There is a place uplifted nine thousand feet in purest air where one of the most ancient tracks in the world runs from India into Tibet. It leaves Simla of the Imperial councils by a stately road; it passes beyond, but now narrowing, climbing higher beside the khuds or steep drops to the precipitous valleys beneath, and the rumor of Simla grows distant and the way is quiet, for, owing to the danger of driving horses above the khuds, such baggage as you own must be carried by coolies, and you yourself must either ride on horseback or in the little horseless carriage of the Orient, here drawn and pushed by four men. And presently the deodars darken the way with a solemn presence, for—
“These are the Friars of the wood,
The Brethren of the Solitude
Hooded and grave—”
their breath most austerely pure in the gradually chilling air. Their companies increase and now the way is through a great wood where it has become a trail and no more, and still it climbs for many miles and finally a rambling bungalow, small and low, is sighted in the deeps of the trees, a mountain stream from unknown heights falling beside it. And this is known as the House in the Woods. Very few people are permitted to go there, for the owner has no care for money and makes no provision for guests. You must take your own servant and the khansamah will cook you such simple food as men expect in the wilds, and that is all. You stay as long as you please and when you leave not even a gift to the khansamah is permitted.
I had been staying in Ranipur of the plains while I considered the question of getting to Upper Kashmir by the route from Simla along the old way to Chinese Tibet where I would touch Shipki in the Dalai Lama’s territory and then pass on to Zanskar and so down to Kashmir—a tremendous route through the Himalaya and a crowning experience of the mightiest mountain scenery in the world. I was at Ranipur for the purpose of consulting my old friend Olesen, now an irrigation official in the Rampur district—a man who had made this journey and nearly lost his life in doing it. It is not now perhaps so dangerous as it was, and my life was of no particular value to any one but myself, and the plan interested me.
I pass over the long discussions of ways and means in the blinding heat of Ranipur. Olesen put all his knowledge at my service and never uttered a word of the envy that must have filled him as he looked at the distant snows cool and luminous in blue air, and, shrugging good-natured shoulders, spoke of the work that lay before him on the burning plains until the terrible summer should drag itself to a close. We had vanquished the details and were smoking in comparative silence one night on the veranda, when he said in his slow reflective way;
“You don’t like the average hotel, Ormond, and you’ll like it still less up Simla way with all the Simla crowd of grass-widows and fellows out for as good a time as they can cram into the hot weather. I wonder if I could get you a permit for The House in the Woods while you re waiting to fix up your men and route for Shipki.”
He explained and of course I jumped at the chance. It belonged, he said, to a man named Rup Singh, a pandit, or learned man of Ranipur. He had always spent the summer there, but age and failing health made this impossible now, and under certain conditions he would occasionally allow people known to friends of his own to put up there.
“And Rup Singh and I are very good friends,” Olesen said; “I won his heart by discovering the lost Sukh Mandir, or Hall of Pleasure, built many centuries ago by a Maharao of Ranipur for a summer retreat in the great woods far beyond Simla. There are lots of legends about it here in Ranipur. They call it The House of Beauty. Rup Singh’s ancestor had been a close friend of the Maharao and was with him to the end, and that’s why he himself sets such store on the place. You have a good chance if I ask for a permit.
“He told me the story and since it is the heart of my own I give it briefly. Many centuries ago the Ranipur Kingdom was ruled by the Maharao Rai Singh a prince of the great lunar house of the Rajputs. Expecting a bride from some far away kingdom (the name of this is unrecorded) he built the Hall of Pleasure as a summer palace, a house of rare and costly beauty. A certain great chamber he lined with carved figures of the Gods and their stories, almost unsurpassed for truth and life. So, with the pine trees whispering about it the secret they sigh to tell, he hoped to create an earthly Paradise with this Queen in whom all loveliness was perfected. And then some mysterious tragedy ended all his hopes. It was rumoured that when the Princess came to his court, she was, by some terrible mistake, received with insult and offered the position only of one of his women. After that nothing was known. Certain only is it that he fled to the hills, to the home of his broken hope, and there ended his days in solitude, save for the attendance of two faithful friends who would not abandon him even in the ghostly quiet of the winter when the pine boughs were heavy with snow and a spectral moon stared at the panthers shuffling through the white wastes beneath. Of these two Rup Singh’s ancestor was one. And in his thirty fifth year the Maharao died and his beauty and strength passed into legend and his kingdom was taken by another and the jungle crept silently over his Hall of Pleasure and the story ended.
“There was not a memory of the place up there,” Olesen went on. “Certainly I never heard anything of it when I went up to the Shipki in 1904. But I had been able to be useful to Rup Singh and he gave me a permit for The House in the Woods, and I stopped there for a few days’ shooting. I remember that day so well. I was wandering in the dense woods while my men got their midday grub, and I missed the trail somehow and found myself in a part where the trees were dark and thick and the silence heavy as lead. It was as if the trees were on guard—they stood shoulder to shoulder and stopped the way. Well, I halted, and had a notion there was something beyond that made me doubt whether to go on. I must have stood there five minutes hesitating. Then I pushed on, bruising the thick ferns under my shooting boots and stooping under the knotted boughs. Suddenly I tramped out of the jungle into a clearing, and lo and behold a ruined House, with blocks of marble lying all about it, and carved pillars and a great roof all being slowly smothered by the jungle. The weirdest thing you ever saw. I climbed some fallen columns to get a better look, and as I did I saw a face flash by at the arch of a broken window. I sang out in Hindustani, but no answer: only the echo from the woods. Somehow that dampened my ardour, and I didn’t go in to what seemed like a great ruined hall for the place was so eerie and lonely, and looked mighty snaky into the bargain. So I came ingloriously away and told Rup Singh. And his whole face changed. ‘That is The House of Beauty,’ he said. ‘All my life have I sought it and in vain. For, friend of my soul, a man must lose himself that he may find himself and what lies beyond, and the trodden path has ever been my doom. And you who have not sought have seen. Most strange are the way of the Gods’. Later on I knew this was why he had always gone up yearly, thinking and dreaming God knows what. He and I tried for the place together, but in vain and the whole thing is like a dream. Twice he has let friends of mine stay at The House in the Woods, and I think he won’t refuse now.”
“Did he ever tell you the story?”
“Never. I only know what I’ve picked up here. Some horrible mistake about the Rani that drove the man almost mad with remorse. I’ve heard bits here and there. There’s nothing so vital as tradition in India.”
“I wonder’. what really happened.”
“That we shall never know. I got a little old picture of the Maharao—said to be painted by a Pahari artist. It’s not likely to be authentic, but you never can tell. A Brahman sold it to me that he might complete his daughter’s dowry, and hated doing it.”
“May I see it?”
“Why certainly. Not a very good light, but—can do,” as the Chinks say.
He brought it out rolled in silk stuff and I carried it under the hanging lamp. A beautiful young man indeed, with the air of race these people have beyond all others;—a cold haughty face, immovably dignified. He sat with his hands resting lightly on the arms of his chair of State. A crescent of rubies clasped the folds of the turban and from this sprang an aigrette scattering splendours. The magnificent hilt of a sword was ready beside him. The face was not only beautiful but arresting.
“A strange picture,” I said. “The artist has captured the man himself. I can see him trampling on any one who opposed him, and suffering in the same cold secret way. It ought to be authentic if it isn’t. Don’t you know any more?”
“Nothing. Well—to bed, and tomorrow I’ll see Rup Singh.”
I was glad when he returned with the permission. I was to be very careful, he said, to make no allusion to the lost palace, for two women were staying at the House in the Woods—a mother and daughter to whom Rup Singh had granted hospitality because of an obligation he must honor. But with true Oriental distrust of women he had thought fit to make no confidence to them. I promised and asked Olesen if he knew them.
“Slightly. Canadians of Danish blood like my own. Their name is Ingmar. Some people think the daughter good-looking. The mother is supposed to be clever; keen on occult subjects which she came back to India to study. The husband was a great naturalist and the kindest of men. He almost lived in the jungle and the natives had all sorts of rumours about his powers. You know what they are. They said the birds and beasts followed him about. Any old thing starts a legend.”
“What was the connection with Rup Singh?”
“He was in difficulties and undeservedly, and Ingmar generously lent him money at a critical time, trusting to his honour for repayment. Like most Orientals he never forgets a good turn and would do anything for any of the family—except trust the women with any secret he valued. The father is long dead. By the way Rup Singh gave me a queer message for you. He said; ‘Tell the Sahib these words—“Let him who finds water in the desert share his cup with him who dies of thirst.” He is certainly getting very old. I don’t suppose he knew himself what he meant.”
I certainly did not. However my way was thus smoothed for me and I took the upward road, leaving Olesen to the long ungrateful toil of the man who devotes his life to India without sufficient time or knowledge to make his way to the inner chambers of her beauty. There is no harder mistress unless you hold the pass-key to her mysteries, there is none of whom so little can be told in words but who kindles so deep a passion. Necessity sometimes takes me from that enchanted land, but when the latest dawns are shining in my skies I shall make my feeble way back to her and die at her worshipped feet. So I went up from Kalka.
