What should a man do when the bottom has fallen out of the life he knew, when the whole world reels about him, when every settled plan for the future crumbles into dust and a new earth,—the less said about heaven the better!—must be mapped and cleared that existence may be possible?
That was my case, in common with millions after the Great Upheaval. The war had found me a hard-working journalist with hopes, if I got through, of a bigger chance ahead, for so many of us were killed that the papers were running with more or less depleted staffs of the younger men. However, I myself nearly went west as a lieutenant with the Fifth Army, and, after my wound and shell-shock, followed a dim dream on the No Man’s Land of being, marked out with shuddering horrors and faint fallings away—as life and death alternated like rising and falling tides. And when at length the devil was cast out and I lay, almost conquered, weak as a seaweed on the swell, but sane again, I found that the whole world was changed for me. My cousin and namesake, my only near relation, a man little older than I, had been killed in France, and a pile of money had passed from the one Lancelot Dunbar to the other. I had been the poor Lance Dunbar, now I was the rich one and he was—nothing.
I had scarcely known him. In my daily grind he had counted for little except in one strange way that I shall tell presently. Yet this stupendous difference had befallen me through him, and henceforth everything I did must be tinged with the colour of him. It was indeed as if in that long and deadly weakness my life had flowed out of me and his being flowed in and replaced it like a new heady wine spilt into standing water. At first it counted little. When one lies chained by exhaustion to a hospital pillow one is but a figure in the long sum of pain and it matters nothing whether one is rich or poor. I did not care. Honestly, I would have given it all for one draught of tingling health in depleted veins—one keen zest of dewy air on the high morning hills where I had tramped in hard-won holidays before the Curse came upon the world.
It was afterwards I knew the difference, when the poor fellows clustering like autumn flies about the sunny garden walls talked feebly of the new start they were bound to make in life, with emptied purses, and situations filled with the chaps who had the wit to stick in the offices and let the others do the dirty work. Bitter talk enough it was to hear, and the more so because so many of them took it with a bewildered patience as of a piece with the bad luck that had brought them to the hospital—a thing you couldn’t control and must stick out as best you could. And then they would smoke their charity cigarettes and play their charity cards, helpless as babies, and suddenly it came over me that I had no part or lot in the talk—that I had been hoisted out of the welter and sat on a rock, looking down on the poor devils drowning all about me.
I was too dull at first to exercise my new-born powers, but when I could put two and two together and see my lawyers, I was able to help a few up to the perch beside me.
Well; I must cut my prologue short. They did not want me now on the paper, and I wanted them no more. For here again the strangest thing of all the strangeness happened. I was an educated man—Harrow and Oxford in my father’s good days—but when his crash came I had dropped into the journalistic groove and had no thought of any other kind of work. As to ambition—the most I thought of was some kind of sub-editorship on one of the big dailies. I knew I was up to that job if I got a look-in, and it seemed a reasonable kind of show to hold in mind. The other Lance Dunbar on the contrary, the one who needed nothing money could buy, had been a writer. He had published a book I liked more than a little—though I cared nothing for him. It struck me like a personal experience of the sharpest and clearest, clean black-drawn lines like towers and steeples against a sunset—a something wild and melancholy that allured with a bittersweet flavour on my soul’s palate, new, exotic, yet as old as the beginnings. He had been a great traveller—he knew what he wrote of in the dead civilizations, the dying faiths, the buried yearnings of men and women, the lusts, the splendours of great forgotten empires that mouldering have formed the soil where the jungle of our own passions grows rankly luxuriant. And now imperiously he took possession of some inward citadel of my being. His book—”Past Sundering Seas”—mingled with all the visions of my weakness. I would see him by vast ruins in tropic forests—a golden girl crouched at his feet inhaling perfumes offered in the censers of monstrous jungle flowers. In my faint deliriums he paced by tumbling oceans with the torch of a dying sunset burning low behind him or on the fantastic precipices of snowy peaks hurled in a vast confusion at the limits of the world. He stood impassive among the crowded faces of dark men who gesticulated and implored. I saw him through vanishing marble gateways where jewelled women awaited him with passionate longing. My dreams were thus a medley of the facts and fictions of his brain, blended in the grave beauty of the book—the only expression of him now left in the world.
It won a line or two in the paragraph which recorded his death:—”This book,” they wrote, “foreshadowed a promise that will now have no earthly fulfillment. Those who reading it have desired more, meet instead the cold Hic jacet of the dead. His was a soul on fire with beauty. Is it possible to believe that, as he himself wrote in the deserts of China, ‘The fuel is consumed, but the fire may be transmitted and we know not that it comes to an end!’ If this can be, very certainly a flame so radiant might illuminate the black Beyond of death.” They were kind, you see, to the effort of one who could ask no more from them of praise or fame.
I read the book again when I had strength to hold it, with the strangest new participation in all he had done and thought. Everything men valued the war had struck down—they had cheated us, dragged us to ruin, and only art and the beauty that comes with art seemed to be real and credible any more. And all I need say more is that I determined to make Lance Dunbar’s pilgrimage—stand where he had stood, and discover for myself whether any far off vibrations as from the dead booming of a bronze bell would catch my inner ear. I had cared nothing for him in life—I cared for nothing so much now. And for the moment I loathed Europe. I fled it as men fled the Cities of the Plain; and this fell into rhythm with the dim whispering of a dead man’s soul in mine.
Like a swallow flying to the eaves of home I made for Japan, rushing across Canada with scarcely a pause. The thundering engines roared across the transcontinental track that cuts the mighty North. It moved me—I own it, but I could not stay. The Rockies stood, white sentinels, at the Western gate. There was something young in the air like Spring—something inviolate, exquisite, stirring in an age-long sleep—“mewing its mighty youth” while the eagle wings feathered for flight. One of the younger sculptors has beheld Canada as a colossal woman, her head thrown back in the lassitude of a sleep that is breaking—flying back into the night with the broken tangle of dreams. Her robe is covered with pine trees faintly indicated. One great hand outstretched guards a group of moose and lesser forest dwellers, and before her feet stands the little figure of a young pioneer looking up in simple wonder and awe to the Vastness above him—the Mother of men to be. So I saw her and marvelled.
But on—on—to a new world as old as time! This could not hold me. No—not the leagues of the Okanagon, flushed apple blossoms against a blue Italian sky—all dreamy sweetness and pure colouring, massed and massed until the sense aches at its loveliness. Pomona is in her temple here. When she died in Rome her freed feet came lightly over the sea and every spire of smoke curling into the quiet air from hidden homesteads is incense on her altar. But no place for me—on, on!
In vain the Bow rushed—a ringing river—down the gorges with the snow peaks receding from her stormy way. In vain the wide blue lakes looked up and smiled
“With such a look as might express
The best of human happiness—”
I fled past them, driven by the Furies of memory and horror, longing to blot out the very sight of the men and women of my own race, because they recalled too much—they too had trodden the winepress of blood.
And when I stood at last on Vancouver Island I touched the beginning of peace, because beyond that ocean lay Asia, vast and mysterious, in whose bosom I might forget the sick dream of a world reeling into chaos. Standing on the shore I remembered a page in the book that was drawing me to the Rising Sun. So it runs :—
“Here in Peking a Chinese gentleman, old and dignified, wrinkled and patient, spoke with me of Europe. He knew it well. A part of his education had been there. His delicate hands, fine as the instruments of some music of the mind, lay with the long fingers intertwined on the blue brocade of his robe. The stiff black cap did not hide the faint smile in wearied eyes as he continued;
‘Your august continent glides swiftly in the swell of the river before it plunges to the fall. In my insignificant land we based our civilization many ages ago on the Moralities—the duties of each to the Family, the Empire, the Pieties, and thus was twisted a triple cord of trust between man and man. How should it fail? But in your venerated countries no man trusts another, for each famishes for the other’s gold—that is his God—and as with the one, so with the nations. There must come a war when the one people overwhelmed in the vortex will clutch the others and drag them in and your civilization with them.’ ‘And you?’ I asked. ‘We unintelligent peoples of Asia will watch and smile, because we have known this thing must be. The sun will set in blood in Europe. It is rising beyond Japan; it will shine through China—and farther.’
“He said no more but changed the subject courteously to the bronzes and porcelains I had come to see. And this was 1913!”
Well—if Dunbar was right—if these people had known before it came, some one among them might guess the remedy. My way lay onward.
A year in Japan—a year of health flowing back, at first a trickling brook—afterwards the steady upward flow of a rising tide, and I was healed in body and had bathed my soul in beauty—very far sometimes from the heavenly order, the beauty that money buys in all the markets of all the world. Perhaps I found my new possessions a wine of Circe’s enchantments. Enlightenment I had not found, nor scarcely sought. It was enough to live in a country untouched by the immense weariness under which the western Titan staggers. To see the daily joy of life in happy places far away from the crowd was all I asked for the time. I engaged a very good fellow, one Amakasu San, to travel with me, and under his guidance I had found my bearings and enough of the language to carry me through the day’s needs. Now I was free of Japan. I could come and go as I would, and I was weary of the cities and such gaiety as they offer the foreigner who can pay for it in ways as well left untold—and for my first trip alone I came up to Ikao, the lovely little town of the running boiling springs that perches like a bird on the hills fronting the mountains of Nikko, with the great range of Haruna to back it. At Maebashi I parted from Amakasu, and, when I was alone, exulted for awhile that I was out of leading strings, need see no more sights, be guided no more by that stubborn inevitable courtesy which decided what was best for me with a pitying allowance for the foreigner’s ignorance.
And then a feeling possessed me—a sense of expectation, not merely of new pleasures, but of new influences—as a man may hold himself in suspense when two paths lie before him and he must make his selection. For a moment the hills were dangerous—the clouds lay black behind them and I felt thunder in the air. A fancy—passing and foolish! The sun was shining, the little roofs clustered like the nests of birds above me and the waking dream was gone.
I would not go to the hostelry where the foreign people put up when they come to a place as yet little spoilt by western contact. I made for the Maruya inn and my first solitude was good to me—and good the warm sunshine in the deep woods and the low warble of brooks flowing to the valleys beneath, through rocks stained golden with sulphur and iron.
It was the day after my coming and I was sitting on my silk cushions like a Japanese, mapping out the tramps I was to transact in the next few weeks. Each one was carefully planned by Amakasu San for my edification and I was under bond to write with faithful report of my doings. I laid down the map, and the late afternoon air was cool and sweet, a faint breeze blowing as the delightful people came and went talking quietly along the woodland path that leads from the tiny town to the Maruya. I would go out and see this happy world that I had dropped into like a stray bird.
It was the flowers that allured me to the steep trails that drop to the woods, for in the glades and open spaces was such a luxuriance as I had never seen or imagined. July is early summer at Ikao, and the rains had ceased and the strong sun drew forth sweetest odour and colour from the steaming earth. Here were royal groups of the Japanese lily, huge curling flowers massed on each stately rod like the sceptre of a goddess—blossoms ivory white striped with faint gold and diapered with warm brown freckles centred by hammer-headed scarlet stamens. It was marvellous to see these exotic beauties growing as freely as primroses in the cold shy woods of home. And about them columbines, iris—the wild magnolia and hydrangea, and strong ropes of wistaria flinging knotted garlands from tree to tree. None of the people had followed— the solitude was exquisite and when I turned a corner of dark and solemn cryptomerias, soaring to heights immeasurable the dwellings of men might have been miles away. I stood leaning against a trunk and looking down a long vista where the sinking sun hung on the ridge of a distant mountain. A calm pleasure breathed like a gentle air about me.
Suddenly I saw that I was not alone. Seated on a fallen trunk a few yards away was a Japanese woman, still as the evening hour, her back turned to me, looking steadily toward the mountain and unconscious of any presence but the wide and luminous sky in its dying splendour.
I had been long enough in the country now to distinguish classes to a certain extent; no easy matter at first in the land of almost universal grace and courtesy—and I knew this was a woman of the higher rank. She wore a kimono of soft gray silken stuff with a broad obi of pale violet touched with gold. The haori or coat that lay beside her was of black silk with the white lozenged crests upon it which denote gentle birth—hers was a conventionalized leaf which might have been maple. Her hair, shining like black lacquer, was exquisitely done in the fashion known as the marumage worn by married women, and the satin coils and swirls were upheld by fine kanzashi—the ornamental pins, in themselves so simple but often of great cost. So much I could see but no more, and, knowing the shrinking delicacy of the Japanese lady, it impressed me as a little strange that she should be alone in this solitary place. We remained a few minutes motionless and then she rose, putting on the coat as if to go further, and in so doing a little handkerchief slipped from her hanging sleeve and fell unnoticed to the ground. I followed and retrieved it, preparing my best bow and Japanese for the occasion—both poor enough at that—and overtook her.
She turned with graceful composure and bowing, replied softly; “I thank you, Dunbar sama.”
The English had only a sweet foreign ripple. My name—how could she know it?—was perfectly pronounced except for a slight accent on the first syllable,—but more than all and far beyond it was the face that looked up into mine. Hitherto I had not thought the Japanese women beautiful. Certainly many were charming, but it seemed to me that they owed quite as much to their setting as the setting owed to them. The gracious dress, the frame of ebon hair with satin reflets, the background of horned temple roofs, or streets aglow with golden signs enriched with Chinese characters—how can a woman but be an enchanting picture with all these for her accessories? Yet, if the features are dissected and the figures measured, the grace is often a vanishing quantity. Here, on the contrary was beauty undeniable. I will describe it later, for at the moment the strangeness of the meeting obscured it.
I bowed again in silence, afraid of startling her; but profoundly curious. She repeated her words and added with the little Japanese difficulty over the l. “Do you like to know how I know your name? Is it not surprising?”
She stood laughing before me, a bewitching secret dipping in her bright eyes.
“I want to hear it of all things. Pray tell me. And first of all your own name that I may know what to call the lady who speaks my language so exquisitely.”
“Ah no, that must delay. The moment is not here. The rest you shall know.”
She looked down and smiled as if at her own thoughts, and continued;
“I too stay at the Maruya. I look always at the register papers because I hope a friend. Last evening I read ‘Lancelot Dunbar!’ (she pronounced the L as though it were R, Japanese fashion). And my heart stopped to beat. I held it with my hands—so (she clasped her hands upon it with a swift gesture)—and still it beat. I said—’He is come back!”’
“He? Who?” I was bewildered. Had I ever seen her? No. One does not forget such faces. Had she seen me? I asked this eagerly.
“Seen? No.” She answered with a pretty scorn. “The name! It made my heart to beat.’’
She looked up now and there was a mist that might have been regret in the soft eyes.
“Because there is a man—His name is Lancelot Dunbar. And when I read this I said—’He is come back!’ Then I watched through the screens to see, and no! How have you his name?”
I considered a moment.
“Where did you know him?”
“Here—Japan. After the war came he went to his land like the samurai he was that he might fight. Letters came. The last said—‘When the war is done I return. Do not fear!’ So two seasons I come to Ikao and wait. And when I saw your name I said—‘It is true. He comes.’ But no. Tell me—What are you?”
She stood before me, still with a fixed Japanese smile, but the small hands clasped tightly in each other told another story.
“It is difficult for me to answer your question.” I said, “for I don’t know the position. Will it be painful to you to hear bad news?”
The colour fell away from her face, even as it was dying fast from the sky. The sun had set behind Mount Monokiki and shadow filled the air.
“I ask you to speak.” I could hear the words very faintly.
“Lancelot Dunbar was my cousin. Men of the same family sometimes bear the same name. He was killed in France two years ago.”
Long silence. Not a leaf stirred, not a blade of grass. She had slightly turned from me, so that I saw only a profile in the shadow and from that I could tell nothing. The evening came quietly, gliding through the woodways and still we stood there motionless. It seemed that a long time went by. Then—a very singular thing. She turned suddenly upon me, her eyes shining;
“You think I am sorry? You think I cry? No. I am glad. When the letters did not come, I said ‘He has forgotten. His heart is gone away!’—Because I knew he is not true. It was horrible—a shame to me. But he died—and remembered;—the shame is dead also!”
Was I never to be free of Lance Dunbar? Here again, Fate, the ruler of men, had flung me unasked, unwilling, into the heart of his romance. It shocked me—I had the pang men feel in turning over the relics of the helpless dead, the letters they cherished, the trifles that to us are nothing, but to them were stained with heart’s blood and tears. It seemed a violation—a brutality.
“Don’t tell me any more.” I said. “I had better not know. It’s all over. Those things are best forgotten. Shall I take you back?”
“Not yet. There is more to know. When he died—was there a book? It is poems of Japan?”
I remembered—Yes. The few little possessions he had with him at the front had been sent to me. One was a slim crêpe-covered book of Japanese poems in their own tongue. They were printed on a paper made beautiful with faint clouds and dim grey branches of plum wandering through them like a memory of dead days. Under many of the little verses was written the English meaning. I told her, adding:
“I have it here. I brought it because places were named in it that I wanted to see, but I have only read a little.”
Silence again, but for the sleepy chirp of a bird. Her voice was scarcely louder.
“It is mine. In it my name is written. Look to what you call the last page—Miyuki Yamashina—as you would say it. That is my name.”
“I will send it to you. I will give it to you at once. You shall have it this very evening. And now, Miss Yamashina, will you not return with me? It is growing dark in the woods.”
“Yes—I am Miss Yamashina now,” she said with a kind of suppressed bitterness,—“but I was married. My husband was a naval officer. He was drowned. And then, because I had no children, I am no more of his family and must have my own name again. We do that here sometimes. I am only Miss Yamashina now.”
Our talk was punctuated with silences. What could I say? I murmured something about my sympathy, words as futile to me as to her. Finally I asked again if I might take her back. It was now so dark under the trees that I could see her only as a shadowy presence. She drew away;
“We have a proverb—’Rei sugureba shitsurei to naru.’ In English it means that too much politeness is not polite. It is now best to leave me. Sayonara.”
I bowed and left her. The night was coming fast.
I could not piece the story together as I went slowly back. Perhaps it was better I should not—yet the strange tie that bound me to the man whose all I had taken, thrilled like a harp-string. I called my servant, Tazaki, and in a few minutes he had put the book in my hand. Yes, on the last page—the first of course, of a Japanese book, was written in a small hand “Miyuki Yamashina,” with a date of some years ago and the name of a place—”Haruna.”
Why, that was here! It was to be my expedition of tomorrow. The Haruna Temple, the wild Haruna valley. Then Lance too knew it all—the memories of him here would be thick as motes in the sunbeam. No wonder that it stirred me, as I came up from Maebashi, for I was entering a soul-complex that might well survive what we call death and vibrate in the lonely woods where a woman sat alone and mourned—as I believed.
There was also something written on the inner cover—in hiragana, the running character used much by women and those who cannot master the Chinese characters. I could not read it and in any case would not now have done so, but I looked long at it, for it seemed like a message or a quotation from some letter, and that space had the air of having been more thumbed and read than the rest. The secret slept in France and as far as I was concerned, there it should sleep.
I caused Tazaki to wrap up the book in politest Japanese fashion, securing it with knots of scarlet twine, and so directed it and sent it to the room he knew she occupied. No answer was returned.
I slept ill that night. There was a crying in the wind that had sprung up; the wooden shutters rattled; the trees sighed, and in my own heart was a sighing. I saw her sitting among them, a bowed figure, the smile dropped like a useless mask from features wrung with agony, alone in the weeping darkness.
So much could be divined through the few words said; “I have waited two seasons at Ikao!” A weary waiting where the wintry snows must fall on dark hair as on the wild mountains, and life and love freeze and age in the heart’s solitude! I half hoped I might see her no more. And yet—
Now I began to remember her face, to shape it in my mind. Her colouring was like white jasmine faintly flushed with rose—the mat whiteness of the Japanese skin when it is beautiful. The finely drawn eyebrows lay black and level above dark eyes with the sweet inner curve of the lid so much more lovely than the acute angle of the Occidental eye. I know nothing which gives such a lingering softness to the glance. The face had the narrowing to the chin that denotes race in Japan, was poised like a flower on its long throat, and the somewhat full lips were voluptuously rose-red. But that was not the whole charm; it lay even more in the slow sweetness of her voice and the music of the strange Far Eastern inflections—the phrases English, yet un-English because of the tone—the little thrill. Who can describe beauty? and still less its perfume felt but unseen—the mystery that like a struck note evokes its harmonic response from the soul that hears and cannot but answer. To understand, to know more about her, to touch the connecting link between Dunbar and her life—and how?
“By Sundering Seas” lay on a cushion. I turned the pages to the second visit to Japan and read this—
“I saw it last in the winter, when the snow was heaped soft and deep on the curved roofs of shrine and temple, and one whose name was Deep Snow and her cheeks as white clung to me, entreating with honey-sweet sobs that I would stay. But a voice sweeter than any earthly sound called me across sundering seas—a face, veiled like a bride, with eyes dim as stars in blown clouds, drifted westward before me and what could I do but follow the Unknown? Ah, Deep Snow, in her cold embrace shall I remember yours? Will the lightness, warmth and softness that lay on my breast be forgotten in the kiss that is the key of all the dreams? Forgotten—Yes! And you too, Deep Snow, will turn into the arms of another, settling yourself like a bird in its warm wings—my heart remembers how! So, I who have had enough of women and of love, drink to you for the last time: Hail and farewell! I drink it in the fiery wine that each man tastes alone. But your kiss is cold beside it. You fade in the distance, a little wraith lessening in whirls of snow and the coming night. This month, a year ago, we sat in enchanted gardens beneath tropic palms far, far away, and it was a summer that might well be eternal. Even then I knew it would not last—that winter must come, for you had no pass-word of mine, nor I of yours. We never built a house for our love—it was but a little tent for a brief camping. And now I say with the Roman, We have eaten and drunk and wantoned together. It is time to part.
But no, Deep Snow,—I will not end on that note. May all your gods be good to you. May the compassion of Kwannon sama have you in keeping and your soul be born at last in a blue lotus in the Paradise of the West, unclosing in the warm beams of the Divine.”
Tazaki was at work in the room—I called to him:
“What is the Japanese for Deep Snow?”
“Miyuki, danna sama,” he answered with his jolly smile. “It is also a name of women.”
I closed the book, and stepped out into the balcony where the glowing sunlight shot through boughs of deepest green. For the moment its sudden brightness filled my eyes with blots of colour and flying motes and strained them. Beneath me stood Miyuki chatting with our host, Kanawa. She wore a kimono of dark blue, her obi patterned with cranes and reeds on soft grey. I had pictured her broken and weeping. I saw her laughing and gay! Hearing me move she looked up smiling and bowed profoundly, the very spirit of youth and grace. What had happened? I could not tell. Only the night was gone and the wild sad words of Lance Dunbar had fled with it, scattering like ghosts before the spears of dawn. The joy he had known at the sight of her seized me. Just as I did, he must have leaned over the rail and waved his hand—have run down smiling to a perfect day. Forgetting as she forgot, I joined her and the very morning danced in the depth of eyes veiled with black lashes that looked into mine.
There was no going to Haruna that day. Later she opened her little sun umbrella with its trails of wistaria on grey clouds (all colours she loved were cool and refined) and we wandered through the forest trails to the Benten waterfalls. Down the steep-stepped street with the hot volcanic water plunging beside us to the path that leads to the pillared pines and the river, the way seemed too rough for the little feet, but she had bound grass sandals upon the snowy two-toed tabi which clothed them and tripped beside me as bravely as any Western girl. I carried our luncheon boxes of white chip, packed with rice and all the good things to give it savour, to which Kanawa san had added baked fish-balls, and for me cold chicken that she would not touch. We sat among the rocks and flowers to eat when the keen mountain appetite struck the hour and she ate her fish and rice daintily with fairy chopsticks fresh from the paper case—laughing a little to see how well I managed mine. Up to that point we had only spoken of the sunshine, the place, the rainbow beauty of blossom—but now as we rested after she had hidden the empty bento boxes neatly away in the bushes and long grass, I gathered my courage.
There were so many things I must ask. I knew Japan well enough by this time to be certain that a Japanese lady does not give her company to any man but her husband in summer woods as my beauty was doing with so light a grace. There was mystery, possibly dangerous for her and probably for me. I must be assured before it went further.
What I knew already cried—Caution! and I began cautiously;
“Did you stay long in the wood when I left you?”
“No. I waited not long. I came up the other way. It was better that I come alone.”
She looked down upon the flowers at her feet and I could see the black lashes soft on the lovely cheek. It was the expression of a chidden child, infinitely humble and sad.
“You think me a being of no pity, no sorrow. That hurts me here (she laid her hand on her bosom). “But if you are patient perhaps you understand. Will you hear?”
“I wish it with all my heart. It is necessary.”
She laid on her lap a few flowers which she had gathered, and folding her hands addressed herself gravely to her task.
“My father was English. If you are ever ashamed for me, think that in my blood are two races. How can they be quiet? A Japanese does not some things I do. An English lady thinks not my thoughts. It is difficult.”
I looked at her in astonishment,—it seemed it could not be true. She might have stepped from a kakemono of the old Kyoto school—exotic, fragile, the fine flower of an ancient civilization, the daughter of Daimyos, with every race tradition moulding her like hands of iron. Was there any visible trace of mixed descent?
Just where the sunbeam caught her beautifully dressed hair I saw a light of darkest auburn which no Japanese woman would have permitted though it was of the slightest. There was no blunting of Mongol or Malay in the delicate nostrils. The bosom was flattened as Japanese women flatten it by the high line of the obi, but that was a concession to taste. Possibly she might be an inch taller than the usual height of her mother’s race;—and that was literally all. Nothing, but these are not the differences that tell. Deeper, infinitely deeper are set the racial roots of the great divisions of men, and when two plants are set in the one vase of personality not seldom the vase is broken in their expansion and all that is most precious in both peoples dies. She continued;
“My father was an English nobleman—and my mother—she was a maiko—what you call geisha—of Kyoto. He took her away and they lived very happy near Nagasaki. When I was eight years she died and he went away and her cousins took me. Their name was Yamashina. I was not to starve. My father gave money through letters and in two years he ordered that I come to England to school. That was terrible—so lonely. I was in school there for four years. Near London.”
“Did you ever see him? Did you know his name?”
“I saw him seldom. He came—a very few times. He did not touch me—he only looked sadly at me and said little. I prayed him I might go home—that school was horrible to me—but only he shook his head. Once he said ‘Not yet. Some day!’ That was all.”
She paused with a tear trembling on the long, long lashes, remembering her lonely girlhood. I touched her hand and she drew it gently away.
“Were they kind to you—the English?”
“Not unkind, but different. You know they are proud to any race but their own. They are nobles, and the rest are—Eta.”
She used the words that in Japan most signifies the contemptuous scorn of a people, and used it bitterly.
“They called me Geisha;—they—what they called—chaffed me, teased me. I was miserable as a semi (cricket) in a paper cage that sees the butterflies outside. So I said in my mind—‘I study furiously. This girl of Japan shall show the red-haired Yasu (Christians) that what they do she does better!’ And I did. I conquered my father’s people. I know what they know and I contempt it!”
Anger had dried her tears. She held her head like a little samurai now, eyes flashing, small hand clenched as though upon a sword. It was very clear that what she willed she had done and would do. A dangerous self-will that never came from silver-voiced submissive Japanese fore-mothers. She was English even in her defiance of us.
“So when I was fourteen years my father died and all he thought for me was done. Now I must go back to the Yamashinas. I cried, but not for sorrow—no—but joy, joy! To see my own people and land—the sun that shines like a goddess, the clear soft rain, the—Look!”
She stopped, almost gasping, and swept her hand outward to the glory about us—the red columns of the pines upholding the sky, the mountains that barred the horizon with lonely splendour. I could not wonder. To me also it was home. I had never felt alien since I touched the shore, though why I could not tell. Neither of us spoke until she was calm again. Then—
“Did the Yamashinas want you?”
“A family does not with us desert its children.” she answered proudly. “So I came. And when I saw the little dear house and the people that were good to me when I was a child I was glad. It was only Mrs. Yamashina now and her daughter. And soon I must marry, for she was old and ill. She found my husband.”
Here a pause—a long one. Perhaps I partly guessed the reason.
“He was older than you?”
“He was forty-five years. His wife was dead. Then we were married.”
Very brief. She gave no room for questions there. Nevertheless I questioned.
“You loved him? He loved you?”
“We do not love in Japan when we marry. We contempt it. Love changes. Marriage does not change. It was a good marriage. My father left me money—very enough, and my husband was a naval officer, so poor! A naval officer in Japan is poor often. Also it made glad his mother’s heart and she was good to me. No better marriage could be. I was glad. Now I have told enough today. We now go on.”
She rose resolutely to her feet and began picking her way through the flowers. Then suddenly turned to me;
“In two years he was drowned. It killed his mother like a sword. For me—all who are good to me die, and so Takeo and his mother. I was alone. Come. Let us go to Benten-daki.”
She had mentioned neither her father’s nor husband’s family name I noticed. It did not matter—though I own I wished to know her father’s. Later she told me he was a very clever man, a great lover of Japan—a man who was much alone while his wife lived in the great world and led a life entirely divided from his own. I gathered that the Japanese episode had been the romance of a lonely life—its one brightness of memory. She had two letters from him but I will not speak of them. Now she made a gesture with her hands as though to fling the whole story to the winds. It seemed that a woman had vanished and a happy child taken her place. She tripped along the rocky path, gathering flowers. She showed me the wild magnolias, the flash of half-hidden streams sparkling like bright eyes through the ferns. No sweeter companion could be, I thought, for a heaven’s day in Japanese woods. It was an ecstasy I had never before tasted. The companionship of women a poor man can have, but if he be fastidious, and I was always that, he cannot buy the company of beautiful refined women in the Western world. What he can have will be a vin ordinaire he will seldom choose. The other costs too dear. But here it was in perfection and with a foreign grace that came from a life and traditions not ours, and how infinitely more lovely!
This was the golden cup from which Dunbar had drunk the vintage of joy. Strange and most strange! Did I think then that it might be mine—my lips on the brim that his had pressed? Let me be honest with myself at least. In that matter the memory of him was only an urge in my blood. The king is dead—long live the king! But it seemed that in my beating pulses his beat; the very lure that had drawn him drew me too. With his eyes now heaped with clay, I saw her, warm and sweet and utterly desirable—why hold back from what troubled him no more?
A spell was on me, the golden afternoon wove it with drowsy fingers upon long slant sunbeams. The trees sighed it above us and our voices grew lower that we might hear.
A harmless snake of gold and green rippled past us in the grasses and she told me a strange story of Kato Sayemon when it had vanished.
“It is what we call mukashi-gatori—a story of long, long ago. He was a man, rich and happy, who lived in the palace of the Shoguns. He had a beautiful wife and beautiful favourites—you call concubines. And he was glad because to each other they were so gentle. He thought they love like sisters. Never an angry word—a cruel look. All smooth. It was his joy. Japanese man very glad if women at peace together. One night in the garden he wrote poems to the moon, and very softly came the voice of these sweet women from the house, like birds that sing. He thought—“Happy man whose women love like this. I will look on these darling ones.” So he went softly and looked through the shoji (sliding screens). And his wife sat to play go with his favourite Tama—the Jewel. How soft their words, how gently they bow and smile. But terrible—terrible! for their long black hair was turned to snakes they could not see, and these darted and bit and hissed at each other, poisonful with the hid hatred in their heart. Their faces they could smile but not the hatred inside, and this was in their horrible hair that bit and stung. You believe?”
“You know best,” I said. “I know nothing of women’s thoughts. What did he do?”
“Then he knew that all the love and peace was illusion—illusion. And all the world is illusion. He could stay no more. He went away to be a monk in the temple of Kongobuji. That is a true story. Only with the Blessed One was peace.”
“You think it is true? Would your lovely hair have stung the Jewel wife?”
“How not?” she asked in childlike astonishment. “Are men content if their wife loves another man? I would twist my hair about her throat and choke her. But that is not talk for the sunshine. How think you I speak English?”
There was much to be said and lamented on that point, she thought. Her only way of remembering it had been by reading English books, she told me, and an English man had laughed and said she talked like a book. “Horrible, is it not?”
This evidently was an anxiety to be soothed and I did my part, knowing well who he had been, and wondering if he too delighted in the little mistakes breaking her speech into music as the pebbles did in the bright brook beside us. She laughed with pleasure at my words, and presently, mischievously;
“He said that too! You are always the same! But here is Benten-daki.”
There was nothing but pleasure in her face as we climbed the slippery gorge. I offered my hand but she would not have it, and at last we stood beside the tea house and watched the roaring falls to their plunge in the boiling basin below. I bought cakes, flat and insipid, and the big pink and white sweet things they sell, and Miyuki nibbled a little and flung the rest into the furiously charging water as an offering to Benten sama. All women must like dainties, she said—yes, even a lovely goddess who rose from the sea.
“Why do these goddesses rise always from the sea? Here; in India; and, at my school they said in Greece also. Is it because the sea is beautiful to see and beneath, dead lost men? It is wonderful.”
We loitered back through the woods and an air of summery warmth most delectable to breathe, and every moment we drew closer to each other in word and thought. At least I believed this then. Perhaps I am wiser now, if wisdom be to doubt. A little below the Maruya inn she stopped and said;
“It is not he, for your hair is light and his so black. But you speak, you laugh and I believe I speak with him. If I could hear your thought it is his. It cannot be he is alive again,—no! But most wonderful.”
She stood looking down a moment, thinking,—then added;
“So I tell you my life. The rest you perhaps know if I do not tell, for he knew it.”
She turned away and climbed the little path and I saw her no more that evening.
I had much to think of. Dunbar I had only seen two or three times but no one had ever said or thought we were alike. I never felt it myself. Rather, there was between us that cold unsympathy of kinsmen who should have something in common and have not. So much so that on our last meeting in France I had never even told him of what his book was to me, but held aloof lest admiration should be suspected of interested motives. It scarcely could have been suspected, but no matter.
And now, this woman, who I was certain had lived in daily companionship with him, told me this strange thing and apparently meant it. Was it an excuse for coquetry? I could swear it was not, for I saw it was unwelcome and startling to her, and besides, she needed no excuse for coquetry. We had met twice only and already the air was vibrant with subtle interchanges of advance and retreat. She intended me to know her charming, and I knew it,—but that last saying of hers touched on things far apart from sex and its bitter-sweet. It summoned an unseen presence—it trembled on the edge of a mystery incredible in the West, known and dear to the Orient. It hinted and was silent.
I walked after dark that night and watched the march of the stars across the great midnight that lay ocean-wide between me and the far-off mountains. A lassitude was upon me—a sick and morbid desire to be free of something—how could I tell what?—enthroned in the very citadel of my being. My life and thoughts had been very simple, partly because the mere struggle to live had engrossed them so far that the escape into the clear atmosphere of beauty, sensuous or spiritual, was rare. Small thoughts and cares made up the most of my day. I had my dreams—no one who can give them house-room need stint for dreams, for they come winged and omnipresent. But they were inchoate. I did not turn them into words from the thought-stuff of feeling and instinct. Perhaps that was why Dunbar’s book meant so much to me—He suddenly and masterfully set before me in the words that seemed the marshalling of all I had dimly felt, the unborn needs of my heart, and instantly they rushed to the sun crying for food and light; and this at a time when in the storm and stress of war every emotion was unnaturally heightened and heated. Now chance had flung me up against a burnt-out desire of his own. Was it chance?—or is there any weird game the dead may play with the living—ghostly fingers moving pawns upon the board, and eyes cleared by death watching—watching to see the helpless moves made by the man whom life blinds?
There was no help in the majestically moving pomp of stars—the army of unalterable Law. A man’s feet must be set upon the beginnings of the way of Peace before there is consolation for him in the conception of Law that nothing can hinder or delay, and my first step was still to take. Dunbar’s also. That book was a cry for something—anything, to satisfy a craving that could not be satisfied. What had he not tasted and tried in the passion to slake a thirst unslakable? And yet the last words written were these; “And so I go onward to find what I have not found. I pass out from all that has held me toward a faint light that shines, as I think, from Eleusis. I shall inconceivably attain, but whether in what is called this life or elsewhere I neither know nor care.”
Elsewhere? Suppose—for when a man is alone with the ancient Night he may dream awake—suppose, I say, that a man, passionately desiring a certain thing, is dashed out of life in one wild flash—unknowing,—and that another man of the same blood, powerfully stirred by the same impulses at the moment, lies on the borderland of being neither dead nor living, can it be possible—You see? Into what words shall I shape it? Could it be that those fierce desires that make a man, suddenly uncaged, should fly for shelter to a new but kindred home, and blending with a new being urge him to the fulfilment of a dead heart’s desire?
Madness! Yet the doctrine of Karma, almost universal in the Orient, is not a world away.
I stood there long. Such thoughts are of the night. They fly with the dawn and the friendly contact of men. But they wait their hour.
Next day I strolled through the tiny town—Ikao itself, where the stalls are filled with the elf-fingered industry of the craftsmen of the hills. They sit behind or upon them, working happily with many a laugh and jest to passing friends or neighbours as busy. A good life, I thought,—one to be chosen before many a richer one in roaring towns where the sunshine filters through smoke and the air is thick with the acrid fumes of joyless labour. Here the glories of a most glorious nature surrounded them in the clearness of a perfect air. Their wants were so simple that it seemed the fears could never be so great as the hopes that must fold their wings with each evening and wake again with radiant dawns. Troubles—yes! What mortal escapes them? but clean troubles, neither sordid nor dipped in the grime and crime of a frightful civilization.
I stopped by a stall where the basket work and inlaid wood might have been made in the wild hills by patient gnomes each with an eternity of skill behind him, and the eyes of the old seller flashed very eagerly, full of hopefulness, with smiles running through all the network of happy wrinkles. “What might the honourable stranger please to want?”
“Nani-mo kaimasen,—I do not buy,”—and the smiles died patiently away. I had long learnt that in Japan the lure of delightfulness is spread everywhere and, if you buy what charms you, a special train and army of honourable attendants will soon be needed. I was gaining a little self-control by this time, so I moved slowly on. The old man bowed deeply and drew back without a word, and instantly I relented, for next to the sweet women and children the old men of Japan had won my heart. Their patient dignity and gentle reserve are as beautiful things as any they make and the worn faces with their strange Mongolian sadness are the very model for an Oriental sage or some aged disciple of the Exalted One who sits in golden splendour in many a temple from Tibet to far-off Yamato. A thought had struck me.
I pointed to a wonderful trinket box most delicately inlaid with flying geese and reeds—”The honourable price?” And all was joy once more. I could not bargain as one should anywhere east of Suez—I was a victim to the wrinkles and delightful smile, and it was instantly agreed that the box should be fittingly covered with a square of softest crinkled crepe, placed in an outer box and sent to a certain lady at the Maruya inn, but without the august name of the sender attached. The zest with which he entered into this scheme added enormously to my own and we were more or less confidants when we parted with superlative bows, and I took the way to Kompira-san to see a view which has few rivals, east or west.
Under the shady trees of the ascent before me moved Miyuki, her head bent in deepest thought, the painted umbrella sliding from her shoulder as if forgotten.
Many a time she must have climbed that hill with Lance Dunbar. Did she think now of him or of me? Ah, who could tell? Not I, not any one could look behind that soft mask into the secret soul hiding behind it. Her quick ear caught the ring of boots, and she looked back, startled for a moment, then, seeing, melted into the loveliest smile.
“You come!” she cried, clear-throated as a bird. “You saw me and you come? O atsu gozaimasu—it is honourably hot today. But the mountains are well to be seen.”
Followed the honourable salutations, never to be omitted. Could I turn after that or do anything but walk beside her and think myself fortunate indeed in the perfect day, the glorious place and an exquisite companion. Night and stars and the thoughts of darkness were hidden by radiant sunshine and Miyuki was its flowering. The guide of guides too, for she had thought, had read, and loved her country as I sometimes believe only this people can love a sacred soil. No man was ever so lucky as I—but one! That was the bitter drop. Even in the sunshine Lance Dunbar walked beside us with his dark enigmatic smile. It was as though his hand had drawn me to her and now he stood half cynically aside observing us with eyes that nothing could close. The living may be deceived; the dead never.
She rippled on and I listened as to a bird, tasting the sweetness as if to an undercurrent of my own thoughts—not wholly gay. She stopped and looked at me;
“You think? What do you think?”
“Tell me, Miyuki,” I said and used the name unconsciously. “Did you know that Lance Dunbar had written a book. Have you read it?”
“You will speak of him!”—there was a little shadow of fear on her white brows. Then, seeing I waited; “No. I did not know. What is it?”
“A strange book. I think you would not like it.”
She said meditatively;
“He began to make a book here and in—where he went. I could help. He made to English some writing of that wonderful court lady Sei Shonagon—a thousand years old. Only to begin, you see. Was that it?”
“No. Not that. But do you mean her Diary of her life at the Japanese Court?”
“The life above the clouds.” She corrected me. “It was called that. Yes. He loved it. He could not read it, but I read.”
“What? You read it?”
“Yes. I read many books. I have now the paper I wrote for him. But he did not much. Then he was ill.”
Instantly I saw my way. This was amazing good luck. I knew of this fascinating book of the ancient days—had read the scraps rendered into English by western scholars, had dreamed of winning my spurs by a translation close and fine. Through Amakasu san I had even sent a proposal to a learned man of Kyoto who returned a Dryasdust and discouraging reply. But if it were possible she should help—and Dunbar should be a judge!—to work with no Dryasdust—but Miyuki, gay and glad as the Lady Sei herself, would be a combination of delights I could never have dreamed.
The extraordinary little creature! She flowed into my wishes like water, almost before I could shape them to hold her enchantments.
“Tomorrow I show you,” she said gleefully. “This book—he said all the world would read. How can I tell? But he was wise.”
“And would you work with me, Miyuki? Would you help me? And when it is printed you shall read in it—‘This book is written by Miyuki Yamashina and Lancelot Dunbar.”
With perfect composure she answered;
“With joy I do it. Why not? To me it is the same.”
And at her words suddenly the weird seizure took me. Here again—Lancelot Dunbar! What he had begun I had dreamed. What I had dreamed was now to be fulfilled if so I willed. But through his means—always through his means. Could I never escape him—Was he to mould my thought and life for evermore? Coincidence? Having once met her might not the rest follow naturally and simply enough? Was not any other thought merest folly?
She told me the story of the Emperor’s petted cat whom he had created “Chief of the Female Attendants,” of her disobedience to her lady in waiting, and how the palace dog’s honest effort to coerce the sinner met with the fury of His Majesty who, clasping the cat to his bosom, ordered the dog into exile.
“Poor dog,” went on Miyuki, “Oh, it was but the third of March when that dog was trotting round so happy, all decorated with peach flowers on his head. He looked then such a happy one! How could he think to have such a sad fortune!”
She described his return—“a sad beaten dog” who when the Empress spoke to him, “became flat and wept.” Her eyes were so touching in recording his sorrows that when we reached the climax of the Emperor’s forgiveness I rejoiced with all the sincerity she expected, the more so for the wonderful picture given of the sayings and doings of the Japanese Court of the ancient days.
“And the Lady Sei says,” she finished. “‘Even now I remember the agreeable gesture of this dog and weep when I sympathize with him.’ There is more, and I cannot tell it like that lady. But that cat—I think cats same as women. Perhaps it is why geisha are called cats in this country. So soft, so caressive, but sharp, sharp claws. You think?”
“Are your claws sharp, Miyuki?”
I looked at the small bare hand, honey-coloured from the sunshine to where the sleeve hid it.
“Oh, no. Very weak,” she said laughing. “I speak of geisha, not lady. Honourably deign to come.”
It was not long before we stood on the height of the hill. I have travelled through the length and breadth of the world but have not often matched that moment. I forgot Miyuki, forgot everything but beauty—sheer inexpressible beauty. Far blue mountains were before us—some silvery with snow—and never have I seen such blue. In the airy distances the mountain hollows were filled with it—blue like the drifted smoke of all the hearth-fires of heaven, until the waves of hyacinthine colour and the far faint peaks melted like lovely ghosts into the more translucent blue of the sky. It is the glory of Ikao that the mountains are seen across a noble valley threaded by rivers, sweet with verdure, a happy earth bathing in the immensities of light—light unfathomable and infinite. Not a sound from the world beneath broke the heavenly quiet, and from our vantage point it seemed as though we overlooked the world, so wide and glorious was the view of the tossing mountains with the lights and shadows sweeping over them and the glittering plains.
“My God, what a country!” I said.
No answer. She stood gazing, gazing, with eyes enlarged to drink in the wide beauty below and beyond. That was the true Miyuki—the passionate adoration of the soul, a flushed Psyche a tip-toe, quivering its wings to soar into the immensity and become a happy mote lost in blue splendour. In a moment and for a moment I understood and loved her as in the same emotion we vibrated each to each. Whatever might happen that was one of the exquisite passages of life—“I passed away into Nothingness, I vanished—and lo, I was the All-living”; and for that point of time, forgetting each other, we were one in the One. Once only again did I share that experience with her. It would be love immortal to share it always.
Presently she raised a finger and there came the call of a cuckoo muted by distance—a pearl dropped from aerial heights as into the buttercup meadows of home. I turned away.
“My people call it kakkodori,” she whispered. “Because it says ‘kak-ko’ and ‘tori’ is bird. But the poets have another name and so in many poems is the kakkodori. I tell you one. Just now, I think it;
‘Oh, the sweet cry of the cuckoo!
What were it if it laughed?’
Hundreds of many years ago a poet said that, and your cousin made it in English. You like?”
And even as she spoke, again from far distance came the bodiless voice of the visitor who builds no home on earth, but passes and is gone.
Late that afternoon I was smoking on the veranda of my room—a delightful spot, for the trees thrust in their presence so bowering it in green that I might have been hidden in forest if I had not looked down. There, a little stream with miniature rocks and bridges fell silvery to a pool where the goldfish swam drowsily through the due reflections of the hydrangea blossoms that shaded them. I was lost in a sunny dream, where the face of Miyuki floated soft and alluring, with no disquiet or questionings.
The peace of Japan was on me, the Buddhist calm of long golden days of quiet and a soul relaxed to the indulgences of nature. Why should I decide her fate and mine as yet? Let it drift—drift and chance decide. Chance! And Tazaki’s voice at my elbow murmured, amid profuse apologies for disturbing my august dream, that a gentleman was downstairs—not English—who honourably desired to speak with me. Might he enter my august presence? So he came.
I saw a man much older than myself, tall, dark, and distinguished, in European dress excepting for a small turban twisted round a haughtily carried head, and I had hardly time to see this as he advanced with outstretched hand saying—“My friend!”—and stood, arrested, in astonishment as great as my own.
What seemed a long moment passed and again he came forward, speaking excellent English with a slight foreign accent, but which I could not tell. “I see, Sir, I have made a mistake in the room. I apologize. I was told that Dunbar Sahib—(he corrected himself)—Mr. Dunbar was here. Perhaps you can tell me—”
“You are not wrong. My name is Dunbar. I have no chair to offer you, but—”
“Thank you. I am used to Japanese customs. But surely you are not—”
He hesitated almost painfully.
“You perhaps expected to meet my cousin—Mr. Lancelot Dunbar. I bear the same name. I also am Lancelot Dunbar.”
“Strange! Then where can I see him? He appointed me to meet him here at this time.”
“He was killed in France.”
Not a word. His face paled a little under its tanned brown as he looked steadily out into the green leafage that closed us in. But for that and a swift lacing of his slight fingers in each other, he might have heard nothing. I stood waiting. Presently he murmured to himself;
“The blue mountain remains eternally unmoved. The clouds come and go.”
Unbroken silence followed until rousing himself from deep thought, he spoke with quiet reserve.
“I must apologize to you. I did not know this. He had appointed me to meet him early this month and a young Japanese lady outside told me he was here. We were friends.”
Miyuki’s object I could not divine—the mysteries were deepening; but something in the man’s intense quiet, and a certain simple nobility of bearing interested me profoundly. He had that gentle manhood, firm as a pine, yet pliant as a willow, which the Orient prizes.
“I have told you my name. May I in return ask yours?”
“He drew out a card and laid it before me.
“I am a Brahman and a Buddhist monk. Mr. Dunbar felt an interest in some knowledge at my disposal. We became friends and I was with him in his long illness before he sailed for the war.”
“This must be a great shock for you. I wish most heartily that I could have made it a less sudden one.”
He smiled a little.
“I knew that this environment could not hold him long. The shell must break that the bird may fly. If I were startled that was not the reason, but because—”
A long pause which filled the room with stillness like the slow rising of a full tide.
“Because?” I prompted at length.
“You will perhaps forgive me if I delay my reply. We shall meet again and possibly I can answer that question then.”
“I shall be leaving Ikao in a very few days and my future plans are very uncertain.
“Nevertheless we shall meet again. I myself stay here for a few days, for I have business with the priests of a temple in the neighbourhood. Before I go, may I ask when your cousin was killed?”
“In the last hundred days of the war. He was killed in a moment by the bursting of a shell. Was it long before his death that he had appointed a meeting here?”
“A very short time. He had not written since he left Japan. Here is his letter.”
He drew a small case from the breast pocket of his coat and gave me a letter, moving out on to the veranda while I read. I knew the writing well for much of it had come my way since the hand that penned it was cold.
“I have not written since I saw you and you know why. The time has come when I can make a definite engagement to meet you again. If you will be in Ikao in the early quarter of July 1920 I will be there. You know I keep faith when I promise. We can then take up the study from where I left it. I give you no news of the war for you were never anxious about that. You knew all would be well. I have had strange experiences, but when I throw upon them a light you taught me to use, in however dim a lantern, a faint understanding seems to stir in me. If the building is destroyed it will be rebuilt in however distant a place. What more is worth saying between you and me?
I looked curiously at the date. The day before he was killed. The sound I made in folding the letter recalled Haridas.
“He did not keep his word.” I said, in returning it. He smiled.
“If I replied to that my words would not mean to you what they mean to me. I am well content. For the present, good-bye. Our paths will cross again whether here or elsewhere.”
He bowed with perfect courtesy, the screen slid silently and I was alone. Nothing of importance had happened. I had only seen a man of distinguished presence, a few words had been exchanged and it was more than probable that I should see him no more. Dunbar’s friends were nothing to me—excepting Miyuki, and she would have attracted me quite apart from him. As for a wandering Brahman in Japan—he might well be a dangerous anarchist fomenting trouble, or at best, a religious impostor and by no means the first of a contemptible class. There are many unpleasant possibilities for men of his race who have tasted European culture, and not less for those who are attracted to them. All this and more, I knew, and against it was only one voice raised—that of Personality,—but it triumphantly repelled them. For the man brought with him a sense of unplumbed deeps of knowledge, of pure purpose proceeding unhindered to an end very clearly discerned, of strength the greater because devoid of violence or passion. Much to be expressed in a few words and a few moments! But if there be any swiftness of perception, are not a man’s words lost in utterance of his unspoken selfhood? Does not what he is, dominate all that he appears to be? So it was here. The room still vibrated with calm, with a presence of power, and I felt suddenly that I would give more than much to have Dunbar’s part in his friendship.
