The Charmed Life/Chapter VIII

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The Charmed Life by Achmed Abdullah
Chapter VIII

Brahman Truth[edit]

The vox angelica replied: “The shadows flee
away!
Our house-beams were of cedar. Come in
with boughs of May!”
The diapason deepened it: “Before the
darkness fall,
We tell you He is risen again!
Our God hath burst His prison again!
Christ is risen, is risen again: and Love is
Lord of all!”
—ALFRED NOVES.


DOWN the cool, dark staircase we went— and— Say—Denton turned on me a smile of sheer joy—do you believe there’s such a thing as compressing all that is fine and sweet and precious and wild and simple in life into a few golden, pulsing seconds? What? Do I believe it myself?

Why, man, I knew it, as I walked down the stairs with the little Hindu girl in my arms, her soft, warm body pressed against mine, her heart beating through her flimsy draperies, and with the thought that soon she and I would find peace and safety. Just then I didn’t even think of the portly old thrice-born who was walking ahead of me, giving warning every once in a while about a broken or slippery step. I felt an utter sense of complete, lasting remoteness from the gray, grinding worries and unhappinesses of all the world—as if the girl and I had, somewhat audaciously, but entirely successfully, come without passport, without asking leave, into a separate little kingdom of wonder and magic and love.

“We have arrived, sahib,” the Brahman’s voice jarred into my happy reverie, and at the same time the pitchy darkness was cut off as sharp and clean as with a knife, and a bright, silvery light rose in front of me suddenly, as when a series of motion-pictures snaps short a street scene and shifts without warning into the scenery of lake and forest.

In a moment my eyes got used to the blinding dazzle. It was the dazzle of moon-rays coming through a window and mirroring themselves on the shiny white lac walls of a small room into which the stairs abutted. I stepped up to the window and looked out; it gave on a garden which stood out spectrally in the silken moonlight. I could see the dim stir of the leaves and particles of fine dust blown about by some vagabond wind of the night; and the mystery, the mad, amazing stillness of India surged out of the dark and spoke to me.

But the mystery, the throbbing stillness held, too, a message of peace to me and the girl, for there was the garden, the trees, the open, freedom—the fulfillment of my Charmed Life. I completed my groping thoughts with a smile as I turned to the priest with a heart-felt “Thank you,” and was about to throw open the window. But he restrained me. “No, no, sahib,” he said hurriedly, “no! There is no way out of the garden; it is surrounded by a huge wall and well patrolled.

Wait, sahib! I shall keep my solemn oath. I shall give you your heart’s desire—safety and peace— no harm from man or beast—and,” he smiled, “trees, better, richer, more glorious than those trees yonder,” pointing at the waving palm fronds in the garden.

He turned and walked to the opposite side of the room. “As, here we are,” he breathed softly, and very suddenly, with such utter quickness that: I did not even see his hand as it worked it, he had set some dull-grating machinery into motion, and four feet of stone wall slid to one side with a little thud. “Step inside, sahib,” he went on, “and remember the oath of the Brahman—safety and peace. Step inside, sahib, you who love trees!”

You know, Stephen Denton continued after a short pause, for a fleeting moment a certain shapeless, clammy fear seemed to settle down upon me, focusing about my heart. Looking at the Brahman’s smiling face, I had very much the sensation a bird may feel when it runs straight into the jaws of the snake that has fascinated it. I seemed to be falling in with a devilish plan of the Brahman’s own making—to—oh, my thoughts seemed to be flying about somewhere outside of my brain, beyond control scattering wildly. But I jerked them back into my nerve-control with a stark, savage effort. I told myself that the Brahman would not break his oath. I stepped through the opening, the girl in my arms, while the priest stood to one side, bowing, smiling, like a deferential butler receiving an honored guest.

“I have kept my oath, sahib,” he repeated.

“Let the Divine Mother of the Elephant’s Trunk be witness to the fact that I have kept my oath!

You will find trees—you who do not fear trees, you who like trees—sit beneath them for a while and meditate on Life, on Death, on the Seven Great Virtues, and the Seven Black Sins! Think of it all, and remember, too,” suddenly he gave a shrill, high-pitched laugh, “that sense is not a courtesan, that it should come to men unasked! Ho, wise sahib among sahibs!” And, with another ringing laugh, he. had stepped quickly back—he was about to shoot the door home—when once more fear and suspicion raced through me.

