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Bubbles of the Foam
Author: Unknown
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And all at once Aranyani raised her head, and began to laugh, looking at him strangely, and saying to herself: These were my very words to Babhru, only an hour ago. And Atirupa said: Now, then, thou art laughing, equally without a cause: but why? And she said: It is nothing. Then he said: Is it thy reason returning to thee that makes thee laugh instead of weep? For why should it so frighten and disturb thee, to think of leaving all behind for me? Dost thou think I cannot give thee compensation, ten thousand times over, for all thou lettest go? Then of what art thou afraid?

And Aranyani raised her head, and looked fixedly straight into his eyes, and yet strange! seeing nothing, for her soul was absent, thinking not of him at all, but of Babhru. And she said within herself: Can it be, that what Babhru is to me, that I am to another, and that of every pair of lovers, one only loves? And what then will be my fate, if I follow him in spite of all, only to discover, that just as I left Babhru in the lurch, so I myself shall be abandoned, it may be, for some other woman's sake? And at the thought, she shuddered, and grew cold all over, and turned suddenly paler than a waning moon.

IV

And Atirupa saw it, and was puzzled, understanding nothing of what was passing in her soul. And he drew her, half-resisting, once more towards him, and began again to caress her hair, saying as he did so, very slowly: Aranyani, thou art in very truth, for thy timidity and thy eyes, own sister to the deer: and yet, somehow, I would not have it otherwise, for thy timidity is not less beautiful than those great eyes which it fills with apprehension and distrust: and wert thou brave, thy soft body would not quiver, to fill me with emotion, nor should I now be tasting, as I kiss thee, the salt beauty of those pearls, thy tears. Stand still, then, a little while, O pretty little coward, and if thou wilt, tremble yet a little in my arms, and grow calm, and let me reassure thee: for thou takest fright at the noise of every rustling leaf, not stopping to consider, whether there be really anything to injure thee or no. And now let me ask thee: I have told thee who I am, and shown thee many things even of thyself, that were unknown to thee: for so far from being strangers, we are actually kin. And why then shouldst thou fear to come away? for to whom shouldst thou come, if not to thy own kindred? And yet, that is the very reason why I cannot ask thy father for thee. For dost thou think, should I go to him, and ask him, he would bestow thee on me, or let thee go away? Say, would he consent? And Aranyani said, in a low voice: If, as thou hast told me, thou really art the son of Jaya, then rather would he see me lying dead at his feet. And Atirupa said: Thou seest. Yet why should thou and I be enemies, because our parents were? And what then, O Aranyani, of the other? Would thy Babhru let thee go? And she said: Nay, rather would he slay thee, or himself, or it may be even me. Then said Atirupa: O foolish one, canst thou then not bring thyself to comprehend, that since I must absolutely go, and none will let thee go, either thou must come away with me, or stay here by thyself? And yet, when I show thee the necessity, thou art ready to consume me like a straw in the flame of thy reproaches. What then? Wouldst thou have me go away secretly, saying nothing? And wouldst thou not then exclaim against me as a traitor, never seeing me return? And dost thou think it easy for me to go away, leaving thee behind? I tell thee, I cannot go away without thee, and yet I cannot stay. Then only tell me, what to do. Say, little cousin, why wilt thou fear to come away with me? I marvel rather that thou dost not fear to stay. What wilt thou do alone, when I am gone? Will thy father console thee for my absence, thy father who leaves thee all alone? or will Babhru make up to thee for thy sending me away? I tell thee, they will both become so hateful in thy sight, that thou wilt run away of thy own accord, merely to escape from them, no matter where. And then thou wilt bitterly regret thy scruples, all too late, having lost the opportunity that never will return; for if I go without thee, I shall never come again. But my image will haunt thee, and follow thee about like a shadow, to darken all thy life, and instead of a rapture ever present, I shall be to thee a memory of bitterness, and everlasting self-reproach, and vain remorse. And thou wilt grow gradually older, alone, being in thy own eyes a thing intolerable, as having cast away a priceless gem, delicious companionship, friendship and affection, that Fortune herself fished thee from the deep, only to see her present thrown, with ingratitude, by thee, away. And in thy loneliness thou wilt seek in vain to flee even from thyself, and it may be, judging thy life utterly unendurable, thou wilt seek refuge from its horror in a death of thy own contriving, having missed the very fruit of thy birth, and ending like a blunder of the Creator, and a thing that had better not have been.

V

And as he spoke, he felt Aranyani on his breast, sobbing till she shook him, as if to say, Cease, for thou art driving a knife into my heart. And yet he went on slowly, as if his very object were to stab her to the quick. And then, all at once he changed. And he whispered in her ear: Dear cousin, why dost thou so obstinately destroy thyself and me? What! dost thou make believe to love me, calling thyself slave, and yet refuse to follow me wherever I may go? Or dost thou think that thou art dreaming, mistaking a shadow for reality, expecting suddenly to wake, and find nothing in thy arms, and thy vision of happiness a phantom, vanishing like the picture in the desert, leaving nothing but the sand? Thou resemblest a very foolish little deer, that for idle fear of falling victim to delusion, should absolutely refuse to drink, even at a pool. O deer, what can ever convince thee of the reality of water, if thou wilt not believe, even when thou art actually standing, as at present, knee-deep in the lake? Must the very future become present, before thou wilt trust thyself to credit what it holds? But thou askest impossibility, and like every other maiden, thou canst not experience the future till it comes. Hast thou, then, no faith in me at all? Out, out, upon the love that cannot trust! O Aranyani, surely thy love is very small, and a mere imitation and counterfeit of love: for as a rule, true love is tested by its power of putting faith in what it loves. See, then, thou unbeliever, I will try to bring the future before thy very eyes, and as I did before, when I told of the life that lay before thee by thyself, so now will I paint for thee another picture, to show thee an image of that life that thou wilt forfeit, by sending me away alone.

