Om -- The Secret of Ahbor Valley by Talbot Mundy

We live in the eternal Now, and it is Now that we create our

destiny. It follows, that to grieve over the past is useless

and to make plans for the future is a waste of time. There

is only one ambition that is good, and that is: so to live

Now that none may weary of life's emptiness and none may have to do the task we leave undone.


Chapter VIII


No man can learn any more of India in twenty years, or in any length of time, than he can learn about himself; and that is a mystery, but it is the door to understanding. And that is why men like Ommony and John McGregor, who have given to India the whole of their active lives, will say in good faith that they know very little about the country. It is also why they are guarded in their praise of viceroys, and candidly suspicious of all politicians; why they listen to the missionary with emotion not entirely disconnected from cold anger; and why, when they return to England in late life, ripened by experience, they do not become leaders of men. Knowing how easily and how often they have deceived others and themselves have been deceived, they do not dare to pose as prophets.

However, there are naturally some things that they do know, guide-books, government reports and "experts" notwithstanding.

They know (some of them) that news travels up and down India without the aid of wire, semaphore or radio, and faster than any mechanical means yet invented can imitate. It seems to travel almost with the speed of thought, but although it gets noised abroad none will ever tell which individual released it. (1)

They also know that there are routes of travel, unconnected with the railway lines or trunk roads, not marked by recognizable signposts, and obscure to all who have not the key to them. Some of these routes are suspected to be religious in their origin and purpose; some are political, (and those are better understood). Some, they say, are survivals of forgotten periods of history when conquered people had to devise means of communication that could be kept absolutely secret from the conqueror.

At any rate, the routes are there, and are innumerable, crossing one another like lines on the palm of a man's hand. A man with the proper credentials (and whatever those are, they are neither written nor carried on the person) can travel from end to end of India, not often at high speed, but always secretly; and the strange part is, that he may cross a hundred other routes as unknown to himself as the one he travels by is secret from other people.

The routes are opened, closed and changed mysteriously. The men who use them seldom seem to know their exact detail in advance, and the fact that a man has traveled once by one of them (or even a dozen times) is no proof that he can return the same way. The underground route by which runaway slaves were smuggled from South to North before the Civil War in the United States is a crude and merely suggestive illustration of how the system works; and one thing is certain: these so-to-speak "underground" communications have nothing whatever to do with the ordinary pilgrim routes, although they may cross them at a thousand points. Like eternity, they seem to have neither beginning, end, nor relation to time; midnight is as high noon, and you cut into them at any time or point you please -- provided that you know how.

"Hotel, I suppose?" said McGregor, tooling the dogcart along at a slow trot through the deserted streets. (They were deserted, that is, of apparent life, but there are always scores of eyes alert in India.)

"No. Set me down in the Chandni Chowk. I'll tell you where to stop."

"Man alive, you can't go scouting in a dinner jacket!"

"Why not?" Ommony asked obstinately.

McGregor did not answer.

Ommony spoke his mind in jerky sentences.

"To-morrow morning -- this morning, I mean, be a good chap -- pack my things at the hotel -- forward them all to Tilgaun. Send some one you can trust. Let him leave them with Miss Sanburn -- bring back a receipt to you."

"Money?" asked McGregor, nodding.

"Plenty. If I need more I'll cash drafts on Chutter Chand."

"What name will you sign on them? I'd better warn him, hadn't I?"

"No need. I'll make a mark on the drafts that he'll recognize."

"Going to take the dog with you?"

"Of course."

McGregor smiled to himself. Ommony noticed it. "By the way, Mac, don't try to keep track of me."

"Um-m-m!" remarked McGregor.

Ommony's jaw came forward.

"I might not know but they would, Mac. You can't keep a thing like that from them. They'd close the Middle Way against me."

McGregor whistled softly. The Middle Way to Nirvana (2) is no particular secret; any one may read of it in any of a thousand books, and he may tread that Path who dares to declare war on desire. But that is esoteric, and no concern of the Secret Service. Exoterically speaking, "The Middle Way" is a trail that for more than a century the Secret Service has desired to learn with all its inquisitive heart.

