Part 3 out of 4
everything that makes life worth living. You could not - you who
are so gentle - you could not commit the senseless cruelty of
leaving me when you have taught me to love you with every beat of
my heart. I have been patient - I have held myself in, but I must
speak now. Marry me, and teach me. I know nothing. You know all I
need to know. For pity's sake be my wife."
I had not meant to say it; it broke from me in the firelight
moonlight with a power that I could not stay. She looked at me
with a disarming gentleness.
"Is this fair? Do you remember how at Peshawar I told you I
thought it was a dangerous experiment, and that it would make
things harder for you. But you took the risk like a brave man
because you felt there were things to be gained - knowledge,
insight, beauty. Have you not gained them?"
"Then, is it all loss if I go?"
"Not all. But loss I dare not face."
"I will tell you this. I could not stay if I would. Do you
remember the old man on the way to Vernag? He told me that I must
very soon take up an entirely new life. I have no choice, though
if I had I would still do it."
There was silence and down a long arcade, without any touch of
her hand I heard the music, receding with exquisite modulations
to a very great distance, and between the pillared stems, I saw a
"Do you wish to go?"
"Entirely. But I shall not forget you, Stephen. I will tell you
something. For me, since I came to India, the gate that shuts us
out at birth has opened. How shall I explain? Do you remember
Kipling's 'Finest Story in the World'?"
"Not fiction - true, whether he knew it or no. But for me the
door has opened wide. First, I remembered piecemeal, with wide
gaps, then more connectedly. Then, at the end of the first year,
I met one day at Cawnpore, an ascetic, an old man of great beauty
and wisdom, and he was able by his own knowledge to enlighten
mine. Not wholly - much has come since then. Has come, some of it
in ways you could not understand now, but much by direct sight
and hearing. Long, long ago I lived in Peshawar, and my story was
a sorrowful one. I will tell you a little before I go."
"I hold you to your promise. What is there I cannot believe when
you tell me? But does that life put you altogether away from me?
Was there no place for me in any of your memories that has drawn
us together now? Give me a little hope that in the eternal
pilgrimage there is some bond between us and some rebirth where
we may met again."
"I will tell you that also before we part. I have grown to
believe that you do love me - and therefore love something which
is infinitely above me."
"And do you love me at all? Am I nothing, Vanna - Vanna?"
"My friend," she said, and laid her hand on mine.
A silence, and then she spoke, very low.
"You must be prepared for very great change, Stephen, and yet
believe that it does not really change things at all. See how
even the gods pass and do not change! The early gods of India are
gone and Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna have taken their places and are
one and the same. The old Buddhist stories say that in heaven
"The flowers of the garland the God wore are withered, his robes
of majesty are waxed old and faded; he falls from his high
estate, and is re-born into a new life." But he lives still in
the young God who is born among men. The gods cannot die, nor can
we nor anything that has life. Now I must go in.
I sat long in the moonlight thinking. The whole camp was sunk in
sleep and the young dawn was waking upon the peaks when I turned
The days that were left we spent in wandering up the Lidar River
to the hills that are the first ramp of the ascent to the great
heights. We found the damp corners where the mushrooms grow like
pearls - the mushrooms of which she said - "To me they have
always been fairy things. To see them in the silver-grey dew of
the early mornings - mysteriously there like the manna in the
desert - they are elfin plunder, and as a child I was half afraid
of them. No wonder they are the darlings of folklore, especially
in Celtic countries where the Little People move in the
starlight. Strange to think they are here too among strange
We climbed to where the wild peonies bloom in glory that few eyes
see, and the rosy beds of wild sweet strawberries ripen. Every
hour brought with it some new delight, some exquisiteness of
sight or of words that I shall remember for ever. She sat one day
on a rock, holding the sculptured leaves and massive seed-vessels
of some glorious plant that the Kashmiris believe has magic
virtues hidden in the seeds of pure rose embedded in the white
"If you fast for three days and eat nine of these in the Night of
No Moon, you can rise on the air light as thistledown and stand
on the peak of Haramoukh. And on Haramoukh, as you know it is
believed, the gods dwell. There was a man here who tried this
enchantment. He was a changed man for ever after, wandering and
muttering to himself and avoiding all human intercourse as far as
he could. He was no Kashmiri - A Jat from the Punjab, and they
showed him to me when I was here with the Meryons, and told me he
would speak to none. But I knew he would speak to me, and he
"Did he tell you anything of what he had seen in the high world
"He said he had seen the Dream of the God. I could not get more
than that. But there are many people here who believe that the
Universe as we know it is but an image in the dream of Ishvara,
the Universal Spirit - in whom are all the gods - and that when
He ceases to dream we pass again into the Night of Brahm, and all
is darkness until the Spirit of God moves again on the face of
the waters. There are few temples to Brahm. He is above and
beyond all direct worship."
"Do you think he had seen anything?"
"What do I know? Will you eat the seeds? The Night of No Moon
will soon be here."
She held out the seed-vessels, laughing. I write that down but
how record the lovely light of kindliness in her eyes - the
almost submissive gentleness that yet was a defense stronger
than steel. I never knew - how should I? - whether she was
sitting by my side or heavens away from me in her own strange
world. But always she was a sweetness that I could not reach, a
cup of nectar that I might not drink, unalterably her own and
never mine, and yet - my friend.
She showed me the wild track up into the mountains where the
Pilgrims go to pay their devotions at the Great God's shrine in
the awful heights, regretting that we were too early for that
most wonderful sight. Above where we were sitting the river fell
in a tormented white cascade, crashing arid feathering into
spray-dust of diamonds. An eagle was flying above it with a
mighty spread of wings that seemed almost double-jointed in the
middle - they curved and flapped so wide and free. The fierce
head was outstretched with the rake of a plundering galley as he
swept down the wind, seeking his meat from God, and passed
majestic from our sight. The valley beneath us was littered with
enormous boulders spilt from the ancient hollows of the hills. It
must have been a great sight when the giants set them trundling
down in work or play! - I said this to Vanna, who was looking
down upon it with meditative eyes. She roused herself.
"Yes, this really is Giant-Land up here - everything is so huge.
And when they quarrel up in the heights - in Jotunheim - and the
black storms come down the valleys it is like colossal laughter
or clumsy boisterous anger. And the Frost giants are still at
work up there with their great axes of frost and rain. They fling
down the side of a mountain or make fresh ways for the rivers.
About sixty years ago - far above here - they tore down a
mountain side and damned up the mighty Indus, so that for months
he was a lake, shut back in the hills. But the river giants are
no less strong up here in the heights of the world, and lie lay
brooding and hiding his time. And then one awful day he tore the
barrier down and roared down the valley carrying death and ruin
with him, and swept away a whole Sikh army among other
unconsidered trifles. That must have been a soul-shaking sight."
She spoke on, and as she spoke I saw. What are her words as I
record them? Stray dead leaves pressed in a book - the life and
grace dead. Yet I record, for she taught me what I believe the
world should learn, that the Buddhist philosophers are right when
they teach that all forms of what we call matter are really but
aggregates of spiritual units, and that life itself is a curtain
hiding reality as the vast veil of day conceals from our sight
the countless orbs of space. So that the purified mind even while
prisoned in the body, may enter into union with the Real and,
according to attainment, see it as it is.
She was an interpreter because she believed this truth
profoundly. She saw the spiritual essence beneath the lovely
illusion of matter, and the air about her was radiant with the
motion of strange forces for which the dull world has many names
aiming indeed at the truth, but falling - O how far short of her
calm perception! She was indeed of a Household higher than the
Household of Faith. She had received enlightenment. She beheld
with open eyes.
Next day our camp was struck and we turned our faces again to
Srinagar and to the day of parting. I set down but one strange
incident of our journey, of which I did not speak even to her.
We were camping at Bijbehara, awaiting our house boat, and the
site was by the Maharaja's lodge above the little town. It was
midnight and I was sleepless - the shadow of the near future was
upon me. I wandered down to the lovely old wooded bridge across
the Jhelum, where the strong young trees grow up from the piles.
Beyond it the moon was shining on the ancient Hindu remains close
to the new temple, and as I stood on the bridge I could see the
figure of a man in deepest meditation by the ruins. He was no
European. I saw the straight dignified folds of the robes. But it
was not surprising he should be there and I should have thought
no more of it, had I not heard at that instant from the further
side of the river the music of the Flute. I cannot hope to
describe that music to any who have not heard it. Suffice it to
say that where it calls he who hears must follow whether in the
body or the spirit. Nor can I now tell in which I followed. One
day it will call me across the River of Death, and I shall ford
it or sink in the immeasurable depths and either will be well.
But immediately I was at the other side of the river, standing by
the stone Bull of Shiva where he kneels before the Symbol, and
looking steadfastly upon me a few paces away was a man in the
dress of a Buddhist monk. He wore the yellow robe that leaves one
shoulder bare; his head was bare also and he held in one hand a
small bowl like a stemless chalice. I knew I was seeing a very
strange inexplicable sight - one that in Kashmir should be
incredible, but I put wonder aside for I knew now that I was
moving in the sphere where the incredible may well be the actual.
His expression was of the most unbroken calm. If I compare it to
the passionless gaze of the Sphinx I misrepresent, for the Riddle
of the Sphinx still awaits solution, but in this face was a noble
acquiescence and a content that had it vibrated must have passed
Words or their equivalent passed between us. I felt his voice.
"You have heard the music of the Flute?"
"I have heard."
"What has it given?"
"A consuming longing."
"It is the music of the Eternal. The creeds and the faiths are
the words that men have set to that melody. Listening, it will
lead you to Wisdom. Day by day you will interpret more surely."
"I cannot stand alone."
"You will not need. What has led you will lead you still. Through
many births it has led you. How should it fail?"
"What should I do?"
"What should I shun?"
"Sorrow and fear."
"What should I seek?"
"And the end?"
"Joy. Wisdom. They are the Light and Dark of the Divine." A cold
breeze passed and touched my forehead. I was still standing in
the middle of the bridge above the water gliding to the Ocean,
and there was no figure by the Bull of Shiva. I was alone. I
passed back to the tents with the shudder that is not fear but
akin to death upon me. I knew I had been profoundly withdrawn
from what we call actual life, and the return is dread.
