Om -- The Secret of Ahbor Valley by Talbot Mundy
A man is what he is. He starts from where he is. He may progress, or he may retrogress. All effort in his own behalf is dead weight in the scale against him. All effort in behalf of others is a profit to himself; notwithstanding which, unless he first improve himself he can do nothing except harm to others. There is no power in the universe, nor any form of intercession that can separate a cause from its effect, action from reaction, or a man from retribution for his deeds.
-- FROM THE BOOK OF THE SAYINGS OF TSIANG SAMDUP.
THE JADE OF AHBOR
Ommony sat still. Diana growled and chased some creature of imagination in her dreams. The Lama threw wood on the fire, and watched it as if he were much more interested in the outcome of that than in what answer Ommony might make.
"What makes you think I could do it?" Ommony asked, half stunned by the suggestion, vaguely and uncomfortably conscious that he was being invited to make himself the butt of half a world's ridicule, if of nothing worse.
"A flea -- a mouse -- a drop of water -- a piece of wood -- can do its duty," said the Lama. "Is a man less?"
"I will do mine," said Ommony, "if I can see it. But good God, man -- how can I take your place?"
"She -- and they -- can go to India very easily, my son, without you. They are all provided for. They will never lack for money. It may be you are not the right man to be my chela's friend and in that case it is better for you, and for her, and for the world that you accept no burden you can not bear.
"Do not deceive yourself, my son. There will be no personal ease, no basking in the stupifying rays of flattery. You will be accused of all the evil motives that lurk in the minds of your accusers. Lecherous men will accuse you of lying when you say she is your niece; and you can not prove the relationship. Thieves will accuse you of theft. Ambitious men will denounce your ambition. Traitors will accuse you of treachery toward the human race. Bigots will charge you with unpatriotic scheming. Men of outwardly unblemished aspect, but whose secret thoughts are viler than the froth of cesspools, will accuse you of secretly immoral practises. They will leave you not a shred of reputation. They will try to impoverish you; they will try to prove you insane; they will try to put you in prison."
"Very well," said Ommony. "I will do my best." He nodded, thrusting his stubborn jaw forward. The Lama could have said nothing better calculated to persuade him.
"And you will find," the Lama went on, nodding back at him, "here and there are men and women, who will accept what San-fun-ho can teach. Some of those will be traitors, who will try to learn in order that they may set up themselves as teachers and accumulate money and fame. Those will be your most dangerous enemies. But some will be honest and steadfast, and they will encourage others; for the West is moving forward on a cycle of evolution; and moreover, it is growing very weary of its own creeds and politics and competition. It begins to be ready at last to put the horse before the cart, instead of the cart before the horse as hitherto. There is a great change coming -- although this is Kali Yuga, and it is not wisdom to expect too much. The harvest takes care of itself -- none knows how many generations hence. This is a time for the sowing of the seeds of thought on which a whole world's destiny depends. I have sown my handful. I can sow no more."
"What makes you so sure you are going to die?" asked Ommony.
"The Ahbors, my son, will attend to it, for I have broken their law. I made them promises which I intend to break; I knew that I must, when I made the promises. There is that in me that blinded me to any other way out of the difficulty, and although I did my duty, that does not preserve me from the effects of wrong-doing. The Ahbors have their rights. This is their country. They protect this monastery and its secrets. They have protected me. Of my own free will I have availed myself of their protection and their law against admitting strangers. Do you remember Socrates, who broke the law of the Athenians, although he did his duty? He might have escaped after they condemned him, but he refused, although his friends insisted. And Socrates did well, my son; he had no right to avoid the consequences of his own acts; it was enough that he had told the Athenians some great truths, for he knew those truths, and it was the proper time to tell; if the Athenians had a law against telling the truth, that was their affair, not his. Socrates drank his poison, which was a simple little matter, and soon over with. Does it appear to you that the Athenians have even yet finished suffering from the injustice they inflicted?"
"But the Athenians could think. These Ahbors are mere savages," said Ommony.