And he paused for a moment, as if reflecting on his coming words. But he murmured to himself: I feel that she is hesitating, and trembling in the balance; resembling a fruit that fears to fall, yet knows that its very nature dooms it to be eaten, and is half inclined on that account to drop of its own accord. And now, with a little shaking, she will drop into my hand: since like a very woman, she cannot say either yes or no, wishing to be forced along the path which all the while she longs, yet is terribly afraid, to tread. And now then will I bait the hook with flattery, and we shall see whether this golden fish will not swallow it as greedily as all her silver sisters, resembling as they do delicate and fragile foolish ware that sells itself in a market created by its own vanity, where false coin passes easily without detection, and is even more potent and valuable than true. And yet in her case, flattery is very easy, for the grossest is only the simple truth.

And presently he said, in a very low voice: Aranyani, tell me: am I beautiful? And she said, after a while, with her face hidden in his breast: Why ask me to repeat what I have told thee in every way a thousand times already? Then he said: And does it not occur to thee, that thou givest me what I give thee? And so we are a pair, for if my beauty is an idol to thee, what else is thine to me? But thou, all ignorant of thy own extraordinary charm, art incredulous, not understanding that I also am a devotee to the spell of thy dreamy eyes, and the aromatic fragrance of thy hair, and the clinging prison of thy soft round arms, and the taste of thy delicious lips, whose kisses cool, like snowflakes, by their leaf-like half involuntary fall, the burning caused by the touch of thy trembling breast, when it beats on my heart like the surge of the sea. And should we separate, that were made for one another like Maheshwara and the Daughter of the Snow? Nay, we will rather grow together, thou, like the creeper, clinging ever to me, just as thou art doing now, indistinguishable from the tree which is myself. And thou shrinkest from the darkness, but I will be thy darkness and thy night, O thou slender digit of the moon. What wouldst thou do without thy night, O moon? Or didst thou say, thyself, thou wert a flower? Well, thou shalt be my blue lotus, and I will be thy pool: looking into which, thou shalt see thy own reflection, and rejoice. Or, if thou wilt, I will play the river, and thou shalt be the silver swan that floats upon its breast. What! wilt thou take from the river all its beauty, by refusing to float upon the water that only longs to be adorned by so beautiful a burden? Or better still, thou shalt be my mango blossom, and I, thy mad black bee, living only to plunder my shy sweet blossom of its intoxicating wine; aye, without thee, I should indeed resemble a golden cup, without the wine that gives it all its use and worth. Thou art the salt, of me the ocean, and the pearl within my shell: and with thee, I shall be a very Wishnu, with thee, for my Fortune and my Shri. And like a word, I should be utterly meaningless without thee, who art my meaning and my soul. And wouldst thou separate, and sever me from thee? Nay, nay, O cousin, we will live together, not like accidental waifs that haply meet to part again upon the waves of time, but rather like two happy children playing King and Queen, drifting in a golden boat along the crystal stream of life, never so much as touching on a shoal, but gliding on, sometimes plying silver oars, and sometimes spreading a purple sail to catch the sandal-scented breeze that blows from Malaya loaded with the lazy odour of the South, letting all the hours slip past us unperceived, till we float away together into the open sea of Death.

VI

And as he murmured, holding Aranyani in arms that added emphasis by the affection of their pressure to the persuasion of his voice, all at once she tore herself away from him abruptly, and went and stood, at a little distance, by herself, silent, and looking out upon the sand. And Atirupa stood still, watching her with curious, half passionate, half meditative eyes. And he said within himself: She is standing on the very edge of the precipice, into which she is just about to fall, irresolute, and dizzy, and distracted by an arbitration which she dares not settle either way, not so much out of desire to go, or stay, but rather because she is equally unable and unwilling, either to stay, or go: and in the agony of her beautiful perplexity, she is craving to be delivered from the choice, by having the matter settled for her: and now, the weight even of a hair would turn the scale. And he drew near slowly, and said, after a while: Hast thou forgotten, O cousin, that there will be no farewell to say to thy surroundings, though thou shouldst leave them now? For there is absolutely nothing to prevent thee from returning to visit them, as often as thou wilt. But still she answered nothing, remaining with her back turned towards him, exactly as before.

And once again he said: Aranyani, dost thou hear me? I do not ask thee to say goodbye for ever to the wood.

And he waited for a while, and at last, as she never either moved or spoke, he said again: Since, then, thou art absolutely determined, and thy mind is made up to let me go away alone: it is well. So, now, there is nothing left, but for me to go. And I must absolutely depart, whether I will or no. For my kingdom requires me, and my retinue is waiting at the bottom of the hill, to bring me over the sand. And sometimes in the wood thou wilt remember me, and it may be, offer water to the ghost of our dead happiness, and the love that might have been, for in this wood I cannot live, and if thou wilt not come away, it is useless to return. So bid me but farewell, and I will go, and thou shalt never see me more.

And then she turned. And she put out her hand towards him, as if with entreaty, and made a single step, and all at once she swayed, and would have fallen, but that he caught her in his arms. And she said, in a voice so low as scarcely to be heard: Take me, if thou must, and quickly, for in another moment, I think that my heart will break in two.

And then, she sank down, bereft of her reason, and lay in his arms in a swoon.

And Atirupa stood for a moment, looking down upon her, as he held her in his arms. And he said to himself, as if half in irresolution: So, then, it is over, and I have conquered, and she has yielded, and is mine. And yet, somehow or other, I feel, in this instance, a touch of something that resembles pity, and there is as it were a sting, resembling that of a bee, mixed with my honey, which I never felt before. For after all, she is my own relation. And what will she do, when she finds out her mistake? And yet, after all, the mischief is done, and now it is too late. For as it seems, she will break her heart, in a little while, whether she goes away with me, or not.

And then, he lifted her in his arms, and went away quickly through the trees, down the hill.