"I mean it, Mac. All bets are off unless you promise."

"You needn't betray confidences," said McGregor. "You're not responsible, if I keep tabs on you."

"That's a naked lie, and you know it, Mac! I can get through, if I burn all bridges. I haven't learned what little I do know by letting you know what I was doing. You know that."

"Um-m-m! If you're killed -- or disappear?"

"That's my look-out."

"As a friend, you're all right. As an assistant, you're a disappointing, independent devil!" said McGregor. "You're as useful as a bellyache to open a can of corned beef with! All right. Dammit. Have your own way. Remember, I shall take you at your word. If you're ditched, there's no ambulance."

"Splendid! Then here's where I vanish -- pull up by that lamp-post, won't you? Well -- so long, old chap. Nothing personal -- eh, Mac?"

"No, damn you! Nothing personal. I wish I were coming with you. Good luck. Good-by, old chap."

They did not shake hands, for that might have implied that there was a dwindling friendship, to be bridged or denied recognition. Diana sprang down from behind and Dawa Tsering followed her. McGregor drove away, not looking back, and the sais -- the sole occupant now of the back seat -- sat with folded arms, staring straight along the middle of the street. But Ommony took no chances with the sais; he watched until the dog-cart turned a corner before he made a move of any kind.

Then he walked straight to a door between two shop-fronts and pounded on it. He had to wait about three minutes before the door was opened -- gingerly, at first, then after a moment's inspection, suddenly and wide.

A very sleepy-looking Jew confronted him -- a Jew of the long-nosed type, with the earlock that betokened orthodoxy. He had a straggly beard, which he stroked with not exactly nervous but exceedingly alert long fingers.

"Ommony! This time of night?" he said in perfectly good English; but there was nothing that even resembled English about his make-up. He wore a turban of embroidered silk and a Kashmir shawl thrown over a cotton shirt and baggy pantaloons. His bare feet showed through the straps of sandals.

"Let me in, Benjamin."

The Jew nodded and, holding a lantern high, led the way down a passage beside a staircase into a big room at the rear, that was piled with heaps of clothing -- costumes of every kind and color, some new, some second-hand, some worthy to be reckoned antiques. There were shelves stacked with cosmetics and aromatic scents. There were saddles, saddle-cloths and blankets; tents and camp-equipment; yak-hair shirts from over the Pamirs; prayer-mats from Samarkhand; second-hand dress suits from London; silk-hats, "bowlers," turbans; ancient swords and pistols; match-locks, adorned with brass and turquoise and notched in the butt suggestively. And there was a smell of all the ends of Asia, that Diana sniffed and deciphered as a Sanskrit scholar reads old manuscripts.

"I will have tea brought," said Benjamin, setting down the lantern and shuffling away in the dark toward the stairs. The impression was that he wanted time to think before indulging in any conversation.

Ommony sat down on a heap of blankets and beckoned Dawa Tsering to come closer to the light.

"Now you know where to find me," he said abruptly. "When the Jew returns he shall let you out by the back door. Find your way to that house in the courtyard. Tell those Tibetans that unless that letter -- you still have it? -- is delivered to the Lama, he shall never get that for which he came to Delhi. Do you understand?"

"Do you take me for a fool, Ommonee? You mean if he receives this letter he shall have the green stone? But that is the talk of a crazy man. Tell him he must buy the stone, and then let me do the bargaining!"

Ommony betrayed no more impatience than he used to when he was teaching the puppy Diana the rudiments of her education. "I see I have no use for you after all," he said, looking bored.

"Huh! A blind man could see better than that. It is as clear as this lantern-light that you and I are destined to be useful to each other. Nay, Ommonee, I will not go away! -- What is that? I am not worth paying? Is that so! Very well, I will stay and serve for nothing! -- Do you hear me, Ommonee? Huh! Those are the words of a great one of a bold one -- but it is nothing to me that you will not have me thrown into prison if I get hence. -- I say I will not go away! -- You will not answer, eh? -- Very well I will go with the letter and that message. Then we will see! One of these days you will tell me I was right. Where is that Jew bunnia [merchant]?"