“Wait a moment!” I said, “wait—” I took a step toward him, but the girl was in my arms— very quickly 1 shifted the soft, warm burden to my left arm, releasing my right—I made a grab at the Brahman. But I had not been quick enough. I only caught the end of his flowing robe—it tore in my hand. He was out and away, and the door shut with a jarring bang of finality. The only thing he left behind him was the yard or two of white robe which got caught in the slamming door, hanging down like a limp, disgusted flag. Again fear rushed through me—”fear as dry and keen as a new-ground sword,” as the Hindus say—and my heart was a great, confused turmoil of mingled dread and despair—and of love for the girl in my arms. I pressed her to me more closely than ever.

Was this a trap, a—But no, no! whispered my saner self. The Brahman had sworn the one oath the breaking of which would make him lose caste; and immediately I became reassured. There was a way out of this room, and it wouldn’t, couldn’t be hard to find; for the priest had promised safety and peace and escape from worry for me and the girl. He had promised that neither man nor beast would harm me.

I needed just a few minutes’ rest, for even the sweetest burden becomes heavy in one’s arms, and then I would find my way out. So, very gently, I let Padmavati slide to the floor—beneath the trees.

Trees? Yes! For the Brahman had spoken the truth, There were two trees in the center of the room, striving straight up to the tall ceiling. Indian gold-mohur trees they seemed, in full-bursting, dark-green leafage, and crowned with masses of flame-colored, fantastically twisted flowers. The branches touched the walls on all four sides, they seemed to fill the whole upper half of the room, and, like willow-branches, they drooped down, coming within about seven feet of the floor. I smiled at the typical Hindu conceit which had caused trees to be planted in a room, and I touched the trunk of one of them—and then I drew my hand back with an exclamation of surprise.

You see, I had touched something cold, icecold!

Startling, wasn’t it? And my surprise grew into amazement when I looked closer. For the trees were not living trees at all!

They were made of metal, every last detail of them, every leaf and flower—metal, cunningly wrought and embossed and enameled! I remember the Brahman’s question; he had asked me first, if I feared trees; then, if I liked them?

What had he meant by it? Well, it made no difference to me either way, I concluded my thought. Doubtless, these two metal trees had some occult religious significance. Perhaps this room was only another temple, the trees represented some incarnation of one or other of the many Hindu deities. after all, the Brahmans had assimilated into their faith a good deal of the nature worship of the black Indian aborigines. I knew that much from what I had read. So, I sat there, beside the girl and rested myself. I didn’t follow the Brahman’s advice— Stephen Denton laughed—I didn’t meditate on the Seven Great Virtues and the Seven Black Sins, I thought of simpler, sweeter, bigger things—of love—just that! Love.

I rose, a few minutes later, thoroughly refreshed in mind and body. And, I began once more looking for a door through which to escape.

But there was neither window nor door. That didn’t worry me, for I said to myself that I would presently chance upon some cellar-flap or some cunningly hidden spring which would release part of the wall, since, judging from past experiences, this seemed to be the usual mode of exit in this mad maze of buildings. I would get out somehow.

There was the Brahman’s solemn oath—peace and safety, and relief from worry!

First of all, I looked for a cellar-flap, and it didn’t take me long to give up that particular search. For the floor, jet black as the Gates of Erberus, proved to be fashioned of a single, unjointed sheet of some sort of heavy metal, so highly polished that the tiniest hinge or button would have stood out like a crack in a mirror.

The walls, then!

They seemed covered with a wonderful, intricate, color-shouting embroidery, the very thing to conceal a tapestry door.

Beautiful stuff it was, and I raised my hand to touch it—you know the desire people have to handle precious textures—and then—why, man, the walls, too, were of metal, like the trees, like the floor! What I had taken for embroidery was in reality exquisitely inlaid enamel. It was perfectly wonderful work. I had never seen the like of it, and even at the time I thought that the whole thing—the walls, the trees, the floor, and what came after—could not be of Hindu workmanship; that it must have been made by the wizard hands of some Chinese craftsman. A Hindu wouldn’t have had the patience, nor the neatness, for such delicate work. And you know the Persian saying: “God gave cunning to these three:—the brain of the Frank, the tongue of the Arab, the hand of the Chinaman!”

Well, metal or no metal, Hindu or Chinese, it was up to me to find some sort of an opening, and I began to make the round of the walls. Foot by foot, as high as I could reach, I commenced to examine them, groping, feeling, tapping carefully, minutely—and then, suddenly, I stopped. I jumped back a clear two feet, with an exclamation of surprise.