The days passed as we floated down the river to Srinagar. On
board the Kedarnath, now lying in our first berth beneath the
chenars near and yet far from the city, the last night had come.
Next morning I should begin the long ride to Baramula and beyond
that barrier of the Happy Valley down to Murree and the Punjab.
Where afterwards? I neither knew nor cared. My lesson was before
me to be learned. I must try to detach myself from all I had
prized - to say to my heart it was but a loan and no gift, and to
cling only to the imperishable. And did I as yet certainly know
more than the A B C of the hard doctrine by which I must live?
"Que vivre est difficile, 0 mon cocur fatigue!" - an immense
weariness possessed me - a passive grief.
Vanna would follow later with the wife of an Indian doctor. I
believed she was bound for Lahore but on that point she had not
spoken certainly and I felt we should not meet again.
And now my packing was finished, and, as far as my possessions
went, the little cabin had the soulless emptiness that comes with
departure. I was enduring as best I could. If she had held
loyally to her pact, could I do less. Was she to blame for my
wild hope that in the end she would relent and step down to the
household levels of love?
She sat by the window - the last time I should see the moonlit
banks and her clear face against them. I made and won my fight
for the courage of words.
"And now I've finished everything - thank goodness! and we can
talk. Vanna - you will write to me?"
"Once. I promise that."
"Only once? Why? I counted on your words."
"I want to speak to you of something else now. I want to tell you
a memory. But look first at the pale light behind the
So I had seen it with her. So I should not see it again. We
watched until a line of silver sparkled on the black water, and
then she spoke again.
"Stephen, do you remember in the ruined monastery near Peshawar,
how I told you of the young Abbot, who came down to Peshawar with
a Chinese pilgrim? And he never returned."
"I remember. There was a Dancer."
"There was a Dancer. She was Lilavanti, and she was brought there
to trap him but when she saw him she loved him, and that was his
ruin and hers. Trickery he would have known and escaped. Love
caught him in an unbreakable net, and they fled down the Punjab
and no one knew any more. But I know. For two years they lived
together and she saw the agony in his heart - the anguish of his
broken vows, the face of the Blessed One receding into an
infinite distance. She knew that every day added a link to the
heavy Karma that was bound about the feet she loved, and her soul
said "Set him free," and her heart refused the torture. But her
soul was the stronger. She set him free."
"She took poison. He became an ascetic in the hills and died in
peace but with a long expiation upon him."
"I am she."
"You!" I heard my voice as if it were another man's. Was it
possible that I - a man of the twentieth century, believed this
impossible thing? Impossible, and yet - what had I learnt if not
the unity of Time, the illusion of matter? What is the twentieth
century, what the first? Do they not lie before the Supreme as
one, and clean from our petty divisions? And I myself had seen
what, if I could trust it, asserted the marvels that are no
marvels to those who know.
"You loved him?"
"I love him."
"Then there is nothing at all for me."
She resumed as if she had heard nothing.
"I have lost him for many lives. He stepped above me at once, for
he was clean gold though he fell, and though I have followed I
have not found. But that Buddhist beyond Islamabad - you shall
hear now what he said. It was this. 'The shut door opens, and
this time he awaits.' I cannot yet say all it means, but there is
no Lahore for me. I shall meet him soon."
"Vanna, you would not harm yourself again?"
"Never. I should not meet him. But you will see. Now I can talk
no more. I will be there tomorrow when you go, and I will ride
with you to the poplar road."
She passed like a shadow into her little dark cabin, and I was
left alone. I will not dwell on that black loneliness of the
spirit, for it has passed - it was the darkness of hell, a
madness of jealousy, and could have no enduring life in any heart
that had known her. But it was death while it lasted. I had
moments of horrible belief, of horrible disbelief, but however it
might be I knew that she was out of reach for ever. Near me -
yes! but only as the silver image of the moon floated in the
water by the boat, with the moon herself cold myriads of miles
away. I will say no more of that last eclipse of what she had
wrought in me.
The bright morning came, sunny as if my joys were beginning
instead of ending. Vanna mounted her horse and led the way from
the boat. I cast one long look at the little Kedarnath, the home
of those perfect weeks, of such joy and sorrow as would have
seemed impossible to me in the chrysalis of my former existence.
Little Kahdra stood crying bitterly on the bank - the kindly folk
who had served us were gathered saddened and quiet. I set my
teeth and followed her.
How dear she looked, how kind, how gentle her appealing eyes, as
I drew up beside her. She knew what I felt. She knew that the
sight of little Kahdra crying as he said good - bye was the last
pull at my sore heart. Still she rode steadily on, and still I
followed. Once she spoke.
"Stephen, there was a man in Peshawar, kind and true, who loved
that Lilavanti who had no heart for him. And when she died, it
was in his arms, as a sister might cling to a brother, for the
man she loved had left her. It seems that will not be in this
life, but do not think I have been so blind that I did not know
I could not answer - it was the realization of the utmost I could
hope and it came like healing to my spirit. Better that bond
between us, slight as most men might think it, than the dearest
and closest with a woman not Vanna. It was the first thrill of a
new joy in my heart - the first, I thank the Infinite, of many
and steadily growing joys and hopes that cannot be uttered here.
I bent to take the hand she stretched to me, but even as they
touched, I saw, passing behind the trees by the road, the young
man I had seen in the garden at Vernag - most beautiful, in the
strange miter of his jewelled diadem. His flute was at his lips
and the music rang out sudden and crystal clear as though a
woodland god were passing to awaken all the joys of the dawn.
The horses heard too. In an instant hers had swerved wildly, and
she lay on the ground at my feet. The music had ceased.
Days had gone before I could recall what had happened then. I
lifted her in my arms and carried her into the rest-house near at
hand, and the doctor came and looked grave, and a nurse was sent
from the Mission Hospital. No doubt all was done that was
possible, hut I knew from the first what it meant and how it
would be. She lay in a white stillness, and the room was quiet as
death. I remembered with unspeakable gratitude later that the
nurse had been merciful and had not sent me away.
So Vanna lay all day and through the night, and when the dawn
came again she stirred and motioned with her hand, although her
eyes were closed. I understood, and kneeling, I put my hand
under her head, and rested it against my shoulder. Her faint
voice murmured at my ear.
"I dreamed - I was in the pine wood at Pahlgam and it was the
Night of No Moon, and I was afraid for it was dark, but suddenly
all the trees were covered with little lights like stars, and the
greater light was beyond. Nothing to be afraid of."
"And I looked beyond Peshawar, further than eyes could see, and
in the ruins of the monastery where we stood, you and I - I saw
him, and he lay with his head at the feet of the Blessed One.
That is well, is it not?"
"And it is well I go? Is it not?"
"It is well."
A long silence. The first sun ray touched the floor. Again the
"Believe what I have told you. For we shall meet again." I
"We shall meet again."
In my arms she died.
Later, when all was over I asked myself if I believed this and
answered with full assurance - Yes.
If the story thus told sounds incredible it was not incredible to
me. I had had a profound experience. What is a miracle? It is
simply the vision of the Divine behind nature. It will come in
different forms according to the eyes that see, but the soul will
know that its perception is authentic.
I could not leave Kashmir, nor was there any need. On the
contrary I saw that there was work for me here among the people
she had loved, and my first aim was to fit myself for that and
for the writing I now felt was to be my career in life. After
much thought I bought the little Kedarnath and made it my home,
very greatly to the satisfaction of little Kahdra and all the
friendly people to whom I owed so much.
Vanna's cabin I made my sleeping room, and it is the simple truth
that the first night I slept in the place that was a Temple of
Peace in my thoughts, I had a dream of wordless bliss, and
starting awake for sheer joy I saw her face in the night, human
and dear, looking down upon me with that poignant sweetness
which would seem to be the utmost revelation of love and pity.
And as I stretched my hands, another face dawned solemnly from
the shadow beside her with grave brows bent on mine - one I had
known and seen in the ruins at Bijbehara. Outside and very near I
could hear the silver weaving of the Flute that in India is the
symbol of the call of the Divine. A dream - yes, but it taught me
to live. At first, in my days of grief and loss, I did but dream
- the days were hard to endure. I will not dwell on that illusion
of sorrow, now long dead. I lived only for the night.
"When sleep comes to close each difficult day,
When night gives pause to the long watch I keep,
And all my bonds I needs must loose apart,
Must doff my will as raiment laid away-
With the first dream that comes with the first sleep,
I run - I run! I am gathered to thy heart!"
To the heart of her pity. Thus for awhile I lived. Slowly I
became conscious of her abiding presence about me, day or night
It grew clearer, closer.
Like the austere Hippolytus to his unseen Goddess, I could say;
"Who am more to thee than other mortals are,
Whose is the holy lot,
As friend with friend to walk and talk with thee,
Hearing thy sweet mouth's music in mine ear,
But thee beholding not."
That was much, but later, the sunshine was no bar, the bond
strengthened and there have been days in the heights of the
hills, in the depths of the woods, when I saw her as in life,
passing at a distance, but real and lovely. Life? She had never
lived as she did now - a spirit, freed and rejoicing. For me the
door she had opened would never shut. The Presences were about
me, and I entered upon my heritage of joy, knowing that in
Kashmir, the holy land of Beauty, they walk very near, and lift
up the folds of the Dark that the initiate may see the light
So I began my solitary life of gladness. I wrote, aided by the
little book she had left me, full of strangest stories, stranger
by far than my own brain could conceive. Some to be revealed -
some to be hidden. And thus the world will one day receive the
story of the Dancer of Peshawar in her upward lives, that it may
know, if it will, that death is nothing - for Life and Love are
THE INCOMPARABLE LADY
A STORY OF CHINA WITH A MORAL
It is recorded that when the Pearl Empress (his mother) asked of
the philosophic Yellow Emperor which he considered the most
beautiful of the Imperial concubines, he replied instantly: "The
Lady A-Kuei": and when the Royal Parent in profound astonishment
demanded bow this could be, having regard to the exquisite
beauties in question, the Emperor replied;
"I have never seen her. It was dark when I entered the Dragon
Chamber and dusk of dawn when I rose and left her."
