The lady Chandraprabha, daughter of the Raja Subichar, was a particularly beautiful girl, and marriage-able withal. One day as Vasanta, the Spring, began to assert its reign over the world, animate and inanimate, she went accompanied by her young friends and companions to stroll about her father's pleasure-garden.
The fair troop wandered through sombre groves, where the dark tamale-tree entwined its branches with the pale green foliage of the nim, and the pippal's domes of quivering leaves contrasted with the columnar aisles of the banyan fig. They admired the old monarchs of the forest, bearded to the waist with hangings of moss, the flowing creepers delicately climbing from the lower branches to the topmost shoots, and the cordage of llianas stretching from trunk to trunk like bridges for the monkeys to pass over. Then they issued into a clear space dotted with asokas bearing rich crimson fiowers, cliterias of azure blue, madhavis exhibiting petals virgin white as the snows on Himalaya, and jasmines raining showers of perfumed blossoms upon the grateful earth. They could not sufficiently praise the tall and graceful stem of the arrowy areca, contrasting with the solid pyramid of the cypress, and the more masculine stature of the palm. Now they lingered in the trellised walks closely covered over with vines and creepers; then they stopped to gather the golden bloom weighing down the mango boughs, and to smell the highly-scented flowers that hung from the green fretwork of the chambela.
It was spring, I have said. The air was still except when broken by the hum of the large black bramra bee, as he plied his task amidst the red and orange flowers of the dak, and by the gushings of many waters that made music as they coursed down their stuccoed channels between borders of many coloured poppies and beds of various flowers. From time to time the dulcet note of the kokila bird, and the hoarse plaint of the turtle-dove deep hid in her leafy bower, attracted every ear and thrilled every heart. The south wind--"breeze of the south, the friend of love and spring" blew with a voluptuous warmth, for rain clouds canopied the earth, and the breath of the narcissus, the rose, and the citron, teemed with a languid fragrance.
The charms of the season affected all the damsels. They amused themselves in their privacy with pelting blossoms at one another, running races down the smooth broad alleys, mounting the silken swings that hung between the orange trees, embracing one another, and at times trying to push the butt of the party into the fishpond. Perhaps the liveliest of all was the lady Chandraprabha, who on account of her rank could pelt and push all the others, without fear of being pelted and pushed in return.
It so happened, before the attendants had had time to secure privacy for the princess and her women, that Manaswi, a very handsome youth, a Brahman's son, had wandered without malicious intention into the garden. Fatigued with walking, and finding a cool shady place beneath a tree, he had lain down there, and had gone to sleep, and had not been observed by any of the king's people. He was still sleeping when the princess and her companions were playing together.
Presently Chandraprabha, weary of sport, left her friends, and singing a lively air, tripped up the stairs leading to the summer-house. Aroused by the sound of her advancing footsteps, Manaswi sat up; and the princess, seeing a strange man, started. But their eyes had met, and both were subdued by love--love vulgarly called "love at first sight."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed the warrior king, testily, "I can never believe in that freak of Kama Deva." He spoke feelingly, for the thing had happened to himself more than once, and on no occasion had it turned out well.
"But there is such a thing, O Raja, as love at first sight," objected the Baital, speaking dogmatically.
"Then perhaps thou canst account for it, dead one," growled the monarch surlily.
"I have no reason to do so, O Vikram," retorted the Vampire, "when you men have already done it. Listen, then, to the words of the wise. In the olden time, one of your great philosophers invented a fluid pervading all matter, strongly self-repulsive like the steam of a brass pot, and widely spreading like the breath of scandal. The repulsiveness, however, according to that wise man, is greatly modified by its second property, namely, an energetic attraction or adhesion to all material bodies. Thus every substance contains a part, more or less, of this fluid, pervading it throughout, and strongly bound to each component atom. He called it 'Ambericity,' for the best of reasons, as it has no connection with amber, and he described it as an imponderable, which, meaning that it could not be weighed, gives a very accurate and satisfactory idea of its nature.
"Now, said that philosopher, whenever two bodies containing that unweighable substance in unequal proportions happen to meet, a current of imponderable passes from one to the other, producing a kind of attraction, and tending to adhere. The operation takes place instantaneously when the force is strong and much condensed. Thus the vulgar who call things after their effects and not from their causes, term the action of this imponderable love at first sight; the wise define it to be a phenomenon of ambericity. As regards my own opinion about the matter, I have long ago told it to you, O Vikram! Silliness--"
"Either hold your tongue, fellow, or go on with your story," cried the Raja, wearied out by so many words that had no manner of sense.
