Home  |  Authors  |  Books  |  Stories  |  What's New  |  How to Get Involved 
   T h e   B a l d w i n   P r o j e c t
     Bringing Yesterday's Classics to Today's Children                 @mainlesson.com
Search This Site Only
 
 
The Indian Story Book by  Richard Wilson
Table of Contents


 

 

THE GENTLE CONQUEROR

A Tale of a Princess whose Love was stronger than Death

THE GENTLE CONQUEROR

LONG long ago there lived in the land of the Madras a noble king who ruled his people wisely and well. He had most of the things which make people happy a stout heart, a liberal hand, great wealth and peace within the borders of his realm; but because he had neither son nor daughter his happiness was incomplete.

So the king fasted and prayed and offered un- ceasing sacrifice to the goddess Savitri, the Bringer of Gifts, beseeching her to send sons and daughters to gladden his royal palace and turn it from a dwelling- place into a home. And because he was brave and good and unselfish the goddess answered his prayers and sent him a daughter.

The happy monarch made a splendid birth-feast for the little princess, who was given the name of the Bringer of Gifts Savitri.

The child grew in strength and grace and beauty, and when she drew near to womanhood the fame of her loveliness went out through all the land. So pure and perfect did she seem, so full of maiden grace and modesty, that not one of all the noble lords about her father's court dared to ask her as his wife.

59

60 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

One day she came before her father bearing in her arms fresh flowers, which she laid at his feet; and then modestly folding her hands she stood with bowed head before his throne.

"Daughter," he said, "the time is come for you to wed, and seeing that no one comes to ask for you, go forth and search for yourself according to our custom. Choose a prince of noble mind, and if you. love him, I will love him too."

The princess bowed to the ground before the king, her father, and then left his presence. Mount- ing a gaily-decorated car, she set out upon her errand in the company of some of the king's wisest subjects. They passed through many great forests and came to many woodland towns; and the princess watched earnestly, seeking a noble prince in whose keeping her heart could rest.

ii

One day the king sat in close counsel with his chief minister and adviser, when, all unexpected, Savitri entered the hall, accompanied by the wise men. She bowed before the king, touching the ground with her forehead.

"Tell me, my daughter," said the king, "what honourable prince have you chosen?"

"Upon my journey," said Savitri, "I came to a wood in which lived a blind old king who had been deprived of his inheritance and who was living in this place with his wife and son. My choice is made,

THE GENTLE CONQUEROR 61

and Prince Satyavan, the son of this blind and banished king, shall be my lover and my husband."

"It is an evil choice," said the king's counsellor hastily. "The prince is indeed noble, just, and true, and a lover of horses, graceful in bearing, liberal of hand, reverent to age, and guided by honour. But he is fated to die within a year from this day"

The king started. "Choose again, my daughter," he said, but the princess replied without hesitation or confusion, "I have chosen once, my father, and whether my prince shall live one year or a thousand years, my heart is fixed."

"Yes, her heart is fixed, King," said the counsellor, "she must have her will."

So the king consented, and gave directions for the wedding to be arranged; and when the appointed day had dawned he set out with his daughter to find the blind old king in the place of his exile.

He found the old man keeping simple state in the forest, sustained by the dignity of undeserved misfortune, and proud in his humility. The King of the Madras alighted from his horse and approached the old king as he sat under a canopy of woven grasses. The two monarchs exchanged courteous greetings, and then the exiled king asked his guest the nature of his errand.

The King of the Madras looked towards Prince Satyavan, who stood near his father, and then at his own daughter. "This is my child, Savitri," he said. "Take her to be the wife of thy son."

"How shall we do honour to so great a princess?"

62 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

asked the blind old king, "for we keep kingly state no longer."

"Thy simple state is royal," answered the other courteously. "We are equals in rank. Let it be."

"It shall be as the princess desires," said the blind old monarch; and in a very short space of time the marriage ceremony was performed, and the happy young prince was rejoicing in his unexpected good fortune.

in

Before long the King of the Madras went his way; and as soon as he was gone Savitri took off her royal robes, dressed herself in a manner more fitting for her new life, and set to work to be a helpmeet to her husband and a solace to the wife of the blind old king. So the life in the forest flowed peacefully onward; but the words of the wise man, her father's counsellor, were never long absent from the mind of the princess, and when the fateful day drew near on which the prince was to die, Savitri withdrew herself from the rest for prayer and fasting.

In the early morning of that dreadful day she came again to her father-in-law, who begged of her to break her fast.

^ I am under a vow," she said, "and I cannot eat this day until the sun has set."

Then the prince, her husband, came up to her with his axe upon his shoulder, ready to go to work in the forest.

"Let me come with you," she cried, "my

THE GENTLE CONQUEROR 63

dearest lord, I cannot leave you to yourself to- day."

"Nay, beloved," he said gently, "you are weak with your fasting, and the way through the forest is rough for tender feet."

"My heart is strong, my lord," she said?" let me

go."

"It shall be as you will," said Satyavan, "but first beg leave of my father and mother."

The old people were loth to let her go, but, seeing that her heart was set upon it, the blind king gavje her leave; and the two set out with shining faces, rejoicing in each other's presence, though the heart of Savitri was heavy with foreboding.

IV

The way was rough, but the beauty of the forest scenery drew the eyes of the princess, and for a few moments she forgot her sorrow in the joys of youth and dear companionship. But the grief returned and cast its heavy shadow over the beauty of the morning.

Before long they came to a place where the wood- land fruits were plentiful, and while the princess gathered them, Satyavan set to work to cut fuel. But in a few moments he came tottering to his wife and said, "I cannot work, beloved, for a fever is in my veins. Let me rest beside you."

Very tenderly she laid him down upon the ground, and, sitting beside him, placed his head in her lap. Then she gently fanned his face, and, happening to

64 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

raise her eyes for a moment, she saw standing near her a tall dark dreadful figure clothed in scarlet and holding a cord with a noose in his hand.

Savitri rose to her feet, after gently laying the head of the prince upon the soft grass, and clasped her hands in supplication.

"Who art thou?" she asked.

"Thou art worthy to know, Savitri. I am Yama, the King of the Dead, and I am come to fetch thy loved one to my kingdom,"

Then without pause or pity he touched the form of the prince, who, in a moment, lay still and cold; and, turning swiftly, the dread King made his way towards the south with the soul of Satyavan in his keeping.

But the great love of the princess gave her untold strength and courage, and she followed the King as he passed quickly through the forest. Then Yama turned and sternly, though with some gentle- ness, bade her go back to the body of her lord.

"Nay, my lord is here," she said, "and where he goes I must follow also. Permit me to go with thee, and as we pass onward let me say a verse to thee."

Then in a low sweet voice the princess repeated a verse in praise of Duty. The heart of Yama was touched by her gentleness. "Ask a boon of me/ 5 he said?" ask anything but the soul of Satyavan."

"A boon, King," she said gladly?" let the blind old king be blind no longer, and make him strong with the strength of manhood."

THE GENTLE CONQUEROR 65

"Thy desire is granted," said Yama?" but now turn back, for thou art worn and weary."

"I feel no weariness when I am near my lord," she said, "except, at times, the weariness which is merely a longing for the comfort of his hand; and indeed I know another verse which tells of this,"

Then in a low sweet voice the princess repeated a verse in praise of Friendship. A second time the heart of Yama was touched, and he said, "Ask any boon of me except the life of Satyavan."

"Let my husband's father," said the princess, "sit once more upon his throne and rule in righteousness."

"It shall be so," said the dread King of the Dead?" but now return, lest evil befall thee."

"I know yet another verse," she replied. Then in tones still more gentle she recited some lines in praise of Charity. The words fell sweetly upon the ears of Yama, and again he promised the princess any boon but the soul of Satyavan.

"My father hath no son, dear monarch," she said?" grant him the blessing of heirs to his royal throne."

"It shall be so," said Yama?" but now go back, for already thou hast come too far."

"I am near my lord," she said simply, "and while he is beside me no journey is too long, no way too rough. I know yet another verse, great King."

Then she recited some lines in praise of Right- eousness, and once more won the promise of any boon but the life of her lord.

E

66 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

"I ask then," she said, "noble sons for myself, strong and virtuous, like my own dear husband," And she spoke as if Satyavan were still strong and well.

"Thou shalt be the mother of valiant princes," said Yama?" but now go back, for the path is too hard for thee."

"I know still one more verse, 55 she said with sweet persistence. Then she said a longer verse in praise of Virtue, and as he listened the stern face of the dread King relaxed.

"Ask any gift of me," he cried at length. "Ask the greatest boon of all"

"Grant me my sweet lord's life," she cried, "without which I am dead already. Give me Satyavan, alive and well."

Then the eyes of the King of the Dead grew tender, for her faithful love had conquered even his stern heart. "See," he said, "thou queen among women, for thy love the soul of Satyavan shall return, led captive by thyself in sweetest slavery; and all the boons which I have granted thee shall still be thine."

Then Yama turned and went quickly to his own place. But Savitri ran yet more quickly through the forest to the place where lay the body of her lord and master. Down she sank upon the earth and laid his head upon her lap, and even as she touched him the warm blood flowed once more within his veins. His white lips moved, his eyes

THE GENTLE CONQUEROR 67

grew bright, and gazed with slowly dawning con- sciousness upon the face of his beloved wife.

"I have slept long," he murmured gently. "Why did you not rouse me ? And where is the gloomy man who gazed at us so steadfastly?"

"Your sleep was long, my lord," she said, "and deep likewise, for he who gazed at us was Yama, King of the Dead. But see, the night falls fast. Let us hasten home. The leaves rustle with the soft footfall of the beasts of prey! Let us go."

"But we shall not see the pathway," said the prince.

"There was a fire in the forest to-day," she said, "and it still burns. I will fetch a burning branch, and we will kindle a fire and spend the night here."

"My strength returns," said Satyavan, "and with your help, beloved, I will venture; for those we love will be uneasy at our absence."

Then he stood up and, laying his arm across the shoulders of the princess, made his way, with pain at first, but soon with gathering strength, through the darkening forest.

Just before dawn they reached the woodland home of the king, blind and old no longer, but strong and vigorous, with his sight restored.

All were filled with wonder, but soon Savitri told her story; and as she finished messengers arrived to say that the father of Satyavan was restored to his kingdom. So in triumph he returned to his home, taking with him as the richest of his treasures the wife of his son Satyavan, whose love had conquered Death.

STORY III

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU

A. Tale of Arjun and Karna, and of their Part in the Great War

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU

PANDU was the monarch of the ancient kingdom of the Kurus, which lay partly along the upper course of the River Ganges and partly in the basin of the Jumna; and he was the father of five tall sons.

The eldest son, Yudhishthir, was famous for his wisdom and his unfailing observance of religious rites; the second, Bhima, was a warrior known far and wide for his valour; Arjun, the third, was also distinguished for his bravery, and especially for his skill with the bow; and the two youngest brothers, Nakula and Sahadeva, were worthy of the kinship of the others, whom they strove to imitate in all that was manly and virtuous.

Now the time came when Pandu grew tired of his royal duties, and spent a great deal of his time in the forest like a hermit. The government, therefore, passed into the hands of his brother Dhrita-rashtra, who was blind, and who had no less than a hundred sons, among whom Duryodhan was the eldest. One day news came to the palace that Pandu had met his death in the forest, and his brother became king in fact; but the five tall sons of Pandu remained

71

72 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

under the guardianship of their uncle. Naturally, the sons of the new king were jealous of the five brothers; and Duryodhan, in particular, hated them with_dl JikJlfiart. The five brothers, ""however, were not concerned to hate any one. They lived con- tentedly at their uncle's court, engaged in perfecting themselves in all manly pursuits, as if they knew that the time would come when all their valour, hardihood, wisdom, and powers of endurance would be put to the most severe tests; and for this time it was well that they should assiduously prepare themselves.

There lived at the court of King Dhrita-rashtra an old man named Drona^ who had trained many princes in the art of war. One day this man went to the king and begged him to call the princes together to a great tournament, in order that they might display their skill and prove which was the most powerful and enduring. The blind old king eagerly consented, instructed Drona to measure out the tour- nament ground without delay, and gave orders for the erection of stately white pavilions by the side of a green meadow at the edge of the jungle. The festival was proclaimed far and wide, and a great crowd of nobles and common people gathered to watch the feats of arms; for they knew that if the archer Arjun and his brave brothers were to be present at the tournament, the eyes of all would be delighted, and the hearts of all would be deeply stirred by the skill and bravery of the famous warrior and his brothers. It will be noted that the five tall sons of Pandu had won the favour of the Kurus by

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 73

their quiet acceptance of the second place in the kingdom, and by their uncomplaining endeavour to perfect themselves in all manly exercises instead of grumbling about their lot. They appeared to live for the future, and this gave them happiness in the present.

The morning of the festival dawned brightly, and the blind old king, attended by a brilliant company of princes and nobles, made his way to the place prepared for the tournament. Queen Gandhari and Pritha, the widow of Pandu, were among the com- pany, surrounded by a band of the most beautiful maidens who could be found in that land of lovely women.

The first part of the tournament consisted of various trials of skill in archery, riding, and swords- manship, in which the five taU sons of Pandu, and especially the archer Arjun, distinguished themselves above the rest. Then the trumpets sounded a shrill call, a space was quickly cleared, and there began a desperate contest between Bhima and his cousin Duryodhan, both armed with maces. The passion of the princes rose as the fight proceeded, the people surrounding the lists took sides, and the combat which began as a friendly trial of skill seemed likely to become a battle to the death. But, seeing the danger, Drona gave orders for the music to cease, and brought forward the archer Arjun, who was dressed in golden armour, to show his skill in the use of the bow. The wonder and amazement created by his performances calmed the angry passions of the

74 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

partizans. Towering high or bending to the bow, the archer shot at targets great and small, piercing them where he wished with never-failing skill. A wild boar was set free in the arena and in a moment it was laid low with five of Arjun's arrows glistening in its jaws. A horn was hung by a silken thread and allowed to sway freely in the breeze, but Arjun pierced it with more than twenty arrows. The Kurus took a special delight in these performances, for in their judgment the skill of the archer was the most valuable of all manly accomplishments,?''?'- 1

The tournament at last was ended, and the people were preparing to disperse, somewhat disappointed, as lovers of sport, to find that no man had been found able to cope with Arjun in skill and valour; for there is a double charm in the unexpected, and they were ready enough to acclaim a new-comer who should be able to vanquish the hero of the hour.

At that moment a thunderous sound shook the air, and all eyes turned to the gate of the arena, where a new and unknown champion was clamouring for admission. Obedient to the command of Drona, the new-comer was at once admitted to the lists, where he won instant admiration for his lofty stature, his gallant bearing, his golden armour, and his ponderous bow. He surveyed the scene with calmness and a haughty expression of power and mastery, as though he knew himself to be superior to all who were present. "Who is this?" asked the people in faltering whispers, but there was none to answer the question.

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 75

Then in a voice which matched his stature the stranger said to Arjun, "All your feats of strength and valour are as nothing unto mine." At once Drona took up the challenge, the lists were cleared, the spectators settled down in their places once more and watched with bated breath while the new-comer did all that Arjun had done- but no more.

Duryodhan was filled with fierce delight and came eagerly forward to embrace and compliment the unknown champion. But the stranger courteously put him aside and turned to Arjun, who was biting his lips in jealous rage. "It is with Arjun that I wish to deal," he said, "and the victory over such a warrior as yourself is the dearest wish of my heart."

Such an opportunity was not to be wasted by the master of the tournament, and Drona without delay arranged the preliminaries of the contest. In a few moments the two champions stood facing each other, ready for battle, and the herald advanced to proclaim their names and lineage.

"This is Arjun," he cried, "son of Pandu, prince of valour and warlike grace. By all the rules of war he requires to know the name and lineage of his foe." At these words the unknown warrior hung his head as if in shame, and made no reply. Thereupon Prince Duryodhan, eager to see the fight begin, and more eager still to see Arjun humbled, cried out, "He is a prince in bravery whatever his birth may be, and to make him outwardly worthy of this con- test he shall be crowned as king forthwith."

Then at the word of the prince a throne was

76 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

brought, and a company of Brahmans or priests were summoned, who crowned and anointed the stranger as king of Huga, the vacant throne of which Duryodhan had the right to bestow upon whom he wished . c c What return can I make for your royal gift?" asked the new monarch, whose name of Kama had been announced during the ceremony. "Your friendship is all I ask in return/ 5 was the eager reply of the prince, whose chief desire was to see Arjun humbled as soon as possible, but who did not know that the new champion was a half-brother of the hero whom he was so ready to fight. Kama extended his arms in loving friend- ship, Duryodhan embraced him warmly, and thus was their friendship sealed.

Then a strange thing happened. Kama turned from the glittering company of princes, held up his hand, and a charioteer, dusty and weary, dragged his feet across the arena. To this man the newly- crowned king bent his head in lowly reverence, as a dutiful son makes obeisance to his father.

"Is he the son of a base charioteer?" thought Bhima, and in his scornful anger he forgot his princely courtesy, and said aloud, "A cattle-driver's goad would suit his hand better than the sword of a monarch." Kama heard him but did not speak. He sighed heavily and raised his face towards the sun, and he seemed to those about him to be as one who prayed in silence. But his new friend, Prince Duryodhan, took up the challenge, upbraiding Bhima for his unworthy taunts, in the eagerness of his hatred speaking words of the truest and deepest

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 77

wisdom because, for the moment, they suited his purpose. "That warrior is noble who does noble deeds," he said. "Why, Drona, our teacher and master was of humble birth. Such a prince as Kama mark him in his pride was, I am sure," he said, contradicting himself, "the offspring of noble parents, for common people never bred so gallant a

warrior."

By this time the contest between Kama and Arjun had been forgotten in the bickering and wordy warfare of the princes, and darkness fell before it could be decided which of the two heroes was the greater warrior. Duryodhan left the field with Kama, and Arjun rejoined his brothers, who in spite of their loyalty felt that in the new champion their brother had at last met a really formidable foe.

ii

Day by day the jealousy and rivalry of the princes increased, and this feeling was not allayed when the blind old king announced that he had chosen the wise Yudhishthir to succeed him. The anger of Duryo- dhan was naturally increased by this news, and he joined his brothers in a plot against the lives of the five tall sons of Pandu. The princes were courteously invited to become the guests of Duryodhan in a house which he had just built in a distant town, and the brothers set out for this place with their mother, little knowing that their cousin had taken care to have the building constructed of the most inflam-

78 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

mable materials. But when the house suddenly took fire in the middle of the night the five princes knew that a plot was intended against them, and, having escaped with their mother, not without difficulty, they took to the forest, and dressing themselves as hermits settled down to await events.

Now it was the custom among these people that if a princess were not sought in marriage by a prince of equal or higher rank than herself, she had the right, without sacrificing her maidenly modesty, of inviting to a festival all the neighbouring princes, and of choosing a husband from among them. A festival of this kind was known as the Swayamvara y or "The Bride's Choice," and it was conducted with great pomp and splendour. In their wanderings through the forest the sons of Pandu heard that the daughter of Draupad, King of Panchala, was about to hold a Swayamvara, and they decided to go to this monarch's royal city.

As they drew near to the place they found the roads into the city thronged with the chariots and attendants of numerous princes and nobles who had come to the festival of the princess, whose name was Draupadi, and who was reported to be of surpassing beauty, with eyes like the lotus flower, and a figure as graceful as that of a young fawn. The suitors brought, according to custom, many gifts of cattle, gold, and jewels, embroidered muslin, and fruits of the rarest quality; and the king made a splendid banquet in their honour. But the five tall sons of Pandu trudged along the road, leaning upon their

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 79

rough staffs, choked with the dust, barefooted, and appearing to any who chanced to look at them to be only a group of very ordinary hermits. Their mother walked with them, tenderly guarded, but completely disguised like her sons. They found a lodging in a humble cottage owned by a potter, who little dreamt that he was sheltering a princess and five princes of the highest lineage.

Now King Draupad greatly desired that his daughter should be won by Prince Arjun, and in order to bring this about he made it known that the princess was to be given to the suitor who showed the greatest skill in the use of a mighty bow which he had made. He imposed tests of archery which he knew that no prince in the land could satisfy except Arjun himself; for the man who was to carry off the princess was required to hit a target with an arrow which had first pierced a whirling disc of wood hung high in the air. The contest was to take place on a wide and level green, round which stood splendid pavilions of gleaming white crowned with turrets covered with shining gold.

The morning of the festival dawned in sunlit splendour, and before the heat of the day came on the beautiful princess was led out by her brother, wearing on her arm the golden bridal circlet which was to be placed upon the head of the successful suitor. The prince at once made known the nature of the test imposed by the father of the bride, and announced to his sister the name and rank of each of the princes in turn. But no one noticed the five

8o THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

tall soils, of Pandu standing, disguised as hermits, not far from the central group of the gay pageant. One by one the suitors came forward and grasped the ponderous bow; but it was so tough and strong and unwieldy that in its rebound it flung each man to the earth. Then Kama stepped forward, and all felt instinctively that this was a warrior of no ordinary kind. He strung the great bow and fixed the arrow, but before the shaft was launched, to the great surprise of all, the princess held up her hand, and said gently, "I am the daughter of a king, and this man I will not wed." Without a word of protest Kama laid aside the bow, sighed heavily, and raised his face towards the sun; and he seemed to those about him to be as one who prayed in silence.

All the suitors had now made the attempt, and all had failed. The princess hid her face in deep distress, nor was her composure restored when a tall man in the poor dress of a hermit stepped quietly but confidently forward and took the great bow in his hand. He had the air of one who was more interested in archery than in beautiful princesses, and he paid no heed to the murmuring of those around him, who inquired in scorn and anger, "Shall a hermit, however holy, stand the test when warlike princes have utterly failed?"

The tall young prince raised his head with a gesture of pride and defiance. Then with a silent prayer to Vishnu he bent the bow with the greatest ease and shot the arrow. In a moment it was flying swiftly through the air; it passed hissing

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 81

through the whirling disc of wood, struck the target, and brought it to the ground with the force of the blow. Meanwhile the archer had sustained the rebound of the weapon without flinching. Hermit as he was, the strange suitor was at once proclaimed the victor. Loud shouts of triumph rent the air, the sweetest of music sounded, and the princess left her pavilion, attended by her maidens, to go to meet her strange bridegroom, who, whatever his rank, had at least the form and bearing of a prince. She flung the bridal robe over his hermit's dress; she placed the bridal circlet upon his brow; and then shyly taking her place by his side she moved across the greensward towards the throne of her father, who received the youthful pair with gracious favour.

But among the proud and haughty princes there arose a murmur of complaint. "We owe much to holy hermits," said one of them, "but this insult to our rank is bad to bear. Shall a priest demea us and tread us beneath his feet like the grass of the jungle ? And see how this mean-spirited monarch welcomes him! Shall we meekly endure such humiliation?" These words roused the anger of the disappointed and humbled suitors, and, acting upon a sudden impulse, they turned upon the bridal party with their bows bent and their swords bare in their hands.

Arjun was the first to notice the danger which threatened. He stepped quickly before the king and the trembling princess, and stood with uplifted bow ready to ward off any danger. Bhima had no

F

82 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

weapon, but he tore up a young tree by the roots and brandished it above his head like a club. But Krishna the Peaceful, a prince whose gentleness had won the love of all men, raised his hand as if to command silence. The quiet movement had the effect of instantly calming the angry passions of the suitors, and, instead of attacking the bridal party, they turned to Krishna and bowed before him in deep respect. Then, without another word, the princes turned and left the field, while Arjun led the princess to the potter's hut, where he reported to his mother that they had received a great gift that day. "Then it belongs to your eldest brother, Yudhishthir," was the quiet reply, and according to custom and law the beautiful princess became the wife of the wise Yudhishthir, while to Arjun re- mained the pure honour of the victory.

in

It was indeed a victory which brought good fortune to the whole family, for the alliance with King Draupad reminded Duryodhan that it would be well for him to come to terms with his five cousins. It was arranged, therefore, that the kingdom in dis- pute should be divided into two portions, Duryo- dhan, in the name of his father Dhrita-rashtra, kept the eastern and richer part, which was watered by the sacred Ganges; while the five tall sons of Pandu were given the western portion on the river Jumna, which was then, for the most part, forest and

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 83

wilderness. The brothers, however, cleared the land and built a new capital, in which the wise Yudhish- thir reigned as king. Then he sent out heralds in all directions to proclaim his supremacy over the neighbouring kings, who were invited to a great festival, at which sacrifices would be made to the gods and homage paid to King Yudhishthir. A special herald was sent to Dhrita-rashtra, namely Nakula, the new monarch's younger brother, who was enjoined to speak very courteously to the blind old king, and to beg the favour of his presence at the forthcoming banquet and sacrificial feast. Even Duryodhan was included in the invitation, and consented to appear among the guests.

The new king spared no trouble to do honour to his royal and noble guests. He set up the gay pavilions in which the people delighted, he gave costly gifts to the priests, and distributed untold wealth among the poor. The sacrificial ceremony was conducted with due solemnity, and among the holy men it was credibly reported that the gods had regarded the offering with special favour, and that

"Bright Immortals, robed in sunlight, sailed across

the liquid sky,

And their gleaming cloud-borne chariots rested on the turrets high."

Then followed the ceremony of anointment, a rite of special sanctity to which only kings and Brahmans were bidden. When this had been per-

84 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

formed, the newly-anointed monarch was told that, according to custom, he was required to pay honour to the man in the company of noble princes who had proved himself foremost not only as a prince, but as a counsellor, a priest, a friend to all men, and as a student of the sacred books. "Who is noblest ? Who is greatest?" asked Yudhishthir. "Who is first in a company where all are noble and all are great?" Then an old monarch, who in his youth had been known as "the Terrible," but who was now famous for his wise insight, supplied the answer, "Among the great, Krishna is the greatest. Among the princes he is as the sun among the planets." Then the cup of honour was carried to Krishna, who accepted it among the applauding shouts of all the other princes except one!

This was Sisupala, the King of Chedi, who stepped forward with his fist clenched and his eyes shining with anger. "This highest honour," he said, "must not be paid to a petty chieftain. Krishna is learned, but there are others who know the sacred books better than he. Krishna is a poet, but there are others more highly inspired. Krishna is a priest and counsellor, but there are others more sage than he."

The good prince turned towards his enemy and answered him with calmness and kindness. "The King of Chedi is my kinsman," he said, "and I have always sought his highest good, but at all times he has fought against the truth and sought to injure both me and mine. For such a man, unrepentant, death is the just and righteous portion." Then he

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 85

raised his right arm slowly and deliberately, while his eyes grew severe and terrible, and the watchers saw that he held in his right hand the terrible whirl- ing disc which was his only weapon. In a moment it sped quickly through the air and struck off the head of the angry king, whose body fell in a heap upon the ground. Yudhishthir gazed sadly upon the fallen monarch, who had been known far and wide for lion-like courage, but no word of complaint was spoken, and the ceremonies of coronation and salu- tation were interrupted while royal honours were paid to the dead king.

The rites were now resumed, and the subject kings paid due homage to Yudhishthir, hailing him as their overlord and emperor, and calling down upon him the richest blessings of heaven. The newly- crowned monarch thanked them all, and preparations were made for the dispersal of the company, each of the subject monarchs being conducted to his own kingdom by a courteous band of men-at-arms appointed for this duty by their overlord. The last to say farewell was Krishna, and to the wise King Yudhishthir the parting was full of sorrow. The high-souled prince sought out the mother of the five brothers, and, reverently saluting her, wished her joy in her noble sons. Then he mounted his shining chariot, bade a last farewell to the brothers, and set out. But the new king and his brothers were still loth to see him go, and they followed his car for some distance, until he turned again to give his final counsel to Yudhishthir.