I was not and am not prone to effusion. No man’s liking was ever less peddled, for my solitary hard-worked life had driven me in upon my own resources and made me more self-sufficing than it is well to be. That is the truth. But now—I say only what I felt—I knew that man marched to the beat of a drum I could not hear. Beauty had always pierced me like a lance, and here was a new unnameable beauty. I had no clue, was ignorant of its alphabet, but behind, as though I could read in the book, there was that in me which would respond. So also Lucian declares; “For, as it is not every man that is maddened by the sound of the Phrygian flute, but only those who are inspired by Cybele, so it is not every man who hears the words of the philosophers and will go away possessed and stricken at heart, but only those in whose nature is something akin.”
I went out slowly to the long vista in the pines where the mountains were visible, the clouds of which we had spoken, white as swans, drifting about them, passing, dispersing, re-gathering, and tenderly veiling their stark strength ere they themselves were lost in the infinities. Time passed. The west grew slowly rose, and now they were little golden feathers fluttering upon the divine calm of that ocean of colour—faint crocus, dying green shot and webbed with dim rose and gossamer gold. O, worthless words to touch so divine a glory.—It was rather a thing to hold in the heart’s silence. And presently—colour was laid away like a child’s toy when day is done, and the evening folded the world to her bosom and hushed it to sleep before the coming of the Night—the Ancient Mother—and the mountains were resumed into the sky.
Miyuki sat, a ghostly presence, in the garden, as I came in. It was only her voice that stopped me, so wrapped in thought as I was;
“Will you speak with me a moment—one only, that I may thank you for the gift. How beautiful!—I have sat an hour to look at the box, and to think this,—and also the thought that you had of me. We are friends then? You think?”
I could hear the little anxious tremble in each soft note. Something had stirred her. Well, what wonder? It had stirred me also. A cold air from the upper world had breathed upon our small sunshine, austere with the high purities of snows no human foot had sullied. We stood a little apart.
“Miyuki, you saw that man who came today to meet my cousin. You told him he was here. Why?”
“What he knew I told him. He knows always.”
“Had you seen him before?”
“Once—but I know—”
“He took away from me what was mine. Again he will take. I fear him—I fear.”
“Do you mean that he is a bad man?”
She paused, reluctant.
“No. Good—but I fear.”
Some people came up the little pathway and she fled away like a shadow in the dark. Now I could piece the story.
He had come between her and Dunbar—that was how I read it. New thoughts and wishes inspired by him had divided them. She feared that he would influence me in the same way. No—no. There was not a man living who should snatch from me what she promised of love and joy. The reaction came with his absence and her warm presence. Why had I not gathered her to me there and then, soft, clinging, trembling, and sworn her to a comradeship of delight. Youth and joy and the chosen places of the world, and happy work and heavenly leisure, and this to last only until the clouds should come—only for the sharing of an experience, a passion to be forgotten when the thing had fled from us that could not stay and sombre shadows gathered with the years. What can a man offer more—how ask less? That was how I saw it then.
“Kiss me, Love, for who knoweth
What thing cometh after death?”
I had known her but a few days but she pleased me infinitely, touched me not at all, and I knew she would give all I expected, no more, no less. What she felt about me I could not divine, but certainly she did not shrink from me, and any thought of her fidelity to Dunbar’s memory seemed a sentiment pour rire. A man could scarcely demand it from his wife; still less from his mistress. As a poet of her own land has written:
“But who could dream the nightingale will rest
Upon a tree where all the flowers are dead?”
And, if she could be believed, she had given two years to waiting for him. That is much to ask of bright eyes and tender heart, and no ideal of mine (for another man) demanded more. The only hesitation I had now was as to the definite plans—whether I should take her with me to Java or leave her in Japan in some charming house and charming place and make this my head-quarters before I went on to India. On the whole it seemed best to travel for a time in Japan that we might test each other’s company while it was still easy to part, and go south two or three months later.
It is difficult to say how cold-blooded all this sounds to me now. The only excuse I can plead is that I knew neither Miyuki nor myself. For me, it was as though my life had been broken in half by the Great Upheaval and pieced so roughly that all the connections were cut. How could I know this stranger who was I? He had not adjusted himself as yet in any way to my old thoughts and habits? And how could I know this girl who had dropped into my life from my cousin’s? A charming alien caprice—nothing more. I laid no especial stress on chastity in such women, and the circumstances gave me the right to think she would scarcely be difficult to woo, and that if I wearied of her as he had done she would have no right to complain. Nothing could be more logical, but human life is not run by logic, as I learnt later.
For two or three days more we met and yet I had not spoken. It was too delicious a time to change for any other and I lingered, fearing that any change would brush the bloom from the grape. We loitered beneath the summer trees and talked of the work we would do—“It can be done by letters,” I said and looked furtively to see whether any cloud would rise in her sunshiny eyes. Not a bit of it! Either the national training in stoicism stood her in good stead, or that suggestion pleased her as well as any other, At the moment it did not occur to my male ignorance that perhaps she knew her own power much too well to be alarmed.
“I give you where I live for six months,” she said. “Then I send what I write and you make good for the book. If not seeing any more still it may be done. You think?”
“Certainly. I might come back to Japan from India after a long time,—perhaps years. And then I shall find you married, Miyuki, and you will be so happy with your husband that you will not care to see me.”
“I do not marry,” she said, looking down, “but if I marry I do not see any English any more. All Japanese then.”
“Don’t be so cruel.” I said laughing. “Why should you throw off your own people like that? You are as much English as Japanese. Indeed I am sure you are all English. It is the father that counts—not the mother.”
She looked me proudly in the face with what I called her samurai spirit alight and burning.
“They were not married and I am not my father’s. I am all Japan. I would be the child of a poor geisha better than the child of a rich English lady. They are of their own country. This is mine.”
“And do you dislike Englishmen? Did you hate Dunbar?”
Instantly I repented that I had said it.—I know now how gauche, how brutal I must often have seemed to her, though I never guessed it then. She turned mutely from me and I saw a tear fall into the folded hands. That was all. Ten minutes after she was laughing delightfully.
The witchery was about me. I knew I was not judging as clearly and coldly as I wished. I would take one day alone to consider my plans—a long day at Haruna Lake and the temple. She hinted that a carrying chair would run her over to Haruna as quickly as I could walk. People met there and then walked down to the Shinto temple in the wild and wonderful valley, and it would be wise to have some one who knew the kannushi—the Shinto priest—there. Unmoved by her April face, I said Tazaki was coming.
“Tazaki!”—with the prettiest scorn. “What use an animal like that? Alas, my friend, you will be augustly lost. Not any beautifullest things can you see!”
But I was steel. I wanted my own thoughts undisturbed, and I left her waving her handkerchief and bowing with perfect good-humour. At all times she would have thought it the worst breeding to show ill-temper or disappointment. I wonder how long that gracious training will survive the shock of western civilization and the contact of our masterful women, and how much else it will take with it when it goes!
So I strode over the great uplands to the Haruna Lake with the cone of its own Fuji mirrored in tremulous perfection in the still azure of its bosom. The little inn where the grey carp splash imprisoned for the table was out of sight and I had the world to myself, for Tazaki had gone forward to order lunch and I stood on the bank among the iris flowers scattered by the Brocade-weaving Princess who in Japan paints the iris in summer, the fiery maples in autumn. And this might have been her own august cloak flung down upon the borders of the lake, so darkly splendid and purely fair shone the blossoms on the banks. Is anything more lovely than the iris—the velvet petals touched with gold like a sunkiss with green spears of leaf to guard the treasure? Miyuki would have loved them! And at the word I thought only of her.
For I must make my decision. I could not stay at Ikao more than a few days. But could I leave her? Would she bow and wave me a smiling farewell—or come with me to Shiobara and north—north to Matsushima, and then when the air cooled, across the sea to Java? I was parched and thirsty for companionship, and for hers above all. She was not only a sensual obsession; no pretty doll in obi and kimono, nor Madame Chrysantheme, charming, mercenary and cold-blooded. She was responsive, quick and delicate of thought and movement. Dunbar would never have chosen her otherwise—I could swear to that! The English strain tempered the Japanese to a comprehensible humanity and a most companionable sweetness. She could laugh as well as languish, talk as well as coquet, and though sex was her first charm, the second was an eager intelligence both educated and natural. Of course if I had loved her I could never have analysed and dissected the velvet dust on the butterfly’s wings. That is not Love’s way, but he travels secretly and swiftly and I was to know nothing of his lore until his face had struck me dumb. Now I wished she had come—I had been a fool to hinder her. Had Dunbar held back even for a moment? Not he—again I could swear!—and why should I? No—straight on now to the delightful end!
And as I made for the inn on the shore—behold—in answer to my thought, a carrying chair, and in it Miyuki, her best and brightest umbrella warding off the sidelong sun from elaborately shining hair and jasmine skin. She sprang out with English swiftness and came to meet me with the lowliest bow, and her two little hands pleadingly joined together.
“Forgive! I did not think to see you. I thought you are gone to Haruna Temple, and I was wished to have my food here and return quick, quick, bara—bara! before you know. And now you come. How it is disagreeable! I go back.”
“Sayonara.” She turned away, preparing to climb into the kago where the men stood expectant. I sprang forward.
“Of course you stay. I was thinking of you, wishing you had come as I stood there by the lake. You shall stay—you must. Come and see the iris and then we will have lunch and go to the temple.”
She smiled doubtfully and then said a word to the men and joined me. I see her still among the flowers; her image wavering in the jewel-blue of the water as she bent above it. That is one of the pictures hanging in the strange halls of memory where Life is the artist. Many pictures are there, some veiled with curtains not to be raised even in thought, some with a ray of sunshine that hovers always on the fair colours. But how I see Miyuki this story must tell.
They had pulled up a table for us to the window at the little inn and there were European chairs and table-cloth, and a laughing Miss Plum-blossom brought us the carp which had been splashing in the tank until Tazaki arrived with its death warrant. There was much more also—sparkling Tan-san for her, and for me the excellent Asahi beer—a home product to which the Japanese do fullest justice. How good it all was—the hungry appetites, the keen bright air of lake and mountain, and her soft laughter to season it all. She was proud to show with what perfect knowledge she managed the niceties of knife and fork and all the Western furniture of the table. Nothing was to be said—it must be taken as a matter of course, but yet to be privately marked and admired.
And when the meal was done, a new pair of grass sandals was strapped over the white tabi, and she pulled her kimono higher through the obi before we set off to the wonder-valley of Japan.
I who have travelled through the length and breadth of fairy-land know nothing like Haruna. As we passed the red torii which marks the beginning of sacred ground and looked around us and down before we took the descent I forgot Miyuki, forgot everything but beauty, sheer inexpressible beauty of rock and river and far wide tracts of divinest sky trembling away to mountains that hung remote in the blue, less of earth than heaven.
“But come!” she pleaded. “For there is more beautiful—oh, more beautiful to see!”
Perhaps she was right if beauty can be matched against its own perfection, for each step of the steep and rocky way disclosed new wonders. A Chinese artist, drunk with opium, might have dreamed it, for with waking hand he could never paint those wildly pinnacled rocks torn apart from parent ridges. They must be volcanic. Surely none but a Plutonian rage could have wrenched them away and flung them among the giant pillars of the pines and with the frantic flying river at their feet.
Mercifully, Miyuki was silent, where a Western woman would have exclaimed and admired. I never thought her so lovely as when she stood on a fantastic bridge in the lights and shadows of the trees, looking steadily upward at the petrified dragons guarding the enchanted land. The spirit of her people was in her then—that is one with nature and comprehending utterly, lapses into a still passion of union and tranced delight.
We said no word but moved on and downward to the temple. It is said that men have worshipped in that place for more than three thousand years, and this may well be true for surely a spirit is there whom none can draw near to without awe.
Rock-ways are its approach and it clings to the high rocks. All round they guard it with spires and towers and mighty fortresses plumed with the sombre green of pines. The shadows were cool as water after the hot sunshine of the descent, and there was a great quiet. Only a few pilgrims were passing silently about us, and a distant sound of voices came from the open gateway.
“I love it,” said Miyuki in a passionate whisper. “It is not my religion—it is Shinto. But so beautiful that it is true. You think?”
“What is your religion?” I asked in a voice low as her own.
“I am Buddhist. Did you think me Yasu (Christian) because I lived in England? No, never. It is good—all religions are good, but Buddhist and Shinto best. Have you a religion?”
“I search for it. I have not found it yet!”
She looked gravely at me.
“In this place your cousin say that also. The very same. He say—‘I seek. I have not found!’
Her lips had paled a little. We said no more.
The gate was a splendour of carved dragons and fairy wars of supernatural men and beasts—a fitting entry to the temple of the Fire-God and the Divine Princess of the Earth. Inside the Honden the priest, in a robe of shimmering green touched with gold and the stiff black cap of Shinto ceremony, prayed and prayed. It pierced the nerve of beauty in me to the quick but no more—no voice but his spoke in it; it called no wings from the heights. And now, outside, the air overflowed with sunshine that spilt itself in drops of radiance through the massed green of the cryptomerias—still and warm, passionate and sensuous, the day pausing languidly before its sweet descent. It swept me away. Youth, beauty, drew me with their linked hands and a strength irresistible.
We sat secluded in a nook of the rocks massed and fern-fringed about us,—a tiny runnel of crystal drops from some unseen crevice distilling with a delicate tinkle beside us.
She looked up smiling.
“I have something to say. Will you be angry? May I speak?”
“I am not angry. Honourably speak,” the soft voice said.
“In a few days I must leave Ikao and wander on to other places, and then far away from Japan.”
“You do not return?”
“Not for a long time. I am going to Java.”
“Java!” I could feel the catch in her breath.
“Yes, and beyond. India.”
“Do I see you no more?”
“Would that hurt you? Would you be sorry?”
A long silence. Only the drops falling as if they measured the seconds. I did not look at her face—indeed she had turned it from me. Then very low—
“May I tell you?”
I touched her hand gently not daring more—so reticent are these Japanese women. She did not draw it away.
“I am alone. When you go there is no one. I must be sorry—how not?”
“Then”—I could feel her waiting for my words. Suspense was in the air and my pulses beat to a double measure of the falling drops. Was it love —No, No! Even then I knew it. It was the urge of youth and passion, of the sensuous tingle in the blood that covets loveliness and thirsts for what it imagines rather than knows. In the one sharp flash I felt that I could not lose her and that it would be better a million times if I did;—and I spoke as if my all depended upon it when I knew that to my inmost soul it meant nothing.
“Miyuki—you are alone and I am utterly lonely. Would you come with me? I want you with all my heart and soul, more than I can say. You would weary of me. But until you do, will you come? Have pity on a very lonely man and come. I cannot face my life alone.”
I did not ask her if she loved me, you see, nor did I say I loved her. Yet I needed her and what I felt called for words that do not exist. Is any passion so ill-served by its words as the sexual? “Love”—but the one word!—and God only knows what it must cover!
There should be as many words as the hearts it inspires to render even a part of its tones and myriad inflections.
She answered strangely;
“I think how I stand alone on the hill at Ikao to see you go away down the road into the wide world. I cannot this, no, I cannot. I come with you. It is you who grow tired. Have I not seen it?”
There was fire in my blood. I drew her to me, and she laid her flower-petal cheek to mine in a mute caress; her warm hand trembled as I clasped it; the scent of summer was meshed in her hair. Something pulled at my heart-strings then that will never quite cease to thrill while beauty and summer walk hand in hand through the ways of the world. We say good-bye to our light loves and believe they are forgotten. But no—the mark indelible is made—the niche is closed where no other idol may sit. They have taken the virginity of a mood and nothing can restore it; it is theirs eternally.
The tenderness of the moment passed quickly, for Miyuki’s code demanded an unimpassioned grace of courtesy and delicate submission on her side and an unassertive proprietorship on mine. She would have been infinitely shocked at anything which might have seemed demonstrative in public. I remember much later when she hurt her little foot on a walk and I begged her to take my arm, the angry blush with which she rejected it and limped resolutely on. What!—touch a man in public, even if he were her own. Could I dream of such a thing—when even a woman of the Yoshiwara would shrink from such a familiarity and keep her distance with a guarded politeness. I own it puzzled me not a little, but it had its charm and I still believe the Oriental woman knows her business better than her Western sister so far as Nature’s intents and purposes go.
We walked slowly through the defiles of the rocks, discussing our plans. In two days she would leave Ikao and go down to Tokyo that I might join her a couple of days later at the Hibiya Hotel and begin our new life, and from Tokyo go up to Shiobara and Matsushima. We spoke of the work to be done,—our translation of the book of the Lady Sei Shonagon, and how we would spend the next day in the woods looking through the sheets she had already translated for Dunbar. Also it seemed good that she should speak Japanese with me for a certain time daily, for I had more ambitious views for the future in Japan. With what pride she exulted in her share of the labour—how her bright eyes danced at the prospect of the long happy days to be! And still, never a word of love for me—not one. I could not read the charming cryptogram, could not tell whether it was Japanese reticence and all love implied in her assent, or the entire absence of any deep feeling. Time would show and it would be a summer pastime to woo the strange little self-contained being when the closer intimacies began.
It was at the crossing of the first bridge on the return that we saw a tall figure with folded arms leaning against the red bole of a tremendous pine, watching the feathered foam of the stream at his feet. A few pilgrims were passing, tinkling little bells and carrying gourds of holy water, hatted and shod like happy gnomes out for a holiday—the very quaintest people! Why is the pilgrim always so delightful? They carry romance with them down the centuries only comparable to the romance of the merchants and their caravans laden with dreams and jewelled stories. But the musing figure did not see them though they saluted with quick reverence in passing. It was Haridas. And with the sight of him instantly my soul touched the invisible barrier surrounding him where he stood “girt fast with four walls of peace.” Not a word was said, not a look looked, but in a moment Miyuki and I were trivial children playing with forbidden toys while a great procession moved before us with flutes and drums to some high and unseen goal. Without a word she fell behind me, Oriental fashion, as we neared him. He heard the sound of European feet and turned, smiling and saluting us with hands and bow. I introduced Miyuki and again he saluted, saying;
“I have met Miss Yamashina before.”
I stopped beside him, and she leaned over the bridge, her face changed and serious.
“You have been at the Temple, Mr Dunbar? A wonderful sight in a wonderful place.”
“Yes, but the Temple itself seemed cold and austere. I have not yet mastered the propositions of the Shinto faith, but it seems to lack the warmth and colour of Buddhism.”
“You know this was Buddhist many years ago and a great haunt of the yamabushi?”
“And what were they?”
“Exorcists—readers of the future, a sort of imitation of the lower sort of our Indian yogin. The history of this place is very interesting.”
“You are studying it?”
“To a certain extent. I am in Japan to study Japanese Buddhism as a whole.”
“I envy you. I can’t tell you how I have wished in the year I have spent here to get some inside knowledge of all the wonders I have seen. And it has always seemed to me that an intimate knowledge of Buddhism would be the key.”
He glanced keenly at me.
“That is rather an unusual remark for a tourist, but you are perfectly right. Buddhism found the Japanese spirit immature and seeking for what Shinto could not give. It stamped it indelibly. You can imagine that all this makes Japan especially interesting to a man of my race.”
I seized the chance;
“If you are walking to Ikao, may we walk together?” I asked, in spite of the rather piteous glance Miyuki shot over my shoulder as I turned. I knew she was counting on that ramble in the warm deeps of the valley and the shed gold of afternoon sunshine, but this man’s influence exerted itself again. The other could wait. This could not.
“I am going as far as the inn by the lake. I stay there tonight to meet a friend. If I may be your companion so far I shall be very glad.”
That was all. He fell into step beside me and she walked slightly behind, listening to what he said but taking no part. I remember I asked him how it came about that he spoke English so perfectly. With Miyuki—though whether it was partly a pretty affectation I never knew—it seemed as though she translated from her Japanese thought. With this man it appeared that all his conceptions were naturally clothed in clear vigorous English. I was to learn later that he was a marvellous linguist, speaking at least two European languages equally well, beside several Oriental ones.
“I was educated for a special purpose in England, and later in France and Germany,” he answered. “My parents died early—a bad cholera year—and those who had me in charge decided my career. I passed several years in London and have visited it often since.”
“Again I envy you. Every fresh language is the key to another world.”
“True. I realized it long ago. Besides, my special work could not be done without the command of certain languages.”
“May I ask what it is?”
“Most certainly. I think I told you I am a Buddhist monk. I belong to a Brotherhood which hopes to unite the Buddhist countries in an effort to restore the purity of the faith and to spread its doctrine. Therefore, though a monk, I live in the world. You will see that a knowledge of several languages is necessary. Most of my friends are excellent linguists. It is a part of our work.”
I heard him with the utmost astonishment.
“But do you mean—do you expect to revive an ancient Oriental religion and spread it in the modern world—and at this time when all religion tends to disappear? Scarcely a promising task, is it?”
He smiled a little.
“You will admit that one ancient Oriental religion captured the Western World for a considerable number of centuries.”
“Certainly. But did it ever transform us? Surely it was we who transformed it. We cut the Eastern robe in Western fashion and even then it was only a garment, and never a part of our daily life. Has it not failed us utterly in the last century and this? No—that sun set in France and Flanders, and any light left is only the after-glow of decay.”
“You still think this?” he said, with authority. “Recall—remember!” Then changing his tone,—“That is not the teaching of my Teachers. We hold that all the faiths spring from one root and that eternal, though in differing spiritual climates they bear a different blossom. The spirit of your faith cannot die—Dogmas die and churches die—they are but guesses—and certain truths need restatement. What is essential in your faith will be restated and men will listen.” He paused a moment and then continued;
“We believe that Buddhism has a special advantage in relation to modern thought, for it is fettered to no historical dogmas. It is a process for ever unfolded in the intellect as well as in the heart of man. But forgive me—Can this interest you?”
“Strangely. These things were like a dim thought-stuff in my mind even before I left England. The war stressed them—horribly. They have taken the more definite shape of questions here, and there is much I should like to ask you.”
“Ask—I entreat you.”
“Then—this is a bald question, and I know the answer will require modifications. But—if a man of the present day were adrift in spirit, anchored to no faith, yet with his eyes fixed on a dying hope—where would you advise him to turn for light?”
“The answer does require modification, but speaking uncritically I should say—Study early Buddhism and allow it to lead you onward to certain developments. It is a great philosophy, a great discipline and—very much more. But, let me warn you,—it has large implications. It lays the ax, for instance, to the root of your civilization.”
“Our civilization has pretty well done that for itself in the last few years,” I said bitterly. He replied with unruffled calm;
“It had done it many years before, for there has never been the slightest real relation between your civilization and your faith, but that ax was noiseless. What you heard in 1914 was but the crash. Look at that dead tree yonder. It is held erect by the strong ropes of the wistaria vines. So was the living death of your civilization supported by habit, vested interests, lies political and dogmatic, but with no moral basis. The war blew them apart, and—” He made a gesture which needed no words.
“Then you think European civilization is dead?”
“As we have known it—yes, but remember that Rome was neither built nor fell in a day. A trunk of that huge and spreading growth takes long to decay. Mosses and ferns clothe it with a false greenery and still the birds may build in the fallen boughs. A life not its own will seem to make it live, but it had not the germ of eternity and the nations that follow it will follow to their ruin.”
“Tell me more,” I said. “Your words mean more to me than you know. But surely believing this, you must look forward with terror. For here in Japan, and by what I read, in the other Oriental countries, they are following our lead as hard as they can. I see nothing to delay them.”
“There is a difference notwithstanding. The East realized its soul and its faith inspired its civilization. The West, never. That is the gulf between the two worlds and what may save us after some bitter experiences. We shall know where to turn. You do not. But I own the outlook is gloomy. The death-dealing influence of your education is abroad—it may poison our wells at their sources—indeed there are ominous signs of this now. But yet—”
He ceased suddenly and turned to me:
“I have been led on, but I know the time is not yet come for us to discuss such matters freely. They interested your cousin and I assure you that had his life been prolonged—had he written his book later it would have had a more serene beauty. I should like to have read it then.”
This threw my thoughts into another channel.
“You knew him well? He is so much in my mind that I wish you would tell me a little about him. I had only met him three or four times and his thoughts were a sealed book to me. But when I read “By Sundering Seas” it possessed—it haunted me, though the man himself eludes me throughout.”
I saw Miyuki draw a little nearer.
“I knew him very well. Until the last few years of his life he was the slave of the civilization about him. He was a rich man, you know, and took freely all his wealth could give him. It was the worst sort of wealth too, no responsibilities, just money. But, in his travels he learnt that riches can buy nothing in the market where he was becoming a bidder. Do you remember those haggard bright eyes of his? He came to me one day just before he sailed for the war, and said; ‘I have found where the water of peace breaks from the rock, but too late. I have not tasted it nor shall in this life.’ ‘What matter?’ I said. ‘The days of the Eternal are long!’”
“Did you know what he meant?”
“What had he found?”
“That is impossible to tell you now. You have not even begun where he left off. There are confusions, bewilderments. Your old self—”
He paused and reflected, then continued;
“You will certainly be compelled to re-trace a part of his experience.”
“I can’t follow you. Do you—can you mean that the influence my cousin’s book has had upon me will drive me into the like experiences? Re-trace? But that implies—”
“More that would seem credible to you now. There are influences—”
Again a pause. Then suddenly;
“You will forgive me, Mr. Dunbar, if I postpone any further discussion of your cousin. He was a remarkable man, and you knew him little. You will understand him better one day.”
I saw in his fine resolute face that I had no more to hope at the moment. He swung the talk round to my future travels and strongly recommended me to re-visit Kyoto again that he might make me known to a friend of his who could give me some valuable introductions in China. This was exactly what I needed. I had never had the chance of meeting people of the sort who can open difficult doors of information, and had only seen what all the world may see if it pays its way and is easily satisfied.
“I understand you go to China and Java when you leave Japan?” he said.
“Yes, but how on earth did you know? I only mentioned it to one person.” I glanced sharply at Miyuki, but she looked as astonished as I. He only laughed.
“You must have let the secret slip somehow. But what I wanted to say was that we may meet there. I return there in the Spring to finish a study of the sculptures of the Borobodoer.”
Instantly I resolved I would be there. As to Miyuki’s presence—what matter for that? Orientals, I supposed, held very lax views on such subjects, and if he had known her in Dunbar’s time he would be the less surprised.
The rest of the talk need not be recorded, though it held me enthralled for he spoke of India, advising me in the kindest and most practical way about my travels there and especially in Kashmir and the country above the Himalayan pass to Ladakh. He even, to my delight, promised introductions to some of the Buddhist monasteries beyond Yarkhand. As we passed through the red torii at the upper end of the valley he stopped and said cordially;
“Here our ways part, but only for a time. I return to Ikao tomorrow and I hope for another meeting there or later. My friendship for your cousin makes it impossible that I should think of you as a stranger.”
I replied with equal warmth; and, turning to Miyuki, he said a few words in Japanese which I took to be a farewell. She bowed three times with a humility beyond the utmost courtesy of her people and he went off to the left in a swinging measure, while she stood looking after him in a sad perplexed fashion that touched me.
“Dear and sweet, what troubles you?” I asked, and repeated it, for she did not seem to hear. She looked up slowly;
“He troubles. I fear.”
“But why, child? He is a good man. Don’t you know that?”
“Too good,” she said hopelessly; “I fear.”
She collected her thoughts and words and added, looking sadly at me;
“He would take you. How could he not hate our joy? He would have all—every—monk as he. You do not think, but it is true.”
“He cannot come between us. No one can take me from you or you from me unless we wish it ourselves. Don’t be afraid, little one. What did he say to you?”
She hung her head.
“He say—” (but I repeat it as I knew it later and not in her broken words) “May the Blessed One, made manifest in the Spirit of Compassion and the Spirit of Wisdom, make you, my sister, in all things obedient to the Law.”
“It is a Buddhist prayer,” she said,—and then in a little sobbing voice—“Always pain when he comes! I was content. Now not!”
I soothed her. I saw some chord of memory had been struck, but saw no more. When she was smiling faintly again, I spoke;
“If you fear him so, Miyuki, why did you tell him I was there when he came to the Maruya. He would have gone away and perhaps never seen me at all. But you told him.”
“You cannot tell him untrue,” she said fearfully. “Too wise. He knows. He ask if your cousin there and I say Yes.”
“But that was not true. Why did you say that?”
She shook her head and made no reply. I saw she was overstrained and tired, and said no more. As we walked slowly down to the Haruna inn where her chair was waiting I talked of Tokyo and our great doings there, and with the curious elasticity of a child she was soon laughing over the delicious prospect of taking me to the theatres and showing me all the sights which she was certain I could not have seen to any advantage alone. Like most Japanese women she had no jewelry, and there, at least, I could please her. She was glorifying the shops of the Ginza and telling me of a certain Madame Tazumi who had a diamond ring that had cost—oh, three hundred yen! Splendid, like a star; and when she moved her hand the rays dazzled you. I can still see her awe-stricken eyes when I answered:
“Then you shall choose a diamond ring that costs six hundred yen and when you move that little hand you will be like Amaterasu no kami the Sun Goddess, and no one will be able to look at you at all. Not even I.”
“You always,” she said gravely and as if weighed down by a sense of her future grandeur. “But is this possible?”
She was in her chair by this time, carried by four men and I walking beside her, so I dared not touch her hand in reassurance. I could only say as gravely:
“Certainly. And pins set with little bright diamonds for your beautiful hair. That too is possible. Shall you like to have diamond kansashi?”
“No—oh, no. Much goodness in you, but bright pins too Yoshiwara. Not lady. Could there be—” she hesitated, sighing,—“a little watch in bracelet, with small bright diamonds round? But no (resolutely),—too many yen!”
“What will you give me for a watch, little one?” I asked teasingly, for I knew the Japanese code on this delicate point. “A kiss?” She did not see I was joking, and instantly the angry blood rushed to her face like any Western girl’s.
“No—No. Please pardon, but do not speak of such disgusting thing. No watch. I do not wish.”
I implored forgiveness. It certainly was very pretty work wooing Miyuki. In this new sunshine of pleasure she bloomed like a delicate dark flower, displaying a thousand shy graces and beauties which had escaped me before, and all softened and enhanced by the lovely courtesy of her people. Her eyes were brighter than any diamonds when I explained that the yen really did not matter. What did matter was that she should choose what she would have of all the prettiest things in the Ginza. We would go—our very first day in Tokyo and choose them. Finally she clasped her hands in calm ecstasy;
“We speak no more of this. I think. I am happy. I go tomorrow. Not wait.” And closing her eyes with the black lashes lying like fans on her cheek, she sat until, tired out, she fell asleep, a miracle no Westerner could have performed in that violently jolting chair. I kept time with the men, content with the wide world, and singing under my breath;
“Ma mâitresse est toute angelette,
Ma toute rose nouvelette,
Toute mon gracieux orgueil,
Toute ma petite brunette,
Toute ma douce mignonette,
Toute mon coeur, toute mon oeil.”
And if Ronsard had written it for my little beauty and Solesmes set it to music with her before his eyes, now—as she lay asleep, it could not have suited her better! “Toute angelette” she looked with the softly closed hands upon her lap, the sweetly parted lips. I took a vow then in my own heart that I would be good to her.
And even as I did it, a mocking imp in my brain grotesqued the whole thing, demanding with a grin, had other men done the same?—had Dunbar?—and which of us would keep the promise better?
It passed, of course, but for that moment I wished him and his money and his mistress at the devil.
That mood seemed as brutal as absurd when I waked next morning to a rain whispering softly in the leaves—the gentlest day, all grey and tender and dissolving in wistful tears.
When I went down, Miyuki, already dressed for travelling and immensely important and agitated, was giving orders that might rather have been entreaties so polite were they, to the hotel boys, with Kanawa san in attendance suffering the most obsequious regret at her departure. I saw little hope of catching the electric car to Maebashi unless these magnificent adieux could be curtailed, and at last succeeded in drawing her into the veranda. There, in spite of much resistance I examined the little purse which carried her worldly wealth, and was touched to see how very few yen were there. She watched with startled eyes while I stuffed it with notes of a very much larger denomination, and locked her hands resolutely against its return. I was obliged to be extremely grave and impressive.
“Miyuki, this is wrong. It is like a naughty child. You belong to me now—you are mine, and of course you must spend my money. You must go first class and take the best rooms at the Hibiya Hotel or I shall be angry. Do you understand?”
“It is certain there is enough?” she said timidly.
“Enough? Yes—too much! Didn’t I tell you yesterday you could buy half the Ginza if you wished? Now take it and send me a dempo (telegram) when you get to the hotel. I shall see you in two days.”
“No. Three. Please, three! I have a secret. Honourable pardon, but three!” The hands were joined in pleading. I could have picked her up and kissed her, custom or no custom, but she stepped back, bowing deeply. It was time to start.
Tazaki and I escorted her to the car, and put the small trunk aboard, and the last sight I had of her was a face brimmed with delightful mystery and a bow unsteadily executed as the car moved off and down.
Feeling strangely lonely I took my way up to Kompira-san to watch her car thread down the steep to Maebashi. Low white mists were billowing all round and the clouds above them were surcharged with rain. Great banks of mist rolled up against the dim epiphany of the mountains and veiled them solemnly from sight. Mists filled the valley like water, and the car, diminished to a toy, soon ran into them and was gone. She had carried the sunshine with her; the place seemed dank and solitary and there was nothing to do. I missed the little light figure and winning voice and cursed the three days’ parting. I had not in the least known I should feel it like this, for I had been so completely master of the situation that I was as sure of my own feelings as of hers, and it startled me a little.
Well, there it was—the holidays over for the present and a long dull day before me. The rain ceased, and in passing through the street I stopped beside the stall of the dear old man who had sold me Miyuki’s trinket box. He was busy as ever, his sunken bright eyes were wells of content and his fingers travelled patiently to and fro over a wonderfully inlaid picture—in coloured woods—of the Haruna Fuji, so called because of its likeness to the mountain which is known to all the world. For want of something better to do I asked his honourable name and age.
Seventy-five. Very old, and his name was Ojima. All his life he had lived at Ikao. Had the place my august approval?
It had, but my august tongue was not equal to the strain of a conversation of any depth, and I called in the aid of Tazaki that through him we might exchange views with many sad head-shakings on the cost of rice and all the necessaries of life. If it were not for the honourable strangers who came to Ikao and made noble purchases the little place would be poor indeed. And some did more than this. Had I seen an august stranger with a strange head-dress and a face like the image of the Excellent One in the temple, who had arrived a few days since? I had? Ah well then, if I would pardon he could tell me a wonderful thing concerning this. I sat on the edge of the stall to hear.
He, Ojima, had been very ill two years since, with cruel racking pains in every joint and a high fever. Indeed he thought it was death.
“And what is death that we should fear it? It is but a step into the night from one lit house to another. But I am an old man all alone and though the neighbours are kind they are busy and have their own food to earn. So this insignificant one lay in great agony and fear. And suddenly a man augustly stood beside me where I lay on my futon and with eyes of pity he asked me of my case, and when I scarce could speak for pain he took out a trumpet of wood and set it over my heart and listened, and then a little magic tube and put it beneath my arm and looked upon it. And these dumb things told his wisdom what I could not tell, and he knew. So he took a cup and poured a medicine therein such as kings drink, and added water and raising my head on his arm he gave me to drink.”
He paused for breath and to note the effect of these marvels. I displayed the warmest interest and curiosity by every gesture in my power, and he went on.
“So I drank, and a wonder I—for at once the honourable sleep descended upon me and when I waked it was night and still he sat, reading a book by the light of my andon (paper lamp). And he gave me soup and rice from the hotel such as I had never tasted, and more of the noble medicine, and again I slept, and it was day.
“So I was cured, and because I remained very strengthless came food each day from the hotel to nourish me, and he himself came daily and listened to my heart. And once he said; ‘If this heart could speak, Ojima san, it would say things that the Blessed One would be well pleased to hear,—of honest and patient work, of clean living and kindness to others. It has laid up a good ingwa (Karma) and a high re-birth. There is nothing to fear.’ So he spoke. Do you augustly know this noble person?”
“I know him,” I replied, and instantly shone with reflected glory. “He is a good man.”
The old man bowed his head.
“He is a follower of the Excellent One and doubtless a prince in his own land. Is it not so? His face and bearing show this. I suppose him to be a Bosatsu” (a Bodhisattwa, or perfected saint).
“So I also suppose,” I said.
“Otherwise this mercy could not have been. When the time came for him to go, I asked him to speak some, words that I might treasure. And he spoke.”
“What were those words?”
“A true tale. For he said that many years gone by there was a virtuous lady dwelling with her two handmaids. Now on a certain night the house was filled with a gale of sweet odours, and the one maid said to the other, ‘Tonight I die and pass to the Paradise,’ and without pain she died. And on the next night the Happy Spirit came, encircled with light, to her lady and saluted her with deep reverence, saying; ‘It is owing to the noble teachings of my mistress that I am now a sharer in the Paradise, nor can words tell my bliss.’ And the lady replied; ‘If this be so, may I with living eyes behold the Paradise?’ And the maiden answered; ‘Come and see.’ So in dream she followed, and beheld what cannot be told and also a lake most glorious with lotus flowers of rose and white, some opening, but some dying. And replying to her thought the blessed maiden said; ‘These are men and women of the earth who long for this Paradise, for at the first longing a lotus blooms upon this still lake, and if the longing grows and bears fruit of good living, so grows the flower, and if the longing dies the flower withers!’ And further this lady beheld the happy souls reposing each in its lotus in the eternal sunshine, and also the soul of one she knew who still lived on earth, but who with soul already emparadised tasted of the bliss to be! And it was herself. Therefore, Ojima san, learn of this lady that a soul, though in poverty and sickness, may sleep in the heart of the lotus, cradled upon the waters of peace!’
“And I have not feared,” the old man added, after a pause, with the brief smile of age.
The words stayed with me as I went slowly on my way. I have told the tale in my own words for Tazaki’s English was rudimentary, but I have lost the tone of Ojima and the expression that winged them into a true beauty. It was better as I heard it! And near the Maruya I met Haridas.
“I am walking to the Mizusawa no Kwannon,” he hailed me. “Will you come? If the weather improves we can go on to the Funao waterfall.”
“With pleasure, if you don’t mind rain.”
“It is over.” He pointed upward to a lake of ethereal blue amid the cloud mountains. ‘I prophesy a fine day. We will ask Kanawa san for food.”
In twenty minutes we were on our way, discussing the Indian trip and stopping now and again that I might make notes of names and places.
I shall not easily forget that divine morning, with the purity of rain in crystal air, for he was right, and in half an hour the sun came out, rejoicing in his strength, and the defeated clouds rolled sullenly back beyond the Nikko mountains and were seen no more. But every leaf dripped radiance to the mosses and the opened hearts of the flowers, and thin streams sang full-throated, and about us everywhere was the breathing beauty of blossom.
We delayed, caught by the loveliness of a group of columbines, dove-winged, and backed by the rosy mist of masses of pink spirea, and I asked if he had read Spenser and the older English poets who wrote of flowers as the moderns cannot.
“I know The Faery Queen and its knight-errantry,” he answered, touching a flower but not gathering it. “Recall me a verse.”
I repeated; but not from the Faery Queen,
“Bring hither the pink and purple columbine,
Bring coronations and sops-in-wine,
Worn of Paramours.
Strow me the ground with daffadown-dillies,
And cowslips, kingcups and loved lilies;
The pretty paunce
And the chevisaunce
Shall match with the fair Flower-de-lys.”
“That is all England, isn’t it,” I said. “I shut my eyes and see the cottage gardens, purple-velveted with the pretty paunce, and an old woman in a sun-bonnet, tending her pansy beds, and picking a bunch for Sunday with a sprig of lad’s love to give it savour. I suppose it never could be the same to a foreigner however well he knew it. I sometimes think the queer sub-conscious memory of the old, old England is the strongest bond between us and the Americans—their mother’s womb as well as ours; and the cottage gardens and deep green lanes more than statesmen and parliaments.”
“You surely are right. It is the simplicities that make men one. Do you remember that when Babar, the mighty conquerer of India, first of the Moghul Emperors there, was seated in splendour in Delhi, he was sick with longing for his mountain home in the little Ferghana—the flowers, the melons and grapes. This is what he wrote to his old general Khwaja Kalan in Afghanistan: ‘The other day they brought me a musk-melon. As I cut it I felt a deep home-sickness and sense of exile from my native land, and I could not forbear weeping!’ All the world can understand that and sympathize.”
His own face so dark and fine under the dignified folds of the turban softened to illustrate his words. It might have been the Emperor himself who spoke.
“But flowers mean more to us than to you,” he continued, “for in our faith they have the seed of immortality in them. Your Blake saw their souls, but we see more. We teach that—‘Grass, trees, countries, the earth itself, shall wholly enter into Buddhahood’—that is, realize the eternal mind in themselves, and develop to the ultimate. Did your Wordsworth guess this? I have found lines there which were pure Buddhism but when I ventured to hint this in my literary course at college the examiners sternly declined to hear.”
I cannot tell all the windings of our talk that day. I snatch out a speech here and there which was the germ of new thought in me, but that is all, for I fail to give the man himself in whose larger meaning the words were little. It seemed that with faultless instinct he sounded the depths of my heart, raised the questions which most troubled me, and —no, did not solve them so much as put into my hand a clue that would one day enable me to solve them myself.
I have never known any man who so respected the liberty of the spirit. It often kept him silent when indeed he might have spoken with authority, lest he should substitute word teaching for the experience which only can open the eyes to knowledge. And all he said was enriched with anecdote and story and knowledge of books and peoples, like a splendid stuff diapered with golden figures and hung in kings’ palaces. Only an Oriental could so have spoken, and perhaps only a man of the Occident listen with such delight in its alien beauty.
“If I could think you would be in India when I am there,” I said at last—“and if you would spare me a day or two of your precious time, I can’t tell you what my gratitude would be. I have begun to realize that my real business in the East is to reach the spirit of the people. They have something in reserve that we have lost, if we ever had it.”
“How do you diagnose that something?”
“I am too ignorant to say. But it sets them above all our fears—the fear of poverty and sickness and death. We call it fatalism. Are we wrong?”
“Very wrong. Fatalism may easily make a man stupid, sullen and miserable. I have seen it. But note the happiness here—and you will see the same in Burma and many places. No, the truth is that the Orient has made the science of the soul its study. So a man sees and knows for himself without anything between—and not because another has told him. Therefore he is sure.”
“And if one is sure?”
“Then there is peace. I have known many men poorer than poverty who would not have taken the wealth of a plutocrat in exchange for that knowledge. Why indeed should they?”
“I think old Ojima here is such a man.”
“What, you know Ojima san?” His face lighted with pleasure. “Yes, that is a man who knows. I heard the story of his life from a neighbour. One incident is that his wife deserted him in the cruellest way, and in turn the man she lived with deserted her. Ojima san has since supported her out of his poverty, denying himself necessary food to do it.”
“Wonderful!” I said.
“No, not wonderful. It is the Norm. He follows the Good Law. And he prepares a future which—”
He stopped as though aware that he spoke to one who could not comprehend, and passed on easily to another subject. But I thought, as for a time we walked in silence,—does our explanation of good and bad luck meet the case entirely? May not the East be right in supposing some immutable Justice set in motion by our own actions which observes, watches and balances behind the scenes and executes the sentence the criminal has passed upon himself, and in inexorable patience abides the issue through many lives, and not on only one throw of the dice so heavily loaded against the dicer? I knew very little of the subject then, and stated it to myself as crudely as the West always does, but the glimmer of a distant light broke faintly upon me.
I asked him to tell me of books I could read, and he promised a list, and then we had reached the Kwannon temple and I sat outside, unwilling to lose one breath of the divine air, while Haridas went in to interview the priest. Poor and simple as the temple was it represented the presence of a mighty belief, but how different from the first simplicities of the faith even my small knowledge told me. On the Altar would be seated the image in gold of that Man who never led a human worship and to whom all splendour was an illusion interposed between the soul and the Peace. I recalled the temples of Kyoto and Nara—those wonderful abodes of art and wealth, containing treasures that would fill a man with unslaked desire if he did not know that they must have their own background designed as is the setting of great jewels to the very last touch of gold and glorious colour. I saw the swirling curves of roofs like the wild growth of a fungus, the eaves sweeping grandly outward, and inside the vast halls filled with distance, the feet falling silent on padded mats. In the high roof dwell shadows and into these soars a gold and lacquer altar and, seated upon it, the Eternal Buddha in the calm of perfect enlightenment. To the right and left stand adoring Bodhisattvas, and before the Three, nobly shaped jars of bronze, from these springing the symbolic lotus blossoms, sometimes twenty feet in growth with all their glory of sheathed bud and open flower. Splendour heightening splendour, then come the great golden screens spreading wing-like with pictured pine-trees weighted with snow, or white egrets standing or flying, the many little tables and stands of deep glowing lacquer with Buddhist scrolls and implements of worship. What a jungle of beliefs and superstitions! What is it better than the Church of St. Praxed where the Bishop lies to hear
“the blessed mutter of the Mass,
And see God made and eaten all day long.”
Could men never leave the Founders in their simplicities, must they always encrust the pure teaching with human follies and idolatries, and if they must, is it worth a man’s while to seek new light in some will-o’-the-wisp, only attractive because it has unfamiliar setting. The serene blue of the sky seemed better to me in that reaction than any words,—and what Miyuki meant, better than all.
I cast it aside and followed her in thought along the streets where she would be hunting the starriest diamonds against my coming. After all, diamonds last when dew-drops slip away and are lost, and they are charming things on fair hands and fairer bosoms, and what is the use of concerning oneself with problems that all the aching heads of earth have failed to solve! Guess-work and nothing more, and meanwhile lips are rosy and sweet eyes smile and warm arms embrace, and beyond is the Shadow steadily darkening the few poor inches of sunshine that life allows. I half resolved to go down to Tokyo next day in spite of her mysterious entreaty for three days alone. No—it would be a pity to spoil that prettiness—I knew it would be something charming. And, with that, things still more charming crossed my mind like hazy golden dreams, and I believe I was half asleep when Haridas came out of the temple, carrying oranges, a kindly gift from the priest for our meal. We ate it beneath the shade of a tree near by and I noted that he only took the simplest food, avoiding all that pertained to life. I wondered if all the keen energy of mind and body before me had been nourished always on,such fare, and what the reason was behind it. Always this man was rousing questions in me, disturbing the placid inheritance of customs which the West accepts without a thought. He plunged me into silences from which I emerged with difficulty, loaded with doubts which I could not shape in words. Often he did not answer them, asking me rather to read, to think, and the way would open itself.
“There is no haste,” he would say. “You cannot be robbed of your birthright.” And I knew he was right. The hurry and impatience of the European mind are not enlightenment other than scientific and commercial; the things of the soul must be apprehended with infinite patience.
He saw I wearied and talked no more that day of such matters. His talk was political and there he caught and held my interest. Indian unrest—its causes, its cure.—He spoke with inside knowledge and what he said was so new and searching that I felt our statesmen were but playing with the problem. A wonderful day for a man who had come East to learn the springs of thought and action! If he would talk like that I could listen for ever. The other subject began to alarm me. I understood a little of why Miyuki feared him as a robber of joy. He never alluded to her. That was of course the courtesy of an Oriental gentleman, but I have since known that it was more—it was the deep certainty that a man must work out his own experience and be a lamp unto himself, for by no other can he walk in truth. Before we parted I thanked him warmly for his companionship and free sharing of his wisdom with one so ignorant. Perhaps he noted a little constraint in my tone, and answered that.
“Indeed, you make too much of it. You give as much as you gain, if indeed you gain at all for I know the subject is altogether premature. I was your cousin’s friend and am therefore yours. I will not forget about the books you wish to read.”
Nothing could have been franker and kinder. Late that evening Tazaki brought me a book written in English and by Haridas himself—“The Norm,” with a card on which was written “A gift from a friend.” I looked at the first page and would not read. I would shut myself into the warm little life I knew, away from the vast stellar spaces and throw these questions to those who could not escape them. With youth and love and riches and the wide world before me I might very well leave them to the wiseacres. At all events I would experiment. But what if they would not leave me?
Next day I went down to Yokohama and loitered about that hateful town until Miyuki’s three days should have passed. I longed to see her. It would be like touching the warm primitive earth again in comfort and safety. For Haridas I had left a note of warm thanks and the hope that we might meet again, and then resolved to dismiss the thought of him and centre only on my little beauty and her pretty pleasures. And that very night I dreamed of him—a dream from which I woke restless and unhappy. I will not tell it here.
It seemed like a month since I had seen Miyuki when I got to Tokyo. I had not written from Yokohama and though it was absurd to suppose she could be at the Shimbashi station I was fool enough to look eagerly for her in every pretty girl in kimono and obi. I wanted to take refuge and shut out the inhospitable spaces that hid in those dark and brilliant eyes. I almost hoped I should never see Haridas again. Even the noise and hurry of the streets pleased me and I leaned forward in the rickisha to see it all and drink in the sight of men and their community of interests—so pressing, so eager. Ikao and its questionings seemed irrelevant as a dream by the time we pulled up at the Hibiya and the big doors swung open for the Europe-dressed Japanese boys to take my traps.
I went up to the office and suddenly remembered that I did not know how to ask for Miyuki—nothing had been settled about that. I might put my foot in it—I must go carefully.
“Mr. Dunbar? Oh—yess!”—the clerk was perfectly ready. “The rooms are taken. Yamada—where is the lady? Oh, yess! She is gone to Uyeno station to meet her husband.”
I own it gave me a shock, but a gentle, even a pleasant one. Well, if she liked it better, what harm? Certainly it could make no difference to me. I knew no one likely to meet us out here—not a soul! I hadn’t quite expected it somehow, but that was Miyuki all over. One never knew exactly how the two races in her would work out and this blending of English respectability with Japanese decorum struck me as humorous in its way.
Would I go up to the rooms? No, I would wait until my wife returned. It was rather a long wait and I yawned and smoked in the big lounge watching the tourists and their women passing in and out on the round of sightseeing. I knew I should have liked a Japanese inn better than the cosmopolitan caravanserai that all the world knows, but this was Miyuki’s hour and so she had willed it.
