The Ninth Vibration and Other Stories by L. Adams Beck - HTML preview
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The Hatred Of The QueenA 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 silkspun 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 a son.
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 looks.
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 met.
"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 same.
"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 absent.
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 clearness."Only virgin-pure can see!" she muttered, staring into his eyes. "See! See!" 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.
"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 her women.
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 kindred.
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 last.
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 beat slower.
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 girdle. "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 the Queen's."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 us two." "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 it away.
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."
"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 huddle."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 Prince."
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 work."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 master?" "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 it.
"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 guard it.
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 in death.
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. I
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 Rajputs.
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 Allahu- 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 Gods.(Ahi! that the Transient should be so fair!) II
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 marble.
"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 the barbarians?"
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 table, and somewhat upon it covered with a gold cloth; and an old veiled woman lifted the gold, and the head of the Princess lay there with the lashes like night upon her cheek, and between her lips was a little scroll, saying this: `I have chosen my Lover and my Lord, and he is mightiest, for he is Death.' - So the Kings went silently away. And there was Peace."The music of her voice ceased, and the Rana clasped her closer. "This I cannot do. Better die together. Let us take counsel with the ancient Brahman, thy guru [teacher], for he is very wise." She clapped her hands, and the maidens returned, and, bowing, brought the venerable Prabhu Narayan into the Presence, and again those roses retired.
Respectful salutation was then offered by the King and the Queen to that saint, hoary with wisdom - he who had seen her grow into the loveliness of the sea-born Shri, yet had never seen that loveliness; for he had never raised his eyes above the chooris about her ankles. To him the King related his anxieties; and he sat rapt in musing, and the two waited in dutiful silence until long minutes had fallen away; and at the last he lifted his head, weighted with wisdom, and spoke.
"0 King, Descendant of Rama! this outrage cannot be. Yet, knowing the strength and desire of this obscene one and the weakness of our power, it is plain that only with cunning can cunning be met. Hear, therefore, the history of the Fox and the Drum.
"A certain Fox searched for food in the jungle, and so doing beheld a tree on which hung a drum; and when the boughs knocked upon the parchment, it sounded aloud. Considering, he believed that so round a form and so great a voice must portend much good feeding. Neglecting on this account a fowl that fed near by, he ascended to the drum. The drum being rent was but air and parchment, and meanwhile the fowl fled away. And from the eye of folly he shed the tear of disappointment, having bartered the substance for the shadow. So must we act with this budmash [scoundrel]. First, receiving his oath that he will depart without violence, hid him hither to a great feast, and say that he shall behold the face of the Queen in a mirror. Provide that some fair woman of the city show her face, and then let him depart in peace, showing him friendship. He shall not know he hath not seen the beauty he would befoul."After consultation, no better way could be found; but the heart of the great Lady was heavy with foreboding. (A hi! that Beauty should wander a pilgrim in the ways of sorrow!) To Allah-u-Din therefore did the King dispatch this letter by swift riders on mares of Mewar.
After salutations - "Now whereas thou hast said thou wouldest look upon the beauty of the Treasure of Chitor, know it is not the custom of the Rajputs that any eye should light upon their treasure. Yet assuredly, when requests arise between friends, there cannot fail to follow distress of mind and division of soul if these are ungranted. So, under promises that follow, I bid thee to a feast at my poor house of Chitor, and thou shalt see that beauty reflected in a mirror, and so seeing, depart in peace from the house of a friend."This being writ by the Twice-Born, the Brahman, did the Rana sign with bitter rage in his heart. And the days passed. III
On a certain day found fortunate by the astrologers - a day of early winter, when the dawns were pure gold and the nights radiant with a cool moon - did a mighty troop of Moslems set their camp on the plain of Chitor. It was as if a city had blossomed in an hour. Those who looked from the walls muttered prayers to the Lord of the Trident; for these men seemed like the swarms of the locust - people, warriors all, fierce fightingmen. And in the ways of Chitor, and up the steep and winding causeway from the plains, were warriors also, the chosen of the Rajputs, thick as blades of corn hedging the path.(Ahi! that the blossom of beauty should have swords for thorns!)
Then, leaving his camp, attended by many Chiefs, - may the mothers and sires that begot them be accursed! - came Allah-u-Din, riding toward the Lower Gate, and so upward along the causeway, between the two rows of men who neither looked nor spoke, standing like the carvings of war in the Caves of Ajunta. And the moon was rising through the sunset as he came beneath the last and seventh gate. Through the towers and palaces he rode with his following, but no woman, veiled or unveiled, - no, not even an outcast of the city, - was there to see him come; only the men, armed and silent. So he turned to Munim Khan that rode at his bridle, saying,-"Let not the eye of watchfulness close this night on the pillow of forgetfulness!"
And thus he entered the palace. Very great was the feast in Chitor, and the wines that those accursed should not drink (since the Outcast whom they call their Prophet forbade them) ran like water, and at the right hand of Allah-u-Din was set the great crystal Cup inlaid with gold by a craft that is now perished; and he filled and refilled it - may his own Prophet curse the swine!
But because the sons of Kings eat not with the outcasts, the Rana entered after, clothed in chain armor of blue steel, and having greeted him, bid him to the sight of that Treasure. And Allah-u-Din, his eyes swimming with wine, and yet not drunken, followed, and the two went alone.
Purdahs [curtains] of great splendour were hung in the great Hall that is called the Raja's Hall, exceeding rich with gold, and in front of the opening was a kneeling-cushion, and an a gold stool before it a polished mirror.(Ahi! for gold and beauty, the scourges of the world!) And the Rana was pale to the lips.
Now as the Princes stood by the purdah, a veiled woman, shrouded in white so that no shape could he seen in her, came forth from within, and kneeling upon the cushion, she unveiled her face bending until the mirror, like a pool of water, held it, and that only. And the King motioned his guest to look, and he looked over her veiled shoulder and saw. Very great was the bowed beauty that the mirror held, but Allah-u-Din turned to the Rana."By the Bread and the Salt, by the Guest-Right, by the Honour of thy House, I ask - is this the Treasure of Chitor?" And since the Sun-Descended cannot lie, no, not though they perish, the Rana answered, flushing darkly, - "This is not the Treasure. Wilt thou spare?" But he would not, and the woman slipped like a shadow behind the purdah and no word said.
Then was heard the tinkling of chooris, and the little noise fell upon the silence like a fear, and, parting the curtains, came a woman veiled like the other. She did not kneel, but took the mirror in her hand, and Allah-u-Din drew up behind her back. From her face she raised the veil of gold Dakka webs, and gazed into the mirror, holding it high, and that Accursed stumbled back, blinded with beauty, saying this only,- "I have seen the Treasure of Chitor."So the purdah fell about her.
The next day, after the Imaum of the Accursed had called them to prayer, they departed, and Allah-u-Din, paying thanks to the Rana for honours given and taken, and swearing friendship, besought him to ride to his camp, to see the marvels of gold and steel armor brought down from the passes, swearing also safe-conduct. And because the Rajputs trust the word even of a foe, he went.(A hi! that honour should strike hands with traitors!) IV
The hours went by, heavy-footed like mourners. Padmini the Rani knelt by the window in her tower that overlooks the plains. Motionless she knelt there, as the Goddess Uma lost in her penances, and she saw her Lord ride forth, and the sparkle of steel where the sun shone on them, and the Standard of the Cold Disk on its black ground. So the camp of the Moslem swallowed them up, and they returned no more. Still she knelt and none dared speak with her; and as the first shade of evening fell across the hills of Rajasthan, she saw a horseman spurting over the flat; and he rode like the wind, and, seeing, she implored the Gods.
Then entered the Twice-Born, that saint of clear eyes, and he bore a scroll; and she rose and seated herself, and he stood by her, as her ladies cowered like frightened doves before the woe in his face as he read.
"To the Rose of Beauty, The Pearl among Women, the Chosen of the Palace. Who, having seen thy loveliness, can look on another? Who, having tasted the wine of the Houris, but thirsts forever? Behold, I have thy King as hostage. Come thou and deliver him. I have sworn that he shall return in thy place."And from a smaller scroll, the Brahman read this:- "I am fallen in the snare. Act thou as becomes a Rajputni."
Then that Daughter of the Sun lifted her head, for the thronging of armed feet was heard in the Council Hall below. From the floor she caught her veil and veiled herself in haste, and the Brahman with bowed head followed, while her women mourned aloud. And, descending, between the folds of the purdah she appeared white and veiled, and the Brahman beside her, and the eyes of all the Princes were lowered to her shrouded feet, while the voice they had not heard fell silvery upon the air, and the echoes of the high roof repeated it."Chief of the Rajputs, what is your counsel?" And he of Marwar stepped forward, and not rais- ing his eyes above her feet, answered,- "Queen, what is thine?" For the Rajputs have ever heard the voice of their women. And she said,- "I counsel that I die and my head be sent to him, that my blood may quench his desire." And each talked eagerly with the other, but amid the tumult the Twice-Born said,- "This is not good talk. In his rage he will slay the King. By my yoga, I have seen it. Seek another way." So they sought, but could determine nothing, and they feared to ride against the dog, for he held the life of the King; and the tumult was great, but all were for the King's safety. Then once more she spoke.