86 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

"King of men/ 5 he said, "watch over your people without ceasing. As a loving father guard them with wise and tender compassion. Be to them a source of strength, like the cooling rain after drought, like the shadow of a lofty palm in desert heat. Bend over them in love and pity like the cloudless sky of the early day, and rule them always with a single mind."

Then he turned away his face from the watching and adoring brothers, and in a few moments he had taken his final departure for his own city, far away by the sounding sea.

IV

Now Duryodhan had returned from the royal festival filled with still greater jealousy towards Yudhishthir, and determined to find some means of bringing about his fall. He knew that, in spite of all his wisdom and piety, Yudhishthir had one great weakness an inordinate love of the dice-box, which was one of the most common vices among the princes and nobles of the time. Duryodhan made up his mind to use this weakness in Yudhishthir's nature to bring about his fall.

He had a friend and ally named Prince Sakuni, who had spent a great part of his life in learning how to load the dice and other wicked devices which would give him undue advantage in the vicious game of chance. This prince, at the instigation of Duryodhan, challenged Yudhishthir to a game, and the king held it a point of honour not to refuse such

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 87

an invitation; he even left his own capital, and came with Queen Draupadi and his mother and brothers to Duryodhan's own city in order to play the game with Sakuni. The contest began, and Yudhishthir lost game after game, but, with the recklessness and fatal hope of the inveterate gambler, still went on playing and steadily losing, first his wealth in gold, silver, and jewels, then his lordly elephants and shining chariots, then his slaves both male and female, and in time his kingdom itself.

Mad with disappointed rage and still fired with that fatal hope of regaining all by one lucky stroke, the king staked his brothers, his own freedom, and, most piteous loss of all, the queen whom Arjun had won for him, and whom he had learnt to love with deep devotion. Thus the proud king and newly-anointed emperor, the honoured friend of Krishna, became the bond-slave of Duryodhan. The sad news was brought to the blind old king, from whose sightless eyes the tears fell in heaviness of sorrow. "Yet, by my royal throne," he said, "the five tall sons of Pandu shall not serve Prince Duryodhan as slaves. They shall at least be free to roam the forest, and it may be that after a time of trial the gods will restore them once more to power and happiness and deeper wisdom than they have shown. They shall pass twelve years in complete exile and one year in close concealment."

Meanwhile, Queen Draupadi was living happily in the royal palace, all unaware of the foolish and fatal game which was being played in another

88 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

apartment. Suddenly there came creeping into the room, like a sneaking jackal, a servant from the retinue of Duryodhan, who, with ill-concealed de- light, told the beautiful queen that she was now the property of his master, for that her lord the king had gambled away his kingdom and wealth, as well as the freedom of his mother, his brothers, and his queen. Draupadi rose to her feet, while her eyes flamed with anger. "Return to your master," she said with all the scorn that she could command, "and tell him that my lord was himself a bondsman when he staked the liberty of himself and his queen. A slave cannot wager wife or children, and Draupadi is, still a queen." The servant slunk away, crushed and humbled, to report his reception to his master, who put him aside with angry scorn, and sent his own brother to command the presence of Draupadi, his slave. This prince was a man of violent temper, and when the poor queen refused in scornful tones to obey his rough command, he seized her by the hair and dragged her into the council chamber, where the wise counsellors of the kingdom were assembled with the five tall sons of Pandu. She stood before them all, and in piteous tones which smote the hearts of the brothers she appealed for some champion to arise and avenge the insults which had been paid to her.

Her husband and his brothers were powerless to help her, and the other princes, among whom was Kama, the deadly foe of Arjun, only met her com- plaints with mockery. Kama himself bluntly told her

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 89

to seek another husband who would think more of her than to gamble away her freedom with the dice- box. Yudhishthir bent his head in shame when he heard these words, so mean-spirited and yet so cruelly just, and Duryodhan did not lose this oppor- tunity of heaping fresh insults on the head of his fallen and dishonoured foe.

Then it was told to the blind old king what was taking place in the council chamber, and he asked to be led to Draupadi. He was conducted slowly and gently to the humbled queen, and in a voice full of tenderness he said, "Noble Empress, dearest daughter, pardon the wrong and insult done to you by my luckless, graceless son. Ask a boon of me, for I am king in spite of my age and blindness. " Then with many expressions of love and thankfulness Draupadi begged leave to go into banishment with her husband and his brothers. This permission was freely granted by the old monarch, who wished that the queen had begged a richer boon, but who loved her all the more for the pride which chose to suffer the ill-fortune brought upon her by the weakness of her lord, and the hope which looked forward to a happy restoration, to be won by his own repentance and virtuous endeavour.

She knew that such a man as Yudhishthir would profit by his weakness and his fall, and felt that the future would bring happiness only if he won his way back by his own efforts. As for herself, she was content to suffer with him.

So the once proud emperor, with his wife, his

9 o THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

mother, and his faithful brothers went out into exile, now as poor as the humblest hermits of the forest. But as he turned to go Yudhishthir spoke for the last time to the men assembled in that angry council. He had no word of blame or anger even for Duryodhan, for whom with his brothers, his father, and his friends he wished all the good that life could bring. For a while no one spoke a word in reply, for the hearts of all were filled with shame and pity. Then one of the old men rose to his feet and in words of noble blessing bade farewell to the exiles.

"Go in peace," he said, "and envy not the fortune of those who win by evil means. Virtue attends you, Valour is your companion, Faithful Love unites you. You shall one day win a glorious empire, greater far than that which you have lost. Your exile is a trial to be bravely borne, but it will prove full of healing and refreshment. May the god of battles strengthen your right hands; may you learn the higher valour which aims at conquest of the mind. Tend the sick, feed the hungry, comfort the sorrowing, learn the lessons of exile, and return at last in happiness and true contentment."

And even as he spoke the five tall sons of Pandu raised their heads in proud humility, strengthened and sustained by these noble words. Then they made a deep obeisance to the company and left the palace in silence.

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 91

For twelve long years the five tall sons of Pandu lived in the wilderness and bore the hardships which fell to their lot with patience which at times was almost exhausted. The noble prince Krishna knew of their exile, and, true to his character, sought out the brothers from time to time to comfort and encourage them in their adversity. There were moments when the courage of Draupadi failed and she urged Yudhishthir to plot against Duryodhan and recover his kingdom. But the fallen king in his loftier wisdom would not be deterred from his appointed course, and instead of seeking to harm Duryodhan went out of his way on one occasion to render a real service to his enemy. For Duryodhan came to the forest in royal state with the object of humiliating still further his fallen foe, quarrelled with some of its strange inhabitants, known as gandharvas, who had the double nature of birds and men, and was captured by them. Then the five brothers sought out the captive and set him free, with the result, quite natural to one of his weak character, that he hated them more than ever. Scarcely was this adventure ended, when another prince, in an unguarded moment, carried off Drau- padi, and the brothers were forced to set out to rescue her, which they did with much difficulty.

There was one thing which relieved the tedium and suffering of the exiles more than anything else. Many wise and holy hermits came to visit them, and

92 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

entertained them with tales and legends of earlier days. Perhaps it was on one of the days when poor Draupadi was losing heart that a sage related the wonderful story of Savitri, whose love was strong enough to conquer death, or that other tale of devoted love which recounted the misfortunes, trials, and triumphs of Nala and Damayanti.

At last the twelve appointed years of exile came to an end, and the little band disguised themselves to pass a year in complete concealment, taking great care to hide their identity from all, and especially from Duryodhan, who was always on the watch to do whatever harm he could to them. Yudhishthir dressed himself as a Brahman and entered the court of a certain king named Virata, where he was treated with the honour always paid to a priest of his class. Bhima entered the kitchen of the same king to serve as a cook. Arjun found it difficult to conceal his identity, but having braided his hair and put on bangles and earrings became a teacher of music and dancing, Nakula was made keeper of King Virata's horses, while Sahadeva took charge of the monarch's cattle. Draupadi disguised herself as a waiting- woman and entered the household of a princess in King Virata's court.

For a year the little company lived in conceal- ment, but when this period was just ending they were discovered in the following manner.

The cattle of King Virata, which were in the keep- ing of Sahadeva, were the envy of all the neighbouring kings, and at one time Duryodhan and a lawless prince

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU

93

who was his friend agreed to attack Virata's kingdom from different points and carry off as many of his fine cattle as they could obtain. Duryodhan marched into the north of the country while his friend attacked the southern portion. Virata marched southward in defence of his possessions, and the north of his kingdom was left at the mercy of Duryodhan. But Arjun flung aside his disguise and came to the rescue as we are now to learn. The army of Duryo- dhan, under the great leaders Drona and Kama, swept over the kingdom of Virata like a swarm of locusts over a field of standing corn, and drove off sixty thousand head of cattle, the pick of the king's famous herds. Thereupon the chief of the cowherds mounted his chariot and drove at great speed to the gates of the royal palace to make his complaint to Prince Uttara, whom he urged to instant action. The prince replied that he was both willing and able to revenge his father and bring back the stolen cattle, and that if only he had a new chariot-driver, his own charioteer having lately perished in battle, he would so acquit himself that every one would declare that the famous archer Arjun had come to the help of King Virata!

Arjun himself overheard the prince's boastful speech, and begged Draupadi to tell the young warrior that he would gladly drive his chariot, and that he was quite capable of doing so as he had in past years been the charioteer of the great Arjun, and had been trained by that hero to drive the battle- car. Draupadi took the first opportunity to report

94 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

this to the prince, who replied very kindly to her, but doubted whether a mere effeminate teacher of music and dancing could drive a great warrior's chariot. Draupadi hastened to assure him that he could safely trust the dancing-master, saying that she had in former years been in the court of the great monarch Yudhishthir and had seen the same teacher of dancing and music perform almost incredible feats of horsemanship in the service of Arjun himself. Upon this assurance the prince stifled his doubts and fears, and without delay the hesitating leader was swiftly driven from the palace gate in charge of the new charioteer, who bent his course for a shady tree not far from the city, where he reined in his horses. "Prince," he said, "your bow and arrows are little more than pretty toys. Look up into the deep shadows of this tree and you will find splendid bows and arrows fit for warriors of renown, banners, swords, and coats of mail, as well as one particular bow which the strongest archers cannot bend, a weapon which is tall and slender like a palm tree, made of wood of hardened fibre, and tipped at the ends with shining gold."

The prince looked upward into the deep shadows of the spreading tree. "I see many long bundles hanging from the branches," he said in trembling tones, "and they look like bodies of men. I dare not touch them for my life."

"There are no dead men here," said Arjun, "but these cases which rouse your princely fears are full of the weapons of warriors, wrapped and hung in such

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 95

a manner that they will scare away the timorous. Prince, I beg of you to dismount and bring to a chief and a warrior his weapons and his armour."

VI

The change in the tone of Arjun's voice to a note of authority seemed to compel the prince to obedi- ence, and, dismounting from the chariot, he climbed up into the tree and cut the wrappings of the cases. "Ah?" he cried in a voice of wonder, as the shining bows appeared, "here is a tall and stately bow, tipped with gold at either end; and another, stout and heavy, worked by a cunning artist with figures of elephants in burnished gold." Then after a short pause he continued, "And here is a third bow fit for a giant warrior; a fourth a and fifth still mightier and more beautiful. There are quivers full of arrows of most wondrous appearance, each a shaft of winged death; a wondrous sabre marked with a toad and encased in a golden scabbard, and another in a sheath of tiger skin ornamented with silver bells; a keen- edged scimitar in a sheath of cowhide wonderfully worked; and swords which speak of death and victory."

The voice of Arjun rang out clear and joyous, and with the laugh of a hero he cried, "Mark that bow embossed with gold which was forged and beaten by the gods for the use of Arjun himself. The other bows belonged to Yudhishthir, to Bhima, to Nakula, and Sahadeva, and the sword engraved

96 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

with the toad is the blade which Arjun has wielded in many a stern and victorious fight."

The prince descended slowly from the tree after handing the wonderful weapons to his companion. Then he looked earnestly at the charioteer and said, "Your voice is changed, and your bearing is that of one who knows. Tell me, for I know that the knowledge is yours, where is the archer Arjun? where is Yudhishthir, the wise monarch who is so sorely missed? where is Bhima, the matchless fighter? where are the younger brothers whose fame will soon equal that of their elders ? where is Draupadi, the purest and the best of womankind does she wander lonely and sad in some dark forest in danger of famine and the cruelty of fierce wild beasts?"

Arjun smiled in gentleness at the earnest words of the youthful prince. "The wandering brothers, " he said, "are not far away. The good Yudhishthir lives disguised in your father's palace; Bhima has for a long time cooked food for the royal table; Nakula works in the stables of Virata; Sahadeva is a faithful cowherd; and among your sister's waiting- women Draupadi is known for her gentleness and grace." Then with an impatient gesture Arjun flung away his effeminate rings and bangles and loosed the bands from his braided hair. "Away with these," he said in a ringing voice, "Arjun stands before you?"

The positions of the two princes were now reversed. Arjun was the leader, and Uttara rejoiced in his leadership. Without loss of time the famous

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 97

archer, clad in full armour and flying his own banner, which bore a monkey emblem, was urging his chariot at the head of a strong force in chase of the retreating army of Duryodhan. In due time he overtook them, forced them to stand and to fight, and with boyish glee he entered into the battle, bending his wonderful bow and rejoicing in the music which it made. There was no further need for concealment, and it was not long before Drona knew who was the challenger who had checked the homeward course of Duryodhan's army. "Well I know him," said the old man in a ringing voice of pride, "and the sound of his mighty bow would tell me above all the noise of battle that Arjun was near. There is no need for the monkey emblem to tell me that Arjun leads the foe."

Then Arjun told Uttara, who was now acting as his charioteer, to rein in the horses at a spot well removed from the foe. "My arrows can search^out the mark from a distance," he said, "and my mark is proud Duryodhan himself. If he falls, the battle is ours and the army will retreat. I do not fight with the rest, at least not on this occasion."

Arjun's keen eye swept the field for a few moments. "Duryodhan is not among the princes," he said, "he must be with the stolen cattle, and there I will seek him." Then, under Arjun's direction, the princely charioteer made a detour, leaving the main army, and set out in the direction of the flying prince. Before long Arjun overtook him, and in a short time dispersed the guardians of the cattle, while Duryo- dhan escaped to his friends. For the time Arjun had

G

9 8 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

attained his chief object, the rescue of the cattle, and, calling up his men, he marshalled the terrified animals in due order and drove them back to the fields of Virata.

In the royal palace he was received with acclama- tion, and there he found his brothers and Draupadi dressed as suited their rank, and ready to confer together as to the means to be adopted for regaining their kingdom.

VII

The term of banishment and concealment being now ended, it was agreed that Yudhishthir should formally demand the restoration of his realm. The blind old king and the oldest of his counsellors, who were able to appraise at its true value the patience, devotion, and valour of the princes, advised that Yudhishthir should be reinstated in his royal dignities; but, as we might expect, Duryodhan and his friends would not consent to this course. Pre- parations were therefore made on both sides for putting the matter to the test of battle if necessary.

A council of war was forthwith called, and in the palace of Virata the princes met together to agree upon a plan of campaign. When all were assembled, it was unanimously agreed to ask Krishna for his counsel. But he did not advise directly. He calmly put the whole matter before the princes and asked for their opinions, thinking that in such a band of wise and experienced rulers and warriors the truest wisdom would spring from taking the general opinion.

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 99

Should the banished king lead an army at once against his foes ? Or should he try the effect of another messenger of peace ?

Then arose the elder brother of Krishna, and his counsel was for peace. Let them send an envoy to Duryodhan appealing to his sense of justice and asking for a frank declaration of his intentions; let him plead the cause of Yudhishthir, relying upon the known sympathy of the blind old monarch and of Drona, as well as the nobility of heart of the warrior Kama. After all, Duryodhan was the prince in possession, and Yudhishthir was a suppliant whose cause was weakened by the fact that he had, in an evil moment, yielded to the gambler's vice.

The last words of this speech roused the scorn and anger of a certain monarch named Satyaki, and he cried, "Shame upon the feeble counsel of the would-be friend, who merely pleads the cause of Duryodhan. Why cast further blame upon the wise Yudhishthir, whose patience and fortitude have now entirely expiated the momentary fault of thirteen years ago? As a king he must boldly claim his throne and kingdom, and my counsel is for open war to be begun at once and stoutly carried to a successful end. Duryodhan's falseness is his weak- ness, and he will fall before us. Who can stand before the shafts of the archer Arjun or the whirling disc of Krishna ? Let us speed to our righteous duty, for to beg a favour from such a foe as Duryodhan is weakness beneath contempt."

The speaker ceased, and the eyes of all turned to

ioo THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

Draupad, the father of Yudhishthir's queen. "I fear," he said, slowly and deliberately, for he was an old man, "that Duryodhan will not bow to the opinion of his wiser counsellors, for Kama thirsts for battle, and the sending of any peaceful envoy would be regarded as an acknowledgment of weakness. My advice is to send out heralds without delay to seek allies among the neighbouring princes, and while we await their return to appeal once more to Duryodhan, for we must not forget those who will suffer from this war. It is not only Duryodhan and Yudhishthir who will be at variance, but the armies which they will lead against each other, and which have no personal quarrel with one another. Let not the hatred of the chieftains bring down upon their faithful followers unnecessary sufferings and death." This wise and humane counsel seemed good to the princes, and envoys were sent without delay to appeal to Duryo- dhan, but without effect. The matter was not to be settled without a war, which was likely to prove a combat of the nations and to bring upon the land such bloodshed and destruction as had never been recounted in all the records of the past. The prospect of such a calamity roused Krishna to a last effort for peace, and he hastened to the capital of the blind old king to make his appeal.

The counsellors of Dhrita-rashtra sat in silence, while the voice of Krishna, impassioned, pleading, rang through the council hall. "I come in love and peace," he urged, appealing first to the blind old monarch, "and by the power of wisdom and mercy

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 101

which adorn the aged, I beg of you, King, to inter- pose between these armies ready for combat and widespread slaughter. It is to your own advantage, surely, that peace should dwell upon your borders. Restore Yudhishthir to his throne, and in the five tall sons of Pandu you shall find a bulwark of strength to your own kingdom. If war should come and you should be victorious, what would the death of the brothers profit a monarch who loves them with a father's affection?"

The old man sighed heavily, and soon his feeble frame was shaken by convulsive sobbing. Then his brother appealed to Duryodhan to yield and save the nations from the threatened calamity. Drona also advised the submission, which involved no disgrace but rather showed the truest wisdom for who could stand against the might of Arjun, whom he himself had trained in feats of warfare ?

At last the blind old king spoke, while anguish shook him as the tempest tears the trees of the forest. "Listen, my son," he said to Duryodhan. "Grieve not the declining years of your father with the black shadow of war. Follow the counsel of Krishna, whose wisdom can win for you an empire which this world of strife cannot bound. Seek the friendship of Yudhishthir, which is one of the richest gifts of heaven. Let all strife and hatred cease."

For a few moments Duryodhan sat silent, with his brows contracted in anger. Then he spoke, while the listening princes held their breath to hear. "Shall my father and my closest friends turn upon

io2 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

me at a time when I most need their help ? Was it any fault of mine that Yudhishthir played a foolish game and lost both his freedom and his empire ? Shall we bow to the sons of Pandu while we have such warriors as Drona and Kama to lead our forces? And if indeed we fail, we shall have no pain in death when we die with the brave on the field of battle." He paused for a moment while the disfiguring scowl of anger and hatred gave place to a look of decision and manly resolution. "Take my message," he said, "to the sons of Pandu. Tell them that they seek in vain the restoration of their kingdom. Nay, they shall not win back from me such a space of territory that a needle's point would cover."

VIII

All efforts for a peaceful ending to the dispute having failed, both sides made ready for a battle, in which all the races of Northern India were to play a part. The army of Duryodhan was more than a hundred thousand strong, including both horse and foot, as well as chariots and elephants in great array. The opposing army numbered some seventy thousand, and Krishna was among the leaders, having chosen the post of charioteer to the archer Arjun. When the two great forces met face to face, and Arjun saw at the head of his enemies the blind old king and Drona, the teacher and guide of his youth, he was unwilling to fight in such an unnatural contest; but Krishna took him aside and in earnest words of

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 103

highest wisdom told him that, in spite of all his personal feelings. Duty must be obeyed. Many were the arguments he used, and the words in which he clothed them have come down to us through the ages to prove again and again the help, comfort, and inspiration of all who are faced with the great choice of life, that between Inclination and Duty. At the end of his discourse, Arjun bowed his head in consent and took his place in the forefront of the battle which was now impending.

Duryodhan had appointed as his commander-in- chief the aged and experienced warrior Bhisma, who was his father's brother, and in the first engage- ment of the war he routed the Pandav forces with great slaughter. All day long his mighty bow re- sounded, for he was a leader who really led in the battle, and when darkness fell the five tall sons of Pandu went to their tents with their hearts filled with sorrow and dismay.

Next morning, however, Arjun and Krishna made a desperate effort to turn the tide of defeat. During this second day the dauntless archer was able to assert himself so manfully that a panic seized the chiefs of the opposing army, so that none of them dared to approach him. This roused the bitter anger of Duryodhan, who charged the leaders of his forces with secretly favouring the cause of the foe, and threatened to replace Bhisma by Kama. The aged general looked at the angry prince with a stern glance in his eye. "Your cause is unjust, Duryo- dhan," he said, "and the gods will not fight for you.

io 4 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

But I am still the leader of this army and I go now to victory or to death," Then he urged his chariot into the foremost rank of the fighting men, and fought with such fury that even Arjun and Krishna could not withstand his desperate onset. The forces of the Pandavs wavered and broke, and Krishna, seeing Arjun's indecision, bitterly reproached him and stoutly declared that he at least would not be his companion in inglorious flight. Then he flung the reins to the archer, leapt from the chariot, and rushed into the battle. But Arjun also descended from the chariot, ran after his friend, took him up bodily and placed him once more in the car. Then bending his knee in reverent obeisance he asked for pardon for his indecision and announced his intention of entering the fight once more.

In a moment the horses leapt forward, and the ranks of the warriors parted like waves before the thundering car of Arjun. Duryodhan hurled his lance at the face of the warrior, while another leader flung his heavy mace at the flying chariot. But Arjun put these weapons aside with disdain, and stand- ing proudly aloft with his mighty bow in his hand, strung it again and again with lightning speed and with a noise of thunder. The enemy again re- newed the attack, and until evening fell the fight waged fast and furious. But on that day the honour of the fight was divided, and the leaders went to their tents weary and wounded, but resolved to continue the combat on the following day with all the strength at their command.

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 105

On the next day the Kurus arranged a strong force of their best elephants with the determination of breaking the line of the Pandav forces. But Bhima, mounted in his chariot, broke their line instead, and wounded Duryodhan, whose brothers rushed to the rescue. Bhima smiled grimly as the fourteen princes closed in a ring about their brother; then his bow twanged with an ominous music, and in a few moments six of the brothers lay dead upon the plain. His success made Bhima careless, and he penetrated alone into the ranks of the foe, to be surrounded immediately by a hundred fighters whose fierceness was their weakness, for the brave prince, though sorely wounded and in great danger, held his own until he was rescued by his friends. Again night fell and the battle was undecided.

IX

Morning dawned, and Arjun rushed into the field, his chariot drawn by milk-white chargers carrying all before it. But on this day the Pandavs received a severe check throughout the whole line of battle. Next day, however, the fight began by the slaughter of Bhisma's charioteer, and the Pandavs took fresh heart when they saw the great leader standing helpless on the field. But the old warrior had still fresh laurels to win, and, enraged by his momentary fall, he put forth renewed energy, mustered his forces, advanced steadily, and routed the Pandavs with terrible slaughter. But his fall was near.

106 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

By this time the terrible slaughter of the long- continued battle was filling the heart of Yudhishthir with sorrow and dismay. It seemed so useless, so unavailing to continue a struggle in which the two sides were filled with such grim determination and were, on the whole, so evenly matched. But on the next day the battle began again, and the fighting was fiercer than ever, while Yudhishthir performed deeds of valour as glorious as the rest.

Now there was among the Pandav forces a brave young warrior who, strange to say, had been born a princess, but had been changed by the gods into a prince, perhaps in order that the great leader Bhisma should die in battle like a true warrior and yet should not fall before his foes in an even contest. Bhisma knew the young prince, whose name was Sikhandin, and was aware of his strange story; consequently, having sworn never to fight with "one who was born a woman," when he met him in the full tide of battle, he lowered his bow and stood defenceless. In a moment he was overwhelmed by a shower of arrows and spears and fell mortally wounded in his chariot just as the sun was setting. This great calamity united the leaders of the opposing forces for a time. It was on a couch of Arjun's arrows that they laid the dying warrior chieftain, while the archer wept for him as a son mourns for a beloved father. Yudhishthir stood near in silence bitterly cursing the war, while Duryodhan was also present to hear the dying words of the great leader. "Listen to me, my prince," he said in a gentle tone.

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 107

"If your hard heart is capable of grief, end to-day this useless and wicked warfare. Give to the good and wise Yudhishthir the kingdom which rightly calls him lord. Let the past be forgiven and live in harmony with the five tall sons of Pandu."

But hatred in the heart of Duryodhan was fresher than life itself, and he turned in anger from the bed of the dying warrior, who was left lonely and sorrowful until midnight. Then Kama, who had been jealous of him in his hours of triumph, came to him and spoke words of gentleness which fell upon the old man's ears like water on the parched and thirsty soil.

"Pride and envy have dwelt in our hearts," said the old man, "but these angry passions leave us as the power of life sinks low. But before I go I must tell you, Kama, that Arjun is your brother. As a child you were exposed in the forest and were found by a good charioteer, who brought you up as a father. Your birth is therefore equal to that of Arjun himself, and it must be your steadfast aim to end this wicked strife of kinsman against kinsman." But hatred in the heart of Kama also was fresher than life and stronger than the bonds of brotherhood, and he left the old man to die in sorrow, ready to engage with fresh ardour in the wicked strife.

When Bhisma had passed away the ancient Drona was chosen as commander-in-chief of the Kuru forces, and for five days he held his own against the fresh and eager assaults of his foes. He took a solemn vow to capture Yudhishthir and carry him to

io8 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

Duryodhan, although he knew how difficult such a feat would be, for Arjun had decided that only the imminent personal danger of Yudhishthir would induce him to lift his bow against the new com- mander, for whom he still felt, in spite of all that had passed, the love and reverence of a son for a beloved father.

Now in spite of all the fierce onsets of Drona, and the fact that Arjun was under a vow not to lift his bow against him, except in defence of Yudhishthir, the forces of Duryodhan were checked again and again by the Pandavs. The angry prince, now more moody and full of hatred than ever, complained to Drona of the ill-success of those under his command. His brothers were lost, the most famous of his chieftains had fallen. Could it be that Drona's well- known sympathy for the sons of Pandu weakened his arm and checked the fury of his onset ? Might it not be wiser to appoint Kama as commander-in-chief and rely upon his burning hatred of Arjun, with whom he had no kinship ?

Drona J s reply was short and angry. "You reap, my prince," he said, "the harvest of your hate. Do not take refuge in blaming the white hair of an ancient warrior who, in spite of your faults, will be true to you until death. The truth must be told to you the archer Arjun has no equal in the wide world; no warrior breathes who can face him. But Drona knows his duty, and this day either he or Arjun shall die."

At that moment the sun rose in his splendour,

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 109

and all the warriors turned their faces towards its light in lowly reverence. Then they mounted their chargers, elephants, or chariots, and Drona led the way to the wide battle-plain. Arjun turned aside and would not engage with him, but the other Pandav princes and their allies had no such scruples and gathered round him, fierce as tigers, determined upon revenge for many an ancient feud. On went the fight and many a prince fell dead, among them Draupad and Virata, friends and beloved allies of the five tall sons of Pandu.

