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"Why did you not come and see the game? After all your enthusiasm about polo this morning, I did not think you would miss anything so good," were the first words of Miss Westonhaugh as we met her and Kildare in the narrow path that leads down to Annandale. Two men were riding behind them, who proved to be Mr. Currie Ghyrkins and Mr. John Westonhaugh. The latter was duly introduced to us; a quiet, spare man, with his sister's features, but without a trace of her superb colour and animal spirits. He had the real Bombay paleness, and had been steamed to the bone through the rains. As we were introduced, Isaacs started and said quickly that he believed he had met Mr. Westonhaugh before.
"It is possible, quite possible," said that gentleman affably, "especially if you ever go to Bombay."
"Yes--it was in Bombay--some twelve years ago. You have probably forgotten me."
"Ah, yes. I was young and green then. I wonder you remember me." He did not show any very lively interest in the matter, though he smiled pleasantly.
Miss Westonhaugh must have been teasing Lord Steepleton, for he looked flushed and annoyed, and she was in capital spirits. We turned to go back with the party, and by a turn of the wrist Isaacs wheeled his horse to the side of Miss Westonhaugh's, a position he did not again abandon. They were leading, and I resolved they should have a chance, as the path was not broad enough for more than two to ride abreast. So I furtively excited my horse by a touch of the heel and a quick strain on the curb, throwing him across the road, and thus producing a momentary delay, of which the two riders in front took advantage to increase their distance. Then we fell in, Mr. Ghyrkins and I in front, while the dejected Kildare rode behind with Mr. John Westonhaugh. Ghyrkins and I, being heavy men, heavily mounted, controlled the situation, and before long Isaacs and Miss Westonhaugh were a couple of hundred yards ahead, and we only caught occasional glimpses of them through the trees as they wound in and out along the path.
"What are those youngsters talking about, back there? Tigers, I'll be bound," said Mr. Ghyrkina to me. Sure enough, they were.
"What do you suppose I found when we got back this afternoon, Mr. Griggs? Why, this hair-brained young Kildare has been proposing to my niece----" his horse stumbled, but recovered himself in a moment.
"You don't mean it," said I, rather startled.
"Oh no, no, no. I don't mean that at all. Ha! ha! ha! very good, very good. No, no. Lord Steepleton wants us all to go on a tiger-hunt to amuse John, and he proposes--ha! ha!--really too funny of me--that Miss Westonhaugh should go with us."
"I suppose you have no objection, Mr. Ghyrkins? Ladies constantly go on such expeditions, and they do not appear to be the least in the way."
"Objections? Of course I have objections. Do you suppose I want to drag my niece to a premature grave? Think of the fever and the rough living and all, and she only just out from England."
"She looks as if she could stand anything," I said, as just then an open space in the trees gave us a glimpse of Miss Westonhaugh and Isaacs ambling along and apparently in earnest conversation. She certainly looked strong enough to go tiger-hunting that minute, as she sat erect but half turned to the off side, listening to what Isaacs seemed to be saying.
"I hope you will not go and tell her so," said Ghyrkins. "If she gets an idea that the thing is possible, there will be no holding her. You don't know her. I hardly know her myself. Never saw her since she was a baby till the other day. Now you are the sort of person to go after tigers. Why do you not go off with my nephew and Mr. Isaacs and Kildare, and kill as many of them as you like?"
"I have no objection, I am sure. I suppose the Howler could spare me for a fortnight, now that I have converted the Press Commissioner, your new deus ex machina for the obstruction of news. What a motley party we should be. Let me see.--a Bombay Civil Servant, an Irish nobleman, a Persian millionaire, and a Yankee newspaper man. By Jove! add to that a famous Revenue Commissioner and a reigning beauty, and the sextett is complete." Mr. Ghyrkins looked pleased at the gross flattery of himself. I recollected suddenly that, though he was far from famous as a revenue commissioner, I had read of some good shooting he had done in his younger days. Here was a chance.
"Besides, Mr. Ghyrkins, a tiger-hunting party would not be the thing without some seasoned Nimrod to advise and direct us. Who so fitted for the post as the man of many a chase, the companion of Maori, the slayer of the twelve foot tiger in the Nepaul hills in 1861?"
"You have a good memory, Mr. Griggs," said the old fellow, perfectly delighted, and now fairly launched on his favourite topic. "By Gad, sir, if I thought I should get such another chance I would go with you to-morrow!"