"Seeing it is determined that the King's life is more than my honour, I go this night. In your hand I leave my little son, the Prince Ajeysi. Prepare my litters, seven hundred of the best, for all my women go with me. Depart now, for I have a thought from the Gods."Then, returning to her bower, she spoke this letter to the saint, and he wrote it, and it was sent to the camp. After salutations - "Wisdom and strength have attained their end. Have ready for release the Rana of Chitor, for this night I come with my ladies, the prize of the conqueror." When the sun sank, a great procession with torches descended the steep way of Chitor - seven hundred litters, and in the first was borne the Queen, and all her women followed.
All the streets were thronged with women, weeping and beating their breasts. Very greatly they wept, and no men were seen, for their livers were black within them for shame as the Treasure of Chitor departed, nor would they look upon the sight. And across the plains went that procession; as if the stars had fallen upon the earth, so glittered the sorrowful lights of the Queen.But in the camp was great rejoicing, for the Barbarians knew that many fair women attended on her.
Now, before the entrance to the camp they had made a great shamiana [tent] ready, hung with shawls of Kashmir and the plunder of Delhi; and there was set a silk divan for the Rani, and beside it stood the Loser and the Gainer, Allah-u-Din and the King, awaiting the Treasure.Veiled she entered, stepping proudly, and taking no heed of the Moslem, she stood before her husband, and even through the veil he could feel the eyes he knew. And that Accursed spoke, laughing.
"I have won-I have won, 0 King! Bid farewell to the Chosen of the Palace - the Beloved of the Viceregent of Kings!"
Then she spoke softly, delicately, in her own tongue, that the outcast should not guess the matter of her speech.
And she flung her arm above her head, and instantly, like a lion roaring, he shouted, drawing his sword, and from every litter sprang an armed man, glittering in steel, and the bearers, humble of mien, were Rajput knights, every one.And Allah-u-Din thrust at the breast of the Queen; but around them surged the war, and she was hedged with swords like a rose in the thickets.
Very full of wine, dull with feasting and lust and surprised, the Moslems fled across the plains, streaming in a broken rabble, cursing and shouting like low-caste women; and the Rajputs, wiping their swords, returned from the pursuit and laughed upon each other.But what shall be said of the joy of the King and of her who had imagined this thing, in- structed of the Goddess who is the other half of her Lord?
So the procession returned, singing, to Chitor with those Two in the midst; but among the dogs that fled was Allah-u-Din, his face blackened with shame and wrath, the curses choking in his foul throat.(Aid! that the evil still walk the ways of the world!) V
So the time went by and the beauty of the Queen grew, and her King could see none but hers. Like the moon she obscured the stars, and every day he remembered her wisdom, her valour, and his soul did homage at her feet, and there was great content in Chitor.
It chanced one day that the Queen, looking from her high window that like an eagle's nest overhung the precipice, saw, on the plain beneath, a train of men, walking like ants, and each carried a basket on his back, and behind them was a cloud of dust like a great army. Already the city was astir because of this thing, and the rumours came thick and the spies were sent out.In the dark they returned, and the Rana entered the bower of Padmini, his eyes burning like coal with hate and wrath, and he flung his arm round his wife like a shield. "He is returned, and in power. Counsel me again, 0 wife, for great is thy wisdom!" But she answered only this,-
"Fight, for this time it is to the death." Then each day she watched bow the baskets of earth, emptied upon the plain at first, made nothing, an ant heap whereat fools might laugh. But each day as the trains of men came, spilling their baskets, the great earthworks grew and their height mounted. Day after day the Rajputs rode forth and slew; and as they slew it seemed that all the teeming millions of the earth came forth to take the places of the slain. And the Rajputs fell also, and under the pennons the thundering forces returned daily, thinned of their best.(A hi! that Evil rules the world as God!) And still the earth grew up to the heights, and the protection of the hills was slowly withdrawn from Chitor, for on the heights they made they set their engines of war. Then in a red dawn that great saint Narayan came to the Queen, where she watched by her window, and spoke. "0 great lady, I have dreamed a fearful dream. Nay, rather have I seen a vision." With her face set like a sword, the Queen said, "Say on."
"In a light red like blood, I waked, and beside me stood the Mother, - Durga, - awful to see, with a girdle of heads about her middle; and the drops fell thick and slow from That which she held in her hand, and in the other was her sickle of Doom. Nor did she speak, but my soul heard her words.""Narrate them." "She commanded: `Say this to the Rana: "In Chitor is My altar; in Chitor is thy throne. If thou wouldest save either, send forth twelve crowned Kings of Chitor to die.'" As he said this, the Rana, fore-spent with fighting, entered and heard the Divine word.
Now there were twelve princes of the Rajput blood, and the youngest was the son of Padmini. What choice had these most miserable but to appease the dreadful anger of the Goddess? So on each fourth day a King of Chitor was crowned, and for three days sat upon the throne, and on the fourth day, set in the front, went forth and died fighting. So perished eleven Kings of Chitor, and now there was left but the little Ajeysi, the son of the Queen.And that day was a great Council called.
Few were there. On the plains many lay dead; holding the gates many watched; but the blood was red in their hearts and flowed like Indus in the melting of the snows. And to them spoke the Rana, his hand clenched on his sword, and the other laid on the small dark head of the Prince Ajeysi, who stood between his knees. And as he spoke his voice gathered strength till it rang through the hall like the voice of Indra when he thunders in the heavens.
"Men of the Rajputs, this child shall not die. Are we become jackals that we fall upon the weak and tear them? When have we put our women and children in the forefront of the war? I - I only am King of Chitor. Narayan shall save this child for the time that will surely come. And for us - what shall we do? I die for Chitor!"And like the hollow waves of a great sea they answered him,- "We will die for Chitor." There was silence and Marwar spoke. "The women?" "Do they not know the duty of a Rajputni?" said the King. "My household has demanded that the caves be prepared." And the men clashed stew joy with their swords, and the council dispersed.
Then that very great saint, the Twice-Born, put off the sacred thread that is the very soul of the Brahman. In his turban he wound it secretly, and he stained his noble Aryan body until it resembled the Pariahs, foul for the pure to see, loathsome for the pure to touch, and he put on him the rags of the lowest of the earth, and taking the Prince, he removed from the body of the child every trace of royal and Rajput birth, and he appeared like a child of the Bhils - the vile forest wanderers that shame not to defile their lips with carrion. And in this guise they stood before the Queen; and when she looked on the saint, the tears fell from her eyes like rain, not for grief for her son, nor for death, but that for their sake the pure should be made impure and the glory of the Brahman-hood be defiled. And she fell at the old man's feet and laid her head on the ground before him.
"Rise, daughter!" he said, "and take comfort! Are not the eyes of the Gods clear that they should distinguish? - and this day we stand before the God of Gods. Have not the Great Ones said, `That which causes life causes also decay and death'? Therefore we who go and you who stay are alike a part of the Divine. Embrace now your child and bless him, for we depart. And it is on account of the sacrifice of the Twelve that he is saved alive."
So, controlling her tears, she rose, and clasping the child to her bosom, she bade him be of good cheer since he went with the Gods. And that great saint took his hand from hers, and for the first time in the life of the Queen he raised his aged eyes to her face, and she gazed at him; but what she read, even the ascetic Visravas, who saw all by the power of his yoga, could not tell, for it was beyond speech. Very certainly the peace thereafter possessed her.
So those two went out by the secret ways of the rocks, and wandering far, were saved by the favour of Durga.
On a certain day the Rana and the Rani stood for the last time in her bower, and looked down into the city; and in the streets were gathered in a very wonderful procession the women of Chitor; and not one was veiled. Flowers that had bloomed in the inner chambers, great ladies jewelled for a festival, young brides, aged mothers, and girl children clinging to the robes of their mothers who held their babes, crowded the ways. Even the low-caste women walked with measured steps and proudly, decked in what they had of best, their eyes lengthened with soorma, and flowers in the darkness of their hair.
The Queen was clothed in a gold robe of rejoicing, her bodice latticed with diamonds and great gems, and upon her bosom the necklace of table emeralds, alight with green fire, which is the jewel of the Queens of Chitor. So she stood radiant as a vision of Shri, and it appeared that rays encircled her person.
And the Rana, unarmed save for his sword, had the saffron dress of a bridegroom and the jeweled cap of the Rajput Kings, and below in the hall were the Princes and Chiefs, clad even as he.Then, raising her lotus eyes to her lord, the Princess said,
"Beloved, the time is come, and we have chosen rightly, for this is the way of honour, and it is but another link forged in the chain of existence; for until existence itself is ended and rebirth destroyed, still shall we meet in lives to come and still be husband and wife. What room then for despair?"And he answered,-
"This is true. Go first, wife, and I follow. Let not the door swing to behind thee. But oh, to see thy beauty once more that is the very speech of Gods with men! Wilt thou surely come again to me and again be fair?"
And for all answer she smiled upon him, and at his feet performed the obeisance of the Rajput wife when she departs upon a journey; and they went out together, the Queen unveiled.
As she passed through the Princes, they lowered their eyes so that none saw her; but when she stood on the steps of the palace, the women all turned eagerly toward her like stars about the moon, and lifting their arms, they began to sing the dirge of the Rajput women.
So they marched, and in great companies they marched, company behind company, young and old, past the Queen, saluting her and drawing courage from the loveliness and kindness of her unveiled face.