Now Drona had a son who was as brave a warrior as his father, and his name of Aswa-thaman had been given to a certain sagacious elephant famous for its steadiness and intelligence in battle. It happened that an arrow from Bhima's bow killed this elephant, and a shout went through the forces that Aswa- thaman had been killed by Bhima. The words came to the ears of Drona, who had at last found out Yudhishthir and was desperately striving to redeem his vow by capturing the prince. The old warrior bent his head in sudden pain, ceased fighting, and in a voice full of pity and anguish spoke to the prince whom he was striving to capture.

"Yudhishthir," he said, "your lips have never been soiled with falsehood. Tell me, has my gallant boy fallen in the battle ? My hands are feeble, my heart fails, my work is over if this be true."

Then Yudhishthir answered, "Tusker Aswa- thaman is dead," but the old man in his piteous agitation heard only the last three words, and his

i io THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

head drooped in sorrow. At that fateful moment the son of King Draupad came up in his chariot and saw his father lying dead near the car of Drona. He bent his bow, and his arrow sped quickly to the heart of the old commander, who fell dead in his chariot. So ended the fatal day, but before the chieftains retired to rest Kama was chosen to succeed Drona, for the wicked war was still to be continued when the next morning should dawn.

For a long time those who took delight in a well-matched fight between warriors of high renown had eagerly longed to see the meeting of Arjun and Kama, for though the two champions had faced each other several times something had always happened to prevent them from engaging in an actual fight. But now the rivals were fated to meet and to try their skill against each other.

The succession of Kama roused the courage of Duryodhan, who maintained his hatred with con- sistency worthy of a better cause. With words of praise he encouraged the new commander. "Bhisma was a famous warrior," he said, "but his heart was weakened by love for Yudhishthir. Drona also was a leader of renown, but his hand was palsied by affection for Arjun. Now we have a leader who is neither kith nor kin to the five tall sons of Pandu, and all must go well with the Kuru forces. "

Kama lost no time in arranging his men and

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU in

placing himself in the forefront of the battle, and soon the warriors were falling in piteous heaps on either side. Then, at last, Arjun and Kama came face to face, each of them filled full with deathless hatred. For a moment each stood calmly regarding the other. Then a shower of arrows began which seemed to darken the face of the sky. But each of the chieftains appeared to bear a charmed life, for among those countless shafts which fell on either side not one found its deadly mark; and evening fell without decision.

Early next morning Kama sought out Duryodhan and said to him, "Day dawns, my King, the day on which Arjun shall be slain, or my own life shall be spent. Our hearts are indeed, as you say, filled with mutual hatred, but as yet something has in a mysterious manner always intervened to prevent our putting the matter to the test of battle. To-day, however, will end our rivalry. Before the sun sets the life of Arjun or of Karna shall be over. There is no room in the wide world for the fame of both of us, for our skill with the bow is equal. Yet I own that Arjun has the advantage of me in his charioteer, for who can match the resistless onset of Krishna the divine? His sounding car skims along the plain till it seems almost to fly, and this gives my enemy an advantage which I must learn to turn to my own profit. Give me Salya as my charioteer, however, and I shall meet my foe on equal terms."

Permission was granted at once, and the famous chariot-driver took Karna into the field early on

ii2 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

that fateful day. For a time the new commander was unable to find Arjun, and he promised a hundred cows of the best to the man who was able to point hini out, as well as "rich gifts of qhariots and horses, fertile fields and wide estates dotted with peaceful villages smiling in the sun." The offer was tempting enough to men wearied with the slaughter and the sound of battle. But one of the princes near to Kama laughed at the offer. "There is no need to offer rich rewards to find out Arjun. Before many moments have passed his white horses and gleaming chariot will be seen and known of all men. Like the tiger ranging the forest he will spring upon his prey, as an angry bull he will gore to death the weakling cattle that oppose his onset, and like the lordly lion he will spring upon the shrinking timid deer of the jungle."

Kama frowned darkly at the words. Even among his own friends the praise of Arjun was sounded, and this roused his hatred to fever heat so that it con- sumed part of the strength which he might wisely have kept for the stern work of the day before him. Onward went his splendid chariot, while he cast his glance this way and that, longing with impetuous ardour to meet the foeman who was so truly worthy of his best endeavour. In a few moments he came face to face with Yudhishthir, who, mild and gentle as he was, had now been worked up to a heat of passion at the resistance of Duryodhan to his just demands and the consequent misery which had fallen upon the land. "You have vowed the death

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 113

of Arjun," he cried in a voice so strong and full of judgment that those about him quaked in abject fear, "but your vow will not be fulfilled, for by my hand you shall fall and through my power your soul, worn with hatred, will come at last to its rest."

Then the wise king drew his bow and in a moment an arrow was quivering in the side of Kama, who fell fainting in the bottom of his chariot. But in a few moments he raised himself again and strung his bow with a manly dignity which went to the hearts of those who watched him; for the fight between two such combatants had made a ring of silent watchers amid the noise and tumult of the battle. His arrows flew like lightning and followed each other so closely that they made an unbroken line. So heavy was their impact that they tore the armour from the body of Yudhishthir, and the wise king stood defenceless while he plied his bow with resistless might. For a long time the equal fight went on, but at last the warriors drew apart, each wearied with his efforts, Yudhishthir quiet and confident that his foe would yet be beaten down, Kama proud and full of mocking insults because the dreadful promise of the wise king was unfulfilled. Let Arjun come to him, he said, for he was a warrior worthy of the best.

XI

Without loss of time Yudhishthir sought out his brother, and, wearied with the desperate conflict,

H

ii4 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

could not forbear to heap reproaches upon Arjun for the plight in which he found himself. The archer replied hotly to his brother's reproaches, and it seemed for a moment as if the two princes would make the miserable strife still more dreadful by shedding each other's blood. But Krishna gently intervened, bidding Arjun keep his strength for his enemy and respect his brother, with whom he was united by ties so tender and so strong. The tears rose unbidden to the eyes of Arjun, tears of manly and generous repentance, and fixing his gaze upon his royal brother he begged him to pardon his rash and bitter words. "My own words were hasty and thoughtless," said the wise king, clasping his brother to his heart. "They were indeed the fruit of my disappointment and the ill result of my boasting. But now mount your car, stronger than ever in the goodwill of your brother, and meet this insulting foe who is bearing all before him. It may be that my words of judgment will be fulfilled in you, and after all you and I are one, and your success is as dear to my heart as any of my own could ever be."

Cheered by these words, Arjun set out again, and in a few moments the two great warriors met face to face at last. Soon the air grew dark with their flying arrows, and in a short time there was a loud report which told the practised ear that a strong bow was broken.

It was the famous bow of Arjun!

"Hold?" cried the warrior. "According to all the rules of war, a warrior must forbear to strike a

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 115

foeman whose weapon has failed him by the very might of his valour. Hold, until my bow is mended. Then will Arjun crave for mercy neither from god nor mortal foe."

The appeal fell upon deaf ears, for Kama's sense of justice was clouded by his hatred, which, more even than Arjun's valour, was to prove the real cause of his fall that day. His arrows still fell like hail about the defenceless form of Arjun, but in spite of this Arjun calmly mended his bow, unhurt by the flying shafts, as if the god of justice had put them aside with his unerring hand. Then he arose, stronger than before, as a man must ever be who has suffered unjustly without murmuring, and the arrows from his bow fell so thickly that the charioteer of Kama lost his control, and the horses, rearing and plunging, dragged the car into a place where the ground was soft and yielding. The best efforts of the driver did not succeed in moving it as Kama appealed to Arjun for a moment's breathing space. Arjun turned to Krishna to abide by his decision, and was sternly told that Kama had forfeited all right to the con- sideration due to those who obeyed the rules of war with a willing heart. By this time, however, Kama had somewhat recovered himself, and making the best of his position renewed the fight with vigour, sending an arrow which struck Arjun on the breast, causing him to reel and almost to fall.

But he summoned his strength, and with a last mighty effort sent the fatal shaft from the bow, which, like its master, would always bear the marks of that

ii6 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

desperate fight. The arrow clove the air like the forked flash of the lightning, and sped hissing to its mark. In a moment Kama lay dead upon the field of battle, and the victor raised his head, while his eyes shone brightly with the light of a conquest undimmed by personal hatred or mean advantage. Then the shadows fell, night closed quickly in, and Arjun went away to his tent.

XII

Next morning the news of his loss was brought to Duryodhan. Surely now he would give orders that Yudhishthir's righteous demands were to be satisfied so that all the useless and cruel slaughter might cease. But his hatred was unquenchable, and, de- ceiving himself, he took credit for valour which was not his own. He would fight to the death. Let Salya, the charioteer of the fallen Karna, take com- mand of the shattered forces. His orders were at once obeyed. Salya fought with the skill and might of a hero, but an arrow from Yudhishthir's bow laid him dead upon the field, and Duryodhan, seeing that hope was gone, fled in abject terror from his foes.

Far away from the field of battle the fugitive prince took refuge in a humble shelter of leaves and branches which he set up with his own hands by the side of a lake in the peaceful heart of a forest. But the five tall sons of Pandu, who knew how to find their way through the trackless forest, traced him

THE FIVE TALL SONS OF PANDU 117

with the watchful care of the practised hunter and found him standing like a beast at bay near the entrance of his forest home. His hatred of the brothers was still unquenched and shone with a fierce light from eyes which had become so accus- tomed to bloodshed and slaughter that they seemed like those of a wild beast, "Let the gods be witness," he cried when he saw the brothers before him, "that from boyhood to manhood I have hated all of you with unchanging scorn. Now we meet for the last time and I will fight you all."

"Nay," said Bhima, "it is right and wise that you should die, but you shall die like a prince in just and fair battle with one of us. I alone will fight you, though my task is unwelcome to me and partakes more of the nature of judgment than of the manly battle dear to a true warrior's heart." In a moment the two closed in conflict, each wielding a ponderous mace. For a long time the strife continued, for the two princes were well matched, but at last by a heavy stroke Bhima brought the angry Duryodhan down to earth. There he lay in a swoon of death while the brothers left him quickly, for a messenger had arrived to say that Aswa-thaman, the son of Drona, had treacherously slain many of the Pandav princes as they slept peacefully in their tents. As soon as they were gone Duryodhan recovered consciousness to find Aswa-thaman standing near him with the light of evil conquest in his eye. In a few low words he told his dying master how he had served the Pandav chieftains. The eyes of Duryodhan gleamed with

n8 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

fierce pleasure, and with a mocking cursing cry of hatred upon his lips he passed away.

So ended the great war of the nations, in the destruction of all that was best and bravest and most full of youthful hope and promise among the followers of Duryodhan; in victory, dearly bought, for the five tall sons of Pandu. For a long time the land was filled with the sounds and signs of mourning- women weeping for husbands or lovers, sons lament- ing fathers, brothers, or kinsmen; and the most pitiful of all the lamentations was that of the five brothers over the body of Kama; for when the funeral rites were being performed the aged Pritha told her sons that Kama was their brother and the elder of Yudhishthir; that on his birth he had been cast out to the wild beasts and rescued by the charioteer who was thereafter supposed to be his father. Then Yudhishthir himself rendered a generous tribute to the valour and virtue of their fallen foe, lamenting the cruelty of a fate which had prevented the brothers from rejoicing openly in his strength- and skill. So the story ends in reunion of heart if not of life; in pity for the conquered rather than in boastful triumph over their fall; in solemn rites of consecration; and in bestowal of rich gifts upon the Brahmans whose teachings had kept the five tall sons of Pandu in the ways of virtue and strengthened their hands in the day of battle.

STORY IV

NALA THE GAMESTER The Tale of the "Bull and the Cows

NALA THE GAMESTER

THERE was once a prince named Nala who was strong and stately, brave and virtuous, pure in heart and wise in counsel; but he loved the rattle of the dice as he loved the roll of drums.

Now the fame of his valour and virtue came to the ears of King Bhima, who had three brave sons as well as a very beautiful daughter named Damayanti; and the princess thought much on these things, wondering whether she would know this peerless prince when they should meet. Nala heard too of the beauty and grace of Damayanti, and he heard about her so often that he began to feel a great desire to see the princess with his own eyes.

One day he was wandering through the grounds of his palace when he saw some swans near a lake, and with the instinct of the hunter strong within him he crept softly forward and seized one of them by the wing.

To his great wonder the bird spoke to him. "Kill me not, Prince," it said, "and I will sing your praises in the ear of Damayanti."

The prince set the bird free, and without delay it

122 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

flew to the garden of the princess, where she was amusing herself with a group of merry companions. It flew down to her, and in a playful mood she gave chase to it. When it had drawn her away from her maiden friends it flew down to her and said, "Nala is the pearl of princes as thou art the loveliest of princesses. It is fitting that you should one day call him lord."

"Go, dear bird," said the princess, "and whisper a like message in the ear of Nala." And the bird flew away on its errand.

From that day onward there was no peace of mind for Damayanti; and when her father saw how changed she was, he proclaimed a festival for his daughter, that she might, according to the princely custom of the time and country, choose a husband from among the princes who presented themselves at her father's court. The messengers of the king went far and wide, and soon the roads to Bhima's royal city were thronged with countless fighting men, with stately steeds and lordly elephants bearing princes and rulers from afar. Among the brilliant company came Nala, splendid in his strength and youthful beauty, confident in heart and fearing nothing, for he did not know that among his rivals were four of the mightiest of the gods themselves.

As he pressed onward he saw these Shining Ones coming down to earth in golden chariots. He bowed before them, asked their will, and to his pain was bidden to go to Damayanti and ask her to which of the four she would choose to be given as a bride.

NALA THE GAMESTER 123

In a moment he found himself transported by their power to the palace of the princess, who sat among her maidens preparing for the coming festival.

"Fairest Prince/ 5 said Damayanti, rising to her feet, while her knees trembled and her voice faltered sorely, "my heart is filled with joy to see you. But tell me, how did you enter the palace, which is so strictly guarded?"

"Beauteous Princess," said the prince, "I am Nala and the messenger of the mightiest of the Shining Ones. Choose from the four the god to whom you shall be given."

Now as he named the four the princess bowed her head in reverence. Then raising her blushing face she said, "I am yours, Prince. Pledge yourself to me."

"With the Shining Ones as your suitors," said the prince sadly but eagerly, "how can a man dare to speak of himself ? Lift up your heart and stretch forth your hand to take the high honour which is offered to you."

"The Shining Ones have my reverence," said the princess, "but Prince Nala has my heart."

"How can the messenger plead his own cause?" asked Nala, though a little doubtfully. Then all at once the face of Damayanti brightened, and clasping her hands she said:

"I see a way. Let the Shining Ones follow the custom, come with yourself to my festival, and there will I make free choice, according to my right. And my free choice shall fall on you, my prince,"

124 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

ii

With this message in his ears and joy in his heart Nala returned to the waiting gods and told his story. Then the five moved onward to obey the summons of King Bhima to the festival.

The monarch had prepared a great court with gilded pillars and with seats arranged in accordance with the rank of the several suitors. When all were seated in due order the princess entered and a hush fell upon the great assembly. She moved gracefully to her place, and while the titles and dignities of the suitors were proclaimed in due order she looked eagerly among the glittering throng for the face and form of her beloved Nala.

To her surprise she saw among the company five princes, each of whom she knew to be Nala him- self. Her perplexity grew as she looked from one to the other, and she whispered to herself, "How shall I tell him whom my soul desireth?" Then she looked again and yet again, but still her amazement and distress increased, until at last she clasped her hands together and silently but fervently prayed the Shining Ones to make known to her the prince of her choice. She knew only too well that four of the five had only the appearance of Nala and that they were the gods themselves.

Then the Shining Ones took pity upon her dis- tress and made themselves known by signs which were unmistakable.

They stood without a shadow; their eyelids did

NALA THE GAMESTER 125

not move, however brightly the sun shone; their faces, in spite of the heat, showed no sign of sweat; when they moved, they glided over the ground without touching it; the flowers upon their brows bore no dust. But Nala cast his shadow; his robes were stained with dust; the flowers of his garland were beginning to fade; the sweat stood in great beads upon his forehead; his feet trod the solid earth, and in the strong light of the sun his eyelids fell and rose.

In a moment the princess knew her mortal lover, and with a cry of joy she said, "I know thee, Nala, and I claim thee as my chosen lord and husband."

When Damayanti had made known her choice, the other suitors were generous enough to wish Prince Nala joy, and even the Shining Ones cried out; "Well done?" Then the happy prince pledged his word to be true and loyal to Damayanti while the breath endured within his body; and the Shining Ones gave him many wondrous marriage gifts.

He was to have the power to see with his own eyes the god to whom he offered sacrifice. Help was to be sent to him whenever he should call for it in prayer. He was to have skill in cooking, and when- ever he spoke in times of heat the breeze was to spring up and ripple all the waters. These and other gifts having been bestowed at the wedding feast, the Shining Ones departed and Nala took his bride to her new home.

126 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

m

For some years the prince and princess lived in great happiness, while Savitri, the Bringer of Gifts, sent to them first a son and then, a greater boon still, a daughter who promised in time to become a second Damayanti. But now their happiness was destined to be overcast, for Kali, the brooding god of evil and malice, envied Nala the brightness of his life, and vowed to bring upon him and upon his faithful wife a doom both swift and terrible.

"I will bring his kingdom down to the dust," said Kali. "I will break the bond of love between him and his wife, and I will do all this by means of the love of the dice, which only slumbers in Prince Nala's heart. "Then he wrought in such a manner upon the mind of Nala that the fever of chance and hazard entered into the blood of the prince and prepared him for his fall.

At that moment Nala was in the company of his brother Pushkara, to whom Kali, unseen, suggested that he should challenge the prince to a game of chance with the object of taking from him all he possessed. Then Pushkara took the dice-box con- taining the ivory cubes, a large one named the "Bull" and smaller ones known as the "Cows," and, seating himself near his brother, said, "Play with me, brother, at the game of th?'Bull and Cows.?" At first the noble prince refused, but being urged again consented roughly, and the game began in earnest.

NALA THE GAMESTER 127

But Nala did not know that Kali was hidden within the "Bull "!

Such a game could have but one ending! Nala lost his jewels and his personal ornaments; next the rich and ponderous vessels of gold which adorned his royal palace; then his chariots and the horses that he loved with all the strength of his warrior heart; and at last his robes of royalty, rich with cloth of gold and gems of shining light.

And still the fever of chance and hazard was unsubdued; nay it increased with each successive loss, for at each throw of the dice he hoped to win again what he had lost.

For Nala did not know that Kali was hidden within the "Bull "!

News of the game was brought to the people of the city, and they came in crowds to the palace gate to show their sorrow for what they called the sickness of the well-loved master. Then word was brought to the princess of their presence, and she went herself to her husband to tell him that the chief men of his city desired to speak with him.

But the fever of chance and hazard burnt so fiercely in the blood of Nala that he would not speak a word to his trembling wife; and when this was told to the counsellors at the gate they hung their heads in sorrow and said to one another, "Our master is himself no longer." Then they went away, sad at heart, while the foolish game went on and the brother of the prince won and won again.

THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

For even yet Nala did not know that Kali was hidden within the "Bull "!

IV

Damayanti sat in her chamber brooding over her sorrow, angry at the fault and weakness of her lord, but loving him even better than before. Then, suddenly, a bright thought came to her, and, calling her nurse, she told her to summon the ministers of state to a council in the king's name. At once they came to the palace, but Nala would not come to them, and they sat in the council hall filled with dismay.

Then Damayanti called the prince's charioteer and begged him, with the consent of the counsellors, to take her two children to her father's house. This was done while the foolish game went on and on until nothing was left to Nala but Damayanti herself.

"Shall we play for the princess?" mocked Push- kara, but Nala rose, threw aside his royal robe, and went out from the palace in the single garment of a beggar. And at his side walked Damayanti, meanly clad and filled with sorrow. So they passed through the gates of the city into the forest, and Pushkara, the new monai^h, sent out a herald to proclaim that any who should offer help to Nala would meet with ii^ant death.

-The people of Nala's royal city were obedient to Pushkara's command and gave no help to the out- casts, who wandered from place to place, cold and wei^fy, footsore and hungry. Then Nala urged his

NALA THE GAMESTER 129

wife to leave him, and eagerly explained how she would be able to find her way through the forest to the home of Bhima, her royal father.

For the first time Damayanti showed signs of weakness and distress. The loss of wealth, power, happiness, even of her children, had not broken her spirit; but that Nala whom she loved so well should think her willing to leave him in his sore need bowed her head to the earth, and the first tears that she had shed during this unhappy time fell into the dust upon which her lord lay prone in his weakness. "Nay," she said gently, "in all sickness of heart there is no better medicine than love.

"Yet," she added, "if you think it well that I should go to my own people, I will do as you desire, but only hand in hand with you, my lord and master."

But Nala answered, "Never shall I return as an outcast to the court of your father, where I carried off my bride in the face of gods and men,"

So they wandered onward, always hand in hand, until they came to a deserted hut and crept within its shelter to rest. There they lay down and slept.

But the sleep of Nala was troubled and distressed, and after a while he woke to face the thoughts that haunted him. If the princess would not leave him for her good, he must leave her for the same reason.

Thus he debated within himself, while Damayanti slept serenely, for her mind was untroubled by any doubt as to what she ought to do; and she felt at rest in the assurance that Nala in his grief still loved her

I

130 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

better than his own soul. So she could sleep like a child while he kept anxious watch.

At last he rose and left the hut, but he came back to gaze once more upon the sleeping princess. Thrice he went away and thrice returned for one last look. Then, with his lips compressed and his eyes tightly closed in agony, he broke away and ran at great speed through the forest.

The princess awoke from her profound and dream- less sleep refreshed and happy; but when she found that she was alone a sudden terror seized her.

"Nala," she cried, "my lord and master, why hast thou left me?" Then she laughed gently, assuring herself that it was all a jest, and she called out playfully to her husband thinking that he was hiding not far away. But there was no answer to her call.

She rose to her feet, staggered out of the hut, and ran back and forward crying out as if she had been driven mad by her grief. But in a short time this fury spent itself and she began to blame her selfishness. Surely Nala was in danger somewhere and in need of her help while she, the faithless one, spent precious time in useless wailing; and with this thought in her heart she plunged into the depths of the forest.

But as she ran blindly on with stumbling feet through the tangled undergrowth a great snake seized her and wrapped its hideous coils about her body. "Nala," she cried, "Nala, help me! For if I die what will my lord do who has such sore need of me ? And when he comes again to health and wealth how will he enjoy these good things without me?"

NALA THE GAMESTER 131

At that moment a hunter passing through the forest heard her cries of distress and with an arrow from his bow killed the snake and set the princess free. With graceful words and queenly gesture Damayanti thanked him and quickly went on her way again pursuing her desperate search. The hunter warned her of wild beasts, and the warning filled her heart with terror lest her lord should have already become the prey of some of them. For herself she had little fear, and indeed it seemed as if her unselfish love was a greater protection to her than a legion of armed men; for she stepped out with such confidence and bore herself with such a queenly grace that the fiercest beasts of that dark forest dared not venture near her. And ever as she went onward she called upon her lost one in the hope that he might hear and come to her once again. But there was no sound in reply, and only the growls and cries of hungry wild beasts broke the silence of the forest.

All at once Damayanti came face to face with a prowling tiger. "I'll speak with him," she said to herself, "and ask him whether he has seen my prince. And if he has not seen him, perhaps he will put an end to my misery." So she spoke in gentle accents to the fierce beast, which turned as if stricken with awe and wonder, and made his way through the tall grasses to the river, which shone in the sunlight through the reeds.

Then the princess sank upon her knees and

132 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

prayed to the gods for guidance. She spoke most of Nala, and as she described his gentleness and manli- ness, his kingly power and wisdom, his love for herself and his constant care of her, fresh courage seemed to rise within her fainting heart and she felt strong once more and able to pursue her search again. On she went to the northward, travelling for three nights and days in fruitless search, until she came at last to a cool grove in the forest, a paradise of restfulness and peace, where a number of holy men had made their home.

The hermits were filled with amazement when she came among them, but seemed to know in- stinctively that she was a queen among women; and they bowed reverently before her while they spoke words of welcome and encouragement, asking her in all simplicity whether she were a goddess of the wood or of the stream.

"I am no goddess," said Damayanti, "but a woman, the daughter of King Bhima and the wife of the mighty Nala." For now the princess had quite forgotten the weakness of her husband and re- membered only his royal state and the kingly nobility of his heart and soul; and once more she found strength and encouragement as she described him to these holy men and sang his praises with shining eyes and blushing cheeks.

"Fear not, princess," said the most reverend of that hermit band. "Before long you shall see Nala, and see him restored to health and wealth and happiness, and Nala shall have you once again as

NALA THE GAMESTER 133

the sharer of his joy and his helpmeet in the government of his kingdom."

Now as the old man spoke he and his company vanished from the sight of the princess and instead of the pleasant hermitage she saw before her only the dark gloomy glades of the forest. For a long time the princess gazed around her in bewilderment and then went on her way again till she came to a beauti- ful tree which bears a name meaning "the end of sorrow." The name reminded her of her need, and she spoke softly to the tree, for she felt impelled to pretend that the inhuman things of the forest were her companions to save her wearied brain from the madness of .lonely despair. Passing onward once again she came upon a company of merchants with horses, elephants, and waggons making their way across a stream. She came suddenly among these men, and they gazed at her in great amazement. Some thought that she was a goddess of the woods, and falling on their knees before her begged her favour upon their enterprise. Others were afraid of her and ran away in their fear, while others again mocked at her and roughly told her to make known her name and her purpose.

The princess spoke gently to the leader of the caravan and asked the question which was now the whole of her life.

"Hast thou seen Nala, my king ? Quick, tell me, and if thou canst, bring me comfort."

"We saw many evil beasts in the forest," said the captain, "but we neither saw nor heard of him you

i 3 4 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

seek. We are passing onward, and for your protec- tion, princess, you are welcome to go with us." And weary with her loneliness Damayanti joined the band of merchants. But one night while the com- pany was resting a herd of wild elephants set upon them and trampled many of them to death. Others escaped into the forest, though some fell dead with fear, and the whole company was dispersed and scattered. Then some blamed the princess for this misfortune and began to search for her to put her to death, if indeed the elephants had not already killed her in their mad stampede. But Damayanti, hidden beneath a fallen tent, heard what they said, and effecting her escape she wandered on once more into the forest, until she came to a great clearing where stood a royal city shining gloriously in the sunlight.

Weary and footsore, clad in a single ragged garment, the princess passed through the streets of the city followed by a crowd of wondering and mocking children, until she came to the gateway of the king's palace. Now at that moment the king's mother was walking upon the roof with her attend- ants, and when she saw Damayanti with a jostling crowd around her, and knew from her gait that she was of noble birth, she sent a messenger to her begging her to come within the palace; and there the wandering princess told part of her sad story, concluding, as she always did, with loving praise of Nala. For whenever she spoke of him to a third person she forgot all his weakness, and in piteous

NALA THE GAMESTER 135

tones told only of his love and loyalty, his manliness and steadfast purpose, his kingly power and wisdom. This alone sustained her in her time of trouble, this alone was to her thirsting and sorely-tried spirit a source of never-failing refreshment and consolation. The royal mother begged her to stay with her for a time while she sent messengers in every direction to search for the lost prince. Damayanti consented, and was conducted at once to the king's daughter, who was of her own age; and this princess led her gently to her own apartments, where she was given the duties of one of the ladies-in-waiting.

VI

We must now return to Nala. When he ran into the depths of the forest, he saw a flaming fire, from the heart of which came a voice which said, "Come hither, Prince, and fear not." Then without hesitation he sprang through the flames and found a great serpent lying on the ground.

"I am the snake Karkolaka," it said, "doomed to lie here until Nala shall come by. I promise to help you if you will help me. Grasp me without fear and carry me hence. "

Nala laid his hand upon the great reptile, which at once shrank to a finger's length. He lifted it up, and as he did so the fire went out. "Do not lay me down," said the snake, "but take ten steps forward." Nala obeyed, and at the tenth step the serpent stung him.

