CHAPTER FOUR: The Yahi-Bahi Oriental Society of Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown
Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown lived on Plutoria Avenue in a vast sandstone palace, in which she held those fashionable entertainments which have made the name of Rasselyer-Brown what it is. Mr. Rasselyer-Brown lived there also.
The exterior of the house was more or less a model of the facade of an Italian palazzo of the sixteenth century. If one questioned Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown at dinner in regard to this (which was only a fair return for drinking five dollar champagne), she answered that the facade was _cinquecentisti_, but that it reproduced also the Saracenic mullioned window of the Siennese School. But if the guest said later in the evening to Mr. Rasselyer-Brown that he understood that his house was _cinquecentisti_, he answered that he guessed it was. After which remark and an interval of silence, Mr. Rasselyer-Brown would probably ask the guest if he was dry.
So from that one can tell exactly the sort of people the Rasselyer-Browns were.
In other words, Mr. Rasselyer-Brown was a severe handicap to Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown. He was more than that; the word isn’t strong enough. He was, as Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown herself confessed to her confidential circle of three hundred friends, a drag. He was also a tie, and a weight, and a burden, and in Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown’s religious moments a crucifix. Even in the early years of their married life, some twenty or twenty-five years ago, her husband had been a drag on her by being in the coal and wood business. It is hard for a woman to have to realize that her husband is making a fortune out of coal and wood and that people know it. It ties one down. What a woman wants most of all–this, of course, is merely a quotation from Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown’s own thoughts as expressed to her three hundred friends–is room to expand, to grow. The hardest thing in the world is to be stifled: and there is nothing more stifling than a husband who doesn’t know a Giotto from a Carlo Dolci, but who can distinguish nut coal from egg and is never asked to dinner without talking about the furnace.
These, of course, were early trials. They had passed to some extent, or were, at any rate, garlanded with the roses of time.
But the drag remained.
Even when the retail coal and wood stage was long since over, it was hard to have to put up with a husband who owned a coal mine and who bought pulp forests instead of illuminated missals of the twelfth century. A coal mine is a dreadful thing at a dinner-table. It humbles one so before one’s guests.
It wouldn’t have been so bad–this Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown herself admitted–if Mr. Rasselyer-Brown _did_ anything. This phrase should be clearly understood. It meant if there was any one thing that he _did_. For instance if he had only _collected_ anything. Thus, there was Mr. Lucullus Fyshe, who made soda-water, but at the same time everybody knew that he had the best collection of broken Italian furniture on the continent; there wasn’t a sound piece among the lot.
And there was the similar example of old Mr. Feathertop. He didn’t exactly _collect_ things; he repudiated the name. He was wont to say, “Don’t call me a collector, I’m _not_. I simply pick things up. Just where I happen to be, Rome, Warsaw, Bucharest, anywhere”–and it is to be noted what fine places these are to happen to be. And to think that Mr. Rasselyer-Brown would never put his foot outside of the United States! Whereas Mr. Feathertop would come back from what he called a run to Europe, and everybody would learn in a week that he had picked up the back of a violin in Dresden (actually discovered it in a violin shop), and the lid of an Etruscan kettle (he had lighted on it, by pure chance, in a kettle shop in Etruria), and Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown would feel faint with despair at the nonentity of her husband.
So one can understand how heavy her burden was.
“My dear,” she often said to her bosom friend, Miss Snagg, “I shouldn’t mind things so much” (the things she wouldn’t mind were, let us say, the two million dollars of standing timber which Brown Limited, the ominous business name of Mr. Rasselyer-Brown, were buying that year) “if Mr. Rasselyer-Brown _did_ anything. But he does _nothing_. Every morning after breakfast off to his wretched office, and never back till dinner, and in the evening nothing but his club, or some business meeting. One would think he would have more ambition. How I wish I had been a man.”
It was certainly a shame.
So it came that, in almost everything she undertook Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown had to act without the least help from her husband. Every Wednesday, for instance, when the Dante Club met at her house (they selected four lines each week to meditate on, and then discussed them at lunch), Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown had to carry the whole burden of it–her very phrase, “the whole burden”–alone. Anyone who has carried four lines of Dante through a Moselle lunch knows what a weight it is.
In all these things her husband was useless, quite useless. It is not right to be ashamed of one’s husband. And to do her justice, Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown always explained to her three hundred intimates that she was _not_ ashamed of him; in fact, that she _refused_ to be. But it was hard to see him brought into comparison at their own table with superior men. Put him, for instance, beside Mr. Sikleigh Snoop, the sex-poet, and where was he? Nowhere. He couldn’t even understand what Mr. Snoop was saying. And when Mr. Snoop would stand on the hearth-rug with a cup of tea balanced in his hand, and discuss whether sex was or was not the dominant note in Botticelli, Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown would be skulking in a corner in his ill-fitting dress suit. His wife would often catch with an agonized ear such scraps of talk as, “When I was first in the coal and wood business,” or, “It’s a coal that burns quicker than egg, but it hasn’t the heating power of nut,” or even in a low undertone the words, “If you’re feeling _dry_ while he’s reading–” And this at a time when everybody in the room ought to have been listening to Mr. Snoop.
Nor was even this the whole burden of Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown. There was another part of it which was perhaps more _real_, though Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown herself never put it into words. In fact, of this part of her burden she never spoke, even to her bosom friend Miss Snagg; nor did she talk about it to the ladies of the Dante Club, nor did she make speeches on it to the members of the Women’s Afternoon Art Society, nor to the Monday Bridge Club.
