The Strange Story of Pragtjna

I HESITATE to tell this story. I am afraid it will not be believed. Indeed, I hardly know how to believe it myself. As the years pass since the period at which these things happened, I find myself recalling them with a curious wonder whether they did really take place, or whether they may not have been an optical illusion or a nightmare.

But here is the old Indian signet ring which he gave me, and the sash, like nothing that men weave in this modern world ; and before me is what I wrote about the matter while my recollection was still fresh and vivid. No, it cannot have been an illusion.

Moreover, there is a special reason why I should no longer keep silence. As I crossed to England last year, I fell in with my friend M—, who has been going deeply into theosophy. Now I am no theosophist. I regard the whole thing as a mere guessing caricature of the ancient systems which it professes to interpret. But still, as I conversed with him, — or rather heard him converse, for these “chelas ” hold you like the Ancient Mariner, — I could not help thinking how curiously close some of its guesses come to things which I myself have known. Indeed, there is so much interest, in the present day, in what seem like occult forces that any contribution to their study may possibly be not without use. So here are the matters which I have to tell, and let them pass for what they are worth.

It all happened during my stay in India in the year 186-. My traveling fellowship had taken me there to study the primitive monotheism which underlaid the exuberant superstitions and idolatries of the later Brahmanism. My friendship with the great Indian reformer, Keshub Chunder Sen, gave me the entrée to high - caste native circles not usually open to foreigners. I was there, too, to learn, and not to teach, and so was admitted to intimacies with some of the most learned Pundits and Vaidikas who, if I had been a missionary, would have passed me by with contempt. From one to another I was sent on, bearing a few mysterious words inscribed on a short piece of bamboo, entirely unintelligible to me, neither ancient Sanskrit nor modern Hindi, but which were at once an open sesame to interest and confidence. I must not stop now to recall the results of all this inner study, important and curious as they were.1 Suffice it that they led me far across the country, from Calcutta to the Punjaub.

I was at a little town on the Sutlej, in the province of Aràrat, when the incident occurred which I have to relate. The native ruler, the well-known Boojum of Aràrat, had received me with almost patriarchal hospitality, — and in passing let me say that I never could look upon his dignified figure without regretting that his title should have been made so ridiculous by Mr. Carroll’s use of it in his nonsense-story, The Hunting of the Snark.2 For the rest, this little principality of Aràrat — an entirely different location, of course, from the Ararat of Bible tradition — was a pleasant place for a few months’ sojourn. Far to the west, beyond the vast distances of interminable jungle, rose the dim blue wall of the almost impassable mountains which form the great natural boundary of Afghanistan. One solitary break in that great wall, a mere notch in the distant line of blue, indicated the pass by which, twenty-two centuries ago, Alexander the Great came into that Wonderland which India was then even more than it is now.

In the principality itself time passed much as all time passes to the foreigner in India. During the scorching midday I kept in the deep shelter of the kotwàl to which I had been assigned, usually with my native teacher; but in the early mornings, and in the afternoons when the cool air came from the snow-clad ghauts, I was exploring the country round. Next to my special subject of the primitive religions, I was interested in the traces, in which India abounds, of an older life and a different civilization. Here on the slopes bordering the great river were ancient mounds and earth-works which especially aroused my curiosity. No one seemed to know any tradition about them. The country people simply referred them to the Jinns. I, however, could not help suspecting them to be remains of the great Alexander’s encampment. I knew that it was to this river he had come, and that it had formed the farthest point of his advance, but of his actual presence at this particular spot there was really no evidence. One slender trace, however, of ancient Greek occupation did appear to me to point towards my theory. In the local shrine, there was preserved a curious brazen jar, evidently very ancient, round which was an almost obliterated inscription in Greek. Poring over it day after day, when once the attendant priest had come to trust me sufficiently to allow it in my hands, I at last made out a number of the letters, though with wide spaces between for conjecture. The letters still visible stood about as follows : —



