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Allauddin....Chapter 4

Adeline's adventure in India continues.



Like a cobra which has cast its coils spiralling conch-like three times…
the enchantress of the world, slender as a lotus stem, bright as a lightning flash, lies sleeping, breathing softly in and out, murmuring poems in sweet metres, humming like a drunken bee in the petals of the lotus, how brightly her light shines.

- From the Sarchakra-nirupana

Adeline had retired from lunch as soon as she had eaten, making excuses that she had a mild headache. Having often heard Esme Peck complain of headaches apparently caused by the humidity, the dryness, the heat, the wind, the noontide sun, the sound of rain on the roof and practically every other phenomenon native to India, a headache had seemed a very plausible excuse to the Pecks. She had received an understanding pat on the shoulder and a nod from Colonel Peck. He was a modest, kindly man of considerable humour and intelligence, a collector of native art too; a pursuit that seemed to cause his wife no end of annoyance.

Now as Adeline walked to her room she suddenly had a vision of Esme dressing down Lords Minto and Kitchener with the red faced Colonel standing to attention a few paces behind her. She giggled loudly then looked around. The corridor was empty and she hoped that she would not meet any of the Peck’s obsequious servants who seemed to be more servile and obtuse than most. Opening the door to her room, she found it fresh and tidy and smiled upon noticing that someone had put a beautiful red peony in a blue Chinese vase next to her bed. Removing her shoes and her light cotton dress, she lay down, then, from a drawer in the bedside cabinet, she drew out a small dark red book. Removing a scrap of paper from it, she began to read aloud a passage that she had read many times since her father had given the book to her, without her mother’s knowledge, on the eve of her departure.

Love, to be worthy of the name, must rest, not on the fact of admiration for beauty, not on the physical attraction manifested in sweet electric thrills. Love should include intellectual congeniality and spiritual sympathy, as well as physical attraction. Lacking any of these three ingredients, the interest of two people in each other should not be called love.” Upon the previous page was another now oft read maxim that she this time read to herself, Sex is the expression of the whole nature, through the physical; it is the vital creative force endeavouring to reach a tangible result.

“A baby”, she reasoned, must be the tangible result. That much was clear enough but the rest of the sentence raised many more questions than it answered. She next turned to page 126 where she read,

"You, as a young woman, can have much influence in the right directions, supposing that you drop from your mind the idea of sentimental relations with young men and meet them on the grounds of friendly comradeship. Don’t indulge in lackadaisical glances of the eye. Don’t permit personal familiarities or caresses. Don’t simper and put on airs. Refuse to be flattered, to be played with, to be treated as a female, but insist on being treated as a woman with intelligence, with a capacity to understand reasonable things. Manifest an interest in the movements of the world, of politics, literature, art, religion. Talk of the things that interest the young man as a citizen of the world and not merely as a man. Be frank, be lively, be witty and above all be wise." 

Adeline read the last sentence again. It had become her credo and thanks to the learned and sagely Mrs. Mary Wood-Allen M.D, the book’s author, she felt a better, more enlightened person. Elsewhere, this formidably knowledgeable American had dealt with the evils of tight clothing, smoking, excessive drinking, gambling and solitary vice. Adeline was still unsure as to the exact nature of the latter but she had given up wearing corselets since arriving in India and congratulated herself that she never smoked or become inebriated.

Of far more value in her estimation however, was the light that the good doctor had thrown on the twin mysteries of menstruation and pregnancy. Now that she felt she had some understanding of both, she often thought back to the years of whispered, giggling conversation and speculation that she had had with all of her girlfriends out of the earshot of adults. Most of those same friends, she reflected, were probably none the wiser to this day. She said both words out loud and emphatically,

“Men-stru-a-tion and preg-nan-cy,” while imagining her mother’s lowered eyebrows and pursed lips such as on the occasion when she had threatened to join the Women’s Suffrage movement if her mother refused to let her travel to Paris for the spring. She chided herself for being so immature then wondered where her father had got the book, as it seemed to be published only in America. She thought him a brave man for having bought it for her and couldn’t imagine her mother ever broaching such subjects with her.

Furthermore, as she was an only child, the benefit of an older sister’s advice was denied her. Come to think of it, she didn’t know of any female doctors in England and concluded that their existence in America was a tangible manifestation of the liberty that Americans held so dear. She resolved to write to Mrs, no doctor Wood-Allen and spent several minutes composing the opening lines to such a letter in her mind. Dear Doctor, would you be so kind as to clarify the concept and practice of sex in future editions of your marvellous book, “What a Young Woman Ought To Know.” 

It suddenly occurred to her to look at the advertisements at the very back of the book and sure enough there was a listing for a book entitled, What a Young Wife Ought to Know - this by another lady doctor, a Mrs. Emma Drake M.D. For the price of four shillings and free postage this tome could be easily purchased from an address in Philadelphia.

“So that’s where you got it daddy.”

With a conspiratorial chuckle, she sprang off the bed, quickly found pen, ink, paper and an envelope that she addressed to Major Douglas C. Blandford care of the Pegasus Club, Great Russell Street, London. Acquiring the book through her father would doubtless arouse less interest and she wanted to avoid both Esme Peck’s disapproval and her mother finding out, at all costs. After some pleasantries, she wrote,

I find my education in the ways of the world, which you dearest daddy have so prudently embarked me upon, at something of an impasse. I have perused the wise and fascinating book that you kindly gave me and am anxious to read its sequel. Can I rely upon you, dearest father, to use the ingenuity so abundantly at your disposal to acquire a copy of the said sequel for me? 

