Part 2 out of 4
power to be a part of all she saw, to feel kindred blood running
in her own veins. To the average European the native life of
India is scarcely interesting, so far is it removed from all
comprehension. To me it was interesting, but I could not tell
why. I stood outside and had not the fairy gold to pay for my
entrance. Here at all events she could buy her way where I could
not. Without cruelty, which honestly was not my besetting sin -
especially where women were concerned, the egoist in me felt I
would use her, would extract the last drop of the enchantment of
her knowledge before I went on my way. What more natural than
that Vanna or any other woman should minister to my thirst for
information? Men are like that. I pretend to be no better than
the rest. She pleased my fastidiousness - that fastidiousness
which is the only austerity in men not otherwise austere.
"Interpret?" she said, looking at me with clear hazel eyes; "how
could I? You were in the native city yesterday. What did you
"Everything! I saw masses of colour, light, movement. Brilliantly
picturesque people. Children like Asiatic angels. Magnificently
scowling ruffians in sheepskin coats. In fact, a movie staged for
my benefit. I was afraid they would ring down the curtain before
I had had enough. It had no meaning. When I got back to my
diggings I tried to put down what I had just seen, and I swear
there's more inspiration in the guide-book."
"Did you go alone?"
"Yes, I certainly would not go sight-seeing with the Meryon
crowd. Tell me what you felt when you saw it first."
"I went with Sir John's uncle. He was a great traveler. The
colour struck me dumb. It flames - it sings. Think of the grey
pinched life in the West! I saw a grave dark potter turning his
wheel, while his little girl stood by, glad at our pleasure, her
head veiled like a miniature woman, tiny baggy trousers, and a
silver nose-stud, like a star, in one delicate nostril. In her
thin arms she held a heavy baby in a gilt cap, like a monkey. And
the wheel turned and whirled until it seemed to be spinning
dreams, thick as motes in the sun. The clay rose in smooth
spirals under his hand, and the wheel sang, 'Shall the vessel
reprove him who made one to honour and one to dishonour?' And I
saw the potter thumping his wet clay, and the clay, plastic as
dream-stuff, shaped swift as light, and the three Fates stood at
his shoul- der. Dreams, dreams, and all in the spinning of the
wheel, and the rich shadows of the old broken courtyard where he
sat. And the wheel stopped and the thread broke, and the little
new shapes he had made stood all about him, and he was only a
potter in Peshawar."
Her voice was like a song. She had utterly forgotten my
existence. I did not dislike it at the moment, for I wanted to
hear more, and the impersonal is the rarest gift a woman can give
"Did you buy anything?"
"He gave me a gift - a flawed jar of turquoise blue, faint
turquoise green round the lip. He saw I understood. And then I
bought a little gold cap and a wooden box of jade-green Kabul
grapes. About a rupee, all told. But it was Eastern merchandise,
and I was trading from Balsora and Baghdad, and Eleazar's camels
were swaying down from Damascus along the Khyber Pass, and coming
in at the great Darwazah, and friends' eyes met me everywhere. I
am profoundly happy here."
The sinking sun lit an almost ecstatic face.
I envied her more deeply than I had ever envied any one. She had
the secret of immortal youth, and I felt old as I looked at her.
One might be eighty and share that passionate impersonal joy. Age
could not wither nor custom stale the infinite variety of her
world's joys. She had a child's dewy youth in her eyes.
There are great sunsets at Peshawar, flaming over the plain,
dying in melancholy splendour over the dangerous hills. They too
were hers, in a sense in which they could never be mine. But what
a companion! To my astonishment a wild thought of marriage
flashed across me, to be instantly rebuffed with a shrug.
Marriage - that one's wife might talk poetry to one about the
East! Absurd! But what was it these people felt and I could not
feel? Almost, shut up in the prison of self, I knew what Vanna
had felt in her village - a maddening desire to escape, to be a
part of the loveliness that lay beyond me. So might a man love a
king's daughter in her hopeless heights.
"It may be very beautiful on the surface," I said morosely; "but
there's a lot of misery below - hateful, they tell me."
"Of course. We shall get to work one day. But look at the sunset.
It opens like a mysterious flower. I must take Winifred home
"One moment," I pleaded; "I can only see it through your eyes. I
feel it while you speak, and then the good minute goes."
"And so must I. Come, Winifred. Look, there's an owl; not like
the owls in the summer dark in England-
"Lovely are the curves of the white owl sweeping, Wavy in the
dark, lit by one low star."
Suddenly she turned again and looked at me half wistfully.
"It is good to talk to you. You want to know. You are so near it
all. I wish I could help you; I am so exquisitely happy myself."
My writing was at a standstill. It seemed the groping of a blind
man in a radiant world. Once perhaps I had felt that life was
good in itself - when the guns came thundering toward the Vimy
Ridge in a mad gallop of horses, and men shouting and swearing
and frantically urging them on. Then, riding for more than life,
I had tasted life for an instant. Not before or since. But this
woman had the secret.
Lady Meryon, with her escort of girls and subalterns, came
daintily past the hotel compound, and startled me from my
brooding with her pretty silvery voice.
"Dreaming, Mr. Clifden? It isn't at all wholesome to dream in the
East. Come and dine with us tomorrow. A tiny dance afterwards,
you know; or bridge for those who like it."
I had not the faintest notion whether governesses dined with the
family or came in afterward with the coffee; but it was a
sporting chance, and I took it.
Then Sir John came up and joined us.
"You can't well dance tomorrow, Kitty," he said to his wife.
"There's been an outpost affair in the Swat Hills, and young
Fitzgerald has been shot. Come to dinner of course, Clifden. Glad
to see you. But no dancing, I think."
Kitty Meryon's mouth drooped like a pouting child's. Was it for
the lost dance, or the lost soldier lying out on the hills in the
dying sunset. Who could tell? In either case it was pretty enough
for the illustrated papers.
"How sad! Such a dear boy. We shall miss him at tennis." Then
brightly; "Well, we'll have to put the dance off for a week, but
come tomorrow anyhow."
Next evening I went into Lady Meryon's flower-scented
drawing-room. The electric fans were fluttering and the evening
air was cool. Five or six pretty girls and as many men made up
the party - Kitty Meryon the prettiest of them all, fashionably
undressed in faint pink and crystal, with a charming smile in
readiness, all her gay little flags flying in the rich man's
honour. I am no vainer than other men, but I saw that. Whatever
her charm might be it was none for me. What could I say to
interest her who lived in her foolish little world as one shut in
a bright bubble? And she had said the wrong word about young
Fitzgerald - I wanted Vanna, with her deep seeing eyes, to say
the right one and adjust those cruel values.
Governesses dine, it appeared, only to fill an unexpected place,
or make a decorous entry afterward, to play accompaniments.
Fortunately Kitty Meryon sang, in a pinched little soprano, not
nearly so pretty as her silver ripple of talk.
It was when the party had settled down to bridge and I was
standing out, that I ventured to go up to her as she sat knitting
by a window - not unwatched by the quick flash of Lady Meryon's
eyes as I did it.
"I think you hypnotize me, Miss Loring. When I hear anything I
straightway want to know what you will say. Have you heard of
"That is why we are not dancing tonight. Tomorrow the cable will
reach his home in England. He was an only child, and they are the
great people of the village where we are the little people. I
knew his mother as one knows a great lady who is kind to all the
village folk. It may kill her. It is travelling tonight like a
bullet to her heart, and she does not know."
"A brave man - a soldier himself. He will know it was a good
death and that Harry would not fail. He did not at Ypres. He
would not here. But all joy and hope will be dead in that house
"And what do you think?"
"I am not sorry for Harry, if you mean that. He knew - we all
know - that he was on guard here holding the outposts against
blood and treachery and terrible things - playing the Great Game.
One never loses at that game if one plays it straight, and I am
sure that at the last it was joy he felt and not fear. He has not
lost. Did you notice in the church a niche before every soldier's
seat to hold his loaded gun? And the tablets on the walls;
"Killed at Kabul River, aged 22." - "Killed on outpost duty." -
"Murdered by an Afghan fanatic." This will be one memory more.
Why be sorry."
"I am going up to the hills tomorrow, to the Malakhand Fort, with
Mrs. Delany, Lady Meryon's aunt, and we shall see the wonderful
Tahkt-i-Bahi Monastery on the way. You should do that run before
you go. The fort is the last but one on the way to Chitral, and
beyond that the road is so beset that only soldiers may go
farther, and indeed the regiments escort each other up and down.
But it is an early start, for we must be back in Peshawar at six
for fear of raiding natives."
"I know; they hauled me up in the dusk the other day, and told me
I should be swept off to the hills if I fooled about after dusk.
But I say - is it safe for you to go? You ought to have a man.
Could I go too?"
I thought she did not look enthusiastic at the proposal.
"Ask. You know I settle nothing. I go where I am sent." She said
it with the happiest smile. I knew they could send her nowhere
that she would not find joy. I thought her mere presence must
send the vibrations of happiness through the household. Yet again
- why? For where there is no receiver the current speaks in vain;
and for an instant I seemed to see the air full of messages - of
speech striving to utter its passionate truths to deaf ears
stopped for ever against the breaking waves of sound. But Vanna
She left the room; and when the bridge was over, I made my
request. Lady Meryon shrugged her shoulders and declared it would
be a terribly dull run - the scenery nothing, "and only" (she
whispered) "Aunt Selina and poor Miss Loring?"
Of course I saw at once that she did not like it; but Sir John
was all for my going, and that saved the situation.
I certainly could have dispensed with Aunt Selina when the
automobile drew up in the golden river of the sunrise at the
hotel. There were only the driver, a personal servant, and the
two ladies; Mrs. Delany, comely, pleasant, talkative, and Vanna-
Her face in its dark motoring veil, fine and delicate as a young
moon in a cloud drift - the sensitive sweet mouth that had
quivered a little when she spoke of Fitzgerald - the pure glance
that radiated such kindness to all the world. She sat there with
the Key of Dreams pressed against her slight bosom - her eyes
dreaming above it. Already the strange airs of her unknown world
were breathing about me, and as yet I knew not the things that
belonged unto my peace.
