Part 4 out of 4
knew at first as Philip drunk was different from Philip sober. Such is
human nature--scoffing at women the one day, and risking life and soul
for their whims the next."
"I hate your reflections about the human kind, Griggs, and I do not like
your way of looking at women. You hate women so!"
"No. You like my descriptions of the 'ideal creatures I rave about' much
better, it seems. Upon my soul, friend, if you want a criterion of
yourself, take this conversation. A fortnight ago to-day--or to-morrow,
will it be?--I was lecturing you about the way to regard women; begging
you to consider that they had souls and were capable of loving, as well
as of being loved. And here you are accusing me of hating the whole sex,
and without the slightest provocation on my part, either. Here is Birnam
wood coming to Dunsinane with a vengeance!"
"Oh, I don't deny it. I don't pretend to argue about it. I have changed
a good deal in the last month." He pensively crossed one leg over the
other as he lay back on the long chair and pulled at his slipper. "I
suppose I have--changed a good deal."
"No wonder. I presume your views of immortality, the future state of the
fair sex, and the application of transcendental analysis to matrimony,
all changed about the same time?"
"Don't be unreasonable," he answered. "It all dates from that evening
when I had that singular fit and the vision I related to you. I have
never been the same man since; and I am glad of it. I now believe women
to be much more adorable than you painted them, and not half enough
adored." Suddenly he dropped the extremely English manner which he
generally affected in the idiom and construction of his speech, and
dropped back into something more like his own language. "The star that
was over my life is over it no longer. I have no life-star any longer.
The jewel of the southern sky withdraws his light, paling before the
white gold from the northern land. The gold that shall be mine through
all the cycles of the sun, the gold that neither man nor monarch shall
take from me. What have I to do with stars in heaven? Is not my star
come down to earth to abide with me through life? And when life is over
and the scroll is full, shall not my star bear me hence, beyond the
fiery foot-bridge, beyond the paradise of my people and its senseless
sensuality of houris and strong wine? Beyond the very memory of limited
and bounded life, to that life eternal where there is neither limit, nor
bound, nor sorrow? Shall our two souls not unite and be one soul to roam
through the countless circles of revolving outer space? Not through
years, or for times, or for ages--but for ever? The light of life is
woman, the love of life is the love of woman; the light that pales not,
the life that cannot die, the love that can know not any ending; _my_
light, _my_ life, and _my_ love!" His whole soul was in his voice, and
his whole heart; the twining white fingers, the half-closed eyes, and
the passionate quivering tone, told all he had left unsaid. It was
surely a high and a noble thing that he felt, worthy of the man in his
beauty of mind and body. He loved an ideal, revealed to him, as he
thought, in the shape of the fair English girl; he worshipped his ideal
through her, without a thought that he could be mistaken. Happy man!
Perhaps he had a better chance of going through life without any cruel
revelation of his mistake than falls to the lot of most lovers, for she
was surpassingly beautiful, and most good and true hearted. But are not
people always mistaken who think to find the perfect comprehended in the
imperfect, the infinite enchained and made tangible in the finite? Bah!
The same old story, the same old vicious circle, the everlastingly
recurring mathematical view of things that cannot be treated
mathematically; the fruitless attempt to measure the harmonious circle
of the soul by the angular square of the book. What poor things our
minds are, after all. We have but one way of thinking derived from what
we know, and we incontinently apply it to things of which we can know
nothing, and then we quarrel with the result, which is a mere _reductio
ad absurdum_, showing how utterly false and meagre are our hypotheses,
premisses, and so-called axioms. Confucius, who began his system with
the startling axiom that "man is good," arrived at much more really
serviceable conclusions than Schopenhauer and all the pessimists put
together. Meanwhile, Isaacs was in love, and, I supposed, expected me to
say something appreciative.
"My dear friend," I began, "it is a rare pleasure to hear any one talk
like that; it refreshes a man's belief in human nature, and enthusiasm,
and all kinds of things. I talked like that some time ago because you
would not. I think you are a most satisfactory convert."
"I am indeed a convert. I would not have believed it possible, and now I
cannot believe that I ever thought differently. I suppose it is the way
with all converts--in religion as well--and with all people who are
taken up by a fair-winged genius from an arid desert and set down in a
garden of roses." He could not long confine himself to ordinary
language. "And yet the hot sand of the desert, and the cool of the
night, and the occasional patch of miserable, languishing green, with
the little kindly spring in the camel-trodden oasis, seemed all so
delightful in the past life that one was quite content, never suspecting
the existence of better things. But now--I could almost laugh to think
of it. I stand in the midst of the garden that is filled with all things
fair, and the tree of life is beside me, blossoming straight and broad
with the flowers that wither not, and the fruit that is good to the
parched lips and the thirsty spirit. And the garden is for us to dwell
in now, and the eternity of the heavenly spheres is ours hereafter." He
was all on fire again. I kept silence for some time; and his hands
unfolded, and he raised them and clasped them under his head, and drew a
deep long breath, as if to taste the new life that was in him.
"Forgive my bringing you down to earth again," I said after a while,
"but have you made all necessary arrangements? Is there anything I can
do, after you are gone? Anything to be said to these good people, if
they question me about your sudden departure?"
"Yes. I was forgetting. If you will be so kind, I wish you would see the
expedition out, and take charge of the expenses. There are some bags of
rupees somewhere among my traps. Narain knows. I shall not take him with
me--or, no; on second thoughts I will hand you over the money, and take
him to Simla. Then, about the other thing. Do not tell any one where I
have gone, unless it be Miss Westonhaugh, and use your own discretion
about her. We shall all be in Simla in ten days, and I do not want this
thing known, as you may imagine. I do not think there is anything else,
thanks." He paused, as if thinking. "Yes, there is one more
consideration. If anything out of the way should occur in this
transaction with Baithopoor, I should want your assistance, if you will
give it. Would you mind?"
"Of course not. Anything----"
"In that case, if Ram Lal thinks you are wanted, he will send a swift
messenger to you with a letter signed by me, in the Persian
_shikast_--which you read.--Will you come by the way he will direct you,
if I send? He will answer for your safety."
"I will come," I said, though I thought it was rather rash of me, who am
a cautious man, to trust my life in the hands of a shadowy person like
Ram Lal, who seemed to come and go in strange ways, and was in
communication with suspicious old Brahmin jugglers. But I trusted Isaacs
better than his adept friend.
"I suppose," I said, vaguely hoping there might yet be a possibility of
detaining him, "that there is no way of doing this business so that you
could remain here."
"No, friend Griggs. If there were any other way, I would not go now. I
would not go to-day, of all days in the year--of all days in my life.
There is no other way, by the grave of my father, on whom be the peace
of Allah." So we went to bed.
At four o'clock Narain waked us, and in twenty minutes Isaacs was on
horseback. I had ordered a _tat_ to be in readiness for me, thinking I
would ride with him an hour or two in the cool of the morning. So we
passed along by the quiet tents, Narain disappearing in the manner
peculiar to Hindoo servants, to be found at the end of the day's march,
smiling as ever. The young moon had set some time before, but the stars
were bright, though it was dark under the trees.
Twenty yards beyond the last tent, a dark figure swept suddenly out from
the blackness and laid a hand on Isaacs' rein. He halted and bent over,
and I heard some whispering. It only lasted a moment, and the figure
shot away again. I was sure I heard something like a kiss, in the gloom,
and there was a most undeniable smell of roses in the air. I held my
peace, though I was astonished. I could not have believed her capable of
it. Lying in wait in the dusk of the morning to give her lover a kiss
and a rose and a parting word. She must have taken me for his servant in
"Griggs," said Isaacs as we parted some six or seven miles farther
on,--"an odd thing happened this morning. I have left something more in
your keeping than money."
"I know. Trust me. Good-bye," and he cantered off.
I confess I was very dejected and low-spirited when I came back into
camp. My acquaintance with Isaacs, so suddenly grown into intimacy, had
become a part of my life. I felt a sort of devotion to him that I had
never felt for any man in my life before. I would rather have gone with
him to Keitung, for a presentiment told me there was trouble in the
wind. He had not talked to me about the Baithopoor intrigue, for
everything was as much settled beforehand as it was possible to settle
anything. There was nothing to be said, for all that was to come was
action; but I knew Isaacs distrusted the maharajah, and that without Ram
Lal's assistance--of whatever nature that might prove to be--he would
not have ventured to go alone to such a tryst.
When I returned the camp was all alive, for it was nearly seven o'clock.
Kildare and the collector, my servant said, had gone off on _tats_ to
shoot some small game. Mr. Ghyrkins was occupied with the shikarries in
the stretching and dressing of the skin he had won the previous day.
Neither Miss Westonhaugh nor her brother had been seen. So I dressed and
rested myself and had some tea, and sat wondering what the camp would be
like without Isaacs, who, to me and to one other person, was
emphatically, as Ghyrkins had said the night before, the life of the
party. The weather was not so warm as on the previous day, and I was
debating whether I should not try and induce the younger men to go and
stick a pig--the shikarry said there were plenty in some place he knew
of--or whether I should settle myself in the dining-tent for a long day
with my books, when the arrival of a mounted messenger with some letters
from the distant post-office decided me in favour of the more peaceful
disposition of my time. So I glanced at the papers, and assured myself
that the English were going deeper and deeper into the mire of
difficulties and reckless expenditure that characterised their campaign
in Afghanistan in the autumn of 1879; and when I had assured myself,
furthermore, by the perusal of a request for the remittance of twenty
pounds, that my nephew, the only relation, male or female, that I have
in the world, had not come to the untimely death he so richly deserved,
I fell to considering what book I should read. And from one thing to
another, I found myself established about ten o'clock at the table in
the dining-tent, with Miss Westonhaugh at one side, worsted work,
writing materials and all, just as she had been at the same table a week
or so before. At her request I had continued my writing when she came
in. I was finishing off a column of a bloodthirsty article for the
_Howler_; it probably would come near enough to the mark, for in India
you may print a leader anywhere within a month of its being written, and
if it was hot enough to begin with, it will still answer the purpose.
Journalism is not so rapid in its requirements as in New York, but, on
the other hand, it is more lucrative.
"Mr. Griggs, are you _very_ busy?"
"Oh dear, no--nothing to speak of," I went on writing--the
"Mr. Griggs, do you understand these things?"
----Lord Beaconsfield's--"I think so, Miss Westonhaugh"--Afghan
policy----There, I thought,
I think that would rouse Mr. Currie Ghyrkins, if he ever saw it, which I
trust he never will. I had done, and I folded the numbered sheets in an
"I beg your pardon, Miss Westonhaugh; I was just finishing a sentence. I
am quite at your service."
"Oh no! I see you are too busy."
"Not in the least, I assure you. Is it that tangled skein? Let me help
"Oh thank you. It is so tiresome, and I am not in the least inclined to
I took the wool and set to work. It was very easy, after all; I pulled
the loops through, and back again and through from the other side, and I
found the ends, and began to wind it up on a piece of paper. It is
singular, though, how the unaided wool can tie itself into every kind of
a knot--reef, carrick bend, bowline, bowline in a bight, not to mention
a variety of hitches and indescribable perversions of entanglement. I
was getting on very well, though. I looked up at her face, pale and
weary with a sleepless night, but beautiful--ah yes--beautiful beyond
compare. She smiled faintly.
"You are very clever with your fingers. Where did you learn it? Have you
a sister who makes you wind her wool for her at home?"
"No. I have no sister. I went to sea once upon a time."
"Were you ever in the navy, Mr. Griggs?"
"Oh no. I went before the mast."
