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The Ninth Vibration And Other Stories
by
Elizabeth Louisa Moresby (Writing as L. Adams Beck)


*



CONTENTS:

THE NINTH VIBRATION
THE INTERPRETER A ROMANCE OF THE EAST
THE INCOMPARABLE LADY A STORY OF CHINA WITH A MORAL
THE HATRED OF THE QUEEN A STORY OF BURMA
FIRE OF BEAUTY
THE BUILDING OF THE TAJ MAHAL
"HOW GREAT IS THE GLORY OF KWANNON!"
"THE ROUND-FACED BEAUTY"


*


THE NINTH VIBRATION

There is a place uplifted nine thousand feet in purest air where one
of the most ancient tracks in the world runs from India into Tibet.
It leaves Simla of the Imperial councils by a stately road; it passes
beyond, but now narrowing, climbing higher beside the khuds or steep
drops to the precipitous valleys beneath, and the rumor of Simla grows
distant and the way is quiet, for, owing to the danger of driving horses
above the khuds, such baggage as you own must be carried by coolies, and
you yourself must either ride on horseback or in the little horseless
carriage of the Orient, here drawn and pushed by four men. And presently
the deodars darken the way with a solemn presence, for--

  "These are the Friars of the wood,
  The Brethren of the Solitude
  Hooded and grave--"

their breath most austerely pure in the gradually chilling air. Their
companies increase and now the way is through a great wood where it
has become a trail and no more, and still it climbs for many miles and
finally a rambling bungalow, small and low, is sighted in the deeps of
the trees, a mountain stream from unknown heights falling beside it. And
this is known as the House in the Woods. Very few people are permitted
to go there, for the owner has no care for money and makes no provision
for guests. You must take your own servant and the khansamah will cook
you such simple food as men expect in the wilds, and that is all. You
stay as long as you please and when you leave not even a gift to the
khansamah is permitted.

I had been staying in Ranipur of the plains while I considered the
question of getting to Upper Kashmir by the route from Simla along the
old way to Chinese Tibet where I would touch Shipki in the Dalai
Lama's territory and then pass on to Zanskar and so down to Kashmir--a
tremendous route through the Himalaya and a crowning experience of
the mightiest mountain scenery in the world. I was at Ranipur for the
purpose of consulting my old friend Olesen, now an irrigation official
in the Rampur district--a man who had made this journey and nearly lost
his life in doing it. It is not now perhaps so dangerous as it was, and
my life was of no particular value to any one but myself, and the plan
interested me.

I pass over the long discussions of ways and means in the blinding heat
of Ranipur. Olesen put all his knowledge at my service and never uttered
a word of the envy that must have filled him as he looked at the
distant snows cool and luminous in blue air, and, shrugging good-natured
shoulders, spoke of the work that lay before him on the burning
plains until the terrible summer should drag itself to a close. We had
vanquished the details and were smoking in comparative silence one night
on the veranda, when he said in his slow reflective way;

"You don't like the average hotel, Ormond, and you'll like it still less
up Simla way with all the Simla crowd of grass-widows and fellows out
for as good a time as they can cram into the hot weather. I wonder if I
could get you a permit for The House in the Woods while you re waiting
to fix up your men and route for Shipki."

He explained and of course I jumped at the chance. It belonged, he said,
to a man named Rup Singh, a pandit, or learned man of Ranipur. He had
always spent the summer there, but age and failing health made this
impossible now, and under certain conditions he would occasionally allow
people known to friends of his own to put up there.

"And Rup Singh and I are very good friends," Olesen said; "I won his
heart by discovering the lost Sukh Mandir, or Hall of Pleasure, built
many centuries ago by a Maharao of Ranipur for a summer retreat in the
great woods far beyond Simla. There are lots of legends about it here in
Ranipur. They call it The House of Beauty. Rup Singh's ancestor had been
a close friend of the Maharao and was with him to the end, and that's
why he himself sets such store on the place. You have a good chance if I
ask for a permit.

"He told me the story and since it is the heart of my own I give it
briefly. Many centuries ago the Ranipur Kingdom was ruled by the Maharao
Rai Singh a prince of the great lunar house of the Rajputs. Expecting
a bride from some far away kingdom (the name of this is unrecorded)
he built the Hall of Pleasure as a summer palace, a house of rare and
costly beauty. A certain great chamber he lined with carved figures of
the Gods and their stories, almost unsurpassed for truth and life. So,
with the pine trees whispering about it the secret they sigh to tell,
he hoped to create an earthly Paradise with this Queen in whom all
loveliness was perfected. And then some mysterious tragedy ended all
his hopes. It was rumoured that when the Princess came to his court,
she was, by some terrible mistake, received with insult and offered the
position only of one of his women. After that nothing was known. Certain
only is it that he fled to the hills, to the home of his broken hope,
and there ended his days in solitude, save for the attendance of two
faithful friends who would not abandon him even in the ghostly quiet of
the winter when the pine boughs were heavy with snow and a spectral moon
stared at the panthers shuffling through the white wastes beneath. Of
these two Rup Singh's ancestor was one. And in his thirty fifth year
the Maharao died and his beauty and strength passed into legend and his
kingdom was taken by another and the jungle crept silently over his Hall
of Pleasure and the story ended.

"There was not a memory of the place up there," Olesen went on.
"Certainly I never heard anything of it when I went up to the Shipki
in 1904. But I had been able to be useful to Rup Singh and he gave me a
permit for The House in the Woods, and I stopped there for a few days'
shooting. I remember that day so well. I was wandering in the dense
woods while my men got their midday grub, and I missed the trail somehow
and found myself in a part where the trees were dark and thick and the
silence heavy as lead. It was as if the trees were on guard--they stood
shoulder to shoulder and stopped the way. Well, I halted, and had a
notion there was something beyond that made me doubt whether to go on.
I must have stood there five minutes hesitating. Then I pushed on,
bruising the thick ferns under my shooting boots and stooping under the
knotted boughs. Suddenly I tramped out of the jungle into a clearing,
and lo and behold a ruined House, with blocks of marble lying all about
it, and carved pillars and a great roof all being slowly smothered
by the jungle. The weirdest thing you ever saw. I climbed some fallen
columns to get a better look, and as I did I saw a face flash by at the
arch of a broken window. I sang out in Hindustani, but no answer: only
the echo from the woods. Somehow that dampened my ardour, and I didn't
go in to what seemed like a great ruined hall for the place was so
eerie and lonely, and looked mighty snaky into the bargain. So I came
ingloriously away and told Rup Singh. And his whole face changed. 'That
is The House of Beauty,' he said. 'All my life have I sought it and in
vain. For, friend of my soul, a man must lose himself that he may find
himself and what lies beyond, and the trodden path has ever been my
doom. And you who have not sought have seen. Most strange are the way
of the Gods'. Later on I knew this was why he had always gone up yearly,
thinking and dreaming God knows what. He and I tried for the place
together, but in vain and the whole thing is like a dream. Twice he has
let friends of mine stay at The House in the Woods, and I think he won't
refuse now."

"Did he ever tell you the story?"

"Never. I only know what I've picked up here. Some horrible mistake
about the Rani that drove the man almost mad with remorse. I've heard
bits here and there. There's nothing so vital as tradition in India."

"I wonder'. what really happened."

"That we shall never know. I got a little old picture of the
Maharao--said to be painted by a Pahari artist. It's not likely to be
authentic, but you never can tell. A Brahman sold it to me that he might
complete his daughter's dowry, and hated doing it."

"May I see it?"

"Why certainly. Not a very good light, but--can do," as the Chinks say.

He brought it out rolled in silk stuff and I carried it under the
hanging lamp. A beautiful young man indeed, with the air of race
these people have beyond all others;--a cold haughty face, immovably
dignified. He sat with his hands resting lightly on the arms of his
chair of State. A crescent of rubies clasped the folds of the turban and
from this sprang an aigrette scattering splendours. The magnificent hilt
of a sword was ready beside him. The face was not only beautiful but
arresting.

"A strange picture," I said. "The artist has captured the man himself.
I can see him trampling on any one who opposed him, and suffering in the
same cold secret way. It ought to be authentic if it isn't. Don't you
know any more?"

"Nothing. Well--to bed, and tomorrow I'll see Rup Singh."

I was glad when he returned with the permission. I was to be very
careful, he said, to make no allusion to the lost palace, for two women
were staying at the House in the Woods--a mother and daughter to whom
Rup Singh had granted hospitality because of an obligation he must
honor. But with true Oriental distrust of women he had thought fit to
make no confidence to them. I promised and asked Olesen if he knew them.

"Slightly. Canadians of Danish blood like my own. Their name is Ingmar.
Some people think the daughter good-looking. The mother is supposed
to be clever; keen on occult subjects which she came back to India to
study. The husband was a great naturalist and the kindest of men. He
almost lived in the jungle and the natives had all sorts of rumours
about his powers. You know what they are. They said the birds and beasts
followed him about. Any old thing starts a legend."

"What was the connection with Rup Singh?"

"He was in difficulties and undeservedly, and Ingmar generously lent
him money at a critical time, trusting to his honour for repayment. Like
most Orientals he never forgets a good turn and would do anything for
any of the family--except trust the women with any secret he valued. The
father is long dead. By the way Rup Singh gave me a queer message for
you. He said; 'Tell the Sahib these words--"Let him who finds water in
the desert share his cup with him who dies of thirst." He is certainly
getting very old. I don't suppose he knew himself what he meant."

I certainly did not. However my way was thus smoothed for me and I took
the upward road, leaving Olesen to the long ungrateful toil of the man
who devotes his life to India without sufficient time or knowledge to
make his way to the inner chambers of her beauty. There is no harder
mistress unless you hold the pass-key to her mysteries, there is none of
whom so little can be told in words but who kindles so deep a passion.
Necessity sometimes takes me from that enchanted land, but when the
latest dawns are shining in my skies I shall make my feeble way back to
her and die at her worshipped feet. So I went up from Kalka.

I have never liked Simla. It is beautiful enough--eight thousand feet
up in the grip of the great hills looking toward the snows, the famous
summer home of the Indian Government. Much diplomacy is whispered
on Observatory Hill and many are the lighter diversions of which Mr.
Kipling and lesser men have written. But Simla is also a gateway to many
things--to the mighty deodar forests that clothe the foot-hills of the
mountains, to Kulu, to the eternal snows, to the old, old bridle way
that leads up to the Shipki Pass and the mysteries of Tibet--and to the
strange things told in this story. So I passed through with scarcely a
glance at the busy gayety of the little streets and the tiny shops
where the pretty ladies buy their rouge and powder. I was attended by
my servant Ali Khan, a Mohammedan from Nagpur, sent up with me by Olesen
with strong recommendation. He was a stout walker, so too am I, and an
inveterate dislike to the man-drawn carriage whenever my own legs would
serve me decided me to walk the sixteen miles to the House in the Woods,
sending on the baggage. Ali Khan despatched it and prepared to follow
me, the fine cool air of the hills giving us a zest.

"Subhan Alla! (Praise be to God!) the air is sweet!" he said, stepping
out behind me. "What time does the Sahib look to reach the House?"

"About five or six. Now, Ali Khan, strike out of the road. You know the
way."

So we struck up into the glorious pine woods, mountains all about us.
Here and there as we climbed higher was a little bank of forgotten
snow, but spring had triumphed and everywhere was the waving grace of
maiden-hair ferns, banks of violets and strangely beautiful little wild
flowers. These woods are full of panthers, but in day time the only
precaution necessary is to take no dog,--a dainty they cannot resist.
The air was exquisite with the sun-warm scent of pines, and here and
there the trees broke away disclosing mighty ranges of hills covered
with rich blue shadows like the bloom on a plum,--the clouds chasing the
sunshine over the mountain sides and the dark green velvet of the robe
of pines. I looked across ravines that did not seem gigantic and yet the
villages on the other side were like a handful of peas, so tremendous
was the scale. I stood now and then to see the rhododendrons, forest
trees here with great trunks and massive boughs glowing with blood-red
blossom, and time went by and I took no count of it, so glorious was the
climb.

It must have been hours later when it struck me that the sun was getting
low and that by now we should be nearing The House in the Woods. I said
as much to Ali Khan. He looked perplexed and agreed. We had reached
a comparatively level place, the trail faint but apparent, and it
surprised me that we heard no sound of life from the dense wood where
our goal must be.

"I know not, Presence," he said. "May his face be blackened that
directed me. I thought surely I could not miss the way, and yet-"

We cast back and could see no trail forking from the one we were on.
There was nothing for it but to trust to luck and push on. But I began
to be uneasy and so was the man. I had stupidly forgotten to unpack
my revolver, and worse, we had no food, and the mountain air is an
appetiser, and at night the woods have their dangers, apart from being
absolutely trackless. We had not met a living being since we left the
road and there seemed no likelihood of asking for directions. I stopped
no longer for views but went steadily on, Ali Khan keeping up a running
fire of low-voiced invocations and lamentations. And now it was dusk and
the position decidedly unpleasant.

It was at that moment I saw a woman before us walking lightly and
steadily under the pines. She must have struck into the trail from
the side for she never could have kept before us all the way. A native
woman, but wearing the all-concealing boorka, more like a town dweller
than a woman of the hills. I put on speed and Ali Khan, now very tired,
toiled on behind me as I came up with her and courteously asked the
way. Her face was entirely hidden, but the answering voice was clear and
sweet. I made up my mind she was young, for it had the bird-like thrill
of youth.

"If the Presence continues to follow this path he will arrive. It is not
far. They wait for him."

That was all. It left me with a desire to see the veiled face. We passed
on and Ali Khan looked fearfully back.

"Ajaib! (Wonderful!) A strange place to meet one of the purdah-nashin
(veiled women)" he muttered. "What would she be doing up here in the
heights? She walked like a Khanam (khan's wife) and I saw the gleam of
gold under the boorka."

I turned with some curiosity as he spoke, and lo! there was no human
being in sight. She had disappeared from the track behind us and it was
impossible to say where. The darkening trees were beginning to hold the
dusk and it seemed unimaginable that a woman should leave the way and
take to the dangers of the woods.

"Puna-i-Khoda--God protect us!" said Ali Khan in a shuddering whisper.
"She was a devil of the wilds. Press on, Sahib. We should not be here in
the dark."

There was nothing else to do. We made the best speed we could, and the
trees grew more dense and the trail fainter between the close trunks,
and so the night came bewildering with the expectation that we must pass
the night unfed and unarmed in the cold of the heights. They might send
out a search party from The House in the Woods--that was still a hope,
if there were no other. And then, very gradually and wonderfully the
moon dawned over the tree tops and flooded the wood with mysterious
silver lights and about her rolled the majesty of the stars. We pressed
on into the heart of the night. From the dense black depths we emerged
at last. An open glade lay before us--the trees falling back to right
and left to disclose--what?

A long low house of marble, unlit, silent, bathed in pale splendour and
shadow. About it stood great deodars, clothed in clouds of the white
blossoming clematis, ghostly and still. Acacias hung motionless trails
of heavily scented bloom as if carved in ivory. It was all silent as
death. A flight of nobly sculptured steps led up to a broad veranda and
a wide open door with darkness behind it. Nothing more.

I forced myself to shout in Hindustani--the cry seeming a brutal outrage
upon the night, and an echo came back numbed in the black woods. I tried
once more and in vain. We stood absorbed also into the silence.

"Ya Alla! it is a house of the dead!" whispered Ali Khan, shuddering at
my shoulder,--and even as the words left his lips I understood where we
were. "It is the Sukh Mandir." I said. "It is the House of the Maharao
of Ranipur."

It was impossible to be in Ranipur and hear nothing of the dead house
of the forest and Ali Khan had heard--God only knows what tales. In his
terror all discipline, all the inborn respect of the native forsook him,
and without word or sign he turned and fled along the track, crashing
through the forest blind and mad with fear. It would have been insanity
to follow him, and in India the first rule of life is that the Sahib
shows no fear, so I left him to his fate whatever it might be, believing
at the same time that a little reflection and dread of the lonely forest
would bring him to heel quickly.

I stood there and the stillness flowed like water about me. It was
as though I floated upon it--bathed in quiet. My thoughts adjusted
themselves. Possibly it was not the Sukh Mandir. Olesen had spoken of
ruin. I could see none. At least it was shelter from the chill which is
always present at these heights when the sun sets,--and it was beautiful
as a house not made with hands. There was a sense of awe but no fear as
I went slowly up the great steps and into the gloom beyond and so gained
the hall.

The moon went with me and from a carven arch filled with marble tracery
rained radiance that revealed and hid. Pillars stood about me, wonderful
with horses ramping forward as in the Siva Temple at Vellore. They
appeared to spring from the pillars into the gloom urged by invisible
riders, the effect barbarously rich and strange--motion arrested, struck
dumb in a violent gesture, and behind them impenetrable darkness. I
could not see the end of this hall--for the moon did not reach it, but
looking up I beheld the walls fretted in great panels into the utmost
splendour of sculpture, encircling the stories of the Gods amid a
twining and under-weaving of leaves and flowers. It was more like a
temple than a dwelling. Siva, as Nataraja the Cosmic Dancer, the Rhythm
of the Universe, danced before me, flinging out his arms in the passion
of creation. Kama, the Indian Eros, bore his bow strung with honey-sweet
black bees that typify the heart's desire. Krishna the Beloved smiled
above the herd-maidens adoring at his feet. Ganesha the Elephant-Headed,
sat in massive calm, wreathing his wise trunk about him. And many more.
But all these so far as I could see tended to one centre panel larger
than any, representing two life-size figures of a dim beauty. At first
I could scarcely distinguish one from the other in the upward-reflected
light, and then, even as I stood, the moving moon revealed the two as
if floating in vapor. At once I recognized the subject--I had seen it
already in the ruined temple of Ranipur, though the details differed.
Parvati, the Divine Daughter of the Himalaya, the Emanation of the
mighty mountains, seated upon a throne, listening to a girl who played
on a Pan pipe before her. The goddess sat, her chin leaned upon her
hand, her shoulders slightly inclined in a pose of gentle sweetness,
looking down upon the girl at her feet, absorbed in the music of the
hills and lonely places. A band of jewels, richly wrought, clasped the
veil on her brows, and below the bare bosom a glorious girdle clothed
her with loops and strings and tassels of jewels that fell to her
knees--her only garment.

The girl was a lovely image of young womanhood, the proud swell of the
breast tapering to the slim waist and long limbs easily folded as she
half reclined at the divine feet, her lips pressed to the pipe. Its
silent music mysteriously banished fear. The sleep must be sweet
indeed that would come under the guardianship of these two fair
creatures--their gracious influence was dewy in the air. I resolved that
I would spend the night beside them. Now with the march of the moon dim
vistas of the walls beyond sprang into being. Strange mythologies--the
incarnations of Vishnu the Preserver, the Pastoral of Krishna the
Beautiful. I promised myself that next day I would sketch some of the
loveliness about me. But the moon was passing on her way--I folded the
coat I carried into a pillow and lay down at the feet of the goddess and
her nymph. Then a moonlit quiet I slept in a dream of peace.

Sleep annihilates time. Was it long or short when I woke like a man
floating up to the surface from tranquil deeps? That I cannot tell, but
once more I possessed myself and every sense was on guard.

My hearing first. Bare feet were coming, falling softly as leaves, but
unmistakable. There was a dim whispering but I could hear no word. I
rose on my elbow and looked down the long hall. Nothing. The moonlight
lay in pools of light and seas of shadow on the floor, and the feet drew
nearer. Was I afraid? I cannot tell, but a deep expectation possessed
me as the sound grew like the rustle of grasses parted in a fluttering
breeze, and now a girl came swiftly up the steps, irradiate in the
moonlight, and passing up the hall stood beside me. I could see her
robe, her feet bare from the jungle, but her face wavered and changed
and re-united like the face of a dream woman. I could not fix it for
one moment, yet knew this was the messenger for whom I had waited all
my life--for whom one strange experience, not to be told at present, had
prepared me in early manhood. Words came, and I said:

"Is this a dream?"

"No. We meet in the Ninth Vibration. All here is true."

"Is a dream never true?"

"Sometimes it is the echo of the Ninth Vibration and therefore a
harmonic of truth. You are awake now. It is the day-time that is the
sleep of the soul. You are in the Lower Perception, wherein the truth
behind the veil of what men call Reality is perceived."

"Can I ascend?"

"I cannot tell. That is for you, not me.

"What do I perceive tonight?"

"The Present as it is in the Eternal. Say no more. Come with me."

She stretched her hand and took mine with the assurance of a goddess,
and we went up the hall where the night had been deepest between the
great pillars.

Now it is very clear to me that in every land men, when the doors of
perception are opened, will see what we call the Supernatural clothed
in the image in which that country has accepted it. Blake, the mighty
mystic, will see the Angels of the Revelation, driving their terrible
way above Lambeth--it is not common nor unclean. The fisherman, plying
his coracle on the Thames will behold the consecration of the great new
Abbey of Westminster celebrated with mass and chant and awful lights
in the dead mid-noon of night by that Apostle who is the Rock of the
Church. Before him who wanders in Thessaly Pan will brush the dewy
lawns and slim-girt Artemis pursue the flying hart. In the pale gold of
Egyptian sands the heavy brows of Osiris crowned with the pshent will
brood above the seer and the veil of Isis tremble to the lifting. For
all this is the rhythm to which the souls of men are attuned and in that
vibration they will see, and no other, since in this the very mountains
and trees of the land are rooted. So here, where our remote ancestors
worshipped the Gods of Nature, we must needs stand before the Mystic
Mother of India, the divine daughter of the Himalaya.

How shall I describe the world we entered? The carvings upon the walls
had taken life--they had descended. It was a gathering of the dreams men
have dreamed here of the Gods, yet most real and actual. They watched in
a serenity that set them apart in an atmosphere of their own--forms of
indistinct majesty and august beauty, absolute, simple, and everlasting.
I saw them as one sees reflections in rippled water--no more. But
all faces turned to the place where now a green and flowering leafage
enshrined and partly hid the living Nature Goddess, as she listened to
a voice that was not dumb to me. I saw her face only in glimpses of an
indescribable sweetness, but an influence came from her presence like
the scent of rainy pine forests, the coolness that breathes from great
rivers, the passion of Spring when she breaks on the world with a wave
of flowers. Healing and life flowed from it. Understanding also. It
seemed I could interpret the very silence of the trees outside into the
expression of their inner life, the running of the green life-blood in
their veins, the delicate trembling of their finger-tips.

My companion and I were not heeded. We stood hand in hand like children
who have innocently strayed into a palace, gazing in wonderment. The
august life went its way upon its own occasions, and, if we would, we
might watch. Then the voice, clear and cold, proceeding, as it were,
with some story begun before we had strayed into the Presence, the whole
assembly listening in silence.

"--and as it has been so it will be, for the Law will have the blind
soul carried into a body which is a record of the sins it has committed,
and will not suffer that soul to escape from rebirth into bodies until
it has seen the truth--"

And even as this was said and I listened, knowing myself on the verge of
some great knowledge, I felt sleep beginning to weigh upon my eyelids.
The sound blurred, flowed unsyllabled as a stream, the girl's hand grew
light in mine; she was fading, becoming unreal; I saw her eyes like
faint stars in a mist. They were gone. Arms seemed to receive me--to lay
me to sleep and I sank below consciousness, and the night took me.

When I awoke the radiant arrows of the morning were shooting into the
long hall where I lay, but as I rose and looked about me, strange--most
strange, ruin encircled me everywhere. The blue sky was the roof. What I
had thought a palace lost in the jungle, fit to receive its King should
he enter, was now a broken hall of State; the shattered pillars were
festooned with waving weeds, the many coloured lantana grew between the
fallen blocks of marble. Even the sculptures on the walls were difficult
to decipher. Faintly I could trace a hand, a foot, the orb of a
woman's bosom, the gracious outline of some young God, standing above a
crouching worshipper. No more. Yes, and now I saw above me as the dawn
touched it the form of the Dweller in the Windhya Hills, Parvati the
Beautiful, leaning softly over something breathing music at her feet.
Yet I knew I could trace the almost obliterated sculpture only because
I had already seen it defined in perfect beauty. A deep crack ran across
the marble; it was weathered and stained by many rains, and little ferns
grew in the crevices, but I could reconstruct every line from my own
knowledge. And how? The Parvati of Ranipur differed in many important
details. She stood, bending forward, wheras this sweet Lady sat. Her
attendants were small satyr-like spirits of the wilds, piping and
fluting, in place of the reclining maiden. The sweeping scrolls of a
great halo encircled her whole person. Then how could I tell what this
nearly obliterated carving had been? I groped for the answer and could
not find it. I doubted--

  "Were such things here as we do speak about?
  Or have we eaten of the insane root
  That takes the reason captive?"

Memory rushed over me like the sea over dry sands. A girl--there had
been a girl--we had stood with clasped hands to hear a strange music,
but in spite of the spiritual intimacy of those moments I could not
recall her face. I saw it cloudy against a background of night and
dream, the eyes remote as stars, and so it eluded me. Only her presence
and her words survived; "We meet in the Ninth Vibration. All here is
true." But the Ninth Vibration itself was dream-land. I had never heard
the phrase--I could not tell what was meant, nor whether my apprehension
was true or false. I knew only that the night had taken her and the dawn
denied her, and that, dream or no dream, I stood there with a pang of
loss that even now leaves me wordless.

A bird sang outside in the acacias, clear and shrill for day, and this
awakened my senses and lowered me to the plane where I became aware of
cold and hunger, and was chilled with dew. I passed down the tumbled
steps that had been a stately ascent the night before and made my way
into the jungle by the trail, small and lost in fern, by which we had
come. Again I wandered, and it was high noon before I heard mule bells
at a distance, and, thus guided, struck down through the green tangle
to find myself, wearied but safe, upon the bridle way that leads to Fagu
and the far Shipki. Two coolies then directed me to The House in the
Woods.

All was anxiety there. Ali Khan had arrived in the night, having found
his way under the guidance of blind flight and fear. He had brought the
news that I was lost in the jungle and amid the dwellings of demons. It
was, of course, hopeless to search in the dark, though the khansamah and
his man had gone as far as they dared with lanterns and shouting,
and with the daylight they tried again and were even now away. It was
useless to reproach the man even if I had cared to do so. His ready plea
was that as far as men were concerned he was as brave as any (which
was true enough as I had reason to know later) but that when it came to
devilry the Twelve Imaums themselves would think twice before facing it.

"Inshalla ta-Alla! (If the sublime God wills!) this unworthy one will
one day show the Protector of the poor, that he is a respectable person
and no coward, but it is only the Sahibs who laugh in the face of
devils."

He went off to prepare me some food, consumed with curiosity as to my
adventures, and when I had eaten I found my tiny whitewashed cell, for
the room was little more, and slept for hours.

Late in the afternoon I waked and looked out. A low but glowing
sunlight suffused the wild garden reclaimed from the strangle-hold of
the jungle and hemmed in with rocks and forest. A few simple flowers had
been planted here and there, but its chief beauty was a mountain stream,
brown and clear as the eyes of a dog, that fell from a crag above into
a rocky basin, maidenhair ferns growing in such masses about it that
it was henceforward scarcely more than a woodland voice. Beside it two
great deodars spread their canopies, and there a woman sat in a low
chair, a girl beside her reading aloud. She had thrown her hat off and
the sunshine turned her massed dark hair to bronze. That was all I could
see. I went out and joined them, taking the note of introduction which
Olesen had given me.

I pass over the unessentials of my story; their friendly greetings and
sympathy for my adventure. It set us at ease at once and I knew my stay
would be the happier for their presence though it is not every woman one
would choose as a companion in the great mountain country. But what
is germane to my purpose must be told, and of this a part is the
personality of Brynhild Ingmar. That she was beautiful I never doubted,
though I have heard it disputed and smiled inwardly as the disputants
urged lip and cheek and shades of rose and lily, weighing and
appraising. Let me describe her as I saw her or, rather, as I can,
adding that even without all this she must still have been beautiful
because of the deep significance to those who had eyes to see or
feel some mysterious element which mingled itself with her presence
comparable only to the delight which the power and spiritual essence of
Nature inspires in all but the dullest minds. I know I cannot hope to
convey this in words. It means little if I say I thought of all quiet
lovely solitary things when I looked into her calm eyes,--that when she
moved it was like clear springs renewed by flowing, that she seemed the
perfect flowering of a day in June, for these are phrases. Does Nature
know her wonders when she shines in her strength? Does a woman know the
infinite meanings her beauty may have for the beholder? I cannot tell.
Nor can I tell if I saw this girl as she may have seemed to those who
read only the letter of the book and are blind to its spirit, or in the
deepest sense as she really was in the sight of That which created her
and of which she was a part. Surely it is a proof of the divinity of
love that in and for a moment it lifts the veil of so-called reality and
shows each to the other mysteriously perfect and inspiring as the world
will never see them, but as they exist in the Eternal, and in the sight
of those who have learnt that the material is but the dream, and the
vision of love the truth.

I will say then, for the alphabet of what I knew but cannot tell, that
she had the low broad brows of a Greek Nature Goddess, the hair swept
back wing-like from the temples and massed with a noble luxuriance. It
lay like rippled bronze, suggesting something strong and serene in its
essence. Her eyes were clear and gray as water, the mouth sweetly curved
above a resolute chin. It was a face which recalled a modelling in
marble rather than the charming pastel and aquarelle of a young woman's
colouring, and somehow I thought of it less as the beauty of a woman
than as some sexless emanation of natural things, and this impression
was strengthened by her height and the long limbs, slender and strong as
those of some youth trained in the pentathlon, subject to the severest
discipline until all that was superfluous was fined away and the perfect
form expressing the true being emerged. The body was thus more beautiful
than the face, and I may note in passing that this is often the case,
because the face is more directly the index of the restless and unhappy
soul within and can attain true beauty only when the soul is in harmony
with its source.

