The House of Fulfilment - Elizabeth Louisa Moresby - ebook

The House of Fulfilment ebook

Elizabeth Louisa Moresby



The spiritual romance of a soul in the Himalayas. An Englishman in India is so influenced by a group of converts to Buddhism that he travels to a monastic retreat in Tibet in the search for spiritual enlightment. The author, also known as E. Barrington, purports that the supernormal happenings in this romance novel are true and are founded upon the ancient Indian philosophy of Upanishads. Moresby was already sixty years old by the time she started writing her novels, which commonly had an oriental setting, and then became a prolific author. She wrote under various pseudonyms, depending on the genre. She was also known as Elizabeth Louisa Beck, Eliza Louisa Moresby Beck and Lily Moresby Adams.

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It was in the most unlikely place in the world that I heard of the Dunbars. When you were in Simla you might go to the Mainguys every day for a month and hear no other subject mentioned but the scandal of the place, which at Simla looms large, various and engrossing. Indeed the aggregated scandal of India–meaning of course all that concerns the governing race–rises like the smoke of an especially black and acrid nature to the Simla heights, and hangs thick in the pines on Jakko. It not infrequently gets into your throat and chokes you. But the Mainguys.

Their bungalow, perched on the steepest cliff that a house could cling to, teeth and claws, without sliding down the abyss into bottomless depths beneath, was where all the gup (gossip) centered. People sat in the veranda looking out level with a blue sky cloudless as ocean itself, over measureless leagues of country far away below, fading into phantasmal beauty where it mingled with the horizon edge, and there, drinking pegs and smoking myriad cigarettes, they hacked reputations to bits, devouring them with relish and flinging the mangled remnants down the gorge. A cannibal feast at best and seasoned with much sniggering and chuckling.

But one went there even if it bored one stiff, for really Mainguy and his wife were good fellows in their way, and had no prudish scruples either about the deeds or personalities of the victims they served up–rather liked them than otherwise for the run they gave them. And besides, those two had more knowledge of India in its byways, its short cuts and incidentally its prices than any other two in the Peninsula. So that if you were planning a trip, shikari or otherwise, anywhere from Cape Comorin to Kashmir, you went to the Garden of Allah (as they humorously called their diggings) and got enough knowledge to start a guidebook.

That was my errand on this particular day. I found Mrs. Mainguy on the veranda embowered in creepers thrusting magnificent orange trumpets like a blare of sound in at every crevice of the trellis. I don’t know what it was but to this day when I smell a scent heavy as yellow honey and as sweet, a blaze of orange breaks and I see Blanche Mainguy attired in a violent trousered negligée of orange and purple, lying in her long chair, propped upon orange cushions to match, an iced “peg” in the receptive wicker hollow beside her, smoking cigarette after cigarette and sending a reputation to flutter down the gulf with each one.

That veranda was a difficult place for weak heads to stand. There was but a plank between you and perdition, so to speak, and the railing so rotten that a kick would have sent it flying in flinders down the abyss. But for the Mainguys, who had ridden six-inch paths in the Himalayas with a blank precipice up on the one hand and down on the other, it was nothing to hang poised in mid-heaven. They slept there in hot weather.

“And I walk in my sleep. Bad conscience and too many cigarettes, you know!” she said that day. “And some night Lyle will wake up and find me hovering on the railing, and then–”

“What? A push?”

“That depends on how I’ve been behaving. But listen, Car. You’re talking about a painting trip up to the back of beyond in Little Tibet–Well, I’ve got the very person here to give you all the tips. She’s having tea with her Excellency and–”

“She?” I ejaculated. “A woman? Never. Not where I want to go!”

She tossed the butt of her cigarette over a foam of orange trumpets, and I saw it eddy like a white butterfly down–down–down–and disappear.

“She knows more than that! My good man, have you never heard of the Dunbars? Lucia Dunbar? They go everywhere in Asia! Come now, you must!”

“Never, on my soul! And why on earth should I? And why do they go everywhere in Asia?”

“Well, considering that she and Lance Dunbar are rolling in riches, and could have everything the world offers and yet go off and live in a temple in China and a sort of log house up in the mountains in Kashmir, one would think you might know something about two such March hares!”

“And still I don’t know!” I retorted. “You’d better give me the points so that I can place her before she bursts upon me.”

“Bursts! God pity the daft! She’s the most gently flowing, harmonious thing in all the world, like the gray evening moths that float about these flowers. She’s–”

“But who is she?” I almost shouted.

“Gowk! Did you never hear of Lord Rostellan–the last earl, a stony broke Irish peer with an unspeakable reputation with women? She was his only daughter, and her wicked old aunt Lady Polesden married her at eighteen to a man as bad as her father–Hubert Sellenger. She endured it for ten years and then divorced him. Her friends insisted. Come, you must have heard of him?”