"The Ahbors have their rights," the Lama answered. "They work out their own destiny. I work out mine. If I had been a wiser man, less blinded by my lower nature, I could have found a better way to save my chela than by deceiving the Abhors. But I was blind, so I took the only way I could. When I return to earth again, I am convinced I shall be less bad; and at least I shall owe no debt to the Ahbors, for I will pay it now."
"Why not leave all that to destiny?" Ommony objected.
"My son, there is no other judge in whose hands I can leave it! But destiny judges a man's unwillingness to pay, as surely as it judges his mistakes -- as surely as it rewards his hidden motives and his honesty. There is no thought hidden from the Higher Law, and no escape from rebirth, time and time again, until each individual learns wisdom by experience. The Ahbors will learn -- wisdom, some sooner than others; but they will -- not learn it by being deprived of opportunity to use their own judgment. If they choose to kill me, they must inevitably suffer; but I would rather they should kill me than that they should have killed that child, and for more than one reason. They can do very little harm by killing me; the wrong will not amount to much, because I bear no resentment. If they had killed her, they would have robbed the world."
"You have your rights," Ommony objected. "You're worth more than the Ahbors."
But the Lama's eyes twinkled humorously. "My son, you argue ignorantly, meaning well enough, but reckoning without the facts."
"You would not understand. My course is necessary -- never mind why, my son. It was entirely necessary for you to come to this place of your own free will; otherwise it would have been impossible for me to open your mind. I could have talked to you for ten years in India, and you would never have understood. But it was also necessary to provide for your admission to the valley, and for your safe return to India after I am dead. You were admitted because I told the Ahbors about your talking dog, and because I gave my own life as hostage, saying they might slay me if you should ever escape from the valley alive. I did that, knowing they would slay me in any event, when they should learn that San-fun-ho and the others have left the valley for ever. You see, my son, it is necessary I should die, in order to consume as soon as possible the consequences of an untruth. As for the Ahbors; they are very ignorant, but faithful to their valley and their own law, generous toward this monastery: it is better that they should kill me, than that they should be faithless to their laws and to their trust. I will do all I can to minimize the consequences for them."
A monk came in again with food, and once more the Lama amused himself by feeding Diana. "Make her do tricks," he insisted, and rewarded her with handfuls of food after each performance, he and the monk laughing as if it were the most interesting and amusing business in the world. The sun had gone down over the mountains and there was a gloom within the chamber that affected Ommony's nerves, for it seemed to foretell tragedy, but the Lama apparently had not a trouble on his mind. The moment the monk had gone Ommony began questioning:
"Does Elsa -- I mean, does San-fun-ho know anything about your plans?"
"Enough, my son. A little. She understands she has a destiny. She understands she is to take you with her into India."
The Lama rose to his feet, as if to avoid further conversation; but Ommony shot one more question at him:
"Does she know you expect to be killed?"
The Lama did not answer. His wrinkled face became expressionless.
"Where is she now?" asked Ommony.
The Lama led the way, in deepening gloom, along the wooden gallery that overhung the ravine, and through a door into the monastery, which appeared to be a patchwork nest of eaves and buildings connected by passages hewn in the rock. Some of it appeared as old as time, but parts were medieval; some was almost modern. There was an air of economically conserved affluence and studied chastity of design -- beauty everywhere, but less laid on than inherent in proportions and the almost exquisite restraint.
Pictures were hung on the plastered corridor walls at widely spaced intervals, apparently all drawn by the same hand. The Lama stopped for a second in front of one of them, done in pastel on paper: a study of an eagle soaring, balancing himself to catch the uplift of the changing wind. It might have been done by a Chinaman a thousand years ago, it was so full of life, truth and movement and, above all, so superbly beautiful.
"My chela" he said, and smiled, and passed on.
At one place, where the corridor turned at right angles and a lamp hung in chains from the ceiling, there was another pastel drawing, a portrait this one, of the Lama himself.
"Wrinkles and all!" he said, chuckling.
He stood beside Ommony and studied the portrait for more than a minute; it seemed to amuse him as much as it astonished Ommony, who caught his breath.
