THE SUBSTANCE OF A DREAM
Translated from the Original Manuscript
F. W. BAIN
Mix, with sunset's fleeting glow, Kiss of friend, and stab of foe, Ooze of moon, and foam of brine, Noose of Thug, and creeper's twine, Hottest flame, and coldest ash, Priceless gems, and poorest trash; Throw away the solid part, And behold—a woman's heart.
Methuen & Co. Ltd. 36 Essex Street W.C. London Second Edition First Published . October 16th 1919 Second Edition ... 1919
THE INEXPRESSIBLY GENTLE GENIUS
MY OWN MOTHER
I could almost persuade myself, that others will like this little fable as much as I do: so curiously simple, and yet so strangely profound is its delicate epitome of the old old story, the course of true love, which never did run smooth.
And since so many people have asked me questions as to the origin of these stories, I will say a word on the point here. Where do they come from? I do not know. I discovered only the other day that some believe them to have been written by a woman. That appears to me to be improbable. But who writes them? I cannot tell. They come to me, one by one, suddenly, like a flash of lightning, all together: I see them in the air before me, like a little Bayeux tapestry, complete, from end to end, and write them down, hardly lifting the pen from the paper, straight off "from the MS." I never know, the day before, when one is coming: it arrives, as if shot out of a pistol. Who can tell? They may be all but so many reminiscences of a former birth.
The Substance of a Dream is half a love-story, and half a fairy tale: as indeed every love-story is a fairy tale. Because, although that unaccountable mystery, the mutual attraction of the sexes, is the very essence of life, and everything else merely accidental or accessory, yet only too often in the jostle of the world, in the trough and tossing of the waves of time, the accidental smothers the essential, and life turns into a commonplace instead of a romance. And so, like every other story, this little story will perhaps be very differently judged, according to the reader's sex. The bearded critic will see it with eyes very different from those with which it may be viewed by the fair voter with no beard upon her chin; for women, as the great god says at the end, have scant mercy on their own sex, and the heroine of the story is a strange heroine, an enigmatical Mona Lisa, so to say, who will not appeal to everybody so strongly as she does to the Moony-crested Deity, when he sums her up at the close. I venture, with humility, to concur in the opinion of the Deity, for she holds me under the same spell as her innumerable other lovers. The reader, a more formidable authority even than the god, must decide: only I must warn him that to understand, he must go to the very end. He will not think his time wasted, if he take half the delight in reading, as I did, in transcribing, the evidence in the case. Only, moreover, when he closes the book will he appreciate the mingled exactitude and beauty of its name: for no story ever had a name which fitted it with such curious precision as this one. For the essence of a dream is always that along with its weird beauty, it counters expectation, often in such queer, ludicrous, kaleidoscopic ways. So it is, here.
* * * * *
Many bitter things, since the beginning, have men said of women, though neither so many nor so bitter, as the witty Frenchman cynically remarks, as the things women have said of one another. Poor Eve has paid very dear for that apple: the only wonder is, that she was not made responsible also for the Flood: but we have not got the whole of that story: Noah's wife may have dropped some incriminating documents into the water, for the Higher Criticism to unearth by and by: the Eternal Feminine may have had a hand in it after all, as she is generally to be found somewhere behind the scenes, wherever mischief brews for mortal man. She comes down the ages, loaded with accusations; and yet, somehow or other, they do not seem to have done her much harm. And the reason is, that she possesses, in supreme perfection, the art of disarming her antagonist, having been very cunningly constructed by the Creator for that very purpose: she is like a cork; she will not drown, under any flood of charges: she floats, quand meme: (two words that she might very well take, like the inimitable Sarah, for her motto:) so that, be as angry as you please with her, you generally find yourself not only unable to condemn her, but even ready to beg her pardon, and rather glad, on the whole, to get it. It is a hopeless case. And all the more, because no woman ever lived, bad or good, who could be got to understand what is meant by "playing cricket": you cannot make her keep the rules in any game: she plays to win, like a German, and invariably cheats, if she can: international law counts, only as long as it is for and not against her: if you find her out, and scold her, she pouts, and will not play. And then, if, as is commonly the situation, you want her to play, very badly, what are you to do? Yes, it is a hopeless case.
* * * * *
And yet, if we look into the matter with that stern impartiality which its public importance demands, we may perceive, that though there is, it must be candidly owned, an element of truth in the charges brought against her, they are founded, for all that, largely on misunderstanding. It is man himself, her accuser, who is very nearly always to blame. His intelligence as compared with her own, is clumsy: (it is the difference between the dog and the cat:) he does not realise the unfathomable gulf that divides her nature from his own, and for lack of imaginative tact, judging her by himself, he enormously overestimates the part played by reason in her behaviour. Hence when, as she is always doing, she lets him down, he breaks out, (obtusely) into denunciation and reproach, taking it for granted, that what she did, she did, deliberately. But that is his mistake. Women never act by deliberation, least of all in their relations with men. Reason has hardly anything to do with it. A woman is a weapon, designed by the Creator, who generally knows what he is doing, to fascinate the other sex: that is her essence and her raison d'etre: the woman who does not do it is a failure, and she is Nature's triumph and entelechy, who does it best. And this every woman knows, by instinct, and feels, long before she knows it, almost as soon as she can stand upon her feet: consequently, no artificially elaborated compliment, no calculated flattery, ever touches her so near, as it does, when she perceives that her personality tells, acts like a charm, on any given man: a point about which no woman ever blunders, as a man often so ridiculously does about himself: she invariably detects, by unerring instinct, when her arrow hits its mark. And this involuntary homage she finds so irresistibly delectable, going as it does down to the very depths of her being, and endorsing it, that she literally cannot deny herself the pleasure of basking in it, making hay, so to say, while her sun shines, revelling in the consciousness of her power all the more delicious because she knows only too well that she must lose it later on, as youth flies: old age, i.e. the loss of her charm, being every woman's ogre, the skeleton in her cupboard, which she dreads far more than death, just as the only disease which she shudders to face is the smallpox, for a similar reason. And so, when she finds her spell working, she lets herself go: never dreaming what interpretation her victim puts on her behaviour: and then, all at once, she awakes to discover with what fire she was ignorantly playing. And then it is, that she recoils, on the verge: and then it is, that thwarted in the very moment that he deemed triumph secured, the baffled lover falls into fury and abuse, because he imagines her to have been all along clearly aware of what she was about, which is exactly what hardly one woman in a million does. Not being a man, she does not understand: her end is only his beginning: his object is possession, still to come: hers is already gained in the form of the tribute to her charm: she was only playing (every woman is a child), he was in deadly earnest, and took her purely instinctive self-congratulation for a promise deliberately made. Suddenly illuminated, she lets him down abruptly with a bump, all the harder that she never meant to do it (the coquette does: but she is a horrible professional, methodising feminine instinct, for prey: a psychological ghoul, feeding on souls instead of bodies, and deserving extermination without benefit of clergy). The real crime of woman is not so much a crime as a defect: she is weak, as all the sages know, and all languages prove, though "democracy" ignores it; it is her strength, and half her charm, that she cannot stand alone, like a creeper. But that is why you cannot depend on her, good or bad. Irresolution is her essence: she will "determine" one way, and act in another, according to the pressure. Instinct, inclination or aversion, vanity, emotion, pity or fear, or even mere chance: these are her motives, the forces that move her: reason counts with her for absolutely nothing, a thing like arithmetic, useful, even indispensable, but only for adding up a grocer's bill, or catching a train. It has literally nothing to do with her heart. There is no folly like the folly of supposing that it has: yet on this folly rest most of the accusations against her. Reduce her to a rational being, and you degrade her to the level of an inferior man. But she is not his inferior: she is his dream, his magnet, his force, his inspiration, and his fate. Take her away, and you annihilate him: Othello's occupation's gone. Nine-tenths of the great things done in the world have been done for a woman. Why? Exactly because she would burn down a street to boil her baby's milk. No rational being would do that: but we all owe our lives to it.
And hence, misogyny is only a pique. To fall foul of the sea, like Xerxes, when it wrecks your ambitions, is to behave as he did, like a spoiled child, without the child's excuse. "If you burn your fingers, is the flame to blame?" You should have known better. When Aristotle was reproved, by some early political economist, for giving alms to a beggar, he replied: I gave not to the man, but humanity. Admirable retort! which is exactly in point here. When she requited your homage with such encouraging smiles, it was not you but the man in you, that appealed to her. And because you are a man, are you necessarily the man? Not at all. And argument is mere waste of time: reason is not the court of appeal. If of herself she will not love, nothing can make her. Yet why draw the poet's ungallant conclusion? Why should the devil take her? Because she was weak (were you not weak?) is she therefore to be damned beyond redemption? Because flattery was sweet, must she give herself away to every male animal that confesses the spell? Surely that is not only harsh, but preposterous, even outrageous. Are you sure that your merit is worthy of such generosity?