I have never liked Simla. It is beautiful enough—eight thousand feet up in the grip of the great hills looking toward the snows, the famous summer home of the Indian Government. Much diplomacy is whispered on Observatory Hill and many are the lighter diversions of which Mr. Kipling and lesser men have written. But Simla is also a gateway to many things—to the mighty deodar forests that clothe the foot-hills of the mountains, to Kulu, to the eternal snows, to the old, old bridle way that leads up to the Shipki Pass and the mysteries of Tibet—and to the strange things told in this story. So I passed through with scarcely a glance at the busy gayety of the little streets and the tiny shops where the pretty ladies buy their rouge and powder. I was attended by my servant Ali Khan, a Mohammedan from Nagpur, sent up with me by Olesen with strong recommendation. He was a stout walker, so too am I, and an inveterate dislike to the man-drawn carriage whenever my own legs would serve me decided me to walk the sixteen miles to the House in the Woods, sending on the baggage. Ali Khan despatched it and prepared to follow me, the fine cool air of the hills giving us a zest.
“Subhan Alla! (Praise be to God!) the air is sweet!” he said, stepping out behind me. “What time does the Sahib look to reach the House?”
“About five or six. Now, Ali Khan, strike out of the road. You know the way.”
So we struck up into the glorious pine woods, mountains all about us. Here and there as we climbed higher was a little bank of forgotten snow, but spring had triumphed and everywhere was the waving grace of maiden-hair ferns, banks of violets and strangely beautiful little wild flowers. These woods are full of panthers, but in day time the only precaution necessary is to take no dog,—a dainty they cannot resist. The air was exquisite with the sun-warm scent of pines, and here and there the trees broke away disclosing mighty ranges of hills covered with rich blue shadows like the bloom on a plum,—the clouds chasing the sunshine over the mountain sides and the dark green velvet of the robe of pines. I looked across ravines that did not seem gigantic and yet the villages on the other side were like a handful of peas, so tremendous was the scale. I stood now and then to see the rhododendrons, forest trees here with great trunks and massive boughs glowing with blood-red blossom, and time went by and I took no count of it, so glorious was the climb.
It must have been hours later when it struck me that the sun was getting low and that by now we should be nearing The House in the Woods. I said as much to Ali Khan. He looked perplexed and agreed. We had reached a comparatively level place, the trail faint but apparent, and it surprised me that we heard no sound of life from the dense wood where our goal must be.
“I know not, Presence,” he said. “May his face be blackened that directed me. I thought surely I could not miss the way, and yet-”
We cast back and could see no trail forking from the one we were on. There was nothing for it but to trust to luck and push on. But I began to be uneasy and so was the man. I had stupidly forgotten to unpack my revolver, and worse, we had no food, and the mountain air is an appetiser, and at night the woods have their dangers, apart from being absolutely trackless. We had not met a living being since we left the road and there seemed no likelihood of asking for directions. I stopped no longer for views but went steadily on, Ali Khan keeping up a running fire of low-voiced invocations and lamentations. And now it was dusk and the position decidedly unpleasant.
It was at that moment I saw a woman before us walking lightly and steadily under the pines. She must have struck into the trail from the side for she never could have kept before us all the way. A native woman, but wearing the all-concealing boorka, more like a town dweller than a woman of the hills. I put on speed and Ali Khan, now very tired, toiled on behind me as I came up with her and courteously asked the way. Her face was entirely hidden, but the answering voice was clear and sweet. I made up my mind she was young, for it had the bird-like thrill of youth.
“If the Presence continues to follow this path he will arrive. It is not far. They wait for him.”
That was all. It left me with a desire to see the veiled face. We passed on and Ali Khan looked fearfully back.
“Ajaib! (Wonderful!) A strange place to meet one of the purdah-nashin (veiled women)” he muttered. “What would she be doing up here in the heights? She walked like a Khanam (khan’s wife) and I saw the gleam of gold under the boorka.”
I turned with some curiosity as he spoke, and lo! there was no human being in sight. She had disappeared from the track behind us and it was impossible to say where. The darkening trees were beginning to hold the dusk and it seemed unimaginable that a woman should leave the way and take to the dangers of the woods.
“Puna-i-Khoda—God protect us!” said Ali Khan in a shuddering whisper. “She was a devil of the wilds. Press on, Sahib. We should not be here in the dark.”
There was nothing else to do. We made the best speed we could, and the trees grew more dense and the trail fainter between the close trunks, and so the night came bewildering with the expectation that we must pass the night unfed and unarmed in the cold of the heights. They might send out a search party from The House in the Woods—that was still a hope, if there were no other. And then, very gradually and wonderfully the moon dawned over the tree tops and flooded the wood with mysterious silver lights and about her rolled the majesty of the stars. We pressed on into the heart of the night. From the dense black depths we emerged at last. An open glade lay before us—the trees falling back to right and left to disclose—what?
A long low house of marble, unlit, silent, bathed in pale splendour and shadow. About it stood great deodars, clothed in clouds of the white blossoming clematis, ghostly and still. Acacias hung motionless trails of heavily scented bloom as if carved in ivory. It was all silent as death. A flight of nobly sculptured steps led up to a broad veranda and a wide open door with darkness behind it. Nothing more.
I forced myself to shout in Hindustani—the cry seeming a brutal outrage upon the night, and an echo came back numbed in the black woods. I tried once more and in vain. We stood absorbed also into the silence.
“Ya Alla! it is a house of the dead!” whispered Ali Khan, shuddering at my shoulder,—and even as the words left his lips I understood where we were. “It is the Sukh Mandir.” I said. “It is the House of the Maharao of Ranipur.”
It was impossible to be in Ranipur and hear nothing of the dead house of the forest and Ali Khan had heard—God only knows what tales. In his terror all discipline, all the inborn respect of the native forsook him, and without word or sign he turned and fled along the track, crashing through the forest blind and mad with fear. It would have been insanity to follow him, and in India the first rule of life is that the Sahib shows no fear, so I left him to his fate whatever it might be, believing at the same time that a little reflection and dread of the lonely forest would bring him to heel quickly.
I stood there and the stillness flowed like water about me. It was as though I floated upon it—bathed in quiet. My thoughts adjusted themselves. Possibly it was not the Sukh Mandir. Olesen had spoken of ruin. I could see none. At least it was shelter from the chill which is always present at these heights when the sun sets,—and it was beautiful as a house not made with hands. There was a sense of awe but no fear as I went slowly up the great steps and into the gloom beyond and so gained the hall.
The moon went with me and from a carven arch filled with marble tracery rained radiance that revealed and hid. Pillars stood about me, wonderful with horses ramping forward as in the Siva Temple at Vellore. They appeared to spring from the pillars into the gloom urged by invisible riders, the effect barbarously rich and strange—motion arrested, struck dumb in a violent gesture, and behind them impenetrable darkness. I could not see the end of this hall—for the moon did not reach it, but looking up I beheld the walls fretted in great panels into the utmost splendour of sculpture, encircling the stories of the Gods amid a twining and under-weaving of leaves and flowers. It was more like a temple than a dwelling. Siva, as Nataraja the Cosmic Dancer, the Rhythm of the Universe, danced before me, flinging out his arms in the passion of creation. Kama, the Indian Eros, bore his bow strung with honey-sweet black bees that typify the heart’s desire. Krishna the Beloved smiled above the herd-maidens adoring at his feet. Ganesha the Elephant-Headed, sat in massive calm, wreathing his wise trunk about him. And many more. But all these so far as I could see tended to one centre panel larger than any, representing two life-size figures of a dim beauty. At first I could scarcely distinguish one from the other in the upward-reflected light, and then, even as I stood, the moving moon revealed the two as if floating in vapor. At once I recognized the subject—I had seen it already in the ruined temple of Ranipur, though the details differed. Parvati, the Divine Daughter of the Himalaya, the Emanation of the mighty mountains, seated upon a throne, listening to a girl who played on a Pan pipe before her. The goddess sat, her chin leaned upon her hand, her shoulders slightly inclined in a pose of gentle sweetness, looking down upon the girl at her feet, absorbed in the music of the hills and lonely places. A band of jewels, richly wrought, clasped the veil on her brows, and below the bare bosom a glorious girdle clothed her with loops and strings and tassels of jewels that fell to her knees—her only garment.
The girl was a lovely image of young womanhood, the proud swell of the breast tapering to the slim waist and long limbs easily folded as she half reclined at the divine feet, her lips pressed to the pipe. Its silent music mysteriously banished fear. The sleep must be sweet indeed that would come under the guardianship of these two fair creatures—their gracious influence was dewy in the air. I resolved that I would spend the night beside them. Now with the march of the moon dim vistas of the walls beyond sprang into being. Strange mythologies—the incarnations of Vishnu the Preserver, the Pastoral of Krishna the Beautiful. I promised myself that next day I would sketch some of the loveliness about me. But the moon was passing on her way—I folded the coat I carried into a pillow and lay down at the feet of the goddess and her nymph. Then a moonlit quiet I slept in a dream of peace.