"My God!" Ommony exclaimed. "That's --"
"Yes," said the Lama, chuckling. "That old person was my God once. It takes us long to learn. But San-fun-ho drew the picture, and I saw myself through the eyes of my chela, which are very interesting. Notice, my son, how affectionate she is, and yet how truthful. Not one hidden foolishness escapes her; and she sets it all down. Yet she is as gentle as the rain on dry hills."
He passed on, opened a door, glanced in, and motioned Ommony to enter.
"School-room!" he said, and chuckled again, as if remembering a chain of incidents.
It looked about as much unlike a school-room as it would be easy to imagine. There was nobody in there, but it was lighted with kerosene lamps as if visitors were expected. Across the full width of the room at one end was a stage, provided with curtain, footlights, wings and painted scenery. There were comfortable seats and small, square, solid tables on the floor for twenty or thirty people; and there was a gallery, at the end opposite the stage, for twenty or thirty more. The place was scrupulously clean and tidy.
"Life, my son, is drama. Why teach how to drug the mind, when the purpose of life is to render it alert and active? Shakespeare was right. You remember? 'All the world's a stage.' No learning is of any value unless we can translate it into action. Bad thoughts produce hideous action; right thinking produces grace and symmetry; and the audience is almost as important as the play. Let the child act the part of a villain, and it learns to strive to be a hero; let the hero's part be a reward for genuine effort, and lo! sincerity becomes the goal. There have been plays enacted here that would have thrilled Shakespeare to the marrow of his manhood. San-fun-ho wrote most of them."
"Who were the audience?" asked Ommony.
"Monks -- Ahbors. The stupider the better. Let the actors strive to act so simply and sincerely that even monks and savages can understand. There have been plays acted on this stage that, I think would have converted even Christian missionaries from the error of their own self-righteousness."
He led the way out again along the corridor, and now he began to hurry, striding with the regular, long movements of a mountaineer. He had suddenly thrown off fifty years again, in one of those strange resurrections of youth that seemed to sweep over him at intervals. Ommony, with Diana at his heels, had all he could do to keep pace.
However, there were pauses. He opened doors here and there along echoing corridors, giving Ommony a glimpse of rooms, each one of which had some connection with the beloved chela. There was a bedroom, as plain and almost as severely furnished as a monastery cell, only that every single item in it was as perfect as material and craftsmanship could contrive, and the proportions, the color, and something else that was indefinable, produced an atmosphere of unconditioned peace. There was nothing out of place, and no unnecessary object in the room. The walls were pale daffodil yellow; the Chinese rug was blue; the bed-spread was old-rose. There were flowers in a Ming vase on a small square table, but no other ornament.
"These walls will not forget her," said the Lama. There was an agony within him, as his voice betrayed.
He led the way along a corridor, opening doors of rooms where the chela's companions had slept, making no comment. Those other rooms were more ornate than the chela's and vaguely, indefinably less beautiful; -- there was more furniture -- less character -- but tidiness and cleanliness beyond belief.
The monastery was honeycombed into a limestone mountain's heart. It was enormous. There was possibly accommodation for a thousand people, with perfect ventilation and no dampness, although how that was contrived did not appear. Nor was there any sign of its inhabitants, nor any sound, except the shuffling of Ommony's loose shoes and the solid thump of the Lama's bare feet as he strode with bowed head and the skirts of his long robe swinging.
They descended a long, hewn stairway presently and emerged, through a door a foot thick that was carved on both sides with dragons, into the open air. The rush and roar of water pouring into hollow caverns greeted them. They were now on that side of the monastery that Ommony had first seen, with the terraced amphitheater below them, but it was too dark to peer into its depths. The stars blinked down above a rim of mountains. "There will be a full moon," said the Lama, a propos apparently, of nothing.
He led down into the dark amphitheater, by paths and steps that linked the circling terraces, and turned, midway, into a tunnel whose dark opening was like an ink-blot in the shadow of rocks and trees. Ten yards along the tunnel Ommony heard him fumbling with a lock; a door swung almost silently; the Lama took him by the hand and pulled him forward, closing the door but not locking it. Then, in such utter darkness that all the senses were almost swallowed by it and Diana whimpered, the Lama led, pauseless, holding Ommony's hand as if it were a child's. The old man's grip was like a swordsman's, as if his vanished youth, reborn for the moment, were burning him up. The strange thrill that was consuming him communicated itself to Ommony through the linked hands.