In the rocks beneath the palaces of Chitor are very great caves - league long and terrible, with ways of darkness no eyes have seen; and it is believed that in times past spirits have haunted them with strange wailings. In these was prepared great store of wood and oils and fragrant matters for burning. So to these caves they marched and, company by company, disappeared into the darkness; and the voice of their singing grew faint and hollow, and died away, as the men stood watching their women go.
Now, when this was done and the last had gone, the Rani descended the steps, and the Rana, taking a torch dipped in fragrant oils, followed her, and the Princes walked after, clad like bridegrooms but with no faces of bridal joy. At the entrance of the caves, having lit the torch, he gave it into her hand, and she, receiving it and smiling, turned once upon the threshold, and for the first time those Princes beheld the face of the Queen, but they hid their eyes with their hands when they had seen. So she departed within, and the Rana shut to the door and barred and bolted it, and the men with him flung down great rocks before it so that none should know the way, nor indeed is it known to this day; and with their hands on their swords they waited there, not speaking, until a great smoke rose between the crevices of the rocks, but no sound at all.(Ashes of roses - ashes of roses! . . Ahi! for beauty that is but touched and remitted!)
The sun was high when those men with their horses and on foot marched down the winding causeway beneath the seven gates, and so forth into the plains, and charging unarmed upon the Moslems, they perished every man. After, it was asked of one who had seen the great slaughter,-"Say how my King bore himself." And he who had seen told this:-
"Reaper of the harvest of battle, on the bed of honour he has spread a carpet of the slain! He sleeps ringed about by his enemies. How can the world tell of his deeds? The tongue is silent."When that Accursed, Allah-u-Din, came up the winding height of the hills, he found only a dead city, and his heart was sick within him. Now this is the Sack of Chitor, and by the Oath of the Sack of Chitor do the Rajputs swear when they bind their honour.
But it is only the ascetic Visravas who by the power of his yoga has heard every word, and with his eyes beheld that Flame of Beauty, who, for a brief space illuminating the world as a Queen, returns to birth in many a shape of sorrowful loveliness until the Bluethroated God shall in his favour destroy her rebirths.Salutation to Ganesa the Elephant-Headed One, and to Shri the Lady of Beauty!
The Building Of The Taj Mahal
In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful- the Smiting! A day when the soul shall know what it has sent on or kept back. A day when no soul shall control aught for another. And the bidding belongs to God.THE KORAN. I
Now the Shah-in-Shah, Shah Jahan, Emperor in India, loved his wife with a great love. And of all the wives of the Mogul Emperors surely this Lady Arjemand, Mumtaz-i-Mahal
- the Chosen of the Palace - was the most worthy of love. In the tresses of her silk-soft hair his heart was bound, and for none other had he so much as a passing thought since his soul had been submerged in her sweetness. Of her he said, using the words of the poet Faisi, -
But who should marvel? For those who have seen this Arjemand crowned with the crown the Padishah set upon her sweet low brows, with the lamps of great jewels lighting the dimples of her cheeks as they swung beside them, have most surely seen perfection. lie who sat upon the Peacock Throne, where the outspread tail of massed gems is centred by that great ruby, "The Eye of the Peacock, the Tribute of the World," valued it not so much as one Jock of the dark and perfumed tresses that rolled to her feet. Less to him the twelve throne columns set close with pearls than the little pearls she showed in her sweet laughter. For if this lady was all beauty, so too she was all goodness; and from the Shahin-Shah to the poorest, all hearts of the world knelt in adoration, before the Chosen of the Palace. She was, indeed, an extraor- dinary beauty, in that she had the soul of a child, and she alone remained unconscious of her power; and so she walked, crowned and clothed with humility.
Cold, haughty, and silent was the Shah-in-Shah before she blessed his arms - flattered, envied, but loved by none. But the gift this Lady brought with her was love; and this, shining like the sun upon ice, melted his coldness, and he became indeed the kingly centre of a kingly court May the Peace be upon her!
Now it was the dawn of a sorrowful day when the pains of the Lady Arjemand came strong and terrible, and she travailed in agony. The hakims (physicians) stroked their beards and reasoned one with another; the wise women surrounded her, and remedies many and great were tried; and still her anguish grew, and in the hall without sat the Shah-in-Shah upon his divan, in anguish of spirit yet greater. The sweat ran on his brows, the knotted veins were thick on his temples, and his eyes, sunk in their caves, showed as those of a maddened man. He crouched on his cushions and stared at the purdah that divided him from the Lady; and all day the people came and went about him, and there was silence from the voice he longed to hear; for she would not moan, lest the sound should slay the Emperor. Her women besought her, fearing that her strong silence would break her heart; but still she lay, her hands clenched in one another, enduring; and the Emperor endured without. The Day of the Smiting!
So, as the time of the evening prayer drew nigh, a child was born, and the Empress, having done with pain, began to sink slowly into that profound sleep that is the shadow cast by the Last. May Allah the Upholder have mercy on our weakness! And the women, white with fear and watching, looked upon her, and whispered one to another, "It is the end."
And the aged mother of Abdul Mirza, standing at her head, said, "She heeds not the cry of the child. She cannot stay." And the newly wed wife of Saif Khan, standing at her feet, said, "The voice of the beloved husband is as the Call of the Angel. Let the Padishah be summoned."So, the evening prayer being over (but the Emperor had not prayed), the wisest of the hakims, Kazim Sharif, went before him and spoke:- "Inhallah! May the will of the Issuer of Decrees in all things be done! Ascribe unto the Creator glory, bowing before his Throne." And he remained silent; but the Padishah, haggard in his jewels, with his face hidden, answered thickly, "The truth! For Allah has forgotten his slave." And Kazim Sharif, bowing at his feet and veiling his face with his hands, replied: "The voice of the child cannot reach her, and the Lady of Delight departs. He who would speak with her must speak quickly."
Then the Emperor rose to his feet unsteadily, like a man drunk with the forbidden juice; and when Kazim Sharif would have supported him, be flung aside his hands, and he stumbled, a man wounded to death, as it were, to the marble chamber where she lay.
In that white chamber it was dusk, and they had lit the little cressets so that a very faint light fell upon her face. A slender fountain a little cooled the hot, still air with its thin music and its sprinkled diamonds, and outside, the summer lightnings were playing wide and blue on the river; but so still was it that the dragging footsteps of the Emperor raised the hair on the flesh of those who heard, So the women who should, veiled themselves, and the others remained like pillars of stone.
Now, when those steps were heard, a faint colour rose in the cheek of the Lady Arjemand; but she did not raise the heavy lashes, or move her hand. And he came up beside her, and the Shadow of God, who should kneel to none, knelt, and his head fell forward upon her breast; and in the hush the women glided out like ghosts, leaving the husband with the wife excepting only that her foster-nurse stood far off, with eyes averted.
So the minutes drifted by, falling audibly one by one into eternity, and at the long last she slowly opened her eyes and, as from the depths of a dream, beheld the Emperor; and in a voice faint as the fall of a rose-leaf she said the one word, "Beloved!"And he from between his clenched teeth, answered, "Speak, wife."
So she, who in all things had loved and served him, - she, Light of all hearts, dispeller of all gloom, - gathered her dying breath for consolation, and raised one hand slowly; and it fell across his, and so remained.
Now, her beauty had been broken in the anguish like a rose in storm; but it returned to her, doubtless that the Padishah might take comfort in its memory; and she looked like a houri of Paradise who, kneeling beside the Zemzem Well, beholds the Waters of Peace. Not Fatmeh herself, the daughter of the Prophet of God, shone more sweetly. She repeated the word, "Beloved"; and after a pause she whispered on with lips that scarcely stirred, "King of the Age, this is the end."But still he was like a dead man, nor lifted his face. "Surely all things pass. And though I go, in your heart I abide, and nothing can sever us. Take comfort." But there was no answer. "Nothing but Love's own hand can slay Love. Therefore, remember me, and I shall live."
And he answered from the darkness of her bosom, "The whole world shall remember. But when shall I be united to thee? 0 Allah, how long wilt thou leave me to waste in this separation?"And she: "Beloved, what is time? We sleep and the night is gone. Now put your arms about me, for I sink into rest. What words are needed between us? Love is enough." So, making not the Profession of Faith, - and what need, since all her life was worship, - the Lady Arjemand turned into his arms like a child. And the night deepened.
Morning, with its arrows of golden light that struck the river to splendour! Morning, with its pure breath, its sunshine of joy, and the koels fluting in the Palace gardens! Morning, divine and new from the hand of the Maker! And in the innermost chamber of marble a white silence; and the Lady, the Mirror of Goodness, lying in the Compassion of Allah, and a broken man stretched on the ground beside her. For all flesh, from the camel-driver to the Shah-in- Shah, is as one in the Day of the Smiting.
For weeks the Emperor lay before the door of death; and had it opened to him, he had been blessed. So the months went by, and very slowly the strength returned to him; but his eyes were withered and the bones stood out in his cheeks. But he resumed his throne, and sat upon it kingly, black-bearded, eagle-eyed, terribly apart in his grief and his royalty; and so seated among his Usbegs, he declared his will.
