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I had been so concentrated on Kangchenjunga that the other facts of my life had not glittered perceptibly. They had kept up with me, but I hardly knew it. They were now to shine, the bushel of Kangchenjunga having been rudely removed.
My instinct against The Book of the Law had apparently had its way. It was as if the events of eighteen months before had never taken place. I was going on with Magick on the old lines, without any particular aqmbition, but quietly exercising the powers already obtained. For instance, I had established regular communications with Soror F. (Soror Fidelis — Mrs. Elaine Simpson). We had long interviews, visiting each other alternately. I was a little better than she was, but her body was quite material enough to impress all the senses.
It occurs to me that I ought to give further details. Our astral bodies, as we had got them, were replicas of our physical bodies, save that they were slightly larger. Hers, for example, was just over sic feet high instead of five feet seven inches. The body was self-luminous and partially transparent, so that I could see the background behind her, much as through a muslin curtain. The substance of the body appeared homogeneous. It was usually clothed and crowned. The materials were of the same quality of matter as the body, but could be distinguished from flesh by such optical devices as colour and reflections. We moved according to the laws of the astral plane; that is, without making the normal physical actions, though we were able to use our limbs in the ordinary way. We communicated, sometimes by audible speech, sometimes by direct transmission of thought such as occurs every day in ordinary life, when one knows what a friend is going to say before he says it.
One very curious phenomenon must be recorded. In the early days we had arranged special hours for our interviews by calculating the difference of time due to longitude. We now summoned each other by means of the astral bell. But on comparison of our records we discovered an astounding fact. Although we agreed about the character of the interview, the subject of conversation etc., we found that the time did not necessarily correspond. That is: suppose I went to see her at midnight on Friday (India), she did not see me at four a.m. on Saturday (England) but at some other time which might be later or earlier. I could easily imagine a delay in my appearance, but it seemed to me nonsense that I should have arrived before I started! At that time I understood little of the nature of time.
My lyric gift had begun to sit up and take notice a little after the shock of the realization of all its aspirations. I had begun to write again. Some of my poems at this period were definitely rationalistic. I was already aware that the rationalist position was wooden and shallow. The members of the Rationalist Press Association were no less narrow-minded sectarians than the Evangelicals. They had the same suburban point of view, the same prudish exclusiveness; they were shocked by any fact which did not immediately fit into their framework, and angrily denied its existence.
I was shifting slowly back to Buddhism; though even more impatient than before of Buddhists, their parochial morality and their emphasis on the evils of existence. But I wrote a few lyrics about love and nature which are still among my best. I may mention “The Song”.
<blockquote> <HTML><blockquote> > Dance a measure\\ > ....Of the tiniest whirls!\\ > Shake out your treasure\\ > ....Of cinnamon curls!\\ > Tremble with pleasure\\ > ....O wonder of girls!\\ > Rest is bliss,\\ > ....And bliss is rest,\\ > Give me a kiss\\ > ....If you love me best!\\ > Hold me like this\\ > ....With my hand on your breast! </blockquote>
</blockquote></HTML> There was also “Said”, inspired by my week in Cairo: “Patchouli”, a shot of rhapsody upon African and Asiatic themes; “The Jilt”, a piece of sadistic exultation over my wife's cruelty to Howell, who we heard was stricken to the heart by the thunderbolt of her marriage. Then there was “The Eyes of Pharaoh”, a terrific presentation of the mystery of Egypt, and “Benzai”, a poem in praise of Japan, then at was with Russia. There was a new note in my work: that of humour. “The Beauty and the Bikkhu” is a versification of a Buddhist legend. The original is unconsciously funny, and I brought this out, while preserving the sublimity of the story. Again “Immortality” develops an idea in the Gorgias of Plato that after death one goes on doing very much what one did before. The style is at once passionate, pictorial, and terrifying and witty.
