(Enter, in a chariot, pursuing a deer, KING DUSHYANTA, bow and arrow in hand; and a charioteer.)
Charioteer (looking at the king and the deer). Your Majesty,
King. Charioteer, the deer has led us a long chase. And even now
The path he takes is strewed
With blades of grass half-chewed
From jaws wide with the stress
Of fevered weariness.
He leaps so often and so high,
He does not seem to run, but fly.
(In surprise.) Pursue as I may, I can hardly keep him in sight.
Charioteer. Your Majesty, I have been holding the horses back because the ground was rough. This checked us and gave the deer a lead. Now we are on level ground, and you will easily overtake him.
King. Then let the reins hang loose.
Charioteer. Yes, your Majesty. (He counterfeits rapid motion.) Look, your Majesty!
King (joyfully). See! The horses are gaining on the deer.
A voice behind the scenes. O King, this deer belongs to the hermitage, and must not be killed.
Charioteer (listening and looking). Your Majesty, here are two hermits, come to save the deer at the moment when your arrow was about to fall.
King (hastily). Stop the chariot.
Charioteer, Yes, your Majesty. (He does so. Enter a hermit with his pupil.)
Hermit (lifting his hand). O King, this deer belongs to the hermitage.
Restore your arrow to the quiver;
To you were weapons lent
The broken-hearted to deliver,
Not strike the innocent.
King (bowing low). It is done. (He does so.)
Hermit (joyfully). A deed worthy of you, scion of Puru's race, and shining example of kings. May you beget a son to rule earth and heaven.
King (bowing low). I am thankful for a Brahman's blessing.
The two hermits. O King, we are on our way to gather firewood. Here, along the bank of the Malini, you may see the hermitage of Father Kanva, over which Shakuntala presides, so to speak, as guardian deity. Unless other duties prevent, pray enter here and receive a welcome. Besides,
King. Is the hermit father there?
The two hermits. No, he has left his daughter to welcome guests, and has just gone to Somatirtha, to avert an evil fate that threatens her.
King. Well, I will see her. She shall feel my devotion, and report it to the sage.
The two hermits. Then we will go on our way. (Exit hermit with pupil.)
King. Charioteer, drive on. A sight of the pious hermitage will purify us.
Charioteer. Yes, your Majesty. (He counterfeits motion again.)
King (looking about). One would know, without being told, that this is the precinct of a pious grove.
Charioteer. How so?
King. Do you not see? Why, here
Charioteer. It is all true.
King (after a little). We must not disturb the hermitage. Stop here while I dismount.
Charioteer. I am holding the reins. Dismount, your Majesty.
King (dismounts and looks at himself). One should wear modest garments on entering a hermitage. Take these jewels and the bow. (He gives them to the charioteer.) Before
[paragraph continues] I return from my visit to the hermits, have the horses' backs wet down.
Charioteer. Yes, your Majesty. (Exit.)
King (walking and looking about). The hermitage! Well, I will enter. (As he does so, he feels a throbbing in his arm.)
A voice behind the scenes. This way, girls!
King (listening). I think I hear some one to the right of the grove. I must find out. (He walks and looks about.) Ah, here are hermit-girls, with watering-pots just big enough for them to handle. They are coming in this direction to water the young trees. They are charming!
[paragraph continues] I will draw back into the shade and wait for them. (He stands, gazing toward them. Enter SHAKUNTALA, as described, and her two friends.)
First friend. It seems to me, dear, that Father Kanva cares more for the hermitage trees than he does for you. You are delicate as a jasmine blossom, yet he tells you to fill the trenches about the trees.
Shakuntala. Oh, it isn't Father's bidding so much. I feel like a real sister to them. (She waters the trees.)
Priyamvada. Shakuntala, we have watered the trees that blossom in the summer-time. Now let's sprinkle those whose flowering-time is past. That will be a better deed, because we shall not be working for a reward.
Shakuntala. What a pretty idea! (She does so.)
King (to himself). And this is Kanva's daughter, Shakuntala. (In surprise.) The good Father does wrong to make her wear the hermit's dress of bark.
[paragraph continues] Well, I will step behind a tree and see how she acts with her friends. (He conceals himself.)
Shakuntala. Oh, Anusuya! Priyamvada has fastened this bark dress so tight that it hurts. Please loosen it. (ANUSUYA does so.)
Priyamvada (laughing). You had better blame your own budding charms for that.
King. She is quite right.
As when a flower amid
The leaves by autumn tossed--
Pale, withered leaves--lies hid,
And half its grace is lost.
[paragraph continues] Yet in truth the bark dress is not an enemy to her beauty. It serves as an added ornament. For
The moon in added splendour
Shines for its spot of dark;
Yet more the maiden slender
Charms in her dress of bark.