"Why not? there are lots of big man-eaters about," and I incontinently reeled off half a page of statistics, more or less accurate, about the number of persons destroyed by snakes and wild beasts in the last year. "Of course most of those deaths were from tigers, and it is a really good action to kill a few. Many people can see tigers but cannot shoot them, whereas your deeds of death amongst them ate a matter of history. You really ought to be philanthropic, Mr. Ghyrkins, and go with us. We might stand a chance of seeing some real sport then."
"Why, really, now that you make me think of it, I believe I should like it amazingly, and I could leave my niece with Lady--Lady--Stick-in-the-mud; what the deuce is her name? The wife of the Chief Justice, you know. You ought to know, really--I never remember names much;" he jerked out his sentences irately.
"Certainly, Lady Smith-Tompkins, you mean. Yes, you might do that--that is, if Miss Westonhaugh has had the measles, and is not afraid of them. I heard this morning that three of the little Smith-Tompkinses had them quite badly."
"You don't say so! Well, well, we shall find some one else, no doubt."
I was certain that at that very moment Isaacs and Miss Westonhaugh were planning the whole expedition, and so I returned to the question of sport and inquired where we should go. This led to considerable discussion, and before we arrived at Mr. Ghyrkins' bungalow--still in the same order--it was very clear that the old sportsman had made up his mind to kill one more tiger at all events; and that, rather than forego the enjoyment of the chase, he would be willing to take his niece with him. As for the direction of the expedition, that could be decided in a day or two. It was not the best season for tigers--the early spring is better--but they are always to be found in the forests of the Terai, the country along the base of the hills, north of Oude.
When we reached the house it was quite dark, for we had ridden slowly. The light from the open door, falling across the verandah, showed us Miss Westonhaugh seated in a huge chair, and Isaacs standing by her side slightly bending, and holding his hat in his hand. They were still talking, but as we rode up to the lawn and shouted for the saices, Isaacs stood up and looked across towards us, and their voices ceased. It was evident that he had succeeded in thoroughly interesting her, for I thought--though it was some distance, and the light on them was not strong--that as he straightened himself and stopped speaking, she looked up to his face as if regretting that he did not go on. I dismounted with the rest and walked up to bid Miss Westonhaugh good-night.
"You must come and dine to-morrow night," said Mr. Ghyrkins, "and we will arrange all about it. Sharp seven. To-morrow is Sunday, you know. Kildare, you must come too, if you mean business. Seven. We must look sharp and start, if we mean to come back here before the Viceroy goes."
"Oh in that case," said Kildare, turning to me, "we can settle all about the polo match for Monday, can't we?"
"Of course, very good of you to take the trouble."
"Not a bit of it. Good-night." We bowed and went back to find our horses in the gloom. After some fumbling, for it was intensely dark after facing the light in the doorway of the bungalow, we got into the saddle and turned homeward through the trees.
"Thank you, Griggs," said Isaacs. "May your feet never weary, and your shadow never be less."
"Don't mention it, and thanks about the shadow. Only it is never likely to be less than at the present moment. How dark it is, to be sure!" I knew well enough what he was thanking me for. I lit a cheroot.
"Isaacs," I said, "you are a pretty cool hand, upon my word."
"Why, indeed! Here you and Miss Westonhaugh have been calmly planning an extensive tiger-hunt, when you have promised to be in the neighbourhood of Keitung in three weeks, wherever that may be. I suppose it is in the opposite direction from here, for you will not find any tigers nearer than the Terai at this time of year."
"I do not see the difficulty," he answered. "We can be in Oude in two days from here; shoot tigers for ten days, and be here again in two days more. That is just a fortnight. It will not take me a week to reach Keitung. I am much mistaken if I do not get there in three days. I shall lay a dâk by messengers before I go to Oude, and between a double set of coolies and lots of ponies wherever the roads are good enough, I shall be at the place of meeting soon enough, never fear."
"Oh, very well; but I hardly think Ghyrkins will want to return under three weeks; and--I did not think you would want to leave the party." He had evidently planned the whole three weeks' business carefully. I did not continue the conversation. He was naturally absorbed in the arrangement of his numerous schemes--no easy matter, when affairs of magnitude have to be ordered to suit the exigencies of a grande passion. I shrank from intruding on his reflections, and I had quite enough to do in keeping my horse on his feet in the thick darkness. Suddenly he reared violently, and then stood still, quivering in every limb. Isaacs' horse plunged and snorted by my side, and cannoned heavily against me. Then all was quiet. I could see nothing. Presently a voice, low and musical, broke on the darkness, and I thought I could distinguish a tall figure on foot at Isaacs' knee. Whoever the man was he must be on the other side of my companion, but I made out a head from which the voice proceeded.
"Peace, Abdul Hafiz!" it said.