Well! the effect of the first glance was that Manaswi, the Brahman's son, fell back in a swoon and remained senseless upon the ground where he had been sitting; and the Raja's daughter began to tremble upon her feet, and presently dropped unconscious upon the floor of the summer-house. Shortly after this she was found by her companions and attendants, who, quickly taking her up in their arms and supporting her into a litter, conveyed her home.
Manaswi, the Brahman's son, was so completely overcome, that he lay there dead to everything. Just then the learned, deeply read, and purblind Pandits Muldev and Shashi by name, strayed into the garden, and stumbled upon the body.
"Friend," said Muldev, "how came this youth thus to fall senseless on the ground?"
"Man," replied Shashi, "doubtless some damsel has shot forth the arrows of her glances from the bow of her eyebrows, and thence he has become insensible!"
"We must lift him up then," said Muldev the benevolent.
"What need is there to raise him?" asked Shashi the misanthrope by way of reply.
Muldev, however, would not listen to these words. He ran to the pond hard by, soaked the end of his waistcloth in water, sprinkled it over the young Brahman, raised him from the ground, and placed him sitting against the wall. And perceiving, when he came to himself, that his sickness was rather of the soul than of the body, the old men asked him how he came to be in that plight.
"We should tell our griefs," answered Manaswi, "only to those who will relieve us! What is the use of communicating them to those who, when they have heard, cannot help us? What is to be gained by the empty pity or by the useless condolence of men in general?"
The Pandits, however, by friendly looks and words, presently persuaded him to break silence, when he said, "A certain princess entered this summer-house, and from the sight of her I have fallen into this state. If I can obtain her, I shall live; if not, I must die."
"Come with me, young man!" said Muldev the benevolent: "I will use every endeavour to obtain her, and if I do not succeed I will make thee wealthy and independent of the world."
Manaswi rejoined: "The Deity in his beneficence has created many jewels in this world, but the pearl, woman, is chiefest of all; and for her sake only does man desire wealth. What are riches to one who has abandoned his wife? What are they who do not possess beautiful wives? they are but beings inferior to the beasts! wealth is the fruit of virtue; ease, of wealth; a wife, of ease. And where no wife is, how can there be happiness?" And the enamoured youth rambled on in this way, curious to us, Raja Vikram, but perhaps natural enough in a Brahman's son suffering under that endemic malady--determination to marry.
"Whatever thou mayest desire," said Muldev, "shall by the blessing of heaven be given to thee."
Manaswi implored him, saying most pathetically, ''O Pandit, bestow then that damsel upon me!"
Muldev promised to do so, and having comforted the youth, led him to his own house. Then he welcomed him politely, seated him upon the carpet, and left him for a few minutes, promising him to return. When he reappeared, he held in his hand two little balls or pills, and showing them to Manaswi, he explained their virtues as follows:
"There is in our house an hereditary secret, by means of which I try to promote the weal of humanity. But in all cases my success depends mainly upon the purity and the hear/wholeness of those that seek my aid. If thou place this in thy mouth, thou shalt be changed into a damsel twelve years old, and when thou withdrawest it again, thou shalt again recover shine original form. Beware, however, that thou use the power for none but a good purpose; otherwise some great calamity will befall thee. Therefore, take counsel of thyself before undertaking this trial!"
What lover, O warrior king Vikram, would have hesitated, under such circumstances, to assure the Pandit that he was the most innocent, earnest, and well-intentioned being in the Three Worlds?
The Brahman's son, at least, lost no time in so doing. Hence the simple-minded philosopher put one of the pills into the young man's mouth, warning him on no account to swallow it, and took the other into his own mouth. Upon which Manaswi became a sprightly young maid, and Muldev was changed to a reverend and decrepid senior, not fewer than eighty years old.
Thus transformed, the twain walked up to the palace of the Raja Subichar, and stood for a while to admire the gate. Then passing through seven courts, beautiful as the Paradise of Indra, they entered, unannounced, as became the priestly dignity, a hall where, surrounded by his courtiers, sat the ruler. The latter, seeing the Holy Brahman under his roof, rose up, made the customary humble salutation, and taking their right hands, led what appeared to be the father and daughter to appropriate seats. Upon which Muldev, having recited a verse, bestowed upon the Raja a blessing whose beauty has been diffused over all creation.
