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Title: A Draught of the Blue — An Essence of the Dusk
Author: Bain, F. W. (Francis William)
Language: English
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[Illustration: Frontispiece]



  A Draught of the Blue

  Together with

  An Essence of the Dusk


  Translated from the Original Manuscripts


  By

  F. W. Bain



  G. P. Putnam's Sons
  New York and London
  The Knickerbocker Press



  COPYRIGHT, 1906
  BY
  F. W. BAIN

  (For "An Essence of the Dusk")

  Published, January, 1907
  Reprinted, March, 1907; September, 1908
  July, 1910; September, 1911



  The Knickerbocker Press, New York



Contents


I A Draught of the Blue

II An Essence of the Dusk



A Draught of the Blue

[Illustration: Hindu script]

Translated from the Original Manuscript

[Illustration: Hindu script]

  _Ah! lotus infinite! ah! wild sweet Blue!
  Sense, in thy azure ocean dipped, must die._



Desiderio



Introduction

The sun goes down, for those alone, who stand on a revolving sphere:
and so, in Nature's universal life, Death is but a dissolving view, a
word without a meaning: real only to the accidental unit, to whose
local and momentary combination it sets a term.  Death is a thing of
nought, phenomenal, kaleidoscopic: a juggle of the Mother of Illusion,
Prakriti or Máyá, whose magic scene not only never dies, but like her
own wild animals, sleeps even with an open eye.  You never catch her
napping.  And often, when you think that you have done it, she winks at
you, just as it were to show you your mistake.  As sometimes, on a hot
midsummer day, when the delicate blue smoke from cottage chimneys rises
straight into the air, and Nature holds her breath: you think, she is
asleep: and all at once, there comes a little whisper, and a ripple
passes over all the golden ears of corn, and in another moment, all is
still.  Or on a cliff that overhangs a glassy sea, you lie and dream,
and think, the very water sleeps: and then, a sudden change of colour
flushes the ocean opal for only a single instant, and is gone.  Or in a
wood at noon, you listen to the silence, and a rustle suddenly quivers
in the trees, and dies away.  Murmurs and echoes: moments and emotions
of the pulses of the world: hints and indications, still, small voices
more significant than storms, of the never-sleeping thrill and throb of
universal action.

"_Every tremor gravitation excites in any planet is immediately
transmitted to the farthest limits of the system, in oscillations
corresponding in their periods with the causes that produce them, like
sympathetic notes in music, or vibrations from the deep tones of an
organ....  The human frame may be regarded as an elastic system, the
different parts of which are capable of receiving the tremors of
elastic media, and of vibrating in unison with their innumerable
undulations._"

So far sober modern science, never dreaming that it is exactly
reproducing (translate the thing only from physics into ethics) the old
Hindoo idea, that moral conservation of energy, whose fundamental axiom
it is, that no ACTION, good or bad, however small, is or ever can be
lost, but like a stone thrown into the water, generates innumerable
consequences, running in all directions to infinity, producing
permanent impressions and effects, that follow and fatally determine,
eternal and indelible, the fortunes of their DOER, through the series
of interminable births and deaths: births that are no beginning, and
deaths that are not an end.  Thus do we go on making for ourselves our
weal or woe: and as we go, _the hounds of deeds long buried in oblivion
are on our track_.


Doubtless a little story might have a more delicious name than the one
before us: but doubtless it never had.  We may understand it either of
a young woman or the moon: and in either case, it means more things
than one.  I.  _The new moon, seen for a single instant, in the sky, or
on the lotus, or on the forehead of Maheshwara_.  II.  _A beauty with
eyes like a great blue lotus, or the colour of heaven_.  For all these
things have a quality in common, the mystic blue.

Strange, how deep an impression the colour _blue_ seems to have made
upon the Indian mind.  Gods and peacocks, creepers and lotuses, clouds
and pools and skies and seas, elephants and maidens' glances are all
mixed up together in their language by their "participation" in this
"Platonic idea," this transcendental blue.  Something of this, indeed,
is readily intelligible in every land: but in India, it is more so.
The blue is bluer, there.  _Wouldst the poet understand, Travel in the
poet's land_.  I will not say, with Goethe, Kenst thou that land: but
simply tell the reader something that I saw at Mahabaleshwar in 1903.


The month of May, and with it, the hot weather, was drawing to a close.
The woods were green, but very, very dry, and all their ferny fringes
by the red road-sides were parched and powdered thick with ruddy dust.
Each morning, when I stood in my verandah, looking down the valley, I
could see a floor of cloud, now rolled out like a table-cloth, now
tossing like a troubled sea, now floating, wreath on wreath, like a
ballet dancer's gauzy flounces, half opaque and half transparent, over
the distant Konkan, three thousand feet and more below, waiting for the
rising sun to touch it with a rosy blush and kiss it, into
invisibility.  And every evening, just as he went away, the hot haze
hanging like a filmy veil about the hills thickened back into solidity,
and beautiful cold mists, reborn, rolled swiftly up the valley,
blotting out the picture, and hiding all with their ghostly shifting
curtain.  And so, from morn to night, and night to morning, it went on,
till lines of bullock carts began to gather and wander down the hill,
and people were preparing to pack and flit and vanish: for the monsoon
was approaching, when no one not a native of those parts can remain
upon the hill, unless he wishes to go mad.

And then it began to rain.  Suddenly, like the Day of Judgment, there
fell from the sky in a solid lump rain, like no rain that I had ever
seen before, with the roar of an avalanche and the thunder of Indra and
lightning that hissed like a serpent, crashing and smashing down on the
roof as if it would break it in.  It was dark at midday, and deadly
cold, for there went up a mist from the earth, to meet the flood from
heaven, making as it were a solid wall through which it was impossible
to see a yard.  There was nothing to be done but to sit and wait.  So
for five nights and days that angry rain raged and hammered upon the
earth, and tore her with savage fury, growing fiercer as it went on[1]:
till all at once, just as though the gates above had been suddenly
shut, it stopped, as abruptly as it had begun, about five in the
afternoon.

I went out, and wandered slowly up the hill.  The air was soft, and
quite warm, and heavy with the smell of smells, the fragrance of fresh
earth.  Here and there, the paths were gone, washed clean away, looking
like red skeletons of their former selves, with rock for bones, all
their earthy covering gone.  And here and there, a little off the road,
a pale orchid sheltered beneath a bough, or a dainty cobra-lily,
nestling snug under an overhanging trunk, peeped with incomparable shy
reserve through some dark vista in the trees.  A mongoose ran across
the road, stopped, just half-way, to stare for an instant at me with
its startled weasel eye, and leaped into cover on the opposite side.[2]
In a few minutes I gained a point of view, and turned to look,--over a
sea of green, and what a green!

For every leaf on every tree was washed and wet, and glistened as if
coated with fresh paint.  The rich glow of a yellow evening sun
deepened and intensified the wonderful red colour of patches of naked
rock, raw scars laid bare by little slips of land on places on the
hill.  Cascades of water shot spouting and splashing into the valleys
from innumerable scarps and shelves along the heights; and as I
listened, I could hear the streams, hidden in the dense foliage,
rushing and gurgling down the steep slopes, carrying with them as they
went all the loose soil and pebbles they could find.  And all along the
ridges of the hills, to right and left, on Elphinstone and Lodwick
points, hung brooding enormous masses of white cloud, the purest, the
strangest, the most indescribably magnificent and beautiful clouds that
I ever saw, whiter than snow, brighter than polished silver, save only
where their lower edges were charged with heavy rain, fleeces of
colossal milk-white rams, dipped by the master painter, Deity, in giant
vats of purple ink.  Down and away below them the staircase of the
Ghauts, long lines of broken hill, were stepping away into the plain,
with every distant detail sharp and clear, cut as it were in copper,
till all merged in the far horizon, on which a _blink_ of burnished
gold flashed back from the unseen sea, lying right in the eye of the
setting sun.  I listened, and in the silence, broken only by the ruckle
of the rushing water, somewhere away upon the hill, I heard a cock
crow.  And at that moment, right above me, I looked and saw: a mass of
shining cloud swung slowly open, and through the gap, in the deep abyss
of heaven, appeared a spot, a panel, a little lozenge, of blue: pure,
unsullied, silent, elemental, Indian blue.

There, there, was the unearthly colour, the colour of the mystic lotus,
and the long-eyed languishing Indian Gods.  I knew in that instant what
Kalidas meant, when he compared the virtue of the just to a patch of
heaven fallen down to earth, the blue celestial leaven in this world of
frenzied storm and weeping rain.  There was the azure paradox, the blue
that is all but black, dark, transparent, clear as crystal, shut out
from eyes that live in plains by earth's encircling fog.  But _over
every mountain is peace_, and the kosmic blue.

MAHABALESHWAR,
   _April, 1905._



[1] In but a part of the last night, there fell eight inches and a half
of rain!  Time for time, Mahabaleshwar can probably laugh at
Cherrapunji.  The valleys are scooped out as if with a trowel.

[2] This mongoose was, no doubt, wondering "what the devil I did
there": for during the rains he and his fellows have the hillsides
entirely to themselves.



Contents

PROLOGUE--A DEAD LOTUS

LOVE'S LOOKING-GLASS

  I.  Sky-Crystal
  II.  Sprung from the Mud
  III.  Purusha and Prakriti
  IV.  Bubbles
  V.  A Painted Lady
  VI.  Shadows
  VII.  Twilight
  VIII.  Quintessence
  IX.  Echoes and Regrets

EPILOGUE--THE BREAK OF A HEART

_Note_.--The words below the Vignette may be thus translated:

  _Earth, the Root, and Heaven, the Hue;
  Marsh of Mire, and Flower of Blue;_



Prologue

A Dead Lotus



A Dead Lotus

I

_To the pitchy dark of that awful wood,[1] where plunging Ganges lost
her way through a night of a thousand years: when the lonely Moon
turned ashy pale, mocked by a million moons that danced in the hollows
of the rushing waves: we bow._


On the edge of the great southern forest, there lived, a thousand years
ago, an aged King and Queen, who counted all the world as grass, for
want of a son and heir.  And finding all other methods fruitless, in
the end they gave themselves wholly up to meditating, night and day, on
the sole of the Great God's foot: until at last Maheshwara felt pity
for that childless couple, and revealed himself to them both at once,
in a double dream.  So when he asked them what they wanted, the King
asked simply for a son.  But the Queen, being smitten with deep
devotion at the sight of the Great God's moonlit hair, exclaimed: O
Boon Giver, let my son resemble thee, were it only in a single fraction
of an atom of his being.  Touch me now with the very end of one of thy
tangled locks of hair, and so shall I become instinct with a tiny
portion of thy divinity.  Then said Shiwa to himself: Even a single jot
of me will be much too powerful for the rest of this human being's
substance, and disturb the balance of the whole.  But be it as this
mother wills.  For she has made her choice, and I granted the boon
beforehand.[2] And I can see that he has to dree the weird[3] of his
former births.

Then he took from his head a single hair, and broke it off, and placed
it in her hand.  And then he disappeared, and that royal pair awoke,
and eagerly compared their dreams, which corresponded in every
particular.  And when they looked, lo! shut fast in the hand of the
Queen was a single hair, that glowed like a wire of flame.[4]

Then full of joy, they worshipped the God: and they placed that hair in
a golden shrine, and built around it a temple.  And when in course of
time the Queen gave birth to a son, they called him by a suitable name,
Rudrálaka.[5]  And as the baby became a child, he did not belie his
name.  For his thick dark hair was shot with a tinge of gleaming red,
and in the sun it shone like fire, and it resembled the mane of a
horse.  And as the boy became a man, his strength became prodigious;
and his passions were wild and furious and proportioned to his
strength.  And he was as unruly and unmanageable as a young colt of
high spirit, and so full of wayward obstinacy and headstrong self-will,
that his father said in private to his mother: Now, but that the hair
in thy hand was red, this son of thine would seem to take after, not
the Great God himself, but his bull.[6]

And when his manhood was complete, like a river in flood in the rainy
season, it overflowed all common bounds.  And he ran wild among men and
women, overcoming all the men in every feat of strength and agility,
and like a great black bee in a flower garden, rifling all the women of
their honey and their hearts and their good behaviour, and playing
havoc among them, till the mischief created by his own red hair began,
as it were, to turn that of his father and mother white.  Then they
said: Come, we will marry him, and then no doubt he will settle down
and become clear, like strong wine after fermentation, and turn into a
pillar of his family and the state.  But as soon as they proposed it,
Rudrálaka laughed in their faces.  And he exclaimed: Who carries a
flower, when it is faded, and what are women but flowers, fit only to
be gathered, in the moment of their bloom, and worn for an hour and
thrown away?  And he is wise, who knows how to get from the bee its
honey, and yet elude its sting.  Now a maiden is all honey, but a wife
is a buzzing sting.  Moreover, women are like mountains, and like
snakes, and fire, and the mirage, beautiful in the distance, and the
further off, the better: and like them, rugged, and biting, and
burning, and luring to destruction all who come too near.  But of all
things this is worst, that every woman wishes, like a king, to reign
alone, and is utterly unable to endure the very name of rival, even in
her dreams: so that every husband has in his wife, either a despotic
tyrant, or an exasperated foe, whom nothing can appease or soothe but
absolute submission.  And thus his life is sapped and sucked and drawn
into the being of his wife, till it wholly disappears, like that of a
noble tree, embraced and treacherously kissed into a premature decay by
a beautiful and clinging creeper.  And no matter how glorious the
flower, I will not be the tree: nor would I buy a wife, were she ten
thousand times more beautiful than Rádhá, by the slavery even of a
single day.  And what is the need to pay so dear for things that are
always ready to give themselves away for nothing, and would rather give
themselves away than be bought at any price?  For women are always
longing to give themselves away, and care only for men that they do not
know: being forgetful of all kindness, and unbound by obligation, and
seeing in their husband nothing but his faults; while every passing
stranger has their heart, as soon as he appears, just as long as he is
strange.  For Love is himself a stranger, and cannot become familiar
without ceasing to be Love: and women live for Love alone, being, like
flowers, nothing but his instruments: and he is like the amber, and
they are like the grass.

So when they found that, in spite of all that they could say, he would
not be persuaded, but that the more they tried, the harder grew his
obstinacy, his parents gave it up.  And soon afterwards, their hearts
broke with grief, and they died, leaving him unmarried, and fearing for
him, and the kingdom, and their ancestors, and themselves, lest all
should go to ruin by reason of the incorrigible perversity of this
cutter of their race's stalk.[7]

And then, just as though he had only waited for their death, no sooner
had his two parents gone away on the great road, than this
marriage-hating son of theirs went hunting in the forest.  And he rode
a horse of spirit like his own, which after a while broke from control
and fled at full speed, carrying him in an instant out of sight of all
his attendants.  And it brought him, deep in the heart of the wood, to
his destiny, in the form of a woman, the daughter of an old ascetic,
whose beauty, like a deadly snake, bit and slew, in a single moment,
his antipathy to the state of marriage, by the poison of its childlike
charm.  And utterly beside himself, he wooed her then and there, and
brought her home on his own horse, and made her his wife and Queen.
And she changed him so completely, that he to whom a wife was slavery,
became a woman's willing slave: so much so, that he could not bear to
let her out of his sight even for a single instant.  And he became,
like an image of Arddhanári,[8] inseparable from his wife, holding her
in his arms night and day, and chafing, like a wild animal kept without
food in a cage, if she left him only to drink water.  And the God of
the flowery bow laughed, to see his infatuation; and he said softly to
himself: A converted scoffer is, after all, the best adorer: for even a
very clever swan would fail to separate this milk-and-water.[9] But the
King's subjects were overjoyed; and they said: Now, then, his parents
will be happy.  And if his passion is so violent, that at present he
utterly neglects his kingly duties, no matter.  For when it has become
cool, he will be the very crest-jewel of his race.

And then, while he was entirely bewitched and enthralled by his passion
for his new young moon of a bride, some neighbouring kings, his
hereditary enemies, hearing of his condition, and seizing their
opportunity, combined together, and attacked him.  And after a while,
his subjects on the frontier, being ruined, paid no taxes.  So driven
by necessity, he said to his wife, with a sigh: There is no help for
it, and now I must absolutely leave thee for a little while, to pull
these thorns up by the roots: for if not, the kingdom will be
destroyed.  Yet only for a very little while: for I will return almost
before I have started.  And collecting his army, he put himself at its
head, and threw himself upon those kings, and scattered them like
leaves in a storm of wind, and reduced them to beg for mercy: for he
was beside himself with rage, seeing in them not so much enemies of his
kingdom as causes of his unwilling separation from his wife.  And
having speedily gained his object, he sent relays of horses, and posted
them at intervals all the way from his camp to his capital.  And then
at last, one morning, he mounted a horse, and started with but one
attendant, and a heart on fire, to return to his wife.

So they rode, all day long, at full speed: stopping only as long as was
necessary to let them leap from one horse to another, as if wishing to
rival the sun in his course; till that unhappy companion of the King
was almost dead from fatigue, for he was not supported like his master
by the burning desire to arrive.  But the King rode on as it were in a
dream, seeing nothing before him but the edge of the far horizon, and
the image of his wife beyond.  And so the day went by, and as the sun
was going down, they drew near to the capital, and saw its walls before
them, away on the distant plain.  And the King uttered a shout, and he
drove his spurs deep into the flanks of his flying horse, and left his
follower far behind.  And he rode into the city like a whirlwind, and
dashed through its streets, scattering the people, and spurning them as
it were from his horse's hoofs.  And he reached his palace, and rode
through the gates into the court, and threw himself to the ground.  And
he stood on the palace steps, and called aloud with a joyous voice: Ho!
go quickly, and tell the Queen that the King has come, and waits only
for her permission, to kneel at her lotus-feet.

Then the guards, who stood around, gazed at the King and at each other,
in silence and dismay.  And as they waited, there came to the King an
old chamberlain, who stood before him with joined hands, and stooping;
and his face was grey with fear.  And he said, with a shaking voice:
Let the King show mercy.  Has he not met the couriers?  The Queen died
of a burning fever, only three days ago.

And the King fell to the earth, as though one had struck him on the
head with an iron club.



[1] The hair of Shiwa, who caught the Ganges as it fell from heaven
upon his head.  It took the river a thousand years to find its way out.

[2] [Greek: Theus anaitíos, aitía d' heloménou.]

[3] I must ask the reader to excuse me for using a Scottish expression,
for there is no English equivalent.  It means to work out the fate that
is laid upon him by what has been done in a previous existence.

[4] The English reader should know, not only that the Great God's hair
is red or tawny, but that he has in his nature a strain of wildness,
something on the border-land of insanity.

[5] _The hair_, or _the abode, of Shiwa_.

[6] Nandi, whose hair is white.

[7] Because, as Lucian said, without an heir to perform the due
ceremonies, the unfortunate shades would have to go hungry and thirsty.

[8] Shiwa and Párwatí combined.

[9] _Kshira nira, milk-and-water_, is a technical term in Hindoo
erotics for a very close embrace.  The swan is credited by Hindoo poets
with the power of separating the two: a curious idea, of which it is
not easy to see the origin.



II

And they took him up, and carried him in, and laid him on a bed.  And
there he remained, like a dead man, and for so long, that they begun to
doubt whether he were not dead indeed.  But at last, the physicians by
their remedies brought him back to the body.  But his reason had fled.
For he raved and fought, struggling with the strength of a giant, and
biting like a wild beast, tearing his own hair, and shouting for his
wife.  And he threw himself upon his attendants, and handled them so
that they feared for their lives: and he ran through the palace hunting
for his wife, and calling her by name.  And when he could not find her,
he fell on all whom he met, and beat them, and came so near to killing
many, that at last his ministers took counsel, and caused him to be
bound.  So after raging for many days, taking neither food nor drink,
he fell into a burning fever, as if he wished to follow his wife by the
very road she went herself; and he lay for many weeks on the very
threshold of the door of death.  But his strength was such that he
could not die.  And so, after a long while, he came back, very slowly,
and as it were against his will, to life and to himself: and little by
little recovered health, and took once more to his kingly duties, and
the bearing of the burden of the state.  But it was, as if his better
part had died, refusing to be parted from his wife, in the other world,
and leaving behind in this only so much of his soul as was necessary to
enable him to live at all.  For he never moved from his palace, roaming
about its rooms, always silent, and always alone, with his head sunk
down upon his breast, and his sad eyes fixed upon the ground: and over
his dark face there never passed the whiteness of a smile: for his dead
wife's shadow lay across it, and her figure moved before him night and
day; and her sweetness, not to be forgotten, and never to return,
rankled in his heart like a thorn, and goaded it, and gnawed it, and
festered in his soul: and sleep forsook his eyes, which were wild, and
haggard, and such that all who saw them feared him, and were wary in
his presence: for every now and then he broke out into paroxysms of
grief mixed with laughter, during which he seemed, as it were, not to
know what he was doing, and was as dangerous to approach as a wild
mother elephant robbed by hunters of her calf.  And so he lived, and
months went by, and the grey hairs came before their time and settled
in his head, and sowed as it were its fire with the ashes of grey
grief: and age saw her opportunity, and began unheeded and unhindered
to furrow wrinkles in his brow, and dig deep corners at the ends of his
stern shut lips.



III

Now it happened, on a day, when the Great God was roaming through the
sky with Umá in his arms, that they passed close by the moon.  And
suddenly, they heard in the stillness a mournful voice, like the note
of a _chakrawákí_ bewailing her lost mate, exclaiming at intervals:
Alas! alas!  So they stopped and alighted on the surface of the
cold-rayed orb, and wandered about in his camphored air, guided by the
sound, till they came all at once upon a Siddhá.[1]  And she was
sitting under a sandal tree, leaning her head against the trunk, with
large tears in her great blue eyes, and a cloud of dark dishevelled
hair floating about her bare white bosom, whose two colossal pearls
rose and fell, heaving and fretting as if regretting their absent ocean
home.  Then filled with compassion and curiosity, Umá exclaimed: What
can be the meaning of this sighing Siddhá?  And Maheshwara divined the
truth.  But he said: Ask her.  Thereupon Párwatí said: O thou lotus
lady, what is thy trouble?  And the Siddhá said: O Daughter of the
Mountain, I have attained, by superfluity of merit, to this position of
a Siddhá, which notwithstanding is only a grief and no pleasure to me.
For I remember my former birth, and I can see my husband, sorrowing for
my absence away below.  And now I would give all that remains of my
unexhausted stock of accumulated merit for a single moment of the time
that is past, did it last no longer than the twinkling of an eye.  For
what is the use of my Siddháhood, or anything else, without my lord?
Or why am I cursed with reminiscence, and not rather rewarded with
oblivion?  For memory binds my soul, and links it like a red hot chain
to the burning fire of a dead delight.

Then Párwatí said in private to the God: Canst thou not do something
for this lovely Siddhá?  And Maheshwara replied: This is the nature of
women, that for the sake of their single lover, they would annihilate
the three worlds.  But what has pity to do with the constitution of the
universe?  Or how can time return again, and all be thrown into
confusion, simply to allow two foolish lovers to meet once more?  So
there is nothing whatever to be done.  But Párwatí coaxed him and
cajoled him, knowing the power of her two white arms, until at last he
said: Since I can refuse thee nothing, and thou art absolutely set upon
it, I will, to please thee, cause these two unhappy persons to re-enact
their little drama, and taste again the nectar of that love which they
so much regret: but only in a dream.  For dreams were established by
the Creator for this very reason, that a remedy might be found for the
irrevocable nature of reality.  For that must be as it has been, and
cannot be recalled or changed: but anything may happen in a dream.  And
yet, this pair of lovers would be wiser, were they content to let
alone, and leave things as they are.  For they will but make their
misery more, by the very means they wish to take to lessen and remove
it.  But be that as it may.