Something had touched me on the shoulder!

I looked. There was nobody—just the girl and I—yes—and the trees! The next moment I knew what had startled me so. I told you about the branches of the trees, how they drooped, like willows; well, one of the branches had drooped a little lower, it had touched me. That was all!

Again I returned to my work. But I felt dizzy.

1 was on the verge of fainting. I jerked myself up with a will. I said to myself that I would have to hurry, for day breaks early and people rise early in the tropics; and I would have to make my getaway before the night faded from purple into rose and dull orange—and there was my love for the little girl, my love which was like a fine spring rain, unceasing, penetrating.

I did try to continue my search; but I couldn’t!

I called myself a weakling and a fool; for terror—red, rank terror beyond death—seized me.

The trees—the branch of the one tree which had drooped a little and touched my shoulder! But how could it droop, since it was not a living branch—since it was made of lifeless metal?

I looked at the trees, at the ceiling. I looked—and I was appalled! Perhaps my eyes were deceiving me—an optical illusion—just my imagination, I told myself, growing, bloating, expanding like a balloon of evil anticipations, my mad imagination whispering to my saner Self, my real thinking Self; until, steadily growing in volume and effect, jumping from cord to cord in that intricate spider-web which is the nervous system, it had persuaded the thinking, recording cells in my brain, that—Stephen Denton half-rose in his chair—that the ceiling was slowly coming down—slowly, slowly—and with it the trees—the metal trees—with the sharp crushing metal branches!

Yes! They seemed to descend—very, very slowly, but as steadily and pitilessly as God’s logic—steadily, steadily.

But no! Impossible!

I said to myself that it could not be so; that what I seemed to see must be the result autosuggestion, of some wretched sort of selfhypnotism, focusing on my mentality, trying to strangle and paralyze my physical activity at the very moment when I had to use both body and brain to find the door in the wall, to escape!

I would have to convince myself that it was only an illusion, and there was one way of doing it. I told you about the intricate pattern with which the metal walls were enameled. I picked out one, a little black-and-red crane standing erect on a lotus-leaf, a beautiful bit of enamel, high up on the wall, quite near the ceiling, and I watched it. I watched it carefully, without taking my eyes away for a single moment—I watched—watched—and I saw! I apologized to myself for having called myself a fool and a coward, and for having accused myself of autosuggestion and an overdose of crazy imagination. I decided that my real Self was still on deck, after all, working, observing, sober, and more or less subliminal. For, within a short time—perhaps three minutes—the edge of the ceiling had touched the head of the little black-and-red crane. Another three minutes, the crane had disappeared, and the ceiling was halfway across the lotus-leaf.

I saw—and immediately I understood! I understood everything—the walls and floor and ceiling of solid metal, the trees, the Brahman’s question if I feared tree, and the Brahman’s oath!

The Brahman had given a solemn oath, nor would he break it. He had lured me into this room, me and the girl, and he had set some machinery into motion which would kill us, slowly, mercilessly—crushing us, doubtless as sacrifices, human sacrifices, to his bestial, blood-stained gods. Yes, he had kept his oath, for to him death spelled peace and safety and final release from earthly worries; nor were we being harmed by man or beast, but by metal, by crushing weight, by—

And he had asked me to sit awhile beneath the trees—to rest myself, to meditate! What should I do, could I do? The bell from the Presbyterian church, tolling the quarter to two, gave answer. Yes, I knelt down, and I prayed—a foolish prayer of my childhood days, back in Boston. It was the only one I could remember:

Dear God, I am a growing child;
Each day of living brings
A hundred puzzling thoughts to me
About a hundred things.
Sometimes it’s very hard for me
To tell what I should do,
And so I say this little prayer,
And leave it all to you.

Childish, wasn’t it? But it didn’t seem so to me at the time—and, yes, it seemed to—oh!— steady my nerves; it seemed to me like the cool, safe breath of God. It gave me resignation, it left no room for fear. Come what may—there was nothing in my heart except love—love for the little Lady Padmavati—and all the tortures in the world, the slowest, cruelest death, would not blot out from my consciousness the fact that I loved her—her only!

There was nothing I could do. I could save neither her life, nor my own. A pistol clapped to my head, a curved saber waved above me—those I could have battled and struggled against. They were real, tangible. But this—why, I was helpless, and I knew it.