"May that Deity who as a mannikin deceived the great king Bali; who as a hero, with a monkey-host, bridged the Salt Sea; who as a shepherd lifted up the mountain Gobarddhan in the palm of his hand, and by it saved the cowherds and cowherdesses from the thunders of heaven--may that Deity be thy protector!"
Having heard and marvelled at this display of eloquence, the Raja inquired, "Whence hath your holiness come?"
"My country," replied Muldev, "is on the northern side of the great mother Ganges, and there too my dwelling is. I travelled to a distant land, and having found in this maiden a worthy wife for my son, I straightway returned homewards. Meanwhile a famine had laid waste our village, and my wife and my son have fled I know not where. Encumbered with this damsel, how can I wander about seeking them? Hearing the name of a pious and generous ruler, I said to myself, ' I will leave her under his charge until my return.' Be pleased to take great care of her."
For a minute the Raja sat thoughtful and silent. He was highly pleased with the Brahman's perfect compliment. But he could not hide from himself that he was placed between two difficulties: one, the charge of a beautiful young girl, with pouting lips, soft speech, and roguish eyes; the other, a priestly curse upon himself and his kingdom. He thought, however, refusal the more dangerous; so he raised his face and exclaimed, "O produce of Brahma's head, I will do what your highness has desired of me."
Upon which the Brahman, after delivering a benediction of adieu almost as beautiful and spirit-stirring as that with which he had presented himself, took the betel and went his ways.
Then the Raja sent for his daughter Chandraprabha and said to her, "This is the affianced bride of a young Brahman, and she has been trusted to my protection for a time by her father-in-law. Take her therefore into the inner rooms, treat her with the utmost regard, and never allow her to be separated from thee, day or night, asleep or awake, eating or drinking, at home or abroad."
Chandraprabha took the hand of Sita--as Manaswi had pleased to call himself--and led the way to her own apartment. Once the seat of joy and pleasure, the rooms now wore a desolate and melancholy look. The windows were darkened, the attendants moved noiselessly over the carpets, as if their footsteps would cause headache, and there was a faint scent of some drug much used in cases of deliquium. The apartments were handsome, but the only ornament in the room where they sat was a large bunch of withered flowers in an arched recess, and these, though possibly interesting to some one, were not likely to find favour as a decoration in the eyes of everybody.
The Raja's daughter paid the greatest attention and talked with unusual vivacity to the Brahman's daughter-in-law, either because she had roguish eyes, or from some presentiment of what was to occur, whichever you please, Raja Vikram, and it is no matter which. Still Sita could not help perceiving that there was a shade of sorrow upon the forehead of her fair new friend, and so when they retired to rest she asked the cause of it.
Then Chandraprabha related to her the sad tale: "One day in the spring season, as I was strolling in the garden along with my companions, I beheld a very handsome Brahman, and our eyes having met, he became unconscious, and I also was insensible. My companions seeing my condition, brought me home, and therefore I know neither his name nor his abode. His beautiful form is impressed upon my memory. I have now no desire to eat or to drink, and from this distress my colour has become pale and my body is thus emaciated." And the beautiful princess sighed a sigh that was musical and melancholy, and concluded by predicting for herself--as persons similarly placed often do--a sudden and untimely end about the beginning of the next month.
"What wilt thou give me," asked the Brahman's daughter-in-law demurely, "if I show thee thy beloved at this very moment?"
The Raja's daughter answered, "I will ever be the lowest of thy slaves, standing before thee with joined hands."
Upon which Sita removed the pill from her mouth, and instantly having become Manaswi, put it carefully away in a little bag hung round his neck. At this sight Chandraprabha felt abashed, and hung down her head in beautiful confusion. To describe--
"I will have no descriptions, Vampire!" cried the great Vikram, jerking the bag up and down as if he were sweating gold in it. "The fewer of thy descriptions the better for us all."