Another new string to my lyre; I had been reproaching myself for my ignorance of the Sufi doctrines, and intended to cross Persia on my way back to England. For this purpose I began to study the language with a munshi. I began to imitate the poets of Iran. “Ali and Hassan” is a paraphrase from Alf Laylah Wa Laylah. “Al Malik” is a ghazal; that is, a series of couplets
with a monorime. The first two lines and each successive even line rime with each other. In Darjeeling (on my return) I had had a brief but intense liaison with a Napali girl, Tenbuft. I celebrated this passion in a rondel “Tarshitering”.
NEPALI LOVE SONG
O kissable Tarshitering! The wild bird calls its mate — and I?
Come to my tent this night of May, and cuddle close and crown me king!
Drink, drink or fill of love at last – a little while and we shall die,
O kissable Tarshitering!
Droop the long lashes; close the eyes with eyelids like beetle's wing! Light the slow smile, ephemeral as ever a painted butterfly, Certain to close into a kiss, certain to fasten on me and sting!
Nay? Are you coy? hen I will catch your hips and hold you wild and shy Until your very struggles set your velvet buttocks all a-sqing, Until their music lulls you to unfathomable ecstasy, O kissible Tarshitering!
I must explain that oriental modesty does not allow the selfrespecting poet to introduce the name of a woman, just as in Shakespeare's time it was considered scandalous for a woman to appear on the stage. I respected this convention and replaced the name of Tenguft by a male name, which I thought euphonious and suitable to my scheme of time and scansion.
Moharbhanj was an ideal place for meditation. I had absolute leisure, I was at the top of my form physically and every other way, and I could not start anything serious until my wife and child arrived, which they did not do until October 29th. I was in a wild district with no one to talk to; it afforded the maximum opportunity for taking stock of my life, finding out what the past meant and taking aim for the future.
The Durga Puja was in course. I was able to appreciate the enthusiasm of the aboriginal Hindu much better than I could have done in Calcutta, where the corrosion of civilization has eaten into primitive practice.
Moharbhanj, though only thirteen hours from Calcutta, is as far from it morally as it is from London. The people were unspoilt. For the first time I liked Hindus. The maharajah was away for the day. He had sent his Minister of Public works to meet me and entertain me until his return. This gentleman, whose name was Martin, had taken a high degree at Oxford, and had studied science and engineering very thoroughly. No one could have suspected that he had a Bengali grandmother. But in the first twenty-four hours I had discovered the truth of the aphorism “Blood will tell”. For all his European education, he believed in the most primitive superstitions, from ghosts and witches to mysterious medicines.
The next day the maharajah returned. I found him an extremely interesting and delightful companion. One could hardly expect less from the direct descendant of a peacock. I am sorry to say that he did not take his ancestry seriously. He had exchanged his illusions for another set far less fascinating, far less inspiring and equally absurd. He believed in Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill. One of his stories is extremely instructive. If it were graven upon the eye-corners, it would be a warning to such as would be warned! There are no principles of politics, economics and the rest; it is all balderdash. More, it is a damnable heresy and a dangerous delusion to apply the theories of the Thames valley to the practice of the Coromandel coast.
Moharbhanj is a province on the sea-board of Orissa. In my wanderings I came to a range of hills of unparalleled wonder. It was between ten and twenty miles in length, and some three thousand feet high. The marvel of it is that it is composed very largely of pure iron pyrites, whose bare outcrop forms huge rounded bosses. I first saw these hills at sunset, and they glowed with crimson splendour too vivid to be merely mineral. It was like blood on a bull's shoulder in the sunlight. The maharajah knew the commercial value of his mountains, but he had no coal; to exploit his treasure he needed a light railway from the mountains to the sea.
When he came to the throne he nobly determined to confer the benefits of liberal principles upon his people. Now he was not only the Maharajah of Moharbhanj, but its zemindar or landlord. He wished to create a peasantry of prosperous and independent freeholders. He understood that it would be fatal to make them a present of the land; so he made a law by which any man who cultivated his land continuously for fifteen years would at the end of that time become its owner. As is generally known, the greatest pride of the Hindu is to make his daughter's wedding as splendiferous as possible. For this purpose he will get himself into debt for generations ahead as recklessly as the most progressive nation will do for their own pet phantom of glory.