We glided along the straight military road from Peshawar to
Nowshera, the gold-bright sun dazzling in its whiteness - a
strange drive through the flat, burned country, with the ominous
Kabul River flowing through it. Military preparations everywhere,
and the hills looking watchfully down - alive, as it were, with
keen, hostile eyes. War was at present about us as behind the
lines in France; and when we crossed the Kabul River on a bridge
of boats, and I saw its haunted waters, I began to feel the
atmosphere of the place closing down upon me. It had a sinister
beauty; it breathed suspense; and I wished, as I was sure Vanna
did, for silence that was not at our command.
For Mrs. Delany felt nothing of it. A bright shallow ripple of
talk was her contribution to the joys of the day; though it was,
fortunately, enough for her happiness if we listened and agreed.
I knew Vanna listened only in show. Her intent eyes were fixed on
the Tahkt-i-Bahi hills after we had swept out of Nowshera; and
when the car drew up at the rough track, she had a strange look
of suspense and pallor. I remember I wondered at the time if she
were nervous in the wild open country.
"Now pray don't be shocked," said Mrs. Delany comfortably; "but
you two young people may go up to the monastery, and I shall stay
here. I am dreadfully ashamed of myself, but the sight of that
hill is enough for me. Don't hurry. I may have a little doze, and
be all the better company when you get back. No, don't try to
persuade me, Mr. Clifden. It isn't the part of a friend."
I cannot say I was sorry, though I had a moment of panic when
Vanna offered to stay with her - very much, too, as if she really
meant it. So we set out perforce, Vanna leading steadily, as if
she knew the way. She never looked up, and her wish for silence
was so evident, that I followed, lending my hand mutely when the
difficulties obliged it, she accepting absently, and as if her
thoughts were far away.
Suddenly she quickened her pace. We had climbed about nine
hundred feet, and now the narrow track twisted through the rocks
- a track that looked as age-worn as no doubt it was. We
threaded it, and struggled over the ridge, and looked down
victorious on the other side.
There she stopped. A very wonderful sight, of which I had never
seen the like, lay below us. Rock and waste and towering crags,
and the mighty ruin of the monastery set in the fangs of the
mountain like a robber baron's castle, looking far away to the
blue mountains of the Debatable Land - the land of mystery and
danger. It stood there - the great ruin of a vast habitation of
men. Building after building, mysterious and broken, corridors,
halls, refectories, cells; the dwelling of a faith so alien that
I could not reconstruct the life that gave it being. And all
sinking gently into ruin that in a century more would confound it
with the roots of the mountains.
Grey and wonderful, it clung to the heights and looked with
eyeless windows at the past. Somehow I found it infinitely
pathetic; the very faith it expressed is dead in India, and none
left so poor to do it reverence.
But Vanna knew her way. Unerringly she led me from point to
point, and she was visibly at home in the intricacies. Such
knowledge in a young woman bewildered me. Could she have studied
the plans in the Museum? How else should she know where the abbot
lived, or where the refractory brothers were punished?
Once I missed her, while I stooped to examine some scroll-work,
and following, found her before one of the few images of the
Buddha that the rapacious Museum had spared - a singularly
beautiful bas-relief, the hand raised to enforce the truth the
calm lips were speaking, the drapery falling in stately folds to
the bare feet. As I came up, she had an air as if she had just
ceased from movement, and I had a distinct feeling that she had
knelt before it - I saw the look of worship! The thing troubled
me like a dream, haunting, impossible, but real.
"How beautiful!" I said in spite of myself, as she pointed to the
image. "In this utter solitude it seems the very spirit of the
"He was. He is," said Vanna.
"Explain to me. I don't understand. I know so little of him. What
is the subject?"
She hesitated; then chose her words as if for a beginner;- "It is
the Blessed One preaching to the Tree-Spirits. See how eagerly
they lean from the boughs to listen. This other relief represents
him in the state of mystic vision. Here he is drowned in peace.
See how it overflows from the closed eyes; the closed lips. The
air is filled with his quiet."
"What is he dreaming?"
"Not dreaming - seeing. Peace. He sits at the point where time
and infinity meet. To attain that vision was the aim of the monks
who lived here."
"Did they attain?" I found myself speaking as if she could
"A few. There was one, Vasettha, the Brahman, a young man who had
renounced all his possessions and riches, and seated here before
this image of the Blessed One, he fell often into the mystic
state. He had a strange vision at one time of the future of
India, which will surely be fulfilled. He did not forget it in
his rebirths. He remembers-"
She broke off suddenly and said with forced indifference, - "He
would sit here often looking out over the mountains; the monks
sat at his feet to hear. He became abbot while still young. But
his story is a sad one."
"I entreat you to tell me."
She looked away over the mountains. "While he was abbot here,-
still a young man,- a famous Chinese Pilgrim came down through
Kashmir to visit the Holy Places in India. The abbot went forward
with him to Peshawar, that he might make him welcome. And there
came a dancer to Peshawar, named Lilavanti, most beautiful! I
dare not tell you her beauty. I tremble now to think-"
Again she paused, and again the faint creeping sense of mystery
"The abbot saw her and he loved her. He was young still, you
remember. She was a woman of the Hindu faith and hated Buddhism.
It swept him down into the lower worlds of storm and desire. He
fled with Lilavanti and never returned here. So in his rebirth he
She stopped dead; her face pale as death.
"How do you know? Where have you read it? If I could only find
what you find and know what you know! The East is like an open
book to you. Tell me the rest."
"How should I know any more?" she said hurriedly. "We must be
going back. You should study the plans of this place at
Peshawar. They were very learned monks who lived here. It is
famous for learning."
The life had gone out of her words-out of the ruins. There was no
more to be said.
We clambered down the hill in the hot sunshine, speaking only of
the view, the strange shrubs and flowers, and, once, the swift
gliding of a snake, and found Mrs. Delany blissfully asleep in
the most padded corner of the car. The spirit of the East
vanished in her comfortable presence, and luncheon seemed the
only matter of moment.
"I wonder, my dears," she said, "if you would be very
disappointed and think me very dense if I proposed our giving up
the Malakhand Fort? The driver has been giving me in very poor
English such an account of the dangers of that awful road up the
hill that I feel no Fort would repay me for its terrors. Do say
what you feel, Miss Loring. Mr. Clifden can lunch with the
officers at Nowshera and come any time. I know I am an atrocity."
There could be only one answer, though Vanna and I knew perfectly
well the crafty design of the driver to spare himself work. Mrs.
Delany remained brightly awake for the run home, and favored us
with many remarkable views on India and its shortcomings, Vanna,
who had a sincere liking for her, laughing with delight at her
description of a visit of condolence with Lady Meryon to the five
widows of one of the hill Rajas.
But I own I was pre-occupied. I knew those moments at the
monastery had given me a glimpse into the wonderland of her soul
that made me long for more. It was rapidly becoming clear to me
that unless my intentions developed on very different lines I
must flee Peshawar. For love is born of sympathy, and sympathy
was strengthening daily, but for love I had no courage yet.
I feared it as men fear the unknown. I despised myself - but I
feared. I will confess my egregious folly and vanity - I had no
doubt as to her reception of my offer if I should make it, but
possessed by a colossal selfishness, I thought only of myself,
and from that point of view could not decide how I stood to lose
or gain. In my wildest accesses of vanity I did not suppose Vanna
loved me, but I felt she liked me, and I believe the advantages I
had to offer would be overwhelming to a woman in her position.
So, tossed on the waves of indecision, I inclined to flight.
That night I resolutely began my packing, and wrote a note of
farewell to Lady Meryon. The next morning I furiously undid it,
and destroyed the note. And that afternoon I took the shortest
way to the sun-set road to lounge about and wait for Vanna and
Winifred. She never came, and I was as unreasonably angry as if I
had deserved the blessing of her presence.
Next day I could see that she tried gently hut clearly to
discourage our meeting and for three days I never saw her at all.
Yet I knew that in her solitary life our talks counted for a
pleasure, and when we met again I thought I saw a new softness in
the lovely hazel deeps of her eyes.
On the day when things became clear to me, I was walking towards
the Meryons' gates when I met her coming alone along the sunset
road, in the late gold of the afternoon. She looked pale and a
little wearied, and I remembered I wished I did not know every
change of her face as I did. It was a symptom that alarmed my
selfishness - it galled me with the sense that I was no longer
my own despot.
"So you have been up the Khyber Pass," she said as I fell into
step at her side. "Tell me - was it as wonderful as you
"No, no, -you tell me! It will give me what I missed. Begin at
the beginning. Tell me what I saw."
I could not miss the delight of her words, and she laughed,
knowing my whim.
"Oh, that Pass! -the wonder of those old roads that have borne
the traffic and romance of the world for ages. Do you think there
is anything in the world so fascinating as they are? But did you
go on Tuesday or Friday?"
For these are the only days in the week when the Khyber can be
safely entered. The British then turn out the Khyber Rifles and
man every crag, and the loaded caravans move like a tide, and go
up and down the narrow road on their occasions.
Naturally mere sightseers are not welcomed, for much business
must be got through in that urgent forty eight hours in which
life is not risked in entering.
"Tuesday. But make a picture for me."
"Well, you gave your word not to photograph or sketch - as if one
wanted to when every bit of it is stamped on one's brain! And you
went up to Jumrood Fort at the entrance. Did they tell you it is
an old Sikh Fort and has been on duty in that turbulent place for
five hundred years And did you see the machine guns in the court?
And every one armed - even the boys with belts of cartridges?
Then you went up the narrow winding track between the mountains,
and you said to yourself, 'This is the road of pure romance. It
goes up to silken Samarkhand, and I can ride to Bokhara of the
beautiful women and to all the dreams. Am I alive and is it
real?' You felt that?"