But the members of the Bridge Club and the Art Society and the Dante Club all talked about it among themselves.
Stated very simply, it was this: Mr. Rasselyer-Brown drank. It was not meant that he was a drunkard or that he drank too much, or anything of that sort. He drank. That was all.
There was no excess about it. Mr. Rasselyer-Brown, of course, began the day with an eye-opener–and after all, what alert man does not wish his eyes well open in the morning? He followed it usually just before breakfast with a bracer–and what wiser precaution can a businessman take than to brace his breakfast? On his way to business he generally had his motor stopped at the Grand Palaver for a moment, if it was a raw day, and dropped in and took something to keep out the damp. If it was a cold day he took something to keep out the cold, and if it was one of those clear, sunny days that are so dangerous to the system he took whatever the bartender (a recognized health expert) suggested to tone the system up. After which he could sit down in his office and transact more business, and bigger business, in coal, charcoal, wood, pulp, pulpwood, and woodpulp, in two hours than any other man in the business could in a week. Naturally so. For he was braced, and propped, and toned up, and his eyes had been opened, and his brain cleared, till outside of very big business, indeed, few men were on a footing with him.
In fact, it was business itself which had compelled Mr. Rasselyer-Brown to drink. It is all very well for a junior clerk on twenty dollars a week to do his work on sandwiches and malted milk. In big business it is not possible. When a man begins to rise in business, as Mr. Rasselyer-Brown had begun twenty-five years ago, he finds that if he wants to succeed he must cut malted milk clear out. In any position of responsibility a man has got to drink. No really big deal can be put through without it. If two keen men, sharp as flint, get together to make a deal in which each intends to outdo the other, the only way to succeed is for them to adjourn to some such place as the luncheon-room of the Mausoleum Club and both get partially drunk. This is what is called the personal element in business. And, beside it, plodding industry is nowhere.
Most of all do these principles hold true in such manly out-of-door enterprises as the forest and timber business, where one deals constantly with chief rangers, and pathfinders, and wood-stalkers, whose very names seem to suggest a horn of whiskey under a hemlock tree.
But–let it be repeated and carefully understood–there was no excess about Mr. Rasselyer-Brown’s drinking. Indeed, whatever he might be compelled to take during the day, and at the Mausoleum Club in the evening, after his return from his club at night Mr. Rasselyer-Brown made it a fixed rule to take nothing. He might, perhaps, as he passed into the house, step into the dining-room and take a very small drink at the sideboard. But this he counted as part of the return itself, and not after it. And he might, if his brain were over-fatigued, drop down later in the night in his pajamas and dressing-gown when the house was quiet, and compose his mind with a brandy and water, or something suitable to the stillness of the hour. But this was not really a drink. Mr. Rasselyer-Brown called it a _nip_; and of course any man may need a _nip_ at a time when he would scorn a drink.
* * * * *
But after all, a woman may find herself again in her daughter. There, at least, is consolation. For, as Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown herself admitted, her daughter, Dulphemia, was herself again. There were, of course, differences, certain differences of face and appearance. Mr. Snoop had expressed this fact exquisitely when he said that it was the difference between a Burne-Jones and a Dante Gabriel Rossetti. But even at that the mother and daughter were so alike that people, certain people, were constantly mistaking them on the street. And as everybody that mistook them was apt to be asked to dine on five-dollar champagne there was plenty of temptation towards error.
There is no doubt that Dulphemia Rasselyer-Brown was a girl of remarkable character and intellect. So is any girl who has beautiful golden hair parted in thick bands on her forehead, and deep blue eyes soft as an Italian sky.
Even the oldest and most serious men in town admitted that in talking to her they were aware of a grasp, a reach, a depth that surprised them. Thus old Judge Longerstill, who talked to her at dinner for an hour on the jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce Commission, felt sure from the way in which she looked up in his face at intervals and said, “How interesting!” that she had the mind of a lawyer. And Mr. Brace, the consulting engineer, who showed her on the table-cloth at dessert with three forks and a spoon the method in which the overflow of the spillway of the Gatun Dam is regulated, felt assured, from the way she leaned her face on her hand sideways and said, “How extraordinary!” that she had the brain of an engineer. Similarly foreign visitors to the social circles of the city were delighted with her. Viscount FitzThistle, who explained to Dulphemia for half an hour the intricacies of the Irish situation, was captivated at the quick grasp she showed by asking him at the end, without a second’s hesitation, “And which are the Nationalists?”
This kind of thing represents female intellect in its best form. Every man that is really a man is willing to recognize it at once. As to the young men, of course they flocked to the Rasselyer-Brown residence in shoals. There were batches of them every Sunday afternoon at five o’clock, encased in long black frock-coats, sitting very rigidly in upright chairs, trying to drink tea with one hand. One might see athletic young college men of the football team trying hard to talk about Italian music; and Italian tenors from the Grand Opera doing their best to talk about college football. There were young men in business talking about art, and young men in art talking about religion, and young clergymen talking about business. Because, of course, the Rasselyer-Brown residence was the kind of cultivated home where people of education and taste are at liberty to talk about things they don’t know, and to utter freely ideas that they haven’t got. It was only now and again, when one of the professors from the college across the avenue came booming into the room, that the whole conversation was pulverized into dust under the hammer of accurate knowledge.