So as soon as the new law was proclaimed, the Marwaris descended upon Moharbhanj like locusts, and advanced sums beyond the wildest imaginations of the peasants, to them. The marriages were magnificent; so were the mortgages. At the end of fifteen years the land belonged not to the cultivator but to the alien usurer. The maharajah could not even see that he had ruined himself and his subjects. He told me with honest pride, “I have conferred great benefit upon my people.” Yet he was in a comical state of distress because the Marwaris refused to grant him the concession to build the light railway so that he could melt up his mountains! In the meanwhile the people were poorer than before, though the administration of his revenues by the British had increased his personal income from three to eighteen lakhs of rupees in less than twenty years.
He told me one enthralling story about his raj. A great deal of it is
unexplored and impenetrable jungle. In the clearing are villages inhabited by very primitive folk of a different race to the bulk of the population. I saw a good deal of these people. They go in many cases naked. At the most, they wear a rudimentary loin cloth. They have a language of their own which possesses a few affinities with outer dialects. It possesses less than three hundred words, some two hundred and fifty of which are classed as obscene. The men are armed with bows and arrows, or occasionally spears, some of which show great skill of metallurgy and workmanship as well as a knowledge of certain branches of mechanics, and a marked sense of beauty.
The women are free from the ordinary Hindu inhibitions, and their breasts are the most beautiful that I have ever seen, not excepting those of the women ofTehuantepec. They are small and well proportioned. Even when the women are mothers, they do not lose their form. The whole breast stands firm and points upwards. To the eye of the artist, the female breast of the European is a hideous deformity. Even in the case of the most beautiful women, it breaks the line of the body, and it makes one think of a cow. But these women bear their breasts in triumph. One thinks of the phallophorus in a pagan procession.
Men and women alike are admirably proportioned, muscular and active. Their habit of carrying loads on the head — a coolie carries thirty pounds, which, considering the heat of the plains, is equivalent to the fifty pounds of the hillman — gives them perfect balance and makes them light on their feet. The skin is of that superb velvety black with is really rich deep purple. Primitive as these people are, they are as capable of aesthetics and the popes and princes of the Renaissance. They love with rapacious intensity, adorned with all the arts of Aphrodite.
These folk are considered “wild men of the woods” by the sophisticated Hindus of the town. Yet there is a third proportional.
In the jungle live people known as Jewans, whom I hesitate to describe as a tribe, because nothing is known of their habits. Even their appearance has not been satisfactorily described. It is said by some that no white man has ever seen one, though others say that one or two have done so. Even the folk of the villages on the confines of the jungle have no knowledge of them, yet they carry on with them a regular traffic.
Certain places outside the village are marked out, usually by white stones, and here they deposit rice and other products of cultivation at nightfall. In the morning these goods are found to have been replaced by various products of the jungle. It is said that this commerce has never been degraded by dishonesty. Attempts have been made to catch the Jewans in the act of making the exchange, but they have always proved too wary.
The maharajah did not shoot, but appointed a forest officer named d'Elbroux to introduce me to the bears and tigers. The only animal I was
not allowed to shoot was the elephant. One has to be a viceroy or a travelling royalty to indulge in that sport. D'Elbroux, in his youth, had come to grips with a bear. He had been very badly mauled, and many of his features had been replaced by metal plates. He told me that he had lain in the jungle wounded for more than two days before help arrived.
My only noteworthy shooting adventure was this. D'Elbroux had prepared a machan. There were some seven hundred beaters. The first animal that broke was a bear, whom I settled with a shot from the 10-bore. The second barrel jarred off and the surprise knocked me on my back. The bullet struck a tree as thick as a telegraph pole, and cut it in two, so that it fell across the machan and very nearly killed one of the men.
My best memory of Moharbhanj is not of tigers and such small fowl, but of elephants, which I was not allowed to shoot. I have always felt that my life has numerous points of contact with Alice in Wonderland, and I now come to the incident, “The Elephants did tease so!”