At first I could make nothing of it. It looked, however, as if it might have been a cinerarium, and by the shape of the letters it was evidently archaic Greek. But how came such a barbaric combination of letters as XΩB in a Greek inscription ? It could only be a proper name, yet there was no Greek name to which it could belong. It had more of a Hebrew sound. But stay ! might not that supply the very explanation needed ? It came to my mind how Alexander’s army had kept gathering allies and followers from the various countries which he subdued on the line of his great expedition, and had he not passed through Judea ? The story of his approach to Jerusalem is familiar, and of the high-priest and all the Temple retinue marching forth to give him peaceful welcome. Not so well remembered are the concluding lines of the story, in which the historian tells that many of the Jews joined his army and went on with him to his wars.3 Then I looked again at the inscription, and saw that between the BA and the XΩB there was just space enough for the name to have read BAP IAXΩB, — son of Jacob! So it all flashed upon me. This was some Hebrew officer or official, following in the train of the great king, who had died on the long march, — might it not have been at the Oxus, so accounting for the following word? Doubtless the body had been burnt, and they were carrying along his ashes to deposit in the sepulchres of his people, on their return, when some mischance had caused the precious casket to be left behind in the spot where, centuries afterwards, it had been dug up, rusted and its lettering almost illegible. I would not rely too much on such conjectures, yet, found here in this far-away district, any Greek inscription, however it might be interpreted, was significant, and I could not resist the conviction that I was indeed on the very track of the great conqueror.

I had been in Aràrat about two months, when one day the head padji of the màng, or village commune, came to me, with a mysterious face and many salaams. Would the Sahib come — now — quickly? Something had been found. I could not quite make out all he said, but the word “ stone ” was clear, and of course all my antiquarian instincts were at once on the alert.

He led the way to a small patch of millet in the midst of the tope, or sacred grove which surrounded the local shrine. I had often noticed this little patch, and wondered why they grew millet in such an unlikely place, for it was evidently exhausted ground, yielding no crop worth gathering; but the priest told me that they had always grown millet there, and that it had been handed down that they always must do so ; and by the way in which he spoke he seemed referring to some ancient usage which might have been going on from the time of King Asoka. They had needed a well, however, and as it was for temple use it had been decided, after long questioning and incantations, that it might be dug there, and the coolies had already sunk some six feet when they were arrested by a large flat stone. It extended under the whole space of their excavation, except in one corner, where a straight chiseled edge showed that it was not some flat outcrop of rock, but that it must have been placed there, with the further suggestion that there must be something underneath.

Curious and excited, I waited, the priest standing by, while the edges of the pit were widened so as to clear the stone, which then lay a simple, smooth, square flag, some five feet either way.

Then came that moment which every antiquarian knows so well. We held our breath as the coolies lifted. But the stone did not stir, though it seemed but some four inches in thickness. They brought great wooden bars, to use as levers; but still only a little fragment of the stone chipped off, and the mass remained immovable. The coolies became frightened. It was held down by Jinns; it was the doorway to the nether world! Not another stroke would they give. The evident fact, however, was that it was cemented to something below, and my curiosity rose higher than ever. Jumping down upon the stone, I cleared the earth a little further from the overlapping edge, and began with one of the rude native tools to feel my way to the cemented joint.

The coolies fled in terror. My friend the priest held his ground, but evidently trembling, for the soil was sacred, and bad only been meddled with at all with many misgivings. Meanwhile, I went steadily to work, and chipped away ; and by and by, as I kept feeling my way along the joint, I perceived by a slight movement that I had loosened the whole mass.

I hardly know how to describe what met our eyes when, after great efforts, the priest and I at last turned up the stone against the side of the excavation : a square opening, formed of upright stones like the covering ; a mass of black hair falling upon discolored stuffs that might once have been white ; a human figure seated cross-legged there !

“A mummy!” I exclaimed. But it was not a mummy. The flesh was flesh ; dark enough, and perhaps the flesh of a corpse, but not a mummy. It was a face that was underneath that mass of falling hair. The eyes were plastered over ; so was the mouth. What looked like mould projected from the nostrils, but it was only some substance with which they had been stopped. The hands were crossed upon the lap ; but they were unmistakable flesh, not those ghastly reminiscences of hands that they unfold from the mummy wrappings. In a word, it looked like a corpse that might have been buried a few days before ; but I had seen that millet growing for two months, and I was certain in my mind, from the way the priest had spoken of it, that that land had never been disturbed in his time, — and he was an old man.