III

THE DESERT AND THE NIGHT



III

THE DESERT AND THE NIGHT

I

So, then, night followed day, and day succeeded night, in order. And the new moon waxed, and waned: and every day the sun rose up as usual, and travelled slowly on, till he sank at eve, over the sand, beyond the western hill. And then at last, there came a day, when just as he was sinking, it happened that Babhru sat alone, watching him as he went down, at that very same place in the wood where he had parted last from Aranyani, the day she disappeared. And strange! short as had been the interval of time, he was altered, and it seemed as though years had rolled over him, writing on him in an instant the wrinkles of old age. For he looked like an incarnation of dejection, worn and wan, with eyes that were red and hollow, as if sleep had fled away from them, ousted by her jealous rivals, sorrow and her sister care. And as he saw the sun just on the very point of going down, he murmured to himself: He is but showing me the way, and now very soon, I shall follow his example, abandoning like him a birth, in which my business is done. For what is the use of this miserable body, deserted and forsaken by its soul, and left lying empty, and utterly forgotten, and despised? not even knowing where to look, or where that soul is gone: this body, which long ago I would have quitted not only without regretting it, but even with delight, could but I know for certain that Aranyani is actually dead, and unable to return: since but for the hope of that return, I should have ceased to live these many days. Alas! I cannot even tell, whether she is dead, or still alive. And yet it cannot be: she is not dead. And yet, she is nowhere to be found: for I have searched the wood a hundred times from end to end, till there is not a single one of all its leaves I have not turned upside down, and all in vain. For she has vanished like a dream, leaving not so much as even the shadow of a clue behind: and she resembles a drop of dew, dried by the sun at noon on the leaf of a red lotus, with nothing but the memory of those who saw it in the morning to show that it was ever there. She has gone, I know not how, I know not where; snatched away and stolen, and it may be even put to death, or something that is worse than any death, by those who have carried her away, I know not who. And O alas! that I ever left her. I only was to blame, that saw the evil coming, and shrank in terror from its shadow, like a bird that sees upon the ground beside it the shadow of the hawk. I left her, and now, beyond a doubt, hope is absolutely over, and I shall never see her more. And why then should I delay, or wait to see another sun? But what, if after all, she were not dead, but still alive, and should return? Then, what a fool I should have been, to die! And yet, if she is dead? Alas! if she is dead, my life is but an idle waste of time, and yet I dare not die, for fear, lest after all, she should return.

And all at once, he stopped short: for as he spoke, there fell upon his ear a noise. And he listened, and exclaimed: I hear the tramp of horses, approaching in the wood. And he started up, like his own heart, that began to beat violently, as if catching at a straw of hope, in the whirlpool of despair. And he said to himself: Why should horses be coming through the wood, at such an hour? And as he stood gazing, with a soul as it were on tiptoe, in the direction of the sound, a rider suddenly issued from the trees, and came towards him, followed by others like himself. And as they reached him, they stopped: and their leader dismounted from his horse, and came towards him, holding it by the rein.

And when Babhru saw his face, he started, and exclaimed within himself: Ha! why! that is the very face that I saw lurking in the bush. And then, all at once, he shouted aloud: Ha! then, it was thou; it is thou, as I thought, who art the robber, after all.

And Chamu laughed, and he said: O woodman, not so loud: for thou art hasty, and thou art uncivil, and thou art altogether wrong: though so far thou art right, that we are old friends. Yet still thou art unjust, for I am not the robber. It was not I that carried off thy beauty from the wood, but my master, King Atirupa. And thou art very rude, to call even him a robber. For he did not steal thy beauty, but only borrowed her, for a little while, all with her own consent. And now he has returned her by my hands: and here she is.

And he turned, and Babhru looked, and lo! they lifted Aranyani from a horse, and set her on the ground. And as Babhru stood gazing at her, like one struck by a thunderbolt, Chamu said again: Thou owest me not abuse, but gratitude, O woodman: for see, I have brought her back to thee, all across the sand, where many in my place would have left her in the middle of the way, for it was a thankless task, and she was a cross-grained burden, that was very loath to come at all. So as thou seest, thou wert very wrong, to call even Atirupa robber: for here she is again. And the women are silly creatures, who only have themselves to blame, since they flock to him, like flies to honey, all of their own accord. But this young beauty grew so peevish, when she found she was only one of a thousand others, that the Maharaja could not keep her any longer. And now she will make thee the very best of wives, woodman: since she has had some lessons, and a little practice in the art, and come back richer than she went away: none the worse, but all the better, for having tasted a King's kisses, and learned her trade in the best of schools. Thy eldest son will be a beauty, even if all the others are as ugly as thyself. And if his mother calls him Atirupa, just as a reminiscence, never mind: for when she has once stopped weeping, she will love thee just as well as him.

And as he spoke, Babhru stared at him with eyes that hardly saw him, and ears that hardly heard him, and a soul that hardly understood, filled as it was to the very brim with such a flood of pity, and horror, and amazement, and yet delight at her return, no matter how, that there was absolutely no room at all for even a single drop of wrath. And while he looked from her to Chamu, and from Chamu back again to her, Chamu got back upon his horse, and all those riders rode away.

II

But Babhru stood exactly where he was, like a picture painted on a wall, hardly heeding their departure, gazing at Aranyani. And as he watched her, tears rose up suddenly and stood, as if to blind him, in his eyes, springing from the well of the very ecstasy of compassion within his heart. For she lay half crouching, half fallen on the ground, exactly as they had set her down, never moving, and resembling a body that is all but dead. And her face, that was turned towards him, looked absolutely strange to him, so marvellously had it altered since he saw it last. For, as it seemed, youth and joy had fled from it, leaving it to be as it were a very battle-ground for grief and age, and passion and shame, and humiliation, and weariness, and despair. And instead of her forest garments, she was magnificently dressed, and yet her clothing was ill-arranged, and disordered, and very dusty; and her hair was all dishevelled, and floated loose about her head, as if to match and imitate the wild disorder of her soul within. And yet, somehow or other, she seemed for all that in his eyes even more beautiful than ever, with a beauty that appalled him as he saw it, for she was utterly unlike herself, as if her own soul had been suddenly changed into another, making its envelope into something other than it was, to suit the alteration. And gradually as Babhru watched her, his hair stood up upon his body, as if with fright, and anticipation of something coming, that he did not understand.