At the end of an immeasurable distance -- (there was no sense of time or space in that impenetrable darkness) -- they emerged into gloom under an oval patch of starlit sky, on a ledge, an incalculable distance down the inside of a limestone pit -- somber, irregularly circular, enormous. The Lama sat down on a mat that somebody had placed for him -- signed -- and Ommony sat down beside him, on the same mat.
"Let the dog not wander away. Bid her lie here," he said, in a normal voice.
As Ommony's eyes grew gradually used to the gloom he discerned that they were very near the bottom of the pit, whose almost perpendicular flanks rose so high that the stars appeared like bright dots on a dark-blue dome that rested on the summit. His own breathing seemed abominably noisy in the silence.
In front of where they sat there was a sheer drop, but the bottom did not seem to be more than fifty feet below; and somewhere in the midst of the almost circular space into which he gazed there was an object, bulky, of no ascertainable shape, and apparently raised on a platform of rock so as to be almost on a level with the ledge on which they sat. Diana lay still, sniffing, one ear raised; there were humans not far away.
Presently there was a sound below -- apparently a footstep, and Diana growled at it. A lantern appeared, but it was impossible to tell whether the individual who carried it was man or woman. There were several more footsteps, and one word in a clear voice -- instantly recognizable -- the chela's. There began to be a prodigious phantom movement in the gloom. Something -- a great black cloth apparently -- was pulled by many hands and the shape of the object in the center changed. The lantern-light was reflected in a sea-green pin-point that spread and increased as the moonlight spreads on water, but much more fiery, and full of weird movement. The lantern suddenly went out, but the peculiar green glow had made such an impression that with his eyes shut, Ommony could still see evolving, glowing green.
"What is it?" he asked.
"The Jade of Ahbor."
The Lama's voice was solemn. He seemed almost to resent the question. However he went on speaking in a low voice.
"That fragment, that was broken off and stolen by an Ahbor, has been set back, but there is none nowadays who knows how to heal the break. There is a blemish. Thus one ignorant fool can spoil the product of a thousand wise men's labor. But that Ahbor was no better and no worse than they who ruin reputations, to possess an hour's self-righteousness. Others who should know better, will try to break my chela's spirit when the time comes -- some for their own amusement, some for profit, some because they hate the truth. But she is made of stronger stuff than stone."
His self-control was not so perfect as it had been. The last few words were in a tone of voice that fought with overwhelming sadness.
Ommony was about to ask a question when the Lama spoke again:
"My son, remember this: the highest motive is of no avail without proportion and a sense of fitness; because these are the life of wisdom. Time is a delusion. All is the eternal Now. But in a world in which all is delusion, of which time is a controlling element, there is a proper time for all things. We can not mount the camel that has passed us, nor the camel that has not yet come. Neither does the water that has gone by turn the mill-wheel. He who feels the force of destiny within him, waits, as birds wait for the sunrise -- as the seed waits for the spring. It is not enough to do the right thing. If the full moon shines at midday, what does it accomplish? If the drum beats out of time, what happens to the symphony? To discern the right time, and to act precisely then, is as important as the knowledge how to act. But discernment does not come by reason of desire; it comes by observation of essential truths -- as that the sun, the moon, the stars, the seasons and the tides keep their appointed path, and when they fail there is disaster. This is an appointed time. Mark well."
The somber silence and the ragged flanks of the pit, that towered upward through a million shapeless shadows to the star-pierced oval summit, combined to inspire dread -- but of what? Ommony could feel Diana trembling.
The Lama spoke again after a long pause, as dispassionately as a big clock ticking in the dark -- asserting measured, elemental facts.
"Remember. Remember each word, my son. I speak with death not far from me. At dawn the Ahbors go to the northern end of the valley, by the Tsang-po Falls, to await my coming. At noon I meet them."