"But you would not learn to unravel wool before the mast. I suppose your
mother taught you when you were small--if you ever were small."
"I never had a mother that I can remember--I learned to do all those
things at sea."
"Forgive me," she said, guessing she had struck some tender chord in my
existence. "What an odd life you must have had."
"Perhaps. I never had any relations that I can remember, except a
brother, much older than I. He died years ago, and his son is my only
living relation. I was born in Italy."
"But when did you learn so many things? You seem to know every language
under the sun."
"I had a good education when I got ashore. Some one was very kind to me,
and I had learned Latin and Greek in the common school in Rome before I
ran away to sea."
I answered her questions reluctantly. I did not want to talk about my
history, especially to a girl like her. I suppose she saw my
disinclination, for as I handed her the card with the wool neatly wound
on it, she thanked me and presently changed the subject, or at least
shifted the ground.
"There is something so free about the life of an adventurer--I mean a
man who wanders about doing brave things. If I were a man I would be an
adventurer like you."
"Not half so much of an adventurer, as you call it, as our friend who
went off this morning."
It was the first mention of Isaacs since his departure. I had said the
thing inadvertently, for I would not have done anything to increase her
trouble for the world. She leaned back, dropping her hands with her work
in her lap, and stared straight out through the doorway, as pale as
death--pale as only fair-skinned people are when they are ill, or hurt.
She sat quite still. I wondered if she were ill, or if it were only
Isaacs' going that had wrought this change in her brilliant looks.
"Would you like me to read something to you, Miss Westonhaugh? Here is a
comparatively new book--_The Light of Asia_, by Mr. Edwin Arnold. It is
a poem about India. Would it give you any pleasure?" She guessed the
kind intention, and a little shadow of a smile passed over her lips.
"You are so kind, Mr. Griggs. Please, you are so very kind."
I began to read, and read on and on through the exquisite rise and fall
of the stanzas, through the beautiful clear high thoughts which seem to
come as a breath and a breeze from an unattainable heaven, from the
Nirvana we all hope for in our inmost hearts, whatever our confession of
faith. And the poor girl was soothed, and touched and lulled by the
music of thought and the sigh of verse that is in the poem; and the
morning passed. I suppose the quiet and the poetry wrought up in her the
feeling of confidence she felt in me, as being her lover's friend, for
after I had paused a minute or two, seeing some one coming toward the
tent, she said quite simply--
"Where is he gone?"
"He is gone to do a very noble deed. He is gone to save the life of a
man he never saw." A bright light came into her face, and all the
chilled heart's blood, driven from her cheeks by the weariness of her
first parting, rushed joyously back, and for one moment there dwelt on
her features the glory and bloom of the love and happiness that had been
hers all day yesterday, that would be hers again--when? Poor Miss
Westonhaugh, it seemed so long to wait.
The day passed somehow, but the dinner was dismal. Miss Westonhaugh was
evidently far from well, and I could not conceive that the pain of a
temporary parting should make so sudden a change in one so perfectly
strong and healthy--even were her nature ever so sensitive. Kildare and
the Pegnugger magistrate tried to keep up the spirits of the party, but
John Westonhaugh was anxious about his sister, and even old Mr. Currie
Ghyrkins was beginning to fancy there must be something wrong. We sat
smoking outside, and the young girl refused to leave us, though John
begged her to. As we sat, it may have been half an hour after dinner, a
messenger came galloping up in hot haste, and leaping to the ground
asked for "Gurregis Sahib," with the usual native pronunciation of my
euphonious name. Being informed, he salaamed low and handed me a letter,
which I took to the light. It was in _shikast_ Persian, and signed
"Abdul Hafiz-ben-Isak." "Ram Lal," he said, "has met me unexpectedly,
and sends you this by his own means, which are swift as the flight of
the eagle. It is indispensable that you meet us below Keitung, towards
Sultanpoor, on the afternoon of the day when the moon is full. Travel by
Julinder and Sultanpoor; you will easily overtake me, since I go by
Simla. For friendship's sake, for love's sake, come. It is life and
death. Give the money to the Irishman. Peace be with you."
I sighed a sigh of the most undetermined description. Was I glad to
rejoin my friend? or was I pained to leave the woman he loved in her
present condition? I hardly knew.
"I think we had all better go back to Simla," said John, when I
explained that the most urgent business called me away at dawn.
"There will be none of us left soon," said Ghyrkins quite quietly and
I found means to let Miss Westonhaugh understand where I was going. I
gave Kildare the money in charge.
In the dark of the morning, as I cleared the tents, the same shadow I
had seen before shot out and laid a hand on my rein. I halted on the
same spot where Isaacs had drawn rein twenty-four hours before.
"Give him this from me. God be with you!" She was gone in a moment,
leaving a small package in my right hand. I thrust it in my bosom and
"How she loves him," I thought, wondering greatly.
* * * * *
It was not an agreeable journey I had undertaken. In order to reach the
inaccessible spot, chosen by Isaacs for the scene of Shere Ali's
liberation, in time to be of any use, it was necessary that I should
travel by a more direct and arduous route than that taken by my friend.
He had returned to Simla, and by his carefully made arrangements would
be able to reach Keitung, or the spot near it, where the transaction was
to take place, by constant changes of horses where riding was possible,
and by a strong body of dooly-bearers wherever the path should prove too
steep for four-footed beasts of burden. I, on the other hand, must leave
the road at Julinder, a place I had never visited, and must trust to my
own unaided wits and a plentiful supply of rupees to carry me over at
least two hundred miles of country I did not know--difficult certainly,
and perhaps impracticable for riding. The prospect was not a pleasant
one, but I was convinced that in a matter of this importance a man of
Isaacs' wit and wealth would have made at least some preliminary
arrangements for me, since he probably knew the country well enough
himself. I had but six days at the outside to reach my destination.
I had resolved to take one servant, Kiramat Ali, with me as far as
Julinder, whence I would send him back to Simla with what slender
luggage we carried, for I meant to ride as light as possible, with no
encumbrance to delay me when once I left the line of the railway. I
might have ridden five miles with Kiramat Ali behind me on a sturdy
_tat_, when I was surprised by the appearance of an unknown saice in
plain white clothes, holding a pair of strong young ponies by the halter
and salaaming low.
"Pundit Ram Lal sends your highness his peace, and bids you ride without
sparing. The _dak_ is laid to the fire-carriages."
The saddles were changed in a moment, Kiramat Ali and I assisting in the
operation. It was clear that Ram Lal's messengers were swift, for even
if he had met Isaacs when the latter reached the railroad, no ordinary
horse could have returned with the message at the time I had received
it. Still less would any ordinary Hindus be capable of laying a _dak_,
or post route of relays, over a hundred miles long in twelve hours. Once
prepared, it was a mere matter of physical endurance in the rider to
cover the ground, for the relays were stationed every five or six miles.
It was well known that Lord Steepleton Kildare had lately ridden from
Simla to Umballa one night and back the next day, ninety-two miles each
way, with constant change of cattle. What puzzled me was the rapidity
with which the necessary dispositions had been made. On the whole, I was
reassured. If Ram Lal had been able to prepare my way at such short
notice here, with two more days at his disposal he would doubtless
succeed in laying me a _dak_ most of the way from Julinder to Keitung. I
will not dwell upon the details of the journey. I reached the railroad
and prepared for forty-eight hours of jolting and jostling and broken
sleep. It is true that railway travelling is nowhere so luxurious as in
India, where a carriage has but two compartments, each holding as a rule
only two persons, though four can be accommodated by means of hanging
berths. Each compartment has a spacious bathroom attached, where you may
bathe as often as you please, and there are various contrivances for
ventilating and cooling the air. Nevertheless the heat is sometimes
unbearable, and a journey from Bombay to Calcutta direct during the warm
months is a severe trial to the strongest constitution. On this occasion
I had about forty-eight hours to travel, and I was resolved to get all
the rest in that time that the jolting made possible; for I knew that
once in the saddle again it might be days before I got a night's sleep.
And so we rumbled along, through the vast fields of sugar-cane, now
mostly tied in huge sheaves upright, through boundless stretches of
richly-cultivated soil, intersected with the regularity of a chess-board
by the rivulets and channels of a laborious irrigation. Here and there
stood the high frames made by planting four bamboos in a square and
wickering the top, whereon the ryots sit when the crops are ripening, to
watch against thieves and cattle, and to drive away the birds of the
air. On we spun, past Meerut and Mozuffernugger, past Umballa and
Loodhiana, till we reached our station of Julinder at dawn. Descending
from the train, I was about to begin making inquiries about my next
move, when I was accosted by a tall and well-dressed Mussulman, in a
plain cloth _caftan_ and a white turban, but exquisitely clean and fresh
looking, as it seemed to me, for my eyes were smarting with dust and
wearied with the perpetual shaking of the train.
The courteous native soon explained that he was Isaacs' agent in
Julinder, and that a _tar ki khaber_, a telegram in short, had warned
him to be on the lookout for me. I was greatly relieved, for it was
evident that every arrangement had been made for my comfort, so far as
comfort was possible. Isaacs had asked my assistance, but he had taken
every precaution against all superfluous bodily inconvenience to me, and
I felt sure that from this point I should move quickly and easily
through every difficulty. And so it proved. The Mussulman took me to his
house, where there was a spacious apartment, occupied by Isaacs when he
passed that way. Every luxury was prepared for the enjoyment of the
bath, and a breakfast of no mean taste was served me in my own room.
Then my host entered and explained that he had been directed to make
certain arrangements for my journey. He had laid a _dak_ nearly a
hundred miles ahead, and had been ordered to tell me that similar steps
had been taken beyond that point as far as my ultimate destination, of
which, however, he was ignorant. My servant, he said, must stay with him
and return to Simla with my traps.
So an hour later I mounted for my long ride, provided with a revolver
and some rupees in a bag, in case of need. The country, my entertainer
informed me, was considered perfectly safe, unless I feared the _tap_,
the bad kind of fever which infests all the country at the base of the
hills. I was not afraid of this. My experience is that some people are
predisposed to fever, and will generally be attacked by it in their
first year in India, whether they are much exposed to it or not, while
others seem naturally proof against any amount of malaria, and though
they sleep out of doors through the whole rainy season, and tramp about
the jungles in the autumn, will never catch the least ague, though they
may have all other kinds of ills to contend with.
On and on, galloping along the heavy roads, sometimes over no road at
all, only a broad green track, where the fresh grass that had sprung up
after the rains was not yet killed by the trampling of the bullocks and
the grinding jolt of the heavy cart. At intervals of seven or eight
miles I found a saice with a fresh pony picketed and grazing at the end
of the long rope. The saice was generally squatting near by, with his
bag of food and his three-sided kitchen of stones, blackened with the
fire from his last meal, beside him; sometimes in the act of cooking his
chowpatties, sometimes eating them, according to the time of day.
Several times I stopped to drink some water where it seemed to be good,
and I ate a little chocolate from my supply, well knowing the
miraculous, sustaining powers of the simple little block of "Menier,"
which, with its six small tablets, will not only sustain life, but will
supply vigour and energy, for as much as two days, with no other food.
On and on, through the day and the night, past sleeping villages, where
the jackals howled around the open doors of the huts; and across vast
fields of late crops, over hills thickly grown with trees, past the
broad bend of the Sutlej river, and over the plateau toward Sultanpoor,
the cultivation growing scantier and the villages rarer all the while,
as the vast masses of the Himalayas defined themselves more and more
distinctly in the moonlight. Horses of all kinds under me, lean and fat,
short and high, roman-nosed and goose-necked, broken and unbroken; away
and away, shifting saddle and bridle and saddle-bag as I left each tired
mount behind me. Once I passed a stream, and pulling off my boots to
cool my feet, the temptation way too strong, so I hastily threw off my
clothes and plunged in and had a short refreshing bath. Then on, with,
the galloping even triplet of the house's hoofs beneath me, as they came
down in quick succession, as if the earth were a muffled drum and we
were beating an untiring _rataplan_ on her breast.