She was a little like her pale and wearied mother. She might resemble
her still more when the sorrow of this world that worketh death should
have had its will of her. I had yet to learn that this would never
be--that she had found the open door of escape.

We three spent much time together in the days that followed. I never
tired of their company and I think they did not tire of mine, for
my wanderings through the world and my studies in the ancient Indian
literatures and faiths with the Pandit Devaswami were of interest to
them both though in entirely different ways. Mrs. Ingmar was a woman who
centred all her interests in books and chiefly in the scientific forms
of occult research. She was no believer in anything outside the range
of what she called human experience. The evidences had convinced her of
nothing but a force as yet unclassified in the scientific categories and
all her interest lay in the undeveloped powers of brain which might be
discovered in the course of ignorant and credulous experiment. We met
therefore on the common ground of rejection of the so-called occultism
of the day, though I knew even then, and how infinitely better now, that
her constructions were wholly misleading.

Nearly all day she would lie in her chair under the deodars by the
delicate splash and ripple of the stream. Living imprisoned in the
crystal sphere of the intellect she saw the world outside, painted in
few but distinct colours, small, comprehensible, moving on a logical
orbit. I never knew her posed for an explanation. She had the contented
atheism of a certain type of French mind and found as much ease in it as
another kind of sweet woman does in her rosary and confessional.

"I cannot interest Brynhild," she said, when I knew her better. "She has
no affinity with science. She is simply a nature worshipper, and in such
places as this she seems to draw life from the inanimate life about her.
I have sometimes wondered whether she might not be developed into a kind
of bridge between the articulate and the inarticulate, so well does she
understand trees and flowers. Her father was like that--he had all sorts
of strange power with animals and plants, and thought he had more than
he had. He could never realize that the energy of nature is merely
mechanical."

"You think all energy is mechanical?"

"Certainly. We shall lay our finger on the mainspring one day and
the mystery will disappear. But as for Brynhild--I gave her the best
education possible and yet she has never understood the conception of a
universe moving on mathematical laws to which we must submit in body and
mind. She has the oddest ideas. I would not willingly say of a child of
mine that she is a mystic, and yet--"

She shook her head compassionately. But I scarcely heard. My eyes were
fixed on Brynhild, who stood apart, looking steadily out over the snows.
It was a glorious sunset, the west vibrating with gorgeous colour spilt
over in torrents that flooded the sky, Terrible splendours--hues for
which we have no thought--no name. I had not thought of it as music
until I saw her face but she listened as well as saw, and her expression
changed as it changes when the pomp of a great orchestra breaks upon the
silence. It flashed to the chords of blood-red and gold that was burning
fire. It softened through the fugue of woven crimson gold and flame, to
the melancholy minor of ashes-of-roses and paling green, and so through
all the dying glories that faded slowly to a tranquil grey and left
the world to the silver melody of one sole star that dawned above the
ineffable heights of the snows. Then she listened as a child does to
a bird, entranced, with a smile like a butterfly on her parted lips. I
never saw such a power of quiet.

She and I were walking next day among the forest ways, the pine-scented
sunshine dappling the dropped frondage. We had been speaking of her
mother. "It is such a misfortune for her," she said thoughtfully, "that
I am not clever. She should have had a daughter who could have shared
her thoughts. She analyses everything, reasons about everything, and
that is quite out of my reach."

She moved beside me with her wonderful light step--the poise and balance
of a nymph in the Parthenon frieze.

"How do you see things?"

"See? That is the right word. I see things--I never reason about them.
They are. For her they move like figures in a sum. For me every one of
them is a window through which one may look to what is beyond."

"To where?"

"To what they really are--not what they seem."

I looked at her with interest.

"Did you ever hear of the double vision?"

For this is a subject on which the spiritually learned men of India,
like the great mystics of all the faiths, have much to say. I had
listened with bewilderment and doubt to the expositions of my Pandit
on this very head. Her simple words seemed for a moment the echo of his
deep and searching thought. Yet it surely could not be. Impossible.

"Never. What does it mean?" She raised clear unveiled eyes. "You must
forgive me for being so stupid, but it is my mother who is at home with
all these scientific phrases. I know none of them."

"It means that for some people the material universe--the things we see
with our eyes--is only a mirage, or say, a symbol, which either hides
or shadows forth the eternal truth. And in that sense they see things as
they really are, not as they seem to the rest of us. And whether this is
the statement of a truth or the wildest of dreams, I cannot tell."

She did not answer for a moment; then said;

"Are there people who believe this--know it?"

"Certainly. There are people who believe that thought is the only real
thing--that the whole universe is thought made visible. That we create
with our thoughts the very body by which we shall re-act on the universe
in lives to be.

"Do you believe it?"

"I don't know. Do you?"

She paused; looked at me, and then went on:

"You see, I don't think things out. I only feel. But this cannot
interest you."

I felt she was eluding the question. She began to interest me more than
any one I had ever known. She had extraordinary power of a sort. Once,
in the woods, where I was reading in so deep a shade that she never
saw me, I had an amazing vision of her. She stood in a glade with the
sunlight and shade about her; she had no hat and a sunbeam turned her
hair to pale bronze. A small bright April shower was falling through the
sun, and she stood in pure light that reflected itself in every leaf and
grass-blade. But it was nothing of all this that arrested me,
beautiful as it was. She stood as though life were for the moment
suspended;--then, very softly, she made a low musical sound, infinitely
wooing, from scarcely parted lips, and instantly I saw a bird of azure
plumage flutter down and settle on her shoulder, pluming himself there
in happy security. Again she called softly and another followed the
first. Two flew to her feet, two more to her breast and hand. They
caressed her, clung to her, drew some joyous influence from her
presence. She stood in the glittering rain like Spring with her birds
about her--a wonderful sight. Then, raising one hand gently with the
fingers thrown back she uttered a different note, perfectly sweet and
intimate, and the branches parted and a young deer with full bright eyes
fixed on her advanced and pushed a soft muzzle into her hand.

In my astonishment I moved, however slightly, and the picture broke up.
The deer sprang back into the trees, the birds fluttered up in a hurry
of feathers, and she turned calm eyes upon me, as unstartled as if she
had known all the time that I was there.

"You should not have breathed," she said smiling. "They must have utter
quiet."

I rose up and joined her.

"It is a marvel. I can scarcely believe my eyes. How do you do it?"

"My father taught me. They come. How can I tell?"

She turned away and left me. I thought long over this episode. I
recalled words heard in the place of my studies--words I had dismissed
without any care at the moment. "To those who see, nothing is alien.
They move in the same vibration with all that has life, be it in bird
or flower. And in the Uttermost also, for all things are One. For such
there is no death."

That was beyond me still, but I watched her with profound interest. She
recalled also words I had half forgotten--

  "There was nought above me and nought below,
   My childhood had not learnt to know;
   For what are the voices of birds,
   Aye, and of beasts, but words, our words,--
   Only so much more sweet."

That might have been written of her. And more.

She had found one day in the woods a flower of a sort I had once seen
in the warm damp forests below Darjiling--ivory white and shaped like a
dove in flight. She wore it that evening on her bosom. A week later she
wore what I took to be another.

"You have had luck," I said; "I never heard of such a thing being seen
so high up, and you have found it twice."

"No, it is the same."

"The same? Impossible. You found it more than a week ago." "I know. It
is ten days. Flowers don't die when one understands them--not as most
people think."

Her mother looked up and said fretfully:

"Since she was a child Brynhild has had that odd idea. That flower is
dead and withered. Throw it away, child. It looks hideous."

Was it glamour? What was it? I saw the flower dewy fresh in her bosom
She smiled and turned away.

It was that very evening she left the veranda where we were sitting in
the subdued light of a little lamp and passed beyond where the ray cut
the darkness. She went down the perspective of trees to the edge of he
clearing and I rose to follow for it seemed absolutely unsafe that she
should be on the verge of the panther-haunted woods alone. Mrs. Ingmar
turned a page of her book serenely;

"She will not like it if you go. I cannot imagine that she should come
to harm. She always goes her own way--light or dark."

I returned to my seat and watched steadfastly. At first I could see
nothing but as my sight adjusted itself I saw her a long way down the
clearing that opened the snows, and quite certainly also I saw something
like a huge dog detach itself from the woods and bound to her feet. It
mingled with her dark dress and I lost it. Mrs. Ingmar said, seeing my
anxiety but nothing else; "Her father was just the same;--he had no fear
of anything that lives. No doubt some people have that power. I have
never seen her attract birds and beasts as he certainly did, but she is
quite as fond of them."

I could not understand her blindness--what I myself had seen raised
questions I found unanswerable, and her mother saw nothing! Which of us
was right? presently she came back slowly and I ventured no word.

A woodland sorcery, innocent as the dawn, hovered about her. What was
it? Did the mere love of these creatures make a bond between her soul
and theirs, or was the ancient dream true and could she at times move
in the same vibration? I thought of her as a wood-spirit sometimes, an
expression herself of some passion of beauty in Nature, a thought of
snows and starry nights and flowing rivers made visible in flesh. It is
surely when seized with the urge of some primeval yearning which in
man is merely sexual that Nature conceives her fair forms and manifests
them, for there is a correspondence that runs through all creation.

Here I ask myself--Did I love her? In a sense, yes, deeply, but not in
the common reading of the phrase. I have trembled with delight before
the wild and terrible splendour of the Himalayan heights-; low golden
moons have steeped my soul longing, but I did not think of these things
as mine in any narrow sense, nor so desire them. They were Angels of the
Evangel of beauty. So too was she. She had none of the "silken nets and
traps of adamant," she was no sister of the "girls of mild silver or of
furious gold;"--but fair, strong, and her own, a dweller in the House of
Quiet. I did not covet her. I loved her.

Days passed. There came a night when the winds were loosed--no moon,
the stars flickering like blown tapers through driven clouds, the trees
swaying and lamenting.

"There will be rain tomorrow." Mrs. Ingmar said, as we parted for the
night. I closed my door. Some great cat of the woods was crying harshly
outside my window, the sound receding towards the bridle way. I slept in
a dream of tossing seas and ships labouring among them.

With the sense of a summons I waked--I cannot tell when. Unmistakable,
as if I were called by name. I rose and dressed, and heard distinctly
bare feet passing my door. I opened it noiselessly and looked out into
the little passage way that made for the entry, and saw nothing but
pools of darkness and a dim light from the square of the window at the
end. But the wind had swept the sky clear with its flying bosom and was
sleeping now in its high places and the air was filled with a mild moony
radiance and a great stillness.

Now let me speak with restraint and exactness. I was not afraid but felt
as I imagine a dog feels in the presence of his master, conscious of a
purpose, a will entirely above his own and incomprehensible, yet to
be obeyed without question. I followed my reading of the command,
bewildered but docile, and understanding nothing but that I was called.

The lights were out. The house dead silent; the familiar veranda
ghostly in the night. And now I saw a white figure at the head of the
steps--Brynhild. She turned and looked over her shoulder, her face
pale in the moon, and made the same gesture with which she summoned her
birds. I knew her meaning, for now we were moving in the same rhythm,
and followed as she took the lead. How shall I describe that strange
night in the jungle. There were fire-flies or dancing points of light
that recalled them. Perhaps she was only thinking them--only thinking
the moon and the quiet, for we were in the world where thought is the
one reality. But they went with us in a cloud and faintly lighted our
way. There were exquisite wafts of perfume from hidden flowers breathing
their dreams to the night. Here and there a drowsy bird stirred and
chirped from the roof of darkness, a low note of content that greeted
her passing. It was a path intricate and winding and how long we went,
and where, I cannot tell. But at last she stooped and parting the boughs
before her we stepped into an open space, and before us--I knew it--I
knew it!--The House of Beauty.

She paused at the foot of the great marble steps and looked at me.

"We have met here already."

I did not wonder--I could not. In the Ninth vibration surprise had
ceased to be. Why had I not recognized her before--O dull of heart! That
was my only thought. We walk blindfold through the profound darkness of
material nature, the blinder because we believe we see it. It is only
when the doors of the material are closed that the world appears to man
as it exists in the eternal truth.

"Did you know this?" I asked, trembling before mystery.

"I knew it, because I am awake. You forgot it in the dull sleep which we
call daily life. But we were here and THEY began the story of the King
who made this house. Tonight we shall hear it. It he story of Beauty
wandering through the world and the world received her not. We hear it
in this place because here he agonized for what he knew too late."

"Was that our only meeting?"

"We meet every night, but you forget when the day brings the sleep of
the soul.--You do not sink deep enough into rest to remember. You float
on the surface where the little bubbles of foolish dream are about you
and I cannot reach you then."

"How can I compel myself to the deeps?"

"You cannot. It will come. But when you have passed up the bridle
way and beyond the Shipki, stop at Gyumur. There is the Monastery of
Tashigong, and there one will meet you--

"His name?"

"Stephen Clifden. He will tell you what you desire to know. Continue on
then with him to Yarkhand. There in the Ninth Vibration we shall meet
again. It is a long journey but you will be content."

"Do you certainly know that we shall meet again?"

"When you have learnt, we can meet when we will. He will teach you
the Laya Yoga. You should not linger here in the woods any longer. You
should go on. In three days it will be possible."

"But how have you learnt--a girl and young?"

"Through a close union with Nature--that is one of the three roads. But
I know little as yet. Now take my hand and come.

"One last question. Is this house ruined and abject as I have seen it in
the daylight, or royal and the house of Gods as we see it now? Which is
truth?"

"In the day you saw it in the empty illusion of blind thought. Tonight,
eternally lovely as in the thought of the man who made it. Nothing that
is beautiful is lost, though in the sight of the unwise it seems to die.
Death is in the eyes we look through--when they are cleansed we see Life
only. Now take my hand and come. Delay no more."

She caught my hand and we entered the dim magnificence of the great
hall. The moon entered with us.

Instantly I had the feeling of supernatural presence. Yet I only write
this in deference to common use, for it was absolutely natural--more so
than any I have met in the state called daily life. It was a thing in
which I had a part, and if this was supernatural so also was I.

Again I saw the Dark One, the Beloved, the young Krishna, above the
women who loved him. He motioned with his hand as we passed, as though
he waved us smiling on our way. Again the dancers moved in a rhythmic
tread to the feet of the mountain Goddess--again we followed to where
she bent to hear. But now, solemn listening faces crowded in the shadows
about her, grave eyes fixed immovably upon what lay at her feet--a man,
submerged in the pure light that fell from her presence, his dark face
stark and fine, lips locked, eyes shut, arms flung out cross-wise in
utter abandonment, like a figure of grief invisibly crucified upon his
shame. I stopped a few feet from him, arrested by a barrier I could not
pass. Was it sleep or death or some mysterious state that partook of
both? Not sleep, for there was no flutter of breath. Not death--no rigid
immobility struck chill into the air. It was the state of subjection
where the spirit set free lies tranced in the mighty influences which
surround us invisibly until we have entered, though but for a moment,
the Ninth Vibration.

And now, with these Listeners about us, a clear voice began and stirred
the air with music. I have since been asked in what tongue it spoke and
could only answer that it reached my ears in the words of my childhood,
and that I know whatever that language had been it would so have reached
me.

"Great Lady, hear the story of this man's fall, for it is the story of
man. Be pitiful to the blind eyes and give them light."

There was long since in Ranipur a mighty King and at his birth the wise
men declared that unless he cast aside all passions that debase the
soul, relinquishing the lower desires for the higher until a Princess
laden with great gifts should come to be his bride, he would experience
great and terrible misfortunes. And his royal parents did what they
could to possess him with this belief, but they died before he reached
manhood. Behold him then, a young King in his palace, surrounded with
splendour. How should he withstand the passionate crying of the flesh or
believe that through pleasure comes satiety and the loss of that in the
spirit whereby alone pleasure can be enjoyed? For his gift was that
he could win all hearts. They swarmed round him like hiving bees and
hovered about him like butterflies. Sometimes he brushed them off. Often
he caressed them, and when this happened, each thought proudly "I am the
Royal Favourite. There is none other than me."

Also the Princess delayed who would be the crest-jewel of the crown,
bringing with her all good and the blessing of the High Gods, and in
consequence of all these things the King took such pleasures as he
could, and they were many, not knowing they darken the inner eye whereby
what is royal is known through disguises.

(Most pitiful to see, beneath the close-shut lids of the man at the
feet of the Dweller in the Heights, tears forced themselves, as though
a corpse dead to all else lived only to anguish. They flowed like
blood-drops upon his face as he lay enduring, and the voice proceeded.)
What was the charm of the King? Was it his stately height and strength?
Or his faithless gayety? Or his voice, deep and soft as the sitar when
it sings of love? His women said--some one thing, some another, but none
of these ladies were of royal blood, and therefore they knew not.

Now one day, the all-privileged jester of the King, said, laughing
harshly:

"Maharaj, you divert yourself. But how if, while we feast and play, the
Far Away Princess glided past and was gone, unknown and unwelcomed?"

And the King replied:

"Fool, content yourself. I shall know my Princess, but she delays so
long that I weary."

Now in a far away country was a Princess, daughter of the Greatest,
and her Father hesitated to give her in marriage to such a King for all
reported that he was faithless of heart, but having seen his portrait
she loved him and fled in disguise from the palaces of her Father, and
being captured she was brought before the King in Ranipur.

He sat upon a cloth of gold and about him was the game he had killed in
hunting, in great masses of ruffled fur and plumage, and he turned the
beauty of his face carelessly upon her, and as the Princess looked upon
him, her heart yearned to him, and he said in his voice that was like
the male string of the sitar:

"Little slave, what is your desire?"

Then she saw that the long journey had scarred her feet and dimmed her
hair with dust, and that the King's eyes, worn with days and nights of
pleasure did not pierce her disguise. Now in her land it is a custom
that the blood royal must not proclaim itself, so she folded her hands
and said gently:

"A place in the household of the King." And he, hearing that the Waiting
slave of his chief favorite Jayashri was dead, gave her that place. So
the Princess attended on those ladies, courteous and obedient to all
authority as beseemed her royalty, and she braided her bright hair so
that it hid the little crowns which the Princesses of her House
must wear always in token of their rank, and every day her patience
strengthened.

Sometimes the King, carelessly desiring her laughing face and sad eyes,
would send for her to wile away an hour, and he would say; "Dance,
little slave, and tell me stories of the far countries. You quite unlike
my Women, doubtless because you are a slave."

And she thought--"No, but because I am a Princess,"--but this she did
not say. She laughed and told him the most marvellous stories in the
world until he laid his head upon her warm bosom, dreaming awake.

There were stories of the great Himalayan solitudes where in the winter
nights the white tiger stares at the witches' dance of the Northern
Lights dazzled by the hurtling of their myriad spears. And she told
how the King-eagle, hanging motionless over the peaks of Gaurisankar,
watches with golden eyes for his prey, and falling like a plummet
strikes its life out with his clawed heel and, screaming with triumph,
bears it to his fierce mate in her cranny of the rocks.

"A gallant story!" the King would say. "More!" Then she told of the
tropical heats and the stealthy deadly creatures of forest and jungle,
and the blue lotus of Buddha swaying on the still lagoon,--And she spoke
of loves of men and women, their passion and pain and joy. And when she
told of their fidelity and valour and honour that death cannot quench,
her voice was like the song of a minstrel, for she had read all the
stories of the ages and the heart of a Princess told her the rest. And
the King listened unwearying though he believed this was but a slave.

(The face of the man at the feet of the Dweller in the Heights twitched
in a white agony. Pearls of sweat were distilled upon his brows, but
he moved neither hand nor foot, enduring as in a flame of fire. And the
voice continued.)

So one day, in the misty green of the Spring, while she rested at his
feet in the garden Pavilion, he said to her:

"Little slave, why do you love me?"

And she answered proudly:

"Because you have the heart of a King."

He replied slowly;

"Of the women who have loved me none gave this reason, though they gave
many."

She laid her cheek on his hand.

"That is the true reason."

But he drew it away and was vaguely troubled, for her words, he knew
not why, reminded him of the Far Away Princess and of things he had long
forgotten, and he said; "What does a slave know of the hearts of Kings?"
And that night he slept or waked alone.

Winter was at hand with its blue and cloudless days, and she was
commanded to meet the King where the lake lay still and shining like an
ecstasy of bliss, and she waited with her chin dropped into the cup of
her hands, looking over the water with eyes that did not see, for her
whole soul said; "How long O my Sovereign Lord, how long before you know
the truth and we enter together into our Kingdom?"

As she sat she heard the King's step, and the colour stole up into her
face in a flush like the earliest sunrise. "He is coming," she said; and
again; "He loves me."

So he came beside the water, walking slowly. But the King was not alone.
His arm embraced the latest-come beauty from Samarkhand, and, with his
head bent, he whispered in her willing ear.

Then clasping her hands, the Princess drew a long sobbing breath, and he
turned and his eyes grew hard as blue steel.

"Go, slave," he cried. "What place have you in Kings' gardens? Go. Let
me see you no more."

(The man lying at the feet of the Dweller in the Heights, raised a heavy
arm and flung it above his head, despairing, and it fell again on the
cross of his torment. And the voice went on.)

And as he said this, her heart broke; and she went and her feet were
weary. So she took the wise book she loved and unrolled it until she
came to a certain passage, and this she read twice; "If the heart of
a slave be broken it may be mended with jewels and soft words, but the
heart of a Princess can be healed only by the King who broke it, or in
Yamapura, the City under the Sunset where they make all things new. Now,
Yama, the Lord of this City, is the Lord of Death." And having thus read
the Princess rolled the book and put it from her.

And next day, the King said to his women; "Send for her," for his heart
smote him and he desired to atone royally for the shame of his speech.
And they sought and came back saying;

"Maharaj, she is gone. We cannot find her."

Fear grew in the heart of the King--a nameless dread, and he said,
"Search." And again they sought and returned and the King was striding
up and down the great hall and none dared cross his path. But,
trembling, they told him, and he replied; "Search again. I will not lose
her, and, slave though be, she shall be my Queen."

So they ran, dispersing to the Four Quarters, and King strode up and
down the hall, and Loneliness kept step with him and clasped his hand
and looked his eyes.

Then the youngest of the women entered with a tale to tell. "Majesty,
we have found her. She lies beside the lake. When the birds fled this
morning she fled with them, but upon a longer journey. Even to Yamapura,
the City under the Sunset."

And the King said; "Let none follow." And he strode forth swiftly, white
with thoughts he dared not think.

The Princess lay among the gold of the fallen leaves. All was gold,
for her bright hair was out-spread in shining waves and in it shone the
glory of the hidden crown. On her face was no smile--only at last was
revealed the patience she had covered with laughter so long that even
the voice of the King could not now break it into joy. The hands that
had clung, the swift feet that had run beside his, the tender body,
mighty to serve and to love, lay within touch but farther away than the
uttermost star was the Far Away Princess, known and loved too late.

And he said; "My Princess--O my Princess!" and laid his head on her cold
bosom.

"Too late!" a harsh Voice croaked beside him, and it was the voice of
the Jester who mocks at all things. "Too late! O madness, to despise
the blood royal because it humbled itself to service and so was doubly
royal. The Far Away Princess came laden with great gifts, and to her the
King's gift was the wage of a slave and a broken heart. Cast your crown
and sceptre in the dust, O King--O King of Fools."

(The man at the feet of the Dweller in the Heights moved. Some dim word
shaped upon his locked lips. She listened in a divine calm. It seemed
that the very Gods drew nearer. Again the man essayed speech, the body
dead, life only in the words that none could hear. The voice went on.)

But the Princess flying wearily because of the sore wound in her heart,
came at last to the City under the Sunset, where the Lord of Death rules
in the House of Quiet, and was there received with royal honours for in
that land are no disguises. And she knelt before the Secret One and in
a voice broken with agony entreated him to heal her. And with veiled and
pitying eyes he looked upon her, for many and grievous as are the wounds
he has healed this was more grievous still. And he said;

"Princess, I cannot, But this I can do--I can give a new heart in a new
birth--happy and careless as the heart of a child. Take this escape from
the anguish you endure and be at peace."

But the Princess, white with pain, asked only;

"In this new heart and birth, is there room for the King?"

And the Lord of Peace replied;

"None. He too will be forgotten."

Then she rose to her feet.

"I will endure and when he comes I will serve him once more. If he will
he shall heal me, and if not I will endure for ever."

And He who is veiled replied;

"In this sacred City no pain may disturb the air, therefore you must
wait outside in the chill and the dark. Think better, Princess! Also,
he must pass through many rebirths, because he beheld the face of Beauty
unveiled and knew her not. And when he comes he will be weary and weak
as a new-born child, and no more a great King." And the Princess smiled;

"Then he will need me the more," she said; "I will wait and kiss the
feet of my King."

"And the Lord of Death was silent. So she went outside into the darkness
of the spaces, and the souls free passed her like homing doves, and she
sat with her hands clasped over the sore wound in her heart, watching
the earthward way. And the Princess is keeping still the day of her long
patience."

The voice ceased. And there was a great silence, and the listening faces
drew nearer.

Then the Dweller in the Heights spoke in a voice soft as the falling of
snow in the quiet of frost and moon. I could have wept myself blind with
joy to hear that music. More I dare not say.

"He is in the Lower State of Perception. He sorrows for his loss. Let
him have one instant's light that still he may hope."

She bowed above the man, gazing upon him as a mother might upon her
sleeping child. The dead eyelids stirred, lifted, a faint gleam showed
beneath them, an unspeakable weariness. I thought they would fall
unsatisfied. Suddenly he saw What looked upon him, and a terror of
joy no tongue can tell flashed over the dark mirror of his face. He
stretched a faint hand to touch her feet, a sobbing sigh died upon his
lips, and once more the swooning sleep took him. He lay as a dead man
before the Assembly.

"The night is far spent," a voice said, from I know not where. And I
knew it was said not only for the sleeper but for all, for though the
flying feet of Beauty seem for a moment to outspeed us she will one day
wait our coming and gather us to her bosom.

As before, the vision spread outward like rings in a broken reflection
in water. I saw the girl beside me, but her hand grew light in mine. I
felt it no longer. I heard the roaring wind in the trees, or was it a
great voice thundering in my ears? Sleep took me. I waked in my little
room.

Strange and sad--I saw her next day and did not remember her whom of all
things I desired to know. I remembered the vision and knew that whether
in dream or waking I had heard an eternal truth. I longed with a great
longing to meet my beautiful companion, and she stood at my side and I
was blind.

Now that I have climbed a little higher on the Mount of Vision it seems
even to myself that this could not be. Yet it was, and it is true of not
this only but of how much else!

She knew me. I learnt that later, but she made no sign. Her simplicities
had carried her far beyond and above me, to places where only the winged
things attain--"as a bird among the bird-droves of God."

I have since known that this power of direct simplicity in her was why
among the great mountains we beheld the Divine as the emanation of
the terrible beauty about us. We cannot see it as it is--only in some
shadowing forth, gathering sufficient strength for manifestation from
the spiritual atoms that haunt the region where that form has been for
ages the accepted vehicle of adoration. But I was now to set forth to
find another knowledge--to seek the Beauty that blinds us to all other.
Next day the man who was directing my preparations for travel sent me
word from Simla that all was ready and I could start two days later. I
told my friends the time of parting was near.

"But it was no surprise to me," I added, "for I had heard already that
in a very few days I should be on my way."

Mrs. Ingmar was more than kind. She laid a frail hand on mine.

"We shall miss you indeed. If it is possible to send us word of your
adventures in those wild solitudes I hope you will do it. Of course
aviation will soon lay bare their secrets and leave them no mysteries,
so you don't go too soon. One may worship science and yet feel it
injures the beauty of the world. But what is beauty compared with
knowledge?"

"Do you never regret it?" I asked.

"Never, dear Mr. Ormond. I am a worshipper of hard facts and however
hideous they may be I prefer them to the prismatic colours of romance."

Brynhild, smiling, quoted;

  "Their science roamed from star to star
   And than itself found nothing greater.
   What wonder? In a Leyden jar
   They bottled the Creator?"

"There is nothing greater than science," said Mrs. Ingmar with soft
reverence. "The mind of man is the foot-rule of the universe."

She meditated for a moment and then added that my kind interests in
their plans decided her to tell me that she would be returning to
Europe and then to Canada in a few months with a favourite niece as her
companion while Brynhild would remain in India with friends in Mooltan
for a time. I looked eagerly at her but she was lost in her own thoughts
and it was evidently not the time to say more.

If I had hoped for a vision before I left the neighbourhood of that
strange House of Beauty where a spirit imprisoned appeared to await the
day of enlightenment I was disappointed. These things do not happen as
one expects or would choose. The wind bloweth where it listeth until the
laws which govern the inner life are understood, and then we would not
choose if we could for we know that all is better than well. In this
world, either in the blinded sight of daily life or in the clarity of
the true sight I have not since seen it, but that has mattered little,
for having heard an authentic word within its walls I have passed on my
way elsewhere.

Next day a letter from Olesen reached me.

"Dear Ormond, I hope you have had a good time at the House in the Woods.
I saw Rup Singh a few days ago and he wrote the odd message I enclose.
You know what these natives are, even the most sensible of them, and you
will humour the old fellow for he ages very fast and I think is breaking
up. But this was not what I wanted to say. I had a letter from a man I
had not seen for years--a fellow called Stephen Clifden, who lives in
Kashmir. As a matter of fact I had forgotten his existence but evidently
he has not repaid the compliment for he writes as follows--No, I had
better send you the note and you can do as you please. I am rushed off
my legs with work and the heat is hell with the lid off. And-"

But the rest was of no interest except to a friend of years' standing. I
read Rup Singh's message first. It was written in his own tongue.