And yet, here is the human catastrophe. Why did the Creator scatter his sexual attraction so anomalously that it is so rarely reciprocated, each lover pursuing so often another who flies him for a third, as in Midsummer Night's Dream, an imbroglio oddly enough found in a little poem identical in the Greek Moschus and the Hindoo Bhartrihari? Was it blunder or design? Why could he not have made action and reaction equal and opposite, as they are in mechanics? For if affection could not operate at all, unless it was mutual, there would be no unhappy, because ill-assorted, marriages. What a difference it would have made! Had mutual gravitation been the law of the sexes, as it is of the spheres, this Earth would never have stood in need of a Heaven, since it would have existed already: for the only earthly heaven is a happy marriage. As it is, even when it is not a Hell, a marriage is only too often but an everlasting sigh.
* * * * *
And not marriage only, but life. For here lies the solution of a mystery that has baffled the sages, who have failed to discover it chiefly because they have blinded themselves by their own theological and philosophical delusions, idealism and monotheism. Why is it, that gazing at Nature's inexhaustible beauty, thrown at us with such lavish profusion in her dawns and her sunsets, her shadows and her moods, in the roar of her breakers and the silence of her snows, the gloom of her thunder and the spirit of her hills, the blue of her distance and the tints of her autumns, the glory of her blossom and the dignity of her decay, her heights and her abysses, her fury and her peace—why is it, that as we gaze insatiably at these never ending miracles, we are haunted by so unaccountable a sadness, which is not in the things themselves, for Nature never mourns, but in some element that we ourselves import? For if the Soul be only Nature's mirror, her looking-glass, whence the melancholy? It is because beneath our surface consciousness, far away down below, in the dark organic depths that underlie it, we feel without clearly understanding that, as the Hindoos put it, we have missed the fruit of our existence, owing to our never having found our other half. For every one of us, so far from being a self-sufficient whole, an independent unity, is incomplete, requiring for its metaphysical satisfaction, its complement, apart from which it never can attain that peace which passeth all understanding, for which it longs obscurely, and must ever be uneasy, till it finds it. For just as no misfortunes whatever can avail to mar the bliss of the man who has beside him the absolute sympathy of his feminine ideal, so on the other hand no worldly success of any kind can compensate for its absence. All particular causes of happiness or misery are swallowed up and sink into insignificance and nullity compared with this: this present, they disappear: this absent, each alone is sufficient to wreck the soul, fluttering about without rudder or ballast on the waves of the world. Duality is the root, out of which alone, for mortals, happiness can spring. And the old Hindoo mythology, which is far deeper in its simplicity than the later idealistic pessimism, expresses this beautifully by giving to every god his other half; the supreme instance of which dualism is the divine Pair, the Moony-crested god and his inseparable other half, the Daughter of the Snow: so organically symbolised that they coalesce indistinguishably into one: the Arddanari, the Being half Male half Female, He whose left half is his wife. That is the true ideal: cut in two, and destroyed, by the dismal inhuman monotheism of later sophistical speculation.
* * * * *
It was long before I understood this: the solution came to me suddenly, of its own accord, as all profound solutions always come, apparently by accident: like a "fluke" in a game of skill, where often unskilfulness unintentionally does something that could not be achieved by any degree of skill whatever, short of the divine. And the two things that combined to produce my spark of illumination were, as it so fell out, the two things that mean most to me, a sunset and a child. The child was looking at the sunset, and I was looking at the child. Some readers of these stories have been introduced to her before, and will be obliged to me for renewing the acquaintance, as they would be to the postman who brought them news of an old friend.
The sunset was like every other sunset, the garment of a dying deity, and a gift of god: but it had a special peculiarity of its own, and it was this strange peculiarity that arrested the attention of the child. For children are little animals, terram spectantia, taking sunsets and other commonplaces such as mother, father, home, furniture and carpets, generally for granted, being as a rule absorbed in the great things of life, that is, play. This child was very diligently blowing bubbles, occasionally turning aside up a by-path to make a bubble-pudding in the soap-dish: the ruckling noise of this operation possessing some magical fascination for all childhood. And in the meanwhile, yellow dusk was gradually deepening in the quiet air. Presently the tired sun sank like a weight, red-hot, burning his way down through filmy layers of Indian ink. The day had been rainy, but the clouds had all dissolved imperceptibly away into a broken chain of veils of mist, which looked with the sun behind them like dropping showers of liquid gold, or copper-coloured waterfalls: while underneath or through them the lines of low blue hills showed now half obscured, now clear and sharp in outline as if cut with scissors out of paper and stuck upon the amber background of the sky. And then came the miracle. Right across the horizon, a little higher than the sun, a long thin bar of cloud suddenly changed colour, becoming rich dark purple, and all along its jagged upper edge the light shot out in one continuous sheet of bright glory to the zenith, while below there poured from the bar a long cascade, a very Niagara of golden mist and rain, as if the flood-gates of some celestial dam had suddenly given way, and all the precious stuff were escaping in a cataract through the rift, in one gigantic plunge, to be lost for ever in some bottomless abyss.
Suddenly, the dead silence struck me: my ear missed the "ruckle," and the occasional exclamations of delight. I turned abruptly, and glanced at the child. She was standing still as a stone, with one hand just in front of her holding the forgotten pipe, arrested on the way to her mouth, as the heavenly vision struck her: rapt, lost in her eyes, which were filled with wonder to the brim, open-mouthed, entranced, with a smile on her lips of which she was totally unconscious, faint, involuntary, seraphic, indescribable. The ecstasy of union had swallowed her: she was gone. I called her by her name: she never heard: her soul was away at the golden gates.
And I said to myself, as I gazed at her with intense curiosity, mixed with regret that I was not Raffael, so marvellous was the picture: This, this is the wisdom of the sages, the secret of Plotinus and the Buddhists: this is Nirwana, Moksha, Yoga, the unattainable ecstasy of bliss, the absolute fruition, which men call by many names: the end towards which the adult strives, in vain, to recover what he lost by ceasing to be a child: a child, which is sexless, knowing as yet nothing of the esoteric dissatisfaction of the soul that wants and has not found. Aye! to reach the mystic union, the absolute extinction of the Knower in the All; to lose one's Self in Infinity, without a remnant of regret; to attain to the unattainable, the point of self-annihilation where all distinction between subject and object, something and nothing, disappears, it is necessary to be a child: to be born again. Rebirth! the key to the enigma of unhappiness lies there!
* * * * *
And after a while, as I watched her, she came back to herself. Our eyes met: and she looked at me long, with a far-off expression that I could not define. And at last, she gave a little sigh. Daddy, she said, why does the golden rain never fall here? Our rain is always only common rain.
And I said solemnly: Little girls are the reason why. But she didn't understand. She looked at me reproachfully with puzzled eyes—such great, grey, beautiful, sea-green eyes!—and then drew a long breath. And she went back to her bubbles, and together we watched them go as they floated away into the valley, wild with excitement as to whether my bubble or her bubble would go farthest before it burst—till the Rhadamanthine summons came, and the Bubble-Blower went to bed.
[Footnote 1: O quantum est subitis casibus ingenium! an exquisite line of Martial which ought to be posted on a board on every putting-green.]
I. ON THE BANKS OF GANGES
II. THE HEART OF A WOMAN
III. A STORY WITHOUT AN END
The Vignette I owe to the artistic genius of my friend, Arthur Hight.
On the Banks of Ganges
What! the Digit of the Moon on his brow, Ganga in his hair, and Gauri on his knee, and yet proof against all Love's arrows! O wonder of wonders! who but the greatest of all the gods would not have melted long ago, like butter between three fires?
Now, long ago, it happened, that Parwati was left alone on Kailas for a little while, as she waited for the Lord of the Moony Tire. And having nothing else to do, she amused herself by building an elephant of snow, with large ears and a little tail, made of a yak's hair. And when it was finished, she was so delighted with her toy, that she began to clap her hands: and then, not being able to endure waiting, she went off with impatience to fetch the Moony-crested god, to show him what she had done, and revel in his applause. And the moment that her back was turned, Nandi happened to come along: and just as he reached the elephant, which owing to his abstraction he never noticed, taking it for a mere hump, formed at random by the snowdrifts, he was suddenly seized with an irresistible desire to roll. And so, over he rolled, and went from side to side, throwing up his legs into the air. And as luck would have it, exactly at that very moment the Daughter of the Snow returned, pulling Maheshwara along eagerly by the hand. And she looked and saw Nandi, rolling about on the flat snow just where she had left her elephant, which was gone. And she uttered a loud cry, and stood, aghast with rage and disappointment. And she opened her mouth to curse the author of the mischief, and was on the very verge of saying: Sink into a lower birth, thou insolent destroyer! when Maheshwara stopped her in the very act, guessing her intention, by putting his hand upon her mouth. And he exclaimed: Say nothing rash, O angry one, for Nandi did not do it on purpose, after all. And a good servant does not deserve cursing, for an accidental blunder.
And then, Parwati burst into tears. And she exclaimed: Out of my sight, thou clumsy one! for I cannot bear to see thee. And she turned away, sobbing. And Maheshwara looked at her out of the corner of his eye, and he said to himself: Now, then, I must do something to console her for the elephant, and bring back her good humour. For ill humour in a woman spoils all. And presently he said: Come now, enough! for Nandi has gone off in disgrace, sufficiently punished by banishment for a time, and very sad to have been the unwitting cause of thy distress. And let us roam about awhile, in search of something new, that may help to obliterate recollection, and change thy gloom into a smile.