I went out one night to a bhul, or salt lick, in a tree overlooking which a machan had been built for me. A particularly fine tiger was reputed to visit the place every night. I took up my vigil immediately after dinner. A three-quarter moon was due to rise about half-past eight. We kept extremely quiet, of course. I dislike shooting from a machan, exactly as I dislike coarse fishing. One cannot do anything to help things along. On the contrary, one has to avoid the slightest action.
The waiting sounds as if it might be good practice for meditation. I found it quite the opposite, for the object of one's vigil is itself a distraction, and if one concentrated on the sport, it would of course disappear, as had already happened to my nose and my navel. Soon after dark I began to hear the noises of the jungle, from the rustling of leaves and grasses as small animals moved cautiously about their business to the distant roaring of the tiger. Once or twice a shadowy shape made the darkness that brooded over the salt lick deeper, but there was no sense in risking a shot till moonrise. I could hardly see my own hands, much less the sights of my rifle.
When the moon rose at last, the few animals that had arrived vanished with equal stealth. There was a great silence in the jungle and the roars of the tigers (there were several all round the compass) became less frequent and less near.
All of a sudden I became aware of a tremendous disturbance. It was not exactly a noise — I'm inclined to think that it may have been a smell. I cannot say definitely more than this, that I had the impression that something enormous was going on.
I had been lying flat in the machan, listening. I raised my head cautiously. The silvern glades were now mysteriously peopled with gigantic shapes. It was a herd of elephants! I counted twenty-four of them. My shikari whispered
that there would be no shooting that night; no other animals would venture into the neighbourhood of the master of the jungle. I realized, moreover, that my position was one of extreme danger. The machan was high from the ground; but had the elephants winded me and taken alarm, my tree would have snapped like a twig. But I had no time to think of danger; I was thrilled with exaltation. I sat up and spent the night watching the elephants as they went about their business. It was the most fascinating vision that had ever been vouchsafed to me on the material plane.
I did not grudge the loss of my night's sport. I was not really very keen about the shooting. I was in a very curious frame of mind. I loved to wake at dawn on my camp bed and meditate and read Kant, Berkeley and Firdausi. Persian fascinated me more than any other language had ever done and I revelled in the ideas of the Sufis. Their esoteric symbolism delighted me beyond measure. I took it into my head to go one better than my previous performance in the way of inventing poets and their productions.
I spent most of my time writing ghazals, purporting to be by a certain Abdullah al Haji (Haji, with a soft “h”, satirist, as opposed to Haji with a hard “h”, pilgrim) of Shiraz. I caused him to flourish about 1600 A.D., but gave to the collection of his ghazals the title Bagh-i-Muattar (The Scented Garden), which implies the date 1905, the value of the Arabic letters of the title adding up to the equivalent o hat year of the Hegira. I also invented an Anglo Indian major to find, translate and annotate the manuscript, an editor to complete the work of that gallant soldier (killed in South Africa) and a Christian clergyman to discuss the matter of the poem from the peculiar point of view of high Anglicanism.
The ghazals themselves are rendered sometimes in the supposed original monorime, sometimes in prose, and the annotations contain a great deal of the more esoteric information about the East, which I had picked up from time to time. It is especially to be noted that, although I have packed every kind of magical and mystical lore into the volume, there is nowhere any reference to The Book of the Law. I was setting my whole strength against the Secret Chiefs. I was trying to forget the whole business.
The book itself is a complete treatise on mysticism, expressed in the symbolism prescribed by Persian piety. It describes the relations of God and man, explains how the latter falls from his essential innocence by allowing himself to be deceived by the illusion of matter. His religion cease to be real and become formal; he falls into sin and suffers the penalty thereof. God prepares the pathway of regeneration and brings him through shame and sorrow to repentance, thus preparing the mystical union which restores man to his original privileges, free will, immortality, the preception of truth and so on.
I put the last ounce of myself into this book. My previous efforts in the
same direction would have deceived nobody, but the Bagh-i-Muatar, despite my inability to produce the Persian original — my excuse was that it was rare and held the most sacred and most secret, but was being copied for me — persuaded even experienced scholars that it was genuine. It was issued by Probsthain & Co., by private subscription, in 1910. I have heard of a copy changing hands at fifty guineas.