Yes, I had heard of him. Most men had. I remembered very well how his wife had divorced him after indescribable miseries, and he had died and she had married–whom?

“Lance Dunbar. He came in for his cousin’s money–that delightful other Lance Dunbar who wrote a book called “Sundering Seas’–a queer highbrow thing I never could read. Anyhow he went west in the war, and the other Lance got his money and turned Buddhist–”

“Good Lord, why?” I interjected. To me it gave much the same impression as hearing he had turned Mormon. I hadn’t the faintest notion of what was implied. Nor for the matter of that had she.

“Ask me another! How do I know! Anyhow he married Lucia Sellenger and they live in a Chinese temple and a log house in Kashmir.”

“He in one and she in the other? Well, that’s quite the fashionable modern marriage.”

She went off in one of her shrill mirthless chuckles.

“Gosh, no! They’re the pattern pair of the universe. She’d seen quite enough of that sort of thing with Rostellan and Sellenger to give her a violent liking for propriety. Their life in the wilds is the queerest romance you ever heard of–all magic and mystery and extraordinary natives and spooky people. But the loveliest house you ever saw, and she’s like–a dream.”

She didn’t say this in the conventional way that calls a new hat, a new cocktail, a dream. Her voice dropped on the word as if she meant it. Then she chuckled again.

“Don’t I just know–You’re thinking, “Isn’t it absolutely creamy that a woman like that should be putting up with little Blanchie?’ So it is–and I don’t suppose she’d ever have absolutely rummaged creation for me, but she’s a kind of cousin. Rostellan was my father’s first cousin, and I used to stay there long ago. She’s younger than I am. A little over thirty now. By the way, she’s a cousin of her Ex’s too. The Rostellans were related to everybody.”

“Still, she sounds a little out of drawing in Simla,” I said cautiously. “What’s she here for?”

“To meet some Canadian girl that is going up with her to Kashmir. Now if you really are going up that way yourself, though I should have thought there was enough in India to keep you in water-colors for the rest of your life, why not–”

A soft movement in the drawing-room, and the gaudy striped palampores dividing it from the veranda parted. A woman stood between them, worthy of a better frame.

She was all in gray, wearing a long chain of gray moonstones, with faint blue and golden lights swimming in them. Her hair, turned back winglike from the pale oval of her face, was feathered with silver though she looked a young woman. This, with features clear-cut as a gem, gave her a most arresting air of distinction emphasized by a sensitive mouth and gray eyes in a deep shadowy setting of black lashes. Shadowy–that was the word that expressed her–twilight, dusk, quiet as a dream. She brought that atmosphere with her. It was a new note in the gonging of the red and blue palampores and Blanche Mainguy’s orange cushions and vociferating costume of orange and violet trousers and coat.

“Come on, Lucia!” she shrilled. “Here’s a case for first aid. This is Hew Cardonald–Lady Lucia Dunbar–and–oh, but do sit down and be chummy. He wants to get up somewhere beyond Ladakh into the mountains for shooting and painting. He’s simply landscape-mad and has made a success already. I’ve told him you know every inch of the place. Now don’t you? Doesn’t Lance? Start away by calling him “Car’ as I do. Let’s be friends.”

Her voice–voices interest me–was twilight too, like the running of a very little stream in darkening woods. After Blanche Mainguy’s it sounded like a low song and inspired inward delight that can never be spoken. She settled into a chair at the edge of the veranda, laying an arm on the railing, and immediately the mountains and azure distance of earth and sky became a noble background for her slender throat and finely poised head and the grace of her long folded limbs. It reminded me of a picture in the Uffizi Gallery–St. Catherine–she of Siena–dreaming on the red city wall with nothing above or around but deep measureless blue–the formless infinity of her vision. I had done some portraits in water-color and pastel, not wholly bad, and at that moment my whole being resolved itself into a wish to paint her after my own fashion–as I saw her. The very name of the portrait–for all my pictures had names that came with them–flashed on me. But I will tell that later.

Why dwell on these things? I want to get on to what matters–to where this extraordinary story really begins. But there are preliminaries not to be passed over.

She was kind and interested at once, offered me her husband’s help, invited me to break the long trek at their house in the pine woods above the Sind River where the track goes up from Srinagar to the heart of Asia. Clearly and concisely she gave me the information I wanted, and turning to my art talked of the landscape work of the great Chinese and Japanese artists and of her collection until I forgot time and place in the fascination of the subject and her own. And Blanche Mainguy smoked and smoked, her vivid, ugly face twinkling into mischief as she saw me caught in the strong toil of graciousness which, to people more in the world than I, had been irresistible from the beginning.