I must have ridden a hundred and thirty miles before dawn, and the pace
was beginning to tell, even on my strong frame. True, to a man used to
the saddle, the effort of riding is reduced to a minimum when every hour
or two gives him a fresh horse. There is then no heed for the welfare of
the animal necessary; he has but his seven or eight miles to gallop, and
then his work is done; there are none of those thousand little cares and
sympathetic shiftings and adjustings of weight and seat to be thought
of, which must constantly engage the attention of a man who means to
ride the same horse a hundred miles, or even fifty or forty. Conscious
that a fresh mount awaits him, he sits back lazily and never eases his
weight for a moment; before he has gone thirty miles he will kick his
feet out of the stirrups about once in twenty minutes, and if he has for
the moment a quiet old stager who does not mind tricks, he will probably
fetch one leg over and go a few miles sitting sideways. He will go to
sleep once or twice, and wake up apparently in the very act to
fall--though I believe that a man will sleep at a full gallop and never
loosen his knees until the moment of waking startles him. Nevertheless,
and notwithstanding Lord Steepleton Kildare and his ride to Umballa and
back in twenty-four hours, when a man, be he ever so strong, has ridden
over a hundred miles, he feels inclined for a rest, and a walk, and a
Once more an emissary of Ram Lal strode to my side as I rolled off the
saddle into the cool grass at sunrise in a very impracticable-looking
country. The road had been steeper and less defined during the last two
hours of the ride, and as I crossed one leg high over the other lying on
my back in the grass, the morning light caught my spur, and there was
blood on it, bright and red. I had certainly come as fast as I could; if
I should be too late, it would not be my fault. The agent, whoever he
might be, was a striking-looking fellow in a dirty brown cloth _caftan_
and an enormous sash wound round his middle. A pointed cap with some
tawdry gold lace on it covered his head, and greasy black love-locks
writhed filthily over his high cheek bones and into his scanty tangled
beard; a suspicious hilt bound with brass wire reared its snake-like
head from the folds of his belt, and his legs, terminating in
thick-soled native shoes, reminded one of a tarantula in boots. He
salaamed awkwardly with a tortuous grin, and addressed me with the
northern salutation, "May your feet never be weary with the march."
Having been twenty-four hours in the saddle, my feet were not that
portion of my body most wearied, but I replied to the effect that I
trusted the shadow of the greasy gentleman might not diminish a
hairsbreadth in the next ten thousand years. We then proceeded to
business, and I observed that the man spoke a very broken and hardly
intelligible Hindustani. I tried him in Persian, but it was of no avail.
He spoke Persian, he said, but it was not of the kind that any human
being could understand; so we returned to the first language, and I
concluded that he was a wandering kabuli.
As an introduction of himself he mentioned Isaacs, calling him Abdul
Hafiz Sahib, and he seemed to know him personally. Abdul, he said, was
not far off as distances go in the Himalayas. He thought I should find
him the day after to-morrow, _mungkul_. He said I should not be able to
ride much farther, as the pass beyond Sultanpoor was utterly
impracticable for horses; coolies, however, awaited me with a dooly, one
of those low litters slung on a bamboo, in which you may travel swiftly
and without effort, but to the destruction of the digestive organs. He
said also that he would accompany me the next stage as far as the
doolies, and I thought he showed some curiosity to know whither I was
going; but he was a wise man in his generation, and knowing his orders,
did not press me overmuch with questions. I remarked in a mild way that
the saddle was the throne of the warrior, and that the air of the black
mountains was the breath of freedom; but I added that the voice of the
empty stomach was as the roar of the king of the forest. Whereupon the
man replied that the forest was mine and the game therein, whereof I was
lord, as I probably was of the rest of the world, since I was his father
and mother and most of his relations; but that, perceiving that I was
occupied with the cares of a mighty empire, he had ventured to slay with
his own hand a kid and some birds, which, if I would condescend to
partake of them, he would proceed to cook. I replied that the light of
my countenance would shine upon my faithful servant to the extent of
several coins, both rupees and pais, but that the peculiar customs of my
caste forbid me to touch food cooked by any one but myself. I would,
however, in consideration of his exertions and his guileless heart,
invite the true follower of the prophet, whose name is blessed, to
partake with me of the food which I should presently prepare. Whereat he
was greatly delighted, and fetched the meat, which he had stowed away in
a kind of horse-cloth, for safety against ants.
I am not a bad cook at a pinch, and so we sat down and made a
cooking-place with stones, and built a fire, and let the flame die down
into coals, and I dressed the meat as best I could, and flavoured it
with gunpowder and pepper, and we were merry. The man was thenceforth
mine, and I knew I could trust him; a bivouac in the Himalayas, when one
is alone and far from any kind of assistance, is not the spot to indulge
in any prejudice about colour. I did not think much about it as I
hungrily gnawed the meat and divided the birds with my pocket-knife.
The lower Himalayas are at first extremely disappointing. The scenery is
enormous but not grand, and at first hardly seems large. The lower parts
are at first sight a series of gently undulating hills and wooded dells;
in some places it looks as if one might almost hunt the country. It is
long before you realise that it is all on a gigantic scale; that the
quickset hedges are belts of rhododendrons of full growth, the
water-jumps rivers, and the stone walls mountain-ridges; that to hunt a
country like that you would have to ride a horse at least two hundred
feet high. You cannot see at first, or even for some time, that the
gentle-looking hill is a mountain of five or six thousand feet; in Simla
you will not believe you are three thousand feet above the level of the
Rhigi Kulm in Switzerland. Persons who are familiar with the aspect of
the Rocky Mountains are aware of the singular lack of dignity in those
enormous elevations. They are merely big, without any superior beauty,
until you come to the favoured spots of nature's art, where some great
contrast throws out into appalling relief the gulf between the high and
the low. It is so in the Himalayas.
You may travel for hours and days amidst vast forests and hills without
the slightest sensation of pleasure or sense of admiration for the
scene, till suddenly your path leads you out on to the dizzy brink of an
awful precipice--a sheer fall, so exaggerated in horror that your most
stirring memories of Mont Blanc, the Jungfrau, and the hideous _arete_
of the Pitz Bernina, sink into vague insignificance. The gulf that
divides you from the distant mountain seems like a huge bite taken
bodily out of the world by some voracious god; far away rise snow peaks
such as were not dreamt of in your Swiss tour; the bottomless valley at
your feet is misty and gloomy with blackness, streaked with mist, while
the peaks above shoot gladly to the sun and catch his broadside rays
like majestic white standards. Between you, as you stand leaning
cautiously against the hill behind you, and the wonderful background far
away in front, floats a strange vision, scarcely moving, but yet not
still. A great golden shield sails steadily in vast circles, sending
back the sunlight in every tint of burnished glow. The golden eagle of
the Himalayas hangs in mid-air, a sheet of polished metal to the eye,
pausing sometimes in the full blaze of reflection, as ages ago the sun
and the moon stood still in the valley of Ajalon; too magnificent for
description, as he is too dazzling to look at. The whole scene, if no
greater name can be given to it, is on a scale so Titanic in its massive
length and breadth and depth, that you stand utterly trembling and weak
and foolish as you look for the first time. You have never seen such
masses of the world before.
It was in such a spot as this that, nearly at noon on the appointed day,
my dooly-bearers set me down and warned me I was at my journey's end. I
stepped out and stood on the narrow way, pausing to look and to enjoy
all that I saw. I had been in other parts of the lower Himalayas before,
and the first sensations I had experienced had given way to those of a
contemplative admiration. No longer awed or overpowered or oppressed by
the sense of physical insignificance in my own person, I could endure to
look on the stupendous panorama before me, and could even analyse what I
felt. But before long my pardonable reverie was disturbed by a
well-known voice. The clear tones rang like a trumpet along the
mountain-side in a glad shout of welcome. I turned and saw Isaacs coming
quickly towards me, bounding along the edge of the precipice as if his
life had been passed in tending goats and robbing eagles' nests. I, too,
moved on to meet him, and in a moment we clasped hands in unfeigned
delight at being again together. What was Ghyrkins or his party to me?
Here was the man I sought; the one man on earth who seemed worth having
for a friend. And yet it was but three weeks since we first met, and I
am not enthusiastic by temperament.
"What news, friend Griggs?"
"She greets you and sends you this," I said, taking from my bosom the
parcel she had thrust into my hand as I left in the dark. His face fell
suddenly. It was the silver box he had given her; was it possible she
had taken so much trouble to return it? He turned it over mournfully.
"You had better open it. There is probably something in it."
I never saw a more complete change in a man's face during a single
second than came over Isaacs' in that moment. He had not thought of
opening it, in his first disappointment at finding it returned. He
turned back the lid. Bound with a bit of narrow ribbon and pressed down
carefully, he found a heavy lock of gold-white hair, so fair that it
made everything around it seem dark--the grass, our clothes, and even
the white streamer that hung down from Isaacs' turban. It seemed to shed
a bright light, even in the broad noon-day, as it lay there in the
curiously wrought box--just as the body of some martyred saint found
jealously concealed in the dark corner of an ancient crypt, and broken
in upon by unsuspecting masons delving a king's grave, might throw up in
their dusky faces a dazzling halo of soft radiance--the glory of the
saint hovering lovingly by the body wherein the soul's sufferings were
The moment Isaacs realised what it was, he turned away, his face all
gladness, and moved on a few steps with bent head, evidently
contemplating his new treasure. Then he snapped the spring, and putting
the casket in his vest turned round to me.
"Thank you, Griggs; how are they all?"
"It was worth a two-hundred mile ride to see your face when you opened
that box. They are pretty well. I left them swearing that the party was
broken up, and that they would all go back to Simla."
"The sooner the better. We shall be there in three days from here, by
the help of Ram Lal's wonderful post."
"Between you I managed to get here quite well. How did you do it? I
never missed a relay all the way from Julinder."
"Oh, it is very easy," answered Isaacs. "You could have a _dak_ to the
moon from India if you would pay for it; or any other thing in heaven or
earth or hell that you might fancy. Money, that is all. But, my dear
fellow, you have lost flesh sensibly since we parted. You take your
"Where is Ram Lal?" I asked, curious to learn something of our movements
for the night.
"Oh, I don't know. He is probably somewhere about the place charming
cobras or arresting avalanches, or indulging in some of those playful
freaks he says he learned in Edinburgh. We have had a great good time
the last two days. He has not disappeared, or swallowed himself even
once, or delivered himself of any fearful and mysterious prophecies. We
have been talking transcendentalism. He knows as much about 'functional
gamma' and 'All X is Y' and the rainbow, and so on, as you do yourself.
I recommend him. I think he would be a charming companion for you. There
he is now, with his pockets full of snakes and evil beasts. I wanted him
to catch a golden eagle this morning, and tame it for Miss Westonhaugh,
but he said it would eat the jackal and probably the servants, so I have
given it up for the present." Isaacs was evidently in a capital humour.
Ram Lal approached us.
I saw at a glance that Ram Lal the Buddhist, when on his beats in the
civilisation of Simla, was one person. Ram Lal, the cultured votary of
science, among the hills and the beasts and the specimens that he loved,
was a very different man. He was as gray as ever, it is true, but better
defined, the outlines sharper, the features more Dantesque and easier to
discern in the broad light of the sun. He did not look now as if he
could sit down and cross his legs and fade away into thin air, like the
Cheshire cat. He looked more solid and fleshly, his voice was fuller,
and sounded close to me as he spoke, without a shadow of the curious
distant ring I had noticed before.
