Page 28

The Magician have been no life in it. 'Look,' said Haddo. 'That is the miracle which Moses did before Pharaoh.' Then the Arab took a reed instrument, not unlike the pipe which Pan in the hills of Greece played to the dryads, and he piped a weird, monotonous tune. The stiffness broke away from the snake suddenly, and it lifted its head and raised its long body till it stood almost on the tip of its tail, and it swayed slowly to and fro. Oliver Haddo seemed extraordinarily fascinated. He leaned forward with eager face, and his unnatural eyes were fixed on the charmer with an indescribable expression. Margaret drew back in terror. 'You need not be frightened,' said Arthur. 'These people only work with animals whose fangs have been extracted.' Oliver Haddo looked at him before answering. He seemed to consider each time what sort of man this was to whom he spoke. 'A man is only a snake−charmer because, without recourse to medicine, he is proof against the fangs of the most venomous serpents.' 'Do you think so?' said Arthur. 'I saw the most noted charmer of Madras die two hours after he had been bitten by a cobra,' said Haddo. I had heard many tales of his prowess, and one evening asked a friend to take me to him. He was out when we arrived, but we waited, and presently, accompanied by some friends, he came. We told him what we wanted. He had been at a marriage−feast and was drunk. But he sent for his snakes, and forthwith showed us marvels which this man has never heard of. At last he took a great cobra from his sack and began to handle it. Suddenly it darted at his chin and bit him. It made two marks like pin−points. The juggler started back. '“I am a dead man,” he said. 'Those about him would have killed the cobra, but he prevented them. '“Let the creature live,” he said. “It may be of service to others of my trade. To me it can be of no other use. Nothing can save me.” 'His friends and the jugglers, his fellows, gathered round him and placed him in a chair. In two hours he was dead. In his drunkenness he had forgotten a portion of the spell which protected him, and so he died.' 'You have a marvellous collection of tall stories,' said Arthur. 'I'm afraid I should want better proof that these particular snakes are poisonous.' Oliver turned to the charmer and spoke to him in Arabic. Then he answered Arthur. 'The man has a horned viper, cerastes is the name under which you gentlemen of science know it, and it is the most deadly of all Egyptian snakes. It is commonly known as Cleopatra's Asp, for that is the serpent which was brought in a basket of figs to the paramour of Caesar in order that she might not endure the triumph of Augustus.' 'What are you going to do?' asked Susie.

4

26

The Magician  
The Magician  

W. Somerset Maugham

Advertisement