Shakuntala (looking ahead). Oh, girls, that mango-tree is trying to tell me something with his branches that move in the wind like fingers. I must go and see him. (She does so.)
Priyamvada. There, Shakuntala, stand right where you are a minute.
Priyamvada. When I see you there, it looks as if a vine were clinging to the mango-tree.
Shakuntala. I see why they call you the flatterer.
King. But the flattery is true.
Anusuya. Oh, Shakuntala! Here is the jasmine-vine that you named Light of the Grove. She has chosen the mango-tree as her husband.
Shakuntala (approaches and looks at it, joyfully). What a pretty pair they make. The jasmine shows her youth in her fresh flowers, and the mango-tree shows his strength in his ripening fruit. (She stands gazing at them.)
Priyamvada (smiling). Anusuya, do you know why Shakuntala looks so hard at the Light of the Grove?
Anusuya. No. Why?
Priyamvada. She is thinking how the Light of the Grove has found a good tree, and hoping that she will meet a fine lover.
Shakuntala. That's what you want for yourself. (She tips her watering-pot.)
Anusuya. Look, Shakuntala! Here is the spring-creeper that Father Kanva tended with his own hands--just as he did you. You are forgetting her.
Shakuntala. I'd forget myself sooner. (She goes to the creeper and looks at it, joyfully.) Wonderful! Wonderful! Priyamvada, I have something pleasant to tell you. Priyamvada. What is it, dear?
Shakuntala. It is out of season, but the spring-creeper is covered with buds down to the very root.
The two friends (running up). Really?
Shakuntala. Of course. Can't you see?
Priyamvada (looking at it joyfully). And I have something pleasant to tell you. You are to be married soon.
Shakuntala (snappishly). You know that's just what you want for yourself.
Priyamvada. I'm not teasing. I really heard Father Kanva say that this flowering vine was to be a symbol of your coming happiness.
Anusuya. Priyamvada, that is why Shakuntala waters the spring-creeper so lovingly.
Shakuntala. She is my sister. Why shouldn't I give her water? (She tips her watering-pot.)
King. May I hope that she is the hermit's daughter by a mother of a different caste? But it must be so.
[paragraph continues] Yet I will learn the whole truth.
Shakuntala (excitedly). Oh, oh! A bee has left the jasmine-vine and is flying into my face. (She shows herself annoyed by the bee.)
While her hands that way and this
Strike at you, you steal a kiss,
Love's all, honeymaker.
I know nothing but her name,
Not her caste, nor whence she came--
You, my rival, take her.
Shakuntala. Oh, girls! Save me from this dreadful bee!
The two friends (smiling). Who are we, that we should save you? Call upon Dushyanta. For pious groves are in the protection of the king.
King. A good opportunity to present myself. Have no--(He checks himself. Aside.) No, they would see that I am the king. I prefer to appear as a guest.
Shakuntala. He doesn't leave me alone! I am going to
run away. (She takes a step and looks about.) Oh, dear! Oh, dear! He is following me. Please save me.
King (hastening forward). Ah!
(The girls are a little flurried on seeing the king.)
Anusuya. It is nothing very dreadful, sir. But our friend (indicating SHAKUNTALA) was teased and frightened by a bee.
King (to SHAKUNTALA). I hope these pious days are happy ones. (SHAKUNTALA'S eyes drop in embarrassment.)
Anusuya. Yes, now that we receive such a distinguished guest.
Priyamvada. Welcome, sir. Go to the cottage, Shakuntala, and bring fruit. This water will do to wash the feet.
King. Your courteous words are enough to make me feel at home.
Anusuya. Then, sir, pray sit down and rest on this shady bench.
King. You, too, are surely wearied by your pious task. Pray be seated a moment.
Priyamvada (aside to SHAKUNTALA). My dear, we must be polite to our guest. Shall we sit down? (The three girls sit.)
Shakuntala (to herself). Oh, why do I have such feelings when I see this man? They seem wrong in a hermitage.
King (looking at the girls). It is delightful to see your friendship. For you are all young and beautiful.
Priyamvada (aside to ANUSUYA). Who is he, dear? With his mystery, and his dignity, and his courtesy? He acts like a king and a gentleman.
Anusuya. I am curious too. I am going to ask him. (Aloud.) Sir, you are so very courteous that I make bold to ask you something. What royal family do you adorn, sir? What country is grieving at your absence? Why does a gentleman so delicately bred submit to the weary journey into our pious grove?
Shakuntala (aside). Be brave, my heart. Anusuya speaks your very thoughts.
King (aside). Shall I tell at once who I am, or conceal it? (He reflects.) This will do. (Aloud.) I am a student of Scripture.
[paragraph continues] It is my duty to see justice done in the cities of the king. And I have come to this hermitage on a tour of inspection.