"All. Every bit. Go on!"
She smiled with pleasure.
"And you saw the little forts on the crags and the men on guard
all along the bills, rifles ready! You could hear the guns rattle
as they saluted. Do you know that up there men plough with rifles
loaded beside them? They have to be men indeed."
"Do you mean to imply that we are not men?"
"Different men at least. This is life in a Border ballad. Such a
life as you knew in France but beautiful in a wild - hawk sort of
way. Don't the Khyber Rifles bewilder you? They are drawn from
these very Hill tribes, and will shoot their own fathers and
brothers in the way of duty as comfortably as if they were
jackals. Once there was a scrap here and one of the tribesmen
sniped our men unbearably. What do you suppose happened? A Khyber
Rifle came to the Colonel and said, 'Let me put an end to him,
Colonel Sahib. I know exactly where he sits. He is my
grandfather.' And he did it!"
"The bond of bread and salt?"
"Yes, and discipline. I'm sometimes half frightened of
discipline. It moulds a man like wax. Even God doesn't do that.
Well - then you had the traders - wild shaggy men in sheepskin
and women in massive jewelry of silver and turquoise,-great
earrings, heavy bracelets loading their arms, wild, fierce,
handsome. And the camels - thousands of them, some going up, some
coming down, a mass of human and animal life. Above you, moving
figures against the keen blue sky, or deep below you in the
"The camels were swaying along with huge bales of goods, and dark
beautiful women in wicker cages perched on them. Silks and
carpets from Bokhara, and blue - eyed Persian cats, and bluer
Persian turquoises. Wonderful! And the dust, gilded by the
sunshine, makes a vaporous golden atmosphere for it all."
"What was the most wonderful thing you saw there?"
"The most beautiful, I think, was a man - a splendid dark ruffian
lounging along. He wanted to show off, and his swagger was
perfect. Long black onyx eyes and a tumble of black curls, and
teeth like almonds. But what do you think he carried on his wrist
- a hawk with fierce yellow eyes, ringed and chained. Hawking is
a favourite sport in the hills. Oh, why doesn't some great
painter come and paint it all before they take to trains and
cars? I long to see it all again, but I never shall."
"Why not," said I. "Surely Sir John can get you up there any
"Not now. The fighting makes it difficult. But it isn't that. I
"Leaving?" My heart gave a leap. "Why? Where?"
"Leaving Lady Meryon."
"Why - for Heaven's sake?"
"I had rather not tell you."
"But I must know."
"I shall ask Lady Meryon."
"I forbid you."
And then the unexpected happened, and an unbearable impulse swept
me into folly - or was it wisdom?
"Listen to me. I would not have said it yet, but this settles it.
I want you to marry me. I want it atrociously!"
It was a strange word. What I felt for her at that moment was
difficult to describe. I endured it like a pain that could only
be assuaged by her presence, but I endured it angrily. We were
walking on the sunset road - very deserted and quiet at the time.
The place was propitious if nothing else was.
She looked at me in transparent astonishment;
"Mr. Clifden, are you dreaming? You can't mean what you say."
"Why can't I? I do. I want you. You have the key of all I care
for. I think of the world without you and find it tasteless."
"Surely you have all the world can give? What do you want more?"
"The power to enjoy it - to understand it. You have got that - I
haven't. I want you always with me to interpret, like a guide to
a blind fellow. I am no better."
"Say like a dog, at once!" she interrupted. "At least you are
frank enough to put it on that ground. You have not said you love
me. You could not say it."
"I don't know whether I do or not. I know nothing about love. I
want you. Indescribably. Perhaps that is love - is it? I never
wanted any one before. I have tried to get away and I can't."
I was brutally frank, you see. She compelled my very thoughts.
"Why have you tried?"
"Because every man likes freedom. But I like you better." "I can
tell you the reason," she said in her gentle unwavering voice. "I
am Lady Meryon's governess, and an undesirable. You have felt
"Don't make me out such a snob. No - yes. You force me into
honesty. I did feel it at first like the miserable fool I am, but
I could kick myself when I think of that now. It is utterly
forgotten. Take me and make me what you will, and forgive me.
Only tell me your secret of joy. How is it you understand
everything alive or dead? I want to live - to see, to know."
It was a rhapsody like a boy's. Yet at the moment I was not even
ashamed of it, so sharp was my need.
"I think," she said, slowly, looking straight before her, "that I
had better be quite frank. I don't love you. I don't know what
love means in the Western sense. It has a very different meaning
for me. Your voice comes to me from an immense distance when you
speak in that way. You want me - but never with a thought of what
I might want. Is that love? I like you very deeply as a friend,
but we are of different races. There is a gulf."
"A gulf? You are English."
"By birth, yes. In mind, no. And there are things that go deeper,
that you could not understand. So I refuse quite definitely, and
our ways part here, for in a few days I go. I shall not see you
again, but I wish to say good-bye."
The bitterest chagrin was working in my soul. I felt as if all
were deserting me-a sickening feeling of loneliness. I did not
know the man who was in me, and was a stranger to myself.
"I entreat you to tell me why, and where."
"Since you have made me this offer, I will tell you why. Lady
Meryon objected to my friendship with you, and objected in a way
She stopped, flushing palely. I caught her hand.
"That settles it!-that she should have dared! I'll go up this
minute and tell her we are engaged. Vanna-Vanna !"
For she disengaged her hand, quietly but firmly.
"On no account. How can I make it more plain to you? I should
have gone soon in any case. My place is in the native city - that
is the life I want. I have work there, I knew it before I came
out. My sympathies are all with them. They know what life is -
why even the beggars, poorer than poor, are perfectly happy,
basking in the great generous sun. Oh, the splendour and riot of
life and colour! That's my life - I sicken of this."
"But I'll give it to you. Marry me, and we will travel till
you're tired of it."
"Yes, and look on as at a play - sitting in the stalls, and
applauding when we are pleased. No, I'm going to work there."
"For God's sake, how? Let me come too."
"You can't. You're not in it. I am going to attach myself to the
medical mission at Lahore and learn nursing, and then I shall go
to my own people."
"Missionaries? You've nothing in common with them?"
"Nothing. But they teach what I want. Mr. Clifden, I shall not
come this way again. If I remember - I'll write to you, and tell
you what the real world is like."
She smiled, the absorbed little smile I knew and feared. I saw
pleading was useless then. I would wait, and never lose sight of
her and of hope.
"Vanna, before you go, give me your gift of sight. Interpret for
me. Stay with me a little and make me see."
"What do you mean exactly?" she asked in her gentlest voice, half
turning to me.
"Make one journey with me, as my sister, if you will do no more.
Though I warn you that all the time I shall be trying to win my
wife. But come with me once, and after that - if you will go, you
must. Say yes."
Madness! But she hesitated - a hesitation full of hope, and
looked at me with intent eyes.
"I will tell you frankly," she said at last, "that I know my
knowledge of the East and kinship with it goes far beyond mere
words. In my case the doors were not shut. I believe - I know
that long ago this was my life. If I spoke for ever I could not
make you understand how much I know and why. So I shall quite
certainly go back to it. Nothing - you least of all, can hold me.
But you are my friend - that is a true bond. And if you would
wish me to give you two months before I go, I might do that if it
would in any way help you. As your friend only - you clearly
understand. You would not reproach me afterwards when I left you,
as I should most certainly do?"
"I swear I would not. I swear I would protect you even from
myself. I want you for ever, but if you will only give me two
months - come! But have you thought that people will talk. It may
I'm not worth that, God knows. And you will take nothing I could
give you in return."
She spoke very quietly.
"That does not trouble me. - It would only trouble me if you
asked what I have not to give. For two months I would travel with
you as a friend, if, like a friend, I paid my own expenses-"
I would have interrupted, but she brushed that firmly aside. "No,
I must do as I say, and I am quite able to or I should not
suggest it. I would go on no other terms. It would be hard if
because we are man and woman I might not do one act of friendship
for you before we part. For though I refuse your offer utterly, I
appreciate it, and I would make what little return I can. It
would be a sharp pain to me to distress you."
Her gentleness and calm, the magnitude of the offer she was
making stunned me so that I could scarcely speak. There was such
an extraordinary simplicity and generosity in her manner that it
appeared to me more enthralling and bewildering than the most
finished coquetry I had ever known. She gave me opportunities
that the most ardent lover could in his wildest dream desire, and
with the remoteness in her eyes and her still voice she deprived
them of all hope. It kindled in me a flame that made my throat
dry when I tried to speak.
"Vanna, is it a promise? You mean it?"
"If you wish it, yes. But I warn you I think it will not make it
easier for you when the time is over.
"Why two months?"
"Partly because I can afford no more. No! I know what you would
say. Partly because I can spare no more time. But I will give you
that, if you wish, though, honestly, I had very much rather not.
I think it unwise for you. I would protect you if I could -
indeed I would!"
It was my turn to hesitate now. Every moment revealed to me some
new sweetness, some charm that I saw would weave itself into the
very fibre of my I had been! Was I not now a fool? Would it not
being if the opportunity were given. Oh, fool that be better to
let her go before she had become a part of my daily experience? I
began to fear I was courting my own shipwreck. She read my
"Indeed you would be wise to decide against it. Release me from
my promise. It was a mad scheme."
The superiority - or so I felt it - of her gentleness maddened
me. It might have been I who needed protection, who was running
the risk of misjudgment - not she, a lonely woman. She looked at
me, waiting - trying to be wise for me, never for one instant
thinking of herself. I felt utterly exiled from the real purpose
of her life.
"I will never release you. I claim your promise. I hold to it."
"Very well then - I will write, and tell you where I shall be.
Good-bye, and if you change your mind, as I hope you will, tell
She extended her hand cool as a snowflake, and was gone, walking
swiftly up the road. Ah, let a man beware when his wishes
fulfilled, rain down upon him!