"Ah!" he said in English, "Mr. Griggs, at last! Well, you are in plenty
of time. The gentleman who is not easily astonished. That is just as
well, too. I like people with quiet nerves. I see by your appearance
that you are hungry, Mr. Griggs. Abdul Hafiz, why should we not dine? It
is much better to get that infliction of the flesh over before this
"By all means. Come along. But first send those dooly-bearers about
their business. They can wait till to-morrow over there on the other
side. They always carry food, and there is any amount of fuel."
Just beyond the shoulder of the hill, sheltered from the north by the
projecting boulders, was a small tent, carefully pitched and adjusted to
stand the storms if any should come. Thither we all three bent our steps
and sat down by the fire, for it was chilly, even cold, in the passes in
September. Food was brought out by Isaacs, and we ate together as if no
countless ages of different nationalities separated us. Ram Lal was
perfectly natural and easy in his manners, and affable in what he said.
Until the meal was finished no reference was made to the strange
business that brought us from different points of the compass to the
Himalayan heights. Then, at last, Ram Lal spoke; his meal had been the
most frugal of the three, and he had soon eaten his fill, but he
employed himself in rolling cigarettes, which he did with marvellous
skill, until we two had satisfied our younger and healthier appetites.
"Abdul Hafiz," he said, his gray face bent over his colourless hands as
he twisted the papers, "shall we not tell Mr. Griggs what is to be done?
Afterward he can lie in the tent and sleep until evening, for he is
weary and needs to recruit his strength."
"So be it, Ram Lal," answered Isaacs.
"Very well. The position is this, Mr. Griggs. Neither Mr. Isaacs nor I
trust those men that we are to meet, and therefore, as we are afraid of
being killed unawares, we thought we would send for you to protect us."
He smiled pleasantly as he saw the blank expression in my face.
"Certainly, and you shall hear how it is to be done. The place is not
far from here in the valley below. The band are already nearing the
spot, and at midnight we will go down and meet them. The meeting will
be, of course, like all formal rendezvous for the delivery of prisoners.
The captain of the band will come forward accompanied by his charge, and
perhaps by a sowar. We three will stand together, side by side, and
await their coming. Now the plot is this. They have determined if
possible to murder both Shere Ali and Isaacs then and there together.
They have not counted on us, but they probably expect that our friend
will arrive guarded by a troop of horse. The maharajah's men will try
and sneak up close to where we stand, and at a signal, which the leader,
in conversation with Isaacs, will give by laying his hand on his
shoulder, the men will rush in and cut Shere Ali to pieces, and Isaacs
too if the captain cannot do it alone. Now look here, Mr. Griggs. What
we want you to do is this. Your friend--my friend--wants no miracles, so
that you have got to do by strength what might be done by stratagem,
though not so quickly. When you see the leader lay his hand on Isaacs'
shoulder, seize him by the throat and mind his other arm, which will be
armed. Prevent him from injuring Isaacs, and I will attend to the rest,
who will doubtless require my whole attention."
"But," I objected, "supposing that this captain turned out to be
stronger or more active than I. What then?"
"Never fear," said Isaacs, smiling. "There aren't any."
"No," continued Ram Lal, "never disturb yourself about that, but just
knock your man down and be done with it. I will guarantee you can do it
well enough, and if he gives you trouble I may be able to help you."
"All right; give me some cigarettes;" and before I had smoked one I was
When I awoke the sun was down, but there was a great light over
everything. The full moon had just risen above the hills to eastward and
bathed every object in silver sheen. The far peaks, covered with snow,
caught the reflection and sent the beams floating across the deep dark
valleys between. The big boulder, against which the tent was pitched,
caught it too, and seemed changed from rough stone to precious metal; it
was on the tent-pegs and the ropes, it was upon Isaacs' lithe figure, as
he tightened his sash round his waist and looked to his pocket-book for
the agreement. It made Ram Lal, the gray and colourless, look like a
silver statue, and it made the smouldering flame of the watch-fire
utterly dim and faint. It was a wonderful moon. I looked at my watch; it
was eight o'clock.
"Yes," said Isaacs, "you were tired and have slept long. It is time to
be off. There is some whiskey in that flask. I don't take those things,
but Ram Lal says you had better have some, as you might get fever." So I
did. Then we started, leaving everything in the tent, of which we pegged
down the flap. There were no natives about, the dooly-bearers having
retired to the other side of the valley, and the jackals would find
nothing to attract them, as we had thrown the remainder of our meal over
the edge. As for weapons, I had a good revolver and a thick stick;
Isaacs had a revolver and a vicious-looking Turkish knife; and Ram Lal
had nothing at all, as far as I could see, except a long light staff.
The effect of the moonlight was wild in the extreme, as we descended the
side of the mountain by paths which were very far from smooth or easy.
Every now and then, as we neared the valley, we turned the corner of
some ridge and got a fair view of the plain. Then a step farther, and we
were in the dark again, behind boulders and picking our way over loose
stones, or struggling with the wretched foothold afforded by a surface
of light gravel, inclined to the horizontal at an angle of forty-five
degrees. Then, with a scramble, a jump, and a little swearing in a great
many languages--I think we counted that we spoke twenty-seven between
us--we were on firm soil again, and swinging along over the bit of easy
level path. It would have been out of the question to go in doolies, and
no pony could keep a foothold for five minutes on the uncertain ground.
At last, as we emerged into the bright moonlight on a little platform of
rock at an angle of the path, we paused. Ram Lal, who seemed to know the
way, was in front, and held up his hand to silence us; Isaacs and I
kneeled down and looked over the brink. Some two hundred feet below, on
a broad strip of green bordering the steep cliffs, was picketed a small
body of horse. We could see the men squatting about in their small
compact turbans and their shining accoutrements; the horses tethered at
various distances on the sward, cropping so vigorously that even at that
height we could hear the dull sound as they rhythmically munched the
grass. We could see in the middle of the little camp a man seated on a
rug and wrapped in a heavy garment of some kind, quietly smoking a
common hubble-bubble. Beside him stood another who reflected more
moonlight than the rest, and who was therefore, by his trappings, the
captain of the band. The seated smoker could be no other than Shere Ali.
Cautiously we descended the remaining windings of the steep path,
turning whenever we had a chance, to look down on the horsemen and their
prisoner below, till at last we emerged in the valley a quarter of a
mile or so beyond where they were stationed. Here on the level of the
plain we stopped a moment, and Ram Lal renewed his instructions to me.
"If the captain," he said, "lays his hand on Isaacs' shoulder, seize him
and throw him. If you cannot get him down kill him--any way you
can--shoot him under the arm with your pistol. It is a matter of life
"All right." And we walked boldly along the broad strip of sward. The
moon was now almost immediately overhead, for it was midnight, or near
it. I confess the scene awed me, the giant masses of the mountains above
us, the vast distances of mysterious blue air, through which the
snow-peaks shone out with a strange look that was not natural. The swish
of the quickly flowing stream at the edge of the plot we were walking
over sounded hollow and unearthly; the velvety whirr of the great
mountain bats as they circled near us, stirred from the branches as we
passed out, was disagreeable and heavy to hear. The moon shone brighter
We were perhaps thirty yards from the little camp, in which there might
be fifty men all told. Isaacs stood still and sung out a greeting.
"Peace to you, men of Baithopoor!" he shouted. It was the preconcerted
form of address. Instantly the captain turned and looked toward us. Then
he gave some orders in a low voice, and taking his prisoner by the hand
assisted him to rise. There was a scurrying to and fro in the camp. The
men seemed to be collecting, and moving to the edge of the bivouac. Some
began to saddle the horses. The moon was so intensely bright that their
movements were as plain to us as though it had been broad daylight.
Two figures came striding toward us--the captain and Shere Ali. As I
looked at them, curiously enough, as may be imagined, I noticed that the
captain was the taller man by two or three inches, but Shere Ali's broad
chest and slightly-bowed legs produced an impression of enormous
strength. He looked the fierce-hearted, hard-handed warrior, from head
to heel; though in accordance with Isaacs' treaty he had been well taken
care of and was dressed in the finest stuffs, his beard carefully
clipped and his Indian turban rolled with great neatness round his dark
and prominent brows.
The first thing for the captain was to satisfy himself as far as
possible that we had no troops in ambush up there in the jungle on the
base of the mountain. He had probably sent scouts out before, and was
pretty sure there was no one there. To gain time, he made a great show
of reading the agreement through from beginning to end, comparing it all
the while with a copy he held. While this was going on, and I had put
myself as near as possible to the captain, Isaacs and Shere Ali were in
earnest conversation in the Persian tongue. Shere Ali told Abdul that
the captain's perusal of the contract must be a mere empty show, since
the man did not know a word of the language. Isaacs, on hearing that the
captain could not understand, immediately warned Shere Ali of the
intended attempt to murder them both, of which Ram Lal, his friend, had
heard, and I could see the old soldier's eye flash and his hand feel for
his weapon, where there was none, at the mere mention of a fight. The
captain began to talk to Isaacs, and I edged as near as I could to be
ready for my grip. Still it did not come. He talked on, very civilly, in
intelligible Hindustani. What was the matter with the moon?
A few minutes before it had seemed as if there would be neither cloud
nor mist in such a sky; and now a light filmy wreath was rising and
darkening the splendour of the wonderful night. I looked across at Ram
Lal. He was standing with one hand on his hip, and leaning with the
other on his staff, and he was gazing up at the moon with as much
interest as he ever displayed about anything. At that moment the captain
handed Isaacs a prepared receipt for signature, to the effect that the
prisoner had been duly delivered to his new owner. The light was growing
dimmer, and Isaacs could hardly see to read the characters before he
signed. He raised the scroll to his eyes and turned half round to see it
better. At that moment the tall captain stretched forth his arm and laid
his hand on Isaacs' shoulder, raising his other arm at the same time to
his men, who had crept nearer and nearer to our group while the endless
talking was going on. I was perfectly prepared, and the instant the
soldier's hand touched Isaacs I had the man in my grip, catching his
upraised arm in one hand and his throat with the other. The struggle did
not last long, but it was furious in its agony. The tough Punjabi
writhed and twisted like a cat in my grasp, his eyes gleaming like
living coals, springing back and forward in his vain and furious efforts
to reach my feet and trip me. But it was no use. I had his throat and
one arm well in hand, and could hold him so that he could not reach me
with the other. My fingers sank deeper and deeper in his neck as we
swayed backwards and sideways tugging and hugging, breast to breast,
till at last, with a fearful strain and wrench of every muscle in our
two bodies, his arm went back with a jerk, broken like a pipe-stem, and
his frame collapsing and bending backwards, fell heavily to the ground
The whole strength of me was at work in the struggle, but I could get a
glimpse of the others as we whirled and swayed about.
Like the heavy pall of virgin white that is laid on the body of a pure
maiden; of velvet, soft and sweet but heavy and impenetrable as death,
relentless, awful, appalling the soul, and freezing the marrow in the
bones, it came near the earth. The figure of the gray old man grew
mystically to gigantic and unearthly size, his vast old hands stretched
forth their skinny palms to receive the great curtain as it descended
between the moonlight and the sleeping earth. His eyes were as stars,
his hoary head rose majestically to an incalculable height; still the
thick, all-wrapping mist came down, falling on horse and rider and
wrestler and robber and Amir; hiding all, covering all, folding all, in
its soft samite arms, till not a man's own hand was visible to him a
span's length from his face.