Sleep annihilates time. Was it long or short when I woke like a man floating up to the surface from tranquil deeps? That I cannot tell, but once more I possessed myself and every sense was on guard.
My hearing first. Bare feet were coming, falling softly as leaves, but unmistakable. There was a dim whispering but I could hear no word. I rose on my elbow and looked down the long hall. Nothing. The moonlight lay in pools of light and seas of shadow on the floor, and the feet drew nearer. Was I afraid? I cannot tell, but a deep expectation possessed me as the sound grew like the rustle of grasses parted in a fluttering breeze, and now a girl came swiftly up the steps, irradiate in the moonlight, and passing up the hall stood beside me. I could see her robe, her feet bare from the jungle, but her face wavered and changed and re-united like the face of a dream woman. I could not fix it for one moment, yet knew this was the messenger for whom I had waited all my life—for whom one strange experience, not to be told at present, had prepared me in early manhood. Words came, and I said:
“Is this a dream?”
“No. We meet in the Ninth Vibration. All here is true.”
“Is a dream never true?”
“Sometimes it is the echo of the Ninth Vibration and therefore a harmonic of truth. You are awake now. It is the day-time that is the sleep of the soul. You are in the Lower Perception, wherein the truth behind the veil of what men call Reality is perceived.”
“Can I ascend?”
“I cannot tell. That is for you, not me.
“What do I perceive tonight?”
“The Present as it is in the Eternal. Say no more. Come with me.”
She stretched her hand and took mine with the assurance of a goddess, and we went up the hall where the night had been deepest between the great pillars.
Now it is very clear to me that in every land men, when the doors of perception are opened, will see what we call the Supernatural clothed in the image in which that country has accepted it. Blake, the mighty mystic, will see the Angels of the Revelation, driving their terrible way above Lambeth—it is not common nor unclean. The fisherman, plying his coracle on the Thames will behold the consecration of the great new Abbey of Westminster celebrated with mass and chant and awful lights in the dead mid-noon of night by that Apostle who is the Rock of the Church. Before him who wanders in Thessaly Pan will brush the dewy lawns and slim-girt Artemis pursue the flying hart. In the pale gold of Egyptian sands the heavy brows of Osiris crowned with the pshent will brood above the seer and the veil of Isis tremble to the lifting. For all this is the rhythm to which the souls of men are attuned and in that vibration they will see, and no other, since in this the very mountains and trees of the land are rooted. So here, where our remote ancestors worshipped the Gods of Nature, we must needs stand before the Mystic Mother of India, the divine daughter of the Himalaya.
How shall I describe the world we entered? The carvings upon the walls had taken life—they had descended. It was a gathering of the dreams men have dreamed here of the Gods, yet most real and actual. They watched in a serenity that set them apart in an atmosphere of their own—forms of indistinct majesty and august beauty, absolute, simple, and everlasting. I saw them as one sees reflections in rippled water—no more. But all faces turned to the place where now a green and flowering leafage enshrined and partly hid the living Nature Goddess, as she listened to a voice that was not dumb to me. I saw her face only in glimpses of an indescribable sweetness, but an influence came from her presence like the scent of rainy pine forests, the coolness that breathes from great rivers, the passion of Spring when she breaks on the world with a wave of flowers. Healing and life flowed from it. Understanding also. It seemed I could interpret the very silence of the trees outside into the expression of their inner life, the running of the green life-blood in their veins, the delicate trembling of their finger-tips.
My companion and I were not heeded. We stood hand in hand like children who have innocently strayed into a palace, gazing in wonderment. The august life went its way upon its own occasions, and, if we would, we might watch. Then the voice, clear and cold, proceeding, as it were, with some story begun before we had strayed into the Presence, the whole assembly listening in silence.
“—and as it has been so it will be, for the Law will have the blind soul carried into a body which is a record of the sins it has committed, and will not suffer that soul to escape from rebirth into bodies until it has seen the truth—”
And even as this was said and I listened, knowing myself on the verge of some great knowledge, I felt sleep beginning to weigh upon my eyelids. The sound blurred, flowed unsyllabled as a stream, the girl’s hand grew light in mine; she was fading, becoming unreal; I saw her eyes like faint stars in a mist. They were gone. Arms seemed to receive me—to lay me to sleep and I sank below consciousness, and the night took me.
When I awoke the radiant arrows of the morning were shooting into the long hall where I lay, but as I rose and looked about me, strange—most strange, ruin encircled me everywhere. The blue sky was the roof. What I had thought a palace lost in the jungle, fit to receive its King should he enter, was now a broken hall of State; the shattered pillars were festooned with waving weeds, the many coloured lantana grew between the fallen blocks of marble. Even the sculptures on the walls were difficult to decipher. Faintly I could trace a hand, a foot, the orb of a woman’s bosom, the gracious outline of some young God, standing above a crouching worshipper. No more. Yes, and now I saw above me as the dawn touched it the form of the Dweller in the Windhya Hills, Parvati the Beautiful, leaning softly over something breathing music at her feet. Yet I knew I could trace the almost obliterated sculpture only because I had already seen it defined in perfect beauty. A deep crack ran across the marble; it was weathered and stained by many rains, and little ferns grew in the crevices, but I could reconstruct every line from my own knowledge. And how? The Parvati of Ranipur differed in many important details. She stood, bending forward, wheras this sweet Lady sat. Her attendants were small satyr-like spirits of the wilds, piping and fluting, in place of the reclining maiden. The sweeping scrolls of a great halo encircled her whole person. Then how could I tell what this nearly obliterated carving had been? I groped for the answer and could not find it. I doubted—
“Were such things here as we do speak about? Or have we eaten of the insane root That takes the reason captive?”
Memory rushed over me like the sea over dry sands. A girl—there had been a girl—we had stood with clasped hands to hear a strange music, but in spite of the spiritual intimacy of those moments I could not recall her face. I saw it cloudy against a background of night and dream, the eyes remote as stars, and so it eluded me. Only her presence and her words survived; “We meet in the Ninth Vibration. All here is true.” But the Ninth Vibration itself was dream-land. I had never heard the phrase—I could not tell what was meant, nor whether my apprehension was true or false. I knew only that the night had taken her and the dawn denied her, and that, dream or no dream, I stood there with a pang of loss that even now leaves me wordless.
A bird sang outside in the acacias, clear and shrill for day, and this awakened my senses and lowered me to the plane where I became aware of cold and hunger, and was chilled with dew. I passed down the tumbled steps that had been a stately ascent the night before and made my way into the jungle by the trail, small and lost in fern, by which we had come. Again I wandered, and it was high noon before I heard mule bells at a distance, and, thus guided, struck down through the green tangle to find myself, wearied but safe, upon the bridle way that leads to Fagu and the far Shipki. Two coolies then directed me to The House in the Woods.
All was anxiety there. Ali Khan had arrived in the night, having found his way under the guidance of blind flight and fear. He had brought the news that I was lost in the jungle and amid the dwellings of demons. It was, of course, hopeless to search in the dark, though the khansamah and his man had gone as far as they dared with lanterns and shouting, and with the daylight they tried again and were even now away. It was useless to reproach the man even if I had cared to do so. His ready plea was that as far as men were concerned he was as brave as any (which was true enough as I had reason to know later) but that when it came to devilry the Twelve Imaums themselves would think twice before facing it.
“Inshalla ta-Alla! (If the sublime God wills!) this unworthy one will one day show the Protector of the poor, that he is a respectable person and no coward, but it is only the Sahibs who laugh in the face of devils.”
He went off to prepare me some food, consumed with curiosity as to my adventures, and when I had eaten I found my tiny whitewashed cell, for the room was little more, and slept for hours.
Late in the afternoon I waked and looked out. A low but glowing sunlight suffused the wild garden reclaimed from the strangle-hold of the jungle and hemmed in with rocks and forest. A few simple flowers had been planted here and there, but its chief beauty was a mountain stream, brown and clear as the eyes of a dog, that fell from a crag above into a rocky basin, maidenhair ferns growing in such masses about it that it was henceforward scarcely more than a woodland voice. Beside it two great deodars spread their canopies, and there a woman sat in a low chair, a girl beside her reading aloud. She had thrown her hat off and the sunshine turned her massed dark hair to bronze. That was all I could see. I went out and joined them, taking the note of introduction which Olesen had given me.