To what had I committed myself? She knew her strength and had no
fears. I could scarcely realize that she had liking enough for me
to make the offer. That it meant no shade more than she had said
I knew well. She was safe, but what was to be the result for me?
I knew nothing - she was a beloved mystery.
"Strange she is and secret, Strange her eyes; her cheeks are
cold as cold sea-shells."
Yet I would risk it, for I knew there was no hope if I let her go
now, and if I saw her again, some glimmer might fall upon my
Next day this reached me:- Dear Mr. Clifden,-
I am going to some Indian friends for a time. On the 15th of June
I shall he at Srinagar in Kashmir. A friend has allowed me to
take her little houseboat, the "Kedarnath." If you like this plan
we will share the cost for two months. I warn you it is not
luxurious, but I think you will like it. I shall do this whether
you come or no, for I want a quiet time before I take up my
nursing in Lahore. In thinking of all this will you remember that
I am not a girl but a woman. I shall he twenty-nine my next
birthday. Sincerely yours, VANNA LORING.
P.S. But I still think you would be wiser not to come. I hope to
hear you will not.
I replied only this :- Dear Miss Loring,- I think I understand
the position fully. I will be there. I thank you with all my
heart. Gratefully yours, STEPHEN CLIFDEN.
Three days later I met Lady Meryon, and was swept in to tea. Her
manner was distinctly more cordial as she mentioned casually
that Vanna had left - she understood to take up missionary work -
"which is odd," she added with a woman's acrimony, "for she had
no more in common with missionaries than I have, and that is
saying a good deal. Of course she speaks Hindustani perfectly,
and could be useful, but I haven't grasped the point of it yet" I
saw she counted on my knowing nothing of the real reason of
Vanna's going and left it, of course, at that. The talk drifted
away under my guidance. Vanna evidently puzzled her. She half
feared, and wholly misunderstood her.
No message came to me, as time went by, and for the time she had
vanished completely, but I held fast to her promise and lived on
I take up my life where it ceased to be a mere suspense and
became life once more.
On the 15th of June, I found myself riding into Srinagar in
Kashmir, through the pure tremulous green of the mighty poplars
that hedge the road into the city. The beauty of the country had
half stunned me when I entered the mountain barrier of Baramula
and saw the snowy peaks that guard the Happy Valley, with the
Jhelum flowing through its tranquil loveliness. The flush of the
almond blossom was over, but the iris, like a blue sea of peace
had overflowed the world - the azure meadows smiled back at the
radiant sky. Such blossom! the blue shading into clear violet,
like a shoaling sea. The earth, like a cup held in the hand of a
god, brimmed with the draught of youth and summer and - love? But
no, for me the very word was sinister. Vanna's face, immutably
calm, confronted it.
That night I slept in a boat at Sopor, and I remember that,
waking at midnight, I looked out and saw a mountain with a
gloriole of hazy silver about it, misty and faint as a cobweb
threaded with dew. The river, there spreading into a lake, was
dark under it, flowing in a deep smooth blackness of shadow, and
everything awaited - what? And even while I looked, the moon
floated serenely above the peak, and all was bathed in pure
light, the water rippling and shining in broken silver and pearl.
So had Vanna floated into my sky, luminous, sweet, remote. I did
not question my heart any more. I knew I loved her.
Two days later I rode into Srinagar, and could scarcely see the
wild beauty of that strange Venice. of the East, my heart was so
beating in my eyes. I rode past the lovely wooden bridges where
the balconied houses totter to each other across the canals in
dim splendour of carving and age; where the many-coloured native
life crowds down to the river steps and cleanses its
flower-bright robes, its gold-bright brass vessels in the shining
stream, and my heart said only - Vanna, Vanna!
One day, one thought, of her absence had taught me what she was
to me, and if humility and patient endeavor could raise me to her
feet, I was resolved that I would spend my life in labor and
think it well spent.
My servant dismounted and led his horse, asking from every one
where the "Kedarnath" could be found, and eager black eyes
sparkled and two little bronze images detached themselves from
the crowd of boys, and ran, fleet as fauns, before us.
Above the last bridge the Jhelum broadens out into a stately
river, controlled at one side by the banked walk known as the
Bund, with the Club House upon it and the line of houseboats
beneath. Here the visitors flutter up and down and exchange the
gossip, the bridge appointments, the little dinners that sit so
incongruously on the pure Orient that is Kashmir.
She would not be here. My heart told me that, and sure enough the
boys were leading across the bridge and by a quiet shady way to
one of the many backwaters that the great river makes in the
enchanting city. There is one waterway stretching on afar to the
Dal Lake. It looks like a river - it is the very haunt of peace.
Under those mighty chenar, or plane trees, that are the glory of
Kashmir, clouding the water with deep green shadows, the sun can
scarcely pierce, save in a dipping sparkle here and there to
intensify the green gloom. The murmur of the city, the chatter of
the club, are hundreds of miles away. We rode downward under the
towering trees, and dismounting, saw a little houseboat tethered
to the bank. It was not of the richer sort that haunts the Bund,
where the native servants follow in a separate boat, and even the
electric light is turned on as part of the luxury. This was a
long low craft, very broad, thatched like a country cottage
afloat. In the forepart lived the native owner, and his family,
their crew, our cooks and servants; for they played many parts in
our service. And in the afterpart, room for a life, a dream, the
joy or curse & many days to be.
But then, I saw only one thing - Vanna sat under the trees,
reading, or looking at the cool dim watery vista, with a single
boat, loaded to the river's edge with melons and scarlet
tomatoes, punting lazily down to Srinagar in the sleepy
She was dressed in white with a shady hat, and her delicate dark
face seemed to glow in the shadow like the heart of a pale rose.
For the first time I knew she was beautiful. Beauty shone in her
like the flame in an alabaster lamp, serene, diffused in the very
air about her, so that to me she moved in a mild radiance. She
rose to meet me with both hands outstretched - the kindest, most
cordial welcome. Not an eyelash flickered, not a trace of self-
consciousness. If I could have seen her flush or tremble - but no
- her eyes were clear and calm as a forest pool. So I remembered
her. So I saw her once more.
I tried, with a hopeless pretence, to follow her example and hide
what I felt, where she had nothing to hide.
"What a place you have found. Why, it's like the deep heart of a
"Yes, I saw it once when I was here with the Meryons. But we lay
at the Bund then - just under the Club. This is better. Did you
like the ride up?"
I threw myself on the grass beside her with a feeling of perfect
"It was like a new heaven and a new earth. What a country!"
The very spirit of Quiet seemed to be drowsing in those branches
towering up into the blue, dipping their green fingers into the
crystal of the water. What a heaven!
"Now you shall have your tea and then I will show you your
rooms," she said, smiling at my delight. "We shall stay here a
few days more that you may see Srinagar, and then they tow us up
into the Dal Lake opposite the Gardens of the Mogul Emperors. And
if you think this beautiful what will you say then?"
I shut my eyes and see still that first meal of my new life. The
little table that Pir Baksh, breathing full East in his
jade-green turban, set before her, with its cloth worked in a
pattern of the chenar leaves that are the symbol of Kashmir; the
brown cakes made by Ahmad Khan in a miraculous kitchen of his own
invention - a few holes burrowed in the river bank, a smoldering
fire beneath them, and a width of canvas for a roof. But it
served, and no more need be asked of luxury. And Vanna, making it
mysteriously the first home I ever had known, the central joy of
it all. Oh, wonderful days of life that breathe the spirit of
immortality and pass so quickly - surely they must be treasured
somewhere in Eternity that we may look upon their beloved light
"Now you must see the boat. The Kedarnath is not a Dreadnought,
but she is broad and very comfortable. And we have many
chaperons. They all live in the bows, and exist simply to
protect the Sahiblog from all discomfort, and very well they do
it. That is Ahmad Khan by the kitchen. He cooks for us. Salama
owns the boat, and steers her and engages the men to tow us when
we move. And when I arrived he aired a little English and said
piously; The Lord help me to give you no trouble, and the Lord
help you!" That is his wife sitting on the bank. She speaks
little but Kashmiri, but I know a little of that. Look at the
hundred rat-tail plaits of her hair, lengthened with wool, and
see her silver and turquoise jewelry. She wears much of the
family fortune and is quite a walking bank. Salama, Ahmad Khan
and I talk by the hour. Ahmad comes from Fyzabad. Look at
Salama's boy - I call him the Orange Imp. Did you ever see
anything so beautiful?"
I looked in sheer delight, and grasped my camera. Sitting near us
was a lovely little Kashmiri boy of about eight, in a faded
orange coat, and a turban exactly like his father's. His curled
black eyelashes were so long that they made a soft gloom over the
upper part of the little golden face. The perfect bow of the
scarlet lips, the long eyes, the shy smile, suggested an Indian
Eros. He sat dipping his feet in the water with little
pigeon-like cries of content.
"He paddles at the bow of our little shikara boat with a paddle
exactly like a water-lily leaf. Do you like our friends? I love
them already, and know all their affairs. And now for the boat."
"One moment - If we are friends on a great adventure, I must call
you Vanna, and you me Stephen."
"Yes, I suppose that is part of it," she said, smiling. "Come,
It was like music, but a cold music that chilled me. She should
have hesitated, should have flushed - it was I who trembled. So I
followed her across the broad plank into our new home.
"This is our sitting-room. Look, how charming!"
It was better than charming; it was home indeed. Windows at each
side opening down almost to the water, a little table for meals
that lived mostly on the bank, with a grey pot of iris in the
middle. Another table for writing, photography, and all the
little pursuits of travel. A bookshelf with some well - worn
friends. Two long cushioned chairs. Two for meals, and a Bokhara
rug, soft and pleasant for the feet. The interior was plain
unpainted wood, but set so that the grain showed like satin in
the rippling lights from the water.
That is the inventory of the place I have loved best in the
world, but what eloquence can describe what it gave me, what its
memory gives me to this day? And I have no eloquence - what I
felt leaves me dumb.