Benjamin came shuffling back along the passage, looking like an elongated specter as he stood in the door with the dark behind him. Dawa Tsering swaggered up to him demanding to be let out, and from behind the Hillman's back Ommony made a signal indicating the back door. Benjamin, very wide awake now and taking in everything with glittering black eyes, picked up the lantern and, leaving Ommony in the dark, led the way into another large room at the rear, out of which a door opened into an alley.

"That one not only has a stink, he has a devil! Beware of him, Ommony!" he said, returning and sitting down on the blanket pile, making no bones about it, not waiting for an invitation. He and Ommony were evidently old friends. "My daughter will bring for us tea in a minute. Hey-hey! We have all grown older since you hid us in that forest of yours -- where the ghosts are, Ommony, and the wolves and the tigers! Gr-r-r-agh! What a time that was! Our own people lifting hands against us! None but you believing us innocent! Tch-tch-tch! That cave was a place of terrors, but your heart was good. I left my middle-age in that cave, Ommony. Since fifteen years ago I am an old man!"

The daughter came, carrying another lantern and a brass Benares tray, -- a large-eyed woman with black hair, plump and the wrong side of forty, dressed in the Hindu fashion, her big breasts bulging under a yellow silk shawl. She made as much fuss over Ommony as if he were a long-lost husband, but embarrassed him hardly at all, because she did not use English and the eastern words sounded less absurd than flattery does in any western tongue.

"The son-in-law? A-ha!" said Benjamin, "Mordecai does well. He is in Bokhara just now; but that is a secret. He buys Bokhara pieces from the Jews who became poor on account of the Bolshevism. Tay-yay! It is a long way to Bokhara, and no protection nowadays. We win or lose a fortune, Ommony!"

The daughter poured tea into China cups that had once been a rajah's and the three drank together as if it were a sacred rite, touching cups and murmuring words that are not in any dictionary. Then the daughter went away and Ommony, leaning back against the wall, with Diana's great head on his lap, discussed things with Benjamin that would have made McGregor's ears burn if he had had an inkling of them.

"Yes, Ommony, yes. I know which way the Lama travels. How do I know -- eh? How was it you knew that a she-bear had a young one with her. Because she ground her teeth -- wasn't that so? Well, I didn't know that, but I know a little about the Lama. Let me think. There is danger, Ommony, but -- but --" (Benjamin's eyes shone, and his fingers worked nervously, as if they were kneading something concrete out of unseen ingredients) " -- you love danger as I love my daughter! -- You remember the time when you secured the costume business for me in the Panch Mahal in Pegu -- when the rajah married and spent a fortune in a week?"

Ommony nodded. Together he and Benjamin had done things that are not included in the lives of routine loving mortals -- things that are forbidden -- things that the orthodox authorities declare are not so. And there is mirth in memories of that kind, more than in all the comedies at which one pays legitimately to look on. Benjamin cackled and stroked his beard reminiscently.

"Did the rajah ever learn that you and I were actors in that play? Heh-heh-heh! Did the priests ever discover it? Teh-teh-teh-heh-heh! Oh, my people! Eh-heh! You remember how the nautch-girls were inquisitive? Ommony, you had the key to the temple crypts in your hand that minute! What actresses they were! What incomparable artists! And what children! The half of them were in love with you, and the other half were so devoured by curiosity -- akh, how they wriggled with it! -- they would have betrayed the chief priest at a nod from you! And didn't they dislike me! I haven't your gift, Ommony, for getting into the hearts; I can only see behind the brains. And what I see -- but never mind. What times! What times! Did you never follow that up? Did you penetrate the crypt? Did you now?"

"No time. Had to get back to work."

