The Malee answered, "Chh, Chh! There is no mate of this cobra," but his tone was not confident.
"Go," cried Beharilal—"go quickly and call Nagoo, the snake-charmer. He has knowledge."
"I will go," said the Malee, and set off at a run; but when he got out of the gate he lapsed into a leisurely walk, for why should a man lose his breath without cause? In time he found his way to the little settlement of huts constructed of poles and mats, where Nagoo sat on the ground smoking his "chillum," and told his errand.
"Why should I come?" was Nagoo's reply; "I went to take away that cobra and the Bunia drove me from the garden with abuse. Why does he send for me now?"
"He is a Bunia," said the Malee, as if that summed up the whole matter; but he added, after a pause, "If he sees a burning ground, he shakes like a peepul leaf. The cobra has died by his hand and his liver has become like water. Whatever you ask he will give. You should come,"
Nagoo replied aloud, "I will come," and to himself, "I will give him physic." Then he took up his baskets and his pipe and followed the Malee.
Beharilal proceeded to business with a directness foreign to his habit, looking over his shoulder at intervals lest a snake might be silently approaching. "Good Nagoo," he said, "a great misfortune has happened. The cobra of the shrine has been killed. Has it a mate?"
"How can a cobra not have a mate?" answered Nagoo curtly.
Then Beharilal employed the most insinuating of the many tones of his voice. "Listen, Nagoo. You are a man of skill. Capture that cobra and I will pay you well. I will give you five rupees." Then, observing no response in the wrinkled visage of the charmer, "I will give you ten rupees."
Nagoo would have sold his revenge for a tithe of the wealth thus dangled before him, but he saw no reason to suppose that there was another cobra anywhere in the garden, so he answered with the calm confidence of an expert, "That cannot be done. The serpent will not heed any pipe now. In its mind there is only revenge."
"Then what will it do?" said the trembling Bunia.
"If its mate died by the hand of a man, it will follow that man until it has accomplished its purpose."
"But how will it know," asked Beharilal, "by whose hand its mate died?"
Nagoo replied with pious simplicity, "How can I tell by what means it knows? God informs it."
"But," pleaded Beharilal, "is there no escape?—if a man goes away by the railway or by water?"
Nagoo pondered for a moment and said, "If a man crossed the sea, the serpent would be baulked. If he goes by railway it will not leave him. Let him go to Madras, it will find him."
With a faltering hand the Bunia put some rupees, uncounted, into the charmer's skinny palm, saying, "Go, make incantations. Do something. There is great knowledge of mysteries with you"; and he hurried back into the house.
His arrangements were very soon made. His account books, with a bundle of bonds and hoondies and cash and his son, were put into a small cart drawn by a pair of fast trotting bullocks, into which he himself climbed, after looking under the cushion to see that there was no evil beast lurking there, and got away in haste while the sun was yet hot. The rest of the family followed with the household property, and in a few days the house was empty and only the Malee remained in charge. Many years have passed and the house is empty still, and the Malee, grown grey and frail, is still in charge. He gets no wages, but he sells the jasmine flowers and the mangoes and guavas, and he grows chillies and brinjals, and so fills the stomachs of himself and his little grandson and is contented. If you ask him where the Seth has gone, he replies, "Who knows?" His debt has gone with his creditor, "gone glimmering through the dream of things that were," and he has no desire to recall them.
A civil or military officer from the station, taking a solitary walk, sometimes finds himself at the Cobra Bungalow, and turns in to wander among its old trees and unswept paths, obstructed by overgrown and untended shrubs, and wonders how it got its name. Then he pauses at the whitewashed shrine and notes that the god-stone has been freshly painted red and that chaplets of faded flowers lie before it. But the old Malee approaches with a meek salaam and a posy of jasmine and marigolds and warns him that there is a cobra in the shrine.