He was silent for many minutes. Not until the silence had grown almost unendurable did he go on speaking.
"Lest the Ahbors harm themselves by slaying more than me, who am responsible, I have sent into Tibet all but a few of my monastery people. At noon I will try to reach agreement with the Ahbors, that if they slay me, for, having broken their law, they shall permit the others to return to the monastery, and a new Lama to be sent to hold authority. But as to the outcome of that I know nothing. It may be that the Jade must be hidden by the Tsang-po waters. There is a time for all things; it is not my province to know the time for that; there are others whose province it is."
He stared into the dark in front of him. When he spoke again, at the end of five minutes, his voice sounded almost as if he had left his body and were speaking to it and to Ommony.
"Remember every word. Those few, who have remained, are chosen men, who know the secret way. They will take you into India -- you, San-fun-ho and all the European chelas to Tilgaun -- the Tibetan chelas into Tibet by the route that leads through Sikhim, because they have a destiny that they can best fulfill in Tibet."
Followed another tense silence, broken by the long-drawn howl of an animal somewhere on the ledges half a mile above them. It sounded lonelier than the wail of a forgotten soul.
"I am not the guardian of Hannah Sanburn. Even as you and I, my son, she governs her own destiny. But she is good. No harm can come if she should leave Tilgaun, because she has done her work there, and it is another's turn. There is one who will take my place as trustee; he will present himself; I have written his appointment. There is one who will take her place; perhaps she is that one at whose house you were in Delhi; but that is Hannah Sanburn's business. There is one who will take your place; but that is your affair. No man is indispensable. He who clings to the performance of a duty when the work is done and another waits to carry evolution forward, is as the fungus on the living tree. He rots. The tree rots under him."
Silence again. A wedge of silver, creeping down the western side of the pit, dispersed the shadows and threw great fangs of limestone into high relief; but that was very far above them. Where they sat it seemed darker than ever.
"Remember every word, my son. I speak in the portal of death. I do not say that Hannah Sanburn shall go with you to the West. That may, or it may not be. I do say, tarry not in Tilgaun, because this is an appointed time. Three of the lesser chelas will go with San-fun-ho to the West. Let her select them. Let the others stay in Tilgaun, where as much awaits them as they have the character to do."
The beast in the dark loneliness above them howled again. Ommony sat watching the forerunner of the moonlight chasing shadows down the pit-side -- wondering. After nearly a quarter of a century in India he and Hannah Sanburn would be almost as much strangers in the West as San-fun-ho would be.
"There is a fitness in all things and a time for all things," said the Lama, as if he had read Ommony's mind. "But a great faith is required, and a sincerity that like the temper of the steel turns faith into a ready weapon and impenetrable armor. Hannah Sanburn has nobility. It may be, she may help you to serve San-fun-ho. But beware, my son, of the snare of personality. If ye two seek to serve each other, ye are like the two sides of a triangle that has no base, nor any purpose. But if ye both serve San-fun-ho, and she the world, the triangle is perfect." He paused again, then slowly turned his head and looked into Ommony's eyes. His own were like blue jewels burning in the dark.
"Without you," he said, "or without her, San-fun-ho will find others. She is my chela, and I know the power that is in her. But beware of being false! Better for you never to have been born! Better to die ten thousand deaths than to betray her through self-seeking! Let her alone, my son, unless you can follow all the way! Then, if she should lead you wrong, that will be her affair; in after lives you will have karma of sincerity, and she the fruit of false teaching -- if she should teach falsely. -- But I know my chela. She will lead upward, as an eagle, and all the enemies of light will spread their nets for her in vain!"
As he ceased speaking the whole western wall of the gigantic pit became suffused in silver, as the moon's edge crossed the eastern rim. Wan, scrawny crags of limestone yearned like frozen ghosts toward the light. The pit's awful nakedness lay revealed, its outlines dimmed in shadow, as mysterious, as silent and as measureless as the emotion born of gazing.