And time went on, and suddenly I saw one of the prettiest English girls I had ever seen in my life come softly in and go to the office. I could not catch the whole face but the slim grace of her figure, the pretty ankles and smartly buckled shoes caught me first. The tilt of the hat over dark hair coiled in the nape of her neck, the trim grey dress with silk stockings to match—it was all very good to look at, and I knocked the ash off my cigar and straightened up to see better. She turned from the clerk and looked searchingly down the lounge, and lo!—it was Miyuki. The secret was out.
I would not stir for a moment. I hid my face with a derelict Japanese Advertiser and watched round the corner. She was perfectly charming. Gone was the delicate shuffle that decency demands from the kimono. Gone the drooping grace of the shoulders, the stiff line of the obi concealing gracious curves of hips and bosom. She stepped light and free, her father’s girl, her mother forgotten, and in it all more perplexing than ever to the obtuse male mind.
Not a minute longer could I wait, for she was looking about her anxiously now. Down went the newspaper; up I sprang.
“Miyuki!”—and all the anxiety melted into a glow of delicious satisfaction.
“You are come—you are come!” her voice was a song. “Oh, but cruel! I was at Uyeno, and trains came and not you. Oh, how could it be?”
She had forgotten even her secret in that moment and was the sweeter. I took her into the inner lounge where the ferns and orange trees make a green bower, and the tourists were all at their teas and the world was ours. She gave me her two hands, and holding both in one of mine I put the other about her and we sat silent. Only a minute, then she broke away and stood before me in delight.
“Look. I am English. You think? Is it right? Is there mistake?”
Mistake? She knew her business better than I could teach her. I don’t know what a woman might have said, but to me it was perfect. Curious—the change seemed to change her very nature. She walked, spoke, thought with more self-assurance. I suppose women are like that and clothes a part of their inner consciousness in a way that men never can understand. I tried to be analytic. Just enough of her mother survived to give her piquancy. Under the grey hat touched with orange the curved eyes shed Oriental languors, the lips were redder for the black hair smoothed like satin over the little ears that never deserved such obscurity. A western woman’s hair would have rippled or fluffed—hers was sombre as black bronze. But beside all this was something that revealed her a daughter of the East—something immensely and absurdly flattering to men as men—the male a lord of creation to whom the queen-consort is only the first of his subjects.
It is no use dissecting these things—there she was and radiant.
“I have spent—much, much money. You forgive?”
I forgave. It had to be that attitude for she would have no other, and presently she slipped off her glove very timidly and showed me on the third finger of the left hand a plain gold ring, looking up with fear to see how I would take the revelation.
“Is it wrong? Oh, forgive. But I have thought—in this hotel, everywhere, the English ladies—they despise me. You too. You not like? See, I take it off!”
She pulled it off and held it out on the palm of her hand, all her joy gone; a cloud over the sun. I took it and kissed it, for her I dared not kiss as yet, and put it myself in the right place.
“Of course you were right, you darling. I should have thought of it myself. And now we will be as happy as the day and night are long. Come up and show me the rooms. This is our great day and tomorrow we’ll go out and choose the diamonds.”
She laid her soft cheek for an instant on my hand.
“And now,” she said—“I tell you. My father Lord Beverly. I true English, true Japan.” It was the last and greatest confidence.
Shall I ever forget her that evening—the door locked between my room and hers, the timid tap, the dazzling apparition when she appeared in the corridor, dressed for dinner in her favourite grey, but sparkling and shimmering with pearls and crystal, Japanese discretion survived in that the arms were bare only from the elbow, and but the faintest glimpse of fair shoulders and bosom vouchsafed to the world at large. Her lips were flower-red against the milky skin, and smiles hid in every dimple. I must have had a premonition that it was to be a full-dress parade for I was ceremoniously turned out, and when we entered the dining room I remember the thrill of half jealous pleasure it gave me to see how the men’s heads (Japanese as well as English) turned to look at her when she led the way between the tables, trying to do it as carelessly as a Western woman and all but succeeding.
We drank champagne, we ate the best the hotel could give, and finished the evening at a play of which I recall nothing but a jumble of colour and discordant voices and Miyuki serenely waving a Parisian fan of grey ostrich feathers and glancing at me with an expression which made for anything but serenity.
One more memory only from that night—the door opened and a figure veiled in the loosened dark hair that fell to her knees hiding the white robe she wore. She walked in beauty like the night, with starry eyes shining through the clouds, and hands outstretched to mine. So she came to me—so I received the gift of Fate.
And when the dawn came grey and cold, it found her sleeping in my arms, while for the first time I dreamed of Dunbar as I had seen him last in France, smiling coldly as a gleam of winter sunshine upon unsounded seas.
Were we happy? For that early time together I have a tenderness which forbids me to say anything but Yes, though happiness was scarcely the word for me. She was certainly happy and I caught the glow. It was delightful to give her pretty things and see her pretty delight. She knew exactly what was right for her—her choice was unerring. When she came to see them, she would have no big diamonds to dim the lustre of her eyes and raise jealous questions in every woman who looked at her. No, she would have just a delicate glitter here and there, a dust of diamonds set in grey platinum. The perfect Japanese judgment in matters of art knows, like the ancient Greek, that the half is greater than the whole and it saved her from any mistakes.
I see her hands now—on one above that unveracious gold ring a circlet of small diamonds, fine and bright as the frosty rime that edges a bough—no more; and on the other a hoop of pigeon’s-blood rubies, perfect in colour and rimmed on either side with the tiny sparkle she loved. These were beautiful, therefore they satisfied her entirely. A jade chain with pendant worked in young beech-leaf green by cunningest Chinese workmen—amethyst beads like a lump of frozen purple wine, faint old ivory, or crystal lucid as the streams that well from Fuji—these were the things she chose before the costlier things she might have done for the liking.
The same with her dresses—they were always grey or dark blue, of the sort that never called attention from the girl herself to what she wore. It is beyond my man’s wit to describe the means, but always she looked appropriate—I can think of no better word.
She attracted the liking of many women whom we met by her grace and quiet reserve, and made friends with them up to a discreet point and no further. Men did not seem to interest her—that was the Oriental strain. She was mine and knew it, and all their advances—which were not wanting—she not so much repelled as apparently did not see. Apparently, for I remember a young Capel who tracked us from place to place and whose absurd and love-lorn countenance became almost an obsession—fool as he undoubtedly was. She treated him to the Japanese side of her. When he hung on to us she was silent as a good wife must be in the presence of her husband, receiving him with bows that were a barrier and politeness that petrified. It really was a relief to me when the martyr took up with a brilliant American who was doing Japan at a speed which soon whisked him out of our leisurely orbit.
Then I asked;
“Aren’t you sorry Capel is gone, Miyuki? He liked you very much, you know.”
“I know. What matter? He stupid thing! I am glad!”—with a deadly emphasis on the “stupid.”
There was no fault to find. Sweet-tempered,—I don’t believe the man breathes who ever saw Miyuki cross,—clever, beautiful, devoted,—I might have said a hundred times a day—“Ma maitresse est toute angelette,” and meant every word of it.
By the way, my Japanese speaking throve on the couple of hours we gave it daily. On that point she was rigid. I had once expressed the wish, and that was enough. At ten o’clock she would look at the little glittering watch and instantly begin a dialogue:—
“Ima muko no umebayashi de uguisu—” and we were away with the nightingale in the plum garden and I must answer as best I could for English she would have none. Break down as I did, entreat as I could, the remorseless Japanese went on until one o’clock, when she would glance at the watch again and say gravely;
“Better. How much clever are you! No more talk of shops and travel, but polite Japanese now. Beautiful!”
I really did improve, but whatever English she learned from me was not allowed to alter the fashion of her sweet speech. She knew better than I how it charmed me. Our work of translation languished a little. There was so much to do and see. I snatch some fleeting pictures from that charming time, for I would not be ungrateful to it because of what followed. It was not real life—no, never that. It was impossible to imagine her ordering dinner or wrestling with domestic trouble. Miyuki and illness, Miyuki and death—were unthinkable. It was only a perfect holiday under trees immortally green and sunshiny, with some woodland Dryad or Undine to share it whose heart one could never know. And like a holiday it must end and the workaday world drown all its brightness.
Once or twice as she lay in my arms with her dear dark head on my shoulder, I asked if she loved me, and always she smiled her inscrutable Oriental smile and answered;
“How not? You are so very much kind.” And we never got further. Again, sitting in the woods at Shiobara with a flicker of tremulous leaves and sunshine about us, I ventured a step higher;
“Have you never loved any one, Miyuki?”
She dropped a flower into the bright stream at our feet and watched it float away.
“Many people I like!” she said at last. “What is love?”
Like a fool I waxed eloquent on that grandiose theme and my own eloquence carried me into rhetoric. When I looked at her she was smiling with polite interest and still gently dropping flowers into the hurrying ripples. I pulled up short.
“How it is beautiful!”—looking from under her lashes at me. “But no. My heart too little for this. Not room. You also.”
The calm conviction of the last was a little irritating. Why should I not be as capable of a belle passion as anybody else? She went on serenely;
“For you, some day perhaps. Not yet,” and I could get no more.
Shiobara in the mountains—Oh the days of dalliance and dreaming there! The road climbs a narrow valley between the mountains and in the hollow is a rushing torrent breaking into and fed by waterfalls. The hills were clothed with pines and the blood-red splendour of maples. But the river!—the bed was clean limestone, in part deep yellow, in part blue shoaling into green like a sick turquoise, so that here it was pure gold and in the deeper pools a quivering throbbing blue that dyed the brain with blueness. We sat by the exquisite creature and watched it tearing frantically round a cliff stained with oxides, pines clinging to the heights with all their strength of ribbed roots, writhing like dragons about the crags. And beneath them rushed the river all shot and webbed with sunshine, in one part a great slide of rock over which it slid shallowly in myriads of tiny diamond fountains jetting their foam and crystal as they hurried into the main swirl of the torrent. Never have I seen such fairy beings nor such lavish light and bliss—and against the perfect sky here and there a floating spray of maples with starry leaves, rose-red as the glow of a saint’s robe in the high windows of Westminster.
“For this I bring you,” said Miyuki, pointing to the dance of the water and then to the cliff. Those were the moments when she was nearest to me, and she knew it. We sat in the one paradise for the moment, and asked no more. Our inn hung high over the river, so that its voice haunted us as we lay under our mosquito net and the moon looked in at the shutters which by one consent we opened to her.
We had the queerest foods. Pickled plums and salted ginger, millet honey and frilly fungus that tasted of horse-radish, and soup flavoured with dried fish or creamy squares of bean paste, served in lacquered bowls with lacquered saucers on top to keep it hot.
Miyuki impressed the people of the inn immensely,—Japanese like themselves (and she would not abate an inch of her Japanese-ness), but dressed in clothes more beautiful than any worn by the few tourists who came to Shiobara; she was really an imposing figure in their eyes, and knew it. The little bowing prostrating maids would linger to hear this astonishing lady speak English with her husband, and run away giggling with delight to relate these wonders to the house-mistress.
I came in one day from fishing in the river—a sight she always declined from a Buddhist hatred to seeing life taken—to find the funniest spectacle going on in our rooms. The landlady and a party of girls were inspecting Miyuki’s wardrobe at her invitation, and she was exhibiting her possessions with a grave pride irresistibly absurd.
“Oh, Okusama” (title of respect), “what goodness in you to show us the noble garments,” cries the landlady. “And is it indeed thus the English ladies dress! What is this honourable pale pinkness?”
“It is thus they dress.” returns Miyuki majestically. “This is called a chemise. You may honourably put it on, Ume San, that Okesan” (less distinguished title) “may see.”
Ume San, disrobed to an indescribable garment wound tightly round her slim loins, dons the elegant flimsiness back to front, and slowly revolves that all the fascinated black eyes may behold her.
“No, no. You are honourably ignorant,” cries Miyuki, impatient. “It goes not thus, but thus.” dragging at it. “And here is the hakama” (divided skirt) “to match.”
“May all the Buddhas protect us!” says the landlady in an awful whisper. “But what illustrious indecency! Surely the honourable skin can be augustly seen through these. Does Okusama appear in this in public?” Miyuki stamps a little foot;
“Never were people so honourably stupid! Certainly not. Did I not say it is worn beneath?”
A cry from Iku San as she holds up the grey cobweb fraught with pearls of our first evening at Tokyo—a mere handful.
Profound bows and astonishment.
“Oh, Okusama, what is this august beautifulness? Is it also worn next the skin?”
“It is a dress,” says Miyuki with redoubled majesty. “Put it on, Ume San, over the chemise and hakama. It is worn at honourable assemblies.”
Ume San, who would think nothing of walking naked from the room to her bath, here shrieks aloud and covers her eyes with her hands. I burst into uncontrollable laughter at the door, and the whole party dissolves in a whirlwind of shrieks and bows and scurries, with an impression of the social manners of the European that nothing in heaven or earth will amend.
“Stupid creechers!” says Miyuki in English, standing flushed and indignant amid her abandoned garments. “What is the use to tell them? Animals!”
There are certainly points in having a Japanese wife in Japan. Many points and different. I remember the night at Kamakura when we went forth to see the Supreme Buddha who sits in the garden by the sea. The moon was dreaming through the trees, the tall lotus flowers pale with ecstasy. Not a sound—not a sound, but her soft repeated whisper of “Namu Amida Butsu” as we drew near to the silent Majesty of whom the Gautama Buddha was but the reflex and earthly manifestation. She went and sat a little apart, murmuring her prayer, and I stood alone before it. We had forgotten each other and were the more one.
And first I saw its dim splendour as one of the mightiest works of man—the divine tranquillity of eyes drooped under weighted lids shading the massive sweep of the cheek, the face immovably fixed on eternity and lost in the dream of the infinite. And that mood passed and I beheld the Triune God of the Darkness—Hypnos, Oneiros, Thanatos,—Sleep, Dreams, and Death, mysterious and awful, and then I thought no more—I did but feel—
“So let the soul that is not unworthy of that Vision contemplate the Great Soul; freed from deceit and every illusion, and collected into calm. Calmed be the body in that hour and the tumult of the flesh. Calm be the earth, the sea, the air, and let Heaven itself be still. Then let the soul be aware how into that silent heaven the Great Soul floweth, and suddenly be filled with light, for this light is from Him and is He, when like a God of old time He entereth the house of one that calleth.”
I cannot tell how long we stayed—the moving moonlight the only presence beside our own. Then some worshippers disturbed us and we returned silently and in the silence heard far off the ancient whisper of the sea.
That night I dreamed again of Haridas—a dream of quiet voice and musing eyes, and I did not know that next day would bring the third man who was to change the current of my life.
He came as these things do, in the simplest, most natural way. Miyuki was resting and I had strolled down to the sea through the pines to plan a long day at Enoshima. I sat down and opened Dunbar’s book to look up the lore he had collected concerning the place and its Goddess Benten, the patron saint of that quaint paradise of shells and lovers, and even as I did it a shadow fell upon the page and a man was standing before me.
“I say—I do apologize for interrupting, but I saw your name in the register. Aren’t you Lance Dunbar’s cousin? I knew him very well.”
A good looking man, something over sixty, well set up and well turned out. An Englishman of the upper classes with the careless good-breeding of the type. I was on my feet in a minute—I liked the look of him.
“Yes?—I thought so. My name’s Heron—Bevil Heron. Ever heard him speak of me?”
I explained how little I knew him—what different lives we had led.
“Ah—yes. Queer business—must have made a lot of change in your life. But I’ve heard him speak of you, though!”
“Of me?” Few things could have surprised me more. “And how?”
We had fallen into step along the beach and he offered me a cigar.
“Well, you know what a queer fish he was. Not a bit like the common run. He used to call you the Doppelganger—the Double, and say the Fates would bring you and him together some day in a big collision.”
“They didn’t,” I said briefly.
“Well, no. Doesn’t look like it. He was always saying things that didn’t come off, poor chap. When he came back from the war he was full of some quaint idea of taking up some Oriental religion, I forget what, and finishing up in some monastery in the Himalayas. We used to chaff him about it. He belonged to my two clubs. You should join when you come back and carry on the family tradition.”
“I must think about it when I do get back. To be frank, my life in London hadn’t much to do with the good clubs.”
“Quite so. I had heard that. Well, you’ll find them very comfortable when you do take them up. By George!—isn’t that his book? Queer coincidence—He lent it to me in London, but it’s not in my line!”
“It’s clever enough, don’t you think?”
“Oh, Lord, yes! He couldn’t be dull if he tried. One of the best talkers I ever heard. And he knew a good bit about life, did Lance. He had lived pretty hard, you know.”
“I gathered that. So that, upon the whole, the monastery was probably a castle in the air?”
“I’m not that sure! You never could tell with him. ‘Everything by turns and nothing long.’ Isn’t that Shakespeare? But such a good fellow—wouldn’t have hurt a fly—And to think he’s gone!
You know, you’ve got a look of him, though he was such a lean dark fellow. Perhaps it’s more the way you talk, but there’s a something. I noticed it at once.”
The talk was less personal after that. It drifted to his travels, and it appeared he had always been “knocking up against” Dunbar here and in India. He spoke of sport with the enthusiasm that may be; reckoned on with that kind of man—pig-sticking with Indian Maharajas, ghoral in the mountains above Gilgit; and of sport he talked well and interested me. I began to feel it was a pleasure to meet one of one’s own people again,—that I had shut myself up rather too exclusively with the native-born. Those prominent good-natured eyes of his would be contemptuous enough over that kind of life—I fancied they would view the world only as a very jolly place for killing time in the most luxurious way. I did not then know his history and his war record or I might not have been so ready to size him up.
We veered off to the state of affairs in Europe. I was as glad of the latest news and his opinions on it as he to tell, and we were very good friends when we parted.
“By the way, you’re with your wife,” he said, “I saw that in the register too. Do introduce me.”
I made a fatal instant’s hesitation. His eyes just flickered—that was all, but I knew he understood the facts as well as if I had proclaimed them on the housetop. When he met us that evening he was courteous, agreeable, and absolutely equal to the situation, but I felt he knew;—also that he was entirely alive to Miyuki’s charm.
We saw a good deal of Heron at Kamakura and the acquaintance ripened. He had got a bit bored with travelling alone—found things considerably changed for the worse since the war, and on the whole was, I think, a little older than he knew. I noticed that about a good many of the men who came out—the war had aged them and life failed to amuse them as it had done before. They thought it was life that had changed; it was themselves.
We made several expeditions together, he and I, especially when we went down Nagoya way. Miyuki was always pleased with what pleased me and besides had made friends with an English brother and sister who were out for a holiday on very small means and very high spirits. She spent quite a lot of time teaching them Japanese economies of travel. The little woman was wise in her generation and never pulled too hard on the silken thread that bound us. But I felt our honeymoon was over and that it was a relief to have a man’s companionship once more. A friend’s company was welcome, though I had by no means touched the condition of the bridegroom who groaned that he could do with even an enemy.
Miyuki accepted Heron with smiling grace, and as for him—he accepted her as a delightful child by no means to be judged by the ordinary standards. He spoilt her with pretty gifts and elderly attentions which neither she nor I felt in any way obliged to discourage. She grew as familiar with him as a Japanese can ever be with a foreigner and in a month had told him her family history and discovered to her amazement that he had known her father, Lord Beverly, well. To her this seemed little short of miraculous, though it was no coincidence either to Heron or to me, so certain are Londoners who are anybody to know each other. But it led to long talks which helped me to understand the English side of her strange little nature much better than I had done, though I am bound to own that whenever I was especially cocksure, a Japanese complication would set me adrift again. Like all men who see but a very little way into character and are themselves straight and simple Heron was certain she was as transparent as running water, and after this he called her “Miyuki” and was very fatherly with her, and the liking flourished amazingly. Looking back, I cannot but think with a kind of amazement how regular our irregular alliance seemed. She had the prettiest way of blurring the sharp outlines both for Heron and me, and as to classing her with anything disreputable it would have been frankly absurd. The whole thing seemed as natural as the sunlight, for I had not as yet seen it through any one else’s eyes and Heron certainly did not help me. Perhaps it takes a woman to give such a thing the right perspective.
By the time we got to Nagoya we were really friends, he and I, and it was the happiest time of my life with Miyuki. He supplied just what was missing, and I only hoped the thing might run on indefinitely and that he might come with us to China and perhaps further. He liked his company, and his reserve had thawed entirely. Not a clever man by any means judged from the intellectual standpoint—I thought him as good a specimen of the English gentleman as one was likely to meet. He had the national reserve, so easy to misunderstand, which the Japanese also have to their great advantage. I think it is Burne Jones who sums it up in a sentence of perfect discrimination; “I hold it a point of honour with every gentleman to conceal himself and make a fair show before people to ease life for every one.” Exactly, and that is why the Japanese will smile when he tells you his only child is dead. Life must be eased for you. And it is also why Heron and I had many weeks of pleasant intercourse and duologue before I knew he had any crumple in his rose-leaf, and when I did hear of his troubles they were treated as carelessly as a newspaper paragraph. In the deepest sense he concealed himself, and it took time and patience to track down the real man, as it does with the Japanese who are also islanders and insular.
But I found him,—he began to talk of his life, of his friends, and I was promised introductions to some who might be in China when we got there. The Hudsons—but their arrival was doubtful. The Sellengers—they were pretty sure to be there. He would tell me more about both some day.
He did—at Nagoya. Miyuki’s brows had puckered for two days over the program for our enjoyment there. She was more than ever on her mettle as guide since Heron had joined the party—and I recall her pleasure when she hit on the cormorant fishing and despatched Tazaki, now her adoring slave, to secure a boat and a reliable boatman, for the Kiso is the swiftest river in Japan, which is saying more than a little. They call it the Rhine of the Far East, for there are feudal castles of the great Daimyo days spreading their fluted skirts in the pine woods, high above the softened roar of the torrent.
We arrived there in a funny little street car train, with a few people in clean evening kimonos, and just opposite were two dear little geisha, their hair dressed in beautifullest smooth “shimada” and faces lacquered ivory white with rice powder. One of them with bright arched eyes and willow-leaf eyebrows smiled at me charmingly and made up a little eye-friendship on the spot—a slip of a girl, perhaps seventeen.
I asked Miyuki whether she had learnt to be delightful at the geishas’ school at Kyoto, where they are taught the arts of attraction, flower-arranging, the tea ceremony and the importance of always entering a room right foot foremost with other useful and necessary lore, but my lady was too disdainful to enter into any detail.
“Very poor geisha. Not worth to look at. Now—Aiko of Kyoto—she beautiful and clever. Oh, clever as—as—”
“As you, Miyuki?” I teased. “She couldn’t be cleverer than that.”
“Much more. She plays the samisen. Also ken—the fox game. I do not play. Please not to look at that girl. She stupid.”
I averted all but the corner of an eye, and Miyuki with her English dignity strong upon her froze the blood of the despised one, to the delight of Heron who never wearied of her little airs.
When we got out of the small scurrying train the rickisha men took possession of us and legged it away to the Kiso through a long straggling village where in the sunset the men were sitting naked and comfortable in the matted rooms. And there was the river, burning like a witch’s oils with the rose and mauves and greys of the dying sunset. Tazaki, the efficient, had engaged a boat of pure white wood, canopied to match and surrounded with gay rows of swinging Chinese lanterns—the whole toy pretty enough to be diminished for a cabinet.
Some boats were filling up with rejoicing families from the obasan (grandmother) to the youngest little shaven-head who goes gay as a parrot. Others with geishas and their musical instruments, escorted by their temporary masters.
And so the flotilla set off up the river, we, with a man at the stern and one at the bow to pole, and the more we poled the more we didn’t move, for the water was flinging itself over the rapids in strength so fierce that the big boulders ashore kept slipping by the wrong way.
At last the splendid muscles of our men told, and we began to crawl up under the hill with a castle atop flourishing its absurdly frilled roofs like an early Victorian dress. And now the sunset was dying down and putting out its marvellous lights, and to take their place Tazaki lit our lanterns to send swaying jumbling reflections of broken red and gold over the black water. The other boats followed our example and in an instant were weirdly beautiful in a dreamland of colour thrown on the darkness, toiling after us as we poled up by the anchor ropes against the current. Finally we caught our anchors in a great hump of boulders and sat down to wait.
The night was exquisite, a low moon rising amidst the glitter of stars, the river making a bourdon for the tinkling of the geishas’ samisens. A boat came up, loaded with the pretty ladies and their men, drinking sweet vapid drinks from lacquer cups, laughing, singing in high nasal voices. Another crept up silently with my little friend aboard, prettier than ever in the scattered lights that fought for her pale face and eyes. She leaned out and laughed and said in queer broken English;
“We arr verry pleast to see you!”—when amid a boat-load of bows Heron’s and mine were lost,—Miyuki holding herself aloof in cold disdain. Never mind!—It was good enough to be worth it. They hauled off presently.
“How Lucia would love this!” said Heron, lighting his cigar and settling himself comfortably for the wait. “She’s never been in Japan. I always thought the man who brings her here will have a good time.”
“Lady Lucia Sellenger. Don’t you remember I said something about them before?”
“You thought they might be in China.”
“Yes, I’m very fond of Lucia. Queer thing, the way life gets mixed up. Miyuki’s father, Beverly, was a great friend of Lucia’s father. Have you ever heard of Rostellan?—No, probably you wouldn’t. He was one of the poorest of Irish earls, which is saying a good deal, and the troubles there story-broke him. Curious fellow—would have been an artist if he hadn’t had the bad luck to be born what he was. However, he lost his wife, a beautiful woman (one of the Lestranges) and died eighteen years ago and glad to be done with it. Lucia was the only child and she was carted off to her aunt—Mrs. Scrope—in London. I used to see her there—a kid of ten—and I never was so sorry for any one, poor little beggar!—every cent she had came from her aunt, except a pittance of two hundred a year.”
Miyuki was dipping her fingers languidly in the water, singing a little echo of the geishas’ song under her breath and not in the least interested in the Sellengers.
“It’s bad enough to be poor and a man,” I said. “It’s cruel rough luck on a girl.”
“Exactly, even eighteen years ago it seemed a bit incongruous to bring up Lady Lucia Chisholm for a governess. I don’t know that it would now! However, Mrs. Scrope was the last woman to think of that. Marriage was the solution. She never wavered. Lucia was to marry at eighteen, and then her duty would be done and the girl got rid of.”
“And did she?”
“My dear fellow, if you’d known Mrs. Scrope you wouldn’t need to ask. Sellenger came along—plenty of money, and only twenty years older than the girl and in two months they were married—Lucia’s eighteenth birthday.”
“I hope he was a good fellow?”
“Mrs. Scrope didn’t trouble about that. Sellenger wanted birth in his wife—he hadn’t too much of that himself though he says his family comes of the Devon St. Legers. Lucia wanted a home. Sort of thing that’s done every day and may turn out decently or the reverse.”
“And which way here?”
“Well—I don’t tell any secret when I say “decently” is hardly the word. The whole world knows that. Mrs. Scrope knew as well as I did what Sellenger’s record with women was, but it’s always a comfortable thing to say that a fellow’s sown his wild oats before marriage. As a matter of fact, Sellenger hadn’t finished by any means, and though Lucia had a girl’s fancy for him—he’s a very good-looking genial sort of chap—she outgrew it pretty quick.”
“She knows then?”
“By George, yes! A woman must go about with her head in a bag not to know that. He’s a fine big florid fellow with a way that takes with men—and as to women—Lord bless me!—the things I’ve known about that man!”
“I expect they were nothing to the things you didn’t know.”
“No doubt. Lucia knows a good few, poor little soul. I was very fond of her as a kid. I’ve kept it up and I think it’s been a sort of comfort to her. But there’s no one can stand between a woman and her husband’s temper.”
“Temper too? Personally I should think a little infidelity less trying than bullying. But both? Can’t she get a divorce?”
“Lord bless me! You don’t know Lucia. And what’s she to live on, and where’s the money to come from? No, no. Sellenger’s got the whip hand and knows it. He makes a grievance of there being no children. All the world knows the facts or I shouldn’t babble like this. But I’ll give you an introduction in case they’re in Peking. Rice will be with them—a very decent young fellow—Lucia’s cousin. He looks after her when Sellenger’s away.”
He stopped a moment—then said casually;
“Of course Miyuki goes? You don’t rejoin her here?”
I answered with a little constraint that she did. I knew exactly what had struck him. I would have given a lot to have opened my mind on that point to Heron. His knowledge of the world and real kindliness would have been a help to me in difficulties that I dimly began to foresee. But I could hardly put the thing into words. It was the very mention of this woman’s name that had given it form. Yes, it was all very well travelling with Miyuki about the world, if one knew no one, if one lived entirely across the border from one’s own people, but if not—what then?
I wondered why he had told me of the Sellengers and pictured a little down-trodden woman with eyes pink from crying. Perhaps Sellenger might have more excuse than her friends were willing to own! In any case the introduction did not sound attractive—a martyr and a bully! Perhaps Heron felt this himself, for after some rumination, he said;
“I say, I’ve shown you the seamy side, Dunbar, and you won’t be keen on the Sellengers, but I venture to say you’ll thank me yet. Sellenger’s life doesn’t concern any one but himself and his wife.—He’s no worse than a lot of men, and an uncommonly pleasant jolly sort of manner. And she—(his face softened) well, you shall write and tell me if you like her.”
“A beauty then?”
“Not a bit of it, but much better according to my way of thinking. I won’t describe her. Wait and see.”
That made me curious, but then I thought no more of it. Strange that one may hear a name that will be all the world and more to one, and dismiss it so carelessly! One would think some cold aura would strike from it with a chilly tremble of premonition. But no, I was thinking far more of the fishing than of the Sellengers, for suddenly a man cried out; “They’re coming,” and then a silence.
Far up the river great lights were seen, fireships dazzling swiftly down upon us. Down they rushed, flaring volcanic, that and nothing more—huge iron cages mast-high, filled with resinous pine-logs that tossed the black polished water into ruddy splendours. Now under each flare I saw a boat, drawn like a devil’s Lohengrin by twelve black birds, each bridled by a string to the boat, with snaky necks and heads, delving here and there in search of prey. Quick as thought the boats flamed in among us, flaring and shouting, and we up-anchored and let drive after them at the full speed of the river. And then I saw that each of the cormorants was tethered by a string held in the hand of a man who stood in the bows and directed them.
They swam valiantly ahead of the boats and every second, one would dive and re-appear with a writhing fish and choke it down, then plunge again and seize another. The bird was hauled into the boat where it instantly disgorged, was flung in again, and all as quick as thought. And each boat had twelve, and flared and yelled down the river—enough to frighten every fish within hail out of its six senses if they have so many!
The wildest scene, as we all went floundering and flaring, diving and shrieking down stream, the cormorants like black devils plunging and gorging beside us.
“By George, this is the real thing and no mistake,” cried Heron in my ear, red with excitement and almost breathless. “Hold hard, Dunbar. She’s over!” We had grazed a rock, careened, and our boat was all but shot into a curling wave; she reeled and shipped more than a capful of water, and I clutched Miyuki, thinking to swim for it. She shook herself free, pointing with a smile to the man at the bow as he swayed to a wrench of his pole, and before I could breathe we had righted and were gliding on a glassy current, still as sleep.
“Not danger!” she said coolly. “Man very clever. He knows.”
“He needs to know,” said Heron, mopping his brow; “That was touch and go. And no fun swimming in rapids. By George, I enjoyed that! Look at those little black devils diving.”
“Devils! Why they’re as respectable as bees and ants,” said I—hauling out my field glasses. “Each has a bone ring on the throat that prevents it swallowing any large fish, and No. 1 who is called Ichi, takes command of the rest. They’re all on strict duty. Just look at the man handling them; did you ever see such skill? The strings mustn’t tangle and he must know the exact minute when Ichi or any other is gorged and must be hauled aboard. Look, Miyuki.”
“I think,” said a little clear-cut voice beside me. “that geisha coming again. She think I am English lady. Not daring speak if Japanese lady in boat. Now we go back.”
She turned to Tazaki who shouted his directions, and we put meekly in to the shore, glimmering with the lights of tiny houses.
Retribution for Miyuki. Just before us at the landing was a boat, with its gay lanterns burnt out, and a small figure with eyes mysteriously softened by the moonlight, repeating at my elbow;
“We arr verry pleast to see you!”
Time went swiftly by and it was our last day in Japan. Heron was detained by the arrival of a friend from England, but had come down to Kobe to see us off, after a time in Kyoto which I shall not forget. He and I were smoking in the garden of the Tor Hotel whilst Miyuki gathered up a few precious trifles before joining us, and it was good-bye, and neither of us liked it or pretended to.
“Then I’ll sail early in April for Java,” he was saying. “Of course I don’t expect to find you there. You’ll be more likely at Buitenzorg or Garoet. But it’s a pledge. We’ve been a jolly party of three, haven’t we? and I look forward to the next time rather more than I can say. You don’t know what I’ve felt about you young ones taking up with an old bore like me and letting me have a look in. I won’t forget it to either of you. In a way, it’s a queer thing too. I had such a liking for old Lance, and it’s through him the whole thing has come about. Odd, when you come to think of it!”
“I wish I’d known him better, but it wouldn’t have been easy. He had more in his little finger than I in my whole body. That book of his—”
“I’m no judge of such things.” He flicked the ash off his cigar. “I only know we suited each other very well though he was so many years to the good. Same with you, Dunbar. Often and often I’ve felt as if I was talking to old Lance himself over our pipes. You’ve a look of him sometimes that’s positively uncanny.”
“O come! That must be fancy. He was as dark as an Arab!”
“I know—and a bit like one—or a Hindu. I’ve seen him in a turban at a fancy dress affair and I could have sworn he was a Rajput from Udaipur. Still the likeness is there.”
“Miyuki says the same.”
“Miyuki?”—in transparent astonishment. “She knew him? What on earth— You don’t mean to say—”
Unbelief struggling with conviction. In spite of his simplicity Heron was quick in his intuitions. I could have bitten out my fool’s tongue, but the thing had been so often in my mind that it slipped out before I knew where I was and there was no recalling it.
Silence. We had walked twice up and down the path before he spoke again. Then—
“Poor little woman. So that’s how that came about. Lance seems to be a bit mixed up in your life. In a way I’m glad, Dunbar. God knows, I’ve no call to be strait-laced but I was a bit sorry to think you’d started her on the down grade. It was in Lance’s line, not yours somehow. She’s a good little soul, and Beverly’s daughter. And this won’t last, you know. Can’t. And then what’s to happen to her?”
I caught at the opening.
“Ah, that’s a question I’ve often asked myself. I can’t see a ray of light on it. I’m not the kind of man that can tell a woman he’s had enough of her. And yet—”
“You mean you’ve had enough now?”
“No—no. I don’t say that, but I catch myself wondering when it will come and how. I wonder how she’ll fit in elsewhere. She’s part of Japan. I can’t imagine her without it, and how will it be in a new setting? A fellow can’t always cut himself off from his own people. And what am I to do with her then?”
I felt like a brute as I spoke. She leaned out of a window above and cried in her clear voice;
“I found the box, Heron sama, O how you are kind. See—I eat one now. I throw one, two! Catch!”
And down came two neatly aimed bon-bons in silver foil and dropped at his feet. The laughing face was gone.
Heron drew a long breath.
“That means you’ve had enough. You didn’t think of difficulties at first. But it’s natural—it’s natural. Like goes to like. The law of nature. Well, I’ll tell you what your namesake would have done. She’d have waked up one day to find him gone, and a big cheque and a diamond bracelet or some such trumpery on her table, with a ticket back to Japan. And very satisfactory to most of too. Is that your line?”
I shook my head.
“I suppose she’s very fond of you?”
“Heaven knows—I don’t! She has that pretty kind of a way with every one. You know that! Are Japanese women ever in love except with their own men? And even then, you know what the geishas say,—that love is simply a matter of age, and there are only three kinds ever felt by women. “Sight love, Humour love, and Root love.”
“And which is which?”
“Sight love is the fancy a flapper has for the first man who looks at her. It doesn’t count more than a bubble. Humour love is the attraction of pleasant ways, pleasant temper, fun and pleasure generally, and it goes easily from one man to another. I should say that would be Miyuki, but what do I know? Root love comes when a woman is older, and that strikes deep, and then come the tragedies—they do come with a vengeance. But I end as I began. I’m quite in the dark as to what she feels about me.”
“It’s a problem. But no doubt her being with you is one too. Of course women will talk, if you go about with her.”
“Let them.” I said with an indifference that did not ring quite true even to myself. Heron said nothing for a minute, then halted and looked me in the face.
“I’ll tell you a queer thing, Dunbar. I had a fancy at one time that Lance would have been the husband for Lucia Sellenger. If you ask why, I can’t answer. I was fond of them both, but it wasn’t that—it was a kind of feeling that they’d make life rather interesting for each other. But there never was a chance because at that time he was half-crazy about Boriskova the dancer, and so it passed and Lucia was married and done for. Now, I know they both missed their chance. Don’t let the same happen to you.”
“I shouldn’t have thought he would have been an easy fellow to live with.”
“Perhaps not—perhaps not. Ah, well,—it’s not worth talking of now. But may I make a suggestion, or would you think it damn cheek?”
“I wish to heaven you would. It’s often been on the tip of my tongue to ask you.”
And then, for all his sympathy with Miyuki, the man of the world was uppermost in Heron for a bit. He was cool, sensible and businesslike, and I listened with due respect to a view of life that had not yet come my way. It amounted to this. There must be a deference to public opinion unless a man meant to cut the painter with society altogether and that was a serious step and he generally made an ass of himself in doing it. What he would recommend would be that Miyuki should have her own allowance and her own maid and should stay at a different hotel whenever possible. We could see a lot of each other but on a different footing, which also would tend to pave the way for separation when the inevitable came.
“For you see, my dear fellow,” he said very gravely, “the women one likes won’t stand any poaching on the social preserves. They hold the keys and I want you to get into the right set from the start. You can’t go about in this married kind of a way for ever.”
He ran through a list then of the legation people and other desirables at Peking. I own they did not sound worth the trouble of the pretence, and was moreover very uncertain of how Miyuki would take the new plan. But when we were on board I would broach it and see what she said. I promised that, for he was really keen. Fond as he was of her, he was ten times fonder of me and there were moments when I fancied he had the kind of feeling for me that he might have had for a son who would have been about my age if things had so fallen. At all events he was as anxious as any old dowager that I should make the proper kind of début in the only world he really understood.
We had reached that stage when a Japanese boy brought me out a letter addressed in a fine clear hand that I did not recognize. I can never express how strangely that letter and its implications fell into our talk, nor what dormant thoughts and half-forgotten impressions sprang to life as I read. For it was from Haridas.
“Dear Mr. Dunbar:
“I heard from Kamada sama that you had been in Kyoto and am sorry you did not see him, for he is a great authority on Japanese literature. You now go forward to China (But how had he hit that off?) and in pursuance of my promise I send an introduction which you will use or not as you please. It is to a Chinese who belongs to my brotherhood and whose name in religion is Shang-tao. He is a monk in the Monastery of Sweet Dew—some days’ journey from Peking in the hills, but moves about the world as I do, though that is his home. He can open many matters of interest to you as may others whom you would meet there. Being one of our brotherhood he speaks your language fluently. Many monasteries in China and elsewhere receive guests, but this especial one does not, and at the others your life would really be quite apart from any inside interest, for it is merely a business transaction.
“I will only add that I have sent on board your boat a parcel of the books you wished to read, and that I hope to see you in Java in late April. Meanwhile I wish you all good and remain,
“Very sincerely yours,
His face, mindful and self-recollected, rose before me, bearing the very seal of peace. Heron was beside me, kindly, worried, anxious about a rather despicable affair, with his little hoard of maxims for the attainment of a very petty end. I wondered what his creed might be. Manlike, he had never alluded to it, but I could sum it up fairly well. To be honest and honourable in every dealing, to preserve good form in every relation of life, to accept its inner meaning and future hope as a mystery insoluble, and so go forward blindly with a sort of feeling that—
“God’s a good fellow and ’twill all be well,”—there would not be much more to it than that. Any conscious self-evolution, any certainty of the great cosmic Law in one’s own being—No.
But Haridas held that secret and its working in him made the very air vibrant, and his written word a disturber of the dream that holds us more surely when we wake than when we sleep.
I went in and wrote a hasty letter of thanks. No more was said between Heron and me on that matter.
Two hours later he had parted with us and we were steaming out to sea. A black rain-squall came up and whipped the surface to froth in its fury and veiled our way in gloom. It was long before a livid light tore a cloud raggedly apart and made way for the sun, and in its cruel radiance two glorious rainbows built themselves up from the tumbling sea, pale and vapourish at first but burning steadily into pure flame of colour. I never saw more beautiful. So intense they grew that a lovely ghost detached itself from each, spectrally faint and fair, and Japan faded into the distance with four rainbows of hope spanning a black and furious sky. I watched it, revolving many memories bitter and sweet,—It had given me much, and how should I measure the gifts of beauty and delight? I saw them as revelations of that single science of Beauty, steps on which a man may mount to some height not as yet to be guessed, to some far country whose name had not as yet been whispered. And I said in my heart “This is pure Platonism” and finished it with the great sentence that the world remembers; “And if a man has eyes to see the true Beauty, he becomes the friend of God, and immortal.”
Miyuki was by no means a good sailor and I had the next day to myself on deck. I unearthed the book Haridas had given me at Ikao and settled down in a sheltered corner. A paper fell out with writing upon it which I read in some wonder for it was as follows:
“Once the Buddha smiled and by the radiancy of that smile countless worlds were illumined. But there came a Voice saying, ‘It is not real. It cannot last.’ And the Light passed.”
Strange—and from a Buddhist monk! It was as though the truth of the book were denied by the writer before the first page was turned. I studied the sentences and could not understand. “The Norm”—the name again puzzled me, but I turned the leaves, dipping here and there. There were pictures—many of them.
The first was an eighth century image—Chinese, of the school of Lung-men, of a Buddhist monk in ecstasy, holding his begging bowl in folded hands, the eyes closed in the trance of the Divine, the homely features irradiated with a smile like a still moonlight. Surely those eyes were closed against the earthly sun that they might open up on the inward light—surely that smile was drawn from the very fountains of peace? Beneath it were these words:
“Victory breeds hatred, for the conquered is unhappy. He who has given up both victory and defeat—he is content.”
I looked long before I turned more pages, and then paused over a bas-relief from Amaravati of the second century A.D. This was one from the early days of the Law, when the figure of the Buddha might not, for awe, be presented, and his presence was indicated only by the sacred foot-prints. Before them knelt worshippers in passionate adoration, beseeching arms flung up and out, clasped hands, heads bowed beneath the weight of what cannot be uttered—a revelation of adoring love—a passion in stone that still had power to move. And beneath this was written:
“There is no need for the Imitation of the Buddha, since the Law teaches that each man may become himself a Buddha, perfect in wisdom.” I turned again and stumbled on a paragraph relating to the Great Death.
“So when He-Who-Had-Attained passed away, it was only those disciples incomplete in wisdom who sorrowed. Those perfected in wisdom beheld it mindful and self-possessed, knowing that the Law is in all things faithful and that being thus, it was well.”
I now saw the plan of the book. It was the Story of the Life of the Lord, written as though an ancient Bhikkhu (monk) were relating to monks not thus privileged what he had seen and heard as he lived in the presence of the Perfect One. For this reason Haridas had drawn only upon the earliest sources of the canonical Scriptures, though it might be that he had read into these some more modern implications. Yet nothing was imagined, all was substantiated by note and source and comment in the final chapters. It was thus extraordinarily moving, even from the literary point of view. The gracious figure, noble in birth and speech, “serene amid the half-formed creatures round,” stood with an aura of clear radiance encircling him for all who had eyes to see. From the dead scripts the power of burning love had recreated One—seen no longer through the industry of a scholar, but through the passion of a believer, and for the often-seen image of the Buddha seated in a dream with folded hands and feet it substituted a figure near though exalted, living and divine.
From the first page to the last I read that day.
So Buddhism too had its emotion and could fulfil the famous definition of a religion—“morality touched with emotion.” I had thought of it as a moral code, leading to selfish asceticism and practical atheism and final extinction. I met it now as an ocean of joy, lying in breathless calm under the beams of a silent sun.
I will not deny that the literary beauty of what I read was what enchained me then. The ancient Indian Scriptures unfolded before me “as a lovely song—the voice of him that playeth well upon an instrument,”—no more. But that was tremendous. We grow up unconsciously in the prison of our own dogmas and with an intellectual contempt for the faiths we do not know. Their morality we cannot despise for the same morality is the grammar of all. Therefore it is by the intellectual door that sympathy must be reached. And here were problems stated and answered beyond my present understanding—the highest metaphysic of Indian thought.
I had always been a student of Plato; now, his reasoning, though in parts akin seemed feeble in its flight to the strong-winged rush of the pinions I felt beating here.
Felt, for I could not understand. How should I? Oxford had turned me out with the neatly finished two-foot rule with which a commercial civilization measures the universe. If I had had no more than that I should have closed the book and turned away for ever, but the love of beauty saved me—the quest for a dim Loveliness ever on before, that demanded a certain austerity and discipline in its follower—in itself a kind of spiritual beauty bathed in the waters of a pure lustration. If I say I thought I had discovered a new kind of rhythm and poetry, so moving, so exquisite that it created in me an altogether new form of desire perhaps this most nearly expresses what I felt. If I call it also the passion of the Infinite is not this the ultimate of all true poetry?
I closed the book and sat lost in thought. There was a kind of hurry in my brain. I wanted to thank Haridas, and to ply him with questions, especially relating to the paper shut in the book. I wanted—but one of the stewards came up and broke into my intoxication—“The lady wished to see me.” For the first time, but quite clearly and definitely, I knew her presence to be a burden.
And yet, poor child, it seems a kind of treason to write it. In her little paradise of gentle courtesies and charming quick-witted cleverness what could she know of the Vastness hovering outside? I did not understand myself—why should she understand me? But I fear that for the next few days I was unreasonable and captious, and she never deserved it less, for when I broached Heron’s plan at secondhand, she received it without a murmur, though I knew very well it must have been wounding and meant many a lonely hour for her, besides stressing the insecurity and doubtfulness of her position. Men are always more or less brutal in such matters. They are apt to despise a woman for the degradation to which they have contributed and to feel a moral satisfaction in their contempt. Thank Heaven I did not touch that lowest depth of Phariseeism, though I knew little of women then. The fact is I was secretly ashamed of myself and it made me harsh to her.
I made her talk to me a little about her own Buddhism as the ship forged on to China—a very simple and lenient faith which she took as a matter of course. You repeated “Namu Amida Butsu” on every possible occasion, but especially in moments of crisis and death, and this opened the way to a Paradise of the West which one might hope eventually to reach, though she admitted that sins would certainly delay that consummation.
“Do you think, Miyuki, that we are doing wrong and that it will stand in the way of Paradise?”
“Wrong? Oh, but this is ingwa (karma). It is our fate. How could we help?”
“Then we are not to blame?”
“How can I know? It is very difficult. Only wise men can know.”
She smiled contentedly over her cigarette.
Peking in April. Spring coming like a girl, treading delicately through the ancient land of graves, and the ways of the huge sinister city where the willows hung their tresses bright with the stars of the young leaves in many courtyards. But I linger on the enchantment of it only because words fail me now that I approach the greater wonder that came here into my life.
We had loitered in Southern China while I grasped at all the knowledge the book of Haridas had made me desire. I had a grave and ancient philosopher, calm, yellow-faced, oblique-eyed, who spoke sufficient English and came daily to instruct me in the lore of Confucius and of Taoism. A passion was kindled in me to understand the learning and the mysterious wisdom which have kept her a mighty empire while others have reeled into ruin. I sat at the feet of the famous Professor Inglis who was completing his scholarly study of the origins of the two and who received a pupil willingly in the arid wilderness of Europe-in-China coldness to his learned labours. In a word, I acquired knowledge wherever I could find it.
It would have been appallingly dull for Miyuki, though we diversified it by shopping expeditions and the heaping up of beautiful things which she was even quicker than I to appreciate, but that I had provided her with a delightful Japanese maid, O Toyo san, imported by herself from Japan, and the two trotted about together in endless content with unlimited money to spend. If Miyuki felt any discontent she never spoke of it. I always found her smiling and gracious, ready to share all the time I could spare from my preoccupations.
And now it was Peking, and I had installed her at the Europe Hotel with O Toyo san, and myself at the Tientsin—the haunt of diplomacy and commerce and all the strangers who come from the ends of the earth on their open and secret errands. I saw her daily—it was only a street away, and we still made many trips and expeditions together, but there was a subtle change in our relations which I was uneasily conscious of. I wondered whether she felt this also.
It was evening and dinner was over and I strolled into the lounge thinking how my poor Miyuki would have enjoyed the pretty ladies and their dresses, for there was to be a big dance at the French legation and many guests had gathered until it was time to go on. I sat down and looked about me and instantly I saw—what? A woman in a wonderful garment of black and crystal sparkles with an ermine cloak thrown over the back of her chair, sat at a little table near me, one arm leaning upon it and supporting her head almost as if to ease the weight of heavy hair that crowned it. I must describe her as I noted at the time for afterwards she so flowed into my innermost perception of things that I could not have done it in any thinkable words. She was pale and a delicate little hollow in each cheek spoke of the sculptor Care who with his chisel fines away the unessential until the lines of a more spiritual beauty stand revealed. The nose was slightly arched and very delicately cut, the mouth fine and firm. Her eyes were noticeable, grey and heavily lashed with darkness, and the dark hair was massed over the low brows in waves that recalled Rossetti’s mysterious pictures of the Astarte Syriaca or Proserpine—a pale lamp in the gloom, and the more so for the long flower-stem throat which gives the last imprint of refinement to a woman’s grace. The first impression I had was one of race, and it was the hair which gave her extraordinary distinction for it was feathered with grey which lay like a cap of silver filigree upon the darkness over the young face. I thought of the high-bred pensive women of Gainsborough and Reynolds, powdered to gain the same beauty by art—their haughty or weary distinction hinting at their moulding by centuries of command and influence. A great lady, though young! And suddenly a forgotten sentence of Heron’s sounded as if repeated at my side. “The Chisholms all begin to go grey when they are twenty,” and I knew I saw Lady Lucia Sellenger. Was she beautiful? I incline to believe an artist could think no otherwise but that an ordinary man might easily hesitate in his judgment. She looked like a pale cloud-veiled moon, for instance, compared with a brilliant lovely creature who sat across the hall, with wine-coloured eyes and hair, and velvet curves of voluptuous whiteness, all vibrant with her own triumph. Even the pretty girls who fluttered about in their rainbow of bright colours drew the eye far more readily—they and their coquetries and cavaliers.
