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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. The water ran with a great joyous rush of release from the mountain behind, but was first received in a 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 Brahmin priest who served the temple.
Since I had joined Vanna I had begun, with her help, to study a little Hindostani, 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 afterward, —
'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, Vol. in—No. i
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 Brahmins are the 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 Brahmin caste, and the Brahmins look down upon those who are not, from sovereign heights.'
And so, in marches of about ten miles a day, we came to Pahlgam on the banks of the dancing Lidar. There were 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 perhaps 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 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 Mohammedans,' 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.'
'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 I suppose that, if love and faith are strong enough, they will always create the vibrations to which the greater vibrations respond, and so create 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 FlutaPlayer 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. 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 firelit moonlight with a
power that I could not stay. She looked at me with a discerning gentleness.
'Is this fair? Do you remember how at Peshawar I told you I thought it was a dangerous experiment, and that it would make things harder for you? But you took the risk like a brave man, because you felt there were things to be gained — knowledge, insight, beauty. Have you not gained them?'
'Then — is it all loss if I go?'
'Not all. But loss I dare not face.'
'I will tell you this. I could not stay if I would. Do you remember the old man on the way to Vernag? He told me that I must very soon take up an entirely new life. I have no choice, though, if I had, I would still do it.'
There was silence, and down a long arcade, without any touch of her hand, I heard the music, receding with exquisite modulations to a very great distance; and between the pillared stems, I saw a faint light.
'Do you wish to go?'
'Entirely. But I shall not forget you, Stephen. I will tell you something. For me, since I came to India, the gate that shuts us out at birth has opened. How shall I explain? Do you remember Kipling's " Finest Story in the World "?'
'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 meet again.'
'I will tell you that also before we part. I have grown to believe that you do love me — and therefore love something which is infinitely above me.'
'And do you love me at all? Am I nothing, Vanna — Vanna?'
'My friend,' she said, and laid her hand on mine. A silence and then she spoke, very low. 'You must be prepared for very great change, Stephen, and yet believe that it does not really change things at all. See how even the Gods pass and do not change. The early Gods of India are gone, and Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna have taken their places and are one and the same. The Gods cannot die, nor can we, or anything that has life. Now I must go inside.'
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. 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 that the Gods dwell. There was a man here who tried this enchantment. He was a changed man forever after, wandering and muttering to himself, and avoiding all human inter
course as far as he could. He said he had seen the Dream of the God!
'Do you think he had seen anything?'
'What do I know? Will you eat the seeds? The Night of No Moon will soon be here.'
She held out the seed-vessels, laughing. I write that down; but how record the lovely light of kindliness in her eyes — the almost submissive gentleness that yet was a defense stronger 'than steel? I never knew — how should I? — whether she was sitting by my side or heavens away from me in her own strange world. But always she was a sweetness that I could not reach, a cup of nectar that I might not drink, unalterably her own and never mine, and yet — my friend.
She showed me the wild track up into the mountains, where the pilgrims go to pay their devotions to the Great God's shrine in the awful heights.
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.
Vanna spoke, 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, oh, how far short of her calm perception! She was of a House higher than the Household of Faith. She had received enlightenment. She believed because she had seen.
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 Bij behara, 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 wooden 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 could see the straight, dignified folds of the robes. But it was not surprising that he should be there, and I should have thought no more of it, had I not heard at that instant from the farther 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 and 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 which, 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 that I had been profoundly withdrawn from what we call actual life, and the return is dread.
The days passed as we floated down the river to Srinagar.
On board the Kedarnath, now lying in our first berth beneath the chenars, near and yet far from the city, the last night had come. Next morning I should begin the long ride to Baramula, and beyond that barrier of the Happy Valley down to Murree and the Punjab. Where afterward? 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 that it was but a loan and a 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, 0 mon cceur fatigue! — An immense weariness possessed me — a passive grief.
Varum 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 that we should not meet again.
And now my packing was finished, and, so far as my possessions went, the little cabin had the soulless emptiness that comes with departure.
I was enduring as best I could. If she had held loyally to her pact, could I do less? Was she to blame for my wild hope that in the end she would relent and step down to the household levels of love?
She sat by the window — the last time I should see the moonlit banks and her clear face against them. I made and won my fight for the courage of words.
'And now I've finished everything, thank goodness! and we can talk. Vanna — you will write to me?'
'Once. I promise that.'
'Only once? Why? I counted on your words.'
'I want to speak to you of something else now. I want to tell you a memory. But look first at the pale light behind the Takht-i-Suliman.'
So I had seen it with her. So I should not see it again. We watched until a line of silver sparkled on the black water, and then she spoke.
'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 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 Ion? expiation upon him.'