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The people were no inconsiderable part of my joy. I cannot see what they have to gain from such civilization as ours - a kindly people and happy. Courtesy and friendliness met us everywhere, and if their labor was hard, their harvest of beauty and laughter seemed to be its reward. The little villages with their groves of walnut and fruit trees spoke of no unfulfilled want, the mulberries which fatten the sleek bears in their season fattened the children too. I compared their lot with that of the toilers in our cities and knew which I would choose. We rode by shimmering fields of barley, with red poppies floating in the clear transparent green as in deep sea water, through fields of millet like the sky fallen on the earth, so innocently blue were its blossoms, and the trees above us were trellised with the wild roses, golden and crimson, and the ways tapestried with the scented stars of the large white jasmine.
It was strange that later much of what she said, escaped me. Some I noted down at the time, but there were hints, shadows of lovelier things beyond that eluded all but the fringes of memory when I tried to piece them together and make a coherence of a living wonder. For that reason, the best things cannot be told in this history. It is only the cruder, grosser matters that words will hold. The half-touchings -vanishing looks, breaths - O God, I know them, but cannot tell.
In the smaller villages, the head man came often to greet us and make us welcome, bearing on a flat dish a little offering of cakes and fruit, the produce of the place. One evening a man so approached, stately in white robes and turban, attended by a little lad who carried the patriarchal gift beside him. Our tents were pitched under a glorious walnut tree with a run- ning stream at our feet.
Vanna of course, was the interpreter, and I called her from her tent as the man stood salaaming before me. It was strange that when she came, dressed in white, he stopped in his salutation, and gazed at her in what, I thought, was silent wonder.
She spoke earnestly to him, standing before him with clasped hands, almost, I could think, in the attitude of a suppliant. The man listened gravely, with only an interjection, now and again, and once he turned and looked curiously at me. Then he spoke, evidently making some announcement which she received with bowed head - and when he turned to go with a grave salute, she performed a very singular ceremony, moving slowly round him three times with clasped hands; keeping him always on the right. He repaid it with the usual salaam and greeting of peace, which he bestowed also on me, and then departed in deep meditation, his eyes fixed on the ground. I ventured to ask what it all meant, and she looked thoughtfully at me before replying.
"It was a strange thing. I fear you will not altogether understand, but I will tell you what I can. That man though living here among Mahomedans, is a Brahman from Benares, and, what is very rare in India, a Buddhist. And when he saw me he believed he remembered me in a former birth. The ceremony you saw me perform is one of honour in India. It was his due."
"Did you remember him?" I knew my voice was incredulous.
"Very well. He has changed little but is further on the upward path. I saw him with dread for he holds the memory of a great wrong I did. Yet he told me a thing that has filled my heart with joy."
"Vanna-what is it?"
She had a clear uplifted look which startled me. There was suddenly a chill air blowing between us.
"I must not tell you yet but you will know soon. He was a good man. I am glad we have met."
She buried herself in writing in a small book I had noticed and longed to look into, and no more was said.
We struck camp next day and trekked on towards Vernag - a rough march, but one of great beauty, beneath the shade of forest trees, garlanded with pale roses that climbed from bough to bough and tossed triumphant wreaths into the uppermost blue.
In the afternoon thunder was flapping its wings far off in the mountains and a little rain fell while we were lunching under a big tree. I was considering anxiously how to shelter Vanna, when a farmer invited us to his house - a scene of Biblical hospitality that delighted us both. He led us up some break-neck little stairs to a large bare room, open to the clean air all round the roof, and with a kind of rough enclosure on the wooden floor where the family slept at night. There he opened our basket, and then, with anxious care, hung clothes and rough draperies about us that our meal might be unwatched by one or two friends who had followed us in with breathless interest. Still further to entertain us a great rarity was brought out and laid at Vanna's feet as something we might like to watch - a curious bird in a cage, with brightly barred wings and a singular cry. She fed it with fruit, and it fluttered to her hand. Just so Abraham might have welcomed his guests, and when we left with words of deepest gratitude, our host made the beautiful obeisance of touching his forehead with joined hands as he bowed. To me the whole incident had an extraordinary grace, and ennobled both host and guest. But we met an ascending scale of loveliness so varied in its aspects that I passed from one emotion to another and knew no sameness.
That afternoon the camp was pitched at the foot of a mighty hill, under the waving pyramids of the chenars, sweeping their green like the robes of a goddess. Near by was a half circle of low arches falling into ruin, and as we went in among them I beheld a wondrous sight - the huge octagonal tank or basin made by the Mogul Emperor Jehangir to receive the waters of a mighty Spring which wells from the hill and has been held sacred by Hindu and Moslem. And if loveliness can sanctify surely it is sacred indeed.
The tank was more than a hundred feet in diameter and circled by a roughly paved pathway where the little arched cells open that the devotees may sit and contemplate the lustral waters. There on a black stone, is sculptured the Imperial inscription comparing this spring to the holier wells of Paradise, and I thought no less of it, for it rushes straight from the rock with no aiding stream, and its waters are fifty feet deep, and sweep away from this great basin through beautiful low arches in a wild foaming river - the crystal life-blood of the mountains for ever welling away. The colour and perfect purity of this living jewel were most marvellous -clear blue-green like a chalcedony, but changing as the lights in an opal - a wonderful quivering brilliance, flickering with the silver of shoals of sacred fish.
But the Mogul Empire is with the snows of yesteryear and the wonder has passed from the Moslems into the keeping of the Hindus once more, and the Lingam of Shiva, crowned with flowers, is the symbol in the little shrine by the entrance. Surely in India, the gods are one and have no jealousies among them - so swiftly do their glories merge the one into the other.
"How all the Mogul Emperors loved running water," said Vanna. "I can see them leaning over it in their carved pavilions with delicate dark faces and pensive eyes beneath their turbans, lost in the endless reverie of the East while liquid melody passes into their dream. It was the music they best loved."
She was leading me into the royal garden below, where the young river flows beneath the pavilion set above and across the rush of the water.
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The Ninth Vibration and Other Stories -by- L. Adams Beck