Suddenly there flashed into my memory something that Keshub Chunder Sen had told me. We had been talking of Indian conjurers, and of the wonderful tilings related of them. He had seemed reluctant to say anything, but at last, pressed by one of his most intimate friends, he said that he had himself witnessed one of the marvels which had been mentioned, — the entombment of one of these conjurers, though I noticed that he did not use that name nor speak of the matter lightly, as we had been doing. It came back to me,— the very account he had given of how the man had in some way turned back his tongue so as to close completely the aperture of the throat, and as he lost consciousness his attendants had plugged every orifice of the body with wax and carefully prepared cotton, and washed the whole frame with some kind of preparation that, as he described it, had suggested the idea of collodion ; then, placing him in a sitting posture, they had closed in the tomb with hermetical cementing, so as to prevent the possibility of any air passing in or out; and lastly—and I remember still how we all shivered as he told if, for he spoke very seriously— they had filled in the earth, and sown corn all over it, to grow there, the place not to be disturbed till the corn should he ripe, for which, he said, the Rajah undertook to answer with his guards. We had hardly known what to think when the great Hindu reformer told us this; he evidently spoke of it in such good faith, and yet it seemed so wild an impossibility.

But here was the very thing! In crises of intense excitement the mind works fast, and more rapidly than I can write it I saw that here was just what he had described, a man who had been so entombed — and left; only, this — I hardly dared to call it a man — must have been there not months, but centuries! Instantaneously, however, came the reflection that if a man could suspend animation, and still live, for half a year, there was really no limit to the possibility of such suspended animation. It seemed too wonderful to dream of, and yet I could not resist a sudden wonder whether a return to life might in this case, too, still be possible. Meanwhile, I dispatched the priest, who was glad enough of any excuse for getting away, to the palace of the Boojum, about half a mile off, to inform him of our curious discovery,

I had intended to await his arrival before attempting anything, but it soon occurred to me that perhaps even such a delay, with exposure to the air, might be fatal to any lingering conditions of revival, and so I resolved to begin there and then to do what I could. Climbing down into the hole, I carefully removed the plasters from the mouth and eyes and nose, and drew out the plugs of cotton and what seemed like wax from the nostrils and ears, and had before me a face that wore a singular expression of passionless repose, like the best types of the statues of Buddha. Still, all was motionless. No sign of life. The flesh was flesh, — that was something, — but as cold as that of a person who had been drowned. The thought of drowning brought its own suggestion. It was not in vain that I had taken a course of Dr. C—’s “emergency lectures,” and though I dared not disturb the body so far as to lift it out and lay it upon the bank, I could at least attempt some means of artificial respiration even in its sitting posture. Very gently I raised the arms, and moved them to and fro, so as alternately to distend and compress the lungs. Even in doing so I became aware of some obstacle. The tongue ! I remembered Keshub Chunder Sen’s account of the tongue being turned backward, and with almost trembling eagerness I opened the mouth, and, inserting my finger (as I have more than once done with a choking child), I found it as he had described it. With considerable effort I at last got my finger sufficiently far back, and hooked back the obstruction. Strange, the mouth was actually moist! Stranger still, in pushing back the arms to do this, I had done what should have distended the lungs but for that stoppage of the throat; and even as I drew back the tongue to its place there was a little gurgling rush of air, like the sound of one drawing breath, and as I repeated the alternating movements there came what appeared to be distinct respirations. I dared not leave off for a moment. The priest returned, and with him the Boojum and his native physician, and without rising or turning round I bade them bring hot water and cloths. But the temperature was not 110° in the shade for nothing, and before many minutes had elapsed, before the priest could return with the cloths, there came a long, deep sigh, a slight tremor of the limbs, even a faint movement of the eyelids, and the man was unmistakably — alive !

Alive, but like one waking out of a long sleep or faint, the life returning before the consciousness. The eyes still remained closed, though the lids lifted a little now and then ; and the body, still sitting, made slight occasional movements, as if automatically seeking to find its balance.