I could feel the heaving chest of the captain beneath my knee; I could
feel the twitching of the broken arm tortured under the pressure of my
left hand; but I could see neither face nor arm nor breast, nor even my
own fingers. Only above me, as I stared up, seemed to tower the
supernatural proportions of Ram Lal, a white apparition visible through
the opaque whiteness that hid everything else from view. It was only a
moment. A hand was on my shoulder, Isaacs' voice was in my ear, speaking
to Shere Ali. Ram Lal drew me away.
"Be quick," he said; "take my hand, I will lead you to the light." We
ran along the soft grass, following the sound of each other's feet,
swiftly. A moment more and we were in the pass; the mist was lighter,
and we could see our way. We rushed up the stony path fast and sure,
till we reached the clear bright moonlight, blazing forth in silver
splendour again. Far down below the velvet pall of mist lay thick and
heavy, hiding the camp and its horses and men from our sight.
"Friend," said Isaacs, "you are as free as I. Praise Allah, and let us
depart in peace."
The savage old warrior grasped the outstretched hand of the Persian and
"Illallaho-ho-ho-ho!" His throat was as brass.
"La illah ill-allah!" repeated Isaacs in tones as of a hundred clarions,
echoing by tree and mountain and river, down the valley.
"Thank God!" I said to Ram Lal.
"Call Him as you please, friend Griggs," answered the pundit.
It was daylight when we reached the tent at the top of the pass.
* * * * *
"Abdul Hafiz," said Ram Lal, as we sat round the fire we had made,
preparing food, "if it is thy pleasure I will conduct thy friend to a
place of safety and set his feet in the paths that lead to pleasant
places. For thou art weary and wilt take thy rest until noon, but I am
not weary and the limbs of the Afghan are as iron." He spoke in Persian,
so that Shere Ali could understand what he said. The latter looked
uneasy at first, but soon perceived that his best chance of safety lay
in immediately leaving the neighbourhood, which was unpleasantly near
Simla on the one side and the frontiers of Baithopoor on the other.
"I thank thee, Ram Lal," replied Isaacs, "and I gladly accept thy offer.
Whither wilt thou conduct our friend the Amir?"
"I will lead him by a sure road into Thibet, and my brethren shall take
care of him, and presently he shall journey safely northwards into the
Tartar country, and thence to the Russ people, where the followers of
your prophet are many, and if thou wilt give him the letters thou hast
written, which he may present to the principal moolahs, he shall
prosper. And as for money, if thou hast gold, give him of it, and if
not, give him silver; and if thou hast none, take no thought, for the
freedom of the spirit is better than the obesity of the body."
"Bishmillah! Thou speakest with the tongue of wisdom, old man," said
Shere Ali; "nevertheless a few rupees--"
"Fear nothing," broke in Isaacs. "I have for thee a store of a few
rupees in silver, and there are two hundred gold mohurs in this bag.
They are scarce in Hind and pass not as money, but the value of them
whither thou goest shall buy thee food many days. Take also this
diamond, which if thou be in want thou shalt sell and be rich."
Shere Ali, who had been suspicious of treachery, or at least was afraid
to believe himself really free, was convinced by this generosity. The
great rough warrior, the brave patriot who had shut the gates of Kabul
in the face of Sir Neville Chamberlain, and who had faced every danger
and defeat, rather than tamely suffer the advance of the all-devouring
English into his dominions, was proud and unbending still, through all
his captivity and poverty and trouble, and weariness of soul and
suffering of body; he could bear his calamities like a man, the
unrelenting chief of an unrelenting race. But when Isaacs stretched
forth his hand and freed him, and bestowed upon him, moreover, a goodly
stock of cash, and bid him go in peace, his gratitude got the better of
him, and he fairly broke down. The big tears coursed down over his rough
cheeks, and his face sank between his hands, which trembled violently
for a moment. Then his habitual calm of outward manner returned.
"Allah requite thee, my brother," he said, "I can never hope to."
"I have done nothing," said Isaacs. "Shall believers languish and perish
in the hands of swine without faith? Verily it is Allah's doing, whose
name is great and powerful. He will not suffer the followers of His
prophet to be devoured of jackals and unclean beasts. Masallah! There is
no God but God."
Therefore, when they had eaten some food, Ram Lal and Shere Ali
departed, journeying north-east towards Thibet, and Isaacs and I
remained sleeping in the tent until past noon. Then we arose and went
our way, having packed up the little canvas house and the utensils and
the pole into a neat bundle which we carried by turns along the steep
rough paths, until we found the dooly-bearers squatting round the embers
after their mid-day meal. As we journeyed we talked of the events of the
night. It seemed to me that the whole thing might have been managed very
much more simply. Isaacs did things in his own way, however, and, after
all, he generally had a good reason for his actions.
"I think not," he said in reply to my question. "While you were throwing
that ruffian, who would have overmatched me in an instant, Shere Ali and
I disposed of the sowars who ran up at the captain's signal. Shere Ali
says he killed one of them with his hands, and my little knife here
seems to have done some damage." He produced the vicious-looking dagger,
stained above the hilt with dark blood, which he began to scrape off
with a bit of stick.
"My dear fellow," I objected, "I am delighted to have served you, and I
see that since Shere Ali could not be warned of the signal, I was the
only person there who could tackle that Punjabi man; yet I am completely
at a loss to explain why, if Ram Lal can command the forces of nature to
the extent of calling down a thick mist under the cover of which we
might escape, he could not have calmly destroyed the whole band by
lightning, or indigestion, or some simple and efficacious means, so that
we need not have risked our lives in supplementing what he only half
"There are plenty of answers to that question," Isaacs answered. "In the
first place, how do you know that Ram Lal could do anything more than
discover the preconcerted signal and bring down that fog? He pretends to
no supernatural power; he only asserts that he understands the workings
of nature better than you do. How do you know that the fog was his doing
at all? Your excited imagination, developed suddenly by the tussle with
the captain, which undoubtedly sent the blood to your head, made you
think you saw Ram Lal's figure magnified beyond human proportion. If
there had been no mist at all, we should most likely have got away
unhurt all the same. Those fellows would not fight after their leader
was down. Again, I like to let Ram Lal feel that I am able to do
something for myself, and that I have other friends as powerful. He aims
at obtaining too much ascendency over me. I do not like it."
"Oh--if you look at it in that light, I have nothing to say. It has been
a very pleasant and interesting excursion to me, and I am rather glad I
only broke that fellow's arm instead of killing him, as you and Shere
Ali did your sowars."
"I don't know whether I killed him. I suppose I did. Poor fellow.
However, he would certainly have killed me."
"Of course. No use crying over spilt milk," I answered.
So we got into the doolies and swung away. As we neared Simla my
friend's spirits rose, and he chanted wild Persian and Arabic
love-songs, and kept up a fire of conversation all day and all night,
singing and talking alternately.
"Griggs," he said, as we approached the end of our journey, "did you
have occasion to tell Miss Westonhaugh where I had gone?"
"Yes. She asked me, and I answered that you had gone to save a man's
life. She looked very much pleased, I thought, but just then somebody
came up, and we did not talk any more about it. I got your message the
evening of the day you left."
"She looked pleased?"
"Very much. I remember the colour came into her cheeks."
"Was she so pale, then?" he asked anxiously.
"Why, yes. You remember how she looked the night before you left? She
was even paler the next day, but when I said you had gone to do a good
deed, the light came into her face for a moment."
"Do you think she was ill, Griggs?"
"She did not look well, but of course she was anxious about you, and a
good deal cut up about your going."
"No; but did you really think she was ill?" he insisted.
"Oh no, nothing but your going."
His spirits were gone again, and he said very little more that day. As
we were ascending the last hills, some eight or nine hours from Simla,
the moon rose majestically behind us. It must have been ten o'clock, for
she could not have been seen above the notch in the mountains to
eastward until she had been risen an hour at least.
"I wonder where they are now, those two," said Isaacs.
"Shere Ali and Ram Lal?"
"Yes. They are probably across the borders into Thibet, watching the
moon rise from the door of some Buddhist monastery. I am glad I am not
"Isaacs," I said, "I would really like to know why you took so much
trouble about Shere Ali. It seems to me you might have procured his
liberation in some simpler way, if it was merely an act of charity that
"Call it anything you like. I had read about the poor man until my
imagination was wrought up, and I could not bear to think of a man so
brave and patriotic and at the same time a true believer, lying in the
clutches of that old beast of a maharajah. And as for the method of my
procedure, do you realise the complete secrecy of the whole affair? Do
you see that no one but you and I and the Baithopoor people know
anything of the transaction? Do you suppose that I should be tolerated a
day in the country if the matter were known? Above all, what do you
imagine Mr. Currie Ghyrkins would think of me if he knew I had been
liberating and enriching the worst foe of his little god, Lord
There was truth in what he said. By no arrangement could the liberation
of Shere Ali have been effected with such secrecy and despatch as by the
simple plan of going ourselves. And now we toiled up the last hills,
vainly attempting to keep our horses in a canter; long before the relay
was reached they had relapsed into a dogged jog-trot.
So we reached Simla at sunrise, and crawled wearily up the steps of the
hotel to our rooms, tired with the cramp of dooly and saddle for so many
days, and longing for the luxury of the bath, the civilised meal, and
the arm-chair. Of course I did not suppose Isaacs would go to bed. He
expected that the Westonhaughs would have returned by this time, and he
would doubtless go to them as soon as he had breakfasted. So we
separated to dress and be shaved--my beard was a week old at least--and
to make ourselves as comfortable as we deserved to be after our manifold
exertions. We had been three days and a half from Keitung to Simla.
At my door stood the faithful Kiramat Ali, salaaming and making a
pretence of putting dust on his head according to his ideas of
respectful greeting. On the table lay letters; one of these, a note, lay
in a prominent position. I took it instinctively, though I did not know
the hand. It was from Mr. Currie Ghyrkins.
MY DEAR MR. GRIGGS--If you have returned to
Simla, I should be glad to see you for half an hour on
a matter of urgent importance. I would come to you
if I could. My niece, Miss Westonhaugh, is, I am
sorry to say, dangerously ill.--Sincerely yours,
A. CURRIE GHYRKINS.
It was dated two days before, for to-day was Monday. I made every
possible haste in my toilet and ordered a horse. I wondered whether
Isaacs had received a similar missive. What could be the matter? What
might not have happened in those two days since the note was written? I
felt sure that the illness had begun before I left them in the Terai,
hastened probably by the pain she had felt at Isaacs' departure; there
is nothing like a little mental worry to hasten an illness, if it is to
come at all. Poor Miss Westonhaugh! So, after all her gaiety and all the
enjoyment she had from the tiger-hunt on which she had set her heart,
she had come back to be ill in Simla. Well, the air was fresh enough
now--almost cold, in fact. She would soon be well. Still, it was a great
pity. We might have had such a gay week before breaking up.
I was dressed, and I went down the steps, passing Isaacs' open door. He
was calmly reading a newspaper and having a morning smoke, until it
should be time to go out. Clearly he had not heard anything of Miss
Westonhaugh's illness. I resolved I would say nothing until I knew the
worst, so I merely put my head in and said I should be back in an hour
to breakfast with him, and passed on. Once on horseback, I galloped as
hard as I could, scattering chuprassies and children and marketers to
right and left in the bazaar. It was not long before I left my horse at
the corner of Mr. Currie Ghyrkins' lawn, and walking to the verandah,
which looked suspiciously neat and unused, inquired for the master of
the house. I was shown into his bedroom, for it was still very early and
he was dressing.