And then, he cast upon the Siddhá a kindly glance.  And he said: Silly
child, that wouldst be wiser than those who framed the three great
worlds, be now consoled.  Thou shalt, at least, have thy way, for a
little while, and meet the lord of thy heart again, halfway between
heaven and earth.

And hearing this, the Siddhá fell before him, and took his foot, and
kissed it, and placed it in her bosom.  And she said: O saviour of the
shipwrecked that are sinking in the waves of time, O send me thy
succour soon, for I am like one dying of thirst in the desert for the
blue water of my husband's arms.



[1] The moon, according to some philosophers, is the home of those
_pure spirits_, who have purged themselves in former births
sufficiently to deserve a certain grade of beatitude or bliss.



IV

And at that very moment, the King her husband on the earth was sitting
in his palace hall, musing on her memory, and dreaming of the past, and
listening to the musicians, playing before him as he sat.  So as they
played, as luck would have it, they fell upon an air, which ran into
his heart, and pierced it like a poisoned needle: for it was the
favourite air of his vanished Queen.  And as he listened, the tears
came rushing into his eyes, blinding them with love-longing and the
blackness of despair.  And he started up, and called aloud, in a voice
of thunder: Away! begone!  Wretches, have ye conspired together to
break my heart in two?  And instantly, those unlucky players stopped
affrighted, and fled before his wrath like hares.  And as all shrank
before him, the domestic chaplain came forward, and said politely: O
King, without are waiting certain merchants, jewellers, who have come
here by appointment, to lay their jewels at thy feet.

Then the King said, with a sigh: What are all their gems to me?  And
yet, no matter: let them all come in.

So in came all the merchants, and showed the King each what he had.
And the King went up and down, saying sadly to himself: Now every
pleasure is a pain, and every joy, a grief.  For what are jewels to me,
now that she is no more, on whom I would have hung them till she sank
beneath their weight?  And then, as if in irony, he took the jewels and
began to put them on himself.  And taking from the merchants all they
had, he hung himself all over, loading himself with gorgeous gems, with
emeralds and rubies, and pearls and amethysts and diamonds, and
sapphires, and every other stone, till he flashed as it were with a
thousand hues, and resembled an incarnation of the spoiling of the sea.

So as he went from one merchant to another, adding to his store, he
came suddenly on an old merchant, who stood a little apart from the
rest, with nothing visible to sell.  And his head was of enormous size,
and bare,[1] and bald on the top, and from its sides long thick white
hair ran down over his shoulders, and mingled with his beard.  And his
face was wrinkled all over, like the skin of a withered fruit.  And the
King stopped and considered him, amazed at the extraordinary size of
his head, which resembled a monstrous gourd.  And then he said: Ha!
merchant: thou art idle.  Where are thy valuables, and what is thy
commodity?  Doubtless that must be a treasure, which thou keepest
wrapped away so carefully from common eyes.  But come, produce it: that
I may add it to all these.  Then said the merchant: All these are well
enough: and yet, the thing that I have brought the King is more than
all together, and yet again, less than the least.  Then the King said:
Of what, then, art thou a seller?  And the merchant said: O King, I am
a seller of dreams.

And the King looked at him awhile, and was seized with sudden laughter.
And he exclaimed: What is this, and who ever heard of a seller of
dreams?  Art thou mad, or art thou only an old buffoon?  Then that old
merchant fixed his eyes upon the King.  And he said:

O King, who can tell, whether he is mad or not?  But as for me, know,
that mine are no common dreams, but they are such as many would give
all they had, and more than all they had, to dream.  For I can make the
past present, and I can find that which is lost, and join together whom
time has parted, and turn regret to laughing joy: and I can mend the
broken-hearted, and bring love's fierce emotion back, and into faded
flowers of passion I can breathe again their old sweet bloom, and make
to echo in living ears the music of lips that have long been dead.

And as he spoke, the King stood, and his heart rose up into his mouth.
For the words of the old merchant played on it, as if it were a lute,
and tugged at it like a cord; and the memory of his wife surged
suddenly in his soul, and swept it like a wind.  And all at once, he
seized that old man by the throat, with hands that trembled with the
ecstasy of rage, and shook him like a leaf.  And his voice faltered
with passion, as he said: Old fool, dost thou mock me?  Dost thou
promise, without performing?  Beware! for thou art playing with a fire
that will shrivel thee like a blade of grass.

Then said the old merchant, with laughter in his wrinkled eyes: O King,
thou art a child, not recognising thy physician, and seeking a quarrel
with the only one who can give thee a medicine suited to thy case.  For
I am a physician, not of the body, but of the soul.  So now, tell me:
wilt thou buy from me a dream, or not?  And the King looked at him for
a moment; and he drew a long breath, and the tears stood in his eyes.
And he said: Sell me indeed a dream, such as I wish, and thou hast
described, and I tell thee this, that I will not haggle with thee over
the price.  Then the old man laughed softly, and he said: Maháráj, who
ever speaks of the price, before he has seen and tried the goods?
First, thou shalt have thy dream; and as to the price, we will leave
it: and thou thyself shalt name it, at the end.  For maybe, didst thou
know the price, thou wouldst hesitate to buy at all.

Then he put his hand into his breast, and drew out a little flask.  And
he held that little crystal flask up in the air, looking for a ray of
light.  And when he could not find one, that old man muttered under his
breath: Sun, sun, send me a ray.  And at that very moment, there shot
into the room a ray of light, right on the little flask.  And then that
old man said: O King, see! this is a little of the very essence of the
nectar of the cold-rayed moon, where I have been this morning, to fetch
it from that lord of herbs.  And the King looked, and lo! there danced
in that little flask a liquor that laughed and bubbled, and its deep
blue was exactly the same as the colour of his dead wife's eyes.  And
like them, it smiled at him, changing from hue to hue, till it seemed
to him that those very eyes were looking straight into his own, out of
the little flask.  And quickly he put out his hand, and snatched it,
and took the stopper from its mouth.  And there came from it a perfume
that carried to his nostrils the scent of his dead wife's hair.  And
his brain reeled, and he put it hastily to his lips, to drink.  And as
he did so, suddenly there came into his head a thought.  And he paused
in the very act, looking at that old merchant, out of the corner of his
eye.  And he said to himself: Ha!  What if this old seeming merchant
were an emissary of those foes of mine, whom I defeated, to give me a
deadly draught?  Or even so, what matter?  Let me drink quickly, the
more poisonous, the better.  For life without her will not be worse,
even when turned to death.

And then, at a single gulp, he drank the contents of the flask.  And
instantly, he sank back, and lay on the cushions on which he fell,
buried in a magic sleep.

But as soon as he saw that the King slept, that old merchant stooped
down, and squatted quickly on the floor, with his two hands grounded
between his feet, and his knees reaching to his ears.  And there he
remained, with closed eyes, couched in the pitcher posture like a
lonely, water-watching crane, and still, as if he had been painted on
the wall.



[1] _I.e._ he had no turban on.  In the East, on entering a house the
head remains covered; it is the shoes which are removed.



Love's Looking-Glass



Love's Looking-Glass

I

SKY-CRYSTAL

But the King's soul rose out of his body, like a snake escaping from
its slough.  And he hovered for only a single instant, over that empty
shell of him, lying, loaded with priceless gems, on the floor below,
and then shot up into the blue sky, like a flame parted from its wick.
And as he flew like a thought through space, going like the wind he
knew not where, the King said to himself: Ha! so then, I was not
deceived.  Certainly, that old impostor was not a merchant, but a
secret agent of my foes, and now I am dead, beyond a doubt.  And that
delicious poison was as speedy as it was beautiful and sweet.  And now
I can say farewell to life without regret.  And yet I should like to
know, where in the world I can be going.

So as he floated in the air, bathed in unutterable peace, there came
over his mounting soul a feeling of supreme disdain and loathing for
his body that was lying down below.  And he said to himself, as he
closed his eyes: Ah! joy, for I have left behind that wretched sheath,
with all its poor surroundings and its miserable mundane ties.  I have
emerged, as it were, from a charnel ground, and surely that divine
liquor was, as that old vendor said, a very potent essence of nectar
and celestial wine, mixed of the icy camphor and the oozy juices of the
moon.[1]  For I feel like one intoxicated, and I swim, as it were, in
perfume, whose pungent and excessive sweetness almost robs me of my
giddied sense; and I lie on the azure ether as if on a silken couch,
poised as it were between earth and heaven, and yet I seem to soar like
some earth-despising spirit-roamer in the sky.

Then after a while, he opened his eyes, and looked round, and saw
himself alone in the vault of space, surrounded by the stars.  And he
was rushing like a comet[2] through the mansions of the moon, and he
saw Chitrá, and Swáti, and Rohini and the Hunter,[3] and the rest, and
far in the north, the polar star.  And he looked down on the Seven
Rishis,[4] and saw, far below him, the icy summits of the Snowy
Mountain, with the yellow digit of the moon clinging to the peak of
Kailas, like the earth of old on the horn of the holy Boar.[5]

And then suddenly, memory pierced him like a needle.  And he cried out:
Alas!  I am still alone, and in this respect, even death has brought no
change.  And what then is the use of death, if it does not restore me
to my wife?  And what is the use of this rushing speed?  For I am
hurrying, against my will, into the very zenith of infinite space.

And even as he spoke, he stopped, and hung in the air like a fleck of
cloud.  And strange! as if the very thought had produced her, suddenly
he found his wife in his arms.  And as her own arms glided around his
neck, and her bosom beat against his own, his hair stood on end with
amazement and delight.  And he heard the beating of his own heart,
throbbing like thunder through the realms of space.  And just as he was
going to speak, she stopped his mouth by kissing him with soft lips
opening into a smile, and eyes that reflected the colour of the sky.
And she said: Quick, let us lose no time.  Then he said: Ah! couldst
thou die, leaving me without thee in that hell below?  Then she said
again: How can mortals disobey, when destiny decrees?  It was from
necessity that I left thee, and not from choice.  But let us quickly
make the most of a little time, granted only by the favour of the God
who has the moon in his hair, and destined to end and disappear almost
as soon as it has begun.  Dost thou remember how we met, and saw each
other first of all, away in the wood below?  Come back now once more
with me, and let us live and love again, and taste the nectar of
repetition, before we part to meet no more.

And instantly the King lost his senses, and lay in a dream within a
dream.  And as they floated in each other's arms, between the heaven
and the earth, the past rose up out of the dark, before him, spread
like a picture before his eyes and breathed like a tale into his ear.



[1] Three things are essentially associated in Sanskrit poetry with the
moon--icy cold, camphor, and the medicinal virtue of drugs.

[2] _Falling meteors_, says the _Brihat Sanhita_, are the _fruits of
virtue enjoyed in heaven dropping in visible form_.

[3] Orion.

[4] The Great Bear.

[5] Wishnu, who in his third incarnation became a boar to support the
earth: _jaya jagadisha hare!_



II

SPRUNG FROM THE MUD

And once again, he rode through the forest at headlong speed, and the
trees flew by him like frightened shadows, while his horse ran on, and
carried him swiftly whither it would, into the forest depths.  And then
at last, it stopped short, on the very edge of a great river, close to
an aged banyan tree, whose hanging roots dropped from the branches to
the ground, and with their network almost hid a little ruined shrine,
whose roof their pillars pierced and split, and whose steps ran down
into the stream beneath their sacred shade, where the quiet water was
littered thick with lotus flowers and floating withered leaves.  And
there he fell from his horse's back and threw himself upon the ground:
and he and his horse together slaked their intolerable thirst, with
neither eyes nor ears for aught, till they had drunk their fill.  And
then, with a wisp of leaves and grass, he began to wipe the foam and
sweat from the quivering limbs of that noble horse, dearer to him, till
that very moment, than anything else on earth.

So as he stood, wholly intent on his horse and his work, he heard
behind him a little rustle, and a low cry.  And he looked round.  And
in that instant, like a flash of lightning, he utterly forgot his
horse, and himself, and everything else in the three worlds.

For there, standing a little way off, under that old root-dropping fig,
was one who resembled the guardian spirit of that virgin forest's
enchanted beauty, caught in the very act of changing into a feminine
form, and leaving him in doubt as he gazed, whether she was a woman or
a tree, or a being mixed of both.  For the coarse red bark that clothed
her left bare her arms and feet, which were shaped like those of Hari's
darling,[1] and it cased and swathed her soft round limbs, allowing
them to escape, like the calyx of a new young flower, or a rough hard
husk on the very point of bursting open, by reason of the ripeness of
the tempting fruit of womanhood, hardly to be held within.  And a spray
of blue convolvulus[2] hung twining all about her, trailing like a
creeper from her hair, which was twisted up into a great dark knot on
the very top of her pretty head, and hung there like a purple bank of
thunder-cloud, out of whose shadow her great blue eyes looked round as
the moon with wonder at the thing they saw before them.  And her chin
was very pointed, shaped like a _pippal_ leaf, and over it the
mind-born god had set the seal of his bow in her face, black in the
twin-arch of her brow, and red in her juicy _bimbá_ lips.  And
astonishment flushed her cheeks, like fruits, with a spot of damask
blush, like bloom.  And a single lotus, red as blood, nestled in the
little hollow dip between the mounds of her rising breasts, upland
hills where the robber Love lay lurking, to spoil the traveller of his
heart.  And the sweeping curve of her heavy hips stole the eyes of the
King away from her slender clasp-inviting waist, till it came to an end
in the nook of her inward-bending knee.  And her left hand rested
gently on a pillar of the tree, while her right was stretched before
her, bending back, palm upwards, with all its fingers spread, till the
tip of its forefinger just touched her lower lip.  And Love fished for
the King's soul with her lovely wrist and arm, and took it in their
net.  And she was standing bolt upright, poised like a flower on her
left foot's toes, with her right foot just behind it, exactly like a
graceful fawn suddenly frozen into stone when running at its utmost
speed by the sight of danger in its path.  For she stood absolutely
still, save that the lotus on her breast was lifted quickly up and down
by the flutter of the maiden-wave on which it swam.

So they two stood, still as death, each thunderstruck by the other's
vision, like a panther and its prey.[3]  And then at last, after a time
that seemed to each in spite of its length but a single instant, for
each was lost in the other, standing on the threshold of Love's
dream-bower where years are moments and time lies dead, she spoke, and
broke the spell.  And she said, softly: It is a man.  Surely, thou art
a man?  And the King said, with a smile: O maid, what else?  Then she
said again: And thy companion, what is he?  And the King said: He is a
horse.  Then she clapped her hands together, and exclaimed, as she held
them joined: Ah! stand still a little longer, and let me watch both him
and thee.  For I have never seen before, either a horse or a man.  So
he stood still as she desired; and as she watched him, he watched her.
And her blue eyes rested on him, and entered into his soul, and shook
it so, that he began to tremble all over with the horror of extreme
delight.  And he said to himself: I too, I too, see a woman, for the
very first time in all my life; which, till this very moment, has been
wasted and empty and worthless, and contemptible and without a point.
Ha!  I am like a dark black night, that has suddenly been flooded with
the rapture of a golden sun.  O hail!  O bright great God, in the form
of that blue-eyed beautiful thing before me, that fills me with
astonishment and laughter and supreme delight.  And presently he said:
O thou with the blue flowers in thy hair and the blue wonder in thy
enormous eyes, that resemble those of a child, how can it be that in a
world so full of them, thou shouldst never yet have set those eyes on
either a man or a horse?

Then she started as if from a dream.  And she came up close to him, and
raised her hand, as though she would touch his arm: and barely touched
it, with a touch like that of a leaf, which struck the King like a
heavy blow.  And she said, looking up at him, doubtfully: But O thou
great, beautiful, deep-voiced man, how should I see either?  For out of
this wood I never was, and into it nothing ever comes, and in it are
only its own trees, with the flowers, and the river, and the forest
beasts, and my father and myself.  Then the King said: Thy father?  And
is not he a man?  And she said: Nay, if thou art, he is not.  For he is
old, very old, and smaller even than myself, and his hair and beard are
thin and white, and his arms and legs are rough as bark, and dry and
thin as sticks.  And he sits always stiff and silent, plunged in
meditation, resembling the stump of an ancient tree: and it is the same
as if he were not alive.[4]  And if thou wilt, I will show him to thee,
a little way within the wood: and yet, it were better not, for it would
but distract his meditation.  But thou art tall and straight and
strong, and glorious, and young like me: and yet far bigger than
myself! for see! how even on tiptoe I reach hardly to thy shoulder.
And thy hair is like the lion's mane, and thou art like him to look at,
and wonderful in every way, and such as I could never have believed.
For often I have thought of men, and wondered what they could be like,
but never dreamed of one like thee.  Look only at my hand, and thine,
or at my arm, or foot, and thine, and see how small and weak[5] a thing
I am, compared with thee!

And the King looked at her, as she spoke; and when she ended, he began
to laugh for very joy.  And he said: O beautiful little blue-eyed
creature, thou dost not know thy own strength, nor where it lies, but
how as to thy mother?  Hadst thou, indeed, a mother, or didst thou not
rather grow, like a flower, out of some forest tree?  Then she said:
Nay, I had a mother: but alas! long ago she went away, before I can
remember.  For she was a heavenly Apsaras, whom Indra sent down here
below, to tempt my father in this wood, and turn him from his
penance.[6]  And she came and stayed with him awhile, and afterwards
she went away, flying up to heaven, and leaving me behind her with my
father in the wood.  And the King said: I do not blame thy father: what
wonder, indeed, if she overcame his resolution, did she resemble her
future daughter, even a very little?  And thy words require no other
witness to their truth, except thyself.  For beyond a doubt thou art
the very daughter of an Apsaras.  Then she said: And hast thou ever
seen an Apsaras?  And the King laughed, and he said: Nay, not until
this moment.  But come now, let me only tether my horse to yonder tree,
and then, if thou wilt, we will sit and talk together.  And I will be
thy playfellow, and will tell thee things that thou dost not know, and
thou shall tell me of nothing but thyself.

Then she said joyfully: Ah! tie him, and come quickly.  And the King
stood looking at her for a moment, and then he said: Sweet Blue-eyes,
and art thou not afraid of me?  And she looked at him enquiringly, with
no shadow of suspicion, and said: Of what should I be afraid?  For art
thou not a man, and which of the Creator's creatures injures its own
kind?  And the King gazed into her soul, through the window of her
clear and smiling eyes, and again he laughed aloud for sheer delight.
And he said to himself: Ha! exquisite is her intoxicating simplicity,
in that she does not know, that man alone is the exception to her rule.
And then he said: Sweet forest flower, what if I were tempted to pluck
thee, and carry thee away with me on my horse?  And yet, fear nothing:
for thou art very right, and I am, of all the Creator's creatures, the
one who would be most loth to do thee harm.  And men were made strong
by the Creator for this very reason, to guard such wonderful weak
things as thee.  And he said to himself: Now, let my followers only not
find me till the evening, and by the favour of the Deity, I will win
the trust of this bewitching maiden, and get her to come away with me.
Or if not, I will stay in the wood with her for ever, becoming for her
sake like one of these forest trees, rooted to the spot.

And then he took his horse, and tied him to the tree.  And then they
went together and sat down upon the moss-grown steps that ran down into
the river: he on one, and she on another, just below.



[1] The Hindoo Aphrodite.

[2] The Kámalátá is commonly described as red: this was perhaps some
kind of Ipomæa, allied to the great white moon-flower of Ceylon.

[3] An "old _shikarri_" told me, that he saw on one occasion a panther
stalking a goat.  As soon as they saw each other, they both stood
stock-still, so long, that at last the goat concluded his panther was a
mere illusion, and recommenced his dinner, browsing with unruffled
mind.  He would have paid dear for his simplicity, had not his crafty
stalker been this time stalked himself.

[4] These ancient forest hermits, who lived alone in jungle, doing
penance and eating nothing, are one of the conventions of Hindoo fairy
stories.  Such a one, like the mediæval saint, _a bundle of bones whose
breath corrupts the world before his death_, generally has a daughter,
to whose rare beauty he forms the contrast: that sharp, fierce
contrast, which is the essence of the East, like life and death.

[5] _Abalá_, "_weak_," "_without strength_," is a common Sanskrit word
for a woman, _Vas infirmius_.

[6] Indra is represented as jealous of all ascetics, lest they should
reach his total of _a century of sacrifices_ (_Shatahratu_).  But his
battle with Raghu on this head ended in a compromise (_vide
Raghuwanshä_, canto iii.).



III

PURUSHA AND PRAKRITI

And then, for a little while, he sat in silence, looking now at the
river, and now at her.  But she gazed at him with great eyes that never
left him for a moment, and saw nothing but himself.  And suddenly he
said to her: Blue-eyes, Blue-eyes, how long is it, since I met thee in
the wood?  Then she said: It is but a single moment.  Then he said:
Thou art utterly mistaken: it is more than many thousand years.  And as
she looked at him in wonder, he exclaimed: Ha! there it is again, and O
how beautiful thou art!  O thine eyes are full of wonder and my soul is
full of joy.  Dear child, see, yonder is the river, flowing as it has
been flowing ever since it first began; and here am I, to thee the
first and only man, for thou hast never seen another, and there art
thou, for me the only woman, and her very type and soul.  And like the
ancient Soul of Man,[1] I have been wandering about, forlorn and
wretched and lonely in the dark without thee, and now at last I have
found in thee my Prakriti, since thou art the very spirit of the beauty
of this wood, incarnate in a woman's lovely form.  And as I look at
thee, laughter seems to fill my soul, for joy that I have found thee,
and I feel as if, like thee, I had suddenly become a child, whereas
before I was a man.  And all this has come about in the moment since we
met, a moment which is like a door, opening on one life, and closing on
another, and it resembles the beginning and the end.

Then she said: I do not understand thee: yet speak on, without
stopping: for I could look at thee and listen to thy voice, for ever.
And the King said: Blue-eyes, if thou dost not understand, no matter:
and possibly I am speaking at random words without a meaning, for thy
great eyes deprive me of my reason, and I know not very well what I
say.  But now it is thy turn.  And tell me, what dost thou do with
thyself alone in this empty wood?  Hast thou companions other than
myself?  Then she said: I have for companions the deer of the forest,
and the parrots that live in this great tree, and the peacock that thou
seest yonder on the temple wall, and the crows that come to eat the
daily offering, and the flowers which I water and wear woven in my
hair.  And I have many things to do.  For sometimes I ramble in the
wood, and hunt for flowers, and watch the monkeys and the squirrels
that play in the trees: and when I am tired, I sit still, playing with
my hair, and rolling and unrolling it, for it is longer than I am
myself and a trouble and a hindrance to me, till I knot it up thus out
of the way on the top of my head, like my father's.[2]  And sometimes I
go and see my father, but I am afraid of him, for though his body is
there, his soul is almost always absent from the body.  And sometimes I
sit by the river, when the wind is still, and watch in its mirror the
clouds that float in the blue sky far below, like the swans upon its
wave.  And the river itself is a friend to me, for every day I bathe in
it, and I often sit and wonder whence it comes and where it goes, and
look to see what it carries down: and in the rainy season it changes,
and grows red and angry, and murmurs and chafes, and swells till it
reaches to the very foot of the tree.  And sometimes when the moon is
full, I hide in the hollow trees at night;, and peep out at the
elephants as they wander down to drink.  And the King said: But do the
other animals not molest thee?  Then she said: Nay, for they dare not:
for they all know my father well, who understands their language, and
has warned them.  And they fear him, lest he should curse them if they
harmed me, and keep them from ever rising up into humanity, being
prisoned for ever by the power of his curse in the dungeon of their
creeping[3] bodies.  And the King said, with emphasis: Aye! they who
should injure thee would indeed deserve to be immured for all eternity
in the lowest of all living forms.  And I thank thy excellent old
father for preserving thee under the shadow of his awful curse.  And
yet, for all this, surely thy life was lonely?  Didst thou never long
for a companion of thine own kind, such a playfellow, for instance, as
myself?

