The Rampa Story/Chapter Nine
The exchange was a dismal house in a side street. I rode up, dismounted, and started to walk in the entrance. “Want your bike stolen?” asked a voice behind me. I turned to the speaker. “Surely the unemployed do not steal from each other?” I asked.
“You must be new around here; put a lock and chain round the bike or you will have to walk home.” With that the speaker shrugged his shoulders and went into the building. I turned back and looked in the saddle-bag of the machine. Yes, there was a lock and chain. I was just going to put the chain round the wheel as I had seen others do when a horrid thought struck me—where was the key? I fumbled in those unfamiliar pockets and brought out a bunch of keys. Trying one after the other, I eventually found the correct one.
I walked up the path and into the house. Cardboard signs with black inked arrows pointed the way. I turned right and entered a room where there were a lot of hard wooden chairs packed tightly together.
“Hello, Prof!” said a voice. “Come and sit by me and wait your turn.”
I moved to the speaker and pushed my way to a chair beside him. “You look different this morning,” he continued. “What have you been doing to yourself?”
I let him do the talking, picking up stray bits of information. The clerk called names, and men went up to his desk and sat before him. A name was called which seemed vaguely familiar. “Someone I know?” I wondered. No one moved. The name was called again. “Go on—that's you!” said my new friend. I rose and walked to the desk and sat down as I had seen the others do.
“What's the matter with you this morning?” asked the clerk. “I saw you come in, then I lost sight of you and thought you had gone home.” He looked at me carefully.
“You look different this morning, somehow. Can't be hair style, because you haven't any hair.” Then he straightened up and said, “No, nothing for you, I'm afraid. Better luck next time. Next, please.”
I walked out, feeling despondent, and cycled back to Hampton Court. There I bought a newspaper, and continued on to the banks of the Thames. This was a beauty spot, a place where Londoners came for a holiday. I sat down on the grassy bank, with my back to a tree, and read the Situations Vacant columns in the paper.
“You'll never get a job through the Exchange!” said a voice, and a man came off the path and plonked down on the grass beside me. Plucking a long-stemmed grass, he chewed it reflectively, rolling it from side to side of his mouth. “They don't pay you any dole, see? So they don't get you fixed up either. They gives the jobs to them as what they has to pay. Then they save money, see? If they get you a job they have to keep somebuddy else on the dole and the Gov'ment makes a fuss, see?”
I thought it over. It made sense to me, even if the man's grammar almost made my head swim. “Well, what would you do?” I asked.
“Me! Blimey, I don't want no job, I just goes to get the dole, it keeps me, that an' a bit I makes on the side, like. Well, Guv. If you really want a job, go to one of them Bureys—here—let's have a look.” He reached over and took my paper, leaving me to wonder blankly what a Burey could be. What a lot there was to learn, I thought. How ignorant I was of everything to do with the Western world. Licking his fingers, and mumbling the letters of the alphabet to himself, the man fumbled through the pages. “Here y'are!” he exclaimed triumphantly. “Employment Bureys —here—take a look at it yerself.”
Quickly I scanned the column so clearly indicated by his very dirty thumb mark. Employment Bureaux, Employment Agencies. Jobs. “But this is for women,” I said disgustedly.
“Garn!” he replied, “You can't read, it says there men and women. Now you go along an' see 'em an' don't take no old buck from them. Oh! They'll play you up and string you along if you let 'em. Tell 'em you want a job, or else!”
That afternoon I hurried off to the heart of London, climbing the dingy stairs to a ramshackle office in a back street of Soho. A painted woman with artificially blond hair and scarlet talons of nails was sitting at a metal desk in a room so small it might once have been a cupboard. “I want a job,” I said.
She leaned back and surveyed me coolly. Yawning widely, she displayed a mouthful of decayed teeth and a furred tongue. “Ooaryer?” she said. I gaped at her blankly. “Ooaryer?” she repeated.
“I am sorry,” I said, “but I do not understand your question.”
“Oogawd!” she sighed wearily. “Ee don't speak no English. 'Ere fillupaform.” She threw a questionnaire at me, removed her pen, clock, a book and her handbag, and disappeared into some back room. I sat down and struggled with the questions. At long last she reappeared and jerked her thumb in the direction from whence she had come. “Git in there,” she commanded. I rose from my seat and stumbled into a little larger room. A man was sitting at a battered desk untidily littered with papers. He was chewing on the butt of a cheap and stinking cigar, a stained trilby hat was perched on the back of his head. He motioned for me to sit in front of him.
“Got yer Registration money?” he asked. I reached in my pocket and produced the sum stated on the form. The man took it from me, counted it twice, and put it in his pocket. “Where you bin waitin'?” he asked.
