Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/80

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70
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and instantly reassumes his erect position, and thus he continues to act as long as danger menaces or a safe avenue of escape does not present itself. This turning to the left and right after one's movements and striking downward is the so-called "dancing" which superficial observers have attributed to the power of

PSM V46 D080 Cobra head showing the gape of the mouth.jpg
Fig. 2.—Head of the Cobra, showing Gape of the Mouth.

music. Even after a slight acquaintance with snake dancing I began to suspect that music had nothing to do with it. Before long I was convinced on the subject.

It happened, I believe, in 1877, that Sir Bartle Frere, Governor of the British dominions in South Africa, when on his way eastward to settle some troubles preceding the outbreak of the war with the southern Kafirs, paid a visit to my collection at Grahamstown. He arrived unexpectedly and found me on my knees with my sleeves rolled up, washing out my floor, for it was impossible to get a servant to enter the room. Seeing there all the snakes of the country living before him, he was intensely interested, and at once singled out the cobra as an old acquaintance, for he had spent much of his life in India. Many things he told me of Indian snake-charming; but when I made the cobras dance, faint away as if dead, and by a touch return them to life again, he asked in some astonishment how it happened that I did so without the aid of music. I explained the "dancing" as the natural tactics of the cobra in defense and attack, and the fainting and recovery as consequences of an extremely nervous and overexcitable temperament. But my visitor clung to his old opinion, saying that my belief that they never really danced to the music was opposed to the teachings of natural history and to the experience of every one who had lived in India. Next day, when the astute Sir Bartle was on his way to the frontier to charm the turbulent chiefs with diplomacy, I invited a flute-player to charm my snakes. I myself went into the room to note results and sat down in my usual place among my pets, leaving the musician outside in the hall, so placed that the snakes could not see him. He played his sweetest tunes. The "Last Rose of Summer," "Annie Laurie," and "Home, Sweet home" had no effect, so I called to him to play something quick