As he spoke the door opened, and a couple of old and rather snaky-looking Hindus, folded up in a profusion of cloths, rather than garments, entered the apartment. Sir Modava conducted them to a proper distance from the audience, who could not help distrusting the good intentions of the vicious-looking reptiles. Each of them carried such a basket as the party had seen in the square. The men seemed to be at least first cousins to the serpents the baskets contained, for their expression was subtle enough to stamp them as belonging to the same family.
The performers squatted on the floor, and each placed a basket before him, removing the cover; but the serpents did not come out. The charmers then produced a couple of instruments which Sir Modava called lutes, looking more like a dried-up summer crookneck squash, with a mouthpiece, and a tube with keys below the bulb. Adjusting it to their lips, they began to play; and the music was not bad, and it appeared to be capable of charming the cobras, for they raised their heads out of the baskets.
The melody produced a strange effect upon the reptiles, for they began to wriggle and twist as they uncoiled themselves. They hissed and outspread their hoods, and instead of being charmed by the music, it seemed as though their wrath had been excited. They made an occasional dart at the human performers, who dodged them as though they had been in their native jungles, with their business fangs in order for deadly work. But the Hindu gentleman explained that they could bite, though they could not kill, after their poison fangs had been removed.
Then one of the performers stood up, and seizing his snake by the neck, he swung him three times around his head, and dropped him on the floor. There he lay extended at his full length, as stiff as though he had taken a dose of his own poison.
“I have killed my serpent!” exclaimed the Hindu with a groan. “But I can make him into a useful cane.”
Sir Modava interpreted his remarks, and the fellow picked up his snake, and walked before the audience, using it as a staff, and pretending to support himself upon it. Then he held out the reptile to the visitors, and offered to sell his cane; but they recoiled, and the ladies were on the point of rushing from the room when Sir Modava ordered him off. He retreated a proper distance, and then thrust the head of the creature beneath his turban, and continued to crowd him into it till nothing but his tail was in sight. Then he took off his head covering, and showed the reptile coiled up within it.
Lord Tremlyn looked at his watch, and then carried a piece of money to the chief charmer, which he received with many salaams, in which his companion joined him, for the fee was a very large one. He suggested that the party had had enough of this performance, to which all the ladies, with Mr. Woolridge, heartily agreed. The carriages were at the door of the hotel, and the company were hurriedly driven to the Apollo Bunder, where they found a steam-launch in waiting for them. Lord Tremlyn had arranged the excursions so that everything proceeded like clockwork, and Captain Ringgold wondered what he should have done without his assistance.