"Ah, well -- you wouldn't tell me, I suppose. But why not once more be an actor? Ommony, you know all the Hindu plays. I have seen you act Pururavas and -- well -- believe me -- I sat and pinched myself -- I am telling you the truth! -- and even so -- but listen: the Lama Tsiang Samdup is planning to take a company of actors North for certain reasons!"

It would have been hard for any one who did not know him intimately to believe that Ommony, as he sat there against the wall in an ultra-conservative English dinner jacket, could act any part except that of an unimaginative Englishman. There was not one trace of Oriental character about him, nor a hint of artistry. The only suggestion that he might be capable of more than met the eye was Benjamin's manifest affection -- admiration -- half familiar, half-obsequious respect.

"I'm ready for anything," he said in a matter-of-fact voice. "The question is --"

"Do you dare! That is the question. Hah! You have the courage of a Jew! Dare you act all parts, Ommony? Oh -- oh, but the risk is -- Listen! There is a troupe of actors --"

Benjamin's long fingers began to knead the air excitedly, but Ommony sat still, staring straight before him, frowning a little -- aware that Benjamin was itching to divulge a confidence.

"Their director, Ommony, is a man named Maitraya -- His best male actor died -- He will have to act the leading roles himself unless --"

"I don't see the advantage," Ommony objected. But he did -- he saw it instantly.

"Listen, Ommony! No bargain is a good one unless all concerned in it are gainers! Maitraya owes me money. He can not pay. He is honest. He would pay me if he could. I hold his hundis [promissory notes]. I could ruin him. He must do as I say! Now listen! Listen! -- there would be a solution of his difficulties, and -- I might even be willing to advance just a little more money for his needs. He would not need much -- just a little. And he must do as I say -- you understand? He must take you if I say so. The Lama commissioned me to engage the actors --"

"But won't he want to know all about the actors?" Ommony asked guardedly. He knew better than to turn down Benjamin's proposals point-blank.

Benjamin grew suddenly calm, shot one keen glance at Ommony and changed his weapon, so to speak, into the other hand. It began to be clear enough that Benjamin had irons of his own to heat.

"Of course, if you ask me, Ommony -- if you were to ask my advice -- as a man to a man of business -- I would ask you, why not go straight to Tilgaun, and there wait for the Lama? He is searching you say for a piece of jade, which is in your possession. Will he not follow you to Tilgaun, if you go straight there? How much trouble you would save! How much risk you would avoid!"

"And how much information I might lose!"

"Show me the jade, Ommony."

"Can't. I've sent it to Tilgaun. The Lama doesn't know that. He thinks I've got it with me."

"Well? Then if you go to Tilgaun, won't he follow you?"

"Undoubtedly. But I prefer to follow him. It's this way: you and I, Benjamin, have been friends for fifteen years, haven't we? If you have anything you want to keep from me -- I don't doubt there are lots of things -- you tell me point-blank, and I'm careful to shut my eyes and ears. If I stumble on anything by accident, I dismiss it from mind; I forget it. If you tell me a secret in confidence, I keep it a secret -- take no advantage of you. I know you treat me in the same way. But the Lama is supposed to have been my friend for twenty years, although I've never met him to speak to -- never saw him until yesterday. He has always managed not to meet me, without ever giving any reason for it; and he has conveyed the impression that he is keeping some great secret from me, without having the courtesy to ask me to restrain natural curiosity. Now comes this piece of jade, with all sorts of mysterious side-issues. He traces it into my hands. Instead of asking me for it, and asking me, as one friend to another, not to follow up the mystery, he spies on me -- deliberately counts on my honesty and courtesy -- and keeps out of sight. He plans to meet me at Tilgaun, where his arm might be lots longer than mine. I used to consider him a wise old Saint, but lately he has made me suspect him of deep mischief. His spying on me is an open invitation to me to spy on him. I propose to find out all I can about him. If he has been using me as a stalking-horse all these years --"

"You could begin at Tilgaun, Ommony, just as easily as here," said Benjamin, stroking his beard. His eyes were glittering eagerly, but friendship apparently imposed the obligation to find fault with a plan if possible before helping to carry it out.