“In the outer office,” I replied innocently. To my consternation he broke out into great guffaws of laughter.
“Hor! Hor! Hor!” he roared. “I said, ‘Where you bin waitin'?’ and 'e sezs 'in th' outer office’!” Wiping his streaming eyes, he controlled himself with a visible effort, and said, “Look, Cock, you ain't 'alf a comic, but I ain't got no time to waste. 'Ave you bin a waiter or aincha?”
“No,” I replied. “I want employment in any of these lines”—giving him a whole list of things I could do—“now, can you help or can you not?”
He frowned as he looked at the list. “Well, I dunno,” he said doubtfully, “you speak like a dook . . . look, we'll see what we can do. Come in a week today.” With that, he relit his now extinguished cigar, parked his feet on the desk as he picked up a racing paper and started to read. I made my disillusioned way out, past the painted woman who greeted my departure with a haughty stare and a sniff, down the creaking stairs and into the dismal street.
Not far away there was another agency, and to it I made my way. My heart sank at the sight of the entrance. A side door, bare wooden stairs, and dirty walls with the paint peeling off Upstairs, on the second floor, I opened a door marked ‘ enter ’. Inside was one large room, extending the width of the building. Rickety tables stood about and at each one sat a man or a woman with a pile of index cards in front.
“Yes? What can I do for you?” asked a voice at my side. Turning I saw a woman who might have been seventy, although she looked older. Without waiting for me to say anything, she handed me a questionnaire with the request that I complete it and hand it to the girl at the desk. I soon filled in all the numerous and very personal details and then took it to the girl as directed. Without a glance at it she said, “You may pay me your registration fee now.” I did so thinking that they had an easy way of making money. She counted the money carefully, passed it through a hatch to another woman who also counted it, then I was given a receipt. The girl stood up and called, “Is anyone free?” A man at a desk in the far distance lethargically waved a hand. The girl turned to me and said, “That gentleman over there will see you.” I walked over to him, threading my way between desks. For some time he took no notice of me but went on writing, then he held out his hand. I took it, and shook it, but he snatched it away crossly, saying irritably, “No, no! I want to see your Receipt, your Receipt, you know.” Scrutinizing it carefully, he turned it over, and examined the blank side. Re-reading the front side, he apparently decided that it was genuine after all for he said, “Will you take a chair?”
To my amazement he took a fresh form, and asked me the answers to all the questions which I had just written. Dropping my completed form in the waste-paper basket, and his in a drawer, he said, “Come to me in a week's time and we will see what we can do.” He resumed his writing, writing which I could see was a personal letter to some woman!
“Hey!” I said loudly, “I want attention now.”
“My dear fellow!” he expostulated, “We simply cannot do things so hurriedly, we must have system, you know, system!”
“Well,” I said, “I want a job now, or my money back.”
“Dear, dear!” he sighed. “How perfectly ghastly!” With a quick glance at my determined face, he sighed again, and began pulling out drawer after drawer, as if stalling for time while he thought what to do next. One drawer he pulled too far. There was a crash and all sorts of personal belongings scattered on the floor. A box of some thousand paper clips spilled open. We scrabbled about on the floor, picking up things and tossing them on the desk.
At last everything was picked up and swept into the drawer. “That blawsted drawer!” he said resignedly, “Always slipping out of place like that, the other wallahs are used to it.” For some time he sat there, going through his File Cards, then looking up bundles of papers, shaking his head negatively as he tossed them back and removing another bundle. “Ah!” he said at last, then fell silent. Minutes later, he said, “Yes, I have a job for you!”
He rifled through his papers, changed his spectacles and reached out blindly towards a pile of cards. Picking up the top one he placed it in front of him and slowly began to write. “Now where is it? Ah! Clapham, do you know Clapham?” Without waiting for a reply, he continued, “It is a photographic processing works. You will work by night. Street photographers in the West End bring in their stuff at night and collect the proofs in the morning. H’mm yes, let me see.” He went on fumbling through the papers, “You will sometimes have to work in the West End yourself with a camera as a relief man. Now take this card to that address and see him,” he said, pointing with his pencil to a name he had written on the card.
Clapham was not one of the most salubrious districts of London; the address to which I went, in a mean back street in the slums adjacent to the railway sidings, was an ill-favored place indeed. I knocked at the door of a house which had the paint peeling off, and one window of which had the glass “repaired” with sticky paper. The door opened slightly and a slatternly woman peered out, tousled hair falling over her face.
“Yeh? 'Oo d'ye want?” I told her and she turned without speaking and yelled, “'Arry! Man to see ye!” Turning she pushed the door shut, leaving me outside. Sometime later the door opened, and a rough looking man stood there, unshaven, no collar, cigarette hanging from his lower lip. His toes showed through great holes in his felt slippers.
