p. 11 p. 12
THEN in the early morning, on the first day of the light fortnight, the young King arose before the sun, and went out of the temple, and wandered on the steps that went down into the pool, in which all the lotuses were preparing to welcome their lover, as he rose from behind the eastern mountain. And as he looked through the trees, suddenly he saw coming towards him with twinkling feet along the edge of the pool, a chétí a, resembling an incarnation of the night of new moon, for like it, she was clothed in dark blue, and she carried in her hand a mango blossom, as it carries the digit
of the moon. And while the King turned from her, with aversion and surprise, she came up, and stood a little way off, and said: O King, my mistress has arrived, and sends me to advise you, according to her promise; craving forgiveness for that her messenger is perforce a woman, since her confidante cannot be a man. And she sends her lord, by these unworthy hands, this flower, and if his slumbers have been sweet, it is well with her.
Then the King said: Chétí, take my acknowledgment to thy mistress, for her message and her flower: and tell her, that sleep is for those only, who like herself have had no dealings with the world; but for a sick man, the only remedy for a night without slumber is dawn. Then the chétí said: Thou art deceived: there are other and better remedies. I know both thy disease and its cure. And the King looked at her in surprise, and said: Damsel, thou art too forward, after the manner of thy kind, and thy sex. Then said the chétí: Ha! King: dost thou really know anything of my sex, and yet hast thou made a prisoner of thyself in this lonely old temple, grieving over so insignificant and inevitable a thing as the fickleness of a woman? Know, that once there was a King, like thyself, young and inexperienced in
the ways of the world, who, like thee, had a wife that he loved: but she died. And like thee, he abandoned the world, with its business and its pleasures, and went and lived by himself, as thou dost, in just such another old temple in a wood as this, devouring his own heart in despair. And when no one could persuade him to return to life and his kingly duties, at last there came to see him, not a young and frivolous maid like myself, but a wrinkled old rishi, the spiritual preceptor of his family. And he came to the King, who was clothed as thou art in garments of bark, and stood beside him, without uttering a word. So as they stood silently together, suddenly there fell to the ground the withered leaf of a bamboo tree, just as yonder yellow leaf is now fluttering down into the still water of the pool. And instantly, seeing the leaf fall, that old preceptor raised a howl of sorrow. And throwing himself upon the ground, he tore his clothes and his hair, and poured dust over his head with both hands. Then the King said: Father, what is this sudden access of sorrow? The preceptor said: Woe! woe! didst thou not mark the leaf fall from the tree? And the King wondered, and said: Holy man, surely thou art overtaken by folly. Is thy extraordinary grief suited
to the fall of a leaf from a tree? Then said the old rishi: O King, thine is the folly. Dost thou accuse me of folly, in bewailing the fall of a leaf, who forsakest life for the death of a woman, a thing in all respects exactly the same? For what is the death of a mortal woman, but the fall of a leaf from the tree of humanity b? And what, O King, is thy folly, in forsaking all, for the sake of the fickleness of a woman? Are not women by nature more fickle than the very leaves of the bamboo? And wilt thou plunge into the sea of infinite sorrow, because, after its kind, the bamboo leaf has fluttered into the pool?
Then she laid at his feet the mango flower, and turned, and went away quickly through the wood, and vanished among its trees. But the King stood in astonishment, looking after her as she went. And his eyes, as if rebels to his will, reflected in spite of him the grace of her figure, bending and swaying like a swan gliding over a pool. Then he stooped down, and picked up the flower, and smelled it. And he said: Mango, very sweet is thy smell, and musical was the voice of this audacious damsel, arguing for her mistress: but
she is a woman: and well she said, convicting herself, that those of her sex are all light and frivolous and flickering as the leaves of yonder bamboo that float on the passing breeze. Shall I allow virtue to women, who disallow it even in themselves? And he threw the flower from him into the pool, and went back into the temple with a ruffled heart, to mourn through the day, till the coming of night.
13:a In all Hindoo love stories, the chétí or sakhí, a hand-maiden, or female confidante, is a sine quâ non. All messages, all business, and even all conversation, is transacted through her, for the heroine never even speaks for herself, but requires a mouthpiece: being prevented from speaking by bashfulness, timidity, custom, and her own agitation.
16:b οἵν περ φύλλων γενέη, τοίηδε καὶ ἄνδρων.