The whole process was what was called, by those who understood such things, a _salon_. Many people said that Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown’s afternoons at home were exactly like the delightful _salons_ of the eighteenth century: and whether the gatherings were or were not _salons_ of the eighteenth century, there is no doubt that Mr. Rasselyer-Brown, under whose care certain favoured guests dropped quietly into the back alcove of the dining-room, did his best to put the gathering on a par with the best saloons of the twentieth.
Now it so happened that there had come a singularly slack moment in the social life of the City. The Grand Opera had sung itself into a huge deficit and closed. There remained nothing of it except the efforts of a committee of ladies to raise enough money to enable Signor Puffi to leave town, and the generous attempt of another committee to gather funds in order to keep Signor Pasti in the City. Beyond this, opera was dead, though the fact that the deficit was nearly twice as large as it had been the year before showed that public interest in music was increasing. It was indeed a singularly trying time of the year. It was too early to go to Europe; and too late to go to Bermuda. It was too warm to go south, and yet still too cold to go north. In fact, one was almost compelled to stay at home–which was dreadful.
As a result Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown and her three hundred friends moved backwards and forwards on Plutoria Avenue, seeking novelty in vain. They washed in waves of silk from tango teas to bridge afternoons. They poured in liquid avalanches of colour into crowded receptions, and they sat in glittering rows and listened to lectures on the enfranchisement of the female sex. But for the moment all was weariness.
Now it happened, whether by accident or design, that just at this moment of general _ennui_ Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown and her three hundred friends first heard of the presence in the city of Mr. Yahi-Bahi, the celebrated Oriental mystic. He was so celebrated that nobody even thought of asking who he was or where he came from. They merely told one another, and repeated it, that he was _the_ celebrated Yahi-Bahi. They added for those who needed the knowledge that the name was pronounced Yahhy-Bahhy, and that the doctrine taught by Mr. Yahi-Bahi was Boohooism. This latter, if anyone inquired further, was explained to be a form of Shoodooism, only rather more intense. In fact, it was esoteric–on receipt of which information everybody remarked at once how infinitely superior the Oriental peoples are to ourselves.
Now as Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown was always a leader in everything that was done in the best circles on Plutoria Avenue, she was naturally among the first to visit Mr. Yahi-Bahi.
“My dear,” she said, in describing afterwards her experience to her bosom friend, Miss Snagg, “it was _most_ interesting. We drove away down to the queerest part of the City, and went to the strangest little house imaginable, up the narrowest stairs one ever saw–quite Eastern, in fact, just like a scene out of the Koran.”
“How fascinating!” said Miss Snagg. But as a matter of fact, if Mr. Yahi-Bahi’s house had been inhabited, as it might have been, by a streetcar conductor or a railway brakesman, Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown wouldn’t have thought it in any way peculiar or fascinating.
“It was all hung with curtains inside,” she went on, “with figures of snakes and Indian gods, perfectly weird.”
“And did you see Mr. Yahi-Bahi?” asked Miss Snagg.
“Oh no, my dear. I only saw his assistant Mr. Ram Spudd; such a queer little round man, a Bengalee, I believe. He put his back against a curtain and spread out his arms sideways and wouldn’t let me pass. He said that Mr. Yahi-Bahi was in meditation and mustn’t be disturbed.”
“How delightful!” echoed Miss Snagg.
But in reality Mr. Yahi-Bahi was sitting behind the curtain eating a ten-cent can of pork and beans.
“What I like most about eastern people,” went on Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown, “is their wonderful delicacy of feeling. After I had explained about my invitation to Mr. Yahi-Bahi to come and speak to us on Boohooism, and was going away, I took a dollar bill out of my purse and laid it on the table. You should have seen the way Mr. Ram Spudd took it. He made the deepest salaam and said, ‘Isis guard you, beautiful lady.’ Such perfect courtesy, and yet with the air of scorning the money. As I passed out I couldn’t help slipping another dollar into his hand, and he took it as if utterly unaware of it, and muttered, ‘Osiris keep you, O flower of women!’ And as I got into the motor I gave him another dollar and he said, ‘Osis and Osiris both prolong your existence, O lily of the ricefield,’ and after he had said it he stood beside the door of the motor and waited without moving till I left. He had such a strange, rapt look, as if he were still expecting something!”
“How exquisite!” murmured Miss Snagg. It was her business in life to murmur such things as this for Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown. On the whole, reckoning Grand Opera tickets and dinners, she did very well out of it.
“Is it not?” said Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown. “So different from our men. I felt so ashamed of my chauffeur, our new man, you know; he seemed such a contrast beside Ram Spudd. The rude way in which the opened the door, and the rude way in which he climbed on to his own seat, and the _rudeness_ with which he turned on the power–I felt positively ashamed. And he so managed it–I am sure he did it on purpose–that the car splashed a lot of mud over Mr. Spudd as it started.”
Yet, oddly enough, the opinion of other people on this new chauffeur, that of Miss Dulphemia Rasselyer-Brown herself, for example, to whose service he was specially attached, was very different.
The great recommendation of him in the eyes of Miss Dulphemia and her friends, and the thing that gave him a touch of mystery was–and what higher qualification can a chauffeur want?–that he didn’t look like a chauffeur at all.
“My dear Dulphie,” whispered Miss Philippa Furlong, the rector’s sister (who was at that moment Dulphemia’s second self), as they sat behind the new chauffeur, “don’t tell me that he is a chauffeur, because he _isn’t_. He can chauffe, of course, but that’s nothing.”