She sat alone, and with caution I dared to watch her, though indeed I might have done it openly, so little she seemed to heed. And presently I became aware that she in her turn watched the imperial beauty and the man who lounged beside her sultan-fashion, his legs stretched out before him in a kind of insolent familiarity which his companion would have done wisely to resent. A man beginning to be elderly—a man who had lived hard, with handsome unfeeling blue eyes and grizzled fair hair—the mouth, that tell-tale, hidden under a large moustache, but otherwise clean shaven. He had a full tall figure, with broad shoulders and must have been unusually good-looking a few years back, would, in fact, be so to the end of the chapter. And suddenly an acute little monitor in my brain said “Sellenger,” and I knew it was right.
I watched with interest. Two men beside me were talking—attachés from the British Legation.
“The beauty’s in great form tonight,” said one. “Her dress certainly leaves nothing to the imagination.”
“Oh, these profiteer people always overdo things. It’s their idea of being in the swim. All the same, it’s rather nice for the lookers-on. Harrington declares her father kept a sausage shop in the Borough.”
“What’s the husband like—old Kohn?”
“Never saw him. He doesn’t show up much. Harrington says he’s the international Jew type. They buy up all the pretty women now like curios.”
“Pity he can’t keep her in a cabinet. In ivory and with a wisp less on she’d be rather impressive. Doesn’t she remind you of that Desanges woman in Paris who did for old Walters?”
“Now you mention it—yes. And who’s the man with her? He looks as if he’d marched in and taken possession.”
“Yes—he’s hardly at the trouble to be polite to her in public now. But she doesn’t know any better. That’s Sellenger—he made a pot of money in shipping during the war, and was as rich as a Jew before it. That’s his wife in black there—the one with the ermine over her chair. Lady Lucia Sellenger.”
“By George—that’s a very different proposition from the Kohn. How does she like her? Not much in common, eh?”
“Except the husband.”
They both laughed.
“Not exactly a bond of union, eh? But it’d be rather hard to say what Lady Lucia does think. She doesn’t wear her heart upon her sleeve. Still, I’m inclined to think that Sellenger and Mrs. Kohn together would make a load for any woman’s back.”
“I shouldn’t call her a beauty, but by George! she looks a thoroughbred. And it’s an interesting face.”
“Oh, I say—shut up! Here comes Sellenger, and isn’t that Miss Cowper coming downstairs?”
They went off and Sellenger lounged up to his wife with the noiseless step these big men sometimes have, and stood in front of her.
“I’m bored to drink. I don’t believe I’m coming tonight after all. What’s the use of watching a lot of fools capering about—my foot’s too bad for dancing.”
“Do you wish me to go?” Her voice was as clear-cut as an intaglio though so low.
“Why certainly. You’re dressed. I don’t see any point in crying off. I want you to give Mrs. Kohn a lift.”
“I can’t do that. I mean to take Mrs. Gaunt and her daughters.”
His face darkened. He slightly lowered his voice.
“You’re a damned disagreeable woman. This is only because I asked you to do it.”
No answer. She held her head proudly, looking straight before her. Mrs. Kohn came up—all honey and verjuice.
“Dear Lady Lucia, how absolutely sweet you look. Your dress is just wonderful, and I can’t think where you get such lovely things. How kind of you to take pity on poor little me and give me a lift. I always adore being with you.”
“I fear I am taking the Gaunts.”
Sellenger stroked his big moustache.
“Have you asked?”
“No. But I will.”
She rose and touched an elderly woman on the arm. Then first I saw how tall she was and slight, moving with the grace of a waving willow. Few women have the secret of exquisite motion, and it is more beautiful than beauty’s self. Indeed it is a higher kind of beauty for it is perfect rhythm, and rhythm is the music of the spheres. She came back to her husband who turned away sullenly. I liked her pluck—I was on her side, heart and soul,—I liked to see Mrs. Kohn follow the husband, flushing with anger through her rouge.
A few minutes and the gay-plumaged birds had all flown—the last woman swept out of the lounge. I sat down and lit my pipe. So these were the Sellengers!
He came back presently alone, and sat staring at the floor in a frowning heavy kind of way. If he had said it aloud it could not have been plainer that he was thinking over what had just happened and that his mastery was wounded. He sat awhile fumbling for matches, until a man came up, alert and obsequious, and it was queer to see how quickly he pulled the mask of geniality over his face, and to hear the cordial—“Sit yourself down. The very fellow I wanted to see!” I saw in a moment why many men liked him, and why sympathy might always be on his side against the proud deep-eyed woman who would never play to the gallery, never cater for popularity. What would I myself have thought if I had not had Heron’s carte du pays? Why, that he was a jolly kind-hearted fellow!
I caught a word of the talk now and then—dollars Mex. and exchange, and what not, but I saw that he was talking with his eye on the entrance, and scarcely an hour passed when Mrs. Kohn came in wrapped in her sables, and, seeming not to see him, went upstairs.
The talk flagged. Presently he followed.
These things had never seemed hateful to me before—why should they? But now—they did.
I picked Miyuki up early next morning for our grand expedition to the Ming tombs where the dead Emperors lie in religious state, and she came running down into the hall full of pleasure. Who could have imagined her running in kimono?—but in her neatly cut dark blue coat and skirt it was as natural as could be, and the dark eyes under the coquettish little blue hat were as frankly eager as any Western girl’s. She greeted me with the “Honourable return” of a Japanese wife, however, and flowed on with over-brimming delight in Peking and the Chinoiserie of things Chinese. “And you honourably come. How I have been lonely! But think—when your augustness left us O Toyo san and I were sad. How should we stay in and the world so gay! We tried to be good, but how could it be? So we went out a little, little way. So little! You forgive?”
I tried to frown and laughed instead.
“No kuruma (rickisha). No, we walked. These Manchu women with rouge on their eyelids—how they are frightful. Can any man love them? But the town—beautiful—beautiful!”
That was her charm—her eager delight in things quaint and lovely—especially in things Chinese. Not for nothing have her people sat for long centuries at the ancient feet of China and conned her lore, and the aptitude of her people was alive and alight in this true daughter of Japan. As we went through the long streets I could scarcely drag her away from the huge pylons of the majestic gateways; she knew instinctively what everything meant and caught the spirit of it in a flash that left me far behind.
We went up by train into the wild hill country, so lonely, so forsaken, and got on to the old caravan road which has been a world route for thousands of years between China and Turkestan and all Asia—a wonderful thing to see. And suddenly there was the Great Wall flung grandly over the high hills—its towers sharp and black against the violet sky.
I stood in silence, filling them with a strange Mongolian soldiery, men indeed like ourselves, but alien as the inhabitants of a wandering planet, marvelling at the arrogance of its pride as it rides for two thousand five hundred miles over the wild mountains and away—away into Romance and mists and dreams. And when I looked at Miyuki her eyes were full of her infrequent tears and she turned away sharply to hide them. The passion of the past was upon her.
We climbed up first to the caravan road where it runs under the Great Wall. The road is so much the older that the Wall has humoured it and made way, and, battlemented, guards it at this point—a road as rough and stony as the bed of a mountain torrent. So its guardian has stood since two hundred years B.C., beautiful with its towers swinging up to the mountain tops or dipping deep into some precipitous valleys unlet by any difficulty, faithful through all time, its castles foursquare to the bitter winds and winters of the Chinese passes.
We sat silent to see, and the loaded mules went by along the Kalgan caravan road as they did in the days of Kubla Khan, and in days more remote from him than his from ours. And suddenly the sense of what the Japanese call the All-ness of things descended upon me and I felt lost and small before this vast antiquity, and knowledge seemed empty and life a desert with the sand blown on an arid wind.
Miyuki always knew when that mood seized me—it was too Oriental to escape her comprehension, and, hidden under her coat, she put out her hand and laid it warm and human on mine.
But I wondered incongruously whether the woman I had seen last night would have understood as well, whether those sad proud eyes would have softened over this wonder. She looked cold and inaccessible in my memory. No—why think of her? I pressed the little hand that touched mine.
In the Nankow Pass that night the ages were too vast about us. We made a little nest of human love to shut out the cold stars, and clung close together to keep warm. As her head lay on my arm and I heard her breathing softly like a child, I wondered why I had ever let her slip away from me and parted with her daily companionship for a convention’s sake which I despised. And with the thought I saw Sellenger’s secret smile as he followed the golden-haired woman up the stair, and in a quick revulsion all sexual bonds seemed hateful. I could not keep my mind off the Sellengers.
We made an early start next morning for the valley where the dead Ming Emperors lie in state—a wide valley, perhaps ten miles across, and about it the mountains, now steeped in sun-haze, solemnly guarding their trust—with “the undulations of the Dragon” as their people call them.
The men who chose this site had a true sense of drama—it is a great stage for the great pomps of the Holy Way.
And first a five-fold monumental entrance of white marble with five ways leading through it, the pillars sculptured with dragons and twisted forms of beast and bird and clouds, most marvellously wrought. Miyuki lingered to look lovingly into every detail; the design which was only ornament to me, to her was a book of symbols in which she read easily.
“These clouds—beautiful!” she said softly. “Chinese love clouds. We too.”
She told me then, helping herself out with Japanese, of a wise man who lived alone in the high mountains and loved the clouds so passionately that he would chase and catch them in nets and keep them in jars like the Djinn of the Arabian Nights. And when a friend climbed up the craggy paths this cloud magician would open the jar and the cloud would escape, all gold and rose if it were a sunset cloud and cold pure white if it were dawn, and so fill his little cell. So people would come for hundreds of miles to see the wonder, but too many came, and so he went higher and higher up to live with the clouds and stars, and men saw him no more.
“And Shirakawa has made a poem on this happy man. It says—
“‘O to catch the clouds in my net and, as they rise, melt with them into the ocean sky.’—You like?”—she added in English.
But the stories died on her lips as we came into the funeral splendour of the Holy Way—a long, long avenue of sculptured forms, mourning, mourning in the wilderness as though all creation wept when the Mings went to their rest. Almost fearfully she trod beside me then.
First two kneeling lions, colossal and still—one on either side. A long interval and then two standing lions at gaze, and beyond these two kneeling rams and their fellows standing. And so through the strange litany of mourning with camels, elephants, and even the wild creatures of myth, until the human lamentation is attained, and great court officials, soldiers and sages, kneel and stand along the solemn way to guard the last journey of their Emperor.
In the moonlight they must be awful—a passionless stony grief.
Then another monumental entrance and a five-spanned marble bridge, and beyond that the ways diverging, like the outspread fingers of a hand, to the tombs, miles apart, of the great Mings, each in its stately seclusion of gardens and groves of black pines.
Like two children lost in a wood, we made our way to that of the Emperor Yung Lo where the pavilion tiled with royal yellow confronted us, and beyond it the “Rest the Spirit” Pavilion with marble steps and balustrades rich with dragons and clouds. She caught my hand as we drew near the presence chamber of the mighty dead, and so together we went forward to a glorious hall, supported on huge wooden pillars,—silent, empty, except for a great lacquer altar in the vast space beneath the dim roof, and above that a narrow tablet inscribed with the Emperor’s name. And here the Imperial spirit receives the prayers and adoration of those of his blood and an Imperial Prince comes yearly to offer incense, that in the long falling of the centuries he may know himself unforgotten. And here also his earthly life and glory are done, and beyond is the Tomb, a noble building battlemented and proud, and on this is written the new name received at death, shouted in mighty golden characters over all the country side that all the world may know—
“Chen Tsu Wen Hwang-ti—The perfect Ancestor, the Literary Emperor,” and so the great saga is ended.
And as we stood, looking over the blue mountains, absorbed in the victorious calm of death, a man’s voice below broke the silence with a jarring laugh, and looking down I saw Sellenger with two men in the gardens below. For the moment I loathed our people, our ways, our manners. Their very presence seemed a vile outrage on the majestic dead. What must the Chinese think of our truculent ignorance—they to whom courtesy, grave and studied, is a second nature, and the only mark of a gentleman—a derogation from which is to stamp the offender as one of the outer barbarians? Miyuki looked up, startled from her thoughts;
“Here they should not laugh and shout,” she said, frowning a little. “They come. Let us go down.”
She led the way and I followed slowly, very unwilling that Sellenger and his like should see us together. Not that he would ever know either of us for the more I thought of Heron’s letter of introduction the less willing I was to open the acquaintance. But at the moment it seemed hateful to be identified with even his passing notice.
She went down—a little flushed with anger and was in the garden before I could stop her. I lingered inside the hall and heard her light feet going down the path by the great incense burner.
“By George, that’s a pretty little girl,” I heard a man’s voice say. Not Sellenger’s. “Where did she spring from? I didn’t know anybody was here.” Now Sellenger. His voice had a deep masculine timbre that was attractive enough.
“Jolly little girl. Looks foreign, don’t you think? Those long black eyelashes aren’t English—more’s the pity. Haven’t you seen her party about, Jim?”
“Not a soul. The place is awfully quiet today. She can’t be alone though unless it’s the ghost of one of the Ming concubines come to pay her respects to the old gentleman,—what’s his name?—Chung Lo?”
“There must be lively doings at night if that’s their little game,” said Sellenger. “I say, have you seen that place where they put the mandarins’ coffins at Canton, with images of singing girls to hand them tea? Queer people these—talking so much of Confucius and morals and all that rot. They have their fling all the same. Come round the other way and we may pick up the little concubine again.”
The voices trailed off round the corner and I went after Miyuki. She was walking on quickly, very flushed, but said nothing. Nor I. It was the only blot on the day, but a blot all the same. Later, we saw them cantering down the funeral way, Sellenger leading on a big horse. They did not see us.
We went back to Peking next day, and before I left her at the hotel I asked whether she found this new arrangement lonely and would like to go back to the old one.
“What you like I like,” she said with her little Japanese smile. “Why not? No, not lonely. You come often and O Toyo san, she very kind and laughing. It is best.”
She gave me the honorific sayonara of a well-bred Japanese wife, and I walked back to the Tientsin. It was a relief. I knew that, yet I felt as if a defence had broken down, though whether for Miyuki or me I scarcely could tell. Curious that however near we got to one another’s real self in those moments of shared beauty, we always slipped back into distance when they were over, and she still remained a cryptogram indecipherable. The love between us was but the love of lovely things. It meant some exquisite minutes, but is that enough for life to feed on?
As I neared the hotel an auto drew up and Lady Lucia Sellenger got out. She did not see me—her mind was evidently fixed on something within and she went up the steps and disappeared. And suddenly—I could not in the least tell why, I knew I would present Heron’s letter. Why not? I waited half an hour and sent it up, while I sat in the lounge and wondered whether he had returned and I should see them both.
The boy came down with a message scribbled on a card.
“It will be a great pleasure to see Mr. Heron’s friend. Will you come up?”—a man’s writing. So he had returned. I heard his voice inside as we neared the room, and another in answer—the man’s he had called “Jim.” I knew it again.
The door was hardly open when Sellenger was grasping my hand with the utmost cordiality;
“I say, this is a real pleasure. So you’re here! Dear old Heron wrote some weeks ago and told us to look out for you, and we’ve been watching ever since. My wife. Mr. Rice, my wife’s cousin. Sit yourself down and be comfortable. Give him some tea, Lucia.”
She gave me first a slender hand and pointed to a chair beside her.
“I hope,” she said earnestly, “that you have lost no time in letting us know you were here. I would not lose a minute of any friend of my dear Mr. Heron’s for the world. He was my father’s oldest friend, and mine too. I have known and loved him ever since I can remember. How was he?”
I told her all I knew, dwelling on the disappointment that he could not come with me, and she listened absorbed. Her expression then was simple as a child’s—-clear heart-warm interest, free of every trace of self-consciousness.
“I could listen for ever when you talk of him,” she said. “If you knew his goodness and generosity and chivalrous kindness, you would understand. But no doubt you do. He writes so affectionately of you.”
Sellenger concealed a yawn rather skilfully.
“Charming old boy, Heron. A real good sort. Is he running down to Java in about three weeks’ time by any chance?”
“I believe he is. Are you going?”
“By George, yes! Very pretty place, I hear. It’ll be a regular gathering of the clans, for Heron said something about you going. Of course we don’t see anything of my wife when Heron’s about. She sits in his pocket all day. Still, you and Rice and I will hum about a bit. They say some of the roads are not half bad for motoring, and I’m taking my car. Rice, here, talks of riding a bit. We’re going up to the mountains when it gets too hot, and altogether I look forward to a right good time.”
“I love the sun,” she said. “The very thought of an English winter makes me shudder. Do you remember what your namesake—Mr. Heron says he was your cousin—writes about Java?”
“You like his book?”
“Yes and no. There are parts I hate in spite of their loveliness—parts when he is playing on the beauty-string as cleverly as Gaultier on his violin;—just aiming at a certain effect, and standing off to hear the reader say ‘How exquisite!’ Do you remember the chapter on the two girls he saw dancing in the moonlight in the ruins of Angkor Wat? That’s what I mean.”
“I know exactly. But the rest? What do you feel about that?”
“Of course that he is one of the great artists in words. Sometimes what he describes is more beautiful than the thing itself. His words are the souls of things seen. They cannot die.”
The truth of her phrase touched me with delight—that was what I, wordlessly, had felt. When he spoke the mystical voices of beauty filled the air, the phantasmagoria of the soul took shape, the very elements were kind to him, and in touching lips with Loveliness he stood within the threshold of the unseen. So she knew this too. We looked silently at each other and understood.
Her grey dress fell softly about her. I could not see that it had any fashion. It was what she must inevitably wear. It was clasped at the throat with a great moonstone—its mysterious sphere swimming with faint blue and golden lights. Her eyes were like clear grey water in the dark shadowy lashes. The weight of her black hair fretted with silver was supported by antique silver pins set with moonstones. Since that day I have never asked or thought if she was beautiful, for she made a new standard—her own. Who was she like? What did she recall to me?—the wonderful dreams of the great dreamers. She was La Princesse Lointaine, her brows crowned with the leaves of sleep, “dans les jardins enchantés, tres loin, de l’autre côté de la terre.” She was Proserpine, a pale lamp in the shades. No, I knew at last. She was the consort of Dante’s most gracious Lady, she who made so sweet and courteous a salutation that the sweetness of it dyed his soul with the crimson of heart’s passion. She was that very Lucia, “foe of cruelty,” who interceded for the poet. I never saw one of so serene and thoughtful a gentleness. That was my first thought of her.
Dreams—folly to think and write so of a woman just seen, but it is the truth. She should have had noble children about her, high work and great responsibilities. Instead, she sat there lonely, her task in life to conciliate and amuse the big good-humoured looking man, with the hard eyes and full face that told their own story. In his arms she must lie, with all her fair hopes and thoughts sealed in the living tomb of her own soul until death enfranchised her. So at least I believed who could not tell the hidden ways of the future.
But he was speaking:
“I s’pose you knew Lance Dunbar very well? I came across him often at the club and in Paris.”
“No. Very little. He was a friend of yours then?”
“Well—hardly that. He was a sight too rapid for me. A bachelor, you know. Couldn’t keep up with him at all. A married man must toe the line. Eh, Lucia?”
She smiled faintly and said nothing.
“But you’ll dine with us tonight at that restaurant—what’s the name of it, Lucia? I can’t get hold of these beastly silly names.”
“The Autumn Moon,” Rice suggested.
“Oh, yes. The Autumn Moon. It’s the best Chinese place here. And we’ll have a little singsing girl to tell us a story—Ya Tou—I think that’s her name. The half-breed interpreter comes and translates when it’s wanted, and as you never know exactly what you’ll hear it’s very amusing. You come along too, Jim.”
I could not have refused if I would, for her smile seconded the invitation—her friendliness bathed me like a sunshiny sea. True, I was to dine with Miyuki and take her to a Chinese play, but that would wait. I blessed my stars that I had taken Heron’s discreet advice and divided my life into watertight compartments. What else is possible in a world like this?
“You coming too, Lucia?” Rice asked rather dubiously.
“Of course, I want to hear the Chinese story and I haven’t dined at the Autumn Moon yet and half the world tells me how amusing it is.”
“Yes, it’s amusing enough. But I think, Sellenger, if Lucia’s coming it had better not be Ya Tou. There’s lots more of ‘em. Let’s have the Perfect Pearl girl.”
Sellenger lowered at his wife for a second like a spoilt child, then recovering, said good-humouredly; “Oh, I don’t care a damn. Please yourselves and you’ll please me. But you can’t get a laugh out of the Pearl girl and Ya Tou’s a regular little devil. I never laughed so much in my life. However, we’ll get one or two more women and make a ladies’ night of it. Yes, we’ll go six. Mrs. Aubert and— Well, we’ll see.”
Rice looked relieved. He was not a particularly attractive young fellow to look at, but a gentleman in his way. I noted the interplay of the little scene which was much more illuminative than they supposed, and then Lady Lucia asked a few indifferent questions, and presently Sellenger got up, bulky and laughing, his pettishness, if one can call it that, blown over like a catspaw.
“I must be off and see who I can scratch up for tonight. Stay and talk to my wife, Dunbar,—Can’t treat any friend of Heron’s like a stranger. You coming, Jim? Oh, all right. Well, you can go on to the Autumn Moon and tell them to see about the girl. So long!”
When we were alone she told me a good bit about their travels. They had stayed some time in Ceylon and then come straight on to China—would go to Japan when the rainy season was over and fill in the interval with Java.
I found her older in mind than her twenty-eight years; ten, at least, of which must have taught her either wisdom or despair. To many women they might have brought callousness or a slip-shod give and take with Sellenger. Some, I suppose, might have kept a kind of affection for him and slid from quarrel into reconciliation and back again in a jangling coarsening relation. But I saw pretty well how it had been, and I knew it later. First the revelation, the horrible doubt, the disbelief that such a fate could have befallen her, of all women; her heart tossed like a ship at sea between loyalty and the sickening shame of a woman that another,—-others, should share all she holds most truly her own. Her pitiful hints when she dares venture no more—the coarse caresses to keep her satisfied—I could see her summoning courage at last to remonstrate openly, pale and quivering, the brute in the man understanding nothing, caring nothing but that she should keep her place as his wife and leave him free to go his way. He would expect affection: that is a wife’s duty, and as for any right of complaint it would be incomprehensible to him. What? She was a poor woman when she came to him. He had heaped her with money—a big house in London, a great steam-yacht at Cowes, diamonds, furs, everything a woman will sell her body for, and now like an ungrateful dog she bit the hand that fed her. I could hear Sellenger asking what she had given him in return, could see the very expression in his lowering eyes. Then the other line—“I say, old girl, what’s the good of scrapping? I’ll do my best to make you happy. All I ask is peace at home. Be reasonable and you’ll see we’ll get on like a house a-fire.”
Gradually she would be “reasonable”—she would see the struggle was hopeless. She would recede slowly—slowly out of his life. In her forlornness nature’s self-protective instinct would throw her hopes into other channels and form a delicate protective armour about her. She would read much, think much, look inward and outward, hang the empty chamber of her heart with the arras of beauty, hide the encysted grief in a coffer of wrought gold. If she had been happy with him she never would have been the woman I knew her, for she would have absorbed herself in him and her children and found her all in them. Now, he had cast her forth into the desert and behold!—the wilderness and the solitary place were glad for her and the desert rejoiced and blossomed as the rose.
I tell what I knew later with what I saw then. He went his way; she hers. Did he ever regret what he had thrown away? In a way, yes. Sellenger would have liked everything smooth and comfortable about him. He was pleased to make people happy when it cost him nothing—liked to feel his wife had everything her position demanded. What he would have chosen was a jolly home life with adventures embroidered upon that agreeable background, and a wife always cheerful and ready to share with others more unobtrusive the crumbs that fell from their master’s table. By her withdrawal she had made him more reckless than he would have been otherwise. If a woman deserts her husband even in thought—so he would have said, she has herself to thank for what happens. Let her reap as she has sown. Some truth in this too. The complications of marriage! —the misery of opposite natures entangled so closely that each must wound the other at every turn! I could imagine that Sellenger might have found a woman whose strong good sense and a certain coarseness of fibre might have kept him fairly straight, and lived with him on human terms in spite of an occasional lapse, when it would be a row royal and the backing even. Here, he could only bruise and trample—she withdraw and try to forget. It is a paradox, but I am certain he was the worse man for her companionship and she the better woman for his—a strange result, if one thinks of it.
So, as I say, she was older than her years.
An hour had gone by before I remembered anything but her presence as she talked of Ceylon—the unsounded ocean of the jungle, the breaking jewels of the sea. One saying arrested me;
“The most wonderful thing I found there was Buddhism, and yet I know very little about it, though I haunted the temples and dagobas while my husband was shooting. It was—”
She hesitated. I begged her to go on.
“It seems to bring such happiness. You have been in a Buddhist country lately. Did you feel that?”
“Entirely. I think the Japanese whom modern unbelief has spared are among the happiest people in the world.”
“Not spasmodically,” she went on,—“but a calm and settled content. Our people in the West are not like that, are they?”
“Very far from it.”
“Yes. And I was talking to Sir Arthur Menzies, the great authority on things Burmese. He passed through here lately. And he says it is the same in Burma. The happiest people! They seem to be devoid of fear. I wish I could meet some Oriental who could tell me the secret.”
“I know one,” I said, and told her of Haridas. She listened intently.
“He comes to Java, you say?”
“Yes, we are to meet there. Shall I lend you a book of his?”
She caught at that. Before we parted I told her all I knew of him, all he had said, and his friendship with Lance Dunbar. It made us more than acquaintances. Whatever else he had done for me he had given me here an open door to something I desired with instinct rather than with knowledge.
“It is strange—very strange,” she said at last, “that your cousin seems to have influenced everything that has happened to you since his death. It set you free, you say, to follow his path. His book has been your guide. He gave you this Haridas. Mr. Heron knew you through him and he sent you here. How wonderful life is with its interlinkings! It means so much more than we see. Did you know I had known him?”
“I gathered that from Heron.”
“You will not misunderstand if I say I was deeply interested in him before I was married. One knew that he was on a quest. There were many hindrances in the way, but the end was sure.”
“Yet he died unsatisfied. Remember his letter to Haridas?”
“Yes, I know. A mystery. Yet I believe—But we will talk of this again.”
It was the gentlest dismissal. I had not felt the flight of time, but with a start I remembered Miyuki. I ran downstairs and covered the ground between the hotels with lightning speed.
She was sitting in the lounge smoking the cigarette which had displaced her kiseru, the tiny pipe of the Japanese women, watching the life about her with bright amused eyes. She rose with due ceremony while in breathless haste I explained my errand and that if she did not mind I would put off the play. I felt she had a right to be a little angry for it was the famous Hua-feng-chu—well known in Japan.
Not a cloud in the dark blue eyes, nothing but the ready smile and charming bow.
“To me it is the same. Pray not be sorry. I am content. O Toyo san will come to pictures.”
“You are a darling, Miyuki,” I said, and felt it. Such perfect unwavering amiability was almost unearthly, but it certainly smoothed the ways of earth very considerably. No doubt it would end as it often does in Japan by making the man a selfish tyrant and the woman an angel.
“I take you to the door,” she said and rose, and even as she did it, I saw Sellenger coming down the lounge with a pretty little squirrel of a woman with russet hair and eyes—so deep in what he was saying that he never saw us until he brushed Miyuki. He remembered her—no question of that!—and saw me in the same flash, bowed, said a pleasant greeting and passed on—the whole thing in a minute.
“Who is that lady?” I asked Miyuki.
She shook her head, laughing.
“How do I know? Many ladies here. You come tomorrow?”
As I went down the street my heart a little misgave me about the meeting. The last thing I would choose was that Sellenger should see her again or see us together, and if this were Mrs. Aubert, as I more than guessed, I felt it might be dangerous if any acquaintance sprang up between the two women. A thousand little nothings which never would strike an Oriental, ignorant of our customs, might raise suspicion in a Western mind. It would be a relief if this were not Mrs. Aubert.
But it was she. When we gathered in the lounge the party consisted of Sellenger and his wife; Mrs. Aubert; a Miss Cowper; Rice and I. She knew me again—trust a woman for that!—and murmured something about having seen me at the Europe. Lady Lucia received her with quiet cordiality and we all went off to the Autumn Moon.
It was a pleasant dinner. Sellenger was in great form and my place was by Lady Lucia, and Miss Cowper on my other side was a frank boyish girl, good to talk to. Rice also had plenty to say for himself and turned out to have a taste in Japanese colour prints which carried us far. And there were the queer foods—the deer’s sinews; silver-ear fungus; bêche-de-mer soup; and the general topsy-turviness which goes with a Chinese dinner in the best society. I enjoyed it to the full.
But the best was to come. For after dinner we were ushered to a room very beautifully furnished in Chinese fashion, with splendid draperies, carved black-wood chairs, hanging pictures of mountains solemn and mist-wreathed, lit by painted silk lanterns, and opposite to each other two great incense burners sending up their spirals of perfume. There was an air of expectation, of waiting, and an almost lulling quiet. The women clustered together, and we sat about them. A silent Chinese guarded the circular door with a sliding panel. What could there be?—what strange vision when the door slid back?
Lady Lucia leaned forward, Miss Cowper’s apple-blossom cheeks were pinker and her eyes shining, Mrs. Aubert was fluttering her little fan quite nervously.
Light quick steps were heard outside and through the circle of the door ran in a little singing girl with painted cheeks, in jade-green satin trousers and rose-coloured coat embroidered with gold monkeys and willows. She kow-towed and seated herself humbly on the ground. Silence. Again the door slid back and another girl paced in, slow and dignified. Her dark blue robes were long and flowing and on her head a kind of coronet of metallic blue kingfishers’ feathers with pearl pendants and fringes almost hiding the long slanting eyes. They rustled as she moved. Her face was painted a dead white with a deep flush of rouge on either cheek, the full lips heavily vermilioned, the eye-brows drawn into two fantastically high arches, almost meeting the black sweeps of hair in which her face was set like a moon in clouds. Not beautiful in herself, she was yet a figure of the strangest exotic beauty, like a dangerous flower in hidden places, disturbing, troubling to the imagination. I could look at nothing else, think of nothing else but that painted unreal mask surrounded by pearls less white than the cheeks.
She bowed deeply and stood motionless.
“Who is she? I never saw her before.” Sellenger whispered to Rice.
“I don’t know. I told them you wanted something very good. I believe though that she’s the half-breed English girl that Wu Ting told us of. If so, she speaks English. The other is Apao, the Shanghai girl. She speaks English too—after a fashion. Hush, they’re beginning.”
The singing girl rose slowly to her feet, lute in hand. She struck a rippling arpeggio, then knelt before the other, tendering a rolled picture scroll. About them the incense curled from the great burners. The tall girl stretched out her arm solemnly with the scroll. Her voice was like a faint silver gong heard across running water.
“This is the singing girl Green Monkey. I am the poet Chia Tzu-lung.”
Sweeping soft arpeggios on her lute, the singing girl answered in high falsetto. Her clipped English added to the strangeness of the whole performance. The other spoke it like a native. And slowly the room faded from us. We saw the pavilions of the old Chinese Court, as the tall girl unfolded the great scroll picture with its beautiful figures in wide halls and gardens, and for awhile we lived in the dead past of the great city outside—the city that has forgotten its majesty and turned to peoples for instruction whom long ago it held as outcast.
(“Tell me the story of this picture,” said the singing girl Green Monkey.—“Beautiful are these ladies, and one most beautiful—a waving willow of delight. Here in the Tower of the Jewelled Moon we sit above the Gate of the Whirring Phoenixes. You are the poet Chia Tzu-lung. I am the singing girl Green Monkey. Tell me this story that I may sing it tonight at the banquet of the Mandarin Chung Chi’ng-yu.”
“Hot is the sunshine in the garden,” said the poet Chia Tzu-lung. “Like burning gold it lies on the lake. Only beneath the arch of the marble bridge are coolness and shadow. Listen then, O singing girl Green Monkey, while I unscroll the picture and point with my ivory pointer.)
“In the Palace of Heavenly Purity is seated her Majesty the Empress Mother in pearled and flowered headdress. Eunuchs and palace women, high ceremonious women glorious in gold and gauzes and silks from Si-ngan Fu, still as clock-work toys, kneeling, rising, kow-towing, one after another display maidens most beautiful shrinking before the Throne. What are these ladies doing? This is the Day of the Choosing that an Empress be found for the Son of Heaven. He himself is not present. It is a trifle, for it is a woman. Women are always trifles.
“The Empress considers them coldly—complexion as the dawn, eyes like autumn waves, lips like beads of coral. She commands that they count the perfect pearls of teeth; that they measure these willow maidens and the lengths of their loosened hair. Twenty must stand aside—they weep in a corner. Can there be beauty more exquisite in all the Celestial Empire?”
(“Alas for those ladies!” said the singing girl Green Monkey. “They wipe the tears from their perfumed cheeks. They hide their blushes with long sleeves of satin. O who shall lie in the arms of his Majesty if these lovely ones fail?”)
“His Majesty is occupied in the Hall of Beneficent Wisdom. He receives the Ambassadors from Korai. Behold the Cap of Pearls upon his august head. Behold the Celestial Robe embroidered with Phoenix and soaring Dragon, and the ripple border of purest gold. See his long fine hands like smoked ivory, the transparent nails sheathed in jewelled cases. The grey jade sceptre lies across his knees.
“His Magnificence is weary—he yawns! Let the Ambassadors be instantly dismissed. Now let him rest. Let his Celestial Empire murmur far off like a sea shell.
“Before him kneel the Literati. They recite poems written with brushes of dragon’s beard and ink scented with larkspur rubbed on crystal ink dishes. The paper is of seven-fold thickness ornamented with golden clouds. They recite the joys of friendship, of power, of wine, of feasting, but of women they do not speak. Women are trifles unworthy the attention of virtuous persons. Yet the Son of Heaven yawns. Can it be possible that trifles have an importance of their own?
“Here—hold! His Majesty will see pictures! Bring the hanging pictures—bring the scrolls. Bring warmed wine in a cup of pale jade that he may re-create his soul.”
(“Great is virtue,” said the singing girl Green Monkey. “Yet had I been there I had made His Augustness smile with the story of Ying-ning. Would that I might step into the picture like Wu Tao-tzu and kneel at the Sacred Feet. I would dance—dance like the Moon-fairies, sing to my lute of Jasper.”)
“Here come the artists hurrying. They display their pictures, painted on golden silks in clear pale aquarelle. This is the work of Wu Tao. O beautiful the plunging waterfall leaping from misty crags! See its grey slender lines falling straight as rain to the boiling pool beneath. A bough of maple trembles across it and above is the rounding moon. Will it please the Son of Heaven? No, he yawns widely. It is no good. Take it away.
“Unscroll the picture of Li Chou. It may please his Augustness better. Behold the fighting cocks, white as white cranes, with scarlet combs and wattles. Their legs are black, they rush together. Their claws rend and tear, their beaks also, dripping with blood bright on their white breasts. About them flutter bloody feathers. O fierce little warriors, fiercer than fighting crickets—will you please the Son of Heaven? No, it is useless; he yawns. Take them away!”
(“Surely they know not how to please his Divine Majesty,” said the singing girl Green Monkey. “Were I there I would sing of beauty—beauty like that of T’ai-Chen. She whom the love of the first of men made first of women. Surely they know not what they do.”)
“Or here—these mandarin ducks painted by Wang Tsu the artist of birds?—floating on a willow pond, while a fox—yes, a fox,—peers at them from the willows. Aho! Foxes do strange things in China. Possibly this is a bewitched Princess. But no—the great Jade Emperor yawns. Take it away!”
(She showed each scroll as she spoke, then flung it scornfully away.)
“Ha! what is this? Kuo Hsi the painter of women. To him they open their graces like flowers asway on the warm south winds. But women are trifles unworthy the Imperial attention. See! with a frightened air he makes the Ninefold abasement. He lays at the Imperial Feet a box of cedar long straight and narrow. Characters are painted upon it. What do they say?”
“This is the Lady of Lo.”
(Soft, soft notes on the lute, The singing girl Green Monkey creeping to the feet of the poet.)
“O what lady’s beauty lies coffined in cedar, scrolled like a budding flower? He lifts it with delicate fingers yellow and clear as amber. Hark! the jade pendants tinkle as if with laughter; make way for the Lady of Lo!
“Unroll the hanging picture downward that His Majesty may see.
“First appears satin-smooth hair, black as crows in snow-fields, swept up, looped and cabled above the brows, over each ear a silver peony, pale rose tassels of silk depending. Then are seen two eyebrows, black soft silk-moths fluttering to make the white brows whiter. Then two eyes curved, dark, deep as the famous Springs of Chi Li. Almond blossom cheeks blooming faintly pink. O linger there! Permit the Son of Heaven to muse before the marvel of the mouth is unfolded! Now—the mouth! Lips of flower sweetness—surely their music is audible 1 Listen—was that a whisper? See the tiny pearls within—They should bite only nectarines and ripe peaches. Only fruit juices or rose petals should colour those lips.
“O, fortunate one at whom she smiles! But he is not in the picture; only a silver peacock attends her. He pecks the willow-leaf satin of her robe, and displays his silvers and greys and mauves and the pale moons of his train. It is the Lady of Lo with her tame peacock. It is a trifle, for it is a woman. It is only beauty. It is the Lady of Lo.”
(“It is only beauty,” repeats the lute in silver cadence. “It is only—only the Lady of Lo.” Silence. Then strong passionate chords as Green Monkey springs to her feet.
“Straightway the Emperor sits upright on his throne of carved ivory inlaid with pearl. His sceptre drops—it falls to the ground. He does not yawn. His eyes like quivering butterflies flit over the blossom of her face. They are listless no longer, they seek the bud of her lips, the grey peonies that hide her little ears. They wing their way about the pure and slender lines of her faint green robes. Yet—this is but a trifle. It is only the Lady of Lo.
“Cold as running water the Imperial eyes survey Kuo Hsi. Cold as tinkling ice the Imperial voice. ‘This is a trifle but it pleases our Augustness. It remains in the Dragon Palace. Reward this man according to his desires.’
“Fortunate Kuo Hsi! Taels of silver are heaped upon him, silver that means summer gardens, fighting quails,, women of moonlike beauty; yes, and wine honey-hearted in crystal cups! And to these is added a moon-pearl, a pearl pure and flawless as the bosom of beauty. Happy Kuo Hsi! Drunk with delight he quits the Dragon Palace, dreaming his first carouse.
“Sudden the Celestial voice recalls him:
“‘It is a trifle, yet even of a trifle the history should be known. Is this Lady of Lo a dream or a woman? Is she flower-sweet flesh, or the dream of a flower—sun-flushed almond bloom blown on a morning breeze?’
“Hush! an artist may not reply to the Emperor. Li Lung the accomplished courtier interprets the words that flutter abashed on the lips of Kuo Hsi.”
(The poet Tzu-lung snatches the lute from the singing girl Green Monkey. In a deep-toned recitative he, or she, chants the perfections of the Lady of Lo; the singing girl bowing to the earth as he proceeds. The great grave chords support the voice.)
“In the western town of Cheng is a garden, which shelters beauty as oysters shelter their pearls. There the peonies open faint blooms pearly and grey and mauve, languid with perfume. In the ponds ripple the silver carp, lifting their gasping heads to see the Wonder. There the peacocks are silver, their legs are pink, their claws pink mother-of-pearl. There are no colours that shout and sing, no gong-like orange, no trumpet-tongued red, no swooning blues. Long wistarias trail mauve-grey garlands; only the veined white iris, lip-tinged with yellow, grows in the warm wet nooks where the runnels drip through the rocks. Here dwells the Lady of Lo, graceful as a sheathed iris, while faint iris perfumes surround her, guarded by silver peacocks with fighting crests such as I have depicted.
Certainly in my unworthy picture she is beautiful, yet I could paint her but as a drunken peasant stutters the classics.”
(“Give me my lute,” says the singing girl Green Monkey. “Her beauty runs like wine in the veins of the Son of Heaven. What is wisdom—what is learning when a beautiful woman smiles?”)
“Run, run, messengers! Ride on swift horses tasselled with scarlet and gold, shouting the Emperor’s will! Swing on your shoulders the litter lined with silks, glimmering with jade and malachite, cushions soft as a butterflies’ feathers, for the Empress is found—is found! She is the Lady of Lo!” (The lute rang like a trumpet.)
“Cheng is far, yet what matter? Were it the end of the earth and the Empress guarded by dragons, loyal legions should find her and even the birds of the air joining their wings would bring her. Say to the Empress Mother; ‘Let the assembled ladies disperse—beautiful, doubtless, most beautiful—but not the Lady of Lo!’
“Weeping and trembling they hasten, covering their faces; sad and abashed they vanish melting away one by one like stars in the risen dawn for with the dawn she comes—the Lady of Lo.
“The Son of Heaven approaches. Truly this is a trifle—women are trifles always,—yet trifles have their importance. He comes to the Pepper Chamber to see his newest trifle. Here is the Litter swaying between the bearers. The poles are golden, the curtains of rosy silk are closed, yet a faint perfume caresses the nostrils from the hidden Flower within.
“The Emperor waits; the Empress Mother waits. The Litter is set down gently and the bearers retire.
“Hush—it is the Imperial hand that opens the curtains; it is the Imperial voice that speaks. She rises; she emerges like a blowing blossom, beautiful, bending like a reed. But—it is only a trifle; it is not the Lady of Lo!”
(Chords faint and dying from the lute. The singing girl hides her face.)
“O shame, horror! Heads must fall for this. A mistake in the Imperial orders. Messengers run frantically looking for Kuo Hsi. He cannot be found. The Celestial Emperor pale as white jade gazes on the swooning lady,—beautiful certainly, but only a trifle. She is not the Lady of Lo.
“Listen—hush! The Empress Mother speaks:
“‘Sovereign Master and Son, have you thought your Mother negligent? When you said, “Choose me an Empress,”—did you think me indolent, careless, forgetful? Does not the fisherman sweep the waters diligently with his net lest the fish escape him? So with my net of sleepless eyes and hearing ears I have swept the Flowery Empire from end to end, and again and yet again. And I have caught my fish, my fish of purest gold, flawless in curve and hue. Better is the love of a mother than all the zeal of courtiers. Behold!—it is only a trifle! Behold the Lady of Lo!’”
(The Singing Girl Green Monkey springs to her feet. She clashes the lute above her head.)
“Bow—bow down all! The Empress Mother has clapped her august hands. The Empress is here. She approaches. She enters supported by matrons, high ceremonious women, on delicate tottering feet. Pearl fringes veil her eyes, silver robes fall about her, disclosing inner robes of pale rose as she moves. Wonderful! Lovely as Fei Yen!—eyes half closed in rapture, pale, beseeching, exquisite, breathing the perfume of iris. She totters forward with tremulous hands extended, and touches the Jade Sceptre, and lays her head upon the Imperial feet.
“A trifle certainly, but exquisite. This is the Lady of Lo. Let the gongs clash and the bronze bells boom.
“O hush! The clouds close about us. It is but a scroll picture of days long dead. Only a picture. You have seen it all now. Lay it away in the box. Were these people once real? They are real no longer. It is a dream and we have awakened.
“It is only a trifle. It is only the Lady of Lo!” The voice grew softer and softer with a dreamy sweetness. The singing girl Green Monkey laid aside her lute, and, crouching, hid her face in her hands. Silence,—then the other standing tall and straight, pointing to her, spoke in tones that were almost a whisper:
“But the singing girl Green Monkey wept for the passing of beauty.”
The lights grew slowly dimmer. The room was full of shadows.
For awhile even the men were silent—then Sellenger said loudly;
“A jolly good show. I was a bit bored at first, but really they did it uncommonly well. What did you think, Mrs. Aubert? They weren’t pretty, either of them, but it’s a queerness that gets home somehow. Piquant—yes, that’s exactly the word. Very fetching indeed.”
“Adorable,” Mrs. Aubert gushed. “Two dears! I’d like to have the whole thing over again. Wouldn’t you, Lady Lucia?”
“No, it was too beautiful. I had rather think about it. They called up the ghosts of dead days and then glided away like ghosts themselves. The room seems full of dead people. Look—beside that screen with the mountain in mist. Don’t you see the Lady of Lo dying away like a moon in sunrise?”
She laughed a little but Miss Cowper looked nervously over her shoulder. “It was all so real,” she said. “I see now that stories should always be told and acted, not read. It seemed as if we were the people in the pictures and they the real people.”
As we returned we talked less than when we came. The spell of the past was on us all—it would be gone like dew on the grass by the morning but it held us now.
A week later I had my answer from the monk Shan-tao from the Sweet Dew Monastery,—or to give it its real name—Kan-lu-ssŭ. I had asked if I might go up to the monastery for a week. It was a four days’ walk from a village beyond Peking up into the great hills surrounded by mountains and the idea of the expedition drew me as much as what I hoped to find there.
Miyuki, gracious and contented, said she had made friends in the hotel and could be quite happy during the fortnight or more I might be away. Indeed she would be preparing for our journey to Java which could not be left too late.
I had seen Lady Lucia four times in those seven days. Once in the public gardens where the willows hung long Dryad tresses of faint green over the half circle of the marble bridge—we lingered there a long time talking,—once when I ventured into tea and found her alone with the book Haridas had written on her knee. It had moved her deeply, but this I will tell in its due place. Each time of the four we had grown more intimate in the way that befalls those who have the same keying in the orchestra of thought. Each time I came away believing that I had for the first time in my life found a woman friend—one to whom my company was a pleasure, and to whom I gave as well as received. It was a blessing I had never had before. Miyuki—yes! —but that was different, different in every thread of its warp and woof. Friendship can never be the same between oneself and any two people. Every ingredient of character alters its whole substance, and each is as fresh as if it were the only one in the world. Rice, also, I had met many times, and I liked him though he had no likeness to his cousin—a good sort of young fellow. His relationship with Sellenger was very friendly, and his role was evidently to be on duty in attendance on Lady Lucia when Sellenger’s business or pleasure took him away. That was as far as I had mapped out the situation.
I stood on the hotel steps, reading the letter of the Chinese monk.
“I have your letter and one from our brother Haridas. Indeed you will be a welcome guest and what we have to give will be freely given.
“Come on the day you have named. There is a place for your servant also.
“Your faithful servant,
But for the ending any Englishman might have written it. That surprised me more than a little. One could not expect the linguistic gifts of Haridas in every ordinary monk. Then I would start in two days. I looked forward to it with some doubt, yet with interest. An experience not to be missed.
And then Rice came up as I stood there with the Chinese boys running up and down, and rickisha parties gathering for the trip to the Temple of Heaven and what not. We chatted at first about the weather, the people, but I saw there was something behind it and in a few minutes out it came with a sparkle of mischief in his eyes.
“I say, you didn’t know and no more did I that we were in the first act of a tragedy the other night at the Autumn Moon. What price Mrs. Aubert, eh?”
“What d’you mean? Mrs. Aubert? You don’t mean to say—”
“Are you going up Coal Hill way?—I’ll go a few minutes with you. Yes—Mrs. Aubert. I knew old Heron told you the lie of the land, but for the matter of that all the world knows it. This time, Sellenger has had the most frightful turn up with Mrs. Kohn because he asked Mrs. Aubert to the Autumn Moon instead of her. She guessed about Mrs. Aubert directly she got here.”
“But is Mrs. Aubert one of the bunch?”
“By Jove, yes. She’s only a little war widow with nothing but a pension or something. He pays all her bills. I daresay Heron told you I try to act as a buffer state between all this kind of thing and my cousin, but it really isn’t much good. She won’t look Mrs. Kohn’s way but she knows nothing about Mrs. Aubert yet, so that’s all right.”
A poor defence—this good-natured silly fellow, for that was how I summed him up then. I said nothing. I remembered Lady Lucia’s gentle grace as she drew Mrs. Aubert beside her in the auto and wrapped a fold of her own ermine cloak about the thin shoulders. Ah, well!—what business was it of mine? If Rice had not been chattering to me of it he would have been to another. He went on:
“So the Kohn is off in a rage royal to Tientsin and Sellenger after her. He likes to have them all on a string. It’s his own affair, but I don’t care who hears me say it—I’m damned sorry for my cousin. She’s a thorough-bred and no mistake. She bears it like a brick, and yet directly anything goes wrong with any of his women Sellenger takes it out of her and behaves like a brute. You’ve never seen him in a wax—I have, and I don’t forget it. She gets it day in and day out when he isn’t pleased with things in general. By the way, the two women had what Mrs. Kohn calls an explanation, and Mrs. Aubert’s knocked over with nervous headache. She was to have had tea with Lady Lucia. I wish you’d go and look after my cousin for I have to go to the race-course with Bain. You’re such a chum of Heron’s that I feel as if you were one of the party, so I don’t mind asking.”
We talked awhile longer and he went off, careless and good-natured. I turned irresolute—Should I go to her or no? She would be in if Mrs. Aubert had been coming. And Sellenger was in Tientsin! I hesitated no longer but went quickly in to the hotel.
Again I found her sitting with the book upon her knee but she was not reading. An immense weariness was upon her and her voice was lower than usual. It had a wistful note that touched me—lonely as a faint bell in the gathering dusk. I was certain she knew something of what had happened, though how I could not guess.
We talked at first of idle things and later I told her I was going to the Kan-lu-ssŭ monastery. She asked the meaning of the name and I said I did not know unless the “Sweet Dew” referred to the merciful healing scattered from the willow spray borne by Kwannon—or Kwanyin, the embodied compassion of the Buddha. I remember I repeated those strange piteous lines (written so many centuries ago) from the tomb of an unknown woman in China.
“Grant me, I pray,
One dew-drop from thy willow spray.
And in the double lotus keep
My hidden heart asleep.”
When I looked up her eyes were brimmed with tears.
“Will you write it down for me—now?”
I wrote it on a leaf of my pocket-book and we both were silent as she read it again.
“It sums it all up,” she said at last—“the eternal cry for peace, the unbearable repartee of silence. Is there any answer anywhere? I have not found it.”
Again a silence, then very timidly she said:
“But you are searching. You are going to Kan-lu-ssŭ. If you find anything will you share with me? I need it—(a pause) very deeply.”
The long proud throat was bowed—her eyes were on the ground. She spoke as simply as a little girl groping in the dark, who catches the nearest hand for companionship. Not the vainest man on earth could have made more of it than that. I promised as simply.
“You are going to this strange place—it may be very beautiful. I know that the East is wiser than we think. They seem to me to have remembered the soul and studied it in a way we don’t understand at all. We have so utterly forgotten.”