"Aleikum Salaam, Ram Lal!" answered Isaacs. He must have recognised the man by his voice.
"Abdul," continued the stranger, speaking Persian. "I have business with thee this night; thou art going home. If it is thy pleasure I will be with thee in two hours in thy dwelling."
"Thy pleasure is my pleasure. Be it so." I thought the head disappeared.
"Be it so," the voice echoed, growing faint, as if moving rapidly away from us. The horses, momentarily startled by the unexpected pedestrian, regained their equanimity. I confess the incident gave me a curiously unpleasant sensation. It was so very odd that a man on foot--a Persian, I judged, by his accent--should know of my companion's whereabouts, and that they should recognise each other by their voices. I recollected that our coming to Mr. Ghyrkins' bungalow was wholly unpremeditated, and I was sure Isaacs had spoken to none but our party--not even to his saice--since our meeting with the Westonhaughs on the Annandale road an hour and a half before.
"I wonder what he wants," said my friend, apparently soliloquising.
"He seems to know where to find you, at all events," I answered. "He must have second sight to know you had been to Carisbrooke."
"He has. He is a very singular personage altogether. However, he has done me more than one service before now, and though I do not comprehend his method of arriving at conclusions, still less his mode of locomotion, I am always glad of his advice."
"But what is he? Is he a Persian?--you called him by an Indian name, but that may be a disguise--is he a wise man from Iran?"
"He is a very wise man, but not from Iran. No. He is a Brahmin by birth, a Buddhist by adopted religion, and he calls himself an 'adept' by profession, I suppose, if he can be said to have any. He comes and goes unexpectedly, with amazing rapidity. His visits are brief, but he always seems to be perfectly conversant with the matter in hand, whatever it be. He will come to-night and give me about twenty words of advice, which I may follow or may not, as my judgment dictates; and before I have answered or recovered from my surprise, he will have vanished, apparently into space; for if I ask my servants where he is gone they will stare at me as if I were crazy, until I show them that the room is empty, and accuse them of going to sleep instead of seeing who goes in and out of my apartment. He speaks more languages than I do, and better. He once told me he was educated in Edinburgh, and his perfect knowledge of European affairs and of European topics leads me to think he must have been there a long time. Have you ever looked into the higher phases of Buddhism? It is a very interesting study."
"Yes, I have read something about it. Indeed I have read a good deal, and have thought more. The subject is full of interest, as you say. If I had been an Asiatic by birth, I am sure I should have sought to attain moksha, even if it required a lifetime to pass through all the degrees of initiation. There is something so rational about their theories, disclaiming, as they do, all supernatural power; and, at the same time, there is something so pure and high in their conception of life, in their ideas about the ideal, if you will allow me the expression, that I do not wonder Edwin Arnold has set our American transcendentalists and Unitarians and freethinkers speculating about it all, and wondering whether the East may not have had men as great as Emerson and Channing among its teachers." I paused. My greatest fault is that if any one starts me upon a subject I know anything about, I immediately become didactic. So I paused and reflected that Isaacs, being, as he himself declared, frequently in the society of an "adept" of a high class, was sure to know a great deal more than I.
"I too," he said, "have been greatly struck, and sometimes almost converted, by the beauty of the higher Buddhist thoughts. As for their apparently supernatural powers and what they do with them, I care nothing about phenomena of that description. We live in a land where marvels are common enough. Who has ever explained the mango trick, or the basket trick, or the man who throws a rope up into the air and then climbs up it and takes the rope after him, disappearing into blue space? And yet you have seen those things--I have seen them, every one has seen them,--and the performers claim no supernatural agency or assistance. It is merely a difference of degree, whether you make a mango grow from the seed to the tree in half an hour, or whether you transport yourself ten thousand miles in as many seconds, passing through walls of brick and stone on your way, and astonishing some ordinary mortal by showing that you know all about his affairs. I see no essential difference between the two 'phenomena,' as the newspapers call them, since Madame Blavatsky has set them all by the ears in this country. It is just the difference in the amount of power brought to bear on the action. That is all. I have seen, in a workshop in Calcutta, a hammer that would crack an eggshell without crushing it, or bruise a lump of iron as big as your head into a flat cake. 'Phenomena' may amuse women and children, but the real beauty of the system lies in the promised attainment of happiness. Whether that state of supreme freedom from earthly care gives the fortunate initiate the power of projecting himself to the antipodes by a mere act of volition, or of condensing the astral fluid into articles of daily use, or of stimulating the vital forces of nature to an abnormal activity, is to me a matter of supreme indifference. I am tolerably happy in my own way as things are. I should not be a whit happier if I were able to go off after dinner and take a part in American politics for a few hours, returning to business here to-morrow morning."