For the new chauffeur had a bronzed face, hard as metal, and a stern eye; and when he put on a chauffeur’s overcoat some how it seemed to turn into a military greatcoat; and even when he put on the round cloth cap of his profession it was converted straightway into a military shako. And by Miss Dulphemia and her friends it was presently reported–or was invented?–that he had served in the Philippines; which explained at once the scar upon his forehead, which must have been received at Iloilo, or Huila-Huila, or some other suitable place.
But what affected Miss Dulphemia Brown herself was the splendid rudeness of the chauffeur’s manner. It was so different from that of the young men of the _salon_. Thus, when Mr. Sikleigh Snoop handed her into the car at any time he would dance about saying, “Allow me,” and “Permit me,” and would dive forward to arrange the robes. But the Philippine chauffeur merely swung the door open and said to Dulphemia, “Get in,” and then slammed it.
This, of course, sent a thrill up the spine and through the imagination of Miss Dulphemia Rasselyer-Brown, because it showed that the chauffeur was a gentleman in disguise. She thought it very probable that he was a British nobleman, a younger son, very wild, of a ducal family; and she had her own theories as to why he had entered the service of the Rasselyer-Browns. To be quite candid about it, she expected that the Philippine chauffeur meant to elope with her, and every time he drove her from a dinner or a dance she sat back luxuriously, wishing and expecting the elopement to begin.
* * * * *
But for the time being the interest of Dulphemia, as of everybody else that was anybody at all, centred round Mr. Yahi-Bahi and the new cult of Boohooism.
After the visit of Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown a great number of ladies, also in motors, drove down to the house of Mr. Yahi-Bahi. And all of them, whether they saw Mr. Yahi-Bahi himself or his Bengalee assistant, Mr. Ram Spudd, came back delighted.
“Such exquisite tact!” said one. “Such delicacy! As I was about to go I laid a five dollar gold piece on the edge of the little table. Mr. Spudd scarcely seemed to see it. He murmured, ‘Osiris help you!’ and pointed to the ceiling. I raised my eyes instinctively, and when I lowered them the money had disappeared. I think he must have caused it to vanish.”
“Oh, I’m sure he did,” said the listener.
Others came back with wonderful stories of Mr. Yahi-Bahi’s occult powers, especially his marvellous gift of reading the future.
Mrs. Buncomhearst, who had just lost her third husband–by divorce–had received from Mr. Yahi-Bahi a glimpse into the future that was almost uncanny in its exactness. She had asked for a divination, and Mr. Yahi-Bahi had effected one by causing her to lay six ten-dollar pieces on the table arranged in the form of a mystic serpent. Over these he had bent and peered deeply, as if seeking to unravel their meaning, and finally he had given her the prophecy, “Many things are yet to happen before others begin.”
“How _does_ he do it?” asked everybody.
* * * * *
As a result of all this it naturally came about that Mr. Yahi-Bahi and Mr. Ram Spudd were invited to appear at the residence of Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown; and it was understood that steps would be taken to form a special society, to be known as the Yahi-Bahi Oriental Society.
Mr. Sikleigh Snoop, the sex-poet, was the leading spirit in the organization. He had a special fitness for the task: he had actually resided in India. In fact, he had spent six weeks there on a stop-over ticket of a round-the-world 635 dollar steamship pilgrimage; and he knew the whole country from Jehumbapore in Bhootal to Jehumbalabad in the Carnatic. So he was looked upon as a great authority on India, China, Mongolia, and all such places, by the ladies of Plutoria Avenue.
Next in importance was Mrs. Buncomhearst, who became later, by a perfectly natural process, the president of the society. She was already president of the Daughters of the Revolution, a society confined exclusively to the descendants of Washington’s officers and others; she was also president of the Sisters of England, an organization limited exclusively to women born in England and elsewhere; of the Daughters of Kossuth, made up solely of Hungarians and friends of Hungary and other nations; and of the Circle of Franz Joseph, which was composed exclusively of the partisans, and others, of Austria. In fact, ever since she had lost her third husband, Mrs. Buncomhearst had thrown herself–that was her phrase–into outside activities. Her one wish was, on her own statement, to lose herself. So very naturally Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown looked at once to Mrs. Buncomhearst to preside over the meetings of the new society.
* * * * *
The large dining-room at the Rasselyer-Browns’ had been cleared out as a sort of auditorium, and in it some fifty or sixty of Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown’s more intimate friends had gathered. The whole meeting was composed of ladies, except for the presence of one or two men who represented special cases. There was, of course, little Mr. Spillikins, with his vacuous face and football hair, who was there, as everybody knew, on account of Dulphemia; and there was old Judge Longerstill, who sat leaning on a gold-headed stick with his head sideways, trying to hear some fraction of what was being said. He came to the gathering in the hope that it would prove a likely place for seconding a vote of thanks and saying a few words–half an hour’s talk, perhaps–on the constitution of the United States. Failing that, he felt sure that at least someone would call him “this eminent old gentleman,” and even that was better than staying at home.
But for the most part the audience was composed of women, and they sat in a little buzz of conversation waiting for Mr. Yahi-Bahi.
“I wonder,” called Mrs. Buncomhearst from the chair, “if some lady would be good enough to write minutes? Miss Snagg, I wonder if you would be kind enough to write minutes? Could you?”
“I shall be delighted,” said Miss Snagg, “but I’m afraid there’s hardly time to write them before we begin, is there?”
“Oh, but it would be all right to write them _afterwards_,” chorussed several ladies who understood such things; “it’s quite often done that way.”