"It is perfect," was all I said as she waved her hand proudly.
"It is home."
"And if you had come alone to Kashmir you would have had a great
rich boat with electric light and a butler. You would never have
seen the people except at meal - times. I think you will like
this better. Well, this is your tiny bedroom, and your bathroom,
and beyond the sitting - room are mine. Do you like it all?"
But I could say no more. The charm of her own personality had
touched everything and left its fragrance like a flower - breath
in the air. I was beggared of thanks, but my whole soul was
gratitude. We dined on the bank that evening, the lamp burning
steadily in the still air and throwing broken reflections in the
water, while the moon looked in upon them through the leaves. I
felt extraordinarily young and happy.
The quiet of her voice was soft as the little lap of water
against the bows of the boat, and Kahdra, the Orange Imp, was
singing a little wordless song to himself as he washed the plates
beside us. It was a simple meal, and Vanna, abstemious as a
hermit never ate anything but rice and fruit, but I could
remember no meal in all my days of luxury where I had eaten with
"It looks very grand to have so many to wait upon us, doesn't it?
But this is one of the cheapest countries in the world though the
old timers mourn over present expenses. You will laugh when I
show you your share of the cost."
"The wealth of the world could not buy this," I said, and was
"But you must listen to my plans. We must do a little camping the
last three weeks before we part. Up in the mountains. Are they
not marvellous? They stand like a rampart round us, but not cold
and terrible, but "Like as the hills stand round about Jerusalem"
- they are guardian presences. And running up into them, high
-very high, are the valleys and hills where we shall camp.
Tomorrow we shall row through Srinagar, by the old Maharaja's
And so began a life of sheer enchantment. We knew no one. The
visitors in Kashmir change nearly every season, and no one
cared-no one asked anything of us, and as for our shipmates, a
willing affectionate service was their gift, and no more. Looking
back, I know in what a wonder-world I was privileged to live.
Vanna could talk with them all. She did not move apart, a
condescending or indifferent foreigner. Kahdra would come to her
knee and prattle to her of the great snake that lived up on
Mahadeo to devour erring boys who omitted their prayers at proper
Moslem intervals. She would sit with the baby in her lap while
the mother busied herself in the sunny bows with the mysterious
dishes that smelt so savory to a hungry man. The cuts, the
bruises of the neighbourhood all came to Vanna for treatment.
"I am graduating as a nurse," she would say laughing as she bent
over the lean arm of some weirdly wrinkled old lady, bandaging
and soothing at the same moment. Her reward would be some bit of
folk-lore, some quaintness of gratitude that I noted down in the
little book I kept for remembrance - that I do not need, for
every word is in my heart.
We rowed down through the city next day - Salama rowing, and
little Kahdra lazily paddling at the bow - a wonderful city,
with its narrow ways begrimed with the dirt of ages, and its
balconied houses looking as if disease and sin had soaked into
them and given them a vicious tottering beauty, horrible and yet
lovely too. We saw the swarming life of the bazaar, the white
turbans coming and going, diversified by the rose and yellow
Hindu turbans, and the caste-marks, orange and red, on the dark
I saw two women - girls - painted and tired like Jezebel,
looking out of one window carved and old, and the grey burnished
doves flying about it. They leaned indolently, like all the old,
old wickedness of the East that yet is ever young - "Flowers of
Delight," with smooth black hair braided with gold and blossoms,
and covered with pale rose veils, and gold embossed disks
swinging like lamps beside the olive cheeks, the great eyes
artificially lengthened and darkened with soorma, and the curves
of the full lips emphasized with vermilion. They looked down on
us with apathy, a dull weariness that held all the old evil of
the wicked humming city.
It had taken shape in those indolent bodies and heavy eyes that
could flash into life as a snake wakes into fierce darting energy
when the time comes to spring - direct inheritrixes from Lilith,
in the fittest setting in the world - the almost exhausted vice
of an Oriental city as old as time.
"And look-below here," said Vanna, pointing to one of the ghauts
- long rugged steps running down to the river.
"When I came yesterday, a great broken crowd was collected here,
almost shouldering each other into the water where a boat lay
rocking. In it lay the body of a man brutally murdered for the
sake of a few rupees and flung into the river. I could see the
poor brown body stark in the boat with a friend weeping beside
it. On the lovely deodar bridge people leaned over, watching with
a grim open-mouthed curiosity, and business went on gaily where
the jewelers make the silver bangles for slender wrists, and the
rows of silver chains that make the necks like 'the Tower of
Damascus builded for an armory.' It was all very wild and cruel.
I went down to them-"
"Vanna - you went down? Horrible!"
"No, you see I heard them say the wife was almost a child and
needs help. So I went. Once long ago at Peshawar I saw the same
thing happen, and they came and took the child for the service of
the gods, for she was most lovely, and she clung to the feet of a
man in terror, and the priest stabbed her to the heart. She died
in my arms.
"Good God!" I said, shuddering; "what a sight for you! Did they
never hang him?"
"He was not punished. I told you it was a very long time ago. Her
expression had a brooding quiet as she looked down into the
running river, almost it might be as if she saw the picture of
that past misery in the deep water. She said no more. But in her
words and the terrible crowding of its life, Srinagar seemed to
me more of a nightmare than anything I had seen, excepting only
Benares; for the holy Benares is a memory of horror, with a sense
of blood hidden under its frantic crazy devotion, and not far
Our own green shade, when we pulled back to it in the evening
cool, was a refuge of unspeakable quiet. She read aloud to me
that evening by the small light of our lamp beneath the trees,
and, singularly, she read of joy.
"I have drunk of the Cup of the Ineffable, I have found the key
of the Mystery, Travelling by no track I have come to the
Sorrowless Land; very easily has the mercy of the great Lord
come upon me. Wonderful is that Land of rest to which no merit
can win. There have I seen joy filled to the brim, perfection of
joy. He dances in rapture and waves of form arise from His dance.
He holds all within his bliss."
"What is that?"
"It is from the songs of the great Indian mystic - Kabir. Let me
read you more. It is like the singing of a lark, lost in the
infinite of light and heaven."
So in the soft darkness I heard for the first time those immortal
words; and hearing, a faint glimmer of understanding broke upon
me as to the source of the peace that surrounded her. I had
accepted it as an emanation of her own heart when it was the
pulsing of the tide of the Divine. She read, choosing a verse
here and there, and I listened with absorption.
Suppose I had been wrong in believing that sorrow is the keynote
of life; that pain is the road of ascent, if road there be; that
an implacable Nature and that only, presides over all our pitiful
struggles and seekings and writes a black "Finis" to the
holograph of our existence?
What then? What was she teaching me? Was she the Interpreter of a
Beauty eternal in the heavens, and reflected like a broken prism
in the beauty that walked visible beside me? So I listened like a
child to an unknown language, yet ventured my protest.
"In India, in this wonderful country where men have time and will
for speculation such thoughts may be natural. Can they be found
in the West?"
"This is from the West - might not Kabir himself have said it?
Certainly he would have felt it. 'Happy is he who seeks not to
understand the Mystery of God, but who, merging his spirit into
Thine, sings to Thy face, 0 Lord, like a harp, understanding how
difficult it is to know - how easy to love Thee.' We debate and
argue and the Vision passes us by. We try to prove it, and kill
it in the laboratory of our minds, when on the altar of our
souls it will dwell for ever."
Silence - and I pondered. Finally she laid the book aside, and
repeated from memory and in a tone of perfect music; "Kabir says,
'I shall go to the House of my Lord with my Love at my side; then
shall I sound the trumpet of triumph.'"
And when she left me alone in the moonlight silence the old
doubts came back to me - the fear that I saw only through her
eyes, and began to believe in joy only because I loved her. I
remember I wrote in the little book I kept for my stray thoughts,
these words which are not mine but reflect my thought of her;
"Thine is the skill of the Fairy Woman, and the virtue of St.
Bride, and the faith of Mary the Mild, and the gracious way of
the Greek woman, and the beauty of lovely Emer, and the
tenderness of heart-sweet Deirdre, and the courage of Maev the
great Queen, and the charm of Mouth-of-Music."
Yes, all that and more, but I feared lest I should see the heaven
of joy through her eyes only and find it mirage as I had found so
SECOND PART Early in the pure dawn the men came and our boat was
towed up into the Dal Lake through crystal waterways and flowery
banks, the men on the path keeping step and straining at the rope
until the bronze muscles stood out on their legs and backs,
shouting strong rhythmic phrases to mark the pull.
"They shout the Wondrous Names of God - as they are called," said
Vanna when I asked. "They always do that for a timid effort. Bad
shah! The Lord, the Compassionate, and so on. I don't think there
is any religion about it but it is as natural to them as One,
Two, Three, to us. It gives a tremendous lift. Watch and see."
It was part of the delightful strangeness that we should move to
that strong music. We sat on the upper deck and watched the dream
- like beauty drift slowly by until we emerged beneath a little
bridge into the fairy land of the lake which the Mogul Emperors
loved so well that they made their noble pleasance gardens on the
banks, and thought it little to travel up yearly from far - off
Delhi over the snowy Pir Panjal with their Queens and courts for
the perfect summer of Kashmir.
We moored by a low bank under a great wood of chenar trees, and
saw the little table in the wilderness set in the greenest shade
with our chairs beside it, and my pipe laid reverently upon it by
Across the glittering water lay on one side the Shalimar Garden
known to all readers of "Lalla Ruhk" - a paradise of roses; and
beyond it again the lovelier gardens of Nour-Mahal, the Light of
the Palace, that imperial woman who ruled India under the weak
Emperor's name - she whose name he set thus upon his coins:
"By order of King Jehangir. Gold has a hundred splendours added
to it by receiving the name of Nour-Jahan the Queen."
Has any woman ever had a more royal homage than this most royal
lady - known first as Mihr-u- nissa - Sun of Women, and later,
Nour-Mahal, Light of the Palace, and latest, Nour-Jahan- Begam,
Queen, Light of the World?