“What d'ye want, Cock?” he said. I handed him the card from the Employment Bureau. He took it, looked at it from all angles, looked from the card to me and back again, then said, “Furriner, eh? Plenty of 'em in Clapham. Not so choosey as us Britishers.”
“Will you tell me about the job?” I asked.
“Not now!” he said, “I've got to see you fust. Come in, I'm in the bismint.”
With that he turned and disappeared! I entered the house in a considerably fuddled state of mind. How could he be in the “bismint” when he had been in front of me, and what was the “bismint” anyhow?
The hall of the house was dark. I stood there not knowing where to go, and I jumped as a voice yelled beside me, seemingly at my feet, “Hi Cock, ain't'cha comin' dahn?”
A clatter of feet, and the man's head appeared from a dimly lit basement door which I had not noticed. I followed him down some rickety wooden stairs, fearing that any moment I would fall through. “The woiks!” the man said, proudly.
A dim amber bulb shone through a haze of cigarette smoke. The atmosphere was stifling. Along one wall was a bench with a drain running through its length. Photographic dishes stood at intervals along it. On a table off to the side stood a battered enlarger, while yet another table, covered in lead sheet, contained a number of large bottles.
“I'm 'Arry,” said the man, “Make up yer solutions so I kin see how yer shape.” As an afterthought, he added “We always use Johnson's Contrasty, brings 'em up real good.” 'Arry stood aside, striking a match on the seat of his trousers so that he could light a cigarette. Quickly I made up the solutions, developer stop-bath, and fixer.
“Okay,” he said. “Now get a holt of that reel of film and run off a few proofs. I went to make a test-strip, but he said, “No, don't waste paper, give'em five seconds.”
'Arry was satisfied with my performance. “We pays monthly, Cock,” he said. “Don't do no noods. Don't want no trouble with the cops. Give all the noods to me. The boys sometimes gets ideas and slips in special noods for special customers. Pass 'em all to me, see? Now you starts here at ten tonight and leaves at seven in the mornin, Okay? Then it's a deal!”
That night, just before ten, I walked along the dingy street, trying to see the numbers in the all-pervading gloom. I reached the house and climbed the untidy steps to the scarred and blistered door. Knocking, I stepped back and waited. But not for long. The door was flung open with a creak from its rusted hinges. The same woman was there, the one who had answered my knock earlier. The same woman, but what a different woman. Her face was powdered and painted, her hair was carefully waved and her almost transparent dress, with the hall light behind her, showed her plump form in clear detail. She directed a wide, tooth smile at me and said, “Come in Dearie. I'm Marie. Who sent you?” Without waiting for my reply, she bent over towards me her low-cut dress sagging dangerously, and continued, “It’s thirty shillings for half an hour, or three pun' ten for the whole night. I know tricks, Dearie!”
As she moved to permit me to enter, the hall light shone upon my face. She saw my beard and glowered at me. “Oh, it's you!” she said frostily, and the smile was wiped from her face as chalk is wiped from a blackboard by a wet rag. She snorted, “Wasting my time! The very idea of it! Here, you,” she bawled, “you will have to get a key, I'm usually busy at this time o'night.”
I turned, shut the street door behind me, and made my way down to the dismal basement. There were stacks of cassettes to be developed, it seemed to me that all the photographers in London had dumped their films here. I worked in the Stygian darkness unloading cassettes, fixing clips to one end and inserting them in the tanks. “Clack-clack-clack” went the timer clock. Quite suddenly the timer bell went off, to tell me that the films were ready for the stop bath. The unexpected sound made me leap to my feet and bump my head against a low beam. Out with all the films, into the stop bath for a few minutes. Out again and into the fixing bath for a quarter of an hour. Another dip, this time in hypo eliminator, and the films were ready for washing. While this was being done, I switched on the amber light and enlarged up a few proofs.
Two hours later I had the films all developed, fixed, washed, and quick-dried in methylated spirits. Four hours on, and I was making rapid progress with the work. I was also becoming hungry. Looking about me, I could see no means of boiling a kettle. There wasn't even a kettle to boil, anyway, so I sat down and opened my sandwiches and carefully washed a photographic measure in order to get a drink of water. I thought of the woman upstairs, wondering if she was drinking beautiful hot tea, and wishing that she would bring me a cup.
The door at the head of the basement stairs was flung open with a crash, letting in a flood of light. Hastily I jumped up to cover an opened packet of printing paper before the light spoiled it, as a voice bawled, “Hey! You there! Want a cuppa? Business is bad tonight and I just made meself a pot before turning in. Couldn't get you out of my mind. Must have been telepathy.” She laughed at her own joke and clattered down the stairs. Putting down the tray, she sat on the wooden seat, exhaling noisily.