Then said the Pearl Princess;
"Possibly the harmony of her voice solaced the Son of Heaven?"
But he replied;
"She spoke not."
And the Pearl Empress rejoined:
"Her limbs then are doubtless softer than the kingfisher's
But the Yellow Emperor replied;
"Doubtless. Yet I have not touched them. I was that night
immersed in speculations on the Yin and the Yang. How then should
I touch a woman?"
And the Pearl Empress was silent from very great amazement, not
daring to question further but marveling how the thing might be.
And seeing this, the Yellow Emperor recited a poem to the
"It is said that Power rules the world
And who shall gainsay it?
But Loveliness is the head-jewel upon the brow of Power."
And when the Empress had listened with reverence to the Imperial
Poet, she quitted the August Presence.
Immediately, having entered her own palace of the Tranquil
Motherly Virtues, she caused the Lady A-Kuei to be summoned to
her presence, who came, habited in a purple robe and with pins of
jade and coral in her hair. And the Pearl Empress considered her
attentively, recalling the perfect features of the White Jade
Concubine, the ambrosial smile of the Princess of Feminine
Propriety, and the willow-leaf eyebrows of the Lady of Chen, and
her astonishment was excessive, because the Lady A-Kuei could not
in beauty approach any one of these ladies. Reflecting further
she then placed her behind the screen, and summoned the court
artist, Lo Cheng, who had been formerly commissioned to paint the
heavenly features of the Emperor's Ladies, mirrored in still
water, though he had naturally not been permitted to view the
beauties themselves. Of him the Empress demanded:
"Who is the most beautiful - which the most priceless jewel of
the dwellers in the Dragon Palace?"
And, with humility, Lo Cheng replied:
"What mortal man shall decide between the white Crane and the
Swan, or between the paeony flower and the lotus?" And having
thus said he remained silent, and in him was no help. Finally and
after exhortation the Pearl Empress condescended to threaten him
with the loss of a head so useless to himself and to her majesty.
Then, in great fear and haste he replied:
"Of all the flowers that adorn the garden of the Sun of Heaven,
the Lady A-Kuei is the fittest to be gathered by the Imperial
Hand, and this is my deliberate opinion."
Now, hearing this statement, the Pearl Empress was submerged in
bewilderment, knowing that the Lady A-Kuei had modestly retired
when the artist had depicted the reflection of the assembled
loveliness of the Inner Chambers, as not counting herself worthy
of portraiture, and her features were therefore unknown to him.
Nor could the Empress further question the artist, for when she
had done so, he replied only:
"This is the secret of the Son of Heaven," and, having gained
permission, he swiftly departed.
Nor could the Lady A-Kuei herself aid her Imperial Majesty, for
on being questioned she was overwhelmed with modesty and
confusion, and with stammering lips could only repeat:
"This is the secret of his Divine Majesty," imploring with the
utmost humility, forgiveness from the Imperial Mother.
The Pearl Empress was unable to eat her supper. In vain were
spread before her the delicacies of the Empire. She could but
trifle with a shark's fin and a "Silver Ear" fungus and a dish of
slugs entrapped upon roses, with the dew-like pearls upon them.
Her burning curiosity had wholly deprived her of appetite, nor
could the amusing exertions of the Palace mimes, or a lantern
fete upon the lake restore her to any composure. "This
circumstance will cause my flight on the Dragon (death)," she
said to herself, "unless I succeed in unveiling the mystery. What
therefore should be my next proceeding?"
And so, deeply reflecting, she caused the Chief of the Eunuchs to
summon the Princess of Feminine Propriety, the White Jade
Concubine and all the other exalted beauties of the Heavenly
In due course of time these ladies arrived, paying suitable
respect and obeisance to the Mother of his Divine Majesty. They
were resplendent in king-fisher ornaments, in jewels of jade,
crystal and coral, in robes of silk and gauze, and still more
resplendent in charms that not the Celestial Empire itself could
equal, setting aside entirely all countries of the foreign
barbarians. And in grace and elegance of manners, in skill in the
arts of poetry and the lute, what could surpass them?
Like a parterre of flowers they surrounded her Majesty, and
awaited her pleasure with perfect decorum, when, having saluted
them with affability she thus addressed them - "Lovely ones -
ladies distinguished by the particular attention of your
sovereign and mine, I have sent for you to resolve a doubt and a
difficulty. On questioning our sovereign as to whom he regarded
as the loveliest of his garden of beauty he benignantly replied:
"The Lady A-Kuei is incomparable," and though this may well be,
he further graciously added that he had never seen her. Nor, on
pursuing the subject, could I learn the Imperial reason. The
artist Lo Cheng follows in his Master's footsteps, he also never
having seen the favored lady, and he and she reply to me that
this is an Imperial secret. Declare to me therefore if your
perspicacity and the feminine interest which every lady property
takes in the other can unravel this mystery, for my liver is
tormented with anxiety beyond measure."
As soon as the Pearl Empress had spoken she realized that she had
committed a great indiscretion. A babel of voices, of cries,
questions and contradictions instantly arose. Decorum was
abandoned. The Lady of Chen swooned, nor could she be revived for
an hour, and the Princess of Feminine Propriety and the White
Jade Concubine could be dragged apart only by the united efforts
of six of the Palace matrons, so great was their fury the one
with the other, each accusing each of encouragement to the Lady
A-Kuei's pretensions. So also with the remaining ladies. Shrieks
resounded through the Hall of Virtuous Tranquillity, and when the
Pearl Empress attempted to pour oil on the troubled waters by
speaking soothing and comfortable words, the august Voice was
entirely inaudible in the tumult.
All sought at length in united indignation for the Lady A-Kuei,
but she had modestly withdrawn to the Pearl Pavilion in the
Imperial Garden and, foreseeing anxieties, had there secured
herself on hearing the opening of the Royal Speech.
Finally the ladies were led away by their attendants, weeping,
lamenting, raging, according to their several dispositions, and
the Pearl Empress, left with her own maidens, beheld the floor
strewn with jade pins, kingfisher and coral jewels, and even with
fragments of silk and gauze. Nor was she any nearer the solution
of the desired secret.
That night she tossed upon a bed sleepless though heaped with
down, and her mind raged like a fire up and down all possible
answers to the riddle, but none would serve. Then, at the dawn,
raising herself on one august elbow she called to her venerable
nurse and foster mother, the Lady Ma, wise and resourceful in the
affairs and difficulties of women, and, repeating the
circumstances, demanded her counsel.
The Lady Ma considering the matter long and deeply, slowly
"This is a great riddle and dangerous, for to intermeddle with
the divine secrets is the high road to the Yellow Springs
(death). But the child of my breasts and my exalted Mistress
shall never ask in vain, for a thwarted curiosity is dangerous as
a suppressed fever. I will conceal myself nightly in the Dragon
Bedchamber and this will certainly unveil the truth. And if I
perish I perish."
It is impossible to describe how the Empress heaped Lady Ma with
costly jewels and silken brocades and taels of silver beyond
measuring - how she placed on her breast the amulet of jade that
had guarded herself from all evil influences, how she called the
ancestral spirits to witness that she would provide for the Lady
Ma's remotest descendants if she lost her life in this sublime
devotion to duty.
That night Lady Ma concealed herself behind the Imperial couch in
the Dragon Chamber, to await the coming of the Son of Heaven.
Slowly dripped the water-clock as the minutes fled away; sorely
ached the venerable limbs of the Lady Ma as she crouched in the
shadows and saw the rising moon scattering silver through the
elegant traceries of carved ebony and ivory; wildly beat her
heart as delicately tripping footsteps approached the Dragon
Chamber, and the Princess of Feminine Propriety, attended by her
maidens, ascended the Imperial Couch and hastily dismissed them.
Yet no sweet repose awaited this favored lady. The Lady Ma could
hear her smothered sobs, her muttered exclamations - nay could
even feel the couch itself tremble as the Princess uttered the
hated name of the Lady A-Kuei, the poison of jealousy running in
every vein. It was impossible for Lady Ma to decide which was the
most virulent, this, or the poison of curiosity in the heart of
the Pearl Empress. Though she loved not the Princess she was
compelled to pity such suffering. But all thought was banished by
the approach of the Yellow Emperor, prepared for repose and
unattended, in simple but divine grandeur.
It cannot indeed be supposed that a Celestial Emperor is human,
yet there was mortality in the start which his Augustness gave
when the Princess of Feminine Propriety flinging herself from the
Dragon couch, threw herself at his feet and with tears that
flowed like that river known as "The Sorrow of China," demanded
to know what she had done that another should be preferred before
her; reciting in frantic haste such imperfections of the Lady
A-Kuei's appearance as she could recall (or invent) in the haste
of that agitating moment.
"That one of her eyes is larger than the other - no human being
can doubt" sobbed the lady -" and surely your Divine Majesty
cannot be aware that her hair reaches but to her waist, and that
there is a brown mole on the nape of her neck? When she sings it
resembles the croak of the crow. It is true that most of the
Palace ladies are chosen for anything but beauty, yet she is the
most ill-favored. And is it this - this bat-faced lady who is
preferred to me! Would I had never been born: Yet even your
Majesty's own lips have told me I am fair!"
The Yellow Emperor supported the form of the Princess in his
arms. There are moments when even a Son of Heaven is but human.
"Fair as the rainbow," he murmured, and the Princess faintly
smiled; then gathering the resolution of the Philosopher he added
manfully - "But the Lady A-Kuei is incomparable. And the reason
The Lady Ma eagerly stretched her head forward with a hand to
either ear. But the Princess of Feminine Propriety with one
shriek had swooned and in the hurry of summoning attendants and
causing her to be conveyed to her own apartments that precious
sentence was never completed.
Still the Lady Ma groveled behind the Dragon Couch as the Son of
Heaven, left alone, approached the veranda and apostrophizing the
moon, murmured -
"0 loveliest pale watcher of the destinies of men, illuminate the
beauty of the Lady A-Kuei, and grant that I who have never seen
that beauty may never see it, but remain its constant admirer!"
So saying, he sought his solitary couch and slept, while the Lady
Ma, in a torment of bewilderment, glided from the room.