"To the Honoured One who has attained to the favour of the Favourable.

"You have with open eyes seen what this humble one has dreamed but
has not known. If the thing be possible, write me this word that I may
depart in peace. 'With that one who in a former birth you loved all is
well. Fear nothing for him. The way is long but at the end the lamps of
love are lit and the Unstruck music is sounded. He lies at the feet of
Mercy and there awaits his hour.' And if it be not possible to write
these words, write nothing, O Honoured, for though it be in the hells my
soul shall find my King, and again I shall serve him as once I served."

I understood, and wrote those words as he had written them. Strange
mystery of life--that I who had not known should see, and that this man
whose fidelity had not deserted his broken King in his utter downfall
should have sought with passion for one sight of the beloved face across
the waters of death and sought in vain. I thought of those Buddhist
words of Seneca--"The soul may be and is in the mass of men drugged and
silenced by the seductions of sense and the deceptions of the world.
But if, in some moment of detachment and elation, when its captors and
jailors relax their guard, it can escape their clutches, it will seek at
once the region of its birth and its true home."

Well--the shell must break before the bird can fly, and the time drew
near for the faithful servant to seek his lord. My message reached him
in time and gladdened him.

I turned then to Clifden's letter.

"Dear Olesen, you will have forgotten me, and feeling sure of this I
should scarcely have intruded a letter into your busy life were it not
that I remember your good-nature as a thing unforgettable though so many
years have gone by. I hear of you sometimes when Sleigh comes up the
Sind valley, for I often camp at Sonamarg and above the Zoji La and
farther. I want you to give a message to a man you know who should
be expecting to hear from me. Tell him I shall be at the Tashigong
Monastery when he reaches Gyumur beyond the Shipki. Tell him I have the
information he wants and I will willingly go on with him to Yarkhand
and his destination. He need not arrange for men beyond Gyumur. All
is fixed. So sorry to bother you, old man, but I don't know Ormond's
address, except that he was with you and has gone up Simla way. And of
course he will be keen to hear the thing is settled."

Amazing. I remembered the message I had heard and this man's words
rang true and kindly, but what could it mean? I really did not question
farther than this for now I could not doubt that I was guided. Stronger
hands than mine had me in charge, and it only remained for me to set
forth in confidence and joy to an end that as yet I could not discern. I
turned my face gladly to the wonder of the mountains.

Gladly--but with a reservation. I was leaving a friend and one whom I
dimly felt might one day be more than a friend--Brynhild Ingmar. That
problem must be met before I could take my way. I thought much of what
might be said at parting. True, she had the deepest attraction for me,
but true also that I now beheld a quest stretching out into the unknown
which I must accept in the spirit of the knight errant. Dare I then
bind my heart to any allegiance which would pledge me to a future
inconsistent with what lay before me? How could I tell what she
might think of the things which to me were now real and external--the
revelation of the only reality that underlies all the seeming. Life can
never be the same for the man who has penetrated to this, and though it
may seem a hard saying there can be but a maimed understanding between
him and those who still walk amid the phantoms of death and decay.

Her sympathy with nature was deep and wonderful but might it not be that
though the earth was eloquent to her the skies were silent? I was but
a beginner myself--I knew little indeed. Dare I risk that little in a
sweet companionship which would sink me into the contentment of the
life lived by the happily deluded between the cradle and the grave and
perhaps close to me for ever that still sphere where my highest hope
abides? I had much to ponder, for how could I lose her out of my
life--though I knew not at all whether she who had so much to make her
happiness would give me a single thought when I was gone.

If all this seem the very uttermost of selfish vanity, forgive a man who
grasped in his hand a treasure so new, so wonderful that he walked
in fear and doubt lest it should slip away and leave him in a world
darkened for ever by the torment of the knowledge that it might have
been his and he had bartered it for the mess of pottage that has bought
so many birthrights since Jacob bargained with his weary brother in
the tents of Lahai-roi. I thought I would come back later with my
prize gained and throwing it at her feet ask her wisdom in return, for
whatever I might not know I knew well she was wiser than I except in
that one shining of the light from Eleusis. I walked alone in the woods
thinking of these things and no answer satisfied me.

I did not see her alone until the day I left, for I was compelled by the
arrangements I was making to go down to Simla for a night. And now the
last morning had come with golden sun--shot mists rolling upward to
disclose the far white billows of the sea of eternity, the mountains
awaking to their enormous joys. The trees were dripping glory to the
steaming earth; it flowed like rivers into their most secret recesses,
moss and flower, fern and leaf floated upon the waves of light revealing
their inmost soul in triumphant gladness. Far off across the valleys
a cuckoo was calling--the very voice of spring, and in the green world
above my head a bird sang, a feathered joy, so clear, so passionate that
I thought the great summer morning listened in silence to his rapture
ringing through the woods. I waited until the Jubilate was ended and
then went in to bid good-bye to my friends.

Mrs. Ingmar bid me the kindest farewell and I left her serene in the
negation of all beauty, all hope save that of a world run on the lines
of a model municipality, disease a memory, sewerage, light and air
systems perfected, the charted brain sending its costless messages to
the outer parts of the habitable globe, and at least a hundred years
of life with a decent cremation at the end of it assured to every
eugenically born citizen. No more. But I have long ceased to regret
that others use their own eyes whether clear or dim. Better the merest
glimmer of light perceived thus than the hearsay of the revelations of
others. And by the broken fragments of a bewildered hope a man shall
eventually reach the goal and rejoice in that dawn where the morning
stars sing together and the sons of God shout for joy. It must come, for
it is already here.

Brynhild walked with me through the long glades in the fresh thin air
to the bridle road where my men and ponies waited, eager to be off. We
stood at last in the fringe of trees on a small height which commanded
the way;--a high uplifted path cut along the shoulders of the hills and
on the left the sheer drop of the valleys. Perhaps seven or eight feet
in width and dignified by the name of the Great Hindustan and Tibet Road
it ran winding far away into Wonderland. Looking down into the valleys,
so far beneath that the solitudes seem to wall them in I thought of all
the strange caravans which have taken this way with tinkle of bells
and laughter now so long silenced, and as I looked I saw a lost little
monastery in a giant crevice, solitary as a planet on the outermost ring
of the system, and remembrance flashed into my mind and I said;

"I have marching orders that have countermanded my own plans. I am to
journey to the Buddhist Monastery of Tashigong, and there meet a friend
who will tell me what is necessary that I may travel to Yarkhand and
beyond. It will be long before I see Kashmir."

In those crystal clear eyes I saw a something new to me--a faint smile,
half pitying, half sad;

"Who told you, and where?"

"A girl in a strange place. A woman who has twice guided me--"

I broke off. Her smile perplexed me. I could not tell what to say. She
repeated in a soft undertone;

"Great Lady, be pitiful to the blind eyes and give them light."

And instantly I knew. O blind--blind! Was the unhappy King of the story
duller of heart than I? And shame possessed me. Here was the chrysoberyl
that all day hides its secret in deeps of lucid green but when the night
comes flames with its fiery ecstasy of crimson to the moon, and I--I had
been complacently considering whether I might not blunt my own spiritual
instinct by companionship with her, while she had been my guide, as
infinitely beyond me in insight as she was in all things beautiful. I
could have kissed her feet in my deep repentance. True it is that the
gateway of the high places is reverence and he who cannot bow his head
shall receive no crown. I saw that my long travel in search of knowledge
would have been utterly vain if I had not learnt that lesson there and
then. In those moments of silence I learnt it once and for ever.

She stood by me breathing the liquid morning air, her face turned upon
the eternal snows. I caught her hand in a recognition that might
have ended years of parting, and its warm youth vibrated in mine, the
foretaste of all understanding, all unions, of love that asks nothing,
that fears nothing, that has no petition to make. She raised her eyes to
mine and her tears were a rainbow of hope. So we stood in silence that
was more than any words, and the golden moments went by. I knew her now
for what she was, one of whom it might have been written;

  "I come from where night falls clearer
   Than your morning sun can rise;
   From an earth that to heaven draws nearer
   Than your visions of Paradise,--
   For the dreams that your dreamers dream
   We behold them with open eyes."

With open eyes! Later I asked the nature of the strange bond that had
called her to my side.

"I do not understand that fully myself," she said--"That is part of the
knowledge we must wait for. But you have the eyes that see, and that is
a tie nothing can break. I had waited long in the House of Beauty for
you. I guided you there. But between you and me there is also love."

I stretched an eager hand but she repelled it gently, drawing back a
little. "Not love of each other though we are friends and in the future
may be infinitely more. But--have you ever seen a drawing of Blake's--a
young man stretching his arms to a white swan which flies from him on
wings he cannot stay? That is the story of both our lives. We long to
be joined in this life, here and now, to an unspeakable beauty and power
whose true believers we are because we have seen and known. There is no
love so binding as the same purpose. Perhaps that is the only true love.
And so we shall never be apart though we may never in this world be
together again in what is called companionship."

"We shall meet," I said confidently. She smiled and was silent.

"Do we follow a will-o'-the wisp in parting? Do we give up the substance
for the shadow? Shall I stay?"

She laughed joyously;

"We give a single rose for a rose-tree that bears seven times seven.
Daily I see more, and you are going where you will be instructed. As you
know my mother prefers for a time to have my cousin with her to help her
with the book she means to write. So I shall have time to myself. What
do you think I shall do?"

"Blow away on a great wind. Ride on the crests of tossing waves. Catch a
star to light the fireflies!"

She laughed like a bird's song.

"Wrong--wrong! I shall be a student. All I know as yet has come to me
by intuition, but there is Law as well as Love and I will learn. I have
drifted like a happy cloud before the wind. Now I will learn to be the
wind that blows the clouds."

I looked at her in astonishment. If a flower had desired the same thing
it could scarcely have seemed more incredible, for I had thought her
whole life and nature instinctive not intellective. She smiled as one
who has a beloved secret to keep.

"When you have gained what in this country they call The Knowledge of
Regeneration, come back and ask me what I have learnt."

She would say no more of that and turned to another matter, speaking
with earnestness;

"Before you came here I had a message for you, and Stephen Clifden
will tell you the same thing when you meet. Believe it for it is true.
Remember always that the psychical is not the mystical and that what we
seek is not marvel but vision. These two things are very far apart, so
let the first with all its dangers pass you by, for our way lies to the
heights, and for us there is only one danger--that of turning back and
losing what the whole world cannot give in exchange. I have never seen
Stephen Clifden but I know much of him. He is a safe guide--a man who
has had much and strange sorrow which has brought him joy that cannot be
told. He will take you to those who know the things that you desire. I
wish I might have gone too."

Something in the sweetness of her voice, its high passion, the strong
beauty of her presence woke a poignant longing in my heart. I said;

"I cannot leave you. You are the only guide I can follow. Let us search
together--you always on before."

"Your way lies there," she pointed to the high mountains. "And mine to
the plains, and if we chose our own we should wander. But we shall
meet again in the way and time that will be best and with knowledge
so enlarged that what we have seen already will be like an empty dream
compared to daylight truth. If you knew what waits for you you would not
delay one moment."

She stood radiant beneath the deodars, a figure of Hope, pointing
steadily to the heights. I knew her words were true though as yet I
could not tell how. I knew that whereas we had seen the Wonderful in
beautiful though local forms there is a plane where the Formless may be
apprehended in clear dream and solemn vision-the meeting of spirit with
Spirit. What that revelation would mean I could not guess--how should
I?--but I knew the illusion we call death and decay would wither before
it. There is a music above and beyond the Ninth Vibration though I must
love those words for ever for what their hidden meaning gave me.

I took her hand and held it. Strange--beyond all strangeness that that
story of an ancient sorrow should have made us what we were to each
other--should have opened to me the gates of that Country where she
wandered content. For the first time I had realized in its fulness the
loveliness of this crystal nature, clear as flowing water to receive and
transmit the light--itself a prophecy and fulfilment of some higher race
which will one day inhabit our world when it has learnt the true values.
She drew a flower from her breast and gave it to me. It lies before me
white and living as I write these words.

I sprang down the road and mounted, giving the word to march. The men
shouted and strode on--our faces to the Shipki Pass and what lay beyond.

We had parted.

Once, twice, I looked back, and standing in full sunlight, she waved her
hand.

We turned the angle of the rocks.

What I found--what she found is a story strange and beautiful which
I may tell one day to those who care to hear. That for me there were
pauses, hesitancies, dreads, on the way I am not concerned to deny,
for so it must always be with the roots of the old beliefs of fear and
ignorance buried in the soil of our hearts and ready to throw out their
poisonous fibres. But there was never doubt. For myself I have long
forgotten the meaning of that word in anything that is of real value.

Do not let it be thought that the treasure is reserved for the few or
those of special gifts. And it is as free to the West as to the East
though I own it lies nearer to the surface in the Orient where the
spiritual genius of the people makes it possible and the greater and
more faithful teachers are found. It is not without meaning that all the
faiths of the world have dawned in those sunrise skies. Yet it is within
reach of all and asks only recognition, for the universe has been the
mine of its jewels--

  "Median gold it holds, and silver from Atropatene, Ruby and
  emerald from Hindustan, and Bactrian agate, Bright with beryl
  and pearl, sardonyx and sapphire."--
  and more that cannot be uttered--
  the Lights and Perfections.

So for all seekers I pray this prayer--beautiful in its sonorous Latin,
but noble in all the tongues;

"Supplico tibi, Pater et Dux--I pray Thee, Guide of our vision, that
we may remember the nobleness with which Thou hast endowed us, and that
Thou wouldest be always on our right and on our left in the motion of
our wills, that we may be purged from the contagion of the body and the
affections of the brute and overcome and rule them. And I pray also
that Thou wouldest drive away the blinding darkness from the eyes of our
souls that we may know well what is to be held for divine and what for
mortal."

"The nobleness with which Thou hast endowed us-" this, and not the
cry of the miserable sinner whose very repentance is no virtue but the
consequence of failure and weakness is the strong music to which we must
march.

And the way is open to the mountains.




THE INTERPRETER A ROMANCE OF THE EAST


I

There are strange things in this story, but, so far as I understand
them, I tell the truth. If you measure the East with a Western foot-rule
you will say, "Impossible." I should have said it myself.

Of myself I will say as little as I can, for this story is of Vanna
Loring. I am an incident only, though I did not know that at first.

My name is Stephen Clifden, and I was eight-and-thirty; plenty of money,
sound in wind and limb. I had been by way of being a writer before the
war, the hobby of a rich man; but if I picked up anything in the welter
in France, it was that real work is the only salvation this mad world
has to offer; so I meant to begin at the beginning, and learn my trade
like a journeyman labourer. I had come to the right place. A very
wonderful city is Peshawar--rather let us say, two cities--the
compounds, the fortifications where Europeans dwell in such peace as
their strong right arms can secure them; and the native city and bazaar
humming and buzzing like a hive of angry bees with the rumours that
come up from Lower India or down the Khyber Pass with the camel caravans
loaded with merchandise from Afghanistan, Bokhara, and farther. And
it is because of this that Peshawar is the Key of India, and a city
of Romance that stands at every corner, and cries aloud in the
market--place. For at Peshawar every able-bodied man sleeps with his
revolver under his pillow, and the old Fort is always ready in case it
should be necessary at brief and sharp notice to hurry the women and
children into it, and possibly, to die in their defense. So enlivening
is the neighbourhood of the frontier tribes that haunt the famous Khyber
Pass and the menacing hills where danger is always lurking.

But there was society here, and I was swept into it--there was chatter,
and it galled me.

I was beginning to feel that I had missed my mark, and must go farther
afield, perhaps up into Central Asia, when I met Vanna Loring. If I say
that her hair was soft and dark; that she had the deepest hazel eyes
I have ever seen, and a sensitive, tender mouth; that she moved with a
flowing grace like "a wave of the sea"--it sounds like the portrait of a
beauty, and she was never that. Also, incidentally, it gives none of her
charm. I never heard any one get any further than that she was "oddly
attractive"--let us leave it at that. She was certainly attractive to
me.

She was the governess of little Winifred Meryon, whose father held
the august position of General Commanding the Frontier Forces, and her
mother the more commanding position of the reigning beauty of Northern
India, generally speaking. No one disputed that. She was as pretty as
a picture, and her charming photograph had graced as many illustrated
papers as there were illustrated papers to grace.

But Vanna--I gleaned her story by bits when I came across her with the
child in the gardens. I was beginning to piece it together now.

Her love of the strange and beautiful she had inherited from a young
Italian mother, daughter of a political refugee; her childhood had
been spent in a remote little village in the West of England; half
reluctantly she told me how she had brought herself up after her
mother's death and her father's second marriage. Little was said of
that, but I gathered that it had been a grief to her, a factor in her
flight to the East.

We were walking in the Circular Road then with Winifred in front leading
her Pekingese by its blue ribbon, and we had it almost to ourselves
except for a few natives passing slow and dignified on their own
occasions, for fashionable Peshawar was finishing its last rubber of
bridge, before separating to dress for dinner, and had no time to spare
for trivialities and sunsets.

"So when I came to three-and-twenty," she said slowly, "I felt I must
break away from our narrow life. I had a call to India stronger than
anything on earth. You would not understand but that was so, and I had
spent every spare moment in teaching myself India--its history, legends,
religions, everything! And I was not wanted at home, and I had grown
afraid."

I could divine years of patience and repression under this plain tale,
but also a power that would be dynamic when the authentic voice called.
That was her charm--gentleness in strength--a sweet serenity.

"What were you afraid of?"

"Of growing old and missing what was waiting for me out here. But I
could not get away like other people. No money, you see. So I thought I
would come out here and teach. Dare I? Would they let me? I knew I was
fighting life and chances and risks if I did it; but it was death if I
stayed there. And then--Do you really care to hear?"

"Of course. Tell me how you broke your chain."

"I spare you the family quarrels. I can never go back. But I was
spurred--spurred to take some wild leap; and I took it. Six years ago I
came out. First I went to a doctor and his wife at Cawnpore. They had
a wonderful knowledge of the Indian peoples, and there I learned
Hindustani and much else. Then he died. But an aunt had left me two
hundred pounds, and I could wait a little and choose; and so I came
here."

It interested me. The courage that pale elastic type of woman has!

"Have you ever regretted it? Would they take you back if you failed?"

"Never, to both questions," she said, smiling. "Life is glorious. I've
drunk of a cup I never thought to taste; and if I died tomorrow I should
know I had done right. I rejoice in every moment I live--even when
Winifred and I are wrestling with arithmetic."

"I shouldn't have thought life was very easy with Lady Meryon."

"Oh, she is kind enough in an indifferent sort of way. I am not the
persecuted Jane Eyre sort of governess at all. But that is all on the
surface and does not matter. It is India I care for-the people, the sun,
the infinite beauty. It was coming home. You would laugh if I told you
I knew Peshawar long before I came here. Knew it--walked here, lived.
Before there were English in India at all." She broke off. "You won't
understand."

"Oh, I have had that feeling, too," I said patronizingly. "If one has
read very much about a place-"

"That was not quite what I meant. Never mind. The people, the
place--that is the real thing to me. All this is the dream." The sweep
of her hand took in not only Winifred and myself, but the general's
stately residence, which to blaspheme in Peshawar is rank infidelity.

"By George, I would give thousands to feel that! I can't get out of
Europe here. I want to write, Miss Loring," I found myself saying. "I'd
done a bit, and then the war came and blew my life to pieces. Now I want
to get inside the skin of the East, and I can't do it. I see it from
outside, with a pane of glass between. No life in it. If you feel as you
say, for God's sake be my interpreter!"

I really meant what I said. I knew she was a harp that any breeze would
sweep into music. I divined that temperament in her and proposed to use
it for my own ends. She had and I had not, the 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 miss?"

"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 shoulder. 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 a man.

"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 now."

"One moment," I pleaded; "I can only see it through your eyes. I feel it
while you speak, and then the good minute goes."

She laughed.

"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."


II


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
Fitzgerald's death?"

"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."

"His father?"

"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 tomorrow."

"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."

Presently:--

"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 heard.

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 place."

"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 certainly
answer.

"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 invaded
me.

She resumed;--

"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 fell-"

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.


III


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 expected?"

"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
ravines.

"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 day?"

"Not now. The fighting makes it difficult. But it isn't that. I am
leaving."

"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."

"You cannot."

"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 that?"

"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 which-"

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 injure you. 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 thoughts clearly.

"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 me."

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 dark.

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 be 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 be 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.


IV


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 that
only.

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 afternoon.

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 wood!"

"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 rest.

"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 once more.

"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, Stephen."

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 such zest.

"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 silent.

"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 palace."


V

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 brows.

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 hidden either.

"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, O 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 much else.

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 Kahdra.

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 will."

And yet I believed sometimes that she would--that time was on my side.

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 steps.

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 from me.

"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 absent?

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 Brindaban.

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 looked
down.

"To think," she said, "that we might have died and never seen it!"

There followed a long silence. I thought she was tired, and would not
break it. Suddenly she spoke in a strange voice, low and toneless;

"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 she said.

"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 delight 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."

She smiled.

"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 here."

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 her
tone.

"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 had seen.

"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 moment.

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 beauty.

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 running 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 joy."

"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 no sameness.

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 indeed.

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 the water.

"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 East."

"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 and repentance."

"Will you tell it to me?"

"A part. In this same book you will find much more, but 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 saw!

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 Ninefold Flower.

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 soon.

"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 called death."

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 great mysteries."

"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 everything that makes
life worth living. You could not--you who are so gentle--you could not
commit the senseless cruelty of leaving me when you have taught me to
love you with every beat of my heart. I have been patient--I have held
myself in, but I must speak now. Marry me, and teach me. I know nothing.
You know all I need to know. For pity's sake be my wife."

I had not meant to say it; it broke from me in the firelight moonlight
with a power that I could not stay. She looked at me with a disarming
gentleness.

"Is this fair? Do you remember how at Peshawar I told you I thought it
was a dangerous experiment, and that it would make things harder for
you. But you took the risk like a brave man because you felt there were
things to be gained--knowledge, insight, beauty. Have you not gained
them?"

"Yes. Absolutely."

"Then, is it all loss if I go?"

"Not all. But loss I dare not face."

"I will tell you this. I could not stay if I would. Do you remember the
old man on the way to Vernag? He told me that I must very soon take up
an entirely new life. I have no choice, though if I had I would still do
it."

There was silence and down a long arcade, without any touch of her hand
I heard the music, receding with exquisite modulations to a very great
distance, and between the pillared stems, I saw a faint light.

"Do you wish to go?"

"Entirely. But I shall not forget you, Stephen. I will tell you
something. For me, since I came to India, the gate that shuts us out at
birth has opened. How shall I explain? Do you remember Kipling's 'Finest
Story in the World'?"

"Yes. Fiction!"

"Not fiction--true, whether he knew it or no. But for me the door has
opened wide. First, I remembered piecemeal, with wide gaps, then more
connectedly. Then, at the end of the first year, I met one day at
Cawnpore, an ascetic, an old man of great beauty and wisdom, and he was
able by his own knowledge to enlighten mine. Not wholly--much has come
since then. Has come, some of it in ways you could not understand
now, but much by direct sight and hearing. Long, long ago I lived in
Peshawar, and my story was a sorrowful one. I will tell you a little
before I go."

"I hold you to your promise. What is there I cannot believe when you
tell me? But does that life put you altogether away from me? Was there
no place for me in any of your memories that has drawn us together now?
Give me a little hope that in the eternal pilgrimage there is some bond
between us and some rebirth where we may met again."

"I will tell you that also before we part. I have grown to believe that
you do love me--and therefore love something which is infinitely above
me."

"And do you love me at all? Am I nothing, Vanna--Vanna?"

"My friend," she said, and laid her hand on mine.

A silence, and then she spoke, very low.

"You must be prepared for very great change, Stephen, and yet believe
that it does not really change things at all. See how even the gods pass
and do not change! The early gods of India are gone and Shiva, Vishnu,
Krishna have taken their places and are one and the same. The old
Buddhist stories say that in heaven "The flowers of the garland the
God wore are withered, his robes of majesty are waxed old and faded;
he falls from his high estate, and is re-born into a new life." But he
lives still in the young God who is born among men. The gods cannot die,
nor can we nor anything that has life. Now I must go in."

I sat long in the moonlight thinking. The whole camp was sunk in sleep
and the young dawn was waking upon the peaks when I turned in.

The days that were left we spent in wandering up the Lidar River to the
hills that are the first ramp of the ascent to the great heights.
We found the damp corners where the mushrooms grow like pearls--the
mushrooms of which she said--"To me they have always been fairy things.
To see them in the silver-grey dew of the early mornings--mysteriously
there like the manna in the desert--they are elfin plunder, and as a
child I was half afraid of them. No wonder they are the darlings of
folklore, especially in Celtic countries where the Little People move in
the starlight. Strange to think they are here too among strange gods!"

We climbed to where the wild peonies bloom in glory that few eyes see,
and the rosy beds of wild sweet strawberries ripen. Every hour brought
with it some new delight, some exquisiteness of sight or of words that
I shall remember for ever. She sat one day on a rock, holding the
sculptured leaves and massive seed-vessels of some glorious plant that
the Kashmiris believe has magic virtues hidden in the seeds of pure rose
embedded in the white down.

"If you fast for three days and eat nine of these in the Night of No
Moon, you can rise on the air light as thistledown and stand on the peak
of Haramoukh. And on Haramoukh, as you know it is believed, the gods
dwell. There was a man here who tried this enchantment. He was a changed
man for ever after, wandering and muttering to himself and avoiding all
human intercourse as far as he could. He was no Kashmiri--A Jat from the
Punjab, and they showed him to me when I was here with the Meryons, and
told me he would speak to none. But I knew he would speak to me, and he
did."

"Did he tell you anything of what he had seen in the high world up
yonder?"

"He said he had seen the Dream of the God. I could not get more than
that. But there are many people here who believe that the Universe as
we know it is but an image in the dream of Ishvara, the Universal
Spirit--in whom are all the gods--and that when He ceases to dream we
pass again into the Night of Brahm, and all is darkness until the Spirit
of God moves again on the face of the waters. There are few temples to
Brahm. He is above and beyond all direct worship."

"Do you think he had seen anything?"

"What do I know? Will you eat the seeds? The Night of No Moon will soon
be here."

She held out the seed-vessels, laughing. I write that down but how
record the lovely light of kindliness in her eyes--the almost submissive
gentleness that yet was a defense stronger than steel. I never knew--how
should I?--whether she was sitting by my side or heavens away from me in
her own strange world. But always she was a sweetness that I could not
reach, a cup of nectar that I might not drink, unalterably her own and
never mine, and yet--my friend.

She showed me the wild track up into the mountains where the Pilgrims go
to pay their devotions at the Great God's shrine in the awful heights,
regretting that we were too early for that most wonderful sight. Above
where we were sitting the river fell in a tormented white cascade,
crashing and feathering into spray-dust of diamonds. An eagle was
flying above it with a mighty spread of wings that seemed almost
double-jointed in the middle--they curved and flapped so wide and free.
The fierce head was outstretched with the rake of a plundering galley as
he swept down the wind, seeking his meat from God, and passed majestic
from our sight. The valley beneath us was littered with enormous
boulders spilt from the ancient hollows of the hills. It must have
been a great sight when the giants set them trundling down in work
or play!--I said this to Vanna, who was looking down upon it with
meditative eyes. She roused herself.

"Yes, this really is Giant-Land up here--everything is so huge. And when
they quarrel up in the heights--in Jotunheim--and the black storms
come down the valleys it is like colossal laughter or clumsy boisterous
anger. And the Frost giants are still at work up there with their great
axes of frost and rain. They fling down the side of a mountain or make
fresh ways for the rivers. About sixty years ago--far above here--they
tore down a mountain side and damned up the mighty Indus, so that for
months he was a lake, shut back in the hills. But the river giants are
no less strong up here in the heights of the world, and lie lay brooding
and hiding his time. And then one awful day he tore the barrier down and
roared down the valley carrying death and ruin with him, and swept away
a whole Sikh army among other unconsidered trifles. That must have been
a soul-shaking sight."

She spoke on, and as she spoke I saw. What are her words as I record
them? Stray dead leaves pressed in a book--the life and grace dead. Yet
I record, for she taught me what I believe the world should learn, that
the Buddhist philosophers are right when they teach that all forms of
what we call matter are really but aggregates of spiritual units, and
that life itself is a curtain hiding reality as the vast veil of
day conceals from our sight the countless orbs of space. So that the
purified mind even while prisoned in the body, may enter into union with
the Real and, according to attainment, see it as it is.

She was an interpreter because she believed this truth profoundly. She
saw the spiritual essence beneath the lovely illusion of matter, and the
air about her was radiant with the motion of strange forces for which
the dull world has many names aiming indeed at the truth, but falling--O
how far short of her calm perception! She was indeed of a Household
higher than the Household of Faith. She had received enlightenment. She
beheld with open eyes.

Next day our camp was struck and we turned our faces again to Srinagar
and to the day of parting. I set down but one strange incident of our
journey, of which I did not speak even to her.

We were camping at Bijbehara, awaiting our house boat, and the site was
by the Maharaja's lodge above the little town. It was midnight and I was
sleepless--the shadow of the near future was upon me. I wandered down to
the lovely old wooded bridge across the Jhelum, where the strong young
trees grow up from the piles. Beyond it the moon was shining on the
ancient Hindu remains close to the new temple, and as I stood on the
bridge I could see the figure of a man in deepest meditation by the
ruins. He was no European. I saw the straight dignified folds of the
robes. But it was not surprising he should be there and I should have
thought no more of it, had I not heard at that instant from the further
side of the river the music of the Flute. I cannot hope to describe
that music to any who have not heard it. Suffice it to say that where
it calls he who hears must follow whether in the body or the spirit. Nor
can I now tell in which I followed. One day it will call me across the
River of Death, and I shall ford it or sink in the immeasurable depths
and either will be well.