So he stood silent, watching her, forgetful of himself, with a soul that yearned to comfort her and soothe her, and caress her and console her, yet utterly unable, and half fearing, to say anything at all. And in the silence, gradually dread began to creep all over him, as he saw her continue, lying absolutely still, and yet every now and then breathing, very slowly and with difficulty, like one that is suffering an agony of pain. And at last, after a long while, he moved a little nearer, and he said, with timidity and emotion: O Aranyani, alas! thou art suffering. And dost thou think I can endure to see thee suffer? At least, at least, thou hast returned, no matter how. O alas! for all thy suffering, I only am to blame; for well I understood, I was wrong to abandon thee, and leave thee as a prey. But at least, thou hast returned, and only just in time: for hadst thou stayed away another day, I could not have endured. I thought thee dead, for day by day, I waited, and day by day, thou didst not come: and each night was longer, and more awful than the last. And I sought thee in every quarter of the wood, but thou wert not to be found. And now, lo! there before my eyes, hardly to be believed, thou art; and now I am almost ready once more to die, for joy, that is mingled, I know not how, with an agony of grief. And yet, I blame myself, selfish that I am, for being even able to rejoice at all, while thou art suffering. Ah! only tell me what to do, to share thy grief, or take it all upon myself.

And as he spoke, he leaned towards her, and looked, and lo! a tear rolled suddenly from her eye, and fell upon the ground: but she never stirred or spoke. And again he said, with difficulty and hesitation: Aranyani, dost thou think, dost thou really think, thou art guilty in my eyes, or in any way to blame, because ruffians, attracted by thy beauty, came and carried thee away? Is it any fault in the lotus, if the traveller that sees it, plucks it, and wears it for a moment in his hair, only to throw it presently away, and trample it underfoot? Alas, it is not thou, but myself that I condemn, I only, that am guilty, and all the more, that whereas now I ought to weep with thee, I am, on the contrary, so transported with delight to see thee, returned to me no matter how, that I am almost ready to abandon the body out of joy. Or art thou fearful, lest I should torture thee with curiosity, or question, or reproach of any kind? Ah! no, listen now, and I will tell thee. Thou shalt think, if thou wilt, of all that has occurred to thee as nothing but a dream, from which thou hast awoken. Only a dream, from which thou hast awoken. And I, that never knew it, will forget it, as utterly and completely as thyself: and it is already buried in oblivion, and resembles a thing that has never come about, and had better not have been.

And again he leaned towards her, as if he were a culprit that begged her to forgive him, and lo! he saw the tears rolling from her eyes in a stream, as if something in his words were like a knife in her heart. But still she never spoke, and never stirred. And once again he said, as if with entreaty: Aranyani, thou canst not imagine, even in a dream, what happiness is mine. See! thou art agitated, and it must be, very weary. And now, then, I will lead thee, or if thou wilt, carry thee, home. And there thou shalt sleep, absolutely undisturbed, for to-night, and to-morrow, and as long as thou shalt choose. And all the while, I will watch without, and bring thee food, and do everything as thou wilt, at thy bidding; and above all, guard, and protect thee, from any fresh attempt. Woe to the man who shall attempt to molest thee any more! And so shalt thou live, exactly as thou wilt, with me for thy servant. And very soon, even the memory of that which now distresses thee will fade out of thy soul. And there will be absolutely nobody to make thee feel ashamed, or in any way whatever bring trouble to the quiet of thy soul. For as to thy father, when he discovered thy disappearance, he came to me, thinking I had stolen thee. And when he saw instantly, by my frenzy, he was wrong, all at once he cried out: Mother and daughter, mother and daughter: this is a stab in the dark from Jaya. And I know not what he meant. But I think that his heart broke within him, for after a day or two, he died.

III

And then, like a flash of lightning, Aranyani started to her feet, with a scream that rang through the wood, making the heart of Babhru suddenly leap into his throat. And she threw up her arms, with agony, and all at once, she sprang from her place, and darted like an arrow from a bow towards the hut. And then again, almost instantly, as he stood gazing at her in dismay, she turned sharp round, and began to run away in the opposite direction like a deer. And as if waking from a dream, he began to pursue her. And he overtook her, and laid his hand upon her shoulder, as if to say: Whither art thou hastening without looking where to go?

But when she felt him touch her, she stopped suddenly and turned, and looked at him, as if in the extremity of fear. And all at once, she began to laugh, as if she was mad, with round eyes that were filled with amazement and derision. And she exclaimed: Ha! Babhru, is it thou? But I left thee behind me in the wood. Ha! thou also art deserted, and rejected, and despised. Come, then, and let us escape very rapidly together. And she seized him by the arm, and began to drag him violently along. And she lowered her voice to a whisper, and began to speak, so quickly, that the words stumbled over one another as they rushed out of her mouth. And she said: Poor Babhru, thou art so ugly, that she could not love thee in return, quite forgetting that she was herself so ugly that nobody could love her either. But he was so beautiful, so beautiful, so beautiful that she ran away and left thee in the lurch: never even dreaming that all the other women were as silly as herself. Ah! the other women, they were so many and so cruel. There were no other women in the wood. Was it lonely, Babhru, in the wood, after she went away? Poor ugly Babhru, all alone in the wood, while we were kissing each other in the city. She used to see thee, Babhru, as she kissed him, sitting all by thyself in the wood, and weeping by thyself. She loved thee just a very little. Didst thou remember? But in the city, she feared, she feared, to see thee suddenly appear. But very likely, thou didst not know where she had gone. Thou wouldst have killed him, Babhru. Why didst thou not run after her? But they would not have admitted thee, poor Babhru, thou art so very ugly: and thou wouldst only have wandered, going round and round the palace, outside, outside, while all the time he was kissing thy lotus and trampling on its heart, inside. And yet she was his cousin, and the daughter of a king. Ha! Babhru, thou wert ignorant, and didst not know. But there were so many other women, all alike. Couldst thou even have discovered her among them all? Her eyes, her eyes were different: her eyes were dreamy, and her kisses like snowflakes. Surely it was better, after all, in the wood: there were no other women there. Didst thou imagine, Babhru, thou wert the only one to be dishonoured and befouled, trodden down into the mud and thrown away? But the very pools were there to teach thee, thou art so ugly, so ugly: and she was so beautiful. Couldst thou expect any better fate than hers? How could she love thee, being herself so unworthy to be loved? And he was like the very god of love, wandering in the wood. But it was she, that lost her way. He knew his way very well indeed. How could she expect, to keep him all to herself? Is not the whole world full to the very brim of women, with cruel eyes? O Babhru, why wert thou such a fool as to think one woman any better than another? Fool that she was, to think to keep him all to herself! O Babhru, thou art absolutely nothing, in comparison with him. Thou art so rude and coarse and rough, and he is more beautiful than any woman. And he was so gentle and so kind, and his kisses were so sweet. No, it was Babhru who was kind, and he was like a snake. Listen, and let me tell thee: kisses that are sweet are the bitterest of all: when other lips come in between. Thou feelest them, the other lips, between his lips and thy own. And his lips were a flower that is visited by a thousand bees. O Babhru, how canst thou know anything about it, since thy lips have never kissed anyone at all? Kiss me, poor Babhru, and thou shall learn by experience the poison of a kiss, from lips that are sticky with the honey left by other bees.

