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There was silence and down a long arcade, without any touch of her hand I heard the music, receding with exquisite modulations to a very great distance, and between the pillared stems, I saw a faint light.
"Do you wish to go?"
"Entirely. But I shall not forget you, Stephen. I will tell you something. For me, since I came to India, the gate that shuts us out at birth has opened. How shall I explain? Do you remember Kipling's 'Finest Story in the World'?"
"Not fiction - true, whether he knew it or no. But for me the door has opened wide. First, I remembered piecemeal, with wide gaps, then more connectedly. Then, at the end of the first year, I met one day at Cawnpore, an ascetic, an old man of great beauty and wisdom, and he was able by his own knowledge to enlighten mine. Not wholly - much has come since then. Has come, some of it in ways you could not understand now, but much by direct sight and hearing. Long, long ago I lived in Peshawar, and my story was a sorrowful one. I will tell you a little before I go."
"I hold you to your promise. What is there I cannot believe when you tell me? But does that life put you altogether away from me? Was there no place for me in any of your memories that has drawn us together now? Give me a little hope that in the eternal pilgrimage there is some bond between us and some rebirth where we may met again."
"I will tell you that also before we part. I have grown to believe that you do love me - and therefore love something which is infinitely above me."
"And do you love me at all? Am I nothing, Vanna - Vanna?"
"My friend," she said, and laid her hand on mine.
A silence, and then she spoke, very low.
"You must be prepared for very great change, Stephen, and yet believe that it does not really change things at all. See how even the gods pass and do not change! The early gods of India are gone and Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna have taken their places and are one and the same. The old Buddhist stories say that in heaven "The flowers of the garland the God wore are withered, his robes of majesty are waxed old and faded; he falls from his high estate, and is re-born into a new life." But he lives still in the young God who is born among men. The gods cannot die, nor can we nor anything that has life. Now I must go in.
I sat long in the moonlight thinking. The whole camp was sunk in sleep and the young dawn was waking upon the peaks when I turned in.
The days that were left we spent in wandering up the Lidar River to the hills that are the first ramp of the ascent to the great heights. We found the damp corners where the mushrooms grow like pearls - the mushrooms of which she said - "To me they have always been fairy things. To see them in the silver-grey dew of the early mornings - mysteriously there like the manna in the desert - they are elfin plunder, and as a child I was half afraid of them. No wonder they are the darlings of folklore, especially in Celtic countries where the Little People move in the starlight. Strange to think they are here too among strange gods!"
We climbed to where the wild peonies bloom in glory that few eyes see, and the rosy beds of wild sweet strawberries ripen. Every hour brought with it some new delight, some exquisiteness of sight or of words that I shall remember for ever. She sat one day on a rock, holding the sculptured leaves and massive seed-vessels of some glorious plant that the Kashmiris believe has magic virtues hidden in the seeds of pure rose embedded in the white down.
"If you fast for three days and eat nine of these in the Night of No Moon, you can rise on the air light as thistledown and stand on the peak of Haramoukh. And on Haramoukh, as you know it is believed, the gods dwell. There was a man here who tried this enchantment. He was a changed man for ever after, wandering and muttering to himself and avoiding all human intercourse as far as he could. He was no Kashmiri - A Jat from the Punjab, and they showed him to me when I was here with the Meryons, and told me he would speak to none. But I knew he would speak to me, and he did."
"Did he tell you anything of what he had seen in the high world up yonder?"
"He said he had seen the Dream of the God. I could not get more than that. But there are many people here who believe that the Universe as we know it is but an image in the dream of Ishvara, the Universal Spirit - in whom are all the gods - and that when He ceases to dream we pass again into the Night of Brahm, and all is darkness until the Spirit of God moves again on the face of the waters. There are few temples to Brahm. He is above and beyond all direct worship."
"Do you think he had seen anything?"
"What do I know? Will you eat the seeds? The Night of No Moon will soon be here."
She held out the seed-vessels, laughing. I write that down but how record the lovely light of kindliness in her eyes - the almost submissive gentleness that yet was a defense stronger than steel. I never knew - how should I? - whether she was sitting by my side or heavens away from me in her own strange world. But always she was a sweetness that I could not reach, a cup of nectar that I might not drink, unalterably her own and never mine, and yet - my friend.
She showed me the wild track up into the mountains where the Pilgrims go to pay their devotions at the Great God's shrine in the awful heights, regretting that we were too early for that most wonderful sight. Above where we were sitting the river fell in a tormented white cascade, crashing arid feathering into spray-dust of diamonds. An eagle was flying above it with a mighty spread of wings that seemed almost double-jointed in the middle - they curved and flapped so wide and free. The fierce head was outstretched with the rake of a plundering galley as he swept down the wind, seeking his meat from God, and passed majestic from our sight. The valley beneath us was littered with enormous boulders spilt from the ancient hollows of the hills. It must have been a great sight when the giants set them trundling down in work or play! - I said this to Vanna, who was looking down upon it with meditative eyes. She roused herself.
"Yes, this really is Giant-Land up here - everything is so huge. And when they quarrel up in the heights - in Jotunheim - and the black storms come down the valleys it is like colossal laughter or clumsy boisterous anger. And the Frost giants are still at work up there with their great axes of frost and rain. They fling down the side of a mountain or make fresh ways for the rivers. About sixty years ago - far above here - they tore down a mountain side and damned up the mighty Indus, so that for months he was a lake, shut back in the hills. But the river giants are no less strong up here in the heights of the world, and lie lay brooding and hiding his time. And then one awful day he tore the barrier down and roared down the valley carrying death and ruin with him, and swept away a whole Sikh army among other unconsidered trifles. That must have been a soul-shaking sight."
She spoke on, and as she spoke I saw. What are her words as I record them? Stray dead leaves pressed in a book - the life and grace dead. Yet I record, for she taught me what I believe the world should learn, that the Buddhist philosophers are right when they teach that all forms of what we call matter are really but aggregates of spiritual units, and that life itself is a curtain hiding reality as the vast veil of day conceals from our sight the countless orbs of space. So that the purified mind even while prisoned in the body, may enter into union with the Real and, according to attainment, see it as it is.
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The Ninth Vibration and Other Stories -by- L. Adams Beck