The matter remained in suspense for several days. The White Jade
Concubine was the next lady commanded to the Dragon Chamber, and
again the Lady Ma was in her post of observation. Much she heard,
much she saw that was not to the point, but the scene ended as
before by the dismissal of the lady in tears, and the departure
of the Lady Ma in ignorance of the secret.
The Emperor's peace was ended.
The singular circumstance was that the Lady A-Kuei was never
summoned by the Yellow Emperor. Eagerly as the Empress watched,
no token of affection for her was ever visible. Nothing could be
detected. It was inexplicable. Finally, devoured by curiosity
that gave her no respite, she resolved on a stratagem that should
dispel the mystery, though it carried with it a risk on which she
trembled to reflect. It was the afternoon of a languid summer
day, and the Yellow Emperor, almost unattended, had come to pay a
visit of filial respect to the Pearl Empress. She received him
with the ceremony due to her sovereign in the porcelain pavilion
of the Eastern Gardens, with the lotos fish ponds before them,
and a faint breeze occasionally tinkling the crystal wind-bells
that decorated the shrubs on the cloud and dragon-wrought slopes
of the marble approach. A bird of brilliant plumage uttered a cry
of reverence from its gold cage as the Son of Heaven entered. As
was his occasional custom, and after suitable inquiries as to his
parent's health, the attendants were all dismissed out of earshot
and the Emperor leaned on his cushions and gazed reflectively
into the sunshine outside. So had the Court Artist represented
him as "The Incarnation of Philosophic Calm."
"These gardens are fair," said the Empress after a respectful
silence, moving her fan illustrated with the emblem of
Immortality - the Ho Bird.
"Fair indeed," returned the Emperor. - "It might be supposed that
all sorrow and disturbance would be shut without the Forbidden
Precincts. Yet it is not so. And though the figures of my ladies
moving among the flowers appear at this distance instinct with
joy, yet -"
He was silent.
"They know not," said the Empress with solemnity "that death
entered the Forbidden Precincts but last night. A disembodied
spirit has returned to its place and doubtless exists in bliss."
"Indeed?" returned the Yellow Emperor with indifference - "yet if
the spirit is absorbed into the Source whence it came, and the
bones have crumbled into nothingness, where does the Ego exist?
The dead are venerable, but no longer of interest."
"Not even when they were loved in life?" said the Empress,
caressing the bird in the cage with one jewelled finger, but
attentively observing her son from the corner of her august eye.
"They were; they are not," he remarked sententiously and stifling
a yawn; it was a drowsy afternoon. "But who is it that has
abandoned us? Surely not the Lady Ma - your Majesty's faithful
"A younger, a lovelier spirit has sought the Yellow Springs"
replied the trembling Empress. "I regret to inform your Majesty
that a sudden convulsion last night deprived the Lady A-Kuei of
life. I would not permit the news to reach you lest it should
break your august night's rest."
There was a silence, then the Emperor turned his eyes serenely
upon his Imperial Mother. "That the statement of my august Parent
is merely - let us say - allegoric - does not detract from its
interest. But had the Lady A-Kuei in truth departed to the Yellow
Springs I should none the less have received the news without
uneasiness. What though the sun set - is not the memory of his
light all surpassing?"
No longer could the Pearl Empress endure the excess of her
curiosity. Deeply kowtowing, imploring pardon, with raised hands
and tears which no son dare neglect, she besought the Emperor to
enlighten her as to this mystery, recounting his praises of the
lady and his admission that he had never beheld her, and all the
circumstances connected with this remark- able episode. She
omitted only, (from considerations of delicacy and others,) the
vigils of the Lady Ma in the Dragon Chamber. The Emperor,
sighing, looked upon the ground, and for a time was silent. Then
he replied as follows:
"Willingly would I have kept silence, but what child dare
withstand the plea of a parent? Is it necessary to inform the
Heavenly Empress that beauty seen is beauty made familiar and
that familiarity is the foe of admiration? How is it possible
that I should see the Princess of Feminine Propriety, for
instance, by night and day without becoming aware of her
imperfections as well as her graces? How awake in the night
without hearing the snoring of the White Jade Concubine and
considering the mouth from which it issues as the less lovely.
How partake of the society of any woman without finding her
chattering as the crane, avid of admiration, jealous, destructive
of philosophy, fatal to composure, fevered with curiosity; a
creature, in short, a little above the gibbon, but infinitely
below the notice of the sage, save as a temporary measure of
amusement in itself unworthy the philosopher. The faces of all
my ladies are known to me. All are fair and all alike. But one
night, as I lay in the Dragon Couch, lost in speculation,
absorbed in contemplation of the Yin and the Yang, the night
passed for the solitary dreamer as a dream. In the darkness of
the dawn I rose still dreaming, and departed to the Pearl
Pavilion in the garden, and there remained an hour viewing the
sunrise and experiencing ineffable opinions on the destiny of
man. Returning then to a couch which I believed to have been that
of the solitary philosopher I observed a depression where another
form had lain, and in it a jade hairpin such as is worn by my
junior beauties. Petrified with amazement at the display of such
reserve, such continence, such august self-restraint, I perceived
that, lost in my thoughts, I had had an unimagined companion and
that this gentle reminder was from her gentle hand. But whom? I
knew not. I then observed Lo Cheng the Court Artist in attendance
and immediately despatched him to make secret enquiry and
ascertain the name and circumstances of that beauty who, unknown,
had shared my vigil. I learnt on his return that it was the Lady
A-Kuei. I had entered the Dragon Chamber in a low moonlight, and
guessed not her presence. She spoke no word. Finding her
Imperial Master thus absorbed, she invited no attention, nor in
any way obtruded her beauties upon my notice. Scarcely did she
draw breath. Yet reflect upon what she might have done! The
night passed and I remained entirely unconscious of her presence,
and out of respect she would not sleep but remained reverently
and modestly awake, assisting, if it may so be expressed, at a
humble distance, in the speculations which held me prisoner. What
a pearl was here! On learning these details by Lo Cheng from her
own roseate lips, and remembering the unexampled temptation she
had resisted (for well she knew that had she touched the Emperor
the Philosopher had vanished) I despatched an august rescript to
this favored Lady, conferring on her the degree of Incomparable
Beauty of the First Rank. On condition of secrecy."
The Pearl Empress, still in deepest bewilderment, besought his
majesty to proceed. He did so, with his usual dignity.
"Though my mind could not wholly restrain its admiration, yet
secrecy was necessary, for had the facts been known, every lady,
from the Princess of Feminine Propriety to the Junior Beauty of
the Bed Chamber would henceforward have observed only silence and
a frigid decorum in the Dragon Bed Chamber. And though the
Emperor be a philosopher, yet a philosopher is still a man, and
there are moments when decorum -"
The Emperor paused discreetly; then resumed.
"The world should not be composed entirely of A-Kueis, yet in my
mind I behold the Incomparable Lady fair beyond expression. Like
the moon she sails glorious in the heavens to be adored only in
vision as the one woman who could respect the absorption of the
Emperor, and of whose beauty as she lay beside him the
philosopher could remain unconscious and therefore untroubled in
body. To see her, to find her earthly, would be an experience for
which the Emperor might have courage, but the philosopher never.
And attached to all this is a moral:"
The Pearl Empress urgently inquired its nature.
"Let the wisdom of my august parent discern it," said the Emperor
"And the future?" she inquired.
"The - let us call it parable -" said the Emperor politely -"with
which your Majesty was good enough to entertain me, has suggested
a precaution to my mind. I see now a lovely form moving among the
flowers. It is possible that it may be the Incomparable Lady, or
that at any moment I may come upon her and my ideal be shattered.
This must be safeguarded. I might command her retirement to her
native province, but who shall insure me against the weakness of
my own heart demanding her return? No. Let Your Majesty's words
spoken - well - in parable, be fulfilled in truth. I shall give
orders to the Chief Eunuch that the Incomparable Lady tonight
shall drink the Draught of Crushed Pearls, and be thus restored
to the sphere that alone is worthy of her. Thus are all anxieties
soothed, and the honours offered to her virtuous spirit shall be
a glorious repayment of the ideal that will ever illuminate my
The Empress was speechless. She had borne the Emperor in her
womb, but the philosopher outsoared her comprehension. She
retired, leaving his Majesty in a reverie, endeavoring herself to
grasp the moral of which he had spoken, for the guidance of
herself and the ladies concerned. But whether it inculcated
reserve or the reverse in the Dragon Chamber, and what the
Imperial ladies should follow as an example she was, to the end
of her life, totally unable to say. Philosophy indeed walks on
the heights. We cannot all expect to follow it.
That night the Incomparable Lady drank the Draught of Crushed
The Princess of Feminine Propriety and the White Jade Concubine,
learning these circumstances, redoubled their charms, their
coquetries and their efforts to occupy what may be described as
the inner sanctuary of the Emperor's esteem. Both lived to a
green old age, wealthy and honored, alike firm in the conviction
that if the Incomparable Lady had not shown herself so superior
to temptation the Emperor might have been on the whole better
pleased, whatever the sufferings of the philosopher. Both lived
to be the tyrants of many generations of beauties at the
Celestial Court. Both were assiduous in their devotions before
the spirit tablet of the departed lady, and in recommending her
example of reserve and humility to every damsel whom it might
It will probably occur to the reader of this unique but
veracious story that there is more in it than meets the eye, and
more than the one moral alluded to by the Emperor according to
the point of view of the different actors.
To the discernment of the reader it must accordingly be left.
THE HATRED OF THE QUEEN
A Story of Burma
Most wonderful is the Irawadi, the mighty river of Burma. In all
the world elsewhere is no such river, bearing the melted snows
from its mysterious sources in the high places of the mountains.
