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VII. The Silver Swans

And as the water kept on rising, rising, Umra-Singh said to himself: Extraordinary is the guile of women, and copious their tears, but this daughter of a Daitya surely surpasses them all. For who ever heard of tears that, like rivers, could flood a quarter of the world? But in the meanwhile, before I find my death in these rising waters, it is better to take refuge in a tree. So he climbed up into a tree, and looked out over the water, on which the mist hung in the moonlight like a curtain of silver on a floor

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of lapis-lazuli. And he said to himself: Is this merely an illusion, or rather, is not this wood well named, being in very truth the matted hair of the great god, with these trees for hairs, and this water for the Ganges that wanders among them n, and yonder moon the very ornament of the moon-crested god? But this water goes on rising, and I must ascend higher into the tree.

So he climbed up, and up, and as he climbed, the water rose after him, higher and higher, until at last he could see nothing but the water, and the moon, and the tree that stretched away above him into the sky. And as he went, he said to himself: Up I must go, for there is no other resource: and now, unless like the husband of Shrí o. I could save myself on the back of a tortoise from this very sea of water, I must surely be destroyed. For unless this extraordinary tree has no top, I must presently reach

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it, and meet with my death at the same time. And even without the water, as to how I am to get down again, I have not an idea. So he continued to climb and climb, while the water rose, and the moon sank, and the night gradually came to an end.

And then the sun rose over the eastern mountain, and began like himself to climb up into the sky. And the sweat poured from his limbs, and at last he stopped, overcome with fatigue. And he said to himself: Now I can go no further. Since I must now in any case perish, why should I go on climbing in vain? For surely I am on the very roof of the world, and alone with the sun in the sky.

And as he looked down, suddenly he saw before him no water and no tree, and his head grew dizzy, and his vision swam, and he could scarcely believe his eyes.

For he stood on the peak of a high mountain, in the very zenith of the sky. And all round him, and all before him, and behind him, was a vast desert of burning sand, that stretched away to the very limit of the range of sight, and on its edges rested the quarters of heaven. And it glowed in the fire of the sun's rays like a furnace, and was furrowed and pitted with holes and chasms; and its surface rose and fell, as he watched it, like a woman's breast,

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and it looked as if it were alive, though it was in truth the home of death. And as he gazed, he saw, how over it there crawled swiftly living things with pointed tails, of the colour of sand, which entered the desert by the holes, and issued from them, and at length stood still, and became invisible, save that their tails never rested, and their bright eyes stood out of the sand to watch. And it seemed to Umra-Singh, in the loneliness of that vast solitude, that all those hideous Eyes sought him out, and fastened on him, and rested on him alone, saying to him as it were: Thou canst not escape.

And then he said to himself: Now there is indeed no help for me, and beyond a doubt, my end has come. For to remain here is impossible, and equally certain the death that lies, either in going forward or going back. And yet I could wish to die, if at all, not in the presence of eyes such as these, but in the colour of the eyes of Shrí. Yet how shall I escape the vigilance of yonder dreadful Dwellers in the Sand, wading with difficulty in its substance that will sink under my feet like the waves of the sea, but over which they scud like the shadow of a cloud?

So all day he remained on that high place, not daring to descend. And then at length the sun went

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to his rest in the western quarter, and the moon rose, and was reflected in the bright eyes of those sand-haunting Rákshasas, which glittered in the distance on the dark desert like drops of water on the leaf of a black lotus. And all night long Umra-Singh lay and watched them, as a bird watches the eyes of a snake.

Then in the early dawn he looked, and as the light of morning began to glimmer in the distance on the edge of the world, he saw far away in the pale air two dark specks in the sky. And as he gazed, they grew larger and rapidly approached him, sending back to him, like mirrors, the red rays of the rising sun. And they drew nearer, and he saw that they were a pair of silver Swans, carrying in their bills the dead body of a third, of gold. So these two Swans crossed over that dreadful desert with the rapidity of the lightning that resembled them, and settled beside him on the hill, to rest.

Then said Umra-Singh: Hail! ye fair birds: surely ye are no birds, but deities, fallen into these bodies of swans by reason of a curse. Whence come ye, and whither go ye, and what is this dead golden body that ye carry as ye go? Then said the Swans: We are carrying home the body of our

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king, far away to the Mánasa lake. For he died yesterday, in the Land of the Lotus of the Sun. And now we must bear him ever onward swiftly to his own country, that the funeral ceremonies may duly be performed.

But when Umra-Singh heard them name the Land of the Lotus, his heart leaped in his breast. And sword in hand, he rushed on the dead body with a shout. And he said to the Swans: As you carried him hither from that Land of the Lotus of the Sun, so swear now, that you will carry me first back thither, leaving him here till you return: otherwise I will keep him, and cut you to pieces.

Then seeing that there was no help for it, the Swans said: Be it so: and they bound themselves to him by an oath. And then Umra-Singh took hold of them by the neck, one in each hand; and they stretched out their necks, and flew away with him over the desert as he hung. And he left far behind him the eyes of those hideous Rákshasas glowing in the sand as if with rage to see him escape: and after a long while, they came to the edge of the desert. And Umra-Singh looked down and saw, far below him, the blue sea, shimmering like the eyes of Shrí. And at a distance in the water, like a dusky jewel on a purple carpet, he

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saw an island, with a city on it. So he said to the Swans: What is that which I see below me? And they said: It is the Land of the Lotus of the Sun.

Then in his delight, Umra-Singh let go his hold, and clapped his hands. And instantly he fell down like a stone into the sea. But the Swans returned swiftly over the desert to the body which they had left upon the hill.


63:n The Ganges fell from heaven, and Shiwa caught it on his head, where it wandered in his hair for a thousand years before it could find its way down. A legend which doubtless has reference to the vast plateaux of the Himálaya and Tibet.

63:o He compares himself to the husband of the other Shrí, i.e. the Goddess of Beauty, or Wishnu, whose second incarnation was that of a tortoise.

Next: VIII. The Land of the Lotus