“And I should like to move that we vote a constitution,” said a stout lady with a double eye-glass.
“Is that carried?” said Mrs. Buncomhearst. “All those in favour please signify.”
“Carried,” said the president. “And perhaps you would be good enough, Mrs. Fyshe,” she said, turning towards the stout lady, “to _write_ the constitution.”
“Do you think it necessary to _write_ it?” said Mrs. Fyshe. “I should like to move, if I may, that I almost wonder whether it is necessary to write the constitution–unless, of course, anybody thinks that we really ought to.”
“Ladies,” said the president, “you have heard the motion. All those against it–”
There was no sign.
“All those in favour of it–”
There was still no sign.
“Lost,” she said.
Then, looking across at the clock on the mantel-piece, and realizing that Mr. Yahi-Bahi must have been delayed and that something must be done, she said:
“And now, ladies, as we have in our midst a most eminent gentleman who probably has thought more deeply about constitutions than–”
All eyes turned at once towards Judge Longerstill, but as fortune had it at this very moment Mr. Sikleigh Snoop entered, followed by Mr. Yahi-Bahi and Mr. Ram Spudd.
Mr. Yahi-Bahi was tall. His drooping Oriental costume made him taller still. He had a long brown face and liquid brown eyes of such depth that when he turned them full upon the ladies before him a shiver of interest and apprehension followed in the track of his glance.
“My dear,” said Miss Snagg afterwards, “he seemed simply to see right through us.”
This was correct. He did.
Mr. Ram Spudd presented a contrast to his superior. He was short and round, with a dimpled mahogany face and eyes that twinkled in it like little puddles of molasses. His head was bound in a turban and his body was swathed in so many bands and sashes that he looked almost circular. The clothes of both Mr. Yahi-Bahi and Ram Spudd were covered with the mystic signs of Buddha and the seven serpents of Vishnu.
It was impossible, of course, for Mr. Yahi-Bahi or Mr. Ram Spudd to address the audience. Their knowledge of English was known to be too slight for that. Their communications were expressed entirely through the medium of Mr. Snoop, and even he explained afterwards that it was very difficult. The only languages of India which he was able to speak, he said, with any fluency were Gargamic and Gumaic both of these being old Dravidian dialects with only two hundred and three words in each, and hence in themselves very difficult to converse in. Mr. Yahi-Bahi answered in what Mr. Snoop understood to be the Iramic of the Vedas, a very rich language, but one which unfortunately he did not understand. The dilemma is one familiar to all Oriental scholars.
All of this Mr. Snoop explained in the opening speech which he proceeded to make. And after this he went on to disclose, amid deep interest, the general nature of the cult of Boohooism. He said that they could best understand it if he told them that its central doctrine was that of Bahee. Indeed, the first aim of all followers of the cult was to attain to Bahee. Anybody who could spend a certain number of hours each day, say sixteen, in silent meditation on Boohooism would find his mind gradually reaching a condition of Bahee. The chief aim of Bahee itself was sacrifice: a true follower of the cult must be willing to sacrifice his friends, or his relatives, and even strangers, in order to reach Bahee. In this way one was able fully to realize oneself and enter into the Higher Indifference. Beyond this, further meditation and fasting–by which was meant living solely on fish, fruit, wine, and meat–one presently attained to complete Swaraj or Control of Self, and might in time pass into the absolute Nirvana, or the Negation of Emptiness, the supreme goal of Boohooism.
As a first step to all this, Mr. Snoop explained, each neophyte or candidate for holiness must, after searching his own heart, send ten dollars to Mr. Yahi-Bahi. Gold, it appeared, was recognized in the cult of Boohooism as typifying the three chief virtues, whereas silver or paper money did not; even national banknotes were only regarded as do or, a halfway palliation; and outside currencies such as Canadian or Mexican bills were looked upon as entirely boo, or contemptible. The Oriental view of money, said Mr. Snoop, was far superior to our own, but it also might be attained by deep thought, and, as a beginning, by sending ten dollars to Mr. Yahi-Bahi.
After this Mr. Snoop, in conclusion, read a very beautiful Hindu poem, translating it as he went along. It began, “O cow, standing beside the Ganges, and apparently without visible occupation,” and it was voted exquisite by all who heard it. The absence of rhyme and the entire removal of ideas marked it as far beyond anything reached as yet by Occidental culture.
When Mr. Snoop had concluded, the president called upon Judge Longerstill for a few words of thanks, which he gave, followed by a brief talk on the constitution of the United States.
After this the society was declared constituted, Mr. Yahi-Bahi made four salaams, one to each point of the compass, and the meeting dispersed.
And that evening, over fifty dinner tables, everybody discussed the nature of Bahee, and tried in vain to explain it to men too stupid to understand.
* * * * *
Now it so happened that on the very afternoon of this meeting at Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown’s, the Philippine chauffeur did a strange and peculiar thing. He first asked Mr. Rasselyer-Brown for a few hours’ leave of absence to attend the funeral of his mother in-law. This was a request which Mr. Rasselyer-Brown, on principle, never refused to a man-servant.
Whereupon, the Philippine chauffeur, no longer attired as one, visited the residence of Mr. Yahi-Bahi. He let himself in with a marvellous little key which he produced from a very wonderful bunch of such. He was in the house for nearly half an hour, and when he emerged, the notebook in his breast pocket, had there been an eye to read it, would have been seen to be filled with stranger details in regard to Oriental mysticism than even Mr. Yahi-Bahi had given to the world. So strange were they that before the Philippine chauffeur returned to the Rasselyer-Brown residence he telegraphed certain and sundry parts of them to New York. But why he should have addressed them to the head of a detective bureau instead of to a college of Oriental research it passes the imagination to conceive. But as the chauffeur duly reappeared at motor-time in the evening the incident passed unnoticed.