Then she said: Though I knew it not before, yet now that thou art come,
I see that I was lonely.  For often I used to watch myself reflected in
the water, and talk to my image, and wish that it could answer me.  And
sometimes in the moonlight I would play with my shadow, and wish, oh!
so much, that it could come to life.  And often I used to long, not
knowing what I wanted; but now I am very sure that it was thou.  And
when I look at thee, and hear thy voice, I cannot understand how I
could have lived without thee.  For thou art like another self, made
visible in a human form: and yet thou art other, and more than that
first self, which is I.

And the King gazed at her, with fire in his veins.  And he said to
himself: She is innocence itself, in a virgin form of matchless and
incomparable beauty, and speaks without understanding the meaning of
her own words.  For love lies hiding, lurking in her soul, and yet she
does not know it.  And yet, though she does not, I know well, and only
too well, now, what it is to be in love: for she burns my heart like a
flame, all the more, that she is utterly unconscious of the power of
her own beauty.  And then he said: Blue-eyes, canst thou tell me this?
Say, wouldst thou rather that I were in very truth the double of
thyself, like thy image in the water, a woman, and not a man?  And she
answered, without hesitation: Nay, it is better as it is.  And the King
trembled with joy.  And he said: Yet why?  Then she pondered for a
while, and then she said: I cannot tell.  And yet I feel, that I would
rather have thee different from myself than the same; and yet I know
not why.  But what does it matter, why?  since it is better as it is.
And the King said with emotion: Sweet, thou art right.  Aye! it is far
better, and it does not matter why.

And as he spoke, there came a murmur, and a rushing sound in the air.
And he looked up in terror, and listened, and exclaimed: Ah! what is
that?  Then she said: It is nothing but the sighing of the wind in the
hollows of the young bamboos.



[1] Purusha and Prakriti answer, in a sense, to our Adam and Eve: as
the Germans would say, the _Ur-mensch_ and _Ur-weib_ of the world.

[2] Ascetics wear their hair twisted in a knot, in imitation of the
prince of them all, Maheshwara.

[3] When Ovid contrasted the _os sublime_ of man with that of the
animals, he gave expression to the idea that underlies the curious
Sanskrit term for the brute-creation, the horizontal-goers
(_tiryag-játi_).



IV

BUBBLES

And the King sighed also, with relief: for he feared that his followers
had found him in the wood.  And then he said: Blue-eyes, hast thou a
name?  Then she said: I have only the name which was my mother's.  And
the King said: What was that?  Then she said: Long ago, when my father
first saw my mother in the wood, she was standing by a bush, which had
just burst into blossom all over, as if by the touch of her foot.[1]
And the bees were humming and bustling eagerly all about it and her, as
if they wished to kiss her, and my father saw it, and he called her by
a name of his own, that has come by inheritance also to me.  For my
father has never called me anything else.  And the King said: And what
then was the name?  And she said: Alichumbitá.[2]  And the King clapped
his hands, and exclaimed: Certainly, thy father is admirable, and thy
name appropriate.  And sure I am, that there must be more than the name
of relationship between that happy bush and thee.  And I am tempted to
believe that thy story of an Apsaras was false, and that thou hadst for
a mother no other than the very indwelling spirit of that
sweetly-scented, bee-haunted bush.  Then she said: Nay, my mother was
an Apsaras.  And the King exclaimed: How shall I believe thee?  For
already I am beginning to doubt whether thou ever hadst either mother
or father, and wert not rather directly compounded by the Deity himself
in the form of a bee, going from flower to flower, and culling thy
composition out of every flower's fragrant essence and every blossom's
painted bloom.  And she said laughing: And what then was thy
composition?  And the King looked at her joyously, and said: The Deity
was thy creator, and thou art mine.  For I never lived until this
moment, and this is all thy doing.  Thou hast found me like an empty
shell, and filled me with colour and emotion and the salt of beauty and
the sound of laughter and the tossing to and fro of the waves of
pleasure and delight.  Now put me to thy ear, and I shall echo like the
sea.  Then she said: Once more, I do not understand.  And the King
said: O ocean, no matter.  But thy shell must murmur, being full of
thee, whether it will or no.  And yet, this at least now thou dost
surely understand, that I was right, and that ages have elapsed, since
we met each other a little while ago in the wood.  For I have utterly
forgotten every fragment of my life that went before, and as I said, I
have begun to live, only since I saw thy face.  And thou hast
discovered that thy life in the wood was very lonely till I came.  And
it is as though we had both been sleeping, and had just waked up.  And
now we are playfellows, and I will be King, and thou shall be Queen.
Or hast thou never heard of kings and queens?  Then she said: Nay, I
have heard.  For formerly, before my father became so utterly devoted
to asceticism, he used to tell me stories.  And in almost every story,
there was a king and queen.  Then the King said: And if then I were
king, wouldst thou come away with me and be my queen?  And she laughed,
and said: But what sort of queen should I be, that know nothing of the
duties and behaviour of a queen?

Then he said: Sweet little Queen, although thou dost not know it, thy
qualifications for the post of queen are such that they could not be
surpassed.  And the duties are easy to be learned, and the pleasures
more than thou couldst dream.  Only come with me, and I will show thee
what they are.  Or if thou wilt, I will draw thee a picture in the air,
and hold it up before thee, to show thee as in a mirror thy life as a
queen, and give thee a foretaste of its nectar.  Hast thou never
watched the bubbles on the surface of the stream?  Dost thou not know
how every bubble is like a little heaven, and glows for a moment with
every colour of the sky, and bursts: but the sky remains?  So is it
with my picture.  For like a bubble, it will burst as soon as painted,
being only words: but the heaven which it shows thee in its mirror
shall be thine, as long as life endures.

Then she said: Draw, then, thy picture, and let me see thy heaven.  And
she settled herself to listen, leaning her cheek upon her hand, and
looking at the King so sagely that he shook with agitation, so intense
was his desire to take her in his arms.  And he exclaimed: Blue eyes,
come and be my Queen, and I will put thee in a palace, and build it for
thee seven stories high, of ebony and sandalwood, and of silver and of
gold.  O come and be my Queen, and thou shalt walk on pavements more
worthy of thy little feet than this rough ground, on marble of many
colours, and on floors of precious stones.  Only be my Queen, and I
will strip thee of thy bark, and wrap thee in silky webs and tissues
coloured like the rainbow, till like the moon behind a filmy cloud, thy
symmetry shall borrow beauty from tell-tale veils of gossamer and
envelopes of woven gauze.  Ah! come with me and be my little Queen, and
I will load thy neck and arms with jewels, and thou shall play with
heaps of pearl, and coral, and all the riches of the sea.  Aye,
shouldst thou prick thy finger, I will mend it with a ruby, and
shouldst thou drop a tear, I will redeem it with a diamond, and try in
vain to match, with turquoise or lapis-lazuli or opal, the colour of
thine eyes.  Ah! come, and slaves shall serve my dainty Queen with food
on golden plates, and snow cold drinks in crystal cups, and when thou
wilt, pour music in thy little ear.  And elephants shall carry thee
about, or thou shall ride on horses, or float on silent pools starred
like the sky with a multitude of lotuses, or lie on couches softer than
a flower, fanned in the heat of noon with scented leaves, or listening
at midnight to the moonstones, oozing as they swing in the window's
trellised frames.  Ah!  Blue-eyes, come and be my Queen, for I cannot
do without thee, and all that I have said is nothing, for it is only
the casket for thy soul.  For I will be there, and serve thee all day
long upon my knees.  Ah!  I will take thy soul, and steep it in elixir,
and drown it in the perfume and the fragrance of stories and of dreams,
and dye it with the colour strained from the subtle essences of far-off
lakes of passion and emotion, lying in the distant land beyond the blue
horizon where the earth and heaven meet.  Aye!  I would turn the three
worlds upside down, only to be near thee, and watch the shadow of the
pleasures I would find there reflected in thine eyes, O thou naïvest
and most exquisite of queens.

And she watched him as he spoke, and when he stopped, she continued to
look at him in silence.  And then to his amazement, she dropped her
eyes, and the colour rose a very little in her cheek, that was
overshadowed by her long soft lashes, and she said: Nay, thou art only
laughing at me, knowing my inexperience.  And as thou saidst, thy words
are only bubbles, beautiful, and bursting as they jostle one another,
and delusive.  Nor is this the kind of queen that I would be.  And the
King said, with curiosity: And what then, O maiden difficult to please,
is thy conception of a queen?  And she waited for a moment, and she
said, keeping her eyes fixed upon the ground: Once my father told me of
a queen very different from thine.  And I cannot tell thee the story as
he told it, for I am not a _pundit_, as is he.  But he told me of a
king, who was set upon by enemies and driven from his throne.  And when
all the world abandoned him, a single friend remained to him, and that
one was his queen: who followed him in exile, and lived with him in
poverty, and wandered through the world behind him like his shadow,
enjoying never one of the pleasures thou hast mentioned, but sharing
all his evil fortune, a pleasure infinitely greater than them all.  And
when he died, she would not stay behind him, but followed him through
the fire, into the other world.



[1] There is a beautiful Indian idea, that the foot of a pretty woman
will cause a particular tree (I cannot recollect which) to break into
blossom.

[2] "_Kissed by the bees._"  (Note, that the third syllable rhymes, not
with crumb, but with room, pronounced rather short.)



V

A PAINTED LADY

And the King listened with amazement, and when she ended, he looked at
her with eyes that glistened, and a heart that swelled towards her as
she sat with downcast eyes, as if ashamed of her words, before him on
the ground.  And he struck his hands together, and exclaimed to
himself: Ha! very wonderful is the way of the Creator, who teaches all
his creatures the law of their behaviour, without the means of any
master.  For this mud-born[1] pure white lotus of a maiden has
understood without assistance and as it were by native instinct, the
whole duty of a faithful wife, even before she has so much as seen a
man.  And then he said: Sweet little ascetic, apt pupil of a wise old
father, whom thou dost resemble not only in thy hair, thou hast
administered reproof to me, deservedly.  And whereas I thought, in my
folly, to instruct thee, it was I that received a lesson, in this
matter of the way of queens.  And now I see, that I spoke more truly
than I knew, when I said that thou wert admirably fitted to be a queen.
Now, therefore, thou art my _guru_, and I am thy disciple, and thou
shalt teach me all that I do not know.  Begin then, my pretty little
_guru_: give me lessons, for I need them.  And she laughed, and
blushed, and said: Again thou art laughing at me: for how could a
simple forest maiden teach anything to one, who like thyself, had lived
in cities, and mixed with other men and women?  And the King said
quickly: Ah! dear Blue-eyes, just for that very reason is it that thou
hast already taught me many things that I never knew before.  For they
who live in cities have their souls tainted as it were and poisoned by
bad associations, whereas thine is as pure as the flowers in thy hair.
And therefore, as thou hast taught me about queens, teach me also about
kings.  What should he be like, whom thou wouldst be willing to follow
through the world?

And she looked at him for a moment, and then she dropped her eyes, and
turned away her head, and was silent.  And as he watched her, the King
saw the colour rising on her neck, till it reached the roots of her
dark hair, like the flush of eve climbing the snowy summit of Himalaya,
when day is dead.  And he said to himself in ecstasy: Ha! so this pure
digit of the ice-cold moon, even in the solitary darkness of the night,
before the dawn of love, has dreamed of a sun which she has never seen.
And O that I could dare to think myself the sunny lover corresponding
to her dream, destined to touch her soul, as my question did her body,
into red!  But let me beware, lest I scare my timid fawn by a too
abrupt approach.  And then he said: Dear little blue-eyed Queen,
forgive me, if I roused thy maiden shame by a rash and ill-mannered
curiosity.  It is enough for me to know, that the king of thy pure
fancy must be worthy of his queen: and as much above all other men, as
thou art different and above all other women.

And then, with her eyes still fixed upon the ground, she began to draw
upon the step with her foot.  And she said softly: And in what do I
differ from all other women?  And the King said: Blue-eyes, ask me
rather in what respect thou art the same.  For thy points of difference
are so many, that it would take long to tell them all.  But
notwithstanding, if thou wilt, I will try, and paint thy portrait for
thee in contrast to the others, and hold thy image up before thee,
reflected on the mirror of my soul.  And she said: Try: for I desire to
learn how I differ from the others.  Then he said: Look, then, at me,
that I may see thee before I begin.  And she raised her eyes, and
looked straight at him, blushing a very little, and then smiled, and
looked down, and waited as he spoke.

Then the King said: Blue-eyes, every woman is a woman, and so art thou:
and this is what thou hast, in common with all others of thy sex.  And
yet, in every special property of woman thou hast something of thine
own, which marks thee like a seal, and stamps thee as a thing distinct
and peculiar, and other than them all.  For others have blue eyes, but
thine are bluer, and other lips are red, but thine are redder, and
other brows are black, but thine is blacker, and other smiles are
white, but thine, O thine is like a snowflake or the petal of a new
young lotus bud.  Dark, dark is hair, but thine is like the midnight,
and many feet are small, but not as thine are.  And O thy arms are
softer and more rounded, and thy waist is more enticing, and the two
proud swelling sister milky foes upon thy breast, more erect and more
provoking: and yet thy step is lighter and thy walk is more bewitching
and thy voice's murmur sweeter and thy laughter more delicious and thy
soul fresher and more frank and thy heart it may be harder than that of
any woman that I have ever seen.  Moreover, all others of thy sex are
tame, and thou art wild.  Then she said: What is the distinction, for I
do not understand?  And the King said: Sweet, I cannot tell thee: and
yet it is a difference far greater than all the others put together.
For all things that are tame are, as it were, an incarnation and
embodiment of the littleness of men: but all things that are wild, as
thou art, are, as it were, a portion of the Deity.  For thy behaviour
differs from that of other women, as does a wild vine gadding at its
will from the trained flowers in a king's garden, and thy great blue
eyes are utterly without hypocrisy, and resemble those of a falcon or a
child.  And thou thyself art like the young beautiful heifer of a wild
white bull.  And I know not how to tell thee what I mean, when I say
that thou art wild: and yet it is just this very quality in thee which
drives me to distraction.  But see, now, the evening as it falls, and
the water of the great river flowing with its surface unruffled by any
breath of wind: see, how the cranes here and there upon the brink are
mirrored in its water, and yonder pair of swans are, as it were, echoed
by another pair that swim below them upside down; and the peacock on
the temple wall glitters in the last rays of the sun with emerald and
blue and gold: now thou seemest, as it were, a part of it all, and as
it were the soul of all this body, and like a jewel in its proper
setting, and at one with all the creatures of the wood.  And I begin to
fear, lest thou shouldst suddenly plunge into the water, and disappear,
leaving me alone.

And as he spoke, there came again a murmur and a rustle in the air.
And he listened and exclaimed with anxiety: Ha! what is that?  Then she
said: It is only the beating of the wings of the waterfowl returning to
their roost for the night.



[1] This single word, a common name in Sanskrit for the lotus,
possesses an incomparable, moral and æsthetic, mingled beauty, which
can only be poorly rendered in English by five words instead of one.
Mud-born is the word: but the meaning it covers is the pure white lotus
that springs out of the thick black mire: just as the brightest rainbow
is seen against the darkest cloud.



VI

SHADOWS

And the King drew a deep breath, like a man saved from a great danger.
And she saw it, and said to him: Thou art afraid.  Of what art thou
afraid?  And the King said: Ah! dear Blue-eyes, I am indeed afraid, but
of this alone, lest something should occur to cut short our
conversation.  And shall I not be afraid of death?  For as my life
began with the commencement of our converse, so its end will be my
death.  And like a miser, the very treasure that I worship fills me
with despair, because the fear of losing it mixes with the joy of its
possession, and I start at every noise.  And as I said before, more
than anything I fear lest thou shouldst suddenly escape into the water.
And I am sorely tempted to take hold of thee, and tie thee like my
horse to the tree, to prevent thee from escaping.

Then she laughed and exclaimed: There is no need: for I have no desire
to escape from thee.  And how could I plunge into the water, unless I
were a fish?  Then he said: Dear, did thy father never tell thee of the
nymphs that have their homes beneath the water?  Or hast thou forgotten
what he said?  Or is it as I said, that thou thyself art one of them,
seeking to deceive me?  And she said: But what should lead thee to
believe it?  And he said: Every reason.  For they are all marvellously
beautiful, as thou art, and like thee, they suddenly appear, seated by
pools and streams, and lure unhappy travellers like me to ruin and
destruction.  Then she said: And by what means do they destroy them?
And the King said: Blue-eyes, by showing themselves for but an instant,
and then disappearing, never to return, carrying away with them the
hearts of their miserable victims, and leaving them instead
inconsolable regret, and lovelorn longing for the beauty whose
momentary vision robbed them of their soul.  Therefore beware! and let
me warn thee, that once having shown thyself, thou art absolutely bound
to remain with me for ever: otherwise I shall be utterly undone.  For
if not, thou wert very wrong ever to have shown thyself at all, and
deservest to be punished as a deceiver and a Thag.

Then she laughed, with laughter that was music to the King's ear.  And
she said, softly: But this is very hard: for how can those poor
water-women help it, and is it any fault of theirs if they happen to be
seen by those who happen to pass by and are not blind?  Nor was it my
fault, if I was seen by thee: rather was it thine, for coming into my
wood upon thy horse.  Then the King said: Blue-eyes, I blame thee not
at all, always provided that thou dost not jump into the water, or
leave me in any other way.  And she said: But is it not rather I that
have to be afraid, lest thou shouldst leave me?  Is it my sex only that
deceives, and are there no water-men, as well as water-women?  And the
King said eagerly: Ah! dear Blue-eyes, and would it be a grief to thee,
if I should go away?  And she waited a little while, before she
replied.  And then she said, looking at him with playful eyes: Didst
thou not say thyself that this world was full of men?  And if, then,
one has come into the wood to-day, another may to-morrow.  And the King
started, and he looked at her with rapture.  And he said to himself:
Ha! she is provoking me, and ah! she is delicious.  Surely the very
elements must have in them the nature of a woman, since even in this
empty wood, this intoxicating maiden has somehow or other managed to
acquire the coquetry of her sex: most of all charming there, where it
was least to be expected.  And then he said aloud: Dear little daughter
of an Apsaras, let thine other man beware, whoever he may be: for I
will set guards about the wood, like a ring, to put to death whoever
they may find.

Then she looked at him a little while, and she said: See, I have told
thee all I have to tell, but thou hast told me absolutely nothing.  Art
thou then a king, to speak of placing guards about the wood?  And the
King said to himself: Ha! she is clever, and has caught me in a trap.
And yet I will not tell her who I am, for if she knew, she might be
dazzled by my kingdom, and fall in love with that, rather than with me.
And he said: Surely, as we agreed in the beginning, if thou art a
queen, I must be a king.  And I will not allow any other man to tamper
with my queen.  And I am of good caste, and a Rajpoot, and not ashamed
of my family.  But what if I were in very truth a king, and banished:
wouldst thou follow me through the world, as thou saidst?  And she
laughed and said: Nay, but I am not yet thy queen, and to follow thee
is not my duty, but that of thy Queen or Queens.  And the King looked
at her narrowly, and said to himself: Is she speaking at random, or can
it be that she is curious, or jealous, and anxious to discover whether
she has a rival?  And he said: Blue-eyes, King or not, this is certain,
that I neither have nor will have any queen or queens whatever but
thyself.  Nor have I ever seen any woman in the world, till I came into
this wood, that I would wish to make my wife.  And therefore tell me,
for as yet thou hast not answered: if I were a king indeed, wouldst
thou come away and be my Queen?

And she said: I am of good family, and not independent[1]; and it is
not for myself, but for my father to dispose of me.  And then, the very
instant she had spoken, she uttered a sharp cry, and started to her
feet, and stood.  And the King leaped up in terror, exclaiming: Alas,
what is the matter?  For he thought she had been bitten by a snake.
But he looked and saw nothing.  And he drew near her, and saw that she
was deadly pale, and drooping like a flower left without water in the
heat of noon.  And he said again, with anxiety: Alichumbitá: what is
it?  But she never answered, but stood silent, gazing at the river, as
though he were not there.

And the King stood just beside her, looking at her with affection and
alarm.  And now the light was changing into darkness, for the sun had
sunk behind the western mountain, and on the trees across the river the
disc of the full-moon was sitting waiting like a thief watching the
lord of day away before stealing silently up into his domain.  And far
away down the river, a solitary star was shining in the south, below in
the black water, and above in the dark blue sky, over which great bats
were flapping noiselessly, like dusky ghosts coming by night to haunt
the spots they loved as living birds.  And the voices of the forest day
had died away, and in their place the insects of the night were calling
to one another to begin: and all about the shadows in the trees the
fireflies were flitting in and out.  And the King heard his horse
whinnying and pawing on the ground, impatient at being tied so long,
and fretting to be gone.



[1] No woman in India, even in a fairy tale, is ever independent and
her own mistress, unless she belongs to a class outside the pale of
moral consideration.



VII

TWILIGHT

And still as she did not move, at last the King broke silence.  And he
said: Dear, I know not what is wrong, but I would give my life, to save
thee from even a very little pain.  And now the day is done, and very
soon it will be night.  Dost thou not hear the horse, calling, and
telling me it is time to be away?  And yet I cannot leave thee, if I
would.  And now again I ask thee, wilt thou not come away with me from
this dark wood, and live and play with me for ever, as we have done
to-day?  For in the time that we have been together, thou hast taken
absolute possession of my soul, and filled it with thyself, leaving no
other room in it, so that everything except thee is utterly ousted and
forgotten and obliterated.  And I feel as if I had known thee, not for
an hour, but for a hundred thousand years: and it cannot be but that we
were King and Queen in many births before, and destined by reason of
the depth of our devotion to meet again in this one also.  And I will
make thy life all that I said, and more: and I will be thy father and
thy mother and thy other self, reflecting thee as in a mirror, joyous
when thou art joyous, and sad when thou art sad.  And if thou dost
regret to leave thy father and the wood, no matter: for I will bring
thee back to it, as often as thou wilt.  And we will make this little
temple as it were a pleasure arbour, to last us till we die, and remind
me for ever of the moment when I saw thy two great eyes, like two great
blue lotus flowers, looking at me, out of the magic shadow of the wood.