I noticed a considerable change in the old gentleman's manner and
appearance in the last ten days. His bright red colour was nearly faded,
his eyes had grown larger and less bright, he had lost flesh, and his
tone was subdued in the extreme. He came from his dressing-glass to
greet me with a ghost of the old smile on his face, and his hand
stretched eagerly out.
"My dear Mr. Griggs, I am sincerely glad to see you."
"I have not been in Simla two hours," I answered, "and I found your
note. How is Miss Westonhaugh? I am so sorry to----"
"Don't talk about her, Griggs. I am afraid she's g--g--goin' to die." He
nearly broke down, but he struggled bravely. I was terribly shocked,
though a moment's reflection told me that so strong and healthy a person
would not die so easily. I expressed my sympathy as best I could.
"What is it? What is the illness?" I asked when he was quieter.
"Jungle fever, my dear fellow, jungle fever; caught in that beastly
tiger-hunt. Oh! I wish I had never taken her. I wish we had never gone.
Why wasn't I firm? Damn it all, sir, why wasn't I firm, eh?" In his
anger at himself something of the former jerky energy of the man showed
itself. Then it faded away into the jaded sorrowful look that was on his
face when I came in. He sat down with his elbows on his knees and his
hands in his scanty gray hair, his suspenders hanging down at his
sides--the picture of misery. I tried to console him, but I confess I
felt very much like breaking down myself. I did not see what I could do,
except break the bad news to Isaacs.
"Mr. Griggs," he said at last, "she has been asking for you all the
time, and the doctor thought if you came she had best see you, as it
might quiet her. Understand?" I understood better than he thought.
People who are dangerously ill have no morning and no evening. Their
hours are eternally the same, save for the alternation of suffering and
rest. The nurse and the doctor are their sun and moon, relieving each
other in the watches of day and night. As they are worse--as they draw
nearer to eternity, they are less and less governed by ideas of time. A
dying person will receive a visit at midnight or at mid-day with no
thought but to see the face of friend--or foe--once more. So I was not
surprised to find that Miss Westonhaugh would see me; in an interval of
the fever she had been moved to a chair in her room, and her brother was
with her. I might go in--indeed she sent a very urgent message imploring
that I would go. I went.
The morning sun was beating brightly on the shutters, and the room
looked cheerful as I entered. John Westonhaugh, paler than death, came
quickly to the door and grasped my hand.
On a long cane-chair by the window, carefully covered from the possible
danger of any insidious draught, with a mass of soft white wraps and
shawls, lay Katharine Westonhaugh--the transparant phantasm of her
brilliant self. The rich masses of pale hair were luxuriously nestled
around her shoulders and the blazing eyes flamed, lambently, under the
black brows--but that was all. Colour, beside the gold hair and the
black eyes, there was hardly any. The strong clean-cut outline of the
features was there, but absolutely startling in emaciation, so that
there seemed to be no flesh at all; the pale lips scarcely closed over
the straight white teeth. A wonderful and a fearful sight to see, that
stately edifice of queenly strength and beauty thus laid low and
pillaged and stript of all colour save purple and white--the hues of
mourning--the purple lips and the white cheek. I have seen many people
die, and the moment I looked at Katharine Westonhaugh I felt that the
hand of death was already closed over her, gripped round, never to
relax. John led me to her side, and a faint smile showed she was glad to
see me. I knelt reverently down, as one would kneel beside one already
dead. She spoke first, clearly and easily, as it seemed. People who are
ill from fever seldom lose the faculty of speech.
"I am so glad you are come. There are many things I want you to do."
"Yes, Miss Westonhaugh. I will do everything."
"Is he come back?" she asked--then, as I looked at her brother, she
added, "John knows, he is very glad."
"Yes, we came back this morning together; I came here at once."
"Thank you--it was kind. Did you give him the box?"
"Yes--he does not know you are ill. He means to come at eleven."
"Tell him to come now. _Now_--do you understand?" Then she added in a
low tone, for my ear only, "I don't think they know it; I am dying. I
shall be dead before to-night. Don't tell him that. Make him come now.
John knows. Now go. I am tired. No--wait! Did he save the man's life?"
"Yes; the man is safe and free in Thibet."
"That was nobly done. Now go. You have always been kind to me, and you
love him. When you see me again I shall be gone." Her voice was
perceptibly weaker, though still clearly audible. "When I am gone, put
some flowers on me for friendship's sake. You have always been so kind.
Good-bye, dear Mr. Griggs. Good-bye. God keep you." I moved quickly to
the door, fearing lest the piteous sight should make a coward of me. It
was so ineffably pathetic--this lovely creature, just tasting of the cup
of life and love and dying so.
"Bring him here at once, Griggs, please. I know all about it. It may
save her." John Westonhaugh clasped my hand in his again, and pushed me
out to speed me on my errand. I tore along the crooked paths and the
winding road, up through the bazaar, past the church and the narrow
causeway beyond to the hotel. I found him still smoking and reading the
"Well?" said he cheerfully, for the morning sun had dispelled the doubts
of the night.
"My dear friend," I said, "Miss Westonhaugh wants to see you
"How? What? Of course; I will go at once, but how did you know?"
"Wait a minute, Isaacs; she is not well at all--in fact, she is quite
"What's the matter--for God's sake--Why, Griggs, man, how white you
are--O my God, my God--she is dead!" I seized him quickly in my arms or
he would have thrown himself on the ground.
"No," I said, "she is not dead. But, my dear boy, she is dying. I do not
believe she will live till this evening. Therefore get to horse and ride
there quickly, before it is too late."
Isaacs was a brave man, and of surpassing strength to endure. After the
first passionate outburst, his manner never changed as he mechanically
ordered his horse and pulled on his boots. He was pale naturally, and
great purple rings seemed to come out beneath his eyes--as if he had
received a blow--from the intensity of his suppressed emotion. Once only
he spoke before he mounted.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Jungle fever," I answered. He groaned. "Shall I go with you?" asked I,
thinking it might be as well. He shook his head, and was off in a
I turned to my rooms and threw myself on my bed. Poor fellow; was there
ever a more piteous case? Oh the cruel misery of feeling that nothing
could save her! And he--he who would give life and wealth and fortune
and power to give her back a shade of colour--as much as would tinge a
rose-leaf, even a very little rose-leaf--and could not. Poor fellow!
What would he do to-night--to-morrow. I could see him kneeling by her
side and weeping hot tears over the wasted hands. I could almost hear
his smothered sob--his last words of speeding to the parting soul--the
picture grew intensely in my thoughts. How beautiful she would look when
she was dead!
I started as the thought came into my mind. How superficial was my
acquaintance with her, poor girl,--how little was she a part of my life,
since I could really so heartlessly think of her beauty when her breath
should be gone! Of course, though, it was natural enough, why should I
feel any personal pang for her? It was odd that I should even expect
to--I, who never felt a "personal pang" of regret for the death of any
human creature, excepting poor dear old Lucia, who brought me up, and
sent me to school, and gave me roast chestnuts when I knew my lessons,
in the streets of Rome, thirty years ago. When she died, I was there;
poor old soul, how fond she was of me! And I of her! I remember the
tears I shed, though I was a bearded man even then. How long is that?
Since she died, it must be ten years.
My thoughts wandered about among all sorts of _bric-a-brac_ memories.
Presently something brought me back to the present. Why must this fair
girl from the north die miserably here in India? Ah yes! the eternal
why. Why did we go at such a season into the forests of the Terai? it
was madness; we knew it was, and Ram Lal knew it too. Hence his warning.
O Ram Lal, you are a wise old man, with your gray beard and you mists of
wet white velvet and your dark sayings! Ram Lal, will you riddle me,
also, my weird that I must dree?
A cold draught passed over my head, and I turned on my couch to see
whence it came. I started bolt upright, and my hair stood on end with
sudden terror. I had uttered the name of Ram Lal aloud in my reverie,
and there he sat on a chair by the door, as gray as ever, with his long
staff leaning from his feet across his breast and shoulder. He looked at
"I come opportunely, Mr. Griggs, it seems. _Lupus in fabula._ I hear my
name pronounced as I enter the door. This is flattering to a man of my
modest pretensions to social popularity. You would like me to tell you
your fortune? Well, I am not a fortune-teller."
"Never mind my fortune. Will Miss Westonhaugh recover?"
"No. She will die at sundown."
"How do you know, since you say you are no prophet?"
"Because I am a doctor of medicine. M.D. of Edinburgh."
"Why can you not save her then? A man who is a Scotch doctor, and who
possesses the power of performing such practical jokes on nature as you
exhibited the other night, might do something. However, I suppose I am
not talking to you at all. You are in Thibet with Shere Ali. This is
your astral body, and if I were near enough, I could poke my fingers
right through you, as you sit there, telling me you are an Edinburgh
"Quite right, Mr. Griggs. At the present moment my body is quietly
asleep in a lamastery in Thibet, and this is my astral shape, which,
from force of habit, I begin to like almost as well. But to be
"I think it is very serious, your going about in this casual manner."
"To be serious. I warned Isaacs that he should not allow the tiger-hunt
to come off. He would not heed my warning. It is too late now. I am not
"Of course not. Still, you might be of some use if you went there. While
there is life there is hope."
"Proverbs," said Earn Lai scornfully, "are the wisdom of wise men
prepared in portable doses for the foolish; and the saying you quote is
one of them. There is life yet, but there is no hope."
"Well, I am afraid you are right. I saw her this morning--I suppose I
shall never see her again, not alive, at least. She looked nearly dead
then. Poor girl; poor Isaacs, left behind!"
"You may well say that, Mr. Griggs," said the adept. "On the whole,
perhaps he is to be less pitied than she; who knows? Perhaps we should
pity neither, but rather envy both."
"Why? Either you are talking the tritest of cant, or you are indulging
in more of your dark sayings, to be interpreted, _post facto_, entirely
to your own satisfaction, and to every one else's disgust." I was
impatient with the man. If he had such extraordinary powers as were
ascribed to him--I never heard him assert that he possessed any; if he
could prophesy, he might as well do so to some purpose. Why could he not
speak plainly? He could not impose on me, who was ready to give him
credit for what he really could do, while finding fault with the way he
"I understand what passes in your mind, friend Griggs," he said, not in
the least disconcerted at my attack. "You want me to speak plainly to
you, because you think you are a plain-spoken, clear-headed man of
science yourself. Very well, I will. I think you might yourself become a
brother some day, if you would. But you will not now, neither will in
the future. Yet you understand some little distant inkling of the
science. When you ask your scornful questions of me, you know perfectly
well that you are putting an inquiry which you yourself can answer as
well as I. I am not omnipotent. I have very little more power than you.
Given certain conditions and I can produce certain results, palpable,
visible, and appreciable to all; but my power, as you know, is itself
merely the knowledge of the laws of nature, which Western scientists, in
their wisdom, ignore. I can replenish the oil in the lamp, and while
there is wick the lamp shall burn--ay, even for hundreds of years. But
give me a lamp wherein the wick is consumed, and I shall waste my oil;
for it will not burn unless there be the fibre to carry it. So also is
the body of man. While there is the flame of vitality and the essence of
life in his nerves and finer tissues, I will put blood in his veins, and
if he meet with no accident he may live to see hundreds of generations
pass by him. But where there is no vitality and no essence of life in a
man, he must die; for though I fill his veins with blood, and cause his
heart to beat for a time, there is no spark in him--no fire, no nervous
strength. So is Miss Westonhaugh now--dead while yet breathing, and
sighing her sweet farewells to her lover."