"No. He wants me to go straight to Tilgaun. I don't propose to play into his hands. The place to begin to unravel a mystery is at one or the other end of it."

"He may have traced you to my place, Ommony. If you should go with Maitraya, the Lama will know it. If he thinks you have the stone in your possession, he will --"

"Probably try to steal the stone. I'm hoping he will exhaust his ingenuity. I can create a mystery on my own account; he'll be puzzled. He won't dare to have me murdered until he knows for certain where the stone is. For fear of losing track of it altogether, he'll have to do everything possible to preserve my life and to save me from exposure."

"If he is clever, he will go straight to Tilgaun!" said Benjamin. "That is what I would do in his place. Then you would have to follow him."

"If he does that, well and good. But if my guess is right, he has a whole network of intrigue to attend to. He proposed to have me cool my heels in Tilgaun while he attended to business on the way."

Benjamin began to pace the floor between the heaps of assorted clothing. He seemed to be torn between personal interest and desire to give Ommony the soundest possible advice. He muttered to himself. His arms moved as if he were arguing. Once he stood still with his back toward Ommony and bit his nails. Then he walked the floor again three or four times, almost stopping each time as he passed Ommony. At last he stood still in front of him.

"If I tell you -- things that I should not tell -- what will you think of me?" he asked.

Ommony laughed abruptly. "Suppose I tell you first what I think you have in mind!" he said. "You old simpleton! Why do you suppose I came straight to you at this hour of the night?" (He glanced up at the wall behind him.) "You didn't get that devil-mask in Delhi! It's hanging there to inform some sort of Tibetans that they've come to the right place. I've known for more than nine years that you're the business agent for a monastery in the Ahbor country. However, it's your secret -- you don't have to tell me a thing you don't want to."

Benjamin stared at him -- a rather scandalized, a rather astonished, a rather sly old Benjamin, with his turban a little to one side and his lower lip drooping. There was a hint of terror in his eyes.

"How much else do you know? You? Ommony!" he demanded.

"Nothing. That is -- no more than a blind man who knew you intimately couldn't help knowing. Shut up, if you want to. I don't pry into my friends' affairs, and you're not like the Lama. You've kept nothing from me I was entitled to know."

"Not -- not like the Lama! Ommony -- if you knew!"

Benjamin began mumbling to himself in Spanish, but there were Hebrew words interspersed with it. Ommony, knowing no Hebrew or Spanish, let him mumble on, frowning as if busy with his own thoughts. There was still an hour before dawn, when the stirring of a thousand other thoughts would inevitably break the chain of this one -- plenty of time for Benjamin to outpour confidences -- nothing to be gained by urging him.

"Tsiang Samdup the Lama is good -- he is better than both of us!" Benjamin said at last emphatically. He seemed to be trying to convince himself. "God forbid that I should play a trick on him! But -- but --"

Not a word from Ommony. To all appearance he was brown-studying over something else, twisting Diana's ear, staring into the shadows beyond the lantern, so intent on his own thoughts that he did not move when a rat scurried over his feet. Benjamin burst into speech suddenly:

"Fifteen -- nearly sixteen years, Ommony, I have been agent for the Lama Tsiang Samdup! You would never believe the things he buys! Not ordinary things! And he pays with bullion-gold bars! Wait -- I show you!"

He unlocked a safe in the corner of the store and produced three small bars of solid gold, giving them to Ommony to weigh in the palm of his hand. But there was no mark upon them; nothing to identify their place of origin.

"I have had dozens like those from him -- dozens!"

But Ommony could not be tempted to ask questions; he knew Benjamin too well -- suspected that Benjamin was too shrewd an old philosopher to engage in nefarious trade; also that he was itching to divulge a confidence. If you scratch a man who itches, impulse ceases. Besides, he was perfectly sincere in not wanting to pry into Benjamin's private affairs. To listen to them was another matter. Benjamin came and sat down on the pile of blankets -- laid a hand on Ommony's shoulder -- thrust his chin forward, and screwed his eyes up.