Here in these gardens she had lived - had seen the snow mountains
change from the silver of dawn to the illimitable rose of sunset.
The life, the colour beat insistently upon my brain. They built a
world of magic where every moment was pure gold. Surely - surely
to Vanna it must be the same. I believed in my very soul that she
who gave and shared such joy could not be utterly apart from me?
Could I then feel certain that I had gained any ground in these
days we had been together? Could she still define the cruel
limits she had laid down, or were her eyes kinder, her tones a
more broken music? I did not know. Whenever I could hazard a
guess the next minute baffled me.
Just then, in the sunset, she was sitting on deck, singing under
her breath and looking absently away to the Gardens across the
Lake. I could catch the words here and there, and knew them.
"Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar,
Where are you now - who lies beneath your spell?
Whom do you lead on Rapture's roadway far,
Before you agonize them in farewell?"
"Don't!" I said abruptly. It stung me.
"What?" she asked in surprise. "That is the song every one
remembers here. Poor Laurence Hope! How she knew and loved this
India! What are you grumbling at?"
Her smile stung me.
"Never mind," I said morosely. "You don't understand. You never
And yet I believed sometimes that she would - that time was on my
When Kahdra and I pulled her across to Nour-Mahal's garden next
day, how could I not believe it - her face was so full of joy as
she looked at me for sympathy?
"I don't think so much beauty is crowded into any other few miles
in the world - beauty of association, history, nature,
everything!" she said with shining eyes. "The lotus flowers are
not out yet but when they come that is the last touch of
perfection. Do you remember Homer - 'But whoso ate of the
honey-sweet fruit of the lotus, was neither willing to bring me
word again, nor to depart. Nay, their desire was to remain there
for ever, feeding on the lotus with the Lotus Eaters, forgetful
of all return.' You know the people here eat the roots and seeds?
I ate them last year and perhaps that is why I cannot stay away.
But look at Nour- Mahal's garden!"
We were pulling in among the reeds and the huge carven leaves of
the water plants, and the snake-headed buds lolling upon them
with the slippery half-sinister look that water-flowers have, as
though their cold secret life belonged to the hidden water world
and not to ours. But now the boat was touching the little wooden
O beautiful - most beautiful the green lawns, shaded with huge
pyramids of the chenar trees, the terraced gardens where the
marble steps climbed from one to the other, and the mountain
streams flashed singing and shining down the carved marble slopes
that cunning hands had made to delight the Empress of Beauty,
between the wildernesses of roses. Her pavilion stands still
among the flowers, and the waters ripple through it to join the
lake - and she is - where? Even in the glory of sunshine the
passing of all fair things was present with me as I saw the empty
shell that had held the Pearl of Empire, and her roses that still
bloom, her waters that still sing for others.
The spray of a hundred fountains was misty diamond dust in the
warm air laden with the scent of myriad flowers. Kahdra followed
us everywhere, singing his little tuneless happy song. The world
brimmed with beauty and joy. And we were together. Words broke
"Vanna, let it be for ever! Let us live here. I'll give up all
the world for this and you."
"But you see," she said delicately, "it would be 'giving up.' You
use the right word. It is not your life. It is a lovely holiday,
no more. You would weary of it. You would want the city life and
your own kind."
I protested with all my soul.
"No. Indeed I will say frankly that it would be lowering yourself
to live a lotus-eating life among my people. It is a life with
which you have no tie. A Westerner who lives like that steps
down; he loses his birthright just as an Oriental does who
Europeanizes himself. He cannot live your life nor you his. If
you had work here it would be different. No - six or eight weeks
more; then go away and forget it."
I turned from her. The serpent was in Paradise. When is he
On one of the terraces a man was beating a tom-tom, and veiled
women listened, grouped about him in brilliant colours.
"Isn't that all India?" she said; "that dull reiterated sound? It
half stupefies, half maddens. Once at Darjiling I saw the Lamas'
Devil Dance - the soul, a white-faced child with eyes unnaturally
enlarged, fleeing among a rabble of devils - the evil passions.
It fled wildly here and there and every way was blocked. The
child fell on its knees, screaming dumbly - you could see the
despair in the staring eyes, but all was drowned in the thunder
of Tibetan drums. No mercy - no escape. Horrible!"
"Even in Europe the drum is awful," I said. "Do you remember in
the French Revolution how they Drowned the victims' voices in a
thunder roll of drums?"
"I shall always see the face of the child, hunted down to hell,
falling on its knees, and screaming without a sound, when I hear
the drum. But listen - a flute! Now if that were the Flute of
Krishna you would have to follow. Let us come!"
I could hear nothing of it, but she insisted and we followed the
music, inaudible to me, up the slopes of the garden that is the
foot-hill of the mighty mountain of Mahadeo, and still I could
hear nothing. And Vanna told me strange stories of the Apollo of
India whom all hearts must adore, even as the herd-girls adored
him in his golden youth by Jumna river and in the pastures of
Next day we were climbing the hill to the ruins where the evil
magician brought the King's daughter nightly to his will, flying
low under a golden moon. Vanna took my arm and I pulled her
laughing up the steepest flowery slopes until we reached the
height, and lo! the arched windows were eyeless and a lonely
breeze blowing through the cloisters, and the beautiful yellowish
stone arches supported nothing and were but frames for the blue
of far lake and mountain and the divine sky. We climbed the
broken stairs where the lizards went by like flashes, and had I
the tongue of men and angels I could not tell the wonder that lay
before us, - the whole wide valley of Kashmir in summer glory,
with its scented breeze singing, singing above it.
We sat on the crushed aromatic herbs and among the wild roses and
"To think," she said, "that we might have died and never seen
There followed a long silence. I thought she was tired, and would
not break it. Suddenly she spoke in a strange voice, low and
"The story of this place. She was the Princess Padmavati, and her
home was in Ayodhya. When she woke and found herself here by the
lake she was so terrified that she flung herself in and was
drowned. They held her back, but she died."
"How do you know?"
"Because a wandering monk came to the abbey of Tahkt-i-Bahi near
Peshawar and told Vasettha the Abbot."
I had nearly spoilt all by an exclamation, but I held myself
back. I saw she was dreaming awake and was unconscious of what
"The Abbot said, 'Do not describe her. What talk is this for holy
men? The young monks must not hear. Some of them have never seen
a woman. Should a monk speak of such toys?' But the wanderer
disobeyed and spoke, and there was a great tumult, and the monks
threw him out at the command of the young Abbot, and he wandered
down to Peshawar, and it was he later - the evil one! - that
brought his sister, Lilavanti the Dancer, to Peshawar, and the
Abbot fell into her snare. That was his revenge!"
Her face was fixed and strange, for a moment her cheek looked
hollow, her eyes dim and grief- worn. What was she seeing? - what
remembering? Was it a story - a memory? What was it?
"She was beautiful?" I prompted.
"Men have said so, but for it he surrendered the Peace. Do not
speak of her accursed beauty."
Her voice died away to a drowsy murmur; her head dropped on my
shoulder and for the mere de- light of contact I sat still and
scarcely breathed, praying that she might speak again, but the
good minute was gone. She drew one or two deep breaths, and sat
up with a bewildered look that quickly passed.
"I was quite sleepy for a minute. The climb was so strenuous.
Hark - I hear the Flute of Krishna again."
And again I could hear nothing, but she said it was sounding from
the trees at the base of the hill. Later when we climbed down I
found she was right - that a peasant lad, dark and amazingly
beautiful as these Kashmiris often are, was playing on the flute
to a girl at his feet - looking up at him with rapt eyes. He
flung Vanna a flower as we passed. She caught it and put it in
her bosom. A singular blossom, three petals of purest white, set
against three leaves of purest green, and lower down the stem the
three green leaves were repeated. It was still in her bosom after
dinner, and I looked at it more closely.
"That is a curious flower," I said. "Three and three and three.
Nine. That makes the mystic number. I never saw a purer white.
What is it?"
"Of course it is mystic," she said seriously. "It is the Ninefold
Flower. You saw who gave it?"
"That peasant lad."
"You will see more some day. Some might not even have seen that."
"Does it grow here?"
"This is the first I have seen. It is said to grow only where the
gods walk. Do you know that throughout all India Kashmir is said
to be holy ground? It was called long ago the land of the gods,
and of strange, but not evil, sorceries. Great marvels were seen
I felt the labyrinthine enchantments of that enchanted land were
closing about me - a slender web, grey, almost impalpable, finer
than fairy silk, was winding itself about my feet. My eyes were
opening to things I had not dreamed. She saw my thought.
"Yes, you could not have seen even that much of him in Peshawar.
You did not know then."
"He was not there," I answered, falling half unconsciously into
"He is always there - everywhere, and when he plays, all who hear
must follow. He was the Pied Piper in Hamelin, he was Pan in
Hellas. You will hear his wild fluting in many strange places
when you know how to listen. When one has seen him the rest comes
soon. And then you will follow."
"Not away from you, Vanna."
"From the marriage feast, from the Table of the Lord," she said,
smiling strangely. "The man who wrote that spoke of another call,
but it is the same - Krishna or Christ. When we hear the music we
follow. And we may lose or gain heaven."
It might have been her compelling personality - it might have
been the marvels of beauty about me, but I knew well I had
entered at some mystic gate. A pass word had been spoken for me -
I was vouched for and might go in. Only a little way as yet.
Enchanted forests lay beyond, and perilous seas, but there were
hints, breaths like the wafting of the garments of unspeakable
Presences. My talk with Vanna grew less personal, and more
introspective. I felt the touch of her finger-tips leading me
along the ways of Quiet - my feet brushed a shining dew. Once, in
the twilight under the chenar trees, I saw a white gleaming and
thought it a swiftly passing Being, but when in haste I gained
the tree I found there only a Ninefold flower, white as a spirit
in the evening calm. I would not gather it but told Vanna what I
"You nearly saw;' she said. "She passed so quickly. It was the
Snowy One, Uma, Parvati, the Daughter of the Himalaya. That
mountain is the mountain of her lord - Shiva. It is natural she
should be here. I saw her last night lean over the height - her
face pillowed on her folded arms, with a low star in the mists of
her hair. Her eyes were like lakes of blue darkness. Vast and
wonderful. She is the Mystic Mother of India. You will see soon.