Again I watched the ceiling, the trees. They were still coming down, steadily, slowly, the branches drooped lower and lower; one of them, a specially stout branch, was already within a foot of the top of the low door; another touched my head, the sharp metal cut my scalp—I ducked.

There was just one thing I could do for Padmavati. I could protect her with my own body.

She, too, would be crushed to death, but at least the sharp metal branches would not tear her flimsy robe to ribbons, dishonoring her in the hour of death, nor would they cut her soft, golden skin.

I crouched above her, and I prayed, again I prayed! Twice I looked up to see if the ceiling, the trees, were still coming down, fully convinced, before I looked, that they were coming down.

They were now descending a little faster—the branch near the door was nearly touching the top.

I bent down lower to kiss the girl, a kiss of love and farewell—I felt her soft, warm, intoxicating breath—and— I did not kiss her after all! For, suddenly, I heard a noise, loud, sharp, jarring. I looked up, startled—again I was afraid. Was this the end?

Were the metal trees about to crush us? Or, perhaps, had the door opened to admit the Brahman?

And then—quite suddenly— Stephen Denton was silent for a moment. He turned to me with a quizzical smile. He pointed at the fine, white ashes of his cigar, curling around the dull-red glow. He blew the ashes away.

“Half a rupee’s worth of tobacco,” he said, “burned into a smelly stump of no value at all in twenty minutes—that’s a cigar, isn’t it? And yet— imagine a puff of wind, an open barrel of gunpowder, a conflagration, a wooden building across the street, a town gone up in flames and smoke! Small cause and thumping result, don’t you think?”

“Yes, yes,” I interrupted impatiently, “but what’s that got to do with those metal trees above you—with the horrible death you were facing— you and the girl you loved?”

What has that got to do with the trees—you ask—with my death? Why, everything, old man!

Remember the loud, sharp-jarring noise I told you about a second ago? Remember the Brahman and the Brahman’s white robe, how I clutched at it, how it tore and got caught in the slamming of the door at the height of the knob?

Well, I have an idea that bit of flimsy muslin is responsible for the fact that I am sitting here today, across from you, old man. I am not sure how it happened, though later on, when calm reflection came, I said to myself that the Chinese craftsman with the patient, delicate hands, who was doubtless the builder of that torture-chamber, had been a trifle too patient, a trifle too delicate. It was pretty clear to me that the Brahman had set the machinery in motion—most likely it timed itself—so and so many minutes, until the room had contracted to such a degree that the trees crushed whatever living thing was in their vicinity.

You see, the ceiling and the trees had stopped in their slow, pitiless, juggernaut descent, for the simplest reason in the world!

The flimsy bit of torn muslin had prevented the door from closing completely, by the fraction of an inch, no more! But it was enough to cause the top of the door to protrude the least little bit from the upper part of the door-jamb—and there you are! The stout metal branch of the tree, instead of sliding serenely past door-jamb and along the door, had pumped smartly against the protruding top of the door!

Providence, eh? Chance—perhaps that blind Madonna of children and lovers? Or the Charmed Life?

Whatever the psychical reason, the physical was clear. The whole thing had happened and passed in a moment. The jarring noise—the realization that the muslin had saved our lives— then silence.

Again I looked at the ceiling, at the trees.

They could not work past the minute obstacle.

And I thanked God—and then I bent once more over the girl, to continue my interrupted kiss, and at the same moment she gave a little sob and opened her eyes.

I guess she must have recognized me immediately. She must have remembered the scene on the roof-top. For she wasn’t a bit frightened. She just looked at me and smiled, and then, in a few rapid words, I told her what had happened—from the moment the old ruffian on the roof-top had struck her the glancing blow to the moment when I had come to this room, her unconscious form in my arms.

I did not tell her about the trees, about this devil’s devising of a room. For I loved her, don’t you see, I did not want to worry her, and, momentarily at least, we were safe. Also—and I know you’ll think me mad—when I saw her open her eyes—when I saw that soft, sweet expression in her face as she looked at me and recognized me, the idea, the thought—no!—the all-fired, eternal conviction came to me that God was in His Heavens after all—that I bore the Charmed Life— that, somehow, we would get out of this room, this house, this maze of buildings—out of the Colootallah!

So I told her everything up to the moment when I had crossed the threshold when I had stretched her beneath the trees, and I wound up with a few simple words.