I agreed. “We have forgotten.”
“But can there be any hope unless we remember? We live at the mercy of every misery. It is frightful. I read this book—(she touched the open page) and find men and women who in this life—here—have attained a point where no fear or pain can touch them any more. Have you read these ‘Psalms of the Sisters’? These people don’t deny sorrow—but by their discipline they conquer even the desire that is its root. Oh, if I could learn that secret!”
“It is worth learning. I knew that when I saw Haridas even for the first time. It was in the very air about him. I’ll bring him to you in Java. Have you read the paper enclosed in the book?”
“Yes. Can you explain it? It seems to deny all the rest.”
She read it aloud:
“‘Once the Buddha smiled and by the radiancy of that smile were countless worlds illumined. But there came a Voice saying “It is not real. It cannot last.” And the light passed!’ How could it pass?”
“I think it means that everything we state becomes false in the statement, and that behind all we perceive is something so tremendous that all we can say of it is ‘Not so. Not so,’ and any other words misleading. So all we can do is to adopt the Rule and follow its guiding. And if all our conceptions of the ‘Not so,’ die in darkness as they must, still it would be there and our certainty unshaken.”
My own speech astonished me. How did I know that? The “Not So.” Had I caught the phrase from Haridas? It was as if another had spoken through me. She looked at me, almost startled.
“That must be true,” she breathed. “We cannot either lose or name what is ourselves.”
That talk drew us nearer to each other. We parted with a strange freemasonry between us—the comradeship of the open road of the soul. Much more was said than I have recorded, but it must be developed in events rather than words. I promised to see her when I returned from Kan-lu-ssŭ, and left her alone, but, I think, with a gleam of something of new hope to light her difficult way.
Before I started I wrote to Heron and gave him news of her, mentioning that I already had seen reason to agree with his estimate of Sellenger. I saw no reason for concealment or delicacy on that point.
The walk to Kan-lu-ssŭ was a wonderful pleasure. I rode twenty-five miles to a village beyond Peking and found the wayfaring very fascinating. At the street corners of the big city the people were buying green corn from the pots which boiled so enticingly in public, and with it foods much more dubious to the European mind. Much cooking is done by the roadside in China, and I, for one, remembering the frightful tales of famine and disaster, took pleasure in seeing them enjoy a square meal be it what it might. But it was when the town and even the villages fell off that the way became entrancing. It was a real spring day when I started the walk—a soft equal breeze blowing over the land and little white clouds like doves drifting across the tender blue of the sky. The rough track now led upward steadily, with my Chinese boy Chang, who knew the way well, leading—and so we struck away into the high trail winding on into the hills, and I thought no man could desire anything lovelier in its woodland quiet. The trees were often oak and chestnut and the very leaves whispered of far seas and Western woods. But that was all—there were differences that no imagination could conquer.
The way was very lonely; we passed but one hill village, and the rippling song of a stream was the only sound, for Chang went his way in stolid silence unlike the good-humoured talk and ready smile of Tazaki whom I had left in Peking. I had plenty of matter in my own thoughts, however, to keep me occupied as we climbed the steep slopes. The rocks were of wizard shapes—it is certain that the rocks of China and Japan have spirits of their own comparable to the Nereids and Dryads of Greece. But they are not of the same order. The spirits of these wildly carved and spired rocks, hollowed into caves, skirting dizzy precipices, lost in driving mist, are the famous mountain hermits, sages and religious of ancient days. They sit by the coldly-welling springs with inward eyes fixed on the crystal running which is ever and never the same, like the Supreme of their vision, revolving the impermanence of things. Leaning with one arm against a stark pine trunk they stare over the precipices to the mountains that fade in the blue, and if you are fortunate enough to steal upon the abstraction of such a one it may be seen that his breath, vaporous in the clear air, shapes itself into the images of his thought—the Buddha attended by divine figures. They float away and disperse; the thought has passed elsewhere. Above in the heights wait the Storm-Gods with a ring of thunder-drums about them and one fierce hand flung up with a sheaf of lightnings. Their faces are Mongolian but with the air of a furious cat, the outer corners of the slit eyes drawn upward to the temples, the lips retracted from grinning teeth, the eye-brow brushes running up in a sharp slant to the hair—all the lines running up. They are like gongs and beaten brass—like some wild thing petrified in a yell. And when they clash the thunder-drums and loose the lightnings, and the rain rings on the leaves like trotting hoofs, it disturbs the spirits of the sages not one whit, because they too are a manifestation of nature and so one with her that rain and sunshine are alike, and nothing can trouble their eternal dream.
I swear I saw one, clothed in a ragged robe, laughing grotesquely like one of Nature’s innocents at a mountain deer standing regardant at his feet. Was it the reflection of an old picture seen in the holy dimness of a temple in Japan, or visionary fact. I cannot tell. And so we travelled through the wild woods and rocks for three days and on the fourth we stopped by a little inn deep hidden in the trees, and they gave us hot water for our tea, and still we went on and up until we stayed for the night at a small wayside temple where I made myself as comfortable as I could while Chang went off to quarters unknown. Sleep did not come easy to me that night in spite of a long day’s exercise and the droning of an interminable ritual. I thought of one in her forlornness, so pitifully alone, surrounded by deceits and traps and intrigues; no stay, no help! Her fine, clear intellect truly was still her own, but a woman wants heart-warmth as well as brain-ice. Athene mated to a satyr. The waste of it! What might she not have done if she had gone forward hand in hand with a man at least true and simple and with the instinct to protect. What would her fate be? Some miserable Divorce Court scandal and a bitter freedom; or life sinking slowly down uncomforted into the grey ash of age?
And outside a softly wandering night breeze swayed the tinkling wind-bells, and a deep voice droned a passage of the Diamond Scripture, and the old wisdom of China whispered about me. And it said this:
“Though the mists drift about the mountains their peaks are bathed in eternal sunshine. The dis-harmonies of life are the tuning of the orchestra for the King’s music. Open your eyes and see, and your ears and hear, and illusion will disperse for ever.”
How shall I describe the monastery of Kan-lu-ssŭ, set in its quiet gardens of a slope of the upper hills? Sunlight and trees, gold soaking into green in a strong chord of colour, fair lights and shadows dappling the little paths. A breeze, small as a butterfly, that faintly tinkled the wind-bells. A building old and mossed, with wide sweeping roofs under great chestnuts, standing three-sided about the wide lotus pool fed from the little river that sprang from crag to crag in its leap to the plains far beneath. Small court-yards clustered about the central building, dreamy with trees and their shadows. Great rocks towered above it with fantastic pines. Rocks mirrored themselves in the pools and framed it in, and among them grew wet iris plants and a little white rock flower of peculiar and sensitive beauty. The water was so clear that the fish could be seen gliding in their water world from one or two verandas abutting over the clearness where the long willow boughs touched the surface with delicate fingers.
The many roofs were tiled with grey blue tiles weathered very beautifully and gilded in the hollows of their fluting by the close-coined gold of a mountain lichen which grew there as kindly as on the rocks and trees.
Between me and this tranquil loveliness was the dancing river, crossed by a little humpback bridge of rough stone knotted with some wild vine. I stood and looked long before Chang struck the bronze bell which hung at the bridge end, for not a soul was stirring and it all lay so still that the illusion of its being a picture only grew upon me—a place that had dreamed itself back into the dead ages and become a part of them once more—visible but intangible.
But Chang struck the bell and a low soft note travelled across the narrow river and instantly there was life.
Two yellow-robed figures detached themselves from the wooden corridor that ran along the lotus pond and approached the bridge where I stood uncertain, bowing as they came—two men with shaven heads, tall and dignified, and the words of Haridas in “The Norm” rose before my mind:
“And even as I thought this I saw two Bhikkhus (monks) approaching, whom I knew not, men in middle life with grave eyes, calm of presence as becomes the Brethren of the Lord, and, as they came through shade and sunshine, I said—‘See how these men move like Kings in the bright perfection of peace.’”
One was Chinese—the monk Shan-tao, the other—could I believe my eyes?—was European, and together they drew near and saluted me.
“Welcome and again welcome to all the Monastery of Sweet Dew can give for refreshment of mind and body. We are glad in your coming. This brother is of your own people and is therefore here to greet you, lest my poor speech in your celebrated tongue should displease you by its illiteracy.”
I bowed low. There was no apology needed and I said so. He did not speak with the perfect fluency of Haridas, but here I may set down that, owing to the peculiar nature of their work, all the brethren spoke English and some French, it being a part of their Rule that each man should master at least one language in addition to his own.
The European, telling me he was from Cumberland—and how infinitely strange it seemed to meet him in this place!—welcomed me very cordially. His name as a monk was Yasas, the old one unmentioned and forgotten. What story of grief or undoing had led him to this alien discipline? I felt I would give much to hear. He was a man of about forty with a kindly smile in Atlantic-blue eyes that remembered the moors and skies of home.
“It is a great pleasure to see a man of my own race,” he said. “Though I have seen them I have not spoken to one for five years, for my work has been among a very different people—the nomads of the Tibetan borders. I hope to hear much from you of things I remember and shall not see again.”
“There is much we all hope to hear,” said Shan-tao. “Six years ago we thought to have had as guest a man of your clan. (The Chinese surnames are divided into clans.) But he did not come and our brother Haridas told us that he had gone to the Great War. Does he live?”
I told them, no. Shan-tao resumed:
“What he has given will be returned in his rebirth in wisdom and peace. Come now with us to our Head.”
Walking on either side they brought me across the bridge and into the quiet precincts of the low wide building. We entered at a small door on one of the water verandas and there slippers were provided and I was asked to remove my boots. Shan-tao now leading, they entered a long low hall such as I was accustomed to in Japan—a place of white purity,—where at the upper end a man sat writing with a brush and Indian ink upon a long scroll which flowed over the table before him. He too was clad in the yellow robe, and had a worn face of the aristocratic Chinese type, with long slender hands. An artist of the Tosa school would have delighted to paint him as he sat in the cool grey shadows in his lacquered chair, the falling ochre of the robe setting free the strong neck and the pale amber of the distinguished face. Behind him in an alcove hung a glorious scroll picture of the Sunrise Amida, haloed and splendid against a risen sun, surrounded by a rejoicing multitude of saints like the golden angels of the Italian primitives, acclaiming the enfranchised souls “who just are born, being dead.”
The jewel colours were a noble background for a noble figure. He rose and, in English less perfect than that of my guides, gave me a gracious welcome, adding that he hoped my visit was not to be a short one as he felt sure from the letter of Haridas that I should be suited to the atmosphere of the monastery. Shan-tao prompted him with a word here and there when he hesitated.
“It is here,” he added, “that our brothers come for rest after years of labour. Here they exchange thoughts on many matters and fill the cisterns of peace before they return to the world to scatter it in Sweet Dew.”
He smiled as he made the allusion to the name of the monastery, and then, bowing again, returned thoughtfully to his writing.
They took me into the hall where the other brothers sat—about thirty in all—wearing the yellow robe, poor in outward appearance, but saturated with the culture of the ancient days of China and Japan, armed also with modern knowledge, gentlemen to their fingertips, chosen specially for difficult work, such as required dignity and grace of manner blended with utter self-devotion. Four were Japanese, two Siamese, the greater part were Chinese, but there were two Hindus and a Frenchman. If I say that they reminded me of a Jesuit community I imply no more than that the finished product of disciplined nature combined with the highest culture and knowledge of men was there represented. I found later that several had had the opportunity of entering the diplomatic services of their countries on account of their linguistic and other attainments, but all offers of the kind were, of course, refused.
I had the kindest reception,—the talk was general, and in courtesy to my limitations was in English, and such as you might hear in any University Common room, and of extraordinary interest, on account of the men working at such different points and coming in with such varied experiences. I gathered that the full strength of those attached to that especial monastery was a hundred and twenty-four, and that each at stated times took his holiday there, not returning otherwise unless specially recalled. For my own part I can only say that such an interest had never come my way before. To be amongst men of such varying nationalities and attainments—to hear them discussing art, politics, literature,—I had not imagined that such a thing could be. At the moment nothing recalled their. religious profession but their dress. It was an intellectual delight—nothing more, and I wished with all my heart that I had the right to stay for a month instead of the week I had planned. I said this to the Dalesman who was standing by me. He looked at me in surprise :
“Why of course you can stay! Our Rule forbids our turning any stranger away, especially one like yourself who is interested in the things that lie below the surface. I myself came here first as a guest, and then—well, it put me out of tune for other things, and I joined up.”
“You like it?” I asked, stupidly enough.
He smiled and made no answer; then continued;
“You see, they like people to know what they are doing. No secrets at all. However you will soon understand.”
We talked of home matters then. He told me his name was Lewthwaite, and spoke of the old life of the dales and hills of Cumberland, but with no regrets. I ventured to ask whether it was world-weariness or trouble of any kind which had sent him into so unusual an experience. He looked at me with calm astonishment.
“Why no! I suppose I had everything most fellows prize, but here I found something better. You don’t refuse it when the chance of the best comes your way. It didn’t need much consideration.”
“And could you return to the world if you wished? Are you a free man?”
“Absolutely. That has always been the rule ever since the first days in India. But as we have found the real freedom here, none of us are very likely to shut the prison doors again upon ourselves.”
Was I talking to a Buddhist monk? The whole thing seemed fantastic as a dream. This serene matter-of-fact life, a body of men uniting in a world purpose, was as unlike my imaginings as anything could be. No exaltation that I could see; no religious hysteria or posturing—then what was the soul of it? What could it mean?
A bronze bell outside was struck, and the golden notes floated over the garden to summon the brothers who were at work. A wait of a few minutes and others entered and the Abbot joined us last, with no mark to distinguish him from the rest but the deference all paid him, and slowly led the way to the refectory while we followed two by two, Lewthwaite walking with me.
If any one had told me I was transported in a dream to the Middle Ages I should have believed it. Gone were all the formulas that I knew, gone the values which in common with all the Western World I had accepted as the standards of life.
It was a very long low room, with wooden benches, looking out upon the lotus pond where each flower, dreaming on the placid surface, repeated the parable of purity that rooted in the black earth unfolds its blossom in eternal sunshine. The walls were frescoed in clear colour by a Brother who had been an artist of fame in Southern China before he threw all aside for the Norm. They represented those incidents in the life of the Gautama Buddha which specially connected themselves with food, and were a reminder to temperance in its use. Here was the maiden Sujata bearing the gift of nourishment to the Exalted One on the day, when worn with fasting, he was about to receive the Perfect Enlightenment. Beside it were written in Chinese (translated for me by Shan-tao) these words—
“So, sending for the golden vessel she put within it the rice and milk and covered it with a pure white cloth and bore it with dignity to the foot of the tree where He sat. And the Buddha received the golden bowl.”
Attended by her shrinking handmaid, Sujata, delicate and dark, advances with majestic modesty, bearing the sacramental meal uplifted on one palm. The Buddha receives it in calm abstraction. Angelic beings above, scatter blossoms in the air.
In the next, the Buddha, leading His disciples, moves forward with his begging bowl, meekly tendering it for alms of food—He the Conqueror, the Illuminator. The people press forward timidly to lay their small gifts of rice and fruit within it. A child kneels with clasped hands looking upward. A woman bearing fruit on a great plantain leaf makes her way to the Perfect One.
In the third the courtesan Amra prepares a meal for Him-Who-has-thus-attained, and his disciples. The scene is her house, splendid and sinful. Yet the food is not rejected. She, beautiful and awed, serves them with her own hand, and when they have eaten she seats herself humbly beside the sacred feet to hear the Law. Her head is bowed; her long black tresses fall about her like a veil of mourning.
These pictures I thought very naive and beautiful. I said as much to Lewthwaite and he told me that the artist had left fame and fortune to take up the homeless life and had died while on a perilous journey through the Gobi Desert. To me it seemed a cruel waste of an unique talent. Again he smiled and said nothing, and so we sat down to the long clean table of wood; their chop-sticks and large horn spoons for the rest and for me a wooden fork with a knife; two of the brethren taking it in turn to serve us.
Shall I describe that strange meal. Wooden bowls of fruit stood at intervals down the table and by each place a basin of rice, and one of vegetable broth, savoury and good, with flat brown cakes of bread, sprinkled with seeds and decorated with red spots of vegetable colouring. There were pickled vegetables and squares of bean curd for those who like such things, and with the exception of hard-boiled eggs provided for me, this was all. And enough too, if one might judge from the vivid health of those about me and the hale old age of the Abbot and one or two more. It seemed to be a Trappist rule as regarded food, and Lewthwaite told me there were but two meals a day. Water and tea were the drinks. The meal was mediaeval too inasmuch as while we ate in silence though not in haste, a monk ascending a kind of lectern read aloud, again in English in deference to my ignorance, a Birth Story of the Lord Buddha as a lesson for the meditation which follows the meal. It happened to be one illustrating the power of faith, and I give it because of its singular likeness to one well known to the Christian belief.
“This story the Master told at Jetavana about a faithful lay disciple. Now this faithful, joyful, noble disciple, going one day to Jetavana, came in the evening to the bank of the river. As the boatman had drawn up his boat on shore, and had gone to listen to the doctrine, the disciple saw no boat at the ferry, and taking joy in meditating on the Buddha, he walked across the river. His feet did not sink in the water. As though on dry ground he went until he had reached half way, when he saw waves. Then his ecstasy in meditating on the Buddha became less, and his feet began to sink, but he again strengthened his ecstasy and passing over the surface of the water, entered Jetavana, saluted the Master and sat on one side.
“From this the Buddha drew a great lesson, reciting the story of the far past when on a ship being wrecked the laymen remembered the virtues of the Buddha and received support.”
This impressed me as very remarkable and the more so from the strange and ancient Chinese story of 398 B.C. which followed it as illustration. It is that of an old peasant who overhears a discourse on the magic powers of a certain Mr. Fan. He seeks to become a disciple of so profitable a master, but on arriving is received with jeers at his rusticity. At last the arrogant followers of Fan dare the old man to throw himself from a cliff. He does so and is wafted to the earth like a bird on the wing. Much puzzled the unbelievers point to the foaming river—there is a precious pearl at the bottom if he will dive for it. He dives and returns with a priceless pearl in his hand. They test him also in a great fire, and he emerges unsinged. Finally they hail him as a divine man and entreat to be told his secret.
“Secret I have none,” he replies. “I have no clue to my power. Nevertheless, there is one point I must explain. I heard two of your people extolling the powers of Mr. Fan. I believed this implicitly and came hither, only afraid to lose the opportunity of putting them to the proof. I thought not where danger lurked. My mind was simply One, and material objects offered no resistance. But now, having discovered that your disciples were deceiving me, my inner man is thrown into a state of doubt and perplexity. When I reflect that I have just had a providential escape from being drowned and burnt to death, my heart within me freezes with horror and my limbs tremble with fear. I shall never have the courage to go near fire or water again.” This story being told to Confucius—“Is this so strange to you?” he said. “The man of perfect faith can extend his influence to inanimate things and disembodied spirits. He can move heaven and earth without encountering any hindrance.”
The lesson finished with a reference to the saying in St. Matthew’s Gospel relating to the power of faith as a grain of mustard seed, and the monk added—“Such is the Teaching of all the Buddhas.”
I listened with the profoundest interest. There was a deep-toned murmur of assent.
When the meal was finished the Abbot rose and pronounced in Chinese a few words translated to me afterwards, as those of a great Western mystic.
“Blessed art thou therefore if thou canst stand still from self-thinking and self-willing and canst stop the wheel of thine imagination, forasmuch as hereby thou mayest be made capable of all manner of divine sensations and communications, since it is nought but thine own hearing and willing that hinder.”
This dismissed the community to the meditation which is a part of the Buddhist Rule in all countries. I myself, left alone, wandered into the gardens, wishing with all my heart that I too could spread the wings of the spirit and rise above the atmosphere of earth into the blue serene, for I was weary in spirit. Lucia Sellenger, Miyuki—the jarring problems arising from both, uncertainty about my own future—all these crowded in upon me, dreary and sordid, confusions, perplexities, and I could not dismiss them. They beset me as the forces of evil beset the Lord Buddha in the Temptation, and for me there was no triumph.
The garden was beautiful indeed—river and pools, distant wavelike undulations of mountains, toppling rocks, all, near and far, had been utilised in a perspective which gave the effect of enormous mountain and cloudland. The willows hung about the water, making silvery bowers. The pines, springing high in air, were the inmost thought of the hills expressed in gnarled boughs and steadfast strength of knotted root and trunk. Flower beds there were none, but groups of blossoming plants grew here and there, thrown up against the background of trees with a glory that seemed to concentrate a jewel brilliance at those points. The sound of water was everywhere. That, and the murmur of bees and the crystal music of the windbells.
In the cool recesses of a cave hung with ferns I passed one of the brethren lost in deep meditation. I softened my footfall but he neither heard nor saw, absorbed in the “one-pointed state of mind,” freed from changes of time and withdrawn from external things. And seeing, as I passed, the divine tranquillity, I could well believe that against this rock all seas of grief and fear must beat in vain—and the Reward dawned before me which is promised to the homeless life of labour for the truth.
At last when I had wandered for an hour where the little rock flowers and weeds almost as lovely thrust themselves between the crevices of the flat stones, I sat beneath a green rain of willow branches and tried to compose my own thoughts. I seemed to move between two aspects of life and to find no foothold in either. For if the loud-roaring process of our civilization is the goal, then this peace and calm assurance are the delusions of an intellectual hashish, and if otherwise, then our civilization must appear in the eyes of wisdom as the raving illusions of a lunatic asylum, drawing ever nearer to the precipice of moral bankruptcy. For myself, I felt at the moment that I had lost the whole world, that all my late experiences had tended to strike it away from me, but that I had in no sense found my own soul.
It is scarcely worth dwelling upon now, but those were moments of loneliness cold and intense—lost in the chill of the stellar spaces. I cannot tell how long I sat there, but the light was dying when I started and found that I too had been meditating though in a cadence very different from that about me. A voice was calling me, low as if unwilling to break the evening stillness, and Lewthwaite came along the path.
“So you also have been following the Rule,” he said smiling. “I passed you twice and you did not hear, so I said nothing. Has it brought peace?”
“Not peace, but a sword. The ways seem closed wherever I turn.”
“That is the beginning. Follow the Eightfold Path and its guidance is sure. But how does what you have already seen impress you?”
I begged him then to give me an account of the discipline. It was very simple, he said, and told me briefly how they lived. They had no servants, served themselves and others in everything, accepted poverty and the commands of those put in authority and spent their lives in teaching the way and helping such as needed help.
I objected to this; that I had understood Buddhism concentrated a man’s efforts on the redemption of his own soul and took little part in anxiety for the needs of others. He replied that this was an entirely mistaken belief and that throughout Asia were many monasteries following the rule of the Sweet Dew Monastery, each with its band of workers, detailed to different countries, often interchanging visits from one to the other that ideas might be fruitfully compared.
“I, for instance,” he said, “belong to a monastery in the mountains of the Simla district. The two Siamese are attached to one in Cochin China and so forth. By a rule which should not seem strange to you English has been adopted as our language for communication, as indeed it has been between parts of China, and each man is compelled to speak it well. If you consider the vastness of the British Empire and its spheres of influence you will see why it has been chosen for our Esperanto.”
I agreed with the wisdom of the choice, and asked for an explanation of their aims.
“I will tell you as briefly as I can, for others,—Haridas, for example, could be much clearer than I. We see that Christianity and Buddhism have some great truths in common. It is certain that the same great stream of thought fed both religions. We believe that Buddhism, the elder sister, conquered far more of the unexplored realms of truth than the younger. And of course it is obvious that the West has entirely undervalued the wisdom and culture of the East. Our aim is to unite the two and thus to accomplish what Christianity alone has failed to achieve—the moralizing of civilization. Without this the world must perish. Thus we are the heralds of the knowledge which circumstances, and especially the false value set on Greek culture, have kept hitherto only for the deepest thinkers of the Orient.”
Much more was said, but this is not the place to set it down.
We talked so long that the dusk came and then we stood in silence on a crag and saw far below—
“Over thatched roofs falling Twilight and the lonely evening air.”
I slept that night in the little detached cell allotted to me in peace indescribable. It was like sinking into deep translucent water that a full moon fills with mysterious lights—so profound, so healing was the submerging repose. Outside the starry night moved in the garden, the trees dreamed beside her—all the influences of quiet were abroad; what wonder that I slept! The sun was high above the mountains when I woke; the river called me with a shout of joy, and can I ever forget the silver plunge in the deepest pool by the bridge and the shining world about me, rejoicing with its myriad voices!
I spent the morning working in the gardens where they grew the food of the community and every moment health and wisdom and knowledge flowed into me like the ancient wisdom of the earth herself, so sane and natural it seemed. The lure of this happy austerity was spread, and I might well find it irresistible. I could not tell;—a current was sweeping me away as the strong out-draw pulls the swimmer from the land he knows to the fathomless unsounded ocean. What I might have done I do not know but for a strange thing which bound me to earth again.
Four days later I was sitting with Lewthwaite and a group of the brothers in the smoothly grassed recess of the rocks beyond the bridge, whence was a wide and glorious view over the low country beneath and distant billows of the mountains. It was the hour of relaxation and many stories were told of strange things seen and done in the four quarters of the world. One happened to turn on the wonders of a conjurer seen in Bangkok, and led on by this I asked whether miracles (so called) took place now in their experience and what should be thought of them according to their teaching.
“The Excellent One rejected them,” answered Shan-tao, “and though many miraculous stories have sprung up since, we accept these only as flowers laid at the feet of a king to whose greatness they are nothing. And most of these recorded are such as the uninstructed deceive themselves with, led by passionate emotion. Or, as when the astute deceive them. Here is a brother who could mislead even the wise of the world.”
He pointed, laughing, to a young Chinese monk who sat listening attentively with thin hands folded in his sleeves.
“It is an art,” he said modestly, “and by no means a difficult one, and only so far interesting that it shows how fallible are those poor senses on which those rely for knowledge whose inward eyes are closed.”
I earnestly begged that if it were not against the Rule I might see some of these marvels, and Shan-tao seconded my request.
“It is not against the Rule,” the Chinese replied, “if those who see understand clearly that no spiritual power is involved and that it is an art which in base hands may be used basely. Illusion, nothing more. Sometimes it fails. I cannot mislead the brethren—who, by the practice of the Rule of meditation know the art as well as myself. Possibly I cannot mislead your senses either.”
Again I begged him to try. It was agreed that I should resist, that I should take my note-book and, using it, do all in my power to detach my mind from any influence. The brothers then returned to quiet talk among themselves, and I began to sharpen my pencil. The young Chinese was sitting wrapped in thought, his hands folded on his knees.
Gradually the sweetest scent filled the air—roses—roses, it could be nothing else,—the warm fragrance they give out in sunshine when the very dewdrops that lie in their curled leaves are an attar distilled in the alembic of the hidden heart. I noted it hurriedly in my book, and when I raised my head there were roses—myriads of them all about us. They climbed.the rocks, they bowered the pines, a wilderness of blossom and drowsy sweetness, and still the Chinese sat with thin hands folded on his yellow robe. And even as I looked, they faded into a rosy mist and were gone. Only the bare crags and the steadfast pines remained. Illusion! So the senses of sight and smell could be tricked. I noted that in my book, and when I turned, laughing, to speak—I was alone. Not a living soul was in sight. I was sitting on the brow of a great hill and on its surface the shadows of the clouds were drifting as they do on the bosom of the ocean, giving the impression of vastness and loneliness unspeakable. A crane was whirling downwards, its pale wings circled against the sky. And now, as if it had been a herald of vision, there rose before my sight (as clouds build their mountains in high air) a golden palace with wide horned roofs and splendid stairways, raising itself out of nothingness into reality. I looked down upon its Drum Towers; I saw the detached pavilions, the pagodas, on airy foundations, yet mighty as great kings build. Gardens were among the golden halls where figures of women wandered lovely and loving, gently entwined like sisters, human flowers in clear sunshine. They leaned from galleries; I could hear the faint sound of the lutes they listened to in green recesses. The peacocks spread their jewelled splendours by the silver scrolls of a river; the white egrets dreamed by the lotus pools. A boat, curved like a crescent moon, floated among the lilies with two musicians bending over the water. Yes—and a voice—but I could see no one—repeated softly beside me—
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree,
Where Alph, the sacred river ran—”
and ceased in music.
Xanadu!—my brain struggled with the opium of dream. But that was Shang-tu, the summer palace of the great Khan! Great names floated bewildering through my thoughts—Marco Polo, Coleridge;—no, it all escaped me. I was seeing what—what? And as I touched the unutterable, the palace began to loosen from its foundations, to dissolve softly, to drift away in golden clouds, merging in the blue of the daily sky. A light wind took them—they were gone. The hill-side was gone. I sat among the crags of the Kan-lu-ssŭ monastery, but still alone. I could note no more; my hand refused to obey my will.
But it seemed to me that thought was clear and resolute now. I would live my life in this enchanted place where a mere effort of the will summoned up the royal past. I forgot the Chinese. I believed I had drugged my own soul so far that I could loosen the bonds and become a part of all experience. I would surround myself with the dreams of loveliness and power, and so, cherishing every spark of beauty within me and fanning it into flame, I would write great books, paint great pictures, and lead a life of exquisite emotion, sheltered from every breath of ugliness. No sordid sight, no hatred should come near me. Here in the eternal folds of the hills I would revive the glories of the days when in the water pavilions of this ancient land, great nobles, poets and statesmen fleeted the hours with wit and wisdom and—
Wild thoughts were fighting in my brain, when a slight figure, grey-robed and quiet, detached itself from the green shadows of the pines and pacing slowly along the path, stood close beside me, looking not at me, but out over the wide prospect, with clasped hands and an expression intensely calm and sad. I saw her—I could almost touch the folds of her dress. It was Lucia Sellenger.
And before that human sadness the iridescent dreams fled like broken rainbows, their wizardry shattered. What had they to do with me or I with them? My place was in a world where men and women suffered and sinned and hoped.
I watched her breathlessly as she stood—it seemed that never before had I truly seen the clear features, the shadowed eyes, and firm sad mouth. How tender, how lovable the gracious outlines, the fine hands, strong and serviceable if any work could be found for them;—the womanly knotting of the hair in the nape of the neck—I looked and loved what I saw, and softly and gradually she faded. There was a little grey cloud—she was gone. And, like the singing girl, I could have wept for the passing of beauty.
What is illusion? What is truth? Did I wake from a dream? All I know is that I was not alone—the brothers were talking quietly among themselves and the Chinese still sat with thin hands folded on his knee.
“Have hours gone by? I have seen strange things.”—That was all I could say.
“We have counted scarcely sixty heart-beats since you spoke with us,” Shantao said, smiling at my bewilderment.
“But it is glamour—marvellous,” I cried. “Do you know, have any of you seen what I saw? How is it explained? How is it done?”
“Ask our brother.”
The Chinese answered dreamily.
“I know two things you have seen,” he said—“and then you passed beyond my influence. But this art is as when a man removes the regulator of a watch. The hands race, and time is obliterated. What you saw was buried thought and memory rising to the surface as drowned men rise. If you will you can trace the origin. Those roses—have you not seen some great rose garden of kings? The palace—have you not read the poem lately that a dreamer of your own people made in deep sleep? The truth is—time is not a reality. Infinity surrounds us, and we measure it in lengths for our daily use.”
“Do you mean that the past is never past?”
“The present is eternal, or rather Eternity is always present, and in Eternity all time is one.”
“If you will consider,” said Lewthwaite, “this explains so-called marvels and paradoxes.”
I assented but turned eagerly to the Chinese.
“You delivered me to my own thoughts. Could you have made me the vehicle of yours.”
“Certainly. This is often done. It is possible because of the unity of the consciousness of men. When will they learn that they are all part of the whole—that individuality is a dream, and that the stream flows sometimes stronger in one channel than another. That is the secret of the influence one human being has on another.”
“It is happening about us every day in the influences of attraction and repulsion,” said Lewthwaite.
“True”—Shan-tao added, “and this is why a man must break the prison of self before he can walk in freedom and understanding. This was what our forefathers studied here in the little mountain universities and the solitudes of the clouds. Your own Scriptures reveal it to those who are initiated, but your cities kill it. You have bartered your knowledge in the markets of the world.”
I felt like a child beside these men. They had sounded the mysteries—they walked in clear light where I struggled in fog and the foul air of the streets. Oh, to know more! But I knew I must not linger; a voice I could neither understand nor resist was calling me from the still heights into the world of struggle once more.
“Could I learn this art?” I asked of the Chinese. “It seems there are times when it might bring rest and refreshment to minds wearied with trouble. I wish I knew the way.”
He looked kindly at me.
“Believe me I would teach you if I could, and there is no difficulty. But we never teach it to any person who has not attained what we call Percipience. And this is the reason. This art is no more than a drug. It can benumb sorrow but never destroy it. Therefore it hinders the Conquering of Sorrow. Also its use is a temptation. It grows on a man and destroys effort, and yet again, as you may well see, it can be used for vile ends. There are classes of men who live by inducing these deceptions in the mind, and their victims were better dead. You cannot understand the dangers. Yet in itself it is a harmless influence of the mind. All our brothers understand it—some less, some more, for it opens out a certain stage of the Discipline. But none use it except in play, as you have seen.”
I was silent. To hear these men speak, to listen, seemed to be my place. In all they said, in the very atmosphere of Kan-lu-ssŭ, I felt myself face to face with stark Law—Law without any human intervention, comprehending in itself all justice.
But I recognize very clearly that these things can only be shadowed forth—cannot be told in such a story as I tell now. This is not the place to dwell on the inner teaching. Light after light, thought after thought broke upon me, mystic and practical. For a little instance, I found that every one of them had had medical training that in their journeys they might fulfil the word of the Exalted One when He said: “If there be one of you who would cherish me, let him go and cherish his sick comrade.” And it is another fact that the possessions of each one were eight and eight only—the three robes, a loin-cloth, and alms-bowl, a razor, a needle and a water-strainer. These he may own—no more than these quaint possessions. All else, and much else, though of the simplest, needed in going about their mission, is in the hands of the authorities and may be and is resumed at any moment.
Not that these things matter—I learned that long ago. It is the spirit that counts. But what I know for very certainty is that they have the gift of making all our possessions seem dross and our prizes a vain shadow. They sent me also to our own Scriptures where I read the corroboration of some of their deepest teaching. But why continue? I must communicate what I learnt elsewhere if any care to hear.
I stayed ten days, sharing their life in so far as one so ignorant could share it, and then the morning came for my departure, and Chang was already on before along the sun-dappled downward path. I was presented to the Abbot that I might offer my thanks for a perfect hospitality in the same hall where first I had seen him, the sunny reflections of the lotus pool outside making bright ripples on the low wooden ceiling. He was writing, and laid his work aside and rose as I came forward and made my poor speech in English—poor because it expressed really nothing of what I felt. I remember him very well—he is now dead—as he stood before the great picture of the Supreme Buddha descending to welcome the homing souls—a presence of peace.
I said I had learned certain things which I could never forget,—and then I stumbled—what could I say?—I who was not prepared to renounce anything as yet. He saw my hesitation and understood, replying in a sentence from an ancient Scripture :
“Son of the Buddha, there is not even one living being who has not the very wisdom of Him-Who-has-thus-attained. It is only because of their own vain thoughts and affections that all beings are not conscious of this.”
It was spoken in Pali and the strange resonance of the words moved me like a strong music even before they told me the meaning. I bowed deeply and he returned to his writing, raising his head once more to wish me well as we left the hall.
Outside, those who were not at work a-field were gathered to bid me good-bye. It is difficult to describe their kindness and the mingled pleasure and pain it gave me. I had struck a root there—I knew it. They would not forget me—they did care,—they were sorry that I should descend undefended into the arena of a life to them as purposeless as the whirls of dust that blow in the streets.
The Chinese smiled his inscrutable smile as he bowed:
“May the memory of illusion known to be illusion preserve you from all illusion that as yet you do not know for what it is. You will come here again and be welcome.”
I tendered to the man next in authority to the Abbot, a gift to help the work, but it was courteously refused.
“We make much money by our individual labour with our hands, and accept none unless the giver, relinquishing all, becomes one of us. But the thought will benefit you, my brother. Come again. The door stands open.”
Shan-tao and Lewthwaite came with me across the bridge.
“Come again,” Shan-tao repeated. “You were not a stranger. Certainly you will come. But as yet you have long ways to travel. May all be well with you and may you meet again with Haridas, for there is a Karma that has drawn you together.” Lewthwaite wrung my hand in silence. I know our country had been a bond between us, though such distinctions meant neither grief nor joy to him now.
At the corner of the rocky path I turned to catch a last glimpse, of the lovely roofs that sheltered so much peace, and still the two men stood looking after me—mindful and self-possessed. But for one vision—one memory I would have turned even then.
The noise of humanity, the struggle, the crime, the barter of the great city were loathsome to me after the clean-cut intellectual austerities of the life I knew now. When I entered Peking it was hideous in my eyes. But the training of a life-time is not broken by a few days, nor thirst quenched for ever by one cup of water. Very soon the world would suck me into its whirlpool and I should be content in my natural element. I knew myself.
I went straight to the Europe Hotel to apologise for staying longer than I had promised, and when Miyuki ran into the sitting room, exquisitely pretty in her white serge and the little hat and bright eyes dazzling beneath the brim she made the other life seem as unreal as the clouds about its mountain home—a mere fairyland of the spirit. I remember she laid her cheek on my hand—the prettiest homage, and I drew her to my knee with all my thoughts in confusion, which did not hinder me from delighting in the warm softness that was mine and lay so close against my breast. It was something to be welcomed and wanted. How had the time gone with her?
“Pleasure—yes,—But I missed you. O Toyo san she very good, and every one kind. Lady here kind too.”
“I like her for being kind to you, Miyuki. What is her name?”
“How do I know. English names hard. I take her drive once—twice. You say I may have carriage.”
“Every day and all day. What’s mine is yours. You want more money?”
“A little—very little, please. I buy this little pearl Buddha. See!”
She displayed a tiny figure coated with shimmering nacre. I believe they put them in the living oyster and allow him to do the rest. This was a great treasure and I admired it accordingly. She talked on for an hour, holding my hand, with her head on my shoulder, but told me nothing more of what she had done.
Incongruous—yes. But my impressions of the life of the heights were already weakened by five days’ absence. Men are like that. They may be, but when I left the hotel I had the sharpest twinge of self-contempt I had yet known. For I knew I was true neither to Miyuki nor myself,—nor to another. But how could that be? Simply, I told myself because she had given me her friendship, and had accepted me as a seeker. But what was I? And where would her belief be if she knew?
I told my heart in vain that this was folly—the thought pursued me savagely and gave me no rest.
I saw her that evening in the lounge after dinner, talking with a friend. She did not see me, and though I could not bring myself to leave the place, and sat watching her from behind a flowering shrub, I would not speak to her. I was not worthy. Surely if she knew all, she would reject me as she had rejected Sellenger. What had we in common? It would be better not to see her again. I would go to Java because I wished to meet Haridas, but as the coming of the rich English people would be heralded everywhere it would be easy enough to take a different line of country. Those were my plans—God knows I meant them, though my mind was in the strangest confusion, and thinking thus, I watched her.
She leaned forward a little in speaking, saying something earnestly. I could hear nothing but knew the soft penetrating tone as well as if I were listening. She pushed her hair back from the temples with a gesture I knew as well as if I had studied it for years. Everything she did or looked I anticipated with breathless pleasure—a kind of pride that it should be so exquisite. There was none like her—none, my heart cried within me. And even yet I did not guess what had happened to me, for what more natural than love and admiration for what is beautiful? Love—but which of its many meanings? That I did not know.
I took Miyuki to the Botanical Gardens next day after a visit to the Lama Temple which brought out all that was most attractive in her strange secret nature. She was able to make those fierce Tibetan deities, half god, half devil, live before me. It was the wild mountain terror and hideous beauty of them that delighted her—they resembled the great temple Wardens of Japan. Not that she was learned about them—I do not mean that for a moment,—but if it was half romancing it was wholly successful and made them Powers instead of dead images. How she lingered over the glorious crocus yellow of the great cloisonné vases and incense vessels, so radiant that it made a sunshine in a shady place. How she clasped her hands before the jade Buddha set with pearls! I shall never be free of Miyuki—there were aspects of my life that she flowed into like water, and left her traces in growths that never would have been there otherwise. I owe her much good and little harm, and it is a debt I did not forget when the pinch came.
She wearied soon in the gardens. I had thought her a little depressed since my return, and her head ached, and I put her in a rickisha and sent her back to O Toyo san’s ministrations and sat basking idly in the sun under the willows by the curved bridge. Very few were there and it was all very quiet. Footsteps as quiet came along the grass, and, springing to my feet, I saw—Lucia Sellenger.
My heart stopped and raced like a woman’s. Surely I should have known them!
She sat down beside me in the green rain of branches—shy and glad. A woman may have lived in the great world yet keep that dewy charm. At least I know she had it—willing and eager to give her friendship, yet half afraid of intrusion.
“Were you thinking very busily, Mr. Dunbar? Do I disturb you? Do be frank and tell me. When did you get back?”
Her eyes were water-clear in the shade of her large hat—I could see the thoughts in them. She looked full at me, and I might lose myself in the transparent deeps if I would.
“Yesterday. And I meant to come and see you very soon and tell you about it.”
I knew now that I had meant this. How could I stay away?
“Tell me now. I can’t wait. I have been thinking of you so much. And I have the whole afternoon, for my husband went on to Shanghai from Tientsin yesterday. Can you spare a little time?”
So, with that clear look fixed upon me, I tried to tell her of the wonders of Kan-lu-ssŭ, and did them little enough justice as I well knew. Yet somehow I managed to take her with me up the long ascent under the lovely shaded sunshine of the mountain way. She heard with me the song of the falling streams and it was the sweeter in my memory. We stood together by the bridged river and the note of the bell summoned the calm brethren of the yellow robe. I paused there for a minute.
“I would have given years of my life to be there too,” she said almost in a whisper.
I had not known to the full how beautiful it was until her whisper told me. So with the rest—I repeated for her the parables, the teaching—much that I have not told here and never can tell to any other. But when I came to the Chinese monk and had told her the story of the dreamed roses, the cloudy palace of Xanadu, I stopped again. How could I dare to tell her the rest?
“And the third?” she insisted.
“I haven’t the courage,” I said, and was silent. Her eyes never wavered.
“Then I will tell you something instead,” she said. She locked her hands in her lap as if to help her resolution and went on:
“It was last Wednesday afternoon. I was very tired. I had been unhappy about something for some days, and that is wearying, you know. And when I was alone, I lay down and fell asleep. I very seldom dream but I must have dreamed then. At first a kind of miserable perplexity—I need not tell you of that—but gradually it cleared off into sunshine and then—it’s so difficult to tell—I saw you sitting in a kind of hollow on a hill—on the very edge. Quite alone. I thought you had called me—I heard your voice, and what was very strange, you said ‘Lucia’—like my brother who died. So I came, but when I reached the place you were gone, and I stood looking out over the wide plain and mountains.”
It caught my breath. “Now I will finish my story,” I said. So I told her.
We were both silent then though a voice seemed whispering in the long green hair of the willow. At last she said in an awestruck whisper:
“How wonderful—wonderful! Why should it be? Was it the same day?”
We counted and found that it was.
Then that at least was not illusion—I triumphed. The Chinese was wrong there. It was a clear call, a swift response, and the shadow of her being had fled across the emptiness to meet me, and, for the moment, was mine.
“Softer than the white owl, softly gliding to her meeting tree,
Softer than the brown mouse venturing toward the granary,
Was your flight to me.
You came silently.
Gently as the colors merge from twilight into evening,
Gently as the willow wren her little dome is entering,
Did you enter me,
Possess me utterly.”
I had not read those words then, but I use them, for their beauty says what I cannot say and my use is my thanks to the man who wrote them and fitted their music to the supreme moment of my life. For now I knew. She had come on the mountains and entered her kingdom. She possessed me utterly. I loved her.
Now that I knew, I no longer dared the poignant pleasure of looking into her eyes. I dreaded equally to see too much or too little, for her voiceless quiet told me nothing.
“But I scarcely know you,” she said tremulously. “How often have I seen you? ten—eleven times? And yet this intimate thing happens! There must be some deep sympathy between us. There must—”
She pushed the hair back from her temples with the little bewildered gesture I knew and loved. “Can you explain it?” she said.
“Had you been thinking of me at all?”
Ah, that was love’s cunning! How dared I ask otherwise? She answered, frank as a boy.
“Yes, a great deal. You see we had spoken so much of your quest and I had been trying to imagine it and wishing with all my heart that I could go too. But that hardly—”
“Accounts for the day and the hour. No, it doesn’t explain it. Not enough.”
“Then were you thinking of me?”
“Not consciously—at the time. But you’ll remember the Chinese said that buried thought or memory rise to the surface. So it must have been some treasured memory of you. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if friends could meet in this way sometimes?”
She hesitated a little.
“Yes—if one could trust utterly to their kindness and understanding. But could one?”
“I imagine such things would not be unless one could.”
“Otherwise,” she said slowly, “it might break one’s heart.”
I don’t know how the time passed. We said a word now and then, but that was nothing in the long silences charged with understanding. Something in me exulted like the singing of a bird. I had opened the locked door. My foot was inside the charmed circle. We were friends—we had shared a deep experience she had never shared with any other. I could see how it disturbed, almost terrified her. She shrank as a goddess may when the too daring huntsman penetrates her woodland secrecies. I could see her gathering the raiment of her soul about her to hide its lovely mysteries. So I did not speak. She would never love me—why should she?—but a part of her was mine eternally, for when I called her she had come.
The shadows were lengthening when she started from her thoughts.
“It’s all so strange that I want to think it over and over. But apart from that, what you’ve told me has stirred me more than I can say. Oh, if only I could do what you’ve done. It’s hard sometimes to be a woman. If I were a man—if we were friends, we could go away tomorrow up into the hills and see it all and more. But I should never come back. I wonder why you did.”
“Because of a look in your face that told me you might some day need help. I would come much further than from Kan-lu-ssŭ for that.”
Instantly she drew back.
“If I need help I have my husband.” And the loyal lie never faltered on her lips. Then, relenting—“But I shall always know you are a friend, and friends are a good gift. When I think of Mr. Heron I shall think of you, for I owe you to him.”
It was exquisitely said and re-adjusted the relations instantly. They fell into their ordinary way as we walked toward the gate. She told me they were sailing soon for Java—she was to follow Sellenger to Shanghai next day. A letter from Heron had come to say he would certainly be in Java before they left. As to plans—she supposed they would not stay in Batavia. They would go up country and then to the mountains. What did I intend to do?
I answered evasively for I could not see my way clear. Miyuki—Good God, what was I to do? I banished it resolutely until I had put her into the waiting auto at the gate, and refusing a lift back, I returned to the willow and sat there for an hour trying to hammer my way through the difficulties. Rough and cruel to Miyuki I could not be. She had not deserved it, poor child, and yet she hampered me at every turn. Hampered me not only in this new friendship—for so I still tried to call it—but in the inward stretching of some new thrill of life that was moving within me like a plant feeling its way to the sun.
I sat there till I sickened of my own company and then came out into the crowded streets of Peking as solitary a man as any there.
Oh, for an hour of Haridas to point a clear road—or, better still, of Heron with his shrewd kindly worldly wisdom to teach me how to deal with the poor little life that had lain in my bosom and that I now would thrust away from me if I could.
I went next day to Miyuki—that was the upshot of a tossing night—and caught her as she was going out, full of delightful expectation with O Toyo san. Instantly she gave up her plan, dismissed the maid, and led the way to her sitting room. She took my hat and put it away, patted the cushions into comfort, pulled up a stool for my feet, pushed the smoking table to my elbow, and then sat herself down on a low chair at my side.
“Please tell me,” she said. “I know there is what troubles you. I wish I know.”
Difficult to begin. She looked anxious and frightened—I had noticed that since I returned from Kan-lu-ssŭ. The words half choked in my throat as I envied the man who takes such things as trifles—light come, light go! I had begun it lightly enough, but now it was like iron about my feet.
“Miyuki, I have been wondering if you really care to come with me to Java.”
A wretched beginning. She looked at me as if terrified.
“We not going? Then where?”
“I don’t mean that. I am going, but—do you want to come?”
Her lip was quivering. I had never seen it like that before. I felt a brute and still stupidly persisted.
“You may be tired of travelling. How would you like to wait in Japan until I come back?”
“You do not come. I know,”—her voice was scarcely to be heard.
“I would come. I swear I would.”
“You do not know. I know.”
“How do you know?”
“Men never come back.”
It was horribly true. Yes—I should never come back. I knew that as well as she. We sat awhile—she holding my hand. Then I made another attempt.
“We have been so little together since we left Japan that I thought you might be tired of it and be glad to get back. I know it’s often lonely for you.”
“Not lonely. Have I said it? No—O Toyo san very good, and I see you often. I am content.”
“You have no friends.”
“I have friends—yes.” Her eyes glinted strangely. “Lady here very kind. If I wish more ladies, that can be. I am content.”
I sat in complete perplexity. Suddenly she threw herself on the floor at my feet and locked her arms about my knees.
“O take me. Please, please take me. I want to go to Java. I want! I want! I will be good. I will live what you wish. Take me!
The tears were running down her cheeks. She threw her head back like a woman in despair. I did not know her. So ice breaks up in a freshet and is carried away in the torrent. The sweet obedient calm was all broken up into pleading sorrow.
“How could you leave?” she sobbed. “I want to go. I want!—” and this she repeated in every tone of grief. What could I do? She went on.
“If it is I am wicked, then hide me away but take me. I will not trouble. Only take me to Java. I want—I want!”
I did my utmost to quiet her but failed, and at last I saw a gleam of light and caught at it. I could not leave her. It would be sheer cruelty, but if she would stay at Batavia while I went up the island; if I could change our present relations into merely friendly ones that would meet the present need. It would help; it would pave the way, as Heron said, to the separation which was coming very near. I put my hand on her head and turned up a tear-stained face to mine.
“Don’t cry, child. I didn’t know you cared like this. You shall come. But it must be under certain conditions. You must stay in Batavia until I join you again. I can’t take you with me up country. Will you wait there?”
“Oh, yes. Indeed yes. I wait anywhere. Do not fear.”
Now it was my turn to hesitate.
“And, Miyuki, I shall not see you—alone. Not for a long time.”
I felt a bestial prig, but some inward urge drove me on.