And then all at once, she burst into a passion of tears.  And she said
sobbing: Now thou must go away, almost as soon as thou art come.  Why
didst thou come into the wood, only to destroy me?  For till I saw
thee, I was happy, and I took pleasure in the river, and the flowers
and the trees: but now they are all become hateful in my eyes.  For I
cannot bear to let thee go, and be without thee: and yet I cannot keep
thee, or go with thee from the wood.  And the King said, in despair:
Alas! and why canst thou not come away?  Then she said: As my father
wishes me to marry, so I must.  But thy coming took me by surprise, and
robbed me of my reason: and lost in the joy of thy discovery, and
watching thee, and listening to thy voice, I had utterly forgotten
everything but thee; and I suddenly remembered, as I told thee of my
father, all about it, and now it is a grief to me that ever I saw thee
in the wood.  And now all is over, and everything is changed, and thou
must go away at once, and leave me to forget, if I can, that ever I
have seen thee.  For I cannot disobey my father, or bring discredit on
my family, by having anything to do with thee: for I am intended for
another.  And the King exclaimed: Ah! no! it cannot be.  Surely thou
art raving.  Or who can it be, for whom thou art preserved by thy
father, as a deposit and a trust?  And he said to himself: Only let me
learn who it is, and I will find him, no matter who and where he is,
and rid the earth of him, and get her for myself.

Then she said: Far away in the north, on the edge of the wood, there is
a King, Rudrálaka by name: and one day he will come into the wood and
claim me for his bride.  For so it was revealed to my father, when he
enquired of my mother, long ago, to whom he should give me, when I was
of age.  And my mother went to Indra, and asked him; and Indra asked
Maheshwara, who knows the present, the future, and the past.  And how
can he be deceived, or how can that which he foretold fail to come to
pass?  And now I see very well that it was a crime in me, ever to have
had anything to do with thee: and in the madness produced by thy
appearance, I have acted in a manner unworthy of my caste: for I am the
promised bride of another man.  And now there is nothing but for thee
to go away as quickly as thou canst, and forget that ever thou didst
see me in the wood.

And the King stood still behind her as she spoke, filled with amazement
and relief.  And he watched her weeping, with pride and delight; and he
said to himself: Certainly she is of good family, and its very
crest-jewel, and like a diamond of pure water; for she will not come
away with me, but is faithful to her duty, even against her will.  But
once again I will test her, like gold in the fire, before I tell her
who I am.  But what, if she does not stand the test?  Why, then I will
forgive her: for how could I blame her for yielding and allowing
herself to be defeated in my cause?  But if she stands firm, and
resists me, then I shall know that my pearl is priceless, and my
emerald without a flaw.

And then he said aloud: Out upon this Rudrálaka, for he is like a cloud
that has suddenly intervened, to cast a dark and horrid shadow over our
sunny garden of delight, and an obstacle which only the lord of
obstacles can move.  And what is this Rudrálaka, to prevail over the
lord of the elephant face in conjunction with the God who has flowers
for his bow?[1]  And cannot I persuade thee to forget, one whom thou
hast never even seen, and who is to thee nothing but a name?  And who
knows even whether he exists at all, and is not merely a dream of thy
father's, an illusion brought into his aged head by weakness arising
from severe emaciation?  And wilt thou then sacrifice thy happiness and
mine to a dream?  And he waited for a moment, and he said: See, thou
art undecided, wavering between thy duty and my love, like a flower
shaken by opposing breezes.  A flower thou art, and a flower shall
decide for thee.  And this red lotus, which has lingered so long near
thy heart that it must know it, and resembles it in colour, shall be
the oracle of thy destiny.  And he leaned over her, and took very
gently, without touching her, the lotus on her breast, and drew it
away, while she offered no resistance.  And he said: One petal is for
thee, and one for me.  Now will I pluck the petals one by one, first
for thee, and second for myself.  And if thine is the last, thou shalt
stay, and I will go away without thee: and if mine, thou shall cast
away Rudrálaka, like the stalk when it is stripped of the leaves, and
forget him, and come with me and be my wife.

And then, one by one, he began to strip the red lotus of its leaves,
and let them fall upon the ground, saying as he did so: This, for thee:
this, for me.  And as he counted, she watched him, with tears sparkling
in her eyes, till only one remained.  And he held it out towards her,
saying, with a smile: This, for me.  And then, all at once she broke
into a laugh that was mingled with sobs and sorrow and indignation.
And she exclaimed: Ah! thou art cunning, and thou art very cruel.  Thou
knewest very well that there were but sixteen petals on the lotus,[2]
and that thine must be the last.  And thou art unkind, prolonging my
torture, and striving, by unfairness, and temptation, to recall my
resolution: yet if I did, thou wouldst only think the worse of me, even
though thine would be the gain.  Go, go quickly, for I may not come
away with thee.  And as she spoke, she turned paler than the _Kumuda_
that opens in the dusk, and staggered.  And she leaned against a pillar
of the tree, and her eyes shone in the moonlight, and she said very
quietly: Go now, take thy horse, and go away; and go very quickly: for
the decision is too hard for me, and I cannot bear it very long.  And
it would be a stain on thee, to tempt any longer the wife of another
man.

And the King gazed at her, struck with admiration and amazement.  And
he said to himself: Ha! where is the simple forest maiden who sat to
listen at my feet, for in her place I see one whose virtue I have
roused, and who orders me to go with the dignity of an insulted queen?
And I stand before her like a culprit, rejoicing inwardly at the
failure of my own attempt.  And as he stood, lost in wonder at her
moonlit unearthly beauty, and ready to fall and worship at her feet,
suddenly there fell upon his ear a murmur and a rustle in the air.  And
he listened, and all at once the horse began to neigh; for it was the
trample of horses and the thunder of their hoofs.  And as they looked,
lo! a band of horsemen issued from the wood, and came towards them; and
in a moment they were surrounded by the attendants of the King.



[1] Ganesha and Kama, the gods of good luck and love; certainly two
formidable antagonists.

[2] It is one of the conventions of Hindoo poetry that the petals of
the lotus are eight or sixteen in number.



VIII

QUINTESSENCE

And then, with a cry, Alichumbitá sprang back, and stood in dismay, on
the very brink of the river, looking from the King to his followers and
back again.  And the King watched her with ecstasy, and he said to
himself: Now could I almost forgive my attendants for this exasperating
interruption.  For she looks like a stag whose retreat has been cut off
by the hunters, standing at bay, with every graceful limb quivering and
poised on the very verge of instant action, striking terror as it were
into even the hearts of her pursuers by her magnificent defiance, and
cowing them by the startled pride of her haughty and yet timid eyes,
and holding them as it were spellbound by the beautiful agitation
incarnate in her form, and reaching its supreme expression in the deep
heave of her glorious bosom.  And I can see that my followers are
divided in their minds: for all their respect for me cannot prevent
them from transferring their allegiance to her, and doing homage to the
true deity manifest in her lovely shape.  Ha! beauty is the real ruler
of the three worlds, and all others are usurpers and pretenders and
emptiness and show.  For if I were unknown to them, my followers would
pay me no regard at all: whereas they have all become slaves to my
mistress, as I did myself, by a single glance at her goddess mien.

And then, as his attendants dismounted from their horses, and stood
before him in attitudes of respect, the King called to his chief
huntsman.  And he said to him: Tell this lady who they are that stand
before her.  Then that huntsman said with deference: Lady, we are a
very few of the devoted followers of King Rudrálaka: and having hunted
for him all day long, we pray now to be forgiven, if we have succeeded
at last in finding him only to be troublesome by our intrusion.  And
the King said: Now go, taking my horse; and wait for me a little way
off, yet not beyond a call.  Then those huntsmen all retired, stealing
glances as they went at the King's companion, and vanished again within
the wood.

And when they were gone, the King stood awhile in silence, gazing with
affection at Alichumbitá, who was lost in confusion and astonishment.
And then he said: Blue-eyes, now thou hast heard.  And will thou now do
thy duty, and obey thy father, and justify the Great God's foresight,
and come away with thy true husband and be his Queen?  Or hast thou
still a horror of King Rudrálaka?  Ah! forgive me for trying thee, a
thing which I cannot, nevertheless, regret.  For thou wert proof
against my bribes, and hast doubled the worth of thy wondrous beauty by
exhibiting the quality of its inner soul.  And she stood for a moment,
changing colour, first red, and then white, as if the blood which had
mantled in her face had like those huntsmen withdrawn again into the
wood of her heart from modesty at the sight of him.  And as he took her
by the hand, she hid her face against his breast, laughing as she wept,
and raining as it were nectar with her tears into the heart of the
King.  So they stood together in the silence, while the King stroked
her dark hair gently with his left hand.  And at last he said: Sweet
little Queen, thou hast seen men enough now, for one day.  Know, that
they are all thy servants, from the King down.

And suddenly, she raised her face, and looked at him with eyes that
were full of smiles and tears and shyness and playfulness and blue
colour and the tremble of the moon.  And she said: Canst thou tell of
what I thought, as I looked upon all those men?  And he said: Of what?
Then she said: They seemed to me to be worthy only to be servants to
such as thee: and I saw that it was as I had thought, and that mine was
a man even among men.  And then she stopped, and she said again in a
low voice: Now, if thou wilt, I wilt give thee an answer to that
question of thine which I left unanswered.  And the King said: Which?
And she said: Dost thou not remember?  Thou didst ask me, what was he
like whom I would follow through the world.  Now canst thou guess, or
shall I tell thee?  And the King leaned over her, bending her a little
back as she lay in his strong arms, and as she closed her eyes, he
kissed her trembling lips, which shrank a little from the touch of his
own.  And after a while, he looked, and saw heaven reflected in the
eyes of his wife beneath him, and beyond them, their two shadows,
clinging together, black on the moonlit ground.  And suddenly he
pointed, and said to her: See, thy wish is gratified, and thy shadow
has come to life.  And she put both her arms round his neck, and drew
him down, and kissed him again.  And she said: It is not my shadow, but
it is I myself that have come to life, and thou art the life that has
come to me.  And hadst thou gone away without me, I should not be
living now: for I would have thrown myself into the river, the moment I
was alone.  And the King said, with a smile: Did I not tell thee, that
I feared lest thou shouldst plunge into the river?  And she laughed,
and said: Let me go, and see.  And they looked at each other for a
moment, and laughed without a reason.  And they embraced each other
passionately, and the King said: Give me now another kiss.  So she did.
And he said: Now another, and another.  And so they continued, she
giving and he receiving; while the night passed away.

And at last he said: Now I must carry my property away with me, for
thou art no longer thy father's but mine.  And we will come again, and
tell thy father, but in the meantime, I will take thee, for never will
I part from thee again.  And she said: Do with me as thou wilt: so only
that thou dost not leave me.

Then he said: Blue-eyes, thou hast seen a horse to-day for the first
time, and now thou shalt ride one also.  And she said with a smile: But
how can I ride without falling?  Then he said: Fear nothing.  Dost thou
think that I would trust my treasure on a horse alone?  But that good
horse, which brought into the wood to-day a single rider, shall carry
back a pair.  And he has run a race to-day that will have robbed him of
his fire.  Wait, now, there, for a little while, till I return: and
beware! that thou dost not jump into the water.  And as she smiled,
they kissed each other again with insatiable lips.  And then he went
towards the wood, and shouted for his men.  And when they came, he gave
them orders, and they brought his horse, and prepared him as he said,
placing for her reception soft rugs upon his back.  And the King
mounted, and he said: Watch me when I go, and follow me at a distance.
And then he rode back to where she waited for him by the river bank.

Then he came close up to her and said: Give me now thy left hand, and
place thy little foot on mine, and I will lift thee up before me.  So
she stretched out to him her hand, shrinking from the horse as it
tossed its head and trampled the ground, and seeking with timidity for
an opportunity to place her foot upon his own.  So as she waited,
gazing at the horse with doubtful eyes, the King laughed.  And he
exclaimed: This way will not do, and now I must make another.  And
suddenly, he turned the horse towards her with his knee, and letting
fall the reins, he leaned from the saddle and caught her in his arms,
and lifted her up before him.  And at that moment the horse started
off, and the King felt for the reins with his left hand, holding her in
his right arm, while she clung to his neck for fear of falling.  And
for a while the King let the horse go, for the sweetness of her
terrified embrace was such that he said to himself: Ah! could this only
last for ever!

Then after a while, he checked the horse, and brought him to a walk.
And as they went slowly through the forest, now in the shadow and now
in the moonlit glades, he let the reins fall on his horse's neck, and
took his wife in both his arms, kissing her lips that kissed him again,
and murmuring inarticulately words without a meaning, and filling his
soul to the very brim with the intoxication of her shadowy eyes and the
perfume of her hair that hung about her escaping from its knot.  And
suddenly, there came as it were night over his eyes.  And he felt her
slipping from his embrace, which closed in vain on empty air.  And
before him her face wavered and flickered, and it lit up like a dying
lamp for a single instant with vivid brightness, and then went out and
disappeared.



IX

ECHOES AND REGRETS

And in an instant, he saw before him, no wood and no horse.  But he
found himself floating as at first like a cloud in the blue sky, with
his wife still in his arms.  And he said: Ha! how is this?  I lost thee
but now in the forest, and here we are together in the sky.  But I seem
to have but just awoken from a dream.  And wert thou then with me in my
dream?  Then she said: Yes.  And as she spoke, she caught him in a
convulsive grasp, for she knew that the end was come.  And as she gazed
at him with agony in her eyes, he said: Ah!  dost thou remember how we
rode together, and lingered as I brought thee home, in that delicious
wood?  Dost thou remember how we laughed, and how we wept for joy?
Dost thou remember how at last thou didst fall asleep from sheer
fatigue, and I carried thee sleeping home?  Dost thou remember how I
sat and watched thee in thy sleep, and how at thine awakening thou wast
frightened, forgetting where thou wert?  Dost thou remember, how
everything was new to thee, and strange, and how all day long I laughed
for joy to see thee, my plaything and my pretty child?  Dost thou
remember how we played at King and Queen, counting the whole world as a
straw, and never parting, night or day?  Dost thou remember how thou
wast by day, the sun, and by night, the moon, of all the hours,
lighting up my gloomy palace with the blaze of thy beauty and the soft
light of thy love?  Dost thou remember how thy voice echoed in my empty
halls, and thy laughter filled up all its corners with music and
delight?  Dost thou remember how I used to follow thee about from room
to room, and how sometimes, rogue!  thou wouldst hide from me, to drive
me to despair?  Dost thou remember that last night, when I parted from
thee to go to war, leaving my soul behind?  But ah! alas! for the day,
when I rode like a whirlwind into the court, and they told me of thy
death!

And as he spoke, there shot through his heart a mortal pang like a
sharp sword.  And at that instant, his wife vanished, and he felt
himself falling, falling like a heavy stone, down through empty space.
And he uttered a fearful cry, for he understood that he was returning
swiftly back to earth.  And struggling with vain and frenzied grief and
rage, he screamed aloud, in the ecstasy of despair: Ah! my wife! my
wife!  Ah! not to earth! ah! not again! not without thee! not without
thee!



Epilogue

The Break of a Heart



Epilogue

But in the meanwhile, the King's attendants sat on in the palace hall,
waiting while the King slept.  And he slept on, while they waited, and
they watched him lying very still, on his couch upon the floor.

So as they watched and waited, the day slowly passed away.  And hour
succeeded hour, as the sun moved steadily on to his home behind the
western hill.  And all the while, the old merchant remained motionless
in his place, stiller even than the sleeping King, for he never even
breathed.  So they watched and waited on, till for very weakness their
souls were almost parting from their bodies, and slumber began to steal
over their eyes.  And day began to turn to twilight, and the darkness
began as it were to gather and creep out of the corners of the room, in
which was heard no sound, save the deep breathing of the sleeping King.

And suddenly, like a flash of lightning, there rang through that silent
room a cry, that pierced those weary watchers' ears like the point of a
molten spear; for it resembled the cry of a woman, forced by the agony
of abject fear into the very mouth of death.  And as they bounded to
their feet, and looked towards the King, there burst from his heart
another cry, and yet another.  And they saw his body, like a worm,
writhing and quivering as it lay; and all at once he leaped from the
couch and stood erect, and staggered across the floor.

And he stood there, swaying like a reed, and gazing straight before
him, seeing nothing, with open eyes, that were dazed with the depth of
their own despair.  And every limb of his body shook, and drops of
sweat stood on his brow, and his breath came hard and fast and hoarse,
from a chest that heaved and trembled like the bosom of a frightened
girl.  So he stood, while they all watched him, silent and aghast, and
listening as it were to the beating of their own hearts.

So as they watched him, holding their breath, he began to wail like a
child.  And he wept aloud, with great sobs, that shook him from head to
foot, till the tears rose and stood in the eyes of all that saw him, as
if drawn from their sources by the sight of his own, which fell on the
ground like rain.  And all at once, he stopped short.  And he looked
up, and stared before him, with weeping and imploring eyes, that hunted
as it were among them for something they could not find.

And as they watched him silently, spellbound by those troubled eyes,
they saw their expression alter, and over them pass a dreadful change,
till like a fire they shone with scorn and hatred and disdain.  And he
stepped forward, and spat at them all as they stood before him,
stretching out both his arms.  And as he did so, his gaze was as it
were caught by the glitter of the glancing gems that hung upon his
wrists.  And he looked at them for a moment, and suddenly he took those
jewels and tore them from his hands and arms, and from his neck and
breast.  And he broke them all to pieces, snapping asunder cords and
chains, and tossed all over the palace hall pearls and rubies and all
the rest, till they rattled on the floor like hail.  And when he had no
more jewels to tear, he fell upon his clothes; and he stripped them off
him with giant strength, and rent them into bits and shreds, till he
stood before them breathing hard, dripping with sweat, and bleeding, as
naked as he was born.

And as his eyes ran over them all as they shrank before him, they fell
suddenly upon the old merchant, who sat still in the self-same place,
never having stirred.  So when the King saw him, suddenly he began to
laugh, with laughter that was divided from sobbing by only a single
hair.  And he exclaimed: Ha! old vendor, art thou there, waiting for
thy price?  For now my dream is over, and it only remains to pay.  Take
for thy dream, my whole kingdom, and all that it contains.  And even
so, thou art unpaid: for such a dream could not be ransomed, even by
the three great worlds.

And then, with anguish in his eyes, he threw his arms to heaven.  And
he uttered a long low cry, like the howl of a dog whose lord is dead,
and turned, and ran out of the hall.

And they stood, like pictures on a wall, while the sound of his
disappearing steps died away upon their ears.  And then in an instant,
the hall was filled with tumult.  But the King's physician rushed
forward.  And he exclaimed: The King's frenzy has come again, and much
I fear, that it will never again depart.  But as for this old merchant,
who has given the King a deadly drug, let him not escape.  Seize him,
and let him answer for the madness of the King.

Then the guards surrounded that old merchant, but he never moved or
stirred.  And suddenly, seized with anger, the captain of the guards
stooped down, and seized him by the beard, to drag him roughly to his
feet.  And lo! that old man's head came off his neck, and hung by the
beard in his hand.  And they looked, and saw, that the body was hollow,
and empty, and without a soul, like the trunk of a withered tree.

Then they gazed at one another, with open mouths, and eyes that were
dull with fear.  And after a while, the chaplain spoke.  And he said
slowly: Surely this was an old Rákshasa, playing with the King's life.
Or who knows?  For it may be, the Deity took this form, to punish the
King, by means of a dream, for the sins of a former birth.



[Illustration: Frontispiece]



  An
  Essence of the Dusk

[Illustration: Hindu script]

Translated from the Original Manuscript

[Illustration: Hindu script]

  _Love turns venom, now I see,
  Flouted Beauties vipers be_



  COPYRIGHT, 1906
  BY
  F. W. BAIN



  Dedicated
  to the
  Other Sex



Preface

More generally known, perhaps, than any other Hindoo legend, is the
story of the demon, RÁHU, who brings about ECLIPSES, by devouring the
Sun and Moon.  For when the gods had upchurned the nectar, the
delectable Butter of the Brine, Ráhu's mouth watered at the very sight
of it: and "in the guise of a god" he mingled unperceived among them,
to partake.  But the Sun and Moon, the watchful Eyes of Night and Day,
detected him, and told Wishnu, who cast at him his discus, and cut his
body from his head: but not until the nectar was on the way down his
throat.  Hence, though the body died, the head became immortal: and
ever since, a thing unique, "no body and all head," a byword among
philosophers, he takes revenge on Sun and Moon, the great Taletellers,
by "gripping" them in his horrid jaws, and holding on, till he is
tired, or can be persuaded to let go.  Hence, in some parts of India,
the doleful shout of the country people at eclipses: _Chor do! chor
do!_[1] and hence, also, the primary and surface meaning of our title:
_A Digit of the Moon in the Demon's grip_: in plain English, an eclipse
of the moon.  And yet, legend though it be, there is something in the
old mythological way of putting the case, which describes the situation
in eclipses far better than our arid scientific prose.  I shall not
easily forget, how, as we slid like ghosts at midnight, through the
middle of the desert, along the Suez Canal,[2] I watched the ghastly
pallor of the wan unhappy moon, as the horrible shadow crept slowly
over her face, stealing away her beauty, and turning the lone and level
sands that stretched away below to a weird and ashy blue, as though
covering the earth with a sepulchral sympathetic pall.  For we caught
the "griesly terror," Ráhu, at his horrid work, towards the end of May,
four years ago.

But our title has yet another meaning underneath the first, for _Ahi_,
the name employed for Ráhu (like all other figures in Indian mythology,
he is known by many names), also means a _snake_.  _Beauty persecuted
by a snake_ is the subject of the story.  That story will presently
explain itself: but the relation between _Ráhu_, or eclipses, and a
snake is so curiously illustrated by a little insignificant occurrence
that happened to myself, that the reader will doubtless forgive me for
making him acquainted with it.

Being at Delhi, not many years ago, I seized the opportunity to visit
the Kutub Minár.  There was famine in the land.  At every station I had
passed upon the way were piled the hides of bullocks, and from the
train you might see their skeletons lying, each one bleaching where it
died for want of fodder, scattered here and there on the brown and
burning earth; for even every river bed was waterless, and not a single
blade of green could you descry, for many hundred miles.  And hence it
came about, that as I gazed upon the two emaciated hacks that were to
pull me from the station, a dozen miles out, and as many more back, I
could bring myself to sit behind them only by the thought that thereby
I should save them from a load far greater than my own, that would have
been their fate on my refusal.  Therefore we started, and did
ultimately arrive, in the very blaze of noon.