This spurt of genius is an eloquent portrait of my mind at this time. I was absolutely convinced of the supreme importance of devoting my life to attaining Samadhi, conscious communion with the Immanent Soul of the Universe. I believed in mysticism. I understood perfectly the essence of its method and the import of its attainment, but I felt compelled to express myself in a satirical and (it might appear to some) almost scandalous form. I testified to the tremendous truth by piling fiction upon fiction. I did not know it. I did not suspect it, but the Bagh-i-Muattar is a symptom of supreme significance. I was on the brink of a totally new development.
On Sunday, October 22nd, I had an astral interview with Soror F. which brought my up with a shock. She was accompanied by a golden hawk, in whom I later recognized one of the Secret Chiefs of the A.'. A.'.. The conversation turned on the subject of the Great Work. It was defined as the creation of a new universe. The interview left me spiritually prostrate. I had been perfectly happy with my programme, doing a little work there and a little there; Magick on Monday and teaching on Tuesday, so to speak; advising any applicant that approached me; editing and publishing any documents that fell into my hands.
But the Secret Chiefs were determined not to allow me to fool myself. When they picked me out o do their work they meant me to get busy and do it, and were going to see that I did. They did not insist on my taking up the work of the New Aeon. They knew their business too well. They knew that I should not be ready until I had undergone the proper preparation. They were content therefore with stirring me up to tackle the problem of my relations with the universe as seriously as the Buddha had done twenty-five centuries before.
I rode into Moharbhanj hardly aware of my surroundings. I was criticizing myself with ruthless severity. I do not remember whether The Book of the Law so much as crossed my mind. If so, I must have put it angrily aside. All I did know was that I should not have a moment's peace again until I had solved the great problem and I had no idea how to tackle it. I began to set my ideas in order.
Returned again to Calcutta. One day I went over to Kalighat and sacrificed a goat to a goddess. That night I was sitting alone reading. She appeared to me and inspired me to write a poem to her. I quote the first two stanzas:
<blockquote> <HTML><blockquote> > There is an idol in my house\\ > By whom the sandal always steams.\\ > Alone, I make a black carouse\\ > With her to dominate my dreams.\\ > With skulls and knives she keeps control\\ > (O Mother Kali!) of my soul. > > She is crowned with emeralds like leaves,\\ > and rubies flame from either eye;\\ > A rose upon her bosom heaves,\\ > Turquois and Lapis Lazuli.\\ > She hath a kirtle like a maid ---\\ > Amethyst, amber, pearl, and jade! </blockquote>
</blockquote></HTML> This poem is important as foreshadowing my final solution of the problem of evil and sorrow, the interpretation of illusion by the initiate and its transmutation into truth.
I saw as usual a good deal of Thornton. One morning, driving down the Maidan in his tum-tum, I said, “I cannot formulate a plan of action of any kind because there is no true continuity in phenomena.” He turned on my quite simply, and said, “Quite so, but there is equally no continuity in yourself.” That, of course, was no news to me. It was Hume's answer to Berkeley, for one thing. It was the essence ofSakkaya-Ditthi, for another. The ground was cut away from under my feet. At the moment, my consciousness failed to pick up the full purport of this proposition, for I found myself suddenly forced into action by a set of circumstances of which I had no control, and which bore no relation to any past purpose of my life. But I believe they were arranged for me by the Secret Chiefs.
My wife was due to arrive with the baby on the twenty-ninth and the natural thing would have been to see a little of Calcutta society, especially as I was naturally a bit of a lion, and then stroll across Asia somewhere, at our leisure. The Secret Chiefs arranged for me to be in a situation where I was at their mercy. They meant to initiate me whether I liked it or not. And this is how they went to work.
I set forth after dinner, one fate-fraught night, to try to get unguided to a street of infamy called “Culinga Bazar” from the corner of the Maidan. It was a worthy feat to attempt; for I had been to the Bazar only once before, in 1901; and then I had been driven to it in the dark from afar distant part of Calcutta. The night was extremely dark; the streets were lighted only by the flares and fireworks of the native festival — the Durga-Puja — which was in
course, and all semblance of honesty or decency quitted the houses before I had advanced three minutes into the bowels of Calcutta.