She smiled as she imagined her father, cigar in one hand reading this in the salubrious surroundings of his clubrooms. The mock formal tone was how her father always wrote to her and she had recently adopted it too. It was, she suspected, a satire upon relatives in the legal profession with which her mother’s side of the family was well stocked. Something then made Adeline look up and she noticed that the French window that led to the garden was slightly ajar. As she looked at it, it moved slightly and she continued to watch it for several minutes to see if it would move again. When it did not, she rose and cautiously swung it open. There was no breeze and outside in the noontime heat, the Residence’s formal English garden was quiet and deserted.

Stepping out onto the slate pathway, she immediately noticed a number of dusty footprints from a pair of bare feet. She followed the footprints a little up the path. Their owner had evidently stepped onto the path from the lawn and returned to it after passing her room. This was nothing unusual, although she was certain that all of the Residence’s staff and the Peck’s own servants wore shoes while on duty, of that Esme made quite sure. Had someone been watching her? Oh, but that’s absurd she told herself as she knelt down to take a closer look at the footprints. They were slender and delicate, like a woman’s or a child’s. Suddenly she realised that she was clad only in a petty coat so abandoning the mystery of the footprints for a moment, she headed back to the French window. Adeline had taken a mere six paces when she froze, for there on the path, three feet in front of her was a cobra. Clenching her fists, she instinctively stepped back. The snake’s head was pointing away from her and she now noticed that it was moving from side to side slowly. Until this instant she had only seen this formidable snake illustrated in books, usually engaged in a life and death struggle with a mongoose and couldn’t now help wondering at its repellent beauty in the flesh.

She gazed at it for what seemed like an eternity until she decided that it had not seen her and so she stepped to the left, onto the lawn, then took a couple of steps forward. At last she could clearly see the reptile’s head. It was devouring what looked to be a sizable green lizard. With more fascination than fear, she took another step forward and crouched down. The snake, she reasoned, could hardly attack with a mouthful of food. Slowly almost painfully it swallowed its victim as she watched. Little by little the lizard disappeared until only the last few inches of its tail were visible at the edge of the cobra’s mouth. Feeling strangely awed, Adeline remained crouching until all trace of the hapless lizard had vanished and the snake began to move. Slowly at first, it followed the slate pathway in the direction from which the footprints had come then it glided through a flower bed to a corner of the house wall where there was a large dead tree covered by a flowering white jasmine vine.

She had admired this tree upon first seeing the garden weeks ago and had often since basked in its sweet aroma during warm nights when the breeze brought it towards her rooms. She now glanced around, saw no one and decided to follow the snake, ensuring that she stayed a discreet distance behind it. This odd procession continued for a few minutes until the creature reached the base of the tree where it halted. Adeline was by this time about ten feet away, holding her breath but unable to take her eyes away from its sensuous form. She stepped closer and as she did so, the snake turned its head towards her. It reared up slightly, forked tongue flicking rapidly and she was reminded of the sacred ureus, protector of the pharaohs, that she had seen many carved examples of throughout the length and breadth of the Nile valley. Now the snake inclined its head so that it seemed to be looking directly into her eyes. She was transfixed, powerless yet oddly unafraid as she stared back into those black opaque points that shone like polished obsidian in the afternoon sun.

Gradually she became oblivious of her surroundings and now became conscious of a faint sound. It was a beautiful, hypnotic sound that grew in intensity as she concentrated on it. A sound like hundreds of chanting, echoing voices, singing words that she had never heard before, yet that she somehow instinctively understood. It was a peaceful, soothing hymn that told of love, sanctity and holiness. The music reached a climax then faded, as the memory of a dream fades upon awakening. With it the snake disappeared, leaving Adeline standing perfectly still, staring at the place where it had been. At length she frowned, had she imagined it? With a start she again realised that she was outdoors and in no state of attire to be seen by anyone. Hurrying back to her room, she shut the French windows then knelt down and examined the gap between them and the floor.

There was about a quarter of an inch at most, far too narrow for large snakes she reasoned. She steadied herself, lay down and thought about how this experience had affected her. She felt a mixture of exhilaration and pride as if she had been privy to some mystery but she also felt humility. Should she tell anyone? Obviously the dead tree was the snake’s lair. It may have lived there for years, carefully avoiding people. One thing was certain, if she informed Esme Peck, the old woman would doubtless have the tree, with its beautiful jasmine, removed and the snake killed, possibly even stuffed or made into a pair of shoes. This eventuality struck her as being grossly unjust, so in her mind, she entered into a pact with the creature.

You keep out of my room and refrain from biting anybody and I’ll avoid your tree and keep your existence to myself whilst keeping a wary eye out for you.” 

She rose from the bed, happy with this resolution and picked up a sketchbook that lay by the side of the secretaire. She then found her Conte pencils, sat back on the bed and commenced to draw the snake; its compact head, its sensual fluid curves, the whip like tail and those jewelled eyes – yes her eyes. An hour and a half passed before Adeline closed the sketchbook again and lay back contentedly on her pillow. She shut her eyes and immediately her limbs began to feel heavy, her breathing slowed and she began to drift like a feather on a calm sea, at the tender mercy of the breeze. A breeze with a voice or rather, hundreds of voices, blended harmoniously, singing an incantation to the gods.
 
Coming soon...Allauddin Chapter 5

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Copyright © Copyright, Peter Karargiris.

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