136 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

Nala flung it down and it rose from the earth not a reptile but a man. "You have now within your veins, Prince," he said, "a venom that will torture the evil spirit which possesses you until he leaves you free. Fear not; seek the city of the Raja Rituparna and take service with him as a charioteer thy name for the time to be Vahuka. Ask him to teach you his skill in numbers in return for your knowledge of horsemanship. Thus shall you learn the wisdom which can cope even with Kali, and in due time you shall be restored to your children, your wife, and your kingdom."

Then the strange magician gave to Nala a magic robe and disappeared from sight. The prince set out with a light step and a lighter heart, and in the space of ten days came to the city of Rituparna, where he took service as a charioteer under the name of Vahuka.

"Make my horses like the wind for speed," said the Raja, "and great wealth and comfort shall be thine."

And Nala put forth all his skill, in return for which Rituparna gave him wealth as he had promised and such bodily comfort as can be given by one man to another. But comfort of heart he could not give, for Nala's longing for Damayanti was at times almost more than he could bear.

One day his kindly companion Jivala overheard him giving expression to his longing and questioned him upon the cause of his evident trouble. Then Nala told him a story of a man who had a noble

NALA THE GAMESTER 137

wife and lost her through his own cowardly weak- ness, and as he drew near to the end of the tale, he suddenly confessed that he himself was the subject of the story; and his friend was full of sympathy and did his best to comfort him, but to little purpose.

VII

Meanwhile the Raja Bhima, the father of Dama- yanti, had never ceased to search for the lost prince and princess, promising rich rewards to any who should bring him news of them. Messengers were sent far and wide, but for a long time the steadfast search was unavailing, until one day one of these envoys came to the city where Damayanti had taken refuge and chanced to see her in the company of the Raja's daughter. She looked worn and weary with fruitless longing, and of her surpassing beauty only the brightness of her eyes and her grace of movement now remained.

"It is indeed the princess herself," said the messenger. "No man can mistake that nameless grace in spite of woe and weariness. Ah, noblest, loveliest, best! You wear no royal robe but that of constancy, no jewel but that of undying love.

"I will speak to her," he went on, and reverently approaching the princess he said:

"wife of Nala, I am Sudeva, your brother's friend and your royal father's messenger, sent to bring you home."

The eyes of the princess brightened, and eager

138 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

questions broke from her lips. "Is there news of Nala ? Are my children well, my father, my brother?" Then it was told to the mother of the Raja that Damayanti was engaged in eager conversation with a stranger and she summoned the man to her presence. There he was bidden to tell all he knew of the strange lady for Damayanti had only told part of her story to her new friends in the palace and, seating himself before the royal mother, he told the story of the prince and princess so far as it was known to himself. As the piteous tale was un- folded the eyes of the listener glistened with unshed tears of love and sympathy; and when it was ended she consoled the sorrowing princess with womanly tenderness and gave orders that she should be at once conveyed with fitting dignity to Bhima's royal city.

So Damayanti was brought amid quiet rejoicing back to her father's house, where she found her children, father, mother, brothers, and kinsfolk all well and eager to ease her sorrowing heart. She greeted them tenderly and graciously, but when the first glow of happiness was past Damayanti knew only too well that except she could find Nala life had no further joy or solace for her.

So the Raja Bhima redoubled his efforts to obtain news of the missing prince; and he sent messengers of proved wisdom and valour to question all men as to his whereabouts, giving them a sentence which they were to speak without variation when making any inquiry, so that the words might become well known

NALA THE GAMESTER 139

throughout the land and be repeated so often that they might haply some day hit the mark and bring the wanderer home. And the words were:

"By every husband nourished and protected Should every wife be. Think upon the wood?"

The messengers passed through forests and wood- lands, towns, cities, and villages, visiting the most remote haunts of hermits and lonely huts of shep- herds, ever asking for news of Nala.

After a long time a messenger returned to Dama- yanti. "One day I came,?' he said, "to the city of Rituparna, where I spoke the sentence which was given me. Now in the train of the Raja was a charioteer whose name was Vahuka, who had great skill in horsemanship, and he having heard my story spoke these words to me:

"Although her lord forsook her, she'll not yield To wrath, even against that vile offender."

The eyes of the listening princess grew suddenly tender, and graciously thanking the messenger she sought out Sudeva who had found her in her loneli- ness and said to him:

"Go to the city of Rituparna and say that with- out delay a second Swayamvara will be held in Bhima's royal city, and a second time Damayanti will choose a husband, since no one knows whether Nala is alive or dead."

Sudeva set out at once for the city of Rituparna, and, hearing the news, the Raja bade his charioteer

140 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

prepare to make the journey on the next day. Then the heart of Vahuka was filled with anguish and dismay, which was soon succeeded by indignation at the princess for what he considered her disloyalty. But, obedient to his master, he prepared the chariot for the journey, and he drove so swiftly to the festival that Rituparna was filled with amazement and said to himself, "Surely no charioteer ever drove so well since Nala himself held the reins."

He watched the man as he drove with admiration not unmixed with envy at his skill; and, eager to show that he too was a master of a difficult art, he said to Vahuka as he drove swiftly onward:

"How many leaves and fruits have fallen from yonder tree?"

"I know not," was the answer.

"Of leaves, one hundred and one," said the Raja, "and of nuts five score."

"That is indeed wonderful," said the charioteer, "and I will stop to test the truth of your saying."

Then without heeding his master's anger at the delay he checked the horses, counted the leaves and nuts and found the number exact. He climbed again into the chariot, and said, "Prince, I have skill with horses and you with numbers. Let us make exchange of gifts."

The Raja, filled with admiration at the manly strength and skill of his charioteer, at once consented to make the exchange and imparted to Vahuka by a kind of magic power his knowledge of numbers. Now as soon as Nala felt that he had mastered the

NALA THE GAMESTER 141

art a wonderful change took place; for the evil spirit Kali who had ruled his life and poisoned all his thoughts forsook him and stood in visible shape trembling before him.

"Have mercy, great King," said the god of chance and hazard. "Spare me in the righteousness of your wrath, and it shall be that in future years the mention of your name will be the salvation of all those who fall into the hands of Kali."

Then the evil spirit, who had only been seen by Nala, disappeared from sight, and the prince, mount- ing the chariot once again, urged the horses onward, swifter than before. His heart was light and his head was held aloft. But, piteous to tell, he had no longer the glorious figure of manly strength which had in the old days won the heart of the beautiful princess; for his body was gnarled and twisted from exposure and privation so that it was certain that he would not be known in the great festival of Dama- yanti's choosing.

But as Nala entered the city the trampling of his horses and the rattle of his chariot-wheels recalled to the mind of many the exploits of horsemanship for which he had been famous of old; and even the princess in her bower was reminded by the sound of her lost lord and master.

"I shall see him to-day," she said, as she clasped her hands to her bosom, "and, if not, I shall surely die."

142 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

VIII

Now Damayanti had not told her father that she had sent any message to the city of Rituparna, and when the Raja went to greet the monarch Bhima the latter was greatly surprised to see him and to learn at what a desperate speed he had performed the journey to the city. But he did not question his guest as to the reason for his visit, and Rituparna was conducted to his retiring chamber with the courtesy and honour due to his rank. Meanwhile Vahuka took his chariot to the stables, unharnessed and groomed the horses, and then sat down, alone and forgotten, upon the driving seat.

The princess had watched the chariot as it drew near to the window of her bower, and was much surprised to see that it was driven by a misshapen charioteer. So when the Raja had himself retired to rest she sent a maid for the man, intending to question him. For, strange to say, in spite of his withered arm and stooping form she felt that he was in some way connected with the story of her loss. But she was so disturbed and full of trembling apprehension, of fear mixed with unreasoning joy that as the maid turned to do her bidding she called her back again and told her to question the man herself.

In a few moments the handmaiden returned and told what she had heard that the man was the charioteer of Rituparna but that he seemed to know more than others knew of the story of Nala and

NALA THE GAMESTER 143

Damayanti. Then the princess told her handmaiden to keep a close watch upon Vahuka and to see that on no account was he given fire or water. The girl followed the commands of her mistress very closely and soon returned with widely-opened eyes of wonder.

"What had she seen?" "The man was surely more than mortal. When he came to a low doorway he did not stoop, but the lintel raised itself of its own accord; when he wanted water, if he looked at the pots, they filled at once to the brim; and when he wished to cook he obtained fire instantly by holding out a knot of withered grass in the rays of the sun. And, strangest of all, he had taken up some withered flowers and as he idly played with them they became as fresh as the blossoms of the springtime."

By this time the princess was convinced that the man was Nala himself, and she sent her handmaid to bring her from the kitchen some of the meat which the strange charioteer had cooked. The girl did so, unknown to the man, and when Damayanti had seen and tasted the food she broke out into laughing and weeping, declaring in piteous tones that the man must be Nala himself.

Next she sent to him by a nurse his own two children, whom he clasped within his arms and embraced with tears of love and yearning. Then, seeing the eyes of Damayanti's handmaid upon him, he excused himself for his show of feeling by say- ing that the little ones were wondrously like his own!

144 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

When this was told to the princess she was still further convinced, though the altered form of Nala caused her to entertain a doubt. She now begged permission of her father to speak to the charioteer, and in a few moments Nala stood before her with beating heart and eyes filled with tears,

For a while Damayanti could not speak, but when she had conquered her emotion she said:

"Did you ever know a man, Vahuka, who left his wife alone in the woods?" Then she stopped, while the ready tears coursed down her cheeks and fell upon her folded hands.

"Not I, but Kali who possessed me," said the prince, no longer seeking to conceal his identity. "But now the evil spirit is gone," he went on, "and the end of all our unhappiness is in sight. Yet tell me first how you could bear to send out messengers for a second festival of choosing?"

A tender and somewhat mischievous smile broke on the face of Damayanti. "My lord," she said, in pleading tones, happy in his jealousy, "it was only my woman's wit which prompted the plan. Did I not know that you would bring the chariot of Ritu- parna first within these walls?"

Then, wonder of wonders, Nala, having called to memory the great snake which he had delivered from the fire, was suddenly changed into his proper form and stood before his princess strong and vigorous, kingly and handsome. In a moment husband and wife were clasped in each other's arms.

NALA THE GAMESTER 145

For a long time they sat without speaking, and then they began the story of their wanderings, which lasted for many hours. When it was ended the face and form of Damayanti were changed and seemed to take an added beauty from remembrance of the love and loyalty of her lord.

After a month of rest and peace Nala prepared to set out for his own city, driving a splendid car which Bhima had given to him, and accompanied by a train of sixteen elephants, fifty horsemen, and six hundred foot soldiers. As soon as he came to his palace he sought out Pushkara, who, knowing that the prince had now all knowledge of numbers and divine power over chance and hazard won for himself by his sufferings, gave up the inheritance which he had won by no valour of his own.

So Nala was restored to wealth and happiness, freed from the gamester's restless craving, and blessed once more with the loving companionship of Damayanti and her children.

STORY V

THE POOL OF ENCHANTMENT A Tale of the Triumph of Wisdom over Death

147

THE POOL OF ENCHANTMENT

ONE day King Yudhisthir and his four brothers were wandering in a forest and were greatly distressed for want of water. Far and wide they searched, but without success, and at last they all sat down, exhausted, beneath the shade of a spreading tree.

Then the king turned to Nakula. "Climb up a tree," he said, "and look around to north, south, east, and west; then tell us whether you can see any pool of water or any plants which will not grow except by the cooling stream. For if we do not quickly quench our thirst, we shall surely die."

Without hesitation Nakula obeyed the command of his eldest brother, and in a few moments called out in a^ cheerful voice, "I see some plants which will not grow except by the cooling stream, and I hear the sound of cranes."

"Go, then," said the king, "and fill your quiver from the water which gives life to those things."

Nakula at once set out, and in a few moments found a clear pool filled to the brim and the red- crested cranes stalking solemnly about near its margin. He threw himself down to drink of the

149

150 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

water, but as he did so he heard a solemn Voice which said,

"Drink not, Prince, before you have answered my question." But Nakula was too much exhausted with thirst to pay any attention to the warning Voice and drank eagerly of the cool, refreshing water; and in a few moments he lay dead among the tall reeds by the margin of the stream.

For a while the four brothers waited in patience for the return of Nakula. Then the king said, "Our brother lingers. Go, Sahadeva, and bring him back with you, and bring your quiver also full of the precious water."

Staggering with weakness, Sahadeva made his way through the forest and in a few moments he saw Nakula lying dead among the reeds; but so great was his thirst that upon seeing the water he could not wait a moment and flung himself down by the brink of the pool.

Again the grave, remorseless Voice was heard breaking the silence of the forest. "Drink not, Prince, before you have answered my question." But before the words were spoken the prince had drunk of the water, and in a few moments he too lay lifeless among the reeds.

Once again the great king waited with what patience he could command, and once again he spoke, this time to his brother Arjun, the mighty bowman. "Go, Arjun," he said, "and bring back your brothers, and bring your quiver also full of the life-giving water."

THE POOL OF ENCHANTMENT 151

Arjun lifted up his bow and arrows, and with his sword in his right hand made for the pool. When he saw his brothers lying dead among the reeds, he stood for a moment as if in a trance. Then, like the warrior that he was, he fitted an arrow to his bow while his keen eyes pierced the darkness of the forest in search of the enemy. But when he saw no sign of man or beast, he too stooped to drink and, stooping, heard the grave, unpitying Voice which said, "Drink not, Prince, before you have answered my question." "?""

Prince Arjun raised his head and spoke in anger. "Come out," he cried, "and fight with me." Then he sent arrow after arrow in all directions in the hope of slaying the unseen foe; but a laugh mocked him and the remorseless Voice repeated the command, which the Prince disregarded; he stooped, and drank, and died.

For a while the great king waited, and then turn- ing to the last of his band of brothers he said, "Bhima, our brethren do not return. Seek them out, bring them back, and bring your quiver also full of the refreshing water."

In silence Bhima obeyed the command, and found his brothers dead among the reeds. "Some Rakshasa has brought them to their death," he said, but his thirst was so sore that he could not resist throwing himself down by the side of the pool, and, heedless of the grave Voice, he also bent his head, and drank, and died.

Last of all came the king himself with his dark

THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

brow knitted in perplexity. He saw the welcome pool shining like a silver mirror in the sunlight, with its ring of golden cups of the lotus, its margin set with lilies, reeds, and sweet rose-laurel. Then he saw his four brothers lying lifeless by the margin, and in spite of his thirst and weakness he named each in turn and spoke of the great deeds which had lifted him above the crowd, bitterly lamenting their death in such a manner unfitted for warriors of their strength and skill.

"It is the work of some evil spirit," he said at last, "for their bodies bear no mark of violence, nor is the ground around them marked with human footprints. The water, too, is clear and fresh, no poison stain cad>be seen upon their faces, and my great thirst consumes me. I will stoop to drink."

Now as he did so the Spirit took the shape of a grey red-crested crane, and spoke to him. "I sent your brothers to their death," he said, "and unless you can answer my questions, you too, great King, shall follow where they have gone."

"Who art thou?" asked Yudhisthir boldly. "Make thyself known and what is required of

us."

"I am no bird," was the reply, "but a Rakshasa "; and even as he spoke the dreadful Being took shape, towering above the lofty palm-trees, shining in splendour brighter than the sun, glowing a ruddy colour like the evening cloud, and moving to and fro so as to dazzle the eyes of the beholder.

THE POOL OF ENCHANTMENT 153

"Question me," said the wise king, "for so, it seems, stands the law; and I will use what wisdom has been granted to me in mating answer."

The Spirit questions: What is it which helps a man to keep the soul free from the body, pure and holy, wise and lofty, rising above the thought of evil as the crane?'er-tops the reeds ?

The King replies: It is worship, so the holy 1 books inform us, and in the end the purified soul is freed from the body which encumbers it.

The Spirit questions: How can a man come to the knowledge of God ?

The King replies: By constant study of the holy books.

The Spirit questions: How can a man enjoy peace, do well the work entrusted to him, avoid sin, and keep his spirit meek ?

The King replies: By reading the holy books and by meditating upon their meaning, by avoiding slander and cruelty, which sears the soul.

The Spirit questions: Who is it that, having all the appearance of life, does not live at all ?

The King replies: The man who is blessed with goods and keeps all for himself, caring not for gods, or guests, or kindred, or friends.

The Spirit questions: What is that which is heavier than the world ? What mounts higher than the clouds ? What flies quicker than the winds ? What grows quicker than grass ?

The King replies: The love of a mother is more weighty than the earth. A father's fondness reaches

154 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

higher than the heavens. Thought can outstrip the winds, and sorrow grows quicker than grass.

The Spirit questions: Who sleeps with open eyes ? What is born alive but does not move ? What moves without having life within it ? What grows as it goes ?

The King replies: A fish sleeps with open eye. An egg is born alive but remains at rest. Stones roll but have no life. Rivers increase as they move to the sea.

The Spirit questions: What is the best help to goodness ? How can a man win fame ? What is the best path to heaven ? How shall a man win happiness ?

The King replies: Strength of will attains to goodness. Fame can be won with gifts of self. Truth is the -best path to heaven. A gracious spirit comes to happiness.

The Spirit questions: What are the second souls of men ? Who are the best friends ? What is the greatest of all joys ? How may poor men win wealth ?

The King replies: A man's sons are his second souls. His wife is his best friend. Health is the greatest of joys. A contented spirit is wealth untold.

The Spirit questions: What is the chief of virtues ? Which is the most fruitful ? What best can ease deep grief ?

The King replies: Charity is the best of virtues. Reverence is th?'most fruitful. Conquest of self gives rest.

THE POOL OF ENCHANTMENT 155

The Spirit questions: What enemy is hardest to conquer ? \\QiaLJisease Jtasts as Who is the most upright man?" wicked ?

The King replies: Anger is man's worst foe., The pain_oLgreed never^jforsakes the heart which hoWsjt He who jgvesjbest is^holie^ is most wicked of all.?'

The Spirit questions: Is a man holy by birth- right ? Does he make himself holy by reading of the sacred books or by living a true life ?

The King replies: No man wins holiness except by his conduct. If a man of an evil nature knew the holy^books right through, he would still he evil

"Most pious and learned Prince," said the Rakshasa, "you have replied to my questions with wisdom and truthfulness. But yet, tell me who lives although he is dead, and who is greatest and richest of all men?"

"Though a man's body die, his virtue and good- ness may survive. He is greatest and richest who has nothing, needs nothing, and so possesses all."

"Drink of this fair water, King?" said the Spirit, "and choose which of your four brothers shall join you again in the joy of life."

"Let Nakula live," said the king, "my beloved with the eyes of fire and the form of gracefulness."

"Why not Bhima or Arjun?" asked the Spirit.

"I am name?' the Just/ "said the king, "and c the Jus?' I will remain. Nakula is my half—brother, while the others are as my own soul. Shall my own

156

THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

mother see her sons returning in joy while the mothe of Nakula weeps her loss ? Let Nakula live."

Then the Voice spoke sweetly as the Fora receded. "Noblest of princes and wisest of men for thy love and justice all thy brothers here retun to thee."

STORY VI

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL

The Tale of a Prince who taught the Law by which all

Men must live

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL

UNDER the southern slopes of the snowy Himalaya lived a happy race of people who were ruled in justice and mercy by King Suddhodana and the good Queen Maya; and when a son was born to the royal pair there was great rejoicing in the palace, for the soothsayers had promised the new-born prince all the seven gifts of perfect kingship.

The king gave orders that his royal city should keep high festival in honour of the birth of the prince, who was to bear the name of Siddartha. The streets were therefore diligently swept and sprinkled with rose-water, the trees were hung with lamps and flags, and a whole army of entertainers was hired by the royal host to amuse the people. There came also into the city a numerous company of merchantmen, bringing rich gifts for the prince in trays of gold as a mark of gratitude for the king's good government, which made possible their peaceful and profitable traffic.

Among the . strangers who came to the festival was a grey-haired holy man, who, by his long and austere life, had acquired heavenly wisdom far beyond

T 59

i6o THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

that of any saint known in his day. The king and queen greeted him with special reverence, and made haste to lay the new-born prince at his feet. When he saw the boy he bowed before him, touching the dust eight times with his forehead as he would do in worship before the gods; and he murmured holy greetings which filled those who stood near him with wonder and with awe. "Thou shalt preach the Law," he said, "and save all men who learn the Law, though I shall never hear; for I shall die too soon, though of late I have longed to pass away."

Now when Prince Siddartha was seven days old his mother died, and the care of the child passed into the hands of the king, who lavished every kind of tenderness upon the motherless child, and tended him in person until the time came when he thought it wise to seek a tutor for the boy. He called a council of his wisest men and asked them who was to have charge of the young prince's education. They at once named a sage who had a reputation throughout the world for his intimate knowledge of the holy books, who was, moreover, learned in the subjects which enlist the interest, uplift the mind, and satisfy the soul of mortal men, and who knew also how to teach the prince the use of his hands.

The next day the sage came to the palace, and the prince was at once sent to receive his instructions. His father had given the boy a slate of ox-red sandal- wood, set all round the frame with precious stones, and sprinkled smooth with emery dust, upon which the little pupil was to trace his letters or figures as

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 161

required. The first lesson was what we call dicta- tion, and it lasted a very short time, for whatever verses from the holy books the sage recited were at once set down in writing by this wonderful pupil. "It is enough," said the astonished teacher at last. "Let us proceed to a lesson in counting. Repeat your numbers in due order one, two, three, four, to ten, and then by tens to hundreds, and to thousands." The pupil began and exceeded his instructions, for he went on to the numbers which are used to enumerate the grains in heaps of finest dust, then to those which are used to note the stars at night, and finally those which are only necessary in counting the drops of the ocean. "I could go further," softly murmured the child, "and give you those numbers which tell of all the drops that in ten thousand years would fall on all the world in daily rain."

"It is enough," said the sage, falling upon his face in reverence before his pupil. "You are the teacher of your teachers, and I worship you, sweet Prince. You come to my school to show that you possess all knowledge without the need of books, and that you know what is still better worth knowing how to reverence those older than yourself."

The teacher went his way, and Prince Siddartha was given into the charge of skilful men, whose know- ledge was not of books but of the chase and of all forms of manly exercise. And no bolder horseman in the band of youthful pupils ever rode forth to hunt; no more skilful driver of the chariot ever drove his car in triumph and boyish enjoyment

L

162 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

round the palace courts. But in the hunt the boy would often pause when the chase was hottest to let the deer pass free; or he would stop just when he seemed likely to win a chariot-race because the gallant horses appeared to be straining them- selves too much; and then he would stand looking straight before him with wistful gentle eyes as in a picture.

One beautiful day in the spring-time he stood in the royal garden, and happening to look upwards saw a flock of wild swans heading northwards to their nesting-places on the side of the snowy Hima- laya, and as they flew onward he heard the love-notes pass down the winged line. Then his cousin, Deva- detta, drew his bow and carelessly shot an arrow, which struck the wide wing of the leader, and the bird fell into the garden near the two princes. It was not killed, but its beautiful plumage was stained with drops of scarlet blood. Prince Siddartha took up the bird with tender care, and sitting down with ankles crossed his favourite attitude tried to soothe with tender words and gentle caresses the wild thing's fright. The bird, after a few nervous flutter- ings, settled down under his left hand, while with his right the prince drew the cruel arrow from the wound, which he dressed with cool, green leaves, anointed with honey. The boy, up to this moment, had known nothing of pain, but as he lifted up the arrow it happened to scratch his wrist, and he winced as he felt the sting. Then, understanding in some degree what the innocent creature had suffered, he

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 163

fondled and soothed it once more with renewed tenderness.

A messenger then came from his cousin, who had gone away in disgust at what he considered Prince Siddartha's weakness, to ask that the swan which he had shot should be sent to him. But the prince refused on the ground that the bird was not dead. "My cousin," he said sadly, "has merely destroyed the glorious speed with which the bird winged its way through the air."

Then Devadetta came to plead his own cause. "The bird belonged to no one in the clouds," he reasoned, "but being now on the ground it is the property of him who brought it down." Then Siddartha laid his smooth cheek against the swan's downy neck. "No," he said gently, "the bird is mine by right of mercy and the lordliness of love; but if the matter is to be in dispute let us submit it to the wise men." This was done at once, and one sage said this, the other that, until an unknown man arose who said, "He who saves a life owns it, not he who seeks to destroy it. Give Prince Siddartha the bird, for it is his own." This was done, and the king turned to reward the unknown counsellor, but no one could see him; but as they looked round the council hall they saw a snake glide silently over the threshold and quickly lose itself among the thick bushes of the palace garden; and all remembered that the gods sometimes take this form. Next day the prince set free the bird, which was now quite healed of its wound, and watched with pleasure, keener even than

164 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

that of a victorious hunter, how it mounted quickly through the air and joined its companions, which had hovered about the neighbourhood as if in search of their lost leader.

A little later the prince rode out with his father, who wished to show him the scenes of happy country life which gladden the hearts of the best when the winter has passed away and spring appears once more. The prince noted the country folk at their work, the mating birds in the forest, the villagers following their varied occupations, and under the spring sun all seemed beautiful, bright, and happy. But the boy saw into the heart of things more deeply even than his wise father. He saw how the sower and the ploughman were forced to work far beyond their strength in the effort to gain a scanty livelihood, how the animals and birds and fishes fought and preyed upon each other, and these things filled his heart with pity and sorrow. So he reined in his horse, sat down with ankles crossed, and fell into deep meditation on these weighty matters. He sat there thinking until long past noon, and, wonderful to relate, the shadow of the tree under which he sat did not move that day, and one who passed by and noticed this strange thing heard a voice, which whispered, "Let the prince alone, for till the shadow leaves his heart my shadow will not move."

II

When Prince Siddartha came to the age of eighteen years the king gave orders for the building of three

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 165

houses one of wooden beams and cosily lined with cedar wood, to provide a protection against the cold of winter; one of marble, cool and pleasant, to form a summer retreat; and one of brick, ornamented with tiles, to afford a pleasant place from which the varied scenes of the opening year could be observed. These houses were set in the midst of a large and pleasant garden with shady walks, fair lawns, and cooling streams, and the estate was given to Prince Siddartha for his own use and enjoyment. He found much pleasure in the king's gift, and showed true appreciation of it; but though life seemed to have showered upon the young prince every possible advantage, he was often very pensive and sad.

The king noticed this sadness, as indeed he could scarcely help doing, and calling together his ministers, he asked their advice upon the matter. He hoped to make his son a king of kings, a ruler of the rulers of the earth. Was this to be his destiny, or did his quietness and sadness foretell that his rule would be rather over the hearts and souls of men ?

"Seek a wife for him," said one of the sages, rather abruptly?"he will forget his sadness in the joy of her beauty and grace. Command a festival and summon to it the fairest maidens in the land. Let them contend in graceful exercises, and let the prince award and present the prizes. Then as the maidens pass before his seat it will be strange indeed if some one among them does not please him."

This advice seemed good to all the council, and the festival of maidens was proclaimed without

166 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

delay. They came in troops in answer to the call, with dark hair smoothly braided and dressed in shawls and robes of gayest hue, their slender toes and finger-tips fresh stained with crimson dye. The prince sat on his throne looking at them pleasantly but coldly, like one who stood aloof from all the world; and when a beautiful maiden came up to him, and the people around proclaimed her as more lovely than all the rest and more worthy of the richest prize, the prince gazed upon her with such an expression of lofty dignity mingled with gentle courtesy that the girl, after giving him one shy glance, fled back to the company of her mates with evident relief.