You could not have seen the flower until now."
"Do you know," she added, "that in the mountains there are
poppies of clear blue - blue as turquoise. We will go up into the
heights and find them."
And next moment she was planning the camping details, the men,
the ponies, with a practical zest that seemed to relegate the
occult to the absurd. Yet the very next day came a wonderful
The sun was just setting and, as it were, suddenly the purple
glooms banked up heavy with thunder. The sky was black with fury,
the earth passive with dread. I never saw such lightning - it was
continuous and tore in zigzag flashes down the mountains like
rents in the substance of the world's fabric. And the thunder
roared up in the mountain gorges with shattering echoes. Then
fell the rain, and the whole lake seemed to rise to meet it, and
the noise was like the rattle of musketry. We were standing by
the cabin window and she suddenly caught my hand, and I saw in a
light of their own two dancing figures on the tormented water
before us. Wild in the tumult, embodied delight, with arms tossed
violently above their heads, and feet flung up behind them,
skimming the waves like seagulls, they passed. Their sex I could
not tell - I think they had none, but were bubble emanations of
the rejoicing rush of the rain and the wild retreating laughter
of the thunder. I saw the fierce aerial faces and their inhuman
glee as they fled by, and she dropped my hand and they were gone.
Slowly the storm lessened, and in the west the clouds tore
raggedly asunder and a flood of livid yellow light poured down
upon the lake - an awful light that struck it into an abyss of
fire. Then, as if at a word of command, two glorious rainbows
sprang across the water with the mountains for their piers, each
with its proper colours chorded. They made a Bridge of Dread that
stood out radiant against the background of storm - the Twilight
of the Gods, and the doomed gods marching forth to the last
fight. And the thunder growled sullenly away into the recesses of
the hill and the terrible rainbows faded until the stars came
quietly out and it was a still night.
But I had seen that what is our dread is the joy of the spirits
of the Mighty Mother, and though the vision faded and I doubted
what I had seen, it prepared the way for what I was yet to see. A
few days later we started on what was to be the most exquisite
memory of my life. A train of ponies carried our tents and
camping necessaries and there was a pony for each of us. And so,
in the cool grey of a divine morning, with little rosy clouds
flecking the eastern sky, we set out from Islamabad for Vernag.
And this was the order of our going. She and I led the way,
attended by a sais (groom) and a coolie carrying the luncheon
basket. Half way we would stop in some green dell, or by some
rushing stream, and there rest and eat our little meal while the
rest of the cavalcade passed on to the appointed camping place,
and in the late afternoon we would follow, riding slowly, and
find the tents pitched and the kitchen department in full swing.
If the place pleased us we lingered for some days; - if not, the
camp was struck next morning, and again we wandered in search of
The people were no inconsiderable part of my joy. I cannot see
what they have to gain from such civilization as ours - a kindly
people and happy. Courtesy and friendliness met us everywhere,
and if their labor was hard, their harvest of beauty and laughter
seemed to be its reward. The little villages with their groves of
walnut and fruit trees spoke of no unfulfilled want, the
mulberries which fatten the sleek bears in their season fattened
the children too. I compared their lot with that of the toilers
in our cities and knew which I would choose. We rode by
shimmering fields of barley, with red poppies floating in the
clear transparent green as in deep sea water, through fields of
millet like the sky fallen on the earth, so innocently blue were
its blossoms, and the trees above us were trellised with the
wild roses, golden and crimson, and the ways tapestried with the
scented stars of the large white jasmine.
It was strange that later much of what she said, escaped me. Some
I noted down at the time, but there were hints, shadows of
lovelier things beyond that eluded all but the fringes of memory
when I tried to piece them together and make a coherence of a
living wonder. For that reason, the best things cannot be told in
this history. It is only the cruder, grosser matters that words
will hold. The half-touchings -vanishing looks, breaths - O God,
I know them, but cannot tell.
In the smaller villages, the head man came often to greet us and
make us welcome, bearing on a flat dish a little offering of
cakes and fruit, the produce of the place. One evening a man so
approached, stately in white robes and turban, attended by a
little lad who carried the patriarchal gift beside him. Our tents
were pitched under a glorious walnut tree with a run- ning stream
at our feet.
Vanna of course, was the interpreter, and I called her from her
tent as the man stood salaaming before me. It was strange that
when she came, dressed in white, he stopped in his salutation,
and gazed at her in what, I thought, was silent wonder.
She spoke earnestly to him, standing before him with clasped
hands, almost, I could think, in the attitude of a suppliant. The
man listened gravely, with only an interjection, now and again,
and once he turned and looked curiously at me. Then he spoke,
evidently making some announcement which she received with bowed
head - and when he turned to go with a grave salute, she
performed a very singular ceremony, moving slowly round him three
times with clasped hands; keeping him always on the right. He
repaid it with the usual salaam and greeting of peace, which he
bestowed also on me, and then departed in deep meditation, his
eyes fixed on the ground. I ventured to ask what it all meant,
and she looked thoughtfully at me before replying.
"It was a strange thing. I fear you will not altogether
understand, but I will tell you what I can. That man though
living here among Mahomedans, is a Brahman from Benares, and,
what is very rare in India, a Buddhist. And when he saw me he
believed he remembered me in a former birth. The ceremony you
saw me perform is one of honour in India. It was his due."
"Did you remember him?" I knew my voice was incredulous.
"Very well. He has changed little but is further on the upward
path. I saw him with dread for he holds the memory of a great
wrong I did. Yet he told me a thing that has filled my heart with
"Vanna-what is it?"
She had a clear uplifted look which startled me. There was
suddenly a chill air blowing between us.
"I must not tell you yet but you will know soon. He was a good
man. I am glad we have met."
She buried herself in writing in a small book I had noticed and
longed to look into, and no more was said.
We struck camp next day and trekked on towards Vernag - a rough
march, but one of great beauty, beneath the shade of forest
trees, garlanded with pale roses that climbed from bough to bough
and tossed triumphant wreaths into the uppermost blue.
In the afternoon thunder was flapping its wings far off in the
mountains and a little rain fell while we were lunching under a
big tree. I was considering anxiously how to shelter Vanna, when
a farmer invited us to his house - a scene of Biblical
hospitality that delighted us both. He led us up some break-neck
little stairs to a large bare room, open to the clean air all
round the roof, and with a kind of rough enclosure on the wooden
floor where the family slept at night. There he opened our
basket, and then, with anxious care, hung clothes and rough
draperies about us that our meal might be unwatched by one or two
friends who had followed us in with breathless interest. Still
further to entertain us a great rarity was brought out and laid
at Vanna's feet as something we might like to watch - a curious
bird in a cage, with brightly barred wings and a singular cry.
She fed it with fruit, and it fluttered to her hand. Just so
Abraham might have welcomed his guests, and when we left with
words of deepest gratitude, our host made the beautiful obeisance
of touching his forehead with joined hands as he bowed. To me the
whole incident had an extraordinary grace, and ennobled both host
and guest. But we met an ascending scale of loveliness so varied
in its aspects that I passed from one emotion to another and knew
That afternoon the camp was pitched at the foot of a mighty hill,
under the waving pyramids of the chenars, sweeping their green
like the robes of a goddess. Near by was a half circle of low
arches falling into ruin, and as we went in among them I beheld a
wondrous sight - the huge octagonal tank or basin made by the
Mogul Emperor Jehangir to receive the waters of a mighty Spring
which wells from the hill and has been held sacred by Hindu and
Moslem. And if loveliness can sanctify surely it is sacred
The tank was more than a hundred feet in diameter and circled by
a roughly paved pathway where the little arched cells open that
the devotees may sit and contemplate the lustral waters. There on
a black stone, is sculptured the Imperial inscription comparing
this spring to the holier wells of Paradise, and I thought no
less of it, for it rushes straight from the rock with no aiding
stream, and its waters are fifty feet deep, and sweep away from
this great basin through beautiful low arches in a wild foaming
river - the crystal life-blood of the mountains for ever welling
away. The colour and perfect purity of this living jewel were
most marvellous -clear blue-green like a chalcedony, but changing
as the lights in an opal - a wonderful quivering brilliance,
flickering with the silver of shoals of sacred fish.
But the Mogul Empire is with the snows of yesteryear and the
wonder has passed from the Moslems into the keeping of the Hindus
once more, and the Lingam of Shiva, crowned with flowers, is the
symbol in the little shrine by the entrance. Surely in India, the
gods are one and have no jealousies among them - so swiftly do
their glories merge the one into the other.
"How all the Mogul Emperors loved running water," said Vanna. "I
can see them leaning over it in their carved pavilions with
delicate dark faces and pensive eyes beneath their turbans, lost
in the endless reverie of the East while liquid melody passes
into their dream. It was the music they best loved."
She was leading me into the royal garden below, where the young
river flows beneath the pavilion set above and across the rush of
"I remember before I came to India," she went on, "there were
certain words and phrases that meant the whole East to me. It was
an enchantment. The. first flash picture I had was Milton's-
'Dark faces with white silken turbans wreathed.'
and it still is. I have thought ever since that every man should
wear a turban. It dignifies the un-comeliest and it is quite
curious to see how many inches a man descends in the scale of
beauty the moment he takes it off and you see only the skull-cap
about which they wind it. They wind it with wonderful skill too.
I have seen a man take eighteen yards of muslin and throw it
round his head with a few turns, and in five or six minutes the
beautiful folds were all in order and he looked like a king. Some
of the Gujars here wear black ones and they are very effective
and worth painting - the black folds and the sullen tempestuous
black brows underneath."