The Kutub Minár is a needle of red stone, that rises from a plain as
flat as paper to a height of two hundred and fifty feet; and you might
compare it, as you catch, approaching, glimpses of it at a distance, to
a colossal chimney, a Pharos, or an Efreet of the Jinn.  The last would
be the best.  For nothing on the surface of the earth can parallel the
scene of desolation which unrolls itself below, if you climb its 380
steps and look out from the dizzy verge: a thing that will test both
the muscle of your knees and the steadiness of your nerves.  Round you
is empty space: look down, the pillar bends and totters, and you seem
to rock in air; you shudder, you are falling: and away, away below, far
as the eye can carry, you see the dusty plain, studded with a thousand
tombs and relics of forgotten kings.  There is the grim old fortress of
the Toghlaks: there is the singular observatory of the rájá astronomer,
Jaya Singh: and there the tomb, Humaioon's tomb, before which Hodson,
Hodson the brave, Hodson the slandered, Hodson the unforgotten, sat,
for two long hours, still, as if man and horse were carved in stone,
with the hostile crowd that loathed and feared him tossing and seething
and surging round him, waiting for the last Mogul to come out and be
led away.  The air is thick, and sparkles with blinding dust and glare,
and the wind whistles in your ears.  Over the bones of dynasties, the
hot wind wails and sobs and moans.  Aye! if a man seeks for melancholy,
I will tell him where to find it--at the top of the old Kutub Minár.

And then, that happened which I had foreseen.  We had not gone a mile
upon our homeward way, when one of the horses fell.  Therefore,
disregarding the asseverations of my rascally Jehu that the remaining
animal was fully equal to the task alone, I descended, and proceeded on
foot.  But a ten-mile walk on the Delhi plain in the hottest part of
the day is not a thing to be recommended.  After plodding on for about
two hours, I was, like Langland, "wery forwandred," and went me to
rest, not alas! by a burnside, but in the shadow of one of the
innumerable little tombs that stand along the dusty road.  There I lay
down and fell asleep.

Nothing induces slumber like exertion under an Indian sun.  When I
awoke, that sun was setting.  A little way before me, the yellow walls
of Delhi were bathed in a ruddy glow; the minarets of the Great Mosque
stood out sharp against the clear unspotted amber sky.  And as I
watched them, I suddenly became aware that I was myself observed with
interest by a dusky individual, who was squatted just in front of me,
and who rose, salaaming, when he saw that I was awake.  It appeared
that I had, so to say, fallen into a "nest of vipers "; that I had
unwittingly invaded the premises of a snake dealer, who, no doubt for
solid reasons, had made my friendly tomb the temporary repository of
his stock-in-trade.

The Indian snake charmer, _gáruda, hawadiga_,[3] or whatever else they
call him, is as a rule but a poor impostor.  He goes about with one
fangless cobra, one rock snake, and one miserable mongoose, strangling
at the end of a string.  My dweller in tombs was richer than all his
tribe in his snakes, and in his eyes.  I have never seen anybody else
with real cat's eyes: eyes with exactly that greenish yellow luminous
glare which you see when you look at a cat in the dark.  They gleamed
and rolled in the evening sun, over a row of shining teeth, as their
owner squatted down before me, liberating one after another from little
bags and baskets an amazing multitude of snakes, which he fetched in
batches from the interior of the tomb, till the very ground seemed
alive with them.[4]  Some of them he handled only with the greatest
respect, and by means of an iron prong.  Outside the Zoo (where they
lose in effect) I never saw so many together before: and it is only
when you see a number of these reptiles together that you realise what
a strange uncanny being, after all, is a snake: and as you watch him,
lying, as it were, in wait, beautiful exceedingly, but with a beauty
that inspires you with a shudder, his eyes full of cruelty and original
sin, and his tongue of calumny and malice, you begin to understand his
influence in all religions.  I was wholly absorbed in their snaky
evolutions, and buried in mythological reminiscences, when my _gáruda_
roused me suddenly, by saying: _Huzoor_, look!

He leaned over, and administered with his bare hand a vicious dig to a
magnificent hamadryad that lay coiled upon itself in its open basket.
The creature instantly sat up, with a surge of splendid passion,
hissing, bowing, and expanding angrily its great tawny hood.  The
_gáruda_ put his _púngí_ to his lips, and blew for a while upon it a
low and wheezy drone,--the invariable prelude to a little _jadoo_, or
black art,--which the beautiful animal appeared to appreciate: and
then, pointing with the end of his pipe to the "spectacles" on its
hood, he said, with that silky, insinuating smile which is
characteristic of the scamp: _Huzoor, dekko, namas karta[5]_:--

  Nágki phani, chánd ka dúkh
  Uski badi, áp ka súkh.[6]


I did not understand his lunar allusion, but, judging that his rhyming
gibberish, like that of the rascally priests in Apuleius, was a
carefully prepared oracle of general application, kept in stock for the
cozening of such prey as myself, I repeated to him my favourite Hindu
proverb,[7] and gave him in exchange for his benevolent cheque on the
future, a more commonplace article of present value, which led to our
parting on the most amicable terms.  But I did him injustice, perhaps.
Long afterwards, having occasion to consult an astronomical chart, with
reference to this very story, all at once I started, and in an instant,
the golden evening, the walls of Delhi, and my friend of the many
snakes and sinister eyes, suddenly rose up again into my mind.  For
there, staring at me out of the chart, was the mark on the cobra's
head.  It is the sign still used in modern astronomy for "the head and
tail of the dragon," the nodes indicating the point of occultation, the
symbol of eclipse.

What then induced or inspired the _gáruda_ to connect me with the moon?
Was it really black art, divination, or was it only a coincidence?
Reason recommends the latter alternative: and yet, the contrary
persuasion is not without its charm.  Who knows?  It may be that the
soul grows to its atmosphere as well as the body, and living in a land
where dreams are realities, and all things are credible, and history is
only a fairy tale--the land of the moon and the lotus and the snake,
old gods and old ruins, former births, second sight, and idealism--it
falls back, unconsciously mesmerised, under the spell of forgotten
creeds.

POONA, April, 1906.



[1] _Let go!  Let go!_

[2] Though nothing can be less romantic than a canal, gliding through
that of Suez is a strange experience at night.  Your great ship seems
to move, swift and noiseless, through the very sand: and if only you
could get there without knowing where you were, you would think that
you were dreaming.

[3] _Háwa_, in Canarese, is the name of Ráhu.

[4] I did not count them, but there were several dozen, nearly all
different.  I have reason to believe that this man must have been one
of the disciples of a former very celebrated snake charmer, who was
known all over India.

[5] _See, he makes obeisance_.

[6] Which we may roughly render: _Hood of snake brings joy and rue,
this to moon and that to you_.  In all Oriental saws jingle counts for
much.

[7] "_Tutsi, in this world hobnob with everybody: for you never know in
what guise the deity may present himself._"  In the original it is a
rhyming stanza.



  Contents

  I.  A Haunted Beauty
  II.  A Total Eclipse
  III.  A Fatal Kiss



A Haunted Beauty



A Haunted Beauty

_May that triumphant Lord protect us, who as he stands in mysterious
meditation, bathed in twilight, motionless, and ashy pale,[1] with the
crystal moon in his yellow hair, appears to the host of worshippers on
his left, a woman, and to those on his right, a man._


I

There lived of old, on the edge of the desert, a rájá of the race of
the sun.  And like that sun reflected at midday in the glassy depths of
the Mánasa lake, he had an image of himself in the form of a son,[2]
who exactly resembled him in every particular, except age.  And he gave
him the name of Aja, for he said: He is not another, but my very self
that has conquered death, and passed without birth straight over into
another body.  Moreover, he will resemble his ancestor, and the god
after whom I have called him Aja.[3]  So as this son grew up, his
father's delight in him grew greater also.  For he was tall as a
_shála_ tree, and very strong, and yet like another God of Love: for
his face was more beautiful than the face of any woman, with large eyes
like lapis-lazuli, and lips like laughter incarnate: so that his
father, as often as he looked at him, said to himself: Surely the
Creator has made a mistake, and mixed up his male and female
ingredients, and made him half and half.  For if only he had had a twin
sister, it would have been difficult to tell with certainty which was
which.

And then, when Aja was eighteen, his father died.  And immediately, his
relations conspired against him, led by his maternal uncle.  And they
laid a plot, and seized him at night, and bound him when he was asleep:
for they dared not attack him when he was awake, for fear of his
courage and his prodigious strength.  And they deliberated over him, as
he lay bound, what they should do with him: and some of them were for
putting him to death, then and there.  But the prime minister, who was
in the plot, persuaded them to let him live, saying to himself: In this
way I shall make for myself a loophole of escape, in case he should
ever regain his throne.

Then in the early morning, his uncle and his other relations took him
away, and laid him bound on a swift camel.  And mounting others, they
hurried him away into the desert, going at full speed for hours, till
they reached its very heart.  And there they set him down.  And they
placed beside him a little water in a small skin, and a little bag of
corn.  And his uncle said: Now, O nephew, we will leave thee, alone
with thy shadow and thy life in the sand.  And if thou canst save
thyself by going away to the western quarter, lo! it is open before
thee.  But beware of attempting to return home, towards the rising sun.
For I will set guards to watch thy coming, and I will not spare thee a
second time.

And then, he set his left arm free, and laid beside him a little knife.
And they mounted their camels, and taking his, they flew away from him
over the sand, like the shadow of a cloud driven by the western wind.

So when they were gone, Aja took the knife, and cut his bonds.  And he
stood up, and watched them going, till they became specks on the edge
of the desert and vanished out of his sight.



[1] Being actually smeared with ashes.  The god is of course Shiwa, and
the allusion is to his _Ardhandri_, or half male, half female form.

[2] This punning assonance is precisely in the vein of the original.

II

Then he looked round to the eight quarters of the world, and he looked
up into the sky.  And he said to himself: There is my ancestor, alone
above, and I am alone, below.  And he put his two hands to his breast,
and flung them out into the air.  And he exclaimed: _Bho!_ ye guardians
of the world,[1] ye are my witnesses.  Thus do I fling away the past,
and now the whole wide world is mine, and ye are my protectors.  And I
have escaped death by a miracle, and the craft of that old villain of a
prime minister, whom I will one day punish as he deserves.  And now it
is as though I knew, for the very first time in all my life, what it
was to be alive.  Ha!  I live and breathe, and there before me is food
and water.  And now we will see which is the stronger: Death in the
form of this lonely desert, or the life that laughs at his menace as it
dances in my veins.  And little I care for the loss of my kingdom, now
that my father is dead and gone.  I throw it away like a blade of
grass, and so far from lamenting, I feel rather as if I had been born
again.  Ha! it is good to be alive, even in this waste of sand.  And he
shouted aloud, and called out to the sun above him: Come, old
Grandfather, thou and I will travel together across the sand.  And yet,
no.  Thou art too rapid and too fierce to be a safe companion, even for
one of thine own race.  So thou shalt go before me, as is due to thee,
and I will follow after.

And then, he lay down on the sand, covering his head with his upper
garment, and slept and waited all day long, till the sun was going
down.  And then he rose, and ate and drank a very little, and taking
with him his skin and corn, he walked on after the sun, which sank to
his rest in the western mountain.  But Aja followed him all night long,
with the moon for his only companion.  And as he went, he saw the bones
of men and camels, lying along the sand, and grinning at him as it were
with white and silent laughter, as though to say: Anticipate thy fate:
for but a little further on, and thou shalt be what we are now.  But he
went on with nimble feet, like one that hurries through the den of a
sleeping hungry lion, till the sun rose at last behind him.  And then
again he lay down, and rested all day long, and started again at night.
And so he proceeded for many days till all his water and corn were
gone.  And as he threw away the skin, he set his teeth, and said: No
matter.  I will reach the end of this hideous sand, which, like the
dress of Draupadi,[2] seems to roll itself out as I go across it,
though I should have to go walking on long after I am dead.

And night after night he went on, growing every night a little weaker.
And then at last there came a night when as he toiled along with heavy
steps that flagged as it were with loaded feet, faint with hunger and
burning thirst, he said to himself: I am nearly spent, and now the end
is coming near, either of the sand, or of me.  And then the sun rose
behind him, and he looked up, and lo! it was reflected from the wall of
a city before him, which resembled another sun of hope rising in the
west to cheer him.  And he rubbed his eyes, and looked again, saying to
himself: Is it a delusion of the desert, to mock me as I perish, or is
it really a true city?  And he said again: Ha! it is a real city.  And
his ebbing strength came back to him with a flood of joy.  And he
stopped, and took up a little sand, and turned, and threw it back,
exclaiming: Out upon thee, abode of death![3]  Now, then, I have beaten
thee, and thy victim will after all escape.  And he hurried on towards
the city, half afraid to take his eyes away from it for a single
instant, lest it should disappear.

So as he drew near it, he saw a crowd upon its wall.  And when he was
distant from it but a little way, suddenly its great gate's mouth was
thrown open, and a stream of people shot from it like a long tongue,
and rapidly came towards him, so that he said to himself: Ha! then, as
it seems, I am expected by the citizens of this delightful city, who
are as eager to come to me as I am to get to them.  And they came
closer, clamouring and buzzing as it were like bees; and he looked, and
lo! they were all women, and there was not a man among them all.  And
as he wondered, they ran up, and reached him, and threw themselves upon
him like a wave of the sea, laughing and crying, and drowning him in
their embraces: and they took him as it were captive, and swept him
away towards the city, all talking at once, and deafening him with
their joyful exclamations, paying not the least attention to anything
that he tried to say.  And Aja let himself go, carried away by all
those women like a leaf in a rushing stream.  And he said to himself,
in astonishment: What is this great wonder?  For all these women fight
for me, as if they had never seen a man in their lives before.  Where
then can the men be, to whom they must belong?  Or can it be that I
have come to a city composed of women without a man?  Have I escaped
the desert only to be drowned in a sea of women?  For what is the use
of a single man in an ocean of the other sex?  Or are they dragging me
away to offer me up to the Mother,[4] having sacrificed all their own
husbands already?  Or have I really died in the desert, and is all this
only a dream of the other world?  Can these be the heavenly Apsarases,
come in a body to fetch me away, as if I had fallen in battle?  Surely
they are, for some of them are sufficiently beautiful even for Indra's
hall.  And anyhow, it is better to be torn to pieces by beautiful
women, even if there are far too many, than to die in the desert, all
alone.

So as they bore him along, chattering on like jays and cranes, he said
again to the women next him: Fair ones, who are you, and where are you
taking me, and why in the world are you so greatly delighted to see me?
And then at last, they replied: O handsome stranger, ask nothing: very
soon thou shalt know all, for we are carrying thee away to our King.
And Aja said to himself: Ha!  So, then, there is a King.  These women
have, after all, a King.  Truly, I am fain to see him, this singular
King of a female city.  And weak as he was, he began to laugh, as they
all were laughing: and so they all surged on like a very sea of
laughter, through the gates of the city, and along the streets within,
till they came at last to the King's palace.  And all the way, Aja
looked, and there was not to be seen so much as the shadow of a man in
all the streets, which overflowed with women like the channel of a
river in the rainy season.

Then the guards of the palace doors, who were also women, took him, and
led him in; and all the women who had brought him crowded in behind.
And they mounted stairs, and after a while, they entered at last a
great hall, whose pillars of alabaster were reflected in its dark green
crystal floor, giving it the semblance of a silent pool in which a
multitude of colossal swans had buried their necks beneath the water.
And there Aja found himself in the presence of the King.

And instantly, all the women screamed together: Victory to thee,
Maharájá! for here have we brought thee another husband for thy lovely
daughter.  And Aja started.  And he said to himself: Another husband!
How many husbands, then, has this strange King's daughter got already?
Has she an insatiable thirst for husbands, whose number I am brought to
swell?  So as he stood reflecting, the King leaped from his throne, and
came towards him.  And as Aja looked at him, he was seized with
amazement greater than before.  For the King resembled a very
incarnation of the essence of grief, yet such that it was difficult to
behold him without laughter, as if the Creator had made him to exhibit
skill in combining the two.  For his long thin hair was pure white, as
if with sorrow, and his eyes were red, as if with weeping, and great
hollow ruts were furrowed in his sunk and withered cheeks, as if the
tears had worn themselves channels in which to run.  And though he was
tall, he was bent and old, as if bowed down by a load of care.  And he
tried, as if in vain, to smile, as he said in a mournful voice that
quavered and cracked: O man, whoever thou art, long have I waited for
thee, and glad indeed I am to see thee, and inclined to dance like a
peacock at the sight of a rainy cloud.

And as he gazed upon the King, Aja was seized with sudden laughter that
would not be controlled, saying within himself: Much in common they
have between them, a dancing happy peacock, and this doleful specimen
of a weeping King!  And he laughed till tears ran down his cheeks also,
as if in imitation of those of the King.  And when at last he could
speak, he said: O King, forgive me.  For I am very weak, and have come
within a little of dying in the desert.  And I laughed from sheer
exhaustion, and for joy to see in thy person as it were the warrant of
my escape from death.  Give me food, and above all, water, if thou
wouldst not have me die at thy feet.  And afterwards, show me, if thou
wilt, thy daughter, to whom, as it seems, I am to be married whether I
will or no.  And the King said: O thou model of the Creator's cunning
in the making of man, thy hilarity is excused.  Food thou shalt have,
and water, and everything else thou canst require, and that
immediately.  But as for my daughter, there she is before thee.  And
she could teach dancing even to Tumburu himself.[5]



[1] The _Lokapálas_, or regents of the world, often thus appealed to,
are eight: Kubera, Isha, Indra, Agni, Yama, Niruti, Waruna, and Wayu:
and they ride on a horse, a bull, an elephant, a ram, a buffalo, a man,
a "crocodile," and a stag.

[2] When she was lost in the gambling match, and Duhshásana tried to
strip her, as he pulled off one dress, another appeared below it,
refusing to leave her naked.

[3] Still the name of Marwar.

[4] Durgá or Párwatí.

[5] A Ghandarwa, or heavenly musician, and the dancing master of the
Apsarases.  [Pronounce tum- to rhyme with _room_, rather short.]



III

And then, as the laughter surged again in Aja's soul, saying within
himself: Out on this pitiable old scarecrow of a King, whose only
thought is dancing! the King turned, and stood aside.  And Aja looked,
and instantly, the laughter died out of his heart, which ceased as it
were to beat.  And he murmured to himself: Ha! this is the most
wonderful thing of all.  King and women and desert and all vanished out
of his mind, as if the sentiment that suddenly seized it filled it so
completely as to leave room for nothing else.  And he stood still
gazing, feeling as though he were spinning round, though he was
standing still as death.  For there before him stood this enigmatical
King's daughter.  And like her father, she also seemed an incarnation
of the soul of grief, not as in his case ignominious and an object of
derision, but rather resembling a heavenly drug compounded of the
camphor of the cold and midnight moon, that had put on a fragrant form
of feminine and fairy beauty to drive the world to sheer distraction,
half with love and half with woe.  For like the silvery vision of the
new-born streak of that Lord of Herbs, she was slender and pale and
wan, formed as it seemed of some new strange essence of pure clear ice
and new dropt snow, and she loomed on the soul of Aja out of the
blackness of his trance like a large white drooping lily, just seen in
the gloom of an inky night.  And her hair and brow were the colour of a
thunder-cloud in the month of Chaitra,[1] and like that cloud, the
heavy sorrow hung in her great dark mournful eyes, drenching him as it
were with a shower of dusky dreamy dewy beauty, and drawing him down
bewitched and lost like the victim of a haunted pool into the snaky
eddy of their silent unfathomable recess.  And yet her deep red lips
trembled, as it were on the very border of a smile, as if they were
hinting against their will of a mine of laughter and subtle snares that
they were not allowed to use.  And she had risen up to come and meet
him, yet was hanging back as if reluctant, and so she stood, all
reflected in the polished floor, with her head thrown back to look at
him, for she was very small, like one on the very point of imploring
help, yet shrinking, as if too proud to ask it from a stranger,
balanced as it were between reliance on her own pure and pleading
beauty and doubtfulness of its reception.  So she halted irresolute,
with glorious throat that was hovering still over the swell of her
lifted breasts, poised as it were on the very verge of tumultuous
oscillation, like that of Rati, preparing with timidity to cast herself
at the feet of the three-eyed God, to beg back the body of her
burned-up husband in a passion of love-lorn tears.

And Aja stood before her, like the sea when the digit of the moon rises
suddenly over its waves, stirred with a tumult of strange emotions, and
yet lit by a heavenly ray, a mass of agitated darkness mixed with
dancing, trembling light; all unaware that he was himself to the King's
daughter exactly what she was to him, a weapon of bewilderment in the
hands of the cunning god of the flowery bow, who shot him suddenly at
her, like an arrow of intoxication, and pierced her through the very
middle of the soft lotus of her heart.

So they two stood awhile in silence.  And all at once, Aja spoke, not
knowing that he spoke aloud.  And he said, very slowly: How many
husbands, then, have already had this lustrous beauty, who looks for
all as pure and pale and undefiled as a new young delicate jasmine bud?
And instantly, as if roused from sleep by his reproach, he saw the
colour leap up into her cheek, and spread like dawn flushing over her
burning throat and brow.  And she drew a sudden breath, and her bosom
heaved abruptly as if with a sob of shame.  And at that moment, the
voice of the King her father broke harshly into Aja's dream, saying:
Alas! alas!  Never a husband has had her yet, though she is now long
past sixteen, and could even teach Tumburu dancing.

And then, as if the King's words had suddenly lifted a weight from his
soul, Aja burst into a shout of laughter.  And he tottered, as if to
fall.  And he caught at the old King's arm, and gripped it so that he
almost screamed, exclaiming amid his laughter: Ha!  King, I am also the
son of a King: and now I will be thy son-in-law.  And she shall have a
husband at last, and teach him, if she pleases, dances that even
Tumburu does not know.  And with that, he fell into such a paroxysm of
laughter, that weak as he was, he could not stand, but fell: and his
laughing turned to sobbing.  Then the King's daughter turned to her
father, with an angry flush on her brow.  And she said, with strong
emotion: O father, wilt thou delay for ever to send for food and water?
Dost thou not see that this King's son, great and powerful though he
be, is weak, and it may be, perishing, before thy face, of hunger and
thirst, having escaped by a miracle out of the desert to die by thy
neglect?

And she clapped her hands, stamping her foot in indignation.  Then the
women ran, and took up Aja, and carried him away.  And they bathed him,
and tended him, and fed him till he was recovered: and after a while,
they brought him back, into the presence of the King.



[1] April.



IV

So he came once more into that hall, looking like another man.  And he
seemed in the eyes of the King like the rising sun of his daughter's
marriage, but in those of his daughter like the very God of Love, newly
risen from his own ashes.  And he said joyously: O King, now I am again
myself: and my reason and my strength have both again returned to me.
And if in their absence, I behaved strangely and without good manners,
it behoves thee to lay the blame rather on the desert of sand that
surrounds thy city, than on myself.  For I was like one delirious, and
half distracted by wonder and other feelings coming to the aid of
hunger and thirst.  Then he told the King his name and family, and all
his story, looking all the while at the King's daughter, as she did all
the while at him, with glances that resembled sighs.  But as he watched
her, Aja said to himself in wonder: What has happened to her, since I
saw her first, and what is the matter with her, now?  For her quiet
grief has abandoned her, and she looks like one in a burning fever; and
two red spots, like suns, burn and blaze upon her cheeks, and her great
eyes shine and glow, as if there were a fire within her soul.  So when
he had finished his own tale, he said: Now, then, O King, I have told
thee all that I have to tell.  And now it is thy turn to speak.
Explain to me all this wonder; for I seem to move in a maze of
extraordinary events.  Why are there, in thy city, no men, but only
women?  And what is the cause of thy grief?  And, greatest wonder of
all, how comes it that thou hast found a difficulty in finding a
husband for this thy daughter?  For, as for myself, know that, make any
terms thou wilt, I am ready to marry her, blindfold, on any conditions
whatever: nay, would she only be my wife, I should consider the fruit
of my birth attained.

