ENTRY 45 — The Seventh Sign

Shangri-LaENTRY 45, April 24, 1987

The Seventh Sign

Our accommodation was simple but clean and comfortable. Reginald and I shared one room while Enid and Miranda shared another. It was a relief to be out of the brutal heat of Lahore!

There were many legends surrounding the area. Reginald explained that this is said to be the oldest society in the world. People lived to a ripe old age and even Enid, the eternal skeptic, noted that Hilton had resided here inspiring him to write Lost Horizon.

While Reginald and Enid were off planning their sight seeing we received a visit form a man who explained that the widow Fox was alive and well! Riding horseback down the path to the springs, we tried to calculate her age. I guessed she would be in her mid-seventies.

As we approached the mountain pool both of us were taken aback to find that Mrs. Fox had not given up bathing ‘aux natural’. Through the clear water it could be seen that she was in excellent physical condition, her thick white hair cut fashionably short.

Indeed, her laugh lines emphasized her near-perfect features, Cherry Blossomsradiating a warmth and deep love of people. It really is difficult to describe the feeling of peace one had in her presence.

“Bryan,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye, “would you and your lovely wife care to join me?”

“How did you know I was married?” I asked.

“I’ve been expecting you,” she said, mysteriously, but not in a sinister fashion. “I know you’ve many questions and I’ll endeavor to answer them all. But first you must relax for a while. Let the springs work their magic on you.”

Swimming to its source we could feel the deliciously relaxing bubbles begin to do their work. The three of us made small talk for about an hour. I was fascinated. Even at her age Mrs. Fox had a classic beauty. However, as Nigel had pointed out, the most striking aspect about his wife was her spiritual beauty. One could fairly say that Mrs. Fox was what a fully mature person should be at her stage in life.

My thoughts were broken when Miranda noted excitedly that somebody was taking our clothes.

“Don’t worry,” said Mrs. Fox. “That’s only Dhobi Sahib: if you Bryan in a pith helmetlook closely you’ll see he has left you some clean clothes, hand-made from our homespun cotton. Yours will be returned, fully laundered and pressed. Miranda, always the practical one, warned us that if we stayed in the springs much longer we would begin to resemble prunes.

A Captive Audience

Later we had a delicious lunch with our USPG friends. Mrs. Fox came and asked if Miranda and I could be excused from the “retreat” activities that afternoon, for she had some matters of personal importance she wanted to discuss with us. She took us back to her private quarters, which were still exactly as Nigel had described. Between two oil portraits, one of Yehoshua ben Joseph and the other of Mohandas K. Gandhi, was a small photograph of Nigel. He looked quite dashing in his Punjabi dress.

After seeing that we were seated comfortably, she opened a bottle of wine from her private stock and poured Miranda and I healthy portions. Then she made herself comfortable.

“So you are curious about my husband,” she began.

We nodded.

She went into quite some detail about his life, most of which we knew. We listened Retreatpolitely as she reminisced about the man who was clearly the one true love of her life. She obviously enjoyed having someone to share her story with. We were a captive audience, yet interested in what she had to say.

Enthralled, the afternoon passed quickly, and, to our chagrin, we missed supper. “No worry,” Mrs. Fox said as she left the room for a moment. She returned with a feast of cheeses, bread, fruit, cashew nuts (my favorite) and pistachio nuts (Miranda’s favorite). “All very fattening, but we all need a treat once in a while.”

What Happened to Nigel Fox?

“What finally happened to Mr. Fox? It seems he never returned to Lahore.” queried Miranda

“Nigel wrote telling me of his quest and that he would soon return. I must say the tone of his letter was slightly odd. He repeated several times that the prophecy of the ‘dry bones’ was to be fulfilled and that something wonderful was going to happen. It can only be described as a highly energized letter!”

“Was he mad?” I asked bluntly. Miranda shot me a glare.