The dawn rises upon its league. wide flood; the moon walks upon
it with silver feet. It is the pulsing heart of the land, living
still though so many rules and rulers have risen and fallen
beside it, their pomps and glories drifting like flotsam dawn the
river to the eternal ocean that is the end of all - and the
beginning. Dead civilizations strew its banks, dreaming in the
torrid sunshine of glories that were - of blood-stained gold,
jewels wept from woeful crowns, nightmare dreams of murder and
terror; dreaming also of heavenly beauty, for the Lord Buddha
looks down in moonlight peace upon the land that leaped to kiss
His footprints, that has laid its heart in the hand of the
Blessed One, and shares therefore in His bliss and content. The
Land of the Lord Buddha, where the myriad pagodas lift their
golden flames of worship everywhere, and no idlest wind can pass
but it ruffles the bells below the htees until they send forth
their silver ripple of music to swell the hymn of praise!
There is a little bay on the bank of the flooding river - a
silent, deserted place of sand- dunes and small bills. When a
ship is in sight, some poor folk come and spread out the red
lacquer that helps their scanty subsistence, and the people from
the passing ship land and barter and in a few minutes are gone on
their busy way and silence settles down once more. They neither
know nor care that, near by, a mighty city spread its splendour
for miles along the river bank, that the king known as Lord of
the Golden Palace, The Golden Foot, Lord of the White Elephant,
held his state there with balls of magnificence, obsequious
women, fawning courtiers and all the riot and colour of an
Eastern tyranny. How should they care? Now there are ruins -
ruins, and the cobras slip in and out through the deserted holy
places. They breed their writhing young in the sleeping-chambers
of queens, the tigers mew in the moonlight, and the giant spider,
more terrible than the cobra, strikes with its black poison- claw
and, paralyzing the life of the victim, sucks its brain with
slow, lascivious pleasure.
Are these foul creatures more dreadful than some of the men, the
women, who dwelt in these palaces - the more evil because of the
human brain that plotted and foresaw? That is known only to the
mysterious Law that in silence watches and decrees.
But this is a story of the dead days of Pagan, by the Irawadi,
and it will be shown that, as the Lotus of the Lord Buddha grows
up a white splendour from the black mud of the depths, so also
may the soul of a woman.
In the days of the Lord of the White Elephant, the King Pagan
Men, was a boy named Mindon, son of second Queen and the King.
So, at least, it was said in the Golden Palace, but those who
knew the secrets of such matters whispered that, when the King
had taken her by the hand she came to him no maid, and that the
boy was the son of an Indian trader. Furthermore it was said
that she herself was woman of the Rajputs, knowledgeable in
spells, incantations and elemental spirits such as the Beloos
that terribly haunt waste places, and all Powers that move in the
dark, and that thus she had won the King. Certainly she had been
captured by the King's war-boats off the coast from a
trading-ship bound for Ceylon, and it was her story that, because
of her beauty, she was sent thither to serve as concubine to the
King, Tissa of Ceylon. Being captured, she was brought to the
Lord of the Golden Palace. The tongue she spoke was strange to
all the fighting men, but it was wondrous to see how swiftly she
learnt theirs and spoke it with a sweet ripple such as is in the
throat of a bird.
She was beautiful exceedingly, with a colour of pale gold upon
her and lengths of silk-spun hair, and eyes like those of a
jungle-deer, and water might run beneath the arch of her foot
without wetting it, and her breasts were like the cloudy pillows
where the sun couches at setting. Now, at Pagan, the name they
called her was Dwaymenau, but her true name, known only to
herself, was Sundari, and she knew not the Law of the Blessed
Buddha but was a heathen accursed. In the strong hollow of her
hand she held the heart of the King, so that on the birth of her
son she had risen from a mere concubine to be the second Queen
and a power to whom all bowed. The First Queen, Maya, languished
in her palace, her pale beauty wasting daily, deserted and
lonely, for she had been the light of the King's eyes until the
coming of the Indian woman, and she loved her lord with a great
love and was a noble woman brought up in honour and all things
becoming a queen. But sigh as she would, the King came never. All
night he lay in the arms of Dwaymenau, all day he sat beside her,
whether at the great water pageants or at the festival when the
dancing-girls swayed and postured before him in her gilded
chambers. Even when be went forth to hunt the tiger, she went
with him as far as a woman may go, and then stood back only
because he would not risk his jewel, her life. So all that was
evil in the man she fostered and all that was good she cherished
not at all, fearing lest he should return to the Queen. At her
will he had consulted the Hlwot Daw, the Council of the
Woon-gyees or Ministers, concerning a divorce of the Queen, but
this they told him could not be since she had kept all the laws
of Manu, being faithful, noble and beautiful and having borne him
For, before the Indian woman had come to the King, the Queen had
borne a son, Ananda, and he was pale and slender and the King
despised him because of the wiles of Dwaymenau, saying he was fit
only to sit among the women, having the soul of a slave, and he
laughed bitterly as the pale child crouched in the corner to see
him pass. If his eyes had been clear, he would have known that
here was no slave, but a heart as much greater than his own as
the spirit is stronger than the body. But this he did not know
and he strode past with Dwaymenau's boy on his shoulder, laughing
with cruel glee.
And this boy, Mindon, was beautiful and strong as his mother,
pale olive of face, with the dark and crafty eyes of the cunning
Indian traders, with black hair and a body straight, strong and
long in the leg for his years - apt at the beginnings of bow,
sword and spear - full of promise, if the promise was only words
And so matters rested in the palace until Ananda had ten years
and Mindon nine.
It was the warm and sunny winter and the days were pleasant, and
on a certain day the Queen, Maya, went with her ladies to worship
the Blessed One at the Thapinyu Temple, looking down upon the
swiftly flowing river. The temple was exceedingly rich and
magnificent, so gilded with pure gold-leaf that it appeared of
solid gold. And about the upper part were golden bells beneath
the jewelled htee, which wafted very sweetly in the wind and gave
forth a crystal-clear music. The ladies bore in their hands more
gold-leaf, that they might acquire merit by offering this for the
service of the Master of the Law, and indeed this temple was the
offering of the Queen herself, who, because she bore the name of
the Mother of the Lord, excelled in good works and was the Moon
of this lower world in charity and piety.
Though wan with grief and anxiety, this Queen was beautiful. Her
eyes, like mournful lakes of darkness, were lovely in the pale
ivory of her face. Her lips were nobly cut and calm, and by the
favour of the Guardian Nats, she was shaped with grace and
health, a worthy mother of kings. Also she wore her jewels like a
mighty princess, a magnificence to which all the people shikoed
as she passed, folding their hands and touching the forehead
while they bowed down, kneeling.
Before the colossal image of the Holy One she made her offering
and, attended by her women, she sat in meditation, drawing
consolation from the Tranquillity above her and the silence of
the shrine. This ended, the Queen rose and did obeisance to the
Lord and, retiring, paced back beneath the White Canopy and
entered the courtyard where the palace stood - a palace of noble
teakwood, brown and golden and carved like lace into strange
fantasies of spires and pinnacles and branches where Nats and
Tree Spirits and Beloos and swaying river maidens mingled and met
amid fruits and leaves and flowers in a wild and joyous
confusion. The faces, the blowing garments, whirled into points
with the swiftness of the dance, were touched with gold, and so
glad was the building that it seemed as if a very light wind
might whirl it to the sky, and even the sad Queen stopped to
rejoice in its beauty as it blossomed in the sunlight.
And even as she paused, her little son Ananda rushed to meet her,
pale and panting, and flung himself into her arms with dry sobs
like those of an overrun man. She soothed him until he could
speak, and then the grief made way in a rain of tears.
"Mindon has killed my deer. He bared his knife, slit his throat
and cast him in the ditch and there he lies."
"There will he not lie long!" shouted Mindon, breaking from the
palace to the group where all were silent now. "For the worms
will eat him and the dogs pick clean his bones, and he will show
his horns at his lords no more. If you loved him, White-liver,
you should have taught him better manners to his betters.
With a stifled shriek Ananda caught the slender knife from his
girdle and flew at Mindon like a cat of the woods. Such things
were done daily by young and old, and this was a long sorrow come
to a head between the boys.
Suddenly, lifting the hangings of the palace gateway, before them
stood the mother of Mindon, the Lady Dwaymenau, pale as wool,
having heard the shout of her boy, so that the two Queens faced
each other, each holding the shoulders of her son, and the ladies
watched, mute as fishes, for it was years since these two had
"What have you done to my son?" breathed Maya the Queen, dry in
the throat and all but speechless with passion. For indeed his
face, for a child, was ghastly.
"Look at his knife! What would he do to my son?" Dwaymenau was
stiff with hate and spoke as to a slave.
"He has killed my deer and mocks me because I loved him, He is
the devil in this place. Look at the devils in his eyes. Look
quick before he smiles, my mother."
And indeed, young as the boy was, an evil thing sat in either eye
and glittered upon them. Dwaymenau passed her hand across his
brow, and he smiled and they were gone.
"The beast ran at me and would have flung me with his horns," he
said, looking up brightly at his mother. "He had the madness upon
him. I struck once and he was dead. My father would have done the
"That would he not!" said Queen Maya bitterly. "Your father would
have crept up, fawning on the deer, and offered him the fruits he
loved, stroking him the while. And in trust the beast would have
eaten, and the poison in the fruit would have slain him. For the
people of your father meet neither man nor beast in fair fight.
With a kiss they stab!"
Horror kept the women staring and silent. No one had dreamed that
the scandal had reached the Queen. Never had she spoken or looked
her knowledge but endured all in patience. Now it sprang out like
a sword among them, and they feared for Maya, whom all loved.
Mindon did not understand. It was beyond him, but he saw he was
scorned. Dwaymenau, her face rigid as a mask, looked pitilessly
at the shaking Queen, and each word dropped from her mouth, hard
and cold as the falling of diamonds. She refused the insult.
"If it is thus you speak of our lord and my love, what wonder he
forsakes you? Mother of a craven milk runs in your veins and his
for blood. Take your slinking brat away and weep together! My son
and I go forth to meet the King as he comes from hunting, and to
welcome him kingly!" She caught her boy to her with a magnificent
gesture; he flung his little arm about her, and laughing loudly
they went off together.
The tension relaxed a little when they were out of sight. The
women knew that, since Dwaymenau had refused to take the Queen's
meaning, she would certainly not carry her complaint to the King.
They guessed at her reason for this forbearance, but, be that as
it might, it was Certain that no other person would dare to tell
him and risk the fate that waits the messenger of evil.