And then, to his amazement, that strange old King began to weep once
more.  And tears flowed down his cheeks like rain, as he said: Alas!
alas!  O son-in-law that would be, so fine a man art thou, that I am
distressed indeed to see thee, and to hear thee so eagerly proposing to
take my daughter for thy wife.  For all that have preceded thee, and
they were many hundreds, have said the very same: and yet all without
exception have come to a miserable end: and there she is, unmarried
still.[1] And yet this is no fault of hers, unless indeed it be a fault
to be beautiful beyond compare.  Nor has her maiden purity been sullied
in the least degree by ever a suitor of them all.  But all this has
come about by reason of a fault of mine, itself, beyond a doubt, the
bitter fruit of the tree of crimes committed in a former birth.  For
know that long ago, when I was young, I conquered the entire earth, and
brought it all, from sea to sea, under the shadow of one umbrella.  So
when I was reposing, after my exertions, one day there came to see me
Nárada and another _rishi_.  And Nárada entered first.  And when he
complimented me, as the chosen husband of the earth, I said to myself:
Now, I must make him some suitable return.  And accordingly, I
presented him with the whole earth.  Then he replied: O King, what is
the use of the earth to me?  And he gave it back to me, with his
blessing, saying: Obtain an incomparably beautiful offspring![2] and so
he went away.  And then the other great _rishi_ entered, and
congratulated me also.  And I presented him also with the entire earth.
Then that _rishi_ looked at me with eyes that were red with anger.  And
he said slowly: What!  Is my merit utterly despised?  Dost thou presume
to offer me only the leavings of another?  Thou shalt indeed obtain
offspring, but only of the female sex.  And beautiful it shall be
indeed: but little shall that beauty profit either thyself or her.  So
having uttered his curse,[3] he laughed, and instantly went away,
refusing to be propitiated or to throw any light upon the future.  And
thereafter in due time there was born to me, not the nectar of a son,
but this lump of grief in the form of a daughter.  And as if her sex
were not enough,[4] her almost inconceivable beauty and accomplishments
have only added to my calamity: nay, they are the very root of it, and
the essence of its sting.  For all has come to pass, exactly as that
testy old _rishi_ said.  For though she is, as thou seest, beautiful as
the moon, and like it, full of arts,[5] and above all, a dancer that
would turn even Tumburu green with envy, all this nectar has become
poison by the curse of that old ascetic, and the very perfection of her
beauty has become the means of undoing us both.  For about two years
ago, as we were walking together at midnight, on the terrace of the
palace, that forms the edge of the city wall, enjoying the cold camphor
of the moon after the heat of a burning day, suddenly, out of the
desert, we heard as it were the rush of wings.  And as we stood and
listened, there arose in the air a sound of voices, like those of a man
and woman in vehement dispute.  But though we could distinguish the
tones, we could not understand the meaning, for the language was
unknown to us.  And then, after a while, those two invisible air-goers
appeared all at once before our eyes, seated on the battlements, in the
form of a pair of vultures.[6] And immediately, the male vulture spoke
with a human voice, saying: O King, give me now this daughter of thine
to wife.  And instantly I answered rashly: Never will I bestow my
daughter on a bird of ill-omen such as thou art.  Thereupon that
evil-minded suitor laughed like a hyæna: and instantly my daughter fell
into a swoon.  And as she lay in the moonlight, she looked so
indescribably and unutterably beautiful that even that loathsome bird
was moved.  And he said to his companion: Daughter, I was right, and
thou wert wrong.  Look, and see, and allow, that she is far more
beautiful than even thou art.  Thereupon that _gridhri_[7] laughed
also, and she said: Time shall show.  Listen, King.  This is
Kírttisena, a nephew of Wásuki, King of the Snakes, and I am his only
daughter.  For this form of vulture was assumed by us, only to converse
with thee.  Now he maintained thy daughter to be more beautiful than I
am.  Thereupon I vowed vengeance.  But I agreed to leave her
unmolested, if thou didst give her to him for a wife.  So to preserve
her from my vengeance, he asked her of thee in marriage.  Now, then,
since thou hast rejected his suit, despising him hastily for his
outward form, and since my own beauty has been slighted by his
comparison, ye two shall be punished, she for her beauty, and thou for
thine insolence, and through the means of that very beauty, on account
of which my father and I have become contemptible.  See, O thou who
despisest a suitor, whether thou canst easily procure another.  This
shall be the condition of thy daughter's marriage.  Whatever suitor
shall lay claim to her, thou shalt send up to this terrace alone at
night.  And if he claims, and does not come, we will swallow thy city
whole, houses and all.  Then those two vultures disappeared.  And not
long afterwards, hearing that my daughter was to be given in marriage,
suitors arrived like swarms of bees from every quarter of the world,
attracted by her fame.  For she is called Yashowatí, because the fame
of her fills the world.  Then all those suitors followed one another,
like the days of the year in which they went, up upon the terrace of
the city wall: and like those days, not one of them all has ever
returned, but they have vanished utterly, none knows how, or where.
And when all the distant suitors were exhausted, and all the
neighbouring kings, then, in my ardent desire to get her married, no
matter how, to no matter whom, I offered her to the men of my own city,
showing her to them from the palace windows.  And every man that saw
her ran to win her; and one by one, the men of the city followed after
her former suitors, till they grew few in the city.  Thereupon the
women banded together, and took their husbands and their sons and
everything in the shape of a man, and hid them: and now as thou seest,
there is not a man to be seen or found, in the whole city.  But every
stranger that comes to the city, they catch, and bring him straight to
me, as they have done in thy case also.  And the mere sight of my
daughter always makes him not only willing, but, as thou art, even
eager, to marry her at any cost.  And yet they have all utterly
vanished, like stones dropped, one after another, into a well without a
floor.  And there is my daughter, maiden and unmarried still.  And I
can see my ancestors wringing their hands for grief: knowing well that
as soon as I myself am dead, it is all over with their race.  For who
will offer them water, since the fatal beauty of my only daughter has
set a term to my ancient line?

So as Aja stood, lost in wonder at the old King's story, his daughter
suddenly rose to her feet with a shrill cry.  And she exclaimed: O son
of a King, fly quickly!  Hence! away! back with thee even into the
desert, and leave me and my father and this miserable city to our
inevitable fate.  And she sank down in a swoon, and would have fallen
to the ground, but that Aja sprang quickly forward and caught her as
she fell.

So as he stood, holding her in his arms, and wishing that her swoon
might last for ever, so only that he held her, for she stole away his
senses with the seduction of her fragrance and proximity, her father
exclaimed, in dismay: Ha! this is something new, and a thing that has
never occurred before.  And what can be the matter now?  O son of a
King! she must have fallen in love with thee, as well indeed she might,
for thy beauty and thy youth.  And doubtless it has grieved her soul,
to think of thy approaching end.  But alas! alas! this is worse than
all.  For now, if thou fallest a victim, as cannot fail to be the case,
like all thy predecessors, she will herself not survive thee: and then,
indeed, there is an end of all.  For as long as she was left to be
married, there was still a shadow of hope behind.

And he began to ramble about, wringing his hands for grief.  But Aja
said to himself, with joy: Ha! this was all I wanted, if only it be
true.  And he said to the King: O King, it will be time enough to
afflict thyself for her death or for mine when we have actually died.
But count me, in the meantime, as thy son-in-law: and be under no
anxiety as to the fate of thy ancestors.  For I will guarantee their
good condition: and this very night, I will rid thee of the evil demon
that molests her.  And tomorrow, I will take this hand, and lead her
round the fire.[8]

And he took her hand, as she lay in his arms, and touched it with his
lips.



[1] It may not be superfluous to remind the English reader that,
according to Hindoo ideas, there is no disgrace like that of possessing
an unmarried daughter.  Hence the practice, among the Rajpoots and
adjacent peoples, of destroying the female infants, to avoid it.

[2] Intending, of course, a son.  Unfortunately he employed a word of
indeterminate gender: hence the lamentable _dénouement_.  For in
ancient India, as in ancient Rome, the spoken word, the letter,
determined everything.

[3] Nothing in Hindoo mythology is more absurd than the implacable fury
of the most holy men for the most trifling slights, unless it be the
accuracy with which their most dreadful imprecations are literally
fulfilled.  This was, I believe, characteristic also of the saints of
Erin.

[4] An English lady having called, not long ago, at the house of a
Hindoo lady, to enquire how she was, after an interesting event, and
_what was the result_, received for answer: Alas, _memsahib, nothing at
all_: a girl.  Had she been a partisan of "woman's rights," she would
probably never have recovered from the shock.

[5] A play on words, not transferable to English.

[6] It is a very bad omen, in India, for a vulture to settle on a house.

[7] A female vulture.  I retain the original word, because it seems to
be peculiarly expressive of the thing.

[8] That is, marry her.



V

And instantly, as though his kiss had been to her like sandal and like
palm-leaf fans, she came back to herself.  And when she saw who held
her, she started up, and stood, blushing the colour of her own lips,
with eyes cast upon the ground.  And the King said: O daughter, what is
this?  Does it become a high caste maiden outwardly to exhibit her
inward feelings, and abandon the straight line of virgin modesty by
behaviour that betrays her heart?

And then, Yashowatí sighed deeply.  And she looked for a while in
silence, first at her father, and then at Aja: and all at once, she
stood erect, like one seized by sudden resolution, and she clapped her
hands together, and exclaimed, in a voice that shook and quivered with
emotion: Ha! who can hide a forest fire by covering it over with a
little straw, or what does maiden conduct matter, in the ruin of the
three worlds!  Aye! the fire of grief consumed me, to see this noble
son of a king, and to think that he escaped the desert only to meet his
death from me.  Now has my punishment come upon me in the form of this
tall and splendid youth.  For I grieved for the fate of my former
suitors, and yet I saw them for all that go, one by one, to their
useless doom, and still myself remained alive.  Long ago, beyond a
doubt, I ought myself to have left the body, and perished of my own
accord, rather than consent to live, the cause of death to so many
others: and by putting myself to death, I should have cut in two the
fatal chain of their succession, and saved their lives by the
substitute of my own.  And now, instead, I have been as it were their
murderess, and a death to them all in female form.  And now the Deity
has avenged them, by sending to me at last the God of Love in human
shape, whose death will be a grief to me a hundred fold more awful than
any death I could have died.  And I myself shall not survive him.  Then
why waste time in chiding one who has but one more day to live?  For as
soon as night arrives, he must go like the rest to meet his doom: and
certain it is, that I shall not live to see the sun rise again without
him.

And as she spoke, they gazed at her, astonished.  For she seemed like
one that has burst the bonds of all restraint, and thrown all
consideration to the eight quarters of the world.  But as soon as she
stopped, the old King uttered a doleful cry.  And he exclaimed:
Yashowatí, O daughter, what words are these?  Is it any fault of thine
that thou art beautiful?  And wilt thou talk of abandoning the body?
Then what will become of the family, of which thou art the only hope?
But Aja laughed: and he said: O lovely lady, waste not thy grief on
such a thing as I am: and O father-in-law, cease from bewailing
calamities that are only the shadows of thy own fears cast upon the
dark curtain of the future.  For many are they that are doomed to die,
yet never perish after all.  And I have not escaped the sand to perish
lightly in any other way.  Be assured that the lamp of thy race is
burning still with a steady flame, not to be extinguished by a little
puff of wind.  To-morrow we will laugh together over these idle
apprehensions, which the rising sun will dissipate together with the
mists of night.

But Yashowatí turned, and looked at him with steady eyes.  And she
said: My husband, for such indeed thou art, the first that I have ever
chosen,[1] and the last that shall ever claim my hand: dost thou think
that I would have so far forgotten the reserve that is becoming to a
maiden of my caste, as to offer myself like an _abhisáriká_, but that I
know, as thou canst not know it, the absolute and utterly inevitable
certainty of thy doom, and that this is the very last day we shall
spend together, though it is also the very first?  And Aja looked at
her with affection: and he laughed again.  And he said: Sweet wife,
since thou art so very certain, then as it must be, let it be.  What
care I for to-morrow, if I am with thee all to-day?  Knowing that but
an hour ago, when first I saw thee, I would have given my life, doubly
dear as it was by reason of its recent escape from death, to win from
thee a little love, even a very little.  But as it is, a single day is
life enough, provided it is spent with thee, even though I were really
destined never to see another.

And she looked at him with wistful eyes; and after a while, she said:
Thou art brave, and as I would have had thee.  And thou dost not
believe me: and it may be, it is better so.  And then she turned to the
King, and said: O father, go away now: and leave me alone with my
husband.  And be not afraid, either for thy honour or my own, for there
shall be as it were a sword between us.  But I wish to have him all to
myself, until the end.  And when the time has come, let the gong be
sounded, and I will send him out to thee, and thou canst show him the
way to death.  And thereupon the old King went away as she desired,
moaning and muttering, and wringing his hands with grief.

So when he was gone, those two lovers sat together all day long, gazing
at each other like the sunflower and the sun.  And he utterly forgot
the morrow, but it never left her mind, even for a single instant.  And
she made him relate to her his whole life from the very beginning,
drinking in his words, and hanging on his lips, and watching him
keenly, with eyes that never left his face, holding all the while his
hand, with the grasp of one who knows that her husband must be led to
execution in the evening.  And she said to herself, at every moment:
Still he is here: still he is here.  And when the sun set, she sent for
food and delicacies and wine, and fed him like a child with her own
hand, tasting herself nothing.  And she surfeited him with the honey of
her sweetness and the syrup of her kisses and the nectar of the young
new moon of beauty bathed in the sun of love, the redder[2] because of
its approaching set.  And all at once, she started to her feet, in the
very middle of a caress.  And she stood, listening.  And Aja listened
also: and he heard in the silence the sound of a gong.

So as he watched her, she turned paler and ever paler, like the east at
the break of dawn.  And she put her two hands together, and pressed
them tight against her heart, and then against her brow.  And all at
once, she came quickly to him, and said in a low voice: It is time.
And she took his head in her hands, and kissed him, with lips that were
cold as ice, and yet hot as fire, first on the eyes, and then on the
mouth, and last of all upon the brow.  And then she took his hand, and
held it for a little while, with a clutch that almost hurt him, gazing
at him with thirsty eyes.  And suddenly, she threw away his hand, and
pushed him away roughly, saying: Go.  But Aja caught her in his arms,
and kissed her yet again, as it were against her will.  And he said: O
fearful heart, be not afraid.  Very soon, I will return.  And he went
away quickly, but at the door he turned, and saw her standing still,
watching him with dry bright eyes, and lips that were shut tight.  And
at that very moment, the old King took him by the arm, and said: Come
now, and I will show thee the way by which all thy predecessors went
before thee.

Then Aja said: O King, I am unarmed.  Give me a weapon to carry with
me.  So the King took him into the armoury, and he chose for himself a
sword almost as long as he was tall.  But he threw away the scabbard,
saying: This would only be in the way: and now I am prepared.  And then
the King led him away, and up a winding stair.

And when they were at the top, he stopped.  And he said: O son-in-law
that might have been, now fare thee well.  And even I feel it harder to
part with thee than with any of thy predecessors.  Thou wouldst have
made an altogether appropriate husband for my daughter, and O! that
thou couldst have seen her dance, before thus disappearing: but now it
is too late, for I doubt whether Tumburu himself could make her dance
to-night, so troubled did she seem to be at bidding thee good-bye.  Go
out, now, through yonder door: and thou wilt be more fortunate than all
the others, if thou canst manage to return through it.

Then he went back into the palace.  But Aja passed through the door,
and found himself on the city wall.



[1] This was the privilege of kings' daughters.

[2] A play on words: meaning also _more affectionate_.



A Total Eclipse



[Illustration: Hindu script]

  _Then kith and kin and home forget, and all,
    To sail beyond the setting sun, with me,
  Where dead love's dreamy recollections call
                              Across the sea._



A Total Eclipse

I

And he stood on the edge of the city wall, with his naked sword in his
hand.  And he looked on this side and on that, and saw the turrets of
the city jutting out along the wall, like the huge black heads of
elephants of war advancing in a line.  And behind him lay the city,
covered over with a pall of black that was edged and touched with
silver points and fringes; and before him the desert stretched away,
smeared as it were with ashes, under the light of the moon.  And brave
as he was, his heart beat, just a very little, in expectation of what
was coming.  And he said to himself: My father-in-law's dismissal was
not very reassuring.  But where then is the danger, and from what
quarter is it coming, and what form will it take?  For here is nothing
whatever to fight with, except the shadows cast by the moon.  Or is
this all merely a trick of the King to test me, before which all my
predecessors have ignominiously failed?  Yet no.  For were it so, my
wife would indeed be an actress[1] capable of reducing Tumburu to the
state of ashes.

So as he stood, waiting, and smiling at his own thoughts, it happened
that that daughter of Kírttisena, whose jealousy of the King's daughter
had caused all the trouble in the King's city, came according to her
custom flying towards the city wall.  For every night she came to see
whether there was a new suitor.  And whenever she discovered one, she
had recourse to a Rákshasa that was bound to her by obligations, who
came as soon as thought of, and swallowed that unhappy suitor whole.[2]
And now for some time, no new suitor had appeared.  So as she came
flying in the likeness of a bat, she looked towards the city wall,
expecting to find it empty.  And she saw, instead, Aja, standing,
leaning on his sword, and smiling, on the very edge of the wall.  And
at the very first glance at him, she was struck with stupor, and she
fell that very moment so violently in love with him[3] that she could
hardly flap her wings, by reason of the fierce agitation of her heart.
So she alighted on the wall, a little distance off, and remained
watching him, hardly able to breathe for emotion, in her own form[4]
but surrounding herself with a veil of invisibility to escape his
observation.  And after a while, she drew a long breath, and murmured
to herself: Ha! this is a suitor indeed, very different from all the
others; and rather than a mere mortal man, he resembles the son of
Dewakí,[5] with Rádhá caressing him in the form of the moonlight that
seems to cling affectionately to his glorious limbs.  Ha!  he looks
like the tutelary deity of the city come to defy me, bringing the god
of love to his aid in the form of his own marvellous and incomparable
beauty.  Aye! and I feel that I am defeated already, before the battle
has so much as begun.  And then, all at once, a spasm of rage shot
through her heart, and she turned pale.  And she exclaimed: Ah! but I
am anticipated by this accursed King's daughter, who will rob me of
him, nay, has already done it, by her undeniable hateful beauty, and
her priority of claim.  Alas! alas!  O why did I not see him first,
before her abominable loveliness had made an impression on his heart?
For he is very young, and it must be, open to the spell of beauty, and
artless, and sincere.  Ha!  And suddenly, she started up, as if an idea
had rushed into her mind.  And she stood for a moment, thinking.  And
then she exclaimed, with a gesture of resolution: Yes, I also am
beautiful.  Now, then, I will efface her image from his heart, and
replace it by my own.  Now I will assault him, by all the power of my
charms,[6] and we will see whether he will be proof against the glamour
of a beauty such as mine, multiplied and magnified by magic sorcery and
fierce determination.  Aye!  I will move heaven and earth to steal his
heart from the King's daughter, and turn Pátála[7] upside down to make
him mine instead of hers.  But if I fail?  And again she turned deadly
pale.  And after a while, a bitter smile curled over her lips.  And she
said: If, if I fail; no, but I will not fail.  But if I fail, then, I
will take another way.



[1] An actress and a dancer are in Sanskrit denoted by the same word.

[2] This method of disposing of objectionable suitors is unfortunately
not available in Europe.  A great swallowing capacity is a feature of
the species Rákshasa.  The "coming as soon as thought of"
(_dhyátágata_) is the Indian equivalent of "rubbing the lamp" in the
Arabian Nights.

[3] _Who ever loved that loved not at first sight_?  Every Oriental
would side with Shakespeare in this matter: love, in the East is not
love, unless it comes like a flash of lightning.

[4] This might be either that of a woman or a snake, for the Nagas, to
whom she belonged, waver between the two.  The Naga, it may be well to
remind the reader, is a being possessed of magic powers, especially
that of _glamour_ or _blearing the eye_, which appealed so powerfully
to Spenser and Sir Walter Scott.

[5] Krishna, whose colour, it is to be noted, is blue.

[6] In every sense of the word: _mohaiálamáyá_ is stronger than any
English equivalent.

[7] The Underworld, the home of the snakes.



II

So as Aja stood upon the wall, looking out over the desert, suddenly
all vanished from before his eyes.  And he saw before him no city, and
no desert.  But he found himself in a dusky wood, thick with tall
_tamála_[1] trees, and lit by a light that was neither that of the sun
nor that of the moon.  And all around him huge red poppies waved gently
without a wind, mixed with great moon-lotuses, whose perfume went and
came by turns as it hung on the heavy air.  And under the shadow of the
black-leaved trees large bats flew here and there with slow and
noiseless flap, and on the branches monstrous owls with topaz eyes like
wheels of flame sat motionless, as if to watch.  And a dead silence
like that of space whence all three worlds have been removed left Aja
nothing else to hear but the beat of his own heart.  And the hair rose
up upon his head with sheer amazement.  And he said to himself: Ha!
what new wonder is this, and what has become of the city wall?  And
where in the world have I got to now, and how?  Now let me be very
wary, for the danger is evidently coming near.

And as he stood, grasping his sword, prepared, and looking quickly
right and left, suddenly he saw a thing which rivetted his gaze to it,
as if with an iron nail.

A little way off, among the poppies, was standing up like a lonely
column all that was left of one of the walls of a ruined temple, whose
fallen pillars were lying scattered all around it, half concealed by
creeping leaves.  And as he gazed intently at this upright fragment of
a fallen wall, he saw upon it the image of a sculptured woman, which
stood out so distinctly that he could not take his eyes from it.  And
after a while, he said to himself: Surely that can be no stone statue,
but a real woman of flesh and blood, actually leaning, who knows why,
against that bit of a broken wall.  And he looked and looked, and after
a while, filled with irresistible curiosity, he went nearer, but very
slowly, and as it were on his guard, to see.

So as he gazed, wonder and admiration gradually crept into his soul,
and stole his recollection unaware.  And he became wholly intent on the
stone image, and forgetful of his situation.  And he ceased to wonder
at finding himself in the wood, so great was his new wonder at the
beauty of the woman on the wall.  And he said to himself: Surely he was
a master artist, whoever he was, that made this woman out of stone, if
stone indeed she be.  For even now, near as I am, I can hardly believe
she is made of stone.

And the more he looked, the more he marvelled.  For she seemed in his
eyes like a frozen mass of lunar camphor, moulded into a female form,
standing cold and pure and still, alone by herself in that strange half
light, that hovered as it were irresolute between the natures of night
and day.  And she stood with her right hand on her hip, which jutted
out to receive it like the curve of a breaking wave: and her bare right
breast stood out and shone like a great moonlit sea pearl, while the
other was hiding behind the curling fold of the pale green garment that
ran around her, embracing her with clinging clasp like a winding wisp
of emerald foam fondly wrapping the yielding waist of Wishnu's sea-born
wife.  And she was very tall, and shaped like Shrí, and she stood with
her head a little bent, and her sightless eyes fixed as it were on
empty space, just as though she were listening for some expected sound.
And as he continued to gaze at her, a wonder that was almost horror
crept into his mind.  For her face was not like that of an image, but
rather resembled a mask, or the face of a very beautiful woman, that
very moment dead.  For the colour seemed as it were to have only just
faded from her cheek, and the blood seemed only just before to have
left her pallid lips, and the sight was as it were hanging yet in her
great long open eyes, that were fixed on the distant sky.  And he
stood, gazing, as if the very sight of her had made of him another
image like herself.