We could only sit by, and watch, and wonder. We did not dare to speak. After a while the native physician took a tiny vial from the fold of his turban, and wetting his finger just touched the lips. It must have been some strong essence, such as is still known to certain of those Indian sages, for almost immediately all the movements became stronger. The vitality was unmistakable. Slowly the eyes opened. I shall never forget that strange look, as of one out of another world, which met our gaze, first with a meaningless fixedness, but gradually changing into a mute questioning. There was a movement of the lips as if to speak, but no voice came. Again the eyes closed, and the old insensibility seemed to be returning, but another touch from the physician’s vial produced even more marked results. There was an effort to rise, but though the limbs moved it appeared to be without any adequate control by volition. The return to life, however, was now so manifest that we had no longer the same fear of touching him ; so as gently as possible, the Boojum and his physician helping me, I lifted him up, and, stretching his limbs into a natural position, we laid him in the palanquin, and, carrying him to the palace, gently bathed him with tepid water and placed him in a bed.

It would take too long to describe in detail all the process of that wonderful resuscitation, — the first administration of food, just moistening the mouth with water and then with milk, the gradual coming of meaning into the eyes, the evident perception of sound, the tentative movements of feature after feature and limb after limb. To say that I have never seen anything like it is nothing. I had never even imagined anything like it.

It was not till the third day that there came any sound of speech. But it was speech entirely strange to all of us. It was nothing like the modern Bengali or Hindi. Neither the Boojum nor the priest could recognize it for any of the dialects of the Punjaub. And yet as he spoke — very slowly and laboriously, for every power seemed, as it well might, to have lost all natural habitude — the sound gradually took forms which I fancied I might have heard before. Suddenly it dawned upon me that if indeed he had first lived in some very far past, it would be the language of that past that he would remember. I repeated one of the best known couplets of the Banshidàd, which I was translating as I watched beside him; yet though he listened, no look of answering intelligence showed that he understood. But as I took up the old sheet from which I was quoting, and his eye fell upon it, all at once a gleam came into his face, he half rose in the bed, and grasping the sheet with an eager hand began to read it. But what a difference from the sounds which I had uttered !— the difference between the conventional Latin of an Eton boy and the roll of the same sentences as they may have really issued from the lips of Cicero. It was Sanskrit; only, Sanskrit not in the artificial pronunciation which Orientalists have made out from the formal recitative of fifty generations, but Sanskrit in the strange, rich accents of a living tongue. Our wonder deepened into bewilderment. It was more than two thousand years since Sanskrit had been a living tongue in anything like its old purity, and here was a man talking in it, and struggling to make himself understood.

I handed him a pencil and my little writing-block. I saw him glance inquiringly at the pencil; then he tried to make a mark with it, evidently expecting it to be used as a graver, and his surprise at the black color of the letters was curious to see. He was an apt learner, however, and it needed very few strokes to teach him its real use, though always afterwards, when hurried or excited, he would begin pressing it in, as if he were denting with a stylus into the fine-grained wooden tablets on which ancient Indian MSS. are written. There was no uncertainty now. His Sanskrit was legible enough, however unintelligible his pronunciation of it to our vitiated modern hearing. In clear characters, though slowly and tremblingly, he wrote, “ Where am I ? Are the armies departed ? ” and as he handed it to me, he pronounced the words as well.

“ What armies?” I asked in return, venturing to try his own new, or rather old, pronunciation.

“ The armies of the great king, the mighty Liskandros,” he answered ; and even amidst my amazement it did not escape me that this Oriental of Alexander’s own day had exactly the same inability to pronounce the Greek “ Ξ ” (ksi) as the Oriental of to-day, whose equivalent for Alexander is always “ Iskander ” or “ Skander.”

“ Did you not know that Alexandros was dead ? ” I asked.

“ No,” he replied. “ Tell me, — how long, how long ? ”

Very slowly, and writing the number in the Sanskrit numerals, I answered, “It is more than two thousand years since Alexandros and his armies returned to Hellas.”

Never to my last hour shall I forget the fixed, eager look with which he heard my words, and then pored over the paper to make sure that he had heard the length of time aright. Amazement slowly changed into horror ; there came a long, deep groan, and then, closing his eyes, he lay quite still, —so still that I touched his lips with the reviving stimulant which the native physician had left with me.