“Phew!” she said, “Ain't 'alf 'ot down here.” She undid the belt of her dressing-gown, pulled it open—and to my horror she had nothing on beneath! She saw my look and cackled, “I'm not trying for you, you've got other developments on your hands tonight.” She stood up, her dressing-gown falling to the ground, and reached for the stack of drying prints. “Gee!” she exclaimed, leafing through them, “What mugs. Don't know why these geezers have their pictures took.” She sat down again, apparently abandoning her dressing-gown without regret—it was hot here, and I was getting hotter!
“Do you believe in telepathy?” she asked.
“Of course I do!” I replied.
“Well I saw a show at the Palladium and they did telepathy there. I said it was genuine, but the fellow who took me said it was all a fake.” . . .
There is an oriental legend about a traveler on the wide Gobi desert, his camel had died, and the man was crawling along, almost dying of thirst. Ahead of him he suddenly saw what appeared to be a waterskin, a goatskin filled with water which travelers carry. Hurrying desperately to the skin, he bent down to drink, and found it was merely a skin stuffed with first class diamonds which some other thirsty traveler had thrown away to lighten his load. Such is the way of the West, people seek material riches, seek technical advancement, rockets with bigger and better bangs, pilotless aircraft, and attempted investigation in space. The real values, astral traveling, clairvoyance, and telepathy they treat with suspicion, believing them to be fakes or comic stage turns.
When the British were in India it was well known that the Indians could send messages long distances, telling of revolts, impending arrivals, or any news of interest. Such messages would travel the country in mere hours. The same thing was noticed in Africa and was known as the “Bush telegraph”. With training, there need be no telegraph wires! No telephones to jangle our nerves. People could send messages by their own innate abilities. In the East there have been centuries of study into such matters; Eastern countries are “sympathetic” to the idea and there is no negative thought to impede the working of the gifts of Nature.
“Marie,” I said, “I will show you a little trick which demonstrates telepathy, or Mind over Matter. I being the Mind, you being the Matter.”
She looked at me suspiciously, even glowered for a moment, and then replied, “Orlright, anything for a lark.” I concentrated my thoughts on the back of her neck, imagining a fly biting her. I visualized the insect biting. Suddenly Marie swatted the back of her neck using a very naughty word to describe the offending insect. I visualized the bite being stronger, and then she looked at me and laughed. “My!” she said, “If I could do that I certainly would have some fun with the fellows who visit me!”
For night after night I went to the slovenly house in that drab back street. Often, when Marie was not busy, she would come with a teapot of tea to talk and to listen. Gradually I became aware that beneath her hard exterior, in spite of the life which she led, she was a very kind woman to those in need. She told me about the man who employed me and warned me to be at the house early on the last day of the month.
Night after night I developed and printed and left everything ready for an early morning collection. For a whole month I saw no one but Marie, then on the thirty-first, I stayed on late. About nine o'clock a shifty-looking individual came clattering down the uncarpeted stairs. He stopped at the bottom, and looked at me with open hostility. “Think you are going to get paid first, eh?” he snarled. “You are night man, get out of here!”
“I will go when I am ready, not before,” I answered.
“You—!” he said, “I'll teach you to give me none of yer lip!”
He snatched up a bottle, knocked off the neck against a wall, and came at me with the raw, jagged edge aimed straight at my face. I was tired, and quite a little cross. I had been taught fighting by some of the greatest Masters of the art in the East. I disarmed the measley little fellow—a simple task—and put him across my knees, giving him the biggest beating he had ever had.
Marie, hearing the screams, dashed out from her bed and now sat on the stairs enjoying the scene! The fellow was actually weeping, so I shoved his head in the print-washing tank in order to wash away his tears and stop the flow of obscene language. As I let him stand up, I said, “Stand in that corner. If you move until I say you may, I will start all over again!” He did not move.
“My! That was a sight for sore eyes,” said Marie. “The little runt is a leader of one of the Soho gangs. You have got him frightened, thought he was the greatest fighter ever, he did!”
I sat and waited. About an hour later, the man who had employed me came down the stairs, turning pale as he saw me and the gangster. “I want my money,” I said. “It's been a poor month, I haven't any money, I have had to pay Protection to him,” he said, pointing to the gangster.
I looked at him. “D'you think I'm working in this stinking hole for nothing?” I asked.
“Give me a few days and I'll see if I can rake some up. He”—pointing to the gangster—“takes all my money because if I don't pay him he gets my men in trouble.”