"For this Lady (upon whom be peace), departed to the mercy of the Giver and Taker, shall a tomb-palace be made, the Like of which is not found in the four corners of the world. Send forth therefore for craftsmen like the builders of the Temple of Solomon the Wise; for I will build."
So, taking counsel, they sent in haste into Agra for Ustad Isa, the Master-Builder, a man of Shiraz; and he, being presented before the Padishah, received his instructions in these words:-
"I will that all the world shall remember the Flower of the World, that all hearts shall give thanks for her beauty, which was indeed the perfect Mirror of the Creator. And since it is abhorrent of Islam that any image be made in the likeness of anything that has life, make for me a palace-tomb, gracious as she was gracious, lovely as she was lovely. Not such as the tombs of the Kings and the Conquerors, but of a divine sweetness. Make me a garden on the banks of Jumna, and build it there, where, sitting in my Pavilion of Marble, I may see it rise."And Ustad Isa, having heard, said, "Upon my head and eyes!" and went out from the Presence.
So, musing upon the words of the Padishah, he went to his house in Agra, and there pondered the matter long and deeply; and for a whole day and night he refused all food and secluded himself from the society of all men; for he said:-
"This is a weighty thing, for this Lady (upon whom be peace) must visibly dwell in her tomb- palace on the shore of the river; and how shall I, who have never seen her, imagine the grace that was in her, and restore it to the world? Oh, had I but the memory of her face! Could I but see it as the Shah-in-Shah sees it, remembering the past! Prophet of God, intercede for me, that I may look through his eyes, if but for a moment!"
That night he slept, wearied and weakened with fasting; and whether it were that the body guarded no longer the gates of the soul, I cannot say; for, when the body ails, the soul soars free above its weakness. But a strange marvel happened.
For, as it seemed to him, he awoke at the mid-noon of the night, and he was sitting, not in his own house, but upon the roof of the royal palace, looking down on the gliding Jumna, where the low moon slept in silver, and the light was alone upon the water; and there were no boats, but sleep and dream, hovering hand-in-hand, moved upon the air, and his heart was dilated in the great silence.
Yet he knew well that he waked in some supernatural sphere: for his eyes could see across the river as if the opposite shore lay at his feet; and he could distinguish every leaf on every tree, and the flowers moon-blanched and ghost-like. And there, in the blackest shade of the pippala boughs, he beheld a faint light like a pearl; and looking with unspeakable anxiety, he saw within the light, slowly growing, the figure of a lady exceedingly glorious in majesty and crowned with a rayed crown of mighty jewels of white and golden splendour. Her gold robe fell to her feet, and - very strange to tell - her feet touched not the ground, but hung a span's length above it, so that she floated in the air.
But the marvel of marvels was her face - not, indeed, for its beauty, though that transcended all, but for its singular and compassionate sweetness, wherewith she looked toward the Palace beyond the river as if it held the heart of her heart, while death and its river lay between.
And Ustad Isa said:- "0 dream, if this sweetness be but a dream, let me never wake! Let me see forever this exquisite work of Allah the Maker, before whom all the craftsmen are as children! For my knowledge is as nothing, and I am ashamed in its presence."
And as he spoke, she turned those brimming eyes on him, and he saw her slowly absorbed into the glory of the moonlight; but as she faded into dream, he beheld, slowly rising, where her feet had hung in the blessed air, a palace of whiteness, warm as ivory, cold as chastity, domes and cupolas, slender minars, arches of marble fretted into seafoam, screen within screen of purest marble, to hide the sleeping beauty of a great Queen
- silence in the heart of it, and in every line a harmony beyond all music. Grace was about it - the grace of a Queen who prays and does not command; who, seated in her royalty yet inclines all hearts to love. Arid he saw that its grace was her grace, and its soul her soul, and that she gave it for the consolation of the Emperor.
And he fell on his face and worshipped the Master-Builder of the Universe, saying,- "Praise cannot express thy Perfection. Thine Essence confounds thought. Surely I am but the tool in the hand of the Builder."
And when he awoke, he was lying in his own secret chamber, but beside him was a drawing such as the craftsmen make of the work they have imagined in their hearts. And it was the Palace of the Tomb.
Henceforward, how should he waver? He was as a slave who obeys his master, and with haste he summoned to Agra his Army of Beauty.
Then were assembled all the master craftsmen of India and of the outer world. From Delhi, from Shiraz, even from Baghdad and Syria, they came. Muhammad Hanif, the wise mason, came from Kandahar, Muhammad Sayyid from Mooltan. Amanat Khan, and other great writers of the holy Koran, who should make the scripts of the Book upon fine marble. Inlayers from Kanauj, with fingers like those of the Spirits that bowed before Solomon the King, who should make beautiful the pure stone with inlay of jewels, as did their forefathers for the Rajah of Mewar; mighty dealers with agate, cornelian, and lapis lazuli. Came also, from Bokhara, Ata Muhammad and Shakri Muhammad, that they might carve the lilies of the field, very glorious, about that Flower of the World. Men of India, men of Persia, men of the outer lands, they came at the bidding of Ustad Isa, that the spirit of his vision might be made manifest.
And a great council was held among these servants of beauty. so they made a model in little of the glory that was to be, and laid it at the feet of the Shah-in-Shah; and he allowed it, though not as yet fully discerning their intent. And when it was approved, Ustad Isa called to him a man of Kashmir; and the very hand of the Creator was upon this man, for he could make gardens second only to the Gardens of Paradise, having been born by that Dal Lake where are those roses of the earth, the Shalimar and the Nishat Bagh; and to him said Ustad Isa,-
"Behold, Rain Lal Kashmiri, consider this design! Thus and thus shall a white palace, exquisite in perfection, arise on the banks of Jumna. Here, in little, in this model of sandalwood, see what shall be. Consider these domes, rounded as the Bosom of Beauty, recalling the mystic fruit of the lotus flower. Consider these four minars that stand about them like Spirits about the Throne. And remembering that all this shall stand upon a great dais of purest marble, and that the river shall be its mirror, repeating to everlasting its loveliness, make me a garden that shall be the throne room to this Queen."
And Ram Lal Kashmiri salaamed and said, "Obedience!" and went forth and pondered night and day, journeying even over the snows of the Pir Panjal to Kashmir, that he might bathe his eyes in beauty where she walks, naked and divine, upon the earth. and he it was who imagined the black marble and white that made the way of approach.So grew the palace that should murmur, like a seashell, in the ear of the world the secret of love.
Veiled had that loveliness been in the shadow of the palace; but now the sun should rise upon it and turn its ivory to gold, should set upon it and flush its snow with rose. The moon should lie upon it like the pearls upon her bosom, the visible grace of her presence breathe about it, the music of her voice hover in the birds and trees of the garden. Times there were when Ustad Isa despaired lest even these mighty servants of beauty should miss perfection. Yet it grew and grew, rising like the growth of a flower.
So on a certain day it stood completed, and beneath the small tomb in the sanctuary, veiled with screens of wrought marble so fine that they might lift in the breeze, - the veils of a Queen, - slept the Lady Arjemand; and above her a narrow coffer of white marble, enriched in a great script with the Ninety-Nine Wondrous Names of God. And the Shahin-Shah, now grey and worn, entered and, standing by her, cried in a loud voice, - "I ascribe to the Unity, the only Creator, the perfection of his handiwork made visible here by the hand of mortal man. For the beauty that was secret in my Palace is here revealed; and the Crowned Lady shall sit forever upon the banks of the Jumna River. It was love that commanded this Tomb."And the golden echo carried his voice up into the high dome, and it died away in whispers of music.
But Ustad Isa standing far off in the throng (for what are craftsmen in the presence of the mighty?), said softly in his beard, "It was Love also that built, and therefore it shall endure."
Now it is told that, on a certain night in summer, when the moon is full, a man who lingers by the straight water, where the cypresses stand over their own image, may see a strange marvel - may see the Palace of the Taj dissolve like a pearl, and so rise in a mist into the moonlight; and in its place, on her dais of white marble, he shall see the Lady Arjemand, Mumtaz-i-Mahal, the Chosen of the Palace, stand there in the white perfection of beauty, smiling as one who hath attained unto the Peace. For she is its soul.And kneeling before the dais, he shall see Ustad Isa, who made this body of her beauty; and his face is hidden in his hands.
How Great Is The Glory Of KwannonA Japanese Story (0 Lovely One-O thou Flower! With Thy beautiful face, with Thy beautiful eyes, pour light upon the world! Adoration to Kwannon.)
In Japan in the days of the remote Ancestors, near the little village of Shiobara, the river ran through rocks of a very strange blue colour, and the bed of the river was also composed of these rocks, so that the clear water ran blue as turquoise gems to the sea.
The great forests murmured beside it, and through their swaying boughs was breathed the song of Eternity. Those who listen may hear if their ears are open. To others it is but the idle sighing of the wind.
Now because of all this beauty there stood in these forests a roughly built palace of unbarked wood, and here the great Emperor would come from City-Royal to seek rest for his doubtful thoughts and the cares of state, turning aside often to see the moonlight in Shiobara. He sought also the free air and the sound of falling water, yet dearer to him than the plucked strings of sho and biwa. For he said;"Where and how shall We find peace even for a moment, and afford Our heart refreshment even for a single second?" And it seemed to him that he found such moments at Shiobara. Only one of his great nobles would His Majesty bring with him - the Dainagon, and him be chose because he was a worthy and honorable person and very simple of heart.
