(Enter a chamberlain.)
Chamberlain (sighing). Alas! To what a state am I reduced!
[paragraph continues] The king is within. I will tell him of the urgent business which demands his attention. (He takes a few steps.) But what is the business? (He recalls it.) Yes, I remember. Certain hermits, pupils of Kanva, desire to see his Majesty. Strange, strange!
[paragraph continues] (He walks and looks about.) Here is his Majesty.
[paragraph continues] In truth, I hesitate to announce the coming of Kanva's pupils to the king. For he has this moment risen from the throne of justice. But kings are never weary. For
(He walks about. Enter the king, the clown, and retinue according to rank.)
King (betraying the cares of office). Every one is happy on attaining his desire--except a king. His difficulties increase with his power. Thus:
Two court poets behind the scenes. Victory to your Majesty.
King (listening). Strange! I was wearied by the demands of my office, but this renews my spirit.
Clown. Does a bull forget that he is tired when you call him the leader of the herd?
King (smiling). Well, let us sit down. (They seat themselves, and the retinue arranges itself. A lute is heard behind the scenes.)
Clown (listening). My friend, listen to what is going on in the music-room. Some one is playing a lute, and keeping good time. I suppose Lady Hansavati is practising.
King. Be quiet. I wish to listen.
Chamberlain (looks at the king). Ah, the king is occupied. I must await his leisure. (He stands aside.)
A song behind the scenes.
How can you be tempted so
By the lily, pet?
Fresher honey 's sweet, I know;
But can you forget?
King. What an entrancing song!
Clown. But, man, don't you understand what the words mean?
King (smiling). I was once devoted to Queen Hansavati. And the rebuke comes from her. Friend Madhavya, tell Queen Hansavati in my name that the rebuke is a very pretty one.
Clown. Yes, sir. (He rises.) But, man, you are using another fellow's fingers to grab a bear's tail-feathers with. I have about as much chance of salvation as a monk who hasn't forgotten his passions.
King. Go. Soothe her like a gentleman.
Clown. I suppose I must. (Exit.)
King (to himself). Why am I filled with wistfulness on hearing such a song? I am not separated from one I love.
There must be recollections
Of things not seen on earth,
Deep nature's predilections,
Loves earlier than birth.
[paragraph continues] (He shows the wistfulness that comes from unremembered things.)
Chamberlain (approaching). Victory to your Majesty. Here are hermits who dwell in the forest at the foot of the Himalayas. They bring women with them, and they carry a message from Kanva. What is your pleasure with regard to them?
King (astonished). Hermits? Accompanied by women? From Kanva?
King. Request my chaplain Somarata in my name to
receive these hermits in the manner prescribed by Scripture, and to conduct them himself before me. I will await them in a place fit for their reception.
Chamberlain. Yes, your Majesty. (Exit.)
King (rising). Vetravati, conduct me to the fire-sanctuary.
Portress. Follow me, your Majesty. (She walks about.) Your Majesty, here is the terrace of the fire-sanctuary. It is beautiful, for it has just been swept, and near at hand is the cow that yields the milk of sacrifice. Pray ascend it.
King (ascends and stands leaning on the shoulder of an attendant.) Vetravati, with what purpose does Father Kanva send these hermits to me?
Portress. How could these things be in a hermitage that rests in the fame of the king's arm? No, I imagine they have come to pay homage to their king, and to congratulate him on his pious rule.
(Enter the chaplain and the chamberlain, conducting the two pupils of KANVA, With GAUTAMI and SHAKUNTALA.)
Chamberlain. Follow me, if you please.
Sharngarava. Friend Sharadvata,
Sharadvata. Sharngarava, your emotion on entering the city is quite just. As for me,
Chaplain. That is why men like you are great.
Shakuntala (observing an evil omen). Oh, why does my right eye throb?
Gautami. Heaven avert the omen, my child. May happiness wait upon you. (They walk about.)
Chaplain (indicating the king). O hermits, here is he who protects those of every station and of every age. He has already risen, and awaits you. Behold him.
Sharngarava. Yes, it is admirable, but not surprising. For
Portress. Your Majesty, the hermits seem to be happy. They give you gracious looks.
King (observing SHAKUNTALA). Ah!
Portress. Your Majesty, she is well worth looking at.
King. Enough! I must not gaze upon another's wife.
Shakuntala (laying her hand on her breast. Aside). Oh, my heart, why tremble so? Remember his constant love and be brave.
Chaplain (advancing). Hail, your Majesty. The hermits have been received as Scripture enjoins. They have a message from their teacher. May you be pleased to hear it.
King (respectfully). I am all attention.
The two pupils (raising their right hands). Victory, O King.
King (bowing low). I salute you all.
The two pupils. All hail.
King. Does your pious life proceed without disturbance?
The two pupils.
King (to himself). Indeed, my royal title is no empty one. (Aloud.) Is holy Kanva in health?
Sharngarava. O King, those who have religious power can command health. He asks after your welfare and sends this message.
King. What are his commands?
Sharngarava. He says: "Since you have met this my daughter and have married her, I give you my glad consent. For
[paragraph continues] She is with child. Take her and live with her in virtue."
Gautami. Bless you, sir. I should like to say that no one invites me to speak.
King. Speak, mother.
Shakuntala. What will my husband say?
King (listening with anxious suspicion). What is this insinuation?
Shakuntala (to herself). Oh, oh! So haughty and so slanderous!
Sharngarava. "What is this insinuation?" What is your question? Surely you know the world's ways well enough.
King. You cannot mean that this young woman is my wife.