I pass over the unessentials of my story; their friendly greetings and sympathy for my adventure. It set us at ease at once and I knew my stay would be the happier for their presence though it is not every woman one would choose as a companion in the great mountain country. But what is germane to my purpose must be told, and of this a part is the personality of Brynhild Ingmar. That she was beautiful I never doubted, though I have heard it disputed and smiled inwardly as the disputants urged lip and cheek and shades of rose and lily, weighing and appraising. Let me describe her as I saw her or, rather, as I can, adding that even without all this she must still have been beautiful because of the deep significance to those who had eyes to see or feel some mysterious element which mingled itself with her presence comparable only to the delight which the power and spiritual essence of Nature inspires in all but the dullest minds. I know I cannot hope to convey this in words. It means little if I say I thought of all quiet lovely solitary things when I looked into her calm eyes,—that when she moved it was like clear springs renewed by flowing, that she seemed the perfect flowering of a day in June, for these are phrases. Does Nature know her wonders when she shines in her strength? Does a woman know the infinite meanings her beauty may have for the beholder? I cannot tell. Nor can I tell if I saw this girl as she may have seemed to those who read only the letter of the book and are blind to its spirit, or in the deepest sense as she really was in the sight of That which created her and of which she was a part. Surely it is a proof of the divinity of love that in and for a moment it lifts the veil of so-called reality and shows each to the other mysteriously perfect and inspiring as the world will never see them, but as they exist in the Eternal, and in the sight of those who have learnt that the material is but the dream, and the vision of love the truth.
I will say then, for the alphabet of what I knew but cannot tell, that she had the low broad brows of a Greek Nature Goddess, the hair swept back wing-like from the temples and massed with a noble luxuriance. It lay like rippled bronze, suggesting something strong and serene in its essence. Her eyes were clear and gray as water, the mouth sweetly curved above a resolute chin. It was a face which recalled a modelling in marble rather than the charming pastel and aquarelle of a young woman’s colouring, and somehow I thought of it less as the beauty of a woman than as some sexless emanation of natural things, and this impression was strengthened by her height and the long limbs, slender and strong as those of some youth trained in the pentathlon, subject to the severest discipline until all that was superfluous was fined away and the perfect form expressing the true being emerged. The body was thus more beautiful than the face, and I may note in passing that this is often the case, because the face is more directly the index of the restless and unhappy soul within and can attain true beauty only when the soul is in harmony with its source.
She was a little like her pale and wearied mother. She might resemble her still more when the sorrow of this world that worketh death should have had its will of her. I had yet to learn that this would never be—that she had found the open door of escape.
We three spent much time together in the days that followed. I never tired of their company and I think they did not tire of mine, for my wanderings through the world and my studies in the ancient Indian literatures and faiths with the Pandit Devaswami were of interest to them both though in entirely different ways. Mrs. Ingmar was a woman who centred all her interests in books and chiefly in the scientific forms of occult research. She was no believer in anything outside the range of what she called human experience. The evidences had convinced her of nothing but a force as yet unclassified in the scientific categories and all her interest lay in the undeveloped powers of brain which might be discovered in the course of ignorant and credulous experiment. We met therefore on the common ground of rejection of the so-called occultism of the day, though I knew even then, and how infinitely better now, that her constructions were wholly misleading.
Nearly all day she would lie in her chair under the deodars by the delicate splash and ripple of the stream. Living imprisoned in the crystal sphere of the intellect she saw the world outside, painted in few but distinct colours, small, comprehensible, moving on a logical orbit. I never knew her posed for an explanation. She had the contented atheism of a certain type of French mind and found as much ease in it as another kind of sweet woman does in her rosary and confessional.
“I cannot interest Brynhild,” she said, when I knew her better. “She has no affinity with science. She is simply a nature worshipper, and in such places as this she seems to draw life from the inanimate life about her. I have sometimes wondered whether she might not be developed into a kind of bridge between the articulate and the inarticulate, so well does she understand trees and flowers. Her father was like that—he had all sorts of strange power with animals and plants, and thought he had more than he had. He could never realize that the energy of nature is merely mechanical.”
“You think all energy is mechanical?”
“Certainly. We shall lay our finger on the mainspring one day and the mystery will disappear. But as for Brynhild—I gave her the best education possible and yet she has never understood the conception of a universe moving on mathematical laws to which we must submit in body and mind. She has the oddest ideas. I would not willingly say of a child of mine that she is a mystic, and yet—”
She shook her head compassionately. But I scarcely heard. My eyes were fixed on Brynhild, who stood apart, looking steadily out over the snows. It was a glorious sunset, the west vibrating with gorgeous colour spilt over in torrents that flooded the sky, Terrible splendours—hues for which we have no thought—no name. I had not thought of it as music until I saw her face but she listened as well as saw, and her expression changed as it changes when the pomp of a great orchestra breaks upon the silence. It flashed to the chords of blood-red and gold that was burning fire. It softened through the fugue of woven crimson gold and flame, to the melancholy minor of ashes-of-roses and paling green, and so through all the dying glories that faded slowly to a tranquil grey and left the world to the silver melody of one sole star that dawned above the ineffable heights of the snows. Then she listened as a child does to a bird, entranced, with a smile like a butterfly on her parted lips. I never saw such a power of quiet.
She and I were walking next day among the forest ways, the pine-scented sunshine dappling the dropped frondage. We had been speaking of her mother. “It is such a misfortune for her,” she said thoughtfully, “that I am not clever. She should have had a daughter who could have shared her thoughts. She analyses everything, reasons about everything, and that is quite out of my reach.”
She moved beside me with her wonderful light step—the poise and balance of a nymph in the Parthenon frieze.
“How do you see things?”
“See? That is the right word. I see things—I never reason about them. They are. For her they move like figures in a sum. For me every one of them is a window through which one may look to what is beyond.”
“To what they really are—not what they seem.”
I looked at her with interest.
“Did you ever hear of the double vision?”
For this is a subject on which the spiritually learned men of India, like the great mystics of all the faiths, have much to say. I had listened with bewilderment and doubt to the expositions of my Pandit on this very head. Her simple words seemed for a moment the echo of his deep and searching thought. Yet it surely could not be. Impossible.
“Never. What does it mean?” She raised clear unveiled eyes. “You must forgive me for being so stupid, but it is my mother who is at home with all these scientific phrases. I know none of them.”
“It means that for some people the material universe—the things we see with our eyes—is only a mirage, or say, a symbol, which either hides or shadows forth the eternal truth. And in that sense they see things as they really are, not as they seem to the rest of us. And whether this is the statement of a truth or the wildest of dreams, I cannot tell.”
She did not answer for a moment; then said;
“Are there people who believe this—know it?”
“Certainly. There are people who believe that thought is the only real thing—that the whole universe is thought made visible. That we create with our thoughts the very body by which we shall re-act on the universe in lives to be.
“Do you believe it?”
“I don’t know. Do you?”
She paused; looked at me, and then went on:
“You see, I don’t think things out. I only feel. But this cannot interest you.”
I felt she was eluding the question. She began to interest me more than any one I had ever known. She had extraordinary power of a sort. Once, in the woods, where I was reading in so deep a shade that she never saw me, I had an amazing vision of her. She stood in a glade with the sunlight and shade about her; she had no hat and a sunbeam turned her hair to pale bronze. A small bright April shower was falling through the sun, and she stood in pure light that reflected itself in every leaf and grass-blade. But it was nothing of all this that arrested me, beautiful as it was. She stood as though life were for the moment suspended;—then, very softly, she made a low musical sound, infinitely wooing, from scarcely parted lips, and instantly I saw a bird of azure plumage flutter down and settle on her shoulder, pluming himself there in happy security. Again she called softly and another followed the first. Two flew to her feet, two more to her breast and hand. They caressed her, clung to her, drew some joyous influence from her presence. She stood in the glittering rain like Spring with her birds about her—a wonderful sight. Then, raising one hand gently with the fingers thrown back she uttered a different note, perfectly sweet and intimate, and the branches parted and a young deer with full bright eyes fixed on her advanced and pushed a soft muzzle into her hand.
In my astonishment I moved, however slightly, and the picture broke up. The deer sprang back into the trees, the birds fluttered up in a hurry of feathers, and she turned calm eyes upon me, as unstartled as if she had known all the time that I was there.
“You should not have breathed,” she said smiling. “They must have utter quiet.”
I rose up and joined her.
“It is a marvel. I can scarcely believe my eyes. How do you do it?”
“My father taught me. They come. How can I tell?”
She turned away and left me. I thought long over this episode. I recalled words heard in the place of my studies—words I had dismissed without any care at the moment. “To those who see, nothing is alien. They move in the same vibration with all that has life, be it in bird or flower. And in the Uttermost also, for all things are One. For such there is no death.”
That was beyond me still, but I watched her with profound interest. She recalled also words I had half forgotten—
“There was nought above me and nought below,
My childhood had not learnt to know;
For what are the voices of birds,
Aye, and of beasts, but words, our words,—
Only so much more sweet.”
That might have been written of her. And more.
She had found one day in the woods a flower of a sort I had once seen in the warm damp forests below Darjiling—ivory white and shaped like a dove in flight. She wore it that evening on her bosom. A week later she wore what I took to be another.
“You have had luck,” I said; “I never heard of such a thing being seen so high up, and you have found it twice.”
“No, it is the same.”