IV

And as Babhru listened, gazing at her with alarm, with his reason swept as it were along in a flood of grief, and humiliation, and compassion, and sheer amazement, and hardly understanding the words flowing from her mouth like the water of a stream, she stopped short, and laid her hand upon his own. And he started at its touch, for it burned him like a flame, as if she was on fire. And she said with a smile, while the tears were running down her face: Babhru, dost thou know, Aranyani was a creeper, supported by a noble tree? And yet somehow or other, the tree has disappeared. Who knows? for doubtless it was all eaten away within, and hollow, and as I think, the ants must have devoured it, leaving absolutely nothing but emptiness, and earth, and dust. So beautiful it seemed outside, surely the poor creeper could not tell, how base, and rotten, and horrible it was within. So when I saw it suddenly, inside, it hurt me here. And she put both her hands upon her heart, and began to sob. And then, all at once, she began again to laugh. And she said: Aye! she was a pearl, and a swan, and I know not what beside, and now she is absolutely nothing, like a broken pot. And the golden boat has perished, never so much as reaching even the shadow of the sea. Babhru, it was a lie: it was a miserable boat, all full of holes, that sank into the cold black water like a stone. Base and rotten, how could it swim, loaded with such an innumerable host of other women? Base, ah! who knows better than Aranyani the agony of finding it was base. Was Aranyani base, Babhru, dost thou know? And all the women hated each other, she and all the others; Babhru, it was hell in the golden boat. And she was worst of all, she wept, and wept, and wept, till at last they turned her out, and Chamu took her away. And then it was, I think, she died. It hurt her so to go away, she must have died; and Chamu took her and carried her away when she was dead. And she was so terrified of Chamu. Atirupa, Atirupa, save, O save me from Chamu's eyes. Babhru, beware of Chamu, for he is the very worst of all; worse even than the women. She was frightened of his laughter: it was worse, far worse, than all the laughter of the women. They pushed her from their boat, and Chamu took her. And she begged and begged and begged him only to leave her in the sand; for then she would have died, and never lived to see her father and Babhru any more. O Babhru, why didst thou not die also, before they brought her back? Chamu, Chamu, did Atirupa give you Aranyani, to kiss her dead body on the sand?

And all at once, Babhru began to tremble like a leaf. And he exclaimed: Aranyani, Aranyani! And suddenly she fell down and began to kiss his feet. And then, he shuddered, and began to sob, as if a sword had run into his heart: and the sweat broke out upon his brow. And he stooped down, and lifted her violently up, saying in a low voice that shook like himself: Aranyani, thy reason has deserted thee. Come now, and I will take thee home.

And she said with a shriek: Nay nay, for the ghost of my father is waiting there, to drive me away. Come away into the wood where it is dark. And she dragged him by the hand, and she whispered: Babhru, I have a thing to ask of thee. Wilt thou kill me with thy knife in the darkness? for otherwise I must abandon the body of my own accord.

And Babhru started, and he exclaimed, with horror: Aranyani, art thou mad? What! should I kill thee, I, kill thee, who art my very soul?

V

And she gazed at him awhile in silence, and then, there came into her eyes an anguish that was mixed with disappointment and despair. And she turned away, and murmured, as if speaking to herself, with melancholy: He also is my enemy. They will not even kill her. They keep her living, when she only asks for death, not even letting her escape, shutting her like a prisoner in the dungeon of her lonely soul. Even Chamu would not kill her: though she prayed him. He only laughed. And yet she was already dead, slain long ago, and done away, leaving nothing but a corpse.

And she stood for a moment, as if reflecting, and all at once, she turned, and looked at Babhru, with a face that was wan in the moonlight, and eyes that were filled with anxiety, and misery and pain. And suddenly, they changed, becoming filled with laughter and hatred and derision. And she came up close to him, as if to whisper in his ear, and suddenly she struck him in the face, with a shout of laughter. And she said, contemptuously: Thou wilt not kill me? Poor Babhru, thou hast not even yet begun to understand. Dost thou remember Aranyani, that told thee stories, long long ago, in the wood? She is dead. Far away in the desert they took her heart, and tore it and trod it into pieces, and flung her body out, to wander in the world alone, dressed in the clothes of misery and shame. And this it is, thou wilt not kill. Thou wouldst actually keep her miserable body still alive, to live with in the torture of this wood, where Aranyani lived long ago, to suffer every instant the horror of recollection, and to be mocked for ever by the memory of a happiness that is changed into despair. Like monkeys that go by among the trees, they found a fruit, and bit it, only to go on and leave it lying, deserted and outraged and dishonoured on the ground. Thou thinkest to find happiness in watching her dead body? Thou wilt not kill her, poor Babhru? Dost thou know what she will think of, living beside thee in the wood? Dost thou think, it will be thou? Alas, poor ugly Babhru, it will be he. And every time she sees thee, she will compare thee and him, thy body with his body, thy eyes with his eyes. Her lips would never touch thee without thinking of his own. Thou wilt only love what he rejected, and bite at the very place which the monkeys bit before thee when they threw the fruit away. The taste would be so bitter that thy love would turn to hatred in a day. She would loathe the very sight of thee, and every time she looked at thee, her eyes would tell thee, thou wert so ugly and contemptible in comparison with him. They have flung thee the relic of a life that they would not take away, merely in derision. Wilt thou live even with a victim that despises thee? Half dead and half alive, like a lizard mangled by a passing crow, and left to writhe: a deer, struck by an idle hunter, left wounded in the jungle, unable even to procure its death, to ebb away its life through burning days and black intolerable nights, eyed by the vultures sitting by. And thou wouldst be the vulture? Thou wilt only be a jackal, eating what the lion leaves. What! live beside her, knowing that another is buried in her heart. Wilt thou feed, like a dog, even on the bodies of the dead? Poor Babhru, dost thou not understand. She cast thee off and left thee for a lover that she never will forget, and living like a vampire in her body that is dead, he will utterly despise thee, laughing at thee in her eyes. Ah! Wilt thou actually wait to understand, till a little Atirupa comes, to spit, exactly like his father, in thy face?

