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HOME > Short Stories > Rujub, the Juggler > CHAPTER IX.
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 Dr. Wade was sitting in the veranda smoking and reading an English paper that had arrived by that morning's mail, when Isobel returned. “Good morning, Doctor. Is uncle back?”
“Not yet. He told me he might be half an hour late, and that I was to come round and amuse you until he came back.”
“So in my absence you have been amusing yourself, Doctor. I have been round at Mrs. Hunter's; she is going to have a juggler there this evening, and we are all to go.”
“Yes, I got a chit from her this morning. I have seen scores of them, but I make a point of never missing an exhibition when I get the chance. I hate anything I don't understand, and I go with the faint hope of being able to find things out, though I know perfectly well that I shall not do so.”
“Then you think it is not all quite natural, Doctor?”
“I don't say it is not natural, because we don't know what all the natural laws are, but I say that some of the things I have seen certainly are not to be accounted for by anything we do know. It is not often that the jugglers show their best tricks to the whites—they know that, as a rule, we are altogether skeptical; but I have seen at native courts more than once the most astounding things—things absolutely incomprehensible and inexplicable. I don't suppose we are going to see anything of that sort tonight, though Mrs. Hunter said in her note that they had heard from the native servant that this man was a famous one.
“There is a sect of people in India, I don't mean a caste, but a sort of secret society, who, I believe, claim to be able by some sort of influence to suspend altogether the laws of nature. I do not say that I believe them—as a scientific man, it is my duty not to believe them; but I have seen such things done by some of the higher class of jugglers, and that under circumstances that did not seem to admit of the possibility of deception, that I am obliged to suspend my judgment, which, as you may imagine, my dear, is exceedingly annoying to me; but some of them do possess to a considerable extent what the Scotch call second sight, that is to say, the power of foreseeing events in the future. Of that I am morally certain; I have seen proofs of it over and over again. For example, once an old fakir, whom I had cured of a badly ulcerated limb, came up just as I was starting on a shooting expedition.
“'Do not go out today,' he said. 'I foresee evil for you. I saw you last night brought back badly wounded.'
“'But if I don't go your dream will come wrong,' I said.
“He shook his head.
“'You will go in spite of what I say,' he said; 'and you will suffer, and others too;' and he looked at a group of shikaris, who were standing together, ready to make a start.
“'How many men are there?' he said.
“'Why, six of course,' I replied.
“'I see only three,' he said, 'and three dull spots. One of those I see is holding his matchlock on his shoulder, another is examining his priming, the third is sitting down by the tire. Those three will come back at the end of the day; the other three will not return alive.'
“I felt rather uncomfortable, but I wasn't, as I said to myself—I was a good deal younger then, my dear—such a fool as to be deterred from what promised to be a good day's sport by such nonsense as this; and I went.
“We were going after a rogue elephant that had been doing a lot of damage among the natives' plantations. We found him, and a savage brute he turned out to be. He moved just as I fired, and though I hit him, it was not on the fatal spot, and he charged right down among us. He caught the very three men the fakir said were doomed, and dashed the life out of them; then he came at me. The bearer had run off with my second gun, and he seized me and flung me up in the air.
“I fell in a tree, but broke three of my ribs and one of my arms; fortunately, though the beast tried to get at me, I was out of his reach, and the tree was too strong for him to knock down. Then another man who was with me came up and killed him, and they got me down and carried me back, and I was weeks before I was about again. That was something more than a coincidence, I think. There were some twenty men out with us, and just the four he had pointed out were hurt, and no others.
“I have seen scores of other cases in which these predictions have come true, especially in cases of disease; though I grant that here the predictions often bring about their own fulfilment. If a native is told by a fakir, or holy man, that he is going to die, he makes no struggle to live. In several cases I have seen natives, whose deaths have been predicted, die, without, as far as my science could tell me, any disease or ailment whatever that should have been fatal to them. They simply sank—died, I should say, from pure fright. But putting aside this class, I have seen enough to convince me that some at least among these fanatics do possess the power of second sight.”
“That is very extraordinary, Doctor. Of course I have heard of second sight among certain old people in Scotland, but I did not believe in it.”
“I should not have believed in it if I had not seen the same thing here in India. I naturally have been interested in it, and have read pretty well everything that has been written about second sight among the Highlanders; and some of the incidents are so well authenticated that I scarcely see how they can be denied. Of course, there is no accounting for it, but it is possible that among what we may call primitive people there are certain intuitions or instincts, call them what you like, that have been lost by civilized people.
“The power of scent in a dog is something so vastly beyond anything we can even imagine possible, that though we put it down to instinct, it is really almost inexplicable. Take the case that dogs have been known to be taken by railway journeys of many hundred miles and to have found their way home again on foot. There is clearly the possession of a power which is to us absolutely unaccountable.
“But here comes your uncle; he will think I have been preaching a sermon to you if you look so grave.”
But Major Hannay was too occupied with his own thoughts to notice Isobel.
“Has anything gone wrong, Major?” the Doctor asked, as he saw his face.