Anusuya. Then we of the hermitage have some one to take care of us. (SHAKUNTALA shows embarrassment.)
The two friends (observing the demeanour of the pair. Aside to SHAKUNTALA). Oh, Shakuntala! If only Father were here to-day.
Shakuntala. What would he do?
The two friends. He would make our distinguished guest happy, if it took his most precious treasure.
Shakuntala (feigning anger). Go away! You mean something. I'll not listen to you.
King. I too would like to ask a question about your friend.
The two friends. Sir, your request is a favour to us.
King. Father Kanva lives a lifelong hermit. Yet you say that your friend is his daughter. How can that be?
Anusuya. Listen, sir. There is a majestic royal sage named Kaushika------
King. Ah, yes. The famous Kaushika.
Anusuya. Know, then, that he is the source of our friend's being. But Father Kanva is her real father, because he took care of her when she was abandoned.
King. You waken my curiosity with the word "abandoned." May I hear the whole story?
Anusuya. Listen, sir. Many years ago, that royal sage was leading a life of stern austerities, and the gods, becoming strangely jealous, sent the nymph Menaka to disturb his devotions.
King. Yes, the gods feel this jealousy toward the austerities of others. And then------
Anusuya. Then in the lovely spring-time he saw her intoxicating beauty------ (She stops in embarrassment.)
King. The rest is plain. Surely, she is the daughter of the nymph.
King. It is as it should be.
(SHAKUNTALA hangs her head in confusion.)
King (to himself). Ah, my wishes become hopes.
Priyamvada (looking with a smile at SHAKUNTALA). Sir, it seems as if you had more to say. (SHAKUNTALA threatens her friend with her finger.)
King. You are right. Your pious life interests me, and I have another question.
Priyamvada. Do not hesitate. We hermit people stand ready to answer all demands.
King. My question is this:
Priyamvada. Sir, we are under bonds to lead a life of virtue. But it is her father's wish to give her to a suitable lover.
King (joyfully to himself).
Shakuntala (pettishly). Anusuya, I'm going.
Anusuya. What for?
Shakuntala. I am going to tell Mother Gautami that Priyamvada is talking nonsense. (She rises.)
Anusuya. My dear, we hermit people cannot neglect to entertain a distinguished guest, and go wandering about.
(SHAKUNTALA starts to walk away without answering.)
King (aside). She is going! (He starts up as if to detain her, then checks his desires.) A thought is as vivid as an act, to a lover.
Priyamvada (approaching SHAKUNTALA). You dear, peevish girl! You mustn't go.
Shakuntala (turns with a frown). Why not?
Priyamvada. You owe me the watering of two trees. You
can go when you have paid your debt. (She forces her to come back.)
King. It is plain that she is already wearied by watering the trees. See!
[paragraph continues] I therefore remit her debt. (He gives the two friends a ring. They take it, read the name engraved on it, and look at each other.)
King. Make no mistake. This is a present--from the king.
Priyamvada. Then, sir, you ought not to part with it. Your word is enough to remit the debt.
Anusuya. Well, Shakuntala, you are set free by this kind gentleman--or rather, by the king himself. Where are you going now?
Shakuntala (to herself). I would never leave him if I could help myself.
Priyamvada. Why don't you go now?
Shakuntala. I am not your servant any longer. I will go when I like.
King (looking at SHAKUNTALA. To himself). Does she feel toward me as I do toward her? At least, there is ground for hope.
A voice behind the scenes. Hermits! Hermits! Prepare to defend the creatures in our pious grove. King Dushyanta is hunting in the neighbourhood.
King (aside). Alas! My soldiers are disturbing the pious grove in their search for me.
The voice behind the scenes. Hermits! Hermits! Here is an elephant who is terrifying old men, women, and children.
(The girls listen and rise anxiously.)
King. I have offended sadly against the hermits. I must go back.
The two friends. Your Honour, we are frightened by this alarm of the elephant. Permit us to return to the cottage.
Anusuya (to SHAKUNTALA). Shakuntala dear, Mother Gautami will be anxious. We must hurry and find her.
Shakuntala (feigning lameness). Oh, oh! I can hardly walk.
King. You must go very slowly. And I will take pains that the hermitage is not disturbed.
The two friends. Your honour, we feel as if we knew you very well. Pray pardon our shortcomings as hostesses. May we ask you to seek better entertainment from us another time?
King. You are too modest. I feel honoured by the mere sight of you.
Shakuntala. Anusuya, my foot is cut on a sharp blade of grass, and my dress is caught on an amaranth twig. Wait for me while I loosen it. (She casts a lingering glance at the king, and goes out with her two friends.)
King (sighing). They are gone. And I must go. The sight of Shakuntala has made me dread the return to the city. I will make my men camp at a distance from the pious grove. But I cannot turn my own thoughts from Shakuntala.