The presentation of prizes was drawing to a close, and to the despair of the king's counsellors Prince Siddartha had not yet shown any special favour to one of the maidens; but the last maiden of the band drew near, whose name was Yasodhara, and those about the prince saw him give a sudden start. She was indeed a girl of the rarest beauty, who, unlike the others, looked steadily in the face of the young prince, and, folding her arms across her bosom, asked in a low sweet voice, "Is there a gift for me?" "They have all been bestowed," said the princely youth, "but take from me this gift of my own to make amends." Thereupon he unfastened an emerald necklet which he wore about his throat and clasped it round her waist; and as he looked at her he knew that she was the bride for him.

Then the ministers, who had carefully noted all that had passed, went off in great haste to tell the

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 167

king, who was delighted at the success of the plan, and at once sent messengers to the father of Yaso- dhara to ask the hand of his daughter in marriage. "It is the custom," said the father of the girl, "that when a maiden of such a noble -house as mine is asked in marriage, the suitor shall first prove his skill in the arts of war, and this good custom cannot be broken even for a king so powerful as the father of Prince Siddartha. Let the youth show his strength in the bending of the bow. Let him wield the sword and manage a horse better than the crowd of suitors who already seek my child in marriage. He must be best among the best or he is not fit for the best of all maidens; and how he can prove his manliness after a life of contemplation more fitting for a hermit than a prince I, for one, fail to see."

When this message was reported to the king he was very sad, for he knew that the foremost warriors of the day had come to ask the hand of Yasodhara, and he had little confidence in the manly powers of his son. But the prince himself laughed low when he heard what message had been brought by his father's envoys, and he said to those about him, "I have learned these arts also, and I do not think I shall lose my love for all the warriors of greatest renown." Then it was announced that seven days later the Prince Siddartha would be prepared to meet all comers to match his skill against theirs for the prize of prizes, the beautiful Yasodhara.

On the appointed day the suitors came together, and the maiden was taken to the place of meeting

i68 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

dressed as a bride and surrounded by her kinsfolk. The prince came too, riding his white horse Kantaka, and as he passed along his eyes lingered longest upon the common people , who had come in great crowds to see the contest; nor could he help thinking that, after all, these people, like kings and nobles, had their joys and sorrows which also filled their lives but which were of little consequence in the eyes of the world. Then his eyes fell upon Yasodhara, and smiling gently he leapt to the ground and said aloud, "He is not worthy of this pearl of pearls who is not worthiest; let my rivals prove if I have dared too much in seeking her."

Then three of the suitors came up to the line for the arrow test and shot so far and so true to the mark that the princess dropped her golden .veil over her eyes as if she could not bear to see the arrow of her lover fail But Prince Siddartha gave orders for his target to be set up at such a distance that it seemed like a mere cowrie shell to those who stood near the mark. Then he took up the strong bow provided for him and strung it with such strength that it snapped in two. "This bow is for play and not for love," he said. "Is there no bow here which is fit for a warrior to wield?"

"There is a bow in the temple," he was told, "which no one yet known can string, nor draw when it is strung." "Fetch me," said the prince, "that weapon of a man." Then they brought the ancient bow, which was made of steel as black as ebony, and the prince challenged his rivals to the use of it.

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 169

But they failed in the task, and, with a happy smile of boyish triumph upon his face, Siddartha raised it, fitted an arrow, and sent it through the air like a lightning flash. It struck his far-off target, pierced it through, and skimmed along the plain for a great distance before it finally came to rest.

The three suitors, still undaunted, came now to the sword contest, and showed marvellous strength and skill in cleaving with one blow the trunk of a tree, the wood of which was particularly tough and unyielding. Then Siddartha selected two of these trees which grew close together and clove them both at one blow with perfect ease. So smooth was the cut that the upper part of the trees did not fall from their erect position, and the princess began to think that the edge of her prince's sword had failed. But as they watched, a gentle breeze sprang up, and the trees swayed for a moment and then fell, amid the loud shouts of all the beholders.

Then the rivals mounted their horses and a race began, in which Kantaka easily outstripped the others. "These steeds are tame," said one of the suitors; "fetch an unbroken charger and put the matter to a man's test." So they brought a fierce-eyed horse which no man yet had ridden and which was with difficulty restrained by three chains of ponderous weight. With manly courage the three rivals of Siddartha tried to ride the furious beast, but all were thrown, and one who showed most endurance, strength, and skill was only saved from being trampled to death by the help of the sturdy grooms.

iyo THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

Then Prince Siddartha stepped up to the in- furiated animal and, taking it by the forelock, spoke a gentle word in its quivering ear and laid his right palm across its eyes. Next he drew his hand softly down its face and along its neck and sides. In a few moments the animal stood calm and subdued, and did not stir even when the prince mounted upon its back. Then, obedient to the touch of his knee, it moved quietly across the plain.

A great shout now arose for the victor Siddartha, and it was suggested to the suitors that further contest would be useless. They agreed to waive their claims, reluctantly enough, and the father of the princess commended the victor, adding the remark that how a prince reared in a garden and spending his youth among bowers of roses could have learnt such mastery of the manly arts> passed all comprehension of mortal men.

Then at a given signal from her father, Yasodhara rose in her place and, taking a crown of flowers in her hand, stepped down and advanced slowly and grace- fully to meet her lover, who stood at the side of the black horse which he had just tamed by his gentle- ness. She bowed before the prince with unveiled face and flung the garland of fragrant flowers about his neck. Then for a moment only she laid her head upon his breast, and, stooping, touched his feet as she murmured gently, "Dear Prince, behold me, who am all thine own." At once the prince took the maiden by the hand, and when she had once more covered her face with her veil of black and gold the

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 171

happy pair passed slowly through the thronging crowd, who rejoiced loudly in the issue of that day. In due time the wedding feast was celebrated with all the customary rites, and the father of Yasodhara finally gave the maiden into the keeping of the young prince. "She that was ours," he said, "henceforth is only thine. Be good to her for her life is wrapped up in thee." Then Siddartha took his bride to a beautiful pavilion which the king had erected as a pleasure palace at the foot of the snowy Hima- laya.

Every effort was made to surround the prince with all that was pleasant and agreeable, and the king gave strict orders that among the young men and maidens who formed the household of the princely pair no mention should be made of death or age, sorrow, or pain, or sickness. If one of the attendants fell sick, he or she must leave that happy place at once. It was counted treason if a silver hair appeared among the tresses of a dancing girl, and she was at once removed. Each morning the dying roses were plucked from the trees and the dead leaves were carefully hidden. For the king was determined that no sign of decay or sadness should cause the prince to assume that wistfulness which had cast a shadow upon his youth before his happy union with Yasodhara. "So shall I see him grow fit to become the king of kings and glory of his time," said the monarch to himself, using words of which he little knew the meaning. And as a last precaution he built around the pavilion and its gardens a massive

172 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

wall, and in the wall a gate with folding doors of brass, so heavy that it took fifty men to move it. Within this gate he built a second and within that again a third, and the stern order issued to the three bands of warders was, "Let no man pass this triple gate, even if the prince himself should sue you for permission to go through."

m

The days passed in gentle quietness undisturbed by the troubles and chances of the outside world; but occasionally when the prince rested from the noonday heat Yasodhara would hear him murmur gently, "My world! I hear! I know! I come?" Then the bride's eyes would open wide in fear, and she would ask, "What ails my lord?" for his look was so lofty and remote that for the moment he seemed more than mortal. But, gently soothing her, he would call for music, and the young pair took almost childish delight in setting up on the window- ledge a gourd with strings through which the gentle breezes played the sweetest melodies. To the young bride the sounds were sweet enough, but to the bridegroom the airs played by the breezes seemed to come direct from heaven itself, not with soothing sweetness, but as a call to action.

"We are the voices of the wandering wind:

Wander thou too, Prince, thy rest to find; Leave love for love of lovers, for woe's sake Quit state for sorrow, and deliverance make."

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 173

The words of the song seemed to haunt the ears of the prince, and one morning he gave orders for his chariot to be prepared in order that he might go forth and see the world. News was brought to the king of his son's intention, and he made the best of the situation by giving consent to the prince's excur- sion, and sent his servants into the streets of his royal city to make the following proclamation: "Hear, ye citizens. It is the king's command that during this day there shall be seen in the city no blind, maimed, sick, or aged person, no leper or funeral ceremony. Let the streets be swept, watered, and perfumed, and red powder sprinkled on the steps of your houses. Let the trees be decked with flags and the idols freshly gilded."

The royal commands were instantly obeyed, and when the prince drove forth in his painted car drawn by two white humped oxen, the people greeted him with shouts of joy and welcome. "The world is beautiful after all," said the prince to those about him. "I pray you, take up that pretty boy who threw flowers to us and let him ride in my car." This was done at once, the child showing quiet pleasure at the novelty of his situation, and the little procession passed onward amid shouts of apprecia- tion at the gracious condescension of the prince. But in a moment the happy throng was checked by an old man clad in dirty evil-smelling rags, who crept from a hovel by the roadside and made his way with pain and labouring effort to the edge of the crowd around the car of the prince. In piteous tones he

i 7 4 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

begged for alms, and as he spoke a racking cough almost choked him. "Get to thy den," muttered those nearest to the old man, "before the prince shall see thy misery." But before he could be hustled out of sight the prince did indeed see him, and began to question the driver of his car about him. "He is old and worn,' 5 said the man, making light of his misery, "and he has had his day. Why should the Prince trouble himself about him?" "Then shall all who now are young and happy come at last to this?" asked the prince. "Even so," said the man, "Shall it be thus with me, and with Yasodhara, and with this happy child here in my car?" he went on. "It shall be so indeed," was the reply. "Then turn and drive me home again," said the prince, with a wistful look in his eyes and a cloud across his brow.

The man obeyed, and in spite of all the efforts of the attendants in the high-walled palace of pleasure there was no happiness for the prince that day/ As evening drew on Yasodhara sank at his feet and cried, "Hath not my lord comfort in me?" "We shall grow old, my bride," said Siddartha, with a frown upon his brow, "old and ugly and all my thoughts are how to cheat Time of his victory." And through all the night he sat with ankles crossed, sleepless and refusing to be comforted. News was brought to the king of his son's sadness, but all that he could think of was to double the guard at the triple gateway in the ponderous wall of the palace of pleasure.

A few days later the prince sent a message to the

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 175

king, begging for leave to see the city in its usual state. "I ought to know my people and their simple ordinary ways and learn the nature of the lives of those who are neither kings nor princes," The king wisely gave his consent, but consoled him- self with the thought that familiarity with scenes of unhappiness and misery would perhaps prevent the prince from thinking too deeply upon them. So on the next day the prince, disguised as a merchant, went out with a companion named Channa who was dressed as a clerk, and the two took their way on foot into the town, where they mingled with the crowds in the busy streets.

They saw the traders sitting cross-legged among their wares, and the buyers driving their hard bargains. They heard the hoarse shouts to clear the road when some lordly person was driven by on an elephant, or a closed litter was borne quickly past to the tune of the bearers' song. Here was a housewife bearing water from the well with her black- eyed children balanced on her hips. There was a weaver busy at his loom, there a woman grinding corn between the millstones, and in a quiet side-street a barber attending to the toilet of a customer. They peeped into a school and saw the children seated in a half-moon round their teacher while they chanted their verses in a childish sing-song.

These and many other sights of daily life they saw, and they noted all with the keen interest of travellers from a far-off land. Now as they passed along they heard a mournful voice which cried,

176 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

"Help, masters! lift me to my feet; oh, help! or I shall die before I reach my home?"

They looked down and saw a poor plague- stricken wretch writhing in the dust at their feet, the sweat standing in great beads upon his brow, while his mouth twitched with the agony of his sufferings. The prince ran forward at once, and tenderly raising the man, laid his head upon his knee and gently tried to soothe him, but in his ignorance of disease and pain he was not able to be of any real help to the sufferer. "What is it, Channa?" he asked in anxious tones. "What makes him writhe and moan?" "He is stricken with some foul disease, 55 was the reply, "and it must work its way with him before death brings him sweet relief. But, my Prince, it is not good that you should hold him so, for the disease may pass from him to you. 55

"Are there others like him ? 55 asked the prince, paying no heed to his companion^ warning, "and shall I come to a like condition?" "Sickness comes to all men," said his companion, "and it comes like the sly snake at times, to strike when one is least prepared. 35 "And what comes at the end of all?" asked the prince. "Death, 5—5 was the answer.

The eyes of the prince suddenly filled with tears, and he turned his face upwards to the sky as if he saw some vision. "At last," he said, "my eyes are opened. I am as other men, prone to sickness, liable to death. Yet there must be help for all, for if I were one of the gods I would not let one cry who

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 177

needed help. Channa, lead me home again. I have seen enough."

So they took their way back to the palace of pleasure, and when the king heard what had passed he set a still stronger guard upon the triple gate.

IV

Through many hours of contemplation it was borne in upon the heart of Prince Siddartha that his life within the palace of pleasure, guarded by the lofty wall and shut in by the triple gate, was utterly unworthy of him. He was at heart by no means weary of his lovely home, its smiling gardens, its palaces enriched with all that the greatest artists could conceive and execute, its laughing, joyous attendants and the tender love of his youthful bride. These things filled him with joy for which there is no expression, but the sorrows of the outer world called him insistently, urged him to leave all that was pleasant and ennervating, and to take a part in righting wrongs and relieving the burden of the world. The great decision was reached one night when all but the prince were sunk in peaceful slumber. The midnight sky sparkled with countless stars, and the cool air fanned the flushed cheeks and brow of the prince as he took his solemn vow of renunciation, while Yasodhara slept.

"summoning stars, I come! mournful earth! For thee and thine I lay aside my youth, My throne, my joys, my golden days, my nights,

M

178 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

My happy palace and thine arms, sweet Queen!

Harder to put aside than all the rest!

Yet thee, too, I shall save, saving this earth;

Now am I fixed, and now I will depart,

Never to come again, till what I seek

Be found if fervent search and strife avail."

Then bending down he touched the feet of Yaso- dhara with his brow, and fondly gazed upon her as she slept in peace. Three times he tried to leave her but thrice came back. Then with one last lingering look he passed out of the house into the quiet garden, where, looking upward, he seemed to see the stars still beckoning to him, while the gentle wind fluttered the fringe of his robe. A soft and soothing sound as of gentle music from the skies seemed to whisper in his ears, and the blossoms of the garden unfolded their petals to send forth odours of heavenly fragrance. For a short time he stood as if to gather strength and inspiration for his mission. Then, rousing him- self, he walked rapidly towards the place where Channa slept and in a sharp tone of command bade him awake and bring out his charger Kantaka.

The charioteer rose slowly from his couch. "Why does my lord desire to ride when all the world is asleep?" he asked in wondering drowsi- ness.

"Speak low," said the prince, "and bring my horse, for the hour is come when I must leave this golden prison to go in search of the Truth."

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 179

"Will you let the world slip from your grasp," asked Channa, "to hold a beggar's bowl?"

"The kingdom that I seek," was the answer, "is greater than all the realms of earth. Bring me forth Kantaka."

"Thy father," said Channa timidly, "what of his grief?"

"I go to save him also," was the quiet reply. "Bring me forth Kantaka."

The man made no reply, but, entering the stable, saddled and bridled the snowy charger and led him quietly to the place where the prince awaited him. When the noble horse saw his master he neighed joyously, and then all had been discovered if the celestial messengers who hovered unseen over that quiet place during all this fateful night had not laid their downy wings upon the ears of the sleepers and kept the secret sure.

"I go, Kantaka," said the prince, softly caressing his charger, "the farthest journey ever rider rode. Be fierce and bold and stay not though a thousand swords should bar the path. Outstrip the whirl- wind's flight, be fire and tempest! Help me to help mankind nay, more than mankind all living creatures."

Then the prince sprang lightly to the saddle, and though Kantaka's hoofs rang loudly on the stones none heard him, for the celestial messengers plucked flowers of blood-red hue and sprinkled them before him; and when he reached the triple gate the doors rolled noiselessly back, and a slumberous breeze

i8o THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

sprang up which wrapped the guards in heavy sleep. So the prince passed out from the palace of pleasure with Channa close at his charger's heels, rode some distance from the gateway, and then dis- mounting as the morning dawned, kissed Kantaka between the eyes. "Lead back my horse, Channa," he said, "and take with you these royal robes, for which I have no further use, my sword belt and the sword with which I sever here the long locks from my brow. Give them all to the king, and tell him that I will return when by service I have won the right and power to rule, when I am ready to save the world by casting away all that I call my own."

In the side of a mountain, away from the dwellings of men, but within sight and sound of the green town ruled by King Bimbisara, there was a cave whose entrance was gently guarded by the drooping boughs of a wild fig-tree; and here Prince Siddartha made his home, dressed in the yellow robe of a mendicant, living on what he could beg from the charitable, sunk in silent meditation, and during the heat of the day sitting, with ankles crossed, so still that the shy squirrel would often leap upon his knee, the timid quail would lead her young between his feet, and the gentle doves peck at the rice grains in the wooden bowl beneath his hand.

He was known as a Rishi in the town beneath his retreat, and whenever he came into the streets

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 181

holding his begging-bowl before him, the people made haste to fill it, for they loved the mild expression of his countenance, and as he passed the mothers would command their little ones to stoop and kiss his feet, or to lift with reverence the hem of his robe to their smooth foreheads, or to do him some little kindly service, such as filling his jar or fetching him milk and cakes; and the gentle maidens, gazing at his manly form, his uplifted head and princely carriage, would silently pray that the love of their hearts should be fixed upon one so noble and so good. So, unconsciously, without a word of speech but with all gentle quietness, he raised the hearts of men and women, and enriched their souls with heaven's own radiance. Then he would leave the town and go back to his cave, where, after a time, he was visited by holy men with whom he would discuss matters of life and death and judgment.

Half-way between his retreat and the town there was a colony of those men who use every art to torture their bodies in the hope of saving their souls. One day the prince visited one of these men and said to him, "My brother, why do you add to the pains of life which is in itself so painful ? Tell me, for I am one who seeks the Truth."

"It is only by the torture of the flesh," was the reply, "that the soul gains power to live."

"It is a strange belief," said the prince, "to spoil the fair house in order to save its inmate." Then the ascetics cried out upon him, "This is our road of life, and we will tread it to the end though

182 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

all its stones were glowing coals. Tell us of a more excellent path if indeed you know of one. If not, leave us in such peace as we can win."

The prince passed sadly onward, but as he looked upon the flowers of the field holding up their bright faces to the sun, the waving palm-trees whispering of happy peace, and the mating birds nesting in their shade, he seemed to see a world of better things than self-inflicted torments. And as he stood in silent musing he saw slowly approaching him a number of goats and sheep coming down with the herdsmen as if to pasture on the plains. There was a ewe with twin lambs among the woolly flock, and the prince noticed that one little lamb had been hurt and limped bleeding behind its mother, which bleated piteously as if asking some kind heart for help. Then the prince raised the lamb in his arms and put it across his shoulders. "Peace, silly mother," he said in soothing tones, "I will bear your burden. Surely it is as good to ease one heart of grief as to sit in yonder caverns watching and thinking without seeking in some degree, however slight, to soften the sorrows of the world."

^ As he walked along with the little lamb across his shoulders, the prince asked the herdsmen why they were taking their flocks down into the valley before evening, which was the time for leading them to the folds. "We have been bidden, Master," they said, "to provide for the king a sacrifice of a hundred sheep and as many goats."

"I will go down with you to this ceremony,"

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 183

said the prince, and they were quite content, for they felt somehow that whatever this man should do at any time would be right and wise; and whenever they spoke to him they addressed him as Master, a name which his dignity and air of authority, along with his gentle courtesy, had earned for him among all men and women with whom he spoke.

Now when they came down to the bank of the river there met them a young woman whom the Master had seen some days before; for she had come to his cave with her little boy, who had been stung by a serpent, asking him to tell her of some- thing which would cure the child; and he had told her to go and get black mustard-seed, but not to take it from any house in which there had been a death.

This woman now came forward asking the Master whether he remembered what had happened, and he at once smiled gently but sadly in recognition, asking her whether she had found the seed.

"I went from house to house and from hut to hut," she answered, "asking for the black mustard- seed, and there were many willing "enough to give it, but when I asked whether Death had visited the house I found that his visits had been only too frequent not a home but had been saddened by his call. So, again and again, while my boy grew colder and colder at my bosom, I gave back the seed, for I could not find a single house where none had died. So I left my child by the side of the

184 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

stream and came to you to ask where I might find the seed and yet find no death,"

"Sister," said the Master gently, as one speaks in a house of death, "when you brought the child to me yesterday I knew him to be dead and beyond the recall even of thy great love; and I took this means of showing you how the whole world weeps with you. Learn that the grief which all hearts share grows less for one,"

Then the Master went on his way with the herds- men until at last they came to the gates of the city, where the guards stood aside when they saw the prince with the lamb across his shoulders; and as they passed through the crowded streets the people paused in their occupations to watch so strange a sight. "Who is this gracious lord," they asked, "with eyes so sweet and tender?" And others said that it was the holy man who lived in the cave upon the hill-side. But the Master walked onward, paying no heed to any of them. "Alas?" he said to himself, "for those sheep of mine who have no shepherd, wandering in the night with none to guide them?"

Meanwhile a messenger had gone on in advance to tell the king that a holy man was coming to the sacrifice bearing a lamb upon his shoulders. In a short time the Master reached the place where the priests were offering the sacrifice, while the blood of the innocent victims ran down from the smoking altar in a scarlet stream. The priest was just about to kill a goat when the Master stepped forward

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 185

and, with a quiet gesture of command, stopped him. He seemed so great and so full of divine authority that no one questioned his right to give commands, and when all looked at him in amazement and reverence he spoke to them of life which all can take so readily but which none have the power to bestow as a gift. Every creature, he said, loved its life and strove to keep it, even the meanest and poorest of the earth, and it was a foolish idea to think that any man could set right the wrong which his sins had worked by spilling the blood of innocent trustful animals such as the lamb which he had carried on his shoulders from the mountains. He spoke so gently and in such pleading tones that the priests found themselves unconsciously drawing their robes over their blood-stained hands, and the king came forward to the Master with a look of reverence to hear more clearly, and without missing a word, the wonderful discourse in which he pleaded for peace and goodwill henceforward between men and the living creatures which they could make to bow to their will. At last the priests in a frenzy of sorrow and repentance scattered the flaming embers from the altars and flung away the sacrificial knives; and next day the king made a decree that the sacrifice should be no longer known among them, and that men should dwell in peace and amity with all the rest of living creatures.

The king now took pains to make the further acquaintance of the Master, and was astonished to learn that a man of royal birth should become a

186 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

hermit and live a life of such stern self-denial. "Your hands," he said, "were never meant to grow thin and transparent under the rigour of the fast, but to wield the sceptre of a world-wide empire. I have no son to follow me. Stay with me, teach my people wisdom, and when I die rale them in my place."

"I had all these powers in my hands," said Prince Siddartha, "and renounced them to seek the Truth, which indeed I am still seeking, and will seek though the door of Heaven should open and celestial beings beckon me within. My mission is to form and rule no earthly monarchy however great and wide, but the Kingdom of the Law. There is yet light to reach and truth to win, and I go hence to seek it. If I find it, however, I will surely return to you and repay you for your love and kindness."

So the Master passed onward, having found after six years' stay in that place only brief glimpses of the Truth and of the working of that Law by which all men must live.

VI

To the north-west of the Ganges valley lies a thorny waste broken with sandhills, and on the edge of it a fresh green wood through which flows a quiet stream dappled with blossoms of the lotus flower and full of glancing fish and tortoises. Near this river stood the village of Senani, a small place of humble huts roofed with grass, inhabited by peaceful

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 187

tillers of the soil who knew nothing of the ways of townsfolk.

Here Prince Siddartha made his home, living once more as a hermit, and so wrapped in medita- tion that he took no thought for the needs of the body; and after a long course of self-denial and self- forgetfulness he fell one day into a deep swoon of exhaustion. He was found in this state by a shepherd boy, who made a bower of branches from a wild apple-tree to shade his face and head from the burning rays of the sun, and poured drops of warm milk upon his lips. Now as the boy performed these acts of charity he was astonished to see the simple shelter which he had woven become a lovely bower of living branches which burst forth into glowing blossoms closely interlaced. Revived by the, shade and the refreshment, the Master awoke and graciously thanked the youth for his timely help . Then he asked for more milk, but the shepherd was unwilling to come nearer to the holy man who seemed so princely, and so far removed from him in rank and dignity. But the Master reassured him, saying that kindness such as he had shown was the great leveller and that he would be proud to drink from his shepherd's bottle.

On the next day a band of dancing girls passed by the retreat of the prince, the silver bells at their ankles chiming soft peals as they leapt lightly from ledge to ledge of the rocky pathway which led downward to the village. They were accompanied by a man who carried a stringed instrument known

i88 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

as a sitar, and as they came he played a merry air to which one of the girls was singing. The song was one of pleasure, and one of the verses ran:

"The string?'erstretched breaks, and the music

flies;

The string?'erslack is dumb, and music dies; Tune us the sitar neither low nor high."

The words reached the ears of the holy man, who in his humility was ready to learn a lesson even from this careless band. "The foolish at times can teach the wise," he said to himself?" it may be that I strain my string of life too much, and that in trying to save all men I shall only succeed in losing my- self."

Now the village of Senani was owned by a rich and kindly landowner, after whom the place had been named, and who with his beautiful wife was well known for his charity and condescension. He lived a life of quiet happiness clouded only by the fact that he had no son. For a long time his wife prayed to the gods for this inestimable gift, and at last, be- cause she was so kind and gracious to the poor, and so well fitted to rear and instruct a boy and to lead him on from virtuous youth to vigorous manhood, a son was sent to her, and the joy of herself and her lord was almost beyond all bounds. She took the first opportunity of going to the woods to offer, accord- ing to the custom in which she had been reared, a thank-gift to the gods, which she carried in a dainty bowl upon her head, while her right arm encircled

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 189

the baby boy who nestled cosily to his mother's side, wrapped round by her delicate veil.

She sent a servant before her to sweep a path for her feet and to tie scarlet threads about the tree which stood near the shrine of the woodland god; and as she drew near to the place she saw, to her surprise, the figure of Prince Siddartha sitting wrapt in contemplation with his ankles crossed and his hands upon his knees. She thought, of course, that this was surely the wood-god himself, and drawing near to the Master she bent and kissed the ground before him, asking him in humble tones to accept her gift of snow-white curds freshly made with milk as white as new-carved ivory.

The prince spoke not a single word, and when the mother had anointed his hands with attar of roses from a golden flask, he ate the refreshing curds and felt new life run through his veins.

"Hath my gift found favour?" asked the mother in a trembling voice of touching sweetness, and when the prince smiled gently upon her she ventured to come nearer to him and half-shyly, but very proudly, held the child towards his hands. The prince gently moved the delicate veil from the little one, and, laying his hands upon its head, said very quietly but very solemnly, "I am no god, but thy brother, mother of a man. May his happiness and yours be long, and may the load of life press gently on him. For six years I have sought the light which lightens all men's darkness, and it dawned upon me, glorious and helpful, when your gracious gift brought back

190 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

the throbbing life into my veins. You shall teach me wisdom. Tell me, does life and love such as you possess prove sufficient for all your needs ? Let me learn the lesson from the lips of a loving mother with her babe upon her breast."

