The Interpreter, A Romance of the East
by L. Adams Beck
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
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
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
"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
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
"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."
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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."
"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."
"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
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
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
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
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
"Did they attain?" I found myself speaking as if she could certainly
"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
"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
"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
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
I feared it as men fear the unknown. I despised myself—but I feared.
I will confess my egregious folly and vanity—I had no doubt as to
her reception of my offer if I should make it, but possessed by a colossal
selfishness, I thought only of myself, and from that point of view could
not decide how I stood to lose or gain. In my wildest accesses of vanity I
did not suppose Vanna loved me, but I felt she liked me, and I believe the
advantages I had to offer would be overwhelming to a woman in her
position. So, tossed on the waves of indecision, I inclined to flight.
That night I resolutely began my packing, and wrote a note of farewell to
Lady Meryon. The next morning I furiously undid it, and destroyed the
note. And that afternoon I took the shortest way to the sun-set road to
lounge about and wait for Vanna and Winifred. She never came, and I was as
unreasonably angry as if I had deserved the blessing of her presence.
Next day I could see that she tried gently hut clearly to discourage our
meeting and for three days I never saw her at all. Yet I knew that in her
solitary life our talks counted for a pleasure, and when we met again I
thought I saw a new softness in the lovely hazel deeps of her eyes.
On the day when things became clear to me, I was walking towards the
Meryons' gates when I met her coming alone along the sunset road, in the
late gold of the afternoon. She looked pale and a little wearied, and I
remembered I wished I did not know every change of her face as I did. It
was a symptom that alarmed my selfishness—it galled me with the
sense that I was no longer my own despot.
"So you have been up the Khyber Pass," she said as I fell into step at her
side. "Tell me—was it as wonderful as you 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
"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
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
"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 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?" My heart gave a leap. "Why? Where?"
"Leaving Lady Meryon."
"Why—for Heaven's sake?"
"I had rather not tell you."
"But I must know."
"I shall ask Lady Meryon."
"I forbid you."
And then the unexpected happened, and an unbearable impulse swept me into
folly—or was it wisdom?
"Listen to me. I would not have said it yet, but this settles it. I want
you to marry me. I want it atrociously!"
It was a strange word. What I felt for her at that moment was difficult to
describe. I endured it like a pain that could only be assuaged by her
presence, but I endured it angrily. We were walking on the sunset road—very
deserted and quiet at the time. The place was propitious if nothing else
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
"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
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? 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
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
"But I'll give it to you. Marry me, and we will travel till you're tired
"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
"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
"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
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
I replied only this:—Dear Miss Loring,—I think I understand
the position fully. I will be there. I thank you with all my heart.
Gratefully yours, STEPHEN CLIFDEN.
Three days later I met Lady Meryon, and was swept in to tea. Her manner
was distinctly more cordial as she mentioned casually that Vanna had left—she
understood to take up missionary work—"which is odd," she added with
a woman's acrimony, "for she had no more in common with missionaries than
I have, and that is saying a good deal. Of course she speaks Hindustani
perfectly, and could be useful, but I haven't grasped the point of it
yet." I saw she counted on my knowing nothing of the real reason of
Vanna's going and left it, of course, at that. The talk drifted away under
my guidance. Vanna evidently puzzled her. She half feared, and wholly
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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."
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
"I am graduating as a nurse," she would say laughing as she bent over the
lean arm of some weirdly wrinkled old lady, bandaging and soothing at the
same moment. Her reward would be some bit of folk-lore, some quaintness of
gratitude that I noted down in the little book I kept for remembrance—that
I do not need, for every word is in my heart.
We rowed down through the city next day—Salama rowing, and little
Kahdra lazily paddling at the bow—a wonderful city, with its narrow
ways begrimed with the dirt of ages, and its balconied houses looking as
if disease and sin had soaked into them and given them a vicious tottering
beauty, horrible and yet lovely too. We saw the swarming life of the
bazaar, the white turbans coming and going, diversified by the rose and
yellow Hindu turbans, and the caste-marks, orange and red, on the dark
I saw two women—girls—painted and tired like Jezebel, looking
out of one window carved and old, and the grey burnished doves flying
about it. They leaned indolently, like all the old, old wickedness of the
East that yet is ever young—"Flowers of Delight," with smooth black
hair braided with gold and blossoms, and covered with pale rose veils, and
gold embossed disks swinging like lamps beside the olive cheeks, the great
eyes artificially lengthened and darkened with soorma, and the curves of
the full lips emphasized with vermilion. They looked down on us with
apathy, a dull weariness that held all the old evil of the wicked humming
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
"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
"He was not punished. I told you it was a very long time ago. Her
expression had a brooding quiet as she looked down into the running river,
almost it might be as if she saw the picture of that past misery in the
deep water. She said no more. But in her words and the terrible crowding
of its life, Srinagar seemed to me more of a nightmare than anything I had
seen, excepting only Benares; for the holy Benares is a memory of horror,
with a sense of blood hidden under its frantic crazy devotion, and not far
"Our own green shade, when we pulled back to it in the evening cool, was a
refuge of unspeakable quiet. She read aloud to me that evening by the
small light of our lamp beneath the trees, and, singularly, she read of
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"I was quite sleepy for a minute. The climb was so strenuous. Hark—I
hear the Flute of Krishna again."
And again I could hear nothing, but she said it was sounding from the
trees at the base of the hill. Later when we climbed down I found she was
right—that a peasant lad, dark and amazingly beautiful as these
Kashmiris often are, was playing on the flute to a girl at his feet—looking
up at him with rapt eyes. He flung Vanna a flower as we passed. She caught
it and put it in her bosom. A singular blossom, three petals of purest
white, set against three leaves of purest green, and lower down the stem
the three green leaves were repeated. It was still in her bosom after
dinner, and I looked at it more closely.
"That is a curious flower," I said. "Three and three and three. Nine. That
makes the mystic number. I never saw a purer white. What is it?"
"Of course it is mystic," she said seriously. "It is the Ninefold Flower.
You saw who gave it?"
"That peasant lad."
"You will see more some day. Some might not even have seen that."
"Does it grow here?"
"This is the first I have seen. It is said to grow only where the gods
walk. Do you know that throughout all India Kashmir is said to be holy
ground? It was called long ago the land of the gods, and of strange, but
not evil, sorceries. Great marvels were seen 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
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
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
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
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
We sat in the pavilion for awhile looking down on the rushing water, and
she spoke of Akbar, the greatest of the Moguls, and spoke with a curious
personal touch, as I thought.
"I wish you would try to write a story of him—one on more human
lines than has been done yet. No one has accounted for the passionate
quest of truth that was the real secret of his life. Strange in an
Oriental despot if you think of it! It really can only be understood from
the Buddhist belief, which curiously seems to have been the only one he
neglected, that a mysterious Karma influenced all his thoughts. If I tell
you as a key-note for your story, that in a past life he had been a
Buddhist priest—one who had fallen away, would that in any way
account to you for attempts to recover the lost way? Try to think that
out, and to write the story, not as a Western mind sees it, but pure
"That would be a great book to write if one could catch the voices of the
past. But how to do it?"
"I will give you one day a little book that may help you. The other story
I wish you would write is the story of a Dancer of Peshawar. There is a
connection between the two—a story of ruin 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
"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
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
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
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
"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?"
"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
"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
"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 he tell you anything of what he had seen in the high world up
"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
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
"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?"
"What should I shun?"
"Sorrow and fear."
"What should I seek?"
"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
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
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
"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."
"She took poison. He became an ascetic in the hills and died in peace but
with a long expiation upon him."
"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
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."
"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
"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
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,
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.