ONCE upon a time there reigned over the city of Ayodhya a king of royal race, named Parikshit. And Parikshit on a certain day, being out hunting and pursuing a deer, outstripped all his companions and wandered alone in a dense dark forest, far away from human habitations. Now the king was both weary and a-hungered, and seeing the cool shadows, and catching sight of a beautiful pool, he pushed forward and plunged in, with the idea of bathing and resting. And when both he and his horse were cool and refreshed, he gathered lotus leaves and sterns and placed them before the animal, and he himself lay down on the short grass beneath the trees.
As he lay there, between sleeping and waking, he heard the sound of a sweet voice singing. In his astonishment he sat up, to see who could be in his neighbourhood, for nowhere had he seen the footprints of men, nor had he supposed that he was near human dwellings. As he watched he saw, through the bushes, a maiden gathering
flowers, and she was of a surpassing loveliness and sang as she plucked. Presently, in her quest of flowers, she drew unwittingly near the king, and he held his breath with sheer delight at the beauty of her voice and features.
At last he resolved to speak. "Blessed one," he said gently, "who art thou? and whose?"
"Whose?" said the girl, with a start, "I? I belong to none. I am unwed."
"Unwed?" said the king, "oh do then, I pray thee, grant thyself to me!"
"If I did," said the maiden slowly and pensively, "If I did, I should require a promise--!"
"What promise couldst thou ask," cried the enamoured king, "that I could not grant? Speak! What is it?"
"If I am to marry thee," said the damsel mysteriously, "thou must give me a pledge that never wouldst thou ask me to look upon water. Unless I had this promise, I could not wed." And as she spoke she cast upon the king a look of such more than mortal sweetness that he felt as if he would swoon away.
"Dear heart," cried Parikshit, "what a little thing were this to stand between us! From the moment that thou art mine, I promise thee never to ask thee to cast thine eyes on water."
And the maiden, hearing this, bowed her head, and they exchanged tokens of marriage, and hand
in hand sat down on the grass together in silence. And as they remained thus, the king's friends and escort came up, having searched for and followed him. And finding him thus in the company of a newly-affianced bride, a state carriage was brought, and the two entered it, and were driven back to the capital together.
Now from this time forward, it was as if some strange enchantment had been woven about the king. He was always in the private apartments with his newly-wedded queen. And instead of his absorption in her growing less, it seemed to become stronger and stronger, till none could obtain access to him, and the royal ministers were refused audience.
When this was on the verge of becoming a public scandal, the chief minister sent for one of the waiting-women about the palace, and questioned her closely concerning the nature of her who had so infatuated their sovereign. And the maid said: "Her beauty is undeniable and unsurpassed. In charm and loveliness she is without a peer. But one thing about her is very strange. The king was able to marry her only after promising that he would never show her water."
Now when the prime minister heard this he went away and caused a royal park to be laid out, well-planted with trees that were laden with
flowers and fruit. And in a hidden place within the park he dug a beautiful bathing-pool, filled with water that was sweet as nectar, and well covered with a net of pearls. And when it was finished he came privately one day to the monarch and said, "Here is a delightful forest without water. Let it be used for the royal pleasure." And, hearing this, the king and his adored queen went out into the park and wandered about its lawns and glades. And at last, being tired and spent, and not altogether free from hunger and thirst, the king caught sight of a charming bower, all festooned with the white and fragrant bells of creeping plants.
"Come, beloved!" he said to the queen, "here is an arbour that was made for rest. Let us enter." And they entered.
But when he was within, the king saw that the bower only covered the bathing-stairs of a bathing pool, which was shaded by some sort of roof that looked like cobweb, and being unspeakably attracted by all the surroundings and the sparkling coolness of the waters, he turned to his wife and said gently, "Surely no harm would happen to you if you bathed here! Would you not like to do so?"
Scarcely were the words uttered than the queen stepped merrily to the water-side and took a plunge. The waters closed over her as she dived, and Parikshit waited, half doubtfully, for
her return. Alas, it was in vain. She did not reappear. The wife he adored was lost to him, it seemed, for ever.
Mad with anxiety, the king ran hither and thither, searching for his beloved. Nowhere could he recover any trace of her. He had the lake dragged, but even her body was not to be found. Then he ordered that the waters should be baled out. But when this had been done, nothing was discovered, save a large frog sitting beside a hole.
At this sight the king leapt to the conclusion that his wife had been devoured by frogs, and his wrath against the whole race was without bounds. Wherefore he promulgated an order that throughout his dominions they were to be slain, and that no one was to appear before him without a tribute of dead frogs.
Soon in the world of frogs this state of things became evident. Not one of them could appear above ground without the fear of instant death. And the whole tribe was afflicted with unspeakable terror. In their extremity they went in embassy, with the story of their wrongs, to their own king, and he in the guise of a begging friar appeared before the throne of Parikshit, and urged him in the name of religious gentleness and mercy to rescind his cruel order for the destruction of the poor frogs. But Parikshit, with his whole soul
filled with woe for the death of her who was so dear to him, replied only with renewed protestations of anger and revenge. Had the frogs, he said, not swallowed up one who was to him as the heart of his heart? Why then should he ever forgive them? Rather than do so he would continue to slay them with a continually renewed fury. It was surely very far from fitting that a learned man should intercede on their behalf.
As the monarch spoke of the loss he had suffered the seeming beggar before him looked pained and startled. It was clear that he suddenly understood the situation. "Alas, alas!" he said, "thou art under a fascination, O king! Look upon me. I am Ayu, the king of the frogs, and she who was thy wife is my daughter Susobhana. She has cast a glamour over thee, who art of the race of men and not of our kindred. She hath indeed the power to cast enchantments. By this her conduct I am deeply grieved!"