“The same? Impossible. You found it more than a week ago.” “I know. It is ten days. Flowers don’t die when one understands them—not as most people think.”
Her mother looked up and said fretfully:
“Since she was a child Brynhild has had that odd idea. That flower is dead and withered. Throw it away, child. It looks hideous.”
Was it glamour? What was it? I saw the flower dewy fresh in her bosom She smiled and turned away.
It was that very evening she left the veranda where we were sitting in the subdued light of a little lamp and passed beyond where the ray cut the darkness. She went down the perspective of trees to the edge of he clearing and I rose to follow for it seemed absolutely unsafe that she should be on the verge of the panther-haunted woods alone. Mrs. Ingmar turned a page of her book serenely;
“She will not like it if you go. I cannot imagine that she should come to harm. She always goes her own way—light or dark.”
I returned to my seat and watched steadfastly. At first I could see nothing but as my sight adjusted itself I saw her a long way down the clearing that opened the snows, and quite certainly also I saw something like a huge dog detach itself from the woods and bound to her feet. It mingled with her dark dress and I lost it. Mrs. Ingmar said, seeing my anxiety but nothing else; “Her father was just the same;—he had no fear of anything that lives. No doubt some people have that power. I have never seen her attract birds and beasts as he certainly did, but she is quite as fond of them.”
I could not understand her blindness—what I myself had seen raised questions I found unanswerable, and her mother saw nothing! Which of us was right? presently she came back slowly and I ventured no word.
A woodland sorcery, innocent as the dawn, hovered about her. What was it? Did the mere love of these creatures make a bond between her soul and theirs, or was the ancient dream true and could she at times move in the same vibration? I thought of her as a wood-spirit sometimes, an expression herself of some passion of beauty in Nature, a thought of snows and starry nights and flowing rivers made visible in flesh. It is surely when seized with the urge of some primeval yearning which in man is merely sexual that Nature conceives her fair forms and manifests them, for there is a correspondence that runs through all creation.
Here I ask myself—Did I love her? In a sense, yes, deeply, but not in the common reading of the phrase. I have trembled with delight before the wild and terrible splendour of the Himalayan heights-; low golden moons have steeped my soul longing, but I did not think of these things as mine in any narrow sense, nor so desire them. They were Angels of the Evangel of beauty. So too was she. She had none of the “silken nets and traps of adamant,” she was no sister of the “girls of mild silver or of furious gold;”—but fair, strong, and her own, a dweller in the House of Quiet. I did not covet her. I loved her.
Days passed. There came a night when the winds were loosed—no moon, the stars flickering like blown tapers through driven clouds, the trees swaying and lamenting.
“There will be rain tomorrow.” Mrs. Ingmar said, as we parted for the night. I closed my door. Some great cat of the woods was crying harshly outside my window, the sound receding towards the bridle way. I slept in a dream of tossing seas and ships labouring among them.
With the sense of a summons I waked—I cannot tell when. Unmistakable, as if I were called by name. I rose and dressed, and heard distinctly bare feet passing my door. I opened it noiselessly and looked out into the little passage way that made for the entry, and saw nothing but pools of darkness and a dim light from the square of the window at the end. But the wind had swept the sky clear with its flying bosom and was sleeping now in its high places and the air was filled with a mild moony radiance and a great stillness.
Now let me speak with restraint and exactness. I was not afraid but felt as I imagine a dog feels in the presence of his master, conscious of a purpose, a will entirely above his own and incomprehensible, yet to be obeyed without question. I followed my reading of the command, bewildered but docile, and understanding nothing but that I was called.
The lights were out. The house dead silent; the familiar veranda ghostly in the night. And now I saw a white figure at the head of the steps—Brynhild. She turned and looked over her shoulder, her face pale in the moon, and made the same gesture with which she summoned her birds. I knew her meaning, for now we were moving in the same rhythm, and followed as she took the lead. How shall I describe that strange night in the jungle. There were fire-flies or dancing points of light that recalled them. Perhaps she was only thinking them—only thinking the moon and the quiet, for we were in the world where thought is the one reality. But they went with us in a cloud and faintly lighted our way. There were exquisite wafts of perfume from hidden flowers breathing their dreams to the night. Here and there a drowsy bird stirred and chirped from the roof of darkness, a low note of content that greeted her passing. It was a path intricate and winding and how long we went, and where, I cannot tell. But at last she stooped and parting the boughs before her we stepped into an open space, and before us—I knew it—I knew it!—The House of Beauty.
She paused at the foot of the great marble steps and looked at me.
“We have met here already.”
I did not wonder—I could not. In the Ninth vibration surprise had ceased to be. Why had I not recognized her before—O dull of heart! That was my only thought. We walk blindfold through the profound darkness of material nature, the blinder because we believe we see it. It is only when the doors of the material are closed that the world appears to man as it exists in the eternal truth.
“Did you know this?” I asked, trembling before mystery.
“I knew it, because I am awake. You forgot it in the dull sleep which we call daily life. But we were here and THEY began the story of the King who made this house. Tonight we shall hear it. It he story of Beauty wandering through the world and the world received her not. We hear it in this place because here he agonized for what he knew too late.”
“Was that our only meeting?”
“We meet every night, but you forget when the day brings the sleep of the soul.—You do not sink deep enough into rest to remember. You float on the surface where the little bubbles of foolish dream are about you and I cannot reach you then.”
“How can I compel myself to the deeps?”
“You cannot. It will come. But when you have passed up the bridle way and beyond the Shipki, stop at Gyumur. There is the Monastery of Tashigong, and there one will meet you—
“Stephen Clifden. He will tell you what you desire to know. Continue on then with him to Yarkhand. There in the Ninth Vibration we shall meet again. It is a long journey but you will be content.”
“Do you certainly know that we shall meet again?”
“When you have learnt, we can meet when we will. He will teach you the Laya Yoga. You should not linger here in the woods any longer. You should go on. In three days it will be possible.”
“But how have you learnt—a girl and young?”
“Through a close union with Nature—that is one of the three roads. But I know little as yet. Now take my hand and come.
“One last question. Is this house ruined and abject as I have seen it in the daylight, or royal and the house of Gods as we see it now? Which is truth?”
“In the day you saw it in the empty illusion of blind thought. Tonight, eternally lovely as in the thought of the man who made it. Nothing that is beautiful is lost, though in the sight of the unwise it seems to die. Death is in the eyes we look through—when they are cleansed we see Life only. Now take my hand and come. Delay no more.”
She caught my hand and we entered the dim magnificence of the great hall. The moon entered with us.
Instantly I had the feeling of supernatural presence. Yet I only write this in deference to common use, for it was absolutely natural—more so than any I have met in the state called daily life. It was a thing in which I had a part, and if this was supernatural so also was I.
Again I saw the Dark One, the Beloved, the young Krishna, above the women who loved him. He motioned with his hand as we passed, as though he waved us smiling on our way. Again the dancers moved in a rhythmic tread to the feet of the mountain Goddess—again we followed to where she bent to hear. But now, solemn listening faces crowded in the shadows about her, grave eyes fixed immovably upon what lay at her feet—a man, submerged in the pure light that fell from her presence, his dark face stark and fine, lips locked, eyes shut, arms flung out cross-wise in utter abandonment, like a figure of grief invisibly crucified upon his shame. I stopped a few feet from him, arrested by a barrier I could not pass. Was it sleep or death or some mysterious state that partook of both? Not sleep, for there was no flutter of breath. Not death—no rigid immobility struck chill into the air. It was the state of subjection where the spirit set free lies tranced in the mighty influences which surround us invisibly until we have entered, though but for a moment, the Ninth Vibration.
And now, with these Listeners about us, a clear voice began and stirred the air with music. I have since been asked in what tongue it spoke and could only answer that it reached my ears in the words of my childhood, and that I know whatever that language had been it would so have reached me.
“Great Lady, hear the story of this man’s fall, for it is the story of man. Be pitiful to the blind eyes and give them light.”
There was long since in Ranipur a mighty King and at his birth the wise men declared that unless he cast aside all passions that debase the soul, relinquishing the lower desires for the higher until a Princess laden with great gifts should come to be his bride, he would experience great and terrible misfortunes. And his royal parents did what they could to possess him with this belief, but they died before he reached manhood. Behold him then, a young King in his palace, surrounded with splendour. How should he withstand the passionate crying of the flesh or believe that through pleasure comes satiety and the loss of that in the spirit whereby alone pleasure can be enjoyed? For his gift was that he could win all hearts. They swarmed round him like hiving bees and hovered about him like butterflies. Sometimes he brushed them off. Often he caressed them, and when this happened, each thought proudly “I am the Royal Favourite. There is none other than me.”
Also the Princess delayed who would be the crest-jewel of the crown, bringing with her all good and the blessing of the High Gods, and in consequence of all these things the King took such pleasures as he could, and they were many, not knowing they darken the inner eye whereby what is royal is known through disguises.