As I did so, my savage instincts surged to my brain. I “smelt” the direction almost at once; and as I got into this state, I became aware of impending trouble of some sort, as savages are. That “eerie feeling”, alone in a desperate section of a foreign city at night? Nine to one it is plain funk. But as I had already admitted, I am the biggest coward alive; and I have constantly forced myself to face my fear. So not I was not tingling with the pleasurable sense of confronting the unknown; I had the definite sense of being trailed. The sensation angered me; I tried to ascribe it to imagination. I forgot it and I went my way.
Presently, however, I turned aside for a moment from the dim street I was treading into an alley guarded by a black archway. I had no idea where it might lead; I simply wished to withdraw from the observation of my fellows for a few seconds, for reasons which are fully described and justified in Carpenter's Physiology.
I passed through the archway. It was as “dark as the pit”. (I don't know what pit may be meant.) The alley beyond was somewhat lighter; the sky loomed dull blue-grey above.
I noticed various doorways in the walls; also one at the end of the alley; I was in a cul-de-sac. And then I saw, faint glimpses in the gloom, the waving white of native robes. Men were approaching me and I was aware — through hardly by sight — that they moved in a semi-military order, in single file. There was noting to alarm me in this it is the habit of natives to march thus. And yet I was pungently aware that some evil was meant. As it happened, I was dressed in dark clothes and my face burnt deep brown. I effaced myself against the wall.
Three of the men passed me; then they turned. I was surrounded. Strong hands gripped my arms; greedy hands sought my pockets. I barked out sharp orders: they should have no doubt that I was a sahib. For all answer I saw the pallid gleam of a knife.
I must really break off to say that I have always found the psychology of this incident enthralling. It stands out in my memory in alto-relievo.
I have never on any other occasion had so much time to think — I am afraid I express it badly. I mean that I was acutely conscious of a few well-marked thoughts, without the usual gradations, sub-thoughts, connections and so forth, that make it hard — in ordinary life — to discriminate between conscious and unconscious thought.
On this night I was as primitive as an ape. My thoughts stand out stark as stars on a background of utter blackness. I had become, as by an enchanter's spell, the primeval caveman. Perhaps the long strain and horror of the Kangchenjunga tragedy had prepared me for this sudden outcropping of atavism.
However that might be, I remember nothing but these harsh clear thoughts, uninterfered with by the usual mental processes. I felt myself a “hum,an leopard”; something in me warned me that — contrary to all common sense and evidence — I had lured these men. I was, so to say, a Q-ship! I remember the resistance of my civilized self to this insane idea; I was an English gentleman, attacked without provocation by a band of common robbers.
I had given the order that they should unhand me; they had disobeyed a sahib; my life was in danger. This being the case, I was right to act in selfdefence. I would press the trigger of the Webley on which my forefinger had rested since the first glimpse of white robes in the alley. I did so. There was a slight click.
Now, my Webley holds five cartridges; I invariably keep the hammer down on an empty chamber. The chamber will only revolve freely when the gun is at half-cock. Therefore, thought I, “with omnipotence at my command and eternity at my disposal” I must have been fiddling unconsciously with the weapon, set it at half-cock and twiddled the chamber round until the hammer was down, not on the empty space, but on the cartridge next to it, so that the gun, in cocking itself under trigger-opressure, had dropped the hammer on the void. True; but then, to correct the error, it was only necessary to press the trigger a second time.
I have purposely described these thoughts in detail, to emphasize the fact that my mind was working in a more leisurely manner than I had ever known it to do. It is all the more amazing to reflect that my whole train of thought, except the final detail, what to do next, was totally inaccurate!
I pressed the trigger again. My arms were held firmly to my sides, but even so I was too economically minded to fire through my pocket; I managed to raise the muzzle above the edge.
A violent explosion followed.
I had fired without aim, in pitch blackness; I could not even see the white robes of the men who held me. In the lightning moment of the flash I saw only that whitnesses were falling backwards away from me, as if I had upset a screen by accident.