"My heart is small," said the mother, "and its needs are few. A little rain which will fill the cup of the lily will scarce suffice to moisten the field. It is enough for me to feel secure in the love of my lord and to watch the smile of my child. My days are uneventful, as the busy world counts events, filled with the cares of my household, the reverent worship in the temple, the talk with friends, and all the quiet ways of virtue and of peace. As for my belief, I know that hatred breeds hate, friendliness makes faithful friends, and patience brings peace to the soul. As for our after-life, i?' No?' is so good, shall not c The?' be good also, or even better ? I know full well that life has sorrows to be borne, and, for myself, if my sweet child should die, I think my heart would break indeed I hope it would, for then I might still clasp him to my bosom and await my Lord in whatever world receives faithful wives and tender mothers. As for Senani, if Death should call him, I would gladly mount the funeral pile and lay his head for the last time upon my lap. My life is glad, my Master, though I am no guide to others; and yet I do not forget others whose lot is not cast in pleasant places, and I do what I can and so also does my lord to relieve their woes and soften their afflic- tions by tender kindliness,"

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 191

"You teach those who would teach, "said the prince, "and are wiser than wisdom in your sim- plicity. You who have offered worship to me, un- worthy as I am, are more deserving of my reverence. Peace go with you and comfort all your days. May I reach at length to the pure wisdom of the happy mother with her child upon her breast."

"May it be so," said the woman with heartfelt earnestness, as her eyes rested once more upon the child at her bosom, who, as if he knew his friend, without any instruction stretched out his hands to the prince, who stroked them gently as he rose to his feet. Then he took his way alone to a great and spreading tree, which was destined never to know the touch of decay in memory of the Law of Truth which the Master had learnt in its vicinity, and which was to be known in all after ages as the Tree of Wisdom. As he passed under its ample shade, the flowers sprang into life beneath his feet and the boughs bent down to weave a grateful shade above his head. From the river not far away came cool and gentle breezes laden with sweetest scents, and the beasts which had come down to drink by its margin- panthers, boars, and deer raised their wondering eyes to look at the Master who had been led to the threshhold of the highest wisdom by the aid of a mother and her child.

VII

Meanwhile King Suddhodana sorrowed greatly for the loss of his son, that prince upon whom all his

THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

earthly hopes had been set; and more sorrowful still "r as Yasodhara, who waylaid all travellers who visited 'the --king's palace, eagerly questioning them as to 'whether in their wanderings they had met with Prince Siddartha.

One day in the spring-time she sat idly by the stream which flowed through her lovely garden. Her eyes were wet with tears, her cheeks were wasted with sorrow, and her lips were drawn with grief. Her beautiful tresses were hidden in the fashion of those women who mourn for the death of their husbands, and her dress was entirely lacking in those ornaments with which princesses deck them- selves; but in her listless fingers she held a girdle set thick with pearls which she had found on the floor of the prince's chamber on the morning after his flight. Near her played her little son Rahula, now seven years old, whose face and gestures gave her mingled joy and sorrow, for they continually reminded her of her absent lord. The boy was laughing light- heartedly, and throwing rice to feed the blue and purple fish which darted through the stream.

Now as the mother sat there, taking no pleasure in the beauty of the morning, some of the maidens of the court came to tell her that a company of merchants had just arrived at the south gate of the town, having travelled from the coast, where they had obtained rich merchandise of many kinds. "But they bring more than these things," said the maidens, their voices trembling with excitement, "for they say that they have seen Prince Siddartha face to face,

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 193

that he has become a great Teacher known through- out the world for his wisdom, and that he is on his way here on his way here at last?"

Yasodhara rose to her feet. "Call those men to me," she said, "and let them tell me all they know, and say that if their tale is true, I will fill their bosoms with such treasure as kings might envy." Without loss of time the men were brought into the palace garden and conducted to the princess, who eagerly questioned them.

"We have indeed seen the Master, Princess," said one of them, "and we have bowed before his feet, for he has learnt all Wisdom. He is well in health, as all are well who live the life of virtue which he preaches, and from town to town he goes with his message of Truth. And before the first rain falls he will be here."

The princess thanked the merchants gracefully and gave them such gifts as their richest merchandise could not equal. "But by what road does my lord come?" she asked, and the men were able to tell her so exactly that mounted messengers were sent out by the king to meet the prince and assure him of the eager welcome which awaited him. "Tell him," said the anxious monarch, whose sole idea of a happy succession had never left him, "to come and claim his rightful place as the future sovereign of this realm." But the message of the princess ran, "Tell him that the mother of his boy Rahula longs to see his face and craves to share those treasures which he has found in his absence, that whether he

N

i 9 4 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

returns as prince or beggar she desires himself alone."

Now when the messengers came to the Master he was talking in earnest tones to a company of people who seemed to be entranced with the wonder of his words and the divine beauty of his face as he spoke; and in the strange joy of listening to that voice they forgot for a while the messages with which they had been entrusted. They gazed, as if spell-bound, upon the Master and hung upon his words, and while he spoke they had no thought of interrupting him. The king grew impatient at the delay, which seemed longer than it really was, and when one came to tell him that his envoys had not yet delivered their messages because of their reluct- ance to interrupt the Master, he sent his chief counsellor as his ambassador; and this wise man plucked tufts of tree-wool as he went and stopped his ears with them so that he might not be charmed from his duty by the wonder of the Master's teaching. In this way he was able to deliver, though with all courtesy and reverence, the messages sent by the king and the Princess Yasodhara.

"I will go/ 3 said the prince. "It is not only my duty but also my desire. Let the king and the princess know that I come without delay." This message was at once carried to the eager watchers, and hasty preparations were made to greet the prince in a manner worthy of his royal rank. But Yaso- dhara, eager to be the first to meet him, went in her litter to the gate of the city, from which she could see

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 195

far along the road which led to the southward; and she saw a man approaching slowly, a yellow cloth cast over his shoulder in the fashion of the hermits. In his hand he carried an earthen bowl shaped like a melon, and as he came to each lowly hut by the roadside he asked and gratefully received the alms which are never refused by those who look for blessings, and who value the lessons of Truth and Virtue taught by the wandering teachers. But in spite of his mendicant's dress and habit, this man was of such a noble and lordly appearance, and moved with such an air of dignity and command, that those who gave him alms gazed upon his face and form as if he were divine, and some, when they had given their offering, felt a sudden shame creep over them at the smallness of their gifts, and hurried home to bring presents of greater value. Slowly the Master drew near to the place where the princess was waiting. Then the curtains of her litter were with- drawn, and with unveiled face she stepped down, her hands tightly clasped upon her breast, and fell sobbing upon his feet.

But when the king heard how the prince had come, dressed like a mendicant and carrying the beggar's bowl in which he collected alms, his anger drove from his heart all love for his son. He rose from his seat, plucked angrily at his beard, and, entering the courtyard, mounted his war-horse with a frown upon his brow. Then, putting spurs to his

196 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

horse's flanks, he rode so swiftly through the streets of the town that the people wondered greatly, and had scarcely time to cry to each other, "It is the king, bow down before him?" In a few moments the angry monarch reached the place where the prince already sat with a crowd of attentive pupils around him. The Master rose to his feet and approaching the king sank down on one knee before him with a gesture at once both proud and humble.

The king's eyes softened as he looked at Siddartha, but in a short time his anger again rose uppermost, and he said, "Is this the end, then, of all our waiting and the result of our proffered welcome to a prince, that he steals into his kingdom dressed in the garments of a beggar, shorn and sandalled, begging alms of low-born people he whose life in the palace of pleasure was like that of the gods in their celestial seats ? You ought to have come dressed in accord- ance with your rank, surrounded by shining spears and riding amid the tramp of horse and foot. See, my soldiers camped in thousands on the road, and all my people waited with an eager welcome upon their lips to greet you at the city gates. Where have you lived through all these barren years while your father mourned for you as one worse than dead, and the princess lived as a widow, setting aside all the joy of life in her sorrow ? Son! tell me, why is this?"

"My father," was the quiet answer, "it is the custom of my race."

"Thy race," said the king, "is royal, but in all its

THE PRINCE WONDERFUL 197

glorious history there is no record of a deed like this."

"I speak not of mortal race," replied the prince, "but of invisible descent and spiritual kinship. For I am of the race of those who teach the ways of Truth and Virtue and to whom the glories of this earth are vain and empty. Through love for men they attain to power over the hearts of mortals, beside which the dominion of an earthly

"What treasure?" asked the king in great amazement.

Then the Master took him by the hand and led him through the lanes of wondering people, with Yasodhara walking with them step by step. And as they paced slowly along he told the monarch of the wonderful lessons he had learnt in his journeying, of what things make for peace and purity, of the noble Truths which hold all heavenly Wisdom as the shore encloses the sea. So they came at last into the porch of the palace, the king with a peaceful smile upon his face, his brow smoothed of its angry frown, his ears drinking in the gracious manly words of the Master, and his royal hand grasping the beggar's bowl.

So they entered together the Way of Peace; and when the Master's discourse at length was finished the king rose from his throne and, putting off his

198

THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

sandals, bowed low before his son, kissing the hem of his poor robe. "Take me, son," he said, "to be the least and lowliest of all your disciples." And Yasodhara, with a heart overflowing with happiness, cried out as she held her boy before her, "Give to Rahula the Treasure of the Kingdom of thy Word as the richest inheritance that any prince could win."

STORY VII

SABALA, THE SACRED COW A Tale of the Pearl of Ruminant Creatures

SABALA, THE SACRED COW

THE Elephant among Kings was, without a doubt, the monarch Visvamitra. He was of great height and haughtiness, and descended from the gods them- selves. The neighbouring princes were all at heart afraid of him, and this secured peace for his kingdom and happiness for his people; but not for the king himself, who felt that the unbroken calm and prosperity of his reign somewhat resembled a continuous feast of sandesa, which, as you know, is made of curds and sugar, and is only suitable in its proper time and season. In a few words, the king longed for the excitement of war, and he began to wonder how he could obtain this stimulant.

Two things were necessary an army to fight with, and another one to fight. As a rule the latter is more readily found than the former, but Vis- vamitra was very favourably situated with regard to the number of his followers, who were eagerly longing for a few battles. It was much more difficult to find an enemy, for the king was so prosperous and generous that every one professed the greatest friendship for him. When, therefore, all men

201

202 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

flocked to his banner, and no one set up an oppos- ing standard, the disconsolate would-be victor was forced to set out on the march and look for an enemy.

Over hill and dale went the splendid army of horse and foot, archers and elephants, through the depths of dark and trackless forests, and by the walls of mighty cities, always on the look-out for adventures and the opportunity of making conquests which would render the name of their leader famous through- out the world. But no monsters or mortal foes presented themselves to be beaten, and adventures seemed purposely to avoid the warriors who sought for them with such assiduity.

In due time the king and his army came to the hermitage of the eminent saint named Vasishtha. It was a beautiful place in the heart of a forest, surrounded by kingly trees crowned with golden blossoms which spread out their topmost branches to make a delicious shade without darkness or obscurity, and to protect the place from tempestuous winds. Hermits flocked to this pleasant spot from all parts of India to listen to the wise words of Vasishtha and to sing the praises of his fascinating cow, Sabala, the white-skinned Pearl among Ruminant Creatures.

The hermit greeted the king with reverent courtesy, and paid him the great compliment of inviting him to be seated on the sacred grass. Then he brought him sweet roots and berries, as well as a vessel of water to wash the dust from his tired

SABALA, THE SACRED COW 203

feet. Having performed these hospitable ceremonies he proceeded to make respectful inquiries after the king's health and fortunes. The king, not to be outdone in courtesy, made inquiries after the matters which were of interest to the sage, asking whether his followers, his sacred fires, and his groves gave him entire satisfaction. The hermit assured his royal visitor that all was well with him, and begged him to become his guest for a season, promising to prepare for him and his fighting men such a banquet as would be worthy of the best of them.

Now the monarch, like many other visitors, found it easy enough to be polite and pleasant for a short time, but did not contemplate with ardour the prospect of a prolonged stay in the sacred grove, and an unvarying diet of sweet roots and berries. So he begged to be excused, saying, "Bull among Anchorites, the sight of your exalted countenance is a feast of good things in itself, and the wise words which fall from your lips are as rain in the desert, or the shadow of a palm-tree in the noonday heat. But really, I must be going."

The sage, however, pressed Visvamitra to remain, and, unwilling to acquire a reputation for discourtesy, the king at last consented to stay, not without some qualms as to the nature of the food which would be set before him and his men.

"I shall be fed upon roots and berries, berries and roots," he said to himself in a doleful undertone, "and neither my men nor myself are accustomed to such a diet. We must, however, make the best of it,

20 4 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

and pretend to enjoy the simple fare which is set before us." The king then sent messengers through- out his army bidding the men refrain from any rude comment upon the nature of the entertainment which might be offered to them.

ii

Meanwhile the eminent sage was engaged in a most important conversation with the Pearl among Ruminant Creatures, which had a great liking for being approached in a worthy manner and for those gems of speech which purchase favour. "My beauteous Sabala," said the sage, "my gentle, loving, and well-loved friend and benefactor, you are well aware how much we owe to the favour of great kings, and how by killing each other their fighting men make peaceful, shady, and cool groves for you and me. Now this monarch who deigns to visit us is filled with the cravings of hunger. Shall it be told of us hereafter that he left this hospitable hermitage with those cravings unsatisfied ? Light of my Eyes! will you not provide a feast, excellent in quality and overflowing in quantity, which will satisfy the appetites of this king and his fighting men, who, if report speaks truly, can eat at one meal sufficient to last myself or you for a year or even longer?"

Charmed with the soothing and flattering words, Sabala lovingly rubbed her cold nose against her master's cheek, and the sage knew that his request

SABALA, THE SACRED COW 205

was to be granted in rich abundance. Nor was he disappointed, for his eyes were soon satisfied with the sight of a profusion of honey, sugar-canes, mudki, and sandesa, as well as mountains of boiled rice, sweet pastry, cakes, jams, and all kinds of sweetmeats, to say nothing of delicious drinks distilled from the sweetest flowers, and whole rivers of curdled milk.

The soldiers of Visvamitra were delighted to behold so many good things, having expected nothing more than extra rations of roots and berries, and they feasted and rejoiced to their hearts' content. But, strange to say, the feast had the opposite effect upon the king, who began to think that things were not quite right when this poor recluse could com- mand such a feast without any exertion on his own part, while a mighty king like himself would be obliged to put himself to a great deal of trouble and expense before he could obtain half as many good things. He began, indeed, to think that the holy man was, in a very real sense, guilty of treason.

So completely did this gloomy thought take possession of the king, that he refused to partake of any of the dainties, and upon being pressed to do so by the sage, he said:

"Hear me, holy man! Your Sabala is, without question, a very Pearl among Ruminant Creatures, but I am not sure that she is really yours. As you know, being learned in the law, kings have a right to the jewels discovered in their realms, and on this account the wonderful cow is my own. I will not,

ao6 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

however, press this lawful claim of mine. Let me offer you, in all friendliness and sincerity, a hundred thousand cows in exchange for your immaculate Sabala."

"I will not exchange her for one hundred million cows," said the sage, without a moment's hesitation. "You may as reasonably expect to conclude a sordid bargain with the gods for the radiance of the sun, or to find a sage who would accept a worldly price for his wisdom."

The king's face grew dark with anger. "It is strange to me," said he, "how a sage who has acquired a world-wide reputation for plain living, and for doing without the things in which ordinary men take pleasure, should keep in his grove a creature which is able to provide so much food of the richest kind. The animal's power to do this must be at times a temptation to your saintliness, and it would be well if I could remove this snare from your path; in fact I should really become your benefactor,"

"It is not needful," said the sage very wisely, "there is no credit in virtue which is not assaulted by temptation."

Foiled in his arguments, the angry king began to pace to and fro. "I will give you, then," he said, after a few moments, "fourteen thousand elephants, richly caparisoned, eight hundred chariots of ivory, each with four nimble coursers, and ten million cows with speckled coats as soft as silk. I advise you to accept my offer, for it is a custom among kings

SABALA, THE SACRED COW 207

to take by force what cannot be purchased for money."

"Woe is me?" said the peaceful sage, now con- siderably disturbed by the anger of the king. "This Pearl among Ruminant Creatures is all my life. From her I obtain the offerings which I make to the gods, the pure butter which feeds the sacred fire, and the grain which I scatter on the ground, so that the fowls of the air shall know that in my grove lives one who, like Rama, is the Friend of Living Creatures. I cannot sell this great treasure of mine, powerful King?"

The monarch rudely turned his back upon the sage, and in a loud voice commanded his young warriors to go in a body and make a captive of the Pearl among Ruminant Creatures. "Henceforth," he said, "she shall minister to our royal wants." His followers obeyed him with alacrity. "We shall feast each day," they said, "without the trouble of seeking or preparing a banquet. By all means let us capture the immaculate Sabala." This feat was performed without the necessity for exercising a great amount of warlike valour. But when the cow perceived that she was being dragged away from the hermitage she began to struggle and plunge, and to lash her tail with great violence from side to side.

"How have I lost the favour of my master?" she said to herself. "Have I not always taken delight in his company, and supplied him with the food which the length of his prayers prevented him from obtaining for himself ? Have I ever murmured

208 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

commands or criticised the wisdom of his wise Words ? Why, then, does he abandon my meek geptjteness to these ruffians?"

Maddened by the thought of leaving her peaceful home, she broke from the hands of the young warriors, and, with a bellow worthy of a bull, she ran wildly through the ranks of the army. The soldiers, of necessity, made a path for her, and came to the wise conclusion that it was rather unfair to rob the holy hermit of the animal which had provided them with such a succulent feast.

The immaculate cow ran to her master, and lying down at his feet she looked up into his face with beseeching eyes. "Have you abandoned me, my dear master?" she asked, while the tears trickled down her nose.

The unhappy sage wept in company with her, flinging his arms round her neck and embracing her like a sister. "You have always been a peace- ful and attentive companion, never venturing to criticise the words of wisdom which fell from my mouth. I have no fault to find with you. But this king wishes to carry you off with him, and as his army is very large, I do not see how I can prevent him. Farewell, then, Light of my Eyes! I cannot hold out against an armed monarch."

in

At these words the cow rose to her feet proudly tossed her head. "Have I ministerea to

SABALA, THE SACRED COW 209

your wants for so long," she said, "that you have ceased to understand that I have more than mortal power ? Has the daily miracle, like the rising of the sun, made you so familiar with the wonderful that its wonder is completely lost ? Why, I can furnish you, after milking time, with an army twice as large as that of this ungrateful monarch?"

And sure enough the warriors duly appeared, and never had been seen in any kingdom an army so large, fierce, threatening, and impulsive. A fight took place at once, and in this contest the army of Visvamitra had no chance of victory; for as often as a man fell in Sabala's army another warrior rose up in his place, as fierce and well-equipped as the soldier who had fallen. After the unequal battle, however, when the warriors of the king had been almost entirely swept away, the new army disappeared as rapidly as it had sprung into existence.

The king was now in great grief, and his sons, of whom he had no less than one hundred, were filled with anger at the holy sage whose miracle- working cow had been the cause of their father's discomfiture. "We will punish him forthwith," they said, and with one accord they rushed upon him.

The sage awaited them with perfect composure, and when they were within a short distance blew at them with all his might. In a moment they were converted into ashes, which fell in a heap at his feet. The Pearl among Ruminant Creatures tossed her head in the air and bellowed with all her might.

210 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

But the king who had thought himself so mighty was puzzled at this evidence of a power which was so much greater than his own, and he sat for a time, looking straight before him, in an attitude of the deepest dejection. But he was a man of iron will, and it was not long before he had formed a plan, which he proceeded to act upon without loss of time.

He went home to his capital and placed the government in the hands of the only son who had survived the exercise of the miraculous powers of Sabala and her master, and then betook himself to the forest, where he lived the life of a hermit, and endeavoured by fasting and hardship to win from the gods the favour which he had seen bestowed upon the famous sage Vasishtha. When he had endured these severities for a sufficient length of time the great god Siva came in all his dazzling splendour to visit him, and asked him what gift he wished to have bestowed upon him. "Give me," said the king, "all the weapons in use among the divinities." At once his very comprehensive request was granted, and conscious of his power the happy monarch went off at full speed to the hermitage of Vasishtha. "I may find it wise to extirpate the stubborn hermit," he said to himself on the way, "but I will pardon the excellent Sabala, for this estimable creature must pass into my possession."

As he drew near to the hermitage, the king could not resist the temptation to test his new powers, and shot off one of his new arrows. It went hissing

SABALA, THE SACRED COW 211

through the forest with marvellous effect. The trees shook with fear, the birds of the air shrieked loudly, the deer crouched low in the brushwood, and all the holy hermits rushed for safety to the caves, crying, "This arrow is a prelude to a fight among the gods, and it behoves poor mortals like ourselves to seek cover." But Vasishtha displayed no uneasiness. He stood at the mouth of the cave with a smile of scorn upon his face, which angered the king more than armed resistance. "I will teach you, miserable hermit," he said, "to respect the Divine Right of Kings."

Thereupon he hurled at the sage a complete collection of the most potent and venemous darts which he had won from the armoury of the gods, such a shower of gleaming shafts as had never been launched at an enemy in the memory of man. But the sage, calmly holding his stick above his head, kept off the darts with perfect ease, his face still wearing the smile of quiet contempt, which he knew io be a more potent weapon than any dart in the king's wonderful assortment.

There remained, however, one powerful weapon in the hand of the surprised and angry king the javelin of Brahma and as a last resort he hurled it at his annoying opponent. As it was launched, the wind sank into silence, and all the hermits cried with one voice, "Farewell, Vasishtha, our master and our guide." But the excellent sage was even yet un- disturbed, and his smile of contempt was only broken by the necessity for altering the shape of his mouth,

2i2 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

so that he could swallow the dart which he did forthwith, making a wonderful meal of the wrath of the god. The immediate effect was terrible. His eyes grew as red as blood, scorching flames came from his mouth, and his wand glowed like a red-hot bar fresh from the furnace of the smith. Then all creatures, great and small, bowed down before the hermit, begging for mercy in voices of abject terror, and imploring the sage to lose no time in digesting the fire which possessed him.

The appeal was not without its effect The sage took on his usual expression of quiet and somewhat contemptuous serenity, and the king paused to consider his position. "Evidently," he reasoned with himself, "the power of this sage excels all others. I will not rest until I have obtained it for myself."

Then without loss of time he flung away the weapons which he had acquired with such difficulty, and, betaking himself once more to the forest, began a life of the most rigorous mortification. After a long time Brahma himself deigned to visit him, and informed him that he had won for himself the title of Rishi among Kings. Even this did not satisfy the monarch that he would be in a position to conquer the sage, so he went on with his fasting and mortifi- cation, sparing no endeavour to inflict pain and suffering upon his body with the hope of strengthen- ing his mental and spiritual power.

SABALA, THE SACRED COW 213

IV

Now there was living at this time a king whose name was Trisanku, and who was famous for his love of truth and justice as well as his wisdom in govern- ment. He had, however, an overweening love for his personal appearance, and the chief fear that haunted him was that it would be necessary some day for his handsome form to become old, to die and to decay. The very thought was unbearable to him, and he often spent hours in mourning his prospective loss. "These fine limbs," he would say, "these powerful hands, these eyes of fire, this manly bosom must all come to dust! Alas and alack! Have I not striven by assiduous exercise to make myself a perfect paragon of bodily beauty! Shall all this effort, too, come to nothing?"

In time this grief so took possession of the soul of the monarch that he set out to visit the sage Vasishtha and tell him of his great trouble. "Obtain for me, excellent Brahman," he begged, "the power to take my beautiful body away with me when I depart from this world to take up my existence elsewhere."

"Foolish man," said the sage, "such a thing is neither possible nor desirable. Why, you ought rather to rejoice that you will one day be able to get rid of your very troublesome body which you have trained and perfected with such great effort."

The poor afflicted king was, however, inconsol- able, and went off to ask counsel and help of other

214 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

hermits. But they only laughed at him, and, worse than that, they mocked at his handsome appearance, telling him that he, the handsome Trisanku, was, after all, no better than a handful of dust. Filled with haughty anger he turned away with mocking words, thinking that he was now well rid of them all. But his parting mockery had angered them, and they punished him by changing him into a Chandala, a person of the lowest caste. His glorious body became bent and twisted; his eyes were now of the colour of copper, and his teeth green with decay; his royal robes disappeared, and he found himself clothed in a single garment, the skin of a bear.

The unhappy king looked down at his new body. "In this guise," he said dolefully, "my own courtiers and my beloved queen will certainly not know me, and I may as well stay in the forest. I will pay a visit to King Visvamitra, who has won such fame by his mastery over his body."

He lost no time in doing so, and when the hermit monarch learnt who stood before him, he was full of sympathy and indignation. "The hermits who worked this ill upon you," he said, "are the sons of Vasishtha, and really the enormities of that family and their ill-natured cow are past all bearing. I will proclaim a sacrifice, and by the power of my fasting and penance will obtain from the gods the right to revenge myself upon this wretched crew."

This was done, and Visvamitra hurled his curse at the sons of Vasishtha with such dire effect that they were transported at once to the kingdom of

SAB ALA, THE SACRED COW 215

Yama, who rules the Dead. But when he made his sacrifice the gods took no notice, and would not deliver Trisanku from the body which he loathed. Thereupon Visvamitra resolved to do so himself, and in a loud voice commanded his friend to mount up to heaven with the body for which he had so great an affection.

At once Trisanku began ta rise through the air, but when his head reached the sky the king of the gods hurled him down again, and he fell headlong. As he hung in mid-air, Visvamitra cried out, "Stop?" and he stopped, unable to rise or fall, and naturally filled full of the most complete terror. His royal friend was now so much puffed up with his own power that he began to mock at the gods, but his anger did not bring punishment upon him because he had won such respect by his hard life in the forest; and it was amicably arranged that the least troublesome plan would be to leave Trisanku among the stars, half-way between heaven and earth, where he soon came to be regarded as a constellation.

Again Visvamitra went on with his hard life, making himself suffer so cruelly that even the gods grew sorry for him and met together to consult how they could best persuade him to relax his severities and take some pleasure in life. "Let me try," said a beautiful goddess named Menaka, with a laugh like a refreshing shower in summer; and it was agreed that

216 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

she should go down to the retreat of Visvamitra and persuade him, if she could, to give up his hard mode of living.

So she went down, and the hermit-king took such pleasure in her beauty and grace and her merry laughter that he gave up the fasting and penance which had won fame for him all over the world. But he found after a time that laughter which never ceases can become as wearisome as woe, and he longed once more for the hard open-air life of the forest which had taught him so many of the secrets of nature, of the trees and birds, the animals, the stars of heaven, and the ways of the wind when it whispered or roared like ten thousand bulls. So he left the goddess to laugh alone and went back to the solitude of the mountains.

Here he lived more severely than ever, exposing his body to the most violent storms and tempests, fasting and praying, and learning more and more of the secrets of the earth and the heavens. So learned and powerful he became that the gods grew jealous and afraid of him, and appealed to Brahma to stop his progress to such stupendous power and know- ledge as promised in time to rival or excel their own a state of things which could not be endured for a moment, to say nothing of for ever. Then Brahma appeared in a vision to Visvamitra. "Cease your austerities," said he, "and I will give you the title of Prince among Rishis." The persistent king clasped his hands devoutly and said with all due reverence, "The title I desire is that of Saint

SABALA, THE SACRED COW 217

among Brahmans." "That name cannot be yours," said the god, "until you have acquired serenity and the peace of mind which covets the goods of no man.

"Have you cast out anger from your bosom ? Do you bear a grudge against any one ? Do you covet anything?" These words caused Visvamitra to hang his head in shame, and with good reason, for well he knew that his determined pursuit of power was merely followed in order that he might revenge himself upon Vasishtha, become his equal in all things, and finally gain possession of the Pearl among Ruminant Creatures. But, being a man of indomitable will, he determined to go on with his austerities and win all that could be won by their means, even if this meant that he would cheat his baser self of the prize which he had been so deter- mined to obtain: which shows that he was a man of character and really worthy of the rich reward which he finally obtained.

Once again he began his self-discipline. With his arms held above his head, and standing on one foot, with no food except bitter roots, surrounded by five fierce furnaces in summer, and in winter exposed to torrents of rain, he stood patiently hoping to expel from his bosom the burning fire of hatred, jealousy, malice, and covetousness. The gods watched him uneasily, fearing for the power that such determination would surely win.

