Infomotions, Inc.An Essence of the Dusk, 5th Edition / Bain, Francis William, 1863-1940



Author: Bain, Francis William, 1863-1940
Title: An Essence of the Dusk, 5th Edition
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Title: An Essence Of The Dusk, 5th Edition

Author: F. W. Bain

Release Date: March 7, 2004 [EBook #11499]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

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AN ESSENCE OF THE DUSK



    _Love turns venom, now I see,
    Flouted Beauties vipers be._




TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT

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, RAHU, who brings about ECLIPSES, by devouring the
Sun and Moon. For when the gods had upchurned the nectar, the delectable
Butter of the Brine, Rahu'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," Rahu, at his
horrid work, towards the end of May, four years ago.

   [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.

But our title has yet another meaning underneath the first, for _Ahi_,
the name employed for Rahu (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 _Rahu_, 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 Minar. 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 Minar 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 unrols 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 raja 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 Minar.

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, _garuda, 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
culumny 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 _garuda_ roused me suddenly, by
saying: _Huzoor_, look!

   [3] _Hawa_, in Canarese, is the name of Rahu.

   [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.

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
_garuda_ put his _pungi_ 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, dekho, namas karta_[5]:--

    _Nagki phani, chand ka dukh
    Uski badi, ap ka sukh_[6].

   [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.

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.

   [7] "_Tulsi, 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.

What then induced or inspired the _garuda_ 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._




CONTENTS.


I. A HAUNTED BEAUTY

II. A TOTAL ECLIPSE

III. A FATAL KISS




A Haunted Beauty.



I.

   _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._

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


There lived of old, on the edge of the desert, a raja of the race of the
sun. And like that sun reflected at midday in the glassy depths of the
Manasa 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 _shala_ 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.

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

   [3] This name (pronounce Aj- to rhyme with _trudge_)
   meaning both _unborn_ and _a goat_, is a name of the sun
   (who was a goat in Assyria), the soul, Brahma, Wishnu,
   Shiwa, the God of Love, and others. It was also the name of
   Rama's grandfather.

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.



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[4], 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 thy own race. So thou shalt go
before me, as is due to thee, and I will follow after.

   [4] The _Lokapalas_, 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.

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 eat 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 was 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[5], seems
to roll itself out as I go across it, though I should have to go walking
on long after I am dead.

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

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 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 stooped, and took
up a little sand, and turned, and threw it back, exclaiming: Out upon
thee, abode of death![6] 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.

   [6] Still the name of Marwar.

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[7], 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.

   [7] Durga or Parwati.

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,
Maharaja! 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[8].

   [8] 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 newborn 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[9], 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.

   [9] April.

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
laughter 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.



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 was 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[10]. 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 Narada and
another _rishi_. And Narada 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[11]! 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[12], 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[13], 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[14], 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[15]. 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 hyaena: 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_[16] laughed also,
and she said: Time shall show. Listen, King. This is Kirttisena, a
nephew of Wasuki, 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 thy 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 flight. 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
Yashowati, 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?

   [10] 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.

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

   [12] 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.

   [13] 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.

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

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

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

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
to-morrow, I will take this hand, and lead her round the fire[17].

   [17] That is, marry her.

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



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, Yashowati 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: Yashowati, 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 Yashowati 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[18], 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 _abhisarika_, 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? Know, 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.

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

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[19] 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.

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

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.




A Total Eclipse.


    _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._



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.

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

So as he stood, waiting, and smiling at his own thoughts, it happened
that that daughter of Kirttisena, 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 Rakshasa 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 Dewaki[5], with Radha 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 Patala[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.

   [2] This method of disposing of objectionable suitors is
   unfortunately not available in Europe. A great swallowing
   capacity is a feature of the species Rakshasa. The "coming
   as soon as thought of" (_dhyatagata_) 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 Shakspeare 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: _mohajalamaya_ 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
_tamala_[8] 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.

   [8] A tree with very black bark and white blossoms, dear to
   exotic poets, such as e.g. Jayadewa.

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 Shri, 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?



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[9]. 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
Natabhrukuti[10]? 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?

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

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

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 Natabhrukuti
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.



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 _malati_ 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[11], 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_[12], loaded with gold on
wrists and feet, with great pearls wound about my neck; and thou wert
contemplating me, thy creature[13], 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[14] 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.

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

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

   [13] She means, he was her Creator.

   [14] 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 thy own confession has known
thee only a single day, dare to dispute priority with the darling of thy
former birth[15]? 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.

   [15] 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.

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.



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 _malati_ 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 Natabhrukuti. 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 tiptoe, 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
_tamala_ wood. And he was lying on the ground, with Natabhrukuti 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, balanced in the swing of perplexity, and doubting his
own reason, Natabhrukuti 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[16] 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[17] 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 _parijata_ 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.

   [16] The physician of the gods, the Hindoo Aesculapius.

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

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 Natabhrukuti, 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?



VIII.


Then she laughed, and said: Fair boy, I am only that bitter-sweet[18], 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[19] 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.

   [18] _Wishamritam_: lit. poison-nectar.

   [19] Also means _without affection_.

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.



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 Natabhrukuti 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 Natabhrukuti 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 Natabhrukuti 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[20], that long ago there lived at Waranasi[21] an independent
lady, of beauty so extraordinary, that swarms of lovers use 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 Waranasi. And Kashayini[22] (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[23]. 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 Kashayini 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
everyone 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[24]. And he performed incantations, and
after awhile 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 the Rajpoot, having nothing else to do, went. And Kashayini,
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 Kashayini, 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 ancle 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[25], 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 Waranasi, and the burning of Kashayini. And she looked at him with
laughing eyes, and said: O my husband, I will make up to thee for the
loss of Kashayini: for I am just as beautiful as she.

   [20] 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._"

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

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

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

   [24] A regular trade in medieval India.

   [25] 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 Natabhrukuti 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, a 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 Kashayini, 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
Natabhrukuti had raised in it, saying to himself: Can I really be only
the last of many lovers? And all the while, Natabhrukuti 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 I 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[26] 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?

   [26] 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[27] 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.

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

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?



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 Natabhrukuti, 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 Natabhrukuti 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
Yashowati sinking to the ground. And at that very moment Natabhrukuti
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?





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