The eldest lady led away the Queen, now almost tottering in the
reaction of fear and pain. Oh, that she had controlled her
speech! Not for her own sake - for she had lost all and the
beggar can lose no more - but for the boy's sake, the unloved
child that stood between the stranger and her hopes. For him she
had made a terrible enemy. Weeping, the boy followed her.
"Take comfort, little son," she said, drawing him to her
tenderly. "The deer can suffer no more. For the tigers, he does
not fear them. He runs in green woods now where there is none to
hunt. He is up and away. The Blessed One was once a deer as
gentle as yours."
But still the child wept, and the Queen broke down utterly. "Oh,
if life be a dream, let us wake, let us wake!" she sobbed. "For
evil things walk in it that cannot live in the light. Or let us
dream deeper and forget. Go, little son, yet stay - for who can
tell what waits us when the King comes. Let us meet him here."
For she believed that Dwaymenau would certainly carry the tale of
her speech to the King, and, if so, what hope but death together?
That night, after the feasting, when the girls were dancing the
dance of the fairies and spirits, in gold dresses, winged on the
legs and shoulders, and high, gold-spired and pinnacled caps, the
King missed the little Prince, Ananda, and asked why he was
No one answered, the women looking upon each other, until
Dwaymenau, sitting beside him, glimmering with rough pearls and
rubies, spoke smoothly: "Lord, worshipped and beloved, the two
boys quarreled this day, and Ananda's deer attacked our Mindon.
He had a madness upon him and thrust with his horns. But, Mindon,
your true son, flew in upon him and in a great fight he slit the
beast's throat with the knife you gave him. Did he not well?"
"Well," said the King briefly. "But is there no hurt? Have
searched? For he is mine."
There was arrogance in the last sentence and her proud soul
rebelled, but smoothly as ever she spoke: "I have searched and
there is not the littlest scratch. But Ananda is weeping because
the deer is dead, and his mother is angry. What should I do?"
"Nothing. Ananda is worthless and worthless let him be! And for
that pale shadow that was once a woman, let her be forgotten.
And now, drink, my Queen!"
And Dwaymenau drank but the drink was bitter to her, for a ghost
had risen upon her that day. She had never dreamed that such a
scandal had been spoken, and it stunned her very soul with fear,
that the Queen should know her vileness and the cheat she had put
upon the King. As pure maid he had received her, and she knew,
none better, what the doom would be if his trust were broken and
he knew the child not his. She herself had seen this thing done
to a concubine who had a little offended. She was thrust living
in a sack and this hung between two earthen jars pierced with
small holes, and thus she was set afloat on the terrible river.
And not till the slow filling and sinking of the jars was the
agony over and the cries for mercy stilled. No, the Queen's
speech was safe with her, but was it safe with the Queen? For her
silence, Dwaymenau must take measures.
Then she put it all aside and laughed and jested with the King
and did indeed for a time forget, for she loved him for his
black-browed beauty and his courage and royalty and the
childlike trust and the man's passion that mingled in him for
her. Daily and nightly such prayers as she made to strange gods
were that she might bear a son, true son of his.
Next day, in the noonday stillness when all slept, she led her
young son by the hand to her secret chamber, and, holding him
upon her knees in that rich and golden place, she lifted his face
to hers and stared into his eyes. And so unwavering was her gaze,
so mighty the hard, unblinking stare that his own was held
against it, and he stared back as the earth stares breathless at
the moon. Gradually the terror faded out of his eyes; they glazed
as if in a trance; his head fell stupidly against her bosom; his
spirit stood on the borderland of being and waited.
Seeing this, she took his palm and, molding it like wax, into the
cup of it she dropped clear fluid from a small vessel of pottery
with the fylfot upon its side and the disks of the god Shiva. And
strange it was to see that lore of India in the palace where the
Blessed Law reigned in peace. Then, fixing her eyes with power
upon Mindon, she bade him, a pure child, see for her in its
"Only virgin-pure can see!" she muttered, staring into his eyes.
The eyes of Mindon were closing. He half opened them and looked
dully at his palm. His face was pinched and yellow.
"A woman - a child, on a long couch. Dead! I see!"
"See her face. Is her head crowned with the Queen's jewels? See!"
"Jewels. I cannot see her face. It is hidden."
"Why is it hidden?"
"A robe across her face. Oh, let me go!"
"And the child? See!"
"Let me go. Stop - my head - my head! I cannot see. The child is
hidden. Her arm holds it. A woman stoops above them."
"A woman? Who? Is it like me? Speak! See!"
"A woman. It is like you, mother - it is like you. I fear very
greatly. A knife - a knife! Blood! I cannot see - I cannot
speak! I - I sleep."
His face was ghastly white now, his body cold and collapsed.
Terrified, she caught him to her breast and relaxed the power of
her will upon him. For that moment, she was only the passionate
mother and quaked to think she might have hurt him. An hour
passed and he slept heavily in her arms, and in agony she watched
to see the colour steal back into the olive cheek and white lips.
In the second hour he waked and stretched himself indolently,
yawning like a cat. Her tears dropped like rain upon him as she
clasped him violently to her.
He writhed himself free, petulant and spoilt. "Let me be. I hate
kisses and women's tricks. I want to go forth and play. I have
had a devil's dream.
"What did you see in your dream, prince of my heart?" She caught
frantically at the last chance.
"A deer - a tiger. I have forgotten. Let me go." He ran off and
she sat alone with her doubts and fears. Yet triumph coloured
them too. She saw a dead woman, a dead child, and herself bending
above them. She hid the vessel in her bosom and went out among
Weeks passed, and never a word that she dreaded from Maya the
Queen. The women of Dwaymenau, questioning the Queen's women,
heard that she seemed to have heavy sorrow upon her. Her eyes
were like dying lamps and she faded as they. The King never
entered her palace. Drowned in Dwaymenau's wiles and beauty, her
slave, her thrall, he forgot all else but his fighting, his
hunting and his long war-boats, and whether the Queen lived or
died, he cared nothing. Better indeed she should die and her
place be emptied for the beloved, without offence to her powerful
And now he was to sail upon a raid against the Shan Tsaubwa, who
had denied him tribute of gold and jewels and slaves. Glorious
were the boats prepared for war, of brown teak and gilded until
they shone like gold. Seventy men rowed them, sword and lance
beside each. Warriors crowded them, flags and banners fluttered
about them; the shining water reflected the pomp like a mirror
and the air rang with song. Dwaymenau stood beside the water with
her women, bidding the King farewell, and so he saw her, radiant
in the dawn, with her boy beside her, and waved his hand to the
The ships were gone and the days languished a little at Pagan.
They missed the laughter and royalty of the King, and few men,
and those old and weak, were left in the city. The pulse of life
And Dwaymenau took rule in the Golden Palace. Queen Maya sat like
one in a dream and questioned nothing, and Dwaymenau ruled with
wisdom but none loved her. To all she was the interloper, the
witch-woman, the out-land upstart. Only the fear of the King
guarded her and her boy, but that was strong. The boys played
together sometimes, Mindon tyrannizing and cruel, Ananda fearing
and complying, broken in spirit.
Maya the Queen walked daily in the long and empty Golden Hall of
Audience, where none came now that the King was gone, pacing up
and down, gazing wearily at the carved screens and all their
woodland beauty of gods that did not hear, of happy spirits that
had no pity. Like a spirit herself she passed between the red
pillars, appearing and reappearing with steps that made no sound,
consumed with hate of the evil woman that had stolen her joy.
Like a slow fire it burned in her soul, and the face of the
Blessed One was hidden from her, and she had forgotten His peace.
In that atmosphere of hate her life dwindled. Her son's dwindled
also, and there was talk among the women of some potion that
Dwaymenau had been seen to drop into his noontide drink as she
went swiftly by. That might he the gossip of malice, but he
pined. His eyes were large like a young bird's; his hands like
little claws. They thought the departing year would take him with
it. What harm? Very certainly the King would shed no tear.
It was a sweet and silent afternoon and she wandered in the great
and lonely hall, sickened with the hate in her soul and her fear
for her boy. Suddenly she heard flying footsteps - a boy's,
running in mad haste in the outer hall, and, following them, bare
feet, soft, thudding.
She stopped dead and every pulse cried - Danger! No time to think
or breathe when Mindon burst into sight, wild with terror and
following close beside him a man - a madman, a short bright dah
in his grasp, his jaws grinding foam, his wild eyes starting -
one passion to murder. So sometimes from the Nats comes pitiless
fury, and men run mad and kill and none knows why.
Maya the Queen stiffened to meet the danger. Joy swept through
her soul; her weariness was gone. A fierce smile showed her teeth
- a smile of hate, as she stood there and drew her dagger for
defense. For defense - the man would rend the boy and turn on her
and she would not die. She would live to triumph that the mongrel
was dead, and her son, the Prince again and his father's joy -
for his heart would turn to the child most surely. Justice was
rushing on its victim. She would see it and live content, the
long years of agony wiped out in blood, as was fitting. She would
not flee; she would see it and rejoice. And as she stood in
gladness - these broken thoughts rushing through her like flashes
of lightning - Mindon saw her by the pillar and, screaming in
anguish for the first time, fled to her for refuge.
She raised her knife to meet the staring eyes, the chalk white
face, and drive him back on the murderer. If the man failed, she
would not! And even as she did this a strange thing befell.
Something stronger than hate swept her away like a leaf on the
river; something primeval that lives in the lonely pangs of
childbirth, that hides in the womb and breasts of the mother. It
was stronger than she. It was not the hated Mindoin - she saw
him no more. Suddenly it was the eternal Child, lifting dying,
appealing eyes to the Woman, as he clung to her knees. She did
not think this - she felt it, and it dominated her utterly. The
Woman answered. As if it had been her own flesh and blood, she
swept the panting body behind her and faced the man with uplifted
dagger and knew her victory assured, whether in life or death. On
came the horrible rush, the flaming eyes, and, if it was chance
that set the dagger against his throat, it was cool strength that
drove it home and never wavered until the blood welling from the
throat quenched the flame in the wild eyes, and she stood
triumphing like a war-goddess, with the man at her feet. Then,
strong and flushed, Maya the Queen gathered the half-dead boy in
her arms, and, both drenched with blood, they moved slowly down
the hall and outside met the hurrying crowd, with Dwaymenau, whom
the scream had brought to find her son.
