THEN he tossed all night on his bed of leaves, and rose before the sun, and went out and stood on the steps of the pool, watching the images of the last stars paling in the mirror of its water before the advent of the day. And he looked and to! out of the trees again the chétí came towards him with twinkling feet, holding a trumpet-flower c in her hand. And she resembled the sky before the dawn, touched with the first streak of red. So she came up to the King, and stood near him, and said: O King, my mistress sends her lord, by these unworthy
hands, a flower, and if his slumber has been sound, it is well with her.
Then the King said: Chétí, how can he pass untroubled nights, whose memory is haunted by the injuries of a sex, even in thy opinion more frivolous than dry leaves? Then the chétí laughed. And she said: O King, I am young, yet am I older than thou art. Dost thou think so lightly of the actions of women, and yet recollect and attach weight to the words of one of the youngest of them? And the King was confused. And he said: Maiden, young certainly thou art, and yet already full of the delusive cunning of thy sex. And if such is the maid, what else can the mistress be? Then the chétí was delighted. And she exclaimed: She is a woman; is not that enough for thee? Are they not all without exception like bamboo leaves, frivolous, and like their stalks, hollow? And yet, judge not all flowers according to thy experience of the weed. For though I and others are but weeds, yet is my mistress like this glorious trumpet-flower. O King, art thou so simple, as to think that the Creator, who in making all flowers equally flowers, nevertheless gave to each its own peculiarity, was so left-handed as to make all women identical? Truly, thou art but a poor judge. For some, like this pátalí, are
glorious to look at, whereas others, like yesterday's mango, are loaded with fragrance. Like her, whose husband once went upon a journey and never returned. And year followed year, and still he never came. And every day in all those years she was pestered by suitors, that, attracted like bees by her beauty, came on ever more keenly the more she drove them away. Then one night she took a lamp, and filled it with oil, and a wick, and went down to the bank of Ganges, saying to herself: I will light it, and set it afloat upon the river. And the flame is the life of my husband. Therefore if it goes out, or sinks, I will also put an end to my life, since he will be dead. But if it floats, I will wait and endure, for I shall know that he will return. So she did. Now that night there was a high wind, which blew furiously; and the waves of Ganges were like those of the sea. But notwithstanding, she lit her lamp, and pushed it out upon the river: for her faith d was very strong. And at that moment the Sky, with all
its myriad stars for eyes, was looking down at her. And when it saw her little lamp, it laughed in scorn: and said: See what a miserable taper yonder poor mortal woman calls a lamp! But Maheshwara heard the brag. And suddenly, by his power, he created a calm. Then the waves of Ganges sank to sleep, and on her e still bosom floated the little lamp, with a flame that never wavered: and in the silent mirror of her waters appeared another sky and other stars, in mimicry of those above. Then said the kindly God: Sky, seest thou yonder sky with all its stars below? And the Sky answered: Aye: but that sky with its stars is but an illusion. And Maheshwara laughed. And he said: Thou foolish Sky, know, that thou art thyself, with all thy stars, no less an illusion than is that other sky below. The sole reality of all is yonder little lamp, that floats midway, poised between the infinity above and that below. For it embodies the good quality f of a faithful wife.
So the lamp floated on, till it went out of sight; and thereafter that woman regained her husband, by the favour of the God.
Then the chétí looked at the King steadily, and laid the flower at his feet, and went away. And the King looked after her, as she went: and stood meditating, long after she was gone. And then he stooped, and picked up the trumpet-flower. And he said: Pátalí, exquisitely lovely is thy great crimson flower: and as for this strange maiden, surely Saraswati g dwells upon her tongue. But what of that? Is she not a woman? One of those who carry poison in their teeth under the honey in their lips. And he threw the flower, with his lips shut, into the pool, and went back to the temple with a sad heart, to mourn through the day and await the coming of the night.
17:c Pátalí. Its colour is pale red.
19:d The reader unacquainted with Hindoo literature may possibly see in this a Christian idea; but it is not so: or rather it is far more Indian than Christian: and the original bhakti is stronger and far more intense in its meaning than our faith.
20:e Because Gangá is a woman.
20:f Goodness, or sattwa (the noun, of which satí, a word familiar to all English readers in connection with widow burning, is the adjective) is one of the three great Qualities: Passion and Darkness being the other two. Sattwa alone is real: that which is (sat). But the play on wife and goodness cannot be rendered in English.
21:g The goddess of eloquence.