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On the 15th of June, I found myself riding into Srinagar in Kashmir, through the pure tremulous green of the mighty poplars that hedge the road into the city. The beauty of the country had half stunned me when I entered the mountain barrier of Baramula and saw the snowy peaks that guard the Happy Valley, with the Jhelum flowing through its tranquil loveliness. The flush of the almond blossom was over, but the iris, like a blue sea of peace had overflowed the world - the azure meadows smiled back at the radiant sky. Such blossom! the blue shading into clear violet, like a shoaling sea. The earth, like a cup held in the hand of a god, brimmed with the draught of youth and summer and - love? But no, for me the very word was sinister. Vanna's face, immutably calm, confronted it.
That night I slept in a boat at Sopor, and I remember that, waking at midnight, I looked out and saw a mountain with a gloriole of hazy silver about it, misty and faint as a cobweb threaded with dew. The river, there spreading into a lake, was dark under it, flowing in a deep smooth blackness of shadow, and everything awaited - what? And even while I looked, the moon floated serenely above the peak, and all was bathed in pure light, the water rippling and shining in broken silver and pearl. So had Vanna floated into my sky, luminous, sweet, remote. I did not question my heart any more. I knew I loved her.
Two days later I rode into Srinagar, and could scarcely see the wild beauty of that strange Venice. of the East, my heart was so beating in my eyes. I rode past the lovely wooden bridges where the balconied houses totter to each other across the canals in dim splendour of carving and age; where the many-coloured native life crowds down to the river steps and cleanses its flower-bright robes, its gold-bright brass vessels in the shining stream, and my heart said only - Vanna, Vanna!
One day, one thought, of her absence had taught me what she was to me, and if humility and patient endeavor could raise me to her feet, I was resolved that I would spend my life in labor and think it well spent.
My servant dismounted and led his horse, asking from every one where the "Kedarnath" could be found, and eager black eyes sparkled and two little bronze images detached themselves from the crowd of boys, and ran, fleet as fauns, before us.
Above the last bridge the Jhelum broadens out into a stately river, controlled at one side by the banked walk known as the Bund, with the Club House upon it and the line of houseboats beneath. Here the visitors flutter up and down and exchange the gossip, the bridge appointments, the little dinners that sit so incongruously on the pure Orient that is Kashmir.
She would not be here. My heart told me that, and sure enough the boys were leading across the bridge and by a quiet shady way to one of the many backwaters that the great river makes in the enchanting city. There is one waterway stretching on afar to the Dal Lake. It looks like a river - it is the very haunt of peace. Under those mighty chenar, or plane trees, that are the glory of Kashmir, clouding the water with deep green shadows, the sun can scarcely pierce, save in a dipping sparkle here and there to intensify the green gloom. The murmur of the city, the chatter of the club, are hundreds of miles away. We rode downward under the towering trees, and dismounting, saw a little houseboat tethered to the bank. It was not of the richer sort that haunts the Bund, where the native servants follow in a separate boat, and even the electric light is turned on as part of the luxury. This was a long low craft, very broad, thatched like a country cottage afloat. In the forepart lived the native owner, and his family, their crew, our cooks and servants; for they played many parts in our service. And in the afterpart, room for a life, a dream, the joy or curse & many days to be.
But then, I saw only one thing - Vanna sat under the trees, reading, or looking at the cool dim watery vista, with a single boat, loaded to the river's edge with melons and scarlet tomatoes, punting lazily down to Srinagar in the sleepy afternoon.
She was dressed in white with a shady hat, and her delicate dark face seemed to glow in the shadow like the heart of a pale rose. For the first time I knew she was beautiful. Beauty shone in her like the flame in an alabaster lamp, serene, diffused in the very air about her, so that to me she moved in a mild radiance. She rose to meet me with both hands outstretched - the kindest, most cordial welcome. Not an eyelash flickered, not a trace of self- consciousness. If I could have seen her flush or tremble - but no - her eyes were clear and calm as a forest pool. So I remembered her. So I saw her once more.
I tried, with a hopeless pretence, to follow her example and hide what I felt, where she had nothing to hide.
"What a place you have found. Why, it's like the deep heart of a wood!"
"Yes, I saw it once when I was here with the Meryons. But we lay at the Bund then - just under the Club. This is better. Did you like the ride up?"
I threw myself on the grass beside her with a feeling of perfect rest.
"It was like a new heaven and a new earth. What a country!"
The very spirit of Quiet seemed to be drowsing in those branches towering up into the blue, dipping their green fingers into the crystal of the water. What a heaven!
"Now you shall have your tea and then I will show you your rooms," she said, smiling at my delight. "We shall stay here a few days more that you may see Srinagar, and then they tow us up into the Dal Lake opposite the Gardens of the Mogul Emperors. And if you think this beautiful what will you say then?"
I shut my eyes and see still that first meal of my new life. The little table that Pir Baksh, breathing full East in his jade-green turban, set before her, with its cloth worked in a pattern of the chenar leaves that are the symbol of Kashmir; the brown cakes made by Ahmad Khan in a miraculous kitchen of his own invention - a few holes burrowed in the river bank, a smoldering fire beneath them, and a width of canvas for a roof. But it served, and no more need be asked of luxury. And Vanna, making it mysteriously the first home I ever had known, the central joy of it all. Oh, wonderful days of life that breathe the spirit of immortality and pass so quickly - surely they must be treasured somewhere in Eternity that we may look upon their beloved light once more.
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The Ninth Vibration and Other Stories -by- L. Adams Beck