VI

And as Babhru listened, all at once the words of Chamu as he went away rose up and stood before him, as if they had lain waiting, and as it were sleeping in his soul, till roused into recollection by her own. And suddenly, the veil, formed by his own devotion to Aranyani and his own self-annihilation, that hid from him the truth, was lifted from his eyes. And he saw himself suddenly as in a mirror, mocked, and scorned, and as it were a very target for the contempt and derision of Chamu, and his master, and even of herself. And his heart swelled suddenly with such a flood of shame, and anger, and the bitterness of his own inferiority, that it almost broke in two. And his face fell: and his eyes, that were fixed on Aranyani, grew darker and ever darker, as if night at a single stride had suddenly extinguished in his heart the hope that had dawned in it at her return.

So he stood a long while, sinking, as he looked at her, deeper and deeper into the blackness of despair, and resembling one that waits in darkness for a light that still flickers to go out and disappear. And suddenly he said to himself: She is right. For fate in the form of Atirupa has destroyed her and her happiness, and mine. And he looked fixedly at Aranyani, who was standing watching him, and waiting, as it were, for his decision: and he said: Aranyani, I was wrong, and thou art right. And now there is no remedy but one, and it is better to be dead. And as he spoke, he took his knife, and drew it from its sheath, and waited, clutching it in his hand.

And instantly, Aranyani uttered a cry of joy. And she came quickly and stood close to him, and she took hold with both hands of the choli that covered her, and tore it violently asunder, dragging it down, till her breast was absolutely bare. And she said: See! I am ready. And so she remained, waiting, with her bosom turned up towards him in the moonlight, bared, and as it were eager, for the coming blow.

And he stood still for yet a moment, looking down upon her with melancholy eyes, in which, strange! there was not a vestige even of the shadow of any anger. And he said to himself: There, in the very middle, between those two round marble breasts, the knife shall fall. And as he hesitated, a tear rose up into his eyes, as if to bid farewell to his own happiness. And he murmured to himself: They were for him and not for thee. And he passed his left hand over his eyes, as if to clear his sight, and suddenly he raised his knife, and buried it in her heart.

VII

So, then, with a sigh that was half a cry, she swayed and fell. And he never tried to catch her, but stood a long while silent, exactly where he was, looking down upon her lying still. And then, he sat down upon the ground beside her, and lifted her very gently, and set her on his lap, propping her head upon his shoulder: and he began to whisper in her ear, patting her as he did so, and rocking her to and fro, like one that soothes a child. And he said: Now, then, thy trouble is all over, and I have given thee rest, for it was better to be dead. And thou wilt never know what it cost me, to give thee the blow. But now thou canst go to sleep, for thou art very weary: forgetting all, and not fearing any recollection in the morning: since thy sleep will be a long one, and thou wilt never wake again. And all the evil dreams have vanished with their author, never to return; and now once more Aranyani is herself, only differing in this, that she is dead. Aye! it was better to be dead: and my blow has blotted out all the bitterness and shame. And thou didst await it, so bravely: and yet, hadst thou known, it was not thy death only, but mine, for which thou wert asking, thou wouldst have shrunk, it may be, from the blow, which, as it was, thou wert only too joyful to receive. And now very soon, I shall follow thee, by a second blow, far easier to give; for to give thee thine was very hard; so hard, that it hurt my heart a hundred times as much as thine. But in the meanwhile, we will sit together in the moonlight, just for a very little while, and talk, as of old. Only thou canst not tell me stories, and call me Bruin, any more. Thou didst give thyself, alive, to others: but thou art mine, now that thou art dead: and that is enough. And this is, as it were, my marriage night. And think not that I bear thee any grudge, for the words spoken at random in thy madness, or even for the blow; for that is nothing, from such a little hand as thine. Come, let me see it, for maybe it hurt itself more than it hurt me. Ha! dost thou remember the very story that thou didst tell me thyself, about the sage? And now, who knows better than myself, that a blow hurts the giver more than the receiver? For no one ever hurt himself so much as I did, when I gave thee thy blow. It was not to return blow for blow, that I gave it. Ah! it is not thou, against whom I bear a grudge, for all thy words and thy little irritable blow; but it is thy vile lover and his viler instrument, who have ruined thee, and brought about thy death.

And then, all at once, he uttered an exclamation. And he stopped short, and set her down upon the ground, and stood up. For suddenly, as if for the very first time, the injury done to her by Atirupa and his follower rose up, and took him as it were by the throat.

And as he stood thinking, all at once he began to tremble unawares, with rage. And he exclaimed: Aha! Atirupa, I have remembered, and only just in time: I am not dead yet. And he looked down at Aranyani, as she lay. And he said: Aranyani, forgive me! Well didst thou call me fool. For I came within an ace of following thee into the other world, leaving thee unavenged. But now I see, that before I go, there is other work to do, on thy behalf. And now, then, I will guarantee, that it shall be done, very soon, and very well. Then, and not sooner, will I die, when I have shown the murderers of Aranyani that she has left behind her arms a little longer, and hands a little harder, than her own. Aha! Atirupa, wait for a little while! And then shalt thou discover that the ghost of Aranyani has abandoned her body, only to enter mine: just on purpose to caress thee, for the very last time.

