A HERMIT IN THE HIMALAYAS
Stonehenge, to balance themselves thus precariously so many
thousand feet above the sea-level?
As we move on I crick my neck and try to catch a glimpse of the
starlit horizon aboyt me. The jagged ridge-top, which is the Canaan
of my wanderings in this mountainous wilderness, shows itself as not
so far off now, but I know how illusory is distance when one has a
zigzag path to pursue. Dense forest, which I know must contain a
flock of prowling night creatures in its depths, seems to lie ahead.
The thinnest fragment of a moon shows her face. The darkness
mocks her with its triumphant power. There is to be no help from
that quarter, then.
I try to forget my surroundings and let my thoughts ramble over
the most unrelated topics, the while I .sit in the saddle and mechani-
cally hold the reins. Someone I know is lying on a deathbed in
England and before another moon rises her spirit shall find it
Canaan, too. The little pen which she gave me once shall be her
memorial, and to me a better one than carven granite. Nearer here,
a man in the circle which rules, from Baghdad,s the destinies of the
youngest of Arab kingdoms, is less blindly fulfilling a prediction of
future danger and future power, which I involuntarily uttered once
behind the stiff formal front of a Legation building. My affection
wings its way at once in protective flight towards him; he is "the
bravest of the brave*1, as Marshal Ncy was well called in Napoleon's
day, and he shall ultimately put all enmity beneath his feet.
The path winds its toilsome way upward. The miles creep slowly
under the horse*s hooves. The long and lonely route seems as if it will
never come to an end, when we enter the sombre forest. Grim,
impenetrable blackness immediately grips us. Even the wisp of light
that comes from the starlit sky is cut off by the dense roof of inter-
twined branches under which we ride. It is so dark that I can no
longer see the horse's head.
To make matters worse the ascent becomes unexpectedly and
embarrassingly steeper. My mount stops every now and then to
catch its breath but bravely continues. And so it plods, pants and
exerts itself to the utmost*
A half hour more and a new'difficulty is present. The surface of
the trail from here has been roughly paved with stones, no doubt as a
defence against being completely washed away by the monsoon
rains. Evidently we are now near to Pratapnagar. But if the rains
could not remove the stones, they have unsettled the foundation and
loosened the earth in which the stones lie bedded. The result is a
dangerously slippery and totally uneven surface over which the
horse stumbles constantly.
It is clear that if I remain in the saddle I shall be thrown within