The blackness which followed the flash was Cimmerian. My eyes are naturally very slow to accommodate themselves to change of illumination — I have never met any man equally helpless in case of sudden diminution of light. I had no thought soever as to whether my shot might have hit anybody. There was not the faintest sound; but the alley seemed somehow empty. I do not know whether I stepped over fallen bodies or not. (I was facing the archway when I fired.)
I thought: I will get out of this alley at once. Those people may be lying in ambush in the archway, especially as I do not know whether there are doors opening out of it or not. I will keep my forefinger on the trigger and
at the same time light a match to make sure of the archway. When I get out into the open street, I will walk away very quickly and very quietly, and go straight to the Dharamtolla road and take a gharry, and drive to Edward thornton and tell him what has happened.
I carried out this programme to the letter.
And now comes a curious circumstance. Me experiments in Mexico City in “making myself invisible” have been recorded with considerable detail; and it will be remembered that I was far from satisfied with the results. I had reached the “flickering” condition, but I had never succeeded in “putting myself out” completely.
But on this occasion — when my unconscious self seems to have had me in hand throughout — I made myself invisible right enought. The report of the pistol, the screams (for all I know!) of the wounded or frightened men, and the alarm given by the fugitives, had aroused the entire district. An European was a rare bird in that quarter at that time of night; and no native would be likely to have such a gun. No doubt, too, the whole assault had been watched from the beginning; and I must have been denounced descriptively. I remember clearly enough noting with a type of amusement which I must really admit to having something “devilish” in its composition, that the streets through which I passed were filled with wildly excited crowds, all looking for me. “But he, passing through the midst of them, went his way.” I am aware that this sounds like a fish story. But as a matter of fact people who lived with me for the last three years or so have noticed that I make myself invisible quite frequently, and that (apparently) when I am not aware that I am doing so.
There is a peculiar type of self-absorption which makes it impossible for people to be aware of one. In these recent cases, the observer who could see me quite plainly because in sympathy with me, could also see that the other people in the street — or wherever it was — could not see me at all. My theory is that the mental state in question distracts people's attention from one automatically, as a conjurer does deliberately. I can transfer this property of invisibility, however, even to inanimate objects. For instance, a police officer recently came to my house in search of a certain thing which he named. I admitted that I possessed it; I showed it to him; I insisted on his seeing, smelling, tasting and touching it; but he left the house and reported that he had been unable to find it. In this particular instance I knew what I was doing. I deliberately overwhelmed his mind with my earnestness in helping him and other objects of thought. I cut the connecting link between his senses and his mind.
But we digress. I enjoyed lazily the splendour of the drowsy night as I jogged along with lighted pipe — never tobacco tasted better — in the broken-down old gharry up to Thornton's.
I had good reason to be proud. I had been the butt of every gully at school, I had suffered the agonies of knowing myself a coward and a weakling. My whole life seemed at times to be one vast and slimy subterfuge to cozen death.
Yet in the past month there had been a dozen outrages upon Europeans in Calcutta, some of them culminating in the most brutal murder. And I was the only Englishman who had come out on top. I had lost four rupees, eight annas, it is true; but I had won the victory, one against six.
Thornton was in bed when I arrived; but I had not hesitation in making his “bera” admit me. I told him my story and opened my revolver. Then only did I discover that my elaborate course of reasoning was entirely at fault! I had NOT monkeyed with the weapon and the hammer HAD been down on the empty chamber as was right. What had happened was that the first cartridge had failed to explode; for there was the dent in the cap; once again had nature, simple and sufficient, mocked the pomposity of the human intelligence!
Now, concluded I, hadn't I better go to the police and have these ruffians rounded up? Thornton was half asleep, but his mocking eye expressed a more than godlike pity for my idiocy. “Go to bed,” he murmured in his dreams; “come round after Chota Hazri in the morning and I'll take you to the right man.” My indignation subsided. I agreed. I withdrew. I slept. I bathed. I breakfasted. I went to Thornton.