But immediately I was at the other side of the river, standing by the
stone Bull of Shiva where he kneels before the Symbol, and looking
steadfastly upon me a few paces away was a man in the dress of a
Buddhist monk. He wore the yellow robe that leaves one shoulder bare;
his head was bare also and he held in one hand a small bowl like a
stemless chalice. I knew I was seeing a very strange inexplicable
sight--one that in Kashmir should be incredible, but I put wonder aside
for I knew now that I was moving in the sphere where the incredible may
well be the actual. His expression was of the most unbroken calm. If I
compare it to the passionless gaze of the Sphinx I misrepresent, for the
Riddle of the Sphinx still awaits solution, but in this face was a noble
acquiescence and a content that had it vibrated must have passed into
joy.

Words or their equivalent passed between us. I felt his voice.

"You have heard the music of the Flute?"

"I have heard."

"What has it given?"

"A consuming longing."

"It is the music of the Eternal. The creeds and the faiths are the words
that men have set to that melody. Listening, it will lead you to Wisdom.
Day by day you will interpret more surely."

"I cannot stand alone."

"You will not need. What has led you will lead you still. Through many
births it has led you. How should it fail?"

"What should I do?"

"Go forward."

"What should I shun?"

"Sorrow and fear."

"What should I seek?"

"Joy."

"And the end?"

"Joy. Wisdom. They are the Light and Dark of the Divine." A cold breeze
passed and touched my forehead. I was still standing in the middle of
the bridge above the water gliding to the Ocean, and there was no figure
by the Bull of Shiva. I was alone. I passed back to the tents with the
shudder that is not fear but akin to death upon me. I knew I had been
profoundly withdrawn from what we call actual life, and the return is
dread.

The days passed as we floated down the river to Srinagar. On board the
Kedarnath, now lying in our first berth beneath the chenars near and yet
far from the city, the last night had come. Next morning I should begin
the long ride to Baramula and beyond that barrier of the Happy Valley
down to Murree and the Punjab. Where afterwards? I neither knew nor
cared. My lesson was before me to be learned. I must try to detach
myself from all I had prized--to say to my heart it was but a loan
and no gift, and to cling only to the imperishable. And did I as yet
certainly know more than the A B C of the hard doctrine by which I
must live? "Que vivre est difficile, O mon cocur fatigue!"--an immense
weariness possessed me--a passive grief.

Vanna would follow later with the wife of an Indian doctor. I believed
she was bound for Lahore but on that point she had not spoken certainly
and I felt we should not meet again.

And now my packing was finished, and, as far as my possessions went, the
little cabin had the soulless emptiness that comes with departure. I was
enduring as best I could. If she had held loyally to her pact, could
I do less. Was she to blame for my wild hope that in the end she would
relent and step down to the household levels of love?

She sat by the window--the last time I should see the moonlit banks and
her clear face against them. I made and won my fight for the courage of
words.

"And now I've finished everything--thank goodness! and we can talk.
Vanna--you will write to me?"

"Once. I promise that."

"Only once? Why? I counted on your words."

"I want to speak to you of something else now. I want to tell you a
memory. But look first at the pale light behind the Takht-i-Suliman."

So I had seen it with her. So I should not see it again. We watched
until a line of silver sparkled on the black water, and then she spoke
again.

"Stephen, do you remember in the ruined monastery near Peshawar, how I
told you of the young Abbot, who came down to Peshawar with a Chinese
pilgrim? And he never returned."

"I remember. There was a Dancer."

"There was a Dancer. She was Lilavanti, and she was brought there to
trap him but when she saw him she loved him, and that was his ruin and
hers. Trickery he would have known and escaped. Love caught him in an
unbreakable net, and they fled down the Punjab and no one knew any more.
But I know. For two years they lived together and she saw the agony in
his heart--the anguish of his broken vows, the face of the Blessed One
receding into an infinite distance. She knew that every day added a link
to the heavy Karma that was bound about the feet she loved, and her soul
said "Set him free," and her heart refused the torture. But her soul was
the stronger. She set him free."

"How?"

"She took poison. He became an ascetic in the hills and died in peace
but with a long expiation upon him."

"And she?"

"I am she."

"You!" I heard my voice as if it were another man's. Was it possible
that I--a man of the twentieth century, believed this impossible thing?
Impossible, and yet--what had I learnt if not the unity of Time, the
illusion of matter? What is the twentieth century, what the first?
Do they not lie before the Supreme as one, and clean from our petty
divisions? And I myself had seen what, if I could trust it, asserted the
marvels that are no marvels to those who know.

"You loved him?"

"I love him."

"Then there is nothing at all for me."

She resumed as if she had heard nothing.

"I have lost him for many lives. He stepped above me at once, for he was
clean gold though he fell, and though I have followed I have not found.
But that Buddhist beyond Islamabad--you shall hear now what he said. It
was this. 'The shut door opens, and this time he awaits.' I cannot yet
say all it means, but there is no Lahore for me. I shall meet him soon."

"Vanna, you would not harm yourself again?"

"Never. I should not meet him. But you will see. Now I can talk no more.
I will be there tomorrow when you go, and I will ride with you to the
poplar road."

She passed like a shadow into her little dark cabin, and I was left
alone. I will not dwell on that black loneliness of the spirit, for
it has passed--it was the darkness of hell, a madness of jealousy, and
could have no enduring life in any heart that had known her. But it was
death while it lasted. I had moments of horrible belief, of horrible
disbelief, but however it might be I knew that she was out of reach for
ever. Near me--yes! but only as the silver image of the moon floated in
the water by the boat, with the moon herself cold myriads of miles away.
I will say no more of that last eclipse of what she had wrought in me.

The bright morning came, sunny as if my joys were beginning instead of
ending. Vanna mounted her horse and led the way from the boat. I cast
one long look at the little Kedarnath, the home of those perfect weeks,
of such joy and sorrow as would have seemed impossible to me in the
chrysalis of my former existence. Little Kahdra stood crying bitterly on
the bank--the kindly folk who had served us were gathered saddened and
quiet. I set my teeth and followed her.

How dear she looked, how kind, how gentle her appealing eyes, as I drew
up beside her. She knew what I felt. She knew that the sight of little
Kahdra crying as he said good--bye was the last pull at my sore heart.
Still she rode steadily on, and still I followed. Once she spoke.

"Stephen, there was a man in Peshawar, kind and true, who loved that
Lilavanti who had no heart for him. And when she died, it was in his
arms, as a sister might cling to a brother, for the man she loved had
left her. It seems that will not be in this life, but do not think I
have been so blind that I did not know my friend."

I could not answer--it was the realization of the utmost I could hope
and it came like healing to my spirit. Better that bond between us,
slight as most men might think it, than the dearest and closest with a
woman not Vanna. It was the first thrill of a new joy in my heart--the
first, I thank the Infinite, of many and steadily growing joys and hopes
that cannot be uttered here.

I bent to take the hand she stretched to me, but even as they touched,
I saw, passing behind the trees by the road, the young man I had seen
in the garden at Vernag--most beautiful, in the strange miter of his
jewelled diadem. His flute was at his lips and the music rang out sudden
and crystal clear as though a woodland god were passing to awaken all
the joys of the dawn.

The horses heard too. In an instant hers had swerved wildly, and she lay
on the ground at my feet. The music had ceased.

Days had gone before I could recall what had happened then. I lifted
her in my arms and carried her into the rest-house near at hand, and
the doctor came and looked grave, and a nurse was sent from the Mission
Hospital. No doubt all was done that was possible, but I knew from the
first what it meant and how it would be. She lay in a white stillness,
and the room was quiet as death. I remembered with unspeakable gratitude
later that the nurse had been merciful and had not sent me away.

So Vanna lay all day and through the night, and when the dawn came again
she stirred and motioned with her hand, although her eyes were closed.
I understood, and kneeling, I put my hand under her head, and rested it
against my shoulder. Her faint voice murmured at my ear.

"I dreamed--I was in the pine wood at Pahlgam and it was the Night of No
Moon, and I was afraid for it was dark, but suddenly all the trees were
covered with little lights like stars, and the greater light was beyond.
Nothing to be afraid of."

"Nothing, Beloved."

"And I looked beyond Peshawar, further than eyes could see, and in the
ruins of the monastery where we stood, you and I--I saw him, and he lay
with his head at the feet of the Blessed One. That is well, is it not?"

"Well, Beloved."

"And it is well I go? Is it not?"

"It is well."

A long silence. The first sun ray touched the floor. Again the whisper.

"Believe what I have told you. For we shall meet again." I repeated--

"We shall meet again."

In my arms she died.

Later, when all was over I asked myself if I believed this and answered
with full assurance--Yes.

If the story thus told sounds incredible it was not incredible to me.
I had had a profound experience. What is a miracle? It is simply the
vision of the Divine behind nature. It will come in different forms
according to the eyes that see, but the soul will know that its
perception is authentic.

I could not leave Kashmir, nor was there any need. On the contrary I saw
that there was work for me here among the people she had loved, and my
first aim was to fit myself for that and for the writing I now felt
was to be my career in life. After much thought I bought the little
Kedarnath and made it my home, very greatly to the satisfaction of
little Kahdra and all the friendly people to whom I owed so much.

Vanna's cabin I made my sleeping room, and it is the simple truth that
the first night I slept in the place that was a Temple of Peace in my
thoughts, I had a dream of wordless bliss, and starting awake for sheer
joy I saw her face in the night, human and dear, looking down upon
me with that poignant sweetness which would seem to be the utmost
revelation of love and pity. And as I stretched my hands, another face
dawned solemnly from the shadow beside her with grave brows bent on
mine--one I had known and seen in the ruins at Bijbehara. Outside and
very near I could hear the silver weaving of the Flute that in India is
the symbol of the call of the Divine. A dream--yes, but it taught me to
live. At first, in my days of grief and loss, I did but dream--the days
were hard to endure. I will not dwell on that illusion of sorrow, now
long dead. I lived only for the night.

   "When sleep comes to close each difficult day,
    When night gives pause to the long watch I keep,
    And all my bonds I needs must loose apart,
    Must doff my will as raiment laid away--
    With the first dream that comes with the first sleep,
    I run--I run! I am gathered to thy heart!"

To the heart of her pity. Thus for awhile I lived. Slowly I became
conscious of her abiding presence about me, day or night It grew
clearer, closer.

Like the austere Hippolytus to his unseen Goddess, I could say;

   "Who am more to thee than other mortals are,
    Whose is the holy lot,
    As friend with friend to walk and talk with thee,
    Hearing thy sweet mouth's music in mine ear,
    But thee beholding not."

That was much, but later, the sunshine was no bar, the bond strengthened
and there have been days in the heights of the hills, in the depths of
the woods, when I saw her as in life, passing at a distance, but real
and lovely. Life? She had never lived as she did now--a spirit, freed
and rejoicing. For me the door she had opened would never shut. The
Presences were about me, and I entered upon my heritage of joy, knowing
that in Kashmir, the holy land of Beauty, they walk very near, and lift
up the folds of the Dark that the initiate may see the light behind.

So I began my solitary life of gladness. I wrote, aided by the little
book she had left me, full of strangest stories, stranger by far than
my own brain could conceive. Some to be revealed--some to be hidden. And
thus the world will one day receive the story of the Dancer of Peshawar
in her upward lives, that it may know, if it will, that death is
nothing--for Life and Love are all.




THE INCOMPARABLE LADY

A STORY OF CHINA WITH A MORAL

It is recorded that when the Pearl Empress (his mother) asked of the
philosophic Yellow Emperor which he considered the most beautiful of the
Imperial concubines, he replied instantly: "The Lady A-Kuei": and when
the Royal Parent in profound astonishment demanded bow this could
be, having regard to the exquisite beauties in question, the Emperor
replied;

"I have never seen her. It was dark when I entered the Dragon Chamber
and dusk of dawn when I rose and left her."

Then said the Pearl Princess;

"Possibly the harmony of her voice solaced the Son of Heaven?"

But he replied;

"She spoke not."

And the Pearl Empress rejoined:

"Her limbs then are doubtless softer than the kingfisher's plumage?"

But the Yellow Emperor replied;

"Doubtless. Yet I have not touched them. I was that night immersed in
speculations on the Yin and the Yang. How then should I touch a woman?"

And the Pearl Empress was silent from very great amazement, not daring
to question further but marveling how the thing might be. And seeing
this, the Yellow Emperor recited a poem to the following effect:

    "It is said that Power rules the world
    And who shall gainsay it?
    But Loveliness is the head-jewel upon the brow of Power."

And when the Empress had listened with reverence to the Imperial Poet,
she quitted the August Presence.

Immediately, having entered her own palace of the Tranquil Motherly
Virtues, she caused the Lady A-Kuei to be summoned to her presence, who
came, habited in a purple robe and with pins of jade and coral in her
hair. And the Pearl Empress considered her attentively, recalling the
perfect features of the White Jade Concubine, the ambrosial smile of the
Princess of Feminine Propriety, and the willow-leaf eyebrows of the Lady
of Chen, and her astonishment was excessive, because the Lady A-Kuei
could not in beauty approach any one of these ladies. Reflecting further
she then placed her behind the screen, and summoned the court artist, Lo
Cheng, who had been formerly commissioned to paint the heavenly
features of the Emperor's Ladies, mirrored in still water, though he had
naturally not been permitted to view the beauties themselves. Of him the
Empress demanded:

"Who is the most beautiful--which the most priceless jewel of the
dwellers in the Dragon Palace?"

And, with humility, Lo Cheng replied:

"What mortal man shall decide between the white Crane and the Swan,
or between the paeony flower and the lotus?" And having thus said he
remained silent, and in him was no help. Finally and after exhortation
the Pearl Empress condescended to threaten him with the loss of a head
so useless to himself and to her majesty. Then, in great fear and haste
he replied:

"Of all the flowers that adorn the garden of the Sun of Heaven, the Lady
A-Kuei is the fittest to be gathered by the Imperial Hand, and this is
my deliberate opinion."

Now, hearing this statement, the Pearl Empress was submerged in
bewilderment, knowing that the Lady A-Kuei had modestly retired when the
artist had depicted the reflection of the assembled loveliness of the
Inner Chambers, as not counting herself worthy of portraiture, and her
features were therefore unknown to him. Nor could the Empress further
question the artist, for when she had done so, he replied only:

"This is the secret of the Son of Heaven," and, having gained
permission, he swiftly departed.

Nor could the Lady A-Kuei herself aid her Imperial Majesty, for on being
questioned she was overwhelmed with modesty and confusion, and with
stammering lips could only repeat:

"This is the secret of his Divine Majesty," imploring with the utmost
humility, forgiveness from the Imperial Mother.

The Pearl Empress was unable to eat her supper. In vain were spread
before her the delicacies of the Empire. She could but trifle with a
shark's fin and a "Silver Ear" fungus and a dish of slugs entrapped upon
roses, with the dew-like pearls upon them. Her burning curiosity had
wholly deprived her of appetite, nor could the amusing exertions of
the Palace mimes, or a lantern fete upon the lake restore her to
any composure. "This circumstance will cause my flight on the Dragon
(death)," she said to herself, "unless I succeed in unveiling the
mystery. What therefore should be my next proceeding?"

And so, deeply reflecting, she caused the Chief of the Eunuchs to summon
the Princess of Feminine Propriety, the White Jade Concubine and all the
other exalted beauties of the Heavenly Palace.

In due course of time these ladies arrived, paying suitable respect and
obeisance to the Mother of his Divine Majesty. They were resplendent in
king-fisher ornaments, in jewels of jade, crystal and coral, in robes
of silk and gauze, and still more resplendent in charms that not
the Celestial Empire itself could equal, setting aside entirely all
countries of the foreign barbarians. And in grace and elegance of
manners, in skill in the arts of poetry and the lute, what could surpass
them?

Like a parterre of flowers they surrounded her Majesty, and awaited her
pleasure with perfect decorum, when, having saluted them with affability
she thus addressed them--"Lovely ones--ladies distinguished by the
particular attention of your sovereign and mine, I have sent for you
to resolve a doubt and a difficulty. On questioning our sovereign as to
whom he regarded as the loveliest of his garden of beauty he benignantly
replied: "The Lady A-Kuei is incomparable," and though this may well be,
he further graciously added that he had never seen her. Nor, on pursuing
the subject, could I learn the Imperial reason. The artist Lo Cheng
follows in his Master's footsteps, he also never having seen the favored
lady, and he and she reply to me that this is an Imperial secret.
Declare to me therefore if your perspicacity and the feminine interest
which every lady property takes in the other can unravel this mystery,
for my liver is tormented with anxiety beyond measure."

As soon as the Pearl Empress had spoken she realized that she had
committed a great indiscretion. A babel of voices, of cries, questions
and contradictions instantly arose. Decorum was abandoned. The Lady of
Chen swooned, nor could she be revived for an hour, and the Princess of
Feminine Propriety and the White Jade Concubine could be dragged apart
only by the united efforts of six of the Palace matrons, so great was
their fury the one with the other, each accusing each of encouragement
to the Lady A-Kuei's pretensions. So also with the remaining ladies.
Shrieks resounded through the Hall of Virtuous Tranquillity, and when
the Pearl Empress attempted to pour oil on the troubled waters by
speaking soothing and comfortable words, the august Voice was entirely
inaudible in the tumult.

All sought at length in united indignation for the Lady A-Kuei, but she
had modestly withdrawn to the Pearl Pavilion in the Imperial Garden and,
foreseeing anxieties, had there secured herself on hearing the opening
of the Royal Speech.

Finally the ladies were led away by their attendants, weeping,
lamenting, raging, according to their several dispositions, and the
Pearl Empress, left with her own maidens, beheld the floor strewn with
jade pins, kingfisher and coral jewels, and even with fragments of silk
and gauze. Nor was she any nearer the solution of the desired secret.

That night she tossed upon a bed sleepless though heaped with down,
and her mind raged like a fire up and down all possible answers to the
riddle, but none would serve. Then, at the dawn, raising herself on one
august elbow she called to her venerable nurse and foster mother, the
Lady Ma, wise and resourceful in the affairs and difficulties of women,
and, repeating the circumstances, demanded her counsel.

The Lady Ma considering the matter long and deeply, slowly replied:

"This is a great riddle and dangerous, for to intermeddle with the
divine secrets is the high road to the Yellow Springs (death). But the
child of my breasts and my exalted Mistress shall never ask in vain, for
a thwarted curiosity is dangerous as a suppressed fever. I will conceal
myself nightly in the Dragon Bedchamber and this will certainly unveil
the truth. And if I perish I perish."

It is impossible to describe how the Empress heaped Lady Ma with costly
jewels and silken brocades and taels of silver beyond measuring--how she
placed on her breast the amulet of jade that had guarded herself from
all evil influences, how she called the ancestral spirits to witness
that she would provide for the Lady Ma's remotest descendants if she
lost her life in this sublime devotion to duty.

That night Lady Ma concealed herself behind the Imperial couch in the
Dragon Chamber, to await the coming of the Son of Heaven. Slowly dripped
the water-clock as the minutes fled away; sorely ached the venerable
limbs of the Lady Ma as she crouched in the shadows and saw the rising
moon scattering silver through the elegant traceries of carved ebony and
ivory; wildly beat her heart as delicately tripping footsteps approached
the Dragon Chamber, and the Princess of Feminine Propriety, attended by
her maidens, ascended the Imperial Couch and hastily dismissed them. Yet
no sweet repose awaited this favored lady. The Lady Ma could hear her
smothered sobs, her muttered exclamations--nay could even feel the
couch itself tremble as the Princess uttered the hated name of the Lady
A-Kuei, the poison of jealousy running in every vein. It was impossible
for Lady Ma to decide which was the most virulent, this, or the poison
of curiosity in the heart of the Pearl Empress. Though she loved not the
Princess she was compelled to pity such suffering. But all thought was
banished by the approach of the Yellow Emperor, prepared for repose and
unattended, in simple but divine grandeur.

It cannot indeed be supposed that a Celestial Emperor is human, yet
there was mortality in the start which his Augustness gave when the
Princess of Feminine Propriety flinging herself from the Dragon couch,
threw herself at his feet and with tears that flowed like that river
known as "The Sorrow of China," demanded to know what she had done that
another should be preferred before her; reciting in frantic haste such
imperfections of the Lady A-Kuei's appearance as she could recall (or
invent) in the haste of that agitating moment.

"That one of her eyes is larger than the other--no human being can
doubt" sobbed the lady--"and surely your Divine Majesty cannot be aware
that her hair reaches but to her waist, and that there is a brown mole
on the nape of her neck? When she sings it resembles the croak of the
crow. It is true that most of the Palace ladies are chosen for anything
but beauty, yet she is the most ill-favored. And is it this--this
bat-faced lady who is preferred to me! Would I had never been born: Yet
even your Majesty's own lips have told me I am fair!"

The Yellow Emperor supported the form of the Princess in his arms.
There are moments when even a Son of Heaven is but human. "Fair as the
rainbow," he murmured, and the Princess faintly smiled; then gathering
the resolution of the Philosopher he added manfully--"But the Lady
A-Kuei is incomparable. And the reason is--"

The Lady Ma eagerly stretched her head forward with a hand to either
ear. But the Princess of Feminine Propriety with one shriek had swooned
and in the hurry of summoning attendants and causing her to be conveyed
to her own apartments that precious sentence was never completed.

Still the Lady Ma groveled behind the Dragon Couch as the Son of
Heaven, left alone, approached the veranda and apostrophizing the moon,
murmured--

"O loveliest pale watcher of the destinies of men, illuminate the beauty
of the Lady A-Kuei, and grant that I who have never seen that beauty may
never see it, but remain its constant admirer!" So saying, he sought
his solitary couch and slept, while the Lady Ma, in a torment of
bewilderment, glided from the room.

The matter remained in suspense for several days. The White Jade
Concubine was the next lady commanded to the Dragon Chamber, and again
the Lady Ma was in her post of observation. Much she heard, much she
saw that was not to the point, but the scene ended as before by the
dismissal of the lady in tears, and the departure of the Lady Ma in
ignorance of the secret.

The Emperor's peace was ended.

The singular circumstance was that the Lady A-Kuei was never summoned
by the Yellow Emperor. Eagerly as the Empress watched, no token of
affection for her was ever visible. Nothing could be detected. It was
inexplicable. Finally, devoured by curiosity that gave her no respite,
she resolved on a stratagem that should dispel the mystery, though it
carried with it a risk on which she trembled to reflect. It was the
afternoon of a languid summer day, and the Yellow Emperor, almost
unattended, had come to pay a visit of filial respect to the Pearl
Empress. She received him with the ceremony due to her sovereign in the
porcelain pavilion of the Eastern Gardens, with the lotos fish ponds
before them, and a faint breeze occasionally tinkling the crystal
wind-bells that decorated the shrubs on the cloud and dragon-wrought
slopes of the marble approach. A bird of brilliant plumage uttered a cry
of reverence from its gold cage as the Son of Heaven entered. As was
his occasional custom, and after suitable inquiries as to his parent's
health, the attendants were all dismissed out of earshot and the Emperor
leaned on his cushions and gazed reflectively into the sunshine
outside. So had the Court Artist represented him as "The Incarnation of
Philosophic Calm."

"These gardens are fair," said the Empress after a respectful silence,
moving her fan illustrated with the emblem of Immortality--the Ho Bird.

"Fair indeed," returned the Emperor.--"It might be supposed that all
sorrow and disturbance would be shut without the Forbidden Precincts.
Yet it is not so. And though the figures of my ladies moving among the
flowers appear at this distance instinct with joy, yet--"

He was silent.

"They know not," said the Empress with solemnity "that death entered the
Forbidden Precincts but last night. A disembodied spirit has returned to
its place and doubtless exists in bliss." "Indeed?" returned the Yellow
Emperor with indifference--"yet if the spirit is absorbed into the
Source whence it came, and the bones have crumbled into nothingness,
where does the Ego exist? The dead are venerable, but no longer of
interest."

"Not even when they were loved in life?" said the Empress, caressing the
bird in the cage with one jewelled finger, but attentively observing
her son from the corner of her august eye. "They were; they are not," he
remarked sententiously and stifling a yawn; it was a drowsy afternoon.
"But who is it that has abandoned us? Surely not the Lady Ma--your
Majesty's faithful foster-mother?"

"A younger, a lovelier spirit has sought the Yellow Springs," replied
the trembling Empress. "I regret to inform your Majesty that a sudden
convulsion last night deprived the Lady A-Kuei of life. I would not
permit the news to reach you lest it should break your august night's
rest."

There was a silence, then the Emperor turned his eyes serenely upon his
Imperial Mother. "That the statement of my august Parent is merely--let
us say--allegoric--does not detract from its interest. But had the Lady
A-Kuei in truth departed to the Yellow Springs I should none the less
have received the news without uneasiness. What though the sun set--is
not the memory of his light all surpassing?"

No longer could the Pearl Empress endure the excess of her curiosity.
Deeply kowtowing, imploring pardon, with raised hands and tears which no
son dare neglect, she besought the Emperor to enlighten her as to this
mystery, recounting his praises of the lady and his admission that he
had never beheld her, and all the circumstances connected with this
remarkable episode. She omitted only, (from considerations of delicacy
and others,) the vigils of the Lady Ma in the Dragon Chamber. The
Emperor, sighing, looked upon the ground, and for a time was silent.
Then he replied as follows:

"Willingly would I have kept silence, but what child dare withstand the
plea of a parent? Is it necessary to inform the Heavenly Empress that
beauty seen is beauty made familiar and that familiarity is the foe
of admiration? How is it possible that I should see the Princess of
Feminine Propriety, for instance, by night and day without becoming
aware of her imperfections as well as her graces? How awake in the night
without hearing the snoring of the White Jade Concubine and considering
the mouth from which it issues as the less lovely. How partake of the
society of any woman without finding her chattering as the crane, avid
of admiration, jealous, destructive of philosophy, fatal to composure,
fevered with curiosity; a creature, in short, a little above the gibbon,
but infinitely below the notice of the sage, save as a temporary measure
of amusement in itself unworthy the philosopher. The faces of all my
ladies are known to me. All are fair and all alike. But one night, as I
lay in the Dragon Couch, lost in speculation, absorbed in contemplation
of the Yin and the Yang, the night passed for the solitary dreamer as a
dream. In the darkness of the dawn I rose still dreaming, and departed
to the Pearl Pavilion in the garden, and there remained an hour viewing
the sunrise and experiencing ineffable opinions on the destiny of man.
Returning then to a couch which I believed to have been that of the
solitary philosopher I observed a depression where another form had
lain, and in it a jade hairpin such as is worn by my junior beauties.
Petrified with amazement at the display of such reserve, such
continence, such august self-restraint, I perceived that, lost in
my thoughts, I had had an unimagined companion and that this gentle
reminder was from her gentle hand. But whom? I knew not. I then observed
Lo Cheng the Court Artist in attendance and immediately despatched him
to make secret enquiry and ascertain the name and circumstances of that
beauty who, unknown, had shared my vigil. I learnt on his return that
it was the Lady A-Kuei. I had entered the Dragon Chamber in a low
moonlight, and guessed not her presence. She spoke no word. Finding her
Imperial Master thus absorbed, she invited no attention, nor in any way
obtruded her beauties upon my notice. Scarcely did she draw breath. Yet
reflect upon what she might have done! The night passed and I remained
entirely unconscious of her presence, and out of respect she would not
sleep but remained reverently and modestly awake, assisting, if it may
so be expressed, at a humble distance, in the speculations which held me
prisoner. What a pearl was here! On learning these details by Lo Cheng
from her own roseate lips, and remembering the unexampled temptation
she had resisted (for well she knew that had she touched the Emperor
the Philosopher had vanished) I despatched an august rescript to this
favored Lady, conferring on her the degree of Incomparable Beauty of the
First Rank. On condition of secrecy."

The Pearl Empress, still in deepest bewilderment, besought his majesty
to proceed. He did so, with his usual dignity.

"Though my mind could not wholly restrain its admiration, yet secrecy
was necessary, for had the facts been known, every lady, from the
Princess of Feminine Propriety to the Junior Beauty of the Bed Chamber
would henceforward have observed only silence and a frigid decorum in
the Dragon Bed Chamber. And though the Emperor be a philosopher, yet a
philosopher is still a man, and there are moments when decorum--"

The Emperor paused discreetly; then resumed.

"The world should not be composed entirely of A-Kueis, yet in my mind I
behold the Incomparable Lady fair beyond expression. Like the moon she
sails glorious in the heavens to be adored only in vision as the one
woman who could respect the absorption of the Emperor, and of whose
beauty as she lay beside him the philosopher could remain unconscious
and therefore untroubled in body. To see her, to find her earthly,
would be an experience for which the Emperor might have courage, but the
philosopher never. And attached to all this is a moral:"

The Pearl Empress urgently inquired its nature.

"Let the wisdom of my august parent discern it," said the Emperor
sententiously.

"And the future?" she inquired.

"The--let us call it parable--" said the Emperor politely--"with which
your Majesty was good enough to entertain me, has suggested a precaution
to my mind. I see now a lovely form moving among the flowers. It is
possible that it may be the Incomparable Lady, or that at any moment I
may come upon her and my ideal be shattered. This must be safeguarded.
I might command her retirement to her native province, but who shall
insure me against the weakness of my own heart demanding her return?
No. Let Your Majesty's words spoken--well--in parable, be fulfilled in
truth. I shall give orders to the Chief Eunuch that the Incomparable
Lady tonight shall drink the Draught of Crushed Pearls, and be thus
restored to the sphere that alone is worthy of her. Thus are all
anxieties soothed, and the honours offered to her virtuous spirit shall
be a glorious repayment of the ideal that will ever illuminate my soul."