* * * * *
It is beyond the scope of the present narrative to trace the progress of Boohooism during the splendid but brief career of the Yahi-Bahi Oriental Society. There could be no doubt of its success. Its principles appealed with great strength to all the more cultivated among the ladies of Plutoria Avenue. There was something in the Oriental mysticism of its doctrines which rendered previous belief stale and puerile. The practice of the sacred rites began at once. The ladies’ counters of the Plutorian banks were inundated with requests for ten-dollar pieces in exchange for banknotes. At dinner in the best houses nothing was eaten except a thin soup (or bru), followed by fish, succeeded by meat or by game, especially such birds as are particularly pleasing to Buddha, as the partridge, the pheasant, and the woodcock. After this, except for fruits and wine, the principle of Swaraj, or denial of self, was rigidly imposed. Special Oriental dinners of this sort were given, followed by listening to the reading of Oriental poetry, with closed eyes and with the mind as far as possible in a state of Stoj, or Negation of Thought.
By this means the general doctrine of Boohooism spread rapidly. Indeed, a great many of the members of the society soon attained to a stage of Bahee, or the Higher Indifference, that it would have been hard to equal outside of Juggapore or Jumbumbabad. For example, when Mrs. Buncomhearst learned of the remarriage of her second husband–she had lost him three years before, owing to a difference of opinion on the emancipation of women–she showed the most complete Bahee possible. And when Miss Snagg learned that her brother in Venezuela had died–a very sudden death brought on by drinking rum for seventeen years–and had left her ten thousand dollars, the Bahee which she exhibited almost amounted to Nirvana.
In fact, the very general dissemination of the Oriental idea became more and more noticeable with each week that passed. Some members attained to so complete a Bahee, or Higher Indifference, that they even ceased to attend the meetings of the society; others reached a Swaraj, or Control of Self, so great that they no longer read its pamphlets; while others again actually passed into Nirvana, to a Complete Negation of Self, so rapidly that they did not even pay their subscriptions.
But features of this sort, of course, are familiar wherever a successful occult creed makes its way against the prejudices of the multitude.
The really notable part of the whole experience was the marvellous demonstration of occult power which attended the final seance of the society, the true nature of which is still wrapped in mystery.
For some weeks it had been rumoured that a very special feat or demonstration of power by Mr. Yahi-Bahi was under contemplation. In fact, the rapid spread of Swaraj and of Nirvana among the members rendered such a feat highly desirable. Just what form the demonstration would take was for some time a matter of doubt. It was whispered at first that Mr. Yahi-Bahi would attempt the mysterious eastern rite of burying Ram Spudd alive in the garden of the Rasselyer-Brown residence and leaving him there in a state of Stoj, or Suspended Inanition, for eight days. But this project was abandoned, owing to some doubt, apparently, in the mind of Mr. Ram Spudd as to his astral fitness for the high state of Stoj necessitated by the experiment.
At last it became known to the members of the Poosh, or Inner Circle, under the seal of confidence, that Mr. Yahi-Bahi would attempt nothing less than the supreme feat of occultism, namely, a reincarnation, or more correctly a reastralization of Buddha.
The members of the Inner Circle shivered with a luxurious sense of mystery when they heard of it.
“Has it ever been done before?” they asked of Mr. Snoop.
“Only a few times,” he said; “once, I believe, by Jam-bum, the famous Yogi of the Carnatic; once, perhaps twice, by Boohoo, the founder of the sect. But it is looked upon as extremely rare. Mr. Yahi tells me that the great danger is that, if the slightest part of the formula is incorrectly observed, the person attempting the astralization is swallowed up into nothingness. However, he declares himself willing to try.”
* * * * *
The seance was to take place at Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown’s residence, and was to be at midnight.
“At midnight!” said each member in surprise. And the answer was, “Yes, at midnight. You see, midnight here is exactly midday in Allahabad in India.”
This explanation was, of course, ample. “Midnight,” repeated everybody to everybody else, “is exactly midday in Allahabad.” That made things perfectly clear. Whereas if midnight had been midday in Timbuctoo the whole situation would have been different.
Each of the ladies was requested to bring to the seance some ornament of gold; but it must be plain gold, without any setting of stones.
It was known already that, according to the cult of Boohooism, gold, plain gold, is the seat of the three virtues–beauty, wisdom and grace. Therefore, according to the creed of Boohooism, anyone who has enough gold, plain gold, is endowed with these virtues and is all right. All that is needed is to have enough of it; the virtues follow as a consequence.
But for the great experiment the gold used must not be set with stones, with the one exception of rubies, which are known to be endowed with the three attributes of Hindu worship, modesty, loquacity, and pomposity.
In the present case it was found that as a number of ladies had nothing but gold ornaments set with diamonds, a second exception was made; especially as Mr. Yahi-Bahi, on appeal, decided that diamonds, though less pleasing to Buddha than rubies, possessed the secondary Hindu virtues of divisibility, movability, and disposability.
