugly

idol. In one hand she held a dish with a piece of burning camphor, in

the other a handful of rice, and she never removed her burning eyes from

the crowd. The pale yellow flame of the camphor flickered in the wind,

and lit up her death-like head, almost touching her chin; but she paid

no heed to it. Her neck, as wrinkled as a mushroom, as thin as a stick,

was surrounded by three rows of golden medallions. Her head was adorned

with a golden snake. Her grotesque, hardly human body was covered by a

piece of saffron-yellow muslin.

The demoniac little girls raised their heads from beneath the leaves,

and set up a prolonged animal-like howl. Their example was followed by

the old man, who lay exhausted by his frantic dance.

The witch tossed her head convulsively, and began her invocations,

rising on tiptoe, as if moved by some external force.

"The goddess, one of the seven sisters, begins to take possession of

her," whispered Sham Rao, not even thinking of wiping away the big drops

of sweat that streamed from his brow. "Look, look at her!"

This advice was quite superfluous. We were looking at her, and at

nothing else.

At first, the movements of the witch were slow, unequal, somewhat

convulsive; then, gradually, they became less angular; at last, as if

catching the cadence of the drums, leaning all her long body forward,

and writhing like an eel, she rushed round and round the blazing

bonfire. A dry leaf caught in a hurricane could not fly swifter. Her

bare bony feet trod noiselessly on the rocky ground. The long locks of

her hair flew round her like snakes, lashing the spectators, who knelt,

stretching their trembling arms towards her, and writhing as if they

were alive. Whoever was touched by one of this Fury's black curls, fell

down on the ground, overcome with happiness, shouting thanks to the

goddess, and considering himself blessed forever. It was not human hair

that touched the happy elect, it was the goddess herself, one of the


Swifter and swifter fly her decrepit legs; the young, vigorous hands of

the drummer can hardly follow her. But she does not think of catching

the measure of his music; she rushes, she flies forward. Staring with

her expressionless, motionless orbs at something before her, at

something that is not visible to our mortal eyes, she hardly glances at

her worshippers; then her look becomes full of fire, and whoever she

looks at feels burned through to the marrow of his bones. At every

glance she throws a few grains of rice. The small handful seems

inexhaustible, as if the wrinkled palm contained the bottomless bag of

Prince Fortunatus.

Suddenly she stops as if thunderstruck.

The mad race round the bonfire had lasted twelve minutes, but we looked

in vain for a trace of fatigue on the death-like face of the witch. She

stopped only for a moment, just the necessary time for the goddess to

release her. As soon as she felt free, by a single effort she jumped

over the fire and plunged into the deep tank by the portico. This time

she plunged only once, and whilst she stayed under the water the second

sister-goddess entered her body. The little boy in white produced

another dish, with a new piece of burning camphor, just in time for the

witch to take it up, and to rush again on her headlong way.

The colonel sat with his watch in his hand. During the second obsession

the witch ran, leaped, and raced for exactly fourteen minutes. After

this, she plunged twice in the tank, in honor of the second sister; and

with every new obsession the number of her plunges increased, till it

became six.

It was already an hour and a half since the race began. All this time

the witch never rested, stopping only for a few seconds, to disappear

under the water.

"She is a fiend, she cannot be a woman!" exclaimed the colonel, seeing

the head of the witch immersed for the sixth time in the water.

"Hang me if I know!" grumbled Mr. Y--, nervously pulling his beard. "The

only thing I know is that a grain of her cursed rice entered my throat,

and I can't get it out!"

"Hush, hush! Please, do be quiet!" implored Sham Rao. "By talking you

will spoil the whole business!"

I glanced at Narayan and lost myself in conjectures.

His features, which usually were so calm and serene, were quite altered

at this moment by a deep shadow of suffering. His lips trembled, and the

pupils of his eyes were dilated, as if by a dose of belladonna. His eyes

were lifted over the heads of the crowd, as if in his disgust he tried

not to see what was before him, and at the same time could not see it,

engaged in a deep reverie which carried him away from us and from the

whole performance.

"What is the matter with him?" was my thought, but I had no time to ask

him, because the witch was again in full swing, chasing her own shadow.

But with the seventh goddess the program was slightly changed. The

running of the old woman changed to leaping. Sometimes bending down to

the ground, like a black panther, she leaped up to some worshipper, and

halting before him touched his forehead with her finger, while her long,

thin body shook with inaudible laughter. Then, again, as if shrinking

back playfully from her shadow, and chased by it, in some uncanny game,

the witch appeared to us like a horrid caricature of Dinorah, dancing

her mad dance. Suddenly she straightened herself to her full height,

darted to the portico and crouched before the smoking censer, beating

her forehead against the granite steps. Another jump, and she was quite

close to us, before the head of the monstrous Sivatherium. She knelt

down again and bowed her head to the ground several times, with the

sound of an empty barrel knocked against something hard.