Stephen Denton blushed a little.

What were those words? Can’t you guess them? They were the same words which are spoken in every known and unknown language, a million times each day, in every country, in every city and village.

I said: “I love you! Will you be my wife?”

And she replied in English, in soft, beautiful English: “Would you marry a dancing-girl, a nautch, sahib?”

“You bet your life!” I replied, with ringing conviction in my voice. “I’d marry you if you were—”

“The Lady Padmavati?” she interrupted me, mockingly, and then I remembered how I had heard that same name whispered through the hollow tiles at the feet of the mummy. I remembered the sensation, the utter amazement, which the mentioning of that name had caused.

Still, “the Lady Padmavati” meant nothing to me, and so I asked her straight out who she was, and she told me.

I guess you know, Stephen Denton continued; you must have read about it in the newspapers, how one of the Hindu revolutionary secret societies had been trying to bully the Raja of Nagapore into joining their ranks, or, at least, contributing a handsome bunch of money: how the Raja—very pro-British he—had refused, and how his only child, a daughter, had been kidnapped. Well, to make a long story short, Padmavati was the daughter of the Raja of Nagapore. Those ruffians had stolen her and were training her for the temple worship of Shiva Natarajah.

“And,” she wound up her tale, “I have made a vow that whoever rescues me him I shall—”

The rest of her sentence was drowned in a loud, metallic noise. At the same moment was a rush of cool air. I looked up. The door had been flung wide open, and there round-eyed, utterly amazed, stood—my old friend, the Brahman!

I doubt if it took me more than a hundredth part of a second to collect my thoughts, to realize my position. “Quick,” I whispered to the girl. She rose, catching my arm. We jumped across the threshold! He stood there, mute, and I laughed.

“Miscalculated a little, didn’t you, you fat Brahman ruffian?” I asked in a low voice. “Told me to sit beneath the trees and meditate on Life and Death—and meanwhile you’d turn a crank and supply the latter, eh? All right—” Suddenly I grabbed him and pushed him into the steel room—-he was quite limp—didn’t even fight— “now it’s your turn to meditate, and mine to move the crank, and I guarantee you there isn’t going to be any torn slip of muslin this time—inside of twenty minutes you’ll be as flat as a flounder!”

And I scooted out of the room and shut the door.

Of course, I had no intention of really crushing him to death—crafty, treacherous old beggar though he was—and though he had come back, doubtless, to have a good look at our flattened-out remains—the gory-minded Brahman gray-beard!

But, after all, though India had crept into my blood, I was still an American, a Westerner. I could have killed him with knife or bullet, killed him outright, you see, without too much compunction. But to slowly squeeze him to death—oh, I couldn’t do it.

And, too, don’t you see, old man, the whole thing was a bluff, anyway. How did I know where to go—how to find the crank or whatever it was which set the machinery into motion? I simply figured on the chance that the Brahman would be too badly scared to see through my bluff. And, to make it appear more real, I took out my Bowieknife and scraped the door on the outside, to make him think the machinery was jarring and snapping into motion.

Faintly, from within, I could hear his agonized moaning and sobbing.

I felt Padmavati’s soft little hand on my arm.

“But, dearest”—she whispered, and I understood, though she didn’t finish her sentence.

“It’s all right, darling,” I returned. “I am not going to hurt Old Pomposity more than I have to.

Don’t you worry about him!” and I continued scraping at the steel door until the moaning and sobbing had ceased. Then, very gently, I opened the door. I looked in.

The Brahman had fallen in a dead faint. His light-brown face had turned ashen-gray.

I shook him awake. He came out of his trance with a start. He clutched my legs, he kissed the hem of my robe, my hands, and whatever parts of my anatomy he could reach. “Sahib, Heaven- Born, Protector of the Pitiful!” he groaned. “In the name of the many true gods—do not—do not—” “All right!” I said, “I won’t, you obese fraud—but—”

“Oh, Shining Pearl of Equity and Mercy!” he interrupted me with another outpouring of Oriental imagery. “Oh, Great King! Accept the vow of my gratitude! Hari bol! Krishna bol!

Vishnu bol! Let the mighty gods be witnesses to my gratitude! May earth and life be to you as a wide and many-flowered road! May the clay of the holy river Vaiturani be rubbed on your body after your death—”

“That’s exactly it!” I cut in. “After my death!