“Not alone?” she said in astonishment. “But then—”
I said nothing. I could see her mind searching—searching.
“It is Haridas—it is the Kan-lu-ssŭ,” she said. “Long ago I tell you. They are strong. They take what they wish.”
I could not say no, for it was true in part, and if it was more than that it was not for her to know. But I saw clearly there was a struggle in her mind, and though I interpreted it according to my own vanity as the desire to be with me, still it was enigmatic. I could not be sure. If Miyuki’s simplicity were like glass it was mirror-glass; I saw myself in it every time I looked into her mind, but could not see through it.
At last the scene was over,—she lay pale and quiescent in my arms, and the terms were agreed. We were to sail as soon as possible for Java, and I would leave her at the hotel at Batavia and then go my way, visiting her when I could and picking her up again when the time came for India. But I knew very well, and certainly she did also, that beyond this the future was doubtful. To me it was all intensely painful. I remembered with remorse how at Ikao I had forged the bonds that were binding me now, and I looked along endless vistas of anxiety and dread, foreseeing very little of the real troubles that lay in wait.
The whole thing puzzled me. Somehow, I had imagined she would be so proud, so delicate, that the mere hint of separation coming from me would be enough—the good English blood in her as well as the stark samurai pride had seemed to promise it. Perhaps I had traded on that belief to make my way easy. Anyhow it had failed, and I went away, weary in mind and body, and meeting O Toyo san outside with her sleek face and down-dropped eyes I gathered her into my general disillusionment and disliked her unreasonably and heartily.
Lucia Sellenger left next day to join her husband, and I was one of many who saw her off. There was no opportunity for any word I could treasure. She had her suite of maid and man, and friends pressing about her with flowers and farewells. I contrived to be the last, and when I took her hand she clasped mine cordially and looked at me with a pleading gentleness. The door was shut and the train moved slowly from beneath the mighty walls, and it was to me her last glance fell. I turned away, half content.
For the days left I devoted myself wholly to Miyuki’s pleasure, but I thought I had only myself to blame if she seemed depressed. She said nothing but what was necessary about our plans and kept her beautiful courtesy intact and unruffled, though when I caught her at unawares she looked sad and wearied. That courtesy was a shield I could not pierce, but it softened all our intercourse. I shall always think of it gratefully and even tenderly.
So we too left Peking behind us—a sinister beauty in its massive walls and jealous gates, humming, seething with things no European can know—terrible, cruel, tender, wise. A wonderful city, brooding still over its wonderful past—scarcely half awake as yet to its majestic future. I never felt the personality of any city so strongly as there— a couchant dragon with drugged eyes and frightful strengths latent in scale and claw, and broken dynasties strewn about it for playthings.
Java and fairyland after a voyage on siren seas blue as melted sapphire and skimmed by silver flying fish, the darting swallows of the depths! I leaned over the taffrail to see the Southern Cross rise in skies throbbing with stars, and feel the milk-warm air that blew from leagues of spicery. Sultry names were about us—-tropic flowers themselves—Borneo; Sumatra; Madura; Indonesia; and of all these things I thought less than that steel and fire were carrying me swiftly to her. Her face fled before me night and day, more ethereal than in life, if that could be, infinitely tender and remote. I had no hope, nothing but an imperious need to draw me away and on from all the little world that had been mine.
So I dreamed until the water grew thick and muddy and the mangrove islets let down snaky roots into the sea, and the men said “Batavia” and clustered about to get the first sight of Tandjong Priok, and I as keen as any of them.
What a city of gardens is Weltewrede! I held my breath to see the magnificent tropic vegetation almost drowning the houses in splendour of flame and violet, blossom-crowded, hurried, heaped upon the fiercely climbing stems. The palms set delicate traceries upon the burning blue sky, blue as delphiniums on a summer day, the sacred waringen trees bowered the upper air in green ocean-deep, and above it all the implacable sun flooded the world with heat and light.
Miyuki, sitting beside me in the jolting sado, had the calm superiority of one who has seen it all before. She pointed to the kampongs of the natives—I must not miss the beautiful villas of the rich Dutch masters, hidden like birds’ nests in leaf and blossom. I must laugh at the generously built Dutch ladies lounging on the verandas in tightly wound sarongs malignantly displaying their opulent curves.
“Stupid creechers!” she said, using her favourite phrase and looking proudly down upon the immaculate slimness of her own grey serge. “What use a woman what knows not better?”
She fluttered off into Japanese then—we still spoke it when we met. The ardent sun, or some hidden thought, made her glow and sparkle—I had never seen her look better. Sometimes I thought it might be the angry pride of a woman who will not allow she knows herself slighted; sometimes—but what use to tell my guesses? I knew when the time came, and wondered then at my own blindness.
She led the way into the hotel and chose the rooms she liked best; rooms shining with the alarming cleanliness of the Dutch, and glittering with tiles and polish—the large airy bed-room and bathing arrangements that even a water nymph might find endurable; a sitting room where O Toyo san speedily put out a few possessions of loveliness from China which made it all Miyuki’s own from the beginning. One hanging picture I shall always remember when I think of her for it repeated her own name—“Deep Snow” in a loveliness that none but a Far Eastern hand could bestow.
Deep snow on curved roof and bowed trees—and above a vaporous mountain with little climbing ways lost in mist. One heavily wrapped figure, staff in hand looking on and up to the heights. Black, grey, and white—nothing more, but they held all the lonely aspiration of the world.
“The heat is dead before that kakemono,” she said, and indeed the air was chill about it.
So she made her preparations, even to the small rich bit of Kyoto brocade she liked to look at when she woke, and the lacquer bowl with the powdery gold paulonia leaf at the bottom out of which she must drink the tea which O Toyo san made at intervals throughout the day. She had taken off the serge now and was flitting about the rooms in a pearl-grey kimono with brown and purple leaves for its design, and a golden obi to bind her slim waist—a lovely little Japanese once more. For the moment the Western girl was gone and something English and restrained had gone with the tailored trimness. I saw an exquisite bare foot thrust into a satin slipper. That was new. She came up and stood facing me with hands locked behind her—laughing.
“Now you see my little house, and how I make beautiful. And when you go I work, work at the book of the Lady Sei. You also work?”
She called to O Toyo san who brought the written sheets with bows that might have graced a court of the Fujiwara period itself, and I took them. I have them still, but the dust lies on them now.
I caught Miyuki’s hand as she would have flitted away.
“Miyuki—you aren’t angry?”
“Do I ever angry?” The gay laugh disclosed the little pearls of teeth.
“Never. You have the sweetest temper in all the world. But shall you be lonely? Shall I come back in a week to see how you are? I could easily run down from Garoet.”
“But no. I write if too lonely. Do not fear.”
“You are sure—sure?”
“Be happy,” she said. “You brought me when I cried. I thank. I am content. Not angry. How could I?”
A pause. She looked down as if considering, then drawing herself back while the crimson rose in her cheeks;—“See, I give a kiss.”
It was such an evident effort that I dared do nothing but take it as gravely as it was given—a little clumsy untaught kiss on my cheek. It is clear that one must not deduce too much from ignorance of that one branch of the Ars amoris—she was no tyro in that school, nor even at the moment. She meant it to be touching, and it touched me exactly as she meant.
“Not angry. Now you know,” she said, and hid her face like a child. And I caught her in my arms for I could not help it and kissed her passionately.
It had been a wise resolution not to see her alone—if one could have kept it! I could not, and paid for it with shame in my own heart many times over. It was the next day when I started for Buitenzorg.
When I left the hotel I saw, strolling about the gardens under the palms, in a dress cool and filmy as a morning mist, Mrs. Aubert, more like a squirrel than ever with her russet hair and eyes and small prominent teeth. She saw me and quickened her steps a little.
“Mr. Dunbar! How nice to see you! Are you staying here?”
“No. I’m off to Buitenzorg today and then up to Garoet on my way further up. Too hot down here—don’t you think?”
“Well, it is hot unless one undresses accordingly, but I’m a chilly creature. I just bask. Aren’t the fruit and flowers a dream? I filled my sado with both today for a few cents. The mangosteens! I eat them all day long. By the way, you’ll see the Sellengers up at Garoet, if they haven’t moved on.”
“Any one else I know?”
“Oh, of course Mr. Rice. He’s always in attendance. Mrs. Kohn has gone to Colombo. But you didn’t know her,—I forgot.”
“No, I didn’t know her, but I saw her. A beautiful woman.”
“Ye—s! If one likes these large people. Now I admired much more that pretty little girl at the Europe. She was just sweet—as piquante and dainty as a French doll. A perfect darling, with her quaint little English. Half Japanese. You must have seen her when you came to the Europe. I saw you there once or twice.”
“Yes, I was there once or twice. I had a friend there for a few days. That was when I first saw you. I shall never forget that. It was the same evening I met you at the Autumn Moon.”
I parried as coolly as I could—I had an instinct that we were fencing. A cursed nuisance that she should see Miyuki here and now! A very much duller woman than Mrs. Aubert might easily make the connection, in her mind.
“How sweet of you to remember that. I never expect any one to remember poor little me.”
She languished at me.
“Are you off now?—I do hope we meet again. I expect I’ll be in Garoet before long.”
“I suppose if I delayed until tomorrow I couldn’t have the luck to take you as far as Buitenzorg?”
“Why, how enchanting of you. I really think I might manage it.”
The whole woman sparkled. She was immensely pleased with herself and me.
“But only—” I went on craftily, “on one condition—that you dine with me here tonight. If you’ll do that—there’s simply nothing I won’t do for you.”
It was the only plan that occurred to me for keeping her and Miyuki apart. I waited for the answer with an impatience she thought flattering.—Oh, she would—she would! She had been feeling so bored, and now—!
The russet eyes were really very pretty under the long darkened eyelashes, but I have seldom seen a woman I more cordially disliked. I disentangled myself after awhile and went back to Miyuki as hard as I could go. She was settling herself for a siesta, her little ivory face white against a purple brocade pillow which always travelled with us because the colour was so beautiful.
“Miyuki, do you mind dining in your room to-night. There’s a woman here I don’t want you to meet.”
“What you wish I do. But who?”
“A Mrs. Aubert. She was in Peking at your hotel.”
“But I know. I take her drives. Yes—I truly not want to see her. Better not—much wise not.” She hesitated:
“Not nice lady,” she said, hurriedly. “I not liking at all now. I stay here.”
“I wish you hadn’t known her. I don’t like her. Don’t speak to her again.”
“I speak no more.”
“I think she is not sincere.” I was casting about for a word. “Did you ever speak of me to her?”
“Not a one word.”
“I’m glad. Well, then—you see it would not be right for her to know we were together, so I dine with her here tonight, and take her to Buitenzorg tomorrow. Then you will see her no more.”
She reflected and received this statement with a smile, then settled herself on the pillow.
“Good. Now very sleepy,” she said in a voice like a drowsy wood-pigeon, and the black lashes settled on her cheek. Miyuki awake was hard to resist; Miyuki asleep was irresistible. I pulled up a chair and watched her until the pretty pretence became real and she was far away from me though so near.
My thoughts wandered too. They fled over the sea to Kan-lu-ssŭ. Would they be sitting in the high garden with the sun filtering in drops of radiance through the pines, and the flowers about them of which a poet of Japan has written—
“Oh, that your five purities be not tarnished by the wind and the sun!”
Yes, they would be looking out over the wide, low land like watchers on a tower and their talk would be good to hear—how could it be otherwise? They were instructed, and being wise, content. Life held no fear, no entanglement for them. At Kan-lu-ssŭ—
“Through the whole day long I watched the mountains, but my soul was never their prisoner,—
“And when the moon rose my soul was fulfilled with peace.”
So wrote the long-ago Emperor whose poem I had translated, and at Kan-lu-ssŭ my soul had touched that bliss. What did I know of it here? Feverish pleasure, and fears and intrigues and thirst unslaked and sick distaste. Well—the way back was not hard to find, and what withheld me? Miyuki? But that could be settled; must one day soon be settled. And why not now go north? Because of the face I longed to see. Because every pulse of my soul craved for and clung to her—a light that burned not high and clear on the mountain tops, like Kan-lu-ssŭ, but close and near and dear—Lucia. And then it all passed beyond thought, into the deepest deeps of being, and of that I cannot tell.
I endured the evening with Mrs. Aubert, who was so in love with herself that like all true lovers she claimed a general adoration for the beloved. At the best she was the type of woman who repelled me, and her talk of the Sellengers did more than repel. She could not keep off the subject. Like a silly moth she fluttered about the candle. I saw easily that her mind was by no means at rest, about him, even though she had routed the rival. She was anxious for my opinion, worthless as it must be from her point of view.
“One has the sort of feeling that he must find Lady Lucia a little slow. Did you think that?”
“I’m afraid I didn’t think about it. You see I know them so little.”
“Oh, of course. I liked her at first but she’s so proud and cold. One doesn’t get any forrader. It must be a frost to any one as jolly as he. Everybody likes him.”
“Lucky dog! And does he like everybody?”
She flushed a little.
“I should say a good few. He knows when a woman’s pretty.”
“Most men do.”
I was weary of the fencing, but she would go on.
“Do you call her good-looking?”
“Distinguished,” I said coolly.
“Exactly, and that doesn’t count now-a-days. It just bores people. Now that little Jap girl, Miss Yamashina, she’s really pretty. By the way, didn’t I see you once with her at the hotel?”
“Daresay you did. She’s a friend of a friend of mine.”
“Lucky dog!” she retorted. “Did you know she was here?”
“Why yes. Came in the same boat.”
It was a bold throw, but I thought it safer. Her eyes narrowed a little.
“I wonder what she’s come here for!”
“What are we all here for? What are you here for, if you come to that? Doesn’t everybody come to see Java?”
Another pause. She flushed and changed the subject, playing with her coffee spoon. We talked of indifferent things after this, sitting in the long low veranda to see the night put on her jewels. Throbbing diamonds they were, set about a mellow moon. Subtle perfumes stole from unseen flowers, the Mysteries walked black and shadowed under black trees in the courtyard—an hour of enchantment and secrecy. Even her hard voice dropped and softened, though not for me. And then a Dutch girl set a gramophone braying and a couple of young fools began dancing beside us and knocked over a table with a crash, and more flocked out and the night was hideous, and we said good-bye and parted.
I took her up to Buitenzorg next day and installed her in the queer little hotel looking over the river and the palms, and whether I had escaped danger or no I could not tell, for not a word more did she say.
But at Buitenzorg I found a letter from Haridas—only a few words—saying he was up at the Borobodoer and would be glad to meet me and hear news of Kan-lu-ssŭ whenever I was coming his way.
I took a few days for the marvellous gardens of Buitenzorg, for I must be alone. My mind was a tide-rip where opposite currents were dashing each other into danger. I was sleeping badly, for one thing. Learning to watch the march of the dark and to know exactly when, still lightless, it changed its quality and thinned before dawn. I knew the grey pallor like death as it chills the earth, and then it is not death, but life—life, as the dawn-gold brims the east like the crescendo of a great orchestra, and the risen sun is the shout of a giant leaping from sleep. Oh, these tropic dawns—the miracle of a moment! But they left me drained. We should sleep in the bosom of the night, for if not we overhear her secret whispers, and strain to catch them, and they are not for us and break us, body and soul. So in the gardens I wandered idly, bathing in colour and odour such as I had never imagined. No artist can paint it, no poet say it—the old gods triumphant in their naked paradise;—an ardent Pan lurking in the hot shadows of trees I could not name; Nature in her orgasm of creation. Surely it was at this source that life began, and then flowed away cooling, chilling its thinning stream and dying pulses until it reached the temperate zones and the snow beyond.
So I watched and wondered, like a child in the palace of kings, and at last one day, pulling myself together I went forward, following my star, and got up to Djokjakarta.
A queer place!—a quiet Dutch town trying to keep its Hollander primness in the midst of fairyland,—a solid burgher tempted by bosom-budded nymphs. He succumbs but still remembers appearances and the shores of Zuyder Zee. So there are stiffness and straight roads and decorum, almost smothered in riotous splendours of growth and decay, and the golden-skinned Javanese and Malays, careless and free, go their happy way, glad and a-moral, with codes which seem as light as the threaded blossoms the dancing girls wear.
The hotel is charming, laid out with little pavilions for those who like them. Before taking possession of my own I looked down the register. The Sellengers were there. I knew it before I saw. They had gone on some expedition for the day, and from my veranda I saw them riding back with Rice—she, a slim Diana, riding like a boy, with firm seat and steady hand. She needed no help as she swung from the saddle, though Rice was ready; and then stood to watch Sellenger lumbering from his. He looked bigger and more masterful than ever, I thought. I began to perceive that Rice’s role was to attend on his convenience and look after Sellenger’s responsibilities while he went off on his own occasions. Well—two could play at that game, I thought enviously. It would matter little enough to the master. I was mistaken there.
She looked bright and happy, so I supposed even my poor dream of helping her must go with all the rest. For a moment I half grudged it, so low may a flawed love lead us and I was but a beginner in that hard school. She stood awhile, talking to Rice while Sellenger went in, and presently they strolled toward my little pavilion. It was Rice who saw and hailed me first, and then they both waved me a cordial greeting. Did I or did I not see the least little flush in her pale cheeks, and if so did it mean that her heart quickened by a beat at seeing me? Fool! I debated that question half the night. They came and sat in my veranda commanding the big entry where Sellenger had disappeared.
There was a lot to hear and tell since we had met in China and though I wished we had met alone, Rice was a pleasant fellow and I liked him. I thought however, that he might have shown more tact in not mentioning Mrs. Aubert. Since he did, it had to come out that I had met her in Batavia and brought her up to Buitenzorg, and for an instant I saw the persecuted look I knew so well. I need not have feared she would be too happy—Sellenger would see to that, I thought bitterly.
But her fortitude never failed—she was laughing next minute over the humours of the bazaar, and the pawn-shop at Garoet where such treasures can be had,—old Dutch jewels and Malay work, and batik cloth of exquisite art. She talked of starting a batik school at their place in Sussex and was sketching a design or two on an envelope when Sellenger appeared on the steps of the hotel and hailed Rice—not seeing me—and in a minute we were alone. Instantly she turned to me:
“Do you know—an extraordinary thing—I was so glad. Your Indian friend has written to me. How kind of you to tell him of me.”
I could scarcely believe my ears.
“But I didn’t. I shouldn’t have ventured.”
“Then how could he know I wished to meet him? You must forget.”
“No, I’m sure. I meant to write from here after I had asked you. But he’s not like any one else. He has some sixth sense, I believe.”
“You would like to see it?”
She laid it in my hand. I unfolded it in the utmost surprise and curiosity.
“Madam, I believe Mr. Dunbar has spoken of me to you, I understand you will be in Java towards the end of April. If you would give me the honour of meeting you I should value it highly. I am making a study of the reliefs of the Borobodoer, and if that would interest you I should be glad to show you my work. My address is at the pasangrahan (rest house) at the Borobodoer.
“You see—you must have told him,” she insisted gently, smiling at my bewilderment. I fumbled in my memory.
“Never directly. I know that. The only solution is—could I have mentioned you to Lewthwaite or Shan-tao at Kan-lu-ssŭ? But, no.”
“Could they have read your thought when you saw me there? These people may do wonderful things. I should not mind. I should be glad.”
We looked at each other like two children surprised in a secret, but happily.
“Did you answer him?”
“Yes, of course. I said we were going to the Borobodoer. Jim Rice is to take me there, for in a few days my husband goes to Batavia where he has business. It would bore him to stay there, but I want to. Jim has to take some friends of his—the Veseys—to Garoet then, and I shall wait there until they come back.”
My heart—how it exulted! If I had longed—if I had prayed for such a thing to happen it would not have been. But because I did not dare to hope it was in my hand. I had to choose my words carefully.
“Of course I meant to do the Borobodoer from here. Should you mind if I did it at the same time? In fact I have an appointment with Haridas.”
“Mind? It will be the greatest pleasure. Well, I must dress for dinner. Will you dine with us?”
Ah, that was a bitter-sweet! To see her with Sellenger was a pang that time and use made sharper. If I say I hated the man it was not all ignoble. It was not because he stood in my way, for that might never have been open, but because he stood eternally and fatally in hers. She was a plant struggling for scanty life in an alien air, with pale pinched blossom tortured by frosts and cold rains, dreaming, dreaming, of still sunshine where the skies would be good to her and all her strength flower in beauty and joy instead of hardening into endurance. There were moments when I could divine what she would be like then. Only moments, and with Sellenger she was less than ever herself, painfully on the defensive, avoiding every word that could glance near the hidden things of their life.
Still, I accepted. One does.
He was very cordial, very much the good fellow in manner and as popular as he could be. Even the Malay boys served him as much for the pleasant word as the money; and Jim Rice, who would have done anything for Lucia, had also a liking for Sellenger. His faults were those which men take easily enough—perhaps that was partly it, and his temper was never allowed to affect them. I saw it all plainly and it sharpened the edge of my dislike. Sharpened it also, that his forty-eight years sat so lightly on him that but for a growing heaviness of build he might have been thought a much younger man. I had a weird feeling that he lived and kept young on the shames and miseries of those who paid for his indulgences—a kind of medieval blood-drinking. He would always be strong, virile, and florid while others paled and pined to give him pleasure. A woman’s-fancy more than a man’s, but I used to think that when I saw them together.
He insisted that I should come to the Water Castle with them next day.
“I shall see nothing of you before I have to go down to Batavia if you don’t chum up with us the next few days. Beastly bother sweltering down there in the heat, but a man’s running over from Singapore to see me. No rest for the wicked, eh? Lucia, pass the wine! She’s going to have a great time at the Borobodoer with some sort of an old Hindu she’s picked up. Wouldn’t let her do it if it was India—make it a rule never to talk to blacks there, but I s’pose it’s different here.”
“Haridas is scarcely a black,” I said, as she looked down. “I never met a more educated man. He looks more like a prince than anything else. He’s a friend of mine.”
“Oh,—sorry I spoke! Well, to me they’re all alike,—oily eyes and creeping ways, but I daresay I know nothing about it. I’m getting a bit bored up here, but there’s a—what do they call it, Jim?—coming tonight.”
“Oh, the wayang actors? I’m sure I don’t know what they do, but when they’ve done some girls are going to dance.”
“Old Indian stories,” Lady Lucia said. “I know the one they do tonight. I’ll sit by you and tell you, Hubert.”
I began to know how necessary it was to her peace of mind to keep him amused. There must be always something going on—something he could look at or share in. She counted on Jim Rice for help there, and together the two of them purveyed amusement for their lord.
The wayang, luckily, was a success. We were in the veranda and the air was cool and the dresses gorgeous. She sat by him and interpreted the story of the abduction of the Princess Sita from her royal husband,—the rescue and return, and, as it happened, Sita was a slender golden girl of Java with dark deer’s eyes and full vermilion lips. Some men who were travelling on cinema business filmed the whole party afterwards with Sellenger beside the girl, a mere wisp of a thing, shyly smiling beside his big shoulders. He made friends with every one and was hugely pleased with himself. It was a success.
“Quite a score. Fancy being shown all over the world. Funny, isn’t it, Lucia? That’s a pretty little kid, the girl. Looks like a boy in that tight gold dress. No figure at all.”
When we parted for the night, she said pleadingly :
“Do come with us to the Water Castle tomorrow if you can. A party always amuses my husband. He likes to have plenty of people about him. Do you mind my asking you, You know in any case Jim and I want you.”
It was the first little shadow of an appeal for help and I caught at it. I see her now, standing in the lovely garden of the Water Palace, by the old mossy ruins where the plumed ferns grow in such rank luxuriance with the palms waving and glittering above them, against the silent burning sky. She was all in white with a broad sun hat that shadowed her clear eyes. When Sellenger lounged away with Rice to have a look at the grotto where the curtain of Water fell to cool the dalliance of the Sultan and his favourite, I had a few words with her, but not happy ones. She was nervous and uneasy. Something had happened which I could not divine—and in my pocket a letter from Miyuki was burning which as yet I had not read. Life might be simple enough but for the intrusion of other lives on our own, I thought. But that is the cry of the weak. The men of Kan-lu-ssŭ knew better. To the strong, difficulties are joy, and when they are conquered their strength passes into the conqueror.
I went about with them for a few days, and then saw Sellenger setting off with Rice, who was to see him to the train.
“Any commission in Batavia?” he shouted as he passed. He was always in great spirits on what he called an outing, as full of anticipation as any boy. Novelty, change—that was his bliss. Helen herself would have wearied him in a month, and a mere wife had no chance at all. I could well imagine that some women would have rejoiced to see him go even if it were to another women—grateful to any one who would keep him amused and away. But not Lucia. The pride and delicacy in her loathed the whole business, loathed it for him as well as herself; felt defeat and ruin in every fibre of her. She was standing on the veranda to see him go and I knew her thought. She would never get used to it—never! Life had no anodyne for that burning wound.
Jim Rice joined me later.
“I say we’re going to motor to the Borobodoer soon. We’ll give you a lift if you’ll join us. Come along, old man.”
He strolled in after me when I agreed.
“Glad you’re coming, you know. I’m to meet the Veseys there and take them to Garoet next day. It would be awfully slow for Lucia up there alone, and I’m not much good at carvings anyhow. So I’m jolly glad you’ll be about.”
“When is Sellenger coming back?”
Rice shrugged his shoulders.
“Don’t suppose he knows himself. He really has a bit of business in Batavia, but it won’t be all business. I’m as sure as I sit here that he won’t touch at Buitenzorg on the way. That’s played out.”
He sat down in my biggest cane chair with legs stretched out comfortably. I liked Rice—a thorough good fellow; but all this business was about as distasteful as it could possibly be, and the suggestion that there was anything even remotely amusing about Sellenger and his affairs got my back up. I changed the subject abruptly.
“Any news of Heron?”
“Oh, yes. By George, I’d forgotten my cousin’s message! Heron has written to say he’ll be here in about three weeks. I’m glad of that. He always does her good, and things haven’t been going too well lately. Sellenger was in a fearful wax when he went off just now.”
“And why, may I ask?”
“Can’t say. Never can. He falls in and out of temper and least said soonest mended. He was an only child, you know—his mother was a widow and he had things his own way from the beginning. Well, I must be moving. See you again.”
He loitered-a bit in going and I pulled out Miyuki’s letter when he was gone. It was my first letter from her and very copper-plate and English.
“My dear Friend:
“Forgive this many mistakes that follows. I hope you are well. O Toyo san and me remarkable well and happy but losing you. Surely you seeing lovely things and much enjoy. Great thunder here and so afraid. When you come back then write first that I know. Too hard to write. Then good-bye.
So—there was that, and it was what I had chosen—Sellenger’s world of loveless passion. And there was also Kan-lu-ssŭ, the spiritual knighthood and the soul strong and freed from the fetters of selfhood, not hiding in stagnant little backwaters where the green slime rots and dull weeds thrive, but flowing into the rushing torrent of the world’s aspiration. Is it not Joubert who says; “With the fever of the senses, the delirium of the passions, authors may go on as long as they will, making novels which shall harrow up our hearts, but the soul says all the time—‘You hurt me!’”
So also with life. Our souls cry out as we drag them through the agony and when at last they die we do not know they are dead. There have been times when I believed a man may be the slaughterer of his own eternity.
I lit the poor little paper with a match and saw it flutter away in grey ash—a symbol. Then I wrote to her; a cool friendly letter, which, I thought, hit the mean rather neatly between regard for the past and prudent reserve as to the future. Despicable! But there are situations where a man must be despicable whatever he does or leaves undone, and this was one.
I did not go up with Lucia Sellenger after all to the Borobodoer; something delayed them for a week and I started alone.
The beauty of that drive—the sheer golden beauty!—shall I ever forget it? I forgot myself and my base little preoccupations and shared in the large ecstasy of palm-frond and sun-steeped jungle bathing in the fathomless ocean of light—floating like a seaweed on the great rhythmic swell. The man would have me stop at the Mendoet Temple, almost against my will, and I passed into the cool gloom that was almost darkness after the white passion of light outside. And there I saw it concentrated into a single beam which irradiates the noble image of that Lord of Mercy “that looketh down with pity upon the sound of prayer.” I was glad then to be alone and to look as I would upon the Incarnate Pity. One I would have had with me and could not have, so I needed no other. I stood there long, and the place was filled with august Presences absorbed in their own solemnities. It was good to be there.
Later, the way began to ascend, and I knew we approached the greatest effort of the Buddhist faith to express what cannot be told—its own soul. I left the car and walked slowly upward and before me was the Wonder.
Who can describe the overpowering majesty of that mass of stone, rising terrace above terrace, shaped like the base of a mighty pyramid, soaring in immaculate rhythm to the dome of the great dagoba at the summit? I could not as yet see the inner marvels—the ascending steps, the long galleries carved into a pictured Bible of the Faith through the open pages where the pilgrim must climb slowly to the heights. But still I held my breath, as one does in the presence of awful things, and high solemnities. It so infinitely surpassed all I had imagined, and in a fashion so entirely its own that even now I know of nothing in the whole world like it, nor anything which can at all prepare the mind for its reception. And as I stood, lost in gazing, Haridas came quietly up and stood beside me, silent, also, his deep-set eyes fixed on the Borobodoer in the sunset. So we stayed for a moment.
He turned to me then and bowed. These men always kept that distance and courtesy.
“It is a joy to me that you have come. I knew that it must be, and it is good. You have had health and happiness since we met at Ikao?”
Happiness? Were I to answer that question truly could I say I had been happy? I began with the usual convention.
“Quite well, thanks, and all right,”—and then something in the calm eyes pulled me up short. They asked the truth and the truth met them.
“No. How should I be happy? My mind is full of worries and anxieties. I want what I have not got and hate what I have. There are times when I am sick of life.”
He looked at me as a physician regards his patient. My temples ached, I had slept villainously badly the night before, and my brain throbbed to every blood-wave. It rasped me to see him strong, vital and serene, as if beyond the utmost shaft of Fate whilst I endured in the little hell I had contrived for myself.
“It’s easy to be superior if one doesn’t feel things.” I said bitterly, “but if one does—”
“It is unendurable if one does,” he agreed gravely. A pause. The Borobodoer lay before us like a majestic silence and the evening was golden-still.
My voice sounded even to myself like a fretful child’s interrupting a solemnity. He turned and led the way slowly to the ascent to the great shrine.
A strange and beautiful scene as we climbed. No less than nine volcanoes are visible—Soombing and Merapi calling to one another—Merapi still pulsing with the forces of destruction, and westward the valley of Praga green with hopeful harvest. Life and death hand in hand as ever, and confronting both, this glory of the faith which teaches that death is nothing. Healing was shed from it—the thought of the millions who have sought it throughout the centuries for help, for an answer—anything to break the terrific silence that opposes all our questions. Had they found what they sought? Had they left their burden at the foot of those aspiring stairs and in the mysteries of those carved galleries? Did this man know, or was it all pose, pretence, and seeming which led only into the desert again?
“May I make a suggestion?” he said at last.
“I hope you will.”
“Then I wish you would come here in the very early morning and look for yourself and alone at these reliefs and the story they tell. I know you have a mind very accessible to beauty, and beauty throws the door open to all her sisters, who yet are herself, for she has many forms.”
“I will come.”
“It is a simple prescription, but worth trying. I know you have studied our faith in China and especially at Kan-lu-ssŭ, and in any case your mind was singularly prepared for much that we hold for true. Were you happy at Kan-lu-ssŭ?”
“But for two intruding thoughts I was perfectly happy there. It was a harbour after long tossing at sea.”
“I thought it would be so. Shan-tao and Yasas have told me how strangely you filled a niche there, as if you were one of the brothers. Make it your refuge whenever you are wearied—body or soul.”
“I am very grateful. There is much of it I wish to discuss with you later. But tell me now—Do you, in one of our great Western cathedrals feel any such emotion as I feel here?”
“How should I not? They are the shrines of the beloved Nazarene, that Bodhisattwa (Buddha to be) who long since attained Nirvana. Most wonderful are your ancient churches, and more especially those that uplift the Cross in little green and humble villages where the dead lie in its shadow like children about the knees of their father.”
“I am glad to hear that,” I said. “There are thoughts—memories, that one could never give up.”
“If you could, you would be no man for us.”
The sun was dipping swiftly now. Very soon it would be dark. His strange rest-giving presence was almost visible in the air about me. He had said very little, but my strained nerves were quieting—my heart settling into its stride. He looked me full in the eyes.
“You will sleep tonight. There are influences about places such as this—a healing peace which comes from hope fulfilled. Do not fear. You will sleep as you did at Kan-lu-ssŭ.
Already I knew it. He reflected and then continued;
“Your friend comes here—soon? Lady Lucia Sellenger. She wrote me a letter in which I discerned sorrow and pride and endurance. Was I wrong?”
“I have only heard her story from others but I think you are right.”
“Also I discerned a noble nature. Was I wrong?” “She is a noble woman. All heart and brain.” “She is to be envied then whatever her sorrows, for she stands before the Gate of Peace, and her own hand can open it.”
“If you tell her that it will help her. It helps me. To know that one’s own effort can save one is to harden courage into steel.”
“It is one of your own great men who says ‘For this reason so many fall from God that they cling to Him, not with their strength but with their weakness.’ This is a true saying. But when does your friend come?”
“In a few days. She is very eager to see you.”
He did not reply to that and we went down the hill together. That evening I saw him again. We sat in the veranda with the Borobodoer cut like a gulf of darkness blotting out half the heaven of stars. Thus unseen, it was an awful presence, and in lowered voices we talked, or rather he, for I listened and could have listened for ever. I cannot tell that talk in these pages for he led me from point to point of the greatest philosophy of all time, depicting the passionless law of cause and effect that can neither change nor err, and still I listened and it was as if a spell had broken when his voice ceased.
“Have I wearied you?”
“No. Strengthened me. How shall I thank you?”
He looked toward the great blackness of the shrine and made no reply.
I slept that night as I had not slept for weeks, and when the dawn was near I went slowly to the ascent as he had directed me. The morning was divinely cool and fair. A very gentle breeze was breathing rather than blowing, as I climbed the little hill to where the mighty terraced buildings rise—a deeply truncated pyramid in outline, each gallery of ascent a Bible of stone, for the walls where the pilgrims pass in the paths provided for the upward way are paneled on either side with the Birth Stories of the Buddha’s former lives on earth, leading on to his triumphant birth as the Prince Siddartha, and from that to the incidents of his marriage, his splendour of Princedom, the Great Renunciation, the Teachings, and finally to the Great Decease, and the Entry into the eternal Peace. These famous sculptures stand in high relief in stately panelling on the walls, so that the humblest pilgrim may follow the story of the many lives whereby the Exalted One ascended to the Ten Perfections and may trace every incident of his life as cherished by Asia in her heart of hearts. Here, even as Ruskin describes the Bible of Amiens, may be descried the Buddhist teaching written in imperishable stone. For the whole mighty Borobodoer is a symbol of the ascent of the soul, leading from the humbler births by climbing stair and pausing terraces enriched with glorious adornment, through the earthly life of the World-Honoured in its service and humility, to where the five Dhyani Buddhas who symbolize the aspects of the Supreme sit in solemn meditation, and from that to the highest terrace, once the depository of the Relic, where sat about it in worship the seventy-two Holy Ones in bell-shaped Chaityas. And above this the gliding sun and moon and all the marvel of the heavenly host—they also obeying the Law. And I may say that, at that time, I beheld these wonders not so much in the spirit of a pilgrim as of a student profoundly interested in Buddhist lore. I had no other sense of devotion than that inspired by the terrible beauty of so tremendous a work of art and adoration, no emotion beyond that awakened in every heart with any power of feeling whether by the pylons of Egypt or the divine glooms of Chartres. But with delight I traced the story in magnificent groups wrought by forgotten genius—for the man who made this great thing is unknown, though the Javanese declare that nature itself has preserved his profile in the outline of the Minoreh mountains.
The Queen Mahamaya, standing with majesty beneath the tree at Lumbini, gave painless birth from her side to the Child, who, advancing toward the four quarters, of the earth, announces himself as the Desired of the nations. The faces, instinct with life, leaned to me—the waiting ladies awed and glad, the Queen with the composure of a goddess, already treading lightly on the lessening earth she was to leave so soon. For me the dancers swam before the Prince in his beautiful youth. Yashodara the beloved, with glorious curves of bosom and hips, faltered towards him. The mighty horse bore him to the Great Renunciation. Later as I climbed I traced him through the sculptures, no longer a Prince—the passionless teacher. From the stone he teaches still—the delicate hands raised in the gesture of speech; the lips, the gates of truth; proclaiming the Good Law. The multitude, small of stature, as if to contrast with the spiritual greatness, knelt before him absorbed in hearing.
So I traced the remorseless Law of Cause and Effect told in marvels of beauty. What is shown shall be reaped to the uttermost, without forgiveness, with the unutterable purification of perfect justice until all have attained. I followed it to the crowning victory when the last illusion of evil is dispelled, and the time did not seem long to me because my interest was so deep. And, as I stood on the topmost platform, with a tiger-leap the sun was above the mountains and the splendour was awful, as the sea of living gold was loosed upon the world rejoicing to meet it. The mysterious galleries were filled with it and the Buddhas on the height bathed as in the boundless light of their own Paradises. And it was day.
Late one afternoon she came with Rice, and I met them by the rest-house. She told me she meant to stay there for some time, as a telegram from her husband spoke of his being detained at Batavia and possibly being obliged to go over to Singapore.
“I want to understand this wonderful place,” she said. “And if your friend will teach me a little I shall be eternally grateful. He wrote so kindly that I shan’t be ashamed of my ignorance. Is he here now?”
I looked round and he was standing at the door of the rest house, his dark and brilliant eyes fixed upon us. I think I had scarcely realized until I saw those two together what high and corresponding types they represented. His clear-cut features recalled something I have often marvelled at in the Elgin marbles—a man restraining a rearing horse with steady power of domination expressed in every line; strong and wise, humanity raised to its highest reach. Lucia, beside him, carried in every movement distinction; the daughter of a great aristocracy, so certain of itself that it can afford any carelessness, gentle and a little wearied with the long glories of the centuries. It was easy to believe that such a man and woman might have sprung from some common stock long ages back, dominating and haughty among lesser breeds, even then.
Now they met, and at once I saw the recognition between them, the instantaneous flash of soul to soul. I need have no fear. That friendship was assured. Rice too, with all his easy superiority to any but his own kind was impressed. He drew apart whilst Haridas spoke to her.
“I say, Dunbar, that’s a fine-looking fellow. What is he?”
I explained—a Buddhist monk. It reassured Rice; anything of the benighted heathen sort need not be taken seriously.
“Oh, that!” he said. “Well, it’ll amuse Lucia immensely. She’s always great on fancy religions. Can he do tricks—make teapots fly through the air? Unlimited wealth and six wives—a sort of Mr. Isaacs, eh?”
“He doesn’t own what he stands up in,” I said. “And as for six wives—he doesn’t even touch a woman’s hand.”
“Poor devil!” said Rice, with interest. “But under the rose, eh? People don’t keep those ridiculous vows.”
“He could chuck them all tomorrow without remark, but he happens to like them. As for tricks—Ah, that’s a big subject. But I don’t think you’ll find any rabbits in your hat.”
Rice ruminated on this and, failing to see any food for further interest, accepted Haridas as an amiable idiot and strolled off whistling to find the Veseys and see the Borobodoer.
I joined the others; she turned to me glowing with pleasure.
“I am to have my first lesson in the sculptures tomorrow. Mr. Haridas says—”
“Haridas,” he corrected. She smiled.
“Haridas says that as I know many of the legends I shall understand from the first. I didn’t dare to hope that. I am so ignorant!”
“You have the best of knowledge—intuitional. Intellectual knowledge is far below that. You will soon be on the heights,” he said.
“Do you mean that truly? I have looked up at them so often as one does at the mountains that live in the sky, knowing all the time that my feet would never climb there.”
“They will climb far beyond.”
I saw already that they trusted each other with the swift trust and recognition of two high natures who have the same language of the mind.—A sentence from a book read long ago—one I have never forgotten—rose before me as I listened; “I should be ill if I did not live on the borders of the fairies’ country and now and then eat of their food. Because I too have fairies’ blood, and I see by your eyes that you are not free of the same need.”
That was the secret. We three had kindred blood in us; we lived on the borders of that land known to the few, scorned by the many; and though Haridas had explored great forests and mighty continents unknown to her and me—we knew; we understood.
When he left us she came and sat by me in the veranda. Rice could be seen by the steps, lost in talk with the lovely Vesey girl, with her mother sitting resignedly on a forlorn camp-stool in the background.
“He’s a dear boy,” she said. “I don’t know what I shall do when he marries—he’s such a necessity to us both. And yet I hope with all my heart he may.
Dear Mr. Heron has found several wives for him in succession and none would quite do. You have discovered he has a good notion of matchmaking?”
“He hasn’t tried his hand on me. Perhaps he knew it was hopeless.”
“Oh, but no! You will meet the right person some day. Or else—something much better.”
“Is there anything better?”
When half-gods go,
The gods arrive,”
“Haridas knows that. Perhaps you’ll know it too.”
“Tell me what you think of him?”
“I don’t think—there hasn’t been time for that. I know he has a knowledge and wisdom as far beyond mine as mine is beyond this”—she laid her hand on the dead wood of the railing.
“Do you feel you can trust him?”
“Entirely. Do you?”
“Entirely.” I repeated, and then with extraordinary grace and sweetness she laid her hand on my arm;
“Let us learn together,” she said.
We did not see Haridas again that evening. He was immersed in work. By the lamplight in his room I saw his head bending over heaped papers and volumes. The great book on the sculptures well on its way! I wrote again before dinner to Miyuki, and read and re-read my letter wondering whether she would guess the thoughts that inspired it.
“Dear Little Miyuki:
“I hope all is well with you and O Toyo san. I almost seemed to hear you speak when I read your letter. I am visiting wonderful shrines—not like those in Japan, but built of stone and carved with stories of the Buddhas. You would like them so much.
“I fear it will be a long time before I come to Batavia unless you need me, and then I would come at once. If you would like to go up to Buitenzorg with O Toyo san to see the lovely gardens I hope you will go. Be happy and tell me that you are. I should not like to think you were unhappy or lonely.”
Once more I read it, and then went out to the veranda, where Rice had brought the Veseys to join Lucia. I realized then how little outward beauty matters compared to that which shines from within. Madeline was a charming piquante girl, auburn-haired and amber-eyed, with radiant lips and cheeks, dressed with a mysterious skill which stressed every grace and glitter;—a siren of perilous seas—a challenge to all male creatures. Rice had responded already; he was altogether on the alert. He leaned forward; they tossed the ball of gay talk to one another, for she was as clever as she was pretty. Lucia was laughing at them both; her sweet grey eyes full of kindness. Not for one moment could she compare with that triumphant prettiness, but the one seemed for time; the other for eternity. The one must be embraced; to the other a man must kneel, and if he did not know that instantly, he would never know it.
“Isn’t it a heavenly night,” Miss Vesey said briskly. “That moon is just gorgeous. I guess those old figures on the walls up yonder must be stirring in their sleep. I can just see those dancing women beginning to jazz again, can’t you people?”
“The moon is their daylight.” Lucia said dreamily; “they go to sleep in the day, when the people come to stare at them.”
“Well, I guess they don’t mind that. They must be used to it by this time. I suppose they all mean something or other if one only knew.”
“Come up and see them in the moonlight,” Rice said craftily. “Do, I’ll take care of you and I’ll tell you what the whole bunch means.”
“Fraud! You don’t know yourself. No, I’ll get the gentleman in the turban to take me. He has it at his fingers’ ends.”
“Take her, Jim,” Lucia said indulgently. “Mr. Dunbar and I will look after Mrs. Vesey.
“Oh, Maddie, don’t go. There’s snakes there, I’m positive,”—but Mrs. Vesey pleaded in vain. In a few minutes they went off, her white dress ethereal in the moonlight, and it was not long before Mrs. Vesey sighed herself off to bed.
“What a lovely creature,” Lucia said, watching the last flutter of the white as they went up the steps. “It really cheers one to see anything so young and sparkling. I never weary of looking at her. I wonder what her life will be.”
“Money and a down-trodden husband, and two spoilt children, endless gayety, and at last, boredom, rheumatism and old age.”
“Not a bit of it. You leave out her kindness and quick perception. Her husband will love his slavery, and her children will think there’s no one like their mother. I have always envied women like that.”
“Why? You have so much more.”
“How kind. But no. I haven’t the secret of charm, and a woman without that is a bird without wings.”
I did not say what was on my lips, and she did not wait for it, but went on quickly;
“And so I find my consolations elsewhere, and I think one of the best will be what you and Haridas have given me.”
The darkness was soft and warm, the moonlight a brooding spell, and the mysterious intimacy of the night gave me courage.
“Lady Lucia, you have allowed me to think myself your friend, May a friend say ‘I know you are not happy. Can I help?’ Forgive me for saying this.”
She looked calmly at me.
“Would you think less or more of me if I told you? Less—I know. And you would be right. I have all I need for living. Your friend told me that my life is in my own hands. I need no more. He said I could reach the heights.”
I saw the pale courage of her face; the lips shut upon words that must not be uttered, and if I could have kissed her feet for very worship I should have done it.
“You have reached them already,” I said, and then only there was a brightness of tears in the eyes that met mine.
Next day Rice went off early with the Veseys to Garoet—the girl like a morning-glory in her faintly pink dress—and as unlike it as possible in her bright impertinent prettiness. She subdued it, though, for Lucia. Most people who had any perception were gentle with her, and I was certain that all sorts of hidden graces would grow and blossom in the girl and make her lovely if she could be with my dear lady. She took all my good wishes with her when she went her bright way.
We spent the morning with Haridas in the galleries, examining the panels of reliefs with his perfect knowledge as a guide. She hung on each word, simple, docile as a child, learning eagerly; her swift mind seeking and grasping almost before he spoke.
A very singular thing happened. I tell it and make no comment.
Because of the ardent sunlight we were on the northern side of the great terraces, where, as in a deep-cut lane, there was cool shadow. Haridas was showing us some sketches, and Lucia sat on a projecting corner of stone.
Suddenly she looked up.
“It’s growing dark.”
It was true; the sunlight was fading; it died out first in the opening from the stair where it struck in dazzling strength that made the shadows black as ebony. In a gradual twilight it faded, and the mighty building grew dim and indistinct. Haridas was silent now. We saw him vaguely, tall and still; his face turned from us. She put out her hand to me and I grasped it and neither of us knew why. And now it was quite dark but for a small far-off light that seemed to hover about the end of the great gallery. I cannot tell the strangeness of the moment.
The light strengthened into a still radiance and, opening in the midst, made, as it were, a way through which we looked into a scene different from that which surrounded us.
There was a great sunrise—the sky flaming in fire-gold, rippling like a shoreless sea. A mighty rock was black against it, jagged and cragged, and on its summit sat a man, robed and still, gazing out over the worlds. About his head hovered a rayed halo, facing the glorious disk of the risen sun. His features were of the noblest Aryan type, fixed into an immutable calm. High, exalted, He-Who-has-thus-Attained—it was the Enlightened One, as He sat on the day of His victory. Hand in hand we saw, and in a moment the strange darkness waned, and the sunlight flowed in like a river and blotted out the radiance, and we were like those who dream.
When all was gone, Haridas turned to us:
“We saw. But how?”
“I will tell you. There was a man, afterwards a great disciple, who saw in truth on the day of Attainment what you now see. It fixed itself in his heart and by the power which you were shown at Kan-lu-ssŭ it has been handed down through the centuries exactly as you beheld it, through a chain of men who loved and believed. There is not a brother in our Order who cannot call up this vision of the truth at need. And here, in this sacred place I desired to communicate it to you. This I have done. You will remember that the Lord meditated certain days before He descended into the world to begin His teaching.”
What was there to say? Nothing. He understood. He collected his papers and went silently away. She sat with her arm leaning on a block of stone; her face hidden in its curve, and so we remained for a time. Thoughts coursed through my brain like the swift flowing of a river—never again could life be the same. Of course I cannot hope to convey this to any who have not seen. I can but say that as the descending hammer of steel stamps the iron for ever so I was stamped, and neither in life nor death can lose the impress.
She motioned to me to leave her, and I obeyed gladly. Not even to her could I have spoken. Emotion of many sorts had been accumulating upon me for weeks and this was the crisis. As yet I could only feel that change—inexorable change—was upon me.
But the drama of the soul can have no spectators. I pass on. Not until next day did I see her, and then nothing was said of what filled our minds. I went with her to the galleries, and Haridas resumed his teaching, and that was all. He knew, if ever a man did, when to be silent.
That evening, sitting in the veranda, he told us a singularly beautiful story of Java, and because its beauty should not be for two but many, I give it here. And also because it was my last day of such peace as I now possessed. Next day the storm broke.
His voice was like a deep music, in the quiet darkness.
“This story is called ‘The Wisest,’ and long ago I heard it in India, and the Jewish Rabbis have told it of their wise King Solomon, and a poet of England had told it exquisitely; and in China there is a variant, and in Japan Urashima knew to his cost the deadly fruit of life, and the Norse Gods ate it from the hand of a Goddess, and therefore this is a true story, and not to be heard as a common tale, but one that has a spirit, if you have skill to find it.
“In the low sun a great King (that is how the story comes from India) stood in the gardens of his glorious kraton on the Kadu. No palace could be more beautiful for no wealth was greater than his. Carved without with noble stories of the Gods and their dealings with men, hung within with all the woven splendours of the looms of India, China, and the Eastern world, what was there wanting to make him Lord of the kingdoms of this earth? Nothing. For he had wisdom also, and was a just man, ruling in righteousness, and his people dwelt in peace in his shadow. And he was now very aged, and as he stood in the beauty of his gardens under the lontar and kananga trees, his soul said within him.
“‘Today this is mine. Tomorrow whose shall it be? For I die even as the beggar that crawls in the streets of my king-city. What is majesty, what is power, what is wisdom, when a moment shall strike them from our hands? Truly this world is nought but deception and illusion and my soul wearies of it.’”
“So he stood with the great cap of Sovereignty on his head where the rubies burnt as fire, and the gold rod fell from his hand and he knew it not, and the sinking sun said one word only—‘Death.’
“Then advancing toward the King’s Majesty he beheld a young man with shining eyes of youth, clothed in a yellow robe, and in the one hand he bore an instrument of music and in the other a strange fruit, golden and shaped like the heart of a man, and the King would have summoned the mighty men who guarded him, but he could not, for the sweetness like spring that blew about the garments of him who came. And the young man made salutation, but as one King greets another, and he said;
“‘O King, live for ever!’