"You have killed him! She has killed him!" Scarcely could the
Rajput woman speak. She was kneeling beside him - he hideous with
blood. "She hated him always. She has murdered him. Seize her!"
"Woman, what matter your hates and mine?" the Queen said slowly.
"The boy is stark with fear. Carry him in and send for old Meh
Shway Gon. Woman, be silent!"
When a Queen commands, men and women obey, and a Queen commanded
then. A huddled group lifted the child and carried him away,
Dwaymenau with them, still uttering wild threats, and the Queen
was left alone.
She could not realize what she had done and left undone. She
could not understand it. She had hated, sickened with loathing,
as it seemed for ages, and now, in a moment it had blown away
like a whirlwind that is gone. Hate was washed out of her soul
and had left it cool and white as the Lotus of the Blessed One.
What power had Dwaymenau to hurt her when that other Power walked
beside her? She seemed to float above her in high air and look
down upon her with compassion. Strength, virtue flowed in her
veins; weakness, fear were fantasies. She could not understand,
but knew that here was perfect enlightenment. About her echoed
the words of the Blessed One: "Never in this world doth hatred
cease by hatred, but only by love. This is an old rule."
"Whereas I was blind, now I see," said Maya the Queen slowly to
her own heart. She had grasped the hems of the Mighty.
Words cannot speak the still passion of strength and joy that
possessed her. Her step was light. As she walked, her soul sang
within her, for thus it is with those that have received the Law.
About them is the Peace.
In the dawn she was told that the Queen, Dwaymenau, would speak
with her, and without a tremor she who had shaken like a leaf at
that name commanded that she should enter. It was Dwaymenau that
trembled as she came into that unknown place.
With cloudy brows and eyes that would reveal no secret, she stood
before the high seat where the Queen sat pale and majestic.
"Is it well with the boy?" the Queen asked earnestly.
"Well," said Dwaymenau, fingering the silver bosses of her
"Then - is there more to say?" The tone was that of the great
lady who courteously ends an audience. "There is more. The men
brought in the body and in its throat your dagger was sticking.
And my son has told me that your body was a shield to him. You
offered your life for his. I did not think to thank you - but I
thank you." She ended abruptly and still her eyes had never met
"I accept your thanks. Yet a mother could do no less."
The tone was one of dismissal but still Dwaymenau lingered.
"The dagger," she said and drew it from her bosom. On the clear,
pointed blade the blood had curdled and dried. "I never thought
to ask a gift of you, but this dagger is a memorial of my son's
danger. May I keep it?"
"As you will. Here is the sheath." From her girdle she drew it -
rough silver, encrusted with rubies from the mountains.
The hand rejected it.
"Jewels I cannot take, but bare steel is a fitting gift between
"As you will."
The Queen spoke compassionately, and Dwaymenau, still with veiled
eyes, was gone without fare well. The empty sheath lay on the
seat - a symbol of the sharp-edged hate that had passed out of
her life. She touched the sheath to her lips and, smiling, laid
And the days went by and Dwaymenau came no more before her, and
her days were fulfilled with peace. And now again the Queen ruled
in the palace wisely and like a Queen, and this Dwaymenau did not
dispute, but what her thoughts were no man could tell.
Then came the end.
One night the city awakened to a wild alarm. A terrible fleet of
war-boats came sweeping along the river thick as locusts - the
war fleet of the Lord of Prome. Battle shouts broke tile peace of
the night to horror; axes battered on the outer doors; the roofs
of the outer buildings were all aflame. It was no wonderful
incident, but a common one enough of those turbulent days -
reprisal by a powerful ruler with raids and hates to avenge on
the Lord of the Golden Palace. It was indeed a right to be
gainsaid only by the strong arm, and the strong arm was absent;
as for the men of Pagan, if the guard failed and the women's
courage sank, they would return to blackened walls, empty
chambers and desolation.
At Pagan the guard was small, indeed, for the King's greed of
plunder had taken almost every able man with him. Still, those
who were left did what they could, and the women, alert and
brave, with but few exceptions, gathered the children and handed
such weapons as they could muster to the men, and themselves,
taking knives and daggers, helped to defend the inner rooms.
In the farthest, the Queen, having given her commands and
encouraged all with brave words, like a wise, prudent princess,
sat with her son beside her. Her duty was now to him. Loved or
unloved, he was still the heir, the root of the House tree. If
all failed, she must make ransom and terms for him, and, if they
died, it must be together. He, with sparkling eyes, gay in the
danger, stood by her. Thus Dwaymenau found them.
She entered quietly and without any display of emotion and stood
before the high seat.
"Great Queen" - she used that title for the first time - "the
leader is Meng Kyinyo of Prome. There is no mercy. The end is
near. Our men fall fast, the women are fleeing. I have come to
say this thing: Save the Prince."
"And how?" asked the Queen, still seated. "I have no power."
"I have sent to Maung Tin, abbot of the Golden Monastery, and he
has said this thing. In the Kyoung across the river he can hide
one child among the novices. Cut his hair swiftly and put upon
him this yellow robe. The time is measured in minutes."
Then the Queen perceived, standing by the pillar, a monk of a
stern, dark presence, the creature of Dwaymenau. For an instant
she pondered. Was the woman selling the child to death? Dwaymenau
spoke no word. Her face was a mask. A minute that seemed an hour
drifted by, and the yelling and shrieks for mercy drew nearer.
"There will be pursuit," said the Queen. "They will slay him on
the river. Better here with me."
"There will be no pursuit." Dwaymenau fixed her strange eyes on
the Queen for the first time.
What moved in those eyes? The Queen could not tell. But
despairing, she rose and went to the silent monk, leading the
Prince by the hand. Swiftly he stripped the child of the silk
pasoh of royalty, swiftly he cut the long black tresses knotted
on the little head, and upon the slender golden body he set the
yellow robe worn by the Lord Himself on earth, and in the small
hand he placed the begging-bowl of the Lord. And now, remote and
holy, in the dress that is of all most sacred, the Prince,
standing by the monk, turned to his mother and looked with grave
eyes upon her, as the child Buddha looked upon his Mother - also
a Queen. But Dwaymenau stood by silent and lent no help as the
Queen folded the Prince in her arms and laid his hand in the hand
of the monk and saw them pass away among the pillars, she
standing still and white.
She turned to her rival. "If you have meant truly, I thank you."
"I have meant truly."
She turned to go, but the Queen caught her by the hand.
"Why have you done this?" she asked, looking into the strange
eyes of the strange woman.
Something like tears gathered in them for a moment, but she
brushed them away as she said hurriedly:
"I was grateful. You saved my son. Is it not enough?"
"No, not enough!" cried the Queen. "There is more. Tell me, for
death is upon us."
"His footsteps are near," said the Indian. "I will speak. I love
my lord. In death I will not cheat him. What you have known is
true. My child is no child of his. I will not go down to death
with a lie upon my lips. Come and see."
Dwaymenau was no more. Sundari, the Indian woman, awful and calm,
led the Queen down the long ball and into her own chamber, where
Mindon, the child, slept a drugged sleep. The Queen felt that she
had never known her; she herself seemed diminished in stature as
she followed the stately figure, with its still, dark face. Into
this room the enemy were breaking, shouldering their way at the
door - a rabble of terrible faces. Their fury was partly checked
when only a sleeping child and two women confronted them, but
their leader, a grim and evil- looking man, strode from the
"Where is the son of the King?" be shouted. "Speak, women! Whose
is this boy?"
Sundari laid her hand upon her son's shoulder. Not a muscle of
her face flickered.
"This is his son."
"His true son - the son of Maya the Queen?"
"His true son, the son of Maya the Queen."
"Not the younger - the mongrel?"
"The younger - the mongrel died last week of a fever."
Every moment of delay was precious. Her eyes saw only a monk and
a boy fleeing across the wide river.
"Which is Maya the Queen?"
"This," said Sundari. "She cannot speak. It is her son - the
Maya had veiled her face with her hands. Her brain swam, but she
understood the noble lie. This woman could love. Their lord would
not be left childless. Thought beat like pulses in her - raced
along her veins. She held her breath and was dumb.
His doubt was assuaged and the lust of vengeance was on him - a
madness seized the man. But even his own wild men shrank back a
moment, for to slay a sleeping child in cold blood is no man's
"You swear it is the Prince. But why? Why do you not lie to save
him if you are the King's woman?"
"Because his mother has trampled me to the earth. I am the Indian
woman - the mother of the younger, who is dead and safe. She
jeered at me - she mocked me. It is time I should see her suffer.
Suffer now as I have suffered, Maya the Queen!"
This was reasonable - this was like the women he bad known. His
doubt was gone - he laughed aloud.
"Then feed full of vengeance!" he cried, and drove his knife
through the child's heart.
For a moment Sundari wavered where she stood, but she held
herself and was rigid as the dead.
"Tha-du! Well done!" she said with an awful smile. "The tree is
broken, the roots cut. And now for us women - our fate, 0
"Wait here," he answered. "Let not a hair of their heads be
touched. Both are fair. The two for me. For the rest draw lots
when all is done."
The uproar surged away. The two stood by the dead boy. So swift
had been his death that he lay as though he still slept - the
black lashes pressed upon his cheek.
With the heredity of their different races upon them, neither
wept. But silently the Queen opened her arms; wide as a woman
that entreats she opened them to the Indian Queen, and
speechlessly the two clung together. For a while neither spoke.
"My sister!" said Maya the Queen. And again, "0 great of heart!"
She laid her cheek against Sundari's, and a wave of solemn joy
seemed to break in her soul and flood it with life and light.
"Had I known sooner!" she said. "For now the night draws on."
"What is time?" answered the Rajput woman. "We stand before the
Lords of Life and Death. The life you gave was yours, and I am
unworthy to kiss the feet of the Queen. Our lord will return and
his son is saved. The House can be rebuilt. My son and I were
waifs washed up from the sea. Another wave washes us back to
nothingness. Tell him my story and he will loathe me."