“I have just learnt,” the Major said, “that some more chupaties were brought last night. It is most annoying. I have questioned several of the native officers, and they profess to have no idea whence they came or what is the meaning of them. I wish we could get to the bottom of this thing; it keeps the troops in a ferment. If I could get hold of one of these messengers, I would get out of him all he knew, even if I had to roast him to make him tell.”
“My dear uncle,” Isobel said reprovingly, “I am sure you don't mean what you say.”
“I don't know,” he said, half laughing; “I should certainly consider myself perfectly justified in taking uncommonly strong steps to try to get to the bottom of this business. The thing is going on all over India, and it must mean something, and it is all the worse if taken in connection with this absurd idea about the greased cartridges. I grant that it was an act of folly greasing them at all, when we know the idiotic prejudices the natives have; still, it could hardly have been foreseen that this stir would have been made. The issue of the cartridges has been stopped, but when the natives once get an idea into their minds it is next to impossible to disabuse them of it. It is a tiresome business altogether.”
“Tiffin ready, sahib,” Rumzan interrupted, coming out onto the veranda.
“That is right, Rumzan. Now, Isobel, let us think of more pleasant subjects.”
“We are to go into the Hunters' this evening, uncle,” Isobel said, as she sat down. “There is going to be a famous juggler there. There is a note for you from Mrs. Hunter on the side table.”
“Very well, my dear; some of these fellows are well worth seeing. Bathurst is coming in to dinner. I saw him as he was starting this morning, just as he was going down to the lines, and he accepted. He said he should be able to get back in time. However, I don't suppose he will mind going round with us. I hope you will come, Doctor, to make up the table. I have asked the two boys to come in.”
“I shall have to become a permanent boarder at your establishment, Major. It is really useless my keeping a cook when I am in here nearly half my time. But I will come. I am off for three days tomorrow. A villager came in this morning to beg me to go out to rid them of a tiger that has established himself in their neighborhood, and that is an invitation I never refuse, if I can possibly manage to make time for it. Fortunately everyone is so healthy here at present that I can be very well spared.”
At dinner the subject of juggling came up again, and the two subalterns expressed their opinion strongly that it was all humbug.
“Dr. Wade believes in it, Mr. Wilson,” Isobel said.
“You don't say so, Doctor; I should have thought you were the last sort of man who would have believed in conjurers.”
“It requires a wise man to believe, Wilson,” the Doctor said; “any fool can scoff; the wise man questions. When you have been here as long as I have, and if you ever get as much sense as I have, which is doubtful, you may be less positive in your ideas, if you can call them ideas.”
“That is one for me,” Wilson said good humoredly, while the others laughed.
“Well, I have never seen them, Doctor, except those fellows who come around to the veranda, and I have seen conjurers at home do ever so much better tricks than they.”
“What do you think of them, Mr. Bathurst?” Isobel asked. “I suppose you have seen some of the better sort?”
“I do not know what to think of them, Miss Hannay. I used to be rather of Wilson's opinion, but I have seen things since that I could not account for at all. There was a man here two or three months back who astounded me.”
“Mrs. Hunter said that the girls had had no opportunity of seeing a good conjurer since they came out, Mr. Bathurst. I suppose they did know this man you are speaking of being here?”
“He was only here for a few hours, Miss Hannay. I had happened to meet him before, and he gave me a private performance, which was quite different to anything I have ever seen, though I had often heard of the feats he had performed. I was so impressed with them that I can assure you that for a few days I had great difficulty in keeping my mind upon my work.”
“What did he do, Mr. Bathurst?”
Bathurst related the feat of the disappearing girl.
“She must have jumped down when you were not looking,” Richards said, with an air or conviction.
“Possibly,” Bathurst replied quietly; “but as I was within three or four yards of the pole, and it was perfectly distinct in the light of my lamp, and as I certainly saw her till she was some thirty or forty feet up in the air I don't see how she can have managed it. For, even supposing she could have sprung down that distance without being hurt, she would not have come down so noiselessly that I should not have heard her.”
“Still, if she did not come down that way, how could she have come?” Wilson said.
“That is exactly what I can't make out,” Bathurst replied. “If it should happen to be the same man, and he will do the same thing again, I fancy you will be as much puzzled as I was.”
After dinner was over the party walked across to Mr. Hunter's bungalow, where, in a short time, the other officers, their wives, and all the other residents at the station were assembled. Chairs were placed in the veranda for the ladies, and a number of lamps hung on the wall, so that a strong light was thrown upon the ground in front of it. In addition, four posts had been driven into the ground some twenty feet from the veranda, and lamps had been fastened upon them.
“I don't know whether the juggler will like that,” Mr. Hunter said, “and I shan't light them if he objects. I don't think myself it is quite fair having a light behind him; still, if he agrees, it will be hardly possible for him to make the slightest movement without being seen.”
The juggler, who was sitting round at the other side of the house, was now called up. He and the girl, who followed him, salaamed deeply, and made an even deeper bow to Bathurst, who was standing behind Isobel's chair.
“You must have paid them well, Bathurst,” Major Hannay said. “They have evidently a lively remembrance of past favors. I suppose they are the same you were talking about?”