We sat in the pavilion for awhile looking down on the rushing
water, and she spoke of Akbar, the greatest of the Moguls, and
spoke with a curious personal touch, as I thought.
"I wish you would try to write a story of him - one on more human
lines than has been done yet. No one has accounted for the
passionate quest of truth that was the real secret of his life.
Strange in an Oriental despot if you think of it! It really can
only be understood from the Buddhist belief, which curiously
seems to have been the only one he neglected, that a mysterious
Karma influenced all his thoughts. If I tell you as a key-note
for your story, that in a past life he had been a Buddhist priest
- one who had fallen away, would that in any way account to you
for attempts to recover the lost way? Try to think that out, and
to write the story, not as a Western mind sees it, but pure
"That would be a great book to write if one could catch the
voices of the past. But how to do it?"
"I will give you one day a little book that may help you. The
other story I wish you would write is the story of a Dancer of
Peshawar. There is a connection between the two - a story of ruin
"Will you tell it to me?"
"A part. In this same book you will find much more, hut not all.
All cannot be told. You must imagine much. But I think your
imagination will be true."
"Why do you think so?"
"Because in these few days you have learnt so much. You have seen
the Ninefold Flower, and the rain spirits. You will soon hear the
Flute of Krishna which none can hear who cannot dream true."
That night I heard it. I waked, suddenly, to music, and standing
in the door of my tent, in the dead silence of the night, lit
only by a few low stars, I heard the poignant notes of a flute.
If it had called my name it could not have summoned me more
clearly, and I followed without a thought of delay, forgetting
even Vanna in the strange urgency that filled me. The music was
elusive, seeming to come first from one side, then from the
other, but finally I tracked it as a bee does a flower by the
scent, to the gate of the royal garden - the pleasure place of
the dead Emperors.
The gate stood ajar - strange! for I had seen the custodian close
it that evening. Now it stood wide and I went in, walking
noiselessly over the dewy grass. I knew and could not tell how,
that I must be noiseless. Passing as if I were guided, down the
course of the strong young river, I came to the pavilion that
spanned it - the place where we had stood that afternoon - and
there to my profound amazement, I saw Vanna, leaning against a
slight wooden pillar. As if she had expected me, she laid one
finger on her lip, and stretching out her hand, took mine and
drew me beside her as a mother might a child. And instantly I
On the further bank a young man in a strange diadem or miter of
jewels, bare-breasted and beautiful, stood among the flowering
oleanders, one foot lightly crossed over the other as he stood.
He was like an image of pale radiant gold, and I could have sworn
that the light came from within rather than fell upon him, for
the night was very dark. He held the flute to his lips, and as I
looked, I became aware that the noise of the rushing water was
tapering off into a murmur scarcely louder than that of a summer
bee in the heart of a rose. Therefore the music rose like a
fountain of crystal drops, cold, clear, and of an entrancing
sweetness, and the face above it was such that I had no power to
turn my eyes away. How shall I say what it was? All I had ever
desired, dreamed, hoped, prayed, looked at me from the remote
beauty of the eyes and with the most persuasive gentleness
entreated me, rather than commanded to follow fearlessly and win.
But these are words, and words shaped in the rough mould of
thought cannot convey the deep desire that would have hurled me
to his feet if Vanna had not held me with a firm restraining
hand. Looking up in adoring love to the dark face was a ring of
woodland creatures. I thought I could distinguish the white
clouded robe of a snow- leopard, the soft clumsiness of a young
bear, and many more, but these shifted and blurred like dream
creatures - I could not be sure of them nor define their numbers.
The eyes of the Player looked down upon their passionate delight
with careless kindness.
Dim images passed through my mind. Orpheus - No, this was no
Greek. Pan-yet again, No. Where were the pipes, the goat hoofs?
The young Dionysos - No, there were strange jewels instead of his
vines. And then Vanna's voice said as if from a great distance;
"Krishna - the Beloved." And I said aloud, "I see!" And even as I
said it the whole picture blurred together like a dream, and I
was alone in the pavilion and the water was foaming past me. Had
I walked in my sleep, I thought, as I made my way hack? As I
gained the garden gate, before me, like a snowflake, I saw the
When I told her next day, speaking of it as a dream, she said
simply; "They have opened the door to you. You will not need me
"I shall always need you. You have taught me everything. I could
see nothing last night until you took my hand."
"I was not there," she said smiling. "It was only the thought of
me, and you can have that when I am very far away. I was sleeping
in my tent. What you called in me then you can always call, even
if I am - dead."
"That is a word which is beginning to have no meaning for me. You
have said things to me - no, thought them, that have made me
doubt if there is room in the universe for the thing we have
She smiled her sweet wise smile.
"Where we are death is not. Where death is we are not. But you
will understand better soon."
Our march curving took us by the Mogul gardens of Achibal, and
the glorious ruins of the great Temple at Martund, and so down to
Bawan with its crystal waters and that loveliest camping ground
beside them. A mighty grove of chenar trees, so huge that I felt
as if we were in a great sea cave where the air is dyed with the
deep shadowy green of the inmost ocean, and the murmuring of the
myriad leaves was like a sea at rest. I looked up into the noble
height and my memory of Westminster dwindled, for this led on and
up to the infinite blue, and at night the stars hung like fruit
upon the branches. The water ran with a great joyous rush of
release from the mountain behind, but was first received in a
broad basin full of sacred fish and reflecting a little temple of
Maheshwara and one of Surya the Sun. Here in this basin the water
lay pure and still as an ecstasy, and beside it was musing the
young Brahman priest who served the temple. Since I had joined
Vanna I had begun with her help to study a little Hindustani, and
with an aptitude for language could understand here and there. I
caught a word or two as she spoke with him that startled me, when
the high-bred ascetic face turned serenely upon her, and he
addressed her as "My sister," adding a sentence beyond my
learning, but which she willingly translated later. - "May He who
sits above the Mysteries, have mercy upon thy rebirth."
She said afterwards;
"How beautiful some of these men are. It seems a different type
of beauty from ours, nearer to nature and the old gods. Look at
that priest - the tall figure, the clear olive skin, the dark
level brows, the long lashes that make a soft gloom about the
eyes - eyes that have the fathomless depth of a deer's, the proud
arch of the lip. I think there is no country where aristocracy is
more clearly marked than in India. The Brahmans are aristocrats
of the world. You see it is a religious aristocracy as well. It
has everything that can foster pride and exclusiveness. They
spring from the Mouth of Deity. They are His word incarnate. Not
many kings are of the Brahman caste, and the Brahmans look down
upon them from Sovereign heights. I have known men who would not
eat with their own rulers who would have drunk the water that
washed the Brahmans' feet."
She took me that day, the Brahman with us, to see a cave in the
mountain. We climbed up the face of the cliff to where a little
tree grew on a ledge, and the black mouth yawned. We went in and
often it was so low we had to stoop, leaving the sunlight behind
until it was like a dim eye glimmering in the velvet blackness.
The air was dank and cold and presently obscene with the smell of
bats, and alive with their wings, as they came sweeping about us,
gibbering and squeaking. I thought of the rush of the ghosts,
blown like dead leaves in the Odyssey. And then a small rock
chamber branched off, and in this, lit by a bit of burning wood,
we saw the bones of a holy man who lived and died there four
hundred years ago. Think of it! He lived there always, with the
slow dropping of water from the dead weight of the mountain above
his head, drop by drop tolling the minutes away: the little
groping feet through the cave that would bring him food and
drink, hurrying into the warmth and sunlight again, and his only
companion the sacred Lingam which means the Creative Energy that
sets the worlds dancing for joy round the sun - that, and the
black solitude to sit down beside him. Surely his bones can
hardly be dryer and colder now than they were then! There must be
strange ecstasies in such a life - wild visions in the dark, or
it could never be endured.
And so, in marches of about ten miles a day, we came to Pahlgam
on the banks of the dancing Lidar. There was now only three weeks
left of the time she had promised. After a few days at Pahlgam
the march would turn and bend its way back to Srinagar, and to -
what? I could not believe it was to separation - in her lovely
kindness she had grown so close to me that, even for the sake of
friendship, I believed our paths must run together to the end,
and there were moments when I could still half convince myself
that I had grown as necessary to her as she was to me. No - not
as necessary, for she was life and soul to me, but a part of her
daily experience that she valued and would not easily part with.
That evening we were sitting outside the tents, near the camp
fire, of pine logs and cones, the leaping flames making the night
beautiful with gold and leaping sparks, in an attempt to reach
the mellow splendours of the moon. The men, in various attitudes
of rest, were lying about, and one had been telling a story which
had just ended in excitement and loud applause.
"These are Mahomedans," said Vanna, "and it is only a story of
love and fighting like the Arabian Nights. If they had been
Hindus, it might well have been of Krishna or of Rama and Sita.
Their faith comes from an earlier time and they still see
visions. The Moslem is a hard practical faith for men - men of
the world too. It is not visionary now, though it once had its
"I wish you would tell me what you think of the visions or
apparitions of the gods that are seen here. Is it all illusion?
Tell me your thought."
"How difficult that is to answer. I suppose if love and faith are
strong enough they will always create the vibrations to which the
greater vibrations respond, and so make God in their own image at
any time or place. But that they call up what is the truest
reality I have never doubted. There is no shadow without a
substance. The substance is beyond us but under certain
conditions the shadow is projected and we see it.
"Have I seen or has it been dream?"
"I cannot tell. It may have been the impress of my mind on yours,
for I see such things always. You say I took your hand?"
"Take it now."
She obeyed, and instantly, as I felt the firm cool clasp, I heard
the rain of music through the pines - the Flute Player was
passing. She dropped it smiling and the sweet sound ceased.
"You see! How can I tell what you have seen? You will know better
when I am gone. You will stand alone then."
"You will not go - you cannot. I have seen how you have loved all
this wonderful time. I believe it has been as dear to you as to
me. And every day I have loved you more. I depend upon you for