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She was an interpreter because she believed this truth profoundly. She saw the spiritual essence beneath the lovely illusion of matter, and the air about her was radiant with the motion of strange forces for which the dull world has many names aiming indeed at the truth, but falling - O how far short of her calm perception! She was indeed of a Household higher than the Household of Faith. She had received enlightenment. She beheld with open eyes.
Next day our camp was struck and we turned our faces again to Srinagar and to the day of parting. I set down but one strange incident of our journey, of which I did not speak even to her.
We were camping at Bijbehara, awaiting our house boat, and the site was by the Maharaja's lodge above the little town. It was midnight and I was sleepless - the shadow of the near future was upon me. I wandered down to the lovely old wooded bridge across the Jhelum, where the strong young trees grow up from the piles. Beyond it the moon was shining on the ancient Hindu remains close to the new temple, and as I stood on the bridge I could see the figure of a man in deepest meditation by the ruins. He was no European. I saw the straight dignified folds of the robes. But it was not surprising he should be there and I should have thought no more of it, had I not heard at that instant from the further side of the river the music of the Flute. I cannot hope to describe that music to any who have not heard it. Suffice it to say that where it calls he who hears must follow whether in the body or the spirit. Nor can I now tell in which I followed. One day it will call me across the River of Death, and I shall ford it or sink in the immeasurable depths and either will be well.
But immediately I was at the other side of the river, standing by the stone Bull of Shiva where he kneels before the Symbol, and looking steadfastly upon me a few paces away was a man in the dress of a Buddhist monk. He wore the yellow robe that leaves one shoulder bare; his head was bare also and he held in one hand a small bowl like a stemless chalice. I knew I was seeing a very strange inexplicable sight - one that in Kashmir should be incredible, but I put wonder aside for I knew now that I was moving in the sphere where the incredible may well be the actual. His expression was of the most unbroken calm. If I compare it to the passionless gaze of the Sphinx I misrepresent, for the Riddle of the Sphinx still awaits solution, but in this face was a noble acquiescence and a content that had it vibrated must have passed into joy.
Words or their equivalent passed between us. I felt his voice.
"You have heard the music of the Flute?"
"I have heard."
"What has it given?"
"A consuming longing."
"It is the music of the Eternal. The creeds and the faiths are the words that men have set to that melody. Listening, it will lead you to Wisdom. Day by day you will interpret more surely."
"I cannot stand alone."
"You will not need. What has led you will lead you still. Through many births it has led you. How should it fail?"
"What should I do?"
"What should I shun?"
"Sorrow and fear."
"What should I seek?"
"And the end?"
"Joy. Wisdom. They are the Light and Dark of the Divine." A cold breeze passed and touched my forehead. I was still standing in the middle of the bridge above the water gliding to the Ocean, and there was no figure by the Bull of Shiva. I was alone. I passed back to the tents with the shudder that is not fear but akin to death upon me. I knew I had been profoundly withdrawn from what we call actual life, and the return is dread.
The days passed as we floated down the river to Srinagar. On board the Kedarnath, now lying in our first berth beneath the chenars near and yet far from the city, the last night had come. Next morning I should begin the long ride to Baramula and beyond that barrier of the Happy Valley down to Murree and the Punjab. Where afterwards? I neither knew nor cared. My lesson was before me to be learned. I must try to detach myself from all I had prized - to say to my heart it was but a loan and no gift, and to cling only to the imperishable. And did I as yet certainly know more than the A B C of the hard doctrine by which I must live? "Que vivre est difficile, 0 mon cocur fatigue!" - an immense weariness possessed me - a passive grief.
Vanna would follow later with the wife of an Indian doctor. I believed she was bound for Lahore but on that point she had not spoken certainly and I felt we should not meet again.
And now my packing was finished, and, as far as my possessions went, the little cabin had the soulless emptiness that comes with departure. I was enduring as best I could. If she had held loyally to her pact, could I do less. Was she to blame for my wild hope that in the end she would relent and step down to the household levels of love?
She sat by the window - the last time I should see the moonlit banks and her clear face against them. I made and won my fight for the courage of words.
"And now I've finished everything - thank goodness! and we can talk. Vanna - you will write to me?"
"Once. I promise that."
"Only once? Why? I counted on your words."
"I want to speak to you of something else now. I want to tell you a memory. But look first at the pale light behind the Takht-i-Suliman."
So I had seen it with her. So I should not see it again. We watched until a line of silver sparkled on the black water, and then she spoke again.
"Stephen, do you remember in the ruined monastery near Peshawar, how I told you of the young Abbot, who came down to Peshawar with a Chinese pilgrim? And he never returned."
"I remember. There was a Dancer."
"There was a Dancer. She was Lilavanti, and she was brought there to trap him but when she saw him she loved him, and that was his ruin and hers. Trickery he would have known and escaped. Love caught him in an unbreakable net, and they fled down the Punjab and no one knew any more. But I know. For two years they lived together and she saw the agony in his heart - the anguish of his broken vows, the face of the Blessed One receding into an infinite distance. She knew that every day added a link to the heavy Karma that was bound about the feet she loved, and her soul said "Set him free," and her heart refused the torture. But her soul was the stronger. She set him free."
"She took poison. He became an ascetic in the hills and died in peace but with a long expiation upon him."
"I am she."
"You!" I heard my voice as if it were another man's. Was it possible that I - a man of the twentieth century, believed this impossible thing? Impossible, and yet - what had I learnt if not the unity of Time, the illusion of matter? What is the twentieth century, what the first? Do they not lie before the Supreme as one, and clean from our petty divisions? And I myself had seen what, if I could trust it, asserted the marvels that are no marvels to those who know.
"You loved him?"
"I love him."
"Then there is nothing at all for me."
She resumed as if she had heard nothing.
"I have lost him for many lives. He stepped above me at once, for he was clean gold though he fell, and though I have followed I have not found. But that Buddhist beyond Islamabad - you shall hear now what he said. It was this. 'The shut door opens, and this time he awaits.' I cannot yet say all it means, but there is no Lahore for me. I shall meet him soon."
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The Ninth Vibration and Other Stories -by- L. Adams Beck