There was yet another reason why the Son of Heaven inclined to the little Shiobara. It had reached the Emperor that a Recluse of the utmost sanctity dwelt in that forest. His name was Semimaru. He had made himself a small hut in the deep woods, much as a decrepit silkworm might spin his last Cocoon and there had the Peace found him.
It had also reached His Majesty that, although blind, be was exceedingly skilled in the art of playing the biwa, both in the Flowing Fount manner and the Woodpecker manner, and that, especially on nights when the moon was full, this aged man made such music as transported the soul. This music His Majesty desired very greatly to hear.Never had Semimaru left his hut save to gather wood or seek food until the Divine Emperor commanded his attendance that he might soothe his august heart with music.
Now on this night of nights the moon was full and the snow heavy on the pines, and the earth was white also, and when the moon shone through the boughs it made a cold light like dawn, and the shadows of the trees were black upon it.
The attendants of His Majesty long since slept for sheer weariness, for the night was far spent, but the Emperor and the Dainagon still sat with their eyes fixed on the venerable Semimaru. For many hours he had played, drawing strange music from his biwa. Sometimes it had been like rain blowing over the plains of Adzuma, sometimes like the winds roaring down the passes of the Yoshino Mountains, and yet again like the voice of far cities. For many hours they listened without weariness, and thought that all the stories of the ancients might flow past them in the weird music that seemed to have neither beginning nor end.
Before them, as they sat upon the silken floor cushions, was a small shrine with a Buddha shelf, and a hanging picture of the Amida Buddha within it - the expression one of rapt peace. Figures of Fugen and Fudo were placed before the curtain doors of the shrine, looking up in adoration to the Blessed One. A small and aged pine tree was in a pot of grey porcelain from Chosen - the only ornament in the chamber.
Suddenly His Majesty became aware that the Dainagon also had fallen asleep from weariness, and that the recluse was no longer playing, but was speaking in a still voice like a deeply flowing stream. The Emperor had observed no change from music to speech, nor could he recall when the music had ceased, so that it altogether resembled a dream.
"When I first came here - "the Venerable one continued-" it was not my intention to stay long in the forest. As each day dawned, I said; `In seven days I go.' And again - 'In seven.' Yet have I not gone. The days glided by and here have I attained to look on the beginnings of peace. Then wherefore should I go? - for all life is within the soul. Shall the fish weary of his pool? And I, who through my blind eyes feel the moon illuming my forest by night and the sun by day, abide in peace, so that even the wild beasts press round to hear my music. I have come by a path overblown by autumn leaves. But I have come."Then said the Divine Emperor as if unconsciously; "Would that I also might come! But the august duties cannot easily be laid aside. And I have no wife - no son."
And Semimaru, playing very softly on the strings of his biwa made no other answer, and His Majesty, collecting his thoughts, which had become, as it were, frozen with the cold and the quiet and the strange music, spoke thus, as if in a waking dream; "Why have I not wedded? Because I have desired a bride beyond the women of earth, and of none such as I desire has the rumor reached me. Consider that Ancestor who wedded Her Shining Majesty! Evil and lovely was she, and the passions were loud about her. And so it is with women. Trouble and vexation of spirit, or instead a great weariness. But if the Blessed One would vouchsafe to my prayers a maiden of blossom and dew, with a heart calm as moonlight, her would I wed. 0, honorable One, whose wisdom surveys the world, is there in any place near or far - in heaven or in earth, such a one that I may seek and find?"And Semimaru, still making a very low music on his biwa, said this;
"Supreme Master, where the Shiobara River breaks away through the gorges to the sea, dwelt a poor couple - the husband a wood-cutter. They had no children to aid in their toil, and daily the woman addressed her prayers for a son to the Bodhisattwa Kwannon, the Lady of Pity who looketh down for ever upon the sound of prayer. Very fervently she prayed, with such offerings as her poverty allowed, and on a certain night she dreamed this dream. At the shrine of the Senju Kwannon she knelt as was her custom, and that Great Lady, sitting enthroned upon the Lotos of Purity, opened Her eyes slowly from Her divine contemplation and heard the prayer of the wood-cutter's wife. Then stooping like a blown willow branch, she gathered a bud from the golden lotos plant that stood upon her altar, and breathing upon it it became pure white and living, and it exhaled a perfume like the flowers of Paradise, This flower the Lady of Pity flung into the bosom of her petitioner, and closing Her eyes returned into Her divine dream, whilst the woman awoke, weeping for joy.
But when she sought in her bosom for the Lotos it was gone. Of all this she boasted loudly to her folk and kin, and the more so, when in due time she perceived herself to be with child, for, from that august favour she looked for nothing less than a son, radiant with the Five Ornaments of riches, health, longevity, beauty, and success. Yet, when her hour was come, a girl was born, and blind.""Was she welcomed?" asked the dreaming voice of the Emperor.
"Augustness, but as a household drudge. For her food was cruelty and her drink tears. And the shrine of the Senju Kwannon was neglected by her parents because of the disappointment and shame of the unwanted gift. And they believed that, lost in Her divine contemplation, the Great Lady would not perceive this neglect. The Gods however are known by their great memories.""Her name?" "Majesty, Tsuyu-Morning Dew. And like the morning dew she shines in stillness. She has repaid good for evil to her evil parents, serving them with unwearied service." "What distinguishes her from others?" "Augustness, a very great peace. Doubtless the shadow of the dream of the Holy Kwannon. She works, she moves, she smiles as one who has tasted of content." "Has she beauty?" "Supreme Master, am I not blind? But it is said that she has no beauty that men should desire her. Her face is flat and round, and her eyes blind." "And yet content?"
"Philosophers might envy her calm. And her blindness is without doubt a grace from the excelling Pity, for could she see her own exceeding ugliness she must weep for shame. But she sees not. Her sight is inward, and she is well content.""Where does she dwell?" "Supreme Majesty, far from here - where in the heart of the woods the river breaks through the rocks."
"Venerable One, why have you told me this? I asked for a royal maiden wise and beautiful, calm as the dawn, and you have told me of a wood-cutter's drudge, blind and ugly."
And now Semimaru did not answer, but the tones of the biwa grew louder and clearer, and they rang like a song of triumph, and the Emperor could hear these words in the voice of the strings.
"She is beautiful as the night, crowned with moon and stars for him who has eyes to see. Princess Splendour was dim beside her; Prince Fireshine, gloom! Her Shining Majesty was but a darkened glory before this maid. All beauty shines within her hidden eyes."And having uttered this the music became wordless once more, but it still flowed on more and more softly like a river that flows into the far distance. The Emperor stared at the mats, musing - the light of the lamp was burning low. His heart said within him; "This maiden, cast like a flower from the hand of Kwannon Sama, will I see."
And as he said this the music had faded away into a thread-like smallness, and when after long thought he raised his august head, he was alone save for the Dainagon, sleeping on the mats behind him, and the chamber was in darkness. Semimaru had departed in silence, and His Majesty, looking forth into the broad moonlight, could see the track of his feet upon the shining snow, and the music came back very thinly like spring rain in the trees. Once more he looked at the whiteness of the night, and then, stretching his august person on the mats, he slept amid dreams of sweet sound.
The next day, forbidding any to follow save the Dainagon, His Majesty went forth upon the frozen snow where the sun shone in a blinding whiteness. They followed the track of Semimaru's feet far under the pine trees so heavy with their load of snow that they were bowed as if with fruit. And the track led on and the air was so still that the cracking of a bough was like the blow of a hammer, and the sliding of a load of snow from a branch like the fall of an avalanche. Nor did they speak as they went. They listened, nor could they say for what.
Then, when they had gone a very great way, the track ceased suddenly, as if cut off, and at this spot, under the pines furred with snow, His Majesty became aware of a perfume so sweet that it was as though all the flowers of the earth haunted the place with their presence, and a music like the biwa of Semimaru was heard in the tree tops. This sounded far off like the whispering of rain when it falls in very small leaves, and presently it died away, and a voice followed after, singing, alone in the woods, so that the silence appeared to have been created that such a music might possess the world. So the Emperor stopped instantly, and the Dainagon behind him and he heard these words.
"In me the Heavenly Lotos grew,
The fibres ran from head to feet,
And my heart was the august Blossom.
Therefore the sweetness flowed through the veins of my flesh, And I breathed peace upon all the world,
And about me was my fragrance shed
That the souls of men should desire me."
As she went, the Spring and all its sweetness blew from her garments. Her robe was green with small gold flowers. Her eyes were closed, but she resembled a cherry tree, snowy with bloom and dew. Her voice was like the singing flowers of Paradise."The Dainagon looked at him with fear and compassion; "Augustness, how should such a lady carry in her arms a bundle of firewood?" "She bore in her hands three lotos flowers, and where each foot fell I saw a lotos bloom and vanish."
They retraced their steps through the wood; His Majesty radiant as Prince Fireshine with the joy that filled his soul; the Dainagon darkened as Prince Firefade with fear, believing that the strange music of Semimaru had bewitched His Majesty, or that the maiden herself might possibly have the power of the fox in shape-changing and bewildering the senses.Very sorrowful and careful was his heart for he loved his Master.
