|Back||1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17||Next|
Governesses dine, it appeared, only to fill an unexpected place, or make a decorous entry afterward, to play accompaniments. Fortunately Kitty Meryon sang, in a pinched little soprano, not nearly so pretty as her silver ripple of talk.
It was when the party had settled down to bridge and I was standing out, that I ventured to go up to her as she sat knitting by a window - not unwatched by the quick flash of Lady Meryon's eyes as I did it.
"I think you hypnotize me, Miss Loring. When I hear anything I straightway want to know what you will say. Have you heard of Fitzgerald's death?"
"That is why we are not dancing tonight. Tomorrow the cable will reach his home in England. He was an only child, and they are the great people of the village where we are the little people. I knew his mother as one knows a great lady who is kind to all the village folk. It may kill her. It is travelling tonight like a bullet to her heart, and she does not know."
"A brave man - a soldier himself. He will know it was a good death and that Harry would not fail. He did not at Ypres. He would not here. But all joy and hope will be dead in that house tomorrow."
"And what do you think?"
"I am not sorry for Harry, if you mean that. He knew - we all know - that he was on guard here holding the outposts against blood and treachery and terrible things - playing the Great Game. One never loses at that game if one plays it straight, and I am sure that at the last it was joy he felt and not fear. He has not lost. Did you notice in the church a niche before every soldier's seat to hold his loaded gun? And the tablets on the walls; "Killed at Kabul River, aged 22." - "Killed on outpost duty." - "Murdered by an Afghan fanatic." This will be one memory more. Why be sorry."
"I am going up to the hills tomorrow, to the Malakhand Fort, with Mrs. Delany, Lady Meryon's aunt, and we shall see the wonderful Tahkt-i-Bahi Monastery on the way. You should do that run before you go. The fort is the last but one on the way to Chitral, and beyond that the road is so beset that only soldiers may go farther, and indeed the regiments escort each other up and down. But it is an early start, for we must be back in Peshawar at six for fear of raiding natives."
"I know; they hauled me up in the dusk the other day, and told me I should be swept off to the hills if I fooled about after dusk. But I say - is it safe for you to go? You ought to have a man. Could I go too?"
I thought she did not look enthusiastic at the proposal.
"Ask. You know I settle nothing. I go where I am sent." She said it with the happiest smile. I knew they could send her nowhere that she would not find joy. I thought her mere presence must send the vibrations of happiness through the household. Yet again - why? For where there is no receiver the current speaks in vain; and for an instant I seemed to see the air full of messages - of speech striving to utter its passionate truths to deaf ears stopped for ever against the breaking waves of sound. But Vanna heard.
She left the room; and when the bridge was over, I made my request. Lady Meryon shrugged her shoulders and declared it would be a terribly dull run - the scenery nothing, "and only" (she whispered) "Aunt Selina and poor Miss Loring?"
Of course I saw at once that she did not like it; but Sir John was all for my going, and that saved the situation.
I certainly could have dispensed with Aunt Selina when the automobile drew up in the golden river of the sunrise at the hotel. There were only the driver, a personal servant, and the two ladies; Mrs. Delany, comely, pleasant, talkative, and Vanna-
Her face in its dark motoring veil, fine and delicate as a young moon in a cloud drift - the sensitive sweet mouth that had quivered a little when she spoke of Fitzgerald - the pure glance that radiated such kindness to all the world. She sat there with the Key of Dreams pressed against her slight bosom - her eyes dreaming above it. Already the strange airs of her unknown world were breathing about me, and as yet I knew not the things that belonged unto my peace.
We glided along the straight military road from Peshawar to Nowshera, the gold-bright sun dazzling in its whiteness - a strange drive through the flat, burned country, with the ominous Kabul River flowing through it. Military preparations everywhere, and the hills looking watchfully down - alive, as it were, with keen, hostile eyes. War was at present about us as behind the lines in France; and when we crossed the Kabul River on a bridge of boats, and I saw its haunted waters, I began to feel the atmosphere of the place closing down upon me. It had a sinister beauty; it breathed suspense; and I wished, as I was sure Vanna did, for silence that was not at our command.
For Mrs. Delany felt nothing of it. A bright shallow ripple of talk was her contribution to the joys of the day; though it was, fortunately, enough for her happiness if we listened and agreed. I knew Vanna listened only in show. Her intent eyes were fixed on the Tahkt-i-Bahi hills after we had swept out of Nowshera; and when the car drew up at the rough track, she had a strange look of suspense and pallor. I remember I wondered at the time if she were nervous in the wild open country.
"Now pray don't be shocked," said Mrs. Delany comfortably; "but you two young people may go up to the monastery, and I shall stay here. I am dreadfully ashamed of myself, but the sight of that hill is enough for me. Don't hurry. I may have a little doze, and be all the better company when you get back. No, don't try to persuade me, Mr. Clifden. It isn't the part of a friend."
I cannot say I was sorry, though I had a moment of panic when Vanna offered to stay with her - very much, too, as if she really meant it. So we set out perforce, Vanna leading steadily, as if she knew the way. She never looked up, and her wish for silence was so evident, that I followed, lending my hand mutely when the difficulties obliged it, she accepting absently, and as if her thoughts were far away.
Suddenly she quickened her pace. We had climbed about nine hundred feet, and now the narrow track twisted through the rocks - a track that looked as age-worn as no doubt it was. We threaded it, and struggled over the ridge, and looked down victorious on the other side.
There she stopped. A very wonderful sight, of which I had never seen the like, lay below us. Rock and waste and towering crags, and the mighty ruin of the monastery set in the fangs of the mountain like a robber baron's castle, looking far away to the blue mountains of the Debatable Land - the land of mystery and danger. It stood there - the great ruin of a vast habitation of men. Building after building, mysterious and broken, corridors, halls, refectories, cells; the dwelling of a faith so alien that I could not reconstruct the life that gave it being. And all sinking gently into ruin that in a century more would confound it with the roots of the mountains.
Grey and wonderful, it clung to the heights and looked with eyeless windows at the past. Somehow I found it infinitely pathetic; the very faith it expressed is dead in India, and none left so poor to do it reverence.
But Vanna knew her way. Unerringly she led me from point to point, and she was visibly at home in the intricacies. Such knowledge in a young woman bewildered me. Could she have studied the plans in the Museum? How else should she know where the abbot lived, or where the refractory brothers were punished?
|Back||1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17||Next|
The Ninth Vibration and Other Stories -by- L. Adams Beck