Briefly (resumed the demon), Manaswi reflected upon the eight forms of marriage--viz., Bramhalagan, when a girl is given to a Brahman, or man of superior caste, without reward; Daiva, when she is presented as a gift or fee to the officiating priest at the close of a sacrifice; Arsha, when two cows are received by the girl's father in exchange for the bride; Prajapatya, when the girl is given at the request of a Brahman, and the father says to his daughter and her to betrothed, "Go, fulfil the duties of religion"; Asura, when money is received by the father in exchange for the bride; Rakshasha, when she is captured in war, or when her bridegroom overcomes his rival; Paisacha, when the girl is taken away from her father's house by craft; and eighthly, Gandharva-lagan, or the marriage that takes place by mutual consent.
Manaswi preferred the latter, especially as by her rank and age the princess was entitled to call upon her father for the Lakshmi Swayambara wedding, in which she would have chosen her own husband. And thus it is that Rama, Arjuna, Krishna, Nala, and others, were proposed to by the princesses whom they married.
For five months after these nuptials, Manaswi never stirred out of the palace, but remained there by day a woman, and a man by night. The consequence was that he--I call him "he," for whether Manaswi or Sita, his mind ever remained masculine--presently found himself in a fair way to become a father.
Now, one would imagine that a change of sex every twenty-four hours would be variety enough to satisfy even a man. Manaswi, however, was not contented. He began to pine for more liberty, and to find fault with his wife for not taking him out into the world. And you might have supposed that a young person who, from love at first sight, had fallen senseless upon the steps of a summer-house, and who had devoted herself to a sudden and untimely end because she was separated from her lover, would have repressed her yawns and little irritable words even for a year after having converted him into a husband. But no! Chandraprabha soon felt as tired of seeing Manaswi and nothing but Manaswi, as Manaswi was weary of seeing Chandraprabha and nothing but Chandraprabha. Often she had been on the point of proposing visits and out-of-door excursions. But when at last the idea was first suggested by her husband, she at once became an injured woman. She hinted how foolish it was for married people to imprison themselves and to quarrel all day. When Manaswi remonstrated, saying that he wanted nothing better than to appear before the world with her as his wife, but that he really did not know what her father might do to him, she threw out a cutting sarcasm upon his effeminate appearance during the hours of light. She then told him of an unfortunate young woman in an old nursery tale who had unconsciously married a fiend that became a fine handsome man at night when no eye could see him, and utter ugliness by day when good looks show to advantage. And lastly, when inveighing against the changeableness, fickleness, and infidelity of mankind, she quoted the words of the poet--
Out upon change! it tires the heart And weighs the noble spirit down; A vain, vain world indeed thou art That can such vile condition own The veil hath fallen from my eyes, I cannot love where I despise....
You can easily, O King Vikram, continue for yourself and conclude this lecture, which I leave unfinished on account of its length.
Chandraprabha and Sita, who called each other the Zodiacal Twins and Laughter Light, and All-consenters, easily persuaded the old Raja that their health would be further improved by air, exercise, and distractions. Subichar, being delighted with the change that had taken place in a daughter whom he loved, and whom he had feared to lose, told them to do as they pleased. They began a new life, in which short trips and visits, baths and dances, music parties, drives in bullock chariots, and water excursions succeeded one another.
It so happened that one day the Raja went with his whole family to a wedding feast in the house of his grand treasurer, where the latter's son saw Manaswi in the beautiful shape of Sita. This was a third case of love at first sight, for the young man immediately said to a particular friend, "If I obtain that girl, I shall live; if not, I shall abandon life."
In the meantime the king. having enjoyed the feast, came back to his palace with his whole family. The condition of the treasurer's son, however, became very distressing; and through separation from his beloved, he gave up eating and drinking. The particular friend had kept the secret for some days, though burning to tell it. At length he found an excuse for himself in the sad state of his friend, and he immediately went and divulged all that he knew to the treasurer. After this he felt relieved.
The minister repaired to the court, and laid his case before the king, saying, "Great Raja! through the love of that Brahman's daughter-in-law, my son's state is very bad; he has given up eating and drinking; in fact he is consumed by the fire of separation. If now your majesty could show compassion, and bestow the girl upon him, his life would be saved. If not----"
"Fool!" cried the Raja, who, hearing these words, had waxed very wroth; "it is not right for kings to do injustice. Listen! when a person puts any one in charge of a protector, how can the latter give away his trust without consulting the person that trusted him? And yet this is what you wish me to do."
