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"When I came yesterday, a great broken crowd was collected here, almost shouldering each other into the water where a boat lay rocking. In it lay the body of a man brutally murdered for the sake of a few rupees and flung into the river. I could see the poor brown body stark in the boat with a friend weeping beside it. On the lovely deodar bridge people leaned over, watching with a grim open-mouthed curiosity, and business went on gaily where the jewelers make the silver bangles for slender wrists, and the rows of silver chains that make the necks like 'the Tower of Damascus builded for an armory.' It was all very wild and cruel. I went down to them-"
"Vanna - you went down? Horrible!"
"No, you see I heard them say the wife was almost a child and needs help. So I went. Once long ago at Peshawar I saw the same thing happen, and they came and took the child for the service of the gods, for she was most lovely, and she clung to the feet of a man in terror, and the priest stabbed her to the heart. She died in my arms.
"Good God!" I said, shuddering; "what a sight for you! Did they never hang him?"
"He was not punished. I told you it was a very long time ago. Her expression had a brooding quiet as she looked down into the running river, almost it might be as if she saw the picture of that past misery in the deep water. She said no more. But in her words and the terrible crowding of its life, Srinagar seemed to me more of a nightmare than anything I had seen, excepting only Benares; for the holy Benares is a memory of horror, with a sense of blood hidden under its frantic crazy devotion, and not far hidden either.
Our own green shade, when we pulled back to it in the evening cool, was a refuge of unspeakable quiet. She read aloud to me that evening by the small light of our lamp beneath the trees, and, singularly, she read of joy.
"I have drunk of the Cup of the Ineffable, I have found the key of the Mystery, Travelling by no track I have come to the Sorrowless Land; very easily has the mercy of the great Lord come upon me. Wonderful is that Land of rest to which no merit can win. There have I seen joy filled to the brim, perfection of joy. He dances in rapture and waves of form arise from His dance. He holds all within his bliss."
"What is that?"
"It is from the songs of the great Indian mystic - Kabir. Let me read you more. It is like the singing of a lark, lost in the infinite of light and heaven."
So in the soft darkness I heard for the first time those immortal words; and hearing, a faint glimmer of understanding broke upon me as to the source of the peace that surrounded her. I had accepted it as an emanation of her own heart when it was the pulsing of the tide of the Divine. She read, choosing a verse here and there, and I listened with absorption.
Suppose I had been wrong in believing that sorrow is the keynote of life; that pain is the road of ascent, if road there be; that an implacable Nature and that only, presides over all our pitiful struggles and seekings and writes a black "Finis" to the holograph of our existence?
What then? What was she teaching me? Was she the Interpreter of a Beauty eternal in the heavens, and reflected like a broken prism in the beauty that walked visible beside me? So I listened like a child to an unknown language, yet ventured my protest.
"In India, in this wonderful country where men have time and will for speculation such thoughts may be natural. Can they be found in the West?"
"This is from the West - might not Kabir himself have said it? Certainly he would have felt it. 'Happy is he who seeks not to understand the Mystery of God, but who, merging his spirit into Thine, sings to Thy face, 0 Lord, like a harp, understanding how difficult it is to know - how easy to love Thee.' We debate and argue and the Vision passes us by. We try to prove it, and kill it in the laboratory of our minds, when on the altar of our souls it will dwell for ever."
Silence - and I pondered. Finally she laid the book aside, and repeated from memory and in a tone of perfect music; "Kabir says, 'I shall go to the House of my Lord with my Love at my side; then shall I sound the trumpet of triumph.'"
And when she left me alone in the moonlight silence the old doubts came back to me - the fear that I saw only through her eyes, and began to believe in joy only because I loved her. I remember I wrote in the little book I kept for my stray thoughts, these words which are not mine but reflect my thought of her; "Thine is the skill of the Fairy Woman, and the virtue of St. Bride, and the faith of Mary the Mild, and the gracious way of the Greek woman, and the beauty of lovely Emer, and the tenderness of heart-sweet Deirdre, and the courage of Maev the great Queen, and the charm of Mouth-of-Music."
Yes, all that and more, but I feared lest I should see the heaven of joy through her eyes only and find it mirage as I had found so much else.
SECOND PART Early in the pure dawn the men came and our boat was towed up into the Dal Lake through crystal waterways and flowery banks, the men on the path keeping step and straining at the rope until the bronze muscles stood out on their legs and backs, shouting strong rhythmic phrases to mark the pull.
"They shout the Wondrous Names of God - as they are called," said Vanna when I asked. "They always do that for a timid effort. Bad shah! The Lord, the Compassionate, and so on. I don't think there is any religion about it but it is as natural to them as One, Two, Three, to us. It gives a tremendous lift. Watch and see."
It was part of the delightful strangeness that we should move to that strong music. We sat on the upper deck and watched the dream - like beauty drift slowly by until we emerged beneath a little bridge into the fairy land of the lake which the Mogul Emperors loved so well that they made their noble pleasance gardens on the banks, and thought it little to travel up yearly from far - off Delhi over the snowy Pir Panjal with their Queens and courts for the perfect summer of Kashmir.
We moored by a low bank under a great wood of chenar trees, and saw the little table in the wilderness set in the greenest shade with our chairs beside it, and my pipe laid reverently upon it by Kahdra.
Across the glittering water lay on one side the Shalimar Garden known to all readers of "Lalla Ruhk" - a paradise of roses; and beyond it again the lovelier gardens of Nour-Mahal, the Light of the Palace, that imperial woman who ruled India under the weak Emperor's name - she whose name he set thus upon his coins:
"By order of King Jehangir. Gold has a hundred splendours added to it by receiving the name of Nour-Jahan the Queen."
Has any woman ever had a more royal homage than this most royal lady - known first as Mihr-u- nissa - Sun of Women, and later, Nour-Mahal, Light of the Palace, and latest, Nour-Jahan- Begam, Queen, Light of the World?
Here in these gardens she had lived - had seen the snow mountains change from the silver of dawn to the illimitable rose of sunset. The life, the colour beat insistently upon my brain. They built a world of magic where every moment was pure gold. Surely - surely to Vanna it must be the same. I believed in my very soul that she who gave and shared such joy could not be utterly apart from me? Could I then feel certain that I had gained any ground in these days we had been together? Could she still define the cruel limits she had laid down, or were her eyes kinder, her tones a more broken music? I did not know. Whenever I could hazard a guess the next minute baffled me.
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The Ninth Vibration and Other Stories -by- L. Adams Beck