On the evening in question the residence of Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown might have been observed at midnight wrapped in utter darkness. No lights were shown. A single taper, brought by Ram Spudd from the Taj Mohal, and resembling in its outer texture those sold at the five-and-ten store near Mr. Spudd’s residence, burned on a small table in the vast dining-room. The servants had been sent upstairs and expressly enjoined to retire at half past ten. Moreover, Mr. Rasselyer-Brown had had to attend that evening, at the Mausoleum Club, a meeting of the trustees of the Church of St. Asaph, and he had come home at eleven o’clock, as he always did after diocesan work of this sort, quite used up; in fact, so fatigued that he had gone upstairs to his own suite of rooms sideways, his knees bending under him. So utterly used up was he with his church work that, as far as any interest in what might be going on in his own residence, he had attained to a state of Bahee, or Higher Indifference, that even Buddha might have envied.
The guests, as had been arranged, arrived noiselessly and on foot. All motors were left at least a block away. They made their way up the steps of the darkened house, and were admitted without ringing, the door opening silently in front of them. Mr. Yahi-Bahi and Mr. Ram Spudd, who had arrived on foot carrying a large parcel, were already there, and were behind a screen in the darkened room, reported to be in meditation.
At a whispered word from Mr. Snoop, who did duty at the door, all furs and wraps were discarded in the hall and laid in a pile. Then the guests passed silently into the great dining room. There was no light in it except the dim taper which stood on a little table. On this table each guest, as instructed, laid an ornament of gold, and at the same time was uttered in a low voice the word Ksvoo. This means, “O Buddha, I herewith lay my unworthy offering at thy feet; take it and keep it for ever.” It was explained that this was only a form.
* * * * *
“What is he doing?” whispered the assembled guests as they saw Mr. Yahi-Bahi pass across the darkened room and stand in front of the sideboard.
“Hush!” said Mr. Snoop; “he’s laying the propitiatory offering for Buddha.”
“It’s an Indian rite,” whispered Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown.
Mr. Yahi-Bahi could be seen dimly moving to and fro in front of the sideboard. There was a faint clinking of glass.
“He has to set out a glass of Burmese brandy, powdered over with nutmeg and aromatics,” whispered Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown. “I had the greatest hunt to get it all for him. He said that nothing but Burmese brandy would do, because in the Hindu religion the god can only be invoked with Burmese brandy, or, failing that, Hennessy’s with three stars, which is not entirely displeasing to Buddha.”
“The aromatics,” whispered Mr. Snoop, “are supposed to waft a perfume or incense to reach the nostrils of the god. The glass of propitiatory wine and the aromatic spices are mentioned in the Vishnu-Buddayat.”
Mr. Yahi-Bahi, his preparations completed, was now seen to stand in front of the sideboard bowing deeply four times in an Oriental salaam. The light of the single taper had by this time burned so dim that his movements were vague and uncertain. His body cast great flickering shadows on the half-seen wall. From his throat there issued a low wail in which the word wah! wah! could be distinguished.
The excitement was intense.
“What does wah mean?” whispered Mr. Spillikins.
“Hush!” said Mr. Snoop; “it means, ‘O Buddha, wherever thou art in thy lofty Nirvana, descend yet once in astral form before our eyes!'”
Mr. Yahi-Bahi rose. He was seen to place one finger on his lips and then, silently moving across the room, he disappeared behind the screen. Of what Mr. Ram Spudd was doing during this period there is no record. It was presumed that he was still praying.
The stillness was now absolute.
“We must wait in perfect silence,” whispered Mr. Snoop from the extreme tips of his lips.
Everybody sat in strained intensity, silent, looking towards the vague outline of the sideboard.
The minutes passed. No one moved. All were spellbound in expectancy.
Still the minutes passed. The taper had flickered down till the great room was almost in darkness.
Could it be that by some neglect in the preparations, the substitution perhaps of the wrong brandy, the astralization could not be effected?
Quite suddenly, it seemed, everybody in the darkened room was aware of a _presence_. That was the word as afterwards repeated in a hundred confidential discussions. A _presence_. One couldn’t call it a body. It wasn’t. It was a figure, an astral form, a presence.
“Buddha!” they gasped as they looked at it.
Just how the figure entered the room, the spectators could never afterwards agree. Some thought it appeared through the wall, deliberately astralizing itself as it passed through the bricks. Others seemed to have seen it pass in at the farther door of the room, as if it had astralized itself at the foot of the stairs in the back of the hall outside.
Be that as it may, there it stood before them, the astralized shape of the Indian deity, so that to every lip there rose the half-articulated word, “Buddha”; or at least to every lip except that of Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown. From her there came no sound.
The figure as afterwards described was attired in a long _shirak_, such as is worn by the Grand Llama of Tibet, and resembling, if the comparison were not profane, a modern dressing-gown. The legs, if one might so call them, of the apparition were enwrapped in loose punjahamas, a word which is said to be the origin of the modern pyjamas; while the feet, if they were feet, were encased in loose slippers.
Buddha moved slowly across the room. Arrived at the sideboard the astral figure paused, and even in the uncertain light Buddha was seen to raise and drink the propitiatory offering. That much was perfectly clear. Whether Buddha spoke or not is doubtful. Certain of the spectators thought that he said, ‘Must a fagotnit’, which is Hindustanee for “Blessings on this house.” To Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown’s distracted mind it seemed as if Buddha said, “I must have forgotten it” But this wild fancy she never breathed to a soul.
Silently Buddha recrossed the room, slowly wiping one arm across his mouth after the Hindu gesture of farewell.