And he took the goddess in his arms, and set her as she sobbed upon his knee, and rose from the peak of Kailas, and shot like a falling star down into the plain below. And coming to Haradwara, where Ganga issues from the hills, he began to follow the holy stream down its course, gliding along just above it like a cloud that was unable to refrain from watching its own beautiful reflection in the blue mirror of her wave. And so they went, until at last they reached an island that was nothing but a sandbank in the very middle of the river, covered with crocodiles lying basking in the sun. And then he said: See! we will go down, and rest awhile among the crocodiles on this sand, whose banks resemble nothing so much as the outline of thy own graceful limbs. And Uma said tearfully: Pish! what do I care for crocodiles, that sit for hours never even moving, like a yogi in a trance?
Then said the cunning god: None the less, we will go down: for it may be that the island contains something besides its crocodiles. And as they settled on it, he said again: Did I not say we should find something? for yonder it lies, and it is a very great curiosity indeed. And now, canst thou tell me what it is?
And she looked at it with scrutiny, and presently she said: I can tell this only, that it must have been in the water for a very long time, before it was washed up at last upon this bank by the river's flood: since it is but a shapeless lump, covered with sand and rust and dirt. Who but thyself could even guess what it might be? And Maheshwara said: It has had a very long journey, and been not only in the river, but in a crocodile too. For crocodiles swallow everything. And long ago, this was carried by a man, who was drowned in another stream by the upsetting of his boat, and became with all he carried the prey of an old crocodile, which died long ago, and rotted away, letting this at last escape out of its tomb, and roll along, till at last it got into the Ganges, and was thrown up here in the rainy season, only the other day. And when at last the water sank, lo! there it lay, as it has lain until this moment, as if expecting thy arrival, to provide thee with entertainment. And when all is over, thou wilt very likely bless Nandi, instead of cursing him; since but for his awkwardness in rolling on thy elephant, thou wouldst never have known anything about it.
And Parwati said peevishly: Where is the entertainment in this foolish lump of flotsam, of which thou hast related the adventures without ever saying what it is?
And the Moony-crested god said: Aha! Snowy One, do not be too sure. For many things hold in their heart things not to be anticipated, judging by their outside: and this lump which thou despisest is like a coco-nut, whose coarse skin is full of nectar. But it has been shut so long, that it would not easily be opened by anyone but me. And he touched it with his foot, saying, Open, and it opened like a shell. And he said: See! it has in it a very strange kernel, preserved safe and sound only because all its adventures added to its case, sheath after sheath. And all the leaves are still there, a very little mouldy, and the silk that tied them, and the seal. And the goddess said: But what is it after all? And Maheshwara said: It is a case of urgency, that all came to nothing in the end, being a letter that never even reached its destination, because the sender was in so great a hurry that he defeated his own object, bidding his messenger go so fast that in his haste his boat turned over, and he and his message were eaten on their way by a river beast. For those who go too fast often go so slow as never to arrive at all, as was the case here. Then said Uma: He that sent it must have been a fool. And Maheshwara said! Nay, O Snowy One, not at all: far from it: and yet he became, as many do, a fool for the occasion, under the influence of passion, which blinds the eyes, and shuts up the ears, and twists the whole character awry, so that it acts in a manner contrary to itself, as if the man had been suddenly changed into another, or his body entered by a Wetala, in the temporary absence of his soul.
And Parwati said: What was the passion here? And the Moony-crested god said slowly: It was a threefold cord, and very strong: love, and love turned by intense disappointment into hatred, and rage against a rival: each by itself alone enough to turn reason into madness. But the whole story is told, by its hero himself, in the very letter: and if thou wilt, I will read it aloud to thee, exactly as he wrote it, word for word. And the goddess said: Thou knowest all: why not tell it in thy own way, without the trouble of reading? And Maheshwara said: Nay, on the contrary, it is far better to let him tell it for himself: for who knew everything better than he did? And moreover, every story told by a stranger is imperfect, since he is obliged to fill up the gaps in his knowledge by imagination or conjecture: whereas, when the actor in it all is himself the narrator, it is the very truth itself, unless he expressly desires to conceal it, which is not the case here. For he was very anxious indeed to tell his enemy everything, on purpose to offend him: and he only made one mistake, which I will show thee in due time. So I will read it exactly as it stands, omitting absolutely nothing. And the Daughter of the Snow said: Read. But she thought: If it is not worth hearing, I will simply go to sleep as he reads. And Maheshwara said: Nay, O Snowy One, I will guarantee that thou dost not go to sleep.
And then, the goddess suddenly threw her arms about his neck, and hid her face on his breast. And she said: What is the use of trying to hide anything at all from thee? Read. But for all that, I will go to sleep, if I choose. And the Moony-crested god said with a smile: Aye! but thou wilt not choose.
And then he began to read, throwing away the leaves as they ended, one by one into the stream, which carried them away. And the crocodiles all lay round him in a circle, worshipping their Lord, as he read.
[Footnote 2: Maheshwara is the ascetic par excellence, who punished Love for trying to tempt him by burning him up like a moth with a fiery glance from his third eye. And yet for all that, the Master Yogi was not always proof against feminine fascination: he might be chaste as ice, yet he has not escaped scandal.]
[Footnote 3: Nandi is the divine Bull, on which, or whom, the Great God rides.]
[Footnote 4: Had the awful words passed her lips, Nandi was a doomed bull, as a curse once uttered is irrevocable.]
[Footnote 5: Because he is the Lord of Creatures animate or inanimate, which all obey him.]
The heart of a Woman
As the black cobra sits up, and puffs his hood, and hisses, giving warning to his prey, ere he strikes: so I, Shatrunjaya the lute-player, son of a king, do send this my menace to thee, Narasinha, the lover of a queen too good for so vile a thing as thou art: that none hereafter may be able to say, I struck thee unwarned, or took thee unawares. Know, that night doth not more surely or more swiftly follow day, than I and my vengeance will follow on the messenger who carries this threat: whom I have bidden to reach thee with his utmost speed, so as to allay my thirst for thy life; since every day that I wait seems to me longer than a yuga. And I will slay thee with no other weapon than my two bare hands—
And suddenly, the great god stopped, and he laughed aloud. And he exclaimed: See now, how this poor lute-player deceived himself! For his message not only never reached his enemy at all, but almost as soon as it had left him, he was himself slain by the emissaries of the very man he meant to kill, who never sent him any warning at all, but took him unawares, and slew him, escaping by anticipation the fate that was in store for himself, without even knowing anything of all that this letter would have taught him, and so far from dying, living to a very great age. And this instance shows, that the most dangerous of enemies is the one that never threatens till he actually strikes, resembling not the cobra, but the adder, as Shatrunjaya discovered to his cost, too late.
And the Daughter of the Snow exclaimed, in wrath: Why hast thou stopped, to tell me the end of the story, before even reaching the beginning?
And Maheshwara said: Aha! Snowy One, thou art not yet, as it seems, asleep. Many are the beginnings that never reach an end: but it will do this story no harm at all, to begin with the end, since all the essence of it lies in the middle, and as thou wilt find, it ends in the middle, and yet never ends, even when it is done.
What I have told thee does not matter in the least; what matters is the Queen, for she was the most extraordinary of all women, past, present, or to come.
And Parwati said: Let the letter speak for itself: and if thou hast anything to say, keep it for the end. For nothing is more unendurable than a commentary upon a text which is unknown.
And Maheshwara said: Thus the letter continues:—for there is not room in one world for us both. And well thou knowest the reason why. For the Queen told me, the very last time that I saw her, that it would be the very last time, as indeed it was. And when I asked why she would see me no more, she said, that thine was the order, to send me away. Dog! was she thine to command, or was I? And yet, I knew very well, it was all thy doing, before ever she told me. For never would she have behaved as she did, had she not been pushed from behind: and the very first time that we met, when she told me of thee, I understood, and foresaw, and expected, the very thing that has happened, looking to find thee hiding behind her, to rid thee of a rival whom thou hadst not the courage openly to face. And dost thou dare to condemn me for doing the very same thing thou wast doing thyself? Was not my claim to love her as good as thy own? Or what, O cowardly dastard, does that man deserve, who screens himself behind the clothes of a woman to strike at a foe? I will answer the question, and show thee, by ocular proof, very soon. But now in the meantime, I will open thy eyes, and tell thee, from the very beginning, all that took place. And thou shalt learn how I stole her away from thee, in spite of thee, as presently I will come to rob thee also of thy life. And I will embitter thy life, and poison it, first: and then I will take it away.
And yet, strange indeed was the way that I met her. I cannot tell, whether it was a reward or a punishment for the deeds of a previous birth. For the joy of it would have been cheap, bought at the price of a hundred lives: and yet the sorrow is greater than the joy. And it happened thus. I was roaming through the world, with my lute for my only companion. For all men know, as thou must also, that I turned my back upon my hereditary kingdom, and quarrelled with all my relations, and left them, all for the sake of my lute. For ever since I was a child, I have cared for absolutely nothing but my lute, and as I think, I must have been a Gandharwa in the birth before, since the sound of the tones of its strings, touched by the hand of a master musician, leads me like an ox that is pulled by a cord, the very moment I hear it, and I stand still, like one that listens with tears in his eyes to the memory of the voice of a friend that is dead. Ha! very wonderful are the influences of a forgotten birth! For I was an anomaly, behaving not according to my caste, which was that of a Rajpoot; and not music, but fighting, was my proper work, and my religion. And it was as if my mother had been caught sleeping in the moonlight on the terrace of the palace in the hot season by some king of the Widyadharas passing by, and looking down from the air. For heavenly beings often fall into such temptations, and even an ascetic would have found it hard to laugh at the arrows of Manobhawa, coming in the form of such a feminine fascination as hers, lying still in the lunar ooze at midnight, with her head pillowed on her arm. And yet, for all my music, I was the tallest and strongest of all my clan, and a hunter, when I chose, that could bear fatigue even better than a Bhil.