The Empress was speechless. She had borne the Emperor in her womb, but
the philosopher outsoared her comprehension. She retired, leaving his
Majesty in a reverie, endeavoring herself to grasp the moral of which
he had spoken, for the guidance of herself and the ladies concerned. But
whether it inculcated reserve or the reverse in the Dragon Chamber, and
what the Imperial ladies should follow as an example she was, to the
end of her life, totally unable to say. Philosophy indeed walks on the
heights. We cannot all expect to follow it.

That night the Incomparable Lady drank the Draught of Crushed Pearls.

The Princess of Feminine Propriety and the White Jade Concubine,
learning these circumstances, redoubled their charms, their coquetries
and their efforts to occupy what may be described as the inner sanctuary
of the Emperor's esteem. Both lived to a green old age, wealthy and
honored, alike firm in the conviction that if the Incomparable Lady had
not shown herself so superior to temptation the Emperor might have been
on the whole better pleased, whatever the sufferings of the philosopher.
Both lived to be the tyrants of many generations of beauties at the
Celestial Court. Both were assiduous in their devotions before the
spirit tablet of the departed lady, and in recommending her example of
reserve and humility to every damsel whom it might concern.

It will probably occur to the reader of this unique but veracious story
that there is more in it than meets the eye, and more than the one
moral alluded to by the Emperor according to the point of view of the
different actors.

To the discernment of the reader it must accordingly be left.




THE HATRED OF THE QUEEN

A Story of Burma

Most wonderful is the Irawadi, the mighty river of Burma. In all the
world elsewhere is no such river, bearing the melted snows from its
mysterious sources in the high places of the mountains. The dawn rises
upon its league-wide flood; the moon walks upon it with silver feet. It
is the pulsing heart of the land, living still though so many rules and
rulers have risen and fallen beside it, their pomps and glories drifting
like flotsam dawn the river to the eternal ocean that is the end of
all--and the beginning. Dead civilizations strew its banks, dreaming in
the torrid sunshine of glories that were--of blood-stained gold, jewels
wept from woeful crowns, nightmare dreams of murder and terror; dreaming
also of heavenly beauty, for the Lord Buddha looks down in moonlight
peace upon the land that leaped to kiss His footprints, that has laid
its heart in the hand of the Blessed One, and shares therefore in His
bliss and content. The Land of the Lord Buddha, where the myriad pagodas
lift their golden flames of worship everywhere, and no idlest wind can
pass but it ruffles the bells below the knees until they send forth
their silver ripple of music to swell the hymn of praise!

There is a little bay on the bank of the flooding river--a silent,
deserted place of sanddunes and small bills. When a ship is in sight,
some poor folk come and spread out the red lacquer that helps their
scanty subsistence, and the people from the passing ship land and barter
and in a few minutes are gone on their busy way and silence settles
down once more. They neither know nor care that, near by, a mighty city
spread its splendour for miles along the river bank, that the king
known as Lord of the Golden Palace, The Golden Foot, Lord of the White
Elephant, held his state there with balls of magnificence, obsequious
women, fawning courtiers and all the riot and colour of an Eastern
tyranny. How should they care? Now there are ruins--ruins, and the
cobras slip in and out through the deserted holy places. They breed
their writhing young in the sleeping-chambers of queens, the tigers mew
in the moonlight, and the giant spider, more terrible than the cobra,
strikes with its black poison-claw and, paralyzing the life of the
victim, sucks its brain with slow, lascivious pleasure.

Are these foul creatures more dreadful than some of the men, the women,
who dwelt in these palaces--the more evil because of the human brain
that plotted and foresaw? That is known only to the mysterious Law that
in silence watches and decrees.

But this is a story of the dead days of Pagan, by the Irawadi, and it
will be shown that, as the Lotus of the Lord Buddha grows up a white
splendour from the black mud of the depths, so also may the soul of a
woman.

In the days of the Lord of the White Elephant, the King Pagan Men, was a
boy named Mindon, son of second Queen and the King. So, at least, it
was said in the Golden Palace, but those who knew the secrets of such
matters whispered that, when the King had taken her by the hand she
came to him no maid, and that the boy was the son of an Indian trader.
Furthermore it was said that she herself was woman of the Rajputs,
knowledgeable in spells, incantations and elemental spirits such as the
Beloos that terribly haunt waste places, and all Powers that move in
the dark, and that thus she had won the King. Certainly she had been
captured by the King's war-boats off the coast from a trading-ship bound
for Ceylon, and it was her story that, because of her beauty, she was
sent thither to serve as concubine to the King, Tissa of Ceylon. Being
captured, she was brought to the Lord of the Golden Palace. The tongue
she spoke was strange to all the fighting men, but it was wondrous to
see how swiftly she learnt theirs and spoke it with a sweet ripple such
as is in the throat of a bird.

She was beautiful exceedingly, with a colour of pale gold upon her and
lengths of silk-spun hair, and eyes like those of a jungle-deer, and
water might run beneath the arch of her foot without wetting it, and her
breasts were like the cloudy pillows where the sun couches at setting.
Now, at Pagan, the name they called her was Dwaymenau, but her true
name, known only to herself, was Sundari, and she knew not the Law of
the Blessed Buddha but was a heathen accursed. In the strong hollow of
her hand she held the heart of the King, so that on the birth of her son
she had risen from a mere concubine to be the second Queen and a power
to whom all bowed. The First Queen, Maya, languished in her palace, her
pale beauty wasting daily, deserted and lonely, for she had been the
light of the King's eyes until the coming of the Indian woman, and she
loved her lord with a great love and was a noble woman brought up in
honour and all things becoming a queen. But sigh as she would, the King
came never. All night he lay in the arms of Dwaymenau, all day he sat
beside her, whether at the great water pageants or at the festival when
the dancing-girls swayed and postured before him in her gilded chambers.
Even when he went forth to hunt the tiger, she went with him as far as
a woman may go, and then stood back only because he would not risk his
jewel, her life. So all that was evil in the man she fostered and all
that was good she cherished not at all, fearing lest he should return
to the Queen. At her will he had consulted the Hiwot Daw, the Council of
the Woon-gyees or Ministers, concerning a divorce of the Queen, but
this they told him could not be since she had kept all the laws of Manu,
being faithful, noble and beautiful and having borne him a son.

For, before the Indian woman had come to the King, the Queen had borne
a son, Ananda, and he was pale and slender and the King despised him
because of the wiles of Dwaymenau, saying he was fit only to sit among
the women, having the soul of a slave, and he laughed bitterly as the
pale child crouched in the corner to see him pass. If his eyes had been
clear, he would have known that here was no slave, but a heart as much
greater than his own as the spirit is stronger than the body. But this
he did not know and he strode past with Dwaymenau's boy on his shoulder,
laughing with cruel glee.

And this boy, Mindon, was beautiful and strong as his mother, pale olive
of face, with the dark and crafty eyes of the cunning Indian traders,
with black hair and a body straight, strong and long in the leg for his
years--apt at the beginnings of bow, sword and spear--full of promise,
if the promise was only words and looks.

And so matters rested in the palace until Ananda had ten years and
Mindon nine.

It was the warm and sunny winter and the days were pleasant, and on a
certain day the Queen, Maya, went with her ladies to worship the Blessed
One at the Thapinyu Temple, looking down upon the swiftly flowing river.
The temple was exceedingly rich and magnificent, so gilded with pure
gold-leaf that it appeared of solid gold. And about the upper part were
golden bells beneath the jewelled knee, which wafted very sweetly in
the wind and gave forth a crystal-clear music. The ladies bore in their
hands more gold-leaf, that they might acquire merit by offering this
for the service of the Master of the Law, and indeed this temple was
the offering of the Queen herself, who, because she bore the name of
the Mother of the Lord, excelled in good works and was the Moon of this
lower world in charity and piety.

Though wan with grief and anxiety, this Queen was beautiful. Her eyes,
like mournful lakes of darkness, were lovely in the pale ivory of
her face. Her lips were nobly cut and calm, and by the favour of the
Guardian Nats, she was shaped with grace and health, a worthy mother of
kings. Also she wore her jewels like a mighty princess, a magnificence
to which all the people shikoed as she passed, folding their hands and
touching the forehead while they bowed down, kneeling.

Before the colossal image of the Holy One she made her offering and,
attended by her women, she sat in meditation, drawing consolation from
the Tranquillity above her and the silence of the shrine. This ended,
the Queen rose and did obeisance to the Lord and, retiring, paced back
beneath the White Canopy and entered the courtyard where the palace
stood--a palace of noble teakwood, brown and golden and carved like lace
into strange fantasies of spires and pinnacles and branches where Nats
and Tree Spirits and Beloos and swaying river maidens mingled and met
amid fruits and leaves and flowers in a wild and joyous confusion. The
faces, the blowing garments, whirled into points with the swiftness of
the dance, were touched with gold, and so glad was the building that it
seemed as if a very light wind might whirl it to the sky, and even
the sad Queen stopped to rejoice in its beauty as it blossomed in the
sunlight.

And even as she paused, her little son Ananda rushed to meet her, pale
and panting, and flung himself into her arms with dry sobs like those of
an overrun man. She soothed him until he could speak, and then the grief
made way in a rain of tears.

"Mindon has killed my deer. He bared his knife, slit his throat and cast
him in the ditch and there he lies."

"There will he not lie long!" shouted Mindon, breaking from the palace
to the group where all were silent now. "For the worms will eat him and
the dogs pick clean his bones, and he will show his horns at his lords
no more. If you loved him, White-liver, you should have taught him
better manners to his betters."

With a stifled shriek Ananda caught the slender knife from his girdle
and flew at Mindon like a cat of the woods. Such things were done daily
by young and old, and this was a long sorrow come to a head between the
boys.

Suddenly, lifting the hangings of the palace gateway, before them stood
the mother of Mindon, the Lady Dwaymenau, pale as wool, having heard the
shout of her boy, so that the two Queens faced each other, each holding
the shoulders of her son, and the ladies watched, mute as fishes, for it
was years since these two had met.

"What have you done to my son?" breathed Maya the Queen, dry in the
throat and all but speechless with passion. For indeed his face, for a
child, was ghastly.

"Look at his knife! What would he do to my son?" Dwaymenau was stiff
with hate and spoke as to a slave.

"He has killed my deer and mocks me because I loved him, He is the devil
in this place. Look at the devils in his eyes. Look quick before he
smiles, my mother."

And indeed, young as the boy was, an evil thing sat in either eye and
glittered upon them. Dwaymenau passed her hand across his brow, and he
smiled and they were gone.

"The beast ran at me and would have flung me with his horns," he said,
looking up brightly at his mother. "He had the madness upon him. I
struck once and he was dead. My father would have done the same.

"That would he not!" said Queen Maya bitterly. "Your father would have
crept up, fawning on the deer, and offered him the fruits he loved,
stroking him the while. And in trust the beast would have eaten, and the
poison in the fruit would have slain him. For the people of your father
meet neither man nor beast in fair fight. With a kiss they stab!"

Horror kept the women staring and silent. No one had dreamed that
the scandal had reached the Queen. Never had she spoken or looked her
knowledge but endured all in patience. Now it sprang out like a sword
among them, and they feared for Maya, whom all loved.

Mindon did not understand. It was beyond him, but he saw he was scorned.
Dwaymenau, her face rigid as a mask, looked pitilessly at the shaking
Queen, and each word dropped from her mouth, hard and cold as the
falling of diamonds. She refused the insult.

"If it is thus you speak of our lord and my love, what wonder he
forsakes you? Mother of a craven milk runs in your veins and his for
blood. Take your slinking brat away and weep together! My son and I
go forth to meet the King as he comes from hunting, and to welcome him
kingly!" She caught her boy to her with a magnificent gesture; he flung
his little arm about her, and laughing loudly they went off together.

The tension relaxed a little when they were out of sight. The women knew
that, since Dwaymenau had refused to take the Queen's meaning, she
would certainly not carry her complaint to the King. They guessed at her
reason for this forbearance, but, be that as it might, it was Certain
that no other person would dare to tell him and risk the fate that waits
the messenger of evil.

The eldest lady led away the Queen, now almost tottering in the reaction
of fear and pain. Oh, that she had controlled her speech! Not for her
own sake--for she had lost all and the beggar can lose no more--but for
the boy's sake, the unloved child that stood between the stranger and
her hopes. For him she had made a terrible enemy. Weeping, the boy
followed her.

"Take comfort, little son," she said, drawing him to her tenderly. "The
deer can suffer no more. For the tigers, he does not fear them. He runs
in green woods now where there is none to hunt. He is up and away. The
Blessed One was once a deer as gentle as yours."

But still the child wept, and the Queen broke down utterly. "Oh, if life
be a dream, let us wake, let us wake!" she sobbed. "For evil things walk
in it that cannot live in the light. Or let us dream deeper and forget.
Go, little son, yet stay--for who can tell what waits us when the King
comes. Let us meet him here."

For she believed that Dwaymenau would certainly carry the tale of her
speech to the King, and, if so, what hope but death together?

That night, after the feasting, when the girls were dancing the dance
of the fairies and spirits, in gold dresses, winged on the legs and
shoulders, and high, gold-spired and pinnacled caps, the King missed the
little Prince, Ananda, and asked why he was absent.

No one answered, the women looking upon each other, until Dwaymenau,
sitting beside him, glimmering with rough pearls and rubies, spoke
smoothly: "Lord, worshipped and beloved, the two boys quarreled this
day, and Ananda's deer attacked our Mindon. He had a madness upon him
and thrust with his horns. But, Mindon, your true son, flew in upon him
and in a great fight he slit the beast's throat with the knife you gave
him. Did he not well?"

"Well," said the King briefly. "But is there no hurt? Have searched? For
he is mine."

There was arrogance in the last sentence and her proud soul rebelled,
but smoothly as ever she spoke: "I have searched and there is not the
littlest scratch. But Ananda is weeping because the deer is dead, and
his mother is angry. What should I do?"

"Nothing. Ananda is worthless and worthless let him be! And for that
pale shadow that was once a woman, let her be forgotten. And now, drink,
my Queen!"

And Dwaymenau drank but the drink was bitter to her, for a ghost had
risen upon her that day. She had never dreamed that such a scandal had
been spoken, and it stunned her very soul with fear, that the Queen
should know her vileness and the cheat she had put upon the King. As
pure maid he had received her, and she knew, none better, what the doom
would be if his trust were broken and he knew the child not his.
She herself had seen this thing done to a concubine who had a little
offended. She was thrust living in a sack and this hung between two
earthen jars pierced with small holes, and thus she was set afloat on
the terrible river. And not till the slow filling and sinking of the
jars was the agony over and the cries for mercy stilled. No, the Queen's
speech was safe with her, but was it safe with the Queen? For her
silence, Dwaymenau must take measures.

Then she put it all aside and laughed and jested with the King and did
indeed for a time forget, for she loved him for his black-browed beauty
and his courage and royalty and the childlike trust and the man's
passion that mingled in him for her. Daily and nightly such prayers as
she made to strange gods were that she might bear a son, true son of
his.

Next day, in the noonday stillness when all slept, she led her young son
by the hand to her secret chamber, and, holding him upon her knees in
that rich and golden place, she lifted his face to hers and stared into
his eyes. And so unwavering was her gaze, so mighty the hard, unblinking
stare that his own was held against it, and he stared back as the earth
stares breathless at the moon. Gradually the terror faded out of his
eyes; they glazed as if in a trance; his head fell stupidly against her
bosom; his spirit stood on the borderland of being and waited.

Seeing this, she took his palm and, molding it like wax, into the cup
of it she dropped clear fluid from a small vessel of pottery with the
fylfot upon its side and the disks of the god Shiva. And strange it was
to see that lore of India in the palace where the Blessed Law reigned
in peace. Then, fixing her eyes with power upon Mindon, she bade him, a
pure child, see for her in its clearness.

"Only virgin-pure can see!" she muttered, staring into his eyes. "See!
See!"

The eyes of Mindon were closing. He half opened them and looked dully at
his palm. His face was pinched and yellow.

"A woman--a child, on a long couch. Dead! I see!"

"See her face. Is her head crowned with the Queen's jewels? See!"

"Jewels. I cannot see her face. It is hidden."

"Why is it hidden?"

"A robe across her face. Oh, let me go!"

"And the child? See!"

"Let me go. Stop--my head--my head! I cannot see. The child is hidden.
Her arm holds it. A woman stoops above them."

"A woman? Who? Is it like me? Speak! See!"

"A woman. It is like you, mother--it is like you. I fear very greatly. A
knife--a knife! Blood! I cannot see--I cannot speak! I--I sleep."

His face was ghastly white now, his body cold and collapsed. Terrified,
she caught him to her breast and relaxed the power of her will upon him.
For that moment, she was only the passionate mother and quaked to think
she might have hurt him. An hour passed and he slept heavily in her
arms, and in agony she watched to see the colour steal back into the
olive cheek and white lips. In the second hour he waked and stretched
himself indolently, yawning like a cat. Her tears dropped like rain upon
him as she clasped him violently to her.

He writhed himself free, petulant and spoilt. "Let me be. I hate kisses
and women's tricks. I want to go forth and play. I have had a devil's
dream.

"What did you see in your dream, prince of my heart?" She caught
frantically at the last chance.

"A deer--a tiger. I have forgotten. Let me go." He ran off and she sat
alone with her doubts and fears. Yet triumph coloured them too. She saw
a dead woman, a dead child, and herself bending above them. She hid the
vessel in her bosom and went out among her women.

Weeks passed, and never a word that she dreaded from Maya the Queen. The
women of Dwaymenau, questioning the Queen's women, heard that she seemed
to have heavy sorrow upon her. Her eyes were like dying lamps and she
faded as they. The King never entered her palace. Drowned in Dwaymenau's
wiles and beauty, her slave, her thrall, he forgot all else but his
fighting, his hunting and his long war-boats, and whether the Queen
lived or died, he cared nothing. Better indeed she should die and
her place be emptied for the beloved, without offence to her powerful
kindred.

And now he was to sail upon a raid against the Shan Tsaubwa, who had
denied him tribute of gold and jewels and slaves. Glorious were the
boats prepared for war, of brown teak and gilded until they shone like
gold. Seventy men rowed them, sword and lance beside each. Warriors
crowded them, flags and banners fluttered about them; the shining water
reflected the pomp like a mirror and the air rang with song. Dwaymenau
stood beside the water with her women, bidding the King farewell, and so
he saw her, radiant in the dawn, with her boy beside her, and waved his
hand to the last.

The ships were gone and the days languished a little at Pagan. They
missed the laughter and royalty of the King, and few men, and those old
and weak, were left in the city. The pulse of life beat slower.

And Dwaymenau took rule in the Golden Palace. Queen Maya sat like one in
a dream and questioned nothing, and Dwaymenau ruled with wisdom but none
loved her. To all she was the interloper, the witch-woman, the out-land
upstart. Only the fear of the King guarded her and her boy, but that
was strong. The boys played together sometimes, Mindon tyrannizing and
cruel, Ananda fearing and complying, broken in spirit.

Maya the Queen walked daily in the long and empty Golden Hall of
Audience, where none came now that the King was gone, pacing up and
down, gazing wearily at the carved screens and all their woodland beauty
of gods that did not hear, of happy spirits that had no pity. Like
a spirit herself she passed between the red pillars, appearing and
reappearing with steps that made no sound, consumed with hate of the
evil woman that had stolen her joy. Like a slow fire it burned in her
soul, and the face of the Blessed One was hidden from her, and she had
forgotten His peace. In that atmosphere of hate her life dwindled. Her
son's dwindled also, and there was talk among the women of some potion
that Dwaymenau had been seen to drop into his noontide drink as she went
swiftly by. That might he the gossip of malice, but he pined. His
eyes were large like a young bird's; his hands like little claws. They
thought the departing year would take him with it. What harm? Very
certainly the King would shed no tear.

It was a sweet and silent afternoon and she wandered in the great and
lonely hall, sickened with the hate in her soul and her fear for her
boy. Suddenly she heard flying footsteps--a boy's, running in mad haste
in the outer hall, and, following them, bare feet, soft, thudding.

She stopped dead and every pulse cried--Danger! No time to think or
breathe when Mindon burst into sight, wild with terror and following
close beside him a man--a madman, a short bright dah in his grasp, his
jaws grinding foam, his wild eyes starting--one passion to murder. So
sometimes from the Nats comes pitiless fury, and men run mad and kill
and none knows why.

Maya the Queen stiffened to meet the danger. Joy swept through her soul;
her weariness was gone. A fierce smile showed her teeth--a smile
of hate, as she stood there and drew her dagger for defense. For
defense--the man would rend the boy and turn on her and she would not
die. She would live to triumph that the mongrel was dead, and her son,
the Prince again and his father's joy--for his heart would turn to the
child most surely. Justice was rushing on its victim. She would see it
and live content, the long years of agony wiped out in blood, as was
fitting. She would not flee; she would see it and rejoice. And as
she stood in gladness--these broken thoughts rushing through her like
flashes of lightning--Mindon saw her by the pillar and, screaming in
anguish for the first time, fled to her for refuge.

She raised her knife to meet the staring eyes, the chalk white face, and
drive him back on the murderer. If the man failed, she would not! And
even as she did this a strange thing befell. Something stronger than
hate swept her away like a leaf on the river; something primeval that
lives in the lonely pangs of childbirth, that hides in the womb and
breasts of the mother. It was stronger than she. It was not the hated
Mindoin--she saw him no more. Suddenly it was the eternal Child, lifting
dying, appealing eyes to the Woman, as he clung to her knees. She did
not think this--she felt it, and it dominated her utterly. The Woman
answered. As if it had been her own flesh and blood, she swept the
panting body behind her and faced the man with uplifted dagger and knew
her victory assured, whether in life or death. On came the horrible
rush, the flaming eyes, and, if it was chance that set the dagger
against his throat, it was cool strength that drove it home and never
wavered until the blood welling from the throat quenched the flame in
the wild eyes, and she stood triumphing like a war-goddess, with the
man at her feet. Then, strong and flushed, Maya the Queen gathered the
half-dead boy in her arms, and, both drenched with blood, they moved
slowly down the hall and outside met the hurrying crowd, with Dwaymenau,
whom the scream had brought to find her son.

"You have killed him! She has killed him!" Scarcely could the Rajput
woman speak. She was kneeling beside him--he hideous with blood. "She
hated him always. She has murdered him. Seize her!"

"Woman, what matter your hates and mine?" the Queen said slowly. "The
boy is stark with fear. Carry him in and send for old Meh Shway Gon.
Woman, be silent!"

When a Queen commands, men and women obey, and a Queen commanded then.
A huddled group lifted the child and carried him away, Dwaymenau with
them, still uttering wild threats, and the Queen was left alone.

She could not realize what she had done and left undone. She could not
understand it. She had hated, sickened with loathing, as it seemed for
ages, and now, in a moment it had blown away like a whirlwind that is
gone. Hate was washed out of her soul and had left it cool and white as
the Lotus of the Blessed One. What power had Dwaymenau to hurt her when
that other Power walked beside her? She seemed to float above her in
high air and look down upon her with compassion. Strength, virtue flowed
in her veins; weakness, fear were fantasies. She could not understand,
but knew that here was perfect enlightenment. About her echoed the words
of the Blessed One: "Never in this world doth hatred cease by hatred,
but only by love. This is an old rule."

"Whereas I was blind, now I see," said Maya the Queen slowly to her own
heart. She had grasped the hems of the Mighty.

Words cannot speak the still passion of strength and joy that possessed
her. Her step was light. As she walked, her soul sang within her, for
thus it is with those that have received the Law. About them is the
Peace.

In the dawn she was told that the Queen, Dwaymenau, would speak with
her, and without a tremor she who had shaken like a leaf at that name
commanded that she should enter. It was Dwaymenau that trembled as she
came into that unknown place.

With cloudy brows and eyes that would reveal no secret, she stood before
the high seat where the Queen sat pale and majestic.

"Is it well with the boy?" the Queen asked earnestly.

"Well," said Dwaymenau, fingering the silver bosses of her girdle.

"Then--is there more to say?" The tone was that of the great lady who
courteously ends an audience. "There is more. The men brought in the
body and in its throat your dagger was sticking. And my son has told me
that your body was a shield to him. You offered your life for his. I did
not think to thank you--but I thank you." She ended abruptly and still
her eyes had never met the Queen's.

"I accept your thanks. Yet a mother could do no less."

The tone was one of dismissal but still Dwaymenau lingered.

"The dagger," she said and drew it from her bosom. On the clear, pointed
blade the blood had curdled and dried. "I never thought to ask a gift of
you, but this dagger is a memorial of my son's danger. May I keep it?"

"As you will. Here is the sheath." From her girdle she drew it--rough
silver, encrusted with rubies from the mountains.

The hand rejected it.

"Jewels I cannot take, but bare steel is a fitting gift between us two."

"As you will."

The Queen spoke compassionately, and Dwaymenau, still with veiled eyes,
was gone without fare well. The empty sheath lay on the seat--a symbol
of the sharp-edged hate that had passed out of her life. She touched the
sheath to her lips and, smiling, laid it away.

And the days went by and Dwaymenau came no more before her, and her days
were fulfilled with peace. And now again the Queen ruled in the palace
wisely and like a Queen, and this Dwaymenau did not dispute, but what
her thoughts were no man could tell.

Then came the end.

One night the city awakened to a wild alarm. A terrible fleet of
war-boats came sweeping along the river thick as locusts--the war fleet
of the Lord of Prome. Battle shouts broke the peace of the night
to horror; axes battered on the outer doors; the roofs of the outer
buildings were all aflame. It was no wonderful incident, but a common
one enough of those turbulent days--reprisal by a powerful ruler with
raids and hates to avenge on the Lord of the Golden Palace. It was
indeed a right to be gainsaid only by the strong arm, and the strong arm
was absent; as for the men of Pagan, if the guard failed and the women's
courage sank, they would return to blackened walls, empty chambers and
desolation.

At Pagan the guard was small, indeed, for the King's greed of plunder
had taken almost every able man with him. Still, those who were left
did what they could, and the women, alert and brave, with but few
exceptions, gathered the children and handed such weapons as they could
muster to the men, and themselves, taking knives and daggers, helped to
defend the inner rooms.

In the farthest, the Queen, having given her commands and encouraged all
with brave words, like a wise, prudent princess, sat with her son beside
her. Her duty was now to him. Loved or unloved, he was still the heir,
the root of the House tree. If all failed, she must make ransom
and terms for him, and, if they died, it must be together. He, with
sparkling eyes, gay in the danger, stood by her. Thus Dwaymenau found
them.

She entered quietly and without any display of emotion and stood before
the high seat.

"Great Queen"--she used that title for the first time--"the leader is
Meng Kyinyo of Prome. There is no mercy. The end is near. Our men fall
fast, the women are fleeing. I have come to say this thing: Save the
Prince."

"And how?" asked the Queen, still seated. "I have no power."

"I have sent to Maung Tin, abbot of the Golden Monastery, and he has
said this thing. In the Kyoung across the river he can hide one child
among the novices. Cut his hair swiftly and put upon him this yellow
robe. The time is measured in minutes."

Then the Queen perceived, standing by the pillar, a monk of a stern,
dark presence, the creature of Dwaymenau. For an instant she pondered.
Was the woman selling the child to death? Dwaymenau spoke no word.
Her face was a mask. A minute that seemed an hour drifted by, and the
yelling and shrieks for mercy drew nearer.

"There will be pursuit," said the Queen. "They will slay him on the
river. Better here with me."

"There will be no pursuit." Dwaymenau fixed her strange eyes on the
Queen for the first time.

What moved in those eyes? The Queen could not tell. But despairing,
she rose and went to the silent monk, leading the Prince by the hand.
Swiftly he stripped the child of the silk pasoh of royalty, swiftly
he cut the long black tresses knotted on the little head, and upon the
slender golden body he set the yellow robe worn by the Lord Himself on
earth, and in the small hand he placed the begging-bowl of the Lord.
And now, remote and holy, in the dress that is of all most sacred, the
Prince, standing by the monk, turned to his mother and looked with grave
eyes upon her, as the child Buddha looked upon his Mother--also a Queen.
But Dwaymenau stood by silent and lent no help as the Queen folded the
Prince in her arms and laid his hand in the hand of the monk and saw
them pass away among the pillars, she standing still and white.

She turned to her rival. "If you have meant truly, I thank you."

"I have meant truly."

She turned to go, but the Queen caught her by the hand.

"Why have you done this?" she asked, looking into the strange eyes of
the strange woman.

Something like tears gathered in them for a moment, but she brushed them
away as she said hurriedly:

"I was grateful. You saved my son. Is it not enough?"

"No, not enough!" cried the Queen. "There is more. Tell me, for death is
upon us."

"His footsteps are near," said the Indian. "I will speak. I love my
lord. In death I will not cheat him. What you have known is true. My
child is no child of his. I will not go down to death with a lie upon my
lips. Come and see."

Dwaymenau was no more. Sundari, the Indian woman, awful and calm, led
the Queen down the long ball and into her own chamber, where Mindon, the
child, slept a drugged sleep. The Queen felt that she had never known
her; she herself seemed diminished in stature as she followed the
stately figure, with its still, dark face. Into this room the enemy were
breaking, shouldering their way at the door--a rabble of terrible faces.
Their fury was partly checked when only a sleeping child and two women
confronted them, but their leader, a grim and evil-looking man, strode
from the huddle.

"Where is the son of the King?" he shouted. "Speak, women! Whose is this
boy?"

Sundari laid her hand upon her son's shoulder. Not a muscle of her face
flickered.

"This is his son."