For perhaps a full minute after the disappearance of Buddha not a soul moved. Then quite suddenly Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown, unable to stand the tension any longer, pressed an electric switch and the whole room was flooded with light.
There sat the affrighted guests staring at one another with pale faces.
But, to the amazement and horror of all, the little table in the centre stood empty–not a single gem, not a fraction of the gold that had lain upon it was left. All had disappeared.
The truth seemed to burst upon everyone at once. There was no doubt of what had happened.
The gold and the jewels had been deastralized. Under the occult power of the vision they had been demonetized, engulfed into the astral plane along with the vanishing Buddha.
Filled with the sense of horror still to come, somebody pulled aside the little screen. They fully expected to find the lifeless bodies of Mr. Yahi-Bahi and the faithful Ram Spudd. What they saw before them was more dreadful still. The outer Oriental garments of the two devotees lay strewn upon the floor. The long sash of Yahi-Bahi and the thick turban of Ram Spudd were side by side near them; almost sickening in its repulsive realism was the thick black head of hair of the junior devotee, apparently torn from his scalp as if by lightning and bearing a horrible resemblance to the cast-off wig of an actor.
The truth was too plain.
“They are engulfed!” cried a dozen voices at once.
It was realized in a flash that Yahi-Bahi and Ram Spudd had paid the penalty of their daring with their lives. Through some fatal neglect, against which they had fairly warned the participants of the seance, the two Orientals had been carried bodily in the astral plane.
“How dreadful!” murmured Mr. Snoop. “We must have made some awful error.”
“Are they deastralized?” murmured Mrs. Buncomhearst.
“Not a doubt of it,” said Mr. Snoop.
And then another voice in the group was heard to say, “We must hush it up. We _can’t_ have it known!”
On which a chorus of voices joined in, everybody urging that it must be hushed up.
“Couldn’t you try to reastralize them?” said somebody to Mr. Snoop.
“No, no,” said Mr. Snoop, still shaking. “Better not try to. We must hush it up if we can.”
And the general assent to this sentiment showed that, after all, the principles of Bahee, or Indifference to Others, had taken a real root in the society.
“Hush it up,” cried everybody, and there was a general move towards the hall.
“Good Heavens!” exclaimed Mrs. Buncomhearst; “our wraps!”
“Deastralized!” said the guests.
There was a moment of further consternation as everybody gazed at the spot where the ill-fated pile of furs and wraps had lain.
“Never mind,” said everybody, “let’s go without them–don’t stay. Just think if the police should–”
And at the word police, all of a sudden there was heard in the street the clanging of a bell and the racing gallop of the horses of the police patrol wagon.
“The police!” cried everybody. “Hush it up! Hush it up!” For of course the principles of Bahee are not known to the police.
In another moment the doorbell of the house rang with a long and violent peal, and in a second as it seemed, the whole hall was filled with bulky figures uniformed in blue.
“It’s all right, Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown,” cried a loud, firm voice from the sidewalk. “We have them both. Everything is here. We got them before they’d gone a block. But if you don’t mind, the police must get a couple of names for witnesses in the warrant.”
It was the Philippine chauffeur. But he was no longer attired as such. He wore the uniform of an inspector of police, and there was the metal badge of the Detective Department now ostentatiously outside his coat.
And beside him, one on each side of him, there stood the deastralized forms of Yahi-Bahi and Ram Spudd. They wore long overcoats, doubtless the contents of the magic parcels, and the Philippine chauffeur had a grip of iron on the neck of each as they stood. Mr. Spudd had lost his Oriental hair, and the face of Mr. Yahi-Bahi, perhaps in the struggle which had taken place, had been scraped white in patches.
They were making no attempt to break away. Indeed, Mr. Spudd, with that complete Bahee, or Submission to Fate, which is attained only by long services in state penitentiaries, was smiling and smoking a cigarette.
“We were waiting for them,” explained a tall police officer to the two or three ladies who now gathered round him with a return of courage. “They had the stuff in a hand-cart and were pushing it away. The chief caught them at the corner, and rang the patrol from there. You’ll find everything all right, I think, ladies,” he added, as a burly assistant was seen carrying an armload of furs up the steps.
Somehow many of the ladies realized at the moment what cheery, safe, reliable people policemen in blue are, and what a friendly, familiar shelter they offer against the wiles of Oriental occultism.
“Are they old criminals?” someone asked.
“Yes, ma’am. They’ve worked this same thing in four cities already, and both of them have done time, and lots of it. They’ve only been out six months. No need to worry over them,” he concluded with a shrug of the shoulders.
So the furs were restored and the gold and the jewels parcelled out among the owners, and in due course Mr. Yahi-Bahi and Mr. Ram Spudd were lifted up into the patrol wagon where they seated themselves with a composure worthy of the best traditions of Jehumbabah and Bahoolapore. In fact, Mr. Spudd was heard to address the police as “boys,” and to remark that they had “got them good” that time.
So the seance ended and the guests vanished, and the Yahi-Bahi Society terminated itself without even a vote of dissolution.
And in all the later confidential discussions of the episode only one point of mysticism remained. After they had time really to reflect on it, free from all danger of arrest, the members of the society realized that on one point the police were entirely off the truth of things. For Mr. Yahi-Bahi, whether a thief or not, and whether he came from the Orient, or, as the police said, from Missouri, had actually succeeded in reastralizing Buddha.
Nor was anyone more emphatic on this point than Mrs. Rasselyer-Brown herself.
“For after all,” she said, “if it was not Buddha, who was it?”
And the question was never answered.