"That is an extreme case," I said. "No man in his senses ever connects the idea of happiness with American politics."
"Of one thing I am sure, though." He paused as if choosing his words. "I am sure of this. If any unforeseen event, whether an act of folly of my own, or the hand of Allah, who is wise, should destroy the peace of mind I have enjoyed for ten years, with very trifling interruption,--if anything should occur to make me permanently unhappy, beyond the possibility of ordinary consolation,--I should seek comfort in the study of the pure doctrines of the higher Buddhists. The pursuit of a happiness, so immeasurably beyond all earthly considerations of bodily comfort or of physical enjoyment, can surely not be inconsistent with my religion--or with yours."
"No indeed," said I. "But, considering that you are the strictest of Mohammedans, it seems to me you are wonderfully liberal. So you have seriously contemplated the possibility of your becoming one of the 'brethren'--as they style themselves?"
"It never struck me until to-day that anything might occur by which my life could be permanently disturbed. Something to-day has whispered to me that such an existence could not be permanent. I am sure that it cannot be. The issue must be either to an infinite happiness or to a still more infinite misery. I cannot tell which." His clear, evenly modulated voice trembled a little. We were in sight of the lights from the hotel.
"I shall not dine with you to-night, Griggs. I will have something in my own rooms. Come in as soon as you have done--that is if you are free. There is no reason why you should not see Ram Lal the adept, since we think alike about his religion, or school, or philosophy--find a name for it while you are dining." And we separated for a time.
It had been a long and exciting day to me. I felt no more inclined than he did for the din and racket and lights of the public dining-room. So I followed his example and had something in my own apartment. Then I settled myself to a hookah, resolved not to take advantage of Isaacs' invitation until near the time when he expected Ram Lal. I felt the need of an hour's solitude to collect my thoughts and to think over the events of the last twenty-four hours. I recognised that I was fast becoming very intimate with Isaacs, and I wanted to think about him and excogitate the problem of his life; but when I tried to revolve the situation logically, and deliver to myself a verdict, I found myself carried off at a tangent by the wonderful pictures that passed before my eyes. I could not detach the events from the individual. His face was ever before me, whether I thought of Miss Westonhaugh, or of the wretched old maharajah, or of Ram Lal the Buddhist. Isaacs was the central figure in every picture, always in the front, always calm and beautiful, always controlling the events around him. Then I entered on a series of trite reflections to soothe my baffled reason, as a man will who is used to understanding what goes on before him and suddenly finds himself at a loss. Of course, I said to myself, it is no wonder he controls things, or appears to. The circumstances in which I find this three days' acquaintance are emphatically those of his own making. He has always been a successful man, and he would not raise spirits that he could not keep well in hand. He knows perfectly well what he is about in making love to that beautiful creature, and is no doubt at this moment laughing in his sleeve at my simplicity in believing that he was really asking my advice. Pshaw! as if any advice could influence a man like that! Absurd.
I sipped my coffee in disgust with myself. All the time, while trying to persuade myself that Isaacs was only a very successful schemer, neither better nor worse than other men, I was conscious of the face that would not be banished from my sight. I saw the beautiful boyish look in his deep dark eyes, the gentle curve of the mouth, the grand smooth architrave of the brows. No--I was a fool! I had never met a man like him, nor should again. How could Miss Westonhaugh save herself from loving such a perfect creature? I thought, too, of his generosity. He would surely keep his promise and deliver poor Shere Ali, hunted to death by English and Afghan foes, from all his troubles. Had he not the Maharajah of Baithopoor in his power? He might have exacted the full payment of the debt, principal and interest, and saved the Afghan chief into the bargain. But he feared lest the poor Mohammedans should suffer from the prince's extortion, and he forgave freely the interest, amounting now to a huge sum, and put off the payment of the bond itself to the maharajah's convenience. Did ever an Oriental forgive a debt before even to his own brother? Not in my experience.
I rose and went down to Isaacs. I found him as on the previous evening, among his cushions with a manuscript book. He looked up smiling and motioned me to be seated, keeping his place on the page with one finger. He finished the verse before he spoke, and then laid the book down and leaned back.
"So you have made up your mind that you would like to see Ram Lal. He will be here in a minute, unless he changes his mind and does not come after all."
There was a sound of voices outside. Some one asked if Isaacs were in, and the servant answered. A tall figure in a gray caftán and a plain white turban stood in the door.