Suddenly, as the moon's disk appeared, there shone a green light in the midst of the pit -- a light that swirled as if in moving water, and increased in size, as if it multiplied itself within the substance it had touched. It grew into a pool -- a globe -- a sphere -- an ovoid mass of liquid green light, all in motion, transparent, huge -- afloat, it seemed, in black precipitated silence, two, or perhaps three hundred feet away. Slowly, very slowly, it became apparent that the egg-shaped mass was resting on seven upright stones, of the same color as itself, that were set beneath it on a platform of dark rock that rose exactly in the middle of the pit .
As the full moon floated into view the enormous mass of jade so caught the light that it seemed to absorb all of it. And suddenly a figure stood before the livid jade -- a girl's; she was the Gretchen-girl, with whom Ommony had spoken on the night when he first saw San-fun-ho's companions on the stage. She was draped in white, but the stuff glowed green in the jade's reflection, and as she peered into the enormous stone she held the end of the loose drapery across the lower portion of her face, like a shield, with her elbow forward. She gazed for about a minute, and then disappeared. Another took her place.
"It is only San-fun-ho who dares to look into the Jade for long," said the Lama solemnly. "It shows them all the horror of their lower selves. They look by moonlight. They must drape themselves, for they have much to overcome, and there is magic in the Jade. None but my chela -- none but San-fun-ho -- dares to face it in the full light of the sun."
One by one the seventeen girls appeared, looked deep into the Jade, and vanished into darkness.
"They are not bad," said the Lama. "Not bad, my son. There are not so many better women. Do you dare to look?"
But Ommony sat still.
"Better so," said the Lama. "In curiosity there is no wisdom. He who can not look long enough to see his higher nature shining through the lower, had better have seen nothing."
There commenced a chant, of women's voices, rising from the fathomless darkness below the Jade. It began by being low and almost melancholy, but changed suddenly into faster tempo and a rising theme of triumph, ending in a measured march of glory. There was no accompaniment, no drum-beat, but the final phrases pulsed with power, ending on a chord that left imagination soaring into upper realms of splendor. Then, in silence, as sublimely as the moon had sailed across the rim of the dark pit, the girls emerged out of the black night as if they had been projected by a magic lantern. No sound of footfall or of breathing reached across the intervening gap as, with restraint that told of strength in hand and limitless lore of rhythm, they danced their weaving measure seven times around the stone, as lovely to the eye as Grecian figures, cut in cameo on green and conjured into life. It was sheer spiritual magic.
There was not a wasted motion, not a step but symbolized the ordered, infinitely beautiful evolving of a universe; and as they passed behind the glowing jade their figures seemed to swim within the stone, as if they were nymphs afloat in moonlit water. But there was no sign yet of San-fun-ho.
"They shall remember this night!" said the Lama.
The fire within the Jade grew dim and died as the moon's edge passed beyond the crags. The girls vanished in black darkness.
"And so, you have seen the Jade. Few have seen that," said the Lama. "And you will find that there are very few who will believe you have seen it; but that is no harm, because most of those who would believe are merely credulous, of the sort who hunt miracles and seek to make themselves superior by short-cuts. Whereas there are no short-cuts, and there is no superiority of the sort they crave, but only a gradual increase of responsibility, which is attained by earned self-mastery."
Suddenly a voice came from the pit beneath them, clear and confident, -- the chela's:
"O Tsiang Samdup!"
The Lama answered with a monosyllable, his body rigid with emotion. His dim outline was like an eagle's startled from his aerie in the night.
"O Tsiang Samdup, the Ahbors have come for a conference. They ask for word with you."
"Cover the Jade," he answered.
There was presently a phantom movement, shapeless and billowy, as if a huge black cloth were being hauled back into place; and then the rain came, softly, steadily, until the air grew full of music made by little cataracts that splashed from rock to rock. The Lama sighed and, for a moment, his outline seemed to shrink as old age claimed him, but he threw that off and stood up, motioning to Ommony to move back under shelter of the rock.