And he stooped down, and laid his great arm beside hers, as if to compare them, and he laughed. And then, very gently, he lifted her, in those strong arms, and began to carry her away, rejoicing in his burden, like one that carries in his arms his newly-wedded wife. So he went on in the moonlit wood, till he came at last to her home. And there he carried her in, and laid her down very gently on a bed of leaves. And then, with hesitation, he kissed her softly on the brow, whispering as he did so: Thou didst bid me kiss thee, in thy madness, and now, it cannot hurt thee: though I would have gladly given many lives to kiss thee, for the first time and the last, before. But thy kisses were for others.

And all at once, he began to sob, as if something in his soul, that had till then supported it, had suddenly given way. And he began to wail, wringing his hands, and tearing his hair, and crying, Aranyani, Aranyani: throwing himself to and fro, and striding wildly up and down, as if his heart, appalled by the blank horror of its own loneliness, were struggling to escape. And then, after a while, as if exhausted, and as it were overcome by the sense of the futility of his lamentation, he ceased, as suddenly as he began, and remained for a long time standing absolutely still, looking out through the open door into the wood, that lay silent, as if on purpose to sympathise with the other dead silence there within.

And at last, he turned. And he looked for a moment at Aranyani, and he stooped, and took the knife, which all the while remained buried in her breast, and drew it suddenly away, and turned, and went out, and fastened very carefully the door.

And he stood awhile in the moonlight, looking at his knife. And then, he put it, just as it was, back into the sheath: saying to himself: Her heart's red blood shall dry upon the blade, till I mix it with his own.

VIII

But in the meanwhile Atirupa, away in his capital in the desert, continued as before, having utterly forgotten Aranyani, and never thinking of her even in a dream; busy, like a mad bee, only in making onslaughts on other flowers, and leaving behind him those already rifled of their honey, neglected and buried in oblivion, like the faded leaves of a dead red lotus lying at the very bottom of a forest pool.

And then, by the decree of destiny, there came at last a day, when he sat with some of his retainers, according to his custom, drinking wine and passing time easily in his palace hall. And there came in, all at once, a keeper of the gate. And she[40] said: Maharaj, there has come to the door an old sannyasi, demanding admission to the presence, and refusing to go away. And it may be, he is mad.[41] For he says he is a deity, who wishes to renew his old acquaintance with another. And now, the Maharaja is the judge.

[Footnote 40: They appear to have been women, very often, in mediaeval or ancient India.]

[Footnote 41: And yet, not so much in India as in Europe. Even now, incarnations of deity might be found all over India.]

And Atirupa laughed, and he said: If he is a deity indeed, why is he waiting at a gate? And yet, who knows? For the deity presents himself in many forms, and who knows how or when? But go thou and tell the holy man to give thee some evidence, or token, of his divinity, and then we shall see.

So, then, after a while, that pratihari came again. And she said: Maharaj, thus said the sannyasi: Go and tell the Maharaja, that I am the God of Death, yet not just of any death, but only of his own. For long ago, I burned his body, with fire from my eye; and now I am curious to see, whether the new body he has got is, as I have heard, still better than the old.[42]

[Footnote 42: The point of the flattery lies, of course, in the insinuation that Atirupa was the God of Love.] And hearing this, Atirupa was delighted, and he exclaimed: The evidence is good; and I recognise the deity of this well-mannered Byragi: for as it seems, he is a connoisseur. So bring him in to see me. And he said to himself: It may be he is an emissary from one of the neighbouring Kings,[43] covering his policy with folly: or he may be the go-between of some assignation: or even if he be nothing of the kind, what harm?

[Footnote 43: All these sannyasis, byragis, gosawis, were as a rule wandering scoundrels who had, and have, much to do with politics.]

So then, after a little while, that sannyasi entered, looking like a very shala tree in height. And he was smeared all over with ashes, from his head to his feet, with absolutely nothing on, but a yellow rag around his waist, and a rosary of aksha beads around his neck, which resembled that of a bull. And his face was almost hidden in the masses of his grey and very dirty hair and beard, which were matted, and tied in large knots, above and below. And his eyes, which were extraordinarily bright, rested on Atirupa, as he entered, with an expression which, like that of a wild animal, was half timidity and half ferocity, mixed with keen examination: and he trembled a very little, as he stood, as if with fear. And Atirupa gazed at him with curiosity and wonder, and he exclaimed, as if in jest: O Maheshwara, there cannot be a doubt of thy divinity: for surely, if thou wert not Maheshwara himself, he might be jealous of thee, for thy height and thy ashes and thy hair, and that third eye painted in the very middle of thy brow, looking as if it were just about to open and consume me again.

Then that strange old sannyasi laughed like a hyaena, and he said: Maharaj, be not afraid any longer of my eye: for this time I shall consume thee with flame of quite another kind, in the form of a kiss that I have brought thee, from a beauty almost equal to thy own, with eyes that resemble the gazelle, and lips that are redder than her own heart's blood.

Then said Atirupa: Sannyasi, I know that a message carried by thee would be of a value proportioned to its bearer; and tell me quickly what it is, for I am curious to learn.

And the sannyasi looked at him significantly, as it were with a wink of the eyes. And he said: O deity of Love, who knows better than thyself that a high caste lady, when she goes to an assignation, wraps herself up, and fastens her bangles and her anklets, to prevent them even from jingling? And there are words, and names, unfit to be heard, by any other ears than thine. Were I to speak, among all these ears, thou wouldst be the very first to punish me for my indiscretion.

Then Atirupa was filled with curiosity, and he said to himself; It is as I thought, and he is an emissary, and one, moreover, well suited to his task. And he turned, and exclaimed: Chamu, take every one away. And then, the sannyasi looked attentively at Chamu, as they went. And he said, in a low voice, to Atirupa: Maharaj, for I have heard of Chamu, that he is thy widushaka,[44] let him be at hand: for with thy permission, he and I will settle all the details of this negotiation, as soon as it has received thy own approval.