"I never change my mind," said the stranger, in excellent English, though with an accent peculiar to the Hindoo tongue when struggling with European languages. His voice was musical and high in pitch, though soft and sweet in tone. The quality of voice that can be heard at a great distance, with no apparent effort to the speaker. "I never change my mind. I am here. Is it well with you?"
"It is well, Ram Lal. I thank you. Be seated, if you will stay with us a while. This is my friend Mr. Griggs, of whom you probably know. He thinks as I do on many points, and I was anxious that you should meet."
While Isaacs was speaking, Ram Lal advanced into the room and stood a moment under the soft light, a gray figure, very tall, but not otherwise remarkable. He was all gray. The long caftán wrapped round him, the turban which I had first thought white, the skin of his face, the pointed beard and long moustache, the heavy eyebrows--a study of grays against the barbaric splendour of the richly hung wall--a soft outline on which the yellow light dwelt lovingly, as if weary of being cast back and reflected from the glory of gold and the thousand facets of the priceless gems. Ram Lal looked toward me, and as I gazed into his eyes I saw that they too were gray--a very singular thing in the East--and that they were very far apart, giving his face a look of great dignity and fearless frankness. To judge by his features he seemed to be very thin, and his high shoulders were angular, though the long loose garment concealed the rest of his frame from view. I had plenty of time to note these details, for he stood a full minute in the middle of the room, as if deciding whether to remain or to go. Then he moved quietly to a divan and sat down cross-legged.
"Abdul, you have done a good deed to-day, and I trust you will not change your mind before you have carried out your present intentions."
"I never change my mind, Bam Lai," said Isaacs, smiling as he quoted his visitor's own words. I was startled at first. What good deed was the Buddhist referring to if not to the intended liberation of Shere Ali? How could he know of it? Then I reflected that this man was, according to Isaacs' declaration, an adept of the higher grades, a seer and a knower of men's hearts. I resolved not to be astonished at anything that occurred, only marvelling that it should have pleased this extraordinary man to make his entrance like an ordinary mortal, instead of through the floor or the ceiling.
"Pardon me," answered Ram Lal, "if I venture to contradict you. You do change your mind sometimes. Who was it who lately scoffed at women, their immortality, their virtue, and their intellect? Will you tell me now, friend Abdul, that you have not changed your mind? Do you think of anything, sleeping or waking, but the one woman for whom you have changed your mind? Is not her picture ever before you, and the breath of her beauty upon your soul? Have you not met her in the spirit as well as in the flesh? Surely we shall hear no more of your doubts about women for some time to come. I congratulate you, as far as that goes, on your conversion. You have made a step towards a higher understanding of the world you live in."
Isaacs did not seem in the least surprised at his visitor's intimate acquaintance with his affairs. He bowed his head in silence, acquiescing to what Bam Lai had said, and waited for him to proceed.
"I have come," continued the Buddhist, "to give you some good advice--the best I have for you. You will probably not take it, for you are the most self-reliant man I know, though you have changed a little since you have been in love, witness your sudden intimacy with Mr. Griggs." He looked at me, and there was a faint approach to a smile in his gray eyes. "My advice to you is, do not let this projected tiger-hunt take place if you can prevent it. No good can come of it, and harm may. Now I have spoken because my mind would not be at rest if I did not warn you. Of course you will do as you please, only never forget that I pointed out to you the right course in time."
"Thank you, Ram Lal, for your friendly concern in my behalf. I do not think I shall act as you suggest, but I am nevertheless grateful to you. There is one thing I want to ask you, and consult you about, however."
"My friend, what is the use of my giving you advice that you will not follow? If I lived with you, and were your constant companion, you would ask me to advise you twenty times a day, and then you would go and do the diametric opposite of what I suggested. If I did not see in you something that I see in few other men, I would not be here. There are plenty of fools who have wit enough to take counsel of a wise man. There are few men of wit wise enough to be guided by their betters, as if they were only fools for the time. Yet because you are so wayward I will help you once or twice more, and then I will leave you to your own course--which you, in your blindness, will call your kismet, not seeing that your fate is continually in your own hands--more so at this moment than ever before. Ask, and I will answer."
"Thanks, Ram Lal. It is this I would know. You are aware that I have undertaken a novel kind of bargain. The man you wot of is to be delivered to me near Keitung. I am anxious for the man's safety afterwards, and I would be glad of some hint about disposing of him. I must go alone, for I do not want any witness of what I am going to do, and as a mere matter of personal safety for myself and the man I am going to set free, I must decide on some plan of action when I meet the band of sowars who will escort him. They are capable of murdering us both if the maharajah instructs them to. As long as I am alive to bring the old man into disgrace with the British, the captive is safe; but it would be an easy matter for those fellows to dispose of us together, and there would be an end of the business."