And then at last there came a day when the King my father sent for me. And when I came, he looked at me with approval, and he said: Thou art a man at last. And yet they tell me, thou dost nothing all day long but sit playing thy lute. Canst thou really be my son, or art thou some musician's brat, foisted into my son's place by some dark underhand intrigue, when I was looking the other way? For who ever heard of a Yuwaraja, destined to sit upon the throne when I have entered the fire, neglecting all his duties for the sake of a lute's strings? Come now, throw thy lute away, and leave music to the professionals who have nothing else to do, and apply thyself to policy, and the things of a king's trade. And I said: What do I care for a kingdom in comparison with my lute? I will not throw it away, no, not for a hundred kingdoms. I am a devotee of Radha's lover, and I care nothing for any raj. Then my father flew into a rage. And he said: Thou shalt do, not as thou wilt, but as I will. Choose, between thy wretched lute, and the raj: and if thou dost not obey, I will turn thee off, and put thy younger brother in thy place. And I said: There are kings in abundance everywhere, but those who can really play on a lute are very few indeed. And I am one. Let who will be a Yuwaraja: I will choose the lute. And he said, in wrath: Be off! and play dirges to the memory of thy dead succession, for thou art no longer heir. And I laughed in his face, and went away, and got on my horse, and turned my back upon it all, and rode off laughing with my lute hanging round my neck, counting the kingdom as a straw. And thereafter, I wandered up and down, from place to place, living as I pleased, and utterly disregarding the messages that reached me nearly every day from my mother, who sent me bags of money and entreaties to return, all in vain. And my story, like my playing, went from mouth to mouth, and everywhere I went, the people said: Ha! there goes Shatrunjaya, the mad musician, who cares more for a discord than the loss of his hereditary raj! Ha! and if his policy were only equal to his playing, what a king he would have made! And what a fool he must be, to care for nothing in the three worlds but a lute's strings!
And yet they were all wrong. For there was another thing that nobody knew anything about, that I cared for even more than for my lute. And all the while I wandered, I was looking for a thing that flew before me the more I kept pursuing it, like the setting of the sun. And yet it hung, so to say, always just before my eyes, like a picture on the wall, so that often I used to talk to it, as if it were alive, as I sat. And yet it never answered, looking back at me in silence with strange kind eyes, and seeming to listen to me gazing at it wistfully, and playing on my lute. And this was a woman, that had come to me in a dream. For but a little while before I quarrelled with my father, I was lying, on a day, at noon, when I had been following a quarry in the jungle till I ached with fatigue, resting on a river bank: and so as I lay, unawares I fell asleep. And I thought that I wandered through a palace that I had never seen before, till suddenly I came upon a terrace that stood on the very margin of a lake, that was filled with myriads of lotuses, all turned red by the rays of the setting sun, which stood never moving on the top of a low hill, as if it were watching me to see what I should do, before it went away. And there was such a strange silence that I began to be afraid, as if of something that was just about to happen, without knowing what. And so as we all stood waiting in the dusk, I and the lotuses and the sun, all at once I heard behind me a voice like a kokila, saying quietly: I have kept thee a long while waiting: wilt thou forgive?
And I turned round, and looked, and lo! there was a lady, looking at me with a smile. And she was standing so absolutely still, that she resembled an image made of copper, for exactly like the lotuses, she was all red in the rays of the sun, and her dark clothing shone like the leaf of a palm seen at midnight in the glow of a fire. And her hair was massed like that of an ascetic high over her brow, and on its dull black cloud there shone a gem that resembled a star, shooting and flickering and changing colour like a diamond mixed with an opal: while underneath, her eyes, that resembled pools filled with dusk instead of water, were fixed on me as if in meditation, as if half in doubt as to whether I was I. And yet her lips were smiling, not as if they meant to smile, but just because they could not help it, driven by the sweetness of the soul that lay behind them to betray its secret unawares. And the perfect oval of the outline of her face was lifted, so to say, into the superlative degree of soft fascination by a faint suggestion of the round ripeness of a fruit in its bloom, as if the Creator, by some magical extra touch of his chisel, had wished to exclaim: See how the full loveliness of a woman surpasses the delicate promise of a girl! And she was rather tall, and she stood up very straight indeed, so straight, that my heart laughed within me as I looked at her, for sheer delight, so admirably upright was the poise of her figure, and yet so round and delicious was the curve of her arms and her slender waist, that rose as if with exultation into the glorious magnificence of her splendid breast, on which her left hand rested, just touching it very lightly with the tips of her fingers, like a wind-blown leaf lying for a moment exactly at the point of junction of two mounds of snow, as if to chide it very gently for challenging the admiration of the three worlds. And she stood with her weight thrown on her left foot, so that her right hip, on which her right hand rested, swelled out in a huge curve that ran down to her knee, which was bent in, and then turned outwards, ending in a little foot that was standing very nearly on the tip of its toe.
And so as we stood, gazing at one another in dead silence, all at once she smiled outright, holding out both her hands. And at that very moment, the sun sank. And as I strove in vain to move, rooted to the spot like a tree, she faded away, very slowly, back again into the dark, growing little by little paler, till she vanished into the night, leaving nothing but her star, that seemed to glimmer at me from a great distance, low down on the very edge of a deep-red sky. And I strove and struggled in desperation to break the spell that held me chained, and suddenly I woke with a loud cry, and saw before me only the river, on whose bank I was lying alone.
Aye! then for the first time in my life, I knew what it meant, to be alone, which had been to me but a mere word, without any meaning at all. For as I sat by the river, I knew I had left my soul behind in the dream that had disappeared. And my heart was burning with such a pain that I could only breathe with great difficulty, and tears rose into my eyes, as it were of their own accord. And I said sadly to myself: Now, beyond all doubt, I have seen some feminine incarnation of a fallen star, and unless I can find it somewhere on earth, I shall lose the fruit of being born at all. So one thing only remains to do, and that is to look for her, and keep on looking until I find her. For if only I was sure, that she was absolutely beyond finding, I would not consent to remain in this miserable body without her, even for a single moment. But she must be alive somewhere, and able to be found: for how could such a thing as she was exist only in a dream? For nobody could possibly have invented her, no, not even in a dream: and it must be that my soul went roaming about as I slept, and actually caught sight of her. And if the soul could find her, then, she is somewhere to be found, even by the body; but alas! the body cannot travel so easily as the soul: since, in his haste, the Creator has forgotten to give wings to anything but birds. And yet, the only thing to do is to hunt for her incessantly, and go from place to place without stopping for a moment: since very certainly she will never be discovered if I remain here as motionless as a hill. So I must escape at once, on some pretence, without letting anybody know why.
And as I said, I did: and this was the very reason why I broke with my relations, and became a vagrant instead of a king's heir. And every night I went to sleep yearning to dream the dream again, and yet it never came, though even in my sleep I seemed in every dream to be roaming everlastingly in jungles, and along roads that never ended, always on the very point of finding something that I never found. And strange! instead of driving me to despair, this constant failure actually gave me courage, for I said: If the dream had really been only a dream and nothing more, it would surely have returned, beyond a doubt: since, as a rule, dreams are only pictures in the night of what men think of in the day. And yet she never comes again, although I think of nothing else, all day long, and she was very certainly no picture of anything that I ever saw before. And clearly, it must be that my soul did actually find her, though now it has lost its way, and does not know how to return.
And in the meanwhile, as time went on, the less I found her, the more I fell back upon my lute, which became the only confidante of my secret, and my sole refuge in my desolation. And I used to sit playing, thinking all the while of nothing but herself, so that she gradually became as it were the theme and the undertone of every air. And the listeners would say: Ha! now beyond a doubt this player on the lute must be some incarnation of a Kinnara, for the sound of his music resembles that of the wind singing in the hollows of the bamboos that wave over waterfalls on the sides of the snowy mountain: and his lute seems to sob, in the vain endeavour to express some melancholy secret that for want of words it cannot articulately tell, wringing as it were its hands of strings, for very grief: And I became a byword, and the fame of my music was carried into the quarters of the world, like the scent of the sandal that the breeze blows from the Malaya hill in the region of the South.