"I know. I understand you very well. But do not deny that you might have
saved her. Why did you not?" Ram Lal smiled a strange smile, which I
should have described as self-satisfied, had it not been so gentle and
"Ah yes!" he said, with something like a sigh, though there was no
sorrow or regret in it. "Yes, Griggs, I might have saved her life. I
would certainly have saved her--well, if he had not persuaded her to go
down into that steaming country at this time of year, since it was my
advice to remain here. But it is no use talking about it."
"I think you might have conveyed your meaning to him a little more
clearly. He had no idea that you meant danger to her."
"No, very likely not. It is not my business to mould men's destinies for
them. If I give them advice that is good, it is quite enough. It is like
a man playing cards: if he does not seize his chance it does not return.
Besides, it is much better for him that she should die."
"Your moral reflections are insufferable. Can you not find some one else
to whom you may confide your secret joy of my friend's misfortunes?"
"Calm yourself. I say it is better for her, better for him, better for
both. Remember what you said to him yourself about the difference
between pleasure and happiness. They shall be one yet, their happiness
shall not be less eternal because their pleasure in this life has been
brief. Can you not conceive of immortal peace and joy without the
satisfaction of earthly lust?"
"I would not call such a beautiful union as theirs might have been by
such a name. For myself, I confess to a very real desire for pleasure
first and happiness afterwards."
"I know you better than you think, Mr. Griggs. You are merely
argumentative, rarely sceptical. If I had begun by denying what I
instead asserted, you would by this time have been arguing as strongly
on my side as you now are on yours. You are often very near degenerating
into a common sophist."
"Very likely, it was a charming profession. Meanwhile, by going to the
very opposite extreme from sophistry, I mean by a more than Quixotic
veneration for an abstract dogma you hold to be true, and by your
determination to make people die for it, you are causing fearful misery
of body, untold agony of soul, to a woman and a man whom you should have
every reason to like. Go to, Ram Lal, adept, magician, enthusiast, and
prophet, you are mistaken, like all your kind!"
"No, I am not mistaken, time will show. Moreover, I would have you
remark that the lady in question is not suffering at all, and that the
'untold agony of soul' you attribute to Isaacs is a wholesome medicine
for one with such a soul as his. And now I am going, for you are not the
sort of person with whom I can enjoy talking very long. You are violent
and argumentative, though you are sometimes amusing. I am rarely
violent, and I never argue: life is too short. And yet I have more time
for it than you, seeing my life will be indefinitely longer than yours.
Good-bye, for the present; and believe me, those two will be happier
far, and far more blessed, in a few short years hence, than ever you or
I shall be in all the unreckonable cycles of this or any future world."
Ram Lal sighed as he uttered the last words, and he was gone; yet the
musical cadence of the deep-drawn breath of a profound sorrow, vibrated
whisperingly through the room where I lay. Poor Ram Lal, he must have
had some disappointment in his youth, which, with all his wisdom and
superiority over the common earth, still left a sore place in his heart.
I was not inclined to move. I knew where Isaacs was, where he would
remain to the bitter end, and I would not go out into the world that
day, while he was kneeling in the chamber of death. He might come back
at any time. How long would it last? God in his mercy grant it might be
soon and quickly over, without suffering. Oh! but those strong people
die so deathly hard. I have seen a man--No, I was sure of that. She
would not suffer any more now.
I lay thinking. Would Isaacs send for me when he returned, or would he
face his grief alone for a night before he spoke? The latter, I thought;
I hoped so too. How little sympathy there must be for any one, even the
dearest, in our souls and hearts, when it is so hard to look forward to
speaking half-a-dozen words of comfort to some poor wretch of a friend
who has lost everything in the wide world that is dear to him. We would
rather give him all we possess outright than attempt to console him for
the loss. And yet--what is there in life more sweet than to be consoled
and comforted, and to have the true sympathy of some one, even a little
near to us, when we ourselves are suffering. The people we do not want
shower cards of condolence on us, and carriage-loads of flowers on the
poor dead thing; the ones who could be of some help to the tortured soul
are afraid to speak; the very delicacy of kind-heartedness in them,
which makes us wish they would come, makes them stay away.
I hope Isaacs will not send for me, poor fellow.
If he does, what shall I say? God help me.
* * * * *
The hours came and went, and though worn out with the exertions of the
past days, and with the emotions of the morning, I lay in my rooms,
unable to sleep even for a moment. I went down once or twice to Isaacs'
rooms to know whether he had returned, but he had not, nor had any one
heard from him. At last the evening shadows crept stealthily up,
darkening first one room, then another, until there was not light enough
to read by. Then I dropped my book and went out to breathe the cold air
on the verandah. Wearily the hours went by, and still there was no sign
of my friend.
Towards eleven o'clock the moon, now waning, once more rose above the
hills and shed her light across the lawn, splendid still, but with the
first tinge of melancholy that clouds her departing glory. Exhausted
nature asserted herself, and chilled to the bone I went to bed, and, at
last, to sleep.
I slept peacefully at first, but soon the events that had come over my
life began to weave themselves in wild disharmony through my restful
visions, and the events that were to come cast their lengthening shadows
before them. The world of past, present, and future thoughts, came into
my soul, distorted, without perspective, nothing to help me to discern
the good from the evil, the suffering gone and long-forgotten from the
pain in store. The triumph of discrepancy over waking reason, the
fancied victories of the sleep-dulled intellect over the outrageous
discord of the wakeful imagination. I passed a most miserable night. It
seemed rest to wake, until I was awake, and then it seemed rest to sleep
again, until my eyes were closed. At last it came, no dream this time;
Isaacs stood by my bed-side in the gray of the morning, himself grayer
than the soft neutral-tinted dawn. It was a terrible moment to me,
though I had expected it since yesterday. I felt like the condemned
criminal in France, who does not know the day or hour of his death. The
first intimation is when the executioner at daybreak enters his cell and
bids him come forth to die, sometimes in less than sixty seconds from
How gray he looked, and how infinitely tried. I rose swiftly and took
his hands, which were deadly cold, and led him to the outer room. I
could not say anything, for I did not know how such a terribly sudden
blow would affect him; he was so unlike any one else. Why is it so hard
to comfort the afflicted? Why should the most charitable duty it is ever
given us to perform be, without exception, the hardest of tasks?
I am sure most people feel as I do. It is far less painful to suffer
wounds and sickness in one's own body than to stand by and see the cold
clean knife go through skin and flesh and cartilage; it is surely easier
to suffer disease than to smooth daily and hourly the bed and pillows of
some poor tormented wretch, calling on God and man to end his misery.
There is a hidden instinct--of a low and cowardly kind, but human
nevertheless--which bids us turn away from spectacles of agony whether
harrowing or repulsive, until the good angel comes and whispers that we
must trample on such coarse impulse and do our duty. "Show pity," said
the wise old Frenchman, "do anything to alleviate distress, but avoid
actually feeling either compassion or sympathy. They can lead to no
good." That was only his way of making to himself an excuse for doing a
good action, for Larochefoucauld was a man who really possessed every
virtue that he disclaimed for himself and denied in others.
I felt much of this as I led Isaacs to the outer room, not knowing what
form his sorrow might take, but feeling in my own person a grief as
poignant, perhaps, for the moment, as his own. I had known he would
come, that was all, though I had hoped he would not, and I knew that I
must do my best to send him away a little less sorrowful than he had
come. I was not prepared for the extreme calm of voice and manner that
marked his first words, coming with measured rhythm and even cadence
from his pale lips.
"It is all over, my friend," he said.
"It has but begun," said the solemn tones of Ram Lal, the Buddhist, from
the door. He entered and approached us.
"Friend Isaacs," he continued, "I am not here to mock at your grief or
to weary your strained heartstrings with such petty condolence as
well-nigh drove Ayoub of old to impatience. But I love you, my brother,
and I have somewhat to say to you in your trouble, some advice to give
you in your distress. You are suffering greatly, past the power of
reason to alleviate, for you no longer know yourself, nor are aware what
you really think. But I will show to you three pictures of yourself that
shall rouse you to what you are, to what you were, and to what you shall
"I found you, not many years ago, a very young man, most exceptionally
placed in regard to the world. You were even then rich, though not so
rich as you now are. You were beautiful and full of vigour, but you have
now upon you the glow of a higher beauty, the overflowing promise of a
more glorious life. You were happy because you thought you were, but
such happiness as you had proceeded from without rather than from
within. You were a materially thinking man. Your thoughts were of the
flesh, and your delights--harmless it is true--were in the things that
were under your eyes--wealth, power, book knowledge, and perhaps woman,
if you can call the creatures you believed in women.
"You gathered wealth in great heaps, and your precious stones in
storehouses. You laid your hand upon the diamond of the river and upon
the pearl of the sea, and they abode with you, as the light of the sun
and the moon. And you said, 'Behold it is my star, which is the lord of
the dog-heat in summer, and it is my kismet.' You also took to yourself
wives of rare qualities, having both golden and raven black hair, whose
skin was as fine silk, and their breath as the freshness of the dawning,
and their eyes as jewels. Then said you, rejoicing in your heart, that
you were happy; and so you dwelt in peace and plenty, and waxed glad.
"Therefore you accomplished your first destiny, and you drank of the cup
that was filled to overflowing. And if it had been the law of nature
that from pleasure man should derive permanent lasting peace, you had
been happy so long as you lived. But, though you have the faultless life
of the body to enjoy all things of the earth, even as other men, though
in another degree, you have within you something more. There is in your
breast a heart beating--an organ so wonderful in its sensitiveness, so
perfect in its consciousness of good, that the least throb and thrill of
pleasure that it feels is worth years and ages of mere sensual life
enjoyment. The body having tasted of all happiness whereof it is
capable, and having found that it is good, is saturated with its own
ease and enjoys less keenly. But the heart is the border-land between
body and soul. The heart can love and the body can love, but the body
can only love itself; the heart is the wellspring of the lore that goes
beyond self. Therefore your heart awoke.
"Shall I tell you of the first early stirrings of your love? Think you,
because I am gray and loveless, that I have never known youth and
gladness of heart? Ah, I know, better than you can think. It is not
sudden, really, the blossoming out of the tree of life. The small leaves
grow larger and stronger though still closely folded in the bud, until
the bright warmth of the spring makes them burst into bloom. The little
lark in the nest among the grass grows beneath the mother's wing and
idly moves, now and then, unconscious of the cloud-cleaving gift of
flight, until all at once, in the fair dawning, there wells up in his
tiny breast the mighty sense of power to rise.
"The human heart is like the budded folded leaves, and like the untaught
lark. The quiet sleep before the day of blooming is, while it lasts, a
state of happiness. But it is not comparable with the breathing joy of
the leaf that feels and sees the wonderful life around it, whispering
divine answers to the wooing breeze. The humble nest where it has first
seen light is for many days a happy home to the tender songster, soon
left behind, when the first wing-strokes waft the small body upwards to
the sky, and forgotten as the first glad trill and quaver of the
new-found voice roll out the prelude to the glorious life-long hymn of
praise. The heart of man--your heart, my dear friend--gave a great leap
from earth to sky, when first it felt the magic of the other life. The
grosser scales of material vision fell away from your inner sight on the
day when you met, and knew you had met, the woman you were to love.