"His true son--the son of Maya the Queen?"

"His true son, the son of Maya the Queen."

"Not the younger--the mongrel?"

"The younger--the mongrel died last week of a fever."

Every moment of delay was precious. Her eyes saw only a monk and a boy
fleeing across the wide river.

"Which is Maya the Queen?"

"This," said Sundari. "She cannot speak. It is her son--the Prince."

Maya had veiled her face with her hands. Her brain swam, but she
understood the noble lie. This woman could love. Their lord would not be
left childless. Thought beat like pulses in her--raced along her veins.
She held her breath and was dumb.

His doubt was assuaged and the lust of vengeance was on him--a madness
seized the man. But even his own wild men shrank back a moment, for to
slay a sleeping child in cold blood is no man's work.

"You swear it is the Prince. But why? Why do you not lie to save him if
you are the King's woman?"

"Because his mother has trampled me to the earth. I am the Indian
woman--the mother of the younger, who is dead and safe. She jeered at
me--she mocked me. It is time I should see her suffer. Suffer now as I
have suffered, Maya the Queen!"

This was reasonable--this was like the women he had known. His doubt was
gone--he laughed aloud.

"Then feed full of vengeance!" he cried, and drove his knife through the
child's heart.

For a moment Sundari wavered where she stood, but she held herself and
was rigid as the dead.

"Tha-du! Well done!" she said with an awful smile. "The tree is broken,
the roots cut. And now for us women--our fate, O master?"

"Wait here," he answered. "Let not a hair of their heads be touched.
Both are fair. The two for me. For the rest draw lots when all is done."

The uproar surged away. The two stood by the dead boy. So swift had been
his death that he lay as though he still slept--the black lashes pressed
upon his cheek.

With the heredity of their different races upon them, neither wept. But
silently the Queen opened her arms; wide as a woman that entreats
she opened them to the Indian Queen, and speechlessly the two clung
together. For a while neither spoke.

"My sister!" said Maya the Queen. And again, "O great of heart!"

She laid her cheek against Sundari's, and a wave of solemn joy seemed to
break in her soul and flood it with life and light.

"Had I known sooner!" she said. "For now the night draws on."

"What is time?" answered the Rajput woman. "We stand before the Lords of
Life and Death. The life you gave was yours, and I am unworthy to kiss
the feet of the Queen. Our lord will return and his son is saved. The
House can be rebuilt. My son and I were waifs washed up from the sea.
Another wave washes us back to nothingness. Tell him my story and he
will loathe me."

"My lips are shut," said the Queen. "Should I betray my sister's honour?
When he speaks of the noble women of old, your name will be among them.
What matters which of us he loves and remembers? Your soul and mine have
seen the same thing, and we are one. But I--what have I to do with life?
The ship and the bed of the conqueror await us. Should we await them, my
sister?"

The bright tears glittered in the eyes of Sundari at the tender name and
the love in the face of the Queen. At last she accepted it.

"My sister, no," she said, and drew from her bosom the dagger of Maya,
with the man's blood rusted upon it. "Here is the way. I have kept this
dagger in token of my debt. Nightly have I kissed it, swearing that,
when the time came, I would repay my debt to the great Queen. Shall I go
first or follow, my sister?"

Her voice lingered on the word. It was precious to her. It was like
clear water, laying away the stain of the shameful years.

"Your arm is strong," answered the Queen. "I go first. Because the
King's son is safe, I bless you. For your love of the King, I love you.
And here, standing on the verge of life, I testify that the words of the
Blessed One are truth--that love is All; that hatred is Nothing."

She bared the breast that this woman had made desolate--that, with the
love of this woman, was desolate ho longer, and, stooping, laid her hand
on the brow of Mindon. Once more they embraced, and then, strong and
true, and with the Rajput passion behind the blow, the stroke fell and
Sundari had given her sister the crowning mercy of deliverance. She
laid the body beside her own son, composing the stately limbs, the quiet
eyelids, the black lengths of hair into majesty. So, she thought, in the
great temple of the Rajput race, the Mother Goddess shed silence and awe
upon her worshippers. The two lay like mother and son--one slight hand
of the Queen she laid across the little body as if to guard it.

Her work done, she turned to the entrance and watched the dawn coming
glorious over the river. The men shouted and quarreled in the distance,
but she heeded them no more than the chattering of apes. Her heart was
away over the distance to the King, but with no passion now: so might a
mother have thought of her son. He was sleeping, forgetful of even her
in his dreams. What matter? She was glad at heart. The Queen was dearer
to her than the King--so strange is life; so healing is death. She
remembered without surprise that she had asked no forgiveness of the
Queen for all the cruel wrongs, for the deadly intent--had made no
confession. Again what matter? What is forgiveness when love is all?

She turned from the dawn-light to the light in the face of the Queen.
It was well. Led by such a hand, she could present herself without fear
before the Lords of Life and Death--she and the child. She smiled. Life
is good, but death, which is more life, is better. The son of the King
was safe, but her own son safer.

When the conqueror reentered the chamber, he found the dead Queen
guarding the dead child, and across her feet, as not worthy to lie
beside her, was the body of the Indian woman, most beautiful in death.




FIRE OF BEAUTY

(Salutation to Ganesa the Lord of Wisdom, and to Saraswate the Lady of
Sweet Speech!)

This story was composed by the Brahmin Visravas, that dweller on the
banks of holy Kashi; and though the events it records are long past, yet
it is absolutely and immutably true because, by the power of his yoga,
he summoned up every scene before him, and beheld the persons moving
and speaking as in life. Thus he had naught to do but to set down what
befell.

What follows, that hath he seen.


I

Wide was the plain, the morning sun shining full upon it, drinking up
the dew as the Divine drinks up the spirit of man. Far it stretched,
resembling the ocean, and riding upon it like a stately ship was the
league-long Rock of Chitor. It is certainly by the favour of the Gods
that this great fortress of the Rajput Kings thus rises from the plain,
leagues in length, noble in height; and very strange it is to see the
flat earth fall away from it like waters from the bows of a boat, as it
soars into the sky with its burden of palaces and towers.

Here dwelt the Queen Padmini and her husband Bhimsi, the Rana of the
Rajputs.

The sight of the holy ascetic Visravas pierced even the secrets of the
Rani's bower, where, in the inmost chamber of marble, carved until it
appeared like lace of the foam of the sea, she was seated upon cushions
of blue Bokhariot silk, like the lotus whose name she bore floating upon
the blue depths of the lake. She had just risen from the shallow bath of
marble at her feet.

Most beautiful was this Queen, a haughty beauty such as should be a
Rajput lady; for the name "Rajput" signifies Son of a King, and this
lady was assuredly the daughter of Kings and of no lesser persons. And
since that beauty is long since ashes (all things being transitory),
it is permitted to describe the mellowed ivory of her body, the smooth
curves of her hips, and the defiance of her glimmering bosom, half
veiled by the long silken tresses of sandal-scented hair which a maiden
on either side, bowing toward her, knotted upon her head. But even
he who with his eyes has seen it can scarce tell the beauty of her
face--the slender arched nose, the great eyes like lakes of darkness
in the reeds of her curled lashes, the mouth of roses, the glance,
deer-like but proud, that courted and repelled admiration. This cannot
be told, nor could the hand of man paint it. Scarcely could that fair
wife of the Pandava Prince, Draupadi the Beautiful (who bore upon her
perfect form every auspicious mark) excel this lady.

(Ashes--ashes! May Maheshwara have mercy upon her rebirths!)

Throughout India had run the fame of this beauty. In the bazaar of
Kashmir they told of it. It was recorded in the palaces of Travancore,
and all the lands that lay between; and in an evil hour--may the Gods
curse the mother that bore him!--it reached the ears of Allah-u-Din, the
Moslem dog, a very great fighting man who sat in Middle India, looting
and spoiling.

(Ahi! for the beauty that is as a burning flame!)

In the gardens beneath the windows of the Queen, the peacocks, those
maharajas of the birds, were spreading the bronze and emerald of their
tails. The sun shone on them as on heaps of jewels, so that they dazzled
the eyes. They stood about the feet of the ancient Brahmin sage, he
who had tutored the Queen in her childhood and given her wisdom as the
crest-jeweled of her loveliness. He, the Twice-born sat under the shade
of a neem tree, hearing the gurgle of the sacred waters from the Cow's
Mouth, where the great tank shone under the custard-apple boughs; and,
at peace with all the world, he read in the Scripture which affirms the
transience of all things drifting across the thought of the Supreme like
clouds upon the surface of the Ocean.

(Ahi! that loveliness is also illusion!)

Her women placed about the Queen--that Lotus of Women--a robe of silk
of which none could say that it was green or blue, the noble colours so
mingled into each other under the latticed gold work of Kashi. They set
the jewels on her head, and wide thin rings of gold heavy with great
pearls in her ears. Upon the swell of her bosom they clasped the
necklace of table emeralds, large, deep, and full of green lights, which
is the token of the Chitor queens. Upon her slender ankles they placed
the chooris of pure soft gold, set also with grass-green emeralds, and
the delicate souls of her feet they reddened with lac. Nor were her arms
forgotten, but loaded with bangles so free from alloy that they could be
bent between the hands of a child. Then with fine paste they painted the
Symbol between her dark brows, and, rising, she shone divine as a nymph
of heaven who should cause the righteous to stumble in his austerities
and arrest even the glances of Gods.

(Ahi! that the Transient should be so fair!)


II

Now it was the hour that the Rana should visit her; for since the coming
of the Lotus Lady, he had forgotten his other women, and in her was all
his heart. He came from the Hall of Audience where petitions were heard,
and justice done to rich and poor; and as he came, the Queen, hearing
his step on the stone, dismissed her women, and smiling to know her
loveliness, bowed before him, even as the Goddess Uma bows before Him
who is her other half.

Now he was a tall man, with the falcon look of the Hill Rajputs, and
moustaches that curled up to his eyes, lion-waisted and lean in the
flanks like Arjoon himself, a very ruler of men; and as he came, his
hand was on the hilt of the sword that showed beneath his gold coat of
khincob. On the high cushions he sat, and the Rani a step beneath him;
and she said, raising her lotus eyes:--

"Speak, Aryaputra, (son of a noble father)--what hath befallen?"

And he, looking upon her beauty with fear, replied,--

"It is thy beauty, O wife, that brings disaster."

"And how is this?" she asked very earnestly.

For a moment he paused, regarding her as might a stranger, as one
who considers a beauty in which he hath no part; and, drawn by this
strangeness, she rose and knelt beside him, pillowing her head upon his
heart.

"Say on," she said in her voice of music.

He unfurled a scroll that he had crushed in his strong right hand, and
read aloud:--

 "'Thus says Allah-u-Din, Shadow of God, Wonder of the Age,
Viceregent of Kings. We have heard that in the Treasury of Chitor is a
jewel, the like of which is not in the Four Seas--the work of the hand
of the Only God, to whom be praise! This jewel is thy Queen, the Lady
Padmini. Now, since the sons of the Prophet are righteous, I desire but
to look upon this jewel, and ascribing glory to the Creator, to depart
in peace. Granted requests are the bonds of friendship; therefore
lay the head of acquiescence in the dust of opportunity and name an
auspicious day.'"

He crushed it again and flung it furiously from him on the marble.

"The insult is deadly. The sorry son of a debased mother! Well he knows
that to the meanest Rajput his women are sacred, and how much more the
daughters and wives of the Kings! The jackals feast on the tongue that
speaks this shame! But it is a threat, Beloved--a threat! Give me thy
counsel that never failed me yet."

For the Rajputs take counsel with their women who are wise.

They were silent, each weighing the force of resistance that could be
made; and this the Rani knew even as he.

"It cannot be," she said; "the very ashes of the dead would shudder to
hear. Shall the Queens of India be made the sport of the barbarians?"

Her husband looked upon her fair face. She could feel his heart labor
beneath her ear.

"True, wife; but the barbarians are strong. Our men are tigers, each
one, but the red dogs of the Dekkan can pull down the tiger, for they
are many, and he alone."

Then that great Lady, accepting his words, and conscious of the danger,
murmured this, clinging to her husband:--

"There was a Princess of our line whose beauty made all other women seem
as waning moons in the sun's splendour. And many great Kings sought her,
and there was contention and war. And, she, fearing that the Rajputs
would be crushed to powder between the warring Kings, sent unto each
this message: 'Come on such and such a day, and thou shalt see my face
and hear my choice.' And they, coming, rejoiced exceedingly, thinking
each one that he was the Chosen. So they came into the great Hall, and
there was a table, and somewhat upon it covered with a gold cloth; and
an old veiled woman lifted the gold, and the head of the Princess lay
there with the lashes like night upon her cheek, and between her lips
was a little scroll, saying this: 'I have chosen my Lover and my Lord,
and he is mightiest, for he is Death.'--So the Kings went silently away.
And there was Peace."

The music of her voice ceased, and the Rana clasped her closer.

"This I cannot do. Better die together. Let us take counsel with the
ancient Brahman, thy guru [teacher], for he is very wise."

She clapped her hands, and the maidens returned, and, bowing, brought
the venerable Prabhu Narayan into the Presence, and again those roses
retired.

Respectful salutation was then offered by the King and the Queen to that
saint, hoary with wisdom--he who had seen her grow into the loveliness
of the sea-born Shri, yet had never seen that loveliness; for he had
never raised his eyes above the chooris about her ankles. To him the
King related his anxieties; and he sat rapt in musing, and the two
waited in dutiful silence until long minutes had fallen away; and at the
last he lifted his head, weighted with wisdom, and spoke.

"O King, Descendant of Rama! this outrage cannot be. Yet, knowing the
strength and desire of this obscene one and the weakness of our power,
it is plain that only with cunning can cunning be met. Hear, therefore,
the history of the Fox and the Drum.

"A certain Fox searched for food in the jungle, and so doing beheld
a tree on which hung a drum; and when the boughs knocked upon the
parchment, it sounded aloud. Considering, he believed that so round a
form and so great a voice must portend much good feeding. Neglecting on
this account a fowl that fed near by, he ascended to the drum. The drum
being rent was but air and parchment, and meanwhile the fowl fled away.
And from the eye of folly he shed the tear of disappointment, having
bartered the substance for the shadow. So must we act with this budmash
[scoundrel]. First, receiving his oath that he will depart without
violence, hid him hither to a great feast, and say that he shall behold
the face of the Queen in a mirror. Provide that some fair woman of
the city show her face, and then let him depart in peace, showing him
friendship. He shall not know he hath not seen the beauty he would
befoul."

After consultation, no better way could be found; but the heart of the
great Lady was heavy with foreboding.

(A hi! that Beauty should wander a pilgrim in the ways of sorrow!)

To Allah-u-Din therefore did the King dispatch this letter by swift
riders on mares of Mewar.

After salutations--"Now whereas thou hast said thou wouldest look upon
the beauty of the Treasure of Chitor, know it is not the custom of the
Rajputs that any eye should light upon their treasure. Yet assuredly,
when requests arise between friends, there cannot fail to follow
distress of mind and division of soul if these are ungranted. So, under
promises that follow, I bid thee to a feast at my poor house of Chitor,
and thou shalt see that beauty reflected in a mirror, and so seeing,
depart in peace from the house of a friend."

This being writ by the Twice-Born, the Brahman, did the Rana sign with
bitter rage in his heart. And the days passed.


III

On a certain day found fortunate by the astrologers--a day of early
winter, when the dawns were pure gold and the nights radiant with a
cool moon--did a mighty troop of Moslems set their camp on the plain of
Chitor. It was as if a city had blossomed in an hour. Those who looked
from the walls muttered prayers to the Lord of the Trident; for these
men seemed like the swarms of the locust--people, warriors all, fierce
fighting-men. And in the ways of Chitor, and up the steep and winding
causeway from the plains, were warriors also, the chosen of the Rajputs,
thick as blades of corn hedging the path.

(Ahi! that the blossom of beauty should have swords for thorns!)

Then, leaving his camp, attended by many Chiefs,--may the mothers and
sires that begot them be accursed!--came Allah-u-Din, riding toward the
Lower Gate, and so upward along the causeway, between the two rows of
men who neither looked nor spoke, standing like the carvings of war in
the Caves of Ajunta. And the moon was rising through the sunset as he
came beneath the last and seventh gate. Through the towers and palaces
he rode with his following, but no woman, veiled or unveiled,--no, not
even an outcast of the city,--was there to see him come; only the men,
armed and silent. So he turned to Munim Khan that rode at his bridle,
saying,--

"Let not the eye of watchfulness close this night on the pillow of
forgetfulness!"

And thus he entered the palace.

Very great was the feast in Chitor, and the wines that those accursed
should not drink (since the Outcast whom they call their Prophet forbade
them) ran like water, and at the right hand of Allah-u-Din was set the
great crystal Cup inlaid with gold by a craft that is now perished; and
he filled and refilled it--may his own Prophet curse the swine!

But because the sons of Kings eat not with the outcasts, the Rana
entered after, clothed in chain armor of blue steel, and having greeted
him, bid him to the sight of that Treasure. And Allah-u-Din, his eyes
swimming with wine, and yet not drunken, followed, and the two went
alone.

Purdahs [curtains] of great splendour were hung in the great Hall that
is called the Raja's Hall, exceeding rich with gold, and in front of the
opening was a kneeling-cushion, and an a gold stool before it a polished
mirror.

(Ahi! for gold and beauty, the scourges of the world!)

And the Rana was pale to the lips.

Now as the Princes stood by the purdah, a veiled woman, shrouded in
white so that no shape could be seen in her, came forth from within,
and kneeling upon the cushion, she unveiled her face bending until
the mirror, like a pool of water, held it, and that only. And the King
motioned his guest to look, and he looked over her veiled shoulder
and saw. Very great was the bowed beauty that the mirror held, but
Allah-u-Din turned to the Rana.

"By the Bread and the Salt, by the Guest-Right, by the Honour of thy
House, I ask--is this the Treasure of Chitor?"

And since the Sun-Descended cannot lie, no, not though they perish, the
Rana answered, flushing darkly,--"This is not the Treasure. Wilt thou
spare?"

But he would not, and the woman slipped like a shadow behind the purdah
and no word said.

Then was heard the tinkling of chooris, and the little noise fell upon
the silence like a fear, and, parting the curtains, came a woman veiled
like the other. She did not kneel, but took the mirror in her hand, and
Allah-u-Din drew up behind her back. From her face she raised the veil
of gold Dakka webs, and gazed into the mirror, holding it high, and that
Accursed stumbled back, blinded with beauty, saying this only,--"I have
seen the Treasure of Chitor."

So the purdah fell about her.

The next day, after the Imaum of the Accursed had called them to prayer,
they departed, and Allah-u-Din, paying thanks to the Rana for honours
given and taken, and swearing friendship, besought him to ride to his
camp, to see the marvels of gold and steel armor brought down from the
passes, swearing also safe-conduct. And because the Rajputs trust the
word even of a foe, he went.

(A hi! that honour should strike hands with traitors!)


IV

The hours went by, heavy-footed like mourners. Padmini the Rani knelt by
the window in her tower that overlooks the plains. Motionless she knelt
there, as the Goddess Uma lost in her penances, and she saw her Lord
ride forth, and the sparkle of steel where the sun shone on them, and
the Standard of the Cold Disk on its black ground. So the camp of the
Moslem swallowed them up, and they returned no more. Still she knelt and
none dared speak with her; and as the first shade of evening fell across
the hills of Rajasthan, she saw a horseman spurting over the flat; and
he rode like the wind, and, seeing, she implored the Gods.

Then entered the Twice-Born, that saint of clear eyes, and he bore a
scroll; and she rose and seated herself, and he stood by her, as her
ladies cowered like frightened doves before the woe in his face as he
read.

"To the Rose of Beauty, The Pearl among Women, the Chosen of the Palace.
Who, having seen thy loveliness, can look on another? Who, having tasted
the wine of the Houris, but thirsts forever? Behold, I have thy King as
hostage. Come thou and deliver him. I have sworn that he shall return in
thy place."

And from a smaller scroll, the Brahman read this:--

"I am fallen in the snare. Act thou as becomes a Rajputni."

Then that Daughter of the Sun lifted her head, for the thronging of
armed feet was heard in the Council Hall below. From the floor she
caught her veil and veiled herself in haste, and the Brahman with bowed
head followed, while her women mourned aloud. And, descending, between
the folds of the purdah she appeared white and veiled, and the Brahman
beside her, and the eyes of all the Princes were lowered to her shrouded
feet, while the voice they had not heard fell silvery upon the air, and
the echoes of the high roof repeated it.

"Chief of the Rajputs, what is your counsel?" And he of Marwar stepped
forward, and not raising his eyes above her feet, answered,--

"Queen, what is thine?"

For the Rajputs have ever heard the voice of their women.

And she said,--

"I counsel that I die and my head be sent to him, that my blood may
quench his desire."

And each talked eagerly with the other, but amid the tumult the
Twice-Born said,--

"This is not good talk. In his rage he will slay the King. By my yoga, I
have seen it. Seek another way."

So they sought, but could determine nothing, and they feared to ride
against the dog, for he held the life of the King; and the tumult was
great, but all were for the King's safety.

Then once more she spoke.

"Seeing it is determined that the King's life is more than my honour,
I go this night. In your hand I leave my little son, the Prince Ajeysi.
Prepare my litters, seven hundred of the best, for all my women go with
me. Depart now, for I have a thought from the Gods."

Then, returning to her bower, she spoke this letter to the saint, and he
wrote it, and it was sent to the camp.

After salutations--"Wisdom and strength have attained their end. Have
ready for release the Rana of Chitor, for this night I come with my
ladies, the prize of the conqueror."

When the sun sank, a great procession with torches descended the steep
way of Chitor--seven hundred litters, and in the first was borne the
Queen, and all her women followed.

All the streets were thronged with women, weeping and beating their
breasts. Very greatly they wept, and no men were seen, for their livers
were black within them for shame as the Treasure of Chitor departed,
nor would they look upon the sight. And across the plains went that
procession; as if the stars had fallen upon the earth, so glittered the
sorrowful lights of the Queen.

But in the camp was great rejoicing, for the Barbarians knew that many
fair women attended on her.

Now, before the entrance to the camp they had made a great shamiana
[tent] ready, hung with shawls of Kashmir and the plunder of Delhi; and
there was set a silk divan for the Rani, and beside it stood the Loser
and the Gainer, Allah-u-Din and the King, awaiting the Treasure.

Veiled she entered, stepping proudly, and taking no heed of the Moslem,
she stood before her husband, and even through the veil he could feel
the eyes he knew.

And that Accursed spoke, laughing.

"I have won-I have won, O King! Bid farewell to the Chosen of the
Palace--the Beloved of the Viceregent of Kings!"

Then she spoke softly, delicately, in her own tongue, that the outcast
should not guess the matter of her speech.

"Stand by me. Stir not. And when I raise my arm, cry the cry of the
Rajputs. NOW!"

And she flung her arm above her head, and instantly, like a lion
roaring, he shouted, drawing his sword, and from every litter sprang an
armed man, glittering in steel, and the bearers, humble of mien, were
Rajput knights, every one.

And Allah-u-Din thrust at the breast of the Queen; but around them
surged the war, and she was hedged with swords like a rose in the
thickets.

Very full of wine, dull with feasting and lust and surprised, the
Moslems fled across the plains, streaming in a broken rabble, cursing
and shouting like low-caste women; and the Rajputs, wiping their swords,
returned from the pursuit and laughed upon each other.

But what shall be said of the joy of the King and of her who had
imagined this thing, instructed of the Goddess who is the other half of
her Lord?

So the procession returned, singing, to Chitor with those Two in the
midst; but among the dogs that fled was Allah-u-Din, his face blackened
with shame and wrath, the curses choking in his foul throat.

(Aid! that the evil still walk the ways of the world!)


V

So the time went by and the beauty of the Queen grew, and her King could
see none but hers. Like the moon she obscured the stars, and every day
he remembered her wisdom, her valour, and his soul did homage at her
feet, and there was great content in Chitor.

It chanced one day that the Queen, looking from her high window that
like an eagle's nest overhung the precipice, saw, on the plain beneath,
a train of men, walking like ants, and each carried a basket on his
back, and behind them was a cloud of dust like a great army. Already the
city was astir because of this thing, and the rumours came thick and the
spies were sent out.

In the dark they returned, and the Rana entered the bower of Padmini,
his eyes burning like coal with hate and wrath, and he flung his arm
round his wife like a shield.

"He is returned, and in power. Counsel me again, O wife, for great is
thy wisdom!"

But she answered only this,--

"Fight, for this time it is to the death."

Then each day she watched bow the baskets of earth, emptied upon the
plain at first, made nothing, an ant heap whereat fools might laugh. But
each day as the trains of men came, spilling their baskets, the great
earthworks grew and their height mounted. Day after day the Rajputs rode
forth and slew; and as they slew it seemed that all the teeming millions
of the earth came forth to take the places of the slain. And the Rajputs
fell also, and under the pennons the thundering forces returned daily,
thinned of their best.

(A hi! that Evil rules the world as God!)

And still the earth grew up to the heights, and the protection of the
hills was slowly withdrawn from Chitor, for on the heights they made
they set their engines of war.

Then in a red dawn that great saint Narayan came to the Queen, where she
watched by her window, and spoke.

"O great lady, I have dreamed a fearful dream. Nay, rather have I seen a
vision."

With her face set like a sword, the Queen said,--

"Say on."

"In a light red like blood, I waked, and beside me stood the
Mother,--Durga,--awful to see, with a girdle of heads about her middle;
and the drops fell thick and slow from That which she held in her hand,
and in the other was her sickle of Doom. Nor did she speak, but my soul
heard her words."

"Narrate them."

"She commanded: 'Say this to the Rana: "In Chitor is My altar; in Chitor
is thy throne. If thou wouldest save either, send forth twelve crowned
Kings of Chitor to die.'"

As he said this, the Rana, fore-spent with fighting, entered and heard
the Divine word.

Now there were twelve princes of the Rajput blood, and the youngest was
the son of Padmini. What choice had these most miserable but to appease
the dreadful anger of the Goddess? So on each fourth day a King of
Chitor was crowned, and for three days sat upon the throne, and on the
fourth day, set in the front, went forth and died fighting. So perished
eleven Kings of Chitor, and now there was left but the little Ajeysi,
the son of the Queen.

And that day was a great Council called.

Few were there. On the plains many lay dead; holding the gates many
watched; but the blood was red in their hearts and flowed like Indus in
the melting of the snows. And to them spoke the Rana, his hand clenched
on his sword, and the other laid on the small dark head of the Prince
Ajeysi, who stood between his knees. And as he spoke his voice gathered
strength till it rang through the hall like the voice of Indra when he
thunders in the heavens.

"Men of the Rajputs, this child shall not die. Are we become jackals
that we fall upon the weak and tear them? When have we put our women
and children in the forefront of the war? I--I only am King of Chitor.
Narayan shall save this child for the time that will surely come. And
for us--what shall we do? I die for Chitor!"

And like the hollow waves of a great sea they answered him,--

"We will die for Chitor."

There was silence and Marwar spoke.

"The women?"

"Do they not know the duty of a Rajputni?" said the King. "My household
has demanded that the caves be prepared."

And the men clashed stew joy with their swords, and the council
dispersed.

Then that very great saint, the Twice-Born, put off the sacred thread
that is the very soul of the Brahman. In his turban he wound it
secretly, and he stained his noble Aryan body until it resembled the
Pariahs, foul for the pure to see, loathsome for the pure to touch,
and he put on him the rags of the lowest of the earth, and taking the
Prince, he removed from the body of the child every trace of royal and
Rajput birth, and he appeared like a child of the Bhils--the vile forest
wanderers that shame not to defile their lips with carrion. And in this
guise they stood before the Queen; and when she looked on the saint, the
tears fell from her eyes like rain, not for grief for her son, nor for
death, but that for their sake the pure should be made impure and the
glory of the Brahman-hood be defiled. And she fell at the old man's feet
and laid her head on the ground before him.

"Rise, daughter!" he said, "and take comfort! Are not the eyes of the
Gods clear that they should distinguish?--and this day we stand before
the God of Gods. Have not the Great Ones said, 'That which causes life
causes also decay and death'? Therefore we who go and you who stay are
alike a part of the Divine. Embrace now your child and bless him, for we
depart. And it is on account of the sacrifice of the Twelve that he is
saved alive."

So, controlling her tears, she rose, and clasping the child to her
bosom, she bade him be of good cheer since he went with the Gods. And
that great saint took his hand from hers, and for the first time in the
life of the Queen he raised his aged eyes to her face, and she gazed at
him; but what she read, even the ascetic Visravas, who saw all by
the power of his yoga, could not tell, for it was beyond speech. Very
certainly the peace thereafter possessed her.

So those two went out by the secret ways of the rocks, and wandering
far, were saved by the favour of Durga.


VI

And the nights went by and the days, and the time came that no longer
could they hold Chitor, and all hope was dead.

On a certain day the Rana and the Rani stood for the last time in her
bower, and looked down into the city; and in the streets were gathered
in a very wonderful procession the women of Chitor; and not one was
veiled. Flowers that had bloomed in the inner chambers, great ladies
jewelled for a festival, young brides, aged mothers, and girl children
clinging to the robes of their mothers who held their babes, crowded the
ways. Even the low-caste women walked with measured steps and proudly,
decked in what they had of best, their eyes lengthened with soorma, and
flowers in the darkness of their hair.

The Queen was clothed in a gold robe of rejoicing, her bodice latticed
with diamonds and great gems, and upon her bosom the necklace of table
emeralds, alight with green fire, which is the jewel of the Queens of
Chitor. So she stood radiant as a vision of Shri, and it appeared that
rays encircled her person.