No money, not much hope of getting any, either! I agreed to continue for another two weeks to give “the Boss” time to get some money somewhere. Sadly I left the house, thinking how fortunate it was that I cycled to Clapham in order to save fares. As I went to unchain my cycle, the gangster sidled furtively up to me. “Say, Guv',” he whispered hoarsely, “d'ye want a good job? Lookin' arter me. Twenty quid a week, all found.”
“Get out of it, you runny-nosed little squirt,” I answered dourly.
“Twenty-five quid a week!”
As I turned toward him in exasperation he skipped nimbly away, muttering, “Make it thirty, top offer, all the wimmin you want, and the booze you kin drink, be a sport!”
At the sight of my expression he vaulted over the basement railing and disappeared into somebody's private rooms. I turned, mounted the bicycle, and rode off.
For nearly three months I kept the job, doing processing and then having a turn on the streets as street-photographer, but neither I nor the other men got paid. At last, in desperation, we all finished.
By now we had moved to one of those dubious Squares in the Bayswater district, and I visited Labor Exchange after Labor Exchange in an attempt to get work. At last, probably in order to get rid of me, one official said, “Why don't you go to the Higher Appointments branch, at Tavistock Square? I'll give you a card.” Full of hope I went to Tavistock Square. Wonderful promises were made to me. Here is one of them:
I replied, “Do they pay traveling expenses?”
“Oh! Dear dear no!” was the emphatic reply, “You will have to go at your own expense.”
On another occasion I traveled—at my own expense—to Cardigan in Wales. A man with a knowledge of civil engineering was required. I traveled, at my own expense, across England and into Wales. The Station was a shocking distance from the place of interview. I trudged through the streets of Cardigan and reached the other side. “My, my! It is indeed a long way yet, look you!” said the pleasant woman of whom I sought directions. I walked on, and on, and at last reached the entrance to a house hidden by trees. The drive was well kept. It was also very long; uphill. At last I reached the house. The amiable man whom I saw looked at my papers (which I had had sent to me in England from Shanghai). He looked, and nodded approvingly. “With papers such as these you should have no difficulty in gaining employment,” he said. “Unfortunately you have no experience in England on civil engineering contracts. Therefore I cannot offer you an appointment. But tell me,” he asked, “You are a qualified doctor, why did you also study Civil Engineering? I see you have a Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering.”
“As a medical man, I was going to travel to remote districts, and I wanted to be able to build my own hospital,” I said.
“H'mmph!” he grunted, “I wish I could help you, but I cannot.”
Off I wandered through the streets of Cardigan, back to the dreary railway station. There was a two-hour wait for a train, but at last I arrived home to report, once again, no job. The next day I went back to the Employment Agency. The man sitting at his desk—did he ever move? I wondered, said, “I say, Old Boy, we simply cannot talk here. Take me out to lunch and I may be able to tell you something, what?”
For more than an hour I loitered about in the street outside, looking in the windows, and wishing that my feet would stop aching. A London policeman sourly watched me from the other side of the street, apparently unable to decide if I was a harmless individual or a prospective bank robber. Perhaps his feet were aching too! At last the Man was separated from his desk and came clattering down the creaky stairs. “A Number Seventy-Nine, Old Boy, we will take a Number Seventy-Nine. I know a nice little place, quite moderate for the service they give.” We walked up the street, boarded a “79” bus, and soon reached our destination, one of those restaurants in a side street just off a main thoroughfare where the smaller the building the higher the charge. The Man Without his Desk and I had our lunch, mine a very frugal one and his exceedingly ample, then, with a sigh of satisfaction, he said, “You know, Old Boy, you fellows expect to get good appointments, but do you ever think that if the appointments available were that good, we of the staff would take them first? Our own jobs do not allow us to live in comfort, you know.”
“Well,” I said, “there must be some way of obtaining employment in this benighted city or outside it.”
“Your trouble is that you look different, you attract attention. You also look ill. Maybe it would help if you shaved off your beard.” He gazed at me reflectively, obviously wondering how to make a graceful exit. Suddenly he looked at his watch and jumped to his feet in alarm; “I say, Old Boy, I must simply fly, the old Slave Master will be watching y'know.” He patted my arm and said, “Ta! Ta! Don't waste money coming to us, we simply have no jobs except for waiters and their ilk!” With that he turned in a whirl and was gone, leaving me to pay his quite considerable bill.
I wandered out and along the street. For want of something better to do, I looked at small advertisements in a shop window. “Young widow with small child wants work . . .” “Man, able to undertake intricate carvings, needs commissions.” “Lady Masseuse gives treatment at home.” (I'll bet she does, I thought!) As I walked away, I pondered the question; if the orthodox agencies, bureaux, exchanges etc., could not help me, then why not try an advertisement in a shop window. “Why not?” said my poor tired feet as they pounded hollowly on the hard, unsympathetic pavement.
