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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 green 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 that the labyrinthine enchantments of that enchanted land were closing about me — a slendei web, gray, 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.
'But 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 that I had entered at some mystic gate. 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, 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 leaning over the height — her chin 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 clear blue — blue as turquoise? We will go up into the heights and find them.'
And next moment she was planning the camping details — the men, the ponies — with a practical zest that seemed to relegate the occult to the absurd. Yet the very next day came a wonderful happening.
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, literally 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.
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 sea-gulls, they passed. I saw the fierce aerial faces and their unhuman 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 colors 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. In the cool gray 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.
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 — 0 God, I know them, but cannot tell!
In the smaller villages, the headman 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 headman 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, in his turn, 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, walking slowly round him three times, 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 Mohammedans, is a Brahmin 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 honor 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 that I had noticed and longed to look into, and no more was said.
We struck camp next day and trekked on toward 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 breakneck little stairs to a large bare room, open to the clean air all around 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 a 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 beauty, and ennobled both host and guest. But we met an ascending scale of beauty, 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 made by the Mogul Emperor Jehangir to receive the waters of a mighty spring which wells from the hill and has been held sacred by Hindu and Moslem. And if loveliness can sanctify, surely it is sacred, indeed.
'How all the Mogul Emperors loved running water!' said Vanna. 'I can see them leaning over it in these carved pavilions, with delicate dark faces and pensive eyes beneath their turbans, lost in the endless reverie of the East, while liquid melody passes into their dream. It was the music they best loved.'
She was leading me into the royal garden below, where the young river flows beneath the pavilion set above and across the rush of the water.
'I remember before I came to India,' she went on, 'there were certain words and phrases that meant the whole East to me. It was an enchantment. The first flash picture I had was Milton's
Dark faces with white silken turbans wreathed,
and it still is. I have thought ever since that every man should wear a turban. It dignifies the uncomeliest, and it is quite curious to sec how many inches a man descends in the scale of beauty the moment he takes it off and you see only the skull-cup about which they wind it. They wind it with wonderful skill, too. I have seen a man take eighteen yards of muslin and throw it round his head with a few turns; and in five or six minutes the beautiful folds were all in order and he looked like a king. Some of the Gujars here wear black ones, and they are very effective and worth painting — the black folds and the sullen tempestuous black brows underneath.'
We sat in the pavilion for a while, 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 be understood only 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 at all account to you for attempts to recover the lost Way? Try to think that out, and to write the story, not as a Western mind sees it, but pure East.'
'That would be a great book to write if one could catch the voices of the past. But how to do that?'
'I will give you one day a little book that may help you. The other story I wish you would write is the story of a dancer of Peshawar. There is a connection between the two — a story of ruin and repentance.'
'Will you tell it to me?'
'A part. In this same book you will find much more, but not all. All cannot be told. You must imagine much; but I think your imagination will be true.'
'Why do you think so?'
'Because in these few days you have learned so much. You have seen the Ninefold flower, and the rain-spirits. You will soon hear the Flute of Krishna, which none can hear w:ho cannot dream true.'
That night I heard it. I waked, suddenly, to music, and standing in the door of my tent, in the dead silence of the night, lit only by a few low stars, I heard the poignant notes of a flute. If it had called my name, it could not have summoned me more clearly, and I followed without a thought of delay, forgetting even Vanna in the strange urgency that filled me.
The music was elusive, seeming to come first from one side, then from the other; but finally I tracked it as a bee does a flower, by the scent, to the gate of the royal garden — the pleasure place of the dead Emperors. The gate stood ajar — strange! for I had seen the custodian close it that evening. Now it stood wide, and I went in, walking noiselessly over the dewy grass. I knew, and could not tell how, that I must be noiseless. Passing as if I were guided down the course of the strong young river, I came to the pavilion that spanned it, — the place where we had stood that afternoon, — and there, to my profound amazement, I saw Vanna, leaning against a slight wooden pillar. As if she had expected me, she laid one finger on her lip, and stretching out her hand, took mine and drew me beside her as a mother might a child. And instantly I saw!
On the farther bank a young man in a strange diadem or mitre 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 tapered 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 that 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 or define their numbers. The eyes of the Player looked down upon their passionate delight with careless kindness.
Dim images passed through my mind. Orpheus — no, this was no Greek. Pan — yet again, no. Where were the pipes, the goat-hoofs? The young Dionysos — no; there were strange jewels instead of his vines. And then Vanna's voice said as if from a great distance, —
'Krishna — the Beloved'; and I said aloud, 'I see!' And, even as I said it, the whole picture blurred together like a dream, and I was alone in the pavilion and the water was foaming past me.
Had I walked in my sleep? I wondered, as I made my way back. 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