And then at last I came, on a day, tired out with travel, to Kamalapura. And delighted with its trees and its river and its lotuses, I found a little house, and lodged in it, to rest for a while. And one morning, there came to me a musician of the city, who loved me for my playing, and he said: How comes it, O Shatrunjaya, that thou hast not been to play to Tarawali? And I said: Who is Tarawali, that I should go to play to her, who never go to anyone at all? And he laughed, and exclaimed: Who is Tarawali? What! dost thou actually say that thou hast never even heard of her, the Queen of this city? And I said: I did not know that thy Tarawali was the same as the Queen, of whom indeed I have heard, very often, as everybody must who comes to this city: for as it seems, the citizens never talk of anything or anybody else, never saying anything about her that recommends her to me; since, as I understand, she is an independent woman, who goes her own way, like the wind, caring absolutely nothing where it takes her, or what anybody says. And he said: Let them say what they will, at least she is a connoisseur in music, and plays the lute herself, though not so well as thou. And they tell me, she is very curious to see thee, and to hear thee, of whom she has heard so much. And I said carelessly: The curiosity is not reciprocal, since on my side there is absolutely none. And moreover, independent women are not to my taste, even when they happen to be queens. So it will be better for us both, to leave her curiosity unsatisfied. And he said: Well have they named thee, the mad musician: for thou art utterly unlike all other men. Thou hast thrown away thy kingdom for a lute: and now thou sittest like a stone, unmoved, to hear that even Tarawali is curious on thy account: a thing that would set any other man dancing for delight, like a peacock at the sight of a cloud. Art thou indeed a stone, or is it sheer ignorance of what Tarawali is like? And I said: And what then is she like? And he said: She is like absolutely nothing in the world but herself, and cannot therefore be described at all, but only seen. So the only way to get thy question answered is to go, and see her for thyself. And I said: Then it never will be answered, for I will not go and see. I am no tame animal, to go where I am called: I am wild. And he said: Aye! but the wild swans go to the Manasa lake of their own accord. Thou art like a young wild swan, refusing, for sheer obstinacy, to visit the very place, that, had it only seen it, it would never be induced to desert again. For Tarawali is exactly a Manasa for such a swan as thee. And for all answer, I took my lute, and began to pluck at the strings.
And he stood for a while, drumming on the sill of the window as he looked out: and then he turned and said: If thou hast no curiosity, thou hast at least the manners of a king's son. Wouldst thou be so uncivil as to say no to her invitation, if she sent to thee, to come? And I said: Why suppose what never can occur? Surely this independent queen does not go to such a length as to act like an abhisarika, and throw herself of her own accord at the head of every stranger that may wander through her city? And he laughed, and said: Wouldst thou actually shut thy door in her face, even so, if she were an incomparable beauty? Even an abhisarika might be welcome, to anybody but thyself, who art said to be a hater of all women whatsoever. And I said: Why should I hate all women, who never think of them at all?
And he looked at me for a long while; and then he said: Who knows? Thou art so singular in everything that it is just barely possible that thou art telling me the truth, though it is very hard to believe it, in the mouth of a youth like thee. And yet, if as thou sayest, thy heart be really empty, Tarawali could fill it for thee, easily enough. Aye! even if it were a desert equal to Marusthali in dryness and extent, a single glance at her would turn it into an ocean, tossing with agitation, and running over with excess of salt.
And then he went away. And instantly I forgot all about her, absorbed in my lute and the recollection of my dream.
But next morning, when I awoke, his words all came back to me, and filled me with dismay. And I sat long musing over them, and saying to myself: Now after all, it is just possible not only that his words had a meaning, but even that he was acting as an agent of the Queen, who may take measures to make me go and see her, whether I will or no: since she is, as it seems, a musical blue-stocking, ready to force herself on anybody just to gratify her vanity by claiming admiration for her musical proficiency, which nobody would acknowledge unless she were a queen. Out on these queens, that dabble in matters that they do not understand, and meddle in other people's business! But now I will steal a march on her by making my escape betimes, and I will go this very moment and order my horse to be got ready, to give her the slip, in case she may be meditating anything very disagreeable. For if she finds the bird flown, she will give it up, once for all.
And I went to the door and opened it, and lo! there in the street before me stood a woman, who was in the very act of knocking at the door, to get in, so that as I pulled it open, she very nearly fell into my arms. And as she drew back laughing, I looked at her in blank amazement. For she resembled a feminine incarnation of the dawn, being a very Apsaras for beauty, and very young, and very small, and dressed in a garment of red muslin, whose edge of gold ran all about her like a snake. And she had gold bangles, and gold anklets, and gold chains about her neck, and she held the end of her garment drawn over her head with one hand, whose arm resembled a creeper spray, so that I could only just see her long eyes peeping at me through the opening. And I stood awhile, holding the door, and looking at her with dismay, that was very nearly terror, saying to myself: Now, after all, I am caught, for here she is in person, running to me of her own accord. And at last I said with hesitation: Art thou Tarawali?
And instantly, that strange damsel broke into a peal of laughter. And she exclaimed: I, Tarawali? Art thou stark mad? Or dost thou imagine Tarawali would come to people's doors? Ha! then, but as it seems, thy thoughts are already running on Tarawali. But let me come inside, for why should the whole street listen to our conversation? And she came in quickly and stood just inside the door, holding it by the handle, as if she wanted to make sure of her escape. And she said: Art thou Shatrunjaya, the lute-player? And I said: Yes. Then she said: Thou deservest almost to be slain, for such an extraordinary blunder as to confound such a thing as I am with the Queen. And yet, after all, thy chance arrow is somewhere near the mark: for if I am not Tarawali, at least I am her shadow, and never very far from her, being her confidential maid. And I have come to thee now with a message from herself: and it is this: Tarawali the pupil stands in sore need of Shatrunjaya the master, to help her in disentangling the quarter-tones of a theme: and she will await him in her garden, as the sun goes down.
And I said: What, O thou red beauty, is thy name? And she said: Chaturika Then I said: Go back, O Chaturika, and tell the Queen that I was not to be found. I will not come. And here is gold for thee.
And Chaturika brushed away my bribe with a wave of her pretty arm. And she leaned back against the door, holding the handle behind her, and looking up at me from under her long lashes, with sweet crafty eyes, and eyebrows lifted high into a double arch. And she put her head a little on one side, and said, with a smile: Think twice, O Shatrunjaya. Art thou a musician, and hast thou never heard the song: Nectar when she turns towards thee: poison when she turns away? Or hast thou never tasted nectar, even in a dream? Remember, sunset! And she shook at me her forefinger, and suddenly she opened the door, and slipped out, and shut it, and was gone; leaving me staring at it in stupefaction, and almost believing I was dreaming, so abruptly had she come and gone. And I said to myself in wonder: Beyond a doubt, she spoke at random, knowing nothing of my dream; and yet she made me jump, for her arrow hit the mark exactly in the centre. But if the maid is like the mistress, of whom she said herself, she was the shadow, then very sure I am, it is not either maid or mistress, or anybody the least like them, that could realise my dream. But all the same, I am caught, for the moment, in their noose: and what is to be done now? For she will go straight back and tell it all, to this over-bearing busybody of a queen, and if now I do not go, it will seem an incivility almost equal to an insult. For queens do not like to be refused, and even their request is a kind of order, very difficult to disobey. Out, out, upon this red intrusive jade, and her mistress, and above all on myself, for my delay! For had I only gone away last night, I should have got clean off.
And long I sat debating, balanced in the swing of indecision, as to whether I should go, or not. And at last I exclaimed: I will give her just a chance. And I drew my kattari from its sheath, and I said: Now I will throw it into the air. And if it falls back upon its point, I will go and see her: but if not, not. And I threw it up, like a juggler, so that it spun very quickly like a wheel: and lo! it fell back, and stuck exactly on its point, standing straight up, as if on purpose to imitate Chaturika's forefinger, and saying as it were: See! thou shalt go, willy nilly, at sunset to the Queen.
And so, seeing that I must absolutely go, I dismissed it, as a thing determined, from my mind. And a little before sunset, I went out, and moved slowly through the streets, making for the palace with unwilling feet. And when I reached it, I stood still, opposite the palace gates, saying to myself: There is still just time to turn back and go away. For my reluctance grew upon me as I went, with every step, as if some presentiment that I could not understand was warning me beforehand of all that would come about. And I said: Now then, I will give myself one last chance. I will stand here still, and count a hundred. And if in the time, I do not see an elephant go by, I will go away, bidding good-bye for ever to the Queen. And then I began to count. And strange! at that very moment, I looked, and saw the ankusha of a mahawat, high up above the crowd, coming round the corner. And the elephant on which he sat passed by the palace gates, looking at me as it were with laughter in its little eye, and saying: I am just in time: while yet I had fifty still to count.
So near I came, to never seeing Tarawali at all!
So then at last, seeing that fate was against me, and that there was absolutely no help for it, I gave up the struggle, and went up to the gate. And learning who I was, the pratihari led me away into the palace, and I followed her through innumerable corridors and halls, until at last we came to a high wall, in which there was a door, screened by a curtain. And she drew aside the curtain, and opened the door with a key. And she said: The Queen is within: knock at the door on thy return. And I went in, and she shut the door behind me, leaving me alone.