“No!” he said, opening his eyes, and slightly moving his head. “No! Let me die ! Let me die ! ”

It was very touching. I let him lie more than an hour without speaking, or even making any movement to arouse his attention. I felt almost as much awe as he did, as it grew upon my mind that this man to whom I was talking must be one who had been in the train of Alexander the Great, when, in the years 327 and 326 B. C., he had pushed his conquests even to this very spot in the heart of India. He did not die, but it was many days before I could question him and gather his story. The functions of life only slowly regained their use. Sometimes it seemed as if the rekindled spark of existence would flicker out again, while any excitement of talking was succeeded by such exhaustion, almost collapse, that I encouraged him to lie there quietly, and only now and then to speak, as memories or questions came naturally into his own mind.

Gradually, however, I learned something of his history. He had been a high official in the court of one of the ancient princes of India, and at the same time one of the most advanced proficients in the secret wisdom of his race. When the great king came down from the west with his conquering armies, his terrible fame going before him, and prince after prince sending eagerly to offer tribute and to beg for friendship and alliance, this man — Pragtjna, by name, I found — had been sent as an envoy from Goradjata 4 at once to negotiate and to study and bring back reports about these strange “children of the dying sun,” as it seemed the Indian races called the foreign western peoples. Perhaps, too, there had been tacitly included in his mission the idea of awing the barbaric mind by the high wisdom and extraordinary occult powers which belonged to the proficients in the ancient philosophy of India.

So he had traveled with the great king’s court and staff, had learned to speak the stranger’s tongue, — indeed, after a while, I found it as easy to converse with him in Greek as in Sanskrit, — and had been, I gathered, a favorite guest in the great encampment which, curiously confirming my antiquarian impressions, Alexander and his generals had had in this very neighborhood. He had read the Iliad,— the king, he said, had lent him his own favorite copy, annotated by Aristoteles, — and had studied Plato ; but the mythological heroics of Greece seemed coarse and barbaric to him beside the great Hindu epics ; and he evidently did not think much of the Greek philosophy. It was merely tentative and speculative, only playing about the first principles of real knowledge, clumsy and bald compared to that high and subtle wisdom which in India, he claimed, had long passed out of the speculative stage into definite and established knowledge. It was curious to hear him speaking of Plato as simply dabbling in hypothetical ideas of things with which the esoteric thinkers of the East were familiar as the great controlling facts and forces of being. As I listened to him, I gathered that the ancient philosophy of India must have been vastly nobler than anything extant today, and it occurred to me that a great deal of the modern Indian jugglery, of whose wonders we hear so much, must be a traditional faculty, acquired in those earlier times, but merely empirical now, — a playing with forces the real significance of which has long entirely perished.

It was through that ancient wisdom that his own strange fate had come about. For once, he told me, he had been discoursing before the king concerning the subtile relations of soul and body, and of the powers which the wise ones of his race possessed over life, being able to suspend the bodily life indefinitely, while the soul still lived on. At last the king, who, he said, had evidently been taking too much wine, had cried out that, by Father Zeus, his assertions should be put to proof. So had taken place as a verification of philosophy what to-day is merely one of the feats of Indian jugglery. A cavity in in the earth had been dug, and Pragtjna, after just such careful preparations as Keshub Chunder Sen had described, had been " interned ” there, — exactly as we found him. He had indeed demurred to any very prolonged trance, he told us, and Liskandros had replied that a moon would do just as well as a cycle. So, though millet was sown over the spot, the king swore that when the new moon came again the place should be opened, and if Pragtjna were found still living it should be publicly proclaimed that in philosophy the Greeks were only the little children of the Brahmans; and then the sacred word — “ ŌM ” — should be spoken over the king, and the awful Brahm alone be thenceforth worshiped throughout the world which he had conquered.

There Pragtjna’s part of the story ended. He knew no more. It was my part to tell him the rest of it as it stands in the pages of Arrian : how a great dread had sprung up among the army, and a mutinous resolve to go no further (ah ! Pragtjna remembered that well, but Liskandros had been so headstrong that he, Pragtjna. had not believed the remonstrances would turn him back) ; that, at last, however, as suddenly as he came, the king gave orders for striking the camp, and, not liking to return the way he came, had marched down the river, and by and by, dividing his forces, some by land and others by the rivers and the sea, had struggled back to his own land, only to die, a little later, at Babylon. For the rest, it could only be conjectured that in the haste and confusion of so great a departure the buried philosopher had been forgotten. And so the planted millet had grown, and been reaped, and sown again, and yet again ; and the slow centuries had passed, a whole world’s history had rolled onwards for two thousand years, and still that strange buried secret had remained undiscovered— that life suspended, as it were, between two worlds — until that day when accident (but is there any accident?) had once more turned back the key of awful fate and reopened the door of life.