"If he should know I told --"

"He'll never learn from me."

"Girls! Nice -- little -- young ones!"

Ommony looked startled -- stung. There was the glare in his eyes of a man who has been scurvily insulted.

"Little European girls! Little orphans! Seven! Eh, Ommony? Now what do you think? And all the supplies for them -- constantly -- books -- little garments. Ah! But they grow, those young ones! Stockings! Shoes! Now, what do you think of that?"

"Are you lying?" Ommony asked in a flat voice.

"Would I lie to you! Would I tell it to any other man. First to get the girls -- and such a business! Healthy they must be, and well born -- that is, nicely born. And the first was a little Jewess, eight years old at that time, from parents who were killed in Stamboul. That was not so very difficult; a Jew and his wife whom I knew intimately brought her as their own child to Bombay; and after that it was easy to dress her as a Hindu child, and to pretend she was a little young widow, and to smuggle her northward stage by stage. And once she reached Delhi there was the Middle Way, Ommony, the Middle Way! Hah! It was not so difficult. And the profit was very good."

"I'm waiting for you to hedge," said Ommony. "So far, I simply don't believe you."

"Well: the next was eleven years old, and she made trouble. She was the child of a sea-captain who was hanged for shooting drunken sailors. Some missionaries took care of her; but they said things about her father, and she ran away -- from Poona -- the mission was in Poona. So, of course, there was a search, and much in the newspapers. We had to hide her carefully. The missionaries offered a reward, but she did not want to go back to the missionaries. In many ways her character was such as Tsiang Samdup wished. And in the end we conveyed her by bullock-gharri all the way from Bombay to Ahmedabad, where we kept her several months in the home of a Hindu midwife. Then the Middle Way. The Middle Way is easy, when you know it.

"The third was from Bangalore -- and she was only nine months old -- no trouble at all -- the daughter of a very pretty lady who was engaged to be married -- but the man died. She gave the baby to my wife's sister. That child went North in the arms of a Tibetan woman from Darjiling.

"And the fourth was from London -- a Russian musician's daughter. And the fifth was from Glasgow. And the sixth from Sweden, or so it was said. Those three were all about the same age -- six, or seven, or thereabouts.

"The seventh -- she was nine years old, and the best of them all -- was from New York -- born in New York -- or at sea, I forget which. Her father, an Irishman, died and the mother, who was English, went to visit her people in England. But the people had died too. So she went back to America, and there was some difficulty in connection with the immigration laws. She was not allowed to land. She had to return to England, where there was destitution and I know not what followed after that, though it is easy to imagine things. The mother was dying, and I was told she wished above all things to save the child from being put in an institution. Some people who are well known to me offered to care for the child. It happened I was in London, Ommony. I went and saw the mother; and, since she was dying, I took a chance and told her certain things; and perhaps because she was dying, and therefore could understand and see around the corner, as it were, she agreed. We had conversed, as you might say, heart to heart. It was I who brought that child to India. I had to adopt her legally, and -- oh, Ommony, if I could have kept her! She was like my little own daughter to me! But what was there that I could do for her -- an old Jew, here in Delhi? Money, yes; but nothing else, and money is nothing. It broke my heart. She went northward by the Middle Way -- you know what I mean by the Middle Way?"

Ommony's expression was stone-cold; he was speechless. He eyed Benjamin with a hard stare that had reached the rock-bottom of revelation and disgust. He did not dare to speak. Having pledged his word in advance not to betray Benjamin's secrets, his word was good; there was no hesitation on that score. A deliberate promise, in his estimation, stood above all obligations, whatever the consequences to himself. But he felt that sickening sensation of having trusted a man who turned out to be rotten after all.