“And the old King answered:
“‘Mock me not. Not so, for like the beggar the Kings die, and my time is appointed and there is no power or virtue but in the Unchanging.’
“And the man, looking upon him, said:
“‘Shall the wise King die and his wisdom enlighten the world no more? Not thus shall it be, for He who is Mighty has sent this fruit and it was grown in His high Garden. Eat then, and live for ever, O Wisest.’
“And he laid the fruit in the hand of the King, and the hand that took and the hand that gave were cold as death. So the King looked upon the fruit and when he raised his eyes the man was gone and there was only a faint music in the air.
“And he mused and the Past was loud in his ears. He beheld the glories of his power, his riches and wisdom. He bethought him of his wars and victories, of the Kings who obeyed him, of the many women he had possessed and who had loved him, and he said in his heart:
“‘Life is illusion, and the greater the deeper the dream. If it lasted for ever who could endure it? Each day is as the day before and this forever;—even as a tale that is told. It is a faint cloud sweeping over the eternal heaven. No more. And my wisdom itself is folly for from this it cannot save me. I will not eat. Immortal age—O misery! Better is death, and the common doom of man.’
“Then weighing the fruit in his hand he thought: ‘To whom shall I give it?’
“And all his heart grew tender, for he remembered the Golden Queen, that darling of his old age, the loveliest amid most loving of women, she whose body and soul were his and his only, and he thought:
“‘She shall be immortal and in all time to come men shall marvel at her and say—This Queen was the crest-jewel of the great days of old.
“So with feeble steps he went to his Kedaton, the secret inner chambers, bearing the fruit, and in the golden dimness the Golden Queen came before him fair as the planet of evening when she shines alone in a violet sky, and her dark delicious hair braided with pearls fell to her knees, and she abased her eyes before her lord, and to her the King gave the fruit, saying:
“‘Eat, O Beautiful, and be immortal, for shall not loveliness be loved for all time, until the stars themselves fall like dead flowers from the branches of heaven. Eat, and in the unborn days remember the King.’
“And when he was gone, the Golden Queen still stood, holding the fruit, for she thought:
“‘I am fair, and lovely are youth and life, but love is dearer. What is life itself to me if my lover is dead, for surely when the auspicious King is gone, my Prince shall rule and I with him, and if I have given him this great gift his heart will be utterly mine. He cannot reject the hand that gives him life, whereas now—I fear very greatly. So, for love’s sake, I will not eat.’
“And with a word she summoned the woman she trusted, and she said:
“‘Bring him hither,’ and the woman covered her face and fled like a bat through the dark ways of the garden to the house of the Pangeran—the Great Prince, and she beat at the secret door and bid him to the Queen, and he came hidden and secret to the innermost Jewel Chamber where even the King came never, and the Queen, trembling with love and fear, laid the fruit in the hand of her lover and told him all, and she cried:
“‘O heart of my heart, utterly adored, before whom my life is poured as wine,—Sit on the throne of the King and live for ever, and ever and in the days to come when fair women lie beside you and I am dust in the wind, say but this; None have loved me as did that dead woman, for knowing that love is more than life, she would not eat, and therefore I live. Say but this!’
“And she clung to him worshipping and looked up into his dark and mocking eyes that held her as one of the foolish women, and putting the fruit in his bosom he caressed her indolently, and she wept.
“Then, once more in the garden, he looked upon the heart-shaped fruit, and said: ‘What is life that I should desire it. I sicken of pleasure, and of women have I had enough, and what is there worth doing when the worst is done? To be King—what is it? The high Gods, if such there be, mock us with satiety in every lust. Neither for life nor death have I any care—better drop into the darkness like a spent light. I will not eat the fruit that this foolish Queen has given.’
“Then, laughing a little, he covered his face and went by hidden ways to the house of the Indian harlot, she who danced upon the lives of men, of all women most evil; and having entered where she sat coiled upon her cushions like a serpent and glimmering with jewels, he said:
“‘A great gift, the greatest of many! Take and eat and give in exchange a day’s fidelity, or if that be too much, an hour’s!’
“And she raised her head like a crowned snake and looked at him, and snatched the fruit. So he told her all, saying:
“‘And so I bring Immortality to the most Worthless, that when we are dead the vilest of all things shall jeer at the greatness of dead Wisdom, and Beauty, and Power. It is Lust only that is immortal. Wherefore—live for ever, O Queen!’
“So mocking her and laughing, he departed, and the woman sat alone with Immortality in her hand, and twice she lifted it to her lips and twice refrained, for she thought; ‘How dare I live forever?—I, a bubble of the earth, a flower in stagnant mud—To live for ever and thus? O, better the Land where all things are forgotten and the sleep is too deep to wake,—where I am no more mocked and shame itself is dead.’
“And looking sorrowfully upon the fruit, she said:
“‘Since I die, body and soul, what should live but the glory and wisdom of the King? For with his wisdom he enlightens his people and his glory is like unto the Gods. Let such as I die for ever in the Hells, so only the King endure for ever and ever.’
“And all night long she sat looking upon the fruit and when the time was come, she folded it in a cloth of silver, and sought the aloon-aloon where the King sat under the gold pajong to hear the words of the meanest, and trembling, she made sembah (salutation) before him and said:
“‘O Mighty, O Lord of the Universe, this fruit is the giver of life immortal. Eat and live for ever and for ever enlighten the world.’ And having thus said, she was gone like a shadow of the night.
“Then, at the sunsetting the King, in a very great musing, sought his garden for now to his knowledge all was made clear, and he said aloud:
“‘See now, this gift of life eternal! Weariness has refused it, Love has spurned it, mockery rejected it, and humility shining like a star in the heart of the most worthless of women, put it away from her. And surely he that brought it was Death.’
“And in a diviner silence he heard a music and again the young man stood before him with shining eyes, and he took the fruit into his hand and said to the King:
“‘Be of good cheer. I am the Keeper of the Gate,’—and so was gone. And the King turned his heart utterly unto wisdom.
“But of these four who was wisest?”
“That is a wonderful story,” she said, when his voice had ceased. “The woman was the wisest.”
“She had entered the Path,” he answered. “In what heart is there not the germ of the Buddhahood?”
She rose to say goodnight, and he looked at her searchingly:
“You are happier, more content than you have been for many years?”
“That is because you also have entered the Path. But suppose that tomorrow a sorrow, keen and cruel, were to come to you, in what spirit would you meet it?”
“I hope with courage. But I have had so much,”—her lips quivered pitifully as she looked up at him. “Need there be more?”
“There need never be any if you will live above it. Desire and fear are the roots of sorrow. Tear them out and you are free.”
He went slowly away and presently the light sprang up in his room and I saw him, not writing, lost in deep abstraction. There was thunder in the air, I felt it.
It was in the afternoon next day that I saw an auto coming up to the rest house, with a woman alone in it; her face so shaded by her sun hat that I could not see it. Something in the figure seemed familiar, and I went forward to meet her and opened the door. It was Mrs. Aubert, but so ghastly pale—the muscles of her face twitching, her lips trembling, that my first thought was—sudden and frightful illness. She caught my arm when she got out, and stood, shaking, her breath catching in her throat.
“Take me somewhere quiet. I want to speak to you. No—no. Call no one. I’m not ill. I’m—I’m only upset.”
I half carried her into the sitting room, and tore out a flask of brandy, pouring some into a cup. She drank it greedily, her teeth chattering on the brim, and then said nothing, leaning heavily on the table, until the colour flowed back, harshly red, into her face. Then she attempted a laugh that broke in her throat—more dreadful than a shriek.
“You must think I’m mad. But I’ve had—a nasty jar.”
“For heaven’s sake, wait till you’re better!”
“No, no. I’m better now. I’m a fool. Hold on a second and I’ll tell you.”
She drank another mouthful of brandy, and looked up with blazing eyes;
“You’re a gentleman. I’ll trust you. Did you know Mr. Sellenger and I were—friends?”
“Well—I went up to Garoet. I was to meet him there. He never came. It was all a plant to get me out of the way. I found out he had gone down to Batavia and I went after him. A pleasant trip, you’ll guess! I saw him with the little Jap—Yamashina—you know!—I tracked them to the Singapore boat. They’re gone off.”
I stared at her in utter unbelief. I thought she was mad with jealousy.
“I swear it’s true. I caught him before the boat started and told him all the world should know. He just shook me off and laughed. He thought I’d never give myself away. Where’s his wife? I want to see her.”
In an instant I was alert and collected. That pressed. The rest must wait.
“You can’t see her. Do you want to ruin yourself? Don’t be a mad woman. Think of yourself and don’t spoil your life for the sake of a worthless brute.”
“My life? He’s broken it for keeps. What do I care? But this I do know. He cares for respectability and what people think, and I’ll tear it from him if I do go down with him. Do you think I’ll let him enjoy himself while I suffer? I want you to tell me where he will go in Singapore. I must write to him. I want his address. That’s why I’ve come. And to see his wife.”
She raged on while I steadied down.
“You shan’t see her. You’ll bless me later. Here—get into the car and I’ll take you down to Djokja. How should I know where he’ll go!”
All the conventions had dropped away. We faced each other, open enemies.
“Thank you, no. You’re very keen to spare her. I’m not. There she goes! She’ll tell me where he is!”—and suddenly, tearing her sleeve from me, she ran out into the drive where Lucia was coming slowly back to her rooms.
When I reached them she was controlling herself into some semblance of decency, though still as white as death.
“I’m not at all well. May I rest a few minutes in your rooms while they get mine ready? Do you mind?”
“They always have rooms ready. Let me take you,”—but in vain.
“If you are ill—” Lucia said hesitating; then turning. “You had better leave her to me and my maid, and please tell them to get a room ready. No, don’t come. We shall manage better alone.”
I was helpless. In vain I tried to look “Danger”—Mrs. Aubert was more than a match for me. What she would say I could not divine, but whatever it was it would be intolerable. One last effort.
“Lady Lucia, if you will take my advice—I entreat—I implore you—Leave Mrs. Aubert to me.”
She looked at me with sudden suspicion—I saw, and the woman put her hand to her heart;
“Oh, I’m so ill. I can’t stand any more!”
It beat me. What chance has a man? “Please go away and wait,” Lady Lucia said resolutely.
They disappeared and I stood on the sun-baked drive and did not even know that my head was bare and the sun beating fiercely on it. The thought of her was most to me, but Miyuki—Miyuki, the news struck on my brain, and I could not take it in! Every look—every word rose up in denial. I went back into my rooms after a bit and dropped my head in my hands and could see no light in the gloom—not a ray.
I might have been there half an hour when steps passed the window, and a tap came to the door, and Lucia’s elderly maid was there, grave and concerned. She spoke very low.
“If you please, sir, my lady has had bad news, and as Mr. Rice isn’t here, I came for you. She needs help—”
She had not finished when I was on my way.
The door stood open and when she heard me she called me in. She was alone—Mrs. Aubert had flamed out of the room but had left a kind of passionate disturbance in the air, and it tingled about my nerves as I went in. Her voice told me nothing, but her face—all the storms had gone over it! I cannot describe—I could not look at it then—her expression so tore my heart. I remembered that it was I—I who was the cause of it in bringing Miyuki to Java. There was no battery of guns I would not have faced sooner than that stillness.
Her eyes were dry and calm as she motioned me to a chair.
“I felt you would not mind my sending for you. I need help, and I don’t even know where Jim is. You won’t mind?”
She read my face and went on.
“Mrs. Aubert tells me you know what has happened. You know of her position with regard to my husband, and you know he has taken some Japanese woman with him to Singapore.”
It was almost more than I could endure. Hush! She was speaking still.
“I must speak plainly at last and if Jim or Mr. Heron were here I would not trouble you. But I will say as little as I can. I have borne a great deal in the last ten years, but this I cannot bear. Will you tell me where my husband would go at Singapore, for I must write to him.”
“The Europe, or Raffles.” I said. “Shall I go for you? You have only to command me.”
“I know. But that could do no good. I will write.”
“But—forgive me. Is it certain? A jealous furious woman—”
“It is true. She would not have betrayed herself. And my own knowledge of him—”
She stopped. She would not say one unnecessary word. I honoured her as much as I loved her if that could be.
“Dare I ask what you intend? Think deeply, I entreat you, before you do what cannot be undone and possibly wreck your whole life.”
“That was done ten years ago,” she said.
After awhile she spoke again, and always with the same perfect control.
“Then you would advise me to write in duplicate to the hotels?”
“Certainly. It is the only way. But once more, will you let me suggest waiting until you know this as a fact.”
She shook her head.
“If it satisfies you I will wait for the next mail. Will you believe it if you hear he has gone to Singapore as he told me he was going? I knew before he left Djokja that this was in his mind. Will you leave me now, and if any letters come at six, send them in.”
I was dismissed. I went to the office and so back to my own rooms, feeling like a whipped hound. If she had known, my help would have been the last she would have taken.
I sat in maddening uncertainty, half resolved to return that moment and bare my soul before her, half wincing at the thought of adding any additional misery to her hard lot—especially as it would leave her utterly alone to face the real difficulties of her position. Then a thought struck me. Heron. He was at Matsushima when last I heard. I might catch him there, and if not, he would have left his address, for a running fire of cables followed him wherever he went. I called Tazaki and sent him straight off with a cable. Now at least she would have a staunch friend, true and straight.
I hung about the office until the letters came, and here was one for her. I sent it in, and scarcely had I done it when a boy came running after me with one for myself. From Miyuki. My heart beat thick as I saw it, half sick with hope that all might be well. Be that as it might, I now knew that I would cut loose, be free that very day; that not a minute should pass and find me bound in chains that now dug into my very soul. Every consideration for her, but freedom for me at any cost!
“This I write with trouble to give pain, but it is best. I go from you. You do not care. You only like and now are tired. It is not happy, so I go. To Singapore and At last the truth. I cursed Sellenger, and more I cursed my own folly and vanity. She had never loved me—never even pretended it, and the tears and entreaties for Java had been for him and not for me. At first it almost stunned me—so colossal is self-esteem. Yet after all why should she love me? Had I had any pity upon her? Had she not only anticipated the end I was longing for? I knew if it had been any other than Sellenger, this might have been a relief. And yet in a storm-tossed mind I did blame her. So this was what the masking smile meant—the easy relinquishment of my company. The jealous fiend in me spat at her as I remembered hours I have never recorded, and knew that behind them lay a cool indifference that used me as a convenience. In that sore moment I could not remember that though her frailty had stabbed the woman I loved, it was my doing as much as hers, or more a thousand-fold.
So another hour went by, best left untold, and again the tap at the door and the maid.
“My lady says—could you come for a few minutes.”
She sat as if she had never moved since I left her, but a writing table was drawn up.
“I am so very grieved to trouble you but I have tried to find Jim by wire and he is on some mountain expedition. I have had this letter from my husband. Please read it.”
I took it, feeling my position more odious every moment. It was the merest note.
“As I expected, business calls me to Singapore, and possibly to Kobe for awhile—possibly a month. This being so, I may as well make arrangements while there for you to follow later. I will write from all possible points. Meanwhile you have £3000 in the bank at Batavia, and can draw on Shanghai also for any purchases you may make. Take care of yourself. In haste, just going on board.
“Of course,” she said slowly, as I laid it down, “I shall not touch that money. Now—I will treat you as a friend, for I believe you are one. Will you lend me a hundred pounds until Mr. Heron comes in about five weeks. He is one of my trustees.”
Then decency and courage took hands and pushed me on. I could not—dared not lay her under any obligation to me unless she knew the truth. In that cruel issue I could see only one thing clearly. I had deceived her. I must deceive her no more. Should I let Haridas tell her? No, I had done the wrong—none but myself must meet her anger. As for the money—if she rejected me, I knew he would set it right. Kan-lu-ssŭ would see no suffering that it could cure. I faced my humiliation.
“All I have and am is yours. You know it. But I have a confession to make so painful that you will hate me when you have heard it. And that is why I must speak.”
She looked at me piteously and said nothing. I stumbled on.
“Before I knew you—in Japan—I met a woman who” (no, I could neither implicate Miyuki nor my cousin) “—who was a widow;—alone in the world. Since then she has travelled with me.”
“You too!” she said, and that was all. An inexpressible weariness was in her attitude and the hands clasped in her lap.
“She was with me in Peking. I brought her to Batavia. She is half English, half Japanese. Her name is Yamashina.”
I could not look at her. The silence was louder in my ears than thunder. So long it lasted—and then I got up and went to the door. Not a word. I closed it and passed out, and the silence followed me like an accusing angel.
Not then could I stay to brood over my loss and shame, for I was thinking only of her. I ran for the Borobodoer where I knew I should find Haridas with his papers about him. He was there. I think I should have broken altogether if there had been delay. And standing before him I told him as shortly as I could what had happened, sparing neither myself nor Sellenger. Without any comment he heard, merely a question now and then when I stumbled and then, rising, stood before me, an embodied calm.
“I will go to the lady if she will see me. As for money, put that from your mind. I can command all that is needful. And for her, fear not. She will endure and cast it from her as a true daughter of the Law. Forgive me if I say it is you who need pity—yet in your hands also lies your escape.”
I could not listen either to wisdom or reproof—I was past both, but what he said of her lit a faint hope. With all my soul I thanked him. As he turned to go, he paused a moment:
“You should not think too hardly of Miss Yamashina; I knew her when she was with your cousin. He left her suddenly and cruelly. If it hardened her, is she entirely to blame? She has not had much mercy from men. Her husband was a drunkard.”
But I could not clear my brain to think it out. Emotion had lashed me until I was callous. I saw from the ascent, Mrs. Aubert go to her car, walking hurriedly and nervously. I saw a light lit in Lucia’s window, and then I went down from the age-long quiet of the shrine and paced up and down, hoping for news of her.
It was long before Haridas came out, and in the dark I touched his arm.
“How is she?”
“Wearied in body, but gathering strength of heart. She has faced a great decision. She will live with him no more.”
“You say she is right?”
“Entirely. It should have been done long before. What marriage can there be between those two?”
“But do you know—she has nothing but the merest pittance if she leaves him?”
A fine scorn answered me.
“Money! How much you make of it, and to us it is not worth a moment’s thought—much less a woman’s life. She will not starve, and if she did, what then? What is death? You will persist in the West in treating it as a calamity. We know it is nothing. You have not learnt that lesson. Learn it now.”
“It may be well for a man to be poor—it is impossible, impossible for her. You don’t understand.”
“You will see. She is the daughter of a great race. They set many things before money. Perhaps you do not quite understand her.”
I winced, but it was true. Why should I understand one so far above me. He was much more likely to know her mind than I. I hazarded one question;
“Did she speak of me?”
“Not a word. But I spoke of you.”
What I dared not ask, he told me.
“I spoke of your story—the strange influences which have surrounded you—”
“But how could you know?”
“With all my heart I thank you. That was true mercy.”
“There is no such thing as mercy. It is the smile on the face of justice. Nor is there forgiveness. If she took you to her heart tomorrow you would still pay to the uttermost and work out your slavery till its last consequence is exhausted and in other lives you stand clear. Your life and hers have touched in many a life and always with pain and loss. In many lives you have borne one another’s wounds, and now—”
“Now? For God’s sake tell me how it will be.”
“How should I know? How can I tell the point to which your relations have reached? Only this I know—you have maimed your power to serve her and, whether apart or together, in this life you can never touch perfection in what you may be to each other.”
“Shall we ever reach it?”
“Certainly, for though flawed and broken your love is still a diamond giving forth the light eternal. You have dreamed, but not true, and she is the key of all your dreams. Through your love for her you will learn that love in which hers melts like the snow in sun.”
“You know I love her. You do not condemn it? The world would condemn.”
“Who shall condemn love? If you bind it in your own prison its working out will be ruin until its wings are strong to soar. Do not fear. You must now begin and build anew.”
I accepted my fate. It was immutably true. What is done is done. I turned stupidly away. How can a man build if no human soul loves him nor cares whether he builds or ruins? He saw and delayed me.
“Have you thought of Miss Yamashina? Your man Tazaki, who is devoted to her, tells me that she has set her heart on this man. During a part of the time you spent at Kan-lu-ssŭ she was with him at Tientsin. Neither he nor her maid would betray her, but Tazaki says she was so swept away by this passion that they believed it was a bond of some past life that held her in this.”
I listened in consternation, and for the first time I thought of Miyuki, not as a factor in Lucia’s life and mine, but as a being with her own doom to face. He went on;
“She is, of course, of much finer clay than the man. I need not tell you that.”
No, he need not tell me. I recalled the quick graces of her mind, and the lovely submissive courtesy, her obedience where she thought it due. I had not given anything but money and careless liking. I was her debtor. And now—if she loved him—I foresaw her wretchedness unhelped. He would trample her with brutal hoofs as a satyr might a nymph caught in the woods and foully outraged. And if she loved him there would be no escape. And, if he left her, as he surely would, misery. Yes—for the first time I considered Miyuki, and pity grew in the dry sand of anger.
He went his way, leaving me strengthened.
But not in body. That night I slept ill. My brain throbbed to every beat of my heart. My dreams were hideous. I wandered in waste places lit by weird moons, with a ghostly wind crying in unseen battlements. Stealthinesses crept in a rank jungle where I was lost beyond hope of redemption and left to their secret malignity. Insomnia itself is better than such sleep.
Next morning I could scarcely hold up, and dressing almost did for me. At last I crawled into one of the galleries of the shrine, and there I leaned my splitting head against a block of stone looking down the long vista, and fell heavily asleep in a stupor below the plane of consciousness, and there Haridas found me when he came to his work.
I was very ill. Sunstroke and long emotion did their work hand in hand and, as in the beginning of this strange story, I drifted in the borderlands of being, and again, most strangely, all my illusions were of my cousin, Lance Dunbar. I could hear my own voice arguing, entreating—“You have possessed me. You have dragged me in the wake of your dead follies. I was flung into your life and the ghosts of your passions beset me and made me your captive. Let me go back to my old poverty and forget—only forget!” And he, standing before me, would repeat again and again; “I was dashed out into the dark before I had found the secret. The dull river was sweeping me away without hope. If I took your eyes to see, your ears to hear, do you grudge it? We have learnt together. We shall attain.”
So it went on in maddening iteration, and my brain whirled with it, driving through orbits of blinding light and dark. Now his book possessed me again. Sometimes it was he, sometimes I who journeyed into strange places, and slow sensuous experiences, but which of us I could not tell; we were so horribly one. The women, beckoning and caressing, had the face of Miyuki but with ancient and obscure lusts clinging about them like serpents. All my knowledge of the past decked them with terror until I fled down vanishing vistas to escape them, and in vain. They bound him—or me—in chains of poisoned flowers, and life ebbed from me steadily and slowly and I could struggle no more. And then in a dream more peaceful—I saw a scene of long ago in his life and mine. I had gone down to see him at Eton—a splendid young man, as I thought then—in the Sixth. All was as it had really been. The meadows were cloth-of-gold with buttercups, and the Thames flowed like the river of a dream, smooth as glass. He sprang into a boat, to show some new stroke and the boat heeled and went over, and in a minute he was in the water. We fellows thought he was skylarking, but in a minute I saw he was caught fast in a rope in the boat, and to make a long story short, I went in after him, and got him ashore almost done for. And so it all ended in laughter. Now, in my delirium, we stood together again in the rich water-meadows, boys untarnished by life. It was so real, so clear, that even now I think it more than a dream.
Windsor Castle towered above us on the height, grey and noble, the Standard fluttering out on a spring breeze. There were gay distant voices from the playing fields; faint bells gave the hour. Between us ran a little stream rippling to the Thames. He stretched out his hand as he had done last in France and grasped mine across it. Then, it had been simply “Good-bye—and luck, old fellow!” Now, he pointed to the river and laughed; “I clutched you as I went down in a deeper river. I came, an unbidden guest, into the house of life. Never again, old man—never again! You have passed from the shadow of my sick dreams. We have found the Way.” I felt the warm grip of his hand. I repeated—“We have found the Way.” And as it all faded a voice from somewhere said in a dim distance,—“Only in dreams now, until the last dream is broken. Forgive—forgive—I” and the hand in mine melted and was gone, and the cold stars were shining in the river.
Again, it might have been years when I heard two men talking beside me, and whether in life or sleep I could not tell.
“A worse touch of sun I never saw, and of course on top of the knocking about he got in the war—Well, it’s touch and go. Your nursing has kept him alive so far.”
“He will not die,” the other voice answered, calm and low.
“I wouldn’t say that. He’s about as bad as he can be and these cases often collapse at a moment’s notice.”
“He will live and his recovery will be rapid.”
“No doubt your confidence will help him. If he does pull through he certainly will owe it to you. Well, good-bye. If I can do anything more, let me know.”
Were they talking of Lance or of me? The ocean of weakness flowed over me again.
Again a long, long time, with aeons of experiences that would fill lifetimes—that still start from beneath the surface of life and turn me cold with unnamable dread.
At last an evening when I could scarcely lift my eyelids, but from beneath them I saw a face I knew—Haridas reading by the window, and suddenly I knew myself flung by a receding wave on the shores of conscious thought once more. I made some faint movement, and he came, and stood looking quietly down upon me. He took my hand and felt the pulse, and silently brought me a cup with a cool liquid of unknown taste. I drank it and fell into a dreamless sleep. Rest, calm, deep, and submerging.
This happened at intervals again and again for days. He never spoke. I uttered no word. Only I drank and was refreshed and slept, and in that sleep life stole back like a ghost revisiting its old haunts, dim, uncertain, fading, returning.—For a long time I did not speak, nor he. A full content exhaled from his presence. It was enough to see the strong fineness of his features against the window and to feel his support.
At last one day I spoke, and my own voice startled me—a weak, hoarse whisper—“Haridas,”—and in an instant he was beside me.
“I have been ill?”
“Am I dying?”
“No. It is life. You have many years before you.”
“You have nursed me. Don’t leave me now.”
“I am with you always. Talk no more. Rest.”
He fixed his eyes on mine with power, and I slept.
Next day I could speak more and try to utter a word of gratitude, and so it gradually grew easier and though he would hear nothing of gratitude he let me speak and listened. When he showed me my face in the glass, gaunt, unshaven, haggard, I knew what I owed him if I had not known before, and it seemed that a life devoted to his service who had saved it would not be too much to offer.
So it went on until I could sit in a chair by the window and breathe the wandering sweetness of the tropic flowers in the garden outside, and by this time I learned that he had moved me from the Borobodoer instantly to Djokjakarta, taking all risks, that I might have a better chance of life in the cool pavilion of the hotel. His work interrupted, sleepless nights and anxious days—he faced it all for me to whom he owed nothing. What can I say? Best be silent. I remembered old Ojima at Ikao and his tender gratitude to the same saving hand. I too had shared in its mercy and in “the royal medicine” that had restored a worthier man than I shall ever be.
Haridas was sitting by me one afternoon, and I had just had the wonderful draught of simples from Kan-lu-ssŭ.
“You are so much stronger today,” he said, “that I think I may break my vow of silence and tell you of one who is filling your thoughts. Is it your wish?”
I did not need to answer. He continued;
“She is here now, and not alone. Your cable brought Mr. Heron, and he is with her. A good friend—a true friend.”
“No better than you. Not half so good,” I said with emotion.
“He has been very anxious about you,” Haridas went on. “That man loves you.”
“I am worth no man’s love—nor woman’s.”
“You are what you have made yourself. You will be what you choose. But to continue—he desires to see you when you are able, and I thought that tomorrow you might be fit. What do you wish?”
“Now—now!” I entreated. He shook his head.
“Impossible—but see! He is in the compound. If you turn your head— No, I will turn your chair, you shall see.”
He did it, and with his own delicacy stood behind me where he could not watch my face. For, walking with Heron, all in white, was Lucia. She could not see through the mosquito netting of the window, but they were near and I saw.
Oh, changed—oh, sweet! Most dear, most desired—I saw her again! Beneath her broad hat the dark wings of hair touched with silver, and between them her face—more touchingly gentle than even I remembered. Dear eyes—rayed with darkness—she lifted them to Heron and motioned to my door. He left her and came up the steps and Haridas went to meet him and I could watch her while they spoke and she listened.
“Much better,” Haridas said. “Gaining strength every hour. Tomorrow—” and then I lost the rest because I was almost certain she smiled a little as if the news pleased her. But surely that could not be. It must be because Haridas was coming down the steps to join her.
To think that Sellenger had had all that sweetness and nobility and had tossed it away! I saw him of all men most miserable. Surely in a callous old age, broken and with none to pity, his dead heart would cry out across the years for one who would never have broken faith with him in life or death. So it came to pass that my first thought of the man I loathed was pity.
Haridas walked on her right and Heron on her left—a strong guard, and I rejoiced to see them, even when she turned her beloved face from me to them.
Should I ever again be blessed by her gracious presence? I could not tell. To me she was a lovely mystery—I could not unravel it; I could only worship.
Next afternoon Heron came in, much moved, and trying hard for gayety to cheer the invalid.
“And so we meet again, my poor dear boy,” he said, wringing my hand. “Who’d have thought this when we parted in Japan! Aye, life’s a queer business! By George, you look much better than I expected! Our good friend here has done wonders for you.”
But Haridas had slipped away, leaving us alone.
“It’s good to see you,” I said, and for a minute could say no more—he brought such memories with him of those dead days in Japan. Dead indeed—! It seemed another life, lived by a stranger. I had awakened from my illness, new and cold and strange to all that had moved me then. Of it all only his kindly face remained and was real.
“Tell me of Lady Lucia,” was all I said at last.
“Yes, yes. I think you should know as you’ve been so unluckily mixed up in it. It wasn’t your fault. I don’t blame you one little bit. Sheer bad luck.”
“I blame myself.”
“No—that’s high-flown. You couldn’t help it. You did your best. Your cable reached me at Matsushima. I was there with Lloyd—and I came down at once.”
“Well, better than nothing! That’s all you can say. But I wouldn’t be anywhere else. I’ve been here a fortnight now.”
“How long have I been ill?” Curiously, this was the first time I had asked that question.
“More than a month. We must get you to To-sari in the mountains soon. We should really be there ourselves but I wanted to see how you got on. It’s blazing hot here now. When I got here I found Lucia had written to that beast, and told him definitely she had done with him.”
“I should think so! She should have done it long ago, and probably would if she’d known all the facts. Why, Dunbar, I could tell you—”
“Don’t!” Every nerve of me winced from that exposition.
“Well, I daresay it’s no good, but all the same, if you knew how she has hoped and endured you’d honour the ground she walks on.”
He looked at me steadily a moment with his own peculiar percipience. I suppose it was something revealing in my tone. But he went on with his story.
Heron had as much delicacy as Haridas, though of a very different breed.
“Perhaps you’ll find it hard to believe, but Sellenger came back by the next boat after her letter. He did—I give you my word. And for sheer blaring impudence it’s a difficult fact to beat. And she was alone, poor girl! Jim Rice has been lost to sight until last week in the mountains with the Veseys.”
Every strength I had was concentrated in listening. The delay while he lit his pipe almost maddened me.
“At first he tried denial until she mentioned Mrs. Aubert. Then there was nothing he did not say to induce her to condone it. Sellenger’s a man that likes to keep well with the public, though most people in our world know the kind he’s been. But like most bullies he’s a bit of a coward and I know no man who would less like the Divorce Court and head-lines and all that dirty business.”
“You don’t mean to say—”
Hope leaped like a flame in my heart.
“Of course not. She wouldn’t hear of it. She would dread it as much as he, but for very different reasons.”
“Yes, of course;—if right had its own. But feeling as she does it’s a thing unthinkable. He was terribly frightened of that until she relieved his mind—and immensely bucked when she said she didn’t intend anything of the sort. Then he focussed on her remaining with him for fear people should talk, and finally reminded her that all the money is his. Good form, eh?”
“A last try, I suppose.”
“Exactly. She told him she would touch nothing of his. He asked how she meant to live and she said that was no concern of his. But it did concern him. It was the hardest lump to swallow. He has his own dirty pride and it curled him up to think of his wife starving on a couple of hundred a year, and what people will say. Lucia never intended that. It was simply her own point of honour, but it gave him the hardest knock of his life. To make a long story short, he took himself off to Batavia, and has written twice from there and she hasn’t answered.”
“Do you think it will ever come right?”
“Come wrong, you mean. Never, and no more it ought. The man’s had his chance a hundred times and now it’s gone and he’s only got himself to thank. I wish with all my heart she was legally free of him. But it may come. Time does wonders.”
I shook my head. The last thing I could imagine was that she would drag him through the horrors of modern publicity. Then I gathered up courage, turning my face from him while I spoke.
“Do you know—has anything been heard of Miyuki? Did he chuck her at Singapore when he came back?”
“Best not ask,” said Heron with feeling. “Poor little soul—she fell among thieves when she met that brute. In spite of all, she was a dear little girl, you know, Dunbar.”
“I know. It half breaks my heart.”
“D’you mean to say you never suspected anything at Peking?”
“Nothing. I was away a lot, and I was a vain enough fool to suppose she liked being with me.”
“These things always end in something disagreeable. It’s the rarest thing in the world when they do otherwise, but I own this was pretty bad. I suppose the poor thing will go from bad to worse. Sellenger’s not exactly an elevating companion.”
I shuddered at his cool conjecture. For him it was an incident\^ but she had lain in my arms, my companion day and night, and now I saw her drifting away in the dark, helpless, unpitied. No one—not one, but would say, “What could you expect of a mere fille de joie who passes from one man to another as naturally as she changes her dress?” But I knew better. I did not forget the samurai pride and honesty I knew were in her. Love the inexorable had caught his prey at last and she would pay to the uttermost, and though I tried, I could never help to pay the debt I had incurred with her.
“Queer how one thing leads to another,” Heron said, smoking in a ruminative way. “If poor old Beverly hadn’t got tangled up with that geisha, Miyuki wouldn’t have been, and if Lance hadn’t gone west in France you wouldn’t have known her. But I say, you’re looking pretty white about the gills, my dear boy. I’ve talked too much.”
He leaned out of the window and beckoned Haridas who was reading in the veranda and hurried off. I cursed my weakness—the thing I most wanted to know was left untold.
But that evening when I had had more of old Ojima’s “royal medicine” I ventured to interrupt Haridas as he sat paging his MSS to ask the question at my heart.
“Do I do wrong in asking whether Lady Lucia Sellenger has spoken of me at all? I can’t rest until I know.”
He put his papers aside and came to sit by me.
“Many times. She and I have spoken of you often.”
“Does she think me utterly worthless?”
“She would not be what she is if she thought that. No. She believes you may have a future of clear sunshine.”
“Ah, that’s the wide goodness that embraces all our enemies. I want something more personal. Does she forgive me? Does she feel she can see me again?”
“I am certain she will see you again.”
What more could I ask, or he say? What would happen then must depend upon things neither he nor I could guess. I tried along another line.
“What does she think I should do?”
“She did not say. What I think you should do is to go to Tosari and get strong, and then I should advise Kan-lu-ssŭ. You have many friends there and the air is a great restorative.”
“Would you be there? I shall be like a lost dog without you.”
“I shall be returning there in about six weeks to submit my work to the authorities. Will you come with me?”
Assent was on my lips but I hesitated.
“I know,” he said quietly. “You wish to know the Lady’s plans (he always called her the Lady) before you can be certain. You are in suspense.”
Whatever else changed and wavered his patience never did! So large a lenience combined with the sternest austerity in his life I never think to see elsewhere.
“I go to Batavia in a week to meet a travelling brother on his way to Australia. It will be safe to leave you with Tazaki. He has been devoted to you. But we can meet at Singapore.”
“But why—why are you so eternally good to me? I have not done one single thing to deserve it. Would you do it for any one who needed it?”
“Such as it is, for any one. But I was attached to your cousin, and you are also my friend.”
I broke in. I told him the story of my illness after the war, and the influences that seemed to enter me then and had haunted me ever since. He listened with serious attention and did not interrupt until I had finished with the history of the dreamy and deliriums of the last weeks. I asked him earnestly to tell me if he could throw any light upon it or whether he believed it all hallucination induced by the circumstances of my cousin’s death and my inheritance. It was some minutes before he replied.
“It has been a legend in all times that when life has been saved the saver and the saved have a bond between them that may have an amazing influence on either life if the one wills and the other opens the door. In China and other countries to this day, many men refuse to save a drowning man because they believe that henceforth he has an evil power on their future. But who can tell? It is certain that when I saw you I saw that strong reminiscences of your cousin hung about you, so that I could scarcely persuade myself at moments that I was not speaking to him. At other times the impression vanished. If it is true, and I believe it, that influences of the past hang about certain places, may it not be the same with people, especially of the same blood? What is called in Europe the soul is a compound of millions of past lives—the sparks which form the fire we call the man. Some of these must have been common to your cousin and to you, and of this he may have laid hold. I do but theorize. Then—in this last illness when the barriers were again down, possibly the influence left you by the way it came. Guess-work—nothing more!”
“But the motive—the motive?”
“There again we touch mystery, for the place of the Karma of a man before it passes into re-birth was never revealed by any of the Buddhas. But I can answer for it that a passionate desire for the truth to be found in our faith had driven out your cousin’s agnosticism. He told me once that he feared to die until his belief should be assured. Do you not think it strange that by many channels you have approached that truth? Who could have foreseen it? Do you know that on that day when I enabled you to see that vision in the Borobodoer you accepted it whether you are yet conscious of it or no?”
I did know, as a man sees a truth he dare not face. Haridas saw me hesitate and continued;
“If for a time there was community between your cousin and you, may not that acceptance have opened some mysterious door for him? There is no logic nor reason. We can only hint and suppose. Many re-births lie before your cousin and you. In one of them you may ask him for an explanation.”
He smiled and dismissed the subject. But I know of my own knowledge that in my illness something had gone out of me that made life less complex, straighter and simpler. I will say no more than this—I dare not, but I have my own thoughts, and though the guesses of Haridas are illuminative he would be the first to say they were only flying shots at a truth most strange, of which this was not the first instance he had known—as I learnt later.
Daily I saw Heron, but never Lucia, except at a distance. I knew she avoided me and accepted it. Also I learned from Heron that Sellenger still bombarded her with letters, entreating, commanding her to return, setting before her every reason why this thing should not be known and they should return to England and take life up as before.
“I swear I will not intrude myself upon you,” (he wrote)—“at least for a time. I admit I have given you some cause for complaint, but it must be owned that if all wives left their husbands because of a slip, there would not be many households intact. Sensible women take human nature as it is, and nothing can touch a wife’s position. After all, I have done something for you too. I have given you a position which millions of women would envy,”—(and so on).
“How little that fellow knows her,” said Heron, folding up the letter. “I don’t pretend to much insight myself, but I know if he held out his misfortunes instead of his advantages—old age, illness and all that kind of thing—that’s how he should angle for a woman like her. If he could develop an incurable complaint at this minute she’d go to him like a shot. But to save his face and have money to slap about—No!”
“Thank heaven he’s not so clear-sighted as you,” was all I could say. I knew he was right.
“Yes. I’m not likely to put him wise. That girl is twenty-eight and has had as much misery crammed into ten years as most people spread over a lifetime. She’s earned some good luck, though I don’t see where it’s to come from.”
“What do you think will happen to him?” I asked.
“Hard to say. Other women generally pay off a wife’s scores in the long run. She needn’t trouble. They attend to that all right. But you mark my words. Sellenger will play her some trick yet. You’ll see I’m right. He’ll have her watched and get what he can to make use of.”
I started and looked at him.
“By George, yes. Our friend isn’t a gentleman by any manner of means, in spite of the St. Legers! I don’t know what he’ll do, but he’ll do it. And it’s going to make me uncommonly careful. He’ll never rest till he gets back or gets rid of her.”
There was a certain emphasis which I felt. Of course he was right, and the more so because such a thought would never cross her mind.
“She told me to answer his last letter. I’m her godfather and trustee and her father’s oldest friend, but I wish to God I was a relation. It would give me a stronger position. However, I wrote and told him he had better recognize the facts. Of course I don’t agree with her about taking no money. The case is as clear as mud in a wineglass. Naturally she has her settlements and the lawyers could easily see it through. But she only says if she does not live with him she has no claim to his money. He said what I told you about that, and it has made her resolute to owe him nothing.”
“But how will she live?”
“She has the pittance I told you of. I don’t see my way yet, but I’ll tell you when I do. Of course she should divorce him right away, and the Court would see she was provided for. She flies too high by far.”
There was much to consider in all this. Of course I thought of no possibilities for myself if she were free. I had been too horribly mixed up in the matter, but for her surely it was best. She could not endure the equivocalities of a separated wife, and if there were the danger Heron hinted at it might well be intolerable for her. One thing alone was clear to me. For her sake I was better away. I must not hang about her even if she would allow it. I was still so weak that I did not face this outlook as well as I should. But when I saw Heron again I told him I was for the hills in a few days and later for Kan-lu-ssŭ. He agreed that it was the wisest thing I could do, speaking only of my health. For himself he said he should devote himself entirely to her until matters cleared up one way or another.
A week later all my preparations were made, and Haridas had gone off. I cannot write of our parting, I will only say that it seemed to strike away the one support I could trust to, and had it not been for the hope he left behind him I should have despaired.
The hope? Yes. Dimly I began to apprehend that at Kan-lu-ssŭ all might be well even though very wrong outside. “When the sun is set and the moon is gone, and the fire extinguished, the soul is the light of man.”
And at Kan-lu-ssŭ I had learnt that the soul is man’s own to save or spill. The lists were set. The fight begun.
So I resolved to see her no more before I went. I would not put her to the pain of a refusal.
Perhaps it was because of this resolve (things happen like that) that Heron arrived one evening before dinner, with a message that set my heart flying until my emotion shamed me. That a man should be so much the slave of bodily weakness!
“Lucia says she wants to wish you a pleasant journey. Will you go round after dinner?”
But I knew I was still very weak when I crossed the compound from my pavilion to hers. The ground was visionary under my feet. It billowed mistily. Tazaki’s arm was a necessity. Now that I was presentable again, I saw the hollows in my cheeks. Perhaps, I thought, it would gain me a little mercy. Women are said to be pitiful to bodily suffering—whatever they may be about the rest.
So I reached her sitting room, and Tazaki put me into a chair, and departed, nor was Heron there. And then a door opened and she came in.
I can never describe her sweetness—if I try for ever. She came gliding in with a swift motion, all in grey, her eyes like evening stars, a softness like dusk about her. She took my two hands, and as they shook in hers, she clasped them warm and strong. Her seat was lower than mine, and when she leaned forward it was almost as if she knelt.
“Can you ever forgive me?” she said in a little sobbing voice, though her eyes were dry. “I was cruel—cruel. You did wrong—yes. But I hated it because it hurt me. All selfishness. Oh, forgive me.”
What could I say? I could only hide my face upon her hands.
“And when I saw you so ill—”
“You saw me?”
She drew back startled.
“Has not Haridas told you? But of course he would not.”
“What? For God’s sake tell me.”
“It’s nothing. Only when you were so ill he let me help him a little. I used to sit by you while he slept. Are you angry? Indeed I deserve it, for it was my fault.”
What could a man say if Heaven blossomed in the midst of Hell? Nothing. And I said nothing, but I held her hands, and for the first time in my life the slow hot tears were wrung from their deepest springs and fell burning upon them. So we sat for—how long? I cannot tell.
At last she said;
“But we won’t talk of forgiveness—either you or I. It means nothing. We understand, and all is well.”
“Can it ever be as if it had not been?”
“Never. But I know now that life is a series of beginnings and new births. We are always beginning again. And you and I begin now.”
“On what road.”
“A great friendship.”
Then if that were so there should be perfect openness whatever it might cost me. I would have no more concealment. But she drew her hands gently away at the first word I said:
“You know I love you?”
Her voice did not falter now.
“I did not know until you were ill. Then I knew.”
“Were you angry?”
“No. Love is what you make it. We will make it strong.”
“We? Do you mean—You can’t mean—”
Wild hope, wild joy, struggling together, indistinguishable from agony at the moment. She looked at me with eyes that foreshadowed grief:
“I will be honest too. Yes, I do love you.”
Instantly she raised her hand and checked me, before she went on:
“You know very well I would not say this unless it were that there is no hope of what the world calls happiness. But it may strengthen us both on our different roads to know the truth.”
“No hope,” I repeated dully.
“There cannot be. I know what Mr. Heron wished me to do, but it is impossible. I still owe my husband something. So we must face it—and part.”
Oh, terrible word! I could not accept it. I broke out with passionate pleading. All that Heron had said in favour of divorce I put before her, and because she listened I hoped I was convincing her. I could not see her face. She had turned it from me and the lights were dim, and the dark outside. So I went on, exhausting myself in the effort and she said never a word. I painted the life that might be—our life together, and then again she leaned forward and took my hands, looking at me with lips that quivered in a sweet unbent line.
“And supposing I did it, supposing I divorced my husband now for what I have known for years—just to secure my own happiness. How could it seem to him? What should I be better than he?”
“Do you mean that he is to demand that you spend all your life alone? Madness! What has he done to deserve such a sacrifice?”
“It is not exactly what he has done. It is what I know in my own soul. And with all his faults he has kept me in a different place in his mind. He has always—how shall I say it?—respected certain things in me. When he knew I knew certain things it wounded him. It wounds him now. And if I were to divorce him it would make him reckless. He believes in me, and I don’t think he believes in any one else. It would half kill him to drag him through the Divorce Court.”
“But how is it to end?”
“Read this,” she said, and handed me a letter.
I have now written four times and you are as hard as iron. Of course I knew no woman of decency could drag me through the D. C. After all, in my way, I have done the utmost I could for you. You know how I dread any public scandal and therefore I am at your mercy. Have you no regard for your promises, and if not, what are you better than I? I asked that bygones should be bygones and that you should come back to me. Now I am beaten to my knees and I only ask this—give me a last chance. I will shut up Denesworth and only keep the London house. I will have the yacht sent out to Japan and you can use her, and when you don’t I will. Then it will be thought we are travelling, and I think that in a couple of years, more or less, you will be glad you did nothing hasty. I swear on my honour I will never come near you. But if you will accept this offer and keep your position as my wife in this way and this only, you will have my eternal gratitude and I believe it may be my salvation and the salvation of our marriage. It is not too much to ask, and I think you will not refuse. You can trust my word of honour. Again, give me my last chance. I ask no more.”
I read it twice closely.
“Have you answered?”
“No. Tell me what to do and I will do it. I will obey you.”
I had never faced so cruel a question. I never shall again. Divorce and freedom on the one side, on the other bondage and misery. I need not dwell on what it meant to me, in the knowledge I had now, for 1 was certain that once free she never could resist the pleading of her own heart and mine. Divorce would be but a short agony. Sellenger could not defend it, and beyond lay heaven. Need I dwell on it? No. There is not a man who reads this but can measure the cost.
At last the words dragged themselves out of me.
“He has failed in everything, you in nothing.”
“I can’t say that,” she said sadly, “I grew cold to him. Perhaps if I had not—”
“In nothing,” I repeated obstinately. “And now the end has come. Ninety nine people out of a hundred would say you should divorce him.”
She looked at me unwaveringly.
“And you are the hundredth,” she said.
“For God’s sake don’t try me too hard. When I think of what it would mean for both of us—with all life and love before us,—the whole heavenly world to wander in—what can I say. My very Dear, have pity.”
Her lip trembled but still she looked at me and the appeal drew up the deepest strength in my soul. Yet still I fought, despairing.
“What would Haridas say? I will be guided by that.”
“No. You—you,” she repeated.
And then—in spite of myself, in spite of all the love and pity in me, something stronger than them both responded.
“Then, if you will have the truth, I think this. You are right. You owe him all you can give without self-ruin.”
Her face brightened slowly, and still she listened.
“You cannot live with him, but you can accept this compromise and trust to time to part you for ever or bring you together. You can give him this last one chance.”
Still with that fixed look she listened.
“You could throw his money in his face and humble him by living in poverty sooner than touch what is his. But you will not. You will give him his last chance.”
I could hear the silence like the murmur in a shell, so still she was, and I could say no more for now my own desolation rushed on me, overwhelming. Oh, fool that I was to have so spoken when she had put her dear life in my hand! She who had endured so much in all her ruined youth!
“I have broken your life and mine,” I said at last, and my head fell on my arms on the table before me.
“No, no. You have made them,” she cried. “I knew what you would say. You and I are not the sort that could shut out the voices that have a right to call us. How could we be happy? I have no duty to you for I love you and duty dies in love like a star in sunshine, but I am bound to give him his last chance since he asks it. I will pay my debt. I will do what he asks.”
I could not lift my head. She laid cool hands on my throbbing temples. I caught and clasped them.
“Swear to me that you will not see him. I couldn’t stand that.”
“I promise not to see him for two years. Then I will ask your advice again. I will take him at his own word. He shall stand or fall by that.”
A pause, and then she added with infinite sadness.
“We cannot meet. I love you too much.”
What use to record my entreaties and her pale resistance. I knew even at the moment when I could not silence them that they were folly—that she was right and I utterly wrong. But how can one obey the high decrees which coming from without yet compel obedience though it tears the very fibre of life? Still I entreated, until suddenly Heron’s caution flashed into my memory! “He will have her watched, He will take every advantage,” and then I desisted; she, nearly as worn out as I, white with pain, but steadfast.
“I may write?”
“Oh, yes—yes. And I will write to you. We must have that.”
“You will let me see what you write to him?”
“I will write it now.”
I can still see her head bent over the paper, and myself waiting, waiting until she put it in my hand.
“I will do what you ask in this letter. I will give what you call your last chance. If you promise not to see me for two years, we will stay abroad. I will use the yacht and will still consider myself your wife as far as you propose in this letter and no farther. At the end of two years the matter can be reconsidered. All now depends on yourself.”
“You will let Heron make all the necessary arrangements?”
Not here, not anywhere will I write of our parting. It had to be that night, for both she and I knew we could bear no more. One thing only I will record. I asked how she had been able to forgive me for Miyuki and all it implied, and her answer was so like her that I will set it down.—“I could not forgive it even if I had the right. You and I know that there is no forgiveness for what is done. You will always see her lost and miserable. But—I love you. And that is why I must give my husband his chance. If I had loved him—who knows—I might have forgiven all. But you and I are on the same road whatever you have done, or I. We understand—we cannot fall apart.”
A few minutes later she sent for Heron, and he gave me his arm back to my rooms. I looked back and saw her watching—a slender figure, black against the light behind.