And then, at last, he stepped forward.  And he put out his left hand,
and touched her with his forefinger on the shoulder that was bare.

And instantly, as if his touch had filled her with a flood of life, a
shiver ran like quicksilver over her stony limbs.  And as he started
back, to watch, the colour came back into her face, and red blood
rushed into her lips, and deep blue suddenly filled her eyes.  And the
tresses of hair around her head turned all of a sudden a glossy black,
that shone with a blue-green lustre, as if reflecting the grassy sheen
of her winding robe.  And her bosom lifted slowly, and fell again with
a deep sigh.  And all at once, she abruptly altered her position, and
her eyes fell straight on Aja, standing just before her.  And she
lifted up, first one eyebrow, and then the other, till they formed a
perfect bow, for they joined each other in the middle.  And she uttered
a faint cry, as if in joy, exclaiming: Ha! can it be, and is it thou?
Or am I dreaming still?



[1] A tree with very black bark and white blossoms, dear to erotic
poets, such as, _e.g._, Jayadewa.



III

And Aja stood, staring at her with stony gaze, like a mirror of her own
surprise.  And he said to himself: Surely it is not she, but I myself,
that am the dreamer.  For here since the sun rose last, I have escaped
the desert, and found this city without a man, and acquired a bride of
peerless beauty: and now here is another, rising as it were from the
dead, and seeming to expect me.  And he continued standing silent,
gazing at her, sword in hand.  And after a while, she said: What! is my
form, then, so frightful as to rob thee of thy tongue?  Or art thou
going to use that sword against me?  Speak: but in the meanwhile, let
me see whether I have lost the use of my limbs, as thou hast that of
thy tongue, after so long a sleep.  And she leaped from her little
pedestal, and moved a little way here and there, waving her beautiful
arms about: and after a while, she came back, and sat down just before
him, on one of the fallen pillars that were lying about the ground.
And all the while Aja watched her, as if fascinated by a serpent,
saying within himself: She moves like nothing I ever saw, save a
panther or a gliding snake.[1]  And then, all at once, she again put up
one eyebrow, and said to him with a smile: Must I, then, actually tell
thee, that I am Natabhrúkutí?[2]  Then Aja said: O lady, it is obvious.
For thy bent brow would plant arrows even in the heart of the Great
Ascetic.  And she said again: O husband, is this thy welcome, after so
long a separation?

And Aja bounded, as if bitten by a snake.  And he exclaimed: Thy
husband!  What!  Am I then thy husband also?  Does thy whole sex want
to get me for a husband?  But O thou beauty of bending brows, how can
he be thy husband, that never saw thee in his life before?  And only
this morning, I was still wifeless, and a day has not elapsed, since I
became another's husband.  And he stopped short, again confounded at
the effect of his own words.  For hardly had they passed his lips, when
Natabhrúkutí started up, swelling with rage and convulsed with fury,
with eyes that blazed like fiery stars.  And she exclaimed: Never!
never!  Never shall she possess thee, nor any other than I myself.  And
then, like a flash of lightning, her rage vanished as quickly as it
came.  And she looked at him with imploring eyes, and said: Slay me
now, with thy long bright sword, and send me back to that nonentity out
of which thou hast just recalled me: but speak not of another woman in
front of me.  Alas! and am I all forgotten?  And tears rolled from her
great blue eyes, and fell like suppliants at her feet.

And Aja put up his left hand, and tugged at his hair in the extremity
of his amazement.  And he said: O thou strange offended lady, I am
utterly bewildered, and resemble one that has lost his way at midnight
in a wood.  And thy anger and thy grief are alike altogether
incomprehensible.  How can I possibly have forgotten one, whom as I
just now told thee, I never saw in my life before?  Then she said: Nay,
not in this life, but the last.  For I was the wife of thy former birth.

Then Aja laughed, and he said: O beauty, who remembers his former
birth?  For like every other man, and like my ancestor the sun, I have
risen up into light out of the sea of dark oblivion, into which I must
sink again at last.  And then she looked at him with a deep sigh.  And
she said: Alas!  This is a punishment indeed, and worse by far than all
the rest, if after having endured so long the state of a stone upon a
wall, I am again become a woman, only to find myself repudiated and all
forgotten, by him, on whose account I suffered all.  Listen, then, and
I will tell thee the story of thy former birth.  It may be that, in the
hearing, some scattered reminiscences will be as it were awakened, to
stir again in the dark lethargy of thy sleeping soul.



[1] It is a wonderful thing to see a cobra move.  Nothing can describe
it.

[2] That is, _the Beauty of the arched eyebrows_.  (Pronounce _Nat-_ to
rhyme with _but_.)



IV

And then she began to speak.  And as she spoke, she leaned forward, as
she sat upon the fallen pillar, and fastened her great eager eyes like
magnets on his own.  And as Aja watched them, they played as it were
upon his heart.  For their colour wavered and changed and faltered,
shifting ever from hue to hue, turning golden and ruddy amber, and
emerald-green and lotus-blue; and over her eyes her arching brows
lifted and fell and played and flickered, fixing his troubled soul like
nails, and rivetting his attention, till her singing voice sounded in
his head like a distant tune crooned in the ear of a sleepy man.  And
she waved slowly her long round arms, all the while she spoke.  And she
said: Far away, over the sea, lies thy own forgotten land, and
presently I will tell thee, and even show thee, where it is.  And there
it was, in our former birth, that thou and I were boy and girl.  But
thou wert the son of a mighty King, and I was only a Brahmani, a poor
man's daughter, and my father was an old ascetic, far below thee in
everything else but caste.  And I lived alone with my old father, in
the very heart of a great forest, in a little hut of bark, over which
the _málati_ creeper grew so thick that nothing was visible of that
little hut, except its door.  And then one day I was seen by thee,
standing still in that very door, with my pitcher on my head: as thou
wert passing through the wood to hunt upon thy horse.  And that moment
was like a sponge, that blotted from the mind of each everything but
the other's image.  And I made of thee my deity, and forgot everything
in the three great worlds, for thee alone.  And thou, that day, didst
clean forget thy hunting: or rather, the God of Love showed thee game
of another kind,[1] and from pursuing thou didst fall to wooing a
quarry that wished for nothing so much as to be thy prey.  And we
married each other that very day, which ah! thou hast all forgotten.
What! dost thou not remember how I used to meet thee every day in the
little hut, when my father was away in the wood engaged in meditation?
What! hast thou really all forgotten how it was thy supreme delight to
bring me garments and costly jewels, which I put on for thy amusement,
thy forest-queen of the little hut?  Has thy memory cast away every
vestige of reminiscence of thy old sweet love in the little hut?  So
then it happened that on a day we were together, blind and drunk with
each other's presence, shut within the little hut like a pair of bees
in a nectared lotus.  And I was standing like an idol, dressed like the
queen of a _chakrawarti_,[2] loaded with gold on wrists and feet, with
great pearls wound about my neck; and thou wert contemplating me, thy
creature,[3] with intoxication, and hard indeed it was to tell which of
us two was the idol, and which was the devotee.  And as we woke up from
a kiss that lasted like infinity, lo! my father stood before us.  And
he said slowly: Abandoned daughter, that hast forgot thy duty in thy
passion for this King's son, become what thou hast represented, an
idol[4] of stone on the wall of a ruined temple far away: and thou, her
guilty lover, fall again into another birth, and be separated from thy
guilty love.  Then being besought by us, to fix some period to the
curse, he said again: When ye two shall meet again, and thy husband in
his curiosity shall touch thee with his finger, she shall regain her
woman's state, and be as she was before.  And now all this has come
about, exactly as he said.  And I have found thee once again, only to
find alas! alas! that thou hast left thy heart behind thee in that old
delicious birth.



[1] In Sanskrit, hunting and wooing can be mixed up together by plays
on words.

[2] An emperor.  Hindoo idols are dressed and undressed, like dolls, by
their officiating priests.

[3] She means, he was her Creator.

[4] The Hindoos have no word, because they have not the idea, of an
_idol_.  They call it a _god_ or an _image_.  Our word _idol_ implies
the antagonism to paganism involved in Christianity, and no two books
are more alike than S. Augustine's _City of God_ and Ward's _Hindoo
Mythology_.



V

So as he listened, Aja's soul was filled as it were with a mingled
essence of wonder and irresolution and sheeny beauty and singing sound.
For the tone of her voice was like a lute, and before his eyes hovered
a picture of waving arms and witching curves, out of which her dreamy
eyes, from which he could not take his own, seemed as it were to speak
to him of love reproachful and old regret.  And all at once, with a
violent effort, he roused himself as if from sleep with open eyes.  And
he shifted his sword to the other hand, and passed his right across his
brow.  And he said, in some confusion: O thou strange and sweet-tongued
woman, certain this much is, that I am filled by thee with emotion that
I do not understand.  And yet I know not what to think, or even say.
For even apart from the promptings of a former birth, thy beauty and
thy haunting voice, which I seem as it were to have heard before, are
quite sufficient to rouse emotion even in a stone, much more in a man
of flesh and blood.

Then she shook her head sadly, looking at him with glistening eyes; and
she said, with a smile of ineffable sweetness: Ah! this is as I
thought, and the instinct of thy former birth is clouded over and
effaced, by thy meeting with this other woman in the morning of this
very day.  Alas! how small, how very small, the interval of space and
time that divides the paradise of joy from the dungeon of despair!  For
had this our reunion been sooner by only a single day, I should have
caught thy heart before it had been occupied by this all too fortunate
other woman, who now holds it like a fortress, garrisoned by a prior
claim.  But what is this priority of claim?  Can she, who by thine own
confession has known thee only a single day, dare to dispute priority
with the darling of thy former birth?[1]  Wilt thou break thy faith
with me, to keep thy faith with her?  Aye! and wilt thou, after all,
gain so much by the exchange?  Is she beautiful, then, this other
woman?  But I am beautiful, too?  And she stood up, and looked at Aja
with her head thrown back and proud eyes, as though to challenge his
condemnation of her own consummate beauty.  And she said again: Is she,
then, this other beauty, either more faithful or more beautiful than I
am?  Speak, and tell me if thou canst, in what I am inferior, or why I
am to be despised, in comparison with her.

And Aja looked at her again, and felt abashed, and half ashamed, he
knew not why.  And he murmured to himself: She does not lie: for
beautiful she is indeed, and need not fear comparison with any woman in
the world.  And it may be, she is partly right, and if I had met her
yesterday, before my heart was full, she would have had little
difficulty in entering in and capturing it, almost without resistance.
And he stood looking at her silently, uncertain what to say or do, and
half inclined to pity her, and half afraid of her and of himself,
admiring her against his will, and as it were confessing by his very
silence the power of her appeal.  For notwithstanding the preoccupation
of his heart, his youth and his sex became as it were allies with her
against his resolution, compelling him to acknowledge the supremacy of
the cunning god, and the spell of feminine attraction incarnate in her
form.

And she stood there before him, for a little, with beauty as it were
heightened by resentful reproach of the slighting of itself, and the
disregard of its tried affection.  And then all at once she sank down
upon the ground, as if she were tired, and remained sitting among the
poppies, with her chin resting on her left knee, which she embraced
with her arms, watching him, and as it were, waiting with humility and
patience for a decision in her case.  And every now and then, she
closed her eyes, and opened them again, as if to make sure that he was
there.

And Aja looked round in the silence, at the poppies and the lotuses,
and the great owls that seemed to watch him, and back again at her.
And his head began to whirl, and he muttered to himself: Is this a
dream, and what does it all mean?  And is she returning to the
condition of an image, disgusted by my coldness and disdain?  And what
is to be done?  And he looked at her face, deprived, by the closing of
their lids, of the moon of her eyes, and resting like a mask upon its
chin.  And he said within himself: Her eyebrows move, as if they were
alive.  And he felt as it were unable to look away from them: and at
last, annoyed with himself, he closed his eyes also, as though to
escape their persecution.



[1] Though, in Europe, this insidious appeal might lack force, it is
otherwise in India: whose millions doubt their former birth no more
than they doubt their own existence.  It is not long since a woman in
Cutch burned herself with her own dead son, because, she averred, he
had been her husband in her former birth.



VI

And then, he said to himself: This is cowardice, and after all, no
refuge; for I seem to see her still, through the shutters of my lids.
And he opened his eyes once more.  And instantly, he leaped from the
ground like a wounded stag, with a cry.  For the wood, with all its
lotuses and poppies, was gone.  And in its place, he saw before him a
forest with its great green trees all lit by the shining of the sun.
And just in front of him there stood a little hut, buried in the
blossom of the _málati_ creeper.  And in its doorway was standing a
young Brahman woman, with a pitcher on her head.  And she beckoned to
him with a smile, and he looked, and lo!  it was Natabhrúkutí.  Then
moved as if against his will, on feet that carried him towards her as
it were of their own accord, he approached her.  And as he drew nearer,
there came from that creeper a wave of perfume, resembling that of
jasmine, but sweeter, and so pungent that it entered like fire into his
soul.  And then she lifted the pitcher from her head, and set it down
upon the ground, and caught him by the hand, and drew him within the
hut.  And there she cast herself into his arms, whispering in his ear,
very low, so as to caress it as she spoke with her lips: My father is
away, and now we are alone, and the day is all before us.  Come now,
what shall I do for thy delight?  And she ran and shut the door; and
then, taking from a chest rich clothes and splendid jewels, she began
to put them on, saying as she did so: See! am I becoming more fit to be
thy queen?  And he watched her, stupefied, like one in a dream, and all
the while she bathed him with intoxicating side glances shot like
arrows from the bow of her arching brows.  And at last, she came slowly
towards him, walking on tip-toe, and attitudinising, placing herself
exactly in the posture in which he had seen her first among the poppies
on the wall, with one hand on her hip.  And she said, lifting her brow,
with a smile that stole his reason: Now, then, the idol is ready for
the devotee.  And at that moment the door opened, and an old Brahman
entered through it.  And he said slowly: Abandoned daughter, that hast
forgot thy duty in thy passion for this King's son, become what thou
hast represented, an idol of stone on the wall of a ruined temple far
away; and thou her guilty lover, fall into another birth, and be
separated from thy guilty love.

And then, Aja heard no more.  The world whirled around him; the
blackness of night closed over his soul; he uttered a terrible cry, and
fell to the ground in a swoon.



VII

And when he came to himself, he was back again among the poppies in the
_tamála_ wood.  And he was lying on the ground, with Natabhrúkutí
bending over him, holding him by the hand, with anxiety in her eyes.
And instantly he started up, and seizing his sword, stood gazing at her
with stupefaction.  And he said to himself: Am I dead or dreaming?  And
what does it all mean?  Is it a delusion of the Creator, or a mirage
and a madness of the desert, out of which I have never yet escaped at
all?  Aye! beyond a doubt, I am wandering still in the waste of sand,
raving mad, and dying, and haunted by phantoms that are the premonitors
of approaching death.

So as he stood, balancing in the swing of perplexity, and doubting his
own reason, Natabhrúkutí looked at him fixedly, with concern and
affection and curiosity in her eyes.  And she said: Surely thou art
ill.  And why then dost thou shrink from me, as though I were a thing
of terror: I, who ask for nothing but to tend thee all my life?  For it
was but now, as we spoke together in this wood, I looked up and saw
thee suddenly close thy eyes.  And as I watched thee, wondering to see
thee sleeping as it were erect, there burst from thy lips a fearful
cry, and I had but time to catch thee falling, and let thee sink upon
the ground.  And I brought thee to thyself, by fanning thee, as well as
I might, with this great leaf.

And she held it up before him, while he continued to gaze at her in
silence.  And as he did not speak, she looked at him curiously, and
muttered under her breath, as though speaking to herself, and not
intending him to hear: Can he have suddenly recollected his former
birth, and is this the reason why he is staring at me, as if wishing to
compare me with a picture in his head?  And as he still kept silence,
presently she said aloud: Dear, thou art sick: and much in need of
medicines, such as I alone can give thee.  Why wilt thou not confide in
me?  For I am a cunning leech, and know the virtue of every herb and
every vegetable drug better than Dhanwantari[1] himself.  And I have
made myself mistress of every species of the art of healing, and in
particular, I have fed myself on perfumes, and on the essences of
flowers, and all the scented odours of aromatic shrubs, till I have
myself become as it were a very attar, incarnate in a woman's form.
Dost thou doubt it, and think me to be boasting? then try me, and I
will prove to thee my power by experiment, in any way thou wilt.  I
will soothe and shampoo[2] thee with a hand softer than a snowflake's
fall and cooler than the icy moon: or, if thou wilt, I will croon to
thee old airs, and put thee to sleep like a tired child, resting thy
head on this bosom which once was thy delight, with melodies that shall
speak to thee of drowzy bees and moaning winds: or I will steal thy
waking senses from thee and lure them into slumber as it were against
thy will by snaring them with fragrances more luscious than that
_párijáta_ blossom, which Wishnu once trailed through the intoxicated
world, to drive it into madness at the moment, and leave it filled with
inconsolable regret when it was gone.  See, take this, and smell it,
and thou wilt be better even now.  And she held out towards him, in the
lotus of her hand, a tiny flower, in colour like an atom of the
concentrated essence of the sky.  And as Aja looked at it, there came
from it a stream of a sharp and biting scent, that rushed into his
soul, coming laden as it were with reminiscence and suggestions of the
past; so that he said to himself: Ha! of what does this remind me, and
where is it that I smelled its almost intolerable sweet before?  And
suddenly, the little hut rushed into his mind, and he exclaimed: It is
the very smell of the creeper on its roof.  And instantly, a feeling of
amazement that almost overcame him, mingled with terror, crept like a
shudder over his limbs, and his hair stood on end.  And he looked at
Natabhrúkutí, who was watching him intently, and said, hoarsely: Who
art thou, thou strange beauty, and what dost thou want of me?  And what
is the meaning of these inexplicable mysteries, before which I feel as
if my reason were deserting me, and I were about to faint again?



[1] The physician of the gods, the Hindoo Æsculapius.

[2] The _Samwáhanam_ is one of those old Hindoo medical resources which
we have only recently been wise enough to copy.



VIII

Then she laughed, and said: Fair boy, I am only that bitter-sweet,[1] a
woman: and I want no more than what every woman wants, the man she
loves, and that is thou.  Aye! dost thou ask me, who and what I am?
Listen then, and I will tell thee.  I am a bee, which not like other
bees roams roving to flower after flower, but confines itself
exclusively to one.  I am a breeze, which not like other breezes blows
fickle and inconstant now hither and now thither, but is fixed and ever
steady, coming straight from Malaya laden with the sandal of affection
to lay it at thy feet.  I am only the echo of a voice which is thyself,
the shadow of a substance and the reflection of a sun.  I am like the
other half of the god that carries the moon upon his head, the twin,
the duplicate and counterpart of a deity who is thou.  I am Rati,
rejoicing to find again the body of her husband, and thou art Love
himself returned to life whom I have found.  I am an essence of the
ocean, but unlike it, I hold within my heart not many pearls, but only
one, which is thyself.  I am a wick, consuming in thy flame, and like
the music of a lute, I am a thing wholly compounded of melodies and
tones, whose mood and being are dependent on the player, who is thou.
Art thou sad? then I am also: art thou joyous? so am I: my soul is
tossed about, and hangs on thy smiling or thy sighing, as a criminal
depends on the sentence of the judge.  And like a crystal, I am
colourless[2] without thee, but ready on the instant to assume every
tinge of the colour of thyself.  Cast thy eyes upon me, and thou shalt
see as in a glass thy every mood painted on the surface of my face.
Ah! dost thou ask me what I am?  Alas!  I am a target for the poisoned
arrows which Love shoots at me in the form of thy beauty greater than
his own.  And I am like a bare and withered, leafless and frost-bitten
tree, which has suddenly shot up into blossom at the coming of spring
in thy form.  But as for thee, why, O why dost thou regard me that live
for only thee as if I were a deadly snake, and thou a startled deer?
In vain, in vain, dost thou endeavour to repel me, for I will not be
repelled.  I will melt thy cold ice in thy despite, by the fire of my
affection, and drown thee in its flood, and sweep thee away from the
rocks of thy resistance till thou art lost for ever in its dark and
pearly depths.

And as Aja stood, listening in confusion to her words, which poured
from her like a torrent, suddenly she clapped her hands, and exclaimed,
as he started again at her vehemence: Ha! shall I tell thee, thou
wilful and reluctant boy, of what thou dost remind me, standing as it
were aghast, and obstinately set against me, mute, and yet asking what
I am?  Know, that long ago there was a king, who had for wives a
thousand queens.  And it happened that one day, he went with his wives
to ramble in the heart of a forest.  So after sporting for a while, he
grew tired, in the heat of the day, and lay down and fell asleep.  Then
all his queens stole away and left him lying, and went roaming up and
down, very strange creatures in that wild rough wood, looking like
living flowers of every hue and kind, that had somehow or other got
free from their roots, a body of deer-eyed decoys let loose by Love the
Hunter, to lure into his toils every man that should behold them.  So
as they rambled here and there, they came suddenly on an old ascetic.
And he was standing still, half buried in the hills of ants, themselves
covered over by his long white hair, immersed in meditation.  Then all
those fair women went up and stood around him in a cluster of beautiful
curiosity, wondering at the sight of him, and asking each other in
amazement, what in the world he could possibly be.  So as they crowded
round him, that old ascetic emerged from his trance, and as thou art
doing, stood silent and aghast, thinking, as perhaps thou dost thyself,
that Indra must have sent him all the nymphs of heaven in a body, to
lure him from the path of liberation.  For, O, thou beautiful
suspicious youth, what is there so terrible about me, as to cause thee
to shrink from my approach?  Know, that many would be glad to be wooed
as was that old ascetic, and as thou art now.



[1] _Wishámritam_: lit. poison-nectar.

[2] Also means _without affection_.



IX

And then, Aja strove to awake as it were from a dream.  And he shook
himself, as if to shake it off, and he said to himself: I feel that I
am falling as it were a victim to the spell of this passionate and
subtle beauty; and now, unless I stiffen and steel myself against her,
I shall undoubtedly be bewitched and beguiled beyond the possibility of
escape.  And he summoned his resolution, and said, with a semblance of
composure: Fair one, thou dost thyself no injustice in comparing
thyself alone to a thousand queens: for thou art a very incarnation of
all the bewildering fascination of thy sex.  And yet, potent as they
are, thy charms are wasted, and resemble blunted arrows when directed
against me.  For as I have already told thee, I am pledged to another,
and proof against thy spell, as doubtless was thy old ascetic against
that bevy of straying queens.