"I found you again, a different man, a far happier man, though you would
hardly allow that. A sweet uncertainty of the future half-tinged your
joy with a shadow of sadness, which you had not known before: but love
sadness is only the shading and gentle pencilling in love's wondrous
picture, whereby the whole light of the painting is made clearer and
stronger. A new world opened out before you in endless vistas of untold
and undreamed bliss. You looked back at your former self, so careless
and sunny, so consciously happy in the strong sense of life and power,
and you wondered how you could have been even contented through so many
years. The good and evil deeds of your past life lost colour and
perspective, and fell back into a dull, flat background, against which
the ineffable vision of beautiful and immortal womanhood stood forth in
transcendent glory. The eternal womanly element of the great universe
beckoned you on, as it did Doctor Faustus of old. You had hitherto
accepted woman and ignored womanhood, as so many of the followers of the
prophet have always done. Henceforth there was to be a change, entire,
complete, and enduring. No doubts now, or careless scepticism; no cant
about women having no souls and no individual being; you had made a
great step to a better understanding of the world you live in. Filled
with a new life, you went on your way rejoicing and longing to do great
deeds for her who had come into your destiny. From dawn to sunset, and
from evening to dawn, one picture ever was before you leading you on.
You were ready to run any risk for a smile and a blush of pleasure, you
were willing to sacrifice anything and everything for her praise. And
when, down there among the mango-trees in the Terai, your lips first
touched hers and your arm pressed her to your side, the joy that was
yours was as the joy of the immortals."
Ram Lal paused, and Isaacs, who had been sitting by the table, stony and
dry-eyed, hid his face in his hands, clutching with his white fingers
among his bright black hair--all that seemed left to him of life, so
dead and ashy was his face. He remained thus without looking up, as the
old man continued.
"Think not, dear friend and brother, that I have come here to dwell
needlessly on your grief, to rouse again the keen agonies that have so
lately burned through and through you to the quick. I love you well, and
would but trace the past in order to paint the future. All that you felt
and knew in those short days of perfect love on earth was good and true
and noble, and shall not be forgotten hereafter. But last night closed
the second of your three destinies--as true love always must close on
earth--in bitter grief and sorrow because the one is gone before. Rather
should you rejoice, Abdul Hafiz, that she is gone in virgin whiteness,
whither ere long you shall follow and be with her till time shall chase
the crumbling world out over the broad quicksands of eternity, and
nought shall survive of all this but the pure and the constant and the
faithful to death. There is before you a third, destiny, great and
awful, but grand beyond power of telling. Body and heart have had their
full cup of happiness, have enjoyed to the full what has been set in
their way to enjoy. To the full you have enjoyed wealth and success and
the sensuality of a refined and artistic luxury; to the full, as only a
few rarely-gifted men can, you have enjoyed the purest and highest love
that earth can give. Think not that all ends here. The greatest of
destinies is but begun, and it is the destiny of the soul Two days ago
if I had told you there was something higher in you than the loving
heart, you would not have believed me; now you do. It is the ethereal
portion of the heart, that which longs to be loosed from the body and
floating upwards to rejoin its other half.
"Your love has been of the best kind that falls to the lot of man. Not a
single shadow of doubting fell between you. It has been sweet if it has
seemed short--but it has really lasted a long time, as long as some
people's lives. You are many years older than you were when it began,
for a month or two ago--or whenever it was that your heart first
awoke--you were entirely immersed in the material view of things that
belonged naturally enough to your position and mode of life. Now you
have passed the critical border-land wherein love wanders, himself not
knowing whither he shall lead his followers, whether back to the thick
green pasture and heavy-scented groves of sensual existence or forward
to free wind-swept heights of spiritual blessedness, where those who are
true until they die walk forth into truth everlasting. Yours is the
faith and the truth that abide always, yours henceforward shall be the
perfect union of souls, yours the ethereal range of the outer firmament.
Take my hand, brother, in yours, and seek with me the path to those
heights--to that pinnacle of paradise where you shall meet once more the
spirit elected to yours."
Ram Lal stood beside Isaacs, whose face was still hidden, and laid his
hand with tender gentleness on the weary head. The old man looked kindly
down as he touched the thick black hair, and then raised his eyes and
looked out through the door at the brightening landscape over which the
morning sun was shedding warmth and beauty once more.
"Brother," he continued, "come forth with me. You have suffered too much
to mix again with the world, even if you wished it. Come forth, and your
soul shall live for ever. Your grief shall be turned to joy, and the
sinking heart shall be lifted to heights untried. As now the sun
steadily rises in his unerring course, following the pale footsteps of
the fleet dawning, and fulfilling her half spoken promises a
million-fold in his goodness; as now the all-muffling heaviness of the
sad dark night is forgotten in the gladness of day--so shall your brief
time of darkness and dull distress perish and vanish swiftly at the
first glimpses of the heavenly day on which follows no creeping night
nor shadow of earthly care. I come not to bid you forget; I come to bid
you remember. Remember all that is past, treasure it in the secret
storehouse of the soul where the few flowers culled from life's abundant
thorn are laid in their fragrance and garnered up. Remember also the
future. Think that your time is short, and that the labour shall be
sweet; so that in a few quick years you shall reap a harvest of
unearthly blooming. Fear not to tread boldly in the tracks of those who
have climbed before you, and who have attained and have conquered. What
can anything earthly ever be to you? What can you ever care again for
gold, or gem, or horse, or slave? Do with those things as it may seem
good in your eyes, but leave them behind. The weight of the money-bags
is a weariness and soreness to the feet that toil to overtake eternity.
The flesh itself is weariness to the spirit, and soon leaves it to wing
its flight untrammelled and untiring. Come, I will give you of my poor
strength what shall carry your uncertain steps over the first great
difficulties, or at least over so many as you have not yet surmounted.
Be bold, aspiring, fearless, and firm of purpose. What guerdon can man
or Heaven offer, higher than eternal communion with the bright spirit
that waits and watches for your coming? With her--you said it while she
lived--was your life, your light, and your love; it is true tenfold now,
for with her is life eternal, light ethereal, and love spiritual. Come,
brother, come with me!"
Slowly Isaacs raised his head from his hands and gazed long on the old
man. And while he gazed it was as if his pale face were transparent and
the whiteness of the burning spirit, dazzling to see, came and went
quickly and came again as flashes in the northern sky. Slowly he rose to
his feet, and laying his hand in the Buddhist's, spoke at last.
"Brother, I come," he said. "Show me the way."
"Right gladly will I be thy guide, Abdul," Ram Lal gave answer. "Right
willingly will I go with thee whither thou wouldest. Never was teacher
sought by more worthy pupil; never did man embrace the pure life of the
brethren with more single heart or truer purpose. The way shall be short
that leads thee upward, the stones that are therein shall be as wings to
lift thy feet instead of stumbling-blocks for thy destruction. The
hidden forces of nature shall lend thee strength, and her secrets
wisdom; the deep sweet springs of the eternal water shall refresh thee
and the food of the angels shall be thine. Thy sorrows shall turn from
bitter into sweet, and from the stings of thy past agonies shall grow up
the golden flowers of thy future crown. Thou shalt not tire in the way,
nor crave rest by the wayside."
"Friend, tell me what I shall do that I may attain all this."
"Be faithful to her who has preceded you, and learn of us, who know it,
wherein consists true happiness. You need but little help, dear friend.
Banish only from your thoughts the human suggestion that what you love
most is lost, gone irrevocably. Rejoice, and mourn not, that she has
entered in already where all your striving is to follow. Be glad because
she looks on those sights and hears those sounds which are too bright
and strong yet for your eyes and ears. Some of these unspeakable things
you shall perceive with your perishable body; but the more perfect and
glorious remain hidden to our mortal senses, be they ever so keen and
exquisite. Believe me, you shall reach that state before I do. My poor
soul is still bound to earth by some slender bonds of pleasure and
contemptible pain, fine indeed as threads of gossamer, and soon, I
trust, to be shaken off for ever. Yet am I bound and not utterly free.
You, my brother, have been wrenched suddenly from the life of the body
to the life of the soul. In you the vile desire to live for living's
sake will soon be dead, if it is not dead already. Your soul, drawn
strongly upward to other spheres, is well nigh loosed from love of life
and fear of death. If at this moment you could lie down and die, you
would meet your end joyfully. Very subtle are the fast-vanishing links
between you and the world; very thin and impalpable the faint shadows
that mar to your vision those transcendent hues of heavenly glory you
shall so soon behold. Look forward, look upward, look onward--never once
look back, and your waiting shall not be long, nor her watching many
days. She stands before you, beckoning and praying that you tarry not.
See that you do her bidding faithfully, as being near the blessed end,
and fearful of losing even one moment in the attainment of what you
"Fear not, Ram Lal. My determination shall not fail me, nor my courage
waver, until all is reached."
The light of another world was on the beautiful brow and features as he
looked full at his future teacher. What strange powers these adept
brethren have! What marvellous magnetism over the souls of lesser
men--whereby they turn sorrow into gladness, and defeat into triumph by
mere words. I myself, bound by thought and word and deed to the lesser
life, was not unmoved by the glorious promises that flowed with glowing
eloquence from the lips of that gray old man in the early morning. They
moved toward the door. Ram Lal spoke as he turned away.
"We leave you, friend Griggs, but we will return this evening and bid
you farewell." So I was left alone. Another comforter had taken my
place; one knowing human nature better, and well versed in the learning
of the spirit. One of that small band of high priests who in all ages
and nations and religions and societies have been the mediators between
time and eternity, to cheer and comfort the broken-hearted, to rebuke
him who would lose his own soul, to speed the awakening spirit in its
* * * * *
As I sat in my room that night the door opened and they were with me,
standing hand in hand.
"My friend," said Isaacs, "I have come to bid you farewell. You will
never see me again. I am here once more to thank you, from the bottom of
my heart, for your friendship and kind offices, for the strength of your
arm in the hour of need, and for the gold of your words in time of
"Isaacs," I said, "I know little of the journey you are undertaking, and
I cannot go with you. This I know, that you are very near to a life I
cannot hope for; and I pray God that you may speed quickly to the
desired end, that you may attain that happiness which your brave soul
and honest heart so well deserve. Once more, then, I offer you my
fullest service, if there is anything that I still can do."
"There is nothing," he answered, "though if there were I know you would
do it gladly and entirely. I have bestowed all my worldly possessions on
the one man besides yourself to whom I owe a debt of gratitude--John
Westonhaugh. Had I known you less well, I would have made you a sharer
in my forsaken wealth. Only this I beg of you. Take this gem and keep it
always for my sake. No--do not look at it in that way. Do not consider
its value. It is to recall one who will often think of you, for you have
been a great deal to me in this month."
"I would I might have been more," I said, and it was all I could say,
for my voice failed me.
"Think of me," he continued, and the bright light shone through his face
in the dusk, "think of me, not as you see me now, or as I was this
morning, bowed beneath a great sorrow, but as looking forward to a
happiness that transcends this mortal joy that I have lost, even as the
glory of things celestial transcends the glory of the terrestrial. Think
of me, not as mourning the departed day, but as watching longingly for
the first faint dawn of the day eternal. Above all, think of me not as
alone but as wedded for all ages to her who has gone before me."
Ram Lal laid his hand on my arm and looked long into my eyes.
"Farewell for the present, my chance acquaintance," he said, "and
remember that in me you have a friend. The day may come when you too
will be in dire distress, beyond the skill of mere solitude and books to
soothe. Farewell, and may all good things be with you."
Isaacs laid his two hands on my shoulders, and once more I met the
wondrous lustre of his eyes, now veiled but not darkened with the last
look of his tender friendship.
"Good-bye, my dear Griggs. You have been the instructor and the genius
of my love. Learn yourself the lessons you can teach others so well. Be
yourself what you would have made me."
One last loving look--one more pressure of the reluctant fingers, and
those two went out, hand in hand, under the clear stars, and I saw them
Footnote 1: Sir Gore Ousely, _Notices of the Persian Poets_.
Footnote 2: A fact, as is well known.