Tosari in the mountains of Tengger. Health and strength came back to me in the clear Alpine air. At first I could only sit by the rivers rushing from the heights, pure as when the world began, and stare idly at the mountain flowers, wondering where and how life would shape itself, unable to unravel the tangle. I was alone with Tazaki and the little man was as kind and efficient a nurse as heart could wish. His firmness and wisdom were things to marvel at, and not less his devotion, which heaven knows I never saw how I had earned. I remember one day we were sitting on the slopes shaded by the pines which whispered of their brothers at Kan-lu-ssŭ. He had found me a nook in the mighty twisted roots of a patriarch, strong and gnarled as a mountain hermit and towering into the harebell sky far above my weakness to follow. They call these glorious trees tjemaras, and beneath them wander the goatherds with their flocks—the small tinkle of the bells going and coming through the woods. The herdsmen were not unlike Tazaki himself, short, brown, muscular fellows, active and simple. I remember one came and looked at me, and saying nothing went off and brought me a bowl of fresh milk and refused all payment—sheer human kindness and pity.
After I had dreamed awake for a bit, I told Tazaki that I had not thought of Europe, and should stay in the Far East, with possibly visits to India, for many years to come. I told him of Kan-lu-ssŭ, and as far as I could of my plans, and asked whether it would suit him better to return to Japan with a money gift which would start him in any kind of life he preferred.
“You like me go?” he asked.
I made it very clear that his faithful goodness, especially in my illness, was a thing I could ill spare and never forget. His answer was instant; “I stay with my danna sama (master). No wife, no child—I stay.”
The contract was sealed on the spot with three magnificent bows. That was the one thing which saved me from utter solitude and I knew how’ to value it.
Later on, when I was able to climb the hills, feeling that years had rolled off me, Rice made his way to Tosari to pay me a visit, overflowing with his own bliss in his engagement to Madeline Vesey. Of course I had foreseen it—he had written twice and could not keep her out of his letters, but none the less it was good to see and hear, and if I regretted that my Lucia would lose his companionship I knew she would be glad at heart.
When his transports and exhortations to me to go and do likewise if such another girl existed (which of course was impossible) were over, he spoke of Lucia. Speaking only from surface knowledge, and none but myself and Haridas had more, he approved her decision, thinking if not hopeless that Sellenger might in the two years’ probation recognize what he had lost and “turn over a new leaf.” “For,” observed Rice, with the utmost gravity, “it’s impossible to imagine how any fellow with a spark of decency can treat a woman as he’s treated Lucia. Of course one doesn’t understand this kind of thing until one’s up against it oneself, but I honestly do say I’m disgusted with the way he’s behaved.”
I couldn’t help smiling a little at the memory of very different speeches, but took it seriously. Rice went on; staring up into the green canopy of the pine above us; “Not that he’ll ever really change, you know. And I’ll tell you why. Even Heron doesn’t see it, but it’s so. Sellenger is as weak as water. He can’t say no to himself—never could as long as I’ve known him. Queer, in a way, when you think what a big bullying blustering sort of a fellow he is. He gives one a kind of impression of strength, but it’s all window-dressing. Lucia has more will in her little finger than he has in his whole body. Whatever he wants at the minute takes charge, and there you are!”
“Yet you think they may come together?”
“I think the chances are even. There’s a lot to hold people together when once they’re married. But two years is a long time.”
His words struck a chill. It was terribly true—the bond of marriage is strong as life itself in some natures, and the finer the nature the stronger.
So he went away to his happiness, and three weeks after that, leaving all my weakness at Tosari, I got down to Batavia with Tazaki and stopped for two nights at the hotel as I waited for the Singapore boat.
They brought me the box Miyuki had left for me, so carefully sealed and addressed, and memory rushed over me like a flood over waste lands when I opened it.
There was the little lying gold ring. I could see he small sun-tanned hand displaying it so proudly with the thin flashing line of diamonds above it. There was the watch that had marked such happy hours—there were all the little treasures that had made her joy in those buried days. Where was the poor child now?—What doing—what suffering? At least I used to be tender with her, but who could imagine Sellenger saying a tender word in life or death? A pitiful lost love—a little ungrown love that clashed not at all with the true love that filled all my heart, stirred feeble wings as I lifted out one thing after another, and each brought her before me in a vanishing sweetness. My poor Miyuki! At the bottom of the box was folded the bit of Kyoto brocade I knew so well, and beneath it a written word;
“I give back, but still I thank. For much kindness I thank,”—and I have never been ashamed that I put the paper to my lips before it fluttered away in tatters.
Then I sent for Tazaki. He came,, and when he saw the box and its contents I knew he recognized them. This made it possible to question him, and I was surprised to find that he knew from various talks Miyuki had had with him where she had lived in Tokyo before she joined me—a little house in the suburbs. He spoke of her with such respect and affection that it warmed the cold ashes of what I had felt for her, and I employed him to re-pack the little treasures with his beautiful Japanese deftness, and secure them in a stronger box. He lingered a little when we had finished sealing and securing it. I suppose he saw relenting in my face, for this was the first time he had uttered her name. Now he told me freely how Miyuki had made Mrs. Aubert’s acquaintance and of the drives they took together. Mrs. Aubert was anxious, no doubt, to meet as few people as possible in Peking, owing to her position with Sellenger, but she felt safe with a little foreigner. One day, said Tazaki, she brought Sellenger, and that was the beginning, and in very simple words he told me of Miyuki’s infatuation. She could think and speak of no one else and O Toyo san who detested Sellenger, vainly entreated and warned, doing everything in her power, short of telling me the facts. They were afraid she would commit suicide, a common enough ending to such tragedies with the Japanese, if I refused to take her with me to Java, for Sellenger had declined to have anything to do with her going there, though ready enough to meet her if she came. But here I checked Tazaki; I had heard enough and too much. Only one thing more concerned me—Did he at all know what her means were, and what she could count on as her own?
“Yes—O Toyo san knew that.” She had been a kind of humble retainer of the Yamashina family and she had told him. Miyuki had a very tiny income; “enough for rice” was his phrase, and this little house in Amakusa. Once she had had more, but her drunken husband had made away with a good share of it. That was all, but it told me what I needed. I was morally certain Sellenger had cast her off when he tried to make his peace with Lucia, and my way was clear. I paid a certain sum to her credit at the Tokyo Bank, and then, with a hand not quite firm, I wrote;
“I thank you for returning these things, but I ask you to keep them. There is no need to acknowledge them, but it will give me pleasure to know they are yours. Also I send you an address which will always find me, if ever you need a friend. In that case I hope you will write. My parting gift you will find in your name at the Tokyo and Kobe Bank. I wish you all happiness and prosperity.”
I signed it, and the address I gave was Kan-lu-ssŭ. I knew that if I were dead they would not let her slip out of sight. And so it ended.
It was that very evening I had my first letter from Lucia. I was sitting under the waringen trees in a breeze that only stirred the stagnant heat, blowing in dreary insistence. I have never felt more lonely. Heron, Miyuki, Rice, Haridas, Lucia—all those who had made my life since I entered upon my cousin’s inheritance, had vanished, as it were,, and left me to my fate. Change—change about me everywhere! Even the strange dual consciousness that had spurred me with a desire to touch, taste and see, to drink where Lance Dunbar had drunk, was gone. I felt the mere shell of a man, dishabited, broken. And then, fluttering out of the lonely dark, came her letter, like a homing dove;
“My dear Friend:
We are now at Tosari, and I sit under the pines where you sat and the river sings to me as it did to you. There is a heavenly quiet here. Surely it must be a little like what you have told me of Kan-lu-ssŭ? But no—nothing could be like that. It fills me with joy to think you will be there soon. Tell me everything you can about it.
I think of you so much and no word that was said when I saw you last will ever leave my heart. All my life I shall thank you because you guided me right when I wavered and gave me strength when I was weak. That made us part of the great things we both search for. Do you remember you once told me these lines in Japanese—
‘The morning glory blossoms for an hour, yet is its heart in nothing differing from the great pine that endures a thousand years.’ Just so, it seems to me our little love is a part of something too great to be understood now. You will know that I am not unhappy. How could I be? My life was a sandy desert, and now it is full of love and hope. I see the purpose of all I have done and thought. Believe we can never be apart, for it is true. Many who live together might envy us that nearness, and it will last. Mr. Heron and I are going to Japan for the late summer and autumn and the yacht will meet us at Kobe. We go to Kyushu and do some cruising in the south. A Mrs. Waring is coming with us. Need I tell you how I wish to see you? No. I wait your letters. Write always to the bank as I said. My dearest Friend, good-bye until I write again or hear from you.
She signed it with her full name as if she were proud of it.
It is little worth while to tell what I wrote in my letters. Often I complained or sorrowed for what I could not have. She walked along the straight road with the light of all the dawns on her face. I heard from her twice every month. I could also follow her movements to a certain extent, for the papers used to chronicle the movements of the great yacht and Sellenger had paragraphs put in periodically to the effect that Mr. and Lady Lucia Sellenger were cruising to the Lu Lhu Islands and so forth, when he, as likely as not, would be in Hakodate shooting, or further afield, in Brazil, or wherever his fancy took him. Mrs. Waring and Heron were always with her, and Heron wrote often:
“She thinks she owes me a lot for sticking to her, when as a matter of fact it is all the other way. If she were my own daughter it could not work better. She simply spoils me, and to see her free from persecution is a thing to rejoice in. I thought it better to take the bull by the horns and wrote frankly to Sellenger, for I don’t trust him further than I can throw him. I said I had been her father’s oldest friend, her godfather and so forth, and she liked to have me with her. Therefore I was prepared to devote myself to her provided this had his full approval. There was more, but it amounted to that. He wrote back saying that my company and care for her were more than he could have hoped and he desired to thank me, especially as I was a man of the world and knew the facts and he was sure my influence would be altogether peacemaking. By the way one of the facts I do know, for I heard it from a sure hand at Yokohama, was that he and Mrs. Kohn went to Brazil on the same boat. Which is exactly what I expected.”
This letter reached me at Peking where I was with Tazaki, about to start for Kan-lu-ssŭ. For various reasons Haridas had had to go on before, and that was to be our meeting place.
The glory of a great September day was on the hills when I climbed the steep way to Kan-lu-ssŭ. A day of late summer with, as it were, a ripened harvest splendour. Sunshine like a dust of radiance filled the woods where the path went on and up—
“The unthrifte sunne shot vitall gold, A thousand pieces; And heaven its azure did unfold Chequered with snowy fleeces, The aire was all in spice And every bush A garland wore. Thus fed my eyes, But all the eare lay hush.”
Old Vaughan, wise, as any of the mountain sages, might easily have written here his winged verses bright as the young-eyed cherubim. A more perfect day and place never were. Something sang in me as I strode up the pine-scented way, something that exulted in difficulties, something glad, and native to the stern heights.
Tazaki walked behind me in a quiet rapture, not caring to speak, absorbing the strong beauty with the air of one who holds a brimmed cup to his lips.
Bliss mounted in me as I mounted. I had feared so much when last I climbed those crags. Now I feared nothing, and like a talisman I carried her love at my heart. No longer a slave to dread and shame, I was my own master, and my destiny in all that is of any real concern in my own hands.
1 think Haridas must have read something of this in my face when at last I stood untired by the bridge over the glad river, and striking the bell brought him to meet me. For his greeting was in the words of Him-Who-has-thus-Attained:
“Even the gods envy him whose senses are quiet as horses well tamed, who has renounced his will and put away all taints. Calm are the thoughts, calm the deeds of such a one, attaining true wisdom and control.”
I could only say I had not attained. I did but strive. And he replied smiling:
“In the struggle lies attainment.”
For the first time I saw him in the dress of the Buddhist monk—the yellow robe, head bared, an august figure, in the quiet precincts of the mountain cloister. It gave him an extraordinary dignity, which suited the nobility of his bearing and the clear dark features that only wisdom redeemed from their Brahman haughtiness. I had always had a sense of looking upwards to him—I had it doubly here on his own ground.
As we stood there a very great honour befell me; the Abbot himself, attended by Shan-tao, came out to greet me, and paced, stately along the narrow arches of the bridge, his hand raised in the gesture of benediction. So the three welcomed me, rejoicing over my return as if I had come home after long wandering.
I have often thought since how little the world knows of the attainment of these men. I have read most of the books dealing with the Buddhist faith, yet have never met one (so far as I remember) which does any justice to the spiritual and scholarly grandeur of the great Buddhist teachers of the present day. It is true that here and there allusion is made to the researches of some Japanese scholars in the ancient Scriptures, but always with the patronizing assumption that Buddhism is a fading faith sunk in ignorance and sloth, bound to disappear in the withering brilliance of science. I, on the contrary, and many with me, know that Buddhism is a living, growing thing, and that science is its strongest friend—if friend it needs. Science itself may accept a Way, clear as noonday, untrammeled by rite or ceremony, independent of historic dogma as usually understood.—But all this, though it breaks from me, should not be said here and now. This is but the record of what it did for two lives.
I cannot easily tell the home-coming feeling of that evening in the refectory, with the night brooding on the peaks outside. Lewthwaite had gone on a mission which took him across the Gobi and into Chinese Turkestan, but the young Chinese met me with pleasure. Indeed they all did this. I was no stranger.
It was a great peace to wander through the little lovely paved courts where the monks lived, surrounding the low buildings which held the common rooms and the Abbot’s dwelling. Pines had gained a foothold even in the courts and the shade was grateful at noonday to the yellow-robed brothers pacing there alone or in pairs. The paving stones were mossy with age and little mountain flowers were made welcome in the crevices. A beautiful place of quiet. There was more than one great pool where the lotus flowers grew in marvellous luxuriance and the jewelled dragon-flies flickered, and birds like kingfishers, who knew no fear of human cruelty, hunted among the great carven leaves—darting flashes of blue.
I never knew in which season Kan-lu-ssŭ was loveliest—in the silence of snow weighing down the rigid canopies of the pines and spreading its cold purity in the broad moonlight—or, as I saw it now, steeped in sunshine, dreaming of its past, when the greatest poets and scholars of China climbed up the mountain ways to bathe their eyes in beauty and their bodies in the high air and the living light of the rushing torrents.
That night Haridas led the talk in the Abbot’s absence. He had an authority that came by right of his strange commanding personality, and all gathered to hear of his work in Japan and Java, for he had been absent three years without holiday or rest. I heard then one of the most interesting discussions I have ever heard in my life and though I may not give it here it convinced me once and for all that Buddhism, holding hand with Christianity in certain of its aspects, is the only faith which can hold the modern world. Many events inward and outward had been leading me into the path, but when the moon glided that night silver-footed through the ancient courts of Kan-lu-ssŭ, I was a Buddhist once and for all.
They appointed me my own work next day. On conditions, I might stay as long as I pleased, but idleness was unknown—either physical or mental, therefore I had my share in the toil which provided food for the community. That was for the mornings. And three hours a day I must give to the rendering into English of the Buddha Carita—the noble poem written by Asvaghosha. A glorious edition was to be prepared for America and for England, and the work was of the deepest interest, a Chinese monk using the Chinese version of the sixth century, and Haridas the Sanscrit of the second, whilst I finally corrected their joint version into the best English I possessed. We worked in a quiet room overlooking the lotus pool, and it seemed that ancientry itself sat down with us to our task, and wise old faces, seamed and yellow as amber, of Chinese and Indian sages, watched over the precious scrolls, some of them strangely pictured and brought from the hoards and receptacles of many monasteries famous in the annals of the Empire. I loved the work, and sometimes, pausing as I wrote, I would look out upon the mirrored surface of the pool where the great lotus leaves reflected themselves in perfect outline deep in the heart of the water, and so I would think her face lay untroubled in my inmost being, never to be disturbed while life lasted.
My resolve was taken that I never would enter the community while she lived. So long as a gleam of hope survived I would hold myself ready for a moment that might never come, but was worth (even as a possibility) all else the world could offer me.
In the late afternoons such of us as chose collected in the hollow of the crags where I had seen my dream of Xanadu, and there, together, we planned, what again I must not tell of here, the Book of Kan-lu-ssŭ—a many-centuried chain of experiences and actions, enriched with poems, comments and sketches by many of the greatest minds in China and India, forming a very museum of beauty and wisdom and the lore of ages.
But behind and permeating it all was Lucia—Lucia! The men of Kan-lu-ssŭ had their necessary connection with the outer world and every seven days the messengers went down and returned with the news and letters which their work implied, and among them came often in the little firm writing the words that bound me to my love. But for these and what they meant I might have joined the brotherhood, but that being impossible, the “Vow of the Householder” is open to the laity, and this I took in the presence of the Abbot and have never regretted it. It is good to have a discipline. A man marches more firmly to a drum-tap.
I told her of course and she wrote back with envy. That vow would have well suited her in whose gracious nature the mystic joined hands with the most practical outlook on life. She said nothing in complaint of her own surroundings, but I knew very well she wearied of the luxurious yacht creeping by easy stages from port to port. Next to our letters, Heron’s unselfish goodness was her support these days. That time at Kan-lu-ssŭ seems to me now, looking back, to have been one of still autumnal beauty when all is sinking into the sleep which prepares it for the breaking of dreams and the torrent of life in Spring.
And now I must leave my own doings and tell what I learnt later from Heron.
The yacht Viola had made her way to a little port not far from Unzen in southern Japan. I knew very well why she who guided its course would go no further away on the far seas. In that dear land we were still in the same world and shared the same heavens, while, once through the narrow gate of Singapore or across the Pacific, thought and race itself would have divided us.
So while the snow was feathering the pines of Kan-lu-ssŭ, she hovered round Japan, following her own studies no less than I in the North and strengthening our bond daily.
It was a glowing day, the sea misty as a blue pearl, and the yacht was in the lovely maze of islands that lies below the Unzen hills—floating in sweet sunshine. Lucia and Heron were on deck, Mrs. Waring resting in her cabin, so that they were alone, and making their way through an armful of papers which had come up from Nagasaki. Suddenly Heron looked up. A boat with a Japanese crew was pulling out from the small sandy bay. The yacht had been lying off it a couple of days and many boats with commodities to sell had boarded her from time to time, so this was nothing strange. He had picked up his paper again when the skipper of the Viola came quickly aft—
“Mr. Sellenger coming aboard, my lady.”
He looked, and there was a European sitting in the stern.
She turned so white, Heron said, that he thought she might faint. She had never heard from Sellenger since the letter, in which he finally accepted the terms he had himself proposed, and the only news of him had been what the papers gave, and that as often false as not, as Heron very well knew. She steadied herself, however, in an instant and caught the glasses from Heron. Afterwards she told me that a wild hope possessed her that it might be—not Sellenger—but myself. She gave back the glasses and they looked at each other in dismay. What could it mean?
That would soon be known for the boat was coming rapidly alongside. Without a word, Heron motioned to Lucia and she went below, he waiting aft, not wishing to seem to welcome him. It was scarcely five minutes before Sellenger set his heavy foot on the ladder, and came up the side holding the man-ropes as if he needed support, the captain and crew saluting their master.
Then Heron went a step or two to meet him. It seemed he was more the host than the other on board his own yacht. Sellenger had grown bigger, more florid. The sullen look which had come so easily seemed habitual now. He met Heron with less than the rather forced geniality of the old days and made as if to shake hands.
“I smelt thunder,” Heron wrote to me afterwards.
“No doubt you’re surprised to see me—more a surprise than a pleasure,”—Sellenger said, as Heron deftly ignored the hand, and they went right aft. He settled into a deck chair and gathered his big legs under him while Heron stood leaning against the taffrail, looking down at him. “But there were things not easily written about, and it takes a deuced long time to get an answer, and altogether, as I wasn’t far from Nagasaki and heard you were here, I thought it would save time if I came along. The yacht looks pretty smart and ship-shape, don’t she? Harley’s a good skipper.”
He ran his eye critically along the shining decks, the glittering brass, the perfect fittings of one of the costliest pleasure boats afloat, and lit a cigar, as Heron eyed him with strong disfavour.
“It seems a bit cavalier to remind you on board your own boat that there was an agreement, and that as a matter of fact—Well, Lucia’s aboard. I don’t suppose I need say more.”
“Quite unnecessary,” Sellenger said, and Heron noted his changed tone. He was afraid no longer. The bully was uppermost again. “I say, before we start in, just tell me how many knots you made on the average coming down from Moji. I was a bit doubtful about the new engines.”
“You had better ask Harley. That was scarcely what you looked in about, was it?”
“Scarcely,” Sellenger agreed. “Merely a matter of curiosity. What I really came about was this. Better come to the point at once. I understand that fellow Dunbar is a great chum of yours.”
“Perhaps you can explain then why my wife writes to him and hears from him regularly?”
The attack was so unexpected that as Heron told me it nearly threw him off his guard. Especially as he naturally knew little of the correspondence. That was not a thing either she or I were likely to talk of much even to him. He did not show his surprise however, but looked down contemptuously on the man before him and smiled.
“Try another. Not good enough,” he said.
“Perhaps not alone,” Sellenger agreed. “Do you know, if you’d sit down I think we could discuss it more reasonably. I don’t want to make a fuss before these people. To continue. I noticed in Peking that the fellow was hanging about her, and as she had never allowed that kind of rot it just struck me a bit. That’s all. Then we all met in Java.”
“Knowing you for the scoundrel you are I foresaw some such attack on your wife, and guarded against it. By your own verbal and written request I have been with her for long before she left Java, and Mrs. Waring with us. I think our evidence—”
“Who’s talking of evidence?” Sellenger interrupted heavily. “I only want the matter put on a clear footing. I strongly advise you to listen without calling names that I’m not going to stand even from you. I tell you I noticed in Java again that he was hanging about her. You weren’t there, nor for weeks after. You take my word for it. Then I went down to Batavia, and Rice took her up to the Borobodoer and left her there with Dunbar.”
Heron told me that for the first time he felt the man to be dangerous and saw the instant need of understanding him thoroughly. He sat down and fixed his eyes steadily on Sellenger.
“I’ve ascertained that she was in Dunbar’s company all day and every day;—sometimes with that black fellow she picked up in Java. A little unusual for Lucia, you’ll admit! I know she went to Dunbar’s room more than once. Then he had a sunstroke. She brought him down in the car to Djokja and nursed him herself with the black. I’m told she was with him night and day and all the hotel talking of it, and the state of mind she was in. Did you speak?”
“Thank you. I’ll wait till you’ve finished.”
“Then he went up to Tosari, and on to China, and by that time there was an understanding, and they’ve been steadily corresponding ever since.”
He put his hand in his breast pocket.
“This letter has come into my hands, written by my wife to Dunbar. I want you to read it.”
“Thanks. I don’t read any woman’s letters without her permission.”
“I see. Well, you may take it from me that it’s a love letter. Rather a queer end to all this condemnation of me! What d’you think? As a man of the world, now?”
“As a man of the world,” Heron replied, “I know a bounder when I see one. Therefore I was quite prepared for this move on your part and took my precautions.”
“Unfortunately they don’t seem to have taken theirs! However, abuse doesn’t help the matter. These are my terms. I want my wife back. It doesn’t suit me to have her strolling the country, and I’m not going to have her mixed up with any fellow. If she comes back and behaves herself I’ll condone all this silly rot. Mind you, it isn’t every man that would, and if it weren’t for that affair of my own I wouldn’t think of it. But if she won’t come back—”
“Just a minute!” Heron interrupted. He left Sellenger moodily drawing imaginary lines on the deck with his stick, and calling for Lucia’s maid, gave her a message and returned. Not a word would he have alone with Lucia just then. He feared the ordeal for her but knew she must face it. “Kindly wait until Lucia comes on deck,” he said, and again stood looking over the placid bay. Sellenger half rose and attempted to speak, but he paid no attention. A few minutes went by and Sellenger stood up as she came. I know she had never looked calmer or more stately—her large untroubled eyes fixed on his face as she asked;
“Why are you here?”
“I have a reason for seeing you, and—”
“Lucia,—” broke in Heron, “this man has come to accuse you of a love affair with Dunbar and to blackmail you by promising to condone it if you return to him.”
The sullen red flamed into Sellenger’s face; he turned savagely upon Heron;
“God damn you! Get away, and let me speak to my wife!”
For a moment it was if he would strike the old man. Lucia put her arm through Heron’s; ice and steel in a moment.
“Speak to me now. I am ready to hear you,” she said.
Then came a silence, but for the light wind fluttering through the awning and whipping the flag astern. Sellenger looked at her heavily.
Then it came out. In slow stumbling sentences he accused her as he had done to Heron. Every incident at the Borobodoer and Djokja magnified and distorted, invention called in when they failed. Once or twice Heron started furiously and would have spoken but always her light touch on his arm silenced him, as she listened in perfect stillness.
Finally Sellenger opened the letter he held gripped in his hand and read it aloud. I have since wondered how much he had paid the Kan-lu-ssŭ messengers for his own ruin.
“My dearest Friend:*
“Your letter came today and brought me the news that Kan-lu-ssŭ is the haven of peace that you remembered it. I knew you would find there nearly all that life denies us. Not quite all. You will remember me and love me and long sometimes for my presence. Perhaps some day I may come as I did in the vision you had when you were there before. But not otherwise. Our lives touched for a moment and then parted as I think for ever in this world. Still, we have learnt that this little life is only an episode in a long, long chain of which we cannot know the small beginning though we can trust the great end. So let us be happy in what is left us, and try to desire no more until the right time brings it.
“Mr. Heron is like my own father. I love him more every day. We are very happy together. Soon we shall be going south. If you were here! Of my husband I am glad to say I hear nothing. I think Mr. Heron does, but he keeps it to himself. Good-bye until my next letter, dearest of all, kindest and truest. I cling to your advice in all things.
He struck his hand on it. “I have two more. What have you to say to that?”
Again a little silence. Then her low voice;
“Do I understand that you accuse me of infidelity?”
“It looks uncommonly like it. What’s a man to think when he hears these things and reads a letter like that?”
“Then you do accuse me. What do you mean to do?”
“I told Heron, though he put it in a damned unpleasant way. I want you back. It doesn’t suit my book to be semi-detached in this kind of way. People are beginning to talk about me. I’m willing to try—try, mind you—to believe things haven’t gone as far with Dunbar as they might, and I’ll let bygones be bygones, if you’ll do the same and drop him and make a fresh start.”
“And if not?”
“Then, by Jove, I’ll face the music and divorce you. Our present life’s a mere farce. A clean cut will suit me better.”
Another pause and the certitude of triumph on Sellenger’s face. He believed she would die sooner than drag herself through the dirt. He had the air of the master now. Again Heron would have spoken, and she checked him,—at last she spoke.
“You shall have no explanation nor denial from me except in open court. You will not divorce me. It is a threat I despise, for you know well you cannot. But you have lost me now. On your side you have no evidence. On mine—your record will hound you out of court. Your threat is, as Mr. Heron says, blackmail. Now hear my decision. I would have spared you if I could. I tried to, though my only chance of happiness is in freedom. And not only so, but I too dread publicity for our most miserable married life, with all my soul. But now you have broken the last tie. You have taught me that any public suffering is better than the utter degradation of being your wife even with the whole world between us. I have done with you.”
She turned to Heron.
“Will you cable at once to your lawyers and make the arrangements for my bringing a divorce action against this man? Don’t lose a day. I will send my maid to Mrs. Waring and we will leave the yacht now. You approve?”
“Absolutely, and there is no question as to the result. My one regret is that it was not done before he had time to insult you. We can be at Nagasaki tomorrow and then sail for Shanghai and England. I congratulate you, Lucia. At last you have done the right thing.”
She turned and went below with a light quick step, before Sellenger could say a word. The whole scene had lasted but a few minutes. Then he rounded fiercely on Heron, beaten, cowed, beyond the possibility of hiding it. A man could scarcely fall lower. He had not meant it—surely Heron could understand that this was only a last despairing attempt to induce his wife to return? He would blow his brains out sooner than face publicity. He would apologize. Heron’s influence surely would put things straight. And so forth and so forth, while Heron listened in dead silence. Finally he also said his word;
“I decline to discuss this or any other matter with you except through the lawyers. You will have the citation in due course. It is now eleven o’clock. By one we shall be out of the yacht.”
That was all. He told me that Lucia’s steadfastness had steadied him, or he would have been at the pains of giving Sellenger the opinion of all decent people upon his proceedings. Possibly Sellenger knew it well enough. He sat in the captain’s cabin, writing a frantic letter to Lucia which she declined to read and of which Heron took possession. Quite evidently he could not yet believe that she meant what she said—never would actually believe it until it was upon him.
Thence he saw the baggage brought up, the motor boat got ready, and at one o’clock Lucia with Mrs. Waring and the maid came on deck, Heron following. None of them looked his way as he lurched out of the cabin and once more tried to speak. He laid his hand on her arm and Heron stepped forward, but it might not have happened for all the notice she took of it as she passed on to shake hands with Captain Harley and thank him warmly for all his care and kindness. The crew stood about in groups, perplexed and curious, and in a few minutes it was over. The boat was driving to the shore, and they had left Sellenger to his own reflections. They saw him standing aft alone—a baffled, broken man.
From Nagasaki both wrote to me, telling what I have told. Heron ended his letter thus:
“I know your impulse will be to come and defend her, but for God’s sake, keep away! You could not do her a worse disservice than to see her now. If we should want you Mayall and Wells will cable instantly, but my conviction is what it always was, that he will never defend the case, much less bring an accusation against her which can only damage him. He dare not. She is too well known and it would only damn him deeper. He knows as well as I do that he can’t risk that. Sit tight and do nothing. Be careful what you write for he has evidently tampered with the messengers, but there is no need to discontinue writing as if you feared anything. And because you love her as a decent man should, I will say I hope this miserable business will be the last bar between her and the happiness she deserves. She is wonderfully calm, loathes the whole business but is certain it cannot be faced too soon. I have just had a talk with Graham and have some reason to think Kohn means to raise that issue. He had been making inquiries at Yokohama, here and in China, and if so there may be no question of Miyuki, and I shall wait events in London and act accordingly. Sit tight until you hear. This Kohn business may partly explain his try to get Lucia back.”
Of what she wrote I cannot write. Tortured as she was her resolution was now unshaken—her fighting blood roused to face whatever wretchedness he might prepare for her. One passage alone I give;
“There can be no misery like any tie between him and me. I will suffer anything to break it. There is nothing he could say of me or any one believe like the agony of degradation I feel in knowing he has any right over me at all. My dear friend, do not come. Only hope for me that the resolution I feel may last to the end, for if it kills me I will go through with it now.”
As for myself, what I felt is equally impossible to tell. I knew they were right and that I must not go as yet, but from that moment Kan-lu-ssŭ was a prison. They wrote from every port they touched on the way to England, and Heron told me that cables from Sellenger followed them in a sort of distraction.
Not even to Haridas could I open all my fears and anxieties. Some I did, and always he re-assured me and pointed steadily to the Norm as the only light, the only strength that could buckle on my armour and edge my sword. He kept me steadily to my work and I saw the wisdom of that counsel and made it my discipline. He wrote to Lucia and she described his letters to me as her chief strength. They pointed her to a mind calm, untroubled, where all the waves might break in vain. I saw the growing tranquillity in all she wrote and my fears for her, unworthy as every fear must be, died out in strong certitude of good.
Then came great news from Heron. It was true; Kohn was divorcing his wife with Sellenger as the co-respondent. He was now in England and had instructed his lawyers to apologize for his unfounded attack upon his wife’s honour. He would not defend the Kohn case. The way lay plain before her. Plain. But I knew very well the pain that every moment must bring her.
“Discretion,” Heron wrote, “is the better part of valour, and Sellenger knows this as well as most people. Our lawyers have put a few of the matters we should raise before him, and this is the result. He hasn’t a leg to stand on. Every one in London who is anybody is rallying about Lucia. They all know Sellenger.”
And still I worked on at Kan-lu-ssŭ, and the winter passed and Spring came and even the stern pines gripping the rocks with ribbed and clawed roots put on a tender greenery, and it was one day when I was sitting beneath them that a cable was put into my hands:
“Decree nisi for Kohn,”—and I laid down my book and went away among the rocks and sat there half the day, none questioning, dizzy with thinking of the future and its possibilities.
Then Heron’s letter and the papers. It amazed me to see how little what had filled my whole soul for months bulked in the news. A short paragraph sufficed for “The Kohn Divorce” and Lucia’s name was not even mentioned. Then another pause, and Heron acted for her, and “The Sellenger Divorce” in spite of its large head lines was even shorter. A few dry formalities, the decree nisi, and that was all. Heron wrote that the lawyers told him Sellenger would defend nothing, having so much to fear, and that it was also understood that Mrs. Kohn had agreed to this course on condition that he married her as soon as possible.
“I wonder,” wrote Heron, “what our friend Mrs. Aubert and a good few others will say when this comes off. I hear at the club that already there is a great gathering of the clans in London. Lucia concerns herself with nothing of all this and will hear nothing of it. She never speaks of him; he might not be in existence as far as that goes. She looks tired but is calm and cheerful—overwhelmed with invitations to stay with friends, which she does not accept unless in special cases. But, my dear boy, what will you say when I tell you I think it would be as well to cease writing to her until the decree is made absolute? You know the man we are dealing with and I never felt sure what he may have up his sleeve. I am certain you will agree with me.”
I read this in my nest in the crags of Kan-lu-ssŭ, looking out over the wide low country veiled in the soft mist of late Spring, and a far-away rain-fall spun into a faint aerial rainbow—might it be an omen! And then, recognizing Heron’s wisdom, and writing only to him I sent her this message, to be given or withheld at his will.
“My whole life is in your hands. When this bond that never was a marriage is publicly broken, I entreat you to be my wife. I have not deserved such a blessing. I never can, but at least I know what it is worth. You know the worst of me; there shall never be worse to know. One word will bring me to you from the ends of the earth.”
And Heron wrote back:
“A very improper message, my dear boy, to send, and I never could have consented to give it, but—well, as a matter of fact Lucia happened to read the letter. There is no answer, so you must hope as far as you can.”
He went on to say that he had heard that Sellenger had had some sort of a stroke, of the cause of which various explanations were given and that he was aboard the yacht, cruising with the Rices, who had been married a few months ago.
“And I am not sorry to think Jim is looking after him a bit. One doesn’t want to kick a man when he’s down, and Jim owes something to Sellenger who gave him his start. All the same, I should think he’s a holy terror as an invalid.”
I cannot tell my thoughts during those long days when I scarcely knew love from pain—they were so one.
“Beloved, had I known that love brings pain
I must have proclaimed with beat of drum that none should love.”
—but the very pain made the love more my own. My great terror—I can laugh at it now—was lest she, so lovable and beloved, might meet many men in her own world a million times better than the man I knew myself to be. It would possess me day and night, and then pass like a rain-drift between the mountains. Then—no, my rival would not take that shape! It would be some high scruple about Sellenger, or some passionate resolve to devote herself to some life to which I never could attain—out of reach like the cold star of evening hung on the highest peak. And if it were to be so I saw no hope. I needed the warm hearth fire, and the place in one dear heart, and not the stern self-forgetting purpose that filled every mind at Kan-lu-ssŭ.
When our work was done Haridas would return to Japan. In a few months every man except the Abbot and one or two of the aged monks would be on their ways to their own missions, and strangers walk in the quiet courts, and my place there know me no more. Yet if I had gone to the Abbot and entreated for admission to the Order, I should have been refused, and Haridas would support him. Skilled in the science of the soul, they knew I could only walk securely in the household ways of life.
I said something of the sort to Haridas, as he sat, robed and calm, his expression remote as a mountain spirit seen for a moment and soon to be resolved into cloud and sunshine again. He smiled a little in answering;
“No man can escape his Karma for it is the shadow he casts. If in this life you have climbed a little, as you mount you will see more. The end is sure for you but not yet, nor here. Have no fear. Tread the path you have chosen and welcome death when it releases you to a higher. Last night I dreamed—for I will call it a dream—of your cousin, and, as in life, I saw that which made him man, set on the beginning of a higher way. In this Universe all is well, for all shall most surely enter into Buddhahood.”
Some months had gone by, and still no word had reached me through Heron or otherwise. Haridas and I had finished our book, and he was now in Japan. From there a letter reached me with all the news I think I shall ever have of Miyuki. With the faithful pity that is the strength of the Order he had gained some knowledge of her from Tazaki and sought her out. And he wrote thus:
“You will picture to yourself a house so small that it seemed only a very small person could live in it. In the room I entered a branch of blossom in a very beautiful bronze vase was the only adornment, and a kakemono of the Rising Sun Buddha was evidently an object of worship. Seeing all so fair and clean and bright, I said in my heart: This is a soul upon; the upward way whatever its hindrances!’ for I have long observed that the love of simple and austere beauty is a flowered shoot of the highest. And thus I think the Japanese people in a deep sense a Chosen People. Miss Yamashina entered with the courtesy and humility you will not have forgotten. She looked pale and ill and told me she had suffered much, and had never ceased to regret what must have appeared treachery to you. The only reparation she could make had been the entire concealment of your name from that person and all others. She thanked you with emotion for your gifts and letter. The money gift she could not accept—the others she would keep as you desired. I learned that she shared this little house with a cousin, and more I do not know. She is very reticent, as you remember. She is leaving this house in a few days and said we should meet no more. This is all I can tell you. She passes, a mystery, from your life. Yet I am certain that were she in any need she would write to me. Comfort yourself in this.”
I wrote to thank him, but I have heard no more, and I believe if he ever hears of her again it will be her desire that none but he should know. But she will never leave me. Often she haunts me—a pitiful little figure with pale set face, enduring as her ancestors endured the sword-stroke. I cannot lose her nor the gifts she brought me—nor yet the pain she left me as the last gift of all.
It was autumn and all the fruitage of the year was gold at Kan-lu-ssŭ. The lotus pool dreamed in ecstatic quiet, and between the carven leaves the dragon flies darted on wings invisible with swiftness—vibrations of azure and scarlet. I felt like a ghost haunting the house where once he was known and is now forgotten, for all my friends had gone far away on their tasks. On my knee lay the published translation of the Buddha Carita, with fair wide margins and sumptuous illustrations, for it had been printed at my cost. “Very profitable is it to read this poem,” said the Chinese pilgrim I-tsing, “for here are the high doctrines set forth with commendable briefness.”
And even as I read, with the delight of the worker in his work, there was the little stir beyond the bridge which told of the coming of the messengers from the great city, and a letter was put into my hand.
“I am in Peking with my dear Mr. Heron, and if I had dared I would have climbed your mountains. Since I do not dare, will you come to me?”
I showed the letter to the Abbot, writing, writing in the Hall of Learning, and asked his leave to depart. And whether he thought I had chosen the worse part or no, it was a very human kindness that shone from his dim eyes set in the innumerable network of wrinkles as he gave me his last blessing and exhortation:
“Son of the Buddha, now going forth into the world, remember His exhortation and His Rule;
“Speak no ill and injure not.
Be restrained according to the Precepts.
Be temperate in all things.
Dwell on lofty thoughts.
And thus doing, attain the Peace.”
But how could I think of peace with joy unspeakable awaiting me so near?
That very evening I was on my way with Tazaki and saw the twilight absorbing the beloved roofs of Kan-lu-ssŭ, into a soft forgetfulness.
I can tell of that meeting no more than I could of our parting, for joy and sorrow touch hands in their extremes and have the same secrecies.
Shall I tell a little of our life before I end my story—the end that is only the beginning for us!
The Western world held nothing for either of us—to her as to me it seemed an order of things based on false reasoning, false living, aimless and hopeless. As a wiser man than I am has written: “From a superficial point of view the Occidental form of society is very attractive, inasmuch as, being the outcome of the free development of human desires, it represents the very extreme of luxury and extravagance. The state of things obtaining in the West is based on the free play of human selfishness, and can only be reached by giving free play to that quality.”
This I fully believe, and saw in it the inevitable end of which the signs now crowd thick upon us. Therefore, we fled from it, recognizing that our hopes had no place there, and our work must be done where it was alone possible.
So on our marriage we made our home in a little temple which the priests gladly turned over to us. These resorts are known to most Europeans in China, but ours, I think, was the loveliest ever seen.
It resembled a miniature Kan-lu-ssŭ with its quiet courtyard, its lotus pool, and the peaked roofs with their outward sweep. There was even a separate little paved court for guests, with six small chambers, white, and looking toward the sunrise. These are seldom empty. The pines crowd about us and a mountain stream runs past among the wildly cleft rocks where the rhododendrons and azaleas grow in their passionate glory of colour. There is no beauty wanting. Great sunsets and noble dawns spill their fiery lifeblood in our skies, the cloud-dragons of rain and wind play among the peaks and fill our streams with singing water.
Nature is good to us—hope better still.
I had never known my Lucia until I saw her in her own Ku T’ou T’ien-men—“The First Gate of Heaven,,” for so it had been called from time immemorial. We would not change the name, for it meant that and more to us. She gladdened and grew in health and beauty as if a white rose should take on the lovely flush of her sisters of the garden. I have a picture of her painted by a Chinese artist descended from a line famous for portraiture through several centuries. He loved his work and every line shows it. In her grey dress, straight and tall, she stands by the lotus pool, a single long-stemmed flower in her hand. But the head, crowned with its young silver, is lifted proudly against a great pine branch swept across the picture, and in its own strength and sweetness combines the two. So it is called The Lotus and the Pine—no name but this, and our many Far Eastern visitors stand before it with clasped hands, doing homage to my Lady of Grace.
For myself, I have received the name of “Our Brother of the Pen,” from the community of Kan-lu-ssŭ, for, as I began, so I continue to labour among the ancient scrolls of a wisdom as yet unknown to the West. This carries us often, and especially in the winter, to India, and because of our belief, and Lucia’s gracious ways, and the friendship of the men of Kan-lu-ssŭ, we are made welcome in strange countries and places shut to all but those who carry the password. It is a life so wonderful—so lovely in its innermost—(known only to her and to me) and also in its outward circumstances, that I lay my pen down in despair when I try to convey to others less fortunate its strange and beautiful surroundings. And for all it gives it promises a thousand joys.
Heron is often with us, and as European evils increase, I see his moorings loosen there, and The First Heavenly Gate binds its enchantments closer about him.
“He will live and die with us one day,” says Lucia.
And Haridas? When I think of all she and I have owed to his wisdom and patience I know that my story must end with him and his words—not mine.
It was a golden evening and he had reached us only that day, travelling up from Java. He had spoken of a strange experience, and the print of it was still in his exalted look as of one rapt away into places where we could not follow. But Lucia, to whom his nature responded like a struck harp, entreated him to speak more plainly, and now the sun was sinking, and the shadows dreaming about us, and the dusk hiding in the woods to steal upon us soon.
There had been a long silence which the crystal sweetness of the falling water completed, and we watched the little owls sweeping in noiseless curves above the roofs, and Tazaki had lit a faint light in the refectory.
Then, like a continuation of the quiet, Haridas spoke, a dim and noble figure;—but I say no more—to him I leave it.
“All day I had spent in the Borobodoer, so the day had seemed short when the swift-footed dark came and a rising moon bloomed out like a supernatural lotus in the heavens—the Lotus of the Exalted One, golden and large. My mind was so saturated with the story that it required but a small effort of imagination to see the World-honoured seated upon that Flower-Throne dominating earth and sky. This I imagined so clearly that for an instant I saw it. But I was perfectly conscious that it was imagination and no more. I had my meal and sat on the veranda, and afterwards strolled a little way, looking up to the mighty bulk that lay under the moon, ebon or ivory as the moonlight or black strong shadow lay upon it. I saw it last, bathing in moonlight as in water when I went to rest. Then I slept and I remember clearly that in my dream I was walking through a wood in early Spring and the birds were singing with notes of rejoicing sweetness. And suddenly a voice said ‘Come,’ and I woke.
“Let me be very distinct about this. My dream had in no way led up to nor suggested what followed. My soul was away in the West when the voice said ‘Come’ and it spoke from outside and not from within my dream. I know well what may be said of the larger dream that holds the little night-dream within it but I will not now enter into these or other speculations—I will simply tell the thing as I believe it happened.
“I sat up, startled awake, and through the mosquito net saw the moonlight in lakes on the floor—lakes of glory with shores of shadow. The air was asleep and the silence vibrated like the thrill of a harp when the music has ceased. I could hear, as it were, the inner movements of the brain. So I listened and though I could now hear no voice I rose and prepared to follow, knowing I was summoned.
“I dressed, not hurriedly but with deliberation, broad awake, as I think. My brain has never been so clear. Indeed I felt an amazing lucidity of perception—much beyond my wont. Let me use a homely illustration: A man with weak vision looks hopelessly at the printed page before him—a lens is interposed and all is clear and intelligible. So, in comparison with my ordinary perception was my mind that night.
“My room opened on the veranda with a matting curtain hung over the door, and I pushed it aside and went out, treading noiselessly. No living being stirred; no voice called, but I never doubted as to my direction and I took the straight short path to the Borobodoer.
“Now life was about me—I heard a stirring in the grass and a snake glided out and rippled up the way before me and it is a strange thing that I had no fear nor repulsion. In the tropic brilliance of the moonlight I observed the beauty of the intricate design that clothed its sinuosity. It glimmered as with jewels where it went, and I never doubted that it had a definite purpose as clearly as I. So I followed with strange thoughts in my mind of the wisdom that embodies itself in that low earth form, of the many mythologies wherein it has played its mysterious or evil part. And together we ascended the first steps beneath the lintelled entrance that on each side leads to the great galleries of the carven figures. But I could wait for none, no, not even to see the moon reveal this strange life in shadow that exalted the outlines and light that made them mobile. For still the air was full of command and still the snake rippled steadily on and up.
“So finally we emerged from the last stair and the lintelled entrance upon the topmost plateau where each chaitya should contain an image of a Holy One inviolate and still. There was a great moonlight between the two where I had in the day beheld in the one emptiness ; in the other a mutilated figure, and through this the snake glided, and I followed, the light bathing my feet. I remember a strange instinct that my feet should have been bare—a wish that the radiance should wash them clean. But I was awake. Let that be remembered. And now I stood between the two chaityas and I could see within.
“In the one that had held the broken image sat a man in the attitude of the Teaching Buddha, one hand upraised. The snake had climbed and coiled himself about the throat and the hooded head was extended as a shelter above the august brows. So the Preserver is sheltered in India by the World- Snake of Wisdom. I remembered thinking that so life-like an image had never been seen—that the light and shadow had so inspired it that I might believe that beautiful lips would audibly speak the words that were silently flowing from them. And suddenly they were audible and the music filled the night. But not for me, though I heard—for, following their direction I became aware that in the opposing chaitya where had been emptiness, sat now a figure dimly seen, enthroned also upon the Lotus, and as the Exalted One spoke, he listened. He, like the first, was robed from head to foot, but in the shadow the eyes were shining like stars in a gentle twilight sky.
“And the golden voice that twenty-five centuries ago had spoken in India spoke again and I heard;
“‘Younger Brother, I who abide in the Peace look forth and see your Star in the East, unrisen, but to come, and having seen your day joy is within me. For you is the way opened and the road made straight. Speak with me, O World’s Desire.’
“And a voice answered with a music that is yet unheard—the music of the Ten Perfections:
“‘Elder Brother, instruct me, for my day is at hand. Speak with me of the Seven Spirits that are the Seven Candlesticks—the Seven Stars. For of these six have been, and I am to come and my light is as yet unlit, and I, veiled in humanity, enter as a little child.’
“‘Younger Brother, this is the mystery of the Seven Stars in the hand of That which Is. This is the mystery of the Seven Golden Candlesticks.’ A silence followed, so breathless that it seemed the night bowed beside us to hear. Did I breathe? Did my heart beat?
“‘Younger Brother, many are the worlds. In this world the Light shone always. In the upward sweep of life, in the faith and duty of the littlest that lives was the Word, and the Spirit moved upon the face of the waters. So, gathering itself, the first of the Seven breathed like a wind upon the earth.’
“‘Elder Brother, where?’
“‘In the Land between the ancient rivers was first made known in great speech the Truth, and, orbing as it went, at last it shone in strength in Egypt—the Star of the faith of Osiris. Younger Brother, there was made known the mystery of sorrow. There was the body of Osiris broken like bread for the feeding of the soul of man and the passing on of life through death. So, by him who sleeps at Abydos, was the First Golden Candlestick lit upon the altar.’
“‘Elder Brother, was it darkened?’
“‘Younger Brother, it was darkened, for in the earthly air the divine Light burns like a sick lamp in a foul place. So that light passed, and its sign is a crowned mummy holding the ankh—the cross of life—upon its breast.’
“‘Elder Brother, speak on.’
“‘And in Persia for a record was set another Candlestick—the Star of Zoroaster adoring the purity of that Fire that is the consuming spirit of God. And the sign of that faith is the fire that devours and cleanses.’
“‘And the Third?’
“‘Younger Brother, in Greece, did not man worship Beauty, rising from the earthly Aphrodite to the Heavenly that is wholly God? And the sign of that faith is a woman, holy and helmeted.’
“‘Again a silence sweeter than any words but those I waited for. At last—
“‘And in India the Beloved, was a great shining and the Gods walked with man and of that was I myself a part, and there was the soul of man caught up into that pure reason that is the very sword of the spirit. And of this faith the sign is the Wheel—that which has neither end nor beginning.’
“‘Elder Brother speak on.’
“‘Younger Brother, in Judaea a great Light shined, and from the sun it drank glory and it was a bright and morning Star, and it enlightened the darkened West with a great splendour. And the sign of its glory is a Cross.’
“‘Elder Brother, speak of the Sixth Candlestick.’
“‘And after this, the last—the red star of Islam shone very great and high,—the faith of the Unity of the Divine. And the symbol thereof is a sword unsheathed, and this is the latest and the world is yet unlit and walks in darkness, desiring the light in which all the Seven shall be one, even as all colours are one in the pure ray of the sun.’
“‘Elder Brother, and what of my star?’
“‘Younger Brother, how shall I know? But the sign of it is a Risen Sun. And these are the Seven Candlesticks.’
“Again the silence, drawing the world in quiet. And once again the voice broke—No, completed it.
“‘The night is far spent. The day is at hand.’
“And looking up instantly I perceive a dimness in the East and the crown of a palm faint against it.
“And I stretched out my hands and the chaitya was empty and in the other was the form of a child that passed as I looked.
“Had I slept? Had I dreamed? If I said what I believe, to me it would seem one thing and to all who heard another, for words are but tokens and current coin and the value is not in them. But I stood awake and on the great Dawn platform of the Borobodoer and in the East the ageless miracle was done and from the low mists the sun rose glorious.”
The sun had sunk behind the mountains. The dusk enfolded us like warm wings. Only in the west a fain glow lingered, the presage of the dawn to be.
We sat in silence, and saw the eternal stars set their lights upon the peaks.