(Most pitiful to see, beneath the close-shut lids of the man at the feet of the Dweller in the Heights, tears forced themselves, as though a corpse dead to all else lived only to anguish. They flowed like blood-drops upon his face as he lay enduring, and the voice proceeded.) What was the charm of the King? Was it his stately height and strength? Or his faithless gayety? Or his voice, deep and soft as the sitar when it sings of love? His women said—some one thing, some another, but none of these ladies were of royal blood, and therefore they knew not.
Now one day, the all-privileged jester of the King, said, laughing harshly:
“Maharaj, you divert yourself. But how if, while we feast and play, the Far Away Princess glided past and was gone, unknown and unwelcomed?”
And the King replied:
“Fool, content yourself. I shall know my Princess, but she delays so long that I weary.”
Now in a far away country was a Princess, daughter of the Greatest, and her Father hesitated to give her in marriage to such a King for all reported that he was faithless of heart, but having seen his portrait she loved him and fled in disguise from the palaces of her Father, and being captured she was brought before the King in Ranipur.
He sat upon a cloth of gold and about him was the game he had killed in hunting, in great masses of ruffled fur and plumage, and he turned the beauty of his face carelessly upon her, and as the Princess looked upon him, her heart yearned to him, and he said in his voice that was like the male string of the sitar:
“Little slave, what is your desire?”
Then she saw that the long journey had scarred her feet and dimmed her hair with dust, and that the King’s eyes, worn with days and nights of pleasure did not pierce her disguise. Now in her land it is a custom that the blood royal must not proclaim itself, so she folded her hands and said gently:
“A place in the household of the King.” And he, hearing that the Waiting slave of his chief favorite Jayashri was dead, gave her that place. So the Princess attended on those ladies, courteous and obedient to all authority as beseemed her royalty, and she braided her bright hair so that it hid the little crowns which the Princesses of her House must wear always in token of their rank, and every day her patience strengthened.
Sometimes the King, carelessly desiring her laughing face and sad eyes, would send for her to wile away an hour, and he would say; “Dance, little slave, and tell me stories of the far countries. You quite unlike my Women, doubtless because you are a slave.”
And she thought—“No, but because I am a Princess,”—but this she did not say. She laughed and told him the most marvellous stories in the world until he laid his head upon her warm bosom, dreaming awake.
There were stories of the great Himalayan solitudes where in the winter nights the white tiger stares at the witches’ dance of the Northern Lights dazzled by the hurtling of their myriad spears. And she told how the King-eagle, hanging motionless over the peaks of Gaurisankar, watches with golden eyes for his prey, and falling like a plummet strikes its life out with his clawed heel and, screaming with triumph, bears it to his fierce mate in her cranny of the rocks.
“A gallant story!” the King would say. “More!” Then she told of the tropical heats and the stealthy deadly creatures of forest and jungle, and the blue lotus of Buddha swaying on the still lagoon,—And she spoke of loves of men and women, their passion and pain and joy. And when she told of their fidelity and valour and honour that death cannot quench, her voice was like the song of a minstrel, for she had read all the stories of the ages and the heart of a Princess told her the rest. And the King listened unwearying though he believed this was but a slave.
(The face of the man at the feet of the Dweller in the Heights twitched in a white agony. Pearls of sweat were distilled upon his brows, but he moved neither hand nor foot, enduring as in a flame of fire. And the voice continued.)
So one day, in the misty green of the Spring, while she rested at his feet in the garden Pavilion, he said to her:
“Little slave, why do you love me?”
And she answered proudly:
“Because you have the heart of a King.”
He replied slowly;
“Of the women who have loved me none gave this reason, though they gave many.”
She laid her cheek on his hand.
“That is the true reason.”
But he drew it away and was vaguely troubled, for her words, he knew not why, reminded him of the Far Away Princess and of things he had long forgotten, and he said; “What does a slave know of the hearts of Kings?” And that night he slept or waked alone.
Winter was at hand with its blue and cloudless days, and she was commanded to meet the King where the lake lay still and shining like an ecstasy of bliss, and she waited with her chin dropped into the cup of her hands, looking over the water with eyes that did not see, for her whole soul said; “How long O my Sovereign Lord, how long before you know the truth and we enter together into our Kingdom?”
As she sat she heard the King’s step, and the colour stole up into her face in a flush like the earliest sunrise. “He is coming,” she said; and again; “He loves me.”
So he came beside the water, walking slowly. But the King was not alone. His arm embraced the latest-come beauty from Samarkhand, and, with his head bent, he whispered in her willing ear.
Then clasping her hands, the Princess drew a long sobbing breath, and he turned and his eyes grew hard as blue steel.
“Go, slave,” he cried. “What place have you in Kings’ gardens? Go. Let me see you no more.”
(The man lying at the feet of the Dweller in the Heights, raised a heavy arm and flung it above his head, despairing, and it fell again on the cross of his torment. And the voice went on.)
And as he said this, her heart broke; and she went and her feet were weary. So she took the wise book she loved and unrolled it until she came to a certain passage, and this she read twice; “If the heart of a slave be broken it may be mended with jewels and soft words, but the heart of a Princess can be healed only by the King who broke it, or in Yamapura, the City under the Sunset where they make all things new. Now, Yama, the Lord of this City, is the Lord of Death.” And having thus read the Princess rolled the book and put it from her.
And next day, the King said to his women; “Send for her,” for his heart smote him and he desired to atone royally for the shame of his speech. And they sought and came back saying;
“Maharaj, she is gone. We cannot find her.”
Fear grew in the heart of the King—a nameless dread, and he said, “Search.” And again they sought and returned and the King was striding up and down the great hall and none dared cross his path. But, trembling, they told him, and he replied; “Search again. I will not lose her, and, slave though be, she shall be my Queen.”
So they ran, dispersing to the Four Quarters, and King strode up and down the hall, and Loneliness kept step with him and clasped his hand and looked his eyes.
Then the youngest of the women entered with a tale to tell. “Majesty, we have found her. She lies beside the lake. When the birds fled this morning she fled with them, but upon a longer journey. Even to Yamapura, the City under the Sunset.”
And the King said; “Let none follow.” And he strode forth swiftly, white with thoughts he dared not think.
The Princess lay among the gold of the fallen leaves. All was gold, for her bright hair was out-spread in shining waves and in it shone the glory of the hidden crown. On her face was no smile—only at last was revealed the patience she had covered with laughter so long that even the voice of the King could not now break it into joy. The hands that had clung, the swift feet that had run beside his, the tender body, mighty to serve and to love, lay within touch but farther away than the uttermost star was the Far Away Princess, known and loved too late.
And he said; “My Princess—O my Princess!” and laid his head on her cold bosom.
“Too late!” a harsh Voice croaked beside him, and it was the voice of the Jester who mocks at all things. “Too late! O madness, to despise the blood royal because it humbled itself to service and so was doubly royal. The Far Away Princess came laden with great gifts, and to her the King’s gift was the wage of a slave and a broken heart. Cast your crown and sceptre in the dust, O King—O King of Fools.”
(The man at the feet of the Dweller in the Heights moved. Some dim word shaped upon his locked lips. She listened in a divine calm. It seemed that the very Gods drew nearer. Again the man essayed speech, the body dead, life only in the words that none could hear. The voice went on.)
But the Princess flying wearily because of the sore wound in her heart, came at last to the City under the Sunset, where the Lord of Death rules in the House of Quiet, and was there received with royal honours for in that land are no disguises. And she knelt before the Secret One and in a voice broken with agony entreated him to heal her. And with veiled and pitying eyes he looked upon her, for many and grievous as are the wounds he has healed this was more grievous still. And he said;
“Princess, I cannot, But this I can do—I can give a new heart in a new birth—happy and careless as the heart of a child. Take this escape from the anguish you endure and be at peace.”
But the Princess, white with pain, asked only;
“In this new heart and birth, is there room for the King?”
And the Lord of Peace replied;
“None. He too will be forgotten.”
Then she rose to her feet.
“I will endure and when he comes I will serve him once more. If he will he shall heal me, and if not I will endure for ever.”
And He who is veiled replied;
“In this sacred City no pain may disturb the air, therefore you must wait outside in the chill and the dark. Think better, Princess! Also, he must pass through many rebirths, because he beheld the face of Beauty unveiled and knew her not. And when he comes he will be weary and weak as a new-born child, and no more a great King.” And the Princess smiled;
“Then he will need me the more,” she said; “I will wait and kiss the feet of my King.”
“And the Lord of Death was silent. So she went outside into the darkness of the spaces, and the souls free passed her like homing doves, and she sat with her hands clasped over the sore wound in her heart, watching the earthward way. And the Princess is keeping still the day of her long patience.”
The voice ceased. And there was a great silence, and the listening faces drew nearer.
Then the Dweller in the Heights spoke in a voice soft as the falling of snow in the quiet of frost and moon. I could have wept myself blind with joy to hear that music. More I dare not say.
“He is in the Lower State of Perception. He sorrows for his loss. Let him have one instant’s light that still he may hope.”