Then a radiant goddess, remembering how Menaka had succeeded for a time in shaking the

218 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

determination of the hermit-king, went down to earth in all her beauty and begged the man of inflexible will to give up his penance and self -punishment. But he grew very angry, and with burning words of hatred and scorn bade the lovely goddess begone. Then the wicked passion of anger caused him to grow suddenly weak, and he remembered with sorrow that even yet he was far from the serenity which Vasishtha showed. With a mournful heart he went away to a still more lonely place, where he sat down and for an interminable time remained as motionless as a rock.

Once more the gods were disturbed and called a council. "If this indefatigable man," they said, "is not given what he seeks, he will in time come among us as our master."

Then it was agreed that Brahma should once more visit the king, and suddenly he appeared before him in a blaze of light. "Your desire is granted," said the father of the gods; "henceforth you shall be known as a Saint among Brahmans."

Visvamitra bowed his head. "Then give to me in full measure," he said, "complete knowledge of all the holy writings, the knowledge of all Truth with the power to use it, the faithfulness which never swerves in the pursuit of Goodness, the Mercy and Tolerance which will lead me to see the best even in the worst, the Gratitude and Thankfulness which make twin streams in the Desert of Life, and the Serenity which is undisturbed except by fear of my own fall from grace."

SABALA, THE SACRED COW 219

All these things were granted to the victorious king who had found in his own Evil Passions an enemy worthy of his valour, and who now of course discovered that he had no longer any desire to possess the Pearl among Ruminant Creatures!

STORY VIII

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA Tale of an Emperor, a Princess, and a Fatal Ring

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA

ONE day the Emperor Dushyanta went out in his chariot to hunt the antelope, armed with his bow and a golden quiver full of arrows made by his most skilful artificer, whose work was the pride of his heart and the admiration of all men. In due time the king's charioteer sighted a black antelope speed- ing through the forest and looking back from time to time at the car which followed him. On he went, springing and bounding lightly over the ground, and occasionally leaping high into the air as if to cheat the arrow which would soon be speeding from the bow of the king. The hunter waited until his chariot was wheeling along a level tract of ground and then deliberately fixed an arrow to his bowstring. At that moment the charioteer loosened the reins in order to give his master opportunity for aiming truly, but just as the arrow was ready to be launched, two hermits stepped out from a side path and advanced boldly towards the royal marksman, who at once ordered the charioteer to stop the car.

The two men came forward, one of them, who was plainly an elderly man, holding up his hands, "Hold,

223

224 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

my lord, "he said, "and forbear to slay a poor fawn which has found in this grove a place of refuge for its timidity. Replace your arrow in the golden quiver, which ought to contain only those shafts that are forged for the punishment of the oppressor and the protection of the weak."

The king reverently saluted the hermits and in accordance with their request promptly replaced the arrow in his golden quiver. "Such an act of mercy," said the elder hermit, "is well worthy of you, most illustrious Prince. May you have the greatest of all blessings, a son distinguished for virtue and valour, fit to rule the world in peace. The younger hermit joined with his companion in praising the monarch's clemency, and Dushyanta bowed his acknowledg- ments in the gracious manner for which he was renowned.

"Great King," said the hermit, "I have come here with my favourite pupil to collect wood for a solemn sacrifice; and this forest on the banks of the Rahini is a place of refuge for the wild animals who are protected by Sakuntala. If you care to honour us with a visit, enter our grove, where you will be received with all honourable rites of hospitality, and will be able to observe the happiness of those whose sole wealth is their piety."

"Is your preceptor and leader, the renowned Canna, at home?" asked the king.

"Our master is at present on a visit to a distant place with the object of averting some calamity which threatens the life of Sakuntala; but he has directed

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA 225

her, in his absence, to receive all guests with due honour."

"I will go at once," said Dushyanta, "to pay my respects to her."

"Be it so," said the hermit, bowing low in reverence before the young monarch, "and we will attend to our immediate business."

"Drive on the car," said the king, and the charioteer promptly obeyed his command.

"It is clear," said Dushyanta, "that we are now drawing near the dwelling-place of holy hermits. See how the grain lies scattered beneath those trees where the mother parrots have been feeding their young in the nests which hang from the branches. Look at the young fawns which, having learnt to trust man's kindness, and having become accustomed to the sound of his voice, frisk and gambol fearlessly without changing their course. The water of the river is here made ruddy with the consecrated bark which floats upon its surface. Mark also how the roots of the trees are bathed with the waters of holy pools which quiver as the breeze plays upon them; and the bright green of the tender foliage is obscured for a moment by the smoke which rises from offerings to the gods of clarified butter. See, too, how the young roes graze, without fear of our approach, on the smooth lawn before the garden of the sage, where the tops of the long grasses, cut off for some holy rite, lie sprinkled around. The perfect peace and sanctity of the place must not be disturbed or violated. Rein in your horses, for their martial

p

226 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

sound is not becoming to this holy grove, and I will descend."

The charioteer at once stopped the car, and Dushyanta stepped quickly to the ground. Then he suddenly remembered that he was dressed in a fashion too splendid for a visitor to such an abode of meekness; so he took off his ornaments of gold and handed them to the charioteer. "Now," he said, "I can enter the hermits 5 grove, which must be a truly sacred place for my right arm throbs in an un- mistakable manner." At that moment the king heard a gentle voice call out, "Come hither, my beloved companions," and turning to the right he saw through the trees a number of beautiful girls carrying water-pots of various sizes, from which they were evidently going to water the plants in the grove. As he looked, three girls of greater beauty than the others detached themselves from the rest and came quite near to Dushyanta, although they could not see him. From their greetings the monarch soon learnt that one of these maidens was Sakuntala, the daughter of Canna. "The venerable sage," he said to himself, "has little appreciation of his daughter's beauty when he dresses her in a mantle of woven bark and gives her the menial task of pouring water into the channels which surround the roots of the plants."

ii

For a time the king stood in rapt admiration of the beauty of Sakuntala, who, as she went about her

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA 227

work, was greatly pestered by a large bee which hovered round her head and would not be driven away. "This impudent insect will not rest," she said at last. "I will move away to another place. Away! away! Please drive it from me," she begged of her companions; but they laughed and said in sport that King Dushyanta was the only person who could deliver her, as he was the appointed protector of their sacred groves. Hearing his own name, and unwilling to play the eavesdropper any longer, the king was about to step forward and dis- close himself in his true character, but after a moment's consideration determined to appear as a simple stranger and claim the duties of hospitality. So he advanced towards Sakuntala with the customary courteous greeting, "Damsel, may this devotion prosper." The girl modestly cast her eyes upon the ground without speaking, but one of her companions roused her to a sense of her duty. "Go, Sakuntala," she said, "and bring from the cottage a basket of fruit and flowers, while from the river I will draw water to wash the feet of our guest."

"Sit down for a while on this bank of earth," said the third maiden, "and rest in the shade of this tree."

"I am obliged to you for the hospitable attentions which must have wearied you," said Dushyanta. "Will you not sit near me in the shade of the same tree?"

The three girls responded to this courteous and respectful invitation, but after a while Sakuntala with-

228 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

drew herself and gave the king an opportunity of asking a few questions about her. He learnt from her companions that she was not the daughter of the hermit Canna, but that the famous prince Causica was her father, from whom the hermit took her when she was an infant. This information greatly pleased the king, for he was so charmed with the beauty, grace, and modesty of the maiden that he was already thinking of making her his queen. He continued to ask more questions concerning the life and future of Sakuntala, who, overhearing him at this moment, became suddenly offended, or seemed to be offended, by the talk about herself. The king there- fore ceased his questioning and begged the two companions of the princess for a princess of high lineage Sakuntala really was to allow him to dis- charge his debt to them by giving them a ring which he wore on his finger. The two ladies expressed surprise to find the name of King Dushyanta en- graved upon the ring, but the stranger explained that it had been presented to him by that monarch.

Just as he was about to take his leave the peace of the hermits' grove was rudely disturbed by the voices of a party of hunters bidding all who were within hearing to beware of the infuriated elephant which was laying the forest waste and was at that moment bearing down upon them. The three maidens gathered together like frightened fawns, and with trembling voices declared their intention of taking refuge in the hermits' cottage. So the king bade them a respectful farewell and went off to

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA 229

rejoin the hunters, who were, as he knew, of his own party.

Before long he reached an open plain on the border of the forest, where the royal payilions had been set up for the convenience of the hunting-party, and where he found the court jester pacing to and fro in real or pretended disgust at the nature of the sport which claimed the attention of his royal master.

"Ah! my friend," said Dushyanta, "you have not been privileged, as I have been, to see the brightest ornament of these woods."

"I presume you mean," said the jester, who, according to custom, was allowed freedom of speech which was not permitted to the rest of the king's servants, "the lovely antelope which you set out to chase?"

"I do not," said the king, "but a creature still more beautiful, namely the incomparable Sakuntala. I have seen her once, and I wish to see her again. Now, I command you to exercise your wit in order to find an excuse for me to visit her once more."

At that moment the court chamberlain entered and said that two young hermits were without, asking the favour of an audience. This was granted at once, and two Brahmans entered, who saluted Dushyanta with great reverence. "May I know the cause of this visit?" asked the king, and the two strangers then told him that certain monsters of the forest had dared to disturb their retreat, begged him to come at once in his chariot, and, during the absence

230 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

of Canna, to act as the ruler and protector of the sacred grove.

The king eagerly too eagerly to please the mock- ing jester consented to come to the hermits' retreat, and ordered his chariot to be prepared without delay. Then he set out with a light heart, to find that Sakun- tala had spent the intervening period mourning for his absence, and that she had found out the real name and rank of the visitor to the hermits' grove. In a very short time the king and princess declared their love for each other and were united in marriage in accordance with the forest rites; but before they had been permitted to spend much time in the grove, the king was called away to his capital to perform the duties of his high office, and the people of the hermitage heard no more of him. This strange and cruel silence began to prey upon the mind of Sakun- tala, and when Canna, her foster-father, returned to the grove, he determined to send her to the palace of King Dushyanta. The other women were soon pleasantly excited over the preparation of Sakuntala for the journey, but when they contemplated her poor dress of bark they began to weep without restraint. Such a simple thing, however, as the provision of a fitting wardrobe was not likely to trouble a magician like Canna, and when the ladies were weeping one of his pupils approached them with a profusion of rich apparel.

"Here is a complete dress for the queen," he said?" may she find good fortune in it, and may her life be long."

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA 231

The young man was eagerly questioned by the women as to the manner in which he had obtained clothing so rich and beautiful "Oh/ 5 said he, "my master simply gave the order?' Bring fresh flowers for Sakuntala/ and suddenly the woodland fairies appeared, raising their delicate hands, which looked like the fresh leaves of early summer when the sun shines through them. And as they held their hands aloft, a delicate fabric, bright as moonshine, was woven as if by magic, and here it is. Other fairies brought ornaments I cannot tell from whence while others again provided the juice of l&csha to stain her feet exquisitely red." In a few moments the women were all chattering merrily as they dressed and decked Sakuntala in a manner worthy of her royal husband. Fresh exclamations of admiration broke from their lips as they examined one after another of the beautiful garments, and when their work was completed they stood away to admire from a fitting distance the lovely person of the new queen of Dushyanta.

The sage now appointed guides for his foster- child, and the ceremony of farewell was begun. Standing in the centre of the grove, Canna spoke to the sacred trees?" Hear, all ye trees of this hal- lowed forest, in which the woodland goddesses have their dwelling hear and proclaim that Sakuntala is going to the palace of her wedded lord; she who drank not, however thirsty, before you were watered; she who pulled not one of your tender leaves for fear of desecration; she whose chief delight was in

232 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

your time of blossom." As he finished a chorus of woodland fairies broke out into a pretty song. "May her way be compassed about with prosperity. May favouring breezes sprinkle for her delight the dust of rich blossoms. May pools of crystal water, green with the leaves of the lotus, refresh her as she walks; and may shady branches be her protection from the scorching sunbeams." Sakuntala turned to leave the grove, but a gentle power detained her, impeding her footsteps by hanging on to the skirts of her robe. She looked down to find a tiny fawn which she had fed and tended since the death of its mother, and which seemed unwilling to leave the protection of the gentle princess. The sight of the pretty little creature brought tears to the eyes of Sakuntala, and she turned back to fondle it, as if uncertain whether she should leave the grove at all. But the sage rebuked her gently for her weakness, exhorted her to be firm and resolute in the course she had planned for herself; advised her to show due reverence to her husband when she should reach his palace; and turning away went slowly back to ths hermits' grove. Sakuntala, with one last lingering look, passed away on her journey, attended by the guardians to whom Canna had entrusted her.

in

In the garden of King Dushyanta preparations were being made for a sacrifice, when the royal chamberlain approached the monarch and informed

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA 233

him that a company of women under the guidance of two religious men had arrived at the palace from their hermitage in the Snowy Mountains, bringing a message from the world-famous sage, Canna. The king's interest was at once aroused, and, giving orders for the reverent reception of the party, he passed out to the sacrificial ceremony. But as he took his part in the rite he found his mind dwelling upon the probable purpose of the embassy from Canna, though, strange to say, no thought of Sakun- tala seemed to enter into his mind. He appeared, indeed, not so much to have forgotten her as to be entirely oblivious of her existence either in the past or the present. "What message can the sage have sent to me?" he asked himself. "Has the devotion of his pupils been impeded by evil spirits ? Has disaster descended upon the tender herds which graze in the hallowed forests?" But still no question arose in his mind as to the fortunes of Sakuntala. It was as if the memory of his marriage in the sacred grove had been erased from his mind by the waving of an enchanter's wand.

As soon as the ceremony was ended Dushyanta seated himself on his throne in the audience chamber, and the little company was ushered in, Sakuntala being supported by an elderly woman named Gau- tami, to whom she whispered, as she advanced towards the throne of the king, "I feel my right eye throb what does this signify?" "May heaven avert the omen, my child," said the matron hastily, as she drew Sakuntala nearer to the king's

234 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

footstool and stood there with her in respectful silence.

"Ah," said Dushyanta, looking at Sakuntala with appreciation of her beauty but without any light of recognition in his eyes. "Who is this beauti- ful damsel who appears among the hermits like a fresh green bud among faded and yellow leaves?"

"May Your Majesty prosper," said the priest of the royal palace. "These visitors have a message to deliver from their spiritual guide. Let the King deign to hear it."

"I am all attention," said Dushyanta, and Sakun- tala's guide delivered his master's message.

"The contract of marriage," he said, "made between thee and my daughter Sakuntala, I confirm with all willingness and tender regard, for the gods have in this case united a bride and bridegroom with qualities equally transcendant. Receive her, there- fore, in thy palace with all due honour as thy queen."

The king heard the message and smiled pleasantly, but seemed like a man in a dream. The women gazed at him in wonder, and Gautami ventured to remind him of the sacred grove and his visit to the place when engaged in the hunt. "How strange an adven- ture?" he murmured gently and pleasantly, as if the matter concerned some one else, and then added, "Am I indeed this lady's husband?"

Gautami now tried the effect of unveiling Sakun- tala, but the king, though obviously impressed by her beauty, still made no sign of recognition. The guide of the party then ventured to ask him directly

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA 235

what was the meaning of his strange silence, and Dushyanta replied:

"Holy man, I have been searching my memory, but, to tell the truth, I have no recollection of my marriage with this lady. How then can I admit her to my palace as my queen?"

Then Sakuntala, moving forward with a piteous gesture which went to the heart of all who saw her, took up her own case. "If thou sayest this, my husband," she said, "merely from want of recollec- tion, I will restore thy memory by producing thy own ring with thy name engraved upon it."

Then she looked down upon her finger and behold the ring was not there!

"It must have dropped, my child," said Gautami, "when you lifted the water to pour on your head at the pool by the wayside on our journey hither."

Dushyanta's polite surprise changed to gentle scorn. "Women are skilful," he said, "at finding ready excuses."

Poor Sakuntala was now almost overcome. "I will mention yet one more circumstance," she said. "One day in our grove you took water in your hand from the vase of lotus leaves."

"What then?" asked Dushyanta.

"At that instant a little fawn which I had reared as my own child approached you, and you said gently, * Drink thou first, gentle fawn.' He would not drink from the hand of a stranger, but received water eagerly from mine, and you said, c Thus every creature loves its own/ "

236 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

"By such honeyed falsehoods are snared the hearts and souls of weaklings," said the king with contempt. Gautami ventured to remonstrate with him, but to no purpose, and Sakuntala, wounded to the soul, turned away in sorrow which was not appeased by the attempts of her friends to console her. The king remained firm in his refusal to admit that he was the husband of Sakuntala, but the royal priest, taking pity upon her distress, said that he would be glad to provide her, for a time, with a home in his own house where she might wait in the rather vain hope that the memory of the king would some day be restored to him. The king agreed to this, for he had no desire to appear unnecessarily unkind, and Sakuntala was led away, weeping bitterly, and calling upon the earth goddess to receive her and give her a place within her restful bosom in other words, she wished with all her heart and soul that death would overtake her.

As she left the audience chamber Dushyanta stood in wonder and amazement. The beauty and distress of Sakuntala appealed strongly to him, but he was too honest to confess to a remembrance which he did not really feel. The little band of strangers had not been gone for a few moments when the royal priest re-entered the hall of audience in a state of great excitement. "Hear, King," he said, "and wonder at my tale! t When Canna's messengers had departed, Sakuntala, bewailing her ill-fortune, stretched out her arms and wept; when "

"What then?" asked the king with great eagerness.

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA 237

"A being of celestial radiance," said the priest, "descended from heaven, caught Sakuntala hastily in her bosom, and disappeared with her."

"It is, then, all a matter of sorcery, as I sus- pected," said Dushyanta. "The affair is over. It is needless to reason further about it. Let no more be said." Then he took his way to his inner apart- ment, but as he went he said to himself: "With the best will in the world, I cannot recollect any marriage with the daughter of the hermit. Yet so agitated is my heart that I am almost induced to believe her story."

IV

Down the city street came three of the king's officers leading a man with his hands bound. "Take that," said one of them to the prisoner, striking him a blow of great severity, "and tell us where you got this ring on which the name of the king is engraved."

"Spare me," cried the trembling wretch; "I entreat your honours to spare me. I am not guilty of such a crime as you suspect."

"I suppose," said one of the officers in great scorn, "that the king gave you the ring as a reward for some distinguished service?"

"Hear me," cried the man; "I am a poor fisher- man, supporting his family by catching fish."

"I should expect a fisherman to catch fish," said the officer, with a scornful laugh.

"Blame me not, master," said the poor fellow. "A man must follow the occupation of his fore-

238 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

fathers, and he who kills animals for sale may yet have a tender heart.?'

"Go on with greater speed," said the officer.

"One day, then," pursued the fisherman, "hav- ing caught a large fish, I cut it open and saw this bright ring in its stomach; but when I came to this city to offer it for sale I was apprehended by your honourable worships. Only in this way am I guilty of taking this ring. Will you now continue beating and bruising me to death?"

The officer smelt the ring and made a wry face. "It is certain," he said to his companions, "that this ring has been in the body of a fish. The case deserves consideration, and I will tell the story in the king's household."

"Go at once," said his two companions, "while we hold this cut-purse safely."

In a very short time the officer was seen approach- ing, and the other two tried to frighten their wretched prisoner by telling him what dreadful torments were undoubtedly in store for him.

"Let the prisoner "cried the officer, as he

drew near.

"Oh, I am a dead man," said the trembling fisherman.

"be discharged," continued the officer. "Set him free at once. The king says he knows he is innocent, and that his story is true."

"Lucky for him," said the other two, as they unbound the cords which held the fisherman captive. "He was just now travelling at a quick rate to the

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA 239

kingdom of Yama," he said, while the liberated man bowed humbly before the first officer, saying, "My lord, I owe my life to your kindness."

The man's mocking tone had now left him. "Rise, friend/ 5 he said with real respect, "and hear with delight that the king sends you a sum of money equal to the full value of the ring. It is a fortune to a man in your rank in life."

"I am overwhelmed," said the poor fisherman, with tears of joy in his eyes.

"This vagabond," said one of the other officers, "seems to have climbed to the back of a state elephant."

"I suppose the king has a great affection for this gem," said the third.

"Not for its money value," said the first, "but I guessed the cause of his delight when he saw it."

"What was that?" queried the others.

"Oh, it was clear that it recalled to his mind some person who has a place in his heart; for he seemed to be agitated beyond measure at the sight of the gem."

"You have given His Majesty great pleasure," said the second officer.

"Yes," broke in the third with a look of disgust, "and actually by means of this fish-catcherpah?"

"Do not be angry," said the fisherman. "You shall have half of my money to buy wine."

"Oh, now thou art our best-beloved friend," said the first officer. "Let us go together to the vintner's."

2 4 o THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

Meanwhile the beautiful garden of the royal palace was lying bathed in sunshine, when suddenly a beautiful fairy maiden appeared in the air and looked down upon it. "Now I must visit this king," she said to herself, "seeing that I have attended to the safety of Sakuntala. Ah, now I behold him, but on this day which looks so brimful of happiness the king appears to be oppressed with some deep sorrow of heart. I will alight, conceal myself among these plants, and note what goes on without rendering myself visible."

Without further delay she floated lightly down to earth and took up her station on the spot which she had chosen. At that moment two pretty fairy maidens like herself, but lacking her air of authority, entered the garden, and noting a tree full of lovely blossoms lightly climbed up into its branches and began to gather the flowers, throwing some of them down upon the earth. As they were engaged in this pleasant task the royal chamberlain entered the garden and saw what the girls were doing. "Stop?" he cried, "do not gather flowers. There are to be no festivals this year, by the king's orders."

"Pardon us," said the maidens prettily, "we did not know of the king's desire."

"Foolish girls," said the old man, "and con- cerned only in your own folly. Why, even the trees which spring was decking and the birds which perch on them are full of sympathy for our mournful

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA 241

monarch. See how the buds neglect to shed their dust; how the flowers remain veiled in their closed cups; how the voices of the birds are silent and their wings seem weary with their own weight."

"Ah," said the watchful fairy, "that sounds well This king, at least, is not quite so forgetful as he thinks himself to be."

"A few days ago," said one of the girls to the old chamberlain, "a guest arrived to do homage to the king, and we came from Fairyland to deck his groves and gardens with emblems of delight. This is how we did not hear of his orders."

"Beware, then," said the chamberlain, "now that his commands are known to you."

"Certainly," replied the other girl, "but if it be permitted to us, tell us, we pray you, what has induced our sovereign to forbid the festivals of the spring?"

"That is a good question," said the watching fairy to herself?" it must be something weighty which prevents a king from holding a pleasing festival."

"Have you not heard," said the chamberlain, "of the disappearance of Sakuntala?"

"We know her story," said the first girl, "up to the point when the fatal ring was miraculously discovered."

"There is little to add to that," said the chamber- lain. "Undoubtedly the king's memory was restored by the sight of the gem, for when it was brought to him he said, c Yes, indeed, Sakuntala is my wife, and when I cast her off I must have, for the moment, lost

242 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

my reason/ He showed strong marks of affliction and repentance, and from that moment he has ab- horred the pleasures of life. No longer does he spend his days in making plans for the good of his people. His nights are sleepless, and when he rises from his restless couch he speaks like a man in a vision; and whenever his eyes fall upon the form of a woman he names her Sakuntala."

"This news is very pleasing to me," said the watching fairy, still to herself.

"Consequently," went on the chamberlain, "by reason of the king's affliction, the spring festival, usually so full of gaiety, has been prohibited for this year at least. But here comes our king himself. Damsels, conceal yourselves."

The two pretty maidens at once hid themselves in the tree while Dushyanta, dressed as a penitent and attended only by a single guard and the royal jester, walked slowly along the garden path.

"Ah," said the chamberlain, "even in his depth of grief the king does not forego his majesty. Our king is worn and weary; his golden bracelet falls loosened even down to his wrist; his eyes are dilated by sorrow and sleeplessness yet I am dazzled by the light of virtue which proceeds from his noble countenance."

"I," said the fairy, "am very favourably im- pressed with the appearaiKe of this young monarch."

The jester regarded his royal master with a sidelong look. "This is a case which passes all my wit," he murmured disconsolately.

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA 243

"The fatal ring restored my memory," said the king, half to himself and half to the jester. "What shall I do to obtain comfort?"

"The maiden skilled in painting is coming," said the jester, "bringing with her the portrait of your beloved."

The king and his attendants walked slowly into a leafy bower behind which the fairy had hidden herself. "This is well," said she; "now I too shall behold the portrait of my beloved Sakuntala."

Dushyanta seated himself and looked steadily at the fatal ring. "Tell me," said the jester, "how the ring obtained a place on the finger of Sakuntala." Then the king roused himself. "I gave it to her," he said, "when I left the consecrated grove for my capital, and I said to her?' Repeat each day one of the three syllables engraved on this gem, and before you have spelt the name Dushyanta, one of my highest officers will attend you and lead you to my palace.' Yet, in spite of this promise, I deserted her in my forgetfulness."

"Now tell me," said the jester, anxious to divert the mind of the king from its sorrow, "how this ring came to enter the mouth of a carp like a hook?"

"When my queen was lifting water to her mouth in one of the streams on the way hither, the ring must have dropped from her hands unseen."

"It is very probable," said the jester, trying not to yawn, for the sorrow of the king, which seemed to lead to nothing, was beginning to weary him. But the strain of the situation was at that moment relieved

244 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

by the appearance of a girl with a picture, which, after a lowly reverence, she held before the eyes of the king. He gazed upon the portrait with eyes blinded by unshed tears without speaking a word, while the hidden fairy said to herself, "In faith?'tis an ex- cellent piece of painting which seems to bring my lovely friend before my eyes."

"It is beautiful," said the young king, "but not so beautiful as the face and form which inspired it. Besides, a tear appears to trickle down the cheek of my queen, which does not seem to be fitting to her." Then the king gave directions to the painting-girl to bring her paints and sketch in a background which he described to her, showing the beautiful grove in which he had first seen Sakuntala.

After a while the picture was placed in the care of the jester, who took his way to the palace; but he had not been long gone when cries of distress reached the ears of the king. Then the old chamberlain came running in to report that an evil monster had suddenly descended upon the jester and had carried him off, picture and all. His piteous cries rent the air, and the king, throwing off his languor with a manly gesture, called aloud for his bow in a glad resounding voice of authority. In a moment a warder came up to him with a bow and quiver, and Dushyanta, taking them in his hands, made his way to the terrace of the palace, while the cries of distress seemed to be redoubled.

"Stand firm, my friend," cried the king as he drew his bowstring?" this arrow will distinguish thee

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA 245

from the foe in spite of the magic which surrounds thee." At that moment, however, to the king's supreme astonishment, the jester himself came smil- ing towards him along the terrace. He was accom- panied by a man in the dress of a charioteer, whose feet seemed to glide along the floor of the terrace without any apparent effort at walking. The stranger was instantly recognised by the king as the chariot- driver of Indra, the father of the gods and king of men, and he gave him respectful welcome.

VI

"King," said the charioteer, "live long and conquer. I am sent to you by the ruler of the gods to give you a commission worthy of your youth and manhood. The gigantic race of the Daravas has for long assailed the gods with impunity, but it is written that, with your help, they will be prevented from doing so any longer. Mount the car of Indra with your bow and quiver and advance against them without further delay."

"I am greatly honoured by the gracious com- mand," said the king, "but tell me, was it you who snatched up my friend here into the air and caused him to send forth such piteous cries."

"Yes, indeed," said the charioteer with a smile. "I was desirous of rousing your spirits by making you thoroughly angry."

"My friend," said Dushyanta to the jester, "tell my chief minister on what errand I have gone."