That night, at home, I racked my brains trying to work out how to live and how to make enough money to carry on with Aura research. At last, I typed six postcards saying, “Doctor of Medicine (Not British Registered) offers help in psychological cases. Enquire within.” I did another six which read, “Professional man, very widely traveled, scientific qualifications, offers services for anything unusual.
Excellent references. Write Box—” The next day, with the advertisements prominently displayed in certain strategic windows in London shops, I sat back to await results. They came. I managed to obtain enough psychological work to keep me going and the flickering fires of our finances slowly improved. As a sideline I did free-lance advertising, and one of the greatest pharmaceutical firms in England gave me part-time work. The very generous and human Director, a doctor, whom I saw, would have taken me on but for the Staff Insurance Scheme which was in force. I was too old and too sick. The strain of taking over a body was terrible. The strain of having the molecules of the “new” body exchanged for those of my own was almost more than I could stand, yet, in the interests of science, I stuck it out. More frequently now I traveled in the astral to Tibet by night or on week-ends when I knew that I should not be disturbed, for to disturb the body of one who is astral traveling can so easily be fatal. My solace was in the company of those High Lamas who could see me in the astral, and my reward was in their commendation of my actions. On one such visit I was mourning the passing of a very much beloved pet, a cat with intelligence to put many humans to shame. An old lama, with me in the astral, smiled in sympathy, and said, “My Brother, do you not remember the Story of the Mustard Seed?” The Mustard Seed, yes! How well I remembered it, one of the teachings of our Faith. . .
The poor young woman had lost her first-born child. Almost demented with grief she wandered through the streets of the city, pleading for something, someone, to bring her son back to life. Some people turned away from her in pity, some sneered and mocked her, calling her insane that she should believe her child could be restored to life. She would not be consoled, and none could find words with which to ease her pain. At last an old priest, noting her utter despair, called her and said, “There is only one man in the whole world who can help you. He is the Perfect One, the Buddha who resides at the top of that mountain. Go and see him.”
The young bereaved mother, her body aching with the weight of her sorrow, slowly walked up the hard mountain path until at last she turned a corner and saw the Buddha seated upon a rock. Prostrating herself, she cried “Oh! Buddha! Bring my son back to life.” The Buddha rose and gently touched the poor woman, saying, “Go down into the city. Go from house to house and bring to me a mustard seed from a house in which no one has ever died.” The young woman shouted with exultation as she rose to her feet and hastened down the mountain side. She hurried to the first house and said, “The Buddha bids me bring a mustard seed from a house which has never known death.”
“In this house,” she was told, “many have died.” At the next house she was told, “It is impossible to tell how many have died here, for this is an old house.”
She went from house to house, throughout that street, to the next street, and the one after. Scarcely pausing for rest or food, she went through the city from house to house and she could not find a single house which had not at some time been visited by death.
Slowly she retraced her steps up the mountain slopes. The Buddha was, as before, sitting in meditation. “Have you brought the mustard seed?” He asked.
“No, nor do I seek it any more,” she said. “My grief blinded me so that I thought that only I suffered and sorrowed.”
“Then why have you again come to me?” asked the Buddha.
“To ask you to teach me the truth,” she answered.
And the Buddha told her: “In all the world of man, and all the world of Gods, this alone is the Law: All things are impermanent.”
Yes, I knew all the Teachings, but the loss of one dearly loved was still a loss. The old lama smiled again and said, “A beautiful Little Person shall come to you to cheer your extraordinary difficult and hard life. Wait!”
Some time after, several months after, we took the Lady Ku'ei into our home. She was a Siamese kitten of surpassing beauty and intelligence. Brought up by us as one would bring up a human, she has responded as a good human would. Certainly she has lightened our sorrows and eased the burden of human treachery.
Free-lance work without any legal standing was difficult indeed. Patients subscribed to the view that; the Devil was ill, the Devil a monk would be. The Devil was well, the Devil was he! The stories which defaulting patients told to explain their non-payment would fill many books, and cause the critics to work overtime. I continued my search for permanent work.
“Oh!” said a friend, “you can do free-lance writing, “ghost” writing. Have you thought of that? A friend of mine has written a number of books, I will give you an introduction to him.” Off I went to one of the great London Museums to see the friend. Into an office I was shown, and for a moment I thought I was in the Museum storeroom!
I was afraid to move in case I knocked something over, so I just sat and became weary of sitting. At last “the Friend” came in. “Books?” he said. “Free-lance writing? I'll put you in touch with my agent. He may be able to fix you up.” He scribbled industriously, and then handed me a paper with an address upon it. Almost before I knew what had happened, I was outside the office. “Well,” I thought, “Will this be another wild-goose chase?”