That night His Majesty dreamed that he stood before the kakemono of the Amida Buddha, and that as he raised his eyes in adoration to the Blessed Face, he beheld the images of Fugen and Fudo, rise up and bow down before that One Who Is. Then, gliding in, before these Holinesses stood a figure, and it was the wood-cutter's daughter homely and blinded. She stretched her hands upward as though invoking the supreme Buddha, and then turning to His Majesty she smiled upon him, her eyes closed as in bliss unutterable. And he said aloud."Would that I might see her eyes!" and so saying awoke in a great stillness of snow and moonlight. Having waked, he said within himself
"This marvel will I wed and she shall be my Empress were she lower than the Eta, and whether her face be lovely or homely. For she is certainly a flower dropped from the hand of the Divine."
So when the sun was high His Majesty, again followed by the Dainagon, went through the forest swiftly, and like a man that sees his goal, and when they reached the place where the maiden went by, His Majesty straitly commanded the Dainagon that he should draw apart, and leave him to speak with the maiden; yet that he should watch what befell.
So the Dainagon watched, and again he saw her come, very poorly clad, and with bare feet that shrank from the snow in her grass sandals, bowed beneath a heavy load of wood upon her shoulders, and her face flat and homely like a girl of the people, and her eyes blind and shut.
And as she came she sang this.
"The Eternal way lies before him,
The way that is made manifest in the Wise. The Heart that loves reveals itself to man. For now he draws nigh to the Source. The night advances fast,
And lo! the moon shines bright."
But what His Majesty beheld was this. The evening had come on and the moon was rising. The snow had gone. It was the full glory of spring, and the flowers sprang thick as stars upon the grass, and among them lotos flowers, great as the wheel of a chariot, white and shining with the luminance of the pearl, and upon each one of these was seated an incarnate Holiness, looking upward with joined hands. In the trees were the voices of the mystic Birds that are the utterance of the Blessed One, proclaiming in harmony the Five Virtues, The Five Powers, the Seven Steps ascending to perfect Illumination, the Noble Eightfold Path, and all the Law. And, bearing, in the heart of the Son of Heaven awoke the Three Remembrances - the Remembrance of Him who is Blessed, Remembrance of the Law, and Remembrance of the Communion of the Assembly.
So, looking upward to the heavens, he beheld the Infinite Buddha, high and lifted up in a great raying glory. About Him were the exalted Bodhisattwas, the mighty Disciples, great Arhats all, and all the countless Angelhood. And these rose high into the infinite until they could be seen but as a point of fire against the moon. With this golden multitude beyond all numbering was He.
Then, as His Majesty had seen in the dream of the night, the wood-cutter's daughter, moving through the flowers like one blind that gropes his way, advanced before the Blessed Feet, and uplifting her hands, did adoration, and her face he could not see, but his heart went with her, adoring also the infinite Buddha seated in the calms of boundless Light.
Then enlightenment entered at his eyes, as a man that wakes from sleep, and suddenly he beheld the Maiden crowned and robed and terrible in beauty, and her feet were stayed upon an open lotos, and his soul knew the Senju Kwannon Herself, myriad-armed for the helping of mankind.
And turning, she smiled as in the vision, but his eyes being now clear her blinded eyes were opened, and that glory who shall tell as those living founts of Wisdom rayed upon him their ineffable light? In that ocean was his being drowned, and so, bowed before the Infinite Buddha, he received the Greater Illumination.
When the radiance and the vision were withdrawn and only the moon looked over the trees, His Majesty rose upon his feet, and standing on the snow, surrounded with calm, he called to the Dainagon, and asked this;
"So Wisdom, so Glory encompass us about, and we see them not for we are blinded with illusion. Yet every stone is a jewel and every clod is spirit and to the hems of the Infinite Buddha all cling. Through the compassion of the Supernal Mercy that walks the earth as the Bodhisattwa Kwannon, am I admitted to wisdom and given sight and hearing. And what is all the world to that happy one who has beheld Her eyes!"And His Majesty returned through the forest.
When, the next day, he sent for the venerable Semimaru that holy recluse had departed and none knew where. But still when the moon is full a strange music moves in the tree tops of Shiobara.
Then His sacred Majesty returned to City-Royal, having determined to retire into the quiet life, and there, abandoning the throne to a kinsman wise in greatness, he became a dweller in the deserted hut of Semimaru.
His life, like a descending moon approaching the hill that should hide it, was passed in meditation on that Incarnate Love and Compassion whose glory had augustly been made known to him, and having cast aside all save the image of the Divine from his soul, His Majesty became even as that man who desired enlightenment of the Blessed One.
For he, desiring instruction, gathered precious flowers, and journeyed to present them as an offering to the Guatama Buddha. Standing before Him, he stretched forth both his hands holding the flowers.Then said the Holy One, looking upon his petitioner's right hand;
"Loose your hold of these." And the man dropped the flowers from his right hand. And the Holy One looking upon his left hand, said;"Loose your hold of these." And, sorrowing, he dropped the flowers from his left hand. And again the Master said; "Loose your hold of that which is neither in the right nor in the left" And the disciple said very pitifully; "Lord, of what should I loose my hold for I have nothing left?" And He looked upon him steadfastly. Therefore at last understanding he emptied his soul of all desire, and of fear that is the shadow of desire, and being enlightened relinquished all burdens. So was it also with His Majesty. In peace he dwelt, and becoming a great Arhat, in peace he departed to that Uttermost Joy where is the Blessed One made manifest in Pure Light.
As for the parents of the maiden, they entered after sore troubles into peace, having been remembered by the Infinite. For it is certain that the enemies also of the Supreme Buddha go to salvation by thinking on Him, even though it be against Him.And he who tells this truth makes this prayer to the Lady of Pity;
"Grant me, I pray,
One dewdrop from Thy willow spray, And in the double Lotos keep
My hidden heart asleep."
The Round-Faced BeautyA Story Of The Chinese Court
In the city of Chang-an music filled the palaces, and the festivities of the Emperor were measured by its beat. Night, and the full moon swimming like a gold-fish in the garden lakes, gave the signal for the Feather Jacket and Rainbow Skirt dances. Morning, with the rising sun, summoned the court again to the feast and wine-cup in the floating gardens.
The Emperor Chung Tsu favored this city before all others. The Yen Tower soaring heavenward, the Drum Towers, the Pearl Pagoda, were the only fit surroundings of his magnificence; and in the Pavilion of Tranquil Learning were held those discussions which enlightened the world and spread the fame of the Jade Emperor far and wide. In all respects he adorned the Dragon Throne - in all but one; for Nature, bestowing so much, withheld one gift, and the Imperial heart, as precious as jade, was also as hard, and he eschewed utterly the company of the Hidden Palace Flowers.
Yet the Inner Chambers were filled with ladies chosen from all parts of the Celestial Empire - ladies of the most exquisite and torturing beauty, moons of loveliness, moving coquettishly on little feet, with all the grace of willow branches in a light breeze. They were sprinkled with perfumes, adorned with jewels, robed in silks woven with gold and embroidered with designs of flowers and birds. Their faces were painted and their eyebrows formed into slender and perfect arches whence the soul of man might well slip to perdition, and a breath of sweet odor followed each wherever she moved. Every one might have been the Empress of some lesser kingdom; but though rumours reached the Son of Heaven from time to time of their charms, - especially when some new blossom was added to the Imperial bouquet,- he had dismissed them from his august thoughts, and they languished in a neglect so complete that the Great Cold Palaces of the Moon were not more empty than their hearts. They remained under the supervision of the Princess of Han, August Aunt of the Emperor, knowing that their Lord considered the company of sleeve-dogs and macaws more pleasant than their own. Nor had he as yet chosen an Empress, and it was evident that without some miracle, such as the intervention of the Municipal God, no heir to the throne could be hoped for.
Yet the Emperor one day remembered his imprisoned beauties, and it crossed the Imperial thoughts that even these inferior creatures might afford such interest as may be found in the gambols of trained fleas or other insects of no natural attainments.
Accordingly, he commanded that the subject last discussed in his presence should be transferred to the Inner Chambers, and it was his Order that the ladies should also discuss it, and their opinions be engraved on ivory, bound together with red silk and tassels and thus presented at the Dragon feet. The subject chosen was the following:-
Describe the Qualities of the Ideal Man Now when this command was laid before the August Aunt, the guardian of the Inner Chambers, she was much perturbed in mind, for such a thing was unheard of in all the annals of the Empire. Recovering herself, she ventured to say that the discussion of such a question might raise very disquieting thoughts in the minds of the ladies, who could not be supposed to have any opinions at all on such a subject. Nor was it desirable that they should have. To every woman her husband and no other is and must be the Ideal Man. So it was always in the past; so it must ever be. There are certain things which it is dangerous to question or discuss, and how can ladies who have never spoken with any other man than a parent or a brother judge such matters?
"How, indeed," asked this lady of exalted merit, "can the bat form an idea of the sunlight, or the carp of the motion of wings? If his Celestial Majesty had commanded a discussion on the Superior Woman and the virtues which should adorn her, some sentiments not wholly unworthy might have been offered. But this is a calamity. They come unexpectedly, springing up like mushrooms, and this one is probably due to the lack of virtue of the inelegant and unintellectual person who is now speaking."