And then Natabhrúkutí smiled, and she shook at him her finger, as she
answered: Rash boy, beware!  Be not too sure of the adamantine quality
of thy resistance, nor even of thy wisdom in resisting me at all.  And
beware of provoking the indignation of slighted Love, who may make of
thee a signal example of his vengeance.  Take care, lest annoyed with
thy obstinacy in rejecting what he offers thee for nothing, he should
deprive thee even of that other beauty, on whose account alone it is
that I am held by thee so cheap.  Poor youth! but that my lips are
tied, I could enlighten thee.  Art thou, who art so ready lightly to
disdain me, art thou, I say, so sure, so very sure, that thou art
thyself the only lover of this much married beauty, whom thou sawest,
as thou sayest, for the very first time in thy life to-day?  Art thou
so sure, so very sure, that she is not deceiving thee, and that thou
art not merely the last of the many lovers whom she toys with for a
moment, and then carelessly casts away?  Art thou so very certain that
thou hast never had a predecessor?  And Aja started, in spite of
himself.  For the word recalled to him the manner of the old King.  And
Natabhrúkutí saw it.  And she looked at him as it were with compassion,
and said: Alas, unhappy boy: thou seest that in thy youth and
inexperience such an idea had not occurred to thee.  Little art thou
qualified to cope with a woman's guile.

Then said Aja fiercely, in wrath both with himself and her: It is
false, and she is true.  But Natabhrúkutí answered very gently: Be not
angry, for I do not question that she loves thee.  I do not even doubt
it: for if she did not, she would be a fool.  But listen, and learn,
what thou dost not seem to know, that Love is a Master Knave; aye! by
far the greatest master of deceit in the three great worlds.  And woman
is his aptest pupil, and every woman living, were she even as simple as
thyself, becomes, as soon as she falls under the influence of Love, a
very incarnation of policy and craft and wiles.  I tell thee, foolish
boy, that she that loves in earnest, were she good as gold, pure as
snow, and flawless as a diamond, would plunge, to gain her object, to
the very lowest bottom of the ocean of deceit.  And what is her object
but the esteem of her lover?  Dost thou think she would balance for an
instant, between her lover and the ruin of the world? between his good
opinion, and a lie?  Dost thou think she would forfeit thy esteem, when
to deceive thee would preserve it?  I tell thee, in such a dilemma, she
would lie, till the very sun at noon hid his face out of shame.
Know,[1] that long ago there lived at Wáránasi[2] an independent lady,
of beauty so extraordinary, that swarms of lovers used to buzz
continually about her like great black bees about the mango blossom in
the spring.  But independent though she was, she was so fastidious,
that none of her innumerable lovers ever touched her heart even for a
moment.  And hence she lived like a lamp at midnight surrounded by the
corpses of her victims, who fluttered about her lustre and perished in
its flame.  And then at last, one day it came about that a tall young
Rajpoot almost as beautiful as thou art arrived at Wáránasí.  And
Kasháyiní[3] (for that was her name) saw him from a window as he came
into the city; and instantly like an empty pitcher suddenly plunged
into the Ganges, she was filled to the very brim by the inrush of
Love's sacred nectar.  And she said to herself: The very first thing
that he will hear of in the city is myself.  And like everybody else,
he will come immediately to see me: and that very moment, I shall
abandon the body out of shame.  For though my beauty might attract him,
yet he will be convinced that many lovers have preceded him, and
therefore, at the bottom of his heart he will despise me.  And this
would be worse than any death.  And yet without him, my birth will have
been in vain.  Therefore, I must devise some expedient.  So after a
while, she went out in disguise, and bought for a large sum of money
the body of a woman of her own age and size who had died that very day.
And bringing that body home secretly at night, she dressed it in her
own clothes, and burned it till its identity was obliterated.  And then
she set fire to her house, and left it by a back door, and went away,
abandoning all her wealth but the jewels that she wore, for the sake of
her picture in the air.[4]  And at that very moment, the Rajpoot came
along, led by some of the townspeople to visit her, as it were set on
fire by the very description of her beauty.  And he looked and saw the
flames bursting from her house, as though lit by himself.  And they
found the half burned body in the ashes, and immediately all the lovers
of Kasháyiní followed her through the fire of grief to the other world.
But the Rajpoot managed, in spite of disappointment, to remain alive.
And she, in the meantime, having given every one the slip, found a
false ascetic, and bribed him with jewels, giving him instructions
without letting him know who she was.  So that ascetic went and struck
up acquaintance with the Rajpoot, pretending to be a discoverer of
treasure.[5] And he performed incantations, and, after a while, he said
to him: Go quickly to Ujjayini, and dig in the north-east corner of the
burning ground outside the city on the very last day of the dark half
of the month of Magha, and thou shalt find a treasure.  Take it, for
what is the use of treasure to such a one as me.  Thereupon that
Rajpoot, having nothing else to do, went.  And Kasháyiní, having first
made sure that the bait had taken, went herself and got there before
him.  So when that Rajpoot arrived, he dug exactly as he was told, and
found absolutely nothing.  And cursing his destiny, he went out of the
burning ground in the early morning: and as he went along, suddenly he
saw Kasháyiní, who was waiting for him, sitting weeping by the wayside,
under a great _ashwattha_ tree: beautifully dressed, blazing with
jewels, and adorned with saffron and antimony, betel, indigo, and
spangles, flowers, minium, and henna, bangles on ankle and comb in her
hair.  And she said to that Rajpoot, who was as utterly astounded by
the sight of her as if she had been water in the desert: O son of a
king, succour one who is utterly without resource.  And when he asked
her, what was the matter, she said: I was the only wife of a very rich
merchant, and as we travelled from the South, suddenly we were set upon
by a band of Thags.  And after killing every one but me,[6] they all
went to sleep, thinking me secure; but in the middle of the night, I
went a little way, and hid myself in a hollow tree.  And in the morning
those villains, after hunting for me in vain, all went away, fearing a
pursuit, and I came out of the tree trembling, and reached this road,
and now I am alone in the world.  Then said the Rajpoot to himself: Ha!
so, after all, I have found my treasure, and that excellent ascetic was
a true prophet.  And he said: O lady, I am of good family.  And now, if
thou wilt have me for a husband, I will supply the loss of thy
merchant, and all the rest of thy relations.  And she feigned
reluctance: but after a while, she dried her tears, and consented.  But
that Rajpoot almost went out of his mind, so great was his delight.
And one day he told her of Wáránasí, and the burning of Kasháyiní.  And
she looked at him with laughing eyes, and said: O my husband, I will
make up to thee for the loss of Kasháyiní: for I am just as beautiful
as she.



[1] In all Oriental stories, statements are proved not by Aristotelian
syllogism, but by "instances": and we are reminded of the opinion of
the artful Retz, that "_one never persuades anybody, but anybody can
insinuate anything_."

[2] Benáres.  The lady in question was one of those Hindoo Aspasias of
whom many similar stories are told.

[3] Which we might translate Aromatic: it includes the ideas of _red
colour_ and _pungent perfume_.

[4] Or, as we say, castle in the air.

[5] A regular trade in medieval India.

[6] Everything in this story is exactly in harmony with the manners of
medieval India.  The Thags often preserved a woman for her beauty, when
they murdered every one else.



X

And as Natabhrúkutí ended, she leaned forward, and gazed at Aja with
soft seductive eyes, till he blushed, and wavered before her like the
flame of a candle in a wind.  For her beauty bewildered him, and her
cunning story planted, as if against his will, the seed of suspicion in
his mind.  And in spite of himself, he said to himself: What if it were
as she says, and my wife, like another Kasháyiní, were concealing from
me something that she shrank from avowing, lest I should think the
worse of her.  And he turned pale at the thought, that any other lover
should, even a very little, have occupied her heart before him.  And he
stood silent, and confused, striving to expel from his mind the doubt
that Natabhrúkutí had raised in it, saying to himself: Can I really be
only the last of many lovers?  And all the while Natabhrúkutí watched
him, devouring him as it were with her eyes.  And at last, she said
again: Sweet boy, thou art too young and too honest to cope with women,
who were framed by the Creator to deceive.  But Aja said angrily: Thou
art thyself a woman, seeking at this very moment to deceive me: and as
for thy age, it is less than my own.  And she said: Nay, nay: I am
older, for I am wiser than thyself.  For when I see my husband, I
remember him, but me thou hast utterly forgotten, thy true and only
wife.  Ah! foolish one, thou hast forgotten.  And thou resemblest one,
who casts away a costly jewel, for the sake of a bit of glass, shining
only in the sunlight of thy ignorance, and trodden by the foot of every
passing stranger.  What! can I do nothing to rouse thy recollection?
Look at me well! look hard, and it may be, something of me will touch
as it were a chord in thy soul.

And she came up close to him, so that the warmth and fragrance of her
beauty enveloped him like an atmosphere of intoxication.  And she
joined her hands, looking up into his face, as it were compelling his
reluctant admiration by her humble submission to his will.  And she
said: Hast thou, hast thou indeed forgotten all?  And as he gazed at
her, two huge drops of crystal welled into her eyes, and hung poised
before they fell on the net of her long dark lashes.  And she said:
Thou sayest, I am seeking to deceive thee.  I love thee, and where is
the deception?  Is it not rather thou that art the deceiver in this
matter?  Is it any fault of mine if another has stepped in to defraud
me of thyself?  Or am I to be blamed, if thy beauty still beguiles me
as it did long ago?  And yet, dost thou accuse me as if I were a
criminal?  O blue black bee, what is this behaviour, that thou seekest
as it were to pick a quarrel with the poor red lotus who loves thee but
too well?  And she smiled through her tears, and exclaimed: Ah! but in
spite of thee, I will adore thee, whether thou wilt or no.  Ha! and I
will compel thee to remember, and force my way through every barrier
and obstacle till I reach the recollection[1] in the bottom of thy
heart.  O canst thou not remember the days of long ago, when my now
despised beauty was a joy to thee, and my hair a very net to snare thy
willing soul, and my eyes were more to thee than any diamonds, and
these two arms were thy prison and thy chain, and this agitated bosom
was thy pillow on which I lulled thee to slumber with the music of this
very voice?  Hast thou really forgotten the nectar of my kiss? hast
thou actually forgotten thy own insatiable thirst?  Ah! but if thou
hast forgotten, I have not: and the innumerable multitudes of thy too
delicious kisses come back to me, singing in my memory, and whispering
in my soul like the lisping of the sea.  Hark!  Dost thou not hear them
also, those voices of a former birth?



[1] The reader should remember that in Sanskrit, _love_ and
_recollection_ are the same word.



XI

And as Aja gazed at her, stunned and almost overcome by the pathos of
her irresistible appeal, and as it were swept from his feet by the
surge of her passion, suddenly she seized his left hand with her right,
and stood, grasping it as if convulsively, with the other hand raised,
and bending her head, as if to listen.  And he listened, and lo! there
sounded in his ears a murmur resembling that of the sea, mixed with
faint strains of music, and echoes of indistinguishable singing voices
coming as it were from the ends of the earth.  And a shudder ran
through him, as she turned, and looked at him as if in ecstasy, with
eyes that saw nothing, murmuring in an eager voice that chanted and
charmed his ear like the rushing of a stream: Dost thou hear the
voices, calling thee over to the other shore?  For the sea is the sea
of separation, and the other shore is our former birth.  Far away over
the setting sun hides the red land[1] of our old sweet love.  And I can
take thee back to it, out of this dim and dingy wood.  Only I can carry
thee back to the land beyond the sunset hill, where love is lying dead.
Over the sea where monsters lurk, and great pearls grow in sunless
deeps, I can carry thee back again to the land of long ago.  Never a
ship with a silken sail could rock thee over across the waves so well
as I will waft thee there on the swell of this soft breast.  Never a
breeze from the sandal hill could ferry thee over a silent sea so
gently as will I, by breathing into thy raptured ear tales of thy old
forgotten past with fond and fragrant lips.  What! art thou still
oblivious of that old delicious birth?  Dost thou never behold in
dreams the paradise of our little hut, and slake again thy raging
thirst in a long forbidden kiss?  Does she never come back to thee, the
Brahmani girl with a face like mine, with lips that laughed and eyes
that shone, and a mango flower in her hair?  Say, dost thou never dream
of her?  And she shook his arm with frenzy, and exclaimed: Ha! wake
from thy magic sleep, and tear away the curtain that hides me from thy
blinded soul.  I will, I will awake thee.  I will not be forgotten.
And all at once, she burst into a passion of tears.  And she reeled, as
though about to fall, and tottered, and threw herself, sobbing hard,
against his breast.

And while she spoke, Aja stood, like one pushed to the very edge of a
precipice, pale as death, and breathing hard, spellbound.  And then at
last, when she threw herself upon his breast, again a shudder ran
through all his limbs.  And as if her touch had shattered to pieces the
last fragment of his resolution, he caught her around the waist with
the one arm that was free.  And with tears in his own eyes, he
stammered, as if in the extremity of desperation, hardly knowing what
he said: Alas!  I have been harsh to thee.  O lovely browed beauty,
cease to weep.  Why, O why, did I not meet thee sooner by only a single
day?



[1] The Sanskrit _dwipa_ has exactly the same connotation as our
islands of the Blest, and like them it is placed in the setting sun.



XII

And at that very moment, he heard behind him a deep sigh.  And as he
turned, wood, poppies, and all vanished from before his eyes.  Once
more he stood on the city wall; and there before him was the King's
daughter.  And she was standing in the doorway through which he had
come upon the wall, leaning against the open door, and paler than
Love's own ashes, while her great dark eyes were frozen as it were to
ice, and yet lit up by the triple fire of sorrow and reproach and
fierce disdain.  And she looked like the daughter of Janaka, when
forsaken by the lord of the race of Raghu, and like the heavenly
Urwashi, when abandoned by Pururawas, a very spirit of despair carved
by the Creator into a stony female form, to break the heart of the
three worlds.  And as if the very sight of her had broken the spell
that held him, reason and recollection suddenly returned to Aja, as it
were at a single bound.  And he woke, as if from a magic sleep, and on
the instant, a sword ran as it were straight into his heart.  And with
a cry, he flung away his sobbing burden like a blade of grass, not
caring where it fell: and ran towards the King's daughter.  But she,
when she saw him coming, shrieked, and started, and exclaimed: Away!
Touch me not, save with the point of thy sharp true sword, to pierce me
through the body as thy perfidy has my soul.

Then Aja tossed away his sword, with a shudder, over the edge of the
wall.  And he seized himself by the head with both hands, with a groan
like the roar of a wounded lion.  And he exclaimed: Ha!  Better now it
had been indeed, had I never emerged from the waste of sand.  And he
turned fiercely upon Natabhrúkutí, saying: This is thy doing, thou vile
enchantress: and now I am indeed awake.

But even as he spoke, the words died away upon his lips; and he stood
still, like a picture on a wall, for wonder at what he saw before him.
For Natabhrúkutí was standing still, exactly where he left her, bolt
upright, like a spear fixed in the earth.  And her beauty was greater
than ever, and yet such, that as he saw it, his heart stopped in his
breast.  For every vestige of the nectar of her love-emotion had left
her, and in its place, the poison of immortal hate shone in her cold
and evil eyes, which were fastened, as if with a mixture of pain and
pleasure, with a glittering and fiendish stare, upon the King's
daughter.  And as he watched them, cold ran in Aja's veins.  For her
eyes shook, and changed colour, and a horrible smile played on her blue
and twitching lips.  And she looked thin, for her two arms hung down
tight against her sides, and her fingers opened and shut, slowly, as if
of their own accord.

And after a while, she spoke.  And she turned to Aja, and said, in a
voice that resembled a hiss: Fool! thou wouldst not take the blue
flower I offered thee, though its fragrance could not have been matched
by anything in the three worlds.  Now, then, I will take another way.
So as he watched her, she was gone: and he saw before him nothing but
the empty city wall.

And as he looked again, not crediting the testimony of his own eyes, he
heard a sharp cry from the King's daughter.  And he turned, and saw
Yashowatí sinking to the ground.  And at that very moment Natabhrúkutí
stood again before him.  And she looked at him with strange eyes, and
said slowly: Go now, and enjoy thy wife.  But I must give thee just one
kiss, before I go.

And as Aja looked into her eyes, suddenly, like a flash of lightning,
he understood.  And he struck his hand upon his brow, exclaiming: Ha!
Now, now, I understand, too late.  Thou art that very she, that was
jealous of the King's daughter's beauty, and ruined her out of spite.
And I have been befooled by thee, and failed to stand the test.  And he
ground his teeth with rage, that swept through him like a storm.  And
he said to himself: Alas!  I threw away my sword.  No matter.  Now,
then, as she said herself, I will take another way.  And he looked at
her, as she stood waiting.  And he held out his arms, saying: Come,
then.  And as she put her face close to his own, he caught her by her
slender throat, with both hands, in a grip like that of death.

And then lo! she was gone again.  But in her place, he held in his
grasp a huge yellow snake, which struck him, as he clutched it hard,
once and twice, upon the lips.



A Fatal Kiss

And then, little by little, the night gradually came to an end.  And
the sun rose up, out of his home in the eastern mountain, and began
rapidly to climb into the sky.

And all at once, there arose a great hubbub, and an outcry in the
King's palace.  And the women ran hither and thither, wailing and
screaming and crying out: Haha! haha! the daughter of the King is gone.
And they hunted in all directions, but could not find her anywhere: and
they went and told the King.  But he, when he heard it, came running
just as he was in his night clothes, and hurried about with all the
women, looking into every corner, and finding nothing.  So after
turning the palace upside down, he stopped short.  And he said: What if
she should have followed her lover up on to the city wall, and shared
his fate!  For beyond a doubt, like all his predecessors, he has
vanished never to return.

Then they all went up the winding stair, the King going first.  And he
stepped out on to the wall.  And instantly, with a piercing cry, he
fell to the ground in a mortal swoon.

Then terror seized on all those women, and they stood exactly where
they were, looking at each other with pale faces, not daring to
advance.  But at last, after a long while, supporting each the other,
they pushed forward and looked out.  And they saw the King's body,
lying on that of his daughter; and a little further off, Aja, lying
upon his face.

Then they went out, and took up those three bodies, and carried them
in, and examined them.  And after a while, they said: Doubtless the
heart of the old King broke, when he saw his daughter lying dead.  But
as for the other two, one snake has evidently bitten both.  And yet,
this is a wonderful thing.  For she has been bitten on the foot, but
her lover upon the lips.  What then?  Was he trying to kiss the snake,
that it should bite him upon the lips?  For how could even the biggest
snake reach up so high, as this great Rajpoot's mouth?



      *      *      *      *      *



  A Selection from the
  Catalogue of

  G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS

  Complete Catalogue sent
  on application



Books by F. W. Bain

_Translated from Original Manuscripts_


  A Digit of the Moon
  And Other Love Stories from the Hindu

_Crown 8vo.  Illustrated.  Net, $1.50_


  A Draught of the Blue
  together with
  An Essence of the Dusk

_Crown 8vo.  Illustrated.  Net, $1.50_


An Incarnation of the Snow

_Crown 8vo.  Illustrated.  Net, $1.25_


A Mine of Faults

_Crown 8vo.  Illustrated.  Net, $1.25_


The Ashes of a God


"Mr. Bain's stories are full of wistfulness and beauty.  There is a
tenderness, a richness of color, a warmth of passion, and an elemental
understanding of men and women....  They seem to me to place Mr. Bain
on an eminence isolated and unique....  No words that I can write can
fittingly express the fascination of these books."--Mr. E. V. Lucas in
the _London Bookman_.

"Charming love stories that will be absolutely novel to most readers.
They are delicate, vivid, and told in beautiful English.  They show
Hindu life and thought in the true light, a thing worth doing in view
of the mushy mysticisms and theosophical gibbering that have obscured
it in this country."--_N. Y. Sun_.



      *      *      *      *      *



"Reading this book is like breathing strong refreshing air."--_N. Y.
Evening Sun_.


Bawbee Jock

By Amy McLaren

Author of "The Yoke of Silence," etc.

"Amid delightful Highland scenes and charming Highland people a very
pretty love duet is sung in Bawbee Jock....  A refreshing contrast to
most novels written nowadays."--_New York Sun_.

"One of the most delightful love stories of the year, as fresh as the
breath of heather on the Scottish hills."--_Columbus Journal_.

"Idealistic?  Very.  In a way that makes one glad that stories such as
it still appear."--_Chicago Inter-Ocean_.


Fifth Impression.  $1.35 net.  By mail, $1.50



      *      *      *      *      *



  _The Most Popular Books in the
  United States_

By Florence L. Barclay

_Over 350 Thousand Sold_


The Rosary

Popular Edition.  Cr. 8vo.  $1.35 net.  ($1.80 by mall.) Holiday
Edition, with Illustrations in Color by Blendon Campbell, and
Decorations and Cover Design by Margaret Armstrong.  Handsomely printed
and bound.  Uniform with the Holiday Edition of "The Mistress of
Shenstone."  8vo.  $2.50 net.

"An ideal love story--one that justifies the publishing business,
refreshes the heart of the reviewer, strengthens faith in the outcome
of the great experiment of putting humanity on earth.  _The Rosary_ is
a rare book, a source of genuine delight."--_Syracuse Post-Standard_.



_Over 550 Thousand Sold_

The Mistress of Shenstone

Popular Edition.  Cr. 8vo, $1.35 net.  ($1.50 by mail.) Holiday
Edition, with 8 illustrations in Color by F. H. Townsend, and
Decorations and Cover Design by Margaret Armstrong.  Handsomely printed
and bound.  Uniform with the Holiday Edition of "The Rosary."  8vo.
$2.50 net.

"An optimistic novel of true love, related with sincerity....  A worthy
successor to The Rosary."--_Phila. Press._



_First Printing 90 Thousand Copies_

The Following of the Star

With Frontispiece by F. H. Townsend.  Cr.  8vo.

$1.35 net.  ($1.50 by mail)

A beautiful Christmas love story, instinct with the same depth of
feeling, glowing imagery, and refinement of literary art as "The
Rosary," and is told with all the power and sweetness which won for
Mrs. Barclay's earlier books their place in the front rank of recent
fiction.



      *      *      *      *      *



_By the author of "The Country House"_

FRATERNITY

BY JOHN GALSWORTHY

Author of "THE MAN OF PROPERTY," "VILLA RUBEIN," ETC.

"The foundation of Mr. Galsworthy's talent, it seems to me, lies in a
remarkable power of ironic insight combined with an extremely keen and
faithful eye for all the phenomena, on the surface of the life he
observes.  These are the purveyors of his imagination, whose servant is
a style clear, direct, sane, illumined by a perfectly unaffected
sincerity.  It is the style of a man whose sympathy with mankind is too
genuine to allow him the smallest gratification of his vanity at the
cost of his fellow creatures, ... sufficiently pointed to carry deep
his remorseless irony, and grave enough to be the dignified vehicle of
his profound compassion.  Its sustained harmony is never interrupted by
those bursts of cymbals and fifes which some deaf people acclaim for
brilliance.  Mr. Galsworthy will never be found futile by anyone and
never uninteresting by the most exacting."

MR. JOSEPH CONRAD in _The Outlook_.


_Crown 8vo.  Fixed price, $1.35 net.  (By mail $1.50)_



G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS

NEW YORK LONDON



      *      *      *      *      *



  By F. W. BAIN

  _Translated from the Original Manuscripts_

  A Digit of the Moon
  And Other Love Stories from the Hindu

  A Draught of the Blue
    together with
  An Essence of the Dusk

  An Incarnation of the Snow

  A Mine of Faults

  The Ashes of a God





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