And now comes an ending of my story as unexpected and as strange as its beginning. I hoped it was to be a prolonged intercourse which had thus begun. As I sat beside the bed of this man, while he was slowly regaining the strength and use of life, I often amused myself with thinking of the various ways in which, when he should be fully recovered, his unique experience would add to the world’s knowledge. To talk freely with one who had seen Alexander the Great, to be within the link of one life with Aristotle and only two lives from Plato. How many mistakes of history would he be able to correct! How he could discourse to us familiarly about all that old-world life, the details of which we try to spell out from cups and weapons and any smallest fragments we can discover ! Still more I longed to question him about the thoughts and feelings of people in that ancient world ; for I have always a suspicion that there were differences of moral perspective that make us unable really to penetrate to their spirit. Then I pondered over the intense interest of showing him this new world of ours. Together we would visit Europe and America. In imagination I introduced him to learned societies, unfolded to him the marvels of steam and electricity and printing, anticipated the wonder of his first look through the lens of microscope and telescope. Even his vivid pronunciation of Greek and Sanskrit brought now and then an amused sense of the confusion it would work upon the conventional systems of the schools.

All these hopes, however, were destined to failure, and in place of the interesting story which might have grown out of their fulfillment I have simply to record a conclusion of this curious episode as disappointing as it was marvelous.

It was about seven weeks before Pragtjna was strong enough to move about freely and naturally, able to ride with the Boojum or to share in my walks. To say the truth, indeed, the Boojum was a little shy of him, as if half afraid and suspicious of something uncanny about him. Pragtjna, moreover, on his part, seemed to prefer being with me, — a relic, as I could not help fancying, of the attraction which he had felt towards the old Greek conqueror. Indeed, I never could divest his mind of the idea that the English domination which he found existing in modern India was in some way the result of that victorious invasion which he had witnessed, and in the midst of which his former recollections of the world had ceased.

As his health returned, however, and I looked to see him recovering the natural tone of interested life, a curious change began to come over him. I could see that he did not feel at ease. The fact was, the world was too strange. I imagine he felt hampered by the consciousness that all about him knew his curious history, and felt him to be a different being from themselves. He said one day that it would be easier if he could begin the world again in some great city, where he could take his place as a being of to-day. He seemed to feel that with us he must always be a mere object of curiosity. How could he be like other men? He was but in the prime of life, and yet who, for instance, would wed with one of whom so weird a story could be told ? I can understand all this now, but at the time I only saw that he was growing moody and silent. If he had confided his thoughts to me, I would have gladly helped him to the new start in life which he desired, in some place where his identity might have been lost. But the deep, reserved Hindu nature, the same, it seemed, twenty centuries ago as now, held him just as surely as it held those silent, deep-eyed native servants who waited upon me, so watchful and ready and supple and obsequious, but yet never for an instant betraying what was really passing in their minds.

It appeared to me that each day, instead of bringing us nearer together, brought more and more of this subtle estrangement. There was little outward manifestation of it. Pragtjna was still with us, always courteous, ready to converse on any subject that we started, and yet I could see that his mind was really occupied with thoughts of which we knew nothing. For one thing, I perceived that he was examining the plants about us with a curious interest. Some he took home with him, and with these he was often busy, experimenting, dissecting, and distilling them. He spoke of them as for medicines, but I have since thought that he may have been trying to recover the secret of some extremely powerful gas. At least, only in some such way can I even conceive of any natural explanation —and I cannot entertain the idea of any other— of what I have to relate.

We were standing together, one day, on the flat garden roof of the palace, — Pragtjna, the Boojum, the native physician, and I, — when Pragtjna, aroused by something that I had said about modern progress, began to extol the ancient wisdom of his race. “ Now, they are mere parrots,” he said, “ repeating things they know not; but in what you call the old world, they were philosophers. The very powers of the world were at their command. They could kill and make alive; they could be visible or invisible ; they could be or not be.”

“ So say our enchanters,” said the Boojum.