Mrs. Fox didn’t miss a beat: “Nigel told me Enjoying the Valley Winethat in the course of his life he endured several serious depressions and several euphoric episodes leading to altered states and sometimes blackouts. That was why he returned from his missionary work in South Africa, you know. Yet I can say in all honesty, during the many months we spent together in this valley, he showed absolutely no evidence of such moods. I found him to be a kind, emotionally stable, and loving man. Indeed, he swept me off my feet. I will always love him and miss him. Yet, his letter from Lahore did have a peculiar tone to it . . . After he wrote me, he made arrangements to travel to Palestine. From the little I was able to piece together, at this point he was a man who was driven. The Palestine into which he arrived was in turmoil. Yet, in his mind, something wonderful was to happen!

“What?” I asked fascinated.

“I’m sure you know the history as well as I do. The Americans, since the end of the war had been arguing that Jewish refugees should be admitted to Palestine. The British reluctantly concurred and the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry was set The Retreatup. It recommended that 100,000 Jews be admitted freely, allowed to buy land and so forth. Violence broke out and the British handed the matter over to the United Nations. The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine was set up,” Mrs. Fox continued. “More violence broke out. There was continuing turmoil.”

Miranda nodded.

“Then a group of ultra-traditional Jews took a stand against the restoration of Israel, arguing that in the Scriptures, it clearly states that this can only take place after the coming of the Messiah. My somewhat unbalanced husband caught everyone off guard: he publicly argued that these traditional Jews were right. Scripture does unquestionably state that Israel will be proclaimed three and one half months after the coming of the Messiah; Nigel pronounced that the Messiah had already arrived! The press had a feeding frenzy and neither Nigel nor the traditional Jews fared very well.”

Mrs. Fox went on, Miranda and I listening intently. “However, the impossible happened. Against all the odds, on the 14th of May, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel. It was recognized by the United States and the Soviet Union. Nigel was elated. For him, he had witnessed the FotoTime Photo - Spring 1987Seventh Sign.”

“The following day he suffered the first of three heart attacks. His heart was in very poor shape; he knew he was dying. My dear husband repeatedly told the nurse about how his body must be cremated and his ashes returned to this valley. After his second attack, he was unable to speak, having had a stroke as well. For a month he lingered in that state. Finally, a third attack finished him off.”

It was a long time before the Widow Fox could go on; she sat staring at her hands. “I was devastated,” she said quietly.

“I was executrix of his will. Nigel, as it turned out, was a very wealthy man. I saw to it that his wishes were carried out: his body was cremated and the ashes brought back to the Ashram; most of his great fortune went to the son of his good friend Hans Hoff, a Karl Loder, and to me. My portion was a great boost to the work of the Ashram.

“We noticed Mule Sahib!” interjected Miranda.

Then she returned to Nigel’s demise: “The only real problem which surfaced had to do with the portmanteau Bryan relaxes.containing some of his private papers, which you and Miranda stumbled upon.

Apparently Enoch had promised Nigel that he would not release them to anyone other than Nigel. Poor Enoch, he really wanted to share the contents with me, yet he had promised ‘Padre Sahib’ that never while there was a breath of life in him would he release the ‘secrets’ of the portmanteau. The poor dear kept giving me hints through the years until I had a fair idea of its contents. When Enoch passed on, the location of the portmanteau passed with him.”

“Where did you put Nigel’s ashes?” Miranda asked.

“I sprinkled them in the vineyard that Nigel loved so much. There’s likely still a little of Nigel in the wine you are drinking.”

Miranda looked down at her glass. After a moment Miranda said, “Let’s drink to Nigel.”

I added, “Or of Nigel, as the case may be.”

The Fig Tree

The most curious thing we came across that day (and believe us, there were many) was a petrified fig tree. The Widow Fox explained there were many legends that centered upon that particular tree. It was said Leaving Shangri-Lato have been planted by God himself at the beginning of the world.

There’s a story bearing a remarkable resemblance to that of Adam and Eve and their encounter with a fruit tree, except whereas some Christians believe Eve ate an apple, the people of the Valley believe it was a fig. Nobody is allowed to even touch the tree!

Mrs. Fox continued, “Shortly before Nigel left, the tree started to wither. He tried to save it by watering it with water from the spa. The results were disastrous, as you can see. The Valley people took it rather hard. Now we have a petrified fig tree. Still, no one is allowed to touch it.”

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