"Of course they could," replied Ram Lal, adding in an ironical tone "and if you insist upon putting your head down the tiger's throat, how do you expect me to prevent the brute from snapping it off? That would be a 'phenomenon,' would it not? And only this evening you were saying that you despised 'phenomena.'"
"I said that such things were indifferent to me. I did not say I despised them. But I think that this thing may be done without performing any miracles."
"If it were not such a good action on your part I would have nothing to do with it. But since you mean to risk your neck for your own peculiar views of what is right, I will endeavour that you shall not break it. I will meet you a day's journey before you reach Keitung, somewhere on the road, and we will go together and do the business. But if I am to help you I will not promise not to perform some miracles, as you call them, though you know very well they are no such thing. Meanwhile, do as you please about the tiger-hunt; I shall say no more about it." He paused, and then, withdrawing one delicate hand from the folds of his caftán, he pointed to the wall behind Isaacs and me, and said, "What a very singular piece of workmanship is that yataghan!"
We both naturally turned half round to look at the weapon he spoke of, which was the central piece in a trophy of jewelled sabres and Afghan knives.
"Yes," said Isaacs, turning back to answer his guest, "it is a ----" He stopped, and I, who had not seen the weapon before, lost among so many, and was admiring its singular beauty, turned too; to my astonishment I saw that Isaacs was gazing into empty space. The divan where Ram Lal had been sitting an instant before, was vacant. He was gone.
"That is rather sudden," I said.
"More so than usual," was the reply. "Did you see him go? Did he go out by the door?"
"Not I," I answered, "when I looked round at the wall he was placidly sitting on that divan pointing with one hand at the yataghan. Does he generally go so quickly?"
"Yes, more or less. Now I will show you some pretty sport." He rose to his feet and went to the door. "Narain!" he cried. Narain, the bearer, who was squatting against the door-post outside, sprang up and stood before his master. "Narain, why did you not show that pundit the way downstairs? What do you mean? have you no manners?"
Narain stood open mouthed. "What pundit, sahib?" he asked.
"Why, the pundit who came a quarter of an hour ago, you donkey! He has just gone out, and you did not even get up and make a salaam, you impertinent vagabond!" Narain protested that no pundit, or sahib, or any one else, had passed the threshold since Ram Lal had entered. "Ha! you budmash. You lazy dog of a Hindoo! you have been asleep again, you swine, you son of a pig, you father of piglings! Is that the way you do your work in my service?" Isaacs was enjoying the joke in a quiet way immensely.
"Sahib," said the trembling Narain, apparently forgetting the genealogy his master had thrust upon him, "Sahib, you are protector of the poor, you are my father and my mother, and my brother, and all my relations," the common form of Hindoo supplication, "but, Sri Krishnaji! by the blessed Krishna, I have not slept a wink."
"Then I suppose you mean me to believe that the pundit went through the ceiling, or is hidden under the cushions. Swear not by your false idols, slave; I shall not believe you for that, you dog of an unbeliever, you soor-be-iman, you swine without faith!"
"Han, sahib, han!" cried Narain, seizing at the idea that the pundit had disappeared mysteriously through the walls. "Yes, sahib, the pundit is a great yogi, and has made the winds carry him off." The fellow thought this was a bright idea, not by any means beneath consideration. Isaacs appeared somewhat pacified.
"What makes you think he is a yogi, dog?" he inquired in a milder tone. Narain had no answer ready, but stood looking rather stupidly through the door at the room whence the unearthly visitor had so suddenly disappeared. "Well," continued Isaacs, "you are more nearly right than you imagine. The pundit is a bigger yogi than any your idiotic religion can produce. Never mind, there is an eight anna bit for you, because I said you were asleep when you were not." Narain bent to the ground in thanks, as his master turned on his heel. "Not that he minds being told that he is a pig, in the least," said Isaacs. "I would not call a Mussulman so, but you can insult these Hindoos so much worse in other ways that I think the porcine simile is quite merciful by comparison." He sat down again among the cushions, and putting off his slippers, curled himself comfortably together for a chat.
"What do you think of Ram Lal?" he asked, when Narain had brought hookahs and sherbet.
"My dear fellow, I have hardly made up my mind what to think. I have not altogether recovered from my astonishment. I confess that there was nothing startling about his manner or his person. He behaved and talked like a well educated native, in utter contrast to the amazing things he said, and to his unprecedented mode of leave-taking. It would have seemed more natural--I would say, more fitting--if he had appeared in the classic dress of an astrologer, surrounded with zodiacs, and blue lights, and black cats. Why do you suppose he wants you to abandon the tiger-hunt?"