But when Parikshit heard that he had before him the father of his beloved he said only, "Oh sir, if she is thy daughter, then bestow her upon me! I desire nothing save her return."
Then the king of the frogs, standing before Parikshit, summoned his daughter, and when she appeared before him he joined her hand to that of the monarch, saying, "Serve and wait upon thy lord!" And Parikshit, feeling out of his great
love for his wife that in her restoration he had obtained as it were the sovereignty of the three worlds, bowed down before the king of the frogs, and did him reverence in due form, as the father of his beloved, and with voice choked by joy and tears, said, "Oh how fortunate I am! How fortunate I am!" And the King of the Frogs, taking leave of his daughter, left them, and returned to that place from which he had come.
Now the King of the Frogs had parted from his daughter in sorrow and grave disapproval of the spell originally cast by her, whereby the innocent king and all her own people suffered so deeply; and in the moment of farewell, as is the wont of fathers, he had looked into the future, and instead of blessing her, had sternly said, "The fruit of the enchantment that thou so wrongfully hast practised will be seen as a flaw in the kingly honour of thy children, until the magic spell shall be redeemed." This, then, was the doom that hung over the dynasty of Parikshit and the frog-maiden, till it should be redeemed. And they lived happily together, and had three sons, whose names were Sala, Dala, and Vala. And in fulness of time King Parikshit gave up the world, and, placing his eldest son upon his throne, himself retired into the forest.
Now it happened that Sala, the new king, while out hunting one day, saw a very fleet deer, and
urged his charioteer to drive quickly that he might catch it.
But the charioteer answered, a It is impossible. Only a pair of Vami horses could have enabled us to overtake that deer!" Now these Vami horses of which he spoke belonged to Vamadeva, a great Brahmin scholar, who lived in the ashrama beside the Ganges.
And when the king heard of them he became possessed of a desire to be driven by them, and, going to the ashrama of Vamadeva, he begged that he would lend them to him that he might capture a fleet deer. And the holy man consented to the king's using them, but exacted a promise that they should be returned immediately. Alas, the Vami horses proved so excellent that the king coveted them, and forgot his promise, but kept them when his business of hunting was over and locked them up in secret stables attached to his palace!
Now when Vamadeva saw that his horses were not returned he became very sorrowful, for he felt that the king's plighted word could not be trusted. After waiting for a month, he sent a disciple to the sovereign to receive from him the Vami steeds. But the king told the young man that these horses were fit only for the use of kings, and that he could not understand why holy men and scholars should expect to possess them.
[paragraph continues] So the disciple had to return to his master without the horses.
Then Vamadeva himself appeared before the monarch and pleaded with him to render back his property, which he had promised, moreover, to return when his need should be over.
But the king was obdurate, being unable, by reason of the blemish on his birth, to perceive in their fulness the obligations of the royal honour. He offered the rishi anything out of his own stables that he might choose to take; he undertook to appoint Vamadeva the chief priest of the kingdom; he promised anything and everything, only he would not give back to their rightful owner the horses he coveted.
Then Vamadeva called upon four terrible demons to appear and slay the impious king, and even as he was speaking they arose suddenly, armed with lances, and, advancing from the four quarters, felled him to the earth. Thus died Sala the king, and Dala his brother reigned in his stead.
Now as soon as there was a convenient time, Vamadeva came before the new king and asked that the pair of Vami horses now in the royal stables should be bestowed upon him. But Dala, instead of answering, turned to his charioteer and ordered him to bring one of his finest arrows, tempered with poison, that he might kill Vamadeva. But when he raised his arm to point the
arrow the Brahmin said quietly, "Thou are not aiming at me, O king! Rather is thine arrow pointed against thine own son, Senajit; him art thou about to slay."
As the words were spoken the king let fly his terrible arrow, and at the selfsame moment, in the innermost apartments of the palace, the child Senajit fell, pierced by the arrow from his father's hand.
Suddenly the wail of mourning was heard, and a panic-stricken messenger arrived to give the king the news of the disaster to his line. But the death of his son seemed only to drive Dala to a frenzy of anger. Demanding another arrow, he called upon gods and men, his own subjects and the denizens of the heaven, to be witnesses of the death he was about to deal; and again he raised his arm to take the fatal aim. . . .
To the amazement of all present, except the Brahmin, who stood as he was, with eyes fixed on the sovereign, without moving--the bow was not twanged, nor was the arrow shot forth. A look of agony passed over the king's face; his hands shook, and he stood still. At last with a groan he said, "I am defeated. I am overcome. I am unable to bring about the death of Vamadeva!" And his right hand fell nerveless to his side.
At this Vamadeva's aspect became all gentleness and kindness. "Send for thy queen, O king!"
said he, "and let her touch this arrow that thou didst destine for murder. Thus mayst thou be purified from the fruit of thy sin."
And the king did as he was bidden, sending for his queen. And when she came she did reverence to the sage Vamadeva, and stretched out her hand to take the poisoned arrow. And the holy man was much touched by the nobility of her bearing and the grace of her salutation, and blessing her, he said, "O thou that art without fault, ask thou of me an incomparable boon. It is mine to grant thee whatever thou shalt ask!"
And the queen answered, "I pray that my husband may be freed from his sin, and that I may be ever his helpmeet, to aid him in the growth of happiness and virtue."
"O good as thou art beautiful!" cried the delighted rishi, "thou hast saved this royal house! With thee is the curse departed that was spoken by Ayu, the father of Susobhana. What woman doomed, a woman hath redeemed. Rule thou, O princess, over the hearts of these thy kinsmen, thy husband and thy son, and over this great kingdom of Ayodhya. Never, while they honour thee, shall there be loss of kingly honour in the race of Parikshit!"
And so saying, and taking back his horses, the rishi departed from the court of Dala, the king of Ayodhya.