“ Speak not to me of enchanters! ” cried Pragtjna, with a tone of vehement contempt. “ What are these mirror tricks, these basket tricks and rope tricks, that you tell me of ? Why, your enchanters are only as those apes would be,” pointing to some in a neighboring mango-tree, “ if they should learn how to let off your fire-arrows [as he called our guns], or to tick off a word or two on your lightning wire ! ” The Boojum and the physician shrank back a little at the vehemence with which he spoke. For myself, I was interested. “ Will you not some day manifest to us those more wonderful powers ? ” I said.

“It shall be now,” he answered.

With that he stripped off, with a sudden gesture, his long black robe. To our surprise, he stood before us girded with a long rope, wound round and round his body, outside his tunic, from his arm-pits to his loins.

“ Behold my ladder of life,” he said; “by this will I climb back into that irvaya [nirvana, the n always silent in his pronunciation of it] which you disturbed.”

To Our astonishment, he began unwinding the rope, and coil after coil fell upon the ground. It was not an ordinary rope. It looked as if made of some fine membrane or parchment closely compressed, and with a strong thread twisted round it. It seemed intermina ble in its length. By the time it was all unwound there could not be less than a hundred yards lying upon the ground.

“Ah,” I thought, “now I am going to see that curious rope trick of which Major—has given so lively an ac-

count,” and I determined to watch it very closely.

Even as the thought passed through my mind, he took up one end of the rope, and first putting it to his mouth and whispering to it, — or perhaps he was biting something off, — he threw it lightly up into the air.

I confess that even my nerves were a little shaken, skeptic as I am, as the ropeend, on his letting go of it, instead of falling back to the ground, continued to rise. Coil by coil it slowly spiraled into the air. As it receded, instead of growing smaller, it appeared to swell out almost into the dimensions of a cable. But at the same time it became less clear to sight, as if losing itself in a mist. Higher and higher it mounted, however, until there were only a few coils left upon the ground. Then quietly taking hold of it, Pragtjna, also, was lifted from the ground, and, as he rose, drew the rest of the rope up after him. So he rose and rose, and soon he too was in the mist-like dimness in which the rope was lost, and in a moment more he had entirely disappeared.

“Well done, Pragtjna!” we cried, finding a sort of relief from the strain that was upon our hearts in trying to treat the whole matter as a show ; and we waited for him to reappear.

We waited in vain. All that we could see was a sort of mist floating in the still air ; and then, far up the sky, it seemed to enter a stratum of wind, and began moving rapidly to the north. And we stood and watched it moving on till it was lost in the distance among the clouds on the horizon.

And that is all.

We never saw him more. We never could hear anything more of him. Whether, somehow, he found his way to some distant city, —for of course his talk about climbing back into nirvana was a mere blind, — or whether he drifted northwards till he was finally lost among the Himalayas, with their awful wastes of everlasting snow, who can tell?

P. S. I reopen this paper to add a little item which may possibly be suggestive.

I was sitting with the chief engineer of the Patagonia, on my voyage home, when our conversation turned upon the enormous waste in our present reliance upon coal and steam for motive power. “ Why,” said he, “ think of the undeveloped forces which only wait for man to find out how to handle them ! Do you know that you can put in a handbag dynamite enough to take this ship from Liverpool to Boston and home again, if only the force in it could be controlled and properly dealt out ?”

As I thought of this afterwards, I could not help wondering whether there might be substances of expansive quality similarly beyond all our present knowledge, but known to that ancient wisdom in which Pragtjna was such an adept, and whether in some such substance of almost infinite buoyancy might lie the explanation of this marvelous ending to my narrative.

Harvard B. Rooke.

  1. BY those interested in such matters, they may be found, Ind. Theo. Rep., 1868, Art. 3.
  2. Boojum, or Boodjum, is in reality allied to the word Budh, which gives us “Buddha,” the Wise; a kinship analogous to that which traces the title “king” to the same root as “ know.”
  3. The words of Josephus are: “And when he said to the multitude that if any of them would list themselves in his army, on condition that they should continue under the laws of their forefathers, and live according to them, he was willing to take them with him, many were ready to accompany him in his wars.” (Antiq. Jud., XI. viii. §6.)
  4. I have never been able to identify this province, but cannot help suspecting that we have some trace of it in Goojerat.