"I cannot tell. Perhaps he thinks something may happen to me to prevent my keeping the other engagement. Perhaps he does not approve----" he stopped, as if not wanting to approach the subject of Ram Lal's disapprobation. "I intend, nevertheless, that the expedition come off, and I mean, moreover, to have a very good time, and to kill a tiger if I see one."
"I thought he seemed immensely pleased at your conversion, as he calls it. He said that your newly acquired belief in woman was a step towards a better understanding of life."
"Of the world, he said," answered-Isaacs, correcting me. "There is a great difference between the 'world' and 'life.' The one is a finite, the other an infinite expression. I believe, from what I have learned of Ram Lal, that the ultimate object of the adepts is happiness, only to be attained by wisdom, and I apprehend that by wisdom they mean a knowledge of the world in the broadest sense of the word. The world to them is a great repository of facts, physical and social, of which they propose to acquire a specific knowledge by transcendental methods. If that seems to you a contradiction of terms, I will try and express myself better. If you understand me, I am satisfied. Of course I use transcendental in the sense in which it is applied by Western mathematicians to a mode of reasoning which I very imperfectly comprehend, save that it consists in reaching finite results by an adroit use of the infinite."
"Not a bad definition of transcendental analysis for a man who professes to know nothing about it," said I. "I would not accuse you of a contradiction of terms, either. I have often thought that what some people call the 'philosophy of the nineteenth century,' is nothing after all but the unconscious application of transcendental analysis to the everyday affairs of life. Consider the theories of Darwin, for instance. What are they but an elaborate application of the higher calculus? He differentiates men into protoplasms, and integrates protoplasms into monkeys, and shows the caudal appendage to be the independent variable, a small factor in man, a large factor in monkey. And has not the idea of successive development supplanted the early conception of spontaneous perfection? Take an illustration from India--the new system of competition, which the natives can never understand. Formerly the members of the Civil Service received their warrants by divine authority, so to speak. They were born perfect, as Aphrodite from the foam of the sea; they sprang armed and ready from the head of old John Company as Pallas Athene from the head of Zeus. Now all that is changed; they are selected from a great herd of candidates by methods of extreme exactness, and when they are chosen they represent the final result of infinite probabilities for and against their election. They are all exactly alike; they are a formula for taxation and the administration of justice, and so long as you do not attempt to use the formula for any other purpose, such, for instance, as political negotiation or the censorship of the public press, the equation will probably be amenable to solution."
"As I told you," said Isaacs, "I know nothing, or next to nothing, of Western mathematics, but I have a general idea of the comparison you make. In Asia and in Asiatic minds, there prevails an idea that knowledge can be assimilated once and for all. That if you can obtain it, you immediately possess the knowledge of everything--the pass-key that shall unlock every door. That is the reason of the prolonged fasting and solitary meditation of the ascetics. They believe that by attenuating the bond between soul and body, the soul can be liberated and can temporarily identify itself with other objects, animate and inanimate, besides the especial body to which it belongs, acquiring thus a direct knowledge of those objects, and they believe that this direct knowledge remains. Western philosophers argue that the only acquaintance a man can have with bodies external to his mind is that which he acquires by the medium of his bodily sensea--though thesa, are themselves external to his mind, in the truest sanse. The senses not being absolutely reliable, knowledge acquired by means of them is not absolutely reliable either. So the ultimate difference between the Asiatic saint and the European man of science is, that while the former believes all knowledge to be directly within the grasp of the soul, under certain conditions, the latter, on the other hand, denies that any knowledge can be absolute, being all obtained indirectly through a medium not absolutely reliable. The reasoning, by which the Western mind allows itself to act fearlessly on information which is not (according to its own verdict) necessarily accurate, depends on a clever use of the infinite in unconsciously calculating the probabilities of that accuracy--and this entirely falls in with what you said about the application of transcendental analysis to the affairs of everyday life."
"I see you have entirely comprehended me," I said. "But as for the Asiatic mind--you seem to deny to it the use of the ealculus of thought, and yet you denned adepts as attempting to acquire specific knowledge by general and transcendental methods. Here is a real contradiction."