246 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

"I obey," said the jester with a smile, adding somewhat ruefully, "but I wish the affairs of great mortals could be settled without ruffling the feelings of lesser people who never did any harm to their lords and masters. "

We have not space to tell in detail of the glorious warfare which the brave king waged on behalf of Indra against the foes who had so long troubled his peace. His success against the giants gained for him the highest possible honours. Indra made the victorious monarch sit on half of his throne; he perfumed his bosom with essence of sandal-wood; and he threw over his neck a garland of flowers which had bloomed in the gardens of Paradise. Then the father of the gods and king of men gave instructions to a host of damsels to collect among the trees of life a large quantity of those crimson and azure dyes with which they used to tinge their lovely feet; and using these as inks they wrote on the fleece of the clouds high-sounding verses in praise of the great deeds of Dushyanta. These wonderful inscriptions were seen by the king himself as he was driven through the clouds in the car of the god by the divine charioteer towards his own kingdom.

"I see once more the habitation of men," he said, as he looked downward, "but it is yet so distant from us that the lowlands appear to be con- founded with the highest mountains; the lofty trees rear themselves aloft but seem to be mere leaflets; the rivers look like bright lines but their waters cannot be distinguished; at this moment, the great

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA 247

earth sphere seems to be thrown upward towards us by some stupendous power."

The charioteer of Indra looked down with pleasure upon the fruitful garden of the world. "How de- lightful is the abode of men?" he cried in admiration.

"Tell me, Matali," said Dushyanta, "what mountain is that which, like an evening cloud, pours forth streams of refreshment and forms a zone of gold between the eastern and the western seas?"

"That is the mount of Hemacuta," said the charioteer, "where the god Casyapa dwells with his consort in holy retirement."

"I ought not to miss this opportunity of paying homage to them," said the king.

"The idea is excellent," rejoined the charioteer, as he brought the car to a stop without sound or jerk. "A little beyond that grove you see a pious Yogi, motionless as a pollarded tree, holding his bushy hair while he fixes his eyes steadily upon the sun. His body is half-concealed with the clay of an ant-heap; he is girded with the skin of a snake; his neck is wrapped round with twisted fibres; and his shoulders are almost concealed with birds'

nests."

The two companions now approached the grove, which unfolded before their wondering eyes all the delights of the gardens of Paradise. The balmy air was full of fragrance from the trees of life; the water of the streams was dyed yellow with the golden dust of the lotus; the pebbles on the floors of the caves

248 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

of retirement were gems of purest ray; and the attendant maidens were more beautiful than pen can Describe.

The charioteer turned to his companion. "Rest .here, King," he said, "under the shade of this tree, while I announce your arrival to the ruler of this sacred grove," The king bowed assent, and as soon as his companion had left him felt his right arm throb with violence. "That would be an omen of coming joy," he said, "but joy has forsaken my life since Sakuntala passed out of it."

At that moment he heard a voice which seemed to be speaking in a scolding manner as if to a naughty child. "Rest yourself," it said?" why do you give way so readily to violent temper?"

The king cast his eyes around and saw at a distance a little boy with two female attendants. The child was forcibly pulling towards him a lion's cub and trying to prise open its mouth in order, as he said, "to count its teeth." The fearless action of such a mere infant roused the interest and admira- tion of Dushyanta, who found himself wishing that he had such a son of his own. How he would rejoice in his fearlessness!

"The lioness will get you," said one of the women, "if you do not let her little one go?"

"Oh, I am afraid of her," said the boy with a mischievous smile. "Let me hide; let me hide." Then he ran, laughing roguishly, behind the skirts of one of his nurses. But he did not release the lion's cub.

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA 249

"Let the little prince of wild beasts go free," said the woman, "and I will give you a prettier plaything."

"Give it to me first," said the child, stretching out his little hand, which Dushyanta regarded with great curiosity. "Why the very palm of his hand," he said, "bears the marks of empire."

"Words will not please him," said the second attendant to the first. "Go to my cottage, where you will find a plaything made for the hermit's child an earthenware peacock richly painted."

The first woman went away at once as the boy said quietly, "In the meantime I will play with the lion's little son."

VII

"I feel great affection for this wonderful child," said Dushyanta, as he stood apart in the shadow of the tree. "How delighted must an affectionate father be when he soils his bosom with the dust from the clothing of the little one whom he clasps in manly affection?" At that moment the second attendant saw Dushyanta, and coming towards him begged him to release the lion's cub. The king approached the child with a smile, and without touching him said:

"How can you break the rule of this sacred grove ? Whichever of the hermits calls you son has surely taught you that all animals are sacred to kindness."

Without a word of protest and with a wondering look at the stranger the boy at once set the cub free.

250 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

"I thank you," said his nurse to Dushyanta, "for your help; but the boy is not really the son of a hermit."

The king took the boy by the hand, and, as he did so, felt a sudden glow of tender affection pass through his frame. "Ah?" he said to himself, "what must a father feel at the touch of his child, when the hand of a stranger fills me with such a feeling?"

Meanwhile the nurse was gazing at the man and the boy with a look of the most profound wonder and surprise. "Why do you look at me in that manner?" said the king. "Who can disregard the

o o

wonderful resemblance between the child and your- self?" said the woman, "and whence comes it that the boy, usually so naughty, obeys your voice without a murmur?"

The king raised the child in his arms as he said to the woman, "If he is not the son of a hermit, what, then, is the name of his family?"

"His mother is a princess of highest rank, and not unconnected with the gods themselves."

"I am overjoyed," said Dushyanta, "and not in the least surprised, for the child has the mien and motions of a royal prince. May I ask who was the father of the child?"

"It is not permitted to me," said the attendant with sudden reserve, "to name a king who cruelly deserted his own queen."

"It is enough?" said Dushyanta, whose face broke into a smile of understanding.

At that moment the first attendant reappeared

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA 251

with the toy in her hand. "See, little one," she said, "how beautiful is this?"

"Where is my mother?" said the boy, taking no notice of the plaything.

"How tenderly he loves Sakuntala?" said one of the women to the other.

"Sakuntala?" said Dushyanta to himself. "Then my queen is indeed his mother, and he is my own child too?"

"I shall love the peacock if it can run and fly, but not else," said the boy.

"See," said one of the women, "the child's amulet is not on his wrist."

"It dropped while he was playing with the cub," said Dushyanta. "I see it and will restore it to your hand."

"Do not touch it," said both the women hastily.

"Here it is," said the king, "but why would you have restrained me from touching this bright gem?"

"Sir," said the second attendant, "this amulet has a wonderful power, and when it was bestowed on the child at his birth, it was said that if it fell to the ground at any time, none but the father or mother of the boy could touch it unhurt."

"What if a stranger had picked it up?" asked the king.

"It would have become a serpent, and wounded him," said the attendant.

"Has this really happened to another?"

"Yes, indeed," said the women, both at once.

Dushyanta raised the boy in his arms and em-

252 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

braced him with great tenderness. "Good-bye," said the child prettily, as he frankly returned the king's caress. "I must return to my mother."

"My darling son," said the king, "let us make her happy by going to her together."

"King Dushyanta is my father," said the boy, "and you are not Dushyanta."

"His very denial of me delights me," said the happy monarch.

VIII

At that moment Sakuntala appeared, dressed in mourning apparel, with her long black hair twisted in a single braid and hanging down her back. As she moved slowly forward she said to herself in a quiet voice, "The amulet, they tell me, has proved its divine power."

"Ah," said Dushyanta, as he watched her approach. "How worn is her face, once so smooth and placid! How sad her demeanour, which was once so joyous and so free?"

Sakuntala raised her eyes, seeing and yet doubting. "Is that indeed my lord, grown pale with penitence and affliction?"

"Mother," said the boy, running hastily to the princess, "here is a stranger who calls me his son."

"My best beloved," said the king to his queen, as the lovely boy clung to the skirts of her robe, "I have treated you with great cruelty. I implore your remembrance and forgiveness."

SAKUNTALA AND DUSHYANTA 253

"I shall be overjoyed," said the queen modestly, "when the king's anger against his servant shall have passed away."

"The memory of our meeting," said Dushyanta, "was obscured by the gloom of some wicked en- chantment. But now that gloom has entirely passed away never to return."

"May the king be ," was the reply, but the

tender lips of the overwrought princess could not frame the word "victorious," which always concluded the royal greeting, and she burst into tears of joy.

"My darling," said the king, "though the word of conquest trembles upon your lips, victory of the highest is mine indeed, for now I know that not even unkindness and forgetfulness has cast out your affection for me."

"What man is this, mother?" said the boy, tugging at the skirts of the princess; but before she could answer him the king fell humbly at her feet imploring her again for forgiveness. To see the mighty monarch in such an attitude was too much for the weeping queen, and she begged him to rise. As he did so Sakuntala saw the fatal ring upon his finger. "Ah," she said, "there is the cause of our misfortune." "Take it, my beloved," said the king, "Nay," was the gentle but firm reply, "I cannot trust it. Let it be worn by my lord henceforward."

At that moment the charioteer of Indra entered the grove with a smile upon his face, as if he knew without information of the happy meeting of king and queen and prince. "Was this fortunate event

254 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

previously known to the gods?" asked Dushyanta. "What is unknown to the immortals?" was the quiet reply.

The charioteer now conducted them to the grove of Casyapa, who bestowed upon them the richest bless- ings, and sent them on their way with determination to rule their subjects with a single aim for their highest good.

STORY IX

THE GREAT DROUGHT A Tale of a Thirsting Land and a Thirsting Life

255

THE GREAT DROUGHT

ONCE upon a time the land of the Angas was sorely afflicted by drought. The earth-goddess suffered greatly, and her anguish was shared by all living creatures; the soil was too feeble to bring forth fruit or grass, so that the animals died, and men grew pale from hunger. The king of the Angas prayed earnestly for relief, and when no answer came to his prayers he flung himself in despair upon the ground, and cried to the god Vishnu, whose presence penetrates all things?" Life is too sorrowful; let me die. My heart is so full of pity for my people, whose sunken eyes gaze upon me as upon the face of their father. How can I endure this agony of vain suppli- cation and live ? All their sufferings seem to gather within my own breast. The weight of their misery- bows me to the earth. If there be no help for me, call me back to the bosom of the gods whence I

came.

Having made this most earnest supplication, the king rose from his knees and summoned his ministers and courtiers to meet all the Brahmans and holy men of the kingdom in a solemn council. When they

257 R

258 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

came together he said to them?" Can none of you suggest how this curse may be removed from the land ? If I cannot be of use to my people, I am determined to bring my life to an end, and that without further delay."

Then a holy Brahman stepped out from among the rest and stood before the king. He was famous for the purity and tranquillity of his life, and for his deep knowledge of the ways of Wisdom and Virtue.

"Hear me, King," he said quietly. "In the depths of the forest lives a hermit whose name is Vibhandaka. Long, long ago he left this city with his heart filled with hatred against all mankind, because he had found in his dealings with them nothing but foolishness and wickedness. He had a deep scorn for all which goes by the name of pleasure, and beauty in all its forms and manifestations he utterly despised. He took with him into his forest retreat his infant son Rishyasringa, and, choosing a cave in the most desolate part of the forest, he settled down to bring up the boy in such a manner that he would never be disillusioned by experience.

"c I give you, my child/ he said to the infant?' the beasts of the forest to be your playfellows: from them you will learn less of cruelty and wickedness than from human beings. You will hear the shriek of the parrot, the howl of the jackal, the mewl of the lynx, and the screech of the hyena, but you will be spared the unnatural sound of the quarrelsome voices of men and women. Among the most re- pulsive reptiles and venomous insects you will live

THE GREAT DROUGHT 259

in ignorance of the vile jealousies and angry passions of men. Exposed to the weather with its violent changes, attended at every step by a thousand dangers, living a life of hardship, affliction, and peril, you will live more peacefully and more securely than amon the people of a busy city/

"The father carried out his plan for training the boy as a recluse, and from childhood to youth Rishyas- ringa had heard no human voice, and looked upon no human face, except that of his father. The hermit is known far and near for his anger and for his rage against all the race of men and women; consequently, the:;hunter takes care to avoid his cave, and the other dwellers in the forest go a long way out of their path to keep away from it: even the prowling beasts of prey do not go near to the place, for the gods, approving of the severity of the hermit's life, have given him the evil and awful POWER TO CURSE.

"And now Rishyasringa has become a man: and in his life there is a drought as great as that which afflicts this unhappy land over which you rule, King; for lacking the cheering presence of his fellow-men all kinds of generous and good qualities inherent in his noble nature droop, and are like to die, just as the kindly fruits of the soil in this stricken country cannot refresh the bodies of men, because the refreshing rain refuses to fall from the heavens. Yet this young man is destined by the gods to per- form great deeds, and be the ancestor of a gallant race; and it has been granted to you, King of men, to rescue the youth from the power of this angry

260 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

recluse. You shall fling open the doors of his heart, that his fellow-men may make it their home. You shall teach him how noble a thing it is to be a noble husband, by giving him the hand of the Princess Kanta, your daughter. To you shall be granted the honour of bringing forth this hero to the light of the world of men. And in return for this great service which you shall thereby render to mankind, the clouds will pour their treasures of rain over your kingdom, and your afflicted people will once more raise their heads."

As soon as the holy man had finished his speech the king rose from his throne and said, "Which of you will set out at once in search of the young hermit?"

There was a stir among the counsellors and ministers. "This is an honourable mission," they said one to another, "and it is fitting that so illustrious a person as yourself should carry it out." But no man came forward on his own account to say, "Send me, King?"

At length, however, a kinsman of the king, and one of the most valiant men among the Angas, stepped forward and said, "Tell me, holy Brah- man, has this recluse really received the power to curse?"

"Yes," said the old man, "the gods undertook to grant him whatever he might ask, and he begged for this terrible gift."

The counsellors and ministers looked at one another in dismay, and silence fell upon the company.

THE GREAT DROUGHT 261

The king looked round upon them with appealing eyes. "Is there none/ 5 he asked, "brave enough to come to the rescue of my fainting people?" No one answered, and the council was broken up.

A few days later, however, the king once more summoned his ministers and advisers to a council. "I have thought of a plan, 53 he said, "by which we may bring the young hermit here, and yet avoid the terrible curse of his father.?' The courtiers were, by this time, somewhat ashamed of their cowardice and said, "We are your servants, King, and at your command we are prepared, if necessary, to risk our lives, or even to incur the terrible curse of Vibhandaka." These words, however, were merely the words of empty courtesy, and they muttered under their breath, "Plague take him; is he going to ask us to set out upon this foolish mission again ? How can the coming of this young hermit cause the rain to fall?"

"Listen to me/ 5 said the king. "This young man has spent all his life in the woods: he has seen only the animals, birds, and reptiles. As for mankind he is familiar with the face and form of his father alone, whom hatred and malice have transformed into a savage.

"How shall it be with Rishyasringa if he sees the face of a beautiful woman ?

"Fit me out, without delay, a spacious vessel. Plant it with trees and shrubs, mosses, flowers, and ferns, so that it may seem like a lovely island, and let the most beautiful maidens in my kingdom go on

262 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

board this vessel disguised as hermits. Then let the wind and the flowing stream convey these messengers to the place where the angry recluse holds the young hermit as a prisoner, and in the absence of the father let the maidens lure the young man on board the vessel. If I am not greatly mistaken, the ship will return to us with a willing captive. See that my commands are obeyed without delay, that the clouds may once again pour down their generous rains to rejoice the hearts of all my subjects."

When the ministers and counsellors heard the plan of the king they were delighted beyond all measure, and lost no time in following out his directions. Now that the task of fetching the young hermit had fallen upon other shoulders, they assured the king that it was of the highest importance that the directions of the aged Brahman should be followed to the letter.

So the lovely maidens embarked on a ship which had been fitted out in accordance with the king's instructions, and the wind and the floating river swiftly conveyed them, disguised as hermits, to the place of retreat of the recluse, who had received from the gods the terrible power to curse.

ii

Now it happened that for some time before this the recluse had avoided, as much as possible, the society of his son. In his heart of hearts he knew that he was no fit companion for the young man, for

THE GREAT DROUGHT 263

his temper was so dreadful, and the awful power which he had coveted and obtained was so ready to manifest itself that he frequently poured forth curses almost against his will so that he had, in truth, become afraid of his own evil passions. To avoid making any mistake, which no power in heaven or earth could correct, he kept out of his son's way. It was his habit at early dawn to take his hermit's staff in his hand and go out alone into the woods: and he would wander about until the fever of anger was worn away, and his mind was more calm and tranquil. The young hermit was, therefore, often left alone for days together, and he felt very desolate indeed, for youth craves companionship as the thirsty soil longs for the refreshing rain.

One evening, when the young man was feeling sad beyond expression, he strolled out into the woodland paths in search of sweet roots and berries. It was that wonderful hour which marks the close of the Indian day, when the Spirit of Enchantment seems to hover over the earth, when colour is rarefied without being obscured, and the shapes of things are rendered ethereal without distortion or efface- ment.

The dreamy youth wandered onward beneath the stately plantain and the sweetly perfumed mango. Overhead he heard the twittering of the birds as they prepared to settle down side by side for the night under their tender canopy of leaves. On either side of the narrow path, which his father had made by angrily tearing away the undergrowth, he saw the

264 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

long grass and the feathery ferns transformed into fairy jungles by the tender golden light, and here and there the prickly cactus with its flaming blossoms intermingled with the snowy flowers of the jessamine. And as he walked onward, in spite of, or perhaps because of, all the beauty, he felt very sad indeed. All at once a shower of dates that fell upon him from a neighbouring palm-tree roused him from his sad reflections. Looking upward he saw, perched on the topmost bough, a squirrel which, when it caught his eye, wrapped its face in its bushy tail, while at the same time it peeped through the fringe of it with shy but curious, black, and beady eyes.

"Dear me," it said, in the tone of one who is very penitent indeed, "I am really very sorry; but the branch from which I sprang shook itself, and conse- quently the fruit fell. I can assure you that it really fell of itself. Do not visit upon me, for pity's sake, any of your noble and reverend father's curses."

"Foolish little creature," said the youth, with a smile of infinite sweetness and sadness. "I would rather bless you than curse you, if, indeed, I had the power to do so."

The youth went onward, and a little farther away came upon a lovely gazelle, which stood in the shade of a fir-tree, while its large appealing eyes brimmed over with unshed tears. "Woe is me," it said, "for my poor, harmless mate. Just because it crossed the path of the cruel hermit he slew it with a curse! And I am left all alone?"

The heart of the youth was filled with pity, and,

THE GREAT DROUGHT 265

going up to the graceful creature, he said, "I, too, am sad at heart. Let us weep together,"

But as soon as the gazelle saw him approach, it started away in great alarm. "Do not be afraid of me," said the young man, "I would not harm you for worlds/?" You are the son of the man who has the power to curse," was the answer. "Nay/ 5 said Rishyasringa, "you and I have one Father to whom we both owe the gift of life. We are brothers. Do not be afraid of me, I beseech you."

But with the words, "You are the son of the man who has the power to curse," the timid animal made a hasty escape into the depths of the darkening forest. Then with his eyes flowing with tears the unhappy young man flung up his arms in piteous petition to the powers of heaven.

"Why have I been sent into the world," he cried in bitter anguish, "and given feeling and a sense of right and wrong ? The whole plan of Creation would be perfect but for my unhappy self. I see the marvellous power that binds all living creatures in sympathy and interchange of service, while I, and I alone, stand outside of its kindly influence.

"I have the power of song, but there is none to listen to my singing. I am strong with the strength of perfect health, but there is naught for me to conquer. I have skill of hand and power of brain, but there is no necessity for me to use these heaven- sent gifts. Thoughts which have wings flock to my mind like homing birds to the mother's nest, but there are none to share them. A love of the stars and

266 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

flowers and trees fills my heart with rapture, but what is love which begins and ends with self-? I have desires unknown and unnamed, but they find nothing upon which they can be exercised. I starve for companionship and the love of my fellow- creatures."

in

Now even as he prayed with uplifted arms there came floating down to him upon the fragrant air a breath which grew into a whisper, a whisper that swelled into a song, a song that roused the drowsy birds in their nest filling them full of jealousy at its sweetness, and that woke the echoes from their sleep to give a sweet reply. Then to the wondering eyes of the young recluse there came tripping down the forest path a company of anchorites, such as he had never seen before, whose faces shone like the sun at noon- day, and whose forms, even in their uncouth disguise, seemed to be those of celestial beings.

Nearer and nearer they tripped and danced towards him, gems of the richest lustre shining from beneath their homely garments, silver anklets tink- ling like the forest streams as they moved. The air seemed to surround them with sweetest fragrance, the trees showered delicate blossoms upon their heads, the flowers kissed their dancing feet, while the evening breezes played gently with the folds of their garments.

Rishyasringa looked with startled eyes at the

THE GREAT DROUGHT 267

beautiful band; then he sighed and trembled violently.

Right over against the young hermit the dancers paused. Their song ceased suddenly, and, forming a ring about the astonished youth, they looked stead- fastly but smilingly into his face with their large, dreamy eyes.

Rishyasringa found himself smiling, almost against his will: but still he trembled.

"Who are you?" they asked, and their voices were like bells of silver. "Do you live alone in this desolate place ? Tell us your name, beautiful youth, and why you live here, so far away from all the delights of dear companionship?"

The youth with difficulty found his voice. "I am Rishyasringa," he said, "and this forest is the whole world to me. Rightly do you call it desolate and yet in spite of that hateful description it is not really so dreadful at least if you will stay with me, I will show you many things within its bounds which are full of loveliness. My home is near at hand. It is a cave in the hillside, but its walls are glistening with unmined silver, and tender creepers hang a delicate screen before its entrance. No ugly and venomous reptiles or beasts of prey dare to approach it. Not far away grow sweet roots and berries and luscious fruits, which I will gladly gather for your enjoyment. If you love the flowers they are to be had in the greatest profusion, and of the sweetest fragrance. The birds, too, are delightful for colour and shape and song. Oh, believe me, it is not

268 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

so desolate a place after all at least, not if you stay with me to share my enjoyment in its delights."

At his eager, breathless words the girls laughed merrily, and their laughter was like the purling of a brook over the pebbles in the leafy month of June. The young hermit laughed also, but he could not have told you why if you had asked him.

"Show us your home in a cave, gentle youth," they said eagerly; and they gathered closely round him. Then he led them to the cavern in the rocky hillside and regaled them with sweet roots and berries and luscious fruits. But merry as they were, these lovely maidens were not without uneasiness. "If the recluse should return," they said, "he would wither our youth and beauty with his powerful curse, and make us ugly?" So after a short time for rest they all sprang to their feet and said, "Farewell, Rishyasringa, and thank you for your hospitality."

"Farewell?" cried the youth, "surely you will not leave me. lovely strangers, I beseech you to stay with me."

"And the old hermit what of him?" they asked with fear in their voices. "Ah," thought the young man, "my father would undoubtedly do them some injury."

"You are right," he said aloud. "It is better for you that you should go. Farewell?" and in deep sorrow he bowed his head upon his hands. "When they are gone, I shall die," he murmured to himself.

"Nay, gentle youth," said they, "surely we shall see you again. Will you not come and visit

THE GREAT DROUGHT 269

us in our hermitage ? Do you love our com- panionship so little that you do not even ask where we are to be found ? You know little of the rites of hospitality."

The youth raised his head slowly and looked at the maidens, half in wonder and half in hope.

"I have seen," he said, "the bright stars rain down from heaven. For one brief moment there was light afterwards the darkness was all the more intense and deep and blinding. It would be madness to seek to trace such stars."

"Nay, indeed," they said with merry smiles, "not if the stars lay gleaming at your feet. Our home is so near to yours that if you seek for ever so short a time you cannot fail to find it."

Thereupon they turned, and waving their hands to the young man in token of farewell, they passed out of the cavern.

IV

Now when the old recluse returned to the hermitage his son did not come forward to greet him: nor did he bring him water for his feet as he had been accustomed to do.

"What is this?" asked the hermit. "Of what are you thinking, Rishyasringa ? Why do you sit there with folded hands and eyes of wistfulness ? A youth brought up as you have been cannot surely be troubled with the feeling that mortals call love ?

"I had a dream," said the young man, slowly. "I dreamt that, being in the woods, I met a company

270 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

of young anchorites; they were surely holy folk of most distinguished virtue, for their faces were as radiant as the noonday sun, and their forms seemed of more than mortal beauty. They entered this dark abode, and straightway it was filled with light. At their lightest touch the blood throbbed so quickly in my veins that I could have wept for pain, but when I looked into their faces the pain became a delight. At length they rose, and, waving their delicate hands to me, they said, "Farewell, Rishyas- ringa." They passed away, and all grew dark.

As he listened to the young man's story, the hermit's lip curled in bitter scorn. "Hear me," he said, in a harsh voice, "there are things which take the form of beauty, but are really manifestations of disease. There are forms of gracefulness which wear the garb of sunshine, but are inwardly as black as blackest night. These anchorites of yours were surely demons."

Thereupon the surly old hermit stretched himself upon the couch of leaves, and fell fast asleep.

But his son could not rest. "They were certainly not demons," he said to himself over and over again; and early the next day, as soon as the recluse had left the cave, he started out to seek for the graceful strangers.

The birds were singing in the trees; the flowers were sparkling with dew-drops; the air was full of fragrance; the tender green of the leaves tempered the glowing radiance of the sun and yet he could not find those whom he had come to seek. He flung

THE GREAT DROUGHT 271

himself down upon the grass. "They have forsaken me," he cried in bitter grief, "and nothing remains for me now but to die,"

But this catastrophe was not destined to happen. He heard a rustling among the bushes, and all around him the air seemed to quiver with merriment; the roses shook as if with inward laughter, and their scented petals fell in tender showers upon the ground; the blades of grass seemed to tremble with pleasure; the tiny beetles, peeping out from their hiding-places' chuckled with delight, and from a bower of greenery sprang the young anchorites with dancing feet and smiling faces, singing as they came.

"Did you think we had forsaken you, Rishyas- ringa?" they cried in merry tones. "Yes, indeed, 55 he replied, and then for some unknown reason began to laugh gently. The maidens joined in his happy laughter, and the echoes of the forest continued the sound until the air seemed to be full of joy. "Come with us," they cried. "Let us show you our hermit- age;" and then, while some of them held his hands, and others sang and danced around him, they led him to the lovely vessel which was moored by the river bank.

And as he stepped on board, far away, over the land of the Angas, a fleecy cloud extended its downy, swan-like wings and the rain began to fall in refresh- ing showers upon the thirsty soil.

..

When the surly old hermit returned home that evening he found his cave deserted. "Rishyas-

272 THE INDIAN STORY BOOK

ringa," he cried with impatience, but there was no answer to his call, and he ran out into the forest, repeating the cry again and again. But only the echoes gave an answer to his piteous cries.

Soon he met a man driving before him a herd of dappled cows of most unusual beauty. "Who is the owner of these wonderful animals?" he asked, surprised out of his anger by his admiration.

"They belong to Rishyasringa," was the herds- man's answer. The hermit made no reply, but went on his way with knitted brows, although at a slower pace.

After a while he met a troop of splendid elephants bearing ornaments of gold and ivory. "Who is the owner of these wonderful animals?" he asked, and this time he was not in the least surprised to receive the answer, "They belong to Rishyasringa."

The hermit put his hand to his head and stood in the middle of the road in a state of utter bewilder- ment. As he stood wondering a chariot, all inlaid with* gems and drawn by four swift horses, came swiftly along the highway. "Who is the owner of this noble chariot?" he asked, and he was less surprised than ever to receive the answer, "It belongs to Rishyasringa. To-day the young man weds the beautiful Kanta, the daughter of the King of theAngas."

Thereupon the charioteer drove swiftly away and left the hermit standing there alone, and thinking very deeply.


 Table of Contents  |  Index  | Previous: Rama's Quest 
Copyright (c) 2000-2017 Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.