She bowed above the man, gazing upon him as a mother might upon her sleeping child. The dead eyelids stirred, lifted, a faint gleam showed beneath them, an unspeakable weariness. I thought they would fall unsatisfied. Suddenly he saw What looked upon him, and a terror of joy no tongue can tell flashed over the dark mirror of his face. He stretched a faint hand to touch her feet, a sobbing sigh died upon his lips, and once more the swooning sleep took him. He lay as a dead man before the Assembly.
“The night is far spent,” a voice said, from I know not where. And I knew it was said not only for the sleeper but for all, for though the flying feet of Beauty seem for a moment to outspeed us she will one day wait our coming and gather us to her bosom.
As before, the vision spread outward like rings in a broken reflection in water. I saw the girl beside me, but her hand grew light in mine. I felt it no longer. I heard the roaring wind in the trees, or was it a great voice thundering in my ears? Sleep took me. I waked in my little room.
Strange and sad—I saw her next day and did not remember her whom of all things I desired to know. I remembered the vision and knew that whether in dream or waking I had heard an eternal truth. I longed with a great longing to meet my beautiful companion, and she stood at my side and I was blind.
Now that I have climbed a little higher on the Mount of Vision it seems even to myself that this could not be. Yet it was, and it is true of not this only but of how much else!
She knew me. I learnt that later, but she made no sign. Her simplicities had carried her far beyond and above me, to places where only the winged things attain—“as a bird among the bird-droves of God.”
I have since known that this power of direct simplicity in her was why among the great mountains we beheld the Divine as the emanation of the terrible beauty about us. We cannot see it as it is—only in some shadowing forth, gathering sufficient strength for manifestation from the spiritual atoms that haunt the region where that form has been for ages the accepted vehicle of adoration. But I was now to set forth to find another knowledge—to seek the Beauty that blinds us to all other. Next day the man who was directing my preparations for travel sent me word from Simla that all was ready and I could start two days later. I told my friends the time of parting was near.
“But it was no surprise to me,” I added, “for I had heard already that in a very few days I should be on my way.”
Mrs. Ingmar was more than kind. She laid a frail hand on mine.
“We shall miss you indeed. If it is possible to send us word of your adventures in those wild solitudes I hope you will do it. Of course aviation will soon lay bare their secrets and leave them no mysteries, so you don’t go too soon. One may worship science and yet feel it injures the beauty of the world. But what is beauty compared with knowledge?”
“Do you never regret it?” I asked.
“Never, dear Mr. Ormond. I am a worshipper of hard facts and however hideous they may be I prefer them to the prismatic colours of romance.”
Brynhild, smiling, quoted;
“Their science roamed from star to star
And than itself found nothing greater.
What wonder? In a Leyden jar
They bottled the Creator?”
“There is nothing greater than science,” said Mrs. Ingmar with soft reverence. “The mind of man is the foot-rule of the universe.”
She meditated for a moment and then added that my kind interests in their plans decided her to tell me that she would be returning to Europe and then to Canada in a few months with a favourite niece as her companion while Brynhild would remain in India with friends in Mooltan for a time. I looked eagerly at her but she was lost in her own thoughts and it was evidently not the time to say more.
If I had hoped for a vision before I left the neighbourhood of that strange House of Beauty where a spirit imprisoned appeared to await the day of enlightenment I was disappointed. These things do not happen as one expects or would choose. The wind bloweth where it listeth until the laws which govern the inner life are understood, and then we would not choose if we could for we know that all is better than well. In this world, either in the blinded sight of daily life or in the clarity of the true sight I have not since seen it, but that has mattered little, for having heard an authentic word within its walls I have passed on my way elsewhere.
Next day a letter from Olesen reached me.
“Dear Ormond, I hope you have had a good time at the House in the Woods. I saw Rup Singh a few days ago and he wrote the odd message I enclose. You know what these natives are, even the most sensible of them, and you will humour the old fellow for he ages very fast and I think is breaking up. But this was not what I wanted to say. I had a letter from a man I had not seen for years—a fellow called Stephen Clifden, who lives in Kashmir. As a matter of fact I had forgotten his existence but evidently he has not repaid the compliment for he writes as follows—No, I had better send you the note and you can do as you please. I am rushed off my legs with work and the heat is hell with the lid off. And-”
But the rest was of no interest except to a friend of years’ standing. I read Rup Singh’s message first. It was written in his own tongue.
“To the Honoured One who has attained to the favour of the Favourable.
“You have with open eyes seen what this humble one has dreamed but has not known. If the thing be possible, write me this word that I may depart in peace. ‘With that one who in a former birth you loved all is well. Fear nothing for him. The way is long but at the end the lamps of love are lit and the Unstruck music is sounded. He lies at the feet of Mercy and there awaits his hour.’ And if it be not possible to write these words, write nothing, O Honoured, for though it be in the hells my soul shall find my King, and again I shall serve him as once I served.”
I understood, and wrote those words as he had written them. Strange mystery of life—that I who had not known should see, and that this man whose fidelity had not deserted his broken King in his utter downfall should have sought with passion for one sight of the beloved face across the waters of death and sought in vain. I thought of those Buddhist words of Seneca—“The soul may be and is in the mass of men drugged and silenced by the seductions of sense and the deceptions of the world. But if, in some moment of detachment and elation, when its captors and jailors relax their guard, it can escape their clutches, it will seek at once the region of its birth and its true home.”
Well—the shell must break before the bird can fly, and the time drew near for the faithful servant to seek his lord. My message reached him in time and gladdened him.
I turned then to Clifden’s letter.
“Dear Olesen, you will have forgotten me, and feeling sure of this I should scarcely have intruded a letter into your busy life were it not that I remember your good-nature as a thing unforgettable though so many years have gone by. I hear of you sometimes when Sleigh comes up the Sind valley, for I often camp at Sonamarg and above the Zoji La and farther. I want you to give a message to a man you know who should be expecting to hear from me. Tell him I shall be at the Tashigong Monastery when he reaches Gyumur beyond the Shipki. Tell him I have the information he wants and I will willingly go on with him to Yarkhand and his destination. He need not arrange for men beyond Gyumur. All is fixed. So sorry to bother you, old man, but I don’t know Ormond’s address, except that he was with you and has gone up Simla way. And of course he will be keen to hear the thing is settled.”
Amazing. I remembered the message I had heard and this man’s words rang true and kindly, but what could it mean? I really did not question farther than this for now I could not doubt that I was guided. Stronger hands than mine had me in charge, and it only remained for me to set forth in confidence and joy to an end that as yet I could not discern. I turned my face gladly to the wonder of the mountains.
Gladly—but with a reservation. I was leaving a friend and one whom I dimly felt might one day be more than a friend—Brynhild Ingmar. That problem must be met before I could take my way. I thought much of what might be said at parting. True, she had the deepest attraction for me, but true also that I now beheld a quest stretching out into the unknown which I must accept in the spirit of the knight errant. Dare I then bind my heart to any allegiance which would pledge me to a future inconsistent with what lay before me? How could I tell what she might think of the things which to me were now real and external—the revelation of the only reality that underlies all the seeming. Life can never be the same for the man who has penetrated to this, and though it may seem a hard saying there can be but a maimed understanding between him and those who still walk amid the phantoms of death and decay.
Her sympathy with nature was deep and wonderful but might it not be that though the earth was eloquent to her the skies were silent? I was but a beginner myself—I knew little indeed. Dare I risk that little in a sweet companionship which would sink me into the contentment of the life lived by the happily deluded between the cradle and the grave and perhaps close to me for ever that still sphere where my highest hope abides? I had much to ponder, for how could I lose her out of my life—though I knew not at all whether she who had so much to make her happiness would give me a single thought when I was gone.
If all this seem the very uttermost of selfish vanity, forgive a man who grasped in his hand a treasure so new, so wonderful that he walked in fear and doubt lest it should slip away and leave him in a world darkened for ever by the torment of the knowledge that it might have been his and he had bartered it for the mess of pottage that has bought so many birthrights since Jacob bargained with his weary brother in the tents of Lahai-roi. I thought I would come back later with my prize gained and throwing it at her feet ask her wisdom in return, for whatever I might not know I knew well she was wiser than I except in that one shining of the light from Eleusis. I walked alone in the woods thinking of these things and no answer satisfied me.
I did not see her alone until the day I left, for I was compelled by the arrangements I was making to go down to Simla for a night. And now the last morning had come with golden sun—shot mists rolling upward to disclose the far white billows of the sea of eternity, the mountains awaking to their enormous joys. The trees were dripping glory to the steaming earth; it flowed like rivers into their most secret recesses, moss and flower, fern and leaf floated upon the waves of light revealing their inmost soul in triumphant gladness. Far off across the valleys a cuckoo was calling—the very voice of spring, and in the green world above my head a bird sang, a feathered joy, so clear, so passionate that I thought the great summer morning listened in silence to his rapture ringing through the woods. I waited until the Jubilate was ended and then went in to bid good-bye to my friends.