I looked at the piece of paper in my hand. Regent Street? Now, which end of the street would it be? I got out of the train at Oxford Circus, and with my usual luck, found that I was at the wrong end! Regent Street was crowded, people seemed to be milling round the entrance of the big stores. A Boys' Brigade or Salvation Army Band, I did not know which, was proceeding noisily down Conduit Street. I walked on, past the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Company, thinking how a little of their wares would enable me to get on with research. Where the street curved to enter Piccadilly Circus I crossed the road and looked for that wretched number. Travel Agency, Shoe Shop, but no Authors' Agent. Then I saw the number, sandwiched in between two shops. In I went to a little vestibule at the far end of which was an open lift. There was a bell push, so I used it. Nothing happened. I waited perhaps five minutes and then pressed the button again.
A clatter of feet, “You brought me up from the coal 'ole!” said a voice. “I was just 'avin' a cup of tea. Which floor d'ye want?”
“Mr. B—,” I said, “I do not know which floor.” “Aw, third floor,” said the man. “ 'E's in, I took 'im up. This is it,” he said, sliding open the iron gate. “Turn right, in that door.” With that he disappeared back to his cooling tea.
I pushed open the door indicated and walked up to a little counter. “Mr. B—?” I said. “I have an appointment with him.” The dark haired girl went off in search of Mr. B— and I looked around me. At the other side of the counter girls were drinking tea. An elderly man was being given instruction about delivering some parcels. There was a table behind me with a few magazines upon it—like in a dentist's waiting room, I thought—and on the wall was an advertisement for some publishers. The office space seemed to be littered with parcels of books, and newly-opened typescripts were in a neat row against a far wall.
“Mr. B— will be with you in a moment,” said a voice, and I turned to smile my thanks to the dark-haired girl. At that moment a side door opened, and Mr. B— came in. I looked at him with interest for he was the first Authors' Agent I had ever seen—or heard of! He had a beard, and I could visualize him as an old Chinese Mandarin. Although an Englishman, he had the dignity and courtesy of an elderly, educated Chinese of which there is no peer in the West.
Mr. B— came, greeted me and shook my hand, and let me through the side door to a very small room which reminded me of a prison cell without the bars. “And now what can I do for you?” he asked.
“I want a job,” I said.
He asked me questions about myself, but I could see from his aura that he had no job to offer, that he was being courteous because of the man who had introduced me. I showed him my Chinese papers, and his aura flickered with interest. He picked them up, examined them most carefully, and said, “You should write a book. I think I can get one commissioned for you.” This was a shock which almost bowled me over; me write a book? Me? About me? I looked at his aura carefully in order to see if he really meant it or if it was just a polite “brush-off”. His aura said that it was meant but that he had a doubt as to my writing ability. As I took my leave his last words were, “You really should write a book.”
“Aw, don't look so glum” said the liftman. “The sun is shining outside. Didn't he want your book?”
“That's just the trouble,” I replied, as I got out of the lift, “He did!”
I walked along Regent Street thinking that everyone was mad. Me write a book? Crazy! All I wanted was a job providing enough money to keep us alive and a little over so that I could do auric research, and all the offers I had was to write a silly book about myself.
Some time before I had answered an advertisement for a Technical Writer for instruction books in connection with aircraft. By the evening mail I received a letter asking me to attend for an interview on the morrow. “Ah!” I thought, “I may get this job at Crawley after all!”
Early the next morning, as I was having breakfast before going to Crawley, a letter dropped in the box. It was from Mr. B—. “You should write a book,” the letter said. “Think it over carefully and come and see me again.”
“Pah!” I said to myself, “I should hate to write a book!” Off I went to Clapham Station to get a train for Crawley.
The train was the slowest ever, to my mind. It seemed to dawdle at every station and grind along the stretches between as if the engine or the driver was at the last gasp. Eventually I arrived at Crawley. The day was swelteringly hot now and I had just missed the bus. The next one would be too late. I plodded along through the streets, being misdirected by person after person, because the firm I was going to see was in a very obscure place. At long last, almost too tired to bother, I reached a long, unkempt lane. Walking along it I finally reached a tumble-down house which looked as if a regiment of soldiers had been billeted there.
“You wrote an exceptionally good letter,” said the man who interviewed me. “We wanted to see what sort of man could write a letter like that!”
I gasped at the thought that he had brought me all this way out of idle curiosity. “But you advertised for a Technical Writer,” I said, “and I am willing for any test.”