"My lips are shut," said the Queen. "Should I betray my sister's
honour? When he speaks of the noble women of old, your name will
be among them. What matters which of us he loves and remembers?
Your soul and mine have seen the same thing, and we are one. But
I - what have I to do with life? The ship and the bed of the
conqueror await us. Should we await them, my sister?"
The bright tears glittered in the eyes of Sundari at the tender
name and the love in the face of the Queen. At last she accepted
"My sister, no," she said, and drew from her bosom the dagger of
Maya, with the man's blood rusted upon it. "Here is the way. I
have kept this dagger in token of my debt. Nightly have I kissed
it, swearing that, when the time came, I would repay my debt to
the great Queen. Shall I go first or follow, my sister?"
Her voice lingered on the word. It was precious to her. It was
like clear water, laying away the stain of the shameful years.
"Your arm is strong," answered the Queen. "I go first. Because
the King's son is safe, I bless you. For your love of the King, I
love you. And here, standing on the verge of life, I testify that
the words of the Blessed One are truth - that love is All; that
hatred is Nothing."
She bared the breast that this woman had made desolate - that,
with the love of this woman, was desolate ho longer, and,
stooping, laid her hand on the brow of Mindon. Once more they
embraced, and then, strong and true, and with the Rajput passion
behind the blow, the stroke fell and Sundari had given her sister
the crowning mercy of deliverance. She laid the body beside her
own son, composing the stately limbs, the quiet eyelids, the
black lengths of hair into majesty. So, she thought, in the great
temple of the Rajput race, the Mother Goddess shed silence and
awe upon her worshippers. The two lay like mother and son - one
slight hand of the Queen she laid across the little body as if to
Her work done, she turned to the entrance and watched the dawn
coming glorious over the river. The men shouted and quarreled in
the distance, but she heeded them no more than the chattering of
apes. Her heart was away over the distance to the King, but with
no passion now: so might a mother have thought of her son. He was
sleeping, forgetful of even her in his dreams. What matter? She
was glad at heart. The Queen was dearer to her than the King - so
strange is life; so healing is death. She remembered without
surprise that she had asked no forgiveness of the Queen for all
the cruel wrongs, for the deadly intent - had made no confession.
Again what matter? What is forgiveness when love is all?
She turned from the dawn-light to the light in the face of the
Queen. It was well. Led by such a hand, she could present herself
without fear before the Lords of Life and Death - she and the
child. She smiled. Life is good, but death, which is more life,
is better. The son of the King was safe, but her own son safer.
When the conqueror reentered the chamber, he found the dead Queen
guarding the dead child, and across her feet, as not worthy to
lie beside her, was the body of the Indian woman, most beautiful
FIRE OF BEAUTY
(Salutation to Ganesa the Lord of Wisdom, and to Saraswate the
Lady of Sweet Speech!)
This story was composed by the Brahmin Visravas, that dweller on
the banks of holy Kashi; and though the events it records are
long past, yet it is absolutely and immutably true because, by
the power of his yoga, he summoned up every scene before him, and
beheld the persons moving and speaking as in life. Thus he had
naught to do but to set down what befell.
What follows, that hath he seen.
Wide was the plain, the morning sun shining full upon it,
drinking up the dew as the Divine drinks up the spirit of man.
Far it stretched, resembling the ocean, and riding upon it like a
stately ship was the league-long Rock of Chitor. It is certainly
by the favour of the Gods that this great fortress of the Rajput
Kings thus rises from the plain, leagues in length, noble in
height; and very strange it is to see the flat earth fall away
from it like waters from the bows of a boat, as it soars into the
sky with its burden of palaces and towers.
Here dwelt the Queen Padmini and her husband Bhimsi, the Rana of
The sight of the holy ascetic Visravas pierced even the secrets
of the Rani's bower, where, in the inmost chamber of marble,
carved until it appeared like lace of the foam of the sea, she
was seated upon cushions of blue Bokhariot silk, like the lotus
whose name she bore floating upon the blue depths of the lake.
She had just risen from the shallow bath of marble at her feet.
Most beautiful was this Queen, a haughty beauty such as should be
a Rajput lady; for the name "Rajput" signifies Son of a King, and
this lady was assuredly the daughter of Kings and of no lesser
persons. And since that beauty is long since ashes (all things
being transitory), it is permitted to describe the mellowed ivory
of her body, the smooth curves of her hips, and the defiance of
her glimmering bosom, half veiled by the long silken tresses of
sandal- scented hair which a maiden on either side, bowing toward
her, knotted upon her head. But even he who with his eyes has
seen it can scarce tell the beauty of her face - the slender
arched nose, the great eyes like lakes of darkness in the reeds
of her curled lashes, the mouth of roses, the glance, deer-like
but proud, that courted and repelled admiration. This cannot be
told, nor could the hand of man paint it. Scarcely could that
fair wife of the Pandava Prince, Draupadi the Beautiful (who bore
upon her perfect form every auspicious mark) excel this lady.
(Ashes - ashes! May Maheshwara have mercy upon her rebirths!)
Throughout India had run the fame of this beauty. In the bazaar
of Kashmir they told of it. It was recorded in the palaces of
Travancore, and all the lands that lay between; and in an evil
hour - may the Gods curse the mother that bore him! - it reached
the ears of Allah-u- Din, the Moslem dog, a very great fighting
man who sat in Middle India, looting and spoiling.
(Ahi! for the beauty that is as a burning flame!)
In the gardens beneath the windows of the Queen, the peacocks,
those maharajas of the birds, were spreading the bronze and
emerald of their tails. The sun shone on them as on heaps of
jewels, so that they dazzled the eyes. They stood about the feet
of the ancient Brahmin sage, he who had tutored the Queen in her
childhood and given her wisdom as the crest-jeweled of her
loveliness. He, the Twice-born sat under the shade of a neem
tree, hearing the gurgle of the sacred waters from the Cow's
Mouth, where the great tank shone under the custard-apple boughs;
and, at peace with all the world, he read in the Scripture which
affirms the transience of all things drifting across the thought
of the Supreme like clouds upon the surface of the Ocean.
(Ahi! that loveliness is also illusion!)
Her women placed about the Queen - that Lotus of Women - a robe
of silk of which none could say that it was green or blue, the
noble colours so mingled into each other under the latticed gold
work of Kashi. They set the jewels on her head, and wide thin
rings of gold heavy with great pearls in her ears. Upon the swell
of her bosom they clasped the necklace of table emeralds, large,
deep, and full of green lights, which is the token of the Chitor
queens. Upon her slender ankles they placed the chooris of pure
soft gold, set also with grass-green emeralds, and the delicate
souls of her feet they reddened with lac. Nor were her arms
forgotten, but loaded with bangles so free from alloy that they
could be bent between the hands of a child. Then with fine paste
they painted the Symbol between her dark brows, and, rising, she
shone divine as a nymph of heaven who should cause the righteous
to stumble in his austerities and arrest even the glances of
(Ahi! that the Transient should be so fair!)
Now it was the hour that the Rana should visit her; for since the
coming of the Lotus Lady, be had forgotten his other women, and
in her was all his heart. He came from the Hall of Audience where
petitions were heard, and justice done to rich and poor; and as
he came, the Queen, hearing his step on the stone, dismissed her
women, and smiling to know her loveliness, bowed before him, even
as the Goddess Uma bows before Him who is her other half.
Now he was a tall man, with the falcon look of the Hill Rajputs,
and moustaches that curled up to his eyes, lion-waisted and lean
in the flanks like Arjoon himself, a very ruler of men; and as he
came, his hand was on the hilt of the sword that showed beneath
his gold coat of khincob. On the high cushions he sat, and the
Rani a step beneath him; and she said, raising her lotus eyes:-
"Speak, Aryaputra, (son of a noble father)-what hath befallen?"
And he, looking upon her beauty with fear, replied,-
"It is thy beauty, 0 wife, that brings disaster."
"And how is this?" she asked very earnestly.
For a moment he paused, regarding her as might a stranger, as one
who considers a beauty in which he hath no part; and, drawn by
this strangeness, she rose and knelt beside him, pillowing her
head upon his heart.
"Say on," she said in her voice of music.
He unfurled a scroll that he had crushed in his strong right
hand, and read aloud:-
"`Thus says Allah-u-Din, Shadow of God, Wonder of the Age,
Viceregent of Kings. We have heard that in the Treasury of Chitor
is a jewel, the like of which is not in the Four Seas - the work
of the hand of the Only God, to whom be praise! This jewel is thy
Queen, the Lady Padmini. Now, since the sons of the Prophet are
righteous, I desire but to look upon this jewel, and ascribing
glory to the Creator, to depart in peace. Granted requests are
the bonds of friendship; therefore lay the head of acquiescence
in the dust of opportunity and name an auspicious day.'"
He crushed it again and flung it furiously from him on the
"The insult is deadly. The soor! son of a debased mother! Well he
knows that to the meanest Rajput his women are sacred, and how
much more the daughters and wives of the Kings! The jackals feast
on the tongue that speaks this shame! But it is a threat, Beloved
- a threat! Give me thy counsel that never failed me yet."
For the Rajputs take counsel with their women who are wise.
They were silent, each weighing the force of resistance that
could be made; and this the Rani knew even as he.
"It cannot be," she said; "the very ashes of the dead would
shudder to hear. Shall the Queens of India be made the sport of
Her husband looked upon her fair face. She could feel his heart
labor beneath her ear.
"True, wife; but the barbarians are strong. Our men are tigers,
each one, but the red dogs of the Dekkan can pull down the tiger,
for they are many, and he alone."
Then that great Lady, accepting his words, and conscious of the
danger, murmured this, clinging to her husband:-
"There was a Princess of our line whose beauty made all other
women seem as waning moons in the sun's splendour. And many great
Kings sought her, and there was contention and war. And, she,
fearing that the Rajputs would be crushed to powder between the
warring Kings, sent unto each this message: `Come on such and
such a day, and thou shalt see my face and hear my choice.' And
they, coming, rejoiced exceedingly, thinking each one that he was
the Chosen. So they came into the great Hall, and there was a