Mrs. Ingmar bid me the kindest farewell and I left her serene in the negation of all beauty, all hope save that of a world run on the lines of a model municipality, disease a memory, sewerage, light and air systems perfected, the charted brain sending its costless messages to the outer parts of the habitable globe, and at least a hundred years of life with a decent cremation at the end of it assured to every eugenically born citizen. No more. But I have long ceased to regret that others use their own eyes whether clear or dim. Better the merest glimmer of light perceived thus than the hearsay of the revelations of others. And by the broken fragments of a bewildered hope a man shall eventually reach the goal and rejoice in that dawn where the morning stars sing together and the sons of God shout for joy. It must come, for it is already here.
Brynhild walked with me through the long glades in the fresh thin air to the bridle road where my men and ponies waited, eager to be off. We stood at last in the fringe of trees on a small height which commanded the way;—a high uplifted path cut along the shoulders of the hills and on the left the sheer drop of the valleys. Perhaps seven or eight feet in width and dignified by the name of the Great Hindustan and Tibet Road it ran winding far away into Wonderland. Looking down into the valleys, so far beneath that the solitudes seem to wall them in I thought of all the strange caravans which have taken this way with tinkle of bells and laughter now so long silenced, and as I looked I saw a lost little monastery in a giant crevice, solitary as a planet on the outermost ring of the system, and remembrance flashed into my mind and I said;
“I have marching orders that have countermanded my own plans. I am to journey to the Buddhist Monastery of Tashigong, and there meet a friend who will tell me what is necessary that I may travel to Yarkhand and beyond. It will be long before I see Kashmir.”
In those crystal clear eyes I saw a something new to me—a faint smile, half pitying, half sad;
“Who told you, and where?”
“A girl in a strange place. A woman who has twice guided me—”
I broke off. Her smile perplexed me. I could not tell what to say. She repeated in a soft undertone;
“Great Lady, be pitiful to the blind eyes and give them light.”
And instantly I knew. O blind—blind! Was the unhappy King of the story duller of heart than I? And shame possessed me. Here was the chrysoberyl that all day hides its secret in deeps of lucid green but when the night comes flames with its fiery ecstasy of crimson to the moon, and I—I had been complacently considering whether I might not blunt my own spiritual instinct by companionship with her, while she had been my guide, as infinitely beyond me in insight as she was in all things beautiful. I could have kissed her feet in my deep repentance. True it is that the gateway of the high places is reverence and he who cannot bow his head shall receive no crown. I saw that my long travel in search of knowledge would have been utterly vain if I had not learnt that lesson there and then. In those moments of silence I learnt it once and for ever.
She stood by me breathing the liquid morning air, her face turned upon the eternal snows. I caught her hand in a recognition that might have ended years of parting, and its warm youth vibrated in mine, the foretaste of all understanding, all unions, of love that asks nothing, that fears nothing, that has no petition to make. She raised her eyes to mine and her tears were a rainbow of hope. So we stood in silence that was more than any words, and the golden moments went by. I knew her now for what she was, one of whom it might have been written;
“I come from where night falls clearer
Than your morning sun can rise;
From an earth that to heaven draws nearer
Than your visions of Paradise,—
For the dreams that your dreamers dream
We behold them with open eyes.”
With open eyes! Later I asked the nature of the strange bond that had called her to my side.
“I do not understand that fully myself,” she said—“That is part of the knowledge we must wait for. But you have the eyes that see, and that is a tie nothing can break. I had waited long in the House of Beauty for you. I guided you there. But between you and me there is also love.”
I stretched an eager hand but she repelled it gently, drawing back a little. “Not love of each other though we are friends and in the future may be infinitely more. But—have you ever seen a drawing of Blake’s—a young man stretching his arms to a white swan which flies from him on wings he cannot stay? That is the story of both our lives. We long to be joined in this life, here and now, to an unspeakable beauty and power whose true believers we are because we have seen and known. There is no love so binding as the same purpose. Perhaps that is the only true love. And so we shall never be apart though we may never in this world be together again in what is called companionship.”
“We shall meet,” I said confidently. She smiled and was silent.
“Do we follow a will-o’-the wisp in parting? Do we give up the substance for the shadow? Shall I stay?”
She laughed joyously;
“We give a single rose for a rose-tree that bears seven times seven. Daily I see more, and you are going where you will be instructed. As you know my mother prefers for a time to have my cousin with her to help her with the book she means to write. So I shall have time to myself. What do you think I shall do?”
“Blow away on a great wind. Ride on the crests of tossing waves. Catch a star to light the fireflies!”
She laughed like a bird’s song.
“Wrong—wrong! I shall be a student. All I know as yet has come to me by intuition, but there is Law as well as Love and I will learn. I have drifted like a happy cloud before the wind. Now I will learn to be the wind that blows the clouds.”
I looked at her in astonishment. If a flower had desired the same thing it could scarcely have seemed more incredible, for I had thought her whole life and nature instinctive not intellective. She smiled as one who has a beloved secret to keep.
“When you have gained what in this country they call The Knowledge of Regeneration, come back and ask me what I have learnt.”
She would say no more of that and turned to another matter, speaking with earnestness;
“Before you came here I had a message for you, and Stephen Clifden will tell you the same thing when you meet. Believe it for it is true. Remember always that the psychical is not the mystical and that what we seek is not marvel but vision. These two things are very far apart, so let the first with all its dangers pass you by, for our way lies to the heights, and for us there is only one danger—that of turning back and losing what the whole world cannot give in exchange. I have never seen Stephen Clifden but I know much of him. He is a safe guide—a man who has had much and strange sorrow which has brought him joy that cannot be told. He will take you to those who know the things that you desire. I wish I might have gone too.”
Something in the sweetness of her voice, its high passion, the strong beauty of her presence woke a poignant longing in my heart. I said;
“I cannot leave you. You are the only guide I can follow. Let us search together—you always on before.”
“Your way lies there,” she pointed to the high mountains. “And mine to the plains, and if we chose our own we should wander. But we shall meet again in the way and time that will be best and with knowledge so enlarged that what we have seen already will be like an empty dream compared to daylight truth. If you knew what waits for you you would not delay one moment.”
She stood radiant beneath the deodars, a figure of Hope, pointing steadily to the heights. I knew her words were true though as yet I could not tell how. I knew that whereas we had seen the Wonderful in beautiful though local forms there is a plane where the Formless may be apprehended in clear dream and solemn vision-the meeting of spirit with Spirit. What that revelation would mean I could not guess—how should I?—but I knew the illusion we call death and decay would wither before it. There is a music above and beyond the Ninth Vibration though I must love those words for ever for what their hidden meaning gave me.
I took her hand and held it. Strange—beyond all strangeness that that story of an ancient sorrow should have made us what we were to each other—should have opened to me the gates of that Country where she wandered content. For the first time I had realized in its fulness the loveliness of this crystal nature, clear as flowing water to receive and transmit the light—itself a prophecy and fulfilment of some higher race which will one day inhabit our world when it has learnt the true values. She drew a flower from her breast and gave it to me. It lies before me white and living as I write these words.
I sprang down the road and mounted, giving the word to march. The men shouted and strode on—our faces to the Shipki Pass and what lay beyond.
We had parted.
Once, twice, I looked back, and standing in full sunlight, she waved her hand.
We turned the angle of the rocks.
What I found—what she found is a story strange and beautiful which I may tell one day to those who care to hear. That for me there were pauses, hesitancies, dreads, on the way I am not concerned to deny, for so it must always be with the roots of the old beliefs of fear and ignorance buried in the soil of our hearts and ready to throw out their poisonous fibres. But there was never doubt. For myself I have long forgotten the meaning of that word in anything that is of real value.
Do not let it be thought that the treasure is reserved for the few or those of special gifts. And it is as free to the West as to the East though I own it lies nearer to the surface in the Orient where the spiritual genius of the people makes it possible and the greater and more faithful teachers are found. It is not without meaning that all the faiths of the world have dawned in those sunrise skies. Yet it is within reach of all and asks only recognition, for the universe has been the mine of its jewels—
“Median gold it holds, and silver from Atropatene,
Ruby and emerald from Hindustan, and Bactrian agate,
Bright with beryl and pearl, sardonyx and sapphire.”
and more that cannot be uttered the Lights and Perfections.
So for all seekers I pray this prayer—beautiful in its sonorous Latin, but noble in all the tongues;
“Supplico tibi, Pater et Dux—I pray Thee, Guide of our vision, that we may remember the nobleness with which Thou hast endowed us, and that Thou wouldest be always on our right and on our left in the motion of our wills, that we may be purged from the contagion of the body and the affections of the brute and overcome and rule them. And I pray also that Thou wouldest drive away the blinding darkness from the eyes of our souls that we may know well what is to be held for divine and what for mortal.”
“The nobleness with which Thou hast endowed us-” this, and not the cry of the miserable sinner whose very repentance is no virtue but the consequence of failure and weakness is the strong music to which we must march.
And the way is open to the mountains.