“Yes, they are the same people, Major.” Then he said in the native dialect to the juggler, “Mr. Hunter has put some posts with lamps behind you, Rujub, but he hasn't lit them because he did not know whether you would object.”
“They can be lighted, sahib. My feats do not depend on darkness. Any of the sahibs who like to stand behind us can do so if they do not come within the line of those posts.”
“Let us go out there,” Wilson said to Richards, when the answer was translated; “we will light the lamps, and we shall see better there than we shall see here.”
The two went round to the other side and lit the lamps, and the servants stood a short distance off on either side.
The first trick shown was the well known mango tree. The juggler placed a seed in the ground, poured some water upon it from a lota, and covered it with a cloth. In two or three minutes he lifted this, and a plant four or five inches high was seen. He covered this with a tall basket, which he first handed round for inspection. On removing this a mango tree some three feet high, in full bloom, was seen. It was again covered, and when the basket was removed it was seen to be covered with ripe fruit, eliciting exclamations of astonishment from those among the spectators who had not before seen the trick performed.
“Now, Wilson,” the Doctor said, “perhaps you will be kind enough to explain to us all how this was done?”
“I have no more idea than Adam, Doctor.”
“Then we will leave it to Richards. He promised us at dinner to keep his eyes well open.”
Richards made no reply.
“How was it done, Mr. Bathurst? It seems almost like a miracle.”
“I am as ignorant as Wilson is, Miss Hannay. I can't account for it in any way, and I have seen it done a score of times. Ah! now he is going to do the basket trick. Don't be alarmed when you hear the girl cry out. You may be quite sure that she is not hurt. The father is deeply attached to her, and would not hurt a hair of her head.”
Again the usual methods were adopted. The basket was placed on the ground and the girl stepped into it, without the pretense of fear usually exhibited by the performers.
Before the trick began Major Hannay said to Captain Doolan, “Come round with me to the side of those boys. I know the first time I saw it done I was nearly throwing myself on the juggler, and Wilson is a hot headed boy, and is likely as not to do so. If he did, the man would probably go off in a huff and show us nothing more. From what Bathurst said, we are likely to see something unusual.”
As soon as the lid was put down, an apparently angry colloquy took place between the juggler and the girl inside. Presently the man appeared to become enraged, and snatching up a long, straight sword from the ground, ran it three or four times through the basket.
A loud shriek followed the first thrust, and then all was silent.
Some of the ladies rose to their feet with a cry of horror, Isobel among them. Wilson and Richards both started to rush forward, but were seized by the collars by the Major and Captain Doolan.
“Will you open the basket?” the juggler said quietly to Mrs. Hunter. As she had seen the trick before she stepped forward without hesitation, opened the lid of the basket and said, “It is empty.” The juggler took it up, and held it up, bottom upwards.
“What on earth has become of the girl?” Wilson exclaimed.
As he spoke she passed between him and Richards back to her father's side.
“Well, I am dashed,” Wilson murmured. “I would not have believed it if fifty people had sworn to me they had seen it.” He was too much confounded even to reply, when the Doctor sarcastically said: “We are waiting for your explanation, gentlemen.”
“Will you ask him, Major,” Richards said, as he wiped his forehead with his pocket handkerchief, “to make sure that she is solid?”
The Major translated the request, and the girl at once came across, and Richards touched her with evident doubt as to whether on not she were really flesh and blood.
There was much curiosity among those who had seen jugglers before as to what would be the next feat, for generally those just seen were the closing ones of a performance, but as these were the first it seemed that those to follow must be extraordinary indeed.
The next feat was the one shown to Bathurst, and was performed exactly as upon that occasion, except that as the girl rose beyond the circle of light she remained distinctly visible, a sort of phosphoric light playing around her. Those in the veranda had come out now, the juggler warning them not to approach within six feet of the pole.
Higher and higher the girl went, until those below judged her to be at least a hundred and fifty feet from the ground. Then the light died out, and she disappeared from their sight. There was silence for a minute or two, and then the end of the pole could be seen descending without her. Another minute, and it was reduced to the length it had been at starting.
The spectators were silent now; the whole thing was so strange and mysterious that they had no words to express their feeling.
The juggler said something which Mr. Hunter translated to be a request for all to resume their places.
“That is a wonderful trick,” the Doctor said to Bathurst. “I have never seen it done that way before, but I once saw a juggler throw up a rope into the air; how high it went I don't know, for, like this, it was done at night, but it stood up perfectly stiff, and the juggler's attendant climbed up. He went higher and higher, and we could hear his voice coming down to us. At last it stopped, and then suddenly the rope fell in coils on the ground, and the boy walked quietly in, just as that girl has done now.”
The girl now placed herself in the center of the open space.
“You will please not to speak while this trick is being performed,” the juggler said; “harm might come of it. Watch the ground near her feet.”
A minute later a dark object made its appearance from the ground. It rose higher and higher with an undulating movement.
“By Jove, it is a python!” the Doctor whispered in Bathurst's ear. A similar exclamation broke from several of the others, but the juggler waved his hand with an authoritative hush. The snake rose until its head towered above that of the girl, and then began to twine itself round her, continuously rising from the ground unti............
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