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Just then, in the sunset, she was sitting on deck, singing under her breath and looking absently away to the Gardens across the Lake. I could catch the words here and there, and knew them.
"Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar,
"Don't!" I said abruptly. It stung me.
"What?" she asked in surprise. "That is the song every one remembers here. Poor Laurence Hope! How she knew and loved this India! What are you grumbling at?"
Her smile stung me.
"Never mind," I said morosely. "You don't understand. You never will."
And yet I believed sometimes that she would - that time was on my side.
When Kahdra and I pulled her across to Nour-Mahal's garden next day, how could I not believe it - her face was so full of joy as she looked at me for sympathy?
"I don't think so much beauty is crowded into any other few miles in the world - beauty of association, history, nature, everything!" she said with shining eyes. "The lotus flowers are not out yet but when they come that is the last touch of perfection. Do you remember Homer - 'But whoso ate of the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus, was neither willing to bring me word again, nor to depart. Nay, their desire was to remain there for ever, feeding on the lotus with the Lotus Eaters, forgetful of all return.' You know the people here eat the roots and seeds? I ate them last year and perhaps that is why I cannot stay away. But look at Nour- Mahal's garden!"
We were pulling in among the reeds and the huge carven leaves of the water plants, and the snake-headed buds lolling upon them with the slippery half-sinister look that water-flowers have, as though their cold secret life belonged to the hidden water world and not to ours. But now the boat was touching the little wooden steps.
O beautiful - most beautiful the green lawns, shaded with huge pyramids of the chenar trees, the terraced gardens where the marble steps climbed from one to the other, and the mountain streams flashed singing and shining down the carved marble slopes that cunning hands had made to delight the Empress of Beauty, between the wildernesses of roses. Her pavilion stands still among the flowers, and the waters ripple through it to join the lake - and she is - where? Even in the glory of sunshine the passing of all fair things was present with me as I saw the empty shell that had held the Pearl of Empire, and her roses that still bloom, her waters that still sing for others.
The spray of a hundred fountains was misty diamond dust in the warm air laden with the scent of myriad flowers. Kahdra followed us everywhere, singing his little tuneless happy song. The world brimmed with beauty and joy. And we were together. Words broke from me.
"Vanna, let it be for ever! Let us live here. I'll give up all the world for this and you."
"But you see," she said delicately, "it would be 'giving up.' You use the right word. It is not your life. It is a lovely holiday, no more. You would weary of it. You would want the city life and your own kind."
I protested with all my soul.
"No. Indeed I will say frankly that it would be lowering yourself to live a lotus-eating life among my people. It is a life with which you have no tie. A Westerner who lives like that steps down; he loses his birthright just as an Oriental does who Europeanizes himself. He cannot live your life nor you his. If you had work here it would be different. No - six or eight weeks more; then go away and forget it."
I turned from her. The serpent was in Paradise. When is he absent?
On one of the terraces a man was beating a tom-tom, and veiled women listened, grouped about him in brilliant colours.
"Isn't that all India?" she said; "that dull reiterated sound? It half stupefies, half maddens. Once at Darjiling I saw the Lamas' Devil Dance - the soul, a white-faced child with eyes unnaturally enlarged, fleeing among a rabble of devils - the evil passions. It fled wildly here and there and every way was blocked. The child fell on its knees, screaming dumbly - you could see the despair in the staring eyes, but all was drowned in the thunder of Tibetan drums. No mercy - no escape. Horrible!"
"Even in Europe the drum is awful," I said. "Do you remember in the French Revolution how they Drowned the victims' voices in a thunder roll of drums?"
"I shall always see the face of the child, hunted down to hell, falling on its knees, and screaming without a sound, when I hear the drum. But listen - a flute! Now if that were the Flute of Krishna you would have to follow. Let us come!"
I could hear nothing of it, but she insisted and we followed the music, inaudible to me, up the slopes of the garden that is the foot-hill of the mighty mountain of Mahadeo, and still I could hear nothing. And Vanna told me strange stories of the Apollo of India whom all hearts must adore, even as the herd-girls adored him in his golden youth by Jumna river and in the pastures of Brindaban.
Next day we were climbing the hill to the ruins where the evil magician brought the King's daughter nightly to his will, flying low under a golden moon. Vanna took my arm and I pulled her laughing up the steepest flowery slopes until we reached the height, and lo! the arched windows were eyeless and a lonely breeze blowing through the cloisters, and the beautiful yellowish stone arches supported nothing and were but frames for the blue of far lake and mountain and the divine sky. We climbed the broken stairs where the lizards went by like flashes, and had I the tongue of men and angels I could not tell the wonder that lay before us, - the whole wide valley of Kashmir in summer glory, with its scented breeze singing, singing above it.
We sat on the crushed aromatic herbs and among the wild roses and looked down.
"To think," she said, "that we might have died and never seen it!"
There followed a long silence. I thought she was tired, and would not break it. Suddenly she spoke in a strange voice, low and toneless;
"The story of this place. She was the Princess Padmavati, and her home was in Ayodhya. When she woke and found herself here by the lake she was so terrified that she flung herself in and was drowned. They held her back, but she died."
"How do you know?"
"Because a wandering monk came to the abbey of Tahkt-i-Bahi near Peshawar and told Vasettha the Abbot."
I had nearly spoilt all by an exclamation, but I held myself back. I saw she was dreaming awake and was unconscious of what she said.
"The Abbot said, 'Do not describe her. What talk is this for holy men? The young monks must not hear. Some of them have never seen a woman. Should a monk speak of such toys?' But the wanderer disobeyed and spoke, and there was a great tumult, and the monks threw him out at the command of the young Abbot, and he wandered down to Peshawar, and it was he later - the evil one! - that brought his sister, Lilavanti the Dancer, to Peshawar, and the Abbot fell into her snare. That was his revenge!"
Her face was fixed and strange, for a moment her cheek looked hollow, her eyes dim and grief- worn. What was she seeing? - what remembering? Was it a story - a memory? What was it?
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The Ninth Vibration and Other Stories -by- L. Adams Beck