This she uttered in the presence of the principal beauties of the Inner Chambers. They sat or reclined about her in attitudes of perfect loveliness. Two, embroidering silver pheasants, paused with their needles suspended above the stretched silk, to hear the August Aunt. One, threading beads of jewel jade, permitted them to slip from the string and so distended the rose of her mouth in surprise that the small pearl-shells were visible within. The Lady Tortoise, caressing a scarlet and azure macaw, in her agitation so twitched the feathers that the bird, shrieking, bit her finger. The Lady Golden Bells blushed deeply at the thought of what was required of them; and the little Lady Summer Dress, youngest of all the assembled beauties, was so alarmed at the prospect that she began to sob aloud, until she met the eye of the August Aunt and abruptly ceased.
"It is not, however, to be supposed," said the August Aunt, opening her snuff-bottle of painted crystal, "that the minds of our deplorable and unattractive sex are wholly incapable of forming opinions. But speech is a grave matter for women, naturally slowwitted and feeble-minded as they are. This unenlightened person recalls the Odes as saying:-
`A flaw in a piece of white jade
May be ground away,
But when a woman has spoken foolishly
a consideration which should make every lady here and throughout the world think anxiously before speech." So anxiously did the assembled beauties think, that all remained mute as fish in a pool, and the August Aunt continued:-
"Let Tsu-ssu be summoned. It is my intention to suggest to the Dragon Emperor that the virtues of women be the subject of our discourse, and I will myself open and conclude the discussion."
Tsu-ssu was not long in kotowing before the August Aunt, who despatched her message with the proper ceremonial due to its Imperial destination; and meanwhile, in much agitation, the beauties could but twitter and whisper in each other's ears, and await the response like condemned prisoners who yet hope for reprieve.
Scarce an hour had dripped away on the water-clock when an Imperial Missive bound with yellow silk arrived, and the August Aunt, rising, kotowed nine times before she received it in her jewelled hand with its delicate and lengthy nails ensheathed in pure gold and set with gems of the first water. She then read it aloud, the ladies prostrating themselves.To the Princess of Han, the August Aunt, the Lady of the Nine Superior Virtues:-
"Having deeply reflected on the wisdom submitted, We thus reply. Women should not be the judges of their own virtues, since these exist only in relation to men. Let Our Command therefore be executed, and tablets presented before us seven days hence, with the name of each lady appended to her tablet."
It was indeed pitiable to see the anxiety of the ladies! A sacrifice to Kwan-Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, of a jewel from each, with intercession for aid, was proposed by the Lustrous Lady; but the majority shook their heads sadly. The August Aunt, tossing her head, declared that, as the Son of Heaven had made no comment on her proposal of opening and closing the discussion, she should take no part other than safeguarding the interests of propriety. This much increased the alarm, and, kneeling at her feet, the swanlike beauties, Deep-Snow and Winter Moon implored her aid and compassion. But, rising indignantly, the August Aunt sought her own apartments, and for the first time the inmates of the Pepper Chamber saw with regret the golden dragons embroidered on her back.
It was then that the Round-Faced Beauty ventured a remark. This maiden, having been born in the far-off province of Ssuch-uan, was considered a rustic by the distinguished elegance of the Palace and, therefore, had never spoken unless decorum required. Still, even her detractors were compelled to admit the charms that had gained her her name. Her face had the flawless outline of the pearl, and like the blossom of the plum was the purity of her complexion, upon which the darkness of her eyebrows resembled two silkmoths alighted to flutter above the brilliance of her eyes - eyes which even the August Aunt had commended after a banquet of unsurpassed variety. Her hair had been compared to the crow's plumage; her waist was like a roll of silk, and her discretion in habiting herself was such that even the Lustrous Lady and the Lady Tortoise drew instruction from the splendours of her robes. It created, however, a general astonishment when she spoke.
"Paragons of beauty, what is this dull and opaque. witted person that she should speak?"
"It is true that the highly ornamental Round-Faced Beauty is but lately come, yet even the intelligent Ant may assist the Dragon; and in the presence of alarm, what is decorum? With a tiger behind one, who can recall the Book of Rites and act with befitting elegance?"
"The high-born will at all times remember the Rites!" retorted the Celestial Sister. "Have we not heard the August Aunt observe: `Those who understand do not speak. Those who speak do not understand'?"The Round-Faced Beauty collected her courage. "Doubtless this is wisdom; yet if the wise do not speak, who should instruct us? The August Aunt herself would be silent."
All were confounded by this dilemma, and the little Lady Summer-Dress, still weeping, entreated that the Round-Faced Beauty might be heard. The Heavenly Blossoms then prepared to listen and assumed attitudes of attention, which so disconcerted the RoundFaced Beauty that she blushed like a spring tulip in speaking.
"Beautiful ladies, our Lord, who is unknown to us all, has issued an august command. It cannot be disputed, for the whisper of disobedience is heard as thunder in the Imperial Presence. Should we not aid each other? If any lady has formed a dream in her soul of the Ideal Man, might not such a picture aid us all? Let us not be `say-nothing-do-nothing,' but act!"
They hung their heads and smiled, but none would allow that she had formed such an image. The little Lady Tortoise, laughing behind her fan of sandalwood, said roguishly: "The Ideal Man should be handsome, liberal in giving, and assuredly he should appreciate the beauty of his wives. But this we cannot say to the Divine Emperor."A sigh rustled through the Pepper Chamber. The Celestial Sister looked angrily at the speaker. "This is the talk of children," she said. "Does no one remember Kung-fu-tse's [Confucius] description of the Superior Man?"
Unfortunately none did - not even the Celestial Sister herself. "Is it not probable," said the Round-Faced Beauty, "that the Divine Emperor remembers it him- self and wishes-"But the Celestial Sister, yawning audibly, summoned the attendants to bring rose-leaves in honey, and would hear no more.
The Round-Faced Beauty therefore wandered forth among the mossy rocks and drooping willows of the Imperial Garden, deeply considering the matter. She ascended the bowcurved bridge of marble which crossed the Pool of Clear Weather, and from the top idly observed the reflection of her rose-and-gold coat in the water while, with her taper fingers, she crumbled cake for the fortunate gold-fish that dwelt in it. And, so doing, she remarked one fish, four-tailed among the six-tailed, and in no way distinguished by elegance, which secured by far the largest share of the crumbs dropped into the pool. Bending lower, she observed this singular fish and its methods.
The others crowded about the spot where the crumbs fell, all herded together. In their eagerness and stupidity they remained like a cloud of gold in one spot, slowly waving their tails. But this fish, concealing itself behind a miniature rock, waited, looking upward, until the crumbs were falling, and then, rushing forth with the speed of an arrow, scattered the stupid mass of fish, and bore off the crumbs to its shelter, where it instantly devoured them.
"This is notable," said the Round-Faced Beauty. "Observation enlightens the mind. To be apart - to be distinguished - secures notice!" And she plunged into thought again, wandering, herself a flower, among the gorgeous tree peonies.
On the following day the August Aunt commanded that a writer among the palace attendants should, with brush and ink, be summoned to transcribe the wisdom of the ladies. She requested that each would give three days to thought, relating the following anecdote. "There was a man who, taking a piece of ivory, carved it into a mulberry leaf, spending three years on the task. When finished it could not be told from the original, and was a gift suitable for the Brother of the Sun and Moon. Do likewise!""But yet, 0 Augustness!" said the Celestial Sister, "if the Lord of Heaven took as long with each leaf, there would be few leaves on the trees, and if-"
The August Aunt immediately commanded silence and retired. On the third day she seated herself in her chair of carved ebony, while the attendant placed himself by her feet and prepared to record her words.
"This insignificant person has decided," began her Augustness, looking round and unscrewing the amber top of her snuff-bottle, "to take an unintelligent part in these proceedings. An example should be set. Attendant, write!"
She then dictated as follows: "The Ideal Man is he who now decorates the Imperial Throne, or he who in all humility ventures to resemble the incomparable Emperor. Though he may not hope to attain, his endeavor is his merit. No further description it needed."With complacence she inhaled the perfumed snuff, as the writer appended the elegant characters of her Imperial name.
If it is permissible to say that the faces of the beauties lengthened visibly, it should now be said. For it had been the intention of every lady to make an illusion to the Celestial Emperor and depict him as the Ideal Man. Nor had they expected that the August Aunt would take any part in the matter.
"Oh, but it was the intention of this commonplace and undignified person to say this very thing!" cried the Lustrous Lady, with tears in the jewels of her eyes. "I thought no other high-minded and distinguished lady would for a moment think of it"
"And it was my intention also!" fluttered the little Lady Tortoise, wringing her hands! "What now shall this most unlucky and unendurable person do? For three nights has sleep forsaken my unattractive eyelids, and, tossing and turning on a couch deprived of all comfort, I could only repeat, `The Ideal Man is the Divine Dragon Emperor!'"
"May one of entirely contemptible attainments make a suggestion in this assemblage of scintillating wit and beauty?" inquired the Celestial Sister. "My superficial opinion is that it would be well to prepare a single paper to which all names should be appended, stating that His Majesty in his Dragon Divinity comprises all ideals in his sacred Person."