“Lucia, you humbug!” she interposed with a grin. “When you know you hate shooting beasties as much as you love painting, and think every man a butcher that kills so much as a bird! Why are you helping him in his iniquities?”

She beamed into the bright tranquillity of a smile.

“People do what they must at the point where they stand. You know I never preach, Blanche. And I’m sure when Mr. Cardonald gets up among the mountains he’ll give nothing else a thought.”

She stopped, the smile deepening in her eyes–how shall I describe it?–like one holding back a secret of enchantment that must not be loosed lest misunderstanding should brush the butterfly’s dust off its feathers. And I began to understand a little. After all, I am an artist first and the rest nowhere, and this woman had the key of the fields as well as I. If we could only get rid of Blanche Mainguy, who cared for none of these things! Providence was good to me.

A grave servant appeared between the palampores with all the dignified melancholy of the best Indian manners.

“My tailor!” And off went Blanche Mainguy to the conference. I wondered what on earth the man would think of Englishwomen when those trousers dazzled his view. Lady Lucia looked after her and caught my thought, laughing audibly.

“Do you know how kind she is? I wonder how many people do! I could tell you lovely things about her. But to return–Satshang is the place for you. The mountains and mountain valleys there are beyond all description, and in Ladakh the rainbow colors of the lower mountains are incredible. Nothing I have ever seen does them the least justice, and Alam Khan is the ruler. We were up camping there and saw a great deal of him, and afterwards when he fell ill he came down to our guest-house to be nursed.”

This was heaven’s own luck. I questioned eagerly.

“About twenty-eight, and you’ll like him. He lives in the queerest old castle-fortress perched in mountains jagged like a lion’s teeth. Pure romance. Our guest-house? Oh, we have two. One for Hindus. One for Mohammedans. All sorts of people come and go, and each guest-house has servants of its own faith. Europeans stay in the house with us. Yes. We have a little hospital too. I trained as a nurse, and I have a woman who helps. You can’t think what a blessing it is among these people far away from all doctors. They come right down to us from all sorts of places. I think it will amuse you to see it.”

I thought so too. There was something so new about the notion, the remoteness, and yet people of all nationalities coming and going–an unrivaled opportunity for seeing below the surface. The curse of Asia is that a European man travels, gets civility, sees the outside of the picture, and there is halted. “Thus far and no farther” is on every Asiatic face about you. Unless–yes, indeed, unless–Suppose one had this soft graciousness, this exquisiteness of manner, which would appeal to the inherent Asiatic law of stately behavior–why, then, one might get through the barred door and into wonderland. Fool I might be, and no one admitted it more cheerfully than myself, but I knew what I was–and that’s not a bad step-off into the depths. To be sure that Asia is a sealed book is an excellent check to hasty opinions and definite conclusions. But I did not yet know that no man can paint Asia who does not know her soul as well as her face and love the two in one.

Every minute I watched her more keenly. She had a certain air of strangeness as of thoughts and goals very different from any I had met before.

I wanted to understand–they stirred the deep-down something in me which had always been more or less in the way of my work, something weary and discontented, touched it with a faint promise of some dim life stirring in roots that had never grown. Again I say the strangest thing in the world to meet at the Mainguys’ house in Simla. So I listened but watched as she talked of the wild woods and rushing mountain rivers, talked like the very soul of them–a few words only, but to my mind perfect ones. Her cool sweetness embodied all that the mind of man has dreamed in sky-cold heights and forests–Dryads, Oreads; and I did not know why, for neither then nor at an infinitely wiser moment did I know that she was beautiful as men reckon beauty. But she was what beauty means–she had the same effect on the something below and beyond feeling. I can answer for that. One remembered, longed–but not for her.

In my heart I was desperately searching for courage to ask if I might paint her; but what found its way into speech was a banal supposition that she was in Simla for a change–to see life again. She shook her head laughing.

“Life! You little know the life we have at Baltar! We have every sort of change up there. I have come to meet a girl, Canadian, but of Danish birth. Her name is Ingmar. She is coming in along the Simla-Tibet Road from somewhere near the Shipki Pass.”

“A nurse?” I ventured.

“Oh, no! She has been studying”–she stopped as if she had been about to say more than was allowed, and went on smoothly–“studying with some people near the Tashigong Monastery. She arrives tomorrow.”

Again I fail in description, but everything she said was like moonlight hovering on a dark forest. Even the deep clanging name of the monastery suggested the mysteries within; let us say–lovely, grotesque, terrible creatures moving in the dark with eyes intent on things we can never know. It enthralled me–secret as a nest of nightingales, a hidden song.

I summoned up a gleam of courage and ventured a step further.

“Lady Lucia, you interest me enormously. May I ask what you are working at, at Baltar?”

She looked at me with perfect simplicity.

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