"No; I see no confusion, for I do not include the higher adepts in either class, sinoe they have the wisdom to make use of the learning and of the methods of both. They seem to me to be endeavouring, roughly speaking, to combine the two. They believe absolute knowledge attainable, and they devote much time to the study of nature, in which pursuit they make use of highly analytical methods. They subdivide phenomena to an extent that would surprise and probably amuse a Western thinker. They count fourteen distinct colours in the rainbow, and invariably connect sound, even to the finest degrees, with shades of colour. I could name many other peculiarities of their mode of studying natural phenomena, which displays a much more minute subdivision and classification of results than you are accustomed to. But beside all this they consider that the senses of the normal man are susceptible of infinite refinement, and that upon a greater or less degree of acquired acuteness of perception the value of his results must depend. To attain this high degree of sensitiveness, necessary to the perception of very subtle phenomena, the adepts find it necessary to train their faculties, bodily and mental, by a life of rigid abstention from all pleasures or indulgences not indispensable in maintaining the relation between the physical and intellectual powers."
"The common fakir aims at the same thing," I remarked.
"But he does not attain it. The common fakir is an idiot. He may, by fasting and self-torture, of a kind no adept would approve, sharpen his senses till he can hear and see some sounds and sights inaudible and invisible to you and me. But his whole system lacks any intellectual basis: he regards knowledge as something instantaneously attainable when it comes at last; he believes he will have a vision, and that everything will be revealed to him. His devotion to his object is admirable, when he is a genuine ascetic and not, as is generally the case, a good-for-nothing who makes his piety pay for his subsistence; but it is devotion of a very low intellectual order. The true adept thinks the training of the mind in intellectual pursuits no less necessary than the moderate and reasonable mortification of the flesh, and higher Buddhism pays as much attention to the one as to the other."
"Excuse me," said I, "if I make a digression. I think there are two classes of minds commonly to be found among thinkers all over the world. The one seek to attain to knowledge, the others strive to acquire it. There is a class of commonplace intellects who regard knowledge of all kinds in the light of a ladder; one ladder for each science, and the rungs of the ladders are the successive facts mastered by an effort and remembered in the order they have been passed. These persons think it is possible to attain to high eminence on one particular ladder, that is, in one particular science, without having been up any of the other ladders, that is, without a knowledge of other branches of seience. This is the mind of the plodder, the patient man who climbs, step by step, in his own unvarying round of thought; not seeing that it is but the wheel of a treadmill over which he is labouring, and that though every step may pass, and repass, beneath his toiling feet, he can never obtain a birdseye view of what he is doing, because his eyes are continually fixed on the step in front."
"But," I continued, as Isaacs assented to my simile by a nod, "there is another class of minds also. There are persons who regard the whole imaginable and unimaginable knowledge of mankind, past, present, and future, as a boundless plain over which they hang suspended and can look down. Immediately beneath them there is a map spread out which represents, in the midst of the immense desert, the things they themselves know. It is a puzzle map, like those they make for children, where each piece fits into its appointed place, and will fit nowhere else; every piece of knowledge acquired fits into the space allotted to it, and when there is a piece, that is, a fact, wanting, it is still possible to define its extent and shape by the surrounding portions, though all the details of colour and design are lacking. These are the people who regard knowledge as a whole, harmonious, when every science and fragment of a science has its appointed station and is necessary to completeness of perfect knowledge. I hope I have made clear to you what I mean, though I am conscious of only sketching the outlines of a distinction which I believe to be fundamental."
"Of course it is fundamental. Broadly, it is the difference between analytic and synthetic thought; between the subjective and the objective views; between the finite conception of a limited world and the infinite ideal of perfect wisdom. I understand you perfectly."
"You puzzle me continually, Isaacs. Where did you learn to talk about 'analytic' and 'synthetic,' and 'subjective' and 'objective,' and transcendental analysis, and so forth?" It seemed so consistent with his mind that he should understand the use of philosophical terms, that I had noi realised how odd it was that a man of his purely Oriental education should know anything about the subject. His very broad application of the words 'analytic' and 'synthetic' to my pair of illustrations attracted my attention and prompted the question I had asked.
"I read a good deal," he said simply. Then he added in a reflective tone, "I rather think I have a philosophical mind. The old man who taught me theology in Istamboul when I was a boy used to talk philosophy to me by the hour, though I do not believe he knew much about it. He was a plodder, and went up ladders in search of information, like the man you describe. But he was very patient and good to me; the peace of Allah be with him."
It was late, and soon afterwards we parted for the night. The next day was Sunday, and I had a heap of unanswered letters to attend to, so we agreed to meet after tiffin and ride together before dining with Mr. Ghyrkins and the Westonhaughs.
I went to my room and sat a while over a volume of Kant, which I always travel with--a sort of philosopher's stone on which to whet the mind's tools when they are dulled with boring into the geological strata of other people's ideas. I was too much occupied with the personality of the man I had been talking with to read long, and so I abandoned myself to a reverie, passing in review the events of the long day.
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