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Our march curving took us by the Mogul gardens of Achibal, and the glorious ruins of the great Temple at Martund, and so down to Bawan with its crystal waters and that loveliest camping ground beside them. A mighty grove of chenar trees, so huge that I felt as if we were in a great sea cave where the air is dyed with the deep shadowy green of the inmost ocean, and the murmuring of the myriad leaves was like a sea at rest. I looked up into the noble height and my memory of Westminster dwindled, for this led on and up to the infinite blue, and at night the stars hung like fruit upon the branches. The water ran with a great joyous rush of release from the mountain behind, but was first received in a broad basin full of sacred fish and reflecting a little temple of Maheshwara and one of Surya the Sun. Here in this basin the water lay pure and still as an ecstasy, and beside it was musing the young Brahman priest who served the temple. Since I had joined Vanna I had begun with her help to study a little Hindustani, and with an aptitude for language could understand here and there. I caught a word or two as she spoke with him that startled me, when the high-bred ascetic face turned serenely upon her, and he addressed her as "My sister," adding a sentence beyond my learning, but which she willingly translated later. - "May He who sits above the Mysteries, have mercy upon thy rebirth."
She said afterwards;
"How beautiful some of these men are. It seems a different type of beauty from ours, nearer to nature and the old gods. Look at that priest - the tall figure, the clear olive skin, the dark level brows, the long lashes that make a soft gloom about the eyes - eyes that have the fathomless depth of a deer's, the proud arch of the lip. I think there is no country where aristocracy is more clearly marked than in India. The Brahmans are aristocrats of the world. You see it is a religious aristocracy as well. It has everything that can foster pride and exclusiveness. They spring from the Mouth of Deity. They are His word incarnate. Not many kings are of the Brahman caste, and the Brahmans look down upon them from Sovereign heights. I have known men who would not eat with their own rulers who would have drunk the water that washed the Brahmans' feet."
She took me that day, the Brahman with us, to see a cave in the mountain. We climbed up the face of the cliff to where a little tree grew on a ledge, and the black mouth yawned. We went in and often it was so low we had to stoop, leaving the sunlight behind until it was like a dim eye glimmering in the velvet blackness. The air was dank and cold and presently obscene with the smell of bats, and alive with their wings, as they came sweeping about us, gibbering and squeaking. I thought of the rush of the ghosts, blown like dead leaves in the Odyssey. And then a small rock chamber branched off, and in this, lit by a bit of burning wood, we saw the bones of a holy man who lived and died there four hundred years ago. Think of it! He lived there always, with the slow dropping of water from the dead weight of the mountain above his head, drop by drop tolling the minutes away: the little groping feet through the cave that would bring him food and drink, hurrying into the warmth and sunlight again, and his only companion the sacred Lingam which means the Creative Energy that sets the worlds dancing for joy round the sun - that, and the black solitude to sit down beside him. Surely his bones can hardly be dryer and colder now than they were then! There must be strange ecstasies in such a life - wild visions in the dark, or it could never be endured.
And so, in marches of about ten miles a day, we came to Pahlgam on the banks of the dancing Lidar. There was now only three weeks left of the time she had promised. After a few days at Pahlgam the march would turn and bend its way back to Srinagar, and to - what? I could not believe it was to separation - in her lovely kindness she had grown so close to me that, even for the sake of friendship, I believed our paths must run together to the end, and there were moments when I could still half convince myself that I had grown as necessary to her as she was to me. No - not as necessary, for she was life and soul to me, but a part of her daily experience that she valued and would not easily part with. That evening we were sitting outside the tents, near the camp fire, of pine logs and cones, the leaping flames making the night beautiful with gold and leaping sparks, in an attempt to reach the mellow splendours of the moon. The men, in various attitudes of rest, were lying about, and one had been telling a story which had just ended in excitement and loud applause.
"These are Mahomedans," said Vanna, "and it is only a story of love and fighting like the Arabian Nights. If they had been Hindus, it might well have been of Krishna or of Rama and Sita. Their faith comes from an earlier time and they still see visions. The Moslem is a hard practical faith for men - men of the world too. It is not visionary now, though it once had its great mysteries."
"I wish you would tell me what you think of the visions or apparitions of the gods that are seen here. Is it all illusion? Tell me your thought."
"How difficult that is to answer. I suppose if love and faith are strong enough they will always create the vibrations to which the greater vibrations respond, and so make God in their own image at any time or place. But that they call up what is the truest reality I have never doubted. There is no shadow without a substance. The substance is beyond us but under certain conditions the shadow is projected and we see it.
"Have I seen or has it been dream?"
"I cannot tell. It may have been the impress of my mind on yours, for I see such things always. You say I took your hand?"
"Take it now."
She obeyed, and instantly, as I felt the firm cool clasp, I heard the rain of music through the pines - the Flute Player was passing. She dropped it smiling and the sweet sound ceased.
"You see! How can I tell what you have seen? You will know better when I am gone. You will stand alone then."
"You will not go - you cannot. I have seen how you have loved all this wonderful time. I believe it has been as dear to you as to me. And every day I have loved you more. I depend upon you for everything that makes life worth living. You could not - you who are so gentle - you could not commit the senseless cruelty of leaving me when you have taught me to love you with every beat of my heart. I have been patient - I have held myself in, but I must speak now. Marry me, and teach me. I know nothing. You know all I need to know. For pity's sake be my wife."
I had not meant to say it; it broke from me in the firelight moonlight with a power that I could not stay. She looked at me with a disarming gentleness.
"Is this fair? Do you remember how at Peshawar I told you I thought it was a dangerous experiment, and that it would make things harder for you. But you took the risk like a brave man because you felt there were things to be gained - knowledge, insight, beauty. Have you not gained them?"
"Then, is it all loss if I go?"
"Not all. But loss I dare not face."
"I will tell you this. I could not stay if I would. Do you remember the old man on the way to Vernag? He told me that I must very soon take up an entirely new life. I have no choice, though if I had I would still do it."
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The Ninth Vibration and Other Stories -by- L. Adams Beck