And the Rana, unarmed save for his sword, had the saffron dress of a
bridegroom and the jeweled cap of the Rajput Kings, and below in the
hall were the Princes and Chiefs, clad even as he.

Then, raising her lotus eyes to her lord, the Princess said,--

"Beloved, the time is come, and we have chosen rightly, for this is
the way of honour, and it is but another link forged in the chain of
existence; for until existence itself is ended and rebirth destroyed,
still shall we meet in lives to come and still be husband and wife. What
room then for despair?"

And he answered,--

"This is true. Go first, wife, and I follow. Let not the door swing to
behind thee. But oh, to see thy beauty once more that is the very speech
of Gods with men! Wilt thou surely come again to me and again be fair?"

And for all answer she smiled upon him, and at his feet performed the
obeisance of the Rajput wife when she departs upon a journey; and they
went out together, the Queen unveiled.

As she passed through the Princes, they lowered their eyes so that none
saw her; but when she stood on the steps of the palace, the women all
turned eagerly toward her like stars about the moon, and lifting their
arms, they began to sing the dirge of the Rajput women.

So they marched, and in great companies they marched, company behind
company, young and old, past the Queen, saluting her and drawing courage
from the loveliness and kindness of her unveiled face.

In the rocks beneath the palaces of Chitor are very great caves--league
long and terrible, with ways of darkness no eyes have seen; and it
is believed that in times past spirits have haunted them with strange
wailings. In these was prepared great store of wood and oils and
fragrant matters for burning. So to these caves they marched and,
company by company, disappeared into the darkness; and the voice of
their singing grew faint and hollow, and died away, as the men stood
watching their women go.

Now, when this was done and the last had gone, the Rani descended the
steps, and the Rana, taking a torch dipped in fragrant oils, followed
her, and the Princes walked after, clad like bridegrooms but with no
faces of bridal joy. At the entrance of the caves, having lit the torch,
he gave it into her hand, and she, receiving it and smiling, turned once
upon the threshold, and for the first time those Princes beheld the face
of the Queen, but they hid their eyes with their hands when they had
seen. So she departed within, and the Rana shut to the door and barred
and bolted it, and the men with him flung down great rocks before it so
that none should know the way, nor indeed is it known to this day; and
with their hands on their swords they waited there, not speaking, until
a great smoke rose between the crevices of the rocks, but no sound at
all.

(Ashes of roses--ashes of roses!--Ahi! for beauty that is but touched
and remitted!)

The sun was high when those men with their horses and on foot marched
down the winding causeway beneath the seven gates, and so forth into the
plains, and charging unarmed upon the Moslems, they perished every man.
After, it was asked of one who had seen the great slaughter,--

"Say how my King bore himself."

And he who had seen told this:--

"Reaper of the harvest of battle, on the bed of honour he has spread a
carpet of the slain! He sleeps ringed about by his enemies. How can the
world tell of his deeds? The tongue is silent."

When that Accursed, Allah-u-Din, came up the winding height of the
hills, he found only a dead city, and his heart was sick within him.

Now this is the Sack of Chitor, and by the Oath of the Sack of Chitor do
the Rajputs swear when they bind their honour.

But it is only the ascetic Visravas who by the power of his yoga has
heard every word, and with his eyes beheld that Flame of Beauty, who,
for a brief space illuminating the world as a Queen, returns to birth in
many a shape of sorrowful loveliness until the Blue-throated God shall
in his favour destroy her rebirths.

Salutation to Ganesa the Elephant-Headed One, and to Shri the Lady of
Beauty!




THE BUILDING OF THE TAJ MAHAL

   In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful--the Smiting!
   A day when the soul shall know what it has sent on or kept back.
   A day when no soul shall control aught for another.
   And the bidding belongs to God.


THE KORAN.

I

Now the Shah-in-Shah, Shah Jahan, Emperor in India, loved his wife with
a great love. And of all the wives of the Mogul Emperors surely this
Lady Arjemand, Mumtaz-i-Mahal---the Chosen of the Palace--was the most
worthy of love. In the tresses of her silk-soft hair his heart was
bound, and for none other had he so much as a passing thought since
his soul had been submerged in her sweetness. Of her he said, using the
words of the poet Faisi,--

"How shall I understand the magic of Love the Juggler? For he made thy
beauty enter at that small gate the pupil of my eye, And now--and now my
heart cannot contain it!"

But who should marvel? For those who have seen this Arjemand crowned
with the crown the Padishah set upon her sweet low brows, with the lamps
of great jewels lighting the dimples of her cheeks as they swung beside
them, have most surely seen perfection. He who sat upon the Peacock
Throne, where the outspread tail of massed gems is centred by that great
ruby, "The Eye of the Peacock, the Tribute of the World," valued it not
so much as one Jock of the dark and perfumed tresses that rolled to her
feet. Less to him the twelve throne columns set close with pearls than
the little pearls she showed in her sweet laughter. For if this lady was
all beauty, so too she was all goodness; and from the Shah-in-Shah to
the poorest, all hearts of the world knelt in adoration, before the
Chosen of the Palace. She was, indeed, an extraordinary beauty, in that
she had the soul of a child, and she alone remained unconscious of her
power; and so she walked, crowned and clothed with humility.

Cold, haughty, and silent was the Shah-in-Shah before she blessed his
arms--flattered, envied, but loved by none. But the gift this Lady
brought with her was love; and this, shining like the sun upon ice,
melted his coldness, and he became indeed the kingly centre of a kingly
court May the Peace be upon her!

Now it was the dawn of a sorrowful day when the pains of the Lady
Arjemand came strong and terrible, and she travailed in agony. The
hakims (physicians) stroked their beards and reasoned one with another;
the wise women surrounded her, and remedies many and great were tried;
and still her anguish grew, and in the hall without sat the Shah-in-Shah
upon his divan, in anguish of spirit yet greater. The sweat ran on his
brows, the knotted veins were thick on his temples, and his eyes, sunk
in their caves, showed as those of a maddened man. He crouched on his
cushions and stared at the purdah that divided him from the Lady; and
all day the people came and went about him, and there was silence from
the voice he longed to hear; for she would not moan, lest the sound
should slay the Emperor. Her women besought her, fearing that her strong
silence would break her heart; but still she lay, her hands clenched in
one another, enduring; and the Emperor endured without. The Day of the
Smiting!

So, as the time of the evening prayer drew nigh, a child was born,
and the Empress, having done with pain, began to sink slowly into
that profound sleep that is the shadow cast by the Last. May Allah the
Upholder have mercy on our weakness! And the women, white with fear
and watching, looked upon her, and whispered one to another, "It is the
end."

And the aged mother of Abdul Mirza, standing at her head, said, "She
heeds not the cry of the child. She cannot stay." And the newly wed
wife of Saif Khan, standing at her feet, said, "The voice of the beloved
husband is as the Call of the Angel. Let the Padishah be summoned."

So, the evening prayer being over (but the Emperor had not prayed), the
wisest of the hakims, Kazim Sharif, went before him and spoke:--

"Inhallah! May the will of the Issuer of Decrees in all things be done!
Ascribe unto the Creator glory, bowing before his Throne."

And he remained silent; but the Padishah, haggard in his jewels, with
his face hidden, answered thickly, "The truth! For Allah has forgotten
his slave."

And Kazim Sharif, bowing at his feet and veiling his face with his
hands, replied:

"The voice of the child cannot reach her, and the Lady of Delight
departs. He who would speak with her must speak quickly."

Then the Emperor rose to his feet unsteadily, like a man drunk with
the forbidden juice; and when Kazim Sharif would have supported him, he
flung aside his hands, and he stumbled, a man wounded to death, as it
were, to the marble chamber where she lay.

In that white chamber it was dusk, and they had lit the little cressets
so that a very faint light fell upon her face. A slender fountain a
little cooled the hot, still air with its thin music and its sprinkled
diamonds, and outside, the summer lightnings were playing wide and blue
on the river; but so still was it that the dragging footsteps of the
Emperor raised the hair on the flesh of those who heard, So the women
who should, veiled themselves, and the others remained like pillars of
stone.

Now, when those steps were heard, a faint colour rose in the cheek of
the Lady Arjemand; but she did not raise the heavy lashes, or move her
hand. And he came up beside her, and the Shadow of God, who should kneel
to none, knelt, and his head fell forward upon her breast; and in the
hush the women glided out like ghosts, leaving the husband with the wife
excepting only that her foster-nurse stood far off, with eyes averted.

So the minutes drifted by, falling audibly one by one into eternity, and
at the long last she slowly opened her eyes and, as from the depths of
a dream, beheld the Emperor; and in a voice faint as the fall of a
rose-leaf she said the one word, "Beloved!"

And he from between his clenched teeth, answered, "Speak, wife."

So she, who in all things had loved and served him,--she, Light of
all hearts, dispeller of all gloom,--gathered her dying breath for
consolation, and raised one hand slowly; and it fell across his, and so
remained.

Now, her beauty had been broken in the anguish like a rose in storm; but
it returned to her, doubtless that the Padishah might take comfort in
its memory; and she looked like a houri of Paradise who, kneeling beside
the Zemzem Well, beholds the Waters of Peace. Not Fatmeh herself, the
daughter of the Prophet of God, shone more sweetly. She repeated the
word, "Beloved"; and after a pause she whispered on with lips that
scarcely stirred, "King of the Age, this is the end."

But still he was like a dead man, nor lifted his face.

"Surely all things pass. And though I go, in your heart I abide, and
nothing can sever us. Take comfort."

But there was no answer.

"Nothing but Love's own hand can slay Love. Therefore, remember me, and
I shall live."

And he answered from the darkness of her bosom, "The whole world shall
remember. But when shall I be united to thee? O Allah, how long wilt
thou leave me to waste in this separation?"

And she: "Beloved, what is time? We sleep and the night is gone. Now put
your arms about me, for I sink into rest. What words are needed between
us? Love is enough."

So, making not the Profession of Faith,--and what need, since all her
life was worship,--the Lady Arjemand turned into his arms like a child.
And the night deepened.

Morning, with its arrows of golden light that struck the river to
splendour! Morning, with its pure breath, its sunshine of joy, and the
koels fluting in the Palace gardens! Morning, divine and new from
the hand of the Maker! And in the innermost chamber of marble a white
silence; and the Lady, the Mirror of Goodness, lying in the Compassion
of Allah, and a broken man stretched on the ground beside her. For all
flesh, from the camel-driver to the Shah-in-Shah, is as one in the Day
of the Smiting.


II

For weeks the Emperor lay before the door of death; and had it opened
to him, he had been blessed. So the months went by, and very slowly the
strength returned to him; but his eyes were withered and the bones stood
out in his cheeks. But he resumed his throne, and sat upon it kingly,
black-bearded, eagle-eyed, terribly apart in his grief and his royalty;
and so seated among his Usbegs, he declared his will.

"For this Lady (upon whom be peace), departed to the mercy of the Giver
and Taker, shall a tomb-palace be made, the Like of which is not found
in the four corners of the world. Send forth therefore for craftsmen
like the builders of the Temple of Solomon the Wise; for I will build."

So, taking counsel, they sent in haste into Agra for Ustad Isa, the
Master-Builder, a man of Shiraz; and he, being presented before the
Padishah, received his instructions in these words:--

"I will that all the world shall remember the Flower of the World,
that all hearts shall give thanks for her beauty, which was indeed the
perfect Mirror of the Creator. And since it is abhorrent of Islam that
any image be made in the likeness of anything that has life, make for me
a palace-tomb, gracious as she was gracious, lovely as she was lovely.
Not such as the tombs of the Kings and the Conquerors, but of a divine
sweetness. Make me a garden on the banks of Jumna, and build it there,
where, sitting in my Pavilion of Marble, I may see it rise."

And Ustad Isa, having heard, said, "Upon my head and eyes!" and went out
from the Presence.

So, musing upon the words of the Padishah, he went to his house in Agra,
and there pondered the matter long and deeply; and for a whole day and
night he refused all food and secluded himself from the society of all
men; for he said:--

"This is a weighty thing, for this Lady (upon whom be peace) must
visibly dwell in her tomb-palace on the shore of the river; and how
shall I, who have never seen her, imagine the grace that was in her, and
restore it to the world? Oh, had I but the memory of her face! Could I
but see it as the Shah-in-Shah sees it, remembering the past! Prophet
of God, intercede for me, that I may look through his eyes, if but for a
moment!"

That night he slept, wearied and weakened with fasting; and whether it
were that the body guarded no longer the gates of the soul, I cannot
say; for, when the body ails, the soul soars free above its weakness.
But a strange marvel happened.

For, as it seemed to him, he awoke at the mid-noon of the night, and
he was sitting, not in his own house, but upon the roof of the royal
palace, looking down on the gliding Jumna, where the low moon slept in
silver, and the light was alone upon the water; and there were no boats,
but sleep and dream, hovering hand-in-hand, moved upon the air, and his
heart was dilated in the great silence.

Yet he knew well that he waked in some supernatural sphere: for his eyes
could see across the river as if the opposite shore lay at his feet;
and he could distinguish every leaf on every tree, and the flowers
moon-blanched and ghost-like. And there, in the blackest shade of the
pippala boughs, he beheld a faint light like a pearl; and looking with
unspeakable anxiety, he saw within the light, slowly growing, the figure
of a lady exceedingly glorious in majesty and crowned with a rayed crown
of mighty jewels of white and golden splendour. Her gold robe fell to
her feet, and--very strange to tell--her feet touched not the ground,
but hung a span's length above it, so that she floated in the air.

But the marvel of marvels was her face--not, indeed, for its beauty,
though that transcended all, but for its singular and compassionate
sweetness, wherewith she looked toward the Palace beyond the river as if
it held the heart of her heart, while death and its river lay between.

And Ustad Isa said:--"O dream, if this sweetness be but a dream, let me
never wake! Let me see forever this exquisite work of Allah the Maker,
before whom all the craftsmen are as children! For my knowledge is as
nothing, and I am ashamed in its presence."

And as he spoke, she turned those brimming eyes on him, and he saw her
slowly absorbed into the glory of the moonlight; but as she faded into
dream, he beheld, slowly rising, where her feet had hung in the blessed
air, a palace of whiteness, warm as ivory, cold as chastity, domes and
cupolas, slender minars, arches of marble fretted into sea-foam, screen
within screen of purest marble, to hide the sleeping beauty of a great
Queen--silence in the heart of it, and in every line a harmony beyond
all music. Grace was about it--the grace of a Queen who prays and does
not command; who, seated in her royalty yet inclines all hearts to love.
And he saw that its grace was her grace, and its soul her soul, and
that she gave it for the consolation of the Emperor.

And he fell on his face and worshipped the Master-Builder of the
Universe, saying,--"Praise cannot express thy Perfection. Thine Essence
confounds thought. Surely I am but the tool in the hand of the Builder."

And when he awoke, he was lying in his own secret chamber, but beside
him was a drawing such as the craftsmen make of the work they have
imagined in their hearts. And it was the Palace of the Tomb.

Henceforward, how should he waver? He was as a slave who obeys his
master, and with haste he summoned to Agra his Army of Beauty.

Then were assembled all the master craftsmen of India and of the outer
world. From Delhi, from Shiraz, even from Baghdad and Syria, they came.
Muhammad Hanif, the wise mason, came from Kandahar, Muhammad Sayyid from
Mooltan. Amanat Khan, and other great writers of the holy Koran, who
should make the scripts of the Book upon fine marble. Inlayers from
Kanauj, with fingers like those of the Spirits that bowed before Solomon
the King, who should make beautiful the pure stone with inlay of jewels,
as did their forefathers for the Rajah of Mewar; mighty dealers with
agate, cornelian, and lapis lazuli. Came also, from Bokhara, Ata
Muhammad and Shakri Muhammad, that they might carve the lilies of the
field, very glorious, about that Flower of the World. Men of India, men
of Persia, men of the outer lands, they came at the bidding of Ustad
Isa, that the spirit of his vision might be made manifest.

And a great council was held among these servants of beauty, so they
made a model in little of the glory that was to be, and laid it at the
feet of the Shah-in-Shah; and he allowed it, though not as yet fully
discerning their intent. And when it was approved, Ustad Isa called to
him a man of Kashmir; and the very hand of the Creator was upon this
man, for he could make gardens second only to the Gardens of Paradise,
having been born by that Dal Lake where are those roses of the earth,
the Shalimar and the Nishat Bagh; and to him said Ustad Isa,--

"Behold, Rain Lal Kashmiri, consider this design! Thus and thus shall
a white palace, exquisite in perfection, arise on the banks of Jumna.
Here, in little, in this model of sandalwood, see what shall be.
Consider these domes, rounded as the Bosom of Beauty, recalling the
mystic fruit of the lotus flower. Consider these four minars that stand
about them like Spirits about the Throne. And remembering that all this
shall stand upon a great dais of purest marble, and that the river shall
be its mirror, repeating to everlasting its loveliness, make me a garden
that shall be the throne room to this Queen."

And Ram Lal Kashmiri salaamed and said, "Obedience!" and went forth and
pondered night and day, journeying even over the snows of the Pir Panjal
to Kashmir, that he might bathe his eyes in beauty where she walks,
naked and divine, upon the earth, and he it was who imagined the black
marble and white that made the way of approach.

So grew the palace that should murmur, like a seashell, in the ear of
the world the secret of love.

Veiled had that loveliness been in the shadow of the palace; but now the
sun should rise upon it and turn its ivory to gold, should set upon
it and flush its snow with rose. The moon should lie upon it like the
pearls upon her bosom, the visible grace of her presence breathe about
it, the music of her voice hover in the birds and trees of the garden.
Times there were when Ustad Isa despaired lest even these mighty
servants of beauty should miss perfection. Yet it grew and grew, rising
like the growth of a flower.

So on a certain day it stood completed, and beneath the small tomb in
the sanctuary, veiled with screens of wrought marble so fine that
they might lift in the breeze,--the veils of a Queen,--slept the Lady
Arjemand; and above her a narrow coffer of white marble, enriched in
a great script with the Ninety-Nine Wondrous Names of God. And the
Shah-in-Shah, now grey and worn, entered and, standing by her, cried in
a loud voice,--"I ascribe to the Unity, the only Creator, the perfection
of his handiwork made visible here by the hand of mortal man. For the
beauty that was secret in my Palace is here revealed; and the Crowned
Lady shall sit forever upon the banks of the Jumna River. It was love
that commanded this Tomb."

And the golden echo carried his voice up into the high dome, and it died
away in whispers of music.

But Ustad Isa standing far off in the throng (for what are craftsmen
in the presence of the mighty?), said softly in his beard, "It was Love
also that built, and therefore it shall endure."

Now it is told that, on a certain night in summer, when the moon is
full, a man who lingers by the straight water, where the cypresses stand
over their own image, may see a strange marvel--may see the Palace of
the Taj dissolve like a pearl, and so rise in a mist into the moonlight;
and in its place, on her dais of white marble, he shall see the Lady
Arjemand, Mumtaz-i-Mahal, the Chosen of the Palace, stand there in the
white perfection of beauty, smiling as one who hath attained unto the
Peace. For she is its soul.

And kneeling before the dais, he shall see Ustad Isa, who made this body
of her beauty; and his face is hidden in his hands.




"HOW GREAT IS THE GLORY OF KWANNON!"

A JAPANESE STORY


(O Lovely One-O thou Flower! With Thy beautiful face, with Thy beautiful
eyes, pour light upon the world! Adoration to Kwannon.)

In Japan in the days of the remote Ancestors, near the little village of
Shiobara, the river ran through rocks of a very strange blue colour, and
the bed of the river was also composed of these rocks, so that the clear
water ran blue as turquoise gems to the sea.

The great forests murmured beside it, and through their swaying boughs
was breathed the song of Eternity. Those who listen may hear if their
ears are open. To others it is but the idle sighing of the wind.

Now because of all this beauty there stood in these forests a roughly
built palace of unbarked wood, and here the great Emperor would come
from City-Royal to seek rest for his doubtful thoughts and the cares of
state, turning aside often to see the moonlight in Shiobara. He sought
also the free air and the sound of falling water, yet dearer to him than
the plucked strings of sho and biwa. For he said;

"Where and how shall We find peace even for a moment, and afford Our
heart refreshment even for a single second?"

And it seemed to him that he found such moments at Shiobara.

Only one of his great nobles would His Majesty bring with him--the
Dainagon, and him be chose because he was a worthy and honorable person
and very simple of heart.

There was yet another reason why the Son of Heaven inclined to the
little Shiobara. It had reached the Emperor that a Recluse of the
utmost sanctity dwelt in that forest. His name was Semimaru. He had made
himself a small hut in the deep woods, much as a decrepit silkworm might
spin his last Cocoon and there had the Peace found him.

It had also reached His Majesty that, although blind, he was exceedingly
skilled in the art of playing the biwa, both in the Flowing Fount manner
and the Woodpecker manner, and that, especially on nights when the moon
was full, this aged man made such music as transported the soul. This
music His Majesty desired very greatly to hear.

Never had Semimaru left his hut save to gather wood or seek food until
the Divine Emperor commanded his attendance that he might soothe his
august heart with music.

Now on this night of nights the moon was full and the snow heavy on the
pines, and the earth was white also, and when the moon shone through the
boughs it made a cold light like dawn, and the shadows of the trees were
black upon it.

The attendants of His Majesty long since slept for sheer weariness, for
the night was far spent, but the Emperor and the Dainagon still sat
with their eyes fixed on the venerable Semimaru. For many hours he had
played, drawing strange music from his biwa. Sometimes it had been like
rain blowing over the plains of Adzuma, sometimes like the winds roaring
down the passes of the Yoshino Mountains, and yet again like the voice
of far cities. For many hours they listened without weariness, and
thought that all the stories of the ancients might flow past them in the
weird music that seemed to have neither beginning nor end.

"It is as the river that changes and changes not, and is ever and ever
the same," said the Emperor in his own soul.

And certainly had a voice announced to His Augustness that centuries
were drifting by as he listened, he could have felt no surprise.

Before them, as they sat upon the silken floor cushions, was a small
shrine with a Buddha shelf, and a hanging picture of the Amida Buddha
within it--the expression one of rapt peace. Figures of Fugen and
Fudo were placed before the curtain doors of the shrine, looking up in
adoration to the Blessed One. A small and aged pine tree was in a pot of
grey porcelain from Chosen--the only ornament in the chamber.

Suddenly His Majesty became aware that the Dainagon also had fallen
asleep from weariness, and that the recluse was no longer playing, but
was speaking in a still voice like a deeply flowing stream. The Emperor
had observed no change from music to speech, nor could he recall when
the music had ceased, so that it altogether resembled a dream.

"When I first came here"--the Venerable one continued--"it was not my
intention to stay long in the forest. As each day dawned, I said; 'In
seven days I go.' And again--'In seven.' Yet have I not gone. The days
glided by and here have I attained to look on the beginnings of peace.
Then wherefore should I go?--for all life is within the soul. Shall the
fish weary of his pool? And I, who through my blind eyes feel the moon
illuming my forest by night and the sun by day, abide in peace, so that
even the wild beasts press round to hear my music. I have come by a path
overblown by autumn leaves. But I have come."

Then said the Divine Emperor as if unconsciously;

"Would that I also might come! But the august duties cannot easily be
laid aside. And I have no wife--no son."

And Semimaru, playing very softly on the strings of his biwa made
no other answer, and His Majesty, collecting his thoughts, which had
become, as it were, frozen with the cold and the quiet and the strange
music, spoke thus, as if in a waking dream;

"Why have I not wedded? Because I have desired a bride beyond the
women of earth, and of none such as I desire has the rumor reached me.
Consider that Ancestor who wedded Her Shining Majesty! Evil and lovely
was she, and the passions were loud about her. And so it is with women.
Trouble and vexation of spirit, or instead a great weariness. But if the
Blessed One would vouchsafe to my prayers a maiden of blossom and dew,
with a heart calm as moonlight, her would I wed. O, honorable One, whose
wisdom surveys the world, is there in any place near or far--in heaven
or in earth, such a one that I may seek and find?"

And Semimaru, still making a very low music on his biwa, said this;

"Supreme Master, where the Shiobara River breaks away through the gorges
to the sea, dwelt a poor couple--the husband a wood-cutter. They had no
children to aid in their toil, and daily the woman addressed her prayers
for a son to the Bodhisattwa Kwannon, the Lady of Pity who looketh down
for ever upon the sound of prayer. Very fervently she prayed, with such
offerings as her poverty allowed, and on a certain night she dreamed
this dream. At the shrine of the Senju Kwannon she knelt as was her
custom, and that Great Lady, sitting enthroned upon the Lotos of Purity,
opened Her eyes slowly from Her divine contemplation and heard the
prayer of the wood-cutter's wife. Then stooping like a blown willow
branch, she gathered a bud from the golden lotos plant that stood upon
her altar, and breathing upon it it became pure white and living, and it
exhaled a perfume like the flowers of Paradise, This flower the Lady
of Pity flung into the bosom of her petitioner, and closing Her eyes
returned into Her divine dream, whilst the woman awoke, weeping for joy.

"But when she sought in her bosom for the Lotos it was gone. Of all this
she boasted loudly to her folk and kin, and the more so, when in due
time she perceived herself to be with child, for, from that august
favour she looked for nothing less than a son, radiant with the Five
Ornaments of riches, health, longevity, beauty, and success. Yet, when
her hour was come, a girl was born, and blind."

"Was she welcomed?" asked the dreaming voice of the Emperor.

"Augustness, but as a household drudge. For her food was cruelty and her
drink tears. And the shrine of the Senju Kwannon was neglected by her
parents because of the disappointment and shame of the unwanted gift.
And they believed that, lost in Her divine contemplation, the Great Lady
would not perceive this neglect. The Gods however are known by their
great memories."

"Her name?"

"Majesty, Tsuyu-Morning Dew. And like the morning dew she shines in
stillness. She has repaid good for evil to her evil parents, serving
them with unwearied service."

"What distinguishes her from others?"

"Augustness, a very great peace. Doubtless the shadow of the dream of
the Holy Kwannon. She works, she moves, she smiles as one who has tasted
of content."

"Has she beauty?"

"Supreme Master, am I not blind? But it is said that she has no beauty
that men should desire her. Her face is flat and round, and her eyes
blind."

"And yet content?"

"Philosophers might envy her calm. And her blindness is without doubt
a grace from the excelling Pity, for could she see her own exceeding
ugliness she must weep for shame. But she sees not. Her sight is inward,
and she is well content."

"Where does she dwell?"

"Supreme Majesty, far from here--where in the heart of the woods the
river breaks through the rocks."

"Venerable One, why have you told me this? I asked for a royal maiden
wise and beautiful, calm as the dawn, and you have told me of a
wood-cutter's drudge, blind and ugly."

And now Semimaru did not answer, but the tones of the biwa grew louder
and clearer, and they rang like a song of triumph, and the Emperor could
hear these words in the voice of the strings.

"She is beautiful as the night, crowned with moon and stars for him
who has eyes to see. Princess Splendour was dim beside her; Prince
Fireshine, gloom! Her Shining Majesty was but a darkened glory before
this maid. All beauty shines within her hidden eyes."

And having uttered this the music became wordless once more, but it
still flowed on more and more softly like a river that flows into the
far distance.

The Emperor stared at the mats, musing--the light of the lamp was
burning low. His heart said within him;

"This maiden, cast like a flower from the hand of Kwannon Sama, will I
see."

And as he said this the music had faded away into a thread-like
smallness, and when after long thought he raised his august head, he was
alone save for the Dainagon, sleeping on the mats behind him, and the
chamber was in darkness. Semimaru had departed in silence, and His
Majesty, looking forth into the broad moonlight, could see the track of
his feet upon the shining snow, and the music came back very thinly like
spring rain in the trees. Once more he looked at the whiteness of the
night, and then, stretching his august person on the mats, he slept amid
dreams of sweet sound.

The next day, forbidding any to follow save the Dainagon, His Majesty
went forth upon the frozen snow where the sun shone in a blinding
whiteness. They followed the track of Semimaru's feet far under the pine
trees so heavy with their load of snow that they were bowed as if with
fruit. And the track led on and the air was so still that the cracking
of a bough was like the blow of a hammer, and the sliding of a load of
snow from a branch like the fall of an avalanche. Nor did they speak as
they went. They listened, nor could they say for what.

Then, when they had gone a very great way, the track ceased suddenly,
as if cut off, and at this spot, under the pines furred with snow, His
Majesty became aware of a perfume so sweet that it was as though all the
flowers of the earth haunted the place with their presence, and a music
like the biwa of Semimaru was heard in the tree tops. This sounded far
off like the whispering of rain when it falls in very small leaves, and
presently it died away, and a voice followed after, singing, alone in
the woods, so that the silence appeared to have been created that such a
music might possess the world. So the Emperor stopped instantly, and the
Dainagon behind him and he heard these words.

   "In me the Heavenly Lotos grew,
    The fibres ran from head to feet,
    And my heart was the august Blossom.
    Therefore the sweetness flowed through the veins of my flesh,
    And I breathed peace upon all the world,
    And about me was my fragrance shed
    That the souls of men should desire me."

Now, as he listened, there came through the wood a maiden, bare--footed,
save for grass sandals, and clad in coarse clothing, and she came up and
passed them, still singing.

And when she was past, His Majesty put up his hand to his eyes, like one
dreaming, and said;

"What have you seen?"

And the Dainagon answered;

"Augustness, a country wench, flat--faced, ugly and blind, and with a
voice like a crow. Has not your Majesty seen this?"

The Emperor, still shading his eyes, replied;

"I saw a maiden so beautiful that her Shining Majesty would be a black
blot beside her. As she went, the Spring and all its sweetness blew from
her garments. Her robe was green with small gold flowers. Her eyes were
closed, but she resembled a cherry tree, snowy with bloom and dew. Her
voice was like the singing flowers of Paradise."