Thornton took me to a Scottish solicitor named MacNair. I brought out my indignation, its hair nicely brushed, and parted exactly in the middle. MacNair remembered what his ancestors (who, at the time of the Flood, had a boat of their ain) thought about caution. “Go to Garth,” was his considered opinion. Garth was one of the most brilliant barristers in Calcutta. I brought out my indignation again, but its hair got slightly ruffled, and I am not sure but what there was a speck of dust on its collar. I protested violently that I wanted to go to the police.
“Well,” said Garth, “Curzon and Fraser are busy with the partition of Bengal, for reasons of purely administrative convenience; and it is singularly unfortunate that the measure will break the political power of the Bengali into a lot of dirty little bits. Their hearts bleed for Bengal. So, if you should have happened to hit somebody last night, they will be very indignant and bring you to trial. You will be instantly acquitted, but they will invent some scheme for having you tried again, and acquitted again, to show the sincerity of their love for the Bengali, whom they are out to smash.”
“Then you advise me,” I said innocently, “to say nothing?” “Indeed no,” he said tempestuously, “as a sworn barrister, it is my duty to advise you to report the whole affair immediately to the police.” I became more innocent that ever. “Well, I don't see how I can throw any light on the matter. (I was still ignorant of the effect, if any, of the shot.)
He bellowed with laughter. “You can throw a whole flood of light on it,” he shouted. My Quaker ancestors knocked at the door of my dull mind, I suppose. “Would you do it yourself?” I asked meekly. “Well,: he said more soberly, “you'd be acquitted of course. A man doesn't stroll out after dinner to murder strangers. But you'd be kept hanging about Calcutta indefinitely; and an unscrupulous man, I'm afraid, might be tempted to hold his tongue and clear our of British India p.d.q.”
My Quaker ancestors told me what to do. I said sternly, but sadly, “then I suppose it is my duty to go to the police at once. Where is my gharry?” The great barrister wrong my hand in silent sympathy.
But it has been one of the guiding principles of my life never to go into a game unless there is a sporting chance. It is silly to be tried for murder if there is no possibility of conviction. All the bubbles are gone from the champagne. So I waited two days more, still unaware whether my shot had told, and went to meet my wife and child at the wharf.
“How are you?” she exclaimed dramatically. My prosaic reply was, “You've got here just in time to see me hanged!”
Thornton gave a dinner party in our honour that night. My wife sat at his right hand. I saw that she was upset about something. I had no opportunity to talk to Thornon alone before dinner. He kept on giving a curious gesture and then raising two fingers. My stupid mind could not imagine what he was driving at. After dinner he took me and Rose aside for a moment. The unimaginable had happened. My single shot had gone clean through the abdomen of the man with the knife and lodged in the spine of the villain behind him. They had been taken to hospital and made a full confession of their crime.
So the next morning the Standard gave me my meed of publicity. Column three of the main page gave the story of the attempted robbery. The man with the gun was thought to be a sailor from one of the ships in the harbour; the police offered a reward for his apprehension. Column five contained an interview with the hero of the expedition to Kangchenjunga. “They will go round the ships,” said Thornton, “and they they'll have a shot at the hotels. Get out and get out quick!”
“Darling sweetheart lovey-dovey silly great big she-ass!” I whispered to my wife, “would you rather walk across Persia or across China?”
The wretched woman knew no geography. All she knew about Persia was rugs and Omar Khayyam; all she knew about China was opium smoking, porcelain and tea. She was fed up with Omar, who was at that time deplorably the rage in this wasp-witted country. “My ownest own,” she purred, “let's go through China!” We hastily engaged an ayah for our baby. This female was hideous, ill-mannered and untrustworthy; she claimed to be a Roman Catholic so as to conceal that her caste would have nothing to do with her,
but she was the only ayah available, so off we went. The one honest human being in the party was dear old shikari Salama Tantra. The loyal staunch old hound! He never flinched, he never failed; he had all the innocence of a child and all the wisdom of Pythagoras; the courage to face the unknown — which Indians almost always fear to the limit — and the gentleness which goes with great strength of body and soul. Peace be to thee, old friend, where'er thou be.
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