And I don’t intend to die—and, if you are as grateful as I am inclined to believe from your protestations, show me a way out of here— quick!”

He rose. Three times he bowed. Then he spoke, solemnly, “I will, Heaven-Born! Follow me!” and he turned to go.

“Can I believe you this time?” I asked.

“Courage is tried in war, sahib,” replied the Brahman; “integrity in the payment of debt and interest; friendship in distress; the faithfulness of a wife in the day of poverty; and a Brahman’s loyalty in the hour of death. Sahib, follow me!”

And I did—arm in arm with the girl—for, somehow, I felt that the old priest was speaking the truth.

So he led us through halls and rooms, up and down stairs worn hollow and slippery with the tread of naked feet, along corridors, on and on, with here and there a stop, a whispered word from the Brahman to keep perfectly quiet, a silken rustling of garments in some nearby room where people were still awake, with once in a while a hushed, distant voice, and twice the steely impact of a scabbard-tip bumping the stone flags as some unseen, prowling watchman of the night passed somewhere on his rounds; on and on we passed, and we never met a single human being. I hardly noticed the direction. For I was talking to Padmavati.

She gave a low, throaty laugh. Just then we were passing through a long, dark hall.

“Remember, sahib,” she asked, “what I was saying just before the priest opened the door? I did not finish the sentence. Let me finish it now. I said that I have made a vow that whoever rescues me, him I shall—”

“You shall—marry!” I interrupted her, catching her in my arms and seeking her lips with mine.

I believe, Stephen Denton continued after a short pause, that science holds it impossible to measure eternity. It is the same thing with the great, deep joy—the huge, pulsing, bewildering elation which comes to man once—once in his life—when he loves, and when he feels that his love is returned. It is—oh, well, perhaps you know it yourself, perhaps you can fill in the details from your personal experience—the hot, exquisite knocking of the blood, the whispering rhythm of the dear, soft body you hold pressed against your own, the gigantic sounds of harmony which fill your soul—your sudden new, golden life as it seems to disentangle itself from the bunched, dark whole of humanity into a great, radiant simplicity.

Love—the first minutes of true love—and you can’t measure them! At least I couldn’t—that night. I pressed Padmavati close against me; mechanically, I set foot before foot, following the priest; and then, a second later, we ascended a staircase which seemed vaguely familiar to me.

The Brahman pushed open a door, we crossed a threshold—and there we were— Once more on the roof-top, with the moon slowly fading in the distant sky before the faint rose-blush of dawn!

The Brahman walked straight up to the carved stone balustrade and pointed down at Ibrahim Khan’s Gully.

“I have kept my word, sahib,” he said, “There is the street—a jump—the turning of a street corner or two—and you will find Park Street! You will find your own world, your own people!” He bowed, then he turned to the girl. “

And you, Padmavati—great was the injustice done to you. You were carried away from the palace of your father! You were forced here, into this building, to learn how to dance before Shiva Natarajah! Yes, great was the injustice of it; and yet, can you wipe out blood with darkening blood? Will a wrong right a wrong?”

“A wrong?” she asked. “What wrong?”

“The sahib, Padmavati!” he replied. “You are following the sahib, a foreigner, a Christian, and you are—” he halted.

“Yes,” she said after a short pause, “I am the Princess Padmavati. I am the daughter of the Maharajah of Nagapore. I am a Rathor of Kanauj, claiming kinship with the flame, and my mother is a Tomara of Delhi, claiming kinship with the sun! I am a descendant of the gods!” She drew up her, little figure in a passion of pride. “My people have lived here—they have ruled this great land of Hindustan for over three thousand years! Never have we mixed our blood with the blood of foreigners! And yet—”

“And yet—what?” anxiously asked the priest, and she continued with a low, silvery laugh: “And yet there is love, wise priest!” And she turned to me. “Jump, beloved,” she whispered, “ jump—and I shall follow!”

I jumped without waiting for another word— down into Ibrahim Khan’s Gully, landing safely on my feet. The next second her little lithe figure was balanced on the edge of the balustrade. I stretched my arms wide—she jumped—I caught her—just as the bell from the Presbyterian church in Old Court House Street tolled—binng-bunng— two o’clock!

Yes, mused Stephen Denton, a descendant of the gods, she, the daughter of a race who ruled this land before history dawned on the rest of the world—and I, from Boston, with memories of the antimacassars, mild cocktails, Phi Beta Kappa, and—