And I found myself in a garden, of which I could not see the end, for it rather resembled a forest for its multitude of trees. And after a while, I went on slowly without any guide, going wherever my steps led me, and saying to myself as I went along: Now I wonder where the Queen is; for as it seems, I am far more likely to lose myself than find anything, in such a maze as this. And then, little by little, I utterly forgot all about her, lost in my admiration of the place that I was in, and saying to myself in wonder: After all, I did well to come, and it was well worth while, if only for the sake of this extraordinary wood, which cannot properly be called a garden, since it is like absolutely nothing else in the world. For there were no flowers to be seen at all, but only trees. And even of trees, there were only four kinds, champak, and shala, and nyagrodha, and bamboo. But every kind of tree was multiplied many times, and each was a very giant, and a marvel of its kind. And the champaks and the shalas were loaded with their blossoms that filled the air with heavy fragrance, and glimmered in the dusk: and the bamboos stood in clumps, like pillars, each as thick as my own body, with their tall plumes waving very gently to and fro like chowris over my head; and the trunks and the roots of the nyagrodhas writhed and twisted round me like serpents' coils and women's limbs, pointing at me as it were with weird wooden arms, till I felt as if I were walking in some strange dream forest whose Yakshas and Yakshinis were watching me and mocking me as I went along. And suddenly, I looked, and far away through the trees I saw the moon nearly full rising slowly like a great red nocturnal sun, on the edge of the pallid eastern sky, as if it had come to watch me too, before the sun was down. And a feeling that was almost fear began to creep into my soul, as I moved on slowly, not knowing where I was. And all at once, I came out suddenly upon a terrace and stood still. For just below me was a lake, whose water was black, and absolutely still, and it was filled with innumerable lotuses, that stood straight up out of the mirror that they floated in, all turned red by the rays of the setting sun, which was just about to disappear, taking as it were a last fond look at them, as it stood, blood-red, on the rim of the world.
And then, like a flash of lightning, recollection rushed into my soul. And my heart gave a bound, as if it wanted to leap from my body. And I exclaimed, with agitation: Ha! Why, it is the very lake, and these are the very lotuses, and the very sun that I saw in my dream! And even as I spoke, I heard behind me the low sweet voice of a woman, saying slowly: I fear that I have kept thee waiting for a long time: and canst thou forgive me?
And instantly I cried out: The words! the words! And I turned sharp round, shaking like a leaf, with a heart that beat in my body like a drum. Lo! there, just before me, stood the lady of my dream. And exactly as before, her dark blue garments shone like copper in the red sun's rays, and the star stood trembling in her high dark hair. And exactly as before, she stood up, absolutely straight, as if on purpose to throw into strong relief the undulating curves of her lovely form, and yet she differed from her own dream in this, that her soft round bosom was rising and falling like an agitated wave, as if she had been running very fast with nimble feet, that had stopped short, at the sight of me. And she held her pretty head, with appealing grace, just a very little on one side, looking at me with great sweet eyes, and lips that smiled, half-open, as if to let her breathe, saying as it were: I know that I am very guilty, and yet I am absolutely sure to be forgiven, since you cannot find it in your heart to scold. And somehow or other, there came from every part of her as it were the delicious fragrance of an extreme desire to oblige and please, that exactly corresponded with the excessive gentleness of the voice that had just spoken; and yet it was mixed in some inexplicable way with a very faint suggestion of authority, as though to say: All will willingly obey me; but those who will not, must. And one hand hung down by her side, holding a lute by a yellow string: while the other was playing with the beads of a necklace of great pearls, that lay on the ocean of her surging breast, so that it was carried up and down on its wave. And she looked, as she stood before me, like a faultless feminine incarnation of the essence of a bosom friend, turned into an instrument of supernatural seduction by the infusion of the intoxication of the other sex, and seeming as it were to say: How much dearer is a dear friend, that looks at thee with a woman's eyes!
And I stood for a single instant, looking, with a soul that struggled to leave me, as if it had recognised at once, the moment it caught sight of her, whose claim it should obey. And I made a step towards her, stretching out both my hands: and all at once, I uttered a sharp cry, and fell at her feet in a swoon.
And when I came back to myself, I opened my eyes, and saw her, standing close beside me, bending over towards me, and watching me with eyes that were full of an expression that was half anxiety and half compassion. And as I rose to my feet, in confusion, she said quietly: Nay, it would be better for thee to sit still, for a little while, until thou art recovered. Art thou ill, or what is the matter with thee? And I looked at her, making as it were sure of her being really there, and I said with emotion: Nay, on the contrary, I am very well indeed, now that I find thee still here, as I never hoped to see thee. For I was terribly afraid, lest I should lose thee as I did before. And the shock was like a blow, for I have waited so long, to see thee again. And she looked at me with astonishment, and she said: Before? Again? What dost thou mean? When have we ever met before? And I said: In a dream. And it may be, even earlier, in some former birth. I cannot tell. But instantly, I knew thee again, and my heart stopped, unable to endure the unutterable joy, and the choking pain, and the suddenness of the surprise: for it came upon me like a thunderbolt, without warning. And as I said, I was white with terror, lest thou shouldst have taken advantage of my swoon, to disappear, as thou didst before. For if I had not seen thee, when I woke up, I should have died.
And she looked at me for a while, with curiosity, and as if meditating over what I said. And then she sighed. And she said in a low voice, as if speaking to herself: This is my fault. Alas! I foresaw that there would be danger in thy coming. And I exclaimed: Danger! Be under no concern. Thou hast nothing at all to fear from me, or indeed from anything whatever, as long as I am near thee. Then she said: Nay, but thou dost not understand. It is not for myself that I was afraid, but for thee. And as I looked at her, as if to ask her what she meant, she said again: It is I who am the danger. For I know by experience that I always act on thy sex like a spell: only in thy case, the spell was very strong: so strong, as almost to destroy thee. And yet, it is not my fault, after all. Blame me not, but rather blame the Creator who made me as I am. And I exclaimed: Blame him! nay, rather worship and adore him, for the wonder of his work: as thou art very certainly his masterpiece. What! wouldst thou have me blame him, for producing a thing that I could worship, instead of himself? And she shook her head slowly as I spoke, and she said: Thou seest: it is exactly as I said. I am a poison to thee. And I looked at her, trembling with sheer ecstasy to look at her and listen to her: and suddenly I burst out laughing, with my eyes full of tears. And I said: Poison! Thou! Ah! let me only drink such poison to its dregs! I ask for nothing more. And she said: Come! let us sit on the step, and thou wilt recover. And when we were seated, she said, after a while: Forget me, if thou canst, for a moment, and listen, and I will tell thee of the difficulty which led me to summon thee to my assistance.
And then she began to speak to me of the musical intervals, while I sat gazing at her, drunk with admiration, and growing hot and cold by turns, never so much as hearing a single word she said, but listening only to the unutterable sweetness of the voice that spoke, that sounded in my ears like the noise of a waterfall coming from a distance to the ear of one that lies dying of thirst. And all at once, I broke in abruptly, without any reference whatever to her words: and I said: O Tarawali, they named thee well who chose thy name: for thou art indeed like the star on thy brow. And when I think how nearly I never came to thee at all, I shudder for sheer terror, to think I all but missed my opportunity, and lost thee for ever. And I owe thee an apology, for a crime, done to thy divinity in ignorance. Aye! Chaturika was right, when she told me I was worthy of death, for confounding thee with her.
And she said, with a sigh: Thou art not listening to what I say. And then she smiled, with a little smile that shook my heart for delight, and she said: Aye! Chaturika told me of thy error. But trust her not, when she speaks of me, for she is a flatterer. And yet, thy crime was venial, and one easily forgiven: for she is very pretty, as I am not. But we are wandering from the point, and wasting time, and talking nonsense. Forget us both, and listen with attention, and I will begin all over again. And I swept away her beginning with a wave of my hand, and I exclaimed: It is useless, for I can listen at present to absolutely nothing. There is no room in my soul for anything but thee. Speak to me of thyself, and I will listen never moving for the remainder of my life. And once again she sighed, lifting her hands, and letting them fall again, as if in despair. And she said gently: If thou absolutely wilt not attend, where was the use of thy coming at all? And I said: If thou wilt only send for me every day, at sunset, for a year, it may be that I shall at last be able to forget thee sufficiently, for a very little while, to attend to something else.
And suddenly she laughed, with laughter that exactly resembled the laughter of a child, and she said: Thou art very crafty indeed, but thy cunning plan would take a long time, with but little result. And even then, I am not sure I could rely on thy forgetting. And I exclaimed, with emphasis: Thou art absolutely right, for the moment of oblivion would never come at all. But O thou miracle of a queen, tell me at least one thing about thyself. And she said: What? And I said: How can the King thy husband be so utterly bereft of his reason as to let any other man see his star? Or is he, in very truth, actually blind? For I could understand it, if he really cannot see.
And she looked at me with surprise: and she said slowly: Dost thou actually not know, what everybody knows? And I said: I know nothing that everybody knows, being as I am a stranger. But this I know, very well, that if thou wert my pearl, I would take very good care to hide thee. For even an honest man might well turn robber, tempted by the sight of such an ocean pearl. And she said, very quietly: It needs no thief to steal the pearl, if indeed it be a pearl, which its owner cast away long ago as a thing of no value, for anyone to pick up as he passes by.