"Wait there," he commanded, and vanished. Ommony could hear him climbing down into the darkness and presently two voices as he talked in low tones with the chela. Then silence, for a very long time, only broken by the music of the rain and a weird wind sighing on the upper ledges until wind and rain ceased, and there was only the tinkle of dripping water.
The dog crept close to Ommony for warmth, shivering at the loneliness. Ommony tried to memorize the Lama's conversation. He had almost forgotten the Jade. It was nothing as compared to the tremendous issues that the Lama dealt in. Thought groped in an unseen future. The sensation was of waiting on the threshold of a new world -- waiting to be born. The past lost all reality. The world he had known -- war -- selfishness -- corruption -- was a nightmare, wrought of hopelessness and full of useless aims. The future? It was his -- his own -- immensely personal to him. He was about to be born again into the old world, but with an utterly new consciousness of values. He knew he had a duty in the world; but he could not formulate it -- would not know how to begin -- only knew it was immensely dark and silent on the threshold.
The Lama's voice broke silence, speaking to the chela somewhere in the pit below:
"The first duty of a chela is obedience!"
Silence again. Not even wind or rain to break the stillness. At last the Lama's figure, like a shadow issuing from nothing, approaching along the ledge and sitting down near him -- but not near enough for conversation. Then, after a very long pause, the chela's voice, resonant and clear from somewhere in the distance:
"O Tsiang Samdup! I obey. And they obey me. May I wait until the dawn? It is not long."
The Lama gave assent -- one monosyllable -- then groaned, and came and sat closer to Ommony.
"My work is done," he said. "There is a limit to endurance."
He glanced up at the sky, but there was no sign yet of dawn.
A low chant came from the distance -- almost like the humming of a swarm of bees, but the Lama took no notice of it.
"She will go with you, thinking I come later. You may tell her in Tilgaun, and she will understand. She will be brave then. She will not forget she was my chela."
There was only the sound of humming after that until the crags around the rim of the great pit grew faintly luminous before the coming of the dawn, and the stars grew paler. Then the hum swelled into song, whose music sounded like the mystic evolution of new worlds; they were all girls' voices, thrilling with courage and exultation. Ommony strained his ears to catch the words, but the distance was too great. Somehow, although he could not penetrate the darkness, he felt as if a veil were lifting.
The song ceased, and in the hush that followed Tsiang Samdup rose to his feet.
"I go," he said quietly. "I am old, my son. I can not bear to say good-by to my beloved chela. May the gods, who guard your manhood, give you strength and honesty to serve her. She will ask for me. You may say to her: 'The first duty of a chela is obedience.' "
He turned into the tunnel, walking swiftly, and was gone. A silver bell rang, over in the distance, opposite, seven times, slow and distinct; then a pause, in which the overtones spread off into infinity; then seven times again. And as the last note faded into silence, dawn touched the crags with silver and the chela's voice rose young and glorious, intoning the oldest invocation in the world:
"O my Divinity, blend Thou with me . . . that out of darkness I may go forth in Light."
Daylight spread swiftly down the crags until it touched a ledge on which the chela stood, and all beneath that was darkness, like a pool of ink. Her right hand was raised. The other girls, beneath her, were invisible. Dawn glistened on her face.
Her lips moved and her breast swelled as she drew breath to intone the Word. And then, in chorus from the mist and darkness that enwrapped her feet, and from her own lips, came the magic, long-drawn syllable that has been sacred since before Atlantis sank under the ocean and new races explored new continents -- the Word that signifies immeasureable, absolute, unthinkable, all-compassing, for ever infinite and unattainable, sublime and holy Essence -- the Beginning and the End.
It rose, and rose, and died away among the crags, until the last reverberation echoed faintly from the upper levels and there came an answer to it, sonorous and strong, in a man's voice, from a crag beside a cave-mouth three hundred feet above the ledge where Ommony stood, nearly midway between him and the chela.
The Lama raised his right hand in a final benediction, turned into the cave and vanished. Then the chela's voice -- calling to Ommony as dawn sank deep into the pit, revealing her companions on a ledge below:
"O Gupta Rao -- change your name now! Wait for me. I am coming -- Tsiang
Samdup bids us go forth together!"
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