[Footnote 44: As we should say: Pere Joseph, or ame-damnee.]

And Atirupa said: Chamu, be ready, when I call. And when they were all gone, he exclaimed with impatience: Now then, O sannyasi, to thy business, without any more delay. Who is thy employer? And the sannyasi said: Aranyani: and if thou hast forgotten her, she has not forgotten thee. But having abandoned her own body, she has entered mine, to give thee, as I said, the kiss of death.

And then, as Atirupa stared at him with amazement; that sannyasi leaped upon him, with a yell, and seized him, and threw him suddenly on his back. And he knelt on his throat, like a very mountain, and taking from his waist a knife, he plunged it, with blows like those of a carpenter that hammers in a nail, over and over again into his heart.

And then, as the retainers came running in, summoned as though on purpose, by his own yell, with Chamu at their head, he started to his feet. And as they looked towards him, lo! that sannyasi began to laugh. And he put up suddenly his hands, and seized, with one, his hair, and with the other, his beard, and tore them from his head.

And as Chamu stopped short, gazing at him with stupor and recognition, he stood for a single instant absolutely still, as if to let him see. And then, he leaned suddenly towards him, and he lifted his finger and he whispered very low: Hark! Dost thou not hear Aranyani calling, out of the other world? So now, then, we will go together, to seek her, along the great road. And he threw himself suddenly on Chamu, and took him by the throat, with huge hands whose fingers resembled the roots of a wata tree.

And as he felt the throat of that ill-doer in his hands, there came over him like a flood madness, that resembled the intoxication compounded of delight, and fury, and despair, as if his life-long devotion to Aranyani, and his wrath at her ruin and his own, had waited till that very moment to mingle with the rapture of revenge, and filling his soul with the ecstasy of the strength of a giant, had then become concentrated to pass into his hands. And as he squeezed, he muttered, not knowing what he said: Laugh, weasel, laugh now at Aranyani. And in the meantime all the others, to whom he paid no more attention than as if they were not there, seeing absolutely nothing before him but the eyes of Chamu that were starting from his head, fell upon him all together in a body, like a swarm of bees, and stung him, as it were, to death, exactly as they chose, cutting him to pieces with swords and knives. But for all that they did, they could not loose his hands, which remained just as they were, locked like an iron ring around the throat to which they clung, as if his will still animated them, even after he was dead.

So it came about, just as he predicted; and those two very bitter enemies went together, and as it were, hand-in-hand, into the other world. And Chamu, with his master Atirupa, went into other bodies. But the soul of Babhru entered, for his crime, into that body of a camel lying yonder, which perished, as I told thee to begin with, in the desert long ago.

* * * * *

And then, the Moony-crested stopped. And after a while, the Daughter of the Snow said softly: Alas! for these unhappy mortal women, who suffer at the hands of evil-minded lovers, such intolerable wrong, and woe. And yet, as I think, poor Babhru deserved rather to be forgiven altogether, or even to be actually rewarded, rather than punished by the body of a camel, for treating those two ill-doers even better than they merited, for such outrageous crime.

Then said Maheshwara, looking at her with affection: O Daughter of the Snow, thou resemblest every other woman, judging by thy own pity and compassion, and the emotion aroused in thy soul by the particular misfortune of a solitary case, not taking into any consideration the constitution of the world. And this is a merit and a beauty in thee, and yet it is altogether wrong. For Babhru suffered as a consequence of acts committed in a former birth, the circumstances of which thou dost not know. And moreover, even so, he was culpable and presumptuous, in taking on himself a vengeance to which even Aranyani did not urge him, not knowing that punishment far more terrible than his was waiting for those criminals, without his interference. And he should have left Aranyani's vindication to the deity, who knew what was necessary far better than himself, and had his eye upon it all. For there is no retribution so just, or so sure, or so adequate, or awful, as that which evil-doers lay upon themselves, in the form of their own ill-deeds, which dog them like a shadow clinging to their heels, from body to body, through birth after birth, till the very last atom of guilt has passed through the furnace of expiation, and the very last item of their debt to everlasting Yama has been weighed in his scales, and struck from the account, and utterly redeemed.

* * * * *

And then, that Lord of the Moony Tire took his darling in his arms, and set her on his lap: and they rose up and floated away together like a cloud to their home on the snowy peak. But the bones of that camel remained alone, lying still in the sand, till the moon got up and gazed at them with wonder, looking down from the sky, as if mistaking them for a reflection of himself, looking back at him with white and silent laughter from the blackness of the earth, and saying as it were: By the help of thy beams, I am whiter than thyself. And the night-wind rushed over them, scattering over them oblivion, in the form of a cloud of its plaything, the ocean of the sand, and danced round and fled away with a wail into the desert, with a music that resembled the moan of the world for the victims of the waste.



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The Stories of F. W. Bain

The history of these fascinating little books, which, to a few readers, have always meant so much, and which are every day becoming better known, is not the least curious in modern literature. On the appearance of "A Digit of the Moon" in 1899, the author's mystifying attributions to a Sanscrit original, and the skill with which he kept up the illusion of translation, completely took in even the best scholars, and this work was added to the Oriental Department of the British Museum Library. Later, however, the discovery was made that Mr. Bain, working with a mind saturated in Hindoo Mysticism and lore and Sanscrit poetry, was wholly its author, and it is now catalogued in the ordinary way.

To describe the charm and appeal of the stories themselves would be a hard task. They are almost indescribable. There is nothing in English literature at once so tender, so passionate, so melancholy, and so wise. The fatalism of the East, and the wistful dubiety of the West, meet in these beautiful allegories of life, which it is possible to compare only with themselves.

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The Stories of F. W. Bain

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Bubbles of the Foam The Ashes of a God A Digit of the Moon The Descent of the Sun An Incarnation of the Snow A Mine of Faults

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A Heifer of the Dawn In the Great God's Hair A Draught of the Blue An Essence of the Dusk

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THE END

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