He did not dare to say a word that might give Benjamin an inkling of his real feelings. He must use the man as an ally. In a way he was indebted to him -- for information as to the Lama's real activities. No wonder the Lama had kept so carefully aloof! Ommony forced himself to smile -- battling with the horror of the thought of being co-trustee with a Tibetan, who with his right hand helped to run a philanthropic mission and with his left imported European girls, for the Powers of Evil only knew what purpose. There are other purposes, as well as crude vice, for which children may be stolen. His own sister --

"You say Tsiang Samdup is better than both of us?" he remarked at last, surprised at the evenness of his own voice.

"Much better!" said Benjamin. "Ah, Ommony -- I see your face. Old I am. Blind I am not. But listen: have you seen what happens to the children whose parents die or desert them? Not the children of the poor; the little girls who are well born, who feel things that other children do not feel. I am a Jew -- I know what feeling is! Hah! I have seen animals in cages who were happier! And what is happiness? Provision of necessities? Bah! They provide necessities for men in jail -- and will you search in the jails to find happiness? I will show you thousands who have all they want, and nothing that they need! You understand me? Tsiang Samdup --"

"Never mind," said Ommony, "I'll find out for myself." He did not want to talk; he was afraid of what he might hear -- still more of what he might say. There are some men, who present an impassive face toward the world, who can face death grinning and are not afraid of "the terror that moveth by night" or "the pestilence that stalketh at noonday," who would rather be crucified than reveal the horror they have for a certain sort of traffic. Their emotion, too sacred, or too profane to be discussed, is nameless -- indescribable -- only to be borne with set teeth.

"Ah! I know!" said Benjamin. "I know you, Ommony! What I have said is secret; therefore, you don't wish to hear any more, because you are too much a man to violate what is told in confidence. And you have made no promise to the Lama. Am I right?"

Ommony nodded -- grimly. That was the one bright point of light.

"I could tell -- I could tell much," Benjamin went on. "But I saw you shut your mind against me. As well pour oil on fire to put it out as talk to a man who mistrusts! Very well. We have been friends, you and I. Remember that, Ommony. And now this: you believe in a devil -- some kind of a devil -- all Englishmen do. You believe I am a devil -- Benjamin, your friend, whom you hid in a cave in your forest -- me and my wife and my daughter. We are devils. Very well. A promise that is made to the devil has not to be kept, Ommony! Go and see for yourself. I will help you. When you have seen, you shall judge. Then, after that, if you say I am a devil, you shall break your faith with me. You shall denounce me. I will let you be the judge."

"Have you ever been into the Ahbor country?" Ommony asked. His voice was sullen now. There was a leaden note in it.

"No," Benjamin answered.

"And those -- those children went to the Ahbor country?"


"Then what proof have you of what the Lama has done with them?"

"Ommony -- as God is my witness -- I have none! I think -- I -- I am almost positively sure -- but --"

He paced the floor twice, and then flung himself down on the blankets beside Ommony, looking up into his face. He was afraid at that moment, if ever man was.

"That is why I have told you! I swore never to tell! Find out, Ommony! Tell the truth to me before I die. I am an old man, Ommony. If I have been a devil, I will eat -- eat -- eat the shame to the last crumb! Ommony, I swear -- by my fathers I swear, I believe -- I am almost positively sure --"

He buried his face in his hands, and there was silence, in which Ommony could hear Diana's quiet breathing and his own heart-beats and the ticking of the watch in his vest-pocket.


1. There is the notorious instance of the news of Lord Roberts' relief of Kandahar reaching Bombay long before the government in Simla knew the facts. See Forty Years in India, by Lord Roberts. (return to text)

2. Nirvana. The ultimate object of attainment for the Buddhist. The word has been translated "nothingness," and the non-Buddhist missionaries are responsible for the commonly accepted and totally false belief that it means "extinction." The truth is that by "Nirvana" the Buddhist means a condition which it is utterly impossible for the human mind to comprehend, but which can be attained, after thousands of reincarnations, by strict adherence to the Golden Rule -- that is, by deeds and abstaining from deeds not by words and self-indulgence. It is said that the understanding of what is meant by "Nirvana" will dawn gradually on the mind of him who is tolerant and strives unselfishly.

Chapter IX


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