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XIII. A Light in Darkness

But Shrí, when she got out of the palace, instantly went out of the city by unfrequented paths, and entered the Great Forest. For she said to herself: If I remain in the city, I may fall again into the power of the King, or, it may be, of someone still worse. For alas! every man that sees me is blinded by my eyes, and I shall not always find a door of escape from persecution. Moreover, to beauty without its guardian, wild beasts are less dangerous than men with souls through the influence of passion

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worse than those of beasts. Better far to be devoured by an animal, than become perforce the wife of another man.

So she went on through the forest for many days, supporting her life on roots and fruits and the water of the pools and streams. And she tore her clothes to pieces in the bushes, and pierced her feet with their thorns, leaving where she passed on the grass drops of blood, like rubies, mingled with the pearls of her tears that fell beside them, as often as she thought of her absent husband. And the deeper she went into the wood, the more her spirit sank, and the more her soul longed for the nectar of her husband's arms. Alas! the courage of women is but a pale and lunar image in the mirror of that of men, and vanishes in their absence. And at last there came a day when she was seized with panic, and a fear of unknown evil: and she sank down at the foot of a tree, and watered its roots with her tears.

Now it happened, that some Bhillas, hunting, by the decree of destiny, in the forest, came upon her track, and saw the drops of blood upon the leaves. And they followed them up, saying to themselves: Some wounded animal has passed this way. So as they came along, every now and then they

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stopped and listened. And suddenly, they heard the sound of the voice of a woman, weeping in the wood. Then full of astonishment, they proceeded in the direction of the sound: and all at once they saw Shrí, sitting under a tree, looking like an in-carnation of Rati grieving for her husband, when burned by Maheshwara a. For her clothes were torn, and her hair was dishevelled, and her great eyes filled with tears resembled the petals of a blue lotus sparkling with drops of water cast upon them by the sporting of swans in a pool. So those wild Bhillas wondered when they saw her, and said to each other: What is this marvel of a dancing girl, so ragged and so beautiful, weeping alone in the wood? And then they went up to her and stood round her in a ring. And she looked in the midst of those black barbarians like a digit of the moon in the jaws of Ráhu. Then after a while the spell of her beauty entered and poisoned the hearts of those Bhillas, like one of their own arrows. And each one said secretly to himself: She shall be my wife. So they debated about her, and proposed to each other to draw lots for her. But they could not agree about it, and fell to quarrelling, and it was

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as if a stone had been dropped into a nest of serpents.

Then one laid hands upon her, and then another, till she was nearly torn in pieces. And finally they came to blows, and fought for her over her body, filled by the frenzy begotten by her beauty, and the desire of exclusive possession b. And very soon they were all either dead or dying of wounds, for each was more eager to destroy another than to protect himself: and they lay all about her unable to move. Then Shrí, seizing her opportunity, and urged by terror, rose up and fled away from them, being sprinkled by their blood, mingled with her own, for she had received in the struggle a blow from a Bhilla that was meant for another. And she ran on, stumbling over roots and creepers in her haste, till she came at last to a forest pool. And there she lay down at the edge of the water and drank greedily; and afterwards washed her wound and stains, and bathed her feet, and overcome by weariness, fell asleep. Then the moon rose, and stole through the trees and kissed her with beams that trembled with admiration c; and the wild animals came down, one by one, to drink at the

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pool, and obedient to the commands of Triambaka, did her no harm, but licked her feet and hands as she lay.

Now, as fate would have it, this was the very pool, at which Umra-Singh had met with Ulupí, the daughter of the Daitya. And in course of the night, Ulupí came herself to the pool, to dance and sport according to her wont. And when she arrived, she saw Shrí., lying asleep by the pool. So she came and stood over her, and marvelled at the beauty of her limbs, even though her eyes were shut. And at last, out of curiosity, she touched her on the bosom with her finger, saying to herself: Is this an illusion, or is it a real woman, and is she dead or alive? But Shrí shuddered at her touch, for it suggested evil to her sleeping soul. And she opened her eyes, and their deep blue awoke the envy of the daughter of the Daitya, and astonished her even more than before.

Then they looked at each other, like light and darkness, and each wondered at the loveliness of the other, forgetful of her own. And at last Ulupí said: Who art thou, and what is thy name and family, and whence past thou come to my pool, and why? Shrí said: I am a King's daughter, looking for my husband, whom I lost, by the operation of crimes in

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a former birth, at the very moment that I found him again, after that he had returned to me from the Land of the Lotus of the Sun. But when Ulupí heard her, she was filled with sudden rage and malice. And she said to herself: Ha! so this is that absent lotus of the day, by reason of whom my beauty was scorned, and set at nought by the handsome stranger who saw me dancing by my pool. And instantly she started up, and assuming a terrific form, she gnashed at Shrí with teeth like saws, and made horrible grimaces at her, saying: Wretch, thou shalt never quit this wood, but wander for ever with thy accursed beauty among its trees, haunted and beset by hideous illusions till thou shalt long for death. Let thy absent husband save thee if he can. And she vanished with a peal of laughter, leaving Shrí fainting by the pool.

But Ulupí flew through the wood, and found Nightwalker, the old Wairágí, and told him all, and begged of him a boon, saying: Torment this miserable mortal woman, and deceive her with illusions for she has done me deadly injury. And Nightwalker rejoiced at the opportunity, for he remembered how Umra-Singh had defied him, and cut off his tongue in the wood. But he said: This is no easy matter, for we are forbidden by

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[paragraph continues] Pashupati to do her harm. But though I will do her no injury, I will delude this wandering wife of a vile husband, till she will desire to abandon the body of her own accord.


93:a See note, p. 9.

94:b ahamahamiká, 'each one saying I, I.'

94:c The Moon proper, in Sanskrit, is Lunus, not Luna.

Next: XIV. Illusion