The treasurer knew that the Raja could not govern his realm without him, and he was well acquainted with his master's character. He said to himself, "This will not last long;" but he remained dumb, simulating hopelessness, and hanging down his head, whilst Subichar alternately scolded and coaxed, abused and flattered him, in order to open his lips. Then, with tears in his eyes, he muttered a request to take leave; and as he passed through the palace gates, he said aloud, with a resolute air, "It will cost me but ten days of fasting!"
The treasurer, having returned home, collected all his attendants, and went straightway to his son's room. Seeing the youth still stretched upon his sleeping-mat, and very yellow for the want of food. he took his hand, and said in a whisper, meant to be audible, "Alas! poor son, I can do nothing but perish with thee."
The servants, hearing this threat, slipped one by one out of the room, and each went to tell his friend that the grand treasurer had resolved to live no longer. After which, they went back to the house to see if their master intended to keep his word, and curious to know, if he did intend to die, how, where, and when it was to be. And they were not disappointed: I do not mean that the wished their lord to die, as he was a good master to them but still there was an excitement in the thing----
(Raja Vikram could not refrain from showing his anger at the insult thus cast by the Baital upon human nature; the wretch, however, pretending not to notice it, went on without interrupting himself)
----which somehow or other pleased them.
When the treasurer had spent three days without touching bread or water, all the cabinet council met and determined to retire from business unless the Raja yielded to their solicitations. The treasurer was their working man. "Besides which," said the cabinet council, "if a certain person gets into the habit of refusing us, what is to be the end of it, and what is the use of being cabinet councillors any longer?"
Early on the next morning, the ministers went in a body before the Raja, and humbly represented that "the treasurer's son is at the point of death, the effect of a full heart and an empty stomach. Should he die, the father, who has not eaten or drunk during the last three days" (the Raja trembled to hear the intelligence, though he knew it), "his father, we say, cannot be saved. If the father dies the affairs of the kingdom come to ruin,--is he not the grand treasurer? It is already said that half the accounts have been gnawed by white ants, and that some pernicious substance in the ink has eaten jagged holes through the paper, so that the other half of the accounts is illegible. It were best, sire, that you agree to what we represent."
The white ants and corrosive ink were too strong for the Raja's determination. Still, wishing to save appearances, he replied, with much firmness, that he knew the value of the treasurer and his son, that he would do much to save them, but that he had passed his royal word, and had undertaken a trust. That he would rather die a dozen deaths than break his promise, or not discharge his duty faithfully. That man's condition in this world is to depart from it, none remaining in it; that one comes and that one goes, none knowing when or where; but that eternity is eternity for happiness or misery. And much of the same nature, not very novel, and not perhaps quite to the purpose, but edifying to those who knew what lay behind the speaker's words.
The ministers did not know their lord's character so well as the grand treasurer, and they were more impressed by his firm demeanour and the number of his words than he wished them to be. After allowing his speech to settle in their minds, he did away with a great part of its effect by declaring that such were the sentiments and the principles--when a man talks of his principles, O Vikram! ask thyself the reason why--instilled into his youthful mind by the most honourable of fathers and the most virtuous of mothers. At the same time that he was by no means obstinate or proof against conviction. In token whereof he graciously permitted the councillors to convince him that it was his royal duty to break his word and betray his trust, and to give away another man's wife.
Pray do not lose your temper, O warrior king! Subichar, although a Raja, was a weak man; and you know, or you ought to know, that the wicked may be wise in their generation, but the weak never can.
Well, the ministers hearing their lord's last words, took courage, and proceeded to work upon his mind by the figure of speech popularly called "rigmarole." They said: "Great king! that old Brahman has been gone many days, and has not returned; he is probably dead and burnt. It is therefore right that by giving to the grand treasurer's son his daughter-in-law, who is only affianced, not fairly married, you should establish your government firmly. And even if he should return, bestow villages and wealth upon him; and if he be not then content, provide another and a more beautiful wife for his son, and dismiss him. A person should be sacrificed for the sake of a family, a family for a city, a city for a country, and a country for a king!"
Subichar having heard them, dismissed them with the remark that as so much was to be said on both sides, he must employ the night in thinking over the matter, and that he would on the next day favour them with his decision. The cabinet councillors knew by this that he meant that he would go and consult his wives. They retired contented, convinced that every voice would be in favour of a wedding, and that the young girl, with so good an offer, would not sacrifice the present to the future.