And I stared at her in stupefaction, and I struck my hands together and exclaimed: Art thou mad, or am I dreaming? And she said gently: It is true. And anybody but a stranger like thyself would have known it, without needing to be told. And she dropped her eyes, and sat for a while, fingering the string of her lute, as if on purpose to make herself into a picture for my intoxicated gaze: and suddenly she said: Why should I make a secret of a thing that another will tell thee, if I do not, adding to the truth slanders that are false? It is better for thee, and for me, to learn from my own mouth what it is impossible to hide. There is a relation of the King, whose name is Narasinha. And one day he saw me by accident, on the roof of the palace, and instantly he lost his reason, as all the men who see me always do. And not long after, the King was set upon by numbers in a battle, and within a very little of being slain; and Narasinha saved his life, very nearly losing his own. And the King said, when all was over: Now, then, O Narasinha, ask me for anything I have, no matter what: it is thine. And Narasinha saw his opportunity. And he shut his eyes, like one that leaps from a precipice to life or death. And he said: Give me thy Queen, Tarawali: or else, slay me, here and now, with this very sword that saved thy life. And then, to his amazement, as he stood with his head bowed, expecting death, the King burst out laughing. And he said: Is that all? Aha! Narasinha, we were both frightened, thou and I: thou, of asking, and I, of what thou mightest ask. Didst thou not think, I should slay thee, for thinking of her even in a dream? But my life were worth little, if I haggled with its saviour over its price. And Tarawali is thine, to do with as thou wilt. For I have only one life, whereas queens can be found in all directions, and I can very easily replace her, whenever I choose. Only she must not leave the palace, for after all, she is my Queen, and so she must remain, for everyone but me and thee. And so he gave me clean away to Narasinha, in secret, but it is a secret that everybody knows, and tells in secret to everybody else. And I have gained by the exchange. For Narasinha risked his life, twice, to win me, and the King would never have risked so much as his little finger to save the life of a hundred queens, and gave me away, like a straw, for the mere asking, not even stopping to consider, that in the straw he gave away his own honour lay hidden, which he gave away with me. And I could have forgiven him for giving me away, but who could forgive the King who valued his own honour less than his own life? And to the King I was never more than a necessary ornament, a thing like a sceptre and a throne, and a mere piece of royal furniture: whereas I am more than the life of Narasinha, and the apple of his eye.
And as she spoke, I listened, not believing my own ears, and saying to myself: Is it all real, or can it be that I am only dreaming after all? And which is the greater wonder, this miserable King, who, leaving honour out of the account, is so utterly besotted as to give away a thing like her to the first man who asks for her, or Tarawali herself, telling the whole story of her own depreciation with such contemptuous and yet delicious candour to such a one as me? Aye! well indeed she might despise a husband so unutterably despicable; and yet his oblivion of his own honour is easier by far to understand than his blindness to the value of the thing he gave away. And would she tell me anything at all, unless she had come to the conclusion that I was worthy of her confidence? And who knows? For why should she consent to be given like a horse to Narasinha? Why might she not prefer to give herself, and choose for herself the man who was to be her owner? And what if I could persuade her to let me be the man? And at the very thought, my head began to swim in the delirium of hope and almost unimaginable anticipation. And I said: Dear Tarawali, is it the fault of the ocean gem, if its boorish owner flings it away, taking it for a bit of common glass, and ignoring its inestimable worth? There are other and better judges, who would give their very lives, only to be allowed to pick it up.
And she looked at me with a smile, and she leaned towards me, and she said, with gentle mischief in her eyes: Shall I tell thee thy very thoughts, and it may be, tumble down for thee the unsubstantial castles thou art even already building in the air? Thou art marvelling at the King, for giving me so carelessly away: and thou art wondering, why I am telling thee about it: and last of all, it may be, thou art counting on my independence. Is it not so? And I hung my head in silence, ashamed at being so accurately detected by the subtle penetration of this extraordinary Queen. And presently she said, as if to console me for my confusion, with unutterable sweetness in her voice: Come, do not allow delusive imagination to run away with thee, but curb him, and rein him up, and stop him, and be wise. For I belong, body and soul, to Narasinha. And yet, for all that, I am my own mistress, and act exactly as I choose. And I see anyone I please, and at my own time, and go, like a wild elephant, wherever inclination leads me. And music is my passion, and I heard of thee, and sent for thee, and now that I have seen thee, I like thee. And now, shall we be friends?
And as she ended, she put out towards me both her hands, leaning towards me, and looking at me with a smile, and eyes full of an invitation so irresistibly caressing that it swept away my self-control, consuming it like a blade of grass in a forest fire. And I started to my feet, and instantly she rose herself. And I seized her right hand in my own, with a grip that made it an unwilling prisoner beyond all hope of escape. And I exclaimed with agitation: Friends! only friends! Alas! O Tarawali, hast thou given thyself, body and soul, so absolutely to Narasinha, as not to have left even the very smallest atom over, for me, now that I have discovered thee at last? O I have dreamed of thee, and thy sweetness, and thy eyes, so long, so long.
And as I gazed at her, forgetting everything in the world, but my incontrollable thirst for herself, she sighed, and she said with compassion: Poor boy! I did ill, to summon thee at all. Thou art only drinking poison, and yet I know not any antidote, save only to bid thee go away.
And I stood, bereft of my senses, and without knowing what I did, pulling her by the hand, that lay reluctantly in mine, endeavouring to free itself in vain. And half resisting, half consenting, against her own will, to be pulled, she came slowly towards me, leaning back, and looking at me with eyes that seemed to implore me to release her, and yet, unable to be harsh, no matter what I did. And at last, she reached me, and she closed her eyes, as I kissed her, with a shudder of delight that was almost terror, on the lips. And then instantly I let her go, and stood aghast at what I had done. And I stammered: Forgive! for I did not know what I was doing.
And she shook her head, and said very gently: Nay, it is I myself who am to blame: since I might have known that this would be the inevitable end. But now, good-bye! for thou hast been here already far too long. And then, she hesitated for an instant, looking at me as if with pity; and she said with a smile: Thou must absolutely go, and yet my heart is sorry for thee, for I understand, what going means, to thee. Come, if thou wilt, I will allow thee, to bid me good-bye.
And as she held out her arms, looking at me with a smile, my reason fled. And I caught her anyhow, with one arm round her waist, and the other round her neck, turning round unawares, so that suddenly I found her lying in my arms, gazing up into my eyes, with lips that trembled as they smiled. And I drew a deep sigh, and then I kissed her in a frenzy with a kiss that seemed as if it would never end.
And then, I almost threw her from me, with a cry. And I turned and fled away, without looking back, and found, I know not how, the door, and knocked, and it was opened; and I got, somehow or other, into the street. And I went home like one walking in a dream, with feet that found their way of their own accord.
And I threw myself on my bed, and lay, all night long, asleep or awake, I know not which, but gazing with eyes that as it were shone into the dark, and a heart burning with the fire of joy, and a soul lost in the ecstasy of recollection, saying to myself without ceasing: I have found her, I have found her: and the reality is sweeter far even than the dream. And morning arrived, as it seemed, even before night had begun, for time was lost altogether in the abyss of reminiscence. And I rose up, and stood still, with my eyes fixed upon the ground, going over every detail, and striving to recall every atom of the meeting of the day before. And I said to myself: Ha! and fool that I was, I very nearly missed her, by refusing to go at all. And unless that lucky elephant had chanced to come along, I was absolutely lost. And yet, how could I possibly have guessed that Tarawali would turn out to be the lady of my dream? O joy, that she caught me just before I went away! O the star in her hair, and the sound of her voice, and O the unendurable torture of being absent for an instant from the possibility of the nectar of her kiss!
And then, all at once, I started, for a thought ran of its own accord like a dagger straight into my heart. And I exclaimed: Alas! I had forgotten. How in the world am I ever to see her again? And she said: Good-bye! Can it be that she intended I was never to return? Alas! beyond a doubt, good-bye was good-bye, and for all her extraordinary kindness, she was offended by my overweening presumption, and sent me away, and will not send for me again. Aye! all is over: for like Durga, she is absolutely inaccessible, unless she chooses to reveal herself to her miserable devotee of her own accord. Aye indeed! my arrogance has ruined me in her estimation, and I cannot even hope ever to see her any more. Fool that I was, and mad, to run away like a deer, never so much as dreaming of providing for my return! Now indeed, I have dropped myself into a well without a rope, and she is as utterly beyond my reach, as if indeed she were a star.
And my knees shook, and I sank down, with my head buried in my hands, ready to cry, for sheer anguish, at the thought of my inability to get at her, and the horror on purpose to keep me in suspense, and torture my impatience. And then at last, she said: Sunset! What! didst thou fear I was going to say Farewell?
And as she laughed again, I caught her by the hand, in exultation, and her laughter suddenly changed into a shriek. And she said, with more laughter: Nay, thou hast come within a little of breaking my hand in pieces, gripping it like one that catches at a twig, to save himself from drowning. What! wouldst thou requite a benefit, by injuring thy benefactor? Or hast thou again mistaken one hand for another? And again she began to laugh, looking at me slily, with her provoking pretty eyes: and she said: No matter, I forgive thee, for as I said, I understand. But O Shatrunjaya the lute-player, what is it that has made thee change thy mind, since yesterday? Or am I to go back and tell the Queen, once more, that her music-master will not come?
And she turned, laughing still, to go away. But I sprang forward, and caught her in my arms again, and said: Nay, dear Chaturika, do not go. Stay just a little longer, for art thou not her shadow?