"Let those words be recorded," said the August Aunt. "What else should any lady of discretion and propriety say? In this Palace of Virtuous Peace, where all is consecrated to the Son of Heaven, though he deigns not to enter it, what other thought dare be breathed? Has any lady ventured to step outside such a limit? If so, let her declare herself!"
All shook their heads, and the August Aunt proceeded: "Let the writer record this as the opinion of every lady of the Imperial Household, and let each name be separately appended."
Had any desired to object, none dared to confront the August Aunt; but apparently no beauty so desired, for after three nights' sleepless meditation, no other thought than this had occurred to any.
Accordingly, the writer moved from lady to lady and, under the supervision of the August Aunt, transcribed the following: "The Ideal Man is the earthly likeness of the Divine Emperor. How should it be otherwise?" And under this sentence wrote the name of each lovely one in succession. The papers were then placed in the hanging sleeves of the August Aunt for safety.
By the decree of Fate, the father of the Round-Faced Beauty had, before he became an ancestral spirit, been a scholar of distinction, having graduated at the age of seventy-two with a composition commended by the Grand Examiner. Having no gold and silver to give his daughter, he had formed her mind, and had presented her with the sole jewel of his family-a pearl as large as a bean. Such was her sole dower, but the accomplished Aunt may excel the indolent Prince.
Yet, before the thought in her mind, she hesitated and trembled, recalling the lesson of the gold-fish; and it was with anxiety that paled her roseate lips that, on a certain day, she had sought the Willow Bridge Pavilion. There had awaited her a palace attendant skilled with the brush, and there in secrecy and dire affright, hearing the footsteps of the August Aunt in every rustle of leafage, and her voice in the call of every crow, did the RoundFaced Beauty dictate the following composition:-
"Though the sky rain pearls, it cannot equal the beneficence of the Son of Heaven. Though the sky rain jade it cannot equal his magnificence. He has commanded his slave to describe the qualities of the Ideal Man. How should I, a mere woman, do this? I, who have not seen the Divine Emperor, how should I know what is virtue? I, who have not seen the glory of his countenance, how should I know what is beauty? Report speaks of his excellencies, but I who live in the dark know not. But to the Ideal Woman, the very vices of her husband are virtues. Should he exalt another, this is a mark of his superior taste. Should he dismiss his slave, this is justice. To the Ideal Woman there is but one Ideal Man - and that is her lord. From the day she crosses his threshold, to the day when they clothe her in the garments of Immortality, this is her sole opinion. Yet would that she might receive instruction of what only are beauty and virtue in his adorable presence."This being written, she presented her one pearl to the attendant and fled, not looking behind her, as quickly as her delicate feet would permit.
On the seventh day the compositions, engraved on ivory and bound with red silk and tassels, were presented to the Emperor, and for seven days more he forgot their existence. On the eighth the High Chamberlain ventured to recall them to the Imperial memory, and the Emperor glancing slightly at one after another, threw them aside, yawning as he did so. Finally, one arrested his eyes, and reading it more than once he laid it before him and meditated. An hour passed in this way while the forgotten Lord Chamberlain continued to kneel. The Son of Heaven, then raising his head, pronounced these words: "In the society of the Ideal Woman, she to whom jealousy is unknown, tranquillity might possibly be obtained. Let prayer be made before the Ancestors with the customary offerings, for this is a matter deserving attention."
A few days passed, and an Imperial attendant, escorted by two mandarins of the peacock- feather and crystal-button rank, desired an audience of the August Aunt, and, speaking before the curtain, informed her that his Imperial Majesty would pay a visit that evening to the Hall of Tranquil Longevity. Such was her agitation at this honour that she immediately swooned; but, reviving, summoned all the attendants and gave orders for a banquet and musicians.
Lanterns painted with pheasants and exquisite landscapes were hung on all the pavilions. Tap- estries of rose, decorated with the Five-Clawed Dragons, adorned the chambers; and upon the High Seat was placed a robe of yellow satin embroidered with pearls. All was hurry and excitement. The Blossoms of the Palace were so exquisitely decked that one grain more of powder would have made them too lily-like, and one touch more of rouge, too rosecheeked. It was indeed perfection, and, like lotuses upon a lake, or Asian birds, gorgeous of plumage, they stood ranged in the outer chamber while the Celestial Emperor took his seat.
The Round-Faced Beauty wore no jewels, having bartered her pearl for her opportunity; but her long coat of jade-green, embroidered with golden willows, and her trousers of palest rose left nothing to be desired. In her hair two golden peonies were fastened with pins of kingfisher work. The Son of Heaven was seated upon the throne as the ladies approached, marshaled by the August Aunt. He was attired in the Yellow Robe with the Flying Dragons, and upon the Imperial Head was the Cap, ornamented with one hundred and forty-four priceless gems. From it hung the twelve pendants of strings of pearls, partly concealing the august eyes of the Jade Emperor. No greater splendour can strike awe into the soul of man.
At his command the August Aunt took her seat upon a lesser chair at the Celestial Feet. Her mien was majestic, and struck awe into the assembled beauties, whose names she spoke aloud as each approached and prostrated herself. She then pronounced these words:
"Beautiful ones, the Emperor, having considered the opinions submitted by you on the subject of the Superior Man, is pleased to express his august commendation. Dismiss, therefore, anxiety from your minds, and prepare to assist at the humble concert of music we have prepared for his Divine pleasure."Slightly raising himself in his chair, the Son of Heaven looked down upon that Garden of Beauty, holding in his hand an ivory tablet bound with red silk. "Lovely ladies," he began, in a voice that assuaged fear, "who among you was it that laid before our feet a composition beginning thus - 'Though the sky rain pearls'?" The August Aunt immediately rose. "Imperial Majesty, none! These eyes supervised every composition. No impropriety was permitted." The Son of Heaven resumed: "Let that lady stand forth."
The words were few, but sufficient. Trembling in every limb, the Round-Faced Beauty separated herself from her companions and prostrated herself, amid the breathless amazement of the Blossoms of the Palace. He looked down upon her as she knelt, pale as a lady carved in ivory, but lovely as the lotus of Chang-Su. He turned to the August Aunt. "Princess of Han, my Imperial Aunt, I would speak with this lady alone."Decorum itself and the custom of Palaces could not conceal the indignation of the August Aunt as she rose and retired, driving the ladies before her as a shepherd drives his sheep.
The Hall of Tranquil Longevity being now empty, the Jade Emperor extended his hand and beckoned the Round-Faced Beauty to approach. This she did, hanging her head like a flower surcharged with dew and swaying gracefully as a wind-bell, and knelt on the lowest step of the Seat of State."Loveliest One," said the Emperor, "I have read your composition. I would know the truth. Did any aid you as you spoke it? Was it the thought of your own heart?" "None aided, Divine," said she, almost fainting with fear. "It was indeed the thought of this illiterate slave, consumed with an unwarranted but uncontrollable passion." "And have you in truth desired to see your Lord?" "As a prisoner in a dungeon desires the light, so was it with this low person." "And having seen?" "Augustness, the dull eyes of this slave are blinded with beauty." She laid her head before his feet. "Yet you have depicted, not the Ideal Man, but the Ideal Woman. This was not the Celestial command. How was this?"
"Because, 0 versatile and auspicious Emperor, the blind cannot behold the sunlight, and it is only the Ideal Woman who is worthy to comprehend and worship the Ideal Man. For this alone is she created."A smile began to illuminate the Imperial Countenance. "And how, 0 Round-Faced Beauty, did you evade the vigilance of the August Aunt?"
She hung her head lower, speaking almost in a whisper. "With her one pearl did this person buy the secrecy of the writer; and when the August Aunt slept, did I conceal the paper in her sleeve with the rest, and her own Imperial hand gave it to the engraver of ivory."
She veiled her face with two jade-white hands that trembled excessively. On hearing this statement the Celestial Emperor broke at once into a very great laughter, and he laughed loud and long as a tiller of wheat. The Round-Faced Beauty heard it demurely until, catching the Imperial eye, decorum was forgotten and she too laughed uncontrollably. So they continued, and finally the Emperor leaned back, drying the tears in his eyes with his august sleeve, and the lady, resuming her gravity, hid her face in her hands, yet regarded him through her fingers.
When the August Aunt returned at the end of an hour with the ladies, surrounded by the attendants with their instruments of music, the Round-Faced Beauty was seated in the chair that she herself had occupied, and on the whiteness of her brow was hung the chain of pearls, which had formed the frontal of the Cap of the Emperor.
It is recorded that, advancing from honour to honour, the Round-Faced Beauty was eventually chosen Empress and became the mother of the Imperial Prince. The celestial purity of her mind and the absence of all flaws of jealousy and anger warranted this distinction. But it is also recorded that, after her elevation, no other lady was ever exalted in the Imperial favour or received the slightest notice from the Emperor. For the Empress, now well acquainted with the Ideal Man, judged it better that his experiences of the Ideal Woman should be drawn from herself alone. And as she decreed, so it was done. Doubtless Her Majesty did well.
It is known that the Emperor departed to the Ancestral Spirits at an early age, seeking, as the August Aunt observed, that repose which on earth could never more be his. But no one has asserted that this lady's disposition was free from the ordinary blemishes of humanity.
As for the Celestial Empress (who survives in history as one of the most astute rulers who ever adorned the Dragon Throne), she continued to rule her son and the Empire, surrounded by the respectful admiration of all.
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