That evening the treasurer and his son supped together.
The first words uttered by Raja Subichar, when he entered his daughter's apartment, were an order addressed to Sita: "Go thou at once to the house of my treasurer's son."
Now, as Chandraprabha and Manaswi were generally scolding each other, Chandraprabha and Sita were hardly on speaking terms. When they heard the Raja's order for their separation they were--
--"Delighted?" cried Dharma Dhwaj, who for some reason took the greatest interest in the narrative.
"Overwhelmed with grief, thou most guileless Yuva Raja (young prince)!" ejaculated the Vampire.
Raja Vikram reproved his son for talking about thing of which he knew nothing, and the Baital resumed.
They turned pale and wept, and they wrung their hands, and they begged and argued and refused obedience. In fact they did everything to make the king revoke his order.
"The virtue of a woman," quoth Sita, "is destroyed through too much beauty; the religion of a Brahman is impaired by serving kings; a cow is spoiled by distant pasturage, wealth is lost by committing injustice, and prosperity departs from the house where promises are not kept."
The Raja highly applauded the sentiment, but was firm as a rock upon the subject of Sita marrying the treasurer's son.
Chandraprabha observed that her royal father, usually so conscientious, must now be acting from interested motives, and that when selfishness sways a man, right becomes left and left becomes right, as in the reflection of a mirror.
Subichar approved of the comparison; he was not quite so resolved, but he showed no symptoms of changing his mind.
Then the Brahman's daughter-in-law, with the view of gaining time--a famous stratagem amongst feminines--said to the Raja: "Great king, if you are determined upon giving me to the grand treasurer's son, exact from him the promise that he will do what I bid him. Only on this condition will I ever enter his house!"
"Speak, then," asked the king; "what will he have to do?"
She replied, "I am of the Brahman or priestly caste, he is the son of a Kshatriya or warrior: the law directs that before we twain can wed, he should perform Yatra (pilgrimage) to all the holy places."
"Thou hast spoken Veda-truth, girl," answered the Raja, not sorry to have found so good a pretext for temporizing, and at the same time to preserve his character for firmness, resolution, determination.
That night Manaswi and Chandraprabha, instead of scolding each other, congratulated themselves upon having escaped an imminent danger--which they did not escape.
In the morning Subichar sent for his ministers, including his grand treasurer and his love-sick son, and told them how well and wisely the Brahman's daughter-in-law had spoken upon the subject of the marriage. All of them approved of the condition; but the young man ventured to suggest, that while he was a-pilgrimaging the maiden should reside under his father's roof. As he and his father showed a disposition to continue their fasts in case of the small favour not being granted, the Raja, though very loath to separate his beloved daughter and her dear friend, was driven to do it. And Sita was carried off, weeping bitterly, to the treasurer's palace. That dignitary solemnly committed her to the charge of his third and youngest wife, the lady Subhagya-Sundari, who was about her own age, and said, "You must both live together, without any kind of wrangling or contention, and do not go into other people's houses." And the grand treasurer's son went off to perform his pilgrimages.
It is no less sad than true, Raja Vikram, that in less than six days the disconsolate Sita waxed weary of being Sita, took the ball out of her mouth, and became Manaswi. Alas for the infidelity of mankind! But it is gratifying to reflect that he met with the punishment with which the Pandit Muldev had threatened him. One night the magic pill slipped down his throat. When morning dawned, being unable to change himself into Sita, Manaswi was obliged to escape through a window from the lady Subhagya-Sundari's room. He sprained his ankle with the leap, and he lay for a time upon the ground--where I leave him whilst convenient to me.
When Muldev quitted the presence of Subichar, he resumed his old shape, and returning to his brother Pandit Shashi, told him what he had done. Whereupon Shashi, the misanthrope, looked black, and used hard words and told his friend that good nature and soft-heartedness had caused him to commit a very bad action--a grievous sin. Incensed at this charge, the philanthropic Muldev became angry, and said, "I have warned the youth about his purity; what harm can come of it?"
"Thou hast," retorted Shashi, with irritating coolness, "placed a sharp weapon in a fool's hand."
"I have not," cried Muldev, indignantly.
"Therefore," drawled the malevolent, "you are answerable for all the mischief he does with it, and mischief assuredly he will do."
"He will not, by Brahma!" exclaimed Muldev.