And yet once more she began to laugh, pushing me away, as she exclaimed: It is utterly impossible, O Shatrunjaya, for I have many things to do, and very little time. And I am not sure that I care to be embraced, merely because I am the shadow of another. Thou must contrive how thou canst, without me, to restrain thy insatiable appetite of embracing other people, till sunset. Patience! thou hast not long to wait.
And she went out and shut the door, and suddenly, just as it was closing, she opened it again, and put in her head. And she said: Shall I tell her of thy anxiety to embrace me, or leave it to thee? Dear Chaturika! Ah! ah! Nectar when she turns towards thee: poison when she turns away!
And then she shut the door and disappeared.
And as the door shut behind her, she left the whole room filled to the very brim with the red glow of triumphant love's emotion, and the atmosphere of the ecstasy of happiness; and the laughter, of which she seemed to be the incarnation, hung, so to say, in every corner of the room. And my heart sang and my blood bubbled with the wave of the ocean of anticipation that surged and swelled within me, so that I was utterly unable to sit still, for sheer joy; and my soul began as it were to dance in such excitement, that I could hardly refrain from shouting, resembling one intoxicated by the abruptness of a sudden change from certain death to the very apex of life's sweetness. And I said to myself: Sunset! So, then, beyond a doubt, she has either forgiven me, or is willing to forgive. And who knows? For if she has forgiven once, she may forgive again: when again, it may be, she will allow me to say good-bye. And at the thought, my heart began to burn with dull fire, hurting me so that I could hardly breathe: and yet strange! the pain was divided only by a hair from a sweetness so intense that I laughed aloud, without knowing why, like one hovering on the very verge of being mad. And so I remained, drowned in the ocean of the torture and the nectar of love-longing, every now and then waking as from a day-dream to wonder at the sun, who seemed to dawdle on his way, as if on purpose to separate my soul from my body with impatience. But at last, after all, day began slowly to come to an end, and I set out for the palace, with feet that could hardly be restrained from running as fast as they could go.
And at the gate the very same pratihari was waiting, and she led me away, exactly as before, to the door, and opened it, and I went in. And I stood, listening to its sound as it shut behind me, hardly able to believe that it was not a dream, as I found myself once more in the garden that contained the Queen. And I stopped for a while, for my heart was beating so furiously that I was afraid it would break. And I said to myself, with a sigh of ineffable relief: Ah! now, then, I am actually here, once more. And O now, very soon, comes the agonising rapture of seeing her again. And I wonder where she is, and how I shall find her to-night. And now I must begin to hunt for a very sweet quarry. And suddenly I started almost running, paying absolutely no attention to the trees at all, with eyes that were blind for everything in the world, except one.
And then, all at once, I stopped short: for I looked and saw her, a little way off, under a great nyagrodha tree, sitting crossways in a low swing that hung down from a long bough, holding one of its ropes in her left hand that was stretched as high as it could go, and leaning back against the other with her head cushioned in her bent right arm. And she had her left foot tucked beneath her, so that her left knee stood up in the swing, while her right leg was stretched out below, so that its foot just reached the ground, to allow her to swing very gently, whenever her toes touched the earth. And the lovely line of her great right hip seemed to cry for admiration, running down in a single unbroken curve from her waist into the ground, balanced as it were above by the slender beauty of her left arm rising from the mound of her left breast. And the rising moon which she was watching touched her with a faint lustre, lighting up like a lamp the great gem in her hair, and making the champak blossom that floated in the hollow of her bosom's wave glimmer like the foam on a midnight sea. And after a while, I began to steal towards her on tiptoe, fearing to disturb her, lest the lovely picture should be spoiled, yet yearning to be with her with the whole strength of my soul. But all at once, she heard me coming, and looked round and saw me. And instantly she left her swing, and came towards me, walking quickly with undulating steps, as upright as a pillar of her own tree. And I stood still, to watch her coming, and adore it, and delay it, but she reached me in a moment, and she stopped, and said with a smile: I am very glad to see thee. I sent thee, by the mouth of Chaturika, a time, and yet I hardly dared to hope for thy coming: since doubtless thou hast a better use for thy hours than to waste them upon me.
And I stared at her, in utter stupefaction: and then, all at once I began to laugh. And I exclaimed: Waste! I do not understand. What dost thou mean? Or what was thy object in bidding me to come to thee at sunset? Surely not merely to talk to me of music? And she looked at me gently, with surprise. And she said: Of course. What other object could I have? And I looked at her in silence, saying to myself: Can it really be possible that she means exactly what she says, and that this was the only significance of the word she sent to me? And suddenly I leaned towards her, with hunger in my eyes. And I said: Then indeed, I was mistaken. It was not so, that I interpreted thy summons. Alas! O Tarawali, the only music that I came for was the music of thy incomparable voice, and I thought it was thy own deliberate intention to send for me simply that I might listen to it again, as I gazed on its owner with adoration.
And she looked at me reproachfully, and she said: Again! Alas! I imagined that thou wouldst ere now have recovered from thy shock of yesterday, and be able now to help me; and yet, here is thy delusion returning, as it seems, even worse than before. See now, forget altogether that I am a woman, and let us talk of music, like two friends. And I laughed in derision, and I exclaimed: Forget that thou art a woman! Ask me rather to forget I am a man. Art thou blind, or hast thou never even looked into a mirror? Dost thou imagine me less than a man, bidding me forget that she is a woman who stands before me, as thou dost, smiling, and bewildering my soul with her maddening loveliness, and the absolute perfection of her body and her soul, showing the hungry man food, and forbidding him to eat, and the thirsty man water, and requiring him to think of it as something it is not? Or art thou all the time only playing, having no heart in thy body, or a stone for a heart? Didst thou summon me only to torture and torment me? Dost thou not know, canst thou not see, the agony of my suffering, standing close enough to seize thee in my arms, and yet kept at a distance, to listen to what I cannot even understand? I tell thee, I am drunk with thy beauty, and mad with intolerable desire for the incomprehensible fascination of thy charm, and dost thou dream of quenching my fire by talking about friends? I want no friendship from thee. I will be more than a friend to thee, or less: aye! I would give all the friendship in the three worlds for a single drop of nectar, mixed of thy body and thy soul.
And as I spoke, she listened, putting up every now and then her hand, as if to stop me: and when I ended, she stood, looking at me in perplexity, as if utterly unable to decide what to do. And at last, I said: Why dost thou say nothing? And she said, simply; I do not know what to say. And I laughed aloud, lost in admiration of the extraordinary simplicity of her incomparable reply. And I exclaimed: O thou wonderful woman, how can I find words to express what I feel for thee? And she said, as if with despair: I counted on thy recovery. And I said: Count not on my recovery, for I never shall recover. And she said, with a smile: Then, as it seems, I shall never have my music lesson. And perhaps it would be better, if it ended here, without ever having begun. And in any case, to-night, thy visit must of necessity be a very short one, since I have other business, unexpectedly arisen, to do. And so, shall we say good-night, without any more delay?
And I said slowly: If I must go, I must: for I will obey thee, order what thou wilt. And yet, wilt thou not allow me at least to bid thee good-bye, as thou didst last night?
And she looked at me, as I leaned towards her, as if with reproach, and she stood for a moment, hesitating, and as it were, balanced in the swing of her own beautiful irresolution. And then, after a while, she sighed, and put out her hand, as if with resignation. And I drew her to me with a clutch, and caught her in my arms, showering on her lips and her eyes and her hair kisses that resembled a rain of fire: while all the time she offered absolutely no resistance, allowing me to do with her exactly as I pleased. And when at last I stopped to breathe, looking at her with eyes dim with emotion, she said, very gently, with a smile, lying just as she was, fettered in my arms: Hast thou yet bid me good-bye, to thy satisfaction? And I said in a low voice: Nay, not at all. For thou hast not yet kissed me in return, even once. And as if out of compassion, she did as she was told: kissing me gently, over and over again, for I would not let her stop, with kisses that resembled snowflakes that burned as they fell.
And at last, I let her go. And holding her two hands, I gazed at her for a while in adoration, while she looked at me as if patiently waiting to be released, with a little smile. And I said: Now then I will obey thee, and go: for thou hast given me something that will keep me alive. And yet thou art cheating me by sending me away before the time, and thou owest me the rest. Promise me, that thou wilt summon me to-morrow, or I cannot go away, even if I try. For if I go, not knowing when I shall see thee again, I will slay myself on thy palace steps.
And she drew away her hands, very gently, and turned away, and stood looking down upon the ground, reflecting. And I watched her, as I waited, with anxiety: for she seemed to be meditating, not so much of me, as of something unknown to me, that stood in the way of her decision. And then at last, she turned towards me, looking at me, as it seemed, with pity. And she said, almost sadly, and yet with a smile: Poor moth, thou wilt only burn away thy wings. Thou little knowest, what eyes are on thee, or the danger thou art running by overestimating me, and coming here at all. And yet, the mischief has been done, and thou art greatly to be pitied, having fallen under a spell: and thou art suffering from a fever to which nothing can bring any alleviation but myself. And it would be far better to refuse thee, since to grant thy request cannot possibly do thee any good. And yet I cannot find it in my heart to deny thee what thou cravest, since I am myself the involuntary cause of all thy delusion, and can give thee such extraordinary pleasure, with so very little trouble to myself. And so, I will give thee thy desire, and to-morrow's sunset shall be thine.