Shakuntala (sadly to herself). Oh, my heart, you feared it, and now it has come.
Sharngarava. O King,
King. What means this dreadful accusation?
King. A stinging rebuke!
Gautami (to SHAKUNTALA). Forget your shame, my child. I will remove your veil. Then your husband will recognise you. (She does so.)
King (observing SHAKUNTALA. To himself).
That hovers round a jasmine flower at dawn,
While frosty dews of morning still o’erweave it,
And hesitates to sip ere they be gone,
I cannot taste the sweet, and cannot leave it.
Portress (to herself). What a virtuous king he is! Would any other man hesitate when he saw such a pearl of a woman coming of her own accord?
Sharngarava. Have you nothing to say, O King?
King. Hermit, I have taken thought. I cannot believe that this woman is my wife. She is plainly with child. How can I take her, confessing myself an adulterer?
Shakuntala (to herself). Oh, oh, oh! He even casts doubt on our marriage. The vine of my hope climbed high, but it is broken now.
Sharngarava. Not so.
Sharadvata. Enough, Sharngarava. Shakuntala, we have
said what we were sent to say. You hear his words. Answer him.
Shakuntala (to herself). He loved me so. He is so changed. Why remind him? Ah, but I must clear my own character. Well, I will try. (Aloud.) My dear husband--(She stops.) No, he doubts my right to call him that. Your Majesty, it was pure love that opened my poor heart to you in the hermitage. Then you were kind to me and gave me your promise. Is it right for you to speak so now, and to reject me?
King (stopping his ears). Peace, peace!
Shakuntala. Very well. If you have acted so because you really fear to touch another man's wife, I will remove your doubts with a token you gave me.
King. An excellent idea!
Shakuntala (touching her finger). Oh, oh! The ring is lost. (She looks sadly at GAUTAMI.)
Gautami. My child, you worshipped the holy Ganges at the spot where Indra descended. The ring must have fallen there.
King. Ready wit, ready wit!
Shakuntala. Fate is too strong for me there. I will tell you something else.
King. Let me hear what you have to say.
Shakuntala. One day, in the bower of reeds, you were holding a lotus-leaf cup full of water.
King. I hear you.
Shakuntala. At that moment the fawn came up, my adopted son. Then you took pity on him and coaxed him. "Let him drink first," you said. But he did not know you, and he would not come to drink water from your hand. But he liked it afterwards, when I held the very same water. Then you smiled and said: "It is true. Every one trusts his own sort. You both belong to the forest."
King. It is just such women, selfish, sweet, false, that entice fools.
Gautami. You have no right to say that. She grew up in the pious grove. She does not know how to deceive.
King. Old hermit woman,
Shakuntala (angrily). Wretch! You judge all this by your own false heart. Would any other man do what you have done? To hide behind virtue, like a yawning well covered over with grass!
King (to himself). But her anger is free from coquetry, because she has lived in the forest. See!
[paragraph continues] No, she saw that I was doubtful, and her anger was feigned. Thus
[paragraph continues] (Aloud.) My good girl, Dushyanta's conduct is known to the whole kingdom, but not this action.
Shakuntala. Well, well. I had my way. I trusted a king, and put myself in his hands. He had a honey face and a heart of stone. (She covers her face with her dress and weeps.)
Sharngarava. Thus does unbridled levity burn.
King. Why do you trust this girl, and accuse me of an imaginary crime?
Sharngarava (disdainfully). You have learned your wisdom upside down.
King. Aha, my candid friend! Suppose I were to admit that I am such a man. What would happen if I deceived the girl?
King. It is unthinkable that ruin should fall on Puru's line.
Sharngarava. Why bandy words? We have fulfilled our Father's bidding. We are ready to return.
[paragraph continues] Gautami, lead the way. (They start to go.)
Shakuntala. He has deceived me shamelessly. And will you leave me too? (She starts to follow.)
Gautami (turns around and sees her). Sharngarava, my son, Shakuntala is following us, lamenting piteously. What can the poor child do with a husband base enough to reject her?
Sharngarava (turns angrily). You self-willed girl! Do you dare show independence? (SHAKUNTALA shrinks in fear.) Listen.
[paragraph continues] Remain. We must go.
King. Hermit, why deceive this woman? Remember:
Sharngarava. O King, suppose you had forgotten your former actions in the midst of distractions. Should you now desert your wife--you who fear to fail in virtue?
King. I ask you which is the heavier sin:
Chaplain (considering). Now if this were done------
King. Instruct me, my teacher.
Chaplain. Let the woman remain in my house until her child is born.
King. Why this?
Chaplain. The chief astrologers have told you that your first child was destined to be an emperor. If the son of the hermit's daughter is born with the imperial birthmarks, then welcome her and introduce her into the palace. Other- wise, she must return to her father.
King. It is good advice, my teacher.
Chaplain (rising). Follow me, my daughter.
Shakuntala. O mother earth, give me a grave! (Exit weeping, with the chaplain, the hermits, and GAUTAMI. The king, his memory clouded by the curse, ponders on SHAKUNTALA.)
Voices behind the scenes. A miracle! A miracle!
King (listening). What does this mean? (Enter the chaplain.)
Chaplain (in amazement). Your Majesty, a wonderful thing has happened.
Chaplain. When Kanva's pupils had departed,
King. What then?
(All betray astonishment.)
King. My teacher, we have already settled the matter. Why speculate in vain? Let us seek repose.
Chaplain. Victory to your Majesty. (Exit.)
King. Vetravati, I am bewildered. Conduct me to my apartment.
Portress. Follow me, your Majesty.
King (walks about. To himself).