“Ah! Yes,” said the man, “but we have had much trouble since that advertisement was inserted, we are reorganizing and shall not take on anyone for six months at least. But we thought you would like to come and see our firm.”
“I consider you should pay my fare,” I retorted, “as you have brought me here on a fool's errand.”
“Oh, we cannot do that,” he said. “You offered to come for an interview; we merely accepted your offer.”
I was so depressed that the long walk back to the station seemed even longer. The inevitable wait for a train, and the slow journey back to Clapham. The train wheels beneath me seemed to say: “You should write a book, you should write a book, you should write a book.” In Paris, France, there is another Tibetan lama who came to the West for a special purpose. Unlike me, circumstances decreed that he should evade all publicity. He does his job and very few people know that he was once a lama in a Tibetan lamasery at the foot of the Potala. I had written to him asking his opinion and—to anticipate a little—it was to the effect that I would be unwise to write.
Clapham Station looked dirtier and dingier than ever, in my unhappy state of mind. I walked down the ramp to the street, and went home. My wife took one glance at my face and asked no questions. After a meal, although I did not feel like eating, she said: “I telephoned Mr. B— this morning. He says you should do a synopsis and take it for him to see.” Synopsis! The mere thought sickened me. Then I read the mail which had arrived. Two letters saying that “the position had been filled. Thank you for applying,” and the letter from my lama friend in France.
I sat down at the battered old typewriter which I had “inherited” from my predecessor, and started to write. Writing to me is unpleasant, arduous. There is no “inspiration”, nor have I any gift, I merely work harder than most at a subject, and the more I dislike it, the harder and faster I work so that it is the sooner completed.
The day drew to a weary end, the shadows of dusk filled the streets and were dispelled as the street lamps came on to shed a garish glow over houses and people. My wife switched on the light and drew the curtain. I typed on. At last, with stiff and aching fingers, I stopped. Before me I had a pile of pages, thirty of them, all closely typed. “There!” I exclaimed. “If that does not suit him I will give up the whole thing, and I hope it does not suit him!”
The next afternoon I called on Mr. B— again. He looked once more at my papers, then took the synopsis and settled back to read. Every so often he nodded his head approvingly, and when he had finished, said, very cautiously, “I think we may be able to get it placed. Leave it with me. In the meantime write the first chapter.”
I did not know whether to be pleased or sorry as I walked down Regent Street towards Piccadilly Circus. Finances had reached a dangerously low point, yet I just hated the thought of writing about myself.
Two days later I received a letter from Mr. B— asking me to call, telling me that he had good news for me. My heart sank at the thought, so I was going to have to write that book after all! Mr. B— beamed benevolently upon me. “I have a contract for you,” he said, “but first I would like to take you to see the publisher.” Together we went off to another part of London and entered a street which used to be a fashionable district, with high houses. Now the houses were used as offices, and people who should have been living in them lived in remote districts. We walked along the street and stopped at an undistinguished-looking house. “This is it,” said Mr. B—. We entered a dark hallway and mounted a curving flight of stairs to the first floor. At last we were shown in to Mr. Publisher, who seemed a little cynical at first, only gradually warming up. The interview was of short duration and then we were back on the street.
“Come back to my office—dear me! Where are my spectacles?” said Mr. B—, feverishly going through his pockets in search of the missing glasses. He sighed with relief as he found them, continuing, “Come back to the office, I have the contract ready to sign.”
At last here was something definite, a contract to write a book. I decided that I would do my part, and hoped that the publisher would do his. Certainly The Third Eye has enabled Mr. Publisher to put “a little jam on it!”
The book progressed, I did a chapter at a time and took it in to Mr. B—. On a number of occasions I visited Mr. and Mrs. B—at their charming home, and I would here like particularly to pay tribute to Mrs. B—. She welcomed me, and few English people did that. She encouraged me, and she was the first English woman to do so. At all times she made me welcome, so—thank you, Mrs. B—!
My health had been deteriorating rapidly in London's climate. I struggled to hold on while finishing the book, using all my training to put aside illness for a while. With the book finished, I had my first attack of coronary thrombosis and nearly died. At a very famous London hospital the medical staff were puzzled indeed by many things about me, but I did not enlighten them; perhaps this book will!
“You must leave London,” said the specialist. “Your life is in danger here. Get away to a different climate.”
“Leave London?” I thought. “But where shall we go? At home we had a discussion, discussing ways and means and places to live. Several days later I had to return to the hospital for a final check. “When are you going?” asked the specialist. “Your condition will not improve here.”
“I just do not know,” I replied. “There are so many things to consider.”
“There is only one thing to consider,” he said impatiently, “Stay here and you will die. Move and you may live a little longer. Do you not understand that your condition is serious?”
Once again I had a heavy problem to face.