We had hardly the time to spring to our feet and shrink back when she

appeared on the top of the Sivatherium's head, standing there amongst

the horns.

Narayan alone did not stir, and fearlessly looked straight in the eyes

of the frightful sorceress.

But what was this? Who spoke in those deep manly tones? Her lips were

moving, from her breast were issuing those quick, abrupt phrases, but

the voice sounded hollow as if coming from beneath the ground.

"Hush, hush!" whispered Sham Rao, his whole body trembling. "She is

going to prophesy!..."

"She?" incredulously inquired Mr. Y--. "This a woman's voice? I don't

believe it for a moment. Someone's uncle must be stowed away somewhere

about the place. Not the fabulous uncle she inherited from, but a real

live one!..."

Sham Rao winced under the irony of this supposition, and cast an

imploring look at the speaker.

"Woe to you! woe to you!" echoed the voice. "Woe to you, children of the

impure Jaya and Vijaya! of the mocking, unbelieving lingerers round

great Shiva's door! Ye, who are cursed by eighty thousand sages! Woe to

you who believe not in the goddess Kali, and you who deny us, her seven

divine sisters! Flesh-eating, yellow-legged vultures! friends of the

oppressors of our land! dogs who are not ashamed to eat from the same

trough with the Bellati!" (foreigners).

"It seems to me that your prophetess only foretells the past," said Mr.

Y--, philosophically putting his hands in his pockets. "I should say

that she is hinting at you, my dear Sham Rao."

"Yes! and at us also," murmured the colonel, who was evidently beginning

to feel uneasy.

As to the unlucky Sham Rao, he broke out in a cold sweat, and tried to

assure us that we were mistaken, that we did not fully understand her


"It is not about you, it is not about you! It is of me she speaks,

because I am in Government service. Oh, she is inexorable!"

"Rakshasas! Asuras!" thundered the voice. "How dare you appear before

us? how dare you to stand on this holy ground in boots made of a cow's

sacred skin? Be cursed for etern----"

But her curse was not destined to be finished. In an instant the

Hercules-like Narayan had fallen on the Sivatherium, and upset the whole

pile, the skull, the horns and the demoniac Pythia included. A second

more, and we thought we saw the witch flying in the air towards the

portico. A confused vision of a stout, shaven Brahman, suddenly emerging

from under the Sivatherium and instantly disappearing in the hollow

beneath it, flashed before my dilated eyes.

But, alas! after the third second had passed, we all came to the

embarrassing conclusion that, judging from the loud clang of the door

of the cave, the representative of the Seven Sisters had ignominiously

fled. The moment she had disappeared from our inquisitive eyes to her

subterranean domain, we all realized that the unearthly hollow voice we

had heard had nothing supernatural about it and belonged to the Brahman

hidden under the Sivatherium--to some one's live uncle, as Mr. Y-- had

rightly supposed.

* * * * *

Oh, Narayan! how carelessly, how disorderly the worlds rotate around us.

I begin to seriously doubt their reality. From this moment I shall

earnestly believe that all things in the universe are nothing but

illusion, a mere Maya. I am becoming a Vedantin.... I doubt that in the

whole universe there may be found anything more objective than a Hindu

witch flying up the spout.

* * * * *

Miss X-- woke up, and asked what was the meaning of all this noise. The

noise of many voices and the sounds of the many retreating footsteps,

the general rush of the crowd, had frightened her. She listened to us

with a condescending smile, and a few yawns, and went to sleep again.

Next morning, at daybreak, we very reluctantly, it must be owned, bade

good-by to the kind-hearted, good-natured Sham Rao. The confoundingly

easy victory of Narayan hung heavily on his mind. His faith in the holy

hermitess and the seven goddesses was a good deal shaken by the shameful

capitulation of the sisters, who had surrendered at the first blow from

a mere mortal. But during the dark hours of the night he had had time

to think it over, and to shake off the uneasy feeling of having

unwillingly misled and disappointed his European friends.

Sham Rao still looked confused when he shook hands with us at parting,

and expressed to us the best wishes of his family and himself.

As to the heroes of this truthful narrative, they mounted their

elephants once more, and directed their heavy steps towards the high

road and Jubbulpore.