"He will, by Vishnu!" said Shashi, with an amiability produced by having completely upset his friend's temper; "and if within the coming six months he does not disgrace himself, thou shalt have the whole of my book-case; but if he does, the philanthropic Muldev will use all his skill and ingenuity in procuring the daughter of Raja Subichar as a wife for his faithful friend Shashi."
Having made this covenant, they both agreed not to speak of the matter till the autumn.
The appointed time drawing near, the Pandits began to make inquiries about the effect of the magic pills. Presently they found out that Sita, alias Manaswi, had one night mysteriously disappeared from the grand treasurer's house, and had not been heard of since that time. This, together with certain other things that transpired presently, convinced Muldev, who had cooled down in six months, that his friend had won the wager. He prepared to make honourable payment by handing a pill to old Shashi, who at once became a stout, handsome young Brahman, some twenty years old. Next putting a pill into his own mouth, he resumed the shape and form under which he had first appeared before Raja Subichar; and, leaning upon his staff, he led the way to the palace.
The king, in great confusion, at once recognized the old priest, and guessed the errand upon which he and the youth were come. However, he saluted them, and offered them seats, and receiving their blessings, he began to make inquiries about their health and welfare. At last he mustered courage to ask the old Brahman where he had been living for so long a time.
"Great king," replied the priest, "I went to seek after my son, and having found him, I bring him to your majesty. Give him his wife, and I will take them both home with me.''
Raja Subichar prevaricated not a little; but presently, being hard pushed, he related everything that had happened.
"What is this that you have done?" cried Muldev, simulating excessive anger and astonishment. "Why have you given my son's wife in marriage to another man? You have done what you wished, and now, therefore, receive my Shrap (curse)!"
The poor Raja, in great trepidation, said, "O Vivinity! be not thus angry! I will do whatever you bid me."
Said Muldev, "If through dread of my excommunication you will freely give whatever I demand of you, then marry your daughter, Chandraprabha, to this my son. On this condition I forgive you. To me, now a necklace of pearls and a venomous krishna (cobra capella); the most powerful enemy and the kindest friend, the most precious gem and a clod of earth; the softest bed and the hardest stone; a blade of grass and the loveliest woman--are precisely the same. All I desire is that in some holy place, repeating the name of God, I may soon end my days."
Subichar, terrified by this additional show of sanctity, at once summoned an astrologer, and fixed upon the auspicious moment and lunar influence. He did not consult the princess, and had he done so she would not have resisted his wishes. Chandraprabha had heard of Sita's escape from the treasurer's house, and she had on the subject her own suspicions. Besides which she looked forward to a certain event, and she was by no means sure that her royal father approved of the Gandharba form of marriage--at least for his daughter. Thus the Brahman's son receiving in due time the princess and her dowry, took leave of the king and returned to his own village.
Hardly, however, had Chandraprabha been married to Shashi the Pandit, when Manaswi went to him, and began to wrangle, and said, "Give me my wife!" He had recovered from the effects of his fall, and having lost her he therefore loved her--very dearly.
But Shashi proved by reference to the astrologers, priests, and ten persons as witnesses, that he had duly wedded her, and brought her to his home; "therefore," said he, "she is my spouse."
Manaswi swore by all holy things that he had been legally married to her, and that he was the father of her child that was about to be. "How then," continued he, "can she be thy spouse?" He would have summoned Muldev as a witness, but that worthy, after remonstrating with him, disappeared. He called upon Chandraprabha to confirm his statement, but she put on an innocent face, and indignantly denied ever having seen the man.
Still, continued the Baital, many people believed Manaswi's story, as it was marvellous and incredible. Even to the present day, there are many who decidedly think him legally married to the daughter of Raja Subichar.
"Then they are pestilent fellows!" cried the warrior king Vikram, who hated nothing more than clandestine and runaway matches. "No one knew that the villain, Manaswi, was the father of her child; whereas, the Pandit Shashi married her lawfully, before witnesses, and with all the ceremonies. She therefore remains his wife, and the child will perform the funeral obsequies for him, and offer water to the manes of his pitris (ancestors). At least, so say law and justice."
"Which justice is often unjust enough!" cried the Vampire; "and ply thy legs, mighty Raja; let me see if thou canst reach the sires-tree before I do."
* * * * * *
"The next story, O Raja Vikram, is remarkably interesting."