In front of them upon a small mat lay an earthenware pitcher of water and half-a-loaf of bread, together with a sheet of paper inscribed with certain cabalistic characters. Ram Singh glanced at these, and then, motioning to me to withdraw, followed me out into the garden.
“I am not to disturb them until ten o’clock,” he said. “You have now seen in operation one of the grandest results of our occult philosophy, the dissociation of spirit from body. Not only are the spirits of these holy men standing at the present moment by the banks of the Ganges, but those spirits are clothed in a material covering so identical with their real bodies that none of the faithful will ever doubt that Lal Hoomi and Mowdar Khan are actually among them. This is accomplished by our power of resolving an object into its ‘chemical atoms, of conveying these atoms with a speed which exceeds that of lightning to any given spot, and of there re-precipitating them and compelling them to retake their original form. Of old, in the days of our ignorance, it was necessary to convey the whole body in this way, but we have since found that it was as easy and more convenient to transmit material enough merely to build up an outside shell or semblance. This we have termed the astral body.”
“But if you can transmit your spirits so readily,” I observed, “why should they be accompanied by any body at all?”
“In communicating with brother initiates we are able to employ our spirits only, but when we wish to come in contact with ordinary mankind it is essential that we should appear in some form which they can see and comprehend.”
“You have interested me deeply in all that you have told me,” I said, grasping the hand which Ram Singh had held out to me as a sign that our interview was at an end. “I shall often think of our short acquaintance.”
“You will derive much benefit from it,” he said slowly, still holding my hand and looking gravely and sadly into my eyes. “You must remember that what will happen in the future is not necessarily bad because it does not fall in with your preconceived ideas of right. Be not hasty in your judgments. There are certain great rules which must be carried out, at whatever cost to individuals. Their operation may appear to you to be harsh and cruel, but that is as nothing compared with the dangerous precedent which would be established by not enforcing them. The ox and the sheep are safe from us, but the man with the blood of the highest upon his hands should not and shall not live.”
He threw up his arms at the last words with a fierce, threatening gesture, and, turning away from me, strode back to the ruined hut.
I stood gazing after him until he disappeared through the doorway, and then started off for home, revolving in my mind all that I had heard, and more particularly this last outburst of the occult philosopher.
Far on the right I could see the tall, white tower of Cloomber standing out clear-cut and sharp against a dark cloud-bank which rose behind it. I thought how any traveller who chanced to pass that way would envy in his heart the tenant of that magnificent building, and how little they would guess the strange terrors, the nameless dangers, which were gathering about his head. The black cloud-wrack was but the image, I reflected, of the darker, more sombre storm which was about to burst.
“Whatever it all means, and however it happens,” I ejaculated, “God grant that the innocent be not confounded with the guilty.”
My father, when I reached home, was still in a ferment over his learned disputation with the stranger.
“I trust, Jack,” he said, “that I did not handle him too roughly. I should remember that I am in loco magistri, and be less prone to argue with my guests. Yet, when he took up this most untenable position, I could not refrain from attacking him and hurling him out of it, which indeed I did, though you, who are ignorant of the niceties of the question, may have failed to perceive it. You observed, however, that my reference to King Asoka’s edicts was so conclusive that he at once rose and took his leave.”
“You held your own bravely,” I answered, “but what is your impression of the man now that you have seen him?” “Why,” said my father, “he is one of those holy men who, under the various names of Sannasis, Yogis, Sevras, Qualanders, Hakims, and Cufis have devoted their lives to the study of the mysteries of the Buddhist faith. He is, I take it, a theosophist, or worshipper of the God of knowledge, the highest grade of which is the adept. This man and his companions have not attained this high position or they could not have crossed the sea without contamination. It is probable that they are all advanced chelas who hope in time to attain to the supreme honour of adeptship.”
“But, father,” interrupted my sister, “this does not explain why men of such sanctity and attainments should choose to take up their quarters on the shores of a desolate Scotch bay.”
“Ah, there you get beyond me,” my father answered. “I may suggest, however, that it is nobody’s business but their own, so long as they keep the peace and are amenable to the law of the land.”
“Have you ever heard,” I asked, “that these higher priests of whom you speak have powers which are unknown to us?”
“Why, Eastern literature is full of it. The Bible is an Eastern book, and is it not full of the record of such powers from cover to cover? It is unquestionable that they have in the past known many of Nature’s secrets which are lost to us. I cannot say, however, from my own knowledge that the modern theosophists really possess the powers that they claim.”
“Are they a vindictive class of people?” I asked. “Is there any offence among them which can only be expiated by death?”
“Not that I know of,” my father answered, raising his white eyebrows in surprise. “You appear to be in an inquisitive humour this afternoon—what is the object of all these questions? Have our Eastern neighbours aroused your curiosity or suspicion in any way?”
I parried the question as best I might, for I was unwilling to let the old man know what was in my mind. No good purpose could come from his enlightenment; his age and his health demanded rest rather than anxiety; and indeed, with the best will in the world I should have found it difficult to explain to another what was so very obscure to myself. For every reason I felt that it was best that he should be kept in the dark.
Never in all my experience had I known a day pass so slowly as did that eventful 5th of October. In every possible manner I endeavoured to while away the tedious hours, and yet it seemed as if darkness would never arrive.
I tried to read, I tried to write, I paced about the lawn, I walked to the end of the lane, I put new flies upon my fishing-hooks, I began to index my father’s library—in a dozen ways I endeavoured to relieve the suspense which was becoming intolerable. My sister, I could see, was suffering from the same feverish restlessness.
Again and again our good father remonstrated with us in his mild way for our erratic behaviour and the continual interruption of his work which arose from it.
At last, however, the tea was brought, and the tea was taken, the curtains were drawn, the lamps lit, and after another interminable interval the prayers were read and the servants dismissed to their rooms. My father compounded and swallowed his nightly jorum of toddy, and then shuffled off to his room, leaving the two of us in the parlour with our nerves in a tingle and our minds full of the most vague and yet terrible apprehensions.