The Dainagon looked at him with fear and compassion;

"Augustness, how should such a lady carry in her arms a bundle of
firewood?"

"She bore in her hands three lotos flowers, and where each foot fell I
saw a lotos bloom and vanish."

They retraced their steps through the wood; His Majesty radiant as
Prince Fireshine with the joy that filled his soul; the Dainagon
darkened as Prince Firefade with fear, believing that the strange music
of Semimaru had bewitched His Majesty, or that the maiden herself might
possibly have the power of the fox in shape-changing and bewildering the
senses.

Very sorrowful and careful was his heart for he loved his Master.

That night His Majesty dreamed that he stood before the kakemono of the
Amida Buddha, and that as he raised his eyes in adoration to the Blessed
Face, he beheld the images of Fugen and Fudo, rise up and bow down
before that One Who Is. Then, gliding in, before these Holinesses stood
a figure, and it was the wood-cutter's daughter homely and blinded. She
stretched her hands upward as though invoking the supreme Buddha, and
then turning to His Majesty she smiled upon him, her eyes closed as in
bliss unutterable. And he said aloud.

"Would that I might see her eyes!" and so saying awoke in a great
stillness of snow and moonlight.

Having waked, he said within himself

"This marvel will I wed and she shall be my Empress were she lower than
the Eta, and whether her face be lovely or homely. For she is certainly
a flower dropped from the hand of the Divine."

So when the sun was high His Majesty, again followed by the Dainagon,
went through the forest swiftly, and like a man that sees his goal,
and when they reached the place where the maiden went by, His Majesty
straitly commanded the Dainagon that he should draw apart, and leave him
to speak with the maiden; yet that he should watch what befell.

So the Dainagon watched, and again he saw her come, very poorly clad,
and with bare feet that shrank from the snow in her grass sandals, bowed
beneath a heavy load of wood upon her shoulders, and her face flat and
homely like a girl of the people, and her eyes blind and shut.

And as she came she sang this.

   "The Eternal way lies before him,
    The way that is made manifest in the Wise.
    The Heart that loves reveals itself to man.
    For now he draws nigh to the Source.
    The night advances fast,
    And lo! the moon shines bright."

And to the Dainagon it seemed a harsh crying nor could he distinguish
any words at all.

But what His Majesty beheld was this. The evening had come on and the
moon was rising. The snow had gone. It was the full glory of spring, and
the flowers sprang thick as stars upon the grass, and among them lotos
flowers, great as the wheel of a chariot, white and shining with
the luminance of the pearl, and upon each one of these was seated an
incarnate Holiness, looking upward with joined hands. In the trees were
the voices of the mystic Birds that are the utterance of the Blessed
One, proclaiming in harmony the Five Virtues, The Five Powers, the Seven
Steps ascending to perfect Illumination, the Noble Eightfold Path, and
all the Law. And, bearing, in the heart of the Son of Heaven awoke the
Three Remembrances--the Remembrance of Him who is Blessed, Remembrance
of the Law, and Remembrance of the Communion of the Assembly.

So, looking upward to the heavens, he beheld the Infinite Buddha,
high and lifted up in a great raying glory. About Him were the exalted
Bodhisattwas, the mighty Disciples, great Arhats all, and all the
countless Angelhood. And these rose high into the infinite until they
could be seen but as a point of fire against the moon. With this golden
multitude beyond all numbering was He.

Then, as His Majesty had seen in the dream of the night, the
wood-cutter's daughter, moving through the flowers like one blind that
gropes his way, advanced before the Blessed Feet, and uplifting her
hands, did adoration, and her face he could not see, but his heart
went with her, adoring also the infinite Buddha seated in the calms of
boundless Light.

Then enlightenment entered at his eyes, as a man that wakes from sleep,
and suddenly he beheld the Maiden crowned and robed and terrible in
beauty, and her feet were stayed upon an open lotos, and his soul knew
the Senju Kwannon Herself, myriad-armed for the helping of mankind.

And turning, she smiled as in the vision, but his eyes being now clear
her blinded eyes were opened, and that glory who shall tell as those
living founts of Wisdom rayed upon him their ineffable light? In that
ocean was his being drowned, and so, bowed before the Infinite Buddha,
he received the Greater Illumination.

How great is the Glory of Kwannon!

When the radiance and the vision were withdrawn and only the moon looked
over the trees, His Majesty rose upon his feet, and standing on the
snow, surrounded with calm, he called to the Dainagon, and asked this;

"What have you seen?"

"Augustness, nothing but the country wench and moon and snow."

"And heard?"

"Augustness, nothing but the harsh voice of the wood-cutter's daughter."

"And felt?"

"Augustness, nothing but the bone-piercing cold." So His Majesty adored
that which cannot be uttered, saying;

"So Wisdom, so Glory encompass us about, and we see them not for we
are blinded with illusion. Yet every stone is a jewel and every clod
is spirit and to the hems of the Infinite Buddha all cling. Through the
compassion of the Supernal Mercy that walks the earth as the Bodhisattwa
Kwannon, am I admitted to wisdom and given sight and hearing. And what
is all the world to that happy one who has beheld Her eyes!"

And His Majesty returned through the forest.

When, the next day, he sent for the venerable Semimaru that holy recluse
had departed and none knew where. But still when the moon is full a
strange music moves in the tree tops of Shiobara.

Then His sacred Majesty returned to City-Royal, having determined
to retire into the quiet life, and there, abandoning the throne to a
kinsman wise in greatness, he became a dweller in the deserted hut of
Semimaru.

His life, like a descending moon approaching the hill that should hide
it, was passed in meditation on that Incarnate Love and Compassion whose
glory had augustly been made known to him, and having cast aside all
save the image of the Divine from his soul, His Majesty became even as
that man who desired enlightenment of the Blessed One.

For he, desiring instruction, gathered precious flowers, and journeyed
to present them as an offering to the Guatama Buddha. Standing before
Him, he stretched forth both his hands holding the flowers.

Then said the Holy One, looking upon his petitioner's right hand;

"Loose your hold of these."

And the man dropped the flowers from his right hand. And the Holy One
looking upon his left hand, said;

"Loose your hold of these."

And, sorrowing, he dropped the flowers from his left hand. And again the
Master said;

"Loose your hold of that which is neither in the right nor in the left."

And the disciple said very pitifully;

"Lord, of what should I loose my hold for I have nothing left?"

And He looked upon him steadfastly.

Therefore at last understanding he emptied his soul of all desire, and
of fear that is the shadow of desire, and being enlightened relinquished
all burdens.

So was it also with His Majesty. In peace he dwelt, and becoming a great
Arhat, in peace he departed to that Uttermost Joy where is the Blessed
One made manifest in Pure Light.

As for the parents of the maiden, they entered after sore troubles into
peace, having been remembered by the Infinite. For it is certain that
the enemies also of the Supreme Buddha go to salvation by thinking on
Him, even though it be against Him.

And he who tells this truth makes this prayer to the Lady of Pity;

  "Grant me, I pray,
   One dewdrop from Thy willow spray,
   And in the double Lotos keep
   My hidden heart asleep."

How great is the Glory of Kwannon!




THE ROUND-FACED BEAUTY

A STORY OF THE CHINESE COURT

In the city of Chang-an music filled the palaces, and the festivities of
the Emperor were measured by its beat. Night, and the full moon swimming
like a gold-fish in the garden lakes, gave the signal for the Feather
Jacket and Rainbow Skirt dances. Morning, with the rising sun, summoned
the court again to the feast and wine-cup in the floating gardens.

The Emperor Chung Tsu favored this city before all others. The Yen Tower
soaring heavenward, the Drum Towers, the Pearl Pagoda, were the only
fit surroundings of his magnificence; and in the Pavilion of Tranquil
Learning were held those discussions which enlightened the world and
spread the fame of the Jade Emperor far and wide. In all respects he
adorned the Dragon Throne--in all but one; for Nature, bestowing so
much, withheld one gift, and the Imperial heart, as precious as jade,
was also as hard, and he eschewed utterly the company of the Hidden
Palace Flowers.

Yet the Inner Chambers were filled with ladies chosen from all parts of
the Celestial Empire--ladies of the most exquisite and torturing beauty,
moons of loveliness, moving coquettishly on little feet, with all the
grace of willow branches in a light breeze. They were sprinkled with
perfumes, adorned with jewels, robed in silks woven with gold and
embroidered with designs of flowers and birds. Their faces were painted
and their eyebrows formed into slender and perfect arches whence the
soul of man might well slip to perdition, and a breath of sweet odor
followed each wherever she moved. Every one might have been the Empress
of some lesser kingdom; but though rumours reached the Son of Heaven
from time to time of their charms,--especially when some new blossom was
added to the Imperial bouquet,--he had dismissed them from his august
thoughts, and they languished in a neglect so complete that the Great
Cold Palaces of the Moon were not more empty than their hearts. They
remained under the supervision of the Princess of Han, August Aunt
of the Emperor, knowing that their Lord considered the company of
sleeve-dogs and macaws more pleasant than their own. Nor had he as yet
chosen an Empress, and it was evident that without some miracle, such
as the intervention of the Municipal God, no heir to the throne could be
hoped for.

Yet the Emperor one day remembered his imprisoned beauties, and it
crossed the Imperial thoughts that even these inferior creatures might
afford such interest as may be found in the gambols of trained fleas or
other insects of no natural attainments.

Accordingly, he commanded that the subject last discussed in his
presence should be transferred to the Inner Chambers, and it was his
Order that the ladies should also discuss it, and their opinions be
engraved on ivory, bound together with red silk and tassels and thus
presented at the Dragon feet. The subject chosen was the following:--

Describe the Qualities of the Ideal Man

Now when this command was laid before the August Aunt, the guardian of
the Inner Chambers, she was much perturbed in mind, for such a thing
was unheard of in all the annals of the Empire. Recovering herself, she
ventured to say that the discussion of such a question might raise
very disquieting thoughts in the minds of the ladies, who could not
be supposed to have any opinions at all on such a subject. Nor was it
desirable that they should have. To every woman her husband and no other
is and must be the Ideal Man. So it was always in the past; so it must
ever be. There are certain things which it is dangerous to question or
discuss, and how can ladies who have never spoken with any other man
than a parent or a brother judge such matters?

"How, indeed," asked this lady of exalted merit, "can the bat form
an idea of the sunlight, or the carp of the motion of wings? If his
Celestial Majesty had commanded a discussion on the Superior Woman and
the virtues which should adorn her, some sentiments not wholly unworthy
might have been offered. But this is a calamity. They come unexpectedly,
springing up like mushrooms, and this one is probably due to the lack of
virtue of the inelegant and unintellectual person who is now speaking."

This she uttered in the presence of the principal beauties of the
Inner Chambers. They sat or reclined about her in attitudes of perfect
loveliness. Two, embroidering silver pheasants, paused with their
needles suspended above the stretched silk, to hear the August Aunt.
One, threading beads of jewel jade, permitted them to slip from the
string and so distended the rose of her mouth in surprise that the small
pearl-shells were visible within. The Lady Tortoise, caressing a scarlet
and azure macaw, in her agitation so twitched the feathers that the
bird, shrieking, bit her finger. The Lady Golden Bells blushed deeply
at the thought of what was required of them; and the little Lady Summer
Dress, youngest of all the assembled beauties, was so alarmed at the
prospect that she began to sob aloud, until she met the eye of the
August Aunt and abruptly ceased.

"It is not, however, to be supposed," said the August Aunt, opening her
snuff-bottle of painted crystal, "that the minds of our deplorable and
unattractive sex are wholly incapable of forming opinions. But speech
is a grave matter for women, naturally slow-witted and feeble-minded as
they are. This unenlightened person recalls the Odes as saying:--

   'A flaw in a piece of white jade
    May be ground away,
    But when a woman has spoken foolishly
    Nothing can be done-'

a consideration which should make every lady here and throughout the
world think anxiously before speech." So anxiously did the assembled
beauties think, that all remained mute as fish in a pool, and the August
Aunt continued:--

"Let Tsu-ssu be summoned. It is my intention to suggest to the Dragon
Emperor that the virtues of women be the subject of our discourse, and I
will myself open and conclude the discussion."

Tsu-ssu was not long in kotowing before the August Aunt, who despatched
her message with the proper ceremonial due to its Imperial destination;
and meanwhile, in much agitation, the beauties could but twitter and
whisper in each other's ears, and await the response like condemned
prisoners who yet hope for reprieve.

Scarce an hour had dripped away on the water-clock when an Imperial
Missive bound with yellow silk arrived, and the August Aunt, rising,
kotowed nine times before she received it in her jewelled hand with its
delicate and lengthy nails ensheathed in pure gold and set with gems
of the first water. She then read it aloud, the ladies prostrating
themselves.

To the Princess of Han, the August Aunt, the Lady of the Nine Superior
Virtues:--

"Having deeply reflected on the wisdom submitted, We thus reply. Women
should not be the judges of their own virtues, since these exist only
in relation to men. Let Our Command therefore be executed, and tablets
presented before us seven days hence, with the name of each lady
appended to her tablet."

It was indeed pitiable to see the anxiety of the ladies! A sacrifice to
Kwan-Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, of a jewel from each, with intercession
for aid, was proposed by the Lustrous Lady; but the majority shook their
heads sadly. The August Aunt, tossing her head, declared that, as the
Son of Heaven had made no comment on her proposal of opening and closing
the discussion, she should take no part other than safeguarding the
interests of propriety. This much increased the alarm, and, kneeling at
her feet, the swan-like beauties, Deep-Snow and Winter Moon implored her
aid and compassion. But, rising indignantly, the August Aunt sought her
own apartments, and for the first time the inmates of the Pepper Chamber
saw with regret the golden dragons embroidered on her back.

It was then that the Round-Faced Beauty ventured a remark. This maiden,
having been born in the far-off province of Suchuan, was considered a
rustic by the distinguished elegance of the Palace and, therefore, had
never spoken unless decorum required. Still, even her detractors were
compelled to admit the charms that had gained her her name. Her face had
the flawless outline of the pearl, and like the blossom of the plum was
the purity of her complexion, upon which the darkness of her eyebrows
resembled two silk-moths alighted to flutter above the brilliance of her
eyes--eyes which even the August Aunt had commended after a banquet of
unsurpassed variety. Her hair had been compared to the crow's plumage;
her waist was like a roll of silk, and her discretion in habiting
herself was such that even the Lustrous Lady and the Lady Tortoise drew
instruction from the splendours of her robes. It created, however, a
general astonishment when she spoke.

"Paragons of beauty, what is this dull and opaque-witted person that
she should speak?"

"What, indeed!" said the Celestial Sister. "This entirely
undistinguished person cannot even imagine."

A distressing pause followed, during which many whispered anxiously. The
Lustrous Lady broke it.

"It is true that the highly ornamental Round-Faced Beauty is but lately
come, yet even the intelligent Ant may assist the Dragon; and in the
presence of alarm, what is decorum? With a tiger behind one, who can
recall the Book of Rites and act with befitting elegance?"

"The high-born will at all times remember the Rites!" retorted the
Celestial Sister. "Have we not heard the August Aunt observe: 'Those who
understand do not speak. Those who speak do not understand'?"

The Round-Faced Beauty collected her courage.

"Doubtless this is wisdom; yet if the wise do not speak, who should
instruct us? The August Aunt herself would be silent."

All were confounded by this dilemma, and the little Lady Summer-Dress,
still weeping, entreated that the Round-Faced Beauty might be heard.
The Heavenly Blossoms then prepared to listen and assumed attitudes of
attention, which so disconcerted the Round-Faced Beauty that she blushed
like a spring tulip in speaking.

"Beautiful ladies, our Lord, who is unknown to us all, has issued an
august command. It cannot be disputed, for the whisper of disobedience
is heard as thunder in the Imperial Presence. Should we not aid each
other? If any lady has formed a dream in her soul of the Ideal
Man, might not such a picture aid us all? Let us not be
'say-nothing-do-nothing,' but act!"

They hung their heads and smiled, but none would allow that she had
formed such an image. The little Lady Tortoise, laughing behind her
fan of sandalwood, said roguishly: "The Ideal Man should be handsome,
liberal in giving, and assuredly he should appreciate the beauty of his
wives. But this we cannot say to the Divine Emperor."

A sigh rustled through the Pepper Chamber. The Celestial Sister looked
angrily at the speaker.

"This is the talk of children," she said. "Does no one remember
Kung-fu-tse's [Confucius] description of the Superior Man?"

Unfortunately none did--not even the Celestial Sister herself.

"Is it not probable," said the Round-Faced Beauty, "that the Divine
Emperor remembers it himself and wishes--"

But the Celestial Sister, yawning audibly, summoned the attendants to
bring rose-leaves in honey, and would hear no more.

The Round-Faced Beauty therefore wandered forth among the mossy rocks
and drooping willows of the Imperial Garden, deeply considering the
matter. She ascended the bow-curved bridge of marble which crossed the
Pool of Clear Weather, and from the top idly observed the reflection of
her rose-and-gold coat in the water while, with her taper fingers, she
crumbled cake for the fortunate gold-fish that dwelt in it. And, so
doing, she remarked one fish, four-tailed among the six-tailed, and in
no way distinguished by elegance, which secured by far the largest share
of the crumbs dropped into the pool. Bending lower, she observed this
singular fish and its methods.

The others crowded about the spot where the crumbs fell, all herded
together. In their eagerness and stupidity they remained like a cloud of
gold in one spot, slowly waving their tails. But this fish, concealing
itself behind a miniature rock, waited, looking upward, until the
crumbs were falling, and then, rushing forth with the speed of an
arrow, scattered the stupid mass of fish, and bore off the crumbs to its
shelter, where it instantly devoured them.

"This is notable," said the Round-Faced Beauty. "Observation enlightens
the mind. To be apart--to be distinguished--secures notice!" And she
plunged into thought again, wandering, herself a flower, among the
gorgeous tree peonies.

On the following day the August Aunt commanded that a writer among the
palace attendants should, with brush and ink, be summoned to transcribe
the wisdom of the ladies. She requested that each would give three
days to thought, relating the following anecdote. "There was a man who,
taking a piece of ivory, carved it into a mulberry leaf, spending three
years on the task. When finished it could not be told from the original,
and was a gift suitable for the Brother of the Sun and Moon. Do
likewise!"

"But yet, O Augustness!" said the Celestial Sister, "if the Lord of
Heaven took as long with each leaf, there would be few leaves on the
trees, and if-"

The August Aunt immediately commanded silence and retired. On the third
day she seated herself in her chair of carved ebony, while the attendant
placed himself by her feet and prepared to record her words.

"This insignificant person has decided," began her Augustness, looking
round and unscrewing the amber top of her snuff-bottle, "to take an
unintelligent part in these proceedings. An example should be set.
Attendant, write!"

She then dictated as follows: "The Ideal Man is he who now decorates
the Imperial Throne, or he who in all humility ventures to resemble the
incomparable Emperor. Though he may not hope to attain, his endeavor is
his merit. No further description it needed."

With complacence she inhaled the perfumed snuff, as the writer appended
the elegant characters of her Imperial name.

If it is permissible to say that the faces of the beauties lengthened
visibly, it should now be said. For it had been the intention of every
lady to make an illusion to the Celestial Emperor and depict him as the
Ideal Man. Nor had they expected that the August Aunt would take any
part in the matter.

"Oh, but it was the intention of this commonplace and undignified person
to say this very thing!" cried the Lustrous Lady, with tears in the
jewels of her eyes. "I thought no other high-minded and distinguished
lady would for a moment think of it."

"And it was my intention also!" fluttered the little Lady Tortoise,
wringing her hands! "What now shall this most unlucky and unendurable
person do? For three nights has sleep forsaken my unattractive eyelids,
and, tossing and turning on a couch deprived of all comfort, I could
only repeat, 'The Ideal Man is the Divine Dragon Emperor!'"

"May one of entirely contemptible attainments make a suggestion in this
assemblage of scintillating wit and beauty?" inquired the Celestial
Sister. "My superficial opinion is that it would be well to prepare a
single paper to which all names should be appended, stating that His
Majesty in his Dragon Divinity comprises all ideals in his sacred
Person."

"Let those words be recorded," said the August Aunt. "What else should
any lady of discretion and propriety say? In this Palace of Virtuous
Peace, where all is consecrated to the Son of Heaven, though he deigns
not to enter it, what other thought dare be breathed? Has any lady
ventured to step outside such a limit? If so, let her declare herself!"

All shook their heads, and the August Aunt proceeded: "Let the writer
record this as the opinion of every lady of the Imperial Household, and
let each name be separately appended."

Had any desired to object, none dared to confront the August Aunt;
but apparently no beauty so desired, for after three nights' sleepless
meditation, no other thought than this had occurred to any.

Accordingly, the writer moved from lady to lady and, under the
supervision of the August Aunt, transcribed the following: "The Ideal
Man is the earthly likeness of the Divine Emperor. How should it be
otherwise?" And under this sentence wrote the name of each lovely one
in succession. The papers were then placed in the hanging sleeves of the
August Aunt for safety.

By the decree of Fate, the father of the Round-Faced Beauty had, before
he became an ancestral spirit, been a scholar of distinction, having
graduated at the age of seventy-two with a composition commended by the
Grand Examiner. Having no gold and silver to give his daughter, he
had formed her mind, and had presented her with the sole jewel of his
family-a pearl as large as a bean. Such was her sole dower, but the
accomplished Aunt may excel the indolent Prince.

Yet, before the thought in her mind, she hesitated and trembled,
recalling the lesson of the gold-fish; and it was with anxiety that
paled her roseate lips that, on a certain day, she had sought the Willow
Bridge Pavilion. There had awaited her a palace attendant skilled with
the brush, and there in secrecy and dire affright, hearing the footsteps
of the August Aunt in every rustle of leafage, and her voice in the
call of every crow, did the Round-Faced Beauty dictate the following
composition:--

"Though the sky rain pearls, it cannot equal the beneficence of the Son
of Heaven. Though the sky rain jade it cannot equal his magnificence. He
has commanded his slave to describe the qualities of the Ideal Man.
How should I, a mere woman, do this? I, who have not seen the Divine
Emperor, how should I know what is virtue? I, who have not seen the
glory of his countenance, how should I know what is beauty? Report
speaks of his excellencies, but I who live in the dark know not. But to
the Ideal Woman, the very vices of her husband are virtues. Should he
exalt another, this is a mark of his superior taste. Should he dismiss
his slave, this is justice. To the Ideal Woman there is but one Ideal
Man--and that is her lord. From the day she crosses his threshold, to
the day when they clothe her in the garments of Immortality, this is her
sole opinion. Yet would that she might receive instruction of what only
are beauty and virtue in his adorable presence."

This being written, she presented her one pearl to the attendant and
fled, not looking behind her, as quickly as her delicate feet would
permit.

On the seventh day the compositions, engraved on ivory and bound with
red silk and tassels, were presented to the Emperor, and for seven
days more he forgot their existence. On the eighth the High Chamberlain
ventured to recall them to the Imperial memory, and the Emperor glancing
slightly at one after another, threw them aside, yawning as he did so.
Finally, one arrested his eyes, and reading it more than once he laid it
before him and meditated. An hour passed in this way while the forgotten
Lord Chamberlain continued to kneel. The Son of Heaven, then raising his
head, pronounced these words: "In the society of the Ideal Woman, she to
whom jealousy is unknown, tranquillity might possibly be obtained. Let
prayer be made before the Ancestors with the customary offerings, for
this is a matter deserving attention."

A few days passed, and an Imperial attendant, escorted by two mandarins
of the peacock-feather and crystal-button rank, desired an audience of
the August Aunt, and, speaking before the curtain, informed her that his
Imperial Majesty would pay a visit that evening to the Hall of Tranquil
Longevity. Such was her agitation at this honour that she immediately
swooned; but, reviving, summoned all the attendants and gave orders for
a banquet and musicians.

Lanterns painted with pheasants and exquisite landscapes were hung on
all the pavilions. Tapestries of rose, decorated with the Five-Clawed
Dragons, adorned the chambers; and upon the High Seat was placed a robe
of yellow satin embroidered with pearls. All was hurry and excitement.
The Blossoms of the Palace were so exquisitely decked that one grain
more of powder would have made them too lily-like, and one touch more of
rouge, too rosecheeked. It was indeed perfection, and, like lotuses upon
a lake, or Asian birds, gorgeous of plumage, they stood ranged in the
outer chamber while the Celestial Emperor took his seat.

The Round-Faced Beauty wore no jewels, having bartered her pearl for her
opportunity; but her long coat of jade-green, embroidered with golden
willows, and her trousers of palest rose left nothing to be desired. In
her hair two golden peonies were fastened with pins of kingfisher work.
The Son of Heaven was seated upon the throne as the ladies approached,
marshaled by the August Aunt. He was attired in the Yellow Robe with the
Flying Dragons, and upon the Imperial Head was the Cap, ornamented
with one hundred and forty-four priceless gems. From it hung the twelve
pendants of strings of pearls, partly concealing the august eyes of the
Jade Emperor. No greater splendour can strike awe into the soul of man.

At his command the August Aunt took her seat upon a lesser chair at the
Celestial Feet. Her mien was majestic, and struck awe into the assembled
beauties, whose names she spoke aloud as each approached and prostrated
herself. She then pronounced these words:

"Beautiful ones, the Emperor, having considered the opinions submitted
by you on the subject of the Superior Man, is pleased to express his
august commendation. Dismiss, therefore, anxiety from your minds, and
prepare to assist at the humble concert of music we have prepared for
his Divine pleasure."

Slightly raising himself in his chair, the Son of Heaven looked down
upon that Garden of Beauty, holding in his hand an ivory tablet bound
with red silk.

"Lovely ladies," he began, in a voice that assuaged fear, "who among you
was it that laid before our feet a composition beginning thus--'Though
the sky rain pearls'?"

The August Aunt immediately rose.

"Imperial Majesty, none! These eyes supervised every composition. No
impropriety was permitted."

The Son of Heaven resumed: "Let that lady stand forth."

The words were few, but sufficient. Trembling in every limb, the
Round-Faced Beauty separated herself from her companions and prostrated
herself, amid the breathless amazement of the Blossoms of the Palace. He
looked down upon her as she knelt, pale as a lady carved in ivory, but
lovely as the lotus of Chang-Su. He turned to the August Aunt. "Princess
of Han, my Imperial Aunt, I would speak with this lady alone."

Decorum itself and the custom of Palaces could not conceal the
indignation of the August Aunt as she rose and retired, driving the
ladies before her as a shepherd drives his sheep.

The Hall of Tranquil Longevity being now empty, the Jade Emperor
extended his hand and beckoned the Round-Faced Beauty to approach. This
she did, hanging her head like a flower surcharged with dew and swaying
gracefully as a wind-bell, and knelt on the lowest step of the Seat of
State.

"Loveliest One," said the Emperor, "I have read your composition.
I would know the truth. Did any aid you as you spoke it? Was it the
thought of your own heart?"

"None aided, Divine," said she, almost fainting with fear. "It
was indeed the thought of this illiterate slave, consumed with an
unwarranted but uncontrollable passion."

"And have you in truth desired to see your Lord?"

"As a prisoner in a dungeon desires the light, so was it with this low
person."

"And having seen?"

"Augustness, the dull eyes of this slave are blinded with beauty."

She laid her head before his feet.

"Yet you have depicted, not the Ideal Man, but the Ideal Woman. This was
not the Celestial command. How was this?"

"Because, O versatile and auspicious Emperor, the blind cannot behold
the sunlight, and it is only the Ideal Woman who is worthy to comprehend
and worship the Ideal Man. For this alone is she created."

A smile began to illuminate the Imperial Countenance. "And how, O
Round-Faced Beauty, did you evade the vigilance of the August Aunt?"

She hung her head lower, speaking almost in a whisper. "With her one
pearl did this person buy the secrecy of the writer; and when the August
Aunt slept, did I conceal the paper in her sleeve with the rest, and her
own Imperial hand gave it to the engraver of ivory."

She veiled her face with two jade-white hands that trembled excessively.
On hearing this statement the Celestial Emperor broke at once into a
very great laughter, and he laughed loud and long as a tiller of wheat.
The Round-Faced Beauty heard it demurely until, catching the Imperial
eye, decorum was forgotten and she too laughed uncontrollably. So they
continued, and finally the Emperor leaned back, drying the tears in his
eyes with his august sleeve, and the lady, resuming her gravity, hid her
face in her hands, yet regarded him through her fingers.

When the August Aunt returned at the end of an hour with the ladies,
surrounded by the attendants with their instruments of music, the
Round-Faced Beauty was seated in the chair that she herself had
occupied, and on the whiteness of her brow was hung the chain of pearls,
which had formed the frontal of the Cap of the Emperor.

It is recorded that, advancing from honour to honour, the Round-Faced
Beauty was eventually chosen Empress and became the mother of the
Imperial Prince. The celestial purity of her mind and the absence of all
flaws of jealousy and anger warranted this distinction. But it is also
recorded that, after her elevation, no other lady was ever exalted in
the Imperial favour or received the slightest notice from the Emperor.
For the Empress, now well acquainted with the Ideal Man, judged it
better that his experiences of the Ideal Woman should be drawn from
herself alone. And as she decreed, so it was done. Doubtless Her Majesty
did well.

It is known that the Emperor departed to the Ancestral Spirits at an
early age, seeking, as the August Aunt observed, that repose which on
earth could never more be his. But no one has asserted that this lady's
disposition was free from the ordinary blemishes of humanity.

As for the Celestial Empress (who survives in history as one of the most
astute rulers who ever adorned the Dragon Throne), she continued to rule
her son and the Empire, surrounded by the respectful admiration of all.


THE END



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